Hawaii: Peak Oil Canary in a Coal Mine

Hawaii seems to come up often in the thinking of people aware of peak oil. On one hand, it seems like an ideal place to relocate after peak oil - no need to worry about heating a house; clothing is mostly for protection from the sun; and crops can be grown year around. On the other hand, it produces no fossil fuel itself, and it is at the end of the supply line for both food and fuel. Hawaii's biggest industry, tourism, is already declining, and with rising fuel costs, can only decline further.

Many of you know that I was recently in Hawaii. After visiting, I thought I might post a few of my thoughts about the situation.

Hawaiian Islands location

Figure 1: Location of Hawaii - Wikipedia

When I visited Hawaii, I spent most of my time on the "Big Island" (with more land area than the other islands put together) and Maui (the next island north of the big island). These islands are probably the most agricultural of the Hawaiian Islands. I also visited Oahu, home of Honolulu and most of the population.

Hawaii varies a lot from place to place

One of the first things one notices is that Hawaii is a mixture of very densely populated areas and areas with virtually no people. This is what a population density map of Hawaii looks like:

Hawaiian population densities

Figure 2: Population densities of Hawaii - Wikipedia

When one travels around, the reason for this disparity in population density becomes clear. Most of the islands are very rugged mountains, but there are a few flatter areas where most of the people live. The soil quality also varies greatly from place to place. In some areas, particularly on the Big Island, there is not really soil, simply volcanic rock, with nothing growing on it, because the eruption giving rise to the land is very recent. Even where there is soil, the underlying volcanic rock tends to make the soil drain quite quickly after it rains.

The climate varies greatly, even within a few miles, because of the rapid elevation changes and the tendency of rain to fall on the eastern side of the islands. Most of us think of Hawaii as quite lush and green, but there is a much larger area which is very dry. High elevations can be very cool, and even can be snow-covered in winter.

What are the advantages Hawaii has from a peak-oil perspective?

1. Many are aware of Peak Oil and are concerned about the problem.

One thing I was surprised at was how aware people are of the problems, especially on the Big Island. On the way out, the woman I was sitting next to on the flight from Honolulu to Hilo (on the Big Island) brought up the issue of oil shortages, and said the local paper talked regularly about the Big Island's vulnerability to oil shortages and high proportion (90% plus) of imported food.

I gave talks to two different groups in Hilo--one was an energy forum consisting of about 150 business people and politicians discussing Big Island energy issues; the other was a group of Hawaiian people interested in sustainability. The energy forum got very good local press coverage. I was surprised that so many people were aware of peak oil, and were interested in finding solutions.

2. Fairly large population on the Big Island before fossil fuels.

When Europeans first discovered the Big Island, people lived in self-contained communities of 250 to 500 people. These communities occupied rectangular or triangular strips of land along streams. These strips went all the way from the ocean to the closest mountain top. Because climate changes so rapidly, these strips of land, called ahupua`a, offered a range of climates and soil conditions for growing many different types of foods. They also provided areas for fish ponds for farming fish. According to Robert Oaks "Hawaii: A History of the Big Island", there were about 600 of these ahupua`a, when Europeans first discovered the island.

If we multiply the number of people per community times the number of communities, we get quite a large population. If there were 250 to 500 people per ahupua`a, and 600 of these communities in total, this would suggest a total population of 150,000 to 300,000. I would find the upper end of this range difficult to believe. The current population of the Big Island is only about 135,000.

3. Some still remember pre-fossil fuel approaches.

Knowledge of the history of what was done in the past seems quite a bit better than on the mainland. Europeans first visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, which was not all that long ago. Hawaiians continued to rule the island until 1893. This was only a little over a hundred years ago. When I visited the Bishop museum in Honolulu, I discovered one could look at black and white photographs life under Hawaiian rule. While Western illnesses killed quite a few of the native Hawaiian people, many survived and passed down at least some of the traditions to their children.

4. Little need to heat or cool buildings.

Hawaii is known for its mild climate. On the coast, the temperatures are in the 70s and 80s in the daytime, and a little lower at night, year around. It gets cooler at higher elevations, so that one needs a fireplace for warmth.

A mild climate has many other benefits as well. One doesn't need insulation, and in fact, one can get along with just a thatched roof held up by poles for many uses.

Before Europeans came, Hawaiians wore little clothing. Those of us with fair skin would probably need clothing, simply to prevent sun burn.

5. Built in water transportation system.

Moving goods and people by boat is usually a very low energy mode of transportation. WIth ocean all around the islands, boats or barges can easily be used for transport.

6. Year around growing season.

With a very mild climate, it can be possible to grow two or three crops a year.

7. Availability of ocean to supplement food needs.

With the ocean nearby, there is the possibility of catching fish to supplement other food sources. Fish can also be farmed, sometimes even in a netted-off section of the ocean.

Eating sea weed is another possibility, as the Japanese do.

8. High rain fall in parts of the island.

A shortage of water is often a limiting factor for growing food. Parts of the Hawaiian Islands get over 100 inches of rain a year.

9. Geothermal, wind, solar, and water currents as energy sources.

There is currently one geothermal plant generating 30 MW of electricity on the Big Island, and there is the theoretical possibility of more generation, both on the Big Island and on Maui.

Parts of the islands are very windy, so wind generation is a possibility, and, in fact, is currently being used.

The islands are well situated for solar energy of all types (solar thermal, solar PV, and solar concentrating). If methods for using water currents to generate electricity are perfected, Hawaii will have this as an option as well.

What are the disadvantages Hawaii has from a peak-oil perspective?

1. Distance from rest of world.

Hawaii is a long way from any other occupied body of land. It is 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines according to this source. The one thing this is good for is as a location for refueling aircraft. Apart from this, it means that everything must be transported over very long distances to get to Hawaii.

2. Agriculture is small scale; difficult to scale up.

Because Hawaii is so mountainous, it is difficult to do commercial agriculture. Also, the large amount of volcanic rock in the soil in many areas makes crops more variable than commercial equipment is designed to handle.

A publication of the US Department of Agriculture shows these statistics for Hawaii agriculture, for all of the islands combined:

Hawaii agriculture statistics

Figure 3: USDA Hawaii Agriculture Statistics

The way I read this, Hawaii in 2002 had only 110,000 acres of harvested cropland. Of this, approximately 58,000 acres (.21 x 27.7% x 1000) was irrigated. In 1992, the figures were a little higher than this, with 140,000 acres of harvested crop land and 82,000 irrigated. We know that quite a bit of sugar cane and pineapple (both irrigated) has left Hawaii in recent years, so this probably explains the drop.

There is quite a bit of pasture land, but this is generally very dry and often very steep. Without irrigation, it is unlikely to be productive as farmland.

3. Vulnerability to tsunamis, volcanos, blights, climate change.

Because of its location, Hawaii is vulnerable to tsunamis, particularly along the coast, which is where most of the population is. The Big Island had a railroad at one time, but many of its bridges were destroyed by a tsunami in 1946. It was never rebuilt.

Since Hawaii is small, it is easy for it to be affected by impacts that would tend to average out over a larger area. If Hawaii grows a large amount of a single type of crop, it is possible that a pest or blight will attack the crop, and the whole crop will be lost. If a crop is planted, and the weather suddenly changes, the crop could be lost. This means that if Hawaii cannot depend on trade, it needs to keep some surplus, in case crops do not turn out as planned.

4. Lack of fossil fuels.

All of Hawaii's fossil fuel is imported. Most of this is oil (used for both electricity and transportation). Some coal is also imported for electricity. Hawaii uses very little natural gas. The lack of fossil fuels makes manufacture difficult, and makes the islands very dependent on imports.

5. Lack of metals and clay.

Hawaii was in the stone age until Europeans came and brought metal in 1778. Until I visited the island, it never occurred to me that the problem was a lack of metal ores. Also, without fossil fuels for heating the ores, it is not clear that ores would have been of much use. Early Hawaiians lacked nails, metal knives, metal pots, coins, and many other things we have come to expect.

The island is also without clay, so there is no pottery or bricks. Before Europeans came, food was wrapped in the leaves of the ti plant, and baked underground. Hollowed out gourds were used for transporting water.

6. Excessive population.

If the only island that one had to worry about from a sustainability point of view were the Big Island, the population would probably not be too far out of line with its resources. The total population of Hawaii is currently estimated at 1.28 million. If one compares this to current harvested cropland of 110,000 acres, this would equate to nearly 12 people per harvested acre. A ratio of about 1 to 1 perhaps 2 to 1, considering the long growing season, would be much better.

If Hawaii's problems become clear before those of the rest of the US, it is possible that quite a few people currently living in Hawaii will move to the mainland. This would be helpful, from the point of view of balancing the population with the available resources.

7. Belief in "right" way to do things.

Clearly, one way of attacking the problem is to try to go back to the old (pre-1778) way of doing things. Another is try to use technology to work one's way out of the problem.

Our current set of laws, regulations, and belief systems very much favors the technological approach. There are laws saying how buildings should be built. We have expectations as to how people should be dressed. Property ownership laws are such that the status quo is the most likely outcome--big businesses have large tracts of lands; most individuals have postage stamp size lots. All of these pretty much predetermine what the outcome will be.

What are the current risks?

Hawaii's biggest industry is its tourist industry. It seems likely to me that Hawaii's tourist industry will largely disappear in the next few years, as oil prices rise. Two Hawaiian air lines have already gone out of business, and two cruise lines have stopped serving the Hawaiian Islands, leaving only one cruise line serving the islands. So far, the islands away from Honolulu have been hardest hit by the drop in tourism. It seems like the situation can only get worse.

Another large source of revenue is the US military. On my way to Honolulu, there were about 30 American service men and women on the plane with me. I asked one sitting next to me where he was going. He said the whole group was on its way back to their home base in Hawaii, on leave from tour of duty in Iraq. They had flown from Iraq, through Europe, across the Atlantic to Atalnta, and now were on their way to Honolulu, to be with their wives and families. I asked the serviceman where he had been before he joined the service, and he said the US Northeast.

It is hard for me to believe that it makes economic sense to send service men and women circling the globe, all the way from Hawaii to Iraq (the long way around!), especially when they did not live in Hawaii to begin with. I would think it would make sense to scale back US military operations in Hawaii. Hawaii is needed as a refueling point, and possibly for defense, but it is hard to see how it makes sense to station a large number of service people there, when their ultimate destination is Iraq.

A smaller source of revenue is agricultural products. Hawaii exports some sugar cane, pineapple, macadamia nuts, and coffee. Prices for these goods can be expected to rise, as the price of oil increases. It is possible that these exports may be able to continue, if enough oil can be imported to keep all the necessary infrastructure maintained and the machinery operating, and if demand for the products continues at the new higher prices. One problem with these industries is that they use up most of the Hawaii's cropland, leaving little for other crops.

What are Hawaii's options going forward?

This is really too big an issue to discuss here. Perhaps I can talk about it more in a later post.

I think one of the issues is that Hawaii is currently a state that imports a lot of products, and mostly sells products like tourism and military bases. If it loses its "exports", where does it get the funding to continue buying imported food, gasoline, televisions, and asphalt?

All of our current belief systems would seem to dictate trying to find a high tech way out. Yet I have a difficult time thinking of new products Hawaii could sell to generate revenue to replace the revenue it is likely to lose from tourism and the military. Selling long distant services (computer programming or customer service) would seem to be an option, but it would seem like Hawaii's costs would be higher than those of competitors.

Going back a few years to earlier approaches doesn't seem offer any likely alternatives. Years ago, Hawaii exported salted beef. Fish was also salted, as a low-energy way of preserving it. I don't see a big market at this time for salted exported meat and fish. Before that, Hawaii's big industry was whaling. That doesn't seem to have a big future either.

Manufacturing doesn't seem very likely either. If manufacturing were undertaken, it would need to be done with local resources. Without metals, it seems like it would be hard to do very much. Power would need to be supplied by electricity, generated from an available source, such as wind or geothermal. The products would need to be ones of very high value, because of the high cost of shipping products to customers. I can't think of anything that would work well, but perhaps it is just my lack of imagination.

Another approach might be to look at what worked before Europeans came, and see what could be added to it, that might still be sustainable. Over two hundred years ago, people lived in narrow communities along streams called ahupua`a, and traded with people who lived near them. Would it make sense to go back to a system closer to the very old one? What changes would be needed to make such a system work, and be acceptable to people living there?

Certainly we could make tools from abandoned cars and trucks for a very long time, to supplement the natural resources. Locally generated electricity might be added as well.

Going back this far would require huge changes in belief systems, and probably changes in land ownership rules. I am not sure how one would even contemplate such a major change.

Life in Hawaii has long been influenced by fossil fuels. High cost of living, including food and fuel, have long been facts of life. Limited resources, including land, make living in the Aloha State hard for all but the very rich. a look at the future.

Hawaii had wind farms decades ago. The potential for sugar cane-based ethanol is good (if cane fields aren't all turned into subdivisions. HI has also been in the forefront of geothermal and solar. Problem is on Oahu / Honolulu there are too many people living high up on the food chain to be sustainable.

I am moving my 90 year old mother into assisted living on the mainland because the cost is 1/3 that of Oahu.

The problem I see with sugar cane based ethanol is that it doesn't really help with the problem of feeding the people. It may keep a few of the cars running a little longer, but it isn't likely to add much to exports, and the use of the land for this purpose leaves less for food.

There is no sugar cane production on the Big Island currently, but there is on Maui. I don't think production was cost-effective on the Big Island. Maui has more flat land, where it is easier to use commercial equipment. Maui is running into water limitations, and sugar cane is irrigated. If anything, I would expect sugar production on Maui to decrease, because of the water issues.

So there is *no* solution for hawaii, that's the consensus ?


So they're fucked if oil runs out. So they're fucked. Pack up and leave ...

(and as a comment to the original article : if Hawaii is to be defended, obviously a (relatively large) part of US mil will have to be stationed there. If it is (strategically wise) to be able stand up to a potential attack by China's 1 billion, it's probably best to station at least several thousand + including wife and children, there)

Perhaps it could use geotherm power to create hydrogen, and export that ? Or float large solar panels around the islands, use it to generate some kind of energy containing liquid and export that ? Might help with those ailing tourism industries + provide a lot of work for mechanics.

There are two different directions to go--back to what seemed to work before, and full speed ahead, to find something else that might work.

At this point, I am not seeing how full speed ahead is going to get to a reasonable destination. Maybe I am missing a solution that is available, though.

