Coming Chaos? Maybe Not

This essay was written by Michael W. Foley (TOD user greenuprising), a former professor in the social sciences at an eastern U.S. university who I now know as a local farmer. At a recent Farmers' Market, I suggested that we needed a more empirical and scholarly discussion of the potential for social breakdown, especially violence, during energy descent. Thankfully, he agreed to write the following for The Oil Drum.

A sizable subset of what some on this site call “doomers” are convinced that the demise of the petroleum economy will bring social breakdown and a violent struggle of all against all. Some are even preparing for the chaos to come. I'm convinced we have to take end-of-affluence scenarios, including the scarier ones, seriously. But it can help everyone confront these possibilities if we try to think more intricately about how people might respond. In particular, we need to face head-on the question whether social breakdown and violence are inevitable.

The concerns I'm adddressing here are pretty U.S.-centric, though I'm drawing on examples from around the world. Images of marauding bands sacking grocery stores and small farms and of neighbors guarding their hoards with shotguns mainly come out of the American imagination, I suspect. In places like Western Europe and Latin America, with old traditions of militant social organization, acute shortages might bring people out into the streets all right, even entailing looting and such (remember the Latin American “food riots” of the 70's and 80's?), but crystallizing pretty quickly into organized efforts to get governments to respond. But I'll try to suggest some conclusions that might have broader relevance than the U.S.

First, some reasons to be concerned. As Richard Heinberg notes, we're facing not just peak oil but “peak everything” -- cheap energy, cheap food, abundant water with which to grow it, clean air and water and soil, a reliable climate, and government resources to deal with the cascading crises. The financial crisis and world recession/depression won't be turned around by a few hundred billion dollars for the bankers, and “restarting growth” is little more than a recipe for widening the gap between the economy and the real, physical limitations of the planet. As mainstream a figure as Lester Brown documents the slowdown in agricultural productivity, the decline of water resources, and the threat of climate change to future food production. Whether because of rising seas or abrupt disruptions in food supplies, lots of observers predict massive displacements of people and enormous strains on governments competing for ever scarcer energy, water, and food resources. Border conflicts escalating to war seem likely in some parts of the world, and war will breed still more social disruption. Hunger and climate refugees, in any case, could be expected to besiege the still-affluent countries, including the United States, straining the resources of these countries still further. Add to that the possibility of a dramatic interruption of petroleum supplies, and there is plenty of reason to worry.

And social disruption can turn nasty very quickly. The classic example is the Ik, an African hunter-gatherer group deprived of their land and forced into agriculture on a small parcel of unsuitable farm land. Colin Turnbull's The Mountain People describes a social breakdown that went so far that children preyed upon their elders in loosely organized gangs. In Yugoslavia, a society with high levels of education and a long history of inter-ethnic cooperation, things fell apart still more rapidly in the face of the IMF-sponsored financial crisis of the early eighties and the decision of state-level politicians to carve out their own power bases with a claim to independence from the union. And throughout Africa, the predatory states of the seventies gave way in the face of the economic crisis of the eighties, and seemingly intractable conflicts followed in quick succession.

At the same time, we have to recognize that economic and ecological collapse don't necessarily lead to violence. We have lots of cases of localized peace in the midst of violence and even cases of “intractable peace.” Consider the Great Depression in the United States, for example. A quarter of the population was unemployed, ten thousand banks failed, taking people's life savings with them, and food shortages were not uncommon. But the level of violent crime did not rise notably, many people shared food willingly with wandering hobos, and people organized, more than anything else, to pressure government for help, which eventually came.

In Somalia, to take a surprising example, when things fell apart in clan-based political strife and widespread famine before and after the U.S. intervention in 1989, people eventually turned to Islamic courts to adjudicate disputes and begin to re-organize local community life. The courts movement, together with leaders of relatively stable regions, eventually came together against the warlords of the clans to create a new government, until the U.S. unleashed the Ethiopians against them. But the peace had come from the bottom up. And in one of the most violent countries in the world, Colombia, dozens of “peace communities” in war-torn areas generally manage to stave off guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the Colombian Army.

The sign reads: The community freely: participates in community work; says 'No' to injustice and impunity; does not participate in the war either directly or indirectly, nor bears arms; does not handle information or offer it to any of the parties to the conflict.

So what makes for non-violent outcomes to social crisis? And could we expect this to apply to a peak everything crisis in the United States? I don't have any firm answers and want to provoke a discussion more than anything else. But here are a few suggestions.

First, in most of the violent outcomes listed above, violence is not a matter of social banditry but is politically organized. In Croatia and Bosnia, politicians “played the ethnic card” in trying to secede from the union and recruited thugs to organize violence against both their political opponents and members of other ethnic groups. Though these groups recruited thousands of men, the desertion rate was astounding, according to John Mueller; most people, including young men, preferred to take their chances with their families than to fight. Ashutosh Varshney has a fascinating study of religious conflict in India, where he shows that cities with similar levels of religious division could have long histories of communal violence – or not. The crucial factor was politically motivated thuggery. Where politicians hired thugs to stir up communal violence, you had riots; where the politicians didn't feel compelled or able to do so, there was no such violence. Even where social banditry is widespread, as in El Salvador and Nicaragua after those countries' civil wars, we see the most overt sorts of violence, like highway robbery, fairly quickly suppressed by local police forces, replaced by more sporadic and harder to target crime, like kidnapping.

Franjo Tudjman, former president of Croatia, played the ethnic card to beat out liberal and socialist rivals and sent armed bands to stir up ethnic conflict among Croatia's tens of thousands of Serb residents, sparking civil war.

The first conclusion, then, might be that, absent some sort of political motivation, we're unlikely to see large-scale violence. The prospect of armed gangs roaming the countryside called up by many “doomers” is also unlikely, so long as local law enforcement remains intact (and why should we think it would just fall apart?).

In cities, it makes sense to worry about rioting and looting in the event of food shortages. But again, Americans might recall their own experience. In the fuel crisis of 1975, when Arab countries cut oil supplies to the United States in retaliation for U.S. support for Israel in the 1974 war, we had enormous lines at gas stations and some theft (this was when we started worrying about whether our gas caps had locks, remember?), but very little violence beyond a fist fight or two at the pumps. Food riots could be more serious, but these are usually responses to specific events: the government announces a sudden price increase; a bakery closes its doors and rumors spread that the owner is hoarding food; and – always important – the police step in with force.

Most riots, in fact, start with police violence. Police conduct is key, even when people in the street start the violence. SWAT teams can do a lot of damage; they generally exacerbate violence when lots of people are involved. In Seattle, for example, the WTO protests only became “riots” when out-of-town, SWAT trained police crossed their own line in the sand and started lobbing tear gas in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Young people enjoying life in that area's outdoor cafes, who had had no part in the protests, rose from their seats and started pelting the police with rocks and their own tear gas canisters. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the hysterical news reports to the contrary, violence was almost wholly the work of white vigilantes inspired by those same reports to “defend” their communities against supposed looters.

So a second conclusion is that we look to the police, and their training, for help in averting violence. Above all, local police should have good relations with their communities. They should also put as much effort into restraining vigilantism as into defending property. We ought to learn something about media hysteria and rumor mills from New Orleans, too.

The examples of ethnic and religious violence in Yugoslavia and India also suggest lessons about leadership and community. In the Indian cities that did not have a history of violence, in Varshney's study, it was because community leaders from both sides (Hindu and Muslim) worked together on a regular basis. Business leaders had little tolerance for politicians who stirred up violence, and some of them depended on a workforce made up mostly of people from a different religion. In Croatia and Bosnia, leaders who opposed ethnic nationalism lost power struggles to those who hoped to gain by independence from Yugoslavia. Third lesson: Leadership plays a big role in promoting or avoiding violence.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., a riot in a predominantly Salvadoran neighborhood in response to police abuse was stopped by a young Salvadoran woman, leader of a legal aid organization, who went out into the streets in the middle of the night to talk to the angry men, many of them drunk. Though most of them didn't know her, they knew who she was and responded to her courage.

Fourth lesson: Community is also important. Neighborhood watch committees apparently help bring down crime in urban neighborhoods. On the other hand, they notoriously don't promote community in their neighborhoods. In Guatemala and Guerrero, Mexico, local vigilantes broke waves of banditry in the face of police and judicial indifference or complicity by taking justice into their own hands; but vigilantes are dangerous beasts themselves. Most of these worked because the community and its leaders could restrain them from running amock. Where a feeling of community exists, neighbors watch out for one another. This doesn't break down easily. It can also force leaders, police and other authorities to play positive roles in crises, if the Indian examples are right. So, yes, stockpile food; but also build community and prepare to share.

So what are the prospects for violence in the United States (and other affluent societies) in the event of a “hard landing”? As far as large-scale violence goes, I'd say chances are next to nil. The political class is too wed to economic elites (national and local) to promote mobilization that would be to their detriment, and they have too much coercive power at their disposal to tolerate violent would-be counter-elites. Urban rioting would be sporadic and impossible to sustain without this sort of political support. At the local level, we could see some increase in banditry. But a lot depends on how solid local communities are, how their police are likely to behave, and how prepared they are to react generously in a time of crisis.

As I said, these aren't real firm answers, just quick conclusions based on my reading of history and patterns of social violence over the last couple centuries.

Thanks for the essay contribution Michael.

As I said, these aren't real firm answers, just quick conclusions based on my reading of history and patterns of social violence over the last couple centuries.

You must REALLY be emeritus (or a vampire...;-)

Seriously though, the root question is the ever present dynamic between cooperation and conflict that manifests in all social species. Our past clearly shows many examples of how we cooperate - indeed we became 'human' only when began to seriously cooperate in groups. But the fossil records also show that deadly violence has been a part of us, from the start of our species divergence from the ape line, and is still present in chimps (with which we share 98% of our DNA). Jane Goodall documented systematic warfare in chimpanzees (which was ALWAYS coalitional - not one-on-one killing). 20 to 40 percent of male deaths in the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies are inflicted by other men. (some - like Yamomamo are much higher - men who have killed have both more wives and more children). (Chagnon 1998)** Evidence such as skeletal fractures, the frequency of cranial trauma, the predominance of male skeletons, and the rate of left-side wounds, presumably a sign of violence from a predominantly right-handed species abound before the last couple centuries. Even the 20th century alone there were some 200 million? deaths from war/violence. (I shouldn't be making this comment because I don't have time to track down the references).(***EDIT: Here is one estimate from U of Virginia claiming 260,000,000.)

One wonders that in addition to dramatically increasing living standards, how much energy has served as a 'violence-suppressor', in its abundance of the last 60 years (see War Before Civilization). In other words, social studies of decreased violence in past 1/2 century or so has been potentially suppressed by energy in the same way that economic theory has been subsidized by it - the observations and correlations were unique to an era of huge energy surplus.

In my opinion, which side of the cooperation/competition coin we fall will depend on how we shape(define) our tribes -as local, regional, national or planetary. If the definition of tribal falls in the middle of the spectrum (regional or national) we are gonna have problems, and soon - because all nations won't have equal access to energy and scarce resources. If the majority of our social structure is local (meaning our social units are small enough where everyone knows everyone else and strong reciprocity keeps violence in check), or global (facing a common threat - like aliens or runaway global warming or some such), then violence might be averted. But it is a part of our genes to compete for resources, and as Diamond pointed out in Guns Germs and Steel and The Third Chimpanzee, when resources are scarce, population reductions via warfare have been adaptive.

I am a casual reader on this topic and no expert. Like you, these aren't firm answers, but logical conclusions I reach from reading history and observing the present. It's one reason I continue to devote time here -because if we can find both supply and particularly demand side 'solutions' for the majority, then it's less likely we will face the resource constraints that lead to violence.

(**Edit - after an irate note from a reader I am adding this footnote to the Yamomamo comment -the Yanomami that Chagnon studied were not full time hunter-gatherers and they already had massive historical impacts on them from western sources to intensify war: from slave raiding, to the rubber boom, to missionaries and then to Chagnon's massive influx of steel goods (plus boat motors and shotguns) into the area to create tension, alliances and heighten the death toll. the Yanomami in the more remote highland regions were far less violent. to try to say the Yanomami are anything like humanity's past before sedentism, complex hunter-gatherers, and agriculture (all of which came into being over the past 8-13,000 years.) is completely irresponsible science by Chagnon. Said reader rightfully complains about the accuracy of information on the blogosphere, but I think the major part of my comment was questioning if energy abundance had suppressed violence- as I indicated I am no expert - Here is a metastudy with references to some death tolls from wars and violence before the twentieth century)

From what I have read, the rates of violent death in small tribal societies was typically very high compared to "civilized" tribes. State managed courts and police forces leading to a reduction in tribe on tribe revenge cycles may be one decent explanation.

Does a state control over violence tend to decrease it at the local level, while increasing the chance for large-scale conflicts, aka, war? And if so, is a supra-national control over state on state violence then necessary?

Can we have the best of both worlds: strong local control (political and economic quasi autonomy) that reduces violence within neighborhoods, and weakens the susceptibility of the population to nationalistic military ventures?

Yes we can! (but will we?)

I don't know - but I think all these discussions about what do to and how to adapt and mitigate to resource depletion need to happen while we are, as we are now, accessing more rational states. There is an inflection point that when reached makes people do crazy things. The infrastructure and institutions of peace and reciprocity need to be installed before that point is reached. (and we currently have a culture that fosters competition more than cooperation...)

Nate - As this presentation relates to your current field of study and its genisis, I have to assume you have studied it but I must say I found several levels of insight in reviewing.

"Dana Meadows - Down to Earth"

In particular the concept of "vision".

Please review and comment on the prospects.

I have personally achieved huge levels of accomplishment because I simply had the vision of what I believed can be. I did not have the path, just the vision, yet achieved what others ridiculed or at the very least dismissed.

I could possibly flesh this out a bit as a post but I have to believe that others have gone before me and to a greater degree too.

A souperman2 inspired essay I wrote on the start of this decay.

Seems to me the best we can do now is to figure out how to deal with decline. Not if there will be a decline or when there will be a decline, but how do we adapt to 8 or 9 percent - or more - annual decline rates.

It's no longer necessary to argue the if or when, only the what to do. Get rid of the bastard national guard officer running your local EMA. Get someone who knows what "public health" means, or what gardening means. Get a Sheriff willing to feed and work the jail from the community gardens.

The Authoritarians are the big problem. Putting community solutions in place first is key. Antidote to the thugs.

cfm in Gray, ME

Great piece Driki


I think a lot of the rampant doomerism ex violent outcome is an American phenomenon. Our society is venal, repressed, advertizing- and media- soaked, dystopic and uncultured. Tens of thousands of hours of teevee watching and tens of thousands of hours more sitting in traffic do this. If behavior on the freeway is a guide to future activities, when the money runs out all hell will break loose, with the cops standing around looking/looting/smoking dope. New Orleans post Katrina. Some rescued, others took shots at.

New Orleans Police Department; NOPD. 'Not Our Problem, Dude!'

What was once a fairly civilized place has been turned into an auto habitat, ugly and mean as King Cobra with a bad hangover. Our culture orbits around autos and firearms. We need them we love them we slobber all over them and when the going gets tough, we get into our cars with .44 magnums and drive around looking for someone to kill for kicks. This is what they do on television/popular culture.

"I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die ... "

Movies, video games. The US military ... nobody marches anymore, they get into trillion-gazillion dollar vehicles and ride to battle in air- conditioned comfort.

I've been in Peru and Ecuador; income in this and that particular area: $2 per day. Kids playing in the stream, going to school, no violence. No cars and no guns, either.

The real problem is this; every fifty years or so half the human race gets the uncontrollable urge to murder the other half. We are in one of these periods, now ...

Two of your comments stand out to me..

"(and we currently have a culture that fosters competition more than cooperation...)"
While I agree with this, I think great aspects of this competitive culture are a result of the massive acquisition of resources and power. As the example of our reaction to the deprivation of the 30's might suggest, we seem to be more aggressive and combative when we have a lot of stuff to lose.

In your first comment, you surmised..
" addition to dramatically increasing living standards, how much energy has served as a 'violence-suppressor'"
- and yet I think this is greatly reversed. While energy has given us the ability to erect more barriers and live farther afield, perhaps keeping us less 'in each others' faces'.. still, the amount of Civilian death as a percentage in warfare has simply skyrocketed in that terrifically bloody century you were noting. Buzz Bombs, B-52s and Benzin seem to have done more than enough to outstrip the efforts of palliatives like Lighted Streets, 24hour stores and Police on patrol and on-call.

The suggestion in the keypost about Politically devised violence rings especially true, as I've heard the witness of many WTO protesters who were involved in devoted NON-violent protests where some Buzz-cut strangers would join their ranks at the last minute with poor acting skills and good projectiles to try to 'Stir things up'.. and if confronted by the Protest-leaders, would be quickly ushered back behind Police Lines.

Non-violence is VERY threatening to people who really need to protect their weaponry, and who see this armor as the only safety. (And it's not the Cops or the Soldiers I pin that on.. they are at the end of this chained-philosophy)

still, the amount of Civilian death as a percentage in warfare has simply skyrocketed in that terrifically bloody century you were noting.

Well, if the 20-40% figure of hunter-gatherer societies that Chagnon suggests is correct, that would imply roughly 1.5-2.0 billion deaths in 20th century vs 200 million.

And I agree with your first point - in economics its studies as the 'endowment effect' and 'loss aversion'. But I think sunk cost (loss aversion) in economics has its roots in biology (not culture). Research in ecology/biology shows that animals are willing to expend a great deal more energy in defending what they already have than in challenging for a new resource, territory, etc. E.g. a dog will more vigorously defend its bone if it 'owns it' than if it found it at same time as another dog. I don' think this has been tested on humans yet per se. but it stands to reason there may be implications.

On deaths due to war, I think you are both right in an apples vs. oranges kind of way. According to Gwynne Dyer's latest edition of his classic overview 'War: The Lethal Custom' tribal/primitive warfare typically has higher casualties, but they are spread over the lifetime of the tribal group's members. A sort of low level, 1% a year attrition rate.

By comparison, industrial warfare can't be beat for killing lots and lots of people in a short span of years -- it is a much more concentrated, and of course high energy, process.

Caveat: Both statements are generalizations, of course. Your actual tragedy may vary.

In 'Why We Fight' Le Blanc puts the number of deaths in hunter gatherer and early tribal societies at 25% for males, 5% for women. He bases this though on clear archaelogical evidence of weopons damage to bone finds. Not everyone is killed with such damage though and the number could obviously be higher.

"There is an inflection point that when reached makes people do crazy things."

When my emotions begin to run high, you know the sensations--tightness in the chest, flush of blood to the head--I have a mantra I repeat before reacting. It goes:

Frontal Lobe Dominance, Frontal Lobe Dominance, Frontal Lobe Dominance...

I think it really helps!

Frontal Lobe Dominance, Frontal Lobe Dominance, Frontal Lobe Dominance...

Yeah, but "1, 2, 3... 10," is a lot easier to say! (Especially if in a hurry.)



Nate wrote "The infrastructure and institutions of peace and reciprocity need to be installed before that point is reached. (and we currently have a culture that fosters competition more than cooperation...)"

I was musing on something like this yesterday. One of the manifestations of our competition culture is the global culture of competitive sport. With the appropriate technology hundreds of millions of people are, at any time, able to tune in 24/7 to anything, anywhere.

I have been watching the Australian Open tennis competition, the first 'Grand Slam'. The language used is a language of war. The words 'weapons', blast, 'pull the trigger', 'armed' and 'destroy' are a few common ones that come to mind. The irony here is that the commentators are always referring to community contributions and benefits the sport passes on to young people. There is a clear mismatch of language and intent here.

A review and reformation of how sport events are called would be a good start.

Humanity is not cooperation OR competition, it's cooperation AND competition! Even team sports are one group cooperating against another. Change the makeup of the teams, the rules of the sport, and the goal of the contest and it'll still work just fine, and still be ardently supported and vigorously fought.

If you re-created sports into something that was somehow cooperation-only what would it look like? In ancy case nobody would play or watch them, I think.

If you take a few boys and give them a basketball you're not going to get a game where everybody takes turns shooting or passing equally. You'll either get an individual contest like HORSE or break-out or they'll pick teams and compete. Within the team you'll have competition (who gets to be team captain and who is the unfortunate kid that gets picked last), but then the two teams will compete.

Girls are the same, except they'll be nicer at the outset and meaner by the end.

thanks for the info on our past & biologically violent tendencies- nate, jason. we often forget how short 'civil' history is -comparatively.

a declining ,& shrinking, virtually everything will bring out attitudes/ behaviors we have not frequently seen.

One wonders that in addition to dramatically increasing living standards, how much energy has served as a 'violence-suppressor', in its abundance of the last 60 years

An intriguing suggestion, Nate. The late, great student of political violence, Charles Tilly, argued that as the scale of warfare in Europe grew, states had to accommodate ordinary citizens in exchange for service and bankers in exchange for funding. The result was the flourishing of capitalism and welfare states -- and, of course, the consolidation of the nation state as the dominant political form. Affluence certainly seems to have helped in this process, though it started well before most people enjoyed anything like affluence. But bankers and merchants, beneficiaries alongside kings of imperial expansion from the 15th century on, provided the funding for expanding state functions. As Catton pointed out almost thirty years ago, the first extension of human population capabilities came to Europe through "takeover", the absorption of the wealth and resources of other parts of the world. Then can the fossil fuel revolution to really move things along.

One clear result of the consolidation of the nation state has been the suppression of warring among statlets and inter-communal violence that characterized much of human history before. The "order" that states provide may be hypocritical -- at the expense of all sorts of freedoms, shifting resources to wars between states -- but it's still an order that has allowed more people peace arguably longer than anything that went before. States may suck, but they provide a framework in which we can work out (most of) our conflicts peaceably -- when they work.

And here's the rub. What happens when they cease to work. Somalia is everybody's favorite case. Clan-based warlordism ensues. Or can ensue. So one question not addressed in the essay is what will keep this state-based order afloat? I think it's got a lot of resilience, but, as your comment suggests, the end of easy money can very well make states much more brittle. Others note that the last functions to be cut will be the policing functions, and I think that's right. Which brings us back to my point about the character and training of police and their relations to their communities. The Miami Force training program popular around the country (can you believe it!) and the SWAT team model are depressing reminders of how bad it can be. Community policing and a lot of pretty good police forces out there remind us there are ways to make it better. 'Nuf said for now.


PS. Sorry to be so late to this conversation. I spent most of the late afternoon/evening at two community-building events, one at my house. On community-building I hope to have more to say in another post.

"So one question not addressed in the essay is what will keep this state-based order afloat? I think it's got a lot of resilience, but, as your comment suggests, the end of easy money can very well make states much more brittle".

