What Career Should I Consider?

This is a slightly abridged version of an actual letter from a reader and my answer, regarding a change in career in the light of peak oil. What would you have said? This reader was not from the US. How would advice differ for different parts of the world?

Dear Gail:

I read some of your posts on The Oil Drum, and I wanted to ask you a question. Taking into consideration peak oil, what careers are likely to be better places in the years ahead?

(continued under the fold)

For example, given the current financial meltdown, it seems the Financial Sector is looking like a terrible place to be, never mind what might happen if oil production starts to decline. I just read that Kenneth Rogoff, Economics Professor at Harvard and former Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund, has joined the chorus:

The worst is yet to come in the U.S. The financial sector needs to shrink; I don't think simply having a couple of medium-sized banks and a couple of small banks going under is going to do the job.

I am still in my 20s, currently working as a math teacher, but am planning on going back to school. I have considered engineering, but that can be very energy-dependent. Until recently, I was aiming to position myself for a career in finance - I don't think that will be a good long term move anymore. But I'm a bit in the dark about what is a good move. I'd imagine health care and education would be "safer"...not that I necessarily want to be in those sectors, to be honest.

Anyway, I was just hoping you could give me your opinion as to what sectors of the economy you reckon are going to be better positioned once world oil production starts declining?


A Reader

Hi Reader,

You ask a good question. I would agree that the financial sector is a terrible career choice. The question is what is better.

The big question is how far society drops, and how quickly.

I think electricity is one of the critical things needed to keep society going. The electrical utility area has not hired in a very long time. I have read that even now, the US electrical industry is trying to outsource as much as they can to India--wonderful! Nevertheless, I think that in the years ahead, there have to be jobs in electrical related fields, if society keeps going at all in the way we are now headed.

My view is that long term, the future of electricity is going to be more local. We are going to have an increasingly difficult time keeping up infrastructure for transporting electricity long distances. Also, many of the newer sources of electricity are smaller and more local. I was reading a book recently called "Perfect Power" by Robert Galvin and Kurt Yeager. They argue that there are great improvements in efficiency that could be made at the local level (for example, universities, big manufacturers, and big office buildings). If some electricity could be generated locally and effective storage devices were available, this local generation could help take the stress off the grid. There would be less need to build large new power plants and add transmission lines. It seems like it will be only a matter of time until local groups are permitted to make their own electricity and add the excess to the grid. Allowing local electricity might permit more co-generation (combined heat and power) as well.

I think the other area with a real need is something related to agriculture / biology. What plants will grow without too much support in each area of the country? What approaches can be used to keep pests away that require relatively little technology? What kind of crop rotation would work well? If water is in short supply in a particular area, what techniques can be made to make it go farther (more drought resistant crops, low tech devices for irrigation. The advantage of an agriculture-related field is that you might learn some things helpful for your own family's needs.

I would stay away from health care, at least as taught in universities. I think there are way too many people in healthcare right now. We are not going to be able to afford the huge amount we are spending on it today. If everything becomes more local, healthcare will have a hard time adapting. There are a lot of techniques my father learned when he went to medical school in the early 1940s that might be helpful in an energy-constrained world (for example, diagnostic techniques that don't depend on laboratory tests, and setting bones by "feel"), but these aren't taught any more. After medical school, he learned hypnosis, and used it when stitching up wounds and in helping women with child birth. Health care now is all pill dispensing and surgery, and this won't work long-term.

I think education will be scaled back a lot too. A lot of the stuff being taught today really won't be very relevant in the future. If there is growth, it will be in the practical subjects in high school.

Hope these thoughts help.



I learned it right here:

energy production (or extraction, as is often the case)

energy efficiency

energy storage

For example the new federal renewable energy tax credits are said to create 100,000's of jobs. New production facilities are proposed - and moving forward - here in the US for various solar technologies. A sure-fire winner: solar hot water installer.

Have you thought about becoming a preacher! The ultimate in job security - the worse things get, the better your job prospects.

George "Mr. BS" Bush, already has that job.....

You could preach the gospel of Joe Pesci


The idea that people will be going into "energy production" assumes a BAU-lite scenario where credit is still available to finance "energy production." That's not happening.

Now if by "energy production" you mean growing weed or homemade ethanol then maybe it's doable. But those occupations don't generally meet what people think of when they use the word "career."

As far as engineering goes the reader is very incorrect in assuming that because it is energy-dependent it is a bad field.
Thus I would not recommend the reader go into engineering if he or she knows that little about it.

Neverthless, I will say if you study any one of the following you are 100% guaranteed employment at any point in your future (the warranty is void if you are not good at what you do):

electrical engineering, nuclear engineering, hardware engineering, geological or mining engineering.

Computers and electricity are not going anywhere (software engineering is NOT a stable job though so it must not be on the list).
I do not know of a single graduate in these programs at my university who was not given a job offer before graduation.

There is now a HUGE shortage of students in electrical engineering - the numbers are dropping very fast, so opportunities later should be even better.

I cannot comment on prospects for civil/mechanical/chemical or other more specialized fields.

Im a mechanical engineer - Work for Caterpillar Inc.
I wasnt sweating until the financial meltdown because if things continue folks will quit buying much of our product. I cant comment beyond that, I havnt seen a slow down in our business yet but logic tells me it will happen.

High commodity prices favor our business because we sell equipment to the mining and oil industry. Ive personally given Halliburton and Schlumberger execs guided tours of the facility I work at.

A Weak dollar can also favor our business - since we are an exporter, although we have moved some of our export business overseas to be closer to the customer.

Having said all that I think being an engineer is a good thing, even without my current employer. I could help design wind turbines, hydro projects or other means of trasnportation.

My job as a diesel engine designer is probably limited, but im not limited to diesel engine design.

I think its also important to have other basic skills. I hunt (firearms as well as a bow). Know how to prepare your own kills. Know how to sew. Plant a garden. You get the idea. Your job is important but I think of equal importance will be those long lost skills that some folks practice today as a "hobby".

As an engineer you get paid for what you KNOW not for what you DO, but dont be complacent. Manual skills will be increasingly important.

I once worked for a Caterpillar Inc plant on Tyler Blvd in Mentor Ohio. That was mid 1970's. they closed the plant and idled 4000 workers and moved the operation to Illinois.

I've been working in Finite Element Analysis, with our primary customers being automotive. Short term, I think there will be some cutbacks. Longer term I think there will be a huge amount of re-engineering as the current products were designed assuming energy would be cheap, and now that that is increasingly being seen to have been wrong, most of the products need radical redesign. So in any rational world, all those engineers doing design and analysis ought to have plenty of work. That even goes for areas which are ultimately dying, say design of combustion engines, or petroleum engineering. The very unattractiveness of these areas to young people insures that those who know how to do the work will be in high demand.

I'm a student of chemical engineering in Canada. My current plan once I graduate is to get some experience in the Alberta tar sands industry, and move from there to working with renewable fuel sources such as biodiesel. I realize that many chemical engineers work on large industrial plants that might not be economical post-crash, but even if the economy becomes severely localized there will still be demand for locally-produced biofuels and fertilizer for agricultural use (assuming this is net energy positive).

I would be interested in hearing from others who might know about further opportunities in chemical engineering.

Knowing the energy usage and energy production industry (and processes) as a ChE is valuable.

It is the one area in my career that has always been valuable. In addition, the broad use of process control (courses) and thermo has also produced some of the most fulfilling work of my career. Note that MEs are similarly positioned with lots of similarity in course work.

As an adjunct, Bio and ag engineering as something in addition to ChE might also be useful (an area that I've found about 1/3rd of my time working in and around over the past couple of years) particularly from an energy and Global Warming/climate change perspective. .

you could extract the morphine from my poppies

Seriously, I have to wonder about drug usage in a post peak world. I imagine it will go up, and someone is going to have to produce all that stuff. That said, I wouldn't recommend it as a career choice to anyone, except as a last resort...

there is sure to be lots of pain post peak
morphine will be in high demand
knowing how to extract it would be useful knowledge
as well as knowledge of other medicine
anyone know how to make antibiotics?

The question presumes a stable employer/employee relationship.
For best economic security, ALSO focus on making yourself of maximum use to your surrounding neighbors.

how to make antibiotics, yes;
also how to extract proper dosages of salicilate [aspirin] from willow bark for fever reduction;
sorting out ineffective old wives tales from nativist pharmocopeia to give herbalism a scientific basis would be useful; you don't want to rely on myths when your patient could die if the diarrhea isn't stopped.
basic cpr, and other paramedic skills, even low tech battlefield condition medical knowledge would be handy.

but we are digressing from the letter writer's area of interest, engineering.
I suggest learning sustainable roman and egyptian and medeival technologies in addition to modern.

how to salvage useful materials and jeryy-rig them for functioning machines;
how to make and repair clocks, watches, and other automatic motion devices;
how to make a battery; repair solar or wind energy collectors
how to make a road that will last centuries
and low energy urban infrastructure redesign/planning: aquaducts and cisterns, nonflush sewage collection; permaculture,aquaculture, food storage science, etc

I would be very interested in information regarding the production of antibiotics at home. I've often thought that the general loss of antibiotics after a crash could be one of the worse pitfalls. My email is my username at hotmail. If you see this and feel up to it, please drop me a line.

As a chemical engineer with ~7 years of experience, I can say that it is certainly an employee's job market (or it was a few weeks ago when I last checked around).

It still seems that the general disinterest in the engineering fields is now showing up as a talent deficit for companies just trying to replace retiring boomers. It will be much more problematic to try to expand to meet future challenges.

A quick glance at www.careerbuilder.com shows that I have literally hundreds of opportunities in areas that my wife and I are considering moving to in the next few years (more sustainable than the Columbus, OH region).

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in time.

As far as my current job goes, the market outlook for the next few months looks bleak. Orders are way down and my line is likely to be idled for a week or more in December.

In a more local and less energy-intense future, practical skills will become relatively more important compared to today. The obvious ones are learning how to grow food and learning how to make, repair and restore things. At the moment these sort of skill are, in money making terms, poor cousins to financial and similar jobs but that could change quickly. Even if you do not take up a career based on practical skills it might be a good idea to develop them as a hobby - there is a satisfaction from creating something that cannot be gained from trading markets or flipping houses.

Having suffered recently from abcess-related toothache I also reckon dentistry will always be in demand!

In the end the more you can do for yourself the less reliant you are on business-as-usual and the services of other people. Also, practical skills can always be bartered in a more simple world.


Any career decision has to make sense now a n d in the future you anticipate. If you would have chosen a career in the late 70ies, and had chosen a career solely based on an anticipated crash, you would have lost a lot.

In the life sciences field, biology is, unfortunately, a discretionary field: after a crash no one would have the money to pay for conservation or basic research, the only positions left would be in the science training of physicians and nurses. The non-discretionary fields are medicine (nurse, physician, surgeon), veterinary medicine (large animals = farm animals only) and agriculture.

Unfortunately, I agree with your comments. And I would echo Gail's comments that the medical fields are bloated and unlikely to continue at this level.

Traditionally, vets were not paid much, esp in large animal practice. No one can afford treatment of livestock that are already resulting in a net loss. Small animal practice, now the source of the bucks for vet practice, will die with the end of "pet insurance" and folks with so much discretionary income. In ag itself, traditional grads tried for the few jobs with government-USDA, county extension, etc and the bulk ended up in marketing ag commodities. You don't need a degree to farm.

