Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Climate Change and Peak Oil

(*Note - This is a guest post by Jason Bradford, Phd in Biology and friend of TOD. In this post Jason writes on the important topic of relocalization within the broader context of ecological economics. Not only are these topics he cares about, but he is actively implementing these principles as the founder of Willits Economic Localization (WELL) in Willits, CA - Thanks for living by example Jason).

Here are a few of my predictions: Many trends of the last century or more, made possible by cheap and abundant energy sources, are going to be reversed. These trends include population growth, centralization of political and economic power, vastly increased quantity of global trade, and mass tourism. But what does that mean?

Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Peak Oil and Climate Change


Here are a few of my predictions: Many trends of the last century or more, made possible by cheap and abundant energy sources, are going to be reversed. These trends include population growth, centralization of political and economic power, vastly increased quantity of global trade, and mass tourism.

I am not giving dates of when these indicators of a shift from global to the more local will occur, except to say sometime during the 21st century, likely during the first half even. My initial point of view is not from any particular group with a political or social agenda, but as a scientist who makes deductions based on the laws of physics and ecology.

However, information from the natural world does eventually have political and policy implications that I am aware of, and have opinions about. The ability of a culture to accept information and respond timely and rationally will likely hinge on the entrenched mindsets of the populace, institutional norms, and their ability to willingly change expectations, organizational structures, and behaviors. Perhaps with prudent planning, measures of quality of life or conditions of happiness may not decline.

People may be scared or shocked and depressed by predictions of change that could lead to environmental and social disruption, but for the most part I see indifference, and that is more concerning. How people respond emotionally to facts and deductions is important too, but ultimately if people and institutions are unable or unwilling to accept information because it makes them feel badly or goes against current norms then positive change is not possible. The greatest hope, in my opinion, rests in the ability to honestly accept the reality of a difficult situation and then make the best of it before it becomes a crisis.

This is why I want to draw attention towards a global movement forming to challenge the existing economic and political systems in light of energy constraints, threats from pollution, degradation of ecosystems, the social costs of mass consumerism, and a living arrangement designed around automobiles. I am referring to the strategy of “relocalization” as promoted by the Post Carbon Institute, a think tank, media outlet, and networking and support organization for local citizens’ groups around the world.i The crises we face require altering some of the basic operating assumptions of global consumer culture, politics and finance.

Relocalization may be a new term, but conceptually it has long roots. Some related recent precursors include E.F. Schumacherii, Ted Traineriii, Garrett Hardin,iv and Wendell Berryv as well as what are called the “anti-globalization” movement, the “slow food” movement, the “voluntary simplicity” movement, the “back to the land” movement, “new urbanism,” and the “environmental movement.” In general, common themes include decentralization of political and economic structures, less material consumption and pollution, a focus on the quality of relationships, culture and the environment as sources of fulfillment, and downscaling of infrastructural development.


This paper will describe relocalization (also sometimes referred to by the related but not always identical terms “economic localization” or simply “localization”vi) by contrasting it with what we have now. It is crucial to understand the basic assumptions of our current economic and social arrangements, and to develop a new set of premises for guidance. I will argue that the premises behind relocalization are sound, being grounded in good science and common sense. By contrast, the assumptions of most dominant economic and social models only hold for a short historic period and have led to our current environmental and resource predicaments. Many proponents of current economic policies may be well intended, but often we end up with unsound rationalizations to justify short-term, often individual interests. What has been lost is a sense of the common good, future generations’ needs, and non-human welfare.

The case for relocalization will be made in the context of responding sensibly to two problems facing societies right now: climate change and peak oil and gas. Both problems are a result of our dependency on fossil fuels, but some solutions to one will only exacerbate the other. This is why a new approach, that of relocalization, is necessary.

Relocalization is based on a systems approach that doesn’t solve one set of problems only to make another problem worse.

Ecological Economics

During the era of cheap energy, which roughly corresponds to the entire 20th century, the study of economics became divorced from an understanding of how human systems are connected to systems of planetary ecology. Not surprisingly, the nearly free energy available from fossil fuels, and the rapid technological advances they fostered, made people in modern industrial societies believe they were no longer constrained by tangibles like food, energy, water, and the weather. We are now entering an age of disillusionment. The hubris of our recent past is being revealed and many are searching for a more honest and realistic reckoning of our place on Earth.

A helpful place to look for such honesty is the discipline called Ecological Economics.vii A conceptual model based on Ecological Economics is useful both to comprehend the current economic system and its vulnerabilities, and to guide the development of a sustainable alternative.

Predominant economic thinking usually distorts or fails to fully understand the fundamental interconnectedness of “the economy” and “the environment.” In recent decades economists have begun to give more attention to the environmental or ecological dimensions of human productive activity. But even so, their formulations are typically partial or misguided from a vantage point that takes the global environment seriously.

For example, in discussions of sustainability, the relationship between the economy and the natural environment is often framed as a “balance.” This connotes the idea that somehow more of the economy means more of the environment too. After all, if two things are in balance, they are of equal weight. But any empirical study of what economic growth means today discovers that it intrudes on the environmentviii Wealthy and purportedly environmentally-responsible nations are sometimes touted as examples of how economic growth and stewardship of the planet go hand in hand.ix However, while local measures of air quality, forest cover, and water cleanliness may be high, the damage is simply occurring elsewhere. All wealthy nations are importers of much of their environmental carrying capacity, whether it is raw materials or finished industrial products, and these imports are possible because of fossil fuels used to mine, harvest, manufacture and transport goods. Wealthy nations protect their own environment while outsourcing the harm caused by over consumption to other places.

In the Ecological Economics model, the Human Economy is a subset of the Earth System, and therefore the scale of the Human Economy is ultimately limited. The Human Economy depends upon the throughput or flow of materials from and back into the Earth System. Just pick up any trinket in your possession and ask: What is it made of? Where did these materials come from? How much energy was used? What happens to the waste products?x Limits to the size of the Human Economy are imposed by the interactions among three related natural processes:

  1. The capacity of the Earth System to supply inputs to the Human Economy (Sources),
  2. The capacity of the Earth System to tolerate and process wastes from the Human Economy (Sinks), and
  3. feedbacks caused by too much pollution.

For example, mining coal makes available a “source” of energy for industry that produces pollution, including sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain. Too much acid rain degrades built infrastructure, and overwhelms the capacity of natural “sinks” such as forests, killing them or slowing their growth. This damage to forests not only affects our ability to use them for lumber. The loss of highly functioning ecosystems also creates new costs to society that were previously done “free of charge” through ecological processes. Air and water filtering, climate stabilization, and species interactions that moderate outbreaks of pests and disease are all “ecosystem services” that are compromised when we damage those ecosystems. Now, instead of benefiting from free ecosystem services, the human economy must provide these services itself through expensive technologies such as pollution control devices, flood control walls and canals, pesticides and medicines, and so on.

Fig. 1. The Ecological Economics Model of the relationship between the Human Economy and the Earth System highlighting the importance of sources, sinks, feedbacks and scale.xi

The current Human Economy is clearly unsustainable because it relies heavily on non-renewable raw material sources, the use of which produces tremendous pollution, leading to many negative feedbacks that impair ecosystems and disrupt climate. In contrast, a sustainable economy would need to run on the income from solar energy and not degrade ecosystems through the build up of wastes or the mining of nutrients.

This model can also be understood in the classical terms of different forms of capital. The Earth System can be viewed as the Natural Capital and all other forms of capital are nested within and dependent upon it. Population can be thought of as Human Capital, referring not just to population size, but also to people’s education, skill sets, norms, standards and laws. Industry can be more broadly thought of as the tool sets people use, including their homes and transportation networks, which are also known as Built Capital. Ecological Economics views Human Capital and Built Capital as subsets of Natural Capital. Furthermore, these different forms of capital cannot easily be substituted for one another but are instead complimentary.

In the common framework of what is called neoclassical economics (think of Alan Greenspan), these different forms of capital are viewed as potential substitutes for one another. With this line of thinking, less Natural Capital is not so bad as long as you have plenty of Built Capital and/or Human Capital. These different forms of capital are called “factors of production.” Production can remain high and Natural Capital can be exhausted as long as enough Built and Human Capital are around. Of course, at its theoretical extreme this would result in a rather absurd world: cars and drivers with no gas, ovens, kitchen utensils and cooks with no food, and chair lifts, ski instructors and season passes with no snow.

Relocalization is based on an ethic of protecting the Earth System--or Natural Capital-- knowing that despite our cleverness, human well-being is fundamentally derived from the ecological and geological richness of Earth.


If the scale of the Human Economy is too large relative to the Earth System, the Human Economy is in a state of overshoot. This means that the environmental load of humanity on the planet is greater than the long-term ability of the planet to support it. Overshoot means we are above carrying capacity. This environmental load will eventually be reduced through declines in some combination of population, resource consumption and pollution. Either we tactfully manage to reduce our environmental load, or resource constraints and pollution will limit it for us­ unpleasantly.xii

The concept of overshoot can be confusing. You may ask: How can a population go beyond the carrying capacity of the environment to support it? Won’t a population simply increase until it reaches carrying capacity and then stabilize? Isn’t the human population projected to stabilize this century? Sophisticated modeling of resource, pollution, and consumption dynamics provides answers to these questions that support the reality of overshoot.

Fig. 2. Human demographic models of population show a plateau this century (solid is approximate historic and demographic projected), whereas systems models show a decline (dashed). The difference exists because human demographic models do not include negative feedbacks from either resource scarcity or pollution, whereas systems models do.

Population biology is the science of how population size changes due to factors such as mating patterns, resource availability, environmental quality, and interactions with other species, such as disease, competition and predation. Homo sapiens can be studied and modeled just like any other species with respect to these factors, though the high variance among people with respect to consumption and waste amounts complicates the analysis.

Population overshoot happens in a few different ways:

  1. Resource windfall and drawdown,
  2. Release from negative species interactions,
  3. Demographic momentum, and
  4. Fluctuating carrying capacity

These mechanisms of overshoot are not exclusive, and in fact, they can feed positively on one another. Here is one example of how these mechanisms have interacted (1-3) using the current human population, and what the results may be sometime this century (4):

  1. People discovered a dense and versatile energy source with fossil fuels, especially oil. The use of fossil energy freed up resources, especially land and labor. Without the need to feed draft animals to power equipment, more land was available to grow food for humans.
  2. With fossil-fuel powered equipment, fewer humans were needed for manual labor, enabling extended educational opportunities and a shift of resources into fields such as public health and medicine. Increased attention to public health and medicine, and corresponding technologies like vaccines, antibiotics and sanitation, increased human life expectancy.
  3. A rapid increase in the human population led to a surge in the number of people within the reproductive window of life, who then reproduced also, leading to an even larger population.
  4. As this population became very large it began to impact the world around it substantially. Toxic emissions built up that harmed the basic life support systems humans depend on, eventually making it more and more difficult to provide essentials, such as food. As food production declined, so too did the population.

Experts in the field of human demography project that the human population will stabilize around the middle of the 21st century.xiii Most people accept this analysis from population experts without knowing the underlying assumptions. Unfortunately, most studies of human population are akin to most studies of the human economy. The broader environment is not factored into models of growth. If you have ever asked yourself, “How are we going to feed 9 billion people when the soils are eroding, the aquifers are depleting, the climate is changing, deserts are expanding and oil and natural gas are going to be in short supply?” then you have stumbled upon this disconnect between most human population models and the physical world. Biologists studying any population would include those environmental factors in their models, whereas human demographers do not.

However, models exist that do incorporate the human population and our well-being into a dynamic study of resource availability, pollution levels and even climate change and the fate of ecosystems. The classic example is the World3 model developed by the authors of “Limits to Growth,” where the baseline scenario shows human population declining after 2020.xiv Another model is GUMBO from the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute of Ecological Economics.xv These models are not perfect, and are not presented as predictions, but they at least begin with the right premises and tell us what to be careful about.

Relocalization starts from the premise that the world is a finite place and that humanity is in a state of overshoot. Perpetual growth of the economy and the population is neither possible nor desirable. It is wise to start planning now for a world with less available energy, not more.

Peak Oil and Implications for a Transportation-Dependent Economy

Much of the relocalization movement was sparked by concerns about “peak oil.”xvi

Petroleum is a fossil fuel derived primarily from ancient deposits of dead algae and so is in essence “ancient sunlight.” The age of oil deposits can be determined from analysis of decaying radioactive isotopes and most are 10’s to 100’s of millions of years old. The biological origin of fossil fuels is clear from its association with “fossils” and the ubiquity of certain kinds of carbon chains.

Given that oil is finite, then at some point in time less is going to be available to us than in the past. That is the meaning of peak oil. It doesn’t mean oil “runs out,” but it does mean the cheap and easy oil is gone, and that what remains is more costly to produce, both energetically and financially, and is extracted at a progressively slower rate. The rate of decline of oil after peak is difficult to predict, but scenarios range from 1% to 8% per year. The peak may be somewhat “flat” (a plateau), giving a slow initial decline, which accelerates over time towards the higher end of the depletion rate range. How human societies respond to the post-peak environment will likely be as important a factor as geology in determining what is available to societies. Do we cooperate or fight over dwindling resources like cats in a sack?

Going back to the Ecological Economics model, peak oil is a “source” issue. Several source problems face the human economy, including peak natural gasxvii and peak water. Greater expansion of the human economy requires greater inputs, and, aside from the ecosystem services provided by nature, oil is probably the single most important economic resource on the planet.

Oil is critical for at least two reasons: energy density and versatility.

The energy output of a single person doing manual labor over a period of days gives about 200-300 British Thermal Units (btus) per hour. A single gallon of gasoline contains about 150,000 btus of potential energy, roughly equivalent to 500 to 750 hours of hard human labor.xviii The energy density of oil has not simply permitted a life of leisure and travel for those with access to it—it has in fact greatly expanded the short-term carrying capacity of the human population. By harnessing the energy of oil (and other fossil fuels), our species has been able to out compete others for space and resources. The expansion of industrial agriculture and “green revolution” technologies are based on oil and natural gas feed stocks and energy. Construction of large dams, water diversion systems, and pumps for ground water and water delivery to fields and cities depend upon plentiful fuel. Land, water and other resources that in the past had been available to a diversity of species are being funneled towards the appetite of one—hence the biodiversity crisis.

Oil is versatile because it is a liquid, making it is easier to extract and transport than coal and natural gas. Oil is more readily available as a fuel for a global market because it can be put into pipelines and tankers without requiring special treatment. Natural gas, by contrast, needs to be cooled and pressurized for tanker travel, and coal needs to be pulverized into slurry to be piped, or put on freight cars or barges for long-distance transport.

Because oil can be delivered anywhere, modern transportation systems have become reliant on it. A few buses and cars use natural gas, and some trains run on electricity, but the vast majority of transportation applications on the planet, over 90%, use oil in the form of gasoline, diesel or kerosene (jet fuel).

Consequently, modern economies are extremely vulnerable to shortages in transportation fuels for a few reasons.

The relative stability of the oil market over the past several decades has led to the development of “just-in-time” delivery of products, and commercial linkages across the globe. Local and regional warehouses are uncommon now, with stores and businesses relying on frequent shipments to maintain a low overhead. Before the era of cheap transportation, each town and city had a full complement of craftspeople who relied on each other. Nowadays, businesses are connected through vast transportation networks, with a manufacturing company in California, for example, relying on components shipped in from Asia and Europe.

The food economy is perhaps the finest example of the insecurity that is now bred into normal societal infrastructures. Markets selling food are typically restocked daily with only a few days supply available in the store, leading many people concerned about peak oil to reason: no fuel, no trucks; no trucks, no food. The shifts in agricultural practices over the past thirty to forty years make it difficult to quickly switch to a less transportation-intensive food system. Many agricultural regions are overly specialized to serve global markets. For example, a place where fifty years ago granaries, dairies, vegetable farms and ranches coexisted is now dominated by premium wine grapes.

As modern economies have become addicted to oil, they now find themselves in an ecological trap.

Cheap petroleum-fueled transportation has increased the geographic range over which economies can import resources not available locally, a phenomenon called “scope enlargement.” The beneficiaries of scope enlargement were able to increase local carrying capacities by overcoming the limitations of local ecologies. Unfortunately, this situation now makes us very vulnerable since a fundamental concept of ecology is Liebigs Law of the Minimum, which states that the growth of a population will be limited by whatever single factor of production is in short supply, not the total amount of resources. The expression “for the want of a nail” captures Liebigs Law, and is exemplified historically by the practice of 19th century nations importing guano from South America and Pacific islands to shore up local agriculture.

Potential shortages of guano supplies were supplanted in the 20th century by fossil-fuel based fertilizers. Some argue that our economy has a nearly unlimited ability to find substitutes for scarce resources, like fertile soil. More realistically, for many resources no substitutes exist. As an obvious example, living beings require a certain proportion of mineral nutrients to thrive. We can’t substitute elemental phosphorus for some other atom in the DNA structure of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals--no matter how much Human Capital we have. Nothing can replace simple water either.