People may have a hard time accepting going back, given the difference between lifestyles 200 years ago and now. There may be some compromise, if we can add some current technology to what we knew 200 years ago, to produce something people can live with.

It may keep a few of the cars running a little longer, but it isn't likely to add much to exports, and the use of the land for this purpose leaves less for food.

wait just a minute here. peak oil is a huge problem yet Hawaii can probably produce some large amounts of sugar and that STILL doesn't matter? sugar cane can help people get around town, grow some crops AND you can burn it to make electricity. that's a big plus. I can't say I know much about how they grow food. I will say that everything costs more in hawaii because they are at the end of the supply chain. in the future they'll still get imports but they'll pay more for them than the mainland they they always have. while hawaii is dependent on someone else to grow their food the flip side is someone depends on hawaii not being able to grow food to make a livelihood.

You sound like a doomer-everything does not cost more in Hawaii.

according to CNN's cost of living calculator it's 10% more expensive to live in hawaii than Queens, NY.

" according to CNN's cost of living calculator it's 10% more expensive to live in hawaii than Queens, NY."

I'd call that a bargain.

That's the first time I have EVER heard John15 called a doomer!

Those familiar with his posts will get the irony...:-)


Life in Hawaii has long been influenced by fossil fuels.

Huh. I thought dole and C&H was a bigger historical issue.


Of course, it won't seem so idyllic with 300,000,000 haoles moving over from the mainland...

And it requires a focused public policy effort to keep renewables going:
(credits to Leanan for the rusty windfarm picture)

I'm considering moving back to Maui----
I have a house in Kula, good soil, I know my neighbors well, it's a place I have always felt comfortable.
But something doesn't feel right. A Hawaiian friend stopped in in Marin a few days ago, and chaos was present.
But I miss the waves, and the pace, and often call my bank in Oahu to just hear a Hawaiian voice, even from a bank.
Most people cannot live on islands. Anyone can do 8 months to a year. After 2 years most are gone. If you are still there after 5 years, it is probably your home.
I lived in Micronesia also. and Hawaii is vibrant and diverse compared to the smaller islands.

... and the humu­humu­nuku­nuku­āpua`a go swimmin' by ...

Hi Gail: I spent four months in Honolulu this winter-the real estate prices are similar, but other than that there is no comparison currently between the cost of living in Toronto and Honolulu-Toronto is far higher. Our natural gas prices just increased 45% and this is just the beginning. Pretty well anything you can purchase is far more expensive in Toronto. You make good points, but if Honolulu crashes, I hate to think where TO will be at that point. Re prices, I think Honolulu's are lower because of the proximity to the seaport for the whole city-in TO a lot is trucked in a great distance. Also, the climate and beauty of the place make a big difference-IMO most people could be happy on $20000 a year in Honolulu with a paid for house-in Toronto that is a miserable existence. Even the homeless in Hawaii don't seem nearly as angry or unhappy.

A very welcome sign to see Hawaii in the discussion. The Hawaiian Islands suffer the consequence of a consumer's dependence on energy and food imported from the rest of the world. There is hope in the knowlege and dedication of the youth of the islands in their focus to rediscover the healhty and sustainable lifestyle of the past. The Kupuna, the elders will guide them to remember what the Islands can and always have provided. Hui Mauli Ola is an exsisting group of Hawaiian healers that lives and teaches traditional Hawaiian knowledge as a guide for daily activities. They are the future and a real solution.
Pete & Mokihana

The second group I talked to was the Kanaka Council. They are another group that is interested in sustainable lifestyles, including the ways of the past.


Your report makes fascinating reading. I would suggest supplementing it by a more 'focused' approach to the country's potential population problem.

First, determine the state’s maximum carrying capacity at subsistence level.
How many humans can Hawaii support on a diet of carbohydrates? No fancy pants stuff such as dentistry, toilet paper, or sing-song evenings. Just food. Like Ireland in pre-famine years: potatoes only, hand-planted, hand-picked, hand-peeled using uncut fingernail.

I reckon that that theoretical maximum can be calculated pretty accurately. (hectares of arable land * calories produced per hectare per annum without use of synthetic fertilizers / minimum calorie intake per person required for survival until reproductive age).

After that, we work our way up to:
- Hawaii’s carrying capacity at trailer trash level
- Hawaii’s carrying capacity at lower middle class level
- Hawaii’s carrying capacity at TOD reader level
- etc.

Recommended reading: Joel H. Cohen’s ‘How Many People Can The Earth Support?’:

Also available online at Questia (if you have a subscription):


Thanks for the suggestion. I have not tried to fine-tune the analysis at all at this point.

I think the Hawaii situation may be a little different from the norm, because a very large share of the land is not arable in the usual sense. It may be possible to plant a tree here and there, but moving in large scale equipment will not work.

There are an awfully lot of "wild" animals. Some chickens got loose on the Big Island years ago, and now there are chickens not quite everywhere. I understand there are wild boars, from pigs that got loose years ago. To some extent, food from these can be added back to the food supply.

There is also the possibility of farmed fish and farmed sea weed.

Most of us have a narrow view of what can be produced, based on a model of commercial agriculture operating on flat land. If the model is very different, I think the results may be different.

I did it the lazy man’s way and googled in “Hawaii” and “carrying capacity”. The first hit was an editorial in the “Hawaii Reporter” entitled “When Is Hawaii's 'Carrying Capacity' Maxed Out?”, written by one Gary Anderson, Chair of the Honolulu Sierra Club. He claims:

The average "ecological footprint" on the mainland (the demands an individual endowed with average amounts of resources, i.e., land, water, food, fiber, waste assimilation and disposal, etc. puts on the environment) is about 12 acres,…

According to your (Gail’s) source, total farmland is 1 300 000 acres. Total carrying capacity according to Gary Anderson is thus 1 300 000 / 12 = approx 108 000 persons.

Since total population of Hawaii (2006 estimate – US Census Bureau) is approx 1.3 million, it would appear (according to Anderson) that Hawaii’s current population is 12 times greater than its carrying capacity (1.3 million / 108 000).

See here:

My initial impression is that you are figuring "ecological footprint" on the basis of BAU lifestyle and "farmland" on the basis of what is competitive in an export oriented commercial market. There are alternatives.

Gail, as usual your comments are right on.

A few other points of note:

Our mayor has been involved in disaster preparedness for about 30 years and he took his responsibilities with him when he became mayor. Since the island is so prone to disasters, they are way ahead of most of the US in this area.

Our electric company is well aware of peak oil and is in the process of converting much of the oil dependence to bio-diesel. Of course it won't happen over night but they are working on it. Look for kukui nuts to become a big source of fuel here.

A huge portion of our mac nut industry has been decimated. Many local growers have been letting their nuts rot on the ground the last few seasons. Why? Big industry. Hershey took over Mauna Loa mac nuts and started importing most of their nuts from Australia. They stopped taking nuts from the little guys for the most part, but when they did buy them it was a losing proposition for the small farmer. Selling at 50 cents per pound doesn't anywhere near cover their cost of production and processing. Will the heavy importation stop in the future? Mac nuts are an excellent source of essential fatty acids and are very useful. I suspect that they may become a life-sustaining crop in dire times.

A LOT of haoles moved to the islands during the real estate boom. When we moved here 3 years ago, almost everyone and their neighbors were real estate agents or builders. It was stunning. I swear that every person we met gave us a real estate business card -- either their own or a relative's. With the RE crash, the bullders and the flippers are in the dire straights right now. I had one builder literally begging me to buy his house. Others are willing to consider ANY offer -- no matter how wild it seems. Many, many houses have been empty and for sale for 2 to 3 years and prices have dropped about 40-60% on raw land. Houses are down an average of 30% in my area. But the really good part of this is that I read local blogs and posts indicating that people are leaving in droves. Those that came here for the RE boom and related industries are bailing out. So are those who thought it was no big deal to hop on a plane to visit relatives on the mainland or to treat a case of "island fever." Many older folks with medical problems do NOT want to be here with a lack of flights and medical care.

In my area, there used to be a lot of teenagers and punk types racing around in their trucks and pimped up Honda Accords. It's so quiet now that you could hear a pin drop. I go for walks every night and the crazies in their vehicles were ALWAYS a concern -- it was really bad. Now, there are nights were I don't see a single moving vehicle during a one hour walk. The main drag used to be so busy that I wouldn't even walk down that street -- I would cross it but not walk it. Now I'm able to walk down the main drag and sometimes see no vehicles at all. NICE. This is something I've been hoping and waiting for and personally hope that gas prices do NOT come down. Life is so much nicer without all that.

I say "let them leave and let the rest stop driving." For the really tough folks who don't mind working their butts off, this is a nice place to be. At 59 years old, I may not make it too far into peak oil anyway, so I might as well die in paradise...

I see this migration as good and hope that very few people decide to migrate this direction. They need to understand that they will be on a little rock in the middle of the biggest pool of water on the planet and we will be left to fend for ourselves. Most Americans I know would be better off on the mainland.

Well said. Maui is a economy built on tourism, construction and real estate sales, and landscaping.
We do have the tech center in Kihei , but that has never really developed as planned.
I often wondered what the island would be like with out the pickup's and punk cars, and maybe I'll find out.
Getting up and down the mountain will take a different strategy.

The punk cars and pickups are WAY down where I live. Other traffic is down too. The horrible traffic backups where each subdivision merges onto the highway have almost disappeared. It seemed to change overnight. Even 6 months ago the drive to Hilo (about 25 miles)would take at least an hour. Now it takes me 25 to 35 minutes. Please keep leaving and please continue to limit your driven miles. The "for sale" signs are starting to show up on large pickups and SUV's.

"The punk cars and pickups are WAY down where I live. "

the bright side of peak oil.

peak car stereo?

"I see this migration as good and hope that very few people decide to migrate this direction." I agree with ckaupp. I am retired and have lived on the Big Island 20 years. Aircraft tourism will disappear completely within a couple of years and a large chunk of business people will depart this island permanently. Construction has been so overdone in recent years that no more homes or business will ever be needed. I expect population on this island to drop by at least another 25k as retired folks move back to the mainland to be near their grandchildren as the post-peak-oil horror unfolds.

Our grid could be powered quite nicely by geothermal. The largest barrier is an ugly political history. It's a matter of time till the decision makers realize that geothermal is the only reliable base load.

IMHO post peak oil is going to bring a huge reduction in population something like Paul Chefurka's paper. http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population.html . We have been discussing these issues for years on lists like http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/the_dieoff_QA/ . I would much rather be here than on the mainland.

Thanks for your comments! I have heard some comments similar to what you are saying. With energy prices rising, and vacation travel dropping, it is to be expected that housing prices would drop.

One think I disagree with you on is the future of kukui nuts. These are not much bigger than macadamia nuts, and the problems are similar. Someone has to pick them, and the process is labor intensive. If it doesn't make sense to grow macadamia nuts to burn as biofuels, it probably doesn't make sense to grow kukui nuts as biofuels. Perhaps they might be cost-effective if someone could figure out a way to get Hawaiians to work for $1 a day picking them.

The biggest problem with the mac nuts is the importation of vast quantities from Australia. I believe they will be viable when the importation stops/slows down--just not as a big export industry. I also sense that some big businesses will bail because the cost of doing business in the middle of the pond will just be too great to bother with it.

Mac nuts and kukui nuts are very different. Mac nuts are a wonderful source of nutrition. Kukui nuts aren't really "food" nuts. Kukui nuts will not be the source of all energy, but they are a better source than sugar cane and diesels are more fuel efficient than ICE. It will not be about creating a big industry for export--it will be about creating enough industry to keeps the islanders alive. Big difference... [edit] Also note that the Big Island generates most of its electricity from OIL and this needs to be addressed. Bio-diesel is a much better way to go.

We also have solar, wind, and possibly tides for energy. I don't imagine that any of it will ever be big enough to support a large population and a lot of folks need to leave (please). But with a reduced population it may be just enough to keep us out of the dark ages. As the building/real estate industry leaves, the tourists evaporate (it is way down already), and folks leave the rocks for their families and medical care, we just might make it. But as I said, it won't be for the faint of heart to exist this way on a rock in the middle of the Pacific.

sounds like a future Easter Island to me.

except that a few people survive. well, just like Easter Island in the 1800s when EU types arrived.

i'd like to visit HI while I can, have never been. maybe by sailing ship-that would rock.

I agree that kukui nuts may make sense for a bit of fuel to burn in, say, farm equipment and maybe in a few trucks to transport produce in.

I don't think it makes sense to talk about powering electric power plants with them, however. On the mainland, operators of coal-fired plants are looking at adapting the plants to use biomass instead. This probably makes sense, if we are talking about waste wood, or even dried switchgrass.

Hawaii has oil-fired electric plants, so I would imagine that operators cannot make the same conversion that the coal fired plants do. Instead, I believe that they are talking about using kukui nuts as fuel. I don't see this process as at all equivalent, because of the work involved in harvesting the nuts. Also, there is the issue of needing the land for more useful crops. Hawaii has a number of other options for electricity (geothermal, solar, wind)--Hawaii does not need to be wasting cropland raising this type of fuel.

We shall see what transpires. I do not grow kukui nuts -- I grow mac nuts. One thing is certain: We can't continue burning oil to make electricity.

To add a little more, I looked up kukui nut (candle nut) in Wikipedia. It says

-The candle nut is similar (though "rougher") in flavor and texture to the macadamia nut, which has a similarly high oil content. It is mildly toxic when raw.[citation needed]

-The nut is often used cooked in Indonesian cuisine and Malaysian, where it is called kemiri in Indonesian or buah keras in Malay. In Java of Indonesia, it is used to make a thick sauce which is eaten with vegetables and rice.

Housing prices are dropping for those in certain economic classes such as the ones TODers find themselves in. For those at other levels, it's still difficult.
With respect to kukui nuts and other sources for biofuels one might start with official documents such as:


and then start challenging the official lines of thinking.

Thanks for the links.

If biofuels were really economical and easy to grow, we would see farmers running to produce them. The fact that this is not happening should be the first clue that there may be a problem.

I notice the Biofuel Briefing Book talks a little about the water problems in trying to produce the amount of biofuels required. I suspect this will, in fact, be a fairly major problem.

Also, an assumption seems to be made that mechanical harvesting can be done. If land is flat and soil conditions are uniform, as is often the case on the mainland, this assumption is probably a good one. When one is dealing with hilly lands and fluctuating soil conditions, this assumption is questionable.