I've listened to the strides for aquaculture till I'm blue in the face, since all thought we'd have magic algal colonies in a space-aged Jetson world. It'll never compete with its sky high cost structure in a commodity world controlled by the cheapest food for the most people. Finfish aquaculture, the lions share of the market, has always been controlled by the cost of the wild product. Demise of wild fisheries doesn't necessarily mean ascendancy of the cultured, for the industry depends on wild "trash" species, processing offal, and by catch for the feed of cultured species. Strides are being made in getting the correct nonwild feed formulations for certain species, but there's a host of other problems. It's so much like biofuels, it'll work, but never scale.

How about microbiology and biochemistry coupled with environmental science!? After losing those 200 or so petroleum slaves why not put to work a few trillion microbes. Feed and anerobic reactor fecal matter get out usable methane gas. Algae utilize the suns energy very well and produce lipids (for biodiesel), carbohydrates (for bioethanol), and proteins for animal feed. They can also be used to scavenge phosphorus and nitrogen to produce fertilizers. They grow in freshwater, brackish and salt water under a wide variety of temperature regimens. They may be capable of producing biopolymers than can fit into plastic production. Lots of possibilities in these fields.

After taking a rather long time to get there, I am finally about to graduate from college. I am about to take a B.S. in marine biology and wish to go on to graduate school after I get a bit of work experience (my grades aren't the best). As such, I would like to get into a field that seems like it does not have a lot of places to study it yet. That field is "ecological economics". I figure that there will be a hell of a need to integrate our economic systems with the systems of nature and thus I want to be a part of the first wave to really get into that. Does anybody have an idea of what schools would be a good place to study such a discipline? I have always been interested in how systems work and have a mind that is best suited to finding the links between disparate ideas, and thus think this would be a good fit. Any ideas?

I'm applying to the Applied Economics program at the University of Minnesota. They have a concentration in resource economics. I think Wisconsin has a very good program in this field as well.

Nate Hagens is getting a doctorate at the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at University of Vermont.

I'm not sure where,

but aquaculture has a huge future.

It is being done, especially with shellfish. They don't require much additional inputs (vs salmon and shrimp farming) and actually improve water quality in the areas that they are implemented in. I know of at least 5 active shellfish farms in the state of Rhode Island (where I am from) that produce very large quantities of high quality oysters and clams (quahogs, specifically, for those of you who have seen "Family Guy"). Additionally, the grow-out cages for the oysters have been shown in this paper:
to function as artificial reefs for the enhanced recruitment of edible fish species' larvae and juveniles. All in all, it seems like a pretty good idea.

Which ever "professional" career you feel you must pursue through academia I would also recommend finding a well seasoned (old) local craftsmen who is productive in making something people NEED or repairing what people NEED, and insinuate yourself into an internship position making yourself indespensible.

IMO every “professional” career position you can name will have 100 people killing to get that 1 job for the foreseeable future.

Edit; 1000 people will be trying for the position.
Only 100 will KILL for it.

I always tell people that if they can get in the door of the oil industry they may have job security for life. (Alternative energy is great as well, but the winners are still not completely clear, thus you might get into an area that has no long-term future). The average age in the oil industry is close to retirement age. We are looking at a serious defiency of personnel even now, and it looks to get worse. We will always have a need for energy, and the people who know how to provide that energy will always be in demand. I think that demand will only increase as oil supplies deplete.

There are many different types of jobs that can get you in the door. There are multiple disciplines of engineer: chemical, petroleum, mechanical, electrical, environmental, civil; chemists, operations, business analysts, etc. Some of those jobs are probably better long term bets for security than others.

I thought about including the oil industry, but didn't include it because the individual who wrote the letter lives in a country that has no oil resources. There will probably be more "Jobs per barrel" in the future, just because oil is more and more difficult to extract.

a mix of electrical engineering and mechanical... Renewable energy engineering!

oit Portland REE

It's a very unique (and pretty new) program,
Dispite that we have some really great and inspiring instructors, and a lot of interesting students from all over the country

I was a computer programmer and needed a change, and this has been a great choice as far as I'm concerned

Good luck

I went the other way. I was an engineer in the oil drilling tools market for 15 years and decided to go back to school for computer science. Now I still work for an oil tools company, but I write customization software to make the engineers more efficient. Cross training turns out to be VERY valuable. When times are good, they like me to help speed things up for the 700 engineers, and when times are bad, they want me to make it possible to run everything with less people.

Blacksmith/subsistance farmer lol!

Since you're a maths teacher you should check out smooth infinitesimal analysis (SIA). This is the correct logical basis for calculus. Limit theory (and its modern incarnation non-standard analysis) are pure, unadulterated garbage. I was searching the internet for an explanation of calculus for about 10 years and finding SIA has been an ongoing revelation.

I'm sorry, what is incorrect about the limit theorem + Riemann Sum approach?

Apologies for that outburst, got out on the wrong side of bed. The advantages of SIA compared to Limit theory are:

1. The proofs of the basic results of calculus are much simpler and more elegant in SIA.
2. Limit theory leads to contradictions such as the Banach-Tarski paradox, whereas SIA does not. This is a result of the fact that the Axiom of Choice is not generally true in SIA.
3. The NSA version of Limit theory permits a procedure known as 'taking the standard part' without justification. In SIA infinitesimals cancel eachother out within proofs.
4. SIA can be extended in a very simple, natural manner to yield a process known as microadditivity, of great use in physics. There is no comparable process within the 'classical' approach to physics.

Various other benefits of SIA are given in the books referenced below. It's interesting that you mention Riemann - Bell describes him as a prolific user of infinitesimals.

A Primer of Infinitesimal Analysis,
The Continuous and the Infinitesimal (in mathematics and philosophy), J L Bell

Study Physics, and seek a power producing job. I have worked with nuclear installations, production of solar (PV) panels and am now doing a job with wind turbines (the big ones!). Rent your house and grow some of your own food. There are interesting sectors on other studies as well, like chemical modification of renewable matter, biofuels etc. Try to get directly employed by the company, not by some contractor.

I guess one would have to ask, "What careers are going to be viable when there is much less energy and money around?"

No, not a crash to nothing (that'll never happen. Even Hubbard's curve has a long tail... Even Fiat currency will always be worth *something*...) But what will be viable?

Auto Mechanic.
Police Officer.
Prison Guard.
Lawn/Yard Maintenance.
Tax Collector.

Careers for low energy societies:
Taxicab driver.
Home Energy Consultant (i.e. someone who audits homes for energy loss.)
Railroad Engineer/Railroad Conductor.
Anything in oil/energy fields.
Bicycle Repairer.

Notice that the majority of these are things that cannot be outsourced. Safe jobs. But, most of these jobs will not make you insanely wealthy, either. These are jobs that require both physically beign at a location and having an expertise to 'sell'.

There are more, but I am out of time... You get my drift.

Right, and these all fit into Gail's thoughts about localization, too.

Doctor specializing in gunshot wounds.

At least in the US these will be jobs for life.

I've read quite a bit about the Great Depression and two major themes seem to be at play.
If you want to do well you have to own your own house outright and have a bit of savings. Next you should develop a variety of skills but most importantly it seems that being a good trader was important this makes sense as you move to a barter society. This means in many cases developing a good standing in the community and developing a reputation as a honest business man. It just seemed to me reading the stories that regardless of what the person was doing the ones that did well did so because they where decent small business men. On the other side of the coin if you don't have the money to own outright renting from someone that is decent and owns the house and getting a job with a stable business may be a good idea. I'm not sure how to explain but the local leaders if you will took on a much much larger role in the depression acting as banks, investors, managers of trade, provided work and housing for the poor etc etc. They reminded me of a startup company. Everyplace will be scrambling to figure out what they can do with their local resources to sell stuff to someone else. Given peak oil any long distance trade will probably be in non-perishable items or durable goods. This includes foodstuffs that can keep well.

One thing you can do is monitor what you do everyday and who you interact with and consider how this would change under peak oil.
You will find that certain interactions are very important to you I have kids so milk is high on the list. This means that anything that has to do with milk is probably a safe bet.

Depending on where you live a good trader might have to know multiple languages. For transport a knowledge of sailing and navigation by stars and sextent could be useful. Those GPS satellites won´t work or stay up there forever. Psychology might be a useful barter skill both in helping people and understanding what they need. A knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs will come in handy if pharmacy goes down the tubes.

HVAC systems and optimization of existing HVAC in commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings. For a long time, we neglected the air-handling systems of our buildings because energy was cheap and money was always available. Any building that has been expanded or modified in a significant way from its original design is likely to have air handling problems/inefficiencies (experienced as spaces that are too hot or too cold). In tighter times, it will make sense to diagnose and implement efficiency-related modifications. The math and physics involved are complex, but manageable, yet few people have bothered to study in this field.

Just had a pitch from Hines Real Estate Development at the community college I attend for HVAC/R program.

2 Union Pacific buildings were mentioned since they had slots open at the UP Center. The UP Center is considered a Green building as it has an Energy Star award.

Links don't work right - but their
pages don't render correctly in
my mozilla browser either !
Their '404' page has good links on it anyway.

W'll need more undertakers and gravediggers

Computers-- They will make good arrowheads out of the sharp parts, and we will be needing lots of arrowheads soon.

Fortunately, support for wooden arrow makers was included in the Bailout Package.

Engineering is fine as long as you've got an "engineer's brain." What I mean by that is that you posses a knack for fixing and designing things. In a post peak world, folks that know how to solve physical/technical problems on a local scale are going to be in high demand. If you have the brain, getting trained as an engineer really helps to sharpen that up. It also helps to go to the right school. Some departments focus on the more abstract areas of the discipline and others focus more on practical matters.

I think you hit on something that few recognize, He3. To me, the ability to solve problems will be crucial. The future will be nothing else but problems of one sort or another. Personally, a civil engineering major is perfect for teaching how to analyze and solve problems. A CE degree teaches a wide range of general basics that one can build off of. Of course, I am a structural engineer, so I am a bit biased. We used to joke in school that civil engineers were the lowest paid but we could always get a job. There is a lot of truth to both points. And structural engineers will always be in demand as long as we want to live in buildings, not caves and tents.

"What I mean by that is that you posses a knack for fixing and designing things."


As a math teacher you already have good job security; it will probably get better because coming cuts in education will leave math and hard sciences alone. You might just consider getting an advanced degree in math and continuing to teach. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, particularly in the middle- and high-school arenas is known to be weak and the mood is right for policy changes that may finally make a difference. If you stay in math education you will have job security and go to bed every night knowing you made a difference.

If you're really ready for a change, do something you like. You've got something like 40 years of work life ahead of you and nobody can predict that far out. Even during the great depression most people had jobs most of the time. Engineering, of the sort that involves physical things (not software) is probably a very sound choice as well as specialties in resource extraction (petroleum geology, mining, and so on).

Ily second the posters who have recommended developing skills that involve making things and sourcing your own food such as gardening and hunting.

The way you choose to live will have as much an impact on your future career, happiness, and financial security as what you do for work. Avoid debt, find ways to live that minimize your dependence on automobiles, live in a "right-size" home, nurture a strong network of friends, and so on.

