Jamais Cascio: Finding a Little Comfort Fifteen Minutes into the Future

After a day like today--I feel like I have been on a herky-jerky roller coaster for ten hours straight--I think we need some comforting thoughts. Jamais Cascio, someone I respect greatly, obliges:


My thoughts under the fold.

One of the hardest things to grapple with as a futurist is the sheer banality of tomorrow.

We live our lives, dealing with everyday issues and minor problems. Changes rarely shock; more often, they startle or titillate, and very quickly get folded into the existing cultural momentum. Even when big events happen, even in the worst of moments, we cope, and adapt. This is, in many ways, a quiet strength of the human mind, and a reason for hope when facing the dismal prospects ahead of us.

But futurism, at least as it's currently presented, is rarely about the everyday. More often, futurists tell stories about how some new technology (or political event, or environmental/resource crisis, etc.) will Change Your Life Forever. From the telescopic perspective of looking at the future in the distance, they're right. There's no doubt that if you were to jump from 2008 to 2028, your experience of the future would be jarring and disruptive.

But we don't jump into the future -- what we think of now as the Future is just an incipient present, very soon to become the past. We have the time to cope and adapt. If you go from 2008 to 2028 by living every minute, the changes around you would not be jarring; instead, they'd largely be incremental, and the occasional surprises would quickly blend into the flow of inevitability.

There is some comfort in that the frog shall boil ever so slowly until it is cooked, I suppose. The rest of his piece is very much worth reading... Discuss it here, discuss it there, I don't care.

Whatever you do, take some solace in your resiliency and your wisdom--and remember, you have a chance to adapt and do good in this world if you want to. We all have much to learn.

Margaret Wheatley relates how a colleague explained to her why it is lonely for the so-called pioneers, or fringe visionaries. It is always lonely for the person who arrives first in the future.

I know that feeling oh so well. I get it every day when I walk to work, as one SUV or truck after another zips past me.

The ability to adapt depends on the rate of change.

I would also add the ability to adapt depends on the flexibility of the person or people adapting. Chance also plays a role in the ability to adapt (i.e. living in New Orleans vs. Galveston when Katrina hit).

Adapatability requires rapid cycling through the observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop. Further, change requires a reservoir of personal energy which can only be established by de-investing in the current paradigm. It takes energy to observe, energy to decide, and energy to act - particularly when resistance is encountered.

At the risk of sounding trite we are already living the future. As many have pointed out we are probably into Kunstler’s long emergency. We are much caught up in the events and numbers involved in the crisis, and they are all so incremental, that we don’t see them as part of our future being transformed into our history. If the future is really history in reverse we go from asking “Where were you when ...?” to “Where will you be when ...?” We are looking for those monumental future events that will form history’s sign posts. These events will likely occur but will hopefully be separated by long stretches of boring detail. Many commentators on TOD make the mental leap to the transformed future but skip the transition phase, probably because this period is the hardest to define and perhaps because we all suspect it will be a terrible time. Jeffery Brown’s exhortation to ELP is probably the best approach to preparing for this transition phase. It leaves the definition of each term: economise; localize; produce, for each of us to define depending upon our specific circumstances. However ELP offers no guarantees but simply a way to do some practical useful preparation for generally unspecified events. Unfortunately we will also have to make another decision from time to time as our future unfolds. That decision will be to choose between Fight or Flight. Being a Canadian I am trying to implement ELP and to keep my stick on the ice.

The time has come to stock up on gold and lead.
Forget changing other peolpe`s minds because it`s too late.
Most of us are going to have to grow our own food, and that SUCKS.

One of These will come in handy.

the propane burner and Ag. fuel/energy to make the feedstock (corn)make it an energy looser.

Raise a little corn (you can plant a couple of seeds, can't you) harvest it by hand, and replace the propane with corn cobs/stover.

Ya gotta think (the apocalypso is a'comin, man.)

Also, if you got any left over you can put it in the car. :)

The 25 Gallon Stock pot looks damn useful

Get real. There's only 16.7 kJ/g of energy in corn stover. That's not enough to run the distillation process, even at 80% combustion efficiency of biomass. You'd need external energy.

You get real; you're not going to distill ALL of your corn. You've gotta save some for the cow, and the chickens, and the corn-fired stove. You'll have Tons, literally, of cobs, and stover left over.

I can't believe my eyes. People are actually considering ethanol in posts at TOD. You don't have to make your own. Just buy some.

EROEI is irrelevant. It is the conversion of energy to a useful form that matters. Liquid fuel for transport is the problem. The infrastructure of cars etc., the distribution system, and the production system are in place for corn ethanol.

Ethanol has a higher utility and saves energy when compared to feeding corn to animals or exporting it so foreigners can feed it to animals or make ethanol out of it.

Anti ethanol arguments are based on fallacious logic. Ethanol benefits humanity. It's amazing how obvious it becomes as gas rises to $4 and beyond.

Anti ethanol arguments are based on fallacious logic. Ethanol benefits humanity.

I'll have to unlearn everything study I've read about ethanol so that I can reset my thinking in this manner. I can't for the life of me believe I had thought otherwise...

