The Oil of Christmas Future....

In the last 9 years, holiday retail sales have increased 50% to $475 billion, a decent chunk of a $13 trillion total GDP. As we've discussed (in detail!) here over the past 2 years, oil is the lifeblood of our transportation system, and thus our economy. Below is a short Christmas post showing the trend of holiday sales, US oil production and US oil imports.

US Holiday retail sales in Billions $ (left scale) (Source 1999-2006, Source 2007 estimate- National Retail Federation) plotted vs US domestic crude oil production (right scale) (1999 thru 9/2007 then extrapolated - Source - EIA) Click to enlarge

In the last 9 years, holiday retail sales have increased 50% to $475 billion, a decent chunk of a $13 trillion total GDP. As we've discussed (in detail!) here over the past 2 years, oil is the lifeblood of our transportation system, and thus our economy. Below is a short Christmas post showing the trend of holiday sales, US oil production and US oil imports.

US Holiday retail sales in Billions $ (left scale) (Source 1999-2006, Source 2007 estimate- National Retail Federation) plotted vs US domestic crude oil production (right scale) (1999 thru 9/2007 then extrapolated - Source - EIA) Click to enlarge

This year, the neuro-marketers have spun their evolutionary algorithm-tripping magic yet again, as estimates for holiday retail sales are for a record $470 billion dollars. What are we really buying with that sum? Christmas has seemingly become a cultural routine with a bit of 'unexpected reward' at the apex, followed by a gradual let down. At least in US, it at times is reminiscent of a milder version of a Las Vegas air junket - on the way there everyone is happy and giddy and social and on the way back they are sleepy and crabby and poorer. This post is not advocating a dismantling of Christmas, though I must admit, Bill Mckibben's book, "Hundred Dollar Holiday" had an impact on me --"Enough" wasn't too shabby either - (IMO, Bill is a national treasure - we would do well to follow his inspired thoughts). In fact this post isn't advocating anything. I wanted to see the stats, which in retrospect are rather obvious, but may be lost amidst the holiday glitz and eggnog: United States christmas sales (and GDP for that matter) are a function of the oil we import, not the oil we produce. This should be no surprise - lets look at the numbers:

The Oil of Christmas Past

Annual % increase or decrease for holiday retail sales, US domestic oil production and US oil imports- Sources National Retail Federation and - EIA
Click to enlarge

The above graphic shows the annual % increase in holiday retail sales in green, and (in red) that domestic oil production has declined for 8 years in a row (as frequent TOD readers know, its been declining since 1971). It also shows the annual % increase in US oil imports (in black) has increased every year except 2002 and has gone from 3.9 billion barrels in 1999 to 5.1 billion barrels this year. US Christmas sales have increased in each and every year, so its rather self-evident that they are negatively correlated with domestic US production (r^2 of -.76). These sales (or purchases) are however, correlated with US oil imports (r^2 of .42). Just for perspective....

The Oil of Christmas Present

Oil Import Source - EIA, Source for GDP data
Click to enlarge

The above graphic shows the top 11 countries where we import oil. As of 2006, these countries comprised over 80% of our imports of over 5 billion barrels of crude oil compared to US production of 1.8 billion barrels. In order, Canada-17.2%, Mexico-12.4%, Saudi Arabia-10.7%, Venezuela 10.35%, Nigeria-8.1%, Algeria-4.8%, Iraq-4.1%, Angola-3.9%, Russia-2.7%, Virgin Islands-2.4% and Ecuador-2.0%. These countries are all lower than the US in terms of GDP. Our christmas gifts are the transmutation of our trading dollars for oil. We use the energy embodied in oil to leverage our system. (quick math: one barrel of oil costs $90 and has the latent joules of 25,000 man hours of labor, which at $20 per hour is $500,000. No wonder we want to import as much as we can!!!) (Note: The oil import arrows, weighted by barrel, have a trajectory ending in Waterloo, Iowa)

But lest we forget, GDP is not the neatly packaged summary stat of success some would like it to be. The nation of Bhutan, already has subsituted Gross National Happiness, as their national goal. Redefining Progress, and other institutions are working on different metrics of progress, like the Genuine Progress Indicator, which subtract things from GDP, like crime, pollution and long term environmental damage, in order to get a truer assessment of 'progress'.

