Revisiting Relocalization

Sometimes a new message can't be heard or a new idea understood because compelling reasons for change are not apparent enough. If the old ways of doing things still bring enough money into bank accounts, keep cars filled with gas, roofs over heads, lights on with the flip of a switch, and plates heaped with food, then why bother doing anything differently?

But with Thomas Friedman, popular promoter of globalization, questioning the prevailing economic paradigm and reports that India is doing better than other countries because it is less connected to the global market and has a strong locally-oriented agrarian economy, I thought this essay written nearly a couple of years ago could finally resonate.

What do readers think? Are you finding that resistance is weakening when you try to bring up subjects that were formally considered wacky? Is disillusionment an opportunity? Will everybody now hang on my words because I have basically made some great calls over the past few years, as in: "Get out of the stock market because it is a bubble," "Energy and food prices are soon going to skyrocket," and "Don't permit that new suburban subdivision because you will have trouble selling new homes soon?"


Here are a few of my predictions: Many trends of the last century or more, made possible by cheap and abundant energy sources, are going to be reversed. These trends include population growth, centralization of political and economic power, vastly increased quantity of global trade, and mass tourism.

I am not giving dates of when these indicators of a shift from global to the more local will occur, except to say sometime during the 21st century, likely during the first half even. My initial point of view is not from any particular group with a political or social agenda, but as a scientist who makes deductions based on the laws of physics and ecology.

However, information from the natural world does eventually have political and policy implications that I am aware of, and have opinions about. The ability of a culture to accept information and respond timely and rationally will likely hinge on the entrenched mindsets of the populace, institutional norms, and their ability to willingly change expectations, organizational structures, and behaviors. Perhaps with prudent planning, measures of quality of life or conditions of happiness may not decline.

People may be scared or shocked and depressed by predictions of change that could lead to environmental and social disruption, but for the most part I see indifference, and that is more concerning. How people respond emotionally to facts and deductions is important too, but ultimately if people and institutions are unable or unwilling to accept information because it makes them feel badly or goes against current norms then positive change is not possible. The greatest hope, in my opinion, rests in the ability to honestly accept the reality of a difficult situation and then make the best of it before it becomes a crisis.

This is why I want to draw attention towards a global movement forming to challenge the existing economic and political systems in light of energy constraints, threats from pollution, degradation of ecosystems, the social costs of mass consumerism, and a living arrangement designed around automobiles. I am referring to the strategy of “relocalization” as promoted by the Post Carbon Institute, a think tank, media outlet, and networking and support organization for local citizens’ groups around the world.i The crises we face require altering some of the basic operating assumptions of global consumer culture, politics and finance.

[Note: The Relocalization program of Post Carbon Institute has merged with Transition Towns.]

Relocalization may be a new term, but conceptually it has long roots. Some related recent precursors include E.F. Schumacherii, Ted Traineriii, Garrett Hardin,iv and Wendell Berryv as well as what are called the “anti-globalization” movement, the “slow food” movement, the “voluntary simplicity” movement, the “back to the land” movement, “new urbanism,” and the “environmental movement.” In general, common themes include decentralization of political and economic structures, less material consumption and pollution, a focus on the quality of relationships, culture and the environment as sources of fulfillment, and downscaling of infrastructural development.


This paper will describe relocalization (also sometimes referred to by the related but not always identical terms “economic localization” or simply “localization”vi) by contrasting it with what we have now. It is crucial to understand the basic assumptions of our current economic and social arrangements, and to develop a new set of premises for guidance. I will argue that the premises behind relocalization are sound, being grounded in good science and common sense. By contrast, the assumptions of most dominant economic and social models only hold for a short historic period and have led to our current environmental and resource predicaments. Many proponents of current economic policies may be well intended, but often we end up with unsound rationalizations to justify short-term, often individual interests. What has been lost is a sense of the common good, future generations’ needs, and non-human welfare.

The case for relocalization will be made in the context of responding sensibly to two problems facing societies right now: climate change and peak oil and gas. Both problems are a result of our dependency on fossil fuels, but some solutions to one will only exacerbate the other. This is why a new approach, that of relocalization, is necessary.

Relocalization is based on a systems approach that doesn’t solve one set of problems only to make another problem worse.

Ecological Economics

During the era of cheap energy, which roughly corresponds to the entire 20th century, the study of economics became divorced from an understanding of how human systems are connected to systems of planetary ecology. Not surprisingly, the nearly free energy available from fossil fuels, and the rapid technological advances they fostered, made people in modern industrial societies believe they were no longer constrained by tangibles like food, energy, water, and the weather. We are now entering an age of disillusionment. The hubris of our recent past is being revealed and many are searching for a more honest and realistic reckoning of our place on Earth.

A helpful place to look for such honesty is the discipline called Ecological Economics.vii A conceptual model based on Ecological Economics is useful both to comprehend the current economic system and its vulnerabilities, and to guide the development of a sustainable alternative.

Predominant economic thinking usually distorts or fails to fully understand the fundamental interconnectedness of “the economy” and “the environment.” In recent decades economists have begun to give more attention to the environmental or ecological dimensions of human productive activity. But even so, their formulations are typically partial or misguided from a vantage point that takes the global environment seriously.

For example, in discussions of sustainability, the relationship between the economy and the natural environment is often framed as a “balance.” This connotes the idea that somehow more of the economy means more of the environment too. After all, if two things are in balance, they are of equal weight. But any empirical study of what economic growth means today discovers that it intrudes on the environmentviii Wealthy and purportedly environmentally-responsible nations are sometimes touted as examples of how economic growth and stewardship of the planet go hand in hand.ix However, while local measures of air quality, forest cover, and water cleanliness may be high, the damage is simply occurring elsewhere. All wealthy nations are importers of much of their environmental carrying capacity, whether it is raw materials or finished industrial products, and these imports are possible because of fossil fuels used to mine, harvest, manufacture and transport goods. Wealthy nations protect their own environment while outsourcing the harm caused by over consumption to other places.

In the Ecological Economics model, the Human Economy is a subset of the Earth System, and therefore the scale of the Human Economy is ultimately limited. The Human Economy depends upon the throughput or flow of materials from and back into the Earth System. Just pick up any trinket in your possession and ask: What is it made of? Where did these materials come from? How much energy was used? What happens to the waste products?x Limits to the size of the Human Economy are imposed by the interactions among three related natural processes:

  1. The capacity of the Earth System to supply inputs to the Human Economy (Sources),
  2. The capacity of the Earth System to tolerate and process wastes from the Human Economy (Sinks), and
  3. feedbacks caused by too much pollution.

For example, mining coal makes available a “source” of energy for industry that produces pollution, including sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain. Too much acid rain degrades built infrastructure, and overwhelms the capacity of natural “sinks” such as forests, killing them or slowing their growth. This damage to forests not only affects our ability to use them for lumber. The loss of highly functioning ecosystems also creates new costs to society that were previously done “free of charge” through ecological processes. Air and water filtering, climate stabilization, and species interactions that moderate outbreaks of pests and disease are all “ecosystem services” that are compromised when we damage those ecosystems. Now, instead of benefiting from free ecosystem services, the human economy must provide these services itself through expensive technologies such as pollution control devices, flood control walls and canals, pesticides and medicines, and so on.

Fig. 1. The Ecological Economics Model of the relationship between the Human Economy and the Earth System highlighting the importance of sources, sinks, feedbacks and scale.xi

The current Human Economy is clearly unsustainable because it relies heavily on non-renewable raw material sources, the use of which produces tremendous pollution, leading to many negative feedbacks that impair ecosystems and disrupt climate. In contrast, a sustainable economy would need to run on the income from solar energy and not degrade ecosystems through the build up of wastes or the mining of nutrients.

