Radical Retrenchment - A Reference Model

Below the fold is a guest essay by longtime TOD commenter DavebyGolly on how our society/population might possibly 'retrench' given the current limitations we are faced with. It is a bit longer than we expect for the Campfire slot, but Dave has good ideas, by Golly. Please submit your own essays (or ideas for same) for TOD:Campfire to TODCampfire@gmail.com or campfire@theoildrum.com. Guidelines for submissions and content are here.
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Radical Retrenchment -- A reference model

Nate Hagens and the Campfire format encouraged me to write this, (well, something, not necessarily this.) That I do not provide statistics, graphs, formulas, references, footnotes should not be taken to mean I think them unimportant. They are. But I am essayist (at most). The exercise here is to apply logic to research already done by others. The issue: what ought be done to allow us, our species, to survive the decline and end of the industrial era? When I say ought be done, I mean by society, by government, by popular movements, etc. Although I certainly will do my best to help my children and grandchildren survive, I do not believe they can do well when society is crashing around them. I believe in striving for collective survival, without which individual survival becomes pretty grim. This is, admittedly, an un-American sentiment, if not worse. But the words "radical" and "retrenchment" already arouse suspicions, don't they?

The subtitle "a reference model" is added to show that I am not completely looney. I know that what's envisioned here will be regarded as utopian. It is not the route that will be taken, not soon in any case. But I also believe that it is, directionally at least, the only possible route toward a comfortable survival for the species. And the comfort qualifier is conditioned on its being taken soon. What follows, if one agrees with the presuppositions, is a reference model with which to compare ought with is, in order to prepare ought to do battle with is.

Peak energy

"Radical retrenchment" is a term I've used in many posts at TOD. All here is based on the "strong" version of peak oil, i.e. peak energy - not only is oil peaking, but other hydrocarbons will soon follow, and the alternatives cannot in toto come close to making up the difference. Therefore we are also at peak underground resources, i.e. metals and minerals. In other words, we are in the closing decades of the industrial era.

Not all who accept peak oil accept peak energy. There are many who believe some forms of alternative energy, singly or in combination, will rescue us from at least a drastically reduced energy budget, and therefore the industrial age can continue if certain adjustments, though possibly large ones, are made. I don't join that debate here although I would like to see it argued more explicitly here at TOD.

The exercise here is to follow the logic of peak energy, should one accept it as I (and many others) do. While I am well convinced of the reality and importance of global warming and the wider ecological catastrophes that are unfolding, I focus mainly on the energy component. I believe there is no great harm in so restricting myself, because the means of redress are very close if not identical, at least in the long run.

Since energy is going into decline and with it metals and other underground resources, our industrial civilization is also going into decline. I say "our", even though this refers to but a fraction of the world's people. The remaining larger fraction has been affected, but deprived of most of the benefits while shouldering a disproportionate share of the costs.

What does this wind-down of the industrial era mean for the species? It means a radical shift in our way of life. It means a shift from dependence on underground resources to aboveground resources. The shift will take place over the coming decades. Underground resources are hydrocarbons, metals, and other minerals, as well as deep aquifers. Aboveground resources are biological resources, life, water aside from that in deep aquifers, and all else that is available without deep digging and lots of energy (clay, rocks, etc).

The aboveground resources are the bulk of what we shall ultimately have available to us. The biological and other cycles taking place on the surface of the earth can provide us resources, for free and forever (on a human time scale), so long as we do not exceed the capacity of nature to renew them. (Although we do not yet know what all or even most of those limits are.) Global warming and other ecological constraints may, of course, significantly modify the capacity of nature to renew a resource.

So we know where we have to end up, at least in terms of the material basis of our existence. And we also know that even in the best of circumstances we cannot go directly there: there has to be a transition.

Radical retrenchment

Although unavoidable, there are two complications. The first: the earth is much impoverished from what it was 100, 1000, and 10,000 years ago. Species diversity, soil, forests, water, etc. are all much the worse, in addition to the underground depletions discussed above. Our population, on other the hand, is much larger. Therefore retrenchment via simply turning back the clock is not an option, or at best a grim one.

The second: During the course of civilization man has progressed, at least in accumulating knowledge of nature, in developing science and culture. And the oil age in particular has allowed us a glimpse into the workings of nature that would never have been otherwise possible. In a word, globalization has not been all negative. Global human community, global science, global culture have emerged. There is much that is well-worth preserving. It is indeed vital to do so in light of the impoverishment of the earth mentioned above. This is the only advantage we have over our ancestors who ascended into the industrial era, in contrast to us who are beginning our descent out of it.

What, in this descent, can be rescued from the industrial era, and indeed the ages before it? Although retrench we must, we must also strive to not retrench too much, if at all possible. Global science, culture and intercourse require a certain minimum population level, plus some form of global communication and interchange, even though it does not require the huge volume of physical and electronic goods that currently flow through the global arteries and nerves.

Retrench too much and humanity is reduced to isolated tribes which will not have the natural abundance and hence the potential for upward mobility enjoyed by our ancestors. It will be a dark age with no renaissance. Will it be possible to find a point of retrenchment at which both sustainability is achieved and a global intercourse is maintained? Who knows? But not knowing it impossible, we have to assume and hope it is possible, and strive for it.

The destination

What then must things be like when we have used up all or almost all of the underground resources? Cars are out since steel and other metals are out. Planes and rockets and even trains are out. Motors as we know them are out. Concrete is out. In a word, the fundamentals of our current way of life are out.

Agriculture, of course, must be in. It will have to be diversified and local. Everything will have to be recycled, and that taken from the soil returned to it. Draft animals will replace tractors. Human labor will sometimes replace tractors. Because motors are out, manual labor is back in (not that it ever completely left, as any gardener knows). Other farm animals are in. Trees are in, and forests will be allowed to grow and be replanted.

Will farms be (primarily) individual plots? It doesn't seem likely. It seems far more likely that agriculture will operate directly out of dense small towns. Dense because motorized transportation may be lacking. The bulk of the food for these towns will be grown directly in the surrounding areas. Dense because amenities can be shared, such as libraries, schools, a doctor, etc. Dense because a greater division of labor can be supported, but nothing, of course, remotely approaching what we have in metropolitan areas today.

How will such towns be interconnected? Roads can be built. Canals can be dug. Land and water vehicles can be built. What will power them? Horses or oxen certainly. Motors? One doesn't know. How much metal will still be accessible or left over from the industrial era? More interesting still, to what extent can we find biological replacements for metals? It seems extremely unlikely that we'll ever be able to build rockets out of biological materials. Or even motors.

Energy? Clearly a certain amount can be extracted sustainably - e.g. wood and other biomass. Solar, wind and hydro were around long before the machine age. How much they were independent of metals I do not know. There's no fundamental reason wind and water mills cannot be constructed out of purely biological and aboveground materials (e.g. rocks). And there were draft animals of course.

Communication? This is crucial, because without it, global interchange, culture and science are impossible - another, this time permanent, dark age supervenes. Snail mail has been around a long time, and represents a worst-case scenario. Were it to be the best case, that would represent a considerable regression in tempo, if nothing else. (Not that there is something holy about our current frenzied pace.) Copper? Fiber optics? Satellites? It's hard to see that these, in ascending order of unlikelihood, will continue being available longer term. Of course there are reflecting mirrors and other such possibilities when and where conditions are appropriate. But the fun of solving such problems as these will belong to later generations.

All in all, the three key items are: 1) a local near self-sufficiency in food staples, and a regional self-sufficiency in a broader range of items; 2) small town density in order to retain a minimal level of specialization and cultural level; 3) communication with the outside world and the global community as best as can be done.

The transition

That, in my view, is where we have to end up if one follows the logic of peak energy. But the oil is not yet gone, and metals are still to be had. Any government (or opposition) proposing a direct leap to the above scenario would be immediately drawn and quartered. There has to be a way of transitioning from where we are to where we must end up. On the other hand, if there is no transitioning, then nature will put us on the fast track, chaotically and disastrously. The longer the delay, the greater the chaos and suffering.

My discussion of the transition will be somewhat US-centric because that's what I know (well, sort of). The present is, of course, a long, long way from where we must end up. But just because of that, just because there is so much waste in the US, the first steps in transitioning here could, in principle, be relatively painless.

Start with our small towns. Most are dying, many are already dead. The surrounding agriculture is industrial monoculture, as anyone who flies across the country with a window seat can see. A good first start would be, beginning with some, to rebuild them, repopulate them densely, with few or no cars, reconnect them and their population to agriculture, rediversify the agriculture and re-introduce light industry connected to local and regional needs. The global market economy is currently crashing (you may have read) and there is little likelihood (you may dispute) it can return to what was formerly regarded as normalcy. Therefore the people who repopulate these small towns will be stepping, to a significant extent, outside the global market economy. There will have to be training, there will have to guidance, there will have to be experiment. Agriculturally savvy people will need to lead the way. But there will be motivation to make it work in light of what's happening in the outer economy and its legions of unemployed.

The small dense towns are the link to the future. Making this initiative work, working out the kinks - there will plenty - is vital and ought to be a leading component of any rational government policy to combat the unfolding meltdown. Money spent here will pay and will allow people to survive. A policy of simply and only putting millions of people on the dole with nothing to do, no hope, waiting for capitalism to need them again, can only lead to disaster. Popular movements that simply replicate the demands of the depression era will only compound disaster.

The suburbs must be reconcentrated, densified, the larger ones perhaps broken up into several small towns. Building on the fringes must be stopped. Those edifices already at the fringes must either be moved or cannibalized for reconstruction in the center. Land must be return to gardens, parks, etc. Car use must be reduced and restricted to the periphery. No one should need walk more than several blocks for all their basic needs. But those blocks they must walk.

The interstates need to run rail lines down their median strips both for passenger and freight. In the shorter term, buses should replace cars, and truck trains replace individual trucks on the interstates. Yes, some infrastructure repairs are required, but not an entire redo to continue the auto age. Some interstates, some bridges may well have to be abandoned and cannibalized.

Most airports and air traffic should (not so) gradually shut down. They will anyway, but it should be done in a planned way.

The larger cities need to become carless, and where not dense, densified else emptied and returned to open space, occupied by parks and gardens. There will be less and less for people to do in the big cities. With the expansion of the non-global-market economy in the small towns, the parasitic paperwork of the big cities will become ever more superfluous, and shrink. The cities themselves will therefore need to gradually shrink overall, and perhaps reconcentrate in multiple centers in the case of those that sprawl.

In this process there will need to be a lot of cannibalizing of existing infrastructure and buildings. Much of what we have is geared to the car and truck culture, and suburban sprawl. The cities are filled with modern pyramids, monuments to oligarchs. They too, over the coming decades, will need to come down and be cannibalized.

The cities, in the longer term, cannot survive as large as they are. The will need to be a steady movement, over decades, from the large cities, to dense small towns. And, as we've already said, the suburbs also need to become dense small towns.


In the transition, all needs to be focused on the goal, and on staying ahead of the depletion curve in getting there.

I end, though not abruptly, with a few miscellaneous observations.

Commuting. Currently, every weekday there are long ribbons of slowly moving cars streaming into and out of the major cities during rush hours. Commuting needs to be reduced steadily and firmly. There needs to be encouragement of job swaps, home swaps, carpooling, vans, and anything else that can contribute to rapidly winding down this madness.

Cities. What role will cities have in the post-transition, post-industrial era? One could cite Athens, Babylon and other cities that existed prior to the industrial era. But the post-industrial era will differ from the pre-industrial. Large agricultural surpluses were available to the Romans for expropriation. And the latifundia were slave-based. Because of the earth's depleted condition, because of the large population, the post-industrial agriculturalists will not be slaves - in order to make a go of it, they will have to use the science and knowledge gained from the industrial era just to survive. It is also unlikely that a new Rome will be able to survive by appropriating surpluses from surrounding regions, much less the world.

Science and technology. Much of the knowledge we have acquired during the oil age in particular may turn out to be irreplaceable, one-time and nonrenewable. It seems unlikely that the 22nd century will be building mammoth particle accelerators and sending satellites to the planets. Our experimental knowledge of the very large and the very small may well be coming to an end. Future astronomers and physicists may be restricted to working with the data we have already accumulated, plus whatever more is gathered in the coming few decades. Conservation of this heritage will be at least as important as the service performed by the Arabs in preserving classical Western knowledge.

Dark ages.Biological based technology. Charles Mann, in his 1491 discusses pre-Columbian technology and contrasts it to the metals-based technology of the West. The silk worm provided a key ingredient in early Chinese industry. Bamboo and hemp are two more examples. And of course wood. There are many more. I think that this whole topic will become of ever great interest.

Metals. How long can metals last if recycled? Which of them can and cannot be recycled? This will greatly affect the length of the transition period and will affect the ease if not the possibility of continuing rapid global communication and intercourse. Metals, unlike hydrocarbons, are not consumed. They can play a role long after the hydrocarbons are gone. A farseeing policy would attach great importance to the conservation and recycling of metals.

Conserving the ultimate resources. Since the ultimate resources are the soil, the water, the air, it is important to not further degrade them in the transition. This means not opening new mines, not drilling new wells, not destroying new habitats in the pursuit of extending the oil age. It means restricting ourselves to the existing mines and wells where the damage has already been done, and keeping ahead, i.e. retrenching ahead of the depletion curve of these existing mines and wells.

Two sets of books. In the transition (at least) two sets of books need to be kept - one financial, one physical. I believe that it is only in the last few decades that people have started keeping track of global physical resources. Physical resources have generally been of concern only after having been filtered into a price, a valuation. We can see the wide disconnect this has lead to, with oil having dropped from $147 to below $40 per barrel at the same time that the amount in the ground is diminishing at the rate of few per cent a year, and production at major fields declining at almost 7 per cent a year. Where pricing of major resources get so far out of kilter, there needs to be intervention to bring markets and physical resources into line. These rents should be invested in retrenchment.

The fatuity of the economists is bottomless. They speak of credit evaporation, fiscal stimulus, bailouts, lowering interest rates, restoring liquidity and all such things. Never, never, never do they speak of the physical world and its limits. Seventy years ago they could get away with it, because money, then, could suck resources out of the ground. But that was because they were still plentiful, with no end in sight. Now the end is in sight for those who care to look.

Population. Population must be and will be reduced. How? There's nature's way and there's the humane way. The humane way is to reduce reproduction. I believe that small towns based on agriculture will partially solve this problem. Because such entities will be self-sufficient in most basics, resource constraints will press upon them directly and sensibly. Over-consumption of resources will punish them. Therefore I feel that population, along with other resources, will be managed directly. Population is very much a regional and even local issue. Some areas of the earth will sustain a much larger density than others.

Money. What role will money play? Barter, which precedes and leads up to money historically, will play a major role. So too will local currencies, and perhaps regional currencies. It seems unlikely there will be a global currency (such as the dollar or even gold). Much less will there be global capital and investment flows.

World government. Some express fear of a world government, imagining some entity similar to the Stalin government at the height of the Soviet Union. This is a groundless fear. There will be no material basis for such an entity. Nor will there be flotillas of B-series bombers and troop transporters spreading benevolence around the globe. We will be lucky to have established global consultative bodies, where information and experience can be exchanged. Such bodies will highly dependent upon providing concrete value to their supporting communities in order for their existence to be tolerated. The same would be true of regional bodies.

War. War is becoming unaffordable even as we speak. That hasn't stopped it yet, and there may well be one more global conflagration in the winding down of the industrial era. But the end of war is already in sight. Things are not as they were. The earth is much depleted. It will take great effort, skilled and scientifically informed effort to eke out a living, and to extract and appropriate surpluses will be meaningless. The underground resources, those for which the current wars are being fought, will have been long since been depleted.

Alright then, blast away!

Darwin's grandson, the physicist Dr. Charles Galton Darwin, addressed this question more than 50 years ago.


A must-read -- and I'm proud to state that I actually possess a copy of the book itself.

BTW a brilliant essay by Charles Galton Darwin on population control can be found here:


What the largest size a city or town can be by population if it has to support itself by the surrounding area but doesnt have a modern road transport system?

My guesstimate would be in the low range... 1000-5000. I don't know if it would be sustainable at first. You would probably have to look at groups like the Amish to get a better idea.

I suggest that as important as (or more important than) the quantity of people is the quality of the people and of their relationships. Experience finds that an organisation of more than 300ish people develops inefficiencies due to not everyone knowing everyone-else (so it has to have authorisation heirarchies, security guards, then managers of the guards and etc.).
A group may work well if there is a common language and culture and generally co-operative mentality. But the same size would be hopeless if fractured by multicliquery divisions of language and culture, or containing too little co-operativeness v competitive/parasitic tendencies.

One thing seems to get lost in these post peak discussions is timing. IMHO we will not fall off a cliff, like today there is everything and tomorrow there is nothing. Barring a nuclear war there will be a long adjustment period, decades as DavebyGolly suggests, the severity of which will depend on where you are on the planet. What will happen should probably be qualified in time. 5 years, 25 years, 50 years post peak [oil, gas, coal, whatever].

In all scenarios in all locations, there will be choices that will make a difference at a later time for people and the planet.

IMHO we will not fall off a cliff

There's been plenty of reason presented in these pages for thinking we almost certainly will "fall off a cliff", and anytime soon what's more. Simple maths says there has to be massive contraction of population and standard of easy living. Such contraction rarely if ever happens in a planned, harmonious way. This year looks to be exceeded only by the ones that come after it.

By the way - that number of 300 people I found in a book of interviews with successful managers. Perhaps more applicable to organisations than to communities?

Pray, present us with this "simple math" proving the dreaded dieoff.

Ok - this won't be absolute proof, but (pending a better answer) near enough for deciding what to do.

Various estimates have been published of sustainable population of the planet. I've not had time to critically examine them but the general theme is that at most only a billion or two of the current six billion can be sustained. That is compatible with (1) Malthusian overshoot, (2) heavy dependence of the increase on fertiliser and mechanical and unhealthy techs always straining to maximise 'productivity' and so on, and (3) majorly degraded soils in various countries including the US. So much for the planetary level.

Now looking at the UK level, a key part of ww2 was the Battle of the Atlantic. This was the one thing that really worried Churchill, that the Nazis might starve the UK into defeat. Despite the "Dig for Victory" urban jubilee gardens, the UK depended on a huge proportion of importing of its food. The Nazi U-boats threatened to stop the food coming from the US. The world's biggest military machine (the Bismarck) was launched to aid in this and its sinking was a rather major event at the time.

We were able to sink the Bismarck but we have little prospect of sinking the oil shortage which will make today's food imports come to an end. The UK population has since increased, while the quality of its land has decreased due to decades of dis-organic farming.

Then looking at my many decades experience of the Birmingham UK area - 30 years ago there were loads of farms and orchards around Bham, supplying its food (via trucks that woke me up at 4am every night). (Bham also had loads of factories.) Then progress took place as it was discovered that shops, houses, offices and leisure thingys made a lot more money. I could never understand how a city could support tons of luxury homes and shops with no productive work going on, but then no-one was very interested in my views!

I personally know of so many farms that are now commuter homes, and orchards that have been grubbed up, and so on. There are far fewer people with farming skills, and even they are mostly oil-based. A high proportion of the UK's food comes from far away, and very little indeed of Bham's comes from within carting distance.

The Battle of the Atlantic was treated as the No. 1 front page crisis of the time, with every available ship despatched to sink the Bismarck. The Battle of the Disappearing Oil is not being treated as a crisis at all.

Some underdeveloped countries might be thought to have better prospects but again and again they depend on "aid", that is food imported from continents away using tons of oil.

I would like to see a page on ToD specifically to discuss this important question though I regret I'm not in a position to do much towards one myself at this moment.

Oh, the math: (Supply of food)<<(Requirement of food).

Since the UK joined the common market, it has become much more productive in food production, especially grains and meat(due to the very high agriculture subsidies). Thus food prices are higher, but food is available. Same for all of EU.
A lot of the WWII convoys were carrying war materials and oil.

No math there, alas, simple or otherwise. Just more assertions: "We can't possibly feed ourselves without great gobs of fossil fuels."

Which may or may not be true, but has not been shown anywhere. For some reason, the only countries who've tried to be entirely self-sufficient in food in the modern age are the countries with pretty crappy agricultural land.

About half of food produced in the world is produced without any fossil fuel inputs at all - no artificial fertilisers, herbicides, tractors, etc. And we produce about twice as much grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables as we need.

I look at this on a global scale in feeding the world, consider it with less numbers and more consideration of peak oil in relocalisation?, and in the shape of food to come. Lastly, sceptical of the grand claims made by lefty types and the mocking claims made by righty types about Cuba, I had a look at the real lessons of Cuba and peak oil.

I welcome emails on the topic, my email can be found in my profile.

Thanks for the link, Kiashu.

"Cuba is putting in a fair amount of renewable energy; but this is dwarfed by its new fossil fuel using electricity generation. For another view of it all, consider the October 2006 Living Planet report, which says that "sustainable development" must achieve an HDI (Human Development Index) of 0.80 or more while at the same time having its per capita ecological footprint not exceed 1.8 hectares, the average biocapacity available to each person on the planet. On their assessment, only Cuba achieved both criteria."

This is an important and much overlooked point.

Of course it is silly to view Cuba as any kind of paradise. We're not talking about paradise. We are (or need to be talking about) whether there is any remote possibility for humans to live minimally satisfactory lives without compromising the future viability. Any system that comes close, even if they did so entirely by accident, is worthy of closer inspection, IMVHO.

Good stories, Thanks. I'm going to look a little closer at greenwithagun.

Kiashu - thanks for info and links, but I have some reservations about your viewpoints. I think you'll agree that we need to be wary of too much generalisations, as what applies in one locality does not apply in another. Before this page gets too passé, I'll just comment on the locality I know well which is the UK.

You say lots of fruit and veg produced in market gardens near cities. Supposedly 200km is near in your calculations. If you had to cart that food without oil you'd not want to be carting it more than 10-20 miles max.

As a cyclist I have intimate familiarity with the countryside around Birmingham UK. There's precious little growing of fruit and veg anywhere within 20 miles. Most farms have closed down since the commuter-belt land/property is now too 'valuable' for mere food production. In UK/Europe we can't grow most types of fruit anyway and so most of it is imported from distant continents, even apples.

You appear to consider meat to be an unnecessary abuse of grains. But many people in Northern lands need a high-meat diet to be healthy. I myself have to avoid grains with exception of rice. And livestock can graze on land that cannot otherwise grow food.

Yes there's a high productivity of food in UK/Europe but it is high productivity of unhealthy junk at serious cost to the environment. BSE, foot-and-mouth, TB and blue-tongue plus the constant colds of cattle reflect this unhealthy trashiness.

The Farmer's Guardian newspaper presents a highly mechanised, high-energy system preoccupied with trying desperately to keep heads above the profit/loss waterline. A prime organic farm explain how they take their sheep on an hour's journey to the abbatoir, then back again. How's that for energy resilience? All the small local abbatoirs have closed down and aren't going to reopen anytime imaginable.

Now I shall give more answer to your maths question. Medieval Britain (~UK) was struggling to feed its much smaller population, even though its land was a lot less degraded back then. The whole reason why the industrial revolution started here (nb) was that land-resources were becoming scarce. In particular in this naturally wooded land there was a shortage of wood. Ladywood where I live had ceased to contain any wood 500 years ago, having been burnt as fuel. Coalmining was developed as a reaction to the shortage of firewood. (See also Karl Marx's crucial life-event re shortage of firewood.) The coalmining had to go deeper and so the steam engine got invented and the rest is increasingly-polluted history.

The ChrisMartenson crash course illustrates how the growth of population stayed low for zillenia till there was the sudden growth of the energy supply. From the population history one can reasonably reckon the UK could at best manage 1/3 of present population. But we are very far from an at best situation. We have degraded land; we have farms that are no longer farms; we have huge urban populations living far too far from the fields that will need to be worked. We don't have the cash to do that relocation even if the rural areas weren't inhabited by prickly rich people upholding their property rights and strict anti-development regulations! In short we're rude word beginning with f-'d.

You say lots of fruit and veg produced in market gardens near cities. Supposedly 200km is near in your calculations. If you had to cart that food without oil you'd not want to be carting it more than 10-20 miles max.

The thing is that as people keep emphasising on TOD, fossil fuels are not going to just STOP. They'll become more scarce. So there'll still be some transport around.

If oil is $500/bbl then oranges from Barbados in London in winter are not going to be viable. But spuds from Wessex will be. You just have to look at history. While there were villages that got only stuff from their own area, there was the occasional town or city that got things from a great distance away.

For this a lot of organisation was needed. But they did go more than 10-20 miles. It was done in the past, so can be done again.

Now, as I said in those articles, we certainly won't be able to have cities of 10+ million people with scarce fossil fuels. Nor will there be the thousand or so cities of over a million we have today. As fossil fuels become scarce, if we don't put in alternatives then we'll see a deurbanisation. But since the fossil fuels won't just stop one day, this will be gradual rather than catastrophic.

Now I shall give more answer to your maths question. Medieval Britain (~UK) was struggling to feed its much smaller population, even though its land was a lot less degraded back then.

We know a bit more about land and water and resources than we did in the Middle Ages. We can do better than we did then, and certainly better than we're doing now.

That doesn't mean we will do better, just that we can. I'm talking about what's physically possible, and combined with that what seems likely given what's happened in the past.

It does not seem likely that fossil fuel supplies will just STOP one day, but rather that they'll decline in availability, and priorities will be set. People will have a very hard time indeed, but they won't starve and perish in an orgy of violence.

[Kiashu:] fossil fuels are not going to just STOP. They'll become more scarce. So there'll still be some transport around.

I think this is a crucial assumption here, which I find highly contentious. I think there IS a very high likelihood that fossil fuels are very likely to indeed, as near as matters, just stop (come to an end within months/years, in the next few years.

What you overlook is that getting coal and oil is now becoming dauntingly complex. Alaska, drilling under kms of salt, etc. From my window I see Brindley's canal which lowered the price of coal by a factor of 2 the day it opened, and Telford's canal that improved on it 60 years later. But there's no more coal at the other end of those canals now!

Getting that oil and coal now depends on far more than a canal, it depends on a vast globalised industrial-commercial-financial-governmental-socialconfidence complex which no-one fully understands but is clearly vulnerable to collapse due to excessive complexity. Even a failure of credit could kill it dead.

Given that there is so little discussion of this vulnerability, and that societies and institutions are consistently abysmal at managing contraction, the odds look overwhelmingly strong that there is going to be an early collapse of the food supply to cities and from then onwards the whole great show falls apart and the hi-tech energy supply system dies with it (its already creaking at the joints as Simmons keeps pointing out).

Sorry, no shortage of coal here, which is really a big worry.

I agree there isn't a shortage of coal all round. The point is that there is now a total absence of coal easily transportable by canal etc to Birmingham. (And there are still hardly any trees in "Ladywood".) The world's remaining coal is generally lower-grade, far underground, far from where you want it. When people are struggling to merely feed themselves, they won't have time/energy for hiking many miles then digging deep down mines to extract black stuff that they don't have equipment ready to use it in anyway. The lack of affordable oil (and electricity) makes the exploitation of coal vastly harder, especially now the easy coal supplies are gone.
I appreciate the worry about CC but a system collapse would quickly "solve" that worry, like a knife in the chest would cure a headache.

In my opinion Doomers are over-represented on this site; my personal belief is that we're more likely to face a long decline, with intermittent shocks. Tumbling off a hill with varying gradients, if you will.

There are plenty of reasons we won't fall off a cliff. Historically, there are examples of population crashes occurring in small isolated communities or in communities that had something they depended on suddenly fall away. But we live in a global economy, and it's too vast and complex to all fail suddenly and at once.

There might be a gas cliff coming up, but it will firstly mean third world countries not being able to afford it, then second world countries, and then us. People will very suddenly need to adapt and learn to cope. Similarly for the more important hydrocarbon oil.

There will always be oil, but it will simply become more unaffordable for varying groups, not totally gone. Food riots will occur in countries depending on imports one by one, from poorer to richer; people will gradually become systematically malnourished. Three billion people starving in one year is very unlikely.

Look at the financial crisis: things 'crashed' down, but life continues as usual, just less affluently than before, with slowing economies, slightly more people becoming unemployed, etc. etc.

In my opinion Doomers are over-represented on this site

Perhaps in the comments. I'm pretty sure the lurkers are predominantly 'realists' and 'undecided'. My subjective opinion is that there is POSSIBILITY of fast crash, and equal possibility of sine curve of BAU ebbs and flows for another decade. Too many variables to predict with certainty. But if we have a decade, that means if we wait until then so many more resources will have been used, people will be even more habituated (and probably unhealthier and less happy) and environmental externalities will be manifold. Why must we predict with any certainty 'when' things really deteriorate - isn't it enough to know its a possibilty/probablity and make the social contracts that will make the future better? ('future' and 'better' both also need to be defined)

"..it has to support itself by the surrounding area but doesnt have a modern road transport system?"
- What does this actually mean? -

I've been scanning this particular thread waiting to see someone take on that initial question of whether a town or city of some size or other would be the most viable without a 'modern road system'.

This theme comes up in so many 'Car' threads, and needs to be thought through. The surfacing materials will and must change, it seems.. but are roads really the problem? Paths, Trails, Tracks, Avenues.. Pushing people and produce along them on wheels.. dare I say that these wheels might even be allowed to have some stored-energy mechanisms to help with the pushing? It may look a LOT different than our present Rush Hour World.. but it's hardly the 'end of the wheel as we know it'..

I'm asking you this, since you so often focus on our deeper psychological/perceptual games, underexamined assumptions.. and this topic to me seems to be a set of Resentful Scapegoats that are used to sledgehammer our 'daddys' Oldsmobiles', while I can't see for the life of me that paths, carts and cars of a very broad variety will not (< edit) absolutely continue to be part of the picture.

As such, the places where our largest paths converge (often as not at harbors and riverheads).. we will establish and keep cities which will be the routing centers for food, clothing and all sorts of other trade goods, created in diffusion and then channeled and concentrated by our roads, rivers and rails.

The collapse of certain forms of technology seems to get devolved into the 'end of roads', which I see as an understandable, but ultimately erroneous conclusion.

Does that sound realistic?

Bob Fiske

As to road systems, the thing to remember is that relatively little are required for transport of all necessities and a few luxuries. Most of the wheels on the road are not for freight, nor are they for getting the most people most quickly from A to B.

With more efficiency and less consumption, far less roads would be needed.

I talk about this a bit in the oily smudge on the future of the city-state. My conclusion is that if we're completely without fossil fuels, we won't be able to sustain cities of several million people.

A million is plausible with some good arrangements of roads and the help of animals. But 10,000 and under are much more likely. And in fact that's what we find in history, that peoples like the Incas relying on foot transport never had bigger cities than the 10,000-100,000 range, those with canals like the Aztecs got up to over 100,000, and those with animals and good roads like the Turks or Romans managed a million.

Absent fossil fuels, we're not going to have these great cities like Tokyo and Los Angeles and Melbourne. They're simply too large, requiring too many resources, it'll be physically impossible to bring them enough to keep them going.

Of course fossil fuels are not going to simply disappear. And the Cuban and North Korean experiences both show that when fossil fuels are short, what disappears first is not fertiliser, freight or electricity but private transport. Which reduces the number of roads we need.

Well considering Cuba for a moment then.. have they got fewer roads now? Or just less paving, and less traffic on them? ( While I don't know how much they were paved before.. )

I can see the massive multi-lane freeways going back down to fewer and fewer.. but the 'road' will still be there.. and where rural and unsupportable environments will have Ghost Roads that once led to ghosted towns and their ghosted streets.. those will go.. but the author of the comment alluded to something like 'Roadless towns'. I don't see the logic in that kind of visioning. When has there ever been such a thing?

As I understand it, the Cubans have the same roads, it's just that they actively maintain relatively few of them. The rest are turning into dirt tracks.

Cuba has the same roads they have always had, and none as bad as the I10 from Baton Rouge to Beaumont. :-)

Transport is highly improvised as shown in http://netenergy.theoildrum.com/node/4678. These jerry rigged buses are called camels and are pulled with everything from tractor rigs to ordinary farms tractors, particularly for farm and factory workers.

Smaller towns like Matanzas and Cardenas have some buses but locally, the transit system consists of horse drawn wagons with benches and small covered carriages.

Post revolution cars are common in Havana; Audis, Mercedes etc., depending on your political status, or if you are the local rep for foreign investors in resorts or petrochem like Sherritt.

So yes Virginia, roads are alive and well in Cuba.

In my opinion Doomers are over-represented on this site

Perhaps in the comments. I'm pretty sure the lurkers are predominantly 'realists' and 'undecided'.

Indeed. Many of the folk who post comments appear to have a predilection for portraying a dismal future. Nonetheless, some of them can have highly salient observations when positive posts (read as non dismal) are made and the comments can bring attention to oversights in such posts.

The problem of modeling the global economic response to peak oil is, as Nate points out, highly under determined. As many others have pointed out, peak oil does not mean the end of oil, just the likely end of a situation wherein supply growth can keep ahead of demand growth. The economic consequences will be alarming to many. Fortunately, humankind has a demonstrated ability to adapt to a wide range of environments. I have faith that it will continue to do so.

Nate, a ways back you posted a survey on TOD readers. Perhaps I missed it, but when are you going to be posting the results?


when i get some time!!!

Some of the questions in that survey puzzled me a little, am waiting for your response to figure out where they came from. No rush.

Self-reporting tends to result in bi-modal distributions. The extremes of the universe of opinions report because they feel most strongly. The middle, which tends to be the bulk, does not feel strongly enough to make a post either way..

Pray, present us with this "simple math" disproving the dreaded dieoff.


PS.Asking for 'sourcing' on such a topic which can be mostly empirical
and of personal knowledge is hard to do..almost impossible IMO.

So I liberally lace most of my posts with IMOs,since most of what I post is what I personally observe and draw conclusions from.

This being CAMPFIRE and closely attune to shared experiences and other aspects dealing with the assumption that we WILL experience a major change in lifestyle and would be wise to start building a knowledge base instead of constantly debating whether or NOT this is what will happen.

I think Campfire is therefore considered to be dealing with that assumption already as a foregone conclusion. Or perhaps its purpose is to engage in just that debate but for me that debate has long long ago passed away.

We absolutely know , from all previous discussion technically given that the end of oil usage due to environmental issues will occur. We are pretty sure that other forms of energy will not save us since the ramp up time is too short and for other reasons explained in other essay topics.

But even if other forms of energy can be effected still we will have a huge problem with the number of inhabitants of this planet and what the earth can 'sustainably' provide for economically.

Many will die in other words. I had thought this was pretty much agreed upon.


Many will die in other words. I had thought this was pretty much agreed upon.


