LEARN: An Acronym to Avoid Societal Collapse

This is a guest post by semi-retired mechanical engineer John Howe. John is well known in peak-oil circles for his invention of the solar tractor.

Below the fold is a short essay by John Howe on the steps he feels are necessary for adaptation in a post-peak oil world. He indicates that five steps are needed. These steps can be remembered by the acronym "LEARN".


A one-page acronym to define five actions necessary to avoid

societal collapse because of the imminent decline of finite fossil fuels:

LOCALIZE agriculture, energy production, social services, essential manufacturing, etc. All will have to regress to a limited “twenty-mile radius” community. This will not be a choice. The inevitable curtailment of transportation fuel will reduce future travel. Intercity light rail will be impossible without energy. www.postcarbon.org.

EDUCATE yourself and others. We passed peak oil in late 2008. Natural gas, coal, and fissionable uranium are not far behind. Without ever-increasing energy, real growth, including a debt-based financial system based on future principal plus interest, cannot continue. Recognize the fallacies of bogus solutions like: “There’s plenty left”; “The scientists will save us”; “We can efficiency our way out of our dilemma (not if we don’t reduce consumption)”; “Biofuels, including waste, cellulosic ethanol, and grease will suffice” (at the expense of food). The honest facts must reach the public, the media, and decision-makers even in the midst of denial. Start with www.peakoil.net, www.theoildrum.com, www.321energy.com, etc.

ADAPT to a very limited solar-electric future as our only hope of perpetuating any semblance of the brief fossil-fuel age. This vision could be sustainable, clean, and far superior to our ancestor’s harsh existence. A solar-electric sequel could integrate with waning fossil fuels and all other energy sources such as limited hydro or geothermal into a modern electrically-based system and allow individuals to take control of their own production with PV. Also included are wind and concentrated solar.

RATION all fossil fuels starting immediately with gasoline. This is the only way we can reduce consumption on a controlled basis without increasing price-competition and conflict over the remains. Rationing is probably our best chance to buy time for mitigation and give our kids a chance for the remnants of the party.

NEGATIVE population growth. This is the toughest and most critical issue. With peak oil we have passed peak growth. Our short cornucopia of excess resources (including fossil fuels and all natural resources) has ended. We have far too many people in the US and the world for a sustainable civilization. If we don’t get the correct facts out and convince people to begin negative population growth, mother nature will reduce population in her own cruel ways. See www.npg.org, www.optimumpopulation.org, www.worldpopulationbalance.org and others.

We all need to understand and project this acronym.

Source: www.solarcarandtractor.com

The LEARN acronym assumes that people, particular people in positions of leadership and power, can change their world views sufficiently to allow for the change to occur. Yet Nate's own "I Don't Know" post just a few days ago highlights that intelligent people become "immunized" against ideas that run counter to their own world view.

I applaud Mr. Howe's personal work but I feel that collapse is far more likely than not. Apparently some others who have studied societies historically think the odds of collapse are increasing too.

Famed Social Sciences Author Jared Diamond Predicts 49 Percent Chance of Civilization Collapse

It seems like when we sit down and think about what the obstacles are to the measures John suggests that it is pretty clear that they won't happen any time soon. Rationing is not something we could get legislators to even think about.

I notice that Jared Diamond will be speaking in April at an event that seems to be open to the public:

Diamond, Browner featured speakers for energy conference

Renowned scholar and Pulitzer prize-winning author Jared Diamond will deliver the keynote address at the third "Energizing Kentucky Conference," scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, April 15 and 16, at the Lexington Hyatt Regency. The conference is to focus on the role of education in energy production, distribution and conservation.

Rationing is not something we could get legislators to even think about.

Therefore, in keeping with the rest of our sad history, "the market" will do the rationing for us.

Not a prospect to look forward to.

..Still, those 'Political Realities', like our worldview pre and post 9/11 can turn on a dime, depending on the changing facts on the ground. It doesn't bode well for being prepared, but don't forget the ferocity at which Americans will do things at the 11th hour.

As they say in Maine.. 'If you don't like the weather, wait a minute.'

I expect the local political leadership to react to peak oil as they are reacting to global warming, with an honest and serious effort guided by reasonable scientific facts and extrapolations made by experts. The effort for limiting global warming would have a reasonable chase to limit the climate change if we in Sweden were more then about 1/1000 of the world population. I am sure that we will react in a sane way during the post peak oil era since resource limitations and the peak oil issue already is number two on the problem list due to obvious market changes and people and politicians listening to Kjell Aleklett among others.

These interconnected problems has lead to very large changes in the energy policies. For instance has one of the original anti nuclear parties recently accepted the need for building new reactors to replace the old ones to avoid a risk for electricity shortages in the 2020:s and 2030:s. We have one of the largest car and truck industries per capita in the world and it is still generally accepted that we need to invest more in the complementing electrified rail network to keep long term transportation costs under control. And most people do accept high CO2 taxes.

This does not mean that everything is perfect or going fast forward but most of the serious problems are being worked on by politicians or the market forces, eg individuals.

The financial crisis is making things uncertain but so far t is far from a collapse over here. Investments have not stopped and new things are being done.

