Australia, The Place to Be: Part 3b


In part 1 and part 2 I looked at the situation we find ourselves in, and then in part 3a I talked a lot about preparing for a Worst-Case. In Part 3b I would like to wrap it up by discussing a strategy for living in the suburbs and leading a relatively normal life, while staying flexible and preparing for a range of possible futures.

As I discussed earlier, I have not chosen the suburbs because I think it is the "Best Place". It is simply the best option open to me - the one that will leave me with fewest regrets.

Building a Strategy around a Little House in the Suburbs

After a bit of thought, I came to a staggering conclusion. If your house is close to a train line, and walking distance from both shops and small farms, then you can continue your normal work when the situation is "Business As Usual", hope to continue when it is "Business Not Quite As Usual", and even manage fairly well in the early stages of a major dislocation. Assuming you have viable goods for trade, and a reasonable security strategy, then a house in the outer suburbs is not an impossible choice even if things go a long way down the "collapse" path.

This is a surprise. Much has been written about how non-viable life in the suburbs will be if oil becomes scarce. This may be true in countries with no mass transport systems. Here in Australia I certainly expect my train to be a lot more crowded than it currently is! But as long as you are close to a train line, and trains are still running, then suburban life is possible. If trains aren’t running, then it is likely that utilities are down and most forms of urban life become much less viable.

I am still considering a nice place out in the countryside, on the outskirts of a rural township (it passes the "No Regrets" test if it doubles as a nice holiday house), but I want to ensure that my residence in the meantime is comfortable, even if things get bad.

My wife and I lucked out in this area, finding a good location more through serendipity than good planning. About two years ago we found a piece of land that had the following advantages
- It is 3 km from a train station (close enough to walk, far enough away that the trains cannot be heard)
- It is in an established neighbourhood, at the end of a quiet court, beside a park, 10 minutes walk from a shopping centre and a good primary school
- There is a freshwater creek (with dozens of ducks) 10 minutes walk away. Probably not pristine, but in a pinch the water could be boiled and filtered to make it drinkable. Beside the creek is a field full of rabbits.
- There are farmlets only 3 km down the road, growing vegetables for local markets
- A kilometre past the tiny vegetable farms there is a small farm that breeds and sells lambs and baby goats, and across the road is a small chicken farm that sells eggs and poultry.
- Another few kilometres down the road is open farmland with sheep, horses and cattle.
- It is 45-50 minutes by train from the city (so I spend 45 minutes each way each day working in the train - thus shortening my working day by at least an hour.... not a terrible price to pay for the other advantages).

We bought the land and built a house. We weren’t looking for land that had these specific features, we were looking for a location that had options and opportunities. The area has vegetables and meat but lacks fruit. I can also offer home-brewed alcohol and jam, not to mention the small machine-shop that lives in my garage.

The question to ask when looking at a location is this: What will your region offer you, and what will you offer in return?

Testing Your Worst-Case Preparation against Identified Risks

The three highest-risk scenarios were:
- Climate Change
- Massive Economic Downturn
- Pandemic

So, as a worst-case, why not combine them? Here is a scenario:

There has been a massive economic downturn. Drought has ravaged Australia, leaving us with virtually no excess food production, thus greatly reducing our export income. A deadly form of flu emerges in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, and travels across the world. Mortality levels are high. Australia forbids flights into the country and erects quarantine barriers. When winter hits the Southern Hemisphere our vulnerability is greatest and the quarantine effort fails.

The failure is eventually traced to an illegal fishing trawler, which was fishing Australia’s northern waters when the crew become ill. Unable to work, and worried that they might be dangerously ill, the crew immediately sail into the nearest harbour and surrender to Australian authorities.

Australia grinds to a complete halt as most individuals are reluctant to travel except when completely necessary. Infected areas are “quarantined” by their neighbours - with shotguns if necessary.

Avian Flu Quarantine

For 4 months you rarely leave your house. The pandemic sweeps through Australia in the late winter months but burns itself out by late autumn.

When life in Australia eventually restarts, things are very different. Infection rates were 60% and 20% of those infected died. So 12% of the Australian population has died. Australia’s food production is now barely adequate to supply the reduced population, and the infrastructure to distribute this food is surrounded by confusion. Truck drivers return to work, only to discover that the fuel companies have not supplied the trucks with fuel. Utilities and communications are mostly down, as utility workers return to work, only to discover that the services that they depend on are not working.

Nothing works. It takes another 4 months for new systems to evolve as people use individual contacts in a desperate effort to put together the interdependent chains that are necessary to supply their needs.