Die of what, exactly? People don't just drop dead, something or someone kills them. So if you want to say that "many will die", you have to describe the causes, and then we can talk about how likely those causes are to come up.

"Of what?" Kiashu asks.

Well its just the doomers mantra,no?

Of starvation due to loss of soil fertility,lack of I-N,P,K, over population,lack of medicines, and much more...which has been hashed over again and again on many DBs.and therefore at least to me a foregone conclusion,,hence my comment.

I am not going to defend it. I just made it. This is not really a debating match in any case for the rules are not in force.

And going over old ground is a waste of bandwidth and time.

You should have read enough of my posts to know my beliefs and opinions.

As Chris Martenson puts it.
Opinions,beliefs and facts.
Of course fact are sorta hard things to pin down sometimes and one mans facts are not always anothers so the debate begins. ala Eric Blair, my nemesis who of late seems to have taken the axe out of the post and started to track me again. I never respond to him for that reason but do respect Kiashu however I am not going to enter into debate on it.

IMO then...many will die.

Airdale-I refuse to waste time scouring the net for sourcing unless I am keying up a Essay type Key post for TOD and I have never reached the sacred ground of that type of endeavor as yet,,and probably never will....so I post my Opinions and Beliefs in hope that they may help some others who might go in my footsteps to the outback and farm country and be forewarned......etc etc yada yada....

Best to you,

See, you call it "debate". The idea you have is that there are two people or groups of people with fixed opinions, opinions which never change. Because that's what an official debate is.

Whereas I see it as a discussion.

"I think X, and Y is wrong because of Z."
"Z is nonsense because of A, and you've misinterpreted Y anyway because of B."

It's like the Western Front, we send our facts up over the top into the machinegun fire of critique, the field illuminated in the ghostly light of flare shells of opinion.

A discussion is different.
"I think X because of Y."
"But what about Z?"
"Well Z does moderate X somewhat, but if you bring in A then you get where I am."

It's an exchange of ideas where each person's opinion is changed slightly. Not necessarily towards each-other, discussion doesn't mean eventually everyone will agree. Sometimes your ideas move, sometimes they're fleshed out and become stronger, and so on.

A discussion. Only fools hold opinions based on nothing. By asking for sources and facts a person is showing respect for your opinions. "Well obviously you're not crazy or stupid, so you must have a rational reason for believing that. What is it?"

"Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble. It’s like a fart in a wind tunnel, folks." - Harlan Ellison

If you don't think your ideas are worth explaining or justifying, then I don't see why anyone else should be expected to take them seriously.

Reply to Kiashu,

Debate? Well around a campfire no one has access to encyclopedias or books. We just have 'viewpoints' perhaps and discuss them in a hopefully friendly manner. One shares one's views and others gain from deciding whether its worthy or not and if so adapting it or not.

Scientific discussion is more onerous I would say. But again there are the daily DBs and the Key posts to engage in real debate.

I believe most farmers and those who work close to the soil wouldn't care to 'source' what they state as knowledge gained from actual 'doing' the work. That is reserved for more formal venues.

All of course IMO.

Like I said before. One could enter into endless discourse on each and every statement anyone makes. Causing thereby undue acrimony.

If you like to really debate? Don't reply to my posts for I won't debate you. I will state what I believe that experience teaches me and why but to go scouring areas in academia or in the world of GoogleVille? No.

The world of the internet is useful but one, such as Kiashu, needs to sift and filter with a fine sieve to discern truth from fiction. I won't be that sieve for you. You can agree,disagree, or dismiss and insulting language is not called for. Just simply move on.

Airdale-I could be wrong, I have been wrong before, but hopefully learn more each time.

For much of Airdale's perspective, he is a fundamental source -- a personal case study. I tend to enjoy his opinions and perspectives on topics other than subsistence farming as well, as a long and varied life yields a basis for opinion as a gestalt of distilled experiences regardless of annotated external references.

I think there is room around the campfire for scientific-style debate (where references for explicit assertions would be the norm) and informal philosophy and opinion (where external references may not always exist).

One man's "cherry picked testimonial" is another man's "scientific case study". Much of what we're going to deal with will be driven more by popular beliefs, emotions, religion, and whatever else we do to make it through the day than by physical absolutes. I think how we look a the world is going to change as much as our actual conditions will, probably more-so.

Airdale is a fairly unique individual, with a long-ago history of subsistence living, a fairly high-tech and mobile mid-life, and now a return to Internet-connected subsistence. There probably aren't a lot of blog-savvy 65+ farmers who are able and willing to not only share the details of what they're doing but to share their perspective on life as well. To me, both types have value, and I'm always happy to read his posts. I hope he ignores his detractors and continues to post as he sees fit (within the rules of the site, of course).

I am too old now to change much. What you see is what you get.

I know that some are not too engaged by my style. Some folks around my farm tell me that as well but we are still raising our hands to each other as we pass, as is the custom hereabouts.

I am not making much headway though with my mantras here in the wilds of W.Ky but I keep trying.

Unless its programming or IT work I usually do not go in for long debates.

I think many are not privy to the experiences I have had and so I speak of them...and they 'old' ways we did things , which might soon become the 'new' way we do things.

Sometimes though I hit a vein of 'stream of consiousness' dialogue and can't help myself...for that I will offer pre-apology to those who it falls upon.

Thanks for the bouquet , as we used to say long ago in ITland at my late alma mater.


We can assert with some certainty that everyone will die...eventually. What may be a more interesting question is waht peak oil would do to the birth rate.

Perversely, at least in the West(TM), I think there is a strong possibility that it would increase rather than decrease. The current trend of fewer children, later in life is a genetic dead end which could prove to be fatal (at least for a genetic line) in an energy depleted world.

If indeed the populous needs to revert to an agrarian model of sustainability, one of the success traits is to have a large family which cooperates to gather/grow/hunt/farm for food. For amny it is too late to satrt having children and others will make an ideological decsion to go childless to save the planet bu the survivors may actually be those that choos to populate and then hang together through thick or thin. Being a self sufficnet indiviudal may be one of the riskiest paths as it becomes harder to defend your patch against larger groups, particularly wher those groups are organised along family hierarchical lines which are not subject to democratic or revolutionary overthrow (not too many people willingly conspire with their cousins to knock off their grand mother just becasue she is an extra mouth to feed).


I agree with you, but can you please take more time to to spell check and parse your ideas? To be reading your views is valuable, but it makes for some pretty tough sledding.

No slap, just a suggestion.

Noted :)

"What may be a more interesting question is waht peak oil would do to the birth rate.

Perversely, at least in the West(TM), I think there is a strong possibility that it would increase rather than decrease."

I agree - for the reason you state (return for many to agrarian lifestyle), and for other reasons as well. The liklihood of increase in the child mortality rate is one. In recent history, in many Western countries, we can take our chances with one child - that is, reasonably expect that child to grow up and live out a normal lifespan. With reduced access to heroic medical care, and the general poor health of many of the population (here I refer to poor diet (junk food) and lack of exercise) many more children might be expected to die before adulthood.

Also, if social safety nets erode significantly, it may be desirable to have children to take care of you in your old age. Children become "social security." Provided you have good relations with them. :)


And to add to that almost ANY statement anyone makes on TOD can be asked for proof or sourcing or whatever!

Its I think just how the reader of that post feels at the time.

I could spend endless hours doing just that and accomplish nothing except to piss people off.

If you write an essay and do not do your homework and make odd statements you will surely be held to a higher standard.

This I do not do.


Hi Kiashu,

It is given that at some point zero population growth will occur, or stated another way, we'll reach "Peak Population." There are limits to perpetual increase. That is an ecological reality. When? That depends.

Up to and after the peak what kills could be disease, war, starvation, dehydration or other "negative" causes. Peak population could theoretically be achieved without die off if we choose birth control, abortion, statutory limitations to family size, etc. The longer we delay the more palatable population controls the more likely the less palatable will occur.

Perhaps at this juncture we don't know "of what" and maybe it doesn't matter.

If you believe that population growth can continue infinitely - well then - likely no excess deaths. If population growth is becoming neutral, or is becoming negative then something is happening. If the change in population growth occurs slowly, then supposedly fewer births will occur over time. If, however, we are actually in an overshoot situation, the reduction in population will be more abrupt and the number of deaths per year will increase.

If the availability of fossil fuel is seen to be a critical factor in the maintenance of the enlarged carrying capacity supporting our population, then it follows that the reduction in availability of those fuels will stress the system and decrease the carrying capacity. It might be the event which tips us into crash.(rapid and extreme reduction in population following overshoot)

If population does crash to a much lower number than present, there will be a "lot" of excess death. How those deaths occur depends upon how each area of our planet is stressed in response to the lack of fossil fuels.

This belief in the importance of fossil fuels seems to be prevalent here at TOD. So most discussion of dieoff relates to the stresses caused by lack thereof. We are positing large scale systemic failure due to critical resource limitation. If, on the other hand, you don't believe that FF are essential to maintain our enlarged carrying capacity, then it follows you don't believe that population crash will occur in response to peak oil.

In any case, I think that discussing each mechanism of increased death is pointless. Each area of the earth will be stressed differently by the lack of fossil fuel and each will reduce population accordingly. What we have to decide is whether we accept that fossil fuel use creates our increased carrying capacity. If we accept that, then we accept that lots of people will die when the spigots are turned off/down.

So to be meaningful, we have to back the argument up a bit - does the use of Fossil Fuel increase the earth's carrying capacity for humanity? If it does, then when it is gone "a lot" of people are going to die. You will have to look out of the window to imagine how they will die in your community. (in my area we will kill each other, freeze, and starve - not necessarily in that order)

My opinion
(but you might want to check out J. Hanson, W. Catton, C. Ponting ;^) )


Perhaps at this juncture we don't know "of what" and maybe it doesn't matter.

It matters a lot "of what", because then we can see if the deaths are preventable, and if your scenario of the dieoff is even plausible.

People don't just die in their hundreds of millions overnight. Something or someone kills them. So when the doomers say "there'll be a dieoff!" it's an entirely valid question: "what's going to kill the people?"

If you believe that population growth can continue infinitely - well then - likely no excess deaths.

Of course population growth can't continue indefinitely. But it won't, nobody who knows anything believes that. The World Health Organization forecasts that world population will plateau at 9-10 billion around 2050, and decline after that.

But we don't need plagues or famines or nuclear wars for population to stop growing or decline. Japan's population is declining, ain't no catastrophes going on there.

Basically, when the women in your society are prosperous, educated, and have political power, the birth rate drops. When your women are poor illiterate and oppressed they have lots of babies. As countries become developed the birth rate is dropping.

This is not a "dieoff", it's just women getting better off and having less babies. You don't need miserable catastrophes to have population steady or drop - quite the opposite.

In any case, I think that discussing each mechanism of increased death is pointless.

Not at all. Whenever someone makes a strong and startling assertion, it's always good to discuss it. If we don't discuss it, all that leaves is either saying "bullshit!" or saying nothing and thus letting the idea spread. Now, I don't want ideas which might be wrong spread, so I ask for explanations - none have yet come. And I won't simply say "bullshit!" because that's stupid.

If people aren't willing to back their startling assertions, then they ought to keep them to themselves.

"when the women in your society are prosperous"

I hesitate to step into this fray, but all women in the world cannot be as prosperous as women in developed countries. There is just not the resource base to support that level of consumption (unless, perhaps they get rid of all the men first and share everything equally then ;-)

There are already food shortages around the world, so that is already killing people and leaving them susceptible to disease. Global Warming is killing people directly through heat waves and indirectly through conflicts inflamed by diminishing capacity of environments to support the local inhabitants (Darfur...). Human flesh is one of the largest relatively homogeneous food sources and so will doubtless be exploited by some successful organism at some point. Thinking it won't goes against biological probability and the well studied behaviors of monocultures. I see no likelihood that any of these will diminish and every reason that they will increase in the near future.

Am I way off here for some reason in your opinion, or do you think there are other mechanisms more likely to lead to die-offs.

But maybe it will all work out just fine. Who knows?

I hesitate to step into this fray, but all women in the world cannot be as prosperous as women in developed countries.

It's all relative, mate. They don't all have to be PhDs living in a Manhattan apartment, but they do have to be something better than an illiterate subsistence farmer who has to hike two miles to get a bucket of clean drinking water and whose husband will throw acid on her if she disobeys him.

Income, energy, education and so on, when measured against more or less objective measures of quality of life such as longevity, tend to follow a shoulder-shaped curve. That is, when you have nothing getting something really improves your life. When you have a lot, having more doesn't make much difference.

For example, one measure of quality of life is the Human Development Index, which is a mixture of one-third each per capita income, education (two-thirds literacy, one-third educational enrolment), and life expectancy. They put it on a scale of 0.00 to 1.00. When you graph available electricity per capita (with one-third going to domestic use, two-thirds to the rest), what you find is that a country's people are "highly-developed" (HDI0.8+) at 2,000kWh/capita, and while 4,000kWh each boosts it to HDI0.9, more electricity after that doesn't improve people's lives. So that the 8,000kWh of France and Germany, the 12,000kWh of Australia or the US, and the 24,000kWh of Iceland and Sweden, most of that is superfluous. A waste.

Access to clean drinking water, being able to read the newspaper and write letters to it, access to preventative healthcare to stop your children dying of diaorrhea, having a reliable electricity supply of 2,000kWh annually (so, 700kWh or so domestically), these sorts of things are by world standards "prosperous".

And it's well within our powers to have the whole world have them.

"It's all relative, mate. They don't all have to be PhDs living in a Manhattan apartment, but they do have to be something better than an illiterate subsistence farmer who has to hike two miles to get a bucket of clean drinking water and whose husband will throw acid on her if she disobeys him."

Fine, but then you should not have used Japan as your comparison point. Another island such as Cuba, the only country that exceeds minimal standards of the Human Development and the Sustainability Indexes, according to a report by WWF a couple years ago.

Unfortunately, I see no Castro in the wings ready to lead us to a world revolution that would equalize incomes, establish universal literacy, empower women... If you want to assume that such a future is likely, more power to ya, mate.

Meanwhile, in the real world, ecological and economic systems are coming apart at the seems, and the carnage is likely to increase greatly before we get to a steady state.

However this may or may not be, I question whether this leaves much room for other species. Is there some body of research that you are basing your claims of universal sustainability on? I would be most interested in reviewing it. Do you think it is prudent, even if you don't care much about other species, not to have the human species living at or quite near the very edge of absolute viability. Right now we are passed that level according to Redefining Progress (and they are among the least doomeristic, most progressive groups looking at this data seriously).

Fine, but then you should not have used Japan as your comparison point.

They weren't. It was simply to say that a declining population is not necessarily a sign of hideous misery and bloodshed. Which is what the doomers tell us.

If you want an example of a Third World country which has achieved a lot with very little - improving quality of life while keeping population under control - take a look at the Indian state of Kerala.

Population growth is 0.9% - half that of India as a whole. The Hindus and Christians there have about 1.7 children per women, and the Moslems 2.97. Not coincidentally, the Moslems are the poorest in Kerala, and the women have the lowest literacy rate. They have very cheap healthcare and free education for Kerala residents. Newspapers are published in nine different languages - evidence not only of the high literacy of about 90%, but of people making use of their literacy. The state is rated as the least corrupt in India.

Access to clean drinking water remains a problem, with a high rate of low infant birth weight, diaorrhea and so on. Again that's a solvable problem. While the state is dependent on people who move away and send money back home, yes that's a bad sign - why doesn't everyone want to stay? - but it's also a good sign - Keralans are able to find employment in distant places, usually a sign of most of them having good health and education.

Unfortunately, I see no Castro in the wings ready to lead us to a world revolution that would equalize incomes, establish universal literacy, empower women... If you want to assume that such a future is likely, more power to ya, mate.

Lord protect us from Great Leaders! I prefer the muddling along we have in democracies. And we don't need a single leader to direct the world. We've had international treaties before.

Just consider treaties about war crimes - yes, horrible things still happen. But we don't see death camps killing thousands a day for years on end, we don't see firebombings destroying a city of 100,000 people overnight, and so on. Yes, horrible things still happen. But far less than there used to be, or could be. And that's because of a few treaties. No Great Leader was necessary, just that a few countries agree to do it, and others went "oh alright then" and followed.

What I think is likely is as I said earlier, gated ecotopias with masses of slums outside, the ecotopians living off the labour of the poor.

What I want to happen is something more equitable. And it's quite possible. Kerala manages it with a per capita GDP of just a few hundred dollars - more than most of India, far less than most of the world. What could we do with $30,000 or so? More than we're doing now, that's for sure.

Things happen because people choose for them to happen. That's both good and bad things. If the world turns shitty it's because we choose for it to turn shitty. If it does well, same.

I agree that Kerala is another great model. Note again that most of these advances were made when they had communist leaders. Note also that both of our examples are from tropical climates with plenty of solar inputs available and little or no winter heating needed.

So I say again, are we all moving closer to the equator? Is there lots of empty space down there with good fertile soil that isn't being used by other species?

Are we ready for world communism or something similar?

These questions aren't all completely rhetorical.

I think people are going to realize pretty quick that when the pie is shrinking quickly, sharing what is left, with the restrictions on freedoms that that entails, is a much more positive outcome than hording by a few, starvation by the masses, and constant instability for all.

But we live in a global economy, and it's too vast and complex to all fail suddenly and at once.

I was about to comment on this statement and why it is not true. I see that Nate has already done so and more eloquently that I could have. However it worries me greatly that this seems to be a prevailing view. As someone who implements complex systems,(albeit much less complex than our global economy) I can attest to the fact that even the best planned systems can and do fail catastrophically due to unforseen events. Our current global economy was not planned or built up in any well thought out manner, it is more like a complex evolved organism. Its life blood is fossil fuel and if it gets cut off from it it will suffer a massive aneurysm that will lead to rapid cascading organ failures from which it can not recover. Judging from what we are seeing happening around the world it looks like it is already on life support it might not take much more of a shock to make it flatline once and for all.

An excellent recent example is the problem with the Large Hadron Collider. One small error, probably a poor solder joint, cause the breakdown of this hugely complex system. Months of effort and millions of $ expenditure to fix the problem.

A super Ice-storm taking out the electricity grid in NE USA in mid-winter could easily result in millions of deaths thru freezing and starvation.

Whereas a few months inoperability of the collider is an expensive nuisance, it merely causes delay.
Even a few days without heat, light, cooking facilities, could be fatal. People just don't start up again after they have been switched off.

Large Hadron Collider. You'll spend a lot of time and money PROVING the existance of NOTHING.

Hmmm, that could be usefull.

Hmm, maybe you should change your moniker to Insincere Umbra. Earnest Lux you obviously aren't.

Insulting value judgement, let's try to keep on topic.

Try watching movie "What the bleep would we know"

I find this thread interesting. For a start, the movie is called "What the bleep do we know?

A significant portion of the credible participants disavowed their scenes after the movie was presented and most had an agenda to promote their own pseudo science.

Many were investors, financially or emotionally in the venture.

The basic premise of the the movie was that quantum phenomena could transcend into the Newtonian realm, or in simpler terms, if it could happen there it could happen here.

Apart from the fact that there is no evidence that this is possible, this is simply another "New Age" movement wrapped up in (pseudo) science which is impenetrable to all but a few people.

IOW, it is possible for me to win the lottery if I buy a ticket, but impossible if I don't. In either case the odds are about the same. It is an exercise in wish fulfillment.

Apart from entertainment, don't waste your money. Go out and buy a Q-Ray bracelet and cure your arthritis. ;-)

Earnest, if you can't parse this crap, perhaps you should just lurk (and Google) for a while.

No I'm cool with parsing.

The basic premise of the the movie was that quantum phenomena could transcend into the Newtonian realm, or in simpler terms, if it could happen there it could happen here.

This sort of thing happens with me all the time. Perhaps it has something to do with different peoples observational skills, or what different people consider "phenomena". I am a Magician, that movie taught me a lot.

I realise now that FMagyar thought I was being "sarcastic", which I was not. From my perspective proving the existance of nothing would be rather helpful to my agenda.

I am not posting, I'm chatting round a campfire due to an open public ivitation by TOD to do so.

Let me remind you, this is not your site, perhaps I should teach you how to be polite and show some manners with some of that Quantam stuff manifesting in your Newtonian Life life somewhere, got any goats, I hear that goat polio is going around.

I'm going to assume that you are, like me, a computer programmer. As a programmer, I understand what you mean by implementing complex systems and how they catastrophically fail. However, an important difference between a computer program and the global economy is that one is made up of a rigid set of instructions while the other depends on the actions of reasoning entities. Granted the depth of their ability to reason isn't great, but given the right person and the right circumstances, big leaps are possible.

Just something I like to keep in mind...as I prepare for a hard and fast collapse.

Re Earnest:

I realise now that FMagyar thought I was being "sarcastic",

My bad, yes, and I was too... I do that a lot.

Re Markincalgary: close, I work for a software company and my job is implementing the software in the real world, which is where the rubber hits the road and all different systems and processes collide, ( no reference to Hadron collider ), with inputs from the end users in various departments. Debugging the code is a picnic compared to what often happens at this stage ;-)

Barring a nuclear war there will be a long adjustment period

It depends on what you are referring to that falls off a cliff.
The worldwide monetary system could seize up at any time once it becomes generally known that the debt on the books will not be repaid because there isn't the energy for the businesses to make profits.
Edit: This sort of seizing is happening right now (for different reasons) and the world central banks are doing everything in their power to keep the money supply up. In my view, another seizing is all but assured. To me, it seems to be a property of the system when contraction occurs.

IMHO we will not fall off a cliff, like today there is everything and tomorrow there is nothing. Barring a nuclear war there will be a long adjustment period, decades as DavebyGolly suggests, the severity of which will depend on where you are on the planet.

The problem, though, is that a long period of adjustment requires that governments and citizens accept that adjustment strategy. How do you get people to accept a no-growth economy and the abandonment of all their assumptions of, and aspirations for, the future?

A lot will depend on how people react to the message, assuming the message is given. If no message is given, then we may well drop off a proverbial cliff, when societies and economies can no longer hold on by their fingernails to what they thought the world was all about.

The problem, though, is that a long period of adjustment requires that governments and citizens accept that adjustment strategy.

You're assuming top-down adjustment. Bottom-up adjustment is also possible and useful.

For example, government subsidies for wind farms is a top-down electricity adjustment away from fossil fuels. If a small town has a council meeting and gets a thousand bucks from each resident for a concentrated solar thermal with thermal storage, that's a bottom-up solution.

Bottom-up solutions don't require national change, people just muddle along.

Assuming that only grand government programmes in partnership with large corporations with overwhelming public support can get things done pretty much ignores a good part of history.

Kiashi and bottom-up solutions - I've indicated elsewhere on this page the near total uselessness of the major bottom-up aspiration that is the Transition Towns movement (search for Hopkins to find it). Bottom-up solns aren't going to adequately happen any more than top-downs will. That's not least because the bottom-ups would need to be released from the severe constraints of land-ownership and planning and bureaucratic rules of farming, which can only be done top down. At best only a few small-community lifeboats are going to securely make it, without too much dependence on sheer luck.

That's not least because the bottom-ups would need to be released from the severe constraints of land-ownership and planning and bureaucratic rules of farming, which can only be done top down.

Define your terms. Top-down means... what? Fed to state? State to county? County to city? Zoning is a city and/or county issue, so is potentially quite responsive to transition/relocalization input. Not all will succeed, but some already are. Portland's energy task force, Oregon's Rogue River area...


Bottom-up solns aren't going to adequately happen any more than top-downs will.

That's yet to be demonstrated. We just don't know.

Whether Transition Towns is any good or not I don't know. The point is that people are trying.

I was replying to sofistek, who was telling us that nothing productive would happen because the government is needed for things to happen and that only acts when everyone wants it to. None of which is true historically, but even if it were, that's assuming top-down is the only way to get things done. And it's not.

It's amazing how often people manage to muddle through really quite terrible things. That doesn't mean they automatically will in future, it just means it's not impossible.

History does not show us that when confronted with great crises our doom is inevitable, nor does it show us that our paradise-like joy is inevitable. It shows that we muddle along, sometimes doing well, sometimes badly.

That's yet to be demonstrated. We just don't know.
Whether Transition Towns is any good or not I don't know. The point is that people are trying.

I have explained in the cited locations why we do know, and why the trying is not to be commended.
You can do better than this sloppy stuff Kiashu! You appear to be developing denialist's fudge disorder.

I don't think bottom up can work because people (at least those in developed nations and, increasingly, those in developing nations) have become used to growth and the messages that promote growth. Governments and corporations will try to continue pushing that message; I'll bet Obama tries to push that message. People, in general, don't want to move from a fairly comfortable existence, with lots of aspirations for their future, including an active or leisurely retirement, to what might be seen as a more austere existence (though it need not be). Many have found a niche in "careers" that are fairly superficial or profit from the wastefulness of others.

I think, in the present societies, top-down is essential. Even the bottom uppers have to live in a society which may be the reverse of what they'd like, but they will make use of unsustainable services and products because it's easier to do so (I know even some eco-villages that do this).

Significant change will not come quickly enough from the grass roots, even though I applaud those with the strength of will to follow their own convictions on sustainability. Massive re-education is needed, and the elimination of counter messages, in order to get people round to thinking in sustainable ways and to abhor the unsustainable.

I don't see any evidence that enough will be done from the top and little evidence that enough will be done from the bottom. There will be projects that address part of the problem but will the hope that current lifestyles can be maintained in some way. But not addressing the whole problem of unsustainable lifestyles and of economic growth at all costs, will surely likely lead to a cliff. And over the edge.

Domestic chickens can only count to 12 apparently, after that number is exceeded in a flock there is constant infighting because they keep forgetting the pecking order. Consequently free range chickens on commercial farms have their beaks and claws severed, utterly cruel and inhumane.

So is 300 the number for flocks of homo sapiens, that is a great number to be aware of. Thats 25 million villages across the globe.

12 free range chickens?

We had far more than a dozen free range chickens on the farm and a friend of mine who keeps chickens has far more than 12 and they have not been declawed or debeaked at all.

If this is true it must be a far higher number.

Have you ever raised chickens?


I rely on my chickens for protein, good entertainment and freindship also.

Have they seperated in different "tribes" within the space given or does this larger number exist as one flock.

I think it's more amusingly expressed in David Wong's What is the monkeysphere?

Listen to any 16 year-old kid with his first job, going on and on about how the boss is screwing him and the government is screwing him even more ("What's FICA?!?!" he screams as he looks at his first paycheck).

Then watch that same kid at work, as he drops a hamburger patty on the floor, picks it up, and slaps in on a bun and serves it to a customer.

In that one dropped burger he has everything he needs to understand those black-hearted politicians and corporate bosses. They see him in the exact same way he sees the customers lined up at the burger counter. Which is, just barely.

So tribes of 150 or so ... perhaps with regional cooperation? Regional markets.

How did Genghis Khan assemble his Mongrel Army? Horses, and the fact that Asia is so flat and featureless. Nobody ever conquered the Hindu Kush, I think.

The Hindu Kush was conquered by Islamic Jihadists which is how it came to have that name (translating as Hindu Slaughter) when millions of slaves (including the ancestors of the Roma) were dragged across it out of conquered India.

As for Genghis & Co., it was a domineering, extremely unsustainable army not a friendly productive community noted for its great cultural heritage.

Though I still think geography plays a role. Rugged mountainous regions are less susceptible to sweeping raids by mounted soldiers.

Thank you for filling in those facts about Asian history. Looks like the lesson is that no network of 150-person villages is safe from nomadic terrorists.

Looks like the lesson is that no network of 150-person villages is safe from nomadic terrorists.

Yes. Today not a one of us is 'safe' from a 'random' attack. No matter how much is spent on safety, a dedicated attacker can succeed.

Villages have a history of being less desirable via poisoning their food - Lye as fish preservative is an example.

James Thurber -

"There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else."


The Fairly Intelligent Fly!

One day a fairly intelligent fly buzzed around the web so long without lighting that the spider appeared and said, "Come on down." But the fly was too clever for him and said, "I never light where I don't see other flies and I don't see other flies in your house." So he flew away until he came to a place where there were a great many other flies. He was about to settle down among them when a bee buzzed up and said, "Hold it stupid, that's flypaper. All those flies are trapped." "Don't be silly," said the fly, "they're dancing." So he settled down and became stuck to the flypaper with all the other flies.

Moral: There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.

Dunbar's number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

My guess is that Dunbar's Number is exactly one. And even that may be stretching it. However, we really must get along with each other, in groups of one to several millions, so there obviously is a sort of metastable social relationship which, like all chaotic processes, is energy-requiring, and can remain apparently stable over long periods of time, depending on energy available to maintain it.

Meta-Dunbar will decrease as Peak Energy decreases.

The societies of millions depend not on nice community but on a heirarchical authoritarian set-up called civilisation. See my Arnold Toynbee article www.zazz.fsnet.co.uk/decadenc.htm .

Exactly. Hierarchical authoritarian is, of course, an energy-requiring process, far from equilibrium. Dunbar's number -- whatever it is -- seems to imply that there is some rough equilibrium possible at some relatively low number of individuals.

So if there is any sense to any of this, it seems to mean that complexity of civilization is some function of available energy.

Judging from history, city populations have been as large as 1 million before the advent of modern transport(1800? no steam ships, no motorized land transport)

Paul in Nevada


City Year Became #1 Population Information

Babylon, Babylonia (Iraq) 612 BCE First above 200,000
Changan (Xi'an), China 195 400,000
Rome 25 450,000 (100 CE)
Constantinople 340 CE 400,000 (500)
Changan (Xi'an), China 637 400,000 (622); 600,000 (800)
Baghdad, Iraq 775 First over 1 million; 700,000 (800)
Kaifeng, China 1013 400,000 (1000); 442,000 (1100)
Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey 1127
Hangzhou, China 1348 432,000 (1350)
Nanking, China 1358 487,000 (1400)
Beijing, China 1425 600,000 (1450); 672,000 (1500)
Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey 1650 700,000 (1650 & 1700)
Beijing, China 1710 900,000 (1750); 1.1 million (1800)

New York 1925 First over 10 million; 7.774 million (1925), 12.463 million (1950)
Tokyo 1965 First over 20 million; 23 million (1975)

See the lists of the top ten cities throughout history:

Top 10 Cities of the Year 100 | Top 10 Cities of the Year 1000 | Top 10 Cities of the Year 1500 | Top 10 Cities of the Year 1800 | Top 10 Cities of the Year 1900 | Top 10 Cities of the Year 1950

Source: Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census by Tertius Chandler. 1987, St. David's University Press.

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So we could assume that a city with well connected rivers, canals or train networks could support more than one million by importing surplus from other non local areas.
I suspect a towns ability to suport its population will depend more on organisation and administration by officials than their actual infrastructure though.

I'd say
Access to agricultural lands, to energy supplies, and to distant trade centers..
But yes, administration and coordination have to be figured out too.

I posed a question to Nate up within this thread about your modern roads question.. I would like to hear your thoughts on it as well.


What is notable about this interesting list of major cities of the past is that each was the center of a major empire.

How many empires are there going to be in the energy-depleted future.

And keep in mind that all of these empire-supported cities could also count on abundant natural resources, from fish-filled seas to un-depleted soils, resources, as the head article rightly points out, that will not be as available.

Nice overview of some of the major challenges ahead. I especially liked your point about how far the above ground as well as below ground resources have been depleted, so there is no "going back" especially given current population levels and trends.

I think it is time for the first world to start learning lessons, both positive and negative, from the third world, traditional societies, and of course from history, keeping in mind the differences in each region, culture, and period.

I am curious about this quote:

"The interstates need to run rail lines down their median strips both for passenger and freight. In the shorter term, buses should replace cars, and truck trains replace individual trucks on the interstates. Yes, some infrastructure repairs are required, but not an entire redo to continue the auto age. Some interstates, some bridges may well have to be abandoned and cannibalized."

This brings up many issues that have been discussed at length on other threads. My first question is: Why median strips. There are support beams along these at each bridge. Will the rails zig zag around these each time? Why not just dedicate one side of the highway?

Also, this means a whole lot of infrastructure building that would require lots of mining and other things that go against your do-no-extra-harm language above. Why not just gradually unwind things till we are back to horse and ox drawn vehicles (but mostly much less travel, as prevailed through most of history.

An unfortunate fact is that the recent drive up in grain prices and other financial chaos has meant that many horse owners have been priced out and have let their animals loose, no doubt to be dinner for coyotes...We should be increasing the numbers of such animals, but the "market" signals are all wrong in this case (as in just about every other case recently, it seems).

It strikes me that the best thing is to "leapfrog down" just as China is touted for "leapfrogging up" technologically--going straight to cell phones rather than wasting lots of infrastructure on land lines, for example.

Perhaps more enlightened sections of the country (NW? Vermont? others?) could lead the way by showing how a whole region can have a thriving cultural (at least) life while radically down-shifting their energy and resource needs? Amish and such are obvious models amongst us, while just off shore, Cuba has shown how to go through a rather radical such transition (or "special period" as it was called). Obviously, neither model is anything close to utopian, and we shouldn't be hoping for such anyway.

My general view is that we have set ourselves (and the world) on fire, and we need to stop (contributing to the problem), drop (radically our consumption of all resources), and roll (into a new, sustainable form of economics and society/culture).

Good points about the median strip.

And by the time we get serious about all this, there may not be much choice about leapfrogging down, as you suggest.

Meanwhile, groups like the Reason Foundation are lobbying for a vast increase in our road network--in order to reduce congestion.

... and what a tragedy that Peak Credit arrived before Peak Oil. Now all the Keynesians, neo-Keynesians and post-Keynesians are clamouring again for trillions of 'infrastructural investments' to 'jump-start' the economy and bring back economic 'growth'.

Climate change, resource depletion --- all on the back burner again.

.. and what a tragedy that Peak Credit arrived before Peak Oil

Actually I think there's a whopping myth hiding there. Instead of measuring barrels of oil, please measure energy and instead of measuring gross amount piped up, please measure net amount of energy emerging from the production industry. You'll almost surely then find that peak net energy was reached quite some years before the credit crunch. And in any case the oil-production exponential increase had broken several years before anyway.
I agree about the neo-Keynsianism claptrap though.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say:

... and what a tragedy that awareness of Peak Credit arrived before awareness of Peak Oil

Each day I get more convinced that Peak Oil awareness won't come. Ever.

2010 street 'wisdom':
"Those Muslim vermin caused this global catastrophe by blocking Hormuz/turning off Ghawar/raising their prices obscenely/etc..., now where's that knife...."

