Peak Oil Booklet - Chapter 4: What Should We Do Now?

This is a draft of Chapter 4 of my proposed book. The link to previous chapters is .

We know that peak oil will be here soon, and we feel like we should be doing something. But what? It is frustrating to know where to start. In this chapter, we will discuss a few ideas about what we as individuals can do.

1. What will the first few years after peak oil be like?

It is hard to know for certain, but a reasonable guess is that the impact will be like a major recession or depression. Many people will be laid off from work. Gasoline is likely to be very expensive ($10 a gallon or more) and may not be available, except in limited quantities after waiting in line for a long time. Fewer goods of all types will be available in stores. Imports from third-world countries are likely to be especially unavailable, because of the impact of the oil shortage on their economies.

Money may not have the same value as previously--opinion is divided as to whether deflation or rampant inflation will be a problem. Investments, even those previously considered safe, are likely to lose value. Things we take for granted--like bottled water, fast food restaurants, and dry cleaners--may disappear fairly quickly. Electricity may become less reliable, with more frequent outages. Airplane tickets are likely to be extremely expensive, or only available with a special permit based on need.

2. If a scenario like this is coming, what can a person do now?

Here are a few ideas:

• Visit family and friends now, especially those at a distance. This may be more difficult to do in the future.

• Learn to know your neighbors. It is likely that you will need each other's help more in the future.

• If you live by yourself, consider moving in with friends or relatives. In tough times, it is better to have others to rely on. It is also likely to be a lot cheaper.

• Buy a bicycle that you can use as alternate transportation, if the need arises.

• Start walking or jogging for exercise. Get yourself in good enough physical condition that you could walk a few miles if you needed to.

• Take care of your physical health. If you need dental work or new glasses, get them. Don't put off immunizations and other preventive medicine. These may be more difficult to get, or more expensive, later.

• Move to a walkable neighborhood. If it seems likely that you will be able to keep your job, move closer to your job.

• Trade in your car for one with better mileage. If you have a SUV, you can probably sell it at a better price now than in the future.

• If you have two cars powered by gasoline, consider trading one for a diesel-powered vehicle. That way, if gasoline (or diesel) is not available, you will still have one car you can drive.

• Make sure that you have at least a two-week supply of food and water, if there is some sort of supply disruption. It is always good to have some extra for an emergency--the likelihood of one arising is greater now.

• Keep reasonable supplies of things you may need in an emergency--good walking shoes, boots, coats, rain wear, blankets, flashlights and batteries (or wind-up flashlights).

• Take up hobbies that you will be able to continue in a low energy world, such as gardening, knitting, playing a musical instrument, bird watching, or playing cards with neighbors.

• Join a local sustainability group or "permaculture" group and start learning about sustainable gardening methods.

3. Do I need to do more than these things?

It really depends on how much worse things get, and how quickly. If major services like electricity and water remain in place for many years, and if gasoline and diesel remain reasonably available, then relatively simple steps will go a a long way.

Some steps that might be helpful to add once the crunch comes include:

• Join a carpool for work, or make arrangements to work at home. If public transportation is available, use it.

• Cut out unnecessary trips. Eat meals at home. Take your lunch to work. Walk or jog in your neighborhood rather than driving to the gym. Order from the internet or buy from stores you can walk to, rather than driving alone to stores.

• If you live a distance from shopping, consider forming a neighborhood carpool for grocery and other shopping. Do this for other trips as well, such as attending church. If closer alternatives are available, consider them instead.

• Plant a garden in your yard. Put in fruit or nut trees. Make a compost pile, and use it in your garden. Put to use what you learned in sustainability or permaculture groups.

• Meat, particularly beef, is likely to be very expensive. Learn to prepare meals using less meat. Make casseroles like your grandmother's, making a small amount of meat go a long way. Or make soup using a little meat plus vegetables or beans.

• Use hand-me-down clothing for younger children. Or have a neighborhood garage sale, and trade clothing with others near you.

4. Should families continue to have two, three, or four children, as they often do today?

With the uncertainties ahead, it would be much better if families were very small--one child, or none at all. The world's population has grown rapidly in the last 100 years. Part of the reason for growth is the fact that with oil and natural gas, it was possible to grow much more food than in the past. As we lose the use of these fossil fuels, it is likely that we will not be able to produce as much food as in the past, because of reduced ability to irrigate crops, and reduced availability of fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides. In addition, manufactured goods of all types, including clothing and toys, are likely to be less available, with declining fossil fuel supply. Having smaller families will help fit the population to the available resources.

If couples have completed their families, it would probably be worthwhile for them to consider a permanent method of contraception, since birth control may be less available or more expensive.

5. Are there any reasons why steps such as those outlined in Question 3 might be too little to handle the problem?

Besides the decline in oil production, there are a number of other areas of concern. Hopefully, most of these will never happen, or if they do happen, will not occur for several years. If they do happen, greater measures than those outlined in Question 3 are likely to be needed.

Collapse of the financial system. Our financial system needs growth to sustain it, so that loans can be paid back with interest. Once peak oil hits, growth will be gone. Economic growth may even be replaced with economic decline. It is not clear our financial system can handle this.

Collapse of foreign trade. Many factors may come into play: The cost of transportation will be higher. Airline transport may not be available at all. Fewer goods are likely to be produced by the poorer countries of the world, because of power outages related to high oil prices. Rapid inflation/deflation may make monetary transactions more difficult.

Rapid climate change. Recently, scientists have discovered that climate change can take place over a very short period of time--as little as a decade or two. Temperature and precipitation changes may cause crop failures, and may make some areas no longer arable. Sea levels may also rise.

Failure of the electrical grid. The grid tends to be vulnerable to many kinds of problems--including deterioration due to poor maintenance, damage during storms, and attacks in times of civil unrest. Maintenance is currently very poor (grade of D) according to the "Report Card on America's Infrastructure" by the American Society of Civil Engineers. If we cannot maintain the grid, and upgrade it for the new wind and solar capacity being added, we will all be in the dark.

Water shortages. There are several issues--We are drawing down some aquifers at unsustainable rates, and these may be depleted. Climate change may reduce the amount of water available, by melting ice caps and changing storm patterns. City water and sewer systems require considerable energy inputs to continue functioning. If these are not provided, the systems will stop. Finally, systems must also be adequately maintained--something that is neglected currently.

Road deterioration. If we don't have roads, it doesn't matter whether we have cars. In the future, asphalt (a petroleum product) is expected to become more and more expensive and less available. It is not clear whether recycling asphalt from lesser-used roads will overcome this difficulty.

Decline in North American natural gas production. Natural gas is especially used for home heating, making plastics and making fertilizer. It is also used in electrical generation, particularly for extra load capacity when demand is high. Conventional natural gas is declining, and it is not clear that supply from other sources can make up the gap.

Inadequate mineral supplies. A number of minerals are becoming less avaialble, including copper (used in electric wiring), platinum (used in catalytic converters), phosphorous (used in fertilizer).

Fighting over available supplies. This could happen at any level. Individuals with inadequate food or gasoline may begin using violence. Or there may be fighting among groups within a nation, or between nations.

6. Are there any reasons for optimism?

Yes. We know that people throughout the ages have gotten along successfully with far fewer resources than we have now, and with much less foreign trade. Financial systems have gotten into trouble in the past, and eventually new systems have replaced them. If nothing else, barter works.

We know that among the countries of the world, the United States, Canada, and Russia have reasonably good resource endowments in relation to their populations. They have fairly large amounts of land for crops, moderate rainfall, reasonable amounts of fossil fuels remaining, and populations that are not excessively large.

We also know that Cuba successfully made a transition from high oil usage to much lower oil usage, through the development of local gardens, increased public transit, and bicycles. A movie has been made about the Cuban experience.

7. What should we do, if we want to do more than described in Question 3?

Some web sites (such as Life After the Oil Crash and advocate moving to a farming area, buying land and hand tools, and learning to farm without fossil fuels. Typically, an individual purchases an existing farmhouse and adds solar panels or a windmill. The web sites generally recommend storing up large supplies of food, clothing, medicine, tools, guns, and ammunition, and learning a wide range of skills. These sites also suggest storing some things (liquor, razor blades, aspirin, etc.) for purposes of barter.

This approach may work for a few people, but it has its drawbacks. Making such a big move is likely to be expensive, and will most likely involve leaving one's job. The individual will be alone, so security may be a problem. The individual may be dependent on his or her own resources for most things, especially if the farm is in a remote location. If the weather is bad, crops may fail. Living on the edge of a small town may prevent some problems, but such a move would still be a major undertaking.

8. How about Ecovillages? What are they?

These are communities dedicated to the idea of sustainable living. These communities were set up in response to many issues facing the world, including global warming, resource depletion, and lifestyles that are not fulfilling. They were generally not formed with peak oil in mind.

Each ecovillage is different. Organizers often buy a large plot of land and lay out a plan for it. Individuals buy into the organization. Homes may be made from sustainable materials, such as bales of straw. Gardening is generally done using "permaculture"- a sustainable organic approach. Individuals may have assigned roles in the community.

The few ecovillages I investigated did not seem to truly be sustainable--they bought much of their food and clothing from outside, and made money by selling tours of their facilities. The ecovilliage approach could theoretically be expanded to provide self-sustaining post-peak oil communities, but would require some work. Some adventuresome readers may want to try this approach.

9. Is there a middle ground? What should be people be doing now, if they want to do more than outlined in Questions 2 and 3, but aren't ready to immerse themselves in a new lifestyle?

As a middle ground, people need to start thinking seriously about how to maintain their own food and water security, and start taking steps in that direction.

Food security. We certainly hope our current system of agriculture will continue without interruption, but there is no guarantee of this. Our current method is very productive, but uses huge amounts of energy. If we can keep our current system going, its productivity would likely be higher than that of a large number of individual gardens. The concern is that eventually the current system may break down due to reduced oil supply and need to be supplemented. Vulnerabilities include:

• Making hybrid seed, and transporting it to farmers
• Getting diesel fuel to the farmers who need it
• Transporting food to processing centers by truck
• Creating processed food in energy-intensive factories
• Making boxes and other containers for food
• Transporting processed food to market

If diesel fuel is allocated by high price alone, farmers may not be able to afford fuel, and may drop out. Or truck drivers may not be able to get what they need.

It is in our best interest to have a back-up plan. The one most often suggested is growing gardens in our yards--even front yards. Another choice is encouraging local farms, so that transportation is less of an issue. It takes several years to get everything working well (new skills learned, fruit trees to reach maturity), so we need to start early.

One type of crop that is particularly important is grain, since grain provides a lot of calories and stores well. In some parts of the country, potatoes might be a good substitute. It would be good if people started planting grain in gardens in their yards. There is a lot to learn in order to do this, including learning which grains grow well, how much moisture and nutrients the grains need, and how to process them. If the grain that grows well is unfamiliar, like amaranth, there is also a need to learn how to use it in cooking.

Individuals (or local farms) should also begin growing other foods that grow well in their areas, including fruits and nuts, greens of various types, and other more traditional garden crops, including beans. For all types of gardening, non-hybrids seeds (sometimes called heirloom seeds) are probably best for several reasons:

• It makes storing seeds after harvest possible, and reduces dependence on hybrid seeds.

• There is less uniformity, so the harvest is spread over a longer period.

• The reduced uniformity also helps prevent crop failure in years with drought or excessive rain. Some seeds will not grow, but others will. (Hybrids are all or nothing.)

Imported foods are likely to shrink in supply more quickly than other foods. If you live in a country that is dependent on imported foods, you may want to consider moving elsewhere.

Water Security. Here, the largest issue is whether there is likely to be sufficient supply in your area. Another issue is whether there will be sufficient water for your garden, at appropriate times. A third issue is whether there will be disruptions in general, because of poor maintenance or because the process of treating fresh water (and sewage) is energy-intensive.

With respect to sufficient water in your area, if it looks like there is a problem (desert Southwest, for example), relocating now rather than later is probably a good idea. Transporting water is energy intensive, and new efforts at developing energy (like shale oil or more ethanol) are likely to make the water supply situation even worse.

With respect to water for gardening, consider a rainwater catchment system for your roof. Runoff water is saved in barrels, and can be used for irrigation in dry periods.

General disruptions of water supply are more difficult. Keep some bottled water on hand. You may also want to consider a tank for greater storage supply. Rainwater catchment can be used for drinking water, with the correct type of roofing (not asphalt shingles!) and proper treatment, but this is not generally legal in the United States.

10. What kind of investments should I be making?

A person's first priority should be buying at least a little protection for a rainy day - some extra food and water, comfortable clothing, blankets and flashlights. I suggested two weeks worth in Question 2. If you have money and space, you may want to buy more.

Paying down debt is probably a good idea, if only for the peace of mind it brings. There are some possible scenarios where debt is not a problem (hyper-inflation but you keep your existing job and get a raise). In many other scenarios (deflation; job lay-offs; rising food and energy prices) debt is likely to be even harder to pay off than it is now.

Land for a garden is probably a good investment, as well as garden tools. You will want to invest in gardening equipment, some books on permaculture, and perhaps some heirloom seeds. You may also want to consider a rainwater catchment system, to collect water from your roof.

You may also want to invest in solar panels for your home. If you want round-the-clock solar energy, you will also need back-up batteries. Buying these is questionable--they tend to be very expensive, require lots of maintenance, and need to be replaced often.

There is a possibility that the financial system will run into difficulty in the not-too-distant future. Some ideas for investments that may protect against this are

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)
• Bank accounts protected by the FDIC
• Gold coins
• Silver coins

If you want to invest in the stock market, we know that there will be more and more drilling done for oil and gas done in the next few years, so companies making drilling equipment are likely to do well. Small independent oil and gas companies may also do well, doing "work-over" business. We know that there are likely to be shortages in some metals in the years ahead (copper, platinum, uranium), so shares in companies mining these types of metals may do well.

Investments in biofuels should be considered with caution. Most ethanol from corn appears to be heavily dependent on subsidies. If it should ever have to compete with other fuels on a level playing ground, it is likely to do poorly.

I would be cautious about buying insurance policies, except for short-term needs such as automobile coverage, homeowners coverage, and term life insurance. If we encounter a period of significant deflation, insurance companies are likely to fail, because bondholders cannot pay their debt. If we run into a period of rapid inflation, the life insurance or long term care coverage you buy may have very little real value when you come to use it.

11. Should I move to a different location?

There are many reasons you might want to consider moving to a different location:

• To find something less expensive. If times are going to be difficult, you do not want to be paying most of your income on a mortgage or rent.

• To be closer to friends or family, in the difficult times ahead.

• To share a house or apartment with friends or family.

• To be closer to work or public transportation.

• To be closer to a type of employment that you believe will have a better chance of continuing in the future.

• To have better fresh water supplies.

• To join a community with similar interests in sustainability.

• To leave a community that you feel may be prone to violence, in time of shortage.

There are disadvantages as well as advantages to moving to a new location. If many others are trying to move at the same time, you may not be welcome in the new community. You will likely not have friends and the support group you would have had in your prior location. Because of these issues, it is probably better to move sooner, rather than later, if you are going to move. If you balance the pluses and the minuses, it may be better to stay where you are.

12. We hear a lot about various things we can do to be "green", like buying fluorescent light bulbs. Do these save oil?

Most of the "green" ideas you read about save energy of some kind, but not necessarily oil. Even so, they are still a good idea. If there is a shortage of one type of energy, it tends to affect other types of energy as well. Doing “green” things is also helpful from a global warming perspective.

Here are some green ideas besides using fluorescent light bulbs:

• Move to a smaller house or apartment.

• Insulate your house, and have it professionally sealed to keep out drafts.

• If any rooms are unused, do not heat and cool them.

• Keep your house warmer in summer, and cooler in winter.

• If you no longer need a big refrigerator, buy a smaller one. Be sure it is an "Energy Star" refrigerator.

• If you have more than one refrigerator, get rid of the extra(s). Refrigerators are a big source of energy use. For parties, use ice in a tub.

• Separate freezers are also big energy users. Consider doing without.

• Eat less meat. Also avoid highly processed foods and bottled water. All of these require large amounts of energy for production.

• Get power strips and turn off appliances that drain energy when not in use.

• Turn off lights that are not needed.

• Rewire lights into smaller "banks", so you do not need to light up the whole basement when all you want is light in a small corner.

• Get a clothes line, so you do not need to use your clothes dryer.

• When cooking, use the microwave whenever possible.

• Reduce air travel to a minimum. Air travel results in a huge number of miles of travel with corresponding fuel use.

• Recycle whenever you can.

• Eliminate disposables as much as possible (coffee cups, napkins, plastic bags, etc.)

13. Should we be talking to our local government officials about these problems?

Yes! At the local level, there are many changes that would be helpful:

• Laws permitting people to put up clothes lines in their yards.

• Laws encouraging gardens to be grown, even in the front yards of homes.

• Laws permitting multiple occupancy of houses by unrelated individuals.

• New local public transportation plans, particularly ones that do not require large outlay of funds. For example, a plan that is more like a glorified car pool might work.

• Allocation of funds to study the best crops to be grown in the area, and the best cultivation methods, if energy supplies are much lower in the future.

It would also be helpful to make changes at higher levels of government, but these are beyond the scope of the discussion in this chapter.

14. What other resources might we look at to get ideas about what is ahead what we might do now?

The Community Solution is an organization that puts on an annual sustainability conference and issues reports on energy-related solutions.

Global Public Media has a number of talks on relocalization.

Closing the Collapse Gap is a humorous talk by Dmitry Orlov. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, and its oil production dropped about that time. Dmitry compares the US situation to that of the USSR.

Rolling Stone has a short summary of The Long Emergency, a book by James Howard Kunstler.

Links by Question:

Q2: Calculate a "walk score" for any neighborhood - Learn about walkable neighborhoods

Q4: Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food, and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture by David Allen Pfeiffer, New Society Publishers, 2006

Q5-1: Rapid Climate Change, American Institute of Physics

Q5-2: Report Card for America's Infrastructure by American Society of Civil Engineers

Q5-3: Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown President

Q5-4: Report Card for America's Infrastructure by American Society of Civil Engineers

Q5-5: National Petroleum Council - Hard Truths about America's Energy Supply, 2007

Q5-6: Measure of Metal Supply Finds Future Shortage, David Biello, Scientific American, January 17, 2006.

Q5-7: Carmakers Gear Up for the Next Shortage-Platinum, The Mining News, July 6, 2005

Q5-8: Peak Phosphorus by Patrick Dery and Bart Anderson, August 13, 2007

Q6: The Power Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, Movie Directed by Faith Morgan, The Community Solution

Q7-1: Life After the Oil Crash

Q7-2: What to Do When the Shit Hits the Fan

Q8: Global Ecovillage Network

Q9-1: Local Harvest directory of local food sources

Q9-2: Amaranth, Wikipedia

Q9-3: Heirloom Seeds

Q9-4: American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association

Q10-1: American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association

Q10-2: Treasury Securities, Wikipedia

Q12-1: Southface: Responsible Solutions for Environmental Living

Q12-2: Energy Star by US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Energy

Q14-1: The Community Solution Home Page

Q14-2: The Community Solution Conference, October 26-28, 2007 Yellow Springs, Ohio

Q14-3: The Community Solution Reports

Q14-4: Closing the Collapse Gap: The Soviet Union Was Better Prepared for Collapse than the US, by Dmitry Orlov, December 4, 2006

Q14-5: Summary of The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, March 24, 2005

PDF This is a link to a PDF of this chapter.

Gail - very nice, thank you for preparing this.

I have one minor suggestion. The term "third world" is a relic of the cold war era - it originally referred to the capitalist west as the first world, the communist bloc as the second world, and the pre-industrial countries as the third world.

Maybe "developing" or "industrializing" countries would be a more contemporary term. Of course then you have the question about whether these countries will continue to be "developing" post-peak.

Gail, I've been reading your drafts and I must say you are putting a lot of thought and work into this. Perhaps you've discussed what follows already, if so just ignore my comments.

I don't recall you saying anything about neighborhood co-ops that exist already. I'm not referring to the seed and feed stores, but rather to loose associations of people who agree among themselves as to who grows what each year. There are advantages to having not to grow all things yourself. Primarily because its more efficient if you grow only grain crops and your neighbor grows fruits, and another grows root crops, etc. With exception of trees, crop rotation occurs between participants, so that if I grew grain last year, and you grew beans we would rotate with each other and the other participants. This keeps the soil from deteriorating, etc. and makes much more sense than trying to grow everything yourself. The folks here where I live already do this somewhat informally and it works well. It also encourages internal family to family trade, cooperation on other things, and creates a better social environment for everyone. A small 40'x40' garden plot is sufficient to grow many things with enough left over for trading so one needn't think that multi-acre farming is necessary. This approach, of course, doesn't exclude growing the usual backyard crops, like tomatoes, etc. for your own consumption, but many people often grow far too many tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. than they can use themselves, and the excess typically ends up being wasted.

There are a lot of things I don't know about. What you are talking about sounds like a good idea, and if I can, I should at least reference it.

Do you have a web site address that talks a little about this kind of thing?

I suppose there are some urls, but I've not looked for them. I'll see what I can find. It's just sort of common sense around here, but this is a small rural community (~5k ) - primarily farming, but those who don't farm (myself for instance ) have other skills that don't rely on electricity or gas and can trade those skills for what is produced by those who do farm, raise livestock, etc. For example, I'm a fairly decent woodworker. I use power tools, but also have the hand tools and skills to build useful items out from a tree ( and I have several thousand trees )without electricity - it just takes longer. And others here can do the same with pottery, metal work, community defense, etc. Just a couple quick rhetorical questions related to my particular "specialty" to give a sense of the depth of knowledge one should have in their chosen skill: Would you know how to dry green lumber? Know what a shaving horse is? The difference in quartersawn, vs. rift sawn? How to sharpen a handplane or saw? Could you build a wheelbarrow(starting with a live tree ) without using any metal fasteners, power tools, or glue's? Can you make hide glue? and so on. :)

Often these sort of informal co-ops are an outgrowth of church groups/congregations but that's not a requirement.

The people who are totally reliant on massively complex logistical support for their survival (NYC, LA, for example )will be the ones who suffer in your worst case example.

Edit: Ok, got in under the wire with a couple:

The first is general information that's good to know. It doesn't cover everything in total detail, but is a good starter.
This other is pretty much all woodworking related with handtools. I'm sure their are similar sites for other basic skills, and small community co-ops. In fact the "official farm co-ops would be an excellent source of info.

and a essential book everyone should have: Glover Pocket Reference, about $8 from Amazon -
This entire concept is as foreign as an obscure language to big-city folks I'm sure, who often don't even know who lives in the apartment next door. It was to me for 3/4's of my life and I'm in my 60's now. 3 times as many people now, as when I was born. Different skill sets required for city vs. country life, so the outcome is dependent on which skill set is more conducive to species survival. Votes are still being counted.

BTW, this community has been here over 200 years. It's not one of those "eco-village" experiments.

Thanks for the ideas. I will have to figure out a way to incorporate them. It is a problem for most of us to get our knowledge level up regarding the many needed skills.

Gail this is a great list and in a way sounds wonderful, I for one am ready to slow down and get off the treadmill. Heirloom seeds may also fall into the catagory of "open pollinated" seed, meaning seeds from these plants can be saved and replanted. Corn, wheat, soybeans all were open pollinated originally and wheat to a large extent still is free of genetic modification. One other suggestion I would make while folks still have decent paying jobs is to eliminate debt ASAP, it will be much easier to make ends meet without bank and credit card debt when times get tough.

I talk about paying down debt in the investments section. Maybe I should label it "debt and investments".

I'd think that to "slow down and get off the treadmill" is fundamentally incompatible with trying to be more self-sufficient. In countries where subsistence farming is still the norm, people almost never get off the treadmill - it's often 12 hour days 7 days a week.


Well, you obviously haven't done it but I made a decision to slow down and get off the tread mill over 30 years ago. Sure there are trade-offs but let's talk about 12 hour days.

I've worked lots of them over the years however there is a difference between 12 hours "at work for someone else" and 12 hours "at home working for yourself." Right now I'm finishing up cutting and splitting firewood. If I get tired of playing timberfaller, I quit and do something else for awhile (and there really is always something else that is worthwhile to do). This morning I split wood for a bit then decided to irrigate the strawberries. And, now I'm posting this after which I'll irrigate the garden and then go back to firewood.

My only commute is walking out the door. I live on top of a mountain and it is peaceful and serene. No noise except the wind or birds (well, there is the chainsaw when I'm cutting). I don't have a boss who wants me to cut corners or lie to get a customer. I work to my own standards even if it isn't efficient in a business sense of cranking out more faster and faster.

If I get really tired in the afternoon, I may stop and sit down for a bit and have a beer or two then go back to what I was doing. I'm not stuck in an office or cubical watching the clock.

Gene Logsdon has a neat section about some Amish gathering corn in his book The Contrary Farmer, ISBN 0-930031-67-9 (a book which everyone who is thinking about Ag should read). Anyway, he sort of snuck through a corn row and watched them work. He expected that they would be grumpy and doing it because they "had" to. Instead, he found that they were actually having a good time while wroking. To me this is one of the major differences between the kind of life I have led since saying the hell with being a chem plant manager and living in the boondocks. Yes, there is an unending bunch of work to do but work is fun (most of the time) even when it is hard and makes for a long day.



That lifestyle obviously appeals to you, and may appeal to many posters here, but I'd still suggest most people aren't going to see it as being off the treadmill.

Admittedly my perspective is somewhat warped, as I have the freedom to work from home as much as I want, virtually whatever hours I want (within reason), and have a high level of control over what projects we take on. My 'boss' has never asked me to cut corners or lie to customers either (in fact my sum total contact with my boss is when he shouts us to a nice lunch once a week). I've even asked recently whether I can trade in a pay-raise for a reduction in working hours, which he's considering.

I suppose what I'm suggesting is that there's more than one way to escape the constant pace and pressure of working for large corporations - and I suspect there's more options for those who choose to continue to work in high-technology jobs as part of a small company, or even run their own companies, than there are for those who wish to take up a more rural, self-sustaining existence.

I'd be happy to change it. My only problem is that I think really these are never-to-develop countries or never-to-industrialize countries.

How would lesser developed countries work?

I ended up changing the reference third world countries to "poorer countries".

I'm afraid you're wrong about the use of the term "third world."

A nation is called such depending upon its infrastructer and othercommon characteristics, such as poverty, high birthrates, and economic dependence on the advanced countries.

It has nothing to do with the cold war.

Goodness BRNM, do a little backup work please. ”Third World” emerged early in the Cold War to distinguish the non-aligned nations belonging formally to neither the US nor Soviet blocs.

I'm always concerned that any individual or community preparations, however intelligent or prescient, will be swamped and rendered useless or worse by unpredictable - but then overwhelming - national government actions, once governments actually are moved to act. In all recent historical crises in developed countries that I can think of, it has been the national reaction that mattered by far the most. In the 1930's for example there was no way for concerned individuals to prepare rationally for the threat of Hitler without knowing in advance the actions of their own national governments. Switzerland, France, England, Sweden, and Norway all behaved, in the event, very differently; and preparations that made sense in one would have been useless or dangerous in another. I would think therefore that the first individual preparation is to work for a national government that understands peak oil - and attempt to influence its policies. The example of Cuba is not one where individual preparedness made any difference.

I find it hard to believe that the US government is going to do much helpful in terms of preparation. If they actually do, it would seem to go together with the kinds of things I am talking about.

I expect the government will try to let higher prices sort things out, and this really won't work (or perhaps put in price controls). We will end up with shortages and perhaps riots.

In the 1930's for example there was no way for concerned individuals to prepare rationally for the threat of Hitler without knowing in advance the actions of their own national governments.

The rise of Hitler was a corporate one, government went along for the ride. Individuals that collaborate with corporations instead of acting for their own interest (buying prepared/processed food instead of growing it, for example) don't give up their freedoms to government, but to corporations. The government has constitutional limits to its atrocities (well, the ones they don't ignore at the behest of corporations, anyway).

Cuba's example is one where people were already poor, so it doesn't necessarily fit how we get started on a Descent plan, but their cooperation and fortitude to endure until their localized markets and gardens could compensate for the loss of centralized supplies is commendable.