(Source - Redefining Progress)

The Oil of Christmas Future

Christmas means many things to many people. At its core it used to be about religion, and to many its still about family and family traditions. I do miss my family who are spending Christmas, 'American Style', in North Carolina without me, but I don't miss the consumer froth. I am alone with my dog, snow-shoeing, some books and theoildrum, to be complemented by the arrival of my girlfriend tomorrow. This is the first year in 41 on the planet where I did not 'participate' in retail Christmas by buying a single gift. As a recovering Catholic and former large purveyor of things novel, unique and destined to wind up on entropy pile within 18 months, I have scaled back on both giving and receiving in recent holiday seasons. This year - nada - my only gift will be to my girlfriend, and that is not something I purchased.

As we consider the landscape for Christmas of the future, I hope we have the foresight and courage to care not only about 2008 and 2009 but also about 2028 and 2039, and the implications of our decisions for the children, animals and ecosystem dwellers not present in our policy and boardroom discussions. At some point, at the highest levels, we have to address what we get our energy for, and not blindly assume that demand is a natural law that increases at a 45 degree angle. Perhaps some consilience of the scientific disciplines might converge on an 'ends' goal closer to:

(B+U)/N, where B is basic needs, U is unexpected reward (novelty, excitement, etc) and N is entropy.

Or some such. Right now its 'Utility', with a denominator of dollars. And as my friend Jay is fond of saying, "Utility is just a 500lb woman eating another pie".

Please join us at theoildrum in 2008 as we provide a forum for facts, analysis and discussion about energy, and its role in our future. Where will the oil come from for the Christmas gifts of the future? Or will gifts be made with wind or corncobs or stranded gas? Perhaps we will change the definition of 'gifts' or require no gifts at all. Stay tuned.

And Happy Holidays..

The post Christmas economic celebration now happens in China as the US dollars flow there instead of boosting somewhat, the local economy.

Nate, thank you and all who make The Oil Drum what it is for providing real information and a revealing forum for the whole spectrum of belief and understanding. While the technical analysis and discussion that all of you provide will always be important and appreciated, I believe we are now entering the time where hard edged reality will dictate our actions and perhaps even divert our attention from TOD. I don't know what will happen or the outcome but this will be a time that myths and legends are formed of individual and collective actions that our grand children will talk about and pass on. Debates between "cornucopians" and "doomers" are unimportant now. Events will decide who is right and wrong with all of us being both right and wrong in our predictions. Frankly the timing is the only real issue left and it doesn't really matter to anyone but the stock speculators.
All the best for personal well being and collective success in the year to come.
Thanks once more.

Regarding gifts, last year I purchased a small case of "Nihilist" gum from Archie McPhee and handed out un-wrapped packets to friends and family. $12 paid for my entire holiday shopping list!

This year: nothing.

Nate, greetings from the UK and best wishes for the holiday.

As someone who does not celebrate Christmas I totally agree with the sentiments above:

on the way there everyone is happy and giddy and social and on the way back they are sleepy and crabby and poorer.

I am told the 'peak' day for depression is around the 6th of January at the point of coming back from the twin binges of Christmas and the New Year. We live in a society now that is one of 'quantity' with little 'quality' especially in peoples day to day lives.

That used to be the case it is after the Super Bowl

Nothing left to look forward to after that ......

Thanks Nate, and all other theoildrum elves.

Thanks also for posting the GPI graphic. It suggests we have very little to show for all the oil and other fossil fuels consumed by the US, whereas others like to cite increased efficiency in oil used per $ of GDP.

The gifts will continue, no doubt, but at a greatly-reduced scale.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, she writes about a childhood Christmas where she got a single stick of peppermint candy, an orange, and a ragdoll made by her mother out of fabric and yarn scraps. She was thrilled. Hard to imagine going back to a world where an orange is a special Christmas treat rather than everyday fare, but it could happen.

CNN has regular segment where people can send in their financial questions. Usually they run the gamut - where should I invest my money, what kind of car loan should I get, how much life insurance do I need, etc. There was a definite note of panic in today's offerings.

The first question was from a man who said he had all his money in FDIC insured savings accounts, and was worried about whether the FDIC guarantee was good. (Answer: yes. If it's not, you'll have a lot more to worry about than your savings accounts.) There was another question from a guy who wondered he should sign up with one of those places that fix your credit. He said he wasn't sleeping at night, worrying about money. (Answer: no, those are scams. Go to a legitimate credit counselor instead.) Another man said he declared bankruptcy in 2003, but was recently wiped out again by the mortgage crisis, and wondered if he could declare bankruptcy again. (Answer: depends on what kind of bankruptcy, but probably not.) And lastly, there was a guy who wanted to know if it was smart to buy foreclosed property as an investment. (Yes, as long as you're careful about details like previous liens and current occupants.)

