"Peak Oil" or "Limits to Growth"

There is a good deal of evidence that we are now a little past "peak oil". Many of us find it doesn't feel quite like we had imagined.

A lot of us had expected that peak oil would be basically a liquids fuels crisis, caused by geological limits. We expected that the solutions of the Department of Energy's Hirsch Report would be sufficient to forestall a crisis, especially if we had started 20 years ago, instead of now. These solutions included things like more oil from tar sands, improving automobile efficiency, and electrification of transport.

Now, when we seem to be at peak oil, we find the current situation feels a lot more like a "box" caused by limits to growth, rather than a liquid fuels crisis. The limits are of many forms--not just geological limits relating to oil--but other resource limits as well, such as fresh water, and concerns about climate change and the environment. The financial system is even behaving strangely.

The fact that the financial system is also in distress is a surprise to many people. There is good theoretical reason to expect that once growth in underlying resources slows, a financial system based on compound growth will run into difficulty. This was predicted by M. King Hubbert and many others. The connection is not easy to see, though, and it is understandable that many would believe that the financial system would have had problems, even apart from limits to growth.

The fact that so many limits are involved makes it difficult to substitute one resource, such as biofuels, for another, such as petroleum products.

The fact that so many limits are involved also means that it is not just liquid fuels that are being constrained by the limits to growth box. In the diagram above, I show electricity, the credit system, the industrial system, and the agricultural system as being fenced in by limits, in addition to liquid fuels. I could probably have included many other systems as well, such as the international trade system, governmental systems, and long term promises, such as pensions and social security systems.

The world is finite, so it should not come as a great surprise that the various limits are being reached, to varying degrees, simultaneously. Systems such as the electrical system, the credit system, and the agricultural system all depend on availability of finite resources, so are affected as we start reaching limits of various kinds.


Another thing that some don't think is quite right about the current situation is timing. The peak in liquid fuels production seems to have come and gone, but nothing too terrible has happened. The stores are full of food. The price of gasoline is fairly reasonable, compared to a year ago. Here again, I think if we look at our situation in terms of the limits to growth box, it is not just liquid fuels that are important, but a whole group of networked systems, all of which are affected (to varying degrees) by the constraints of the limits to growth box.

At this point, it seems to me that we are in the lull before the storm. Demand has dropped, because society could not afford high priced petroleum products, but the supply has not yet declined to reflect the lower price level. Stimulus packages have been put in places, but the cost has not yet filtered through the system. People are hopeful for a rebound, and this is reflected in the stock market prices.

To me, the most vulnerable system is the international monetary system. As long as countries trust each other, trade will continue as usual. Once this starts breaking down, it seems likely that countries will need real goods to barter, rather than relying on promises to pay. A breakdown in the international monetary system could cause a major interruption to trade and start a downward spiral. It seems like this could happen at any time.

Whether or not there is a crash, and the timing of such a crash, really depend on how all of the systems work together. Any kind of destabilization, such as new upward price pressures on fossil fuels, could telegraph through the system. Financial disruptions are especially likely.

It is my view that because of this networking, all systems will eventually fail together. A person cannot expect that one system, such as the electrical system, will greatly outlast the other systems. If either the electrical system or the financial system fails, other systems are likely to fail as well.

I see collapse as being stepwise--things may look good for a while, and then there will be a sudden step down. This may happen several times. We are on a step right now.

What Should We Do Now?

It is hard to get any group of people to agree on an answer.

Method of Long Ago

We know one system which more-or-less worked in ages past. People lived in small communities, in very simple homes. Land was tilled by hand or using animal labor. All wastes were returned to the soil, so as to maintain soil fertility. Water was either from hand dug wells or from rainwater catchment systems. People burned whatever was close at hand (dung, peat, wood, coal) to cook their food and heat their homes. Transportation was by foot or using animal power.

Most people don't really want to return to a system such as this. We have 6.7 billion people on earth now. It is not clear that this system could support more than 1.0 billion, even if techniques more advanced than those of our ancestors were used, such as better crop rotation. Life expectancies would likely be very short.

Intermediate Approaches

There are several possible intermediate approaches:

• Find new fuel alternatives--thorium; cold fusion; fourth generation biofuels (Question: Is there time?)

• Build out what we can of alternatives that perhaps aren't running into limits as badly as other things - for example wind turbines, or if one is not concerned about climate change, increased coal generation of electricity; electric trains. (Questions: Will we just run into limits we haven't considered? What do we do when these solutions fail? How many years will these solutions really work?)

• Build out lower tech solutions that have worked in the past--home gardens, small wind mills for farmer, rainwater catchment systems for homeowners, cotton gins, coal fired trains, raising donkeys for labor.

• Build communities of people who want to try to live in more of a sustainable fashion.

One can also work on solving parts of the problem:

• Start teaching skills so that returning to the methods of long ago will not be so problematic.

• Develop open pollinated seeds that will provide a balanced diet for many different climate areas.

• Start encouraging late marriages and one child families.

It seems to me that if limits to growth is really the issue, we should be very cautious about undertaking 20 or more year projects to do anything, unless we believe that the intermediate results will be worthwhile in themselves. There are just too many connections with systems that are likely to fail within the next 20 years.

Instead, it seems like we should concentrate on projects where a more immediate payoff is clear, or that will help us better reach a sustainable long-term situation. This would suggest that we should be starting more at the bottom of the above list of types of actions, rather than at the top.

Demand has dropped, because society could not afford high priced petroleum products,

This is a generalization and an unsupported assertion on your part.

Europe has for some time been paying prices for FF products that are much higher than any prices ever seen in North America.

So clearly there are societies that can afford high priced petroleum products. And if this statement is true then your assertion is false.

You make other similar generalizations and illustrate them with graphs and charts that have little probative value.

You make statements but one has to work to determine what your working hypothesis might be, or the value of your truth claims.

If you have all this knowledge and understanding then it should permit you to provide a set of testable conclusions by which we can determine if you are right or wrong.

My friend, you need a recreational drug of choice.

What graphs? Why can't demand [planet-wide total] drop just because some people already pay more than others?

These are testing times. Let's get along, there are going to be plenty problems ahead.

You only have a point in that oil pessimists have historically used heuristics and qualitative arguments instead of drawing on real quantitative arguments backed by formal reasoning. Some of us are trying to change this. It is a slow process however, as whenever you go down that route, other critics want you to "dumb down" your arguments to make it more entertaining and palatable to a wider audience. So we are in a possible catch-22. The key is to make the arguments bullet-proof and therefore critic-proof.

I think both need to exist.

There is The Shock Model and then there is the "Layman's Guide to The Shock Model" which helps gain an understanding of what the model describes, its key assertions, its weaknesses and faults, if any. But "popularization" should not mean that you abandon your critical faculties and just churn out pablum.

Elsewhere there is a post to the effect that; 1) There are a lot of variables to life; and 2) No matter what option, or direction, is chosen there remain a lot of variables to life.

To which I can only quote Homer Simpson: "Doh!"

Yes, but if Gale poses this as an either/or question: as in, are we seeing "Peak Oil" or are we seeing "Limits to Growth"? Then we need a good set of representative models that we can run against each other. Might as well die trying.

Interesting how mention of a deep "technical analysis" gets all the financial types hyperventilating with excitement, yet the same thing applied to a deep problem such as oil depletion is met with a relative thud.

I can one up the Homer Simpson reference:

Professor Frink: [drawing on a blackboard] Here is an ordinary square....
Police Chief Wiggum: Whoa, whoa - slow down, egghead!

Well, to be brutally honest, when it comes to the Shock Model I have sort of felt myself at times to be on the Wiggum side of the classroom :-)

Hi WebHubbleTelescope (and others), I'd like to convince some friends that 'peak oil' most likely took place in 2008. Of course I can give links to ASPO and other predictions but then they can say 'why should I believe that? it could just be wrong' So, what are your arguments to convince people?

I am sure you have seen Ace's projections that show based on a field by field analysis of what companies are saying about when new fields are coming on line. He also takes into account expected decline rates of existing fields. Ace's forecasts were higher before the financial crisis hit. Now that oil prices are lower, companies have pared back their plans for new projects.

The reason that even after the next few years a rebound is unlikely is that base production is dropping rapidly, because of the decline rate on existing fields. Once we fall behind in adding new production, it will be virtually impossible to catch up again.

We know many of the biggest fields, like Ghawar, are getting closer to the end of their life. Surprises on the downside are much more likely than on the upside.

We would really need some upsurge caused by low-priced improved technology to get more oil out. At this point, we don't see any signs of this being at hand. Most of the possibilities seem to be high priced, and will set the economy into a tailspin if oil prices are high enough to support them.

I have succesfully convinced some people, but some others are hard to convince.
One person replied: "I prefer to live in ignorance"
When trying to convince someone, ask him/her: why the oil companies have not invested in new refineries?
Tell people that in one TOD survey, 81% of the participants believe Peak Oil already happened, is happening now, or will happen before 2013.
The following video is very convincing:

And if a person does not have 33 minutes, ask him/her to watch these other videos:

Also, ask them to see the following OIL REPORT:

and to read this: http://www.energybulletin.net/primer

Hi George,

I think people like to have some idea that there are better ways to respond, some positive actions one might take and that society, in general, might take - and that all is not lost. In fact, if we actually manage to absorb the truth, there's quite a bit we can do.


re: "When trying to convince someone, ask him/her: why the oil companies have not invested in new refineries?"

My understanding is that the oil companies have invested in new refinery *capacity*, and that this equates to new refineries, which are not built due to the permitting process. No links.

In other words, I'd check with TODers who are familiar with this topic.

We now have too much refinery capacity, thanks to upgrades to existing US facilities, and new capacity around the world.

Tell people that in one TOD survey, 81% of the participants believe Peak Oil already happened, is happening now, or will happen before 2013.

I know what you're getting to but there are flawless counter arguments to this statement of yours. This is the same as saying "80% of the participants in an Intelligent Design site survey believed that God exists".

The power of denial overwhelms logic. I spent 2 hours talking about peak oil, population and even played a few 'parts' of some of my favourite documentaries (Life at the end of the Empire, A Crude Awakening (and even the light-headed, "dumbed down" Story Of Stuff)). But you know what happened at the end? Besides a sore throat after all the talking, everybody went back to talking about the best mortgage plan.

I didn't know about peak oil when I was born. Nor did it seem such a big 'threat' when I got to know about it (for I immediately only associated 'cars' with petroleum than 'food'). It takes patience to tell people... and more than that, it takes slow, digestable amounts of information to be fed to them periodically to create awareness).

I have another idea: A set of simple to understand posters. On the lines of "Did you know how much of the food we eat needs petroleum? 100 gms of food needs 1. X volume for fertilizer 2. X volume for pesticides 3. X volume for labour 4. X volume for irrigation 5. X volume for transport 6. X volume for storage - Total: Y volumes"

Game to do this? :)


I'd like to convince some friends that 'peak oil' most likely took place in 2008. Of course I can give links to ASPO and other predictions but then they can say 'why should I believe that?

Don't rely your case on what people are asserting/predicting. The facts to date speak loudly enough (to those with functioning ears). Firstly in any productive engagement you have to lead them with questions rather than preach to them: "Are you envisaging to be alive in 5 years time?", "Where can you get sound information from?" (etc.) Flatter their delusion of being rational inquiring minds! (and respect them as equals who might surprise you by showing you to be in error yourself; why should you expect respect if you don't give it?)

Then just observe how (a) the production growth has stalled since 2004. Note how (b) the financial/credit/economic system is crucially dependent on continued growth. Note that the implication of (a) plus (b) is that some sort of economic crisis right now is inevitable, and is indeed taking place. Note the failure to invest in future production, due to faulty market. Producers squealing that they can no longer produce at the current prices. Exporter countries relentlessly turning into importers.
This isn't rocket science and it does not depend on blind faith in some incomprehensible 'ace' etc expertise. Rather it's the denial position that is the act of blind faith.

I'd like to convince some friends that 'peak oil' most likely took place in 2008.