The critical fulcrum is how much Systematized support we are going to force the government into. A country of independent farmers and small businesses would force the government toward Rooseveltian socialism and distributed logistics. A country of systems-dependent urbanite technocrats would force the government toward centrally planned corporatocracy and control-point logistics (look for the stories about detention camps, consolidated meat processors, factory farms, ID chips in babies and animals, Prozac in the water supplies, etc). The latter would eventually fail anyway, due to its dependence on inputs of energy, chemicals, drugs, and suppression, but it would be a sadder road to follow than one of cooperation and compassion.
The Corporacrats will claim that "We don't have a cow and garden in every yard anymore, so we have to provide food to people through our infrastructure."
Better to PUT a garden in every yard NOW, then, dontchathink...maybe a goat to mow the lawn instead of gasoline?

Goats are a bad choice for lawn maintenence as they prefer shrubs, much like deer. Sheep are better. Still better is to have very little grass. Its a fun hobby and an edible landscape with a lot of mulch to keep down weeds, cool the soil in the summer, and protect roots in the winter is usefull.

I suggest purchasing lots of gardening and landscaping books. Its a fun hobby, and should be very useful. This is a cheap book hint-if you are looking for books on a decent profitable hobby like gardening, go the Salvation Army Thrift Stores, Goodwill, Purple Heart, ect.

Books on gardening change because fashions in pictures change, the illustrations don't show the latest fads. People have been gardening since before there was writing and civilisation. And its the same with many basic skills like sewing. Since the pictures show an avocado green refrigerator in the cook book the publisher commissions a new one. If it shows a guy with long hair and bell bottoms building a compost heap or a rabbit hutch, rewrite and update. I've seen these kinds of books selling for as little as 2 for a dollar hardback, and five for a dollar paperback.

The thrift stores get their stuff as donations when someone moves or after a garage sale. They receive donations on the terms " Take it all or i'll call --- to come and get it." Once it's in their reception area, they either have to sell it or pay to dump it, and used books seldom sell well, but they don't take up much space. And if you want a great post crash barter items, books and tools fit the bill. They're portable, but not worth stealing and worth their weight in canned fruit cocktail.

Used tools are also great-hammers, saws, screwdrivers, tapemeasures, stuff that doesn't require electricity. Pawnshops are the place for that stuff, you can get this stuff for about 1/4th the price of new retail, but at garage sales they sell quickly, so thrift stores don't work Bob Ebersole

A country of systems-dependent urbanite technocrats would force the government toward centrally planned corporatocracy and control-point logistics (look for the stories about detention camps, consolidated meat processors, factory farms, ID chips in babies and animals, Prozac in the water supplies, etc).

Try this one.

Exclusive excerpt: The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America Terror, oil and the "shadow government"

Our government, at the federal level, is worse than useless. Policy is bought and sold by corporate interests. Some profit from violence, many profit from chaos(think hedge funds), and most cease to exist with the removal of essentially free global transport. The projection of military force requires vast amounts of fuel. All of these things going away look like "the end" for a corporate interest and they'll be as suicidal as an individual can get. We, The People are going to end up in polarized opposition to the state before this is all done.

"I'm always concerned that any individual or community preparations, however intelligent or prescient, will be swamped and rendered useless or worse by unpredictable - but then overwhelming - national government actions, once governments actually are moved to act."

I tend to agree that preparation at the level of an individual family has a high probability of being overwhelmed by shocks to the larger economic system. Community level (neighborhood, town, county, bio-region etc) changes have a somewhat better chance of providing some degree of economic protection. However, it is unlikely that any of these levels of community organization will become completely independent from the national and global economies in the near future, so that shocks from these larger systems will be felt everywhere.

Unfortunately I also agree with Gail that the chance of national governments providing any real leadership in this crisis is near zero. National governments remain utterly committed to short term corporate profits and to allowing financial speculators a free hand. Every other consideration is secondary to these primary commitments.

I believe that a sustainable economic future requires the development of a system of democratic social investment whose object is to produce long term sustainable wealth for the community and not to increase the purchasing power of individual investors. We need to be able allocate production resources to enterprises which we perceive to be valuable for the community without paying private financiers for the privilege of doing so. We need to create a wealth maintaining economy rather than an economy that is committed to constantly increasing levels of wealth. A social and political revolution is required and not just a technocratic plan for improving energy efficiency and subsidizing renewable energy resources. The emergence of such revolutionary changes is unlikely to take place prior to a major meltdown of the current economic system.

Roger K, very well said, currently we have money for the war machine and nothing for a sustainable future. As the public loses more and more of its individual wealth to the corporate absconders the seeds of revolution will be sown.

Gail, your book is a winner! I hope and expect to see it published in a year or so, and I think your sales may be very good indeed. Two thoughts, however:

1. I don't think the price of gasoline in the U.S. is going to ten dollars a gallon or above ten dollars a gallon before the year 2020 because political realities will demand that the government impose coupon rationing rather than let the price of gasoline get much above six dollars. I think Americans will hate rationing and do everything they can to cheat on the system, but I do not believe that any party can afford the political heat that will go along with gasoline prices much more than double current levels.

2. I question your advice as to the desirability of having few or no children. In the future, pensions and savings and Social Security are likely to be gone or unreliable at best as a source of income security in old age. If you do not have children to rely on, what are your prospects for survival and comfort in old age? To take a specific example, I am comfortably retired on a Teacher's Retirement Association pension and rather generous Social Security income plus Medicare coverage. If, for example, hyperinflation wipes out my security, what then? I am in the fortunate position of having four adult children, each of whom would take me in and care for me should the need arise. My long-term security depends far more on my children than it does on the quality of my financial investments. Another consideration, frequently pointed out by Leanan, is that on farms big families are an asset, because the children provide the labor that you need to run a farm. Thus, although the short-term burden of raising children during hard financial times is considerable, in the long term they could turn out to be one's most valuable asset.


1. I agree with you that rationing is likely, but I wasn't sure I could come out and say so. I thought this would get the idea across that the gas just wouldn't be available. Suggesting a high price and long wait is less of a change from today's situation than rationing. I could change "$10 or $20" to "$10 or more".

2. Regarding number of children, I think someone needs to start raising this issue. If a child is born in 2008, and would normally have a life expectancy of 77 years, they would expect to live to 2085. By then, we will be substantially out of all fossil fuels, and climate change may be much worse than it is today. Unless we find some great solutions, the world will be able to support a much lower population.

It would be best to do what we can to start reducing population. You are right that people will want children to take care of them in their old age, but we also know that birth rates decreased a lot during the depression. Perhaps the same thing will happen again.

The noncoupon efforts to deal with the restricted gasoline supplies of the nineteen seventies were not very effective; I think what we learned from them is that coupons plus price controls are needed to seriously reduce the amount of gasoline consumption (without skyrocketing prices beyond $10 per gallon).

Now in terms of plausibility, which do you think is more likely:

1. The government stands by while "free" market prices soar to twelve, to fifteen and then to twenty dollars per gallon of gasoline, causing the poor and the middle classes to be destroyed or

2. Our wise and benevolent government [sarconol alert] steps in to protect the little guy with marketable gasoline coupons. The beauty of marketable coupons is that it is a way to transfer income from relatively rich consumers of many gallons to relatively poor people who can get by (with some difficulty, including car pooling and an end to discretionary driving) with fewer gallons, say ten gallons per week. The transfer of income is going to become a huge, huge gigantic issue in the context of Peak Oil, and rationing is perceived to be more "fair" than is "price gouging." Note that marketable coupons will allow the rich to get all the gasoline they want--at very high prices-- while they will allow the majority to have some gasoline at moderate (say six or seven dollars per gallon) prices.

I bet on #2b.

Marketable gasoline coupons---except that the amount you get is proportional to your vehicle's fuel consumption times the average distance for trips. If you have a big SUV and hummer, you'll get plenty. If you have a Prius, well you'll have to do with less.

Red-state vs blue state power politics of course. Texans and Montanans in F-*50's will get fat coupon books, and the smart ones will sell them off---San Franciscans will hardly get bupkis and of course Fox News will sneer and blame them.

FWIW, I think rationing is highly unlikely.

First, there is a very strong consensus in TPTB that it is a bad idea, which makes every problem much worse (I agree) by creating shortages, hoarding, black markets, etc. Many of the problems anticipated by Gail's scenario are actually the results of the assumed rationing.

2nd, the wholesale price of gasoline, before taxes, is only a little over $2. $20 gas would require $700 oil, which won't happen. $200 oil ($7 gasoline in the US) would be more than enough to produce 5% annual reductions in oil consumption. European prices at that level restrain consumption to 16% of US per capita levels. Heck, the US could reduce it's oil consumption by 10% in 3 months with aggressive car-pooling. there I could see serious government intervention, to make it mandatory.

If we start doing rationing, I would think that someone would figure out that the government needs to look at the total supply of fuel available, and decide who should get what. Beside private passenger autos, we need petroleum (diesel or gasoline or some other form) for

Chemicals, textiles, etc.
Farm uses
Trucks transporting goods
Emergency vehicles
Road maintenance and repair
Workers maintaining the grid, windmills, and the like
Running factories
Development of new public transportation systems

It is going to be a major problem figuring out who should get what. If it is done with an eye to the future (as opposed to re-election), it would seem like private passenger autos would get relatively little in all of this.

Actually, a practical method for cutting gas use overnight is to prohibit cars on urban freeways with less than two persons together with a ride sharing/hitchhiker program where drivers could pick up a passenger, such as park n' rides but on a very expanded basis.

One of the most wasteful US practices is overcrowed roads with the drivers wasting millions of manhours a day in stop and go traffic, and millions of gallons of gasoline.

Security concerns could be lowered by requiring riders and drivers to have valid liscense issued by the state, and instructions to the drivers to not pick up persons without a license, or of the opposite sex unless they know the other person. Don't issue a license to sexual predators or persons that have been convicted of assault or robbery within the last 5 years.


Another very easy way to cut gas use 20-40% is to move to a 4x 10 hour or 3 x 12 hour work week. It works for me. I have a friend working 6 x 12 hours + an 8 hour shift, which picks up the extra few hours you lose in a 3/36.

There were less than two billion people on the earth in 1929, the start of the Great Depression. There are 6.5 billion today. We would not have a problem with energy or global warming if it wasn't for population growth, so talking about the solution is appropriate but unlikely for most persons to follow .I had a vasectomy when I had one child, my son, at age 40, and I'm glad I made that decision. Bob Ebersole

Got to disagree with you on the GW and the 1930s Bob.
The worst year for Global Warming was in 1934. You are correct, the population was less than one-third what it is today.

Obviously something other than man's activities was responsible for the global-warming that occured in the 1930s.

The drop in birth rates during the depression opened up farms for mechanization and oil dependency in the '50's. We replaced those children with oil.

Reapers and steam tractors were already replacing men with scythes and horses at the turn of the 20th century.  We can power internal combustion engines with crop wastes, and electric motors will take energy from the sun and wind.  We do not have to go backwards.

When times get tough, you're supposed to walk out onto an ice floe and get eaten by a polar bear - not sponge off the kids.

Of course polar bears may not be around much longer ...

I'm really worried about my Aspie kid. She's not as withdrawn as some autistics, but her social skills are not great. With any luck her sisters will watch over her.

Asperger's is a mutation, not a disorder. You, however, might be suffering from neurotypicality, and I feel for you - emotionally wrapped up in every event, hardly able to count anything, and overall lacking an ability to focus :-)

All kidding including prickly aspie humor aside, have you found the Delphi forums for AS? My life made a dramatic turn for the better after I signed up there and started reading ...

I have a son with Asperger's syndrome, but fortunately he is quite high functioning - works as a computer programmer, but is not able to drive.

I am of the view that Asperger's syndrome is a form of mercury poisoning.

I don't know how oil shortages / climate change / pollution and all the rest will play out. It may be that younger generations will have shorter and shorter life expectancies, so that there will be a shorter gap between the death of parents and the death of children - so fewer years to worry about.

There is a lot of chatter about mercury in vaccine preservation but my opinion is that needs a whole lot more work before it could be considered causal.

I was born with a teeny, tiny heroin problem and fussy babies in orphanages were "treated" with phenobarbitol back in the day. My son has a milder case of what I have despite no prenatal/postnatal drug exposure or mercury preserved vaccines - a genetic component as well as environmental is certainly at play between generations.

I am of the view that Asperger's syndrome is a form of mercury poisoning.

A view which is pushed by some "researchers" whose "research" appears to be financed by the product-liability bar, and repeated uncritically by many news outlets.

Neither Asperger's nor autism are anything like the sort of disorders known to be caused by mercury poisoning.  Orac writes about this topic extensively, and if you search his blog for "thimerosal" you'll find piles of cites of solid evidence that mercury isn't a significant factor there.  (Assortative mating between geeks probably is.  My father was a dentist, my mother a biochemist; that's probably why I've got so many Aspie traits.  But there's no money to be made suing people for making the "wrong" choice of mate.)

I said mercury - I didn't necessarily say vaccines. I used to have several amalgam (mercury) fillings. There are plenty of coal powered electrical plants around. I would not rule out vaccines. It is possible that there are other factors as well, such as reduced Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet.

Given the increase in autism in the last 50 years, the cause is clearly environmental of some sort. There can also be a genetic component. The explanation I have heard is that depending on genetics, different people excrete mercury differently. Families that don't excrete it well tend to get autism/Aspergers because the mercury stays in their systems and it affects the brain.

When I was attending meetings of the Autism Society of America a few years ago, the Society was very much involved in this controversy. Several parents reported that their children had gotten better after chelation therapy. The people doing the research were parents of affected children. I am sure there were no double blind studies, and I am not sure how much was published.

There was huge resistance to the idea from the big name universities. They were busy looking into genetics, trying to explain how the mushrooming increase in autistic children could be explained by a sudden change in genes. The CDC also had a very strong position - some parents were claiming fraud on the part of the CDC. According to some parents, some very alarming numbers suddenly disappeared from the CDC's analyses.

I have not been following the controversy recently. It seems to continue.

Several parents reported that their children had gotten better after chelation therapy. The people doing the research were parents of affected children. I am sure there were no double blind studies, and I am not sure how much was published.

Not only is there no evidence that chelation therapy has therapeutic value for autism, it has been fatal.

Vaccines or coal plants, the symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders do not resemble mercury poisoning.  Neither do the neurological characteristics have anything in common (autism appears to be a deficit in mirror neurons).

They were busy looking into genetics, trying to explain how the mushrooming increase in autistic children could be explained by a sudden change in genes.

Not a sudden change in genes, but a sudden change in which ones get passed on in combination.  The suddenly elevated status of geeks and the rise in assortative mating is very suggestive; if mercury was the culprit, all major cities in the industrialized west would have been hotbeds of autism from the beginning of the age of coal until powerplants were moved outside of cities.  All the correlations are wrong for mercury.  You've got a good head, Gail; listen to it.

I still say autism has got to be environmental. It apparently was described by Kanner about the same time as immunizations containing mercury started. Some people claim that there was an increase in incidence about the time that they started requiring shots for newborns - since the ratio to birth weight was higher for newborns than for older babies. I haven't seen the data to confirm this.

By the way, my son feels about the same way you do about chelation therapy. Much too dangerous. At of this late date, it doesn't possibly make any sense.

You probably have run into the Autism Research Institute's parent reporting of what helps and what doesn't. We have used Omega 3 fatty acids, which seems to help him and is generally considered beneficial for quite a few things. This has good (but not outstanding) ratings from parents.

Chelation therapy gets very high rating from parents - 77% considered it helpful. The number reporting is only 65, though.

My dentist used chelation therapy (for mercury poisoning while working as a dentist), and was quite happy with the results.

I agree that toxic external causes are a big part of the autism-spectrum problem, especially when mixed with genetic weaknesses. I disagree ruling out the mercury/vaccine crowd as a whole. Revealing individual interactions with metals, viruses (like those in vaccines) and genetic factors in metabolizing and ejecting these toxins is where the positive results are coming, atleast for us. Our daughter is showing remarkable improvement via a gluten/casein free diet and nutrigenomic therapy that strives to detox her metal load. We use supplements to support fragile parts of her methylation cycle, supress yeast and other gut related problems, and the results have been astounding.

Fatal chelation is practiced by inexperienced or quack doctors. But, again, it has its place in a bigger therapeutic picture, I believe.

My theory on the increase in autism is microwave ovens. People use microwave ovens for everything these days, I do not use one.

Interesting theory, but my son was born before we had a microwave oven.

My son did not do well as a child, but has improved with special schools and Omega 3 fatty acids. We also greatly reduced milk products. The first time he was in regular classes was in high school.

This year he got a masters degree in applied computer science. He was voted (by the faculty) the outstanding student in his graduating class. We were surprised when he got a job as a programmer while in graduate school. He was working with a faculty member on a research grant from a local business. The people at the business saw my son's programming ability, and asked to hire him, even though his social skills were below average. So at this time things seem to be working out well for him.

I am happy to hear about the great accomplishments your son has made, I know so very little about autism but have a friend and a cousin each with an autistic child.

Don, I'll suggest that not having biological children needn't be a handicap, and might be a positive. Under the influence of the Club of Rome I chose to remain childless, but I believe that may not cause me a big problem.

My "retiremant" plans include a 20+ acres of land (I'm looking now) with a woodlot for energy needs and my planting of fruit and nut trees. When TSHTF I hope to adopt a young couple; I believe there will be many homeless, unemployed young people. My plan is they will help me in exchange for learning my skills and inheriting the place when I die.

A possible downside of a person's biological children is you can't turn them away, even if they have no post-collapse skills and show up out-of-shape, hungry, and with a profound sense of entitlement. I may be better off interviewing my "children".

Errol in Miami

I was going to mention that. I am always ‘late’ apparently, chipping in ... There will be many children and young people in dire straits. (In fact that is already the case today - world wide, although that is pretty much ignored.) Families in the US are already very fractioned and fragile (as compared to say Italy, Switzerland, Mongolia) and this will only get worse. Easy adoption legislation is an absolute must. (Formal adoption with a ceremony is better than informal arrangements.)

Which brings me to another point I wanted to make. Between corporations with jackboots, most of us chipped and in camps (!) and soft green hills, permaculture, and friendly exchange in the community, there are many intermediaries. Discussion here seems to sway between the mega-level (Federal, Gvmt, Nation State, society, etc.) and the personal (buying land, etc.) with little links between the two. I suppose that is because the US is so big and so rich in resources. So Gail, my thought was lobbying, pressure, organization, pushing new legislation, seeking out new pols. (etc. however one wants to think about it, e.g. organizing rationing, transport, Alan’s plans, agri, whatever...) should absolutely get some discussion somewhere, and the appropriate level in the US is the State, as that level already exists.

Here's a link that may be of some help also:
(100 things you can do for Peak Oil by Sharon Astyk --this is actually somewhere on TOD also)
Or this one:
(not as active as I hoped, but some groups listed are more active than others. I live in Denial County, WI, apparently)

Great work, Gail.

"If you want Change, keep it in your pocket. You vote for a faux president every four years, but you vote for real corporations thousands of times each month. Your money is your only real vote."

Maybe you should mention forest gardens.

Also, gardening in containers. A person can grow a very nice tomato plant or a great bush variety squash in an old 5 gallon bucket with holes for drainage, and put them on a driveway or patio. Use a plastic garbage can to catch water under your gutters for irrigationBob Ebersole

A couple thoughts on this. First of all, Peak Oil will be felt differently by different nations based on their economic power and general influence. So what we'll see is that life after peak oil will begin quite quickly in more impoverished nations. The US and other countries that are higher up the international food chain will be able to buy their way out of the problems for a brief while. Yes, oil prices and such will go up, but in the end, that means the poor will get priced out of the market first.

Eventually though it's going to get ugly when you're in a situation where it's the US, Europe and say China trying to get access to remaining cheap oil. I would argue that we're already in a limited proxy war with China over oil in the middle east through our involvement in Iraq and potentially Iran. When oil is plentiful, one can trust the market to provide the oil that's there, but once scarcity becomes a problem, control of the supply of oil becomes a critical element of national security. For all the apparent insanity of Bush's foreign policy, I believe that peak oil is the underlying driver for much of what they are doing.

I am optimistic that eventually we'll work through it and build the infrastructure to use solar, wind, etc, to keep us running smoothly in the future. Our lifestyles will decline significantly for a time, much as they did in the great depression, but eventually, as we work through the transition, we'll refactor our economy to use other sources of energy. In the mean time, there will likely be war for the dwindling resources, quite possibly on a very broad and destructive scale.

What will the first few years after peak oil be like?

For those of us who think we're already 1-2 years past peak, can't we just look around and say, "it'll be just like this?" Even if we're wrong and production ramps up this fall and the peak doesn't actually hit until 2012, doesn't it seem likely that 2014 would generally look a lot like 2007? Ie, nobody is noticing the Peak because they haven't been smacked in the face with it, and that's what it will take for people to notice. Honestly, gasoline isn't going to sell for $10/gallon (without taxes anyway) until people in general believe we're post-peak. Otherwise, as we see, the price of gas will be determined irrationally as if production is going to increase any day now.

So, my answer to this question of what will the first few years post-peak be like - you're looking at it right now. The real question is, what will the first few years be like post-public-acknowledgment-of-peak?

Your right - it's a little more complicated than I explain, but that's the problem of trying to make things simple.

I think that we may go into a recession/ depression because of the credit crunch, and then never really come out of it, because of peak oil. Or if we do come out of it, we won't come back to our current level.

I think real recognition of peak oil may come quite late, especially if the current credit problems cause a major recession. When recognition of peak oil finally does come, it seems like it will further drive away long term debt, because the likelihood of payback will be low with declining oil supply (unless we find some very good fuel alternatives, quickly).

I'm convinced that real recognition of peak oil is a political impossibility. I don't know of any people in history who exhausted a natural resource and remembered it that way.

In New England, it's not common knowledge today that cod peaked.

In England, it's not common knowledge today that coal peaked.

Since the idea is very simple and the evidence is so clear, I would say that people have a natural mental defense against understanding resource depletion.

Here is fuel for my argument - a quote from Plato:

What now remains of the formerly rich land is like the skeleton of a sick man. . . . Formerly, many of the mountains were arable. The plains that were full of rich soil are now marshes. Hills that were once covered with forests and produced abundant pasture now produce only food for bees. Once the land was enriched by yearly rains, which were not lost, as they are now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea. The soil was deep, it absorbed and kept the water in loamy soil, and the water that soaked into the hills fed springs and running streams everywhere. Now the abandoned shrines at spots where formerly there were springs attest that our description of the land is true.

Here we have an example of an ultrafamous historian, thousands of years ago, recording environmental devastation. Despite this fact, it is common knowledge today that economic growth will continue forever without environmental devastation.

Whatever resource can be exploited for profit at any given moment in history, common knowledge will support a belief that this resource will be exploited forever. This motivates people to compete for profit.

If it turns out later that the resource could not support infinite exploitation, everyone can shrug and move on, and forget how they contributed to the devastation.

As has happened with Mediterranean forests, European forests, Easter Island's entire biosphere, British coal, American oil, and now world oil.

In New England, it's not common knowledge today that cod peaked.

In England, it's not common knowledge today that coal peaked.

In Texas it's common knowledge that Texan oil peaked, right? (I hope)

And I think in England, given the former potency of coal mining union, I think it's common knowledge that coal mining peaked, but the reason will be attributed to "global capitalism" and "Margaret Thatcher".

I know many Texans who deny Texas Peak Oil ever happened, and I know many Englishmen who had never heard of English Peak Coal, but doubt it happened anyway. Their primary argument is: "how do we know it won't suddenly go way up again?"

You are right that these things will not be seen for what they are - each will be be assigned a boogeyman.

For example, it's likely that those responsible for "Peak Cod" blame environmentalists.

Those responsible for "Peak Oil" blame environmentalists and Muslims.

Iceland is on a prolonged "Cod Plateau" due to excellent fisheries management. they hope to oen day reduce the number of Minke whales and reach a new Peak Cod,

Best Hopes for Fisheries Management,


If ever the countries arond the baltic sea could agree on such fisherie management. :-(

Iceland does not fish in the Baltic, but they are Nordic (with more red heads from Irish women).

Could the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries be brought in as a fair and impartial expert and judge for a Baltic Fisheries Agreement ? (The Icelanders only dislike Norwegians, who also do not fish in the Baltic, they just steal Icelandic fish).

Could Sweden propose such an idea to the other Baltic nations ?

All agree that better fisheries management would benefit all nations. If you cannot agree among yourselves, bring in a fair and expert outsider to run things. Perhaps let the Icelandic Coast Guard patrol the Baltic (under contract) and enforce fishing limits and other rules.

Best Hopes for Baltic Co-operation,


I think real recognition of peak oil may come quite late, especially if the current credit problems cause a major recession. When recognition of peak oil finally does come, it seems like it will further drive away long term debt, because the likelihood of payback will be low with declining oil supply (unless we find some very good fuel alternatives, quickly).

I quite agree with this point which is why I think that stage one of "post peak oil" will be very subtle and stage two will be the big "kick in the pants".

Peak oil will be hard to recognize at first because it's a "rear view mirror" thing-- like a recession, you only recognize it after enough time & data has gone by. And likely stage one of post peak oil will go hand in hand with a global recession, which will be confused for the cause of the slowdown in oil production ("It's not a supply limited slowdown, it's a demand limited slowdown").

Thus in your (1), the first few years of peak oil may look like a typical recession & only later, as production is seen to continue to drop and oil exporting nations begin to withhold oil (as a political tool & to save it for their own use), will the stage two "oil crash" behavior (like you mention in (1)) begin.

Exactly, you said it much better than I did.

Speek said:

"For those of us who think we're already 1-2 years past peak, can't we just look around and say, "it'll be just like this?" .... nobody is noticing the Peak because they haven't been smacked in the face with it, and that's what it will take for people to notice."

Don't you think we're in a "boiling frog" scenario? [Google: "boiling frog" if you don't know what I mean]. Things will go to hell slowly with occasional punctuations of crisis.

One day you'll find yourself riding on a horse along an old Interstate freeway surrounded by the ruins of a city. While looking at the crumbling concrete, you'll marvel at how automobiles once cruised down this same freeway at 80 mph. You'll then consider yourself lucky that you own a horse and double check that your pistol is loaded.

The frog boils peacefully up to a point. But then, there comes a point, whether it's 100th monkey point or just a pain threshhold thing where suddenly it seems everyone is talking like a bunch of TODers and you look to see how the markets will react only to find they've reacted already and have gone to zero.

Boiling Frogs, Yes.

I like George Carlin's line;

The Future is already here,
It's just not uniformly distributed yet

Think Africa, Zimbabwe etc.

Some places may experience the Future sooner than others.

OK, so I am doing these things. Pick up and move in with a family member? Check. Move to a rural area? Check. Buy a smallholding? Well ... mom wants to go ... but we'll see how the credit collapse plays out. Stocking up? Not as much as I'd like because work is sketchy right now. That could be a trend.

The thoughts on money are a shocker to most. Fiat value goes to zero pretty quickly, as the "full faith and credit" of a bankrupt empire isn't worth all that much. Specie will retain value as long as the system has excess capacity. You can be sure the last ham sandwich during the siege of Leningrad was eaten, not sold.

Ammunition? Lots of .22 because its cheap. Survivalists are fascinated with muzzle velocity ... I just want to be able to stop a whitetail for the freezer. I think the best ammunition to have for a crisis lasting more than 72 hours is going to be fertile seed for the next growing season - being a seed crystal of sustainability will be of more use than being a seed crystal for violence.

Fuel stocking program has started. Just ten stabilized gallons so far, but if I do that every two weeks we'll have a nice little cache before long. I need a steady flow of engineering work for the next year to feed a small solar plant. Wind is great in this part of the world - 7.5 to 8.0 m/s, but we've got a wonderful windbreak all around this place(future fuel?) so all of the sensible places to put one ... aren't :-(

What does this make me? The crazy guy who lives with his mom. I am so proud ...


Love your efforts.

A few thoughts:

- If you own a second home which could not be considered your home of last resort, sell it now.

- If you have multiple pets, consider giving up some for adoption - (I realize this is like giving your children away, but it might be much more painful seeing them go hungry in a worst case scenario). I wouldn't suggest no pets as they will be important psychological groundings in bad times. (Or you could soothe this stand with: "If you are considering a new pet, don't")

- If you have valuable collections of knick-knacks, toys, antiques, baseball cards, etc. sell them now and use the cash for preparations.

- Consider stocking up on food with long term storage potential (dehydrated/freeze dried) maybe as much as a hedge against rising food prices as for the prospect of decreasing availability.

Thanks for all your efforts on this site.


I thought about saying that if you are replacing a pet, get a smaller one. Feeding huge dogs is likely to get expensive!

It depends on the PEROEI, the pet energy returned on energy invested. If you plan to use your pet(s) for guarding or hunting, then maybe you would budget your resource inputs and outputs for a larger dog or multiple dogs.

a reasonable guess is that the impact will be like a major recession or depression. Many people will be laid off from work.