This gives me the impression that we can have a rich "bio-nuclear" future, we only have to work hard during a few transition decades. But this do of course only work out well if you actually do something. LEARN is one example but I do not agree that it is that hopelss or that we wont have any energy. Water will flow downhill for a long time, the sun will shine and nuclear physics wont change while we can do what we already did in the 1960:s in a better way.


I expect the local political leadership to react to peak oil as they are reacting to global warming, with an honest and serious effort guided by reasonable scientific facts and extrapolations made by experts. The effort for limiting global warming would have a reasonable chase to limit the climate change if we in Sweden were more then about 1/1000 of the world population. I am sure that we will react in a sane way during the post peak oil era since resource limitations and the peak oil issue already is number two on the problem list due to obvious market changes and people and politicians listening to Kjell Aleklett among others.

When started to read those words I was certain that I was reading parody gold, but you are actually saying this in earnest?!

My only response is that the 999/1000 remaining portion world's population would probably think that Sweden's reality might as well be on Mars, it certainly does not jive with the reality that I'm experiencing in my part of the world. Are you still accepting immigrants in Sweden? I'd like to apply. Or maybe you know how to transfer rational and responsible political leadership to outsiders?

It is fun to be patriotic and I do of course oversimplifie some but yes it is in earnest. We are well on the way to 50% renewable energy in 2020 while becoming a significant net electricity exporter and I expect that we will make as much biomass based fuel as we use fuel domestically around 2030-2040. These trends and efforts have roots back to the first oil crisis in the 1970:s, each crisis has among the malinvestments added a fair ammout of infrastructure and knowledge and this has accumulated making it reasonable to handle the next crisis.

Labour migration has been made much simpler since last year, now you basicaly only need an employer and then you have to work for five years to apply for citizenship if I remember right. All the details can be found on http://www.migrationsverket.se/english.html , please correct me if I am wrong.

But there might be a political window that could close in late 2010 if the next election goes badly and the migration sceptical labour unions gets influence thru the socialist party. I do not expect that people who have moved over here will be thrown out since such an idea woud scare a significant number of socialist party voters but it might become harder to get into Sweden.

Btw, the first fairly large contingent of migrants were a complete surprise, Indian computer programmers that probably were following the outsourcing trail back to its source.

I have no immediate idea for how to transplant the good parts of Swedish politics to other countries. A significant part of the public and politicians simply listen to scientific advice but that do of course not protect from the risk that the scietific view is incorrect or bad science such as low quality social sciences. This gives the situation that citing a good source can be a debate winner and one of the most popular dumb-politician youtube videos is a left wing member of parliamet who during a hearing on electrical cars suggested adding a windmill on the cars to charge the batteries while driving.

I would also recomending a study ouf our neighbours. Most of the things we do good the Finns do better, the Norwegians handled massive oil and gas incomes withouth turning all lazy and the Danes paid off their government foreign debt before the financial crisis. One key might be that a significant part of the populations expects multi generational planning?

Having been following the swedish energy policy already for several years as an outsider (I am a finn myself working in the energy sector) I would also say, it has a positive character. Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce an official mitigation plan in 2005 with respect to peak oil. "Oil-free Sweden" was it called, if I remember correctly. They have very ambitious targets both for energy efficiency as well as the enhancement of renewables covering every single sector of the society. Also what comes to climate change and CO2 the swedes are willing to go a couple of steps further than the EU targets. I guess a lot has to do with Kjell Aleklett, who has put much effort in trying to convince the politicians.

My impression of the swedish society is, that they have the courage to accept new ways of thinking and action long before others.


Re: Jared Diamond's 49%

That number sounds suspicious to me. My guess is that he actually thinks it's greater than 50% but doesn't want to deal with the (negative) response he would get if he stuck his neck out that far.

This isn't a criticism...it does take courage to say something that is in direct opposition to the prevailing (if in the background) societal conversation, which at this point in time is something like "humanity will always progress" or to distinguish a conversation more in the foreground "when the economy picks up in x years."

It's a small number of people who get that the economy will never pick up, in my view.

I have no problem with 50 to 80 percent chance of collapse. I remember full well the LA and Watts riots and no one was hungry. I am not really into full blown Mad Max but gangs will not go hungry as long as they can intimidate.

note how he was uncomfortably grinning thru that section. he's got a job & kids, as i remember.

like u said...

Actually, I would say that there is a 0% chance that western civilization will survive intact. I am 100% certain that to the extent it survives at all, it must adapt and transition to the changing realities. Whether or not it successfully does so is still an open question.

I would suspect that if put to him that way, Diamond would probably more or less agree with the above statement.

Unfortunately, salvaging anything remotely recognizable as western civilization at all requires that we go through the descent in what I would call "managed decline" mode. At least as far as the USA is concerned, our government is operating about as opposite of that as is possible, and just about everything it is doing so far is counterproductive. That does not give much reason for hope, I'm afraid.

While the resistance of individuals to change is very important, it is a different topic than the resistance of social groups to change.

