Life After the Crash: Lessons from Kenya

I want to share an e-mail I received from a reader I know as Derek. His Oil Drum name is "Ndege" (Kiswahili for... Bird, Airplane, Helicopter, Airport, Butterfly, flying--one word covers quite a lot of related concepts). We had been corresponding about another matter, and I had sent him a link to this presentation I have given several times recently.


Thanks for the presentation. I read your post on The Oil Drum and think your analysis is spot-on.

I am not entirely sure about the implications for our lives in the immediate future, however. (I am typing without spell-checker and am German, so bear with me in case of mistakes and typos, please...)

Based on some experience, I have a 'feeling' that the doom we see coming will actually not result in real doom on the ground – after a period of severe adjusting, that is. At least, it mustn't really 'feel' like doom. Things could go 'bad' - and we still (many, many, many of us) could have not such a bad life after-all - including an economy with things (some) and food (less exotic).

There is this thought/observation/concept (of mine), and it might interest you. That's why I feel it's okay to take some of your time.

When I read the scenarios on The Oil Drum, I believe them. They make sense. Yet I feel there is something missing. Or, rather, some factor factoring in too much: the way we measure events and changes that we see coming, and how we consider them to be 'bad' or 'good'.

We merely measure them (as one always does, I guess) against the known constants of our own lives, our own known parameters for survival and happiness. But I have a feeling that by generalizing this, yes, by assuming that this is a necessary standard in the first place, we might be wrong. And, therefore, many (not all) of our fears may actually be much less justified. Not because that sort of envisioned change isn't coming - but because the change really won't 'feel' as bad as we now believe that it must.

I may have that feeling, because I also know a different set-up, one where, for a very large part, the standard of what to expect is not based on an oil-fueled society with all its trimmings.

You see, during the past 28 years, I have spent a lot of time in Kenya, where our family has a home.

What I experience there is a society that does pretty well with VERY little energy, all things considering. Mind you, not 'pretty well' by any standard of the Western world. But survival - and happiness! - are pretty much possible. Oddly, a first-time visitor would think, but, yes, even (I would say, especially) the Masai, who really live lives quite, well, horrible (in the eyes of Westerners) are very happy people (and wouldn't want to change a thing, basically. A solar cell to get some TV and the mobile charger, that's all).

It's the mindset that makes most Kenyans experience a happiness most Westerners would never consider to be possible given realities - as they see and experience them.

In Kenya, we do use electricity (hydro / diesel), if we can. We have constant power cuts. But that's not the only limit. In fact, the vast majority of us, even the so-called middle-class, build our lives around limits. Limits are the basis for every decision we make, business or otherwise. It is, you could say, a way of life that is happy when it is not done in - not unhappy if things go wrong (I am not sure that this makes sense).

People there - including me - celebrate every day that was a good day. And a good day is one where we got by. I would say, for 95% of Kenyans, life there is very much focused on the hour - and hardly ever on the future.

We are used to being very mindful of how to not waste water. Or anything, really! Things get mended and re-used and re-used. Still, even our - middle class - standard of living FEELS like it is much higher than even here in cozy Europe, where I spend about two-thirds of the year.

We - and our guests - do really feel much better 'down there' - despite lacking certain consumer- and other creature comfort. When we get a nice block of (imported) chocolate, it is something special (as, I guess, it should be). It tastes great. It's fun to share something like this with guests (and, please, we have a big house - 500 sq. meters - so we are not 'poor' nor are our guests. We just don't define happiness by the amount of shopping for consumer goods - and use of energy. There is a big limit of both: things to buy (shops are far away, Western-lifestyle-items are very expensive); and energy.

When you go to the towns and villages, except for the ever-present mobile phones, everything else is pretty much powered by people doing their work by hand (one way or another). The approach employs a great number of people (although, mainly 'outside the legal employment system'). Everyone I know (or see) is constantly busy doing something. Not very efficient by 'our' standards, everything takes a long time to get accomplished, but, well, people do stuff, which creates opportunities to survive.

The outcome is different in the respect that little energy is put into things that may be fun, but are not important in the end. We go for income that generates food. Not tons of toys or consumer-stuff. Buildings are build by hand - even our house was. Not with machines. I guess there was only a special saw used once when certain stones had to be cut perfectly (but we would have well survived without them stones cut like we wanted them to be cut). Everything else was done by hand, using ZERO energy.

Our house was built according to local tradition (for such Mzungu - white - houses). We don't need AC. Not even with 32 Celsius.

Credit is not really something that propels that part of the Kenyan economy that the vast majority depends on for its survival. It is people, social structures, give and take, barter on a certain level (I assist you with providing you with a certain contact/job; you return the favor - or else...). And it is - mostly - cash... wads of cash. All the time. It is a society that is extremely people-orientated, extremely network-reliant. And, when it comes to financial transactions, they are cash-based, even for big projects. Builders for the houses are paid in cash in most cases. When people buy cars, they pay in cash, mainly. And cars are expensive - they cost at least US$ 20.000 - even for a Toyota Corolla (that's why I don't have one; I use a taxi or public transport if I have to get someplace - as do most Kenyans).

I am not saying there aren't any problems there. In fact, there are many and they are huge. But they are related to a very basic human - and modern - (mis-)behavior. One: political leadership squandering resources, getting into debt for silly things (things 99% of Kenyans have no use for), constant in-fighting to sit at the source of power. The other: people making too many babies, which is a tradition, because there is not much else to do in the villages (I am serious) and because, up until recently, many of them died within the first year or so. (Some Kenyan cultures don't give names to their babies within the first year still to this day.) Except, since the onset of modernity (farming/medicine) many of these babies do make it, which, please don't get me wrong, is fine with me - I love children, but which puts obvious strains on resources. But, on the other hand, I have also been witness to a great many situations where people lost their children, cried for a week, and moved on, had new babies, weren't depressed - nor impressed (strangely; I am still not getting over this - but that's the way it is; again: different view on things in Kenya).

It is safe to say that Kenyans would use even less energy and yield much higher economic results where it matters for most of them if there were NO politicians, no political structures, at all (and no credit facilities). Most Kenyans get along not because of modern financial and social structures, but despite them. In Kenya, most of what we assume to be a modern society actually is a hindrance (because it is so corrupt and because it doesn't fuse well the traditional culture, which is group- and NOT AT ALL individual based). I am pretty sure you won't find a Kenyan believing otherwise.

I am writing this because I believe (well, know, actually) that what we consider to be a 'flourishing' economy mustn't be the standard to go by when judging whether we, as people, can live without fear of constant social meltdown - and without perceiving our lives to be happy ones.

I think the coming changes will hit different societies differently. Maybe European and American people will have to let go of much more (stuff) than we in Kenya. We really have very little to lose as it is. There is very little credit - internally - to unwind, and people aren't too attached to it in the first place, knowing how difficult it is to hold on to stuff - or people, really.

I wouldn't be surprised if what you called the 'bad option' for the future (new currency etc.) may actually, after only a surprising limited amount of time of re-adjusting, be the better option. Because, it seems to me, things have to shrink a LOT. And they will.

Because, at the end of the day, it is our lifestyle that is doing us in. Our desires, not our needs. Nor the amount of oil available or not (which was just a propellant that was used to build a certain kind of society, which is by no means the only kind possible).

Maybe, one day, someone will come up with something that is available indefinitely to provide an indefinite lifestyle for an indefinite number of people (I doubt it). But as long as that is not the case (or as soon as oil gets uneconomical), I guess different ways to survive and to make a living are going to take place - and are, as such - not at all bad, once we arrive at that point.

To go from here to there, the way it will happen, and the decrease in population so far sustained by a lot of cheap energy, that will be horrible. The loss of lives, that is the price that will have to be paid. Credit? Consumer goods? Nice to have, perhaps. But not that important, really, to have a nice day.

I am pretty sure that this unwinding of the market - and of populations - will take place rather quickly. And afterwards, maybe not on a personal level, but for societies, life can and will continue. And it won't necessarily be a bad life. It may be one that feels, at first, like waking up from a dream, where everyone went shopping for tons and tons of things with a credit card - and finding one-self in a reality where there is less stuff, less choice in supermarkets, less of everything, but where one still does all kinds of things (including surviving), also 'modern' things, using a lot less resources - and still having a laugh, friends, fun, joy.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: even if all you wrote comes true (and, I am damn sure it will; option 'B' that is), life mustn't necessarily be bad for those who can survive - which, I guess, will be all those countries with a food-surplus, or, roughly, enough food to hang on. Kenya can be one of those places (after a decrease of population, which, knowing Africa, would take place rather quickly). Especially since we produce food with a lot less oil-input than the so-called First World.

In other words... what we assume to be so bad (change of economy and lifestyle) will most likely prove to be quite okay once we get there - and live it.

Forgive my ramblings. Thought I should share. And thank you, thank you, thank you... for all the mind-expanding input you and your fellow contibutors made available to me on The Oil Drum!



Thanks for your thoughts on this!

One of the things I often think of is the concept of "enough". If we can learn to be satisfied when we have enough, rather than the best that there is, it seems like we can be much happier.

My kitchen has what I consider "linoleum". It probably is "vinyl flooring". It covers the floor fine, and matches the wallpaper. But it has several stains on it, and it is not in fashion. My husband and I decided several years ago it was good enough. We really didn't want the ceramic tile or stone that is more fashionable.

Yup. But what exactly is "good enough" and what is "essential"? It's funny how everyone omitted very important (at least IMO) part of this essay: When you go to the towns and villages, except for the ever-present mobile phones, everything else is pretty much powered by people doing their work by hand (one way or another). Think about it: Kenyans don't have many things westerners take for granted (like plumbing or electricity at home) yet they have mobile phones! This, more then anything else shows that people who are saying that we'll just go back in time are wrong: we'll lose a lot of stuff but we'll keep some pretty hi-tech things. And why not? Think about regular Personal Computer. Creation of computer is very energy-hungry process but they can work for 50 years not for 3-5 years like they do now! At least chips are designed with 50 years MTBF time - and everything else can be repaired. And you can reduce power consumption of computer 10 times - easily. Of course it'll be different world - but we can be pretty sure a lot of hi-tech "toys" will survive in some form or another...

Think about regular Personal Computer. Creation of computer is very energy-hungry process but they can work for 50 years not for 3-5 years like they do now! At least chips are designed with 50 years MTBF time - and everything else can be repaired.

The 50 year MTBF is a number quoted for the older and much thicker traced chips and based on migration of dopant. Todays chips are thinner and dopant migration should be a life shortener.

Not to mention thinner traces are more ESD sensitive - clean room attention to the machine would make 'em last longer. not many PC's are in clean room environment.

Oh, and with the modern boards - exactly how will you trouble shoot the bad components? JTAG test points and a bed of nails test rigs are not common - multiply by the number of different consumer electronics - and now its a real troubleshooting nightmare. Not to mention that some of the smaller components on a board may not be made 5-10 years out from the original date. Or in a different package format so someone would have to build an adapter.

(the last chip level repair I did was soldering a axle lead diode in place of a surface mount of the same type to get a hard drive up and running to get customer data off - 9 years ago)

I do not think the current consumer electronics can last 50 years but it ought to be possible to build it to last for manny decades and be much easier to repair. There is for instance a vast potential for standardizing the IC:s.

Correct think about engineering for different constraints. Not exactly our current crop of PC's.

Even with off the shelf components esp ARM core processors one could readily build a robust low energy information appliance.

Its really the monitors that are the biggest problem and this technology is advancing rapidly.

Making some reasonable assumptions about advancement in monitor techology.

And storage:

I think that we basically have the technology practically off the shelf to develop reliable PC's.

If you then consider a few years of development using new energy and a bit later lifetime constraints then
PC's that readily last 10 years or more are easily doable.

As far as processing power if your primarily using a PC as a information appliance then you really don't need more then we have today if your doing computation then its a different problem solved in a different manner and in general you would want to use some sort of client/server framework. The current focus on processing in the PC itself has far more to do with limitations of the Windows operating system not hardware.

You forget the real limits that these people will face : the human body. And, as neighboring Rwanda has demonstrated, those limits are quite unforgiving.

Everything else was done by hand, using ZERO energy.

Does the human body use "zero" energy ? Well let's take a look at the efficiency. Let's estimate that plant production from sunlight is less than 2% efficient. Let's disregard that meat production from plants is less than 0.02% efficient. Let's forget that our own systems are only about 2% efficient (and that's only if you count every action, including sleep, getting sick and masturbating as "useful work", otherwise you don't even want to think about the efficiency of the human body).

How much energy does it require to keep a human body merely alive ? The main "cost" of a human body is the fact that we're warmblooded, that we can never, ever, lower the rate of energy consumption in our organs more than a few tenths of percents. Staying alive on the North Pole therefore requires much, much more than staying alive on the equator. Kenya is a benefactor of this effect, and fortunate in this regard.

The energy requirement of the human body is 16 kilocalories per day per pound. I'm about 135 pounds, so that means 2160 kilocalories per day. (yes the wikipedia article is wrong, wikipedia's always at best inaccurate). That means I'm, at total rest, am about 2 incandescent light bulbs.

But that's not the amount of sunlight energy it takes to keep me alive. Let's measure this against total amount of incoming sunlight. Arable land is about 10% of all land, which is about 1/3rd of the planet. Meaning we can actually use 3% of incoming sunlight. I eat about 1/10th meat and 9/10th plants. That means 216 kcal / 0.02% / 2% / 3% + 9/10 * 2160 kcal / 2% / 3%. This number does NOT include transport, so it is only valid for subsistence farmers, who do not use any fertilizer, machines or anything. Let's assume getting food to your average urban dweller is 10% efficient, and producing it using industrial agriculture is another times 10% efficient.

So how much sunlight does this "ZERO" energy usage require ? 87 323 566.7 watts per subsistence farmer. 8.7 billion watts per city dweller. Every single person on this site, JUST TO KEEP EM BREATHING requires 8.7 BILLION watts of sunlight to be sent to earth. I'm sure getting anyone of them to build a house makes 9 billion out of it. Btw : this is just breathing, nothing more. Not tv, no computer, and certainly no internet or cell phones.

That's only zero energy expenditure if your middle name is Hussein, spending other people's energy.

Thank God, there is sunshine then, 'ey?!

Of course, I should have made more clear what I meant by 'ZERO energy' - I was referring to electricity or gasoline or anything really that powers any kind of machinery (as none was used bar a certain saw once - which was a MAJOR event, by the way). Nor is there a lot of machinery in use on most construction sites here (except where Chinese or Europeans build roads, using Chinese or European 'labor' in operating this machinery).

So, thank you for pointing that out.

On the other hand, I can assure you that whatever most Kenyans base their daily calorie intake on, it is derived from food which, again, is produced with extremly little use of conventional (or unconventional) energy input (except, of course, that of human workforce, and nature's elements).

What I was trying to say - and I stand by this completely, because I have not only seen it in reality, I also live it when there, is that whatever the 'carbon-derived energy footprint' of Kenyans is in going about their daily lives and businesses, is much, much, MUCH less than what we consider neseccary to 'have a life worth living' here.

What I was trying to say is that life can absolutely be 'happy,' 'worth living,' 'fulfiling,' and, above all, 'survivable,' if one has to get by with much, much, MUCH less input of oil, natural gas, nuclear power, etc., etc. than what we consider to be the measure of all things.

My middle name is not Hussein. And I approve of this reply.

