Is Relocalization Doomed?: A Response to Staniford’s "Fallacy of Reversibility"

This is a guest post by Sharon Astyk, a very small farmer whom the biofuels companies have yet to offer to buy out, and a writer with two forthcoming books about peak oil and climate change, one (Depletion and Abundance, Fall '08, New Society Publishers) about appropriate responses for families, and the other (A Nation of Farmers, Spring '09, same publisher) about food and agriculture. Her writings can be found at .

Stuart Staniford's latest opus has taken a shot across the bow at those who advocate Relocalization and de-industrialization. Embedded in his argument is a compelling critique of the prospects of certain parts of the Relocalization analysis. Staniford shows his customary brilliance in analyzing the ways that the biofuels response is likely to overcome impetus towards Relocalization.

But that profound analysis is embedded in a paper that contains some serious errors of reasoning and misrepresentations of the Relocalization movement that I think deserve critique. And his final conclusion, that this should put an end to all hopes of Relocalization deserves some further consideration.

Is it true that peak oil as Staniford put in another post “puts paid” to the notion of Relocalization and local agriculture? Regardless of the answer, I think most of us should be grateful to Staniford for raising an important central issue – the way the biofuels response to peak oil raises agricultural prices and its effect on land prices. But let’s ask some questions about some of the other content Staniford ties his argument to.

1. Are there really peak oil thinkers who can justly be called "reversalists?"

This might be a useful place to start. Staniford creates this term, he says, to describe anyone who believes that peak oil will result in a change away from a highly technological society. He says:

So I think the argument of the relocalization advocates essentially is that, since we were using a lot less energy before we were industrialized, and our population was primarily agricultural then, and peak oil implies we will have less energy in the future, or at least less liquid fuel, then it must be the case that the agricultural population will grow again. In other words, having coming come down the curve in the graphs above from the top left to the lower right, our society will now start to retrace its steps back up the curve.

This implies that the process of industrialization and development is a reversible process. We in the developed world have evolved from low-energy high-agriculture societies into a high-energy low-agriculture society. So the thinking goes that we can/should/will reverse that process and go back to something like what we were 200 years ago (at least on these large macro-economic variables).

He goes on to observe that a “reversalist” is anyone who thinks we might go back to any older, way of practice, including people who think we will need local playhouses and acoustic instruments. Apparently, those who wish to reverse the course of history are only those who want to do so in low tech ways – those, for example, who advocate new nuclear power plants, a technology that was described as increasingly obsolete and unlikely to be used until the advent of peak oil, do not seem to be included. That is the difficulty of coining new words – until they are established it can be the devil to figure out exactly what one means. Those ambiguities mean that new coinage is most valuable in cases where there is no appropriate term. Is that the case here?

In fact, there are several existing terms for people who believe in returning to older models – “relocalization” is the word coined by the groups themselves, but “agrarian” would be quite accurate in regard to agriculture, and also the world view. The agrarian movement is a worldwide phenomenon, which might argue for its particular relevance here. Although the term “luddite” in its origin does not actually mean “technophobe,” neo-luddites, including plain religious groups have to an extent embraced most of the notions encompassed by Staniford’s “reversalism,” and, of course, there’s the term “anti-modernist” – particularly apt in the case of Kunstler, whose critiques are as much aesthetic, and tied to a larger critique of modernist cultural movements, as they are practical.

So why “reversalist?” Generally speaking, when there exist several perfectly adequate terms in common parlance, the only reason to coin a new term is that you are either unfamiliar with the existing ones, or because you wish to subtly or not so subtly change the associations that go with the idea. “Reversalist” which Staniford ties to “wishing” and “nostalgia” is overtly pejorative, a move that I personally would not have associated with Staniford. My hope is that this move was unintentional.

Why focus on this? Staniford invokes his own training as a scientist in his essay. I will only invoke mine as a scholar of language and narrative – the way we tell the story and the words we use shape our thinking. Staniford has a history of unbiased analysis, but this post is overladen with the language of bias in ways that I think are intellectually unproductive.

Besides my doubts about the value of the term “reversalism,” I would also note that the grounds on which Staniford describes relocalization advocates as “reversalists” is sufficiently inaccurate to render the category meaningless. Staniford’s claim is that the primary grounds on which relocalization advocates make their case for more farmers and de-industrializing agriculture is upon a correllative analysis that says, as he does above, “we once had less energy and more farmers, so we will have less energy and more farmers in the future.” This is simply factually untrue, for at least several of the people he names. For example, Staniford mentions The Community Solution here – utterly ignoring the fact that Pat Murphy’s (the author of the paper Staniford cites) primary influence in his analysis of the agricultural system is the case of Cuba. I am quite familiar with Murphy and the Community Solution’s work, and I’ve never seen any sign of the analysis that Staniford claims is the grounds for their reasoning.

Richard Heinberg, on the other hand, has made some rough associations on that hand. And for the purposes of full-disclosure, the essay that Staniford cites, “50 Million Farmers” was influenced to some degree (I don’t know what degree) by my own work on this subject, and I’ve made correllative connections between past use of energy and future need for farmers. I agree with Staniford that this is a weak argument, and entirely insufficient to support the claim that relocalization is a positive future move. But the truth is that neither I nor Heinberg rest the whole or even a large part of our argument solely on that bit of data – nor does any relocalization advocate I’m familiar with.

What Staniford leaves out is the fact is the power of present-day models of collapse in the thinking of most so-called “reversalists” – Cuba, North Korea, the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent Argentina, America in the great Depression, WWII food restrictions – all of these are referenced in the notes to various of Heinberg and Murphy’s arguments on this subject, as well as present day developments in the Global South. I am less familiar with Kunstler’s representations on this point, so it is possible that Staniford is accurate in regards to Kunstler but at a minimum, instead of a large cadre of “reversalists” Staniford is down to one.

I admit, I personally believe that Peak Oil thinkers have over-relied on the case of Cuba, and have paid insufficient attention to, for example, the Soviet Union’s collapse, which more closely parallels the US, and I think that reliance is open to analytic critique – but it is not a critique that Staniford has made, and cannot be attributed to him. Instead, he’s ignored the reliance on other sources entirely.

Staniford’s representation of the central argument of those of advocate tranforming the agricultural system, thus, is quite inaccurate, a strawman that he has little difficulty knocking over. But, of course, dealing with the weakest possible case for any analysis reduces the merits of the analysis. So we come to the next question,

Is there a fallacy of reversalism? Staniford goes on to distinguish between reversible and irreversible material processes, and to ask whether industrialization is “reversible.” Now there are several problems with the question Staniford asks. The first is again linguistic – it is a matter of opinion as to whether a shift away from an industrial model due energy supply constraints and other related difficulties (remember, I’m aware of no relocalization advocate who believes peak oil will happen in isolation from climate change and other forms of depletion) would constitute “going backwards.”

Staniford clearly believes it does, and says explicitly in his conclusion that those who he dubs “reversalists” are guilty of shoddy thinking, wish fulfillment fantasies and nostalgia. These are severe critiques of bias– Staniford is clearly more familiar with the personal motivations of Heinberg, Murphy, Kunstler, Darley et al than I am myself, and he may well know these things to be true. I can only observe that he offers no evidence for this deep understanding of the motivations of others.

But what I can observe is that Staniford presents us with a false dichotomy – the choice between going forward or “reversing” to 19th century style farming. But there is no inherent reason why the readoptation of an older practice constitutes a reversal on the scale Staniford argues for – for example, the growth in organic agriculture (a million acres a year with the last data I have, although that preceeds the biofuels boom and may be less now) in response to consumer demand for a safer, more nutritious food supply, might be characterized as “reversalism” – after all, the practices of organic agriculture are generally centuries old. And yet a highly technological, industrialized society has moved gradually to a growing portion of its agriculture using such backward practices – and demand for organics continues to grow.

The truth is that definitions of what constitutes “backward” or “forward” are very much a matter of preference. Since most of the techniques being advocated, at least by Heinberg and Murphy, are those refined in the 1970s and developed into the present, many are quite cutting edge – for example, the further refinement of efficiency per acre by biointensive agriculture (that is, the ability to use human labor to maximize the total productivity of a piece of land) might be equally well described as progressive. The same could be said of small scale, largely organic polyculture, which has been proved to increase total food output – and continues to be refined in nations in the Global South where land access is difficult and people must be fed on increasingly tiny pieces of land. I am aware of no relocalization advocate who in any sense advocates a return to 19th or 18th century style agriculture. They advocate a larger number of people on smaller farms, which is similar to older style agriculture, but they also advocate the use of agricultural techniques that are progressing quite as quickly as cell phone technologies. Many of them, including Heinberg, imagine the use of tractors and combines included in the model and are quite specific on this point.

Moreover, and this, I think, constitutes the deepest weakness in Staniford’s construction of the “fallacy of reversibility” despite Staniford’s claim that industrialization cannot be reversed, we have quite a few examples of exactly that process occurring in recent history.

So when you industrialize a society, is that a reversible process? Can you take it on a backward path to a deindustrialized society that looks in the important ways like the society you had before the industrialization? As far as I can see, the "second wave" peak oil writers treat it as fairly obvious that this is both possible and desirable. It appears to me that it is neither possible or desirable, but at a minimum, someone arguing for it should seriously address the question. And it is this failure that I am calling the Fallacy of Reversibility. It is most pronounced in Kunstler, who in addition to believing we need a much higher level of involvement in agriculture also wants railways, canals, and sailing ships back, and is a strong proponent of nineteenth century urban forms”

Interestingly, Staniford never quite answers his own question about whether it is posible to “reverse” industrialization. He moves on to the signs he asserts we would see if deindustrialization were a logical consequence of peak oil (more on that in a moment), but he never definitively states (but rather implies) that industrialization is not reversible. This is probably a good thing, because, of course, we have several contemporary examples of highly industrialized societies reverting to a lower level of agricultural technology and centralization in recent decades. Cuba, of course, is the most famous in the peak oil community, but the Soviet Union also did so – Soviet gardens and small farms are widely credited with saving the population from starvation. Dmitry Orlov discusses this in his forthcoming book _Reinvening Collapse_, but this has been widely documented – peasant economist Teodor Shanin, for example, describes it in a New Scientist interview: (note, the complete article is behind a paywall), and the Rodale Institute published data at the time in the mid-1990s showing the influence of small farms and gardens on the diets of millions of Russians and other former Soviet peoples (Organic Gardening, June 1996). There are other, perhaps less apt examples in Bosnia and Serbia and in various African states of a process of moving back (or forward) to a less industrial society.

Using recent historical examples, I think it is literally impossible for Staniford to make the case that agricultural practice cannot reverse to engage more people on a smaller scale. However, he leaves these completely untouched in his analysis. But it seems self-evident that such a “reverse” in fact can happen. Whether or not the US or other parts of the rich world will follow suit in the coming decades is a matter for debate and too large a question for this article, but the answer to Staniford’s question about whether industrialization can reverse is a resounding yes, which I think deeply undermines both Staniford’s claim (made in the paragraph above) that none of the supposed “reversalists” have even thought about or addressed this question, and also undermines the grounds for his establishing that there is such a thing as “the fallacy of reversibility.”

Which brings us to the next question. Staniford offers up five signs that he claims we would expect to see in the industrial agricultural system if relocalization advocates are correct, and then bases his argument that we will not reindustrialize on the fact that we are not seeing signs of any of these. But in order to evaluate the validity of Staniford’s critique, we need to move on to the next subject,

-Are these the right questions to be asking?

That is, is it necessarily the case that we would expect to see the particular signs Staniford identifies? Is Staniford looking at the right indicators? Or are these more strawmen? Are there other questions we might ask that would yield different answers? Staniford says,

My central tool for looking at the question is going to be the factors going into the profitability of industrial agriculture. If it's the case that agriculture is going to revert to a manual low-energy process in the face of peak oil, then that should show up in the profitability data. Here are some natural predictions we might make:

· Industrial farming is less profitable at high oil prices than at low oil prices.

· Now that we are at, or close to, peak oil, industrial agriculture is beginning to show signs of strain, indicating it may break down in the future, allowing alternative approaches to take over.

· Industrial farmers use more labor in the face of high oil prices.

· Farms are starting to get smaller now that peak oil is nigh.

· In developing countries, where the farmers never unlocalized in the first place, the dynamics are changing to favor small subsistence farmers over larger mechanized operations.

As we shall see, the evidence doesn't provide any support for any of these propositions, and in fact it tends to provide at least some evidence for the opposite view: the industrial agricultural system appears to be strengthened by peak oil, and is likely to get stronger still in the near future. Rather than industrial farms losing money, land prices dropping, and desperate farmers loooking to throw in the towel and sell out to the hordes of neo-peasant reversalists, we find farm incomes rising, average farm sizes increasing, and no sign of greater use of labor in the production of the core arable crops in the US.

I think there are two deep problems with the questions that Staniford chooses to ask. The first is what I’m going to call “the fallacy of overtly linear thinking” (just for the purpose of identifying a cool fallacy). And it might best be illustrated by analogy.

Let’s suppose a patient goes to a doctor, complaining of a severe inflammation and pain in one finger. The problem turns out to be an MRSA anti-biotic resistant infection. The first treatment that the doctor would suggest is probably a course of antibiotics, perhaps several such courses, when the first fails. Thus far, the treatment has been linear – the first step, a milder antibiotic, leads then to a next step on the same basic order, a more aggressive or specific antibiotic, and then perhaps to hospital admission and IV antibiotics. But let’s say the patient doesn’t get better, and the infection begins to move up his hand – instead of just one finger, the whole hand is infected, and then his arm, and the patient is now very sick, and the patient’s life is now endangered. The doctor, having exhausted their course of available antibiotics, may then have little choice but to suggest the amputation of the hand or even arm, in order to save the whole patient. On the face of it, this would seem to be a radical departure from the first course – but only on the face of it. The patient and his family are probably shocked that amputation is a possible outcome – they’d never thought something so radical might be necessary to solve the problem. To the doctor, the treatment *is* linear – his overarching goal has been to save the patient with minimal suffering and loss. As long as it seemed possible to save the finger, he tried to do so, when it stopped being possible, he cut his losses, and concentrated on keeping the patient alive. A radical shift in response to a progressive situation is linear, if the overarching goals are kept in mind, but it isn’t necessarily the linear step someone who isn’t looking at the whole would expect.

A backwards analysis of the doctor’s course of treatment might ask “but why didn’t he immediately amputate the finger upon the discovery of the infection.” But a situation whose severity is not immediately self-evident doesn’t necessarily call for such radical measures. But that might be a legitimate case should the patient die (as 20% of all MRSA cases do), or require an amputation of the whole hand or arm rather than a finger – perhaps it would have been wiser to immediately amputate. In the case where an appropriate antibiotic response is found, amputation might be an over-reaction – it is difficult to know what the appropriate response is, and ultimately, we must judge based on interpretation. One doctor might choose one course, another a different one given the same data.

Much of Staniford’s critique seems to be based upon the idea that relocalization is a radical alteration from the ways that society is presently responding to peak oil, and I think that’s an accurate description. The relocalization advocates roughly parallel the doctors who would argue that a patient ought to have an early amputation of the infected finger, shortly after the first course of antibiotics fail. They might argue that the costs of the more aggressive form of treatment are lower than the potential losses, and there is, indeed, a case to be made for that point of view. If a Soviet-style collapse is forthcoming (a topic for another paper), it would be better to decentralize agriculture sooner, to convert to lower energy technologies, and to teach people to grow food in their yards. If, however, no such “reversal” is forthcoming, cutting off a finger would seem unreasonably unlinear, and the choice to consider more aggressive antibiotics might make more sense –but also might entail more risk.

What Staniford portrays in his opponents as ignorance of the real issues, is, in fact, a legitimate disagreement about mitigation techniques. Staniford would choose the more linear, less aggressive course, because he believes there is a strong likelihood that it will be successful. Heinberg, Murphy, Darley and Kunstler believe that we are better off taking the more aggressive course, because the potential consequences of failure (hunger, perhaps starvation) are so severe. Whether the precautionary principle is the correct reasoning tool to apply here might be debated, but that’s not the terms in which this debate has been framed. Instead, we are to see it as inevitable that early societal responses to peak oil would look logically continuous with later responses, when the crisis is more severe. In fact, as many commentators pointed out, this discontinuity is part of the point of many analyses of peak oil.

I also believe that Staniford here mistakes the reasoning of relocalization advocates. There may be those who believe that industrial agriculture will simply devolve on its own – for example, Staniford quotes Kunstler saying something that sounds rather like it, so it is possible that Kunstler does make this case (I have not re-read _The Long Emergency_ recently enough to speak to this). Still, I think it is worth noting that _The Long Emergency_ is not merely about peak oil, but about climate change and economic woes as well – that is, the “reversalist” tendencies that Staniford attributes to Kunstler’s desire to go back to the past might also be attributed to Kunstler’s prescience about the urgency of climate change – Kunstler’s call for sailing ships, for example, comes in the context of his analysis of climate change – his claim may not be so much that we cannot cross the ocean any other way but that we *should not* do so, given the contribution to anthropogenic global warming (Staniford’s analysis omits any consideration of global warming, something none of the other thinkers he mention do – I think this is an important observation – accepting that global warming is an urgent problem means accepting that besides the question of *availability* there are issues of whether we should choose more energy intensive solutions over less intensive ones – for example, one possible limitation on biofuels would be mandatory limitations on nitrous oxide, which are created by industrial agriculture).

But Murphy, Heinberg and Darley are also all *advocates* for a practice. None of them claim that deindustrialization is necessarily inevitable, but that we ought to alter the shape of agriculture, rather like amputating a finger, in anticipation of a larger crisis. Staniford implies that they imagine that peak oil will in itself make this an inevitability, and all of them are perhaps guilty (as am I) of assuming that doing so will be helped along by peak oil. I cheerfully admit that I had not, until Staniford performed his remarkable analysis in “Fermenting the Food Supply” fully understood the implications of biofuels for relocalization, and I would place bets that none of the others have done so, either. In fact, I’ve not encountered anyone, including Staniford himself, who wasn’t “floored” by the implications of Staniford’s remarkable analysis.

Staniford has undoubtably done the peak oil movement an enormous service, and created a genuine and meaningful critique. It is unfortunate that this critique, valuable in itself, is cloaked with logical errors and a misunderstanding of the reasoning of relocalization advocates – it would be a far stronger case divorced from them.

But Staniford, I believe, has sometimes mistaken *advocacy* for *description* in the habits of relocalization thinkers. That is, Heinberg, Murphy and Darley are arguing that we should deindustrialize agriculture in anticipation of a larger crisis, because advance planning puts us ahead (for example, in Cuba, the average Cuban lost 20lbs in the early stages of the special period – I certainly could afford to lose 20lbs, but my small children and extremely thin husband could not – thus a strategy that creates greater redundancy in the food system would be attractive to me if collapse seemed likely) of the game – potentially avoiding the problem of making a major transition in the throes of a major crisis.

It is not that any of the above agrarian advocates believe that industrial agriculture will magically disappear (although as I noted above, the may well have underestimated its tenacity), but that step should be taken to make it do so. Staniford acknowledges this briefly, when he quotes Heinberg’s “50 Million Farmers” essay, which claims that we must deindustrialize rapidly, observing

“I have to say that I really don't like the sound of "at a forced pace, backed by the full resources of national governments". As JD, of Peak Oil Debunked, noted recently there is a history of attempts to forcibly reallocate land to urbanites: it's mainly been attempted by dictators, and the results have made the countries in question bywords of disaster (Cambodia and Zimbabwe are examples in recent decades).”

I can understand and share Staniford’s distaste for this idea – in fact, I suspect (I am speculating here) that even Heinberg has some distaste for it. He discusses his own dislike of centralized solutions in _Powerdown_ noting the irony of creating a strong centralized government that must then give up power. Personally, I am not convinced that doing so is the right course. But I do think it worth noting that non-dictatorships have also used the forces of government to move people back to the land – during World War II Britain, for example, the “land girls army” was moved through national programs to take up agricultural production, and, of course, the history of America’s move to industrial agriculture could accurately be described as something done “at forced pace, backed by the full resources of national governments.” That is, there is ample historical evidence that we can change our agricultural patterns without moving inevitably to fascism. It is not inevitable that using government to change agricultural policy would end in a Zimbabwe by any means.

But more importantly, I believe Staniford has missed the point that much of what relocalization advocates are arguing is what they believe should happen, rather than what will inevitably happen, in the absence of political will and in the hands of market forces. Staniford is absolutely right that the sheer profitability of biofuels will mean that the use of political and social movements will be much harder, perhaps even fail. This is something relocalization advocates must take into account in future analyses (I will offer some preliminary thoughts on this below, but I think Staniford’s analysis will give us much to chew over for some time). But it would be inaccurate to imagine that relocalization advocates imagine that we would now be seeing the unravelling of the corporate food sytems without a powerful counter-movement.

The other difficulty implied in the above points is that they are somewhat circular in their reasoning. That is, Staniford implies that if relocalization were going to happen, it would be happening now. The reason, as he has demonstrated, that it is not happening is (among other factors) the growing profitability of biofuels as a powerful counterforce. If relocalization is to have any success, it will have to be with a political response to biofuels, such as the high tax on biofuels that Staniford himself proposed in “Fermenting the Food Supply.” Staniford observed that in fact, it is not necessary that billions of people be starved, that other options are available. And yet, Staniford here is implying that relocalization can never be possible because biofuels will make it impossible. If Staniford has an analysis that suggests that even in the circumstance of heavily regulating or constraining biofuel production, this will still be true, I would be interested to see it.

The truth is that relocalization advocates would not expect the above points to be the case, because biofuels growth is a fact. As I’ve observed before, I think Staniford is genuinely the first person to play out the full implications of biofuels growth for relocalization, and this is an essential point, but it is not true that the long term future of relocalization is inevitable given the short term growth in biofuels, which, as Staniford notes, will have to be regulated for more important reasons – avoiding millions or billions of deaths by starvation.

The truth is that biofuels are operating as a counter-factor to relocalization, in Staniford’s own analysis. But just as those who critique M. King Hubbert’s analysis often observe that he predicted a peak in 2000, not 2005 or later, the counter argument to that is that the 1970s oil shocks represent a meaningful counter-force, that pushed off the inevitable. I agree with Staniford that perhaps many figures in the peak oil movement may need to make a stronger case for the inevitability of an agricultural collapse – I think this is an important observation. But it is also worth noting that we have examples of short-term counterforces shaping the history of predictable progressions.

One more point on the limits of Staniford’s predictions of what we would expect to see. The third point above, in fact, that “industrial farmers use more labor in the face of high oil prices,” seems to me a complete error in reasoning on Staniford’s point. That is, I can’t imagine any circumstances that would lead the relocalization advocates listed to believe that at this stage in peak oil farms would be using more labor – we are neither at a point of food shortages that require maximum total food output per acre nor are we at a point where energy prices have risen to compete with labor costs. In no sense has anyone I’m familiar with proposed that farms will begin gradually taking on more human labor early in the game – not only because oil prices have not risen high enough to make human replacements cheaper, but also because of agricultural volatility. That is, a move to human labor requires not just that it be cheaper to employ people than to buy equipment, but that farmers believe that this will continue to be the case, thus encouraging them to sell or not invest in mechanical equipment. Just as oil price volatility perverts our response to peak oil, the volatility of agricultural markets (a factor of peak oil), and the sheer speed with which the agricultural markets have changed over the last two years would give no incentive for such a move. Thus, this would most likely be a very late factor in the process, and I think operates as a red herring here.

I do want to be clear again in indicating that I think that Staniford’s analysis, which amounts to the point that unfettered growth in biofuels is seriously damaging to the chances of relocalization is both accurate and brilliant. For all that I believe that this is not one of his best articles, I do think that this is a deep insight, and one that will affect the discourse on this subject.

Staniford clearly demonstrates that the trend is towards the consolidation of corporate agriculture’s power. And at least one of the “reversalists” agrees with him. I happened to correspond with Richard Heinberg on the subject of Staniford’s original article, “Fermenting the Food Supply” and his immediate response was this, "It's true that if policy continues to support biofuels, re-localization (which is the only sensible survival strategy) will be smothered in the crib, meaning that we have no survival strategy. That's why it's so important to shift policy away from support of biofuels" (quoted with permission).

Like Heinberg, I agree with Staniford on this point – I have written on this subject several times, not primarily in regards to biofuels, but about the likelihood, even in the absence of biofuel growth, that during a period of economic crisis early in the peak oil movement, industrial food producers will benefit. That is, I have argued that small scale, local farmers, who depend on the disposable income of middle class consumers will lose their clientele, who will shift their business at first to Walmart and to other industrial organic (and as they lose the ability to afford even that, industrial conventional) food sources. Although I wonder, if, as biofuels drive up overall food prices, low input organic agriculture in areas not attractive to biofuels producers might not profit from higher food prices, to some degree mitigating this effect. Again, the implications of Staniford’s analysis are complex, and this is merely a first response.

Are there other questions that might get us a different picture?

This essay is already quite long, so I’m going to limit myself to simply one suggestion about approach here, with the caveat that I do not fully know what such a data analysis might reveal.

I believe there are a number of questions Staniford might want to consider if he pursues this issue further, many of which (water depletion for example) are major factors (while only 1/5 of all US agricultural land is irrigated, 3/5ths of India’s grainland and 4/5ths of China’s is - and China is already showing significant reductions of its ability to produce grain – Lester Brown documents in Plan B 2.0 that over 7 years between 1998 and 2005, the Chinese grain harvest dropped by 34 million tons – more than all the wheat produced by Canada and is tied directly to water shortages (Brown, 44-48).

Soil depletion, and the loss of available arable land, which Staniford himself mentions when referring to Jason Bradford’s analysis of whether Mendocino County in California can feed itself, is another issue.

The reason I mention this point is because I think the means at getting at evidence of agricultural decline is rather like the means of getting at the Saudi oil peak – that is, indirectly. If we accept the principle that soil, like any other natural resource, can be drawn down slowly or rapidly, but does have a point of no return (or no return without enormous investments of time and organic material) – and there is no real doubt that it does, since desertification and salinization are major factors in the loss of arable land – we must then accept that just as it is possible to increase rates of extraction for some time. Matthew Simmons, in his critical analysis of the Ghawar, relied not primarily on reduced oil outputs to make his (extremely accurate) predictions of the Saudi oil peak, but on the rate that outside inputs (seawater pumping and extraction technologies) were used to keep the system going. This allowed him to predict the Saudi oil peak in advance of actual decline – and to estimate that rates of decline would be quite high, because the faster we extract resources, the steeper the eventual downslope.

Thus, my own suggestion would be that a further analysis would look not for overt signs of decline (which generally are not there yet – China being a notable exception as above), but for signs of increased draw down. That said, however, this is merely my own suggestion., rather than a critique in itself.

Is Relocalization Doomed?

Does the sheer strength of this trend mean that Staniford’s overarching conclusion, then, that Relocalization is a lost cause, is true? Staniford draws a strong conclusion,

“…And in the developing world, another important factor comes into play. As we discussed last week, over half of all households in rural areas in developing countries are net food importers, even though the vast majority are involved in agriculture somehow. Thus, rising food prices will place tremendous stress on very poor households that grow some food, but not enough to live on. They may be forced to sell their land to larger landholders that produce a surplus. Thus, we may see the exact opposite of what the relocalization movement might predict - farm sizes in developing countries may increase in the face of peak oil.

In Conclusion

I've argued in this piece that industrial agriculture is likely to be stronger and more profitable when oil prices are high, not weaker. So the reversalist future of local food production on smaller farms with higher labor input will not come to pass as a result of peak oil. The industrial agricultural sector owns most of the land, and will be in an excellent position to increase their land holdings as remaining subsistence farmers fail or consolidate in the face of high food prices. Industrial farmers will have no reason to sell out to improverished urban dwellers. Thus the industrialization of the land is not a reversible process any time soon - it is a fallacy to think so. The reversalists are expressing wishful thinking and nostalgia for the past, not a reasoned analysis of how the future is likely to play out. And urbanites worried about their future should not be looking to buy or rent a smallholding as a solution to their problems - industrial farmers are extremely efficient, and there is no way to compete with them except by becoming one.“

Again, I fear Staniford is right about the first point – there will be powerful incentives in both the developing world and the rich one (rising land prices means higher farm taxes, which small farmers are unlikely to be able to manage) for small farms to be devoured by large ones. The short term, biofuel ruled future is most likely one in which forces are pushing us in the opposite direction of Relocalization.

But that does not mean that Staniford’s conclusions are fully justified. Because, after all, Staniford’s earlier articles about biofuels make it absolutely urgent that we regulate and limit biofuels growth, because, as he himself has demonstrated, a large portion of the population is likely to starve otherwise. It is true that this might not happen, but I suspect it will, simply because there is likely to be an enormous outcry, and because the implications will not be limited to the developing world. Already 12% of the US population is regularly priced out of the food market, and that number seems to be growing. Anecdotal evidence, for example, from a Boston Globe article: about malnutrition in small children because parents can’t afford to buy both food and heating oil, is an example of this. The reality is that American consumers, who have to cut buy both gas and food are likely to be increasingly squeezed, and malnutrition bellies on American children are likely to be a powerful political motivator. Moreover, it is possible to postulate that even the malnutrition of children in the Global South will motivate change, as I’ve argued here, in response to Staniford’s first article:

In his first article, Staniford articulated that the biofuels problem was most dangerous in the near term – I agree, that in the near term, it is very likely that the political and social implications of biofuels will be so great that they may overpower some portion of Relocalization efforts – certainly any plan to reallocate farmland. Other efforts in the Relocalization bag of tricks will probably become even more important – gardening and small scale subsistence farming, or neighbor to neighbor sale will probably be far more urgent than we have ever predicted, as more and more lower income people find themselves squeezed and in need of inexpensive food. Some small local farmers in regions that are not attractive to biofuel producers (that 1.3 energy return seems to depend on reasonable proximity to a production plant – we could drop below 1 EROEI transporting potatoes from northern Maine to plants in New York, for example) such as my own might well profit – that is, overall rises in food prices may benefit small scale organic farmers who can now compete with the grocery stores. For example, in my own region, local dairy farmers with a reasonable land base are now growing their own grain for their cows, and still reaping the benefit of high milk prices based on those who are buying corn in competition with ethanol producers.

But let us consider the longer term, in which the future could look rather different due to a number of factors. The first would be political solutions to the biofuels debacle, which, raise the price or legally limit the number of acres in production, making biofuels less profitable. That is, the boom could turn into a bust rather rapidly with farmers who expanded rapidly having to unload land whose tax prices haven’t descended as rapidly as the price of corn. This would open up access to farmland.

It seems unlikely in the extreme that Relocalization advocates in isolation could have any major influence on policy, but fortunately, Staniford himself has made the case for a large scale political response – the death of millions or billions to hunger is likely to marshall many groups into political responses, and the Relocalization movement is likely to find itself with a large number of political allies – indeed, it already has some of them.

It is difficult to evaluate the likelihood of a collapse due to either peak oil in isolation, or as most of the “reversalists” imagine it, due to a concatenation of factors, including peak oil, climate change and economic instability. I certainly do not claim to be qualified to do so – or to make any other claim other than that we know from observation that some highly industrialized societies do, in fact, “reverse” course. But it is worth noting that a collapse might well overturn the rush to biofuels. Capital constraints, for example, might make it difficult to build new plants, even if such an industry is generally potentially profitable. Generally, societies in deep economic crisis do find it difficult to borrow money – and might find reasons to borrow money for other projects than ethanol production. It is true that such cannot be taken as an inevitability – but there is a case to be made (and again, out of the scope of this article) that a collapse is a real possibility, perhaps even reasonably likely and that we will lose less if we use the precautionary principle to begin preparing for one now.

And in a collapse situation, there seems to be reasonably good evidence that Relocalization is a useful strategy – that is, home gardens and small farms did keep Cubans and Russians from starving to death in times of great societal disruption and shortage. In the comments section of this essay, Staniford asks this question,

“Could you lay out the scenario of a) how much the available oil supply falls in percentage terms, and how fast, b) what aspects of societal infrastructure fail roughly when as a consequence of that, and c) why a small relocalized farm close to markets (ie cities) will be better placed to survive these infrastructure failures than a large industrial one far from cities.”

In the less than 24 hours since I’ve read this essay, I have yet to come up with a good answer to #1, in part because I am not convinced that oil will be a sole factor in this situation. That is, the move to Relocalization might be initiated by climate change related constraints on industrial food production (and it is worth noting that in fact, according to Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, generally speaking, energy used in agriculture is a tiny portion of the whole – the 2.2% that Staniford cites does not take into account, say, the fact that it takes 10xs as much energy to get a package of frozen peas into your freezer as it does to grow them, or 7xs as much energy as is contained in the food to get a box of breakfast cereal on your table – which might be the beginnings of an answer to part C of Staniford’s question (McKibben, 65)), or political ones that interrupt the flow of oil in a collapse situation.

Moreover, I make no claim to be an expert on this subject – and I think this usefully illustrates the distinction between what Staniford at one point describes as “first wave” peak oil thinkers (those who are primarily concerned with rates of depletion and geological facts) and “second wave” thinkers (who Staniford inaccurately characterizes as “reversalists” and whose major characteristic is that they think that peak oil might not be best described by narrow bad economic and scientific analyses, but by larger considerations of historical, political and ethical principles in the context of that data).

It is clear that Staniford, as a scientist, strongly prefers the work of the first wave, who deal with concrete, describable and predicatable conditions, over those second wave thinkers who deal with messy issues like politics, historical analogy, moral arguments and other things that are difficult to quantify. But that preference does not inherently mean that the one is better than the other. It is true, however, that attempting to deal with many unquantifiable variables will always make the solution of those who do not exclude those variables more ambiguous and subject to critique than those who can narrow the terms of their analysis to suit themselves.

The second wave of analysts, of which I flatter myself to be one, don’t just use less concrete forms of analysis, part of their implied (and in my case explicit) argument is that peak oil, or really the concatenation of peak oil and climate change that no one has come up with a better term for that “the long emergency” is precisely more complex than can be managed with quantitative analysis – that is, that it is rightly the question of those who are willing to risk the censure of the first wave by describing this issue in historical, political and ethical terms. I think this is an enormously important point, because Staniford does not seem merely to disagree with the use of this approach in this particular case, but to be making an overall attempt to tar the second wave with a brush of heavy bias, poor scholarship and unseriousness, while emphasizing the implied impartiality (because it is quantifiable) of the “first wave” style of analysis, with which he associates himself. Shortly after he accuses the “reversalists” of nostalgia and believing something simply because they wish it to be true, Staniford asserts his identity as a scientist, with all the cultural associations of impartiality that implies.

But as we have seen, Staniford’s analysis has anything but his customary degree of impartiality, and is heavily larded with errors of reasoning and biased language, that distract from and partly taint his larger argument. The notion that the first wave analysis was more quantifiable is indubitably true. That it is a better tool is debatable, but Staniford does not make that argument, he simply implies that it is true, embedded in an argument that is itself, I think a compelling example of why relying on readily quantifiable data is insufficient to describe either what human response will be or what it should be. That is, we need both forms of analysis – neither is sufficient unto itself.

All of which is a long way of saying that I haven’t the faintest idea what oil price or decline we would have to have in order to achieve a collapse situation that made Relocalization inevitable. Since I don’t claim it is inevitable, and neither does any other peak oil thinker Staniford describes, with the possible exception of Kunstler (again, I simply am not familiar enough with his work to judge), I can’t answer the question. I do think that a response to the biofuels crisis might change the circumstances, and I do think that historical evidence suggests that in times of economic collapse, small scale farming and gardening might be a necessary response.

But let’s try and draw out a scenario in which Relocalization might be a necessary response. We don’t have to imagine one, we might look at the collapse of the Soviet Union. Dmitry Orlov’s forthcoming book (which I’ve had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of) does a careful analysis of the common ground between US and Soviet systems – it is certainly possible to argue with his claim that they are in many ways equally vulnerable (or that the US is more vulnerable), but let us, for now, accept that this falls within the realm of possibility. To support this position, let us note that in Yegar Gaidar’s (former interim prime minister of the former Soviet Union) recently translated book _Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia_, Gaidar argues that in fact, much of the crisis in the Soviet Union was caused by the Soviet push to urbanization. That is, the Soviet Union allowed itself to become reliant on imported food, while engaging in social policies that moved farmers into cities, and when the economy collapsed, and bread prices rose dramatically, bread riots spread social instability. If one were broadly construing Gaidar’s argument, you might suggest that the Soviet Union collapsed because it had too few farmers. This, of course, is an oversimplification, but it might add some useful fuel to the fire. It also might limit the value of some of Staniford’s five listed principles – because, of course, in the case of the SU, an advance sign of collapse was, according to Gaidar, the increasing urbanization of the population and a reduction in the sheer number of farmers.

So one might propose a Soviet-style empire collapse. Or perhaps simply a crisis as simple as one the Lester Brown describes in _Plan B 2.0_.

“The first big test of the international community’s capacity to manage scarcity may come with oil, or it could come with grain. If the latter is the case, this could occur when China – whose grain harvest fell by 34 miilion tons or 9 percent, between 1998 and 2005 – turns to the world market for massive imports of 30 million, 50 milllion, or possibly even 100 million ton so grain per year. Demand on this scale could quickly overwhelm world grain markets. When this happens, China will have to look to the United States, which controls he world’s grain exports of over 40% of some 200 million tons.

This will pose a fascinating geopolitical situation. More than 1.23 billion Chinese consumers, who had an estimated 160 billion dollar trade surplus with the United States in 2004 – enough to buy the entire U.S. grain harvest twice – will be competing with Americans for U.S. grain, driving up U.S. food prices. In such a situation 30 years ago the United States simply restricted exports. But China is now banker to the United States, underwriting much of the massive U.S. fiscal deficit with monthly purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds.

Wihtin the next few years, the United States may be loading one or two ships a day with grain for China. This long line of ships stretching across the Pacific, like an umbiliacal cord providing nourishment, will intimately link the two economies. Managing this flow of grain so as to simultaneously satisfy the food needs of consumers in both countries, at a time when ethanol fuel distilleries are taking agrwoing share of the U.S. grain harvest, may become one of the leading foreign policy challenges of the new century.” – Brown, 14-15

What happens if trade agreements we made when we were flush with spare food and economic pressures do result in the starvation, not merely of far away billions, but of Americans. In the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover famously said, “At least no one has starved” outraging people as reports began to pour in of real starvation. When 25% of all Chicago school children were suffering from malnutrition, and mothers rioting in the streets because they could no longer afford meat or milk for their children, we were ripe for social change – social change that those who have an existing strategy for getting food to the people might participate in. I do not claim this will work, merely that the possibility is worthy of consideration.

I would also note again that Staniford’s analysis does not include climate change at all – it is possible to imagine a number of climate related scenarios that would push the US into various sorts of crisis – extended drought or flooding in the Midwest, combined with other natural disasters (not so very hard to imagine after this last year) or an international agreement to minimize emissions (biofuels, which nitrous oxide is included in the analysis, produce more warming gasses than oil does).

It would require a much longer article than this already very long one to detail other possible scenarios. But it seems to me self-evident that Staniford may simply not be asking the right questions here, in a whole host of ways.

Later in the comments, Staniford argues that Relocalization has no potential benefits for those who practice it – but it seems self-evident that hungry people do find small scale agriculture and horticulture to be deeply valuable to them. That is why gardens proliferated in Moscow (where, according to the Rodale Institute, at the height of the collapse 65% of all households were involved in food production) and in Cuba.

I believe Staniford here may be mistaken in his understanding of some of the claims of the Relocalization movement – it is possible that some of the figures he mentions actually claim that all food in a relocalized future will come from local regions. That is, it may be the case that Staniford believes that those who advocate Relocalization are implying that every area must feed itself or starve. But in a fairly serious review of the literature (brief by necessity to get this response completed), I cannot find any such passage. And I do not believe that this is the central claim of Relocalization advocates. Certainly, I would not suggest it. Nor does the food sovereignty movement, begun by Via Campesina, from which Relocalization derives some of its ideas.

That is, I believe the “tractors or hand labor” question to be something of a false dichotomy. There are regions that will never feed themselves – but Relocalization is a valuable strategy because it offers redundancy, access to food for those who have insufficient income to buy it, and a host of other benefits, including fresher, better tasting food, access to agrarian landscapes for urbanites, etc… I’ve written about the limitations of, say, the 100 mile diet model here – there are a number of regions whose foodsheds will not support them, and others that will support more than their present population. I do not claim that peak oil will be the end of all trade, nor have I seen such a claim (although I may have missed it) by any of the so-named “reversalists” – indeed, the cessation of all trade seems highly unlikely. What seems more likely (as Staniford’s analysis in itself suggests) is that poor people in both the rich and poor world will be priced out of food markets and need to grow as much food as possible.

A form of Relocalization will likely exist even if the biofuels revolution proceeds to its worst outcome – indeed, it will have to, as people take over greenspace, use their lawns and otherwise grow food anywhere they possibly can to compensate for calories they cannot afford to buy. Oddly, the proliferation of biofuels may settle the (good natured, not very significant) debate between Heinberg and myself about whether 50 million or 100 million farmers are required, with the larger number. That is, if biofuels and related growth push food prices high enough, we may well end up with a vast majority of the population having little or no choice but to grow some food to compensate, to take up their role as farmers (in my own case, the definition of farmers is very broad, including subsistence farmers and gardeners) on a larger scale than would have been required without the biofuels boom. That is, we may find that the biofuels boom leads to a vastly larger number of very small farmers, rather than fewer larger (but still smaller than the industrial model) ones as Heinberg proposes.

My own conclusion is this – Staniford has done enormously valuable work in analyzing the threat that biofuels poses to Relocalization, and he has also done the important work of providing the Relocalization movement with a more potent critique than has thus far been leveled at them. That is, Staniford has offered an analysis that will require me and I suspect others to refine our analyses, to address questions like how likely political work is to succeed and timescales for collapse more directly than we have. In this, the analysis has been enormously useful, and admirable.

Less admirable, however, has been Staniford’s attempt to take his analysis further than its own merits can stand – to make a general argument delegitimizing the analyses of agrarian thinkers and also of what he calls “second wave” peak oil thinkers in general. These arguments are weak and tainted by bias, and do him little credit. Staniford is one of the most powerful intellects we have turned towards the problem of peak oil, and his commitment to clarifying the peak oil discussions is a gift to the community. I am in no way diminished in my admiration for Staniford. And yet, I think we would have been better served had Staniford limited his critiques to what the data can support.

"Apparently, those who wish to reverse the course of history are only those who want to do so in low tech ways – those, for example, who advocate new nuclear power plants, a technology that was described as increasingly obsolete and unlikely to be used until the advent of peak oil, do not seem to be included.

Nuclear technology is the most modern technology we have for power generation, so in technological terms, using this in place of fossil fuel driven generation could hardly be desribed as a step backwards. In other words, Stuart would not have included these people as reversalists, because they clearly do not come into this category. If anything, they would be something more akin to technologists.

Why do you call nuclear 'The most modern'?

As an energy form, it is particularly recent, and yet what is really 'modern' is the new developments in any of our technologies. Wind and Solar are being researched and advanced continuously, even though we've used the energy from the Sun for our entire history. Is that old or new? Many of our reactors are quite aged now, and it would seem that they are Aging in an accelerated way, with the stresses of the energy that they are asked to contain.. so are they old or new?

'The candle that burns twice as brightly burns half as long. And you have burned so very brightly, Roy." - Tyrell, Blade Runner

I think Sharon made some very good points about the complexity that Staniford glossed over in that label of 'Reversalists'. That terminology was a clear oversimplification, with the implied taunt that by advocating any 'Classic' solutions that didn't support the big-biz hegemony would tar you with the newest euphemism for 'Backwards' or 'Hippie Dreamer' or whatever.

The thing I wonder about with the increasing consolidations of Energy Co's, Big AG, Pharma, Banking, Media.. etc in the last few decades is how much that 'trend' is merely the inflating of a lot of 'Dinosaur-shaped' Bubbles, which will suffer and fracture again due to inflexibility and other kinds of topheaviness.


If you look at my profile, you will see that I am a researcher in wave energy. I am optimising generators. These technologies are not new, and date from the time of the last oil crisis, they have merely undergone refinment from their initial design principles which were never carried on when the funding dried up.

"Why do you call nuclear 'The most modern'?"

To further clarify this comment, wind power has been used for centuries, in ships and windmills, it's a small step to connect a generator to these. Also, I don't have the referece, but the first wave energy device was proposed i believe, but not built, in the 1800s. Renewable energy technology is merely the refinement of an old idea. The high technology comes in when you want to make them economic.

By contrast, nuclear fission has only been understood relatively recently, hence it is by far the most modern.

You seem resistant to considering the idea that while some of our Reactors, as recent as they are to HUMAN history, are today a couple generations old and facing 'Advanced Decrepitude'. They are now OLD sources in terms of the 2008 Energy Supply.

As a solution to our present energy situation, they are not at the head of the list (speaking of chronology, not priority) not the new kid in class, as ways have been developing to make other sources both increasingly economical, and less politically objectionable. In that conversation, Nuclear is not a NEW item on that agenda, and it's advocates are not the Avant Garde. They are an 'established' and 'historical' provider. This is the point Astyk seems to be making as well.

Meanwhile, the US installed 5gw of Wind Capacity last year. That's by all rights NEW, even if it's an age-old power source. Are proponents of Windmills and Solar Panels 'Reversalists' or 'Technophiles'? The point is that the term is overly vague, and most likely divisive.

Computers are 'New' and 'Modern'.. but if you're running Win3.1, you are clearly a wierdo who is stuck in the distant past. Right?


I'm not resistant. Nuclear fission is more modern than fossil fuel based technology. I don't see how you can argue this. I'm referring to the technology, not individual reactors. I'm aware that time passing makes things age.

I'll try again.

Advocating for the 'Resurgence of Nuclear Energy Development in the US' would be a 'Reversalist' position, since we've had a full generation's lull in New Reactors. It's an OLD position in the energy choices we face. It's soo 1960. Is that what makes it a bad (or good) choice? No,

The AGE of the technology does not describe its usefulness. IF Nuke is really right, then MAYBE we should 'Go Back' to building that out. IF wind is right, then let's GO BACK to that.

Calling someone, ANYone who wants to 'go back' to a previously discarded approach some kind of euphemism of a 'Retard' is unhelpful.


Actually, in the case of photvoltaics you have this backwards. Fermi built a pile in 1942. The transister was invented in 1947 by Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain. Nuclear power is a much less sophisticated means of power generation, as can be seen from the term pile. It's tolerances are mainly to do with the extreme hazards. The tolerances for PV are actually much higher owing to the need for extreme purity of the semiconductor (eight nines). Only recently has it seemed possible to relax these a bit. However, the development of PV promises much better EROEI compared to nuclear power and much reduced safety issues. That PV appears simpler has more to do with the greater elegance of the physics compared to the rather crude production of dangerous mid-mass radionuclei involved in fission.


Sounds like you do neat work.

There are just lots of 'New' and 'Old' aspects to everything. It's not just the technology, that might be old and get renewed- or the source, recently considered archaic, but 'rediscovered' and reapplied in a New Model. Just consciously making a change, even if it's to something our Dads left behind, like using a Pushmower (to get some 'cardio') or eating real Butter and Dairy delivered from a local farm, instead of 'Modern' Margarine and Soymilk-food-product from Monsanto, the act of choosing a change in how you do business is a Move Forward, which is muddied by the devaluation of terms like 'Reversalists'.

Putting sails on Cargo ships would be a move Forward, not back. They could still be using Bunker Oil when needed, could have their radars and GPS of course.


crobar -

I happen to have a side interest in ocean wave power and began looking into it in some detail about four years ago. I even dabbled with an idea of my own, which upon further analysis turned out to be of dubious value.

The conclusion I sadly came to was that ocean wave power will never be more than a highly location-specific means of generating electricity. The locations with truly great wave power potential are not particularly abundant and tend to be away from highly populated areas. While ocean waves generally have a much greater power density than wind, their highly variable and oscillating nature makes the extraction of that power a daunting and very expensive endeavor.

However, the Pelamis people seem to be having some success, and I'd like to see them and other make a go of it. But it's going to be a long uphill battle.

"Wind and Solar are being researched and advanced continuously, even though we've used the energy from the Sun for our entire history. Is that old or new?"

I'd describe wind and solar as old, and there are people here that I've already seen agreeing with me. Nuclear, by the other side, is the last discovered source of energy we have.

It is bad that this response don't focus on the weak parts of the article's argument (and there are some), but, instead, keep arguing about language. Reversionism was quite well atdefined at the original article, and it does no good to include prejudice (political correctness is a form of prejudice) in it.

The problem is that Stuart (Intentionally or not) DID include prejudicial or leading characterizations in his definitions of 'Reversalists', which quickly set up a negative value-judgement on that label.

'..Advocates of Electric Trolleys and Banjos..'

Come on! That's 'belittlement through cuteness' and a very weird set of associations. I guess I'm alright if I've got a Combine and a Stratocaster, but fie unto me if I'm seen intown with my Prius and the Sousaphone and Cornet in the backseat. (That's my Dad, BTW) With that comparison, he made his views of Electric Light Rail completely clear. Noone could miss the message, could they? So what makes them Backwards and inappropriate technology, which is the implication? He wrote an article on that a year or so back, with much the same dismissing of the potentials of Transit Oriented Development, and how unlikely it was, since the trend wasn't moving that way.. Predictive Graphs, feh!

Yes. It's 'OLD'. This is the point. Does that make it backward? "Reversalist?" If wind were just blowing the Other Direction, would that make it properly 'Forwardist', and hence, properly Modern? Actually, its 'ReNEWable'.. Old AND New. The wind blowing this morning is NEW wind. Today's power.