It doesn't look like there has been much testing of the proposed methods. A lot of things look better on paper than they work in practice.

"The fact that this is not happening should be the first clue that there may be a problem." This is a rather standard argument to support the status quo. Problem: No point in growing oil crops because there's no plant for processing them. No point in building a processing plant because no one is growing the oil crops. However, consider the link I posted above:
As usual, for people with money, the solution is to get a government handout.

I responded to one point (why isn't it already being done) and I could respond to each of the others. But then anyone looking for answers could respond as well. For instance "amount of biofuels required". For what? BAU? For diesel cars that get 100 m/gal?
"A lot of things look better on paper than they work in practice."
Well how about "...growing test plots of jatropha..."
Oh, still a test plot, only interested in what's already in production.

A huge portion of our mac nut industry has been decimated. Many local growers have been letting their nuts rot on the ground the last few seasons. Why? Big industry. Hershey took over Mauna Loa mac nuts and started importing most of their nuts from Australia.

That's got a certain ironic ring around it, considering Macadamia Nuts came from Queensland in the first place (another example of Australians not seeing value in local produce, and another country gaining an initial monopoly on its production).

Fun fact (from the Wikipedia page): "Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. Ingestion may result in macadamia nut toxicosis, which is marked by weakness with the inability to stand within 12 hours of ingestion. Recovery is usually within 48 hours.[6]" Two of our dogs - a German Shepard and a Blue Heeler - used to crack open Macadamias by wedging them at the back of their jaw and clamping down. Had us all confused as hell as to where all the shell fragments were coming from until I spotted the old Shepard doing it one day. They seemed to suffer no ill effects from eating the nuts.

Re "It seems likely to me that Hawaii's tourist industry will largely disappear in the next few years, as oil prices rise."

You and some others on TOD seem to think that airline travel will end. You need to look at the numbers. This is from the Thursday, June 19, Dallas Morning News.

Airlines say price hikes waiting in wings amid soaring fuel costs
12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, June 19, 2008
By TERRY MAXON / The Dallas Morning News

AMR chairman and chief executive Gerard Arpey said that the average fare paid on American this quarter will be about $206 one way, compared with $221 in the first quarter of 2000.

In 2000, the fuel cost per passenger was about $32; it'll be $107 in the second quarter of 2008, he said at a conference in New York sponsored by Merrill Lynch.

(end of article quote)

So, this means that fuel is 51.9% of the fare paid, which averaged $206. So let's suppose oil doubles to around $260. This implies that you should add another $107 to the ticket price, making it $313, a 52% increase. Tripling the fuel cost to $390 would push the ticket price to $420, which is a 104% increase.

So will a 51% increase kill off airline travel? Surely not. What about a 104% increase? Would airline travel disappear? Surely not, although it would shrink substantially. I don't have exact numbers, but I think prices will still be below inflation adjusted ticket prices of the 1970s.

A lot of the oil price increase has not yet worked its way through to fare prices, both because of competition from airlines which will shortly not exist and because the most successful have bought oil and fuel on the futures market - some of the much-maligned 'speculators!'
In addition overheads are currently distributed across more flights than seem likely in the future.
It seems likely then that tourism will decrease and flight costs increase more sharply than you have indicated.

If you add that to oil-price and asset bubble induced recession in many countries and the relatively high and increasing costs of holidaying in Hawaii due to expensive imports, then a very sharp reduction indeed seems likely.

In the short-term the prospects for Hawaii would seem to be worse than for much of the mainland, but longer term that may reverse precisely because of this early onset of troubles.

Air travel to leave the islands will still be possible, so the population can decrease, and finances for the US may still be sound enough to assist in the provision of renewables.
Conversely, if conditions in the world do indeed deteriorate very greatly so that survival is in question, it will be difficult for hungry hordes to reach Hawaii, whereas on the mainland no isolation from other areas difficulties would be possible, and by the time that hits if it does resources may be too stretched to allow for central help for the provision of renewables.

Hang tough there! :-)

The folks I have talked to in Atlanta view Hawaii as a place to go to visit the beach and have nice weather. There is a limit to how much they are willing to pay for this opportunity, since there are a lot of nice beaches closer. Also, if their pocketbooks are being stressed, long trips will be one of the first things to go.

Business travel may not drop off nearly as much.

Hawaii is closer to China than Atlanta, and down the road China is going to be creating a lot more wealthy than the USA IMO. Oahu appears to be highly valued by the Japanese-Honolulu appears quite Asian in culture-I would expect it would remain attractive to wealthy Asians, Japanese and Chinese.

Guam is a lot closer to Asia than Hawaii however. Similar tropical climate.

OK-I give up-the doomers win this one. Hawaii is a whole TEN PERCENT more expensive than that other comparable paradise, Queens NY, and you can buy rice cheaper in Guam, so yes the place is doomed completely.

There are a LOT of Asians here, but they seem to be mostly of the older generations. They have their own interesting and tight-knit culture. They also happen to be the nicest people you will meet in Hawaii.

Weird, I swear we had this exact same argument a year ago.

A 51% rise in airfares will not 'kill off' tourist air travel in the sense of a complete stop, but it will certainly cause a large and significant decrease in tourist travel.

Further, prices should go higher every year from here on out...who cares that prices are only now getting back to the 2000 level (if that is true)? Tourism will be massively affected sooner or later, starting NOW...

So.... you're thinking we've hit the top on fuel prices, are ya?



Have you all hit the Share This button? :)

IMO the Hawaii as Easter Island premise is a bit of a stretch. There aren't too many places on the planet you can live comfortably without heat, A/C, or a car, and Honolulu is one of them. At $134 oil, pretty well everything shipped in is cheaper than in Toronto-when does this reverse? $300, $500?

If dollars stop coming into the state via tourism, then there won't be any to go out to pay for that food and energy. At any price.

Well stated!


One factor I wonder about is "the wealthy" moving in and out of an island like Oahu. Since "wealth" is currently abstracted on paper, the wealthy can retire to a place like Hawaii with a nice climate. The amount of paper wealth held on Oahu is currently considerable compared with many other islands in the world.

Of course this breaks down some if the assumptions underlying the currency & economy are changed. IF the US dollar remained worth something, and IF there remained food and supplies available for export, Oahu wouldn't starve. Being in the middle of an ocean is not all that energetically remote from other ports. Indeed, by just slowing down the barges one could save a lot of fuel.

Of course, "the wealthy" won't all stick around if they can no longer get ready access to good medical care and imported niceties. Then again, human labor may get a lot cheaper.

I find one can live pretty cheaply here if they have a place to call home. I built my place out of cheap plywood & glass some years ago. Harder now, though... and property prices are stupid. They'll be dropping fast.

Yeah... those silly Hawaiians must have been hding all their petroleum products from the whiteys! NO WAY they could live off the sea and their year-round gardens again... Nope... just can't happen...

I loves me some sarconol, but I prefer common sense from fellow posters.

Best Hopes for learning to paddle outriggers!


Hawaii as a refueling station is important for efficient flight.

Anyone know what percent of transpacific flights skip it?


Fish & forest are the wild card here. 12 people to an acre is non-workable at our standard of living based on primarily cereals... but the fisheries can feed a lot more, and in an emergency situation (where people are forced to move away), a lot more land will be cleared.


How fossil fuel intensive is Hawaii, compared to other states?

What is their trade balance like?


While undoubtedly some things will always be considerably more expensive there, I'm not sure we can write it off completely. Oceanic shipping is relatively cheap, density is sufficient to support a relatively car-less existence, and industrial goods can be imported from four continents. Their lack of exported goods is the problem with living there - such a high leakage from their economy is hard to remedy when a family vacation costs $20k instead of $5k. But military bases will probably remain important there in American eyes for quite some time.

I tried to get information on fossil fuel usage, but gave up.

I consider the most important piece of fossil fuel use aviation fuel, and EIA doesn't give this information by state, at least for Hawaii. Fuel for other purposes (driving around the islands, and even electricity) is relatively low, because of the climate, lack of industry, and short possible driving distances. Hawaiians fly instead.

Hello to the community of TOD !!,very very good work.
The destiny is in the hands of people like you. So please keep up
with this. Future generations will read you.
This is my first hello.
I have been following you for much time.
Studying and evaluating different "options" for the future.
Dear Gail, If you want a bit more info of a place really similar,
have a look at our web; www.canariasantelacrisisenergetica.org
I think we have some nice presentations covering some of the problems
you mention.
Is in spanish but you can translate it with google.
We have many points in common with Hawaii.
Hughs & Thanks

P.D: Sorry for the writing, not very good in english.

Thanks very much for writing! I see you are talking about the Canary Islands.

I think looking at the problems on islands can give us some insights into the problems on the mainland. I expect generating enough currency to buy needed supplies will be a big issue. This will also be a problem on the mainland, but people don't realize it yet.

Going back to the original of their linked article 'Will transport costs reverse globalisation?'
Will Soaring Transport Costs Reverse Globalization?

it appears that the old adage about it being so much cheaper to transport by sea is under stress, as whilst it may still be cheaper by the mile, costs differences are still significant, and getting larger with dearer oil.

It is noteworthy then that much of Hawaii's imports are food, which is bulky, and that together with the ring cost of much more expensive electricity in Hawaii may mean that the cost of living difference with mainland US locations, I believe, of around 10% mentioned here is likely to widen.

On another note, the rising cost of sulphur which is used in processing fertilise might possibly be an export which would be essential for others?
Has anyone any info on whether Hawaiian resources are currently being exploited and its potential?

If by "resources" you mean rocks that can be mined, for Hawaii you're basically talking about basaltic lava and fragmental equivalents. The huge amounts of sulfur (sulfur dioxide) released by active volcanism (at Kilauea) mainly constitute air pollution ("vog") and I doubt if the National Park Service would be particularly anxious to have anyone try to capture it commercially (even if that were shown to be possible). Minor volcanic sulfur can be trapped and preserved in rocks, as sulfates, sulfides, or native sulfur, but this is generally not worth mining (although in the case of complete isolation/collapse this might be attempted). On the mainland, virtually all sulfur is extracted not from volcanoes, but from sour hydrocarbons or from smelting of metal sulfide ores. Therefore, I don't see Hawaii ever exporting sulfur (or metals) to the mainland.

Take a look at this CNN story on food prices in Hawaii. Is $7.19 for a 1/2 gallon of orange juice and $8 for a 40 oz peanut butter only 10% higher than NYC? That's almost double the price here.


Being origninally from Alaska with family still there I would like to see a serious analysis (they say people will leave ind roves before winter due to heating costs this year for example). I presume however that since it would span the entire USA physically north to south and east to west that it is really a lot of zones from sub temperate to arctic, Juneau area for example is a rain forest. So Alaska could be a country on its own only it has too few people and is like Hawaii, an "island" halfway between the larger Asian and American population centers. If the coal and wood and fish present there plus volcanic soil (huge crops grow) are sufficient considering the short growing season for the 660,000 people present. Currently they think oil and gas will soemhow save the day and are promising money every month for a heating subsidy fromthe state and giving subsuidies for getting more insulation, a better boiler, etc. Lots of mountains there too however so lots of land space is not habitable at all (northern 1/3 just tundra anyway???). Canada to compare, is mostly just populated mainly along a narrow east west strip parallel to US border, wiht decreasing population as you go further north. Maybe climate change will be kind toCanda/Alaska/Siberia but in the meantime PO will be hard.

I think you are right. Alaska has a lot of similarities to Hawaii in its isolation and volcanic soil, but doesn't have the outstanding climate to offset. It would be interesting to do a more complete analysis.

It seems like there will be a lot of moving around, as people try to more to areas that are easier to live in. This will leave a lot of unsold houses in unpopular areas, and cause financial distress for banks.

I lived on Oahu for five years in the early 90's. It was my observation that there were essentially two classes of people, those with significant net worth, and those without (approximately 85%). Those without the financial resources will struggle agains the tide of steadily increasing prices. Those that have the resources will continue to be able to afford the food, gas, and electricity that they have come to expect.

So much of the island economy is dependent on oil - whether that be for goods, tourism, or transportation. I would characterize the island of Oahu and perhaps Maui as anything but sustsainable. Kauai, Molokai, and the Big Island will survive, though I imagine not without significant financial hardship.

Hawaii will always have a special place in my heart. It is not, however, a place I would want to ride out peak oil. It is too far at the end of the distribution channel with WAY too many people.


Thanks for writing.

I would agree with you, as long as there is not a major financial crash. If there is a major financial crash, the two classes of people may become one, as the rich folks find their financial assets no longer worth much. This would create a whole new set of issues.

"rich folds find their financial assets no longer worth much"
But the people who really run this place are the big, very big land holders. And I disagree with you on the scarcity of land suitable for agriculture. Yes, if you think that growing food has to be done with mega-machines on mega-acres for export.

If land is going to be used for biofuels on even a reasonably large scale, we have to be talking about using mega-machines on mega-acres, in order to keep costs half way in line with what biofuel people are thinking. There is no way that hand methods will produce reasonably priced biofuels. Filling up an SUV tank takes as many calories as feeding as small person for a year. Imagine how many calories filling up a semi-truck would take! To keep costs down, the fuel has to be mass produced.

If we are talking about food for families, I think there is definitely a possibility of using the steeper, smaller pieces of land that predominate in Hawaii. We are talking about a lot fewer calories for feeding people than cars. The fact that this land can be used, using more hand labor, suggests that places like the Big Island may be fairly sustainable for food, at least if they don't have to feed Oahu and all of the cars and trucks on the island as well.

at least if they don't have to feed Oahu and all of the cars and trucks on the island as well.z

I agree except that in a few years the average fuel economy could be quite different that what it is now so all our calculations are worthless beyond a few years. suppose in 7 years plug-ins or electric cars are a significant portion of the vehicle fleet and solar/wind are ramped up?

Wow, I sure hope we have 7 years.

Agreed, it's not going to be reasonably priced.
All this talk is such a re-run of what was said in the 70s. Among those who were interested it was recognized that bio-mass (as its was termed then) was a disaster if employed in a centralized system but quite useful in particular situations in a decentralized system.
For those who use SUVs as their measure, the hope such as it is, lies in the dryer parts of the island. Or algae.
“Steeper, smaller pieces of land...” The Puna subdivisions are small, 1 to 3 acres generally. In this climate with proper techniques that can grow considerable amount of food. Unfortunately I don't know of any good solution for people who are unwilling to grow their own food. How do you get others to do it for you? Traditional Hawaiian style with the ali'i calling the shots? Steep? Hey, we're talking shield volcano. Have you driven from Hilo to Volcano, a rise of 4000 feet? Slowly, slowly, slowly, up, up, up. Of course Puna is only one district. But IIRC bigger than all of Oahu.