Um, ok, well what if we made people turn cranks on generators to power a lightbulb, would the lightbulb then be powered using 'ZERO energy'? Electricity is not part of some other world unconnected to our own, energy is energy, however we choose to use it.

p.s. a machine is any device that uses energy to perform some activity, I would bet good money that there is a great deal of machinery on any kenyan construction site (e.g. winches, levers, concrete mixers, shovels etc.), but that it is mostly powered by humans, who are powered by stored chemical energy, which is derived from sunlight.

"Thank God, there is sunshine then, 'ey?!"

There is only enough sunshine to have about 100 million city dwellers, and only enough sunshine for about 10 billion subsistence farmers (in a 100% efficient society). Since those people you described are certainly not fertilization-free subsistence farmers living in small villages, not having any external input whatsoever, you can't even have the current population of Kenia survive on less than 50% of ALL landmass.

Since kenya has about 1/300th of the total landmass, this means it can support, with the lifestyle you describe about 1/150th of it's population. But they're close to the equator, and that makes it a bit easier to survive than average. So let's say 1/100 th of it's current population can be sustainably supported.

So unless fusion power is discovered, or we learn to create food without involving plants and certainly without involving animals, out of every 100 kenyans 99 will be dead on 1/1/2100, assuming they can somehow defend their borders during the contraction. If they don't, barely any will survive.

That's the problem with the "green" and "sustainable" lifestyle : it can support, very optimistically nearly 1 billion people. That means that if the 2050 date for the exhaustion of oil is correct, birth control is not nearly sufficient to avert disaster. If that date is correct for the energy contraction, massive genocide is a certainty.

That obviously leads one inexorably to the conclusion that "sustainability" is a death sentence for at least 80% of all humans worldwide. Perhaps we should ask the green parties who they intend to kill.

That is not even a bit true, oelewapperke.

go to the top of page 6 to see the area required to supply all of the world's electricity needs at 2050 with this one solar energy conversion technology. With half as much again most vehicles can be powered electrically. No oil necessary at all.

As an example I am part of a team building the Mesh Potato - a Wireless router that you can plug a phone into. Your Mesh Potato connects via wireless to the guys down the street and so on to form a mesh network for Village Telephony. No cell phone towers, no land lines, no phones companies and just a few watts of power.

Anyway the point I am trying to make is that we are engineering the Mesh Potato to last in developing world conditions - it will be weatherproof, low power, and robust against lightning and mis-use (like 240VAC into a 12VDC input). It is possible to make IT equipment that is robust, long lasting, low power and survive some infrastructure failure (like a centralised cell/telephone network going down). If our IT lasts a long time it will only take modest resources to build and maintain it.

Another good example is the One Laptop per Child - a robust laptop that can be broken down and have major components replaced with one screwdriver. It even includes spare screws.

It's our choice to build things that last.

Everything that is manufactured now is produced using current technologies. If there is an actual economic/industrial/population crash, as opposed to a decline or contraction, and we imagine the survivors returning to subsistence farming, we have to imagine that the highly complex production lines will also crash. You can't make a few computers or cell phones or photovoltaic cells on a cottage industry scale - this fairly obvious. But the same highly complex manufacturing processes are in place for making even simple essential tools.

In our imagined subsistence farming future we will need saws for pruning trees. Almost all saws are made by computer-controlled production lines - wonderfully sharp, wonderfully cheap, hard-point steel teeth which are discarded when blunt. Our houses will need windows (made of wood). How will we fell the trees, process the timber, do the joinery? We will need spades and mattocks to work the soil. We will need boxes and buckets to carry and store things. How will they be made? And when our work is done we might want to make some nice non-electric music on violins and guitars. Where will we buy our strings? And if we visit neighbours on our bicycles, where will we buy replacement tyres, chains, gears?

Perhaps we think we can re-invent long lost 18th or 19th or 20th century techniques? Olduvai beckons, I fear, the period of transition involving scavenging stuff from the present era, prior to eventual disappearance of technology.

Remember that night,that starry night
Banana moon up there
Atlas shrugged when we all came unplugged
The day that the power went down, down down.

Empty bars, abandoned cars.
You'll never drive again
No more trains, no more planes
No more ways to get away.

The streets are bare, there's no sodium glare
When the sun goes down it's dark
Gaia laughed in that cool cool draught
The day that the power went down, down down

We make hay, but there's no pay
It's either work or starve
No PC's no Macs, no income tax
No paperwork these days

(guitar solo if you have strings)

She loved the shops now she works till she drops
With a mattock out in the fields
Push that hoe, sweetheart, weed that row
Ever since the power went down, down down.

Old jaw bone, cold flint stone
The new neolithic age
Boy and girl in the new stoneage world
Ever since the power went down, down down

Perhaps we think we can re-invent long lost 18th or 19th or 20th century techniques?

We do not need to re-invent.

So long as some documentation exists of the techniques of 1700's/1800's/1900's the humans that remain will use 'em.

Screw, spinning wheel, metal making, electricity. All possible.

The cell phones cited in the article show humans need for communication and willingness to do such. It just won't be the HD streaming video richness of today on the backside. It'll be small devices with ARM processors running text based UNIX and UUCP level.

Bang path mailers Bay-bee!

I think Ndege's article is seriously over-optimistic. As is Gail's concluding scenarios page. And Eric's comment here.

Human groups rarely handle contraction at all well. The world's supposed elites are already doing a pretty abysmal job of handling merely the end of growth, let alone the downslope to come. The probability of "developed" societies getting down that unfamiliar icy slope without slipping into catastrophe I would rate as negligible.

Others above here have rightly identified one difference from Kenya - that we in the "developed" world have become severely impoverished in the most basic skills for survival and low-energy happiness.

Eric's notion that there's no problem because we do not need to invent is also seriously misconceived. Just because there are a few books in libraries and a possible handful of people have some of the skills and tools does not mean that that basic expertise can be suddenly scaled up once the corporate system collapses (even if slowly).

Documentation of the techniques of the 1700s-1900s? Show me a single cobbler alive in the UK. How does one promptly extract such skill from "documentation" (wherever that may be)? I am talking about a most basic human requirement, for wearable shoes once we have to get everywhere by foot and shoes no are longer shipped over from China. The cobbler of Nuremberg was already moaning about the complaints of his uncomfortable customers back then (in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, 1867), so look forward to some whopping corns in the bright future folks.

Blacksmithing is a living art, even is it is practiced by relatively few in developed countries. Had a nice seminar locally from a Kenyan blacksmith a few years ago, they are using some very interesting techniques that European smiths generally ignore.

Cobblers exist in the US still, I'd be shocked if the foot-friendlier UK didn't have more than you think.

On the way down, the folks keeping these skills alive will at worst be hiring trainable assistants.

And one extracts skill from documentation the old fashioned way: by working with it.

Show me a single cobbler alive in the UK.

And a snip at only 1500 pounds for your first pair from them :)


I thoroughly enjoyed your 'ramblings' and your english was/is fine. I agree with your assesment of the life that 'survivors' will live.

However the transition from 'now' to 'then' will be unnoticed and short in some places, and chaotic, violent and much longer in others.

Small towns all over America already know how to operate on much less than 'normal'. There aren't as many of them, and not all of them will easily go back to subsistance living, but some will. Major metropolitan areas though? I'm glad I live far outside the nearest city.

Sure, life won't be so bad if you can make the transition from tons of readily available energy to do everything a modern civilization has to offer, to a more primitive, physical labor driven, till the soil type, rudimentary lifestyle.

That's the problem. No one use to having it all will want to settle for anything less. It will be like trying to dental floss a cat - unruly. Or as someone said to me the other day, "I'm not willing to give up my steaks and butter you know".

Maybe in Kenya, where the fall from grace was not too far to fall, its a transition that seemed not too unreasonable. But in the West the entire infrastructure, the mode of economic activity is all rooted in the consumption of copious supertank loads of 'Black Gold', 'Texas T'. How can one even imagine how that transition could take place without severe repercussions.

This take on Kenya is not too different than what took place in Cuba some years ago, which can be viewed on Youtube. But again we are viewing a society that could make that transition without a huge fall. The fall in the West will not occur without major implications.

History is repeating itself. First we had Bush jr. who was the repeat of Hoover, a champion of the super wealthy, and that's been followed by Obama who is a repeat of FDR a champion of the working person. And what followed that period? WWII. So the question is; If all those previous events are being repeated, then why wouldn't another world war ensue? And this time one might figure it will be for the last of the oil deposits to continue to fuel their economies.

What will be ironic about this potentially impending WWIII, will be that we will fight over a substance causing global warming, and one that is finite. Meaning its continued usage can only cause us more harm environmentally, and one that will reach a point of not being viable due to the expense of extraction.

So on the surface, you could say we can all move in the direction of Cuba or Kenya, but in reality it will be a Mad Max scenario played out on a global scale. Burgeoning China will not accept a slowdown in their expansion for 1.3 billion people and the West will be willing to give up its engine of commerce. Like two giant rams, there will be a collision.

correction at the end of my post: ...the West will not be willing to...

1. Neither FDR nor Obama was a "champion of the working person" in my opinion. Both were/are products of the money establishment that caused the problem, but both were put in place to attempt to moderate the excesses of that class, and hopefully avoid revolution.

2. It is surely possible that Americans, in particular, could have reached that plateau of material surfeit where they can truly ask, "is that all there is?" and choose to sharply reduce their material desires. Not back to Kenya (for one thing, it gets pretty cold most places in this country)-- but easily a reduction of 50 or 75%. One car, not three; drive to the beach, not a weekend in "Cabo" (Cabo San Lucas, a favored destination of the affluent lower middle class here in Oregon, at least); family and friends get together more, and stop pursuing individual entertainments, each needing a car and money; eating locally produced food; etc. -- all the things people talk about in the Oil Drum. A better future is certainly possible -- more humane, more human scale, more fulfilling, more fun.

3. Mad Max is possible, but it would require that people covet a high energy lifestyle. Perhaps the media can whip us into that again ("The American way of life is non-negotiable," our fearless leaders once said) but I suspect that we are now in a process of negotiation-- led by Mr. Obama and his wife who is planting a garden at the White House. Expectations -- both of the money class and the average American are being rapidly ratcheted down. If this is done carefully -- and so far, they seem to be very adept -- I am still hopeful of a brilliant future.

4. I have been studying ceramic art at a local community college. It is incredible, how creative and inventive people are -- just us ordinary folks -- and this is multiplied by thousands of similar programs all over the country, and by other creative enterprises in wood, metalworking, visual arts, theater... and none of this requires much fossil fuel! We have been sold a bill of goods by the oil and money establishment, and will be much better off when their influence has waned. Derek is right, in my opinion.



Happily living off very very little.
If you work less, you need less food.

read it.

A better future is certainly possible -- more humane, more human scale, more fulfilling, more fun.

Exactly. I'm always surprised by how many people seem to cling to the false dichotomy of "no change" vs "total meltdown". Based on the last major energy crisis (1979), neither extreme is credible.

If society can't keep doing something, it won't, but "society crumbles" isn't the only way that can happen. It's not at all clear that western society is as fragile as some people appear to be suggesting.

Pitt- Your comparison with 1979 is miles out. Firstly it was thirty years ago and the developed world is very different now, much more commercialised, corporatised, globalised and just-in-time long-distance dependent. And much more deficient in traditional self-suffiency skills.

And back then was not a permanent downsizing prospect, so there could still be a soundish rationale for loans to be paid off at a later date.

You're right to question whether western society is as fragile as some claim, and the regular presumptive assertions to that point unsupported by actual presentations of evidence and reasoning don't help. But the more I have looked for it, the more fleeting I see the notion of a way to avoid a catastrophic collapse. Already, from the mere cessation of oil growth at 2004, we have the system in spiralling crisis, with the "leaders" trying every possible idiotic idea for curing the problem, such as more spending and lending and growth. And that's when we haven't even started on the downslope yet. Isn't that quite a hint? (Sorry I don't have time to fully present about the system fragility problem just here now.)

The Hippies showed that it is possible to have a "good" life while living low on the hog. But...even they were dependent upon the fruits/labors and services of society outside their group.

Looking at US society as a whole, I simply do not see a mellow transition to a new paradigm of community and simplicity. First, the vast majority of people have useless skill-sets. Second, with the exception of rural people, most people are not used to, nor have any experience with, working together. Yes, people "work with" their office/store mates but this is different than being in a situation where reciprocity is expected. Finally, what are people actually going to do? What useful work will be available to urban and suburban people? Grow food? But even that requires a somewhat intact system.

Yes, things will eventually reach some sort of stasis but it is going to be a hard road.


And Todd, perhaps 6 out of 7 of us will have to die.

There will be zero room for non-performers. Zero.

Work or die. Simple. Adapt or perish.

Life can be simple.

I am not being sarcastic or engaging in hyperbole.

And I might add that Steve Solomon has been in the gardeing biz for a very long time and he states that 'backyard suburban gardens' will not cut it. Not a chance. "Gardening When it Counts".

Airdale-breaking my rule by posting on DBs. But I see so little by Todd these days...a Very hard road,yes. The Kenyans apparently never advanced enough to be taken down by 'Development' and the highly vaunted 'economy'...I'm guessing here.

Hi Airdale. Welcome back.


Hey good buddy - the reason you haven't seen much of me is because spring is here and there's too much to do! I've been doing a lot of clearing for fire protection. It's nice to get the firewood but then I end up with huge brush piles that have to be burned(spent almost 8 hours on burning yesterday alone). Heck, I haven't even gotten my fruit trees pruned yet.

Plus, I'm getting ready for three gardening seminars I'm giving in May - one on terra preta, one on building self-watering containers and one on what one might grow in a survival garden.

The joy of the country.


Todd, There are huge brush piles all over this region. They are hauling them away. Means they are taking stored energy elsewhere.

While firewood is going for way over $100 / cord the roads are lined with fallen trees and huge limbs, yet is anyone? Anyone? At all out scavenging this free wood? Not seen but maybe one or two. And me of course.

The old white oak up by the loghouse lost huge amounts of limbs but none broke at the laterals truck junction so it survived and will leaf out. Sweet gum, locust and much else broke the laterals at the trunk and that means if they survive it will be with weak and easily broke junk growth.

So I sawed up all the huge amounts under it and placed them down by my living quarters. Like when we used to cut out fence rows we just piled the brush up and let it melt away on its own. Rabbits and wildlife loved it.

Most I will use for fuel on my wood gas stoves, on the way from the net. Some for firewood and some to bury in the garden for OM.

I also saved the pine trees branches to kiln for charcoal for blacksmithing.

Around and about there are piles the trucks hauled away that are easily larger than foot ball fields and as far up as a track hoe with bucket can go or a knuckleboom.

Amazing huge piles. A lot to people who sell compost as they will chip them up.

We lost thousands upon thousands of tons of timber. Perhaps millions.

Just finished putting my cabbages in.

Good to hear from you,
Airdale-class of '57

Hello Todd,

Heck, I haven't even gotten my fruit trees pruned yet.

Gee, you are late, August is long gone;)

I prune as much as possible during mid/late August because I don't seem to get as much sucker growth in the spring that way, but can be somewhat fussy so maybe would be a bit of a problem if one were doing a larger commercial thing.