Cheap energy makes adaptation to resource scarcity possible, by pumping water from deeper wells or extracting nitrogen out of the air, for example, but expensive energy can make substitutions unworkable.

Because oil possesses a unique combination of attributes, finding suitable substitutes is no easy task. Current products such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen are under consideration to wean us from polluting and increasingly scare oil. However, nearly all of these fail the test of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI).xix For an energy source to be useful to society, it must deliver more energy than it takes to find, harvest and distribute the source. Our economies have become addicted to energy sources like oil with EROEIs of 100:1 to 20:1, whereas biofuels, tar sands, and many renewable energy technologies range from about 10:1 to 1:1 or less. If a fuel has an EROEI of 1:1 it may be useless because as much energy goes into producing the fuel as the fuel delivers. A complex society will probably require substantial EROEI profit ratios, such as 5:1 or greater. Energy policies need to be devised based on sound EROEI analyses, which are currently difficult to find, and in any case it is probably wise to restructure our society to be less dependent on high EROEI energy sources.

In the U.S., a high EROEI energy source permits about 1% of the population to feed the other 99%. In places without widespread access to fossil fuels for agriculture, such as Afghanistan, over 90% of the working population is engaged in growing food. Agriculture is, in essence, a means of capturing solar energy through investment in planting, maintenance and harvesting. While the Afghan agricultural system looks inefficient from a labor point of view, it is actually far more efficient from an EROEI perspective than U.S. agriculture. The extensive use of fossil fuels in industrialized food systems makes them energy sinks. Highly industrialized food systems require about 10 times more energy to grow, harvest, process and distribute the food than is contained in the food itself—an EROEI of 1:10.xx

Climate Change and Need to Eliminate Fossil Fuel Use

While peak oil is a “source” problem, climate change is a “sink” problem.

During the most recent ages of geologic history, Earth has cycled between ice ages and intervening warm periods. These cycles are primarily driven by orbital variations, both with respect to the angle of tilt of the Earth towards the Sun and the shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun.xxi Carbon dioxide fluctuated as a result of how ecosystems responded to changes in Earth’s temperature, which then amplified those changes. In systems theory, this is known as a positive feedback loop.

Currently, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations are rising not because of orbital changes, but from the use of fossil fuels and landscape changes usually caused by human activities. The pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm) and is now about 380 ppm. Fossil fuels are ancient deposits of carbon and hydrogen chains that are being liberated from storage through combustion. The burning of fossil fuels (oxidation) not only releases stored energy, but increases the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide allows visible light from the sun to pass through to the Earth’s surface, but reflects infrared light (also known as heat) back to Earth that would otherwise go out into space. This is why climate change is sometimes called “global warming.” The general tendency is for Earth to become hotter, on average, because of the “greenhouse” effect induced by the “blanket” of extra carbon dioxide. If our eyes were sensitive to infrared light we could see the changing color of the sky, which might serve as a constant reminder of the problem.

Consider that 100 ppm is what separated the ice age from the warm, stable climate of the past several thousand years, and that the temperature transition from ice age to a warm climate took about a thousand years. By comparison, over the past 30 years nearly half the energy used in the history of the industrial revolution has been consumed, and global average temperatures are rising about 100 times faster than during transitions out of ice ages.

Changes in greenhouse gas concentrations are only partly responsible for the changes in temperature between an ice age and today. Much of the rise in temperature as an ice age ends is due to the loss of ice sheets and their influence in cooling the planet through enhanced reflection of sunlight. The current rate of change in the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans is only comparable to a few previous mass extinction episodes over the past several hundred million years that appear to be related to radical, rapid climate change.xxii The rate of change is perhaps more important to the climate system and life on Earth than is the amount of change. A slow rate of change is akin to gently applying the brakes to stop at a light, while a fast rate of change is akin to hitting a brick wall. Both take the vehicle and a passenger from 60 to 0 mph, only one does it more quickly.

Nobody really knows what this means for the climate system, the acidity of the oceans, the physiology of plant growth, and many aspects of the global ecosystem. Policy-makers ask scientists how much pollution can be tolerated before “dangerous interference” occurs. Unfortunately, answering how much is too much is not possible, and in all probability we have already passed some very dangerous thresholds that will only become apparent as the future unfolds.

There are many reasons why a precise answer to “how much is too much” is not possible. Consider that for any factor that goes into a model, scientists (1) work with what they know, (2) try to incorporate plausible ranges for what they know they don’t know, and (3) obviously exclude what they don’t know they don’t know. Some would argue that because we can’t be sure climate models are correct, we should do nothing. Would “do nothing” skeptics be as cavalier about uncertain dangers if the food being served their children had possibly been contaminated by a deadly poison? What you don’t know can kill you. Given the stakes, many advocates for energy policies leading to a curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions take a precautionary stance.xxiii After all, if the U.S. is so concerned about security that it is willing to spend about half a trillion dollars a year on the military, what is it worth to help secure our climate?

Computer power limits the ability of models to capture many of the details of climate change. For example, models can’t scale to the future climate of a single town, making it difficult, perhaps, for local officials to understand the implications of global models. Nor can models usually identify critical thresholds in a complex system with much accuracy. Systems can remain remarkably stable over long periods under stress until something snaps, like a balloon expanding until it pops. The Earth system has been remarkably tolerant of the stresses it is under, but when something finally gives it will probably be “loud.” Recent studies of the pace of change in Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets underscore the fact that thresholds can be difficult to detect, and that current models may often underplay the true threats of climate change.

Although climate models have these limits, they also do an incredible job accurately modeling the past climate. For example, when comparing images from weather satellites to the most advanced climate models, one can even see how well models match the actual formation and movement of storm clouds around the globe. One of the tests climate modelers perform to decide whether human-induced changes in the atmosphere are causing climate change is to run climate models for the 20th century as if we hadn’t burned so much fossil fuel. The rise in global temperatures and the shifts in rainfall patterns seen during the 20th century can be accurately modeled only when fossil fuel induced greenhouse gas emissions are included.

Beyond any reasonable level of doubt, natural variations in solar radiation and the shape of the Earth’s orbit around the sun do not account for recent climate change. Climate change is a problem with known causes related directly to known human behaviors such as driving cars, flying in airplanes, heating and cooling homes and businesses, manufacturing products, mining, harvesting, pumping water, removing wastes, and producing food using big machines, among others. The most pressing question of our time is: How can societies function without pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? If we don’t make answering this question our top priority there’s a good chance the planet may become uninhabitable for the current generation of children.

While we can’t know future threats precisely, scientists do agree that creating a carbon-cycle neutral economy should be the dominant task occupying our minds. This is exactly what Relocalization aims to do.

Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Overshoot

Economic and population growth was made possible by the synergies permitted by cheap energy. The limits of productivity in one locality (i.e., Liebigs Law) could be overcome by importing something in excess elsewhere. A global economy advocating that each place seek its comparative advantage and specialize in what it produced for the market place required that money, governance, and even customs be more homogenized worldwide. As free trade agreements became the norm and social barriers to trade were reduced, the power of resource synergies permitting more economic growth became apparent to more and more people in the world. Most only saw its benefits and few worried about the long-term liabilities it imposed.

There are a few flawed assumptions behind globalization, but one in particular is glaring: the assumption that transportation costs will always be low, both in terms of fuel availability and the environmental externalities associated with their use.xxiv If that assumption is false—and certainly peak oil and climate change makes it appear false—then localities should not be specializing to trade globally. For example, I live on the edge of premium wine country. There are far more grapes here than the local population can eat, but we lack just about every other kind of food production in sufficient quantity. As long as we can sell our wine to a global market and buy the other stuff we need this situation seems reasonable. But a peak oil perspective makes us feel vulnerable, and a climate change perspective calls this irresponsible.

Because all localities that have bought into the global market place have specialized to some extent, all could face shortages of some set of basic goods. In the past, global trade was for luxury items, like silk or spices, or key resources that permitted basic items to be made at home more efficiently, like organic fertilizer and metals. The loss of a trade partner would be problematic, but probably not catastrophic.

Relocalization advocates rebuilding more balanced local economies that emphasize securing basic needs. Local food, energy and water systems are perhaps the most critical to build.xxv In the absence of reliable trade partners, whether from peak oil, natural disaster or political instability, a local economy that at least produces its essential goods will have a true comparative advantage.

When many analysts consider peak oil or climate change they start from the position of “keep the current system going at any cost.” Rather than envision an alternative that doesn’t have the same liabilities, these “solutions” only perpetuate a problem.

A classic case of this kind of thinking is the Department of Energy sponsored “Hirsch Report.”xxvi The Hirsch Report is great for understanding the economic consequences of peak oil given how integrated the global economy is. But its call for a crash program to develop new sources of liquid fuels using non-conventional fossil fuels without any broader context, such as what this would do to soils, air, and water are misguided. A wise perspective would at least acknowledge that these choices involve painful tradeoffs.

Relocalization takes a different perspective altogether. Instead of working to keep a system going that has no future, it calls us to develop means of livelihood that pollute as little as possible and that promote local and regional stability. Since much of our pollution results from the distances goods travel, we must shorten distances between production and consumption as much as we can.


Responding appropriately to the problems of climate change and peak oil and gas requires an understanding based on a systems perspective. From this angle, clear limits exist for the ability of our society to maintain growth in both resource consumption and pollution. However, most of our economic and social norms do not recognize these limits, and therefore find it difficult to respond to current threats.

Relocalization recognizes the liabilities of fossil fuel dependency and promotes greater security through redevelopment of local and regional economies more or less self-reliant in terms of energy, food and water systems. Many social benefits might accrue to a relocalized society, including greater job stability, employment diversity, community cohesion, and public health.

The laws of physics and ecology will drive economic incentives that begin to unwind some forms of global trade. However, as the “Stern Review Report”xxvii on climate change and the “Hirsch Report” on peak oil make clear, the market alone will not make this happen quickly enough or smoothly. Given our advanced state of ecological debt and the long social lag times involved in changing so many fundamental patterns of behavior, only sound and consistent government policies can succeed in setting up the right incentives for rapid, sustained change.

In any case, an easy or painless transition is highly unlikely. But nobody is guaranteed an easy life and sometimes during our greatest challenges we also find a profound sense of purpose, and a focus on what makes life worthwhile, such as meaningful work, camaraderie and beauty.






vi See for example:

vii A college-level text book by Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley titled “Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications” (2004, Island Press) exists. Also look for popular books by Herman Daly, Brian Czech and Richard Douthwaite.

viii See measures like the Ecological Footprint ( and the Genuine Progress Indicator (

ix See recent reviews of the “Environmental Kuznets Curve” such as

x A great book that leads the reader through this process for several consumer items is: John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things.” New Report No. 4, January 1997, Northwest Environment Watch, Seattle.

xi This graphic was developed based on the principles discussed in Chapter 2 of Daly and Farley “Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications” (2004, Island Press)

xii The book “Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change” by William R. Catton, Jr. gives a thorough overview of ecological and social mechanisms and consequences of overshoot.

xiii A great place to review standard population projections and the underlying assumptions is through the United Nations Population Division web site: and

xiv Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows, “Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update.” Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2004.


xvi Literally dozens of books, websites and article about peak oil exist. Richard Heinberg, “The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.” New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, 2005 (second edition) is highly recommended. On the web try: and

xvii Much less has been written specifically about natural gas, but see: Julian Darley, “High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis.” Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2004.

xviii For a slim but comprehensive book on energy and conversion factors see: John G. Howe, “The End of Fossil Energy and the Last Chance for Sustainability.” McIntire Publishing Services, Waterford, ME, 2005 (second edition).

xix An important book covering EROEI and agriculture is John Gever, Robert Kaufmann, David Skole and Charles Vorosmarty, “Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades.” Ballinger Publishing Company, Cambridge, MA, 1986. The website is a good online reference.

xx A comparison of the energy balance of different food systems is provided by David Pimental and Marcia Pimental, eds, “Food Energy and Society.” University Press of Colorado, revised 1996.


xxii Dozens of references are possible for climate change. A good recent book, written by a scientist, is: Tim Flannery, “The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.” Atlantic Monthly Press, NY, 2005. On the web see this site run by climatologists:


xxiv In addition to the Limits to Growth series, a few books do a fine job discussing both “source” and “sink” problems with fossil fuels, including: Thom Hartmann, “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation,” Jeremy Leggett, “The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and The Coming Global Financial Catastrophe,” James Howard Kunstler, “The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century,” and David Holmgrem, “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.”

xxv Books addressing the benefits of a local economy focused on basic needs include: Richard Douthwaite’s, “Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies for Security in an Unstable World,” and Michael Shuman’s, “Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age.”

xxvi and


I think most of us will agree that in theory relocalization sounds appealing. It is the practicalities that make some of us question whether relocalization will work. Some questions I have:

1. What does one do for infrastructure for the relocalized community? Isn't it too expensive to start building new houses, roads, trains, etc.

2. Except in the most perfect climate areas, how will local communities be able to sustain their own needs on a regular basis? Here is Georgia drought is a serious problem this year - I doubt we would be able to grow our own food if we wanted to.

3. How are you going to get all of the skills needed in a post-peak world?

4. What do you about the overshoot people who are living in other communities, don't have enough food, and see your community with food?

Well, I'm no expert, but I'll take a shot at these:

1. We don't need more roads. If heavy shipping was confined mainly to rails or water, the roads we have now would last a lot longer. And there are plenty of roads. Houses are not in short supply either, especially when you consider how much living space North Americans indulge in. Lots of places to live. As for building railways...well, we managed to build cross-continental railways more than 100 years ago. This is hardly something that can't be accomplished, it just takes a large scale effort organized by governments. It's also something that would still be accomplished on large-scale, so each community does not need it's own railway designers (labour they would need, perhaps).

2. If a local community can't save enough food from good years to make it through bad years, then the community shrinks/moves/dies. It's simple, and it's what already happens in many areas of the world (and used to happen everywhere). Horrifying to contemplate on a large scale perhaps, but local overshoot is the driving force behind global overshoot if the global trade economy can't be maintained. It's like global peak oil...there is no global oil, there's a bunch of local oil fields, each one will peak on it's own. Food growth has the advantage of being able to settle to a constant level at some point.

3. Tough one..."post-peak world" to me implies people able to do entire tasks themselves...i.e., build the entire house, work on the entire farm. There are a lot of books around, maybe those will come in handy. But yeah, it seems almost impossible looking at it personally.

4. Well, if you're living locally, you don't see the other community, and any sense of being a "global citizen" goes out the window. Other communities without enough food will start migrating to where there is enough food. Over time, it settles out, but would you welcome migrants or defend your "territory"? That's going to depend on how fast it happens, I think.

4. Well, if you're living locally, you don't see the other community, and any sense of being a "global citizen" goes out the window. Other communities without enough food will start migrating to where there is enough food. Over time, it settles out, but would you welcome migrants or defend your "territory"? That's going to depend on how fast it happens, I think.

If there are plenty of resources, you'll welcome the new settlers. If there's a shortage of resources, you'll be afraid of them pillaging and make them keep on moving at gunpoint. Unless they also have some pointy guns.

