Peak Oil Planning: What Should We Do Now?

I wrote this post back in August 2007. Back when I wrote the post, we were pre-peak oil. Now, it seems to me that we are most likely post-peak oil. Much of the advice from back then would still hold, however. One thing I didn't get right was which direction gasoline prices would go. Also, while I touched on financial issues, I didn't try to emphasize them. I can see now that financial issues are likely to be as big a problem as I feared.

We know that peak oil will be here soon, and we feel like we should be doing something. But what? It is frustrating to know where to start. In this post, I will discuss a few ideas about what we as individuals can do.

1. What will the first few years after peak oil be like?

It is hard to know for certain, but a reasonable guess is that the impact will be like a major recession or depression. Many people will be laid off from work. Gasoline is likely to be very expensive ($10 a gallon or more) and may not be available, except in limited quantities after waiting in line for a long time. Fewer goods of all types will be available in stores. Imports from third-world countries are likely to be especially unavailable, because of the impact of the oil shortage on their economies.

Money may not have the same value as previously--opinion is divided as to whether deflation or rampant inflation will be a problem. Investments, even those previously considered safe, are likely to lose value. Things we take for granted--like bottled water, fast food restaurants, and dry cleaners--may disappear fairly quickly. Electricity may become less reliable, with more frequent outages. Airplane tickets are likely to be extremely expensive, or only available with a special permit based on need.

2. If a scenario like this is coming, what can a person do now?

Here are a few ideas:

• Visit family and friends now, especially those at a distance. This may be more difficult to do in the future.

• Learn to know your neighbors. It is likely that you will need each other's help more in the future.

• If you live by yourself, consider moving in with friends or relatives. In tough times, it is better to have others to rely on. It is also likely to be a lot cheaper.

• Buy a bicycle that you can use as alternate transportation, if the need arises.

• Start walking or jogging for exercise. Get yourself in good enough physical condition that you could walk a few miles if you needed to.

• Take care of your physical health. If you need dental work or new glasses, get them. Don't put off immunizations and other preventive medicine. These may be more difficult to get, or more expensive, later.

• Move to a walkable neighborhood. If it seems likely that you will be able to keep your job, move closer to your job.

• Trade in your car for one with better mileage. If you have a SUV, you can probably sell it at a better price now than in the future.

• If you have two cars powered by gasoline, consider trading one for a diesel-powered vehicle. That way, if gasoline (or diesel) is not available, you will still have one car you can drive.

• Make sure that you have at least a two-week supply of food and water, if there is some sort of supply disruption. It is always good to have some extra for an emergency--the likelihood of one arising is greater now.

• Keep reasonable supplies of things you may need in an emergency--good walking shoes, boots, coats, rain wear, blankets, flashlights and batteries (or wind-up flashlights).

• Take up hobbies that you will be able to continue in a low energy world, such as gardening, knitting, playing a musical instrument, bird watching, or playing cards with neighbors.

• Join a local sustainability group or "permaculture" group and start learning about sustainable gardening methods.

3. Do I need to do more than these things?

It really depends on how much worse things get, and how quickly. If major services like electricity and water remain in place for many years, and if gasoline and diesel remain reasonably available, then relatively simple steps will go a a long way.

Some steps that might be helpful to add once the crunch comes include:

• Join a carpool for work, or make arrangements to work at home. If public transportation is available, use it.

• Cut out unnecessary trips. Eat meals at home. Take your lunch to work. Walk or jog in your neighborhood rather than driving to the gym. Order from the internet or buy from stores you can walk to, rather than driving alone to stores.

• If you live a distance from shopping, consider forming a neighborhood carpool for grocery and other shopping. Do this for other trips as well, such as attending church. If closer alternatives are available, consider them instead.

• Plant a garden in your yard. Put in fruit or nut trees. Make a compost pile, and use it in your garden. Put to use what you learned in sustainability or permaculture groups.

• Meat, particularly beef, is likely to be very expensive. Learn to prepare meals using less meat. Make casseroles like your grandmother's, making a small amount of meat go a long way. Or make soup using a little meat plus vegetables or beans.

• Use hand-me-down clothing for younger children. Or have a neighborhood garage sale, and trade clothing with others near you.

4. Should families continue to have two, three, or four children, as they often do today?

With the uncertainties ahead, it would be much better if families were very small--one child, or none at all. The world's population has grown rapidly in the last 100 years. Part of the reason for growth is the fact that with oil and natural gas, it was possible to grow much more food than in the past. As we lose the use of these fossil fuels, it is likely that we will not be able to produce as much food as in the past, because of reduced ability to irrigate crops, and reduced availability of fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides. In addition, manufactured goods of all types, including clothing and toys, are likely to be less available, with declining fossil fuel supply. Having smaller families will help fit the population to the available resources.

If couples have completed their families, it would probably be worthwhile for them to consider a permanent method of contraception, since birth control may be less available or more expensive.

5. Are there any reasons why steps such as those outlined in Question 3 might be too little to handle the problem?

Besides the decline in oil production, there are a number of other areas of concern. Hopefully, most of these will never happen, or if they do happen, will not occur for several years. If they do happen, greater measures than those outlined in Question 3 are likely to be needed.

Collapse of the financial system. Our financial system needs growth to sustain it, so that loans can be paid back with interest. Once peak oil hits, growth will be gone. Economic growth may even be replaced with economic decline. It is not clear our financial system can handle this.

Collapse of foreign trade. Many factors may come into play: The cost of transportation will be higher. Airline transport may not be available at all. Fewer goods are likely to be produced by the poorer countries of the world, because of power outages related to high oil prices. Rapid inflation/deflation may make monetary transactions more difficult.

Rapid climate change. Recently, scientists have discovered that climate change can take place over a very short period of time--as little as a decade or two. Temperature and precipitation changes may cause crop failures, and may make some areas no longer arable. Sea levels may also rise.

Failure of the electrical grid. The grid tends to be vulnerable to many kinds of problems--including deterioration due to poor maintenance, damage during storms, and attacks in times of civil unrest. Maintenance is currently very poor (grade of D) according to the "Report Card on America's Infrastructure" by the American Society of Civil Engineers. If we cannot maintain the grid, and upgrade it for the new wind and solar capacity being added, we will all be in the dark.

Water shortages. There are several issues--We are drawing down some aquifers at unsustainable rates, and these may be depleted. Climate change may reduce the amount of water available, by melting ice caps and changing storm patterns. City water and sewer systems require considerable energy inputs to continue functioning. If these are not provided, the systems will stop. Finally, systems must also be adequately maintained--something that is neglected currently.

Road deterioration. If we don't have roads, it doesn't matter whether we have cars. In the future, asphalt (a petroleum product) is expected to become more and more expensive and less available. It is not clear whether recycling asphalt from lesser-used roads will overcome this difficulty.

Decline in North American natural gas production. Natural gas is especially used for home heating, making plastics and making fertilizer. It is also used in electrical generation, particularly for extra load capacity when demand is high. Conventional natural gas is declining, and it is not clear that supply from other sources can make up the gap.

Inadequate mineral supplies. A number of minerals are becoming less avaialble, including copper (used in electric wiring), platinum (used in catalytic converters), phosphorous (used in fertilizer).

Fighting over available supplies. This could happen at any level. Individuals with inadequate food or gasoline may begin using violence. Or there may be fighting among groups within a nation, or between nations.

6. Are there any reasons for optimism?

Yes. We know that people throughout the ages have gotten along successfully with far fewer resources than we have now, and with much less foreign trade. Financial systems have gotten into trouble in the past, and eventually new systems have replaced them. If nothing else, barter works.

We know that among the countries of the world, the United States, Canada, and Russia have reasonably good resource endowments in relation to their populations. They have fairly large amounts of land for crops, moderate rainfall, reasonable amounts of fossil fuels remaining, and populations that are not excessively large.

We also know that Cuba successfully made a transition from high oil usage to much lower oil usage, through the development of local gardens, increased public transit, and bicycles. A movie has been made about the Cuban experience.

7. What should we do, if we want to do more than described in Question 3?

Some web sites (such as Life After the Oil Crash and advocate moving to a farming area, buying land and hand tools, and learning to farm without fossil fuels. Typically, an individual purchases an existing farmhouse and adds solar panels or a windmill. The web sites generally recommend storing up large supplies of food, clothing, medicine, tools, guns, and ammunition, and learning a wide range of skills. These sites also suggest storing some things (liquor, razor blades, aspirin, etc.) for purposes of barter.

This approach may work for a few people, but it has its drawbacks. Making such a big move is likely to be expensive, and will most likely involve leaving one's job. The individual will be alone, so security may be a problem. The individual may be dependent on his or her own resources for most things, especially if the farm is in a remote location. If the weather is bad, crops may fail. Living on the edge of a small town may prevent some problems, but such a move would still be a major undertaking.

8. How about Ecovillages? What are they?

These are communities dedicated to the idea of sustainable living. These communities were set up in response to many issues facing the world, including global warming, resource depletion, and lifestyles that are not fulfilling. They were generally not formed with peak oil in mind.

Each ecovillage is different. Organizers often buy a large plot of land and lay out a plan for it. Individuals buy into the organization. Homes may be made from sustainable materials, such as bales of straw. Gardening is generally done using "permaculture"- a sustainable organic approach. Individuals may have assigned roles in the community.

The few ecovillages I investigated did not seem to truly be sustainable--they bought much of their food and clothing from outside, and made money by selling tours of their facilities. The ecovilliage approach could theoretically be expanded to provide self-sustaining post-peak oil communities, but would require some work. Some adventuresome readers may want to try this approach.

9. Is there a middle ground? What should be people be doing now, if they want to do more than outlined in Questions 2 and 3, but aren't ready to immerse themselves in a new lifestyle?

As a middle ground, people need to start thinking seriously about how to maintain their own food and water security, and start taking steps in that direction.

Food security. We certainly hope our current system of agriculture will continue without interruption, but there is no guarantee of this. Our current method is very productive, but uses huge amounts of energy. If we can keep our current system going, its productivity would likely be higher than that of a large number of individual gardens. The concern is that eventually the current system may break down due to reduced oil supply and need to be supplemented. Vulnerabilities include:

• Making hybrid seed, and transporting it to farmers
• Getting diesel fuel to the farmers who need it
• Transporting food to processing centers by truck
• Creating processed food in energy-intensive factories
• Making boxes and other containers for food
• Transporting processed food to market

If diesel fuel is allocated by high price alone, farmers may not be able to afford fuel, and may drop out. Or truck drivers may not be able to get what they need.

It is in our best interest to have a back-up plan. The one most often suggested is growing gardens in our yards--even front yards. Another choice is encouraging local farms, so that transportation is less of an issue. It takes several years to get everything working well (new skills learned, fruit trees to reach maturity), so we need to start early.

One type of crop that is particularly important is grain, since grain provides a lot of calories and stores well. In some parts of the country, potatoes might be a good substitute. It would be good if people started planting grain in gardens in their yards. There is a lot to learn in order to do this, including learning which grains grow well, how much moisture and nutrients the grains need, and how to process them. If the grain that grows well is unfamiliar, like amaranth, there is also a need to learn how to use it in cooking.

Individuals (or local farms) should also begin growing other foods that grow well in their areas, including fruits and nuts, greens of various types, and other more traditional garden crops, including beans. For all types of gardening, open pollinated seeds (sometimes called heirloom seeds) are probably best for several reasons:

• It makes storing seeds after harvest possible, and reduces dependence on hybrid seeds.

• There is less uniformity, so the harvest is spread over a longer period.

• The reduced uniformity also helps prevent crop failure in years with drought or excessive rain. Some seeds will not grow, but others will. (Hybrids are all or nothing.)