Ignatz - I thought I'd wait until later in the day since this is OT. I usually summer prune in July since it reduces spring growth. Last year we had an 8,800Ac wildfire that was finally stopped 3 miles from us during this period - which is why I'm doing fire control thinning/felling. We were under a voluntary evacuation notice for three weeks so pruning went by the boards. I was going to fall prune but other stuff was going on. I'll try to get back to summer pruning this year. Plus, I was going to do a lot of grafting this year but we had snow during the best time.


Will the info from these seminars be available online? All 3 are interesting subjects.


No, noting will be on line. Anyone is welcome to come but I live in northern CA. This is a simple country presentation FWIW, May 2- Terra Preta, May 16 - Self-watering containers, May 30 - Survival gardening.

I'm not big on email for this sort of thing. Call me at nine-eight-four-six-nine-nine-eight. If you're in the area you'll know the area code.


This isn't Drumbeat, so you haven't broken your rule.

Right now, we are spending a huge amount helping 85 year olds becoming 90 year olds. It seems like this will be cut back on significantly.

There are also a lot of very premature infants, and children with very handicapping diseases, that we are fighting to keep alive. If there is not enough to go around, these seem likely to be hit by cutbacks.

Back about 1970, it is my understanding that the rule of thumb for court awards after the death of a child was $1,000 for each year of life. The thinking was that if parents lost a child, they could nearly always have another one. We may end up going back this route again.

Gail --

Right now, there is enormous profit to be made from helping an 85-year old become 90. Same with premature infants at the other end of the scale. Take out the profit, and the emotional calculus will change rapidly. People do adapt!

Been reading your sisters two books.
These are right where my studies are in my never ending quest.

Also picked up a book by Kirk Douglas,,,whose real name he reveals is
Iuur Danielovitch..or close to it. Title is 'Climbing The Mountain-My Search For Meaning'.

All around me and my friends there is folks in bad shape and facilities are not doing too much for them as they used to. One good friend took his very badly damaged wife to her doctor and he never did aught but just talk to her. Made my friend very upset.

I think we are starting to see the effects of lack of funds affecting health care here.

Thanks for the tip on the books,

What ho Airdale,

And I might add that Steve Solomon has been in the gardeing biz for a very long time and he states that 'backyard suburban gardens' will not cut it. Not a chance. "Gardening When it Counts".

I guess he wasn't thinking about Detroit's expanding backyards ? But most of those would be older properties, that likely once had gardens, not like the modern suburb scraped clean and put into green stuff growing on rubble sand and steroids.

Am on a, unusually well placed, quarter acre city lot and what with the fruit, garden and ducks as well, think I would not do to too badly, if push came to shove would eat. Only bought some replacement cabbage this year when I found that our home grown sauerkraut had been put up too early with warm fall temperature and didn't last the course. Oh, and unfortunately don't grow coffee beans nor cream for same.

As you remove vegetables or crops from the soil there is an 'uptake' of nutrients that goes with what you remove.

This is what must be replaced or you slowly delete the soil.

I used to bail and sell hay. Round and square bales. Then I looked at the ag book from UK and checked the crop uptakes for N,P and K and not to mention trace elements.The uptake was rather high. Like maybe 40 units of N per acre of hay removed. Don't have the pub handy so from memory. Yet its a serious uptake.

So Solomon says,wisely , that this all must be replaced and that means cover crops nearby and using that to replace the gardens loss. I think he recommended comfrey. So what the sun and other entities add slowly to the cover crop you use. You soon run out of replacement material. The natural order of nature can't replace that fast even if you try to let some lie fallow. Some nutrients are hard to replace.

This is why an old fashioned farm used many methods and was viable and why backyard gardens are generally never. Up to a point..yes. but then you will face declining production.

I see this in my own gardens. What does Fukuowa(sp) recommend then in his Natural Gardening? A nearby forest or woodlands. A place to take from what nature has stowed there. I have woodlands right close to use. I steal from one place and let nature replenish.

Well truth is I am not there as yet. I am now using COF and no bagged store brought fertilizer but I am encouraging lots of volunteer Hairy Vetch. And other measures like clover,etc.

Solomon says a quarter acre is not sufficient for two and certainly not for a family. Ok for perhaps one if done right.

I will have to review his book later but I think I have the gist of
it about right.

But to each his own. I wish you luck anyway.

Do you fertilize your fruit trees at all? Or berry plants?
I don't mine since I think those are sorta protected by nature.
So I am putting in a lot of berry plants and just getting started past my one blueberry bush and several blackberries and now only 3 fruit trees.


Solomon says a quarter acre is not sufficient for two and certainly not for a family. Ok for perhaps one if done right.

I am often puzzled that there is still a perception that everyone has to be totally self-sufficient. The quarter acre block might be good for a lot more vegetables and fruit, eggs and perhaps some small game meat but trying to turn it into a farm to feed a family is going to be a futile exercise.

The erection of this straw man, just to knock it down, assumes that suburbanites and city dwellers will stay in theere quater acre bunker sna dnever venture out to see waht else might be scavenged or traded in order to bring home more food. The current paradigm is to trade your time for cash, which for most peole is the most efficent way. That could change very rapidly if the oil dependent jobs disappear. But it won't stop people from trading as they have doen for millenia.

With the composting of food scraps, the fall leaves, humanure and cover crops, a balance can be made in suburban gardening where nutrients in the soil vs nutrients coming out are reasonably balanced.

Ho Airdale,

No a quarter acre is not enough and doubt a single small family would ever be able to produce all the variety that makes some sort of reasonable life style possible. Just look at the magic called the match, bugger if I want to start rubbing sticks togeather at my age to make my morning coffee. We are three on this place and it would be a real tightening of belts to get through a-live-off-the-property-alone style for a year, but I think could be done, just not contemplated with any joy.

About fertilizing, I have been building up the fertility of this place, as it was not ever a garden, so I have brought in over the past eight years two 14 yard loads of dung (last load cost 80 bucks and same for transport from a local dairy). I have put some nitrogen rock phosphate and potash into stores but have been using mainly things like alfalfa, some wood ash , straw, home compost with much of that shredded fertiliser additive that comes through my mailbox and in advertising newspapers, those along with duck and chicken manure. I figure if I can build the soil up for the next ten years that, in my dotage and failing strength, will be able to coast through my 'golden years', using those store bought fertilizers, slowly down to that great compost heap in my back 40 ... (yards that is).

I have begun under planting my berry bushes with clover but other than putting on some borax under the fruit trees (don't exactly know why but I think it seemed a good idea at the time), otherwise I just leave their leaves to rot in place.and so far they seem to do well . My main problems with fruit trees have been strange weather patterns with wind which have cut the cherry down to about a quarter production last year and the coddling moth on the apple which I hope the ducks will take care of this year ( Just had these duck guys since last summer and have great hopes for them in the pest department ... eat those slugs and snails guys and I will look after those eggs of yours).

Two thoughts on this:

The Hippies showed that it is possible to have a "good" life while living low on the hog.

Agreed. They took advantage of what was around them to do things like use acid and go on road trips. But I think the same kind of person with that mindset would be equally happy eating shrooms and setting up a commune.

First, the vast majority of people have useless skill-sets.

I am not sold on this. Business is not going to become useless overnight. We don't pass peak and then begin bartering with stones and using pack animals. I think there will be enough gains in effciency/conversation to at least conceivably cushion the impact, and if there are resources to be had, business will utelize them. Many on this site are so quick to exclude the business sector from the solution when, in reality, it will likely play a huge roll in the transition.

It only takes a few organic farmers and permaculture people to train a few more to train everyone.

I have a different view, I think business is becoming useless overnight, or at least for 600,000 / 30 = 20,000 people per day it is. These millions of unemployed are never going to be employed again in anything like the jobs they just lost.

People are going to look back and wonder at how fast it all happened.

Business will never become completely useless, one can hope that "finance" will fall by the wayside before it does too much more damage, however.

Agreed. Put two people in a room and a market will emerge.

These millions of unemployed are never going to be employed again in anything like the jobs they just lost.

Hmmm Angel, interesting reflection. I believe possibly I have to agree.

The modern form of "business" which is organised on gigantic scales and operated as faceless corporate machines is going to face some real difficulties. Look at GM and Chrysler. Companies this size can be bankrupted even though it seems unfathomable to many.

Family businesses however such as farms, small manufacturers and local processors will thrive as they fill the spaces vacated by monolithic corporations. This doesn't mean that they will be highly profitable, but moderately comfortable will be the sweetspot many of these folk will seek. Community values will come back into play to regulate those who make too much money and redistribut opportunity to those who need some help. But business will continue.

Habari gani, ndege. (What's the news, bird)

Thanks for your description of how you look at things in Kenya. I good way of researching how life is there are descriptions of NGOs (non government organisations) about their work. I know Tanzania so here are some examples:

Local teams of workers drill the wells, erect the windmills and other pumps as well as maintain the various village sites. This is the centre of all CPPS Water Projects activity. During the summer of 2008, a workshop where windmills will be made was completed.

Here an organisation based in Atlanta, GA, Gail's home town:
Better World Books with Poverty Eradication Trust

The aim of the program is to ensure that each "Carpenter's Kid" receives a school uniform, a pair of shoes, and adequate school supplies to enable them to attend primary school. These children will also be provided with breakfast on school days.

And Wazungu (whites) can learn something, too (how to carry a bucket of water on the head)

or, let us go to Bangladesh and see how we can carry bricks in boats and load 20 bricks on our heads:

And since we are in that part of the world, we can have a look at post peak oil load factors on trains (pilgrims from Dhaka to Tongi during Eid celebrations)

Happy Easter!

wow wow, that Bangladeshi link of yours was worth it's time. Talking of circus-level entertainment at work, Clap-clap ... I had to watch it twice

Derek's description of Kenya reminded me of what I observed in Northeast India. Although the government of Gujarat is pushing industrialization and development in a big way (the new Nano car is being produced there), the majority of the population still lives a very marginal existence. The agricultural dependence on petroleum for both fertilizer and irrigation and the emphasis on commodity crops like cotton as opposed to subsistence crops will undoubtedly mean tremendous famine and suffering on the part of the population. However, the low level of expectations and fatalism as well as the already existing skills seems like they may be able to adjust more rapidly than the US.

Derek -

A very thoughtful and well-written post (by the way, your English is better than many Americans I know), that to me is a breath of fresh air from all the hard-core doomerism that is constantly served up at TOD.

The sense I get is that society in Kenya is far less individualistic and competitive than in the US, two features that are going to make a transition to a more laid-back society extremely messy and unpleasant in the US. Also, your description of life in Kenya further reinforces my growing feeling that gross economic indicators such as GDP tell us little if anything about whether things are really getting better or worse.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the only thing that is going to save the US is a radical change in mindset, but I find it very difficult to envision that happening in any major way. I fear that we Americans are going to behave like a spoiled child who when finding out that he can't have the toy he wants, will then try to either take or break his playmate's toys rather than do without.

I am not so pessimistic as some of the DB posters about American behavior.

I fear that we Americans are going to behave like a spoiled child who when finding out that he can't have the toy he wants, will then try to either take or break his playmate's toys rather than do without.

The very same people might either kill for the proper tennis shoes or join in neighborhood building programs. This much is clear. People can fairly easily be motivated to do the right thing (or not) -- and we (or at least our leaders and media moguls) know how to manipulate emotions, desires, behavior.

The problem is that at least up to a certain point, competition, violence, and threat are productive of profit, and it is profit that motivates American society (is that not true in Kenya? -- I wonder about that.) If it gets too far out of hand, the opportunity for profit is lost.

I think it would be fairly easy to lead even spoiled Americans back to reasonable expectations and increased cooperation -- just pay Rush Limbaugh to talk that way instead of paying him to talk up social discord, for example. In the end, the people at the top, who are manifestly not stupid, will synchronize available energy with perceived need. And if they are really smart, we won't even notice!

People at top not stupid? Well, in my former life as a CEO, I met a lot of people at the top, and if they weren't stupid, what were they? Criminal? I remember talking with a guy- long ago- who was head of a fridge manufacturing outfit- a big one. I mentioned the need to reduce use of CFC's to help the ozone layer. He said his only task was to maximize stock value, and to hell with ozone layer and for that matter, the future of the planet.

I then asked him if he had grandkids and was concerned for their welfare. His answer stuck with me-"That has nothing to do with my job".! Izzat right? That was one of the things that turned my simple engineering head around to the real problem-- people. Technology is not the problem. People are.

So, I once again ask all of you - take a walk down any isle of any big box store, look at the stuff for sale. What fraction of that stuff- made at the expense of the planet- a ruinous expense- and ask--"do we need this, in any meaningful definition of the word "need" ? The answer is about 99+% -no.

So, why are we doing it?

My two grandkids have wheelbarrow loads of fuzzy toys from China. When they come over here, they play very happily with sticks, mud, junk, paper boxes, shoes left lying around, and then go on to make amazingly creative art work out of anything. No fuzzy toys, no store-bought anything, lots of fun. Same as I did growing up in the '30's.

We are living in a madhouse. Anyone in a village in Kenya, or India, almost anywhere, will tell us so. And we are killing them- and us. For NOTHING. Stupid?

not stupid. criminal.

it's not criminal to behave stupidly.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the only thing that is going to save the US is a radical change in mindset


The Roaring Twenties seemed like they would go on forever, but the US dealt with a 20% per capita drop in energy consumption between 1930 and 1935. WWII, of course, saw rationing of many goods. Many Americans alive today dealt with a 15% drop in per capita energy between 1979 and 1983.

Things could get bad, sure, but evidence suggests that's not likely. Recent history suggests that Americans can deal with reductions in available energy without going nuts, so it seems reasonable to expect that contemporary Americans may well have similarly-reasonable reactions to a similar scenario.

Thank you Dereck - I love hearing from people who have experienced a non-western/1st world lifestyle.

I agree with many of your points, especially:

1. Government is frequently the source of the problem - especially the federal government.

2. Post-Transition will not necessarily be "bad" at all, and in fact may be very pleasant.

3. It is the period of rapid change that will be painful.

4. In some places, that period of change will be hardly noticed, while in other places it will involve starvation and cannibalism (the mechanisms of rapid depopulation may vary...)

"[P]erhaps 6 out of 7 of us will have to die."

As Lenin said, the two important questions are "Who?" and "Whom?" Exactly at this point the discussion at this excellent site veers off into inanity.

Perhaps an extra layer of abstraction is called for. Let us ask "Is anyone now asking himself "who?" and "whom?", and if so, do his answers rise to the level of a plan?"

The globalist project is not without enemies and may even have a specific and planning enemy.

I am looking at the worlds population numbers and comparing them to the numbers that can live sustainably on this planet earth.

Not that I am hoping for it but the pressure has to mount and something will give.

I would love to keep my pension. My SS stipend. Live and work on electronic toys and ride horses. Fish and garden and ride my Harley as long as possible. Go once in a while to a very good restauran, like say in New Orleans. Keep my rototillers and IH 140 running and productive.

But right now the only thing I can think to do it prepare,prepare and spend very very wisely.

I would love to get an RV and spend it on the coast or going to Bluegrass Jamborees. GTrip back to Hawaii where I spent 4 years and look it over before I pass on but its not going to happen.

My dream was a Light Sport Aircraft on my own farm. Not going to happen.

Inanity or possible reality?


And yet for some the questions of “who” or “whom” don’t arise in the first place. Some of those ‘some’ certainly make up the largest part of Kenya’s population. That is one of the reasons why I thought that life – by and large – in this part of our world is worth a look at when we are trying to estimate how life will ‘feel’ like after a transition from the oil-age. Because, to a surprisingly large extent, we can already see today how such a life may ‘feel like’ – in a country like Kenya, for example (I am sure, there are others as well).