I would not sugar coat the issue... but I think getting into economic dislocation, rain cachements and heirloom seeds is not going to resonate with your reader.

I would simply pose this question:

If we can move beyond cars, can we move beyond peak oil?

And the answer is yes.

-- 4 cycle scooters. There are plenty manufacturers.

-- Bicycles. Cheap. Good for short commutes.

-- Electric cycles. Good for 30 mile range at 25 MPH.

The critical path isn't how to trap rain water, it's how to get one's highway department to accomodate large volumes of slower, two wheel traffic.

Clearly we will need a transition to dedicated non-car lanes. But even in Atlanta... if you scoot down I85 at 25 mph, most commutes would still be less than an hour.

I should probably add something about getting local governments to dedicate lanes to non-car use. I can see how that would work on city or even state roads. It would seem like a federal agency would have to get involved to use lanes of an interstate for other purposes.

It is hard to avoid getting into worrisome issues. I know when I have written articles in the past, the question I was asked most often from people reading about this for the first time was "What can I do?" This question probably only came from the few who really thought about it and got worried. I thought I needed some kind of answer.

A bunch of cars that are more fuel efficient than a Prius

Just need to allow more diesel cars into the USA.
They look a little better than a bicycle. Seems like a less drastic step. Might even get people to shift over to these cars enmasse without draconian measures...just good marketing and $5-8+/gallon gas.
44% of Europe's cars are diesel.

By 2020, half of the US cars could be 100mpg+.
Hybrids, plug in hybrids, high mpg diesel, electric cars.
Use measures to encourage scrapping, recycling and retiring vehicles sooner. Tax writoffs and favorable treatment to get them recycled and off the road. Allow accelerated depreciation.
Financial measures and other incentives and maybe 70% could be 100mpg+ by 2020. Fuel usage could be more than halved for transportation.

235 mpg Volkswagon, talk of 2009 for launch in Europe,2 seater

78 mpg Lupo has been produced and sold for many years in Europe

Smart Fortwo, 69mpg for the diesel vs 50mpg for the regular gas. Also, produced for years in Europe

157 mpg FOUR seater diesel for 2009. Lorema, targeting 11000 euros

173mpg Vespa 3 wheeler

2008 honda Fit with a Insight power train, affordable four seat with lots of storage and mileage 50-55 mpg.

7 seater Estima in production in Japan about $31,000.

All would be able to drive on the interstate without special lanes.

If you are going to do something funky with roads and lanes. Then use exclusive platooning of vehicles and guiderails on toll roads.

electic bikes exclusives and segways would be for compact inner city cores. Force Parking at the edge of downtown or at park and ride transit and then only have golf cart type vehicles, bikes etc... which could be provided like shared shopping carts.

I gotta tell you, I have 2 TDI diesels in the garage.

I bought them because I was concerned with oil supply. But I seldom drive them now, I ride a bicycle, as does everyone else in my family. Once you make the transition to bikes, cars seem less relevant. You ride, you feel the wind, you are in the world. Cars cannot provide that.

I am also 25 pounds lighter and my blood stats are great.

Good for you but the 1% or so of people who do that in the USA.
But if the other 99% go road warrior then the ride might be less pleasant.

Plus even you have 2 cars. how many miles on average over the last 5 years. What is mileage reading on them now ?

I am talking about solutions for the 300 million cars in the USA and 800 million worldwide and the total energy picture. I think we should not put forward plans that wil not be accepted and will not work. 100% of people ride bicycles. How would you move your home contents without a uHaul ? How would your food get to the supermarket ? Also, a bad plan is to let a decline happen, it is also completely unrealistic to expect it, when simple tweaking lets the world adjust to reducing fuel supply and that we will have a base level of petroleum liquids and biofuels that will not run out.


Hard to say how much a simple tweak will accomplish! Of course everybody will want things just to continue smoothly and to stay very comfortable. But sometimes change comes whether or not a person accepts it.

As for what can work, it is almost always a much bigger space than our naturally narrow minds wants to acknowledge!

A bicycle and e-bike solution is

1) MUCH cheaper than exotic not yet in production cars (Lupo & Insight/Fit perhaps excepted)

2) Are mature technology in production today

3) Do not support high energy use Suburbia (see today's Drumbeat)

4) Save valuable capital for other purposes such as building, say, more nuclear reactors.


It's nice that those cars have 2x the mileage of the Toyota Camry, but let's remember that they all (except the Vespa) cost over $10,000 USD. When things are bad, people won't just be short of money for gas - they'll be short of money for a new car.

A scooter costs just $2,000 and gets about 3x the mileage of the Camry. $10,000 - $2,000 = $8,000 / $3.00 = 2,666 gallons of gas saved. At 100MPG, that's 266,600 miles of free gas when you choose a scooter instead of a car! :)


I believe that people here are mostly saying that peak oil has not happened and any spike to $10+/gallon is going to take a few years. So the idea would be to switch to higher mileage cars now. It is like locking in a 15 year mortgage rate. It is like paying for insurance in case the peak oil spike happens sooner and with less warning.

I believe that the 170mpg Vespa costs in the $7K range.

The high mileage vehicle means that you can travel your average 15,000 miles/year without going broke IF prices skyrocket as some here predict.

20mpg 750gallons $2250@$3 $3750@$5 7500@$10 $15K@$20
30mpg 500gallons $1500@$3 $2500@$5 5000@$10 $10K@$20
50mpg 300gallons $ 900@$3 $1500@$5 3000@$10 $ 6K@$20
75mpg 200gallons $ 600@$3 $1000@$5 2000@$10 $ 4K@$20
100mpg 150gallons $ 450@$3 $ 750@$5 1500@$10 $ 3K@$20
150mpg 100gallons $ 300@$3 $ 500@$5 1000@$10 $ 2K@$20
250mpg 60gallons $ 180@$3 $ 300@$5 600@$10 $ 1.2K@$20
500mpg 30gallons $ 90@$3 $ 150@$5 300@$10 $ 0.6K@$20

the Toyota Camry is Manual: 24 mpg / 34 mpg
The potential 2 seater in 2009 would have 10 times the mileage.
MSRP $18,470 Invoice$16,898
So if you can afford a Camry then you could afford the 4 seater diesel in 2009 for 11000 euros. 157mpg

You could afford the hybrid Honda Fit. 50-55mpg which should be available soon or whatever the new dedicated hybrid model is for 2009 model year.

Camry hybrid $26000
Automatic: : 40 mpg / 38 mpg

With 120mpg cars you could handle $20/gallon prices the same as someone now with about an 18mpg car.
Which could more available from
Or custom conversions in the $10K range, which if one believes in $20/gallon oil would be worthwhile.

According to the American government's own figures, if diesel had a 33 per cent share of cars and pick-ups, the U.S. would reduce its oil consumption by up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day.
Clean diesel tech should finally breakthrough US emission rules over the 2009-2011 timeframe depending upon manufacturer.

2009 Honda Accord Diesel 52mpg will be able to sell in the USA


No, scooters are not $7,000. See here a famous brand for $2,000. Today, everywhere.

Anyone who reads this can tomorrow go buy a scooter for $2,000 cash or $50 a month.

In a switch from Camry to scooter, in the first month, the gas bill goes from $160 to $53. The car payment goes from $150 to $50.

In total, $310 a month down to $103 a month. 66% savings.

This requires no new factory to be built, no new business plan, nothing. It works today.

And that's in today's oil prices. It gets far more dramatic if oil and credit dry up:

Car: $10,000 + $320/mo. gas ($6/gal)
Scooter: $2,000 + $103/mo. gas ($6/gal)

I'm being generous by claiming that "a car" costs $10,000. A new, small-market car will be $15,000+.


the Toyota Camry is Manual: 24 mpg / 34 mpg
The potential 2 seater in 2009 would have 10 times the mileage.
MSRP $18,470 Invoice$16,898
So if you can afford a Camry then you could afford the 4 seater diesel in 2009 for 11000 euros. 157mpg

My Google says Honda diesel at 67mpg, Accord diesel at 54mpg, but nothing at 240/340mpg or 157 mpg as you claim above.

Even so, $18,470 is more money than I'd like to spend to commute to work. If I pay $2,000 for a scooter, I save $16,470, which in today's gas prices, is about 5,500 gallons of gas, which at 100MPG is 550,000 free miles for going scooter! :)

nothing at 240/340mpg or 157 mpg as you claim above.

The car you're looking for is here.

From the Wikipedia article

The presentation of the Loremo during the Geneva Auto show in 2006 focused on the car's body, as it lacked an engine, the next step is the installation of the turbodiesel motor device.

Mass production is planned for 2009 in a still to be constructed car factory. This factory will probably be located in the city of Dorsten in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Sounds nice, but it's a concept car - nobody can prove if it can do 157MPG freeway, because this car has never been manufactured.

And even at $13,000... that's $13,000 - $2,000 = $11,000 / $3 = 3,666 gallons saved by going scooter. Or, 366,600 miles of free gas.

A car with no engine will get infinite mpg. Great for one-way trips downhill!

I had indicated that the 250mpg car and the 157mpg were scheduled for 2009 production for Europe.

The price I was quoting for the scooter was for the three wheel Vespa that was pictured.

I was not saying that a low end scooter of some kind could not be bought for $2000. With smart shopping you can buy a $2000 scooter that can drive on the highway.

The Honda ruckus 2006 seems to top out at 70kph, 42 mph. It does get 75-100mpg.

Honda CHF50 Metropolitan also $2K tops out at 40mph as well.

The Yamaha vino 125 costs about $2600 new and can get to 45-65mph (not up hills at 65mph) while getting about 70-90mpg.

Also, a single person scooter is not right for everyone. Thus the quotes on higher mileage 2 seaters, 4 seaters and a seven seat minivan. High mileage is needed for each of the car models and also trucks and buses and all vehicles.


Your own reasoning on why you personally would not spend $7000 to buy a 173mpg scooter based on todays prices is the same calculation that most people make who choose to buy a decent mileage car (35mpg) instead of spending $10,000 extra for a Prius (55-60mpg).


I believe that people here are mostly saying that peak oil has not happened...

I am one of those who think we're looking at it right now. The oil sands and Jack 2 nonsense prove it (to me).

Upthread, I proposed bikes, electric bikes and scooters. All of which work and all of which reduce our ecological footprint a great deal. We need modest traffic engineering, like getting bike/scooter lanes, but that's not an insurmountable challenge. It's certainly easier to do than drilling willy-nilly all over the GOM in five thousand feet of water or retorting mountains of dirt.

I think the key issue to Peak Oil right now isn't bugging out in bunker-land or getting seed-happy in the garden, it's getting out of the freaking car. We don't need sat-nav systems and synergy drive to get groceries, a bike with a basket will do.

Plus... the really interesting people you tend to meet are not cruising parking lots behind tinted glass...

"What can I do?"

"It depends on two things. What do you need to do, and what do you want to do. And both of those depend on your particular situation. But here are some ideas on the basics of food, water, shelter, economics, transportation, and community ... "


Straw bales rather than hay bales,


Thanks. Will fix it.

Hi Gail,

I've been doing this stuff for a long, long time. Although the following suggestions are somewhat peripheral, I believe they are germane.

1. People have a hard time envisioning the future. Therfore, I'd suggest they take the time to read some of the collapse fiction available before doing anything. I grant that many stories contain "shoot-outs" at one point or another but the underlying information can provide insights most will not think of until it is too late. Here are a couple of examples:

Patroits: Surviving the Coming Collapse by James Rawles. Available from his blog

Lights Out by Half Fast as a free download

2. People also don't have any idea of what is out there so I'd suggest getting an overview by reading books/series of books such as:

The Integral Urban House by the Farallones Institute
The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery
Country Wisdom and Know-How by Storey Books

the Foxfire series

3. Food production is obviously important. But a lot of people are going to be sucked in by hype especially biodynamics and Permacultre. Neither of these growing methods inherently produce perpetually fertile soils. Rather, they move nutrients from point A to point B (The growing area.). People should spend a lot of time with various garden books before committing themselves to any method.

Animals also can be a problem. Take chickens: most people will assume they can get all their food from the yard. But, this isn't realistic in most areas. Most people don't know a confined chicken eats about a bushel of grain a year. So, let's assume they feed outside for 6 months a year. That still means 1/2 bushel of grain has to be provided. The person will have to grow this grain if they can't run down to the feed store. Assuming a flock of 20 chickens and a realiztic yield of 40 bu/Ac for corn, this means growing 1/4Ac of corn just for the chickens! Besides harvesting, the seed has to be stripped and the corn ground to be usable.

4. Food preservation is key but isn't touched upon. A general rule of thumb is to preserve 300 quarts of fruits and vegetables per person per year. For example, it takes 1 1/2-2 1/2 pounds of snap beans for a one quart canning jar (How many people have this information?). This of course assumes the family was smart enough to buy canning jars and equipment.

A good basic book is Farm Hournal's Freezing and Canning Cookbook since it has tables as to how much produce raw produce yields when canned.

Then there is dehydrating, brinning, fat seals, etc. Again, lots of information needs to be gathered.

5. There needs to be an emphasis on survival priorities. Water is the big one. People can live in a pit in the ground if they have to. But, no water and they are dead in a week. And, if they don't die, they won't have enough water for crops. People need to know the evapotranspiration for their area. It peaks at 6" per month in my western area which works out that a grower has to apply a little over 5,000 gallons per acre per day! A cistern isn't going to do it.

Well, that's enough. I have to get out and irrigate.


One thing that may go early on is communications. Individually cell phones, cable tv and internet service are not too expensive, but if you loose your job and realize that the consequences of peak oil are here to stay then one may consider dropping those. I sort of fear the loss of communications because it leads to our being uninformed and easier prey for being exploited through our ignorance.
Also, I'd like to put in a few informed words about growing a garden. Clearing space to grow a garden is a big job. If you have to dig up tree stumps, move rocks and level a hilly site then it may be two years or more before you get much out of the garden. Then there's more to it than just growing the vegetables. Having a garden is lots of fun, but the problem is that you put lots of effort into growing things and they all arrive at harvest around a fairly concentrated period of time. Learning how to preserve the food you've grown is another branch of mental acquisition. Canning, freezing and drying skills need to be learnt as well as how to keep mice and insects at bay. When I was a little boy each community ( at least in Georgia ) had something called "the cannery". It was a facility having equipment necessary for preparing and canning produce. A family would sign up to use the facility and then spend a day or two there processing the food. The Agricultural Extension Service had on staff in each county a woman referred to as the "Home Demonstration Agent" who could provide guidance about what to can and how to do is safely so as to not poison your family.
Might not be a bad idea to bring these back.

I'm lucky enough to live with a home demonstration agent. No, not formally, but mom is a black belt canner - everything we ate came out of a patch out back until I was in my late teens.

I started stocking up and she was all nervous for a day or two, but I think its starting to sink in - she has gone off on a canning binge these last few days, wandering the railroad tracks in the area picking elderberries.

I think a community survival specialist program via local community colleges would be a fine thing ... but OMG wouldn't that get tongues wagging about something other than the DOW?

Speaking of which ... free fall today, as yesterday was the six week deadline before end of quarter redemption for hedge funds. Li-qui-dation is the word of the day.

Hey SacredCowTipper -you where right to point the witching day out! Well called!

I wish I could get my mum as enthusiastic as yours but you know what she said when I told her about PO? She said I must be "having a mid life crisis..." Sheeez, I hope she doesn't expect me to share my corned beef with her... :o)


Not my pointing - I believe BondDad over at DailyKos mentioned that there was going to be an event today that was a six week before end of quarter deadline for hedge fund redemption.

My mom is warming up to the need to act like its 1935 again, but slowly.

I bet she is -but being a child of the transistor age I bet your looking for something a bit more high tech No? Well try this for size -every home/small town should have one:

-imaging this pumped and powered by cheap thin-film solar, plenty of protein and veggies to match, Mmmmmmm....

Regards, Nick.

FWIW, I have a small house in northern DC; moved here in the spring of 2004. Lots of trees everywhere; lot size less than 1/4 acre. I spent >$10K clearing the back yard (lots of ivy, miscellaneous brambles, and too many trees making shade). Had 2 raised garden beds built after having several trees cut down (to give me about 5-6 hrs direct light/day in the summer).

I'm now in my 3rd year here, and the garden yields are pathetic (I've got over 40 year's experience gardening, albeit in New England and North Carolina-- two gardening climate extremes). I'm composting, vermiculturing, tilling... and yields are still small. Blame some of it on the weather, much of it on the soil and the minimal sunlight... but bottom line: it'll take me a ten more years to get any positive gardening ROI on my investment, and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about this. Anybody just starting to dig up their back yard and plant a few things: Good luck!

Green Hornet

The sunlight is your problem. Photosynthesis is H2O + CO2 + sunlight. NPK is important but essentially a sideshow compared to the main event. Not enough sunlight will do you in every time.

I've got the same problem at my home garden, trees have grown up around the garden to the point where there is no longer enough light for anything except lettuce and spinach. My wife won't let me cut down more trees yet, so I've had to move most of my production out to the community gardens.

Thanks for your suggestions! I agree that there is a whole lot to be learned.

It seems to me that some areas of the country will support a whole lot higher population than others, because of better farming conditions, especially if shipping long distances is not feasible. When I grew up in Wisconsin, I did a little gardening, and it did not seem all that difficult, but it may have been that the adults helped quite a bit. Here in Georgia, we seem to have a whole lot more problems:

1. Lots of rocks in the soil
2. Questionable topsoil - probably removed by the developer
3. Clay soil, with little hummus. Not very fertile.
4. Quite acidic.
5. Needs irrigation, at least part of the time. Local water sources are already overused - no chance that they can take on providing water for gardens for 4 million people in metro Atlanta.
6. Hilly
7. Lots of trees. Most areas are shaded, have lots of tree roots from neighboring properties.
8. Crops that grow here with little irrigation are probably not ones people would prefer to eat - amaranth, okra, sorghum, collard greens, figs, perhaps sweet potatoes and lima beans.

It is hard to see how we can collectively plant enough productive gardens in Georgia to feed a large population.

Regarding canning, this technique is a relatively new. If we are to can enough food for 300,000,000 people, we will need an amazing number of glass canning jars and lids. If we are short of fuel, I don't know that the priority will be put on making lots of canning jars and lids. I expect that we will have to learn how to dry food, and perhaps learn other food storage techniques.

The amount of glass that is landfilled every year will easily make enough canning jars, plus the jars are used over and over. My mother still cans and I save jars for her and she often says "no more jars". Nothing like home canned tomatoes from the garden to add body to a dish.


Patroits: Surviving the Coming Collapse
by James Rawles. Available from his blog

I would second that. Great book to get your mind on HOW to prepare, and HOW FAST things can happen.

Speaking of cisterns, rainwater catchment is illegal in many U.S. western States because of the prior appropriation doctrine, in which "first in time, first in right" determines who owns the water rights on your property.

100% of the water that arrives in Colorado and other western states has been allocated to 'senior water right holders' since the 1850s; the rainwater that falls on roof of the average homeowner is generally owned by someone else. Catching this water in a barrel stops it from running into a stream, where it is already owned as a water right.

Even if the rule of law fails due to general anarchy in the future, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas farmers are known to be very protective of their water rights. If the water stops flowing down from the Rockies to irrigate their fields, they'll send people, guns and explosives to investigate and rectify the situation.

A good friend of mine is the manager of the Left Hand Ditch Company in Boulder, CO. A precedent-setting lawsuit against Left Hand Ditch in 1892 resulted in the establishment of the prior appropriation doctrine. Before the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of Left Hand Ditch, farmers went up to the hills to dynamite what they viewed as illegal water diversions. Other mountain states followed the Colorado example.

Very impressive piece of work.

I was wondering whether the future will be as draconian as you seem to suggest. In the United States, for example, in 2006, gasoline and oil expenditures in user-operated transportation was $318.6 billion while total personal consumption expenditures (PCE) was $9.2 trillion. Spending on gasoline and oil was about 3.4% of PCE. Even if gasoline spending quadrupled, it is still less than 15% of current PCE. Sure there would be some dramatic changes but I believe there is plenty of room for dramatic changes in transportation -- look at all the single-occupant commuting by car going on.

A more likely scenario, in my view, is that the least wealthy oil-dependent countries would fail first, then the somewhat more wealthy oil-dependent countries, with the OECD countries surviving the longest. Regardless of the world oil market conditions, if the OECD countries make it sufficiently worthwhile, every exportable barrel, white or black market, would flow to them.

There is a study that I would like to find. I believe it is mentioned in this interview of David Strahan regarding his book "The Last Oil Shock".

If I remember correctly, the study looked at the actual correlation of oil supply to economic growth. (It is possible it was all fossil fuels, or something similar. I listed to the talk once, and didn't take notes.) Instead of having an impact proportional to its cost contribution, as economic theory would suggest, it really explained about 70% of economic growth. Thus, the impact was something like 15 times what economic theory would suggest.

I would like to see what the actual study says. My intuition says that weighting oil by its cost is way too low, since if you take power away from any of our "toys", they stop functioning.

Remember how the media and some politicians used to talk about how wages have been stagnant since 1973? Oil production was growing at ~7% per year before 1973. Afterwards oil production grew much slower.

The study is by Professor Robert Ayres mentioned by David Haywwood who said

“one of the best research papers I’ve read in years. Ayres and Warr (writing in Structural Change and Economic Dynamics) explain the Solow residual using the Laws of Thermodynamics. Totally amazing stuff that should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in economics.”

The Robert Ayres paper receives a very readable analysis by Strahan in Chapter 5 of the book where I would agree with him when he commented on the Solow Residual model from 1956 “a model that failed to explain over three quarters of what it sought to explain should be junked or thoroughly reworked.”

The significance of the Ayres theory is that efficiency gains in the use of energy can actually drive economic growth and this is the most exciting economics I’ve seen almost since ever. It is sometimes known as the economic theory of growth. I want to know why did it took 30 years to get a sensible result without a nonsensical residual?

See here for a copy of the paper

For more on Robert Ayres go to

Thanks for the links and comments!

"Our financial system needs growth to sustain it, so that loans can be paid back with interest."

Gail, I have never seen this idea in any credible, mainstream economic discussion, only in handwavy kinds of arguments in PO writings. The experience of Japan, with decade long economic stagnation & zero interest rates, would seem to argue against it. If this isn't something that has been developed by someone with some credibility, I would suggest dropping it. If it has, could you point me to it?

"Once peak oil hits, growth will be gone."

Doesn't this depend on the speed of decline of oil? I would suggest: “Depending on the speed of oil’s decline, the economy will grow more slowly or contract.”


I am not aware of mainstream economic discussions that discusses the idea that our fiscal system needs growth to sustain it. I think that most mainstream writers are so convinced that growth will continue indefinitely that the thought never enters their heads that growth cannot continue forever in a finite world.

In Our World Is FInite: Is This a Problem? I talk about peak real gross domestic product (GDP), and what that means for the future of loans. Real GDP has been increasing by about 3% per year in the US over a long period. Even in Japan had periods of monetary deflation, real GDP was increasing.

It is the increase in real GDP that provides the additional real income necessary to keep the interest payback going in the debt cycle. A person making a loan expects to get paid back a little more than the expected inflation rate. The fact that real GDP is increasing provides the additional funds (over the inflation rate) to make this happen.

If real GDP starts declining, production is less and less. It becomes impossible to pay back (in the aggregate) principal plus an amount greater than inflation. I would expect long-term loans to become very rare after peak real GDP.

One of the major problems is that our monetary system is debt based. This means the money supply will likely contract, as debt disappears (unless a government can figure out a way to "print money" to offset this problem.)

There is a cute video about money as debt - I can't seem to find the link to it right now. Does anyone else have the ink?

Hi Gail,

this piece really hits home -and will hit home like a gut wrenching kick in the stomach to most- when PO is apparent.

What would static or falling global GDP do to the long term bond market and would this cause Interest rates to rise?

Another poster commented on cities being bad places but historically cities have always been focal points for civilisations. Think of Rome, it managed to be a major centre sucking in goods and resources. Perhaps this time its different and we have made the city infrastructure just far too dependant on unsustainable inputs...

Money as Debt video trailer:
Connections Video:

That was probably me, re: cities are bad places. That is not exactly what I meant, and I should have stated it differently. The key as you stated is "sustainable inputs". I mentioned "massively complex logistical systems". Same general idea, I think. That being that any city is dependent on the flow of goods (including food and water ) in, and the flow of value added product and waste out. In with the good, out with the bad. Interruption of either, and the city dies or shrinks accordingly. I cannot imagine how a reduced energy environment could fail to seriously impact either, or both, in terms of logistical requirements.


With static GDP, the long term bond market might continue for a while. With falling GDP, I have a hard time seeing how it would continue, because of the inability to pay back interest at more than the inflation rate.

I understand that in parts of Africa, the tradition for a family building a house is to do it in stages, as the family slowly accumulates resources for additional rooms. I would think that homes here would tend to be built that way. I expect that industry would generally be very small scale operations, partly because of the need to accumulate resources to build factories, and partly because of the difficulty in shipping raw materials and finished goods.

This is a link to the 47 minute "Money as Video" video. The link above is the trailer for this movie.

It is worth watching - explains in fairly simple terms how money is debt. Makes one wonder what will happen if there is a lending meltdown.

I think the main reason that most economists assume real GDP growth to be necessary is that growth is needed to keep unemployment rates low. Low unemployment rates are one of the main goals of both fiscal and monetary policy; thus macropolicy will favor inflation (and real growth) over deflation (and severe recession or depression).

I believe that real economic growth depends on growth in the availability of fossil fuels. With the best policy in the world societies face stagnation or negative economic growth in a future of diminishing output of oil. With increasing unemployment rates (which I think are inevitable) society will face extremely painful issues of income redistribution at a time when the whole "pie" is shrinking. I question whether our existing political institutions are up to dealing with negative economic growth. If and when our government fails, it seems likely that some form of dictatorship or increased government control will emerge. The timeline on all this is unknowable and depends largely on the price and availability of oil in the future.

Note that not only employment but also productivity improvements depend on increased use of fossil fuels. I expect total employment to decrease, and I also expect the average productivity of each worker who is employed to decrease.

What will all this look like? I don't know, and neither does anybody else. My best guess is that it will look something like the Great Depression, but with rapidly rising prices instead of falling prices. I expect rising prices to result from waves of easing of monetary policy plus hugely increased government deficits; in other words, I expect government deficits to be monetized, because there will be great pressure to reduce taxes so as to stimulate the economy. Also, I expect greatly increased government spending on infrastructure--partly as a means to increase employment.

"I think the main reason that most economists assume real GDP growth to be necessary is that growth is needed to keep unemployment rates low."

What do you think of the idea that "Our financial system needs growth to sustain it, so that loans can be paid back with interest."??

"I believe that real economic growth depends on growth in the availability of fossil fuels. "

Why? I see no reason why transportation and space heating can't be electrified, and the electricity come from wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, etc. Does FF seem uniquely irreplaceable to you?

In my opinion, there are no good substitutes for cheap oil. If natural gas were abundant, they I'd say, no problemo, we'll just switch to natural gas; but we are not far from Peak Gas and as far as North America goes, we're there (or very close). Nuclear power works, but it is expensive and slow to develop. Coal-to-gas and coal to liquids will work, but again this is very expensive and will take a long time to expand very much. Because there are no good substitutes for cheap oil (for example, for gasoline and for jet fuel) I expect economic stagnation or decline in the future. I expect unemployment to increase, and this rising unemployment will have profound and widespread consequences.

Now what about our financial system? Can our financial system survive negative real economic growth? Sure it can. Our financial system survived the Great Depression, despite stupid policies by the Federal Reserve System at the time. The deflation that turned the 1929 Crash from a recession to a depression was caused by inaction by the Fed, which just twiddled its thumbs as banks failed by the thousands.

Never again will the Fed stand by and allow deflation. Bernanke has said as much. Thus I think our financial system can and probably will survive.

Even in a time of negative economic growth some companies will remain profitable. So long as some companies can earn a profit, then something like the capitalism we have now can also survive. Now when companies ON AVERAGE lose money, there are going to be a lot of companies going out of business, but their real assets (plant and equipment and inventory) will be taken over by other companies, some of which will get a positive return on investment because of acquiring assets cheaply.

Eventually, perhaps thirty or fifty years down the road, economic growth could resume as enough nuclear power plants and wind turbines finally come online. Note that expensive fossil fuels will make investment in alternative power sources both difficult and very expensive. There is reason to think that within fifty years fusion power might finally work, and were that to happen we would be in a whole new ballgame.