Imported foods are likely to shrink in supply more quickly than other foods. If you live in a country that is dependent on imported foods, you may want to consider moving elsewhere.

Water Security. Here, the largest issue is whether there is likely to be sufficient supply in your area. Another issue is whether there will be sufficient water for your garden, at appropriate times. A third issue is whether there will be disruptions in general, because of poor maintenance or because the process of treating fresh water (and sewage) is energy-intensive.

With respect to sufficient water in your area, if it looks like there is a problem (desert Southwest, for example), relocating now rather than later is probably a good idea. Transporting water is energy intensive, and new efforts at developing energy (like shale oil or more ethanol) are likely to make the water supply situation even worse.

With respect to water for gardening, consider a rainwater catchment system for your roof. Runoff water is saved in barrels, and can be used for irrigation in dry periods.

General disruptions of water supply are more difficult. Keep some bottled water on hand. You may also want to consider a tank for greater storage supply. Rainwater catchment can be used for drinking water, with the correct type of roofing (not asphalt shingles!) and proper treatment, but this is not generally legal in the United States.

10. What kind of investments should I be making?

A person's first priority should be buying at least a little protection for a rainy day - some extra food and water, comfortable clothing, blankets and flashlights. I suggested two weeks worth in Question 2. If you have money and space, you may want to buy more.

Paying down debt is probably a good idea, if only for the peace of mind it brings. There are some possible scenarios where debt is not a problem (hyper-inflation but you keep your existing job and get a raise). In many other scenarios (deflation; job lay-offs; rising food and energy prices) debt is likely to be even harder to pay off than it is now.

Land for a garden is probably a good investment, as well as garden tools. You will want to invest in gardening equipment, some books on permaculture, and perhaps some heirloom seeds. You may also want to consider a rainwater catchment system, to collect water from your roof.

You may also want to invest in solar panels for your home. If you want round-the-clock solar energy, you will also need back-up batteries. Buying these is questionable--they tend to be very expensive, require lots of maintenance, and need to be replaced often.

There is a possibility that the financial system will run into difficulty in the not-too-distant future. Some ideas for investments that may protect against this are

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)
• Bank accounts protected by the FDIC
• Gold coins
• Silver coins

If you want to invest in the stock market, we know that there will be more and more drilling done for oil and gas done in the next few years, so companies making drilling equipment are likely to do well. Small independent oil and gas companies may also do well, doing "work-over" business. We know that there are likely to be shortages in some metals in the years ahead (copper, platinum, uranium), so shares in companies mining these types of metals may do well.

Investments in biofuels should be considered with caution. Most ethanol from corn appears to be heavily dependent on subsidies. If it should ever have to compete with other fuels on a level playing ground, it is likely to do poorly.

I would be cautious about buying insurance policies, except for short-term needs such as automobile coverage, homeowners coverage, and term life insurance. If we encounter a period of significant deflation, insurance companies are likely to fail, because bondholders cannot pay their debt. If we run into a period of rapid inflation, the life insurance or long term care coverage you buy may have very little real value when you come to use it.

11. Should I move to a different location?

There are many reasons you might want to consider moving to a different location:

• To find something less expensive. If times are going to be difficult, you do not want to be paying most of your income on a mortgage or rent.

• To be closer to friends or family, in the difficult times ahead.

• To share a house or apartment with friends or family.

• To be closer to work or public transportation.

• To be closer to a type of employment that you believe will have a better chance of continuing in the future.

• To have better fresh water supplies.

• To join a community with similar interests in sustainability.

• To leave a community that you feel may be prone to violence, in time of shortage.

There are disadvantages as well as advantages to moving to a new location. If many others are trying to move at the same time, you may not be welcome in the new community. You will likely not have friends and the support group you would have had in your prior location. Because of these issues, it is probably better to move sooner, rather than later, if you are going to move. If you balance the pluses and the minuses, it may be better to stay where you are.

12. We hear a lot about various things we can do to be "green", like buying fluorescent light bulbs. Do these save oil?

Most of the "green" ideas you read about save energy of some kind, but not necessarily oil. Even so, they are still a good idea. If there is a shortage of one type of energy, it tends to affect other types of energy as well. Doing “green” things is also helpful from a global warming perspective.

Here are some green ideas besides using fluorescent light bulbs:

• Move to a smaller house or apartment.

• Insulate your house, and have it professionally sealed to keep out drafts.

• If any rooms are unused, do not heat and cool them.

• Keep your house warmer in summer, and cooler in winter.

• If you no longer need a big refrigerator, buy a smaller one. Be sure it is an "Energy Star" refrigerator.

• If you have more than one refrigerator, get rid of the extra(s). Refrigerators are a big source of energy use. For parties, use ice in a tub.

• Separate freezers are also big energy users. Consider doing without.

• Eat less meat. Also avoid highly processed foods and bottled water. All of these require large amounts of energy for production.

• Get power strips and turn off appliances that drain energy when not in use.

• Turn off lights that are not needed.

• Rewire lights into smaller "banks", so you do not need to light up the whole basement when all you want is light in a small corner.

• Get a clothes line, so you do not need to use your clothes dryer.

• When cooking, use the microwave whenever possible.

• Reduce air travel to a minimum. Air travel results in a huge number of miles of travel with corresponding fuel use.

• Recycle whenever you can.

• Eliminate disposables as much as possible (coffee cups, napkins, plastic bags, etc.)

13. Should we be talking to our local government officials about these problems?

Yes! At the local level, there are many changes that would be helpful:

• Laws permitting people to put up clothes lines in their yards.

• Laws encouraging gardens to be grown, even in the front yards of homes.

• Laws permitting multiple occupancy of houses by unrelated individuals.

• New local public transportation plans, particularly ones that do not require large outlay of funds. For example, a plan that is more like a glorified car pool might work.

• Allocation of funds to study the best crops to be grown in the area, and the best cultivation methods, if energy supplies are much lower in the future.

It would also be helpful to make changes at higher levels of government, but these are beyond the scope of the discussion in this post.

14. What other resources might we look at to get ideas about what is ahead what we might do now?

The Community Solution is an organization that puts on an annual sustainability conference and issues reports on energy-related solutions.

Global Public Media has a number of talks on relocalization.

Closing the Collapse Gap is a humorous talk by Dmitry Orlov. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, and its oil production dropped about that time. Dmitry compares the US situation to that of the USSR.

Rolling Stone has a short summary of The Long Emergency, a book by James Howard Kunstler.

Links by Question:

Q2: Calculate a "walk score" for any neighborhood - Learn about walkable neighborhoods

Q4: Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food, and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture by David Allen Pfeiffer, New Society Publishers, 2006

Q5-1: Rapid Climate Change, American Institute of Physics

Q5-2: Report Card for America's Infrastructure by American Society of Civil Engineers

Q5-3: Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown President

Q5-4: Report Card for America's Infrastructure by American Society of Civil Engineers

Q5-5: National Petroleum Council - Hard Truths about America's Energy Supply, 2007

Q5-6: Measure of Metal Supply Finds Future Shortage, David Biello, Scientific American, January 17, 2006.

Q5-7: Carmakers Gear Up for the Next Shortage-Platinum, The Mining News, July 6, 2005

Q5-8: Peak Phosphorus by Patrick Dery and Bart Anderson, August 13, 2007

Q6: The Power Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, Movie Directed by Faith Morgan, The Community Solution

Q7-1: Life After the Oil Crash

Q7-2: What to Do When the Shit Hits the Fan

Q8: Global Ecovillage Network

Q9-1: Local Harvest directory of local food sources

Q9-2: Amaranth, Wikipedia

Q9-3: Heirloom Seeds

Q9-4: American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association

Q10-1: American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association

Q10-2: Treasury Securities, Wikipedia

Q12-1: Southface: Responsible Solutions for Environmental Living

Q12-2: Energy Star by US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Energy

Q14-1: The Community Solution Home Page

Q14-2: The Community Solution Conference, October 26-28, 2007 Yellow Springs, Ohio

Q14-3: The Community Solution Reports

Q14-4: Closing the Collapse Gap: The Soviet Union Was Better Prepared for Collapse than the US, by Dmitry Orlov, December 4, 2006

Q14-5: Summary of The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, March 24, 2005

Gail, thanks for the thought-provoking post and the excellent links.

Don't take it wrong if I start out with some critical questions:

On your number one question--what will the first few years after peak oil be like: Aren't we are already in that world--certainly we have passed the peak of energy available from oil.

[edit--Oops, I jumped to reading the main post and overlooked your italicized intro where you explained that this was first posted some time ago...never mind.]

It seems to me that what we will see for a while is greater and greater volatility, with oil prices rising fast as they did last summer then crashing low as they did shortly thereafter as "demand destruction" kicked in. Shortages of oil and also of food happened all over the world last year. This will certainly continues and spread, though when it will hit the US hard is anyone's guess. Of course, food is getting hard for more and more people to afford as the depression continues to sweep more and more people out of their houses and out of their jobs...

"• Visit family and friends now, especially those at a distance. This may be more difficult to do in the future.

• Learn to know your neighbors. It is likely that you will need each other's help more in the future."

Are these two responses somewhat at odds with each other? Are we going to spend precious time rushing around the country and the world making last visits to family and friends? Or are we to spent that precious time getting to know our neighbors? I know we boomers think that we can always do everything, but it might be time to realize that there really isn't time enough (or planet enough) to do everything.

(I won't get into the ethical problems of "love miles" (G. Monbiot's term), where we love our families and friends so much that we fly around, thereby increasing greatly our contributions to global warming and further insuring that the children of those beloved ones live in a catastrophically altered greenhouse world.)

In spite of these initial queries, I really do appreciate your bringing up these important issues.

Regarding seeing family and friends, maybe what I should say is, "If you would normally go on a vacation, maybe you should go visit relatives or friends instead." As people get laid off work, and have more financial problems, this is becoming possible for fewer and fewer people. I know in the past couple of years, we have gone out of our way to visit some relatives that we might not otherwise have seen. If the relatives are fairly close by, and you can stay with them, the trip need not be terribly expensive.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's great to visit loved ones, in general. But we have a rather skewed idea now about what expectations are reasonable as far as how far and how often we travel.

If everyone who could, even in this economy, took a flight or two or the next year, we would also be using up a lot of increasingly precious oil that could not then be used for growing food, emergency vehicles, and other less discretionary purposes.

There are no happy ways of pointing out that our habits of popping across the country or around the world when we want a vacation or to visit those we love are totally out of whack with the limited world in which we live.

If everyone everywhere did take this advice, then yes, there would be lots of additional flights. Given the number of people who read this blog, the number of additional flights would be close to zero, especially in this time of many empty seats on most flights now.

Building community relations is very good advice, as the coming times of stress will test these neighborly bonds, so strengthening them now indicates insightful proactive planning on the part of the author.

One aspect that will undoubtedly grow will be webcam 'calls' between family members who will no longer be able to meet face to face as often as in the past.

with peak oil i have come to think in a very different way about neighbors; not totally different from marriage.

not easily changed & better work on the relationship for we are in this together; & there will be togetherness like it or not.

Well, yeah, but I think we should try to apply the categorical imperative once in a while. If it's not ok for everyone in the world to do it, what right do we have to do it?

Americans in particular have long since rationalized away any such ethical restrictions, of course. This is because we are pariahs and vermin on the earth, oops, I mean, this is because we are a superior form of life who have the God-given right to consume all things far beyond sustainable levels and far beyond global average. And if you disagree, we will simply invade you two-bit country.

Sorry--haven't got much sleep in the last 72 hours and am starting to channel scary voices.