Personally, I have greatly scaled down gift-buying for all occasions, including Christmas. When I do give gifts, it's usually something small, that I made. Cookies, bread, perhaps a handmade catnip mouse for a friend who is a cat-lover. Most of my friends and family have welcomed the idea of not exchanging gifts.

With my family, I've told my parents that in lieu of gifts, we should save our money and go on vacations together. (I know, not very green, but we live on opposite sides of the country, and don't get to see each other often.) Being parents, they still buy stuff for me, but it's a lot less these days, and I'm glad. For my sister, I usually donate money to one of her causes (she's active politically and environmentally). This year, she's bought a house (yes, I tried to warn her). So I gave her a book on permaculture...and a check, with the suggestion she cash it and keep it in the Bank of Serta.

....she writes about a childhood Christmas where she got a single stick of peppermint candy, an orange, and a ragdoll made by her mother out of fabric and yarn scraps. She was thrilled. Hard to imagine going back to a world where an orange is a special Christmas treat rather than everyday fare, but it could happen.

This is what I spoke about on Jason's show yesterday and will be writing more about here in the future. Its not MORE that makes us happy, its just MORE than we expect. As things in our society have grown, and in a normal distribution, the very wealthy have grown even more so, the 'expectation' level has generally increased for the whole population - an 'aspiration gap'. Stuff doesn't make us happy unless its unexpected and positive. Unexpectedly negative rewards, like getting a 5 lb fruitcake instead of an X-box, send our brains into bouts of craving.

If others follow your path Leanan, and consciously decide to expect and want less, this particular problem almost solves itself - if we can carry that same 'smaller christmas' theme over into larger society and economic system as a whole, well then, we might really make some meaningful change.

Our small extended family has utilized the small, scaled-down Xmas stuff giving for a decade now, which is somewhat tied to total $ outlay. In this guise, making the gift "worthy" for its recipient gained new meaning, and it's allowed us to expand the amounts we give to local food banks and aid organizations. I get more satisfaction from buying and delivering ten cases of canned goods to Food Share than driving to and shopping at any mall. But I still get the Blues for Christmas given to me by the state of the world and our country's responsibility for making it much worse.

I have to wasn't really much of a "sacrifice" to go smaller. The vast majority of things my family bought for me were things I didn't even want. Instead, they bought me things they wanted. My mother loves jewelry, so she would buy me things like $1,000 gold necklaces. I almost never wear jewelry. (Though I'm glad to have it now, in case I need to melt it down to buy food. ;-) She even asked me once if I wanted a certain bracelet. I said no, I would never wear it, and if she was spending that kind of money, she should buy me a computer. She bought me the bracelet anyway.

I suspect a lot of the things that are bought as gifts are not really wanted by the recipient. Look at all the corporate gifts that are exchanged at this time of year. Desk clocks, pen sets, etc., many quite expensive. Does anyone really want that stuff?

That said, I think you're 100% right about it being an expectations game. There was some interesting research done that found that rich people really are less happy. The reason, apparently, is that it takes a lot more to make them happy...but it doesn't take a lot more to make them unhappy.

So winning $100 would make a poor person ecstatic, a middle class person happy, and wouldn't mean a thing to Bill Gates. But he's likely to get just as annoyed as a poor person if someone cuts him off in traffic or he gets in a fight with his wife.

IOW...the higher you are, the more downside you have, and the less upside.

When my grandmother was alive and able, she made the gifts she gave. As a youngster I didn't appreciate any of it. (I don't think youth are capable of appreciation, therefor I don't think we should expect it from them) I wanted an atari so I could play pong, wtfiuwt. In my early twenties, when I was floundering away in jr. college, x-mass rolled around and grandma's gift came in the mail. Pickles, relish, olives, almonds,persimmons and apple butter. Oh, apple butter. I was in heaven, the prior months of ramen noodles with salsa were wiped away. As a wedding gift she made my wife and I a denim quilt, its been used for 14 years, seen all the ups and downs of a relationship and shows no signs of giving up. Last night, my 8 year old son got something called "Brian the brain" from grand ma and grand pa, my wife got him an x-box (used) and I'm sitting here thinking about an economy who's 4Q is based on on a fat dude who comes down your chimney and leaves you stuff. I don't know what to do, just laugh I guess.
Merry x-mass TODers

My mother taught me to appreciate things that were handmade.