You are certainly right--Hilo to Volcano isn't very steep, but it isn't hard to find parts of the island (or other Hawaiian islands) that are steep.

I think that small is as much a barrier to large mechanical processing as steep. Also, the variable soil conditions make it harder to use mechanical equipment to harvest a crop. A small farmer cannot afford all of the big equipment. The cost savings are greatest if a low-paid worker can use the same equipment all day, driving up and down rows of a crop.

Hawaii seems like a good place for sailing ships to re-supply on their trip across the pacific.

couldn't hawaii convert their cars to electric and use wind, solar and waste sugar to power them while shipping the sugar ethanol to china or california?


When Hawaiians can't even grow their food, will driving the same old cars with "new liquids and electrons" even matter, as Michael Pollan puts it?

People need to get over their cars. Yesterday.

I always say, "sell your car while you can"

"When Hawaiians can't even grow their food"

do they need to? shipping is one of the most fuel efficient uses of oil.

I think the issue with food imports is the same as oil imports. It is hard to buy them, if there is not enough to go around. People don't export food, if they don't have enough for themselves.

The other issue is what one uses for currency to buy the food imports. If you main source of revenue is drying up (tourism), where do you get the money from to pay those selling the food?

"When Hawaiians can't even grow their food"
do they need to?

The ? shows you do not know.

shipping is one of the most fuel efficient uses of oil.

Yet here, it seems you do not need to ask the question.

Did you suffer a blow to your heads and forgot what you were questioning?

The ? shows you do not know.

no, it shows I'm asking a fellow TODer a question.

Yet here, it seems you do not need to ask the question.

I am not really following you here. I was asking a TODer. I have no idea how much food Hawaii needs to grow on it's own I'm just saying shipping is fuel efficient compared to other modes of transporting fuel.

Hawaii can't grow its own food because of land ownership patterns and addiction to tourism. Native Hawaiians did rather well considering the VERY narrow base of kinds of crops available to them.

Sugar bad deal. Oil crops tolerant of drought as envisioned by some.

Hawaii seems like a good place for sailing ships to re-supply on their trip across the pacific.

No. it's too far north, that's why it didn't have a problem until the 1890's


It was too far north because most of the trade was to points south. Japan was engaged in very little trans-Pacific trade before the 1890's. Nor was Korea. Nor was Eastern Russia.

Yeah, the notion that the end of oil means the end of ocean freight - I don't see it. There are some very modern ways to rig ships with sail; ocean freight even with oil is far cheaper than covering similar distances on land, even on trains, let alone trucks. But only on oceans can wind alone get you there. Most world population is near coasts. Trade will continue. Wind can power it. Hawaii's in a good spot to benefit from trade routes.

And where's the consideration of using waves for electrical generation? Hawaii has a few of those.

I agree that ocean trade will continue, probably on a smaller scale. There was clearly trade on the Mediterranean 2,000 + years ago, and more distant trade, say, 500 years ago. I think we will continue to use some oil for shipping for a long time, and sailing can continue indefinitely.

One thing that surprised me when talking to people in Hawaii was how problematic high winds and choppy seas are, particularly in the winter. I know "Superferry", going from Maui to Oahu, was having some problems with high rates of sea sick passengers. I wonder if sailing ships would find it as much of a no-brainer as we assume. Perhaps this is not much of an issue, as long as we use some oil to power the ships.

I found myself feeling sad upon reading this article, but I am not sure why. I am thinking about how Hawaii is the 50th of the United States, last to enter the Union. And how it may be the first to be separated because of its distance from the mainland. The threads that bind us are thin and made of oil. The fact that Hawaiians are more peak oil aware than the rest of the states says something about their awareness of their own vulnerability. Being a resident of a midwestern (Minnesota) state surrounded by other states and Canada, it seems we have been lulled into a false sense of invulnerability, especially since World War II. We have floods and tornadoes, but not tsunamis. If crops fail in one part of the state, they will surely thrive somewhere else. Not so with Hawaii.

Thanks for the article, Gail. I'm on windward oahu, in a suburb with pretty views, but the island feels like a potential 'famine trap' to me. Basically a large city on a rock with water around it, dependent upon large ships full of food, toilet paper, and oil.

My wife and I picked up some cheap land halfway between Hilo and Volcano since we liked the climate, and I've spent a fair amount of time sussing out the post-peak possibilities. So why am I still on Oahu? Well, my mom lost her husband and now needs my help, so there's that... but in addition, with my own health not 100% I've been impressed at the fact that pretty much all the doctors are leaving the big isle. Even the emergency rooms aren't always staffed. Emergency med care can consist of stopping the bleeding, giving someone a vicodin, and buying them a standard ticket on Hawaiian Air to oahu (enough small air ambulances crashed that I hear nobody wants to get on them anymore). Ahd Hawaii Air is on borrowed time, too, even if they don't yet know it.

I think that it would be quite possible for a group of folks to do well there post-peak; but it'd be nice to have sufficient resources to stockpile some fertilizer, maybe get in a bit of extra geothermal or other power, and build a bit of medical infrastructure with refrigerated drugs. Hawaii's remoteness may mean that there will be little inner-tube or foot-traffic of refugees from other areas if things got to that point.

So here I sit for now. Matt Savinar and Jay Hanson expect me to soon experience thermonuclear bombardment (Jay having a ringside seat). I could go buy a house in ckaupp's neighborhood and just might; but gaming complex systems is funny: If I needed medical care that could be a bad choice for me this week.

Personall, I think the Capt. Bligh approach would be good: plant a million breadfruit trees on each island, or some such equivalant. Those tropical starch factories are fairly amazing and could increase the food-resilience a fair bit, probably raise the islands' stone-age carrying capacity significantly. Won't happen, but it'd make some sense.

And there's always the tradition of cannibalism to fall back on; Capt. Cook became Capt. Cooked I think, though whether he was actually the 'catch of the day' may be arguable. Ah well, at least my toes will never freeze.

If Oahu is a famine trap, the whole planet is a famine trap. Here in Toronto in February you would have 5.5 million people starving if we had to rely on a 100 mile diet. This whole thread is one giant example of groupthink. Start with the assumption that Hawaii is doomed, then search for evidence to support assumption. How about Maine, where the ave oil heat bill next winter is estimated at $4000 as a canary?

I think BrianT has it exactly right. Somehow islands seem "different" because their imports are so visable.

But consider somewhere like Butte Montana in the dead of winter or Tucson Arizona in mid August...more sustainable? No one seems to hear or see the army of Diesel "land barges" that are needed to carry supplies to and waste away from our many land locked cities.

Speaking of islands, the one that still fascinates me is Japan. How on Earth do they do it?


Japan's hunger becomes a dire warning for other nations
Justin Norrie, Tokyo
April 21, 2008

MARIKO Watanabe admits she could have chosen a better time to take up baking. This week, when the Tokyo housewife visited her local Ito-Yokado supermarket to buy butter to make a cake, she found the shelves bare. "I went to another supermarket, and then another, and there was no butter at those either. Everywhere I went there were notices saying Japan has run out of butter. I couldn't believe it — this is the first time in my life I've wanted to try baking cakes and I can't get any butter," said the frustrated cook. . . .

. . . While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term — perhaps permanent — reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

I think that the key point is that it not a good idea to be both a large net food importer and a large net energy importer.

"I think that the key point is that it not a good idea to be both a large net food importer and a large net energy importer."

JD will have to give us an update on his gruesome starvation diary.


Japan. Now that I've finally got land where I can put into practice what I've read about and been able to implement only on a minor scale, I've just reread Fukuoka's "The One-Straw Revolution". Try it. TODers will be able to separate the wheat from the rant.

How about Maine, where the ave oil heat bill next winter is estimated at $4000 as a canary?

$4000? Show a link pls.

Hi Eric,

To answer your question, the estimates vary somewhat, but most peg it in the range of 1,000 gallons. According to this news report, the Maine State Energy Office claims the number is "slightly more than 1,000 gallons a year" (http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=180182&ac=PHnws). In terms of price per gallon, it's currently running anywhere from $4.35 to $4.80 (http://bangornews.com/news/t/news.aspx?articleid=165527&zoneid=500); however, by the time this fall rolls around, I wouldn't be surprised if it tops $5.00 a gallon, which means the "average" Mainer could be looking at a home heating bill in excess of **$5,000.00**.


Having been dealing with just this issue over the last six weeks as I was learning more about wood/gasifiers/pellet boilers then $4,000 number is about right. Everyone heats with oil and supplements with wood - the lowest number I heard was six hundred gallons, the largest over a thousand, and with oil right at $5/gallon on contract pricing the $4,000 number is the low side of the median.

A good sized home can add a pellet boiler for $9k /w storage silo, outside to inside plumbing is $2,500 to $5,000 depending on distance to the outdoor boiler and internal work needed, then the heating cost goes down to four to five tons of pellets, which would be $1,000 to $1,250. Customer credit and bandwidth for installers are the only current barriers to full biomass conversion. There'll be a top stop on pellet availability but that is being worked from many directions, too.


I worry about Maine -- this winter is going to be absolutely brutal. To put this in context, the 2004 per capita income was $30,046.00 (www.rupri.org/Forms/Maine.pdf), so to spend $5,000.00 on home heating oil and perhaps another $1,000.00 or so for electricity is an enormous hardship.

For a little more background, see today's Sun Journal: http://www.sunjournal.com/story/271310-3/LewistonAuburn/Heating_headache/

As I've said here many times before, a $3,000.00 ductless heat pump could be one of the better options, especially for those living along the coast where temperatures tend to remain moderate (sorry, Fort Kent). Even at $0.15 per kWh, a ductless heat pump would still be two to three times more economical than either oil or electric heat.


"How about Maine, where the ave oil heat bill next winter is estimated at $4000 as a canary?"

excellent point. northeasterners might be jealous of the weather, not needing to heat in the winter and the large amounts of rain.

Yes BrianT, the whole planet IS a famine trap at current population levels. This is a point that is so often ignored on TOD, perhaps because in-depth discussion of large scale Die-off is too horrible to contemplate. Very few countries will be able to support their present population as Fossil fuels decline and climate chaos increases.

It appears from Gail's numbers, that at least a million people will need to leave Hawaii, to enable a sustainable future for SOME people. It may well be that 5 times that number will have to leave Toronto.

You seem to be offended by the idea that "Hawaii is doomed", but offer no alternative scenario to that presented by Gail, and supported by other contributors. Please explain how you see Hawaii being able to continue to support its present population in the face of ever increasing costs for fuel, and declining income from tourism, etc.

the whole planet IS a famine trap at current population levels.
No, sorry, it is NOT.

In Hawaii's case, it can provide a large proportion of its own food if it converts its cash crops (mentioned elsewhere in this section) for food crops. Famine remains a political issue - Cuba's oil crash saw an average weight loss of 20lbs/person. But no-one appeared to starve to death.

I think I would have to agree with Merv_NZ. There are going to be a lot of places that will be famine traps at current population levels. There is no way the world can sustain 6.7 billion people, if the amount of fossil fuels decreases very significantly. We have raised food production by using more and more fossil fuels (irrigation, refrigeration, long-distance transport, fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides). The countries with the highest population relative to arable lands will probably be most at risk.

Currently we are feeding 6.7 billion people of which 1.5 billion people are on a very inefficient diet. This is caused by too much meat and dairy products, too much transport inputs (apples from New Zealand sold in Britain) and too much processed foods.Think 10 times the energy inputs of the rest of the world's food. 3.5 billion people live on locally produced food which is not too rich in animal protein, though they want to have the lifestyle of the earlier mentioned 1.5. The rest is underfed or -only a small part- living on external food aid. We can meet a major chunk of the expected shortfall in fossil fuel input by moving away from this overfeeding the rich part of the population. This will mean a major change in an 'un-negotiable' lifestyle but there is no doubt can be done, technically. Problem is off course that for the 1.5 billion people currently the choice is not "go vegetarian and slow down or starve" but rather "go vegetarian and slow down or see others starve".

You've hit the nail on the head. It seems that there is plenty for everyone to eat if we stop feeding corn to cows and cars. Totonelia might disagree with this due to fertilizer issues. I don't know what carrying capacity is with organic agriculture.

I thought about going to NZ, but would need to lie about my age or my assets.

"Hawaii is doomed"
Depends on what we mean by "Hawaii". Hawaii is a state. Hawaii is also a particular island generally referred to as the Big Island. Hawaii is also a county, covering the island Hawaii. As a recent transplant from California and thus doubly despised, I've urged the adoption of the California pattern (as in LA and SF) of having the major city and its county having the same name: Change Hilo's name to "Hawaii". More seriously, I don't know what to do about Oahu. That's one reason I didn't move there. Another was that I'm not in that economic class.

If Oahu is a famine trap, the whole planet is a famine trap

It is indeed. I'm still here, aren't I? We're yeast and the biosphere is the vat. There will be a large "luck" aspect since there's no way of knowing how it will shake out. The residents of oahu might wind up - entirely by accident - as the luckiest people on the planet or entirely hosed. Ferinstance, by having its economy crash before the rest of the nation, it could get huge grants through the lobbying of Daniel Inouye to upgrade geothermal, OTEC, and other stuff; and at the same time the US could decide it had military interests in the Pacific and move more military out here. I doubt it, but there will be little logic involved, just "sh*t happening".

Hi greenish!

“land halfway between Hilo and Volcano” Same here except much closer to Volcano. “Why are you buying up there where it's cold and wet?” I was asked with no little derision. Wait 'till climate change kicks in. But then, I'm doing the best I can from a 7th Generation perspective. The least expensive garden land in the US is here in upper Puna District. My land partner and I will be working with 9 acres. I did a lot of research on this. If you can't afford a farm but want to grow enough to feed yourself and family, this is it. Need to take into consideration some definite downsides. Vog, long term threat of volcanic activity (hope the major future activity is headed off shore) and as you pointed out, you'll be on your own as far as taking care of your health. But for us at the “trailer trash” level, can't think of anything better.

Hey, I aspire to be big isle trailer trash - hard to get a good house trailer there. All that's available is cargo containers, which are mo' funky. What Puna needs is a couple of trailer parks - no tornados and no need for propane heating. Someone should ship a large container of 'em in.