This model can also be understood in the classical terms of different forms of capital. The Earth System can be viewed as the Natural Capital and all other forms of capital are nested within and dependent upon it. Population can be thought of as Human Capital, referring not just to population size, but also to people’s education, skill sets, norms, standards and laws. Industry can be more broadly thought of as the tool sets people use, including their homes and transportation networks, which are also known as Built Capital. Ecological Economics views Human Capital and Built Capital as subsets of Natural Capital. Furthermore, these different forms of capital cannot easily be substituted for one another but are instead complimentary.

In the common framework of what is called neoclassical economics (think of Alan Greenspan), these different forms of capital are viewed as potential substitutes for one another. With this line of thinking, less Natural Capital is not so bad as long as you have plenty of Built Capital and/or Human Capital. These different forms of capital are called “factors of production.” Production can remain high and Natural Capital can be exhausted as long as enough Built and Human Capital are around. Of course, at its theoretical extreme this would result in a rather absurd world: cars and drivers with no gas, ovens, kitchen utensils and cooks with no food, and chair lifts, ski instructors and season passes with no snow.

Relocalization is based on an ethic of protecting the Earth System--or Natural Capital-- knowing that despite our cleverness, human well-being is fundamentally derived from the ecological and geological richness of Earth.


If the scale of the Human Economy is too large relative to the Earth System, the Human Economy is in a state of overshoot. This means that the environmental load of humanity on the planet is greater than the long-term ability of the planet to support it. Overshoot means we are above carrying capacity. This environmental load will eventually be reduced through declines in some combination of population, resource consumption and pollution. Either we tactfully manage to reduce our environmental load, or resource constraints and pollution will limit it for us­ unpleasantly.xii

The concept of overshoot can be confusing. You may ask: How can a population go beyond the carrying capacity of the environment to support it? Won’t a population simply increase until it reaches carrying capacity and then stabilize? Isn’t the human population projected to stabilize this century? Sophisticated modeling of resource, pollution, and consumption dynamics provides answers to these questions that support the reality of overshoot.

Fig. 2. Human demographic models of population show a plateau this century (solid is approximate historic and demographic projected), whereas systems models show a decline (dashed). The difference exists because human demographic models do not include negative feedbacks from either resource scarcity or pollution, whereas systems models do.

Population biology is the science of how population size changes due to factors such as mating patterns, resource availability, environmental quality, and interactions with other species, such as disease, competition and predation. Homo sapiens can be studied and modeled just like any other species with respect to these factors, though the high variance among people with respect to consumption and waste amounts complicates the analysis.

Population overshoot happens in a few different ways:

  1. Resource windfall and drawdown,
  2. Release from negative species interactions,
  3. Demographic momentum, and
  4. Fluctuating carrying capacity

These mechanisms of overshoot are not exclusive, and in fact, they can feed positively on one another. Here is one example of how these mechanisms have interacted (1-3) using the current human population, and what the results may be sometime this century (4):

  1. People discovered a dense and versatile energy source with fossil fuels, especially oil. The use of fossil energy freed up resources, especially land and labor. Without the need to feed draft animals to power equipment, more land was available to grow food for humans.
  2. With fossil-fuel powered equipment, fewer humans were needed for manual labor, enabling extended educational opportunities and a shift of resources into fields such as public health and medicine. Increased attention to public health and medicine, and corresponding technologies like vaccines, antibiotics and sanitation, increased human life expectancy.
  3. A rapid increase in the human population led to a surge in the number of people within the reproductive window of life, who then reproduced also, leading to an even larger population.
  4. As this population became very large it began to impact the world around it substantially. Toxic emissions built up that harmed the basic life support systems humans depend on, eventually making it more and more difficult to provide essentials, such as food. As food production declined, so too did the population.

Experts in the field of human demography project that the human population will stabilize around the middle of the 21st century.xiii Most people accept this analysis from population experts without knowing the underlying assumptions. Unfortunately, most studies of human population are akin to most studies of the human economy. The broader environment is not factored into models of growth. If you have ever asked yourself, “How are we going to feed 9 billion people when the soils are eroding, the aquifers are depleting, the climate is changing, deserts are expanding and oil and natural gas are going to be in short supply?” then you have stumbled upon this disconnect between most human population models and the physical world. Biologists studying any population would include those environmental factors in their models, whereas human demographers do not.

However, models exist that do incorporate the human population and our well-being into a dynamic study of resource availability, pollution levels and even climate change and the fate of ecosystems. The classic example is the World3 model developed by the authors of “Limits to Growth,” where the baseline scenario shows human population declining after 2020.xiv Another model is GUMBO from the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute of Ecological Economics.xv These models are not perfect, and are not presented as predictions, but they at least begin with the right premises and tell us what to be careful about.

Relocalization starts from the premise that the world is a finite place and that humanity is in a state of overshoot. Perpetual growth of the economy and the population is neither possible nor desirable. It is wise to start planning now for a world with less available energy, not more.

Peak Oil and Implications for a Transportation-Dependent Economy

Much of the relocalization movement was sparked by concerns about “peak oil.”xvi

Petroleum is a fossil fuel derived primarily from ancient deposits of dead algae and so is in essence “ancient sunlight.” The age of oil deposits can be determined from analysis of decaying radioactive isotopes and most are 10’s to 100’s of millions of years old. The biological origin of fossil fuels is clear from its association with “fossils” and the ubiquity of certain kinds of carbon chains.

Given that oil is finite, then at some point in time less is going to be available to us than in the past. That is the meaning of peak oil. It doesn’t mean oil “runs out,” but it does mean the cheap and easy oil is gone, and that what remains is more costly to produce, both energetically and financially, and is extracted at a progressively slower rate. The rate of decline of oil after peak is difficult to predict, but scenarios range from 1% to 8% per year. The peak may be somewhat “flat” (a plateau), giving a slow initial decline, which accelerates over time towards the higher end of the depletion rate range. How human societies respond to the post-peak environment will likely be as important a factor as geology in determining what is available to societies. Do we cooperate or fight over dwindling resources like cats in a sack?

Going back to the Ecological Economics model, peak oil is a “source” issue. Several source problems face the human economy, including peak natural gasxvii and peak water. Greater expansion of the human economy requires greater inputs, and, aside from the ecosystem services provided by nature, oil is probably the single most important economic resource on the planet.

Oil is critical for at least two reasons: energy density and versatility.

The energy output of a single person doing manual labor over a period of days gives about 200-300 British Thermal Units (btus) per hour. A single gallon of gasoline contains about 150,000 btus of potential energy, roughly equivalent to 500 to 750 hours of hard human labor.xviii The energy density of oil has not simply permitted a life of leisure and travel for those with access to it—it has in fact greatly expanded the short-term carrying capacity of the human population. By harnessing the energy of oil (and other fossil fuels), our species has been able to out compete others for space and resources. The expansion of industrial agriculture and “green revolution” technologies are based on oil and natural gas feed stocks and energy. Construction of large dams, water diversion systems, and pumps for ground water and water delivery to fields and cities depend upon plentiful fuel. Land, water and other resources that in the past had been available to a diversity of species are being funneled towards the appetite of one—hence the biodiversity crisis.

Oil is versatile because it is a liquid, making it is easier to extract and transport than coal and natural gas. Oil is more readily available as a fuel for a global market because it can be put into pipelines and tankers without requiring special treatment. Natural gas, by contrast, needs to be cooled and pressurized for tanker travel, and coal needs to be pulverized into slurry to be piped, or put on freight cars or barges for long-distance transport.