I don't mean that rhetorically, either, but as an honest question: for what reason do you wish to convince them of this particular proposition?

If you want them to engage in a particular behaviour, such as consuming less oil, then directly addressing that behaviour is almost certainly a more productive approach. For example, simply noting that: (a) oil production seems to be struggling to keep up with oil consumption; (b) that led to high prices in the last few years; and (c) prices are still relatively high and likely to rise in the near future is much less controversial and uncertain, but should have much the same effect in terms of raising awareness regarding oil consumption.

By contrast, if you want to induce a particular mindset, such as believing that civilization is ending, then the timing of peak oil is only one tiny fragment of what you'll need to convince them of. In that case, you're not merely trying to convince people of a physical fact, but of your interpretation of that fact, which is a much harder task. Your interpretation likely relies on a hundred assumptions and leaps of logic you've made, and getting your friends to accept those may be no easy task.

So ask yourself whether you want to convince them of the idea that oil availability is permanently dropping, or of your particular beliefs about what that will mean for society. The first of those is pretty easy - show them a few graphs of prices and rig counts - but the latter is something that will be extremely difficult to provide an evidence-based argument for.

So ask yourself whether you want to convince them of the idea that oil availability is permanently dropping, or of your particular beliefs about what that will mean for society. The first of those is pretty easy - show them a few graphs of prices and rig counts - but the latter is something that will be extremely difficult to provide an evidence-based argument for.

Wow. You think it is "pretty easy" to convince someone that oil availability is permanently dropping? Just by showing a few graphs of prices and rig counts? That is a skill in rhetoric, not of any formal reasoning. I think a person equipped with such scant supporting evidence will get decimated when they get confronted by a real cornucopian.

You think it is "pretty easy" to convince someone that oil availability is permanently dropping?

Relative to the difficulty of convincing someone to accept my interpretation of what that implies, yes.

Compared to $10 oil in the 90s, though, $50 oil in the middle of a deep recession is a steep drop in availability. Compared to the 90s when the West had most of the world's purchasing power, booming growth in BRIC countries has raised the competition for oil substantially, and that increased competition - which decreases availability in the West - is highly likely to continue and increase.

A strong case can be made for falling availability without even touching on supply issues. However, you're probably right that talking about the near future (10-20 years, or so) is both more defensible and more appropriate than trying to convince anyone that anything is truly permanent.

Your point is a good one:

A strong case can be made for falling availability without even touching on supply issues.

Relative price is a good way to ocmpare rate of production against rate of consumption. At maximum relative production price is likely to be lowest in real terms.


This graph is from the International Monetary Fund, 2009. I added 'Peak Oil'.

From a physical delivery standpoint, peak production was either 2005 (Simmons) or 2008.

If a late- 1990's effective peak is accurate, then current economic dislocations are more easily accounted for. The likely outcome is a continuing general decline in economic indicators with periods similar to current where a return to 'normal' economic activity appears likely.


US per capita energy consumption peaked very close to the time frame you are pointing to. This is a graph I put together of US per capita energy consumption (including imports). I am sure it moved down in 2008, and will be down further in 2009.

The graph is based on EIA consumption data.

US per capita energy consumption peaked very close to the time frame you are pointing to.

US per capita energy consumption peaked in 1978.

The key is to make the arguments bullet-proof and therefore critic-proof.

"Limits to growth" is a gestalt.

There can be bullet proof arguments, but never for a gestalt. A gestalt is woven from perceptions, as well as arguments, and, more importantly, from choices of which of these to attend to.

It will never, alas, be critic-proof.

Demand has dropped, because society could not afford high priced petroleum products,

This is a generalization and an unsupported assertion on your part.

At the risk of speaking for Gail (something I am in no way qualified to do), I don't think that this remark was the point of the article. Whether the current demand destruction is oil price-related or not is, frankly, irrelevant. I think the point is...

- there are limits to growth
- oil is one of them
- so are other resources, environmental concerns, financial issues, societal issues, etc.
- they are interrelated and do not function in isolation (and cannot be addressed in isolation)
- so, what do you do about it?

Do you put everything into a single grand strategy, do you concentrate on small projects that are as close to 100% doable as possible and that will have some longer-term (albeit smaller or more local) benefit, or do you try something in between?

Personally, I think this question is fundamental, but, probably, unanswerable and, possibly, irrelevant. How can it be fundamental and irrelevant? Because, while critical, I don't think that there is currently political or societal will to even consider the answer. In fact, the will currently doesn't exist even to ask the question, or to acknowledge the true scope of the problem. In short, the vast majority of people either don't know, don't understand, don't believe, or don't care about the above limits to growth list and its implications.

I think that the first step, at least in western capitalist democracies, has to be a concerted, all out, government supported (probably mandated and funded as well), public relations campaign to a) describe the situation, b) show the "potential" (inevitable) downside of our existing system, c) create a crisis-mode mentality, and d) explain to people that, given the nature of the "crisis that is never going away", the only sane response will require a level of commitment and sacrifice substantially longer and harder than that made for WWII. We're talking about a media/PR effort that dwarfs the propaganda efforts made during the world wars and the cold war. It would require cooperation (or, at least utilization) of the PR/advertising/marketing industries. By itself, it would be an enormous (and expensive and politically daunting and potentially panic-inducing) undertaking.

However, without such an undertaking, only an actual crisis (or more likely, an extended series of crises) will generate the societal and political will to actually understand the current situation, consider the inevitable situation, and then to ask hard questions. And you cannot get answers until you ask the questions. Eventually, limits to growth will generate crises sufficient to move public and political opinion. Period.

Do we want to wait for the limits to move opinion, or do we want to move the debate as soon as possible so that we can get on with formulating and implementing some kind of response? And the related question, if we do wait for the limits to force a change in opinion, will there be any responses left from which we can choose, other than "hide and watch"?


"I was distressed by the poor quality of the debate surrounding energy," he says, explaining why he started to write the book in his spare time four years ago. "I was also noticing so much greenwash from politicians and big business. I was tired of the debate - the extremism, the nimbyism, the hairshirt. We need a constructive conversation about energy, not a Punch and Judy show. I just wanted to try to reboot the whole debate. Most of physics is about energy, and physicists understand inefficiencies. I wanted to write a book about our energy options in a neutral, human-accessible form."


I just found this in today's Drumbeat and it pretty sums up my perspective. The author of the quote has just written a book which may serve to refocus the debate and help avert further personal Spindletop moments at the keyboard :-)



I pretty much agree with what you are saying.

The quote at the top is maybe 1% of the post. If people don't believe it, then skip it and move on.

I think you are right that governments would have to be behind a public relations movement. I thought it was interesting that Japan honored 'Limits to Growth' author Dennis Meadows with a $500,000 prize from the country's Science and Technology foundation. It may be that Japan is ahead of us on this issue.

I find it really hard to believe that any country, even Japan, will launch an all-out concerted effort to publicize the limits to growth issue. The issue is just too panic inducing. I think it is much more likely that we will spend huge amounts of money on boondoggles that might have a payoff in 50 years, if all of the stars align correctly.

Anytime the Federal government "gets behind a public relations effort" the result is sure to be a public firestorm of suspicion, ridicule and political protest. With good reason the American public is suspicious of, and hostile toward, government bearing giant, complex agenda items. Exhibit A would be, "Global Warming". Unfortunately, both the political Left and the political Right have sacred cows which will be gored by Peak Oil.
The only hope I can see is a much more bottom up, grass roots, small activist centered current of change. People will adjust (and I believe already ARE adjusting) to the world as it changes. This isn't going to happen according to any "Grand Plan" that I can see coming from any quarter, but more likely, IN SPITE of the status quo of entrenched, institutional paralysis and incompetence.

I think that the first step, at least in western capitalist democracies, has to be a concerted, all out, government supported (probably mandated and funded as well), public relations campaign

Won't work.

Most people don't like change. And will seek whatever justification they can to resist that change.

If governments (Ok really any group of humans organized for whatever purpose) did not have a history of lying to people - they might have a shot at being believed/not accused of having an adjenda. Yet, because of the lack of transparency historically, what reason should people have to believe its different this time?

Hi Brian;

You wrote;

"c) create a crisis-mode mentality, and d) explain to people that, given the nature of the "crisis that is never going away", the only sane response will require a level of commitment and sacrifice substantially longer and harder than that made for WWII.

Yes, look what happened when the threat from the Japanese wasn't taken seriously-Pearl Harbour. And we are heading for the mother of all Pearl Harbours with multiple threats to the entire human race and the biosphere.

I certainly think that a global state of emergency needs to be initiated immediatly. This is where countries like the U.S, Australia, Great Britain, The EU, Japan, China, and anybody else with the guts, to stand up and lead. Just as the U.S stood up in WWII. Granted, they needed there butts kicked before they were tipped out of their comfort zone, and got off the sofa.

What is it that is going to kick us out of our comfort zone? I can't see a slow descent doing it. It will have to be something that hits the very heart of our way of life. Perhaps the experience and lesson from Pearl Harbour can be used as a metaphor to declare a state of emergency. 'Peak everything, the mother of all Pearl Harbours'. A clear, international, unbiased message needs to be sent out that helps people connect the dots. Let's make positive use of our global communication network and the 6.7 billion people out there which we are a part of.

So clearly there are societies that can afford high priced petroleum products.

Not true - oil is fungible, in Europe, as a society, we pay the same price for it as you do in the USA - what is different is where essential taxes are levied.

In Europe we chose to tax some fuels, in the USA you tax different things ... but the net result is we pay the same for fuel and the same % of income for taxes.

If you have ever travelled in the world you will know that most people do not consume anything like as much energy as the USA, and many societies still use sustainable organic farming using draught animals. Only a small % of the world's population live in OECD countries - the vast majority do not live like you!

Demand of gasoline for personal use isn't likely to drop much in the short term since it is more or less non-discretionary - we are all more or less locked into our way of living/working /shopping/schooling so have no option but to pay the price. Our ways of life are non-negotiable - if it is based on consumption of gasoline that means less money for discretionary purchases.

So, the demand that will fall is for the oil embedded in discretionary purchases - such as flying long distance to go on vacation, trucking the goods we don't buy etc. Demand for those fuels is already way down, as we would expect.

Europe has for some time been paying prices for FF products that are much higher than any prices ever seen in North America.

The above figure illustrates OECD Europe total petroleum consumption for the period June 1987 through November 2008 as reported by EIA plotted against the left hand axis. NOTE: Axis not zero scaled. A 12 Month Moving Average (12 MMA) is added (black line) to smoothen seasonal swings in consumption. The diagram also shows the movements (thick red line) of the average monthly oil price (Europe Brent Spot FOB) plotted against the right hand axis.

What the diagram also illustrates is that oil/energy needs to be affordable. In any society demand destruction will happen as the prices moves northwards.

First and foremost obviously its not this simple prices dropped dramatically and demand did not rebound.

Better to say high oil prices and the economic bubble are tightly interrelated with a myriad of links and feedbacks. Generally high oil prices are bad for the economy. However Europe produces a fair amount of oil and is a big trading partner with many oil producers so this is not even perfectly clear. And trade in various bonds and currencies makes it even murkier.

What we can say is the Europe seems to have a sort of baseline consumption inline with its population which depending on how you measure is shrinking flat or slowly growing. Just shooting a line across given the population Europe has a baseline demand of about 15.3 mbd currently consumption is below that but it would easy to assume the economic problems are responsible for the drop below baseline. And easy enough to assume it probably won't go much lower but undulate around its current level.

Now for the EU most places have high taxes on oil products so a change in the underlying price of oil results in a lower precentage change in the price. For example in the US gasoline when from 2-4 dollars a 50% change in price while in the EU say it went from 6-8 a gallon a 25% change. And the per capita consumption is lower in the EU than in the US so the impact was lower. And the EU has much better public transport so people could choose alternatives.