Thanks for your insights Michael. With regard to the point quoted here. I think it would be a good idea to observe China closely. Many Chinese were promised the 'Western Dream' Until late last year they were on their merry way toward it. Now party seems over. Massive scale downs in industry and mass labour redundancies are the order of the day. There have already been reports of civil unrest. Just how much unrest is difficult to know in a locked down nation state like China. But it is happening.

I think that we should make every effort to find out what is going on in China. It may give us some idea of what to expect amongst our own populace.

Okey, I can't let this go by. The Yanomamo are a horticultural society severely impacted by European expansion. They cannot be used as a model for unimpacted forager societies. Insofar as I recall the majority of the societies in Leblanc's "Constant Battles" are horticultural societies,i.e. Yanomamo, New Guinea, not forager ones as everyone claims. Therefore "Constant Battles" has little to say about intraspecific violence in forager cultures. Data about un-impacted forager cultures is very rare. Much of the Australian data is biased, and comes from early researchers studying severely disrupted and damaged cultures. Can anyone with proper training in anthropology comment more?

See my edit above. This is beyond my ken. But it highlights how difficult it is going to be to forge the intersections of different disciplines to come up with a holistic picture of where we come from, where we stand and where we are heading. I read the Chagnon lit in grad school and (obviously) haven't kept up since as it is not my field, yet Wikipedia and many other places do still make the same claims about Yamomamo. Science isn't keeping up with real events and the internet isn't keeping up with science. We're in a pickle.

(And yes please - anyone with anthropology expertise please chime in)

We moderns certainly project our hopes and fears onto the long foraging past of our species, don't we? These debates about "the state of nature" go back to the start of the Enlightenment, drawing in turn on Judeo-Christian understandings of creation, Garden of Eden, etc.

One of the best efforts to get at the origins of war, IMO, is Raymond Kelly's 2000 *Warless societies and the origin of war*, Univ. of Michigan Press. As you might surmise, much of the debate centers on what sort of violence "war" is. What would we look for in the ethnographic or archaeological records? Kelly argues that war has fundamentally to do with the cultural transition from tit-for-tat revenge killing of specific others to substitute death - that the desire for revenge is satisfied by the killing of social equivalents to the actual perpetrator/murderer. He focuses on the relatively well-documented Andaman Islander foragers to make his case. A great read which I have used with undergrads. He has a more recent article "The evolution of lethal intergroup violence" (2005), Proceedings of the NAS, but I have not read this.

"A Bioarchaeological Perspective on the History of Violence" by Phillip L. Walker, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 30, (2001), pp. 573-596, argues that "interpersonal violence, especially among men, has been prevalent" throughout our history.

I've often reflected on the significance of the Chipewyan native american's massacre of a band of 20 Inuit at Bloody Falls on the Coppermine river in far northern Canada documented by explorer Samuel Hearn. It appears from his records (apparently very detailed and noted for reliability) that extermination of members of other tribes was standard practice, with no thought or question, though on his three expeditions he documents many occasions when a group of Chipewyan with which he was travelling met other groups of Chipewyan, not necessarily known or family, and the parties simply exchanged information and messages for aquaintances whom the other party might chance upon, and often shared resources and information about available resources. In one case, the group with which he travelled increased to 300 members, though commonly numbered less than 10. It also appears that in general, "criminal" activity was quite rare, the only experience he notes was one occasion when a thief made off with his valuable navigation quadrant, and his guides tracked and pursued the thief until they found the quadrant left in an open space unharmed. They clearly had a fairly high standard of social behaviour within the tribe.

July 15, 1771, found the party leaving the last of the trees behind and entering the bare rock of the tundra. It also dawned with the information of an Eskimo camp twelve miles downstream. On July 17, 1771, one hour past midnight, the Eskimos were surprised in their sleep, (20 men, women and children), and brutally massacred and desecrated. The site became known as Bloody Falls and many years later Hearne still wept over the vivid memories.

My preliminary conclusion is that in this area (Artic circle), food resources were sufficiently scarce that the Chipewyans were unwilling to share them with the Inuit. No doubt had they not fiercly defended against Inuit incursions they would have wound up sharing with them, because though difficult, their territory was not doubt much more productive than that of the Inuit further north.

Edit: I also note what superb forager/hunters the Chipewyan were. Hearn notes in his documents that on one occasion they travelled for several days with no food at all, seeing no game. Then they came upon three deer, and his three guides killed all three. That with 18th century muskets! What superb stalkers they must have been, to say nothing of the difficulties of maintaining a musket ready to fire in those conditions. I know of no-one alive who could likely diplicate that, though my grandmother's two brothers were nearly comparable woodsmen, doing all their hunting with 22 calibre rifles, including moose and bear. They were veteran snipers from WWI. Seeing some posts here from city-slicker anarchists is, shall i say, anachronistic?

With the range of regional-national possibilities so great while both global and local seem to occupy such a narrow bands of the possibility spectrum it seems obivious where the odds maker would stand.

I certainly have steadily gravitated away from wanting the overarching structure we live under to collapse as I have moved up the age ladder.

Populations in the developed countries are much older than the populations in the rest of the world. Certainly access to abundant cheap energy has been one of the critical factors in allowing that demographic shift. This seems to be an argument for looking into keeping cheap energy out there (and nuke could be relatively cheap) and making that age shift more universal.

Mind you I say this sitting rather comfortably in an oil heated house only hundreds of yards from the trans Alaska pipeline--not groping for some calories on a Bangladesh beach. Not many of those folks engage in diversions such as these discussions. If the oil fleet suddenly ceases to leave a wake the odds for global are gone and local would require such complete collapse that it is very hard to say where it would have what to work with. For now I'm pushing for the unlikely outcome of global.

See Steven Pinker's TED talk video: A brief history of violence

He argues that homicides and warfare was pretty common among our tribal ancestors.

As to Napoleon Chagnon, he became the whipping-boy of the cultural determinist wing of cultural anthropology because he challenged their (Pollyannish) view that our tribal ancestors were peaceful "noble savages." The American Anthropological Assn even voted to condemn his Yanomamo work (which they later recinded)... as if the empirical truth could be decided via a political vote. See:

Oh for the love of... the doomerism is getting a little thick around here.

The post makes a good point, namely that even in an economic collapse we won't necessarily end up in a Mad Max-world.

But, I am beginning to disagree with the entire premise that we are facing "peak everything". A liquid fuels crisis? Yes. But we should not confuse oil with energy; to name a few known, proven, working alternatives there is coal, nuclear and hydro. I think France and Sweden have both shown that it is perfectly possible to run a modern industrial economy without primary reliance on oil. Sure - fewer cars, but electrified rail is pretty convenient if you've ever tried it.

And no - I don't believe we are facing peak coal nor peak uranium. Having training in both geology and physics (oddly enough) I can say the former is a ways away (not 200 years, though), and the latter is simply not going to happen in the forseeable future given any reasonable use of breeding technology.

So why are folks on this site spending time discussing whether or not there will be roving bands of looters in suburbia? Wouldn't it be more useful to be talking about how to encourage mass transit, or expand nuclear generation, or even how to make a solar panel that doesn't suck (i.e. that generates more energy over its lifetime than it took to make in the first place).

We know that coal can be used to create liquid fuel; so if we truly do peak in oil, there will be a strong push for that approach. I know it would be a terrible choice for the climate -- not to mention unnecessary -- but I can guarantee you that will be done before we have a complete failure of industrial society.

I remember when the doomer strain of thought was completely pre-occupied with the possibility of a full-scale nuclear exchange. Now that was both a real possibility and would have sucked.... Will peak oil damage the economy and force changes? Of course. But should we be stockpiling SPAM & ammo? Hardly. In fact, it is the preoccupation with silliness like this that to a large extent keeps people who are aware of these problems from being able to effectively communicate solutions and to the rest of society.

In other words - as much fun as it is to be thinking about your basement food stash - you should instead go out and try to make sure the wind power or nuclear project in your area doesn't get bogged down in NIMBYism.

And no - I don't believe we are facing peak coal nor peak uranium. Having training in both geology and physics (oddly enough) I can say the former is a ways away (not 200 years, though), and the latter is simply not going to happen in the forseeable future given any reasonable use of breeding technology.

We keep hearing about the marvel of Breeder Reactors, yet the only ones in existence are either closed, soon to be closed, abandoned, or awaiting re-opening after serious accidents:

  • BN-600 (Russia, end of life 2010)
  • Clinch River Breeder Reactor (U.S., construction abandoned in 1982 because the US halted its spent-fuel reprocessing program and thus made breeders pointless)
  • Monju (Japan, being brought online again after serious sodium leak and fire in 1995)
  • Superphénix (France, closed 1998)

But then, I don't have degrees in Physics and Geology, so I've probably got the whole thing arse about face.

We keep hearing about the marvel of Breeder Reactors, yet the only ones in existence are either closed, soon to be closed, abandoned, or awaiting re-opening after serious accidents.

They are not currently able to compete in cost with coal nor single-pass nuclear. That just means that Uranium is very cheap - i.e. another argument against "Peak Uranium."

For now. But if we decide to abandon coal due to its very real climatological dangers, eventually there may be enough demand for uranium that breeding will make sense.

My point is simply that proven technological solutions exist that can provide civilization-supporting levels of energy over the long term. Thus our primary concern ought to be how to manage the transition to these sources, not how to properly store 500 man-days of dry staples in your basement.

So, their existence is enough? That they exist = they will save us? No, you are grossly simplifying that equation. Talk about taking something on faith!

There are at least two constraints on nuclear. One is time, the other is money. Given Peak appears to be now and given the financial state of things, how do you propose building hundreds (U.S.A.) or thousands (globally) of these things... within the next 5 to 10 to 20 years?

I see no logic in your post.


One is time, the other is money.

And the ONLY think needed to overcome these is widespread demand, which you'll see will happen long before the mad max scene develops, GIVEN MINOR MINIMUM LEVELS OF POLITICAL STABILITY. I completely agree with salonlizard.

There are at least two constraints on nuclear. One is time, the other is money.

This is faulty logic I always see on this site. Can we get 4000 LFT reactors online before oil peaks? No.

But that does not mean that we can't get more coal plants up while we expand the grid. It does not mean that we cannot reduce consumption of liquid fuels by biking, conserving, increasing efficiency of use, etc... in the meantime while more coal comes online. Coal is not likely to peak till 2040/2050 and even then the bell curve will likely be much less steep than oil (I would link to graphs on this site but I don't know how... newbie poster). We do not have to wait on the LFTR to start putting up more Gen 2 plants or even Gen 3 thorium (but not molten salt) breeders. In other words, we can transition slowly and gradually with multiple "silver BBs" before we get the silver bullet into the silver gun.

I think people need to be honest in their logic here. Too often I see comments made that we can't do so-and-so because there is no time before Peak Oil. Peak Oil is not Peak Energy... Peak Fossil Fuel Energy will be gradual if we are willing to burn coal (or even oil shale) and since I think that we will anyway, talking about not doing it is pointless. If we are going to do it, let's do it smart as a transition. I think we will, given the new energy team and that there is already pending legislation about the use of thorium to fuel the economy.

There is still time. Maybe not to avoid a depression, certainly not for complacency or faulty logic, but work gets done during a depression too. We don't all just lay down and die because our 401Ks disappear.

They are not currently able to compete in cost with coal nor single-pass nuclear. That just means that Uranium is very cheap

Or the disposal - or non-disposal - of transuranics and such is very cheap.

eventually there may be enough demand for uranium that breeding will make sense.

Or there may be enough demand to eliminate long-duration nuclear waste.  One interesting comparison is that CO2 may linger in the atmosphere for over 1000 years, while the bulk of fission products have half-lives under 30 years and are down to less than the activity of the raw metal in 200.  If we are concerned about leaving liabilities for our descendants, nuclear is paradoxically one of our best options.

You forgot one:

  • Integral Fast Reactor, program cancelled in 1994 when Democrats had control of the Energy department.

The IFR would have been able to burn PWR waste, and eliminated the logistical and proliferation issues with off-site reprocessing.  As such, it was a serious threat to the credibility of the "nukes=bombs" mantra, and it had to go.

The trouble is, we're not coming up with the capital to invest in those alternatives, just as we're not coming up with the capital to invest in oil exploration & development. Thus, it doesn't matter how much oil remains in the ground and is theoretically recoverable, the reality is that we don't have the megaprojects on line that can offset depletion, and so down the slope we go. It also doesn't matter what is theoretically possible when it comes to nuclear, or wind, or solar, or other alternatives, the reality is that we do not have enough of any of these under construction right now to make up the difference in what we are losing through depletion of oil (and all FF for that matter).

That doesn't mean that everything instantly collapses like a house of cards, but it does mean that - short of a change in the way that we collectively go about doing things that is nothing sort of miraculous - a substantial long-term economic decline is pretty much set in stone as about the BEST we can hope for. And, of course, the longer and deeper the decline, the harder and harder it becomes to come up with the investment capital for any type of energy project.

Can we manage decline without a breakdown of law and order? Maybe, but as I explain in my post below, I believe that communities are going to have to enlist the active help of their citizenry to augment their police forces. Those that are willing and able to do this will do fine, those that won't or can't just might spiral down into a nightmare of civil disorder and violence.

'the reality is that we don't have the megaprojects on line that can offset depletion, and so down the slope we go'

all signs point to that declines will be steep & we will at best have a deflationary environment that dominates the globe.

if we inflate successfully then terrible decline will hit & we'll blame a country i fear & declare their oil ours.

The trouble is, we're not coming up with the capital to invest in those alternatives, just as we're not coming up with the capital to invest in oil exploration & development. [....] It also doesn't matter what is theoretically possible when it comes to nuclear, or wind, or solar, or other alternatives, the reality is that we do not have enough of any of these under construction right now to make up the difference in what we are losing through depletion of oil (and all FF for that matter).

It would seem like you have a point - I am also frustrated at the apparent slow pace of development of energy alternatives. From my standpoint, the problem isn't technical - it's a matter of political will. France was able transition to 80% nuclear in the late 70's - early 80's because their political system made it possible for a single powerful leader to drive through a decision like that. de Gaulle set the constitution up that way; we in the U.S. chose a different approach, for better and sometimes worse.

My hope is this: it's amazing what the free market can do in an astonishingly short amount of time, if the incentives are right. If we ever get the costs of coal to reflect the damage is causes and get rid of self-defeating subsidies of alternatives that are not net-energy positive (corn ethanol anyone?), I think we could manage a transition to nuclear-electric rather quickly.

France was able transition to 80% nuclear in the late 70's - early 80's because their political system made it possible

You realize France consumes almost 2mbpd of oil? (1.919mpbd in 2007)
(just for comparison, the whole of Africa uses almost 3mbpd (2.955mpbd in 2007)

A small country using a 2/3 of what a whole continent uses, I would hardly call that being resilient to oil disruptions. Electricity, yes but what about transport?

but what about transport?

After 3 decades of "one line at a time", France has 3 TGV lines under construction at one time. The original plans are 100 km from completion, a new set of lines is planned.

France has a goal of electrifying every meter of their railroads and "burning not one drop of oil".

They plan to build 1,500 km of new tram lines in the next decade, and in every town of 100,000 or more (and some in less). Even Reunion (their "Hawaii" in the Indian Ocean) will get a train-tram between all of the populated areas.

They plan to increase bicycling from 1% of Urban trips to 10% (see velib, rental bikes, first 1/2 hour free).

They have urban growth boundaries to prevent sprawl.

They still use oil, but they are creating a Non-Oil Transportation system in parallel that they can move to if the oil based one gets stressed.

Best Hopes for Alternatives to Oil,


They plan to

Perhaps better stated as, "Best Hopes for Enough Time and Money, for the best-laid plans of mice and men..."


Every month or two brings another completed Non-Oil Transportation project in France. TSHTF may occur before 100% completion, but better 88% completion than nothing.

Best Hopes for Steady Progress,



In addition to the technical, economic, governmental etc aspects of the comparisons between France and US there are also many grass-roots societal aspects where the 2 cultures diverge big-time.

I live ( winters) in a Vermont "town" of population 3500 (Y2k)now embedded hip-to-haunch in a sprawl of ~35,000 limited it seems only by impossible traffic congestion as the SUVs grow and grow and make obsolete the old road dimensions. Here I know relatively few people outside my AA groups though i've been living here for almost 50 years. The reason: we dont have a cafe culture here, we have a home-hearth culture. There is no public transportation to speak of except for a nascent free-bus service designed to get the arbeiter unterklasse, maids and janitors to their vanishing jobs. To go to NYC to the opera we take amtrak which does the 4hr auto trip in 6 to 8 hours depending on the state of the decrepit, SINGLE track or the number of freights stalled in front. We sold my car and share wifey-poo's Prius which gets 35mpg when it's bitter cold. ( My 96 Geo Metro did better but it rusted away due to the excessive use of salt to please the yuppies and down-country skiers.) I walk or hitchhike a lot. I get rides from ( feels like) ~1% of cars if I hitch, always from someone who recognizes me, never from yuppies in SUVs. They're afraid of terrorists or madmen or something. They don't grok someone voluntarily walking.
In France in the spring through fall I live 1km outside a town of ~300, in the Cevennes Mountains of Languedoc. This region was the locus of the Wars of Religion, the Hugenots, the Maquis during 2, and is known as the terroir de refuge, land of refuge. Though their pasts were violent and distrust-filled they now quietly tolerate and cooperate and fondly love their neighbors. There I have lots of Friends. Peopleo live in a relaxed enough life-style that they can dare to get into conversation with a foreigner in a local cafe. I can walk where I need to go and if I stick out my thumb I get a ride. They are palpably not afraid of terrorists etc. The tiny roads are impeccably maintained. There have been smart-jitneys for years and there are also regular small busses going hither and yon and bigger ones of the SNCF which take you to the train. YES, the train. Which takes you quickly all over France and Italy and is lots of fun too. A cheap older car will get 40 mpg easy, or you can run a motorbike for peanuts. There are windmills galore down along the coast and in our tiny village the local hillbilly plumber will install you a geothermal heatpump system if you ask. SNCF made a profit last year. So did stodgy old Societe-Generale ! imagine, a bank making a profit! Theyre so behind the times they charge you heavy €'s for a debit or credit card! We leave our house unlocked though it's right beside the road. If they don't like you you might find that to be a risky bizness but if you love them they love you. At least it seems to me. My gut feeling is that we'd be happier going real primitive there than here. It's already archaic in the societal norms so there's less to unlearn. Oh yes, (almost) everybody is organic-bio in the garden dept. The food is extra yummy. They do it "the way my grandfather taught me."

Just my observations.
PS for those who can drink alcohol, the wine is great and is cheaper than some bottled waters. ;-)

OK, I'm going to ask the obvious question:

I live ( winters) in a Vermont "town"

In France in the spring through fall

Why would someone live in France for the spring through fall, then Vermont in the winter? If I were you, I would be in Vermont June through November. What is it that makes you come back to Vermont every winter?

Kids, mostly.
Gotta see them sometime.

Summer's better, ( IMO ) in France; less opressively humid weather.

Winter, OTOH, is beautiful and peaceful in VT.

I walk or hitchhike a lot. I get rides ... always from someone who recognizes me, never from yuppies in SUVs. They're afraid of terrorists or madmen or something.

That's the whole problem in a nutshell, right there. Fix that, you'll fix almost everything. Step 1) TURF that stupid Homeland Security (with a stiff-arm salute) outfit that the crazy-cons started. Step 2) Re-instate a system where persons who are sufficiently out of touch with reality to be dangerous to themselves and others can be retained in decent secure environments, particularly those with a long record of violence. This stupid idea of letting anyone out of mental hospitals unsupervised who can coherently request it, is completely foolish. Schizophrenia for example is a treatable illness, but asking sufferers to self-treat by unsupervised self-medication is very often simply a recipe for disaster for both patients and those around them. At minimum there should be supervised open living quarters with external control of medication sequences. Or some other fix, I'm not an expert. I know it'll cost more, but the benefits for all justify it. Step 3) Stop filling up jails with poor people who simply happen to have committed the offense of being poor. Step 4) Many others.

Second half of Maine scallop season scrapped

"The Department of Marine Resources had already cut the season to 70 days, down from 132 days last year.

The first half of the season ran from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4, with the second half set to run from Feb. 25 to March 31.

Deputy Commissioner David Etnier says the second half of the season has now been canceled to help the declining scallop population."

Maybe you're right.. but it's worth checking in on the Canaries, too. Which ones AREN'T gasping at this point?

Jokhul wrote:

'Maybe you're right.. but it's worth checking in on the Canaries, too. Which ones AREN'T gasping at this point?'

During my first environmental protest (protecting mangroves) in the 1970's, I asked my father. 'Why are we doing this? He said. 'You don't eat, you don't shit, then you die'.

Etnier and the rest of the piranhas in Augusta aren't gasping. Draggers? The State of Maine should be sending out gunboats to force them away. But no, the explict purpose of Maine's natural resource agencies - per Governor Baladacci - is to help businesses exploit Maine's natural resources. Maybe it's a bit embarrassing when they have to preside over the destruction of a whole fishery so they do a pretend short-term closure.

"What does an environmental lawyer do?" I asked my son.

"He fights the environment."

"Who does he work for?"

"Pierce Atwood, Nestle's, Hannaford's or the State of Maine."

OK I made up some of the dialog. The facts stand. Lovelock is right when he argues for dumping toxic radioactive waste into every sensitive ecosystem to protect those ecosystems from humans.

cfm in Gray, ME

Wouldn't it be more useful to be talking about how to encourage mass transit, or expand nuclear generation, or even how to make a solar panel that doesn't suck (i.e. that generates more energy over its lifetime than it took to make in the first place).

Yes, but first we need to convince the majority of our citizens that there is a very real and urgent need to undertake these solutions. I agree that writing "letters to the editor" is a lot more useful than

stockpiling SPAM & ammo

My observation is that very few people really understand the issues of PO & GW. Hopefully we can avert the worst scenarios - but, this has no prospect of happening unless the general public gets a crash course in these issue. The first step may be to regulate the disinformation campaigns by multinational energy companies in the same way we regular cigarette smoking advertisements.

And as far as the Solar PV Energy-Return Comment,

Salon Lizard, Solar panels easily return their embedded manufacturing and material energy in some 1 to 4 years according to NREL, and then continue to push watts for another 20-30. What 'sucks' is the high initial cost to purchase them, but if you want a reliable source of electric current that doesn't require oiling, don't add water, no moving parts, and you can use it as a roof.. then PV is a pretty reasonable technology.

Energy payback estimates for rooftop PV systems are 4, 3, 2, and 1 years: 4 years for systems using current multicrystalline-silicon PV modules, 3 years for current thin-film modules,
2 years for anticipated multicrystalline modules, and 1 year for anticipated thin-film modules (see Figure 1). With energy paybacks of 1 to 4 years and assumed life expectancies of 30 years, 87% to 97% of the energy that PV systems generate won’t be plagued by pollution, greenhouse gases, and depletion of resources.