I believe that the term that needs to be used is "appropriate technology". The discussion about which technology is new or progressive seems silly. Bicycles are a really old technology but we should be seeing more of these in the cities. As far as that goes, walking is as old as when we first stood upright but would be appropriate under our circumstances.

Whatever gets us through the day. Oh, it is very modern to sit on one's fat ass and drive one's Expedition to the store for a loaf of bread.

Well said!

I've now had, sad to say, a very 'Modern' morning. I'm walking some product downtown to one of my clients!


"Come on! That's 'belittlement through cuteness' and a very weird set of associations."

That point is marginal to the original argument, while it is central to the reply. That is the problem.

It may seem to be an aside from his calculations and charts, but it was used to set up a false dichotomy, by suggesting that 'The Others', this 'Fantasy Opposition' just want to live in a Sweet, Cheery Revival of 'Little House on the Prairie'. While various folks want certain aspects of life from earlier days that seemed to be workable and fun, this is all collated into some massive group of 'Reversalists'..

I listen to Bach, Ray Charles and Phish, I usually cut wood with a handsaw, and I'm designing a robot that can look for satellites (Home use only). If you want to stick a label on me, better make it a good one. No matter how good his sources were for other data, this use of describing people struck a blow to his essay's credibility. Maybe he just tossed those comments off casually.. but that's almost worse.

.. It's possible that I missed your point, however. What was the problem you were concerned about?


"The weighty issues must be handled with lightness, while the 'little things' must be regarded with a great seriousness."

Note to self - don't be facetious at TOD.


Unless you use graphs, then it's okay.

Here's a graph that came out today.

Showing world food stocks being adequate for 54 days, a record low. You can read Lester Brown's take on it here.

I thought this quote would interest Stuart:

Projections by Professors C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer of the University of Minnesota four years ago showed the number of hungry and malnourished people decreasing from over 800 million to 625 million by 2025. But in early 2007 their update of these projections, taking into account the biofuel effect on world food prices, showed the number of hungry people climbing to 1.2 billion by 2025. That climb is already under way.


And this is why graphs, impressive as they look, don't tell the whole truth.

You know that oath they always get witnesses to make in courtoom dramas, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Well, the thing about statistics and graphs is that they tell the truth, but they don't tell the whole truth.

That's because a graph by its two-dimensional nature must have just a few data sources in it, while the "whole truth" must consider lots of different things, too difficult to graph sensibly. And dodgy data is often hidden in graphs, it's harder to spot than if it's just the actual data.

The whole truth about world grain production is that stocks are declining because grain is being diverted to feed livestock (the Chinese and Indians are eating more meat) and produce ethanol. Another truth is that the graph above presents world grain stocks in days as though people were eating nothing else, rather than as at the rate people are actually eating it.

Let's look at the world food outlook report from the FAO. At the end of 2007, the world had 6,600 million people and in FY 2006/7 was estimated to have produced 2,109 million tonnes of grains of all types. This is 320kg per person, providing 3,064kcal and 81g of protein daily if consumed directly; about 50% more than the average requirements of a moderately physically active adult (a Third World subsistence farmer, or a Western middle class guy who does some exercise). That is, more than enough.

However, of the 2,109 million tonnes of grain, only 997.5 were consumed directly, with 735.9 going to feed livestock, and 329 going to "other uses" (almost entirely biofuels).

Thus, what could be 320kg of grain per person and 50% more food than needed for basic energy and protein becomes,
- 151kg of grain consumed directly
- 112kg going to produce 40kg of meat
- 50kg going to produce 17lt biofuels
- 7kg added to stocks
which provides people with 1,892kcal and 61g of protein daily if consumed directly, just enough to keep people going.

Were there no biofuels, 329 million tonnes could have been added to world grain stocks, taking them from 427 to 756 million tonnes. Since the world consumes 2.73 million tonnes daily, the grain stocks would go from a 156 day supply to 277.

Obviously declines in meat consumption would have similar effects.

Over the past several years, per capita consumption of grain has not changed much. What's changed is that more and more goes to livestock and biofuels. While total grain production appears to be plateauing, there still remains more than enough food for everyone - provided we don't give it all to animals and put it in our fuel tanks.

The graph you give presents us with a 54 day supply. Dividing 427 million tonnes of stocks by 54 gives us 7.9 million tonnes a day, or 2,886 million tonnes annually. So your graph is claiming that world food stocks are consumed 2,886/2,109 = 137% times as fast as they actually are.

So in the first place their data are obviously wrong, as they place grain consumption at a rate 37% higher than it is. It would be like me saying that a stock of 1,200 million barrels of oil would only last the world ten days, implying a rate of 120Mbbl/day, considerably higher than the real rate of 85Mbbl or so.

Secondly, often "grain stocks in days" measure it by "if we ate nothing else, what do we have?" Which is like saying, "if we burned oil in everything, including coal and gas-fired power plants, it'd run out really fast!" Well, no shit. It seems fairer to measure "grain stocks in days" in terms of how fast the stuff is actually consumed.

Total grain consumption in all forms is 2,109/365 = 5.78Mt/day, so that a 427Mt stock would last 74 days. Grain consumption just for people directly is 997.5/365 = 2.73Mt/day, so that a 427Mt stock would last 156 days. Now, so long as grain stocks are not zero, what do they matter? Well, we like to have a reserve in case of big disaster somewhere, or sustained bad crop conditions in a country for a few years.

Say a cyclone hits some coastal country and makes 10 million people homeless, we want to feed them. Well, we've plenty for that. For large-scale climate problems - say a huge drought hits the US and Australia at the same time, reducing crops by 75% - well, then our stocks aren't enough. But then I think we'd be slaughtering livestock, telling ethanol-burning SUV drivers "sorry, no" and diverting the grain to people, yeah? Which would put us closer to the 156 days than the 74 days.

And this is why I'm never that impressed by graphs. Because often they don't tell the whole truth. And often wrong, outdated, speculative or just plain made-up data is hidden in them. As in this one.

Actually, it is based on 309 million metric tons of stock so the 54 days seems about right. I think the message is that prices are not likely to fall. Perhaps the mix up is in applying fiscal year data to a calender year report?


309Mt @ 5.78Mt/day gives us 53 days. So obviously they're using total consumption. For people's direct consumption we get 309Mt @ 2.73Mt/day = 113 days. Again, if you want to talk about "grain reserves" in a "oh no look they're dropping we could starve!" sort of way, you have to admit that in such a situation, people would divert less to livestock and biofuels, so that the actual time before we run out will be closer to the higher figure than the lower.

But in any case, the true stocks figure is 118Mt, or 38% higher than that.

In 2005/6 the end of year stocks were 471.4Mt
2006/7, 428.0Mt
2007/8, 427.0Mt (forecast)

Every year grain stocks go up and down. There are periods in the year when several major grain producers are harvesting, and periods when several are just growing. So the stocks might go from X to X/2. They obviously chose the lowest figure they could find for the year. Which would be like me with my payday on Friday telling you my bank balance on Thursday so that you think I'm really poor.

As I said, all this is a perfect example of why graphs can be misleading. For example, nothing in that graph lets us know that in fact world grain production per capita went up from FY2005/6 to FY2006/7, from 308kg per person to 320kg.

If you see a graph of world grain stocks declining, you naturally think that "oh no! We're not growing enough food for everyone!" And in fact we're growing considerably more than we need, in calorie and protein terms. Current world grain production could provide 2,022kcal and 54g protein each daily to ten billion people.

However, we only consume 47% of our grain directly, giving 35% to animals, 16% to biofuels, and saving just 2%. On that basis, current world grain production only just provides enough calories and protein overall, and certainly couldn't feed 10 billion.

In the past couple of years, the amount being consumed directly, and that going to livestock has actually declined slightly on a per capita basis. Increased grain production has gone to biofuels.

In addition, while 1,000 million people in the West are obese (more than 25% over their ideal bodyweight), 800 million people in the Third World suffer malnutrition and are at risk of starvation. Coincidence?

So, in summary, if we're worried about the world starving, the important things to know are that per capita grain production is increasing, but that people are eating less - because we in the West are gluttons, and because of biofuels.

Whereas your graph makes it look like we're all going to starve because farms are dying, or people are having too many babies, or something. Which makes the graph a load of old bollocks.

I guess I should try to make it absolutely clear that this is Lester Brown's plot not mine. I think you know that but I'm not sure I said so clearly enough originally. He does give information on where the data come from. I'm sure he'd be happy to know if there is an error, especially one in the direction you propose.

I wonder if the best use of the plot is to say that at some point we need to cull the herds if days remaining of stocks are less than the time to the next harvest. I'd like a better cushion than that if I were a cattleman I think.


If you go to the source of that calculation it looks like it's based on oil prices some time in early 2006 (ie around the $60 - $70 mark). Given that we are at $90, and will probably go higher (at least after the whole credit crunch thing is done)...

They definitely agree with your point of view. I still hold out hope that geopolitical calculations will make food aid adequate.


And, a little more news $1/gallon biomass based ethanol just came up on slashdot.


It is telling that this refutation is unable to demonstrate a single graph or piece of hard data. Stuart's article was heavily evidence based and relied on the quality of his primary sourced data. This refutation is, in comparison, an opinion piece with no real analysis.

You state that relocalisation would have "a host of other benefits, including fresher, better tasting food, access to agrarian landscapes for urbanites, etc…". This may well be true but has nothing to do with Stuart's piece which merely pointed out the likelyhood, not the desireability of relocalisation occuring. Perhaps this more clearly demonstrates some of the “wishing” and “nostalgia” inherent in the idea which you criticise him for pointing out in his essay.

ALso you point out, "I would also note again that Staniford’s analysis does not include climate change at all", this is natural, as it is an essay about the effect of Peak Oil on agriculture rather than climate change on agriculture. This is also alluded to when you criticise biofuels production. I personally am against the use of biofuels, and believe they do little to help climate change. But do I believe they will raise the price of their feedstocks? Yes. Will this result in farming becoming more profitable? Yes. Again the issue here is not whether the outcomes of peak oil are desireable, but whether they are likely. Stuart showed convincingly that relocalisation was an unlikely outcome of peak oil, regardless of whether this was desireable.

likelyhood, not the desireability

Key phrase. Qualitative arguments of desirability are likely to have poor quantitative predictive abilities.

Qualitative arguments of desirability are likely to have poor quantitative predictive abilities.

I really agree with this. We've gone into an historical phase which has previous counterparts only at the level of an analogy. Several phases of creative reaction are necessary, and trying to imagine the whole run of them at the present moment is likely not to be successful.

It doesn't have to be a graph or a chart to be an analysis. Opinions? Yes, and opinions supported by carefully described reasoning. Critical thinking requires the ability to form opinions.. this doesn't refute an analysis, it is central to it.

"Interestingly, Staniford never quite answers his own question about whether it is posible to “reverse” industrialization. He moves on to the signs he asserts we would see if deindustrialization were a logical consequence of peak oil (more on that in a moment), but he never definitively states (but rather implies) that industrialization is not reversible."

Her Source Data is mainly Staniford's post, while she does include some links to relevant articles to support this. She spends a good amount of time (!!) looking at his claims and assumptions, as shown above.

You go on to try to tie her comments to the same perjoratives that Staniford uses with his 'Reversalists' , calling the conclusions simply 'Wishing' and 'Nostalgia'.. guilt by association.


No, I disagree. Her arguments were essentially that localisation was good, therefore it will happen. It may or may not be good, but that will not make it happen.

"Staniford never quite answers his own question about whether it is posible to “reverse” industrialization."

I would say it is obvious that indutrialisation is very reversible. Imagine a meteorite strike or nuclear war for instance, or some other unforseen event. What I think Stuart showed is that peak oil is unlikely to cause this reversal.

I think Stuart made some excellent points about a reversal in large scale agriculture not necessarily happening because of high oil prices. I believe someone made the comment on Stuart's original post that disruptions in trade, possibly coming some time after the peak, would be more likely to cause relocalization and smaller scale agriculture. As long as communication and transportation are still functioning, large farms will have an advantage at producing commodities because they provide a higher return on management and capital. Disruption will cause relocalization, while higher crop and fuel prices alone will probably only moderately increase the number of people employed in agriculture or related businesses.

Regardless of oil prices, organic and locally produced fresh farm products may continue to grow market share because they taste a lot better.

I think the economic environment in which we find ourselves, will be the main influence in whether the trend remains towards larger (or changes to smaller) scale agriculture.

International capital flows will attempt to continue to dictate which economies do well, and which are plundered for resources. The west might soon be on the receiving end of the destructive neoliberal policies we've inflicted on much of the rest of the world.

It might be that the distribution costs of food (as it is currently distributed) are unaffordable to a large proportion of a country, they will favour eating locally produced food, and presumably will agitate for reforms to make this possible.

The alternatives for maintaining social order may boil down to either price-fixing for food goods (won't work for long), land reform, or an unthinkable tyranny.

I can see the advantages of looking at the problem from both Stuart's and Sharon's viewpoints. Although I do tend to prefer an abstract analysis, since the situation is almost too complex to comprehend - for me anyway ;)

No, I disagree. Her arguments were essentially that localisation was good, therefore it will happen. It may or may not be good, but that will not make it happen.

I'm sure she can speak for herself, but this is incorrect on its face: Her post was a critique of Staniford, it was not an expository or persuasive essay on relocaliztion. She, in fact, needed not take any position at all on the issue in order to critique. As noted by jokhul above, his essay and her familiarity with the literature were sufficient resources. Where she didn't have sufficient knowledge, she stated so.

You critique of her critique has no merit. If you've something to say with regard to the post she was responding to and whether her post is a viable critique, well, have at it. You are tossing generalities, if not insults, really, without saying anything in the end. Curiously, this is what you are accusing her of.

Can you please cite specifically what she ot wrong?

I can find no invalid logic in her post. Whether one might agree with her or not is one thing, but claiming she said nothing at all that was valid is just being argumentative, imnsho.

NOTE: My first post on this topic shows I essentially agree with her critique, so you may dismiss me as biased. Feel free. But do note the time/date stamp of my post. My opinion was independently come by.



I am essentially the reverse of you...I felt Staniford's post was absolutely excellent and essentially correct, but think the reguttal by Sharon Astyk was brilliant (as I intend to say in a seperate post). I still think Stuart was the more correct of the two, but I will not let that me disrespect a very interesting and intelligent argument by Ms. Astyk, who like Stuart has written an "opus" about the "cutting edge" of a set of philosophical issues that will become increasingly important to the Peak Oil community. But more about that later, right now, I am just enjoying a steller sparing match!


I don't see the negative image you mean. I didn't laud Stuart's work so much as I felt the points not considered, as mentioned in my first response on this thread, made the post incomplete. An incomplete analysis is not very useful. It leads, as it has here, to a lot of time spent figuring out the merits of his post that could have been spent elsewise had he presented a more thorough post to begin with.

That said, like everyone else, I recognize the value of the post and the talent of the poster. I could not produce such an essay, so I speak strictly from the peanut gallery.

I fail to see any serious flaw in the rebuttal, however. I see it as having brought out the weaknesses in Stuart's essay quite well.

My own 2c is this: as with most things in life, there is not, and probably will not be, any one answer. Localization will occur, because it is. Cities as large as Portland, Oregon are working on such things. However, large agricultural concerns will continue, too. Cuba is illustrative of this. Its combination of localization and collective farming are probably close to what we will see (perhaps minus the collectivism, perhaps not), depending on how far, and even whether, we see disintegration of societal structures. This is why I think Stuart's essay fails: he *seems* to be grinding an ax that I see as not needing any sharpening. It's a non-issue, really. BOTH are part of our future as they have always been part of our past and are part of our present. The ratio is the only question.


It leads, as it has here, to a lot of time spent figuring out the merits of his post that could have been spent elsewise had he presented a more thorough post to begin with.

Ah, fie on me for my laziness in writing these posts :-)

Ah, fie on me for my laziness in writing these posts :-)

This thread'll learn ya!


As I've said. Great post as far as being well-written, etc., but I do think some of the critiques are on target. I want to emphasize critique here. Some of the comments on the thread have crossed over that line, I think. (I do not wish you to see my comments as such.) and the give-and-take has perhaps been a little polarizing, which I think would be unfortunate.

Can't we all just get along? ;)

I'd be interested in a fuller reply to Sharon's comments.


In the original: "and a host of other benefits, including fresher, better tasting food, access to agrarian landscapes for urbanites, etc…"

This is precisely the sort of thing that positively begs to be seen as wishing, nostalgia, or something kindred, in a sense shared with Kunstler's writings. Especially that "host of...etc…" part, which invites unlimited speculation, some of which might be unfounded.

I grew up in New York City. Most folks tended not to give the proverbial rat's behind about "access to agrarian landscapes." And most would have had little inclination to waste hours and hours at growing a few dollars' worth of produce in a window box or even on a tiny plot on a cramped "outer borough" house-lot. To put it mildly, they weren't big on fresh fruit and veg anyhow.

Furthermore, they tended to vigorously scorn the alien notion of even considering living anywhere west of the Hudson River. They were well-acclimated to circumstances providing zero routine "access" even to an isolated farm, never mind an entire agrarian landscape. The subway simply doesn't go that far. The nearest agrarian landscape was and is some hours' drive away, across "flyover territory" best traversed in the quickest way available - by jet. Some lived and died without ever having seen one in person.

I suppose all of this will shock the rural folks (and hippies) here, and it has not yet changed one iota.

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot." (Aldo Leopold.) The stress is usually on the ones who supposedly cannot.

But, turning to "agrarian landscapes", many happily live without - and without horses and buggies (other than the tourist attraction in Central Park); without the stultifying boredom of endless hours of mindless field labor, mechanized or otherwise; without the cloistered, provincial environment of a real working farm; without the snotty backbiting and exclusion that are often the dark side of village life; and without whatever else might speculatively be included in the "host of...etc…".

There seems simply to be an irreconcilable philosophical difference between 'reversalists' and others, one unconnected to anything that can be comprehended in terms of physical or even social science. On the whole, perhaps the two essays, Sharon's and Stuart's, talk past each other and cannot do otherwise.

But what will all those people eat when the produce trucks no longer roll across country?

what magical thinking did you use to come to the conclusion that the trucks won't roll? because oil is running out?

what makes you believe we'll even use gas in trucks in the future?

We don't use gas now for trucks we use diesel fuel.

The same magical thinking that has Maine truckers lobbying Washington over Diesel prices so they can keep hauling logs, that has diesel outages showing up all over the globe, and 'we're not even in trouble, yet'..

John, you're credulousness about our ability to implement all these things we 'already know how do to', but we're just behind a couple decades.. that's Doug Henning, right there. "Magic is Everywhere.. It's a WORRRLD of ILLU-SION!"


Doc: 'Roads? Where we're going, we don't NEED roads!'

jokuhl- I'm not sure what your point is. shortages are usually not long-term and can be the result of the distortion of prices. the example is your maine truckers.

we are not behind decades. we have so much already in place- canals, railroads, sidewalks, dense cities and old-fashioned conservation and efficiency.

if you think globalization is dead because of peak oil, I refer you to the article about cargo ships simply SLOWING DOWN to reduce oil usage. there are so many ways to save oil that are inexpensive and can be used today. there are so many ways to save oil that will be used 5 years from now.

the wheels are in motion.

"shortages are usually not long-term and can be the result of the distortion of prices"

And hence, The Oil Drum!


"Let's just say we wish to avoid any 'Imperial' entanglements."
"Well, that's the trick, isn't it?"

are you implying shortages that never end? if we have shortages that never end people will stop using whatever is in short supply.

Is anyone sitting at home cursing the 150th plus year of peak whale oil? who has even heard of whale oil?

Whale oil is a dramatic, but tragically poor comparison.

What was waiting in the wings as we moved past 'Peak Whale'?
Where was coal on its trajectory at the time?
Does Oil give up it's prodigious quantities of Energy Quickly or Slowly?

Now, as we ponder the 'other side' of oil's curve, with 3, 4, 5 times the population as then, what is waiting in the wings to replace it?

If food is in short supply, just as anything else, you are right. People will, of necessity, stop using it.

I wonder if Whales can laugh.

what is waiting in the wings? we don't need to use oil to go happy motoring. we can use electricity. we don't need oil for a lot of things, although you wouldn't know about it from reading the comments here.

something doesn't have to be on the drawing board now. squeezing the oil out of our economy is a lengthy process. that is why I call it The Long Transition. rising prices will tell people not to use as much oil. we don't have to begin today or 10 years ago. we won't wake up one day and have 25% less oil production. it's a slow process. gas prices go up and people adapt. the suburbs might go for a dollar a home in 10 years, but in 30 they could be two hundred thousands dollars. homes go for $1 in some places today when they would have sold for one hundred thousand 20 years ago.

In the spirit of fraternity, and I mean that, I will raise a glass to your 'Long Transition', and say dayenu! ('It was enough').. in the future imperfect, anyhow. Would that it were..

In the meantime, I will be TRYING to prepare, both for my family, and for whatever I can do to be ready to help my neighbors weather the bumps. We might discover that the Bumps on an 'Undulating Plateau' won't be equipped with seatbelts.


"we are not behind decades..."

John, John, John!

I'm not saying we're DEFINITELY behind by decades,.. in having a backup plan, and continencies prepared to catch us or slow the fall if something bumps us off this plank that's leveraged way out over the downslope of our HydroCarbonically enhanced carrying capacity.. just that we MOST LIKELY are. Big Difference.

Yes, I believe in all those things you mentioned.. BUT, The Magical-Market Carpet Ride does not necessarily 'care' if we have enough time to change things over 'on a dime' (especially if we need to borrow that dime from a reticent lender) .. The rate of energy flow is the problem. The car is speeding, SPEEDING down the interstate, TOO fast to turn, TOO fast to jump off onto a bike, and to make matters worse, we can't see but a few feet ahead, and we are hardly bothering to do even that! Climate Change is in the opposing lane, and we think he's swerving and weaving, but it's hard to see.. but most of us don't care about that, either..

Yes, there are solutions. All sorts of them. But they're in the trunk, and some of the parts might still be at home. Requires partial assembly. Instrucciones no habla ingles. Batteries not included. No User Servicable parts, please refer servicing to qualified service personnel.



Those Maine truckers are probably not a good example of anything important. Our economy is chock-full of grifters after Federal handouts. There has been no problem getting diesel for end use except at times in North Dakota. They simply need to raise their rates a little and pay the price. Over time, relative prices change; that is a normal occurrence. And it seems unlikely that the relative price of diesel is likely to drop very much for very long, any time in the foreseeable future.

If they "can't" raise their rates a little, that demonstrates that there is an easy way to bypass them and get lumber anyway - or else that nobody really values their particular lumber very much (perhaps it serves a discretionary market.) In either case there is (as yet) no great societal problem, only a personal problem. The world is not a museum, so it's not unusual that people need to find another line of work or a different way to pursue their accustomed work. There is little call for buggy-whip fabricators these days.

They need to keep reality in mind even if they do get their handouts for now. Federal largesse tends to function as a giant game of Queen for a Day. Soon enough, the media spotlight will swing to someone else with an even more teary sob story, and the handouts will follow.

They'll probably eat the grains that were carried from the midwest by barge, all the way down the Mississippi and around the coast, or up through the great lakes & Erie Canal, plus fresh produce, eggs, dairy, and meat from small farms in NJ, LI, Upstate NY, CT. Just like they did before a single well was drilled along Oil Creek, PA.

Before any oil was drilled in Pennsylvania, New York City had a MUCH smaller population.


"But you're underwater, you'll drown!"

"No Problem, I've got a straw!"

I believe you have hit on an important cultural distinction.

Regarding the relationship between a population and its perceptions of nature, city life, etc. this is a great subject. Marvin Harris would be a good sociologist to look into. I have done some interviews that touch on this subject:

and a recent one about Heinberg's latest book:

Jared Diamond in Collapse also has good discussions.

What I find troubling is that a culture can become so rigid in its norms that it finds obvious solutions to its own problems so distasteful that it doesn't even dare consider them. That's what I see happening right now.

What I find troubling is that a culture can become so rigid in its norms that it finds obvious solutions to its own problems so distasteful that it doesn't even dare consider them. That's what I see happening right now.

This is a point I alluded to in a comment to Stuart's original post. Our governments and big business are blinded to physical and ecological reality, and will continue to follow the beliefs of the grand religion of "economics". They are NOT going to act rationally at all, because, as you say, rational analysis and action will require a major deviation from their belief systems. Sharon kind of alluded to that with her analogy about MRSA.

They will act rationally when the reality of economics imposes it's will. people did not want to lose their homes. economic reality set in that they could not afford them and now we have massive foreclosures. I'll take economics most of the time.

People wanted a free lunch at an "all you can eat" but guess what it turns out you have to pay. Tough luck eh. I'll take economics when someone shows you can get the infinite out of the finite.

Paul, the 'Fresher foods and Access to Pretty Farmlands', if you'll look at your own quotation, was simply an addendum, 'a host of other benefits'.

The reason our family and many of our friends buy from various CSA's, local dairys, get shares of local meats, use farmers markets, etc, is in large part to eat more nutritious and fresher produce, as it's become clear that this is actually important for our health. Be that as it may, we are also very conscious of the vulnerabilities of having all our food be subject to a National Economic Supply Chain, to Diesel fuel, to Road and Weather Conditions that are beyond our control.. and a host of other dangers, you might say.

It makes perfect sense to work towards and to invest in local food production.. to make a concerted effort to allow local farms to succeed, both as a reinforcement of localising your money, as well as making sure your food sources are resilient and accessible. Your Hippy fantasy is just that.. it's a fantasy, and it's yours.

I lived in NYC for 19yrs, and saw the Union Sq, 6av, Midtown and 76th st West farmers markets, and of course the fish markets at Fulton and in Chinatown all busy and thriving. Your parents, like many others, ran in other circles, I guess. Despite the little chunk of a quote that you're pulling from, there's no rule that says people who want to get a stable, functional local food supply ALSO have to make regular visits to farms for 'Cowpetting', or that they'd want to.

"There seems simply to be an irreconcilable philosophical difference between 'reversalists' and others, one unconnected to anything that can be comprehended in terms of physical or even social science."

This is the problem, Paul. The term 'REVERSALISTS' is empty, it's self-contradictory, and it lets YOU take your favorite cliche's and pet peeves, glom them onto some imaginary demographic and go 'those damn fools!'..


It would perhaps, for this particular audience, have been wiser for me to say that "fresher, better tasting food et al" are routinely described as the reasons people invest in CSAs and other local agriculture, including the one I ran until this year (which regularly had a lengthy (50 or more) family waiting list).

It would be wish fulfillment for me to say that's why people will do it in the future, but it has become sufficiently a commonplace (every other small farmer I know doing similar things gets exactly the same comments, including those who truck to NYC) that I assumed it was something of a commonplace that this was a frequent rationale - people are not spending their money on local food, generally speaking, because the mainstream population believes they may not be able to get trucked in lettuce, but for perceived aesthetic and health benefits.

I grew up in a mix of city and suburbia, including Boston and NYC, and of course there are people who don't care about agrarian landscapes - and there are people who go to enormous lengths, for example, to send their kids out of the city through the Fresh Air fund, or if they have money, to take their children to ag-tourist farms (or visit them themselves - bus tours regularly roll up from Manhattan at ones friends of mine run). I don't think the implication that some people, even many people find this to be worth seeking out also includes the subset claim that everyone on earth does.



Re: graphs and hard data

I find the evidence of actual events as, or more, compelling than predictive graphs and statistics. One could use a graph of the value of the Dow Jones Index to prove that, in the long run, the stock market will always climb, and many (or most) people believe this to be true. But I wouldn't want to invest in stock futures for 50 years from now. Would you?

I feel that our recurring tradgedy is our inability to learn from history, it is instructive to look at what happens when civilizations collapse, and we have countless examples to look to. Maybe the difference here is between historian and statistician. I feel repeated historical experience is a valid form of data, and more far-reaching than an extrapolation of current trends.

You may think this way because, in many cases, graphs and statistics are often used inappropriately to support one's preexisting hypothesis. With the amount of data available on the web now, it's very easy to find data and present it in a manner to 'prove' one's point. As a data analyst, I see a real danger in the use and misuse of data to draw erroneous conclusions only because an 'apparent relationship' exists between two variables regardless of the effect of other variables on the outcome. This is becoming an increasing problem on this site as evidenced by the Fallacy of Reversibility 'analysis', imo.

Agree completely. Much of the data was sparse (i.e., price of oil vs. farm profits [where do profits at $90 oil come from when it has only been up there a few months?]), assumed a linear extrapolation (and yeast in a batch of brewing beer follows a rising trend until peak sugar), and consequently lent itself to interpretation with very shaky support. Obviously much time was devoted, though the essence of the thesis was not at all convincingly supported. I'm reminded of Josh MacDowell's "The Evidence Demands a Verdict".

Crowbar wrote:

It is telling that this refutation is unable to demonstrate a single graph or piece of hard data. Stuart's article was heavily evidence based and relied on the quality of his primary sourced data. This refutation is, in comparison, an opinion piece with no real analysis.

It was a critique of Stuart Staniford's article. It didn't need graphs as it wasn't trying to prove that relocalisation is a consequence of peak oil. Instead, she was showing that Stuart's article was weak in a number of areas. Some of these are:

  • Stuart's claim that there are no examples of reversal of industrial societies was shown not to be entirely correct. Examples of such reversal were given.
  • Stuart misrepresented the argument of what he called reversalists. Sharon corrected this.
  • Stuart's claimed that certain predictions naturally fell out of what the second wave peak oilers were saying, when Sharon and others showed this to be a collection of straw men that could easily be disproved and that such predictions did not flow naturally from relocalisation advocates
  • That Stuart used historical data that do not accurately model the situation that is more likely to emergy after peak oil (e.g. not the expensive plentiful energy that there was prior to peak and the growing effects of climate change). She showed that there is little value in an analysis that deliberately excludes such factors.

As you offer no attempts at rebuttal of any points directly related to critiquing Stuart's post, I wonder if you read the article. If you did, and can refute the points she made as to why Stuart's analysis was flawed, please post reasoned points, not just the unsubstantiated opinions that you wrongfully accuse Sharon of presenting.

Excellent. I couldn't agree more. What struck me about Staiford's essay was that it had the tone of a preacher using quasi-data to "prove" the earth is only 6,000 years old. I was so put off by this that I didn't see the point in posting yesterday.

FWIW, my experience with relocaization is that the people do not take the time to really think things trough. I currently have a draft of an aricle that I may submitt to our local paper noting the impossibility of our rural community ever coming close to feeding itself in spite of the fact that there are less than 4,000 people spread out over 600 square miles.


"I currently have a draft of an article that I may submit to our local paper noting the impossibility of our rural community ever coming close to feeding itself"

I disagree. Jeavons is still saying 4000 feet per person, including compost materials, using Willits data.. I've done that much, manually, with maybe 20% of the work done by my ex, mostly harvesting and in the greenhouse. But it would take a level of coordination and cooperation we don't have. Including lots more fruit and nut trees, planted right now.
We should get a roundtable on this going in town with you, Jason, and John Jeavons.

As fellow commoners of Mendocino County you both might be interested in my latest set of blogs that ask the same question Todd does:

I will give away the bottom line of the 4th installment, coming out soon. Basically, we can only feed ourselves here if we eat very little meat and can irrigate every square foot of arable land.

My analysis is county-wide, and I don't know the specifics for Laytonville itself, but would love to compare notes with Todd. You can respond on my blog site if so inclined.

Let me address it here although it is a small rural area what I have to say applies to other areas.

The Laytonville area has about 4,000 people scattered over 600 square miles of small valleys and mountains. Using the data from the current Community Solutions newsletter, No.14, the USDA says per capita food consumption is ~2,000 pounds/yr including all food groups. For Laytonville that means the area has to produce 8,000,000 pounds. It isn't going to happen; not only is there insufficient arable land but there is nowhere near enought water. The ETO (evapotranspiration) during peak summer water demand is ~6" per month or about 1/2 acre-foot of water or ~5,000 gallons per day per acre. With the exception of people living along the creek, I'd like to know how many people can irrigate even an acre ever day. Rat, you have a paper I wrote on this so you already know that this isn't realistic.

Nor are cattle going to do much for meat. It takes 30-40 acres of unirrigated range to provide them food. My neighbor has about 300 acres of range and runs a dozen or so cows. So let's say he grows out the calves and the finished yield is 750 pounds or 7,500 pounds total. Gee, that gives the populace ~2 pounds of meat a year (sorry to be snarky). I know of one guy somewhat outside of our area who has 14,000 acres and he runs about 150 cows.

I could go on and on but I'll end with John Jevons. The reality is that John is full of shit. Last year when Sustainable Laytonville visited "Common Ground", they asked about the yields. They were told that the gardens could only supply one meal a day because they didn't have enough compost. I hate to be crude but that's a fucking excuse that dosen't hold water if the system works. The fallacy with Biointensive/Biodynamic and Permaculture is that they all require outside inputs whether it's rock phosphate or rock dusts, etc.. There is no way to have perpetual fertility and take a crop off and replace lost nutrients with the "left-overs" from the area under cultivation. I have been told that even John has said there is no way to maintain fertility even if the person's urine, poop and his bones were added back.

In our area, the dope growers will move out first. Then many older people will be next (It's funny I should say that since I'm 69.). Those who hang around will be those who are close to self-sufficient AND have the necessary skills, tools and equipment. A couple of years ago I got a lot of canning jars from a neighbor. Why? Because few people can any more. And, here's a nice factoid: people need to can about 360 quarts of fruits and vegetables a year PER PERSON to get by during the off months in our kind of climate (FWIW, it's more mid-western than California - I was snowed in for almost a week recently.

Ok, I've run on far too long even though I've only started. I'll go on if anyone asks.


Edit to correct a spelling mistake I saw and to add: Lest anyone think I an against alternative growing methods, I'm not. We were the first certifed organic "farm" in our area in the early 80's and my wife and I were the co-chairs of the certification committee of the Mendocino County chapter of California Certified Organic Farmers and I did farm inspections including John's place.

I must say I'm quite surprised at the conclusions of your and Jason's analysis. I know Mendocino county somewhat (since I lived one county up in Humboldt for a number of years) and I would have guessed Mendocino could easily be self sufficient under labor-intensive agriculture. I guess now we know why so many of the 70s back-to-the-landers started growing specialty cash-crops for export instead :-)

Golly Stuart, I bet you even think the maine fishing fleet actually hauls fish into to shore.
With more coastline than California (3478 miles), there are plenty of places to offload a cargo picked up in international waters. ;>

I don't know about the whole county, but I suspect the smaller towns could do it. Ukiah probably has too many people, and Willits might, too. The coastal towns probably don't get enuf sun to grow all their own food.

Did this analysis include terracing? No mention of well water. Unless collapse happens tomorrow, might there not be time to build up composting? How did Cuba get around this?

Forgive my ignorance.


The Rat has 2 ponds. May have to stock one with fish.

360 jars? Every time I get close to your figure, you raise it by another 50. You started out telling me 200.

Got about 50 cattle on the 360 acres next door. Now we be up to 4 lbs. Throw out the vegeteranians and we are up to 8 lbs. And we haven't talked about Shamrock and 101 Ranches, which have large herds; don't know how sustainable with all the irrigation, but they have lots of animals.

Growers leaving, especially the indoor ones, will be good. Grab their lights and grow in the winter using hydropower.

I question your food recommendations; that is 6 lbs a day, and I don't think I have eaten 4 lbs on the eatingest day of my life.
FEMA recommendations from
say 600 lbs of grains, legumes, sweeteners, eggs, and powdered milk for an adult male, maybe 100 lbs less for females. Even a lb of fruit and vegetables/ day still is only 1000 lbs.

But, it will take cooperation and coordination, and involving everybody capable of working, which would be harder to achieve than the actual growing. It would mean cattle from the large ranches stay here, instead of being exported. Would mean stocking all the ponds, and/or resurrecting the Trout Farm. Probably mean ripping out all the lawns you so carefully nurtured at the schools, and substituting gardening for PE. We already have a vineyard (table grapes) and a blueberry farm, and there are plenty of wild blackberries around. Bees are easy; when we were doing the market, we had 5 hives. We would have to produce enuf food to either trade for salt, or send expeditions over to the coast to harvest it. Still leaves us without any dairy, tho, so we would need dairy cows, goats, and to build up the yak herd Sustainable Laytonville started.

Getting there, organizing, coordinating crops, coercing the big ranches to go along, will take some sort of ag czar. Since it was my idea, I'll volunteer to be your assistant.

Oh, we still have lots of grasshoppers, and plenty of raw material for "4 and 20 blackbird (raven) pie". And if we can feed people well enuf that they won't poach, a few designated town hunters could add game to the mix. This is the most problematic, cuz too many people would do it on their own,and, as you have pointed out in the past, all the deer were hunted out in 6 months during the Depression. Too bad we can't depend on salmon runs anymore.


About the food quantities - the 2,000lbs a year Americans are recorded as eating isn't necessarily the weight when they get it, it's the weight when grown. It just adds together the weight of all the fresh grain, fruit and vegetables, and all the animals slaughtered, and so on.

However, a lot of stuff that people eat in the West is dried and otherwise processed, so the weight drops - wheat in my breakfast cereal weighs less than the wheat in the ground, the apricots in the tin weigh less than those on the tree. And then of course you get corn and olives and so on, turned into syrup or oil, that weighs less than the original thing.

So in fact the actual food coming to people's cupboards and refrigerators is more like 1,200lbs, not 2,000lbs. Now consider the fact that in the West, typically about 25% of food bought is discarded uneaten. So we get down to 950lbs. This is above your FEMA recommendations of 600lbs, but again remember that they're recommending powdered milk, eggs, etc - and amazingly, those are not powdered in nature ;)

And that Westerners eat more than they need to sustain themselves should not be a fact which surprises any of us.

This analysis would seem to argue for a lot fewer people in the future. There is a carrying capacity for the land, and, in time, the population may revert to that when large scale food imports are no longer feasible.

Ok, I've run on far too long even though I've only started. I'll go on if anyone asks.

I'm always interested to hear more.

They were told that the gardens could only supply one meal a day because they didn't have enough compost.

I presume that by extending the area, they could generate enough compost. And, presumably, with a large enough area, you can replace nutrients so that growing is sustainable for a very long time?



Ok, I'll expand a bit but not too much - maybe another time. First of all, the reason for my irritation is that we are potentially talking about people's lives. They read this stuff but don't have the experience to weigh what is being said. In my case, I've grown stuff for over 40 years. I also have a science background so I look for "real" research not annectodotal accounts.

To me, it is important that a growing method not be touted as universal unless it really is and that only comes with agronomic research. A good example of this kind of work was gone by the Rodale Research Institute this past year comparing composts. I don't have the URL for the paper but it can be found by searching at

Soil nutrient sustainability is very important to me. That's why I've been messing around with Tera Preta for a few years. What is going to get most home growers is depletion of phosphorous, calcium and trace minerals. The idea that one can go out and collect sufficient organic matter for compost is ludacris (sp). I made tons of compost when we were certified organic. The only way I could possibly get enough organic matter was to clean out horse stalls, truck it home and then turn it with the loader on my tractor.

This leads to the necessity of choosing a future scenario. No fuel? Some fuel? Some synthetic fertilizer? No fertilizer, etc. Here is what I would argue for less than a total collapse: It makes more sense for home growers to use hydroponic methods. It does not require soil preperation. It does not waste water. It minimizes fertilizer use. It is highly productive. It is not labor intensive. The caveat being that it is unlikely to provide all of a families food needs and it isn't cheap. FWIW, a 25# bag of soluble is currently about $37 at our farm supply (For me that's a 60 mile drive each way so I always stock up when I'm down there.)

However, for me, who has an established garden and orchard, some variation of "organic" growing methods makes more sense. As I've written before, I use a variation of mulch gardening but I fertigate using 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer with trace minerals and I do add other ammentments from time to time.

And, heck, I haven't even gotten into appropriate varieties and species.

Climate also plays a significant role in food production. Mendocino County where Rat/Mike, Jason and I live has a zillion macro and micro climates. I'm in the mountains at 3,000 feet where it is snowing right now; I'm willing to bet it is raining at Rat's house 20 south of me and also likely to be raining at Jason's 30 miles south of me. My area is timber and cows (with lots of dope growers thrown in) while the southern part of the county is wine grapes. The coast is a rotten place to grow as noted due to lack of sun. The big Ag product on the coast is harvesting sea urchins for their roe. The coast also has the only dairy herd left in the county.

My hope is that people start to at least try to grow something even if it is in a container or Earthbox. At least they will learn a bit about agronomy. But, in reality, I don't hold much hope for all these coming home gardens.

Enough for now.


We use a product called Jacks Professional 15-5-15 + 4% calcium 2 % magnesium + minors at the nursery.
(15/5/15 Calmag)
works wonders IMHO


Thanks for your reply. I guess that this:

or the linked article inside was what you were talking about - both interesting articles.

I can appreciate the comment about horse manure, having recently wheel-barrowed 20 loads from a nearby stables (they muck out) to my allotment. It will be interesting to see what affect it has - we feel that we were depleting the soil too much.

I also hope to start experimenting with green manures, but I can see that you would need a lot of fallow land to make up the quantity needed - it is sobering to see how what seems to be a huge amount of compost just disappears when applied even to a small bit of land.

If I relocalize, I'd like to look into some sort of forest gardening where there seems to be some work done in making a system sustainable over a long period (e.g. see, but again you need much fallow land (or at best differently productive land). I can indeed see why others talk about taking 30 years to learn.


A question that comes to mind though, is how significant are those county boundaries? Most state and county boundaries in the US are quite arbitrary, and only rarely correspond to any facts on the ground. (My own joke is that a straight line on a map always indicates that it was drawn by people that were not living there.) If an area with a high population density is bordered by one with a much lower population density, is it not reasonable to assume that the lower-density area might be able to produce a surplus for trade with the higher-density area? (And that the higher-density area might be able to support specialist crasftspersons and tradepeople that the low-density area cannot, thus producing goods and service for trade?) This, in fact, is the normal pattern that we have seen all over the planet, all across history. (And as for higher energy costs eliminating long-distance transport, we are not talking about long-distance transport. It is probably not significantly longer or shorter from one end of Mendocino County to the other than it is from the center of Mendocino county to the center of the adjacent county.)

Thus, I think that if one is going to go to the considerable trouble necessary to produce an analysis like this, then one ought to look at where the natural local trade relationships are likely to occur, and to encompass all of those locations in the study area.

Stuart's article had the tone of a polemic, a personal diatribe, against relocalisation and those who advocate it. The analysis turned into a blinkered accounting exercise, which purported to prove the economies of scale of industrial agriculture in a post peak world and in fact only demonstrated the limitations of thinking and practical experience of the author.
It elegantly showed how easy it is to perpetuate notions of efficiency, which do not encompass sustainable principles, and then extrapolate these from a period of stable growth of nett energy, complexity, and returns, into a period of diminishing nett energy, infrastructure robustness, and stability. To reach dangerous conclusions which would place the world at heightened risk when any of the links of the agricultural logistic chain broke. Mono cultural dependence, is not a particularly enlightened position at any time, and certainly not an appropriate response in uncertain times.

storage, refrigeration and preservation
water availbility
supporting infrastructure
soil condition

Perhaps an engineering insight into the supporting infrastructure from the petrochemical industry would enlighten the thinking on the sustainability of just one of the links in the chain. I used to work for ICI, which had a substantial fraction of the chemical/petrochemical industry in the UK.
It had a long term North Sea gas price deal which sustained profitability in its various ammonium nitrate plants, until the deal elapsed, and some large plants went with it.
Nett effect, is the UK is dependant on imports of fertilizer.
ICI was also responsible for the bulk production of pesticides and herbicides. This feat was only possible with the operation of a 70 barg, ethylene pipeline. Ethylene produced in Grangemouth from North Sea gas, was exported to Wilton, Runcorn and Stanlow. At Runcorn and Wilton, the ethylene was reacted with chlorine, fluorine etc, to produce the intermediairies for the agrochemicals.
The chlorine cell rooms in Runcorn alone take 1% of the national grids electric. As a result a gas fired power station was built in 1997 on site to avoid the constant ramping of output to optimise electric power charge vs production demand. Unfortunately subsequently North Sea and Morecambe Bay gas outputs have fallen to the extent that the UK has become hostage to the European free market gas prices, when Germany and France, have 10 times the days gas storage capacity and long term contracts. The nett effect in recent cold spells is the economics of the enterprise has been undermined. Chlorine's application for potable water is possibly the number one safeguard to the nations health.
It is inevitable that the production of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides will increasingly shift to the oil and gas producers. I have worked on some of the very large ongoing Saudi and Qatar based projects enacting this change. With the continued big Ag model advocated OECD countries will make themselves very vulnerable.

I don't see Stuart's analysis as a polemic at all. It is an analysis. Sharon's response is exactly that: a response. Both have some validity from their perspectives.

However, you have made the mistake that many made yesterday and today: confusing Stuart's analysis for advocacy against relocalization. Stuart doesn't need me to defend him, but I happen to think the analysis is correct in the political and economic environment we exist in--until it is not, of course. :)

Is Stuart saying "don't prepare!"? No. He is not. He is saying that most of the factors that would push people to prepare, namely a lack of efficiency and productivity that would drive such change, are going to the be lower than many entertain the notion of right now, meaning that this kind of "change" is going to be an idiographic, relatively irrational decision like most: based on who you are, what you believe, and what you can do.

Does that mean it's wrong to prepare? Absolutely not. It just means it's not going to be the easy choice. All he's saying is that the efficiency and productivity of corp ag isn't going anywhere any time soon.

As I said in the comment section yesterday:

A very interesting and provocative piece, Stuart.

I'll not rehash the criticisms my colleagues have made above, however I do want to explore another integrative line of argument.

One thing we have learned here at TOD is that the growth paradigm will do everything it can to persevere. "It" will use increasing efficiencies, "it" will use the institutions of government and
capitalism--where "it" will use rational self-interest. We lead very comfortable lives because of what "it" does--and we sure do like our comfort.

"It" will continue to grow--until it cannot. (This is Nate's point above in a much pithier form.)

Still, I think I agree with Bart and Yoon and others above that, for the forseeable future, Stuart is correct regarding this portion of the pie. Empirically, the case makes a LOT of sense--and yet, we want to balk at the idea because it conflicts with our normative ideas of what the future will be like under certain conditions.

Does Stuart's piece suffer from a ceteris paribus assumption--sure (at the core of every piece of research are sets of assumptions...); we cannot hope to capture every variable of a probabilistic view in every model we put together either (This is JHK's point above), but we can try to present a parsimonious generalizable explanation and then duly noting the strength of the rule and the exceptions to it.

But, it seems to me that this juxtaposed discussion, which is one of the best I've seen here for a long time, really demonstrates the conflict between the normative and the empirical sides of what we
increasingly think we are going to face in the coming years.

Writ large, self-sufficiency is lost on us as a world. We have grown dependent on complexity and focused expertise to such an extent that we now know very little about our cars, or our homes, or our land. When tragedies occur in our world, we look to government or corporations for assistance, not to ourselves--whether it is for medical assistance or food or water or loans get my point.
That is not going to change any time soon--in fact, those corporations and institutions, on a daily basis, are making sure that as many people as possible are hooked on to that teat with a tenacity that makes your eyes roll back in your head.

Remember, simply put, the libertarian perspective is that government should not be a collectivization of resources and that we should return to self-sufficiency and self-determination by choice and control our the resources that we own. But, unless you have a) that ideological makeup, b) those resources, and c) the will to use them, "you" have not done so.

Instead, "you" live in the world of teh internets and driving 40 miles in your car at lunchtime eating MickeyD's listening to sports talk radio.

And yet, isn't it the case that many here understand that the only way to really get out of this mess is centralized control of resources through massive policy change?

This interdependent conundrum is absolutely fascinating to me.

Contrast that normative desire for, but lack of, self-sufficiency and self-determination with the rational, efficiency-seeking, corporate dystopia, further contrasted with the understanding of the tragedy of the commons/centralized control of resources.

And in that, you see the future in which this is all going to go down.

I happen to think the analysis is correct in the political and economic environment we exist in--until it is not, of course. :)

But doesn't that diminish it's worth? It may be valid to predict no move to relocalisation given our current situation but most people here are predicting a very different future economic, political and environmental climate which makes this kind of analysis not particularly helpful in trying to figure out how this will pan out.

As Sharon pointed out, it also misrepresents the views of relocalisation advocates and puts up false predictions so that they can be easily overturned. It is clear why so many regard the piece as a counter-advocacy of relocalisation because it appears to have been researched and written to precisely prove that relocalisation can't happen.

It should be clear from the article, btw, that I actually agree with Professor Goose here - relocalization strategies will be a difficult, if not losing battle, in many areas, given the tenacity of industrial agriculture. That is, the substance of my disagreement is not on whether peak oil will help industrial agriculture, but on the nature of the relocalization movement.

I do disagree that Staniford's piece contained no polemic against relocalization.

My own take is that relocalization as a strategy will probably be intermittent, highly localized, even personalized for some time, showing up in the places where people are most squeezed between food and fuel prices in the first world and in places where poor people can obtain land access again in the poor world. I think that's the nature of thing - Willits and Transition Towns are models, after all. I'm not aware of anyone who thinks that they will magically become the norm, although one can always hope.

But that's not necessarily a nail in the coffin of relocalization either - even if the direst of collapse situations, there are some people who profit and do well. The idea that a chunk of society that can no longer really either afford to eat, heat or drive, because of the cumulative costs of doing all of the above might relocalize, along with some groups that have a political agenda and are able to persuade their communities to go along with them, is not, I think incompatible with relocalization thinking. And the reality is that in the event of a collapse - or even a partial collapse - models become very useful. It was thus in Cuba, where bottom up strategies of survival were adopted by the government. It was thus in the US during WWII, where the victory garden movement, a popular, grassroots move to food security, was adopted and supported by government policy.