Looking back, I suspect it was at least partly because we didn't have a lot of money. She made all my clothes, and often a lot of my Christmas presents, too, and it was for financial reasons. I remember being very proud of our Christmas tree, which had all homemade ornaments (many made by me and my sister).

It was a little weird going back home and finding mom had bought a bunch of mass-produced items for the tree. Tinsel, lights, and a bunch of department store ornaments. That was when I realized that she had really wanted a tree like everyone else had; the "homemade is better" line was to made me feel better because we couldn't afford it. LOL!

The extended family never appreciated anything homemade. I think it's because they were "recently poor." They never had any "store-bought" things when they were growing up; homemade was associated with poverty. (My parents are the most educated in each of their respective families...which meant we were the poorest.)

The funny thing is, the next generation (my generation, now grown up) has a lot more appreciation for homemade. Their parents always made sure they had store-bought cakes for their birthdays; no tacky homemade for their kids. But my cousin asked my mom to bake her wedding cake, even though she can easily afford "store-bought."

My father is wealthy by US standards (he was surgeon, now retired). But he grew up dirt poor - one of 8 children - he tells me stories of how they each got ONE present for christmas, total. And how everyday they had oatmeal for breakfast and how Granpa (his dad), would try and 'mix it up' a bit, by making each kids oatmeal into different shapes, like volcanos and such. That tiny effort must have had a large impact because he never tires of telling that story....

So he has always been against 'consumer christmas', though his decisions have usually been trumped by my generous mother. My bro' and I grew up with 'piles' under the tree...This year tho, given my 'reticence', she sent me some canned oysters, a vegetable brush, and a tiny stocking filled with bubble gum that is supposed to be coal.

My experience is similar.
Lots of beans for diner, homemade shirts, when it was raining or snowing I would put on socks, then plastic bread bags, then my worn out shoes. I had a great time. We were poor, but the kicker, and imo the real difference with today is, my mom was able to stay home and take care of us.

My mom couldn't. The cost of living is so high in Hawaii that two parents both working has been the standard forever. We'd have been even poorer if mom didn't work.

She was a teacher, which meant she was home for us a lot more than other kids' moms. But's amazing she did all she did for us. She baked all our bread, sewed all our clothes (during the summer, when school was out), shopped, cooked, kept the house spotless...and worked. I didn't appreciate how hard that was until I was out on my own.

I did thrive as a latchkey kid, I must say. Not all kids would, but I had a wide streak of independence, and really enjoyed being home alone.

I also always had three jobs when living in Maui, and had to be very creative to live. My parents were also teachers. I have a house in Kula, but live on the Mainland now.
I quit doing christmas years ago, and friends and family finally "got it" after some years, and it has slowly disappeared from my life.
The only present I gave today was a beautiful Chanterelle Mushroom found on my morning walk to my beautiful wife.
Happy Newton's Birthday!

Being brought up in the UK during WW2 meant there were not a lot of presents for anyone, I remember a toy Spitfire made of wood, some books and chocolate, Food ration coupons were horded so that some luxurious extra like tinned fruit could be afforded. Streamers were home made and a tree was decorated with baubles jealously guarded from peacetime,
And yet no sense of being deprived, great excitement with relatives visiting and the front parlour usually cold and damp now filled with decorations, the tree, and a coal fire.
Very happy memories, but very little money around or spent,
Now the whole orgy of consumerism is so sickening I go into Scrooge mode and we hole up with a log fire and something good to read,
Its been a very happy one this year, friends visiting and a quiet time
I hope that you all have one as good

Even though I could afford it now, the pure consumerism of the season sickens me. Halloween hasn't even gotten over with before the endless stream of people urging me to "Make This the Perfect Christmas" starts up.

The only thing I want to do is go hole up with friends, go to Church, enjoy meals together, go fishing - on a rowboat - fishing pole optional. If we catch anything, hang around and let's prepare it or bring 'em to the kind of restaurant which will prepare it and serve it to us.

The very last thing I want my friends to do is buy me anything. By golly, if I wanted the thing, I would have had it by now. My friends are aware that anything they get me is just a burden to me, as now I have to keep that white elephant around just so I don't hurt anyone's feelings - but left to my own devices, its something I would give away at a garage sale just because its something nice that I have no use at all for.