My cheap lots are in Fern Forest Vacation Estates and Aloha Estates... Aloha actually has deep soil. $5k per lot when I bought. The soil is pret' near nonexistent in Fern Forest, but one could still truck in some Hamakua soil, or just fill a cargo container with 16-16-16 and grow trees in surplus plastic barrels. This wouldn't be sustainable, but I didn't reproduce so it doesn't have to be THAT sustainable.

I've never experienced vog there in the times I've been over - it's such a point source that it's seldom a problem. I like the cool climate... and the ability to get out of the rain by just going up to volcano park. Lava flows are a lot easier to run from than tornados, too. The odds of lava are very favorable compare to the odds of anthropogenic weirdness in the coming decades.

Anyhody want to move to my fern forest 3 acres and start planting it for me? You have to promise not to shoot me if I ever show up.

hey, what's the deal with assuming I want to award my own post one up-arrow? That's presumptuous. Someone please vote it back to zero for me.

Containers ARE the Big Island equivalent of trailers. See
On the first page it has examples of "Bldg. Permit Issued April 2008".
Brag, brag. Those permits were issued for our parcels, 3 Squared, in Fern Forest. To our knowledge these are the first PERMITTED container housing. The way they outlawed containers for housing was not directly but by putting in minimum ceiling heights. John Rogers, owner of above Website spotted that the newer "hi-cube" containers were high enough to get around that. Go John! Still the window of opportunity is closing as container prices rise.
As to soil depth, I make my dirt wherever I go. (You can give that a variety of interpretations.) Thank you John Jeavons.
"The odds of lava are very favorable compare to the odds of anthropogenic weirdness in the coming decades." My sentiments eloquently put. Mind if I steal it?

Hi. I know John & am already familiar with his website. Almost had 9 acres square in FF too but our own realtor bought it out from under us. Chee. I have a square 3 acres up near the top of Cap'ns Drive.

Feel free to steal freely from my text; "greenish" is a generic persona anyhow.

How is it going with the fishing industry on the islands? In Europe the fisherman have been almost as vocal as the truckers over rising fuel costs. If Hawaii is at the end of the supply chain surely they must be having trouble too?

My impression is that fishing is not a big industry today in Hawaii. I know there is a little fish farming. The belief in recent years has been that it would be easy to import everything that was needed.

When one looks at the ruins in state parks, one sees evidence that fishing was important to the early Hawaiians.

the fishing business has already transitioned thru the poaching phase to to various extremes such as fishermen creating artificial rafts to draw in fish and protecting said traps with gunfire. The islands have been systematically stripped of all edible fish, including ' protected ' marine reserves. This has been a calculated program by criminal elements and has gone unchecked. If you question these activities by poachers, you risk your safety.
A while back a map was posted showing Hawaii on the edge of the North Pacific dead zone. Fish stocks are declining. The sea around Hawaii is divided up into sectors and officially, only certain areas are allowed to be fished at a given time. The sectors extend out 40 miles. Thats a lot of fuel. Locals see fishing rules as guidelines or suggestions
I only managed to catch three fish 45 miles out on the way to Majuro. One after another; an immature marlin, a mahi mahi, and a tuna. Every island I visited asked me if I had caught any tuna. Answer, no. The oceans have been stripped of tuna. Only fish still around are mahi mahi because they travel in pairs and are unsuitable for canning.


Hi Gail,

Nice article. I had recently been thinking along the same lines, not only about Hawaii but also other states that seem to have a population-to-carrying capacity conflict such as Nevada and Arizona:


I did speculate that Hawaii might be the first state to drop out of the Union due to its remoteness, but it is capable of supporting a good amount of human life locally. Some of the desert states are far worse off than that.

But the key is that in the absense of fossil fuels, the number of people living on the land will have to more closely match the local carrying capacity of the land. Hawaii will continue to support human populations, but not as large as they are now. Nevada, Arizona, and Alaska's populations will also have to shrink, perhaps even more dramatically.

The cornucopians claim that "progress" proceeds "upward" indefinitely, and that industrial societies will never experience decline -- they will just figure out some new way to use technology to keep creating more and more of anything and everything forever and ever. I think articles like yours here show the edges of the skein starting to unravel already. The first symptoms of decline are already upon us: people leaving Hawaii and Alaska in droves because their physical isolation (and also climate in the case of the latter) makes the cost of living rapidly escalate as fossil fuel prices go up; airlines shutting down; tourism evaporating. These things are all in decline already, not just because they have gone out of fashion, but because large numbers of people who used to be able to afford them cannot any longer.

There is no "someday" in the future when we will once again have as much air travel tourism as we had a few years ago. I suspect we have passed peak air travel already, forever. We have thus also probably passed peak vacation houses in Hawaii, and therefore also peak housing prices in Hawaii. Buying a house in Hawaii now for investment purposes seems to me like plunging into an investment that will decline in value indefinitely.

Utopia in Decay

Kevin Cherkauer

The cornucopians claim that "progress" proceeds "upward" indefinitely, and that industrial societies will never experience decline -- they will just figure out some new way to use technology to keep creating more and more of anything and everything forever and ever.

hey slow down there. there are various types of cornucopians. you setting up a straw man with the indefinite growth thing. I think many cornucopians just don't believe that peak oil will be a disaster.

As I looked at your blog, it reminded me of how much Honolulu reminded me of Los Vegas. Both are huge tourist Meccas, with hoards of tourists in the streets in the evening. Both seem to have the same strategy for earning revenue by providing entertainment to out-of-state residents. I don't see either as being a good place for real estate investment.

It's a bit easier to catch a bus to Las Vegas though! :-)
But it is still difficult to see much of the town getting through in reasonable shape.

Very interesting and thought-provoking article by Gail...

A few comments to supplement.

Hawaii's strategic importance is that it an unsinkable aircraft carrier. That has been apparent since shortly after the dawn of flight in 1903. The unsinkable nature of Hawaii was obious on the afternoon of December 7, 1941. This feature was true all through the Cold War, much to the consternation of Soviet naval planners who dealt with operations in the Pacific. And it is true today, despite the abysmally low quality of strategic thinking within the upper and bi-partisan reaches of the US government.

It is significant that the US and its Navy took interest in Hawaii in the 1890s, at the dawn of understanding of the "Influence of Seapower" on history (re A. T. Mahan). Starting in 1898 (long story), the strategic importance of Hawaii was such that it anchored the "Eeastern Pacific Bastion" within US defense planning. Hawaii was essential to the formation of War Plan Orange, the highly evolved plan that formed the basis for the eventual defeat of Japan in World War II.

The overall significance of this is that Hawaii was important to the US long before our nation, our economy, our society became "addicted to oil" (famous saying from somewhere... can anyone trace the source?) So the earliest US form of "investment" in Hawaii was to build military fortifications, mainly at Pearl Harbor, but elsewhere as well.

For most of the first half of the 20th Century, Hawaii's import was threefold, in descending priority. 1) As a military site; 2) as a stopping point for trans-Pacific shipping; and 3) as as an agricultural locale where the likes of Dole grew pineapples using a lot of imported stoop labor.

Hawaii's tourist industry only came into its own in the days of cheap air travel, starting in the 1960s or so. And Hawaii's desireability as a "nice place to live" for the rich & famous (if not the wannabe rich & famous) only began to blossom in the 1970s. Really, the rise of Hawaii as a "destination" is directly linked to cheap energy of the modern era. Take away the cheap energy, and Hawaii is too far away -- and once you get there you cannot afford to live very well unless you are rich.

Still, even in a post-Peak Oil world Hawaii will remain important. But my take is that most of the current popuation will not be able to live there. Basic amenities like electricity will become horribly expensive. Food & fuel will be out of sight for most. Modern health care will become unavailable to most residents. You should expect the usual forms of social discord as it dawns on the populace that they have spent their lives preparing for a future that no longer exists. Darn, right?

Should the US survive in some form or another as a political entity, it is likely that there will be a political consensus to keep Hawaii garrisoned. It's an incomparable place to base ships and planes, even if the fuel is too cstly such that nobody can routinely fly or sail. But if something BIG occurs, then it will be possible to gas 'em up and launch from Hawaii to reach distant parts much faster than if the kick-off point is, say, California.

An aircraft like the new Air FOrce F-22, for example, will remain stationed in Hawaii (and Alaska). F-22 has such capabilities that it changes the strategic equation every time its wheels leave the runway.

And expect that the Navy will keep nuclear-powered ships like submarines and surface combatants at Hawaii.

Meanwhile, over time Hawaii will revert to the distant and sparsely populated place that it was back in, say, the 1920s or so.

At this point, electricity is already 41 cents per kWh on the Big Island - four times what it is in many states on the mainland. Most food is imported.

So far on the Big Island, there seems to be relatively discord. People seem to be more willing to talk and work together-- perhaps bound together by a common sense of urgency.

Hawaii has ... trade winds. If it's a matter of life or death there are plenty of places where one can put up wind turbines. I don't think we're that far away from wind driven anhydrous ammonia production, it's an easily managed replacement for diesel as well as a very valuable commodity for trade with the U.S. mainland and China. Given the right attention Hawaii could be a regional power ... but it all comes down to acting and acting now.


Not only trade winds but vortices... there's a spot at the Pali Lookout where on a good brisk tradewind day you can stand in an 80+mph sustained wind. Good fun.

On the big isle, there's areas like the Ka'u desert and various lava fields where there's about 0% average cloud cover, intense sunlight for CSP. There's OTEC from cold offshore water, though I personally don't care for it. There's an impressive geothermal potential. One could build monorails and have it as the centerpiece of a high-energy civilization.

It simply won't happen. Indeed, I thought I was an environmentalist, but apparently not; since the big isle enviro's mostly have been opposed to geothermal, preferring to see oil tanked in. This is on putative religious grounds to avoid dissing the volcano goddess Pele.

Then again, the earth arguably doesn't need a sustainable plague of apes, so perhaps the lack of foresight is something I should be more philosophical about.

Aside from the medical care issue, a person could probably live well there for another 50 years as the rest of the world goes through extreme weirdness. A bit of stored NPK, some ukulele strings and a laid-back attitude would take a person far.

For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surf is in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud-rack; I can feel the spirit of its woody solitudes, I hear the plashing of the brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

Nearby is an interesting ruin--the meager remains of an ancient temple--a place where human sacrifices were offered up in those old bygone days...long, long before the missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make [the natives] permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there; and showed the poor native how dreary a place perdition is and what unnecessarily liberal facilities there are for going to it; showed him how, in his ignorance, he had gone and fooled away all his kinsfolk to no purpose; showed him what rapture it is to work all day long for fifty cents to buy food for next day with, as compared with fishing for a pastime and lolling in the shade through eternal summer, and eating of the bounty that nobody labored to provide but Nature. How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell.
- Roughing It

Hey Gail......

Another thought..... The article caused me to recall long ago when I was flying antisubmarine warfare (ASW) jets in the Navy. We were on a training mission off Kuai, and the first thing we did on-station was to drop a sonobuoy called a "bathythermograph."

The BT buoy deployed a long wire, about 1,200 feet down in the water. Then it dropped a device that tracked down the wire, measuring water temperatire at each point along the way. It radioed the results back to the aircraft, where we processed the signals. By first obtaining a temperature-depth profile, you could calibrate the other acoustic devices involved in listening for submarines. Long story about ASW, but not here.

At any rate, my first introduction to the waters off Kuai was the return from the BT buoy... at 1,000 feet water depth, the temperature was near a relatively comfortable 70- to 80-degrees (F). Huh???

Having trained elsewhere, where the water depths get c-c-c-c-cold in a hurry, I was just astonished at the water temp profile. I could not believe that you could have open seawater that warm, that deep. I figured we had a defective buoy. So I dropped another BT buoy. Same result.

Well, the moral to the sotry is that there is a heck of a lot of thermal energy stored in the seawater around Hawaii.

Ocean thermal power generation is a natural play for Hawaii. Of course, almost all the equipment has to be manufactured elsewhere and shipped in to Hawaii. But once it's up and running, I suspect that there is some serious electricity to be generated.

The resource is there. Hawaii ought to be the US ground-zero for that kind of technology demonstration.

I don't see links showing much information about ocean thermal in Hawaii. Some information from 2006, but I would expect something more recent if it were really happening.

I did run into an article about Wave Energy May Soon Light Up Maui Homes.

I think one issue on the Big Island is that HELCO already has a 30% margin already in electric power capacity (or maybe that is only on the Hilo side), so is not very interested in adding any more capacity, unless it might help with the variability problem. Of course, they are not thinking too hard about the possibility that oil imports might go down, cutting into that capacity.

Hey Gail......

Another thought..... The article caused me to recall long ago when I was flying antisubmarine warfare (ASW) jets in the Navy. We were on a training mission off Kuai, and the first thing we did on-station was to drop a sonobuoy called a "bathythermograph."

The BT buoy deployed a long wire, about 1,200 feet down in the water. Then it dropped a device that tracked down the wire, measuring water temperatire at each point along the way. It radioed the results back to the aircraft, where we processed the signals. By first obtaining a temperature-depth profile, you could calibrate the other acoustic devices involved in listening for submarines. Long story about ASW, but not here.

At any rate, my first introduction to the waters off Kuai was the return from the BT buoy... at 1,000 feet water depth, the temperature was near a relatively comfortable 70- to 80-degrees (F). Huh???

Having trained elsewhere, where the water depths get c-c-c-c-cold in a hurry, I was just astonished at the water temp profile. I could not believe that you could have open seawater that warm, that deep. I figured we had a defective buoy. So I dropped another BT buoy. Same result.

Well, the moral to the sotry is that there is a heck of a lot of thermal energy stored in the seawater around Hawaii.

Ocean thermal power generation is a natural play for Hawaii. Of course, almost all the equipment has to be manufactured elsewhere and shipped in to Hawaii. But once it's up and running, I suspect that there is some serious electricity to be generated.

The resource is there. Hawaii ought to be the US ground-zero for that kind of technology demonstration.



Er, lets see:

1) Hawaii is a big net energy importer. In fact, it has the highest electricity costs in the nation since it generates most of its electricity from oil.

2) Hawaii has too many people for the amount of agricultural land it has.

3) Hawaii's biggest industry is going to collapse.

Seems like very compelling reasons to leave Hawaii. The only rays of sunshine are that photovoltaics are going to become cheap and maybe geothermal will become cheap. But that big drop in solar prices is going to take some years. Meanwhile, net exports are falling now.

Which states are the worst to be in and which the best to be in post-peak?