Based on models and real data, the idea that PV cannot pay back its energy investment is simply a myth. Indeed, researchers Dones and Frischknecht found that PV-systems fabrication and fossilfuel
energy production have similar energy payback periods (including costs for mining, transportation, refining, and construction).

Well if you include batteries and all the other doo-dads I have come to conclusion that centralized solar might have low payback periods, but solar for ones home (other than passive or hot water) is ridiculously expensive. My electric bill averages about $120 per month (with very high stdev). On average I used 500kwH per month with a range of 300-700. I was recently quoted a 500kwH system with batteries etc, for $56,000 NOT including delivery or installation. So at current electricty prices that would be 40 years to break-even. When they talk about energy pay back, how much of the cost is non-energy inputs? If you tell me where to buy solar rooftop PV that I can get paid back in 4 years Im all over it..

I'll probably run a post on this..

My calculations are:

5-6 Kwh per day = ca. 2000 Kwh/year

ca. $0.10 per Kwh = $200/year

Cost to install the 1.5 Kw system to yield 2000 Kwh/year = $12,000.

The reason to do this? Because I don't believe $0.10 Kwh for electricity covers the externalized costs. Because I expect electricity to be more expensive. Because I'd prefer to convert $ into electrons/tangibles.

Have solar hot water too. Totally awesome!

Salon Lizard, Solar panels easily return their embedded manufacturing and material energy in some 1 to 4 years according to NREL, and then continue to push watts for another 20-30.

According to your own source, current panels take 4 years just to make energy breakeven. So even if they last 40 years the EROI is only 9:1. And I'd seriously doubt they last 40 years. Solar cells I work with degrade at a few to several % per year.

And that doesn't include the energy cost of any storage solutions that would be needed to make this useful as a primary energy source.

Will they improve? I hope so. I'd love to hear more about such developments on this site.

But what I can say is that the technology is just not there yet and even with the , frankly, amazingly large subsidies for residential installations (approaching 50% of cost) they don't make much economic sense. I am thinking specifically of an installation in Pasadena, CA, no less, where I have the real numbers.

It's rather sad, actually.

"Solar cells I work with degrade at a few to several % per year."

Then you are working with some pretty piss-poor solar cells. Current mass produced PV panels degrade at about .8% per year or less.

"Photovoltaic Degradation Factor (Solar)
This value reflects solar panel warranties from the manufacturers of solar panels. A survey of several of the larger solar panel manufacturers listed a warranty of 80% of the nameplate generation output at 25 years, which results in a annual degradation factor of 0.8%."

Also, Evergreen Solar panels can have an energy pay-back period as short as 12 months.

Well then maybe energy payback isn't all its cracked up to be in this instance. $58,000 for a $130 per month bill is 40 years - please tell me where I can get solar panels/batteries/connectors, etc. that all in would be paid back within 12 years let alone 12 months - do these studies exclude some large non-energy input in their calculations? We should discuss this in another post - but if anyone has specific ideas pls email me (email in profile).

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but $58,000 for a $130/month bill is actually 37.17948718 years ;)
I hear what you are saying, but there is much more to this than dividing $58k by $130/month. How did you account for inflation and other variables over those 40 years? How do you account for the increase in property value a system would add? How about GHG reductions? The analysis can get as complicated as you wish, depending on how detailed you get with what you include and what variables you account for. That's the rub.

And then there is the whole concept of 'PayBack' itself.
What is the payback on an electric utility bill? How long do you need to pay your utility bill before you never have to pay it again? What is the payback on ANYTHING else you spend money on!?
Why is renewable energy so payback oriented in the minds of most people? Should it be?

I agree, this should be covered in another post and would be happy to contribute. I will email you.

I remember when the doomer strain of thought was completely pre-occupied with the possibility of a full-scale nuclear exchange. Now that was both a real possibility and would have sucked....

I am unaware that full scale nuclear disarmament has already taken place. As far as I know, full scale nuclear exchange is still a real possibility. And yes it would suck....

It is not that far feteched to imagine a European war triggered by a dispute over Russian gas supplies or oil pipe line routes to the west, which could go nuclear very quickly.

I am concerend that we now live in complacency about nuclear warfare being somehow more remote due to the collapse of the USSR and weakness of the USA to project power given its current (and likely permanent) economic constraints.

Such complacency may just see desperate politicians risk a major conflict over resources, believing that the nuclear genie is well and truly constrained. It only takes one little tactical nuke to be unleashed and the escalation into full blown global nuclear war will follow very quickly.

It is not too difficult to see how all this could play out shortly after the world realises that energy resources, and particularly oil, are in a declining and limited supply.

I am unaware that full scale nuclear disarmament has already taken place. As far as I know, full scale nuclear exchange is still a real possibility. And yes it would suck....

Actually, both the U.S. and Russia have reduced their nuclear stockpiles by almost a factor of 10. And you don't have large standing armies facing off across the Fulda Gap anymore. I think it's gotten a lot less likely. Impossible? Sadly, no.

Well written essay!

Although I believe in Peak Oil (but not Peak Everything) I am not a doomsday advocate. It seems to me that we are in the initial stages of a ratcheting-down trend and each generation will have time to get used to changes that would not have been acceptable in 1970.

In North America, for example, the high-water mark for home-grown terrorism was in October 1970 when the FLQ kidnapped and murdered politicians in Quebec. (Al-Qaeda and other foreign groups don't count; those were raids, not insurgencies.)

I grew up in rural central Alberta and have lived in big cities since my university days. The survivalists who think they can hold out in the bush have no real conception of rural sociology. Back on the farm we didn't have any neighbourhood survivalists but everyone in a rural area knows everyone else's business. Someone hoarding food in a bunker is just waving a flag that tells everyone else where the food and ammo supplies are, Come The Revolution. No one can grow crops or raise livestock in isolation because it is impossible to watch your fields by yourself. Then and now, farmers watch out for each other. Anytime we saw a strange truck parked by a pasture we would make a note of it; cattle rustling did and still does happen.

The safest place to be is in cities. I laugh at people who tell me they want to move to the country, be self-sufficient, and enjoy the simple life. In a rural area, an ambulance is usually an hour coming if you have a heart attack. If your house or barn catches fire, maybe the volunteer fire department can save most of it if the roads are clear, but what are you going to do if the fire comes during a blizzard and the roads are blocked by snowdrifts? Where I grew up, the nearest constable was based 20 km away, and his backup was another 20 km beyond.

As mentioned up top, the violence is started and sustained by ethnic politicians. I don't see any signs that such could happen in Canada or the USA. When the economy gets critical, not just Panic of 2008 style but Greater Depression style, the cities are going to prioritize police, fire, and EMS. It will be safer to live in cities where a community of people have less ground to protect, and will band together. When you look at non-war catastrophes suffered by advanced civilizations (jungle tribes aren't comparable), they still manage to stagger through.

It's interesting that in my Campfire essay a week ago, I spoke of societal collapse but not about preparing for roving gangs. I've been a doomer for a long time and I have argued for an equally long time that the emphasis upon violence is misplaced vis-a-vis rural areas like mine.

My three arguments have been: First, people will migrate to cities because that is where aid will be available. There is no way that any agency is going to provide anything to the boondocks.

Second, that the effort to trek mile upon mile in the hope that aid will be available in the boondocks is pretty much preposterous IMO. To put an energy tag on this, the ERoEI of such an action would be negative - not that some wouldn't try.

Third, most of us know each other. A local who started violence would be dealt with as would someone from outside the area.

This does not mean that I anticipate a warm-fuzzy world. The drug wars in Mexico certainly demonstrate that it can happen and it will happen in various parts of the US but will likely be ethnicly oriented .


Edit to add: Why was there no mention of Argentina? It certainly is closer to the US than African nations. A reading of Ferfal who blogs form there indicates that while there might not be raging gangs, there is little personal security.

Interesting points. I think city vs rural, in a SHTF situation have different advantages. Cities will have the most politically organised effort, protection, but rural areas more readily available potable water, food and fuel (and thus less outbreaks of icky diseases I imagine; I'm thinking of Congo here). Where best to trek depends on the situation then.

I hadn't heard a lot about violence in Argentina, but I read ranchers are having banditry-problems while getting their cattle to the bigger city markets. Apparently some large gangs are active, and ranchers try to compensate by banding together and arming themselves.

Third, most of us know each other. A local who started violence would be dealt with as would someone from outside the area.

And there you have a good part of the problem.  Urban areas already have plenty of local-generated violence with no recourse (aside from vigilantism).  Flight to rural areas is one logical result.

It will be safer to live in cities where a community of people have less ground to protect, and will band together.

The draconian implications implicit in you statement are stark to a catastrophic degree, but I don’t think it is realistic.

When I try to frame a future you predict in my mines eye beginning around 2050, I think back to the beginning of the 20th century. When tentative use of gasoline first began, and horses filled dirt streets.
Most people were poor and humble and lived in crowded densely packed cities where electric trolleys and subways moved them to and fro from work and play.

Farmland started at the city limits and suburbs were not even dreamed of.

France and England were far away lands and China was inaccessible on the other side of the earth. Only the wealthy could afford to travel by steamer to Europe and were gone for months.

The products used by these city dwellers were manufactured in neighborhood shops and imports from Europe were a rear treasure.

People live, married and died within a few city blocks of their high-rise apartments. And trips outside the city only happen a few times in their lives.

But, if our ancestors could live and be happy with this kind of life so we by necessity can do the same.


We are NOT our ancestors. We are weak, selfish, ignorant in many areas, totally dependent on things our ancestors never dreamed of.

No one has the tools , knowledge,strength or will power to even start to go where our ancestors went.

Farming is not what you see today as it was back then.

I doubt many here could even conceive of lack of indoor plumbing.

Even todays farmers would find it very difficult. Many get there vegetables from Wallyworlds.

Without the 'inputs' they expect and big tractors? They would be lost.

I live with these people. They stand a better chance than their city cousins but still very far from that past. Unless they are in their 60's or 70' or older they in fact likely have zero memories of any of what it was like in the sticks.

Airdale-how much can we gild that lily anyway?

No one has the tools , knowledge,strength or will power to even start to go where our ancestors went.
Farming is not what you see today as it was back then.

I live just inside a major area with a large concentration of Amish and Mennonites: Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. If you are worried about the oncoming apocalypse, think about relocating to Amish country; move to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.

You (as well as some other disillusioned and fearful “English” on this site) can reconnect with the land and nature this way. The Old Order Amish use horses for farming and transportation, dress in a traditional manner, and forbid utility provided electricity or telephones in the homes.

They do permit the use of solar panels, hydropower and wind mills if their use is not considered prideful. IMHO, the Pennsylvania Dutch country is one of the most beautiful areas on the east coast of the US because the land hardens back to a simpler time. Its air is fresh and there is a spiritual purity about the land and fear among the these people can not be found.

You will never see a fat Amish. They work hard, walk everywhere and have a simple diet of home grown organic food. They are friendly to the “English”, but it is hard to buy land since it is handed down through the generations. They speak English to the outsider but Pennsylvania Dutch among themselves. If you visit, plan to drive at the rate of a horse drawn buggy. Passing them is impossible on the narrow winding county roads.

Just don't think of the Amish as happy Utopian campers making sheds and handicrafts for Lehman's. Their self imposed isolation comes with the usual freight of abuse to women, children, animals, and they have their own crime problems.

It is more a desire for self sufficiency and self reliance ratter than self imposed isolation and they still have a keen interest in money. And yes they are also human.

You paint with a broad brush. I have never heard of any of what you allude to here in Ky.

They keep to themselves but are very nice folks. They are an asset to our state. But they can be sort of dismissive of non-Amish or at least a few are that I have tried to do business with. Their carpentry skills as to usage of modern materials is limited thought. Particularily fasteners for IOQ and COQ treated lumber. Their joinery though is very good. At the store they had full Eastern Red Cedar hope chests for a bit over $300...a bargain for such..totally homemade.


I have my mother's cedar hope chest here in my office, holding pictures and mementos. I want to give it to one of my daughters, but they see a simple rather small old wood box, not a lovingly built heirloom hand-crafted by a busy father for his day-dreaming young daughter 75 years ago. I will save it anyway, and trust that their perspective widens as they age, hopefully before my time comes and somebody finds it tucked away in my attic with more questions than answers.

I have seen many obese Amish here in Decatur County Iowa. For the most part I am impressed by their hardiness in the face of cold winter winds.

Maybe the Amish in your area have a more liberal Ordnung and partake in junk food and eat at fast food places than those who work the land here in PA. (-:

Around here due to the lay of the land the Amish mostly produce Angus beef that is mostly pasture fed. The land is too hilly for sod busting.

Janap128 said:"think about relocating to Amish country; move to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. "

Well truth is that I probably live closer to Amish than you do. In fact I shopped yesterday at a small Amish market run by a female and her two daughters. Very neat, very clean, very good prices, and very good tasting products.

A lot of the Amish and Mennonites have moved to Ky after growing tired of Pennsylvania or so they tell me. A whole lot more freedom here and I pass their buggies quite often. We leave them alone as far as harassment and such.

I also , if you hadn't read any of my posts, live on a farm and have for many long years. In fact I grew up on a farm as I have detailed that lifestyle lo these many many months of posting on TOD.Apparently you are new here.

And in just this keypost I have posted the same in comments. As well as on yesterdays DB.

Airdale-I heat with wood and went into a long winded exchange on that lately ..yada ..yada..

I read recently an anecdote of a man who traveled from a Chinese city into the countryside by bus during the last big famine there. He was shocked to see skinny bodies laying in ditches by the side of the road while back at home there had been no reduction in the food available.

It should also be pointed out that during the last great famine in Europe, The Irish potatoe famine, there was no mass unrest although the level of crime rose conciderably.

I have long felt that one key determinant of the destiny of each community - whether it will hold together more or less peacefully or descend into violent self-destruction - is whether or not large numbers of civilians in the community can be mobilized, organized, and controlled by the local police force.

If things are left entirely to the local police force, then they might very well become overwhelmed. At a certain point, the remaining officers decide that the risks are too high, they give up, and then it is everyone for themselves. If this is not to be the outcome, then they will need help from the citizenry - a little at first, but increasing in proportion to the threat.

As the author mentioned, however, vigilante groups and DIY militias aren't the answer either. If citizen paramilitaries are not under the firm command and control of civil authorities, then they rapidly become a rival authority of their own, and may eventually even displace and supplant the civil authorities. They may be started as a protection strategy, but rapidly deteriorate into a protection racket.

A local police force that is supplemented by an extensive civilian auxiliary force has many advantages. The combined forces are deeply rooted in the local community, so there is unlikely to be the "us vs. them" hostility that the author described. Even if the auxiliary is limited to being little more than extra eyes and ears in an expanded neighborhood watch program, they still serve as a force multiplier for the uniformed police force, and this does help. There is always the possibility of expanding the auxiliary force further, and of training and equipping them to take on more demanding and dangerous tasks. Finally, need I mention that an auxiliary force, presumably composed of volunteers, is largely free, and thus affordable for local governments with very stretched budgets?

You may be correct but I have noticed a trend which I find disturbing locally.

The local policing force seems to be increasingly operating in an us versus everyone else mode. I have noticed contempt for concepts such as probable cause, search warants, and discipling members of the policing comunity for their misdeeds.

An increasing lack of moral authority makes their ability to organize citizen volunteers unlikely in my opinion.

I do not know how widespread this trend is but it may be factor in a choice of chaos or no chaos.

i suspect authorities will call up - after all national guard, etc. licensed concealed carry folks or other categories[retired, etc.] & make deputies of them.

as a child i saw a huge posse[guess 30+] formed of everyone that showed up to hunt a thick small wooded swampy area after a prison escape & killing guards, etc. Rules will be bent. They found them BTW & no shooting.

Deputizing posses would be a turn for the worse. There are more than a few gun-worshipping 'heroes' out there who would salivate at the prospect at intimidating and even blasting away at the people they hate: poor, latino, black...

There are even some police officers (I said some, not all, not a majority, IMO) who are too big for their britches...prone to bullying, harassment, and intimidation. For some folks, the line between being part of 'the thin blue line' (their term) and being a street thug is thin. Local PD officers who truly embody the credo 'To protect and to Serve', who are 'Peace Officers', are to be applauded and held up as the models for all police officers to follow.

If the dookie hits the fan where you live (for any reason: PO, natural disaster, epidemic, whatever), I would go to ground, stay inside, stay out of sight from the criminals and law enforcement.

I have to comment on this, while the town I live in has no police force I am very familiar with the biggest town nearbys locals. I would hazard a guess, that close to 85% are not fit to serve. Various reasons but the profession seems to draw those who should not be in it. Grab the guns and ammo to rush of to terrorize a 16 year old selling a couple of percs. Watched that one myself. Close to 90% ex-military that never could readjust to civilian life so they found the next best thing. Talk about unfit to serve. Somebody just please give me an order so I can go hurt someone.

Pass out tickets and make their quota yeah maybe, in a pinch up here they will be the first to go or cause problems.

We will be much better off without them. Take me a 30 minute drive and I could have 20 people, better trained, better armed, and better marksmen, and actually physically fit, fat seems to be synonymous for local PD. People who stay trained but would never use that unless it really came down.
One of my best farmer friends up here, is a 2 tour marine sniper. We cut wood together. I know him as a kind and gentle man. A good friend.

Just so you all know, my exposure was not from me doing anything illegal, they wouldn't be smart enough to catch me anyway, I did the tech. Database that is questionable about how much info they store, you call to report something you are logged and checked. Witness an accident and they check your banking. Did wireless laptops in the vehicles, the big deal for them was getting the NASCAR screen savers to work right, lucrative, a month didn't go by when some ape didn't pound a laptop to death. Lots of grants for tech they had no clue how to use. Major security on the chiefs desktop, he did not trust any of his troops to stay away from it.

Small town I know, local county mounty couldn't keep his pistol locked up and his son used it to kill himself, the man keeps getting re-elected. Naw, we won't miss these folks, we barely tolerate them now.

I'm kind of glad we may actually be able to clean some of this mess up.

Don in Maine

Did wireless laptops in the vehicles, the big deal for them was getting the NASCAR screen savers to work right, lucrative, a month didn't go by when some ape didn't pound a laptop to death. Lots of grants for tech they had no clue how to use.

This is true, true, true - of state patrol around here. I know their IT guy...


Yup. There is a wide variation in professionalism in Maine, even within a single Sheriff's department or town to town. I've been stopped in West Cumberland simply because they "saw me go through a lot". Accident and banking? Yup, realID and fusion centers will help with that. As will a police force made up of soldiers returned from Iraq. Just what we need "protecting" our communities.

cfm in Gray, ME

What this article entirely misses is that although the spectre of marauding bands of zombies is an urban myth, a sustained and shocking rise in levels of crime is not. Crime can and does increase alarmingly in times of poverty and deprivation. Anyone who has lived in an African country knows what I mean. Having your home invaded by a thug who bites off your wife's finger to steal her wedding ring is a little vignette that may give you a soupçon of what I mean.

Ferfal on the Argentina collapse:

After all these years I learned that even though the person that lives out in the country is safer when it comes to small time robberies, that same person is more exposed to extremely violent home robberies. Criminals know that they are isolated and their feeling of invulnerability is boosted. When they assault a country home or farm, they will usually stay there for hours or days torturing the owners. I heard it all: women and children getting raped, people tied to the beds and tortured with electricity, beatings, burned with acetylene torches.Link

Personally, I find it very comical how eager the doomers are for the big support systems to collapse, and how completely NOT eager they are for their little support systems to collapse. On the scale of nations, we're going to rip each other to shreds over scarce resources. On the neighborhood scale, everything's going to be community and "kumbaya". You'll just call the police. LOL.

Please, get real. You're all in deep denial. If you actually need your food stashes and doomsteads to survive, your starving neighbors, the government, and the other 97% of the population aren't going to let you enjoy your little shangri-la in peace. They'll destroy your little world, with the same glee that you destroyed theirs.

Relative fitness is hardwired - same reason you jump at any reason to criticize resource depletion - so you 'feel' better. So you are doubly rooting for things to be ok. Even after oil has peaked, I expect years of rationalizations and 'if it weren't for the credit crisis' there would be higher production, etc. Peak Oil has morphed into a fact for some and a perpetual belief system for others because either they don't want to be wrong, are too afraid to face reality, or are ignorant. (you are not in the third category).

Back on topic, for same reasons Tokugawa was one of few success stories in Diamond's "Collapse", modern Japan, despite its lack of natural resources (leaving aside methane hydrates) will probably fare better because of its homogoneity and respect for authority. USA is melting pot and might quite quickly, as you point out, regress to violence with no clear 'common bond' that the Japanese share. However, if you are caucasian in Japan and things get nasty, especially if there are resource conflicts against Occidentals, you better have REALLY good friends....


P.S. It is interesting to look at old conversations sometimes.

Nate wrote

'However, if you are caucasian in Japan and things get nasty, especially if there are resource conflicts against Occidentals, you better have REALLY good friends....'

This has been on my mind for sometime. There are a lot of caucasian Expats living in Asia. Confirmed 'Asiaphiles' many of us. I have been living in Thailand for 9 years. One of my plans is to move upcountry and live a simple, rural existence. On a SWOT basis, the racism towards Europeans could well be a weakness to this plan. Nate, thanks for expressing what I have been thinking.

For most Koreans, being of partial Korean blood (as my son is), born and raised in the country, and being as "Korean" as it is possible to be is not enough to be considered Korean.

The @ 345+ people per sq. km is another good reason to make a shift.

Best Hopes for Fast Visa Processing,


I disagree. I moved to Japan 13 years ago and have only felt more at home than I ever did in 30 years in the States. I have wondered why sometimes. I hate cars and there are fewer cars per person here (500 per 1000 people vs. 770 per 1000 people in the USA). I like trains and bikes and there are lots of excellent trains and lots of bike paths and bike parking. I like reading and there is 99% literacy here. I like good food and there is that here. I like frugality and I have learned alot about that here too. Japanese economists are worried about the US but I don't think ordinary people will take it out on me.

What this article entirely misses is that although the spectre of marauding bands of zombies is an urban myth, a sustained and shocking rise in levels of crime is not. Crime can and does increase alarmingly in times of poverty and deprivation.

Excellent, astute distinction.


Greenshifting the economy sooner rather than later will help maintain social cohesiveness. Waiting for business-as-usual to make a magical return will allow discontentment to fester. I've just been discussing with neighbours a potentially violent encounter set down for a couple of weeks time. The local community hall will be used to hold a meeting on old growth logging. If loggers are present they may try to intimidate their opponents. I expect several cop cars will be parked outside though my impression is the police don't really want to be there.