I think the advice is good and something we chose to do - we live in South Tasmania eg Southern Most part of Australia and next stop is the Antartic [South Pole]. So a last trip home to England and Holland to affectively bid farewell to family and friends unless they make time for a visit over the next 3- 5 years which is about the limit before prices start really jumping through the roof if not sooner. We have stopped flying completely now.

My kid brother who sort of gets the peak oil idea has taken the other extreme and is jetting all over the planet to see it whilst he can still afford it and has a job so last year he was in India, Cuba and Vietnam and this year is is Syria/ Jordan [Bad idea in my opinion] for an Indiana Jones Crusade, then Nepal mid year and Antartica for Christmas with a side visit to see us on the way. He has a good job and lots of leave owing.

Unfortuantley, his reaction is an all too common reaction from people when they become a little peak aware, they want to get their share of the energy before it is too late, be it drive a fast car or fly everywhere. This majority self obsession with satisfing internal selfish needs will unfortunately be our downfall.

This is relly interesting to read and observe...
I am unable to give any negative comment for this issue...
Thanks for valuable info...


Still good stuff, regardless of the future outcomes. Thanks.

Got me thinking. Regarding sanitation: your life may depend on eg low tech composting toilets, to replace flush toilets when the city sewage infrastructure eventually breaks down, even if intermittently. You might also want to post something about replacing tampons and sanitary napkins with more sustainable hygeine products. Our daughters may have to resort to what our great grandmothers did. I'd bet that not enough people know what that was. [I sure don't!] Also acheiving birth control without chemical and plastic manufacturers; and use of fever reduction meds without assistance of pharmaceutical companies is another possible topic. Isn't aspirin manufactured from a chemical found in willow tree bark? [Hence the old willow bark tea remedy?]

Some things to think about!

A woman I met a permaculture group (who lives on a permaculture farm) suggested that she might have a women's week-end some time and talk about women's issues. Also, getting along without toilet paper.

There are a lot of topics that could be discussed, not necessarily in polite company.

I expect that there may be some written material that would be helpful, but I am afraid I have never researched these issues.

When one stop to think about it, there are an awfully lot of things people living today don't know.

There are a lot of topics that could be discussed

Yes, quite a few, even birth control.

Around here the Native Americans use highly absorbent lichens, the ones that dangle from tree limbs, to do ah, you know what, ah, you know when. (Hint: cyclical like the moon).

And the same stuff was used to soak up baby outputs.

(Hint: cyclical like the moon).

? Orbital precession? Obliquity? Eccentricity? Interglacials?

Half of humanity are washers and dont understand people who move the poo around withouth gettig clean and the other half are wipers and dont understand people who touch poo...

If I ever win lotto, I'm getting one of those $9,000 Japanese toilets that do all the washing for you and have heated seats. Post-peak, I guess I would need it tied to a PV or wind turbine - just hope nature calls while the wind is blowing or the sun is out.

To spell out what Magnus means, most Asians and Africans take a jug of water with them into the toilet and clean their anal areas after defecation with one hand while slowly pouring the water from behind onto their cracks. To do this, you lean forward on the toilet seat and scoot a bit forward; men need to position their testicles outside the toilet seat (on the forward side). The finger of one hand opens the anus slightly and cleans fecal material from deeper in the anus than toilet paper ever (comfortably) could. The end result is a much cleaner anal area than if you'd used paper, especially if you have a hairy backside (and most men do). It also obviates the need for the huge, polluting and destructive toilet paper industry. If you have toilet paper, you can dab the area dry (toilet paper will come away damp, but completely clean). The hand should be well washed afterwards, with attention to the area under the nails too.

I've used this method for years and my health, and my family's health, is excellent. I now consider it cleaner than using toilet paper.

“In places like India, and many parts of Asia,” he told me, “a bathroom won’t have toilet paper. It will have a little cup of water. Basically, after you’ve done your business, you take your left hand and wash the exit hole of fecal matter, then wash your hand. That’s why nobody shakes hands with their left hand in most of Asia and the Middle East, because that’s your a**-wiping hand.”

This is with or without soap? Sounds like a perfect vector for an ecoli infection.


As always, I very much appreciate your thoroughness and insight. Your suggestions are remarkably practical and have the additional virtue of supporting our psychological health in the face of seemingly intractable problems.

I hate to sound like a broken record but the "climate change" issue is one of keen interest for me. After 10 years of stable or declining temperatures (properly measured by satellite UAH instead of urban heat island modified surface temperatures) with continual yearly increases in CO2 I have come to sincerely doubt any future "nightmare" global warming worries. Furthermore, CO2 increases in crop fertility are a demonstrable fact (especially so-called "C4" plants like soybean -> an important food crop). ALL of the carbon that we eat from food comes from the CO2 in the air. Most, if not all, historical records show that humanity (even with ancient or medieval technologies) has thrived in times of warm climate and been subject to horrible losses during times of cold (e.g. little ice age crop failures during the "year without a summer"). We are a tropical species after all (Africa has usually been a warm place even during the Ice Age), it only makes sense that we would prosper if it became warmer and suffer during cold periods. The problem is that the climate is not showing appreciable warming and any such warming (before 1999 of a magnitude of 0.5 deg. C or less) can readily be explained by solar cycles or cloud cover changes or (mostly) a rebound from the little ice age. We just don't enough by the cloud feedback mechanisms to model the climate. After all, the MAJOR heat flow mechanism in the lower atmosphere is convection, cloud formation and precipitation. ALL of the models show increases in temperature with increasing CO2, yet for the last 10 years there has been no increase in temperature despite a ~10ppm increase in CO2. Shouldn't we cast SOME doubt on those "models". Finally, CO2 is a poor greenhouse absorber (as compared to water for example) and the basic fundamental mechanism of heat transfer from the ground to CO2 in conjunction with water vapor has not been verified in the atmosphere (e.g. satellites do not show the "water enhancement" of the CO2-induced greenhouse effect that was predicted by the models). Do we believe the atmosphere or do we believe models with dozens of adjustable parameters??

So although I completely agree with your posting with respect to Peak Oil (we use a LOT of energy!!!), I believe that the preponderance of evidence suggests that AGW is MUCH less of a threat!

Keep up the great work. We are reading your stuff. I am starting some plants in-doors soon to plant in the Spring (never done it before).


This is just chalk full of erroneous statements. I suspect you know this, but on the off chance that you are sincere, please look at the handy explanations of all your points at


I have read Real Climate and I honestly disagree with their explanations. I certainly wouldn't write statements that I know to be deliberately false. Perhaps you should consider reading: (Greenhouse section)

As they present an alternative view to Real Climate, which I certainly agree with.

What specific statements do you suggest are erroneous and in what way? I will attempt to explain why I said what I said if you like.


P.S. My main rationale is that Peak Oil is here now and "Global Warming" is (at worst) many decades away. Focusing on the problem that we know (i.e. oil depletion) and that is occurring now makes more sense to me than focusing on a problem that may or may not occur and that is at least considerably further in the future. I certainly agree that there are many solutions that would address both issues (e.g. conservation, green transport) but where there are differences, I would suggest focusing on Peak Oil. The "joint solution" solutions should be pursued regardless as Peak Oil alone is sufficient rationale (IMO).

I don't want to turn the thread into yet another vain attempt to convince people of the simple and obvious (to most now) fact that GW is now happening and is caused by human emissions. What can you say to those that don't want to accept the conclusions of every established scientific body on the face of the earth who have weighed in on the topic?

But your statement ""Global Warming" is (at worst) many decades away" is just so bizarre, I have to ask what you think is happening in the Arctic? The globe has been warming dramatically, especially over the last fifty years (see graphs on this thread). We're dumping tens of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Which of these basic, uncontroversial facts don't you understand. Or do you have trouble connecting the dots?

"The "joint solution" solutions should be pursued regardless"

Well, we agree here, and maybe we should leave it at that.

I have owned the same place for 22 years. It is not urban. The first ten years were much colder than the last 10. This winter, being used as a poster case by your crew would have been utterly normal 15 years ago, except for the lack of a real cold snap. (only -12F so far. Should have broken -20).

ETA As a New Hampshire farmer I do appreciated being in USDA zone 5 rather than zone 4. Many many plants, wild and cultivated, can handle -15 but not -20.

Begin with data:

I am fatigued by this jargon about co2 and plant growth. Please refer to this for my response:

There are lots of myths to debunk in Ian's post;

properly measured by satellite UAH instead of urban heat island modified surface temperatures)

This myth has been debunked for years, but somehow like viral emails, it keeps coming back;

CO2 increases in crop fertility are a demonstrable fact

Perhaps in some abstract ways, but higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are threatening our grain supply;

. Most, if not all, historical records show that humanity (even with ancient or medieval technologies) has thrived in times of warm climate and been subject to horrible losses during times of cold (e.g. little ice age crop failures during the "year without a summer").

Odd he should mention this; The Year without a Summer (1816) was caused by a sudden shock to the climate by a massive volcanic eruption that altered the climate around the world, changing temperature and rainfall patterns. Just how this adds to his argument is a mystery...

it only makes sense that we would prosper if it became warmer

Just like the hot Dust Bowl years?

We are a tropical species after all

The Inuit would find that an interesting statement.

any such warming (before 1999 of a magnitude of 0.5 deg. C or less) can readily be explained by solar cycles or cloud cover changes

This has been covered here before, but I'll repeat them for those who haven't seen them yet.

Even Lassen and Friis-Christensen have accepted that the current warming is due to something other than the sun.

Greenhouse effect sceptics may have lost their final excuse. The Sun has been dethroned as the dominant source of climate change, leaving the finger of blame pointing at humans.
A correlation between the sunspot cycle and temperatures in the northern hemisphere seemed to account for most of the warming seen up until 1985. But new results reveal that for the past 15 years something other than the Sun—probably greenhouse emissions—has pushed temperatures higher.

Let's not succumb to semi-scientific ramblings from political types like Inhofe, or pundits like Limbaugh, O'Reilly, etc. If you must read climate blogs, make sure you read, written by actual paleoclimatologists.

By your chart, we are already a good bit hotter than the Dustbowl... During FDR's second inauguration, they had to mow the lawn of the White House, it was so warm.

No trend on Artic/Antartic ice last 30 years.

No increase in temp since 98. Plunging temps in 08/09, as anyone living in the US knows.

Solar activity very low. Solar cycle 24 not yet started. Impact of solar activity on climate is not well-understood.

By your chart, we are already a good bit hotter than the Dustbowl...

Don't confuse global temperature with US temperature.

No trend on Artic/Antartic ice last 30 years.

?? What a puzzling statement; the Arctic ice mass loss is well-documented, and the Antarctic warming is becoming more clear (see below).

No increase in temp since 98. Plunging temps in 08/09, as anyone living in the US knows.

You're cherrypicking data. Plunging temps in 08? How many years in the last century were warmer?

Solar activity very low

Be more specific; which activities and over which time periods (i.e., compared to when)? Solar activity is up over the last 5 months, so you need to provide context.

If we were indeed in a low solar activity cycle, how much warmer will it be at the end of that 11 year cycle?

Solar cycle 24, due to peak in 2010 or 2011 "looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago," says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

During the annual Space Weather Workshop held in Boulder, CO in May, 2008, the Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel released an update to the prediction for the next solar cycle. In short, the update is that the panel has not yet made any changes to the prediction issued in April, 2007. The panel expects solar minimum to occur in March, 2008. The panel expects the solar cycle to reach a peak sunspot number of 140 in October, 2011 or a peak of 90 in August, 2012.