For now, however, I look for a future of declining real GDP and increasing rates of inflation.

"Can our financial system survive negative real economic growth? Sure it can. Our financial system survived the Great Depression...Never again will the Fed stand by and allow deflation. Bernanke has said as much. Thus I think our financial system can and probably will survive."

Gail, what do you think? Don is kind've our local neighborhood economist: does his comment make sense to you?

I'm not really sure. It seems like the government can and does change the rules as it goes along -- first on gold standard, then off; repos applying to treasuries, but now mortgage securities. If the government had to play by one set of rules, I would say the financial system wouldn't survive. I think the government will keep changing the rules to keep something going, if there is any possibility that they can. It may be that what the government does will produce hyperinflation, so that while the financial system is in place, the dollars we hold in our bank accounts aren't worth much. This is almost as bad as the system not surviving.

Long term, I would expect the federal government's power to become much less, or even disappear all together. If the country becomes more localized, I expect power will be with local governments--states or cities.

I don't disagree with your overall assessment, but it has to be said that economic output is not necessarily linked to energy inputs: especially if most of the energy inputs end up as waste heat, or are used producing materials that end up as land-fill, which is largely the case now: most of the oil that we burn produces unused heat, and almost all the plastic that is made from oil ends up as trash; there's no or little economic value in that at all. So I'd argue there's far far more economic value that could be extracted from existing supplies of fossil fuels, and if we could ramp up efficiencies and reduce wastages at a rate that matches the decline of supply, then there's no necessary long-term threat to economic growth. Eventually once we are using our energy supplies at super high levels of efficiency, we would need to increase energy supplies to allow economic growth to continue.

Regarding interest-bearing loans etc., I'm curious what happens with a declining population. Isn't what really matters is when deciding whether to lend out money "how much money is likely to be available for me in 10 or 20 years time"? In which case, once you have a steadily declining global population, is there any need for absolute GDP growth, as opposed to just GDP per capita growth?

If you have steadily declining population, you probably have a fairly high death rate - it is not just that the young people are not having children, because that takes a very long time to feed into the system.

If you have a high death rate, it becomes problematic to make loans. You can make a loan, and take the chance that the person will still be alive. More likely, you would require life insurance to cover the amount of the loan plus interest. With a high death rate, the cost of that life insurance would be high, and would make the system too expensive to work on any reasonable scale.

I'm not talking about a high death rate, just the low birth rate that is already common among developed nations (the US being something of an exception).

I'm trying to imagine a world where the global average fertility is, say 1.44 children per female, with a more or less steady mortality rate (much the same as today's), hence the population is falling at about 28% per generation (say 25 years).

In such a scenario, could a zero global GDP growth sustain current the financial system? After all, on average, every year there is 1% more money available to each individual.

It is going to take a long time for a global fertility rate to drop to 1.44 children, and then for that 1.44 children per woman to actually feed through to declining population. There are far fewer old people than young in the developing world, so relatively few would die each year, except for things like AIDS the world taking a turn for the worse. Thus the 1.44 would not translate into population decline until for a long time - I am guessing 50 years from now.

By 50 years from now, we will be close to out of all fossil fuels. It will be a different world. Unless we discover something that will really replace fossil fuels, there is a good chance that our only financial system will be barter in 50 years.

It was a largely hypothetical question - I doubt such a scenario would occur even before the end of this century.

BTW, in 50 years from now, we will still have a lot of fossil fuels. I agree oil supply will be a fraction of what it is today, and possibly only providing a third of the total energy supply it does today - perhaps similar for gas. Coal is unlikely to have dropped all that significantly, as even if "peak coal" is in 25 years from now, another 25 years after that it will most likely be available at much the same rates it is today. The shortfall will most likely be made up for with renewables, nukes, and a significant reduction in energy usage, partly through lifestyle changes, partly through better use of technology. 50 years is a long time in terms of technnological development - even if it is hampered by significant economic disruptions: just look at the first half of the 20th century; even with two world wars and a great depression, the electricity grid was rolled out and cars went from curiosities to commonplace.

I wouldn't even come close to saying there is a "good" chance that our only financial system will be barter in 50 years - it took centuries from the height of the Roman empire to get to the point where Roman currency was completely abandoned (I'm not even sure that barter became all that important at that point - anyone know about post-Roman-empire money systems?). Even if today truly was the "height of modern, global civilisation" (something I highly doubt), it's going to take a similarly long time for such a vast social and economic network to disintegrate to the point that money is not even used.


"Never again will the Fed stand by and allow deflation. Bernanke has said as much. Thus I think our financial system can and probably will survive."

The Fed guarantees deflation by it's current actions.

Money is being/has been destroyed faster than the Fed can create it.

In Laguna Niguel, Ashmore, the Impac Mortgage president, remarked on how the credit problems stemming from sub-prime loans had filtered down to a local bank branch.

"It started out with this global credit crunch we've been reading about," he said as another Countrywide depositor left the bank's office. "It's now gotten down to affecting people like him and me who are closing our accounts."

The other depositor shook his head as he climbed into his car.

"It's all over," he said, and drove away.
-LATimes on the Countrywide bank run.


I'm sure this key post will generate more good suggestions than any other, I've got several, but I plan to add those only to threads already started by others, and I suggest the same for anyone else posting as it will make it much easier for you to sort through, plus other posters to organise their thoughts and suggestions about the issues. If you could add this suggestion at the top of this key post and drop this post, please do so! Thanks!

Also, I'd like to ask that we don't start fueding or flaming on this post, that it be for pragmatic, or practical suggestions only. Please gals and guys, lets save it for Drumbeat.

If you have a website link, please add it to the proper area with a one line discription of the website like"gardening, heirloom seed source", and that way we will all save time and effort.
Bob Ebersole

Friends and neighbors,

Our biggest resource in meeting the problems of the future is going to be our friends and neighbors. Everyone should make an effort to reach out to their friends and neighbors so we can help each other. Go to your civic club, or found one. Go to your church,temple or mosque. Knock on the door of your neighbor, and make them your friends. Working together we can solve almost any problem, and sitting fearfully at the television won't help at all.

Regarding Eco-Villages.
I don't know of any that aim to be self sustainable.
They all aim to be more self-sustaining but the focus is often on community - even aligning buildings in such a way as to not be able to take advantage of passive solar heating. Hell, I know one with a family that has 7 kids and at least two houses - sustainability and overpopulation are not on their radar!
I like what Eric Brende wrote in his book Better Off - basically that work brings together minimites - people who choose to not adopt all modern technology. A co-housing project or eco-village is a way to try and weld the people together by sharing space, equipment, resources - to wean us off the teat of everyone having their own thing and living in their own little universe in isolation.
Certainly the eco-villages I know are rarely able to setup signif. amounts of renewable energy (PV, wind, water) as the goal of building smaller and better is often much more expensive than getting a McMansion in the burbs. This is currently a problem with the group I'm involved with. Most want to "vision" till the cows come home - but the rubber hits the pavement when it gets down to cost and while people have built straw bale homes for $50/ft using lots of their own labour and $100/sq-ft may be possible - it's much more likely that $150/sq-ft is a reasonable cost.
It's a whole lot easier to just buy your own land and do what you want without having meetings till every idea is beaten to death. Ie do you have to have wheelchair accessability for every unit; what about low-VOC paints and meeting LEED standards, recycling materials....

But a group of people working in a community is much better prepared for shocks and post peak oil. With land the community can turn to farming in a more serious way.

This is an interesting co-housing project:
Eco-village in Ithaca is also interesting as is Whole Village north of me (Orangeville Ontario Canada)
One good thing is that an eco-village by defination sets aside the last-man-standing "solution" as they've chosen to live in a community, to make due with less, to not accept that more is better, that things are more important than people - basically that relationships between people and the earth are what matter.

Thank you, Gail:
For this reasonable yet palatable summary. I hope it doesn't end up scaring more people off than it draws in. But now, with the markets in freefall, you've probably got a more receptive audience.

A couple negatives, and a positive:
The people in Cuba born in or after the sixties are SHORT. Sorry, no reference, but it's more than an anecdotal observation that their ultralow protein diets have stunted their growth, probably in more ways than are immediately obvious. I'm vegan, and have been for decades, but it's not easy or simple or cheap. It's tough to digest a lot of nuts. Some of my nutrients come from sea vegetables. And overall, the dietary variety has to be much greater when meat is absent. So the transition to meatless diets is likely to be a struggle, although it seems inevitable, given the energy constraints.

A word about TIPS: The government chooses to redefine the inflation rate at will, to support their predetermined policies. I'd expect to see them dub a new "more core, core floor inflation" arbitrary value first, before ever admitting to double-digit monthly rates.

But here's my plan: tenancy in common, on a moderate (20-30ac) patch of woods and pasture. You can plop down at a carefully selected site a ready-made community of like-minded souls who have been thoroughly vetted first. The idea is that we all work our regular jobs in the nearby city (not a little town) while planting the trees and digging the wells that will serve us in the next decade. The harder things become, the more time we spend on the land, and the less time in town. A group of four or five small families won't defend the homestead against a rampaging horde, but it can pull together to bring in the potatoes, or erect a building. It's an adaptable model, both in terms of size and in terms of decline rate. With luck, we'll just end up as old hippies on our land, and our children will bring the grandkids out on the weekends to see us. But if the decline steepens in the way that so many of us foresee, we'll have a fallback plan other than stocking liquor, razor blades, and ammo.

Markets in freefall? How about those small and medium caps that aren't on the S&P and Dow that haven't moved at all? 10% is a freefall? In mortgages, perhaps, but there is more to an economy than mortgage speculation.

The Cubans I was talking to last week looked pretty well or over fed to me. Sorry, but despite the propaganda, Cubans are not undernourished; to the contrary, despite how much some would like to believe they are. I think they live longer than Americans, but that might be the lack of handguns; regardless, their lives aren't short despite the cigars. Maybe the cigar smoke stunts their growth.

People ate meat long before coal and oil. Try sheep and goats on a non arable hillside, and chicken on scrap veggies.

I love the image of the bearded, sober farmer up against a drunken mob armed with guns and razors. My personal nightmare is all the dentists having gone to the Caymans and having to resort to your neighbor with a pair of pliers. Don't forget the syringes and Novocaine.

Hey, we might as well laugh now before it gets harder.

A 300 point Dow climb with forty minutes to close? You can't tell me that isn't organized fire fighting. Lets talk again in six weeks when the wooshing sound of securities being liquidated to satisfy hedge fund redemption slows down to mere hurricane strength.

We have a solid year of $20B/mo in sub prime ARM cooking off ... its going to be a very, very long time between now and the 2008 hurricane season.

Before the peak and after the peak.

I had put out this driving habits thing before. But since you are going for completeness in one chapter.
Edmunds discusses how much fuel can be saved by changing driving habits

Test #1 Aggressive Driving vs. Moderate Driving

Result: Major savings potential

The Cold Hard Facts: Up to 37 percent savings, average savings of 31 percent

Recommendation: Stop driving like a maniac.

Test #2 Lower Speeds Saves Gas

Result: Substantial savings on a long trip

Cold Hard Facts: Up to 14 percent savings, average savings of 12 percent

Recommendation: Drive the speed limit.

Test #3 Use Cruise Control

Result: Surprisingly effective way to save gas

Cold Hard Facts: Up to 14-percent savings, average savings of 7 percent

Recommendation: If you've got it, use it.

Test #6 Avoid Excessive Idling

Result: More important than we assumed

Cold Hard Facts: Avoiding excessive idling can save up to 19 percent

Recommendation: Stopping longer than a minute? Shut 'er down

also, $10 gas will not be the end of current society.
Gasoline prices in Europe. Germany US$7.10/gallon now and may be hitting $8.15/gallon

In terms of point 5: Add ANWR will be drilled and a lot of nuclear reactors will be built.

After the peak or as the a near peak starts to happen:
The US will drill in ANWR. The amount will not make that big a difference now, but in any kind of depression where oil is needed to fill in the gap until other solutions are in place.
The crude could begin flowing by 2013 and reach a peak of 876,000 barrels a day by 2025.

the EIA assumed the “mean” estimate provided by geologists of 10.4 billion barrels of technically recoverable reserves. Geologists say there could be less or much more. Environmentalists argue that much of that oil may not be economically recoverable if oil prices decline.

Before people start moving to farms and recycling roads, fighting road warrior style over a decaying society. You cannot posit a transition to an almost road warrior society without passing through drill everywhere, liquid fuel from coal, build a lot of nuclear reactors etc...

Build a lot of nuclear reactors, wind, solar etc... and shift to hybrid and electric cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

How about following the european diesel fuel laws ?

One liter car, two person, planned production 2009
235 miles per US gallon

Volkswagon Lupo 78 mpg

Smart Fortwo, 69mpg for the diesel vs 50mpg for the regular gas

Diesel up to 50% more fuel efficient.

Look at fuel efficiency in transportation at wikipedia

more traction for the ideas of
Green building

More industrial efficiency
Superconductors for transmission and engines.

For item 10:
In terms of investment, why wouldn't you recommend long futures/options on oil ?
If oil prices are predicted to skyrocket,it seems like no-brainer... unless you aren't sure that it will happen or how soon.


"In terms of investment, why wouldn't you recommend long futures/options on oil ?"

A return from futures requires the other party, the party who take the short position, to be solvent. If there is some financial meltdown, solvancy could be a problem. I plan on shorting some exposed stocks early on, but treat it as a high risk element so don't expose to much.

Regarding "long on oil", I think the oil companies will be the scapegoats for the problems we have. Also exploration costs going forward will be very high. I am afraid their profit will go down as the number of barrels produced goes down, because of higher and higher taxes and price controls.

This is a very sensible, nice summary.
I have a couple of comments... I think it's generally agreed that, given a crisis situation, it is action on the communitiy level which will count. (Think H.Katrina)
Right now, I'd like to see every mayor or every newspaper editor in America suggest to people to store 2-4 weeks of food. This could avert some major problems given a short term crisis. To be put another way, if I have two weeks of food stored, then I want everyone around me to have two weeks of food stored.
Also, I'd like to see every community be capable of canning food. I'll use, as an example, in my community there are a group of Mennonites who can a large amount of turkey meat every fall to be distributed to the poor (internationally, I believe). It is amazing what they accomplish in a relatively short period of time through volunteer labor.
As one who grows my own ingredients to make my own spaghetti sauce each year, I can tell you that between the ingredients, time, and processing requirements, I cannot compete with the store prices right now. That's because our current system is so efficient and energy and containers are so cheap. So, I differ with those who think that all needs must be met through self-sufficiency. I would agree with Gene, above, who advocates community cooperation. This greatly increases efficiencies. Good community co-op models might be a nice thing to devote a chapter to in your book. I have seen a town with only 10,000 people, with a picture-perfect food co-op, where farmers regularly bring in food and the townspeople regularly patronize it. It is growing so that they need a larger location. It all comes down to management and community awareness. It is even more efficient than farmer's markets and CSA's, though they all serve somewhat different purposes.

Your analysis seems very US oriented. Perhaps you shoud point out that most people in Western Europe have higher living standards than most US citizens even thoug Europenas consume much less oil per head than US citizens. Part of European efficiency derives from smaller cars and much more abundant public transport.

Order from the internet or buy from stores you can walk to, rather than driving alone to stores.

. Obviously driving alone to anything should stop. Public transport and shared transport should be the norm and internet shopping should be abandoned as a serious waste of energy. Localise first.

A quibble.

"internet shopping should be abandoned as a serious waste of energy."

Actually, it's much more energy efficient than the US norm of driving to shops, and it's probably as efficient as anything. Delivery by UPS, DHL, etc is very efficient, and those fleets will be the first to go hybrid, PHEV, EV, etc.

I know that back in the "good old days", ordering from the Sears Roebuck catalog was the way things were done. I think of the internet as the replacement for the Sears Roebuck catalog. And I also think that UPS delivery is a lot more efficient than driving alone to the store.

The Sears & Roebuck catalog did not require any kind of 24/7 fossil fuel consumption.

The Internet, however, requires a 24/7 phone network, 24/7 packet-switched networking nationwide (worldwide?), and 24/7 server operations. The Internet also requires every consumer to buy a new $500 computer, at least once every ten years. Because personal computers don't last any longer than that.

The Internet existed for decades before it supported shopping, by the way. Back in 1988, when I was using it for "usenet" discussion groups, it seemed as if 90% of its users had a college degree.

If the electrical grid, or the phone network, or the computer manufacturing industry ( which doesn't exist in America anymore ) were to go bad for a while, a lot of people would forget about The Internet.

It wouldn't take much for it to drop back to being a toy for industry and the relatively well-off.

And even today, when fossil fuel is relatively cheap, you gotta be crazy to use The Internet to buy necessities. In the last few years, I've used it only to buy computers and other techno-gadgets.

If the electrical grid goes bad for a while, we are in deep trouble, regardless.

I think we need to start thinking about what we manufacture in the US and what we don't. If nearly everything is imported from overseas, and world trade goes down significantly, we are sunk. I hope we don't import too many electric grid components or wind turbine parts.

By the way, regarding copper (used in electric wires), this was on the August 11 drumbeat:

Argentina cut shipments of natural gas to Chile, worsening an energy shortage, according to two Chilean utilities.

Argentina suspended exports by three suppliers of the fuel, Chilean utilities Electroandina SA and Empresa Electrica del Norte Grande SA said in statements posted last night on the Chilean securities regulator's Web site.

The utilities supply power to cities and copper mines in northern Chile. The nation is the world's largest supplier of copper.

The article is from here.

In America we manufacture by far the world's best weapons technology, both conventional and nuclear. Anything do to with that, we're decades ahead of everyone else.

I can say from daily experience that America is about five years ahead at making low-level (nvidia) mid-level (shader) and high level (Pixar) computer graphics technology, for games and even more so for movies.

Otherwise, not sure what's going on.

Copper shortage is not especially scary since we have very good alternatives for bulk users of copper.
Fiber optics and radio for telecommunication.
Aluminium is economically an exellent conductor for all levels of electricity distribution exept electrified rail and in house wiering usinge simple connectors.
PEX tubing is a good replacement for cold and hot water pipes.

It is no problem if we got plenty of electricity...


YOu wrote:

1. What will the first few years after peak oil be like?

It is hard to know for certain, but a reasonable guess is that the impact will be like a major recession or depression. Many people will be laid off from work. Gasoline is likely to be very expensive ($10 a gallon or more) and may not be available, except in limited quantities after waiting in line for a long time.

Aren't we in agreement that the peak (at least of conventional) was in 2005? If so we are nowhere near $10, and it has already been 2 years since peak.



Another great effort like usual. A few constructive suggestions:

1. What will the first few years after peak oil be like?

The trouble with referring to it as being like a recession or depression is that it gives the idea that this is going to be something temporary that we live through, and then happy days are here again. This time it is going to be different. This time, more than likely what we are going to experience is a PERMANENT DECLINE. There is good reason to believe that the US economy is unsustainable in any case. Thus, it is likely that the best we can hope for is a transition to a permanently lower level. I'd suggest that somehow you try to communicate that something along those lines is more likely.

I agree with Don Sailorman that rationing is a strong possibility - you should at least mention it. I'm not sure when exactly it will kick in, I was thinking more in terms of $10/gal, but who knows? You should also avoid giving the impression that gasoline will go up to $10 and then just level off; it might actually go up to hundreds of dollars per gallon, eventually reaching the point where petroleum is just too valuable to be merely burned.

2. If a scenario like this is coming, what can a person do now?

I would definitely add to this list that people need to carefully evaluate the prospects of their present job in light of the coming situation. If their employer is in the business of selling discretionary goods or services, a career change into the non-discretionary sector is an urgent priority.

Do more than just get to know your neighbors; be nice to them too! Start doing people favors now to build up goodwill for later.

Tricycles and quadricycles are also viable pedal-powered alternatives, and may be the better alternative for some people.

I'd also suggest that people at least look into the possibility of buying an NEV, especially if they have two cars. It is very unlikely that two-car households are going to have to take a long trip with both vehicles the same day; more likely, one will only be needed for a local trip that an NEV could handle.

Hobbies could also be crafts that could become the basis of a sideline or even a full time livelihood.

3. Do I need to do more than these things?

RE: Carpooling for shopping: Or consider forming a neighborhood buying club. This not only cuts down on driving, but also is a way to economize by buying in bulk and breaking down the purchases amongst participating households.

Gardening is great, but I would suggest more caution about fruits and especially nuts. It can take many, many years before nut trees mature enough to bear in significant quantities; even then, squirrels will take most of them except for black walnuts. If one really needs nuts, foraging in nearby woods will probably be a better strategy. As for fruits, dwarf fruit trees can be a good investment, but they will require far more intensive pest control than most garden vegetable crops. Some fruits are relatively pest free, but others are extremely difficult for the average home gardener.

Yes, meat will become more expensive, but some types more so than other. Beef is so land and energy intensive that it is likely to become hugely more expensive. Pork will not go quite so high, poultry even less.

I'd suggest either moving residential energy conservation steps up here, or referring to it below.

4. Should families continue to have two, three, or four children, as they often do today?

You might just mention that if times do get difficult, there just might possibly be a need for more adoptive parents.

5. Are there any reasons why steps such as those outlined in Question 3 might be too little to handle the problem?

I'm not sure that it is true that interest can only exist in a financial environment of continuous growth. Interest is ultimately just a rental payment for money. Even in a zero-growth sustainable economy, assets (including money) are still going to need to have a rental value to assure that they are efficiently used. What is true that that in a declining economy, it will be increasingly difficult for borrowers to repay loans, and for lenders to come up with the capital to make new loans.

Except for fresh some highly perishable foodstuffs and flowers, very little fireign trade is via air. A bigger risk would be a new round of protectionism.

I'd speak in terms of increasing unreliability of the elctrical grid rather than its outright failure.

Another issue with water is the continuing growth of settlement patterns beyond their carrying capacity.

You might also include an item wrt decreasing biodiversity and ecological degradation. This is particularly an issue wrt ocean fisheries, which directly impacts food supplies.

6. Are there any reasons for optimism?

If it were me, I'd mention that even if our economy must decline to a permanently lower level, this need not be viewed as being the end of the world. There are plenty of people living in places like Costa Rica that have very happy lives, living on a per capita GDP of 25% of the US (on a Perchasing Power Parity basis). There have been many critics of the American way of life; perhaps a less energy-intensive, simpler lifestyle could actually prove to be a healthier and happier lifestyle as well.

7. What should we do, if we want to do more than described in Question 3?

I'd present things more as a spectrum of alternatives, with rural survivalism at one extreme, small-town simple living as an intermediate option, and urban homesteading in energy-efficient cities at the other extreme.

8. How about Ecovillages? What are they?

Given the spectrum I've outlined above, I'd suggest that Ecovillages fall somewhere between rural survivalism and small town living. I'd also leave open the door to the possibility that other models might emerge within that niche in the future.

9. Is there a middle ground? What should be people be doing now, if they want to do more than outlined in Questions 2 and 3, but aren't ready to immerse themselves in a new lifestyle?

Please include a mention here of community gardens. Not everyone is going to have yards with space for gardens, so we are going to need lots of community gardens everywhere. If one exists and the reader doesn't have enough garden space for their own needs, they definitely need to start participating in their community garden. If no community garden exists, they need to help start one!

Small scale grain growing is hardly worth doing on a typical vegetable garden scale. The one grain that has traditionally been grown on a small scale in the US is corn (maize). Most people would be better advised to try and locate local farmers from whom they can directly purchase locally grown whole grains.

You didn't mention anything about small scale livestock, but this could be a viable strategy for some people, especially in rural areas and small towns without excessively restrictive zoning laws. Rabbits are certainly feasible for many people, and possibly chickens (though maybe roosters only in rural areas for now, anyway). Turkeys are every bit as feasible as chickens. Pigs or goats, maybe, depending upon the situation.

I would argue that organic gardening practices, including the incorporation of large amounts of organic matter into the soil and the use of heavy layers of organic mulches, is an important water conservation measure. This is also an excellent reason for getting started with gardening sooner rather than later; it can take several years to build up the soil's ability to hold moistrue.

10. What kind of investments should I be making?

PV panels are not the only, or even best, solar option. Solar water heating systems are generally going to be more affordable, and a more cost-effective option, and should usually be considered first before putting in PV panels.

If people live in the country or in a small town, and if there are woodlands nearby, then they should alco consider putting in a high-efficiency wood stove. Be sure to get one with a separate duct to bring in outside air for combustion; this turns the woodstove into a closed system, which is much more efficient and also safer. If they get a woodstove, they might want to at least invest in an axe to split wood and a bow or crosscut saw to cut up downed tree branches.

TIPS might be OK; then again, I'm not sure how much I'd trust the fedgov to be honest with regard to the indexing. I'd suggest considering diversification to include non-US denominated investments. It is unlikely that all economies in the world will decline at equal rates, nor that the US economy will fare the best.

11. Should I move to a different location?

I would add an "On the other hand" section here:

- There can be a downside to being a newcomer and a stranger in a community during difficult times, especially in small towns and rural areas. It can take a long time to build up a network of friends for mutual support.

- It can take time to really get to know an area: where the environmental hazards are, its climate and seasonal patterns, what vegetable varieties grow best and when to plant them, what insect pests to expect and how best to defend against them, where to find the best bargains, etc.

- Other people might have the same idea. If too many people relocate to your haven, it is no longer a haven.

12. We hear a lot about various things we can do to be "green", like buying fluorescent light bulbs. Do these save oil?

I would suggest mentioning programable thermostats in connection with hotter summer, colder winter. You might also just mention that air conditioning is a big energy hog, consider installing whole-house fans, attic fans, ceiling fans, etc. to rely on natural ventilation instead.

Please add that people can buy or make insulating shades or shutters for their windows. We knew about these in the 70s, but everyone has forgotten about them. There are significant wintertime heating savings possible with these, and they are one of the few energy efficiency actions which are possible even for renters.

In addition to the microwave, a crock pot is also relatively efficient, especially for those soups and stews and casseroles. Another good option to consider is a solar cooker. Anything you do in a crock pot you can also do in a solar cooker. They are available for purchase, and it is also possible to make them yourself, it is a relatively easy project.

I'd suggest investigating passenger rail or passenger ship as alternatives for air travel. These are both much more energy efficient. If we want more of these, then we need to encourage more ridership to make the increased service economically viable. You might also suggest that people explore vacation alternatives closer to home.

13. Should we be talking to our local government officials about these problems?

I'd also mention laws that prohibit solar panels on roofs or the construction or retrofit of buildings to be more energy efficient or to utilize passive solar energy.

Another issue is being more lenient toward the small-scale raising of livestock.

Localities also need to be more permissive about putting in accessory rental units or remodeling single family homes into two or more living units.

Communities need to become more friendly for pedestrians and two-wheeled vehicles of all types. More sidewalks and walking paths are needed. Streets and trafic laws need to be re-engineered so that two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehiclular traffic can co-exist safely.

In addition to local public transportation, cities and small towns also need to be linked by a network of interurban electrified passenger rail.

Thanks for all the good ideas!

I discovered as I was writing this chapter that there was a huge amount a person could say - and I didn't think of all the things you mentioned. Even so, this chapter is quite a bit longer than the others. I will have to figure out how to go about adding more -- more chapters, an appendix or whatever.

I was a little worried about recommending wood stoves. I know deforestation was a problem in the 1800s. With more people now, it will be pretty easy to over use our forests. Also, I was trying to stick mostly to the petroleum side of things. Wood stoves usually replace natural gas or electricity (except a few places where oil is burned for heat).

Yes, obviously not everybody can heat with wood.

There was a good article analyzing the firewood situation posted about a month ago. This analysis suggested that many of us living in the southeast should be able to at least supplement with wood heat. That is especially true for folks like me living in the mountains -- it is almost insane for anyone around here to NOT have a wood stove, at least for emergency heat.

I don't think wood is a good option for anyone living in urban areas, which is why my suggestion was qualified to rural areas and small towns only.

There are some types of wood pellets that can be used.

NOt an option for everyone - but the technology is here now.

The two main feedstocks for wood pellets are either wet sawdust or dry shavings. [The] wet sawdust comes straight off the sawmill bench. Dry shavings [are] produced once you've sawn [and] dried your timber, and then you're basically dressing the timber to put the nice smooth surface on it. The shavings [that] come off are [a] waste product, and one of the best materials to make wood pellets.