Most Kenyans, and I would say that means over 90% of the population, grew- and grow up within a strict anti-individualistic cultural set of values. “I” and “me” are not assigned the same value as in Western societies, thus being concepts with a much reduced dynamic when it comes to change and/or development; one way or other; ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ (And the main reason, by the way, why economic development – in the sense we understand it – never took off on a grand scale. People just aren’t individualistic enough to turn their personal desire for growth and wish-fulfilment into a propellant for action/change).

The, let’s call it, attention most Westerners devote to their personal wellbeing, economic advancement, emotional self-fulfilment, even personal survival – all of it a prerequisite for finding “who” and “whom” important –, is much less pronounced in most Kenyans. It is the group, the clan, that expands, survives, or withers, and dies. Of course, the fate of any one person within this group does not leave the remainder untouched. People do care. But no-one with a traditional African mindset – which, also today, and also in Kenya, holds true for the vast majority – considers him- or herself important (enough) to be bothered to an extent we consider ‘normal.’

To explain this is difficult because – and that is what I was trying to point out in the first place, in my email-cum-post – we apply a certain perspective, understanding, points of reference, that are second nature to our culture but aren’t necessarily a set of tools for some other cultures – or especially for the ages.

People, I believe, adapt to the circumstances that they find around them (the nomadic Kenyan lives a totally different kind of life than the Kenyans who live in the highlands, or at the coast). If they have many resources, they make use of them, and it will show in the way they experience their own life – and by how much they expand activities that influence their environment. People with much less resources make do with those, including the inherent limitations to their growth as a group – or their personal life-expectancy. They know no different. To them the question “will I survive” is important, of course, but not to such an extent that they would call into question the foundations – and value! — of their existence, be it as a group, as a culture, or as a person.

Most Africans just know that it is normal to ‘lose.’ That… is second nature to them. It is my experience that they don’t take it too personal, really. Unlike us. We grew up in an environment that taught us we can achieve anything if we try hard enough. Thus making the outcome a referendum on personal qualities – or worthiness. Which, again, gives relevance to us wondering about “who” or “whom.”

We may overlook, however, that it is the environment, with all this abundant and cheap energy, that set the stage for us to be achievers, masters of (our) destiny, in the first place – and, thus, responsible or not; guilty of neglect or not. And, thus, worthy of at least being considered to be amongst those “whos” and “whoms.” A misunderstanding, in my view. We were dealt a certain set of cards. It was our hand, as it were, that allowed us to become what we consider ‘great players’ – not so much our personal qualities. We won (for now) because of all the aces we were dealt – not because we are necessarily aces ourselves.

Apparently, that environment is changing – the hand we are dealt today differs from the one we were used to. We will have to change our response, the way we ‘play,’ with it. The question whether the more limited availability of resources to sustain one’s life is the result of a personal miscalculation (in lifestyle) doesn’t really arise, I think. Neither does therefore the question of “who” or “whom.” Since it wasn’t a real personal choice in the first place how one’s life will have to be lived – as the rules were set. Like they were in Kenya. Except here, the rules are different.

So why “who” or “whom” should be of any relevance – other than a very personal one – I don’t see. In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t know why it should matter. In more ways than one, we are all pretty much the same – and all pretty much the same worth surviving, or, well, not. It just seems to depend on the table we were set down at. Well, it also seems those tables are turning. We can too.

Happy Easter, y'all!

Hi Ndege, I live in Nairobi (for those who don't know, the capital of Kenya).

I agree that the informal sector here is huge and that we are a cash based society. Kenya's overall energy use is very low, according to the stats, we use 63-68,000 barrels of oil per day. Neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda use even less. I'd like to point out that 2nd hand cars can be relatively cheap here, you can get a car for around Kshs 500,000 (1 USD = 80 Kshs).

We also follow the same monetary and legal system as Britain, hence we do have a Central Bank and thus even in Africa money is debt. So although people exchange everything by cash or in many cases barter, we do require someone somewhere in this country to take loans! To put money into circulation.

Some other facts about Kenya are that only 20% of the households in the country are connected to the electric grid but in Rural areas where most of the population lives it's only 3%. Hence the majority of people have never lived with electricity as pointed out by Ndege.

A collapse would have consequences on Kenya, that I don't doubt. Simply put, we export agricultural produce, we import finished goods and machinery. The problem comes from the fact that we are dependent on German and Chinese machinery for our factories, we are dependent on Japan for our cars and tractors and on the US for our computer software and Sweden for our phones and the list goes on etc etc.

A global collapse, would imply a collapse in complexity. Meaning Kenya would be hit hard - fewer tourists, fewer exports, reduced imports. We'd be pushed back even further. Also although we don't usually see it, we do import fertilizers from around the world. Farmers use very little of it and because of climate change, the April rains have not yet fallen. Weather patterns remain erratic and apparently 10 million people are suffering from famine here and great food price inflation.

On another note, I've experienced water shortages, electricity outages, high rates of inflation, currency mismanagement, political fiasco leading to a near civil war and all sorts of other bureaucracy that can take months to get things accomplished but I have to agree with you it's a really good life and I enjoy it. I have a big community of friends and family and that's what makes it worthwhile during the bad moments.

One thing that you didn't talked about in your article is presence of very solid and dependable neighbourhood and family in third world countries. I know this because as my id shows I live in a third world country pakistan. I am actually very happy living in a third world country because the damage that I do to planet earth by my consumption level is so little that all of it is compensated by forests in pakistan, green valleys in pakistan (especially our northern areas) and crops grown in pakistan. These things I estimate capture enough carbon di oxide from air that goes there due to my consumption of fossil fuels (in forms of little electricity that I use, little travel that I do which is almost always in bus and local mostly non-meat food that I eat).

I have 3 people in family and my house's electricity consumption is on average 300 kilo watt hours per months. It was the same when my father was alive in 2007, that is, when we have 4 members in family. I have no vehicle of any kind. I do all my local travelling in bus. My country travelling is all in a train. I have only once travelled in air, it was a 150 km flight. I eat like 62.5 gm meat per day (and I am a full grown man of height 5' 10" and weight 74 kg), more than half of that meat is chicken, rest is goat's meat or fish, none is beef. I do consume milk and butter and cream in large quantity, about 500 gm milk and curd, 15.625 gm butter per day. Most of my food is bread, fruits and vegetables.

I don't like sky scrappers. Actually I hate any building in my city that is above 2 floors (ground and one floor above). I hate the idea of keeping people in apartments like pigeons where they get neither floor nor roof. I read news on internet.

A "solid and dependable neighborhood and family" will not operate on your inflamed appendix that has to be removed asap. "green valleys in Pakistan" will do nothing when you catch tuberculosis. Health is your most important possession in life and keeping it is mostly dependent on luck without modern hospitals and personnel working in them.

I'd like to point out the fact that life expectancy is 55 in Kenya, where it's 80 in Norway, even higher in Japan or France.

I'd choose a "long and average life" to a short and happy life" any day.

You are absolutely right! A life-expectancy of 80 – even if experienced as a life filled with what you call ‘average’ days – must surely be preferable to one where 55 is the limit – and, what’s more even, 55 years during whose not everything would be all roses. Who wouldn’t choose the Norwegian option – if an option to choose would arise in the first place, that is…

I believe this particular discussion was more about how life is still possible to be experienced as valuable and, yes, happy when compared to some of the suggestions envisioning a more Mad Max-ish kind of scenario. Confronted with that 'choice,' I would imagine that a life less in years yet in the comfort of friends, family, and neighbours is preferable, however short the life-expectancy. At least, in such a case – a post-oil-age-case – a life as such could still be expected after all. Which is kinda neat, wouldn’t you agree?

Given that removing an appendix is a fairly simple operation it should be doable in the green valleys of Pakistan.

The problems with medical in the third world have a lot to do with anyone that becomes a Doctor leaving for the maximum pay in wealthier regions in in the cities or other countries.

Next of course the medical establishment is probably the poster child for the move to disposable everything at and ignoring the expense.

Autoclaved medical equipment has not advanced from the 1940's. Medical equipment itself is rarely built with economy in mind with most units having their own CPU instead of sharing a single one.
No standard data bus exists in the medical field.

I think when forced medicine can and will change but its probably the single field that has diverged the most from where it should have gone since the 1970's.

And last thing I'll say on the subject is I lost my own child to heart disease and my brother in his 20's to a curable cancer.

I was living in Vietnam when my own child was born so I know first hand the condition of third world hospitals and my brother died with in the US with millions in medical bills.

I assure you I wish that both where still in this world but also I can assure you that our medical establishment has gone way way to far from its true path. It hurts like hell to lose your family members especially your own children but this is just as much a part of life as any other.

From my own experience I'd much rather see reasonable basic medical care and reasonable use of advanced methods when they make sense rather than the extremes we see today where one child gets millions in care for a disease that has a low success rate and many others die of easily curable diseases.

We have no sense of balance or justice if you will in medicine its now in my opinion a fully corrupt field as bad as any Wall Street Brokerage.

This by no means suggests that we give up on medical research and advancing care but we desperately need balance and realistic medical care.

In the case of my daughter I was eventually able to get her to Thailand for first class medical care and she died of post surgical complications from secondary problems. But I left behind hundreds of other children in Vietnam with a much better chance of success who's parents could not afford the care I finally arranged.

I won't go into detail with my brother but I assure that people that right blithely about our medical establishment don't know or understand modern medicine and how deeply corrupt it has become. I'm not saying that the doctors and nurses and staff are not great well meaning and carrying people but they don't run the hospitals nor are they responsible for the insanity of the financial side of medicine.

I'd love to see our medical establishment change to one that provided excellent medical car for all and developed low cost ways to provide basic known care. This goes into drugs etc. And extreme or research care should be free and in my opinion subsidized with every child given a equal chance at extreme care on a case by case basis. And last but not least for people that are older esp as they approach their 70's we need to become realistic about the amount of care and quality of life of our elderly. I think given the chance many older people would far rather die a natural peaceful death in the company of loved ones then undergo years of isolation and hospital care. This loss of and option for a dignified and comfortable death extends to all ages but its something that we have lost. Choosing death vs uncertain and often painful and expensive medical should not be something that society frowns on instead we should respect people that choose a dignified exit. The medical establishment has turned almost ghoulish in how it sucks money out of the wealthy elderly to give them a few more short painful years of life.

The distortions and misdirection and problems in the medical field are so immense its tough to say what a realistic medical establishment would look like. And this does not even include reasonable advances like robotic surgeries or remote diagnosis or portable test equipment. Or for that matter using computers to diagnose diseases the medical industry makes poor use of whats possible today.

One thing I hope is that once there is no longer gobs of money for the medical field to stuff in its pockets that it will go back to its roots and reinvent itself as a service to mankind.

I suspect however that we will rapidly find even basic care is reserved for the wealthy.

Nice post Ndege

Sunday, April 12, 2009
9:02 AM

My vision of the future parallels yours in many ways although it is location specific. By that I mean that areas that are less developed will transition a bit easier, or shall I say less violently.

For the last several years I have been addicted, yes addicted is the best description, to powering down, to down sizing, and simplifying. It is truly amazing to me to get to a level of existence that seems radically below where I once was, settle into it a while, then start seeing even more areas where I can simplify even further.

There is a wonderful feeling of liberation and freedom that comes with this activity that can be addictive.

My whole family, wife and two children, are actively participating in this process and share the feeling, although now and then my children talk about some of the "cool stuff" people have. My children have perhaps benefited most from this exercise because they no longer have the huge pressure that the "American Dream" represents, hanging over them. Consequently they have blossomed. They are both wonderful musicians, artisans, technicians, hard working craftsperson's, highly social, and physically active. All of this on their own leisurely schedule (and we thought if we didn't constantly ride them they would never do anything, ha!).

I don't kid myself that it will be easy or that it is even going to happen but I am optimistic that a new way is possible.

My current passion is to create a labor movement where people can perform simple, useful tasks in return for food, shelter, clothing, etc. combinned with a central gathering location for fun and entertainment like music, reading/storytelling, plays and productions, games, and stuff.

Pie in the sky I know but hey... Kum-Ba-Ya!!!!!!!!!

This today in NY Times. That it is in a mainstream publication is encouraging. However, I asked my wife to read it and she said she could not make head nor tails (not because she does not care, but because economics and physics are really not that interesting to most people)...a problem for the mainstream, translating these concepts to make them marketable is an obstacle that needs to be tackled.

In such a system, every increase in spending by borrowers would have to be matched by an act of saving or abstinence on the part of a depositor. This would re-establish a one-to-one correspondence between the real wealth of the community and the claims on that real wealth.

I agree that the article isn't exactly mass-readable, however, if the person reading can manage to get to this paragraph understanding only a little, this paragraph explains the essence of Soddy's recommendation that the author of this article is presenting.

I suppose if I were to forward this to someone I would provide a quick summary and just give the link to let them know my lay-person interpretation of the article but allow them to read it themselves.

I think if most of us think back on life, it is not the presence or absence of "stuff" that has made us more or less happy (as long as we had the "basics" covered--food, water, shelter). It is the presence of relationships with other people that was important.

It would seem like wanting more than one has could make a person pretty miserable, or constantly comparing oneself to someone with more. Owing more money than one can easily pay back (which seems to follow on with wanting more than one has), could also make a person quite miserable.

A quote from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6):

15 "No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money].

16 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

17 Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

18 If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

I think far too many of us believe that our society will have to move backward when I think it will just be different. I do think you'll see an end to that American style gluttony where "big" equates to better. The monster homes & monster homes will become a thing of the past but people will still go about living. We'll still socialize at the pub (as they did 100 years ago), we'll probably work at home more & we'll probably learn to cook food rather than buying it out of a box. When we want Strawberries in December, we'll probably eat them out of a jar (preserves). I think a whole bunch of people will take up gardening..and eat what they grow.

We always assume Peak Oil means the end of society. Maybe it means for a BETTER society? I think some of us will still have cars, but those cars will be driven much less. I think our manufacturing will return from China..because of the cost of shipping. Not like wind in the sales can pull a cargo ship over from China, can it.

I live in a northern city called Edmonton Alberta. I live in a building with a grocery store, pubs, etc. My life is extremely local and I use a tank of gas in my Toyota Echo in a month (to get to work & to the gym). My house is powered by Wind generated electricity and the heating comes Geo Thermal. Edmonton is a place where it's -35 for weeks at a time. I used the heat about 1 week this winter...the place is well insulated.

The ironic thing is that I make a living off sucking oil out of the ground.

And it was because of the need to keep warm and cook that the industrial revolution was born. London could not support itself powered by wood so by the 1300's coal was starting to be imported from Newcastle. By the 1700's supplies that could be got by drift mines and bell pits were being exhausted, their peak coal moment was averted by Thomas Newcomen's atmospheric steam engine, enabling deeper mines to be effectively pumped.

That is the difference between the temperate latitudes and the tropics. There is nothing worse than being cold and wet, it saps your strength unless you can return to a place to warm and dry out. So while you do not need AC, you do need heat up north or down south.

But the basic fact is that we can make do with less and that it is not the end of the world is quite correct. I am sure that the last 50 years will become a sort of mythic era in human history although those that remain will probably be happier than us. Our grandparents and great grand parents lived less energy consuming lives and so can we.