Now looking at salaries we find that the increase in prices where nothing compared to average salaries in the area and anyone with a sensible about of spending and debt could readily have afforded the increase in oil prices. These same people dealt with far greater increases in housing costs for example that dwarf the change in costs for oil. Oil even at its highest price was not even close to becoming unfordable for the vast majority of first world citizens. Only at the lowest end do you find people with extreme commutes and minimum wages that would have been impacted to the point that they would have difficulty living at the highest price.

Oil has yet to even approach a price that makes it unfordable for most of the first world.

However did the price rise enough that people could no longer pay insane prices for houses and cars and junk and maintain a negative savings rate ?

I'd argue that the consumer became so stretched that any increases in price of anything resulted in many being forced to gasp conserve a little bit and pull back on spending.
Basically the consumer could no longer afford to increase spending for anything regardless.
Rising oil prices happened as the consumer hit a brick wall. Way to many had used up their lines of debt and could no longer service them. For many of course conservation of fuel use was not enough to cover the rising costs plus allow them to service all of their debts. The problem was not expensive oil but that the consumer had allocated so much of his income to debt service that they simply did not have enough disposable income that could be conserved to prevent them from going negative on cash flow. Many where way over extended with only HELOC's hiding the fact they where insolvent.

The thesis that oil became to expensive is simply not true. It is true that the consumer allocated to much of his income to debt service and thus was unable to absorb literally any change in prices for anything. Oil happened to be the one going up inflating food prices. Certainly the consumer tried to conserve including by reducing driving. The signature that they where maxed out and for many well beyond the max is obvious once oil prices declined consumption did not increase. Instead the consumer had simply no choice but to begin t default on debt they did not have the cash flow to service the debt regardless of what oil cost. As consumers pulled back the economic engine servicing them declined and of course as workers and not consumers many lost income leading to a downward spiral this economic contraction resulted in declines in fuel usage for general economic reasons and is not sensitive to the price of oil.

Indeed once the economy maxed out and started into decline fuel usage went strait down and shows no sensitivity to price even though oil prices change dramatically during the time it was declining.

We do see it now looking like its going to bounce around the baseline consumption level in close correspondence with the historical average for the population. Europe actually seems to be at the end of its decline in usage. I'd argue that only further significant contraction of the economy could cause more declines.

Now the important point is oil is not even close to being unfordable for the first world we never even came close to the point that the price of oil was so high that you had difficulty living a normal life.

However assuming the price of oil continues to increase we do know from what I'm saying that the consumer will continue to need to cut back on expenditures for debt service. If the debt is long term i.e a mortgage or expensive car with a multi-year loan or a revolving credit line with a balance so high its impossible to pay off in any reasonable amount of time well the consumer will simply have no choice but to continue to default to preserve cash flow for necessities. Sure they can try and cut back on oil usage but this does little to cover increased costs of everything esp food as rising oil prices are passed on to the consumer.
Next we have every indication that further cuts in oil consumption will be increasingly inelastic and smaller. Reducing the cost of debt service via default remains the best way for a consumer to increase cash flow. Also of course as more consumers default the value of the underlying asset declines leading to more defaults as the consumer is underwater on his loans. Given the recent price declines in houses and now widespread unemployment its reasonable to assume that default will continue to be the top choice for most consumers.

Only after they have reduced their debt load to zero and regained cash flow is the cost of oil actually a factor. This is not saying they won't conserve but well before oil becomes unaffordable we can expect the consumer to reject credit and long term debts simply because the debt loads are not flexible.

I can't stress how important this is. The argument that oil became unaffordable is deeply flawed. I really suspect over the next several years people will find out how high the price of oil can go before in really becomes unaffordable. We are not even close.

The fact that rising oil prices played a big role in popping a bubble where people where making house payments using credit cards and anyone that could breath could get 500 thousand dollars to buy a house is way way below oil actually reaching a price point that its unaffordable.

When houses are dirt cheap and people refuse or are unable to take on insane debt loads and people that can have switched to fuel efficient cars and those that can't have done what they can to seek alternative transport and finally when people are deciding on buying gas or food that that point and only then is oil truly expensive. Sure our financial system probably will collapse before we hit the end point from out right inability to afford oil and still have our civilization function but we are still several years away from that point.

Now will the rising price of oil ensure our economy can never resume growth to pay of existing debt and debt default after default becomes a whay of life sure. Will persistent and high unemployment in the 10-20% range become the norm ? Yes.
Will wages start falling ? For sure.

Have we seen the highest price for oil before it becomes unaffordable and is the worst behind us ?
Not even close this game has barely even started its the top of the first in the game of the end of civilization.

Could the nine innings of play pass quickly ?
Sure !

From now on out the whole house of cards can literally come crashing down any day. But the underlying forces will build over several years. My best guess is still 2011-2012 before we even begin to reach a serious people starving depression and the social net becomes torn. Probably two more years after that before reducing people to absolute poverty no longer ensures enough resources to run a viable civilization and social order breaks down.

Europeans don't pay any more for oil than we do. Individual consumers do, true, due to taxes, but that merely redistributes income within the society. The actual cost, in real terms, is no different.

This is only half right, or half the story.

Yes, the amount Europeans pay for their oil as a society is the same, the tax is just in a different place, BUT their smarter tax system has encouraged people to be more efficient and therefore they use less as a society to do the same amount of work. I've said it a billion times before, but it does not matter if I show up to work in a Hummer or a bicycle, I am still showing up at work. hHe Hummer/SUV/any-car-really is therefore mostly wasted resources.

This does leave societies more vulnerable to resource depletion (a loss of a barrel now would do more harm to Europe than to America, as more "work" would be destroyed) but it creates a legacy of infrastructure more able to switch to a lower energy density form. Wind turbines to power everything are far more practical in Europe than in the US.

So, yes, per unit of fuel, Europe pays the same. But they use far less to get about the same things done and this is directly because of the fuel taxes.

Bop I guess you and all your friends must be rather prosperous, and therefore vaccinated against any understanding of folks with just enough money to get by day to day or week to week.

I personally know lots of working or at least recently working textile workers, furniture workers,loggers etc.The ones who have lost thier jobs don't eat at Mcdonalds anymore, and when gas hit 4 bucks, I know that friends of mine starting packing thier lunch so thier kids could still have school lunch money.

Many tens if millions of us right here in the good old USA had to park the second car, give up the occasional weekend at the beach, rent a movie instead of going to the movies,put off getting their teeth cleaned or filled.

Now I wiil not argue with the proposition that we can and will adjust to high energy prices, given time,but I believe it would improve your understanding of what life is like for the bottom third of us yankees if you had to live for a few years on twenty or thirty thousand gross while making car payments, rent or house payment,groceries,dental and prom for the kids etc.

Never mind about the second and third world, where twenty thousand is simply unimaginable to most folks.

As all these people in the aggregate cut back on their relatively few discretionary purchases,and wear their jeans and shoes longer, and substitute beans for vegetables, and continue to drive the old car without fixing the dented fender,and get buy with the furniture they have,things sort of snowball if you see what I mean.The snowball might even eventually roll over the business or industry that provides your paycheck.

Gail is in my estimation one of the most interesting and thought provoking bloggers anywhere.Give her credit for mixing in a little every day commonsense with the hard numbers so beloved of the financial types.If I remember correctly, the entire lot of them , with all their graphs and spreadsheets and software and tech support and presumably copipous access to inside information(given the fact that most of them work for banks, govt,big biz in general)failed to predict the biggest crash in modern history.

Good Comments


And I second that!


I was in the oil industry until it collapsed back in 1985-86. Since that was a world wide collapse there was no place of refuge to run to. All my coworkers were in the same position and there were no lifeboats. Around us, the society that got all upset when gas went up 25 cents, they motored on without any concern for the destruction that took place in the oil sector. And it was very destructive. Destructive to marriages, to families, to children. Two former colleagues ended up taking their own lives as they were unable to make the transition from being a valued and respected breadwinner to an unwanted nobody. I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy.

This destruction extends even to you as today the industry is operating with a lot of equipment and structures left from that period. Even if you could summon up new hardware, the human side of the enterprise is not easily rebuilt. There is no way you can give somebody 20 years experience in 2 years. Cannot be done. All of the foregoing is reflected in the cost of FF. So when the economy does turn around the costs of FF are going to go higher. If folks are hurting now they will be hurting even more when things get "better" in the future.

Somebody in this thread stated that Gail takes a "systems approach." I have to disagree. My work has always concerned systems, from search and rescue systems, to offshore drilling systems, to IT systems. That work has lead to one key insight: that when it comes to complex engineered systems, no one knows how they actually function. The system designer thinks it operates one way, the system manager thinks it works in another way, the plant operator thinks it works in a third way. In the offshore, I came to the conclusion that the different groups all spoke different languages and none of them understood this. My job was to go find out how things really worked and fix the problems before they caused us any great amount of grief. If this was not done right then people were going to suffer.

A second insight was that people attempting to fix a problem they did not really understand would only make the problem worse. In quality engineering this is called "tampering." In one case 84 people died. They would be alive today if they had just walked away from their problem and gone to sleep. But they tried to fix something they did not understand and and it turned around and bit them. Hard.

Before you try and fix something you need to understand both you are doing and the greater implications of what you are doing. That applies regardless if you are fixing a car, or a TV, or the world economy.

So if you make the claim that the rise in FF prices resulted in the current financial crisis you need to be able to support and defend that claim. Because if you are wrong you are doing two things: 1) you are suggesting solutions that will not provide a fix and may actually make the situation worse; 2) by focusing attention in one direction you may undercut a search in other directions to arrive at what may be a more accurate understanding. I feel Gail does both these things.

The problem may not be with Gail. Or you. Or those folks who are happy with whatever she writes up. The problem may be with me. My introduction to complex engineered systems came when I had to put 27 people in bags. With shovels. I had to clean up someone else's mess. The folks I put in the bags never really had a chance. They never had an opportunity to learn from their error. My vow was to try to ensure that situation never repeated itself. As a result I am often direct to the point of being unpleasant. I just barge right on in and if they want to fire me then I don't want to work there. In the oil industry I was paid very well as these qualities were prized. But this is another time and place.

I think the real kicker is in your last paragraph, your last sentence: "banks, govt,big biz in general failed to predict the biggest crash in modern history." They didn't have to predict it. They created it. They profited from it. And they profited a second time when all those people wearing their jeans and shoes longer, and substituting beans for vegetables, spent a couple trillion dollars to bail them out and pay their bonus and their mortgage. Don't expect them to return the favour. You want to understand how that happened.

Well, every time in the last 40 years that the real price of oil has jumped, USGDP has gone backwards; with an average lag of 5 quarters, mid OP rise to mid GDP fall. It's now a near perfect five point correlation. It's trivial to calculate that the direct effect of the 2006-08 oil price spike is a 2% fall in USGDP, just due to the import cost increase. The total USGDP fall so far this recession is 3.3%.

Nah, couldn't be, it's all just coincidence...


No one is going to argue that the 1973 and 1980-82 recessions are due to higher oil prices. It does strain credibility to say that the short spike in 1991 or the 2001 recessions were due to oil price rises. The rise from $20 in 2002 to $50/barrel in 2005 was greater than 1991 or 2001 rises and should have caused a recession in 2006 by your reasoning.
If the banking crisis had developed in 2010 rather than 2008, and oil had gone to $250, you would still be claiming the recession was caused by high oil prices.

Whether you choose to think that 1991 and 2001 causality "strains credibility" or not, the correlation is very tight. There is also a pretty clear dose-response effect:

As for the 2004-2005 run-up (it's not "2002-2005"), you cherry-pick the starting point. The average price over the preceding three years was $30; and the monthly peak reached in Aug'05 was $63 (ie +110%). You are correct that that is "greater than (the) 1991 or 2001 rises", but not by much. On a similar basis (preceding 3-year average to peak), they ran at +70% and +80% respectively. The thing is, at rather close to the usual lag, 3Q06 GDP growth was a miserable +0.2%, 4Q just +0.4%, and 1Q07 0%, i.e. within a whisker of another red dot.

But that's fine. As I said, it's all coincidence...


Observing a correlation is step zero in the empirical method. Once you have a correlation, you haven't proved anything; you have all your work in front of you.