Because oil can be delivered anywhere, modern transportation systems have become reliant on it. A few buses and cars use natural gas, and some trains run on electricity, but the vast majority of transportation applications on the planet, over 90%, use oil in the form of gasoline, diesel or kerosene (jet fuel).

Consequently, modern economies are extremely vulnerable to shortages in transportation fuels for a few reasons.

The relative stability of the oil market over the past several decades has led to the development of “just-in-time” delivery of products, and commercial linkages across the globe. Local and regional warehouses are uncommon now, with stores and businesses relying on frequent shipments to maintain a low overhead. Before the era of cheap transportation, each town and city had a full complement of craftspeople who relied on each other. Nowadays, businesses are connected through vast transportation networks, with a manufacturing company in California, for example, relying on components shipped in from Asia and Europe.

The food economy is perhaps the finest example of the insecurity that is now bred into normal societal infrastructures. Markets selling food are typically restocked daily with only a few days supply available in the store, leading many people concerned about peak oil to reason: no fuel, no trucks; no trucks, no food. The shifts in agricultural practices over the past thirty to forty years make it difficult to quickly switch to a less transportation-intensive food system. Many agricultural regions are overly specialized to serve global markets. For example, a place where fifty years ago granaries, dairies, vegetable farms and ranches coexisted is now dominated by premium wine grapes.

As modern economies have become addicted to oil, they now find themselves in an ecological trap.

Cheap petroleum-fueled transportation has increased the geographic range over which economies can import resources not available locally, a phenomenon called “scope enlargement.” The beneficiaries of scope enlargement were able to increase local carrying capacities by overcoming the limitations of local ecologies. Unfortunately, this situation now makes us very vulnerable since a fundamental concept of ecology is Liebigs Law of the Minimum, which states that the growth of a population will be limited by whatever single factor of production is in short supply, not the total amount of resources. The expression “for the want of a nail” captures Liebigs Law, and is exemplified historically by the practice of 19th century nations importing guano from South America and Pacific islands to shore up local agriculture.

Potential shortages of guano supplies were supplanted in the 20th century by fossil-fuel based fertilizers. Some argue that our economy has a nearly unlimited ability to find substitutes for scarce resources, like fertile soil. More realistically, for many resources no substitutes exist. As an obvious example, living beings require a certain proportion of mineral nutrients to thrive. We can’t substitute elemental phosphorus for some other atom in the DNA structure of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals--no matter how much Human Capital we have. Nothing can replace simple water either.

Cheap energy makes adaptation to resource scarcity possible, by pumping water from deeper wells or extracting nitrogen out of the air, for example, but expensive energy can make substitutions unworkable.

Because oil possesses a unique combination of attributes, finding suitable substitutes is no easy task. Current products such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen are under consideration to wean us from polluting and increasingly scare oil. However, nearly all of these fail the test of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI).xix For an energy source to be useful to society, it must deliver more energy than it takes to find, harvest and distribute the source. Our economies have become addicted to energy sources like oil with EROEIs of 100:1 to 20:1, whereas biofuels, tar sands, and many renewable energy technologies range from about 10:1 to 1:1 or less. If a fuel has an EROEI of 1:1 it may be useless because as much energy goes into producing the fuel as the fuel delivers. A complex society will probably require substantial EROEI profit ratios, such as 5:1 or greater. Energy policies need to be devised based on sound EROEI analyses, which are currently difficult to find, and in any case it is probably wise to restructure our society to be less dependent on high EROEI energy sources.

In the U.S., a high EROEI energy source permits about 1% of the population to feed the other 99%. In places without widespread access to fossil fuels for agriculture, such as Afghanistan, over 90% of the working population is engaged in growing food. Agriculture is, in essence, a means of capturing solar energy through investment in planting, maintenance and harvesting. While the Afghan agricultural system looks inefficient from a labor point of view, it is actually far more efficient from an EROEI perspective than U.S. agriculture. The extensive use of fossil fuels in industrialized food systems makes them energy sinks. Highly industrialized food systems require about 10 times more energy to grow, harvest, process and distribute the food than is contained in the food itself—an EROEI of 1:10.xx

Climate Change and Need to Eliminate Fossil Fuel Use

While peak oil is a “source” problem, climate change is a “sink” problem.

During the most recent ages of geologic history, Earth has cycled between ice ages and intervening warm periods. These cycles are primarily driven by orbital variations, both with respect to the angle of tilt of the Earth towards the Sun and the shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun.xxi Carbon dioxide fluctuated as a result of how ecosystems responded to changes in Earth’s temperature, which then amplified those changes. In systems theory, this is known as a positive feedback loop.

Currently, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations are rising not because of orbital changes, but from the use of fossil fuels and landscape changes usually caused by human activities. The pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm) and is now about 387 ppm. Fossil fuels are ancient deposits of carbon and hydrogen chains that are being liberated from storage through combustion. The burning of fossil fuels (oxidation) not only releases stored energy, but increases the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide allows visible light from the sun to pass through to the Earth’s surface, but reflects infrared light (also known as heat) back to Earth that would otherwise go out into space. This is why climate change is sometimes called “global warming.” The general tendency is for Earth to become hotter, on average, because of the “greenhouse” effect induced by the “blanket” of extra carbon dioxide. If our eyes were sensitive to infrared light we could see the changing color of the sky, which might serve as a constant reminder of the problem.

Consider that 100 ppm is what separated the ice age from the warm, stable climate of the past several thousand years, and that the temperature transition from ice age to a warm climate took about a thousand years. By comparison, over the past 30 years nearly half the energy used in the history of the industrial revolution has been consumed, and global average temperatures are rising about 100 times faster than during transitions out of ice ages.

Changes in greenhouse gas concentrations are only partly responsible for the changes in temperature between an ice age and today. Much of the rise in temperature as an ice age ends is due to the loss of ice sheets and their influence in cooling the planet through enhanced reflection of sunlight. The current rate of change in the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans is only comparable to a few previous mass extinction episodes over the past several hundred million years that appear to be related to radical, rapid climate change.xxii The rate of change is perhaps more important to the climate system and life on Earth than is the amount of change. A slow rate of change is akin to gently applying the brakes to stop at a light, while a fast rate of change is akin to hitting a brick wall. Both take the vehicle and a passenger from 60 to 0 mph, only one does it more quickly.

Nobody really knows what this means for the climate system, the acidity of the oceans, the physiology of plant growth, and many aspects of the global ecosystem. Policy-makers ask scientists how much pollution can be tolerated before “dangerous interference” occurs. Unfortunately, answering how much is too much is not possible, and in all probability we have already passed some very dangerous thresholds that will only become apparent as the future unfolds.

There are many reasons why a precise answer to “how much is too much” is not possible. Consider that for any factor that goes into a model, scientists (1) work with what they know, (2) try to incorporate plausible ranges for what they know they don’t know, and (3) obviously exclude what they don’t know they don’t know. Some would argue that because we can’t be sure climate models are correct, we should do nothing. Would “do nothing” skeptics be as cavalier about uncertain dangers if the food being served their children had possibly been contaminated by a deadly poison? What you don’t know can kill you. Given the stakes, many advocates for energy policies leading to a curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions take a precautionary stance.xxiii After all, if the U.S. is so concerned about security that it is willing to spend about half a trillion dollars a year on the military, what is it worth to help secure our climate?

Computer power limits the ability of models to capture many of the details of climate change. For example, models can’t scale to the future climate of a single town, making it difficult, perhaps, for local officials to understand the implications of global models. Nor can models usually identify critical thresholds in a complex system with much accuracy. Systems can remain remarkably stable over long periods under stress until something snaps, like a balloon expanding until it pops. The Earth system has been remarkably tolerant of the stresses it is under, but when something finally gives it will probably be “loud.” Recent studies of the pace of change in Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets underscore the fact that thresholds can be difficult to detect, and that current models may often underplay the true threats of climate change.