Regarding Nate's excellent "I Don't Know" post, just taking a straightforward reading, Nate looked mostly at the phenomenon of resistance to change in individuals, and many of his points in fact relate to individuals within specific scientific disciplines. The "Planck problem" and the quotation from historian of science I. B. Cohen illustrates the phenomenon of resistance to change in a scientific discipline. But scientific disciplines are very peculiar social groupings. The training to be a "citizen" in (say) the U. S. A. is very nebulous and much less disciplined. E. g. the Bush administration for example is widely regarded as having acted in blatant contradiction to the Constitution, probably correctly, yet this has not really created much of a scandal. So much for standards.

But secondly, societies behave very differently from individuals. The situation is much more fluid. Societies can and do change rapidly. It's called a "political revolution." People have studied the French Revolution for several centuries and still haven't figured it out. The problem of individuals resisting change, and societies resisting change, are very different. There is not a lot of understanding of how these things happen, but they do. I think the correct response is "I don't know how or if it will happen," not "I know that it won't happen." In a political revolution, you need precisely a political collapse for things to move forward. The day after a political and financial collapse, we would still have largely the same people, same resources, and same knowledge that we had the day before. This is a necessary condition of progress.

keith Akers
"The day after a political and financial collapse, we would still have largely the same people, same resources, and same knowledge that we had the day before. This is a necessary condition of progress."

well said. one of the issues u raise is ; individual change & societal change.i guess the ladder is studying herd behavior, at least for the sizes of current structures in the US; not my area of expertise.

re individual change we almost always need sufficient 'emotional experiences' to change- our beliefs, ways of thinking,& rewiring us emotionally as well; especially for a major shift/change.[ often takes a trauma]

so yes after,[rarely before something like]
" political and financial collapse,"
will the opportunity to be a catalyst for change be 'ripe'.

we will get leaders then; hopefully a great one.

Keith,did the French revolution change much of anything for the better? Not too many years after the Bastille a certain dictator by the name of Napoleon embarked on a series of military adventures which resulted in the deaths of millions.

Did the Russian revolution of 1917 result in an improvement over the Czarist regime?

Political revolutions tend to be captured by thugs who are equal or worse to the ones who they deposed.A real and sustainable revolution will come from the conscious proletariat,not political operators.

Good question. The answer to both questions is, "well, sort of, although there was a lot of unnecessary suffering, and a lot of what they accomplished might have happened anyway, and they could probably have done a lot better."

In both the French and Russian revolutions, reading and thinking about these events is fascinating, because in such a chaotic situation, it is easy to see how things could have been very different. What if Louis XVI and the revolutionaries had come to some sort of agreement whereby Louis XVI would embrace the revolution, take aim at the nobility, and ally himself with the middle class?

The general problem in both cases is that people got caught up in the taking and holding of power, and didn't devote enough attention to what they should actually do with it. Thus, as you point out, we get wind up with people like Napoleon and Stalin who have got lots of power, but are blundering around killing millions not even to the ultimate benefit of their respective causes.

It may be just as important, or more important, to come up with a plan for dealing with peak oil (and environmental problems generally) as it is to promote awareness of peak oil itself as a problem. This plan should be as clear on general principles as possible. I would look in the direction of Herman Daly and ecological economics.


Mr. Howe is to be applauded for showing how tractors can be electrified (and others have continued to refine this approach); each of us needs to take as many steps as possible, and educate others, including their elected leaders.

I'd also add the link to Transition Towns under Adaptation and Localization; http://www.transitiontowns.org

I'm fascinated with this idea of a solar-powered tractor. I'm curious as to whether it is better, energy-wise, to use a solar-powered tractor instead of mules or oxen. I'd like for John's view to be correct, actually. On the back of John's book, The End of Fossil Energy (2nd edition), he comments about his tractor saying "it doesn't need 2,000 pounds of hay and grain each year like a team of horses or oxen." The inputs to manufacture the solar panels (and the rest of the tractor) would require some energy too -- is this less or more than the hay? Any data on this? Just checking.

Also, even if the energy for solar tractors is substantially less, it implies the continued existence of some sort of semi-industrial civilization to manufacture the panels, probably a rail system, and other things. Complete reliance on living on products within the "20 mile radius" community of which he speaks would seem to be impossible, unless the solar panels and all the associated mining could be done locally (unlikely, I'd think). We would probably have some sort of minimal manufacturing and transportation capacity -- probably not 10% of what we experience in the U. S. now, but something. This is more of a comment than a concern, but the infrastructure would add somewhat to the energy cost of a solar powered tractor.

It seems to me that the LEARN program is primarily focused on what society should do, while my ELP recommendations are primarily focused on what individuals can do:


One interesting little item last week in Dallas, on the local news. Many nurseries are virtually sold out of vegetable seeds.

Thanks for posting this, glad to see your name here. I've linked the videos of your tractor and golf-cart here more than a few times. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFYpNrbyKCA
) I think you make a very good point about PV in the Newfarmerfilms video, in that PV is just dead simple. Put it into light, and you get power out, and it keeps producing year after year this way. Minimal Maintenance, Weather tolerant (can be used as a roof), no moving parts, very little space taken up.

I do agree to the "L" section of LEARN as far as how we make ourselves Locally resilient and able to function while transport gets increasingly strangled, but I think we will see a resurgence of Rail and Water as two means to continue bridging the greater distances, while the volumes and people transported can hardly do much but reduce an order of magnitude or more.