Were your preparations enough to get you through the 8-month crisis? I will leave you to answer that question as a thought-experiment, but here are some starter thoughts:
- You don’t need 8 months of food. You had 3 weeks of food in the pantry, and around 2 months of stockpiled calories, plus whatever the garden can produce (winter is not a productive time). If Australia's food distribution or supply completely failed, then everybody was dead or gone by the three-month mark. At that point the pandemic died out too. If that happened, then your 3-month supply of food pulled you through (though towards the end you would have been living on dandelions and sugar). You can come out of your hidey-hole and you have a whole city to work with. It is more likely that food supplies were patchy – difficult and risky to obtain. Your food supply should have been a good supplement that got you through any desperate patches.
- The same argument applies to water. Your water tanks and water filters should have supplied you during any desperate shortages. If there was no water supply at all, then everybody died or left the city within days, and you have a whole city to work with.
- At the end of the crisis nothing works. Everything has shut down. People are now trying to connect with each other and create chains that will be mutually beneficial. What skills or materials do you have to offer? Who do you know that you want to contact, in order to add to this network? Joe, your old mate who can fix anything? Jim, your school buddy who works as a bee-keeper now? You have been keeping those valuable contacts current haven’t you? Could you contact them if the phones were out?

But enough talk of a worst case. Thought experiments are a great way to check your preparations - but I'm hoping for a more benign scenario.

Preparing For a Best Case

Let us assume that Peak Oil either has occurred, or will occur soon. Let us further assume that a decline in oil supplies of 2-3% sets in immediately. These are somewhat negative assumptions (particularly for a best case), but possibly just a recognition of the reality of the situation. Surprisingly, a best case still looks pretty good – if we get off our asses and act now!

So Peak Oil has occurred and oil exports are dropping. Eventually the message hits home – we’re in trouble. What is Australia going to do about it? The answer is that we have a lot of work to do:
- I have already mentioned LNG production and distribution projects.
- Australian shale oil projects have been put on hold due to the fact that they create environmental disasters. New, experimental in-situ processing techniques would address these environmental issues. This process shows great promise, but will need at least a decade to mature.
- CO2 sequestering projects are needed. One candidate is using algae to soak up CO2, then running an algae to bio-diesel process. The CO2 gets captured by algae, which is processed into bio-diesel, with the remaining algae pulp put into the soil (possibly sequestered as an ash). The infrastructure needed for this is massive.
- Massive mass transport infrastructure projects are needed
- Public transport will not be enough. Plug-in-hybrids and electric vehicles will be necessary. These will increase our need for off-peak electricity.
- Solar energy plants are needed.
- If the algae bio-diesel projects succeed as a method for sequestering CO2, then we can look at coal-to-oil projects without as much concern for the environmentally catastrophic consequences of this approach (though sequestering is only part of the solution).
- IT infrastructure to support new ways of doing business is needed (video-conferencing, tele-presence etc)

I have already stipulated that the necessary energy projects will take years or decades to complete. In the interim our fuel supply is drying up. In 5 years we might have 20% less fuel. What do we do? We need to get by with less. A lot of that oil is used in essential services. But a lot isn't. Given our current orientation towards consumption and waste, this turns out to be less painful than you might expect:
- Nearly 40% of our oil is used in private vehicles. In the future some of these trips will not occur. Others will be done by public transport, bike or walking.
- Commercial transport also uses nearly 40% of our oil. Some of this transport is simply moving junk that we don’t need. My son does not need another cheap plastic toy, but he will get at least 20 for his next birthday. Transporting junk will stop.
- New transport options will be needed.

New Transport may look a bit like old transport.

So it doesn’t look like a cut in our oil supply is going to kill us. But we will have to change. The deeper the cuts go, the more we will have to change.

Some changes spring to mind immediately:
1. Trains in capital cities are currently crowded at peak hours, but under-utilized at other times. Under the current system, a massive increase in the number of people taking the train to work is simply not possible. If trains are going to be called on to carry more people, then people are going to have to work different hours. Employers are going to have to accept “Flex time” that is very flexible. IT infrastructure will be needed to support flexible hours as well as "work from home" and mobile workforce options.
2. The change to working hours, in combination with the move to electric vehicles, is likely to increase electricity demand at non-peak times. Electrical generation is likely to run closer to 100% for longer periods of time. This will have implications in maintenance and cooling power stations, with flow-on effects.
3. We don’t just need new infrastructure, we need the infrastructure to make infrastructure. If you don't like the idea of working in construction, there is likely to be plenty of work in designing and building tools, equipment and plant.

Our current way of life is not sacred in any way – it is not the same as our grandparents’ and it won’t be the same as our grandchildren. Everything changes. If you want to keep up, you change as the situation changes. So what other changes do we need to make?

We need to stop outsourcing all of the hard stuff to other nations. If I was eighteen years old, I would be studying Engineering, or trying to get into the construction industry. We have a lot of work to do.


I do not know the future, so I have adopted the following philosophy:

1. There is a natural tendency to only prepare for one future. It isn’t going to happen that way. I need to prepare for a range of futures.
2. Actions that have intrinsic benefits will work in most scenarios.
3. In event of a disaster, high-quality people are an important part of the recovery process. Preparations should not cut you off from the high-quality people that you know.
4. I need to prepare myself in ways that offer intrinsic benefits: education, fitness, skills, etc. If I was 18 again, then I would be looking at educating myself in a technical or Engineering field. Of course, this is easy for me; my natural strengths are in technical fields. If your strengths are elsewhere, then educate yourself in those areas, but find a way to tie it back to the technical boom-areas (perhaps learn a bit about management of technical areas, or develop a technical hobby).