The wood waste -- such as the sawdust and the wood shavings -- have to go through a hammer-mill, and that breaks the material down to a very fine particle size. [If] the material [is] not already dry, like the dry shavings, it will have to be dried. Wet sawdust is about 50 percent moisture content -- [so] you need to drive all that water off and get it down to about 10 per cent moisture content.

Once it's all down at that 10 per cent then it goes through a pelletizer, and this is when the hammer-milled product, which is a very fine-looking sawdust, is pushed through a die. So you're pushing the material through the die, it's heating up, the lignin that's within the wood-fibre softens -- and I think the wood pellet gets up to about 90 or 80 degrees Celsius while it's being formed -- and that lignin holds the wood material together as it's cooling down.

listen to the podcast - and get the transcript at,

Not going to help significantly.  When heating oil prices went up, everybody in Maine tried to get a pellet stove.  Pellets became more expensive than shelled corn!

There is only a limited supply of sawdust, just as there is only a limited supply of used cooking grease.  If you can get some (especially for free), great!, but if you have any expectation of solving the nation's problems with it you're smoking something.

I know the list is getting long but here are a few others which are usefull for many emergency situations not just peak oil crisis:

- Medical: All adults should if possile have basic medical training i.e. a Red Cross "Standard" level first aid + CPR training. All households should have a basic first aid kit, which should include a 100 day supply of any medications that folks there are dependant on (rotate this stock so it does not expire), and a good first aid handbook.

- Fire: All households should have battery operated smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor, as well as an ABC rated fire extinguisher on each floor and 1 in the car.

- Water purification kit:
2 or more clean plastic containers, 1 gallon or so in size (of known volume).
large plastic funnel
coffee filter holder
large supply of paper coffee filters
eye dropper
several gallon jugs of plain Clorox bleach (replace twice a year if unused) 1 gallon will treat about 3,500 gallons of water.

If the water is visably "cloudy" or "dirty" pour it through a doubled coffee filter.

Then dirty or not, add 8 drops of Clorox per gallon of water, cap, shake well, let stand 20 minutes prior to drinking.

Remember that toilet tanks (not bowels) and water heaters are emergency water storage.

Gail one word of warning regarding wood stoves and such. Don't burn resinous woods in them, such as pine, fir, and most other conifer's. The resin will build in the chimney and catch fire without frequent cleaning, and burn the little house down.

And it takes about a year for any wood to be suitable for firewood after cutting and splitting, so it's not a short term solution. You can make fire logs out of newspaper however. Also, figure at least a couple cords/year for a small house, so you better be in good physical condition, if your intent is to go to wood for heat and cooking. Anyway deforestation as a result of this is unlikely, imho, because the population will have been dramatically reduced before we reach that point, and we will have more immediate concerns.

“Don't burn resinous woods in them, such as pine, fir, and most other conifer's.”

Broadleaf hardwoods (oak, hickory, ash) are preferred. However, a hot fast blaze using resinous woods is o.k. because it minimizes chimney fire causing creosote buildup. But a slow closed down stove burning resinous softwood, i.e. the over-night low oxygen smolder, makes lots and lots of dangerous creosote. Heating with green unseasoned wood is also a bad idea, unless you want to burn your place down. If you have more than one quarter inch of creosote buildup in your chimney flue clean it.

In another life I was a chimney sweep and you know what they say, seeing a chimney sweep gives you good luck. ;)

I have to chuckle some when folks make comments about meat. Nothing personal,and in good spirits, but domesticated meat is not all that is available. Venison ( yes, Bambi the road kill ) is more plentiful, in the US anyway, than they have ever been, and are a superior substitute for beef. You just have to know a little about hunting and preserving. Same goes for what many would consider inedible, but in fact are quite good - Possum, armadillo, wild birds like dove (pigeon for y'all city folks )ducks, geese, and so on, even dogs, are all on the menu if you broaden your horizons some. Don't restrict yourself to what the USDA "approves of". And it helps to visit your shrink to help overcome any irrational squeamishness about killing for food. Meat doesn't naturally grow a plastic skin. :) Teach yourself and your kids how to prepare a live chicken for supper. You'll be better off in the end.

All true. The only trouble with hunting & foraging is that what works for one person won't work for millions.

Same problem with relocation. If too many people have the same idea, then a haven isn't a haven anymore.

Life on an overpopulated planet

Can't argue with your comment regarding population pressure. I didn't want to get into that tho, since it's been beaten to death already, and I felt it would distract from Gails focus.

"If diesel fuel is allocated by high price alone, farmers may not be able to afford fuel, and may drop out. Or truck drivers may not be able to get what they need."

This eventuality strikes me as extremely unlikely. There is no limit to how high food prices can go. If you have to pay 95% of your salary for food or starve, you are going to fork over the cash. If you have to pay 95% of your salary on fuel to travel to work every day you will probably discover than spending and hour and half on a bicycle every day is an acceptable option. If the market is functioning at all it will allocate the necessary fuel to get food to consumers. Of course high fuel prices will also drive the re-localization of food production very rapidly.

"If you have to pay 95% of your salary for food or starve, you are going to fork over the cash"

...or just steal it. I don't think any sort of order could be maintained if food cost 95% of average salary.
Having said that, it could certainly cost three or four times what it does now without too much drastic effect.
We'd just eat less (a good thing, for many), eat cheaper foods (probably healthier, for the most part), and cut back on other luxuries (unfortunate for those in the business of supplying said luxuries, but not enough to derail the economy).

It's hard to see though what would drive food prices that high, except perhaps extreme crop failures from climate change or soil/water depletion issues. In the last ten years, we've seen a huge increase in the use of crops for biofuels, along with the quadrupling of oil prices, while food prices have risen at most 20% as a proportion of income.

The 95% of salary comment was just comic exaggeration, although if food prices quadruple I would bet that people receiving minimum wage will have food budgets a lot higher than 20% of total income. My point was that in an economic crisis people will give up almost anything to avoid experiencing real hunger so that the market will allocate adequate supplies of fuel to get food to people who who have money to buy it.

On average yes, but given that the risk of short term market failures or shortages equates to starvation, that isn't a scenario I would personally want to trust market forces to deal with entirely on their own.

I was not suggesting that we can trust the market to fix all of our problems (or even most of them). I was just trying to address the following statement from Gail's booklet:

"If diesel fuel is allocated by high price alone, farmers may not be able to afford fuel, and may drop out. Or truck drivers may not be able to get what they need."

Dear Gail,

Interesting stuff indeed, very thought provoking.

Unfortunately, for me at least, we seem to be putting the cart before the horse here. Fundamentally I don't believe there are "individual" solutions to Peak Oil, only "collective" ones, if we really wish to see civilization continue in a form most of us would recognize and be comfortable with.

The point, simply put, is not to allow the current socio/economic system to drag us over the edge, into who knows what? This will require mass, collective, politcal mobilization and concerted action to force through

fundamental and structural change. This won't be easy, but the only alternative is more of the same, only far worse and more brutality and probably massive warfare. Iraq is the model for the future, not some temporary aboration. Do we really want to go down that road?

The social, economic, cultural, political and military consequences of Peak Oil are so vast, complicated and unknowable, that rationally planning to mitigate the myriad effects is a truly monumental task, perhaps without real meaning.

In a way it's like being a Roman landowner with a lovely villa and a delightful family and a comfortable lifestyle; though unfortunately one lives close to the edge of the empire and there's an army of ten thousand barbarian horsemen, led by Attilla the Hun, just across the river! Not only that, the Roman garrison hasn't been paid for two years and they are deserting the region in droves! How does one plan for such a radical change in ones circumstances?

Sure one can hope to maintain the "civilized" Roman lifestyle for as long as possible, even though the economic and military foundation has disappeared, but for how long? Five years? Ten years? A generation?

Much of this talk about "surviving" Peak Oil, reminds me of government pamplet I read some years ago. It was called, "Protect and Survive." It dealt with UK government advice about how one could mitigate the worst effects of a nuclear attack on Britain. In many respects it was remarkably similar to a number of your "Survival tips"! The problem was, and in my opinion still is, that once we reach the stage of having to mitigate the worst effects of Peak Oil on an individual basis, then we are in real trouble and have slipped down the greasy slope to barbarism and who knows what, and all bets are off!

By far the most effective form of mitigation to deal with the dire effects of Peak Oil, is mass political action, here and now! It easier and more sensible to push through radical, structural changes in our political/economic system on a collective basis, than waiting for mass dislocation and trying to deal with the effects on a more or less individual basis. I don't believe we can deal with Peak Oil on an individual basis. The rational way to do it, is, I believe, on a national and international basis, so our collectively resources can be utilized optimally.

Much like the pamplet, "Protect and Survive" once we let an atomic war happen, civilization is pretty much over for those involved. The answer is simply not to have an atomic exchange in the first place!

So, fundamentally and on a profound level we shouldn't be waisting are time planning for a post peak world. In way and to be really brutal, I believe this is close to being dangerous nonsense. All our energies should be directed towards political action and something resembling a societal revolution and a massive redistributin of resources. If that seems like to much "trouble" for us, then dealing with the far bigger problems associated with the trials of living in a post peak world are way out of our league!

I agree with writerman, what would the avoid/minimize decline scenarios look like.

How long would an actual transition take from the time of the world recognizing OK your right...peak oil will or is happening ?
What is the pace of the dropoff in production ?
the charts that see here look like 20-30% per decade.
How much total fuel liquids will there be ?
How much biofuels ?
How much from oilsands ?

What is the electrical production that would be less affected by peak oil/natural gas ? Hydroelectric, nuclear, coal (which we would want to avoid), solar, wind, geothermal etc... About 70% of US electricity is not natural gas or oil.

We can save 40% of fuel by driving better as I note above from Edmunds. (adoption rate needs to be factored)
We can save 10% with better nanoboric acid lubricant and better starters and reprogrammed engine control (the engine control overlaps the better driving methods for shutting down idling engine)
We can save 30% if we get computer controlled drafting with networked cruise control. (deployment time needs to be factored)
The savings have to be multiplied together. (0.6*0.9*0.7 =37.8% of transportation fuel usage)

Deployment of high efficiency and electric cars, trucks, mopeds, etc...

What would be the most pallitable and easiest to introduce changes ?

where are the easiest places to swap out oil ?

How do you buy the time?
ANWR, stricter conservation, rationing if needed, etc...

What do you build while you transition to setup for longer term. Nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal etc..


Nano boric acid only reduces friction if you have friction to reduce. Most lubricant 'friction' comes from churning the lubricant around and from hydrodynamic loss. While it is true that some lubricants can reduce friction by 50% to 90%, you have to have actual friction. The extremely low wear rates of modern machinery attest to the fact that there is negligible metal to metal contact even in boundary lubrication conditions and that most of what is termed friction is pumping losses and hydrodynamic drag.

Low and constant viscosity synthetic lubricants are a much better bet because they deal with the problems we have. Extreme pressure boundary layer agents are wonderful - if you have that problem to solve.

We can save 30% if we get computer controlled drafting with networked cruise control. (deployment time needs to be factored)

We already have drafting, it is called trains. As for the rubber tires, this is only useful for longer distance uninterrupted travel (no one gets off every few miles) and rubber tires should not be driven that far.

"Computer aided drafting" w/rubber tires cannot be widely deployed in less than 40 years and is just NOT going to happen ! And there should be no need of it in that time frame.

As for changing driving habits, wide spread propaganda (which would be better deployed for other purposes) might save 1% or 3% on a fleet average.

And nano boron will save almost nothing because, as noted elsewhere, hydraulic pumping losses are the issue and not friction (I use synthetic oil 5w40 (recommended 15w40 for my old diesel) and try to keep it between the 1/2 and 3/4 liter low mark).

0.1 for 3 on this one.

Best Hopes for taking the electric train,


Where are the electric train proposals that are being submitted to cities, state and federal governments ?
How long to fund, build and deploy ? How many decades ?
California has plan to expand Bart and Caltrain which they expect to fully implement if it gets funded by 2050. btw. not electric trains. Unfortunately 0.01 for 1 for you.

If we are going for big infrastructure build, we should look at nuclear power, DC power grid, superconducting power lines and grid components, geothermal experiments.

This site has an interesting plan which I mostly agree with. (I am more optimistic about nuclear, but this guy recognizes the positive potential) Also, he points out the 67% energy inefficiency of sequestering even if you do it.

Here is a graphic that shows energy losses in a car. The losses are not so bad that they damage metal parts but the engine gets hot. Perhaps you notice the heat when you open up the car hood after driving.

In laboratory tests, these new boric acid suspensions have reduced by as much as two-thirds the energy lost through friction as heat. The implications for fuel economy are not hard to imagine, Erdemir said. "You're easily talking about a four or five percent reduction in fuel consumption," he said. "In a given day, we consume so many millions of barrels of oil, and if you can reduce that number by even one percent, that will have a huge economic impact." [quote from Argonne national Lab scientist. I think he is right and you both are wrong on the benefit of the better lubricant. If you have some referenced source please present it]

Argonne [national lab] is currently in talks with materials and lubricant manufacturers to bring boric acid technology to market, Erdemir said. While these new additives need to pass a battery of environmental and safety tests, they will probably be available within two years.

Better lubrication would also help for industrial machinery efficiency.

The software patch for fuel savings

Kessels' software dynamically switches the dynamo, which charges the car battery, on and off. However, the software is not quite ready for release. "We don't yet know how much it might degrade the battery". A more significant fuel saving of 5% to 6% could be achieved if the car engine itself were to be rapidly switched on and off, but this would mean serious adjustments to the engine, including the addition of a powerful starter motor to ensure the car gets going quickly after each engine shutdown.

Here is a graphic about how much the total losses to heat inefficiency are for our energy system

Work on implementing platooning of vehicles. Tests and field trials have been done

The original CHAUFFEUR 1 project successfully demonstrated the electronic coupling of two trucks, using an electronic "tow-bar." CHAUFFEUR 2 demonstrated the CHAUFFEUR Assistant, a system that transfers to all vehicles by interoperable system functions. The system is a combination of smart Adaptive Cruise Control (for shorter distances) and vision-based lane keeping. CHAUFFEUR also demonstrated platooning, another extension of the tow-bar technology that allowed it to tow more than one vehicle. Three-truck platoons were demonstrated. Implementation of platooning, however, is expected to take more time – as this type of trucking operation may only be practical on dedicated truckways, which are not widespread.

Not much momentum now and slow adoption but if this thing called Peak oil happens, then maybe some more action.

For changing driving habits, it would propoganda and driving tickets that would need to be introduced. It is also like fighting obesity. We identify the problems and then look at technologically adding systems to vehicles that enable the savings that are identified. The software reprogramming to reduce the idling.


Where are the electric train proposals that are being submitted to cities, state and federal governments ?

CSX just got turned down on a congestion relief measure. They wanted to create a grade separated 3 track railroad on their RR ROW from Washington DC to Miami. One track for 100 - 110 mph passenger service, two tracks 50 to 70 mph freight service, no at-grade crossings.

These projects are not funded, or slowly funded due to decisions by Federal Gov't. In part because too much money is being wasted on highways (new & maintenance) (CSX lost out to more freeways).

OTOH, France has five towns of >100,000 population without trams or plans for one, 4 with plans not yet under construction and 4 (as of earlier this year) with their first tram line under construction. The new conservative President will possibly slow things down (many second, third and fourth tram lines in the pipeline). France rarely builds new roads, that money goes into electric rail of all types.

On New Years Day, 2006 President Chirac announced that in 20 years, all French rail (every meter) would be electrified and "not one drop of oil" would be used. Technocrats are now suggesting battery locos for short, lightly used spurs.

Do not starve someone and then accuse them of being anorexic !


You had accused the car, truck platooning of taking 40 years to fully implement.
My point was and the one which you do not deny is that the rail plan would also take decades. Each would be lucky to be done in 40 years.
If politics and the US car culture is not going to totally change, we have to make the best of it.
Shift the transportation diet where we can to more rail, but if cars and highways are not going away then it is only prudent to make them more efficient. We will be looking at a mix of solutions. Some more car efficiency, car platooning, some more rail, some more work from home etc...

The same kind of thing is my support for cleaning up coal.
Even though I hate coal plants and think they should be completely eliminated, I support putting scrubbers and pollution control on them to reduce the killing. Where possible I want to see a new nuclear plant displace an old or new build coal plant.


My point was and the one which you do not deny is that the rail plan would also take decades

We can do a lot in one decade (more than in the linked plan).

It is easier to start a crash program for rail than nukes BTW

I was recently discussing that I ran out of specific projects to build# after two decades under a crash program, although I am sure that changes in Urban form etc. would add new ones.

So I reject "4 decades" but would accept two decades to build out all reasonable known projects on a "maximum commercial urgency" basis.

Platooning will have MAJOR safety hurdles that they are unlikely to overcome, and why should be build truckways anyway ?

And we cannot build EVERYTHING under a crash basis. The level of effort should vary by type of infrastructure.

Best Hopes,


# I was talking with Ed Tennyson, who was involved with the original 103 mile plan for WMATA. We came up with a new subway for DC, from Bethesda (terminus of the Purple Line at a Red Line station) to Georgetown (NW neighborhood in DC) and down Connecticut Avenue, and across to Washington Union Station (new DC Metro station on other side from Red Line station) and perhaps single track up to the New York Avenue station for platform transfers.

Also extend Amtrak's NorthEast Corridor down to Richmond, 40 miles of streetcars in DC, DC Metro to Dulles and slightly beyond, Green Line extended towards Baltimore, Purple Line (light rail) circling DC in Maryland (there were two options discussed, inner & outer; perhaps build one as light rail and other as part of DC Metro). Extend NW Red Line on old RR Row as light rail and transfer at current terminus. Rebuild stations on some lines for ten car trains. All doable in less than 15 years with appropriate funding.

Ed had the insight that, with American riders, one could run DC Metro on 105 second headways for 15 minutes, then "slow" to 120 seconds for at least 15 minutes, then speed back up.

Random boarding issues would prevent more than 15 minutes at super tight headways (Moscow does 90 second I think, but they have more disciplined riders) since "someone" would slow up one train sooner or later.

California has plan to expand Bart and Caltrain which they expect to fully implement if it gets funded by 2050. btw. not electric trains

BART is 3rd rail and operates off of a unique 1000 V DC.

And Caltrain desperately wants to electrify !

I think that they finally have a few dollars to do some.

Best Hopes for electrified Railroads,


Perhaps you notice the heat when you open up the car hood after driving

Hydraulic pumping losses. Thus the move to 5w20 oil from 10w40.

Swing a complex crankshaft and rods with pistons through a viscous substance at 3,000 rpm and some heat will be generated ! Spend more on a high pressure oil pump, etc.

On a microscopic level, rings squeegee oil and oil runs through journal bearings. Metal-metal friction is NOT the issue, the hydraulic movement of oil (metal-oil interface) is where the bulk of the frictional losses are.

And ICE is just not that thermodynamically efficient. A perfect, zero friction (all types) diesel engine is slightly over 50% efficient and lower for gasoline ICEs. That is where the bulk of that 62% in your graphic goes to !

Thus that 62% loss is misleading, since most of it cannot be recovered even in a frictionless and perfect world.


thus the statement that better lubricant only gets us about 5% improvement. The rest of the 62% has to come some other way.


Let us assume that a frictionless gasoline ICE is 45% efficient (reasonable, although I only have the link for diesels). 55% inherent waste. We CANNOT improve on that without changing the engine (turning it into a diesel for example).

The vast majority of the internal friction (the remaining 7% or so) is hydraulic. Lighter weight oil helps but not friction reducers.

I will make a wager. By 12-31-2009 no name brand oil (Pennzoil, Castrol, Quaker State, Mobil, Valvoline) will offer nano-boron particles combined with fuel saving claims.

One share of Apache Oil (or cash =) on close of first trading day in 2010 ?


I do not deny that diesel and other non-ICE are better. However, we have 300 million ICE cars in North America and 800 million worldwide. Since they are likely to remain the dominant thing on the road for another 20 years+. We should introduce things to make them more efficient.

3-5% from the promotion of better driving and ticketing and other means to try and boost that.
2-5% from better lubricant
2-5% to adjust the starter and battery for quick shutdown and restart of the engine at lights and while stuck. If we get them out to the fleet that would 7-15% of all gasoline for vehicles. 1 million gallons/day in the USA and 4 million gallons/day worldwide.

We also should look at adjusting the licensing and insurance cost of older cars, to see if we can use DMV as a financial motivator to accelerate the retirement of older cars. We could even have the car industry on our side. Ideally a program that helps retire inefficient cars and trucks early exchanged for some higher CAFE standards.

We should also ease some standards to get the higher efficiency diesels into the USA.

In terms of hydraulic friction, electrical power systems in place of hydraulic would be more efficient, but that would only be for new cars, which means deployment delay.


Btw I do support using more rail for frieght as well as plans for improved highway efficiency. Congestion on roads is a problem and wastes time, money and fuel.

A discussion of dedicated truck lanes, toll roads etc.. as one way to reduce congestion.

We have to be realistic about future traffic levels. Underbuilding the roads and infrastructure is contributing to congestion and fuel waste now.

Also, moving 3 mile long train loads of coal every day to coal plants uses a lot of gasoline.

When you ship/barge the coal it is somewhat more efficient but the ships use the cheapest grade of fuel which is more polluting.


I do support using more rail for frieght as well as plans for improved highway efficiency. Congestion on roads is a problem and wastes time, money and fuel

"Improved Highway efficiency" ???

Increase capacity and you get more traffic, and thus more oil use. So more lane-miles is a PROBLEM, NOT A SOLUTION !

I support destroying highways where they blight Urban areas (would love to drop I-10 from Canal Street to Elysian Fields)

No one wants to live close to an auto sewer and massive sections of Urban America have been dissected by freeways and blighted by being too close to them. Robert Moses destroyed the Bronx and wanted to destroy Manhattan until he was stopped.

Vancouver BC has NOT ONE FREEWAY in the city and is one of the better functioning cities (about 2 million population from memory).

Step One, take an 8 lane freeway, add a toll.

Step Two (or 1A) Re-stripe the tollway, make one lane HOV 3+, one lane HOV 2+, perhaps one lane for trucks. One or two lanes for single occupancy car parking lot. NO MORE CONCRETE !

This is MUCH more efficient (multiple pax cars and you support greater efficiency, right ?)

Step three, take one lane for bikeway (extra infrastructure for exits, but loads are light so bike bridges should work well) No tolls for bikes.

Step Four, turn sections of limited access freeway (when they need major maintenance would be a good time) into arterial city streets with at grade access. Integrate back into the city.

These steps would reduce overall oil use much more than adding one extra lane mile. Much of the savings would come from changes in Urban form and reduced commuting.

Best Hopes for Fewer Highways,


The BART california 2030 and 2050 plans

They are talking about trying to unify the 26 different transit systems under one payment card by 2030 and getting ridership up from 5.6% to 6.6% of total travelers. Walking is about 9% and cars are 83%. The 2050 plan is about helping to reduce the congestion on the highways (A $45-62 billion plan proposal). There is no plan to make a massive conversion to rail. They will be lucky to get this plan funded. A massive conversion to electric guideways for freight and people is a multi-trillion dollar plan.

Vancouver roads are crap. I have relatives there and I have driven those roads. Transportation in Vancouver in general is not good.

Cities are already built. You are not going to convert LA into New York or San Francisco into Vancouver and you are not going to convert the USA into Europe.

If you have a place that has 80+% car commuters then plans must be made to make that less congested and as efficient and environmentally benign as possible.

Denying that most people will still be driving cars and that most freight will still be moving by truck is a fantasy. Transportation plans have to be acceptable to those who will vote to enact them. If they are not enacted then nothing changes. More of the same is congested highways.


Cities are already built. You are not going to convert LA into New York or San Francisco into Vancouver and you are not going to convert the USA into Europe

Look how radically the USA changed it's Urban form from 1950 to 1970, with the help of gov't policies and inflation adjusted trillions of spending. We trashed virtually EVERY prime commercial real estate (Manhattan escaped by finally stopping Robert Moses from adding freeways and cutting up that island, else he would have done to Manhattan
what he did to the Bronx) and much of our well built and nice pre-WW II neighborhoods.

There is no plan to make a massive conversion to rail. They will be lucky to get this plan funded

You starve someone for years and then accuse them of anorexia !

The BART plans are predicted on BAU (business as usual). Billions for highways, tokens for transit. I am surprised by the modest proposals for BART till 2050 ! The best and highest capacity system in the Bay Area gets minimal enlargement and just gears up for heavier loads (longer stations for longer trains, 4 tracks, second subway in downtown SF, new downtown SF & cross-Bay stations).

BART looping the South Bay (Warm Springs via Dumbarton towards Millbrae/SFO plus San Jose up the Peninsula towards Millbrae/SFO), eBART (short train BART that can be expanded to regular BART) to Sacramento Light Rail xfer and Livermore to Tracy (creating a loop with Antioch to Tracy expansion of eBart). All open by 2020 (delay due to lack of detailed planning).

If, as the highway infrastructure ages out, any replacement is smaller or nonexistent (replace ten lanes with six for example freeing up space for transit), the money saved can be used for building out mass transit.

The trillions spent on new cars & SUVs in out economy can, and should, be largely diverted (not a crash program for MORE cars) into long lasting infrastructure. It is doubtful that the proposed high mileage cars will last any longer than today's fleet. An ongoing massive replacement cost.

The first priority should be in reducing VMT (vehicles miles traveled) and the number of cars required. Create a non-oil transportation alternative first !

We do *NOT* know how much oil will be available (Jeffrey Brown could be an optimist), so a non-oil (rather than a less oil) transportation alternative is essential.

(And a nuke does not "solve" the post-Peak Oil crisis with 50 mpg Civic hybrids, but it has an impact with a massive BART expansion).

Denying that ... most freight will still be moving by truck is a fantasy

I see no major hurdle in reducing truck modal share back to 1950 percentages, then a bit of a push to get it below that.

Where there were double tracks in 1950, put them back with concrete ties. Add modern controls and electrification to increase capacity and speed on the new and old tracks.

I will post details soon on CREATE, a $1.5 billion plan to reduce rail bottlenecks around Chicago (six rail overpasses to eliminate at-grade rail intersections are part of the plan).

As diesel prices rise, and truck tolls are added to interstates, commerce and industry will be motivated to move their shipping to a new, faster rail.

Beyond that is CSX's proposal to grade separate 1,200 miles and build 4 tracks from Washington DC to Richmond and 3 tracks from Richmond to Miami. One track for up to 110 mph pax service (average ~87 mph with stops) and two tracks for 50 to 70 mph freight service. This is very real and very affordable, but the Bush Administration will spend the money on new highways instead (13 of 14 proposals were for more highways + CSX)

You want a crash building program for nukes (when the last new nuke ground breaking was almost 25 years ago) and cars that exist only on paper and you accuse me of fantasy ?!

Vancouver roads are crap

Good first step to building a nice city ! :-)

People are repelled by auto sewers. They do not want to walk near or cross them, live near them, or work too close to them.

I have relatives there and I have driven those roads. Transportation in Vancouver in general is not good

Transportation or auto transportation ?

Vancouver is building more Urban Rail and they need it.

However, Vancouver is a very livable and vibrant city with a high quality of life. Perhaps "Good auto transportation" does not equal "Good Quality of Life" and "Good Urban Environment" ?

I would argue that Good Auto Transportation prevents a "Good Urban Quality of Life" and "Good Urban Environment". A city can get one or the other but not both.

Best Hopes for no more slightly improved BAU,


The high efficiency diesel cars that I listed exist in the millions in Europe.

VW group delivered 3.09 million cars last year.
The deliveries in China alone grew by 24.6 percent to 431,000 vehicles.

There are existing versions of the highest efficiency cars. Not on paper, working versions.

Plants are being built for more very high mileage cars.

Honda 62.8 mpg diesel accord planned for 2010.

Until 2007, most diesel fuel sold in the US was the high sulfur variety which which is starting to be phased out by law in 2010. Cleaner diesel fuel is starting to be available nationwide. This in turn is motivating manufacturers to develop diesel hybrid-electric vehicles.

31 teams entrants and counting for the 100mpg+ competition

Florida Power & Light Co. announced plans to upgrade each of its four nuclear reactors - two at the St. Lucie plant on Hutchinson Island and two others at the Turkey Point plant near Miami. The move would add 414 megawatts of power to the grid between 2011 and 2012. FPL, owned by FPL Group Inc., also reiterated that it wants to build two more reactors (about 3000MW) at Turkey Point by 2018 and 2020 and wants to choose from one of five reactor designs by early next year.