So Sharon - it sounds like you, along with Richard, see relocalization of agriculture as a survival strategy in a collapsing society. And presumably the purpose of advocating it would be a judgement that a sufficiently severe societal collapse was inevitable, or at least likely enough to make it imprudent not to begin preparing for it now. Is that a fair statement of your views?

I would also like to know whether there are relocalist thinkers who believe that relocalized agriculture is a viable path worth advocating for not in the context of societal collapse. (I only recall personally reading one - Wendell Berry, but he's pretty ideosyncratic I'm sure!) If so, have they attempted to assess what a relocalist society would look like (in terms of population, nutrition, income, etc)?

I would also like to know whether there are relocalist thinkers who believe that relocalized agriculture is a viable path worth advocating for not in the context of societal collapse.

*puts hand up*

Like I keep saying, as fossil fuels decline and their prices rise, so will the cost of food from industrialised agriculture. If petrol is $10/lt and tomatoes are $20/kg, then people start thinking that it'd be good to have a container or two growing on their veranda, and that 4 hectare market garden with the hothouses just outside the suburbs starts looking a lot more profitable, able to offer the tomatoes for $5/kg since they only have to truck them 10km instead of 250km.

Some relocalisation then becomes inevitable.

have they attempted to assess what a relocalist society would look like (in terms of population, nutrition, income, etc)?

Paul Saffo has said (youtube) that he gives only a 50% chance that the United States will still exist as a nation by the middle of this century. He points out a growing trend of cities, states and regions to more or less go it alone, against central government wishes. In other words, he's talking about a localising trend.
I think there's an The Oily Smudge on the Future of the City-State, but have tried to have a look at The Shape of Food to Come

I would have to begin by asking how you define "societal collapse"? I would tend to think that as soon as a proportion of the population are priced out of the conventional food market then that would be a form of collapse, to those experiencing it at the very least. What systems need to fail, and to what extent to be classed as collapse to make a valid case? Could we possibly say that our morally and ethically bankrupt first-world society has already "collapsed"?

Whilst probably not qualifying as a "relocalist thinker", my definition of relocalisation differs from the one provided in the original essay. Mine is more along the lines of "sourcing all goods as locally as possible", and does not negate the possibility of using mechanisation, or indeed trade for some goods. It's all about the consumers ability to obtain what they need in the local area, at a fair price and of good quality.

In this sense relocalisation would be useful in a non-collapse situation, purely for the resilience and strength of local economies, but yet again we come round full circle as these are only useful if we fear supply disruptions, the effect of climate change etc. If we can shrug off these concerns then there is really no need for it beyond aesthetic value and reminiscence over times passed.

A question I would ask in return is "Would all of those starving masses that are already present on the earth consider themselves to be involved in an ongoing societal collapse, and would they have been better off today if they'd stayed localised as they once were?" of course with the assumption that they were allowed to by the powers that be. The impetus applied by industrial agriculture to third world countries has undone a lot of what was already localised/subsistence living and contributed in part to the famines they face today.

The author of "Forest Gardening" Robert A de J Hart advocates localisation, though perhaps not so explicitly, and he doesn't mention societal collapse at all (that I can recall). The main motivations he puts forward are ethical and humanist ones, right livelihood etc, as well as the increased nutritional benefits of locally grown foods. Obviously ethical concerns and scientific facts are hard to mix in an analysis. As has been mentioned in comments here, one philosophy of living does not fit all people, so what he has written has to be taken with that in mind.

Actually, I think averting a collapse scenario (which I don't think is absolutely inevitable, although quite likely in the rich world - but I believe is inevitable in the poor one and among the poorest and least enfranchised of the rich world) isn't my own personal primary motivation, it is merely one of many compelling arguments. But like Berry, I think an agrarian society (I don't think Berry would call himself a relocalizer, but an agrarian but of course, I don't know the man, just admire his work) has a number of potential benefits now. Some of which are (and in no particular order):

1. I actually think Jefferson may have had a point about the merits of independence in democracy. That is, I think that consumers who are terribly dependent on large corporations to meet their needs cannot act effectively in political opposition to them. That is, I think it is hard to really do more than deplore the influence of corporate power while you are regularly giving them big chunks of your income to feed, clothe and otherwise meet your needs. That said, I don't want to over-romanticize Jefferson, whose "independent" farmers included a slave society. But I think there's something real there.

2. I do think there is a real correllation between the quality of the food we eat and the costs we bear for health care, which is swiftly becoming one of the greatest accellerating factors in social inequity. The nutritional density of food, recently picked (most supermarket produce is close to a week old, according to Marion Nestle's _What to Eat_), picked green, and grown in poor soil is simply lower than locally grown food. I suspect (although I have not run these numbers in anything other than a back of the envelope sense) that large scale voluntary relocalization would shift a considerable economic burden off the taxpayer in health costs, assuming that this process of dietary and agricultural shift was encouraged by public education as in World War II or Finland's heart disease campaign. The "third world immigration" dietary paradox suggests this is probably true.

3. I believe relocalization would create more robust economies generally - that is, Teodor Shanin and a host of others have documented that in difficult times, including those well short of collapse, the informal economy can expand and enable the lives and functioning of those excluded from the formal economy. I believe strengthening the local and informal economies is simply a wise hedge - I think we've put too many eggs in one economic basket. And I do think that relocalization would be good for the American working class - I'm trying to recall offhand where I've seen the data that suggests that much of China's wealth has mirrored the decline in American blue collar wages, but I can't pull it out of my head without at least one more cup of tea ;-), but I suspect that enabling people now working low wage, low benefit jobs to relocalize would represent an improvement in economic circumstances in many cases.

4. Perhaps most importantly, I believe that it is impossible to operate on a "fair share" without a society that is at least partly relocalized. As I said, I'm not calling for anything resembling perfect equity, but I do think that the conventional model, as you demonstrated in your previous essays on biofuels, is potentially deadly to the poor of the world, and damned dangerous to the poor of the US and other Global North nations. I believe that even if we can eventually perfect renewable technologies and redistribute them more equitably over the long term, we have fairly good evidence (in that we aren't), that we can't do that today. And yet, the poor are already suffering from higher food prices, the inability to import oil and climate change. Which suggests to me that at the same time we work on developing new technologies that may or may not get applied, we also have to balance our own books, and find some way to use less energy, not when the technologies are perfect, but now.

If we are actually to use carbon fairly (even with trading) or to use other environmental resources fairly I think that means a whole host of things that, outside the context of relocalization, merely look unpleasant - less travel, less money, less shopping, etc... Relocalization gives us a chance to get *more* of a host of things - stronger social ties, better food, better health, etc... Revolutionary War Historian Timothy Breen calls this "rituals of non-consumption" and talks about the social power they have in times of shortage - one would think that the social benefits of not doing things would be poor compensation, but oddly, Breen finds quite otherwise.

I'm not sure if I think a widespread, multinational societal collapse is likely. I do think ecological collapse is likely, but whether the rich world gets to keep its cars or not, I don't know. I just don't assume that when this shakes out I will be one of the rich, or that most other people will be. I think preparing for poverty is probably a good hedge. But I'm not clear on whether most people believe "collapse" is what I call "ordinary human poverty" - that is the "shoes or medicine" "groceries or heat" questions that I think are increasingly likely to squeeze a large chunk of the population. IMHO, relocalization is probably their best bet in a society that has shown itself to be willing to tolerate a high degree of suffering among the poor, not only of the world, but of the US.

My own take is that "collapse" for many writers means "the end of the way of life we've created in the rich world." I admit, I don't think that would be a collapse in and of itself - it could be, of course, if it happened violently, suddenly, badly. But otherwise, I think that's merely a shift. So I guess I ask the question back at you - what's a collapse?



If you're looking for published points of view, I don't know, but I'd put myself more or less in that category. The trend towards larger farms and more mechanized farms that Stuart is producing is, in my opinion, an artifact of the political system of subsidies, and the Washington Post seems to agree:

A case could be made that it wouldn't take a societal collapse or even a peak oil crisis. All we have to do is imagine a President and Congress changing the current structure of agricultural subsidies and suddenly relocalization would be an option that people interested in market returns would be turning to.


I realize I neglected to answer your other question about agrarian/relocalization thinkers who don't predicate their analysis on the presumption of collapse.

I actually believe that in the agrarian movement, this is the majority viewpoint. Besides Berry, offhand related popular thinkers include:

Gene Logsdon (perhaps most clearly articulated in _Living at Nature's Pace_)
Wes Jackson
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Frances Moore Lappe (who is sort of borderline agrarian)
Vandana Shiva
David Orr (whose essay "The Uses of Prophecy" specifically deals with this question)
Susan Witt
Norman Wirzba
Bill McKibben (Deep Economy might be the place to start here - he regards peak oil and climate change as secondary reasons to act)

In addition, Herman Daly has called himself an agrarian at times, although his work is more wide-ranging, and EF Schumacher would be a related thinker.

In addition, the neo-luddite movement, which is an interesting alliance of agrarians, plain religious movements (Conservative Quakers, Mennonites, Amish and some related groups), and a number of tech thinkers who have come to reject high tech mentalities would be related. Scott Savage would be one public figure, David Kline and Elmo Stoll others that are fairly well known on the religious end of this, while Neil Postman, Kirkpatrick Sale and Sven Birkerts are among the techno elements.

But this is all a very rich world perspective, with the exception of Shiva and Norberg-Hodge. Food sovereignty and Land access are huge issues in the developing world, and few, if any thinkers above have failed to be shaped by groups like Via Campesina, the Brazilian MST, Wangari Maathai's Association for Better Land Husbandry/Green Party in Kenya. Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies come at this in Europe from a global perspective articulating what they call "The Subsistence Perspective" (title of their superb book, btw) and its particular focus for women. Paul Hawken documents the growth in alliance between native people's groups, anti-globalization groups, peasant groups and other odd allies in _Blessed Unrest_, and calls it, perhaps inaccurately, but not without any justification, the largest movement on the planet.

There's some heavy overlap here with the anti-globalization movement, much of which has focused on food. Peter Rosset and Jerry Mander are major public figures here, arguing for food sovereignty and small scale agriculture, not so much in the context of relocalization but of food justice issues. In the UK, Jules Pretty has addressed some of these issues, as has Pimentel, although Pimentel, I think it can be safely said, forsees a crisis.

Then there are the permaculturists who advocate this system for a host of reasons, some having more to do with a crisis than others - Holmgren, for example, is highly peak aware, while others like Hemenway explicitly deny the likelihood of a collapse and advocate permaculture because of its positive elements.

Then there are those who advocate the positive economic benefits of relocalization, including McKibben, Judy Wick of BALLE, Michael Shulman and others.

Finally, there's the large local/slow food movement, much of which has as much to do with aesthetics as it does any concerns about the future. Nutritionist Joan Dye Gussow comes at this from a nutritional standpoint, Gary Nabhan of Native Seed (Search) and various seed savers from a host of perspectives ranging from monoculture concerns to historical interest, from an Alice Waters and hundreds of her followers as a chef, Carlo Petrini from the perspective of keeping regional food differences alive, the 100 Mile Diet folks from the perspective of climate change. I doubt that any of these people, or the thousands and thousands of others involved in this group actually forsee any collapse at all.

IMHO, the majority viewpoint of what you call the "reversalists" is that this change is simply a good idea. Concern about collapse is a factor, but it is probably not the largest one, and the largest and most successful groups are those who have harnessed other concerns as well - better food, better taste, better health, economic and social justice, etc...


Aah - an intellectual map of all the different strands of reversalism - outstanding!

I am fairly familiar with the thinking of the anti-globalization folks. Indeed I was privileged to be invited to an early IFG meeting on how the anti-globalization movement should respond to peak oil, and got to sit around the table with Jerry Mander, Vandana Shiva, etc. In general, I to a greater or lesser degree, agree with their analysis of what is not good about globalized, industrial society. However, I think it became clear both to them and me that I wouldn't be part of the consensus they were trying to build in the room for what the solutions to those problems might look like.

The part of my question that remains unaddressed is the issue of income in a relocalized society. Every traditional non-industrial agricultural society we know of is dirt poor. There is no way that the global middle class is ever going to voluntarily agree to become poor.

There you go again, talking about what people would currently regard as acceptable and also judging policies in terms of monetary value. If you don't think our society is basically unsustainable, I wish you'd say so. If you do think it is unsustainable, what do you think a sustainable society would look like? Would people be measuring their worth, or their quality of life, in terms of how much money, or stuff, they had?

Do you think humans are incapable of designing a non-industrial agricultural society that is better than the traditional examples you're thinking of, particularly using better bio-intensive techniques? If you don't think humans are capable of that, do you think they are capable of designing a sustainable big ag society? If so, do you envisage a continuance of a global middle class and can you say what income you would expect them to have, and why?

I think it is the responsibility of folks who believe in the relocalized future to figure out how it would work. As far as I can see so far, they cannot answer fairly basic questions about it like how well-off people would be.

"If so, do you envisage a continuance of a global middle class and can you say what income you would expect them to have, and why?"

I'm working on that and will answer over coming weeks (hopefully not months...).

I think it is the responsibility of folks who believe in the relocalized future to figure out how it would work. As far as I can see so far, they cannot answer fairly basic questions about it like how well-off people would be.

I already told you, I'm working on it.

Stuart, Richard Heinberg pulled together various thoughts on how to determine whether a society is sustainable. He published them as Five Axioms of Sustainability. To me, they boil down to this: to be sustainable, a society must not consume resources more quickly than they can be renewed and must not produce waste at a rate greater than the environment can assimilate it (without changing it as a result of such assimilation). For the life of me, I can't imagine a growing society (either economically or in population) that can meet such conditions. In that situation, surely we would need to think of quality of life in terms other than how they appear to measure it today? I doubt that such a society could naturally flow from free market economics. Whether you call it coercion or education, surely it would be better to plan for and aim to build such a society, rather than hope it can emerge from the chaos of a disintegrating unsustainable society (since an unplanned termination of an unsustainable society would likely be chaotic, I think)?

I'm really unclear as to why you think that the relocalisationists, who see relocalisation as part of a sustainable society, need to answer all the questions you pose, since the questions are rooted in society as it is today, rather than what a sustainable society might look like.

I don't think a mathematical analysis can show us what that society will look like (unfortunately).

I like this set of principles:

The Hannover Principles
William McDonough and Michael Braungart 1992

1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.
2. Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.
3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.
4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist.
5. Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes or standards.
6. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste.
7. Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.
8. Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.
9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and users to link long term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity.

I think that Heinberg probably has missed much of #5 and never touches #3. McDonough considers #3 crucial because sustainability is not just a mechanical getting by but rather richer soil for human growth.


Ok, we need an answer about how well off people would be. Note, it doesn't have to be a *true* answer - that is, neo-liberal economics has been making false claims about how well off people would be under globalized free trade for a good long while now, but we need an answer. Well, that shouldn't be that hard, as long as the standards of accuracy are so low.

My general guess is "lower" in the developed world - particularly if relocalized societies actually refrained from extracting wealth from poorer nations, and had to live on their own land base.

But more importantly, I'm not sure that income analyses will cover the ground - as noted before, there is an enormous difference between poor in money and largely self-sufficient and poor and largely dependent on the monetary economy. A relocalized society would pretty much necessary have a lot more people who were less dependent on money - that's not to say *independent of* money, but, for example, my family of six lives on about 40K per year, annually (it fluctuates - this year I'm writing and giving up the CSA, and I'll actually make less writing books than I do farming, which is saying something).

This would be considered not a lot of money in most places. And yet, on that income we were able to pay off our mortgage on our house years (we still have one on an additional piece of farmland we bought subsequently), get completely out of student loan debt, we eat extremely well, have a great deal of fun and money in the bank. We simply don't *need* much more money than that. We grow a large percentage of our own food, barter for some other needs (firewood, some childcare, foods like honey and beef we don't raise ourselves, the use of a second car for those occasions when one is necessary, even dentistry occasionally).

I don't claim this is duplicable by everyone, nor do I underestimate the fact that a. we're highly educated (something that is quite achievable in a low energy society, but hasn't been a huge priority in the US), b. we essentially trade off a lousy salary for superb benefits worth quite a lot to us, and c. we live an area that wasn't as much affected by the housing boom as the average. But it is also the case that my family is better off in many respects, some empirical (no debt, solid savings), some more subjective (for example, I know many people who can't afford to eat high quality, organic food all the time on double our income, or who struggle with well over that to be sure their children are adequately cared for) than many of my peers who make much, much more money than I do. And that fact is in part due to our capacity to produce what we need and some extra.

I don't mean to imply that everyone would make our choices, but I live a life that I consider to be of extremely high quality, and that I think would meet empirical standards of a high satisfaction level combined with a fairly high standard of living, at an income level that is, while above the poverty level by a good bit (I've lived quite a long time below the poverty level too, and while that's harder, it did not equate to misery most of the time), comparatively low (I believe we are below the average income for a family our size, but haven't checked in a while, I could be wrong about that). So income levels would only be a portion of the picture - you'd have to do income equivalents as well.


Sharon, I don't think it's a question that needs answering, unless Stuart can explain why it's important, in the long term. For example, it's possible to imagine a society where money is not important, where most people can fend for themselves and those that can't can be helped by the local community. That Stuart thinks it's important might say a lot about what Stuart can't imagine. He could be right, though, in which case, is there much hope for us if the measure of a man or woman is, and always will be, his or her total monetary (or possession) worth? If that is so, then economic growth, and growth in individual prosperity, is the only thing that will ever drive individuals, and we will never see a sustainable society. I think it's possible that that is the case, but, if so, the relocalisation argument is largely pointless.

There is no way that the global middle class is ever going to voluntarily agree to become poor.

They may not get the choice.

Absent fossil fuels, there'll be a great slowdown in the volume of global trade, and a reduction in the physical range of people's lives. This means less lawyers, accountants, stockbrokers, and because less of them, less academics, too - and so on and so forth.

One problem that Third World countries have is that their tertiary-educated tend not to stay in the country, or return to it if their education was overseas. This inhibits their development in every sense. It's simply that in a largely non-industrialised economy, there are less opportunities for them than in the West.

In the case of a combination of peak fossil fuels, climate change and the economic troubles that are inevitable with the first two, it's likely that there'll be fewer opportunities for the middle classes everywhere.

Now, whether what they change to is what you mean when you say "dirt poor" is another question.

Stuart, I'd really like to hear your analysis of how the global middle class is going to stay rich in the future, and deal with larger environmental issues - how are we going to pay to mitigate climate change (a bill rising steadily), and deal with high fuel costs, handle the massive infrastructure redevelopment costs and the shaky economic situation. I don't forsee "collapse" as inevitable - but I don't forsee a lot of people getting richer, either, and most likely the opposite. A lot of the American middle class is in the early stages of being squeezed by rising energy and food costs, and besides starving the poor of the developing world, presumably rising energy and food costs are also going to make some of the middle class less middle, no?

This is precisely the kind of reasoning that will get me in trouble with you, of course, but it is, I think worth noting that agrarian societies are all poor *now* when there are lots of high energy, high technology societies that are rich. But the US was a comparatively wealthy, largely agrarian (no one is saying we won't do anything but farm) society for quite some time, as was Britain and most of Europe. That is, relocalization may not work very well as a strategy for a single nation, but as a world strategy, for dealing with climate change and energy issues, it might work quite well. No one can jump off the growth wagon alone without a crisis - but as you say, we're all in this one together. I'm not arguing world government here, but certainly, were relocalization to receive the same amount of support, that say, neo-liberal globalization has, it might be possible to spread the system. Again, not especially likely, but it is not true that all agrarian societies have always been poor.


Post-WW II Argentina was agricultural and one of the richest nations in the world at the time. The same could be said of Australia & New Zealand at the time.


There seems to be a trend whereby increasing numbers of people are buying organic food and food from farmer's markets, CSAs,and other organizations which tend to provide a greater proportion of food that is grown locally. This doesn't mean that we will or can be become completely localized but it seems reasonable to work for a greater proportion of localization and not necessarily some ideal, purist state of localization. The important trend is that more and more people are interested in supporting local agriculture for a whole host of reasons including peak oil and climate change. Perhaps freshness is not quantifiable with graphs and other hard data but I know from personal experience that it is real.

We shall see whether this trend starts reversing with the onset of biofuels. No doubt there will be many, including posters on this site, who will be ready with the appropriate qraphs and quantititative data demonstrating said trend. In the mean time, I will hope that my local farmers keep their land in food and not biofuels. Since I know my local farmer personally, I don't see him putting his land in biofuels, at least at this point in the game.

At some point, hopefully, our politicians and people will see the folly of diversting our valuable food resources to biofuels and subsidies and other incentives will be stopped. Candidates at the national level have not yet gotten the message.

This is what I have been trying to say tstreet. Around here, it is a market-driven return to more local economies and the reasons cannot be always be described in a spreadsheet. Although there are some things that the local markets provide that you don't see on mass grocers shelves (garlic varieties, interesting baked products etc etc). It's similar to the revitalization of some towns and city cores. It didn't start as people wanting to save money on their commute (in fact many people here "reverse commute" out to suburban offices). People like the lifestyle of walking around their community to go to the parks, movies, shopping, restaurants, kids walking to school etc. They really do that in Arlington, VA. You start to recognize the same people that you see while doing these activities and eventually know several hundreds or thousands of people - your community. People seem to like knowing the person that grew their tomatoes, or baked their bread or butchered their meat. However, now it appears it was the wise choice economically.

Now, it is true that some people could care less - don't want to know their neighbors, go for quantity of food over quality etc.

People also have different attitudes about disposability vs quality. About five years ago, an office colleague was considering a home purchase. She told me she would like to live where I do because walking to theatres and such would be neat - BUT she couldn't see living in somebody's "used" house (most homes here are 70-100 years old). So, she moved about 40 miles out in the burbs. She was pretty happy with the cheaper, bigger house with the 3 car garage - not so much anymore.

Anyway, this is all a bit off topic, but mainly I just wanted to agree with you on the trend of people buying local and local economies. I agree on the biofool stuff too!

I enjoyed being able to walk or take public transit everywhere when I lived in a basement in Arlington. I didn't like the fact that unlike in the SF Bay Area it was impossible to go out of my house and see undeveloped land.

Sounds like you want the little house on the prairie. By definition if you walk out of your house there is development right behind you! I take a walk to the Potomac trail or bike into Rock Creek park if I want local nature. There's a lot of small parks too. What gets me is being unable to see real wilderness until practically you hit West Virginia because of all the sprawl. I guess I like keeping the town town-like and the country side country side-like.

Well, actually, if you're going all the way to West Virginia, I imagine you're driving, and it's not real wilderness if you can drive up to it. IIRC, a good bit of West Virginia is countryside-like, but is there any real wilderness?

I was talking about Dolly Sods, Otter Creek, Cranberry etc. which by definition are wilderness areas. I guess you have to drive and then hike in some. Is there any real wilderness ? Is wilderness defined by no being able to drive to it ? Was there ever wilderness after the car? Or is it defined by how easy it is to get to ? Most people fly then drive to Mt Everest or K2 I would guess and then hike in. I guess there never was any wilderness. But that's what they call it.

Tangentially, China has announced price controls on domestic fertilizer supply for the spring planting season and dictated that any type of future price increase requires government review. China is a net-exporter of nitrogen (N) and phosphate (P), but imports potash (K). It's possible the government will likely have to raise export taxes further (currently 30%) or limit the issuance of export licenses, otherwise producers will simply divert raw material to higher profit international markets. If China does take further action to limit exports, this will raise global N,P prices which have obvious impacts on commercial agriculture.

For potash, I'm told that producers are asking for a minimum of $100/ton over the 2007 contract price of $170/ton while buyers
say anything over +$50/ton increase would be difficult to absorb.

It's a complicated non-linear mess.

One of the objections that people had to the Export Land Model (ELM) is that exporters would try to curtail domestic consumption in order to maximize their net exports (and there have been some examples of attempts at rationing, e.g., Iran), but Russia is systematically raising their duties on exported crude and refined products.

Regarding food, I believe that both Russia and China are actively trying to curtail food exports.

The bottom line is that food and energy exporters are going to try to take care of the "home team" first. I suppose that we might in effect see more and more bilateral trade--with the food and energy exporters primarily trading with each other.

Not a good time to be both a net food and net energy importer.

Stuart's rationale appeals to me for a very simple reason: people who 'get things done' generally have A-type personalities - and I suspect that the majority of these driven people are also technophiles.

In view of this, a post Peak Oil world is more likely to be a highly optimised low-energy but technology-focussed world rather than any sort of hippy agrarian society.

These A-types will simply apply their drive & energy to the problems associated with 'energy descent'.

I can imagine large farms continuing to exist in order to benefit from economies of scale.

I can imagine GPS satellites still being maintained & launched in order to maximise the efficiency of ground based travel & also to permit precision agriculture.

Computer systems, broadcast systems and communications networks (including the Internet) will be maintained to reduce the need for physical travel & transport.

Travel & transport, when needed, will be timetabled & routed by computer to minimise fuel use.

Sure, we will also see a large expansion in local food gardens & small-holdings ... but these won't be productive enough or organised enough to feed the cities.

There will be great changes ahead - but fossil fuels will be around for many years to come, and their use will gradually become restricted to agricultural & other key areas ... with the FULL support of technology.

'Mass relocalisation' is unlikely to become necessary - except perhaps for the more energy intensive/reliant towns & suburbs in the USA.

'With the FULL support of technology'

Don't forget that Technology needs support, too. I don't think we're done with computers or radios, microprocessors, transistors etc.. (to just consider one little area of tech) .. but that segment of our world is practically an Aspect of the masses of energy we are soaking in.

Yes, they are far too useful to let go of, but there might well be a 'balancing off' of the energy-intensity of some parts of our techno-craze that will simply be unsupportable, no matter how desirable, to shoot back at the accusations of 'Wishful thinking' that seem so fully aimed at just this
'Hippy Agrarian' stereotype that keeps twitching-out the clear thinking of the critics of Localization.


Case in point, if I told you rain (or lack of it) could make nuclear power nonviable, what would you say?

Drought Could Force Nuke Plant Shutdowns

Some complex technologies are useful, not to mention fun, but they rely on basic natural resources and natural systems the same as simple technologies. And the more complex a technology the more potiential for disruption.

It is issues like water, economics, and completion time for new nuke plants which tend to make me think that nuclear shouldn't be part of our energy future. Thin film, ala Nanosolar, for example, could permit us to scale up to megawatts in the double digits in a matter of months rather than years. However, to forego nuclear as part of our future mix requires faith in our ability to make solar and wind more dispatchable through storage, ubiquity, wind farms across regions, demand management, and a bit of coal and natural gas on the side.

One thing for sure. Drought won't cause solar to shut down; in fact it might be beneficial for it with less clouds and rain. Unless, of course, you count the water necessary to keep the panels clean.

Nuclear power has added more power over the last years and decades (even without new reactors) than all other renewables (solar, wind etc...) combined. (Increasing operating efficiency)

Nanosolar is taking 4 years to get its 400MW/year factory spun up. Once those solar cells roll out of the factory they do nothing until they are installed and hooked up the grid or to power something.

All of the solar power in the USA (installed over decades) does not equal the power of one of average size nuclear plants in terms of kwh. 3800MW at the end of 2007. This generates about 3 billion kwh.

Diablo Canyon 1 (1,073 MWe) generates about 8 billion kwh.

Drought and all other factors- overall nuclear power operating efficiency is still 90% in the USA. solar is still 15-30%. Drought does not hurt solar but the rare things like clouds, night time, dust, etc...

Nuclear can be made more water efficient. Use waste water. New reactors like molten salt. Up the efficiency of existing reactors with annular fuel and thermoelectrics and electrical generation gets doubled with the same water use.

Actually, world nuclear power looks pretty flat in capacity recently and has a declining share of generation. There are 30 plants under construction, so we might see 3 GW a year or so of new capacity, but many plants need to retire as well. On the other hand, wind and solar together installed about 24 GW last year. So, it is renewables that are adding more power now, not nuclear and this looks likely to continue.


I knew that US numbers had more clear illustration of my point but world numbers still are true (except for the a small stall in the last four years.

For 1993 to 2005
Wood (biomass): 96 thousand megawatt-hours/per year.
Waste: - 259 thousand megawatt-hours/per year. Negative number.
Geothermal: - 190 thousand megawatt-hours/per year. Negative number.
Solar: ( favorite): +8 thousand megawatt-hours/per year
Wind (favorite): 1345 thousand megawatt-hours/per year.

Renewable (total of above five) 1,000 thousand megawatt-hours/per year.
US nuclear energy figure is +16,203 thousand MWh/year

But even for the world numbers, the relatively slight percentage growth in Twh exceeds the numbers of twh (billion kwh) for solar and wind.

2002, wind generated 52 TWh
2004 wind 82 terawatt-hours

Solar, wind, geothermal and other
OECD total 153 twh in 2006

so about 100 TWh added total for solar, wind, geothermal and other from 2002 to the end of 2006.

Nuclear also added about 100 twh from your chart from 2002 to 2006.

Going to the 1998 to 2006 period and nuclear has added over 200 Twh
which exceeds the total 170 twh total of solar, wind, geothermal and other

Back to 1993 and the world has added about 500 twh of nuclear.

As we know this was during a period of very slow and almost non-existent reactor build.

So now with new reactors and extending old reactors and uprates the numbers will improve substantially for nuclear as will nuclear powers contribution.

by 2020 the IEA expectation is for world nuclear to get up to 3100-3200+ Twh. that would be an increase of 500-600 Twh. Renewables would need to triple to quadruple to keep pace. Hopefully they do. The less coal and fossil fuels the better

good commentary meta.

Travel & transport, when needed, will be timetabled & routed by computer to minimise fuel use.

That is assuming we use fuel in the future except on a very limited basis.

I was thinking last night, 150 years after peak whale oil and life really sucks.

Maybe not for you, but it's sucking big time for the Whales even today!


I do think that you have described the direction that Dick Cheney and his type (which dominate the national/homeland security bureaucracy and the corporations -- in short, TPTB) would/will take the country as things get worse.

In no way will they be outlawing home vegie gardens, or CSAs, or local farmer's markets, or any of that, but don't expect any encouragement or help from the FedGov - certainly nothing like the WWII Victory Garden campaign. At best, they'll be ignoring those of us trying to grow some of our own food, and directing all of their attention on big ag and getting food to the masses (at a profit for the big corporations, of course). I think it is likely that we will see ALL fertilizers and pesticides (organic or otherwise) pulled from the garden center shelves so that they can all go to big ag. Feed for chickens and other small stock might also start to be made unavailable to anyone except big ag. Keep things like this in mind when making your own plans.

It seems to me that both this work and Mr. Stanifords work are at least in part discussing small versus large farms. Both seem to me to be ignoring one key factor at work in the United States. That factor is governmental policy. I do not claim to be an expert in the overall policy or the USDA on small versus large farms however in the county in which I live on the ground policy decisions clearly favor large entities. The example I am most familiar with is "Conservation Plans" which are required to recieve payments under many of the USDA programs. In my personal experience a large entity is allowed a more lenient policy with regard to soil loss than a smaller unit. This directly translates into more profitability for the larger unit. The reasons for this are complex but the short reason is that an acre of corn or soybeans will have a higher actual return than an acre of forage crops.

Reversability would probably require changes in governmental regulatory policy as well as economic forces. I doubt that the first governmental response to peak oil will be to rationalize their regulatory climate.

There is a lot a wasted energy in the transportation and processing end that can be cut before actual food production is at risk.

Correct me if I am wrong, but 9,749 words may be the longest ever TOD essay. I don't recall one going over 10,000 words.

As I said over in the original thread, one of Stuart's more controversial essays. I knew he would get some push back on it. An interesting debate for sure. Whether Stuart is or isn't correct, I think relocalization is a good idea.

I think relocalization is a good idea.

No argument from me. (Since Robert and I are going to be neighbors, we have to play nice from now on).

As I noted at the top of Stuart's discussion, one doesn't have to look hard for examples of successful Electrification Of Transportation (EOT) systems--practically the whole EU, resulting, along with other factors, in a per capita energy consumption rate about half of what it is in the US--and the Amish provide very good examples of successful small farms.

Correct me if I am wrong, but 9,749 words may be the longest ever TOD essay. I don't recall one going over 10,000 words.

Wasn't one of Stuart's on Saudia Arabia 16,000+?


My question always has been, how local?

I don't care where my tv is made. we make goods and they make goods. right now the pendulum has swung too far to one side, but that will correct. I would not want my doctor becoming a farmer or a machinest who exports around the world to become a farmer for the sake of relocalization. relocalization may be more a nice ideal than a better way to order the economy. other people's farmers are not bad either.

How local?

A classic question and there are no blanket responses. Most advocates suggest focusing on food and energy systems first, as these are so crucial. If you are curious to explore this question further I might suggest the following:

we make goods and they make goods. right now the pendulum has swung too far to one side, but that will correct

Oh really? You're predicting a resurgence of US manufacturing capability?

Yes bruce. maybe not right away. eventually wages, property prices and the dollar will fall far enough where it makes sense to manufacture more goods in the US.

Help Wanted to Refill Pool of Top U.S. Factory Workers
January 22, 2008

Only half of the machines are running at Hamill Manufacturing, a precision parts maker nestled in the Allegheny Mountains just east of Pittsburgh, the city that was once the booming center of the U.S. steel industry.

Oh, so we have to become a third world country before we recover?

Robert, I thought you might find this interesting.
January 23, 2008, 2:19 pm
More Bad News for Ethanol
Posted by Keith Johnson

Another brick in the wall against ethanol. Academics tasked with plotting California’s transition to a low-carbon fuel have delivered more bad news: Ethanol appears to come with a higher greenhouse-gas price tag than previously thought — higher, indeed, than fossil fuel. . .

. . . The Berkeley team warned about the land-use-change bogeyman (”LUC” in shorthand) in a pair of lengthy reports submitted to California authorities last year. But only this month did the team report the startling, if preliminary, numbers. Current wisdom in California says gasoline produces about 92 grams of carbon dioxide for every megajoule of energy produced; ethanol is reckoned to be slightly cleaner at 75.9 grams. But the land-use penalty alone from growing more biofuel crops could add as much as 140 grams/MJ—a “really enormous” number, professors Farrell and O’Hare wrote. . .

Perhaps a better question to ponder:

Are the initiatives of individual households and communities that elect to transform themselves along the relocalization vision a wise, useful, and effective adaptation to the changing paradigm (a.k.a. "The Long Emergency") driven by oil, FF and general non-renewable resource scarcity, and climate change?

Sharon's essay mentioned the Precautionary Principle, and given the risks and uncertainties we are facing, it would seem to me that relocalized households and communities would position themselves to minimize their risks considerably, at the possible cost of missing out on some of the goodies of a cornucopian technological civilization that somehow manages to dodge the multiple bullets and continue onwards and upwards. On the other hand, what are the risks if NO communities and NO households are pursuing the alternative relocalization strategy? Isn't it prudent as a society to at least be "hedging our bets" a little?

There is also another relevant principle, this one from medicine: Primum non nocere - "First, do no harm". What harm are those that are implementing the relocalization vision at the household or community level really doing? I believe that many could argue that no harm is being done at all. Indeed, this is no accident, for the relocalization movement has grown from those striving to "walk lightly on the earth", those searching for a more physically and emotionally healthy life, and those seeking more socially functional and humane communities. In contrast, the criticisms of the mainstream society & economy are extensive and familiar to most of the readers here; the harmfulness of non-relocalized lifestyles and communities to people and the planet should now be widely recognized.

I have no doubt that there will be farmers raising grains on large acreage using present technologies for a long time to come. I also have no doubt, however, that increasing numbers of households will transform themselves along the lines of the relocalization vision, and in turn will transform their communities to an increasing extent. This will occur most likely without any active encouragement on the part of TPTB; in fact, it will most likely happen in the face of continued social ridicule and a steady stream of pronouncements from learned authorities as to why such a move is silly and misguided at best, and foolish and unpatriotic at worst. Like salmon swimming upstream, these people will persevere, however. They will do so because this isn't just about maximizing their personal income statement or balance sheet at a particular moment; it is because increasing numbers of people come to recognize that a relocalized lifestyle in a relocalized community is a better way to live.

you raise good points WNC. you forgot one important one- PRICE. peak oil will cause the price to rise and we'll use oil in more efficient ways. this will accomplish more than all other approaches combined. I have no doubt that reversalists and the kunstler's of the world will put the technofix on their roof when it is cheap to put up and saves money. at the right price even kunstler will plug his PHEV into his solar power system because it produces so much more energy than he need

price. price. price.

it will be very efficient to change that mantra to..

rice. rice. rice

peak oil will cause the price to rise and we'll use oil in more efficient ways

And who is going to be using the oil more efficiently, exactly? The poor can't afford to replace inefficient boilers, or trade in their gas guzzlers for Priuses. The demand for fuel is pretty inflexible given the way we've structured our society. Suburbanites can't all relocate nearer to within working distance of their work.

You've made a rather glib statement and completely neglected the human consequences of this magical increase in efficiency.

Every single person will use oil more efficiently. that's not a glib statement, it's basic economics. too many people miss the economic side of the equation on the old oil drum. fuel efficiency rose 70% during the last gas crisis. the prius just outsold the explorer. did you ever think Ford would come out with a hybrid SUV?

Hmmm... speaking of ignoring sides of equations, you seem, by implication, to be saying collapse can't happen. This is a strange statement to make given that collapse always has happened. I see no mechanism by which collapse would become impossible. All the more so given the greater the complexity of a system, the more vulnerable it is to collapse. Given that we are living in, by far, the most complex civilization yet on this planet, this seems like a huge assumption.

Further, greater efficiencies imply new technoloy and/or changes in behavior. The poor and near-poor won't be buying much in the way of new technologies if TSHTF, no? So, if the tech isn't going to save them, what will if not self-sufficiency (whether at the individual, community or national level)?

Let's take myself as an example. I am a teacher. I have no great financial resources at hand. If I get very lucky and work very hard I *might* end up with a small plot of land and a small off-grid home. Ah, but there are problems. Even a small off-grid home from two of the companies I know of that produce/assist in producing them costs... the same as a conventional home(Earthship). If not more(Enertia). Not much of a solution, is it, given I am essentially middle class and could not afford to build one of these homes? If enery prices go as high as many fear, we have a repeat of what Enron did to California. I never got my money back for that fraud and remember the $400/m utilities vividly. I'm sure my creditors do, too, given a couple of late payments due to the thousands of dollars of extra energy costs.

Or, perhaps you are assuming the poor/newly poor/soon to be poor will just die off, so need not be considered?

Let me run off to La-la Land for a moment with another equation not considered. One wonders how to calculate in Halliburton's contracts for detention centers, the presidential order decreeing the president stands above the other two branches of gov't if the president should choose to call a state of emergency, a very probable collapse in Mexico, etc. If the President is considering collapse scenarios, whether because of terrorism, energy or ?, shouldn't you be?


Having large numbers of people build spanking-new off-grid homes can't be the answer. We're out of time, out of money, and out of resources to do it.

What we really need is to remodel, rehab, retrofit all of those existing houses so that they can become super-energy efficient and can take advantage of whatever renewable energy resources might be available.

The really good news is that this doesn't all need to be done in one fell swoop, like building a new house does. You can do it a bit at a time over several years. Furthermore, you can do as much of it yourself as you have the time and ability to handle. These facts lower the affordability bar considerably.

We are just beginning our transition to a permanently sustainable economy. The sooner we get used to the idea, the better. One key reality of sustainable economies is that you make the assets you have last as long as possible: Repair, Reuse, Recycle. That especially includes housing.

Yes it is probable that with your available meagre resources, you won't be able to find a suitable home to rehab that has enough land around it to allow 100% self-sufficiency. Don't worry about it. The idea of 100% self-sufficiency is probably 100% self-delusional for most people, unless they are living on an island at least 5,000 miles from the nearest inhabited land. We are all going to be living amongst other people, interacting with them, and yes, we are going to be mutually interdependent with them. "Relocalization" does not necessarilly mean "self-sufficiency" at the individual household level, nor even at the community level. It does mean doing what you reasonably can to reduce your dependence upon vulnerable food and energy supplies.

* The poor can't afford to replace inefficient boilers
So they will use blankets, sweaters, hats and jackets to keep warm.
* Or trade in their gas guzzlers for Priuses
So they will stop using their vehicle and take the bus, like the SUV drivers who will also be priced out of the market (though more slowly)
* The demand for fuel is pretty flexible.
No it isn't.
Every single member of the commuter class in the USA could take the bus.
* Suburbanties can't all relocate nearer to within working distance of their work.
When the price of gasoline becomes so high that a commute is much more expensive than staying in a hostel close to work they will choose a hostel.

You don't have enough imagination. Take a trip to Europe, get a job there, take mass transit. You will see the kinds of choices you have to make when your work is separated by expensive distance from your home.

People keep forgetting about carpooling, which has the potential of cutting the amount of commuting mileage by 50-75% almost overnight. People just assume that "Americans will never carpool". That must be a different country than the USA I was living in during the late 1970s. I participated in a carpool for a while then, until it became feasible for me to start taking the bus to work. I saw lots and lots of my fellow workers in my employer's parking lot piling into cars at the end of each workday, so it wasn't just me. People were carpooling because the price of energy had gone up so much faster than their pay had. Somehow, I really don't think that human nature has changed all that much over the past three decades.

As far as Solar Price goes, I've picked up my first 350w of Solar at current prices, since I *highly* doubt that they will be getting cheaper, or that we'll have much opportunity to buy them if those numbers do drop.

$5/watt might seem pretty cheap before too long. Might not, also, but I'm not willing to bank on that.


This will occur most likely without any active encouragement on the part of TPTB; in fact, it will most likely happen in the face of continued social ridicule and a steady stream of pronouncements from learned authorities as to why such a move is silly and misguided at best, and foolish and unpatriotic at worst.

It's worth noting that the US government first opposed Victory Gardens, suggesting that individuals would squander precious resources. Only after the movement grew and proved useful in providing a significant amount of food for the home front did the government officially support the project.

Those who do it differently will be made fun of at first.

Another exhibit for that is the harassment that bicyclists and walkers routinely suffer from morons driving past in muscle cars or pickup trucks.

Yet another exhibit: people who have to fight against their HOA or local government to hang out a clothesline, or to plant vegies in the front yard, or to raise a few chickens.

There's one I've experience personally. I commute about 100 miles on a bike each week and on average get at least three shouts and the occasional near sideswipe. The dominant paradigm can be pretty conceited.

As for the chickens, it is possible to keep them in the backyard quietly in suburbia. It is important for those of us making changes in advance of absolute necessity to do so even if those changes are unpopular or even illegal.

Where is it that you're having such problems with cars when riding a bicycle? I've almost been hit before, but never intentionally. It's usually someone taking a corner too tightly and nothing more than that.

NC rural/suburban 2 lane roads. 99% of people are cool. It's that 1% that thinks bicycles don't belong on the road.

I think relocalization is a good idea

In what way is it a good idea? It's a good idea if, in the period of energy downturn before we switch to a new energy base, it works better than some different variant of centralized industrialism. If not, it might have some nostalgia value, but it is not going to be the solution to peak fossil fuels.

The problem with relocalization is that it is not very energy or resource efficient per unit of output. It also will not support advanced and advancing technology. I also see it as sort of giving up. That it assumes once we have exhausted fossil fuels, there are no alternatives that could allow advanced civilization to continue.

I'm really looking forward to a future of eating nutritious goo produced in a vat because that is the most "resource efficient per unit of output". Have you ever considered what "advanced civilisation" taken to it's ultimate economically-efficient conclusion is going to look like?

"I'm really looking forward to a future of eating nutritious goo produced in a vat because that is the most "resource efficient per unit of output". Have you ever considered what "advanced civilisation" taken to it's ultimate economically-efficient conclusion is going to look like?"

I think you are describing a totalitarian "advanced civilization" where you are a member of the underclass. In a capitalist future there will (like today) be winners, nuetrals and losers. Which do you plan to be?

"In a capitalist future there will (like today) be winners, nuetrals and losers."

While in a balanced and productive society, the strong help the weak, not 'carry them' per se, just make sure that they aren't chewed up in the gears of the machine. The whole body of the society understands that if it allows some great portion of itself to 'lose', to get sick, to become unproductive and in constant despair, then the whole society will be sick. Nobody is actually 'winning'.

"The strong help the weak"

Do you think so?
I suspect that a great deal of human nature is primate based. i.e. hierarchical and status driven. Viewed through this lens you can see why many stupid decisions take place today (one primate is challenging another primate to show he's the top monkey) instead of "what's good for the rest".
And part of being the top monkey is taking the most food and resources from the weaker monkeys.

So while, in theory, what you say would conceivably be for the best of all of us I think in actuality human nature trumps logic in this game.

My opinion (and you're welcome to argue with me about it) is that a capitalist system is fairer than a communist system.
The capitalist system recognizes human nature for what it is and allows challenges to take place (i.e. bettering yourself - getting a bigger share of resources by being more efficienct or harder working or whatever).
The other system promises to reward everyone equally and make sure nobody starves, but what happens is it devolves into a winner/loser system anyway as the more savvy figure out how to exploit it for their benefit.

This is also, in my opinion, the crux of the problem we face:
America is the top monkey and is being challenged by the other monkeys.
Will America fight or will America find a way to get all the other monkeys to cooperate while America still takes the largest share of the shrinking pie?

My opinion (and you're welcome to argue with me about it) is that a capitalist system is fairer than a communist system.

And, of course, a mixed economy is more fair than either of the above systems. Only an idealogue would believe that Paris Hilton or George Bush is "getting a bigger share of resources by being more efficienct or harder working or whatever". In reality, they have benefited from the inherent unfairness of inherited wealth. For this reason, all industrialized countries tax inherited wealth to some degree (no longer pure capitalism), although the Repubs are fighting hard to kill the "death tax" and make sure that none of the Walton kids are cheated out of the billions they are "owed".

Human nature is neither pure "kill or be killed" competition nor blissful communitarian sharing, but some fluctuating mix (as is animal nature also, see tribes of baboons co-operating,etc.). The neo-con propaghandists ignore the fact that most of human history has been in tribal groups where sharing was the norm and private property the aberration, because it conflicts with their religious faith in the "market" god. But the market god has feet of clay, which is why every civilization limits, regulates, and controls markets (not for reasons of ideology, but for reasons of practicality which evolve after painful experience of the effects of uncontrolled markets (1929, tulip bulb bubble,
1800s railroad monopolies and robber barons/child labor, etc.,etc.)).

Did you ever watch a few small birds badger an Eagle out of their range?

America's and PNAC's policy of preventing any other military from challenging ours sounds like the best incentive to move a lot of other Countries to set up their own back-door deals and teach that Eagle 'how to win friends and influence people'

Capitalism's understanding of Human Nature is about as deep as a dog's understanding of a fire hydrant. It sees one dimension, one role. Communism? I just said a functioning and fair society, didn't I? How did that bring you to communism, unless you know something you're not telling me.

Of course the Strong protect and support the weak. The slow-learners get extra instruction from a patient and underpaid special-ed teacher, until the program is cut by someone who thinks his primate ancestry somehow justifies it.

I'm really looking forward to a future of eating nutritious goo produced in a vat because that is the most "resource efficient per unit of output".

"Soylent Green is people!"

I was talking to a Swedish woman about her town (Linkoping), and of American 'Drive-thru' society. She said she bikes into town, and can walk to whatever she needs from there.. and that the 'Convenience of Driving to Everything here in the US is basically inconvenient by comparison..'

I don't think that international trade will be going away, any more than the transistors and radios as I described upthread, but there are all sorts of economies gained by boosting local businesses, reducing massive interstate shipping, (reducing, not eliminating) and rebuilding more direct business and personal relationships within communities.

"not very energy or resource efficient per unit of output"

Oh, How? That one was straight out of your tuchus. The 'per unit of output' that we get from High Markup Industrial Tomatoes and Breakfast Cereal results in great earnings, but also a steadily decaying food value.. by virtue of mass production, heat processing, long-term storage, travel and shelftime, etc.. the Corpor-Eats that we buy at the A&P are leached of most of the nutritional value a consumer thinks they should be getting for their food dollar.

"It also will not support advanced and advancing technology"'re just making stuff up!

Localization is hardly 'Giving up'.. Going to the IGA and the Bennigan's and accepting that your food grows on styrofoam trays is much more 'Giving up'.

The trouble is, we needed to be working seriously on those alternatives twenty years ago. A few people were saying this, but they were ignored. Even today, with the crisis upon us, the ostrich with its head in the sand looks like a more accurate symbol for our country than the eagle. This hardly inspires optimism. Given this, it is not at all unreasonable to assume a pessimistic outlook, and to assume that the hard things that needed to be done yesterday are not going to suddenly start being done today or tomorrow either, and to plan accordingly.

One of the assumptions in this relocalization article and in relocalization arguments made at the oildrum is usually that the suburbs will die and people will move to be closer to farms or other things.

One of the many other possibilities is vertical farming in cities and suburbs

meat factories using stem cells

There is also the assumption that if oil starts to fall that the only or most successful mitigation is relocalization.

