Grading My 2007 Energy Resolutions

At the beginning of 2007, as I was preparing to move to Scotland, I made a number of resolutions:

My Energy Resolutions for 2007

I updated the story once in Walking the Talk.

Time to look back and see how I did. (Also, be sure to give me your book recommendations for 2008. It's been a while since we discussed books.)

1). I resolve to get the most fuel-efficient car I can find in Scotland.

While I could have found a more efficient car, I got a Nissan Micra which gets very good fuel efficiency. The cars that were more fuel efficient would not have fared well on my drive to work.

2). I resolve to search for a house that allows me to take public transport or my bike to work.

I consistently considered the public transport options as I looked for a house, but my work location made this difficult. I ended up getting a house not too far from work (4 miles) but there is no public transport available (unless I want to spend an hour and 2 bus changes getting to work). As far as being able to ride my bike to work, 4 miles would be a piece of cake most places. But on the winding, narrow country road I live on, it would have been a death wish. Most parts of Scotland are unfortunately not conducive to getting around by bike.

3). I resolve to place a very high priority on energy efficiency as I search for a new house.

Done. I rented a house with sky lights, a lot of natural lighting throughout, and a lot of southern exposure. During daylight hours, we never have to turn lights on in the house. Our gas and electric usage have both been very low since moving into our house.

4). I resolve to reduce the meat in my diet (it takes much more energy to produce meat than to produce vegetables).

Done. I have almost cut beef completely out of my diet (much to my father's chagrin, since he raises cattle). I eat a fair amount of fish and chicken, but I probably eat three times as many vegetables as I did a year ago.

5). I resolve to support local farmers’ markets.

While I think there are some farmers' markets in the downtown part of Aberdeen, I live in the country. So I never did encounter any farmers' markets this year.

6). I resolve to continue instilling the importance of energy conservation into my family.

This has been a challenge. My daughter proclaims that she is an environmentalist, and then leaves lights, televisions, etc. on all the time and takes 20 minute showers. (She has been learning a lesson while we are on vacation in Oklahoma, because the hot water only lasts 10 minutes). I point out her energy usage, and ask her - tongue in cheek - why she hates the environment so much. It's an uphill battle with kids (or adults, for that matter) who just can't connect the dots of their energy usage to the big picture. But I persevere. I did get into composting this year, and I was able to get the kids involved in that. I think they understand the energy savings from doing this.

7). I resolve to get completely out of debt (easy, since my only debt is a mortgage).

Done. No debt at all.

8). I resolve to talk to at least 1 person a month about Peak Oil and/or the importance of living sustainably.

Done. High oil prices have made it very easy to talk with people about Peak Oil. This is especially true for someone working for an oil company, because oil and gas prices are one of the first things people ask me about. I have had Peak Oil conversations this year in the airport, on a bus, in Walmart, in a restaurant, at work (including one with a member of senior management), and sitting around the Christmas tree.

9). I resolve to preach conservation as something each one of us can do to stretch energy supplies and better prepare for Peak Oil.

Done. This resolution goes hand in hand with the previous resolution. Once people hear about Peak Oil, the first thing they ask is what can be done. I explain that the best thing you personally can do is to get out of debt and tailor your lifestyle toward using less energy. That way, if gas prices go to $5 or $10 a gallon, your budget will be less susceptible to these increases (acknowledging that it is impossible to completely inoculate yourself against escalating prices).

10). Not energy related, but I resolve to read at least 40 books in 2007. I read 48 in 2005 and 34 in 2006.

I fell way short on this one. Between my blog, The Oil Drum, starting a new job, an international relocation, and various other projects, something had to give. It was my reading time. I still managed to read 21, but that was far short of my goal. The five best books I read in 2007 were Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nassar, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and 1491 by Charles C. Mann.

Final grade? I give myself a B+. I would give myself an A if I had found a location that would allow me to bike to work. I know it's only 4 miles, but I chose to live instead.

For 2008, big changes are in store. More on this during Q1 of 2008.

I would also like to ask readers for book recommendations for 2008. One of my favorite books of 2007 was 1491, and I read it based on a recommendation from someone here at TOD. I like reading history, science fiction, historical fiction, biographies, and of course books on Peak Oil, sustainability, and energy.

Thanks, RR

Incidentally, we discussed books in January of 2007. Here is a link to that discussion:

Well, if you like history, and having read 1491, I'd recommend Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Pilgrim life in the New World was just the beginning of our 350+ year pilgrimage to our New World Order denouement with all its attendant human foilbles -- religion, clash of cultures, imperative to expand, resource plunder, tragedy & war. Sounds familiar. ;-)

Philbrick's subtitle: A Story of Courage, Community, and War sums up what is likely to be writ of those of us who make it thru the hydra-headed bottleneck ahead.

Best wishes to us all in 2008.

Yes, Mayflower is very good.

On the history topic I just read "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It's about Lincoln and the cabinet he assembled to guide the ship of state through troubling times. It is a fantastic, if long read, and broadened my understanding of the dynamics of the civil war.


Greetings. Thanks for publishing your lists of books read. I did not know that they were out there, and have printed them out for future reference.

I have two small kids (4 and 7) and find that reading books is...difficult. But on a trip to the library, I discovered audiobooks, and have since become addicted to them. I have a half-hour commute (please don't shun me, TODers) and find that it is the most pleasurable time of the day for me due to audiobooks.

Anyway, I noticed that many of the books that you have read and liked are ones that I have read and liked. I also noticed that you liked time travel of my favorite themes. Can I recommend The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, if you have not read it yet. Also, I enjoyed The Tipping Point and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, though I'm guessing that you have already read them.

Also, due to your SF bent, how about Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. In the History vein, I would recommend Truman by David McCullough, or Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis. Also, if you are a fan of Card, then try Ender's Shadow...the same story of Ender, but told from the point of view of Bean....he actually pulls it off. The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom I found interesting. How about The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks for when you are feeling in a Big Brother is watching mood.

thanks again for posting your lists.

ok. I see that you read The Time Traveler's Wife in '05....

Yes, and it was a great book. One of my all-time favorites.

Congratulations on your resolve. I can only hope to be as resolute with my resolutions for the coming year.

Since you enjoyed Neal Stephenson's Cryptomonicon you might check out his Baroque cycle starting with QuickSilver. It takes historical fiction (maybe I would call it speculative historical fiction) to another level of complexity and richness. It revolves around the establishment of markets and banking around the end of the 17th century. It is an amazing work, though not for everyone as it can be a tough slog at times. Readers either love it, or hate it. You will also run into some of the ancestors of characters from the Cryptomonicon. And some amazing characters they are.


Greetings -

I'm currently reading America's Great Depression by Rothbard. I may not know anything about geology or oil field properties, but I know a little something about economics and finance. What's interesting is that there are so many parallels between the 1920's run up to the depression and what is happening now with our financial system. We've had a big run up in Gold prices as you would expect, although adjusted for inflation we should have seen a much greater increase given the real problems with our currency valuation and real inflation over the past 6 years.

But what we have also had is a greater run up in oil prices. And I fully understand the supply and demand characteristics of a potentially depleting resource. But, let's face it, there haven't been any REAL shortages. And I haven't read any real discussion or news about this potential parallel. There has been a little talk about hedge fund managers 'driving up the price of oil futures' but a four fold increase in 6 years of a commodity which currently TRANSFERS over $3 Trillion dollars of value between countries each year is a big deal.

I'm not smart enough to figure out what all the connections are. But in reading this book and seeing how in the 1920's each Country manipulated their interest rates to control the flow of Money (Gold) between the countries (mainly so as not to completely bankrupt Britain) you can't help but draw parallels to our modern day valuation of oil in USD. Since there really is no 'Gold Standard' any longer your basis for international trade has effectively become the USD as it is the denomination 'backed' by being able to exchange it for oil. That's good news for us as we can easily and cheaply print more USD. Although we all know where that story eventually leads.

So it appears to me that oil has to a great extent become the new gold. If you look at the run up in oil prices in six years in those terms and relate it directly to USD you get a much more realistic model of the real, and likely actual, devaluation of our dollar - Based on our increase in the number of 'dollars printed' including debt, and our real rate of growth and legitimate expansion of true net wealth and value as a country. (You can't expect to print money and export it to China and oil producers without them, eventually, bringing those dollars back and buying our companies - which sends the very wealth we create directly to them in the future.) You didn't think they would bring those trillions of dollars back to the US and buy McMansions, Suburbans and happy meals did you?