In addition to the 4,845 MWe of approved uprates through mid-2006, the NRC is reviewing pending applications for another 1,057 MWe to be added by early 2008. In addition, based on a September 2006 survey, the NRC expects 25 additional uprate applications from 2007 to 2011 that will increase output by another 4,150 MWe. (this does not include the Florida upgrades).

Power uprates take 18-24 month to apply and end to end about 4-5 years to implement.

The Business as Usual trend for nuclear is 10-12 GW of power uprates by 2020 and 15 nuclear reactors by 2020. About 40GW of new nuclear power or 320 billion kwh.

A lot of valid solutions got starved for funding over the last few decades. (including nuclear and rail). Pushing something that is moving to go faster is more productive than pushing on something that is not moving. We can always push on both, but it is silly to try to slow any of the solutions which are better than status quo to wait for the "favorite solution". The problems are big enough that we will need some of everything. More rail in places that already have a strong rail commitment (east coast) etc.. Project by project and region by region.

We can try for national and big local energy, transportation and infrastructure rebuild, but everything should not be put on hold while we try to get those passed. If you are starving do not pass up on what scraps you can get.


millions of cars that exist and are being driven now in Europe and Japan count as not benig just on paper.

With ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, diesel cars can come over unmodified in 2010.

A projected boom in diesel and hybrid cars (study by UBS and ricardo). By 2012, 2.7 million (annual sales) diesel and hybrid cars in the USA. 15% of 18 million project car sales in 2012.

The Xprize cars need to have production and market studies for 10,000 units at a minimum. So pure concepts cars are not allowed.


The EIA tables of efficiency introductions for cars, trucks and freight trucks.

It indicates how efficient the technology is and when it was or is expected to be introduced, the cost and the weight.


The EPA has the smartways shipping program

It has a lot of info on how to ship freight better. They have financing and guides for getting freight trucks more efficient and also on getting more freight shipped by rail.
More efficient trucks and more rail.

Continually improving BAU. It always business as usual even if business as usual is shifting. Get behind the positive trends in BAU. There are a lot things happening, you have to look for where the trend will be working with you.


I start from a different perspective:

What would a truly sustainable US economy look like (assuming no DRASTIC changes in population +/-)?

It turns out that the answer seems to be around 25% of the present per capita GDP. That is the level where our ecological footprint would fall within a sustainable zone.

Next question:

Are there people living elsewhere right now on 25% of the US GDP (on a PPP basis), and what are their lives like?

Turns out there are. One of the best examples is Costa Rica. The US per capita GDP is a little over $40K, theirs is a little over $10K on a PPP basis. Theirs is very close to being a sustainable economy; just a litte fine tuning and they'll be there. Most of what I have read about Costa Rica suggests that it is not all that bad a place to live, and that most Costa Ricans are actually pretty happy with their lives.

Next question:

Would it really be so bad a fate, then, if the US economy had to decline and level off to a per capita GDP of 25% of present level?

My conclusion: It certainly wouldn't be the end of the world. With a big adjustment to our attitudes and some adjustments to things like our transportation systems and habitation patterns, we could eventually end up living lives every bit as happy as Costa Ricans. Given the criticisms that many have made of the typical US way of life, maybe we could even be living better and healthier lives.

Next question:

So do we really need to move heaven and earth, and maybe destroy the planet, in a desperate effort to maintain ourselves at our present per capita GDP?

From my perspective at least, the rational answer would appear to be: No. The downsides and risks involved with trying to sustain the unsustainable just aren't worth it, IMHO.

Final question:

So what is the alternative?

A: Accept the inevitable, give up trying to sustain the unsustainable, adjust one's attitudes, and get on with the task of managing the decline in a manner that will allow us to at least level off at that 25% figure.

I would like to think Costa Rica is a good model for possible outcomes of powerdown. Having just visited this past spring, CR is a delightful country, very progressive and egalitarian by Latin American standards.

There are many good things going on in CR. But I wonder about CR as a model of sustainability considering how increasingly dependent they are on international tourism, which will certainly decline in a post-PO world. From wikipedia: "The strength in the nontraditional export and tourism sector is masking a relatively lackluster performance by traditional sectors, including agriculture." and "Tourism now earns more foreign exchange than bananas and coffee combined." Services - hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance (not disaggregated to show international tourism-related services) in 2004 accounted for 61.8% of GDP. Plus, as I pointed out in a comment several weeks ago, this service sector is increasingly composed of Nicaraguan immigrants who, like Mexicans in the US, will work more cheaply, and against whom there is substantial (and I think growing) animus.

I didn't claim they were quite there yet. They still have some work to do. But it is minor tweaking compared to what is needed in the US. I am basing my analysis from an article by Francois Cellier posted on TOD back in May on Ecological Footprints. According to Dr. Cellier, Cuba is presently the only country that is both within a sustainable ecological footprint and has a relatively high Human Development Index. However, Costa Rica is very, very close, and is certainly a much more attractive example.

I'm not sure how much room there would be for tourism in a truly sustainable world. I'd like to hope there will be room for some at least, though people might have to get used to voyaging by passenger ship again rather than flying. Tourism will probably just be for the wealthy elites. That has been the norm, the past half century or so has been the exception in that tourism has been affordable for the middle classes as well. I will suggest that societies that are near or can get to sustainability sooner rather than later are more likely to still have something worth seeing to attract tourists. Costa Rica is pretty well positioned in that regard.

The immigration problem is probably going to shape up as one of the great moral issues of our age. How many people do you let into the lifeboat before you risk sinking it?

Costa Rica is a great place. (I was there last Christmas) I found ti to be quite pleasant, but I don't think the US could live that lifestyle. All of these points are based on the fact that I was never in San Jose. I flew into Liberia, a small city at best.

1. The countryside is a lot 'wilder'. There is very little police presence. In the town of Nosara, and other neighboring towns, there are no police whatsoever. If there's a big problem, the police might show up the next day. Everything else, is just worked out somehow. Civil services were almost nonexistent.

2. There are very few paved roads. The Pan American Highway is paved (sort of), and some of the main roads are as well. Everything else is dirt. 'Fixing the road' consists of someone running a grader down the thing when it gets too rough. In the wet season, towns would get cut off for days, because the dirt road turned into an impassible quagmire.

3. Their climate is very different from ours. The temperature throughout the year is quite consistent. They have two seasons, wet and dry. Houses there have no heaters (don't need them) and only the luxury places have air conditioning. The temperature is SO consistent, most houses don't even have insulation. So, shelter is to keep the rain and sun off, and the strong winds out. If I didn't have to heat or cool my home, my home energy consumption would plummet.

4. There are shortages of things. Two of the towns I stayed in were well off the beaten track. The store was restocked only twice a week. If you didn't hit the store on 'milk day', you were stuck until next week. Not that it was terrible. If you planned ahead even a little, you were fine.

5. Since there is very little in the way of government services, many just do their own thing. There are no building codes, so it's not uncommon to see a toilet (sewer) pipe exit the nearest wall and dump onto the ground, or into a creek. Sometimes there was a smell, but drinking out of any waterway was ever an option. I'm sure people get sick, but that's generally mitigated by the tropical weather and copious insects which took care of such things VERY quickly.

6. Everyone there seems VERY relaxed. The manana (tomorrow) culture is the norm. Very few are concerned with the rat race - Who cares what the Joneses are up to, let alone keeping up with them. Somehow, I just don't see this country taking up that outlook on life. It's sad, really. In many respects, I really admire the Costa Rican culture, but there are things about the infrastructure and governmental organization I would improve.

7. Communications needs work. Maybe I'm just spoiled by one of the best communications infrastructures in the world. Telephone service is spotty and expensive. Internet access is controlled by the government, and is terrible. It's dialup speeds at best in 95% of the country, if anything. High speed is 1 meg. Customer service is nonexistant, and since it's a government monopoly, there's no incentive to improve.

Infrastructurally speaking, I'd say they're where we were back in the 20s, except with electronics, and so-so communication. Much like backwater West Virginia.

That said, I'll take a house in the mountains. Santa Elena, please.

The view from Santa Elena toward the ocean. (sigh)
There, it's in the 70s and 80s all year round, with a breeze.

Christmas Day:

Sorry for the big off-topic diversion down memory lane. The subject of Costa Rica did come up.

Thanks for your post. And yes, life in a US @25% of present GDP would be different than life in Costa Rica in significant respects. The differences in climate, and thus our need for insulated and heated housing is a big one. With a shorter growing season our food costs would be higher, too. There would undoubtedly have to be some things that they take for granted that we would have to cut back on or do without to compensate. For example, we might have to increase the number of people living in our homes (extended family and/or renters) to get our square feet/person even lower than theirs.

Your comments about government and infrastructure brings up another point. They have less government than we do, because they cannot afford as much. We won't be able to either. There is going to have to be a HUGE pruning back of government at all levels. Given our perpetual budget deficits, we can't afford the government we have now, and we certainly won't be able to afford it then. I figure that somewhere around 80-90% of it is going to have to go, and most of that is going to have to be at the federal level. You could have also pointed out one huge difference: Costa Rica has NO military. It is highly exceptional in that regard. If they had to pay for a military, things would be a lot worse than you describe. We probably won't be able to afford anything much more than a Swiss-style national militia and a small coast guard, at best. IMHO, that is all we really need anyway.

Ah, excellent point about the military. I can't believe I'd forgotten about that.
When it comes to defense, we've been subsidizing the entire western world. The blanket of the US military covers the entire planet. The western world puts up with our wishes, and in exchange they know that everyone will stay inside their borders (for the most part) For all the expense and easy to cite evils of the military, it does keep the world in check. Tinpot nutjob leaders know that if they stir the pot too much, they will have to deal with us.
This affords countries like Costa Rica to disband their armies.

I can't say that I'd terribly miss a massively scaled back fedgov. IMO, my ROI on my federal taxes is terrible.

Our housing stock is VERY large, and we could very well afford to consolidate. This will be one of the hardest parts of transitioning to a low or post peak oil society. We have trillions invested in cheap oil infrastructure. Modifying that will be difficult, and expensive. It will be ugly.

Not that it can't be done. The US has faced some incredibly difficult challenges in the past and rose to meet them. We still have that spirit, but it's in deep hibernation. IMO, a scaled back, slower USA will make us healthier, figuratively and literally, in the long run.

What would a truly sustainable US economy look like (assuming no DRASTIC changes in population +/-)?

It turns out that the answer seems to be around 25% of the present per capita GDP. That is the level where our ecological footprint would fall within a sustainable zone.

You're assuming that the footprint per unit of GDP is a constant.  This assumption is clearly wrong, as there are several contradictory examples.

If we concentrate on reducing ecological footprint without artificially constraining our goals, we can still create large GDPs while living lightly on the earth.

It is only a back of the envelope calculation, but provides a convenient number for thinking through some important what-if questions. The actual number may be somewhat lower or higher, but I believe it is close enough for my purposes. Very few, if any, Americans have really taken a hard look at the possibility of a major and permanent decline in per capita GDP, and what that would look like. They think it is impossible, but I want them to realize that it really is possible and even necessary, given all the problems we are facing.

The only ones that have considered it don't seem to stop at 25%, they take it all the way down to zero. Another purpose is to try and get people to think about other scenarios besides just BAU and zero. Decline doesn't have to mean the end of the world. Life can go on, even if we have to live it at a lower economic level.

Finally, in selecting Costa Rica as a model, I want to challenge people to reconsider their notion that a decline of such a magnitude would be nothing but bad. While there are many downsides, of course, a decline to a lower sustainable level might leave us still able a healthy and happy life; maybe even healthier and happier in some respects than we are now.

If it turns out that we must face an inevitable decline, being able to do so with a realistic, hopeful, constructive and positive attitude can only be helpful.

Hi Gail,

Nice work and I liked that you stressed several things that will be important for one's psychology.

Living near or with family or friends. Studies show that people live longer and happier when they have friends. Also, friends and family are more caring and sharing, especially if there are scarce "needs".

Learning a musical instrument is important as it lifts the spirits and it encourages group activity. I would suggest acoustic items like guitars, tin whistles, harmonicas, concertinas/accordians and folk drums. Drumming is a fun activity especially in groups and it also encourages dancing and draws others. People like to laugh at accordians but there is so much you can do with it, its fun, and it is portable unlike a piano.

I would add "learn how to brew beer/wine and make sauerkraut." You are going to NEED a beer/a glass of wine in the future. Also, if fruit becomes seasonal, you will need another source of Vitamin C. Sauerkraut is a great substitute. I know that many of you HATE it and with good reason. The stuff in the can is DEAD - it was pickled not fermented. I too have hated and still hate pickled canned cabbage.

Go to a local co op and find some REAL fermented sauerkraut/kim chi. My favorite brand is Real Pickles. Try the good stuff and then learn how to make your own.


I like your suggestions!

• Plant a garden in your yard. Put in fruit or nut trees. Make a compost pile, and use it in your garden. Put to use what you learned in sustainability or permaculture groups.

• Meat is likely to be very expensive. Learn to prepare meals using less meat. Make casseroles like your grandmother's, making a small amount of meat go a long way. Or make soup using a little meat plus vegetables or beans.

As a small farmer and frugalist, this advice should be modified, I think. People need to think of food (in most areas of the U.S. that will be survivable) in terms of what can be stored. Meat is the winter food, and a staple that can be stored on the hoof or salted and dried or smoked. Grains, beans, root vegetables, etc., can be stored without electricity in a root cellar.
Think of meat in terms of a variety of animals, and that (as one commenter put it) "animals don't grow plastic skins."
Chickens, eggs, goats, pigs to clean up the garbage, rabbits, ponds with fish (put the rabbits over the pond to feed the fish).
Less meat is not necessarily good advice. It needs to be more localized and appropriate for the situation. Some places require you to eat mostly meat (northern/mountains), while others don't support meat animals very well at all(desert). Storing hay and grains for meat animals is easier than keeping the bugs and rats out of people food. A cow will gladly share with a rat and still provide wholesome milk.

Concerning climate change, there's a better than 50-50 chance that earth will be cooling rather than warming over the next several decades. (Google: global cooling predictions) After all, less oil and gas means less CO2 entering the atmosphere. We may very well attain our Kyoto target CO2 reductions whether we plan to or not. Besides, evidence is accumulating that it has been enhanced solar activity over the past several decades that has caused the 1 degree F rise in global temperatures rather than CO2. The fact that all planets in our solar system have experienced similar warming over this period strongly supports the theory that it is the sun and not CO2 causing global warming for both earth and all the other planets. (Google: solar activity climate change) The point is that we may be experiencing Peak Warming in conjunction with Peak OIL and Gas. With declining global temperatures, particularly during the winter months, we can expect increasing demand for heating fuels and thus much higher prices and perhaps chronic shortages for home and business. We may look back on these past few decades of mild global warming, regardless of the source, with fondness rather than the current dread, which has been hyped by politicians, academics and the media.

Everything I have seen says CO2 builds up over time. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels now, CO2 would continue to rise.

The articles we are seeing about ice melting in the Arctic are truly scary. If the melting continues, we are likely to get some really bad feedback loops. I even thought about including one reason for moving as getting away from low-lying areas near the ocean.

The moral equivalent of for global warming science is

What I recall from reading there is that CO2 has been 180ppm - 280ppm for the last several hundred thousand years, moving in nice, slow 100k year cycles. We've pushed it to 383ppm in the last two hundred years.

What happens next, even if all humans die tomorrow right after tea time, is that the warming arctic has thawing permafrost with lots of plant matter in it. This stuff will decay and the CO2 concentrations will go up. There is also a good bit of methane that comes out and this is 23x as effective by volume as CO2. We've possibly pushed the climate into territory not seen in the last fifty five million years and only time will tell where it all stabilizies.

Yes, but CO2 enhances plant growth. In order to support increased biofuels production without impacting human food production we will need a higher partial pressure of CO2 to support human food production together with biofuels production. Higher PPM CO2 in the atmosphere is essential for this added plant material production. (Google: carbon cycle)

Higher CO2 only increases plant growth if it is the limiting nutrient; if water, phosphate or potash are limited, the influence of CO2 is much smaller.  This was the subject of a recent study (no link, I'm exhausted).

Climate change stresses many plants and stressed plants grow LESS. Also, there's a good chance that pests will increase.

Some plants/ecosystems will do better with climate change ... most will not.

The fact that all planets in our solar system have experienced similar warming over this period strongly supports the theory that it is the sun and not CO2 causing global warming for both earth and all the other planets.

In addition to my expertise in cow statics and dynamics I also have some ability to spot the excreta of the male of the species. The above blockquoted material definitely qualifies.

The only planet besides earth which receives close attention is Mars. Mars has warmed. Of course, Mars always warms ... and then cools.

Mars has an orbit that is relatively eccentric for a planet. The Earth stays between 147 and 152 million kilometers from the sun. Mars wanders between 206 and 249 million kilometers out. This results in significant changes in total solar energy received an a Mars annual basis.

Mars has low thermal inertia. The Earth has atmosphere and oceans which buffers any temperature change, while Mars has no liquid water and maybe 1% the total atmospheric density of Earth.

This particular bit of global warming denialist nonsense has been utterly chewed up by peer reviewed science and all of the repeating in the world won't make it true. I hope you're just an innocent victim of this purposefully popularized misconception.

Maybe I should have said "Don't plan on buying as much beef at the store." Real life is complicated and hard to explain.


Great chapter, part of a great effort overall. I look forward to the next installment.

In the context of this discussion, I'd like to draw your attention to this essay by permaculture author Toby Hemmenway, in which he talks about the myth that country living is likely to be an effective way to insulate oneself from the impacts of peak oil. (There are also several other essays on the subject linked in the sidebar.) Your chapter already echoes several of his major points, but I thought that you might enjoy his perspective if you haven't already encountered it.

I found Mr. Hemmenway's essay to be nothing but a rambling attempt to try and explain why he failed at living off the land, if one truly nutures the land, it works.

Gail - you have certainly undertaken a major project!

I appreciate the work you have put into this, but also agree with some of the above posters about reworking part of this, starting with the first question.

The key issue for us wrt P.O. is not that there will be less oil, it is that there will be continually decreasing amount of oil available. (And then compound that with NG declines, then coal declines.) That is why the full effects will work out over decades. Also, that is why the end game is so bleak - it is not just that we have to use less oil, but that the following year we would have to use even less, and the year after that ....

Thus, there is no single solution to be given. Adaptation for 2008 may not apply to 2018, which might not fit well to 2028, etc.

Therefore, what is needed is flexibility and adaptability. Indeed, WT's ELP is really about finding a way to be a flexible and adaptable person. E.g., debt burdens oneself to the point where change is very difficult. Recommend your answers be strongly weighted towards convincing people that they will have to be flexible and accept new problems.

If indeed May 2005 was the peak for (strictly) oil, then the first few years of PO haven't been that bad. And given Khebab's summary plot of the models, a good case can be had that the next couple of years won't be tragic either. It is only when one looks at their lifetime in decades does the full effect appear.

This is the problem I have with dealing with my local regional government and their multibillion dollar multiyear transportation plan. It lacks the flexibility and adaptability needed for the coming years. They are in the process of spending billions of dollars to fix problems that won't exist in their target dates, but are spending very little to address the emerging problems that PO will manifest. In other words, their 23 year plan really has a very simple model of change (namely, none except for an annual 2% growth in car use.)

Suggest that you rework question 1 into three subsets:
1A - what will the first couple of years be like after PO?
1B - what will it be like during the first few years after the 72 months of my car loan are paid off?
1C - what will life be like as (I near retirement/ kids go off to college/ any 10-20 year horizon.)

IMO, the specific answers to each of those are indeed different, however in each case being flexible in one's lifestyle is a requirement.

One more thought - agree with writerman that the corporate response is as important or more so than the individual. Again, my own example with the regional government association... to convince the body politic that as a whole new directions are needed is a greater challenge but also one with greater reward, than going to the mountains and buying a cabin.

I think you are right - I need to do some more explaining and reorganize a little. Make it clear that there is more than one possible outcome.

I may need a second "What's Ahead?" chapter that talks about 1A, 1B, and 1C, plus perhaps some of the issues in my Question 5.

This might be followed by "What we can do?" chapters, perhaps broken down into government, companies, universities, and individuals.

I might need to put some of the sustainability material in an Appendix. Also give a list of other resources, and make it clear that I am barely scratching the surface.


I think your book is a pretty accurate description in a situation where severe resource depletion is a fact of life, but I'm not convinced that is the likely outcome of peak oil. At least for the industrialized world.

I see two scenarios.

1) We roll into peak oil, and there are short term shocks. High prices (100 to 200 dollar oil), government intervention/support to help keep the economy going, etc.

During this period we (consumers) will be strongly encouraged to conserve. We'll buy hybrid electric vehicles, we'll carpool. For example. I drive my SUV 20 miles to work, and back by myself every day. That's 16 mpg I'm putting on it right now. IF I carpool a prius with 4 other workers I go from 16 mpg to 200 mpg. Suddenly 10 dollar gas isn't such a bad thing. My lifestyle goes on as before

Sure I won't be able to eat fresh vegetables in the winter any more, I may have to make other compromises too. But that's what they'll be, lifestyle compromises. The basic underpinnings of an industrialized life-style will continue.

Then other technologies start to fill the gap. Plugin-electric hybrid moves average MPG from 50 to 100/150 mpg. Alternative liquid fuels, electric, battery technology, distributed generation. It will be a little bit of all of these.

We may see some kind of Manhattan-project for working through these changes, but many many people have pointed out that it is technically possible to make the transition. It just requires a bit of leadership and discipline.

2) The 2nd scenario is one where oil declines, and although we make lifestyle changes, they aren't enough. Oil declines more, plugin-hybrids don't show up (or worse. They show up, and there is insufficient electricity production capacity to power them). Our economy crashes, mass unemployment, rudderless government leadership.

In this scenario I see the country moving to a split between the industrialized elite, where $10 dollar gas isn't a problem (face it. If you can afford a 50,000 dollar car, you can afford $10 gas), and a de-industrialized mass of people that shift back to an agrarian society.

Those are the folks that will buy the book.

I think it's important that those of us who advocate to opinion leaders in our society paint both pictures. Pictures of hope, in addition to despair. It's good to be prepared, but I fear that constantly advocating for the falling sky will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as lawmakers dismiss peak oil as a "crazy" concept.

Everything you listed could indeed come to pass if we don't do the things today to help ease the transition.

- Improve electric distribution, storage, and production. Ultimately everything I've read indicates that electricity is the only way out of this. Other liquid technologies don't have the ability to scale (yet).

- Improve efficiency of current liquid fuel consumption (increase gas MPG, reduce miles driven per year, smarter urban planning, public transportation, etc).

- Government and industry contingency plans for oil shocks. While we may not run out, there may be occasional shortages and price spikes. How do we keep the economy running. I don't believe our leaders have thought this through.

Finally, the most severe consequences of peak oil are probably not to the people of the industrialized nations. They posses the resources (human and material) to weather the storm, develop and deploy new technologies and even, if required, transform their societies to ones that use less energy.

It's the billions of non-industrialized peoples around the world that will truly suffer when the green revolution that led to the current population explosion comes to an end.


Thanks for your ideas.

I started out with separate early transition and late transition questions, with a range in the late transition question, but it got kind of complicated. I will have to think about your idea. I agree it would be good to try to paint a range of possible scenarios.

Each nation will have their own scenarios. I live in NZ and have written up and found some of the local and government scenarios.

For instance NZ has 70% sustainable electricity at the moment mostly from hydro, geothermal and some wind.
So for NZ - it seems like electricity in transport is more of an option that elsewhere.

However we are physically isolated and 12,000 miles away from many of our big markets / so oil will be reserved for exporters using ships and not planes.

Thinking about it the US is going to experience less of a peak than almost anyone else / at least in the early stages. You just keep importing and pay low prices as you do now.

With fuel still low at $3 while we are at $5 already and much of Europe is at $7 already means countries with higher priced transport fuel have already started to change behaviours in some ways because we have already had some of the impact.

(Also for those who don't think fuel can get to $10 gallon. Remember that in 1980 oil got to $90/barrel when adjusted for inflation and things are much worse now. Also one factor that is often overlooked is that Opec wants the price to go up because they are still getting low prices in real terms.

An economic study calculated the energy outputs of oil and decided that it should already be at $300/ barrel. Check out the research by Prof Robert Ayres on the true energy value of oil to an economy. )

We are also working on more public transport and urban design changes.

If you can do a chart like this on your state / country it might be helpeful is working out which policy is best.

Then that might give some clues on likely scenarions

See my attempt at some conclusion here

I have added a linkback to here as well now. Thanks your starter list - particularly like the tip about heirloom seeds - which we have here.

Was with you right up the last bit about the "green revolution" among non-industrialized peoples.

I'm still yet to see a convincing case that declines in oil/gas supplies will have a dramatic affect on agriculture, given the tiny proportion of current supply that it currently requires. E.g. less than 1% of global oil supplies are currently for producing pesticides and herbicides, and less than 2% of global energy supplies are used for producing fertilizers (if wikipedia is to be trusted - I can't access the referenced source).
Then there's energy needed to run irrigation pumps, which can almost certainly come from wind power.
Fuel to run tractors and other farm equipment will definitely get much more expensive, but still only constitutes a fairly minor portion of total oil usage, especially among non-industrialized nations.
Transportation/distribution is probably the biggest many poorer countries today food is transported into the urban areas by truck, and the poorest of these are unlikely to be able to afford converting to electrified transport.
But here's the's hard to believe that, say, sub-Saharan Africa would continue to export so much of its own oil/gas that it didn't have enough to maintain local food production and distribution. Of course, sub-Saharan Africa isn't just one country, but would, say, oil-rich Nigeria really want to risk hordes of desperate and starving people from nearby oil-poor countries fleeing to their country because of insufficient agricultural output to even keep themselves fed? I am admittedly assuming that there is the infrastructure and expertise in the region to extract, refine and process oil and gas into the products needed for agriculture: if this isn't the case, and international trade (and aid) largely collapses, then the situation may indeed by bleak.

Eventually of course, even sub-Saharan Africa won't be able to extract sufficient domestic oil & gas to maintain current levels of agricultural activity. But it seems unlikely this will occur within the century, and projecting too far ahead into the future of human affairs is pretty academic. It's not unlikely that by then Africa's population will have significantly fallen due to crop failures from climate change and depleting aquifers, increasing disease, especially in urban areas, and ongoing warfare and genocide. In that sense, yes, they will truly suffer - but I don't see that it would be primarily due to the green revolution com[ing] to an end.

BTW, some info about fertilizer/pesticide use in Africa, for anyone interested.

If I get sufficiently motivated and/or bored at work, I might do some more detailed research on various parts of the developing world, and how agriculture is likely to be affected by declining oil/gas supplies. Unless somebody already has...

Can we really be saved by more electricity? Think Peak Copper and other recources. We are too many people on this planet.

Aluminium can substitute copper for a lot of its appliances.

Perhaps in a few places it can substitute. Also, I noticed a web-link with respect to bimetalic copper/ aluminum wire. Aluminum by itself is not a good substitute in wire.

This is a article by someone who thinks high prices will not hurt copper demand.

I worry about the maintenance of the grid partly because of the copper problem, but also for many other reasons:

• Maintenance is bad now. Will it get better later? Will anyone give this high enough priority with all of our other needs?
• We need workers with vehicles to get to the grid to fix it.
• We are talking about increasing the amount of electricity. We will need to increase the grid capacity correspondingly.
• The new types of energy fluctuate in quantity more. It seems like this would put more strain on the system.
• If homeowners are allowed to add their solar power and wind turbines to the grid, this will increase complexity. More nodes. More chance of slip up, because people unfamiliar with the whole system are involved.
• It is my understanding that the grid is extremely complex and is held together by a lot of patches and workarounds. As the system gets bigger and more complex, the likelihood of these failing increases.

Copper is used for a few specific parts of the grid and 99% is aluminum today.

Copper for generators, transformers, often for short runs (generator to transformers) and from final user panel to lights and outlets. Almost all the rest is aluminum today (local transformer to meter can be either Cu or Al).


For those with an interest in self sufficiency this is a good source of seeds and information.

Gail the Doomer,

Sorry to say, but there isn't much chance things run the way you describe. I know this is difficult for you.

Small point: Gas is not going to be 10$ per gallon in our lifetime. Sorry.

Another small point: You can buy a car that runs 55 mpg on regular gas for less than 10.000 US$.

Making a car that runs 75 mpg is very real, very easy and very cheap. As a matter of fact, more that 2 million have been produced in the 1950's. The design for this car was from the 1930's (!)

Next one: Running an economy with 7.5 us$ per gallon can be very possible. As a matter of fact, a few of the richest countries in the world are doing this.