I don't want to get into a discussion about whether climate change is man-made or not, or whether CO2 is the primary cause of climate change, or if there are other variables that are more important. I don't have any special expertise in this area.

The point is that climate change (for whatever reason, in whichever direction) may be taking place. It is one of nine issues I list that may cause the situation to be worse than it otherwise would be.

It simple: hotter air is able to carry more water vapor, which is simple physics. More water vapor leads to more flooding events, and we've seen those all over the world in the last 5 years. Predictable. So far so good. Now more moisture in the air also leads to much heavier snowfalls and more dramatic winter weather. Now cue the mentally-challenged GW-deniers, bleating about a "new Ice Age". Pass the sick bag, Alice.

"hotter air is able to carry more water vapor, which is simple physics. "

Right. And also, since water vapor is a ghg, more water vapor means more warming, which means more water vapor....Hotter air also means that less of that vapor will form clouds that could block solar energy.

On flooding, in my area one county had rainfalls many times higher than the last all-time record, while a couple counties over, they were suffering from record drought.

As with the stock market and the price of oil, we seem to be in for more and more volatility.

Ian - how about this compromise? I take some action, based on the best available current science, to keep this planet's climate survivable; and you find a different planet to experiment with. Let me know how yours turns out.


...properly measured by satellite UAH

There is this weired notion floating around that satellite measurements are somehow more reliable and simpler than surface station measurement. Transforming an observed infrared radiance over a large field of view into a global surface temperature estimate is a very difficult problem. If you think the GISS data is massaged, think of what you have to do in order to form a "proper" global satellite-based temperature record:
- effect of the atmosphere
- low cloud contamination.
- sensor spectral response.
- sensor degradation over time (the typical lifetime is 5 years).
- calibration issues.
- inter-sensors calibration ( in particular on old datasets).
- sensor field of view (pixels are observed at different observation angles changing the optical path)
- temperature inversion
- etc.

"What will the first few years after peak oil be like?"

Are you talking about the first few years(1-10) or the second or third or forth decade after peak oil? You are talking about peak OIL not peak energy, not even peak FF energy!

Except for your comments on reduced airline travel, and the possibility of gasoline shortages and rationing the other predictions do not make much sense.

For example if we have a depression why would food become unavailable, even if gasoline prices are at $10 a gallon?. This is the price in Europe, now and they still seem to be able to grow and transport food. More likely food would become more available and cheaper.

The only way your vision for the post peak oil world would make sense is when oil declines by >90% and IF NO renewable or nuclear energy replacements are put in place. We know that renewable and nuclear energy account for 28% of US electricity, 76% of Canada's electricity, so we are not going to have a world without electricity( in N America) even if renewable energy is added at the very low rates of today.

Big challengers ahead to dramatically improve energy efficiency( to say what it is in Japan) and to replace all FF energy, but probably easier to do in a depression where the government can spend trillions on infrastructure, that in an economic boom where there are shortages of steel, cement and labor.
The best news for a post-peak oil world is a recession that slows sown oil use, allows excess industrial capacity to be used to replace all FF and the incentive of governments to do it.

I tend to agree with this, but do think you underestimate the potential for temporary supply disruptions in food. A two-week stockpile of food and water seems reasonable to me and I would have been thankful for it had I lived in NOLA during Katrina.

But all in all, I must agree that the risk of the sustained inability to produce food, at least in the US, Canada, Russia, and most other suitable growing environments with some form of FF resource, is unlikely unless we just really drop the ball. Wouldn't this be about priority number one? If Germany can run a military on German CtL, surely we can at least run our tractors and rail on it given our vast reserves.

I see the greatest threat being the undoubtedly horrible financial problems that are ensuing now and will likely only worsen until we 1) switch to a efficient lower-energy, lower-mobility lifestyle (not to be confused with living in caves) and 2) get more coal/electrified rail and then nukes online.

If people in the US starve, it will be because we refuse to feed and clothe the poor and unemployed.

Even if it would seem like water and food should be pretty much our top priorities, I am not sure that the thought has even crossed the minds of those holding high office. It seems like people are more concerned with bailing out the banking industry, and making certain that we can sell more autos in the future.

Food and water seem like issues that will take care of themselves, so no one worries. It doesn't cross anyone's minds that it may be more difficult to get fertilizer and pesticides in the future, or that fuel rationing might need to affect something other than private passenger automobiles.

And why should it be on their agendas? We are currently in no scarcity of food, but we do have a collapsing finance system and auto industry. Whether or not you agree with propping up the banks or bailing out the automakers, it is sort of a red herring to point to current priorities and cite them as some sort of proof of how we would react to a changing set of circumstances. If the government were to continue such practices during a famine, I'm pretty sure heads would roll. We've had bloody revolutions for less. I suspect many here would be at the front of the pitchfork mob. Government isn't stupid; it's simply reactionary because of limited resources and constrained power.

And I don't agree that they aren't addressing food issues at all. If we move to rail and electric transport (a long-term goal… but so is zero oil/FF) this frees up remaining FF for mission critical tasks until a better way to farm can be implemented. You have to look at the problem as a whole, yes, but you have to look at the solutions as a whole too. I see personal transport as the elephant in the room; not tractors. At least not for a while.

I am not trying to make light of the situation... I'm just saying that maybe there are areas that need more immediate attention than the risk of unlikely sustained famines in the future when we have so many other problems here and now.

Well, maybe. But the last year has seen food riots around the world. In this country, food pantries in every major city are at record lows and numbers of those seeking help with food are high and rising.

This before full effects of PO have kicked in. Water shortage, climate chaos, fertilizer shortage, farmer shortage, diesel price instability (both for farm machines and for trucks hauling supplies to farmers and food to market)...

There are any number of ways that the food system can and has broken down.

Maybe we will dodge every one of these bullets somehow, but many people are starting to take their food supply more into their own hands. Sale of vegetable seed this year exceeded sale of flower seed in US garden stores for the first time in decades. Farmers markets and CSA's are springing up all over.

I don't think that depending on the wisdom of our leaders to avert the worst is a particularly good strategy, given recent history.

The drop in supply food pantries is because of the rapidly rising unemployment. Supplies can be scaled up. I did say earlier something to the effect of “if people in the US starve it is because we don't feed the unemployed, not because we can't.” I also agreed that a two-week or so supply of food and water is a good thing given the chance for supply disruptions. But supply disruptions are not the same thing as a lack of food. The things you point out, more local farmers’ markets and an increase in seed sales, are one part of the resiliency I am talking about. We have the land and resources to feed America. That said, I wouldn't want to live in Britain or even Asia.

"Supplies can be scaled up."

How? Are there millions of acres of rich arable land that are not being farmed? If we farm every last arable acre, will that have some negative consequences?

And we certainly cannot "scale up" if we are using huge portions of our food to make gas to feed to SUVs.

I'm not sure you are fully aware of just how dependent modern agriculture and the whole food processing and distribution system is on oil at every level.

Don't get me wrong. We could do a lot to start preparing for a oil constrained future. And some is happening. More people are growing vegetable gardens than they have for a long time. Farmers markets are cropping up, and more people are joining CSAs...

But the enormity of the problem has clearly not become clear yet, to you or to most others.

I guess we can each have our own views. As I pointed out in my Oil Drum letter to Obama, it seems to me that the US is already past peak fossil fuel use on a per-capita basis (effective 2000), because we are are not making enough with the fossil fuels to have sufficient exports to keep a reasonable balance of payments. When we look at our consumption, this is the graph we get:

Our growing imports can be seen in this graph of how much fuels are produced in the US, and our growing import gap. Our financial problems are very much related to this issue.

It seems likely to me that as our financial problems sort themselves out, and the credit problems unwind further, the US will find it much more difficult to maintain its big imports. This could lead to a very sudden drop in US fuels of nearly all kinds.

"This could lead to a very sudden drop in US fuels of nearly all kinds."
If all energy imports were eliminated US per capita energy consumption would go from 340 million BTU to 260 million BTU. This is still higher than most of countries, would have almost no impact on electricity production. Are you saying that US citizens are incapable of having a high standard of living and use only as much energy as many European countries? or is it that the loss of much of the oil imports(over 10 or 20years) will paralyze the economy because the remaining 4 million barrels/day will be too little for essential services, food production and transport.

If it's the latter, then the problem is really how much of the 20 million barrels/day oil consumption can be saved within say 15 years, by a combination of rationing vehicle and aircraft use, better fuel economy of vehicles, and replacing oil used for heating homes and industry by electricity. Razing CAFE standards to 35mpg by 2020 is clearly NOT going to give the savings required, but ONLY selling vehicles that average >45mpg now, and ensuring that ALL new vehicles produced after 2020 are PHEV or EV >150 mpg, removing old low mpg vehicles, maintaining gasoline rationing, a massive improvement in energy efficiency and a large investment in renewable and nuclear energy would enable US citizens to have a standard of living at least as high as most Europeans and not import any oil.

The US is not former USSR or Cuba, the US has the resources, and has an enormous energy base that can be trimmed.

You beat me to the post.

Many great ideas, but they are not happening now, and there is very little likelihood that any will happen any times soon.

We COULD do all sorts of things that would soften the descent. We are not doing most of them.

We can't even increase the tax on gasoline or lower the speed limit on highways.

We can't even get cap and trade going. Rationing isn't even on the radar screen, though it is obvious to rational folks like you and I that this will have to be something we do sooner (preferably) or later.

Maybe Obama will convince the country to move in some of these directions, but so far he can't even convince even one Republican to go along with his bailout plan.

There are entrenched interests standing in the way of many rational approaches that may soften the blow for many. These interests show no sign of disappearing.

I agree this presents a huge financial problem. But given the figures on the charts you provided, say US fuel imports drop to zero almost overnight (admittedly not out of the question). I still see 250 million domestic BTUs out of approx 340 million total BTUs left. That leaves us with about 70% for the time being, and though that ammount will decline, you are assuming no ramp up in coal/wind/solar/nuclear.

I am not arguing BAU is possible, or that drastic measures won't be needed to transition the economy and lifestyles, or that it won't hurt to do so. But don't you think we can feed ourselves on 70% of our current energy use given the huge amounts of wasted energy in this country?

I realize the decline is sustained and will keep falling, but I believe there are other longterm options... maybe there we don't see eye to eye. But in the nearterm I just don't buy mass starvation here in the US. I'll leave it at that. Thanks for the post and comments.

I advocate the view that we will be able to feed ourselves here in the West after we stumble badly and then get our act together. I think there is a good chance some food production (likely grains) will be nationalized or otherwise supported (i.e. subsidies) to make food affordable to millions. I think the food will mostly be available but that people will have real trouble affording it. We are already seeing the seeds of slums in the form of tent cities in various places around the country.

I don't expect the rest of the world to be so fortunate.

Population and Fossil Fuels

Yes. The energy is there for the Powers That Be to feed the masses if they want to nationalize basic food distribution services. If they don't do this, they will be either booted out of office or we will see a revolution (scenario one more likely). Therefore it will happen. Yes, not all nations are so fortunate.

"why would food become unavailable, even if gasoline prices are at $10 a gallon?. This is the price in Europe, now and they still seem to be able to grow and transport food"

All you have to do is look at google earth of Europe and the US and it will show you why your conclusion is so erroneous. Europe has MUCH shorter supply chains for food, because farms are literally everywhere. Any map of france or germany shows little towns everywhere with farmland in-between. Granted, they are relatively un-forested, but that is a different issue.

In the US, however, very little food is grown in the east (where most of the people live) and the megafarms that provide your sustenance are all 1000 miles away in Nebraska.

Heres a nice scenario:

Breakfast: you want your wheaties. Wheat is grown far from most population centers, and certainly far enough that you won't gain any energy by walking to get it yourself. You may as well eat your lawn.