Like a spoiled cat, I only want the good stuff. Anyone can give me the gift of a car, watch, shirt, whatever. Then there are those other things which only one person in this whole world can give. Special things - like the memory of a shared sunset. Or shared laughter. There is nothing in any store that can even come close to this kind of treasure. I don't have a lot of material things, but I have enough - that's all I need.


Hi Leanan: Merry Christmas. I am spending a few months in Honolulu and I had heard about the high cost of living. To my surprise, almost everything is more expensive in Toronto (RE is about the same-maybe slightly less in Toronto). The last time I was here the Cdn dollar was around .65 so obviously that makes a big difference. Beautiful place (every part of Hawaii I`ve seen).

This is a very timely and fitting post for a season of the year when we should be concentrating on self reflection. We should be thinking about how we as individuals and as a nation are making the world a better place or setting the world up for a future of hardship, anger and hate. The season of Christmas has been converted over the years from one of joyous giving (not expecting anything in return) to one of mindless spending that squanders the earth's resources. Perhaps a post peak oil future will realign some peple's attitudes about Christmas, even if they are not Christian.

I appreciate all the valuable information you provide, Nate, along with the other members of the Oil Drum staff. I consider the data, graphs, charters and links to be a gift all year long. Thanks all for your contributions.

I have to say that among the adults in my family, the gifts are pretty practical "necessities" - clothing, books, household items. But when it comes to the kids, everyone goes crazy - big plastic playthings, battery-guzzling toys, etc.

I got my little cousins and future nieces and nephews a few books.

For the office gift swap, I wrapped up a book I barely used book

My graph says 12 countries but there are only 11 arrows - in 12th place is the UK, with 2% of US imports.

My graph says 12 countries but there are only 11 arrows - in 12th place is the UK, with 2% of US imports.

.. and I don't believe that the arrow from Canada has a "trajectory ending in Waterloo, Iowa" .. [grin]

no, but I realized this was a humor-less post, so I had to interject something somewhere...;)

Every year, Christmas reminds me why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.


We give books and DVDs and educational stuff to our kids. Toys mostly are used once and not looked at and they have too much plastic so forget that.

As a kid we got very little but had a tree (self cut) and some present or other. Cheap mass production frrm China, etc. came later. In 60s, 70s was not anywehre so widespread. We are not obesessed now but follow the routine and don't overdo it. The kids should have something to look back on, believing in Santa Claus, sort of like God for kids rewarding them for being good, according to studies helps genral moral development of children. For us it is just a routine, time off.

God only knows how my parents "celebrated it" in 20s and 30s. That must have been brutal. I recall thinking as a kid that it was not about giving stuff but about loving one another, basically religious ideas from my parents I suppose and due to primitive poverty from their chidhoods inculcated into me. These ideas are with me to this day.

Mish insists a credit burst will be deflationary as nobody can spend so anybody with cash will be king if the money ain't worthless of course. Maybe by next year the grinch will have stolen Christmas and everybody will have discovered that gifts are not what it is all about anyway just like in the movie and book by Dr. Seuss. A return to basic values in life would be pretty refreshing. Poor people are much happier people. I always was.

Where will the oil come from for the Christmas gifts of the future? Or will gifts be made with wind or corncobs or stranded gas?

Some reading along those lines:

A Foxfire Christmas: Appalachian Memories and Traditions

Or any of B.A. Botkin's books on American folklore.

Thanks for the photo, Billp -



After years of impassioned pleading, I finally persuaded my family to cut back on the Christmas giving three years ago, basically keeping it limited to the kids and spouses only. So I no longer dread the holiday and its attendant shopping and financial miseries, and can simply enjoy spending some quality time with my far-flung family.

In our discussion last night, they still seemed to think I was a bit overboard in my anti-consumerism and warned me against spreading my negativity about it around...but at least they no longer think I'm just a stick in the mud. I made the observation that disavowing the consumerism of Christmas while still buying stuff for it was a bit like crowing about the declining carbon emissions of the US while outsourcing manufacturing to China, but I am not sure the idea's difficult perhaps for them to see that their purchases might be as much to blame for the rampant consumerism this time of year as Madison Avenue is.

I also drove home 15 hours for the second time this year, eschewing the pain and delays and sickness and discomfort of air travel. Believe it or not, driving that 900 miles is actually still slightly cheaper and only an hour or two longer door-to-door, when you take into account the delays and queues...and it's infinitely more relaxing and comfortable, especially with several hours of driving across uninhabited desert. I felt slightly guilty about the carbon footprint aspect, but Charlie Hall said he wasn't so sure it was actually worse!