Let us have a vast decrease in our road network until the congestion is so high that bicyles and walkers easily outpace those who are foolish enough to use the road network. No roads should be built or maintained anywhere that do not provide lanes set aside for buses, bicyclists, and walkers. Yes, let us build infrastructure but not the kind that just makes our dependency on mostly oil even worse. One common argument against congestion is that it decreases gas mileage because all those cars are sitting there idling. Replace and retrofit all those cars so they have a stop engine mode like the Prius. Anyway, these people will not be happy until we build highways to the stars. And then, finally,we will have solved the congestion problem.

many horse owners have been priced out

That is a believable position.

and have let their animals loose, no doubt to be dinner for coyotes...

This is not. Got proof?
(A sane and rational person would kill the horse and process the meat for himself or his meat eating animals. Or sell it for rendering cash)


This happened in my area few years ago. But instead of letting the horses loose, they were confined to a pasture and almost starved to death. It was a major thing in my county.


Horse meat was popular in WWI and WWII because other meat was 'for the fighting boys'. Dog food makers need material for dog chow.

So why allow the horse to starve?


This seems to have come as a big surprise to you, but you should check up on it before you call false. You wanted proof? A simple Google search with "abandoned horses" as the search term pulls up loads of proof.

This abandonment of horses is indeed occuring frequently. Just ask your extension agent or folks who live in rural areas. Big problem. And you can't just shoot them and drag them off to the back of the farm for the critters to take care of either. In most places that is illegal (not that it is not being done anyway). Most folks will not eat them either and in some locations in the US it is actually against the law to eat horse meat (Texas for one). Nothing is simple.

Course this problem would be helped by not having a giant industry built around people having pet horses being marketed as agriculture. Agriculture horses work for a living.


Well then these people are 'not smarter than yeast'.

People love their horses.. the betrayal of abandonment seems less evil than murder. Eating them is no more an option than cannibalism for many.

You're smart, Eric.. but I think your righteous indignation sometimes puts blinders on you.

Hmmm..cannibalism. The last resort for starving Easter Islanders, North Koreans and Anastazi. Seems it tastes like pork, which is ironic in some religious traditional sense.

And your proof of that 'sourceman'?

Just kidding. Can we give it a rest on the 'where is your proof' thing?

Ask the guy who brought it up then. And be sure to source your own statements. Ehhhh?

But just for the record and so you don't ask again.

I will not show source unless I want to. And I usually intersperse my comment posts with lots of IMOs. So no need to ever ask again.

And if I state what I believe to be an absolute FACT then I will most certainly SOURCE IT. Nough said.

Airdale--BLP rules BTW...

illegal to process for meat in some states; & horses are often free around here, & found starving.

Not to mention pretty disgusting - could you imagine eating your dog if he died? Same sort of concept for horse lovers. Horses are 90% hobby for people now as opposed to utility. Major difference being they are much bigger to dispose of and require more food than dogs. But we have horses and I assure you unless I was on verge of starvation, I wouldn't eat one..

I can't imagine eating my dog if he died, but I also can't imagine leaving him in a field to starve to death.

The question is, would my dog eat me, if she were starving?

No, she wouldn't. But your neigbour's dog could quite well do. (Of course that is an imagination excercize, dogs do only hunt after there is no small prey - like rats and cockraches - to eat. You don't expect to outsurvive rats and roaches if something goes bad, do you?)

I've eaten horse. Fine eating.

They're just animals.

But one man's horse is another man's dog. Which they eat in Korea.

Yup, I'm a little bit put off by eating a "friend."

But, in the end, they're both just animals.

It's all a self-psych-out.

Hope you don't get too skinny 'fore you eat yer hoss!



If we aren't supposed to eat animals, then why are they made out of meat?

I was being a bit flippant before, for I am a bit of an animal lover, but as time marches on more pragmatic thinking comes to the fore. We are, after all, just another animal and the natural laws still apply.

Would, for example, someone opposed to eating dogs be opposed to eating a dingo? A wolf? How generalized is this idea of man's best friend?

I'm thinking, well, I've had aquariums before. I still eat fish. Hmmm...

No, my only legit reasons for not eating an animal, any animal, are the taste, environmental considerations, health considerations and/or objections to how they are treated.

The emotional ones are just that, psycho-emotional. But I still cringe at eating dog. But, then, I wouldn't be too thrilled at eating lizard, either, so...

Pointless post ended. Go in peace and eat what you wish. Amen.


Not pointless at all, I think.

What are people supposed to eat? I have raised sheep and chickens and steers to eat -- and have eaten them. They are all really cute when they are little, and on tiny farms, they tend to become almost pets.

I don't eat my dogs, though I have heard they taste very good.

I don't eat my friends, but possibly that is more because I fear they would eat me if we didn't have some unspoken "mutually assured destruction" pact. Societies that practice cannibalism don't appear to be any less "human" than those that don't.

What does the future hold? It's fun to speculate, but obviously we don't know -- This whole TOD exercise is mainly for amusement, I believe. And it is highly amusing, and therefore quite useful.

For me the big issue with dogs is that they are carnivores. I don't like the concept of eating carnivores, and won't do it unless I need to.

Upside Down. We are not supposed to eat animals because WE are made from meat.

Is this like sharks not eating lawyers? Professional courtesy?

We're omnivores, so we eat meat and plants. I don't think most carnivores discriminate against other carnivores except for practicality -- most carnivores are pretty dangerous to try to eat, and there aren't a lot of them.

Cats, small carnivores, have an instinctive desire to rest with a "roof" over them. I assume that this is based upon an inbred fear of being preyed upon by larger carnivores.


Paeleocon, Alan.

I was thinking about the libraries of evidence that show the link between consumption of mammal meat and degenerative disease processes in homo sapiens. Deep water, fatty fish appear to be the only meats that have a therapeutic effect on our health.

If only sharks had long athletic legs, the fish kingdom could serve us even better.

I have been told that the 'killers' are not bidding anymore at the stock auction barns.

One of the best American Saddlebred I ever owned I sold to a car salesman. He was an idiot I found out later and sold it to a killer.

Also read somewhere that the bids are so low on horses because too many are being given away. I was offered some for free a few months ago.


Yeah, I got proof. When abandoned horses are highway hazards: Eastern TN, when the University of TN at Knoxville offers free transportation for your horses so they can be uthanized, when you drop a bale or two into a paddock at night because you can not stand to see the poor horse get any thinner (and if you have a brave partner, worm the poor thing), when papered horses go for less than $50 at a sale. The above are personal observations. Enough proof? As for slaughtering your own, I do not know how nor do most horse owners. Local salugher houses won't take them. And finally, the "killer market" was closed down by anaimal rights people - so no rendering. Evidently it is much more humane to let them starve than go to the killers. I will sell everything I own and live in the horse trailer before I let mine go without food or meds. I only hope that their value as work animals will be recognized before I have to put a bullet in their brains. OH, and by the way, there is no such thing as a rational horse owner - I have brought precious horse into the bedroom when he was very ill, young horse will get same treatment if required.

Let us take I-70 that runs from Denver through the mountains. Debates have been going on for years about what to do with the increasingly horrendous traffic that is not even in the city. A monorail or other form of rail down the median strip is one proposal. It never occurred to me to just close down one side of the interstate. This would leave two lanes most of the way and given the traffic load would cause total breakdown of the system. This would also negatively impact those mostly tourist communities and ski areas that are dependent upon millions of people being able to use that road. But the route through there used to be two lanes a long time ago. So, it could happen, but for a time it would effectively shout down the economies of all those communities along the route.

Eventually, they would have their train as a way to herd all those visitors to the communities. But how long would it take to build that railroad?

On the other hand, what if the bulk of the trips were done by bus while they were waiting for the railroad to be completed? That is theoretically doable but I don't see a snowball's chance in hell that people would put up with this. For one thing, even with the buses, and even assuming that could get people on those buses, people from out of state would not be planning their trips using I-70 as they would be driving to Colorado.

Anyway, it is too bad that the interstate highway system was built in the first place. Eisenhower obviously thought that oil was forever.

The Moffat Railroad tunnel was built to keep Denver from being bypassed by railroad traffic in the winter (snow blocks tracks over mountains, which would affect shipments all year round). The small pilot tunnel became a water tunnel to bring water into Denver and the single RR tunnel (bi-directional travel).


This tunnel exits in the Winter Park ski area and the Ski Train operates on it.


A second tunnel would greatly expand RR capacity. It could exit in a slightly different area.

Or buses could shuttle people to Aspen, etc. from Winter Park ??? (do not know roads, relative locations, etc.).

Best Hopes for Sustainable Skiing ?


AFAIK, the Moffett (at 24 tall) will allow double stack containers with electrification overhead.

Nice post DavebyGolly. War is the wild card in this deck. Right now, we are obstensibly fighting terrorists in the ME. It would likely take several years for a planned pullout, even if we were sincere in doing so. Our troops and gear are strategically in place on the ground there, at sea offshore, and we have air superiority there and globally. Where is the oil? I doubt that the majority of Americans will want to voluntarily scale back, and turn our backs on ME oil and gas, even if it's the right thing to do. They will want our military to secure it. The military are professionals and understand very well how much energy they need to do the work required. I don't know how or when this all plays out, but I doubt that China, India and Japan will stand by idle while others get the lionshare of the energy that they desperately need to continue to function. But maybe they will, and maybe Russia will be happy to sit on what they have and not bother with the ME geopolitics. Interestng times.

IMO, the US adn allies are already stretched just maintaining what comes out of Hormuz as it is. Trying to steal the rest of the worlds share is likely to quickly come up against diminishing returns, which the military will have already calculated as not being worth the effort. I think Obama is tough enough to defend the US and her allies but I also think he is smart enough to keep America out of pointless or unwinnable conflicts.

I posted a future scenario in June of last year - http://www.theoildrum.com/2598#comment-198259 - in which I foresaw multi-family/affinity groups living together. My rationale was that it was far more "efficient" where work, tools and responsibilities could be shared. Further, it did away with the need to find everyone income producing "work." In fact, everyone retired at 30.

I also foresaw quite a bit of technology carried forward including internal and external combustion engines. Properly constructed they can be rebuilt for generations. In place on snail mail, I had the "Robust" Internet which was everything from a communications medium to a learning/information source to a source for entertainment.

I have a serious problem with small communities. First, many areas do not have enough suitable land or climate or water to produce the food for a concentrate population. I live in the Coast Range Mountains of northern CA and it takes 30-40 acres of range land to support a cow/calf pair whereas in only takes an acre or so.

Second, a community implies individual housing versus group housing - at least as I interpreted your essay. I simply do not see that as viable in a resource constrained world.

And, speaking of resources, there are farm sizes that are most efficient for a given number of animals. One just can't say, for example, "We'll use draft horses", without defining the land area they will work.

Third, there has to be some centralized production of goods that cannot be home produced. Iron and steel come to mind.

Fourth, there is no mention of skill-sets. This is a big issue with me. Our city friends don't know squat about real-life skills.

Well, maybe more later...I have to go out and check the batteries in my PV system for water. That means taking off 96 caps. Ugh, with my back, it takes a couple of hours.


My daughter lives on a commune/farm in W Va. They live very comfortably, share a very large kitchen, a very large living room, a computer room, several bathrooms, and much else. Whatever impression I gave, I don't think there will be much choice about sharing a lot of facilities. Very much at variance with our current way of life.

They have a lot of different skill sets, and are acquiring more each year. A neighbor showed them how to can this year. One member is a very good mechanic who built a contraption to convert cooking grease into biodiesel which they use in their two old Mercedes diesels.

They need to be larger, so that they could have a doctor and some other people with narrower skill sets.

Their commune/farm opened my eyes to what some of the possibilities are. Previously, I detested farm life, mostly based on memories of my grandfather's farm in southern Illinois. Up at the crack of dawn, twisters in the distance, etc. The only thing I liked was riding the tractor.

California I understand somewhat having been there for schools many times.

However where I live the concept of 'community' still exists as I posted in another Topic lately.

What we have to do to survive is not that different to me from the way I lived as a youth on the farms here in W.Ky.

Let me digress then.
All roads were gravel and today some still are. A grader would ocassionally scrape it but my folks just pulled a flat sled with a blade on the front down the road that came to our farm when the need arose. To this day I pull a chain harrow down my gravel driveway which is a quarter mile long almost. It does the job easily.

Trading. Each Saturday most would hitch a team and wagon up and drive to a nearby town that had essential staples they could trade butter and cream or eggs and chickens for. We did it a lot. Me and my cousins would walk behind the wagon as it went at a slow mule/horse walk. We would tarry and play grabass games. Etc. It was pleasurable and we would sometimes stop to chat with folks along the road.
There was NO automobiles then. We were coming out of the depression and the war was still on or ending.Things changed rapidly once the men started coming home and industry took off at a fast pace.

Farms could work with just 100 acres,sometimes smaller. Half of that might be woods. We heated and cooked with wood.

We bartered and traded a lot. This way a good hound dog got traded for maybe a walking plow...lots of trades and we basically had very little money or coins. The old timers always carried a coin purse and had a few coins held back but we had no real need of them..maybe a few pennies to go see a movie or get a soda.

I remember working in a neighbors hayfield all day hauling loose hay and was given a jawbreaker at the end. I was supposed to work and not ask for anything,which my brother and I didn't.

All the chores,all the rest...was almost totally sustainable. We could have lived without every going to town. Sometimes a peddler with a back pack would stop by and my grandmother would purchase a few things. But very few.

Later as cars came back the peddler would drive by with chicken coops on top and much to trade inside. We always traded with him with chickens and eggs and such and got a few items in return.

Ice. We put some stuff in the cistern but basically never used the icebox. We drank the milk right off or made buttermilk and butter.
Had no spring or well so caught our water off the roof.

I therefore really see no obstacles to returning to that lifestyle.

We will need blacksmiths and perhaps some who sew up clothes. My stepmother 'sewed for people',..made suits and wedding outfits. Lots of women did that back then. Made quilts and feather beds.

Life to me was very good even though the work was hard but I didn't mind. It was all a lark to me. After moving to the suburbs around the early 50s I always came back and lived with relatives during summer vacations. Picked strawberries, hauled watermelons and all that.

But it was fast changing and by then less and less folks were living sustainably. They started moving away in droves and now the small hometown is largely silent and no one walks the streets. Most of the storefronts are shuttered but in the past they were all full of folks.

We had many grocery stores and freezer lockers for rent and even a pool hall. Now just one grocery store and two gas stations.

Seems the city fathers wanted to make it disappear. They kept moving things way out from that small town.

Airdale-yes we can go back to those days, some few will and survive,,many will not and they will surely die off...its just that simple,at least to me who has 'been there and done that'.

Thanks for the great reminders of sustainable life independent of cash economy that many lived up to quite recently (in the larger historical perspective).

"But it was fast changing and by then less and less folks were living sustainably. They started moving away in droves and now the small hometown is largely silent and no one walks the streets. Most of the storefronts are shuttered but in the past they were all full of folks."

This is what interests me--if life was such a lark, why did so many move away so rapidly? Was it all just marketing? A new idea of what the good life was?

I would like to think that the lifestyle you describe more adequately supplies the basic needs (emotional, spiritual, social..) of humans than does suburban and most urban life. But I can't understand why so many fled the country at the first chance, in this case and in about every other case I have heard of.

Why did so many move away? Because it was HARD work!

During the depression my mother was growing up on a farm with a small dairy. Milk was harder to sell, so they grew a little more food and traded a little less, and got by without much trouble. My mom's brother eventually went off to war, and wrote home from bootcamp something like, "Some folks complain about the drills and food, but I don't mind it much. We don't have to get up until 5, we eat meals with meat 3 times a day, and in the evenings we can play cards if we're off duty." For him, basic training was easier than everyday life.

The 50's and 60's would have been a pretty seductive time to be young. I see what my parents accomplished with a background ethic of hard work and a foreground of opportunity, and it wasn't at all bad then. Plus, there were too many hands on the farms given the emerging oil approach and competition with other farms for relatively low-profit markets. Somewhere in the 70's and 80's the gleam become tarnished and dreams slowly became hollow, yet the American-dream marketing improved. It's just been frog-boiling since then (and yes, I know that's an urban myth, but the metaphor still applies).

Hope you read this.

During WWII I had my father and 5 of his brothers all serving at the same time. The other one was too young but made the Airforce his life's career later.

So here we were sitting on the front porch one day in the summer at my grandparents where me and my brother lived. There was left only the youngest girl and the youngest boy...of 14 children that is.

My aunt from Miami was visiting and getting ready to leave. She said "Well Jim come and go with us." as some were wont to do back then and not being serious. But my uncle Jim of 16 jumped up and said "Be right back." he was gone 5 minutes and back with a cardboard box of clothes,jumped in their car and they left with amazement on their faces as were ours also.

He wanted to get away from the farm.We never saw him again for many long years. And so it was almost with the rest of my uncles. They had seen the 'elephant' or rather romance and a different life overseas and the farm was no longer their idea of life.

IMO WWII started and was the major impetus for the outflow from the farms. "How you gonna keep em down on the farm once they have seen Pariee?" as the song goes.

And they left..They left an aging mother and father on a 100 acre farm with just one girl left and two hungry deserted boys, me and my brother for our father had fled to St.Louis also for the romance of new digs and women and whatever leaving his children for those two oldtimers to raise....

Thinking back it was very selfish of him and to this day I have very dim memories of him during my youth...

So thats my view. Such a lark? To me it was but to them is was work and the new life ..well it was not physical labor.

As a result and of the high pressure job he had he died early on. He divorced and remarried and never ever had the love of his two children. He returned here finally and fared badly for as a youth my uncle who also came back , told me that my father laid off and never therefore learned much about farming. He in fact later lost 3 good farms due to inability to farm them properly. He died a poor man with nothing for an inheritance.

I brought a lot of his equipment and began farming. I am still here on that farm and still 'keeping the faith' so to speak.

Airdale-not sure these are the reasons they left but looked like it to me...not a sacrifice on the boys part...just a chance to getaway

Thanks, airdale.

"How you gonna keep em down on the farm once they have seen Pariee?"

Funny, I almost quoted that in my earlier post.

I guess all this suggests that by-and-large people will only return to farming when they are absolutely forced to it?

Or could there be a marketing/propaganda campaign that shifts perceptions about what kind of life is and isn't legitimate and deeply appealing? Can the workload be made more manageable without dependence on ff? What is it about the Amish that they didn't see the great loss from the farms even though their life is very hard too?

I think your reasons are good, but I wonder if there are other social or spiritual elements that might come into play. If a rural community is really deeply supportive and provides crucial elements of identity...could it resist the seductions of the city.

I speak, by the way, as a city boy, but one who has enjoyed times I have spent on farms, even when that involved much hard work.

I think the distinction made between above- and below-ground "resources" is apt.

But why the need to keep up "science." As most of what we know as science derives from and is dependent upon the industrial age, what benefit is there in trying to sustain it? Plastics play a major role in contemporary science, as does high energy inputs, steel, etc. Highly sterile environments won't be possible in a post-industrial age. I think you're thus correct to note that most of the scientific discoveries may be a one-time occurrence in the story of humanity. But I think the question of what we should take with us from this age will only be decided in an organic, distributed manner. Will we see dark-matter cults? Priests of Chaos Theory? As Science has already taken on a religious quality in the 20th and 21st centuries (in the sense that Scientists now operate in the role of the priesthood in contemporary society), it wouldn't surprise me if the discoveries (or should we say divinations) of Science develop into a more obviously mythological fabric. But in terms of relevance to living, I think much of Science will prove irrelevant. Our ancestors had medicines and technics appropriate to their time and place without need of knowing their atomic structures.


But why the need to keep up "science." As most of what we know as science derives from and is dependent upon the industrial age, what benefit is there in trying to sustain it?

Perhaps he meant 'brain science' or 'social science'? Both have been in the dark for a long time (one due to technology and the other primarily to ignorance) but are recently exploding onto the science scene - i.e. if we know who we are much more likely to conform and create something more permanent and lasting.

But in terms of relevance to living, I think much of Science will prove irrelevant. Our ancestors had medicines and technics appropriate to their time and place without need of knowing their atomic structures.

This would make a great debate: industrial age science has been (mostly) reductionist. How much does reductionist knowledge add to our ultimate ability to survive and adapt over and above that of the slowly accumulated pragmatic knowledge of our forefathers?

I will say this: our very knowledge of the state of the planet and of the predicament we are in is due to science, all of the major branches, but it is also due to the beginnings of a something of a reformation in science. I hate the word 'interdisciplinary' and much prefer the word holistic. Not mush-headed holism, but rather taking all the pieces and putting them together to understand the planet and its various sub-systems in its dynamics, as a process comprised of many different interwoven cycles. I'm very much a believer in Gaia without any mystical connotation, (geophysiology for the squeamish).

I think that retaining science, but moving beyond reductionism (which is quite different from ditching it), is extremely important. Without science we are completely screwed.

"our very knowledge of the state of the planet and of the predicament we are in is due to science"

If by "our" we mean, industrialized human beings, then I understand this statement. But absent Science, it's not difficult to see the predicament we are in. The Kogi people called it without needing science, and they're far from the only ones. Intimately perceptive of the earth and its rhythms, it's not difficult to see something is terribly amiss.

"Without science we are completely screwed."

I hear you, but I want to press this further as you're making what sounds to me like a claim of faith here. Why are we screwed without science? Perhaps this will help me understand what the term "science" denotes to you, as it is a term shrouded in ambiguity.

By science I mean nothing more than knowing what's out there. The Kogi did not have the understanding we have of the planet earth even though they may have had a worldview that was more earth friendly than ours. We know hydrocarbons are peaking now or soon, we understand parts of the carbon and several other cycles, we understand plate tectonics, we know global warming is a big issue even though many feedback loops, some of which are not totally understood, complicate it. We have a good idea of the soil, forests, oceans and other resources around the globe. Science. Looking. From satellites, from close up, etc.

We have theories, some get dethroned, others vindicated -- by looking, by verification. Science.

Our problem is that our knowledge outstrips our ability to do something about it. As a species, we have not yet developed the political will to act on what science tells us. The problem is that science and technology are a religion: what we need it will supply. That's faith. More than ever we need the person in the street to start trying to understand science and the debates that accompany it, at least in some crucial areas. And to understand that science is just as much about limits as it is about possibilities -- even more so in the end.

We're screwed without it in the same way we're screwed when we're on an airplane and there's no visibility and the radar isn't working and we're out of fuel and need to land. We need to see. Now if we get the radar working, but the pilot says I'd prefer to fly without seeing, then we're screwed again. That's closer to what we have. The radar is working, but the pilot doesn't believe in radar.

I think we're largely missing each other here because I'm talking about a different perspective of life. I'm operating under an entirely different gestalt, I think, than most.

What you see in Science is a way of coming to know the world. Science as the only way of seeing the world.

If a shaman goes to the edge of the woods and spends days and nights fasting and chanting and comes back and says that something is wrong, is that Science?

I brought up the Kogi because they have a way of knowing the world that is entirely different. It is not Science. But is a way of knowing -- and it works. Indigenous peoples often speak of their "traditional ways of knowing." Science is industrial civilization's "way of knowing." And insofar as we live in industrial civilization, Science is our way of knowing, but it certainly isn't the only way.

And, more to the point, as Industrial Civilization is coming to an end, its way of knowing, too, may prove to no longer work or function. This is what I'm trying to communicate: Ways of knowing that are not Science will end up presiding in the post-industrial world, as the Industrial Way of Knowing -- Science -- will cease to function as an adaptive technology.

There may be alternative ways of knowing, just as there are different religions. But I would argue that science is the only way of knowing the world that we can eventually hope to agree on. Science risks being wrong, being refutable. It isn't just accepted. That's why it attains potential universality. Even when we're all wrong, we can eventually correct it.

You have your shaman, I have mine. They disagree. Which one do we follow?

I don't dismiss ancient wisdom. I quite sure much of it is of great value. We'll never know what was lost to us with extinction (elimination) of various indigenous tribes around the world. The Kalahari bushmen knew how to survive and live in an environemnt that would kill any of us in a matter of days or less. And it was science, and we could have learned it. But that knowledge was also traditional, passed from generation to generation with but slight modification. Experimentation was expensive -- that plant is poisonous -- no it's not, I try it. Arghh!

A lot of our science is traditional. I don't directly know about electrons, or positrons. I accept that they exist. But if curious, I can check out some of the early experiments. What's new is that our science incorporates questioning into its very fabric. So it has the potential to evolve much more quickly than tradition does.

I would further concede that there's a lot of non-science in our science. Neo-Darwinism a la Dawkins -- there was mutation and there was life (replicators)! Bull. Modern biology has made great strides in freeing itself from some of these dogmas. (Epigenetics.) Theories of everything in physics: No need for a cardiologist? And so forth.

Science itself developed out of religion! Without the abstractions and speculations about the unseen of the medieval theologians we could not have progressed to quarks and electrons. It's important not to forget that. And the religions of settled peoples in turn owes its debt to prior worldviews of hunter-gatherers. They did not deal much in abstractions -- everything was here, around us, although not always directly visible, but embodied in one way or another.

Science is a development from all those prior things, and in some respects has gotten off track. Some philosophers of science would have it that we are just electrons -- we don't really exist. They don't really exist. Or we are just machines. The logic, applied all the way down, leads one to conclude that nothing really exists! At this point reductionism needs to be rescued by common sense.

See what you did? You set me off. I'll bet you're sorry. :)

"You have your shaman, I have mine. They disagree. Which one do we follow?"

When you live in your land, you listen to your shaman. When you live in mine, you listen to mine. I'm not sure why there's some kind of mutually exclusive dichotomy we must set up here.

You intend that all such conflicts will be solved by splitting tribes, families and land?

"You Have your Shaman, I have mine."

Which one do you follow?

You damn sure want to follow the one that knows how to grow/find food. I'll take one nutcase/religious zealot, that knows how to grow potatos over a thousand scientists any day of the week.

So I'm hoping you'd also listen to a nutcase scientist who knows how as well, right?

While I can appreciate the gifts that science has bestowed upon our society I think it bears remembering that each of those gifts is a double-edged sword. For every advance, be it in medicine, agriculture, engineering, etc has come the burden of excess population, excess pollution, excess use of resources (renewable and not).

The paradigm of science appears, IMO, to be encapsulated within our larger paradigm of BAU.

Very little discussion of the impact of discoveries or of direction of research can occur given the huge drive to patent, publish, and acquire grants.

Beyond all else - we should probably acknowledge that science, and its famous method, is a tool, and we as a species have made very good use of that tool, and largely to the detriment of our future as a species.

My opinion



You never really define what you mean by "science." So, I'll just offer some comments.

Well, there is "soil science" which is far more than Bob Shaw's O-NPK. There is "health" science which is far more than Prozac. There is "structural" science that tells you how to support loads. The list is almost endless.

It's easy to sort of pick and choose the "sciences" "you" support. But, one thing I've learned over the years is that, often, some obscure "science fact" makes the difference between success and failure on something else that is apparently unrelated.

Now, if these "sciences" are not carried on (by this I mean their importance and their basic operants understood) then the prior knowledge becomes, essentially, faith based; a religion. Sort of like the Cargo Cult. Does this make sense to you?

The world/people may not have to know how to build an atomic force microscope but I would argue that it is important that they know why such an instrument was important.

I would go a step further than you and argue that, so far as possible, the entirenty of knowledge should be passed on including non-science areas. In my scenario noted up thread, "families" got a thing called "Civilization in a Box" which consisted of tens of thousands of microfiche sheets representing a, sort of, compendium of knowledge of civilization because it was durable and not reliant upon technology to access. Further, the "Robust Internet" contained even more.

Let me ask you this, what knowledge do you find unimportant?


Let me offer a PS - I have thousands of books yet have little information saved on my hard drive - or my wife's hard drive. Why? Books cost a lot but are durable and do not require technology to access. There are few topics where I cannot pull a book down that at least overs the basics.


I would like to pose this simple question regarding this debate on science.

Science has brought us this far.
Will science now save us?

Myself I doubt that science will save us. It has moved far too much into the realm of merchandising of junk.

For instance, we have many doctors and facilities yet we are not healthier or better off for it.
We are just grist for those 'money mills' as that is what they have evolved to. The internet is the same. Its been diverted into a merchandising machine.

Our whole monetary system has been destroyed by the 'wizards' such as economists,bankers,,lawyers,CPSs and so forth. Trillions of dollars washed down the gully and now those who believed in their mantras have been trashed by it.

People should go to prison but we all know they will not or if they do it will be a country club prison.

We sit here and watch as this nation self-destructs.
I have little faith in science being used the way it should have.
I sneer at the seed merchants who come by the farm office all the time touting their latest genetic shams. The ag chem folks. All of the same ilk. They could care less about the 'land'.

They want only the exchange of money into their pockets to continue but it will not. Thank God.


Substitute the word engineering for science and you would IMO have made a clearer statement.

For instance, we have many doctors and facilities yet we are not healthier or better off for it.

A cultural thing, relevant to economic organization not science. eg. here in Canada we have far fewer "doctors and facilities" and we ARE healthier.

Not a discussion of science but economics.

it's not difficult to see something is terribly amiss.

I strongly disagree. It's not difficult for scientifically literate people to see there's a daunting energy crisis (and other overshoot problems). But for the vast majority of not scientifically literate (not least economists) it clearly is dauntingly difficult to see, as evidenced by so few of them having the foggiest clue there's such a problem even when told (rather than just another economic cycle needing a dose of Keynsianism to cure it).
(As for the Kogi people, they may not be sci-literate on our own terms but they very likely have adequate equivalent of our scientific talents in their own manner.)

I think there's a myth that science is something that only started 300 years ago. Primitive physics, chemistry, biology and maths have served important roles for centuries before industrialisation and I would expect in their more advanced forms will do so again after. Plus behavioural and social.

There are things that are hard to see, and there are things that are hard to accept. I think that peak energy falls into the latter category. But people so far have not even been notified.

Dave, with all respect, I think PO is both.

Definitely there is a problem with denial, but there is also a huge problem with literacy and numeracy and a fundamental understanding of "how things work". I'm not talking about wheels, inclines and levers; I'm talking about "If you don't work, you don't eat", "If you spend more than you make, you will go broke".

Perhaps this comes under acceptance, but these tenets have been hidden from a big part of the world population for at least a generation, largely due to cheap, abundant energy.

I think upcoming upheaval will be much tougher for most, compared to the Depression, because our collective mindset is so different.

I also mentioned numeracy because when first started studying PO, I went through all the numbers and was staggered. Fifty billion barrels of oil sounds like a lot until you put it into context. Until that time, I squeezed the handle, filled my tank and life was good.

I have walked through woods and spent time in them, with them, in quiet. Then, I have come back to these places later and found them cut through, with bulldozers scattered about and a sign about a new shopping center.

It is not hard to see that something is amiss.


Its hard for 'them' to see it for they never leave their homes in the burbs. They are watching Oprah or some other nonsense. The MSM which tells them what they wish to hear.

Will they walk the woods? You know they wont' and don't.

They don't mind the dozers scraping the earth clean and burning all the trees. Science will save them. Someone else will do something.
Its not my job. Our leader will do something..yada frigging yada..yadas

When its very very late in this game then will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Too late. Too damn late.

Airdale-"let them eat genetics"

Is Anti-suburbanism any more acceptable than anit-semitism, racism, etc. etc.?

It is a lifestyle choice ?


A good question for JHK? I think I know his answer. I was once a suburbanite. Even then I didn't much care for my neighbors , if you could call them that.

But to each his own. My wife and son are suburbanites and I tell them what I think also.

But above I was half joking. Sometimes I overstep.
Anti-rednecks any more acceptable?


You took on the topic I was interested in, but not as I had intended to approach it.

But first -- a grand essay! Thought provoking to say the least.

What was written about -- the space program and other "big" science such as particle physics, to my mind is a dead end in the future you described. Not only will we not be capable of replicating the experiments, but the results of the earlier runs will be irrelevant to all of us. Signs of water on Mars? -- So what?!? You discovered a fundamental particle that exists for 1/100,000,000 second? - Big deal! Some science will prove useful, and some yet-to-be-discovered "thing" might be just what we need moving forward, but the last place I'd drop my dwindling dollars is into a supercollider or space station.


The thing is that you never know where the next useful breakthrough will come from. I mean, thirty years ago we'd be saying that studying CO2 concentration in ice cores or the chemistry of ozone formation in the troposphere was not that important. But they turned out to be very important indeed.

True, you never know where the next breakthrough will come. But if you accept that we are facing a decline in resources, would you support the astronomers and their grand telescopes probing the depths of time or a group studying something so mundane as water, plants or the atmosphere?

I love astronomy and still get a thrill when astronauts safely return home, but in my heart these feel like a big waste when I think about all we are facing.


Well, I'm all for minimising waste of money and resources. But here Down Under, I'm more worried about the $10 billion or so of subsidies going to fossil fuels and minerals companies than the $100 million or so going to space research stuff.

It's like people on my blog asking me about whether paper bags are better or worse than plastic bags when they still drive an SUV, eat burgers every day, and have the aircon blazing away at home.

I figure, deal with the big and obviously useless waste first, once we've done that it's probably 80% (on the old rule of 80:20, 80% of effort on 20% of problem, 80% of work done by 20% of the workforce, etc) of the waste dealt with and after that we can worry about the small stuff.

I mean, remove money for experimental gadgets and those gadgets almost completely disappear. Remove subsidies for drilling oil and it's not like people will stop drilling oil. It's just icing on the cake for them.

Worry about the big stuff first.

Kaishu - different view from northern hemisphere.
In the US the Dept of Defense and NASA will have a combined budget of nearly $40 billion dollars in 2009. Meanwhile, most transit systems are cutting back operations (like here in St. Louis, MO being cut back 10 to 15%) and most are not even thinking of expansions due to lack of funding. Economic stimulus plan will go largely for upgraded and more highways.
So, the US can afford to spend $40 Billion on space station, new launch vehicles, space based telescopes, space vehicle that rove Mars and a new lunar landing program. But we don't have enough money to maintain our current transit systems so the po folk that make near minimum wage can do the dirty work for the PTB.

I am worrying about the big stuff which is getting people to work and providing meaningful work. Space exploration and finding the origin of the universe - inconsequential.

Well, compared to $700 billion for banks run by greedy incompetents, $40 billion for space stations is chump change.

I mean, pump money into the failing bank, and you get... nothing. Pump money into the space station, at least you have a space station afterwards, and maybe some interesting and/or useful discoveries.

Like I said, begin with the big stuff first. It's just like a home budget. You don't begin by worrying about whether to buy nameless or brand name matches, you begin by looking at your rent/mortgage, your transport, your electricity, and so on. When you deal with the big stuff, only then do you worry about the small stuff.