In conclusion. We now know how and if not why then what the main factors were, in the Great Depression happening. And we need to figure out how this relates to oil today and the current state of our US financial system. It's obvious (to me) there are tremendous parallels and that something has to give. Usually in the start of a depression there is a huge devaluation of the currency (since the 'gold' has a set and real value.) We've already seen that in some sense as described above but we Americans have continued to borrow in unbelievable amounts to try and maintain our standard of living against that devaluation. Which is, by the way, precisely the wrong thing to do.

It's true that oil may again drop substantially in price but only when the credit runs out, and we have to take a (now) major hit to our standard of living. The only other way out is for the 'King' to artificially lower the price of the 'gold'. But in this case, if he did, he couldn't give out enough to satisfy the demand and things would get ugly anyway. So we are pretty much the same place we were in 1929. And unfortunately we are trying to 'fix' it in the same way we did then.


Hi mrderik,

I had a go at looking at the big picture -seeing the connections or as I put it 'joining the dots':

"Peak Oil -Joining The Dots" by Nick Outram

There are too many variables, the ebb and flow of trade, what is most important for countries and how they react, etc, etc. I think one sure sign that the current structure is about to snap would be a move away from pricing oil in US dollars; but is that likely? Otherwise I see oil spiralling up and up as the US attempts to 'blow-off' its debt mountain and buy an increasingly scarce commodity with increasingly worthless paper...

I put the worst part of my "Wiemer Blow-off" period in the early 2020s (see the speculative timeline graphic at the end). After that I speculatively call the New World Currency "The Gold Backed Euro" but who knows...


Hi Robert,

They are good resolutions, I have done much the same, except I didn't vacation in Oklahoma - which is, to say the least, a long way from Aberdeen!

So, just to put all your carbon saving actions into perspective, how many flights by air have you and your family made this year - how many air miles in total?

Although you live near to your work, what about your family's travel needs - are they longer than they otherwise would be to enable you to live close to work?

Just to be clear, I'm not criticisng here, I know from personal experience that it is currently very difficult to reduce my carbon footprint in any meaninful and ongoing way and maintain my standard of living/quality of life.

So, just to put all your carbon saving actions into perspective, how many flights by air have you and your family made this year - how many air miles in total?

As long as we are in Scotland, there will be one trip home a year. But we haven't traveled anywhere else. The first time we were in Europe, when we lived in Germany from 1999-2001, we were traveling constantly. This time, we are just enjoying our immediate surroundings.

I have plugged in our entire energy usage into some of those carbon footprint calculators, and even with a flight home each year, we still come in very low because our daily usage is so low. (And those calculators don't take into account the composting, which reduces our green and brown waste to zilch).

You can find figures to make yourself a more detailed calculator here. Your compost is not carbon-negative. Aerobic decomposition produces 0.356kg CO2e per kg of material, and anaerobic (stinky) decomposition, 4kg CO2e per kg. Since if you put it in landfill the decomposition will undoubtedly be anaerobic, you are of course much better-off composting (well) than biffing it in the bin. Nonetheless, it does produce greenhouse gas emissions. The way to balance this is of course to use the compost to help you grow things which will absorb carbon dioxide. For example, by planting a tree every year and caring for it, you will more than balance out any compost emissions you're likely to cause.

I've a spreadsheet with the calculations in metric and US measures, unfortunately I can't upload it to blogger, but can send it anyone interested (email me through the blog).

Your compost is not carbon-negative.

You didn't take into consideration, though, that if I wasn't composting, it would take energy to transfer all of that biomass to the landfill. Granted the compost produces GHG emissions, but as you say it is better than sending it to the landfill (for the aerobic factor as well as the energy savings from transportation).

That 4kg CO2e of emissions per kg composted anaerobically is roughly what you get in landfill, too. However, conditions vary a lot at landfills, from 1 to 12kg CO2e, and the emissions due to the transport are smaller than that; a truck carrying 10 tonnes of rubbish burns about 1lt of petrol every 5km, generating 2.32kg CO2e, and on average travels 50km daily, and thus the 10,000kg of rubbish require 23.3kg of emissions to transport, or 0.00233 kg CO2e per kg.

Let's be pessimistic and assume that the processing at the landfill or large compost adds nine times as much again, giving us 0.0233kg CO2e. This is rather small compared to "1 to 12". Single contributors which fall far within the margin of error of the major contributor can be safely ignored.

But even if it were 10kg CO2e, or 1,000kg CO2e, avoiding extra emissions does not make your compost carbon negative, which was my point.

In areas where there's a "green waste" collection programme, they'll have emissions due to transporting it, but will compost it more efficiently, making sure it's always aerobic and not anaerobic, so that on balance the council can compost with less emissions than can you.

But most areas don't have green waste programmes, and in any case you'll want compost to contribute to your own plants which are carbon-negative. So composting at home is usually a reduction of your personal emissions, no doubt about that. But it's not zero carbon, nor negative carbon. And your original statement that "those [carbon] calculators don't take into account the composting, which reduces our green and brown waste to zilch" strongly implied that your green and brown waste were carbon neutral, or even carbon negative. They're not.

we still come in very low because our daily usage is so low.

'Very Low' is a comparative term - is that 'very low' compared to Scotsmen who holiday in Oaklahoma, or Americans in general, or Zimbabweans, or the world average, or ? ... who are you comparing to?

You didn't have any business mileage this year?

That's why I give the absolute figures for people to use. Comparisons are nice, but there's a time when you want the real numbers.

And Zimbabwe's an unfair comparison. A state under a brutal dictator suffering famine and on the brink of complete collapse... Well, they're going nowhere good, whatever their carbon emissons are.

but there's a time when you want the real numbers.

Real numbers, in the real world, are actually very hard to come by - that's why there is so much discussion about peak oil or dangerous climate change for examples ... there's not enough precise information to make sensible even short term decisions in a complex world!

Bollocks. You can calculate how much CO2 pops off when you burn a litre of petrol - that's a chemical equation you can do with fifth form chemistry. You can go look up how much coal your local electricity generator burned and how much electricity it produced from that, giving you coal/kWh, and then use your chemistry again to get CO2/kWh. And so on.

Get all those figures from day-to-day household consumption. Then go to your Bureau of Statistics and see what the average electricity, petrol, etc consumption is. Now you know how much CO2 you're directly responsible for and can control compared to the average person in the country or the world.

That done, you can then reduce it. But even without those calculations, you can reduce it. Using less electricity obviously produces less emissions than using more, taking the train produces less emissions than driving a car, eating less meat produces less emissions than eating more, and so on.

Whether peak oil has passed, is five or fifty years away, whether we need a 10% or 100% reduction to avoid catastrophic climate change - doesn't matter to me in my daily life. I can go ahead and make those reductions anyway, and I can write to my MP and tell him to help me with that by supporting renewable energy and the like.

I don't need exact numbers to know I shouldn't take a dump on my neighbour's lawn or burn off plastic rubbish in my backyard, and I don't need exact numbers to know I should reduce my consumption of fossil fuels and derivatives, and reduce my pollution.

Waiting for the perfect numbers is another excuse for inaction. What, you think Joe Blow eating burgers and driving his SUV would stop if only he had the right numbers shown to him? Would Dubya suddenly get his oil company family to invest in wind turbines if he had the right numbers? Bah. Excuses.

Whoa, I agree with you totally, I can do the very simple sums (unlike most of the world's population it seems!)- but without some sort of accurate figures you won't convince anybody of peak oil or AGW.

Actually, I was refering to the fact that RR, just for one example, doesn't give actual figures, just comforting words like 'low' - I guarantee his total FF energy use is not low at all compared to the rest of of the world.

BTW, if you think writing to your MP will do any good then do it, but, bear in mind he/she is looking to be re-elected so will only tell people about good things that might happen in the future - that doesn't sound like FF depletion or AGW to me so I doubt that they will take adequate action.

By writing to my MP I may not get them to do what I want; by not writing to my MP I definitely won't get them to do what I want.

I'll take possible failure over definite failure any day. I can't complain they're not listening to me if I'm not speaking to them.

I can't complain they're not listening to me if I'm not speaking to them.

Again I agree.

I go to committee meetings on Peak oil and Climate Change in the Houses of Parliament and visit or correspond with various MPs - but I doubt that will change anything they do or think. It does however have a huge effect on what I do and think!

You should not assume that MPs can actually do something about peak oil and climate change while at the same time growing the economy - and actually, they may do what you want even if you don't speak with them. Speaking with them or writing to them is not communicating - that has to be two way. As far as I can tell 'the lights are on but nobody is home!'

Sweden has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 9% on 1990 levels (Kyoto let them grow them by 4%) and at the same time grown the economy by 44%.