As an inventor/chemist working in the Alberta Tar Sands, I can say with certainty that there is LOADS of bitumen there and given the huge capital costs of accessing it, we will be working on it for longer than the questioner will be alive. That being said, much of the new technology that is being developed for the oil sands can also be used to get oil (and other resources) from garbage or even human waste. I believe that there are many fortunes to be made in developing/applying existing technologies to extra energy/resources from garbage and waste. One of the most obvious is the extraction of natural gas from garbage dumps. However, there are also huge quantities of aluminum, steel, copper and paper. Another advantage is that garbage dumps and sewerage treatment plants are centralized and they deliver the resources to you!! Many of the technologies being exploited in the Oil Sands are more capital intensive there than they would be in a garbage dump. One of the technologies is "Wet Combustion" (high water to fuel ratio, high temperature combustion) which with long residence times, can turn municipal waste into CO2/H2O/N2 and LOTS of heat. If you condense the water and recycle that heat you also get very clean water.

Another interesting technology to apply is the use of plasma dissociation of water to generate hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be used to upgrade heavy hydrocarbons and the oxygen can be used to improve combustion (especially the combustion that is being used to generate the water vapor). Fortunately, O2 and H2 are easily separable and remarkably they intermix at low temperatures without combustion (as long as there is no spark).

Either way, energy and alternative energy engineering (e.g. Chemical Engineering) AND waste-management are my vote.


In regards to household waste I have been working in a recycling plant this past week and the amount of good stuff people throw away is amazing. In a typical day I see amongst the tons of paper thousands of aluminium and steel cans, heaps of plastic and glass bottles and maybe 50 bags, purses and wallets. I got coins from 5 countries in a single shift and people regularly find wads of cash (of 3 people I talked to the best finds were $14000, $2800 and $1150).
People willingly throw away so much, but it isn't our landfills that will be worthwhile mining as nearly everything we were sorting was put into containers to send to China.

Junk miner. There is so much stuff we humans throw away. I think mining our junk will be a great opportunity, especially when we won't be able to find it in the places we traditionally find our stuff due to depletion of our resources we use to make our stuff in the first place. We have been a a throw away society...that will change in the future I think.

This is only true in certain societies. In China it would be hard to find so much as a bottle cap in a land fill. Junk miner in the US, yes, but it will not come for a little while yet, and won't last as long as one might expect.

It will also always be back-breaking and demoralizing as there is always someone more desperate than you, willing to do it cheaper, get up earlier in the day, carry the stuff farther, etc. It is a useful societal function, but as a career, I would not go there.

Knowing how to salvage the easy stuff, yes. I get treasures out of dumpsters all the time. Career? No way. It is easy now. Being a freegan is fine while life is easy in this society. They won't find it so free later on - useful skills are very different from careers.

OK, most people seem to direct towards the essentials - energy and food production and I tend to agree. I would also add civil engineering as in the near future we will have to rebuild our infrastructure one way or the other.

However what about the people who are not technically inclined? As far as I can see these include most of the people I know. Being told that all you can do is just sit there and wait to be laid off is not very helpful. I tend to think there is a gradient in the stability of the jobs in servicing industries too. It's not just black and white:
1) Healthcare. True it is oversized in US, but still it is more likely employees will have to get used to lower pay than suffering huge layoffs... after all one can live on 100K or less instead of several hundred, in case of doctors. But medically skilled professionals will still be needed, and in the following years I expect even more. Implementing affordable healthcare for all will become absolutely essential (I really hope Obama makes it, if only for this part of his program!).
2) Education. Somehow we should prepare the people that will get us out of all of this; otherwise we are indeed and totally screwed. Being a math teacher is not such a bad thing after all (despite generally being so underpaid). Math is essential in all engineering disciplines too.
3) Some financial jobs like accounting are in relatively stable demand.
4) I expect the IT industry to survive, despite suffering significant cutbacks. IT has brought real increases in productivity, and there are some more left - for example increased work from home can bring big savings to corporations.
5) Avoid industries dependent on discretionary spending! Restaurants, airlines, tourist industry etc. will be the first to go.

That's it for now, I think I covered most of them...

I'd suggest not thinking in terms of preparing for a "career" at all, but rather in terms of preparing for a lifetime.

In my own case, I've had about a half dozen major job changes that pretty much amounted to career changes (though some of them were more variations on a theme). This was when times were more or less good, probably better than times will be for most of the rest of this century. One cannot safely assume any longer that ANY career will see one through one's entire life - the world is just going to be in too much turmoil, and there will just be too many unknowns.

That being the case, the priority for young people should be to acquire as much broad-based knowledge, experience and skill sets as possible. Positioning oneself to be flexible and adaptable might serve one better than focusing on a narrow speciality that might totally disappear within a decade or two.

I've been a long time reader of TOD and especially enjoy your posts Gail. This is my first post. I am curious about your position on healthcare as far as jobs are concerned. There is a growing shortage of nurses. As I have become more aware of the situations our future is likely to present us with, I have reconsidered my career. Interestingly, healthcare is where I have redirected my efforts. An advanced nursing degree (NP, CRNA, etc.) seems to be the perfect choice. It offers a great deal of potential service to small communities and has a strong pay scale presently. It is my understanding that it would be a good choice for those reasons. I would be interested in why you think otherwise. All the best and thanks for all your efforts.

It seems to me that even with an aging population, the United States is not going to be able to afford as much for healthcare in the future as in the past. The huge number of physicians who are specialists of various kinds are going to find it harder and harder to earn the six digit salaries they are used to.

I expect in the future we will have quite a bit less heath care. There will be many fewer nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, even with an aging population. There will be less surgery, and fewer occupied hospital beds. The health care that is provided will probably tend more toward handling injuries that occur outside. The elderly will get less surgery and other in-hospital care.

It seems to me that if we downsize healthcare, individuals with one healthcare skill will do something else that requires less training. Specialist MDs may become more generalists. Some physicians may take on more of the role of physician assistants. With fewer hospital beds open and less surgery, there won't need to be as many nurses. People will tend to be cared for by their family or friends, as informal networks take over the roles the paid caregivers used to have.

I think there will still be a need for people who can provide nursing care and other kinds of care, but it will be less than today,

Poor, poor specialist physicians. My heart bleeds for them.

Small towns will always be crying for their own doc, more so as transit becomes tougher. You may not make the bucks, but you can still earn human capital, becoming a vital and well-connected part of a farm-based community. Get paid in lambs and pies!

Even if you're "just" an RN or NP, you could find yourself with lots of perks from all those plain folk who know that you chose to help them and adopt their lifestyle over the big city life.

My father, after he officially retired, spent several years supervising one or two physician assistants in Iowa. In Iowa, small towns have (or perhaps had) physician's assistants who would see patients, more or less on their own. The real retired physician would come in one day a week and see patients who needed to see a physician. He would also spend quite a bit of time on the phone with the physician's assistant, advising during the week.

All round physicians,like your father, if they are experienced diagnosticians with a high level of modern epidemiological knowledge and risk assessment, are great. Not so sure about all the latest versions though when they are working out-there on their own without much back-up. In our part of the world there is a saying that: "I would rather see a good Vet". The depth of a mind trained across many animal species, with practical diagnostic and operating skills, is impressive.
Stand-alone 'Vet' / Doc would be godsend to smaller more rural community.
We need, like gold, knowledgeable disease prevention, particularly preparation for child bearing and middle-age. Our present culture does this very badly.The knowledge is there but is surprisingly recent.
If anybody is interested in pharmacological production, most of poorer world uses cheap generics, (applies to pesticides as well). Quality control during production is often poor to the point of dangerous, but skill in constructing and running proper production plant is available and can produce super results. Think drugs for pain, antibiotics, chronic disease management e.g. heart / diabetes.

Hey JEP, you should totally do it. While I agree with Gail that the health care field will go through some significant downsizing, there's always going to be sick people needing care, especially in the near term (<20 years out) when the Boomers get to retiring age. Nurses probably won't make as much as they do now, but given the sheer persistent shortage that's going on, they'll still be in demand for some time to come. BTW, this is what I'm getting into, so my opinion's more than a little biased :)

Personally, I have found that an engineering background is a lifesaver. A basic understanding of energy and power concepts. The ability to very quickly perform a triage of ideas between ones that could possibly work and ones that could not possibly work is paramount. The world is awash in ideas, but without the capital to implement ideas that are a waste of time. You have to be able to eliminate ideas quickly without expending precious time and energy.

Then you have to have the mental fortitude to avoid wasting time discussing them further with people who can't let go. Don't believe in oil depletion? Fine, get out of my way and go talk to someone else.

A theoretical background, say in physics, materials science, etc. can be very useful in a more specialized career, but seems less practical to me.

Energy production or energy savings I think come to the same thing. Electricity will indeed be a big deal. Oil/gas is still the biggest deal, and will be as long as we who are alive today will likely live.

Heating and cooling, as someone mentioned, is huge. How many times have I seen someone use a refrigeration system 5 times too big just because they didn't bother with a heat exchanger first? It boggles the mind.

I don't get it.
Who are we speaking for? The minority?

Begin to think of the world in non BAU terms. The world will become a far different palce that what most envisage.
The competition for jobs will be enormous.
Your skill will be your ability to work hard and for long hours. You must develop the ability to be more useful than the next person.

Think back sixty or seventy years.
A horse and cart delivering bread and vegetables and milk deliveries will be back in vogue.
Labourers, security guards, seamstresses, bootmakers, bakers, tax collectors, cheap cartage and so on.
The world will belong to the strong and mobile.

People will be moving in huge numbers to where it's warmer and where there is work.
If you think you will be able to pick and choose your livelihood you are dreaming.

I'll repeat. Be prepared to work HARD, seven days a week and for twelve hours a day.
Most localities will be dangerous places. Desperate people will be predictable for one simple fact, they will do anything to feed themselves and their families and if that means trying to take what you have, then that will be "all fair in love and war" to them.

Although lists of potential professions are useful, you also need a way to think about different jobs so that you can sort through them yourself.

The way I answer questions like yours is to have people draw a distinction. Consider that a job could fall into one of two categories:

Need to have


Nice to have

If the job provides a good or service that is "nice to have" for society (in other words, possible only when there is abundant and cheap energy and thus abundant money), generally steer clear of it. Look for something that is "need to have" instead.

Richard Heinberg says "get to the productive side of the economy," meaning "learn to make or repair something" and I've extended that on occasion to "learn to make, repair or grow something." However, I find this too restrictive because services can make you money if they fall into the need to have economy. But it's still a useful way to think about work in the future.

Another lens to look through is what is going to be useful to your community -- the actual neighborhood or city in which you live. Jobs that make a difference at a distance are going to decline in number.

Good luck,

So i'm guessing that prospects for budding Actuaries like myself are likely to be much diminished in the future? Is it possible to enter the oil/energy industry with an undergraduate in Actuarial? many thanks.

I would agree that this is not the time to go into actuarial work.

You would have to check with oil / gas companies to find out. Analysis skills seem to go a long way anywhere.

Wonderful range of good advice here - summing up, it's be flexible, be a jack-of-all-trades, be essential, be local.

How about expanding the list of useless industries? One that stuns me for its sheer profligacy is the Wedding Racket. Another is the consumer orgy we call Christmas. I see huge vistas here in Oregon carpeted with Christmas tree farms, investing years of sunlight and water and effort into a product that will be "loved for one day," as Martha Singer said in Fight Club.