Bob Fiske

It seems to me that there is an internal contradiction in the idea of a "Localized" economy which would still be able to employ technology such as PV solar.

It seems to me that a "20 mile radius" economy implies minimal specialization of labour, and that fossil fuel free farming implies vastly reduced surplus production i.e. goods available for trade.

In other words it's a blueprint for a society of subsistence agriculture.

On the other hand the capability to do something like make PV panels, semiconductor based charge controllers and inverters, efficient electric motors and batteries etc. sits at the top of a pyramid of high technology, large pools of capital, and global trade in (sometimes scarce or exotic) raw materials.

Is it not more realistic to assume that a "localized" society would be constrained to running on human muscle power, draft animals, and the kind of biomass, wind, and micro- hydro systems that could be constructed by a few skilled craftsman using simple hand tools?

You could call that a contradiction, or a dichotomy. It's a chance to leverage our current global access and manufacturing setups to emphasize tools that will help us in a much more localized lifestyle.

I don't know how much leeway John Howe gives to this 20-mile number, but I would find it likely that we can aim for a future that still has manufacturing and electronics, just far less than we enjoy with today's glut of energy. It would make sense to prioritize our manufacturing towards PV, as one of the hardy and extremely useful tools for a homeowner to order for their basic 'kit'.

Of course, other forms of Solar and Wind CAN be constructed by craftspeople from mainly local materials, yet I don't expect that trading, import/export or electronics as a whole will become a forgotten fact for humanity.

If there is a collapse, it will quickly become very regionally and continentally varied in how it plays out.. People living near Niagara Falls won't be in the dark much, and might well get to be the aluminum smelting and silicon purifying hub of the Eastern US. They have food, water, energy.. and like most of us, a century's worth of industrial detritus to make tools out of..

My personal view is that whatever PV panels are produced now are likely never to be replaced. The PV panels are therefore something to help the current generation in its transition, but are probably not a long-term solution. We really need to be thinking about long-term solutions as well.

I've thought about the probability of this set of Collapse => Tech Loss scenarios as well from time to time as well. Starting at the most basic needs;

- Electric well pump => Handpowered well pump
- Refrigerator => Icebox/Icehouse, and/or root cellar
- Central furnace => Passive solar, woodstove
- Stove => Woodstove and solar cooker
- Electric lights => Candles
- Power tools => Hand tools
- TV/radio/internet => Messengers, homing pigeons
- Coffee pot => Tea Camelia plant and Sun Tea jar

What about moving underground for shelter? Seems like no one touches that aspect.

Is that not an option? Or is it too much "A boy and his dog"?

I don't know if others dislike it, but it's the first place I'd go. (And hope to, when I get the chance to build) Actually, I'm underground right now.. basement workshop.

When people were freezing in their houses in Europe and Ky this winter, I couldn't stop thinking about the 45-ish degree earth that was only a few feet under their homes. It's not that complicated to access that modest temp, winter or summer.. (I don't know how warm or cool the earth is in hotter climates.. what is it like underground in Louisiana or Arizona? Anyone know?)

I remember reading somewhere that the temperature is a constant 45 to 55 degrees a couple meters down under no matter where you are in the world. Having spent a bit of time in tropical caves, I have no trouble believing that, but I'd need to be convinced that the same holds for Nome, Alaska.

In any case, you are correct. Whatever the outcome, cooling or warming or even staying as it is now, underground is the place to go for cheap heating or cooling. There are some animals that have adapted to complete underground living, like eyeless albino snakes, so food could be available (snake is pretty tasty, by the way).

Regarding digging in...

Cesar Manrique's house was built in 1968 on top of a volcanic trail from a volcanic eruption that occurred in 1730-36. It uses the natural formation of five volcanic bubbles for the main rooms within the house. The outside of the house and upper level is an inspiration from the traditional architecture of Lanzarote.

Pictures : http://travel.spotcoolstuff.com/canary-islands/lanzarote/cesar-manrique-...
and About Cesar Manrique / wikipedia

Probably Cesar Manrique tried to escape the heat ?

See also Baldasare Forestiere

You need to get a Lehmans Catalog and spend a little time wandering through it.

Electric well pump = Windmill powered pump

(gas/oil) central furnace = wood/corncob central furnace [gravity heat distribution]

Electric lights = mantle lanterns

TV/radio/internet = crystal radio sets/newspapers/snailmail [See Lindsay Publications web site]

Coffee pot = BEER (if you're German?)

Lehmans is indeed one of my favorite sources of tools/etc. And the tools they sell last decades, instead of a year or two, so they are astoundingly good values, even at 3 times the price of cheaply made items.

A windmill powered pump is handy, though dependent on the wind, obviously. We have almost no wind in summer, when we need the most water, and tremendous amounts of wind in the winter, when we use very little.

The reason I mentioned passive solar is that it provides heat without the need to actively collect, store, and burn wood or corncobs. The latter are still helpful, especially on cloudy days, but the less one has to fuss with such a stove, the better. I currently heat with a combination of passive solar (primary) and woodstove (backup). Not cutting wood yet with my bowsaw, but it's there if needed.

Mantle lanterns are fine as long as one has access to fuel and mantles.