Realizing that my favorite tree ornaments are the ones that we made over the years, and that my favorite Christmas memories are of things we did together and things we made for each other (indeed I can't even remember most of the things I bought and gave), my main gift to the family this year is making special treats. I made some artisnal hand-made bread yesterday (pugliese style), and served it warm with my homemade plum jelly, which I made from my backyard tree. And in a few days I'll get all the kids involved to make a variety of pizzas (with home made dough of course). I made a treasure hunt game of it too, giving each of the kids a card with an ingredient pictured, so they can get together and try to figure out what we're making.

So although I haven't entirely succeeded in buying absolutely nothing for Christmas (as much as I'd like to), I feel like I'm making good strides in the direction of redefining it into something personal that truly speaks from the heart.

I know my grandparents on both sides--who were as poor as church mice and almost completely self-sufficient--would feel right at home in our modern-day Christmas.

Sending out the true joy of the season to all my fellow TODers...


Chris -

You strike me as one of the very few who know the true meaning of Christmas.

You gave memories of yourself and the joy you brought to your family. Those will never be given away at the next garage sale.

Things like you gave are all I still have of my family. The material stuff has long since gone.


On the money side, an interesting thought is to get friends and family into the habit of expecting Christmas gifts a bit late...say between New Year and Christmas, maybe the first week or so of January. The "it has to be there by Christmas Day" myth has been created by the retailing industry. The gifts are a real mood booster in January and can be bought at hugely reduced prices.

This just goes to tell you how little the cost of items are determined by the actual cost of materials to produce them. The retail price is, and has been for many years, completely artificial.


plus its unexpected reward!!!

I don't think that's as true as it used to be, for two reasons. One is the increasing number of Hispanics in the US. They exchange gifts on Epiphany (Jan. 6). The other is the popularity of gift cards, which people often use in January. Then there are all the people exchanging their gifts. January is now seen as almost an extension of the Christmas shopping season.

Though Christmas items (decorations, wrapping paper, etc.) are still a lot cheaper after Christmas.

You know, I think it was this past week when I was flying on the airlines that it kind of hit home the psychological impact that peak oil can have on us, even those of us TODers who know more about and are more prepared at least psychologically for the repercussions of peak oil. Basically, I was flying from Philly to Denver and the flight was canceled for maintenance purposes. In the ensuing 20-odd hours I had to rebook and rebook again, and then rush to make my connecting flight to get back to Denver. This process would have been vastly smoother if there had been more ticket agents, support staff, etc. But obviously most if not all airlines have started to eliminate ticket agents to replace them with kiosk to squeeze out every penny in overhead cost. This cost-cutting is largely due to the high price of jet fuel and the reluctance of airlines to raise prices. The frustration and process I went through to finally get my tickets rebooked cannot be given justice in this posting, but I must say it was an extremely unpleasant and stressful experience. It was after I got home that I started to wonder how this may be a microcosm of the PO world and that it can have a pretty serious emotional impact on us all. Well, anyways, just my two cents.

I've posted a few articles about this, and yes, I believe it is peak oil related.

The real problem is that airlines are massively overbooking. Because of fuel costs, they don't want to fly with empty seats. Planes are jam-packed. Forget having empty seats to stretch out on these days. Passengers are packed in like sardines.

That means that if anything goes wrong, you're screwed. You're not going to get on the next flight; it's full. Expect to wait hours or days to get on another plane.

And everyone knows it. A few years ago, if the gate agent asked for volunteers to be bumped, there was a rush to the counter. People knew they'd get hundreds of dollars in coupons, etc., while only arriving a few hours later than planned. Now, forget it. You don't know when you'll arrive if you give up your seat, so people are increasingly reluctant to do it. Which only makes things worse.

It's gotten to the point that I dread flying. Not because I'm afraid of flying, but because of the security hassles, the overcrowding, and the nightmare that results if you miss your connection.

If peak oil results in the end of commercial airlines, this will be how it happens. Not because the airlines can't get any jet fuel. Because people get so fed up they stop flying. By the time the last airline dies, few will miss it.

Exactly right Leanan. I'm ready to write the air travel obit already. I'm SO over it...I could fill a book with stories of air travel gone wrong. Bring on electrified rail and a new age of seaborne travel! I'll happily sacrifice a few more hours or days in order to travel in a civilized fashion and not be treated like a presumed criminal just because I'm boarding a plane. If my work didn't require air travel, I think I'd give it up for good right now.