I'm puzzled as to why building 1,000MW of coal-fired or nuclear power plants is supposed to help us grow our economy, but building 3,000MW of wind turbines and solar thermal is supposed to be a great and onerous burden which will destroy us all. Nor do I really understand why using less energy to do the same work - for example, take us from home to our jobs - is supposed to be bad - effiency is bad for the economy?

Hi Kaishu,

The whole population of Sweden is only 9 million, population density 20 per sq km, allowing 50% of electricity from hydro - a 'flea bite' on 6,700 million world population. The UK has a population of 60 million, 239 per sq kilometre, and will easily miss the Kyoto targets but is a different economy all together due to the availability of natural resources.

Don't assume that the required coal fired or nuclear plants can be built or operated - without enough primary power and 'net export' of required fuels and required credit the economy can't grow.

Any wind turbines or solar thermal don't run 24 hours a day so they are not 'instead of' they are an 'as well as' investment.

BTW, I like your blogspot.

You didn't have any business mileage this year?

I avoid business travel like the plague. I didn't have to take any commercial flights this year for my job, but I do have to take occasional (100 mile or so) helicopter flights to the gas platforms in the North Sea.

As far as "low", when I use the term I am always referring to my peer group. My peer group at the moment is UK citizens. And my usage is about half of the average (even considering a flight home each year). And there are many, many things that those carbon calculators don't consider. For instance, my parents have burned their trash for my entire life. Over the holidays, I am building my Mom a composter. People have written to me and said that my writing had influenced their energy usage. So when you sum it all up, I am very low relative to the developed world (but not low compared to a 16th centure Native American).

Blood and Thunder -Historical About the settlement/Indian wars in the American west. Interesting.

The man who listens to horses- by Monte Roberts. Biographical-Monte Roberts discovers "horse society". Not the commercial horse whisperer BS. Fascinating and I don't even like horses all that much. Having witnessed the described behavior(s) in deer while hunting them, I was shocked to say the least.

"The tracker" "Search" by Tom Brown. Biographical story of a man who was taught by an Apache scout. If ever there was a book to read these two are top on my list.


Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

- Spindifferent

Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. Disclosure: I'm briefly mentioned in it.

A Farewell To Alms by Gregory Clark. Would provide a useful contrast to Jared Diamond.

Lord Of Light by Roger Zelazny. I see you are a science fiction fan. If you haven't read Zelazny this is a great place to start.

Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. About the nature-nurture debate.

From Dawn To Decadence by Jacques Barzun is another take on the 'Peak Everything' theory. This is a book that has many passages of read-aloud brilliance.

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert was a great read and I found it inspirational. Others found it not so interesting.

These would make worthy and interesting additions to any reading list.

Hi Robert,

Thanks for sharing! and congratulations. I'm glad you made the choice "to live".

One teeny little suggestion re: vegetables - (given to me by a man without teeth whose warning I did not heed)...He said "Eating too many raw vegetables can be hard on the teeth." I guess that's why they invented peanut butter, almond butter and mechanical food choppers, etc. (leaving out electric blenders, etc.) Just thought I'd mention this.

And one question, I'm not sure how to someone who works in the oil industry, have you given any thought to any kind of action that people in the industry - (and/or geologists/ and/or any others with differing kinds of relevant expertise) - might do in the way of encouraging/formulating a national or international energy policy? (i.e., actions that might help?) (If this makes sense.)


I am going to answer that question very directly on February 1, 2008. I don't mean to be cryptic, but you will understand at that time why I had to be.

Robert, Those are all good resolutions and I've certainly done some of them and am trying to do others of them. But the one idea that comes up consistently among "recommenders" and "advice givers" here and elsewhere that I don't really understand is the "get out of debt" recommendation.

In general high interest debt of course is bad for you as a consumer. But low interest debt is, it seems to me, still highly beneficial. Owing $200K on a market valued $400K house in Portland Oregon produces enormous advantages for me... a good neighborhood, good school, and since our interest is low we are leveraging our original investment into much greater theoretical gains (although since we are not selling, they are highly theoretical indeed.) These are all the conventional arguments for home ownership with mortgage based debt. As long as the economy doesn't tank completely, this is working for me and my family. Getting out of this debt would mean a lowered standard of living, and uprooting my children's and my lives.

OK, but what about a peak oil crisis? Won't I wish I was out of debt then? Yes, servicing that debt would be difficult if lost my job, but I would then quickly sell and cover all or most of the debt with the sale.

If the government decides to initially try to inflate its way out of a peak oil crisis, well inflation is generally good for debt holders.

Or, in a worst case situation, a peak oil recession, depression ... lost job, economy collapsing, no buyers for my house, I would need to declare bankruptcy. My credit would be ruined, but so would that of most of the U.S. citizenry. It would be nothing to be ashamed of. (And in the mean time, in each year between now and that unknown date when the crisis really bites, I would have lived well in debt financed housing, in a neighborhood with good schools. Each year in this situation is better for my children's development than following the purportedly responsible advice to get out of debt soon. I'm building intellectual capital in my children's brains with this debt... capacities which may serve them well in the post-peak world.)

So, peak oil or not, where's the downside on $200K of low interest debt? Why is debt so terrible, or getting out of it so important, as a pre-peak oil crisis strategy? I'm not seeing it.

On all of your other arguments, I'm with you, doing many of those things, thinking about others. Happy new year to you and to all.

First, you make a very astute observation:
"inflation is generally good for debt holders."

If the debt is low interest and more importantly FIXED INTEREST RATE, I think you are absolutely correct. You get to enjoy the goods you bought, and repay the creditors in deflated dollars that will buy less anyway.

The problem is, not much debt in America is both low interest and fixed rate. When inflation takes off, there is only one fast way to break the back of excessive growth and weed out the weak corporate players, and that is to jack interest rates hard. That was the way we broke (a)inflation (b) corporate excesses in staffing and (c) high oil consumption in the early 1980's.

But it is very painful. People forget the late 1970's and early 1980's when people simply put the key in the mailbox and walked away from homes. We have not yet seen anything like the late 1970's yet. It is survivable, but it hurts like hell.

The advice to get out of debt is aimed primarily, or should be, at those with either high interest rates, or variable rate debt, or both.

Variable rate debt such as credit card debt is absolutely deadly. Most Americans pay more in interest and financial fees a year than they pay out in gasoline for commuting. As other costs of living increase (fuel, food, medical care, education) the interest rates on variable rate becomes a backbreaker.

There has been much made of the run up in energy prices lately, but if you take the long view (last 20 years) and compare the run up in energy to the run up in costs for college tuition, health care, prescription medicine, and houses, you will see that the energy run up over the longer term has been very modest. We often forget that the base price of energy in the late 1980's and most of the 1990's was low to the point of madness.

The move in oil prices looks HUGE if you count from 1998 forward, but if you look at the last quarter century of inflation (some would say 'deflation of currency' which is the real driver of inflation) you see that oil is a bargain in the long view.

Whether this remains so is yet to be seen.


Just adding to what Roger said, the "get out of debt" advice is not universal. I have gone into debt when it made strategic sense, and will probably do so again. But for the average person with the average debt, probably best to reduce it.

OK, that makes sense to me. But I think the standard advice about "debt" should always be qualified to distinguish between good and bad debt. I would characterize my fixed (and low) interest rate mortgage as being a pretty good deal both under very optimistic peak oil projections and very pessimistic peak oil conditions.

High interest and variable rate debt is a bad deal, of course... but it is a bad deal even if the economy is spectacularly resilient and peak oil never comes. I suppose it is also a bad deal if peak oil hits next year and produces a crisis. Although here again, the circumstances under which high interest debt are particularly bad are somewhat limited. A REALLY bad crisis would actually be a SOLUTION for someone with lots of expensive debt.... the bankruptcy option is there, and the more people use it, the less of a problem it is for the individual who also uses it.

I suppose there is a narrow case of slow growth or recession caused by peak oil where that high interest variable rate debt is particularly bad for its holder... but a real economic crisis would represent a solution for the holder of expensive debt, as much or more than it would represent a problem.


Then there is the larger philosophical issue of disentangling our lives from the corporate industrial energy system. If you want to go that route then yes, of course, it is psychologically satisfying to rid yourself of debt. But here too, is it the wise course? If you think civillizational collapse is possible, why not finance with debt a move to a rural setting and begin your farming life... buy yourself several years of practice on the soil ... paid for with the system's borrowed capital.... when it all goes to hell and you default on the loan, there you will be on your land with years of experience farming, and who knows if the debt collector will have the power projection capacity to come and boot you off the land. In any case you will have your knowledge, gained with debt.

As far as I can tell it might be better advice to tell people to prepare for a peak oil crisis by loading up on debt and using the funds to invest in things that will serve them well because peak oil means they may be less likely to need to ever pay it all back.