If you want to know what post peak oil looks like: Hop in a plane to the netherlands and see it for yourself. All it takes is the price of a plane ticket, to quote Bartlett.

So please stop all this doomer talk and if you can't: get professional help.


You been coming here for almost two years and you post this?
Man, you do want to get eaten alive, don't you, what do you have, a death wish? :-)

Now, I do think this whole string took a dramatic turn into the land of the apocalyptic, but these strings always do!

I am going to take a slightly different that may surprise many, given that I am often considered an optimist here on TOD...

Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that we have undertaken many of the energy saving, cost saving steps listed by Gail, and by various posters replying to her (the normal advice, gardening, insulating houses, reducing driving, reducing debt, reducing waste in general) beginning about one week after 9/11/07. Many of us thought at the time that was the direction we should have taken in reply to the attack, basically a WWII type austerity program.

Here is what is amazing: At that time, many Americans would have bought into it. The desire to share sacrifice and to pull together was great.

Think about this: If we had taken that direction, 6 years later, after the initial sacrifice, would America be better or worse off than it is today?

Suppose we have began to build Alan Drake's electric rail, and put solar hot water on homes in the South, and bumped up CAFE fuel efficiency standards- all as a national defense measure? Would we be better or worse off now?

Here's my point: MOST of the ideas put forth by Gail and by those who replied to her post are not really that bad, IF they are not forced upon you.

Right now, there are shops selling restored Citroen 2CV's as art pieces!
I saw a vintage white 1978 Diesel Mercedes Benz 240D on ebay the other day that I was completely in love with, just on the looks and character of the car (it was nicer than my 1981 by a considerable amount!). The car gets over 30 miles per gallon and can be converted to run on vegetable oil as well as regular Diesel.

I figured my driving and my budget....I could drive it on newly purchased Canola oil bought at the local grocery and still be able to get by! The price would hurt, but I would still get long as the Canola didn't get too much higher! :-)

I agree with you that gas is not going to 10 bucks, but if it ever does, it won't stay there long.....there are too many other ways to get around, IF we have to.

BUT, that does not change the facts....the change period could be brutal if we are forced into it unprepared, and there are certain CRITICAL areas that MUST be tended to first. Few peak oil dreamers like to talk about medication for example. There are health conditions that without medication are deadly within hours or days, and or extremely life shortening if not managed.

Diabetes and Hypertension are two HUGE examples. While recommending exercise is good, many millions suffer from cases of the ailments severe enough that only modern medicine will do. These medications are NOT that oil or natural gas intensive to maintain and deliver, but they MUST be prioritized, or someone will be water skiing behind a powerboat while someone else goes without needed medication and dies.

The other areas can catagorized this way: The 4 C's


The internet, the radio, short wave, television, phone communication, the electric grid should be at the very front of the line for priority maintainence.
The electric rail system should be also. These are not that energy intensive if done efficiently, but are IMPERATIVE to maintaining the abilty to plan response and maintain social cohesion and develop advances in technology.

The infrastructere such as the river navigation system and the intra-coastal are equally as important. IF WE CAN MAINTAIN THE BACKBONE OF AMERICA, the rest will stay together, and the alternatives can be implemented.

There is a wide band of scenarios between the waste and mis-design of today and the the stone age. The complexity will be great. And whether we like it or not, technology is still on the move (for better and for worse).

But don't beat up on Gail. Her advice will be good even if peak isn't nearly that bad. A period of pulling in the horns and being very frugal could do us good.....just so my old Diesel holds together, I can get my blood pressure medication....and I can get that debt paid off! I know a lot of folks who would not have minded being invested in TIP Treasury bonds over the last few days! :-)

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom


I get a bit upset when people flip into this doomer-thing.

If gas is 10$ a gallon, you switch to a lightweight car with a small engine. They are cheap and available in very large volumes. As a matter of fact, in Japan out of 5.5m cars sold per year, 2m are so called minicars. They have an engine of 660 cc max. 65 mpg. Toyota's, Mazda's, Nissans, Suzuki's, etc. Doomers don't know this, because they haven't got a clue what happens outside their tiny little view of their world. No clue.

Only a real good doomer can think that people will keep on driving SUV's when gas is 10$ a gallon and they will die of hunger because they cannot afford potatoes.

The fact that gas is about 10$ a gallon in the netherlands and that nearly nobody drives an SUV here and that the netherlands by some accounts is the richest country in the world and that there are more bikes than people in this country, doesn't seem to matter to them. It's obvious not the information they are looking for.

I tell you a true story about my daughter:

I asked my daughter, 5.5 years old, which car we should buy. She pointed out a big one. "That one".

So I said "Thats very nice but now we cannot buy sandwiches with peanutbutter".

She thought about it and then pointed out another one. "That one!".

The second car she pointed out was much smaller.

The moral of this story? A doomer has less brains than a 5 year old.

A few weeks later, she could still recall why we should buy a small car, including the peanutbutter argument.

(btw, I am coming here more than 2 years already, but PG switched the hosting, remember? oildrum 1.0 etc)

Richard: Even if global oil depletion does a complete 180 (a field is found under the melted North Pole ice that makes Ghawar look like a shrimp) it is a certainty that gasoline will hit $10 US in your lifetime unless you are planning to live just a couple more years. SORRY. With no supply issues at all, just a conservative 4.3% price inflation rate, average US gasoline prices hit $10 in 31 years.

What condescending crap.

What are we facing in the US:
1. World Oil exports are declining at 5% currently and accelerating.
2. NA Natural Gas supplies peaking and facing rapid decline.
3. An aging reactor fleet.
4. Rapidly declining hard coal reserves.

So what do we need to do?

1. Replace the worlds largest auto fleet with one 3x efficient by 2025.
2. Replace the worlds largest reactor fleet.
3. Replace our vast low density, low efficiency cities with high density high efficiency cities.
4. Resurrect our atrophied rail system.
5. Rebuild our non-existent mass transit systems.
6. Replace oil and ng (60% of all energy) with renewables which are currently < 1%.
7. Vastly increase the power handling of our current electrical infrastructure to support the extra 60% power.
8. Replace all NG based industries.

And we need to make these multi-trillion dollar investments while:

1. Our economy declines year over year as net energy falls.
2. We must service a massive federal debt.
3. We carry huge personal debt.
4. We hemorrhage billions pay for imported energy.

And last, but not least, we must make all these changes with a government that is owned by the fossil fuel and automotive industries that are required to be replaced. Owned so much so that the only energy legislation for the year is likely to be vetoed, and action paralyzed.

No. No rational person could think this situation was the slightest bit challenging. Hell, a 5 year old could plan a path out of this. (bartender, I'll take two shots of sarcanol)

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

This is a big part of the reason why I believe we WILL decline. The things that have to come together in a heroic effort to hold together what wants to come apart eventually exceed any bounds of reality. It is not just peak oil, it is all the other problems coming together. Eventually the society and the economy and the political system will just be overwhelmed by it all. We're pretty close to being there already.

Assuming a US economy that is only 25% per capita of present rates actually makes a lot of the problems a lot easier. It is really neat the way so many problems just go away or take care of themselves.

We don't need to be thinking in terms of ramping up renewables to replace 100% of present FF usage, for example, because an economy operating at 25% of our present GDP uses so much less energy. We only really need to be thinking about ramping up renewables to something more like maybe 10X - 20X present levels at most, and probably less than that, assuming that we'll also be implementing lots more energy efficiency investments. That becomes a much more realistic goal, something quite achievable over the next two decades or so.

We don't need to worry so much about where the energy and water and fertilizer for agriculture is going to come from if everyone is going to only be eating 2200-2800 calories today instead of the 3700 calories they are presently, and that they will be growing vegetables in kitchen gardens and front lawns and community gardens, and that they will be eating mostly beans with a little dairy and poultry and very little beef. Even with much lower yields, sustainable organic methods applied to the vast amount of land available (including lawns presently growing useless grass) can enable us to produce quite enough food.

We won't need to worry so much about how to make cars more efficient and what to fuel them with if most people simply won't be able to afford cars anymore, nor will we have to worry so much about maintaining a crumbling highway infrastructure that will be largely disused anyway. Bicycles and NEVs and shuttle buses and electric rail transport will all be nice, and hopefully more rather than fewer people will have access to them. But if not, they can always walk, it will be good for them anyway.

We won't have to worry much about housing people for a while, as the number of people per occupied house will soar as extended family members and lodgers move in; more bodies will also mean less of a heating problem in the winter, too.

We won't need to worry about maintianing a military, because nobody else will be able to afford anything much more than some local militias with rifles and a couple of cartridges each to defend their borders. There will eventually be nothing much that we need bother defending ourselves from.

Figuring out how to sustain an unsustainable economy is an impossibly difficult task, because it is impossible. In contrast, figuring out how to sustain a sustainable economy is not all that difficult.

I agree. Our problem is that we are running out of resources in way too many ways, plus we have global warming. A much smaller population and simpler lifestyle would help.

My article Our World Is Finite: Is This a Problem? talks about related issues.

We don't need to worry so much about where the energy and water and fertilizer for agriculture is going to come from if everyone is going to only be eating 2200-2800 calories today instead of the 3700 calories they are presently

I believe you're very wrong there.  When you have 3700 calories/day, you don't have to worry so much about the nutritional value of each serving.  If you cut down to 2500, deficiency can spell trouble.  And as the quality of those calories falls (meat to beans, grains and vegetables) things like protein balance and B-12 become crucial.

We won't have to worry much about housing people for a while, as the number of people per occupied house will soar as extended family members and lodgers move in; more bodies will also mean less of a heating problem in the winter, too.

And many more problems with diseases, from measles and flu to tuberculosis.  Despite the economic utility of cities, for most of history they were population sinks.  We should never, ever accept a return to such conditions.

We won't need to worry about maintianing a military, because nobody else will be able to afford anything much more than some local militias with rifles and a couple of cartridges each to defend their borders. There will eventually be nothing much that we need bother defending ourselves from.

You're wrong there too; the poorer people get, the more they'll covet what little their neighbors have.  Even the stone-age societies of pre-1492 America engaged in wars of aggression.  We currently enjoy a peace born of the greater productivity of toil over warfare; if we do nothing to keep things up, we'll see violence on the scale of the Rodney King riots become endemic.

What we have to do is get efficient and go for alternatives as fast as we can.  We may still have a recession, but we can grow at least some things and have a future that isn't just a return to the past.

Despite the economic utility of cities, for most of history they were population sinks. We should never, ever accept a return to such conditions

Clean water and vaccinations will be enough. It would be great to add antibiotics to that list, but factory farming and improper prescription are likely to doom that great boon to humanity.

As the Soviet Union dissolved into the Russia, male life expectancy dropped by a decade. I can see a repeat of that.

Mortality in New Orleans is about 50% higher/capita that demographics would support. I can see a period like that for the entire USA.

Higher density will not be the proximate cause though.


People are routinely prescribed 1800-2500 calorie diets as a standard therapy for many conditions. Nutritionists have long ago worked out how to assure that people get what they need with calorie restricted diets. If people are eating more vegies and fruits and whole grains, and cut out the fatty meats and sugars and highly-processed foods, their nutrition will almost certainly improve. The irony is that with our 3700 calories per day, many Americans are still undernourished because what they are eating is junk.

We may have to accept some major cuts in our whole health care establishment. The USA has the most expensive health care in the world, and we undoubtedly won't be able to afford it. However, vaccinations are absolutely the very LAST thing that should be cut. If anything, we need to subsidize them even more and probably just make them mandatory for everyone. Proper immunizations, clean water and working sewers will go most of the way toward preventing cities from becoming the pools of disease that they used to be.

Rather than this monstrosity of a military that tries to police every corner of the earth, all we really need are local militias that can help police our local communities. Supplement the overstretched municipal police forces with a few militiamen on guard duty in every neighborhood, and with the entire population on call to be mustered on short notice if anything major erupts, and I am pretty confident that law and order and peace can be maintained at the local level, all at very low cost.

We might still need a small coast guard to patrol the coastal waters, maybe a few interceptor fighters & some anti aircraft missiles, and a small border patrol. As long as other countries have nukes, we might need to keep a few missiles in the silos and maybe a couple of boomers out at sea. Most of the rest of our military hardware could all be mothballed.

I'm not a doomer but neither do I share your optimism. The fact is, there is no guarantee that the US economy will soar onwards and upwards forever. There have in fact been many rich powerful countries in the past that did eventually decline to a much lower level. It is the course of empire, and actually looks to be more the rule than the exception. The US is by no means exempt from the rule.

That does not mean we need to crash into a nightmare scenario of anarchy. It does mean that we may need an attitude adjustment, and that we may have to start getting used to the idea that we may become less wealthy in the future. It could happen. Our country has a lot of problems, not just energy. Our political leadership on both sides of the aisle does not inspire much confidence. The simple fact is that the US economy is unsustainable by any of a half dozen or more definitions, energy being only one of them. As the late economist Herbert Stein said, "if something can't go on forever, then it won't." We can't go on with our wasteful, energy-inefficient, resource-depleting, extravagant lifestyle forever, so we won't. Change will happen. As you have noted, options are available, and those that can will eventually take advantage of those options. But please understand that for a lot of people - and especially for people that may not be as well off as you -- a lot of those options may include many of the things that Gail has outlined above.

Even if the worst case doomer scenarios are unlikely, there are bad case scenarios with considerably higher probabilities of happening. It is only prudent to consider what life might be like under those scenarios, and to consider making some prudent adjustments to one's life in anticipation to them sooner rather than later.

When you have 3700 calories/day, you don't have to worry so much about the nutritional value of each serving

A one third reduction is not likely to have much impact per se.

I am *NOT* an expert of the "typical American diet". However, I have done too much shopping in Phoenix supermarkets. Small, minute areas devoted to what I consider the essentials (decent areas for fresh fruits & veggies) and MASSIVE areas devoted to hyper-processed "foods". Many Americans fill their stomachs with empty calories, so there will be only positive nutritional impacts if such "foods" disappear.

Just replacing soft drinks with clean tap water would cut calories and improve health.

Best Hopes for Better Nutrition and Fewer Calories,


Gail, one thing:

"• Laws permitting people to put up clothes lines in their yards."

You must be kidding, right? You're not telling me this is outlawed. No way!

He's not kidding ... and some of the places where you are not allowed to do it are exactly those where clothes will dry in 5 minutes.

Maybe not by municipal governments, but surely by some homeowner associations.

And Gail, perhaps this raises a point -- that section should be broadened to include not just local governments but also homeowner associations.

My understanding is that some states have a broad eco-law, which basically states that if someone does something ecologically prudent, it trumps any regional or home owners association regulation. This is what we need nationally. Then anyone anywhere could put up a clothesline. Also, right now, anyone anywhere can hang dry their clothes indoors without breaking any rules.

Not kidding. While researching the various solar initiatives I might want to apply, I had to look into Florida laws about the issue. I sure don't want to spend $$ to put something up and get into a nasty and expensive fight over it. I can't say whether any state forbids clotheslines, but Florida is unique in that it specifically allows clotheslines by statute 163.04 Energy devices based on renewable resources. According to this article, Utah may also specifically allow it.

Florida is the only state in the country with a law specifically protecting clothesline users from such restrictions. Elsewhere, thousands of homeowners' associations and apartments and at least one local government have prohibited or restricted the drying of laundry outdoors, generally claiming that clotheslines obstruct views and are an eyesore. In California, about seven million people can't hang their clothes in public because of the policies of about 40,000 community associations.


Sad as it is, you can expect a legal challenge to a clothesline where not explicitly protected. Of course, you may also get a challenge from CinCFam that supercedes state law.

If you want to invest in the stock market, we know that there will be more and more drilling done for oil and gas done in the next few years, so companies making drilling equipment are likely to do well. Small independent oil and gas companies may also do well, doing "work-over" business. We know that there are likely to be shortages in some metals in the years ahead (copper, platinum, uranium), so shares in companies mining these types of metals may do well.

It will be extremely difficult to predict exactly what will happen with different investments as we head into post peak, but to give some further ideas:

- Solar companies, from solar plant fabrication, via solar raw material production and solar cell/module production, to companies specialising in installing solar panels
- CSP solar companies (thermal solar power - you know, the mirror thing)
- Wind power companies, from power utilities specialising in renewables to wind turbine manufacturers
- Uranium prospecting companies, nuclear fuel processors, and companies building and maintaining nuclear power plants

Humanity will not go willing into the oblivion of civilisation. We will fight, as we have always done before. So even though we will probably have a collapse of worldwide stock markets, I think some stocks may have a fair chance of growing in value. After all, most of the energy production in the world will have to be phased out and substituted by renewables and nuclear energy. Demand destruction will take its toll, but the potential for solar and wind is still huge.

And, one more thing: short sell all those stocks dependent on cheap energy.

Thanks for your ideas!

I was hoping someone would add to the list.

I mentioned several books way up thread but there was one I somewhow forgot to mention..and it is THE ONE book that everyone should buy and read before they start "prepping."

Making the Best of Basics: Family Preparedness Handbook by James Talmage Stevens, ISBN 1-882723-25-2

It covers everything from what to store, to how much to store and how to store and use it. It has lots of lists and worksheets and also includes lists of non-food items that should be considered for storage.

Buy the darn book and save yourselves a lot of wasted time and money!!!


This thread is a real winner and I thank Gail for making it possible.

There is so much material that it could take a couple of days to follow up on the many links.

Someday I will write a lengthly post on growing up on a mostly sufficient Oklahoma farm and what I am now doing to be mostly sufficient here in the desert of Arizona.

Jerome of Phoenix

Thanks! I will need to make an Appendix with all this stuff!

The book is OK, and advice like that on "preparedness" is good.

It must be emphasized, though, that what we are looking at is not a short-term crisis, then back to "normal". What we are looking at is a permanent decline, leveling off at a permanently lower economic level.

Dealing with that is a somewhat different challenge than is really anticipated in most "preparedness" types of resources. There is some good overlap, to be sure. And disasters can certainly happen at the same time that the decline is occuring. But there are also some fundamental differences. What we are talking about here is more along the lines of making big changes to one's lifestyle, and the systems that support it, to permanently live on less. "Frugality" and "simplicity" and "self-sufficiency" are all basic themes that offer resources that are often more relevant and helpful than "preparedness".

I agree. We are really talking about permanent decline. The world will be a very different place if we are always thinking about less and less, instead of growth. At some point, we will hit a permanent lower economic level, but I am afraid that will not be until all the fossil fuels are now longer available or climate change has changed the world completely.

I'm not so sure about "permanent" decline. In human affairs, nothing seems to be forever. I can imagine the world at a much lower population level (half a billion?) two hundred years from now. But it is not at all clear to me what kind of technology will be in use two hundred years hence. By then fusion power may work and may have created abundant and fairly cheap energy. Alternatively, long-term investment in nuclear energy may result in abundant, though somewhat more expensive, energy.

Clearly, energy is fundamental. What is not clear is how and how well various human societies will respond to the depletion of fossil fuels. It may be that some societies (e.g. Sweden) will do quite well while most societies flounder and decline with disorder and death rates increasing. Highly stratified socieities, such as those of China and India may persist with huge peasant populations supporting a tiny elite--an elite who may be able to keep high-tech going for their own benefit while the great majority live as they did two hundred years ago. It is possible that the U.S. will fragment into various regions, at least one of which (the Pacific Northwest, with all its hydropower) may do rather well.

Thus while I do see a Long Inflationary Depression (LID) over the next twenty to thirty years, I don't care to venture a prediction on what comes after that. And what annoys me no end is that I'll be dead and gone and not know how things come out;-)

What we are looking at is a permanent decline, leveling off at a permanently lower economic level.

I see you keep saying that, and I don't see how you arrive at this conclusion.  There's a staggering amount of energy flowing by us in the form of sunlight and its derivatives, wind and waves.  This energy could support a higher standard of living than we have today, even without greater efficiency of use (which we can expect).

Example:  SRI International has a process which produces solar-grade silicon from Na2SiF6 and metallic Na.  After accounting for the value of the NaF byproduct, the cost of the silicon is under $15/kg.  They claim they can build plants producing 1000 tons/year of silicon.  This silicon can be produced as pellets or cast directly into useful forms.

Evergreen Solar has a process which continuous-casts molten silicon into 100-micron wafers.  If the two processes were combined, you'd get a plant which takes a fertilizer byproduct in and yields wafers ready for doping in two steps.  1000 tons/year of silicon is about 357 cubic meters, or 3.57 million square meters of 100-micron wafers.  At 12% efficiency and 1 kW/m² insolation, that's 428 MWpeak per year per plant.  Build 100 plants and you get 42.8 GWpeak of panels per year.  The cells would probably be recyclable.

It would not take very long at this rate for solar to take over most summer peaking demand.  After that it would start chewing into variable demand and make it economical to move "off peak" demand to days, at least during the sunny season.  This represents increased utility over what we have now (people forced to work nights because that's when economical energy is available).  This looks to me like a permanent increase in economic level with a much smaller ecological footprint.  If you can show me otherwise, I'm listening.

This is a bit gloomy, so apologies upfront!

I think we are collectively facing perhaps as many as three or more, massive, and increasingly interlocked global problems, which may merge into one supernova of crisis in the not too distant future. What's perhaps the most worrying, is that any one of them could lead to truly staggering dislocation and socioeconomic "meltdown" on a truly historic scale. Collosal, integrated, international effort; led by a fully revitalized and far more powerful United Nations would appear to be our best bet for "saving civilization" in the long term, because no one country has the ability to mitigate the challanges we face, and anything which isn't international in scope, for we are, after all, facing global problems of an almost unprecidented level of complexity, will, in my opinion be "doomed" to failure. Much as I'd like to believe it, I'm not convinced the "pockets of civilization" scenario is realistic.

Peak Oil, on its own, is a whopper of a problem which, may prove insurmountable. We're going to need courage, intelligence and an awful lot of luck.

Then there's the giant problem of potential runaway climate change. One of my friends, who works in this area, says that his models and analysis point towards the urgent need for us to cut, that is, Cut, in real terms, our use of enegry by 75% over the next twenty-five years, if we are serious about avoiding drastic, irreversable and highly damaging changes to our climate. Clearly there are massive problems related to such a drastic strategy.

In passing one could mention the Big One, the growth in the world's population and everything that means. I don't even want to go down that road! At least not here and now.

Then, and probably not least, we face profound and structural problems relating to the "nature" of our "Capitalist Market Economy". I kind of think, at times, that Karl Marx, may well have been correct in his analysis of this systems built-in weaknesses. That the system is far more "unstable" that we appriciate most of the time.

Finally, how would a depression or drastic economic setback influence our abilities to deal with any or all three of the mega-challanges mentioned above?

A UN world government controlling a globally planned economy would be a nightmare. The track record for such planned economies is extremely bad, they waste resources, kill new initatives and makes the worst possible kind of people into leaders. The only thing they exel at is dehumanising people and mass murder

I would do anything to have individual countries and regions doing their best to adapt to the changes and produce what others need and combine that with volontary cooperation and free trade. That gives room for initiatives, testing of ideas where people can learn from successes and failures and guarantes that a central buerocracy wont make a Zimbabwe of the glode.

Magnus, who said anything about a globally controlled economy and what's Zimbabwe got to do with anything?

You antipathy towards the United Nations in its present form seems rather emotional, what's the UN done to you?

Much of this talk about "free trade" is liberal mythology and doesn't have much to do with how the real world works in practice. We don't have free trade, we've never had free trade, and we never will!

I am not advocating a "global Zimbabwe", what I do think we need is; international treaties that can be enforced, if necessary by sanctions. A really big problem is that the United States has done all it can to undermine the idea of the United Nations as a positive force for change on a global basis. What we need is an integrated and global strategy for dealing with global problems, not a piecemeal patchwork policy that big countries can just ignore when they feel like it.

The challanges we face require global solutions otherwise the strong will just grab all they can for as long as possible, even if that means long-term disaster for everyone. Unfortunately that is the way the current system works in practice. Global, monopoly Capitalism, based on the ideolgy of the eighteenth century, has outlived its usefulness.

I have two issues with UN, the influence of non democratic countries and corruption. UN is of course invaluble for diplomacy.Having a place where every state meets including the worst ones is extremely usefull.

My view of free trade is based on the trade Sweden and Swedish interests have done for hundreds of years. We were completely insignificant in the european colonialism but traded with most people and depended on tariffs being low. This trade must have been to mutual benefit since no force were involved. It did not hinder us from working ourselves up from resorce exporters to refined resource and technology exporters via industrialism. The same kind of development that for instance South Korea have gone thru in a quicker pace and China is in the middle of it.

Such volontary trade is robust thru bad times when people no longer support foreign aid and is more motivating then having an entity that forces one to give up resources. In that direction lies sabotage and resource wastage.

The global soultions I support are for supporting free trade and cultural exchange, environmental standards and humanitarian standards. But it must be built on mutual cooperation, not on a global government that can be corrupted.

IMHO, it is not very realistic to predict that either individuals or institutions are going to behave differently in the future than they have in the past. It does occasionally happen, but usually only during and after extreme crises. Once the US and world economies are already in a nose dive, I am quite prepared to accept the possibility that both the US gov't and the UN will wake up to reality and get into action mode. However, once we are already in a nose dive it is too late to prevent going into a nose dive, and I believe it will even be too late to pull out and get back to where we were before. The only serious options will be pull out and level off, or crash. There are a lot of dieoff doomers that will say that crash is the inevitable outcome. I am at least trying to hold out hope that a leveling off somewhere above a crash is possible.

As I have pointed out above, planning for a lower, sustainable level is actually less problematic than trying to come up with a plan to maintain the present unsustainable level (never mind trying to sustain even more unsustainable growth).

Even if we are able to pull out of the dive and level off, that does not mean that the whole world is going to make it. Individual "basket case" countries probably will crash and die. It is going to look ugly out there. I disagree with you though, in that I do think that some countries might do better and at least survive. Life within sustanable limits might even be quite healthy and happy for some peoples.

Hey Engineer-Poet,

Do you have this written up on a blog somewhere it can be linked and passed around? Estimates of EROI on this process? Cost of the production facilities (to get a rough idea of scaling speed)? Has the SRI process been commercialized (meaning does it exist as a commercial facility anywhere)? It sounds very interesting.

The biggest issue is the rate of change needed to cope. And the fact that failing to cope means local economic disruption (blackouts, riots, bank failures, foreclosure, bridge collapses, refinery fires) and that slows rates of change even more.

The other major issue we face is that the whole resource base is depleting. Not just energy. Which means it takes more and more energy to produce the same products. (particle board instead of wood, plastic instead of steel). There will come a point where we cannot maintain our current infrastructure and grow more.

It is really going to come down to how fast does the current energy supply fail, and how fast will the alternatives ramp up.

Worse comes to worse, a cluster of geothermal solar cell plants in Iceland is a tempting idea... (I just can't stand 6 months of night.) I like solar cells for the long run, because once manufactured, they don't require a complex infrastructure to support. You don't even have to worry about someone stealing the copper wire between you and the nearest wind turbine.

Jon Freise
Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

Do you have this written up on a blog somewhere it can be linked and passed around?

Nope, sorry.  This is a combination of what I got from a second pass through my pics from the Clean Tech conference (which included most of the SRI presentation) and what I know of Evergreen Solar's process (which isn't much).  The possibility of combining them only hit me a few days ago.  From the slide, SRI is way ahead of me.

Estimates of EROI on this process?

That depends on where you draw the system boundaries and the efficiency of the finished cells.  I'm not even sure if the reduction reaction is sufficiently exothermic to heat the reactants or if additional energy would have to be supplied.

Cost of the production facilities (to get a rough idea of scaling speed)?

No idea.  Here's the full list of SRI's claims from their slide:

  • Proven process for making high quality, solar-grade silicon (<0.02 ppm) for use as feedstock to all silicon-based (single, poly, ribbon) solar cells.
    • Uses low-cost, readily-available starting materials (Na2SiF6, Na)
    • Atmospheric pressure process, batch and semi-continuous operation
    • Demonstrated at 2 MT/year, plant design for 1000 MT/year
  • Favorable economics compared to conventional processes.
    • High throughput (>10X)=> lower capital investment (1/5X)
    • Lower energy cost (1/10X)
    • Lower production costs (<1/2X)
    • Silicon pellets or direct-cast polycrystalline silicon ready for wafering

(emphasis added - that's what caught my eye this time around)

Has the SRI process been commercialized (meaning does it exist as a commercial facility anywhere)?

Apparently not, but they have a design.