In other words, it's time to renegotiate the non-negotiable American way of life.

A useless industries list? Calling Dr. Bob Shaw - Bob has greatly entertained in the past with his account of useless industries such as the dozens of tanning salons in Phoenix, of all places.

Yes, California is overrun with tanning salons, and they're only open during daylight hours! As ridiculous as they are, they're economically insignificant compared to major industries like grass seed, dried flowers, and ornamentals.
But of course when we moved into our new home, we simply - had - to plant a dwarf red Japanese maple out front. I mean, some things are non-negotiable!

Pesonally, I think that the word "career" will become yet another victim of the massive societal paradigm change that will occur over the next decade. A more suitable word for the work that most people will find themselves engaged in would be something like "occupation."

The most secure occupation of the future will be in food production, imo. Given the imminent demise of globalized food production and transport system, any methodology of producing foodstuffs locally will blossom in the coming years. I'm looking at becoming an expert in squabbing, myself. Its a self-generating form of food that can be set up literally anywhere. Some form of hydroponics to grow fruits and vegetables would also be a good way to go.

I think you are right on occupation vs career.

squabber= raises pigeons?

Yes, squabbing involves the raising of pigeons for food and profit. Pigeons are an ideal stock because they're incredibly hardy and can survive by eating just about anything. They also reproduce at a high rate, sometimes as many as nine broods per year.

is bird poo is good fertilizer?
how many make a meal?

Yup. Pigeon dung is rich in phosphorous and nitrogen.

Depends on how big your appetite is.

Any help in solving our phosphorous fertilizer problem?

I'm not sure what specific fertilizer problem you're referring to, Gail, but the main nutrient in pigeon dung is phosphate. As a fertilizer ingredient, it helps root development. In bygone years, dung was by far the chief source of fertility aid available for farmers.

That's a solution that's limited according to the property you inhabit, the urban density of its location. Zoning codes often ban pigeon-raising in the suburbs, for example. Which merely leads one to the question of how zoning codes may change during energy descent...

Bill Becken

I'm not sure how much of a future the suburbs have themselves. If you're a Kuntsler disciple, the answer would be, "not much at all."

My assumption is that, imagining a worst-case scenario of a complete food distribution network breakdown, people will be desperate for sustenance, and if squabs can provide that then zoning laws would not affect business operations.

Occupation? That still sounds too slick. How about a 19th century term:


Let's break it to kids in elementary school that they're there to be able, based on their own talents and interests, to choose and learn a trade in the real world.

Sounds good to me. Might as well start reality training early.

Right, and we sure don't want the little peasant brats wasting their life away thinking about things like history, or culture, or philosophy or art or culture...learn to be a good little serf and leave the intellectual stuff to the overlords, right? The museums and libraries are for the real humans, not the trolls. Lessons in how to survive, not how to live, in a life that wouldn't be worth living.


I'm not averse to incorporating some "high culture" subjects into the education process. However, if you haven't noticed, the younger generation is woefully unprepared for the life that will soon greet them. I'll bet that most can't imagine a life without WoW, PSP and being glued to their cell phones.

Practicality is going to be the chief watchword in the selection of an occupation, or trade, in the future of people want to survive.

Environmental engineering...learn how to turn bad water into drinkable water. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the total process - the overall energy flows, chemical flows, and so forth. In the future, I believe water treatment will of neccessity move away from utilizing large energy and chemical inputs, and will come to resemble natural processes more. Also make sure you can write a report for a client without spelling and grammatical errors - the clients pay a lot for those reports, so they deserve that at the least.

Civil engineering - while the US is in dire need of infrastructure upgrades, much of civil engineering education is still geared towards the kinds of infrastructure that's soon to be a dead-end enterprise, like road building and airport construction. Now if you could get training and experience in laying LR55 track (thanks Alan FBE), that's got some growth potential.

to get a good idea of what "sustainability" might look like i recommend the foxfire series of books that document life in NW Georgia in the early 20th century. It requires far more than having a large garden. they raise the sheep ,shear the sheep ,MAKE a loom, spin the thread then make the clothes .and much more.They are wonderful books with detailed explanation on every aspect of there lives,and interviews with people who grew up that way ,they paint a very vivid picture. they express unease at the of "progress" and marvel at how this new world was built so fast.
many good ideas for usefull skills

smoke meat
food preservation

mabey these are things your kids should know
gorilla warfare may be more useful in the short term
nice transition to little house on the prairie. . unlikely
i see huge migrations south (the north can locally support less ppl and its cold as hell without heating oil)
good health is important
be in good physical condition to deal with whatever is comin

Those books are just fun to read as well. My Dad was a country boy, and so we usually had a large garden on our suburban lot, but once Mom & Dad read the first Foxfire book, they started canning vegetables, making homemade soap, and even raising sugar cane. We found an old-timey cane mill that someone let us use, powered it with a VW Beetle driving around in a circle in first gear, and then Mom spent all day boiling down the cane juice. That was the best syrup - it lasted a couple of years.

Anyone think there is any hope for my field, which is philosophy (in an academic setting)?

I do have an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering too - from 1991. How much do people think it would take to dust that off effectively in depression-type conditions if careers dealing with the electrical grid and the like do indeed offer growth potential in coming decades?

Anyone think there is any hope for my field, which is philosophy (in an academic setting)?

I really think that epistemology should be a required subject for all citizens. IMO most of our societal problems are caused by poor thinking skills. I certainly hope we can get a movement started to require that citizens are able to distinguish between truth and propaganda.

Do the people in charge of the money, and those in charge of the education schools, want people to understand epistemology?  It makes it very hard for the former (people ask inconvenient questions), and the latter (it makes them question dogmas such as "social justice").

"Anyone think there is any hope for my field, which is philosophy (in an academic setting)?"

Well, let me put it this way...would human (as opposed to upright animal) existance be possible without philosophy?

That is the weakness of so many of the posts on this string. "Man does not live by bread alone" said the Good Book, and true it is.

Of course we all know that in a world where Americans might have to pay a fuel price of what, half what the Europeans have paid for decades, it means the end of all civilization (!!!!!!) There's a premise for a philosopher to try to figure out...give up sport ute, culture ends.

Philosophy in a low oil supply high oil price world cannot be possible, I mean think of all the philosophers that have been born of the great fossil fuel industrial powers...such as...such as...???

Now before the oil age, we had the pre Socratic Greeks, we had Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, and of course even the Romans delivered us Lecretius and even the dark ages delivered the church fathers and Anselm, and Augustine, and on we can go, to Spinoza (always amazing how even when they were dispersed and on the run with no safe home, the Jews could keep delivering philosophers!), and Bacon and Descartes and Pascal...when you think about it, the birth of the oil age pretty much ended the age of great philosophy! How many have we produced since?

The great philosophers we have produced in the 20th century such as the French Existialists (Sartre comes to mind) developed in some of the darkest days in French history.

One of my favorite modern philosopher/writers is Albert Camus, who once said "Dignity is more than a new pair of shoes." One presumes it is also more than a cheap oil price, but that line of thinking may not be popular here.

Either way, I would pray for a child of mine that he or she spent life as barefoot or of ragged shoes and hungry as a philosopher or poet or musician or artist, as opposed to being a peasant serf in the dirt. "The unexamined life is not worth living" said Emerson, but that was before the oil age too. Now if cheap oil cannot be provided, then examination of life, thoughts about why and what matters and is beautiful, deep listening to music or examination of sculpture or reading of poetry are considered the wastes(???) that will have to be expunged from our "culture" (???) It is possible for the body to live long after the creative soul of a human is dead. It is said that a great thinker was once asked what a nuclear war would mean. His face turned very sad and he said, "alas, it means we shall not be listening to Beethoven anymore." There was a man who understood what mattered, and why we will protect this modern culture to the death. This culture may not have been worth a crap at creating great culture, but it has been masterful at delivering it.


A good number of my undergraduates are aspiring to a career in law. What should I be telling them?

It seems to me that lawyers have increased in numbers in much the way that people in the financial system have increased in numbers. The actual value added by them has been very little.

As we go back to more local business, and value based on what is produced, it seems like there will be less need for lawyers.

If some of the big companies disappear, so will the need for class action law suits against them.

If the government becomes the primary source of funds for development, there is likely to be less between-company conflict.

"First we kill all the Lawyers"

A good number of my undergraduates are aspiring to a career in law. What should I be telling them?

Don't tell them. Ask them: Who is going to be left to be your client?

With so many kids going into law, there will be nobody left to play the part of client.
Each geographic area (of a given non-lawyer population density) can only support so many lawyers just like in the wild, each acre can only support so many predatory animals. So for a given city, the local prey populace will only support so many divorce lawyers, so many personal injury lawyers, etc. And heaven help them if they were planning to become legal specialists in derivative swaps.

Res ipsa loquitor.

One of my daughter's friends is engaged to a nuclear qualified naval officer in the Submarine Service, who is thinking about getting out of the Navy and going to law school. She (his fiance) asked me if I could give him some advice. I emailed him that if the two choices were going to law school or cutting his wrists, I would give serious consideration to the latter. I strongly advised him that if he got out of the Navy to get into civilian nuclear power.

They're going to go into debt to the tune of $125,000 - probably at much higher interests rates than just a few years ago - and if they finish in the upper half of their class at a First tier school they'll be makingn $75,000 to start on averge.

Of course that will probably mean they'll have to live in a big city like San Francisco or New York so $75,000 is more like $50,000 in other places.

Factor in loan repayments of $1,250 a month to go with taxes - which will be going up in the years to come - and they'll be lucky if the have $250 left at the end of the month.

Oh, and they'll amost certainly develop a substance abuse problem. 30% of attorneys have one, and probably another 30-40% aren't diagnosed but are heavy users (but not abusers) or dry drunks.

The abvoe assumes, of course, a BAU or semi-BAU scenario. BAU or semi-BAU (aka BAU for us upper middle class careerists) is looking pretty damn unlikley at this point. So consider the above a very optimistic prognostication of what a career in law has to offer young people at this point.

On a related note, the whole idea of a "career" didn't even come into people's minds until the last 50-70 years. Anybody thinking in terms of a "career" doesn't understand what is taking place.

My father gave me some very useful advice. He said "Hey college boy, you may think you're going to be a huge success and have a lifetime job, but here's the truth. Someday you're gonna get laid off or your company will go under or be moved to North Carolina. You better learn a trade because when you need to put food on the table for your family, you'll need to get work fast. That engineering job won't be much good. Get your hands dirty on your summer jobs."
Good advice. I hated Esso and Western Geophysical. I did fall in love with building things. This has allowed me to build houses, bridges and boats. All of this from getting out of the white collar trap.
While all the advice you read on this page has a terrific value, I suggest you find an alternative to your rice bowl which is a college education. It must be something that makes you happy to do every day. Sooner or later you'll find a way to make that second career pay. It could be fishing, building bicycles, soil testing, or making soup.
Look at your hobbies and you'll have a good clue where you'll happiest. You can try to out guess the future regarding a career, but you can also take control of your life by planning a fall back love affair job.
Be aware that few people will value a young guy with no experience. You may find yourself hearing " You're over qualified for this job." Which is just another way of saying, "We aren't hiring."
The way to get a job is to keep going back to that outfit and saying that you want to work for them. Time after time. Everybody has too many employees, but never enough good ones. Tell them that you'll make their jobs easier because you'll do the job of two men and be happy doing it. Tell them that you want to work for THEM. go back again and tell them it'll be the best decision they make that year. Tell them that you will not go away until they give you a chance. Tell them you'll wash their cars and babysit for them. Never ever give up. Ever.