I think the need for heat is something we sometimes forget. Jason Bradford tells me that man is adapted to living in the tropics. Once we get up North (or I suppose close to the South Pole), we need heat to keep warm. We also need heat to cook our food (see this Economist article - raw food is less nutritious).

The problem is with the number of people we have now, this will be very difficult to do with wood alone. We will need fossil fuels. Solar cookers and solar panels will do a little. It seems like this will be a big obstacle to overcome.

We will need fossil fuels. Solar cookers and solar panels will do a little. It seems like this will be a big obstacle to overcome.

Energy used = population X amount of energy per person.

Humanity can use wood/solar/wind and not touch hydro/FFs/fission. Just not at the population we have or at the rate we are used to is all.

You can have solar heat/cooking in the dead of winter - it just takes a big (and expensive) collector when compared to propane. Not to mention some days that porrage might be cooked when there was sun, but tepid/cold today with no sun.

Historically we strip regions of all vegetation I agree with Gail we probably will see environmental damage equal or surpassing what we have done over the last several decades within the next several years.

Whats really sad is that regional nuclear/biological warefare that rapidly destroys the population in certain areas may well be the only thing that prevents environmental collapse in many regions.
Also for example one can hope that we run out of oil before we manager to completely collapse the fisheries.

Regardless the race between massive environmental destruction vs depopulation will be a close one all over our planet. Throw in the stresses from global warming and we probably will see a massive extinction event.

I just hope that pockets of biodiversity survive to expand later.

Historically we strip regions of all vegetation

As I understand, the 1st couple of years of Mao's shipping people to the farms resulted in stripping non food crop's leaves and using 'em as green manure.

Not when you have grey skies for days or weeks on end! Bright sunny winter days are the exception not the rule in a UK winter.

In all these discussions of a world with less energy per person, can we calculate what is essential, for example in US how much electricity is needed? I lived in Oak Ridge Tennessee during NG shortages in late 1970's and everyone managed on a lot less, with minor measures, sleeping in sleeping bags, temperature at 60F not 75F, during one of the coldest winters in 100years. It was definitely NOT third world living, only the odd power outage, not three times a day, we had light, TV, some had electric blankets, hot drinks, food.

There seems to be a big gap between what we use now(100%), what we can live comfortably on(25-50%?), what we need to survive(5-10%?), and the ultimate doomer scenario virtually NO energy of any kind, not just no gas or NG, no electricity from coal or NG, no electricity from nuclear, no electricity from hydro or wind(<1%?).

Kinda funny that we forget there are lots of people who live on what we would call no energy at all. Think of the Inuit in their ice houses. They wear their house on their back- fur (ok, and a little blubber). And during those very cold winters in the '70's I made a little house for my mother-in-law. Faced south, had its back against a hill, and was well insulated- NEVER got anywhere near freezing even with nothing in the wood stove. Very quiet and comfortable, sitting there watching the blizzard whip snow by outside. and of course you don't need to tell me that any crude windmill stirring up water inside the house could have boiled a lobster with that sort of wind. I often wonder why arctic explorers died of the cold while griping about that screaming wind! -----Died of stupidity--like us.

Wimbi, The use of windmills is very practicable in most fixed situations (such as housing) but for artic explorers I think it would be not possible to use simply because explorers need to move to explore. A simple camp (tents) needs to be carried (packs) or pulled (sleds) and to carry or pull even a small windmill then assemble it (including sturdy anchors to stop it blowing away) would be impracticable (although for the supply ships and base camps it might be worth the effort- but why don't you see windmills at the antartic bases? perhaps the wind is just too strong).


I am sure there are numerous sets of data and graphs available here, on The Oil Drum. But I just found this:

"Per Capita Energy Consumption and Carbon Emissions –– In 2001, Germany’s per capita energy consumption was 174.3 million Btu per person, lower than in the United States (341.8 Btu), Canada (402.6 Btu) and Belgium (270.3 Btu).

In the same year, Germany’s per capita carbon emissions were 2.7 tons of carbon per person, higher than France (1.8 tons), Italy (2.1), and the United Kingdom (2.6), but lower than the United States (5.5) and Canada (5.0)."


It seems that Germans need about 50% less Btu per person than a citizen of the US does. Why that is so, I have no clue. I assure you, people here don't run around in rags, eat dog food, or suffer inconveniences in any other respect. In fact, people here live very, very well (and many are fat). One would think, therefore, that also people in the US could live wonderfully even on a reduced – much reduced – use of (that certain sort of) energy compared to what Americans seem to use now (and, so it would seem, those who are could stay fat as well. Germans certainly manage to).

I really would love to know how this big difference between, say, Germany and the US in that respect can be explained. Anyone?

I really would love to know how this big difference between, say, Germany and the US in that respect can be explained.


Not, as many like to say, the size of the country; that's almost irrelevant. The difference is in large part due to the size of houses (1,350sqft vs. 2,330sqft), cars (1300kg curb weight vs. 1800kg, leading to 8l/km vs. 12l/km (fig 1)), and the like.

Partly due to much lower energy prices, too, so there's less incentive to limit consumption. Electricity prices in the US are about 8 euro-cent per kWh, vs. almost twice that in Germany, as an example.

Roughly speaking, energy is much cheaper in North America than in Europe, so much more is used. As near as I can figure it, that's the main difference. Consider, for example, the effect of economic booms on energy consumption in Europe. Ireland and Spain had low levels of consumption in the early 90s when they were still relatively poor (~2/3 of Germany), but the economic booms they enjoyed over the next 15 years saw them catch up in terms of energy consumption. Germany, France, and the UK, by contrast, did not have economic catching up to do, so none of them saw the relative price of energy fall the same way, so none of them saw nearly the same level of energy consumption increase.

Fundamentally, it seems to boil down to "people use more if it's cheap". If energy becomes scarcer, people will automatically use less by virtue of it being more expensive.

There seems to be a big gap between what we use now(100%), what we can live comfortably on(25-50%?), what we need to survive(5-10%?)

If we take the US's per capita energy consumption as our benchmark, then:

  • 50% is most of Western Europe.
  • 30% is the level of Poland and Portugal today, or Ireland and Spain 15 years ago.
  • 20% is the level of Mexico, Argentina, and 80s-era Portugal.
  • 15% is the level of Turkey, Brazil, and China.
  • 10% is the level of Cuba, Mongolia, Uruguay, and China in 2002.
  • 5% is the level of Pakistan, Philipines, India, Indonesia, and Guatemala.

And most of these examples aren't actually making a big effort to conserve energy, meaning that in every case more can be done with less.

Pitt -

Thank you! So the reason is more psychological than technological. That does make sense. And gives hope.


Pitt has it a bit over simplified as to the differences. They are also substantial structural and technological reasons behind it. Germany and indeed, much of Europe, has several advantages that leads to the difference in consumption, namely climate and infrastructure. Specifically to Germany, you have a great mass transit system (at least compared to North America) that will take you were ever you want to go in a timely, effecient and cost effective manner. You also have the rivers and the fantastic walking and bike paths which should not be underestimated in their value. This is an observation from 1st hand experience between traveling in Germany and Europe and traveling around my own country. Additionally, Western Europe including Germany is much smaller in scale which reduces how far you go for any given thing or place. Example, the time and energy cycling from one major town to another in Switzerland is substantially different than from one major town to another in the Canadian Rockies. All you have to do is travel some of Germany and Europe vs North America, particularly Canada, to actively experience what a difference there is. This doesn't even consider that most of Germany was developed in small villages with a particular lifestyle. For example, most of the towns that I have been in, the grocery stores are generally still smaller compared to North America and most Germanys shop for their groceries more regularly, if not on a daily basis on the way home from work. Many are able to walk or take mass transit and easily accomplish this. Not nearly as feasible in North America due to infrasture and distances. This type of difference is important to the difference in energy use.

Additionally, there is a difference in temperature. Europe and Germany for the most part are very moderate even in the colder areas. When is the last time that any where in Germany experienced -30+ C plus windshield (the effect of the wind making it colder than the actual air temperature) never mind for several weeks plus just plain colder average temperatures throughout winter. Then in the summer your weather is much more moderate for many areas as well.

Certainly Pitts assertion that large homes and large cars will weigh in but can not be held as the only or biggest factors. Certainly many people live in much larger homes and drive much larger vehicles than are necessary but by percentage of population it is probably not that different from Europe. Most can't afford them and this is more restricted to the top %'s. I would think in Canada the average home size is closer to 1500 sq ft.

I suspect that the differences between European energy use and North American are mainly in these areas and we will have great difficulty reducing our energy levels for these same reasons. It would mean rebuilding and improving upon our mass transit, our walking and cycling paths and rebuilding a large number of our cities and towns. Something that there is neither the time, funds nor energy to accomplish. Even if it were accomplished we would still have the difference in distance and climate working against us making us more energy intensive. The remainder of the areas are for the most part the same in consumption and energy use when you observe a European household vs a North American one.

By the way, I have to agree that the other end might actually be better in certain respects and certainly not as bad as many would make out it would be. Still, it is getting there that we have to worry about. The average Westerner will deny and fight the change for as long as they can instead of accepting that maybe what we have created is stupid, unhealthy, destructive and unbalanced. This would be the psychological aspect to why we use so much more. The transition will be painful because of this, however, the penduluum has to swing back the other way and we have to get some perspective and acceptance of life at somepoint. (ie. as discussed above, the health care system, keeping the elderly alive using mass resources for what amounts to very poor quality of life, accepting that death is a natural part of life whether it is an ill child or the elderly, the amount of stuff that we don't need which is probably 90-99% of it.) Also, need to figure out what really is a quality of life since the Western standard and dreams certainly fall flat on their face, stress us out and drepress us. If you applied some sort of calculation like an EREOI to our lifestyle/happiness there is no doubt in my mind that Western and particularly North Americans would be in deficit and the Kenyans are in the positive.

At any rate, just my thoughts and don't see the differences being sufficient reason for our lack of concern and effort.

You haven't taken into consideration a difference in the generations between the 1970's and now and what is considered comfortable or acceptable. Nor what they are able to deal with. Maybe cynical but I don't see much resilence in the face of adversity or ability to deal with being uncomfortable.

Plus, there are the differences between the economic implications of the 1970's and what will happen going forward. This will make a substantial difference.

Not saying that I believe the the Mad Max scenario but you might be a bit optimistic on the limits of the impacts that will be felt, that many can deal with (ex. how many now days have sleeping bags?) and the extent of the issues that will occur. The transition will be hard for this part of the world.

And it was because of the need to keep warm and cook that the industrial revolution was born

I find this unlikely as we have needed to cook and keep warm for 3 million years but there was only one industrial revolution in this time. Is it not nore likely that it was some chance confluence of events that caused the industrial revolution?

I work in the mobile industry and like you I noted its probably one of the few that seems to have penetrated all societies. Gives me hope of a job going forward.

However I think you hit the real problem its not about energy obviously people can adapt to low energy lifestyles but you see the trouble that modern politics and credit cause in Kenya image the problems we will have in Europe and the US as the people adapt but we are left with these legacy power systems.

And of course its one thing to move up or stay stable in a society Kenya is not all that far from its roots for better or worse. As you mention the better medical care is disruptive. While most members of the western world don't have these roots any longer. Moving back to a low energy society is simply not the same its I'd argue a very different problem and made far worse by the political and social framework.

However regardless I think your right at the individual and small group level people will rediscover what your talking about I call it grateful happiness. You enjoy and respect what you have and don't worry about what you don't have. Its been lost in western society for decades.

Probably the only real question is if we can build groups that can maintain certain technical levels I think that if you look at the Soviet Military as and example that its possible to do highly vertically integrated high tech. Its expensive but its doable. I see no intrinsic reason that we can't continue to use our basic technical knowledge going forward the future will not be like the past.

Just the other day I was mountain biking and passed this wealthy girl on a horse texting on a mobile phone.
I found the image interesting.

Hujambo, Ndege (und auch viele gruessen! woher in deutschland kommst du? ich war einmal in tuebingen...)
Your comments were awesome.
My 3,000 cents (alas, hyperinflation in the US; this is really only worth about 1 cent):
I was in Belize, helping build a school. There were fruit trees everywhere - coconut, lemon, orange, mango, all kinds of them. Consequently, a Belizean told me "In Belize, nobody is poor." Which is true. It's all relative - all we need is nutritious food, clean water, shelter, friends, and a lovely worldview - after that, it's a matter of personal style.
I slept on the floor. Ants crawled all over me, and I sweated all night, every night (no AC). Our shower (the dudes, that is; we let the ladies have the real shower) was a thin tube that dripped water - it wasn't even a hose, it was a tube. Yet, I was happy - I had satisfying and meaningful work to do, and worked with my hands, in the sunshine, and ate mangoes, and spent time with good people. Played a little soccer in the evenings, too.
Gail, thanks for pulling in the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus said in the passage you quoted is incredibly subversive. Mammon is the god that drives our culture forward; it dictates our actions and our priorities, and shapes our fears; if (when?) we stop believing in it, and subordinating our lives to it, then colossal change would (will?) occur. And - Jesus elevates flowers to a higher level than Solomon, supposedly the richest and wisest king of all ... his value system was radically different from ours, and that should concern us ...
One last point, that I think is relevant to this discussion: Human beings are flexible; we adapt quickly. Power structures are super slow at adapting, but actual human beings aren't. Everybody is creative. Every single person in the universe is creative. Everybody can develop new models of the world on the fly, and new kinds of social relationships.
The Black Death killed 1/3, or maybe even 2/3 of Europe's entire population, yet Europeans kept on doing their thang.
Fear doesn't need to enter the equation. But, as Bill Mollison said: “We all have to get to work. The time for gathering evidence is over. There is only time for action. No more spectators. Only players.” I think that's what Airdale is saying, too.
Peace, love, and respect,

Salama, Symbiont.

I am from beautiful Bavaria – grew up in the mountains, now living in Munich.

Asante sana (thanks a lot) for your uplifting take on my comment. As you rightly state, in the end it will all come down to people. And people can muddle through the most stunning set of circumstances. That’s what I have learned in Africa. That’s what you seem to have experienced in Belize (I never had ants crawl all over me, though; wouldn’t appreciate it too much either. Thankfully Kenya is not the number one spot for insects. When it comes to that, we’re pretty ‘civilized’).

Things will get rough, I am sure. Things will get muddy, tearful and devastating. But, and every African can attest to that, at the end of a day that you survive, you can still have a laugh with your friends, some pombe (beer), and gaze at the stars. We need hope, I guess. Hope, to move if not forward, at least to move on. And, incidentally, it is Easter today. If anything… isn’t that story of the resurrection (no matter if one chooses to believe in the actual event) one of hope? One of not all being lost? – In this context, I would like to quote Martin Luther, who has said: “And even if the World would come to the end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.”

That's the spirit! I drink to that.

Peace, love, and unity - as we say in Kenya.


This was an interesting ramble. I often have similar thoughts when I travel through my small island home. It seems there are different realities depending on where you live. I live in the city and I am totally dependent on non-local sources for food.