The other major issue we face is that the whole resource base is depleting. Not just energy. Which means it takes more and more energy to produce the same products. (particle board instead of wood, plastic instead of steel). There will come a point where we cannot maintain our current infrastructure and grow more.

The analogy I like to use for this is "peak spermaceti".  The resource could not supply demand, and pressure on it decreased the sustainable rate of production.  The way out wasn't to live in the dark or even return to lighting with tapers, but convert something else (rock oil) into a source of light.  This was later replaced with carbon or tungsten filaments heated by electricity, and the replacement of those by fluorescent and semiconductor lighting is well under way.

Nations such as India have found it counterproductive to try to "grow" the supply of light by supplying more kerosene; small solar-electric lighting systems are already cheaper and will only get more so.  The US can make more out of less by boosting efficiency, and we can create resources out of materials once regarded as useless or too difficult (e.g. waferboard made from scrub timber).  We make plastic from petroleum today, but Dow is already looking into ethylene from ethanol (ethylene can already be made from syngas, which can be made from almost anything).  We can't run out of anything that we can grow.

These are a couple of ingredients in a recipe, if you will.  Once we have the means to build out of what is essentially rock/clay, water and air, we can grow for a long, long time.  The rate may be limited by energy capture, but the bare rock of glacier-scrubbed Yosemite now sports a grove of sequoias.  We can do the same.

For the medium term, increased solar PV production will be a smaller positive trend against several larger negative trends.

I want to connect electricity to transportation, but today that link is very weak in the USA (0.19% of US electricity goes to transportation).

If one talks of time spans >20 years, then the positives may be larger than the negatives. Today, and tomorrow, no.

Best Hopes for the WILL to do something !


Engineer Poet,

My understanding is that current PV electricity costs are greater than $0.30 per kWh. The actual solar cells represent only one half of the installed cost of a PV system. So even of PV cell cost are reduced to next to nothing we are still looking at more than $0.15/kHh.

And what about energy storage? What happens if every house and every factory has solar panels on the roof and you have two weeks of rainy weather? And what about the big differences between summer and winter insolation? Can we store that energy for six months? Or are you suggesting that solar energy will be so cheap that we can overbuild and throw away the excess energy?

I do not mean to be overly negative because I am convinced that solar energy is the energy of the future. The sun is a giant thermonuclear which will be running for at least billion years without any help from us, and learning to efficiently exploit this energy source should be a high priority. However, I am sceptical that 6.5 billion plus people can live live at American style levels of wealth with solar energy as our primary energy source.

As for living with a smaller ecological footprint, this cannot happen unless the economic and social system is explicitly attempting achieve such a goal. In the area of integrated circuit technology increasing miniaturization has vastly increased the efficiency with which energy is turned to an economically useful product. We can pack orders of more magnitude of use value in to a square millimeter of silicon that we did several decades ago. But we are not leveraging that efficiency to use less energy. We are leveraging it to produce more toys. More square meters of silicon are processed today than ever before. American are driving bigger cars, living in bigger houses, taking more plane trips, buying more electronic toys than ever. An economic system in which all major economic players are furiously striving to increase the volume of the sales for cannot live lightly on the earth no matter how good the energy technology which it develops. If we do not fix our economic and social institution, technology alone will not save us from disaster

If we only had one problem (energy), then I would be more optimistic that solar or geothermal or whatever could solve it.

One of the things I worry about is maintenance of the grid. We haven't been doing well when times are good. We are likely to do even worse when times get bad. And we need to scale it up and adapt to working with more variable energy sources.

Climate change is a huge issue. What kind of trees do we plant if climate is changing quickly? The ones that look like they would grow today may be inappropriate 10 years from now. Also, we may have large groups of people who need to be resettled to new locations, but no infrastructure to go with the new population. Moving crops north may work for some types of crops, but not for others. We would need to have enough of the right kind of soil in the new location. Some plants are sensitive to length of day, and might not do well in the new location.

It seems like we will end up with a much smaller population, living a much simpler life style. There will be high birth rate and a high death rate, like there was back a few hundred years ago. There will still be some trade, but the majority of goods will be made locally.

"One of the things I worry about is maintenance of the grid. We haven't been doing well when times are good. We are likely to do even worse when times get bad. "

Gail, what makes you say that? Anecdotal stuff, and occasional problems with peak generation? Or something more quantitative?

My understanding is that the US grid is pretty reliable: 99.99%+ service in my area, and 99.95%+ in most areas.

Could it be better? Sure, the grid needs more investment, long distance transmission, and smartgrid type improvements, but the problem of mild underinvestment is easy to fix. The other are desirable improvements with good ROI (E and $), in the process of happening (albeit too slowly), and not rocket science.

"My understanding is that current PV electricity costs are greater than $0.30 per kWh. The actual solar cells represent only one half of the installed cost of a PV system. So even of PV cell cost are reduced to next to nothing we are still looking at more than $0.15/kHh."

1) Installation is still a cottage industry

2) rooftop PV is typically retrofit: customized to each location

3) rooftop PV is typically retrofit: not part of the original construction.

4) PV is typically not Building Integrated, which means that it's an addon, not part of the building.

All of these are very expensive.

When we're dealing with BIPV, as a standardized part of large volume new construction, costs will plummet.

"What happens if every house and every factory has solar panels on the roof and you have two weeks of rainy weather?And what about the big differences between summer and winter insolation?

Solar insolation doesn't go to zero when it's rainy - some CIGS thinfilm PV does much better with cloudy weather than silicon.

This is a justification for diversity in energy supply. Wind tends to pickup during bad weather, during the night and winter: it's somewhat inversely correlated with solar. Nuclear, of course, is pretty flat, and is a pretty good element of a diverse supply.

"Can we store that energy for six months? "

If we look very longterm, post Fossil Fuel, Biomass electrical generation is much, much more efficient and practical than liquid biofuels. Biomass stores reasonably well.

"Or are you suggesting that solar energy will be so cheap that we can overbuild and throw away the excess energy?"

Eventually, no question. Unless something even better comes along (unlikely, but possible), every structure will include solar, and it will be very cheap. This will have the bonus value of decentralized, resilient generation.


Your point about building integrated PV is a good one. I think that a lot of the excess PV cost is labor. However, as WNC Observer points out if we wish PV to become ubiquitous over the next two decades we will need to do a lot of retrofitting or to rebuild our entire infrastructure, either of which will be expensive.

It is true that PV can still provide some level of energy on cloudy day. However, the variation in output is a problem from the point of view of managing the grid voltage. Electric power providers are overjoyed to get pumped hydro storage when it is available because turning fossil fuel power plants up and down is expensive.

Personally I suspect that peak phosphorus alone will force a redistribution of the human population as we need to recyle human waste into our food production system. When we start building new infrastructure to accomdate these changes maybe we can integrate cheap thin film PV into the new buidlings. I hope so, but I suspect that we will have to build much modestly (i.e. less square feet per person) than is the norm today.

I am still very doubtful that thin film PV or PV + Wind can enable decades more of business as usual economic growth.

"if we wish PV to become ubiquitous over the next two decades we will need to do a lot of retrofitting or to rebuild our entire infrastructure, either of which will be expensive. "

First, not every home will need PV. I think wind will be much larger than PV for probably 10 years, and if 2M new homes per year get 4KW PV systems that's 8GW per year, which is roughly all you need for new peak capacity. And that's just residential. Industrial/Commercial will be really eager for PV.

2nd, BIPV can be in the roofing, so tear-off roof replacements could be almost as low cost as new construction.

3rd, as the volume of retrofits rises they will become much more standardized.

"It is true that PV can still provide some level of energy on cloudy day. However, the variation in output is a problem from the point of view of managing the grid voltage. Electric power providers are overjoyed to get pumped hydro storage when it is available because turning fossil fuel power plants up and down is expensive."

All this is true: the variation would be a challenge, and pumped storage would be a good solution. Keep in mind, however, that A/C load is also insolation driven, so load would fall as insolation does. Further, PHEV's and demand management would help enormously, and would be cheaper even than pumped storage.

"I am still very doubtful that thin film PV or PV + Wind can enable decades more of business as usual economic growth."

Certainly we have a lot of challenges ahead, but I really don't see replacing fossil fuels, at least in the US, as being the major one. I think climate change will be much harder.

Wind is growing quickly: it was 20% of new generation last year. Solar is about 10 years behind wind. Nuclear will grow slowly, and so will coal, unfortunately. We'll have all the electricity we need, at least in the US, and electrification of cars and homes is pretty straightforward.

We're going to have a rough transition, mainly because of the enormous drain of money to the Middle East & Russia, but energy in the long run will be the least of our problems.

"Keep in mind, however, that A/C load is also insolation driven, so load would fall as insolation does"

A/C load falls with insolation in the summer but not in the winter. In some cooler climates electric loads are higher in winter than in summer. I know that this is true in Great Britain. To what extent this is true in parts of the U.S. I do not know for certain.

"I think wind will be much larger than PV for probably 10 years"

Wind is growing fast, but it is still a small fraction of total generation. As far as I know the problems associated with the intermittency of wind have not been solved. That is no widely available low cost energy storage system exists.

Another great concern is transportation. Somehow I do not see PHEV as a solution for long haul trucking. Our heavy freight rail system is already maxed out as high diesel fuel prices have driven increased use of rail where possible. Electrifying existing rail and building new electrified rail will very expensive infrastructure projects. Given the fact that we are already reluctant to invest in necessary infrastructure projects for fear of hurting the "economy" (which is a code word for a constantly rising stock market) I think it will be difficult to come up with the large amounts of money needed for strenthening and electrifying the rail system.

Finally you do not address the insatiable appetite of our economic system for growth. I have worked in Silicon Valley for twenty years, and every company here is striving to increase the volume of its sales as rapidly as possible. Every time some new digital toy becomes the latest fad the Valley cheers because it means more sales. Our economy will rapidly eat up any efficiency improvements to produce more ouput. I think that we need make keeping our ecological foot print constant an explicit goal of our economic and social system. If we achieve a constant sustainable footprint then further efficiency improvements can be used to increase living standards. If your technological optimism is correct and our standard of living is high, that is all to the good. But to go on making economic growth our primary goal and assuming that our technological prowess will save us from disaster appears to me to be a very dangerous choice.

See my post in the middle of this thread with a link to the EPA smart ways program on ways to improve freight truck efficiency and programs to shift more freight to rail and boats. Also, the EIA model list of improvements to the efficiency of all vehicles including light and heavy trucks.



I have no doubt that as fuel prices increase the market will wring every bit of efficiency it can out of available supplies. However, if everlasting exponential increase in economic output is your goal, the any conceivable efficiency improvement will eventually be overwhelmed, unless you maintain, like Ayn Rand, that when we need to create energy out of nothing we will set aside the first law of thermodynamics by force of will.

I see the path as as much efficiency as possible but also building a lot more power supply.
More nuclear power, geothermal, solar and wind.
I think those four can be greatly expanded.
We can have very advanced mass produced, high burn nuclear fission.

I think solar cells can achieve 60%+ efficiency and have that make a major impact in a couple of decades. For solar the big breakthrough will be reel to reel production (see ECD Ovonics corporation) of high efficiency solar cells and solar concentrators.

For long term continued growth we will have to get offworld. This could already have happened in a major way if we were using nuclear thermal and nuclear pulsed propulsion (and again not gotten confused about what is risky and deadly and what is not). Laser arrays would be the way that I think we will solve the space launch cost problem.

I discuss all of the specific technologies, projects and companies at my website.

I foresee big changes in technology and we just need to minimize the damage economically and environmentally until those kick in. I do not advise depending on the new technology because they could take an extra 10-20 years to really rollout in a big way, so I advise using what we know works now.

I am posting under advancednano. I believe that advanced nanotechnology will happen and sooner than many realize.

Carbon nanotube factories will be built over the next 5 years that will bring the cost of those materials down by 10-100 times. Those materials have 4+ times the performance of carbon fiber.

I see nanotechnology being key to the inexpensive extraction of uranium and other materials from ocean water.


" if everlasting exponential increase in economic output is your goal"

No one is suggesting that everlasting exponential increase in resource consumption is desirable or necessary. That is something that is best described as a strawman: something that no one is advocating, and yet which gets criticized repeatedly.

"A/C load falls with insolation in the summer but not in the winter."

You mean winter heating.

"In some cooler climates electric loads are higher in winter than in summer."

Sure. This happens in Florida, US. As I mentioned, wind is a nice match for this, as it tends to be a bit higher winter. This is partly a problem of lack of demand management (IOW, we need time of day pricing), and a lack of heat pumps, which would reduce heating demand by 2/3.

"Wind is growing fast, but it is still a small fraction of total generation."

1% of generation. 20% of new US generation in 2006, doubling roughly every 2 years. That's fast enough.

"the problems associated with the intermittency of wind have not been solved."

We seem to be covering the same territory, but I'll try again: Intermittency isn't hard to handle: up to 10-20% of market share standard existing load following techniques can handle it. After that geographical diversity/long distance transmission, demand management (Demand management includes PHEV charging, which will buffer a great deal of variance) and some storage can take it up to about 35%, which is probably as high it can go without diminishing returns. By that time solar will be a major player, with mildly negative correlated variance.

"That is no widely available low cost energy storage system exists."

Both pumped storage and vanadium redox flow batteries are proven, though pumped storage is much cheaper and more mainstream at this point. PHEV V2G will also help, though it's still in the demo stage.

"Somehow I do not see PHEV as a solution for long haul trucking. "

Not for long-haul, though I'm sure batteries will extend their range over time. No, intermodal is the way to go.

"Our heavy freight rail system is already maxed out as high diesel fuel prices have driven increased use of rail where possible. "

Adding additional freight rail capacity, AFAIK, isn't that hard, and 3x as efficient as trucking even using diesel.

"Electrifying existing rail and building new electrified rail will very expensive infrastructure projects. "

Do you have numbers on that? I have the impression that the costs are not that great, relative to other things. Alan, are you out there?

"I think it will be difficult to come up with the large amounts of money needed for strenthening and electrifying the rail system."

I think the $-ROI will be pretty straightforward - the freight rail system is private, so these investment decisions are too.

"Our economy will rapidly eat up any efficiency improvements to produce more ouput. "

California has kept electricity consumption pretty flat, per capita.

"I think that we need make keeping our ecological foot print constant an explicit goal of our economic and social system"

I agree.

"to go on making economic growth our primary goal and assuming that our technological prowess will save us from disaster appears to me to be a very dangerous choice."

We need to pursue both.

Some of this duplicates what Nick said, but I want to be complete:

My understanding is that current PV electricity costs are greater than $0.30 per kWh. The actual solar cells represent only one half of the installed cost of a PV system. So even of PV cell cost are reduced to next to nothing we are still looking at more than $0.15/kHh.

Those costs can be divided into 5 categories:

  1. Panels
  2. Storage
  3. Inverters
  4. Wiring
  5. Installation

Grid-tied systems eliminate storage.  Wiring is cheap.  If panels fall to $1/Wpeak, what remains is inverters and installation.  Installation can be brought to a minimum by integrating the panels into products the building requires anyway:  roofing, siding, windows.  And inverters are far more expensive than other devices of similar purpose and power rating; it's very likely that today's high price is due to low volume alone.

And what about energy storage? What happens if every house and every factory has solar panels on the roof and you have two weeks of rainy weather?

My suggestion is that you use indirect solar energy.  Hydro ought to do well during rainy periods, wind might be good too, and biomass is quite storable in certain forms.

And what about the big differences between summer and winter insolation? Can we store that energy for six months?

Not as electricity, but wind and biomass are good options for that.

Or are you suggesting that solar energy will be so cheap that we can overbuild and throw away the excess energy?

No.  Among other things, any excess is bound to attract uses because it's so cheap.

I do not mean to be overly negative because I am convinced that solar energy is the energy of the future. The sun is a giant thermonuclear which will be running for at least billion years without any help from us, and learning to efficiently exploit this energy source should be a high priority. However, I am sceptical that 6.5 billion plus people can live live at American style levels of wealth with solar energy as our primary energy source.

Why not?  If you look at the energy numbers, it looks downright easy.  What we have to do is deliver at a reasonable cost, and that looks feasible.  On the other hand, it's going to come too late for at least part of today's 6.5 billion.


I doubt that you will ever read this post since this thread is so old, but here are some comments anyway.

"Grid-tied systems eliminate storage"

Not true. Grid-tied systems use fossil fuels as their storage system. The larger the amount of intermittent renewables that are inegrated into the system, the larger the cost and CO2 emissions associated with turning fossil plants up and down.

"Installation can be brought to a minimum by integrating the panels into products the building requires anyway"

This is true for new buildings but not for retrofits. Also if the solar roof lifetime is less than the buiding lifetime then retrofit costs will eventually apply to new buildings as well. Solar energy is far more diffuse than fossil energy and the capacity factor is lower (maybe 20% compared to 60%) so that labor costs of installation will always be larger than for fossil fuel generating plants

"No. Among other things, any excess is bound to attract uses because it's so cheap."

Other resource costs than energy are important. Manfacturers like to use their capital year round. If energy dependent capital can only be used part of the year this will be a signifcant extra cost relative to dispatcable fossil fuel systems.

Neither you nor Nick address the generalized limits to growth argument. Growth by a constant percentage each year is exponential growth. With a real inflation adjusted growth rate 2.5% per year after 1000 years the earth's output will be 53 billion times larger than it is today. After 2000 years the earth's output will be 2.8 billion trillion times larger than it is today. I assume you do not believe that this amount of growth is possible no matter how efficient our technology becomes. No one knows for sure when the limit to growth will be reached. Given the signs of ecosystem distress that already exist (species extinction, deforestation, desertification, etc) a high burden of proof must rest on anyone who claims that decades more of business as usual economic growth are possible. It is not energy alone that needs to be evaluated, but the total resource base. The economies of China and India have taken off and the only thing that will prevent them from reaching per capita standards of living similar to ours will be resource limitations. And do not forget about Africa and South America. Any vision of future wealth for us which rests on the assumtion that these places will remain cesspools of poverty and misery is unacceptable. Have you done, or do you know of someone who has done a detailed resource assessment that supports that 8 to 9 billion people can live sustainable at curent developed world standards or higher? This risks of being wrong about this matter are extremely high.

>Limits to growth question.
If growth is in information related value then there is no physical constraint. Services can also be less constained.

If you are talking 50 years or 100 years or later for technology then if the concern is overpopulation then we have avoided killing ourselves and avoided decline, that means technology progress. I would say that means we definitely have nuclear fusion, advanced nuclear fission, molecular nanotechnology, synthetic biology and complete genome control.

In the 1970s, Gerard O'Neill suggested building space habitats that could support 30,000 times the carrying capacity of Earth using just the asteroid belt and that the solar system as a whole could sustain current population growth rates for a thousand years.[86] Marshall Savage (1992, 1994) has projected a population of five quintillion throughout the solar system by 3000, with the majority in the asteroid belt.[87] Inhabitants of the asteroid belt may risk disaster caused by their home world colliding with other asteroids. Arthur C. Clarke, a fervent supporter of Savage, now argues that by 2057 there will be humans on the Moon, Mars, Europa, Ganymede, Titan and in orbit around Venus, Neptune and Pluto.[88] Freeman Dyson (1999) favours the Kuiper belt as the future home of humanity, suggesting this could happen within a few centuries.[89] In Mining the Sky, John S. Lewis suggests that the staggering resources of the solar system could support 10 quadrillion (10^16) people.

Moving the people would not be a problem.
20,000 planes move 10 million people per day.
If you have nuclear fusion (or fission) for energy and propulsion and/or laser arrays and/or nanotechnology then you can move freely around the solar system.

Kardashev scale

All of the solar energy striking the earth.
10**16 watts * 8760 to get kwh per year.
Current american uses 12000 kwh of electricity. Say 5 times that including transportation (500 gallons of gas) and share of industrial processes.

10**15 people could be supported based on the power requirements. Say you need 100 times the power for an even more advanced life and for massive ocean desalinization etc... Then just from the power, room and material from the earth. 10**13 people.

Advanced Nanotechnology can allow full recycling of materials and could extract all metals etc.. from the ocean and most of the earth's crust.

10 billion times more power from all solar energy of the sun and similar increase in usable materials from other planets, asteroids etc..

the Oort cloud extends out nearly one light year

As you get near to using all of the Oort cloud material you can migrate and expand out to the next solar systems Oort cloud.

Using immortalized stem cells, you can grow food more efficiently in factories than via traditional farming.

Nearer term.
If China continues with electric scooter and bike adoption, 60 million this year going to 350 million over the next 6 years, then the number of cars in China may not exceed 100 million before PHEV or all EV are available.

I think it will not be resource limitations that prevents more cars from being bought but the inability to make uncongested roadways. Taiwan has 20 million scooter vs 5 million cars and the people there are almost to western living standards.

2012-2020 a lot of carbon nanotubes at lower prices. This material is 100 times stronger than the same weight of steel. Greatly reduces the amount of material needed to build something of equal strength. Lighter planes, cars etc...

The US climate change bills could drastically increase nuclear and renewable power. Triple by 2030. Seem likely to pass this year (just a question of if Bush will veto.) Business wants a deal this year, figure next president and administration will be even harder on them.

California has stopped energy increases for 30 years. The rest of the USA could follow with the climate change bills.

10 billion people would need 120 trillion kwh to match per capita US electricity demand about 16-20TW (more if wind/solar because of lower load factor). About 10,000 nuclear reactors (1.5 GW). 5 times more for transportation and industry.


I doubt that you will ever read this post since this thread is so old

And maybe I'll surprise you.

Grid-tied systems use fossil fuels as their storage system. The larger the amount of intermittent renewables that are inegrated into the system, the larger the cost and CO2 emissions associated with turning fossil plants up and down.

You're assuming that there is no demand-side management involved.  Lots of fossil plants are turned up and down anyway, but if you have a considerable amount of ice-storage A/C and (PH)EV load in the mix, you can adjust the load curve to follow the optimal change rate of those plants.  Being able to drop a lot of load all at once is equivalent to spinning reserve, and eliminating the physical spinning reserve saves a lot of CO2 emissions.

If you object that ice storage and (PH)EV are storage technologies of a sort, you're right.  But they're not storage in the conventional sense in that they generally don't yield electricity back to the grid (V2G excepted).  Still, they can buffer a lot; a short ton of ice is equivalent to 84 kWh of cooling, or 21 kWh through an A/C with a CoP of 4.

What happens to fossil generation when your A/C has a standing bid for ~40 kWh of electricity whenever it's cheap, like when the wind kicks up or the neighborhood PV is going flat-out in the morning?  What happens when your PHEV can pick any time from 7 PM to 7 AM to charge up, and the fossil plants will only run enough to fill the forecast deficiency over that period?  When you start tying everything into the grid, the grid gets better and cleaner if you have done it right.

This is true for new buildings but not for retrofits.

That depends how much life was left in the materials replaced in the retrofit.  Lifespan of a shingle roof is on the order of 20 years; if the roof is more than 15 years old, it has relatively little useful life left.  Old, thermally leaky windows may be worth replacing even if they still seal.  Suppose for a moment that you can punch holes in thin-film or thin wafer PV material applied to the outer pane of glass to achieve 10-15% transmission, like tinted glass.  You'd need the glass anyway, so the extra expense is just that of making, laminating and connecting the PV.

Also if the solar roof lifetime is less than the buiding lifetime then retrofit costs will eventually apply to new buildings as well.

You're assuming that the standard materials would have a longer lifespan.  This is probably not true for silicon PV.

Other resource costs than energy are important. Manfacturers like to use their capital year round.

Then something else will make up the difference.  This could be generation powered by a storable energy supply (direct-carbon fuel cells running on charcoal look good for this purpose) or variable demand.  Suppose that the amount of PV to handle afternoon loads most economically yields a morning surplus.  This could be used by ice-storage A/C or people buying supplemental batteries for their PHEVs to get mileage cheap (or even sell power back to the grid later).  There are many opportunities for arbitrage, and it's doubtful that much energy will actually be wasted for long.  And if it's cheaper to overbuild generation and throw some production away - so what?  Unused wind and sun aren't pollutants.

Neither you nor Nick address the generalized limits to growth argument. Growth by a constant percentage each year is exponential growth.

You belabor the obvious, and erect a straw man:  I didn't say that growth could be infinite, I said that the limits are a long ways away.  If trends regarding population (stabilizing and then decreasing over time) continue, the problem will solve itself.

"Lots of fossil plants are turned up and down anyway, but if you have a considerable amount of ice-storage A/C and (PH)EV load in the mix, you can adjust the load curve to follow the optimal change rate of those plants. Being able to drop a lot of load all at once is equivalent to spinning reserve, and eliminating the physical spinning reserve saves a lot of CO2 emissions."

Yes indeed. Lots of fossil fuel plants are turned up and down because utility companies have no other choice for regulating the grid voltage to match the load. When pumped hydro is available they embrace it gladly because the prefer running fossil fuel plants constantly at their optimum operating point. Ice storage and PHEVs are a partial storage option which can help to ease the costs of load variation with or without intermittent renewables in the mix. In general adding intermittent power sources is going to add an additional variation on top of the load variation and will increase costs. Admittedly there may be special cases (California in the summer) when this is not true. By the way if PHEVs are plugged in at night they will not be much help in compensating for variations in insolation. Also PHEVs are more expensive than their pure ICE counterparts so that massive adoption of this technology is an increased cost to the economic system.

"Then something else will make up the difference. This could be generation powered by a storable energy supply (direct-carbon fuel cells running on charcoal look good for this purpose) or variable demand."

This amounts to an assertion that whatever economic barriers may be presented by the variable nature of the solar flux, a
clever, cheap technological solution will inevitably be found. Why inevitably? The thrust of your original post was that because solar cells are cheap economic growth can continue. If you know of proven supplementary technologies which are also cheap please give the hard economic data. You cannot simply claim that whatever barriers to economic growth are encountered human cleverness will triumph over it. This brings me to my last point:

"You belabor the obvious, and erect a straw man: I didn't say that growth could be infinite, I said that the limits are a long ways away. If trends regarding population (stabilizing and then decreasing over time) continue, the problem will solve itself."

I do indeed belabor the obvious because many people do not understand this fact obvious though it may be. I do not raise a straw man. I ask you to specifically justify your assertion that the end of economic growth is a long way away. Stabilization of the population will not in itself solve the problem of economic growth. The whole tendency of capitalism in its current incarnation is to leverage efficiency improvements to produce more and more output. As I said in a previous post, Americans drive bigger cars, live in bigger house, buy more toys, take more airplane trips than ever before. There are plenty of people who are concerned about our ecological footprint, but these same people are praying that their company's sales volumes will keep on growing. Given the current signs of the negative impact of human economic activity on the biosphere and given the fact that the human population will almost certainly increase to at least 8 or 9 billion people many of whom will have to substantially increase their resource use to catch up with the developed world, I think there is reason to doubt that many decades more of economic growth can take place without substantial harm to the biosphere.

My favorite example of destructive economic behavior is soil erosion. No country in the entire world is managing its topsoil in a sustainable manner for the simple reason that the short term profits of farmers are harmed by the necessary practices that would conserve the soil. Maintaining topsoil is the kindergarten of sustainable economic production, but no nation operating under the current economic system has achieved a passing grade.

You are confident that the end of growth is far way. I am not. Given this lack of confidence I feel that the prudent course (though it may be politically impossible to carry out) would be for the developed world to substantially reduce its economic consumption while at the same time to leverage efficiency improvements to reduce the resources required to manufacture the smaller amount of goods to be consumed. In this way we could rapidly reduce our ecological footprint. This reduction in our footprint should be partially leveraged to raise the living standards of the developing worlds while simultaneously encouraging lower birth rates. When they and we have met on common ground then the situation could be re-evaluated. If your technological optimism is justified and lots of efficiency remains to be wrung out of the economic system, then we can all rise together in a glorious consumer feeding frenzy, assuming we really desire to so. I suspect, however, that a society capable of achieving the kind of intelligent cooperation required for such an enterprise might find something better to do with its creative energy.

By the way, can you tell me how to put quoted text in outlined boxes? I do not know how to do it.

All fine in theory. If we had already been devoting a serious percentage of GDP toward energy efficiency and renewables development over the past quarter century, I'd be much more inclined to share your optimism. If we even just now were really taking the challenge seriously as a nation and had a plan in place, I might have more hope. However, the fact is that there is nothing happening today that provides any reason to hope that anything can even get started on the scale needed for at least several more years. The problem is not really just a technical or economic one, it is also a social and political problem. I just think that it is more realistic to assume that a dysfunctional political system will provide ineffectual leadership, and that most people will continue to act in stupid ways until reality forces them to act differently.