This kind of scenario is likely to be be repeated for other industries facing layoffs while the people in them deny any problem. However with retraining a coal miner, a logger or even a stockbroker could easily turn to helping build smart grids. The mistake will be to exhaust the cash quickly on propping up BAU such as discretionary retail when people need long term green jobs.


On another keypost you spoke of improving the Tom Reeds Gas Stove.

I am going into that area shortly and would like to know how you improved on his design such that a battery/fan would not always be needed. I am thinking of buying his large version. XE?

My email address is in my Bio.

Thanks for the idea.



I just bought one of these woodgas stoves myself and have been wondering about running it without batteries/fan.

Is the mod/improvement not allowed to be discussed publicly? I'd certainly like to hear about it...

I cooked a stew on it tonight without using the fan. It went like a little jet engine just on a few twigs, a wee ripper as they say in Scotland. Of course I could also have breathed in tars and particulates but like Bill Clinton I didn't inhale. However my modifications are just a prototype and may breach patents. The short battery life problem is easily solved.

The fourth conclusion, Community is important, seems the most important to me. Robust community organizations, and many overlapping organizations that bring an individual into contact with different groups of people is an asset for when the community wants or needs to exert popular control over political leaders and the police.

Turns out those community organizers are needed.

Recently I made 2 major purchases: a flat screen tv and a .308 assault rifle.

If I get laid off this year or next, which one is likely to have appreciated in value? In 5 years?

I don't know.. but you might want to keep the gun away from the TV, in case you're the sort who used to just throw the slippers at the set.

Now, if you've bought some PV (to clamber up onto my old soapbox again..).. what do you think the long-term resale value of that is going to be, ESP in case electric supply gets dodgy or pricey? And then, even if electricity supply in your area ISN'T flakey, the PV can still be offsetting your electric bill.

Of course, if the KWH price shoots way up, you might do better selling the watts than selling the Panel.

"Don't just sit there. Well, ok, just sit there. ABC." (Real Ad from a subway in NY)

I just know I'm going to get a hell of lot more pleasure from the .308 than bickering with the HOA over PV panels.

An M1A?

(edit) One can also take some solace that the investment in a high quality weapon is probably a better bet than any other long term financial vehicle at this time the way the economy is going. I can get as much for my well used 20 year old P226 as I paid for it. If it was brand new still I could get substantially more than that. Same with a lot of weapons. Maybe we are in a weapon bubble!!?

I got one of the CIA CETMEs. I'm not sure that's "high quality" but the accessories are virtually free like HK G3 mags for $5, pouches for $1, stocks are $10. And the whole thing can be rebuilt for cheap.

I think the Russians invasion of Georgia will tighten up the world supply of arms because the eastern bloc will realize maybe they need those warehouses of old Mausers and SKS.

Well, it's a tough call (TV vs. rifle). It's a lot more fun to shoot a rifle than watch TV, but ammo costs more than electricity. Plus, depending on where you live, your neighbors might rather have you watching "Seinfeld" re-runs than "repurposing" empty beer bottles in the back yard - not going to go over well if you live on 1/4 acre.

Its my belief that a chaotic future(powerdown,meltdown,whatever) will bring more violence , as another poster opined.

But some were not sure it would result in marauding bands. At least not in the rural areas.

Well in the cities there are already gangs who have excellent coherence via colors, signs , oaths, etc. They IMO will surely use their ganghood to loot and steal from others. They already do.

As to the rural areas? It all depends on the strength of the community. Hard to have a neighborhood watch when you are spaced so far apart.

There are many roads to a destination. And if others have perished then it can suddenly become a lonely area. Die off from lack of meds for one big reason and there are others.

We have crime waves where I live. A small group of youth will take up theft and hit several places in as many days. And be sucessful at it. Sunday during church time is one of their favorites.

Easy to spy out someone's absence. Just stay near the road and watch. Or the nearby woods. Or in a weed patch.

What you have that they do not have is what they will want. With a massive lack of LEOs they will have easy pickings. After all in most of our counties there is only one sheriff and maybe one deputy. They can be busy elsewhere and a murder is committed and the perp be long gone before they even roll on it.And if comm systems go down?
Well they will NEVER get there.

The city folk will have little one they are picked over. What is of value to them is those who save up or store or have animals on the hoof.

Lets get realistic. I have seen it in mass and the rest of us have too. Right on the TV. I can name several incidents easily and so can everyone else. Guns were at play, the cops were helpless ,etc.

Now folks today just don't care about 'society' or culture or friendliness like they used to. Check out road rage. Those folks will run you off the road.Riding a bike or motorcycle you get this idea real fast.

Bad guys will have it easy and there are many bad guys. There will be no fancy forensics.No fingerprinting. No hunting for evidence. The LEOs will be way overworked and lots of their infrasturcture will no longer exist. Hell they might be home trying to survive as well.

Ok...this is a cornucopian time to strike on this keypost. Go ahead. Make my day.

But reality will not be what dreams are made of. It will not be nice.
Can a real community exist when people have large distances between them and no transportation or means of communications? No. They will be in the dark. They will have no working cellphones.

Surely you all do not think we will keep all these electronic toys working at such a time? The best solution is some inplace low power two way units that can be run off a solar powered battery. One net controller with a tower mounted omni antenna and the rest can relay.

What do you think Ham Radio operators hold field days for?

Check it out. Emergencies and still they are depending on lots of inplace infrastructure. A 5 watt VHF transceiver in the hands of an organized network can work well but it can be ad-hoc must be planned and in place already else no gear,no antennas,no power...on and on.

And I doubt you would be able to build a working net group now. At this place and time. In fact amateur radio ,to my knowledge , has had a large outflow of memberships. Its just hanging on.

In far remote areas the radio links still mean survival. Like remote Alaska perhaps? Coupled with aircraft that can manage the weather.

We will not have the luxury to just suddenly setup and go. Won't happen that way and with the number of cornucopians I doubt we ever will.

I have several VHF and UHF units such as I mentioned. Farmers use them all the time in areas where there is large ag. Yet they are all 'tone coded' so that one can talk easily except to those who are toned coded as well. Some allow non-tone functions. Some don't. But for sure there will be zero expertise to alter them for better and longer communications and networking.

I know for I work on them and maintain them. Have been a ham for over 45 years. Have built gear myself. I Have omni and directional antennas but even I don't have them mounted. Just use mag mounts on my mobiles. And I am not about to convince ANY ONE of the need to
'come together' on taking them beyond what they are now used for.

Yet there are ham rigs in VHF that can do wonders. One of mine can scan frequencies, lock on, display the tone codes, let you set them in and power up to talk to anyone. It has all the functions built in already as far as all the protocols in use.

How many have that type of rig with that kind of functionality? Very very few. The business bands the farmers use have maybe a weather channel and two more freqs available.Any thing else is locked out as per manufacturers.

Happy motoring,

PS.Someone might think of doing a keypost on radio networking for what may come so like my old Boy Scout handbook say" Be Prepared".
Using morse code in the future I am afraid is not going to be learned or known by other than so quite old geezer hams. I remember enough to do a QSO but it would be about 7 or wpm. I passed the 21 wpm FCC test way back, and I never could solid copy a good fist even at 21..not without a long time brushing up and so far I have not seen the need.

..--.. --.- .-. .--. -.. . -.- ---.. .-- -.-- --- -..-. .----

You dare!!!

qrp de k8wyo/1

( request to reduce power )

All they ever teach you in the Scouts is "Three short, three long, three short". I keep meaning to learn the rest, but it doesn't happen.

umm, since no one asked, why does 'qrp de k8wyo/1' mean 'request to reduce power'?

(I tried learning morse code in high school - it was about the same time I bought those X-ray goggles from a comic book and the disappointment combined with difficulty and steep discount rates ... I never completed the learning)

There are some 3-letter abbreviations for common occurrences in point to point radio communications, all beginning with Q ...called the "Q code".
EX: qrm = "your signals are being interfered with by another station"
qrn = interference from "atmospherics".
I never understood why you would use it but qrp means please reduce power c...... seems fitting for TOD.
de means "from" as in French .....
k8wyo is an amateur station's call-letters, from Ohio, Michigan or West Virginia. My old one.
/1 (appended) means "operating portable from VT ( or some lesser/other New England States ) like where I am now.


thanks - it might be an interesting Campfire post- about the CB/Ham technology/mechanics/culture.

I wonder if the internet ever went down how long the built capital in the form of solar panels and ham radios would keep the flow. Probably a very long time. One thing I know - many of us (certainly me) take the internet for granted - almost anything at your fingertips if you know how to filter (and I have a University login so I can access any academic paper in the world) - would make scholars from a few generations ago heads spin.

A better post would be on the mechanics of the internet-what is the weakest link in the international world wide web that would still allow majority of users to connect - a question for another night perhaps...

I wonder if the internet ever went down how long the built capital in the form of solar panels and ham radios would keep the flow.

Batteries will be the limiting factor, as being off-grid constantly leads to shorter battery life than net-metering on 'float' charge. For example, I would expect my Concorde AGMs to last 15 years with only occasional use, but only 6-7 years in full off-grid mode. And then one has to consider the age of the batteries when the grid goes down. Some inverters can work without batteries, though most that are designed for them require them to operate (e.g., Xantrex).

A site with a ham radio would also need to have food and security to keep it going, which would not be small considerations in a grid collapse scenario.

Packet Radio and Ham Radio is one of the reasons I'm not expecting we'll be stuck in completely paleolithic or even Medieval conditions. I'm assembling the eq. to be able to set this kind of comm's up.. but have never done Ham Stuff before. I also have gathered a bit of CB hardware as a cheap and very available comm system that's well established.

I don't have a radio-modem, but I have shareware that will use a signal coming into your PC's soundcard as a crude radio-modem (Should have no trouble doing Morse, of course).. and I understand an old Phone Modem can be used as a radio-modem as well.

Therefore, true enough that noone has the exact gear on hand right now, but there are locally available workarounds, as long as the knowledge and software is available.

Learning morse sounds like a good 'cold-winter night's HomeSchool activity' once the TV's start getting dusty.


Long ago on a KIM bare MB I wrote a morse decoder based on the idea that the dit sets the time signatures for all that follows.

If someone else was sending machine code it worked rather well. But few were sending machine code. They most all had individualized 'fists' and the program failed badly because the timing loops got lost when the 'fists' didn't follow exact timing, as would be expected.

The best thing to do it use a modern code learning method so that its second nature. Some of the radiomen I knew out in the squadrons could chat with you while doing solid copy.

My wife's uncle could do that pretty easily as well.

You can eventually learn to hear 'words' and not the individual letters/characters. Numbers are easier than the alphabet.

Most good fists could rap out something like the "Banana Boat" ditty and make it sound almost like music.

Those who copied code via a 'inhead' lookup table always were on the edge of a heart attack while on duty station at the radiomans station. From my station I could see sweat pouring off their face.
Some sent at higher speed than they could Rx.


My grandfather said you could recognize the operator on the other end by his rhythm, almost as easily as you could tell someones voice on a telephone.

I came across my KIM-1 a few weeks back. I learned to program ASM and hand-write machine code on it, back when 1K bits of RAM cost as much as 1G bytes does today. It didn't even seem like work -- it was fun for geeks like me. I taught myself to write efficient programs before I even got through high-school, yet few people can code effectively in any language today, even after getting a degree in programming. Assembler is almost a lost art, and I haven't touched it in a decade.

"Lets get realistic. I have seen it in mass and the rest of us have too. Right on the TV. I can name several incidents easily and so can everyone else. Guns were at play, the cops were helpless ,etc."

It wouldn't have been on the news if it hadn't been a rare and unusual event.
Most people don't seem to realise the news reports things that are special, instead of reporting on things that are representative or normal. Yes, there have been violent riots before. Yes, people died in them. But on a population of 6 *billion* people and a public memory spanning several decades, everyone can sum up a surprisingly large amount of events that were shockingly violent/uncivilized. But do they mean we will face the same thing?

Perhaps, eventually, some day. But we'll live, because for every riot in which an unfortunate person dies, there were hundreds to thousands who didn't die at the same riot, and thousands of relatively harmless 'incidents'.

Riots and sudden violence are scary because they are unpredictable, and bad stuff might happen. But that 'might happen' doesn't translate to a 'it will happen, constantly, and to us or people we know personally'.

Will we focus on the most negative aspects, and thereby miss all the rest? Or will we be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture?

Good point, I think this needs to be emphasized.

A local arena had bit of a to do about a rock group that didn't show or tickets were sold out. A few tiny brained folk threw parking barriers and lit trash cans on fire. Unfortunately, there we cameras on the scene and international news picked it up.

Within hours I was deluged with phone calls and emails wondering how I was coping with "the riots" and was I safe?

As I don't watch much regular TV, I would not have known were it not for my friends. There are 1001 really good things that happen in my city every day and probably 10 great things that you will never see on CNN.

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five
She can tell you bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
Its interesting when people die-
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation? Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a running bet
Get the widow on the set!
We need dirty laundry

You dont really need to find out whats going on
You dont really want to know just how far its gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry - Don Henley, Dirty Laundry

Detroit burned for 4 days. Many killed(40+), over 1,000 injured.

Others were just as bad. Watts,,etc.

Its not some rock band dustup.

Rodney King? You missed this?


I don't want to start a CB subchat but can you recommend a rig or two that covers all or most of the bases and what is a typical cost?



PS: All I can remember now is E, I, S H & T, M, O :-)

Thats what you remember because you are doing a 'head lookup table' thing which will get you to about 10 wpm and thats where the wall is.

You never want to even think about the character makeup.You want to just hear the sound and KNOW the letter or automatically write it down....AND in 'long hand'..printing is tooo slow. Typewriters not always available. With practice you don't even have to write.

You just COPY without thinking...note Without Thinking......

Its really a 'language'. A learned language with a couple simple sounds representing a sequence that is a word..or symbol.

Pyschologically the stumbling block is the mind.
Free your mind. Well one learns the very very very hard way or the easy way. Almost everything is taught by the HARD WAY.

So most fail.


I think it is because I never kept at it.

I know exactly what you are saying though. As I learned various "conventional" languages in my travels, there was a strange transition where I was no longer translating but "hearing" the language. a wonderful feeling.

I knew I had "arrived" when I stubbed a bare toe in the dark and tore off an impressive blue streak, in French.

Now, about those CB rig recommendations? :-)



CB recommendation.

I'd look for any older cobra sidebander if you are looking for a cb, got 3 downstairs. Older models were a snap to modify so you could slide. Not just stay on the upper or lower but actually be able to slide in frequency. That meant, a private and discrete communication as long as both stations slid to the same point. Newer ones are not as easy to modify, as it is illegal. If $$ are no object, I'd suggest getting a spectrum analyzer in stock, you can listen to anything. In the days to come listening may be more important than saying anything. In the meantime it can be fun to listen in on the PD channels they think no one can hear, or all the local cell phones.

Doesn't help give you a lot of faith in people, listen to them when they think no one can hear, yah right.

Don in Maine

Thank you, Jason
for your clean parsing of the problem.

My issue is with:

As far as large-scale violence goes, I'd say chances are next to nil. The political class is too wed to economic elites (national and local) to promote mobilization that would be to their detriment, ....

Today we already are seeing spontaneous mobilization by the fed-up populace in Iceland, Latvia, Bulgaria, etc. Their anger is aimed directly at the political class, who at best will lose their jobs, at worst their heads.

Faced with an angry, desperate, hopeless electorate, the most natural strategy for the "leaders" is redirection, to create an enemy for the Great Unwashed, using their ample coercive powers. (I'm thinking now of the large excess populations of young men who will find neither jobs nor brides in China and India.)

Prosecuting wars then fills two needs: securing resources, and venting dangerous levels of rage that would otherwise find their outlet at home.

We think we're immune to wars waged on our own soil here in the US, and so we tend to not think of them in the same way as rioting, vigilantism, hooliganism, or violent crime, but they all fall on a single spectrum.

Are you as optimistic about avoiding wars during our descent, or does your view reflect more a sense of immunity from their effects at home?

Are you as optimistic about avoiding wars during our descent, or does your view reflect more a sense of immunity from their effects at home?

I deliberately left out the question of war, except as the source of social dislocation we might face "at home." I expect the U.S. to continue to engage in war as an instrument of foreign policy (take a look at Obama's foreign policy team and his commitments), and there's plenty of reason to think that Washington will find war an attractive option to meet resource crises and domestic unrest alike, as you suggest.

That said, I wasn't arguing (as others have also assumed) that we would be "immune" to the effects of severe economic disruptions. Large scale violence might be unlikely (my view), but localized violence, even politically motivated violence like we saw in the Balkans, isn't at all unlikely. Think about the border conflicts in Arizona today. As for rising levels of crime, we certainly don't have to go to Africa or Argentina for reasons to be concerned. Most of the world outside the affluent West is rife with crime at levels of violence scarcely imaginable before. Violence "American style." The argument in this regard was "it depends." It depends upon the character and training of the local police -- something a lot of respondents have raised alarums about. And it depends on local communities -- how cohesive they are, how prepared they are for disruption, how well they work with the police.

You're right. We need to be extraordinarily wary of trusting the political class. We've seen plenty of race-baiting, homosexual-baiting, pointy-headed-liberal bashing in this country in just the last couple of decades, not to mention the lamentable presidential campaign. I guess I expect more restraint built into elite politics than you do. But again, you're right. This, too, requires vigilance (and action -- my own view, in fact, is that we ought to simply do away with the political class, elect "citizen representatives" on very short leashes, not professional pols; and we ought to be starting a movement to do so.)


The violence you can see although a major concern, at least gives you a measure of control so may even be preferable in a collapse.

Law changes and denial of services would be even more dangerous.

The many level of government and law enforcement leading to corruption and self interest decision making really scares me.
Denial of access to medical services, medication, work, information and migration would be as disastrous to the populace as any imagined physical violence.

Family groups, communities, towns, cities, counties, states and countries could enact all types of measures to protect their family, citizens etc. The protective measure could have their origins in religion, prejudice or perceived threats to survival.

Political and judicial corruption, scam artists and indirect oppressive measures can be just as deadly as gang violence and traditional banditry.

Like I said earlier in this thread. I think it would be a good idea to keep an eye on what happens in China now the SHF.

Interesting analysis----
The feedback loops are going to a bit more complex, I'm afraid. I have been in "Liberated Zones" in Central America during the revolutions, and even Isla Vista in Santa Barbara during the 60's, when all police and authority were driven from the community ( but we were affluent college students, with strong intention, no matter what the overturned burning police cruisers symbolized).
Anyway, with the education and skill level of the average urban american, I think they will take what they need until someone stops them (and I don't think it will be the police)

first of all michael thanks for taking this on; & jason too- what a difficult topic which will have a lot of intensely held & differing points of view. i hope they see the light of this post & our collective scrutiny & brainstorming.

i approach this in my mind working backwards- where do i think we end up; then attempt to figure how we might get there. Along with this line of thinking i face questions of time frame , but this is somewhat irrelevant to me since i[somewhat selfishly] think mostly of my kids & grandson, & this time frame is sufficiently long that it in my thinking i drop most considerations of time frame.

So two US scenarios that likely cause violence & i consider very very likely is loss of federal governing[as we know it] & hunger.

the hunger part i consider probably a relatively short term horror -1 to 2 yrs.- that may cycle more than once but in some ways will either get solutions or solve itself by people dying. Re violence due to this i think it is likely that there will be serious violence [besides starvation]in cities, especially in areas where gangs are know to be present. Hunger itself often creates passiveness that reduces violence from what i have read, but stealing & violent crime would be expected.

the government issue is the major wild card. will we strike out internationally, as energy/$ for governing becomes scarce?
If so we risk some kind of retaliation on our soil, possibly nuclear.

a word here about scapegoat phenomenon. Very very powerful mechanism that is very ingrained in us & leads to all kinds of conflict & war, genocide , etc.A very wary eye for this personally & at all levels could preclude much violence. This is one of Michael's points in his post re leadership that can lead to serious violence; or mitigate violence too.

will we have civil war here? I think it is very likely there will be at least serious conflicts & skirmishes if not battles, as governing structures develop around resources & locales, perhaps regions.

sobering stuff to consider.

as noted elsewhere crime will be much more serious & tonite we learned of 2 breakins in our relatively small circles; suburbs too.

Forty years ago I was convinced our culture was headed for a catastrophic collapse of some sort. Actually, I sort of grew up with the idea having read a lot of doomsday si-fi. I even kind of hoped for it. Now I'm not so sure.

I am still sure that all those exponential growth/consumption curves are not sustainable but how it all plays out is far from clear.

Dirt and rocks are raw material. There's no shortage of sunshine. Human ingenuity is our most important resource. Many possibilities present themselves.

Good points have been made about community and history. No one plan or projection will be realized, however, because we are not all one and the future is always different from the past. Different cultures, different geographies, different resource opportunities, and so on, means we will progress erratically in failure and succes as we have throughout history. Somehow, I don't know how, those silly exponential growth/consumption curves will change.

I don't think it's a bad idea to stockpile food and tools. I think it's a great idea to grow a big garden. Community is a more difficult problem because we are pretty much stuck with what we have. Maybe it's good, maybe not, maybe the city is working, maybe the boondocks are in better shape. Maybe it's best to stay as flexible as possible.

Well this must be the week for doomer discussions. They just had on Calculated Risk today as well.

I have a few thoughts on this as many do. Some of you know me be my article on farming that Jason and Nate so kindly published a few weeks ago. Some further background might be in order first. As I mentioned in my article I am a retired engineer. However I did not work in "industry", I spent my career in a difficult government job. A key part of the job was to plan and execute very difficult operations. Some of operations were difficult enough that failure would result in loss of life ..or worse. One thing I learned is that an optimistic approach to planning is the surest path to failure. A good planner must be a dedicated and deliberate pessimist. What can go wrong will go wrong, unless you take steps to prevent it from doing so or to deal with it in case it does. A good attitude is essential for team cohesiveness (or neighborhood, community, etc), but our society often, dare I say generally, selects to follow the opinions of those who say, "Don't worry! Things always work out. Don't listen to those negative people.... Yada yada". Foolishness.

The way you properly evaluate whether to take action to deal with a possible adverse outcome is to evaluate how severe the consequences of that outcome are and the chance of it happening. If something is of high probability, but low impact, it is not of great concern. If both probability is high and impact is high you must take positive action to deal with it. Etc.

What we have, in my opinion, when we are discussing the adverse possibilities generated by the simultaneous (or close to simultaneous) occurrence of climate change, collapsing economies, peak oil (or peak high EROEI), global pollution, vast overpopulation, decreasing water supplies, etc is something of a perfect storm.