WaveRider's boom times profession: Motivational Speaker?

For years I've been advising my undergraduate students to find and puruse their passion, because what you love is likely to be what you'll be good at. Then hope you can find a paying position that enables you to make a living doing that. But maybe you can't/won't, so always have a fall-back position; think about minoring in accounting or picking up a trade along the way. I second RC's point about "man does not live by bread alone". I've been fortunate in pursuing anthropology, a field whose rise parallels the oil age, and which has perhaps now served its purpose by fleshing out the big story of human history and teaching that despite all our problems and predispositions from our long foraging past, we do have agency in history.

I'd say Information Technology. In the early stages of Peak Oil, rising fuel costs are going to cause business to consider working from home (already happening). The Internet will continue to exist & remote access will be king. Why go to work, when you can work from home? The benefit to the business is less overhead (heating, parking, etc). As computer hardware advances, it will consume much less power. I'd imagine improving batteries & electrical consumption is also going to be a good career field.

We aren't going to go "backward" in time as some people think. That's not the nature of humans & we advanced our society before fossil fuels were in the picture. What I think will happen is that we'll be more "regional" so you may well see a resurgence of manufacturing in places like the UK or the USA. You're tables, chairs, bread & everything else you consume/purchase is likely going to be made more locally, so we may have a more robust economy..just it won't have the sort of waste we have now.

NUMBER ONE JOB TO SURVIVE PEAK OIL ?????/ ---> BREWMASTER. There will always be beer.

I work in IT and have been thinking about this issue. I was actually thinking for jobs where staff are mostly local, it might make more sense to heat a workplace and not have so many individual homes requiring heating/cooling during the day. But as you say, I think the best careers will be determined mostly by local factors.

Brewing makes a lot of sense, especially if you have access to suitable raw materials.

I think when it comes to furniture etc, the most energy efficient place to manufacture the products is probably close to the raw materials, as the wasted material then travels less.

IT is energy intensive to some degree (electricity usage) but as more and more of our lives go online, we can work from home, shop from home, etc. It's far more efficient to have a UPS truck running on CNG making deliveries to your street than 100 cars heading to the mall. IBM has long been a big supporter of people working from home (I was employed by IBM at one time). It's a great idea.

I think society will successfully wean itself off oil, but I think we need to understand that we'll have to change our ways. Yes, we'll still have many modern conveniences. Yes we'll still have a civilization with cities. In fact, I don't agree with Kunstler on us all living in small towns, I think cities with railways coming into them are the most efficient means of living. Bring your food in on rail, use electric vehicles to distribute the product to stores. This will require cities to be smaller & have higher densities, but they'll still exist. You'll see more of a regional economy too and that is probably a good thing

I think we'll still have cars too. They'll be smaller, probably electric and used to go short distances..and most likely used for trade (people that need mobility) and less for recreational motoring just to waste energy. Gone will also be the days of 100 km drives to work. I think as we see people flocking to cities (as you do in the 3rd world), you'll see suburban infill. Perhaps the future of American cities is a "hub style" where a typical city of 1 million might have 4 or 5 regions...each with it's own downtown. Call it a bunch of small towns in a big city. Or hey, we may rip down some of the 'burbs, use the land to farm and recycle the wood.

I think in all of this, there is alot of opportunity. It's how people see it, and of course how people react to it. Alas, my fear is that our society, lost in the raptures of recreational shopping aren't willing to return to higher density & more community based living. But I think in the end, as a generation passes, we'll find perhaps we as people are SUPPOSED to live this way.

And of course, BREWMASTER is the way to go. There will always be beer ;/).

I'm really unsure about this idea of huge proportions of people working from home via the internet. It seems, partly from experience, to be good for those jobs which are heavily autonomous (data entry, evaluating insurance claims, doing telemarketing, etc). But these are precisely the jobs which are arguably providing least "physical economy" value (rather than value in the "easy credit" economy). In contrast, for jobs where you really want people to be working together on something, say engineering, etc, I find that email and phone calls rarely really get people really working together the way that actual physical presence does; the formal nature of the interaction tends to make people say what they think they should say rather than being more open. And the real problem with large numbers of the workforce working from home is that the company is in big danger of falling into "diligent pointlessness": everyone is doing the jobs they've been assigned but because there's little informal interaction nobody sees the subtle signs that the current way of making money is starting to show problems and the focus needs to be altered to remain viable. Admittedly this is a problem even in physically present companies but it seems bigger when things interaction comes in only via phone calls and emails.

Maybe we'll come up with some technology that makes people interact more naturally remotely but I'm doubtful.

Interesting observation. Informal conversations do support a company, in my experience.

Another good reason not to count on a job that depends on the Internet is that it just may not be there.

I'm not saying that the entire Internet will go down, but if the company that provides you service goes bankrupt, it will have gone down for you.

Mind you, if your job depends on it, you would likely set up backup locations and backup locations for the backup locations where you can get a connection.

Just make sure they are close enough to reach by bike or public transit. :-)

- Agronomist

- Hydrologist

- Architect (whole country needs to be rebuilt from the grouond up.)

- Security (police, investigators, criminal law, crime will increase.)

- Military (military will become much larger and less technological.)

- Mechanical engineer (transit and transit- related construction.)

- Economist (A new system is badly needed.)

- Media ... somebody needs to start telling the truth.

- Entertainment ... somebody will have to keep up morale.

- Craftspersons (master mechanics and tradesman will be in exceptional demand.)

Out if fashion; 'Superstar' atheletes, business tycoons, financial engineering.

If you want job security, good pay, technical challenges, and an opportunity to do good for the planet, study building mechanical engineering (i.e. HVAC) and then enter the field of commissioning. Commissioning is a quality-control process for new buildings that (ideally) checks both the design for efficiency opportunities before construction, and inspects and tests the building for correct performance after construction. The closely-related field of retrocommissioning is an inspection and testing process applied to existing buildings to improve their energy performance.

I worked as a commissioning agent for a year, after a stint as an HVAC design engineer. For about the last six months, I have been positively hounded by recruiters trying to place me with various commission and building efficiency firms. There is far more demand for these skills than there are qualified people to do the work. And retrocommissioning, at least, is unlikely to be affected much by anything short of a total collapse of civilization: the energy savings that it provides pays off quickly enough to be attractive, even (especially) in tight financial times. And many of the retrocommissioning programs are funded by utilities, so they will likely remain in place even if the private building industry totally tanks.

Full disclosure: I'm not doing commissioning any more, because I got a job with a sustainability consulting firm that is doing more interesting work (but I got that job largely on the strength of my commissioning background). But in my new position, I do feel much more exposed to the market meltdown; if worse comes to worst, I'll be going back to commissioning.

I know I jumped the thread yesterday with several P.O
careers. And I said I had many more I could offer, most would not be readily apparent at first blush, then people would go AHHH! why didnt I think of that?

I will post just one of those careers now.

WANTED; GALLOWS CARPENTER, Must be skilled in salvaging wood fromm abandoned and foreclosed structures, including nails and fasteners such as nails, screws, nuts, bolts.
We are a profitable company expanding to your area. We are industry leaders in the exicution of former CEO and political criminals. We work with litteraly every former 500 company. Compensation is competitive.
Work conditions excellent. Be part of a team who loves the service they provide for the community.
EEOC equal opportunity employer

Contact Mr Nephilim for a confidential interview.

Electrical contractor.
Heavily licensed (prevents competition) and people realize that they can die or burn things down if they screw up, so they are willing to pay.

Industrial is better because of dealing with professionals, residential is a good "barter" skill.

But it takes someone in very good physical shape, sometimes the work is heavy.

Beats working for someone else, no one can tell you what to do.

How about a guillotine engineer, design, build and operate. The French learned the utility of this machine.

From Wikipedia:


In August 1788 France’s High Executioner Charles-Henri Sanson, while attempting to execute a prisoner by breaking on the wheel, was assaulted by a mob who freed the prisoner, and destroyed the wheel. Sensing the growing discontent Louis XVI banned the use of the wheel.[3] In 1791 as the French Revolution progressed, the National Assembly (at the suggestion of Assembly member Joseph-Ignace Guillotin) sought a new method to be used on all condemned people regardless of class. Their concerns contributed to the idea that capital punishment’s purpose was the ending of life instead of the infliction of pain.[3] A committee was formed under Antoine Louis, physician to the King and Secretary to the Academy of Surgery.[3] Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a professor of anatomy at the facility of medicine in Paris, was also on the committee. The group was influenced by the Italian Mannaia (or Mannaja), the Scottish Maiden, and the Halifax Gibbet. While these prior instruments usually crushed the neck or used blunt force to take off a head, their device used a crescent blade and a lunette (a hinged two part yoke to immobilize the victim’s neck).[3] An apocryphal story claims that King Louis XVI (an amateur locksmith) recommended a triangular blade with a beveled edge be used instead of a crescent blade.[3]
On October 6, 1791, a law was passed that "every person condemned to death should be beheaded". Guillotin's suggestion had by then been almost forgotten and there was some debate on how exactly such sentences were to be carried out. Charles-Henri Sanson, the High Executioner, gave the opinion that beheading with a sword was cruel and uncertain, and a report by Antoine Louis, the secretary to the Académie Chirurgicale (Academy of Surgeons), dated March 7, 1792 recommended a machine such as Guillotin had previously described, but without mentioning Guillotin himself.[4]

LOL! I just about snorted my own milk reading that. :)

The impending oil crisis :
everything isn't so bad

Indeed, depletion discovered global resources, including oil and natural gas, push world economic to depression.
However most forecasts and estimations the situation proceed from conventional level of exploration technology and discovered volume of reserves. I believe it is wrong.

Firstly, undiscovered world hydrocarbon reserves are too far from ending. For example, the world’s second largest discovery in the past 20 years occurred at Brazil's Tupi field, in November, 2007. Estimated recoverable reserves could reach eight billion barrels. Some early was discovered Sugar Loaf field (25-40 billion barrels).
Swiss-based Manas Petroleum stated that a resource evaluation in north-western Albania had assigned 2.987 billion barrels of oil with 3.014 trillion cubic feet of associated gas.
Oil contents of the US Outer Continental Shelf estimates as about 19 billion barrels and so on.
There are many large undiscovered oil fields (perhaps about 40-50%).

Secondly, the leaders of the oil industry see the only way out of the current situation in the increase of the extent of drilling (the number of exploration wells). However, if one takes into account that at the current exploration success rate only one quarter of the drilled wells is successful, the active drill-ships drill and will drill mostly (three out of four) dry wells, which will be permanently plugged and abandoned after the drilling. Drilling costs for some of the newest deep-water ships in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, have reached about $600,000 a day ($150,000 a day in 2002) and such drilling is carried out mostly (75%) for nothing due to conventional methods of drill site predictions.
“With exploration wells in the Gulf of Mexico costing up to $100 m and a deepwater exploration success rate of 11 percent in 2006, minimization of exploration risk is critical”, writes Philip Christie, Vice President of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE), New Generation Oil&Gas, issue 3, 2007, www.ngoilgas.com
Now a success rate increases insignificantly, compared with 2006.