- electrification of cars and trucks and trains
Ultracapacitor and battery combinations look they could bring down the costs of plug in hybrid and plug electric cars
- high EROEI conversion of waste or generation of algae or switchgrass based biofuels
- lighter vehicles
electric bikes, scooters, aptera (300mpg car)
- more non-fossil fuel power generation
nuclear fission (current gen 3 and 3.5 buildout), advanced nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, kitegen for wind, geothermal etc...
- mitigation (for a longer and safer transition period) with enhanced oil recovery and more drilling (ANWR, gulf etc...), more natural gas
- flex fuel and natural gas cars
- robotic driving to enable extensive platooning (vehicles that draft and are more efficient)
- home energy efficiency
- industrial efficiency
(superconductors, direct current for long distances, thermoelectric, process improvement)

All good stuff! I'd just like to add that it doesn't take much improvement on what we already know how to do to have a perfectly acceptable energy situation in an advanced economy.
Residential solar thermal panels are here now, and can provide a lot of hot water usage, with fairly decent insulation.
Geothermal heat pumps are proven technology, and could mean that demand was much reduced, and you could even grow more food in heated greenhouses in cold climates with minimal greenhouse gas emissions.
Nuclear fission is entirely capable of providing all the energy you need, with reprocessing as practised in France, and the introduction of modestly more advanced reactors such as the planned Fuji reactor, which burns up to 50% of fuel as against 1% currently:
(pinched from your own website!)
The reason why you could use nuclear for just about everything is that during slack times it would be powering up electric cars:
Agrichar and pyrolysis could provide some biofuels and start restoring soil fertility:
So none of this is pie in the sky stuff, just the application of things which we already know how to do- no major breakthroughs required.

World Changing is probably the best known promoter of these sorts of technical strategies that I am aware of:

I don't spend a whole lot of time evaluating all these potential technological responses but do expect at least some of them to come on board. The issue for me is the rate of implementation compared to the rate of need given resource constraints and negative externalities, including climate change.

In some respects, relocalization is also about hedging ones bets. It takes the pressure off the system while it tries to adjust, and if the system fails to cope it provides something to fall back on more fully.

Don't forget the potential for advance software and communications to reduce the need for travel and commuting and improve the efficiency of the travel and goods shipment that we still do.

Just to clarify, this is an assumption I explicitly *do not* make - the reason I believe in 100 million farmers, rather than Heinberg's 50 million is that I think we're going to have to grow our food, to the extent we are able to, where we live now. That doesn't mean that I don't advocate the deindustrialization of agriculture, just that I believe the aggregate is that most of the farmers are going to be *very* small farmers, making use of small plots, open lots, suburban yards, corporate greenspace, etc...

The Pimentel-Giampietro estimates for US land availability

by 2050 suggest that we're going to *HAVE* to farm the existing suburbs and wherever else we can - so I've spent a lot of time arguing against Kunstler's/The End of Suburbia's suggestion that we're all going to abandon the present cities and suburbs and move off to the country.

That's not to say that I don't think it would be wise, for a host of reasons, to move to smaller farms with more farmers as well - if only because I believe as we lose land to desertification, drought and growth, we're going to need to switch from a model that emphasizes efficiency per farmer to one that emphasizes maximum output per acre

(see Rosset, "Small is Bountiful" for an introduction on this point:

- or have people go hungry. But saying I believe it would be wise is not the same as saying I think it would be likely.



As I have posted elsewhere on this thread and on Stuart's, I think part of the problem is the use of the word "farmer". There is a whole spectrum of possibilities in between the full-time professional farmer on the one hand and the totally dependent, non-food growing consumer on the other. When you and others talk about 50 or 100 million people becoming farmers, I believe that what we should actually mean is that these people are going to have to become "food growers", at least on a part-time "amateur" basis. That is not at all the same thing as becoming a 100% full-time professional farmer.

I do believe that if you set a Park Avenue lawyer and socialite down on 40 or 100 acres in the middle of what they had been calling "flyover land", what you are going to end up seeing will be a whole lot less funny and far less productive than "Green Acres" ever was. Not a good idea. I am certain that you are not advocating that, and I doubt if very many other people are, either. I'll bet that such people could be trained to put in their fair share of time helping at a local community garden, though. I think you ARE advocating something like that, as am I.

Moreover, and this, I think, constitutes the deepest weakness in Staniford’s construction of the “fallacy of reversibility” despite Staniford’s claim that industrialization cannot be reversed, we have quite a few examples of exactly that process occurring in recent history

Would you care to give some examples.

Would you care to give some examples.

One that turned out to be temporary but which may return in the next decades: Zaire 1960-1980. Perhaps the capital and also Kinsangani built up during that period but some of the road network and factories in the eastern part decayed -- with a full spectrum of workarounds by the people in the process of getting control of their lives. Then in more recent times as the country, even with all its problems, managed to develop its infrastructure.

The BBC series narration made the connection to Britain after the Roman period, before it built back up during the middle ages.

Deindustrialisation on a large scale won't happen by choice, but when things break down and cannot be repaired and therefore must be replaced by a less complicated workaround.

Russia and Cuba were referenced as cases of reversal.

Moreover, and this, I think, constitutes the deepest weakness in Staniford’s construction of the “fallacy of reversibility” despite Staniford’s claim that industrialization cannot be reversed, we have quite a few examples of exactly that process occurring in recent history

Russia and Cuba were referenced as cases of reversal.

I'm afraid I don't find Russia and Cuba very convincing examples. Correct me if I'm wrong, but was realignment of economic policy in Russia not aimed at and is succeeding in delivering greater industrial based prosperity. When did Russia de-industrialise?

I'm not sure that Cuba (and Zaire) could ever be counted as properly industrialised nations.

Curiously Soviet Union and Cuba were both subject to centralised economic control and it was the inefficiency of that control that led to downfall - temporary in the case of Russia.

Where this leads is to the more interesting debate about the ability of market forces to deliver solutions to energy decline. I believe this lay close to the heart of Stuart's article. One needs to remember that the bio-fuels disaster has been brought upon us by the do-gooding faction of the what is broadly known as the "environmental movement" - in theory it has nothing to do with peak oil or energy decline. This same "movement" seems set to deliver the equal disaster of carbon sequestration.

And I have to voice concerns that an emotive debate about country loving small farmers taking over agriculture may also result in a disaster. We need cool headed quantitative analysis - Stuart was at least trying to deliver on that front - and he may be wrong on certain counts.

There are many facets to "relocalisation" and energy decline. It goes without saying that compact cities with minimal commutes on electrified public transport and far greater production of food local to the market will be energetically more efficient and therefore desirable. But I am not convinced that "de-industrialisation" of agriculture and a mass movement of city dwellers back to the land is either the best solution, necessary or a likely outcome to energy decline.

I was not seeking to support the writer of the article that Russia or Cuba are good examples, just replying that those were two of the examples given.
'I'm afraid I don't find Russia and Cuba very convincing examples. Correct me if I'm wrong, but was realignment of economic policy in Russia not aimed at and is succeeding in delivering greater industrial based prosperity. When did Russia de-industrialise?'
the problem is here is that the original article is rather long, and it is easy to miss bits.
The de-industrialisation referred to was after 1989, not in the thirties.

Dave - my comments are really targeted at the author of the piece. Since this is the deepest weakness in Staniford's "argument" - I sure as Hell expect her to show up with a handful of excellent examples of "reversal" to which she refers.

the problem is here is that the original article is rather long


Euan, Sharon mentions examples many times, in her essay. It's very long and maybe you just skimmed it. Here is one relevant section, but there are more if you care to look:

Interestingly, Staniford never quite answers his own question about whether it is posible to “reverse” industrialization. He moves on to the signs he asserts we would see if deindustrialization were a logical consequence of peak oil (more on that in a moment), but he never definitively states (but rather implies) that industrialization is not reversible. This is probably a good thing, because, of course, we have several contemporary examples of highly industrialized societies reverting to a lower level of agricultural technology and centralization in recent decades. Cuba, of course, is the most famous in the peak oil community, but the Soviet Union also did so – Soviet gardens and small farms are widely credited with saving the population from starvation. Dmitry Orlov discusses this in his forthcoming book _Reinvening Collapse_, but this has been widely documented – peasant economist Teodor Shanin, for example, describes it in a New Scientist interview: (note, the complete article is behind a paywall), and the Rodale Institute published data at the time in the mid-1990s showing the influence of small farms and gardens on the diets of millions of Russians and other former Soviet peoples (Organic Gardening, June 1996). There are other, perhaps less apt examples in Bosnia and Serbia and in various African states of a process of moving back (or forward) to a less industrial society.

One of the mysteries of PO is that people treat it like a transcendant being onto which are projected all their most cherished beliefs and hopes for the future.

Right. Like it will solve all the ills of industrialization and overpopulation. So maybe we can use it as an excuse to kill off 4-5 billion people. To accomplish this, we can suspend critical thinking.

Sterling said, speaking of peak oil,
"Right. Like it will solve all the ills of industrialization and overpopulation. So maybe we can use it as an excuse to kill off 4-5 billion people"

Yeah, or JHK's seeming belief that after Peak Oil, all the architecture will suddenly become beautiful....PO is the princess that kisses away the ugly building frog! :-)


Show me the money!!!! That's my most cherished belief.

Stop farming to feed your kids and just go long crude oil, hayseed!!

One needs to remember that the bio-fuels disaster has been brought upon us by the do-gooding faction of the what is broadly known as the "environmental movement" - in theory it has nothing to do with peak oil or energy decline.

The above is flat wrong, at least in the US. Corn ethanol has been questioned or opposed by main-line environmental groups like the Sierra Club, but the major supporters have been the Bush administration and their corporate buddies at Archer-Daniels-Midland, Monsanto, and the like. If you redefine the "environmental movement" to include George Bush, the term ceases to have any meaning.

"If every vehicle in the United States were powered by ethanol, only one of eight would be driveable. Already, 20 percent of the nation's corn goes to ethanol production. Replacing just one-eighth of U.S. gasoline consumption would require the country's entire corn crop.
Corn-based ethanol's contribution to fighting global warming is marginal at best. A debate is raging, in fact, over whether ethanol takes more energy to produce than it provides."

Tommy - my apologies to other factions of the environmental movement who understand how destructive bio-fuels are. But it makes me want to puke every day when I hear on the MSM about environmentally friendly bio-fuels. In the UK we have hoards of politicians carrying environmental credentials crowing about bio-fuels every day.

So its time for the broad environment movement to stand up and start shouting as loudly as they can about this injustice that is in progress.

And to then do same with carbon sequestration.

Do you think that relocalisation of agriculture is a good universal response to FF energy decline? I don't know the answer to that and this article sure as Hell doesn't help clarify the issue. But I am concerned at a major emotive response carrying the day and driving us off towards yet another cliff edge.

I'm not sure there are any "good universal responses" but as energy gets more scarce, agricultural systems that conserve energy in production, transportation, and processing will be natural adaptations. As a 30+ year vegetarian, eating low on the food chain already makes sense to me, for my health and my finances. Science has been catching up to intuition for a few decades, with the ever-growing emphasis on the health advantages of fruits and vegetables.
Maybe the practioners of re-localization are emotional, but the current practices of industrial agriculture are un-sustainable and will inevitably change. I don't think graphs of the last few years trends are particularly useful in predicting the future of agriculture, any more than graphs of Dow Jones history can be used to project future stock market trends.

Hi Euan

You are in good company, but it seems you are guilty of letting the media's selective bias cloud your opinion of what the 'environmental movement' stands for. Just because ‘politicians’ stand up and claim a biofuel as environmentally friendly does not mean any significant environmental group, political or otherwise, would agree with them.

I’ve got a long history with the Australian and Scottish Greens and several other environmental and social justice groups. I’m continually amazed at the ‘doublespeak’ that our conservative politicians get away with, transforming appalling public policy into leading edge sustainability with a few simple utterances.

It’s true that some environmental groups are occasionally short on scientists and engineers, but that’s something I and many others try to bring to them. Most of these groups are having pretty intellectual debates about the role of biofuels and are well aware of the shortcomings of the current crop, so to speak. Likewise for Carbon Capture and Sequestration, which has few friends in the environmental movement. Most see it as token money for big coal so government and business can say they are doing something about the problem, but meanwhile continue with business as usual for another twenty years. That's certainly the way it looks for Victoria's Latrobe Valley brown coal and cheap electricity industry.

The media exists to frame the debate with conflicting views, and to undermine these progressive voices which are a threat to their treasured status quo. The Australian Greens have been particularly attacked in the media, through mis-representation of their drugs policy. What they have is progressive, evidence based policy which is well supported by research and experience from around the world. But people who would otherwise vote for the Greens refuse here in Oz because they think it will result in a drug infused youth patrolling the streets.

The ‘environmental movement’ is no more to blame for how their case is presented by the media than we and the highly organised ‘peak oil movement’ are to blame for the way the peak oil debate is framed by the media – eg we’re wrong every time the price of oil goes down. Robert Rapier’s concern about not wanting to mention peak oil as possibly here now is the same debate the Australian Greens have about watering down their drugs policy so as not to present a target to the media. Managing the media is critical, but if the Greens were to change their policies, then we lose.

It pains me to hear people that I respect judging these groups by what they hear in the media, rather than forming an opinion based on looking at what they really stand for. Attack the neo-liberal politicians for all you are worth, but the environmental needs our help and our knowledge.


That negative comment about environmentalists annoyed me, too. In my Midwestern corn state, one of the largest ethanol farmers is a Republican senator who consistently votes against environmental concerns.

Stuart's article uses graphs to represent something that hasn't even begun, yet. The price of food will increase, the price of energy will increase, and we will be growing our own crops because we will be too poor to have it shipped to us.

Robert Rapier’s concern about not wanting to mention peak oil as possibly here now is the same debate the Australian Greens have about watering down their drugs policy so as not to present a target to the media.

That's not exactly right. I have no problem with arguing that the wolf is at the door. My problem is when people use very circumstantial evidence to say definitively "We have peaked." The consequences of being wrong on that 2nd point are significant, in my opinion. Each time of being wrong diminishes the chances that you will be taken seriously the next time around.

I think the reason a lot of people see no problem with going on the record is that they think there really is no chance we haven't peaked. Otherwise, they would be more cautious. But based on November's numbers, I think it is highly likely that we will see a new C+C peak in December, just as we saw a new all liquids peak. That's just fresh ammunition for the critics.

Is my argument that we are near very peaking less compelling than the argument that we peaked last year? I don't think so. But the "we peaked last year" group will have a tough time selling it if it turns out that we didn't really peak last year, but we might in 2 years. "Oh yeah?", asks the skeptic. "Didn't you say that the last time?"

And won't we be just overjoyed if CERA gets to smirk about 'Someone Else's' predictive stumbles, one more time?

Yeah, the proof can hold on until it's clear. The preparations are what's vital. Getting things in place that might well become 'unfundable' when the downslope becomes really clear to everyone. Take advantage of this energy while we can, to get some of the standby's on line.. (ie, Massive Buildout of Solar Home and Water Heating.. would shed great quantities of Oil, NG and KWH from our daily demand)

Would take a lot of Glass and Copper, probably a lot of Glycol (propylene or ethylene).. but most of that material would be durable, once in place.



I hope this also works the other way - that when it has finally been established beyond all reasonable doubt that we are clearly post-peak, that those that had doubted that peak oil was hardly even possible, let alone close at hand, will be every bit as thoroughly discredited as those that made the call a little prematurely.

Unfortunately, seeing the doubters discredited will be little comfort or help for those of us (i.e., most of humanity) that must cope with the consequences of obstructed and delayed mitigation efforts.

I argue Peak Conventional Oil Exports. And I think that there is minimal risk that narrow definition has not peaked.

We have had 2.6 years of domestic demand growth in oil exporters since May 2005 (and Russia uses a lot of heating oil in the winter, KSA burns crude for electricity now, etc.) so I see little chance that any new conventional crude production peak will exceed the May 2005 peak in, say April 2008. In the winter months, Russian exports will be affected by winter weather (and a cold snap in Saudi certainly spiked demand there).


Hello Phil - I think for starters it is necessary to acknowledge that the Environmental movement is an extremely broad church and it is wrong to generalise about the activity of the whole based on the activity of a small part. No doubt the majority of environmentalists seek to do good for their communities and Planet Earth. The problem is that despite these good intentions the global environment continues to deteriorate and it is a fact that many global energy policies today are being driven by the GW CO2 agenda - and this is an agenda that has been created by one group of environmentalists - and continues to be supported by this sub-set even if many others disagree with the policies being pursued. One way or another the environmental lobby has given us bio-fuels, is about deliver totally pointless CO2 sequestration in Europe, has raised objections to nuclear power and minority groups have opposed wind turbines.

And so I think it is quite important to ask the question "is whole sale relocalisation of agriculture an energy efficient way of managing our future environment and nutritional needs?" Is it economically and socially workable, is it desirable? Or is this another mad cap idea flowing from a sub-set of the environmental mind? Or is it the salvation of Homo Sapiens?

Re-localisation itself covers an enormous range of issues. Just focussing on agriculture there are very many energy savings to be made through gradual with drawl from the global food trade, reduced use of chemicals, reduced mechanisation etc where vast energy savings may be made without impacting productivity and which may deliver incremental environmental improvements. All this can be done through evolution of our current agricultural system - which has fed us and kept us free of hunger for many decades.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but is it not the case that the broad environmental movement wants agriculture to change for environmental reasons? I would tend to look at this from a security of food supply angle - where environmental considerations are just one thread of the whole analysis. It may turn out that whole sale relocalisation is the only answer - in which case I would favour that option. But I do not see that the case has been made yet.

The relocalisation movements like Transition Towns are doing a great job and there are many benefits to flow from this and i strongly support this in its own right. They are a good idea on a precautionary basis. But anyone getting involved in growing their own food because they have been told the shelves will be empty in 2020 may be disappointed when life continues / advances - using a lot less energy. Of course, if they are right then they will be robbed.

It pains me to hear people that I respect judging these groups by what they hear in the media, rather than forming an opinion based on looking at what they really stand for.

Don't be too pained Phil. I refer to do gooders with good intentions. However, good intentions are not good enough - good outcomes are all that matters. I think its time for the environment movement in its very broad sense to stand up and be counted. It seems to me that we are inheriting a range of very shitty outcomes - with which it seems no one on the environment side of the debate wants to be associated.

Here are the ways I have identified how my local farm contributes to reducing the energy inputs to food production, distribution, processing, storage and cooking.

Brookside Farm

Details of how the concepts of Reduce Consumption and Produce Locally are applied to intensive vegetable cultivation in 2007
• Common fossil fuel input to soil cultivation is gasoline powered rototiller or small tractor. Alternative tool set implemented: Glazer hoe, broadfork, adze, rake and human labor. After system is established it may produce sufficient vegetables for 20 people by the labor of 1 full-time person.
• Common fossil fuel input to soil fertility is in-organic or imported organic fertilizer. Alternatives implemented include: growing of highly productive, nitrogen and biomass crop (banner fava beans), making aerobic compost piles sufficient to build soil carbon and nitrogen fertility, re-introducing micro-nutrients by importing locally generated food waste and processing in a worm bin, and application of compost teas for microbiology enhancement.
• Common fossil fuel inputs to pest and weed management are herbicide and pesticide applications. Alternatives implemented include companion planting, crop rotation, crop diversity and spatial heterogeneity, beneficial predator attraction through landscape plantings, emphasis on soil and plant health, and manual removal with efficient human-scaled tools.
• Common fossil fuel input to seed sourcing is bulk ordering of a few varieties through centralized seed development and distribution outlets. Alternative implemented includes: sourcing seeds from local supplier, developing a seed saving and local production and distribution plan using open pollinated varieties.
• Common fossil fuel input to food distribution include: produce trucks, refrigeration, long-distance transport, eating out of season. Alternative implemented includes: produce only sold locally, direct from farm or hauled to local restaurants or grocers using bicycles or electric vehicles, produce grown with year-round consumption in mind with farm delivering large quantities of food in winter months.
• Common fossil fuel input to storage and processing at production end include: preparation of food for long distance transport, storage and retailing requiring energy intensive cooling, drying, food grade wax and packaging. Alternatives implemented include passive evaporative cooling, solar dehydrating, root cellaring and re-usable storage baskets and bags.
• Common fossil fuel inputs to home and institutional storage and cooking include: natural gas, propane or electric fired stoves and ovens, electric freezers and refrigerators. Alternatives implemented include: solar ovens, promotion of eating fresh and seasonal foods, home-scale evaporative cooling for summer preservation and “root cellaring” techniques for winter storage.

Understanding the issues and setting up the alternative, potentially sustainable systems are very challenging intellectually, organizationally and physically. This kind of work requires the highest standards of research, implementation and critical feedback.

Awesome! I wish I could get myself to even 25% of the way to where you are. There is so much to do.

There are many facets to "relocalisation" and energy decline. It goes without saying that compact cities with minimal commutes on electrified public transport and far greater production of food local to the market will be energetically more efficient and therefore desirable. But I am not convinced that "de-industrialisation" of agriculture and a mass movement of city dwellers back to the land is either the best solution, necessary or a likely outcome to energy decline.

I think we are largely on the same page, then, although I suspect that big ag is going to find that it cannot just continue operating as is. The increasing scarcity and rising prices of not just oil but all FF, and indeed all non-renewable resources (and even of supposedly renewable resources like water), will certainly have profound and unexpected consequences as their implications work their way through our complex economy. Farmers will find that they must do some things differently, and those things requiring change might have nothing to do with fuel for the tractors. I cannot predict with any confidence what exactly those changes will be, but I can predict with a fairly high degree of confidence that there will be change.

Whether or not those changes will drive an increase in the amount of labor inputs going into large-scale farm production (which seems to really be the crux of the issue that we are arguing around here) is at present unpredictible. A simple econ 101 analysis would suggest that as energy supplies became more scarce and expensive, the supplies of alternatives (including human and animal labor) would become relatively less expensive; thus demand for energy would decrease as demand for human and animal labor as a substitute increased. The real world is rarely as simple as an economics textbook, though, and undoubtedly it is a lot more complicated than that. There are other advantages to mechanized agriculture besides mere cost; farmers have been known to utilize mechanized alternatives even when cheaper human or animal labor was available. On the other hand, there have been cases where farmers were slow to adopt available mechanization due to an overly abundant and overly cheap labor force (antebellum cotton fields worked by slaves comes to mind). I'm not sure where the economic tipping point is, or where or when we might reach it. I'm not at all sure that we can rule out altogether any possibility that we might ever pass that tipping point.

On the other hand, as I mentioned in a post in response to Stuart's article, I think we need to understand that there is a spectrum of possibilities between the full-time professional farmer on one hand and the pure consumer in the middle. My take on the relocalization movement is that it is not about everyone becoming full-time professional farmers (which certainly is a sure recipe for disaster), but rather about most people becoming food producers, to the extent that they are able. In practice, the relocalization movement envisions most people becoming gardeners and growing at least some of their own fruits and vegetables. Some of these people would be able to grow enough to become self-sufficient in food, fewer numbers would be able to become market gardeners and produce a surplus for sale, and a very few would be able to produce enough to live off it full time. We tend to only think of that last category as being "farmers" today, and the relocalization vision only implies a modest increase in their numbers. In terms of people involved to SOME extent in the production of SOME food, however, that fifty million figure would in fact be far too low, but otherwise could be quite credible.

WNC - indeed I think we are on the same page. I agree with most of not all you say here. The important point is that there is a vast spectrum of "local food production" from the elimination of importing grapes (to the UK) from Chile to growing spuds in your back garden.

Encouraging folks to garden is undoubtedly a good idea - but this is pretty much in line with using energy saving mercury filled light bulbs. It helps at the margin but does not confront the main issue of FF energy decline.

IMO, the message to get over to politicians is food security. Can we feed our own population on the land we have and with the energy we can gather on a sustainable basis? If not, what do we need to do to achieve this?


I cannot predict with any confidence what exactly those changes will be, but I can predict with a fairly high degree of confidence that there will be change

That's a great statement. I was just thinking on everyone doing whatever they are able to do like you said. And I am thinking of those who live south of the San Fran - Norfork Va latitude US. It get's 100f degrees in the summer. How many office workers will be able not just want to, work 5-8 hours outside period, not even talking about being gardening/farming.

How about the southeast with the drought? How would that affect the total amount produced by the backyard gardener? Nobody is into rain water collecting or any easily done conservation/sustainable practices.

The south is going to be HOT. AND the current population of the south thinks Air Conditioning is a Pre-Req. and god given right.

They are going to have a reality experience without it in 5-15 years.

How do all of these things play and interact together?

As you said;
"...but I can predict with a fairly high degree of confidence that there will be change"

We have to all temper our projections and understand that we are all blind men describing an elephant. We all know he's big, but we can't agree on much after that.

How about the southeast with the drought? How would that affect the total amount produced by the backyard gardener? Nobody is into rain water collecting or any easily done conservation/sustainable practices.

I live in an area of the southeast currently affected by drought conditions. People *are* getting into rain water harvesting. (I've been doing it on a small scale for years.) Farmers *are* talking about the ability of healthy soil to hold more moisture. I am sure droughts, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters will continue to affect my region of the country and other regions as well. Sharing food with such regions during such times will continue to be important. I wouldn't write of the southeast though.

The south is going to be HOT. AND the current population of the south thinks Air Conditioning is a Pre-Req. and god given right.

Interestingly I never hear this from southerners, only from others who don't live in the south or have recently moved here. Yes, it gets hot here- looks like it might get hotter. Hot isn't that hard to deal with though. Take of your shoes, drink plenty of water and don't over do it during the hottest part of the day. Of course the elderly and children have to be looked after. And yes it takes getting used to but it's not that big of a deal, if you're smart about it.

I'm 32 and I remember going to grade school, in August, without air conditioning. We would grumble if all air conditioning disappeared overnight but it wouldn't be the end of the south. Mostly it seems to be a concern other parts of the country worry about for us. ;-)

Except that up here in the mountains it doesn't get nearly that hot. With time it might get a little warmer in the summer, but the mountains will always be quite a bit cooler than the lowlands. Lots of people in my area don't have a/c, and all of us COULD live without it if necessary.

As for drought, yes, it is a bit dry around here, but we have been getting some precipitation. The mountains usually do wring out whatever the winds are carrying. The long term models call for us to maintain our averages, though there will undoubtedly be more variability.

That doesn't help the rest of the SE, but it is just to point out that the SE is not this undifferentiated land mass that some people imagine it to be.

Obviously, the classic example is Japan giving up the gun for several centuries. They had advanced to the point where they could make them rather than importing them. Then they decided that they didn't want guns, so they banned them. By the time they were legal again, they had to learn from scratch how to make them. This was a political decision, of course; but it DID happen.

Jane Jacobs mentions in Cities and the Wealth of Nations the example of a small hamlet in a very isolated part of the Southern Appalachians. Their ancestors knew how to weave with a loom (and how to make the looms), build with stone, etc. As the generations passed in isolation, there was a progressive giving up of these technologies until there was no one left that knew how to do them.

Jacobs also mentions the numerous cases of islands populated by people who do not know how to make and use boats, although the island was only accessible by boat.

A number of ancient Roman technologies were lost with the collapse of their empire, and were only rediscovered or reinvented centuries later.

I believe that several of Diamond's case studies in Collapse also contain relevant examples.

The most well-researched and implemented life strategy ever developed was the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Millions of years of research created a life where food simply grew instead of us growing food. Man's hubris has enabled such flawed thinking as evidenced by Staniford, the idea that returning to the most well-researched lifestyle, or at least getting as close as possible, is regressive. This is pure sophistry on his part and indicative of the animal that claims it is not an animal.

We will detechnologize, we will relocalize, we will return to a more simple time whether we make these airy arguments or not. The primary fallacy employed both in Staniford's arguments and Astyk's is the fallacy that thought equals action. Simple physics puts the lie to both their arguments--both Astyk's gradualism and hedging and Staniford's outright poor reasoning and obfuscation.

We are destroying the planet and since we are part of that planet, since we are just another animal on this planet, we are destroying ourselves. At some point, barring a complete breakdown in the cycle of life, we WILL absolutely find ourselves where Staniford thinks we cannot go. It may be in 100 years or 10,000, but we will get there. The only real choice is do we use our fabulous energy wealth to constructively make the u-turn in the technological cul-de-sac, or do we destructively make that turn?

It does not take a single equation or equivocation to see this simple physical truth. I fear that those people who are so egotistically attached to their sweetheart science religion and those who fear being called a Luddite or a "reversalist" will rob the argument of coherence and will mire it into the sanctimonious parsing they are want to do instead of actually doing something that needs to be done.

I have little faith that either will take heed. I believe that humanity will continue on just as it has since the birth of agriculture, destroying the planet in order to support more people, then having to destroy more planet to support the more people the additional tech or land created until the planet quits. Gives up. Shakes her beautiful locks and cocks her head at the insane creatures who willfully destroyed her for a handful of abstractions.

Nice work.

"The primary fallacy employed both in Staniford's arguments and Astyk's is the fallacy that thought equals action"

Actually his argument was the opposite, that things will happen in certain ways regardless of what you would like. In other words, you may like the idea of localisation, but it won't make it happen. He didn't advocate any action or future scenario, just said which one he thought was most likely.

We are destroying the planet and since we are part of that planet, since we are just another animal on this planet, we are destroying ourselves. At some point, barring a complete breakdown in the cycle of life, we WILL absolutely find ourselves where Staniford thinks we cannot go. It may be in 100 years or 10,000, but we will get there. The only real choice is do we use our fabulous energy wealth to constructively make the u-turn in the technological cul-de-sac, or do we destructively make that turn?

Or maybe the all-mighty nature will just drop an asteroid or a supervolcano or a random shift of climate on us and wipe us all out in the blink of an eye just as we get all those nice little organic farms up and running. Nature could care less if you hunt and gather or if you dump oil in the oceans. Considering that nature has killed off 99.99% of the speicies that have ever lived on this planet I would say nature is something to be overcome. Onward technology...

'Nature is not human hearted' - Lao Tze
Check out the second graph here:
Note the period of unprecedented (within the last few hundred thousand years) stability we have enjoyed since the last ice age, which has basically allowed the whole growth of human civilisation.
Without that stability, settled agriculture would hardly be conceivable for any extended period of time.
We should also be aware that in spite of this relative stability, events have occurred many times such as during the 9th century when a drought likely wiped out about 90% of the population in the process of destroying the Maya civilisation.
The Old Empire in Egypt was also brought to an end by a 200year drought.
I feel this is the even more important message which Global warming concerns have to some degree obscured, that even if we stop messing around with vast greenhouse gas emissions, we don't enter some paradisical world of stability, but are in a situation where swings are commonplace, and could at any time easily wipe out civilisation, as a return to ice-age conditions would lead to the failure of the monsoons and other effects, not just ice in Europe and North America.
With the present very large population I can't conceive that wars would not add to our misery, or that fewer than 95% or so of the population would die on the most optimistic assumptions, and that in the short run - longer term you would be looking at hunter/gatherer technology, not much agriculture, as the stable climatic conditions needed for that seem to be rare. That would mean around 60million living.
Fred Hoyle's observation that technological civilisations were a one-shot deal, as the reserves of high grade fossil reserves needed to kick-start it would be exhausted - you already have to have an advanced civilisation to go to lower grade ores.
Under those circumstances it seems to me that you need to have very advanced technology indeed to cope, and that ruralist agrarian societies stand no chance at all - pretty soon they would be wiped out, as they are based on ideas of climate stability which do not pertain.

Under those circumstances it seems to me that you need to have very advanced technology indeed to cope, and that ruralist agrarian societies stand no chance at all - pretty soon they would be wiped out, as they are based on ideas of climate stability which do not pertain.

My point exactly. Nature is completly beyond your control and does not care if you or your family or your species go the way of the dinosaurs. The Toba supervolcano didn't treat our species well and even if all our food is organic and locally grown that is certainly no guarantee of survival. The only means of long term survival for any species is technological development.

I don't think advocates of relocalization are suggesting a completely luddite response. While technology has obviously improved the human situation, it's also obvious now that technology is very capable of going too far and killing us as well. The double-edged sword was the first technology. So on its own, technology won't save us. That would be magical thinking too. What saves us is intelligence. The intelligent use of technology is the key, which implies the wisdom to not over-use technologies, sometimes even to abandon technologies that are killing us, and above all to develop technologies that enhance life (a naturally unquantifiable, messy little philosophical affair) rather than just efficiency. We're dividing into two camps of straw men -- efficient little lab technicians and luddites or "hippies." But none of us are really that stupid. There is something about technology that tempts us into maximizing our output. This is where effiency and technology begin to part ways, and where industrial society comes in. While many of us are made comfortable and materially wealthy from this industrialization, the world as a whole is suffering terrible inefficiencies as a result. We've pursued the god of Maximization to the point of potential ruin. Relocalization is received almost as a sacrilige not because it turns its nose up on technology and efficiency (which it doesn't -- how could luddites speak to you on a Web site, by email) but because localization refutes the god of Maximization.

Although the discussions are relatively interesting, there's been a heck of a lot of straw men being built and burnt. Kunstler alone has been built in effigy and burnt on numerous occasions.

Simply put, technology is a two-edged sword. Advocates of relocalization are, I believe, merely suggesting that we use technology more wisely, on a smaller scale when necessary. And necessary here means for the general benefit of life on earth, which includes human culture.

An interesting thesis put forth by Graham Hancock in his book Underworld is that civilization actually arose well before 10,000 years ago but was wiped out repeatedly and then re-established in a diminished form during massive flood and volcanic events as the great ice sheets melted.

Agrarian societies were cut back but not abolished. They had to move out of the valleys they were in, such as the Persian Gulf, that became inundated, and spread into the fringe zones occupied by hunter-gatherers. Sea level rose 400 ft over a 10,000 year period, but a few times would rise several feet within weeks. The most precious land along continental shelves with farms and ports went under rapidly.

I've thought about that possibility quite a lot, though I wasn't aware of Hancock's book. It doesn't seem such a civilization could have been too large, or it would have left ruins above 400' that would have been found since.

I was quite into all that stuff some years ago(along with X files,etc.)and have read one of Hancock's books as well as similar stuff on pyramids, ancient astronauts, aliens, etc. Since most of older civilizations would by definition be now underwater it is hard to prove anything really(some findings off coast of western India for example). Big civilizations in a large connected area now the Indonesian archipleago or South of India for example are conceivable. Interesting in this discussion is how did such huge, perfectly cut monuments(many tons in weight) get way up into the Andes mountains. Hancock proposes superlasers to cut perfectly and psychic levitation for transport as nothing else is even conceivable as an explanation as it would be impossible even with modern technology to acheive what was done. This is all quite fantastic and tends to call our preconceived notions of progress and the whole basis of what we think civilization is about into question, which is of course the whole purpose.

Without that stability, settled agriculture would hardly be conceivable for any extended period of time.

Actually, there are quite a few places around the globe where some form of agriculture would be possible across all of those temperature ranges. What would not be possible in such a climate would be large scale monoculture. Where the climate is highly variable from one year to the next, the only viable agricultural strategy is to hedge your bets and grow a variety of things. As long as you are not on marginal land to start with (in or on the edge of a desert, for example), you should be able to make a crop with something, even if you can't make it with everything.

This is one of the reasons why traditional agriculture did tend to mix a variety of crops and a variety of livestock. It wasn't just a matter of maximizing profits - they had other reasons for doing things the way they did.

plug that volcano, blow up that meteorite at the orbit of Mars! Onward Technology!

You couldn't call the Maya "industrial", but they were certainly a highly technological civilization.

And they "reversed" to a localized, "primitive" state long before Cortez and his buddies arrived on the scene. At some level, all this argument seems silly -- it isn't hard to imagine 250 years of industrial "revolution" going away. But time only goes one direction (in the macroscopic world, at least.) "Reversal" is not the correct word. Existing technology will see that the next shake of the dice is different from the last one.

I obviously used technological to mean that we have a lot of abilities the Mayans did not - such as nuclear energy, spaceflight and so on.
When there was a drought, they could do little about it - they did have an extensive reservoir system, but that is the whole point - their technology was not up to the job of enabling them to survive.
It would not be easy with our levels of technology if there were a large shift in climate, certainly not at present levels of population, but at least you have some sort of shot at it with desalination, bulk transporting food from areas less affected and so on.
Obviously I am aware that Cortez did not arrive in the 9th century.
I don't really think that many here are reversalists in the sense of wanting to regress technology, but it is worth pointing out to anyone who gets too dewy-eyed about mother Gaia that she is in fact a bloodthirsty old beast, bearing much more resemblance to the Indian Goddess Kali than some concerned modern mother!
The point of my post was to draw attention to the fact that we aren't out of the woods if we cope with peak oil and global warming, and that to stand any sort of chance we need to use all the weapons in our armoury of technolgy.
Even if we run an electric, renewable society with organic food grown on smallholdings, we can be splattered with one stamp of Kali's foot.

No argument there. In fact, no argument at all. I was merely observing that the entire notion of "reversibility" -- as if we were talking about chemical reactions -- is somehow the wrong choice of metaphor.

Culture never reverses, things never go back to where they started. Out our way, Kali could easily make Seattle a mud flat and top it off with volcanic ash.

I fail to see the point of this discussion. Are there really still people who want to return to a mythical Golden Age that never was?

On the other hand, in general, the OilDrum is extremely interesting and useful in pointing out changes in energy supply that will necessarily have dramatic consequences on the way we live our lives, and it is at least amusing, and possibly useful to speculate on what those consequences might be. I don't think we should pretend we can be too quantitative about it though -- there are too many variables, and many of them are hidden.

Is sustainability in the sense of reaching a steady-state equilibrium, and the talk of 'an end to the concept of unlimited growth' meaningful or realistic if the climate swings this wildly?
It seems to me that perhaps the whole idea is reliant upon there being a relatively stable steady-state in nature to which we can adapt.
If that stability does not exist a better strategy might be to develop technology as rapidly as possible, to create surpluses to cope.
Whilst there are perhaps not many who would count themselves as reversalists in the sense of literally seeking to go back in technology, there are certainly very many people who advocate getting in tune with nature, an end to growth and so on.
Not much point getting in touch if nature is going to kill you.

Wow. That was long. Stuart's piece was a joy to read, and this was a slog.

I understand both sides. "Reversalists" know that at some point in the future, whether 40 years or 200 years, we HAVE to return to locally produced and distributed agriculture. That doesn't mean we're going to get there linearly. Most crisis situations tend to reinforce the conditions that caused the crisis, making them worse. Two examples:

  • The response to rolling blackouts in Baghdad was people buying generators; a much less efficient way of generating electricity which actually exacerbates the problem.
  • The US government's solution to the so called "credit crunch" is to lower interest rates and taxes. The real cause of the problem was access to cheap credit in the first place, so this will only make the recession worse and longer.
  • In the short term, I think peak oil will concentrate power and profit, as Stuart posits. However, food prices can only rise so much, or else you get what happened in Gaza yesterday, so expect the government to move in with subsidies. Food will prevail over SUVs, until the available oil becomes so expensive / scarce that the system breaks. Then, locally grown food will take over.

    I imagine it will be like a critical injury. Your body goes into shock, you actually feel not to bad, and then the next moment you are dead.

    I agree. That's what I gained from this long essay (her editor must be overworked. Many of the posts above miss the point, of course you had to go through a lot to get to it.

    Wow. That was long. Stuart's piece was a joy to read, and this was a slog.

    Actually, I found more the opposite.

    I especially appreciated the 1st wave/2nd wave analogies of the type of thinking and analyses that are needed, and are valid. I find it almost amusing that several of those totally wedded to 'type 1' analysis totally miss the point and seem totally unable to realize the value of non-technically based analysis.

    ...seem totally unable to realize the value of non-technically based analysis.

    The trouble with the non-technical stuff is that without some pretty heavy technical analysis, you have no idea what you are dealing with.

    It could be a sermon about utopic longings for instance, or a symptom of the writer's messiah complex. Perhaps it's psychological offshoot of a big argument with Dad decades ago.

    Key point: data driven analysis may be motivated by the strangest of urges, but it doesn't matter to the reader as long as the writer has submitted to the discipline of scientific thinking. Often an institutional context is invaluable for this.

    I'm utterly comfortable in the world of the arts. But when it comes to peak oil, I want data and tight analysis, baby!!!

    I'm not saying that one should jettison the data and merely theorize ad hoc. However, relying on the kind of technical analysis of Stuart's article to reach conclusions in a multi-faceted problem domain is IMO not the way to go. And I think you are creating somewhat of a straw man here. Non-technical analysis is not necessarily artsy-fartsy musings. It can be as rigorous and logical as anything that contains lots of graphs and numbers. Also, one should always have the classic 'How to Lie With Statistics' in ones library.

    My own preference is to read as much as possible in a given area, technical analysis, non-technical analysis and all. Triangulate all this with personal experience and then try to get a 'feel' for what a sensible direction might be. Most important issues in human existence simply cannot be determined by crunching columns of numbers.

    Quick case in point of the limitations of technical analysis might be the diet issue recently hashed out on the OilDrum. I pity any poor sod who tries to read the latest research on what constitutes a healthy diet and then adjust his own diet to conform to this. Along comes the paradigm shifter and turns things topsy-turvy. This is a good case where a modicum of science and a fair dose of 'common' sense should prevail.


    Triangulate all this with personal experience and then try to get a 'feel' for what a sensible direction might be.

    On an individual and small group level, "yes". I'm horrified at the thought of a tyranny of reason and scientific thinking.

    Collectively, getting a 'feel' is very worthwhile, too. But at that aggregate level, with our current situation we are so far from our instincts much of the time that everything has to be fed back through the analytical mill as a sanity test. i.e. Force ourselves to map out the probabilities of various resulting scenarios if we do X. That's a painful discipline I refuse to submit to in my private life!

    So, I would say we can't afford the age-old notion of the polis as the individual writ large. And we have partly discarded it. ie. we create institutions that seem alien to most people. In many ways, however, they are rational creations that work. Though ugly and inhuman, they solve very real problems and contain a wealth of embodied wisdom.

    The US government's solution to the so called "credit crunch" is to lower interest rates and taxes. The real cause of the problem was access to cheap credit in the first place, so this will only make the recession worse and longer.

    See my earlier comments (to Stuart's original and Sharon's post) about governments' inability to respond rationally. They won't, they'll do the "more of the same" thing, because it's always worked in the past (even though it hasn't). The religion of "economics" is yet another of our society's grand delusions.

    Relocation or reversalism or whatever are words for elitist movements, they describe a small movement against the general flow. One might as easily call the practitioners 'Lifeboatists'. Movement will be to the city, this has been a fact in the past, and is occurring now. I do not see any future change in that movement this side of total social collapse. Governments will feed the people in the most expeditious way and the people will move to centres to be fed.

    The watch word of our world seems to be 'efficiency'. Now that is a word needing to be redefined. Real efficiency is that of the planet whole and sound, it wastes nothing uses all and produces a virtual unending cornucopia of product. Our efficiency is a narrow mean thing that warps and destroys the good.

    Movement will be to the city, this has been a fact in the past, and is occurring now. I do not see any future change in that movement this side of total social collapse. Governments will feed the people in the most expeditious way and the people will move to centres to be fed.


    There are places other than cities and farms though, places called "small towns". Not everyone will move to the cities. There is plenty of housing capacity in small towns, some of it sitting vacant and affordable right now. Small towns are the ideal venue for the relocalization visions. Small towns can work.

    This is not to suggest that small towns can absorb 100% of the population. That isn't a good idea, but fortunately I doubt that there will be all that many people interested in moving from the cities to small towns.

    The future we are thus likely to see are large, densely populated cities supplied by massive industrialized farms in more distant, sparcely populated regions, but with a significant fraction of the population living in a constellation of small towns that have or are transitioning to the relocalization model. How long those large cities can be kept supplied and thus held together is an open question. How well those small towns will fare should the cities suddenly fall apart is another open question.

    Sharon. Thank you for your response. Well written and insightfull. Perhaps Stuart can take the time to read it and learn something.

    I have been walking around incensed since I read Stuart's piece. While you have indicated that it did not lessen your respect for him given his prior work I have had the opposite result.

    I feel that his entire piece was truly poorly thought out, unscientific (having lots of data, charts and statistics while ignoring volumes of relevant data and subject matter does not lead to good science), biased, arrogant and will make me suspicious of his previous work and as well as future posts. When someone who you have grown to trust, to some extent, betrays the principals which you had thought you held in common it is disapointing.

    Stuarts analysis, if we can charitably call it such, is more along the lines of an economics or statistical work, not a scientific one. It is academically oriented and might serve for use in a classroom exercise, but it is not transferable to the real world in anything like its present form. It lacks depth and substance. It ignores on the ground reality in so many ways one hardly knows where to start.

    Reading the comments to his post and this one it is amazing how many posters jumped in with praise and support for the obvious bias. A sure sign from those who see their work or way of life threatened by alternate ideas. Industrial farmers, as a rule, express contempt for farmers who practice organics, small scale farming, practice biointensive techniques, etc. I see this in my daily life all the time and I noticeed several posts from such.

    I have learned a few things in life that Stuart seems to have missed. Science has its limits. It is really good at sterile calculations when determining engineering calculations, understanding physical processes and quantifying data. It can be very helpful in providing a basis for real world decision making by providing a floor to base decisions off of. Certain things can be determined to not be possible and can be eliminated, etc.

    Determining where agriculture will be post peak oil (and climate change, water supplies, soil degradation, over population, pollution, etc) is a horrifically complex subject. Will industrial agriculture exist in the future. Absolutely. Will relocalization occur. Absolutely. And everthing in between will as well. People live in a multitude of types of places and situations in this world. Agriculture also will exist in a multitude of places and situations and methonds. The lands carrying capacity is variable with climate, soils, water avalability, pollution levels, etc. Industrial agriculture cannot function efficiently in many of those locations and will do quite well in others and vice versa. There is no right answer to this subject. Period. I say it again. Period!!

    Bias is never helpful and knowingly supporting it when it is manifested is worse. TOD has been better than this and I expect that it will be again.

    Postings about agriculture have been becoming more frequent on TOD and as someone said in one of the earlier comments (to paraphrase), "the level of ignorance of agriculture on this DB is extreme". This is so true. Unfortunately I think the statment was made by someone who indicated that they were a farmer and were strongly supporting Stuarts misposting thereby demonstrating the very point being made.

    For those of you who have not seen my previous posts and are inclined to request credentials I will offer some background.

    I am a retired electrical engineer with graduate work in business. In my career I mangaged dozens of research, development and production efforts.
    I own/operate a small organic farm.
    I was raised in the midst of industrial agriculture of the type found in Wyoming (as you might have guessed).
    My mother was raised on a dirt farm on the western plains and my father on a cattle operation.
    I have many friends and aquaintances who farm/ranch industrially as well as organically (on both a large and small scale).
    I have decent understanding of the subsidies/tax breaks that support industrial agriculture and effect its profitability.
    I know of small organic operations that are netting $15-20,000/acre. I know 14,000 acre cattle operations that have no net income at all.

    No one knows it all and there is no right answer for agriculture any more than there is a right answer for energy.

    I knew better than to log on to TOD at lunch time today. Back to work. Wyo

    Wyoming -

    That was the most sensible thing I've read on this whole dreary post about irreversibility, reversalism', etc.!

    I think this whole exercise got off track from the very beginning. To me, it appears to be a perfect example of what happens when mathematical model ethusiasts get carried away and attempt to rigorously model something far too nebulous and open-ended to be capable of being meaningfully modeled in the first place. It just doesn't work. In many cases, all the data massaging and all the graphical displays do little more than formalize the arbitary assumptions, presumptions, and biases of the modeler. Nor does it help to do the analyses on the basis of 'all other things being equal', because they almost never are.

    Very few complex dynamic systems of any sort are fully reversible, and likewise very few are totally irreversible, either. There is usually some wiggle room in various areas, to greater or lesser extent. If there's one thing we can be certain of: the world in 2108 sure as hell isn't going to look like either the world in 2008 or the world in 1908. And I would venture that the differences are going to be in things few people would have dreamed of.

    2108?? Well, I do not imagine that an analysis of a few decades of data would be that relevant to what the world will look like in 2108. Stuart's post made a few very good points. The first is that energy costs are not the most important determinants of agricultural profitability. High food and fuel costs will, on net, benefit industrial farms. But the data of the last few decades is useful only for predicting the next few. Beyond that and there are likely to be transformations in society and the economy that our model does not include.

    I personally like to hike and backpack, but I would not be so foolish as to believe that the world is about to turn into a global village of hikers and backpackers because people would benefit from the exercise and beautiful scenery. Rather, the current generation of young people worldwide seem never to be more than a few feet away from a video game, television, computer, etc. and don't even play in the yard anymore. What I view as desirable and in people's best interest is not the same thing as what people will choose to do with their lives.

    Organic farming is in so many ways preferable to industrial agriculture, yet people seem to prefer chicken mcnuggets to real food and it doesn't seem to kill them, so who is to say they are wrong or are going to change anytime soon? Not me, certainly.

    Fair enough, but the method one chooses to hedge his bets about an uncertain future depends on his personal experiences. People will agricultural experience may choose an organic farm as their safety net. Since you are an avid hiker, it would be no surprise if you have closet full of freeze-dried foods. Are they for your backpacking trips or as insurance against a possible collapse? Unfortunately while the chicken mcnugget eaters swoon over the unnatural, scientifically-created taste of something that might have been nutritious at some point in its history, they are failing to make any preparations for the uncertain future. I certainly hope Stuart has a small garden in his backyard or freeze-dried food in his pantry.

    Can anyone say Electric Tractor or Combine? Or Plug Hybrid Tractor or Combine? Charged indirectly by renewable energy. The incredibly hard work of tilling, cultivating and harvesting, once mechanized will continue to be mechanized. Only the power source will change.

    Once mechanization was brought to the farm in the 1800s, the pace of innovation was astounding. I see no shortage of innovation or its mother necessity.

    Can you say Topsoil or Potash?

    Modern agribusiness destroys the soil, rendering it nearly sterile. The friable remnants are then easily blown away by the wind. The world is losing its topsoil at 1% per annum. Consider the effect of an exponential function over time.

    The only way agribusiness can grow anything in what passes for its soil is to fertilize the hell out of it. However, we are facing a global fertilizer shortage. No fertilizer, no agribusiness.

    I read a quote a while ago I really liked: "Farming is soil management". By that definition what agribusiness does is anti-farming. I don't think it is sustainable, with or without oil shocks.

    Electric tractors, wind turbines, worm composting, hemp, she oak and tree bogs.