Peak Oil Readiness Resolution: Take on more debt in the form of low interest loans to finance intellectual capital growth and the acquisition of peak oil useful assets, like land.

As a small person running a small company I've often taken on serious short term debt --- luckily it has always worked out :-)

Two books I've enjoyed this past year are The Zanzibar Chest and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Hi Oregon,

I've been thinking about your post, and wish to chime in, without, of course, actually giving advice :).

Here's the thing:

re: "Each year in this situation is better for my children's development than following the purportedly responsible advice to get out of debt soon. I'm building intellectual capital in my children's brains with this debt... capacities which may serve them well in the post-peak world.)"

Great you're doing well by your kids.

Can you rent in the same neighborhood?

The point is: If you can get 200K from your house now, that is 200K you won't have if things continue in the direction they are currently headed. I look at all these graphs, and nothing changes (except we're further along).

re: "would be difficult if lost my job, but I would then quickly sell and cover all or most of the debt with the sale."

I don't know...why do you you think you could quickly sell?

Have you seen that graph of the home prices v. income?

It looks to me like housing (w. rare exception) is only going to continue down, and ditto for the economy in general.

There's a way to look at this that means: you have 200K now (if you can sell) that is the last chance to make this kind of money. If you can hang onto it, this means more choices and more flexibility for you.

Of course, if you can pay off the mortgage and own outright, that might give an advantage.

A place you own outright - where you/one can just "stay put" and at least have a roof overhead - is good.

I'd say, think again, about the scenario of job loss. If, in this scenario, you walk away w. nothing in the sense of savings...where will you go and to what?

Not trying to be glum here, and your points are well taken.

I'd just encourage you to think further. Cover more scenarios. See if there's some way to accomplish the same goals of the education, etc.

Does this help explain more about the debt?

Things - as far as it looks anyway - won't continue to get better, in financial terms. This, right now, is the most opportunity one will ever have (in general) to either make money, make moves and etc.

I have thought about all of that, and I still don't see a downside of the kind of debt I carry... other than escaping the psychological weight of owing. I'm sure there are ways to live a debt free life from my position, but they all involve trade offs.... in location, lifestyle, risk, education opportunities, etc.

I don't think the non-zero possibility of near-term peak oil makes it absurd to buy a house even now, and even with significant debt. The possibility of peak oil creates risks.... has implications for where you buy and what you buy and what you do with debt... but it doesn't mean that today, right now, you should not own a dwelling purchased with a reasonable level of mortgage debt. At least I don't see that implication.

I think that people have a natural reaction to the "future concern" associated with peak oil, and they tend to pull their stock answers from a large basket of "sensible things that prudent people should do." I think that if you look more deeply getting out of low interest debt does not fall into the same category of sensible pre-peak oil responses... such as acquiring knowledge and skills and social connections that will stand you well in a post peak oil world.

I do not believe that we can say that "things won't continue to get better". I think we don't know. I see only probabilities and possibilities, not certainties.

Hi Oregon,

Thanks for responding and for indulging me in telling you things you already know :)

re: "I do not believe that we can say that "things won't continue to get better". I think we don't know. I see only probabilities and possibilities, not certainties."

Absolutely - I'm glad you corrected me. What I was trying to say, was in a very narrow, perhaps even technical, sense.

When I look at the graphs, I see things "not getting better", in the sense that oil has peaked, etc. The prospect of better depends on what we, individually and collectively, do.

And I certainly hope and am putting effort into that doing, best I can.

And, it's not so much "the debt" - it's the idea of having that potential 200K (if you were to sell your house now) to use that intrigues me. However, you know best for your situation, of course.

Well, 15 years ago $200K would have seemed like a huge sum to me... before I started raising kids and thinking about retirement. Now, at age 48, aside from some 401K funds it constitutes my "wealth."

So, what is the best place to put $200K in 2008? Should you live in it? (own a home?) Put it in the stock market? Or perhaps pour it into your brain, in the form of additional education that will be appropriate for supporting a family and a retirement?

In America we tend to store our wealth in our homes, and that's not an unreasonable concept, up to a point. I think owing only half the value of your home is a bit more debt than I'd like, but actually quite reasonable relative to what most Americans do.

Renting is a reasonable choice, but it has social implications. For example, stability of place. The home we own is next door to relatives. By owning as opposed to renting my children are very likely to never move for their entire childhood. That, I would argue, is a powerful reassurance to them that they live in a safe world that they can count on, and prepares them better for uncertainty and change than constant moves that would likely come with renting. (Scientific studies back me up on the benefits of residential stability....) I've tried to figure out alternatives and the value of a pile of sticks called home still seems like a pretty good answer... solves a lot of life's problems.... and yes, has certain risks too.

You tell me what the best use of $200K is for a family of four in 2008. The best tradeoff I could think of might be some additional education but I already have a useless PhD.... Maybe I should become an apprentice carpenter or finance a few years learning permaculture? Great ideas, but I'd sacrifice a lot of social stability right now for that bet that the information on The Oil Drum really predicts economic collapse in the near future.


Hi Robert,
Nice to see that you made progress on your resolutions! Hopefully you're enjoying Scotland and your new job.

Myself, I had some similar resolutions, but they're a bit different because of a slight difference in age (well, I'm in secondary school).

I followed through on many of my resolutions, such as cycling to work most days (a nice 10 km commute), starting a garden, composting, getting more engaged in my community, and sparking thought and positive action on what I see as the major challenges of my generation: energy and the environment.

But, I still have some loose ends--I set out to find a career that fulfils a useful role in society, that will continue to be in demand under most scenarios, and that I would enjoy doing. I've applied to universities for engineering: both mechanical and chemical programs.

I understand that you're an engineer, so I'm curious what comments/ advice you'd have for me. Especially stuff like job prospects, in a world with energy constraints, whether you feel like you're making a difference (helping fulfil society's energy needs and lead us toward a more sustainable path), and how stressful (or unstressful) you find your job.

After reading many of your writings, I find that we have a similar perspective--basically, there is still an opportunity to make a sustainable world, if we work hard and sacrifice. But I'm refining on my gardening and survival skills, just in case. And I'm enjoying life, and making the most of every opportunity. There's no reason not to enjoy life when it can be this amazing!

Any insights you have would be really appreciated. And, any other people with wisdom to share, I'm not the only person my age who is looking for advice for the future.

Thanks, and happy New Year's to everyone on TOD! May the new year bring new opportunity and hope for the future.


Especially stuff like job prospects, in a world with energy constraints, whether you feel like you're making a difference (helping fulfil society's energy needs and lead us toward a more sustainable path), and how stressful (or unstressful) you find your job.

I always tell people to do what they enjoy, but have a back-up plan in case things are worse than you think they will be. I know we like to think we know how it is all going to play out, but the future is not set in stone. I know what I think things will be like, and so I chose an industry that I think will have high job security, but I also have an escape hatch. In fact, I have spent most of my Christmas break clearing brush and getting ready to plant some food on the family farm. By the way, I watched a Man Versus Wild marathon today on The Discovery Channel. You want to see some hard core survival skills, check that show out. (Or Survivorman).

I am minimizing my own energy usage - not because I think it will make some huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but 1). To set an example; 2). Because I think having a low energy footprint will make it easier to adjust post-peak; 3). I want to minimize my own contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

I find my own job - especially my current job - to be pretty stressful. I am responsible for a large team, and it's a lot to keep up with. I also care about people's opinions, so it bothers me when people throw venom in my general direction. Some people act like you are a criminal if you work for the oil industry, yet they depend on oil in every facet of their lives. It's frustrating.

I think it's inspirational to read stories of the pioneers who were not only resourceful but many seemed to appreciate nature more than we realise. Somehow we got the good (like modern medicine) mixed up with the bad like mortgages and TV. I got a recipe for splitpea and bullybeef stew out of one such book on the old timers. Next week I'll take some city slickers to old mines and timber camps 100km from the nearest fast food outlet. If they want to get in to the spirit we'll eat some stew. If not they won't be ready for what's ahead.

Ask any Scot who the brightest fowk on earth are. Scots.
Just finished Arthur Herman's
How The Scots Invented The Modern World.
But again, my fowk were Highlanders;-)
I again recommend The Alphabet Versus The Goddess, Schlain, I believe.

On your resolution #6- I just installed a device called that monitors electrical usage on a real-time basis.

My 6 & 9 year-olds can look at it and immediately see the difference when a single light is turned on or off.