In my part of the country, people have been distilling ethanol from corn for centuries! :-)

"Most of us are going to have to grow our own food, and that SUCKS"

Who told you that growing your own food sucks?

Or are you just afraid of living simply ??

"Who told you that growing your own food sucks?

Or are you just afraid of living simply??"

Yeah right. I have a friend, married, 60 year old female, her husband slightly older. She has decided to grow her own food, to keep her hubby busy and to have food that don't come from China or some place that fertilizes with poison...anyway, she sure can't break up a garden by hand, so she went out and bought a tiller...and now she has food growing...lots of corn because they love corn on the cob, but there is no good way to store corn on the cob except to freeze it...so she is shopping for a new freezer, with enough room to store her frozen garden veggies...let's see, a tiller is less efficient than a lawn mower, and studies show that using a mower for an hour is equal in greenhouse gas emissions to running your car for 6 hours, and we live in a coal fired state, so the the combination of just that is really going to improve the global warming situation, and the little exercise in home growing has surely proven to be an energy efficient episode...now we await the first ambulance trip for the hubby when he attempts to do some weeding of the garden spot on a fine hundred degree day in the middle of July...ohhh the joys of an energy efficient simpler life...you folks really do live in a fantasy world, don't you?


I agree ... anyone growing corn on the cob for there own food supply are in fantacy land.

But some HAVE grown there own food. Maybe you can talk to them to see if "it sucks"

I/we did it for over 12 years and enjoyed it . One of the problems was that there was no one else doing it , and no one else has done it in the US, so it was frowned upon as being peasant work

Americans see growing food as a lowly mexican peasant lifstyle.


I grew up on my grandfathers farm, where he had a garden that was used in earlier years to feed seven children, and he raised and slaughtered his own pigs, chickens and cows. I didn't know what store bought "pastuerized and homogenized" milk tasted like until I was well into my teens.

The garden, ahhh, the garden. I can still remember the sheer exhaustion, the insect bites, and the unbelievable heat 35 years later, and not with glee I might add.

People I met who had grown up in the city would say "that's got to be great living in the country, hunt and fish anytime you want to"...I (nor any of my uncles) hunted or fished growing up...there was simply no time for that. My uncle now lives in the city, and is retired from a good job...he can go hunting and fishing on the retirement money from a professional job that only life in the city could have bought him. He had no medical insurance in his growing up years, and no prospects for leisure time or "retirement".

There is a big difference between "hobby" gardening and growing food simply because you have no choice. I have done both. A hobby garden is fun in it's own way. A subsistance garden and livestock for the purposes of survival are work that is demanding mind numbing work for even the young. For the average demographic of the baby boom generation, it would be a death sentence.

It must be said in fairness however, that if you can find the young labor to do it, farm grown food, from the real milk and butter to the fresh chicken, beef and vegetables are a taste of HEAVEN. :-) The prefab stuff I have lived on in my adulthood is GARBAGE by comparison!


A subsistance garden and livestock for the purposes of survival are work that is demanding mind numbing work for even the young. For the average demographic of the baby boom generation, it would be a death sentence.

Then they'll have to find some other way to obtain sustenance.

I've heard at least as many positive stories of growing your own food, as negative ones. If you don't want to do it, don't do it, but don't claim that it's a hard tedious life, because others will disagree. It all depends on what sort of land you have, what tools you have, what techniques you use and your attitude. It can get easier, over the years, depending on many of these factors.

How much did your grandfather produce for the market?

buy a generator. Run it, and the tiller on the corn likker.

Give Hubby a shot of whiskey every morning (good for the heart,) and feed some of the mash to the cow (you're gonna have a cow, right,) and use the rest for fertilizer.

Did I miss anything?

Maybe your friends could invest in something like this and have the local students run it?

I think what really sucks is people who won't let go of the past. BTW when I lived in colder climes I personally new an old geezer who scoffed at some local kids who offered to shovel the snow from his driveway for a few bucks then went out and attempted to do the job himself. Yep, he ended up in the hospital with a heart attack, now that was stupid and arrogant of him wouldn't you say.

Which just goes to show how utterly clueless and helpless so many people are.

First, PLAN before you dig and plant. Figure out what you are going to need, and especially how you are going to manage and preserve the harvest. One thing you especially want to do is stretch out your harvest over as many months as possible rather than have it all coming on at once. Thus, I plant three varieties of sweet corn - early, midseason, and late - rather than just planting all of one variety, all at once. Lettuce is planted in succession throughout the year. For cabbage family plants, I have both a spring and a fall crop. Several crops - parsnips, salsify, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, swiss chard, collards - can be left in the garden under heavy mulch most of the winter. A cold frame will also extend the growing season into winter for many greens. Many things - winter squash, potatoes, apples, etc. - do well in cold storage; a root cellar is ideal, but there are other alternatives.