There is an old saying in the military: “Never in the annals of military history has there been a case of a Battle Plan surviving contact with the enemy.” My plan should be about giving me options and possibilities, not about locking me into a fixed course.

- CO2 sequestering projects are needed. One candidate is using algae to soak up CO2, then running an algae to bio-diesel process. The CO2 gets captured by algae, which is processed into bio-diesel, with the remaining algae pulp put into the soil (possibly sequestered as an ash). The infrastructure needed for this is massive.

While the jury is still out on the practicality of large scale biofuel production from algae, I feel the need to point out this doesn't sequester much carbon, as the resulting fuel gets burnt and the carbon ends up in the atmosphere.

All you have done is got a second go at the carbon emissions from the original power plant, using sunlight to help you reconstitute them as liquid fuels for the second pass.

This helps reduce total emissions for the energy produced, but doesn't actual stop the carbon flow into the atmosphere.

True indeed.  However, if the stationary plants use biomass instead of fossil fuel, reprocessing of the CO2 into liquid fuels takes a second bite at the captured carbon before it goes back to the atmosphere (which makes it more difficult to recapture).

Good point - I hadn't thought of that - usually people twin algae with coal plants.

I feel the need to point out this doesn't sequester much carbon, as the resulting fuel gets burnt and the carbon ends up in the atmosphere.

The remaining algae pulp gets sequestered in the soil. So it depends on how much oil gets extracted from the algae. This depends on the commercial viability of the algae species and the extraction processes used. I won't bother going into the details (since, as you imply, they depend on a thin web of assumptions and guesses), but if you are getting carbon credits for sequestering and getting paid for the carbon ash as a soil improver, then the commercials tend to favor a fast-growing algae that is only 40% oil, rather than a slow-growing algae at 75% oil.

So, actually, it is quite possible that in a commercial process quite a bit of carbon ends up sequestered (about 50-60%).

David C.

Interesting - I'd always thought that going for maximum oil production efficiency would be the goal, but if carbon credits are taken into account your scenario makes a lot of sense.

I am with you on preparing for a single future...the closer to self sufficiency I get,the more options I have in the future...I would like to avoid starvation,I lean to the 6-8 months of food for everyone you think you "may" be feeding.I have a small barn,and a lot of 5 gal pails.Oat groats,bean,and rice are cheap.A person cant sleep w/one eye open for any length of time,and having family around,when things get rough is a good thing.

The "I told you so's"would be priceless...

I'm not familiar with the specifics of Australian energy consumption, but if it is at all similar to the US situation oil only accounts for about 40% of the total.  Coal is a large fraction of the remainder, and isn't going to follow the same decline curve.  Utilities like electricity will not be strongly affected until the coal supply is impaired, and the large diesels used for trains and mining trucks can be converted to burn coal slurry if things get that bad.

Transport is the segment most dependent upon oil, but there may be ways for the system to become more elastic.  One way is for people to add small electric power packs to existing bicycles.  Electric scooters require more manufacturing effort than a bicycle conversion, but should be far less intensive than making a car.  The off-peak charging requirements of a 1 kWh scooter battery are on the order of 100 watts overnight; this much power could be recovered by replacement of a few incandescent bulbs with fluorescents or LEDs.

Electric supply remains crucial.  However, when someone's daily transport energy requirements can be met by the output of a few hundred dollar's worth of PV panels which are good for upwards of 30 years, this problem looks like it may shrink rapidly.  Ideally, public policy would get this trend started immediately (free parking and charging for electric bikes and scooters, install a few hundred watts of PV per capita) so that there is a base resource available to respond to unforeseen events.

You may be unfamiliar with the fact that the "few hundred dollars worth of PV panels" you refer to don't work "overnight" and, even if you work the night shift, wouldn't get you very far, (unless, of course you, were good a pumping your scooter with your free foot against the pavement).

It would also be helpful if you were going downhill.

You may be unfamiliar with the fact that the "few hundred dollars worth of PV panels" you refer to don't work "overnight"

You may be unfamiliar with the fact that most workplaces have things called "electric outlets" which operate both day and night, and there is this wonderful invention called "the grid" which transports electricity from place to place.  Besides, if fuel availability or carbon emissions are the primary constraint, it doesn't particularly matter when you generate the power (although near peak hours is obviously the best for other reasons).  If you can schedule the scooters to charge in the morning when the PV is ramping up but before the afternoon demand peak, you re-shape both the production and demand curves in favorable directions.

That grid thing really is pretty cool.

Not that it couldn't do with a few improvements - feel like doing a joint post on smart grids with me ?

It would be nice to have something to point people at when these discussions erupt...

If you lost my e-mail, it's still on the old blog.

Edit:  Posts move off the main page and out of sight too fast.  What we really need for this stuff is a Wiki.  We could edit the Wikipedia page (there's even a plea to do so), but there's no assurance that the changes would stick.