    Solar concentrating furnaces to recycle aluminium (for heat exchangers for heat recovery ventialtion) and glass (for greenhouses and low tech solar water heaters)

    Can anyone say Electric Tractor or Combine?

    The local farmer who looked into buying an electric tractor had this to say:

    The Hitch is too slow. Yup, there were looking for a 20 hp electric system to act like a 150 hp unit.


    What does this mean? Hitch too slow? Where can you get a 20HP - electric unit with any size anyways?

    I read it and assumed he was talking about the power take off.

    Considering what is out there in batteries, the low power is not surprising. Wait 5 years, and se what John Deere is is building. The times they are a changing.

    I remember back in the 1970s when hi-technology "digital" wristwatches became the rage. Much more efficient and all that.

    It only took a few years for the reversalist movement to sweep the country and bring back those nostalgic "hippie-style" analog watches.

    What kind of watch do you wear now?

    Are you a reversalist or did you stick with digital?

    Luckily I realised the error of my ways way early on. I don't wear one. I don't own one. If I can see my wrist it must be day. If I can't see my wrist it must be night. I don't really need a watch for that.

    When the day is bright enough I awake. Mostly, though, the birds are up way before then and then I'm awake and dozing. By the time the third electrified train has passed, I best be up and getting the coffee on the boil else I'll get a right bollocking.

    I tell time on my cell phone. I haven't worn a watch in years.

    Jeez, John.

    I don't have a watch or a cell phone ...

    Oh well ...

    Huh? What? Analog watches? Like that wind up and go tick tock? On planet Earth? Where? Haven't seen one of those in decades, except at the outrageously expensive jewelry stores. The affordable ones all have battery operated digital circuitry. A minuscule few have hands and cost too much; the rest have the seven-segment liquid crystal digital display. (Sure, the LED digital watches were almost stillborn - too much drain on the battery.)

    Not that it matters: soon, I may not see any watches at all.

    I bought my wife a digital for her 21st birthday, 29 years ago. Its still going, I believe its only had one battery change, and is one of her most cherished possessions. I never owned a digital and wear a titanium analogue. How many people on a broad band DSL connection are lining up to order dial up?

    The evolution of Homo Sapiens has stagnated for 200 years since natural selection was wiped out by energy wealth that led to liberal thinking. I suspect the next 200 years will see an acceleration in our evolution - rather than a return to the past.

    Probably an acceleration in our running like hell abilities. Damn those peasants and their scythes:)

    I haven't heard much about how we will get those farm products in all this, how much energy goes into distribution in an industrial agriculture. Right now I walk out side and gather the Brussel sprouts as I may and not a lot of energy used there.Maybe one of you guys that does those sort of calculations so well would oblige and consider that FF input end of things?

    No I don't believe that localization will become a big seller soon, more of a curiosity for many a moon yet but it would be nice to know how much of a chump I am growing my own great tasting vegetables on a complete soil full of nutrients rather than driving miles for week old stuff from California or Brazil.

    Crystal - I think market gardening is a great solution for those who want to pursue it. The problem arises with those who wish this upon us all without providing the detailed analysis that this is the best solution to provide the food energy needs for 3 billion souls in an FF energy depleting world. It might be the best solution, but I am yet to be convinced by the arguments and Stuart has done everyone a service by laying down the gauntlet of challenge. Rest assured there is someone out there writing a better article than this one in support of relocalisation of agriculture.

    Your are right to note broad boundaries of energy analysis in our food supply. I'm pretty sure many of these issues will be addressed by market forces. The amount of energy used in our food production is low - 2% of global nat gas supply on ammonia production, 2% of N American petroleum consumption on agri diesel and so forth. When we stop flying food around the world "we" will barely notice. Where I live the country side is covered in poly tunnels extending growing seasons etc - so the supermarkets will reinvent their marketing propaganda to locally produced - and those who scratched a living in Kenya growing miniature corn for Marks and Spencers or those in Tanzaniya growing "organic coffee" on the slopes of Kilimanjaro are going to starve to death.

    Hey what the hell happened to the other three billion , I've been expecting a deflation in the money supply but half the worlds population gone without me noticing is disconcerting to say the least.

    Yeah, I tend to confuse the idea that locally produced products does not mean they can't include agri-business products produced locally.

    I would disagree though with you that the those living in Kenya and Tanzania would be worse off if they couldn't cater to our whims. Much better I think for them to grow their own food directly than be essentially indentured to large landowners and payed starvation wages.

    Oh, and I don't market garden, what I have been doing for years is practicing, sort of like Orr did in Catch 22, 'crash landing' home agriculture. Amazing what one can grow on a quarter acre:)

    those who scratched a living in Kenya growing miniature corn for Marks and Spencers or those in Tanzaniya growing "organic coffee" on the slopes of Kilimanjaro are going to starve to death.

    Doubtful. They'll go back to growing food for their own consumption. If the large corporations running the miniature corn farms and the coffee plantations pull up stakes and head home, those people might even get to move back into the more fertile fields from whence they were driven off to make room for miniature corn farms and coffee plantations.

    Which sounds simpler, growing coffee to sell to a company that ships it half way across the world and then pays you a small percentage of the profits with which you buy wheat shipped in from the subsidized farms of America or you just grow more/most of what you need instead of coffee?

    You're not saving anyone with your Starbucks latte. The current setup is about making money not about feeding people.

    2% of N American petroleum consumption on agri diesel and so forth.

    Sure, if you don't count shipping food from coast to coast and if you walk to the grocery store to buy food. And if you don't count the fuel you use to drive to work to make money to buy food. That 2% figure points out the failure of this sort of analysis. It's a system that can't operate without lots of FF energy used in many, many different ways.

    I'm pretty sure I can survive without Kenyan corn and Tanzaniyan coffee without even noticing it was off the shelves. I'm not so sure though that those earning slave wages in Africa will fair so well if the plantations get closed. No doubt "returning to the land" would make sense for them - makes it sound like they've been farmers all their lives.

    The narrow boundary analysis of criticism of agri system is fair enough. But when fuel prices get too high the system will adapt. If it were true that modern agriculture used a huge amount of FF then the system would be in danger from FF shortages. But the fact is that modern agri uses very little FF and much of that is wasted. What's more, food is the highest quality energy we have (Aberdeen Angus steak and Bordeaux are near top of the quality ladder). So food is our greatest energy prize, we don't use much energy to gather it and much of the energy we do use is wasted.

    Energy efficiency savings and eating less and then eating less meat will come before relocalisation of agriculture IMO.

    Maybe those peasants who were forced off their land by government officials excited by the prospect of foreign currency for cash crops are actually looking forward to the demise of airfreighted food, because then they can go back to growing their own food instead of having to purchase it.

    This is one crux of the broader issue. Since all this happened, the population of many of these countries has "doubled". So can they go back to the land and support this larger population without the technology "benefits" afforded by that foreign currency - mechanisation, energy, telecoms and health care spring to mind.

    I think not.

    'Excessive' population minus technology x 4 bad harvests in a row = dieoff.

    Or that's how it worked here in Europe before the industrial revolution, I'm told. Actually, it was still working like that in parts of Dorset in Thomas Hardy's time. Back to the future of reversalism?

    But how much better off will "we" be compared with the folks in "these countries" after the peak?

    At first, the West's greater financial wealth will allow us to compete more successfully for oil. The Financial Times reported the other week that oil at $100 a barrel effectively wiped out the entire monetary value of overseas aid to Africa.

    Then the developed countries will have to try to manage their way along the oil depletion/gas depletion curves towards a model that uses a lot less energy. As I keep saying, how successfully 'we' do that - or whether we even get off first base - depends on societies surviving the first crisis or two at the point of peaking.

    One advantage of analog is that it is easier to sneak a peak at your watch in a boring meeting than with digital. The other reason was that analog is simply more attractive. There is also the cachet with an expensive watch, which you typically don't have with digital. Having said all that, I wear a cheap, digital watch and got over the return to analog syndrome years ago.

    Digital with Calculator on my beltloop (with an LED flashlight next to it. Use them all constantly)

    Hands Clock in the Kitchen, and our 4yr old is coming home from daycare with 'clock' paper-crafts that are helping her learn to read it.


    "Daddy, what does 'clockwise' mean?"

    The numbers on the right change faster than the ones one the left?

    TOD has been an excellent source of energy analysis because it has, in general, stuck to hard facts and analyses based on the writer's expertise on the subject.

    Staniford's analysis of industrial agricultural economics was excellent because it focused on the data, did not venture outside of economics and did not make value judgements.

    The responses to his article have been heavily loaded with value judgements and, from my view as a retired farmer, full of utopian dreaming not connected to reality.

    There is no question that there is a huge desire out there for something different than the world's present status quo. The number of commentaries to Staniford's piece and the number already here to the rebuttal speak to that hunger.

    But the TOD editorial board needs to decide if this is a direction they want TOD to continue on. TOD is in danger of losing its preeminent position in peak oil analysis by venturing into areas outside its range of specialties.

    Perhaps this calls for a sister site. "The Soil Drum"...anyone?

    But the TOD editorial board needs to decide if this is a direction they want TOD to continue on. TOD is in danger of losing its preeminent position in peak oil analysis by venturing into areas outside its range of specialties.

    Fred - food is the highest quality energy we have and so this undoubtedly rests within the remit of The Oil Drum. Its a very tricky subject to get a hold of. The Oil Drum has always published articles that provide the opportunity to debate issues from every angle - articles are not suppressed if someone happens to disagree with them.

    I agree that this article is rather weak and its publication undermines the cause promoted by the author.

    I'm not calling for suppression, at all. I noted that interest in this area is very strong. I'm just questioning what focus TOD wants to have. If TOD wants to get more into agronomic issues, then it needs to have writers with an agronomic background, and not just writers who troll databases. TOD has been preeminent in its field exactly because of the specialized knowledge and real-life experience base of its writers.

    Hello Fred,

    Are you raising any Lodorm these days?


    No, I've had to retire because of chronic fatigue syndrome caused from breathing in all those silica bodies, grain dust, mold spores and ergot. Like many farmers, I was not careful enough with my health when I was young and strong. The grass production fields have all been torn up and are now rented out as wheat and bean ground. How boring.

    I'm trying to reconnect with the perennial grass research community and have been involved on energy sustainability issues in Mankato, Minnesota, where my wife is a university professor. I'm working on a white paper on Energy for Sustainability Systematics.

    Thanks for recognizing me. It's a small world.

    It is good to hear you are still interested and involved with natives, the papers by Tilman and Hill recently have opened some eyes as to the value of prairie. Best of luck, I will look for your white paper.

    The article is rather weak? Come on, Euan. I've read through a lot of responses and may have missed it but did you post any reasoned rebuttal of any of Sharon's points, that critiqued Stuart's? I'd say that Stuart's piece, rather untypically, was a very weak analysis, rather than Sharon's rebuttal.

    When a story is put up as a scientific examination of some issue, then it is absolutely fair to post a critique of that. If you read Sharon's piece, you'll notice that she specifically addresses many points in Stuart's story and shows them to be weak or downright false. Of course there are emotional issues in there too, but don't lose sight that this was a fairly thorough, if long, rebuttal of Stuart's whole approach.

    Actually, I believe Sharon fairly readily conceded the main point I thought I was making (that the imminent presence of peak oil doesn't seem to be leading us toward relocalization at all, and that it doesn't appear that it will soon). But she pointed out that I hadn't supported my more general allegations about reversalists. And I agreed that I hadn't, that not being the main point of the piece, but, for lack of time, deferred most of that task to a future post (it seems likely to be a large task, since the argument will clearly have to be pretty bulletproof).

    If you'll forgive me for correcting you, I think that conceed half your point - that *biofuels* make it much more difficult to seek relocalization. I don't believe that your analysis, unless I have misunderstood it, suggests that industrial agriculture, in the absence of heavy pressure on grain supplies from biofuels, would provide the same pressures in the near term. It is possible that it would, of course, but has not been demonstrated. It would be interesting to see this - I can imagine that as food supplies and population cross closer to 2050, this might occur, but since the odds are good that this is well past the oil peak, that does change things some, no? Besides, we don't want you to run out of things to do ;-).

    Since your own recent articles have provided powerful near-term incentives to limit, tax and regulate the heck out of biofuels growth, and articulated the absolute urgency of doing so quickly, I'm not sure that your overarching central point holds - that is, it does if we fail to regulate biofuels, but then we stand to lose not just the relocalization battle, but a whole lot of lives. This suggests that the relocalization movement might well be able to ally itself with a whole host of other interests bent on preventing the outcomes you argue for - and thus a real possibility of limitation.

    And as I mentioned in my article, I suspect heavy taxation or regulation of biofuels would result in precisely one of the signs you looked for - all of a sudden, farmers buying up land quickly would no longer find it as profitable to grow corn on every inch of it. But even if that isn't true, limitation of biofuels growth would change the game dramatically.

    I am not claiming such limitation is inevitable, merely very wise, for a whole host of reasons. In fact, as you again showed, such short term response is made far more urgent than anyone thought to - so while it may not have been your goal, your analysis in the whole may be to the relocalization movement's benefit. That is, you've made it absolutely essential that a host of groups that might not share the goals of relocalization share their opposition to the starving of the populace with biofuels.

    Like you, there are things I would change about my article if I weren't producing it rapidly, in the time available for such things. But I do think that you are slightly revising your own claims ;-) here - I think you made a stronger claim than this

    "I've argued in this piece that industrial agriculture is likely to be stronger and more profitable when oil prices are high, not weaker. So the reversalist future of local food production on smaller farms with higher labor input will not come to pass as a result of peak oil."

    You did not say that it wasn't going to happen soon, you said it wasn't going to happen at all, and my own argument is, in part, that you can't quite get, as they say in Massachusetts where I grew up, theah from heah ;-). That is, I think you can make a compelling case (which I do conceed) that biofuels represent an enormous barrier to relocalization - but the fact that they represent a barrier to a large chunk of the population living suggests that opposition and limitation are possibilities.


    Really, the only point Stuart has made, and quite well, is that if business as usual (the free market) continues as it has done in the past, then high oil prices (not oil scarcity) would probably work counter to the relocalisation supporters. In the absence of a conscious decision to do something better and in the absence of an actual peak in oil production (followed by gas and coal peaks), then Stuart's probably right. But is such an analysis of any use to us, given that such assumptions may not hold for long?


    Nice bitchslap.

    "sound of hands clapping goes here"

    I'm glad to see more ag articles on the OD; and they are getting quite a load of comments. Regarding both Stuart's original article and Sharon's response- I'd have to say that they are both right and valid, each in their own way. On the one hand I agree to an extent with Stuart's take that many of those who are preaching relocalization as a response to PO are merely wishing for a response and outcome to PO but not necessarily basing it on a plausible reality. Many people in this movement are pinning their hopes on a wish that life will become more local and saner and simpler in many regards and that PO would mean the downfall of large corporate interests and big everything and a highly technological world. To some degree I am in their camp as well- bring on community and local food and goods and the end of long commutes! On the other hand I am wary of wishful thinking clouding the picture of reality-and I don't necessarily believe that all of this will occur-at least not right away. Basing what we think will happen in the US for instance on what happened in Cuba is not sound reasoning I'd have to say. It's interesting to note and we can learn from it but we have no reason to assume that will be our path.

    On the other hand I don't think that it is valid to reject out-of-hand those who aproach PO from a more sociological perspective as opposed to a charts, graphs and economic analysis one. They can both have validity and can both be wrong-lots of data doesn't necessarily make it right.

    As to what will happen; well, I suppose in some ways it depends on a whole host of factors including the response of other countries, climate change, our government's response and the role of biofuels by that time. We also need to divide the PO experience into periods imo- early, mid and late PO perhaps? What may well be true for early PO may not hold for mid PO for instance. I don't see the response to this as static but rather as fluid-so industrial ag may very well be "on top" in the early PO period but not necessarily later on. Much will depend on factors such as population trends in the world, are other energy sources formulated, etc- we cannot even fathom what the issues will be nor the responses to them.

    I think we are to an extent venturing into uncharted waters and we need to recognize that- the analysis of our futures that we perform merely uses the perspective we are most comfortable with-sociological or analytical- in an attempt to divine where we are headed. In any event, it should be most interesting-and I think we all need each other-the relocalization folks and the analytical perspective ones-we possess different skill sets and all are needed.

    The complete discussion on re-localization is irrelevant. Many, many people will have to relocate, or will want to. Climate change and PEverything will probably move billions.

    And the subtitle of Stuarts article is "why PO actually helps industrial agriculture". That's easy to see. The reason is we never had, and will never have, this enormous amount of Energy to our disposal.

    One reason why I believe that industrialization is essentially not reversible is that the time and energy costs of maintaining a given piece of knowledge are very often massively less than the effort that went into developing it.

    Individual techniques can and will be discarded. But the really powerful stuff like how to make steel and gunpowder... forget about it. Every nerd kid the world over knows that stuff. And the knowledge has been recorded and duplicated and stored far and wide so much that it won't be eradicated even by horrific cataclysm. Never before has such knowledge been so widely dispersed. It really is utterly unprecedented.

    Reversalists tend to talk about tech as if it's something we can suppress. We invented it, we can get rid of it.

    Well, truth be told, 'we' invented very little of it. Instead, it befell us. Another way of saying this: there is no 'we' that invented it. Those dudes invented it and it befell the rest of us, for good or ill. Pandora's box is open. You can influence the use of inventions but can't undo them.

    We can either face this fact when dealing with important issues like sustainability and oil depletion, or we can live in la-la land. The latter locality, by the way, shows recent signs of acute overpopulation.

    I know a lot of people who think about these things and grow their own food, but I don't think I've ever met a "reversalist"

    I live in a kind of la la land on the East Coast. Some of my neighbors produce well nigh 5 percent of their family's calorie needs. Somehow the warm air of "self-sufficiency" rekindles the "divine" right (sic) to reproduce. My next-door neighbor has 3 children. Across the road they have 4 kids. Another "self-sufficient" family with 9 kids lives only half a block away!

    Is "collapse" a necessary condition for widespread relocalization?

    If so, doesn't a convincing, evidence-based case for collapse have to made first, and why muddling through by governments at all levels cannot or is unlikely to work? Without supporting data and believable analysis for an impending collapse, wouldn't relocationization always be a fringe movement?

    If not, what estimates are there that relocalization would provide sufficient food and its distribution? Further what pre-conditions, events and political realignments would be necessary to make relocalzation a reality?

    Egad, you wanted it to be 20,000 words ?

    More seriously, I think collapse is not an absolute prerequisite for relocalization on a massive scale, but it is one of the scenarios that make it more likely. That is, it is possible to imagine, for example, a popular political movement arising from a great deal of discontentment that might carry relocalization, but I don't think it is especially likely. It is also possible to imagine a scenario in which a collapse seems immanent, and relocalization is adopted as an advance strategy - that would be the proposition of most relocalization advocates. But how likely are any of these scenarios? Not especially, I suspect. A larger societal collapse seems to me personally to be the most likely scenario for large scale relocalization.

    But remember, collapse is at least a partially fungible term - it is possible to imagine a society even in the US in which basic services for cease to function (as they have at times in some major urban centers), and society has essentially "collapsed" for a portion of the population. Indeed, a recent Harper's article suggested that something like this seems to be happening in inner city Detroit, as those who remain begin turning the landscape into gardens, simply because the houses are empty or falling down, and the prairie is beginning to reclaim them. So it is possible to imagine a moving collapse, where part of society has no choice but to use relocalization strategies in part because there are no longer services available to them. So yes, a fringe element - the poor - but perhaps not irrelevant for all that.

    You ask good questions, and I think a TOD comments bar is probably not the place to answer them completely. The first question in your second paragraph - what is the likelihood that we could eat and relocalize simultaneously, is the subject of the book I'm writing presently - and if you think this was long, just imagine what my answer would be to that.

    If there's interest, I may post some of that material to TOD, but I'm not sure if there will be. I don't have any idea how to make graphs ;-) - and while such an analysis will necessarily include an enormous amount of data about the food system, it will also necessarily be couched in terms that aren't purely empirical - we are dealing with too many questions that have moral, ethical and psychological dimensions, IMHO, to leave them out, and that sort of thing doesn't tend to be done here.



    we are dealing with too many questions that have moral, ethical and psychological dimensions, IMHO, to leave them out, and that sort of thing doesn't tend to be done here.

    Actually it's done quite frequently. Look at Nate Hagans work, for instance.

    But, more to the point, the trouble with your approach is that our universe is a rather surprising place. There is absolutely no guarantee that what may strike us as ethical or moral or psychologically healthy is, in fact, a workable solution. And much that does satisfy us on many levels, turns out to be perfectly disastrous. So, in addition to other deliberations, we learn to "think cold".

    Sharon, do you know how to "think cold"?

    If so, as a practitioner your analysis of the usefulness, feasibility, likelihood etc of widespread small scale relocalization would be very helpful.

    I don't have any idea how to make graphs

    LOL! That alright, we horticulturalists (I prefer that term as it is more in line with being in harmony with nature, rather than trying to control it) don’t need no stinken graphs!

    LOL, Stephen Jay Gould had an essay (the location or title of which I cannot find or dredge up from my memory) about attending a talk in the social sciences or humanities, and discovering, shockingly, that the speaker simply stood up and spoke, rather than providing slides or other visual aids. Gould was absolutely horrified by this, and wrote a lengthy polemic about the value of visual imagery. So I suspect he would agree. I, on the other hand, come from a different scholarly tradition - language based, rather than visually supported. It has its merits, but I admit, I was surprised that TOD published this piece (pleased, but surprised) simply because literary criticism, so to speak, is not the dominant genre here.


    You might enjoy reading Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species. It is similar in style to a long sequence of arguments, like a lawyer making a case based on a preponderance of evidence, rather than a narrow set of data analyses. He uses many analogies, overt connections to what people are already familiar with, to get his ideas across. This is now very uncommon in science but you still see it when new ideas are attempting to be conveyed.

    And funny Gould would say something like this, having read many of his papers.

    I think collapse is not an absolute prerequisite for relocalization

    Do you mean societal collapse or population collapse. One might be able to have a population collapse while still having a society but the reverse would not be possible. I would as well say that a population collapse is a given but the timing and degree of that collapse isn't. If that is so then the question could be: What would the best course for a population collapse to give the optimum results for the planet and secondly for the surviving population. Relocalization now or relocalization after are questions needed to be examined.

    I think I am having you on but I am not really sure:(

    Nice lot of work Sharon, and Gee! I thought ThatsItImout was a fast typer:)

    If that is so then the question could be: What would the best course for a population collapse to give the optimum results for the planet and secondly for the surviving population.

    CrystalRadio I would suggest Derrick Jensen for more on that.

    Many very valid points buried in too many words. Also, no need for even the gentle ad hominems (illogical, etc). Just explain succinctly where and what the disagreements are.

    There can be no denying that some of the things SS says will take place, WILL take place. That's not the issue. Are they adaptive or not -- that's the issue, the sole issue. What will things have to be like, eventually, in order for us to adapt and survive? Now there are various points of view on how easily we'll adapt and wake up. In that respect and in the near term, I'm a doomer. I believe we'll have to go through some version of hell before we create gov'ts that will lead us in addressing the issues that need addressing. Show me some, any reason for optimism.

    I don't understand how any side of this debate can avoid recognizing the inevitability of some reversal, unless one is counting on energy sources that don't yet exist. So everyone (minus the noted exception) has to be a reversalist to some extent. There's nothing to attack or defend here. The sole question is: how much? What and how much can be rescued?

    Nor do I understand what's debatable about relocalization. Unless we have the energy, how are are going to NOT relocalize? I just don't understand what the debate is unless one is saying, yes, there will be energy after all. Ok, show it to me -- where?

    What I would love to see is an overall estimate of where we might be in say 2100 with all energy sources. And where will we be with soil? And where will we be with water? And how many people can be supported? A global inventory projection. We can argue all kinds of other stuff, but in the end we work within these constraints. There is nothing else, except to work on a feasible and least painful transition plan. The problem is that any feasible plan is going to impinge on the profits-are-paramount principle, so there's that little problem to deal with.

    Once that little problem is dealt with, how much reversal is needed will ultimately be decided pragmatically. There's already been a reversal in some sense. When I was a kid, it was imagined that we'd all be travelling around with jet packs, booking flights to Mars, etc. Gone. What would we do with all our leisure time? I once asked my night school students what they do with all their leisure time. They looked at me like I was out of my mind until they realizied I was making a cruel joke. So there has already been a reversal in expectations here. A reversal in actuality is arriving as we speak (write). The reversal has already arrived for parts of the third world, and there wasn't that much to reverse.

    "Show me some, any reason for optimism."

    Try Paul Hawken's 'Blessed Unrest'

    "I don't understand how any side of this debate can avoid recognizing the inevitability of some reversal, unless one is counting on energy sources that don't yet exist. So everyone (minus the noted exception) has to be a reversalist to some extent. There's nothing to attack or defend here. The sole question is: how much? What and how much can be rescued?

    Nor do I understand what's debatable about relocalization. Unless we have the energy, how are are going to NOT relocalize? I just don't understand what the debate is unless one is saying, yes, there will be energy after all. Ok, show it to me -- where?"

    I Agree with this!

    Some things are better left to the experts because they are so important to society and food production is one of them. A few amatuers may be good at producing some specific veggies but if we had to rely on neighborhood gardens then we would be stuck in permanent famine. I doubt that even a 100 mile diet is possible around megaurban areas like LA, NYC, London, Shanghia, Mumbai, etc. I also doubt that biofuels are having a big effect on grain prices. It is the failure of China and India to grow enough of their own food coupled with drought in Australia and elsewhere that is the big contributer to the price rise.
    Having said that it is possible through hydroponics to grow pretty much anything anywhere. Hydroponics though is even more industrial than field based food production. It is also more capital intensive which means it is only economic for higher value crops than basic grains. Which ever way we go food as well as fuel is going to take a bigger bite out of everyone's paycheck.

    Some things are better left to the experts because they are so important to society and food production is one of them. A few amatuers may be good at producing some specific veggies but if we had to rely on neighborhood gardens then we would be stuck in permanent famine.

    I can see the bumper sticker now, "If you don't believe in home gardens, Don't Have One!"

    Problem solved?

    Leave coal in ground, switch to solar
    The New Mexican

    1/23/2008 - 1/23/08

    Regarding the Desert Rock power plant: Utilities must recognize that coal-fired power plants are difficult to site nowadays. People are increasingly aware of continuing environmental impacts from mining and transporting coal, of its harmful acid, mercury and greenhouse-gas emissions and from disposal of ash.

    How much easier to site photovoltaic, or solar collector plants (reflectors focusing sunlight to make hot fluid, which produces steam and power). These have no air emissions, no wastewater discharges or waste. Fuel generated from sunlight is free, safe, and healthy. The December Scientific American urges a major switch to solar power. Using solar, in time the Southwest could supply all of the nation's power needs. This would end our dependence on foreign oil and Middle East politics, relieve our balance of payments problem, tremendously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create new, well-paid jobs in New Mexico.

    Phil Wardwell

    Rows 15 and 16 reveal some limitations of solar.

    Lack of time, and the desire to focus on next week's piece, are going to prevent me responding in full to Sharon's critique. Let me offer just a few observations. To some extent, I opened myself up to this by introducing a more general term (reversalism) in the context of a piece who's core focus was questioning the logic of "peak oil implies relocalization". A fuller defense of this will have to await future pieces. However, I note that the relocalist who I respect the most is Jason Bradford, and in a piece that seems to be intended as a general introduction to the ideas for the TOD community, Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Climate Change and Peak Oil he began:


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

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

    Emphasis added. I don't think "reversalist" is an unfair description of this position. I introduced the term as a convenience to me to cover a range of movements and impulses not all of which would consider themselves relocalist, and I chose this term in particular because of interest in this general question of reversibilty versus irreversability in the social process that is development/industrialization). By it, I mean any movement which seeks solutions entirely, or almost entirely, from the past. Of course, as with any generalization, the term will be more or less accurate when applied to any particular individual or group. Sharon seems ill-inclined to defend Jim Kunstler, and I would agree that he might be the purest case of what I would call reversalism (he is of course very capable of defending himself and I confidently expect to be verbally skewered in the most colorful terms at some point).

    In general, what would convince me that I was wrong about some person or group would be evidence of a balanced desire to seek solutions from either the past, or the ongoing process of innovation and discovery of new ideas. I have limited respect either for those who assume that innovations are always going to solve all of our problems, or for those who assume innovations are irrelevant. For example, someone who devotes a certain fraction of their effort and writing to talking about new developments in agricultural technology and how they impact sustainability issues for better or worse could clearly not be labelled a reversalist. But someone who spends their entire intellectual effort on solutions well known in the past might fairly be labelled such, I think.

    On the various critiques of my rhetorical tactics - I am sure I am guilty at least in part. I am a very data-driven guy and I generally change my mind pretty quickly when the evidence points against my prior position. But certainly I have a philosophy and a point of view and that will at times come into my writing and I may not justify every sentence with a graph. I have elected to do my explorations of these issues outside the context of the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Inititally this was accidental, but it has become more conscious - I just think I'm going to make much faster progress by writing a weekly blog post read by 20,000 concerned people than I would if I kicked out a paper every few months that would be read by a few hundred people if I was lucky (a lot of scientists are going to completely dismiss me for no other reason than this, but oh well). I try to write and reason in a much more accessible style than would be typical in a scientific paper and I also feel more free to drop the (somewhat fictional) objectivity in the peer-reviewed literature and express my own POV. However, there are risks in this that readers should be aware of. Because of the time constraints, I am much more likely to make errors in these blog posts than I would be in a published paper. Not only that, but because these problems are so huge and all-encompassing, there is no way to get a decent understanding of the whole situation except by straying into all kinds of areas in which I do not have a deep background. This further increases the likilihood of errors. Being caught in (material) errors is something I hate, but the overall project seems worth having that happen to me from time to time. And the readership is protected somewhat by the presence of the hundred+ comments from all points of view which typically accrete to most posts.

    And in particular, the deeper accusation that Sharon is making is that I am biassed against relocalization. I think that is now true - I have become more sceptical about it the longer I have gone on. This does not mean that I could never change my mind if presented with enough compelling logic and data, but it does mean that I have an opinion.

    Another of Sharon's arguments that I would like to respond to is that of lack of quantitative reasoning in many relocalist writers. The most basic quantitative questions that I would start from are hardly ever even considered. What fraction of the population do you think should be working on the land? If we adopt your proposal, can we feed the 9 billion people the UN believes will be on the planet by 2050? What do you believe will be the average income level in 2008 dollars of a person in a relocalized society?

    If someone has not deeply considered these questions, and come up with answers they feel are defensible, what business do they have advocating this course of action to the rest of us?

    The last question in particular speaks to the point Sharon makes that many relocalizers are not assuming inevitably of relocalization, but instead campaigning for it. Every society we know of that is heavily agricultural is extremely poor by comparison with modern societies. How likely is it that the people in western society will voluntarily make themselves vastly poorer than they currently are?

    And I think this issue of advocacy gets onto very dangerous ground. For example, a couple of years back, I asked Richard Heinberg specifically about this (at the Community Solutions conference).

    SS: At this conference there's been a strong sense in the audience, summarized very nicely by John Ikerd this morning, essentially saying the industrial revolution was a mistake and we've made ourselves dependent on all these non-renewable resources and we need to go back to where we went wrong, back before we started using these non-renewable resources. Which to me suggests an 18th century level of economy and output. The 18th century population is about a 10th of what we're going to have here before long, we’ll easily reach nine or ten billion. Do you have some basis for thinking we can feed that many people with that kind of level of energy?

    RH: I think we probably can't. We're approaching the population bottleneck. I write in both of my books about the population problem and make a few suggestions, not original with me but suggestions from people who understand population issues, as to how we can gradually reduce global population. I'm not particularly saying we're going to do any of those things, I think that over the course of the 21st century we'll see a culling of the population by starvation and famine and epidemics.

    Ok, let me stress at this point that I regard Richard as a sensitive and thoughtful individual who is very well-intentioned. He is absolutely motivated by trying to do what is right in this situation. But the history of the world is replete with examples of well-intentioned people with wrong ideas causing disasters. So I think it's important that we scrutinize his ideas along with everyone elses. And if I understand Richard correctly, he was saying that he didn't believe that the low-energy relocalized future he envisages could support the likely future global population.

    Alright, so before one "advocates" a course of action that one believes cannot work without an accompaying die-off, should not one be very confident that no other course of action is possible? Isn't a die-off in human population the worst possible thing that we should try to avoid by any means at all at our disposal?

    Finally, let me stress my deeper concern about the relocalization movement, which is probably leading to some of the rhetoric Sharon is offended by. I believe peak oil is a very real and serious problem. I believe climate change is a very real and serious problem (I have written about it at length in the past, but reserve the right not to write about every issue in every piece :-). Fisheries, soils, are serious issues too, though not quite so acute IMO. Society has a hell of a lot on its hands to get through the 21st century in good shape. But we also have some big assets - we have high EROEI solar, wind, and nuclear energy sources that we could potentially use to power society without emitting much carbon. There are some problems to solve, but it is by no means obvious that the situation is hopeless.

    Oversimplifying greatly, there are roughly two responses to this situation. The mainstream response is largely to avoid talking about peak oil very much at all, and to wring our hands about climate change but not do all that much (well, there is also the mainly American-conservative climate denial movement refusing to even acknowledge the problem, but that is weakening I think).

    But amongst those of us willing to call a spade a spade and discuss peak oil etc frankly, the relocalization movement looms very large, to the point that if a person were to go to a randomly selected peak oil website or local support group, that's just as likely to be the perspective they get. And right now, feel free to persuade me I'm wrong, the relocalist movement looks to me like an equally dysfunctional response to the situation as staying in denial. It is not a well thought out plan for "here's how we feed everyone, here's how wealthy we can afford to be, here are the steps we need to execute, A, B, C..." Instead, it continues to look to me more like a romantic impulse to try to pretend that it is possible to hide from the scale of our problems by thinking that there is a way to make a separate peace with them. "The globe is going to hell, but if I behave right, treat my soil right, and persuade some of my neighbours or my locality to do the same, maybe we will be ok".

    I do not believe that there are separate peace terms on offer. We are all in this together on this planet. We are either going to find a solution that kinda-sorta works for almost all of us, or all bets are off, including the relocalist one.

    Here's the problem with focusing on just data.

    1+1=2 we all "know" that and its instinctive.

    But the mathematical proof is way more complex very few of us could even wade thu..

    The game of chess until very recently the computer models could not beat a top chess player. The human has an instinctive response which is very hard to model...

    This "life game" is way more complicated that chess...

    During the great depression there was a flow of people from the city's to the country side. I think this period is the closest we have to whats going to occur.

    In Oz during the depression swagmen use to go from farm to farm (unwriten rule only staying one day)doing odd jobs for food and maybe some cash.. Heres the thing but the farmers could not really turn them away if they did "strange events occured" such as fire's and stock losses...

    Your mega farm model doesn't include hungry desperate people looking for a place to eat..

    Lastly Ethanol does NOT produce energy it is an energy sink. My Old man is a University professor who use to teach this stuff... Here's what he says...

    "Go to the bottle shop find the cheapest drink that you can ignite this is close enough. Now buy 60 liters and fill your tank...Not cheap compared to gas and it never will be as gas prices rise so to will the grog...."

    You can just produce Ethanol as a positive return basis if you use careful crop rotations BUT it is much much more efficient to use Horses....


    So for the individual it is a clear choose move closer to the food and maybe be on the production side. Or stay away from the food and live on the consumption side... Kind of WestTexas supply model in local community terms..

    Hi Stuart, thanks for this reply.

    Seems that one of your quibbles then, is the sense that relocalization is a sort of "I got mine, sorry about yours" response to the truly global problems. I believe there are tendencies towards this in many people's minds, but that much of that has to do with absolute disgust and disillusionment with the response so far by broader society. Hence the urge to retreat and see if you can muddle through somehow, or perhaps enjoy some peace on Earth in your little part of the planet.

    On the other hand, when I look at books like Powerdown and The Oil Depletion Protocol (just to pick one prominent writer) by Heinberg, I see attempts to think about the global implications and lay out what the policy options could be at the highest levels. This work draws on economic ideas from Richard Douthewaite, literature in the field of Ecological Economics, and social justice climate change advocacy such as Contraction and Convergence by Aubrey Meyers. Julian Darley has likewise been advocating sharing of information and possible solutions globally as much as possible, setting up open source computer networks for local groups.

    With respect to searching for techologies that may help us get through, few I know speak against established technologies in renewable energy, but many have doubts about what may be in R&D right now and don't want to pin hopes on false promises. With respect to agricultural science, many small scale farmers are relearning some old stuff, but at the same time are also looking into new methods of soil building, monitoring and restoration, and appropriate tool sets.

    On another a population biologist I generally disagree with U.N. population scenarios and find the discipline of human demography to be bogus for any long-range projections. (The gist in short form is that these models lack any environmental feedback loops). So I tend not to think about "how we gonna feed 9 billion people?" Wrong question. Where are those 9 billion people? The whole notion of expanding food supply for a projected population increase is "the fallacy of a self-fulfilling prophesy." On the other hand, sorting out how to grow enough healthy food for those who exist while not frying the planet or running out of tractor fuel is a worthy endeavor.

    I too get very nervous when delving into new fields, but like you feel we don't have time for perfection. So I am personally very glad you are doing these investigations.

    It's about mankind taking responsibility for his actions. One response to Peak oil and destruction of the environment is to try to be as self sufficient as possible. Growing your own veggies or trying to farm organically is a perfectly legitimate way to reduce your impact. Trusting in governments and scientists to come up with global solutions is the easy way out. It is just as much wishful thinking as those who hope to escape to the countryside.

    I have something to add regarding this point of yours:
    "Alright, so before one "advocates" a course of action that one believes cannot work without an accompaying die-off, should not one be very confident that no other course of action is possible? Isn't a die-off in human population the worst possible thing that we should try to avoid by any means at all at our disposal?"

    If we look at one thing Richard advocates in the context of relocalization is for a dramatic reduction in personal energy consumption--meaning such things as consuming a lot less liquid fuels. If we establish more local economic and social relationships then our basic needs can be met with reduced transportation demand.

    Now, you make the point that our continuing high demand for liquid fuels is leading to a push to produce biofuels, and that this by itself if left to continue for a few more years could lead to the starvation of many millions of poor people.

    Relocalization is taking a grassroots approach, but Richard and others also discuss the potential higher-level political implications. Might a political leadership who sees that the people who elect them are willing to cut back on consumption reconsider the agricultural subsidies that lead to the biofuel rage? Isn't taking on the responsibility to produce local food going to mean that more food might be available for those who don't have the means to produce it themselves? Might this lessen the severity of the die-off Richard feels is inevitable?

    Jason: I don't have the slightest objection to people gardening if it makes them happy. I'm all for it (and used to do it a lot back when I had more time). I also completely agree that in very stressed societies gardening and small scale food production helps on the margin. However, I'm very unpersuaded that for most people in western society this is the most advantageous use of time in the near future. I would speculate that the best predictor by far of household welfare in the troubles ahead is whether or not one stays employed. So that time in the garden might be far better spent at work. What I'm also very unpersuaded of is that there is a reasonably plausible path from where we are to a large scale relocalized agriculture. Your idea of large-scale voluntary restraint strikes me as unlikely - just about every large religious movement of the last few millenia has been about getting people to be more altruistic to the rest of humanity. I think those movements have helped, but most people remain fairly focussed on the welfare of themselves and their immediate tribe. I don't think we should look for large changes in this soon.

    I am reluctant to rely on good nature also. Another way to look at this is seeing whether people rally for austerity during a time of crisis when the notion of shared sacrifice garners political appeal. You could view people making changes in their personal lives now, ahead of the crisis point, as establishing some models that could be taken up by an otherwise reluctant society.

    I don't know if "most people in western society" is what is required. I am trying to make goals for lower energy inputs to production systems while still maintaining labor efficiency. With intensive vegetable cultivation I think a full time farmer with human-powered hand tools can grow enough veggies for 19 other people. Not bad. What might a similar tool set look like for grains? Dairy? etc. Can we eliminate fossil fuels from our food supply in a timely manner without asking these sorts of questions? Is anybody else trying? I'd like to know.

    Another way to look at this is seeing whether people rally for austerity during a time of crisis when the notion of shared sacrifice garners political appeal.

    Do you mean a riot for austerity?


    "So I tend not to think about 'how we gonna feed 9 billion people?' Wrong question. Where are those 9 billion people?"

    Huh? I'm confused. Populations are still skyrocketing except in Japan, some of Europe, and perhaps the USA ex immigration. The poorer populations are for the most part still exploding the fastest. Short of mass starvation on an absolute scale never seen before, and on a proportional scale seen only rarely, how are those nine billion not going to appear and in short order? At 80 million per annum and rising, the deed will be completed yesterday, or so it will seem. Is everybody suddenly going to implement Chinese-style compulsory birth control? Really? Is the West not going to send food aid every time there is a crisis anywhere, until and unless it becomes absolutely impossible to do so? Are all the present seven billion going to very quickly become as rich as Western Europeans and stay that way, thus giving a worldwide "demographic transition"? If so, then peak oil is not really a problem. And even if they do, how could it possibly happen fast enough to prevent the nine billion from appearing? And if two billion (nine minus seven) are left unfed, won't that cause enough social disruption to take down a few more billion and render all plans moot? OK, enough questions, now I'm even more confused. ???

    A population can only increase in size if surplus food exists. Right now, lots of surplus food exists, therefore population can rapidly increase. If we keep trying to produce surplus food we will keep getting more people...until we can't keep increasing surplus food. When is it going to stop? Either we set a limit on how much food we produce and pass out and try to do so fairly and manage a decline, or resource depletion and climate change do it for us.

    "we set a limit on how much food we produce and pass out and try to do so fairly and manage a decline"

    This may be a pity, as I think this "we" simply does not exist. The only way "we" could manage a decline fast enough to avoid nine billion, save for mass starvation on an unprecedented scale, would seem to be forcible birth control. A global wealth-based "demographic transition" isn't going to happen fast enough if at all. Nor is a womens'-education-based "demographic transition" going to happen fast enough. It would take a wholesale transformation of present-day Muslim societies and probably also of Hindu societies. Fundamentalist Christians in America and Africa would also put up a huge fight. It won't happen within the lifetimes of most here; China was the exception.

    So the people will be born willy-nilly. They don't eat all that much at first, so there will be quite a bit of overshoot before the food-supply pressure kicks in hard. As they grow up and become ravenous teenagers, the political pressure to go ahead and feed them will be absolutely irresistible, as, politically, tear-jerking TV images simply cannot be ignored. It follows that one way or another the resources to do so will be found, climate change be damned.

    That's how I suspect it will play out, FWIW.

    Sounds pretty likely to me also. Here's to hoping for the best and preparing for the worst!

    But I think 9 billion is the medium range of UN models, with 7.5 or so on the low end.

    A population can only increase in size if surplus food exists. Right now, lots of surplus food exists, therefore population can rapidly increase. If we keep trying to produce surplus food we will keep getting more people...until we can't keep increasing surplus food.

    Jason - this seems to be untrue of humans in important ways. Human societies have pretty much all gone through a demographic transition where after death rates drop due to development, birth rates drop also (or they are in the middle of this transition - birth rates are dropping all over the world even though nutrition has been improving). Eg consider the developed countries were people choose to spend only a modest fraction of their income on food but have stable populations - they have not elected to have five times as many people with tiny houses an no cars, even though they could have done so. The demographic transition in western countries began long before the availability of modern contraceptives even.

    Since this is so universally true, I assume it must be a fairly basic aspect of human nature (I speculate that we are wired to not have more children than we are able to maintain at about our own current level in the social hierarchy, but I don't really know what the state of knowledge is on this question of why we self-regulate population).

    So for this reason the UN projections are fairly plausible even in the presence of a food supply that could potentially support more people. Of course, a smaller food supply will lead to a smaller population, but that's the nightmare scenario.

    Your parenthetical comment hits it on the head. The best way to reduce population growth without a starve out is to raise expectations for standards of living and then have those expectations dashed. Folks will decide that they really need to have a lot of stuff per child and so hold off until they can amass the wealth. If the wealth never arrives they delay, delay...delay birth.

    So, birth rates drop during economic declines. We are going to enter an economic decline, so I would expect birth rates to plummet. As far as I can tell, the U.N. models don't make any predictions based on that sort of reasoning or historical analysis of population decline following changing economic fortunes. Perhaps they are starting to catch on...haven't looked at their writings for a while.

    A plot of world population growth versus food supply perfectly tracks changes in food supply as expected from a standard logistic model with food supply the surrogate for theoretical K (i.e., carrying capacity).

    I hadn't thought about this, but it looks like you are correct to a degree. The Great Depression:

    When people feel increasingly insecure and view the future with deepened apprehension, they are less likely to marry and less eager to have children whom they may find it impossible to support. During the period of the Great Depression and for some years afterwards the world birthrate averaged about one-tenth lower than it had during the "prosperous" 1920's.

    A decline of one-tenth in the birthrate may not seem very significant. It meant that during the 1930's there were about three less births per year for each thousand people than there would have been if the birthrate of the preceding decade had continued unchanged. By 1930 the global population had reached two billion, so a drop of three per thousand in the birthrate meant some six million fewer babies were born in a year.

    It meant that, between 1930 and 1940, approximately 550 million babies were born into the world instead of perhaps 600 million that might have been born if there had been no Depression. Fifty million human beings is a total greater than all the soldiers and civilians killed in both world wars.

    However, here's the birth and death rates for less developed countries:

    So a 10% drop in the birthrate is nowhere near enough to stop population growth any time soon. More like a 60% drop would be required. I struggle to imagine something 6x worse than the great depression that wouldn't also have a big impact on the death rate.

    "I struggle to imagine something 6x worse than the great depression that wouldn't also have a big impact on the death rate."

    From your recent work, it is clear by now that biofuel production is THE factor. The only way its potential impact on population levels could take place via a drop in the birthrate as opposed to starvation would be if a massive blunt advertising campaign were started today, saying:

    "The realistic prospects for global food production levels in 10 years are that they will be half or less than those of today. People making procreation decisions beware. If they are poor, it is possible that they will see the children they are planning to conceive starve."

    This is just Malthus on steroids (he could not have foreseen a 50% DROP in food production levels). And sure it doesn't sound good, but it's better than keeping people in a state of delusion so that they actually see their future children starve.

    And for the record, I see as unmistakably clear that the embryo is a human being and person from the very moment of conception. And that, consequently, abortion is murder.

    BTW, declines in population growth are affected almost equally by two factors - the number of children had, and the age at which women have them (obviously, there are material limits on how far you can push this). That is, the results of having 1 child at 20 and 2 children at 40 are pretty much the same. Thus, education for women is an enormous factor in the demographic transition. Now it is not realistic to push reproduction back to starting at 40 for most women - late primipara reproduction has health risks. But into the 20s and 30s is potentially possible - parts of Europe managed to culturally create those circumstances in the 17th and 18th centuries simply by raising the economic standards for marriage, which pushed first reproduction into the mid-20s.

    I have occasionally wondered what the reproductive implications of simply offering free, university level educations to the whole population of most nations (probably something that could be funded) might be. This is, of course, pure speculation.


    Yeah, I probably should have mentioned death rates too! Thanks for bringing it up.

    I would expect the green line to decline much more rapidly and the purple line to go up rather than flatten. Where might the two meet....I dunno 2020-2030 perhaps?

    So, birth rates drop during economic declines.

    The is basically the Economic Opportunity Hypothesis (PDF Alert) espoused by Virginia Abernethy. Very simply stated, "Bad times and anticipation of Bad Times = declining fertility. Good times and anticipation of Good Times = increasing fertility"

    A plot of world population growth versus food supply perfectly tracks changes in food supply as expected from a standard logistic model with food supply the surrogate for theoretical K (i.e., carrying capacity).

    A plot of food supply also perfectly tracks changes in population. Which came first?

    There are so many bad assumptions about population growth and food. For example, population grew largely because of improvements in sanitation and medicine, which greatly reduces child mortality. Very little to do with food supply.

    I do not believe that there are separate peace terms on offer. We are all in this together on this planet. We are either going to find a solution that kinda-sorta works for almost all of us, or all bets are off, including the relocalist one.

    Nomination for comment of year!

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

    (Stuart) I don't think "reversalist" is an unfair description of this position. ...By it, I mean any movement which seeks solutions entirely, or almost entirely, from the past.

    I don't think the terms he used reflected methods and practices, they were trends. By extrapolating that to agriculture, you seem to have assumed that relocalists were advocating Little House on the Prairie “entirely, or almost entirely”. While I see similarities, the perception I have is that it will be a “new normal”, not a carbon copy return to former practices.

    But someone who spends their entire intellectual effort on solutions well known in the past might fairly be labelled such, I think.

    I think you underestimate people who are at the forefront of organic farming; they like to use best practices from the past, along with knowledge gained in the interim, creating a blend of the old and the new. Simply because they don't adhere to current Big-Ag thinking doesn't mean they are stuck in the past; much has been learned over the last several decades that has added to the organic farming knowledge base.

    I am a very data-driven guy and I generally change my mind pretty quickly when the evidence points against my prior position.

    Very often, the data has not been completely vetted, or a sample size is too small, or trends that seem to be taking place with scant data are then extrapolated in a linear (or other function) fashion. Yeast populations in a beer brew could be extrapolated to continue to grow, though lack of sugar dooms them every time. So hasty assemblages of data sets converted into graphs with a dash of interpretation does not win over those who do this sort of work for a living. Simple hypothesis tests for proportion where completely missing, for starters.

    I am much more likely to make errors in these blog posts than I would be in a published paper. Not only that, but because these problems are so huge and all-encompassing, there is no way to get a decent understanding of the whole situation except by straying into all kinds of areas in which I do not have a deep background. This further increases the likilihood of errors.