Lunch: you want a roast beef sandwich: that beef was most likely raised in Florida (not saying you dont live in florida, but)

Dinner: you cant have dinner. boohoo

Basically what I am trying to say is that if there are fuel shortages/price hikes, food IN AMERICA will be especially hard to get, because our supply chains are too long. Europe does not have this problem with high prices, because its supply chains are shorter.

Prove that food supply lines are too long for us to be unable to continue using them with 70% of current energy usage. Prove we can't adapt to accommodate the one most important need with 2/3 of our power and plenty of rail between the East and West (not going to need to move cheap crap from China around on it much longer).

As I have said many times lately, while I agree with all of the problems and points on this site, there is just so much bad logic when it comes to connecting the dots. It will be harder is NOT the same thing as it will be impossible.

Hello Andrew in Texas,

I see you are a TOD newbie--Welcome!

Your quote: "Prove that food supply lines are too long for us to be unable to continue using them with 70% of current energy usage."

Please consider reading earlier TOD archives, or research yourself the degree of US import reliance on I-NPK at the USGS website [Hint: 44% for [N]itrogen alone]. A black swan that could curtail these imports being distributed to the final topsoil square footage would unleash all kinds of Liebig Minimums, with further cascading blowbacks. To further prod your research journey:
The German potash industry was the sole source of potash for American agriculture and industry up to the outbreak of World War I. Our complete dependence upon Germany as a source of potash was brought home in 1910 when, as a result of the reorganization of the German potash industry, favorable contracts held by american importing companies were suddenly cancelled. The ensuing price increases caused Congress, in 1911, to fund exploration of possible potash sources in the U.S. We continued to import most of our potash from Germany until 1914, when the outbreak of war completely cut off supplies.

During WWI, the U.S. was forced to get what potash it could from expensive sources, such as brine lakes, distillery wastes, flue dust and seaweeds. The price soared from $35/ton to almost $500/ton.
In prior posts: this translates to an inflation adjusted $15,000 to $30,000/ton [or more] depending upon which inflation adjustment calculator one uses. Webb-Pomerene was enacted shortly thereafter in 1918, and the Elements N,P,K,S are now considered in the strategic list as there are No Substitutes for Elements. Enjoy your research.

There a no absolute shortages of N( atmosphere ) or K (sea water) or S (a major contaminant of coal, heavy oil, but energy is used to convert these into fertilizer( but not 70% of US energy production!). Phosphorus long term availability may be a bigger issue.
Most energy is used to produce ammonia from either NG, Coal (or wind powered electrolysis of water). N America has massive deposits of potassium in Canada (Provence of Saskatchewan).

Hello Neil1947,

Agreed. It not the size of the reserves, it's the flowrates. No different than the other experts have said for fossil fuels. Recall Jay Hanson's discussion of energy sources into energy sinks, it applies also to fertilizers and other resources:

New poster, longtime reader. I have a good grip on the problems ahead. While a lot of people on this site may think I am an optimist and even a cornucopian, the general population of family and friends I try to educate about PO issues sees me as that weird guy who lives on a farm and thinks the sky is always falling. I sometimes wonder what that says about the ideology of the world and of this site. I see two extremes, but that’s just my opinion.

In response to your post, I respectfully agree with your concerns, and you obviously know more about fertilizer than me... but as far as I can tell none of this refutes the point that 70% of US fuel supply is more than enough to continue industrial agriculture. Given efficiencies that can be gained when FF become expensive (i.e. Eat more locally, use more rail, etc...) the risk of food supply failure is slim. We are not going to run out of enough oil and natural gas to create fertilizer and pesticides anytime soon. Not in this country. (I think long-term, advanced nuclear will solve the energy crisis.)

I think you are discounting the role of politics and planning. Sure, 70% of the oil is plenty to keep everyone warm and fed. But I fully expect some people to be driving Hummers while others can't get enough food.

There are plenty of people right now who are having a lot of trouble getting by, but the FedGov gives hundreds of billions to bankers.

But fewer will drive Hummers because we won't be able to afford to.

And I think you underestimate GOOD politics and planning and the effect knowledge of the problem will have on public opinion. There are easy solutions. Hummer made illegal: problem solved. Gas rationed and anything over a base level costs you $30 a gallon (or whatever), problem solved. Yes, these are extreme measures likely to be unpopular (now), but no more so than putting everyone to work in a garden or any other of the measures brought up on this site... not the least of which would be the worst case scenario outlined here, that we let the growing number of US poor starve. I am not arguing that PO is not an extreme problem, it is, and that is why extreme measures will be taken to handle it. I predict a rocky and scary transition. But solutions will scale up quicker than you think... we are still early in the game, and while I would love to see faster action, it could have been worse folly to act early and stupidly (ethanol economy for example).

Hello Andrew in Texas

I rather like the idea of more people gardening or in agriculture as I don't think our industrialization is going to keep everyone working or fed.


You are correct that some foods travel long distances in US, but grains are grown very widely in most parts of US, and most large volumes move via water transport which is very efficient. Foods imported to US and Europe( Bananas, coffee coco) travel further. The least efficient use of energy is moving fresh out of season vegetables from California to the N East or from Chile to US and Europe. This is a nice luxury, but we could go back to cabbage, turnips etc during winter without really starving.
Since ALL long distance US truck transport uses 12% oil and ALL rail transport 1%, it's easy to see that food transport is a lot less and could almost all travel by rail.

Good God, Gail! Do you ever sleep? That is a very comprehensive thread which so far I have only glanced down. But it all seems like the change in thinking that all we must rapid engage. A change in thinking, not primarily for peak oil, but for Global Cooking. Taken with the Passive Solar advice this is all very solid.

It is time that Oil Drum became a broad access television channel.

I do sleep. This is a re-run from 18 months ago that I imagine quite a few of our newer readers missed.

If I were writing the post now, there might be a few changes because it looks like we are now post-peak. I expect that the advice would be similar, however.

I agree that it is time for TOD, TAE, and others to include other media. I have satellite radio and during my long distance drives I LONG for a station that is dedicated to TOD and TAE issues. Peak Everything radio- All Peak, All the Time. It could include the Reality Report and Global Public Media.

Can someone get that idea to XM and Sirrius?

TOD TV - the place you look for doomer entertainment

Thursday's evening's programming:

6:00 pm - Stoneleigh Ilargi News Hour

7:00 pm - grid-isolatable solar photovoltaic: an important message from the Department of Homeland Energy

7:30 pm - Suburban Turnip Sales with Jim Kunstler

8:00 pm - Preserving Kosher Turnips with Sharon Astyk

8:30 pm - Keeping your powder dry with Jay Hanson

9:00 pm - Monty Python's Flying Circus

9:30 pm - Newsreels from the Great Depression.

10:00 pm - you should be in bed by now, there's wood-cutting to be done in the morning!

You left out:

"The Old Timer's Back Down on the Farm Hour", with Airdale


That would be interesting. I think Nate and Jason are our two most experienced in the audio / visual entertainment world.

And now I have the 15 second laugh I've been waiting all day for...

(Perhaps add on a regular time slot for it?)

I was always fairly sure that Resource constraints, especially oil, would manifest themselves in the capital markets. I just didn't know how. Certainly the way it has actually played out is substantially different to anything I expected.

Perhaps the biggest surprise (though in retrospect it shouldn't have been) is the extent to which the rapid drawdown of existing resources gave rise to the widely held illusion that we could live at the consumption levels of around a year ago. This was expressed in a financial system that fooled us into thinking there are more resources than actually exist. Perhaps the most depressing aspect to all of this is that this illusion persists very strongly. Business as usual and a return to growth is perceived as inevitable, like the rising of the sun. Jason Bradford, in his excellent letter to Obama, "Hungary Ghosts" today eloquently describes why this will not happen.

There is a fundamental disconnect in our prevailing economics discipline. Even more depressing is the fact that many of these people hold positions of great authority in governments and major corporations around the world. Economics needs to rapidly embrace ecological, resource and biophysical constraints within its logic. Maintaining the 18th & 19th century principle that the world is infinite is delusional and continues to result in severely dysfunctional decision making at the highest levels.

Obama, though a massive improvement on the dreadful Bush, has illustrated clearly that either he doesn't fully understand this simple concept, or if he does, that he lacks the statesmanship to explain this economics dysfunction to the nation and the world.

Obama, though a massive improvement on the dreadful Bush, has illustrated clearly that either he doesn't fully understand this simple concept, or if he does, that he lacks the statesmanship to explain this economics dysfunction to the nation and the world.

Or maybe he believes the limits to growth have not yet been reached, even if we are hitting a bump in the road with oil? I see no reason to believe that bump is not something we can overcome after a contraction. As has been brought up in other recent threads, there are a lot of other potential options that could come online down the road.

People see a depression/recession and say, "See I told you so!" But the oil shocks of the 70's caused the same thing (and that was before the world was as dependent on the USA's broken model of perpetual deficits). I am yet to be sold on the idea that a depression that coicides with Peak Oil must be the end of the road and not a bumpy adjustment with potential for change.

It seems to me that we managed to get ourselves into financial overshoot, and that it is all coming down. The huger derivative unwind has not really begun yet, and that will make things worse than they would otherwise have been. All of the debt has permitted investment to be at far more than a sustainable level. Now it is coming down, and the amount of resources extracted each year will almost certainly decline because of the reduced investment.

I think in many ways financial overshoot is closely related to biological overshoot, described in Jason's post. We are trying to use more resources than are there, and to grow when we can no longer grow. We know that biological overshoot generally results in collapse of the system.

I don't any political leader can deal with the possibility that we may be headed for collapse. No one can mention this possibility, or suggest taking actions that are specifically aimed at mitigating collapse. Instead, it is much more acceptable to "stimulate" the economy.

Trying to get economists to look at things this way is an exercise in frustration. People understand that if they want to get ahead in any position (government or private), they have to deliver a message that their supervisors will find acceptable--and a U or V shaped recovery, as the economy naturally recovers, "sells" well.

Agreed with the points about politicians being unable to totally speak their minds; though I seriously doubt Obama believes that PO means permanent collapse.

The situation now really is, at least as far as we can know FOR SURE from where we are standing, is that we are trying to draw more resources than are currently available NOW. Hence collapse. But that doesn't mean that more resources won't come on line. The problem, as I see it, is similar to what you are noting about oil. Investments are down now because we don't need the oil... when we do need it later, we won't have invested enough and we will come up short. This seems to have been the long-term case with renewables and nuclear b/c oil was so cheap; we didn't invest and so now we are coming up short when we need it. There will be a lag in getting it up online and our economy will suffer. That doesn't mean we can't reinvest later and get things going. Personally, I think a period of contraction is good in some ways; it will force efficiency and a reevaluation of how we use energy.

Maybe the biggest and most unwelcome surprise: The dawning realization that all of the possible large scale strategies that we've been talking about - electrified rail transport, wind farms, CSP arrays, etc., and even things like offshore and arctic drilling, nukes, etc. - are being pretty much rendered impossible due to the inability of our economy to finance new capital investments. It is even going to be pretty much out of the question for increasing numbers of people to come up with the financing for things like PV panels on the roof or a new Prius purchase.

The future - starting right now - is going to have to be small scale, low tech, and CHEAP. Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised, but nevertheless that is the way it is going to have to be.

This seems like an appropriate place to insert this: I'd really recommend that people find a copy of two, old PBS series. They are Colonial House and Frontier House.

The idea of the series was to replicate how people lived during these periods (and some others). Families volunteered to "go back" and live the same as people did then. They used the same technology as the period and participated in, sort of, the same economic system.