Gave up on Xmas many years ago and with no regrets. A few years ago when my wife and son were away in Hong Kong I was left alone to run our accomodation business. All I had was cheese on toast for xmas dinner and it was just delicious. I send out Xmas cards to just 3 elderly relatives with a personal note in each. My wife makes all my clothes and we live simply. I hardly ever go shopping and when I do almost always come away without buying anything. Our lives are surrounded by crap we just don't need.


The idea of spending money on gifts that nobody really wants has a name. The Dead Weight Loss of Christmas Maybe google for the pdf, it should be somewhere because I remember I read it about a year ago.

Anyhow, to mitigate this problem a little bit I adapted the following rule: I will only give books for presents. And those books should be a good book.

The reason is that I think if you read a book completely, think about it and maybe discuss it with somebody, you get a tenfold return on the invested money / time.

That should avoid the loss.

Every year my family asks me what I would like for Christmas. Every year I say that I don't want anything for Christmas. Every year I end up with a bunch of stuff I don't really want.

This year it occurred to me, too late, to threaten not to come if anyone got me anything. But over the course of this holiday a couple of things occurred to me.

1) My family enjoys getting things for me. If I don't want anything then I deprive them of that joy.

2) What I really want is for the people close to me to make changes in their lives.

So next year when my friends and family ask me what I want for Christmas I will have this list.

-> An essay on who you voted for and why. Are you still happy with with your choice? If not is there any research you could have done to have made a better choice.

-> A Christmas dinner from a 100 mile radius.

-> A poem.

-> A painting.

-> Something you made.

-> Volunteer time in the community.

-> An essay on what you want the future to look like and what you plan to do to make it happen.

Next year I just might get something good.

Tim Morrison

Peak oil, global warming, and economic collapse are not the problems, they are the result of the problem. The problem is a collective action problem and an inability to make good long term plans.

Ali Belshi has been talking about the holiday sales report on CNN this morning. The numbers were disappointing...except for luxury goods. That saw a big increase. Not least because the weak dollar is making them appealing to non-Americans. They said people from Ireland are flying into the NY, going shopping, then flying home the next day with their loot. I guess recession isn't looming over the rest of the world, just the US.

Actually, the gift giving is more related to the *real* reason for the holiday than the Christian celebration. The winter solstice has been celebrated in the northern hemisphere as long as people have been able to figure out when it happened. In that sense, it's only religious because it was beyond human comprehension to understand why the sun slowly disappeared all summer and fall only to start reappearing in the winter.

The Wikipedia has a long list of solstice-related celebrations in the winter. Christians have been attempting to take it over as a Christian celebration since the third century or so, though at first celebrating Christmas in December was denounced by the church as too pagan.

If you think of the solstice gift-giving holiday as the ancient celebration of the return of the sun, it is probably about half as old as humanity, and as likely to survive the end of the oil age as anything else humans have done. Those roots run far too deep to be pulled by an energy or economic crash.

No gifts for us,(well my parnets still are allowed to get one nice thing for each of our kids) we do lots of hikes, Xcountry ski, group cooking, reading outloud, music madness yahoo, etc. The kids LOVE it.

I did take a roasted chicken over to a neighbor. Fiesty old gal 80+, does all her own yard work, grabs hugs from any who get close enough.

Turns out she fell and broke wrist, bruised but, and more. She was still getting around the house OK (I thought she should be in the hosp.)

She saw the chicken and started to cry and just hugged me and cried and cried, then said "and you didn't even know that I fell?" then cried some more. It was a good cry though she said after she poured me a tot of JD.

Best Xmas present I ever gave and got.

Wow, such a deceptive graphic:

The left scale starts at zero while the right starts around 80% of the maximum!

thats how excel scaled it - I am not up to speed with my colleagues graphing abilities, sorry...;)

But the green graph (using the same data) is pretty clear - lower production 8 years in a row (red line) - higher retail sales (to tune of 49.8%) 8 years in a row. What can be deceptive in that stat?

In any case, it was just a simple graph to point out we are increasing consumption using other countries resources. Not exactly detective work.

here ya go!. it looks about the same, just more wasted space in lower part of graph. merry Christmas!

Hi Nate,

Sorry didn't mean to be whiny. I much appreciate your work greatly, just don't like the misuse of comparative graphs, accidental or intentional. (I mean I know my own shadow's weakness for exaggeration, also intentional or not!)