Step one in the empirical method is figuring out a mechanism. If you can not explain how the correlated things occur together, then it's just a coincidence.

You say high oil prices caused the recessions. It's just as easy to say that both the oil price spikes and the recessions were caused by the bursting of speculative bubbles: a "flight to commodities" at the same time as liquidity problems caused by peaking profits. Or the sunspot cycle caused them both -- it has been suggested, by people who should know better. In each case, there's no explanation of how one causes the other -- and saying something is "obvious" is really saying "I haven't thought about this very hard, or maybe at all."

Having come up with a mechanism, step two is to test it, via prediction, or by analysis of data not used in the original correlations. Does the mechanism account for the length of the 2001 recession despite the relative mildness of the oil price spike. Does the mechanism imply something else should also happen, or not happen?

Steps 3 to k-1 are normally to refine and repeat steps one and two.

Step k is to publish your conclusions, and steps k+1 to n-1 are to help other people do their best to destroy your conclusions.

Assuming they are unsuccessful, step n is to tentatively accept your mechanism as being a useful model.

This is all simplified to the point of caricature, but the essential point remains. A correlation is just coincidence until you can explain its cause convincingly.

"You say high oil prices caused the recessions." Nope. Said nothing of the sort. I spoke only of correlations, and after that what I actually said was "it's all just coincidence"!

"If you can not explain how the correlated things occur together, then it's just a coincidence." Well, yes, see above. But I did give a simple and obvious mechanism. Because the US is a net oil importer, an oil price spike must have a direct arithmetic effect on GDP just due to the increased import cost. For the 2006-2008 oil price spike, that is readily calculated to be about -2%. But oil is so integral to all economic activity that we ought to expect a substantial multiplier, I think. A very modest one is all that's needed to get to the 3.3% GDP fall observed to date (end 2Q08 to end 1Q09). It would need to be rather bigger to get to the ~6% decrease relative to recent trend growth, but who ever said that there weren't other contributions, or effects? Not I.

And about your step 2; this analysis is not new. It did predict the current recession, around 18 months ago. I was very sure 12 months ago, and published the result locally then.

Will it work again? Yes, I think so, but who knows? It's all just coincidence after all. Ace has predicted here that the oil price will retrace as soon as economic recovery occurs. He has that happening late this year and through 2010, on his latest figures. I predict that if the price again rapidly rises to ~70-100% above it's preceding 3-year average, another recession will follow soon after. If Ace's price prediction is right, that recession will happen in 2012 or 2013. Stay tuned.


'what I actually said was "it's all just coincidence".'

OK, my irony detector was locked on full after the preceding "Nah". (And I used the simple definition of irony as "saying the opposite of what you mean".)

I have beliefs broadly similar to what you outline above. Oil is integral to economic activity? check. A 'spike' in oil price will trigger a recession? Yes, I believe that. I believe it was not just coincidence that the recession started after a run-up in the oil price. I also have some hazy ideas about connections in the economy that expand on these beliefs.

What I don't have, and have never seen, is a clear explanation of the mechanisms. Without the mechanisms, predicting the current recession on the basis of the previous correlations is like predicting an eclipse without knowing about the moon*. From looking at the times it happened before, one can say when it will happen again. But one can't say how. And because of that, there is always the doubt that this time, this time, it won't happen.

So I believe (weakly), and I doubt my belief (strongly). And that will continue until I can watch (inside my head) the machinery of cause and effect operating.

I will stay definitely stay tuned as much as possible.

*OK, not a great parallel example, but I hope you get the idea.

Worth one more late reply, I think. The calculation of the -2% goes like this:

GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government + (Exports - Imports), by the common definition

For the 2006–08 oil price spike (all US$2008):

Average 2008 US net oil imports                       10 million barrels per day
Oil price spike peak height (vs preceding 3 yrs) $74 per barrel
Oil price spike av. height (vs preceding 3 yrs) $28 per barrel
Excess oil import cost (vs preceding 3 yrs)           $278 billion
  ~$0.3 trillion
US annual
GDP (2008)                                 
$14.3 trillion
Direct GPD change due to oil price

The point is, all else being equal (yeah, never is, I know), a jump in net oil import cost translates directly to a rise in the Import component, and hence to a drop in GDP. But the increased end user petroleum price may not necessarily translate directly to higher Consumption (private spend on final goods and services) because of substitution. At the micro level, if a household or business suddenly has to spend an extra $50 a week on gas, they may be inclined to spend $50 less on something else.

And the effective multiplier? That also comes from the substitution effect. The extra spend on petroleum products due to an imported oil price jump exits the economy quickly, with little or no economic multiplier. The retailer, distributor and refiner all work largely on quantity-based rather than price-based margins, so their take hardly changes as the price rises. As a result my extra $50 spend travels pretty rapidly (within months) and directly to the oil supplier. That is, right out of the economy, to the extent that the oil is imported.

So what if, to find another $50 a week for gas, I say decide to ditch my house cleaner. They then don't spend my $50 at the supermarket, which doesn't spend it with their suppliers, who don't pay it to theirs and so on. A low multiplier additional spend on petroleum products is substituted for a much higher multiplier discretionary spend. So the GDP reduction is greater than the arithmetic import cost effect. This substitution mechanism also offers a potential explanation for the observed GDP response lag, due to the time between the multiplier transactions foregone.

Importantly, despite common rhetoric, GDP changes in recessions are typically very small. The current "Great Recession" or "generational economic meltdown" is good for just a 3.3% fall to date, as I pointed out above (must be funny stuff the flows so little when it melts...). So the trigger required to produce a recession may also be fairly small. Surprisingly small, if you accept the 1991 and 2001 causality.


Good article and excellent graph!

As far as correlation, a good step is to reverse the tentative cause and effect; did a recessionary force cause energy prices to increase? This may have been the case during 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the markets started to factor in $100bbl oil.

One other interesting feature is the period 1974 - 1986 along with 2004 - 2007. Higher average prices during these periods also coincide with economic difficulty and lower GDP.

Steps 3 to k-1 are normally to refine and repeat steps one and two.

Step k is to publish your conclusions, and steps k+1 to n-1 are to help other people do their best to destroy your conclusions.

Assuming they are unsuccessful, step n is to tentatively accept your mechanism as being a useful model.

This is all simplified to the point of caricature, but the essential point remains. A correlation is just coincidence until you can explain its cause convincingly.

Greg - this was REALLY well stated. Whole comment nicely done.

That work [in systems engineering] has lead to one key insight: that when it comes to complex engineered systems, no one knows how they actually function.

So very true.

Makes you wonder what Ben Bernanke could ever understand about our financial system when taken as a whole, or what President Obama could ever understand about our national system when taken as a whole, or what some guy at the UN ...

Makes you scared to realize they are all "tampering" with things they clearly cannot comprehend. On the other hand, there is no outside systems expert available to whisk in by helicopter or otherwise, to save the day.

Start readying the body bags.


Excellent comment. I wish we had two flags. One as inappropriate and another as very appropriate or worthy or whatever.

On complex systems.

I worked in the area of machine language programming. This has all been glossed over and covered with a sheen of highlevel languages. C itself for the most part is the same but one can jump into machine language with C...

So what is my point? Almost no one now understands real machine language. Its incredibly dense and complex yet if one wishes to really fix,instead of 'tampering' or what I called a bandaid, then they had to fix the source. The bottommost level , the machine language instruction.

So I understand fully your views on complex systems.

Much of what is created in programming for say todays Desktop environment is full of errors. They are so small most don't notice them yet they are there. The reason then for thousands of virii and trojans infecting millions of PC. Why many of our business and government systems are compromised. A firestorm just waiting to happen.

Yet no one cares....well so it goes.

Thanks for your personal details on this subject,

"They didn't have to predict it. They created it. They profited from it. And they profited a second time when all those people wearing their jeans and shoes longer, and substituting beans for vegetables, spent a couple trillion dollars to bail them out and pay their bonus and their mortgage. Don't expect them to return the favour. You want to understand how that happened."

This quote in particular, should resonate with those TODers who have been here long enough to remember a discussion fostered a year prior (perhaps more) by our very own RR wherein, Robert had asked us if to assume instantaneous and global, benevolent dictatorship with the task of mitigating the coming crisis (or as I call it, our energy event horizon).

And although I did not respond at the time, the logical answer would appear to reside in multiple stages -the first of which unfortunately- is total destruction.


Your response is a little too simplistic, imo. The primary issue is that you are mistaking brainstorming and investigation with repairs. Gail's work here, and most of the work here with regard to main posts, appears to me to be either A. informational or B. exploratory. There is little in the way of absolutist "This IS the problem and THIS is how you fix it." I would say this is particularly true of Gail's work. In fact, I think Gail has some strong opinions about certain issues or points in her writings, but actually softens the rhetoric to reflect the uncertainty and that her perspective is as yet unprovable.

Secondly, you are taking the same tack that the climate denialist crowd does: we don't know everything, so we can't act. In the area of policy, of course, this equals death. I like to point out Einstein's E=mc2 was only proven a couple years ago. Had we waited till it was proven the world would be a very different place today. (On second thought, I think that supports your contention!)

There are (relatively) benign actions that can be taken which don't require certainty of cause and effect. Reduce, re-use and recycle. Power down. Garden. Spend time with friends and neighbors. Learn skills. Localize. Etc. Waiting is foolish. The consequences of waiting are incredibly bad. Risk assessment says we must act, even without perfect understanding. We can start with the least bad alternatives, no?

Specifically, the idea that oil prices had no effect on the current economic crisis is wrong. It doesn't pass the sniff test. My back-of-the-envelope estimate is for 1 to 1.5 trillion in additional drain and strain on the economy between 2003 and 2008. And that was when a trillion was still an an exceptionally large number. Was it causative or a cumulative stress? I say it was cumulative. There were crazy, systemic problems in the system. In fact, the system would have crashed in either case: stable economy with fuel costs strain or unstable economy with fuel costs strain. However, the timing, depth and breadth would likely have been different.

My guess is that a healthy economy stressed by energy decline would have happened much more slowly and gradually, with energy then being the immediate cause of collapse. A bubble unstressed by energy descent would have been no more than a recession. We wouldn't be discussing a Greater Depression. As it was, we had the worst of both worlds with a massive bubble popped early by the stresses of historic energy prices.

Don't ask me to quantify it. The analyses have been posted here, or can be found elsewhere on the internet. Personally, it's self evident. I don't see why anyone would question it except to, as you say, try to understand as clearly as possible the mechanics of what has happened. That is, forensically.

There's going to be a chicken and egg argument about that for all of recorded history any and every time anybody, scholar or layperson, dares broach the subject. This is the final error in your comments. It is impossible to know the results of human actions on a global scale. The system is so vast and complex it will never be known. Even God (if a believer) had to throw up his hands and say, "Alright! Alright! Knock it off! Here, take this free will and get out from under my feet, will ya? Go play outside."

If I am understanding you, you are asking the impossible.


Sweet Jesus, I just spent an hour typing a response witjh one finger and xxxxing lost it somewhere trying to go back and look at your response.If responses were numbered, it would be easy to find a given one scrolling thru a couple of hundred.Could it be done?This one is not nearly so well organized.

Allow me to apologize for being sarcastic about your prosperity, but you Imply that Gail and I think the primary cause of the current crash is the preceding runup if ff prices.I certainly believe that ff prices were a major contributing factor, but I did not say or imply that I thought they were the primary cause. Your post however ,seems to imply that you think ff prives played only a very minor role at he most.I can't speak for Gail.I simply intended to state in strong terms that when people have to give up certain goods for others as prices rise that there can be and in this case there was a strong ripple effect.I have read a good many pieces by various economists and business pundits supporting this argument, but as I am only commenting as an amatuer, I haven't kept a list of sources.

As a matter of fact,I tend to agree with you with concerning the primary causes of the current crash, but I believe that had bau lasted for a little longer, oil prices could have indeed played a much larger role,perhaps even the primary role.