Adam, I dont have a crystal ball so I cannot give a perfect snapshot of what a post peak US will look like. However, I can give a glimpse of the past in one US location during, prior and after the great depression, which might look a lot like a post peak US - for the survivors.
In Northern Louisiana my grandmother had a farm of about 180 acres of red clay soil with some sandy loam. She had five children, three girls and two boys, the oldest was my father. In 1932 near the peak of the depression her husband and middle son passed away from Pnemonia during the same week. The family had a mortgage on the farm and no money for medicine or a doctor. My father dropped out of school in the 9th grade to take over the heavy work on the farm that consisted of plowing with a team of mules, harvest, maintaining the implements, making feed for the stock, any building of outbuildings, cutting wood for the kitchen stove and fireplace in winter (about 40 acres were left in timber for wood for the stove and for any lumber that was needed for building projects),etc. The daughters were busy with a large garden, canning, gathering eggs, churning butter, and helped with the harvest, milking, etc. There was no electricity, no air conditioning, a well with bucket and pulley located on the back porch was their water supply, refrigiration was provided by one 25 lb. block of ice delivered by the ice man from the nearest large town once per week, other 'cooling' - for butter and other perishables - was done by placing objects in a bucket and lowering them partially into the well. Once per month the one gallon kerosene can would be filled for ten cents at a nearby blacksmith/gas station and this was to refill the lanterns - the only night lighting that they had. Pork was kept by use of a smokehouse. When the farm harvested vegetables they were taken by the mules and wagon to the nearest large town on Saturdays for sale to stores and the public, along with butter and eggs. Many streams that had to be crossed to reach the town had no bridges so if the streams were swollen by rain the trip to town was off. On Sundays the family walked to church, a distance of about four miles each way. Very little other travel was done. The 'cash crop' that the family produced was rotated from feed corn to cotton each year. Little was known about crop rotation but it didnt matter because during the depression there was no money in circulation to pay for a cash crop and no bank had any money to front farmers for seed and fertilizer. Basically, the farmers in the area were self sufficient during the time of the depression which did not end in the area until WW2 was well over. They purchased flour, salt, kerosene and a few other essientials with the money from eggs, butter and vegetable sales. They made their own syrup from a patch of sugar cane, grinder, and boiling pot. The same pot was used on Saturdays for boiling the wash and was used for rendering lard from hogs. The boiling pot was kept busy. So was my dad, the woodcutter.
The amount of hard manual labor that was put in by all farm families in the area is incomprehensible to most people that post on this board. The families worked from daylight till dark - the work was endless. True, there were a few breaks in the actual farm work during the year but these times were spent mending harness, repairing fences, outbuildings, digging out the well, or hunting quail, squrill, gigging frogs, gathering mushrooms (for cooking or sale), butchering and smoking hogs - including making sausage, taking corn to be ground into corn meal at the gristmill, catching fish to eat with gill nets and a bunch of other chores that kept coming at you every day. Even with all their hard work these families did not always eat three meals a day. A draught, too much rain, insects, hot weather that caused the hens to stop laying, cows that would eat bitterweed and give milk that no one could drink, and many other unforseen things could befall them...such as pnemonia. Many people died young from illness or were just plain worked to death. The only meal that they ever ate away from home was during 'vacation bible school' at the church in springtime. Vacations as we know them were totally unknown. If they had some kerosene they would read the bible for a short time prior to going to bed. Doing this sort of work will make one so tired that after dinner its bed time.
I hear many on this board comment on how important it is to work together in a community. I found that little 'working together' was actually done. Large families were the norm and they were necessary to keep up with the grinding farm work. I found that many extended families were not close and the gossip in these small communities was devastating to some. Grudges were held in spite of religion. I often heard the term 'he/she married above or below him/herself'. It was a sort of caste system but unlike anything I have encountered elsewhere. If anyone was perceived as the least bit 'unusual', they were ostracized. Outsiders would be tolerated if they were 'normal' but they were never really accepted as part of the community. If you were of another faith or another color it was not the place to settle. I found these people narrow minded, petty and mean. Since that time I have lived in proximity to Amish communities and have seen much more cooperation among families. Perhaps this is because of the difference of religion?
Farms were located near to a larger town that had a market for cash and garden crops, generally a thirty mile round trip by mule team and wagon was about the limit. If you look on the map today you will see that larger towns are situated about 30 miles apart. Of course many of the older farms are now suburbs. Almost nothing was known about the families living a mere forty miles distant. Since essentials and the mortgage consumed almost all of the little money coming in there was very little for frivolous items. If any money was left over it went for material to make make your own clothing or a new pair of store bought overalls or work boots. Cloth sacks that flour was sold in were made into clothing. Nothing was discarded until it was totally worn out.
I lived on my grandmothers farm for parts of my hs years and I did some of the chores. The work was much less than in my fathers time for the depression was over, we only had a garden, hens, raised beeves on halfs for other people, bought and put up hay and hayed the cows, milked the one cow that we still had, collected eggs, Picked up and sold the pecan crop, etc. It was nothing compared to the depression because of the natural gas found in N Louisiana. The house was heated by gas, we had electricty, had an electric pump for the well, had electric appliances, but still I found myself busy before and after school. I also spent a summer working on my uncles dairy farm and a summer working on a hybrid seed corn plantation and they are not experiences that I look back on fondly. As soon as I graduated hs I was out of there and have never longed to return to such a life. I still have a garden but that is it.
Anyone that finds themselves living this sort of life after peak oil will soon find out just how many man hours are in a barrel of crude oil.


I can agree with most of what you state, and in fact I have stated most of this here on TOD in various posts.

I was born in 1938. During my childhood on the farm it was pretty much as you state.

Here is some exceptions,maybe because we had richer land or was settled far earlier than Louisana or the people were more cohesive due to having migrated from the east. Primarily N.Carolina, Virginia and S. Carolina. The people were mostly of Irish and Scotch with a few others Europeans mixes thrown in.

The exceptions: Everyone helped others. You bartered work so to speak. You helped a neighbor put up hay and he helped you plant corn or tobacco or whatever. You traded off breeding stock. You used the churches and town at means of keeping ties close and everyone was very very hospitable. To this day everyone here waves at each other or nods on meeting or passing or on the road.

The work was hard but interspered with lots of free time. I was never as tired as you state. I relished that lifestyle and when I returned to it in 85(this farm) I worked once more quite hard but enjoyed lots of leisure even though I was building a log house, had no paycheck for 3 years, and did custom hay work all over the county and still had time to program totally from scratch a 911 county databased system. All code was mine and I also did the hardware,totally.

So the work is there. You must do it. Children are necessary. Those who are trying to state that we need to not have more children can't realize that the farm requires children. A absolute necessity.

"Don't look back fondly"...I do. Its good memories for me. Enough so that I always tried to have some land. Today working in my garden,working in the barn, meeting neighbors and driving tractors are things I love to do.

I loved the smell of a newmown hay field. Square or round baling it was always a pleasure to see the fields respond and put up some quality hay.

Its different now if you are a corn/bean/wheat farmer/operator. NOW its hard hard work and a real drudge. No matter how many hundreds of acres you work you are still just running in place. No break except from last of planting to start of harvest and a bit of winter.

This type of new ag is not for me. Piss on the exports ,to hell with confinement hog and chicken feeding, nonsense to the genetic modifications and Monsanto. This is just mechanical with out nature as a part of the equation.

The farmers today are NOT good stewards of the land. They are simply destroying it to feed the maw of the exports and big companies like ADM,Bunge,Consolidated and so on.

I am there, I am driving the grain trucks,I work on the equipment, and this is what I see.

So to me the older style of farming far more preferable.

To this day I still visit with my kinfolks. We have big extended families. Someone asks my name and instantly they know all about my extened families and the connections because of intermarriage. We are mostly Baptist but on my mothers side all Catholics. Lots of Catholic churches and they put on good bbq and fish frys. Lots of good fishing and hunting here.

You are never at a loss for friendship and comradeship.

It was not bleak to me back then. Its not now, at least not the way I am living. I pretty much live out of my garden when possible and can a huge amount. I bake my own bread , time permitting. I dig wild ginseng and goldenseal. I made homebrew beer given time.

I do not discard clothing and guess what? You don't have to ever 'dress up' or wear dockers and new shit. Old bib overalls in the town restaurant will not even be noticed.

"Worked to death"..I am 68,take no drugs nor medicine. Never been operated on except for appendicitis as a teenager. I grew up in a healthy environment and my health is the proof. My wife is 6 yrs younger and takes massive amounts of drugs,has two hip replacements, and two coronary heart attacks. She was not raised on a farm. She dislikes farm life for its WORK!!!!! Suprise. So she says..."hon,don't go out and work in that garden,your wearing yourself out and it will kill you"...I reply "you do not understand , that work keeps me healthy"....

So take your pick. I have already taken my pick. All the rest who were not raised as I was may jerk back in fear,awe and shock and decide to just become a cornie or just die in place. Sit for someone else to do the work and they do the consuming...of course that won't work.

Those are the ones who will not make it. They don't have the background nor ability nor desire.

You need to test yourself by shutting off the air conditioner. Go out in the heat and squat in the garden and pull weeds and grass. Drink wellwater instead of carbonated papwater. Try to not be always taking those showers. The dogs won't care if you sweat. Live on less then ask yourself what the future holds. Raise those chickens,get that beehive,trade the eggs and honey or get a milk cow or two and make cheese,learn to hand milk a cow..Do something for crying out loud.

It will not get any easier when the shitstorm comes. If you can't do it in the 'green' how will you do it in the 'dry'?

Airdale-sorry but I saw and lived it different

I once interviewed a guy who brought his family into Amish/Mennonite country and loved it. A suburban kid and MIT graduate student studying "Science, Technology and Society."

Interesting thesis!

Can be heard here:

Did you have tractors/motorisation?

My family was a "rich" farming family in Ohio - until the 1920s (mind you, the depression began in the US-farming sector almost directly after WWI).

Modernisation basically destroyed the farming system as they knew it, also destroying most of the income base.

Things may have become "easier" after the depression because of electricity e.g., but the money situation only changed (for the better) after Social Security began paying the bills (grandparents going into retirement)..

Cheers, Dom
My grandfather pumped oil with an engine-house,
my father pumped oil with a 20 lb. electric motor,
can't I just pump it online?

This was a no motor community. The used animals and human labor, some ingenious ram pumps for water.

I have to agree that raising your own food is hard damn work. I've been on both sides of that, and currently raise just a few veggies, but it's enough to keep me and wife busy weeding, tilling, planting, picking, canning freezing, etc. I retired from the corporate life in 2000 at age 55, so it's not a "farm or starve" situation for us.

I do think that if there is a collapse that a lot of folks will starve if they can no longer walk into a MickeyD's for sustenance tho. On another forum, there's been a periodic thread about food preferences that tells me a lot about attitudes in the US. My position is that vegetarianism, diets of one sort or another or refusal to eat what's available "because I don't like it" or I can't eat "Fido", would come to a screeching halt. Food preferences are a luxury of the wealthy.

Sadly, I don't expect everyone, or every place to make it. The practical challenges are enormous.

But I'd rather spend my time doing the best I can in a place I think has some chance. So I don't dwell on these topics much. Morale busters.

Over the long term, human population, both in density and geography, will realign with biological productivity.

So Jason, do you see relocalization as an unfortunate necessity leading to a life of poverty and disease but the best we can do; or as a positive opportunity to create a better quality of life than we have today?

Honestly, depends upon my mood, the day.

I have traveled to many places where people are essentially bound by the constraints of a local ecology and culture. Sometimes these places appear bleak and depressing, but most of the time life is quite good. They tend to envy me and the "stuff" I have with me, while I envy their access to nature, their strong sense of self and community, and their skill sets.

I was raised in the suburbs and have had access to all the high energy, luxury, I could want. But I am doing fine just figuring out the local landscape and learning how to farm. The intellectual, physical and emotional rewards and challenges are great and give plenty of meaning to my life. But it isn't totally real yet. The global system is still in place and working for me when I turn to it. Really hard to imagine doing without it and absent a major catastrophe I don't expect it to go away over night.

A little off topic, but I happened across a PBS TV broadcast recently that was directed to middle school (or maybe high school) students. It was entitled: Economics U$A.

Here is a link to a web page which summarizes the broadcast episode.

Because I tuned into the show near the end, I was at first fooled into thinking it was a documentary showing the folly of human kind in the late 1970's because the "think tank" gentlemen they were interviewing were all poo pooing the Club of Rome report of the 70's and explaining how "The Free Market Economy" always manages to find new "substitutes" every time an older one appears to be running out. They even bragged about how coal was a more "efficient" substitute for wood, and oil a better substitute for coal. They forecast that surely man and his "technology" will in the future find even more efficient substitutes to replace crude oil.

Then as the show drew to its close, I was stunned to realize that this was not a mockumentary but rather an "economics" education program that was being broadcast now, in real time, to current students. This is what "they" (the economics treachers) are feeding our kids today. Today!

Absolutely incredible.

Are they still using that old thing? It has been around for 25-30 years now. I suppose that nothing more recent has been made, which is too bad, a lot has changed.

Great Essay!

One of the grat conflicts/errors I see in neoclassical/liberal economics is its insistance on measuring economic growth on material goods, rather than quality of life, something that you touched on. For example, I'm considered more wealthy if I own a new $60,000 Hummer and live in a McMansion and commute 1 1/2 hours into Houston each way where I work 10 or 12 more hours, six days a week to pay for the stuff than if I have a lower paying job at home and live a more modest lifestyle.
Her's a good example-my friend Rico owns 1/2 of a shrimpboat, a small paid for bungalo in Galveston, and fishes for pan fish with a pole out-of season, selling whiting, croaker and pompano to the fish market. He has a very modest income, but rides a bicycle and wears jeans and white rubber boots, and has basicially all he wants, does what he loves, and has a whole lot of free time. I think he's richer than the suburbanite I've described above by my measures.

Actually it's even worse than that. Suppose the fabric of your local community decays to the point where you feel obliged to spend say $5000 on building high walls around your house, install CCTV, barred windows, heavy duty doors, locks, etc. That $5000 spent on such products and services is reckoned as a POSITIVE part of economic activity - even while you cower in your fortified home watching the CCTV monitor for a rampaging mob invading your property. Of course, if you live in a peaceful area where you don't feel the need to buy such things and can chat happily to every passer-by, that counts for nothing at all in these terms.

Oh wait, that sounds like my neighbors...

You've touched on something I've been predicting. When the price of gas climbs high enough, the guy that has been driving a hour each way to a $10/hr job is going to realize that a $7.50/hr job within walking distance will actually put him ahead once taxes and commuting costs are fully accounted for. While he will be better off, his contribution to national income will decline, his income and FICA taxes will decline, and of course so will his expenditures. Multiply this by millions, and you will have economists screaming that this constitutes a recession. Is it really?

You're assuming that there are/will be low paid jobs locally.

I'm lived in economically stressed areas, unemployed. Just try finding those jobs! Too overeducated! "but all I want is a job!"

And then try becoming self employed...

And then move away to somewhere you think you might get that low paying job.

But I get your point. I only want to suggest that your "so called" recession will probably be very very real.

Cheers, Dom

Just try finding those jobs! Too overeducated!

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Heard that overqualified line a lot, but kept trying, and now am working at a job only 2 mi away. It pays less than what I have earned in some previous years, and less than what I might theoretically make if I were willing to commute 15-20 mi or more each way. I probably am "overqualified" for it, but I think I'm better off with this job, nonetheless; I certainly am better positioned for the future, especially as it is in a non-discretionary sector. It is possible to get oneself into such a job, but it takes perseverence, and it doesn't happen overnight. Pretty much SOP when it comes to job hunting of any type.

As to jobs not being available, I wonder about that. At the same time that the $20/hr people will be looking for $15/hr closer to home, the $15/hr people will be looking for $10/hr closer to home, the $10/hr will be looking for $7.50 closer, etc. The minimum wage folks at the bottom of the chain will not be able to continue traveling to their jobs at all if they are beyond walking distance, and so they'll just drop out of the "official economy" and make their livings by "other means". So there will likely be a lot of churning of the job market while this all works its way out. It may be a game of musical chairs, but there will be empty chairs for most people each round -- just make sure you aren't the one left without a chair!

By the way, as all of this reshuffling of jobs is going on, you will see politicians and economists pointing to all the employment ads as proof that the economy is booming and that we have no problems in the labor market!


A little bit of cognitive dissonance today.

First by the way, another great essay on your part.

On the one hand I am watching the Republican Presidential candidates in America talking about core "principles" and halting "illegal" immigration and fighting the "islamo-facist terrorists" over there before they get us here.

On the other hand, I'm reading your discourse regarding the limits to growth and the need for returning to localized principles.

I feel that I am straddling a widening chasm. Either those religiously principled politicians up on stage are smoking a new brand of weed or the folk here on Oil Drum are inhaling the gloom and doom gases too deeply. What is the "truth"?

Well, I kinda know. So that was a rhetorical question.

However, I suspect that the vast "moral" majorities both here in the USA and those in Iran, Europe, or wherever; are buying whole heartedly into the "hope" and "progress" messages being put out by their politicians. They are expecting deliverance of the ever better life style from their political machines and respective societies. It's 1984 all over again.


Thanks, though all I did was choose it and format it -the authorship is completely Jason Bradfords.

Since he's probably out gardening, and Im here plunking on the computer, what better vantage point than to answer your 'chasm' question.

1)There is not as yet any 'model' for people to go to of their own accord in large numbers to step into the localization paradigm. That is what folks like Jason are trying to accomplish. Ive spoken to many people that agree in principle that we need to downsize, consume less, produce more locally etc. but they dont really know how to get form here to there other than making homemade tomato sauce. The fixed structure of the consumer culture is too high to jump off of.

2) People will change if a) they believe it is better for them or b) they are mandated to by government. Other than that, the momentum of current system will hold until its too late.

3)Localities/regions that really are thinking ahead (anyone working on ELP and building local flavor social-natural-human-built capital) will have a leg up. Those localities/regions that are surrounded by other communities with similar value systems on localization will have an even bigger advantage as the buffer zone will be great and strong reciprocity will have a chance.

4)ultimately, relocalization will be a choice early on, and a necessity later on. I have hopes, but not high ones, that this can be accomplished on a wide scale. The realities are that only some will choose this path.