They give a much more realistic picture of how life might devolve as our present day systems crash. Further, it is fascinating to see how the volunteers reacted to their new world - many did not react well at all.


An excellent series, the whole family enjoyed it, and it is a great way to introduce people to how we might be living some day, or at least show how life was for people in the not too distant past.

Also see Victorian House and vTexas Ranch House, of the same series, available on Netflix.

Anyone have any ideas where we should look for this? Local libraries? Available on the internet?

I taped mine off the air but Amazon has new and used copies of all of them if you want to spend money. PBS only offers a ~$150 package. I wouldn't be surprised if they could be obtained via a library.


Netflix has Frontier House and Colonial House.

I was unable to find Victorian House on Netflix, but did find Life in Victorian Times. Perhaps Will was thinking of The 1900 House (avail. on Netflix)?

Texas Ranch House, 1940's House and Manor House are also available on Netflix.

Amazon carries all of them.

Yes, it was 1900 House.

Perhaps a relevant reality series is the BBC's "Evacuation", following a dozen modern-day kids from London as they cope on a WWII-era farm.

WNC Observer

The future - starting right now - is going to have to be small scale, low tech, and CHEAP.

I agree. I don't think people get this. Think about the state of California, with its financial problems. How is it ever going to be able to continue to provide subsidies of any kind?

Maybe the biggest and most unwelcome surprise: The dawning realization that all of the possible large scale strategies that we've been talking about - electrified rail transport, wind farms, CSP arrays, etc., and even things like offshore and arctic drilling, nukes, etc. - are being pretty much rendered impossible due to the inability of our economy to finance new capital investments.

Nationalize them then. Personally, I think renewables are worth about as much as corn ethanol, but nuke projects could be nationalized. A lot of the financing problems might be temporary. We are in the middle of a huge debt unwinding. But I think there will be enough cashflow to prop up the grid and an increase in coal and nuke use. We just have to throw all our resources there and not at stupid BAU things like we do now.

The future - starting right now - is going to have to be small scale, low tech, and CHEAP. Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised, but nevertheless that is the way it is going to have to be.

This will be part of the solution. But if advanced nuclear ends up having the EROI that the experts report, I can't imagine any government with any money/energy (US coal) to spend not getting into the game once what is happening becomes clear.

I think in many ways financial overshoot is closely related to biological overshoot...

I've been thinking a lot about exactly that, Gail. The implication is that the "financial carrying capacity" [K] will be depleted by any stimulus. Doubly so, because the stimulus itself comes from from the resource base. It's as if the starving wolves decided to feast on the last remaining rabbits so they could have more energy to hunt rabbits. And we have to remember that it's not only what sounds like official debt -eg bonds and loans - that has to be paid back, but dollars themselves. They have to be paid back with resources.

Hmmm, that would be fun, an Aesop's fable of wolves and rabbits and rabbit futures and wolf dens backed by CDSs and SIVs and piggy banks.

The scale of our human economy is simply too big for the natural economy. Like a fish in water, it's almost impossible to see.

cfm in Gray, ME

Gail, this is excellent. I think you should add another section, however, on natural disasters.

From my chapter on Disaster Preparation:

Earthquakes are the most devastating disaster, but floods make up over 75% of the disaster declarations each year. What is the chance that you will live through a disaster bad enough that your county is designated an official disaster area? It turns out it's pretty high:
US Disaster Declarations
Map shows number of U.S. Presidential Disaster Declarations by County
between 1965 and 2003.
Legend: Red > 10; Orange 6 - 10; Yellow 1 -5; White (no data)
Cleanup and Rebuilding
As oil becomes more expensive, many disaster areas will never be cleaned up and rebuilt. Damaged bridges made of concrete will be demolished and the rubble pushed aside but may take decades to rebuild, if ever. (Concrete and steel take enormous amounts of energy to make, particularly concrete. Many bridges built in the future will be made of wood again.)

If where you live relies heavily on bridges and other infrastructure for its proper functioning, and a disaster wipes them out, will you be nimble enough to find a new place to live?

If you do not have a fully stocked disaster kit and continue to live in a disaster-prone area (like California), are you being responsible?

More here::

I think you are right about natural disasters becoming more important in the years ahead. With abundant oil resources, we have gotten used it getting everything fixed quickly after a storm. Many times, homeowners receive an insurance payment or government check and can use this to rebuild an even nicer home in the same disaster-prone area. Working in the insurance field, I am probably more aware than most problems arising from natural disasters.

One concern I have is with electrical supply. It normally takes several days to get electrical supply restored after a major storm. I could imagine this stretching into weeks or months.

Also, regarding roads and bridges, these are generally "self-insured" by the government organization responsible for repairing them. If there is a major earthquake in California, who would want to buy more California bonds, to cover the cost of rebuilding roads and bridges? Is the US government suddenly going to come along with sufficient aid to pay for the roads and bridges, on top of the latest TARP and stimulus spending? Our financial problems start to interact with the natural disasters, making things worse than they would otherwise be.

Yes, I think storms are going to be more disruptive than people are used to now. I'm mulling over a rewrite of that section to include more on storm recovery, especially since climate change is already increasing their frequency and intensity.

The first form of electricity load shedding in the West might be in the form of storm damage...might the utilities be slower to restore electricity if it is already in short supply?

I suspect that if this recession is like others, three things are going to be true.

Nothing will get fixed unless it absolutely has to.

Nothing new will be built unless it absolutely has to.

If anything gets done at all it will be done in the cheapest way possible, evaluated over at most 1-2 years.

And to define absolutely has to, maintaining peoples' standard of living does not count. Given a choice between upgrading the grid and rationing power, the rationing will win. Given a choice between billions of investment in new baseload power or rationing power, rationing will win.

The U.S. as an entity has already proved itself capable of ignoring 2.2 trillion dollars of required infrastructure investment when times were good and letting entire cities lay in ruins. Ignoring any collapse will be a piece of cake.

Absent some sort of gigantic TVA-like federal program, that is.

Nothing will get fixed unless it absolutely has to.

Nothing new will be built unless it absolutely has to.

That just about sums it up.

I wish I could disagree with you. It is all too true.

We have a cheery site, don't we?

(laughing) Yes, we do, indeed.

Although sometimes I do laugh at the absurdity of the situation humanity has gotten itself in.

Absent some sort of gigantic TVA-like federal program, that is.

Do you really think this won't happen? If this "Greater Depression" is anything like that other depression, it would seem to suggest it would.

Obama's first plan already adds like 3000 miles of transmission lines, right?

I see grid upgrading as a has to happen thing, so it will. Maybe not fast enough to keep standards of living from falling, but I would rather be poor and work for the TVA than freeze to death hungry in the cold.

Won't happen. It won't happen because the resources are not there. That sounds so weird, but that's what's happening.

Which is not to say the Obambis won't spend oodles of money on it, leaving huge scars and wasted easements. It reminds me of something in Taleb's book, about how the probable success of overdue megaprojects falls to zero rapidly. For an infinity of reasons.

cfm in Gray, ME

I think if you are going to say something like "the resources aren't there" you have to identify which resources. Capital may be tight, but as has been pointed out by many, what we really have to spend is resources, not money.

So what resources aren't there to electrify transport and improve the grid? Coal as bridge energy source? Check. Copper? Check. Fissile materials? Check. People needing any kind of work they can get? Check. What appears to be 70% of our power supply during an era when other uses for energy are grinding to a halt anyway... check.

Depression and decreased living standards until we get energy growth to return, certainly. The ability to not do anything and make matters worse, sure we could do that if we are stupid. But to say that the resources aren't there to streamline (and reduce the amount of) transport and improve the grid is pretty much contradictory to the facts.

Someone earlier said that it would cost $100 Trillion dollars to fix the grid. That seems like the kind of grandiose statement that requires more than a reference to an offhand remark by Richard H... I would love to see how he came to that figure.

None of them are there, because "being there" depends on the financial paradigm. We can only build a windmill by spending "money" that represents other resources ground up elsewhere - by melting the ice caps AND by borrowing from the future. They are cheap, but even so it is a net loss to the overall environment. That's why banks can't loan, because there is no more profit to be extracted. They don't see it that way - they see borrowers defaulting and unable to take out new loans - but what is that other than diminishing returns *to the borrowers* so they could no longer make it happen? The cost of growth exceeds the benefits. So producing copper, for example, costs more than it's "worth". Of course there is plenty of copper - but ramping up to produce it in the current paradigm doesn't work. And that has become painfully clear to banks and traders; it's just they don't frame it as environmental crisis.

That's a synthesized assertion. Sorry that I don't have a way to back it up with numbers. I don't even know how to frame it mathematically. To take up coal, for example, it seems there is not enough railway to move much more coal. So I black box it: society as a whole is into diminishing returns and what we are seeing is the sort of thing we'd see in such a scenario.

Good, bringing up "people needing work". If we are to change the paradigm, that would be the place to start. Not so much focusing on TVA type infrastructure, but what can we do with lots of people willing to work. That will lead to new possibilities.

cfm in Gray, ME

You are pointing to bottlenecks, not true resource limitations. Rail can be expanded, just not at the rate we would prefer. If you believe in the possibility of nuclear power, that too can come online, but not at the rate we would like. Bottlenecks, with time, can be widened. Economic decline does not mean collapse... with so many resources still left in the ground, it seems fair to say that we will hit a point where things stop collapsing and we will get another chance at a growth cycle... if we use that time to invest in the future rather than the present, things can be turned around. And again, even in a depression, SOME things still get done... this is a fact beyond refute that I am not going to even try to defend… I shouldn’t have to.

How does copper cost more than it is worth? We need a better grid and that is worth almost anything. I guess if you take a very shortsighted look, you are right, we don't need the excess electric capacity right this second... but I prefer a longer-term look. We are not at peak copper and it is a recyclable resource anyway.

Melting icecaps have nothing to do with the current situation. Just because you view them as a cost doesn't mean the world or markets do. Perception is everything in the short term, evidenced by the last few years of debt growth.

Tex, do you have any glimmering idea what an ice free Arctic Ocean will do to the climate of the Northern Hemisphere. Perception is everything...till you die of the threat you failed to perceive.

‘National Emergency Centers Establishment Act’

Looks like the PTB are gettin' ready.


I've seen many lists and sets of links, but this one is the most coherent, complete, and conclusive. It would be nice to have a wiki here to capture posts like this as references.

Glad you liked it. If you go back to the original post, you will discover that there are a huge number of additional links there as well. At one point, I was thinking about going back and adding them to the post (although it is already long for a post).

Another thing on my wish list was putting together a similar post on "What can governments do?"

A wiki might be a good idea. I run into the "24 hour day" constraint on writing posts. If someone else could add to them and keep them fresh, it would be helpful.

Dr. Mills is putting together a comprehensive wiki:

He is soliciting articles.

The next ten, or twelve years will look a lot like the last two. Mostly recession, periodic attempts at recovery, followed by more recesssion.

By 2020 we should be getting a grip. We will have lowered our boe for transportation down to about 9 mbd (3 mbd reduction due to more efficient engines, 1 mbd due to batteris/electric.

We will be supplying between four and five mbd of the nine with biofuels, mostly ethanol.

The climate will be similar to the fifties, and sixties. Twenty five to thirty five could get downright cold as the AMO joins the PDO in negative territory.

Perhaps I'm too much of an optimist, but I can't help thinking this is quite pessimistic. I live in the UK, and I think that the 'collapse' here will take place over ten years or so, and be fairly smooth.