Do we know what is going to happen? Well some claim to, but they are fools. No one knows what is going to happen. But everyone can think of some really bad things. Will some of them happen? You bet. Which ones are hard to guarantee. Will a whole bunch of them happen at the same time. Maybe. All of them? Probably not, but it is possible for a catastrophic cascade of problems to occur that result in a situation being much worse than past experience would lead one to expect. If that occurred would it be so devastating that we should be prepared, at some level, to deal with it? We are talking about the possibility of global collapse and that has never been possible before. So relying on history might be a suspect methodology.

I think the situation we (speaking of the global we here) are in meets the criteria of fairly low probability (less than 10%) and giant impact. So, does that meet the standard of needing to be dealt with. My personal decision has been yes.

Planning of this kind is like buying insurance. Most people do not think anything is going to happen to them, but they feel it is prudent just in case. If they really believed that nothing was likely to happen they would refuse to spend money buying the insurance. I consider the knee jerk reluctance and resistance to the idea of preparing for possible tough times to be a form of denial that is common in our culture at this time for some reason. If you accept the obvious you must then act. If you deny its existence you can proceed with BAU. This is another form of the Upton Sinclair quote which goes something like, "It is hard to make a man understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it." People do not allow themselves to consider the risks because it calls their entire way of life into question. "Deal with reality, or it will deal with you." as the saying goes.

It is foolish not to prepare to some extent. And in the meantime one should constantly monitor the situation and constantly refine their plans as events dictate. Society should be performing this function as a group exercise. TOD is part of that process as well as many other sites. There are parts of the government which are and have been doing this as well for a long time (this, of course, scares some folks just to death). We (speaking of the America we here) have just not quite reached the critical mass required to work this issue on a large scale yet. Maybe we never will. But, individually, anyone who can bring themselves to recognize the issue has a responsibility to act. Just as you buy the insurance to protect your family, drive safely to get them to their destination, you are also required to think about the future and to try and deal with possible realities.

There are dozens of facets to this risk we speak of. I am farming in response to some of them. Others are running TOD to bring awareness. Since we are in the Mad Max mode today lets consider the issue of lawlessness for a bit. I will leave the other facets for another day.

How one should deal with lawlessness depends on their circumstances of course. The most important is you work on developing your community, neighborhood, village into a self supporting and policing structure. This is the most important thing to ensure safety. Real safety is only present when you have numbers of people working for each other. This costs almost nothing and builds a better world whether anything goes bad or not. Prepare for lawlessness. Meaning home invasion, robbery, violent crime (of course if you are living up to your responsibilities of taking care of your loved ones you should already be doing this). But lets say on a more significant scale than today. This does cost some money but not that much. In my case I have a couple of good home self de fence weapons and some experience using them. I do not count hunting weapons in that group, though they can always be substituted. If everyone in the neighborhood, village, community has the same the social organization is fully prepared for even a fair level of lawlessness. It is the overall community that provides security, not one persons arsenal. The social community and a reasonable amount of weapons are all that is really required for just an increase in lawlessness.

I think that preparations to this level are quite justified.

If you think that a collapse will lead to a situation where there are roving bands of marauders, hostile nearby communities, organized hostile paramilitary entities and the like, then you truly do have a problem on your hands. Dealing with this scenario is where things really diverge. While one can step up their preparations to a quasi-military arms structure this will largely be ineffective unless that same social community is heading down the same road. There are plenty of folks who think this is coming and are preparing for it. Being me, I am partially in their camp. But I also recognize that, should it come to a world like that, the vast amount of people who make preparations for it will not fare significantly better than those who do not. If you don't have your community to stand with you, all the guns in the world will do you no good.


Interesting and I am glad you were in the government position. I will make two comments: you described the thinking behind Black Swans, which in my opinion are foreseeable and two are any people like you inheriting your position in the government?

I appreciate your comment, Wyoming. However, I beg to differ on one point:

Do we know what is going to happen? Well some claim to, but they are fools. No one knows what is going to happen.

While it is strictly true that no one knows exactly what is going to happen, this phrase is often used by people who are unwilling to put in the mental effort to explore what could happen. I see it time and again in conversations I have. People brandish "no one knows what's going to happen" as though it were a wand able to make the the topic at hand just disappear. I believe people do this to avoid discussing a topic by which they are confronted. Sometimes I think it's just laziness, but mostly people don't like discussing "terrible" things.

Further, it's actually much easier to see the future of a decomposing system than a growing system. Growing systems have so many variables it quickly becomes impossible to know what is going to happen next. Think of a tree. If I am at the base of the trunk and want to get to the top of the highest leaf, as I move up the tree at every branch I am faced with a decision to follow the branch or not....will the branch bring me to the leaf I quest or should I stay on the current path? Impossible to know.

But if I start from the top leaf and want to reach the base of the tree, the choices are quite simple all the way down. Each time my branch reaches a larger branch I just continue on my way until I reach the bottom.

It's exactly the same thinking for any decomposing system. Perfect predictability is impossible, but I think some pretty logical assumptions can go a long way.

As our complex system devolves, I think it's possible to get the big events (or perhaps state changes is a better way to say it) mostly correct.


In sum I basically completely agree with your post. The fault is mine by the poor wording of my post. I often think way faster than I can type and what I wrote is not exactly what I was trying to say.

I more had in mind the type of thought process frequently seen in the extreme doomer camp. A perception of the ultimate threat is followed by an overreaction rather than real analysis. For example: If you convince yourself a complete collapse is coming you will perceive the almost daily bad news as strong evidence supporting your belief. This leads some to jump to the conclusion that 6 months from now there will be starving hoards of city/suburbanites coming through the trees to rob, rape and pillage. These folks are adamant that you stockpile assault weapons, piles of ammo, bunkerize the lodging, find the hidey hole in the wilderness, etc or you will not survive. It is easy to find folks like this. They are, in my opinion, one of the prime reasons that the majority of people consider teh doomer camp nut cases and dismiss their concerns. They (the extreme doomers) are not "fools" but rather being "foolish". Basic common sense says that they are very likely to be wrong. Thus they are dismissed out of hand.

But like you say, it is not as hard to predict where things are headed on the way down as it is on the way up. Possible options are decreasing on the way down as you described. We can have a pretty good general idea of where we are going, but the exact place we will end up and when cannot be known with any kind of certainty early in the game. This is why one constantly reevaluates the situation and adjusts plans as time goes on. The old saying that goes along the lines of "A battle plan never survives contact with the enemy." is, of course, not 100% correct, but it is definitely a good reminder to be prepared in case it doesn't.

We may indeed end up needing to arm ourselves to the teeth and kill to protect ourselves. I sincerely hope not and believe that a realistic evaluation of the problems we face and taking appropriate precautions will reduce the likely hood of seeing a worst case scenario. Extreme doomers only hurt this process in that they tend to be easy targets of ridicule by those who choose not to see the potential dangers because it will force them to take action to change their lives. The real impediments to adapting to the threats we face are the legion of the latter population who are wedded to BAU. They make really bad adverse possibilities much more likely to happen by their passive agressive stance against proactive measures. Thus their actions hinder progress. The longer you wait to deal with a problem the harder it is to deal with.

hmm..time for more coffee.



I agree and disagree on some points.

First, I think it is psychologically important to accept that a worst case is possible. We all have our own demons so for some it might be nukes and biowarfare and, for others, it might be "The Road." The tactical advantage is that each day where the worst case doesn't occur is a GOOD day.

Second, any strategy should be aimed at buying time. This is a basic survival concept - a dead person has no options. A good survival approach is the S.T.O.P. list:

"S" is for stop. Take a deep breath, sit down if possible, calm yourself and recognize that whatever has happened to get you here is past and cannot be undone. You are now in a survival situation and that means...

"T"hink, "O"bserve, "P"lan (I've left out the continuing commentary for these.)

My point is that it is possible to develop fall-back plans based upon this concept.

Third, I think even the deepest, darkest doomer (I think in this instance, survivalist is a better word than doomer.) recognizes that it isn't possible to fully prepare for a real worst case. There is always something that was forgotten or not recognized as vitally important.

Fourth, I believe there is value in reading survivalist fiction in that it allows the person to view a situation in a "real life" context and, thereby, excise negative impulses and thoughts. A few are Patriots by Jim Rawles, Lights Out by Halffast (Dave Crawford who posts on and two by Tom Sherry, Dark Winter and Shatter (These were available on Timebomb2000 but Tom asked that they be pulled since he wanted to actually publish his stuff.)

As I have posted, I have Plans B, C, D, etc., each one taking into account different realities. But rather then being defined, individual plans, they are part of a continum of actions. I believe this is the most realistic way to deal with the future.



Thanks for the reply. I read your post a couple of times and am unable to determine where you really disagree with me. I find nothing to disagree with in your comments. We just phrase things a little differently is all.

I grew up in a region that had survialists going back as far a I can remember. As a general rule I don't have any issues with folks that think that way. I do not think that they actually have much in the way of tendencies that would lead them to extreme lawlessness or anything like that. I just think that their approach will not work because the lone wolf scenario is not sustainable. Alone wolf is always precieved, in hard times, as an unknown and therefore dangerous quantity. I think it is human nature to mistrust the loner in almost any setting. Humans are a social animal so it does not fit their normal patterns. In a real collapse the lone wolf survivalist would not likely survive long just because he would be percieved as a threat and would be eliminated.

I think that most lawlessness in case of a collapse will come from the unprepared and desparate. For example, I was astonished a couple of years ago when an aquaintance, during a discussion on being prepared for tough times, actually said to me that he would come to my place to take things he needed from me when he ran out. I pointed out that if one wants to survive tough times they need to band together with others for self protection and support. He scoffed at this and said he would just take from others. Over time I realized that this man is a kind of yuppie white collar predator. He manipulates, tricks, and lies to get ahead in the world. He looks on others as the means to get ahead. There are a lot of people like this out there and they will be problems in the future. I am sure that there are enough folks with this kind of attitude that there will be a lot of mayhem if things get bad. For reasons like the above is why I said I am partly in the camp with the doomers who prepare for real trouble. People like him will find each other if it gets bad enough and then you have to get rid of them.

Interesting discussions.



Ok, let's call it semantics.

I loved your last paragraph but it raises an issue that people have to consider: Do "you" know who these people are? My views are colored by the fact that I've lived here in the boondocks a long time, have known my neighbors for a long time and know with a certainty that they are capable of surviving for a long time and, finally, that we will work together as we have in the past. In a way, it's like Jeff Vail's Rhizome communities. A yuppie thief wouldn't stand a chance.

I would absolutely look at the future differently were I still living in the NYC or SF areas. They are different realities and people in those kinds of areas will have to make different plans. Perhaps, they will find others that share their scenarios as in Patriots or they may make the choice to move to (or have one ready) a "safer" location (whatever that means today). But, in any case, one size does definitely not fit all!

I believe it is absolutely crucial for people to force themselves to consider the future including a worst case(s). They may reject it/them but they are still far ahead of those who will be totally blindsided because they refused to think about such stuff at all.


The likelihood of an orderly progression mimimicking the decent from top leaf to base is near 0. Unlike the plant our complex system did not grow in a more or less orderly manner. Major disruptions, reversals and shifts in growth were the rule not the exception. The way down would seem more likely to follow the way up than some nice orderly more or less predictable regression.

This is not to argue against doing what we can to build a more sustainalbe future. But I am curious, how many westerners run out of food, clean water, and warm shelter if say within fifteen years there is a conflict which stops (in say a one year time span) all oil and gas from flowing over the seas? I am sure Pentagon type planners have guesses at these numbers. What no one has a guess at is what sort of chain of events could bring on that stoppage. The energy delivery fleet can not be rebuilt in anywhere near the time frame needed to permanently remove such fleet. Such a disruption is easier to imagine that universal incineration but no easier to predict.

Everyone knows the massive interdependence that makes this system so vulnerable is the only thing keeping it going, we are playing a heck of a game of Jenga. Somehow we have to change the rules.

Since we are in the Mad Max mode today lets consider the issue of lawlessness for a bit.

Wyoming - Nice post!

re: Lawlessness, one of the most recent and graphic examples was the Rodney King Riots in LA in 1992. I lived there then and I got a first hand view of what a real-life Mad Max scenario looks like. The Rodney King riots in LA are more applicable to this discussion than New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. The NO tragedy was the result of a major catastrophic event. The LA riots of 1992 were fueled by a rising tide of social and economic discontent.

After the verdicts the police withdrew out of certain communities of the city of LA and set up barricades in the more affluent areas such as Brentwood, Westwood and Beverly Hills. It was 3 non-stop days of pillage and mayhem (in select areas). One event that got no press was the fact that air traffic into and out of LAX had to be redirected over water because rooftop snipers were shooting at passenger aircraft.

The point I'm bringing up is that large megalopolis cites such as LA have a high potential for violence. When you take a cocktail of Racial divisiveness mixed with equal parts income disparity and poverty and then add food shortages (even temporary) with an inability to maintain social order you have a prescription for a major disaster.

When I hear people dismiss doomsayers as paranoid I say: "Wait and see." To casually assume that there will be no violence but an orderly downsizing is myopic. Perhaps your particular hamlet will weather the storm but what are you going to do when refugees from LA (or any number of large dysfunctional cities)start to flood into your communities straining your social services not to mention your hospitality? Are you going to let them build tent cities and feed them? That's not going to do a lot for property values will it?

That's when you'll discover Peak Compassion.


Thank you Michael,

I have been wondering about this topic since Ugo posted about Ireland's Great Famine and how despite the horrible death toll it was relatively peaceful. Peaceful enough that property rights were respected and food was still shipped away, which is kind of the opposite of the "roving hordes will eat everything" vision often described.

It would seem that making plans now to work *with* the police would be a great idea for peak oil transition groups. I think getting more foot police and possibly tiny local precinct houses would also be a good idea.

There is this great article about Waco Texas during the Great Depression and how the police force founded the cities first soup kitchen to give the poor some other way of getting something to eat besides stealing. (IIRC Westexas first posted the article)

It would be good to get some discussion going about how to boost the training of the police and the auxiliaries that may need to support them.

I doubt that Ireland in 1850 has much relevance to today's social conditions. People today are less religious, less ethnically uniform, more drugged up, more tattooed and more inclined to view senseless violence as a fun option. If the food system breaks down, I can assure you with 100% certainty that there will be widespread, horrible violence.

The news of "transition groups" with food is going to spread very quickly and widely in a time of food shortages, particularly with modern communications tools. The groups will be photographed and publicized. Located on Google maps etc.

Yes, they'll need some serious protection. However, you've got the relationship backwards. The people calling the shots after the system collapses will not be nerdy peakniks and farmers. The thugs with the guns will run the show for their own benefit, because that's the natural order of things. It's only a matter of time until transition groups get "taxed" into submission and dominated by their protectors.

In the doom scenario, there's really no reason for anyone to do the right thing. You can't tell someone that the world is going to deteriorate in a death spiral of increasing poverty, and expect them to adopt a cooperative attitude.

I think there has always been a subset of people who get off on senseless violence. Today we have a lot more quantity and quality of weapons and media violence glorification as well. The ideas that people are less religious (than when?), less ethnically uniform (then when/where?), more drugged up (compared to...?), and more tattooed (what does this have to do with the price of tea in China?) don't, to me, translate into an assurance of 100% widespread, horrible violence.

These ideas remind me of some of the people I work with who continually go on and on about 'alternative lifestyles' (gays), 'alternative belief systems' (anything not mainstream Christianity [sorry, Mormons, people like some of my co-workers are cordial to your faces but talk about you behind your back), 'radical politics' (anything except hard-core Republicanism),how body art and body jewelry are causing the collapse of the free white world... Screeds against Mexicans, blacks, Muslims, Asians, poor people in general, people who have the nerve to sin by piercing their skin in a non-approved place with a metal bauble, people who have the nerve to violate other people's norms by having a butterfly tattooed on the small of their back...

Enough of this identity politics nonsense.

I think it is premature to think about lawlessness and civil unrest caused by peak oil. The world is not going to run out of oil that quickly; however, the speed at which we will run out will cause massive economic dislocations as we switch to mass transit and alternate energy, which will take decades.

My biggest fear is that the US is becoming increasingly vulnerable to an attack against our oil supply. In the age of satellites the location of all oil tankers is known, and they could be taken out instantly. We now produce about a third of the oil we consume, which we could survive on, but we are approaching the time when we will not be able to feed ourselves without foreign oil.

So instead of stocking up on ammunition, write your congressman and senator and tell them we need a realistic plan, and what you are willing to give up in order to preserve the future of our country.

Why not do both? Prepare and write letters? What's wrong with having some guns and ammo next to the stack of cash, hoard of gold, and big pile of food and tools?

I assume by "future of our country" you mean to exclude despotic and highly-fascist variants? Giving up freedom and earning (taxes) to the gov't is always quickly asked, but should be slowly granted if at all. The gov't has way more power and money than they need already, IMHO, and having proven themselves poor stewards of the power and money they've had, there is no reason to provide more, and every reason to provide less.

I am very supportive of almost everything you say -- except the end, your conclusion! It is my firm conviction and experience that ordinary people want peace, everywhere, and that when it doesn't occur, it's because of incitement.

You make a distinction between the political class and the elite. I think that the political class and the elite are not easily separable. When the elite feel threatened, and sometimes even when not threatened, they will support politicians who spew hatred and are willing to foment violence.

I believe that almost all the negative stuff about Muslims has been fomented by the media and the intelligence services. I don't just mean the one spectacular incident, but many lesser ones before and since. It's the same thing that happened to the Jews in Germany and those countries that followed her baton.

But I very, very much agree that it is possible and necessary to fight against incitement, hatred, violence. I just don't thing it's in the bag. Not by a long shot.

I don't know about "people want peace", at least as an overriding priority, say versus "people want their kids to survive".

Certainly people like structure, dependability, and a situation they can succeed within. Certainly most people dislike chaos and situations of continual danger and strife. However, I think that danger is a side-effect of breakdown in structure and other opportunity. Most people don't think "I'm going to grow up to be a bank robber, murderer, drug dealer, and small-time con man", yet people become all of those things. Why? Because they see situations where that seems like the best option at the time -- easy money or a low-risk reward from their reference frame.

I think one aspect that has been under-represented is growth of organized crime. Where there is a power vacuum, organized crime can and probably will fill the need. Protection rackets, graft, favoritism, illicit trade -- all is the purview of crime syndicates, as is a sense of belonging, opportunity for advancement, and of course potential for profit.

You make a distinction between the political class and the elite. I think that the political class and the elite are not easily separable. When the elite feel threatened, and sometimes even when not threatened, they will support politicians who spew hatred and are willing to foment violence.

Excellent observation/critique.


I'd suggest that although this post takes a totally different perspective that it points to the same conclusions I've come to that as times get bad we will form enclaves. These would focus on local security and stability.

I'd also add that the formation of social enclaves are in and of themselves no assurance that civilization will continue since problems with first international trade then national and finally regional trade will destroy the web of just in time manufacturing and far flung facilities we have developed.

So although I think many valid points are made in this paper and I happen to actually agree with most they become difficult to justify since they don't deal with the underlying movement of goods in services in a fractured social environment. Even a fairly small amount of social disorder in the right place is sufficient to have and enormous impact on our current trade system. Riots in the port of Long Beach CA would have a huge impact vs in Watts.

I'd suggest we could narrow the scope to situations that included disruption of trade currency collapses and shortages of basic goods. These are the initial conditions that seem reasonable. And most important the expectation by most would be that this is not a temporary change i.e its not a natural disaster and things get back to normal.

I'd be interesting in examples of peaceful solutions given these conditions. I'd suspect that for the most part the involve formation of and enclave and I'd suspect that violent outcomes are far more prevalent.

I think that's just the point of the doomer perspective that merits attention. No, we're not going to run out of oil all at once; no, coal is not about to expire as a source of energy; yes, people will still be producing food. But, yes, major disruptions are certainly possible. So the question is, what will be the consequences for social order.

And you're right that re-grouping into our little enclaves (transition communities?) isn't going to guarantee safety. Local violence can be suppressed by an aroused community, avoided by an organized one. But what about the larger world? So we have to think about that and, in particular, about the fate of nation states, as I just suggested in a reply to Nate.

The state provides a kind of order that staves off warlordism and communal violence when it's working. Will the more affluent states suddenly collapse? Unlikely. Will they be able to cope with unrest? Probably no worse than they cope today, but that's not always very well. Will politicians take them down a path to communal violence? Maybe. These are things we need to build against while we build up local community resilience to both shortages and violence.

So doomers. What's your plan for after the fall, the first time you need medical or dental attention and your dentist has run out of anasthetic? Surgeon?

Betca didn't think of that one. (There's hundreds of others.)

What did the Easter Islanders do for surgical (and those hundreds of other) needs?

Just because some service might not be there, doesn't mean a Black Swan won't come swooping in.

Want to see the 'hundreds' of things people have been taking into consideration? Look here.

Like others have said, the marauding gangs of bandits, total destruction of the cities due to violence and such are fantasy scenarios. The Mad Max scenario is only going to happen, maybe, in case of nuclear exchange.

Having said that, I live in one of those over-crowded latin-american city. My own has about 2.5 million people, in Brazil. I also know a extensive countryside, mostly very poor, around here.

What you have in a situation of increasing poverty in a western society that values equals consumption with social status is common banditry. Robberies, thieving, kidnapping, etc. Not that poverty equals violence right away, it depends on the social structure (India has much less violence per capita than most western states, even 1st world, and they are very poor), but it does happen a lot on western societies, it seems. I'm not sure about actual gangs, in the style of the large US gangs (Crips, etc). In some places it happens, in others it doesn't. Also, expect vigilantism to some extent. Law enforcement works to an extent, specially against the worst kinds of crimes, but they tend to be corrupted and easily bribed, being more and more clear that they work to protect those that can afford it, or have the political power to will it (for example, they patrol the affluent neighborhoods, but not the hell-holes). Private security also gets to be a big business. Actually, the boundaries between police, private security and "protection money" to organized crime blurs significantly. Dimitry Olov says some of this. This is the most likely scenario, not former middle-class suburbanites armed to the teeth going crazy.

The human being is a remarkable social animal, though, for good and bad. Marauding hordes of ex-suburbanites are fantasy, but organized mass-violence isn't, IMO. You people seem to be discarding the most likely type of very serious violence we might see in a declining society: politically-driven mass murder, genocide, etc. And I'm not talking just about ethnic cleansing like was done in Africa and Yugoslavia, mostly by militias, with hand weapons, along with death from disease and hunger in the refugee camps. I'm talking about organized, state-sponsored killing by modern weaponry and/or death camps. You will remember that the Holocaust was partially just crazyness from the Nazis, but part of it (and the general violence in the eastern front) was a political decision to "clean" land for suitable german colonization. Granted, that's not something that will likely happen within the USA at first, but it's worth mentioning, since I haven't seen any comment in that direction.