There are better alternatives than freezing. I do a lot of canning. I am not sure it is an energy saver compared to freezing, but I don't have to worry about keeping power to the freezer. I personally prefer canned corn to frozen corn on the cob, if corn is out of season; you can do more with it, too, in casseroles, etc. Dehydration is a good option for beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and some other crops. Fermentation works for cabbage, cucumbers, etc.

As for digging the garden, I hate rotary cultivators (even the top quality Troy Bilts). I do all my digging with a Brazilian Azada, which is a type of grub hoe. It makes quick, non-back-breaking work of any digging or cultivating job. I don't need to worry about gas to fuel the thing, either.

As for weeding, do it in the early morning, not in the heat of the day. And you need to mulch very heavily, not just to cut way down on the weeds but also to conserve moisture in the soil.

These people probably needed to spend a little time at their county extension office and in the public library and online first. But that raises an important point: if you wait until the crisis is upon you and you are in panic mode, what chance is there of you learning all that you need to learn to make sure that you do the right things and not the wrong things? This, IMHO, is one of the strongest arguments for getting ahead of the curve, and making those adaptations to a lower energy (and probably lower income/wealth) future NOW, before you absolutely have to. Doing it now gives you the time to make some mistakes and to learn from them, without it being too much of a disaster. A great many people, unfortunately, are depriving themselves of that luxury by endulging in other luxuries now.

First PLAN what staple food you would eat almost on a daily basis .. Wheat , potatoes , etc
Then how much you need for a year (till the next crop comes in)

Raising tomatoes or sweet corn is not going to give your calories.

Scrap foods that require refrigeration

Only Potatoes!
Wheat grains are too small and need too much processing...

Dry corn is the grain of the americas and that is what we grew and ate on a daily basis as people have for centuries along with beans, squash and greens etc

Societies have lived for centuries on corn and tomatoes - they managed. Getting sufficient protein without raising and killing animals is a harder trick.

Instead of animals ... olive oil , almonds , beans etc for protein. Thats what we did.

I don't know who "we" is, but I've not seen any olives around here and wild almonds contain enough cyanide to be poisonous. Meat is the way to go for calories and protein.


There is some comfort in that the frog shall boil ever so slowly until it is cooked.

Except that this is a popular myth, the frog jumps out of the water as it heats, given the chance.

remember, you have a chance to adapt and do good in this world if you want to.

Or maybe you will suffer a massive stroke tonight and die in your sleep... It seems very naive to suggest that intention is sufficient. Circumstances beyond the individuals will I would imagine mostly determine "adaptation". It's also very difficult for many to see "the good" in the general, rather than personal sense, let alone have the discernment to be correct, and to go on to act, in my opinion.

John Milton:

Or maybe you will suffer a massive stroke tonight and die in your sleep...

Paradise Lost anyone?

I think there might be some disappointments and discontinuities in our future. Banal and gradual are very much to be hoped for.

Some of these articles are becoming positively dizzy with their own sense of perspicacity.

O.K. Mamba, I am assuming your in "high ironic" mode...:-)

A few rays of light, some wealthy donors, and a small community in Africa gained the hope brought by a technology that supports some of life's basic needs:


(Sorry, it's a bit long...but worth the read if I do say so myself...I do know it was very Therapeutic to write anyway. As I often have said, brevity is for bumper stickers.)

In 1974, I was a freshman in high school. I had a one hour “study hall” that was more of a “time burning” hour than a study hour, taken simply because the school had no classes that a freshman could qualify to take at that time of day. At least that is how it started.
The classroom was normally used by a Sociology class, and the sociology instructor had chosen to use as his central reading assignment the newly printed to paperback book “The Third Wave” by Alvin Toffler. For those who may remember, the paperback edition was printed with covers in various pastel colors, almost an ode to the “psychedelic” sixties, very eye catching. The curiosity got to me, and I pulled a copy from the classroom bookshelf just to see what was going on. This was my introduction to “futurist” writing, and there began my lifelong fascination with the future, with sociology, with history, and with cultural anthropology, in other words, with why cultures exist at all and why they change in the ways they do.

1974 was a momentous year. The Western developed nations were in the depths of an energy crisis, a recession, and potentially on the eve of being drawn into war in the Persian Gulf. Israel was coming off a war in the region, and potentially facing more war. The U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia was strained to the breaking point by the recent Saudi oil embargo, and Saudi Arabia was distrusted by many, viewed as no longer to be considered a reliable supplier of oil to the U.S. The U.S. was turning more to our Canadian and Mexican neighbors for oil.

Vast new oil producing areas were being discussed, but these areas were offshore. Many people including policy makers and even oil production specialists felt that these areas would never produce reliable and affordable supplies of oil. The potential fields were located in areas of some of the challenging weather, located where no real infrastructure existed. An oil industry would have to be built from scratch. If the North Atlantic did indeed have vast quantities of oil (which many doubted) it would take decades to build the industry to extract it.