    I think people would have been much more understanding if you were less arrogant in assuming you could establish a fallacy in a single post, with the data issues noted herein and in other posts above. If you had titled it, “Thoughts on reversability”, then it would have been an explorative article. There is much we don't know about how things are going to turn out, JD's unearned temerity notwithstanding.

    Another of Sharon's arguments that I would like to respond to is that of lack of quantitative reasoning in many relocalist writers. The most basic quantitative questions that I would start from are hardly ever even considered. What fraction of the population do you think should be working on the land? If we adopt your proposal, can we feed the 9 billion people the UN believes will be on the planet by 2050? What do you believe will be the average income level in 2008 dollars of a person in a relocalized society?
    If someone has not deeply considered these questions, and come up with answers they feel are defensible, what business do they have advocating this course of action to the rest of us?

    So unless someone can solve all the world's problems, we shouldn't start our own organic gardens, or some of us shouldn't become small farmers? What will the income of people in 2020 be in 2008 dollars if we clung to industrial farming, and ammonia fertilizer and phosphates went into steep decline during that timeframe? Could you guarantee that we could feed the 9 billion people in 2050? If someone has not deeply considered these questions, and come up with answers they feel are defensible, what business do they have advocating continuation of industrial agriculture to the rest of us?

    we have high EROEI solar, wind, and nuclear energy sources that we could potentially use to power society without emitting much carbon.

    And how much time to we have to make this massive infrastructure change? How will these solve the liquid fuels crisis with so very few vehicles that are electric, plug in, or other alt fuel. T here will be a crisis, and how government intervenes (or does not) will determine the future of ag in each nation.

    I do not believe that there are separate peace terms on offer. We are all in this together on this planet. We are either going to find a solution that kinda- sorta works for almost all of us, or all bets are off, including the relocalist one.

    So in your scenario, no one starves? Or at least not a significant portion of the population? Please show us your plan to overcome contention for liquid fuels, peak fertilizer, and peak phosphate at a minimum. And please don't just echo JD's groundless claim that we'll just buy fertilizer from China made from coal.

    Just to correct a few misconceptions. I actually didn't particularly advocate continuation of industrial agriculture. I just pointed out that there doesn't seem to be much evidence for the idea that peak oil will cause relocalized agriculture to overtake it. I also by no means was intending to apply my remarks to the entire organic food sector (of which I am a customer). As far as I can tell, most organic food production is a form of industrial agriculture, uses a lot technology, and is just as dependent on mechanization and fossil fuels as commercial agriculture, though certainly more concerned with health, both human and soil.

    As to showing you my plan, you can look at my backstories for what I think about the transportation sector, and I will keep working on the rest and dribbling it out week by week as time allows.

    Also, the story you link to on fertilizer has absolutely nothing to do with energy depletion, but rather with Chinese economic policies.

    Finally, on my various personality flaws - I'm more than happy to agree that I have many, including arrogance. However, I don't think they are very interesting or important compared to the problems we face and the merits of the possible solutions, so let's keep the discussion on those things.

    I was making the point that industrial ag relies on natural gas for nitrogen fertilizer. JD claims that we could just get the fertilizer from China via coal gasification. The article merely showed how coal supplies in China were problematic now.

    I just pointed out that there doesn't seem to be much evidence for the idea that peak oil will cause relocalized agriculture to overtake it.

    Actually, you attempted to refute the likelihood altogether and create an axiom, which is much stronger than the statement you make above.

    I wasn't referring to a personality flaw, just the perception of an attitude in the article. But I think you now realize the difficulty of making strong claims (axioms, at that) through the use of hasty data collection and partial analysis in a field outside of your expertise. I don't see it as a trend with you, hence not a personality flaw. Indeed I find most of your posts enlightening and look forward to them.

    JD claims that we could just get the fertilizer from China via coal gasification.

    I have never made this claim, anywhere, at any time. You are L-Y-I-N-G. If you want to quote me, that's fine. Quote my words and provide the cite showing where *I* actually said it. If you can't do that, then shut up. It is totally illegitimate to fabricate and spread phoney quotes which you cannot substantiate.

    I'm not the only one to have heard you make the same claim;

    However, I'm not going to spend my Saturday tracking down your past claims, as I have no idea which of your blogs you have changed, or which posts you have edited or deleted from here, your blog responses,, and other places, so I will let you off the hook this once.

    I'm not the only one to have heard you make the same claim;

    No one ever heard me make that claim, because I never made that claim.

    However, I'm not going to spend my Saturday tracking down your past claims, as I have no idea which of your blogs you have changed, or which posts you have edited or deleted from here, your blog responses,, and other places, so I will let you off the hook this once.

    In other words, you have no cite for the phoney quote you are fraudulently trying to attribute to me. You're a liar, Will. You owe me a retraction and an apology.

    Will Stewart said:
    'However, I'm not going to spend my Saturday tracking down your past claims, as I have no idea which of your blogs you have changed, or which posts you have edited or deleted from here, your blog responses,, and other places, so I will let you off the hook this once.'
    Incredibly weak. If you can't substantiate an accusation, have the grace to withdraw.

    I wasn't referring to a personality flaw, just the perception of an attitude in the article. But I think you now realize the difficulty of making strong claims (axioms, at that) through the use of hasty data collection and partial analysis in a field outside of your expertise.

    Actually, I haven't particularly inferred that at all. I view the flaws in my original piece on Monday as relatively minor (and understandable given the constraints I necessarily write under) and I wouldn't change all that much if I had to do it over. If I never wrote till I'd done an exhaustive literature search on something, I'd produce one piece a year instead of one piece a week, and I don't think that would be an improvement. As it is, in a few weeks of research, I've raised a variety of issues that seem important to address and which the relocalist movement has (apparently) not previously addressed at all despite years of thinking about this stuff. Hopefully, they now will get addressed, and we will collectively be better off than if I had spent my evenings reading sustainable ag books and not writing anything.

    I think it likely that the strong reaction to the piece amongst (some) relocalists is mainly due the fact that my conclusion is very threatening to the sense of meaning they are deriving from their chosen life path. I expected that, sympathize with it, but won't particularly have my views changed by it. To get me to change my views a whole lot really would take different data, alternative models, better statistical analysis that showed up that I had made some material error. I just haven't seen much of that in the, what, 700+ comments on the two pieces. (With the one possible exception of the discrepancy between the Land institute soil depletion figures and the USDA figures, which I would like to try to understand better at some point). No doubt I, and others, will return to these issues in future as time allows and we can all go more deeply into them and develop a sharper understanding.

    I think it likely that the strong reaction to the piece amongst (some) relocalists is mainly due the fact that my conclusion is very threatening to the sense of meaning they are deriving from their chosen life path.

    No, it's because you're wrong.

    You don't need statistics for a critique.

    "My income has doubled since last week, so I expect it to double this week, too."
    "You mean you got off the dole and got a minimum wage job? Why would you expect it to double this week again?"
    "Look, unless you can provide me with statistics to refute my claim that my income has doubled this week, you can't possibly argue with me."

    In that exchange, the first guy is missing a crucial part of the issue; so is your piece. Your piece quite simply is missing the "demand" half of the situation. When fossil fuels are scarce enough, their price rises are passed on to food costs (as is already happening, as the FAO reports). At some point this will give more localised and less fossil-fuel intense agriculture an economic advantage. If fuel is $10/lt then the market gardener 10km from the city will be able to sell them more cheaply than the industrialised farmer 250km from the city; and possibly some people will grow them on their balconies. Because whatever the graphs say, people have to eat.

    Just as peak oil does not mean that the world is suddenly going to run out or stop driving around in Hummers, so too does it not mean that all industrialised agriculture will disappear. But it does mean that these things will be less widespread. Just as there'll be less Hummers in 2050, there'll be more localised agriculture with less fossil fuel inputs.

    If fuel is $10/lt then the market gardener 10km from the city will be able to sell them more cheaply than the industrialised farmer 250km from the city

    That may be true of some items. However, you're going to have to do a lot more calculating and homework to show that to be the case. Bulk transport is extremely efficient, and the fuel costs of transport constitute only a miniscule fraction of final product cost. It's certainly true that people aren't going to be growing/processing grains in truck gardens and on their balconies. It's the same with other commodities as well: it's ridiculously inefficient to have everyone (for example) making their own pants. Far cheaper and easier to manufacture them in bulk, and bring them from China on a ship.

    I didn't calculate that at all, I just gave a "for example" figure.

    I discussed these sorts of issues in The Freezing Point of Industrial Society. Staniford didn't like that one, the actual historical development of 171 countries wasn't enough for him. Maybe I should have put them all in a graph.

    In general, all modern wasteful industrial economies have a consistent fuel affordability of 10,000lt per person annually (that is, per capita GDP divided by the price of fuel/lt). All the non-industrialised societies relying primarily on human labour have a fuel affordability of less than 1,500lt each.

    I speak of fuel affordability rather than price because that lets us consider scenarios where economies go into recession (ie, per capita wealth drops), but governments subsidise fuel purchases - as seems likely will happen in the developed West, judging by the howls of indignant outrage from the public every time the price of petrol jumps a cent or two.

    You speak of bulk transport being extremely efficient, but it's not energy efficient, only price efficient - because of cheap fossil fuels.

    My first job as a kid was working in a deli. Freight costs were about 30 cents/kg then, so they'd be $1/kg now. And like I said, that FAO report tells us that freight costs are already pushing food costs up to record levels.

    Think of it this way: currently food production accounts for about 2% of our energy use, and transporting the food is 10%. So in all, 12% of energy use. Here Down Under, the average weekly household grocery bill is $150, and the average household income is $900. So food takes 12% of energy and 17% of spending. How can the price of fuel possibly rise without the price of food rising, too? It is already. Maybe Staniford and you don't like FAO statistics, I dunno.

    But this is a whole site about peak fossil fuels. That's saying that if we do nothing, total energy available goes down. And if the total energy available to use goes down, and we keep industrialised farming the same, then... we have to cut somewhere else, yeah? Either we have a general economic decline, or else we try to find efficiencies. Isn't bringing the farm closer to the market an efficiency?

    I just don't understand why this is such a mental leap. Even a Milton Friendman could see this - if the price of one of your inputs goes up, then your raise prices; but if the market can't bear your higher prices, then you seek efficiencies. Since the actual food-growing is only 2% of our energy use but transporting and storing it is 10%, it's easier to have farms closer to the market. Halve your distance and drop your transport and storage costs by a third.

    Anyone who has ever farmed for a living, or worked on one, understands this - transport is a very significant cost. If that cost goes up, it's going to break some of the more distant farms.

    You can ask for graphs and fancy formulae, or you can just drive out to a farm one day and ask them.

    transport is a very significant cost. If that cost goes up, it's going to break some of the more distant farms.

    This is the crux of it. What exactly does "very significant cost" mean? If a good X is transported from point A to B, what percentage of the retail cost can be attributed to transport? And of those transport costs, what percentage can be ascribed to fuel costs?

    I've previously done one calculation of this type showing that 1kg of rice can be transported by ship, over a distance half the circumference of the earth, at a fuel cost of about US$ 0.015. At current prices where I live (in Japan), that comes out to about 0.4% of the final retail price -- a miniscule fraction. Oil prices can double, triple or quadruple etc., and the cost of transport fuel only adds a few cents to the retail price. So it's not clear at all why distance is going to break a farm. You actually need to produce the numbers to make the case.

    You also need to factor in all the costs. For example, moving farms into the heart of the city will reduce transport costs, but will drastically increase land costs. Similarly, moving factories from China to Los Angeles will reduce transport fuel costs, but will drastically increase labor costs. Relocalization only makes sense commercially when the *bottom line* is cheaper in a closer location.

    Crude oil prices hit a low of $10 in 1998, and increased 7 times (600%) to a high of $70 in August of 2005. Meanwhile, imports to the U.S. from China ballooned from US$ 5 billion to 20 billion:

    So it would seem, from the data, that transport costs really aren't that significant.

    I think that, as we are talking about a peaking of oil production, costs of oil are only one factor. Availability of oil is another major factor. Whilst some people assume that oil will be prioritised towards food transport, that means food freight business would benefit to the detriment of other businesses, and private citizens.

    If fuel isn't prioritised, food availability will have highly regional variability. If fuel is rationed to the benefit of some private companies, that pretty much means the end of the free market.

    I've previously done one calculation of this type showing that 1kg of rice can be transported by ship, over a distance half the circumference of the earth, at a fuel cost of about US$ 0.015.

    You don't have to calculate freight rates, you can just look them up.

    The FAO's World Food Outlook for Nov 2007 tells us here that grain is shipped from Brazil to the EU for US$82/tonne, a rise of 19% during the year. That's US$0.082/kg.

    Then you can look at their listed grain prices. Wheat's about US$330/tonne, maize is about $180/tonne - 50% to 100% higher than five years ago. You can see that the freight rates are a significant chunk of this.

    So if you're in the EU and buy wheat from Brazil, you'll pay US$330 + US$82 = US$410/tonne.

    Some more freight rates are here.

    The most common grain carrier is the "handysize". We have this 2.6Mb pdf analysing shipping costs in Australia. They tell us that bulk carriers use 4.65-7.2 tonnes of MFO daily; average 5.93. The average speed is about 12 knots, so that the 6,000 miles from the Mediterranean to Brazil would be travelled in 500 hours, or 21 days. It takes a day to load and unload them, and fuel consumption is about halved when in port, so we can call it 21 days @ 5.93t/day = 125t, more or less.

    Marine Fuel Oil comes in six different grades and of course prices. It also usually gets mixed with Marine Diesel Oil in ships. But basically the cheapest it can possibly get is whatever crude costs, and we have about 7.2bbl/tonne.

    This puts a lower limit of

    7.2 x crude price/bbl x 5.93

    as an average daily fuel cost. Call crude a bit above $90/bbl, we get basically at least US$4,000/day in fuel, or US$84,000 for that Brazil-EU trip. For a ship with 10,000t of bulk cargo (a typical amount), that's US$8.40/tonne.

    So with current fuel prices, fuel's only 10% or so of the freight cost; a bulker might cost you US$75-$200M, and you need a crew, and port fees, and so on. But the nature of the market is that everyone adds their percentage, so if fuel rises 5% the freight charges might rise 15%. So if crude were $200/bbl, freight might go to $160/tonne.

    So then freight costs start being about the same as the cost of the stuff being freighted. The rise in crude makes the cost of fossil fuel inputs for the farms themselves go up, so the price of the grain will be higher, but still. The EU starts trying to buy wheat from the Ukraine rather than Brasil, because the saving of $80/tonne on freighting will more than make up for the lower price Brazil can offer due to cheap labour.

    Then if oil is $300/bbl, and freighting $240/tonne, the EU starts thinking about not importing wheat at all.

    As I said in Freezing Point, oil prices need to be bloody high before our Western societies are really in trouble. When affordability of petrol drops below 1,500lt per person, modern industrialised society as it's currently structured becomes very difficult if not impossible. That implies a crude price of $1,600/bbl, going on current per capita GDP; but of course with such high oil prices, per capita GDP will decline. And long before things are impossible, things are difficult. So I'm inclined to think that sustained prices over $240/bbl are going to really hurt us.

    But that depends on a lot of other factors, like our general economy - judging from the US, it's quite possible to make things go arse-up without any cause but your own stupidity and greed - climate change, depletion of other resources and so on.

    There's no doubt our industrialised agriculture and transport system have a lot of longevity, they won't go away easily. But at some point they'll lose out to more localised production of stuff. Again, that localised production is not going to be some hippie's dream, it'll have fossil fuel inputs. Again I note that 2% of our total energy goes to agriculture, but 10% to transporting its products; so when the price of that energy goes up, the area to economise in is obvious. There's more fat in the transport part than the on-farm part, it's easier to cut there.

    Thanks for the great reply. Lots of good info.

    I'm not convinced by this bit, however:
    "But the nature of the market is that everyone adds their percentage, so if fuel rises 5% the freight charges might rise 15%. So if crude were $200/bbl, freight might go to $160/tonne."

    Fuel constitutes about 10% of freight costs, as you've shown, so there is no logical reason (aside from price fixing/gouging) why a doubling of fuel costs will cause a doubling of freight costs. A doubling of fuel costs from $8.4/tonne (at $100/barrel) to $16.8/tonne (at $200/barrel) raises transport costs from $82/tonne to $90.4/tonne. That's an increase of 10%, not 100%.

    Similarly, a 5% increase in fuel cost increases overall freight costs by (0.05)(0.10)=0.005=0.5%, not 15%.

    Another thought which factors into this is the time-consuming nature of home gardening (which Stuart alluded to). A sober analysis needs to be done of the opportunity costs of gardening at home. It doesn't make financial sense to grow your own food if the cost of your labor (etc.) exceeds the cost of buying the same food at the store.

    A nice theory.

    I've often got the same sort of theory. When I go to buy something, I don't think of the price in dollars, I think of it in "how many hours did I have to work for this? If I worked that many hours and at the end of it the boss gave me this instead of money, would I be happy?"

    But most people don't think like that. If people thought in terms of the dollar value of their labour, and their time, few city-dwellers would own cars. As I note in why I hate cars, when you factor in the time you have to work to earn the money to pay for the thing and its taxes, cars have an effective speed of 16km/hr, public transport is 23km/hr, and bikes are 27km/hr.

    But most people don't think like that. They say, "ooh, car fast! car convenient! car trip much cheaper than train trip!" they forget that it cost them $10,000 and by the time they pay off the loan will be $17,000. They think of the moment.

    That's why people pay $5 to see the new release DVD instead of waiting a month for it to become a weekly DVD for $2, or why they pay $50 for a meal which is only twice as good as a $10 meal, and so on. People don't make purely rational choices in their purchases.

    Given that people think of the moment and don't weigh things up, whether it makes financial sense or not is irrelevant. Assuming no Eastern bloc-style collapse which threatens famine, people's decisions to garden in their own yards or neighbourhood will be governed by perceptions and whims and fads; but generally-speaking, as food prices rise, we can expect that home growing will increase.

    Remember that even if you stick to the pure financial calculations (which is not how people behave), any situation with peak fossil fuels is also likely to be a situation of economic depression.

    Lastly, there's "relocalisation", and then there's "backyard". It's quite possible to have all your food production within 100km of a city while having little or none in people's backyards.

    I'm not sure that home gardening needs to be time consuming. It depends on the techniques used, I think.

    Actually, I haven't particularly inferred that at all.

    Your conclusion did make specific pronouncements;

    So the reversalist future of local food production on smaller farms with higher labor input will not come to pass as a result of peak oil... Thus the industrialization of the land is not a reversible process any time soon - it is a fallacy to think so.

    Hence, this is more than a suggestion or an inference.

    I view the flaws in my original piece on Monday as relatively minor (and understandable given the constraints I necessarily write under) and I wouldn't change all that much if I had to do it over.

    As one scientist to another, I'm a bit surprised you are clinging to what could be described as the most initial state of a position, after a bit of "peer review" from those within the community that you are trying to convince. I believe you've seen enough of the other side of the coin by now, which is why I'm puzzled you are continuing to grasp to your original thesis. To each their own, of course; everyone has the right to their own opinion. I think it's only fair to say, however, that such occurrences can take a bit of the shine off of the articles relating to your field of discipline, and make one wonder how rough and cursory previous analyses might have been.

    Stuart Staniford said:

    To get me to change my views a whole lot really would take different data, alternative models, better statistical analysis that showed up that I had made some material error. I just haven't seen much of that in the, what, 700+ comments on the two pieces.

    So you don't accept that you mischaracterised the relocalists views? You don't accept that your "predictions" of what we should be seeing now could be wrong, in themselves, and therefore the disproof of them would not constitute a disproof that relocalisation would naturally follow from peak oil? You don't accept that real shortages of oil have not yet occurred, generally, in industrial agriculture areas (enough to show up in the data)? You don't accept that your analysis ignores the possibility of a very large disruption in society as fossil fuels decline?

    Well, if you don't accept that you got these things wrong, then how could any of the posts change your views?

    May I add my voice to Stuart's in asking that we not go in this direction? It is one thing to critique someone's statements, another to presume to describe them personally. I'm horrified to think that I might have contributed to the discussion going in this direction. And there are far better subjects to debate.

    Besides, I just wrote 9,000+ words critiquing Stuart Staniford's data analysis on TOD, and without a single graph. If y'all are about to throw stones at the arrogant, I'm in far bigger trouble that Stuart is ;-).


    Will, good points. Somehow I just can't get behind the concept of 'we' figuring out a 'solution' to feeding the world. Sorry folks, it jest ain't gonna happen that way, no way no how and it smacks of vast hubris to think it will.

    It makes complete sense to me, in the context of finding enough 'silver BBs' for the future of energy and food consumption, that the relocalization that many embrace is one of those silver BBs. Would Stuart rather we all gave up our gardens and start a campaign to make big farms even bigger? What is the deal here anyway. My hands are sore from pruning the apple trees, so I won't write any more.

    And please don't just echo JD's groundless claim that we'll just buy fertilizer from China made from coal.

    I've never made the claim that "we'll just buy fertilizer from China made from coal". You just made that up... i.e. you're comfortable with posting flat-out lies.

    I have shown that:
    1) Nitrogen fertilizer is not made from oil. It is generally made from natural gas, which remains plentiful in many places worldwide. When natural gas becomes too scarce, fertilizer can be made from coal. When coal becomes too scarce, fertilizer can be made from water&air using hydroelectric power, nuclear, wind etc. Therefore, there is no rational scenario where peak oil, or even peak fossil fuel, will result in "peak fertilizer".
    2) The case for "peak phosphorus" is based on fraudulent charts and hype.

    A lot of you folks are so deeply locked into the idea that we're going to have a fertilizer crisis, that you're in denial -- unwilling to face solid proof to the contrary.

    I'm inclined to think we won't have peak fertiliser, simply because peak fossil fuels are based on the EROEI idea, that when it takes more energy to pump or mine the stuff than we'll get from burning it, we won't bother pumping and mining it anymore.

    The idea of peak fossil fuels is that we'll never run out, there'll always be some oil, coal and natural gas in the ground, it's just that it won't be worth the trouble of our getting it.

    However, when it comes to fertiliser, if EROEI drops below 1:1 that's okay. You're not burning fertiliser in your car to make it go, you're using it to grow food. So all those fossil fuel reserves which are unviable as an energy source will be very useful as a fertiliser source, and chemical, and plastics, and so on.

    For that simple reason, I don't see us running out of fertiliser simply because of a slow and gentle peak fossil fuel decline. Other things may stuff it up, but not that in itself.

    Of course, there will eventually be a limit reached. It's just that the limit for whether it's worth hitting up a fossil fuel for fertiliser comes long long after you hit the limit for burning the stuff.

    I've never made the claim that "we'll just buy fertilizer from China made from coal".

    I'm not the only one to have heard you make the same claim;

    you're comfortable with posting flat-out lies.

    I don't believe we've had an exchange before where you provided anything to counter what I said, much less shown anything I said to be a "flat-out lie", so your rush to judgement is abrupt and unwarranted.

    You, on the other hand, have been quite prolific in your pronouncements, and have benefited much from the critiques of others.

    I repeat: I have never said that "we'll just buy fertilizer from China made from coal."
    The fact that some addled individual thinks he heard me say that does not prove that I said it. Produce the direct quote where I said it, liar.

    See subthread above.

    One correction to what was written above in haste. Richard and Sharon have certainly considered the question of the appropriate level of agricultural population (the 50m vs 100m farmers etc).

    Stuart Stanford:
    Alright, so before one "advocates" a course of action that one believes cannot work without an accompaying die-off, should not one be very confident that no other course of action is possible? Isn't a die-off in human population the worst possible thing that we should try to avoid by any means at all at our disposal?

    You haven't established the some form of relocalisation is not the best means to ameliorate such a die off. Everyone here knows that business as usual will eventually lead to a die off as we outstrip our planet's caring capacity. If you think there is a better answer to the dual energy / environment crisis than one which incorporates relocalisation - and especially if you think it can take place within a free market economy - I would dearly like to know what that solution is!

    Rohan said:
    'Everyone here knows that business as usual will eventually lead to a die off as we outstrip our planet's caring capacity.'
    No they don't. that is the point of Stuart's post.
    That is not to say that nothing will change - for instance, water use needs to be effectively costed, as do agricultural run-offs.
    The term 'caring capacity' is also a bit fuzzy for my taste - the planet could not give a hoot whether we survive or not.
    We do need to be smart in the way we produce things, and stuff like ethanol from corn is obviously a scam, and many more stupid schemes like that would certainly lead to disaster.
    That is not however an inherent flaw with industrial agriculture, just pork-barrelling, as are the present water rates for farming leading to grossly inefficient use.

    As the rest of this post will make clear, I believe in community-level responses to Peak Oil. One of the first effects of PO will be to remove the mastery over distance that we now take for granted in developed countries.

    That in itself will create a very strong trend towards relocalisation, for the simple reason that it will be damn difficult to travel around.

    But if industrial agriculture isn't maintained on a planned basis for as long as necessary during the transition, in order to feed the jobless, landless millions, a huge number of people who might one day live to enjoy a localised, lower-energy, sustainable way of life might die or turn to desperate violence before we get there.

    In 2005, Stuart posted a piece on Minimal Behavioral Adaptations to Oil Shocks, which looked at the correlations between GDP and distance driven in the US.

    Its content was quantitative. The implications (inevitably, with Peak Oil) were qualitative. You can quantify the distances people drive and correlate them to GDP and fuel prices to assess the elasticity of demand for car travel. It's also instructive to measure other correlations with gas prices.

    But, however accurately one measures it, the issue with distance in car-loving societies is qualitative. From a peak oil perspective, distance sucks. It's the elephant in the room when talking about relocalization. Commuting distance; trucking distance; flying distance; Kunstler's 10,000 mile Caesar salad. The idea that distance is no object; that we can go anywhere, any time we want, in air-conditioned comfort, all by ourselves, is hard-wired into our expectations of life.

    Peak oilers know better than anyone that driving is the MOST optional oil-using activity in today's society. But it seems that even we find it hard to accept that personal transportation will be the first victim of the last oil shock.

    Let's not kid ourselves. With millions of people deprived of meaningful work by the impact of depletion on a mostly oil-wealth-based service economy; very little money to go round, and furiously high gas prices, most people will drive their own cars only on special occasions and in emergencies.

    Ethanol, wood gas, chip fat - cars will be converted to run on all of these fuels. But they too will be too scarce and expensive for most people to use everyday over long distances.

    If there is a future where millions of happy drivers hum along highways for any distance they want in electric cars for tuppence, it is DECADES away.

    Personal transportation using individual vehicles holding four people will be 95% GONE a few short years after the peak. The cars will still be there; relics of the oil age - some getting used occasionally for REALLY essential short journeys; some rusting; some preserved as mementos of pre-peak life. But commuting, school runs, touring holidays? GONE.

    That's scary enough here in the UK, where people try to be as totally car-dependent as they can in a small densely populated country that's got no excuses for not having good public transport (but it still hasn't).

    In the US where trillions have been invested in the past half century spreading society thinly across all that lovely land and people fly as readily as us Brits catch the bus, the death of distance is almost unthinkable. It's easier to work oneself into a mood of tooth grindingly vituperative anger over the suburbs and car culture than to try to imagine how life will be when there's no affordable fuel for the cars and no office jobs to drive to anyway. When a 10-year-old compact with a wood gas conversion is worth five years' wages but you couldn't get a five year old SUV stolen if you left the keys in it.

    Relocalization will happen because distance stops being easy. People will cluster together in situations that work for them. Communities will form, thrive or dissipate in ways we can't anticipate from our distance-obsessed perspective.

    If I take my own community, a small country town in the West of England, I can imagine the town itself with gardens given over to fruit and vegetables for the householders, with a pig or chickens in some cases; then a ring of communal plots worked by everyone not employed elsewhere (probably most of the population) and finally an outer ring of mechanised agriculture, which gets first priority for oil, fertilizer and pesticides.

    Same for the next town and the villages in between and so on. Without the massive waste of energy on manufacturing and using personal transport, we might even eventually sustain a decent level of public transport, goods manufacturing, electronic communication and maybe all-day electricity.

    Would the big fields give way to smallholdings or would the big farmers squeeze out the community growers and assume local control?
    Would we even get that far without cracking up in anarchy during the first or second oil shock, leaving only the smashed up wreckage of a society that tore itself to pieces fighting like cats in a bag over the last litres of diesel at the only pump left in the country?

    IMO, the most sensible post today was from Perpetual Energy on Drumbeat:

    Is there an online best practices guide for preparing my community for Peak Oil?

    We can all argue about quantitative vs qualitative reasoning until the cows come home (they don't usually travel far...). The best hope for everyone on the planet is to start building peak oil aware communities now.

    Everyone who is already doing so in their town, city or wherever has my deepest admiration and respect.

    Half Empty:

    All good points. I think a key issue will be the pace by which this all unfolds. If the doomers are right and society folds like a house of cards, then it really is all over. On the other hand, with time there is the opportunity for more people to buy bicycles and towns to buy shuttle buses, etc.

    A lot of the debate here is between those who have convinced themselves that we are going to have a fast crash, and those who at least hope that it will be a much longer, drawn out affair. I'm not sure that any of us really know how it will actually turn out.

    Another of Sharon's arguments that I would like to respond to is that of lack of quantitative reasoning in many relocalist writers. The most basic quantitative questions that I would start from are hardly ever even considered. What fraction of the population do you think should be working on the land? If we adopt your proposal, can we feed the 9 billion people the UN believes will be on the planet by 2050? What do you believe will be the average income level in 2008 dollars of a person in a relocalized society?

    If someone has not deeply considered these questions, and come up with answers they feel are defensible, what business do they have advocating this course of action to the rest of us?

    The last question in particular speaks to the point Sharon makes that many relocalizers are not assuming inevitably of relocalization, but instead campaigning for it. Every society we know of that is heavily agricultural is extremely poor by comparison with modern societies. How likely is it that the people in western society will voluntarily make themselves vastly poorer than they currently are?

    Stuart, why do you think the future is based on what people would willingly do? Why do you think that policies that reduce the amount of wealth per capita must be flawed? Why do you think that policies must be able to feed 9 billion people before they are good policies?

    If you don't believe that our societies are fundamentally unsustainable then make that case and we can argue about it. If you do believe they are unsustainable then we probably have to make hard choices and we probably can't have the standard of living that we now enjoy and others aspire to. Your straw man questions don't have to be answered in order for policies to be right. The policies we need are those that will lead to sustainable societies. I don't believe any such policies can be smoothly implemented without pain but that doesn't mean the pain of alternatives will be any less.

    First off, let me say that I do appreciate the work you do in creating such an essay (and to Sharon, as well). Clearly, it's a topic that many have a desire to contribute to, and it plays right into discussions of PO, and so is very appropriate for TOD, even if it's an interdisciplinary stretch for so many of us. We all eat.

    I just wanted to add, as I'm sure you've seen my other thoughts upthread and won't regurgitate them, that this reminds me of some of the 'Equal Rights' debates in our country, in that one group (African Americans, Women) saw an imbalance in rights or treatment, and advocated moving the 'center' away from the side where it was resting.. and back towards a proper balance. They would be moving towards a goal that was out on the other side, and certainly some saw that 'centerpoint' farther over than others. But it was the confusion between 'moving in that direction' and 'moving all the way over to that other extreme' that became the contentious issue.

    'Givem an inch, they'll take the whole mile..'

    Anyway.. I think we're heavily imbalanced towards centralized structures, Multi or Non-national corporations, and heavy industry.. but I'm a moderate if I'm anything, and the solution is not going all the way to 'The Opposite Extreme', even if that's what I WILL have in front of me as I, personally, am moving in the direction of more independent and local production of food and energy. It's not lost on me that Monsanto, ADM and Dupont (amongst so many others).. would, therefore, have my back.

    While it adds a little ideology to the comment, I feel it's fair to also suggest that this diversification of production of our essential needs brings us structurally to a more democratic world, where power and money is skewed towards 'Centralism' today. I don't think the diffusion of power actually means less power, but as with the Image of Moscow up above, it might mean that the 'Icons of Power' might be a bit less Spectacular and Showy. Its fair enough to say that this is what I want, not what I predict.

    Bob Fiske

    Stuart, thank you for the reply. For the record, I don't have any objection to people being biased against certain things - we all have our prejudices. My objection was to your articulation of the grounds for your bias, if that makes sense. Your clarification is helpful to me - as is the body of your work.

    Nor was my claim, for the record, that you should deal with climate change in every essay, but to note that some of your critiques seemed to argue that a wide range, wide vision, multiparious, narrative analysis (as is provided by Kunstler, Heinberg, etc...) ought adhere to the same standards of rigor and clarity) as a narrow band analysis with specific parameters (like yours). And they aren't going to - every complex variable is going to broaden and thus limit the specificity of the analysis.

    Re: the implied die off issue - that's a real and legitimate concern of mine. As I've said, I'm currently writing a book about the question of how we might best feed 9-10 billion people and handle perpetuity at whatever population level, and now is not the place or time to summarize several years of research (although it might be worth running some pieces of it here at a later date. I personally wouldn't be advocating relocalization without a powerful belief that this system *can* feed the world - better, in fact, that industrial agriculture over the long term. I do not personally claim that we can feed 9-10 billion people indefinitely, any more than I claim that we can pump oil in the present quantities indefinitely - that is, I do believe that soil and water and climate constitute real natural resources, with material limits.

    Because I believe such limits exist, I believe that an agricultural system that draws down resources that future generations will require to eat is unacceptable - that sticking the problem on my kids or grandkids is no answer at all - so the question is how to feed them *and* reduce draw down, while coming to a stable population level, not through die off, but through voluntary self-limitation (I realize I am not exactly the poster-child for voluntary reproductive self-limitation ;)). But since the general trend, even in poor nations, is towards smaller family sizes and gradual stabilization, and such can be achieved in even a fairly low energy, low wealth society, I believe this is achievable.

    I'm not alone among "reversalists" in believing this - I had not heard the Heinberg quote above, but he says something rather different in his interview with Acres USA, where he observes,

    "Using the knowledge that we’ve built up over the last several decades about organic farming, about small-scale food production using techniques such as permaculture and bio-intensive and so on, I think it’s possible for us to produce food in a way that doesn’t destroy topsoil, in a way that preserves fresh water and that feeds as many people as we have in the world today. But it’s going to require a lot more people doing the work of producing the food, because truly sustainable agriculture is a much more labor-intensive process."

    My own take on this, and I'm sure Heinberg will correct me if I'm wrong, is that his initial work did not focus strongly on agriculture and food systems, and as he's done more work in that area, he's come to believe that we can, in fact, feed the population with small scale polyculture and a host of other techniques. I will write and post more fully, in the hopes of persuading you ;-), on this particular case over time.

    I should also note that I think that Heinberg is wrong about some elements of the population issue, and he's not the only one. My doctoral work was on demography as it applied to 17th century literature, and I'm regularly surprised at how narrow a view of demographics is taken in the peak oil community - that is many people (although not necessarily Heinberg) do not seem even aware of the analytic critiques of people like Hardin, for example. I think that accepting the inevitability of die-off is a theme that runs through a chunk of the peak oil community, without a lot of rigorous analysis on that end. I personally certainly don't find die-off inevitable - unless, of course, we don't address our present difficulties *with long term solutions* now - that is, if we find short term solutions that allow us to feed 9 billion for a decade or two, we merely pass this off onto our children, which is immoral, IMHO. I'm not sure how different our parameters are here - whether that later draw down concerns you or not, but it is central to my thinking.

    That said, however, I think that part of the problem is that solutions to die-off involve us doing rather better with the problems we face than we have been - and the key evidence on this point would be your own essay on biofuels and its potential consequences. It isn't that we're damned if we do, or damned if we don't, it is that changing policy demands (dare I say it) a considerable reversal in either case - the choice not to do the stupid thing. Thus, for example, when I use historical examples of our willingness to endure rationing in order to send food to the hungry in other nations after WWII (as I did in my response to your essay on Fermenting the Food supply, linked in the original paper), I immediately get the (perfectly true) critique that observing that we don't have to starve the world, and that we have a precedent for being willing to do what is necessary not to do so, is probably idealistic. You, not being, I think, an idealist by nature (apologies if this is too much of a presumption), have gone so far as to say that you think it not unlikely that such a thing will happen.

    BTW, I would note here, that it may be the single most compelling case for relocalization over industrialization of agriculture may be that it is likely to starve *fewer* than 3 billion people ;-) - that math I think I can manage. You've just lowered the bar for us ;-).

    Which is just a way of observing that I think people like Heinberg and Darley (and I am perhaps presuming too much on my limited acquaintance with them) and certainly me, sometimes have to shift back between what is technically possible, and what is likely. That is, it is easy to be oppressed, for example, by the likelihood of starving a large chunk of the population more or less unintentionally, and to argue that we're headed for a collapse of some sort (and in my own case, as I've said, I think "collapse" is sort of fungible - it might merely imply a lot of very poor people (including some Americans not presently that poor) getting screwed), despite the fact that we have the capacity to do otherwise. That is, I wonder if the notion that we're past the point of fixing things comes from a sense of the unlikelihood of applying relevant solutions, rather than their impossibility. My own way of handling this is to make clear the distinction whenever possible - we do not have to do X or Y, but we may choose to. If nothing else, this allocates some responsibility, and allows me to propose crazy things like a Riot for Austerity as possible limiting factors - not so much because I believe it will succeed, but because I believe that we have no choice but to try to radically limit our emissions.

    I admit, while I can grasp the general principle of wanting reasonable lack of bias in one's consideration of solutions, I'm not sure how to neatly divide agricultural solutions into "innovations" and "older models" - that is, with the possible exception of GMOs (which thus far haven't really lived up to promise) and cloned meat (which is raised the exact same way uncloned meat is), I'm not aware of any really new agricultural techniques - agrichar is very old, but new to many of us, hydroponics have been experimented with for over a 100 years, notill agriculture is based on practices that have existed for centuries - adapted to tractors (not exactly new) and herbicides (people have been killing weeds with chemicals for thousands of years - although the chemicals were generally plant products). The Haber-Bosch process dates back to my grandparents. I'm not sure what agricultural innovations you are referring to. Changes in agriculture tend to be more on the order to refinements of older models - and the old has a great deal of sway in agriculture.

    That is, virtually all agriculture is in some ways reversalist, as you define it - it doensn't work like cell phones or car designs, generally - it is a biological process, and just as advances in reproductive medicine haven't really resulted in a lot of new ways to have babies (the C-section is very old, forceps several centuries old) - the fundamentals remain kind of the same - you can get out of the old ways, when the risk is great enough, but finally birth comes down to sex (practiced much as it has been for millenia), waddling (gonna bet the same) and squatting or something like it to push the baby out (ibid) (Ok, I really enjoyed using that analogy on TOD, which doesn't seem the place where the word "squatting" gets used a lot).

    Most farmers, no matter how high tech, are using technologies that were created decades or centuries ago in the aggregate - the plow, something to pull the plow, or another practice to smother weeds, urine or artificial urea to feed crops, etc....

    I think your call for more quantititative reasoning is valid - that's one of the things I'm working on. Although I think your "income in dollars" associations may be wrong - perhaps I've missed an analysis of yours that predicts long-term income, and you believe that peak oil will make most people richer. I tend not to - I tend to think that rising costs for things that most people need (food, energy) are likely to make us poorer. I will admit, I don't feel qualified to support this contention quantitatively - not my arena. I could cite in support the estimates I've seen, say, for maintaining and rebuilding our infrastructure, or the costs of mitigating climate change a la Stern, but I can't do what you can do, and I don't claim to be able to. I admit, I'm unable to imagine ways in which peak oil and climate change might make us richer as a society, but that doesn't mean its impossible.

    So I'd have to have a sense of what you believe incomes are likely to be in the longer term to even address that question - that is, if you are postulating that development will continue throughout the world and the trend towards growing wealth in some places (although we're stagnating at present, I believe, with a decline in real wealth from the 1970s), and can make a credible case for that, agrarianism might look like a bad deal. That is, if you can persuade me that we were really going to be rich, and that that wealth is going to have equitable distribution, heck, I'm off the relocalization bandwagon myself ;-).

    On the other hand, as economists have noted for a long time, "poor" is a highly variable point of analysis - that is, the difference between living on $2 per day in an urban slum where you have to meet all your needs with those dollars is exponentially different than living on $2 per day in cash, plus a subsistence farm that produces almost all your basic needs. So if we're generally going to be poorer, relocalization might look pretty good.

    It is true that at present agrarian societies are often very poor - and it is also true that most rich world nations have ecological footprints far beyond that which their own land base can support. It is also true that most agrarian societies have a long history of colonialism, and the extraction of their wealth into rich world societies - and indeed, that right now most Global North nations use far more land per capita than their own nations can provide, which suggests that extraction is still continuing. But it is also true that in a world that was more agrarian, many largely agrarian nations (I don't think anyone is claiming that no industrialization will ever exist on any scale again - I'm not) were quite wealthy - Britain, for example, was among the more industrial nations, but largely agrarian for several centuries, and the US had a larger agricultural than urban population for most of its history. That is, if some kind of world-wide transition to a lower energy state is likely (and I am not claiming it is) your present comment might not be relevant - that is, we could still be agrarian and also comparatively rich ;-).

    Your last couple of paragraphs are, I think very important and well placed. I liked what you had to say, and agree, broadly speaking, both with your critique that relocalization advocates need more data, and that sometime versions of relocalization probably do add up to something like "cover your own ass first". I don't think that's the mainstream analysis, but I think that's a common enough theme that it is a fair critique.

    I will observe that coming from the other end of the analytic spectrum, my own take is that far more prevalent than the relocalization answer is the answers that argue "we just need to do X" rather in isolation - that is, that nuclear or solar or air cars or whatever will essentially enable a continuation strategy. Perhaps because I come to TOD or ASPO from another perspective, I tend to see the techno-optimist group (which I'm using a broad brush on here, but of course is more nuanced than that) as the dominant viewpoint in the PO movement, and the relocalization analysis as the minority point, a comparatively small group between the people who think that 5-7 billion peopel will die and those who think that we'll more or less get through with the rich world being rich. It may be that we are shaped in our awareness by the perspectives we come from.

    I agree with you that a solution is global - and that there are no seperate peaces. I think in that, we have no difference - although I find it interesting, then, that you go back to how much money we in the rich world might have. My own sense is that the numbers here are somewhat absolute - if we use more of the planet's resources than we can take without draw down, we either kill the present day poor population, or condemn our children or future generations to pay the price. I believe that Jim Merkel's analysis of a fair share, or George Monbiot's calculation of a fair carbon portion, is a good place to start - which pretty much precludes us being wealthy, having private air cars, etc... Let me be clear that I am not talking here about the perfection of the human race and perfect redistribution of wealth - merely that if we're all in this together, it should not be acceptable to kill other people by warming their planet too, and that solutions that institutionalize inequity cannot be considered to meet the criteria for a future vision you espouse.

    I guess I would be curious to hear, if you have time to respond, how it is that we're supposed to not be poor, and also to go forward as though we're all in this together - that is, as though the poor world has as much right to eat and not be drowned by climate change, and to have some hospitals and electricity as we do. In my own case, I simply have not been persuaded that this is possible - so I begin from the presumption that the first step in not starving people, the first step in not drawing from the next generation's resources is to be poor. And, that isn't the end of the world - depending on what kind of poor you are talking about. It doesn't mean everyone living in a slum on $2 a day - it means seeking out ways to have a high quality of life with little expenditure of energy or money. And that, of course, is when relocalization starts to look good, at leas to me.

    But perhaps you do see a way forward in this regard, for all of us, not just the ethanol farmers.

    Good sparring with you,


    A balanced post, Sharon, and one I found informative.
    I personally really cannot understand how many people get from a realisation that oil is likely peaking, even if you throw in natural gas and coal, to a presupposition that we are all doomed.
    Even the more limited case that you put that some redistribution may be needed, and that we certainly won't all have out own private air car without draw down of future generations resources, seems to me at least questionable.
    Other than fossil fuels, and with the notable exception of helium, it is actually rather difficult to work out what will actually run out, even for a population of well over 9billion and for as far into the future as we can see, not just for a couple of decades.
    That is not to say that I would not prefer a world with gently falling population, but the maintenance of a large one seems perfectly do-able.
    Energy is critical to this, which accounts for my interest.
    Europe runs pretty successfully on a fraction of the energy needs of the US, and Japan on still less.
    They haven't done that out of some concern for future generations, but due to high energy prices.
    They are now going to increase those prices to the tune of some $80billion a year by the imposition of strict carbon dioxide tarrifs.
    Rising energy prices and perhaps the passage of legal measures should soon start altering energy usage in the States.
    Simple measures like residential solar thermal panels, heat pumps both air and ground and heat recovery for shower water and so on could rapidly reduce consumption, as would simply installing better insulation - compare the building regulations in the northern parts of the US with those in Sweden, and the savings possible are clear.
    Advanced lead-acid batteries incorporating capacitors are perfectly capable of providing the needs of much of the transport fleet, without improvements which are in fact extremely likely.
    In agriculture better management and treatment of water is essential- it's a lot easier to do if you are using advanced technology like vertical farms.
    It is also apparent that even a modest carbon tax would make nuclear power by far the cheapest form of energy.
    It seems to me downright weird that much of the most vigorous opposition to this alternative comes from those who predict a collapse of civilisation as we know it due to energy shortages! Risks can only be assessed in relation to alternatives.
    Most of the dangers of nuclear power, waste issues and so on are in any case grossly exaggerated.
    The waste from several decades of providing most of the electricity in France occupies an area after reprocessing of around the size of three basketball courts.
    Extremely modest improvements to current reactors would also falsify claims that fuel will run out anytime within the next few million years - plenty of time to get renewables working properly and economically.
    See this proposed reactor from Fuji for instance:
    50% fuel burn-up compared to the present 1%, and very little waste which is intensely radioactive for a much shorter time.
    It is also worth noting that even as ambitious a plan as that laid out in the Scientific American for solar energy to power the states would only require around the same amount as Europe will spend in the next five years to reduce carbon as a subsidy according to the authors.
    So I would go along with you Sharon that no mass die-off is inevitable, and would even be a touch more optimistic and argue that pretty much the present technical model should cope really rather well, and that the case for much relocalisation or reversalism is fairly limited.
    We don't need to do anything terribly clever, just maybe not be quite so dumb.
    Of course, I don't know what we will actually do, and we may persist in entirely unreasonable expectations and demands, notably in a refusal to make use of the nuclear option, but it is by no means inevitable, although some disruption is certain.

    Thanks Sharon and Stuart, I have really enjoyed these posts.

    It has sparked some thinking, which seems to be reflected in many of the comments. My thinking, after reading the key posts and comments (and poaching the ideas), is this:

    1. While our current system exists, it will not allow widespread reversion to an agrarian society. I myself "farm" in my back yard, but this yields only about 15% of the calories that my family needs. This is probably a good enough metaphor for the degree to which a reversion can occur. In 85% of cases the system supports economies of scale, the 15% exceptions are either commercially viable niche products, or mavericks who simply don't care that they are not "efficient" (because they are more interested in resilience - they want to develop an ability to respond to a discontinuity). A widespread reversion could only occur if there was a major and widespread change to the underlying system that supports economies of scale.

    2. However Stuart's piece does not mean that a reversion is impossible, nor do I think that he intended this - he presented a model within the context of our current system. If our system suffers a major failure, or undergoes a major evolution, then a change would be conceivable.

    So Stuart's model will be supported (for most cases), as long as we don't encounter complete collapse, or a widespread change in ideals and beliefs.

    If a change occured, my money would be on collapse as the initiating factor.

    Bingo aeldric

    The only way we are going back to the farm is a major collapse. The longer we avoid such a collapse the less likely it is to happen IMO, as we give technology more time to move on past needing oil. The whale oil example...

    Even if a major collapse occurs, it is still not a given that the entire planet reverts back to an agrarian society. It's conceivable but only one of many conceivable outcomes.

    A lot depends on how quickly the oil runs out, and how intelligently the major world governments respond, in addition to a host of other factors such as climate change and economic depletions.

    My personal belief is the most likely scenario is a period of social and economic disruption followed by a set of technological and environmental fixes that end with more people, more food, more energy, just more sensibly managed. More sensibly managed may well mean more urban, not less urban.

    anyway, as many others have pointed out, the response article fails to convince me at least due to lack of any kind of solid data or quantitative reasoning.

    I am in exactly the same situation, "relocated" to a small family farm (4-8 people depending on definitions) and growing ~15% of our calories after a year of getting going. I still work 3-4 days a week in the city via a rail commute. I am in the process of getting together the resources I need (tools, soil fertility and weed control and varietal selection) so that if I needed to I could scale things up.

    I don't expect it to be worthwhile to grow your own bulk commercial grains within the foreseeable future. For now I reckon a priority order of herbs>greens>fresh legumes>soft fruits>eggs>root crops>speciality grains>dried pulses>bulk grains in terms of what to use limited time/space/resources on. The quality is being stripped out of our food system while the basic bulk commodities remain relatively cheap (if you keep some form of income, and also as Sharon has written about learn to prepare them from scratch to reduce reliance on industrial food processing and packaging).

    Access to good quality perishable food is already an issue and more people are finding themselves compelled to grow their own vegetables. But after that equitable access to industrially produced bulk grains will be an issue long before the combines splutter to a halt. Successful adaptation depends critically on timing- those too far ahead of the curve suffer just as badly as those too far behind often.

    Staniford’s analysis omits any consideration of global warming, something none of the other thinkers he mention do – I think this is an important observation – accepting that global warming is an urgent problem means accepting that besides the question of *availability* there are issues of whether we should choose more energy intensive solutions over less intensive ones

    I'm definitely not going to become popular by saying this, but I'm actually glad SS did that.