Dry wells are a fee society has to pay for conservatism of the oil industry leaders and government energy agencies because there is an exploration technology already for more than 20 years with success rate 75%, in other words three success wells and one dry. It has been successfully tested in the Barents and Black seas, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. It employs a new physical mechanism to initiate a response from hydrocarbon deposits, explained in US patents №№ 7,330,790, February 2008; 7,042,601, May 2006 and 7,245,560 July 2007. It is called Binary Seismo-Electromagnetic (BSE) technology/method, and is, according to the definition of Wikipedia.com, a disruptive technology.
Implementation of the technology will be important step to world energy security and economic prosperity.

Thank you for attention.

If you were born an engineer (i.e.,can not stop yourself from making "it" work better)I suggest mining engineering. Whether traditional reserves or the mining of landfills, the resources are going to have to come from somewhere. With a subspeciality in mineral processing (not too many of us with this) employment opportunities should be quite robust. Plus, it is so hands-on that many of the skills will be valued if/when the energy driven societal shifts come to pass. Plus, it is so much fun I really do not know why they pay me at all.

The masses will always crave delusion.

Where I went to school, engineering was taught from the ground up: we filed bits of metal to desired shapes, hammered sheets and forged, we learned to make tools, and how to use those tools to make things.
A very useful set of skills in the dark days to come.

Great thread. I had this exact problem a couple of weeks ago.

I've decided to join the British Army as an Officer in the Royal Engineers. Hopefully I'll get a RICS / Civil Engineering qualification out of it as well as great leadership and project management experience. If TSHTF then I'll know how to take care of myself and others too. If there are any future MoD budget cuts then I doubt the Engineers will be significantly culled.

Previously, my plans were to go into IT / Banking / Prof. services / Consulting. I'm glad I've changed my mind, though I've wasted my time studying 3 years for a Computer Science degree.

Hope anyone else in the same position manages to find a career that's both sustainable and enjoyable.

My father didn't pay me much attention, and was brief when he did. Re jobs for me:

"Sand or sin".

do something everybody needs all the time (sand and gravel, etc)
or something everybody wants all the time ( sin - anything fun)

I would suggest additional criteria

What you like to do
What you actually do given a choice
What you are talented in doing

In my case- lucky- I liked to take things apart and figure how they worked or were supposed to work; I actually did take things apart, etc; I was talented at taking things apart, and it turned out, thinking up better ways to do whatever they were supposed to do.

So, mechanical engineer. In retrospect, better would have been applied physics, since all my engineering was just that, and physics gives a wider scope.

And-further luck- had lots of experience in doing things myself, so I could become the local fixit man, gaining points I would, as a suffer-no-fools sort, not have gotten otherwise.

better would have been applied physics

Definitely better than theoretical physics.

Theoretical physicist, n.:  A researcher whose existence is postulated to make the numbers match, but who is never observed in the laboratory.

My 2¢ worth, from 2007:

The ELP Plan: Economize; Localize & Produce
April 2, 2007
By: Jeffrey J. Brown

ELP: Produce

Jim Kunstler has suggested that we should not celebrate being largely a nation of consumers. I agree with Jim. We need to once again become a nation of producers. I recommend that you try to become, or work for, a provider of essential goods and services.

Key recommended sectors are obviously energy--conventional, non conventional and alternative energy production and energy conservation--as well as food production, especially local organic farming close to towns and cities.

Other sectors to consider are repair and maintenance, low cost energy efficient housing, low cost transportation, basic health care, etc.

The biggest risk to family finances is trying to maintain the SUV, suburban mortgage way of life in a period of contracting energy supplies. Beyond that, one of the next biggest risks in my opinion, is excessive and unwise spending--especially debt financed spending--on college education costs.

While we will desperately need engineers and many other technically qualified graduates, we are seeing wave upon wave of college graduates entering the work force with degrees that very poorly prepare them for work in a post-Peak Oil environment. We may ultimately see college graduates competing with illegal immigrants for agricultural jobs.

Perhaps the best education investment that many young people could make is a two year associate degree in some kind of repair/maintenance area, perhaps with summer jobs in the agricultural sector.

I would especially recommend that you consider buying, perhaps with a joint venture group, a small farm, either currently organic, or that can be converted to an organic farm. In the short term, if nothing else you could lease it out to an organic farmer. Longer term, you might consider building or moving a prefab, small energy efficient house to the farm. If nothing else, this plan may provide a place of work for your unemployed college graduate.

I think that “Tiny Houses” will become more popular, as larger homes are no longer viable. Where there are jobs nearby, many McMansions could be subdivided, but absent local job centers, I expect large swaths of American suburbia to be essentially abandoned. As Jim Kunstler warned, American suburbs represent the “Worst misallocation of resources in the history of the world.”

Very small (250 square feet or so), highly energy efficient, perhaps prefabricated housing makes a lot of sense, and this may become a growth sector.

I teach Lit. and also basic English Language at a University in Japan. I can see funding cuts, classes being cut and also part-time teachers being laid off now, but so far I have kept my job (I'm part-time). It's all due to economics. There just isn't the money for it. All kinds of fancy symposia, colloquiums, etc. that my husband used to run (he's a prof. too) are gone and this winnowing process started last year.

If you look at a University, it takes a lot of energy to run. When that becomes expensive, help!! Just have a look at the parking lots, the elevators, the maintenance costs of the huge cement buildings, the office staff with all their computers.

So choose an industry that doesn't need a lot of energy. That's first. Then you have to think about who would want what you can sell or teach. For example look at the university's "customers"---students. With car makers and electronics companies here tanking (Nikkei seems to plunge every day now) the middle class that makes up the base of the student population won't be able to afford to send their kids to college soon. How many years? I don't know, can't say. But the students don't pay a high tuition ($5000-$10,000 here), yet living costs of apartments, food, etc. are enough to make it prohibitive. The govt will try to step in for a while, but it's clear that their options will be limited.

Scholarly endeavors may make a retreat back to the monasteries or someplace else cheaper!

I personally am not counting on the university to remain able to support us beyond the medium term.

I'm working on my farming skills (when I'm not reading the Oil Drum. haha). And I like textiles. I like sewing. So I buy used clothing at recycle shops and resew it into other things. Maybe I could do something with that in the future?

My advice, choose something you like to do that doesn't need a high energy structure industry. I liked books in college so I kept studying Lit. of course, that was 20 years ago when the energy issue was not so urgent. But now I probably would not choose that. Food processing outside of the industrial sphere is attractive, isn't it? Everyone likes to eat and needs to eat! How about cheese making and wine making? Making tofu?

What an interesting letter to Gail. I was thinking the other day what would happen to all those super bright MBAs now at Yale and Harvard. Talk about dimming prospects. I think the world of Gail's opinions but would like to respectfully differ in some aspects. I am a doctor, recently retired. My wife is a nurse, still working. I have done more jobs than Studs Terkel. Jobs in medicine will be there, esp in nursing but the real money side of medicine may fade. There is no way to pay the money that these people have commanded but don't tell them that. Nursing is hard but there is a worldwide and nationwide shortage. A lot of engineering jobs are a sound bet. Best bet is to strive to be a jack of all trades and avoid specialization. I commend Gail for posting such useful nuts and bolts articles.

I too believe that a nursing degree would be valuable - for both females and males. There is currently a shortage of nurses. The population is aging. There is also a shortage of primary care physicians resulting from the move to specialization. Medical knowledge besides being a salable skil,l may help one care for ones self, family and community.
Robert Wilson MD ret.

Best bet is to strive to be a jack of all trades and avoid specialization.

I respectfully suggest that although this is a common sentiment (it's shown up in several comments), it's not necessarily true.

Specialization is ok if the service provided is in the "need to have" category. That's probably a good way to get a larger than average remuneration, actually.

But one aspect of being a jack-of-all-trades I would say is valuable: being agile.

My first response to the question of future occupation would be:

1. Mercenary

2. Gravedigger

This would be followed closely by prostitute and producer of drugs such as heroin, alcohol, cocaine, and morphine.

I do not think that our species has much capacity for creating peaceful order out of the violence we have chosen to impose upon one another and our planet.

Think about it:

Who is rewarded in our culture?

Are peaceful, loving caring people rewarded, or are violent, rapacious, egocentric people rewarded?

Who "succeeds" in our globalized culture? Do people who care for the whole creation, contemplate the big picture, and choose peaceful coexistence with other creatures in the delicate fabric of life that exists on the planet? Or do people "succeed" who have utter disregard for the whole creation, people who contemplate their own enrichment at the expense of other people and creatures, and people who despise any thought for the future?

Our single most significant charactaristic as a species is the kind of rape, plunder, and murder committed by pirates and hired guns.

We make more weapons every year.

We kill more people with more deadly weapons as time goes by.

We now are devolving into a brutish species obsessed with perpetrating rape, murder, and the worst kind of atrocities imaginable.

Within a matter of years -- not even decades -- won't people do just about anything in order to survive for just a few more minutes or hours? "Carr-eers" will be short and brutal -- like life -- and will involve whatever strategies one has to engage in order to survive.

The discussion here presupposes the unlikely scenario that our species will avoid extreme challenges due to environmental degradation and war.

We kill in order to steal resources from others. That is the expertise we have chosen to develop as a species. Therein lies our destiny.

Read "The Road" which is, interestingly, written by Cormac McCarthy, author of "No Country For Old Men."

The future has no relationship at all to the economics, engineering, or survival strategies of our culture.

Anyone who survives the bottleneck of the next few decades will survive moment-to-moment, as much by fate, grace, and dumb luck as by skill and perseverance.

I do think that many artists -- such as McCarthy -- are far ahead of other folks in terms of imagining what our future actually is, as opposed to what we want it to be from the framework of business, politics, or even engineering.

I do also hope that the stories like "The Road" will serve as prophetic warnings away from violence and toward cooperation, but my sense from the feel of current culture here in the USA is that we are in for more rape, pillage, plunder, blaming-the-victim, and yes, Borg-like assimilation of people for short and brutal careers servicing the folks at the top of the human food chain.

Sorry to be so Plastic PollyAnnish and for looking at the world with silly optimist's rose colored glasses. I just think that the choice to resort to violence as the defining characteristic of human beleif and behaviour has already put us over the threshold to extinction after a short and brutal fall from the comfortable place we've held within the larger ecosystem for a relatively brief time.

Maybe a few mating pairs will survive .... maybe not ...

Pray for evolution

or, as I've said before, it's always good to be a cop in a police state

well said
i was getting the same impression reading this post
the premise career/post peak is an oxymoron
the concept of career and many other quaint concepts of civilization will lose meaning post peak

"Anyone who survives the bottleneck of the next few decades will survive moment-to-moment, as much by fate, grace, and dumb luck as by skill and perseverance."

absolutely. you cant plan for chaos

i saw no country a bunch of times, loved it.
someone here just told me about the movie there making out of that book "the road" didnt know it was McCarthy .cant wait .

"its the dismal tide, its not the one thing "

"its just beyond everything"


Oddly enough, a realistic look at the future continues to be taboo.

I counsel my kids to do whatever they love and to be aware of the implications of the simple fact that the "adults" are making the world more violent and less habitable every day.

There is no way at all to predict the future, but the probability of increased conflict and environmental blowback seems very high.