I believe also that you are intellectually blinded by you training as an engineer into thinking that since you can RUN an oil refinery or RUN a factory, then you can also run or control or at least measure all the inputs and so forth of an economy in such away as to be able to conclusively prove this proposition or that.Such is not the case in the real world of people interacting in uncountable and sometimes probably unknowable ways.Economists are winning Nobel prizes these days doing basic research on why people and markets and governments behave as they do,and they apparently still have a long way to go.

My initial comments about mixing in a little common sense concerning ff prices and the ripple effect above referenced were intended to be interpreted as a little sermon about interpreting economic data as if it were engineering data. That You can be pretty sure you know what is going on in an industrial plant if you are a good engineer and have studied all aspects of the plant I do not doubt, but when it comes to the business world,you would do well to remember the quote from Twain I believe about
"lies,damned lies,and statistics".Take a few minutes to read his short story about the little town where the game of seven up is legal because for every witness who said the game is gambling, the defense found one who said "skill".

You missed my point entirely in my last paragraph. What I WROTE was that all the govt analysts,economists,and bankers, with all thier technology,and all thier access to inside info,FAILED TO PREDICT THE CRASH.Sort of proves that in the world of people as opposed to machinery that you can't necessarily prove diddly with the charts and graphs that you insisted Gail shpuld produce to prove HER POINT, doesn't it?? The fact that they are largely responsible for the crash(I actually mostly agree with you on this point)is not a refutation of my argument.

If I were God,all engineers would take at least four semesters of biology with labs, and at least a year of economics.Good medicine for hubris in my opinion.Most of us cow college types are required to get at least two years minimum in basic and organic chemistry, and a basic course in physics, and a couple of courses in business fundamentals.Depending on our area of specialization, we often spend more time in hard science (as opposed to econ, political science,etc)classes than any where else.I like to think that we are thereby vaccinated against both the dogma of unlimited growth, which MotherNature will tolerate for only so long, and the pessimism of the doomers who think Mother Nature is a hot house flower in eminent danger of extinction.

You are locked into the engineering paradigm to the extent that you insist that a systems approach is defined as what you do as an engineer.There is a larger box(envelope)wherein you can be a systems analyst that uses your engineering analysis as a single component of a much more comprehensive analysis that takes into account history, accidents,political factions,and on and on .

Gail is such an analyst.I'm just a crabby old farmer with too much time on my hands.don't take me too seriously.

The problem may not be with Gail. Or you. Or those folks who are happy with whatever she writes up. The problem may be with me.

I can appreciate your logic when it comes to tampering with complex engineering systems where peoples lives are directly at risk. I have been in the same situation where the best course of action is to not touch it even thought the temptation is great. But Gail is not tampering with anything. She is writing on a blog on the internet which doesn't carry the same gravity as say the Chernobyl control room! As you have pointed out, nobody understands how the system really works, nevertheless we find oursleves confronted with the reality that we live within and alongside complex social, political, finacial and physical systems and seeking to understand them and our context within them must start from somewhere. Gails assertion is just as good as anyones elses and if that gets the deabte started and advances understanding then it must be good. If you feel that Gails assertion is going to kill someone, then by all means speak up.

Europe has for some time been paying prices for FF products that are much higher than any prices ever seen in North America.
So clearly there are societies that can afford high priced petroleum products. And if this statement is true then your assertion is false.

Flawed critique there. Sure there are some people in Europe/uk who have been paying those high prices. It doesn't follow that all or most have been able to do so easily. (I myself haven't driven a car within near-living memory.) The fact that some societies can supposedly (not noted the onset of devastating economic breakdown yet?) cope with high prices does not prove that all can do so easily. Europe/UK just happen to be so much more efficiently set-up than American dreamland is. And some other countries are poorer.

If you have all this knowledge and understanding

Gee, you appear to be in a mood BOP. Gail is not engaged in some showing off exercise here, she's just trying to contribute a useful post. Not the most logically-presentationally brilliant, sure.

then it should permit you to provide a set of testable conclusions by which we can determine if you are right or wrong.

Firstly, Gail presents several lines of thinking rather than one. Secondly, there's your nice fallacy that a theory must be on notice to provide "a set of testable conclusions by which we can determine if you are right or wrong". In repudiation of which please see the last paragraph of this paper http://cogprints.org/5207

there's your nice fallacy that a theory must be on notice to provide "a set of testable conclusions by which we can determine if you are right or wrong".

Whether you like it or not, falsifiability is one of the cornerstones of modern science.

In repudiation of which please see the last paragraph of this paper http://cogprints.org/5207

If you look that paper up on Google Scholar, you'll find that in the last 17 years that paper has been cited only four times, three of which were just that same author citing himself. The only citation by someone else was in a paper about press coverage of autism, written by a non-scientist.

It seems that the paper you referred to is perhaps not indicative of mainstream science.

Pitt- I explained in the cited link why "testable predictions" cannot be a valid criterion for dismissing a theory.

Furthermore I have elsewhere explained how the reasonably useful concept of conceivable falsifiability has been perverted by professional career "scientists" into an occupational ideology of "testable predictions", ie, that the admissibility of a theory supposedly depends whether it creates more research jobs for them rather than solving real problems (thus making them redundant).

Not the least objection is that a theory's status as scientific would then depend on whether or not people had carried out a particular experiment before, or only after, the theory was proposed, which is absurd.

As for your preoccupation with how often that theory has been cited-- You must equally deride Mendel's pea studies for being ignored for decades. And Wegener's continental drift being derided for decades. Plenty more such historical examples in Genius by HJ Eysenck, pp 148-157: http://www.futurewise.info/gen.htm.

And by the way, does it not occur to you that it is very rare for a paper to be cited by someone else 16 years after its publication, let alone when its author is not some "distinguished" celeb of the establishment (giving motivation for flattery) but only a near-penniless invalid whose ideas prosper on their unchallenged excellence alone. (By the way, it was also twice positively cited by Bernard Rimland in ARRI, and also cited in a book by Temple Grandin; there's more to life than google.)

Actually Mendel and Wegener get cited all the time, especially in textbooks.

It's pretty common for studies to be cited years after they're written.

Basically you need more than a paper or two before something's widely accepted in the scientific community. You put out your first paper, people say, "that's interesting..." and they look into it, and pretty soon there are dozens of papers on it.

I'll be vaccinating my children. Nothing is without risks, but you have to balance them up. Measles and smallpox and so on are small but very nasty risks. Autism from the vaccines... well, get back to us after a few more studies.

Actually Mendel and Wegener get cited all the time, especially in textbooks.

Yes, they're cited now. Just Mendel was ignored for the first few decades. And Wegener similarly derided for decades then only later getting cited all the time, and ditto with the other examples cited in that historical summary.

It's pretty common for studies to be cited years after they're written.

It is pretty common for some (establishment-favoured) studies to be cited years after. When you consider the millions of studies churned out in recent years by the publish-perish industry, the vast majority hardly get cited at all, let alone sixteen years later. That is the proper sense in which it is exceptionally rare rather than pretty common.

And the spirit of Lysenkoism is still very much alive around the world (just it naturally would not appear so to those within its grasp).

You put out your first paper, people say, "that's interesting..." and they look into it, and pretty soon there are dozens of papers on it.

That's the myth (though also the reality in respect of safe establishment darlings). The reality of genuine great shock discoveries is as per Mendel, Wegener, etc, as at www.futurewise.info/gen.htm . I could also mention Hubbert (but might seem too off-topic).

What may trouble (Freeman) Dyson most about climate change are the experts. Experts are, he thinks, too often crippled by the conventional wisdom they create, leading to the belief that “they know it all.” The men he most admires tend to be what he calls “amateurs,” inventive spirits of uncredentialed brilliance like Bernhard Schmidt, an eccentric one-armed alcoholic telescope-lens designer; Milton Humason, a janitor at Mount Wilson Observatory in California whose native scientific aptitude was such that he was promoted to staff astronomer; and especially Darwin, who, Dyson says, “was really an amateur and beat the professionals at their own game.”


The studies have already shown that vaccines have little or nothing to do with the increased autism; and the dental amalgam patent suffices for explanation (as my update will make clear). But matters were not helped by some abysmally deceitful papers in the "leading" journal Pediatrics (et al) which reasonably (albeit wrongly) led readers to suspect something nasty needing to be covered up.

And so that makes adding Mercury to the body that one does not need to add "OK"?

I explained in the cited link why "testable predictions" cannot be a valid criterion for dismissing a theory.

No - you argued in the link that testable predictions are not necessary, and I did not find your argument compelling. That your paper has been minimally cited suggests that your argument was also not compelling to the scientific community.

perverted by professional career "scientists"

It's hard to maintain your credibility in a discussion about science when you insist on implying that the scientific community is either blind to a truth that only you know or is conspiring against you. That attitude is widely considered an excellent predictor of cranks.

As for your preoccupation with how often that theory has been cited

Citation count is a standard measure of a paper's impact in the field.

And by the way, does it not occur to you that it is very rare for a paper to be cited by someone else 16 years after its publication

Nonsense; I myself have cited numerous papers over 16 years old.

More importantly, though, if the work was valuable, why wasn't it built on and cited more extensively before it got that old?

BOP, do you use FF? What is you personal experience compared to the "unsupported assertion"? I know my personal experience. I have talked to many other people to gage their experience. I have heard and read accounts of many other people. Their experience is largely consistent with my experience. I think the assertion is "reasonably" supported. Observation and experience, together with simple logic provide perfectly valid support for an assertion. If you disagree I'll like to hear your agrument.

"Europe has for some time been paying prices for FF products that are much higher than any prices ever seen in North America."

Nonsense on its face.

Everyone pays the same price for FF products, subject to subsidy or tax by a local government. If taxed, those monies flow into other governmental programs for someone's benefit somewhere, presumably other areas of society. If subsidized, those monies come from other governmental operations.

So when a European pays at the pump whatever they're paying now, say $US8.00 a gallon compared to a $US2.50 gallon in the States, both those pump prices are above a global market price of, say, $US2.00 a gallon.

The 6 dollars and 50 cents per gallon, respectively, go to pay for different amounts of societal support, like healthcare, road repair, the military, or governmental boondoggles masquerading as strength, prestige, and wealth.

The Europeans aren't paying more for their gas than the Americans. They have their gas taxed differently is all, with different benefits received from the larger tax revenues than the Americans have.

The argument isn't about Europeans paying more for their gas. The argument is about what those additional tax revenues above the market price of fossil fuels go toward paying.

And, clearly, many people who are part of this debate about money and fossil fuel affordability have forgotten that money is only an abstraction for resource exchange. And it is the resource exchange, not the money, which matters most.

When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

When your only tool is money, everything looks like it can be bought.

When I worked in Nigeria, gasoline sold for $.19 / gallon. I don't think anyone who has been to Lagos will say the Nigerians are in properity. For some reason price doesn't seem to make much difference. The leadership here thinks if they can get the prices down that will ignite the economy.

I think you are onto something that will help us all understand better what the future is likely to be like.My personal opinion is that so many unexpected and uncontrollable (but not necessarily unknown or novel) events and trends interact in so many unpredictable ways that about the best we can do is make informed guesses as to the future, and then only if we stipulate "everything else equal or given these general conditions upon which I base my prediction remain unchanged".

We are flush with oil for the immediate future not because capacity increased but because nobody much except the usual handful of contrarians foresaw the current financial crash.Grain reserves are dangerously low because of unexpectedly high fertilizer and fuel costs, in combination with statistically unlikely drought conditions which continue to persist over large parts of the world's best farmland.

I could go on.Gail's key insight is that there are lots of potential monkey wrenches which can and probably will wind up between the gears of society as we go forward, sideways,backward, or in circles,depending upon the way the cards fall.

The big picture still looks pretty grim from my perspective,because I can't see our society/government as a whole getting it's act together to deal with the no guess work involved problems of overpopulation,water and erergy,etc-at least not within a time frame that will keep things from going from bad to worse.Let'hope we don't actually slip into the pit which is clearly visible to anyone willing to look for it.