5)I see little or no hope for relocalization on the national political front - unless the entire political system is changed away from corporate interests, which it subtlely was founded on (one dollar one vote). We would need a revolution for this to happen.

6)a long shot wild card would be if some powerful religious group adopted the relocalization mentality and this meme (or whatever you call it) would sweep through that aspect of the population. One will never convince the 50%+ of americans that believe the earth is 6000 years old that Sumerians invented glue 7000 years ago. But if some of their charismatic leaders lead by example of eating locally, bicycling to work, eschewing consumption, etc. that might just work. As I said, a longshot.

This is quite close to prof. Hess’ Localism.

Let me put you the same question I put him: how can any Social setting stand during the contracting period after Overshoot?

We can concept Localism working quite well with a reduced population, but until then? How can Europe, for instance, make a soft transition to Localism?

Luis, great thread yesterday!

I'm not sure our institutions are able to adjust to a contracting population combined with a contracting population base. Too much inertial momentum, they are liable to a collapse. And my life depends on modern medical care!
The societies that we see changing radically all had a disaster, Russia lost WWI, then had a revolution. China was partially dismembered by the Japs, then had a revolution. Eastern Europe was conqured by murderers, then had revolution imposed. Modern Russia came out of an economic collapse and abandoned much of its empire. Modern China's reforms seem to be the main exception, but they were imposed by an authortarian regime. So it doesn't look very good.

Its all going to come down to people with insight taking personal action on a local level and helping out their neighbors. My actions are the only actions likely to help me, so I'm trying to get my living arrangements and investments peak crash proof. I suggest everyone do the same. WestTexas's ELP model is the best suggestion I've heard for this.

Hi Bob,

Hope you don't mind asking if you have Type 2, and if so have you been doing all necessary in terms of diet an lifestyle to correct it? I am a believer in the bodies ability to heal itself if given the chance. My case after having a rather wonky B.P (labile) kept badly in check by exercise and (almost) diet for over 30 years. Almost, because it was about a year ago I looked at the hidden salt or rather sodium in my diet and was stunned to find that It was about triple the upper end of normal and I thought I had been sparring there, no table salt often;>). Since correcting that it rarely strays above 120 over 70 Anyway take a look at diet and ex if you haven't already and good wishes there.

Now about your backward statement about Russia loosing the first world war and then having a revolution. The revolution was first and then Russia didn't so much loose as walk away from it. They also won the second world are them for fighting words and how is your B.P. now? also;>)

I have type 2, but I'm insulin dependent, my body is pretty resistant. Glucophage too.Blood pressure high without medication, probably need to get more exercise. I'm thinking about going vegetarian, see if I can cut down on meds that way.

As far as Russia winning the second WW-agreed. But everybody lost the first except the US-it was a frigging horror. Russia walked away, but the Germans couldn't really capitalise on their victory because they were too bogged down in the west. My grandfather won a Croix de Guerre at the Ardennes Forest, carrying French and US Marines out on a stretcher under machine gun fire. He was an Army Medic attached to the Marines, also a dispatch rider on an Indian motorcycle. I inherited my diabetes from him.

CrystalRadio, when I mention my dependence on modern medicine, I just want the Doomer Porn crowd to get realistic about what a die-off means. Most of us are going down, no matter what the state of our preparations. Those guys all seem to think they are going to be Conan the Barbarian on Viagra. While possibly a fun mastabatory fantasy, its at best adolescent and immature.
For a more realistic scenario, take a look at Hubbards Peak, and the projected downslope and also the history of Texas production. In about 30 years from the peak the world will be producing about 1/2 of the volume of oil that we produce today, plus expensive unconventional oil. So with the old-fashioned virtues of frugality and planning, we should have a decent society, but we will have to go back to one car per family, living closer to our work and schools We'll have to change our diets, and think about how much space we occupy and climate control. We'll need Alan's plans for mass transit, and to change our electric generation to renewables. We'll need more people to work at home.
None of this is really very onerous, it may even make us richer in the things that count-time with loved ones, less pollution, a better sense of community. That's my real hope out of all of these problems.

Hey Bob, Sssh! don't let on but I think you are close to the mark, but what fun eh? And if we can put the evil genie, Corporation, back in his bottle, then their vicious dog, Globalization, should go back to sleep and maybe we will just downsize rather than capsize as this metaphor filled sentence is determined to do. I think medicine itself will be back to real services and all the slack crap like tummy tucks will be dropped also we all will lose pounds, some more than others, and be healthier for it. During the war the English were in better health than before or after. Catch you later I have to go clean up and put some chicken wire on the old chicken shack we inherited when we bought this place eight years ago, might even put in a chicken or two.

Vegetarian? My wife is one so I guess mostly I get to be one too, not too bad for the most part. Don't forget to look at the Na too.

I have been wanting to read that essay of yours! But, as Nate mentioned, I am a small farmer and have only a few precious moments to do much else.

I doubt a "soft transition" is possible. More likely a rapid shift in expectations and a lot of upsets. Current pension obligations, the idea that empty nesters can inhabit mansions while the young workers sort out cheap rent monies, health care that spends so much on technology, etc. are all going to quickly shift when the material conditions require them to do so...or mabye it will all end in blood and sorrow as in the past.

"Let them eat cake."

The case for relocalization will be made in the context of responding sensibly to two problems facing societies right now: climate change and peak oil and gas. Both problems are a result of our dependency on fossil fuels, but some solutions to one will only exacerbate the other. This is why a new approach, that of relocalization, is necessary.

Before oil and gas and climate change was Malthus, after oil and gas and climate change, will there not still be be Malthus?

Hmmm, producing a local necessity. Would that be coffins, soma or soylent-green?

cfm in Gray, ME

You may be well on the mark Dryki, you entrepreneur you, as in my youth my young mortuary assistant friend always had the spare for unlimited whiskey of a weekend. I think that he was often embalmed during the week as well.

Malthus was a response to the shattering news to empires that the world was round. After Magellens circumnavigations it quickly became apparent to those in power that the resources of the earth were limited, since the earth was not flat and did not go on forever.
The empires of Magellens time realized that the resources of the world were limited, why cant the empires of today realize that the resources of the world are limited? It seems to me that most of the current world leaders and economists are not nearly as insightful as those of the time of Malthus and Magellen.
Besides, without Malthus, Darwin would not have gotten the gig aboard the Beagle and visited the Galapagos. Of course there were others working on the same theory as Darwin.

Thank you Mr. Bradford for the excellent article.
It is important to focus the power of our food purchases especially on locally grown items, where possible, thereby rebuilding a bit of our local economy or ‘foodscape’.

Re: Governments helping much. Who benefits?

“The annual budget of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory: $210 million

The cost of America’s war in Iraq per day: $300 million

The U.S. spends more on the war in Iraq in one day (about $300 million) than it does on the ANNUAL BUDGET for the primary government laboratory that is tasked with renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. As absurd as that is, a recipient of a grant from this lab has developed a 40% efficient solar cell.”

”If we are going to shift out of oil into much less expensive, renewable energy technologies, then perhaps we will need a new resource to ensure top-down political control. Food and water would do it.

We need to start asking some serious questions about control and manipulation of the water and food supply. Altucher’s column — as dark as it may seem — says a lot about vested interests who have reason to want to see environmental deterioration continue.

It also underscores that our best investment is to pull our money out of a system that creates incentives for control and degradation of our food supply and health and shift it to farm land, wells and the farmers and food networks we need to sustain a healthy food supply for ourselves and our families.” Catherine Austin Fitts Blog

It would be nice if these folks had the budget of the military too:

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

But they have had steep cuts recently.

Nice overview. The title of the essay, however, doesn't fit IMHO.

Relocalization will occur naturally in society as a response to GW & PO and in fact, one could argue that the process is well underway in many urban areas already.

An ecological response? Most definitely.

A strategic response? No, I don't think so.

Perhaps you are correct. I would hope that more people are proative however. The BALLE movement is gaining much momentum, for example, and so I do think some are trying to get ahead of the curve.

I don't understand this fixation on local. Is Willits going to make its own microprocessors? Its own cars? Or is it going to do without them? (ie no cars, computers, MRI scanners)

Sure, we need to include the cost of CO2 in our electricity and transportation fuels; that will change the economics of production/logistics but not significantly I suspect. We can still have olive oil from Italy and wines from Spain and Chile; they will just cost a bit more.

We can still have olive oil from Italy and wines from Spain and Chile; they will just cost a bit more.

And not much more. So many here vastly overestimate the price of transportation of goods. Relocalization isn't going to happen; Possibly cities will get denser and suburbs will get less dense.

But this article is replete with the standard obsession with EROEI, overshoot, and other doomer standbys that have no predictive power whatsoever.

I think people overestimate the cost of international ship transportation in bulk, and underestimate the cost of local truck-oriented retail distribution.

I think 'relocalization' in the sense of everybody going back to the farm or country is mostly bunk (rural people today use significantly more petroleum per person than city-dwellers).
Those who are actually there will be either desperately poor or part of the wealthy landowning elite.

By contrast, if you are close to a port or train distribution hub, then goods will be cheaper and jobs available. With less money we won't be able to afford quaint hand-made handicrafts from Pennsylvania. Cheap Chinese crap will be in even more demand.

There will be more urbanization, not less, most likely.

We already have done the experiment. Look at 'developing nations' which do not produce any substantial amount of petroleum domestically. What is the typical pattern?

Rural areas are horribly poor but generally peaceful except for occasional class-oriented riots which almost always are suppressed violently and effectively.

Centers of cities are where the elite live, and there is some transportation infrastructure (train/bus). Surrounding the cities, and with much less transportation, crime-ridden shantytown hellhole "suburbs".

Most folks doing this focus on the essentials: food, energy, water, basic manufacturing feedstocks, trade skills.

Without the microprocessor in this laptop of mine I'll do fine. Without the calories in my tummy, I go belly up.

JN2, perhaps the difficulty in "understanding the fixation on local" is that many have presented it in in the same binary on/off type context that oil depletion often is presented in (today awash in oil/tomorrow out of oil).

As you seem to be saying also, it just doesn't work that way. It is not a case of "Global today/Local tomorrow".

Local economies do seem like a logical result of the forces now in action, but only after a long, uncontrolled process of economically evolving (or devolving? I think evolving...) through a whole bunch of stages from Here to There.

Today we are globalized in a huge complex web of inter-dependencies (like it or not) and SOMEDAY (in the future) we will NOT be nearly so globalized (because of transportation difficulties and costs associated with diminished oil supplies).

But between here and there is a whole lot of territory to cover in terms of de-accelerating the rate of globalization, seeing globalization peak, then working with the complexities of reversing globalization. As economies reverse farther and farther from the globalization peak then we will first start to see some large regions become "local economies" (like perhaps South America or the Australia-NZ-Asian Islands region). Later individual countries will become local economies, then later yet perhaps portions of the larger countries. Sometime after that perhaps it will be areas the size of individual US States that become local economies, followed someday in the foggy future by areas the size of a handful of counties becoming a local economy.

Will the town of Willits ever make it's own microprocessors? Probably not. But they will probably somoeday in the foggy future produce many of their own necessities, and some sort of trade goods or skill. What will they trade for? Once upon a time it would have been silk or spices, but in the foggy future they may trade for a few microprocessors ;o)

Greg in MO

Poster's note - I've been meaning to post this for some time. I think it might be germane to this discussion.

Post-Peak Education

Almost a month ago (maybe more), I mentioned that I believed that more money should be spent on education than light rail. My underlying reason for saying this was that it (light rail) presumes that society continues pretty much as it is and that people have a reason to need transport to another location. Aniya asked specifically what I meant regarding education. It was harder than I thought.

One of the things I have found lacking on many TOD postings dealing with the future of society is a lack of defined parameters. We demand error bars on things that address quantifiable issues yet ignore them on societal issues. I believe definitions/parameters are necessary, even qualitative, on posts that address societal issues. Do not demand links or other support since what follows is my opinion. I would suggest that those who disagree with my parameters copy and past mine, inserting their own rather than wasting time bitching about mine.

Clearly, everything depends upon how one sees the future. I finally settled on two possible US-centric scenarios.

Status Quo Lite (Chaotic Collapse)
Societal post-peak lifespan - <10 years to collapse
Energy availability - decreasing 4% per year
Sustainability - not sustainable
Division of labor - hig degree of specialization
Population density - high to very high (50-200+/acre, except agricultural area)
Population and Opo. Growth - 300M and slowly increasing
Governance - elected representatives/bureaucracy
Economy - consumer/service, >60%
Economic Paradigm - capitalist/market
Money - fiat currency
Energy production - centralized municipal/corporate
Living Arrangements - single family, either stand-alone or apartments
Energy Quality Required - high
Food - purchased
Technology/science - Big science still supported
Law Enforcement/Military - alive and well and consuming resources
Key Meme - the market and capitalism will provide for my needs

In this scenario, consmption and energy use are downsized, there is some relocalization and re-urbanization but it is, essentially, business as usual.

My personal belief is that the society in this scenario hasn't a chance of surviving in the medium term, that is, ten years after the all liquids peak and that it will be chaotis, anarchic and unfocused when it does collapse. This is based to a large extent on the "service" nature of the economy, a fiat monetaary system, resources depeltion, lack of "useful" skills, a necessary highly complex infrastructure, continued population growth and consumption beyond basic needs.

The slow descent will also allow various interest blocks (including regional, state and the Federal government) time to attempt to maintain their power and/or influence decisions. This will exacerbate the collapse since it is not in their interest to adopt new paradigms or give up power. I believe this is of crucial importance.

I see two possible educations cources of action under this scenario and in either case society collapses:

Possibility A - There is no recognition by the public that the old paradigm is being crushed by over population and resouce depeletion. Education continues to mirror that of today although some professional paaths such as alternative energy and aagriculture gain more students. The had of the market will decide.

Possibility B - Society gets it but there is a debate as to how soon something should be done, whatever that "something" is. In true bureaucratic pashion, they decide to try to have it both ways by adding onto the exisitng curriculum. This certainly does not solve the issues facing society but it is a step in the right direction and could reduce the severity of the coming societal collapse.

School year: Extended from 9 to 10 1/2 months in grades 9-12.

Added curriculua: The added 1 1/2 months (mid-Jum through July) is devoted to areas that, it is believed, could be of prctical use to the students after they graduate. The subjects include nutrition/healthful living, home gardening and food preservatio, basic construction skills, energy efficiency (housing and transportation) and alternative energy systems. Boys and girls take the same calsses together. The last month of a student's senior year is used for community service and outreach.

In a way what I am suggesting here is "Back to the Future" on an expanded scale. I graduated from high school in 1956. The area where I lived was upper middle class and a high percentage of students went to college. Yet, there were 13 shop techers, 3 home economics teachers and 9 business teachers for a student population of 2,500 (the school only had grades 10-12). Further, shop or home economics classes were required in 7th, 8th and 9th grade. I took shop through 10th grade - applied electricty (house wiring). I would have taken more but I was college bound and didn't have any free periods.

Dieoff (and Rebirth)
Societal Post-Peak Lifespan - multiple generations
Energy Availability - currently stable (it was decreasing 10+% a year post-peak prior to the biological war of 2015)
Sustainability - moderate to high
Division of Labor - low, generalist
Population Density - low (<0.2/acre), excpet manufacturing zones
Population and Pop. Growth - 60M (ater a 240 dieoff), stable to slowly decreasing
Governance - regional consensus via the Robust Internet (There are no regional, state or federal governments.)
Economy - mostly home production of goods and foods, <2% outside the home
Economic Paradigm - societal for durable goods and communications
Money - there is no "money" nor is there any need for money
Energy Production - individual but societal in regional manufacturing zones
Living Arrangements - extended family/affinity group (1015 adults) in one dwelling on sufficient land to provide food and energy
Energy Quality required - low individual, moderate to high manufacturing
Food - home produced with a few minor exceptions
Technolgy/Science - very slow, incremental improvements in existing technology
Law Enforcement/Military - local residents/militias
Key Meme - personal responsibility in all things

For simplicity I used a high energy depletion rate to precipitate biological warfare and sunsequnet dieoff since the infrastructure would be largely intact and the dieoff would occur over a fairly short period.

Ok, the likehood of rebirth occuring after a dieoff is nil. However, a biological war isn't. The remaing people have regrouped (don't ask me how) to form a new kind of society that is almost stable-state. In fact, it is almost static. There are no consumer products in today's sense.

I include this scenario because this is how I would like to see society eveolve and it gives me a framwork in which to present isdeas. Many of the ideas could be incorporated now were today's educational system overthrown along with most currrent economic paradigm.

The advantage of a dieoff under these circumstances is that there was generations-worth of useful materials from lumber to clothing to equipemnt. It allowed the surviving people time to regoup over a 20 year period once anarchy and power blocks were dealt with.