Global Resource War and an unfathomably huge environmental overload are already the reality.

We dance in a mine field.

We can sit still, cry, and mourn as well.

We can carry on with life as usual -- that is what most folks do, and to avoid the discomfort of extreme cognitive dissonance, any realistic discussion of the future becomes taboo.

i used to be frustrated by that taboo but theres very little anyone can do in the face of p.o. and the rest. everybody knows but. . .should you get in a life boat in anticipation of the ship sinking? i say enjoy what may be the last day of this strange ugly wonderful world we built from ff all the little things taken for granted and relief from c.d. by any means a victory.

the world aint waitin on you. . thats vanity

Peak Oil is going to result in the revitalization of rural communities. When one reviews the population distribution between urban and rural areas over the world, the US sticks out as being atypical with only 3 percent of the US population in rural areas. So, I'd suggest a medical degree (Family Medicine, General Practioner) or a Physician's Assistant degree and make plans to move to a rural community. It won't be as exciting as living in an urban metropolis but you'll be a respected member of the community.

Renewables require more grid, not less. And renewables have been more centralized than the theoretical ideals of some advocates.

Take wind, the form of renewables which is most viable right now. Wind fluctuates. Not just at your house but over your whole region. To smooth it out requires averaging the wind generation over the whole country. And even that isn't enough, you need to add energy storage somewhere which means more transmission lines being built. And the wind speeds that are adequate for power generation occur not at the average persons house but on a mountain ridge or coastline some distance away. The percentage of power we can get from wind depends a lot on how good the grid is. And many states have poor wind resources, requiring energy to be shipped in.

The economics of rooftop PV are still lousy without massive subsidies (which still cost money) unless you live too far from the grid and have to pay for it to be extended. And the day/night/cloudy weather variation requires energy storage and demand shifting. There are limited resources for making batteries and those are needed for transportation. And you need less solar capacity if you share with your neighbors, averaging out demand and to a lesser extent supply (over long distances). Grid improvements whether they are local or national require people to build and maintain them. Large solar farms that use heat storage may be located far from the communities they serve. Solar power availability is greater in the south leading to a need to ship power northward. In the winter there is less solar power available in the south and more wind in the north, so power may flow southward.

Goethermal and nuclear don't require the overall capacity of the grid to improve (except for shifting things like transportation onto the grid) but they do require new transmission lines to be built to the site of the power plant unless it replaces an existing coal/natural gas plant.

Tidal power is intermittent as well and wave power is just wind power with a different means of extraction.

Hydroelectric power: we seem to be about tapped out for large hydro projects but we may be add more microhydro. We will probably also need more pumped water storage. And we will use our hydro power in a different way. No longer will it be a baseload source of power but instead will be used to improve the baseload capacity of more intermittant sources like wind and solar. These changes will require some more grid expansion/improvement.

Furthermore, a lot of industries which use fossil fuels will need to move to the grid so they can be powered by renewables/nuclear. This requires more generating capacity and more grid. Battery and catenary wire/third rail powered vehicles put more of our energy consumption on the grid and the construction of catenary wires will require similar skills to building transmission lines and local grid. Home heating and cooking will need to transition from fossil fuels to the grid (though we should take advantage of solar heat, and even cooling, as much as possible).

Electricty we save by conservation will be more than offset by the need to move more of our energy use onto the grid. Local grid systems need to be upgraded with net metering and time of use metering.

Decentralized (home scale) wind/solar suffer from economy of scale problems, energy storage issues, access to capital (which is easier for utilities to obtain), access for repair/maintenance, higher peak/average consumption ratios, and the burden of being your own power company.
The skills required to install even home scale solar/wind have a significant overlap with doing utility grid work.

And as hurricanes and other weather disasters increase in magnitude and frequency, more grid technicians are needed for repairs.

Potential growth areas include:
- Nuclear power plant construction and operation. Power plant
operators, nuclear welders, etc.
- Rail electrification
- Wind turbine manufacture/installation
- Geothermal (requires more research first)
- Household conservation retrofit design and installation
- Industrial process design/installation/manufacture for power source
- Energy conservation and demand shifting design in appliances
- changing from petrochemical to biological feedstocks for plastics manufacturers
- Energy efficient vehicle design
- Common carrier shipping - as we move away from retail for non-locally
produced goods because it can take more energy to drive to the store
than have it shipped.
- Local organic low energy input farming for food and biofuels
- Levy/seawall design and construction
- Light passenger rail
- Solar heating, cooling, electric generation.
- Internet infrastructure (for telecommuting, on demand video (saves trip to video store), etc.)
- Intermodal container handling, as more loads are transfered from truck to rail and back.
- Heatpump manufacture/installation

Most of these jobs are technical, in a variety of fields and skill levels.

One fact to throw in...

During the Depression my great-uncle was busily employed as an architect!
He spent a lot of his time re-designing existing large houses into blocks of units.

You never know what niches could be out there...

I have heard that people who know how to make alcohol (beer, wine, whiskey) will always have a job in almost any economy.

I was going to put up a post this weekend entitled The Psychology of Being Useless. But, since this thread covers some of the issues I'll just comment here.

First, my expectation is that unemployment will rise to 25-30% within a few years at most. This will lead to a large number of qualified people competing for a shrinking pool of "good" jobs.

Second, it will be impossible to forecast what jobs will survive. Government intervention could skew what jobs survive. In addition the locality may have a significant impact.

In the case of this person, I would question the rationality of obtaining additional education if it means taking on debt. It seems unlikely that a young teacher would have saved sufficient funds to "pay cash." Pursuing a technical degree where a large number of classes would be needed makes no sense to me.

I would argue that it makes more sense for this person to keep on teaching since it offers a reasonable chance of not being eliminated and to use what time and funds available to pursue "survival" skills.

For example, he/she could pursue EMT (Emergency Medical Tech) training for little money. This would provide an avenue that could lead to a future job and also stand in good stead locally if things go to hell.

Along the same line would be to take classes in herbal medicine (and, perhaps, how to grow them). As people's assets go down, they will seek alternatives for health issues that are cheaper.

Of less visible use is to take some skills class in food preservation for example.

All in all, I believe it would be a mistake to go into debt just for a career change.


The OIT program is very interesting -- quite comprehensive, with classes that look practical. But there would be a lot of overlap for people who already have a BSEE or BSME.

What we need is continuing education for practicing engineers, like this program at N.C. State http://continuingeducation.ncsu.edu/RenewableEnergy.html or this one at Wayne State http://www.eng.wayne.edu/page.php?id=1594

There are a couple of certificate programs around the country and internationally. The European Master of Renewable Energy looks really interesting but the website hasn't been updated for next year's program, and since it is heavily subsidized I wonder how the economic problems in Europe will affect them.

The best return on this kind of re-training wouldn't come from highly theoretical courses. Leave that to the masters and doctoral programs. Working engineers need to know how to make things happen now.

I'm curious what people think about journalism as a career. I have recently started school after leaving the IT industry to find a more satisfying career. We have money in the bank and I don't need to work for a couple of years, and IT was literally driving me crazy.

I am taking an Intro to Media class. I am writing for the school paper at the age of 43 and having a blast! I had the thought that people have always needed news, and the worse times get, the more they need it. If this is true, I should be able to keep working (even if I only get paid in cat food!) Does anyone have on opinion on this?

There is no reason to think that the economy will be more accommodating to journalists than any other "nice to have" job, in my view.

You will be competing with many many experienced journalists looking for work soon.

Also, save your cash -- find a way to become revenue neutral quickly. Do not use up your cushion. When the economy is in shambles in two years, you will likely look back and say, "Good lord, living off my savings was not a smart thing to do especially when I knew what was coming."

I don't know what other revenue streams you have, but if there are none, then consider looking at yourself as a business. Right now the business has no revenue and only expenses. This is a failing business and will lead to bankruptcy. Move quickly to reduce expenses and bring in revenue. Treat every dollar in your account as precious.

Thanks for the reply. We've got revenue, fairly secure but in illiquid invenstments. The career change is mandatory, for health reasons. I can reskill or go work at McDonald's, but I can't do tech work any more. That includes any job with "engineer" in the title (unless the first word is "sanitation").

Most other jobs can be described by a sentence of the form "You will be competing with many many experienced X looking for work soon."

My thumbnail summary of my guess about future financial events, for what it's worth:

  • Deflation, as money can't be created without money being loaned out
  • Depression - deep and long.
  • Credit finally thaws up
  • Crash of dollar against commodities and whatever hard currencies are left
  • Inflation or hyperinflation - all the failed attempts at inflating the dollar suddenly start working, all at once as banks start loaning money again.
  • US Treasury Bonds crash. Interest rates go back up to cool inflation, tighten credit and save bond market
  • Trade deficit becomes surplus due to devalued dollar and less oil imports from reduced economic activity. All of the above happens within a few years,
  • Slowly, the US manufacturing sector improves, leading an economic recovery. This is significantly impaired by declining oil supply, capping economic gains. This will take decades.
  • Our children (the survivors anyway) become used to the reduced circumstances, and have to deal with all the other messes we left

This is my baseline case. I'm a rank amateur in economics and am still trying to understand all this. The order of events is probably wrong, and the duration is anyone's guess. If the Fed decides to replace our debt-backed currency with one backed by gold, oil, Ithaca Hours, or happy thoughts tomorrow, or if we have another war, or aliens land and take over, all bets are off. This is just the mental model I am trying to form to make sense of this... abomination.

One last thought. In my last failed attempt to restart my IT career, last February, I spent several weeks living in Delhi, India, in East Patel Nagar. It was a decent place with lots of businesses, but not rich by any means.

I have never seen such poverty as I saw in Delhi, and I have travelled widely. Even the nicer areas lacked so much we take for granted in the developed world. Many things we do with machines they do by hand, as labor is cheap and fuel is expensive. Several power cuts a day were the norm, and some days there were as many as a dozen. Don't let anyone tell you they don't know what they are missing - they have TV there too and watch how we live and how their own elites live daily. I somtimes wondered why I wasn't killed in a fit of jealousy.

They don't sit around miserably and feel sorry for themselves, though. This is life, and they live it without self-pity. Most people work hard, and I was treated politely, and sometimes kindly, by people who were really struggling. Delhi has many nice, safe parks that teenage girls, old people, and silly americans can visit after dark without fear. People have kids, get married, and go on with their lives.

America is even now a country rich in resources. I don't think we will ever reach the level of privation that I saw in India, at least not for long. And yet we have so much fear of losing what we have. I came back from India with a different perspective. If they can cope with grace, surely we can too, eventually. If not us, our children will. Don't lose hope.

I tend to agree with your baseline case. I hope it turns out better than that, but I am not sure it will.

I also think the biggest gift we can give our children is the ability to think for themselves and the ability to change and to adapt to change. We also need to teach them to have a sense of perspective - that there will always be people better off and many worse off than them and that there are more important things in life than to just accumulate stuff. They need to figure out what is important to them and work at it. I am sure your trip to Delhi was an eye-opener. It is impossible to sit in the USA and even imagine living conditions that you find here in India.

I think the world is at a point of inflexion and things are not going to progress linearly hereon. Many careers that exist today might not even do so in 15 or 20 years (when my kids reach working age). Many careers might emerge. The concept of a career might not remain. Modernism depends on trust in institutions and that is being eroded rapidly.