On making informed guesses about the future. as per FarmerMac

Ok...but to me some things are pretty evident and I would suppose its not fair to call them facts since the crowd here on TOD is big on facts.

I am not so big on facts. For many reasons and not to go into that right now but here is what I see as pretty much inevitable.

Things will collapse. They already are collapsing. I see no silver bullets that can save billions of people. Light rail,PV,Solar,Wind etc. Its not going to work long-haul wise.

What we have done is utterly destroyed what might have worked, (forests,wildlife,aquatic life,the weather,stole all the elements for fuel and gadgets et) ..worked in the future but are now gone are fast disappearing.

So its factual to me that given the above we will have to heat our bodies when it gets cold and need a way to cook food. Two of Thoureau's biggies I might add. Body heat. Clothing is next to preserve that heat. A small type of dwelling to alter the weather in the small confines.

What does it take to do this then?
Wood as fuel,wood as a building material,wood for the fiber or other plants to make clothing or animals skins.

Note all those are gone or are disappearing.

This to me is a fact. I see it and I read about it. It exists.

Timber takes a long time to grow. Various types of timber is already mostly gone. Oak is a very valuable timber. Its gone almost. We cut all the good timber in most of the Eastern USA forests. We are still destroying. Hardwood has properties that are very important.

So there it is. A huge lack of the earth's resouces and a very large number of inhabitants.

It will be Mad Max. If we are lucky. Bartertown hopefully.

But what little is left of those natural resources could easily be decimated by raving hordes in very short order.Then we will have nothing and will be remembering how this happened in many areas of Africa and other now barren countries already.

And there are no more buffalo chips!...What then Kemo Sabe?

I keep my Fox Fire series of books close at hand. I keep a good watch on the woodlands. I only plant open pollen varieties. I only have a few more good years. These are also Facts to me.

Airdale-you may call me a dreamer,and I might be the only one
(At least around my area)..but what else is one to do?

PS.Hunter-gatherers? Whats left to hunt? Whats left to gather?
No mushrooms grow like they once did. I found exaclty ONE morel in the woods this spring and can't find one sprig of ginseng. 5 years ago I could find enough for a meal. 30 years ago they grew like magic in the woods,overnite even. I used to harvest enough ginseng to last a year. Now I see none. Gone. Perhaps for good.

Its the same with everything else. I have pretty much given up on getting some honey bees. No candles then for the dark. No sweetening for the future. We killed them. EROEI is not good for bees.

Airdale,as a matter of fact I am seriously worried that you are right in assuming that things are going from bad to unimaginably bad.I just don't think it is INEVITABLE that you and I will live to see the return of the 19th century, or worse.

If you will stop to think for awhile about how fast we adapted to the demands of war in 1940,just how fast we built tanks and planes,maybe you just might come to believe that things aren't altogether hopeless.

If we are lucky,the chips can fall in such a way that we can pull thru ok.Personally I have usually been more sympathetic to the conservative/ liberterian point of view than not ,but right now I would vote in a referendum for a law that simply outlawed vehicles such as the Ford Expedition, and a law that would eliminate the property taxes and registration fees for cars that get say 45 miles per gallon.there could also be a provision to require insurance companies to sharply discount the cost of insurance for such cars when newly purchased,if the owner maintained the policy on his ordinary car,which after all would see a lot less use.A sticker to park a car at a public school for kids who drive should cost at least a thousand bucks,if a school bus passes their house.Use the money to insulate some poor old ladies house.I could go on and on of course,but the thing is that we could have solar hot water heat in nearly every house, a national smart grid, cost effective solar concentrating thermal electricity,all the cross country trucks hauled across the country on trains for 1/4 the fuel,etc for a hell of a lot less than we are spending now just to make the world safe for Exon and Detroit. We could have ten times as many windfarms,and one tenth as many jerks in suits flying hundreds of thousands of miles every year selling junk that people buy mainly just because their nieghbors buy it too.No unproven technology,no pie in the sky are needed to accomplish such things.Of course some new technology will come online fast enough to make a difference too.I am particularly hopeful that a second gereration so to speak of the (agricultural) Green Revolution will soon provide us with crops that need less rather than more coddleing with fertilizers and pesticides. A lot of people are coming around to a similar point of view.There is a chance that we will become so numerous that the politicians will figure out where we are headed and run in front in order to get credit for leading us to the new new world order.

Unfortunately I must agree with you that PROBABLY TSIGTHTF fairly soon unless we change our ways,and the only real hope I have that we will change quickly enough is that some sort of modern day Pearl Harbor event forces us (all of us,but us yankees in particular)to come to our senses.A blight that wiped out say 90 percent of our hybrid corn crop or a few free floating stealth mines capable of sinking supertankers might do the trick.A civil war or two in the Middle East could grow into something that could get our attention pretty fast.

The environmental situation is not so far gone as you think,and birth rates in large swathes of the world have already fallen to the point that local populations will soon begin declining.I don't want to sound too callous, but apparently there are enough small arms and ammo floating around in the Somolias of the world that once they get REALLY hungry,they will be able to kill themselves off faster than starvation can do the job.Mexicans can walk across the border,and a few Cubans can make it on a raft,but the Chinese and the Indians are not going to cross the Pacific in large numbers in old fishing boats.I can't see any reason why some one or the other of the new diseases we hear so much about won't eventually thin us out to the point that the survivors live too far apart to trouble each other or Mother Nature for a good many generations.The examples of the chesnut trees and the honey bees come to mind.Mother Nature is far more resilient than most folks can imagine,however, and you can rest assured that the woods is still full of trees and that there will always be plenty of insects of one kind or another.Our oversized brains and opposable thumbs will more than likely enable a good many of us to adapt to changing conditions.

Having said all these things, permit me to add that,JUST IN CASE,I keep our diesel tractor in tip top shape,and I will soon have enough fuel for it(500 gallons) in safe storage to maintain a subsistence level operation on our family farm for 5 years at least.I buy nuts,bolts, nails, and screws by the box or case rather than putting the money aside in a savings account.The rate of return,in terms of cost today, versus inflated costs next year or ten years from now, is probably double or triple what the bank offers.If things get really bad,the cash will be worthless but my hardware stash may well be priceless.I am taking my chances with the possibility that the electricity may go off for good rather than putting up some photovoltiacs now because it seems to me like a good bet that they will be a lot cheaper later,and less trouble because they will most likely soon be built to a standard code, and sold as turn key packages.

I am very lucky that I know more than a little about farming the way it was done with horses and mules,etc, as I spent a good part of my childhood earning the "been there,done that"small farm t shirt.We kept a mule and a milk cow into the nineties,and not for a hobby.We have gravity fed spring water, wood heat,a very large garden,and a masonry building with a basement that serves very well as an oldfashioned root cellar.I own more than enough tools to walk onto a construction site with what I need to hire on as a roofer, carpenter,welder,or equipment mechanic. I have bought up every good piece of salvage pipe ,I beam and angle iron that I have been able to put my hands on for the last three years, and today I used a piece of steel that cost me about 5 bucks salvage which would have cost me over 50 bucks at the local steelyard.I think a few sheets of good steel roofing might easily fetch in a few gold coins one of these days.Iam not exactly sure who or what Mad Max is,since I quit watching television and going to the movies forty years ago.Since then I have been using the boob tube time mostly to make good friends with folks such as Thoreau, Twain, EO Wilson,Steven Pinker, Gared Diamond, and Daniel Boorstein.I strongly reccomend a good personal library as being among the most precious of worldly goods.

If Mad Max means mobs ranging the countryside raping,robbing,and pillaging,I can say truthfully that luckily the area I live is populated mostly with unreconstructed rednecks who will give you the shirt on their back if you really need it, but just about everybody owns at least a couple of shotguns,a deer rifle or two, and at least one, as my Pa used to call'em, "short guns".People are mostly pretty nice to each other, because there are still enough shootings to help people remember to mind their own business. Any potential mob will find the pickings slim in this part of the world, compared to the costs.If you really believe that mobs will be roaming the countryside,get thee to the mountians of Appalachia,and your nieghbors will keep an eye out for you-assuming you don't git too uppity.

I hope that you are able to really enjoy the "few good years" left to you.


I am immensely enjoying my latter years.

I do exactly what I wish to do. I spend what funds I have to further that life style.

I speak of sustainability yet I ride a Harley. If you can get your hands and mind around that aspect of my life then you get an idea of where I am at. Live free and die free,do the right thing,hurt no innocents and keep your word. Respect the earth. Give back to it.

My creeds. I try to live by them. Hard as hell in the 'outer world'.

After our father and mother abandoned me and my brother for 12 years our grandfather,a half-breed Cherokee, raised us on a 100 acre farm. This was my formative years. I never changed those values I learned there.

Whatever comes I will see it as it happens. And I do believe it is gaining speed and will split this very land/nation apart.

I think we are very much alike. What class were you?

Airdale--57 rules

I used to ride myself,but I had a couple of close calls that I chose to interpret as a warning from upstairs.can't take the chance these days, there are old folks depending on me.

I am luckier than you in that I grew up in a fairly decent family on a small farm but you are in my opinion blessed beyond the measure granted to most men to have grown up with your grandfather on a farm.

I don't know exactly what you mean by"class" but if you mean ethnically, I am ScottsIrishBaptist old testament Hillbilly from right in the middle of what used to be one of the most self sufficient and toughest places in America. Having read both Darwin and the King James Bible, I nowadays try to live according to the Bible and do my thinking according to Darwin.On a per capita basis it was probably rougher around here than any major city up thru maybe the 1960's.My old pa came here from parts unknown and it is said that he was so poor that when he found a job, all he had to do to move was call his dog and pee on his fire.I have relatives in the penitentiary, and relatives who are college professors.

I have been a teacher, a contractor,a truck driver,mill hand,welder,mechanic,farmer, good for nothing loafer, and a few other things that i best not mention in public.

We raise some apples and peaches for market,but otherwise we mostly are too old to do a lot.
the gardens and firewood and so forth keep us as busy as we want to be.We have two walker coonhounds that we take out often ,but mostly we just chase the coons up a tree.The older hound has his own armchair in the den and if anybody sits down on it, he looks so mournful that they immediately move.

we still have a hog for our own use, and there are chickens setting and hatching around the house.i do odd mechanical and welding jobs for my nieghbors.i own half a dozen fishing rods that get plenty of use.

Momma is bedridden and her mind is beginning to go, but Daddy gets around good and still gets outside and works in the garden or the orchard most days for a couple of hours if the weather is nice.

Life could be a lot worse.

And let's not forget Gail's core assertion, which is that decline/collapse is unpredictable. The one thing we know will help is to reduce the earth's human population. It may be time for one of you in the know about that to help us move from WHY we need to do it to HOW we can do it, and the quicker the better.

Swine Flu may help...

Now, if this current modest 1.3% per year could continue, the world population would grow to a density of one person per square meter on the dry land surface of the earth in just 780 years, and the mass of people would equal the mass of the earth in just 2400 years. Well, we can smile at those, we know they couldn't happen. This one make for a cute cartoon; the caption says, “Excuse me sir, but I am prepared to make you a rather attractive offer for your square.”

There's a very profound lesson in that cartoon. The lesson is that zero population growth is going to happen. Now, we can debate whether we like zero population growth or don't like it, it’s going to happen. Whether we debate it or not, whether we like it or not, it’s absolutely certain. People could never live at that density on the dry land surface of the earth. Therefore, today’s high birth rates will drop; today’s low death rates will rise till they have exactly the same numerical value. That will certainly be in a time short compared to 780 years. So maybe you're wondering then, what options are available if we wanted to address the problem.

In the left hand column, I’ve listed some of those things that we should encourage if we want to raise the rate of growth of population and in so doing, make the problem worse. Just look at the list. Everything in the list is as sacred as motherhood. There's immigration, medicine, public health, sanitation. These are all devoted to the humane goals of lowering the death rate and that’s very important to me, if it’s my death they’re lowering. But then I’ve got to realise that anything that just lowers the death rate makes the population problem worse.