As the 1970’s progressed, the situation was only to get worse. In the middle of the decade, the vehicle of the hip young had been the “custom van”. Decked out inside with everything from full bars to shag carpeting and water beds, some even had TV sets onboard. These were notorious fuel hogs, heavy with poor aerodynamics and requiring large engines to move with any level of acceptable performance. But the owners of these vehicles were certain that the worst of the energy crisis would soon be over, so they held on, at least for awhile.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter became President. He was being advised by the CIA that any potential finds of large new oil were behind us. With the Iranian revolution, the American purchase of Iranian oil ended, still true to this day. The Iraqi’s, encouraged by the West, invaded Iran, leading to a long and bloody war, and at times the stoppage of tanker traffic through the Persian Gulf. When the war finally ground to a stop, two major oil producing nations were war damaged and burdened with debt.

The worst was still in front of us. With the Iranian hostage crisis, oil prices went wild. The use of the words “super spike” became commonplace. Inflation, interest rates and unemployment were in the double digits, and news articles discussed the possibility of “hyper inflation” of the type seen in South America. The stock market indexes had been flat since the start of the decade, now flat for 8 years, while interest on CD’s and bonds was double digit. Many considered the stock markets a fool’s game. The age of “capital growth” was essentially over it was said, with one famous article proclaiming “The death of equities”.

The full effect of the combined emergencies hit in 1979. The full implication of real oil shortages became clearly visible to the public. The gas lines at the pump set off waves of panic buying, which only made matters worse. There were reports of shootings and assaults at gas stations, and house fires and fatalities caused by people trying to store gasoline in closets in homes, and even under beds in small apartments. Almost no one could see a way out. U.S. oil production had been declining since 1970 and was still falling. The U.S. relationship with Iran was on the edge of war, and Saudi Arabia was viewed as hostile to American interests. U.S. allies in Europe and Japan were suffering even worse than the U.S. with rationing of heating and in some countries in Europe, even electric power was available for only part of the day.

The press was full of alternatives. National Geographic had numerous articles on solar energy and wind power, with magnificent artist impressions of giant concentrating mirror systems, and towers of multiple windmills taller than the World Trade Center. General Motors was showing it’s “Electri-Vette”, a fully electric Chevette with a claimed range of over 100 miles. GM was assuring the customer it would be for sale no later than the mid 1980’s. Briggs & Stratton Corp. in conjunction with the Canadian electric delivery truck maker Marathon constructed the first “hybrid” automobile. It had six wheels (two in front and four in rear to carry the weight of the heavy lead acid batteries) and a small Briggs & Stratton gasoline engine. It was a “serial hybrid”, using the electric motor for propulsion and the gasoline engine only to recharge the batteries, and was by design a “plug hybrid” although no one thought to call it that. Gasoline mileage was claimed to be 85 miles per gallon or more, but there were doubts about the ability of the batteries to take the constant charge and discharge cycles without failing.

Airlines were being merged, and many were facing bankruptcy. In the early 1980’s, Richard and Burt Rutan displayed the “Starship”, an executive class airplane with pusher propellers, streamlined design, and advanced composite construction. It was claimed to be 30% more fuel efficient than conventional aircraft and was seen as the future of the industry. Beech actually manufactured a small series of the aircraft, but the cost of production was prohibitive unless oil prices stayed very high.

People had now suffered through a decade long recession by the time Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. Oil prices were by far higher than they had ever been. The once hip “custom vans” were in junkyards or up on concrete blocks behind the house or garage. Japanese cars such as Honda, Toyota and Datsun, once rare, were now selling in record numbers, while American firms such as Cadillac, Ford, Chrysler and Lincoln were suffering terrible losses, some with unsold vehicles that were already two years old. People were paying astronomical prices for woodstoves to combat the high cost of heating oil.

The price of commodities of all types were higher than they had ever been. Metals, farm commodities, and food prices were higher than they had ever been and inflation was still raging. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker began a policy to break the back of inflation once and for all. With interest rates already high, he raised them. Again and again, Volcker raised interest rates. Pain in the economy increased, unemployment increased, and the stock market slid downward even further. Many in Congress were calling for Volcker to be removed, impeached if need be, or laws changed to permit his removal. By 1982, the economic pain had become almost unbearable. The length and depth of the recession had broken many firms, some of them with long histories as pillars of American industrial might, such as Allis Chalmers Corp. and International Harvester. American Motors, the smallest of the U.S. automakers disappeared.

Many economists felt that Volcker and Reagan were pursuing a policy that was totally ineffective. After all, Volcker’s approach was monetary. The problem was seen by many as structural. Energy supplies were not going to grow to any great degree, they argued, and American industry could not compete with the lower cost producers of Japan and Korea. Many experts and most projections were calling for gasoline in the $4 to $5 dollar range by the mid to late 1980’s, and only higher by end of the century. The belief was that oil would be for all purposes unaffordable by 2000. Many cities were planning or building light rail systems and blocking off whole sections of downtown areas as “pedestrian malls”. Architects such as Michael and Judy Corbett were designing and building “sustainable” neighborhoods with narrow streets, pedestrian walks and bikeways and plenty of room for gardens to grow food locally in the neighborhood. Young high school graduates were marrying and building their first home, and many of these in poorer areas of the country were “basement homes”, because they could be heated with a wood stove and because they could be built cheaply and without borrowing. Borrowing at double digit interest rates was almost impossible for the young.