There is no economy in the usual sense with the exception of some manufactured goods such as cloth and shoes, canning jar lids, lamp mantles, certain equipment, sugar, detergents, a few food products, etc. that cannot be produced at home. As noted below, these are not purchased but rather an entitlement. There is some barter between regions and individuals.

I am making the following assumptions in approaching education: First, that there is a more robust Internet (called, natually, the Robust Internet) to take the place of all retail business (which is a non sequitur since there is none), educational activities, communication, governance and entertainment.

Second, that various lubrications oils/diesel/gasoline are available but they are highly allocated (2 gallons of petroleum products per person per year - mostly used for chain saws or oil changes. The petroleum allotment was arrived at by consensus. Most families/groups use wood gas/biogas for their few ICE's. It made no energentic sense to replace useful vheicles with PEVs. Plus, battery production for PEVs was too energy intensive...there is no place to "go" in any case. Wood gas/biogas is used for appliance fuel (stoves, refrigerators, clthes drying closets and to supplement solar water heaters).

They use PV, winf or microhydro for DC power. There are no storage batteries or inverters. Those without wind or microhydro rely upon small 500W DC, low rpm diesel generators (think miniture Lister generators) run on wood gas/biogas for power after dark to run their computers for learning or entertanment. Gaslights (wood gas/biogas) are typicall used for nightime lighting. Third, that all farm work is done using animals. Fourth, that these groups really do provide for most of their needs.

Finall, the society is especially proud of what it calls the Civilization in a Closet. Actually, it is a very oversized metal storage cabinet that contains 20,000 books scanned onto microfiche (that can be read using sunlight), 2,000 View Master-typ discs for picture including a viewer and 500 6" records (playable on a wind-up turntable) that include not only various musical styls but also recordings of important historical speeches. Every "family" has one. After the transition, it was felt that it was especially important to assure that information was not lost or unavailable because of technology.

Pre-K to "10th grade" - Home schooling
The cirriculum is structured so that someone completing "10th" grade will have received the educational equivalent of someone completing their freshman year in college. This is possible because home scholling doesn't waste time on ancillary stuff. The emphasis is upon classical literature, history and philosophy because they are the glue that hold socity together, science (chemistry, biology, physics, botany/entomolgy) and math (every kid has a basic understanding of statictics and calculus).

It is assumed that the child is introduced to pracatical living skills at home but these are vastly expanded upon in Adult Education.

All kids have an Internet tutor/mentor and perr/support groups available at any time.

Adult Education (2 years) - Boarding School
I started college when I was 17 and did OK so that's what happens with these kids..they leave for Adult School after the fall harvest when they are 17. Note that this isn't "college." There aren't any colleges. There aren't any degrees. There aren't any graduate schools or professions and this is a key point; the purpose of education is to achieve a personally fulfilling, stable-state life.

Classes run 8 hours a day, 5 1/2 days a week. Kids get four weeks off a year, two at planting and two at harvest. Besides skills, this period offers an opportunity to have significant contact with the other sex (or same ses or whtever).

The cirriculum is weighted toward life and vocational skills: personal relationships(It also includes serious sec education demonstrating that sexual satisfaction does not have to include procreating), group dynamics, societal dynamics, salvage operations, carpentry, forestry, soil science/plant nutrition/terra preta, irrigation/drainage, plmbing, electrical, engine repair/maintenance, physical education (Tai Chi, yoga, martail arts), roofing/shingle making, making homemade protective finishes, homemade lubricating oils/greases, furniture making. timber sawing/timber framing, advanced EMT/nurse practitioner, nutrition, sewing (hand and treadle), tanning/leather working/harness making, greenhouse managment, apiary management, fruit science/viticulture, plant breeding, animal husbandry, spinning weaving, aquaculture/pond maintenance, pest control, pottery/cramics, food preservation, paper making, welding/blacksmithing, hunting and gathering, dentistry, weapons and tactics.

Both sexes take the same classes. There are no grades either - remember personal responsibility in the meme. But, there are tests so no one can claim they "didn't know." However, perfomance matters when it comes to mate selection. No woman or man would consider pairing with someone who is a screw-off or comes from a dysfuntional group/family. There are no class clowns.

Apprenticeship (1-2 years) + Work Period (to age 30)
Yes, people in this society retire at age 30 and go back to their group. The age for retirement was chosen because the older members will have begun to have difficulty carrying the workload and a couples' child will be a few years old. I should add that all workers live at their work site so there is no communting. Room and board are free but there is no pay either.

A few final words about this society: The few goods produced are all standardized, of absolutely the highest quality to extend their useful life and all durable goods are repaiable by the owner (all products that may need rebuilding come with one or more rebuild kits). The minimum acctepable life of durables is two generations. Nothing is produced that can be made at home. People who do not are disenfranchised and thrown out. There is no right to the work of others because a person simply exists.

Everyone who has fulfilled their work periods gets a basic yearly allotment of "stuff" as noted above. It is all containerized and comes by truck-train oncec a year. One year was chosen since it was believed this would promote furgality.

So, to avoid a novella, that's it. Now, lest someone think I haven't gone farther in my mind, I have. I just don't want to write Todd's version of Ecotopia. Is it realist? No! Are there inconsistencies? Of course!


Have you ever read "Seven Tomorrows" by Hawkin et al? It was written in the late 70s, and seems to be starting to become strangely prophetic. They set forth seven scenarios:

1) The Official Future
2) The Center Holds
3) Mature Calm
4) Chronic Breakdown
5) Apocalyptic Transformation
6) Beginnings of Sorrow
7) Living Within Our Means

#1 is the Cornucopian vision. We're all familiar with that, & most of us know that this is no longer a reality-based scenario.

#2 pretty much describes Dick Cheney's America - semi-authoritarian corporatism with an increasing dose of imperialism & militarism.

In spite of Bush & Cheney's best efforts, most of us know that we are quickly shifting into #4. Everybody knows about terrorism, and increasing numbers of people realize that the US economy is looking increasingly hollowed out, held together with bailing wire and twine and duct tape. We all know that there is a rough ride just ahead. At this point, this one would have to be rated the most optimistic realistic scenario.

Most of the dieoff doomers could relate to #6, though they might consider even that scenario to be too optimistic.

#3 is the path that we might have chosen in the late 70s. It looked like we were starting to go down that path (the Greening of America and all that), but then came the Iran hostage fiasco, Reagan was elected, and America decided to give the Official Future another try. Energy efficiency and renewable energy was all put out of sight and out of mind for a couple of decades. In retrospect, this looks like the path we should have taken, but unfortunately I fear it is too late now.

#5 was purely speculative, thinking that the Evangelical revival of the 70s might go in a totally different, more benign direction than it ended up taking. Another path not taken.

#7 looks a lot like what the relocalization, deep ecology, bioregionalist brand of doomers are hoping for. Unfortunately, because we turned away from #2 some 27 years ago, that pathway is looking pretty unlikely now.

Do you mean Paul Hawken of Smith and Hawken? If so the answer is no. I do have his book The Next Economy (1983) though.

Along these lines I also subscribed to CoEvolution Quarterly magazine in the 80's which had lots of stuff germane to what is coming down. The magazines are still on my bookshelves. It was published by the Whole Earth Catalog. I think a lot of people would benefit searching out some old issues given what is coming down.

Yep, same Hawken. The Whole Earth Catalog & Mother Earth News were all part of the whole greener, kinder, gentler world that the #3 Mature Calm scenario envisioned. I wish we could turn the clock back to 1979 and pick up where we left off, the entire country definitely took a wrong turn there. Unfortunately, I'm afraid we can't just back up to that fork in the road and take the different path now. Too much has happened with implications and consequences. Our situation is like the person who doesn't have the surgery to remove the stage 1 cancer because the surgery would be inconvenient and hurt a little. Well, now they (we) are at stage 3 or maybe even stage 4, and any remaining treatment options are going to be horrific with low probabilities of success. Too late for that stage 1 surgery now.

This is deserving of its own post or heading on TOD...nice job, Todd.


Thanks for the kind words. I did consider submitting it but then I felt I would have to provide a lot more details and rationales. For example, take extended families/affinity groups: There are obviously clear advantages to this ranging from "shared" equpiment and work to the reality that some jobs cannot be done by one person. However, there are also non-obvious advantages that I would have felt necessary to mention.

Draft animals comes to mind. Animal power for field work has several constraints for efficient operation. Traditional American Farming Techniques (1916) has this to say, "In Tompkins County, N.Y., on 586 farms operated by owners, the acres per horse ranged from 15 on farms of 30 acres or less to 49 on farms of over 200 acres." Therefore, it seems to me, that a larger group plowing more land will be significantly more efficient than an individual family with less ground to prepare. This would be especially important in a resource constrained world.

Maybe I'll end up writing that novella some time and submit it.


Hi Todd,

I appreciate that you gave some (much!) thought to my question. It's going to take me longer than I have right now to read and reflect - just wanted you to know I see it.

Some very well thought out ideas. You need to do a Topic Post on this subject.

In the past you went to school but it was not mandatory around here. You also didn't go to school when there was a need for you to do work on the farm. Like digging potatoes or putting up tobacco. The farm work canceled the school.

Also there were forms of apprenticeship. Usually in blacksmithing and other skills that had to be learned by practice and not from books,books not being that readily available and in fact still aren't in small towns. Some libraries but on the small scale. Our county has no library.

Many would 'hire' out to larger landowner/farmers and work a team in planting season or do chores. They would get room and board and if good maybe $.50 or $1.00 if full grown and didn't get room and board. It was rare that I even saw a coin as a child. I would help put up loose hay and get nothing. Sometimes a piece of candy.Drive a team on the fields to get ready for planting. Even at 6 or 7 years old I could work a team of mules.

The rule was you worked and didn't slack off. If you didn't work you got a switching with a limber hickory limb or worse the razor strop. It was not in anger and it worked. You did not want to get my grandfather pissed. He said do something and you did it and didn't whine either.

We had 12 cows to milk. If my uncles were laying out somewhere then me and my grandmother and brother had to hand milk all 12 cows. The uncles then got an asskicking for laying out.They left the farm just as soon as the war started(WWII).

I like your ideas. Disenfranchisement was practiced as well in the rural farms in my youth. One could be 'posted' out of the local church for bad behaviour. One would be not trusted if they lied and cheated. They then lived on the margins and were not given much due.

We are all going to have to return to this or a very similiar lifestyle. It worked in the past. It can work again. It was not that hard in fact if everyone pulled together. Like a mule team when both pull. If one slacks off he gets a touch of the reins across the rump. They learn.

Most mules learn the way home pulling a wagon from town. You could go to sleep on the wagon seat and they would go right to the farmhouse.

Mules were wonderful animals to me. I loved to see them work and relax in the barnyard. They were fairly smart animals. Didn't overeat and founder like a horse will. I raised a lot of horses over the years. Breed them,raised them, broke them and shod them. Always took a loss on selling them so eventually I quit with the horses but I still would love to have a good saddle horse.

Yesteryears societies were built around animals. Riding and working horses and mules. Later you got your deliveries of ice and milk via a horse drawn wagon. You took your grain to the mill the same way. You wanted to go anywhere either you walked or rode or took a team and wagon.

To me this would become second nature again. In fact a friend down the road a ways still drives a wagon and team around the roads just because he loves to do it. The Amish here use it as their means of transportation.

The bare facts are though that except for a very few the rest of us are simply not going to be able to cope or adapt with these methods. The only ones who can even relate to it are country people who still have some ties to the past or have animals on their places.

For most of America its going to be very very rough. They are not going to prepare and won't have time once its obvious. Even walking is foreign to them.

Just to think of what they use that will be gone. Its mindshattering.

Everyone needs to be a packrat. Throw NOTHING away. Start picking up whatever lies about that no one wants. Covet scrap iron,wheels,wire,rope,servicable containers...the list is endless.

After chaos much might have been looted or burned. You may not be able to go out and salvage due to mobs or roaming terrorists or the distance involved.. What you have stored on your own might be all you will have a chance to get.

When all this subsides,then those left will have to come together in some manner. How I don't know.

Nice to hear from someone else with actual experience on a farm. I posted near the top of this topic but did so late.

I notice that there is a lot of posters that think in the darkest days of the depression or in the coming oil crash that farm communities worked closely on joint projects. From my families experience and my own I did not see a lot of that type cooperation. The Amish, of course, are a different society with long standing traditions of working together and sharing. In my experience the large family was the solution to a labor shortage. This, in turn, created another problem;ie, what do the male sons other than the eldest do? In some states laws required that the property be split among all heirs, in others the eldest got the property. If the farm was split it sometimes became too small to raise a cash crop that would support the next generation.

Some other problems I see for those that believe that they can continue to live a life style similar to the one they have today by simply adding solar or wind are what happens when a hail storm tears up ones solar panels or a gale force winds destroys the wind turbine? Where will the necessary parts to repair come from? What happens when the storage batteries for the solar collectors begin to fail? All of these systems will sooner or later need repairs and parts replacement. If one is going this route I suggest a large supply of spares be aquired when the installations are done along with training and manuals on repairing high tech items.

My opinion is that few Americans are prepared for what is coming. As you pointed out most are not even walkers on a daily basis, I cannot see them lasting out a day behind a team of mules. Americans that do work on farms today comprise about 3% of the population and that includes the megafarms that are specialized in one or two crops and all associated equipment that are needed for these crops on multi thousand acre farms. These operations are not your 'old Mcdonald' farm operation that was deversified and mostly for the self sufficient. Mega farms will cease to exist. No one can plow enough acreage to keep a mega farm going with mules even if they could get the necessary insecticides and chemical fertilizers - products made from natural gas and petroleum. All out there that think they are up to a subsistance farm life and are in shape from their time spent in a local air conditioned gym should get on the business end of a post hole digger in 92 degree heat and 87% humidity and see how long you can last. Nothing about subsistance farming is easy unless one is raised in the tradition. Starting such an enterprise when one is up in years and totally new to it is going to be quite a challenge. Airdale offered some fine advice, good luck to all.

Let me just say that I could listen to (read) conversations between Todd and Airdale all day. I wish you guys were my neighbors!

Also, I have the same experience with mules. I have the smartest horse I've ever met, but my mule is smarter, stronger, doesn't founder, eats & drinks less.

A good bet for some folks would be to become a dealer for whatever system they select to use themselves. Make sure a lot of your neighbors have the same systems, and maintain a large inventory of spare parts. Numerous advantages to setting this whole thing up as a small business sideline.

Thanks River,

I am not sure why its somewhat different on sharing work in the area you grew up in versus my area.

One thing: Counties are the boundaries of our life. Kentucky has 120 counties and each stands by itself pretty much. The road surfaces even change when you cross county boundaries yet if you live near the county line you may swing both ways. I have lots of kin in adjoining counties but your somewhat partial to you own county.

Anyway I can easily count on my neighbors for help or assistance. They run cattle on the land I sold them and so when times get bad I am sure we will all protect that herd and use it as needs be. I gave them a lot of hay this spring and I could run some cattle in with theirs as a result. This is true neighborness in action.

However you are very correct about modern ag. My buddy is divorced and has only one son. He is just barely holding his head above water, farming 3,000 or so acres. The cost of equipment , inputs and all the rest eat you alive. Can only support one son at it.

Putting up fence. Digging posts holes with a tractor and PTO auger. Tough tough work. Takes a strong and young back. I believe we might just go back to 'open range' since in the future there might be no barbwire or any wire. No more electric fence chargers and the solar ones tend to die , as mine did when the wetpack cell goes out.

Of course mule power will be worth little if you don't have horse drawn equipment to hitch them to. Luckily a buddy of mine has been collecting this stuff for years and years.

Tack will be another problem.


PS. Forgot though I stated it once before. You cannot reasonably work draft animals without high protein grain to feed them. They can't get enough off pasture or hay to do hard work. Stomachs I think are too small. So you pretty much need grain, and corn is the usual choice in the past. Rolled oats will do as well. But they will have to have access to it as well as hay for roughage. In the off time then pasture is fine by itself.

However you are very correct about modern ag. My buddy is divorced and has only one son. He is just barely holding his head above water, farming 3,000 or so acres. The cost of equipment , inputs and all the rest eat you alive. Can only support one son at it.

I think this is some kind of evidence that we aren't remotely close to doomer scenarios.

Think about it: if food were so close to being scarce, would the price be so desperately low?

People WILL eventually prioritize food over other things and so the price of food will increase faster than the cost of those other inputs.

At present, those other inputs are expensive because there is tremendous competition in constructing massive factories and infrastructure in China---i.e. hypertechnological growth, the opposite of the doomer scenario.

And I think farm machinery may eventually be electrified. The fact that they don't have to travel long distances might make it easier. People will certainly go to battery-powered machinery before 19th century manual and animal labor.