Crystal set radios are fine as long as there are broadcasts. Gails implicit assumption seemed to point to a collapse scenario where production many have halted, and that often has a full grid outage as an assumption.

Beer can be a plausible social beverage, as the Plymouth settlers actually stopped where they did because they were running low on beer. Not much of a pick-me-up on a cold morning, though.

I'm sure there are other good ideas out there along these lines.

Here's another way to pump water, AND get the kids outside and away from the Multimedia..
I think the ones in Scarsdale are just running generators for the kids' PSPs, though.


"The children push the merry-go-round again and again. As they run, a device in the ground beneath them begins to turn. With every rotation of the merry-go-round, water is pumped out of a well, up through a pipe, and into a tank high above the playground."

"A few feet away from all the fun, students in uniform turn on a tap. Clean, cold drinking water pours out."

Since most towns of any size already have water distribution systems in place, it makes most sense to maintain one or more large storage tanks at a high location, have the water feed by gravity through the distribution system, and then feed the water from wells or surface reservoirs through some sort of more centralized pump system. There are multiple options. If you have a reservoir and a dam, then you can build a water wheel and use that to power a pump to drive the water uphill. Or use windmills like the famous ones in Holland. Or hitch up a horse. There were multiple solutions to this problem long before the fossil fuel age even got underway.

The ice business was a massive industry in the days before mechanical refrigeration, employing hundreds of thousands of people. That could come back. Refrigeration is not really all that high tech, though, and there are alternative power sources besides electricity. What people might eventually transition to is a small chest freezer, something very durable that can be repaired and maintained for a very long time locally, combined with a small insulated ice box to keep a few things cool. The chest freezer might use ammonia as a refrigerant, and biogas (methane) or electricity from wind or hydro as the power source.

As for domestic heating, most houses are going to have to be retrofitted to use as much solar thermal as they can; they are also going to have to be well insulated, and generally smaller (or house more people). For settlements of any size at all, I also suspect that we are going to have to eventually transition to centralized district heating plants in each neighborhood, with hot water/steam delivered to radiators in the neighborhood homes. This is old and simple technology that can be fabricated and maintained on a localized small scale. The energy supply for the heating plant boilers might be biogas, or wood (or charcoal), and maybe some CSP in favorable locations. Mostly, though, people are going to have to dress warmly and learn to live with colder indoor temps (and NO a/c).

As for cooking, solar cookers will help, and woodstoves will work for some people. Biogas might be a good energy supply for other households, presuming that it is priced high enough to assure that it is used very sparingly.

Electric light bulbs of any kind are actually one of the harder things to try to make on a small scale locally. They are likely to become an increasingly rare niche item, used only in the most critically important places in each community. Candles could be made with beeswax, but their quantity would be limited and their price high. Oil lamps, using the same oilseed feedstock going for biodiesel production, might be a possibility to some extent. Mainly, though, I suspect that most people are simply going to have to restructure their lives and end up getting more sleep at night. Society will pretty much have to shut down soon after dark; it will be the end of the 24-hour round-the-clock economy.

All I have time for right now. . .

And the long term solution/solutions are ?

I have 2 EV's and I really can't see what a Solar/Electric Tractor is going to do.

Hoes and Wheelbarrows ??

I like 20 mile communities connected by rail.

I'm sure that as long as there is any sort of functioning central government at all, heroic efforts will be made to maintain some sort of minimal PV manufacturing capacity. Thus, the technology might be kept going for quite a while. Be that as it may, the very long term outlook for PV is quite questionable. Manufacturing PVs is just too specialized high-tech, and requires relatively centralized facilities with long supply chains; not a good fit with our long-term future.

Solar thermal for space and water heating, yes. I can see small scale, localized plants developed that can recycle and roll out plate glass, aluminum foil, and sheet metal to rebuild collectors.

Wind power, yes. I can see small scale, localized plants developed that can custom fabricate replacement parts for WTs; copper can be recycled, melted down, and drawn back out into new wire; other parts can be cast, and so forth. The blades are the trickiest to make, we may have to settle for smaller WTs that are less efficient in the future.

Hydro - especially micro-hydro - and geothermal, yes. I can see the same facilities as for WTs also remanufacturing hydro & geothermal generators.

Biogas (methane), yes. I can see small-scale, localized facilities that build or rebuild the tanks, plumbing, and other devices necessary for anaerobic generators.

Woodstoves, yes. I can see small localized foundries that recycle iron and cast it into new woodstoves.

Biodiesel and ethanol, well yes, those too. Both can be made using relatively simple, ancient, small scale technologies. We might not like it, but these will feature to some extent in our energy future; because people need to eat, they will not feature to a dominant extent.

That pretty much describes our long-term energy future, except for the return in a big way to human and animal power.

The hardest part to keep going post peak will be anything needing bearings to operate/function. Look around and see how many things in this world would not function for the sake of a quality ball bearing/tapered roller.

Just a thought.

Evidently the Chinese invented Ball bearings in the second century BC. Source The History of Science and Civilization in China by Joseph Needham

Please make a video of yourself, hammering out a shaft bearing the size of one needed to repair a generator at Niagra, so we can all teach ourselves...HA!

Why would the ball bearing factories disappear?
They even use steel made from scrap with electricity.