There’s peace, law and order; scientific agriculture has lowered the death rate due to famine—that just makes the population problem worse. It’s widely reported that the 55 mph speed limit saved thousands of lives—that just makes the population problem worse. Clean air makes it worse.

Now, in this column are some of the things we should encourage if we want to lower the rate of growth of population and in so doing, help solve the population problem. Well, there’s abstention, contraception, abortion, small families, stop immigration, disease, war, murder, famine, accidents. Now, smoking clearly raises the death rate; well, that helps solve the problem.

Remember our conclusion from the cartoon of one person per square meter; we concluded that zero population growth is going to happen. Let’s state that conclusion in other terms and say it’s obvious nature is going to choose from the right hand list and we don't have to do anything—except be prepared to live with whatever nature chooses from that right hand list. Or we can exercise the one option that’s open to us, and that option is to choose first from the right hand list. We gotta find something here we can go out and campaign for. Anyone here for promoting disease? (audience laughter)

We now have the capability of incredible war; would you like more murder, more famine, more accidents? Well, here we can see the human dilemma—everything we regard as good makes the population problem worse, everything we regard as bad helps solve the problem. There is a dilemma if ever there was one.

Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy

"Now, if this current modest 1.3% per year could continue, the world population would grow to a density of one person per square meter on the dry land surface of the earth in just 780 years, and the mass of people would equal the mass of the earth in just 2400 years."

I can't remember now where I read it (some inventive googler will doubtless google it up for me?), but there is a further extrapolation of this out to 10,000 years--approximately equal to time since the first beginnings of civilization--by which time at that rate of growth human flesh would outweigh everything else in the universe.

I think Daniel Quinn uses such an example in one of his books, but I don't remember which book.

But the thought experiment is easy to do again. Let's take 6.7 billion people at an average weight of 70 kg. That's about 470 billion kg.

Let's assume that our population, and mass, doubles every 100 years. In 10,000 years, that's 100 doublings.

So in 10,000 years, the mass of humanity would be 2^100 * 470 billion kg. This is 5.9 * 10^41 kg. Estimates of the mass of the observable universe run between 10^50 kg and 10^60 kg.

So after 10,000 years, it would take 27 more doublings for the mass of humanity to eclipse the lower bound of the mass of the Universe.

Abstension and contraception aren't that bad. There are plenty of ways for couples to love eachother physically without risking pregnancy. You can always go solo!

The Catholic church has endorsed the Billings method of family planning which is cheap, effective and relaible if a couple is vigilant. The only problem is what to do on the no-no days if the mood takes you which is where we can be eternally grateful for Hollywoods excellent instructional videos!

Flag away!

Remember our conclusion from the cartoon of one person per square meter; we concluded that zero population growth is going to happen.

I disagree. It seems more likely that successively lower boom/bust curves will occur. Nature seems to abhor a steady state.

Yes, it is conceivable that there could be a series of boom bust cycles that have individual peaks as depicted in this classic example of population overshoot. However at the moment of bust, population growth comes to a standstill, ergo it is zero. What happens after that moment could be a precipitous crash if the resource base has been exhausted, or it could conceivably enter a steady state where birth rate and death rate approximately balance out if the population is in sustainable equilibrium with its resource base, granted the individual boom bust cycles tend to smooth out for species that survive.

I'm betting that in the case of humanity we are probably headed towards a major crash.

That is a graph we should not forget. The downslope is likely to look quite different from the upslope. Once inadequate resources are available, thing change very dramatically. One should not assume that the future will be a mirror image of the past.

On the contrary, this is a graph that reinforces why we should beware graphs: they may tell the truth, but they do not tell the whole truth, and their truths are not always universal.

The graph of reindeer population is an example of one creature with no natural predators around, and one food source. And that creature was stupid, in that it was unable to find new food sources, and unable to control its reproduction or level of consumption. It's just an animal.

Had there been other things available for the reindeer to eat, it would have been a different graph. Had the animal been intelligent and been able to get to new resources or change its behaviour, it would have been a different graph.

Humans have multiple "foods" - actual food, water, electricity from various sources, fuel for transport, and so on. We can also change our behaviour.

All these things can act to mitigate any downslope, and make it less steep.

These stories of isolated islands of reindeer and their moss or Easter Islanders and their giant stone heads and forests are attractive to us, because they're so simple. But in the wider world things are more complicated. The greater complexity means things don't go as neatly as graphs tell us.

Since oil dropped down from $150 and the financial crisis hit, I've noticed a real despondency among TOD readers. A disappointment that oil didn't keep going up and up and various systems collapse as long-predicted. The world isn't operating according to simple formulae.

I understand this disappointment, because I made dramatic predictions, too, and as I describe here, things didn't turn out so dramatic and simple after all.

This is a problem that doomers, from Kunstler way back to Christian evangelist groups in the 1800s, have always faced: if you give a date for doom, what do you do when the date passes and nothing happens? If you're Kunstler or the Christians you just ignore it and carry on with new doom dates. More intelligent and mature people have to adjust their thinking.

The world's more complicated than a bunch of deer munching on moss.

The mature thing to do is to accept that a simple up-and-down graph doesn't tell us much about the world. It tells us something, but not everything.

Swine Flu may help

I hope you are kidding, or ignorant, and not just spreading hysteria. Swine flu is not going to lower the world population by much. It is simply a new strain of the flu virus we have no immunity to yet. Few who catch it die, same as with most flus, which are only slightly less deadly. When immunity spreads, it will be no different.

A pandemic is not a plague, people.

I hope you are kidding, or ignorant, and not just spreading hysteria.

None of the above.

To clarify,I certainly didn't literally mean that this particular stain of H1N1 was going to decimate humanity. Yes, my comment, as most of my comments, has an element of tongue in cheekiness.
The mass media is already doing a bang up job of spreading hysteria, way beyond anything anything that I could possibly do.

Just trying to provide some food for thought.

Why are we limited to the earth's resources? We need an international effort on a space program that allows continued growth along with an agressive program to slow and eventually stop the depletion of our local (earth based) resources.

I think the resources for the space program initially have to come from our fossil fuel wealth, if we use up this wealth before we have an off-earth economy we are doomed to slowly decline and eventual become extinct, of course there are a range of opinions of whether or not this is a good thing.

Why are we limited to the earth's resources? We need an international effort on a space program that allows continued growth along with an agressive program to slow and eventually stop the depletion of our local (earth based) resources.

I swear I will never read The Oil Drum ever again while drinking coffee!
when I read this comment it came out of my nose in a high pressure stream and sprayed all over my laptop screen and keyboard.

Amazing stuff huh?

You read it here on TOD.

BTW a new Star Trek is about to be released.
Its good to dream. Life is ..well different.

If were are extremely lucky we can regress to something sorta,kinda like the past. Maybe. The stars? Doubtful.

Airdale-for a little time there I too thought anything was possible, and I even worked on some of the early rockets but noooooooooo.....
Huntsville now is just a massive consuming place that has some old rockets for display and tourism..the early germans hauled ass to Monte Santo and got the good views(unsustainable though)

Amazing stuff huh?

I think I'm beginning to get a better idea as to why you sometimes sound a bit pessimistic about the future of humanity... as I continue to clean the coffee out of my keyboard. WOW!

That's either a great way to clean your nasal passages, or absorb caffeine more quickly into your bloodstream. And if it was flavored, you'd go around the rest of the day thinking the world smelled delightfully like hazelnut (or whatever your preference).

And if it was flavored, you'd go around the rest of the day thinking the world smelled delightfully like hazelnut (or whatever your preference).

Black, no sugar!

Yes but not good for a laptop KB. Believe me as I have tried to clean a few. Might be ok if no sugar in it. But if you get water on the substrates? Might be bad.

I recall when keypunchers used to spill coke on our machines keyboards as well as coffee. A mess. Sometimes on Selectrics as well.


maygar will airedale, greetings

I believe the French have a saying something to the effect that "only a fool or an intellectual could believe that".Sort of captures the flavor of the space travelerpost does it not?The world is full of college educated fools who take every thing they hear in political science and literature classes(including sci/fi)literally.You may or may not know that you can get a degree at most universities these days w/o taking a single science class, but most people don't.Insofar as what our kids are learning in the public schools these days,the answer ranges from quite a bit to unfortunately essentially nothing at all.This you may take to the bank, as I used to "teach"in a vocational school and have numerous friends in the profession.

Nice one! Then we can mine all the green cheese on the moon too!


There is a lot of it to overcome. Here and at the destinations.

- It would be like driving to the next state to get gum.

..and it's Uphill both ways.

..and you probably have to buy a new car and repave your driveway each time you do it.


You mean there is oil on Mars!?


No, Dilithium Crystals.


I presume you are kidding. Otherwise, this needs to go to the top of the list.

I think no one has answered his question

Why are we limited to the earth's resources?

"I think no one has answered his question"


You are right.

Perhaps we should start by making a list of reasons why space will always be the "final frontier" to which we aspire but never reach.

But first, I must admit I was of two minds when reading the poster's proposition regarding using the infinite resources of outer space:

On one hand, it is true that there are vast mineral resources (i.e. iron asteroids) and vast energy resources (i.e. all the unused parts of the sun's radiation) buzzing about "out there" and wow, if only we can tap in to them.

On the other hand, I also pictured a projectile stream of coffee blowing out of my nasal passages as I sat there gracefully enjoying biscuits and tea with Captain Pickard on the HoloDeck.

Yes Virginia (and Paperguy), it is possible that we might reach the stars. However, there are some inconvenient truths about "us" as a species:

1. We are irrational, dream-hugging monkeys,
2. We chatter all day about our own made-up fictional constructs, most notably about "money" and the "prosperity" that is sure to come from printing more and more of that "money" stuff,
3. We procreate like crazy,
4. We talk about going green, but at the same time we cut and burn the last our Easter Island forests at alarming rate, (Substitute "Amazon Rain" for Easter Island --I was trying to make a point here about Island Earth)
5. Our pea sized brains are incapable of understanding more than a few idiot-sized ideas about how the Universe operates,
6. Our politicians keep leading our herd towards the cliff's edge, and like lemming heads, we obediently charge forward at full pace,
7. ....

I don't think there is need to keep going here. "We", as a species have some serious mental and social construct problems. Until we fix those, there is no point to dreaming about finding salvation from outer space. We will keep dreaming. But we will never see the promised land.

On one hand, it is true that there are vast mineral resources (i.e. iron asteroids) and vast energy resources (i.e. all the unused parts of the sun's radiation) buzzing about "out there" and wow, if only we can tap in to them.

Yeah, but what would it cost in Energy invested to go out there to bring those resources back here?

Kinda like what Shrub,(there's a reason they called him that) was sayin here, note he never mentions if the EROEI is favorable...

All of a sudden, you know, we may be in the energy business by being
able to grow grass on the ranch! And have it harvested and converted
into energy. That’s what’s close to happening.
George W. Bush, February 2006

You can't fool nature. Richard Feynman

Yeah, but what would it cost in Energy invested to go out there to bring those resources back here?

The real question is, what are the potential EROEI ratios?

I'm thinking of something along the lines of using metallic asteroids to build space-based solar collectors that concentrate solar energy and beam it back down to Earth (not necessarily as microwaves).

It's true that lifting equipment into orbit is very expensive in terms of energy needed per unit of lifted mass. However, there is a substantial amount of mass already lifted and 'up there' when one considers the Moon or the asteroids. Why can't we convert a metallic asteroid into a large solar concentrator?

(Of course, I'm no rocket or astrophysics scientist and surely there are a few out there in the TODverse who can easily poo poo this idea as being too 'out there'.)

I did a very simple calculation using energy conservation assuming 100% efficiency of the entire process, and assuming that metal of the density of aluminum is moved from the orbit of Mars to the orbit of Earth, and I get a required thickness of material for positive net energy of about 1 angstrom (10^-10 meters). I may have made an error in my calculation, but if it is correct then the idea of mining asteroids for solar panels doesn't seem very feasible without some very thin, light materials (on the order of 10^-8 grams/sq. cm, not including energy losses), perhaps using some kind of nanotechnological process at the asteroids before transferring it to earth orbit. I'm not sure how feasible such materials are, so the idea looks difficult.