EDIT: Forgot to say that the countryside these days isn't that safe. People are very isolated, there are constant reports of people being robbed and/or killed in their properties, without no one to see or hear. Unless you're talking about small, village-like countryside, where everyone knows everyone (which isn't that common, I think). Also, most of those crimes are committed by outsiders and it isn't always easy to spot and stop them, specially if they go in and do their business quickly.

In developed countries there are 2 services that are essential if basic needs are to be met;

1. Production and distribution of adequate food
2. The national grid

As long as enough liquid fuel is available to maintain these services then IMO we will not descend into anarchy. As oil supplies dwindle I think there will be more central intervention to ensure enough liquid fuel is ring-fenced for these services. I would expect high costs, rationing, poverty and unemployment but, as long as some form of government holds, I would not expect complete societal collapse.


The foremost essential is availability of credit.
There could well be plenty of food stocks and plenty of stocked fuel
if there is no credit every market will run out of food in 3 days.
Even in anarchy there is some form of government however a government that rules according to different axioms and different rules of inference.
That is when people say I don't understand this world anymore.

hi hahfran

I agree credit is essential for BAU functioning of our society. But there is still a gulf between the breakdown of BAU and descent into anarchy. The credit problem could, in extremis, be resolved by central assumption of money control and issuance. This might have the undesirable (to many) effect of wiping out middle class savings and put everyone on a (poorer) level footing but it needn't spell total collapse. A move towards full socialism (an alternative level of government control would be some form of dictatorship) could resolve credit problems (which are closely tied to capitalism) whilst still keeping the lights on.

All I'm saying is that there are political means for addressing monetary problems. But if energy scarcity goes past a certain point, that required for provision of the services I mentioned, than there may be no political solution.

TW is it that man could go along for some 10,000 years without OPEC oil and without Gazprom gas? But never without water and without nutrition. The validity or efficiency of political, or rather, central banks' means to address credit problems is limited as such that at some level of liquidity provided by CBs, money is no longer accepted as a universal substitute of real goods. Political means for handling deficiency of resources, inclusive of energy ressources, that is usually war.
I think the variables credit, energy, and nutrition, i.e. the availiability of most basic needs , cannot be considered as mutually independent.
A medieval castle had to be completely autarchic in terms of nutrition and energy. If not, then the castle wall was merely a symbol but not a shelter.
I am afraid that to own such a castle and to become autarchic is the only viable alternative.

I believe Iran and Thailand are exchanging with each other absent monetary credit. Oil flows in one direction and rice in the other. Direct state-state negotiation rather than through bankers.

Perhaps we'll see more of this in the future, e.g., U.S. food for Middle East Oil.

What is wrong with cash? Why would credit be needed to run a society?
You dont even need credit for electronic transactions, you can have
a card that draws fron an account with savings instead of a credit card.


the problem re use of oil for those essentials food/grid/water/sewage will be if we can use our oil domestically as opposed to use it to wage war- to get even more?

where are our current priorities financially, war or domestic needs? i don't know the %'s but have seen pi charts that show 'real' investment to be over 50% is military.

hi creg

I assume from your comment you are US based? Here in the UK, and through most of the rest of Europe, investment in military is far lower than 50%.

Most oil is burnt on the roads in private cars and at least 50% of that driving is discretionary. In our family we have 2 cars but could give both of them up without suffering genuine hardship. Train to work, kids cycle/walk to after school clubs and we shop on foot - the nearest store is only down the road. Sure, there would be an inconvenience factor but probably no worse than the 70's when my parents didn't have a car (at least for some years).

I accept things may be different in US suburbia but here in the UK the car for most (there are of course exceptions but they are a small minority of professions) is useful but not absolutely essential. In fact, for town/city dwellers, the majority of the population, travelling short distances by car can be more awkward than walking/cycling/public transport. Even outside town, few places cannot be reached by public transport, it just takes a bit longer.

I don't know about others on here but I find myself swinging between near panic and complacency depending on how I view PO unfolding. I've no doubt that we are around PO now, just very unsure how it will pan out. Except that the price of oil will rise - and in this respect I've invested accordingly!


In Kazakhstan a couple of already depleted oil wells were found replenished after a couple of years.
Peak oil is a thesis based on the unproven assumption that oil is
a product of decay of huge organic masses.
Geologists of former USSR ( now, under Putin the Oligarch's puppet, unemployed) claimed to have evidence that the formation of oil reservoirs is ALSO from organic, but a not-organic ongoing process must be assumed,too.
I do not buy the peak oil thesis. However when someone wants to sell something that is abundant he will try to convince you it is rare and may not be available tomorrow so get it his price.


If you don't buy the PO thesis then how do you explain the peaking that has occurred in so many countries/regions, e.g. US, N Sea, Mexico, Indonesia etc? Surely global production is nothing more than the sum of all the individual smaller fields and areas and one by one they are entering decline.


I can explain everything I have even explained the cause of missing socks ( one sock of a pair of socks is missing ) after washing...
But this Schroedinger wave stuff based explanation was not accepted by my wife.
So I'll better interpret it.
But first to clarify what does peak oil mean.
The idea of peak oil forecasts is very old, what has changed is the growing amount of historical oil data now available to test forecasts.

If we assume that the theory of those USSR scientists is correct, then new oil is added to constantly depleted reservoirs of organic oil.
Then it becomes a question of the maximum allowable demand, or depletion rate. If this rate could be determined, from day by day growing historical data, then it should be easy to suffice the condition. Think and find some substitutes for oil thus that capping of oil demand is observed.
So the interpretation is: the rate of extraction is too high far off equilibrium although the supply is not determined by the amount of "once" created oil.
However peak oil could mean a peak of global economies' dependency
on oil. If so I am confident that oil won't be a topic in 20 years from now.

While inorganic oil can be made in a lab, naturally occurring oil is organic. The tell tale signs are biochemical and can't be falsified, since life builds molecules with a particular orientation (like a cork screw).

I am not aware that crude is regularly checked for chirality of (which?) molecules. However I think crude oil can be a racemic substance. As said the USSR geologists did not claim to refute the organic source of oil but had said there must be a second process that is not organic. The replenishing of abandoned, depleted oil wells is
not such a rare event. But this replenishment could not be explained if the source of ALL oil were organic.
Presently I am long oil, long WTI but my gut feeling is the big time of oil is over. Either demand plunges - a leading indicator of GDP is sales of electric energy AND of gasoline - or peak oil is just a hype.
At least now Russia is desperate to sell their glut of oil and attempt to compensate the very low price of Urals with absurd high prices for nat gas. That will not work thus they will sell oil at any price or go bust. Then oil will be even cheaper. For me as an options trader it can be interesting to ride the volatility of the oil futures but the charts tell me oil is down and out in the long run.

But this replenishment could not be explained if the source of ALL oil were organic.


One could hypothesize two traps, one below the other with a small connection. Upper trap is full, high pressure, no place for more lower oil to migrate to.

Remove oil from upper trap and lower trap oil migrates up.

And if oil is created by abiotic means, not enough to make a difference.


Said by Michael Foley, aka greenuprising:
At the same time, we have to recognize that economic and ecological collapse don't necessarily lead to violence.

I have a difficult time reconciling this statement with the falling edge of peak oil. The human population massively overshoots the carrying capacity of our planet. If our population expansion from about 1 billion in 1800 to 6.5 billion in 2009 was possible due to inexpensive ubiquitous fossil fuels, primarily crude oil, will we be able to sustain the population and its likely increase over the next few decades without an abundant, inexpensive supply of crude oil? If the Export Land Model is correct, the crude oil exports will be near zero in 2030. 21 years will not be enough time to reduce the human population to 50% to 18% by death from old age. With a shortage of crude oil, I do not see anything that prevents farm yields from declining. How do we transport the sheer volume of food to all the people with an insufficient supply of fuel? How do we get I-NPK to the farms? It seems to me all the potential replacements for crude oil either fall short of what is needed to sustain the sheer scale or are not being constructed soon enough. If the critical functions provided by crude oil can not be replaced, population will have to decline, not just the standard of living. I do not think 6.5 billion people can be sustained on this planet with a lower standard of living.

Modern cities are massive, high population density asphalt and concrete jungles with inadequate arable land and local supplies. As best as I can determine, cities can not survive a sustained disruption of our just-in-time delivery system. Someone with a full time job would have precious little time to maintain a garden. I just do not see hundreds of thousands of homeless, starving people dieing without resorting to stealing, and its associated violence, first.

Look what happened in Russian cities during the Bolshevik Revolution:

Spread of Bolshevik Power

Famine was not the only problem faced by the Bolsheviks. Industry was also in crisis. With so little food in the cities, workers moved to the countryside where they thought there would be more food. The population of Petrograd dropped from 2.5 million in 1917 to 0.6 million in 1920. With so few workers left in the cities, industrial production collapsed.

If the system can not keep the urban grocery store shelves stocked, I think people will leave for small towns, rural areas and likely fail at subsistence farming. Then they will trek back to the cities looking for jobs that simply will not exist ending up in shanty towns and scrounging for scraps to survive. Crime will rise from desperation.

If the system can not keep the urban grocery store shelves stocked, I think people will leave for small towns, rural areas and likely fail at subsistence farming.

How are they even going to get started? Most stragglers aren't going to have any money or land. In fact, I'm sure that a very large subset of people will just skip the farming attempt, and go straight to robbery/stealing. We live in an instant gratification society, remember?

Then they will trek back to the cities looking for jobs that simply will not exist ending up in shanty towns and scrounging for scraps to survive.

Why move back to the city? If the food is in the country, why not just stay in the country and prey on the farmers. They're pretty much sitting ducks because they: a) are isolated, b) follow predictable routine, c) have to work outdoors, d) have both hands full a lot.

JD I think you are vastly underestimating the ability of us rural-small town folks to take care of ourselves. We are not "sitting ducks" but the most resourceful of populations. A stranger sticks out like a sore thumb and, if hostile, can be dealt with. An urban mob would be fish out of water in the countryside. Not to belabor the point, but most of us have guns and sufficient community cohesion to watch each other's backs. Besides, if there's no gas then how are you city folk going to get here? Walk? Good luck.

No, I don't take these fantasies too seriously.

Chuck, you're in deep denial. You're vastly underestimating the ease with which virtually anybody can be stalked and robbed/killed by a half-decent criminal. Banks have armed guards, and they still get robbed every day. The oil platforms in Nigeria have guns, but militants still capture them. The pipelines in Iraq are guarded, but insurgents still blow them up. Police chiefs in Iraq and Mexico have car loads of bodyguards and they still get killed.

I'm certain that mass starvation will concentrate the mind wonderfully, and lead to the invention of numerous effective farm theft/assault tactics.

Here's some recent happenings for you, Jan. 19, 2009: cattle rustling. What happened there Chuck? Where was all that farmer resourcefulness, and back-watching, and guns, and hostile strangers being dealt with etc.?

Cattle, peace of mind stolen
Poor economy, area's high concentration of cattle spur crime wave.

Chip Porterfield expects it will take him years to recover from the financial loss he incurred when 10 of his cattle were stolen.

Taken from a farm just outside Springfield over Thanksgiving weekend, the Black Angus cattle were worth about $10,000.

"That's a big chunk to try to overcome ... that's my livelihood," said Porterfield, of Sparta, who has been in the family cattle business for more than 20 years. "You're looking at four years to recover from losing 10 cows."

The incident was one of a recent rash of cattle thefts in the area.

The Greene County Sheriff's Office has received almost a dozen reports of cattle theft since October. Others -- including 30 stolen in Barry County during the past six months -- provide a snapshot of increasing cattle thefts in southwest Missouri.Link

A little cattle rustling cuts no ice, JD. Crime happens. So what? Nor do any of your other examples have any bearing on the kind of doomsday fantasy you seem to enjoy. You seem to be in denial that there might be any alternatives to a dog eat dog world. I don't know how a hunger crazed urban mob will behave but I do know they won't be making it to my doorstep. By the way, I don't even own a gun although I'm thinking about getting a couple in case a little hunting is necessary to suppliment the garden.

Said by JD:
How are they even going to get started?

Think about the ones who have jobs and a family. If the money earner steals something, he risks getting caught. If he goes to jail or ends up in the hospital or graveyard, he will not be able to take care of his spouse and children. This would worry him every time he steals something out of necessity. This family has the money to buy the food, but there is not enough food for everyone in the city. This family also has enough money to travel. Enduring one winter of food shortages while the parents watch their children grow thiner will imprint the lesson that the family must do better. The possibility of a homeless person stealing, raping or murdering the family will be a constant worry. This is what happened in the Russian cities causing people to quit their jobs and leave.

Those who leave the city looking for a better life would return if they fail to find the better life. They may find small towns overwhelmed with other people seeking the same remedy. They could run out of money. Perhaps the fuel shortage will follow them into rural areas preventing them from obtaining enough fuel to operate a plow. Because subsistence farming is hard work and success is subject to the weather, they could try and fail. They would return to the city to get another job.

I was thinking about Doctor Zhivago and why he left Moscow. Boris Pasternak's characters are fictional, but he set them in real Russian history. Moscow was a mess during the Bolshevik Revolution due to the scarcity of food and heating fuel (firewood and coal). The Doctor quit his job, packed his family onto a train as though they were cattle and headed toward central Russia to do subsistence farming because he thought where they were going would be better than what they left behind. Thinking that the destination will be better does not make it so.

Some posters on TOD think the electric grid will become unreliable when there are shortages of crude oil. Coal may not be delivered on time. Replacement parts, such as transformers, may be delivered late. If electricity becomes unreliable, gasoline is rationed and the supply of food, propane and fuel oil are insufficient to satisfy the need, living in the city may become unbearable. Sure suburbia has yards for gardens, but there are many urbanites who rent apartments which lack space for gardens. If both spouses work, they will not have sufficient time to maintain a large garden. What will happen to the inner cities?

I agree completely with the assessment of the population issue. It's hard to imagine the world successfully feeding the 10 billion population expected in just a few short years with energy supplies, esp. oil, dwindling. The current population was built on cheap oil, and we can't shrink without major suffering.

But I want to comment on the question of cities, since it's come up several times here. One thing that has not been mentioned is the huge growth in urban agriculture. By some estimates as much as a fourth of the world's food is produced in urban settings. This may be exaggerated (I think it is), but it suggests we look to urban agriculture as one way in which urban populations could survive a food crunch. There's probably not a lot of protein in this production, especially in those benighted cities where animal husbandry is banned, and that would have to be addressed. It's worth noting that much of this food is produced in the so-called "Hell Holes," the poverty and crime-ridden districts of cities, where people manage to protect their gardens through a combination of fencing and community good will. Maybe Mad Max isn't desperate enough yet; maybe cooperation works.

As for suburbia, David Holmgren, co-founder of the permaculture movement, recently suggested that suburban spreads could well revert to small-scale food production in the face of crisis. There's a lot of evidence to suggest this is already happening. Unemployment and transportation woes would only push this scenario further, but suburbanites, like city dwellers, face a learning curve that could use some pushing. There are lots of interesting groups out there trying to do just that. Maybe this is all pollyannish, but prepardedness has to mean something more than stocking up on non-perishables and ammo, or most people just aren't going to buy into it.

The Mountain People is a fascinating book. It is, however, highly controversial. I fear Colin Turnball was not a very good anthropologist. The Ik to this day are furious over Turnball's depiction of them.

The forecasting of social unrest to a large degree depends on the severity of the problem, the speed in which the severity occurs, ability of nations/states/cities/communities to deal with the problem, and the confidence held by the populace that the situation would return to at least a tolerable state (in other words, "hope").

Since we don't know with certainty the date and decline rate of PO (and we can't expect a sharp peak or a steady decline rate), we are left with attempting to determine the probabilities of the various outcomes for our strategic planning purposes.

In Jan 2008, I projected probabilities a decade ahead for various scenarios based on events and knowledge at that time. All three of the factors at the bottom of the chart below have changed at least slightly, so the probabilities have likely shifted slightly as a result. This is purely opinion on my part; comments are welcome.

what a cool graphic! I have visualized such in my head but alas am not good at computers/graphics - is that just Powerpoint?

Contentwise, I think the possibilty of a sharp peak is higher % than you indicate. We should probably run a post on explaining the reasons that Peak Oil was NOT 2008. I would be interested in peoples reasoning. (each month the $24 trillion that IEA said was needed to maintain production into the future is delayed, the natural decline rate grows and the difference between natural and observed, shrinks.


This is the kind of thought process that adds real value to the discussion. The complexities of the world make it very difficult to model it well, but this kind of work allows one to not get too confused by the daily issues and to focus on general trends.

It is too bad that there are not resources and expert ice available for the TOD community to "model" the "collapse" issue. IF some rig our was put into this in an open forum I think it would be another valuable lever in getting out the message of how important the issue of peal EROEI, climate change, over population, etc is.

I guess I will just have to nominate you to be in charge :)


Nice piece. My own personal take on this is that crime and international war are bigger issues than the roving bands. I'm not at all a "get a gun and a bunker person" but I do think the question of police probably requires more consideration than it could be given above.

That is, I live in a rural area with no community police (or fire, or EMS - volunteer only), that relies on the fairly unreliable state police when needed. We are fortunate - a state policeman is one of my neighbors, and we have already mastered "Call Evan, not the cops" - but not everyone has that. I suspect as state budgets get strapped, policing will be less likely here, and have to go to the community mode.

I have also lived in small, poor, urban cities where the police were more to be feared than helpful - I lived, for example, in Waltham MA, before its gentrification, as a college student living off campus for many years. The job of the college police at the school I attended could be largely summarized as "protect college students from the city police." And there was good reason for this - cops were routinely up on corruption and violence charges, one friend was stalked by a police officer, a gay couple was beaten by a pair of police officers in a public parking lot, a gun was pulled on one of my roommates because the police officer could not grasp that the person they were after lived in the next apartment up, despite repeated clarifications.... I do not in any sense tar all police officers with this vision, but it is worth noting that in some places, and for some populations, the police are a force to be feared, and likely to become more of a threat when salaries are cut and supervision declines.

Your vision depends on regions having the economic wherewithal to either maintain police forces at adequate force, control and limit their actions with good supervisors and adequate pay so that they don't give into the temptation, and have the police not be so intimidated that they will act in the most dangerous places. Either that, or it depends on a small scale organizational ability to raise and manage community policing forces that will also behave well.

Don't get me wrong - I generally agree with you, but it does seem to me that the major potential problem in your argument can come down to two things.

1. The tendency towards "shock doctrine" like privatized solutions as a substitute for real, public policing - that is, there is already a move to abandon some areas and a tendency to avoid policing dangerous areas, while allowing those wealthy enough to afford private security to rely on that. If municipalities struggle to afford police in the coming economic crisis, it is not unlikely that they may shift some or all of the burden of policing to private security.

2. The larger question of whether we will be able to afford to keep police honest. This is costly - as we've seen in other collapsed countries who found corruption rife in their police departments.


I have also lived in small, poor, urban cities where the police were more to be feared than helpful

Sharon - Very good point about the police. Everyone imagines Mad Max scenarios with organized gang lords but Stanley Kubrick's vision of Clockwork Orange may be more of a threat:

A Clockwork Orange features disturbing, violent imagery to facilitate social commentary on psychiatry, youth gangs, and police gangsterism among other topics in a futuristic dystopian Britain.

What was the ironic theme of the film was Alex's(the hero of the tale and leader of a small band of hoodlums) droogs (gang members) eventually end up as policeman torturing Alex. What better place for a criminal type to hide than behind a badge.


joemichaels -

I also cannot be very optimistic about the future relationship between the police and the general public in the coming years. I firmly believe that the US is drifting none too slowly toward becoming a true police state (from what I read the UK is just about there already).

I would define a police state as one in which the general public rightly fears the police more than they do the criminal element; or to put it another way, a police state is one in which the police commit more crimes than the criminals.

We are already seeing hints of this trend in the US , some subtle and others not so subtle. Such as:

- Every town about the size of Mayberry now feels it has to have a SWAT team.

- Increasing militarization of the police and closer liason between the military and the police (Why is it that police officers younger than the age of 40 all seem to have the same military style buzz cuts?)

- The role model for the way the police interact with the general public appears to be embodied in that awful TV show, 'Cops'.

- Many high schools, not just the ones in the inner cities, now have a full-time police officer present. Surveillance is all-pervasive.

- An increasingly thuggish and arrogant demeanor on the part of many police officers.

- Taser First and Ask Questions Later has become standard operating procedure for many situations.

- An increasing willingness on the part of police officers to use deadly force in situations that are clearly not life-threatening. Why? Because they know they will probably get away with it.

- A total lack of perspective and common sense on the part of many of the younger police officers (I think we need to take a good look at what type of training these people receive and what sort of indoctrination they undergo).

- Increased reliance on for-profit prisons.

- Increased intimidation of the accused to enter into plea bargains even though solid evidence of guilt is often lacking.

- Increased use of private security for affluent neighborhoods.

And that's just off the top of my head for starters.

As the economy tanks and things become more brutish, I can see this situation as only getting worse. I fear the role of the police in the US will become similar to that of the typical banana republic .... to protect the interests of the entrenched power structure from the have-nots and to keep the general public from getting too uppity.

The thing is, the very role of the police, since it's creation, has been to enforce the will of the state over it's citizens. States have a tendency to largely respect the rights of it's rich and middle-class denizens (not it's poor, mal-adjusted, and so on). For a lot of reasons which I won't get into, the states of Western Europe, North America and so forth in the post-WWII have had a very wide middle-class. I would hazard to guess that about 80% to 90% of the population in those countries could be described as "rich or middle-class", so the brunt of the police was felt by a minority of the population.

As more and more people cease to be "middle class", they will begin to run in the bad aspects of policing. That's what happening. I'm not trying to imply that a world without a police force would work. I immensely respect their work, but it must be acknowledge that they exist to enforce an order that's not naturally democratic.

"What better place for a criminal type to hide than behind a badge".

Nice one Joe. This is not new, just not so well publicised. My (not so great)Great Grandfather joined the N.S.W police force in Australia so he could legally kick heads down on the docks in Balmain. Purely recreational of course.

I agree, but then there is the duality of enforcement. The tourist police in BKK appear to fend for the revenue generating falang but the brownshirts shake down the bars, and sometime the patrons, to enforce arbitrary closing times to either get local paybacks or reinforce some notion that the so-called problem is under control, (depending of course on the media opinion and the local outrage).

In either case, integrity is a sham, so law enforcement i.e trustworthiness or integrity, is compromised at best, destroyed at worst.

I am not slandering Thailand, it is just an open example of what goes on every day elsewhere in our "proper democracies"


Your experience with the police mirror mine. Police are often more of a problem that a solution. Not dismissing the need for law enforcement, especially when people live in large, anonymous situations, where one can get away with cheating, etc (when everyone knows each other, this often solves the problem).