Although climate models have these limits, they also do an incredible job accurately modeling the past climate. For example, when comparing images from weather satellites to the most advanced climate models, one can even see how well models match the actual formation and movement of storm clouds around the globe. One of the tests climate modelers perform to decide whether human-induced changes in the atmosphere are causing climate change is to run climate models for the 20th century as if we hadn’t burned so much fossil fuel. The rise in global temperatures and the shifts in rainfall patterns seen during the 20th century can be accurately modeled only when fossil fuel induced greenhouse gas emissions are included.

Beyond any reasonable level of doubt, natural variations in solar radiation and the shape of the Earth’s orbit around the sun do not account for recent climate change. Climate change is a problem with known causes related directly to known human behaviors such as driving cars, flying in airplanes, heating and cooling homes and businesses, manufacturing products, mining, harvesting, pumping water, removing wastes, and producing food using big machines, among others. The most pressing question of our time is: How can societies function without pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? If we don’t make answering this question our top priority there’s a good chance the planet may become uninhabitable for the current generation of children.

While we can’t know future threats precisely, scientists do agree that creating a carbon-cycle neutral economy should be the dominant task occupying our minds. This is exactly what Relocalization aims to do.

Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Overshoot

Economic and population growth was made possible by the synergies permitted by cheap energy. The limits of productivity in one locality (i.e., Liebigs Law) could be overcome by importing something in excess elsewhere. A global economy advocating that each place seek its comparative advantage and specialize in what it produced for the market place required that money, governance, and even customs be more homogenized worldwide. As free trade agreements became the norm and social barriers to trade were reduced, the power of resource synergies permitting more economic growth became apparent to more and more people in the world. Most only saw its benefits and few worried about the long-term liabilities it imposed.

There are a few flawed assumptions behind globalization, but one in particular is glaring: the assumption that transportation costs will always be low, both in terms of fuel availability and the environmental externalities associated with their use.xxiv If that assumption is false—and certainly peak oil and climate change makes it appear false—then localities should not be specializing to trade globally. For example, I live on the edge of premium wine country. There are far more grapes here than the local population can eat, but we lack just about every other kind of food production in sufficient quantity. As long as we can sell our wine to a global market and buy the other stuff we need this situation seems reasonable. But a peak oil perspective makes us feel vulnerable, and a climate change perspective calls this irresponsible.

Because all localities that have bought into the global market place have specialized to some extent, all could face shortages of some set of basic goods. In the past, global trade was for luxury items, like silk or spices, or key resources that permitted basic items to be made at home more efficiently, like organic fertilizer and metals. The loss of a trade partner would be problematic, but probably not catastrophic.

Relocalization advocates rebuilding more balanced local economies that emphasize securing basic needs. Local food, energy and water systems are perhaps the most critical to build.xxv In the absence of reliable trade partners, whether from peak oil, natural disaster or political instability, a local economy that at least produces its essential goods will have a true comparative advantage.

When many analysts consider peak oil or climate change they start from the position of “keep the current system going at any cost.” Rather than envision an alternative that doesn’t have the same liabilities, these “solutions” only perpetuate a problem.

A classic case of this kind of thinking is the Department of Energy sponsored “Hirsch Report.”xxvi The Hirsch Report is great for understanding the economic consequences of peak oil given how integrated the global economy is. But its call for a crash program to develop new sources of liquid fuels using non-conventional fossil fuels without any broader context, such as what this would do to soils, air, and water are misguided. A wise perspective would at least acknowledge that these choices involve painful tradeoffs.

Relocalization takes a different perspective altogether. Instead of working to keep a system going that has no future, it calls us to develop means of livelihood that pollute as little as possible and that promote local and regional stability. Since much of our pollution results from the distances goods travel, we must shorten distances between production and consumption as much as we can.


Responding appropriately to the problems of climate change and peak oil and gas requires an understanding based on a systems perspective. From this angle, clear limits exist for the ability of our society to maintain growth in both resource consumption and pollution. However, most of our economic and social norms do not recognize these limits, and therefore find it difficult to respond to current threats.

Relocalization recognizes the liabilities of fossil fuel dependency and promotes greater security through redevelopment of local and regional economies more or less self-reliant in terms of energy, food and water systems. Many social benefits might accrue to a relocalized society, including greater job stability, employment diversity, community cohesion, and public health.
The laws of physics and ecology will drive economic incentives that begin to unwind some forms of global trade. However, as the “Stern Review Report”xxvii on climate change and the “Hirsch Report” on peak oil make clear, the market alone will not make this happen quickly enough or smoothly. Given our advanced state of ecological debt and the long social lag times involved in changing so many fundamental patterns of behavior, only sound and consistent government policies can succeed in setting up the right incentives for rapid, sustained change.

In any case, an easy or painless transition is highly unlikely. But nobody is guaranteed an easy life and sometimes during our greatest challenges we also find a profound sense of purpose, and a focus on what makes life worthwhile, such as meaningful work, camaraderie and beauty.






vi See for example:

vii A college-level text book by Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley titled “Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications” (2004, Island Press) exists. Also look for popular books by Herman Daly, Brian Czech and Richard Douthwaite.

viii See measures like the Ecological Footprint ( and the Genuine Progress Indicator (

ix See recent reviews of the “Environmental Kuznets Curve” such as

x A great book that leads the reader through this process for several consumer items is: John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things.” New Report No. 4, January 1997, Northwest Environment Watch, Seattle.

xi This graphic was developed based on the principles discussed in Chapter 2 of Daly and Farley “Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications” (2004, Island Press)

xii The book “Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change” by William R. Catton, Jr. gives a thorough overview of ecological and social mechanisms and consequences of overshoot.

xiii A great place to review standard population projections and the underlying assumptions is through the United Nations Population Division web site: and

xiv Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows, “Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update.” Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2004.


xvi Literally dozens of books, websites and article about peak oil exist. Richard Heinberg, “The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.” New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, 2005 (second edition) is highly recommended. On the web try: and

xvii Much less has been written specifically about natural gas, but see: Julian Darley, “High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis.” Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2004.

xviii For a slim but comprehensive book on energy and conversion factors see: John G. Howe, “The End of Fossil Energy and the Last Chance for Sustainability.” McIntire Publishing Services, Waterford, ME, 2005 (second edition).

xix An important book covering EROEI and agriculture is John Gever, Robert Kaufmann, David Skole and Charles Vorosmarty, “Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades.” Ballinger Publishing Company, Cambridge, MA, 1986. The website is a good online reference.

xx A comparison of the energy balance of different food systems is provided by David Pimental and Marcia Pimental, eds, “Food Energy and Society.” University Press of Colorado, revised 1996.


xxii Dozens of references are possible for climate change. A good recent book, written by a scientist, is: Tim Flannery, “The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.” Atlantic Monthly Press, NY, 2005. On the web see this site run by climatologists:


xxiv In addition to the Limits to Growth series, a few books do a fine job discussing both “source” and “sink” problems with fossil fuels, including: Thom Hartmann, “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation,” Jeremy Leggett, “The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and The Coming Global Financial Catastrophe,” James Howard Kunstler, “The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century,” and David Holmgrem, “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.”

xxv Books addressing the benefits of a local economy focused on basic needs include: Richard Douthwaite’s, “Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies for Security in an Unstable World,” and Michael Shuman’s, “Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age.”

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What do readers think? Are you finding that resistance is weakening when you try to bring up subjects that were formally considered wacky?