In the summer of 1982, with doom projected for the future of the United States, with no advance warning, the price of gasoline at the pump began to drop. Almost no one had noticed that crude oil prices were already beginning to decline. There was no internet in those days to count daily price and monthly barrels of oil production, although Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Jobs were already at work on the future. Most people believed that the price drop was temporary, and the trend to massively more expensive oil would continue. But the price continued to drop, and the price drop began to accelerate. The stock market, which was at a bottom that was lower than it had been 11 years earlier, began to rise, and the rise began to accelerate. Many potential investors who had grown up in the decade long recession dismissed the option of investing in the stock markets. They had seen mirages before, better to stay with CD’s or bonds, at least you got some money back. But the market continued to rise, the oil price continued to fall, and even in the face of falling prices, oil production began to recover from what had been a 5 year valley, although they would not recover to the old high production levels of the 1970’s until the early 1990’s!

Was it a mirage, or could it be that the recovery was at hand? Could there really be the possibility that oil and gasoline prices would drop? The old rule had been “the oil companies raise prices, and once they see we will pay them, they will never reduce them.” Could oil prices actually go down?

When looking for the future, sometimes it is the small cultural items that signal a paradigm shift, a turn of epic proportions. For me, it was two items in the media that harkened the end of the catastrophic 1970's:

The first was a syndicated article in the “lifestyle” section of a newspaper. The article asked what type of automotive vehicle the “ultra rich” preferred? You would think it would be Rolls Royce or Mercedes luxury cars, the article said, or perhaps limousines with chauffer. If you believe that you would be wrong, said the article. The vehicles preferred by the ultra rich are trucks, or what are called SUV’s. These are exempt from the CAFÉ laws mandating fuel economy, and they are great for going to the country with children, grandchildren, dogs and luxury gear. They are great for hunting trips, and ski vacations. The chic’ vehicle among the ultra rich, not the pretenders but the REAL wealthy class are GM Suburbans, and fully outfitted Jeep Grand Cherokees. It was not long after such articles were published that the sale of SUV’s began to increase. Ford began planning a vehicle for the customer who wanted to ape the super wealthy. The highways began to fill with upmarket trucks for the “pseudo wealthy” class. As stock markets and investment returns improved, the class of pseudo wealthy began to grow very fast.

The second item was a feature on “60 Minutes” the CBS newsmagazine TV program. The feature had a “60 Minutes” journalist going to Italy to drive a Lamborghini Countach:

This car was designed in 1971, just before the energy crisis and long recession hit the Western world. For over a decade, this most radical design had existed in relative obscurity, known only to exotic car enthusiasts and built by an obscure Italian supercar maker in very small numbers, sometimes only a few dozen a year. The car has a 12 cylinder engine of fantastic horsepower (in most tunings over 500) and the car is capable of almost insane performance, with top speeds claimed over 200 miles per hour.

In the 1970’s the notoriously liberal “60 Minutes” would have humiliated Lamborghini for building this car, and would have shamed anyone who would have been willing to purchase this obvious perk of the ultra rich, this destroyer of the environment, this heinous monstrosity consuming rare and needed liquid fuel. Those of us familiar with “60 Minutes” prepared to see Lamborghini and everything about them and their customers slandered and shamed. When the program was over, we were certain of one thing: No self respecting modern American would be caught DEAD in this car even if they could afford it.

The feature article began, and praised was given to the craftsmanship of the Italian auto builders. O.K., they are setting them up, who can protest hand craftsmanship and the heritage of the Italian artiste?

And then the praise continued…the car was fast, very FAST, and this was seen as a good thing…it was loud, but this was seen as an “operatic experience”, it was “over the top”, it was an adrenaline rush, it was the epitome of going for the max…it was a tribute to the human desire to exceed all boundaries!

By the time the show was over, millions who had seen “60 Minutes” that night dreamed of a Lambo!

Not everyone was happy however. “60 Minutes” was buried in mail over the next week decrying the shows complete abandonment of values that were the mantra of the 1970’s, values such as fuel efficiency, such as reduced pollution, such as the absolute belief that the world was short of materials and energy. The car was a slap in the face to all of the “old” 1970’s values, and a statement against the liberal ideas of equality of wealth and avoidance of conspicuous consumption. But it was obvious that by the early 1980’s the belief in restrained consumption was dead. And Lamborghini, a tiny Italian firm which was on the edge of bankruptcy only a few years earlier became the automotive equivalent of Studio 54 and Rolex in the 1980’s. The new mantra would be if you can afford it CONSUME IT and if you can consume it FLAUNT IT.

For many of us who were still certain that we had been right, the changed reality of the new decade did not prove easily accepted. We were still certain that this was a temporary reprieve from reality, a “last hurrah” party that would soon end. Oil production would soon begin to fall again, and the economy would tighten. We stayed with interest bearing investments, distrustful of the stock markets. We consumed little. We bought cheap Diesel cars or tiny fuel efficient cars, and bought them used.