- Losing war in Iraq
- Losing war in Afghanistan
- Bailout for greedy and incompetent banks
- Subsidies for fossil fuel and minerals extraction

There you go, that saved you a trillion bucks. So I'd focus on those, and then if that's not enough spare cash you can cut into the World's Biggest Hoodgiflop Polarity Reverser or whatever the eggheads are up to.

I support the research sciences, including the outreach into space.. It has had concrete 'products' that have shown direct benefits, like the impossibly small transistors and the communication systems that are beneath my fingertips and far overhead, and which with a scant few watts/capita are letting us share ideas with people around the world, closely focusing a community of minds together who are daily trying to puzzle out what so many around us don't spend ANY time thinking about.. the ability to concentrate our ideas into virtual space, while leaving us geographically diverse is one of the critical aspects of keeping potentially important ideas safely distributed to countless regions.. giving them the best chance to help each area have thoughts, plans and tools that will help these people get through.

I actually look at Science as one of the Arts.. 'Art' being something that human creativity makes. The knowledge we pass on with other arts, like Theater are generally far more intangible, while science is the art of making the details of the universe strictly tangible.

Just as TV so often does to Theater.. Science can be misused, and those misuses need to be recognized and called out.. but that doesn't discredit the whole art of Observation, Testing, Proving and Disproving Ideas.

Bill Maher's 'Religulous' just tried to do the same thing to 'disprove' religion, but really only pointed out the Kooks and the obvious Extremists. Too bad.. that wasn't handled very scientifically, was it? There is so much evidence available of religious people who are active and productive members that keep their society together, advocate for the weak and the sick, and insist that conscience and consciousness are values, even if they can't usually be expressed in concrete units.


I could skip a meal or two in favor sending a small sum for a better telescope and a search for more planets and an understandig of their creation. It would be intresting to know how an unique phenomenon earth is.

Actually science dealing with 'reality' has came to a standstill.

No real advances in understanding sub-atomics physics in a couple of decades.

Someone stated something about 'electrons and positrons' earlier.
Well that was my field of endeavor. From vacumn tubes to discrete transistors to surface mount technology to way way beyond yet no one had ever seen an electron. Oh there are those claiming it but they are just seeing the results or footprints of what they call those 'whatevers' for the controversy over whether the electron is a particle or a wave of both is still waging.

Quantum Mechanics has now held sway yet it predicts events that are far beyond out comphrension and so string theory came and went very fast, others came along but still the debate rages.

Everyone who looks at a cathode ray tube (tv or crt) will observe the effects of electrons since the emitter sends off a stream to the plate to energize the pixels(in laymens terms) and voila TV.

So the evidence of 'something there' is obvious but still no answer as to what it really is for it is impossible , so science now says, to observe something without changing it,can't determine position and momentum at the same time and the uncertainty principle is at work as well.

Actually QM proposes faster than the speed of light as per the Famous Cat in a Box experiment(forget the physicists name right now).

And to take it to the spiritual realm I note that the first act of creation by God...was "Let there be light"....an aside.

So science can do many things but still cannot pierce the realm of the tiny. The sub-atomic world. It can make genetic corn and wheat seeds such that can destroy the soils of India,,who was able to be sustainable with their crops but not those of the 'Green Revolution' which to me was a play with the Mega-Ag-Corporations and their profits.

Airdale-the material vs the spiritual...can one walk both paths?

Maybe Quantum Mechanics has taken a sabbatical while we prepare to relearn the science of appreciating resource depletion.

Reality needs to be rediscovered constantly.. and I suspect that Material/Spiritual might be the same path, one is the gravel under the wheels, and the other is the direction the road leads..

A fella in a Massachusetts sports car comes screeching to a stop in front of Ed's Store Porch, where he sat skinning potatoes. With a rushed air, the 'Sport' asked, 'Hey Mister, where does this road go?! Ed finished the potato he was on, put it in the bowl and looked at the man. 'It don't go nowhere.. it stays right here mostly.'


"Schrodinger" (forget the physicists name right now).

Scientific knowledge still progresses, and very often in very useful ways such as working to develop the Optical Rectenna. (converts incoming solar directly to elctricity by recieving it like a radio wave on an antenna, rectifying it and providing the DC electricity at theoretical efficiencies up to 94%. A few grams of carbon nanotubes, a few grams of metal for diodes and conductors, some plastic film,...)

It looks to me like we are witnessing a new upsurge of Aristotelianism or Scholasticism, a mindset which kept Islam in "advanced orderly poverty", and which was largely responsible for the European dark ages.

The Age of Enlightenment

The grip of fundamentalist Christianity weakened in the course of the following decades. The weltanschauung of European man was ever broadening out. The world seas were being explored and contact made with other cultures. The increasing population in an expanding and more demanding society called for inventive skills. European civilization struck root. Man of genius contributed to its culture. Exploring nature with an intelligent mind became a coveted pursuit. A new kind of philosophy emerged, distinct from the Christian world-view of medieval theologians.


Too bad. Those unaware of history are doomed to repeat it.

"Exploring nature with an intelligent mind became a coveted pursuit. A new kind of philosophy emerged, "

such as Transcendentalism ? A philosophy of which I admire. A refutation of Calvinism and a real American philosophy but now long gone.

I still keep re-reading Thoreau. Over and over.

It still keeps my inner fires alight.I would also say that Judiasm has many favorable aspects. Though I find the Baptist faith to be the freer of most as well as possibly the most democratic. Yes some fundamentalists but thats the Mega-Churches and far different than the downhome version which preceded them.


DavebyGolly, great food for thought -- thanks.

Re population control, I'm pessimistic as to what can be achieved via social engineering --- see the Charles Galton Darwin essay I referred to above:


CGD writes:

If I may be permitted so to put it, by the invention of contraception, the species Homo sapiens has discovered that he can become the new variety "Homo contracipiens," and many take advantage of this to produce a much reduced fraction of the next generation. We have found out how to cheat Nature. However, it would seem likely that in the very long run Nature cannot be cheated, and it is easy to see the revenge it might take. Some people do have a wish for children before they are conceived, though for most of them it has not the strong compulsion of the two instincts. There will be a tendency for such people to have rather more children than the rest, and these children will tend to inherit a similar wish and so again to have larger families than do others. In succeeding generations there will be some who inherit the wish to an enhanced extent, and these will contribute a still greater proportion of the population. Thus, the direct wish for children is likely to become stronger in more and more of the race and in the end it could attain the quality of an instinct as strong as the other two. It may well be that it would take hundreds of generations for the progenitive instinct to develop in this way, but if it should do so, Nature would have taken its revenge, and the variety Homo contracipiens would become extinct and would be replaced by the variety Homo progenetivus.

There will be a tendency for such people to have rather more children than the rest, and these children will tend to inherit a similar wish and so again to have larger families than do others.

This has some truth to it, I think, because it makes sense in network conversation theory (or meme theory).
Each of us is located within the network of conversations that make up the human conversation. In the diagram below there would be one bubble for each human on the planet:
Network of Conversations
Some of the most important people are those closest to us; those are the ones immediately around "you." In this circle are our immediate family, friends, coworkers, etc., anyone with whom we converse on a regular basis.
Each time I say something to someone else, I alter the conversation in the network. If a person repeats what I say, the conversation continues to propagate through the network. You can see this above as a conversation moves from "you" to the subnetwork in the upper-right, shown as the blue bubbles.
This works for children, too, since they tend to be in the circle closest to us and are more likely to repeat what they are told by their parents.
This also explains why the overwhelming determinant of what a person believes is where they are born and raised, because we are a product of the conversations that are being spoken around us. There is a set of conversations primarily spoken in a particular family, neighborhood, city and country. With the recent ease of communication the power of the immediate circle has lessened somewhat. As easy electronic communication falters in the future, local conversations will again become the most important.
All social advances must occur by first altering the network of conversations. It can be a slow process, because there are many forces that keep a conversation alive. Conversations tend to defend themselves and new conversations often trigger the immune system of the dominant ones.
Malcolm Gladwell would call the point when most of the network is on the verge of speaking a particular conversation "the tipping point."
All that is to say that conversations tend to change slowly unless there is some outside physical force that adds strength to a new conversation struggling in the network.
Lots of the prevailing conversations are going to defend themselves; many will be supplanted by new conversations, perhaps others, like "large families are God's will" or just "large families are good" may survive... hard to know in advance.

Carolus - Voluntary population control is even worse than depicted. It leaves the future to those too careless and mindless to exercise restraint. This will be transmitted both genetically and by culture. Too many people are supposing themselves to be improving our future by choosing to be childless and opposing non-voluntary population control of others.

I don't disagree, but this brings up a very steep slippery slope so the issue will be deferred until nature takes its course or TPTB make a very uncomfortable decision. The lifeboat scenario is rarely pretty.

My guess is that the "PC" in you name doesn't stand for politically correct? ;-)


And this is why populations expand and contract. Or will.

We are all just lions on the savanna in the end.


"There will be a tendency for such people to have rather more children than the rest, and these children will tend to inherit a similar wish and so again to have larger families than do others."

Hmmm. I was born in the mid-1950s, the oldest of eight children in a devout Catholic family. Four of us (including me) had one child. Two had two children. One had four children, and one is childless. Clearly, our family socialization WRT family size failed most of us!!

And it's not like our parents put us through college and we delayed/limited parenting due to demanding professional careers. Most of us went to college on our own, after marriage, later in life. (Demographically, it's the less educated who have tend to have more children.) Although most of us were parents early - (me at age 19), we voluntarily limited our families.

Another personal observation - over the years I've met many women of my generation who were the oldest of large families, and nearly all had few children. We got our fill of childrearing growing up.


Iran can't be used as a positive example much of the time, but they've achieved pretty impressive results with reducing their population-growth:

Davebygolly, you write:

War is becoming unaffordable even as we speak. That hasn't stopped it yet, and there may well be one more global conflagration in the winding down of the industrial era. But the end of war is already in sight. Things are not as they were. The earth is much depleted. It will take great effort, skilled and scientifically informed effort to eke out a living, and to extract and appropriate surpluses will be meaningless. The underground resources, those for which the current wars are being fought, will have been long since been depleted.

Wrong, wrong and wrong again. With resource depletion, war's day will come again. It was resource scarcity that drove war in the past. Only resource abundance makes war unnecessary: we can all be generous when we have lots to give away. Now that resources are dwindling, war will become very tempting for all the budding have-nots -- and there will be plenty of them.

Ideological and pseudo-ethical justifications will of course be conjured up by our intellectual prostitutes -- business as usual.

Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

You sound like my wife!

Anyway, my point is that resources available to conduct war are drying up in the longer run, and I would also argue that the returns from conducting war are diminishing. The British and even more the Roman empires (at their peaks) were able to extract a considerable amount booty at minimal or at least affordable expense. There's a current empire that has bitten off more than it can chew with a few small countries.

Actually I sound like my wife.

As long as man has hands to strangle with, resources to conduct war will never dry up. The human race is very inventive when it comes to killing.

The trouble with people like you is that they can always find some neat new fallacy to keep their old fallacy afloat!
Firstly, having to reduce down to the level of strangling would be a most merciful de-escalation from ww2-scale militarism. Secondly, when people have to spend most of their time merely struggling to grow food (as per Wyoming's post last week), they will have better things to do with their time that go marching off (by foot) to distant towns/countries to break down vitally needed co-operative arrangements.

Robin, don't know what 'old fallacy' of mine you are referring to, but anyhow.

Take a look at the stats:

In the 20th century approximately 2% of Europe's population died in combat or during warfare.

In primitive societies for which data are available (i.e. societies such as the Yanomano, in which "people have to spend most of their time merely struggling to grow food"), up to an estimated 25% of the population (mainly males) die as result of inter-tribal wars and intra-tribal violence.

The book to read is Yanomamo: the Fierce People by Napoleon Chagnon:


It should also be intuitively obvious that poverty and scarcity foster inter-community violence and war rather than brotherhood and love.

Sorry Caro, you misunderstood my post there (and I perhaps yours).
Your "old fallacy" I had in mind was your suggestion that resource depletion would increase rather than reduce warfare. With your reference to strangling I was inferring you were putting up a new justification for that.
As for societies "in which "people have to spend most of their time merely struggling to grow food"", I did not mean pree-existing primitive societies, rather I meant the children of civilisation after it has left them in a desperate lurch. Quite possibly the Yanomano etc have surplus time/energy to engage in warfare, but I very much doubt whether future societies of people at best farming in the manner of Wyoming's Campfire account the other week will be in any position to produce anything even remotely rivalling the Stalingrad catastrophe.
And sure, Europe has had low deaths from C20 warfare. That's because we are the most civilised civilisation in history. Compare say http://voiceofdharma.org/books/siii/ch6.htm

That is when we get to the real EROEI.
Your basic EROEI must pay enough for food, shelter, clothing and most of all security.

Assuming things go all to hell..............
If your return on investment does not pay enough for you to safeguard yourself, family and possessions you are in trouble. With security we can try to defend ourselves or pay to have it done for us (government, warlord or crime boss). We will essentially be indentured.

Claiming we are civilized (will remain that way) and won't resort to violence is deeply naive.
We remain civilized when we are not hungry.

Not every neighbor, county, city, state or country will be successful at providing the bare necessities for life. Those which cannot will covet those which can, it's as simple as that.

I don't think quietly fading away will be a widely accepted option.
After the plundering of the environment and resources come the plundering of each other.....after all we are only human.

First, DaveByGolly, very nice essay. Super food for thought.

As long as man has hands to strangle with, resources to conduct war will never dry up. The human race is very inventive when it comes to killing.

Unfortunately, too true. I cannot think of an extended period or place in which conflict was not a frequent visitor. As was noted above, the earth's endowment of above ground resources is not uniform. There will always be those with more and those with less, and, I am afraid, there will always be those with less who want to be those with more. In such circumstances, war is not going to be going away. Far from it. Wars will probably be more common because they will be smaller in scale (and may be less destructive). The wars of the far future will be tribal and local in nature, probably fought over food and other resources. By today's standards, perhaps these would be considered battles rather than wars, although I doubt the distinction matters much to those involved. Such "wars" were going on all over the world for thousands of years before the industrial era and I see no reasonable explanation as to why they will not continue long after industrialization is a distant memory.

But I'd like to be wrong. :-)


In order to start a war you have to have surplus time and energy available for it. Time and energy are going to be in short supply in the post-industrial world, so there'll be less ability to conduct wars. Sure there'll be conflicts but far less grand.

Yes, they will probably be less grand. But there will always be conflict as long as people can't distinguish between reality and the conversations they are speaking. Two prime examples are:
"I'm right"
"You are wrong."

Of course "right" and "wrong" are just labels and neither are real beyond being concepts or sounds coming out of one's mouth, but we do tend to get upset when we or others use them.

I would like to think so, but as long as one side expects to win and reap the potential benefits, the wars will be as grand as the booty allows.

As for justification, very few wars are started for the stated reasons, no matter how much TPTB would like us to think otherwise. Most of these were "rational wars", if one can consider that any war is rational, but then there is the irrational element, such as the destruction of hundreds of oil wells in Kuwait as Saddam Hussein departed in haste.

As resources diminish, I think the wars may be even more dramatic, but less protracted. Limited nuclear warfare is a possibility.

Living very close to the Rockies, I can tell you that a dying Grizzly is still a very dangerous animal. To think that humans have better control, gives us too much credit, IMO.

And even for the roman empire, the law of diminishing returns was inevitable...

that resources available to conduct war are drying up in the longer run, and I would also argue that the returns from conducting war are diminishing.

There are too many wild cards ... to generalize about human behavior, this way.

The best post- peak strategy is to scale down; power down is good. Scale down is essental.

Scaling is a capitalization strategy. It isn't necessary for process, it makes money, not products.

Though many question the notion of peak energy (at least in the foreseeable future), I think it's true to say that no-one knows for certain that just when energy resources will reach some limitation or how long it will be before some other critical resource will become scarce, bringing the industrial age to a grinding halt. Given the uncertainties, I take the view that we should try to live within the annual resource budget of this planet we call home (and the only planet we are guaranteed to have). So, in general terms, we have to aim for living by the 5 axioms of sustainability.

A few comments on the article.

Trains are out?

I'm not sure about this. Certainly, it will be more difficult to repair track, build rolling stock and run them (presumably on electricity) but what would be the annual resource requirement for this in a sustainable society? Also, there would likely be a huge reserve of materials from the ex-industrial age. I think it's possible for rail to remain a viable mode of transport and freight for quite some time, within a sustainable society though there would probably have to be a realisation that rail would eventually become untenable and would provide only for transition services over a long period. It should not be used to try and maintain a global economy or even a national economy (depending on country size), indefinitely.

Draft animals for agriculture?

I think this idea presupposes that large scale agriculture is necessary and maybe even presupposes monoculture. Many people think permaculture and bio-intensive methods can provide food with minimal effort (at least in the long term). Let's say it's possible for one person to work the land to supply food for four people (I'm thinking of the average family), then that implies that only 25% of the population would need to be employed (in terms of work, not necessarily as the term is used today) in agriculture, and then only part time (since permaculture and bio-intensive methods should only require bursts of full time work, interspersed with small amounts of regular work). So I'm not sure that draft animals would be needed for the business of growing the food, though they could come into play for distribution.

"Will farms be (primarily) individual plots? It doesn't seem likely."

Why doesn't it seem likely? Provided the land is available (we may need to do away with the present notions of land ownership), why not allow many, even most, to work their own plots and exchange surpluses? If permaculturists and bio-intensive advocates are right, the work may not be too onerous, and so many individual plots can be considered. Or plots could be joined for some mutual benefit (e.g. edible forests).

"Energy? Clearly a certain amount can be extracted sustainably"

Yes, but the big question is how much? How do we determine what is sustainable and what doesn't adversely impact the environment and our ability to survive in future. I think we need to err on the side of caution and do as much research as possible, no matter what the supposedly renewable energy source is.

"The suburbs must be reconcentrated, densified, the larger ones perhaps broken up into several small towns."

It's a problem getting from where we are to where we need to be. The above implies a massive deconstruction and reconstruction project, which will require huge amounts of energy. I don't know how we could transition to this without corresponding massive acceptance of the strategy and conservation, or redirection, of energy and resources to this long term project.

"Most airports and air traffic should (not so) gradually shut down. They will anyway, but it should be done in a planned way."

Again, how can this be done? I can't see it happening without total nationalisation of airports and airlines. Private companies surely wouldn't countenance a contraction of their business and industry to zero.

I think a massive prolonged education campaign would be needed before we could start making the changes necessary. I'm not sure that the required changes can be very gradual either; the very nature of the changes mean an immediate reallocation of resources.

Many valid points.

Don't disagree on trains being viable for some time on the down slope. Airlines, on the other hand, I think may go out on their own accord when energy prices zoom again!

There will have to be some reconstruction is downsizing, but it can be minimized through cannibalization and other means.

Education, yes. Right now the public hasn't a clue about what's facing us. Just a matter of figuring out how to prime the pump so the good times can roll again.

Gradual would be nice if we could start yesterday. But ain't happening, so you are probably right.

Interesting that you've identified "education" as one key component to powering down, yet very shortly discuss "1 person feeds 4 people" which is about as close to subsistence as humans can get with stable population. Who feeds the educators? The students preparing to educate the people?

Ridiculous fascist dreams.

What? I talked about one person working part time may be able to feed 4 people (from what I've read about some food growing techniques). That's 3 and a bit people to provide the other work, including educators. However, I was referring to an education campaign, before we started to transition to different lifestyles, not general education. I thought that was obvious from the context, but maybe not.

Fascist dreams? What are you on? Dreams they may be but the alternative to sustainability is not pleasant.

Ridiculous fascist dreams.

That is just childish. Nothing more than ideological diarrhea.

I prefer the use of fascism as attributed to B. Mussolini: Corporatism in league with gov't. THAT is what you have now. Bush and Cheney are the greatest fascists to ever live by that definition.

Do you object to that?


Wow!!! Don't hold back, tell us how you really feel!!!

You are basing this on things that just won't happen. While the whole world can't live as we do now, we can
easily live on much less without sacrificing our

Why do you think metals, concrete will not continue to be made? For the most part they only need energy, ores or recycled materials to be made. There is no shortage of energy, just the equipment needed to extract it which isn't that much an engineering problem. Eff use of these keeps costs down. Instead of 4" thick concrete we'll use 2 1/4" layers with foam insulation in between and replace 1/3 the cement with fly ash, ect. It can be done with
solar energy too.

Composites can be made from sand, biomass and RE.
Maybe learn a few things before such doom and gloom talk.WE are quite good at making HC's, metals, and other needs from most anything we need.

I'm a boatbuilder besides building RE and EV's. Ieven built an electric car from wood/epoxy. You'd be amazed with a little knowledge what you can do.

So relax, we are not going back to pre-industrual times, just a more modest life than the glutony we do


Why do you think metals, concrete will not continue to be made? For the most part they only need energy,...

That's it: they only need energy. And my going-in premise is that hydrocarbons are depleting and that alternative sources in toto cannot make up more that a tiny percentage of our current energy budget. And I ask for a debate here on TOD at some point as to whether that is correct. If it's not correct, then my whole post is off the wall. (Ok, it may be in any case.) But so far no one has convinced me otherwise.

My point is energy is abundant though spread
out. It's only the big business that can't deal with it as being spread out means individuals, very small business can take advantage of it mostly.

Each home, business can for under the cost of a
new coal plant/kwhr, about $4,000/kw. Much RE
can be done for less. Solar here in Fla equals
1kw/sqyd x's 5-7hrs/day and a $300 in parts windgen produces 4-10kwhrs/day, enough for an
eff home.

For cement a solar thermal tower could make cement from limestone.

Biomass can be changed into syn gas, H2-CO2 which
can with catalyst into most any HC. Shell, Syntroleum
now does just that with stranded NG converted to very clean diesel for easier shipping, sales.

The problem is political, inertia, ignorance, not
resources. We just need to eff, smart use what
we have. Nor does it have to be expensive, in
fact because it uses less energy, materials,
our future can cost less. Mine already does.


Metals, concrete etc only need energy? Nonsense. They also need reasonably expert people in the right place/time and an orderly social/political/economic context to work in.
There's no way the retrenchment is going to be planned, so it will be by chaotic breakdown instead. From then onwards the conditions for concrete and metalworking beyond blacksmithery look likely to be rare occurrences.
Some people are envisaging that people will be at one anothers's throats trying to kill one another. Indeed, but as often or more, they'll be wishing for more people, to beg to help them.

Pre coal the world lived on charcoal which has a energy density similar to coal.
Also if you restrict the amounts various renewable liquid fuels are possible with the various vegetable oils as obvious choices.

A number of source of electricity are viable with steam to electricity or mechanical power of some sort coupled to a generator as a sort of end conversion.

And of course depending on the technical level its possible to build nuclear power plants of varying reliability with fairly basic technology.

And of course there is no intrinsic reason to loose a large amount of our synthetic chemistry knowledge. Other areas depend on the technical level of the civilization.

Thus its hard to not envision that at least in some areas of the planet that a sustainable technically advanced civilization is possible at least to say something similar to 1940-1950's level but different if you will.

Next if you include the various levels of military capability such a civilization should be able to defend itself agianst lesser technologically adept areas and also make it difficult for other similar areas to take it over esp if they are reasonably isolated geographically. The military case is interesting but most weapons are easy to manufacture and thus one can conclude that a manufacturing base ensures a steady supply of decent weaponry.

Now the problem I see with your thesis is its making the assumption that the world will experience a uniform sort of decline however if you think about it all that needs to happen is that the number of people involved in a technically advanced civilization needs to decline to a sustainable level.

The rest of the worlds population would become starving savages.

Thus there is simply absolutely no reason that a small precentage of people living technically advanced lives cannot succeed in creating enclaves that are technically advanced. The political nature of such enclaves is open to conjecture but they would all possess decent military defenses.

Thus the problems of resource constraints are most easily settled by continuing the current trends of impoverishment of more and more of the worlds population to support a dwindling technological elite.

In the US for example if we simply moved to demographics similar to third world countries with 90% of the population living in abject poverty and 10% living modern lifestyles we don't have any real resource issues. In that case you need only support 3 million people. I've done a few projections and a technically advanced society is readily doable with about 15-30 million people.
And easy example is to consider California or England both are diverse technically advanced societies and you can eliminate a lot of jobs and redundancies and easily see that 3-10 million or so people are more than enough to create a infrastructure for and advanced society.

If you look at a country like Russia and its resources and population then there is really no reason for Russia to suffer anytime soon.

With that said obviously you have to look beyond Russia's borders and politically the equation is different.

I'm not saying that our current set of countries can get through unscathed but certainly its very difficult to reject that certain regions would make it with their technical prowess intact. It also seems obvious that even in these regions a fairly large poverty stricken class will form.

Looking forward from today I'd say its impossible to really see past this stage
yes at some point our large industrialized countries will probably fragment but then what we cannot tell what happens next and worse the approaches taken will probably be highly varied with a very high probability of various wars almost certainly including nukes breaking out.

I'm not really saying your essay is wrong but I just think we can't look past this enclave situation. Beyond that the future is unknown.

You could envision a route to enclaves that was peaceful and enlightened with strict population control and redistribution of the current population in a sustainable manner with a large portion of the population accepting fairly limited lifestyles and least as far as energy usage goes.

The nirvana transition if you will actually in my opinion requires people to work together more than they ever have in history. I find this doubtful.
Regional collapse of some sort seems certain but even here its almost impossible to envision the exact nature of the collapse.

With that said even with this it makes sense to move to a region thats agriculturally rich and reasonably lightly populated and stay out of the large cities. I think good arguments can be made that you don't want to live in a city with a population over a few 100k or in a isolated farmstead. Both are simply not the most defensible positions. Between these extremes at least in my research a small town of 10-30k with enough nearby agricultural land seems to provide the best chance. Smaller towns lack diversity and as you go larger local instability becomes more of a issue.

Farms are not totally out of the question its just a matter of defensibility a return to villages seems very sensible. And of course it depends on how many people are on the farm if you have say 15-20 then I'd call it a small village and it can reasonably defend itself with 4-5 people allocated to security.

In short for the isolated homestead common in the US it becomes a security issue. For the smaller towns in general the security situation is much better.
I'd suspect given they are dependent on the local farmers at this point that various security arrangements would be created. Protection for the farmer whether he wants it or not in exchange for food.

Looking further out it then becomes a issue of industrial base machine shops are prevalent. Small foundries can be rapidly built and certainly plenty of scrap steel and electric motors would exist for scavenging for a long time.

Manufacturing of electric generators and steam as I mentioned are generally viable. What we retain or redevelop from our knowledge base beyond this is again impossible to fathom. If you understand our current computer manufacturing processes then there is no intrinsic reason for us to loose our capacity to make computer chips. This really gets into developing a complete high-tech manufacturing base and it can be bootstrapped using existing equipment. Given that economies of scale will be less of and issue small lab scale manufacturing is very feesible for almost any article.

Stuff similar to this.


And it does not have to be cheap like today.

To conclude I think one can readily see that the chance for a fragmented enclave like high-tech society forming is realistic. Next these will probably form where reasonable sources of electricity and decent food/water supply exist and probably good ports etc. Numerous potential sites exist worldwide some will probably make it.

How many people are involved in such enclaves is impossible to determine but its a pretty safe bet that it will be much less than the number of people that have a good life today and that these enclaves will have a underclass population and demographics closer to 2-3 thrd world countries. Outside of these regions complete collapse effectively down to the stone age is probably going to be common. Something similar to Somalia today effectively warlords.
One could guess at some point that bullets would become and issue as the wealthy areas slow manufacturing. Certainly the weapons trade will be important and in fact a big part of what may sustain these enclaves is selling bullets in exchange for resources. I'd not be surprised for this sort of trade to turn out badly with the warlords eventually capturing the enclave. But this situation is not clear. Local politics gets pretty interesting.

Given I expect weapons to be prevalent we can expect most of the wildlife will be hunted to extinction I hope that certain regions simply become depopulated and act as refugee areas for wildlife. I think this will actually work out as isolated regions simply loose population to the point that hunting pressure cannot destroy the wild animal population. Nuclear or biological weapon strikes may also result in Chernobyl like wildlife areas initially shunned by people.
But we can be sure that certain areas will be stripped of animal and plant life we can only hope this last act of destruction is not permanent.

So overall you have a few simple rules that you can use to make some prudent moves on your own. If your in a densely populated city then figure out a way out. If your in LA or New York etc you should probably move or buy a escape place in a safer region. The best thing is to move somewhere thats reasonably sustainable and get involved in local initiatives like electric rail or organic farming or less obvious ones such as learning to machine or other manufacturing skills such as welding. Being a gunsmith is a overlooked high demand profession for example. In short ELP and don't worry about it.

I certainly don't exclude your elite enclave scenarios as something that will be pursued on the down slope. In a very real sense it already exists! But I don't believe it work in the end. The enclavists are having much trouble now and will have greater trouble going forward. There were enclavists in Latin America who found their own enclave guardians turning against them.

I get classified as a doomer sometimes, but I'm not really. I think the species has a decent shot at getting it under control at some point. But it will be a rough ride for sure.

Some could die some not. Look at Monasteries in the Middle Ages as and example.
Its difficult to come to the conclusions your coming to i.e the enclaves will certainly die. Once order starts breaking down trying to predict the future becomes useless.
Almost random events will determine the future at all levels from personal to global.

As far as not working in the end who knows maybe these enclaves last for a few hundred years then finally fail. Maybe one makes it big certainly parts of Brazil for example stand a chance to make it. Parts of Canada ?

The main point is to recognize that realistically everyones crystal ball is murky at best.

Put it this way I'd argue that its highly doubtful that we will simply switch to EV's put up a few wind turbines and go on our merry way no problems. I've not found the arguments that alternative energy solves our social problems compelling. And my concept of partial substitution which is historically proven indicates that new energy sources will simply by used to support more growth not move to a really sustainable culture.

On the other end of the spectrum simply building more coal fired plants dammed the environment esp if we assume that a decent fraction of the population will become impoverished seems to assure that at least over the near term i.e next few decades full collapse is probably not going to happen. We have no real reason for it to happen.
Even during the Great Depression unemployment only reached 25% for 75% of the people life went on for at least 25% of the population the effect of the depression was minimal.

Here for example is one of the less alarming stories from the depression.


Talk with anyone who has been through a traumatic event and I think you will find that simple issue loomed large. If this had not happened or this had things would be different. Certainly your aware of whats coming but also recognize there are limits to both our understanding of events and our ability to prepare for them.

Outside of recognizing that both extremes often presented i.e a easy move to electric cars and life as rosy and the other extreme a crash effectively back to the stone age are both the least likely outcomes we don't know. Both make assumptions that are difficult to justify.

The EV solution assumes that the only problem with peak oil is expensive gasoline I'd argue that thats the least of our problems and so far this has been shown to be true.
Far far more money has been lost from the contraction of our economies from lack of growth then was lost from expensive oil. Especially if you include recycling of petrodollars back into Western economies for goods and services. Electric cars don't solve the growth problem and they don't solve the reverse migration problem i.e as energy becomes more expensive suburban growth slows and reverses. Thus suburban housing should devalue for intrinsic reasons. This loss alone dwarfs the monetary loss from expensive fuels regardless of price. You would have to assume that people would willingly transition to electric cars fast enough for oil to remain cheap to prevent persistent economic contraction. I'm sure there are people on this board willing to argue that all we need to do is switch to EV's and alternative energy and all our problems are solved but this does not make them right.

On the flip side of the coin asserting complete collapse as certain also suffers from fatal logical flaws. The simplest one is its obvious that at some point one has to assume that tyrants would take power and that remaining resources would be controlled by force.
This alone makes it difficult to see what the next outcome is. Next as you look at each country and region you will quickly see that different regions have dramatically different resilient to peak oil and overall economic problems. The point is one can readily see points of fragmentation and widening differences but its like knowing that a glass it trembling on the edge of a table and is about to fall to the floor. Simply by knowing this you also know for a fact you have no clue what happens when the glass hits the floor. It could shatter in a million pieces, a few large chunks or by some miracle just get jarred and remain whole. I think you can see this.

This is not to say you should not be prudent. I live south of LA and I'm leaving the area this summer its a place that fairly obviously will not fare well hell even electric cars probably are not a good solution for LA. But on the same hand if you assume that the world is going to end be aware your making a huge guess you can't know. Nothing wrong with hiding out in the woods waiting for the end of the world just as long as your having a fun time doing it. If your doing it because you know the world is going to end and you don't enjoy it then your making a mistake.

Memmel - I've previously pointed out to you that medieval monasteries were absolutely different from the security-gated fortress enclaves being created currently. The monasteries were an integral part of the surrounding community; the gated enclaves are a doomed attempt at isolation from the surrounding community. They can only work as long as the supporting delocalised industrial/corporate system holds up.

Well again we don't know how such enclaves would evolve and I think we have very different ideas about the size of what I'm calling enclaves. I'd assume the smallest would be several square kilometers. They could be as large as several US states are European countries.
For example in Europe one could expect large parts of Spain to form enclaves. Portugal could well remain intact. France etc. So the enclaves could be entire countries within them would be more secure regions potentially down to the level of something similar to our gated communities. To be very clear I'm not talking about our current gated communites as being future enclaves there is a good chance that some will be in enclaves and just as good a chance that some will be abandoned.

I think the important way to look at the enclave concept is not the enclaves themselves but those that are not part of one. These people will have no government no laws and no support.

All I am asserting is that a certain precentage of the current populations of most nations will forced out of the enclave regions and will live in abject poverty via subsistence farming with no government. I'd suspect that these regions would start as camps probably for illegal immigrants and other undesirables and then expand into regions that are left unsupported and unprotected. I'd not be surprised to see regions like this spring up along old national borders and eventually these wild zones would act as a buffer between enclaves that invading armies would have to cross and also defend against.

The concept is that the lawless regions would actually work to protect various enclaves from other enclaves. Many will probably be battle zones with different groups supplying them with arms etc.

As and example in the US I could readily see large parts of the south west from Texas to California turn into a sort of lawless zone along with northern Mexico. I could readily see the entire southern border turn into a sort of dumping zone for both Mexico and the US comprised of a mix of former nationals from both countries.

In Europe the Balkans for example could well become a similar sort of dumping ground.

Over time the lawless areas could become quite large it would make sense for defenses to eventually fall back to naturally controllable boundaries like mountain chains and large rivers.

Maybe for example a new enclave border would from in Texas roughly along a line from
Abilene to Corpus Cristi through San Antonio. Basically the eastern half of texas or in short the parts of Texas that can readily be farmed without extensive irrigation.

The concept is that the US would effectively abandon large areas of the south west.