I highly recommend it as a way to make electrical consumption really visible. Not sure if is available in Scotland, though. ;-)

I ended up getting a house not too far from work (4 miles) but there is no public transport available (unless I want to spend an hour and 2 bus changes getting to work). As far as being able to ride my bike to work, 4 miles would be a piece of cake most places. But on the winding, narrow country road I live on, it would have been a death wish. Most parts of Scotland are unfortunately not conducive to getting around by bike.

4 miles? An hour and two bus changes? WALK! At least some of the time.

There is all this stuff about learning curve, about how much one can improve with each doubling of experience. It has long seemed to me clear that if one drives a certain route for 20 years, sooner or later the only improvement is NOT to drive. Not to go. Or maybe to go and not return. Change the cycle.

You are at year 1. Check back 2008-12-28 with your 25% improvement. And then, tell us if YOUR 25% is enough and how you interpret YOUR. You might, for example, feel you were instrumental in starting a new bus route. Or elimination all traffic - other than pedestrian and bicycles - from that route.

In another year.... Just waiting another year to be able to say "I told you so". That doesn't gain much. You being 100% energy neutral or positive - or my being that way - doesn't gain much.

Or does it? At 3 to 5% meme-becomes-valid do we block the road and force the walking and bicycles?

cfm in Gray, ME

4 miles? An hour and two bus changes? WALK! At least some of the time.

Oh, I walk all over the place. But that 4 miles is down that same narrow, winding road. There aren't any sidewalks, there is an 800 foot elevation change, and I would have to go through a dual carriageway and a roundabout. It would be the same kind of death wish as riding my bike to work.

same kind of death wish as riding my bike to work

Yes, this seems to be a problem that can only be solved by some kind of forced withdrawal of road traffic. I assume this will only happen when fuel is either unavailable or too expensive.

I live 2 miles from the nearest village shops and 10 miles from the nearest town. Certainly cycling these distances present no real problem, except for 40ton trucks and cars travelling at circa 60mph. Bikes, horse or donkey drawn traps and electric vehicles would provide a perfectly acceptable method of transport for both passenger and goods in this area, but only when oil driven vehicles are removed from the roads (or slowed down to similar speeds).

I think this is the paradox we find ourselves in. To introduce the level of conservation we require, we actually need the collapse of oil production, otherwise we cannot make the necessary changes to a more sustainable existence.

Ironically, we have the transport networks and distribution technology in place, it would seem the only changes we need make is in the logistics. I imagine that in the future goods and passengers will move around by some kind of relay system between centres, rather than by direct links. This would allow all methods of transport to be used efficiently, it would also require more people to be involved providing employment. For example if goods went from boat to rail to truck to electric vehicle (bike, horse, etc.) for local distribution and vice verse.

For example; there are 100 people in the village where I live, so do we need 100 cars to do the shopping and move things about? Or could one vehicle (oil, electric or animal powered) do all the things required? It would seem to be a rather simple problem of logistics that would automatically favour localisation. Can this be done voluntarily? Probably not.

Recommended book: Darkover Landfall, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

A 1972 sci fi classic. A colony spaceship from Earth runs into trouble and crash-lands on an unknown planet. The people are torn between doing their best to settle and survive and trying to get their spaceship fixed so they can go on to their original destination.

I found a lot of parallels to what could be our post-carbon future. One group of people waste time with the false hope of a technofix - hoping beyond hope that they can repair the spaceship and continue on the journey to their original destination. When that doesn't work out, they hope to restart from scratch, but still with the same long range goal: mine the resources of the planet, and develop the technologies that will ultimately allow them to rebuild their spacecraft...unable to let go of their old paradigm.

Eventually it is discovered that they now live on a mineral poor planet...but the planet has other resources of a different kind altogether.

Other colonists realized earlier on that the priority should be on food, not technology.

Some colonists from the spaceship are actually eager to settle down on the new planet and think in terms of sustainable living - these people called themselves The New Hebrideans. Folks excited about both working with the land, developing community, adapting to a new environment and developing appropriate technology.

Thanks for sharing your story, Robert. I am always happy to see discussion about what people are actually doing instead of going on and on about the situation we're in. Of course, discussing the situation at hand is certainly important, but it seems clear to me that there's already a pretty clear general picture of where we are and what we should be doing. It's the stories of people making a sincere effort at living more responsibly that are several times more valuable to me and from which I can draw inspiration.

On a personal note, 2007 has been a year of monumental change in my life. Seeing An Inconvenient Truth when it was in theaters (before 2007) changed my life and eventually led to me becoming a bicycle commuter, the biggest and best change I have made. Not only do I feel I am being more responsible, but I feel great, and riding at night, in peace, is about as close to a "spiritual" experience as I get. In 2007 I learned about Peak Oil, which had an even bigger effect on me that AIT did. After much inner conflict I believe I have emerged as a better, more responsible person. I see it as truly growing up. I now appreciate and enjoy life and all of its aspects much more now. When I choose to get on a bike and ride to a store or a restaurant and refuse to take the easy way and drive, the experience is much more rewarding. The same goes for using less energy at home, and even at work - I feel great knowing I am enjoying myself while using considerably less energy than I used to.

My big goal for 2008 - I'll call it my New Years Resolution - is to start an organic garden. Perhaps the biggest guilt I have now is my lawn - though not huge, 80' x 150', just over a quarter-acre, now I see it for what it truly has been - a total waste of land and resources. We have not needed the lawn for anything, ever. I hope to one day live in a condo or town home and have no lawn or a very small lawn, and I certainly don't want to have to maintain it. I don't understand why some guys enjoy working on their lawns so much, riding on their oversized, dirty, gas-hog tractors. There are about a million things I'd rather be doing. Anyway, if I can maintain an organic garden at least some of the land will be put to good use, and if I can handle a small one, hopefully I can continually expand it. At the same time I hope to utilize more responsible ways to maintain the (hopefully contiunually shrinking) yard I do have - such as using an electric mower instead of a gas-powered one, though I am always one to carefully consider whether buying a new product, which has to be made and shipped, consuming more energy and resources, is truly a better option. I think people focus too much on buying new products, "green" or not, and not enough on simply using less.

Does anyone have any recommended resources on getting started on an organic garden, for a beginner? I've been told it's good to compost vegetable/fruit waste and the like and use it for fertilizer.

Like Robert I want to start eating more fruits and vegetables - which I should be doing for health anyway - and less meat. If I could get to a point where I was eating meat just once a day, that would be pretty good.

Best wishes for society focusing less on being consumers - getting beyond the point of going to Wal-Mart and picking out the cheapest thing without any other considerations - and more on being citizens, especially here in the US. I am hopeful that this process has now started to begin in earnest.

Happy New Year, everyone.

"Does anyone have any recommended resources on getting started on an organic garden, for a beginner?"


You are wise to do some research before ploughing in (no pun intended) I established a garden this year and although not entirely organic yet, the learning experience has been fantastic. We also have a severe drought here and my only access to water is for two hours, twice a week. One thing I have learned from the restricted water supply is that I have wasted thousnads of litres in the past by over watering which not only cost me money but time and energy as well.

As far as keeping your lawn mowed, why not invest in some chickens and let them eat it (then eat the chickens) and quit mowing it altogether. Not only will your lawn be fertilized in preparation for the coming vegie crops but the chickens will do a good job of scratching it in below the surface.

My recomendation is that you try to get a hold of David Holmgrens Book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Google It and it comes up on Amazon. I used to think permaculture was for hippys and weirdos but I read Holmgrens book and it makes huge sense. This is not a gardening book per se, although gardens are discussed quite extensively, but a philosophy book which can start you on a wonderful journey of veiwing the world through a different lense. Holmgren is also keenly aware of energy descent (I don't think he ever uses the term peak oil) and the book is written from the perspective of living in a world with less energy available.

Absorbing just a few of the permaculture principles has made me a much better student for learning the lessons that my garden teaches me. I now look forward to my failures just as keenly as successes as I now know that there is a lesson in everything.

I like you have totally changed my paradigm through which I view life. I have changed from a confirmed "greed is good" capitalist to an urban peasant farmer and I can tell you that the latter is most definitley more graceful and poetic way of life. In fact I think this year actually slowed down a little wheras most recent years of my life seemed to whiz by too fast. My resolution for 2008 is to make it my slowest year ever (another permaculture principle). Good luck with your garden.

Hi kmcrawford111,

Great to hear about your cycling experiences!

I'm a long-time commuter cyclist - I rode 2725 miles to work in 2007, and my bike is my primary transport to work. I'm fortunate to have a route to work that is reasonably safe and comfortable here in the suburbs of Austin, Tx.

I'm also a new organic vegetable gardner. I'm still in the learning and experimenting stage having the garden for 2.5 years now, and I enjoy it immensely!