We watched many of our friends become rich, sitting on growing 401K plans and living in large luxury homes. We saw the wives of the newly pseudo rich in designer clothes and flashy cars or giant SUV’s while the wives and girlfriends of the 1970’s minded frugal poor did without, and then finally often left their “gloomy” husbands and boyfriends behind, explaining “I have got to LIVE, we are being left out and I am not getting any younger.” For those aging boomers now living alone with little in the way of savings or property, the pain of knowing what they missed because they stayed with the values of the 1970's can at times be almost unbearable.

The mood was captured in popular culture, in movies such as Lawrence Kasden’s “The Big Chill” the 1983 film that pits the late 1960’s early 1970’s zeitgeist against the entrepreneurial wealthy 1980’s, and in songs such as the Bellemy Brother’s “Old Hippie”, still popular in bars throughout the U.S.:

He turned thirty-five last Sunday (recall this was written in the early 1980's)
In his hair he found some gray

But he still ain't changed his lifestyle
He likes it better the old way

So he grows a little garden in the back yard by the fence

He's consuming what he's growing nowadays in self defense
He get's out there in in the twilight zone
sometimes when it just don't make no sense

He's an old hippie
and he don't know what to do
should he hang on to the old
should he grab on to the new
he's an old hippie
his new life is just a bust
he ain't trying to change nobody
he just trying real hard to adjust

For many, the adjustment came too late. By the time we realized that we had lived through the greatest wealth producing period in history, we had missed it. By the time we realized that the crisis was over, it was starting to return. And again, we are hearing all the same things. This time it REALLY IS over. There will be no rescue this time, there will be no North Sea, there will be no technology…THIS TIME IT’S DIFFERENT.

Many of us feel comfortable in this crisis. While the rest of the world went off and enjoyed a gilded age, we have lived in the certainty of crisis most of our adult lives. It was a certainty to us 35 years ago and all the years since. We are being told it is a certainty now. Our belief in the certainty of crisis and collapse has already done us more damage than the real crisis and collapse can easily do to us. We can now watch the future with detached bemusement, and know only one thing for certain: What a sheer folly it is to think we can know anything for certain.

Roger Conner Jr

So, uhh... is there going to be a little correction and an entry point for commodities and oil here soon? Or is it just going on a rocket ride to Alpha Centauri?

My 401K wants to know.

Commodities other than oil are largely down from their peaks, and the coming depression at the back end of the year should further knock them back.
The falls should be limited though by the input of oil and gas into costs.
Oil itself could experience sharp rises and falls if the analogy to the peak in whale oil holds good, with wide swings in prices at peak.

In reference to article by ThatsItImout

This time it REALLY IS over. There will be no rescue this time, there will be no North Sea, there will be no technology…THIS TIME IT’S DIFFERENT.

There may be several new readers who ask - "Why will it be different this time ??"

This is my reply.

We are now using a lot more oil every year then we are finding. That is the difference between now and 30 years ago.

Chart of Oil Discovery minus Consumption (world)





Such a good post I had to respond again, with a flashback.

I could have been reading my popular pundit's book and thinking "Oh please, the message is the message!" while a TV plays in the background.

"Captain, I found something ... AAaaaaagh!
"He's dead, Jim!"

(I just watched it for the babes in tinfoil bikinis)

It has taken an amazingly long time for the Titanic to sink, but now it's beginning to seriously list. We live in interesting times, no doubt about that. ...

Good perspective, thanks Roger.

Coming from a 'frugal' yankee family that was already disposed to 'thinking poor', these thoughts have a lot of resonance with me.

I've got a latent image floating in front of me with John Ashcroft, whispering softy about 'Unknowable unknowables'

Now, I've got to go ask the Boiler maintenance guy about how our trusty #2 Burner is doing...


I was a young boy in the 40's and lived in one of the poorer counties in Appalachia. Some houses still did not have electricity and I remember when a man and his wife moved to our farm they moved everything they had in one trip with their mule and wagon.
I was able to go to college and get a very good job - one that required me, an un-acculturated southerner to travel internationally a lot. My first of many trips to Vietnam was before the US and Vietnam had re-established diplomatic relations and I was there for several weeks during that first visit. Of course, I knew nothing of the culture, language or history. The population density, food, customs and all that were things I had never encountered. It was a very different world, but is some ways a very familiar one.
What was familiar? Lots of the things I saw here in the USA back in the 40's, that's what. I saw people using hand tools to build things, moving the necessities of life using small conveyances (pedal powered cyclo's) and making many trips , and people raising children as a community project ( can you imagine someone in a US shopping mall correcting young boys for their behavior?). I recall one time we were unloading computers at a hospital ( yes, brought there via cyclo) and the physician staff knew instinctively to just pitch in and help unload the boxes. In short, people did what they needed to do with what they had.
And those computers? They were very well trained and had no trouble installing hardware and building networks. It was interesting to see how well and quickly hi-tech stuff was integrated into everyday life. I'm pretty sure we'll be able to work that in reverse - selectively drop things and processes that just become no longer worth the cost and substitute something less costly.