It would make a lot more sense to grow oilseeds and press them into biodiesel right on the farm. No investment in new equipment, the EROEI is pretty good, and by my calculations only 2.5-5% of acreage is needed for enough oilseeds to supply all the fuel needed for ag equipment.

This won't happen to any great extent while diesel is around $3/gal. Once it hits double digit territory, you can bet that a lot of farmers will start experimenting.

It's important to keep in mind that there is an alternative to localism as a response to PO and GW. That is to switch to renewable energy and continue our industrial and technological growth. The earth gets more than enough energy in the form of solar power to run our entire transportation infrastructure. Obviously converting the whole world to run on electricity or hydrogen will be extremely expensive and painful; but it is surely much less of a change than the wholesale transformation of every aspect of society envisioned by localisation proponents.

It will inevitably be a mix of the two. Renewable energy sources are sufficiently more expensive that it won't be possible to afford using as much energy as we do now.
Personally, I think the biggest gains to be made are in efficiency improvements, most of which are well understood now, but there's been insufficient market pressure (partly due to distorting government subsidies, partly due to the lack of factoring in of the long term costs of energy usage) to promote their widespread uptake. However, even with maximal uptake and improvement of renewable energy generation, and efficient energy-usage, fossil fuel depletion will mean that energy will still be too expensive to use in the profligate ways we do now. Long-distance transporting of goods and people will become less economical, hence promoting the rebirth of closer-to-home manufacturing and food production, but I don't see this equating to wholesale relocalization. I have no issue with those who promote it, as I agree that it has the potential to improve the quality of life for those that it appeals to, but I can't see that they will ever represent a sufficiently large fraction of the population that it actually makes a difference to our global sustainability issues.

What s/he said.

And don't forget the internet.

I am all for going local and producing local products. I am an avid woodworker and have skills in tool making and mechanics.

But how to continue servicing the debts I have while making jack-squat selling my products to a populace that expects IKEA prices on furniture?

The raw materials to make, say, a bed would amount to more that it would cost to just buy a bed from IKEA. Factor in the labor I put into making a bed and you're talking several times the cost of a bed from IKEA.

So you've got people who barely make enough to pay a mortgage maxing out their credit cards on gasoline and groceries. How can I expect them to buy something from me that costs several times more than the bed in the IKEA catalog?

Can anyone recommend a book or resource to help with this conundrum? How to produce local and make a living?

Tom A-B

Welcome to my world!

In my case it is not making a bed, but growing and selling food.

When it costs someone $1000/month for rent, a few hundred more for utilities and health care, etc. and they work 60 hours a week providing for THE BASIC SUSTENANCE OF LIVE and then get paid below minimum wage rate for it...

My sense is that society, yes even in the U.S., will socialize food, medicine and housing for some critical workers. Given that the AVERAGE age of U.S. farmers is 63, a massive equity transfer, education and training will by necessity go towards a younger generation.

This is totally optional though. We will only have to do this if we want to eat.

What you are basically doing is going towards a business startup. Grab a copy of What Colour Is Your Parachute from the library and go through it, and pay attention to the advice. I can tell you where I deviated from it I've had to kick myself, and when I've followed it life's been sweet.

Steer away from the idea of localisation and peak oil prep per se, conceive of yourself as a future self-employed furniture maker who is an asset to the local community.

Look at organic food producers and identify what is specific about food production and what is transferable to your skill set.

I think you will find words like niche, upmarket, quality, personal relationships, and commitment will come across. You can't compete with IKEA any more than a smallholder competes with an agribusiness concern, but nor should you need to.

A better reply than my first attempt!

We are doing a lot of marketing on the value of fresh, local food. Selling at a premium to people committed to quality and desire a diverse, vibrant local economy.

Perhaps get in contact also with the folks here:

Really nice and connected to successful small businesses all over.

"But how to continue servicing the debts I have while making jack-squat selling my products to a populace that expects IKEA prices on furniture?"

The only way to do it at the present time, would be to sell hand-made, uniquely-designed furniture to people (trendy middle-class!) who are willing to pay for such products. While they CAN pay several times as much as for IKEA furniture. The problem with a post-peak contracting economy is that while IKEA may go under, such people are then going to be broke themselves. That's when you can maybe make a (poor) living making basic, rustic furniture for ordinary people. However, if you still have big debt repayments to make at that time, its not easy to make enough to pay them. Hence westexas's advice to get rid of debt now, before recession/depression makes it very difficult to do so. As many here have pointed out, those living beyond their means now will suffer in the future.

"...Hence westexas's advice to get rid of debt now, before recession/depression makes it very difficult to do so. As many here have pointed out, those living beyond their means now will suffer in the future...."

-well, given that a fair chunk of people in 'advanced societies' have mortgages (I don't have the figures but it's got to be over half no?) then I guess this means they will 'suffer'? Now I'm not exactly sure how they will suffer -but two possible ways come to mind:

1. There will be such crushingly high interest rates that they will struggle to repay
2. They will not have a job

In both cases the way out is to 'walk away' from the debt in which case lenders will inherit properties who's values is decreasing yearly, hence they will wish to liquidate ASAP to recover some part of the loan. Prices would collapse rapidly.

So the outcome could be to turn the suburbs (not economical any more) into sprwaling shanti-towns of relocated out-of-home / unemployed people.

Perhaps this is where the ReLocalization Ethic will take root -amongst the disenfranchised masses who decide to live outside of whatever is left of 'the old system'...

Btw. Here's a nice little link I found on Backyard Hydroponics -or how to grow lots of fish and plant food in a very small space:

Regards, Nick.

noutram, the situation you describe of crushingly high interest rates and suburbanites unemployed and taking a hike on the mortgage happened in Houston in the collapse of the oil exploration industry during the 1980's. West Texas has talked about this some, it really shaped both his and my attitudes about life and money. It wasn't just in Houston, it was also in Midland-Odessa, and parts of Dallas. But I know the Houston area best, so I'll talk about what happened there.
The whole Houston area was dependent on oil and gas exploration-about 1/3 of the local jobs were there. Not just landmen like me, and Geologists like Jeffrey, but secretaries, machinists working on oil tools, drilling rig building companies, local banks making loans to the local manufacturers,great jobs making excellent money.
Local real estate collapsed. I owned a big house and four little rent houses in the Heights and owed $250,000, probably equivalent to $750,000 in debt today. House prices deflated by 40% in my neighborhood. Luckily, I sold out and paid off my debts with only a small loss. But other neighborhoods on the edges of town were really hit bad-in Missouri City, Alief, Sugarland, Jersey Village you could buy foreclosed homes for a huge discount and everybody's equity disappeared.
The whole character of many neighborhoods changed completely. The foreclosure vultures turn them into rent houses, and the class of people got noticeably lower. But, on the bright side, a lot of the bargain hunters did very well, and many immigrants were able to buy their first homes. Fairly big ethnic areas sprung up. My joke was we lost the Viet Nam war, and Kissinger gave them Alief. But there are Nigerian suburban areas, Chinese areas, Latino areas, Arab areas, Indian areas-Houston became very diverse. The were also areas that became gang-ridden crack slums, with thugs of all races shooting it out. Vietnamese Mafia, Texas Mafia and Texas Syndicate (Mexican prison gangs), Crips, Bloods, and plain old white trash. Many of the areas have never recovered.
Now, I can see signs its happening again, only on a nation-wide basis. If it takes two saleries in a family to pay the mortgage, the car payments, the gasoline bill, then what happens when somebody gets sick or divorced? What happens when you've been using home equity loans as an ATM and the new loan gets cut off?
Anyrate, those memories have made me gunshy about debt. I owe about $72,000 on my mortgage, but no other debts. I pay my credit cards off completely each month, and 3 days work a month pays my mortgage, insurance and property taxes. And that's why I really recommend the ELP plan. I could actually "afford" a McMansion and a new SUV by modern loans, but not really.

Noutram - thanks for the aquaponics link.

Oilmanbob - I think restricting debt to mortgage only - as long as the mortgage relates to the "real" value of your home and not speculation-inflated value - is wise. I think its been said here and elsewhere by a number of writers that governments in N. America and W. Europe are unlikely to allow a widespread collapse of the property market through repossessions if they can possibly avoid it. It would just ruin too many people and they would be out of office. More likely, inflation would be allowed to rise - people here have mentioned the "dropping dollar bills out of helicopters" scenario to avert a 1930's style depression.

By the way, one trick credit card companies do here is this. If you have a big balance and only make the minimum payment - or not much more - for many months in succession, while not buying things with the card, they will assume you are struggling, are a high risk regarding possible default, and will put up your interest rate. They will of course tell you that you do of course have the option to pay the whole balance off if you don't like it! Not a problem if you can, but if not the extra interest increases the risk of default and all that that brings.

What many people in UK do is to remortgage to pay off credit card balances. Friends of mine have done it three times in the last 10 years. Fine if your job looks secure and property prices are rising, but in a property market meltdown its not an opton for most and a lot of people could get stuck with uncontrollable debt from other loans even if they can still pay the mortgage. At best, that's going to cause a big fall in their discretionary spending, and so many other people's jobs in our economies now, depend on exactly that.

So I would see a property price collapse, if it affects a large percentage of a country which runs in this way (e.g. UK, USA), as the first stage of a general recession which would then be very difficult to avoid.

[Sorry this is a bit off-topic now]

A while back I created a simple house price model in Excel that was driven primarily by Interest rates that Oscillated round a fixed value. As we are now in a period of historically low Interest rates the oscillator is high but as Inflation bites and rates rise the price falls.

Interest rate and Inflation values to present where all UK based and accurate, the future rates where picked as follows:

Year Headline Inflation Base Rate
2007 3.1 5
2008 3 5
2009 3.2 5
2010 3.5 5.1
2011 3.5 5.35
2012 3.6 5.5
2013 4 5.55
2014 6 5.8
2015 8 7
2016 8 9
2017 8 10
2018 8 10
2019 8 10
2020 8 10
2021 8 10
2022 8 10
2023 8 10
2024 8 10
2025 8 10

(Headline Inflation was the Government 'chosen value'. After 2012 we see the delayed effects of PO biting throughout society -it's harder for the government to hide the real rate and Inflation creeps up. Interest rates where capped at 10% and calculated from half the previous two years combined CPI Inflation + 2%. Starting price was about 70,000 UK pounds -about what I paid for a London two bed flat back in 1995. 'Peak Price' is ~300K reached around 2010 (My two bed is now worth ~£300K Btw.)

It's not meant to be accurate!!

Here is the resulting graph to 2025:

House Price Graph

-Note how the actual value (top graph) end ups higher than the peak but the real -inflation adjusted- value falls to about 1/3 peak.

Regards, Nick.

Interesting. So in 10 years the real price will be back where it was in 1995 - which is probably a good indication of its "real" utility value as a dwelling. The inflation-adjusted price is as high now as its ever going to be - maybe a good time to sell up and buy that smallholding! Personally, I think you might be optimistic regarding the interest and inflation rates - I think one or the other will increase much earlier than you have modelled here as North Sea oil and gas production fall and we see an increasing trade deficit.

These aren't the real rates -just the ones in the CPI! ;o)

Eventually they'll run out of things to put in that basket that are NOT going up...


Well part of the problem is that localized production isn't typically more energy-efficient. What matters is the balance of energy requirements, including transport costs, and actual production costs. Mass-production will typically have energy-saving capabilities that small scale production can't match; and I'd argue that currently most mass production isn't done nearly as efficiently as it could be, because energy costs are so low. Coupling energy-efficient mass-production with energy-efficient transportation will, 9 times out of 10, give you the 'most for your energy'. And, if energy was costed suitably, market forces would inevitably push us in that direction anyway (which is not the same thing as saying "the free market will solve everything", or even "the free market is always the best way to solve technological challenges", both statements that are easily disproved by countless historical examples).

and don't forget the efficiency gains introduced by the internet...
(did I metion the internet??-)

Long transport routes by sea are btw usually more efficient than short one land-based..

Hi wiz,

Thanks. This is a point I've wondered about a lot, when contemplating the current global economy.

re: "What matters is the balance of energy requirements, including transport costs, and actual production costs."

I'd really like to see you expand upon this, with perhaps some examples.

Do you think this might be possible? Perhaps it could be a guest post.

It would be interesting to take some vital manufactured good or "sector" and discuss.

Bicycles, for example. Antibiotics, as another example.

It would also be interesting to take some examples in the energy extraction/production technology sector.

re: "I'd argue that currently most mass production isn't done nearly as efficiently as it could be..."

It would also be very interesting to see an example of this. I wonder if anyone else is writing about these points. They seem so crucial.

Short answer.
If you are good enough target the very top end of the market that can and will pay almost any price if they feel they are getting value for money.

It always seemed to work well for me.

I am retired and also have a woodworking shop and build solid wood glue up Shaker and other styles of furniture. I found that the only way for my little venture to make a profit was to consign my work to an 'upscale tourist' coustom wood furniture outlet in St. Augustine, Florida. The outlet is located in the old part of SA, near the fort built by the Spanish in about 1540. Since SA is the oldest city in America and advertises itself as such it draws a lot of tourists that have money and want to see what living in that era was like. The area is closed off to auto traffic, consists of several city blocks, and is bounded by Flagler College and the Old Fort. I started out by having shipments of hardwood delivered to a local terminal by truck but now I build a lot of furniture from cypress although that is getting hard to come by. Most of the big growth cypress is gone and what is left is mostly small trees and ground into 'cypress mulch.' I find it more profitable to build items such as pie safes, real cedar chests, seamans chests, etc, with hand dovetails and finished with oil or milk paint than it is to import hardwood from NC. Of course I still use hardwood for tables, chairs, etc. All I can say is that it is profitable but not to the point of making me a zillionaire. My venture would not support me without my retirement income. Perhaps you could find such an outlet near you?
I realize that in an oil short future that neither the tourist trade will be much nor will I have the means to transport my finished product fifty miles to a market but the venture is working now and I have no local market except for 'trade fairs' that dont produce many sales of high dollar items. Perhaps in the future you and I will not have to compete with cheap imports that undercut our market? If the economy collapes and money is worthless (even more worthless) I am willing to change and work on a barter system.
My wife and I are getting up in years or we would say to hell with Florida and move to higher ground away from the threat of a direct hit by a hurricane. I follow global warming news closely and realize that Floridas days are numbered. The immenent threat to Florida is the melt of the Greenland glaciers. Just the 17 foot rise from a Greenland melt will put our house, and many others, 5 feet underwater. I feel that some people are taking notice of sea level rise for last year was the first time ever that more people moved out of Florida than moved into Florida. Really, I dont know if the demographic trend is due to the rapid rise in taxes and insurance, the threat of more and larger hurricanes, low wages, or the threat of sea level rise due to global warming. Whatever, the cause its gotten the attention of state and local politicians that have buttered their bread with continual growth since the Marx Brothers made the movie 'Coconuts', which was a spoof of Fl. real estate and associated scandals. The politicans are actually trying to figure out how to lower taxes and are (supposedly) brow beating the insurance companies to keep costs down. This may work in the short run but not when residents and tourists are wading through water. Sorry I wandered off the woodworking topic, just thought anyone out there tinking of relocating to Florida should know what is going on here.

Woodworker huh? Me 2. Do you happen to know of WWA?

There's a few members who make a living at it. Maybe they can help with your question.

Hi Gene, No, I was not aware of WWA but I have not needed any other outlet than the one mentioned in St Augustine in my previous post. I will certainly check it out and see if can be an outlet for my work at some future time. Thanks for the heads up!

It's not a "outlet" in the sense of a commercial outlet. It's a non-commercial association of woodworkers, some pro's some hobbyists. A club, if you will. Over 5000 members worldwide.

This is from Jakarta Post: "China's biggest energy firm, CNOOC, signed an agreement early this year to team up with Indonesia's Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology, and Hong Kong Energy, to develop 1 million hectares (2.47 acres) of (jatropha) plantations and refineries worth US$5.5 billion in Papua and Kalimantan."
Based on yield of 5000 litres per acre, this one plantation will generate 59 million barrels of diesel oil a year.
Wow! A $5 billion project. Obviously, we cannot duplicate this on a local scale. OPEC is so alarmed by rising biofuel production, it is threatening to cut investment in oil production (today's FT, thru WSJ's Energy Round-Up).
Speaking to local, I would like to see the old idea of 40 acres and a mule resurrected, perhaps to 400 acres and a tractor. Lots of small farmers across the US growing jatropha (which grows on land not used by farms) or other crops, possibly algae, and then cooperatves for refining, marketing, selling, distribution.
Oil prices may collapse, rendering this idea into a really bad one. If OPEC faces rapidly declining oil production, why are they upset about rising biofuel output? I can't figure that out.
But small energy farms across America (and yes, of course, serious, very serious conservation) could break OPEC's grip forever. A lot of jobs would be created. We can obtain higher living standards in a cleaner world.