I recommend the following gardening books in addition to one that is local to your region:

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits by John Jeavons

Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Resource for Every Gardener by Fern Marshall Bradley and Barbara W. Ellis

Best of luck with the cycling and gardening in the new year!

- Spindifferent

Thanks to DRAGONDONK, ThatsItImOut, and yourself for the suggestions! I'll check my local library for those (the books), and if I like what I see will probably get my own copies of one or two.

I'm currently adapting to cycling in the winter - I've handled the cold down to 20 degrees F, but ice certainly presents a problem (Chicago area)! I am trying to bike as much as possible when it isn't too dangerous.

At least I don't have a long commute, and if and when I move where I hope to move, into a planned TOD, it will be down to 5 miles which would be very nice - maybe even ideal. All things considered, even now I feel fortunate as you do.

My big goal for 2008 - I'll call it my New Years Resolution - is to start an organic garden.

Get a copy of Steve Solomon's Gardening When It Counts

Best gardening book I've read in 20 years. In it you'll learn how to compost, make fertilizer, select seed, select tools... a real gem. Comes with an excellent bibliography for further research.

I second the recommendation of Solomon's book. Two things I think are very important: (1) His book takes into consideration the possibility of water shortage in planning the garden; (2) He gives you different plans for how to start if you have almost no money, what to do if you can spend a little bit more etc. And (3) he talks about how to start a garden from turf both with or without the aid of a rototiller.

Hi Robert,

Thanks for sharing and a fantastic blog ! What a data mining here !

Reading: I try to help the guys of MARE Initiative to bring their project into the limelight, have a look here:
Any toughs from the great minds out there ?

And of course a happy new year ! Keep the good stuff coming !

My thought is "what an insane idea". Their website looks pretty crazy too.

Thanks Bob, for a useful input ;-)
Dont forget, it's all the "crazy people" Wright brothers, Christoph Columbus, Michelangelo etz.. who have built our cozy world we are living in and ... now what ?
And if you do web design "pro bono" and have suggestions, I can put you in touch :)

Seriously, drop it, it's just a stupid idea.

Maybe just a typical case of :

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

Sheers !

I've looked at the site (you posted yesterday about this?) - I STILL can't see what the point is! I would think that all that bobbing around wouldn't help focus the sun's rays, the saltwater environment is very harsh on just about everything - it's far from users, weather is a HUGE issue in the Atlantic (ever read "The Perfect Storm" - what would one of those do to your solar array?)

why not use deserts? - North Africa could supply much (if not all) of the needed electricity for Europe (in fact, Algeria is investing some of it's oil/gas$ in this), the Western deserts of the US could do the same for here - and land ownership the issue? how much of the US deserts are privately held vs BLM or State lands?

why not use deserts? - Well North Africa deserts are pretty much in the Islamic area, way to easy a target regarding power lines and widespread installations...about every week something gets blow up in north Africa...not a solution to bet on alone. But I think Africa can and needs to use solar resources (Nuclear would be a VERY bad idea...) Africa has the fastest growing population worldwide with no slowing down in sight.
Now, weather is NOT a HUGE issue in the Atlantic on the African side close to the equator, and very seldom are there any big waves or storm: the dry trade winds out of the Sahara blow from est to west, extremely clear skies most of the time.

You need to dig a bit deeper my friends, CSP technology is really cost effectif NOW, and WORKS !

...and regarding stability, a platform as massif as this project just does NOT move at all on water. This is not a small raft ;-)
This civilization has produced way more complicated stuff!

A quick skim shows that MARE proposes massive use of technologies that exist only in a couple of prototypes and they ignore the low hanging fruit of Grand Inga. 44 GW of low cost, almost constant run-of-the-river hydroelectric power from Grand Inga, close to the mouth of the Congo River.

Nothing on balancing power generation to power demand (that I saw on first glance).

And nothing on MUCH smaller first steps, detailed economics, etc. (on first glance).

Nothing compelling I am afraid.


Actually, it's sort of a sister project to DESERTEC, which is very advanced as well (North African Sahara). The EU takes it under consideration for a 5 Billion € financing, 1st phase.CSP is VERY advanced in Spain and actually there is a 500MW project going in construction phase in Marocco. So much for "prototypes" guys ;-) Have a look at Solar Millennium Germany ... did anyone miss the boat ? The claim is to be under 20$ the "barrel" of energy equivalence.

Just finished reading In Search of Kazakhstan: The Land That Disappeared by Christopher Robbins. It's available from Amazon UK here but not in the US site yet.

It's marketed as a travel book but it's much more than that. It gives a very good insight into Kazakhstan past and present including the political/economic developments. The author spent days talking to and traveling around with President Nazarbayev. The president comes across as a very smart guy who has done really well given the appalling situation he inherited. The author obviously liked the country but the book doesn't come across as propaganda.

It contains the inside story on how the USSR really worked, what the gulag was like from people who survived it, how and why the new currency (the tenge) was secretly planned, how arab countries offered to pay them to keep their SS18 ICBMs, and how Iran and Iraq tried to buy weapons grade material.

This book is a serious bit of writing and impressed me a lot. If you want to know more about a country which comes up on TOD because of oil then I recommend this book highly. Use it to understand all the Western propaganda.

For good measure, I just posted a review on Amazon :-)


Welcome to Scotland.

Your endeavours to reduce your energy footprint are most worthy, despite the obvious difficulties of lack of public transport in your area.

As you have relocated from the USA, I would be very interested in your perspective of how the move has affected your domestic energy footprint, adapting to a European consumption pattern rather than a US style.

Has this transition been relatively easy for you and your family?

I have slowly been tailoring my own lifestyle to reduce my dependence on fossil fuels.

1. Low meat diet - my wife is vegetarian
2. Work from home - therefore total control of my office energy consumption.
3. Reduce car mileage to 6000 per year - down from 12,000
4. Reduced gas bills by 50% in last 5 years - now 13365kWh
5. Reduced electricity consumption to 8 units per day average.
6. Built my own combined heat and power system running on waste vegetable oil, which will provide all domestic energy next year - trial runs just this month.
7. Installing a woodstove and back boiler to further offset gas consumption and make use of abundant waste wood and timber in this area.
8. Spent this year learning about world energy consumption patterns, energy policies and associated fallacies such as corn to ethanol.
9. Read J.H Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" and David Strahan's "The Last Oil Shock"
10. Built a workspace run on solar and renewables

Happy New Year,


I thought I recognised the 'signature' Mr B!

For 2007 my resolutions were, following the recent purchase of a house - 4 bedroom detatched.

Install an A rated condensing boiler - done

Have the cavities and loft insulated - done

Install a tube tube vacuum solar water heater - done

Replace the electric shower with one drawing from solar/ boiler - done

Half my travel by car by switching to public transport - exceeded target - annual mileage dropped from 12000 to 5000 at 40mpg

Replace ALL lights with CFL's - done

Add foil backed bubble insulation to loft - done

Improve insulation on refrigerators using foil insulation - done

Adjust lifestle to lower temperatures. I used to bask in 21-22 degrees - now getting used to 18-19!

Utlise some garden space to grow food - have recently planted fruit trees and a grapevine.

Insulated where possible all hot water pipes.

Only other jobs - convert dishwasher to hot fill only - to utilise solar / boiler.

I have been in my house 13 months now. The rolling annual consumption is at present 12300 kwh gas and 3400 KWH electric. I hope this improves as my other efforts pass their 1 year installation date.

Not much else I can practically do. I have considered PV cost an issue. Small scale wind not viable. Instead have invested money in two cooperatively owned wind farms nearby.

I am progressively reducing meat in my diet but supplementation where possible with lentils, beans, and pulses. No plans to go veggie but recognise benefits of lower meat consumption.

Would like a wood stove (for reseilliance) but do not have a chimney.

Also continue my efforts to promote energy efficiency / public transport.

Very nice list. I have been thinking of the kinds of things I will do when I return to the U.S., and solar heating is high on the list. I also plan to start gardening again. I love to garden, but have moved around so much over the past few years that it has been difficult.

Hi Robert.

I have been very impressed with solar. I installed a 20 tube system and used a retrofit coil which replaces the electric immersion on my hot water cylinder. System installed late sept so havent seen it in operation in summer. Even today it has raised my 120 litre tank by 15 degrees C. Whole system DIY for £600. I estimate it should over a year replace approximately 1600Kwh of gas.


Robert. Last year I suggested "To Say Nothing of the Dog" for your reading list since it is one of my all time favorites. Maybe it was just the mood I was in when I read it. Anyway you didn't care for it. I hesitate to suggest another, since we may have very different tastes, but I am reading "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein and finding it eye opening. It is a critique of the methods used to destroy local economies and impose privatization to the benefit of the transnationals from Chile to Iraq to New Orleans. Maybe a bit lefty for you, but food for thought.