My 90 year old Dad lives an hours drive away on a six acre property and although he has a few avocado trees, cocoa (for chocolate), coconuts, bananas, guavas, mangoes and does a little gardening he still relies heavily on non- local sources for stuff like bread, cornmeal and other food that he can't get off the property. His hired help does not seem to be able to help him produce enough of anything to produce a useful (sale-able) product. He also suffers from being the local source of stuff that people in the immediate vicinity either cannot or will not provide for them self, preferring instead to just take (steal) from his property. If we could solve the stealing problem, with some planning a small family could probably eke out an existence on the property by producing surpluses and selling or bartering to fill their needs. Water for irrigation, is a problem as the public water supply is hopeless and he has to rely on rain. The place looked very green and lush when I was there earlier today so it seems the trees, shrubs and weeds are doing just fine!

My cousin lives on ancestral property in Maroon (rebel slave) territory high in the mountains on the eastern end of the island. He has raised his family by selling what he grows and has access to much more land than he has a title for. That area is on the windward slopes of the mountains and gets lots of rain. He sometimes complains that the young people in the community are not interested in farming but, there is very little else going on around there. Strangely enough, some areas that I drove through on the way from my dads place reminded me a lot of my cousins area so, my dad is a lot closer to the deep rural experience than I am.

Going forward the three of us face different realities. Unless I hone my technical skill and resources to provide a very valuable service in the city where I live, I am toast. I have no access to land here and there will be lots of competition for work and for food. I may have to relocate and in an emergency, I could even walk to my dads place in less than a day.

My dad could face some hardship as the pension delivery systems could go "belly up" and health care and support services he depends on to maintain a reasonable state of health decline. Electricity supplies could become unreliable so, I am acquiring some batteries and electronics to allow Solar power to run his fridge. I suppose I could hack together some sort of solar cooker to replace his gas stove. I doubt very much that he could ever starve to death unless the people in his immediate vicinity stole so much that, he was unable to survive through subsistence farming.

My cousin may see some minor inconveniences like the complete loss of electricity and maybe the roads out of the area but he should fine for food. If they got some donkeys horses or mules they could take produce down to the coast to trade for clothes, farming utensils and hardware. He should do just fine.

As has been stated here many times before, the more rudimentary and rural societies are likely to fare a lot better than highly developed urban (energy dependent) ones. Deep rural communities appear to me as if they would scarcely skip a beat. Who will end up happiest depends on what makes them happy. The omnipresent American television channels and their incessant "you need more stuff to be happy" message doesn't help. I take comfort in doing things that I consider worthwhile, that give me a feeling of self worth and as long as I can keep doing that, I'll be contented.

The wild card is the food supply. With dwindling resources, just how are the 6.6 billion of us going to be fed? How many are going to suffer? How many are going to die? Will you or I be counted in that number?

Meanwhile, in Dubai, the tallest building in the world edges closer to completion and the fan boys cheer it on!

Alan from the islands

Food is the biggest concern.

6.5bill people on the planet that lean on crops awash in oil. 30 years from now we will still have plenty of oil to meet this need - but not much else. there will be transition where these industries take priority and reserved its quota to keep our countries alive. what will be difficult is the world working together on oil exports and food exports to ensure the spread is fair. this might be an issue as we will already stand idle as countries like eygpt fall off the rungs.

will the world ensure it can feed itself - or like the environment and oil let yet another problem effect us before its too late. it only takes 10 days for a human to starve. matt simmons already raises issues of a run on the tank that could see cities run out of food. the 300mill cars in the US have enough empty tanks - that all filled at once would drain the pipes and stop trucking in its tracks. west coast winds round the world have changed and are causing oxygen dead spots in the reefs where we catch 30% of the worlds fish. droughts and floods are becoming common place, the environment is increasingly showing signs of sitting on a tipping point. there are many factors beyond the simple fact that we will become low on oil that could throw our food supply on its head.

to consider pre coal and oil, the world could only support 2 billion ppl, we might be able to do a bit better these days, but we need a transistion of the workforce and skills to re-enable this, and who's going ot be the unlucky 3 billion and the process the world might go in shedding the unsupportable mass.

inflation, unemployment, no cars, no power, no running water, no roads, no emergency services, nature disasters are all things we can work through - and local cumminities will play a large role in that. but not enough food will be catastrophic.

food for thought anyhow.

How much of today's oil is used (a) to grow food (b) to transport to to cities? I think it's about 1.5-2% for each in US.
Pre-coal and oil there was little farming in S America, N America, Australia, all now export food. There was also no significant wind, hydro or nuclear power.

The world uses oil for about 1/3 of energy, if agriculture is only using 1/100 of world energy that leaves a big margin for food production. A shortage of oil is going to cause many problems but I don't see food production or distribution is going to be one of the top five issues, unless that 1.5-2% is way too low. Willing to be persuaded otherwise, if you have some figures.

Reset your boundaries to include food preparation and don't leave out restaurants. And I think you will find we spend a significant amount of energy on food.

This has 10% of GDP attributed to food. I think its a bit higher. For major industries a first pass at oil usage is to assume they its at least equal to the GDP precentage for product industries.

Add in indirect support industries and final food prep energy usage and 20% of our energy going to food is certainly feasible.

Its not like a farmer grows corn in Iowa and a box of corn flakes pops out of the air at the breakfast table there is a vast and complex and energy intensive modern food industry to consider.

Dig around for a bit and close to 20-30% of our population is still involved at some level in the food.
Many service positions for example are related to food. Other stuff like kitchen equipment and kitchens themselves as part of a house arguably should be counted as part of our modern food industry.

Next to buying overprices houses and SUVS eating food and drinking is the number one activity of Americans.

Now you are asking a different question, "if we have a dramatic drop in available energy, will we be able to afford highly processed foods, and be able to eat them in restaurants?" perhaps not, but not many are going to starve with meat, , eggs rice, potatoes, beans vegetables, fruits readily available at the local market/supermarket. We may have to walk to pick them up, and cook over charcoal or even use microwave cooking. If we just have present nuclear, wind and hydro can do a lot of cooking on 8 kWh per day/person. Other cereals like grits and wheetbix, maize oil, flour don't have a lot of processing.
Not sure about how much energy is used to produce coffee? now I am worried.

neil, yah - as i stated in 30 years we will have plenty of oil to meet this need. i would put it higher than 2% considering 90% of US cities 100% truck their food in, and natural gas is huge in farming and its heavily linked to oil, roads, water and power industries need to be maintained to transport, prepare and store food. etc. these wont be counted into most estimations as they will be assumed to be covered as they arent reported in the idea that the world will end.

quick run on the process;
- machinery construction/maintenance (farm, rigs, cargo ships, forklifts, consumer cars, packaging/processing machinery, pestiscide machinery etc)
- working the crops (turning fields, feeding the cows, harvest)
- truck raw goods
- process raw goods
- truck then ship to other country then truck processed goods
- package processed goods (with plastics in different production and trucked process)
- truck goods, ship goods to other country, then truck to producer warehouse
- truck goods to shopping chain distrubition warehouse
- shopping chain trucks to shopping centres
- consumers drive to shops and buy and drive home
- roads need to maintained by trucks, power needs to be maintained, and water systems need to work to prepare. all use oil.

all this shipping is exposed to standard fuel costs and work on very small margins.
and 2-3billion humans eat entirely by this process and spend 10-25% of their budget on this food (total guess, no facts to back this sentence but seems reasonable :p).

i agree that its not about the world running out of oil for this small amount, but more that these markets are not yet isolated from the rest of the oil dependant industry. so it is exposed to high prices as much as everyone else - and i hope the governments dont let it run into ruin before they protect this industry - since they have missed all of our other major problems (publicly). there will be transition period if highly processed, packaged, transported food fails. cities are not ready for removal and replacment to fresh localized simple foods that are cheap and prolly paid for with food stamps (like 1/10 of america today).

oil will cause massive stagflation. and with possible trade collapse with 50% decline in a 5 year period, you'd want to be living in a country that currently exports alot of food and has some oil production and refinery capacity for its own crude. (which worries me about australia as our food basket is in trouble with the darling murray having big issues). alot of countries will look after their own before they honour their exports to others - this will go for oil and food.

i think the transition will cost more lives, then the fact that we have enough energy to do it. if the system isnt prepared then there will be known and unknown issues to the system.

Neil1947 the availability of highly processed prepared foods is one of the supporting pillars that allowed women to enter the workforce in droves as they reduce the time required to make meals.

A return to food prep in the home will eventually force people to choose between working for wages and again working in the the home. This is not sexist the homemaker could readily be male.

Imagine the unemployment rate as people revert to buying raw ingredients and preparing food again in the home. Give the way our economy works simply deciding to cook at home with basic starting materials is a massive blow.

Our food industry is really no different from our housing industry many people work in the food industry so they can by prepared foods. As people move away from prepared foods then these people will lose their jobs and buy less prepared foods.

Now as far as the actual farmers go we can assume that they will be squeezed hard first from rising input costs linked to rising oil and next from ruthless price cramdowns from strapped food prep companies. As these major bulk purchases go into decline farmers will get hammered.

Individual bulk purchased of ever larger lots of basic foodstuffs will in my opinion do nothing to help the situation. It adds some bagging expense and also causes distribution to change and moves around costs as more stuff is sold in smaller lots. In general because of additional packaging and storage costs I expect we will see bulk goods increase in price.

In fact you could well see that the willingness of the consumer to except higher prices for bulk items but still substantially lower than prepared prices will work to try and force up prices as this sort of spot market drives the bulk market but of course the prepared food manufactures can't absorb the higher prices and of course the money is flowing into this new channel not back to the farmer.

In the past bulk purchases where not cheap and because they where expensive we did not have a prepared food market so you get into a bit of a catch 22 situation. And until farming itself is localized it just seems like the money is primarily absorbed in changing distribution channels.

Give the way our economy works simply deciding to cook at home with basic starting materials is a massive blow.

Perhaps not. Personally, I'm learning how to make great meals with my crock pot (I love the pork chile verde I've made, even brought it to a pot luck and got compliments from my Mexican friend).

I've learned to make polenta in the oven in a single dish (much easier than my mother's way where someone always had to stir it for 45 minutes). Lentil and bean dishes are proving pretty easy in the crock pot, too. We eat a lot of pasta, with varying sauces: tomato (easy to make without much time invested), algio olio (garlic, olive oil, hot pepper flakes, salt and some parmesan cheese), butter and cheese, tortellini or ravioli with just olive oil, salt and tiny bit of cheese (so that you can taste the filling instead of smothering it in sauce that hides the filling -- it could be filled with cardboard the way most people eat filled pasta). Then there is homemade pizza and so on.

Anyway, we make the vast majority of our meals at home and don't spend much time doing it.

Plus, I'm astonished at how much time people waste watching T.V. When friends ask how I get so much done and in response I ask how much TV they watch they start to get a sense of how much time they devote to recreation. I'm not superhuman, I just allocate my time differently.

How many hours watching TV by country:

UK and USA tied for 28 h/week, or perhaps as much as 100,000 in a single human lifetime: an enormous amount of time devoted to recreation that can (and will) be redeployed.

I haven't added up how much time I spend on TOD, though.... ;-)

good points, we can imagine two possible outcomes;
1)90% drop in oil availability, lots of unprocessed foods available in stores, but most families are too busy watching favorite TV shows to walk to the stores and cook at home and starve, massive die-off of population. The few remaining restaurants opened have armed guards protecting them from hungry mobs of looters, only 4 people can enter at one time.
2)families walk to stores and with great effort carry back meat, potatoes, rice, beans and vegetables, it's a family effort even the dog pulls a cart of dog food, after resting they prepare the foods, 1h later they eat then clean up the cooking mess( all those dirty dishes) and go to bed too tired to watch any TV, not hungry, but longing for the good old days of McDonald's meals in front of TV. Dreaming on what they could spend all the money they have saved, perhaps a new electric car. Teenage daughter is still annoyed that she can no longer hang out at Mc Donalds with her friends but has to eat with her boring family.


The few remaining restaurants opened have armed guards protecting them from hungry mobs of looters, only 4 people can enter at one time.

Ah, so you have been to Johannesburg, then ? I'm here on holiday right now and am starting to think that maybe this is an honest city - at least here the wealthy 1% openly flip the bird at the masses rather than pretend to be concerned.
Saw a R30000 ( £2300-ish ) handbag in the mall where my sister-in-law's boutique is last week that got me thinking about the price of essentials and luxuries in local currency labour PPP.
You can survive on your £150 a month as a big bag of maize meal is pennies but imagine if luxury goods in your UK shops were priced at PPP for these guys :

pair Oakley sunglasses £2000
Levi jeans £800
42 plasma TV £20,000
BMW 320i £400,000
can of coke £6

So imagine what these guys think when they see a Ferrari drive past - a car that would take them 70 years to save up for assuming they didn't eat.

you can see where post-peak GINI 0.8 society is going ... it's here today in the sunny suburb of Melrose as I eat my £200 steak washed down with an ice cold £25 beer. Cheers !

edit: too snarky

The following analysis ( argues that farm energy usage is about 1% of total US energy usage. It does point out that pesticides (oil) and fertilizer (nat gas) use by farms is close to 50% of total pesticides and fertilizer manufacture. I found one source that claims that 1% of the world's natural gas production is used to make fertilizer.

The following source agricultural production accounts for 21.4% of fossil energy consumed by the US food system (taken from Jason Bradford's articles, I can see that this still means that we supposedly feed ourselves with 5% of the energy we use in the country.

From another viewpoint, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the "food" category they have accounts for 12% of GHGs, and 73% of water use (fruits and veg add 30% and meat adds 18%, then 7% for dairy, 9% for out of home, and 8% for other, including drinks, canned goods, and pet food).

I suspect that the way shortage of oil will impact eating will surprise us. The system is so complex and somewhere in there you need to add economic collapse, water availability problems and global climate chaos.

thanks good references. The GHG issue is another matter, especially ruminants. If food becomes scarce, corn chicken, beans and eggs will be on menu rather beef. You see this in 3rd world cooking. Chocolate may be hard to get unless we use it as currency, no that won't work without refrigeration, use coffee as currency. Swiss banks can move to Brazil and as an added bonus avoid prosecution.

The 2nd link is not the one which goes to Jason Bradford.

But I found this one:

Energy Farms Network

" I would say, for 95% of Kenyans, life there is very much focused on the hour - and hardly ever on the future."

Kind of explains a lot, doesn't it?


When I read the scenarios on The Oil Drum, I believe them. They make sense. Yet I feel there is something missing.

Your essay is wonderful--timely, relevant, and wise. Thank you for taking the time to formulate and express the ideas.

Having also grown up in a third world country, I have often wanted to say what you did, but never could manage to present the thoughts the way you did. And I agree: life can be well-lived without all the trappings of so-called civilization, particularly the American kind.

As for the scenarios that you see expressed on the Oil Drum, there's something to be said for them. You will find very partisan expressions of doom as well as utopian ones, you will find very analytical as well as very emotional ones, you will find whimsy and realism, sense and non-sense, science and faith, dogmatism and skepticism.

All of these different emphases represent "perspectives" on reality, they represent the basic categories of thought that we impose on the buzzing, blooming confusions of life, and all play a role in trying to arrive at a sustainable understanding. We need to take the doomers seriously, for they represent a valid perspective, just as do the utopians and realists and plain old formalists (abstract possibilities).

Those who espouse one or another perspective as the "true" one and reject others as false, naive, or dishonest, speak from within a confining logic, but a fruitful, muti-valued logic needs to include their views. People on a lower level of psychological development tend to be dualists (I am right and you are wrong), while those who are more developed can accept that we both may be right or we both may be wrong. It is because the different scenarios represent a piece of the pie that you can say they are believable, but it is because they are missing the whole that you find something missing.