Pons and Fleischmann Come back. All is forgiven...

Oh, yeah, I left out Mr. Fusion in the above list. . .


I am with john, photovoltaic solar technology has a vast INFRASTRUCTURE foot print, without that infrastructure and globally linked "Just in Time" manufacturing complete with plenty of fossil fuel dependent processes that are used to process vanadium and manufacture nano-materials. PV shouldn't be thought of as a renewable energy as much as a way to make an investment of fossil fuel energy last much longer, aka an efficiency measure.

I agree that solar thermal and wind are much simpler technologies and could be constructed from simple materials and a decaying industrial heap of metals and building materials.

I don't believe world trade or regional trade is just going to disappear as many on this site and others seems to think think. The triangle trade of the Atlantic was pretty much performed without fossil fuels along with spices routes leading to Asia, Marco Polo anyone? In all the era's pre-1700 there was plenty of regional trade and some global trade. I do understand that these type of logistical mechanism, cannot possibly handle the volume of materials we use now, making such a life impossible for modern-size populations, but the very rich may still enjoy the benefits of trade. There WILL be a substantial population reduction, constraints dictate it, and the life afterwards for those still alive may not be so terrible I'd hope. About the time-frame of such events i can only guess.

I find it reasonable with a partial rollback of global trade by going back to a larger degree of vertical integration when turning raw materials into finished products.

And just-in-time do not have to mean ASAP, but the right ammount arriving in the right time. Largers batches and more warehousing can trade better transportation efficiency for more capital locked up in the prodyction process and this also adds back resilience in the manufacturing systems.

And we can have giant Maersk post panamax container ships that use neglible oil and run on nuclear power that connects the continental electrified railway networks.

These are gradual changes and adaptations of current technology put togeather in a slightly different way.

agreed, as an Industrial Engineer, peak oil to me means, JIT won't be practical anymore and well have to go back to the old ways of accumulating inventory and making larger batches.

Magnus, I think you are overlooking the high sea piracy issue here. It is already in the news, and is being considered a serious threat to our current trade paradigm. Just the other day, pirates killed a guy on his yacht for a rubber boat! Imagine what lengths they will go to steal something really valuable.

Lawlessness of varying dimensions is going to be disruptive to any attempts for trade continuity.

The risk for piracy is indeed one of the major reasons for having a navy.

There were 60,000 people living on this island [when I arrived in 1508], including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?

That's a quote from Bartolome de las Casas, who will forever be commemorated for calling B. S. on Cristoforo Colombo and the treatment of native tribes in the New World.

Similarly, we have John Howe's work of the last ten years or so that calls B. S. on the notion that we "couldn't have anticipated" or done anything about peak oil.

We knew it was coming. We did nothing. Who in future generations will believe it?

Thanks to John for showing what should have been.

Imported disease should go on that list as well. The Horsemen like to ride together.

What happens round New York, Paris, London, Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo? I don't think you can grow enough food, or generate enough energy for those guys in a 20 mile radius even with the help of a PV panel powered tractor.

The IEA or the USGS would not agree with your prediction of imminent natural gas, coal and Uranium peaks coming hard on the heels of conventional crude. The issue with using coal for the next few hundred years is nothing to do with its abundance or lack of it - the facts are quite different - there is plenty coal for a while, we just dare not use it the way we always have. No less a problem but it would be good not to confuse people with an incorrect portrayal of what the issues are.

Population is the problem?.. if it was then we would not have 20% of the worlds population using 80% of the energy, Fact is that the rural populations of China, India and Africa don't use much fossil energy at all - what you have to do is persuade them that they can't one day round around in a Chevy truck because that's what they all want to do.

what you have to do is persuade them that they can't one day round around in a Chevy truck because that's what they all want to do.

It might be a mite easier if those doing the persuading led by example and eschewed the luxury of personal transport in a vehicle that could be used for work by an entire community of farmers, for example.

Then you Americans show a better example, g**d*m**T!

Alf Robertson wrote "What happens round New York, Paris, London, Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo? I don't think you can grow enough food, or generate enough energy for those guys in a 20 mile radius even with the help of a PV panel powered tractor".

IMO this is a very good point, and points to a gross oversight by the author here. A large percentage of the world population live in urban areas dependant on the JIT system for almost everything. Population densities are high in most and there is very little open space. It is hard to see a coordinated relocation of billions of people from urban areas-maybe in China if there are enough resources.

I also think that the G20 will stall from announcing the truth about our economic situation until they have shored up the World elites position, and it is too late to jump off the gravy train. Which, by that stage, the gravy will have turned to S#&%@t.

We passed peak oil in late 2008. Natural gas, coal, and fissionable uranium are not far behind.

[emphasis mine]

Peak uranium coming soon? Controversial, to put it mildly.

Peak uranium estimates range from 50 years to five billion years:


And there is thorium as well. The problem is likely to be lack of skills, technology and particularly, political will to exploit both uranium and/or thorium efficiently.

When the gas runs out and the blackouts become more common I think the political will might change.

Course the link mentioned doesn't include "steady 3% growth", which turns 10 billion years into just 662 years, with the peak at around 300 years I guess.

You wanted a flying car?