Hmmmmm.. still need to rescale:

I don't know the best way to NOT waste screen space. In this case, I support zeros on both graphs. My ''second choice'' would be manually scaling 50% level as the minimum or something like that.


Merry Christmas to everybody for whom it has a meaning.

I thought that sharing my approach to Christmas could be of interest to some. FYI, I believe in - and try to live according to the teachings of - Jesus Christ.

To me, it is really tragic that, in the so-called "Christian" world, the celebration of Christmas has been utterly bastardized, having been morphed into an occasion for frenzied shopping whereby people lose sight of its main - actually only - point.

Jesus is the gift that God gives to mankind. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). If Jesus lives in your heart, you don't need anything else, for you have got the "buried treasure", the "pearl of great price" (Mt 13:44-46), the "only one thing" needed, the "better part" that "will not be taken" from you (Lk 10:42).

So, living Chrismas means letting Jesus be born in you, which requires being "poor in spirit", much like Jesus was born in a poor manger "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7).

So, no Christmas shopping here.

Reflections and preaching well-appreciated. I share your laments, and struggle how to participate in the season of light and wonder without consuming more resources.

On a different shadow, I think of the story "A Christmas Carol" and wonder on my sometimes Scrooge perspective, throwing out the good with the bad.

Sharing good books as gifts is perhaps my greatest hope, but perhaps even that just diminishes trips to the library?

And how to leave the mind, and carry hope in the heart rather than the mind, a question that can't be answered on in abstract book or internet...

The Oil Drum is a wonderful site that I read everyday. This is my first post. I constantly pull the coat of my neighbors, point them to the Bartlett exponential number site, talk 'disaster preparation', and try to slowly influence them into discovering P.O for themselves. It seems like the "I have something really important to tell you about our future" talk just does not resonate with 'educated' people who have minds full of academic training and 'knowlege' that gets in the way of simple observation/conclusion/action.

We live in Marin County, a suburb of San Francisco. The parking lots were wildly overflowing the weekend pre-Christmas. Lots of expensive junk is being bought. But, there is a counter current at work here too. Many people with large amounts of and without much disposable income are just sick of the Chinese Junk and consumerism and are going out of their way to buy things, anything in fact if it's handmade locally. I.e. A sudden influx of people and business is overwhelming the girl with the little tiny store selling hand made tea supplies and herbs. She sold out and was 'really busy' and bewailing her good fortune in a local coffeehouse.

I like being subversive by often wearing really fine clothing, Giorgio Armani and Brooks Brothers shirts, Mephisto shoes etc. When people compliment the togs as they sometimes do, I thank them and say"four dollars".
"I beg your pardon?" They usually reply.
"Four dollars, that's what I paid for this in XYZ thrift store"...let me tell you where it is"... then I fill them in. Lots of people donate to these stores and they shop there too, whether they need to or not for financial reasons. Often I will pick out really nice quality stuff and have it laundered and give it to friends as an Any-Old-Time gift. If they don't like it they just turn around and donate it back to the store. Clothes thus become like library books, a community resource that goes from hand to hand.

I urge all of you to give to and patronize your local thrift store. (Not the national chains like Goodwill which sends the stuff to regional centers and then on to their favorite charity neighborhoods). When traveling to big cities drop in, you'll be amazed at the selection of mostly crap, but lots of fine things too.

As to Christmas gifts, our formula is simple. Food baskets. An all organic supermarket has unusual brands of really nice products. We make a nice selection of these items and give them as presents. No taxes on food in California. No storage or re-gifting, the stuff disappears and contributes to the Christmas spirit.

Another thing you can use to great advantage is the
"IOU in kind". This means that you borrow something consumable like nails for example. You use it and give the IOU in kind, stating that you will replace the nails in the future when they actually need them back. Notice the subtle in this: You get the item free, the pre-existing item and all its embodied energy is used instead of just sitting around, they get the storage space and your goodwill. You only have to replace the thing when they actually need it, which in the case of stuff most guys have stored is often never.

p.s. The greeting "Merry Christmas" is back this year with astounding frequency.

Chris - great stuff! I am in Marin County too and I saw the madness at the Corte Madera malls this year, in addition to the new enthusiasm for homemade things, artisnal foods, etc. Yes those consumer-minded Marinites are fun to tweak aren't they? There is such a funny mix of classes in Marin. Let's get together for coffee some time - my email is in my user profile. Cheers. - ChrisN