"2) Hawaii has too many people for the amount of agricultural land it has."

so what? are people dying? your assumption is based on what? how could you possibly know it has too many people? you'd have to see the future to know that.

"But that big drop in solar prices is going to take some years."

because of high oil prices the ROI makes much more sense in states with high electric bills like hawaii.

Hawaii could still be a reasonable place for some people--the large number of people on Oahu in particular seem to be a problem.

I would think the best states would be the ones with good water supply and lots of farm land with good soil--Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio come to mind. More hilly states like Kentucky and Tennessee might work also.

Hawaii ranks 48th in per capita electicity use-it is not just the rates, it is the usage and how much the ave person could use and still live comfortably. I realize this doesn't fit the matrix http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/us_per_capita_electricity_2005.html

I am surprised Hawaii is beat out by New York, Rhode island, and California. With little need for heat or air conditioning, and very little industry, they should be 51st. Maybe it is all of the Oahu high rises with a/c that helps keep them up.

I found out about Peak Oil for the first time from a friend of a friend that lives in Kauai. They've (local focus groups) been on the leading edge of this topic for many years now, due to the concerns explained in this article. They believe that due to dwindling oil supplies, price will at some point make transport to the island uneconomical and they will need to become self-sufficiant.

Upon hearing of the idea of Peak Oil that first time, my reaction was one of denial. I was certain it was a crackpot idea, and there were hundreds of years of oil left. A few quick searches on the internet, a few books by Simmons, Deffeyes and Kunstler and I was a believer. What struck me as odd, was how the topic had not made it into the mainstream media yet. Since then of course it has gotten the World's attention.

Flights to Hawaii have recently been reduced by 30%. Aloha airlines went out of business. So the pressures are already mounting at the current price. What price threshold would greatly isolate the islands from goods and services, is anyone's guess.

The present price rises of oil have not worked their way through yet.
The present model of air travel is not viable with oil at $130/barrel, according to the airlines themselves.
The tourist industry will suffer much larger reductions within the next year, and this is aside from the world economy going through hard times due to oil, which will further reduce this luxury end of the trade.
The reason why Hawaii is much more vulnerable at relatively low level of distress than Toronto is because industry in Toronto is much more diversified.
Perhaps they will end up starving too, but certainly at fairly modest levels of depression induced by high oil prices there seems no way for Hawaii to support its present levels of population, purely in terms of dollars and cents without looking on to whether subsistence farming becomes the rule.
Most people there will leave.

Cslater8, you write:

They believe that due to dwindling oil supplies, price will at some point make transport to the island uneconomical and they will need to become self-sufficient.

The problem is that if their local carrying capacity expert is correct (see my comment above), that self-sufficiency will be at pre-industrial level, since it seems their arable land can provide only for approximately one twelfth of their current population. As the German poet Stefan George put it: schon eure Zahl ist Frevel ('your very number is a sacrilege').

Looks like that without transfers from mainland US, Hawaii could rapidly generate into a second Haiti.

There are a number of separate islands. It is mostly Oahu that is way too densely populated. It is not clear to me that people from Oahu would spread out over the other islands, causing the problems you mention. It seems equally likely that many would head for the mainland, or stay where they are, not realizing the nature of the problems.

"What price threshold would greatly isolate the islands from goods and services, is anyone's guess."

thank you. finally a sensible comment about the future instead of concrete statements of impending doom.

All the discusions of distance and isolation miss the fact that sea travel is a very different proposition from land or air travel.

What matters for freight is distance to port. Once you get things on water, it's easy. Even in the days of sail they used to ship mutton and butter from NZ to the UK. Any two ports in the world are effectively next door.

Shipping oil to Hawaii from any seasside terminal will be easier than shipping it a 100 miles by truck. It's Omaha that should be worried.

Interesting point but in need of further analysis. In the modern economic order, time is money in a way it was not earlier. Thus, there is a large cost due to the time it takes by water. Remember we're talking about distances such as to and from Hawaii. When it becomes a choice between slow-boat and no-boat, we may see a shift partly back to an earlier pattern.

If there is an outbreak of collective sanity in Hawaii and Oahu is emptied of those tied to BAU then Hawaii (especially Big Island) has 3 strong things going for it: (1) alternative energy (geothermal and wind especially on Big Island), (2) climate, room and soil for food self-sufficiency, (3) winter heating costs minimal compared to mainland. On the downside, it lacks the means to produce "tools" in the general sense and seems to have not enough to sell to the rest of the world for those tools. Expect in the long run for Hawaiian-born to emigrate to wherever tools remain in production in their younger years to earn enough there to gather tools and ship them back to the homeland. A pattern somewhat similar to immigrants coming to US and sending back money. One reason for thinking this a possibility is that in contrast to the "collective sanity" referred to above, on an individual basis I've run into a remarkable level sanity here.

That is an interesting idea about young people going abroad to collect tools to bring back home.

I agree that sea trade is possible, even with very little fossil fuel. I think the bigger issue is going to be lack of currency to trade for things like oil and cars. If young people go abroad to work for tools, their effort provides the currency needed for buying the tools.

It is not relevant that military personnel are rotated Hawaii/Iraq.Neither is the home state of the personnel.They get posted to a base for a certain period of time with or without their families and if they get an active duty posting they will return to their home base.That is a fact of life in military service.
Unless there is a catastrophic breakdown in the US economy I can't see the military winding back their presence in Hawaii.It is part of the forward defence of the continental United States.South Korea,Japan,Okinawa and even Guam would be abandoned well before Hawaii.
Tourism is certainly going to decline.That is already an issue here in Australia.As people lose their jobs in tourism they may well return to the US or elsewhere.That might help to solve the population problem.
I think that Hawaii has quite a lot in it's favour to weather a US or worldwide crisis.And,as you say,there is a relatively high proportion of the people who are at least aware.

I happen to live in Upcountry Maui and am impressed with the insight of the author. Yes,Hawaii and Maui in particular is blessed with a pleasent climate and beautiful scenery. However, the islands are extremely vulnerable to any serious energy shortages. The economy is based almost entirely on tourism with agriculture contributing only a small faction to the base. Without a continuing supply of cheap and abundant oil tourism is virtually doomed. Even as tourism declines the cost of living is rapidly increasing, because virtually everything must be shipped over 2000 miles to reach us. I have heard expressions of concern about being cut off from the mainland as travel becomes prohibitively expensive and the number of flights declines. We are indeed the canary in the coal mine insofar as how peak oil will impact the rest of the nation.

I had the best time on Maui for a time back in 1992, driving a '78 Plymouth Fury ("only a 318" $20 to fill up) and generally having a blast.

One thing that struck me was that there was no public transport on Maui. Has this changed Gail? I've been back a few times since then and didn't notice any. I would have thought that the north shore highway would be ideal for this. The road to Paia jams to a crawl at rush hour.

Maui has a bus system. Perhaps it is new since you visited there.

Wow, you're right. Would have thought they needed more than one bus every three hours between the airport and Pa'ia though.

"canary in the coal mine"
Perhaps not. One of the more benign scenarios I can think of is that Oahu gets hit early and there's a considerable exodus to the mainland. Then we start building towards sustainability. It should send a message but the canary lives on. Will people realize that a mass relocating out of Oahu will work early in the game but after a while the places to relocate to and the means to do it will become increasingly scarce?

Thanks. I was blessed with a couple of good guides while visiting Hawaii. One was Richard Ha, who is a farmer and very much involved with energy in Hilo. The other was a cousin I grew up with, who married a man born in Hawaii and has lived on Maui for over 20 years.

When I was there, I looked closely at local news stories and tried to talk to quite a few different people. I also visited the museum in Honolulu and its book store. Goggle is also a big help, too.

Wow!! Is all I can say due to the foresight of so many people. I think that the group thought process is working hard and well. I had to register just to say "nice job", and to add my basic ideas.

One source of power that Hawaii does, and will always have (to the dismay of surfers) is wave power. Check out OPTT (Ocean Power Tech) on the Nasdaq.

I have been to Maui during the easier years, and also found it a blast with a booming industry. However, judging by the local Outback, the easy days are drawing to a close. What was a 30 minute wait on Thursday is now a no minute wait on Saturday in just a year's time.

The downside to any ideas that I would pose is they get exponentially more difficult with each passing day, and it increasingly looks like a dead end. Why? Well the first and foremost hurdle is a big one, and that is the bureaucracy and stubbornness of people who's houses it would claim and payroll it would tax. However, I'll leave that dull topic for later.

One food system which could easily be designed and built is an large greenhouse in the structure of a parking garage but without the need for that weight. It would have to be big, with a minimum footprint, and maximum reasonable height, and have an extensive grid of tracking solar panels on the outside. It would be surrounded by large round in-ground fish tanks. The solar panels would provide power for LED's that would augment daily light, and plants would be grown using a system that would pump the fish waste to the plants as nutrients, while simultaneously filtering water to aquatic levels. This isn't new, though for some reason it's never been done on any scale, but it's known as aquaponics. A system of automated systems could efficiently avoid toxic levels on both ends and identify problem areas. For an additional feature, farm raised fish tend to swim in a circle if they are in a circle. This creates a whirlpool at the center. The power of their swimming could be harnessed to pump the water. All in all, a fantastic menu could be created at minimum cost after the initial investment (the cost of feeding fish?). I don't know the feasibility of which crops can be grown with aquaponics, but I know hydroponics in general typically superior and can be used to grow large healthy crops quickly. Maybe if there are some nutritionists/chemists around, someone could make an intelligent symbiosis between fish/plants. Obviously these facilities could be fine tuned for max production, but it would take several strategically placed to make them work. Heck you could put a really nice restaurant/storefront in there too. The need for armed guards only arises during shortages.

I don't see a need for a power solution beyond wave, wind, geothermal, and solar power. If everybody began converting their rooves, barren areas were exploited for power, there should be no problem at all. If those three things aren't enough, there are always generators that run on human waste, landfill gas, and sour gas. Check out microturbine.com. 1.3M people make a lot of waste.

As for transportation, I don't understand why someone hasn't made a lithium-phosphate plug in electric motorcycle. Have you seen the Tesla car? There's no need for oil after these basic things are implemented. Add some electric trains for long distances, and voila.

Forget toilet paper and paper altogether. Who needs it? Maybe there could be hemp farms (aren't there already =)) for paper if necessary, as I understand hemp is the most efficient form of paper. It also makes clothes.

I also have suspicions that there could be an electric barge made that would run on solar power. If not, goods could still travel conventionally.

Now for the major downer - we live in a terrible senseless bureaucracy that will not be able to make preparations sufficiently before the steel and solar needed to do this becomes very expensive. China has the benefit of being able to make an immediate mandate, and the population abide. The US has been notorious for not adapting a single policy on anything except more oil. I recall a summit recently in Indonesia where the rest of the world pleaded for us to give a roadmap and goals, but we were "supportive" of less wasteful ways, and not necessarily ready to adapt them.

To overcome this hurdle of getting people to move their homes, get permits, get funding, get majority support, get design and engineering, and get it done quickly would be incredible. If 75% of people made it a desperate priority in their lives, it could be done, and it wouldn't be all that hard after the momentum was there. The unfortunate mantra may be "too little, too late." It could probably be done in two years(including the design of software and systems). A military could get it done, but ours is conveniently occupied in oil land while oil prices skyrocket, stretched far to thin to deal with a domestic project like this (uh Katrina). The private capital and determination also appear to be occupied in the oil market. At the normal pace of things, by the time this was approved/in motion, the cost of running the heavy machinery would be pretty immense.

Hey if you've got heart, pull, and capital, and want to make a life-saving industry, drop me a line, I'll be on the next plane over there, while there still is one!

as a footnote, one of the best ways to combat those high electricity bills is to convert all the lights to LED's. It isn't too difficult. You could design your own system (most efficient) or buy the ones that screw in like a regular bulb and have the power supply on board. Solar panels are the best investment (it's an investment in oil! Apparently you guys are bullish on oil) and a Toyota Prius can be supplemented to have a lithium phosphate battery that can be charged with solar and has a range of 50 miles for battery only (maybe 150 I forget but plenty). Search "Valence Prius". That leaves the challenge of food, which I agree is a challenge!

led bulbs - http://www.lightworld.com/optiled/index.asp?id=6 - again it's a capital investment that would take how long to repay itself on HI?

A symbolic story I thought I'd share is that I know someone who isn't in the best financial position who wrecked a car. Desperate to get to work, he bought the cheapest thing that came his way, a 80's Jeep Wagoneer 45 days ago. He still has his job, but can barely juggle gas at $170 (and rising) a week and rent. I told him all along not to get it, and a week ago he offered to buy my 50cc scooter off me. I told him it's not for sale, but I found him one that was. It was too late, he had stalled a bit, and he had bought more gas, and couldn't quite afford to buy it then, even though it would save him $120 a week. Such is the nature of our entire country, I believe, staring down the barrel...

Sorry for the long posts and thank you for the insight Gail!

Hi PS,

The G12 lamps you've identified appear to be available in red, amber, blue and green only, so I'm not sure how useful they would be for general room illumination. In addition, there's no mention of lumen output (how much light they produce) or lumen maintenance (how much light they continue to produce over time). With respect to colour rendering or CRI, we can assume it would be effectively zero or near zero given their monochromatic nature.

For those living off-grid with not a lot of capacity to spare, another alternative would be a low-wattage cold cathode CFL such as the ones shown here: http://www.1000bulbs.com/2-to-3-Compact-Fluorescents/. A two-watt MicroBrite cold cathode CFL:

* draws the same amount of power as the LEDs you mention (actually less, as the LED spec sheets indicate 2.5 watts based on their 0.75 PF);
* produces 80 lumens (initial);
* has a nominal service life of 25,000 hours, unaffected by frequent switching;
* a CRI of 82, similar to that of a standard CFL, and a CCT of 2,700K, which puts it on par with a conventional incandescent lamp;
* distributes light evenly in all directions whereas LEDs, by nature, are directional sources;
* retails for about one-half the cost.