Using the figures from 2003-4 at the ABS, we see that
+15,690PJ is produced in Australia
+1,295PJ is imported (mostly sweet crude oil refined products)
-11,759PJ is exported (uranium and black coal, and our own sour crude unrefined)

leaving 5,346PJ to use domestically, of which
-1,035PJ is used directly
-4,311PJ is converted into some other form (coal into electricity, refined oil products into plastics, etc)

Of those 4,311PJ converted,
1,801PJ are lost in the conversion, transmission and distribution processes,
giving 2,510PJ of products

and thus 3,545PJ of actual end use of primary and derived energy.

Now looking at this, we see that of 2,875.1PJ used in 2001 (earlier year than above, thus lower energy consumption), the forms it was used in finally were,
Petroleum products, 53.2%
Biofuels, under 1%
Natural and town gas, 22.6%
Electricity, 24%
Solar, under 1% (they mean solar hot water heaters)

Note however that "electricity" is not an energy source, but an energy carrier. Its source in Australia is overwhelmingly from coal, as noted here; about 50% of electricity comes from black coal, 31% from brown coal, and 10.6% from natural gas; the remainder of 8.4% is renewable, mostly hydro. So we can rearrange the table above like so,

Petroleum products, 53.2%
Biofuels, under 1%
Natural and town gas, 25%
Black & brown coal, 19.4%
Hydro &c, 2%
Solar, under 1%

Note however that the petroleum products are used overwhelmingly for transport. Of 1,530PJ of the energy got from petroleum products, 1,166.4PJ were used in road, rail, air or water-borne transport. They used only 8.4PJ of other kinds of energy.

Transport enables most of the other forms of energy consumption and production. It's hard to imagine mining, agriculture, or even construction without transport.

You're quite right that personal transport faces few technical difficulties; but it faces many psychological and social difficulties. Your average accountant or labourer is not going to hop on an electric scooter if they have any choice.

There are other technical issues, though. If we want to give up oil and replace it with electrical things, then we have to give up coal and gas, too. That's because electrical transport would be an extra burden on the power grid, and our power comes from coal, gas and hydro. Even if we assume that coal and gas are infinite, climate change effects will continue to give Australia a water shortage, which is already impacting power generation.

So, turning to electrical transport means we'd have to expand renewable energy. I'm quite happy about that, I'm just pointing it out as an issue. "Just add power packs to your bikes!" sounds simple, but is less simple when we say, "oh and build more wind turbines."

Let's also not forget freighting, the non-personal transport. The key to what we call "our way of life" isn't just beign able to hop in the car to go to the shops, but also at those shops to have products from many thousand of kilometres away. Freight transport faces technical difficulties, too. Electric trucking doesn't appear to be practical as yet, though rail of course works marvellously, it's not quick to build, and faces many political difficulties despite its obvious utility.

Petroleum products, 53.2%
Biofuels, under 1%
Natural and town gas, 25%
Black & brown coal, 19.4%
Hydro &c, 2%
Solar, under 1%

You're comparing apples and watermelons there.  You are comparing the energy in electric plant output (post-conversion) with the transport system input (pre-conversion).  The inputs are compared directly in this bar graph, which shows 1552.6 PJ of input to the electrical sector for 2001-2 vs. 1265.6 for the transport sector.

Coal-fired powerplants average around 33% efficient, and vehicle engines aren't far from that (gasoline 20-25% in normal use, diesels up to 40%).  This means that the conversion losses of the electric sector are more than twice the net (not gross) energy use of the transport sector.  If the electric sector switched to a technology like direct-carbon fuel cells, it could absorb the entire energy demand of the transport sector while cutting total coal consumption.

Transport enables most of the other forms of energy consumption and production. It's hard to imagine mining, agriculture, or even construction without transport.

The heavy diesels used in mining trucks, railroad locomotives and such can be converted to burn slurried coal.  It increases the required maintenance but it has been done.

"Just add power packs to your bikes!" sounds simple, but is less simple when we say, "oh and build more wind turbines."

The energy demand of electric bikes is so small that it hardly makes sense to tie the two together.  On the other hand, the picture of the electric bike or scooter connected to a PV array can sharpen its "green" image.

Let's also not forget freighting, the non-personal transport... Electric trucking doesn't appear to be practical as yet....

I've got an office window with a view of a rail line, and among the trains which pass me several times a day there is the occasional intermodal consisting of semi-trailers on rail dollies (not flatcars).  There appears to be no technical problem preventing the use of short-haul semi-tractors powered by Zebra batteries or the like to complete the link from railhead to destination.  There are certainly destinations too far from a rail spur to be reached with such trucks, but we don't need a 100% solution even in the next 20 years; 90% will do.

You can put a coal gassifier on a locomotive pretty easily. Indonesia provides a very low sulfur and low ash coal that would be acceptable for a train. It would be annoying and inconvenient, but acceptable. Ships also have lots of ability to be retrofitted.
Depends on whether the sulfur is in sulfide minerals or in organic compounds. You can leach mineral sulfides with oxidising agents and remove the sulfide minerals that way, or grind up the coal and magnetically remove the sulfide particles.
Or just make synfuels out of high sulfur coal.