EDIT: I reread your review of TSNOTD and find you liked it more than I remembered. I thought it was fun too.

ANOTHER EDIT: You might also enjoy "Before the Dawn" by Nicholas Wade. It is an application of the latest science to cast light on the human past: the origin of peoples, languages, customs, behavior, diseases, migrations.

that's a good result over all (or "Pure Dead Brilliant, by the way" as they say here). In some ways, it is a tad ironic that public transport around Aberdeen area is so poor, given that First Group ( has its headquarters there - they run the trains in Scotland, and have a majority (or monopoly, in some areas) of the bus services, including those around Aberdeen.

Looks as though Moir Lockhead (their Chief Executive) doesn't "eat his own dog food" when it comes to using the services of his own company.

As for the reading, the yearly Gardner Dozois collections often have thought provoking science fiction short stories (he seems to have a knack for finding some of the best writers).

all the best for 2008

Ah, Books! It's a wonder that anyone still reads...

Here's some good stuff.

The Sixth Extinction by Terry Glavin. Among the many planetary disasters that TOD folks like to talk about, the current mass extinction gets short shrift. Ecosystems collapse (or are wildly distorted) because keystone predators are removed, for example. Biogeography could also be a topic for discussion. See David Quammen's The Song of the Dodo. Estimates say we could lose 33-50% of the Earth's plants and animals by 2100.

Oil On The Brain by Lisa Margonelli. If you want to know how stuff really works in the global oil industry, read this book. Not a peak oil book.

After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination by Kirkpatrick Sale. I disagreed with much of it, but sometimes it was spot-on. Human evolution and paleoanthropology should be required reading in my view if you're curious about who Homo sapiens is and why our species does all this appalling stuff everyday.

Extinction: How Life on Earth Almost Ended 250 Million Years Ago by Doug Erwin. Figuring out how the "Great Dying" occurred is a gateway into understanding the important dynamics of the planet, including plate tectonics, the carbon cycle, climate, etc. Great stuff.

My sister bought me a copy of Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future by Vijay Vaitheeswaran and Iain Carson . I am happily reading this techno-optimist crap, keeping in mind that the human capacity for self-delusion is infinite.

Cheerful optimism is a formula for social success, so Vijay (below) gets around I'm sure. Mass extinctions don't disturb his sleep!

I also re-read most of Kurt Vonnegut after his death. RIP, Kurt.

Happy New Year, Robert.


thanks Dave
Ive read none of those and will add to the list.
I am guessing there is correlation between people who read internet blogs and read books (higher correlation than with non internet blog readers). I am also guessing it doesnt work in reverse. People that read ALOT of books, probably don't read many internet blogs - personally I think the internet hijacks our 'energy return on time' via the mesolimbic reward pathways- that unexpected reward, which we seek, is always just a click away..

Happy new year Dave

mesolimbic! Ouch!

The mesolimbic pathway is thought to be involved in producing pleasurable feeling, and is often associated with feelings of reward and desire, particularly because of the connection to the nucleus accumbens, which is also associated with these states. Because of this, this pathway is heavily implicated in neurobiological theories of addiction. However, recent research has pointed towards this pathway being involved in incentive salience rather than euphoric mood states.

As an addict myself, I should be more familiar with this...

Re: Happy new year Dave

And the same to you, Nate. 2008 will be whacky and astonishing to behold, that's for sure.

Keep up the good work and stay in touch.


Dave, thanks for the recommendations. I haven't read any of those. I am in a library right now, so I will check the shelves.

Cheers, and don't be a stranger in 2008.

Yes , cycling is really tough around here isnt it?

Aberdeenshire Farmers Markets

The concept of farmers and produce markets has expanded rapidly in the last few years. Such markets present useful opportunities for producers to increase sales, add value to own produce and gain closer links with the customer. These popular markets can have positive spin off for local traders and businesses and attract increased numbers of customers to local market towns.
Banff was the first market established in Aberdeenshire, followed by Banchory and Peterhead. Recent expansion of the circuit now includes markets in both Inverurie and Fraserburgh. A street traders market also operates on a weekly basis in Ellon. Some of Aberdeenshire's producers also attend markets held in Aberdeen and Elgin.
· Brochure (pdf 210kb)
· Producers Directory
· Farmers and Produce Market Seminar Report
Grampian Markets
· Aberdeen
· Banchory
· Elgin
· Ellon
· Huntly
· Inverurie
· Macduff
· Peterhead
· Stonehaven
If you wish to register your market please download and complete the registration form:

Just reflected on the 2007 steps of a multi-year journey to reduce energy use.

Bought Apple Mac Mini (30 watts with Wireless off, 32 watts with it on). Reused LCD monitor (~51 watts), mouse, bought new USB keyboard).

Bought 19" LCD HDTV television to replace old, larger, electricity guzzler. (Not yet measured electrical use).

Finished converting side & instrument lights on my old M-B 240D to colored LEDs (less diesel to run alternator).

And I ran an experiment in late August in living without a/c in New Orleans (only used twice to keep seals OK since then)

And I am experimenting with less heat (run heat pump (most efficient window HP, Friedrich YS09J10/ current model YS09L10) at hottest part of day and "coast" is my strategy. Plus electrical resistance heat in bathroom as needed :-)

That is all that comes to mind.

Best Hopes for Energy Efficiency,


Finished converting side & instrument lights on my old M-B 240D to colored LEDs (less diesel to run alternator).

Sorry, but since the engine still turns the alternator you don't save any diesel. Now if you reduce the size of the alternator to a smaller more efficient one so there is less mass to turn, then you could save some energy.

When driving during the daytime (with the radio off) the alternator freewheels (My old car literally uses zero electricity then, except to recharge battery after starting and during braking & turning (brake & turn lights)).

At dusk, I run with warming lights on, but w/o headlights. Today, about 9 or 10 watts, before about 70 watts. There is much more electromagnetic drag on the alternator to produce 70 watts than 10 watts.

Add two 55 watt headlights after dark, and it is 130 watts vs. 180 watts of drag on the motor.

Just as the drag of air conditioning reduces fuel mileage (freewheeling vs. load), so do lights and electrical accessories (I have manual window winders that should be trouble free for life).

Best Hopes for Efficiency,


Edit: Looks like I'm wrong on this one. After an hours research with different queries, I found some links that give good information that putting a load on your alternator such as a large stereo increase the electromagnetic drag.

Hi Robert,

Good to see you made some progress on your resolutions.

For myself:

I moved within two blocks of work - walked every day to & from, and home for lunch (big savings on the $ and my lunch felt like a real break away from work - plus was able to read my whole lunch in my own home). I walk (or bike) to local markets, eateries etc. - to the point that I run into friends everywhere who can't believe I just walked 6 blocks to a bar ("where did you park!")

I live in Santa Monica, CA - so weather is just not much of an issue - but I turned OFF my gas heaters pilot lights year-round , I put on sweaters, down comforter in winter and occasionally a warm beenie - as a result my gas bill dropped to under $10/month. I put most of my electronics on power strips which I turn off - the computer, the (rarely watched) tv/dvd - and I unplug the microwave and other unused appliances, I put in CF bulbs - my electric bill is also down to about $10/month.

I've probably read 100 books + this year, I LOVED Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (the doomer in me I guess, if I had children I might avoid it) - and really enjoyed Wilfred Thesiger's "Arabian Sands" - reread Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", and was as impressed with it as the first time. Oh, and found a first edition of Ballard's "The Drowned World" in my father's collection of old SF - that was a fun read with sea levels rising....
Just finished reading Asimov's "Foundation" series (I think because of all the references here on TOD) - I liked the ideas, but was surprised by how poor a writer he was in some ways - no character development at all - I guess it's just the basic idea of it all that people love so much...

I hiked or mtn biked nearly every day - staying fit seems to be a good idea in rough times, I started collecting "end of the world" books, "Where there is no Doctor" (I was an EMT for years, so it's very helpful), "When Technology Fails" "The way things work" and "Storey's basic country skills"

As for outreach, I talk to a lot of people about Peak Oil, but many, if not most don't want to hear about it - their jobs are too dependent on what we've built, and most believe in some sort of techno-fix. I've found as a single guy, talking to interesting young women about Peak Oil and the ramifications are not conducive to moving beyond talking in any way - so I've stopped that. My family is the exception, they have all bought in quite hard - every member of my family drives a hybrid, my parents are installing solar hot water and possibly PV, my sister has bought a 10 acre farm north of Seattle and is planning on having chickens, some milk cows and possibly some pigs - and will be putting up a windmill for power.