For the US at least to get some idea of the areas that are potentially outside of enclaves one can readily look at the early 1800's and the regions which where last taken from the Indians. This would be a lot of the south west and great plains regions.
So for the US at least you can to some extent run the expansion of the US in reverse allowing for the Mississippi/Ohio basin to remain populated. The other exception would potentially be in the North East which is now heavily populated and lacking in natural resources for the population level. The Boston to Washington DC corridor could very easily become a lawless region outside of enclaves. Upstate New York through Main could well become new enclaves. I could example easily see an enclaves forming around Rochester and Buffalo New York.

As I mention above, it's entirely possible that collapse could happen quickly if the worldwide monetary system seizes up. At that point it would definitely be the tyrants or martial law that comes into play. And grain production and distribution would need to be nationalized to keep people alive, as their normal means of purchasing food would no longer work (in the case of hyperinflation, for instance).

Perhaps we mean something different by "complete collapse?"

Well it could freeze up however so far at least it seems that the powers that be will do whatever it takes to keep this from happening. I don't see any compelling reason for them to stop keeping the current financial system from collapsing. I think at some point they probably will evolve it to some extent and I think that as it chances that a lot of current citizens of the various countries that are wealthy will get screwed and forced into abject poverty. How to say it collapsing the current system is not in the interest of the wealthy thus they will keep it going as long as possible.

With that said we could well see a move to a new global currency at some point its tough to say. In general for the major countries its pretty much a case of MAD ( Mutally Assured Destruction) if any one of them collapsed so overall they will probably play more financial games together. I don't think this will prevent the currencies from becoming highly inflated vs consumables such as food and oil. We will see but I think soon we will find both food and oil will become very expensive. Longer term once we see global trade really broken and effectively gone at that point we could finally see national currencies blow up in hyperinflation as the constraints of MAD are no longer in place.

In general I'm of the opinion that the final hyperinflation collapse of the currencies and financial system will happen well after we have moved into and enclave like situation. By the time they finally collapse along with the national government I really think that the countries will have already fractured into defacto enclaves.

The reason I think a lot of people will be surprised at how long the dollar lasts is that its not really fiat its backed by the military forces of the US and because its all we will use in exchange for goods and services. The rest of the major fiat currencies fit under this umbrella. As long as both the US military and the need for global trade remain I think the currencies and thus banking system will continue. Only after we have for all intents and purposes collapsed will we see the final collapse of the fiat currencies. This my opinion that we will actually see formation of lawless regions within the borders of most major nations first before they actually collapse.

Basically by the time the dollar actually collapses I'd not be surprised for it to be effectively a non-event we could readily see local currencies become popular well before the final collapse good chance gold and silver could make a come back as money. I'm not a gold bug and I don't own any gold but I'll probably buy some at some point since I think worst case is gold will do ok. Basically gold will probably retain its purchasing power in any financial system.

we could readily see local currencies become popular well before the final collapse

Hmmm...an optimist, huh? ;-)

Basically gold will probably retain its purchasing power in any financial system.

Sure, but will there be enough in circulation to make it a workable currency? I don't think so.

"Next as you look at each country and region you will quickly see that different regions have dramatically different resilient to peak oil and overall economic problems".

I think that this is a salient point. For example, I have been living in Thailand for almost 9 years. I have watched a largely uneducated (or should I say an educationally impoverished) population struggle with globalization and western democracy.

Thailand can be divided into 5 main areas-the north, north east, central, Bangkok, and southern. Each have definite and defining cultures with clear social stratification between, and within, each area. As little as forty years ago, in pre industrial Thailand, these areas had evolved functionally and independently from each other. It was only in the 1930's that King Rama 5 put institutional mechanisms based on the western model in place.

The north east is an area of impoverished soils and erratic rainfall. Considered by most Thais to be the poorest in the ability to obtain the consumerists dream (nightmare). Many people leave to work in Bangkok and other major centers. This area is at the bottom of the social heap. The north is an area of mountainous rich soils and abundant rainfall. This is the home of the first kingdom of Thailand-the Lanna. Considered the cultural heartland of Thailand, it is second only to Bangkok. Central Thailand is the rice bowl and has driven food self sufficiency and export success for Thailand. People here are in the middle of the social heap. Bangkok is the social and economic hub of not just Thailand, but south east Asia. This is Hi So (High Society) territory, where the well bred and well heeled Chinese Thai hold sway. Bangkok is also a melange of people and culture from all over Thailand. It is a place now trying to deal with it's own success. Bangkok Hi So's are considered the top of the social heap. The south is a largely a series of Muslim provinces with sleepy fishing villages, and rubber and oil palm plantations. Almost at the bottom of the social heap.

When we look at a Peak Energy world, Thailand, not even being able to come to grips with it's own politics (driven by power struggles in Bangkok)at the moment, we will see a major shakedown in perceived wealth. Bangkok, and the Hi So culture may well implode and go to the bottom of the social heap (in real food in your mouth terms). The people from the north, north east, central and south will go back to their farms (or boats). That is happening already with the current economic slowdown. Old links with the land will be rekindled with family left at home. But each area has it's own strengths and weaknesses, and the way these will be dealt with will be different.

There will be a decentralisation and re-identification of Thai culture. The wild card here is how will each region will interact with each other, given the diminishing power of an aging King. Also, there is the question of their traditional enemies, the Khmers and Burmese (Myanmar)in times of resource constraints.

This is just one southeast Asian developing country. The global complexity of reactions to Peak Energy is going to be ridiculous!!

In principle you're wrong, in practice you're probably correct. That is, it's physically possible for us to build crazy amounts of renewables. But add in finances and politics and the general conservative nature of humans - "conservative" in the sense of "I've always lived this way, and want to continue" - and it becomes unlikely.

I look at this in let's make like China and build!

Basically, we have,

- world electricity use, 1.7TW
- other energy use, 13.8TW
- an entirely renewable society would thus be 15.5TW of delivered electricity
- various efficiencies could bring this down to 7.3TW
- however, for a Western standard of living, we need about 2,000W per person
- world population by 2050 will be 9-10.75 billion
- so we need 18-22TW delivered electricity if we want to give that Western standard of living to all

Hydro has about half the potential sites used already, geothermal has a lot of potential but well sort of the several TW we need, tidal can be significant but only in particular areas. Wave power's not been proven yet.

So that leaves wind, solar PV and solar thermal to do most of the work.

Now with renewables we find it's as with oil - the best sites get used first. Just as Ghawar gets drilled before Athabasca, so too do the windiest sites get turbines before the less windy ones. So that load factors go from 35% down towards 20% overall for wind - that's been the Danish experience, I don't see why it wouldn't be so over the rest of the world.

So we're looking at something like 10-20% load factor if we've got solar and wind capacity in the terawatts. Which means the 18-22TW we need delivered becomes 180-220TW peak capacity.

You can play with the figures a bit, assume we can do well on much less energy, or have a prosperous West and the Third World, "tough crap, you lot miss out." But it doesn't change the fact that we'd need to increase our electricity generation multiple times. Maybe not as much as 100 but at least 10.

Which is not as crazy as it sounds, world generation went up 2.79% on average each year from 1980-2005, there were some years over 6%, mostly due to places like China with big hydro projects, but still... it suggests a big industrial capacity for the world.

So in principle it's doable, a massive buildout of renewables. But in practice I can't see it happening worldwide. It's that sort of concentrated sustained effort towards a single purpose over generations that you only get if you're playing some computer game :)

Much more likely I think is that we'll have a wealthy elite in the world living in ecotopian sorts of gated cities surrounded by slums and wastelands...

You have outlined a world in 2050 with a very high standard of living using 22TW of electricity. Extrapolating from Denmark to the world and giving a capacity factor of 10-20% doesn't make any sense. Several studies of world wind resources using only high wind sites (using 12% of the land area) give a value of 72TW. Many of these sites are in remote regions and thus have not been developed. For example the best sites in UK are in the north of Scotland but most wind sites farms are in lower wind speed regions closer to major electricity grids.
Solar resources are much larger than wind so the problem is not lack of renewable resources( except for hydro). Distribution from high wind and solar sites will be a challenge but some high energy use industries could be re-located closer to energy resources.

Wind and solar capacities are growing at 25-50%. If they continue to grow at this rate(or even at 20% increase per year), today's 100GW wind capacity will double 12 times(doubling every 3.5years) before 2050 to exceed 200TW capacity(say 50TW production).

Their do not seem to be limitations of steel, labor, copper, cement, manufacturing capacity, that would prevent this capacity to be reached. Possibly cheaper energy sources such as solar, nuclear or geothermal would prevent this 200TW from being realized. Maybe you can suggest other limitations?

First up, the obstacles are political and cultural far more than they're technical. People have a lot invested in Business As Usual - "invested" in every way.

Extrapolating from Denmark to the world and giving a capacity factor of 10-20% doesn't make any sense. Several studies of world wind resources using only high wind sites (using 12% of the land area) give a value of 72TW. Many of these sites are in remote regions and thus have not been developed.

As I understand it, the 72TW of capacity identified/estimated is peak capacity, not delivered power. I'll be happy to be proven wrong, I'm quite a fan of wind power.

As to Denmark, I think it always makes sense to extrapolate from an entire country's experience, rather than looking at ideals. And their load factor began at 30% or so, moved up to 35% as they got experience and improved their technology a bit, and as wind became significant and popped up all over the place, the best spots had already been taken, so it declined to 20-25%.

Other countries might do better, but others might do worse. Similarly with solar PV/thermal.

Sure, ideally we could do heaps better. But if you factor in things like the occasional successful NIMBY action, politicians choosing to invest in marginal electorates rather than more definite electorates which would be better technically to invest in, some people not maintaining the things well, and so on - you get that lower number.

I mean, how many big government or corporate projects come in under budget and perform better than expected, compared to the reverse?

Wind and solar capacities are growing at 25-50%. If they continue to grow at this rate(or even at 20% increase per year), today's 100GW wind capacity will double 12 times(doubling every 3.5years) before 2050 to exceed 200TW capacity(say 50TW production).

Well, you should read the article I wrote about this. Let's be realistic, when you're building up from virtually nothing huge growth rates are possible. When the thing's well established it slows down.

Their do not seem to be limitations of steel, labor, copper, cement, manufacturing capacity, that would prevent this capacity to be reached.

Not the ultimate capacity, no. But how long it takes to get there is another matter.

I mean sure, you can pull a war effort thing and devote half your economy to doing one thing (as you'd have to for a 25-50% growth rate to continue past a certain point), and you'll get incredible growth numbers. But is it realistic to expect that'll happen? Still we have wilfully obtuse people, even as editors of TOD, who deny climate change; and people who develop climate modelling software who deny peak oil. The urgency's not there.

And we have examples of countries like Sweden. In the 1980s they voted to get rid of nuclear, so long as it wouldn't disrupt their economy much. So they did a big buildout of hydro and wind and stuff. But they've not shut down their nuclear - despite having twice the electricity per capita of the US or Australia, three times that of Germany or Denmark.

What the Swedish example tells us is that it's quite likely that if we decided to get rid of coal/oil/gas power, most likely we'd build heaps of renewables and... keep the fossil fuels, too. Maybe we'd knock a couple down when they were worn out anyway.

I think the best we could hope for is that in several large countries - say China, the western EU, India - most new generation will be renewable, and the old polluting plants will be shut down as fast as they would normally, that is when they wear out. So that of our 2.79% growth in electricity generation worldwide, maybe a third will be renewable. Thus the renewable portion of electricity will rise to 1/3 to 1/2 by 2050, with almost all the rest being fossil fuels.

I don't think nuclear will be big because in the West most people are against it, and experience shows that the West does its best to prevent the Third World from getting nuclear. Politics will stop it here and our own diplomacy/threats stop it there.

I think we'll still be using quite a lot of renewables in 2050, but as well as rather than instead of fossil fuels. Lots of people will be suffering from climate change and unaffordable energy, but those in charge are those with money - and if you have money to buy energy, you'll have money to avoid the negative effects of climate change. The well-off will care as much about Bangladeshi sea rise victims in 2050 as they care about Bangladeshi cyclone victims today, ie a lot for about five minutes and then not at all afterwards.

Again, this is about political and cultural limits, not physical or technical limits.

What I think likely does not stop me hoping for and working towards what I think possible and desirable, which is an ecotechnic society for all on Earth.

The point I was trying to make was that if we have BAU we could have most FF replaced by renewable energy by 2050.

Now if we have a WWII or even moon race type of effort, where for instance 50% the resources use for motor vehicle manufacturing were used to produce wind and solar energy and pumped hydro and grid infrastructure, we could expect to have something more like the "Al Gore " plan of replacing FF in a decade.

"Again, this is about political and cultural limits, not physical or technical limits."

That's always true, but if the argument is that we are going to have declining FF by 2050, we should examine what is technically possible( without a massive "war effort") and if this appears to be inadequate, what political changes would be required to implement the "war effort" and would this be technically possible.

Basically, we have,

- world electricity use, 1.7TW
- other energy use, 13.8TW
- an entirely renewable society would thus be 15.5TW of delivered electricity

That assumes no other limiting inputs, of which I expect there to be many, including and especially, water

The Desertec plan includes providing water (drinking AND irrigation) as well as all present fossil and transport energy, as required for all of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa from simple solar thermal with storage, 83% capacity factor. They also propose replacing all existing nuclear, though to me that doesn't seem rational as a first step at least.

Clean Power from Deserts - The DESERTEC Concept for Energy, Water and Climate Security - Club of Rome

The engineering is completely rational and affordable in a "one replacelemt cycle" timeframe here to 2055 approx. at minimal or zero added cost over BAU. Engineering estimates separately confirmed by Sargent & Lundy's engineering of Chicago.

Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology - Cost and Performance Forecasts - Sargent & Lundy LLC Consulting Group Chicago, Illinois

Of course many posters here won't accept such on religious grounds.

Sure. I was just sketching out the destination so we could see what it'd take to get there. We have to get a good grasp of the scale of what we're talking about if we say we want a "zero carbon" but rather Western sort of society.

I was just emphasising that it's not simply a matter of taking the 1.7TW of peak electricity generation we have today and replacing it with 1.7TW of peak renewables. As fossil fuels decline, electricity will be called on to fill the gap, so that the other use of 13.8TW also gets covered. Thus the problem's ten times bigger than the guy was originally suggesting.

I also reckon we have to think globally. We need to be socially renewable as well as energy and resource renewable. If we as a planet don't provide a decent lifestyle for all, they'll just migrate (legally or otherwise) to the countries with a good lifestyle. Either we stop them and thus have endless conflicts which waste our resources (it's hard to run a war machine renewably), or we let them in and they get their decent lifestyle with the West. Either way they get the better lifestyle, it seems simpler that the West should help them have it in their home countries.

So it's a global issue, which raises the scale of the problem again, to even more than ten times the world's current electricity generation capacity.

Once we have an idea of the scale of the problem, we can look at the various other problems along the way - like water.

Agree your points, Kiashu. Would just point out that it is my understanding that the goal of Desertec plan is to provide the same service levels to the populations of the middle east and north africa as are provided to europe. And i believe the plan is to encourage as much local input as possible to the construction, which would largely happen is the less-developed desert areas covered, which should provide a strong boost to local economies.

But the post-industrial era will differ from the pre-industrial. Large agricultural surpluses were available to the Romans for expropriation. And the latifundia were slave-based. Because of the earth's depleted condition, because of the large population, the post-industrial agriculturalists will not be slaves - in order to make a go of it, they will have to use the science and knowledge gained from the industrial era just to survive. It is also unlikely that a new Rome will be able to survive by appropriating surpluses from surrounding regions, much less the world.

I'm glad to see that someone (besides Savinar and Ruppert) is at least willing to bring up this possibility. No one else wants to talk about it.

Maybe I'm just more pessimistic about what the power elites will be willing to do to try to preserve their power, wealth, and luxury, if things get really bad.

While I agree that the resource base is battered and depleted in a way Rome's was not, so that a revived attempt at a slave-based economy is likely to have a much shorter lifespan, the fact remains that time and again resort to slave labor has afforded at least temporary exemption from normal economic and resource laws.

It seems to me that the very things you say constitute disincentives against another such attempt - depleted soil and vast masses of unemployable, powerless people - would in fact be strong incentives for it. It would just be replacing fossil fuels with another form of brute force to try to muscle production from the weary soil. As for science and knowledge being at a premium, i.e. generally lacking, that goes hand in hand with slavery as well. Archaeologists think that's why so many inventions, e.g. Heron's steam engine, failed to catch on in ancient Rome - since they had cheap slave labor, they were used to a stupid system, and became stupid in turn. This would just be the stupidity and slavery converging from the opposite direction.

The reason I focused on this is I feel like there's not much vigilance. (And I'm not one of the head-for-the-hills survivalists either. My ideal would be similar to the small town surrounded by agriculture described above. Though I'm not sure why we'd still want so much communication.)

I sure hope it's not because people just assume the government or some organized private outfit would never try this. Or that people flatter themselves that "Oh, Americans love freedom, and would never submit to it."

I agree with the concept of a new slavery, of a sort. I envisage that one day some gunmen will come and well, I'll point out they have the power of death but I have the power of life (and other things) which they need. I'll work for them providing the latter while they'll provide me security with the former. Much like we currently pay taxes for police and defence (in theory at least).

Dave - IMHO you and most others miss the point by talking about top down solutions.

The our economy is remarkably complex - although to provide sustenance, housing and clothing it need not be.

The Stoics were right - as individuals we cannot control what is going on around us - but we can control HOW WE DEAL WITH IT, and it is possible to maintain personal control when all those around you are losing their heads!

Trying to continue our western way of life not only has physical constraints - it has moral problems as well. No doubt this readership has heard about Jim Merkel and Radical Simplicity. Jim has a thorough understanding of how income relates to environmental damage, and to ensure he keeps a low global footprint, he lives on around $5,000 per annum.

Our society is fat, flabby and selfish and weak; there are no technological solutions to our problem to allow such a mess to continue, so what we really need is a philosophical / spiritual renewal that will give us the tools needed to cope with energy descent.

I find Jims philosophy conforms well with the Stoics - so to does James Lovelock and the Gaia Hypothesis - and so I propose to combine both in my own life - say we call it ECOSTOICISM, where our aim to is to live as a harmonious part of the whole, in conformity with nature and where virtue is a noble end in itself.

A new philosophy that shows how to live well on less is very timely considering the economic crash and the little likelyhood of its resurection!!

If you ever get enough Vodka into the neck of an Oklahoma Oilman, you will hear that only about 15% of the available oil has been extracted.

ask said Oilman how he defines 'available'.

I passed Mariel Hemingway in Soho when I lived in NYC. She existed, and was real. But not available...

An while you're at it, ask him when he intends on drawing out the other 85% and what's holding him back?

Thanks for your excellent post Dave. I enjoyed it very much.

A partial die-off scenario seems more plausible than everyone working together to make the most efficient use of our remaining resources. TPTB will ensure that they continue to "have", and the Have Nots will continue their struggle to become TPTB.

We should remember that just because there won't be hydrocarbons around to facilitate work doesn't mean that we can't adapt the use of electricity to mine ores, refine them, make metals, run a few factories, etc. We just won't be doing it at the scale and speed that we do today. Wal-mart will have to go, but corner hardware stores will come back. We also know how to fashion together hydrocarbons from plant matter when a portable fuel source makes more sense. This knowledge will not be lost. Plastics are just too valuable. Also, the scavenging process you envision can go on for a long, long time. Many items can be recycled multiple times.

I see isolated pockets of industrialized populations maximizing their resources to continue the human project for hundreds of years to come. The rest of the planet will devolve into small towns, fending for themselves, and trading food with the industrialized pockets for things they need. Large governments won't work. Smaller units will be needed to cope with the disparity of resources.

Never underestimate the savvy of those pesky engineers.

You guys can talk all day about what we "need" to do, or what we "should" do, or what we "could" do, if only some parameter were met. I think you should be a little more realistic and try to think about what we actually "will" do. I am pretty sure that proposing any kind of "reduction" as you call it will not go over well with the public and certainly not with economists. Here is a sample convo:

You: Hey economists! Lets reduce the size of everything, and have significanlty reduced economic activity, with literally no gain to you!

Economists/the public: um, go away freak before I put you in jail/kill you.

The truth is that we (the PO community) will never get enough people to agree to the reduction plan, and fat chance with the government. Local economies would significantly reduce centralized government's power, so....

Thats why a control descent will not happen. It will be tooth and nail all the way to the bottom, because we will never collectively give up on our fatal flaw: growth.

PS: I'd like to see some discussion about actual policies that might put these things into place besides just saying that we need them. Thats not good enough. How are you going to convince the people with the ability to make these changes to actually make them? Lets get some ideas down instead of just telling ourselves things we already know (local economies, sustainable ag, etc..) I can even count how many times this stuff has already been said on this site. heck, lets just say it again! Local economies! Sustainable ag! YAy!!!

I have lots of ideas. Many would be acknowledged by this community, but some, if voiced under my real name, would get me in real trouble. I suspect others feel the same. Big brother and all...

Most of these issues have been discussed for decades if not centuries. Plato, Aristotle, Locke, etc.

That's part of the reason for Campfire though -what are we doing, what SHOULD we be doing - because some realize that peak oil (and climate change for that matter), are tilting further and further into the territory of fundamentalism and belief systems. There will ALWAYS be an excuse - if it weren't for credit crisis, if Hamas hadn't brought in Iran, if last winter hadn't been so cold, if we had started massive scaling of wind 5 years ago, then, then then...etc. It is in our nature to be optimistic - it has been adaptive. For all the dire problems that face humanity, the people in charge will not really recognize them until they are proven - since these large macro events (like peaking of net energy) require a generation to effectively mitigate, the least (most?) we can do is have discussions that have a chance at steering the ship (or boats) in a better direction. 1% chance is 1000+ X more likely than zero...

What would you do AshtonW? Is there an answer for the billions in OECD? For 6.9 billion? For your city? Lay it out man...


You bring up a question that has been bugging me, perhaps due to simple frustration at how the elephant in the room is being ignored (not by us) :-).

Perhaps, it could be an new campfire topic.

As the problems become more acute, what is the role of TOD? To wit;

- Does it become more activist?
- Should it become more activist?
- If so, what form should that take?
- Does activism detract from TOD's credibility?

I am not advocating a "call to arms", although some might. I am however, becoming increasingly concerned that the window for significant mitigation is rapidly closing, and perhaps that is what must happen.

I think it would be a tragedy that with all the intelligent and thoughtful people here, that the last TOD post might be:

"Well Folks! We called it!"

Good questions.
I think by it's nature it will not be activist, but aspire to inform activists.
Next week we will start a mini-series, by anyone on staff that is interested, each writing their own 'thoughts for the new administration' aka Dear Barrack:

I think most will agree that the primary purpose of ToD is to try to establish what is the truth of what will/can happen and what can/can't be done in response.

Clearly there are going to be key furcations such as some convinced that there will never be a global breakdown of the globalised life-support system, others expecting it no sooner than 2050, and some fearing it within the next 12 months (incl. myself). This page for instance predicates on the assumption of radical retrenchment. Other pages will predicate on the notion that it is worth talking to the current "leaders" (which in my considerable experience is a pig-flying exercise).

It would be best if ToD could remain a broad forum bringing together all reasonably sane viewpoints. I get the impression there aren't quite so many of the rabidest cornu-loonies around lately, perhaps because they're feeling more comfy over at the "debunked" site?

There will ALWAYS be an excuse

Damn right! When I decided to leave the chemical industry all I heard from my buddies was, "Man, I'd like to do the same thing but...". Part of their problem was that they had defined themselves by their job title; leave the job and lose who they were. But, more importantly, they were chickenshit. I burned my bridges when I left the industry. Who the hell is going to hire me as a chemical plant manager when all I can say is I moved to the boondocks a year (or years) ago and built a 40' diameter dome by myself?

I hate to belabor "chickenshit", but that's what 99% of people are.


Your current skill set might be more usefull for building parts of a new plant then managing a plant...


Interesting you should say that. Prior to becoming a PM, I managed a process development group and a semi-works but I actually spent most of my work time as a plant start-up manager. So, I've been around a lot of construction. Unfortunately, the chemical industry isn't doing so well these days, at least according to Chemical and Engineering News (the weekly news magazine of the American Society of which I'm an emeritus member).


There are lots of investments planned in Sweden, both for biomass based chemistry and efforts to make the oil refineries more competitive. (They are turning into exporters of high quality diesel and speciality oils like transformer oil and lubricants. ) I dont know how robust their funding is in the financial crisis but I am optimistical. One of the more wild card projects is a full scale biomass to methanol plant.

Like when I started building my loghouse.

"ohhhh I always wanted a loghouse...Jim dear can we do that? We can can't we?"...

Many ohhhhed and ahhhhhed and told me the same.

Not a one touched a hammer or helped me lift a log or beam. Soon they stopped coming. Soon they faced the fact that it was just dreamfodder.

Most wifes thought of themselves as of hardy stock..wanting the 'country live' and did no more that put a few copies of "Country Living" on their coffee tables and brought a 'Tater Bin' at some 'country' flea market.

They really wanted the McMansion with laminated wood floors. Material that is basically a photograph of wood pasted on plastic because the fact is they were TOO lazy to wax it or keep it up.

The same with the nearby woods....'Ohhh look a cardinal' but really they eschewed the woods ...ticks,,maybe ohhhhh Snakes!

Its all a dreamscape to the city folken.

Heat with wood you say? Ahhhhhh oh we have a fireplace.....yep a piece of tin with a tin chimney...never should start a fire in it for its for the 'country show life' nonsense.

These folks will die like snared vermin in the leghold traps.

They watch cooking shows on the TV but never even heat water.


These folks will die like snared vermin in the leghold traps.

Yes. It will be Darwin at work.

There were two excellent shows on BBC (and many others) that addressed what you say. One consisted of families choosing to live in previous eras. Many (at the low end, or "beneath the stairs"), walked off or broke down in tears. Sorry I can't remember more. Can anyone else?

Second, there is "The Worst Jobs in History", with Tony Robinson. If this doesn't change one's perspective, nothing will. Various eras are covered so depending on how much we backslide, you can take your pick. Regardless, the change is enormous.

Airdale, of all the losses we see, I think the greatest loss is the knowledge, skills and understanding that are at best, considered "quaint".

I know how to make a barrel, I could take a crack at making soap and I only have the faintest notion of how to tan a hide, but many people I have met do not know how to open their hood and check the oil. Just for fun, I have been using my old Hemi Versalog slip stick and it's all coming back.

As for cooking, don't even get me started!! ;-)




Find a relocalization or transition or permaculture movement near you or start one. You'll get a sense of the magnitude of the issue, become more politically savvy and meet some pretty interesting people doing things.


Check out Jewishfarmer's pages:


PS: I'd like to see some discussion about actual policies that might put these things into place besides just saying that we need them. Thats not good enough. How are you going to convince the people with the ability to make these changes to actually make them?

I don't think there's much point in trying to lobby governments (above the local level) or big media. The power structure and the people at large are, I fear, hopeless.

What I think should be done is fourfold:
1. Continue what's already happening with different types of small-scale organizing and networking among those organizations, all toward actually building lifeboats (which I know is extremely difficult given the price of land, that most people still have to work regular jobs, etc.).

2. Continue with the educational mission of websites like TOD, speaking not toward an unresponsive or derisory mass (anybody read Zarathustra's Prologue?), but toward largely self-selected people who become more and more interested in Peak Oil. There seem to be more such people all the time.

3. Try to figure out a network through which those who already possess post-Peak skills can teach them to others. This could be a good basis for community groups and even small businesses.

4. We can still give some thinking to a possible future where, things really coming apart, Peak Oil (at least its effects) might suddenly dawn on the masses, and they'd come looking for those who could explain the situation to them and direct them. In that case somebody has to be able to receive such psychological refugees, and I can only imagine what sorts of demagogues might arise. It would be better if the Peak Oil movement itself was ready to receive them.

...and get personally ready. You help not just yourself but the whole community by having a stock of food and some basic skills.

Russ - excellent post. Aangel too. But the stock of food is not so easy, not much good having enough just for your own household (for a year, two, ?). I've tried to warn friends and relatives to follow suit and they say yes but consistently do nothing. And warning non-relative/friend neighbours puts one at severe risk of being plundered.

aangel: Yes, that was so obvious I forgot to mention it. Especially since my own personal skill set is rather meager. One thing I am going to get on is taking the advice of those who say, start organically growing something, anything, even if you have only a miniscule space (which right now is pretty much all I have).

So I guess I need a good beginner book or two, and some basic tools. (Though I don't know about soil or seeds, whether store-bought even counts as organic. I also don't have much money to spend. Damn. :) )

Robin: I know what you mean about the problem if one's neighbor situation is no good. Mine's pretty bad, and it gets frustrating to see everyone always saying, getting together with your neighbors is imperative. I agree with that in principle, but it's not possible where I currently live. So I guess it follows, I have to move...

Thank you for an enlightening article.
One point keeps irking me.
Up to the 1800's or so, around 80% of population provided food for all.
20 percent were bosses, owners, priests, lawyers, teachers, doctors, carpenters, smiths and more. Some of those 20% were necessary, most were irritating and parasitical.
Now, 4% of the worlds' population works in agriculture (1% of the Wests' population).
Some of the non-agricultural work performed is useful and necessary, but most of the salary-paying work today is just so much hot air. Even most necessary jobs, such as nurses, burger-flippers and other service workers only exist to keep people who are merely moving air healthy and fed.
The nightmare image I can't seem to get out of my mind is this: thousands and millions, bankers, insurance workers, realtors, architects, advertisers, marketing men, graphic artists, pundits, journalists, software engineers, web-masters, hairdressers and pet hairdressers and gym attendants and electric appliance assemblers, and so on and so forth, roaming the streets and the countryside, all of them thin and pale and hungry.

With millions employed in financial services (I believe as of 5 years ago, when I left, the largest nominal and % of US population in history), these type of comedic scenes don't seem too implausible..

Thanks. I could use a laugh.

that was great. thanks.


People en-masse need to drop irrelevant hobbies and grow food outside of their work commitments.

A micro garden can be set up on the tiny balconies of apartment blocks.

Growing half a dozen climbing beans, a couple of lettuces and some cherry tomatoes might seem utterly insignificant at first glance, but that is a lot of food if a couple of million people do it in a big city.


"The nightmare image I can't seem to get out of my mind is this: thousands and millions, bankers, insurance workers, realtors, architects, advertisers, marketing men, graphic artists, pundits, journalists, software engineers, web-masters, hairdressers and pet hairdressers and gym attendants and electric appliance assemblers, and so on and so forth, roaming the streets and the countryside, all of them thin and pale and hungry."

What gives me the shits is that all of these could sell up the family home, pay off the mortgage and buy a house and land in some rural area - learn to grow & process their own food, or most of it!!

The beloved and myself have, but we are a tiny insignificant fraction of the population - and as Jim Merkel (Radical Simplicity)rightly points out - its also a better lifestyle than the artificial construct we now call society!!

Perhaps you would be interested in the novel " The Road" now made into a movie. Its sorta like what you stated only the ones wandering around are caught and caged up for food.

I believe that when this movie is released many folks will start to get 'really really worried'.

I read the book and others of the authors and this one is different in its depiction of the future. The rest were of older days.


It seems unlikely there will be a global currency

Nonsense! Global trade (in sought-after items that cannot be sourced locally) will continue forever, by sailship if necessary, and traditional monies like gold (used as money for thousands of years already) will be used.

A general comment on your thesis would be that there are enough below-ground resources to allow our generation and our children's generation to have relatively comfortable lives, especially with the use of extensive conservation efforts. Thereafter we'll see a gradual but inexorable retreat from modern life; it's inevitable. Thousands of years from now, mankind, if still extant, will exist in a much more primitive, pre-industrial (post-industrial?) way. None of this is controversial or even unexpected. And it'll all happen slowly enough to allow us to contract our numbers humanely. For instance, my wife and I had one child, and he in turn is determined to have none.

A general comment on your thesis would be that there are enough below-ground resources to allow our generation and our children's generation to have relatively comfortable lives, especially with the use of extensive conservation efforts.

Assertion duly noted. I assert to the contrary. It's something that needs to be debated (and researched) here at TOD. Crucial issue. I delay an extended argument for now.

As to global trade, I agree that some amount will continue, like you say, if only by sailing ship. But I think that it is more likely to be by barter on the global scale. You already see this developing on small scale in Latin America. You need this, I need that. Gold was not a universally accepted medium of exchange even in the time of Columbus. Aztec gold was not money to the Aztecs -- it was to Columbus and Europe. And during the Dark Ages in the Western Empire, money practically disappeared, as trade shrunk drastically.

Assertion duly noted. I assert to the contrary.

But you are completely and utterly wrong. The only way in which you can be correct is to define comfortable quite narrowly as how you live now.

There are too many aboriginal peoples still existing in their old ways - comfortably, from their perspectives - for you to say this without defining comfortable.


ccpo- Really? What I've heard is that Aborigines in Australia tend to be stressed out with illness, and ditto with the American Indians who tend to a high level of stress-induced alcoholism. Ditto other areas. Furthermore, it is one thing to live the only life your society has ever known, a very different one to have to retrench to something far less cosy. And thirdly we are potentially looking at something much below the Abo situation. They have thousands of years of traditional low-tech expertise, we have all but lost all ours and potentially find ourselves less competent than stone age people were.

These stressed out folks are certainly NOT living in their traditional ways.

Any north american or australian first nations people actually living traditionally is hard to believe. The reach of government services and big business is too long in these areas. We are just too rich and have looked everywhere and exploited everything we could on our respective continents. I think to find traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyles you would have to look deep into the wilds of somewhere else (somewhere "poorer") IMO


Really? What I've heard is that Aborigines in Australia tend to be stressed out with illness, and ditto with the American Indians who tend to a high level of stress-induced alcoholism. Ditto other areas.

See Al's post.

Furthermore, it is one thing to live the only life your society has ever known, a very different one to have to retrench to something far less cosy.

True enough, except that those indexes that measure satisfaction and happiness seem to always show the poorer countries being happier. Hmmm... I can't help thinking living in a strawbale home, tending my little farm, hopefully working closely with neighbors and such will be pretty nice. But, then, I grew up poorer than dirt.

They have thousands of years of traditional low-tech expertise, we have all but lost all ours and potentially find ourselves less competent than stone age people were.

Guess we'd better get started then, eh?

You need to bear in mind, I'm expecting either a paradigm shift or the eventual end of this civilization. (Not necessarily extinction.) I see those two outcomes as mutually exclusive: we change, or we fall apart. Within this context, comfort takes on little importance to me.


I'm expecting either a paradigm shift or the eventual end of this civilization.