Unfortunately I think I'm finding the exact opposite, people seem to be clinging to the slightest signs that BAU is coming back, gas prices down, stock market up, housing prices rebounding, economic growth recovering. They absolutely do not want to hear that this is not a permanent recovery.

I recently spent a day visiting an uncle, who is a doctor and whose wife is a successful international business woman. This visit occurred in a an idyllic setting on a tropical beach in south Florida, the day after a medical conference my uncle had organized. I had ample opportunity to talk with many of the attendees and their wives in a very relaxed setting, the feeling I got was they were sure beyond any shadow of a doubt that things were on their way to a full recovery. I tried to be extremely careful and diplomatic in the way I raised some questions and suggested that this rosy view of the world might have some underlying flaws. My points were summarily dismissed out of hand and quasi ridiculed. Again, as many times before I found myself being looked at as the crazy person in the room (on the beach).

I think the reason is succinctly summed up in this statement:

How people respond emotionally to facts and deductions is important too, but ultimately if people and institutions are unable or unwilling to accept information because it makes them feel badly or goes against current norms then positive change is not possible.

I think that's right. People aren't ready to give up BAU, or at least they aren't willing to make that conscious leap. People might make subconscious changes however that over the years will cause subtle shifts in what exactly BAU means however.

To an extent I think that climate change denialism is essentially caused by an unwillingness to give up BAU, and a recognition that addresing climate change would force us to make changes at some level.

climate change denialism

There is no such thing. This is a straw man.

People understand that climate changes. What they may take exception to are things like: What is the extent of this change? What is the direction of the change? What causes these changes?

Since there are disagreements over the answers to these three questions, people generally feel that there are no settled answers. Are we really headed for a very hot and life-extinguishing end? Are we headed for warming or are we headed toward cooling (both of which have alternated over geological time frames)? Are humans primarily or marginally responsible? And what should we do about any agreed-upon direction: try to revert to the past or adapt to the changes?

Nice story.

Do you think that the "better off" people are the less willing or able they are to see that there might be problems large enough to cause the to have to change?

I imagine that people on the edge, losing jobs, etc. are making big changes and perhaps questioning the prevailing wisdom. Part of the reason might be a defense mechanism, as in "The problem wasn't that I was a bad worker, but that the way things have been going was simply wrong."

In other words, they may be open to new ideas because it doesn't challenge them psychologically, in fact it helps them.

Yes, I think I agree with the gist of that observation. I also think that health care in general is still an area that has been somewhat unscathed by the current crisis. My girl friend happens to work in finance for a hospital system and they are still hiring. I also agree with the point that those people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own being more open to change. They know they did nothing wrong, so it it is more obvious to them that there must be something else that has gone awry.


I think that people who are "better off" (this meaning having more money and 'stuff') certainly have more denial, and are less willing to change as someone who suddenly finds themselves on the street. Though, I am sure that those "better off" also hold secret fears that they dare not mention to their peers (for fear of losing status and social position-or just appearing silly). They perceive themselves largely by what they have. These people are the ones likely to lose it when the real crash comes. Think of the suicides in Japan during the recession of 1997. IMO

A group of doctors expecting a Full Recovery.

You didn't slip in a coy reference that sounded like .. "I hate to tell you this, but it's unlikely that you'll ever walk again." Of course were a doctor to tell me that, my automatic reaction would be to defy the prediction and put every effort into getting back on my feet. (And I'm not sure this isn't the intended result of saying those things to their patients.._)

I guess the appropriate version would be.. "I think you should prepare yourself for the possibility of entirely losing the function of your car. Your only option might be Walking. You'll never drive again."


ROTFL, Please, acrronym eludes me FM.

Rolling On The Floor Laughing!


I think you may be confused about who Thomas Friedman's father was.

Fixed that. Thanks for the fact check.

This inspired me to look him up on wikipedia. Interesting story -- apparently the Bucksbaum family (his Father-in-law) has recently been introduced to the real consequence of long term open-ended "growth" (General Growth Properties bankruptcy, the largest ever). I didn't see anything about his father.

I wonder what effect this will have on Friedman's writing and commentary.

** takes moment to read the headline article **

Perhaps it has affected his writing already.

I noticed the irony in that too.

Relocalization does not solve the over-population problem!
We are facing a rapid decline in population due to energy, food and water shortages.
This can be a very unpleasant planned reduction in population through controlled elimination of population following rational(?) plans; Or we can do nothing and let nature take it's course and wind up with a population reduction controlled by mob/gang rule where many of the least desirable members of the society will survive and many of the most valuable members will perish with the possibility of society being driven back into "the dark ages".
I have my doubt that we, as a society, have the intestinal fortitude to take on something as disagreeable as planned controlled population reduction, hence my current status as a complete "doomer".

I think this is a major issue. The world has 6.7 billion people. Living without fossil fuels, in a relocalized society, perhaps the world could support 1 billion people, or maybe less. Even if we temporarily have some fossil fuels, the number of people the world can support will be much lower, because with smaller communities, and with less transportation of goods,Liebig's law of the minimum will kick in more quickly. It is difficult to manufacture anything very complex with only raw materials.

It seems like the two graphs of future population shown in the post are both too optimistic. Die-off doesn't assume a symmetric distribution. It is much more likely to show a steep rate of decline.

I was surprised that the Limits to Growth forecast (from yesterday's post) does not seem to show population peaking until 2050, and then a decline after that. The left hand side does not show a scale, but the population reduction is less than I had expected if it is a linear scale.

Living without fossil fuels, in a relocalized society, perhaps the world could support 1 billion people, or maybe less.

I don't think this point has been convincingly made, though I hear it a lot. If I recall correctly from a post I did not too long ago, there are something like 4 billion arable acres on the planet. Thus, feeding 4 billion is no problem.

Wiki says there are 2,481,251 of irrigated land. (About 13% of the Earth is supposedly arable.) That's 613 billion acres. More than enough to feed the world. An acre can be made to feed a family. Some claim up to ten people. Add is some meat and dairy animals - and their hides, bones, etc., and you're doing OK.

If we stop eating fish for even just a few years many fish stocks would rebound nicely. With no commercial fishing, the seas would likely be abundant within five years. (Set aside AGW for the moment.)

Shelter? Well, there's plenty of building space to hold the world's population, and straw, cob or other type natural home can be made from all natural materials.

So, yes, the Earth will support us living sustainable, naturally-supplied lives. It's an issue of social and political constraints, not natural ones.


There are 100 hectares per square km, and about 2.5 acres per hectare. I just checked Wikipedia, which says there area about 2,788,000 km² of irrigated land, which is about 689 million acres (not billion!). Out by an order of magnitude.

However, that's just irrigated land. There seems to be about 7 billion acres of arable land, but only a fraction currently in use. To access more would entail high environmental, economic and social costs.

Perhaps what I should say is we really don't know how many people the world can support. The evidence from years ago was pretty low, but it is difficult to know what is feasible now.

One of the issues is heating for buildings. There has been a tendency for deforestation when the population has been high in the past.

Another is adequate water supply. In many places the water table is quite low--probably too low for manually dug wells, and pulling water out with a rope and bucket. We can catch water on roofs, but will it be enough?

Another issue is soil quality. There are all different kinds of soil, and widely varying water levels. Even if it is possible in some areas for an acre to feed more than one person, it is not necessarily true in general.

Areas with high populations in China and India right now depend on deep wells, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and hybrid seed. When these are no longer available, it is not clear that they will be able to feed their populations--water will be a problem, if nothing else. We know that yields are much higher now than many years ago. Is there a way to keep yields high, without modern inputs? That is the question.


I think that we are overestimating our ability to transit the population crash, and underestimating nature to cull the human herd.