For applications where a little more light is welcome, the three-watt version produces 130 lumens.


haha yeah green and blue bulbs not too useful! Maybe in a disco. I didn't re-research it before that post, but LED's are now producing more than 100 lumens per watt, pretty phenomenal, and of course they last virtually forever. "The highest efficiency high-power white LED is claimed by Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. with a luminous efficacy of 115 lm/W (350 mA)." (see wikipedia) Here is a better LED house bulb - http://www.theledlight.com/12volt-led-bulb.html which is 2.5w for ~140 lumens. LED's have passed all other forms of lighting in terms of efficiency and can be made in most parts of the spectrum (hence to grow plants). CFL's may indeed be the most practical because 40 lumens/watt is still respectable and more accessible for many folks. Both are a drastic improvement over 60w bulbs offering greater than 10 times the efficiency. Next time if I leave a link I'll check to make sure it's what I intended! =]

Hi ps,

No question, LEDs hold much promise, but at this stage I'm not convinced they're a good choice with respect to general room illumination. A 25-watt Philips SLS CFL produces 1,750 lumens which puts its efficacy at about 70 lumens per watt. This lamp retails for about $5.00 -- often less where utility and government subsidies apply -- and has a nominal service life of 15,000 hours which, given on my own experience, I consider to be a conservative number. Like most of its counterparts, it has a CRI of 82 and a CCT of 2,700K, so most of us would find the light it provides acceptable/tolerable in a residential environment. This is, in effect, the "gold standard" by which I judge all competing products.

When CRIs drop into the 70s and CCTs reach into the 5,000 or 6,000K range (as is true of many LED products) the resulting light is likely to be deemed "too cold" or "too harsh" and a LED that generates fewer than 800 or 900 lumens (the equivalent of a standard 60-watt incandescent) is somewhat limited in its utility. Moreover, we know some twenty-five years after their initial introduction; after many significant advances in terms of their operating performance; after massive reductions in cost; and after extensive promotion by the lighting industry, utilities, various government bodies, NGOs, etc., many consumers are still reluctant to make the switch. I can't imagine LEDs will have an easier ride, especially if their technical and cost performance are no better -- or only marginally better -- than their CFL alternatives.


Hi Paul
I have to agree that LED's are not quite ready for widespread residential use and that CFLs are more reasonable for a home setting. They are a substantial improvement, as is using a clothesline instead of a dryer. It's clear that the $22 LED's are "high margin". It's unfortunate no one has brought the true replacements to the market at a lower cost than these. I also thought you might find it interesting to hear about real brightest LED out there - kind of outrageous! http://www.mouser.com/seoulsemiconductor/ It also mentions that the 900 lumens it produces is far greater than a 60w bulb, though I don't know by which metric. Yes it's 6300CCT and 70 CRI. I've heard somewhere that many of the lumens of incandescents are infrared, or heat. Can you verify?

Anyhow LED's are the current leaders in almost every category, so once their spectrum becomes less harsh, they will be the ideal replacement. They have come a long way! Although it would be nice to design the house-LED solution, I'd rather design an electric scooter that goes 55mph and has a range of 100 miles.

So for ease of execution I think I will use CFL's in my next under-cabinet lighting project unless I can find an LED with a nice wavelength.

So any comments on aquaponics in HI? It would be very effective, even in a small backyard setting. Hopefully a backyard with a pool. Check out this basic link if you're interested - http://www.aquaponics.com/InfoCommercial.htm

Hi ps,

Good to see ongoing progress on multiple fronts; they have come a long way, as you say, and will no doubt continue to improve with time. To answer your question, a standard 120-volt, 60-watt, A19 incandescent lamp generates about 890 lumens whereas its 230/240-volts GS counterpart due to its heavier filament design might come in at a little over 700 lumens -- I wouldn't say "far greater", but certainly more than a 60-watt GS lamp when operated at these higher line voltages. And incandescent lamps do, indeed, radiate a substantial amount of IR (some of which can be recycled through the use of special selective coatings), but their lumen ratings reflect only the visible portion.

In addition to service life, colour rendering and colour temperature, lumen maintenance is another critical consideration; I've seen more than my share of LEDs fail prematurely or suffer severe (and in some cases surprisingly rapid) drop-offs in light output. If you take a look at the specs for some of the LED products offered by Philips, GE and Osram Sylvania, you'll notice their ratings are often notably more conservative than some of the other players in this field; that, in itself, speaks volumes.

I'm afraid I don't have first-hand experience with aquaponics; my firm has done work with a couple aquaculture operations based in this province but I wasn't personally involved (both T5HO as I recall).


So any comments on aquaponics in HI? It would be very effective, even in a small backyard setting. Hopefully a backyard with a pool

Well this may not be all that relevant, but it's about lights and fish so what the hey.

My dad next door always kept his swimming pool clear, but the pool never got much swimming action so I stopped putting in chemicals and put in fish instead. Mostly to eat any mosquito larvae and they've done a standup job at that. However, I've not tried actually boosting the biomass.

However, I've given some thought to the large resource represented by the huge swarms of termites which rise up several times per year, all fattened up. Once the grid is down, shining some halogen lights on the water surface would cause a lot of them to direct themselves into the mouths of fish. Only problem there is that it might be too much of a good thing and overwhelm the predators, which is of course the termite strategy. So perhaps just sucking them up with halogen lights and a fan powered by a couple of 12v batteries - would work well, they only swarm on windless nites. Could probably collect bushels of them to dry and save for fish food. Or just to grind into high-protein meal and bake into termite patties... but I think the fish (or chickens, etc) would taste better.

And I love LED flashlights, particularly when mated to eneloop AA or AAA cells; though standard 4' fluorescent tubes seem to do pretty well for general illumination. We'll just tend to sleep at night once the grid goes down, probably.

"the huge swarms of termites ...Could probably collect bushels of them to dry and save for fish food. Or just to grind into high-protein meal and bake into termite patties... but I think the fish (or chickens, etc) would taste better."

A professor of mine told us that during WWII when he and others on the Indonesian island of Java were hiding out in the jungle and fighting the Japanese, at times they were close to starvation and so were forced by extreme hunger to eat handfuls of termites. He hated the taste, though. Said termites taste bitter and nasty and he would almost rather have starved than eat them. Given this, I wonder if fish and chickens would even eat them or if the termites so gathered would have to be used as fertilizer?

Thanks for your comments!

By the way, I agree that bureaucracy is a problem. So is the complicated set of regulations / land ownership rules/ economic beliefs /religious beliefs that are imbedded into our culture's group-think. Everyone has such a preconceived notion as to what things "ought" to be like, that there is little chance for change.

Possible runaway global warming could see the sea level rise dramatically in the next 50 years. Hawaii would not be the place to be in that event.

I don't think they would be as bad off as countries that are mostly only a few feet above water. Infrastructure near the ocean might get wet, but it is easy enough for people to move a few hundred yards, and get away from the ocean.

Other than Waipio Valley and Hilo Harbor & a few other places, the big isle wouldn't be that affected. The basic turtle-back shape of a young shield volcano is inherently resistant to sea-level rising. Also, cooler temperatures are right uphill.


The vast tracks of low population density land on the big island are my old stomping ground. Mauna Kea is where I did my thesis observations. I can say that there is a little cattle grazing, some live fire army ranges and a whole lot of lava and high altitude low productivity land. When I stayed on Molokai though, it was hard to find food that was not from the island.


I am afraid I didn't make it to Molokai. The population of Molokai is supposedly only about 8,000. With that low a population, it may be pretty sustainable.

Say, I am curious about breadfruit, if there are any knowledgeable people on here to comment on it. The trees take awhile to grow, but I've known some enormous trees here on Oahu which crank out huge amounts of starch with no tending whatsoever. The only work involved seems to be planting them in the first place, and then picking the fruit later. I understand the drawbacks with making anything a dense monoculture, but there should be less introduction of alien ag pests & diseases in the future. I wonder how something like breadfruit & perhaps other plants unavailable to the native Hawaiians might have changed the stone-age carrying capacity.... or might in the future.

Thanks for the article, Gail.

Breadfruit is one of the highest-yielding food plants, with a single tree producing up to 200 or more fruits per season. In the South Pacific, the trees yield 50 to 150 fruits per year. In southern India, normal production is 150 to 200 fruits annually. Productivity varies between wet and dry areas. In the West Indies, a conservative estimate is 25 fruits per tree. Studies in Barbados indicate a reasonable potential of 6.7 to 13.4 tons per acre

thanks for the breadfruit link.


Seems like something that could get you through a potential bind.

I don't know that they would necessarily need to be grown in dense monoculture. It might be something people could plant a few of, wherever space was available. If there is space along edge of roads, some type of breadfruit or other fruit tree could be grown. If they take a while to grow, it would be good to start sooner rather than later.

A pacific islander came by a few months ago to ask if he could have the coconuts on our trees, and we said sure - they produce all year and just go to waste now. While my wife was talking to him, he noted that his family here had to rely on food stamps. Said when he was growing up in his own country that instead of food stamps, they had breadfruit trees everywhere, and since there were always more than everyone could eat, nobody ever went without. But he couldn't find any on oahu, so his family was on foodstamps and using coconuts, which are planted here as ornamentals.

It sounds like planting breadfruit trees would be a good idea. Looking at what other countries have done is a reasonable idea.

I did a search for OTEC, and only found two references to it in the posts. Hawai'i is an ideal site for development of OTEC resources, and could not only make Hawai'i energy independent, it could become an energy exporter (in the form of liquified hydrogen). Additionally, the OTEC plant can provide additional revenue/product streams in the form of district cooling and mariculture.

The shortage here isn't available energy, it's available foresight.

HELLO? HEMP! ANY BODY HOME? HEMP HEMP. We could grow hemp. Excuse me! Hemp, HEMP, HEMP.


They grow it in Canada, I have Manitoba hemp seeds in my fridge right now. It is a huge cash crop with over 25,000 uses not the leaste of which is fuel.


Ron Paul is hip to hemp why isn't Lingle? Oh yeah. I remember now...

It's already a large cash crop. It also could be what makes breadfruit taste better.

(Gail, feel free to delete, but it does go along with some of Nate's dopamine strategies for post-peak living)


Hemp is very useful but it could not serve as a cash crop for Hawaii. It's just as easy to grow it in places that don't have Hawaii's transportation problems.

Alcohol was re-legalized during Great Depression in large measure as a way to raise tax revenue which was way down. So, a big chance for re-legalizing marijuana may be in the offing.

"Revenue agent is a comin', gonna tear your greenhouse down!"

Trouble in Hawaii? No worries.
Leave it to Magnum. He'll take care of it.

Hope this isn't too late...and also hope its not too politically incorrect...but I've heard rumours that Ha'awaii has racial problems. Is this true? if so that may be another problem they have with Peak Oil.

My level of knowledge is not very high about that, but I will give you my impression.

My impression is that black residents are few and far between. There are fair number of brown and yellow skinned folks. There is a moderate amount of intermarriage between the various groups, but still there are separate communities of Japanese Americans, Portuguese, Chinese Americans, Samoans, Native Hawaiians, Koreans, etc. I know there are also some Mexican more recently.

The one group I heard about discrimination against was tall, fair Americans, on some islands. I heard of one instance of two blonde women moving from Maui to the Big Island, because they felt they would be better accepted there.

Another comment I heard was that some of the native Hawaiians would not feel comfortable dressing like Hilo business people, and wouldn't feel like they really fit in with them.

While Hawaii has differences, I don't think they are worse than in the rest of the US--probably better.

Speaking of trailer trash, I lived on the Big Island for a couple of years in the '70s as a hippie squatter, more or less. Less, sometimes, when I lived with two friends for a while in a rented "coffee shack" near Kealakekua Bay on a 3 acre agricultural lease. Some of my neighbors had active farms, 3-7 acres of coffee, and were, I think, philipino and japanese families or single men. The "coffee shack" worked like this: wooden outhouse toilet over dynamited or jack-hammered hole into porous lava rock, ideally intersecting a hollow "lava tube". Water supply was catchment off the corrugated metal roof into two 55 gallon drums. (Most better off people had redwood tanks to store the water.) We didn't have electricity except for old auto storage batteries obtained for free, which we used to run a radio and cassette tape player. Otherwise we used kerosene lamps and a propane Coleman stove. We made our own beer from Blue Ribbon brand malt extract from the supermarket, white sugar, and bread yeast, which we bottled into quarts. A typical evening consisted of us and perhaps visitors sitting around the kitchen table, drinking homebrew with a few lamps providing light (sun sets at 6 pm every night in the tropics), pyretherum "mosquito coils" under the table, and bedtime at about 10 pm. No electricity also meant no refrigeration, but there was a supermarket a few miles away, so we just planned for it.

I think our working neighbors probably lived more conventionally than we did, but I really don't remember there being electric lines, so perhaps they got along without it, also. We also had neighbors who lived less conventionally than we, a group of fruitarians we dubbed the "fruit flies", who had no fixed place of abode for part of the time I knew them, but ranged over nearby vacant land browsing on wild papaya and avocado, which they also casually planted in opportune areas for future use. Eventually I moved onto a vacant piece of land, possible because much of the area was absentee owned agricultural lease land from the Bishop Estate or other trusts located in faraway Honolulu, and built a 12' x 12' structure from guava sapplings, with a dirt floor but a 6' x 12' loft, all covered with polyethylene under coconut fronds. When I left it, the "fruit flies" took it over and finally had a more permanent home.

Just thought I'd share an example of simple living that required minimal electricity. I did have a car part of the the time, though, and even commuted 20 miles to a job for a while.

By the way, what would happen if the trade winds changed course? Do you think that is possible?

Thanks for your comments. They are interesting!

I know there are quite a few people living off grid. I met several. Electric power lines don't go everywhere, and neither do water systems.

We saw some folks on the beach who my cousin thought were squatters. They had a long piece of plastic overhead, which was their only protection from the elements.

Regarding the trade winds, see the comments of D3PO, below.

Hello Gail,

I'd say Ireland and Korea are in about the same boat, but with more cropland and higher poulation density. Water is not an issue here in Korea, but too much of it is. Korea grows about as much rice as needed, but only about 5% of everything else. No natural resources to speak of, but with so much coastline to total area of land, the sea's bounty helps a bit.

Still, with something like 340 people per km., if TSHTF, I'm not sure this is where I want to be.

Lookin' for land in all the wrong places...


I am sure there are a lot of places with high population and not enough resources. It seems like Koreans may find themselves with a less varied diet--rice and fish, and not much else. I would hope Ireland could start raising some more of its own food, perhaps potatoes?

I am afraid if there are good places to be, others will figure it out also, and the excess population will be spread evenly over the earth.

I am afraid if there are good places to be, others will figure it out also, and the excess population will be spread evenly over the earth.

That's downright positive! I disagree. We have never been evenly spread and never will be. People go where the perceived best is. They go there like lemmings till it is no longer the best place. The problem for Koreans is, where the hell do you go? To communist China? To your hated oppressor, Japan?