Here's a reference to an excellent article suggesting that the energy payback time on PV production is surprisingly long (decades under some scenarios).

Lots of debate about how true this is (and I suspect it is much less true with the new thin film solar that is now appearing) :
(Tesla also have a good graph of EROEI for various forms of solar power in one of their presentations, but I can't find it right now)

The US DOE says that the payback period for PV is between 2 and 4 years.

Thanks for the links.

I am picking my way through them. In doing so I came across Jeff Vail's concept of "the Price-estimated EROEI of PV" in which the energy invested is estimated by the cost of the PV and the energy return by the market selling price of the electricity produced.

I did the sums for my house and the payback time was 27 years.

PS. How do you manage to keep up with all this?

You can't use price to estimate EROEI. Price is not energy. Many things which use a lot of energy are quite cheap (eg Big Mac burgers), other things which use little or no energy are expensive (eg ocean views).

If you look at solar in terms of how long it takes to earn back the money you put into it, then solar looks very bad - but then, so does any other power source. Solar cells are just the worst of a very bad lot.

If you look at solar in terms of how long it takes to earn back the energy that was put into it, it looks pretty good.

Jeff Vail in one of the links above suggests that EROEI is a difficult number to measure and use of price is a simple approximation to the truth.

You only have to look at the wildly varying claims for the EROEI for PV (from 1 to 30+) to see how controversial the measure is. It is not easy to know who is correct

Measuring EROEI is notoriously tricky - Jeff did a few posts on the subject here at TOD too.

Cost based estimates have a lot of distorting factors, so they can be an interesting data point, but aren't the final word on the subject.

Here is another link I was searching for - see the table at the end for a comparison of different forms of PV (solar thermal - CSP - is another matter altogether - one with a much high energy payback).

How do you manage to keep up with all this?

The glib answer is I don't watch TV.

In reality some of this does / has coincided with my day job (not much in my current job though) so I've got to do a lot of study on the various subjects over the years.

Running a couple of blogs on these topics helps to grind the stuff into my brain too - being told you are an idiot after publically saying something stupid from a position of pseudo-expertise does concentrate your mind somewhat.

Lastly, I get far less sleep than I need to - hence the occasional dips into incoherence...

Great post aeldric and I think you are spot on about stying in the burbs as opposed to rushing out o tke over the bush.

I disagree however on taking the trin to work everyday ro with telecommuting and more IT infrastructure required so that people can keep doing there jobs. i think that post Peak Oil, many of these jobs will simply not be required to be done. There are countless examples of pointless jobs that are being done now by people who would otherwise be unemployed. As long as the economic system has so much surplus energy to keep thes jobs going, then they will remain employed. However once energy is removed from the system, some of these jobs will no longer be required. Think the guy who sells plasma TVs for a living, lawyers, economists, actuaries, adn some of the more exotic medicos that perfrom modern day miracles.

I also think that the massive infrastructure investment you speak of is somewhat of a pipe dream and will simply prolong the inevitabe collapse of civil society. The biggest public investment will be in expanding the military and unless theere is a defence element, infrastructure will not be funded. Private Public toll roads...well forget it and no privateer will build rail.

Society will always have people who produce nothing and are paid for it. Medieval society did have a noble class, after all.

Some of the idle unproductive people will be high-prestige (nobles, accountants, managers), and some low-prestige (unemployed, eunuch slaves, King's Fool), but we'll always have idle unproductive people.

... but we'll always have idle unproductive people.

Thankfully blogs keep them off the street nowadays :-)

(I'm kidding !)

"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

Teach him to use the 'Net and he won't bother you for weeks."

It would be nice if it could work out that way.

When hurricane Katrina hit La.. I was living in Panama City Florida. Most of the oil going to the the hard hit areas pasted us by. We were out of gas for two to three days at a time, every week or so for about a month.

When the oil stops flowing, all transportation related to oil stops. It doesn't take the stores long to run out of food, especially fresh food, milk and bread. All commerce controlled by far away corporations come to a stop when computers quit working due to lack of electricity. A lot of it simply rots.

People get restless and irritated.

The only way anyone is going to survive in such a situation as you describe is if large groups of people stick together. If you are by yourself, someone else will probably steal your food and might kill you and your family in the process. After your food and water are gone. What will you do? You'll probably turn into a scavenger yourself.

I don't trust in the humanity of people when their kids are starving because they didn't prepare for hard times. They will turn into predators. I'm sure their will be good men about but only if hope lies in the near future. Hunger erodes the best in all of us.

I hope it will not come to this and I've tried to figure around it, but without success. In many towns, when the price of fuel hits around 4 dollars a gallon, local law enforcement will be pulled in to the city, letting the outer reaches fend for themselves. That includes most EMS services and fire protection. In the US, that means local militia, (KKK, Friends of the South, etc) will take over the duties of law enforcement in the outlying areas.