I think the 'five billion' was a kind of joke.

But 5000 would suit me fine.

'50 years to five billion years'

That range of estimates you show is a key reason I haven't been very convinced by this argument.

Hi John et al: We are well on the way to LEARN here in Reno NV.

They still laugh at our solar powered golf cart... It is a handy little dump truck with 36V @ 220amps and about 7K watts 110vac available through a 3600watt inverter & charger (when 110vac ground power is available).

I am a furniture maker and I have a full set of hand woodworking tools but power tools are much more efficient. The cart can power any tool in my shop if I need it. Further it can power our well and small appliancies too if we are very careful.

I welded an 'A' frame on a small Harbor Freight trailer and mounted the solar panels on that. We have 3 12v 130watt panels for a nominal 300 watt charging capacity. The trailer is handy so that every couple hours we can re-aim it at the sun and can move the panels into the barn for bad weather. The wind does blow here once in a while up to 50 mph and of course we get some snow in the winter.

This year's 200 sq foot raised bed organic garden is a prototype for our next years 1/2 acre comunity project.

We have food stored and lots of jars for future produce. Next projects: a solar drier for apples and veggies, solar stove, solar house heat.

We are somewhat prepared for the dark side of the force. Plenty of ammo so the present ammo shortage is not a factor.

Hope for the best ... prepare for the worst ... cheers


If you've got any pix on flikr or a website, I'd love to see your setup. The trailer-PV sounds like a great combination!



No web site. In fact I haven't taken any pictures. I am building raised garden beds every day that it is nice out. I will take some pics and put them on one of the free sites and put up a link.

Here's the trailer


42708-4VGA on sale last month for $159

I'll love to see it when you have a chance. Good luck with your gardens!

Under "Educate" I would suggest to anyone wanting to survive long term to start building your own personal library of practical levels of technology.
Examples: Got a broken casting on your equipment? You had better have the knowledge of how to make a furnace, make a pattern of the part, mold the pattern, melt some scrap metal, pour the metal, shake out the casting, machine the casting where necessary. This isn't "rocket science", but you do need to have the basic technical knowledge to be able to do it.
Got a broken window pane. You may need to know how to build a simple furnace, melt some scrap window glass shards, blow a large glass bubble, then cut the blowhole off and spread out and flatten the bubble to make a flat pane of glass (this is how they used to make window panes in the "old days").
It is not what you have, but what you know that will save your butt in the future?

I've been requesting used textbooks and such through Freecycle.

Particularly Chemistry, Materials Sciences, would love to have a good one on Ceramics (low and high tech) .. I'm also keeping the 'Edible Wild Plants' peterson book in my backpack, to start unlearning my 'weeds' again.

For a very long time -even in the Neolithic age- there has been specialisation. In most pre-industrial societies some 50 to 90+% of the working population worked as farmers, the rest specialises. There are just too many areas to cover for an individual. What gets you those things you cannot make yourself is called 'trade'. Even in a post-Peak world trade will have its place.

I agree with the basic premise about learning the basic skills, I think that there are plenty of alternate options re making your own glass sheets though. Just start collecting some of the stuff that gets taken to the landfill on a daily basis. I now have enough for a reasonable sized greenhouse. Most of it is even framed with aliuminum.

Preface: I do not question the assertions that petroleum peaked in 2008 and that the societies built around cheap energy are going to change as a result.

I have lately found myself troubled by the sense of millennial comedown I have felt over the last few weeks. It was so easy for me (and others, I think) in 2008 to see $145 oil and the financial meltdown as the "sign." Surely the peak has come and its' effects will be seen and believed by all. The meme of Peak Oil will take root and will transform personal behavior, business practice and government policy.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. We are back to detecting incremental drops in export volumes. Good stuff, to be sure, but no sense of "moment."

Now, to the point. The LEARN paradigm, above, I think requires a millennial moment, because it requires such a large shift in societal behavior. Which is why I don't think it will ever come to pass as the general pattern of change in the energy dependent parts of the world.

So I ask, without having an answer: What adaptation strategies can embrace (harness?) the diversity of personal, business and government actions and inaction to adapt to the change? Because, I don't think we can wait for all the world to be on the same page about Peak Oil, and if that's what it takes, I doubt adaptation will happen.

Almost everything will have to be local adaptations that over a generatio or two adds up to a solution. I expect that most of it will be market driven and that regions where a significant part of the work already has been done will have to chip in and help other reagions by exporting knowledge and all kinds of equipment. The better run regions also need an inflow of resources to do a lot of usefull stuff wich means that this has to be based on trade to maximise the number of people who can be helped.

This also ought to mean that lots of people are fucked if free trade breaks down or your region gets to be dominated by short term politics in any kind of cleptocracy or mugabe like madness.

I am more worried by political breakdowns then resource scarcity.

If we are, in fact experiencing a 'Slow-motion Traincrash', and not just somewhat rough track, our personal relative scale to this thing might make us the equivalent to a bunch of ants in the undercarriage.. and even if the car we're on is flipped and trenched into the dirt, we would have just turned over a couple times, and skittered off into the sand.. assuming it isn't suffused with burning oil..