The Biochar Fund In Cameroon

Dear biochar researchers,
Just to let you know that the Biochar Fund has successfully completed
the first phase of its biochar pilot trial with small farmers in
Cameroon. More than 1500 subsistence farmers are involved. The inputs
and char have been introduced to the soil, and today (April 11) most
test plots are in their third week. On many of them we are already
observing a positive effect of the char -- but it is too early for
definitive results.

Check out the basic press release here:

When I first stumbled across the Oil Drum a bit over a year ago, I was impressed about the quality of the posts (and I seriously would have never thought that anything I could put into words would be 'worth' to be made available here. I still am a bit surprised and very much humbled). What impressed me even more, however, was the fact that the comments were – and are! - often of an even higher intellectual (and artistic) quality than the material they are in reaction to. –– Thank you.

It's a mystery to me
we have a greed
with which we have agreed

You think you have to want
more than you need
until you have it all you won't be free

From travelling a bit I have to say that people around the world really are basically the same. As simply as I can state, our physical needs are shelter, water, fire and food. On a spiritual side throw in love and most people's NEEDS are covered. These things are readily available to those with proper knowledge and skill. Electricity is neat to have but not at all necessary(unless of course your knowledge and skills to survive without it are gone). Two trips that struck me the most were separate visits to different indiginous groups in Central and South America. The first was to the Cofan village of Zabalo in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the second to the Embera village of Villa Keresia in the Darien Province in Panama. On both occasions I felt as good as I ever have in my life. Being in the jungle surrounded by nothing but living things, bathing in the river, waking and crashing with the sun, watching for scary critters, collecting the food you eat that night all made me FEEL A CONNECTION! A natural rythm. The people were close knit, counting on each other to survive. I had to take solo walks for hours just to get a break from playing with all the kids. I was the travelling circus. The people were very hospitable to me and even put up with my weak Spanish.

The point of my rambling is that I have always felt the best when I feel connected(to living things). I have suspicions that others are similar. That feeling might come from sharing work, laughs, tears, beers with friends, family, strangers, etc. or from catching(and/or getting pummeled by) a wave in the ocean, communing with nature. It's something of value that much of the world "gets", but our "modern" society misses badly on. We are all "plugged-in" but seem very cut off. It leaves a painful void that people try to fill with any number of things(generally not good things).

As others have alluded to, it seems our main problem is our belief system. A system based on greed and an equal portion of arrogance with no vision toward the our legacy is not the best foundation to build on. We chose and continue to choose the wrong path, the wrong "master". We've bought into a false illusion and sold it around the world. It's frightening to see a group of people who 20 years ago needed nothing from modern man trade their blow guns and bows for modern rifles or bow drills for lighters and matches. It's a flash in the pan but it's difficult to convince them of that.

If we are going to avoid a massive die-off of us poor bastards we face a spiritual challenge more than a technological one. If we can recognise our actual needs and cut out all the crap we have a chance but it's going to take a major change in direction from our current thinking and realistically I don't feel that will take place. In the mean time it's good to know that many of you are trying everything under the sun to make a positive change.

Thanks Derek and many others who have contributed and still hold some hope for humankind's future. I do too. Not for ourselves or our system(I think we're pretty much screwed) but for whoever's still breathing at the other end of these events. I do believe something better, although much smaller, will emerge at the far end but the birth pains of THAT society will be tremendous.

Sure - wonderful until your wife dies in childbirth, you child dies of malaria and you get murdered by a rival tribe.

Hello Derek,
You are in Africa for sure.

You use Mazungu, we use Marungu.
Do you have a word for UmFikani? (a time of madness, as in RuWanda or the tactics of the UChaka?)
This is relation to your observation that the population problem will be taken care of quickly.
I am wryly amused by the shock and horror expressed by outsiders to the "African Solution".
Should I support the clean water in Africa, (white man to the rescue again,) or am I just exacerbating the problem in that there will be more people to find "solutions" for.

Arthur -

Right now I’m not in Africa, no. I’m in Europe. I am sure there are words in our local language(s) for a time of madness; we certainly know many of those. However, my Kiswahili is limited. Not to mention any of the more than 40 other languages in use in Kenya.

When I write that in Africa a decrease in population can be expected to take place rather fast, given a certain set of circumstances, I neither want to imply this is a ‘solution’ (to what, really?), nor do I find this even remotely desirable. As much as it may be a fact, it is a sad one. Maybe it is a subject where one should reconsider before using cynical or even humorous phraseology. If you have any deeper knowledge about how life is in Africa, you will know that a ‘Rwanda’-style explosion is but one of many occurrences of how pressures on resources may make themselves evident.

In relation to your question about ‘clean water’ for Africa(ns), I believe that it might be difficult to appeal to human beings – as one must – to consider changes for the betterment of their lives, which, I believe further, will prove to be necessary if suffering due to negative climate- and resource related influences on their well-being is to be limited (if not eradicated), if any humanitarian action on one’s own side is lacking. In less words: go ahead and support anything that makes life better. That, in itself, may prove to be the best solution you - and anyone, really - could hope for.

If I spend my money ensuring children survive am I not makeing a bad situation worse? Am I not condemning more souls to a violent death?

Is it not better that they feel the limits of the environment sooner rather than later?

Naturely my instinct is to protect children, but am I not indulging in squeemishness and neglecting morality?

Morality is not "that which makes you feel good."

My assumption is that there are no further options.
My assumptions and my beliefs are in agreement.
Perhaps God can show us a way out of this, I cannot.

Arthur –

It appears then you have the choice between being actively involved in the “violent death” of a child, or passively so. You say, if you support a child’s survival by playing a part in providing clean water, this very same child may die at a later date due to starvation or in a battle for food. On the other hand, based on your assumption, this child would die now(ish), if no clean water is provided. In the end, based on your theory, you are left with a dead child, sooner or later – no matter whether you involve yourself today or not.

Well, sooner or later, all of us die. Including that hypothetical child. Usually, we try to push this irreversibility as much into the future as we possibly can.

There are those saying that becoming aware of a situation, understanding that A will lead to B, which will lead to C, might – just might – have an influence on the observed and progressing cascade of events. In other words: Simply by merely observing, interaction might take place to such an extent that the outcome assumed may be effected in such a manner that it changes the situation’s dynamics right there and then. All may not be lost – unlike what you may have (every reason) to believe to be the case based on current understanding.

In the end, you leave it to God. Provided there is such an entity, I have a hunch that He might have left it with you. You believing otherwise might thus be a misunderstanding – a misunderstanding, which leaves a child committed to a death it might not necessarily need to face (just now).

Not engaging in a situation of which you are a part already by merely being present, because you assume your involvement might not have a positive impact, strikes me as illogical. The situation is there, the child is there, you are there. Not playing an active part when your passivity assigns you to becoming a party anyway – just not as you would welcome it –, is a decision you will have to make, and to live with.

Perhaps you should follow your instinct afterall.


I have to say that I fully support your view. We really do not need anywhere near as much baggage as we acquire. I used to admire the raft people of the Euphratese River marshes. And I thought that the only thing that these people could use extra was a compact low energy consumption computer with which to connect with the world's creative pool. At the time the computer that I used most was a Hewlett Packard 200LX. I still have one which I use often for spreadsheeting and calculations.

I am planning for a more compact future for my family, and have 3 initial projects under way. One is a very small and light bicycle that folds and collapses in several ways to make it easily carried on public transport, suitable for carrying loads when not being riden, and suitable for riding while carrying a backpack. The other is a ferro cement boat that I have started building for my youngest daughter. This is a 28 foot version of Jay Benford's spectacular original 19 foot Cat Boat. This will be a fully functional home that will sleep 4. I built a 44 foot boat when I was younger and lived on it for a number of years , and would return to that life style at the drop of a hat. Ferro cement as a building material is very compatible with a sustainable future in my view, and is easily constructed by people with minimal knowledge or tools, and in any environment. The materials are very cheap. The third project is more ambitious. I believe that broader range travel will be desireble and to achieve this I am designing a small 3 seater amphibian ultralight aeroplane that will run on biodiesel fuel, travel at speeds up to 300 kph on 20 litres fuel per hour, and be compact for storage.

Kenya had a programme to show people how to live on just 400 square metres of land completely and entirely subsistance. I do not know what the long term viability was, but I hope that it survived. In this system people were taught what crops could be grown for food as well as trade, how to rotate the crops. An entire family could live and feed themselves from this small land parcel if it was carefully managed. I was very impressed with the iniative.

There was a young Kenyan boy who made world news by showing that a serviceable wind generator could be made cheaply and easily using recycled materials. With LED lighting (long life very low power) and an efficient low power (even hand cranked) computer a person can live well and be globally connected under a broad range of surviveable situations.

I find this response of yours to Arthur profound. I've read it three times. I think this gets to the heart of a sort of meta-discussion that is happening on TOD, if I'm reading it rightly -- which is on the topic of the nature of causality, and the scope of human agency.
The more we explore systems thinking (and the New Physics, et al.), the more we are realizing that "everything is connected to everything" and that our concept of causality is severely flawed -- and, in fact, hopeless naive. The common-sense notion which Arthur, very naturally and understandably expounds, that it is possible to ascribe direct and clearly delineated correlation between actions and result (am I not making a bad situation worse?), is becoming less and less tenable. There are no simple causes of anything. The web of cause and effect can be traced backward (and forward, and sideways) infinitely -- and, indefinitely -- the point at which we stop and say "This is the root cause" is totally arbitrary. Thus, a morality based on "if P then Q" type reasoning is no longer possible; we can no longer say that the ends justify the means, because we have no way of saying what the end will be, and we don't understand the means, even though we're the ones supposedly enacting them.

Masanobu Fukuoka does a top-notch job of destroying the common-sense notion of causality in chp 2, section 2, of his "Natural Way of Farming." This paragraph typifies his position:

Viewed up close, organic causal relationships can be resolved into causes and effects, but when examined holistically, no effects and causes are to be found. There is nothing to get ahold of, so all measures are futile. Nature has neither beginning nor end, before nor after, cause nor effect. Causality does not exist.

To bring this into the context of the particular example under discussion here, there is no way to infallibly determine what result giving the hypothetical child clean water will have, nor is there any way to infallibly determine what result NOT giving him clean water will have.

What are we left with, then? Morality - something which Arthur rightly points out is much more substantial than whatever feels right, or makes things seem rosy, peach, warm, and fuzzy. It is much more serious than that. Fukuoka's response to his realization of non-causality in the context of farming led him to adopt a certain attitude, which may be described as a moral stance. He began and ended all his activities in the world on the basis of the *unprovable* assumption that nature is perfect. That was the belief that oriented his actions - and the criterion by which he judged what seemed to be the "results" of his actions.

In the case of the child who lacks clean drinking water, I think you sum it up perfectly, Ndege: The situation is there, the child is there, you are there. That's all we know, and given this existential situation, we must act. As you pointed out, there is no such thing as non-action; we are all intertwined in the web of causality, so non-action is the same thing as passive action. No one is exempt from having to deal with this situation. So how should we deal with it? On the basis of an orienting belief about the world, about what kind of people we want to be. The calculus is NOT, therefore "If I give or don't give this child clean water, then what are the probable outcomes" -- but something more like "I believe the universe is such that giving clean water to a fellow human being must, somehow, in some way, always be an act of love, therefore I will do it, even though I'm unsure of the consequences."

I think that relates to the fantastic quote you pulled out from Martin Luther above (that rogue!): And even if the World would come to the end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today. As I read it, this is an expression of a fundamental attitude; Luther is completely disregarding causality (because, of course, planting a tree today, when there is no planet tomorrow is irrational, and totally dismissive of causal relations); he is saying "I'm the kind of person who'd plant a tree, come hell or high water, damnit!"

Therefore, I would recommend those of us inclined to the Arthurian approach - consider the possibility of asking yourself "Am I the kind of person who'd give somebody fresh water to drink, come hell or high water?" (or no water, I guess)

Not moralizing here - just throwing out an alternate philosophy of human agency for consideration - which I see as highly relevant, given that we're all intensely concerned with what we perceive as trends, and how we should engage with them ...

Peace, love, and unity, as Ndege said.

P.s. Ndege - bin so eifersuchtig, dass du in muenchen wohnst! Ich war da einmal - die ist eine wunderschoene stadt, oder?? Ich wunsche, dass ich ein Bier beim Hofbrauhaus mit dir drinken koennte, aber was kann man tun ;) ... zum wohl!

Great thread. Explains why many of us who have made minor preparations will not survive when TSHTF. Just can't sit by and watch a child starve. Simple but true. Sharing is going to be our downfall. What a way to go!


This is the type of debate that does not lend itself well to the typed text. It ranges way too far and can easily get mired down in many comments and replies and never a satisfactory answer is decided upon.

For instance just who makes or where does this 'morality' come from?

We used to follow the bibles teachings but one can see , and just from a short drive in a vehicle , that all morals are dashed. People literally force you to give them the right of way, they make movements that are extremely dangerous and force the other party to avoid an accident.They drive way over a safe and sane speed. They tailgate constantly.
And that is just one very very small area. There are many of them.

Like the person who don't want to work and wants to be taken care of.
Begs in fact yet is ablebodied. The country is rift with them. They feign accidents and get disability.

This is what we have evolved to. And there is going to have to be a lot of very bad 'ju ju' taken out of this culture before one can sit down and commune in a way with one's neighbors that will work.

Right now in the rural area I live in I do lots of favors for folks. Fix their PCs. Fixed a 200 hp very expensive tractor for my friend.
You know what? Many never do repay a favor. They want to get something for nothing.

As to Fukuoka's thesis. I read his book on Natural Gardening. He says
'do nothing' yet he carries rice straw to put on the crops, he digs trenches to bury organic matter. He has students who likely do some of the manual labor. He shows a picture of two women rolling seeds into clay pellets? Do Nothing???????

Oh..and buy some land just at so and so a place, Backed up to a mountain. Make terraces? Come on ,,gimme a break...he has blown his whole case.

Right here if I let nature do its 'thing' the Johnson Grass would explode and I would be covered up for a long time until it crowded every single thing out...and then sometime way way down the road, when I have no more garden, then nature in her very slow way might decide to kill the Johnson Grass or might decide to revert to a prairie. Who knows then? Who can just sit and wait for nature to make its mind up?

I think I could argue quite effectively with Fukuoka and his methods of 'perfect nature does what it wants'.

Yes I liked his book. I had some good 'take aways' but he pushes the ox and cart over the cliff with some of this.

Ohh..he uses 'green manure'? I suppose it does move itself to his terraced garden by itself does it? And he then removes it from elsewhere? And he says to be near woods? he can get the organic material from there? Ahhh he is not letting nature do its thing then.

Back to the moral story. A man decides he will kill you and take what you have. Play the moral story here for me on what you would do.

I am not trying to be sarcastic here. I am merely debating some of this. I sorta think the author of this Topic Post might have some rose colored shades on. Why is it many other parts of Africa is indulged in mass murders? Almost the whole area as I read the news and events. Live in squalor. Lots of disease. Runaway HIV and AIDs.

Have lots of offspring but if they die? Go on about your business.
Where is there any moral in that?

I can reminisce about the family farms and life back when I was a youngster here. That was then. This is now. Most here are not going to help anyone. Many will kill others to get what they want and ,,,and this is not the city or suburbs...this is what dregs remain of what once was. I have no dream scape of friendly neighbors helping each other.Nope not at all.