I guess the key point is, people who have not prepared, are not just going to lay down and die. They will turn into deadly scavengers. Large groups of these people will loot their way towards the towns.

Remember the scene at the Stadium in New Orleans when thousands of people were trapped by the rising waters. I think it will be like that in the first couple of months, after the fuel runs out in many areas.

Routes will be established, protected by limited law enforcement steering dwindling supplies towards large cities, bypassing the small towns.

A movie comes to mind: "The Postman," with Kevin Costner.

No. There is no way one family could make it own their own in the outer regions. It has to be a group effort. A well armed group

I don't trust in the humanity of people when their kids are starving because they didn't prepare for hard times. They will turn into predators. I'm sure their will be good men about but only if hope lies in the near future. Hunger erodes the best in all of us.

History shows that this is not the case. You mentioned Hurricane Katrina - people certainly looted - sorry, black people "looted", white people "gathered supplies from abandoned shops" - but they didn't shoot at or mistreat each-other. The reports of mass killings and rapes at the sports stadium turned out to be completely made-up.

What broke down was not the humanity between the victims, not community, but authority. Common people didn't shoot at each-other, but sheriffs in nearby towns shot at refugees trying to leave the city. It wasn't the homeless and hungry who turned violent, it was those who still had homes and food.

The impoverished are desperate but not violent; the wealthy turn violent at imagined threats to their wealth. That's what history shows. Your post shows this kind of thinking.

A common thread among the stories I have heard from those that stayed in New Orleans (I evaced the Sunday before with 3 people w/o cars) is the code that developed for sharing. Whoever "scored" some food or something to drink got a double share as a reward for getting it and shared the rest.

One does not survive 5 days of heat (95-98 F, 35-37 C) and humidity (80+%) out in the weather without food and water.

The most touching case was a man was in a diabetic seizure and a relative with some minimal healthcare experience called for insulin. Another diabetic gave up their only dose. If that donor went into a seizure (likely under such stressed conditions), they had just signed their own death certificate by giving up their last dose of insulin.

My home was "looted". They took all of my canned goods, a gallon of distilled water, 3 bottles of wine (tastes better than water :-) some cooked meat and ice from my refrigerator, some socks, an umbrella and a flashlight. They left my digital camera, LED screen & computer and a pile of change in plain view. I would gladly have given permission for all.

A bar owner I know was broken into with minimal damage. All of his beer was taken, emptied out his ice chest, drained his hot water heater, a canister of carbonated water (for soft drink fountain) and all of his snacks and napkins. They left the hard liquor behind and did not try to break into the vending machines. He was surprised how neat and orderly everything was when he returned.

FEMA set up an evac for white Republicans in Metairie who only got rainwater in their homes on Wednesday morning with some ice & Port-a-lets. It was a dry 7 mile walk from that evac center to the Convention Center, Easy to drive without a single puddle. The waited over 50 hours (until the white Rs were evacuated) before first relief to the Convention Center.

Those overhead shots of trucks wading through water was pure BS PR. There is an HOV ramp from the the center of the Convention Center up to the Mississippi River bridge. That bridge leads by elevated ramp and dry road to the other Missisippi River bridge and to the Metairie pick-up/evac center. When people tried to walk to the evac pick-up center in Metairie they were chased back by police gunfire.

Best Hopes for Humanity,


Alan, I'd love it if you'd write an article on how people behave in a disaster, or at least point us to some online place where such stories are collected. This is very relevant for all these peak oil and climate change discussions, which all too often have people talking about a real Mad Max sort of thing happening, and ravening hordes of cannibalistic poor people, etc.

Nice commentary Alan.

I remember getting quite wound up by some of the media coverage of that event (and the whole official response to it - one of Bush's lowest moments which is saying something). I think this was the most detailed post I did at the time:

There was some great tinfoil produced as a result though - kind of a high water mark for that subculture...

In USA 2034: A Look Back at the 25th Anniversary Year TOD article I wrote:

Boston was a historic example of a comprehensive commuter rail network that can support walkable suburbia clustered around rail stations. Today, dozens of cities now emulate Boston and almost a fifth of the population lives in Transit Suburbia as it is now called.

with a map at

Walkable villages clustered around commuter rail stops (where one can live without a car) are certainly sustainable.

Best Hopes,


Article at:

Streetcar suburbs - absolutely!

I posted this the other day on Drum Beat, but it seems more applicable here.

In a way, the things happening in France are testing the city/countryside argument of where to be when the SHTF.

The people I know in Paris are certainly becoming uneasy about the economy, security (both job and personal), house values and increasingly food prices. They've also been sorely tested by transport problems, train, car, et al. People trying to travel (eg. to airports) and depending upon deliveries from afar, have also been affected.

Here though, in the countryside, we're totally unaffected by most of the things troubling those in the cities.