The computers I remember from that era were larger than a chest freezer and ate punch cards. Unless you meant one of these:

Haw! I must not have made it clear that it was pc's I guess.

Good lord, what a great post. You are a bit older than me, I suspect, but not by much. I have an uncle who entered the stock market in December 1982 with $40,000 and exited in December 1999 with almost 15 million. He has a happy life in Naples, FL. One thing he told me about investing and the future is that you can't predict the future; nobody can, not the experts nor the lay man. He drives a Prius, by the way. My first car in 1982 was a 1981 Rabbit Diesel, given to me by my Seville-driving father. It had, at most 50 hp. It took perhaps 45 seconds to hit 60 or so. I filled it up every three weeks. The gas guage never moved. Amazing car. A deathtrap, mind you: it could not have weighed more than 2k lbs but Holy Shit the mileage I got. If you recall life in 1981 and 1982, the conventional wisdom was that civilization was ending because of inflation and high gas prices. I think that gas was probably the equivalent of 3 bux today. It was alot, I do recall. I was a little young to buy into the whol "doom trip" and I respectfully suggest that a lot of what I read here suggests that some might benefit from a good therapist, frankly. My brother-in-law is a MIT/Harvard multiple seven-figure energy banker at a Tier 1 bank for many years. He is the only person I know who lives in an 8 million dollar apartment so I tend to listen to his advice and thoughts. Peak Oil to him and his gang is a "cute" theory (quoting him) but the "real action" is in the furtures and the speculative trading. He made 65 times my income last year so I find him credible. He feels that, based on their market knowledge, speculation is close to or exceeding 50% of oil can value. Scary. Interesting, though.

The word "speculation" is meaningless gobbledegook. If someone is willing to pay $130 for a commodity that they can use to do thousands of man-hours of work, and another person is willing to pay $135 for that same commodity, then $135 will be the price. Even if you measure oil in terms of chinese slave labor hours, it is clear that oil is worth much more than $135 a barrel. I'm not trying to insult the chinese, I'm just pointing out the fact that it is possible that oil could be valued at $1000 a barrel and it would still contain more energy than $1000 worth of chinese labor. This is not speculation.

It's easy for someone with lots of money to pontificate on peak oil being a "cute" theory or whatnot. But it's not a theory, it's a fact of nature. Humanity cannot expect to be able to stick a million straws into the ground and expect juice to keep coming out forever. People like your brother-in-law dont need to care about any of that because they have some cushion that allows them to sit around laughing as millions die of starvation. If people with money cared a little less about their golf course green and a little more about helping their fellow man, then maybe this country would be a bastion of innovation once again. But instead we get a bunch of greedy know-it-all yuppies prancing around thinking they're smart because they have so skillfully fed off the financial corpse of America. And of course anyone who points out that fact should "seek therapy". Yeah, how typical.

The crash that was inevitable in the early eighties was averted by the mortgaging of our country's future so that a few narcissistic morons could have their yachts and titanium golf clubs. Well, all I gotta say is... the future is now.

For every one greedy bastard that gamed the system, there is 100 normal citizens who have lost, in just one generation, 2/3 of the value of all their assets and wages due to inflation.

I couldn't agree more. This chart of US weekly earnings from John Williams' Shadow Government Statistics site shows how deeply the average US citizen's pockets have been mined by inflation since the 1980s.

It comes from his recent Hyperinflation Special Report.

Here in the UK, our City (Wall Street) Boyz also spent the last few years creaming off massive bonuses for running Ponzi finance schemes that evaporated vast amounts of ordinary people's investments and pensions. Having privatised the gains they're socialising the losses to the taxpayers. Joe Average is underwriting the ongoing blank cheque required to keep these muppets in business without having to reveal to anyone - especially each other - the amount of toxic debt they are sitting on.

Are they abashed by the unprecedented disaster their lying and stealing has created? Are they b*ll*cks. A survey this week found that most of them think they deserve even bigger bonuses this year, paid sooner.

What do you all think of Shadowstats? I'm inclined to think that he is closer to the truth than are the official FedGov stats,yet I suspect that he is overstating things a bit.

AFAIK regardless of the details, which may be subject to a certain amount of argument, the thrust of his argument is entirely correct.
Once finances have reached the stage that they have in the US, there is no way out except hyperinflation.
I suspect that the same may be true in the UK, although until I can locate the figures it is possible that we may get by with 'only' savage deflation and tearing up of obligations like pensions.

AFAIK his argument on the understating of inflation is also in the right ball-park.

Very convincing, very depressing listening.
Is there anything similar for the UK?

I cant help but disagree with the last paragraph. There is nothing wrong with living a humble and conservative lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with the belief that it is not good to follow propaganda that tells you to consume and waste and be a corporate slave. It takes basic common sense to tell somebody that it is not worth the money to buy something like a dishwashing machine, because the amount of work required to pay for the purchase and power and maintenance of such a machine is far greater than the amount of money-time saved. Same goes for leaf blowers. The list literally goes on and on. So much of this crap just isnt practical at all. (Where is the common sense that tells us this? How can it be taught?)