Take my lane. I share it with 3 other families. I have to drag it with my jeep and my chain harrow. The others have several tractors but for years they have no done one single pass on the lane. Not once. I put all the gravel on it. Hauled some in an 18 wheeler grain truck. Did either offer to pay a single penny? No...yet they tear that lane up with tractors and such. They are in fact the stingest, nosy , lazy people around here.

So when the end times comes? I will trust no one. I will take care of myself. I will protect what I have worked hard for.

This is how I have come this far. No one gave me anything. I haveh had to fight and work for all I ever got.
When I spent three years building my loghouse. Not a single person lifted a paw. They came and watched and make comments. They never touched a hammer or saw.

My motto is 'you get out of it what you put in it'.
Doesn't fit too well with Fukuoka's philosophy.

Like the rest thought I do not savage and destroy nature. I live in it. I care for my woods and fields.


Airdale doesn't like it when I point this out but our judgements exist only because we have language. Judgments (this is right or wrong, moral or immoral) do not "exist" in the universe other than as patterns in our brains that become patterns in air and then become patterns in someone else's brain.

This includes what we call "morality." It's all made up; it is the strength and curse of having language.

Yes, I am saying that right and wrong do not exist except as a fancy label that one or more humans are conditioned to utter when certain circumstances arise.

The universe is perfect. Or it is horrible. Or it is generous. Or it is stingy. It is all of these things and none of these things.

Which label do you feel like using now? They are all valid.

P.S. Causality is highly overrated, too. Turns out that might just be a label, just like everything else we get so worked up over. It sounds like Fukuoka has had a glimpse of the fallacy of causality, but the version of it much more profound than is normally discussed.


I am currently reading Diane Ackerman's 'An Alchemy of Mind'.
Yes I agree with your thesis on patterns and language and the rest.

So...the statements I made above are MY patterns. And being raised during the end of the Depression and during WWII by my grandparents I observed and took on their patterns of morality.

Now I see other very bad patterns of our culture. Ahhh a woman Sunday School teacher kidnaps an 8 year neighbors child. Rapes (how does that work?) and kills here in a bestial crime. She won't get the punishment a man would get but I hope she receives the absolute maximum so that we can then look at it and say "This is wrong,we must strengthen our morals." But we won't.

I do recommend the book if you haven't read it. Its extremely enlightening to me.

Airdale-I don't see where we are disagreeing,but my being of the 'old school' you might find me rather odd in my views

Thanks for the book recommendation; I hadn't heard of it.

Given that we are both open to the postulate that judgements are language-based, thus are uniquely human and also totally made up, perhaps there is isn't much difference then in how we are approaching the world.

Here is, in my view, the next logical step but most people stumble over it because their existing patterns actually make it difficult to see this new insight.

If one sees that "it's all made up," then all actions are simply the universe doing its universe thing. We each get to interpret its goings on as we wish and we do but we usually don't involve ourselves in the interpretation phase of cognition.

So, because I'm committed to living a peaceful life (as in with tranquility or equanimity, not absence of war), that means that I practice interrupting my brain (as often as I can) when it has picked an interpretation without my say so.

Then I pick another one. My fallback interpretation is "It doesn't mean anything, it's just the atoms of the universe dancing in the way they do."

It's a common interpretation that terrible things that happen are, well, terrible. But they aren't, they just are things that happen that have consequences and then we layer on top all the angst and suffering via our interpretations (which happen because of language).

Approached in this way, I can work to create a different world without suffering over the actions that are occurring now. Granted, it's not as easy when I'm involved in an action with the universe that there is common agreement is "terrible" or "bestial" as you put it, and it would be even harder if my wife were involved. But that's where practice comes in.

The bottom line is that I can either accept the first interpretation my brain has handy as I live life (remember that it's an associative machine, its job is to associate) or I can catch the interpretation and invent another one.

The alternative is suffering and constantly reacting to the events of the world, always having my "I'm threatened, I'd better protect myself" evolutionary program ready to kick into high gear and often make a mess of things that a calmer head would have handled better.

Both are completely valid ways of living life. But my way seems to give me peace, whereas the alternative leads to suffering and high blood pressure.

Ackerman opines that our brains were not large enough for a language skill so perhsaps the brain let other skills atrophy so as to provide room for language. Right brain/left brain. Left side talks constantly while the right side considers and thinks and considers,etc.

We might for instance have given up telepathy or a very acute sense of smell or far better eyesight.

Only a certain size brain is able to go thru the pelvic area during birth so something has to give. Since language takes quite a bit some thing else was deleted,over time that is.

Seems that writing has little to do with speaking, as she states.

The book offers very good insights.

One quote stands out:
"What is the ultimate truth about ourselves? Various answers suggest themselves. We are a bit of stellar matter gone wrong. We are physical machinery-puppets that strut and talk and laugh and die as the hand of time pulls the strings beneath.
But there is one elementary inescapable answer.
We are that which asks the question.
Sir Arthur Eddington

Airdale-who asks

Ackerman opines that our brains were not large enough for a language skill so perhsaps the brain let other skills atrophy

Very interesting hypothesis!

We are physical machinery-puppets that strut and talk and laugh and die as the hand of time pulls the strings beneath.

Yes, I'm a machine and you are a machine, with visions of grandeur and wild imaginations. We invent all sorts of fascinating fantasies, like there is a soul, that we're evolving into "beings of light" (I live in the part of the world where it's easy to find people who think that) and so on.

In my view, "this is it" — anything else is the invention of a brilliant and almost infinitely creative human brain.

One machine signing off to another ;-)

My question has been deflected into a less weighty one.
I am not discussing an individual child.
Wether on not to give a child a drink of clean water is trivial.

It is not clear to me that I am not doing harm by allowing these people to bring children into the world.

The Pope goes for quantity, not quality. He is unswayed by the inevitable consequence of an overpopulated planet.

I rationalise my stance by telling myself that the apocalyptic wholesale harvesting of souls is God's perogative. Life is God's to give or to take.

This is an evasion of my responsibility.

If you don't believe in God perhaps you believe in Darwin, and that this is a evolutionary event.

This too is an evasion.

It is not clear to me that I am not doing harm by allowing these people to bring children into the world.

Have we met? I am pretty sure, some years back in Nairobi, there was this chap from South Africa using almost the exact same words when we were discussing the problem of over-population particularly in specific African countries. And you being from Africa... Well, I am just wondering – also why you seem to believe the question of you 'allowing' 'these people' (presumably you mean black Africans, not white ones) to give life arises in the first place.

What kind of 'quality' are you considering the Pope should go for? Elaborate, if you will, please.

By the way, that discussion in Nairobi I just mentioned ended rather quickly. We, two white guys in Africa, were worlds apart as it transpired. I hope the two of us can establish some common ground.

We have not met, but you met my brother.

But we are not discussing me or my brother.

Quality means health. An overpopulated planet is unhealthy and has unhealthy people.(for more on Quality please read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance")

Please presume nothing.

It is unnecessary for me to compromise with you.
I have to deal with reality. Reality does not compromise.

This is the issue.
An unintended consequence of me providing clean water for the children is a greater population that will result in more carnage. This is similar to the moral problems faced by doctors. Does one proscribe a medicine that will have benefits but sever side effects.

Are there any doctors present?

He makes a good point regardless.

We cannot know what will be, we can know what is.

Is it immoral to perform an obvious good because of a hypothetical evil that may result from it?

"The Pope goes for quantity not quality". Excuse me but how do you presume to know the mind of a Pope? He hasn't demanded big families or such but only the sancity of life. People can avoid illigitimate bastards, delay marriage, practice the rythm method and abstinance and achieve ZPG or negative population growth. (BTW I'm not Catholic)

I appologise for my presumption.
However, whatever his mind the consequences of his edicts will be a lethaly overcrowded planet.

I hope that we will emerge continent from this catastrophy.

I shall revisit this thread one more time to see if anyone has been able to help me with my moral issue. If there is no help I shall practice continence and go on to other issues.

Arthur –

I would love to give this 'moral'-issue one more go (at least). I am in the middle of having to finish something up, however. So how about checking back in, say, 24 hrs, if that's okay with you. - Until then: have a fantastic day!



in my view, people spend too much time discussing morality, which is a set of patterns established in language that are dependent on the time and location the patterns are being expressed. The problem with morality is that people get righteous over their particular take on morality, not realizing that it's all made up: a layer of interpretation (possible only by the technology of language) on a universe doing its universe thing. See my conversation with Airdale above.

So, leaving aside the rathole of "morality," the world I want to live in would feed the hungry and put lots of effort into bringing our numbers down without the traditional methods of war and pestilence. If we do not feed the hungry, there is a consequence. If we do feed the hungry, there is a consequence. Is there a way to achieve a set of consequences that works for everyone? I believe so but getting there is proving to be challenging for our species.

Hi all. Good discussion.
To respond to a few things (and to leave some other things be ...)

- Fukuoka's principle of "Do nothing" is not a recommendation of total lethargy and sloth; in fact, Fukuoka - and others on his farm, as you pointed out, Airdale - was very active and energetic. He lived to be ninety-five years old, and was a quite healthy old man - probably in large part because he got so much exercise (and ate healthful food.) "Do nothing," rather, is a summation of his essential, orienting philosophy of life, which was: Let man's intervention in nature diminish, and let nature's activities flourish. In contrast to those he labeled "scientific farmers" - who were always hypothesizing about what would happen if they added this technique, this technology, this chemical input - Fukuoka began with the attitude of "What happens if I stop doing x,y, and z?" His insight was that plants have been growing without human aid for millions of years, thus man is unnecessary for the growth of plants, thus man should attempt - in so far as it's possible - to step back and observe, so that one may work with nature, rather than against nature. His efforts to "stop doing" rather than to "do," led to his realization - through many years of research - that one should NOT plow, NOT use chemical fertilizers, NOT weed, NOT use pesticides, and NOT prune. If one ceases these human activities, and allows nature to take over these functions, then man, in a sense, is "doing nothing." This is the same basic idea as the permaculture principle "Intervene at the maximum point of effectiveness" -- why hand-pollinate anything, for example, when bees will do this, and, in fact, love to do it, and want to do it. Why not shape your environment so that bees will do what they want to do, and that will eliminate the necessity of you doing. Thus, "do nothing"; the goal is to take that principle to its ultimate conclusion - something that Fukuoka had not attained yet - but something which he was striving for. He said an effective farmer should have plenty of time to write good poetry; being too busy for creative pursuits is an indication of needlessly wasted effort.

- Where does morality come from? Well, where do we want it to come from? A lot of people want it to come from an authoritative book; they want someone to tell them what their values should be, what the boundaries of acceptable actions are, how they should feel about everything. Which is totally fine; I understand the impulse. I'm a Christian, I get what it's like to have that kind of security. But given that we're living in "this crazy post-modern world," where everything has been deconstructed, it's harder and harder to feel convinced that anything is as easy as reading a book and following the instructions. Airdale's example was great - people drive without any regard for human life. The car is their "technology of personal freedom" - and what do they do with their personal freedom? They use it in a way that makes them seem like they are literally possessed. So if reading a book and following instructions isn't working anymore, then (and it wasn't either in Jesus' day; law is, ultimately, not a sustainable solution to the problem of being a human in the universe) where should our morality come from? We get to choose; as aangel was talking about, humans are the ones who came up with morality (soon as we developed language); so, instead of saying "there is no morality anymore" (which is very true) let's choose to say "Ok, what should our new moral system be?" If there is no morality anymore, it's because we chose to eliminate it; if we chose to eliminate it, we can build a new one. Fukuoka decided to make "nature" the basis of his moral system; it worked well for him. I'm inclined to follow suit, with some modifications. "Nature" can be our authority, our teacher, our guide - if we want. Or we can choose something else. It's hard to find any credible and compelling authorities and teachers and guides anymore, though. Airdale, based on experience, you have chosen a moral system, which, at its core, says "Trust no one; do everything yourself." That is a valid approach, one that I can understand. However, experience is not the only authority, and there are other options out there.

- Arthur said: An unintended consequence of me providing clean water for the children is a greater population that will result in more carnage. This is similar to the moral problems faced by doctors. Does one prescribe a medicine that will have benefits but sever side effects? Again, I would argue against a monocausal understanding of the direction of history. "If clean water, then more people, then more suffering" is not an obviously true sequence. In any case, I think it's good you bring in the analogy of medicine here. In keeping with the analogy, I think my response to the question "Can one prescribe a medicine that won't have side effects?" would be "How can we develop a system where we don't need doctors, and we don't need medicine?" That is, let's not take our current assumptions about the world for granted, and force ourselves into false dilemmas.

Peace & symbiosis


Conjecture such as has been posted in the last couple of posts, by AAngel and yourself should make a very good basis for a Topic Post on Campfire.

Either of you could key something up and submit it for review to Nate.

I would but I have a huge number of irons being heated right now. I am working on a Topic Post for Campfire as time permits on a different subject.

Morality? What and how should we deal with it in the future? Personal or communal or by some far off governing body? What is likely to happen in the future regarding morality?

Airdale-I battle with moral issues almost daily it seems, mostly with church folk who seem to be drifting way way 'out there' and put money in a basket and get some idea that this 'saves them'.

I lived in Kenya for a while. Now that I've been back in the US for a few years, I can see things there with a little more perspective. I lived with a family for a while that by US standards would be considered poor. And maybe in the back of my mind, I thought they were poor too. But lately, I see that they had a lot of things that many if not most people here lack. They had no electricity, or running water. But the climate was cool at night and warm during the day so there was no need for heating or air conditioning. There was ample rain fall and a large water tank to store it in. As far as I know, they had no bills and no debt. They owned their own land and grew much of their own food. They had a cow for milk and chickens for eggs. I think the man also had a store of some type in town. I laugh when I see the expensive "organic" food sold in our grocery stores. In Kenya, all the food grown on small family farms (shamba) is what we might call organic, but there it's just called food (chakula). And it's not expensive.

They have problems of course. I don't know that there was much of a social safety net, not one provided by the government anyway. Not many people seem to realize this, but one of the reasons they have so many children is so that they'll have someone to take care of them when they get older. It's their "retirement system". And as much as I miss some aspects of living there, I admit I'd be reluctant to give up some of the support systems I have here ,such as a pension, in order to live there.

We think of ourselves as wealthy here in the west, but we pour our wealth into things that don't enrich our lives. We have big houses, cars and televisions, but what good does that do? We treat it all as disposable anyway and put ourselves into debt to get more.

Worse, not only does it no enrich our lives, it actually detracts from them. If the money, big houses, cars, and all the fixings that the west has were actual wealth why are we so unhappy and unhealthy or so destructive?

It's an interesting exercise to consider to what degree the average American's energy consumption could be scaled back without impacting anything of real importance. Probably at least 70% from looking through the various analysis. Eliminate the wasteful, the silly, the out of date.

Of course "real importance" probably has pretty significant variability. Physical books and physical libraries for example are very wasteful...

Regardless, it's probably a moot question. If the past couple hundred years are any indicator, they indicate:

1: People rarely make rational choices when it comes to spending energy or resources.
2: Experts are rarely accurate at predicting the future (that includes the community here as well as well as the more established expert community at large).

Even if we attempted to be very clever based on a model and set of predictions that are founded around peak oil theory, it is quite likely some set of black swans would arrive to disrupt our best laid plans.