I was also thinking that should something happen to force people from the countryside into the cities, then the plight of those already in the cities will also worsen. Therefore, the countryside is the better place to be, initially anyway, with a contingency for a move to the city. Those looking to ride-out the storm in the cities are liable to be under continuous stress with few options and can only look forward to worsening conditions as the crisis deepens

I feel that people who are looking to tough it out in the cities are just rationalising the situation. Cities are obviously highly integrated into the modern economic paradigm and by default, so are its citizens. I doubt anyone would disagree that this situation has been highly beneficial during the up curve, I think it goes without saying, the opposite will be true on the down side. High integration with a collapsing system can only result in disaster.


'I was also thinking that should something happen to force people from the countryside into the cities, then the plight of those already in the cities will also worsen. Therefore, the countryside is the better place to be, initially anyway, with a contingency for a move to the city.'

i think initially this is true, however i am becoming convinced that Groups are necessary for security wherever there is serious trouble; & in the countryside this is not often the case.

i don't think moving to a city is wise, unless
a member of a greenzone ;whether government formed
or locally organized.

The key seems to be access to agriculture. If your close to sufficient food production to support the population then your probably ok. This rules out most of the large cities and leaves you with the smaller towns that are a fair distance from a major city. I also think that a navigable river or port is important.

The real problem seems the be that the density of cities that are not "survivable" is pretty high. So we have a large population of potentially hungry people/ bandits that could eventually start moving around. If anything one should look to Iraq for a understanding of what our future could be like.

We will all have problems, but more in the citys. I believe, that living in the countryside in biking distance from a small town could be fine. But not so near as walking distance.

Then one year canned food don´t hurt if you keep it secret. And weapons don´t hurt(yourself) either.

Sharon A. has a good essay about the future at

My own suggestion would be to ask yourself this. If you knew you would be undergoing catastrophic job loss, for a long period in 3-8 months, how would you change your life? Would you blow it all now, run up the credit cards on holiday shopping? Or would you retrench, get rid of the cable and the meals out, put more in savings, pay down your debt, plan a bigger garden, do some job training for careers that won't go under like auctioneer and nurse and put some more rice and beans in the pantry? I would recommend that all of us work under the assumption that our jobs are toast - that we can expect to lose them and have a tough time getting them back. Start thinking long term now - how will you feed yourself and your family, where will you live, what will you do, what do you need. How will you go into peak oil and climate change from where you are now, with what you have now. Are there things you need? Ways to make it easier?

Well, we've had these kinds of discussions before both on TOD and other forums. Essentially, philosophies fall into a few classes; city good/country bad, country good/city bad, must have moderate-sized group/best to do it as a family, starving people invade and steal your stuff/starving people die or are killed upon invasion.

The arguement then goes to the reconstitution of society; society relocalizes and life goes on/society cannot reconstitute itself and life returns to an older period with or without anarchy.

My personal view is that the country offers the greatest options, that society will not reconstitute itself for a number of reasons noted below and that, baring a truly repressive dictatorship, geopolitical areas will devolve into fairly compact areas with similar interests. For example, I live in the Coast Range Mountains of northern California. It is very rural. It gets lots of rain and has lots of timber. However, I have no interest in the Central Valley of California where it is dry and hot with few natural resources other than a warm climate.

Returning to the reconstitution of society: To me there are several essential problems. First, the vast majority of people do not have appropriate skill sets. Second, they do not have the correct "stuff." By this I mean they don't have necessary tools and neceesary food production and prervation equipment or supplies. Third, they have lived comparatively easy lives and are not used to making do or finding work-arounds.

Life will be different.


Bad link. Sharon's blog is here

Todd, your link says "page not found"

Errol in Miami


Thanks for finding the error. I left out a letter. The strange thing is it doesn't work with the letter. To save time just go to her site and scroll down to The Word You Want is "Depression." It's about 2/3rds of the way down the page.



aeldric - "Were your preparations enough to get you through the 8-month crisis? I will leave you to answer that question as a thought-experiment, but here are some starter thoughts:"

The main problem is, as will always be, security. Towns and villages exist because one person or one family cannot be awake 24 hours a day 7 days a week to guard what they have.

At some stage, unless you hide really well, someone stronger than you will come take what you have (there is always a bigger fish). No matter how many guns you have, if you have enough valuable stuff, someone will get more guns and take it. If you try to hide then you risk becoming a paranoid hideaway scared of any contact with the outside world and you will infect your family with the same thing which is just as bad as the pandemic.

In any thought experiment I have done it has always come down to violence and everything I own being taken.

The only thing that will keep you safe is a functioning society of people that you can sort of trust. Tribes used to be composed of family members because family ties was one way of gathering trusted individuals. As long as the ties were strong enough you stood a small chance of being murdered in the night.

This is the problem with all these survivalist notions - if you are realistic about it they are all doomed to failure. Our society has grown up the way it has because of the these failures as it is the only way that a reasonable amount of people can live reasonably safe lives.

The only method that might work is the Jason Bradford type society in Willets. You really have to start living the post crash lifestyle now with a cooperative post crash society in place and working to stand any chance.

I agree I grew up in Arkansas and even people that lived way out in the boonies where intimately tied to the towns. Especially if they had children even if they home schooled.