Sharon, I think you're right on. This is the major question at the local level, and we're far from having police forces that we can trust. The big city ones are often the worst, but small town ones can be bad, too. The Miami Force training program and SWAT teams, as I mentioned in a (late) response to Nate, don't help. At the international level, the U.S. continues to train repressive police forces around the world.

Your second point is equally important. I think the policing function will be the last to go as resource scarcity constrains government budgets. We see this already. The question is whether we'll put resources into good police training or bad. The tendency is, in the face of vocal advocates for a Mad Max scenario or those raising alarms about crime rates, to opt for heavy-handed police training. That's one reason I've put so much emphasis on policing in this discussion; I'm not ordinarily an advocate of policing.

But we can build police responsiveness to the community without major infusions of resources by choosing the right leadership and insisting that we sit down to work with the police, not isolate them or leave them to their own devices. In other words, we need community organizing to deal with our policing problems now, before any major disruptions make policing a key part of community responses.


It is my opinion that Police Departments throughout the country do their best to screen for stable applicants. Those drawn to apply for positions with police forces because of the gun and the badge are generally screened out early as unacceptable candidates. That said, there are still career members of departments who are there because of the power their position as law enforcers offers them. And, there are those who become addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes from day in day out conflict of the dangerous sort. SWAT Teams are made up of these individuals. Their motivations are similar, I think, to those of a kid who volunteers for SEAL training; the certainty of excitement and life on the edge. SWAT Officers, as are SEAL Team members, are pretty good folks. They just need more excitement in their lives than most.

However, when things get tough, many members of the police forces, especially those in the large urban areas, will simply quit. Those who enjoy the routine of a regular beat, those who have never un-holstered their weapon other than at the range, will soon find something else to do. They didn't join the police force to be shot at or to engage in constant conflict. They joined because it was a good job with good benefits and a fantastic retirement. So, those left will be the bullies, and the adrenaline junkies. So much for community protection.

In the county I live in we have a Sheriff and 4 Deputies. We also have a Volunteer Deputies program that recruits and qualifies civilians for reserve duties (primarily selling tickets at the rodeo, and making sure the parking lot works). We also have a volunteer ambulance crew, a Volunteer Fire Department, and a volunteer Search and Rescue. I think that we are in good shape in that our Police Services will likely remain viable whereas the police departments of many large urban areas will not.

Ham Radio offers a resource for regular folks, whether urban or rural. Getting a license is easy to do these days. I understand there is no longer a Morse Code requirement. A General Class license from the FCC allows access to the high frequency bands and so world wide communications and there are some very nifty little low power HF transceivers available. There are opportunities for local communications on the UHF and VHF bands. HF, UHF, and VHF can all be set up for emergency communications with alternative power sources. Best from the Fremont


I too, once lived in Waltham, MA for a lifetime one summer, during the time that you describe. I also saw, first hand, the goings on.

Now, much older and a little wiser (hopefully) I sense the coming storm as a sailor watching the sky. And to that effect, I have been trying to educate myself as much as possible to the mindset I will encounter as things deteriorate in this country. And they will.

You are correct in your observation point 1. I am intimitely involved in FEMA and a number of State/Fed Disaster Preparedness organizations. Membership, training, etc.....When push comes to shove, the government will circle the wagons, and retreat to let the worst of the areas burn themselves out, as they did in LA. Heaven help a person caught in one of those areas. Yes, it will be a case of economics/social food chain disorder.

The biggest issue IMHO, is not whether we can "afford to keep police honest", they will be few and far between in a real crisis, but whether we can keep ourselves honest about the coming storm and prepare for it. So many, even here, are in such broad denial about the failure of the governments ability to keep the peace. It will be far worse than most can imagine.

Thank you for an excellent session of informed prediction, followed by some really engrossing comments. Oil Drum, keep up the great work.

wonderful post, i must say.

but the world is not made entirely from oil / uranium. and while the production curve is well-known and understood, not the same goes for human behaviour.
ever wonder how much action would take to brindgdown a city from within? a perceived shortage of food that leads to real shortages, a couple of days of blackouts. all of these are not too much to ask

also, what about peak people? that's not taken into account, all 6.5 billion of us. panem et circem. the malls are full, and we have enough cheap distractions to keep us in line. once those are gone, it might get ugly very soon.

In tracking down a reference for the 20th century human deaths by violence, I chanced upon this analysis which though stating the sum of 20th century 'democide' was 260,000,000, had some interesting findings relevant to this post:

...As a result of that work I restated the hypothesis as a social principle: Power kills, Power kills absolutely. The diverse analyses I give here consistently and solidly further confirm this.

In sum, among a variety of socio-economic, cultural, social diversity, geographic, and other indicators, the best way of accounting for and predicting democide is by the degree to which a regime is totalitarian. That is, the extent to which a regime controls absolutely all social, economic, and cultural groups and institutions, the degree to which its elite can rule arbitrarily, largely accounts for the magnitude and intensity of genocide and mass murder. The best assurance against this democide is the democratic openness, political competition, regularly scheduled elections, and limited government of a free people.

That rings true to me - the question is how we keep democratic openness and oppose totalitarian regimes during energy descent.

Good morning all from Reno, Nevada. I would like to thank Michael and TOD staff for bringing up the subject of chaos. I believe there is no more important subject concerning the future of TWAWKI. I have read and more or less understand all the salient points above. With your patience I would like to add the ramblings of an old man.

I am one of those dreaded “doomers” and I have been for more years than many of you have lived. To date I have seen nothing substantial to change my mind. Politics as usual, blah, blah, blah … SOS. Unless required action is taken at the highest level, nothing substantial will happen. In fact the present political situation of cronyism almost guarantees that nothing substantial will happen.

In 1950 when starting college I was on the SWTSTC debate team (an engineer on the debate team? Yes, of course, my girlfriend was on the debate team). We had a debate subject something like “The limits of world resources and economic effects on trade.” I of course debated both sides but as an engineer my heart was with the physical limits arguments. Even then there were deniers and half the time I could present the case quite well. So this resource discussion is really nothing new or unique.

After college I spent 20 years in the Air Force flying airplanes and retired in ‘72 just in time for the OPEC embargo. Even though this caused some inconvenience, it was not too serious because many people remembered WWII rationing and to my knowledge, no one went hungry.

The classic peak oil (even ELM) argument is that after oil flow peaks the price will go up rapidly as competitive demand requires. This will be a rather slow process (months and years, not days). No one really thinks this will happen overnight and there will be some time to prepare for high prices, subsequent unemployment, etc. Remember this is the “Classic” idea of peak oil. There is also the idea that classic financial troubles will take some time. The 1930’s depression did not happen immediately in October of ‘29. IMHO given time, people will adjust and there will be little violence. Even if life gets severely constrained in the US, people will adapt to the situation and though hungry (not starving) will get along as in the 30’s.

I, like many of you, kept violent doomerism in the back of my mind as a remote possibility. Then in 1992 another Watts riot happened. Wow, what was that about? A couple cops got acquitted from the Rodney King beating after a high-speed chase as seen on TV. I saw a fellow dragged out of this delivery truck for no particular reason and killed with a brick! The result in LA was extreme considering the cause. I found out it doesn’t really take much to set off a riot. So even at 59 years old, I was still learning a lot of things about people.

A while back I read Taleb’s “Black Swan” (thank you Drummers). At seventy something, it all began to fit. I guess I’m a slow learner. As long as there is enough time for understanding the situation, people will probably react rationally. Without time (Surprise!) people may riot. A very negative Black Swan may be the surprise. At that time I began to prepare for a bad news Black Swan (not knowing exactly what it may be) to minimize the damage if it occurred. The concept “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst” is where we are at now.

I would be a fool to pretend to know precisely what will happen as a surprise. Due to terrorism or just plain meanness oil export is shut off and within a few weeks we are out of oil. Countrywide anger induced riots could be catastrophic. From there it really wouldn’t take much to destroy our fragile electrical grid. This to me is a worst possible condition. Without the grid, there is no money (and no TOD), no fuel, no truck transport, no food, no lights, absolutely nothing will move. So what to do, what to do? What can I do to minimize the Black Swan?

I gave away our pet llamas. They were fun animals but too stringy for food. I now have a half-acre available for garden and the converted small barn is available for tool shed. Our biggest requirement in the high desert is water so I got an old golf cart free but without batteries. (Huh?) 36V @ 200amps is a lot of power. We have a well but the water is about 40 feet down and the wind is not that constant enough for a windmill. Serious solar golf cart charging will cost a couple thousand and the converter to 110/220VAC will also be expensive. I am designing the parts requirements and finding them now and will have it all in place soon. I am a woodworker with good hand skills but a little power will be priceless. This spring will be my first garden and there is a straight up learning curve there but right now we have all sorts of resources available (NPK etc.) though expensive.

IMHO if it happens really fast, the way real bad news will play out here in Reno is for a couple months there will be riots and looting and shooting and a lot of people will leave and hike over the mountain to California where the weather and land is better. After that time most of the people remaining will settle down and start to solve problems. We intend to keep a very low but well armed profile till the worst is over then start to work with whoever is left to live out our lives. See a “World Made by Hand” but without the mysticism.

So what happens if I have ‘The Big One’ tomorrow? Our kids who live nearby will have a start on their plans when the long emergency starts.

thanks lynford.

Most PO'ers are very negative about the future. It is striking. I am not.

I am very, very, very sure that even if gas goes to $10/gallon, life will be pretty normal. Why? Because last summer, gas was $10/gallon here in the Netherlands.

No riots, no looting. No fighting in the streets, not even much discussion on the tube. Nobody seems to care much. Bit more busy on the trains and more people cycled to work.

I have a car that does 50 mpg. It is a small, ordinary car. Costs less than $10k. Nothing special. I cycle to work every day (2*5 miles) and we drive less than 10k miles/year.

Even when you read the oildrum, you still see Americans who mean well, are very worried about PO, the environment and all, but actually really cannot understand that life will be just fine if you don't drive a 6000 lbs SUV. It seems to be an American thing: Keep on panicing over and over again even when the solution is trivial and right in front of you. Sorry to say.

Please: You, me & everybody else can reduce our energy consumption with 1/3 without any noticable negative impact. And by 2/3 with only limited impact. And the cost? There are no costs. It only saves you money and you will live happily ever after.

Thank you Richard
Yes white male Americans who are not Amish/Mennonite or hippies (we need an acronym) freak out very easily.
I wasn't going to say it, but why not: The subject of very hard times comes up and the white male Americans who are not Amish/Mennonite or hippies seem to think "I need a gun", the Europeans and many others say "What can we (our group) do to make it better acting together?" I'm not the first to make this comment either.


I don't want to be negative, but what really strikes me is that Americans are so negative about all this.

What happened to the good ol' US of A that invented, well about everything?

This energy crisis can be mitigated if we put our mind to it. Now let's go do it.

That's all there is to it.

To a certain degree I believe this is a significant possibility. However, cultural inertia and motivations of vested interests will continue to attempt to maintain the status quo. And we have to consider our current fleet of autos and our sprawled suburban landscape as a large part of that consumption flywheel effect.

People could bike, bus, and carpool more, though few of them will go without heat. And look at the spike in light truck purchases after gas prices came down. Clearly, "Americans only know two modes, panic and complacency" - James Schlesinger, former US Energy Secretary

There is a mindset that has to be changed. Can we do so on a massive scale now, while prices are down, and while production projects are being canceled left and right? No clear answer, though Robert Hirsch's 20 year mitigation timeline is looming larger in the rear-view mirror.

Well, while I agree that white male Americans tend to leap towards their guns, it is worth noting that the last time we went through a major world economic crisis, at least some portion of European actors decided that concentration camps and world dominance were the ideal strategy for "acting together." Not that I don't think that Europeans do sometimes have their act together well ahead of Americans, but let's not over-romanticize the differences, eh ;-)?


And the Hutu's and Tutsi's quickly reached for knives and hoes.

Note that the willingness to do this depends on the level of hate-indoctrination (see Gaza and the jihadi indoctrination children get there from birth for another example).

The level of hate-indoctrination in the USA is segregated by race.  Any position taken by a brown- or black-skinned person is taken as axiomatically correct and justified by the Politically Correct, and there's a lot of hate in the "minority communities".  Condemning or even noting this hate is enough to get a pale-skinned person branded "racist".  This lets the hate fester and accelerate.

I expect that if TSHTF this will result in rising minority-on-white crime and violence until the majority reaches a breaking point and responds in kind.  This will go on until the majority gets peace (through separation if by no other means).  Officials who stayed on the wrong side of this will be removed, one way or another.  There are a lot of Mike Nifongs out there now, but there won't be for long after that happens.

Here are a couple of clips about the human propensity to murder other humans:

p. 190, THE DARK SIDE OF MAN: Tracing the Origins of Male Violence, by Michael P. Ghiglieri; Perseus, 1999;

"War analyst Stanislav Andreski concluded that the trigger for most wars is hunger, or even 'a mere drop from the customary standard of living.' Anthropologists Carol and Melvin Ember spent six years studying war in the late 1980s among 186 preindustrial societies. They focused on precontact times in hopes of collecting the 'cleanest, least distorted' data. Andreski, it seems, was right. War's most common cause, the Embers found, was fear of deprivation. The victors in the wars they studied almost always took territory, food, and/or other critical resources from their enemies. Moreover, unpredictable disasters-droughts, blights, floods, and freezes -- which led to severe hardships, spurred more wars than did chronic shortages.

"This also holds true among modern nations. In 1993, political scientists Thomas E Homer-Dixon, Jeffrey H. Boutwell, and George W. Rathjens examined the roots of recent global conflicts and concluded, 'There are significant causal links between scarcities of renewable resources and violence.'

"In short, many wars seem to be a mass, communal robbery of another social group's life-support resources."


CONSTANT BATTLES: Why we Fight, Steven A. LeBlanc, St. Martin, 2004;

[pp. 68-71] Another aspect of warfare involves to what degree conflict is linked with other interaction among the opponents. Many societies trade or even exchange mates with another group during part of the year and launch raids on them in another. Planning a massacre treacherously disguised as a feast or celebration is an example of such shifting behaviors and is a recurrent theme around the world. An ethnographic account related to anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon in the 1960s by Kaobawa, a leader of a small Yanomama village, reveals how this could happen. Kaobawa’s group, with few allies and under pressure from its enemies, tried to form an alliance with a neighboring group. This village was actually part of the enemy alliance and set about to take advantage of Kaobawa’s desperation by inviting his group to a purported feast. When they arrived at the host village, “the men of Kaobawa’s group danced both singly and en masse and were invited into the homes of their hosts. At this point their hosts fell upon them with axes and staves, killing about a dozen before the visitors could break through the palisade and escape.”

The Germans and Russians were actively trading materials useful in warfare until the day before the Nazis attacked in World War II. In the New Guinea highlands, raids often had to be planned in secret, excluding the men and women with close relatives among the group to be attacked, because they were expected to warn the intended victims. All types of societies from foragers to states have these friend-enemy dual relationships.

The evidence for and characteristics of past warfare come together, again, in Tikopia, that particularly appropriate example from the “paradise” of the South Pacific. In spite of the efforts to control population, including infanticide and periodic “explorations” for resettlement, the Tikopians could not control their numbers, nor were the sea and land of limitless bounty. In such a small society, with an entire island population of fewer than fifteen hundred people, severe resource stress would not be expected to result in warfare. If there were any place where people might starve when all other courses of action were exhausted, it would be a small island in the middle of nowhere. Yet there was warfare in paradise. At one time Tikopia had three political entities. In the mid-1700s, the group living in the least productive area of the island virtually annihilated the other two political entities or forced them to flee. We know from historical accounts that at least one other major act of warfare had taken place a couple of centuries previously. When Tikopia was not under a single political leadership, violent and annihilating warfare took place at least every few centuries.

Having discovered that evidence for past warfare can be found just about anywhere in the world where reasonably good archaeological research has been undertaken—and historical and ethnographic accounts show the same thing—it was clear that the idea of a peaceful past was just a myth. With this in mind, I turned back to my two decades of research in the Southwest and wondered why all this warfare was occurring. The one common thread I found with all warfare, inducting that from the Southwest, was that it correlated with people exceeding their area’s carrying capacity. Ecological imbalance, I believe, is the fundamental cause of warfare. It is one thing to believe this but another to demonstrate this relationship. To do so, one must be able to show that there was such ecological imbalance. In addition, one needs to be able to provide an idea of how resource stress would lead to chronic and continuous warfare and not some other outcome.

Getting archaeological evidence of carrying-capacity stress requires being lucky and clever, so it is spotty. Evidence for climate change, which affects carrying capacity, is easier to find. In a place like the Southwest, where farming is, and probably always has been, marginal, climate deterioration should coincide with food shortages. The archaeology of the region as a whole shows that when the climate was good, the population grew and there was not much warfare. When the climate deteriorated, warfare intensified, as seen in El Morro where I encountered warfare and the rapid building of fortified towns. Warfare did seem to change with good times and bad times. Although my team had trouble assessing the level of carrying-capacity stress at the time the people lived on the hilltops in the Mimbres Valley, when we placed these sites in a regional context, it made sense. Warfare in the region was real and patterned. If the ancient people of the Southwest responded to changes in the climate with less or more warfare, then warfare was a result of some external event and not caused by anything intrinsic.

It is possible to describe a model of how human reproductive potential combined with limits to the carrying capacity results in ecological imbalance and warfare. If humans did not have mechanisms to keep from over-exploiting their resources over the long run and could not keep their populations far enough below the carrying capacity to avoid being regularly subjected to food stress, starvation must have been a constant threat in the past. Once the notion of the inherent conservationist is recognized as a myth, it becomes obvious that humans would have encountered food stress on a regular basis. In fact, regardless of the type of human organization, this stress occurred in the past, as archaeology and history show.

Before starving, humans perceive themselves to be falling below what they consider their minimal standard of living. As I learned in Samoa, it may take several months for a food crisis to develop after a natural disaster, and such an impending crisis can be anticipated. People recognize what is happening long before it seriously affects them, and they react if they can. For most animals, natural disasters, disease, and starvation are the population limiters. Though human numbers are subject to disease and natural disasters (and there was little we would have been able to do about them in the past), starvation is a very different matter. Starvation is different because humans, with their brains and social structures, can do something about the fact that they are running out of food. Humans starve only when there are no other choices. One of those choices is to attempt to take either food, or food-producing land, from someone else. People do perceive resource stress before they are starving. If no state or central authority is there to stop them, they will fight before the situation gets hopeless. Resource stress in the form of hunger, and not starvation, is what precipitates warfare. If resource stress is the normal human condition, then warfare must have been an integral part of life most of the time in most places.

As human numbers go up, starvation and disease can possibly keep the population in check. This is one potential scenario, but it never seems to have happened in the past. It is hard to imagine an entire society that would let starvation control its numbers. Even the most passive of pacifists will admit that people will fight before they starve—especially if the threat of starvation is a chronic, recurring event. Even natural disasters that may result in food shortages can cause a reaction. Most catastrophes are more likely to have instigated warfare than to have caused groups to wait to see who would starve first. Rarely does starvation, or even its threat, run rampant without conflict developing.

This does not mean that warfare is inevitable. Humans could choose to starve, or the leaders could choose to let part of the population starve. The starving peasants in more complex societies, whether in China, Ireland, Japan, or the Yucatan, would probably have fought for food before starving, but they were usually not allowed to by the central government. On some occasions, there may have been no one in the vicinity from whom to take resources. An Eskimo band that ran out of food did not have the option of taking it from someone else if they had no nearby neighbors. Most people had other societies near enough that fighting and taking was always a possibility. When resources were critically short, fighting for them has been an option for humans for more than a million years.

I realized that war was caused by overpopulation and insufficient resources after reading Julius Caesar's Conquest of Gaul. Caesar mentions barbarian tribes invading their neighbors to obtain more fertile land.

This book is a first hand account of Caesar's strategy and battles, but there are a few worthwhile observations from ancient times, such as bridge building, sailing ships, fallowing fields, etc., making it an often cited reference.

Very interesting essay. I especially appreciated the insight about the role of politicians in whipping up violence. It makes me wonder about two related and distinctive characteristics of the contemporary American experience that you did not address:

1) Guns. The U.S. is one of the most heavily armed countries on earth. All this firepower allows violent situations to turn deadly much more quickly (rock throwing, for example, can cause serious injury, but when guns are easily available, the risk of killing and maiming greater numbers of people in shorter periods of time increases dramatically).

2) Talk radio and political propaganda. Although there was that priest (name escapes me at the moment) who had a fiery political radio program in the 1930s, I don’t think there was the same quantity of political propaganda, and hatred even, over the airwaves that now exists. Have you ever talked to anyone who gets all their information from sources like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News? It’s like they’re living in a completely different universe. (And Rush and Fox are not the worst of the lot.)

Think of what just a few weeks of Sarah Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric did. Even McCain had to reassure a woman at one of his town hall meetings when she expressed her fears about Obama and that he was a Muslim. There was a youtube floating around at the time of angry people shouting insults at Obama supporters while streaming into a Palin event.

The point is, the potential for politically inspired, or even politically organized violence, definitely exists.

As far as large-scale violence goes, I'd say chances are next to nil. The political class is too wed to economic elites (national and local) to promote mobilization that would be to their detriment, and they have too much coercive power at their disposal to tolerate violent would-be counter-elites.

The assumption here is that economic elites are a unified group. I need some convincing that is the case. I know there are at least a few who are extremely right wing - Richard Mellon Scaife comes to mind. Whether it’s enough to make a difference, I don’t know. I hope you are right, but I have my doubts.


Regarding #2, I suspect that you were thinking of Father Coughlin:

Great article and great bunch of comments.

A nagging thought, though: given the reality of drastic human overshoot, is violence biologically dysfunctional?

Absent an enlightened global movement towards drastic birth control and selfless powerdown, there are only so many ways for overshoot to correct itself. Plague, famine, murder, etc. It could be that the reason healthy chimps raid, kill, and eat one another is that it is actually a better evolved solution than famine/disease for population control in species without efficient predation.

It could be that the USA will have a low enough population and enough resources that such a stark choice won't have to be made, but for the world in general that may not be the case.

Six billion, going once, going twice... 7 billion! Do I hear 9?

Sex is fun, kids are cute, and chimps do the darndest things.

Bingo! This is a problem no amount of social engineering can get around.

Carolyn Baker has an interesting current essay noting that most of the discussion regarding the future is male dominated with a male viewpoint. This certainly seems to be the case here, too. Interesting.


One could argue that the energy subsidy in developed nations has also subsidized sexual equality that is quite different than our morphological characteristics. As we substitute more labor for energy traditional roles may re-assert: harem ratio may increase, division of labor towards that more aligned with body size, and on average men will have more power than they have in recent decades.