I think it depends on how radical somebody wants to be about relocalizing. Before inexpensive abundant long-distance bulk shipping became available, people routinely starved to death in regional famines. IOW, not long ago, the world was doing a rather bad job of feeding far less than four billion people. Should we withdraw to the past via radical relocalization, population will be limited harshly by the random string of failed harvests that occurs regionally every generation or three, rather than more leniently by the average weather.

Oh, and a world that couldn't afford bulk shipping (the ostensible reason to relocalize), something which seems modest as current uses of energy go, certainly couldn't afford highly energy-intensive industrial fertilizer. That would make another big hit against the capacity to keep a large population going. We seem to be seeing preliminary evidence now - food is still approximately as well-traveled as ever, but fertilizer use is being cut back substantially.

(Not that I quite see the point of conducting this great contest to determine precisely how many ever-more-impoverished people we can cram and jam into every square inch of this weary world before the whole works bursts like some inflamed pustule just from overcrowding and seething reaction to the mind-numbing boredom of grinding poverty and unremitting mindless toil - never mind physical food or energy shortage - but that's another whole subject.)

readers should be clear that this is a projection made in 1972, resources (in 2009)have not declined by 47% since 1900. Only oil is close to this decline, not other FF's or minerals.
Population doesn't decline because we have a large food surplus at present feeding animals and ethanol production. That's my interpretation of the graph. I think it should be food production not food per capita.

And fish, forests, carbon sinks, species diversity, many minerals at ore-concentrations useful without gross amounts of fossil energy. Net carrying capacity, too, though that is not a physical item.

It seems to me that if we regard population growth as the world's fundamental problem, the one which drives every other symptom of ecological overshoot, then things really aren't that dire after all. Given that the wealthiest, most industrialized nations now have sustainable birth rates, the problem of population growth is really one of Third World/primitive cultures that can't or don't wish to control their breeding. So to solve this problem, simply allow nature to take its course and stop subsidizing overpopulation in these places with our food and financial aid, immigration policies, etc. If that doesn't work, genetically modified food that causes sterilization is an example of more drastic measures that could be taken. From a scientific point of view this seems rather obvious, but we are stuck in a humanitarian/religious paradigm that only makes the problems worse and is essentially a suicidal ideology for the entire planet. The real enemy of true environmentalists is this obsolete paradigm, and the solution will probably be some kind of green techno-fascism not too dissimilar from the so-called "New World Order" that the tinfoil hatters talk about. It certainly seems preferable to the alternative of worldwide Malthusian anarchy and uncontrolled die-off.

I would also point out that China, alone among the world's nations, seems to "get it" with their one child policy, which to my mind makes them a model for dealing with limits to growth that the rest of the world will eventually be forced to follow. Mao's quote that "300 million Chinese is enough for the survival of mankind" may be chilling, but we are going to need many Maos this century if we are to bring about the controlled die-off that so many here are suggesting is necessary.

So to solve this problem, simply allow nature to take its course and stop subsidizing overpopulation in these places with our food and financial aid, immigration policies, etc. If that doesn't work, genetically modified food that causes sterilization is an example of more drastic measures that could be taken.

But who is exactly subsidising who. If the resources we in the developed world come from an underdeveloped nations, Western countries appear to believe they have the right to take it by force. Iraq seems too obvious an example but will do.

Its time for Western countries to bite the bullet (pun intended!) instead and adopt measures that are fair. I guess it won't happen.

Why is it so anti-human rights that privileged developed countries find it abhorrent to control population, ah yes, I remember, because of democracy. Turkey's don't vote for Christmas ...

There is no over-population problem. We don't need to reduce population. Population will grow as much as food supply will allow and then will stop. If food cannot be supplied, population will naturally be reduced--by starvation, for example.

And we really do not know how many people the earth can support. Some people throw around numbers like 1 billion, which seems pulled out of a hat. Over half of the arable land on the planet is not used. If we just distributed the arable land that is used to all 7 billion of us, we'd all end up with around half an acre, which is more than enough to grow food on if you know what you're doing.

Population is not a problem. The problem is the culture and civilization of the population, large or small. 100 billion cooperative people would be far better than 1 billion cruel, sadistic, savage individualists.

The world population was about 1 billion at the start of the industrial revolution circa 1800. Consequently I conclude the Earth can support at least 1 billion people.

Food is not the only limiting factor. We must be able to heat houses without choking to death on pollution.

Population declime - disease more likely - perhaps swine flu.

Relocalization does not solve the over-population problem!

I think it does move in the right direction. Decisions about over-population need to be made on the basis of footprint and horizon - not what resources we can steal from the other side of the planet. Then, give that the decisions are localized, the community has to enforce the decisions within itself. That's a legitimate community interest. OTOH, some nation from the other side of the planet blowing up people of different colors or beliefs is not legitimate. [All of which is theory, because I don't see relocalization happening until everything else is wasted.]

cfm in Gray, ME

My own summary of what I think about the trends are much shorter.

I predict more vertical integration within industries, more electrified transportation via rail and slower energy efficient sea freight that togeather with more warehousing supports the horisontal integration that makes sense from an efficiency viewpoint. Personal mobility is a smaller problem since lots of people can move closer to work, use much smaller wehicles and it is likely that EV:s will work. The real world solution will be a combination of solutions.

Healthy societies will have more capital locked up in infrastructure, buildings, production capacity and warehouses to be able to use the available energy flows and other physical resources more efficiently and also for handling the climate changes withouth loss of life or capital. I expect that we need to consume less, invest more and save for the future by accumulating assets and not useless stuff like gold. And since people including politicians have behaved in a rational way before I find it likely that they will do it again.

Societies that focus on emptying warehouses, removing redundancy, avoiding capital investments and avoiding hard labour and learning to support some more short term consumption will fail. Structures that cant handle change and challanges will sooner or later fail.

I do not see any local or regional need for major movements of people or changes in the economy exept that it cant be based on unlimited debt. What I hope for is very large number of gradual improvements that continue to build on previous investments. They are both local such as improving the quality of sewage to use it as fertilizer and building more bicycle lanes and national such as major railway investments and enlargements of harbours. The later border on the global level, I expect that we in a future probably will have giant nuclear powered container ships and we need one harbour in Sweden that can handle those.

That is, I expect that business and technical systems will be of apropriate size for the problem to be solved, we will have both the very small and local and giant systems.

I expect the large cities to continue to grow since they are resource efficient and some rural areas will thrive and it is likely that more labour will be required for forestry and so on. We will hopefully learn more about how to assimilate and integrate people to make it possibe for more people to move over here if their local economies fail.

I also expect much more cooperation with our nordic neighbours to share the costs for maintaining various institutions and that our government will be downsized by this and market oriented solutions for the production of various services. Some such cooperation is beng done withing EU, the nordic countries defence forces are pioneering cooperation among deeply entrenched institutions to lower the costs and we have already had both failed and succesfull introductions of market mechnaisms in what essentially were centrally planned sectors.

What makes me hopefull is rational democratic government supported by people that demand fiscal responsibility and long term planning among the other more short term demands. The other extremely important mechanism is having a free market with capital accumulation, that is more important then short term problems such as recessions, writing off debt or even currency failures. We do not need to invent a new political system since the one we got works reasonably ok and only needs to adapt a little faster.

I do not know how much of this applies to other countries. Our neighbours are more or less on identical paths. Large countries can contain the same kind of solutions within themselves, for instance do the USA military contain several airforces. My recommendation is to improve on what you got and base that work on peoples intelligence and moral.