Now, if the (Hollywood) writers would get back to work so I could be employed again, I could stay out of debt and continue on with my plans....I wonder if Nanosolar is looking for somebody.....

I have been working on a lot of these things myself. While I had been trending vegetarian for the past couple of years, my fiancee doesn't share my enthusiasm for it. There aren't enough vegetables that she likes, and she likes steak, shrimp crab and so forth.

What makes it interesting is that she works for a food distribution company that sells to restaurants and institutions, so they are very aware of cost changes. A complicating factor of course is that you can't really try and impose on a restaurant what type of food they should sell - they will sell what their customers will actually buy. One of the most apalling things that they have is flying fresh seafood from Hawaii to the mainland on a daily basis, but there are still people out there who want to eat this stuff, and restaurants will serve what people want to eat.

Another example is that most canned crabmeat these days comes from Asia somewhere. My only observation was that they wouldn't ship it so far if there were supplies that were closer. I wonder how long it will be until those supplies are exhausted...

The point that I keep making to her is that restaurants need to first reduce portion size for the meal as a whole, which will let them hold the line on prices at least somewhat. People in the U.S. don't seem to be suffering from an inadequate number of calories in their diet.

Secondly, in the future meat will become incredibly expensive. Ultimately as prices go up, one form of adaptation will be to reduce the amount of meat in a portion, and supplement with more vegetables.

What I did this year was get both knees replaced and paid for by Medicare while it is still being fairly generous. I want to have working knees so that I can cope better with what is coming.

Hi ericy,

Interesting to hear what everyone is up to.

I thought I'd make a suggestion, in case it's helpful...even though, my philosophy is, in general, that diet is such an individual thing (and I think people vary in what their needs are)...anyway, a vegetarian diet isn't (or needn't be) about vegetables.

It's about really good main dishes with little or no animal products. (Beans and grains, legumes, etc.) I'd suggest trying some of these, instead of just pushing the veggies. Lentil casserole, brown rice noodle casserole with humus sauce, let's see...what else have I invented? Like re-inventing the wheel. How much of Mexican food is vegetarian? Likewise for so many regional cuisines. Lots of good cookbooks out there, too.

Since she works in the restaurant supply industry, she might enjoy visiting some good/famous vegetarian restaurants as an inspiration.

The "eye opening" book I read this year was Kunstler's book on the Long Emergency. I only read it because he was to be a featured speaker at the Prairie Festival at the Land Insitute in Salina Kansas.

A book I enjoyed was "Dust to Dust" about Kansas in the period from the 1890s which a period of very prosperous farming until the 1940s (the next dust bowl). As a "real life" story about abandoned farms and towns I think it has something to speak to the adaptations which will be necessary when oil and not just rain become scarce.

Bit by bit I've been upgrading our townhome in Northern California. Haven't heard people mention some of the products I'm using so here goes:

  • we don't have gas at this 1974 unit, just electricity, so one of the first things that had to go was the baseboard electric heating. Replaced it with a mini split heat pump by Sanyo. The compressor is outside and the heat exchanger, which is connected by piping to move the refrigerant to and fro, is inside and above the sliding door. When I installed it (2005) it was much better than pure electric heating, producing 12,500 Btu/hr at 1170 W power consumption (SEER 10.8 -- an efficiency rating). But now there is a Fujitsu Halcyon ( that uses the same input power but provides a SEER of 21, which should provide more heat without extra power consumption. I unfortunately undersized the current unit, which is why I'm even looking to replace it. The Sanyo is working really well and at the time had the best controller ( My unit provides air conditioning, too.
  • I also replaced the windows with dual-pane, argon-filled, fiberglass framed versions. It turns out that Canadian manufacturers make some of the best fiberglass framed windows so I had them delivered from Ontario to just north of San Francisco. Because they are fiberglass, I was able to get them made at the factory with brown on the outside and white on the inside. Completely maintenance free and our homeowner's association was happy because the brown is exactly the color required on the outside. Manufacturer was
  • All lights are CFLs and I'm now looking at LEDs from a few places, has some good fixtures and has some good bulb replacements.
  • Then I installed spectrally selective films on most of the windows to let in most of the light but keep out some of the sun's heat. My calculations showed that we were going to fry in the summertime with our building orientation. After lots of research, I went with a film by and although the films are helping, next time I would risk a darker tint to keep out even more heat.
  • I do most of the cooking and I almost never buy beef. I'm experimenting with more veggie dishes now.

All my building envelope calculations (step-by-step with references to where I got the insolation numbers, etc.) and the products I looked at are in the document 39CorteMesa.pdf, which I've got posted here:

Next up:

  • Install a solar thermal system that produces electricity from the solar cells and captures the heat beneath the panels to heat my water and possibly my home. See This will get rid of a huge user of electricity in our home, the electric water heater.
  • Replace our top-loading, water and energy-hogging clothes washer with an energy efficient front-loading model.
  • Check all the insulation and possibly install some bio-based, spray foam insulation (
  • Educate my homeowner's association and get my neighbors to start taking conservation steps.
  • Install something like The Energy Detective.
  • Sell my Subaru Legacy (which I dearly love) and convert a Geo or CRX to electric. We'll use my wife's 1994 Civic for long distances because it has an ICE.
  • Alas, we don't have any land to grow food but at least we'll start composting this year.

I'll be speaking about peak oil at the Sun Microsystems/eBay EcoConference in January and will also get more speaking engagements throughout 2008 to educate people on peak oil as quickly as possible. I'll also have a peak oil/climate change conference I'm organizing I'll be able to talk more about in the future (when details are settled).

Peak Oil, Climate Change and Business
Free, Bi-Weekly Executive Briefing

Hi Robert,
Im a sci-fi junkie and here are a few Sugested Books:

Dies the Fire
The Protectors War
A Meeting at Corvallis

All the above written by s.m. Stirling

Sitting in a library right now, and checked the shelves. They have two Stirling books, but not those. So, I will keep looking through people's recommendations.

Thanks to all for the recommendations so far. I will bookmark this and work my way through some of these in 2008.

Hi Robert

Cycling at this time of year this far north when the days are so short, even shorter in Aberdeen leaves you very vunerable to motorised traffic. I am hoping to get back to the bike come the Spring but it is no fun cycling in the rain either.

Have been trying to make small changes. Most of the light bulbs are now low energy. The roof has been insulated and the cavity walls insulated.

The local council now collects all our waste paper, glass, tin cans, plastic bottles and garden waste. So that is an improvement and all our cardboard is taken to our local recycling centre.

The old diesel car has 10-15% cooking oil thrown in every time I fill up - it is cheaper than buying our heavily taxed diesel derv. By the way this is a 15 year old Ford, but can still return 55mpg on longer runs. Who needs a Prius?

Repaired the electric tumble drier instead of buying a new one. Should be a better choice. Goodness knows how they used to dry clothes in the past at this time of year.

Trying to buy more local produce, welsh butters and lamb and especially beers and have moved more money to a local building society. A financial institution owned by the depositer and borrower members.

Still use the supermarkets but have stopped using the plastic bags, well most of the time.

Enjoyed "1421 The year China discovered the World" but it made me laugh when in the US it was named "1421 The year China discovered America".

Reading an interesting book by Mike Baillie, Exodus to Arthur, a dendrochronologist who links tree ring patterns to catostrophic climatic downturns caused by possible comet debris encounters. Makes me hope we do not hit the unexpected in the next 30 years with all the other problems mankind faces.

When you persuade 1 million people, you have the potential to make change. This is the politics of energy policy and one that we need to get back to very soon for our futures.

Some book recommendations from 2007 for 2008:

Dilip Hiro: Blood of the Earth
History of oil exploration in US, ME, Caspian, Russian, recent developments in Thailand, Myanmar, India, China, etc. Combination of history, politics and economics. Will bring new readers of Great Game up to speed fairly quickly. I don't like the writing style myself that much, but for information it is quite dense and offers a possibility of an enlargened POV into the issue of oil and gas.

Masanobu Fukuoka: Natural Way of Farming
Short, very distilled and even philosophical book about farming with nature on your side and not against nature. With no fossil inputs and minimum manual labor. A classic according to many and even a total neophyte like me can appreciate it, even if it is not necessarily practical directly to other climates.

George Monbiot: Heat - How to Stop the Planet from Burning
Many people have exposure to Monbiot through only his blogs and opinion pieces. His book is much more practical, devoid of much of the hyperbole and tries to approach the situation of AGW mitigation systemically. A good reminder of the scale of things we face (esp. considering peak oil and king coal).