The most sought after women however will still hold all the cards.

It's okay. The Y chromosome is self-destructing. In a few thousand years, there will be no men left. Then, finally, visions of Mad Max may be done with, and we can get on with building a human society based on true egalitarianism. No, I don't hate men, at all. I like many of them. But I do notice that nearly all wars and abuses of power at all levels of society are by men. Women do a much better job of holding each other in check socially without resorting to violence.

BTW - I don't comment often because I find it pointless. Way too little "thinking outside the box" in the comments here (the articles are much better). But since I was incited to write, I do have to say a few things about all the doomerism:

1. Violence begets violence. Has always been true and always will. If you think a big stash of weapons is going to save you, think again. A big stash of weapons will be valuable to people who need lots of weapons to keep raiding.

2. Missing in the examples above are Cuba and Russia. Both have had severe economic collapses in modern history. Neither ended up in Mad Max. In fact, for Russia, it appears that violent crime and gangs got much worse as wealth increased after the collapse. Most of this seems to be corruption/government inspired. Just like the article above says. One other note about Russia, is that the women keep the country functioning - they outnumber men by 16 percent. Men have a high death rate due to alcoholism, crime, etc. Yes, this is from a male friend of mine who pointed this out when I was visiting - he grew up there, and went back for work there.

3. People here should ask themselves, why is it that 90% of the commenters here are men? Why are most women not interested in this discussion? Is it that we are oblivious? I don't think so (some are, many are not). It is just that most women I know are more interested in trying to make the world a better place. Does posting doomer porn in the comments on TOD make the world a better place? Does it help us mitigate PO? No. After learning about peak oil, I went out and started a bike shop, to promote transportation alternatives. It has consumed my life, since I have a full time job as well. It has not made my personal life better - I am more in debt, and work harder, than ever before. Most of the male-run bike shops I know only care about recreation/sport. They don't care to see the writing on the wall. Why is it that many men are so content to sit in the sidelines, as if this is a Football game or docudrama, and cheer our destruction on? (I'm not referring to those who are actually doing the serious research/writing here - just the doomer commenters).

4. Get in shape, mentally and physically. That's the best way to survive whatever will happen. Posting doomerism here doesn't help anybody do that.

5. Optimists live longer - regardless of what one poster, formerly working for the gov't, claimed was their "lack of preparation". (yes, one can be an optimist, AND prepare for contingencies).

6. We've had an orgy of energy use in the past 30 years, particularly in the US. It has not made us happier nor healthier. It has led to many of the social ills that the doomers here like to point out. Maybe it is time for us to find a different way - even if that way is very challenging to get to. Will that way be easy? No. But it does not lead directly to gloom-and-doom, de facto.

7. Trees and roots. People discussed the ease of predicting "destruction" versus "construction" above using the analogy of a tree. What the hell? Do you really think all Black Swans are negative? In the late 1800's, it was predicted that New York would soon be covered in horse poop. Seriously. Too many people with too many horse-drawn carriages. Then what happened? The auto came on the scene. For all its negatives, at least it prevented the demise of NYC in a pile of poop. But seriously - as a reader of lots of Sci Fi, I can't help but notice that very, very few Sci Fi books/writers envisioned the internet as it exists today. Or nanotech. Or whatever. I'm not promoting utopianism - just the fact that nobody, absolutely nobody, is good at predicting the long-term future - whether that is a path towards destruction or construction. What if someone invented a pill tomorrow that made all men peace loving and nonviolent? (oh, wait, that's estrogen... okay, maybe an estrogen drug without the side effect of growing boobs). Yes, that was a joke, sort of... but it is one of a million things that could come at us from any angle. On the flip side, tomorrow there could be an outbreak of a new virus that kills 3/4 of the world population, leaving plenty of oil for the rest. Nobody knows.

I am not a utopian. I am being harsh here, but not because I disagree with the PO thesis. I very much agree with the geological fact that we are soon to be running short of oil. And I was pleased to see the article that explored what might happen from a non-reflexive-doomer stance. But when I saw all the ensuing doom, followed by this comment about men-vs-women, it struck me as time to draw the line in the sand. Women are the solution to these problems. It is very rare to find a woman who does not value life or nurture it in some form. No genocides have been committed by women (that I know of). Very few serial murders have been committed by women (and very few murders in general). Very few wars have been started by women. And women actually enjoy community more (a big facet of why they live longer) - which is important for social cohesiveness. So while the men sit here discussing our downfall as a civilization, many women are out there trying to build an alternative vision for our collective future.

Leave it to the women to clean up the mess left by the men.

And women are less impulsive and can value the future (on average) more than men. I'm sure this is related to historical situations. As pointed out above, historically, harem ratio was larger than 1, meaning many men did not have mates and had to choose 'riskier behavior' (often violence) in order to move up. Also, the sexual investment alone - a few minutes for a man and a year (or more) for a woman suggests a tendency towards behavioral differences. In all my speeches on resource depletion, I recommend that we need more women in leadership positions. Both sexes have their drawbacks but I think women tend to think ahead more easily and are less prone to violence (it goes without saying that SOME women are violent as heck and some men are wonderfully objective and peaceful planners).

*Slight rebuttal - of 24 volunteers on staff, 2 are women, so much of content here is written by men who are concerned about the future. (though you might argue it we are all masochistic)

**It was interesting in the Survey we did last month here, of the 3,400 responses, 92% were by men. When filtering the results by 'female', the % of 'extremely concerned' increased from 43% to over 50%. Women also checked the 'learning about peak oil to contribute to a better future for society' 44% vs 36% for males. Other notable differences were % with background in social science vs engineering or natural science was double that of males; men were 5 times more likely to claim their energy intelligence was in the top 1% and almost twice as likely to claim their overall energy intelligence compared to rest of readers was in top 10% of oildrum readership. The sample size was not huge but possibly big enough to make some observations. I have not had time to format it in a way that would be reader friendly yet.

If memory serves, males age 14 to 24 account for something like 7% of the US population but account for over 50% of the murders, but one point that we need to consider is Non-Peak Oil aware females.

I have referred to SNS--Spousal Nesting Syndrome (in a nod to Leanan, I did not call FNS, Female Nesting Syndome)--but IMO, females (at least the Non-Peak Oil aware ones) generally want a house bigger than what their husbands would settle for.

What I think you are kind of getting into here is the outsourcing of violence, exploitation and oppression. Young men do seem to enjoy violence a lot more than young women. However do non-young versions of these genders have greatly different tolerances for violence committed on their behalf by willing young men?

There is also the drowning baby paradox - not saving the drowning baby due to fear of ruining your expensive shoes is not OK, but buying the expensive shoes instead of sending the money to save a baby across the ocean is fine. Do women have consumptive habits that make them just as, if not more culpable in this way? How much responsibility to women bear for the consumption of men in their quest for sexual conquest, if women do (consciously or not) use this as a gauge of reproductive fitness?

I've been stewing on this phrase, but you've pried it out of me;

=> Behind every successful buccaneer is a nagging wife. <=

Thanks for your post mcgurme. I joined up in order the thank you.

I have a dear male friend who spends a huge amount of his life on the oil drum and other websites. I am always saying that he could accomplish so much more if he could just limit it to a half hour a day or so. We both garden and we do try very hard to decrease our footprint. I am mostly too busy to spend a huge amount of my time reading other peoples posts on the oil drum but to so occasionally when I get an email showing me something informative - then I usually send it out to everyone I know.

We were just discussing this issue of male violence last night at a meeting at our home and it was mentioned that studies have shown that 1/4 of the human race is sociopathic. ( sorry - it's just word of mouth and I haven't yet researched it to discover if it is really a fact or not) This is a clue as to why everything is in such a mess. Sociopaths are totally self serving so even when they do good works it is solely motivated by their own self interest. Are most sociopaths male? don't know and if so don't know why, but in any case we, as a species, better start learning how to detect this problem early on and start treating it as a disability requiring treatment from the very beginning, rather than allowing these sometimes smart, charming and ruthless individuals to rise to the top levels of our societies. We seem to be so easily fooled by them. I think science will have to work on this because it is crucial.

Thanks again!

Not many Yanomamo posting either.


I think the idea mentioned in the article, “peak everything” really sums up our current situation. As much as we'd like to think civilization is ascending to a loftier place, fact is it's predicated on cheap energy as a foundation for all the other peak production.

The question of whether or not we can descend to lesser levels of "everything" in a civilized manner, is fascinating. Sure, on the one hand we are not chimpanzees, yet we do have a long history of solving desperate problems with extreme violence. Interesting isn't it, that we incarcerate the most violent people, yet under certain circumstances, violence is seized upon as being perfectly reasonable by the masses in times of war.

Isn't it a bit naive to think a country that is suffering greatly due to a lack of energy, will softly descend to lesser levels of everything, while an adjacent country is slapping filet mignon on the barbie?! It's just not the human thing to do. Instead we quickly adapt to more aggressive behavior to appropriate resources, then feel a little ashamed for having done so, but happy nonetheless for our good fortune. It's hardwired into our sense of survival.

It's like a building that's on fire. Do people politely exit single file? No, they do whatever is necessary in a panic to get out, then feel ashamed for some of their actions, but happy to be unburned and alive.

Some things change and some things never change. In good times people are generous and in times of less they get downright furious. Don't get in their way!!

Well said. As much as I would like to think in the positive, we won't be singing Kumbaya on a global scale anytime soon, if ever. Impending physical constraints and human nature say otherwise, IMHO.

Many scenarios are possible. I am an unlikely survivalist, so I prefer to place my hope in community. Not that survival skills won't be needed, but given my personality, my energy would be better spent in building community. I there is a likelihood of both doomer scenarios and less drastic decay in society post-peak. It will depend on where you are, what the social fabric was like pre-peak and what responses are availabile in each community during post-peak decline. As communities become more local, with less networked communication becomes scarce, some will cooperate and defend together, others will degenerate toward violence.

Those with survivalist tendencies will develop those skills and those who are more community oriented will work toward developing local community. I think both those efforts are warranted. I am better with a pen than a sword, so I must use the tools I have at my disposal toward building defense against an uncertain future.

Do you think the sunni/Shiia violence in Iraq was then instigated by political sources?
It was a common tactic of the British during the age of empire to get two ethnic groups to fight each other and thus relieve the stress on themselves.
Do you think the US would have learned from this and instigated the religous hatred in Iraq to achieve the same results?

Here's why there will be chaos instead of community:
The mortgage bankers will foreclose on pretty much all your neighbors.
Poof, neighbors you once knew and trusted: gone.

When 50% (or maybe even considerably less than that) of the police officers have been foreclosed and evicted, that will be the end of the evictions.

My prediction (interquartile) for next few years is continual technology advances, global trade, and a deepening recession. On the surface everything will seem almost normal, but under the surface, the disparity between the rich and poor will accelerate (as measured by a statistic such as the GINI coefficient at all spatial scales). So peak oil and resource depletion don't immediately cause a collapse, but crumble the foundations of a social democracy - that of the perception that even though all are not equal, all have a CHANCE at being equal. In the end it will be the larger disparity between the haves and the have nots that will precipitate violence. And we will this year already begin to see plenty of examples of backlash against the conspicuously wealthy - if I was rich (I am not), I sure wouldn't flaunt it....

I've not posted at TOD much lately, being too busy in multiple ways elsewhere. Rather than write a long essay, I will simply state that I disagree. And if Professor Foley thinks otherwise, I would ask him to show me the cases where collapse has occurred without violence. They are radically far and few between throughout history. The vast majority are accompanied by varying levels of violence. One additional problem is the good professor conjures up an image that very few "doomers" I know of actually believe will happen for any extended period of time - an endless "Mad Max" scenario of roving gangs, eternally preying on the weak. That also defies history. Raiders have existed throughout history and people have responded to those raiders in various ways, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Even the establishment of "peace communities" that he claims gives him hope is an aftereffect of violence and no guarantee against additional violence.

Consequently, given the historical example, I believe we will see the larger nation states eventually begin to fragment, accompanied by violence, and then repeat that cycle again and again until a sustainable bottom is reached. As Tainter notes, the one counter to this is the option to increase complexity in order to maintain the existing society in some derived new form. In the case of what is occurring now (peak fossil fuels), such an option becomes dependent upon replacing fossil fuel dependence throughout the majority of global civilization with something more sustainable. There are options to fill this role but each option is accompanied by problems of their own. These problems are not insurmountable at the technical level but take a hard look at politics in the US over the last 30 years then tell me that you have faith in politicians to do the right thing technically. You are certainly allowed to possess such an opinion but the evidence does not favor that perspective at all.

Given the political gridlock that occurs in providing real solutions to existing problems, I thus do not believe that there will be any real solutions to future problems. Given no solutions as an assumption, collapse therefore becomes the logical alternative (look at history for confirmation) and the majority of collapse scenarios involve varying levels of violence.

Thus, if you believe some degree of collapse is inevitable, failure to prepare for the possibility of violence is a clear failure to prepare for the most probable scenario. Such a philosophy is inherently anti-survival and will be weeded out of the population anyway, but it is disappointing to see people promulgate such a position as some sort of false hope. However, that's their problem and not mine. Good luck holding hands and singing Kumbaya!

P.S. To Professor Foley, why would local law enforcement fail? Try examining what happens when the government employing local law enforcement fails. Look at local law enforcement in the aftermath of government failures in Yugoslavia, Somalia, and other places around the globe. Then look more at history. If you wish to ensure peace in your community, you may be the one called upon to enforce that peace. If you are unwilling to assist in that effort, why should anyone else take on that task? Some of those warlords in Somalia were the local law enforcement before collapse. Are you sure you want to trust all those uniformed officers? Like any collection of humans, some will do the right thing but some will do the wrong thing. Assuming otherwise smacks of utopianism of the worst sort.

I continue to operate on the assumption that the full scale, doomer die-off collapse is pretty much unsurvivable, at least for someone like me. For those who do somehow manage to "survive", it will pretty much be as much a matter of luck (being in the right place at the right time) as anything. Whether those that get to deal with life in the aftermath are really "lucky" I will leave to others to judge.

Total collapse might happen, but I don't see any point either worrying about it or engaging in what will almost certainly be futile attempts to escape its consequences. If total collapse happens, I'm dead, end of story. I'll be dead eventually anyway, so what?

Decline scenarios, on the other hand, are worth worrying about. What one does or doesn't do can make a very real and significant difference in how one copes or survives those.

I don't share the absolute confidence of doomers that the collapse scenario is a certainty. It might happen, but I am not yet convinced that it is inevitable and unavoidable. I do believe, however, that decline of some sort is pretty much "baked into the pie" at this point. I don't see how it can be avoided. The decisions and actions coming out of Washington just over the past few months have assured that our future prospects will be much worse, and I have yet to see any signs that the new administration is going to be setting a substantially different course.

Thus, it seems to me that thinking through and gaming and preparing for a range of decline scenarios is the wisest and safest course of action.

Getting back around to the topic of this thread: Is some level of social disorder and criminality and violence possible in some or all of the decline scenarios? You bet! However, the critical difference between decline scenarios and collapse scenarios is that it cannot be assumed that social disorder and rampant criminality and violence will become universals. Rather, the pattern is likely to be more spotty, better in some places and worse in others. This is why the choice as to where one lives is critical. Urban density and rural isolation both have their potential vulnerabilities; cohesive small towns, while not totally invulnerable and immune to breakdown and violence, appear to me to have a better chance of avoiding the worst of it.

Also, in decline scenarios this situation is amenable to timely and effective interventions, both from above (government) and below (communities). Thus the relevance of much that has been discussed in this thread.

Then you and I have a fundamental disagreement over what constitutes "collapse". Rome collapsed and it took a couple of centuries involving "spotty" violence. That was a total breakdown of civilization but it didn't happen overnight. Rome was a classic case of catabolic collapse which is the most likely scenario unless someone goes nuts with nukes. And if that happens, then you really are reduced to instant end of civilization with survival depending a huge amount on luck.

But in a catabolic collapse scenario luck is not the most predominant factor in survival. It's the deliberate decision to react to the changing environment or not react that dominates your survival chances, especially as you have been forewarned many times.

What you call "decline" is collapse. Trying to define away a strawman problem intended to minimize "doomers" does nothing to address the sorts of real problems that catabolic collapse scenarios actually imply.

The year 2000 update to The Limits to Growth still holds to an estimated 2070 collapse of industrial civilization if we maintain the current course. It won't be all fine until 2069 then suddenly go poof either. We will stair step down for the next 6 decades, then continue down further until a sustainable level is achieved, whatever that level is.

The alternative revolves specifically around replacing fossil fuels as our primary energy source, something that remains completely technically feasible but looks more and more politically impossible as the years pass by.

Stair stepping down seems optimistic to me. If you are talking conflict over resources by any of the more or less big players, strangulation will be the number one weapon. What level of population does the world support without fossil fuel flowing over the water for a month, six months, a year? Who does best/worst at what point? Which region loses the most fuel delivery first? How long will the most successful keep a minimum supply floating? How do all those metrics change when nothing is left to deliver fossil fuel over distance anywhere?

That is the trigger for a precipitous fall, not going nuts with nukes, not to say one might not trigger the other.

It is hard for junkies to see straight, behavior can get more than a little erratic when they are forced to go cold turkey or even if they think they might have to.

I won't bring this scenario up again as I have no better suggestions for avoiding it than the many that have been given here by others much more well informed than myself but I will relate the incident that so drove this incredble vulnurability of ours home to me.

It was somewhere toward the end of G Ws first term. A large set of storms had closed every road connecting the industrial heart of interior Alaska to anywhere else. Some places had been cut off for two days most less. I had to leave town on one of the two main highways out just as soon as the plows started to open things up. I was collecting a storm stranded family member on Christmas eve morning.

For the first forty minutes no vehicles heading the opposite direction passed me on their way back into town. Then one did, about ten minutes later another, then another and another, five minutes later another. This went on for near an hour. Nothing odd about this, some vehicles have to be the first ones going back to town when the road opens. Well one thing was unusual. Every one of the vehicles heading back into town was an empty oil tanker. Some one at the other end of the road was desperate for their just in time oil delivery as the temperatures were quickly dropping to forty and fifty below.

We don't do well when the tankers stop.

Yes, a stair step decline (or even a stair step catabolic collapse) is on the optimistic side of things, certainly compared to a fast crash, catastrophic mass die-off scenario. I'd like to think that while a stair step decline is "optimistic", it is still within the boundaries of what might be realistic and possible. This is certainly the case when contrasted with BAU or cornucopian technofantasies.

I do agree with you, these are likely our best hopes. The time frame and true long term system wide carrying capacity uncertainties do make everyone's best guess just that. This recent financial debacle gives me one great concern I have not seen mentioned. The long term societal memory seems to fade substantially in well under a century--so many of the financial safe guards put in place after the 1929 crash were thrown aside as archaic impediments to growth in the 1990s and even more were jettisoned faster after the change of millennium. It is only 80 years since the crash now.

World War II erupted into a full blown armed conflict in 1939 only 10 years after the stock market crash. No doubt the war marked a far greater share of the world's population with a much deeper more indelible mark than a mere market crash did but very few people who have any living memory of the war will be around 15-20 years from now. What miniscule percentage of the population still having any memory of that vast conflict is still around by then will have almost no discernible voice in policy. When no one making decisions has any first of even second hand memory of that conflagration it will be easier to find reasons to start a new one.

That is why I truly hope we can keep supplying greater energy needs relatively cheaply through nuclear and whatever other magic matrix of fixes we can grab for a while. That might buy enough time for the interconnected world social fabric to mature enough to reign its size and resource consumption rate back to what is truly sustainable. Talk about optimism, there can hardly be a more optimistic hope than that. The likelihood of that being the outcome, well I think it is somewhere above zero but I can't even argue for that guess very convincingly.

There is a spectrum of scenarios, and the distinction between long-term severe decline and catabolic collapse is a fine one. Both are well within the realm of possibility, and the difference might be so fine as to be insignificant from the point of view of the average person living through them, over the time period of a normal human life span. The only way to really know for sure which is which is to see them through to the end.

To my way of thinking, decline scenarios imply the possibility (not certainty) of an eventual leveling off at some permanently lower level - impoverished, but with something that still might be called a civilization functioning, more or less. In my mind, collapse scenarios imply a more catastrophic final outcome - maybe some people left, scratching out a minimal subsistence living, or maybe none left at all. It is always possible that what starts out as a decline turns into a collapse. Is it possible that a civilization can somehow pull out of the death spiral and turn a collapse into a decline? I don't know.

I guess the really big differential concerns what happens to the population levels. It is quite possible for nations to experience a quite severe decline without taking too hard a hit to their populations. Collapse implies a much bigger hit to populations; in the worst cases (Medieval Greenland, for example), it implies a total wipe-out.


"Thus, if you believe some degree of collapse is inevitable, failure to prepare for the possibility of violence is a clear failure to prepare for the most probable scenario. Such a philosophy is inherently anti-survival and will be weeded out of the population anyway, but it is disappointing to see people promulgate such a position as some sort of false hope."

Well said. My point was to say that one does not even have to believe that such a collapse is inevitable in order to take action. If the probability is sufficient to meet a reasonable threat threshold then one has a responsibility to make preparations. I always find it striking when folks just say that they are going to do nothing because they think it will make no difference.



Exactly! This is threat management of an identifiable threat that has historical similarities to other such scenarios and thus ought to be taken credibly.

The proper solution, in my opinion, is to treat this like the emergency that it is and begin 2 proned preparations - one being to prepare for the worst case of a deliberate power down and two being an all out effort to resolve our energy quandry. If the second fails, the first is the fallback. But no, right now it's more important to feed at the public trough sucking up as much TARP crap as Obama can shovel out the door, just like his predecessor.

I'm not sure posting Somalia as some kind of success story is very inspiring to americans. I don't like the idea of sharia or any other theocracy taking over. That's not the kind of peace I'm looking for.

Personally I'm quite concerned about inter-ethnic and sectarian religious strife. ALthough it's been relatively small, some really scary stuff has been happening in the UK, particularly London around the whole Gaza thing; riots, a couple of firebombings, and physical attacks against businesses that suppoedly "support Zionism".

The most disturbing thing about it wasn't the violence or the antisemitism, but the part that rumour and incitement, particularly over the internet, has played. The utter illogic of it brings me out in goosebumps, and the timing with of with the crash / recession scares the crap out of me.

Things like this can only serve to kick off more violence and support for even more extreme headcases - at worst we might end up with grassroots politics almost entirely occupied by either neo-Nazis or Islamic extremists with all the people who actually want to band together and make the world a better place increasingly marginalised. Then (if you're lucky) the cops turn up and tear-gas everything that moves, if you're not... best not think about that really.