Both sides of that sentence are too hopelessly vague for me.
I'd see something like the way that the Western Christendom emerged from the rubble of the Graeco-Roman civilisation, taking on tons of its heritage in the process. September, December, January are here even written with the alphabet of 2400 years ago, let alone the Julian year.
Similarly we can be sure that the globalised/corporatised/commercialised/"democratised" system is going to utterly collapse, but I envisage that the survivors will still have access to quite a lot of our heritage and the existing globally-dominant EuroChristian values system. (Even most people who consider themselves Muslim are nowadays expressing Christian values.)
That collapse of that globalised system will certainly be a paradigm shift but whether it constitutes end of a civilisation is more debatable, as I personally don't envisage a coming new Dark Age will last more than 20 years at most (as defined as a barbarian interregnum, see Arnold Toynbee). And I guess that civilisation will continue fairly uninterrupted in well-prepared Cuba for instance.


I get tired of repeating this: at all times you must consider ALL elements of the perfect storm: socio-political, energetic and environmental.


ccpo- you've now followed up one incomprehensible vagueness with another, and still no clarification about your first. Please, what the hell do your sentences m.e.a.n.?

What is vague? You understand paradigm shift, don't you? I don't see the need to explain as sustainable is specific enough here and self-evident. Or is collapse confusing? Again, there are types and ranges. I don't see where greater definition is needed for this sub-thread.

My comment re: keeping in mind all Perfect Storm elements was due to you seeming to expect the energy transition to be handled just fine, thus, all is well. 'Cause it ain't. The energy used to keep BAU going or to transition is likely to devastate the environment.

Hope this clears some things up.


I never really heard of the Baltic Dry Index until I started reading the financial blogs. It's one of several global indicators that has just gone off the cliff.

Which is to say "Global Trade" has just about stopped already. We will notice its effect in the next couple of months.

Not in reality. The index is a financial instrument, not a measure of actual activity. Last I looked real trade of goods via shipping covered by the Baltic Dry was down closer to 20%.

Still a massive change, and not a good one. (Well, not for the economy.)


The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) is a measure of actual activity, although in price terms. It is not at all a financial instrument, although I understand the various indices are derived from it.

Every working day, the Baltic canvasses brokers around the world and asks how much it would cost to book various cargoes of raw materials on various routes (e.g. 100,000 tons of iron ore from San Francisco to Hong Kong, or 1,000,000 metric tons of rice from Bangkok to Tokyo).


Dry bulk generally refers to agriculture goods or inputs to manaufacturing, such as coal and iron ore. It may well only represent 20% of trade, but that is not really relevant. It only means that 80% are wet bulk or containerized. I expect the reference is in value terms with final products in containers worth a lot more than the raw materials.

I do think containerized shipping is a better measure of trade, but the BDI is definately not a financial instrument.

You are incorrect. The BDI is a price measure, not a measure of goods shipped. The goods shipped - those tracked by the BDI - were down 20% last I read, not 97% like the index itself.


You just can't admit you were wrong. I said in my first sentence:

although in price terms.

You claimed it was a financial instrument, which it is not.

Quit while you are behind. I know dry bulk shipping an awful lot better then you do.

Jack, it's you that's wrong and ccpo that's right. It's either a measure of activity or only of price, can't be both. And patently it is price not activity.

CCPO said it was a financial instrument. I said it was a measure of price. I am right.

Activity does not equate to volume.

Jack, you are being overly picky. That's the problem. It's an index of a kind of financial transaction, right? The price of shipping. I said "financial instrument" in a very broad sense: measures financial activity. I did not mean it is a Certificate of Deposit or some such. I could have used a better turn of phrase, but, again, I did not mean the noun "financial instrument."

I think you know this. If not, either read for context or ask for clarification next time. You're just being argumentative. After all, what was edified?



The BDI is clearly not a financial instrument, which is what CCPO said it was.


I very clearly said it was in price terms.

Jack, get over yourself. If you can't use context, which PC did just fine, god help you. I don't work in economics or finance and could care less if you like the way I phrase things.

The only important edification here is, while the index is down 95% or so, shipping is down far less than that. DIY stated that shipping had just about stopped. It hasn't. The article he read was using hyperbole. I stated that first off and you argued the point. You were wrong.

The index is of the COST of shipping, not the amount of goods shipped.

I was right. Move along.




Thanks for the excellent essay. You have bitten off a huge chunk and that takes a lot of energy (not of the fossil variety.)

You used the word transition. When I started reading TOD just a few months ago I was immediately hooked. One consequence was my ongoing mental future scenario building. I find myself jumping to a lot of links posters provide. As I read through the essay and comments above I am quite surprised there aren't more references to Permaculture, Transition Initiatives, Relocalization, etc.

http://www.willitseconomiclocalization.org/ (Jason Bradford's part of this initiative)
http://relocalize.net/ (postcarbon institute project along with Global Public Media)
Not to mention Nate Hagan's frequent references to Ecological Economics, 4 capitals, etc.

Bottom line, I think you would enjoy sifting through some of that literature if you haven't already. Tomorrow morning I'm off to a meeting with some local folks to arrange Permaculture classes in my town. I'm also in discussions with local "sustainability" and "green" people discussing the possibility of a local transition initiative. Its all about grass roots, sutainability, building resilience, planning with metrics and doing. Stepping down.

If I had not found TOD, I'd have missed this boat.

BTW, I visited a farm before Christmas and had a close up look at some Belgians and Percherons. Magnificent! Post Carbon farms (and more) will ABSOLUTELY require draft horses.

Sterling- There have been enough occasional references to transition towns etc. I tried to help with setting up a transition hub in Birmingham uk. I do not by nature jump into leadership roles but due to no-one else doing it I found myself doing most of the work -- and then having it wantonly undone by some others who insisted on reinventing wheels and even square wheels. For just one instance I published a thing about roles which made clear that there needs to be exactly one treasurer (plus deputy), and yet the other genius then put on the agenda that we should discuss having co-treasurers.
And there was an obsession with imposing a code of inclusiveness which was intended specificially to Exclude members of the Brit Nat Party from any partipation in this supposedly all-inclusive thing.

After 7 months they have achieved a couple of film shows, a BBQ, and a speaker from Cuba to give them false analogies. They failed to follow the relatively wise blueprint in the Transition Primer as that would supposedly indicate a failure of creativity and group self-actualisation.

I could go on here but the bottom line is that a Transition Birmingham would be an exercise in flying pigs, even if it were not being co-ordinated by an inadequate clique of well-meaning but utterly incompetent voluntary-sector nice people.

Then let's look at Rob Hopkins' original Transition Totnes. A small community of only 8000, relatively wealthy and radical and nicely located in sunny country. But have they closed down their supermarkets and highways yet -- forget it!

More realistic is the talk of relocation to lifeboat communities which you will find more frequently raised on this site.


because of your (and many other people's) experience, in our transition effort I am going to attempt to focus people on personal/family preparation rather than some nebulous concept of "community preparedness" that seems to get bogged down, as yours did.

If at the end of the year we can measure the number of new families who are growing food, or who have put together their earthquake kit (California), then we will have made measurable progress. In other words, we're going to put in some accountability and create some games around it. Perhaps we'll use the ever-popular thermometer measuring system to track where we are:

Marin County Gardens

Aangel - I have fleetingly little faith in a concept of families/households being a viable unit of survival. If I was in any position to I would immediately move from this central Bham council flat to a remote village of 100-400 souls in say the Herefordshire agri-country. And then start on trying to convert it into a prepared community. Rob Hopkins's Transition model does make sense for a remote small village.

As things stand I have no driving licence or money and am severely ill from 20 dental amalgams I can't afford to get removed. But at least I have fewer wishful delusions needing removing from my brain! Meanwhile at least on this site some picture is starting to crystallise of future possibilities and impossibilities. One of my current lines of thinking is of approaching organic farmers to discuss helping them make themselves energy-crisis-proof. But not having a car/driving licence doesn't much help!


Best wishes on your healing. Yep, democracy is slow. That's why small achievable, measurable objectives are best. And ultimately at this 11th hour it may well be too slow for a pleasant descent. I've worked with some bad groups and learned lessons. Your group sounds awful. Is there a train to the Herefordshire agri-country?

aangel, Good idea...measurable, achievable and practical transition strategy. Can I borrow it? ;-)

Sterling - I'm a walk from the train to a village station right next to where some friends have 4 acres of wood for their stove (but no food) - not an ideal but if things got too interesting in Bham I'd be off there in a hoot. Must construct a little trailer for possible "exodus". The Bham group is indeed awful which is sad because they're all the most well-meaning of people. Bham has a few hundred people who actually do/think/care and a million sheeplish consumers. And a sizeable area of the city already seems to be in process of declaring war on the rest: "Death to the UK, death to Europe...."..Vienna 1683 .. you get my drift.

Borrow/steal away...

Belgians and Percherons,

Let me comment if I may.

Horse,mules as draft animals require 'harness'...and trace chains.
This requires a supply line. Else local tanneries and blacksmiths.

These will not appear overnite.

These are skillsets mostly forgotten and lost in the 'mists'.

But let me add my thoughts on this.

Oxen. You don't need leather harness but do need some chains. Maybe rope would suffice. Now anymore can hack out a ox yoke with a hand axe, some good wood and a idea of how it works.

The benefit is the right breed of cattle besides providing meat and milk(food and fiber) can also serve as draft animals as history has proven quite well.

Almost anyone with woodcraft skills can make a rough sled or oxcart.
This would suffice for much of the work needed.

If your looking backwards to what to do future wise then horses or mules may not be readily available or breedable(need studs) in the near future when lines of communication and nearby farm stores will quite possibly no longer exist.

It helps to take a very long look backwards.

Also gathering in wood for heating and cooking. This means draft animals. This means one man or twoman saws.Not easily come by when everything might be shutting down.

I am going to be hacking me out an ox yoke and hang it in the barn. Also so modern chemicals to tan hides with. I have tanned animal skins in the past with pool chemicals. Wood ashes and brain matter will suffice as the Native Americans did. Also tannin is useful. Bark from trees.


Airdale, thanks for priceless info - and can you delete your duplicate of that post. Presumably horses have too delicate skin for a yoke.


As to the best breed for oxen?

I decided that Red Poll were all around a good choice.
I viewed them with Ag Profs on field days at various farms.
Talked to owners.
Read about them extensively.

They are good milkers. Make quite good beef for slaughtering.
Are mild mannered, we as strangers on the visited farms walked right up
to them in the field without them becoming leery.
And they were used in the past as oxen and performed well.

For these reasons they were used for oxen in the past.They may not have been the best for strickly draft use but their overall qualities decided the issue for me.

I almost brought some but later worked into black angus then sold out. So I may once more in a year or so actually go buy some for there are some nearby breeders.

And one can stay within the breed to buy a bull for breeding for there is enough genetic variance to allow one to breed within that breed and still achieve 'crossbreeding' hybrid strengths. IOW outbreeding gave hybrid gains but in some cases one can gain 'hybrid vigor' by still staying within the breed.

So for an all around good milker,slaughter and draft Red Poll would be my choice.

Airdale--off track ,,pardon me

I'm all in favor of animals, as long as my wife is taking care of them as she always has. But I hope we don't forget that we will have a more-or-less endless supply of old auto engines lying around that are easy to convert to wood gas. So, if you want some sort of pulling thing, you can use an ox alright, but you can also just make a wood gasifier to run that old spark engine as we did in the war.

I think the newton-meters per fork of hay is about the same for either one.

And I have not forgotten that train of carts full of people creaking along an Indian roadway - pulled by one big ol' jumpin' Johnny tractor. Talk about miles per passenger-gallon!

And my standard gripe- WAY TOO MUCH stuff being made! It all takes energy, resources etc, and most of it is TOTALLY WORTHLESS in getting us anything we really need or even want. For the same effort, energy, etc, we could do almost anything- like HVDC, solar and wind.

We could quit making passenger cars for 10 years and get along just fine. Or, more accurately, I could get along just fine- I ain't gonna last 10 years.

Have fun.

LOL! Hang in there wimbi. We need you!

You know, someone ought to do a Best of TOD, Handbook for the Energy Descent. There's a pretty good start on ag strategies right here.

Thanks Airdale. Very interesting.

I think your comments are quite within the topic of radical retrenchment. Animals were used before fossil fuel and will be widely used after. When? Who knows? 50 years?

Hopefully the time to retrenchment will be long enough to solve communications, training, associated trades, breeding stock problems, etc.


You're right with the bullocks Airdale - and most importantly they eat much less than horses(40% less for same draught) are much quieter with much less chance of injury. as for gear see Mekins Industries in India - http://www.mekins.com/tropicultor.html Get the gear now - get a little practice in and in a few years you will be a full time contractor!!!

DO NOT GO TO THAT LINK!!! I went to it and when I went to go to the home page link picked up a very malicious piece of mallware which took control of Google.

double post editted out

Population. Population must be and will be reduced. How? There's nature's way and there's the humane way. The humane way is to reduce reproduction. I believe that small towns based on agriculture will partially solve this problem. Because such entities will be self-sufficient in most basics, resource constraints will press upon them directly and sensibly. Over-consumption of resources will punish them. Therefore I feel that population, along with other resources, will be managed directly....

I think are are a number of ways in between nature and humane, most of which are probably closer to nature in terms of unpleasantness. That said, you are right, reduction will happen. Population is the elephant in the room. Obviously, you are dealing with people's perceived right to live and reproduce. Life and kids can be tough things to cut back on.

Worse than that, you are doing so in an increasingly low-energy world, a world requiring more and more work to be done by human hand. In such a world, more food is obtained by more hands working the fields. Agricultural societies often seem to have large families (especially in pre-industrial and non-industrial societies). If that is the environment we are headed towards, there will be pressure reproductive growth even, perhaps especially, in agricultural areas. I'm not entirely sure that this is the recipe for self-limitation and management, as much as it is the recipe for resource shortages and conflict. Of course, I suppose that such conflicts are a form of self-limitation (although not particularly humane).

It would be nice to think that humanity could arrive at some reasonable, rational, forward-looking reproduction policy (be it 1 child/woman, 1 child/person, or whatever ... clearly, this requires somebody brighter than me to figure it out). However, I just can't see anything happening under the current political, legal, social, religious, ethical and moral standards. I suspect that something drastic would have to occur, something obviously and directly attributable to overpopulation that would shake people all over the world to their very core. Unfortunately, by the time something like that happened, I suspect that it would be too late to choose what was behind the "humane" door. Does anybody see the situation differently? Any obvious rays of hope that have blown right past me?

Like I said, it's a large, growing elephant (small, and shrinking, room). A difficult, difficult question.



You raise a very good point about who will oversee or help direct a decrease in the world's population to size it for the energy/food available.

A topic raised some time ago on TOD was the ability of health care system to continue its service to the population in times of energy stress. A lack of health care may be the first thing to reduce the population of the US and other developed countries. Did you know that in the late 1800's the average male in the US (and most North American and European countries) only lived to be about 46 or 48 years old? This was largely due to lack of modern health care and somewhat by poorer diet and environmental hazards. Look at Zimbabwe today with much of thepopulation having little access to modern health care and the average male living less than 40 yrs.

Should modern health care not be available to the general population, many older people (over 70 or 80) would succumb to any health problem that was remotely life threatening. And many young people with health defects that require life saving care such as surgery, long term hospitalization, exotic technologies, would not live to be middle age or maybe even old enough to reproduce. Before the discovery of pathegens and antibiotics, natural selection (good genes) and sanitary conditions kept people living to old age.

So I think the first means of population reduction will be a decline in the access to health care, or the decline of institutions & governments ability to support health care. If modern health care were to vanish tomorrow (go back to 1920 technology) I would predict a 20% drop in world population in 20 years. But that will not happen. As a more likely scenario I would envision the lack of ability of individuals and also govenment to pay for extraordinary care, at first. Then later as the economic system degrades further, only very basic care will be available and Natural Selection takes over again (good genes survive to reproduce). This is not what I want but what I think will happen.

the average male in the US .... only lived to be about 46 or 48

Wild West - Bang Bang!
And in the UK, highly toxic polluted cities.

Over time, I would certainly expect the health care system to devolve a lot. The current system is extraordinarily energy intensive. As the system devolves, death rates will increase. However, in the absence of a modern medical system, along with an absence of family planning information and procedures, you may see increased birth rates, which would offset this somewhat. If the importance of religion increases, that may further dissuade family planning and population control (depending, of course, on the tenants of such religions).

The de-fossilization (did I just type that ;) of agriculture will also probably reduce the ability of current food exporters to export anything near their current amounts (perhaps anything at all). Starvation and disease will claim millions more.

Both of these processes will affect the poor disproportionately, so much of the initial loss of life will come from poor areas and countries with little margin for downside change. This is one of the reasons why it would be good to have a more far-reaching and fair solution. I just don't see it coming about given the realities of today's societies (or the situations that are likely to exist in tomorrow's societies).


One extremely important factor is lifestyle, mostly if people move around and use their bodies and if they eat a good and varied diet that matches their nutritional needs.

One of the best periods of public health in Sweden with a lasting good influence on eating habits for a whole generation were the lean years during the second world war. More bicycling, manual labour, sports, etc and less but better food is a much more resource efficient way of getting good life quality and a longer life then hospital care.

And a large part if the resource use for hospital care is at the very end of a long and good life. If more people declined to the last and hopeless round of cancer treatment and so on it would save resources for children, young people and even old people with a fair chance for getting many more years. Some people have made such choices, other grasps for the last straw. It would be intresting to see how well it correlates with religion, my own guess is that it correlates more with if you have lived a good and fullfillig life but I live in what probably is the worlds most secularised culture.

One realy ugly problem is the overuse of antibiotics giving resistant bacteria and a lack of research into new antibiotics. A loss of that part of the medical arsenal would both hurt easy treatments of manny illnesses and rational stream lining of life quality critical surgery such as hip joint replacements.

And there is a hidden resource reserve in fixing ineffeicient management and resource use. In Sweden we have a problem with good doctors being promoted into being bad managers and most hospitals have an organization that is notorisusly bad at learning from mistakes and each other. In USA you seem to have an insane amount of legal oversight.

A sane society where people are content with their lives can probably handle an actual decline in available medical services in a way that makes the actual loss of life quality and average lifespan low. I think it helps a lot if health care is available for everybody and run with a humane goal of maximizing the addition of life quality. But it is hard to lift the outlook from the regular prestige fights and continued existance of an unchanged organization. And it is hard for people to think outside the box and accept more market based mechanisms inside our centrally planned and fairly socialistic health care even when it is an obvious tool for focusing parts of the healt care work on the patients needs.

A breakdown in the medial system gets grim if the population mostly consists of unexercised and obese people that have aged early and are dependant on numerous medical procedures to stay reasonably healthy. A breakdown would then become a kind of massacre. :-(

Btw, I should exercice more and loose 10 kg... ;-)

"Did you know that in the late 1800's the average male in the US (and most North American and European countries) only lived to be about 46 or 48 years old?"

I think those averages have to be thought about somewhat.

For instance many babies and toddlers died early because they were not healthy enough to survive. That is not the case today.

Many died fighting in wars of various types. Many did succumb to diseases that were spread by living in greater closesness to others.

So if one lived to say his late teens then the chances for long life were far greater and did not die in combat or some other strange manner such as huge fires in cities say.

As I worked with a friend who owned a 'monument' company and was constantly in cemeteries I noted many tombstones and the ages on them.

In Ky. my GGGrandfather lived in very rough times. On his tombstone its states he was 79 years of age. I find this quite often.

It my opinion that a hardy life can induce excellent health and rather longer lifespans than those in cities or large towns.

My own experience is to have never been hospitalized until recently with kidney cancer and it was extremely slow growing. I take no medications and never have. At 70 I lead a robust lifestyle while my city cousins of the same age are almost chairbound.

Good clean air,water,food and physical exercise contribute to good health. Likewise being a couch potato, eating junk food, growing lax and overweight lead to an early death or a slow lingering bad life that is medically expensive and a drain on resources , theirs and others.

So I have minimal insurance except for my younger wife who lives now in a city so to be near medical facilities and is basically uninsurable so my retiree insurance is her lifeline.

My desire is to live well here on the farm and die when my time comes. Until then I will work hard and continue as well as can be.

Unless my cancer returns and kidney cancer does not usually metastasize I will not worry over much as to the future. A good mental outlook is also beneficial. Not sitting in the suburbs gnawing my nails and wondering. My wife and son BTW eschews all I say on the subject. Both are not in good health.


An excellent response, Airdale.

Anyone who takes up the study of Genealogy will soon discover that the concept of our ancestors having a short lifespan is erroneous. The average lifespan of those of my male ancestors that I have been able to trace is 82.7 years. This average would be somewhat better without the modern medical system that killed off my Paternal Grandfather at a mere 67 years old.

The furthest back that I have achieved in any male line is a birth in 1567; he died aged 82. My oldest male ancestor (traced) died at age 96, in 1928.

IMHO the lifespan those males who survived to breeding age has changed little in the last several centuries.


Currently I am deeply engrossed in genealogy. I am working to find some history on my paternal side as to a Cherokee female from the Trail of Tears. This is very difficult for they hid out here and along the way to keep from being forced across the river and on to Oklahoma. And name changing was quite frequent.

I may have to have a DNA analysis to prove my heritage one way or the other but my kinfolks are adamant that she was a true Cherokee.

Up where this happpened I have come across many with her name that are 1/2 or 1/4 Cherokee.

I may never resolve it since most Native Americans were not taken in the census.

On my maternal side I have Colonels and Captains who fought in the Revolutionary War and tracing back to a knight in French Flanders.



You should address literacy and print communication. Before adaptation of steam power to printing and paper-making, book and newspaper production was limited to the power of the human arm. Modern print publication is energy intensity (think paper). Do you see steam-powered presses? Will the average farmer worker be literate?

Paul in Nevada

You want me to climb out on some more limbs?

Alright, I climb a bit.

Communication is essential to modern infrastructure. The communication modes themselves depend on cheap energy and an educated workforce. If peak energy occurs, I suspect education (social capital) will decline as well. Since 1800 we have the telegraph, telephone, radio, television and networked computers. Each new mode has required more technical knowledge and energy to maintain the necessary infrastructure. Printing preceded the modern hydro-carbon era, but production was expensive and printing runs limited.

I suspect peak energy and decline will cause a decline in literacy and scientific and engineering knowledge. This will make it difficult to maintain even limited modern technologies. Hopes that areas of modern technology can be retained in a world run on draft animal farm technology seems misplaced.

I enjoyed that essay davebygolly, rather optimistic really.

Population, managed downsising may not be an option. There is already evidence of increasing probability of epidemics around the world.

E Coli' variant just went through a major maternity ward here in Perth WA. The permian basin region of Texas currently has a major outbreak of a normally minor respiratory illness, more dangerous in infants, even more dangerous to infants without adequate access to hospital care.
Zimbabwe has cholera epedemic.

MRSA, VRE, Tubercolosis II are just waiting to pounce on us when antibiotic availability is compromised. I'm sure the list goes on.

War, unfortunately outbreaks of armed conflict in pockets around the globe are looking more likely every day and there are plenty of stockpiles of military hardware to dispose of. Resource depletion will however limit the scope and duration of such conflict.

The optimistic mood is very important however, so I'll go and gather a few more bits of wood to put on our campfire.

Earnest Lux said,
"I enjoyed that essay davebygolly, rather optimistic really."

Surely it must be realized that only in the very narrow worldview of TOD'ers could the essay by davebygolly be accepted as in any way "optimisiic".

I have been pointing out over the last year my observation that TOD has moved with each passing week further and further into the realm of "neo-primitivism" and what some call "deep green" or anarcho-primitivism. I challange any thinking person to read the essay by davebygolly and the string of posts that follow it to disprove my observation.

We are the product of the age in which we are born. It may be possible for the generation yet to be born to accept the worldview as davebygolly gives it in his essay, but for any more that a thin sliver of the earth's population currently alive to willingly accept the loss of everything their culture, their education, their hopes and dreams have taught them is valued and important in what is a short life on Earth would not be acceptable. They will fight to the death to avoid this world as described by davebygolly, because to accept it for them would be a fate worse than death anyway. And that includes many TOD'ers.

It is easy to talk such horrors on a message board, but to live it everyday, for the rest of their lives? We know that everyone here on this board has a computer. Why? We know that almost everyone on this board has an automobile (by virtue of their concerns expressed concerning the supply and price of oil and gasoline). Why? We know by their own accounts of past travels that most folks here have flown on airplanes. Why?

If someone makes the case that they simply have to have these things to survive and do business, then I must ask: Will it be any easier to survive and do without them in the future? Why?

I will use myself as an example. Without a daily supply of medication, my blood pressure begins to rise. And rise. And rise.
I am exactly on the right number on the weight table and otherwise in good health. This is a genetic trait that I was born with, which affected my father and several aunts and uncles. In other words, the loss of modernity for me would mean early death. I can grow food (I've done it), I live in a region that is relatively thinly populated, and can heat a house with wood (I've done it), but the medical issue is insurmountable. I would suffer no lose in fighting for the continuence of modern culture even at risk of life, because the lack of it would be the end of my life.

And yet, that is not the reason I would fight for it. Even with no such ailment, my belief in the scientific, aesthetic and cultural advances we have made as humans over the last 2 million or so years would drive me to make any effort I could to preserve them. The concept of throwing the efforts and achievements of all my forebears away is incomprehensible.

There is only one way that I could accept such a thing, and that is if it were proven to be the only path, the absolutely only option for humans (such as they would be) to survive into the future. This proof would have to be as beyond doubt as could possibly be imagined, such is the price that would be paid. It would have to be as strong or stronger as the law of gravity or the sureness of daylight following night. There could be ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that the path backwards into neo-primitivism was the only path that could possibly sustain the continued existence of human beings. And it surely could not be seen by me (and I know I am not alone in this view)as in any way "optimistic". It would be among the greatest of all possible horrors that could be imagined.

"The optimistic mood is very important however" said Earnest Lux, and surely the greatest loss in descending backwards into primitivism would be the loss of the only gift remaining in Pandora's box: Hope.

To see a species turn away from a string of efforts, advances, and achievements that began when humankind started walking upright, to see a species give up the advanced sciences that can unlock secrets about the universe and answer questions that only a generation ago the knowledge didn't even exist to ask, to see a species give up on a history of art that goes back to the cave paintings of 40,000 or more years ago, to see a species that only a short 40 years ago first walked upon the moon abandon all hope of a greater destiny and consign itself the future of spending life walking in horse dung, and the greater horror, to consign our children to this fate? Can we truly be called MEN and WOMEN if we would accept it?

What is the definition of human? Animals breed, and seek food and eat and fight. Would we as HUMANS willingly give up the one thing that makes us different from the animals, the one thing that makes us human, the desire and the effort for a greater destiny which will outlive us, for greater advance forward for us and our offspring? If we do, can we be viewed as anything more than cows or sheep? To willingly go backward is death to humans, even if the body lives, the HUMAN has died.

As I said above, only if there were no possibility of any other path to at least keep the human species alive until our true human traits returned to us could such a thing be accepted and it would have to be PROVEN beyond any possibility of doubt. So far, the neoprimitivist, deep green anarcho primitivist and posters at TOD have gone about one tenth of one percent toward the proof needed to even cause me to consider such a path forward for humanity.

(Leanen, sorry I could not exercise brevity to a greater degree, but there are things that cannot be explained in words that would fit on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt.)

one of your better comments and expressing of your concern about TOD's primitivistic bent.

i am probably one of those you make that assumption about. i believe in the long run we are headed back to such a way of life that is solidly connected to the natural world.our 'budget' will be the above ground solar/bio/etc. energy Dave posits in this post. However i believe there are some things that will go forward no matter what our future-as long as humans have one-is and one of them will be medical.

One example for instance is lab work- my daughter does such. her work plus a mysterious disease our son has/had[?] leads me to assert that as long as there are doctors/medical centers/medical supplies there will be a job doing basic lab work. even the knowledge about washing hands re germs will in a sense be based on this medical knowledge & it will go forward no matter what IMO.

if i at times seem glib in accepting these kinds of loses i certainly do not feel that way, nor intend such & i believe much ground in going to be covered to reach somewhat of a steady state population on our energy 'budget'[Dave's transition].

i do feel that Dave is right in that we need to aim for where we will likely end up-retrench, with acknowledging/planning a transition as necessary.

of all the things i would argue for that is carried forward, basic medicine i agree is a primary one that makes us who we are at our best. for instance- antibiotics[& the tests sometimes needed], life saving medicines of all sorts, etc. are some of these- along with the knowledge of special ways diseases are transmitted as well. Contraception, childbirth re mortality[including child development] come to mind too. So i agree Roger . i can't think of a more important arena.

Roger -thanks for your comments, to which I add following random remarks:

1)We don't select our readers - we select our content. The readers are, as someone pointed out 'self-selected'. The content is an amalgamation of the contributors work, influenced by the primary editors who put in the daily effort and time to choreograph what we post. We had an incredible amount of email and comment feedback from people who have concluded we will NEVER have 'absolute proof' of Peak Oil, and wanted some type of forum for 'community ideas', both psychological, and practical - that is what we are going to highlight Wednesday nights and most Saturdays.

2)Hubbert Linearization showing that the world is past peak oil, was one of the early popular topics on this site after Twilight in the Desert came out. For those that understand the myriad permutations of global oil production, and can see forward several steps, the demand side answers are not only more interesting, they have a much higher standard deviation, and thus more leverage. To continually run new production forecasts each day, when oil production, at least in the near term will be dictated by demand, is a waste of bandwidth.

3)We all have our belief systems, including me. Davebygolly spent the time to give us his thoughts of how one possible future (his viewpoint) might play out. When we post such things, it is as much to tease out what are the unlikely aspects as the likely, though in my experience, most people, including and especially yourself, react to whatever we post with a pre-set viewpoint, and criticize/commend accordingly. I am working on an update to my belief system post after recently reading some books on Fundamentalism and 'On Being Certain - Believing You're Right Even When Youre Not'. Linked with relative fitness, optimism bias, and steep discount rates, is it possible that you cognitively would find it difficult to accept the type of future laid out by davebygolly because it would imply high blood pressure meds would be unavailable? Therefore it makes your daily neurotransmitter cocktail 'feel' better to 'believe' in a different path? (without modern medicine I am equally in trouble so I was just curious)

4)As events in the world deteriorate, each website destination dealing with broad issues, is by definition going to attract new viewership and alienate others - as the circle of common denominators shrinks, everyone is not going to be pleased. We will continue to try to educate and inform, consistent with our mission statement, but it's clear there will be further self-selection of readership as time goes by. One can hope that this selection goes up by an order of magnitude or two, and some tipping points are reached, but I'm even unclear if that would be good or bad. In short, what we've done has been organic since day one, and will continue to be until the day it's not, when we shut it down.

5)If you would like to submit your own contribution to this campfire series, as a bookend to this piece, please by all means do so...

Thanks, good post. Maybe it is time for a repost of Hubbert Linearization basics, using most recent data?

ThatsIt - High blood pressure is one of the many illnesses of civilisation's trashy food and lifestyle. Eat more veggies and less pre-salted McFoods (or use only sea salt) plus enough exercise, and you'll likely be well on the way to health. I've not taken drugs for 40 years apart from the mercury prescribed into my teeth by health "experts".


I think your GENERALLY correct and good perspective on hypertension, food and lifestyle may not be 100% applicable to ThatsItMount.

Various stresses, esp toxins, in our genetic heritage ie GGGGGrandparents working in Antimony mines, syphilis etc etc caused genetic mutations which then propagated down through the generations until now - "The sins of the father shall be .....".

I hope (pray) your great grandchildren don't end up like Minimata Cats from all that mercury in your teeth.

How's that for conflic of interest - Medicine ensuring it has plenty of work in the future.

Your comment was a tad insensitive.


Thank you for some thoughtful and insightful remarks regarding my remarks.

Just so I am not misunderstood, allow me to say that I am not faulting or in anyway attempting to be disparaging of the TOD posters or readership. I do not intent the terms "neoprimitivism", primitivism, or "deep green" as perjoratives, but use them as descriptive terms simply because I can find no other words that capture the philosophy of a retreat from science and technology, and by implication the culture and arts that have taken centuries to get to. Love or hate our culture, it is not possible without the science and technology that got us here.

As to reader selection of TOD, I agree, and I am glad it is true that the readership is self selecting. I may differ totally with the underlying philosophy of some of the posters and or readership, but for the most part they are good thinkers, very observant, and well read and obviously care about the issues they discuss very much as do I. If they were not, I would not go through the trouble of addressing the issues I do on this forum. I don't often discuss them among friends in the business community or many of my personal friends simply because I know these people are not interested or simply do not understand any possible implications of resource depletion,technology, and the complicated issues that are facing the world, the developed nations in particular.

These difficult choices are not only related to energy and technology but also to the deeper and broader issues of philosophy, aesthetics and culture. It is these issues that are interesting to me.

If someone tells me directly "I am a neoprimitivist. I believe that a return to a world of less science, less technology and less or no forward progress in science or technology and I believe that such a future is either (a) the only way human culture can survive or (b) that this is the preferred aesthetic and possibly only moral path forward", I cannot fault them. That is their belief system, and they have the perfect right to hold it. I may differ, but I do not have the right to say they do not have the right to hold the belief they do.

If they either (a) attempt to tell me that the above belief can be scientifically proven as the only possible belief that is rational or (b) that I must accept their belief, then I certainly can differ, and have every right to make my case as clearly as I can.

My argument in my post was simple: It is my view that the vast majority of the world population (even in nations that are just now experiencing technology and science for the first time on a broad scale such as China, India and Africa, will fight to hold on to the hope of advancement and technology and scientific progress. Since it is impossible to "prove" that progress is impossible, that advancement is impossible, they will not accept that it is not. The power of hope is greater than most realize. In such a contest between an attempt to take the world back to a more primitive existance, or attempt to move forward through science and technology, I was simply making it clear that I personally would side with the latter, and for all the reasons I stated, the most important of which is very simple: It's what humans do by any difinition of human that I can conjure or conceive.

On "Hubbert Linearization": I can find no reason scientifically to doubt that oil will indeed peak in production and begin to decline. I have no reason to doubt that natural gas will at some point to do likewise. I can find no reason not to believe that other finite minerals and metals will not at some point do the same. The defining feature of finite resources is that they run out.

When did we not know that this would be the case?

The question is when and are there other options forward for human culture in the longer term, or does the above FACTS (and I accept the depletion of finite resources as absolute fact, as powerful and certain as the law of gravity) assure the end of human culture and civilization in any modern form as we understand it, and what time scale are we discussing? Oil may have already peaked. I cannot disprove that, but on the other hand I do not believe that anyone can prove that it has, at least not yet.