I don't think OPEC has to worry about biofuel production. The biophysics of biofuels doesn't pan out mathematically on an industrial scale.

If the plantation you mention is coverting rainforest to plantations, then it is going to be a massive carbon dioxide source. Indonesia, because of the conversion of rainforest to oil palm plantations, is the third highest emmitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, behind U.S. and China of course.

I don't recall the website but one detailed the government of India's planting Jatropha trees and the production of oil was around 70 barrels an acre. This translates to about 820 liters per acre. Problem with growing jatropha in US (the plant is native to southwest US and Mexico) is the warm climate required. It will not withstand a hard freeze. Advantage to this plant versus sugar cane which also requires a warm climate is that jatropha can produce oil seeds with less water and fertilizer. The addition of water and fertilizer increases yeilds above the standard 820 liters.

A quite good topic. Funny that some here bitch about not being ONTOPIC..yet of late I see more and more TOPIC POSTS that veer more and more from the PO and GW aspects. Its like someone finally realized what some of us others have been saying:
"so we see what is coming and the big question is WHAT are we/I/ going to ever DO about it?"

Several quite good topic posts then have surfaced. Exactly what we need. Some advance thinking and conjecture of dealing with the "FUTURE" part of the Oil Drums Title(Discussions on ...etc).

Therefore I take keyboard in hand and make some observations.
First I assume that by meant, a smaller more able , more finely tuned, more sustainable community.

Ohhhh wellll. then something just like a 'small town'. Where much of the stores and places you trade(I call it trade but others call it shop) at are family owned by local folks, where everybody seems to know everybody and tends to therefore be neighbors and assist their neighbors. Even 'love' them if thats not too sloppy for some.

Where there is no huge infrastucture and governing entities are smallish and made up of locals.

Well this describes small town USA. Its describes my home town. I can get most all of what I need locally. Even medical care. For sure there are no bagels joints, no Starbucks,only one pizza place,and a few restuarants where folks gather and have a good time table hopping. Where the waitress knows you and is courteous.

All these is what you might mean by localization.

However small town America has been stomped into the mud. Its attacked over and over. Its seems to be archaic and backwards. Even here on TOD people are referred to as Bubbas. Like in 50 million Bubbas with guns.

Yep,,live in the country and you want and need firearms. There is only ONE sheriff and you may have to take matters in your own hands yet suprisingly the crime level is quite low.

WalMart has done a masterful job of destroying small town America. Yet the infrasturcture is still there. For instance today I needed a haircut. I drove to the next town and met the barber taking a walk to the drugstore. I said,,can you cut my hair? He turned right around and cut it right then. We spoke of fishing and I got all the local news on it. We talked of quite a bit and I only paid $8.00 for it all.
You don't get this in the burbs or cities.

Today my cousin is coming to apparise my house for tax purposes. She is the property valuation administrator. She won't cut me any slack but it will be fair and just. You don't get that from impersonal robots in the burbs or cities. Not in my past experience you don't.

So the Localization stills exists. Its doesn't have to be reinvented. It was here once and in fact that was all that was here and then the world started to change.

Now it will have to change back and many will have to rejoin small town America. Thats what they always SAID they wanted when they moved to the burbs but they lied. They wanted convenience no matter WHAT the cost. They got it along with a dying country as a result.

Just go out into the outback. Find a nice small town somewhere. Study what makes it tick. No need to use scientific jargon and large studies. Its simple life and a good life..if your up to it. Ohh there is work and work but its good work.

Its not being stuffed into a bullpen or cellphone city or some telephone sweatshop. Its good air,water,neighbors,and all the rest we simply walked away from.

I know for I am living it. Please take a look at what is out here in the discarded , considered rednecky,empty outback we call the 'country'.

Yes all the soccer moms place ,Country Living magazines on their coffee tables and buy the sleazy cheesy Tater Bins and make believe that its really really Kuntry but its not..its just suburb trash, bullshit and ego.

I went to the quote [farmers market] in Raleigh. I didn't see anything that hadnt been trucked in and was suspicious as to its healthiness and origins. Most was shuck and jive cheap junk just made for the soccer moms to purchase. Also the place was full of Asians,Iranians,Indians and the like buying this stuff right off the unmarked bobtrucks.
I ever saw them selling wine with zero alcoholic content. Talk about a ripoff. The rest was just thinly veneered junk made to fool you long enough to get off the grounds.

Compared to the real farmers market I stop at in Asheville,NC ..its was the pits. The hog pit and can't even be mentioned in the same paragraph. In one you get REAL sourwood honey,at $12 a qt, in the other you get corn syrup and maybe a tablespoon of sourwood. In Asheville real farmers bring their stuff to the market. Have for years. The best one I know of.

So Localization is here..its just that no one is looking.

Did I miss something? Correct me if so.

You just need a town square,benches for the old timers to sit and whittle instead of being shoved in the nursying homes,you need a open air market,good small local government and lots of involvement, lots of folks with different skillsets.

Around here many homes have a garage where they repair cars,fix radiators,cane chairs,come and fix you heating or cooling,work on your house,and sell vegetables on a table in the yard. The Amish once more 'get it right' and we cover our eyes with scales and go out for another cappuccino at $5 buck a pop,waste lots of gas and drink pretty bad swill(myself I use a home La Pavoni that I got at an auction for $47 which costs $700 or more new)..but push comes to shove I know where so Kentucky Coffee Trees are growing.

Airdale-so what did I miss? Ohhh..if you come to the country and want the real life. Don't bring your television. Throw your cellphone out the window. Learn how to 'holler' for
your neighbor or how to ring a large bell for help. Get down in the dirt. Trade,work,grow something,learn a good skill, and most of all do not whine. Cut a switch to chasten your children. Be faithful to your wife....yada yada...and so on and so forth....

My neighbors and I don't have television. Honestly, the people who live around me don't watch T.V.! We do stuff together. Trade child care, raise bees, chickens, garden, make beer, sit around and drink beer, share meals, watch the kids be silly and sometimes whine at each other.

Plenty of entertainment. No cell phones, no computers, no TV, no money spend. Didn't travel anywhere to get all of this. Simply home.

I think what you did ,based on your response was just read my last paragraph and let the rest just fly by.

I had a whole lot of other commentary keyed up but after re-reading it I figured it was just a waste of bytes and bandwidth so I deleted it.

OK then. Keep up the good work. Lots will read. Most will do zip.

We are going down the rabbit hole.


I read the whole thing. Just really liked the part about the TV and knowing the neighbors. Rings true. Don't know how long it will last, but a good life so far.

A similar transitional lifestyle is more prevalent than some may think. It has no name, website, or publication that I'm aware of. :) I know of at least three families living within a 10 mile radius of me without TVs, growing and storing their own food, working 'normal' jobs because they must, not that they want to. There is no 'community' per se, but certainly we share information during a barbecue, share property and tools, and provide assistance when requested. It's really not that tough at this point given that we still enjoy the benefits of the available fossil fuel products albeit less than most people. The difficulty will be adapting to any sudden change.

Why is it that a few find this kind of life to be full and happy and worthwhile yet so many have no interest whatsoever?
Dimitry Orlov wrote recently that there is "a flood of Chinese, Indians, Mexicans, Africans, you name it - one generation off the farm, and they would rather die than go back."

Perhaps the arable land per capita in those places became very low and it got really unpleasant...e.g., Rawanda.

Perhaps farming became industrialized and poisonous and comodity prices sank while the prices of inputs rose...I think farmers in India have high sucicide rates.

Perhaps their traditional lands were comodified and sold off...Mexico.

I grow my own vegetables, make my own furniture, and am putting up solar – all one mile from downtown LA, a huge city. I walk to work.
Not to start any fights, but urban regions have heavily subsidized rural regions for decades and decades. The highways, the power lines, often the medical, even farmers, are all subsidized –– in general, there may be many farmers or doctors who do not take federal payments. The REA powered up rural America under FDR. Before then farmers could not even listen to a crop forecast on the radio. Rural Senators and Hous Reps. are the very best at milking the federal cow.
Likely, you can only get to any rural region today in America by going on a federal or state highway for some of the drive. No one would live in rural areas if they had to take a mule 60 miles to their house.
Why am I writing this? We are all in this together. No one stands on their own two feet, unless you are a hunter-gatherer who makes his own bows and skin clothing. Many goods you buy were probably trucked to you on federal roads paid for by urban regions. Can you buy a locally manufactured gun? Truck?
No? Once your truck is ruined beyond repair, what are you going to do? Make another one yourself?
Even solar power panels for going off-grid, and gaining the illusion of being independent? Where are they made,a nd how do they get to you?
Even rugged individualists need those goods made in an industrial society, and transported to them by modern methods etc.
Buying local is great, and working local is great. Go for it. But it is a pipe dream to think that rural regions can make it on their own. They cannot. They are subsidized by huge wealth created in urban regions.
We have to live together. And waht is a Kentucky Coffee Tree?

Rural regions provide the natural capital.

This natural capital is imported into urban regions and converted to built capital.

Because natural capital is undervalued, rural regions are financially impoverished and stripped of their capital over time.

So I see it as urban regions being subsidized by the huge store of natural capital wealth created by Earth system and biological processes.

I agree about the rugged individualists comment.

Greetings, Jason, from your neighbors up north,

Enjoyed your article! You may be interested to know that the Puget Sound is getting it into high gear. For our upcoming Sustainability Festival in September, we've finally arrived at a filter protocol, to sift through potential sponsors and avoid greenwashing companies, and in just a couple weeks (June 16th) we're hosting the first "mini-convergence" of local sustainability groups.

The Sustainable Solstice Festival is a celebration of art, community & living more lightly on the planet. Festival highlights include the 9th Annual Giant Puppet Pageant, music, performances, food, a beer garden, interactive demonstrations, hands-on art activities and creative workshops. Sustainable Ballard will host the Sustainable Commons, a meeting place for sustainable organizations from around the Puget Sound Region.

1:30 to 2:45 First Annual SCALLOPS Summit (Sustainable Communities ALL Over Puget Sound). Over the past couple years, local groups like SB have been sprouting up all over Puget Sound, as neighbors act toward creating a more sustainable planet. SB helped to launch the newest adventure, called SCALLOPS – a group of 33 sustainable communities. At this event we will have a LIVE discussion (10 microphones) as SCALLOPS groups compare notes, share successes, troubleshoot challenges, and get inspiration and ideas from each other, so no one needs to waste precious time reinventing any wheels. We’re all in this together! There will be banners for each town (15 to 33 towns will be there). Come find your town and sit with them. If your town isn't represented, sit wherever you want and learn how to start your own sustainable community!

Here are the five questions we will quickly address (through facilitation and timer) in 1 hour 45 minutes:
1) What is sustainability? (each town rep)
2) What are the challenges/assets in our community? (all members)
3) How can we – the Puget Sound regional sustainability groups – help each other? (all members)
4) A Practical Case Problem
5) Wrap Up, Looking Toward the Future

  1. Sustainable Bainbridge
  2. Sustainable Ballard
  3. Sustainable Capital Hill
  4. Sustainable Bremerton
  5. Sustainable Edmonds
  6. Green Everett
  7. Sustainable Lake Forest Park
  8. Sustainable Mountlake Terrace
  9. Sustainable Magnolia
  10. Sustainable Phinney
  11. Queen Anne Neighbors
  12. Sustainable Vashon
  13. Sustainable West Seattle
  14. Port Townsend Local 2020
  15. Sustainable Fremont
  16. Sustainable Kitsap

While we're focussing hard on local, self-generated efforts, we are also inviting local political leaders into the conversation: we succeeded with the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, in creating the first ever Sustainability task force for a Chamber, and our July meeting speaker will be Senator Jeanne-Kohl Welles.

And yes, we are all unpaid volunteers, and yes, we get tired and argue sometimes. But most of the time, it's fun. :-)

That all looks like fun, and is similar to a lot of work/play happening around the country.

Do you know this group Sustainable Connections? Are they in your area too?

Nope, but it doesn't mean somebody else in Sustainable Ballard doesn't. Their site says they are covering "...Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan Counties, a region which faces significant local challenges." Thanks for the tip, I'll forward to the Solstice coordinator for her to get in touch (that would be our President, Vic, who knows your President :-)

Iran hostage fiasco

What happened in Iran in 1980 is resurecting itself in New Mexico and WDC on June 6, 2007

with a REPLY to government RESPONSE to our void judgment motion.

We're off on essential non-gas-wasting trip to Montana on June 7, 2007.

Deja vu? ... all over again.

Let's all hope for peaceful settlement.


Note that this is NOT a Drumbeat.

You need to take that Iran/Legal/Whatever to the Drumbeats and not flog it onto topic posts. In fact its been repeated over and over on many Drumbeats...don't you think that since it receives zero responses that its rather jaded and needs to be dropped?

It has absolutely nothing to do with the subject.

Read about population sustainable by agriculture. The guano was from where sea birds nested on land and built up huge layers of guano. Using guano was similar to using manure as fertilizer. Later they learned to use electicity to make nitrogen fertilizer. The high Aswan dam was built in Egypt by Soviet engineers. Before this the Egyptians waited for the annual flood to deposit new silt on their Nile valley fields each year. It was thought that the dam would end the flood cycle and the soil would become infertile. The dam was used to make electricity that was used for nitrogen fertilizer for the fields. The flow was controlled for there to be enough water year round for three crops per year instead of the one they were getting previous to the dam. With more food the population grew again to the point where people wondered if it would be sustainable. Lust is a deceitful problem.

Our technological and societal evolution reaches its pinnacle of complexity within the cities, this is where our specialists congregate and interact and where the highest level of medical, transportation and other technologies are deployed. All of this complexity has been enabled by a relatively high energy return on energy invested (EROEI). The dissipative structures that are our energy companies (coal, oil, natural gas, etc.) have been effective in providing enough excess energy to allow this level of complexity to evolve. Some of the energy has been funneled into the area of agriculture which can be turned into human nourishment and transported into the cities. The high entropy trash is transported out of these same cities and human bodily waste is flushed to the local sewage treatment plant where it is treated. These functions too require a lot of energy.

Our children attend schools where their brains are shaped to function within the technological world, this also takes up a large part of that positive EROEI. As excess energy production dwindles what will be sacrificed first? Schools, sewage treatment, medicine? Can a complex system like an organism live without one of its key functions? I guess it’s all right for humans to disaggregate and live like single cells again but that will have profound implications for our ecosystem and a city’s economies of scale will be lost. It would take more energy for all of us to spread out over the land and live than if we lived in cities. What if everyone stakes out 10 acre in the hills and valleys and plains it seems we will have a fresh water sanitation problem as raw sewage, septic tanks, leach fields pour forth into our tributaries. It is likely that waterborne disease will once again become a great killer. Our appetite for wood may quickly eliminate our remaining forests.

For those of you thinking of retiring to an idyllic country setting, you might want to consider what to do if your ground is contaminated with fall-out. Many nation’s populations will not have the option of returning their populations to the land where agribusiness has taken the best land and will produce food and fuel on that land until there is no energy remaining or where rural land is already overpopulated. These nations, like China, Indonesia and India will likely strike out at neighbors and/or try to obtain living space from others. It is also telling that the United States seems to have taken an aggressive course of action in securing future energy sources instead of trying to convert existing infrastructure and behavior to accommodate a new energy environment. Better be prepared to scrape a few inches of soil off the garden if you happen to be in one of the hot zones.

As a solution whose time has probably passed, I think we should have been packed into cities and our personal automobiles eliminated. Transportation could have been limited to food distribution and essential services. Our houses would not be 5,000 square foot town homes but rather 400 square foot cubicles in the sky and as in Beijing we would use bicycles for transportation.

I think we will avoid the necessary changes until we are much too far down the depletion curve. Electrical black-outs in the cities as per the Olduvai Theory will be one of the first signs that things aren’t quite what they should be. At that point people will try earnestly to detach themselves from the dieing beast and become independent. But like the cells in your body, when energy flow is stopped or disturbed (dead heart, no food) or the kidney’s fail (backed up sewers) or the immune system stops working (police and fire service), or the intestines stop gyrating ( trash removal) those cells and people that are dependent upon that city/bodily organization will perish with the corpus (city).

I would have guessed that you are Jay Hanson, though Jay wouldn't have spelled 'dying' wrong. ;)

Sorry about the spelling Nate. No need to put me down. I’ve always had trouble with “dieing” and “dying” and “receiving” and “recieving”. I’ll have to fine tune my spell checker and hope that you give the next person an intelligent response instead of a limbic reaction. I suppose you didn’t like my rant on your last post, I understand. I will simply have to find a different forum for my ideas. Jay Hanson does take a pessimistic view of things but his scenario for a global nuclear WWIII is certainly not beyond probability. I guess it’s beyond the scope of this board to understand nested dissipative structures and the true physical/biological nature of technological civilization. It is much easier to believe. Have a good evening. I won’t intrude upon these biologically oriented posts again.

sorry Dopa- i was being flip, and really did wonder if you were Jay- spelling isnt critical - your post was very thoughtful and youve clearly researched this. and i dont recall your prior rant but if it was thoughtful and/or empirical, it was fine.