If it were not for those that did try to live conservatively, and with common sense, this ponzi scheme would have collapsed in on itself a long time ago.

Thanks Roger for the flashback and for the line, "brevity is for bumper stickers". Most times I ignore long posts... but the way you described the American zeitgeist was captivating. Well done.

From a Canadian perspective, the 1970s and 1980s left a political legacy. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was armed with a fourth mandate for office in the early 1980s. The first thing on his plate was to find a way to balance federal finances with one province, Alberta. Alberta was economically booming while the rest of the country stagnated. Using constitutional powers that were on the books, but rarely implemented, Trudeau authorized federal intervention in the Albertan oil patch. The National Energy Program (NEP) was designed to draw the bulk of royalty revenues of ever increasing fuel prices to the national treasury and to Canadianize much of the industy.

The NEP was just getting going when the bottom fell out of oil prices. Alberta went into an economic tailspin. Trudeau's party, the Liberals, never wildly popular among Albertans, now become anathema. No Canadian government since has dared to raise the ghostly specter of intervention in the oil patch.

Hence very little interference with the Tar Sands development. (Incidentally, the highest profile critic of the current projects is Peter Lougheed, the former Alberta premier who went at loggerheads with Trudeau.) Hence little public opposition by federal parties to the proportionality clause of NAFTA. The Canadian government has learned to be skittish about the reliability of reports of permanent energy shortages.

Americans can count on a bit of breathing room from their northern neighbours as to hoarding of energy supplies. "Once bitten, twice shy", means that there will be built-in reluctance to accept peak oil until all evidence is presented.

This is the finest piece of writing i have read in many months. you have captured the journey of those who saw this coming many years ago. Bernay and the game he and his comrades developed in the early part of the last century proved to be the stimulus for lining us all up for the trip over the cliff. I will save your post and share it with friends who can relate to your insights.

Thanks for this essay Roger. I am surprised at myself for not recognizing any of it. I was a sheltered kid in the 70's and a naive authority-trusting college student in the 80's. The 90's were supposed to be my employment turn but instead I learned the hard way about how authority really behaves.
I've been raising my child for the past 11 years. I discovered the peak oil situation three years ago. I have not been here before and I do not feel comfortable. The only familiar thing is that I seem to be learning the same lesson over and over: stop waiting for the authorities to do the right thing.

Time is kinda like a fog. We all travel through time. Some can see farther through the fog than others. People will only believe what they can see.

Dear Roger Conner (ThatsItImout)
What a great account of the 1970s oil crisis. I was just entering my teen years in those days and remember that time well. In the early 1970s when I was under the age of 10, I recall my 17-year old big brother's first car -- a used 1967 Ford that was larger than many of today's boats --he bought it with money saved from summer jobs, paid the gas for it by working as a night time guard a few days a week while going to school.

In '73 gas was 29 cents/gallon (about 6.5cents/litre)...the neighbourhood was filled with the noise of kids 7 to 12 years older than me...all had motorcylces and in my white trash neighbourhood, they did not hesitate them to ride them loudly into the early post-midnight hours on summer nights. The Arab oil embargo and later, the Iranian oil cut off of '79 changed everything..Don Henley was quite prophetic in singing 'bye-bye Miss American Pie"...in just a few years, only a few students above the age of 16 owned their own used car, the sounds of young men on motorcycles on late summer evenings vanished to never return...

...even when the price of oil crashed in the 80s and 90s, it was NEVER the same again...kids barely past their 16th birthday could no longer afford a car like the cast in the movie "Grease", drive in theatres were long dead and when cars got bigger, they assummed aerodynamically more efficient but far uglier shapes than a late 50s Chevy or 60s Corvette...my brother's generation could afford a rusty old car or motorcyle at will when they were barely old enough to shave...my generation was much more pinched to do so and the cars we bought were nothing compared to earlier classics...for today's generation, it is truly good-bye Miss American Pie...sigh...

the sounds of young men on motorcycles on late summer evenings vanished to never return...

I guess there is reason for optimism about the future after all! (Ducks under desk)

Not to challenge the gist of your point at all, but the Singer was Don McLean. Henley is one of the Eagles.

My soundtrack to Peak oil includes Rickie Lee Jones' "Last Chance Texaco" , and David Wilcox's "Rusty Old American Dream"

I don't look all that ragged for all the time it's been,
But I'm weakened underneath me where my frame is rusted thin.
And this year's state inspection just barely passed
Won't you drive me 'cross the country, boy,
This year could be my last.

I'm a tailfin road locomotive from the days of cheap gasoline,
And I'm for sale by the side of the road going nowhere,
A rusty old American dream.



'Trust the Man with the Star'

Glimpse of the future:

The key to avoiding psychological overload, obviously, is to try to insure that multiple stressors do not all happen all at once. Break down a catastrophic situation into many small, manageable bits, and start preparing now to deal with each over time.

Overall, peak oil is catastrophic. Both at a personal and social level, we need to start preparing -- one solvable problem at a time.

Common sense, of course; but, worth repeating, I guess.

Cheers, Mike