    GW is invoked either as a red herring used (usually by big fishes) to motivate people to accept policies that are really intended to mitigate PO, or out of sincere worry from people who have never seen the big picture I'll try to describe next. (In all the charts, time goes from right to left.)

    First let's look at the temperature record of the last 450 ky, derived from ice core readings at the Vostok site in Antarctica (blue line):

    It is clearly seen that during that span the Earth has been in a cycle where benign interglacial periods like the Holocene (last 11.5 ky) are very brief spikes between much longer cold periods with temperatures around 6+ Celsius lower than today's.

    From that chart it is also clear that the Holocene has already been an unusually broad top, and that coolings from tops, although not as steep as warmings from bottoms, are nevertheless quite fast.

    Then, to see better where we stand today, I made the following graph based on the first in Stuart Staniford's post "Living in the Eemian". I took the Holocene's last 12 ky and superimposed it onto the corresponding period of the Eemian (the previous interglacial), 121 ky ago. This is exactly what Stuart did in the second and third graphs of his post, only that here I show it within the bigger picture.

    From that chart it is clear that, if there were no human-caused rise in CO2 levels, the astronomical forcings that drive climate change ("Milankovitch cycles"), if left alone, would have the Earth's temperature start to drop very soon (in about 3 ky) and be 6 Celsius lower than today's in about 15 ky.

    And finally, the following chart illustrates that sea levels during glacial periods have been substantially lower than today's.


    To note, in the cited article Stuart was worrying about the possibility of a sea level rise of 5 (five) meters. We see here that the glaciation cycle would likely cause a sea level drop of 50 (fifty) meters in 10 ky. I wonder which outcome would be more disruptive.

    From the above, it is clear that the only way for mankind to get the Earth out of this cycle was to introduce a new forcing (greenhouse gases) strong enough to overpower the astronomical forcings in play. And that the real alternative to global warming (which indeed means a higher sea level and an ice-free Arctic) would not be an extension of the Holocene. It would be a new ice age with a substantially lower sea level and an ice-covered North America. And at a time when there will be no fossil fuels to keep people warm.

    (Edited to bring the charts inline.)

    To the editors of The Oil Drum: Act like editors.

    This essay is huge. It is way over wordy. The early paragraphs where she questions Stuart's motivation and complains about the connotations of reversibility were just plain waste. I found myself picking thru after that trying to find her core points. They were well hidden in about 100 paragraphs (really, count them).

    I count 29 paragraphs after the "In Conclusion". There's just not enough real meat to justify this length of essay. I hope her books aren't this bad.

    I agree that this needs editing.

    But her books should be different. Looking at the timestamps on Staniford's article and hers, this was written in less than 24 hours. You try writing a substantive article of several thousand words in less than 24 hours and see what it comes out like :)

    Astyk should have taken more time to write it.

    i think standiford's basic argument can be made more simply and with less graphics as follows:
    he posits, without clearly so stating, that the demand function for food is highly inelastic. therefore, consumers can be expected to demand approximately the same amount of food irrespective of price. accordingly, farmers facing higher costs are able to pass those increased costs on to the consumer on a near 1 to 1 basis.

    this is probably correct as far as it goes. studies of food markets consistently concur that demand for food is highly inelastic. it is also true that the proportion of income that developed world consumers pay for food is extraordinarily low by historical standards

    however, standiford has focussed exclusively on the demand side of the market. he has neglected to consider the equally important question of how the quantity supplied changes in response to an increase in costs. it is elementary in economics to note that an increase in costs results in a contraction in supply. it is demonstrably true that, when costs rise, farmers respond by cutting the acreage planted.

    the reason for this is straightforward. land is not fungible. whether a given acre will be planted depends on the productivity of the land and the cost of cultivation as well as the market price of the output. while it may make economic sense to plant marginal land at a relatively low cost per acre, when costs rise dramatically, it may cease making sense, even if the market price of the output rises commensurately.

    imagine a farmer with 100 acres of highly productive land and 100 acres of marginal land. the better land yields 80 bu./acre of wheat for a given set of inputs (cost /acre). the marginal land yields only 40 with identical inputs. consider various combinations of input costs and market prices for wheat. play with the numbers a little and you will quickly discover that, at some overall input cost, planting the marginal land stops making sense despite the increase in the price of wheat. as a result, the acreage planted and the yield both diminish and marginal land lies fallow. less grain is grown, the price rises still higher due to the constriction of supply caused by the retirement of marginal land and our farmer is better off financially even though her yield is less. since a farmer is in business to make a profit, not to feed the hungry multitudes, it is inevitable that the total agricultural yield will be reduced if the costs rise significantly.

    what does this mean for standiford's ultimate argument? i submit that the marginal land that is taken out of high tech cultivation when costs rise sharply, will still make sense to cultivate under a lower cost regime--i.e. less fuel and chemicals, more sweat. i can readily imagine a farmer deciding that it makes no sense to farm less productive land at high cost, but it does make sense to rent it to small growers who will work the land with their own labor rather than with machinery and chemicals. the most likely outcome, it seems to me, if the costs of mechanized farming keep rising, is that the traditional farmer will concentrate on working the most fertile land, and the marginal land will be worked by significant numbers of small operators who would rather grow their own than pay the greatly increased price of food or who grow their own in preference to hunger.

    "it is elementary in economics to note that an increase in costs results in a contraction in supply". No. A decrease in profits results in a contraction in supply. I don't care if my costs increase if my revenues increase more (which is why government contractors are usually trying to pad their costs because they are on cost-plus contracts). Businesses care about the bottom line.

    I showed some comparative food price elasticity data in Fermenting the Food Supply:

    Its pretty inelastic in developed countries, but much more elastic in poor countries (having very little money, they have no choice but to cut back on eating if prices rise).

    A decrease in profits will result in a decrease in supply, but in agriculture an increase in costs will do the same. If you've only got X dollars available for the season and the costs of all of your inputs have gone up dramatically then you may only be able to plant half as much acreage as last year. It doesn't matter how much profit you hope to make, all that matters is how much seed (for example) you can afford.

    Credit distorts this, farmers may borrow money to plant, but that borrowing needs to be within the ability of the farmer to repay, banks (supposedly) don't lend on too great a risk (ha!).

    Two separate points.

    There is another cost of food not illustrated on the graph, the cost of disease and shorter life expectancy that will inevitably result from the growing pandemic of obesity. These costs are delayed a couple to several decades, so the feedback loop is slow (we have not yet seen the predicted rise in diabetes due to the time delay between morbid obesity and diabetes for example). But this does not mean that an "increased cost"-Reduced Demand Feedback loop does not exist.

    A processed corn diet is a significant factor (not the only one) in the obesity pandemic in the USA. So a move away from processed corn and towards more fruits and vegetables seems quite likely as the costs of obesity become clearer to everyone.

    Industrial Ag in the corn belt is highly specialized and this implies limited flexibility and ability to adapt to changing demand patterns.

    Second point, a substantial amount of acreage became forest after WW II, as farming focused on prime farmland. As the factors of production change in relative importance (labor vs fuel & fertilizer for example), small scale farming for fruits and vegetables on this idle land (after the trees are harvested) seems entirely possible.

    Best Hopes for Better Farming,


    "So a move away from processed corn and towards more fruits and vegetables..."

    Actually, there will be tension between countervailing forces. Though many here earn too much to notice, fruits and veg are primarily high-priced labor-intensive yuppie luxuries. Economic stress tends to decrease their use, as it increases sensitivity to price. It's the affluent folks who can afford to play at looking like movie stars; few poorer folks are found in the whole-paycheck type of food store.

    Even as corn has gone up, so have fruits and veg. Indeed, cereals would remain much cheaper per calorie even if both had to be raised by historical methods. Even the Maya knew that, which after all has some small connection to how corn ever became a crop in the first place. And if it ever came to using historical methods, many would be malnourished, fewer would be alive, and no one outside a tiny neo-medieval aristocracy would have the slightest opportunity to become obese.

    You missed a step in the decline of food buying power.

    The highest priced diet today is the stereotype American McFood diet. Hyper-processed and heavily marketed food and near-food (diet sodas come to mind), with many calories coming from "fast food" restaurants.

    This has resulted in a rapidly growing rate of obesity, with the consequences still over the horizon. (I looked for a good public health, epidemiology paper I read that looked at the progression of obesity and the time delays before diabetes, heart disease and stroke and forecast a multi-year decline in USA life expectancy. 3.x years from memory. Unfortunately, I did not find it on-line (perhaps behind a paywall).

    A cheaper diet is the gov't recommended one, 5 to 10 half cup servings of fruits and vegetables a day, skim milk & eggs (if not allergic), whole grains prepared simply, minimal vegetable oil, very small amounts of lean meat, fish & poultry. Easily affordable (in most neighborhoods) on a food stamp budget if one sticks to the less expensive fruits and vegies (even WalMart carries bananas, carrots, onions, canned & frozen vegies, etc.)

    A still cheaper diet is the one that you postulate, basic grains and malnutrition.

    Unless the decline is extraordinarily swift and complete, there is no good economic reason to not stop drinking soft drinks, eating at McDonalds, microwaving Hot Pockets (tm) and instead drink a cup of orange juice/day plus more carrots, apples and bananas.

    Marketing is of course, completely opposed to this transition. Supporting this transition will be seeing friends and family undergoing the ravages of diabetes.

    I do not know which way the American diet will evolve, but there is no economic (from the consumer POV) reason to continue as is.

    Best Hopes for a Better Diet,


    i think standiford's basic argument can be made more simply and with less graphics as follows:
    he posits, without clearly so stating, that the demand function for food is highly inelastic. therefore, consumers can be expected to demand approximately the same amount of food irrespective of price.

    Well put. However, I would add that he supposes they'll eat the same kind of food, too.

    Part of the reason I think that food production is likely to become more local as the price of fossil fuels rise is that we already have two basic kinds of farms,
    - market gardens, with relatively few fossil fuel inputs and lots of manual labour, close to cities
    - broadscale grain and livestock agriculture, with heavy fossil fuel inputs, transported great distances

    As fossil fuel prices rise and/or availability declines, the second type may decline and the first type rise. So that people will be eating just as much food overall, but more fruit, vegetables and legumes, and less grains, meat and dairy. Relatively smaller farms closer to cities will have an economic advantage over large farms far from cities.

    This does not mean that these smaller farms will be fossil fuel free, still less that they'll all be organic polycultures. But they will probably be smaller, with less fossil fuel inputs, and closer to cities.

    This trend may be altered by public subsidies for one or the other kind of farm. If for example the government guarantees low prices for fossil fuel inputs for large farms, obviously their advantage will continue. If they leave it to the free market, those guys are toast. Farmers won't be able to win a competition for fossil fuel inputs with inner cities yuppies driving their SUVs.

    By the way, I got tired of coming in late to these discussions and having what I had to say get lost in the noise, so I did a blog post about relocalisation, and the simple fact that both Astyk and Staniford missed.

    "the most likely outcome, it seems to me, if the costs of mechanized farming keep rising"

    If the costs of mechanized farming keep rising, it will be out of higher energy - particularly oil - prices. Those, while decreasing the profitability of food production, will increase the profitability of biofuel production. As a result, arbitraging based on profits per acre will start driving the allocation of agricultural production (and in turn of land) out of food production and into biofuel production. As more agricultural production (and land) is diverted into biofuels, biofuel production will increase and fuel prices will consequently tend to stabilize, while food production will decrease and food prices will consequently rise, until the profitability of food production becomes once again competitive with that of biofuel production and a new equilibrium state (with a LOWER level of food production) is reached where no further diversion occurs.

    By not taking into account the profit-based arbitraging mechanism for diverting agricultural production into biofuels, your argument is invalid.

    biofuels are profitable at present only because they are heavily subsidized. absent subsidy, there appears to be no way that corn derived ethanol or soy biodiesel can ever be profitable. ethanol production from other sources may prove viable; but unless some less fuel intensive and more productive feedstock can be grown in the global north, biofuels are a dead end.

    note also that biofuel production further restricts the supply of food, driving costs higher. at some point, the income effect will compel consumers to supply more of their own food.

    "biofuels are profitable at present only because they are heavily subsidized"

    Agree. But the operative word here is "at present".

    "absent subsidy, there appears to be no way that corn derived ethanol or soy biodiesel can ever be profitable."

    Disagree. High enough oil prices are the required condition for profitability. Realistic geology plus realistic expectations on human behavior make very probable that they will arrive. Government subsidies to biofuel production only bring that moment forward.

    "but unless some less fuel intensive and more productive feedstock can be grown in the global north, biofuels are a dead end."

    Don't mislead yourself into focusing only on the global north. The global south provides a significant share of agricultural exports, and the following data should be enough to clear any doubts about the way things will go. These are the current levels of Argentina's export taxes:

    soybean 35%
    sunflower 32%
    soybean oil and meal 32%
    sunflower oil and meal 30%

    Clearly this tax structure heavily encourages the construction of biodiesel refineries for export. (Retail diesel prices in Argentina ($0.48 per litre in Nov 2006) would make biodiesel production for local use extremely unprofitable, while those in France ($1.33), Germany ($1.38), Italy ($1.49) and the UK ($1.73) would paint a different picture for exports.)

    Why do you think they are doing that? Just because of the (not so many) additional workers employed by the biodiesel refineries? Or rather they are aware of Hubbert's Peak and are preparing the infrastructure for eventually diverting that biodiesel production into local use?

    "note also that biofuel production further restricts the supply of food, driving costs higher. at some point, the income effect will compel consumers to supply more of their own food."

    Sure. And that's what people in food importing countries will very likely have to do to avoid starvation.

    I think Stuart's post was unfortunate.

    If we look ahead thirty years, it seems very likely that things will be a lot worse than today. There likely will not be enough oil/gas/coal for modern agriculture. There is some remote possibility that it won't turn out that way, but it would be best to plan for the worst.

    If we are going to plan for the worst, we pretty much have to implement some form of actions that go in the direction of growing food locally, with less fossil fuel inputs. I am not sure that people necessarily need to move to separate communities to do this, but there is a huge learning curve to figure out how to do this. We need to

    -Figure out what foods will grow in what parts of the country

    -Develop adequate stocks of non-hybrid seed

    -Learn proper crop rotation, and how to deal with insects

    -Learn how to prepare the foods that grow in our area

    -Learn how to preserve the foods

    -Learn how to save and store seeds

    -Teach people to like foods that they are not used to

    - Learn to deal with irrigation problems, if we no longer can count of water pumped from thousands of feet.

    - Learn how to get along without modern water/sewer systems

    l would think at least a thirty-year time frame would be needed to get a reasonable share of the population up to speed on the new skills. If there is any chance that we would need these skills sooner, starting now is even more imperative.

    As we look forward, changes are going to happen in steps - some big, some small. There may be some upward steps, because of some innovation that is helpful. It is probably safer to assume that the steps are for the most part are going to be down.

    As long as we can "hold things together", I would agree with Stuart that there is no doubt that modern agriculture is the way to go. It beats the alternative at least 100 to 1. We should also keep water and sewer systems going, electrical systems going, the internet going, and the banking system together.

    The catch is that at some point, we won't be able to hold things together. People need to learn the skills that people knew 100 or more years ago, so that we are not 100% out in the cold if/when the time comes. People can practice in their own yards, or they can practice somewhere where better land is available. The point is that we can't simply wait until the last minute to do this. Thirty years would be a good lead time.

    Stuart is highly respected. When he comes out and says all the work people are doing with respect to growing food locally is not needed, I think it is unfortunate.

    Unless we have a better plan to offer, one that gets us on a road where we need to be thirty years from now, I think we should keep quiet. There is too much chance that things will fall apart in 10 or 20 years, or even 5, and we will really be out in the cold, if we have done no planning.

    A bad plan is a bad plan. Even if oil were to run out, having everyone grow there own food is a bad plan.

    We could have large scale green houses that are built in or near existing cities. The vertical greenhouses would take less room. But there will still be no reversal of specialization.

    microwaving oilsands (Raytheon process now bought by Schlumberger) claims a yield 10-15 barrels per barrel consumed (EROEI 10-15).

    For oilshale they are claiming they can retrieve four to five barrels of oil (EROEI 4-5) for every barrel of oil consumed in the process. Other methods have reported 1 1/2 to three barrels (EROEI 1.5-3) for each one consumed.

    As we know a massive acceleration of an efficient process for oilsands and oilshale would be huge.

    Natural gas in the US could be as much as 500 trillion cubic feet in Appalachia

    The World Bank’s GGFR estimates that 150 billion cubic meters (or 5.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas is being flared and vented annually. (mostly Nigeria) The gas flared in Africa could generate half of the continent’s power consumption.

    A bad plan is a bad plan. Even if oil were to run out, having everyone grow there own food is a bad plan.

    Dammit! Why are we stuck in this mode of prescribing a given behavior for everyone. Who the hell is advocating a worldwide 'cultural revolution' with everyone marching lock-step in their quilted jackets back to the land?

    If you don't want a home garden, Don't Have One!!

    Furthermore, I think vertical greenhouses are a wacky idea. Go ahead and build your vertical greenhouses if you want, just don't try and get some of my tax money to do it with!

    Who the hell is advocating a worldwide 'cultural revolution' with everyone marching lock-step in their quilted jackets back to the land?

    Gail the Actuary and several others on this thread and site are advocating a lock-step return to the land.

    I think vertical greenhouses are a better idea than the return to the land idea. I think vertical greenhouses will develop a niche market to provide fresher high-end produce for the cities.

    I do not think there will be an energy decline, so all of the plan for a decline people will end up poorer if they put that much effort into it. Just like the bomb-shelter people of the 50's did not use their bomb shelters for their intended purpose. But if you want to home garden go for it.

    If the system is going to collapse why would one be that concerned about attempts to grab tax money ? If all of it will go away, it is someone stealing from a mini-bar on the Titanic. Probably because the system will not collapse and those who game the system for tax money will come out ahead of those who buy and try and work 100 acres.

    Even if oil were to run out, having everyone grow there own food is a bad plan.

    This is a bit overly broad and generalistic. There is nothing 'bad' about people having gardens, nor about small farmers establishing a small farm. This happened in Cuba, and to a large extent in Russia in recent decades.

    Would be bad if your objective was to control.

    My fellow Virginian, Jefferson -

    "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independant, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it's liberty and interests by the most lasting bands."

    "It is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state."

    "Everyone grow their own food" vs. specialization:

    Actually, what I think you will eventually see is food instead of grass growing in every yard, but in some cases the person doing the growing will not the resident. I expect to see an explosion of sharecrop gardening. It is true that not everyone will have the tools, know-how, time, or inclination to grow even some of their own food. However, as the price of food goes up, it will be definitely be worth their while to let someone else (someone that does have the tools, know-how, time and inclination) grow food on their land instead of worthless grass. The landowner gets half, the gardener gets half. Sharecropping becomes a viable strategy for the in-town gardener with too little land of his/her own to become not only self-sufficient in food, but actually to produce enough of a surplus to become a market gardener and thus help to supply the community at the local farmer's market.

    Gardening is really not that terribly hard, though. Once people are seeing it being done everywhere, they will realize that maybe they CAN do it themselves, if they start small. Few are the people that are incapable of even growing a tomato plant in a container.


    A person can graduate from high school, go to school 12 months a year, and become a doctor in 6 or 7 years. Surely people can learn to farm a lot faster than that.

    We have web sites, videos, university ag departments. 30 years to adjust? No way.

    As for planning for the worst: If things are capable of getting that bad then I'm for planning to construct, say, 500 nuclear power plants so that we can have far more energy than we have now. Then we will never experience the worst or anything remotely approaching it.

    Are we incapable of scaling up non-fossil fuels energy production to replace fossil fuels? If so, why? I see a $13+ trillion per year economy in the United States that can pay for thousands of nuclear reactors and hundreds of thousands of wind towers if we had to. 1000 nuclear reactors at $2 billion a pop is less than one quarter of year's US GDP.

    Planning for the wrong kind of worst is a waste of resources and distracts us from doing what we need to do. Luckily, I think the capitalists will be a lot less distracted. VC spending on energy nearly doubled from 2Q 2007 to 3Q 2007.

    $2 billion a pop? Sounds excessive when the capitalists could use imaginary money like they do for everything else.

    The idea that growing food is not that difficult is absolutely false. Growing high quality food, year after year, with good and consistent yields may be one of the most difficult feats possible.

    Someone who produces food properly is becoming the manager of an artificial ecosystem. This is not like a classic engineering problem where you are dealing with mostly a known range of stresses on a known set of materials. The most advanced super computers can't handle calculations regarding the potential species interactions of even the simplest examples of natural food webs. The potential interactions among the players are astronomical. Think of the strategy, skill and knowledge of a master chess player. The permutations in farming are much greater, the duration of play much longer, the stakes higher...and now toss in the physical challenges.

    Farmers should be trained at least as well as physicians, if not more so. Aferall, doctors are worried about the health and interactions between one species and its environment. This year I am planning to grow 32 species of annual crops, plus mix in some varieties within each species (e.g., 4 lettuce, 5 tomato) and I have 14 varieties of table grapes, fruit goes on an on.

    Those of you who think you are smart should be getting into this, not thinking it is best left to simpletons. What's at stake? Maybe whether you eat?

    "Someone who produces food properly is becoming the manager of an artificial ecosystem."

    Pity my poor old grandfather, who fed a family of 9 out of a garden and with what are now called "free range" chicken, pigs and cows that he slaughtered himself...and if someone would have called him a "the manager of an artificial ecosystem", he would have thought this some sorta' cityfied insult and punched him!

    Of course he didn't grow 4 "species" (wht' the hell's a species?", he would have said) of lettuce (there was leaf lettuce and head lettuce, that's it), and he didn't grow 5 of tomato (some "eatin mators and some cherry mattars would be more than enough, and some left over for cannin' tomators in the autumn)...table grapes? Nuts? He did have a grape arbor, from which grape jelly was canned, and nuts were something you bought once a year for Christmas....that's why they were considered a holiday delight.

    Your point is well taken, though, even though you may have unintentionally made it:
    Your post simply proves how poorly we would fare if we had to actually go to a system of everyone growing their own food....our thought processes are now so "intellectualized" that doing anything can be proven impossible. For 10,000 years, absolute non-literate peoples have had to do what "The most advanced super computers can't handle..."

    Says something about human capacity for problem solving doesn't it: :-)


    Your post says more about your personal biases, Roger. While your grandfather may not have understood those terms, he was indeed a manager of an artificial ecosystem. For you to resort to emotionally laden, disparaging remarks is just about as piss poor as Stuart's own emotionally laden and disparaging remarks. Shame on both of you for scapegoating people!

    Sorry if I sound like a stuffy, over-intellectual yuppie. Just writing to a particular audience. Hence my phrase "the nanotechology of root systems" earlier.

    Let me give an example of language to make my point another way.

    A child learns a language automatically, but for an adult this is difficult. It is exceedingly difficult to "program" language skills. Similarly, your grandfather likely was taught and experienced the "language" of producing food when young and so it became second nature...he didn't have to analyze it, just like we don't have to analyze how we speak until we try to speak a new language.

    I am trying to learn how to grow food in significant quantities for the first time. People are paying me good money to do so, I take it very seriously. I also take very seriously the need to maintain soil fertility. Because it is so new to me and I don't have culturally learned "rules of thumb" to go by and judge, I have to make it a super-intellectual exercise to make sure I am doing it right.

    Eventually as experts in some craft we don't rely on book knowledge to make decisions. This is partly true even now. I have to make decisions all the time based on incomplete information--what's the weather going to do, should I invest my time weeding or watering right now, do I harvest the winter squash a little early because a frost is coming or will it be a light one? These kinds of decisions can always be second guessed. C'est la vie.


    I am doing a career change,(with Family). Been reading Eric Coleman, Joe Salatin. I worked on farms when I was younger and grew up with it. My parents and inlaws came from farms. We had a garden that fed us thru the year. A potato bin filled. Canned food, butchered Chickens/Pigs.... Anyway I am getting into growing our own and going CSA, etc

    Could you give me a one line opinion on these folks?

    Charles Waters
    Elaine Ingham

    Also, What do you think of these Pups?

    "Growing for the Market"

    And would you recommend the ATTRA site?


    I'd think you could give Jason some slack. He seems to be walking the talk, even if he does have a PHD.

    You know, I have four years of college, 2 years MA work, and 5 years of Ph.D study. I also have six years of farming, plus some prior years of small scale gardening. Farming is by far the harder training process - after six years of graduate work, I was pretty damned good at what I was doing. After six years of farming, I'm fairly sure I can eat, my kids can eat, and I can produce a decent sized surplus - but I would not presume to call myself good yet - more like competent.

    Jason is right - the turnaround time on agriculture is probably longer than most people who have not done it can realize. Now one could take that to mean that we shoud leave this to the pros, or one could take that to mean we'd better get cracking. It all depends on whether you think that the pros will be selling the food at prices you can afford. My own observation is that many more people have access to land than have a good chance of seeing their wages keep place with inflation over the coming years.


    Jason and Sharon are absolutely right on this. I've worked in various parts of agriculture for 30 years now, and am now an organic vegetable farmer. There's a lot to know to do it well, and you have to be at least competent in many fields to pull it off. I admire your tenacity Jason and assure you that your scientific training will serve you well as you acquire more experience and know-how. What you have now is the motivation to get it right. And whether we only have a few years or 20 years to be a part of these amazing agricultural cycles, it will be worth the experience.

    As a farmer surfing on this new wave of demand for local food, I might just add one more point to the list of things that Stuart might want to include in an expanded analysis of the situation (Pardon if it's already been mentioned. I couldn't find the time to actually read 600 posts) : it's markets. I observe that there's a huge and growing demand for locally produced organic food. Folks care about quality, and they see food choices as a way to affect many environmental and cultural problems. The demand for local food is driving up prices and allowing more people to start relatively small scale farms and make decent money doing it. Folks in my area of NE are netting $20,000 / acre doing local CSA's and farmer's markets.

    A large part of the attraction for customers is the relationship with the farmer, so being small-scale is part of the picture. People are making the choice to pay more for their food. The markets are also accepting food stamps and most farmers want to work together to find ways to make their products affordable for everyone. Alternative local currencies? Maybe as the economy contracts, that alternative will actually start to be viable and communities might be able to sort of slowly step out of the entire status quo economic system and be trading local goods for other goods and services in an equitable way. Probably a pipe dream. The height of the Tsunami thats coming is rather impressive. At any rate, the effect of people choosing to not buy industrially grown food for health, and environmental reasons should be part of the analysis. It's certainly a buzz in my part of the world, across the economic spectrum.

    I have to call bullshit on this growing-food-is-hard thing.

    Jason and Sharon are confusing professional farming with growing your own food.

    My parents and grandparents were vegetable gardeners and not very wise about it. I often helped out. They planted a variety of stuff and a lot of it worked out.

    Produce does not have to be market quality to be thoroughly nutritious and enjoyable. Nor do things have to be done right. In fact, I've seen a considerable carrot crop extracted from a patch that was more or less completely abandoned to weeds for most of the season.

    If you follow the directions on the seed package, do your weeding, and keep the animals away (or eat them), chances are you'll get a decent yield. But you won't win any contests. If you really ever need to grow food, it's highly likely you'll get plenty of advice at the time from those in the know. They tend to offer it freely.

    At this point both Jason and Sharon have a professional interest in creating panic about the food supply. The vested interests run very deep.

    Treat their representations with caution.

    If you don't believe me about the difficulty, give it a go. Cultivate a decent sized plot with a variety of seeds. If you have OK land and rainfall, chances are you'll be foisting food on the neighbors.

    It all comes down to this. Shoddy practices that would bankrupt a farmer can produce an embarrassing amount of perfectly edible food. The key is to plant variety and if something looks like it's not working out, plant again with something different.

    EDIT: I would strongly urge people to talk to gardeners in their neighbourhood who are not heavily freighted with ideology. I can practically guarantee that they will be strongly enthusiastic about your chances of producing a crop, organic or otherwise.

    Well, yes and no, George. I think you do have a point, that a lot of people can produce some food without going nuts, and probably do decently in their first or second years growing things. That's fair. In fact, most lawns have been so overfertilized that you can expect to get huge yields if you keep the weeds down - for a while.

    But keep digging up the same soil and extracting stuff from it, and you're going to have a harder time. And if you need to maximize production, that's another layer of experience needed. I was a gardener before I was a farmer, and it is, in fact, a fairly complex project to get food, year after year, from the same soil. It is something of a commonplace to hear from people that they grew food for a few years, and then got diseases or lost crops, and "gave it up." Those things generally had something to do with how they managed their soil, of course, but they may not make the connection. Managing soil for the long term is a different project than planting some seeds and putting down 10-10-10 for a year or two until the bugs get too bad.

    It is true that even mediocre gardeners can produce some food, for some time. It is true that most people will produce a crop It is also true that producing most of your own food is another matter for most people. If I recall correctly, there was recently a poll here on just this subject, and a largish number of people discussed their difficulties as they attempted to do just that.

    LOL, what is my vested interest? That is, up until this year I was a CSA farmer with way more people on my waiting list than I could feed - is the theory that I'm trying to create a food panic so that people from far away across the internet will want to buy my vegetables that are only sold locally, and sit on a waiting list because I don't want to expand that much? But then, why would I suggest they grow their own?

    My intent is not to discourage people, but to observe that if you imagine you might ever depend on your gardening, you might want to start sooner, rather than later and get some practice in.

    And for the record, the thing about organic market gardening is that when people ask why your carrots look weird, you can just smile and say "it's organic" ;-) - that is, market gardening isn't really that different in some ways from gardening - you still don't always produce perfect produce. Of course, that's what the gardener eats ;-).


    Your growing of huge numbers of species demonstrates an excessive willingness to decrease specialization of labor. This is the basic problem I have with the whole back-to-small farms movement. Your approach is a waste. It makes tasks much harder than they need to be. It requires each worker to know far more and reduces the available pool of people who are capable of doing useful work.

    On a daily basis I coordinate people to get them to develop specializations. So each becomes good at something. I don't need them all to be good at everything. I just need each to be good at a small subset of all the pieces in complex engineered products. Our products, in turn, reduce the need for knowledge amount their users. This makes higher productivity possible. It has worked again and again across every industry. It will continue to work post-peak.

    Look, unless the low IQ people die out post-peak we are going to need things for them to do. Your reshaping of the economy into highly complex crafts occupations that take many years to master is going to make a large number of people unemployable.

    The most advanced computers can already beat the best chess players. The most advanced medical diagnosis expert systems can already beat all but the very best diagnosticians in each medical specialty (and yet these systems are little used since doctors want to make money).

    Huge numbers of permutations and great chess players: The average farmer is not a genius. If only geniuses can run farms then we are all going to starve to death. Luckily people much dumber than geniuses can operate farms.

    Doncha know. We can only plan, at most, six months into the future. Screw the future. We need our $650 rebate checks now. Wal Mart's awaiting.

    It take a long time to learn to farm.

    You only get to learn during the growing period and different things during the growing cycle. Since it only happens once a year gaining experience takes a long long time...

    It cannot be equated with training to be a doctor.

    It requires a lot of skill even to grow your own vegetables. First couple of time no problem but as the soil depletes........

    The trouble is, we should have been starting to build 20 years ago. That's now twenty years wasted, and here we are on the verge of a totally forseeable and forseen crisis, and we're still no where close to even getting consensus that something needs to be done, let alone getting a plan in gear to do it. Given the current crop running for the White House, I can confidently predict that four years from now we STILL won't have gotten started in earnest on the crash program you advocate. I suspect that by the time we finally have consensus that we need to do "something", we'll discover that it is already too late and that "something" is no longer possible to do.

    i spent four years in undergrad, three years in law school and 2 years in grad school for a master's. learned a lot.
    bought a small farm a year a year ago and my wife and i have been reading gardening/farming books, articles and monographs at a great rate; studying seed catalogs, planning, trying different varieties etc. if we had to feed our family from the output of our 23 acres based on what we kniow now, we'd probably get pretty thin.

    this is gonna take a while. i'd ask my neighbors, but all they grow is corn for the ethanol plant in town.

    Well, after reading a lot of this these last two days - and today's essay was a slog and a bit directly ad hominem for a keypost - I conclude that if people really must "learn the skills that people knew 100 or more years ago", that is, go backwards into the past rather than go forward into a future, then we have a problem so huge as to cloud all crystal balls to utter blackness. Most would be be wasting their time, as the great majority simply would not survive to use said skills. Better perhaps to "live today, for tomorrow we (mostly) all die." That's for three reasons:

    (1) I seriously doubt that the horse-and-buggy methods of 100 years ago would support seven billion people. The numbers propounded by the presumed experts seem to suggest one-half to two billion.

    (2) I doubt that 19th century horse-and-buggy methods would support anything like the current population composition. Even as late as 1900, life expectancy at age 15 was only age 54 in the USA. But today it's different: we simply have too many frail folks - a condition that sometimes seems to set in as early as age 40 - to carry on a 19th-century economy. In 1900, able-bodied folks almost completely exhausted themselves with the sheer labor of just squeaking by with horse-and-buggy methods. They would have been unable to support a vast population of frail noncontributors, and that would only be worse in a re-enactment, where there would be much less land per person than in 1900.

    (3) I suspect that a collapse quick and horrendous enough to require widespread resort to the skills of 100 years ago would induce so much societal disruption as to flush plans and non-plans alike down the toilet. All bets would be completely off as to who would survive and how. The romantic permaculture villages would simply be overrun; there would be no place whatsoever to hide.

    Well there goes my bottom-up, community-level, peak oil preparation pipedream. OK then, top down. Do any TOD-ers have ideas or contacts for starting a campaign for a worldwide plan for every country to reduce its imports of oil by say 4% per year from some future date (say 2012)?

    Try here. However, one reality check: all the likely candidates for US president have, in one way or another, promised to reduce the 'stress on hard-working American families', or some such formulation, by reducing what they all call the 'high cost of energy', especially gasoline. In other words, they have all told the populace to expect cheap and abundant fuel once they get elected. That might be a wee bit at cross-purposes with any conceivable "depletion protocol."

    You could try global warming ?!!

    "I suspect that a collapse quick and horrendous enough to require widespread resort to the skills of 100 years ago would induce so much societal disruption as to flush plans and non-plans alike down the toilet. All bets would be completely off as to who would survive and how. The romantic permaculture villages would simply be overrun; there would be no place whatsoever to hide."

    Correct. A fast (days to months) collapse would result in the dieoff that Jay Hansen talked about.
    It would go like this: the frail die quickest.
    The stronger (but who had not prepared) would start going door to door to find any supplies. There would be bloodbaths between those who had prepared and those who hadn't. If the unprepared manager to overpower the prepared because of greater numbers, ultimately most of them would become cannibals and then they too would die off.
    The only ones remaining would be those who were too far away from the cities.
    They too would be whittled down because the skills base to support all the tools they depend on would be gone.

    The remaining ones would have to rebuild civilization from the ground up and this would probably be impossible.

    So the only hope for a continuation of civilization in this scenario is that the collapse wouldn't be total and everywhere.
    e.g. places like Brasil and Iceland would probably survive much as they are today.

    If we see a total collapse in every civilized country then we are indeed back to the olduvai gorge and though it will not mean the end of civilization I doubt we could get back up again for millions of years until the fossil fuels replenished themselves.

    *Will* we see a total collapse or even a complete collapse in *any* country?
    I suspect the answer is no, unless we decide to fight a nuclear war that is.

    Gail said,

    "Stuart is highly respected. When he comes out and says all the work people are doing with respect to growing food locally is not needed, I think it is unfortunate."

    I am not certain that Stuart said that (?)

    My take was that he was saying that large industrial scale farming is relatively efficient and benefits from division of labor and efficiency of scale that "localized" small scale agriculture would have trouble competing with, and securing the needed landspace (given that they would be competing for land space against the larger very profitable industrial scale farms), thus, hoping to feed large populations with "localized" farms would be difficult (impossible?), and that this problem would be further exacerbated by bio fuel profits.

    As far as "the work people are doing with respect to growing food locally is not needed", as you claim he said, that seems like an aesthetic question until the collapse in food production/explosion in food prices hit, at which point any work done up to that point becomes very valuable. Stuart will correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think he has launched an attack on "diversity" of scale and or methods when it comes to agriculture, he just points out that the math of "peak oil" will not be to the benefit of the small scale farmer, (at least not for a long time)

    Gail, as far as your suggestions as to what needs to be more, I think it is an exceptional list of useful things to learn (a person can start as a hobby and outdoor activity, and then learn as they go!), with the one exception of "teaching people to eat foods they don't like" (!!), I tried that with my nephew when he was little and I hold out little hope of success in that area of revolution! :-)

    You mentioned some that I have long been a supporter of: Seed saving. Most people are unaware of a silent danger to agriculture (especially small scale architecture) in the decline of plant diversity. This is an irreversible crisis that must be prevented and time is running out, as more and more food crop varieties fade into obscurity and then extinction. Google "Crop diversity" and "Decline of plant diversity in agriculture". This is a crisis, but it is so big, I will allow you to do your own research (perhaps we can do a keypost on this subject soon?)

    The water issue. There has long been supporters of "grey water" systems for cities and suburbs which could cut contamination of fresh water in half....we know how to do, it is sensible, it is not hard, and it can be built right into neighborhoods....and yet it recieves no real support from neighborhoods, suburbs or cities. Why? It is a horrific waste of fresh water not to plan these systems into every nieghborhood and city.

    Your mention of planning crops for where they will do best in a regional way is very good.

    I sit with my two "bibles" of home food growing on my lap...."Getting the Most Out of Your Garden Using Advanced Intensive Gardening Techniques" published by Rodale Press in 1980, and "The Solar Greenhouse Book" also by Rodale Press, published in 1978. Over 770 pages between the two, complete with regional guides for growing outdoors and in greenhouses, cold frames and season extenders.

    These two books were written (and purchased by me, along with one of my first copies of "The Square Foot Garden", brilliant!) in the late 1970's, the last time the world agricultural system was predicted to collapse soon. The agricultural system did not collapse as predicted in the late 1970's, but that does not make the makes "not needed" and the efforts of those who developed the methods and wrote the books were not wasted.

    You are right Gail, there is much that needs to be learned.


    I can go either direction, as long as I'm not forced to eat okra.

    "If we look ahead thirty years, it seems very likely that things will be a lot worse than today. There likely will not be enough oil/gas/coal for modern agriculture."

    I strongly disagree. Biodiesel has EROEI around 2. And soybeans have much lower N requirements than other crops. Modern agriculture will be the LAST activity to run out of fuel.

    There likely will not be enough oil/gas/coal for making unnecessary items, bringing them from China, and trucking them across the USA. And for countless other discretionary uses.

    What will the people currently employed in those discretionary areas do for a living is a separate question. If they are not given free food, they may have to garden their backyards out of lack of purchasing power, not because industrial agriculture will have fallen apart. Meanwhile, their destructed demand of industrially produced food will be compensated for by increased biofuel consumption from people working on the non-discretionary side of the economy.

    And here is where the "work ethic" could prove particularly dangerous: if some Cambodian-style forced relocalization coupled with agrarian reform were carried out to enable everybody to work, the total level of food production would probably be lower than that achieved through biodiesel-fueled industrial agriculture. Of course, the people would be "keeping their dignity" by not receiving something for nothing.


    The following is from an article entitled "King Hubbert: Science's Don Quixote," in the February 1983 issue of Geophysics magazine, by Robert Dean Clark, assistant editor:
    "A non-catastrophic solution is impossible, Hubbert feels, unless society is made stable. This means abandoning two axioms of our culture...the work ethic and the idea that growth is the normal state of life...."


    I think your post is condescending.
    The tone is school marmish and that there is only one true opinion.
    I thought this was an open board.

    The oil drum is a site for those who are knowledgeable about peak oil and discussion it's potential effects.

    Since we cannot know with certainty what the outcome will be, any religious prognostication that we will all die is just that, religion.

    The facts (shall we return to them?)
    We have 80 some million barrels per day half of which supplies most of the world's transportation energy needs.
    The rest goes to various other tasks including industry, agriculture and heating.

    Much of our transportation needs can and will be cut down either by efficiency or by by force by means of economic dislocation. Likewise industry.

    There are many, many, "respected" (I note your use of the word) posters on this site and others who argue that a complete collapse is unlikely since the tenets of the dieoff religion are based upon false assumptions.

    The main false assumption is that there will be a collapse in energy supplies so severe that no piece of our modern transportation network will survive.
    Not trucks, not rail, not shipping. Nothing.

    The next false assumption is that the transportation of food requires petroleum at all.
    In fact, food could be grown on large farms powered by electric equipment driven by wind turbines (I saw a huge greenhouse with a 2MW turbine in Holland a couple years ago) or ELSE it could be grown the current way with biofuels to power tractors and combine harvesters.

    In all cases, without a nuclear war to completely destroy infrastructure there is going to be SOME surplus left over from agriculture.

    With that surplus, if done right, we can build a sustainable future after we suffer an economic dislocation to force people out of their SUVs and onto their feet/bicycles/light rail/EVs/Biofuel Vehicles.

    Thank you to the oildrum for the opportunity to SHARE my opinion.

    Gail it is your post that is most unfortunate. First, the end of the carbon fuel era is hardly the end of the age of portable energy. Energy is already carried to farms in the form of electricity. Farm machinery that now runs on carbon based fuels can be operated with electricity. Machines like tractors and combines can use electrical storage in batteries and ultra-capacitors. Food can be transported to urban markets via electrified rail. These are simple substitutions which either involve using alternative existing technologies, or minor improvements in existing technologies.

    Electrical energy can come from renewable sources or from nuclear power plants. All of these technologies are sustainable on a long term basis.

    If we plan wisely for the future of energy, we will not need to worry about food shortages. Food production problems can be fixed with technology better than with massive human labor. The problem is not found in our material civilization, in our science, or in our technology, but in a lack of confidence in science and technology. If that problem is not fixed, we may end up paying a massive human cost.


    Excellent post. You are 100% correct.
    I will only nitpick a little and it is this:
    We don't have 100% substitution.
    Electricity is a ball-park substitute, what I like to call "good enough".

    For personal transport we have 30mph golf-cart goofy looking little electric cars with a 50-100 mile range which are up to three times the price of the cheapest gasoline or diesel vehicles. At that kind of pricing they are not going to sell many right now.

    I suspect that due to snobbery, most Americans will not buy one until it is too late.
    Though I am a market fundamentalist, the market will respond by crushing demand before it will produce enough cheap EXACT EQUIVALENTS to the luxury vehicles the average American now drives. Thus they will be forced to take the bus simply because they can afford nothing else. One point is I suspect we will be stupid enough to cut back on food and everything else before we are forced to give up driving thus pushing the economy into a nosedive.

    Fortunately from a somewhat cynical perspective, this will put millions of Americans out of work at the same time as gas prices head higher. They will simply be unable to drive period. During this period I have no doubt many Americans will be growing some of their crops and possibly we will see small plots being rented by farmers where the new peasantry grow their food. This won't last for ever though.

    When things pick up again they will be used to taking the bus and gasoline prices will be even higher, so they will only be able to afford a much reduced mode of transport than what they were used to driving before and will be glad of a 35mph vehicle with a 50 mile range.

    THAT is my opinion of how things will work out, not a die off.

    Dan, Battery and ultra-capacitor technology technology are advancing at a rapid speed. I do not wish to count my chickens before they are hatched, but I am reasonably sure that within a few years the technology will exist which will allow us to drive quite luxurious, fast, air conditioned EVs for our everyday use. Electricity will be a lot cheaper than gas. I am looking forward to watching the first NASCAR race for "stock" EVs.


    It's not the rate of advance of technology that worries me, it's the ability to produce the products in volume and then have the consumers buy them.
    If we are nearly at the end of this plateau we started in mid 2005 and we fall off the edge of the depletion cliff, people will simply be made poor and be unable to afford the vehicles. At best we are a couple years away from being able to produce, what?
    1% a year replacement of the fleet with plug-in hybrids?
    Personally I don't think the average consumer will buy a goofy little yellow two seater car which has 35mph top speed and a 50 mile range to replace their current SUV.
    It just isn't going to happen.
    Thus I conclude that though an EV based personal transportation system is THEORETICALLY possible, it won't happen on a scale we would like.

    What I *do* think will happen, however, is that mass transit based around plug-in hybrid buses will appear magically out of the dawn (both washington state and NYC transit are quietely upgrading their fleets to hybrids - it ought to be easier to retrofit a bunch of super batteries and plugs to a few thousands of buses than get consumers to buy overpriced underpowered EVs). Likewise the same thing will happen with electric trucks for short range delivery. They are available and they make sense.
    Likewise for 10-20 person minivans. They will soon be available and they make sense.
    So my personal take is that the American dream of one automobile per person will vaporise sometime from now through the next decade and possibly make a much reduced reappearance in the 2020s

    There are one heck of a lot of assumptions in there.
    A fossil fuel shortage does not mean that there is an absolute shortage of energy, and if we have the sense God gave little apples we should be able to tap enough to maintain a comfortable high-tech lifestyle - nuclear alone could provide that option whilst renewables get up to speed.
    Of course, we may continue to go with pork-barrel projects like ethanol from corn, but the fact that some stupid ideas get taken up does not make the basic problem insoluble.
    Some disruption is indeed almost certain as we transition from coal and oil, but that is a whole long was from inevitable collapse.

    One of the Best Debates On TOD Opens 2008

    Sharon Astyk's rebuttal of Stuart Staniford's essay on TOD is an excellent essay, matched only in 2008 on TOD by Stuart Staniford's essay, the one that Ms. Astyk was replying to. Both are well thought out and show real effort (despite failings) on the part of both persons to resolve some deep and tangled issues.

    One should not read one of the essays without reading the other, and then going back and forth between them.

    The two essays discuss agriculture. But they touch the edge of something much deeper, and strike at the core of the philosophy surrounding beliefs and ideas concerning peak oil and resourse use and depletion and our response to these. In the discussion surrounding the use of the word "reversalist" by Stuart Staniford, a raw wound is opened.

    Because in many ways, and among many of what Stuart calls the "first wave" of peak oil thinkers as opposed to the "second wave" of peak oil thinkers, the question is a deeply philosophical and aesthetic one, in fact, an existential question: The issue is now seen by at least a sizable faction of peak oil thinkers and many world environmentalist thinkers as an argument about not IF the modern technical world, and even modern intellectual, cultural, political and social ideas CAN survive, but whether they should in fact be ALLOWED to survive.

    Anyone who reads my posts on TOD know that I have touched on this issue several times over the last year. I have sometimes not been as delicate in my descriptions as Mr. Staniford was, and have used stronger terms and connotations than Stuart's use of the word "reversalist"

    I attempt to restrain my rhetoric, but have sometimes failed, and been a bit too pointed in my discussions for this forum, forcing me to apologize, not for what I said, but for the way in which I said it. I consider so many people on this board among the more astute thinkers on these issues I have read anywhere, and that includes some very well regarded and highly respected writers. So it is with regret that I anger anyone (especially the best of the best here) and I certainly intend no personal I said, at the deepest level it becomes a philosohiical choice, and each person has to choose how they view the culture in which they live.

    But by our words and our actions, we are making a choice. We are either defenders and supporters of the modern technical culture in which we live, or we are supporters of it's end. There are those who say, "oh, we want this modern culture but it must change." But of course it is changing. The world of today is not the same world of even so recent a time as the 1990's. Of course, our culture must change. We who support it's continued existance want it to change, because that is the only way it can survive.

    But what of those who have made the decision that the modern technical culture CANNOT continue? There are some who believe it cannot continue and must fail for "geological" reasons, or for "climate" reasons, or other environmental reasons. These people would look for ways to mitigate this terrible occurance, because of course, they would still see the collapse of the modern culture as terrible. Just as the earliest Christians who preached against Roman decadence were aghast when the Roman world began to truly collapse (which for the Christians, just as for the pagen Romans, was THE END OF THE WORLD AS THEY KNEW IT), Staniford's "first wave" of Peak Oil thinkers and writers could see the catastrophe that was clearly possible if not unavoidable, but they were aghast at the prospect of the end of the modern world.

    Admiral Rickover's speech concerning oil depletion is often given as an example of early "peak" thinking. But Rickover was a technocrat, father of the nuclear navy. He saw "peak" as a threat, a terrible risk to a modern nation that he loved. Rickover would have died to defend all those old fashioned values that are now scoffed at..."democracy, capitalism...liberty. Peak oil would put these ALL at risk.
    Likewise M. King Hubbert, himself an "oil industry man", college educated, scientific, literate, all the things that a modern technical state allows. Hubbert would have seen no good outcome to true "peak oil".

    It is only with the "second wave" of peak writers and thinkers do we see a philosophy that begins to see peak as possibly a good thing. These writers and thinkers of peak speaks of the return to tiny farms, to horses, to local politcal institutions, to local barter economy as a possibly positive thing. It may be only coincidental that their philosophy gets closer and closer to that of the anarcho primitivist.
    At the same time, religions around the world endorse a type of fundamentalism. But the fundamentalism of the primitivist romantics even exceed that of most of the most fundamentalist religions, for as the old joke used to go, the

    It's amazing that the author critiques Stuart's piece as lacking logic when she goes on to demolish her own argument in the opening paragraphs.

    "and our population was primarily agricultural then, and peak oil implies we will have less energy in the future, or at least less liquid fuel"

    DOES peak oil imply less energy in the future or does it imply less OIL in the future?

    Assuming it implies less liquid fuel, there is a bottom limit to how far we fall.
    Even if there is NO fossil fuel oil (and this is false too, because of tar sands), you have to ask yourself this question: What is the fundamental occupation in human civilization that MUST exist before everything else can take place?
    The answer is of course producing food.

    Given that this is the case, are we going to DIVERT energy away from producing food if all we have is the energy (read liquid fuels, be they biofuels or tar sands oils) to continue our agriculture.

    I think the resounding answer is no.