In the short term, the use of oil is going to follow traditional economics, with a set level of price elasticity and those consumers who can pay will only suffer the inconvenience of being out of pocket (and disposable incomes are quite high so there is some cushion) Here's how I roughly see the future panning out…


Global: Global recession reduces demand for oil, heading off an excess of demand over supply. Price is determined by geopolitical factors, whipsawing between values seen during 2008 ($30-$150 a barrel). At these levels, price of the raw material is passed through to the consumer, much as it was in 2008, leading to less disposable income but otherwise no enormous impact on the way of life for the average UK citizen. Indeed, these hinderences will be indistinguishable from the other trail and tribulations of the economic recession.

UK: Popularity of kitchen gardens continues to rise across the UK. In 2008, the level of demand for seeds reached record levels, and a grow-your-own ethos permeated through many cookery and gardening TV shows and articles in the media. A combination of increased awareness of global warming, desire for organic produce and reduced spending power is likely to see this increase further. Thrift becomes cool as unemployment rises to around 2.5-3m.


Global: A return to 'normal' economic conditions is hampered by expensive raw materials prices, particularly oil. As soon as the global economy starts to recover, we reach a state of excess demand over available supply and commodity prices rocket, stopping the recovery and leading to economic difficulties, lower demand, and lower prices. This cycle of (economic recovery --> demand increases ----> higher commodity prices ---> economic difficulties ---> demand decreases ---> lower commodity prices ---> economic recovery etc etc.) will occur with increasing frequency and last throughout the plateau of peak oil.

UK: Unemployment remains high but not disastrously so. During the high commodity price swings of the cycle people will be forced to use less energy - with all households looking at more efficient ways of heating their house, food in supermarkets will start to carry the cost of transit so locally produced food immediately becomes more attractive, kerosine becomes more expensive so holidays abroad are far too expensive for most people. These natural factors will limit oil use for the short term.


Global: Now global oil supply starts to fall off, meaning that the 'economic difficulties' portion of the cycle becomes much larger, and the world moves into the period 'off the cliff'. Volatility persists in commodity prices, but at much higher levels, perhaps $200-$2000/bbl. The existing mechnism for global oil supply still works at these escalated prices, albeit only the 'richest' countries can still afford to live anything like how they used to. Oil exporters begin to horde their own supply, further exacerbating the crisis. The potential for taking oil supplies by force becomes a real possibility.

UK: A similar pattern to the earlier period emerges, but energy conservation is now a way of life. Politicians and scientists fully wake up to the problem and start to implement packages for supplying as much energy as possible in the future. Fortunately a number of offshore wind programmes are due to come on-line around this time, making the UK the largest user of offshore wind-farms in the world - and resources (primarily the remaining dregs of oil from the North Sea) are directed to other projects such as the Severn Tidal Barrier. The average household is forced to survive on something like 50% of the energy budget they used previously - a difficult figure but not impossible. Kitchen gardening is now widespread, food miles are slashed enormously, considerably less is spent on home heating (insulation, wearing more clothes etc).

2017 and beyond

Oil consumption is carefully rationed towards areas of most need, smoothing the drop-off of supply. Households become quickly adapted to operating at a much lower net energy budget, say 30% of what we use today (this assumes saving of, say, 80% in food miles, 50% in home heating costs, 50% in transport, 90% in disposable consumption etc). A new economy emerges that works at these lower energy levels. Economic growth is recognised as being comprised of four parts; That due to depleting scarce resources, that due to inflating global leverage through debt, that due to population growth, and that due to innovation and research. Only the last of these will matter in the new economy (in fact, growth of the first three will be seen as a very bad thing), and global economic measures will adapt to measure this effectively.

Global academia will realign their focus on sustainability and new sources of energy - using solar and tidal power more efficiently in ways that don't require a huge net energy input at the start of their life. Small communities will grow stronger and cities weaker. And might just be a bit happier ;)

As I say, I'm an optimist.

I'm also from the UK but think things will be much worse for Britain. The average Brit has a very high level of debt and the housing bubble in Britain was just as bad as that in the US. I would say of all the big European countries it has the greatest chance of a sever economic colapse.

Since the UK is rapidly heading towards NET oil importer status any increase in oil price is going to hit the bottom line of UK-Inc really hard. This has been discussed here b4 and the numbers don't look good at all.

The next decade is going to be a tough one for Britain IMO. I've tried to warn some of my friends but at this point I feel like a Cassandra. One of them just got made redundant (from Ford). I suggested to him that a future in renewables might be OK (he is an engineer/Project Mngr) but that sector has also been hit by the credit crunch. What's one to advise?

The UK climate is probably too cold to get high EROI bio-fuels and wind, solar, nuclear are all electrical energy solutions in a liquid fuelled world, so even if the UK has the largest offshore wind-farm in the world in 2020 only a fraction of cars will be of the Hybrid/Electrical type and thus benefit. Frances 'nuclear trains' will probably still run, I expect they will be jam packed and the motorways less used.

Here's my timeline 4 wot its worth:

I also created a very basic supply/demand/price model whos output somewhat reflects the original posters view on cycles/DD and Price:

Regards, Nick.

If we didn't have the financial bubble, the collapse would go much more slowly. All of the debt and its collapse are what are likely to make things fall apart quite a bit more quickly.

Once the financial system starts to collapse, it will be difficult to keep other things (including governments and electric companies) together.

An optimist, indeed.

I think you're already grossly underestimating the quantity of unemployment and its impact. And you don't mention how to handle the millions of unemployed who will never be employed in similar jobs again. You don't mention how China requires extraordinary growth to handle the influx of its people from the country to the cities...this will all slow, giving China a problem we can't even fathom yet.

Providing food and shelter for those unemployed people (who will struggle to pay for both) around the world will also be a challenge.

There are other items but I would just say that although you are likely a nice person, I wouldn't put you on the peak oil preparation team ;-).

Edit: Here, read up on some of the expected impacts of climate change, then multiply them by ten, and you'll get an idea of what we'll be dealing with in the next few years.

The Security Implications of Climate Change, The Washington Quarterly

I'm a big believer in Peak Oil and coming dangers of Global Warming - I just think we haven't seen the direct impact on behaviour of substantially higher oil prices yet.

A lot of scenarios state things like 'if consumption continues at the current rate', which it clearly won't if oil is $300-$500/bbl. The extent to which people cut back on energy usage when they are forced to will be interesting to see.

£25 for bananas grown in the Caribbean or £1 for apples grown down the road - I'll eat apples thanks.

Jevon's paradox doesn't really hold when oil is in short supply, and conservation won't really be a choice, consumers will have to cut down.

Financial catastrophe is almost guarenteed, but as I say in my point above, there is an element of economic growth which is due to research and innovation - invent a tool that does the job twice as quickly without using any more energy and you have economic growth. There is nothing about this facet of economic growth that isn't compatable with Peak Oil.

Perhaps the crux of my optimism is that operating our global society in harmony with the carrying capacity of the Earth is surely some kind of utopia - and peak oil will take us there. As the awareness of the problem becomes more widespread, then the combined effort of humanity can help focus our efforts on making this transition as smooth as possible.

Remember that the UK produced nearly 100% of its food requirement in the 1980s, and that number has only dropped due to cheap imports. Okay, so we drop the availability of industrial fertiliser and the ability to shift food long distances by road, and we add in lots more kitchen gardens and buying local produce, and we can still feed ourselves for a long time yet.

I agree that if the current system of things is incompatable with a peak oil world, what I disagree with is that society won't adapt to the problem.

I think that the innovation you mention will grind to close to a halt as people deal with survival. And the innovations that exist already will not get into the market in any appreciable timeframe. Yes, we will adapt, of that I'm as confident as you. But when I look at the graph below, it is very hard for me to see much of the current paradigm (high energy, high innovation driven by venture capital, etc.) continuing for much longer. I was speaking with a friend who runs a biotech fund and very, very worthy drugs that have done well in trials are never going to see the light of day in this funding environment. The companies are preparing to shut their doors as I type because they could not get the next round of funding.

there is an element of economic growth which is due to research and innovation - invent a tool that does the job twice as quickly without using any more energy and you have economic growth. There is nothing about this facet of economic growth that isn't compatable with Peak Oil.

Judging by this comment, my guess is that you have very little experience in project financing or running a business in general. Almost everything about peak oil is directly in opposition to innovation at anywhere the level needed to make a timely difference. (Please forgive me if I am wrong about your experience.)

You are ignoring the importance of a healthy economy in getting the new technology you are counting on into the marketplace. Have you ever raised money for a startup? I have and the elements that support that model are quickly disappearing.

Innovation is already slowing down.

World Crude OIl and GDP

Excellent Gail (as always). I encourage people to think as SIMPLE as they can. Make one step farther down the energy consumption slope than you really want to.

I don't think you mentioned humanure. There is a VERY simple way of composting your human wastes for a minimal investment. It may not be possible in your area given current laws but it doesn't take much to prepare for. (but done properly it is safe) If the grid goes out you may well be glad you put aside some 5 gal buckets, materials for a compost bin, and a shovel.

Joseph Jenkins has made his book available free on the web (you can buy it too of course) - along with videos now that can be watched on line
His book has a section detailing laws in each state. I have used this for 10 years. It works, it doesn't smell and gives great compost.

5 gal buckets can also be put into use for a quick cachment system. Many times you can find old paint buckets in people's trash at the side of the road. Groceries that have a bakery might give you used frosting buckets. Sandwich shops get pickles in 5 gal buckets.

As far as gardening goes - forget the lettuce - too little nutrition for a post peak world. Try some hardy wild greens - chickweed, lambsquarters love gardens as well as natural places. Grow Kale, chard other higher nutrition stuff. Most importantly grow beans for drying. No special equipment needed. Not the most exciting food to some, but exciting food is going to be a thing of the past. Here in the south field peas grow well.

Hand pumps for drilled wells can be purchased - one source below goes to 300 feet.

Besides cachement there are other ways of getting water such as a solar still

from wiki
# Dew can be a water source when it condenses on any surface. Sop it up with a sponge or cloth.
# You can get water by distillation from common leaves, grasses, and other green plants. Place an armload in a plastic bag/container, then leave it out in an area where it will get a lot of warmth and sunlight. Make sure that you don't use any poisonous plants, and that the container is sealed, so no water vapor escapes. Several such containers will be needed for a single person.

Thanks for the insights and links!


Thinking simple is the most difficult. A couple of years ago I posted an amazing story to some US folks about an Austrian named Sepp Holzer
and his permaculture in austrian alps at an altitude of about 1200 meters where he grows everything even lemon trees. He does not use a single drop of oil. He has fully employed alternative renewable energies. But not technology. This man thinks in such a simple way that no one can comprehend what exactly he is doing to grow lemon trees in that very unfavorable climate conditions not even he himself. He just does it.
US folks however find a thousand reasons not to insulate their homes
that were the first thing this man would do.

Is going green, changing to energy saving light bulbs or adding extra layers of insulation realy going to help stave off global warming? I guess that depends on wether you believe in Jevon's paradox or not.

Here, we are really discussing fuel savings rather than climate change issues.

I agree that Jevron's paradox is an issue. People will spend as much money as they have. If they are able to save money, because of some fuel efficiency, they will go spend the money on something else, also using fuel, so you are pretty much back where you started from.

I think the thing that really cuts energy purchases off, though, is a cut-off in credit. If people don't have credit, then they can't spend as much as they did. This inevitably means a reduction in energy purchases. The reduction in energy purchases means people get laid off, and have less money to spend. This further ripples through the economy, meaning more cut-backs in energy purchases. We have such a huge amount of credit to unwind. The impact, by the time the unwind finally finishes, is likely to be huge--I expect worse than the 1930s.