I think it is important that we explain these things to our children without overly scaring them. We owe it to them to tell them the truth even if it is unpleasant.


Thanks, Srivathsa. My boy is 7 years old, and I can't explain to him what's going on - he's still learning to count change. I can teach him to think for himself and to be adaptable. These are the only lessons I'm sure will be useful in any future.

Another neat thing about Delhi - it has the nicest elevated train system I have ever seen! Seriously, it looks almost science-fictional. It gets used, too.

Thanks. BTW - among all the big Indian cities, Delhi is probably the most unsafe - especially for women.

Many big Indian cities are getting their own train systems. I live in Bangalore and we're getting one too - albeit slowly!


On jobs in journalism, talk to your prof about local conditions, but generally the field is extremely overcrowded and new graduates often have to relocate to start out at some small-town paper. Plus, you're not necessarily free to write what you want or about what you want. You might find some other way to make a living - lots of ideas on this thread - and use your writing skills and interests in blogging about what interests you most.

I think most of you should resign yourselves to the fact that the economic and energy problems we are having are going to get worst as time goes by, and I mean in the very near future. The world that we see now will be gone, and we will see a world that has
been forced into a downsizing of great proportions. Energy, specifically petroleum products will go into a roller coaster type of scenario. If we try to conserve the petroleum resources, the price will go down somewhat, but not to the levels that we are used too. We will probably stay at the $3.00/gal mark. If we start to use the petroleum resources like we did up until a year or two ago, the price will skyrocket upwards to even higher record prices. Eventually the supply will be commercially non-existent The automobile industry is in its death throes unless they make a commitment to downsize their cars, and make them fuel efficient to the max. Even the auto makers in other countries will have to follow suit if they want to remain competitive. There will be a limit to how many miles they will be able to make a car produce, this will be controlled by the mechanics and physics of how an automobile engine operates. Trucks and the other large vehicles won't achieve better mileage than they do currently. They are simply too heavy. Alternative Fuels will not be able to keep up with the demand, and at the same time will deplete our soils, fertilizers will not be a help because they are dependent on Natural gas as a seed stock. Alternative fuels depend on farms that are Corporate farm size to produce what little we can make now. Small farms will not even begin to fulfill our supply needs. Solar and wind energy will be able to fulfill our minimum energy needs like you would find at the residential home level. I could go on and I suspect that you have heard it all before. I just want to make you aware that soon we will have to regress back to a simpler time when agriculture supplied most of our needs. There will still be a lot of technology left over from the Technological Age, but most of it will be geared to local marketing, agriculture, school work, Etc. There won't really be a need for an education that goes beyond the 8th grade, unless you want to become a doctor or some highly specialized occupation. But, even a doctor will revert back to old time medicine where he will rely less on the techno-gadgets that make medicine so efficient and expensive. On The Job training and apprenticeships will be the primary way to learn how to do things. Universities will succumb to the economic collapse when government support dries up, and students have to choose between eating, or paying back a $30,000.00 student loan for which he won't be able to find a job to make the money to pay it back. So, get ready for a 18th century lifestyle with some 21st century overtones. The government will probably have to make everyone who owns land to give up their rights to it, and divide it up among the population so that they can at least have land to grow their food, and provide a place to reside. Corporate farms will be affected heavily by this policy. But, there will be no real need for farms that size. We will probably cease sending our food crops overseas. I have pity on the other countries that depend on us for their daily bread. I would suggest that all countries get up off of their collective asses and learn how to farm. Since the Global Economy will be non-existent thanks to Peak Oil, the need for international trade will not be needed except for things we can't provide for ourselves, and the list would be very short. Local transportation will be provided by animals, small vehicles that run on solar power,bicycles, Etc. Long distance travel would provided by electrified railroad systems or boats. Air travel will be virtually non-existent I could go on but it should be apparent that what we see in the world now, won't be the case in a few years. We need to do some critical, REALISTIC thinking about what we will really need to survive in the Post Oil world in terms of education, industry, agriculture, and medicine and strive collectively towards those goals. We are seeing the beginning of Socialism creeping into our American way of life. The Buy Out of the Corporations by the U.S. Government is only the beginning. It also signals the end of the Free Enterprise System on the global scale. Free Enterprise will survive at a smaller scale for an agrarian society along with bartering. Everything will be done at a smaller, local level. But, it will be a new world eventually. So get ready and stop thinking in terms of high technology engineering.
I suggest you take something like Soil and Water Conservation Engineering or Agriculture Engineering.

yoga . ,get good enough and you can at least kiss your ass goodbye.

Alright, thanks for the laugh, that was a good one.

If you can't put in paragraph breaks, I doubt that anyone is going to read what you say. I didn't.


Here you go James.....................Reposted word for word. I'ts probably more likely to get read formatted similar to this.

I think most of you should resign yourselves to the fact that the economic and energy problems we are having are going to get worst as time goes by, and I mean in the very near future.
The world that we see now will be gone, and we will see a world that has been forced into a downsizing of great proportions.

Energy, specifically petroleum products will go into a roller coaster type of scenario.
If we try to conserve the petroleum resources, the price will go down somewhat, but not to the levels that we are used too. We will probably stay at the $3.00/gal mark. If we start to use the petroleum resources like we did up until a year or two ago, the price will skyrocket upwards to even higher record prices.

Eventually the supply will be commercially non-existent The automobile industry is in its death throes unless they make a commitment to downsize their cars, and make them fuel efficient to the max. Even the auto makers in other countries will have to follow suit if they want to remain competitive.

There will be a limit to how many miles they will be able to make a car produce, this will be controlled by the mechanics and physics of how an automobile engine operates. Trucks and the other large vehicles won't achieve better mileage than they do currently. They are simply too heavy.

Alternative Fuels will not be able to keep up with the demand, and at the same time will deplete our soils, fertilizers will not be a help because they are dependent on Natural gas as a seed stock. Alternative fuels depend on farms that are Corporate farm size to produce what little we can make now.

Small farms will not even begin to fulfill our supply needs. Solar and wind energy will be able to fulfill our minimum energy needs like you would find at the residential home level. I could go on and I suspect that you have heard it all before.

I just want to make you aware that soon we will have to regress back to a simpler time when agriculture supplied most of our needs. There will still be a lot of technology left over from the Technological Age, but most of it will be geared to local marketing, agriculture, school work, Etc.

There won't really be a need for an education that goes beyond the 8th grade, unless you want to become a doctor or some highly specialized occupation. But, even a doctor will revert back to old time medicine where he will rely less on the techno-gadgets that make medicine so efficient and expensive.

On The Job training and apprenticeships will be the primary way to learn how to do things. Universities will succumb to the economic collapse when government support dries up, and students have to choose between eating, or paying back a $30,000.00 student loan for which he won't be able to find a job to make the money to pay it back. So, get ready for a 18th century lifestyle with some 21st century overtones.

The government will probably have to make everyone who owns land to give up their rights to it, and divide it up among the population so that they can at least have land to grow their food, and provide a place to reside. Corporate farms will be affected heavily by this policy. But, there will be no real need for farms that size.

We will probably cease sending our food crops overseas. I have pity on the other countries that depend on us for their daily bread. I would suggest that all countries get up off of their collective asses and learn how to farm.

Since the Global Economy will be non-existent thanks to Peak Oil, the need for international trade will not be needed except for things we can't provide for ourselves, and the list would be very short. Local transportation will be provided by animals, small vehicles that run on solar power,bicycles, Etc.

Long distance travel would provided by electrified railroad systems or boats. Air travel will be virtually non-existent I could go on but it should be apparent that what we see in the world now, won't be the case in a few years.

We need to do some critical, REALISTIC thinking about what we will really need to survive in the Post Oil world in terms of education, industry, agriculture, and medicine and strive collectively towards those goals. We are seeing the beginning of Socialism creeping into our American way of life. The Buy Out of the Corporations by the U.S. Government is only the beginning.

It also signals the end of the Free Enterprise System on the global scale. Free Enterprise will survive at a smaller scale for an agrarian society along with bartering. Everything will be done at a smaller, local level. But, it will be a new world eventually.

So get ready and stop thinking in terms of high technology engineering.
I suggest you take something like Soil and Water Conservation Engineering or Agriculture Engineering.

Lots of good thoughts here. One thing I might add though. Think about how you want to live and who you want to be. Work, career not so much. Work is for getting the cash you need, life is who you are not what you do.

I've done any number of jobs through out my life, none of them define me. I do have a small solar saltbox I built and paid for, no mortgage. Own my land outright and in a place I love. A very wide skill set. I work when I need to and then I don't.

Don in Maine

There's an issue in the way the question is phrased, "What career should I consider?"

Consider that the specialization of "career" may be a kind of efficiency. More efficiency, especially now, is not necessarily a good thing. More resilience may be what's needed.

Consider multiple professions, so that if one skillset becomes less needed, there are others to rely on.

Picking the "one right career" opens you up to a host of black swans.

Choosing differing skillsets can open you up to creativity and synergy arising from multiple disciplines, as well as provide more than one stream of resources, plus a safety net.

And of course, this will all work better in a mutually supportive community environment.


Soylent green plant operator.


Grave Digger


Food Stamp Printer

I am an amatuer and not highly educated so my suggestions may seem dumb,but how about learning how to install solar panels? Or familiarizing one's self with all things automotive? Won't there be an adapter made for car engine that allow them to run on something other than gas? Also, plumbing will always be necessary so there's a field that would probably have income safety. I would think agriculture would be a good field too. And learning how to brew beer and grow herb, assuming it is one day legalized, may be a plausible way to make a living.

College is not likely for me since I'm 46 and I have 2 in college (both majoring in music/hopefully there will always be a demand for live music and entertainment even in the hardest times) and one on the way in a couple of years. The above are things I am seriously considering, though.

May I make a suggestion which is blindingly obvious?
Seriously, whatever career you choose, at the very least, be competent at it.
If you want to go far, be much more than competent, understand the whole industry you are working in ...
1. Good, experienced CFO's with a CA are not easy to find. The best are always retiring ...
2. Experienced securities lawyers and corporate lawyers - hang on to them.
3. Investor Relations people who understand both the oil business ("our partner really won't like us saying that ... and they are litigatious") and the financial community ...
4. IT people who realise that the world does not revolve around computers and computer systems, especially computer mapping systems. And that it is really not a career enhancing move to alter / shut down the company's computer system while the President is doing a major financing.
5. Realise that you are as much use as tits on a bull to management until you have at least 5 years experience - until then you're just clerking.
6. And a good office manager can make your company, especially someone who can unjam a photocopier.
The much despised MBA can be a great help, especially if you are a mature student with an agenda.
I run a little black book, which has the names of people I will not go near, never ever again.

I love when everyone seems to know everything around here. Try to choose the job you would enjoy most, because working takes more than 50% of your life time. And try to be happy, even in a post peak oil world (it sounds unlikely as everybody here suggests we all going to die in 30 years)

I wasn't blessed with left brain-right brain parity. My brain is righter than the GOP ticket. So engineering isn't the way for all of us. We'll need people to make us laugh. To teach Americans how to speak, write, and read English (and French and German) again. To see the big design/infrastructure picture (i.e. how to let the outer sprawl die gracefully under soil and trees and do something creatively practical with the inner suburbs). To become better stewards. To teach history. Ah, yes. History.