One of the first replies to the essay by davebygolly sourced Dr. Charles Galton Darwin and a work entitled "The Next Million Years". Except as an intellectual curiousity, I have no interest in the next million years, or even the next thousand years. The variables are too great. I think in terms of the next century, the lifespans for most of our nations children (I have no children myself). The world will have changed enough by then in my view (witness 1908 to 2008 as evidence) that I cannot conjecture further and will not conjecture further forward than a century.

My ultimate point is this: In my view (and it is a "belief" system in many ways as you point out, but hopefully rooted in the reality I can understand)many of the scenarios portrayed at TOD and in many other forums on the internet,books, magazines and television shows are speculations. I do not dismiss the world as davebygolly describes it as possible. I do retain my right to say that it is (a) not assured by scientific evidence I have seen and (b) cannot be accepted by me as desirable(and again, I am certain I am not alone in that view). This is not in any way intended as an attack on dave personally, who wrote an interesting set of conjectures.

My goal: To attempt to explain to people that we can however make the scenario true that davebygolly envisions if we choose to. If we abandon the support of science, technology, education, and a belief in the ideas that science and technology over the long haul are the destiny of humans, then it will become self fulfilling prophecy. We would have chosen to turn back on all we have done over the last thousands of years or more. That is a choice I cannot accept as valid for me. But if my nation chooses such a path, I cannot change that. If the youth of our nation choose such a path, I cannot change that, and it is to them that the future belongs.

What I can do is attempt to persuade, say propagandize if you choose to, the larger population and the youth of our nation NOT to willingly accept such a path. I once had a professor describe the philosophy of Existentialism this way: "Whether your a communist, a capitalist or a socialist, whether your an atheist, a Jew, Muslim or a Christian, whether your a mob hit man or a priest, your still stuck with the same question: You are born and then you die: What the hell do you do in the meantime?"

This is what I do in the meantime.


As I tend towards pacifism, I do appreciate the call to arms in your argument. There surely are things that we can fight for.

I wouldn't say I'm a primitivist, while I do think we can decide when we've gone too far down a dead-end, and shouldn't feel it's a regression to back out and get onto the main road where we'd branched off earlier.

Rebuilding the family-farm rural culture that was allowed to.. or wanted to disintegrate over the last couple hundred years with the massive onset of industrialization, that might be a fine part of the new direction and balance we get to see emerge. I don't conflate that with the abandonment of all our sciences or arts. I would hope such farms have their Radio/Internet contact with the world, so after her shower, the clod-hopper can be working on her Masters in History.. so the kids can have Facebook pals in Tibet, so you can update your prescriptions.

But I don't believe in 'backwards', anyway. Even going back to your birthplace is not backtracking.. it's a return, it's a circle.. and you're not getting there as the same babe who left.


However any 'science' that results in destruction to nature needs to be curtailed else we circle right back to this point.

Science is good if not subverted to capitalistic ventures that are bad for the soul of man.Greed,etc......For instance Big Pharma....

Back in the 50s,60s..science as applied to agriculture was making great strides in improving the usage of soil and many other areas. I have the USDA yearly books....such as Food and Fiber....and they were going down the correct path.

Then something changed and rapidly and somehow land grant collegs and universities were suborned to the big business people and they were then on the road to destruction of the soil and nature.

It was like a big switch was suddenly thrown.

I can even remember reading farm magazine back in the 80's that was suggesting and supporting what they called 'Sustainable Farming'....then once more all of a sudden that quit. Just like SNAP..its off.

I never figured it out how suddenly academia ag suddenly changed and went to the side of Big Ag.

Airdale-I was here, I read it and I saw it. It happened and then we inherited the whirlwind and now they say...'oh clear out the fence rows' when before they said''Conservation Trees to protect against wind erosion'...and those pamphlets disappeared from the Soil Office.

Agreed, or as Pollan put it, (roughly) 'Industrial Ag took the Solution (ie, the complex family farm), and divided it into several Problems' (ie, Massive, Monocultural FarmFood Factories)

Hoping for balance and a return to reasonable scales,

I think you two have encapsulated things quite nicely here.


ThatsIt- you seem muddled. I can't think anyone is wanting science to disappear or go backwards (apart from some 'arts' graduates perhaps). Those of us with a "retrenchment" vision don't even want technology to go backwards. We do however want to adapt positively to the fact that existing technology is doomed anyway by excessive reliance on high-energy globalised society. Changing from say electronic central heating to a simple woodburning hearth may be imagined to be a step backwards but in reality be progress past an unsustainable technology. And even if we abandoned such tech, and even if we could no longer maintain computers, there's no reason to suppose it implies we have to go back scientifically to pre-Darwinian biology and pre-Copernican astronomy.


O.K., let's do it by way of a polling system of sorts: Stephen Hawking was recently asked: "If you had to do away with one or the other, either the space program or the Hadron Giant Super Collider, which would you do away with?"

Harking answered, "To do away with either would be like asking me to choose between my children. He went on to point that either program used less than 1% of GDP anyway, and even if they only served to help us learn about the nature of the universe, and had no practical value whatsoever, if we are to maintain the curiousity and desire to learn that characterizes humans as human, we could not willingly give up either Hadron or the Space program.

Now, let's ask folks here: In a world of decreasing resources, and if as some here believe, we are so near the edge of catastrophe that almost all science will cease whether we want it to or not, how many here would support either Hadron Super Collider or the space program?

How many here would consider accelerating them, and spending much more effort fast on the assumption that we may be near our last chance to find these things out about the universe before the lights go out on modernity and sink us into such a collapse that we would not have a chance to learn them for a thousand years if we do not learn them now?

Because that is what I would support if I believed we are that near collapse: It wouldn't matter anyway, the civilization could not be saved, so as they say in poker, "all in." pour money on the Fusion project in France, pour more on the Hadron collider, launch a deep space telescope, and put a radio telescope on the backside of the moon and do it NOW, while the lights are still on. As for me, I would drive the most exoctic cars I could find, pilot some planes and powerboats, and experience the fossil age in a way that I would remember. Because after all, it wouldn't matter anyway, we are going down the crapper.

But again, the aesthetic question, because this will tell a lot about you mean when you say you support science, would it be Hadron or Space, save either, save both, save neither, or last option, they should have never been undertaken to begin with?


As someone who's published several scientific papers I see science very differently from you. I wouldnt bother much with any of those enormously expensive big business projects. The word science for me means a body of understanding.
Great scientific discoveries already exist, and great new ones can be achieved by penniless non-entities such as myself. The discoveries that would come from the LHC and space could easily be quite minor compared to those that come from modest people using their inborn talents -- there's certainly huge tons of data (not least neurosci) already gathered just waiting for thinking people to work on them. Would be great if all those publish-perish-ratrace universities collapsed leaving just the real scientists. (correction - Will be, when)

As a reply to RC's masterful comment post above.

"What do you do in the meantime?"

Two words then "seek enlightenment".

Or as most learned Chinese sages say..Enlightenment and Immorality

but if you find enlightenment you may have solved the immorality problem.

This is what I do in the 'meantime'. As well as garden,cruise the net,etc..etc.....enlightenment comes in many forms and disguises.......this not being the quote of a sage of any variety.

Airdale-but so far I have not solved that puzzle/problem satisfactorily

There is enlightenment and there is fulfillment, on both personal and societal levels. A society full of subsistence-level farmers and a smattering of craftsmen, merchants, and so forth could be perfectly well enlightened and fulfilled, yet still leave the great prospects of humanity unrealized.

Some argue against "growth" and for "sustainability" as some sort of static Utopia. Economically, that makes sense. Individually, it makes a lot of sense. For humanity overall, I don't think it does. I am old enough to value the satisfaction of a modest yet fulfilling live, but young enough to chaff at the yoke of subsistence, and to abhor a humanity that does not yearn for the stars.

I think that any sustainability target MUST include enough additional productivity to continue to grow scientific knowledge and the scope of human endeavor, whatever the total cost. We may have to choose "space station or Hadron", but we WILL have to lower the investment in both over time.

To me the greatest fear is that the planet saved up enough energy, in fossil fuels, to have one shot at conquering fusion and become spacefaring, and instead of manifesting our destiny we've decided to squander it through ignorant hedonism. At this point I doubt we can maintain a monotonically increasing base of knowledge and population. Both will likely contract, but perhaps after the contraction scientific growth can continue slowly and travel beyond this rock can yet occur.

yet still leave the great prospects of humanity unrealized.

What are the "great prospects of humanity" ? I find your implied definition clearly lacking in "greatness".

Such a society could have great music, enlightened philosophy that truly shapes their lives, even advanced mathematics, architecture, etc.

One step up in technological complexity could allow for advances in Biology and the life sciences.

I find that a far, far better, and truly greater, prospect than, say, an evil Empire that establishes a colony on Mars.


And to be clear, the United States of America has taken a couple of giant steps towards becoming that evil Empire, although we have several more steps to take if we continue on that path.

On an individual basis, all sorts of enlightenment could become targets of "greatness" -- all of your items plus numerous other technological and scientific aspects as well. But if all we do (and it's a REALLY big "if" to attain) is get to where a few hundred million people lead perfectly sustainable lives for a few blissful millennia until a comet impact destroys the earth, I'd argue it's still pretty much moot.

If, as a cow, I get an enlightened life as a free-range cow enjoying the sun, wind, and a variety of grasses before dying of old age, versus an oppressed and stimulation-barren life of feed-lot cud chewing prior to slaughter, it doesn't change the fact that it's still a cow's life, and I end up a dead cow.

Why can't we be a wise, scientifically-excellent, personally-enlightened species of non-Evil non-Ignorant intergalactic empire-builders? Getting past the "evil" and "ignorant" parts seems to be the trick.

My hope for my life and humanity overall is to be happy, but not quite satisfied. We may not need to grow in wealth or number, but we should never strive to stop growing in wisdom and accomplishment.

I think your on the right track.

For much of my earlier years I was addicted to reading SciFi. I read continously as I still do but no more SciFi....it died some time back I am afraid.

Right now I am betting hard on Randell Mills et. al. pulling something off with Black Light Power. Its a far reach as many would state yet I read the forum everyday praying and hoping for the news that it is producing above unity and all skeptics finally agree then it goes to production and we are saved.

Yet saved to what. More of the same as before or do we then hear Obama speak those words we hear such as before..."Citizens we are going to Mars...and Beyond!"

I don't think this will happen yet its still my dream.

I worked in some leading edge areas in Design and Development. I sat in class next to two programmers who kept the mainframes at Houston up and running. My company built the computers that helped put the Gemini and other programs in space.

Those were heady days. I reveled in them. Would that they come back to us. A real good friend of my Navy days did a lot of the tracking downrange as a range rat. We all had our hands on the controls back then in one form or another.

And then? It all started to wind down. And become rather hoo-hum to many. I now don't keep track of it anymore. The world has changed and moved on.

But I still remember it well. I still have my little Rocket Lava Lamp to gaze upon near my desktop. I remember the Jupiter that I taught guidance system on and the day we all stood down as JFK took us to the brink with Cuba and we wanted to dial the range offset controls of the ones we had towards Cuba. Instead we hunkered down and listened for the sirens and waited in awe mixed with fear.


Wisdom is not to be found in further space exploration.

Accomplishment ?

I see space exploration (especially manned space exploration) as a form of monumentalism.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I do not see the possibility of establishing a robust, self sustaining and sustainable population on another planet as a possibility. Heck, we cannot even do it on Earth !

To what purpose should we expand ?


Ah, for what purpose life?

If not to expand, and thus to either spread life beyond the special rock, or to encounter new life out there, then why indeed?

Agreed we have a long way to go to be ONLY self-sustaining (rather than Malthusian peaking) here, but if can somehow manage that, then what?

To say we're going to muddle around happily for millenia, waiting for a mass-extinction event to write the final chapter, seems terribly mundane. Maybe that's the best we can do, but hopefully we can reach further.

Why is further developing mathematics, with a chalkboard and chalk, any less important that rotating a crew of a dozen on Mars ? Or merging Calypso and Jazz vs. the ISS ?

Quite frankly, I find manned space "exploration" extraordinarily mundane and unimportant. No real purpose, little knowledge truly gained, a sideshow/circus to make a certain class "feel good".

The International Space Station appears to be more about "doing it". *MAN* in Space (and desperately searching for "real science" to keep them busy, not much is being learned and the list of viable experiments for the ISS is growing shorter). A monument to something.

Mundane is in the eye of the beholder and your vision does not inspire me in the least. Leaving trash on a half dozen planets is hardly a grand legacy (for who ?) worth doing.

I do find some of the unmanned exploration to be worth the (much lower) cost. But Man in Space is just a show without any real meaning.

Best Hopes for Searching for True Meaning,


I think that any sustainability target MUST include enough additional productivity to continue to grow scientific knowledge and the scope of human endeavor, whatever the total cost.

I think there is yet a huge black hole with regard to farming. We have learned a great deal over the last 1.5 - 2.0 centuries and I consider "natural" farming. bio-intensive, etc., etc., etc., to be ADVANCES, not returns to knuckledragging.

Mollison, for example, has a video in which he claims something like 30 hours a YEAR to grow his garden. There was a link here on TOD some months back to urban L.A. roommates who were growing a garden that supplied almost all their veggies and fruit for about 3 hours a day... by one person.

So, can we grow enough food? Yes. Will we? Seems doubtful. (But it has almost nothing to do with ABILITY to grow surpluses.)


P.S- this was reply to ThatsIt's earlier reply (455722, Jan 4th 9.29am) *before* he posted the one immediately above.
Thatsit - I'm afraid I fell asleep halfway through your post. But the main thing is that no-one here is wallowing in hope or even contentment of the prospect you decry. It's just that more and more people are seeing it as inevitable (absent something even worse). It is only by visioning and preparing for such retrenchment, rather than unrealistically hoping it away, that we have much prospect of rescuing much of our present intellectual/cultural wealth.

Sorry, we are no different from the "animals". We are but one species, of so very many on this planet. And unlike us, even pigs don't sh#t where they eat, unless forced to by our species.

It would be the greatest achievement of women in all of history,(I will exclude man, I am one, because I feel the female is the true species driver and males are almost a total waste of resources), to be able to live in this natural world without destoying it. If this animal species of ours cannot live with the others in harmony, it needs to go.

There is no other "path forward", there is only the path ahead.

Sorry, we are no different from the "animals". We are but one species, of so very many on this planet. And unlike us, even pigs don't sh#t where they eat, unless forced to by our species.

That phrase starts with a totally false assertion and terminates with an absolutely true one.

I could elucidate the former (I will - later) whilst the latter is the greatest puzzle in creation :-}

On owning computers, doomerish or otherwise.

My take. I am transitioning. I intend to use modern 'stuff' to help me make the transition. I still use paper towels but hate paper/pulp mills. Thats makes no sense some would say but I disagree. I will start to raise a form of gourds that make very good scratchpads for kitchen use. I more and more use cloth instead of paper. I can now do without a commode but still have one.

I also use my computer to learn and store information that I can access with a solar panel and converter/inverter instead of my desktops and mechanical hard drives.

I still drive vehicles but not as much anymore and refuse to take longish trips.

If God wills then I will buy a few cattle to start training for draft and milk..for I love milk from the time I used to drink it raw and with wild garlic flavors as well. I love good cured pork and will transition that area as well.

I still make a bit of change working on others computers. Again allows me latitude to transition since I spent the major part of my professional life developing,programming and working with computers.

Hard to do but really I like playing a banjo or wood working more so than working on computers but they are here and I use them as tools.

Airdale-not throwing the baby out with the bathwater

PS.As an aside most computers I work on are way way degraded and run so slow as to be almost wothless. Technicians and programmers are implenting tremendously bad code. A peek at the disk activity and thread loops is breathtaking in the lost mips that is observed.

Try running ProcExp on your own pc to see if yours is the same.
For instance my EVDO processes loop endlessly looking for a file that was never shipped with the product. Result,,failure to connnect,lost connections,slow connections,,etc...its run but badly and with a high overhead.



> but hate paper/pulp mills.

Why? We have lots of them in Sweden and they have cleaned up their waste streams and are turning into biorefineries that produces more specialized papper products and chemical products. Some are net producers of electricity, other use vast ammounts of mostly renewable electricity to make low end paper products in a way that uses most of the wood and they are our largest provider of waste heat to our central heating systems. They will probably become one of our main producers of renweable wehicle fuel. And the resource base is renewable with a history of a hundred years of constructive management with replanting etc. They are a key component in our sustainable future and post oil society, I love them!

I mean sustainable and climate friendly electricity, almost half of it is nuclear power.

Why? they actually use TREES as input material..massive quantities of trees.

You like them? Odd. They are destroying immense areas of habitat.
They smell badly. They pollute the rivers by dumping chlorine in them.

I personally know of several log trucks that have overturned and lives were lost. They drive at very fast speeds on two lane highways and play a game of intimidation with other drivers in 4 wheelers. If you follow one you are in danger of stuff falling off.

I suggest then we send them all to Sweden.

Thinking back on it I recall how Information Centers were installed in many business in order to usher in the 'Paperless Society'. Didn't happen I guess. Tabloids must be read. Newspapers that no one really needs. Junk mail advertisements flood one's mailbox. The list is endless.


And that is a good thing since we happen to grow massive quantities of trees. A lot of these trees are even from a successfull reforestation campaign to make areas made barren in the 1700:s and 1800:s productive again. They had been deforested to provide firewood and charcoal in an unsustainable way and we are not going to repeat that mega mistake, sustainable production is considerd in manny parts of government, politics, science, industry and environmental organisations. Those that want more has to help create additional resource and there is development of better plant mateial, localized methods for optimizing the care of the production forests, utilization of brances and stumps, recycling of ashes to preserve key nutrients in the soil over manny 40-120 year production cycles and how to apply nitrogen fertilizers withouth adding to the overnutrition of lakes and the baltic sea.

Paper and pulp mills have among other harmful things been dumping chlorene, quicksilver and oxygen consuming substances into rivers, lakes and the seas. But these problems have been solved. If your local mill still pollutes a nearby river give them a tip about Swedish consultants and systems providers, the know how also exists in Finland, and give them hell if they dont clean up.

And dont let irresponsible people handle heavy machinery like trucks.

Btw the latest experiment over here is making them 30 m long with a total weight of 90 tons on 11 axels to lower the axle load on the roads below the load of ordinary trucks to also lessen the road wear. It is intended to shave about 20% of the fuel use per ton/km of hauling. This develeopment is of course parallell to hybridization of the power train and development of a steam cycle to capture the waste heat from the engine and development of an ability to run the diesels on ethanol, methanol or DME that can be made from wood. And there are parallell efforts for research and implementation of forest biomass based fuels.

And to make Allan happy I can add that ther also is a boom in railroad freight of forest biomass to sawmills, pulpmills and CHP plants. We both need better trucks and better railroads to add upp to the most efficient logistics that gives the highest ROI and EROEI.

If you got people that likes stuff like this plese send them over here! We need more skilled people.

ThatsItMount, your long comment deserves a carefully thought out response so I have cut and pasted it into my "to do" list as I think rather slowly.


"There is only change and that which changes" was the Buddahs complete treatise on physics/cosmology.

We will most probably be forced to "scale down" to some degree,

If I am given a choice of "some sort of soft landing" when "the bottomless pit from which the smoke goes up forever" has some real > 0 probability then I AM A HAPPY MAN.

I will seriously reconsider you words over the coming year.


I have read your post carefully and the following is my paragraph by paragraph response.

Please do not judge TODers by my comments – I am not welcome @ TOD, I just refuse to go away.

I consider it necessary to pull down the current global order as a temporary measure that is necessary to allow humanity to evolve to the next step, and to have some sort of healthy planet to do that on. I am sorry if you cannot see where AGW is heading, rapidly, and that you are content with an absolutely immoral humanity that allows the majority to suffer poverty whilst the minority indulges in profligate hedonism.
Yes, we need all of those material things you mentioned BECAUSE the current global paradigm forces us to have them. It will be a very uncomfortable transition away from this paradigm.

Fighting like hell against what is pretty much axiomatic by now; a major transition, is not going to help your blood pressure.

I do not have descent into primitivism in mind; perhaps you are beginning to scare ME.
Kunstler and other “black future” authors are fiction writers with a moral agenda to motivate us towards avoiding that “blackness”.

I have no objection to socially responsible art, science or culture, or even religion if you must. But it all has to change. I do however consider money (LUST) a deep human problem.

What really makes us human is not measured by material things, and everything you mention in this sense is basically materialism.
As I said in earlier, I will need some time to explain the spiritual nature of Man.

Your words belie a deep refusal to accept change, inflexibility; high blood pressure is a condition of inflexibility of the artery walls most commonly.

Please, take another broad fresh look at what is happening in the world.
I believe the underlying assumption of The Campfire is that an uncomfortable transition is happening now and what best to do about it at a local level, but once again I cannot, and do not, speak for TOD

It was not my objective to anger you, this is clearly clinically contraindicated.

Just for you I’ll use sincerely a word that seldom crosses my lips;


Hypothesize that a single region (or two) is able to maintain modern industrial organization with supporting education and science (on a small scale). Say Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, and perhaps the Baltic Republics and a section of Germany).

Another option might be France + Switzerland + Austria or Japan. At most 100 million people that have retrenched in a way that preserves technology and significant industry. The best integrated circuit chips available may be equal to a 8 MHz 8086, so some tech edge is lost.

They are able, via local mercenaries, etc, to maintain control of Grand Inga (a nearly constant 44 GW of hydroelectric power for a millennium or more).

Aluminum will be available in large quantities, and quite a bit of very high quality steel (electro-smelting of steel is used for expensive specialty steels today) for trade with the "rest of the world" that has retrenched. There is no resource limit for aluminum and steel, high % of both in the earth's crust.

They could trade the products of technology and metals for whatever they wanted/needed in the rest of the world.


"Aluminum will be available in large quantities, and quite a bit of very high quality steel (electro-smelting of steel is used for expensive specialty steels today) for trade with the "rest of the world" that has retrenched. There is no resource limit for aluminum and steel, high % of both in the earth's crust."

You are right about this. Even if the world is restricted to only the easy to reach ores (low embedded energy), the world would have enough with the remainder coming from recycling. Recycling uses so much less energy than mining ores. Aluminum extrusions made from recycled metal require only 10% of the energy of making aluminum from bauxite ore.

As energy cost rise due to fossil fuel decline things like air travel will become either cost prohibitive or outright prohibited by government not allocating any energy to that energy intensive transportation mode. Other efficient transportation will exist, even if in the form of wood powered steam trains (as was before 1870's). Rail transport is such an efficient user of materials and energy that most of the materials used by railroads can be recycled or come from renewable sources, including energy for propulsion. Did you know that a railroad car built in 1921 is owned by a group in San Diego and currently still regularily runs private tour groups at 90 mph between LA and San Diego? This car is identified with Amtrak number 800039 and is called Cyrus K. Holliday. How many airplanes built in 1921 are still flying in commercial service? None!

I regularly use streetcars build in 1923/24 :-)

Pre-K, in service 24 hours/day, now 18 hours/day.

We built 30 more streetcars that were improved, and modernized, versions of the same design.

Best Hopes for Long Lived infrastructure,


On further thought, there would likely be a focal point of industry and technology around many large hydroelectric plants. Hydroelectric plants stay operating in very primitive conditions, such as North Korea or Albania when it was isolated from the world. Zaire during the worst of civil collapse there.

A "good" maintenance cycle is rewind the generator every 50 years and refurbish the turbine at the same time. Large hydroelectric plants often have many turbines of the same type, making spares easier (including sacrificing a couple as spares for the rest). A single Norwegian manufacturing plant could supply the world with all the replacement turbines needed. Same for generators.

5 GW at Niagara Falls, 5 GW at Grand Coulee, 5+ at Churchill Falls/Lake Manitoba, 6 GW at James Bay and related dams are the biggest hydro complexes in North America, with several more in the 1 to 3 GW range.

The Guri complex in Venezuela will have about 20 GW.

Largely devoted to industrial use/re-use, each site would have enough power to support a complex of industrial activity. Some, such as James Bay, are located in inhospitable areas, and perhaps transmission could also be supported to a warmer site for the industrial activity.


Perhaps we will be saved by the emerging world-wide depression.
Before the current Great Financial Crisis we were running up against the limits of resource extraction. Inventories of copper, lead, zinc, metallurgical coal, platinum, molybdenum, crude oil, natural gas, etc. were barely sufficient to meet demand for several years. And due to exponential growth, the quantities of these resources needing to be discovered and developed were staggering and challenged our capacity to make such things as tires for tremendous mining vehicles and steel for pipelines and reinforcing concrete.
Contrast today’s economy with the 1930’s Great Depression. At that time we had just developed seismic geo-surveying and were finding more oil than we knew what to do with. We also had abundant reserves of metal ores and quality coal. And we were finally able to restore the fertility of soils with low cost chemical fertilizers, an industry that was at the beginning of great expansion. Also, we were using energy and manpower more efficiently through improvements in technology and capital investment. Finally, we were much younger on average.
Contrast that with today’s use of lower grade resources and ageing population. It is hard to make a case for how we recover when the old economic model is exhausted. The Second Great Depression can bring us into the Sustainable Age if we wisely invest our precious remaining resource capital. Production of cars needs to end soon and we need to re-tool for mass transit. We also need to build decent housing, like aerated autoclaved concrete, and use geothermal heat pumps and other energy conserving technology.
Either we purposely develop a new economic model based on conservation or we will end up with a societal collapse, WWIII, or perhaps both.

thanks dave; very readable & thought provoking post. u'r above/below ground distinctions was new & sound i thought.

the closest i can see to u'r scenario is a horrific deflationary depression & depletion that is faster than demand destruction. government loses credibility & power/control this way; & leadership not to War & to speakup re the need to retrench & aim for where we'll likely end up anyway[u'r scenario].

with luck & some leadership maybe we'll get a little of this ; even some in an area or two would help.

thanks again.

Thanks Nate, thanks TOD, thanks to all who joined in. It's 11:33pm, I'm an old guy, and I'm going to bed. Peak energy for me was long, long ago.

With all due respect, I must point out again, that all this prognostication of a terrible future is based on the assumption that we have reached the end of science and scientific breakthroughs. This is clearly not the case, since physics has yet to publish a Unified Field Theory, uniting the gravitational force with the E/M, strong, and weak forces.

To state as outright fact that there is no other energy source that can replace fossil fuels, assumes that you know the totality of publicly known and privately known physics, which I seriously doubt. Therefore, if one is open-minded, and because there is no UFT publicly available, one must allow into their realm of possibilities, that there does exist energy solutions as well as materials solutions based on complete knowledge of the vacuum.

Unfortunately, at this time, it does look rather bleak on all fronts, but I still think it is more constructive to look at potential solutions (transmutation of hydrogen from atmospheric nitrogen...read Walter Russell...A New Concept of the Universe), than to state with such certainty that we are utterly doomed. As you know, when you burn hydrogen, there is no carbon...carbon problem solved.

Of course the problem with hugely transformational technology is that it could potentially obsolete tremendous investments in infrastructure, etc. Is this what the crashing price of oil as well as worldwide financial markets is saying ? Only time will tell...

Will there be a hydrogen economy based on real-time transmutation of hydrogen from nitrogen (read the book first, before you flame ) as opposed to storage and transportation ? Its hard for me to believe the car companies have put so much into hydrogen development, when they know damn well, it has one of the lowest 'well to wheels' efficiencies and is not an energy source.

Will we get a UFT uniting E/M and Gravity and be able to produce electricity directly from the vacuum ? If you think there is 'nothing' in the vacuum, read up on quantum field theory, the Casimir force, etc.

Sorry, but in response to your earlier reply to my post about a company claiming a new energy source for its car...see this link...

...It is NOT more dangerous to explore technical solutions (which you somehow labelled a 'religious belief') and work towards a positive, hopeful future...than to prognosticate nothing but scavenging our civilization for the valuables and eating our pets to survive.

And as to the LAWS of Thermodynamics...UNTIL Physics produces a UFT, nothing is out or the realm of possibilities with regards to what may be achieved with knowledge of the field.

Plasma - the greater danger lies in pinning too much hope on an extremely improbable scientific breakthrough. More sensible to envision and prepare for the highly likely lack of a breakthrough. And there's no reason to assume that a unified field theory must inevitably be out there waiting to be discovered.

Agreed on both counts.

It's fine to let a few people keep exploring these matters in case they come up with a breakthrough but it is a poor strategy, in my view, to bank on the breakthroughs. Not only have all these breakthroughs (i.e. fusion) been "around the corner" for decades now, there is still the transition period between the discovery, the commercialization of the discovery and then the distribution of the equipment within the populace.

And then there is Nate's point that new energy sources tend to go into growth rather than strict substitution. The most prudent approach at this point is to get ready for Energy Descent.

I have not as yet read all the comments on this essay of Daves. But I posted a comment on another essay the other day. Posted it near the end of its comments and late in the day. What it spoke to was the EROI/EROEI debate and the costs of input being IMO somewhat incalculable.

I would like to therefore repost it here on a Campfire essay as I waited for an appropiate one to appear before creating my post.

Here is the post, and it might be breaking a TOD rule of not posting the same comment twice but not being too inclined towards the concept of economics and more towards the actual 'on the ground' experience I think this is a more appropiate spot to post said comment.

I have changed a bit of the original.

I would like to make a comment that I did not want to post of the EROI Essay Post of today.

I am not a tuned in 'oilhead' and so this may sound a bit 'rural'.

My take on the oil/energy debate and the EROI/EROEI and its effects on the future(making this a better year) is this:

The reality is that the INPUT costs of the OUTPUT energy in petrochemicals has NOT yet been calculated for this very reason:

Incalculable costs will be in the huge number of dead people who will perish as a result of what is considered "Cheap Oil"...and IMO the fact is that it definitely lead us down this merry path to the upcoming future of death and destruction and starvation.Incalculable in the sense of the tremendous suffering that will ensue as a result of the usage of petrochemicals to take us to this peak, and now decline. Unwise use of this product is the major reason.

Those 'costs' cannot be calculated and will not be inserted into any part of the equation.

I realized this as an epiphany as I just read the EROI essay of today and the debates and arguments of obtaining the TRUE cost.

So I say its incalculable but its enormous. Its the probable death of the most powerful Superpower nation the world has ever seen.

I believe that already deaths have begun in diverse ways that is not reported as suh,,deaths due to stress,loss of jobs, no future, giving up , asking to go to prison, and on and on.

The pain and agony of finally realizing that you can no longer support yourself, or you and your wife or you and your wife and children must be devastating. I would assume that already suicides are on the increase, maybe not reported as such.But there.

So costs that are not monetary? Means little to me. Death of someone I know means a lot to me. People stealing to eat?

I stole to eat and I begged in some many ways. Me and my brother in St. Louis down on Choteau Ave during WWII, in sqalid housing and a mother who was too busy with other things to feed her children. No father around.

My brother watched his playmate get run over and dragged by a car as they sat on a curb. My brother pushed out of a two story window to land on concrete,pushed into a hot stove,bearing the mental and physical scars his whole life. I forget the crying and tears and was happy to go back to the country to my grandparents farm and get away from that ugliness.Back to my grandparents and a good life. I go to their graves many times and pray over them.

So I know what hunger and pain is. The cost is devastating to one. To the young its worse. My brother later committed a type of suicide when he was denied a new form of cancer treatment. My brother who as an EE wrote a lot of the Bios code for a new startup known as Sun Microsystems and became almost a millionare but lost it in the market of what I call the EgoGreed market of finance. He also was very involved in the early creation of the CAT scan machine.It figured into his dissertation for his graduate work in the Universities he attended. He never married due to our upbringing.He did far too many drugs to erase his memories I think. He passed on badly.

Around here we are starting to see some of the coming events already.

This cost must and will be paid.

I am fortunate that the land I live on is paid off. I cut wood at the age of 70 to heat with and am happy doing so. I have food so far.
I can live on far less. I have known hunger. I have been slapped silly for only eating half a piece of bread back following the near end of he depression.

Airdale-the cost is staggering for that 'cheap' oil after all and won't be part of the equation but to me it will be real, I see nothing on the horizon that will come close to being the solution.

As I said above.This COST must and will be paid..call it realizing the Laws of Thermodynamics personally and up close.

Interesting post. The Wall Street Journal had an article about two or three years ago reviewing a report by the Army War College. In it the author estimated that gasoline should cost $5.00/gal to cover the costs of the military protecting sea lanes & Mid East countries, and cost for portion of the Iraq war. The price of gas was then $2.00 so the added military cost was $3.00 per gallon IIRC. But the human cost is still not figured, as 4100+ US military personel have died and over 16,000 suffered permanent debilitating injuries in Iraq.

I live in St. Louis (near Chouteau and Taylor) probably a few blocks from where you grew up. The neighborhood really went down in the 1960's and by early 1970's was high crime. I did not live here then, but remember as a kid riding my bike near here and having kids throw rocks at me & telling whitey to get out of their "hood". The area has revived somewhat but still has pockets of poor minorities and areas of crime. I believe the depressed ecomony is causing more crime here even with housing being rehabbed and fewer welfare housing units. The number of shootings, burgleries, assaults, drug dealing is on the rise after years of decline. I am considering getting out of this area as depression and peak oil will only make things worse, but don't know where to go.

Always find your perspective interesting since as a kid I lived in Minnesota in a small town surrounded by farms and woods. School, lake (fishing), stores, pharmacy, lumber yard, gas stations, couple restaurants, taverns - all within a mile of the house. We rode our bikes nearly everywhere (a few kids had pony or horse to ride). It was a low energy lifestyle. I don't think those places really exist anymore. It was quite a change to move to a St. Louis suburb around 1970.

I only lived there for a very short time near the end of the war and when my mother took us out of the country for a short time.

That time living there just off Chouteau was beyond belief. The building had been torn down all over and it looked like a bombed out city. I believe that there were still a few horse drawn milk wagons then.



4100 killed and 16,000 permanently injured. BIG DEAL.

How many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were murdered by this totally unjustified and illegal invasion.

I personally have no time for the weird Islamist regimes of the Middle East, but the activities of the USA in this region for the past 50 years have been the most despicable actions of the modern era. (except, perhaps, the USA actions in Latin America, Vietnam, etc).

The crime level in St Louis is trivial compared to the International crimes of the USA in a huge range of countries.

When will the goddam yankees wake up to the fact that they are the world's most despicable terrorist nation?

How many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were murdered by this totally unjustified and illegal invasion.

Verifiably, less than 100,000 have been killed.

Iraq Body Count web counter

Whether you call it "murder" basically depends on whether you consider any killing at all to be "murder", ie whether you're an absolute pacifist. I do think we shouldn't call every kind of killing "murder", since then we can't distinguish between (say) a soldier shot while shooting at the enemy, and some unarmed civilians killed by a suicide bomber, or killed because they were hiding in a religious building and some soldiers came and used that building as cover, and the enemy bombed the building. I think we need different words for different things.