I'm thinking not.

What does help Korea a bit is the naturally collectivist mindset. No, they are not collectivists, but they do have a herd mentality that exists in part due to emphasizing harmony and "we" and in part from their defensive stance through history sandwiched between greater powers.

They still do not tolerate foreigners well, in general.

Should be interesting if we stay.


I am thinking one place where this may work out is in the EU. The population now has more ability to travel to different countries within the group. It may turn out that the places with the best carrying capacities are the most rural. Some of the flow east may go west.

I guess here that would be North: SK pop. @ 49 million; NK pop @ @ 21 million... if they can get rid of the nutjobs running the place. More resources up there, too. Of course, that latter point almost guarantees conflict with China, who will almost certainly move to make NK a de facto province as - and if - it collapses.


Gail, nice post. As a kamaina resident of about 36 years, I can add a few tidbits. Regarding metals, there is abundant Mn, Fe, Cu, Ni, Co and Pt in feromanganese crusts on seamounts (large undersea mountains--old seafloor volcanoes) within Hawaii's Exclusive Economic Zone (former 200-mile fisheries limit) about the islands, that go all the way up past Midway to Kure Atoll. There is also high-grade phosphate ore on the tops of the Cretaceous Seamounts offshore. Hawaii is also close to the Clarion-Clipperton high-grade ferromanganese nodule area to the southeast. Geothermal or other power on Hawaii Island could be used to electrowin these metals for an export trade

Someone asked about the trade winds reversing over time here. Not likely, but global warming models suggest a weaker trade wind belt in the future that could spell trouble for both wind power and more importantly, rainfall, as trade winds generate a lot of our wet weather. It was wet in Hawaii in the 60s and 70s, drying in the 80s and very dry, with drought warnings issued in the 90s and now 00s. Because Hawaii and East Maui are so young, they do not hold their groundwater as well as the older islands with sediment caps, so that limits their ability to grow food in many places unless you opt for expensive desal. One bright spot is the recent discovery on Hawaii of deep, abundant fresh water aquifers in the massive shield volcanoes there--another gold star for science in general and geology in particular.

Estimates of native Hawaiian popluations at Cook's arrival vary from about 200,000 to over 1,000,000. One expert I know (E. Norris) says 300,000 tops. And, there is archeological evidence that they were in ecological overshoot by that time. I recall mostly from all the evidence for coastal aquaculture. That may also have been a response to overfishing the Hawaiian waters, like we have done now. And, we are a population of mostly spoiled, clueless softies compared with these tough, wise Hawaiians of yesteryear.

Thanks for the comments! I wasn't aware of the metals in the seamounts. It would interesting to find out what the feasibility of extracting these metals and exporting them would be.

What you say about trade winds sound reasonable. If they are lower, perhaps that is why the rainfall has been lower in historically wet spots recently.

Thanks too, for the population estimates. The calculation I showed indicated 150,000 to 300,000 for the Big Island, and I said I had a hard time believing 300,000. It is hard to see how the population of Hawaii in total was more than double the Big Island's population, so that fits in with what you are saying.

IIRC, the chain of seamounts extending up to Midway were recently named the nation's first undersea national park, and thus would seem an unlikely location for near-term undersea metal or phosphate mining, even if that should prove practical under conditions of energy starvation. (Someone more familiar with Hawaii than I might wish to elaborate.) To me the major resources of Hawaii, other than its people, are its unique location, climate, agricultural history, and vast potential for all the major forms of renewable energy (solar, wind, and geothermal). The OP is correct in that its hope for material resources, other than those related to active volcanoes and fertile volcanic soils, is probably more closely tied to the sea than to the land, however.

With regard to the sea, one geological feature of Hawaii that hasn't been mentioned yet is the fact that very occasionally large sections of its land do slide into the sea (but not in historic times, AFAIK). That's the quick way to turn islands into seamounts.

Gail, in addition to considering Hawaii as "the canary in the coal mine" I also consider it as a logical site for early experimentation on just how to escape that dark tunnel without an explosion or cave-in. If Hawaii can do it, perhaps there's some hope for the rest of us.

IIRC, the chain of seamounts extending up to Midway were recently named the nation's first undersea national park, and thus would seem an unlikely location for near-term undersea metal or phosphate mining,

Yup. It's not like people are clamoring to go drilling in a refuge like ANWR or something.



I have no idea what costs (energy requirements) would be for this kind of mining.

You mentioned sections of islands sliding into the sea. A related issue I didn't mention is earthquakes. These seem to happen fairly regularly on the Big Island, and are part of the cause of the tsunamis. It seems like with earthquakes, the ideal is either buildings/ bridges / roads that won't collapse regardless of the earthquake. I am not sure that is entirely doable. A second best alternative is infrastructure that can be fairly quickly rebuilt, and doesn't do too much damage when it falls. Plans need to consider how new infrastructure would react to earthquakes.

Gail, Thanks for the topical post. I was on the big island two months ago and just returned from 3 weeks in the Ionian islands of Greece. Here's a couple of thoughts I have:

There will be much less variety in food. Sustainable diets will look much more like traditional native diets than what Americans consider food. In Greece, the few staples of wheat, rice and olive oil, are supplemented with local produce. In Hawaii I suspect poi/breadfruit/ or other starches plus mac nut oil and fruits would also become core of a diet with rather limited variety.

Everyone would be growing part of their food supply. In rural Greece most everybody had a garden and possibly a few chickens or a goat.

Meat and fish would be rare. Greece has so over fished the Med that only small fish are caught anymore, despite a plethora of boats and fishermen. I don't think Hawaii could survive with fish being the only protein, despite their vastly superior fishing grounds. Diets would be mostly vegetarian with occasional animal protein.

The future of transport in an oil depleted world will be with sail power. I'm thinking that investing in a good size sailboat and the skills to transit the Pacific could pay off in the coming decades. However I also expect piracy to also rise :-( True trade by island hopping sailors could be a great lifestyle buying what is cheap locally and trading/bartering it at the next destination. You could live well without any currency hassles or government taxes.

Tough individuals with tightly connected small communities will evolve and survive in low-carbon sustainable ways. Their lifestyles may look hard and undesirable by most today, and I think there will be a mass exodus out of the islands as people try to hold onto their current diet, lifestyle and standard of living. Unfortunately I think things will also unravel back on the mainland but it will take longer and this time lag will drive a lot of migration.

Thanks for writing. Your observations sound right on.

I think storms or high winds at sea may be somewhat of a problem for sailboats. I know that Hawaii rarely gets electrical storms, but the currents and winds can be very strong.

There will be much less variety in food. Sustainable diets will look much more like traditional native diets than what Americans consider food.

I'm thinking this is not a necessary condition, but one of ignorance or inflexible thinking for the most part. I've got stuff growing on my veranda, but no plot of land yet. I'll let you know in a couple years how this works out.


Meanwhile, take a gander at something posted on these forums before:


Dear Folks,

I would like to inject some real world experience into this otherwise abstract discussion of food and permaculture.

In addition to being an ecological biologist, a permaculture production food farmer for 9 years, and an expert on biomass fuels, I have also been teaching permaculture since 1997 and have worked in many countries on food/energy production design issues. I have certified more than 400 people in permaculture design since 1997. For more info on this see my site at www.permaculture.com

So in light of my experience I have a couple of things to say...

I produced enough food to feed more than 300 people (with a peak of 450 people at one point), 49 weeks a year in my fully organic CSA on the edge of Silicon Valley . If I could do it there you can do it anywhere.

...My yields were often 8 times what the USDA claims are possible per square foot. My soil fertility increased dramatically each year so I was not achieving my yields by mining my soil. On the contrary I built my soil from cement-hard adobe clay to its impressive state from scratch. By the end I was at over 22% organic matter with a cation exchange capacity (CEC) of over 25.

...At most times I had no more than half of my land under production with the rest in various stages of cover cropping. And I was only producing at a fraction of what would have been possible if I had owned the land and could have justified the investment into an overstory of integrated tree, berry, flower and nut crops along with the various vegetable and fruit crops.

...I grew over 45 different kinds of crops...

The math is easy. With a polyculture, yields of 3-10 pounds of food per square foot are easy to come up with in most climates. For comparison, commercial agriculture in California , which is way inefficient, routinely runs about 1.5-2.5 pounds per square foot per year across a wide variety of crops...

...There are two main reasons known for the dramatically increased productivity of a polyculture?\the benefit of mycorhyzzal symbiosis (which is destroyed in chemical agriculture) and less solar saturation. Solar saturation is the point at which a plants' photosynthetic machinery is overwhelmed by excess sunlight and shut down. In practice, this means that most of our crop plants stop growing at about 10am and don't start again until about 4 in the afternoon. Various members of a polyculture shade each other, preventing solar saturation, so plants metabolize all day. Polyculture as we pursue in permaculture uses close to 100% of the sunlight falling on its mixed crops. Monoculture rarely can use more than 30% of the total sunlight received before saturation.

I've stated the same as the statement below here in the past. TPTB only have what power we give them. That is primarily MONEY. If we're not participating in an economy, there is no economy to support them. I'm all for a do-over.

If population doesn't continue to grow, capitalists rapidly run out of customers. Can't let that happen now can we?

...Around the world people are demonstrating that, not only are there alternatives, there are alternatives that allow us all to take care of each other and the rest of the species we live with, and to direct surpluses from our designs back to this care. These are the three main tenets of Permaculture design. We aren't waiting for governments, corporations, or bureaucracies to solve the world's problems. We will do it with or without their help. We are already doing it and no one can stop us because we can't be forced to buy what we don't need anymore. Since few of us in permaculture education are hired by anyone in business or government, we can't be fired or threatened.

I like to say, if you want to end transnational capitalism, (the very opposite of bioregionalism), then stop giving them your capital. To do that you need to start producing what you need — plus some surplus for others — bioregionally and I would respectfully suggest that permaculture design is a good tool to begin that process.

Very interesting! Of course, our current thinking is that whatever can be done mechanically is most important, since the yield be man hour worked is highest.

How do we get people thinking in this way, it this really is the way to go? How does one figure out what food crops go at which layers in such arrangements (for all the many different climate zones).

I sometimes think a big part of our problem is that we know the current situation is changing, but we do not have a clear destination in mind. If we could work this out well enough to make certain this makes sense as a destination, it seems like it would be very useful. I expect this is more or less what the ancient Hawaiians did, and I understand that this was typical African procedure.

Could the land that is just barren volcanic rock be used to build hydroponic greenhouses? or even standard greenhouses? Solar collectors could also be put there, obviously, since there is little to obstruct the sun. A desalination plant might also be a good investment, to provide water for the greenhouses and other applications.

On a less optimistic note, once peak oil hits in earnest, it wouldn't be all that difficult to redistribute the available croplands to individual family farm sizes...naturally corporate the robber barons won't like it, but what are they going to do about it back in their beverly hills and new york mansions? The state of Hawaii can just "nationalize" the properties and redistribute them as sustainable small family farm tracts as an eminent domain measure, to diversify crops and eliminate factory farming methodology.

Or, when people get hungry enough, they'll take matters into their own hands.

I saw something very much like a hydroponic greenhouse actually in use. The covering was only a plastic "roof", so it wasn't really a greenhouse. (An actual greenhouse would require air conditioning, so would be very much more expensive to maintain. With this approach, one has to know precisely the right nutrient mix, and put it in the water. There is hope that the nitrogen might be generated using wind mills. The other nutrients might need to be imported.

Desalination plants are require a lot of energy. I don't see them anywhere near there is a reasonable amount of rain--transporting water by ditch would make more sense. Buying the fossil fuel to run the desalination plant would likely be a problem.

It seems like land use has to change. I don't know if it will be as easy as you make things sound.

Most approaches to desalination seem to me far too high tech and expensive.
With the right design though passive systems can be managed, providing you have sunlight and sea, and plastic or glass:
Seawater Greenhouse - Home Page

Low-cost solutions give excellent results. The design requires a light steel structure with polythene covering, cardboard evaporators and a plastic condenser. ABS and MDPE plastics are used for plumbing. Polythene films are cheap and effective. They are specially treated to incorporate ultraviolet-reflecting and infrared-absorbing properties and can be 100% recycled at the end of their useful life.
The cardboard evaporators are strengthened by a surprisingly effective process. They crystallise calcium carbonate from the sea water and harden like sea shells. The process is controllable and the results indicate that the life of the evaporators can be extended almost indefinitely.

Aquaculture, my dear, aquaculture. Make thee a fish pond and put into it fishes. Run the water through to your plants: they eat, the fish stay warm. Quite the deal, quite the deal...


I think Richard Ha, who is the person shown in the picture, is actually planning on adding aquaculture, and using the waste products as fertilizer for his hydroponics. He is very much thinking about all of these interconnections.

CNN had a piece on the price of food in Hawaii, and in addition to the fuel costs for shipping mentioned here drew attention to two other issues.
Land is at $80,000/acre and so it is not economical to grow many crops and most farmland is held on short lease so there is little incentive to improve it - incidentally the law on land holdings was a major contributory factor in the Irish potato famine, with seemingly small differences in legislation disincentivising land improvement in Ireland and not on the mainland of the UK.

It would seem that at least part of this conundrum will be solved by falling land prices.

I think land must be a lot more than $80,000 an acre in areas that are at all residential.

I think something will have to happen to make it easier for people to own land. Perhaps if there is too little fossil fuel, the current owners of large tracts will have little use for it, and be willing to sell for much less.

Presumably the $80k refers to farm land, not land which is given planning permission for a build - sorry, I don't know the US system, so I am using UK terms.
A crashing tourist industry should do for land prices.

On Oahu a million dollars per acre isn't unusual, since it's nearly all used for houses. However, I recently sold a nice shallow-soil 3-acre "ag" parcel uphill from Hilo for under $30K. On the big isle land currently runs from about 10k an acre to a million plus, depending on location. But it will likely fall a fair bit as the Hawaii economy tanks.

The current owners of large tracts will continue to hold them. Why sell? A great many of the numerous 3 acre parcels are held by small time speculators and it is likely they will come onto the market in sufficient number to depress prices.

I think sales will depend on whether the land owners have interest payments to make on the land holdings. If, because of rising oil prices, they find they can no longer make sufficient profit on the land to cover their interest payments, they will sell.

They may also sell if they feel that the Big Island has certain issues that they cannot deal with -- too much chance of being cut off from fuel supplies, or too little access to medical care.

Not all will sell, but I expect some will.