A few serious hermits that grew pot and harvested ginseng managed to come into town a few times a year. I guess if you want to live this way its up to you but in the long run this is a lifestyle that few will choose to follow. If you don't have kids then fine. But if you have children then your best bet is to join a community. We have the word Hermit in the English language for a reason.

What you should be after is a enclave

To those who think a life in the bush far from a city is the answer I ask:

What do you do when you have a tooth ache, or appendicitis, or a broken leg or snake bite?

And if you get to a dentist or doctor where do they get their supplies, needles, drugs, drills etc?

This is assuming you have all the other skills that make life pleasant such as plumbing, mechanical, electrical.

Specialisation has enabled an amazingly complex civilisation to evolve, with many comfortable niches. All this is at risk and I hope we do not descend to nature's base level of all against all in a desperate struggle to survive in a real life form of Laser Mania-Skirmish.

Anybody recommending gun ownership is only hastening the beginning of the end.


As far as health goes, search for Where There Is No Doctor and Where There Is No Dentist. They were available on line but can be purchased. I assume OZ has free or nominal cost emergency medical courses. Take them. They won't make you a doc but you'll be far ahead of others.

This also presupposes that you also purchase the items suggested in the above publications. You might also look for a book on energency surgery. Again, it won't make you a doc but if you hunt and clean game, you'll have a good idea where the organs are. Sure, you might kill the person but if they are going to die anyway what do you have to lose? And, you can make you own anesthetics(sp).

There are also a number of survival sites that have suggestions for your medical kit. Do a search.

People are not powerless! Everyone has to get that through their head. They are only powerless if they do nothing! I'll give you an example from today. I live on top of a mountain in the boondocks at the end of the powerline. We are having a major wind and rain storm and we often lose our power so I have a back-up PV system plus a couple of generators. I just came back in after 1 1/2 hours charging up my batteries from the grid "just in case." Now, it was cold (we're at O degrees C/32F), and it would have been nice to stay inside and watch a DVD. But, you have to do what you have to do.

This idea of doing what you have to do is lost among most people and they are the ones who are going to die of a broken leg or a tooth infection.


Thanks for all the suggestions. I do live in the bush but currently depend on travel by car to local town for supplies.

I do not hold with the views of the rugged individualists and if society disintegrates then I'll sit in my corrugated iron humpy up the hill from my house drinking down my cellar full of red wine waiting for the end.

At 59 I feel I'm too old to learn new skills, although I might manage to cycle the 5km to nearest general store. I'm getting lazier every day.

I have investigated wood fired 5hp Stirling Engine producing 25kW electricity at peak. Would give income of $11 per hour selling it back into the grid, but would have to spend a lot of effort gathering wood of which there is plenty. However cost is at least $50k.

Oops, time for lunch. A fresh ciabatta loaf and a glass of red.



I'm 69 and it's never too late. I still fell trees and buck them up for firewood, have a hectar garden, orchard and a few grapes.

I'm always experimenting with new stuff such as a solar hot water heater I designed and built a few years ago. I'm also a licensed pesticide applicator (inactive now) and still take required continuing education courses to maintain my license. My big, new thing, that I started messing with a few years ago is terra preta.

I still pull my equipment down for repairs. Come on, you can do it!!


PS Why not investigate a standard steam engine and a slow speed generator head like you would use on a Lister diesel engine. A friend who is big on steam thought he could build a small 5kW pretty cheap.


There is so much uncertainty about when TSWHTF and what the consequences will be that I am doing nothing, just watching and waiting. I can't see the point spending time on contingency plans A, B, C, etc in the face of such uncertainty.

I admire your energy but for me by the time I have read TOD, EnergyBulletin, RealClimate etc and done some of these blasted comments which I am becoming addicted to and done some odd jobs around the property I am ready to settle down with a book and a bottle of nice shiraz.

I shall have another look at steam now I have discovered how expensive a Stirling engine is. I wondered why nobody has one. It might be another of these good ideas that can't be made commercial, although someone says they are bringing out a concentrated solar version in 2008.

Now where's that book and bottle...

"Anybody reccomending gun ownership is only hastening the beginning of the end"
I am of the same age as you (61) and live on the countryside 10 miles outside a small town. Out here there are huntingguns in most of the homesteads. It´s only a handy tool for us who are used to them. But i don´t advocate assaultguns for citydwellers, there you are right.

Anyway i think i will buy some more ammo while you can get it.

And sure you can do some small preps even if you don´t know exactly what will happen. Some extra canned food, handy tools etc.

I would prefer to live in Australia because a heat death scenario gives you time to adjust your economy and society, whereas any other scenario (nuke winter, global plague) tend to cool off the planet on a short term basis.
Nuke winter does this directly. Global plague reduces demand for farmland asymetrically when the best land is kept in service and the less flat area is left to grow trees and suck up CO2. The oil wells still flow and the damned trees aren't harvested and just get bigger and bigger, sucking up CO2 all the time and cooling the weather.
Australia will be quiet pleasant in a nuke winter situation as far as the weather is concerned.