I have an odd question perhaps someone with more knowledge can answer?
I suspect that one reason we have so much free oxygen available to breathe, is that those ancient algae decomposed anaerobically, thus liberating that oxygen for us to use.
When we finally burn up a good portion of that algae, will the way we use it (burning)start to decrease our available O2?
Does anyone know the O2 ratio before industrialization, and current levels?
Something would have to balance out here it seems, or am I just being too paranoid?
I don't have the smarts or education to puzzle this out, any input appreciated.

I think the generally accepted story is that the atmosphere switched to oxygen in the Proterozoic, and that this shift took place somewhere between 1.0 and 1.5 billion years ago. The O2 level hasn't been constant since then, but oxygen has almost certainly been the chemically dominant element since then.

I don't think anyone seriously thinks we'll use it all up, because we bump into a number of other resource and environmental limits long before the oxygen runs out. For example, when the CO2 level reaches ~0.5% (and presumably oxygen declines from ~20% to ~19.5%), it starts to affect human health. That's about 13 times as much CO2 as we currently have in the air.

I have an odd question perhaps someone with more knowledge can answer?
I suspect that one reason we have so much free oxygen available to breathe, is that those ancient algae decomposed anaerobically, thus liberating that oxygen for us to use.
When we finally burn up a good portion of that algae, will the way we use it (burning)start to decrease our available O2?

As I understand it the original atmosphere was probably mostly hydrogen and helium. Later, geologic chemistry followed by volcanic outgassing created an atmosphere containing a mixture of gasses , including Carbon Dioxide and Methane but not free Oxygen. This allowed for the pre-biologic formation of the "building blocks" necessary for life as we know it, amino acids, which would not have been possible in an atmosphere containing significant free O2. These events set the stage for the evolution of anaerobic life forms, notably in this case the cyanobacteria, which excrete O2 as a waste product of respiration. These organisms probably contributed about half the 02, the remainder being produced following the evolution of green plants.

So, it's the processes of bacterial respiration and photosynthesis (as opposed to decomposition) that manufacture free O2. (along with a small contribution from UV light induced breakdown of N2O and H20 vapour).

The process of organic decay is a sink of O2, not a source, as the gasses produced are mostly Methane and Carbon Dioxide.

I am under the impression that the major concern regarding human combustion impacts on the O2 cycle concerns the effect that CO2 releases might have on changing habitats for photosynthesisers, especially in the oceans. It's a big topic!

One theory, which is not quite so new as this article implies, although some of the details in the much longer print article are new, involves loss of hydrogen at the top of the atmosphere, leaving oxygen behind. In the present, that loss is much too slow to have much effect but it may not always have been so. Apparently photosynthesis was involved, but note that the surface of Mars is highly oxidized and may be so because UV light broke up water molecules directly.

IIRC at some level in the upper twenties (percent) brush and forest fires would not go out but would consume everything in reach.

got to agree with the overall arguments presented.the really big question of course is not what can be done,which is plenty, but what WILL be done.being somewhat of a recluse,i have spent nearly all my free time reading mostly science and history for many years now.took my degree in agriculture back in best guess is that IF we get lucky and something happens analogous to Pearl Harbor(analogous in the sense that it SERIOUSLY gets our attention) then we have a pretty good chance of turning the corner of peak oil, fossil irrigation water, overpopulation,etc without fighting ww3 and without permanently giving up most of the goodies we have come to think of as entitlements in the first world.probably wont be able to fly very often, or drive hot rod cars, or live on ribeye and good wine,but we can keep the lights on and the refrigerator running.If there is no "Pearl Harbor" event,and by luck the current oil wars don't escalate inti ww3, my guess is that business as usual will prevail until such time as we hit an ecological iceberg that puts us in the lifeboats- and that the most of us are not going to make it into a least the water is likely to be warm.people will starve or die of infectious diseases by the millions, if not by gunfire, as our leaders furiously pursue whatever idiotic short term policies seem most likely to keep them in office at the next fact you can take to the bank(assuming you would trust them to give it back) is that the typical man or woman on the street,regardless of his/her level of education, is no better informed of the real problems we face today than the typical isolationist of the 1930's.i will hazard a guess that things will come to a head in less than twenty years and quite possibly within ten years.Malthus got it right in his reasoning,and his predictions have been verified over and over locally and regionally.sooner or later,probably sooner,we will find ourselves unable or unwilling to ship millions of tons of food to whichever country is starving,either because we simply dont have it, or because we simply cant or WON'T sell it to countries obviously unable to pay for it.if he had lived a few decades later,Malthus would have known enough about the industrial and agricultural revolutions made possible by coal and (later)oil that he would have come to the same conclusions as the more pessimistic readers of this site.the only real difference,broadly speaking, is the time frame.of course we can be a lot more specific today about the exact reasons, such as ground water depletion, etc, that we have overshot the carrying capacity of the planet,but it doesn't change the result.
of course there's a very good chance that there will be game changeing breakthroughs in say for instance bio diesel from algae or genetically engineered field crops, etc,which could radically change the entire picture. i personally believe such game changing technologies are not only possible but inevitable,given an adequate time frame.unfortunately the one single resource that is in the shortest supply is the time necessary to invent and scale up these such technologies.


A suggestion.
People will not read your post unless you use paragraphs.

You need far more 'white space'. Capitalize. Punctuate.
I tried reading your post but gave up after a bit. Too tiring on the eyes.


People may be scared or shocked and depressed by predictions of change that could lead to environmental and social disruption, but for the most part I see indifference, and that is more concerning.

I see people in an entirely different state of mind, very far from indifference. A few are depressed and think only of doom; they we can ignore. Another small set is living in a fantasy world of "Father knows best and will take care of us," where "father" is the government or science or sometimes actually the big enchilada himself.

Excluding these two wacky extremes, most people are concerned, but they do not know what can or will be done or what will happen, so they continue life as usual, but keep an eye out for danger and the possibility of having to do something different. Everyone I meet, rich or poor alike, seem quite aware that there's "something" in the air.

You can't go by what the standard media talks about because the mainstream media is entirely under corporate control and guidance. I think people are far more aware than you might be led to believe. Also, don't be misled by actions: it is far more rational to continue the life you know rather than give in to grief or shock or despair, and that is what most people are doing, they keep going until something definite appears on the scene that they can do as an alternative. Everyone is still going to the supermarket, but they're also buying seeds, planting gardens, digging up their yards, getting ready--just in case.

Jason, I responded to a previous article by yourself by planting 40 sq ft of dwarf beans ( Local school garden project you set up). This week my wife and I have been harvesting and freezing those beans as well as giving beans as gifts to good freinds. We have enough beans to last us a year. Most gratefull for your efforts, we have enough green beans to last us a year. This is another great post by your good self, keep it up.

If one simply begins with the self-evident premise that the non-renewable resources will eventually run out, and that humankind will eventually have no choice but to subsist on the earth's renewable resources, then exploring the implications of that premise quickly leads one to the conclusion that long-term ("sustainable") subsistence for at least some fraction of the human population would still be possible, but only at what we in the US would consider a fairly low level of resource (energy & land, mainly) inputs per capita, and consequently a fairly low level of per capita economic "income" or "wealth". In other words, some people can survive, but they are generally going to be what we today would consider to be somewhat poor as far as the material aspects of their lives are concerned.

Poor people can not afford to travel hither and yon across the globe, nor can they afford to buy much stuff that has been transported from a distance.

THIS is why those of us who are smart enough and forsighted enough to think about these things are driven to the conclusion that what we are calling "relocalization" is inevitable; it will happen because there is no other alternative - unless you consider extinction to be an alternative.