What is a nested dissipative structure? Is that a known term?

Dopa -dont go away - my next post has your name in the title...;)

For some reason this comment reminded me of this novella:

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster, 1909

Thank you for the great article Jason Bradford.
I am wondering if you are familiar with the work of writer Daniel Quinn (the book Ishmael) and Dr. Alan Thornhill (PhD Conservation Biology)...

They point out that one of the fundamental laws governing all ecosystems is that as the population of a species grows, its food supply diminshes. As the population of the species shrinks, its food supply replenishes. Then the population of the species grows, in the abundance of food, and its food supply diminishes, etc. This is a classic negative feedback system, one of the hallmarks of evolutionary development and healthy ecosystems, that keeps "things" in balance. The result is a constant oscillation between population growth and population contractions, dependent on food availability. Or, said differently, that population growth is a function of food supply.

They point out that for the entire evolutionary history of our species, we, like other species, followed this pattern. Where we are unique is that, beginning with the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, we began to control the amount of food available for our consumption through intensive agriculture. So instead of population growth being limited by what food was available, we began to increase the production of human foods (at the expense of other species), and began to control the amount of food available for human consumption. More people meant more food being produced by intensive agriculture, which meant more people, which meant more food production, etc. This is a classic positive feedback system.

Fast-forward several thousand years, to the 20th century, and this pattern is still being exhibited, except on a massive scale. I believe the last doubling of the human population, from 3 billion to 6 billion, took approximately 37 years. This doubling coincides with (and could only be possible because of) the industrial revolution, increased use of pesticides, increased use of fertilizers, etc... all factors which have enabled us to rapidly increase food supply. We tend to think of it as "how can we produce enough food to keep up with a rapidly growing population," instead of "the more food we produce, the more people we will have."

Obviously modern medicine and other factors that have prolonged our longevity, or reduced death rates, have played a role. And clearly an abundance of food in one geographical location doesn't necessarily mean population growth (Japan, Germany, etc). But that is not their main point. Their main point is simply that food supply, beyond anything else, is the driving or limiting force behind population growth, for our species and every other.

Can you comment on this perspective? This would align with your "Competing scenarious for global human population" graphic, because as peak oil and climate change come to fruition, we simply may not be able to maintain the level of food production necessary to sustain six or nine billion people.

This tends to be a controversial subject for many, because it questions the deeply held belief that human beings are not necessarily subject to natural laws like every other species, but I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts as a biologist. Many thanks...

I do know Alan Thornhill. We both gave talks on the same night in Chapel Hill a few years back. The slides of my talk from that night are here:

I have read Ishmael. Mostly right on target from a scientific perspective. Over simplified a few things, but Alan says Daniel Quinn's later writings are even better grounded.

I use the term "exemptionalism" to describe the notion that humans are not subject to natural laws. I am sure I picked that term up somewhere.

You are correctly connecting the concepts in this presentation to others I didn't reference. Monsanto corporation, for example, says they need to produce GMO crops because there will be 9 billion people in 30 years or so....well, not if there's not enough food to feed 9 billion people!

The situation w.r.t. the supply of food and other material goods is quite similar to the situation of electricity supply.

When installing electricity locally, e.g. using a PV system, you pay for the installed energy, rather than the consumed energy. In order to have electricity available 24/7, you need to cover peak consumption by your installation, and therefore, you pay constantly for peak consumption, even if the peak happens rarely.

For this reason, it makes economic sense to join forces with your neighbor, whose peak consumption may happen at a different time, and install an electric "grid" covering the two of you.

Larger grids are even more economical, because a large-scale installation can be built at a lower cost per kW of available power, and also, such grids are more reliable, since the individual generators on the grid don't necessarily break down simultaneously.

The same arguments hold for most sectors of the economy, and this is the most important driver behind globalization: globalized production is more economical and more reliable than localized production.

The argument remains true, as long as we have sufficient spare capacity. If we operate at an 80% capacity, there is always enough spare power (or spare whatever) available that can make up any local shortfall.

Unfortunately, as we go into overshoot mode, the spare capacity invariably disappears, and we are operating constantly close to 100% capacity ... and this is when our electric grid starts to break down. We experience brown-outs and black-outs, and the reliability of the interconnected system suddenly becomes worse than the reliability of insular systems.

Yet, breaking the grid apart at that point in time becomes problematic, as there will be many local regions that are underequipped and that rely heavily on importing electricity across the grid most of the time and paying for it.

The same holds true with most other sectors of the economy, maybe with the exception that some sectors are more vital than others. You can live without movie theaters, but you can't live without water or food.

Yet, while this should be quite obvious to most here at TOD, the reasons that led to globalization in the first place are still valid.

I am still more vulnerable locally than in an interconnected economy. I cannot concentrate all of the skills that I need locally, and I may not be able to defend my property against intruders without help from others.

I still need a local hospital; I still need someone who can repair my shoes, etc. A question that Jason's article hasn't answered is: How local is local? Is it one family fending for itself? Is it a small community of maybe 5000 people helping each other out while keeping everyone else at bay? Is it a small country, like Switzerland, with a relatively intact social infrastructure?

I don't know any good answer to this question myself, but I surely would be interested in one.

Its one weakness is that Globalization requires cheap transportation to exploit markets, labor and materials. If the 90% or so of transportation which is petroleum powered becomes too expensive, what then? The economies of scale or profits derived from slave labor somewhere on the other side of the world fade as transport costs rise.

To be optimistic, commerce will readjust with new regional or localized manufacturing, finding a new balance between efficiencies of production and distance to market; or maybe not. The abandoned storefronts, farms and factories of rural regions are still there, but what are gone, destroyed by corporate titians of globalization, are the localized knowledge bases and symbiotic business networks that used to be, perhaps never to be restored in some places. We can’t go home again. /diatribe

Its one weakness is that Globalization requires cheap transportation to exploit markets, labor and materials. If the 90% or so of transportation which is petroleum powered becomes too expensive, what then? The economies of scale or profits derived from slave labor somewhere on the other side of the world fade as transport costs rise.

Not in the slightest. Commercial ocean-going ships can easily convert back to coal for a few hundred years, and I guess uranium thereafter. Given that often the value of just a few cargoloads is larger than the cost of the vessel itself, the money to do so will certainly be there when the economics say so.

Increased poverty will mean that people will demand the cheapest, not highest quality goods. And that may mean overseas.

Port-to-port long distance shipping is very energy efficient for the value transported. Local distribution is much less efficient, and more expensive.

Low-end Chinese stuff sells even better in Africa---and rural China---than in developed countries.

Or if worse comes to worse, maritime trade can even convert back to sail. Goods have been transported for treade by sailing ship since ancient times, it is going to take a lot worse than the depletion of petroleum to eliminate global maritime trade.

Some people seem to think that the principles of division of labor and comparative advantage are artifacts of the oil age and will go away along with the oil. They clearly predate oil, and will certainly outlive it.

I don't know the answer either! But great question.

Social networking theory suggests a minimum stable level of human community at 50 people. That might be a sort of "tribal" level of organization.

I have seen other research suggesting that when cities get above 50,000, social capital begins to degrade and transaction costs start becoming high. That might be the upper limit of a stable city, assuming it exists within a highly productive bioregion.

Interesting read, including the comments so far. But I have one question: What kind of political structure do you envision in this environment you describe? Historically, these kinds of "local" societies were tribal/clan or feudal/city states if memory serves. I can't picture a modern democracy or other very complex political system functioning in a "localized" society. Who would pay taxes for something that was of no benefit to their local economy? and other national vs local issues.

My fear is that governments at all levels will become increasingly unable to meet the expectations of citizens, courts, regulations, etc. and that this erodes confidence in government at ANY level.

This is a scary scenario because collective decision-making and means of mutually agreed coercion are really, really necessary to deal with the allocation of scarce resources and limiting damaging pollution. I don't see fuedalism or some impoverished form of ultra-local anarchy being able to cope with say "The Oil Depletion Protocol" or the "Kyoto Treaty," for example.

What could happen is a whipsaw between the federal government taking ever larger pieces of the dimishing pie through harsh "security measures," sowing discontent, and regions in open or stealth rebellion in which local control is more the norm.

Personally, given that I have seen wisdom and insanity within all levels of government, it is hard to know what I'd prefer. Over time, I would expect decentralization to be the long-term trend.

I get the impression then, since you mention existing international agreements, that you see the US Federal Gov't remaining more or less in place, albeit with a serious lack of popular support.

Interestingly, there is currently at least one well known secessionist movement - Vermont. And it seems that there are already harsher security measures in place than would have been accepted 20 years ago, as well as some (small ) regions that would fit the "stealth/open rebellion" category. The later being a number of communities/organizations that are defying federal desires/laws in regard to illegal immigration to name one example.

And the last I heard, popular support for the federal Gov't (all branches ) was below 30%.

Seems that things have been sneaking up on us doesn't it?

As for preference, I doubt you and I would have much say in the matter.

As a practical matter, the kinds of treaties you mention seem to be on the verge of collapse anyway, and imho would be irrelevant to the "local" gov't if their allegiance was primarily to "their people". Reports would be faked, etc. to satisfy the "king".

Thanks Jason for an excellent overview. My only comment is one of support and to let people know that we have created a special issue called RELOCALIZATION for our May/ June issue of HopeDance. Go to for details. We also have available a PRINTED version of this 56 page special issue. Send us $25 and we will ship you 50-100 copies anywhere in the US, preferably in California. Also we just attended the BALLE conference at UC Berkeley and will be posting a report for our Summer issue.
Bob Banner
Radical Solutions Inspiring Hope
FiLMs, PRiNT & Web
POB 15609
SLO, CA 93406


Again thanks for the topic post. Very important information on a very important issue.

I was wondering about your thoughts on the ability to communicate when our present communications falter. No cellphones,no TV, and no internet.

I was once a ham radio operator. Not sure if I am still licensed since I have no looked nor found my license in many years.

However I feel that ham radio in the lower frequencies would be one way of keeping some communications channels open. I am shortly going to put up a few panels and protect them from the weather and elements. Use them to charge batteries and power radio rigs.

Has your groups anyone with the knowledge and if so are they into amateur radio to any degree? You can set up packet switching with a TNC and a hf rig fairly easily I believe, its been a long time but I once did that on 2 meters yet the same could exist on hf just as well. Say 40 meters.


This has been mentioned now and again, but no serious effort is going into it as yet. Often brought up in the context of disaster preparedness, and I think we do have some ham radio folks around here who collaborate with the local CERT program.

Thanks for all your comments Airdale. I am trying to soak up info from people who have been living from the land and their labor. I value and enjoy your perspective.

As I'm sure you know, it is possible to run a receiver on NO energy other than that contained in the radio wave itself. I am referring, of course, to crystal radios. Made one when I was a kid, bet you did too. Might be a good idea to encourage people to keep one (or a kit for one) around "just in case". Could make for a good way for a county govt, say, to communicate important info once a day to people in outlying areas firing up a transmitter just for a short while each day, regularly scheduled, wouldn't require a huge amount of power.

The above, of course is just 1-way communication, while you were talking about 2-way. A community really needs both modes.

Jason, thanks for your insights. I thoroughly enjoyed your essay.

One point I might offer is on the nature of the food supply to which we need to turn in the process of relocalization. It is the topic of a book I am currently writing but I'd like to share some thoughts, if I may.

We humans co-evolved with our food supply for nearly 2 million years and would have continued using familiar foods while discovering new ones on our ancestral migration out of Africa and in ensuing migratory waves, out to the far corners of the world.

As hunter-gatherers we rarely out-stripped the carrying capacity of the land nor limited the possible sources of nutrients for long term survival. There were (and still are in some remote parts of Australia from where I gained my experience) protocols of resource use which define everyday foods; food-medicines for specific remedies or requirements; emergency ones; and also back up strategies for really tough times.

Over eons, we adapted our nutritional intake to support the development of our relatively large brains although oddly enough, unlike nearly every other mammal, we lost the ability to make our own vitamin C.

Studies on hunter-gatherers reveal a reliance on foods high in vitamin C (from game animal meats and offal to the more obvious fruits and vegetables). Many fruits and vegetables are now revealing concentrations of antioxidants which make them superfoods by comparison to our cultivated berries and stone fruits (the Kakadu plum is the World's highest fruit source of vitamin C and many other Australian fruits have up to 20 times the antioxidant levels of blueberries).

Additionally, an adaptation of hunter-gatherers (and they are not alone) is to carbohydrates which are only slowly absorbed on digestion. Unfortunately, an appropriate insulin response to this is disadvantageous on a high sugar diet and can lead to diabetes. Protein intakes were traditionally high and game animal meats are typically also low in saturated fat content as are tree nuts as alternative protein sources.

These are a few examples of the relationship between our foods and our genes. Our programming leads to a reliance on specific types of foods and our metabolic systems are genetically hard-wired for nutrients or levels of them which are getting harder to find in today’s food supply.

In appropriate nutrition is a significant cause in a whole raft of modern day ailments including arthritis, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, schizophrenia and most types of cancer.

From this research, I suggest that the process of relocalization needs to also look to regionally indigenous, minimally modified or fully wild foods as a core focus if our nutritional needs are to be met in the longer term.

It is one thing to find alternative lifestyles or substitutes for oil but relying on inappropriate foods grown with high input farming needs to at least be augmented by passive production systems or managed ecosystems of highly biologically diverse foraging and hunting reserves. This is based on the successful survival over 40,000 years by the oldest living culture on the planet - the Australian Aborigines.

Cherikoff Rare Spices, Bioactives and Infotainment are divisions of Vic Cherikoff Food Services Pty Ltd, Sydney Australia

Some people around here are thinking along these lines. They call themselves "wildcrafters." Some do trainings on how to process local foods such as the nuts of the oak trees, genera Quercus and Lithocarpus, for example. Hunting wild game is also common.

Little research has been done on sustainable levels of these activities as far as I am aware. There are no commonly agreed upon norms for the use of such wild species as this is not part of our current culture.

I have been intrigued by "taboos" and practices in other places that apparently work to prevent severe overshoot. Here we seem to going like gang-busters into overshoot of course.

In the UK there is a movement called the Transition Towns movement - recognising that TPTB will not move in time local organisations about Energy Descent have been set up.

See here:

As to the problem of currency collapse stopping people working as there is no medium of payment, during the 1920s in Germany, and in the Great Depression in various places, local currencies appeared, which had very positive effects.

See my presentation here:

Construction of large dams, water diversion systems, and pumps for ground water and water delivery to fields and cities depend upon plentiful fuel.

I agree with much of the thrust of this article. However, if you're trying to present this as science rather than just well-reasoned opinion (and even if the latter) you need to watch out for stuff like that about the dams, which just doesn't follow. Dams can quite well generate more than enough power to build dams, pump water, &c.

The early stages of the industrial revolution were largely driven by hydro. Before the Civil War Vermont, with it's abundant rivers flowing off the mountains, was the most industrialized state in the Union. The hydro economy may be small compared to the carbon one, but between hydro and wind to power sailing vessels we had a pretty rich world economy going.

There are good designs for ocean freighters which return to wind for their major propulsion. Coastal areas will see major world-wide trade even if carbon fuels run out entirely. Most goods that currently take a few weeks to go half-way around the world (already for less fuel than it takes to run a truck half-way across North America) will hold their value if the transit takes a few months instead.

What you have to see when you take the present world and subtract the oil is that there was a viable, sophisticated world economy before oil, which will emerge nicely without it.

The hydro economy was present before oil, but didn't really enlarge into the present scale until the oil economy got going.

The machines used to mine, refine, and transport the fill and steel in the huge dams run on oil.

Just because hydro power has a big net energy doesn't mean that the construction of dams wasn't a product of the even higher net energy of cheap oil. Same is true for many renewable like large-scale PV and wind.

These large projects also require maintenance, which is becoming increasingly costly. California, where I live, is looking for billions in bonds to upgrade state-wide water delivery system and the construction costs are escalating faster than the money and resources can be raised.

The article is not saying the world economy wasn't big and interconnected before oil, only that it has become orders of magnitude larger and much more interconnected because of oil. And the positive economic synergies of those interconnections permitted a massive overshoot. The correction post oil is going to mean a much smaller, less "global" economy at some point in the future.

Although the article is primarily conceptual, the real-world data and scientific analyses behind these views are referenced throughout. If we can accept the premise that there are limits to both the resource flows available on the planet and tolerance for waste absorption, and we can agree upon some magnitude of those resource flows, then overshoot and decline are givens unless steps are taken in time to curtail consumption and waste streams. All indicators I can find support the notion that we are beyond the limits.