    Thus we can safely assume that we will not divert any remaining liquid fuels away from agriculture to more frivolous tasks. It's STILL better to have a liquid fuel based highly efficient agricultural industry and a crappy manually run economy than it is to starve the population to death so some rich elites can run their SUVs.

    So sorry folks, it's not back to the land for everyone.

    On the other hand: I *do* expect a god-awful economic depression to take place in which prices of food, fuel and other things will go stratospheric and the supply/demand mechanism will deal with those who currently *think* they need oil.
    Most of the SUV driving Americans of today will be forced by losing their jobs to either take the bus or if they are lucky and their income is high enough after the sh!tstrom goes down, buy a small electric or hybrid vehicle at multiples of the current price of an SUV, though with much, much reduced luxury and functionality of an SUV due to resource constraints.

    Totally with Dan Browne on future priorities for liquid fuel resources.

    This discussion has certainly highlighted the extent to which TOD-ers are invested in their personal visions of a post-peak future.

    I guess a degree of utopianism (with a broad split between agrarian ideals and high tech hopes) is very necessary in view of the general belief that the transition will be a real sh!tstrom. Hope is always better than fear.

    But is there a fundamental reason why there shouldn't be both big and small-scale farming in future?

    Assuming societies manage the early shocks of peaking, surely it will be better for relatively few farmers with barnloads of mechanised monsters to carry on producing industrial amounts of food in the early years or decades to give the other 97% of the population a chance to learn how not to lose a whole season's onions to bugs and critters.

    Unfortunately my idealism isn't up to the task of imagining a property rights system that would facilitate the eventual transformation of big mechanised farms into a local sustainable community model.

    Prof Goose, that was a very verbose and circumlocutary reply to an equally prolix and absurd argument by Staniford. My bit bucket is full. Flush.

    You have part of a point about prolixity, but simply dismissing the essays is ridiculous. Peak oil seems to function as a Rorschach test. Your own inkblot - whatever fairyland utopia you imagine in order to license yourself to dismiss Staniford so airily - is as monumentally unlikely to come into being as any other inkblot cherished by anyone else around here.

    The reversalists are expressing wishful thinking and nostalgia for the past

    This is rich, when people "accuse" you of nostalgia. What is the belief called when you think everything done new and differently is automatically better than the past?

    I remember when I was a kid that some kids thought McDonalds hamburgers were better than their mothers. I don't know, maybe their mothers were terrible cooks or something, but I never had that belief. Was I being nostalgic ? Continuing today, I like the burgers that my local diner makes. Oh, they aren't as uniform, or "efficient" as McDonalds but I think they are better. And, I will admit, I cannot believe people prefer the McDonalds burger to a good, old fashioned, quality meat and real bread burger but I have to believe it because that's what people on The Oil Drum say. Seriously, what is up with the 'efficiently' produced 'bread'-product that fast food joints use these days ? It's not even as 'good' as it was when I was working at McDonalds 25 years ago. I won't even get into the cheeze-like substance.

    I like the fact that the mixer my mother gave me is 70 years old and still blows away anything you can get at Walmart. I wonder, what is the lifecycle cost of a cheap mixer today that lasts maybe 10 years and my one from 1930 ? Sometimes things are efficient in one sense and one timeframe but not over all.

    Sharon, The most unfortunate aspect of your post is the expectation of an unneeded and highly undesirable decline in the the quality of human life in more advanced societies. Not only are you willing to sacrifice the advantages of our current way of life without further examination of the possiblility of energy substitution, you seem totally oblivious to the truly terrible human consequences of doing so. Ours is an aging society. Our medical advances, and the comfort of our way of life have allowed many of us who would have already have died in a peasant society to survive into an older age. Many older people do not have the physical capacity to survive as peasant farmers. Without our medicine, and without the comforts of modern heating and air conditioning, and with the demand for heavy physical labor, many older people will die quickly.

    One 20th century leader did attempt the "relocalization" solution for his country's urban problems. His name was Pol Pot. You ought to examine what happened when Pol Pot "relocalized" Cambodian society.

    What you seem to joyously advocate as the only alternative would inevitably lead to the quick mass die off of millions of older people. If we do not make a strenuous effort to fix energy and productivity problems of the farm, instead of simply sending masses of people to the land, we will be guilty of mass murder.

    In the words of Oliver Cromwell, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

    You assume that modern medicine, air conditioning and electricity will continue to be available in the times we are discussing here. They may well not be and those who require heavy intervention by modern medicine or are disabled by age will not survive these times. I count myself among them.

    You know, I appreciate the creativity with which you use Pol Pot here - usually I get Stalin or Mao. It is nice to mix up one's dictators a little now and then.

    Of course, Thomas Jefferson advocated agrarian democracy, and Nyerere, as did Gandhi, but that's not nearly as much fun for people who want to tar me by association ;-).

    It is true that "we" as in you and me and other folks in the rich world, have quite a few benefits from our way of life. As Staniford has recently demonstrated, other people (say, the half of the planet who never got most of those benefits in the first place) stand to pay a very high price for us having those benefits, no? The elderly in those places derive no benefit - do they also get your advocacy? You accuse me of "joyfully" advocating the deaths of millions of aging people in the rich world, without considering our technological options. I don't think either point is accurate in any particular, but if you are going to make that claim, I might be inclined to turn around and suggest that you are claiming that we should spare millions of baby boomers by killing billions of poor people, or by sacrificing topsoil, water and energy resources that will be needed by future generations - thus, one generation devours its own grandchildren.

    But that kind of rhetoric gets ugly (and stupid) fast. The fact is that I have yet to be persuaded that any technological solution can both keep our present way of life going *and* deal with what Staniford has beautifully dubbed the "seperate peace" issue - that is, the idea that any solution must apply across the board, to all of us who are in this together. If you have a suggestion, by all means, present it, and I'll respond, but the ad hominem "you want to kill all the old people" analysis is unworthy of the otherwise very high level of discussion on this board.

    Finally, I think the dichotomy you present is false - there exist a number of high well being, high lifespan, partly (no one has suggested a complete return to agriculture by every 90 year old - at most I've proposed a 3rd of the population, and I don't insist on the precision of that number) agrarian societies in which health care is widely accessible and people don't have to die young. Kerala and Cuba are the obvious examples, but there are some other nations catching up fairly quickly. In fact, part of my analysis (and it is hard to cover every subject I've ever written about in one post) is based on the assumption that we will want to prioritize energy for more than just food - for other high quality of life uses such as medicine and education - and to have those resources available not just to aging baby boomers, but to their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and future generations.


    Sharon, I fgound the rhetoric of your original post to be very ugly indeed ugly. You would seem to be saying that we have no choice but consign millions of people to lives of misery with no further examination of our options. You woud do this without regard for their personal choice. You voice not word of regret about what would be something profoundly evil and terrible. To me this is very ugly if for no other reason than the fact that I most likely would be on of those who would die of forced to do this. You speak of Jefferson, Nyerere, Gandhi. They wished to dignify poor farmers, not to rip urban folk out of their homes and put them to wotk as peasant farmers, that was what Pol Pot did.

    I am in favor of extending the benefits of Western Civilization to the rest of the people of this planet, as China is doing with its peasant farmers, and as India is beginning to do, even in Karala. True Cuba has long life expectancy, but Castro took the richest country in Latin America, and turned it in to one of the poorest. Is Cuba your example? Do you also favor the same lack of political and economic freedom found in Castro's Cuba as well?

    You will not willingly bring a third of the population of America out of the cities and urban and into a life of rural peasants poverty. That is simply absurd.

    You claim to have yet to be persuaded that any technological solution can both keep our present way of life going. What makes you an expert on technology? How do we know that you are not a crackpot (or a crack Pol Pot), shooting off her mouth? Tell us what technologies will not work, and why.

    Charles Barton.

    Nowhere did I see Sharon say she wanted to rip city people out of their homes and put them to work as peasant farmers. What I understood her to say was that city people should begin to learn how to produce what food they can on the land they have or rent. They may have to at least supplememt what commercial food will be available to them and which may not be enough to meet their needs.

    It is the not enough food to meet their needs that bothers me. Is Sharon advocating gardening? Household gardens are already commnon, even in cities. Some cities have programs to provide garden plots for the poor or for any citizen. I have no argument with that sort of thing. Sharon did not talk about gardening. She talked about relocalization. Is relocalization simply urban folk growing vegie gardens? I don't think so. If relocalization does not involve sending urban folks out of the cities to grow food, what doe it involve?

    Perhaps this is the difficulty - that you aren't clear on what relocalization is. Both essays presumed some familiarity with this subject.

    Relocalization is pretty much what it sounds like - the move towards a localized self-sufficiency and more local economies, which reduces transport costs and energies. Instead of specializing, the idea that regions should, to one extent or another (analysts vary) be able to meet as many of their needs as possible.

    Relocalization is a process that applies to urban, suburban and rural regions. That is, all regions can strive to maximize local production. There are a few people who suggest that regions would have to be entirely self-sufficient, but I don't think any of the major thinkers do, nor do I. Instead, relocalization of the food system (and that's not all there is to it) proposes that food production be maximized in areas it currently isn't (that is, turning lawns into food gardens again), making use of underutilized public space) This puts a good deal of redundancy into the system, allowing it to resist larger scale shortfalls.

    Urban relocalization would involve more food production (some cities produce as much as 1/2 their produce and meat within city limits, while calorie crops - either grains or staple roots - are grown elsewhere - Hong Kong and Singapore are very westernized cities that produce high percentages of meat and produce within city limits - you might look at _For Hunger Proof Cities_ for a number of papers on this subject), but also a greater degree of dependence upon exurban rural areas. Rural areas would be net food exporters - as they are now. And, of course, relocalization is hardly limited to food systems.

    Mark Twain once said, "It isn't what you don't know that gets you, its what you know for sure that ain't so." I think part of the difficulty in general with advocating relocalization is that there are gut responses that imagine that there is no way to persuade people to farm other than putting a gun at their backs. After all, who would go out and do endless drudgery in the blazing hot sun (even in February) walking 3 miles uphill each way to scythe hay all day.

    It is worth noting that subsistence agriculture, on the garden or small farm scale was historically far less labor intensive than many of the jobs we do now so that other people will do the "backbreaking drudgery" for us. Juliet Schor documents this in some detail in _The Overworked American_ noting that most Americans work considerably harder than the average peasant actually did. That is not to suggest we can go back to peasant society, but it does mean that we might need to reconsider some of our assumptions about how hellacious this might be.

    Personally, I have run a small CSA (ranged up to 25 members plus shares for the local food pantry, which was too many - the average was more like 15) for some years now, done entirely with hand labor - my own. I was able to do so while 9 months pregnant, caring for small children, teaching and during two seasons, caring for my husband's elderly grandparent at the end of their lives, and still writing on the internet. I am admittedly young (35) and healthy, but carrying more weight than I should be (and clearly not working hard enough to lose it). If it were that strenuous, I simply wouldn't have been able to do those things. Having worked as a writer, EMT and Literature teacher (among other things), I can say that farming was no more physically rigorous than EMS, and in some ways no more physically rigorous than sitting in front of a computer 9 hours a day - which takes one heck of a toll on your body.

    That is not to say that 80 year olds will be able to produce all of their own food, but they can do a surprising amount - as witness this woman, 64, disabled by multiple chronic conditions, and producing a huge amount of food.

    The reality is that relocalization is complicated (like everything else), and there are a number of things that it can mean. If you imagine that we may not have access to imported food, then that requires that you have a larger portion of your food (and energy and everything else) needs made locally. My own feeling is that markets long predated oil, and will continue to do so. But that doesn't mean that any system might not be vastly more robust if it contained enough redundancy, especially in essential systems like food, to withstand economic and energy shocks.


    Since I've never said any of the things you attribute to me, I can't properly respond to these rather ridiculous attacks. In fact I've said quite the contrary, that most people who grow food will have to grow food where they are now.

    As I have said before, I believe in material limits - that is, I believe that we can only offer people more resources than the earth produces if we a. starve some people - Staniford has demonstrated this or b. borrow from our children, who might also care to eat and have energy. If you have a strategy for extending such resources equally without drawing down planetary resources at a rate that harms future generations and the world's poor at present, great, I'd love to hear it, no matter what names you call me.

    The only answer I can offer to this is that you read what I said, rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by what you imagine I might have said. This force march of elderly urbanites is quite a creative, if overheated, imagining, but none of my doing.


    "I believe that we can only offer people more resources than the earth produces if we a. starve some people " - Sharon A.

    Sharon, how do you know this? Give me some proof, that the earth is not capable of providing enough food to feed its current or projected population. - Charles

    You misunderstood me (or perhaps I wasn't clear) - I wasn't speaking only of food. You wrote of extending the benefits of our way of life to everyone - but that's not the only way we deplete resources, as we all well know (this is the _Oil_ Drum).
    That is, everything we do requires biological resources. There have been a number of analyses, of which the ecological footprint here: is one of the more famous. All of them agree that we are consuming resources more rapidly than natural systems can replenish them - and that rich people, living in our present society are consuming them fastest.

    I believe quite firmly that the earth can feed, clothe, house and meet the basic needs of the present population. What I think the ecological footprint and other related tools do well is indicate the rate of draw down, and give us a ballpark for what level of consumption would be available to everyone in a just system. The same is true of Monbiot's analysis in _Heat_ (which has its limitations) of what a "fair share" of carbon emissions would be.

    What the world cannot do, by any analysis I've ever seen, is support 10 billion rich people, who eat a lot of industrially produced meat, drive around with biofuels, burn a lot of energy and consume a lot of stuff. You might look here at Lester Brown's _Plan B 2.0_ for a full exploration of the implications of this. And if a large chunk of the population insists on living this way, this means that there is less for future generations or present ones. That is, if, for example, we draw down fossil water to irrigate food for present generations, that is water that future generations won't have. I don't know if you have kids or grandkids, but I'm not comfortable leaving them to hope that future generations will solve the water problem (or the energy or food problem).

    So while I agree with you that we need to extend some of the benefits of our way of life out more equally, that also probably means a contraction of some of the benefits of this way of life for people in the rich world. The question then becomes whether it is possible or not to actually sort out what really matters in our lives (health care, social welfare programs like social security, education, food security), and what doesn't matter so much (news coverage of Brittany's custody battles, and the whole infrastructure that supports that would probably be a very easy example) - and the grey areas. The things that matter need better ways of doing them - lower energy, or more renewable solutions. The things that don't matter so much we don't have to worry about so much, but we may have to discard some of them - if we actually put our money where our mouth is in re: Staniford's seperate peace.

    When I mention Cuba's health care system, I'm not claiming we have to be Cuba, but that we might want to prioritize the things that Cuba did to enable a healthy, if poorer populace - because there's a good chance a lot of us are going to be poorer as the economy begins to react to peak oil and climate change and a lot of stupid decisions. It isn't necessary to be Marxists, for example, to say that we might have done better to provide universal health care than to blow up Iraq ;-).


    Sharon, You are winging it on the matter of resources. One thing that everyone in the energy debate agrees on is that the world has an abundance of energy resources. If we have as much energy resources as everyone - by every one i mean advocates of solar, wind and nuclear power - say we have, then we have enough energy to extract mineral resources from low grade ore. We also have the energy resources to supply far higher amounts of electrical energy to farms than the amount of energy they currently use as in the form of oil products.

    Farming as you practice it is a vocational choice, not a necessity. Adam Smith obeserved the value of the devision of labor in enhancing productivity. Smith's observations applied to agriculture as well. There has never been a 100 mile limit on food supplies, not even in ancient times. The ancient Athenians grew olives on the rocky soil of Attica, pressed the olive into oil, and shipped the oil to Black Sea ports, where the traded it for grain. The Athenians grew rick on their trade. The Black Sea was more than 100 miles distant from Athens. Ancient Rome was supplied with grain. During the middle ages the British grew shep, they traded wool with the low countries for cloth. In the 18th century, the British imported wind from Southern Europe, while concentrating in their local agriculture on raising sheep.

    In the 19th centuries it was the local, small scale farmers of Irland who growing only for local markets, practiced monocultural agriculture with potatoes. In Texas in the 19th century there were plenty of cattle, but no market until enterprising cowmen drove cattle to railheads in Kansas, hundreds of miles away. When railroads came to Florida, the first thing people did was to pick oranges, box them and ship them North.

    The larger an area srm which food is drawn, the less likely it is that there will be famine. Thus it has been only in the 19th and 20 centuries when there was wide spread agricultural specialization, and global agricultural trade, that many countries have been able to avoid famine.

    Long range agricultural trade has existed since ancient times. Climate, soil and location have always created opportunities or necessities for specialization. Societies that only practice local agriculture are as a rule far poor, more subject to famine, and far more malnourished, than societies that engage in large scale agricultural specialization and trade.

    Thanks for this post on "Is Relocalization Doomed?" This is an important topic and we need some clarity.

    There is a problem with Stuart Staniford's original post which I made and which I will repeat here: it doesn't address the underlying process which is driving the phenomenon which he describes -- roughly, higher oil prices = more agricultural mechanization. This leaves us all gasping with exasperation, asking, "AND SO?"

    What he should have done is offer an answer, or at least offer a set of possible answers and say that we don't know. In the absence of a mechanism driving this process, we are left with the impression that he is just taking away with one hand what he gave us with the other. On the one hand, he's saying that biofuels is a crock and peak oil is nigh; on the other, he is saying that nothing will change or needs to change (at least in the sphere of agriculture).

    He could have said, for example, that even though relocalization is more energy-efficient, that the energy in farm use is quite small compared to our total energy budget and that any wrenching adjustments to our economy and social system will come elsewhere first. (Perhaps: the economic efficiencies of large farms will outweigh the relatively small loss of energy involved.) I offer my explanation, that the process is being driven by agricultural subsidies, as another possibility.

    Sharon Astyk's point of view is basically closer to my own. I think relocalization is a good idea. I think that discontinuities, basically, are at hand, and I'm a bit surprised that anyone is trying to come up with scenarios in which they will come about. (Uh, anyone been reading the papers lately?)

    My concern with her response is that she is following Stuart's fact-filled but disjointed post a bit too closely, so that it goes all over the place as well. It is hard to identify overarching themes or come away with three points that she is trying to make. I would have preferred that she addressed the things that Stuart doesn't say.

    One theme, which I think is valid, is the distinction between describing what is happening, and describing what should be happening. She says: "But more importantly, I believe Staniford has missed the point that much of what relocalization advocates are arguing is what they believe should happen, rather than what will inevitably happen, in the absence of political will and in the hands of market forces." "But Murphy, Heinberg and Darley are also all *advocates* for a practice. None of them claim that deindustrialization is necessarily inevitable, but that we ought to alter the shape of agriculture . . ."

    This is all fine and I agree. But we are still left with the question, what exactly is driving the phenomena which Stuart describes? If it's market forces, then is the market the enemy? Or if it's market forces that are driving this tendency to mechanization, maybe there's something important that the market is trying to tell us? Perhaps it's that an army of peasant farmers will fail to produce enough food for us to live on?

    My suggestion: everyone stop right now and read "Ecological Economics" by Herman Daly and Joshua Farley. It's not as sexy as "The Long Emergency" but I think they've got a grasp on the fundamental problem, which is that the market works pretty well with pure market goods, but does a lousy job with natural resources. We don't want to just dump the market entirely, but we can't let it run wild, either. They don't outline a clear solution, but they do provide the conceptual framework with which to start.

    -- Keith Akers

    "My suggestion: everyone stop right now and read "Ecological Economics" by Herman Daly and Joshua Farley. It's not as sexy as "The Long Emergency" but I think they've got a grasp on the fundamental problem, which is that the market works pretty well with pure market goods, but does a lousy job with natural resources. We don't want to just dump the market entirely, but we can't let it run wild, either. They don't outline a clear solution, but they do provide the conceptual framework with which to start."

    The problem with this statement is that it's too vague and hand waving.
    What you really mean to say is that the market cannot continue to produce the same quantity or quality of goods when the inputs are declining.

    In a nutshell: the market WILL solve the problem of lack of supply.
    But it may not be by magically producing 250 million plug-in hybrids out of nowhere because it takes time to get production built and the consumers (dumb as they are) may not buy "goofy little yellow two seaters with a 40 mile range" because they BELIEVE they still have the option of continuing to drive but "gas will go up maybe to $5 a gallon, but that's the top, I SWEAR it is".
    What it will do instead is through the brutal mechanism of supply and demand will raise the price high enough that the 2% who cannot be supplied WILL NOT be supplied.
    That won't be at $5 a gallon. It will be at a price level which will force the use to be REALLY sure they want to buy the gas instead of food.

    Those who are smart (and who still want to continue to drive) will buy the goofy little yellow two seaters right now while they're still cheap or available.

    I'm optimistic that we have enough energy to supply agriculture, local delivery of food and goods to stores as well as continue building infrastructure even as the economy goes into a tailspin. I expect a deep brutal depression, but I also expect to come out of it at the end with some options being available and the people now willing to make smart choices instead of dumb ones.

    In other words, ultimately, enough Americans will be out of work and unable to afford gas for long enough that their tastes change and when they eventually can afford it the goofy little two seater will start looking pretty good.

    My statement is vague, and I am waving my hands. Someone is waving back. Woo-hoo!

    If I were to be more precise, I would say:

    "Neither Sharon nor Stuart have paid very much attention to the question of the role of market forces in creating the phenomena which Stuart is talking about. It appears that Stuart assumes that it they are consequence of classic market forces, but I question this. I'm not clear on what Sharon is trying to say about this at all. My strong suspicion is that the optimum solution, after all the smart people have resolved the important issues, is to have a market system modified to avoid things like the so-called 'tragedy of the commons,' as suggested in 'Ecological Economics' by Daly and Farrar. The exact parameters of this optimal solution would however take a lot of research and take a lot longer than 24 hours to figure out, so debating these exact parameters is probably not worth it. If you've read 'Ecological Economics' I'd be interested in your comments on this issue."

    It's true that the market cannot supply the same outputs when inputs are declining, but that's not what I meant to say. Whether a true classical laissez-faire market could do this is an interesting question but my guess is that it might solve the problem but in a very traumatic way.


    "It's true that the market cannot supply the same outputs when inputs are declining, . ." - Keith

    Keith, markets can supply substitutes. This is the fallacy of your economics of poverty. If oil is in short supply, sufficient electricity can be produced to replace it. Peak oil does not mean peak energy. Everybody with an energy story to tell youm be it sun, wind, nuclear, or even geothermal will tell you that.


    I didn't intend my off-hand statement to be the launching point for a controversy about the foundations of economics. I was just agreeing in shorthand with what Dan Browne said, which seems obviously true: "the market cannot continue to produce the same quantity or quality of goods when the inputs are declining."

    If oil is in short supply, the market MAY supply substitutes or find substitutes. ("Quality" may be a technical term here and I plead ignorance. To me electricity is qualitatively different from oil, even though it may provide the same services in some cases.) But on the other hand the market may not find or supply substitutes. This is dependent on empirical circumstances and how well information is being transmitted in the market. Technology may come to the rescue, or it may not.

    If you disagree, then we are in the realm of a theoretical discussion of ecological economics, and you might want to check out "Ecological Economics" by Daly and Farrar. They make a strong, and in my opinion decisive, argument that no a priori assumptions can be made about substitutions, in opposition to statements to the contrary made by neo-classical economists. Are you trying to defend neo-classical economics here? (I'm just not sure of your intent.) Get back to me if you do not find their arguments convincing.

    As I recall, Daly and Farrar say that in a laissez-faire economy and a "tragedy of the commons" situation (which as they correctly point it, is a misnomer, since these resources are not communally owned) you may see in the short term prices which are very volatile and chaotic -- shortages and other unpleasant things. It's not a pretty picture, which I think is the point that Dan Browne was making, too.

    You're not a Charles Barton from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are you? Probably not, just checking. (I'm from Oak Ridge.)


    "You're not a Charles Barton from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are you? Probably not, just checking. (I'm from Oak Ridge.)" - Keith

    Yes I am. I spotted your name in the discussion. Now as to your argument. Since you are from Oak Ridge you really should know better. You are perhaps not aware of Alvin Weinberg's career after he left ORNL. He did some fascinating research in which he explored the future. As far as I can tell, no one has been able to refute his findings and I argue in my nuclear blog ( that his predictions to date have proven highly prophetic. Weinberg's view of a high energy high prosperity future that could extend all people, was predicated on the use of thorium breeding Molten Salt Reactors. (you can read about it in my blog, but an even better source is Energy from Thorium (

    Weinberg argued That given the potential amount of energy that was could be derived from thorium, very low grade or could be profitably mined, that substitution were possible, and that materials could be repeatedly recycled.
    Given the cogency of Weinberg's analysis, I find the view that society faces a collapse because of a scarcity of resources, totally wrong. This view is being propounded by radical Greens, who Patrick Moore descroibes as anti-science, anti-technology, and anti-human.

    There is no rational reason why electricity cannot be generated by non fossil fuel technology. Furthermore, if the alternative is between new technologies and mass hunger, it would be highly irrational to expect that the market and society would settle for mass hunger. The technologies exist, the only question is which one will the market choose. Solar and wind generation potentially can produce energy for hundreds of millions of years. Breeder reactors can produce energy for at least 10,000 years. There is no question that cars and trucks can be powered by electricity. The basic technology exists already, and manufactures are working rapidly to implement improvement. Long range passenger and freight traffic can handled by electrical rail. That technology has existed for over 100 years. I am beginning an assessment of the potential of electrifying agriculture, and find the prospects highly encouraging. We may have to shut down the airlines for short and medium range travel, however.

    I also am also beginning to look at "reactor waste" as a cornicopia of scarce resources.

    Keith, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, for surrendering so quickly to this radical green shit, this mass hysteria.

    Stay in touch. You can contact me through my blogs: Nuclear Green (address above) or bartoncii ( where you will learn the truth about Cloverfield.


    So, I'm surrendering to all this radical green mass hysteria? Whoa Nellie! I've found your e-mail address so maybe we can continue some of this off-line. I found your blog interesting.

    You might want to actually read what I've actually said before labeling ME as "radical green mass hysteria." Don't be such a grump! As I have explicitly and repeatedly said elsewhere, I don't think that it requires the collapse of civilization, or even an energy crisis, for a shift to relocalization to occur. All it requires is getting rid of the current system of agricultural subsidies -- something like what John Edwards is saying, who isn't exactly Mr. Green Mass Hysteria. But no one pays any attention to me, either.

    I've heard about the idea about mining uranium from sea water, and when I mentioned this to some people, they said that it's not the economics that is the problem but the EROEI (energy return on energy invested). Any thoughts on this? Even if the EROEI was slightly positive you'd have a serious infrastructure problem ramping it up. How are plug-in electric hybrids going to help the Sudan? In a 100 years, maybe, but in the meantime people are starving.

    The idea that the free market economy can always generate substitutes is neo-classical economics. The market MAY be able to generate substitutes. You cannot say either way a priori. It worked for modern Europe, which was able to find substitutes for its resource shortages. It didn't work for the Mayan Empire, which collapsed dramatically. Each case is separate, and so is ours.

    The first step is to realize that we have a problem. Whether you are a Kunstlerite or "Nuclear Green," I think we can agree that such a realization has not dawned on even 1 person in 100 in the general public. That is why I'm concerned. As the Hirsch report points out, we need time to prepare.


    Keith, Did you read my rather brief discussion of histoy of agricultural specialization and trade? Localized agricultural economies are likely to be hungry, and impoverished. You ought to look into the history of famine, before you start thinking that relocalization is a good thing.

    As far as I know the Mayan Empire was not based on a market economy. Can you give me a good demand side reason why electric cars would not replace gasoline powered cars if they had good range, speed, had equivalent levels of luxury, and were much cheaper to operate? Of course if there was still a strong market demand for gasoline powered cars, the government could auction a limited number of carbon pollution licenses to the highest bidder for people who wanted to own gasoline powered cars. However, I do not believe that step will be neceded. Plug in EV's are going to take off real fast. From a transportation viewpoint trains are many times more efficient than trucks. Why do we need localization of agriculture, whe food has been shipped around the country by railroad for over 150 years? Shipping by rails saves a ot of fossil fuel. A whole lot. If we want an even smaller carbon foot print, electrifying railroads will work just dandy.

    One of the reasons why I believe so strongly in Molton Salt reactors, is because they require less materials input per MW generated that other nukes. Their stee; an concrete requirements are far less than sind generators or solar arrays.

    I have read a little bit on the basic concepts no Ecological Economics. I see it as a sexed up version of the Club of Rome Study. The basic flaw is that the resources of the earth are basically infinate given enough energy, recycling and the use of substitution. Certain materials may be finite, on the earth, but mining the seas and buring the rocks will give us a lot. In some cases we need only to reprocess mine tailings, to get quite a lot of valuable stuff.

    The earth's climate is quite unstable, and during the last 20,000 years the ecology of North America has changed repeatedly. Trying to create a stable environment is a waste of effort. Look at the history of forrest protection. End the end by protecting forests we only ended up producing bigger forests fires. Soil has been mined, and it needs to be restored. But putting a lot of energy into that project is a lot more useful than putting in a lot of human power.

    I have had quite enough of wrong headed ideas in my life time. Ecological Economics strikes me as another psudoscience that appears to liberal arts graduates who have romantic notions about returning to the soil. The only soil I plan to return to is my grave, and I do not plan to do that any time soon. I am sure that such a trip will be delayed much longer if the you advocates of relocalization don't get your way.

    As for EROEI, is is now highly positive for the reactor business, and growing more so because of new enrichment technologies. With Molten Salt Breeder reactors energy output will grow more than tenfold with no increase in input. In addition the nuclear alchemy of the molten salt reactor is a big plus because with 100% burn up, you get a lot more scarce and valuable byproducts, so there is a truly unbelievable energy harvest. The Molten Salt Reactor is the cornucopia.


    Could you reply and give the link to your brief history of agricultural specialization and trade? Or e-mail me off-line Keith [at] compassionatespirit [dot] com? Off the cuff my response: agriculture today has been cannibalized by industrialism which tends to be centralized. It's not that centralization really boosts agriculture so much as that this is how the industrial system works.

    I haven't studied the economics of the Maya, but a free market economy would not have saved the Mayan Empire. They ran out of land. Nothing from either a free market or a centrally planned economy could have provided land that wasn't there. As Daly and FARLEY (not Farrar, where did I get that?) say, economics is a subsystem of the environment, not the other way around.

    I agree that Plug-in hybrid electric cars will eventually replace conventional cars. It takes about 15 years for the fleet to turn over, so this is not an instant fix. We needed to start producing PHEVs about 15 years ago. But, the good old free market economy kept gas at $10 a barrel, so it was totally "uneconomical."

    I further agree on the need to electrify transport. Nuclear, wind, it doesn't matter. Either way, we need electrified railroads. And relocalization of agriculture is only one thing needed. The biggest and quickest energy savings in agriculture could be realized by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet, which requires no infrastructure change at all. The second most important thing is eating unprocessed foods. A lot of energy in the food system is just for processing. Didn't matter when energy was cheap: it matters now. Third is transportation, and shipping by rail and ship (this would work well for grains and beans) would do just fine, as you point out.

    The problem I see for nuclear, and I'm still waiting to further research Molten Salt Reactors, is uranium or thorium or whatever. Putting aside the question of wastes, aren't we going to have "peak uranium" just like "peak oil"? Mining uranium from sea water may turn out to be sort of like tar sands from Canada or biofuels -- it has, at best, a marginal return and requires huge infrastructure investment.

    Daly and FARLEY's point is just that the human economy is a subset of the environment, whereas neo-classical economics treats it the other way around. This assumption works fine when there are plenty of natural resources relative to your technological level, sort of like Newtonian physics at speeds just a fraction of the speed of light, which is what we deal with mostly here on earth. But you start running into really weird anomalies when resources become scarce, volatile price fluctuations so no one can plan, and in the end the resource depletes and you're stuck. You can develop your technology, but plug in electric hybrids would not have saved the Mayan Empire.

    "Ecological Economics" is completely separate intellectually from Club of Rome, whose general point however about "limits to growth" is well taken. Daly and FARLEY (not Farrar) point out that in the beginning, economics did consider the environment (thinking of Ricardo or Malthus), and so see themselves as returning to the original foundations of economics, with "neo-classical economics" just a recent deviation.


    Even if electricity can replace oil (and I am a fervent believer that nuclear technologies are highly toxic and absent the nuclear options, electricity can NOT replace oil), we would still have a massive task to rewire and reappliance our transportation infrastructure and our homes, respectively.

    Sounds like whether or not we go full speed to nuclear and electricity as an alternative to oil products, that it would best, and perhaps only could be undertaken by a Planned Economy.

    Why not undertake a massive demand side management(and community improvement)program by funding as much possible relocalization, not just for food, but for all necessities and some wants?

    Walkable communities for all would go a long way to making sure that succeeding generations will have sufficient access to fuel.


    I agree. The current automobile fleet turns over in about 15 years, or something like that, right? So even if PHEV cars were available tomorrow, it's 2023 before we've replaced the current ones. It takes a lot of infrastructure. We probably ought to move to electrification of transport. I didn't like big car-centric cities anyway; Jane Jacobs and James Kunstler ("Geography of Nowhere") say much the same thing, I believe.


    Hi Keith,

    If we are going to make the transition to electrified transport, we've got to start immediately (if not sooner). I will reiterate that such a task can and will not be done relying on so-called "free market" resource allocations.

    We've got more to consider than transport, though adopting relocalization (walkable community) strategies would go a long way towards reducing the resources consumed by transport. Currently the USA consumes 20 million barrel equivalents of oil for motorized transport DAILY!!! This is a terrible opportunity cost relative to current and future uses for oil for heating our buildings, producing our food, cooking our food, powering industry, distributing necessities to neighborhoods on a local and regional level, and generating electricity.

    If we were to "go electric" we would also be faced with the massive task of replacing oil and natural gas applications for heating our buildings hot water, industrial heat and machinery, and cooking with electrical "appliances". Again, I don't think that the so-called "free market" can accomplish this.

    I've read Kunstler's three books and looked at Jane Jacob's work. Kunstler does a good job documenting the problem (have you seen the film "The End of Suburbia"?). More work needs to be done in envisioning the solution.

    To me, going nuclear would be a big mistake.

    Workin' for peace and cooperation,

    Mike Morin


    We're in agreement on electrification of transport, the new urbanism, the "free market economy," and the need to start yesterday. Neo-classical economics does not work well with natural resources unless they are abundant. When scarcities (of e. g. oil) arise the system starts to break down.

    "The End of Suburbia" was great. There are some new DVDs out now, "A Crude Awakening," "Crude Impact," and "What a Way to Go." The latter two take some time (not a lot) to discuss agriculture.


    I read "Ecological Economics" and found it really useful. And I'm glad someone is talking about markets finally. I wished for more in Stuarts analysis. He didn't seem to discuss subsidies, which industrial Ag is completely dependent on. It's certainly not a "free" market we're talking about. More like an oilagarchy, that with the rest of Industry is sucking profit out of the rest of us.

    A thought about Markets with a different slant: In their truest sense markets are about trading essential goods and services. And they are about choices. And when people are truly well-informed they can make sound choices. What I see in the growing local food market is suddenly well-informed people choosing to abandon industrial Ag because it produces food that is of low quality, unhealthy, it's a system which destroys communities, and carries a large carbon footprint. Choosing to buy locally produced food empowers farmers, creates relationships between consumers and producers, teaches people about farming and reconnects communities. All these benefits are attracting people like mad to farmers markets and CSA's all over the country. And Industrial Ag is not blind to this. They are trying to coopt it in any way they can. Just look at "Industrial Organic". But people are learning. They understand in a visceral way that relocalizing their market choices is one of the only tools they have left to impact for the good both the climate, the economy, and their communities. They are getting it. I'm not sure Stuart is aware of this force that is appearing and the potential it has of changing the face of Agriculture. I think what Sharon is implying in her work is that there are opportunities to reclaim and take responsibility for our and our communities food security. The looming threats of PO and Climate change add a sense of urgency that fuels motivation. And my observation as a vegetable farmer that sells at a local market is that new levels of well informed motivation are explosive.
    People are getting freaked out and want to do something. Buying local food is something they can do. Starting a garden is something they can do. Going out to the CSA and picking extra tomatoes and canning them is something they can do. Starting a local buying club is something they can do. And what they find is that its a blast and reconnects them with friends and neighbors and then the word spreads like wildfire. Combine the fun of re-localization with some healthy fear and this is how real change happens. It's always from the bottom up. Stuart, I know you buy organic food. What about joining a CSA?

    There has always been a local economy. Market gardens, truck farms, farmers markets, buyers coops, back yard gardens, etc. None of this is new. If this is what "Ecological Economics" and relocalization are all about, this is much a do about nothing. 100 mile food market ranges? Forget them as long as we have railroads, rivers and oceans.

    Resource scarcity? Not as long as we have sun, wind, uranium and thorium, The Japanese have developed technology that allows them to mine uranium from sea water. Ecological costs are none. The economic cost are $100 per pound. That is certainly low enough to sustain a uranium based economy for a very long time. Reactor modified fuel can be recycles. Fission daughter byproducts can be the basis of a new resource economy, one that is sustained by nuclear alchemy. Environmental costs for a nuclear economy none.

    We may have temporary resource shortages in the market. Substitutions may need to be made. But society is not threatened by long term lack of the were with all to make a good life for all people.

    The hysteria stems from people oh limited perspective who ignore technology.


    I'd be interested in a discussion of the EROEI of mining uranium from seawater, but this is beginning to drift off-topic. You need to read or at least look at "Ecological Economics" before thoughtlessly trashing the whole concept. If we want to promote science, we need to first take the time to try to figure out what they're talking about. Daly and Farrar are not "about" relocalization or nuclear power or anything like that. Let's focus on whether relocalization is an appropriate strategy for optimizing resource use (we don't even have to raise the question of shortages).


    I think we are more or less on the same page though I must gently mock your heavy verbiage as clouding what you really want to say.

    I confess I have not read the book you suggest and though I may get round to it at some point, I feel we can have this conversation without it.

    Referring to the tragedy of the commons:
    You are correct the market will not solve this scenario in a continuous way even if there are substitutes.
    There are three scenarios I can think of:
    1. The public goods in the commons are depleting and there is no substitute. (This is the position of the doomers)
    2. The public goods in the common are depleting and there is a partial substitute available. (This is where I believe we are since electricity producing infrastructure is a viable partial substitute)
    3. The public goods in the common are depleting and there is a total substitute available. (This is where the pollyannas believe we are, for example that we could grow enough biofuel to simply run all our cars and infrastructure as-is). I think we have shown on this site that this is impossible.

    I will examine the second stage only since it is the case I believe to be true as evidenced by the data:
    2.1 We do not lack availability of ENERGY we lack availability of high energy density liquid fuels and it cannot be increased any further
    2.2 Energy is available by means of building infrastructure but we will need to do so on such a great scale that we need to be very careful in our use of resources.
    2.3 The major impact of declining liquid fuels will be on discretionary personal transport (note that driving at ALL is discretionary - if you have to choose between taking the bus to work and eating or driving to work and not eating, the choice is simple).
    2.4 Cost is a great factor since the utility of liquid fuels is incorrectly priced.

    Once the utility of liquid fuels is correctly priced it will become worthwhile to start building the infrastructure. It is already happening.
    The problem arises because we may be facing a discontinuity (purchasing power will decline if we fall off the depletion curve) and this will limit the amount of production that gets built to meet the demand.

    Simply put, instead of the demand for the substitute appearing and the market responding to this, the demand may disappear instead.

    The obvious solution to this is non-market intervention on the demand side or if a crisis happens, Keynesian production side intervention.

    France is doing a pretty good job with feebates to encourage people to buy the dinky little two seater EVs. As are the London, England congestion charges.
    Unfortunately these vehicles are nowhere close enough to exact substitutes to make people want to spend their own money and demand would probably disappear (in the currently priced market for oil) without government subsidy.
    The problem would be solved far quicker if there was availability of plug-in hybrids because they are a much closer match to the current vehicles.
    If they can be brought on in sufficient production numbers (and any resource constraints solved) then we could see a less bumpy less discontinous substitution take place as per classical economics.

    Since the market is changing continuously, however and may be about to change discontinously the changeover may not happen since demand will be destroyed instead of met.

    From a market perspective, the market solution would not involve any kind of pump-priming or keynesian actions, it will involve investment decisions by investors hoping to make a return. This involves primarily speculators who will be looking forward to determine whether they think they can make a profit.

    Clearly, speculators think they can make a profit by building wind turbines.
    Some speculators, in addition, think they can make a profit by building electric vehicles and plug-in vehicles.
    The question that arises, then is this:
    Is the level of investment forthcoming enough to be able to produce the expected necessary production to solve the entire problem of substitution or will it only do so partway?
    The next question that arises is theoretical:
    If the investment forthcoming will only produce a partway solution, will the gap cause the system itself to collapse and thus increase the risk of investment to an unpalatable level so high that investors would rather invest in "safe" options such as oil stocks or gold. If this is the case then we need a non-market intervention to create enough incentives that we meet the minimum necessary level of investment to ensure the system does not collapse.

    Dan Browne, you are unreasonably pessimistic about the substitutability of liquid fuel. Rapid advances in battery and capacitor technology do not justify such pessimism. Battery powered trip ranges of up to 600 miles have been predicted within ten years. With such increases in electrical storage, luxuries like air condition will be common with electric cars.

    I at present foresee a serious problem with the withdrawal of liquid fuels from aor travel. While this might be a problem for the air transportation industry. it is hardly an impossible problem for the national and world economies. We can substitute high spped electric trains for air transportation nationally. Who wants to see Europe anyway?

    You claim "The public goods in the common are depleting and there is a total substitute available. (This is where the pollyannas believe we are, for example that we could grow enough biofuel to simply run all our cars and infrastructure as-is). I think we have shown on this site that this is impossible."

    Betting on biofuels to come in last hardly takes genius. But looking at lead acid battery powered cars and thinking that they are the last word in electrical powered personal transportation, now that is just plain dumb. Not every attempt at substitution will work, but substitutes will grow better over time.

    I hope you are right.
    My position is that I am relieved that I have concluded finally that we are not facing dieoff unless the governments of the world either screw up everything (ethanol vs food for example) or believe the olduvai theory and try to fight for the last dregs of oil.
    I believe that finally over the last couple years, the world has started to take steps to mitigate (albeit slowly). I believe that delays in getting production of plug-in hybrids in sufficient volume coupled with the likelihood of a recession will wipe out a lot of demand when depletion comes knocking at the door. I believe that the economy and agriculture has a floor under it and that the cities will not degenerate into mad-max nightmares because quite frankly, people will be able to take the bus.
    I believe that at least some western governments are prepared and willing to take necessary steps to herd the people in the right direction which is towards efficiency and substitutes and that this could work out over the next decade and that in the 2020s we could already have a wealthy sustainable world wide economy rising from the ashes of the oil age.

    I believe however that the next decade is going to be the hardest decade mankind has faced since the 1930s and I hope we choose to stare into the brink of the precipice of war and greed and step back.

    It is going to take a few more years before we get it together. Peak oil is going to bring thins go. The true day of reckoning is not far off. At that point we, as a society will begin to make major decisions.


    The discussion by Daly and Farrar of this is quite interesting and they've written about this in their textbook and elsewhere. They are saying some of the same things you are, but in more depth, so I'd encourage you to take a look. I've read the book and need to read it again, thoroughly.

    The first problem I have is whether oil really constitutes a "commons." Daly and Farrar point out that what it is in the "commons" of which there is supposed to be a "tragedy" [Garrett Hardin] is actually not communally owned, or owned by anyone, and that's part of the problem. But oil seems to function as a "commons" in this way: everyone just goes after it as quickly as they can.

    As I recall, they refer somewhere (either in their text or elsewhere in some of their papers) to people who try to model what happens to the price of a resource in the "commons." What they found is essentially that the price is stable for a long time and then when shortages appear, there is high volatility. The price will shoot up, then collapse, and so forth, and it's extremely disruptive to the economy, and in the end the resource is depleted.

    The government intervention which you point out that some countries are taking, is actually a move to take this good out of the "commons" and regulate it in some rational way. Without this intervention, there will NOT be the investment forthcoming to produce the necessary substitutions. What will happen instead is something like what you are seeing now with the disappearance of the solar PV tax credit. With the initial tax credit, there's a rush to go to solar, then the price of oil collapses, and there's a recession (as we're seeing now), and Congress doesn't extend the credit (which has already happened), and then (I fear) solar will not get the investment that it needs.

    Incidentally (Charles, are you paying attention?) this argument which Daly and Farrar make applies even if you are nuclear advocate. If oil becomes very volatile it becomes difficult to invest rationally in anything, whether it's uranium, wind, solar PV, electrification of transit, or whatever.


    Keith, governments are not going to intervien in disorderly markets, or allocate in the case of scarcities? Look at fuel rationing in World War II, ant that was a response to a scarcity of rubber! Look st world war price control measures.


    I think we're in agreement here. Of course governments will and should manage in case of shortages and disorderly markets. However, per the Hirsch report, to really manage the shortages we needed to realize that we had a problem about, oh, say, 1985. But we couldn't do that then because of the good old market economy which dropped the price of oil to about $10 a barrel at one point.

    The reference to the authors of Ecological Economics should be Daly and Joshua FARLEY, not Farrar. Not sure where I got that.


    Keith is is very worthwhile to look at World War II ratiioning. Society mobilizes in perceived crises. We have not reached general public perception of the global warming/peak oil crisis yet. I do not expect that we will reach the point of mobilization for a few more years. My best guess is 2012,

    Astyk says this as a riposte to Saniford???
    Or is she trying to show herself as a literary bumkin?

    "Why focus on this? Staniford (sic) invokes his own training as a scientist in his essay. I will only invoke mine as a scholar of language and narrative – the way we tell the story and the words we use shape our thinking. Staniford has a history of unbiased analysis, but this post is overladen with the language of bias in ways that I think are intellectually unproductive."

    Language and narrative are the tools of the novelist and peeyar person, Sharon.

    Astyk then openly exposes her muddleheaded literary training.

    "I think there are two deep problems with the questions that Staniford chooses to ask. The first is what I’m going to call “the fallacy of overtly linear thinking” (just for the purpose of identifying a cool fallacy). And it might best be illustrated by analogy."

    Ms Astyk had better get some "linear thinking" before she takes on the problems of the planet.

    I'm sorry but you've lost me. While the length of the article is impressive, it is so long and waffles on too much attacking Sturat Staniford, that it doesnt really get to any point. I really feel that this argument is a waste of time. Relocalization or new localization will have to happen if peak oil causes massive changes in transport. There is so much more to localization than food production. I grew up in acountry city surrounded by farmland and agricultural production in the 70s and 80s and we still bough our food from the supermarket, even though much of it was from local farms. Kunstlers 3000 mile caesar salad may be doomed but I still think largish scale and more diversifeid agriculture closer to populations centres wil be with us for some time yet.

    This is a guest post by Sharon Astyk... a writer with two forthcoming books about peak oil and climate change... Her writings can be found at

    Having struggled through the semantic icing that secreted the substance (admittedly not reading every word...), I find her blogpost victim of the same interminable style and the "so-whats?" patterns as her essay.

    Technique critique aside, a quick search on Amazon reveals:

    • 40,375 entries on "climate change"
    • 27,563 on "global warming" AND
    • 1,375 on "peak oil"

    Do we really need two more books on those subjects? Will Astyk's books be published in ink and paper or exclusively as ebooks (hopefully)?

    Her book is called "A Nation of Farmers". I believe it's about farming. As there have been about 5 billion posts in the last 4 seconds on this site about agriculture, perhaps her chosen subject is a timely one. I'm for one am gonna buy it.

    It's settled then; her first book on Peak Oil isn't even worth a mention!

    The use of "5 billion posts in the last 4 seconds" hyperbole isn't sound judgment even as a metaphor!

    [Since her first book isn't even worth a mention, and her supporters' comments lack... then her second book must be...]

    BTW, another quick search at Amazon revealed:

    • On "farming" 137,567 entries
    • On "a nation of farmers" 2,597 entries.

    The analysis is completely flawed.
    It is based on the premise that there is some connection between food and money.
    It is based on the premise that there is some connection between energy and money.
    It is based on the premise that there is some connection between resources and money.

    Money is not real, it is a human construct, a belief system, a myth, the "new" religion. It is in no way connected to this world we live in yet we use it to measure our every action. Please show one physics formula that has the $ sign (or your currency of choice) in it. We are controlled by the laws of physics, not money. Relocalisation is inevitable for those that remain in the very near future (<50yrs)

    Got soil, got water. Got food.

    This post was too long.

    However, I would like to focus on the discussion of Staniford's term reversalism as a response to advocates of relocalization.

    It is the wrong re word.

    Better words are reformation, reorganization, reallocation, restructuring, and of course reducing.


    Little to no beneficial changes will occur without almost a religious change from the paradigm of economic growth and standard of living to one that emphasizes community redevelopment and quality of life. This is an educational component of an alternative ecological economic plan.


    If we can be successful and realize the educational/reform component, the next step is to reorganize our economic systems to one of cooperative (or at least partially so - we may have to compromise on the divide between one dollar/one vote and one person/one vote as the dominant paradigm of economic organization)communitarian local and regional economic entities.


    We need coordinated regionl planning entities that agree on the fundamental mission of a global ecological economy that have the two basic pillars of sustainability and equity. These "planning" agencies would work together to determine how resources are allocated to and within communities based on the relocalization paradigm and other governing principles.


    Communities will need to be physically rebuilt to make them walkable (i.e. new urbanism, building community centers making necessities available to all within walking distance of their homes). Included in such a plan will be neighborhood work stations where office workers could telecommute in their occupations as we transition from a Capitalist economy to a Socialist one.


    Reduce, reuse, recycle.

    Workin' for peace and cooperation,

    Mike Morin