What is not inevitable, however, is the pathway that we must take from here to there. That pathway is contingent upon the uncountable billions upon billions of individual decisions and actions taken upon all manner of things, big and small, day in and day out. To be sure, there are a few really big things, and what we do or don't do with these will have some really big consequences. Unfortunately, few of us individually have any more than the slightest marginal influence upon these big things.

Except when it comes to our own local communities. There, especially in the smaller communities, each individual can actually make a difference on how their local community navigates the descent pathway. All communities will not navigate that pathway, in whatever form it takes, equally well; there will be relative "winners" and "losers". To be sure, it is quite possible, and even likely, that the tides of human affairs at the state, national, and global level will sweep over local communities, and there is very little we can do about that. Sometimes those tides will be helpful and reinforcing; more often and likely, they will only contribute additional and increasing adversity, only making our task that much harder. Nevertheless, when communities already have a realistic vision of where they need to head, and are proactively trying to navigate their move in that direction, a certain degree of resilliance is inevitably achieved. Resilliant communities are better positioned to have those tides of mega-scale human affairs wash over them, absorb the consequences, and continue to move on.

So, the bottom line is: carry on! Yes, for a long while yet ours are likely to be lonely voices in the wilderness. We will be ignored and have little effect on what happens on a large scale; there was little prospect that anything other than that would ever happen, anyway. However, have faith and hope and courage! Our efforts CAN and WILL eventually make a difference where it counts: in our own communities.

I certainly support greater individual and community self-reliance. My problem with "re-localization" is that it promises something it can't deliver. For example, the area where Jason and I live (I'm 30 miles north of him) will never come close to supplying even 10% of the food it consumes at current population densities due to lack of irrigation water and appropriate land. Further, even that would require equipment, such as pumps, that will never be produced locally. Nor will other necessary goods (as they are defined today) be produced locally.

Now, if the population dropped to the same level as that of the Indians prior to white men showing up and the same "standard of living" adopted then, yes, there could be real re-localization. But, until then, forget it.

I would argue that the best that can be done is that posited in The Integral Urban House (A book that I think should be read by everyone. Unfortunately, I think it has been out of print for some time.).


I am going to take the liberty of posting a comment under your comment that has been nagging me to create for sometime now.

It has to do with survival gardening and the loss of I-N,P, it is.

As I put in this garden in a new spot(started it last year) I have been remembering some of my practices and what I often thought to do before.

1. Drive many steel posts(fence posts) in the garden or surrounding it. Mostly at the ends of rows and as markers. The reason is that I find that many birds will fly to them and pick up insects off my plants.They also will litter the ground with droppings which are very rich in many kinds of needed nutrients, N,Pand K.

Also wise to build simple bluebird houses nearby to attract then. When they start feeding their young then you will see them flying down in your garden harvesting insects.

2. Encourage toads to inhabit your garden. I use pieces of clay drain tile. They will dig small holes and hide in their. I never see them eat insects but surely they must. Right now they are moving into my garden. A lot of them. I am careful to not tiller them to death. They will get out of your way if you go slow. Snakes I encourage as well. I just like snakes. They used to inhabit my barn and eat a lot of mice.

3. Plowing. Many say its bad juju. I disagree. I don't do it on any basis but in the fall when vegetation has died down is a good time. Why? You are burying OM(organic matter). Then you can spread other debris on the top of the bare soil. But burying it is IMO much akin to Fukuoka's 'trenching' to bury OM as per his Natural Gardening.

Plowing gets a bad name same as discing. Which many here are unfamiliar with. I have two good sets of discs. Plus a chain harrow and a spike harrow. Easily handled by my IH 140 tractor(once a tobacco tractor) with offset engine and easy to use set of cultivators. With these cultivators it is superemley easy to raise hills and mounds as per Steve Solomon's Gardening When It Counts.

Note: These above things are what I have learned on my own. Just reading those books reaffirmed that what I was doing others were as well but I was using different tools to do the same.

I hope to be able to use ethanol in the future on this tractor. It was once available in a 'distillate' version. Without FFs then I can trade off some practices. With my little IH I can bring a large garden into very good shape rather rapidly and without blowing my hips and knees away.

I can also use it instead of hoeing by hand. Or getting a belly mount sickle bar mower about 5 ft wide to cut cover crops for OM to put on my garden. Or use the mounted front loader to mix my compost heaps.

So its birds and toads and hairy vetch intersperced with buckwheat.
A very good mix of cover crops and the buckwheat stalks work well with the vining habits of hairy vetch.

Airdale-I intend to post this same comment in a more appropiate Campfire when one comes to you and 'class of 57'.

the use of which produces tremendous pollution, leading to many negative feedbacks that impair ecosystems and disrupt climate.

That's probably editorially incorrect. My guess is you mean to use "positive feedbacks", or perhaps to be more clear, something like "leading to many increasingly destructive feedbacks".

Hi all. We're relocalising nicely in this little corner of New Zealand.

To touch upon a few of the issues raised in this enlightening discussion....

We have a 12-month growing season and winters mild enough to heat our bodies with extra clothing rather than heating the whole room or house. There are large parts of earth which are in a similar position. We (humans) may find in time that we are less able to live in extreme climates. Or, in the case of those living high energy-consumption lives in hot, humid environments, learn to live without air-con! Also, its amazing how a well built house (passive solar design, wise use of grey and black water, indoor plants) can maintain a steady temperature all year round. There are examples of these in desert terrain in the USA where the temperature fluctuates dramatically betwen summer to winter.

This may mean that many of us have to leave our homes/regions, even those who may have dwelled for hundreds or thousands of years in the same area, as the weather becomes more extreme.

The highest-yield sustainable food growing techniques that i am aware of (i've done a fair bit of research in this area) can produce enough food for one person in 4000 sq. ft. (371 sq mtr.), or one-tenth of an acre. And that's based on a six-month growing season!

This method, called GROW BIOINTENSIVE, requires that the fertility first be built up to a high standard, achievable in a relative few years, after which time yields may improve further. Plenty info on this method can be found on the web. We are already putting this method into practise around New Zealand and it is spreading.

I have no doubt that if we design EVERYTHING well (PERMACULTURE!!!) then we can catch and store enough rain water for our needs, as well as slowing the movement of what falls on the ground (forest/tree cover, swales, small earthen dams built on hillside keypoints).

Of course there is no quick-fix solution to humanity's ills but we do have an array of fine tools, brilliant minds and beautiful souls to enable our transition into a conscious society.

I'm not convinced any of us can assert who or what is changing the climate without making a lot of assumptions. Humans have shown the ability to be wrong about everything there is to be wrong about, often whilst sounding very knowlegable and confident! The climate seems to be changing, so we must adapt as best we can. Less pollution is always good, regardless of motivation or reasons.

I agree with the comment to completely cease fishing for a few years to allow fish populations (sorry 'ccpo', can't bear the term 'stocks') to rebound. Fish numbers increase dramatically in marine reserves though we cannot assume this will work either - worth a try!

So chins up people, there's a lot of awesome humans here, more waking up every day from their slumber. So let the worriers worry, think and act positive, and the world will be a better place


fezmo :)

To Airdale: Good on ya mate, great fun to experiment in the garden. There are so many varying ideas of what works best i.e. mechanical tillage with a tractor, hang digging, no-dig, sheet mulching etc.

And thanks for the tips on birds and buckwheat stalks/vetch, i'll use them next year!

Must say that soil structure seems to suffer under compaction of tractors (good soil stucture holds moisture longer) and our friends the earthworms can be minced to shreds by discs, rotary hoes etc. I even chop them with my hand tools sometimes by accident :(

The worms bury and process the Organic Materials efficiently and can save you the work! No doubt one can get good results with a tractor but long term i suspect gentler methods would be optimum!

Keep up the good work