It's hard to tell whether we'll get that 'moment'.. or will just have to trust the historians to identify the big change in hotly debated hindsight. Look at 1929.. wasn't it like 1932 or '33 until it was "1929!"

Meantime.. ELP L.E.A.R.N. CYA TGIF
(Simple-seeming choices with little fanfare or obvious reward..)

my guess..

I have been wondering how to work the letter F into all these acronyms.
What I want to see in these acronyms, and here on the Oil Drum and everywhere else, is the Female side/women's view/a feminist perspective. The history has been there since Boadicea, the theory has been there since Simone de Beauvoir, the practice is right there in Burma : Aung San Suu Kyi.
Women as shadowwork, women as rapeweapon, women as babymother ..... When is ' . . .the discussion of our future . . .' ever going to get serious and take this Majority into consideration. They bear our children, they do the drudge work of caring for our young and our old, and they bear the brunt of attacks in war and in peace.
Their brains are equal to - and frequently superior to - the testosterone fuelled brains of our leaders/our bullies.
What we really need now is not more 'bright ideas' from a bunch of competitive guys - we need women to lead us out of this mess. We need a different perspective. Yes - OKay - we still need the graphs and the figures. Long may TOD keep hammering home the incovenient truths, based on many years of professional expertise.
But there's another side to all this - and it just isn't appearing here on TOD. There seems to be a blank in the male psyche when it comes to 'solutions to problems' that come from women.
I live with a '70s feminist - our daughter is a 21st.C feminist - I'm a 59-year-old feminist. It's been drilled into me that poulation and education, food and water, childbirth and deathcare are the underlying essentials of a decent society that would like to lay claim to being civilized. PEFWCD just doesn't seem to cut it as a catch-phrase.

It's been logged and lamented - the statistics show just how skewed the reader/writer numbers here really are. There is precious little input from women - here on TOD, as there in 'the real world'.
The damage that has been done to the world is not Man-Made - it's male-manufactured. When this is addressed and discussed here on TOD we might begin to make some progress.

Richard - Another Day in Bloody Paradise

Good point, Richard..

In the case of my wife and I.. she is the rock, much more 'high-functioning' and as the old adage had it "I consider weighty worldly matters, the important stuff.. she just keeps the family fed and the houshold running!" (Please don't miss the sarcanol.. it's there, I swear! AND.. she works full time!)

But what that means, is that she is really making sure our family has it's BAU.. that we keep functioning, eating, dressing, working and don't simply freak out.. while I have been building solar heating and buying some PV, insulating the house and getting gardening supplies gathered, devising any number of alternates to Heating Oil, Grid Electricity, etc.. She knows about Peak Oil, but I don't try to get her 'onboard' about all the ramifications.. she's doing enough just getting our food from increasingly local and organic sources, learning constantly about real nutrition, strengthening our local relationships with growers and food coop groups.


(I also work.. the above might make that unclear..)

Hmmm. The Rock and the Wave?
My Mary got me reading TOD and TAE a year or more ago. It galvanized the old hippy in me. Like you - full tilt into water-coservation, garden-expansion and french-network-expansion. We do a lot of labour-swap, tool-swap, land-swap now with some very congenial French '68ers. Good wine at 1 dollar a litre, anyone?

Women nor men will accept the 100% chance of collapse

Males wield the bigger club. Serious is being chased by someone bigger, stronger and faster than you. Smarter has nothing to do with it. Success in war trumps all. The womanly art is leading from behind the curtain....

Don't fight history and human nature, learn from it. We are destined or cursed to repeat history. While ANTS may be lead by a female, LOCUSTS are not. Get used to it.

Cold Camel

I'm guessing you're not Italian, right?

There are a lot of different roles for the boys and girls out there..

I like this fellow John Howe, he is doing and proving something of quite an importance ... IMHO.
Kudos to You Mr Howe, and thanks for interesting link Gail !

The author is an ANT asking GRASSHOPPERS to work together like ANTS. GRASSHOPPERS become LOCUSTS when they act as a group. LOCUSTS become ANTS when the food is all gone. Maybe.

Cold Camel

Kudos to John Howe for promoting solar electric farming techniques, but I'm not sure he can be credited with inventing the solar electric tractor. Steve Heckeroth (see http://www.renewables.com) has at least as much of a claim.

This was a very interesting posting which I read with great interest. However, you might be interested to read that some even claim that "Green energy [will be] bigger than oil and gas". What's your take on this?

Read here: http://www.rechargenews.com/business_area/politics/article174546.ece

That ol' Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond looks quite cool among them WT's , for sure ,but -
I bet 1 Pound Sterling that he knows nothing about -

Liebig Minimum
How stuff's come around
Why stuff's are there in the first place
.... nor how much of a quantity there are of them various needed stuff's around to make "it all come true" ...... Think of it this way : One Wind turbine (Euro Standard, 2 MW nameplate) can drive / run ONE f***ing Semi-Trailer .... OK ... A Biiiig Lorry with some important stuff brought from A to B , not more .... think about it ! (where is the problem ?)
(Sorry : this was No rant, this is real. One WT can propel ONE , ok maximum TWO Semi-Trailers !

(Hey You Voters! Please .. help them politicians to become able to communicate what You don't want to hear ! .... tricky? well, yes I know)