But perhaps your morality recognises no such distinction, it's all "murder". This is at least a consistent morality, and has the virtue of comforting simplicity.

But whatever the numbers of dead and injured on either side, or amongst innocent bystanders, and whatever you call their deaths and injuries, I don't think you can invade a country and then be surprised and complain when its inhabitants kill your soldiers, though. You should pretty much expect it.

When you roll tanks into a country and brass the joint up it tends to upset the locals. "But we're here for your freedom!" That's what all invaders say. Only the Nazis were stupid enough to say, "Vee are heeere doo KRUSH DU!" and look what happened to them.

How about a bodycount of iraqis killing their own?


The USA is morally, and I believe legally, responsible for ALL of the deaths from the Iraqi Civil War.

The various resistances in WW II, from France to Vietnam, spent quite a bit of effort in killing collaborators with the invaders. And the Royalist and Communist Resistance in Yugoslavia shot at each other with some frequency.

This does not make Nazi Germany & Imperial Japan any less culpable as a result of their Wars of Aggression.


No rationale or motivation can excuse suicide bombings of civilian markets. Such terror acts cannot be equated with "killing collaborators", and even an approach that focused solely on duly elected "collaborators" without attacking the US troops would seem to be questionable as well..

Also, now that the US is obviously interested in leaving, there should be a lessening of the "resistance" element, yet the insurgency remains. All that seems to help is when the Iraqi people locally resist the insurgency, in essence siding with the US.

"Rules of war" will forever be troublesome concept. Even so, an insurgent out of uniform is not a soldier nor is he a resistance fighter -- he's an idealogical mercenary.

Some level of deaths are always due to personal issues, organized crime, and such as well. Once you subtract out these deaths, those of insurgents, those who are victims of terror acts, and those lawfully executed, I wonder how many "collateral" deaths remain?

And it still doesn't answer the question of "what to do now?" How do you redress culpability? Some things can't be undone, yet the status quo is untenable.

I'm all for appropriate nuance, but what kind of euphemism are you looking for here?

The US (MY country) has ILLEGALLY invaded Iraq. We were not attacked, invaded or threatened by Saddam Hussein. Trying to call the civilian casualties anything other than murder is pretty weak..

Considering our invasion-excuse #2 was 'The Global War on Terror'.. a feckless euphemism if ever there was one.. it's easy enough to say the 'Ve Vill Krush You' was also an American slogan.

I'm a little surprised that you are so willing to take that Bodycount as some kind of credible and final number. It has been CHAOS over there with skulduggery on all sides. You think anyone really knows the civilian death-toll?

"A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred."
.. That's from 2006.

From Wiki- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancet_surveys_of_casualties_of_the_Iraq_War
"In September 2007, the ORB survey of Iraq War casualties, which, like the Lancet studies, also used a survey method, produced an even higher estimate of Iraqi deaths than the Lancet studies, around 1 million."
- and in which they report that that 98,000 was the Lancet's estimate of 'excess deaths' in 2004.


Damn. Everyone has their Achilles heel. This appears to be yours. Sorry,but the Lancet study is state-of-the-art. The US gov't used the same techniques repeatedly until the numbers went against them.

Whether you call it "murder" basically depends on whether you consider any killing at all to be "murder",


From Merriam-Webster.

Murder 1: the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

1. Preemptive war is illegal.
2. War under false pretenses is illegal.


May America rest in peace...


But the human cost is still not figured, as 4100+ US military personel have died and over 16,000 suffered permanent debilitating injuries in Iraq.

And the FAR greater human cost of 400,000 Iraqis killed, many more wounded and injured and about 5 million Iraqis driven from their homes.

A radical retrenchment of morality for the USA.


Be fair, Alan. Most of those Iraqi dead were killed by other Iraqis or agents from other Islamic countries, most via assassination and suicide/homicide bombs. Certainly our actions played a inciting role, but not necessarily a major continuing one. Through our rules of engagement we removed a heavy-handed military government and replaced it only partially with light-handed interim gov't and a plan that was at odds with traditional power structures and a low-grade civil war (with insurgent help) was the result.

Iraq is little different than Lebanon, Somalia, Afganistan, and even Palistine -- without a strong (oppressive?) gov't, clan warfare seems to result. Why is it that the "religion of peace" seems ever-ready for lethal confrontation between factions?

Bigger question for the day: should we value the lives of others more than they do, or even as much as we do now? Americans are often berated for viewing the world through dark culturally-tinted glasses, yet this also applies to value of life. At least some of our valuation seems based on a Judeo-Christian past filled with generations having more resources and fewer people. If we're entering a phase where we have more people and fewer resources, will the perceived value of life drop? Maybe "happy hunting grounds" and "harem of virgins" are sociological answers to a dilemma between over-population and individual worth: "how about you go get yourself gloriously killed -- you'll be in a better place, we won't have to support you, and then we'll all celebrate"? Is there a population-inflation component to life-value devaluation?

For the record I'm a "choose life" sort of guy, and I don't mean to defend military blunders and on-going stupidity, but I'm not a "vilify America first" either.

Certainly our actions played a inciting role,

If an arsonist ignites a forest fire, he is morally, and legally, responsible for all the consequences.

If a nation invades another nation until false# pretenses, then they are morally (and under international law as I understand it, legally as well) responsible for the consequences.

To quote Colin Powell, "It is like the Pottery Barn. You break it, you own it".

IMO, it is white washing to minimize our collective guilt for the Iraqi Civil War (not yet finished). We are WHOLLY responsible for what we created. No escape from OUR moral responsibility by claiming that they are "different" from us !

At Nuremberg, it was proclaimed that the greatest crime of all is a War of Aggression, because all other war crimes flow from that. And that is what the USA did in Iraq.

Whether we were competent in executing the details of an immoral war or not is irrelevant to our collective moral guilt.

The USA values life ??? MAYBE a little for our own, but certainly not near genocidal numbers of "Others'.

I see no basis in your claim for moral superiority post-GWB (and plenty of very bad cases before GWB).

Please reconsider your position in view of the facts.

I was once proud to be an American, but GWB changed that,


# Knowingly it turns out, results of superb CIA intelligence were suppressed from Senate and public knowledge. CIA took list of names of scientists and engineers working on WMD before Kuwait/GW I, got a list of relatives working or studying outside Iraq. Recruited about 60. When they went home they were instructed to ask, say, their father, "And how are things going with your work for the military ?" or comparable.

NOT ONCE (out of over 50 inquiries) did they respond with "Daughter, you know that I cannot talk about that" but always "That program is shut down, I am teaching 4 classes of Physics at Baghdad University; too many papers to grade properly !" or some such.

See series of reports in Washington Post

## IMO, The true reason to invade Iraq was to gain control of their oil. Which we have failed to do due to incompetence, price of occupation too high, domestic opposition, etc.

I'm not going to debate the background for getting involved, but in my view the "original guilt" is increasingly less a factor in our "on-going responsibility". As a volatile resource, we're not talking inanimate brush here, but thinking/working/living/scheming humans, and as our role in Iraq decreases and that of the self-determined gov't increases and time roles on, the fractional 'contributory factors' of other state actors becomes dominant while ours wanes. To me it is obvious that the US is not bombing civilians, and is in general working quite hard to prevent those who wish to do so from succeeding. It isn't a black-and-white situation because it's not an encapsulated microcosm -- it's a sliding window of history built from the conflicts of the past and laying groundwork for the future. Even those who vilify Germany and Japan for WWII now must recognize that the oil squeeze on Japan and the economic terms on Germany helped set the stage.

As for Iraq, now that we're there, how could we/can we possibly prevent outside actors from promoting insurgency without escalating the conflict, which would then be a "larger aggression" to some? How can we prevent internal agents from causing strife without undermining the much-desired self-appointed gov't? Even if we say, "OK we screwed up", how do we make it "better"?

Iran and Syria each rightfully should carry blame for their roles in attempting to destabilize Iraq, which they likely do specifically to discredit the US (as if we really need their help). We face a similar scope of control issue in Afghanistan with the Pakistani border and other state-sponsored insurgents, though we don't have a moral issue with the start of that conflict. How do we fix Afghanistan?

Few nations make decisions based solely on a perspective of morality -- but it seems whatever the motivation of Iran and Syria their strategy has of late been better than ours - and they're "playing the system" that we helped create. Their governments' actions, like ours, seem to be better aligned with a healthy self-interest in pandering to their masses than any notional sense of morality. As is ever the case, owning the real-estate where proxy wars get fought between more powerful players is a bad deal.

I'm happy to be American, but not proud of the American gov't and our recent way life -- and GWB was only a small but highly visible part of that. I suspect it will be a while before we have a gov't I'm actually willing to respect.

As for moral superiority: I'm not a moral relativist, but certainly from a national perspective "morality" and "superiority" are pretty subjective. The value of human life is an interesting topic for me, not least because I've had some events in my personal life that illustrate how hard it is for society to assess value of life, and to apportion blame for taking it. As resources tighten and population overload becomes increasingly apparent, I suspect the topic of human life value will arise with increasing frequency and urgency, and that vast value gaps will be increasingly evident.

How does the human-life value aspect fit in with the moral responsibility part? Pretty bleakly, I cynically think. Now that the Iraq war is unprofitable, unpopular, and unsustainable, we'll probably leave and whatever happens will happen, and despite lots of media attention it won't make much difference to the world at large. Every major player will see the economic issues and their own power ploys as more important considerations than any notion of "righteousness", and will deal with the US accordingly. The popular press of the world is just one of many tools or weapons to be wielded in the maneuverings of nations. For a few decades the US has gotten to play Calvin-ball, and it'll be interesting to see what the rules of the new game will be.

To me it is obvious that the US is not bombing civilians

The reporter who threw his shoes at GWB was, according to reports, "highly affected" by covering the aftereffects of US bombing of civilians.

"Collateral damage" is the official USAF term/euphemism I believe. Completely predictable every time a bomb is dropped in a dense urban area.

You wish not to debate the Original Sin and just talk tactics on how to get out of there.

May I suggest an Official Apology by the USA, the payment of reparations and opening our records to the International Court of the Hague for possible indictments for war crimes.

The USA has lost more than you realize. Never again will Great Britain be as staunch an ally. Our other allies are distancing themselves, the automatic/default support of the past is now gone.

Enduring alliances are NOT based on the self interest of the moment, but a longer term view of a commonality of interests. The "self interest" displayed in Iraq by the USA is something that almost all civilized nations do not want to be associated with. It is not a "commonality of interests".

Yes, the USA is still a Big Boy and will be a player, but with much less support from the "team".


To me it is obvious that the US is not bombing civilians, and is in general working quite hard to prevent those who wish to do so from succeeding.


No bomb is perfect. Any bomb can miss its target. Bombing anyway means you accept this. To claim the commanders and In-Chief don't know this is absurd.

And disturbing.

And quite telling.

And an example of why we will likely fail to respond adequately to the Perfect Storm.


Why is it so distasteful to hold America responsible for what we've clearly done wrong?

Is it only 'justice' when someone else has to be held responsible for their actions.. but when it's the US, different rules apply? Our invasion INVITED al-Queda and every possible world jihadi into that field of battle. This wasn't a 'side-effect'. It was the PUBLISHED BATTLE PLAN.. 'Fight them there so we don't have to fight them here'.

Don't you dare sneer about a 'Religion of Peace', when the Christian Mullahs behind the 'Prince of Peace' were baring their fangs with a truly epic bloodlust. You put any humans into that situation and any consideration of Peace has been eradicated from before it ever began.

You said 'Be Fair'.. I'm sorry, but I think you have to wake up to what we've done here.


Paleocon, I'm sorry.
You are a decent and reasonable poster here, and I should have found a more neighborly way to say what I did.

It is an invaluable opportunity at this site to have a chance to compare perspectives from people across the spectrum, many spectrums.. I don't want to kill the chance to have substantive and meaningful conversations with you and others here.

I have to say that I also did not edit or remove the other comments.. I think the level of destruction that this war has created even here at home has barely begun to be realized. I don't want to gloss over the anger at home that this offensive has wrought, and how it has hurt us in the world.

I'm sure the troops and the commanders are doing their level best to make it work out.. but it's good money after bad. And a LOT of it at that..

Bob Fiske


A lot of times I take an angle a bit harsher than I personally believe, simply because I know I'm an outlier here (though not a neo-con at all). I agree completely with the "good money after bad", and "need to extricate ourselves" and even to an extent with the "should make things right". I'm just not sure how to do that, and I don't believe that auto-flagellation about guilt and hyperbole about the number of deaths attributable to the US helps anything. I certainly see no issue with drawing out zealots and fighting them on a battlefield other than the US -- but Afghanistan would have worked almost as well in that regard. Better would be to stop growing such zealots at all.....

More than anything, our collective ability to reconsider our approaches to world affairs and to deal with truly thorny issues is going to be critical to a post-peak survival. It is very likely that the world will face many more such conflicts, and the US will likely be a part of several (hopefully with less questionable basis!), though perhaps not many if we choose our leadership wisely.

From my perspective, hubris and an unreasonable belief in American might and and world destiny are at the root of almost all of the major issues we face, and the international banking collapse (which again we may have sparked, but many others participated in willingly), world oil issues (an industry which we built and are leading in overconsumption), and world food issues (ditto) are all part of that. Iraq, though very expensive in terms of money, lives, and world opinion, is just a small but visible part of that puzzle. How are we going to draw down our expenditures (military, social, infrastructure) to match our true wealth? How do we keep from adding new nations to the "failed states" list with ever major political blunder?

The US is little different than Spain, Portugal, and England as imperial powers, only our imperialism has mostly been monetary coercion rather than military. As with the others, it's not all bad, but it's also not all good. I'm not so blindly patriotic as to trust everything my gov't does overseas when I can see perfectly well how it screws up here, but mostly I think it is pridefully stubborn and ignorant. I think the question isn't "Why did we think we were so superior and righteous these past 30 years?", but "Why do we think we're smart enough and powerful enough now to make it "all better"?

Good points, and thanks for your thoughts.

I want to hold our country to a much higher bar, but certainly agree that it is not all bad. I think the idea of the republic is so good that it really has inspired people and countries all over the world, so I hope we can keep the ideals tied to the reality in a few spots. (Getting a picture of Peter Pan trying to sew his shadow back onto his feet.)

As for the last question, and not to be defensive, but I do think we need to try to make things better, while I don't pretend we can make it all better. We can be both smart and powerful.. but it seems to take a true crisis to bring it out in us.


I regard the potential loss of human scientific knowledge and advancement as a monumental tragedy. However, I consider the the terrible degradation of our Earth's biosphere the paramount tragedy.

A reduction in our population, say to no more than 20% of the current figure, maintained at zero population growth, would perhaps allow for a technological civilization which can live within the planet's means without destroying the other life on Earth.

The 8 million pound gorilla problem is how does humanity get there from here without going the routes of either The Day After, Omega Man, Mad Max...or Soylent Green? If things get real bad some of our less rational minds may wreak havoc...'loose nukes' (in non-state actors' hands)loom large over humanity. India and Pakistan could have at it with nukes. Madmen could loft a few nukes and detonate them in near space above the US and/or Europe and the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would lay waste to our electronic infrastructure in a matter of minutes.

If you can get a hold of the novel Warday,it does a credible job of describing the havoc wreaked on a high-tech civilization by a few high altitude EMP bursts.


Perhaps Issac Asimov was visionary with his concept of an 'Encyclopedia Foundation' in his Foundation series novels. The idea was to create a remote/hidden bastion of civilization and scientific/technical knowledge to help recover after civilization's collapse.


Unless we can control our greedy proclivity to over-reproduce (overcome our selfish genes), any talk of managing declines or recoveries is futile.

In the immediate term, it is in our best interests to constrain the spread of nuclear weapons, reduce their numbers, and strictly monitor their storage and movement.



Your goal presupposes that we use science and knowledge TOWARDS sustainability and away from growth, which so far has not been the case. Think of all the adaptive advantages our ancestors had using any strategies that accelerated use of resources. 'Science' will have to acknowledge and overcome our baser impulses, before it can help. Otherwise to save 'science' just restarts the whole process in a smaller, used, petri-dish.



I'm with Al. Science is a tool, not a belief system, not an economic system, not a political system. In fact, I'd say the modern lo-tec life is really made possible by advanced science and is really advancement, not a backwards step.

The internet is a great example. If we can keep it alive it will go a long way toward allowing development without growth via educating the world about the need for sustainability. Organic farming? Ditto. Bio-intensive? Ditto. Permaculture? Ditto. These are just a few examples, but I don't see more pastoral future as necessarily needing to be a backwards step.

The growth problem comes from science only in that there are greedy asses always seeking competitive advantage. We may have to consider either laws on implementation of new discoveries, or all science being done within the public domain.


I could be wrong but I thought the assumption or basis for Campfire was
not to debate whether that chaos was coming or not but what to do to prepare for it if it was coming.

If we endless debate that question then where will actual material on coping be able to fit in? Its once more doomer vs cornucopian,is it not?

Which has been debated ad infinitum elsewhere.

The question in my mind is thus:
Its going to happen and what are you going to do about it.
Not...is it going to happen or not.

As I write this I have not gone back to read the original direction but think that was pretty much the gist of it.


From Campfire Overview and Guidelines

Though discussions and evidence continues (and it should) in our main forum about the severity and timing of the looming energy/natural resource crisis, many have reached a point where labeling the situation as 'serious' or 'severe' no longer is the most relevant question. Each Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon going forward, we plan on highlighting a post/essay on what you, the TOD community, is doing and thinking about peak oil, writ large.

We intend this forum to be akin to a summer night sitting around a campfire, dreaming, hoping, and tossing around ideas that might bring about positive change. The types of discussions we would like to foster are where there are no right or wrong answers, just shared experiences, advice and wisdom. Topics will relate to wide boundary issues surrounding energy descent, including local food production, small scale energy production, experiments in living with less, or just general information and ideas to be shared with the online community. Optimally, about 1/2 the posts will be about 'practical skills' that can be individually or locally implemented. The other 1/2 will be about big ideas, that by definition will be unproven and even unfeasible, but can be passed around the campfire for review and discussion. So a spectrum from pickle production to a what a world without currency would look like are all fair topics.

We have a wonderfully talented volunteer staff, but our expertise does not stray too far outside the analytical. Therefore we invite you, our readers, to submit guest posts that might be of educational interest to our online community.

Airdale, though TOD:Campfire does not equate to TOD:Foxfire, it IS about ideas and actions. And Liebigs law of this 'channel's success will not be the intent but the content provided by this community.

Your guidelines seem to exclude challenging the assumption that peak oil means peak energy, and peak energy means some type of economic and social collapse. What about energy efficiency, conservation, renewable energy? I can accept that we are at or about to reach peak oil, but not the other assumptions.

Neil - they are just guidelines. I think conventional thinking is that peak oil, given a functioning economic system would precede peak energy, because of natural gas and coal, but it is possible that the net energy of these has already peaked. Irrespective, discussions on where we are on the downslope (or upslope if that is your view), the campfire slot is more for 'big ideas' and 'practical' changes that may help to bring about positive change. The Wednesday eve and Saturday afternoon slots are therefore not the place to discuss whether peak oil means peak energy - we have many many prime time essays on that and related subjects. This venue is about how energy is used and how it might be used differently, not how much is left. I suspect the writers here still have plenty to say about that too..

Nate, I have a request.

It sounds like you're advocating what I'm about to say, but I'm going to ask anyway as support for the view.

I ask that we not allow Campfire to keep challenging the fundamental assumption that society will undergo a massive transition ("decline" if you will -- but decline is just an interpretation that we attach to the physical reality of energy being removed from the system).

If we keep that assumption in, the conversation can move forward to new and interesting places. If we allow the conversation to keep revisiting the assumption, we'll get nowhere.

As you point out, there are plenty of places where people can argue those assumptions until they are blue in the face. Let's use campfire to discuss how we're going to adapt. If someone doesn't agree with that assumption, it's really this simple: they don't have to participate.

Will you (or someone) be providing moderation going forward? I hope you say yes...

I propose that all Campfire posts should have a prominent header indicating that they are not the place to discuss the premises (collapse of commerce, retrenchment, impending paradise, etc) but only to discuss the follow-ons from them. Self-moderation will be achieved by steadfastly refusing to get sidetracked by premise-challengers, just posting brief notices of off-topic. I strongly support the avoidance of moderation in the sense of chopping out comments. One of the wonders of this site is the absence of "Inappropriate?" buttons and long may it remain so.

Having said that, I'm not sure there have been enough organised slots for discussion of the various premises, for instance collapse of commerce, collapse of goverment order, of electricity supply, etc. Maybe an outlet tap is needed as well as a choke, perhaps a series called "Scenarios"?

Keep in mind we all have full time jobs. We'll direct conversations as best we can but are merely flawed humans, after all.

Thanks for considering the request.

I propose that all Campfire posts should have a prominent header indicating that they are not the place to discuss the premises (collapse of commerce, retrenchment, impending paradise, etc) but only to discuss the follow-ons from them.

As much as I have prodded for a Cmpfire-like response from TOD, I say unequivocally the "community" is not quite ready for that degree of specialization wrt these topics.

Some clarity is still needed. Time will winnow. Moderators need not. Not just yet, anyway.

An intuitive response.


Yes I did read the Mission after I made my post.

What I do see is more of is 'it is' vs 'it isn't' debates oriented on the doomer vs cornucopian level. Such as 'can you source that statement' and prove it to me? sort of post.

But personal experience needs no sourcing nor scientific been(usually)..it is more about 'what I have found that works' and 'how did you do this and that' sort of dialogue which is more akin to sitting around a campfire scenario than a classroom dialogue.

If its a place for those who disagree with the assumption that the debate over Peak Oil and other topics that speak to a decline in our current culture then IMO it is not debate or discourse but just argument which is flush on the DBs and Key posts already.

I will keep my browser set to this domain?....and hope to see something that I can use in the future. So far not much.

I realize that its a rather disarray of a type of dialogue and many TOD members are of a scientific and engineering type background and not too heavy perhaps in foraging, hunting, gardening etc....

Well I hope for the best. Thanks for creating it.


To add further..

So if I want to make a comment on say...
Growing cane in Kentucky or elsewhere then the subject of this Key post is not conducive to such a comment since its focus is elsewhere so while I just transplanted some cane and wish to share this knowledge I don't find a platform for doing that.

Might I suggest that occasionally a Key post is created as a 'Free for all' or BOF(birds of a feather)?

To expound on my topic further then whilst I have the floor, so to speak.

Cane was once prolific in Ky. In fact many frontiersman came here in the hope of finding those fabled many stands of 'cane' thinking that it was the sugar cane of which sugar mills were using.

Simon kenton was such an early pioneer of Ky and looked vainly until one day he stumbled upon such and realized it was not of that variety of cane.

Yet this cane is a very nice plant to have. It controls erosion. Is easy to control, in fact almost wiped out here but now coming back strong. It makes very good fishing poles. Can be used to stake garden plants. Can be made into stick furniture. Lots more uses than I enumerate here.

But the indians used it sucessfully for cover while attacking in reprisal the Kentuckians by sneaking up very close thru its dense growth. And I think the farmers also drove it into extinction.

So I planted some and encouraged it. Always a good use for long straight pieces of plant material on the homeplace.

End of narrative.


many TOD members are of a scientific and engineering type background and not too heavy perhaps in foraging, hunting, gardening etc....

So all the more need for the input of those who do have that knowledge.

And finally one last comment.

Youtube I have found to be a very nice communication tool even though it absorbs quite a bit of bandwidth.

It allows one a visual as well as spoken language to a topic, like how I can tomatoes for instance.

Text is rather limited in that speaking one on one allows for inflections in speech, emphasis, and body language to assist in the communications. So Youtube would be very valuable in its contributions on some areas.

I just stumbled upon Silverlight for windows Internet Explorer while watching some techies demonstrate tweaking operating systems.
Its to me is more complete than Youtube.

Might I suggest that TOD consider the usage of such tools in some format in the future for certain types of situations?

The necessary download bandwidth would be on the users website or location and not put that loading on TODs servers.

There are to me three means of communications extant.
Visual formats
in descending levels of better choices in communicating
of course some are fleeting and some are more permament,

Just a thought.

its great idea, if we have the resources and content to support it.
I believe that our minds evolved to 'understand' way before hominds larynx's descended and we communicated in language. Language, unless it is data, is fraught with peril. When I say white coffee cup, yours and my minds conjure up completely different visualizations that are similar only in that they are light colored items from which coffee can be drank. Similarl, 'campfire', may mean something completely different to one than to another. We put Youtube interviews of Simmons, KrisCan, etc. from time to time - no reason we can't do it for this series. (though I doubt folks would have wanted a video of me euthanizing a 180lb goat who had 'goatpolio' today. Unpleasant...

At the moment that I saw the words "white coffee cup" I envisaged a receptacle for a "flat white". This cup could of course be any colour, but would never be used for serving a latte or capucino.

Further reading showed that you meant a white cup for serving coffee, as opposed to a cup for serving white coffee.

English is a wonderfully confusing language.


Lots of food for thought here, but I must quibble with one statement: "Concrete is out." Really? The Romans used concrete to build the Pantheon. Is the author asserting that we will have fewer resources than the Romans did in 125 AD? Granted, the idea of everyone having their own multi-ton vehicle is clearly obsolete. But the world is full of great architecture that predates the fossil fuel age by centuries or even millennia.

My understanding is the Romans found the materials for concrete in the volcanic ash from one (or some) of their volcanoes. They did not build cross-empire highways from concrete.

Conventional concrete manufacture is incredibly energy and GHG-emission intensive. Monbiot in his book _Heat_ has a whole chapter on this. He concludes that changes in manufacturing techniques could save some level of concrete use.

It's high-speed air travel that he finds no means to save in a climate changing and oil peaking world. (I can't remember now if he considers blimps.)

Concrete as a prime material is indeed highly energy intensive. THe use of concrete as a glue and/or filler between cut stone (or recycled concrete) blocks or slabs can be a highly effective construction material.

I doubt we'll abandon mineral mining just like I doubt we'll abandon agriculture even in the face of declining fossil fuel resources. This is because they take up ~5-6% of world energy consumption but provide the building blocks of what we do. Even now, renewables and nuclear power provided nearly two and a half times that amount of energy and we haven't bothered w/ a significant roll-out of either in decades ( or ever) due to being able to extract more fossil fuels at lower (w/o including externalities) cost along w/ significant NIMBYism.

"Even now, renewables and nuclear power provided nearly two and a half times that amount of energy and we haven't bothered w/ a significant roll-out of either in decades ( or ever) due to being able to extract more fossil fuels at lower (w/o including externalities) cost along w/ significant NIMBYism."

roflwaffle, exactly right! The same is true of space. When I was young, it was assumed that by now (actually well before now) we would be sending rocket carried miners or robot mining machines to near asteriods and the moons of the nearest planets to extract rare minerals.

Guess what? Even at the top of the commodities bubble prices, it was still far cheaper to buy any mineral you wanted on the open market than it would be to go into space to get them.

This applies to minerals that can be extracted from the ocean floor or seawater, or from non promising rock a this time. The Earth is not hollow. We have barely scratched the skin of the onion when it comes to minerals. we can technically go much deeper, but the issue will be cost (look how deep we are willing to go for diamonds for instance). But at what cost? There are some who act like we will give up civilization soon rather than pay the cost (??) I don't think so. If we reduce waste, we do not have to worry for a long time about the end of civilization. And if we have any guts, by then we will be on most of the moons of the planets in this solar system if not even further from home.


Ed Zachary. Furthermore, it isn't as if people have some insatiable demand for resources that cannot be quenched. If that was true oil would be a zillion bucks a barrel right now. In the real world, people change what and how they use stuff based on price, which depends on availability and production costs. While I imagine steel demand for autos and Iron ore production could drop post peak due to smaller vehicles, that doesn't mean we'll stop Iron mining cold turkey. There's an entire spectrum of what future resource and energy consumption could look like, and as we've seen from the original Limits to Growth projections, assuming consumption/population/pollution will grow exponentially while stuff curbing those doesn't is just silly. Not to mention the unknown unknowns that few if any can predict. In short, the behavior of human systems is way too complex to model in any significant way via simple functions based on simple assumptions.

"If we reduce waste, we do not have to worry for a long time about the end of civilization."

If we figure out how to live sustainably, we wouldn't have to worry. Why do you think mining deeper and deeper is sustainable, or that nothing else that characterises civilisation (as we know it) is unsustainable?

As much of developed and developing economies are built on waste, why would reducing waste maintain civilisation as we know it?

But let's suppose we eliminate waste. Would we need to mine more deeply, or go to other planets?

We'll eventually have to give up everything that is unsustainable. Why do you think mineral mining is sustainable?

"This particular resource we talk about on this site will peak - and soon - and it'll be an utter catastrophe. But this other resource will last forever! Honest."

Abundances of the Elements in the Earth's Crust

Oxygen 46.6%
Silicon 27.7%
Aluminum 8.1%
Iron 5.0%

Calcium 3.6%
Sodium 2.8%
Potassium 2.6%
Magnesium 2.1%
All others 1.5%



Is that supposed to mean something? Are you saying we can easily mine as much of these elements as we want, at whatever rate we want, forever, without any side-effects?

The New Scientist published an article entitled, "Earth's natural wealth: an audit". It included a diagram representing the longevity of many minerals at present rates of consumption. Of course, consumption rate is likely to rise if more countries develop and populations expand and production will peak rather than rise before dropping off a cliff. There would undoubtedly be increases in reserves but, given that peak would be the critical point, as there would be shortages thereafter, the total proportions of these minerals in the earth's crust is largely irrelevant.

With hydroelectricity (say 44 GW from Grand Inga) there is no effective limit on aluminum production. 44 GW would roughly supply the current levels of aluminum production.

Some hydroelectricity would likely be diverted to steel production as well (elements iron and carbon) without limit.


Are you saying that aluminium can be produced for a worldwide market at whatever rate is desired for ever? Are you saying that there will be no resource, geological or environmental limits in doing so, from the production of raw materials, from building the plants, from building and running the infrastructure, from producing the hydroelectric power, from distributing and processing the aluminium, from using the end products?

That seems like the stuff of dreams. Do you think this way for all manufacturing industry and all aspects of the economy? If so, then you are basically saying that the earth is infinite and has infinite capacity to harmlessly absorb our waste and habitat destruction. I'm pretty sure that's not the case.

All AlanfromBigEasy stated was that we could make ~27,000 tons of Al per year given a ~45GW source of renewable electricity. That certainly isn't whatever rate is desired for ever, since the rate is limited by the amount of energy dedicated to the Al production and the time is limited by how long we can inhabit the planet. Say for another billion years assuming the sun expands and makes the planet uninhabitable.

A finite amount of material produced over a finite time period is a far cry from infinite anything. I suggest keeping impossible Cornucopian statements and assumptions of infinite anything off of this message board.

"This particular resource we talk about on this site will peak - and soon - and it'll be an utter catastrophe. But this other resource will last forever! Honest."

You've hit the nail on the head, Kiashu. It's amazing the people who can't make those simple connections.

I find it hard to believe that as a society we've changed so much in the past century, but will not change in the face of oil depletion to avoid catastrophe.

Depends what ya mean by sustainable. The Earth itself won't be habitable indefinitely, so even sustainability isn't sustainable given enough time. What kind of time period are you looking at?

As far ahead as possible. Why pick an arbitrary limit? The end of the earth is not an arbitrary limit. The end of a habitable planet due to solar expansion is not an arbitrary limit. Suppose we choose 100 years, what happens at 90 years, or if some vital finite resource starts to run short earlier than calculated? So why not keep it at 100 years forever, which means, pretty much, for ever? Sustainable means living within the annual budget provided by the biosphere and the sun (remembering the the sun powers our biosphere). If we don't put a time limit on it, we have a chance of succeeding. If we do put a time limit on it we will set ourselves up for failure.

Even if we put a time limit on something that doesn't mean we'll fail since we can always change the time limit later. I think that working towards sustainability in terms of high volume/percentage recycling, lots of renewable energy, and other ways to minimize our impact on the planet's NPP is good, but I don't think we need to cut down for example mineral mining provided it isn't too invasive since we can cut down our rate of extraction and step up recycling in the future of a given resource if need be. We don't need to worry about Silicon (and other resources) production in terms of Silicon as a resource since we'll probably have more than enough until it gets too hot for us on the planet.

Dabebygolly, comments just went over three hundred. Well done.

Great article. I agree with much you have put together. You may not be aware that some organizational work has been done on this already. For example, town size has been worked out through 20 years of research by Claude Lewenz to be a minimum of 5000 and a maximum of 10000 so that there are most or all essential services locally available, but not too large to feed locally. http://villageforum.com. You will need at least an acre of arable land per occupant in the local area using Edible Forest Garden style Permaculture techniques, which can be managed entirely without fossil fuel inputs. http://www.edibleforestgardens.com. Naturally, it is hand labor intensive, but then I suppose that will be desirable anyway. These villages can be made entirely by hand if necessary using zero net energy passive solar design principles, including concrete, http://www.romanconcrete.com/docs/spillway/spillway.htm. Remember that concrete and earthen home design has been in use for a couple of thousand years.

Although population control will be a necessity no one wants to face yet, no new technologies are needed, no new energy sources are required. What we are really talking about here is cultural change. It is the choices we make about how we want to live that will make all the difference. If you take the time to read Claude's work, and learn something about Edible Forest Gardening, you may realize that these are desirable places to live and work. We just need to make a few examples to show the general population that there are viable alternatives to consumerism and business as usual.

ThatsItImout I also am on BP Meds, but I realise that our society will not have referenda on our future - it is embedded into our daily lives.

We have an energy system that does not have enough capacity to build an alternative system due to all current energy usage being accounted for - we have no extra for a massive new build out.

We have a market economic system that is failing in the face of high energy prices.

We have politicians all over the world that want to spend our way out of trouble.

The masses won't vote for a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle and so it won't be on anyones agenda.

Financial institutions never lend money on projects that don't make money or are in a volitile market. The current financial woes only make this worse.

Alternative energy systems will have to be mandated to give investors the confidence needed.

To have a techno future we will have to have a planned economy - no one will vote or it so it must be imposed through force.

Now you have to ask yourself WILL IT HAPPEN - IS IT PROBABLE OR LIKELY

NO is the answer I came up with and thats why we have returned to the land, off the grid and enjoying a more sustainable lifestyle and aiming to get our Global Footprint down to the Global Average.

The rationale for doing this is primarily that a planned energy descent is far easier than one enforced through circumstances you cannot hope to control - and it is ethically sound, and we have a bolt hole for our children if they require it.

And I will die when my time comes with no regrets..