Let the US treasury default on treasury bonds...and a couple of silly
bullish or bearish phrases will instantaneously disappear: peak oil, and global warming to be the first.

• When cooking, use the microwave whenever possible.

Um, no. Microwaves, which make foods extremely hot, can destroy vital nutrients. Particularly worrying is the destruction of vitamin B12 by microwaves (they remove up to 40% of it from foods — study). This is of great concern given that most B12 in our diets comes from sources likely to be scare post-peak, like meat. Much better is a French or Dutch oven that cooks food at much lower temps. Moisture (with vitamins) and flavours are sealed in by heavy, tight fitting lids. Dutch ovens are ideal for use in solar ovens too!

Also, don't forget about hotbox cooking if fuel is scarce.

I have to agree with all respondents who consider food production a high priority.

My advice:

If you have a yard and are not yet growing a garden, start one. It takes years to learn how to do it all, but you never learn anything unless you start. Each year, add a little more, or try something different. It's a lot of work, but it's also fun, healthy exercise, and satisfying in lots of ways.

If you have a garden already, expand it if you can, or grow something you haven't, or think about how your production/storage could be more resilient. Think about the 'inputs' you've provided to your garden heretofore, and if those inputs are sustainable. Install some rain barrels if you don't have them, for example.

If you do not have a yard, you may be able to help someone else who does have a yard start or expand their garden ... with you getting a share of the produce.

This spring I, with another vegetable gardener, are going to organize a vegetable garden tour in our town, so that we can see what others are doing, or have done, and learn more. Often what others have done in a garden will quick-start your thinking about what might be possible for you.

Hello Gail, thank you,
This is a wonderful post, and I fear, probably needed.

May I take issue with one of your recommendations? namely:
"One type of crop that is particularly important is grain, since grain provides a lot of calories and stores well."

At the level of garden plots, grains are not practical. Compared with beans, potatoes, vegetables, grain yield is very low. There is no way a family could get a significant level of sustenance from a garden plot of grain. In addition, grains grow quite tall and cast long shadows, which is generally unacceptable in a plot. For grains, you need fields. In the absence of mechanized farming, or draft animals (and their equipment), you will need a community-based effort to grow adequate amounts of grain. Grain-wise, I think we're SOL come crunch time.

In our current context, I think planning for more urgent scenarios may need to be considered. It appears our financial system is running in failure mode. It strikes me as more than plausible that the ongoing gyrations of this system may provoke interruptions of food distribution on the order of, weeks, say. Preparing for this level of disruption may one allow on focus on longer-term planning beyond "where's the next meal coming from?" should such occur.

I suggest procuring a 25 pound bag of rice and 25lb of dried beans, and a gallon or so of cooking oil. The rice at least will need to be stored in a bulk storage container unless you don't mind sharing with assorted 4 and 6-legged critters. If moisture is a threat, you'll need proper containers for the beans too.

A pressure cooker is a god-send for reducing the time, and fuel, for preparing dried beans. A kerosene or coleman-type stove with a gallon or so of fuel (and maybe a solar cooker) can be had, I think, these days quite cheaply from sales or second hand.

For micro-nutrients, foraging for abundant, invasive (in North America) species such as dandelions, garlic mustard or onion grass is palatable, and practical in most temperate zones.

If your locale has rabbits, possums, squirrels or pigeons, a 22 calibre rifle with a 4X scope may be something to consider. You won't support yourself this way (many will have the same idea), but it may buy time and peace-of-mind. Even a 22 has self-defense value, and will likely have barter value. 22 ammo is VERY CHEAP. You can by a 500-round "brick" for under $20. The rounds are packed in little 50 round boxes which might be such a convenient unit of barter, as to constitute a veritable currency.

Best hopes for individual and collective preparedness.

I mix grains into my garden because they are a key cover crop that builds soil carbon via roots, provides carbon for the compost pile via stems, and even the seeds from my small plots feed chickens and my family a bit. So while it is true that a garden can't supply much personal grain needs, a garden may do well to grow grain for the other benefits it provides.

Thanks for the information! I have become more aware of the fact that wheat is a huge land-hog than I was when I wrote the post.

The grains I have been most interested in (not that I have actually done as much gardening as I should) are rye (as a winter cover crop) and amaranth, which you might not think of as a grain. I understand it does well even in drought conditions, and provides a leaf vegetable as well as a grain.

Don't forget corn - here in the Midwest, you get plenty of calories by planting corn.

We are going to start the refi our house tomarrow. It will save us + $200 a month. Our home has been a pretty nice place to be this cold winter. Upstate NY. As my Dad said when our 1st house lost value and I was complaining. "You've got to live someplace". There is nothing with more bang for the buck in reducing our monthly costs than reducing the mortgage cost. Our house doesn't cost that much ($200) average per month for nat. gas and electric together. I thought Our house is still about worth 1/3 more than we paid for it.
The grocery store had lots of food for sale Sunday. I bought quite a bit of stuff for $150. Found everything I was looking for. Doesn't feel like shortages now. Wegman's was doing a pretty good business.
I bought gas this morning with only one issue. The pump was out of receipt paper. Civic goes all week easy on $19. I've not had issue not being able to buy fuel ever, that I can remember. I'm almost 50 YO.
UPS delivered my furnace transfer switch yesterday. On a snowy day. I bought a generator to run the furnace upon power outage a few years ago but have not used it for that since I purchased it, but now I'm ready. As soon as I wire in the switch! I bet our power has been off twice since then at about 5 minutes total.
Kids didn't go to school yesterday because of the weather. Went today, however.
We never had any debt except our mortgage and sometimes a car payment. We have even saved some money along the way. I can't believe there isn't one or two of us in the USA the same. I can't believe EVERYONE is in massive debt.
The guy didn't pick up my trash yesterday. Might be something about that?
That's how I've prepared this week. BAU as you folks say.
Don't let the speculations keep you from living your life. Folks have been predicting the end of the world for a long time.

Be aware that in most states a refinanced loan means that you cannot walk away from the debt without filing for bankruptcy. This is not the case with the original loan (in most cases).

I recommend that you check this out in your state before proceeding.

Here is a post of mine from Post Peak Yellow Pages

This is a notion that occurred to me when posting in a thread of kpeavey's. Get in touch with people who have sustainable skills of all stripes - build a directory with contact info, make multiple copies, include maps. Cover all disciplines:

Mechanical skills
Animal husbandry
Ham Radio Aficionados

Etc. Simply approach them as somebody having a cursory/hobbyist interest - leave out the PO aspect, until you have the info you need, which is the important thing. When real shortages appear these will be the people you'll need, and it's up in the air whether it'll be an easy matter to find them at that stage. Seems like this would be a simple endeavor, and useful even if you're proficient in all of the above. Communities will need to be built up from scratch when the time comes.

Perhaps some of you will like this idea and put it to use, it's one I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere.

Gail, The Dude reminds me that a key recommendation on your list could be:

Take every post-peak appropriate course you can while they are inexpensive and widely available.

For instance, I am about to take a welding course and buy they equipment (and supplies). I think that will be a very useful skill to have. I am also going to write my HAM radio license exam.

It would be nice to have directories of all these things.

It would be nicer yet if our schools started teaching skills along these lines to current students. Somehow we need to get to a point where schools can start teaching these things. Gardening will need to vary depending on the part of country. We also need to develop locally adapted open-pollinated seeds.

More ideas along these lines would be useful. Our school just converted some unused land to a college and community garden and we've put in a greenhouse and are considering chickens.

But many other crafts could be included. It's hard to find points in traditional college curricula that could accommodate such course without raising eyebrows.

I wonder whether traditional college will go away to a significant extent-- a much smaller percentage of people will attend, because a lot of skills colleges teach will become less relevant. One reason for long schooling is to keep young people out of the work force. If we need more manual labor, we will need a greater share of the young people working.

I'd add in your list that any frequent flyer miles that you have should be used while you can. Even though the economy is bad this year, I'm planning on taking 5 weeks in Italy and France using the miles that I've saved up over the years. My expectation is that it may be the only opportunity I'll have to see Europe.

I'm also telling my high school and college aged daughters to take advantage of any overseas travel while they can since it is not likely that they'll be able to travel as extensively 5- to 10-years from now. So anyone that had dreams of travelling in retirement should maybe move up their plans and take the trip while they can.

Comprehensive details and excellent links.

Alternative Renewal Energy (Biofuels) and Permaculture make a good combination. On individual level, the adaptation of a new lifestyle might just be the change needed to turn a niche idea into the main-stream.

Mr. Naoki Shiomi, is the originator of the "Half-Farmer, Half-X" (半农半X) concept and authored the book carrying the same title, and founded the "Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center” at Ayabe, Kyoto, Japan. Half-Farming, Half-X Research Center Official Website

The phrase, "Half-Farmer, Half-X" (半农半X) is drawing much attention as the new key phrase for a lifestyle, a way of life, for the 21st century. "Half-Farmer" refers to "a lifestyle with a touch of farming," and the X in "Half-X" refers to an individual's profession / passion / purpose or social mission or natural calling. The synergy is inspiring / enlightening to the individual’s pursuit of wealth / health / happiness, while making real contributions to the world.

This concept can form an excellent alliance with Permaculture (the most famous Australian cultural export, courtesy of Bill Mollison). By the way, someone once said, to the effect, that if you do not know anything about Permaculture, it is high time you get interested, in the coming convergence of three crises: Food / Fuel / Finance!

Due to its transformational nature of the alliance, I would prefer to call those joining in the movement as TransFarmers ….. transforming themselves, the earth and the world.

Can anyone think of a better single English word for the lifestyle so described?

See more details available at

Eric Y.F. Lim

Gail: your article is nice but misleading.

First, the title: "Peak Oil Planning: What Should We Do Now?". Presuming there's something to be done, the accompanying picture of some greens growing in what is obviously a small garden shows that maybe this is what you think should be done.

I have nothing against gardens but this one and even a million more of its kind won't save anyone.

I think it's time to give up on the whole idea of some 'green revolution' of personal gardens 'saving us', and start to think about a real solution that doesn't take hoeing, planting seeds, or fossil-fuel powered machinery.

So for your next article, I hope the accompanying photo contains a more useful example: condoms, birth-control pills, and perhaps even some proposed population-control legislation. Such sights would surely give a new sparkle to my jaded eyes.

There's any number of measures to be taken; Gail's ideas clearly have merit, and your suggestions of population management also have merit. Your's does not deal with liquid energy decline in the near and mid term, however, which Gail's does.

Th efirst thing people really have to do is start saving energy! Amamericans use twice the amount as the Europeans and even in Europe there is plenty of room for energy saving. We better cut back now that we have a choice instead of later when we have to because all is gone. Get an energy meter and check how much your appliences are really consuming (specially check when you are not using them like a computer in standby or a telephone charger still plugged in)

I think at the moment there is no need to start storing huge amounts of food. Supply is still plenty and with saving the energy we still can produce enough for a long time.

Getting a underground storage tank and start using rainwater for toilet, washing machine and watering your garden. Surplus of rainwater can be infiltrated in to the soil (if the soil is suitable). Not yet financially attractive in Holland, but in Germany and Belgium already popular. A good system can be connected to the city water so you don't eevn notice when your supply runs out. Also you save detergents when using the washing machine.

The energy costs of a unit comming in a container from China to you local supermarket is smaller per unit that the enrgy cost to pick it up with the car at the local supermarket!

Hi, Janos73. I notice that you're a new poster...welcome!

Much of what you say is true and valuable, but only for a little while longer and the volatility is what can turn things upside down quite quickly.

As for your longer-term suggestions (underground storage tanks), well, let's just say I hope people listen to you :-).