To append a comment to your reply regards Paperguy(who apparently has watched a few too many episodes of Star Trek)..I had to run to my bookcase and pull down a tome written by Leonard Susskind titled The Cosmic Landscape.

The essence of why we can not move onto the stars as a Final Frontier is due to the Anthropic Principle.

I won't go into it since its very well posed in the book above. Suffice to say we live in a very very narrow ranges of values as regards chemicals,environment,cosmological constants,etc.

There well may be no other sentient life in the universe due to this.

We are soft, we can be destroyed by nature very easily. We are not resilent. We even kill each other with abandon,and we deplete the very earth we stand on.

Read then the Anthropic Principle. We can go NOWHERE and exist. We will destroy what we exist on. The process is now reached the stage of not being reversable. Too much is gone. Too much is destroyed.

We have emptied the earth and now have the audacity to wish to do it to the universe? God ,please help us.

Surely there is a spark of decency left somewhere on this blue planet?
Shouts;Somewhere? Anywhere? An empty echo returns...and nothing else.

Airdale-and a member of class of '57 sits and watches and wonders and reads and wonders some more ...'where did it all go so wrong' and looks Eastward and slightly to the North, where a polluted river flows and a wasted bay lies dying and a golden dome shines near a large needlelike spire and knows where it went wrong.But not exactly why.

A spire out yonder to the NorthEast?

Perhaps thou aspirations point the finger of blame at the Monument of the George Washington? Yes?

But then there is the puzzle of the dome that is golden. That I see-ith not. Only a dome that is darkened like a black hole and sucks capital wealth into its core due to the gravitational attraction of amassed greed and hubris is what this gazer sees. Perchance is that the capital sucking/ fiat money spewing dome thou point-ith at?

... and an even bigger one in the District of Columbia

Yes, Disneyland East. Nigh unto the Polluted Potomac. Dome of the Capitol.


Sorry about the keyboard damage, this was not an entirely serious posting. I am an engineer and an avid science fiction reader, it has always stuck me as strange that we can't seem to see a path from point A (decline and resource depletion) to point B (living in and using outer space and continued growth) that is the topic of thousands of science fiction novels. Many with what appear to be viable sustainable economic/resource models.

Is it because there is no path (it really is all science FICTION). The path is there but the reality is that we are unable to stay on it for all of the reasons given by others. It was just my observation is that path will be gone(if it every was there)once the decline really sets in.

Why are we limited to the earth's resources?

Gravity is one good answer.

We need an international effort on a space program that allows continued growth

1) You assume that growth is good.
2) Plenty of 'space problems' that can be solved on earth 1st.
AI's that can actually run a space mining operation
Material science that can handle -300 to +300 degree temp shifts (how about -300 to 2000+ for the metal smelting furnace in space), the radiation, the abrasion of mining on the equipment.
Materials to make the launch of whatever into space possible - like the space elevator idea.

"Start encouraging late marriages and one child families."

Though I think it is important for those in the "developed" world to emphasize reduction in consumption at least ten times before bringing up pop. reduction, I am glad to see this here, especially the first part. It is generally over looked that starting families late can have as much of an impact on pop as the choice between one or two children.

If a girl has a daughter at 13, and that daughter does the same, and so does that daughter, you could have four generations in 39 years.

If the same girl waited till she was 39 to have her first child, there would only be two generations in the same time, and she would be unlikely to have a second child.

Encouraging late families has many advantages, though it is not completely problem free. (Is anything?)

One problem I have with the post is that it does not bring up the military element. As Klare (and others) have pointed out in the book by the same name, resource wars have been common and will become more frequent and will have a large effect on how much oil comes out of the ground, where, who has control over it, and how much oil is wasted slaughtering people.

If the same girl waited till she was 39 to have her first child, there would only be two generations in the same time, and she would be unlikely to have a second child.

Yes but the child would be at increased risk of things like Down's Syndrome etc... So while it may sound like a good idea at first glance there may be unintended societal consequences.

We certainly need to find ways to reduce the population growth rate. I'm a supporter of global family planning programs. Preventative birth control, condoms, Plan B Morning After Pill and even as a last resort legal abortions.

As for those who object to such ideas based on religious beliefs all I can say is that their beliefs are detrimental to the general good and they should either reexamine them or offer workable solutions, BTW abstinence programs don't work...

One problem I have with the post is that it does not bring up the military element. As Klare (and others) have pointed out in the book by the same name, resource wars have been common and will become more frequent and will have a large effect on how much oil comes out of the ground, where, who has control over it, and how much oil is wasted slaughtering people.

It's not just that resource wars waste oil and destroy infrastructure. In primitive warfare, the tribe that outpopulates its neighbors will usually win. The developed world has been able to leverage its limited population with the use of complex, fossil-fueled killing machines and also superior training and discipline, but future isn't bright for either discipline or maintaining complex machinery. For this reason, I'm a pessimist about humans voluntarily limited their population.

Cooperation is more efficient and effective than competition. We learn to share in kindergarten; why we forget once we hit 1st Grade is beyond me.

Solve that riddle and you solve the world's problems. I think things like relocalization and transition are getting at this underlying problem.

As long as The Commons isn't held in common, destruction via war will be the inevitable cycle. And war is the ultimate failure.


Welcome to the dark side, Gail.

The only thing I have been surprised about with the onset of the full impact of the limits of growth is that it took as long as it did. The economic system built on growth proved to be more resilient than I could have ever believed 30+ years ago when I first started reading, studying and thinking about limits. Of course, we were in the middle of tremendous economic stress back then, too, and it seemed so very unlikely that it could be "fixed."

But, the "Reagan Revolution" jettisoned the poor in America from the economic system, China stepped up with cheap labor, the Japanese provided the investment money, the Saudi's stepped in for Texas with the cheap oil, and pieces of the global economy were hid from view as they were allowed to fail. The result was the last great expansion of the western European economic model in the guise of "Globalization" (succeeding the "Americanization" that followed WWII).

Back when I first started looking at these things I believed, like many who have come to it through "peak oil," that the limits to growth were a function of geology and population - in short, that there was only so much "stuff" that could be consumed. Oil was a good guess for the first to reach the tipping point, but there were (and are) many other critical resources in the same situation. Substitutes were possible, but eventually they would not suffice and that would initiate the descent/collapse.

As I continued to work on this, including writing a long winded dissertation on the probable dissolution of the international political system that supported the economic structure, I came to an understanding that the limits were not geology or population, but the system itself. With it's built in contradictions, need for ever more stuff and people, hollowing out of meaning, and more, the economic system defined the its own limits and they would of necessity become the seed of that systems demise.

I simple minded example can help explain this. Suppose you lived in a world where oil was not used for anything. Are there any limits placed on you by the fact that there is a finite amount of oil? Now suppose that oil was extremely important (yeah, I know, suspend disbelief). Are there any limits now? Expand this to the whole set of resources and you have an excellent template for understanding our situation.

That's why I continue to propose that we examine alternatives from before your "methods of long ago." (Note, that these methods I'm referencing have been so successful that some continue to exist to this day.) Hand tilled agriculture on any scale is really hard work and it limits the potential variety of life. Some of the poorest societies known (and those with the hardest life) have been those with subsistence agriculture.

But what I'll call "incipient" agriculture just sort of happens - you spread grain seeds as a part of the harvest, intentionally move or seed helpful plants closer to where you live, eat less*, and collect food from a wide variety of sources. Archeologists frequently find that when examining remains of "hunter-gatherer" villages they will find it ringed by a wide variety of herbs and other useful plants. It is a view of pre-civilizational societies far different than the hard scrabble vision of a bunch of scared wild scavengers proffered by proponents of "civilization" based on large scale agriculture.

*on eating less - there is some very interesting research being done on "radically" reduced caloric intake, down around 1600-1800 calories a day - and they're finding that these are some extremely healthy people.

Deliberate agriculture allows much higher population density than hunter-gatherer, even if the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is easier and healthier (which it probably is). Farmers outbreed and kill the hunter-gatherers. Been there, done that. The world is not going back to hunter-gatherer.

Farmers outbreed and kill the hunter-gatherers.

Your simple dismissal displays a wide variety of assumptions that you have accepted as true that have no basis in fact.

"Farmers" did not kill hunter-gatherers, if by that you mean civilizations set out to destroy primal societies. They subsumed some of them, yes, but that is quite different. They destroyed eco-systems that then displaced primal societies, but that is also something different.

But more importantly, you have made the assumption that the path taken was inevitable and not a choice. And whether you knew you were making that assumption or not, you're going to have a difficult time convincing people of it.

"The world is not going back to hunter-gatherer."

What I worry about is that it will...

HUNT farmers then GATHER their bounty.

Yeap -- that is why it's hard to see if we human can solve this dilemma. We are going back to local farming society -- the ones with big guns and viscousness will go and wipe out all the "nice" ones with no gun. See -- even, in farming societies -- we still like to have our genes propagate. We still envy and crave for the farm lands that produce more.

You folks are watching too many Road Warrior and Conan the Barbarian movies.

Shaman,I hope you are right about some folks watching too many road warrior moves,but I read a lot of history,and such scenarios of raping,robbing and pillage have been rather common in the past.

Now I personally do not believe that civilization as we know it is INEVITABLY going to collapse in the near term as a result of peak oil, the financial mess or for any other reason.I do believe that such a collapse is a very real possibility and that it may be inevitable if we don't change our ways big time, and get started soon.

I have not been reading the OD very long,but the impression that I get is that while most readers /contributors are obviously well aware of the fact that war is a common result of resource shortages/competition,most of them would rather not spend much time thinking about it.I can't say that I enjoy the thought myself.

I think that given the possibilities of the NEXT new war, such as EMP weapons,we could very well see mobs hunting farmers.What do you think will happen if the electric grid goes down,and the water system in every big city and maybe every small town in America goes down?

A half dozen emp bombs set off at high altitudeover the USA will do very little damage on the ground,OTHER THAN DESTROY NEARLY EVERY CIRCUIT BOARD AND TRANSFORMER AND SWITCHING STATION AND MOST OF THE GENERATORS and transmission lines,AS WELL AS ALL THE COMPUTERS THAT CONTROL AUTOMOBILE ENGINES,ETC in North America.

Presumably the military (and maybe a few state police organizations etc)has enough emp hardened eqiupment to maintain it's viability,but that is by no means certain.Of course the ordinary kind of nuke that simply wipes out cities will also likely be used.In either case,there probably actually will be numerous srarving mobs,unless enough functioning government remains to lock the country down,which seems unlikely.

I've already thought through that eventuality, myself. It's just a matter of having a broad-based set of skills, some appropriate supplies, and a bit of luck.

I consider the complete infrastructure/societal collapse scenario a low probability one, so my preparations for it are of the nature of retaskable items that are useful or at least entertaining even if growth is right around the corner again.

I ran a guest post in October 2008 called Agriculture: Unsustainable Resource Depletion Began 10,000 Years Ago. It argued exactly what you are saying. Tilling the land causes erosion. People don't get a very good food mix with what they themselves can grow. It is terribly difficult work, especially without animal labor.

At the beginning of my paragraph describing the situation, I said the method used long ago "sort of worked". Hunter-gatherer seemed to work better, but then population limits were much lower--maybe 5 million.

Thanks for the link - I must have been on one of my hiatuses (hiatii?) when that was put up. It looks interesting, I've book-marked it and will try to read it when I have a little more focused time.

I agree with you that the carrying capacity for a h-g lifestyle is much lower, though I suspect 5 million to be a bit too low. The ugly part is how we get from here to there.

Thanks again for broadening the discussion here. It is most needed. I know it may be sacrilege to say that peak oil means we have to stop talking about oil - but its true.

I think oil still plays an important role, but maybe a different one than before.

It is easy for people who think we have unlimited resources to assume that we can quickly switch over to a non-oil society. This is really very difficult--even if we can generate enough electrical power from wind or some other non-fossil fuel source. Designing new vehicles of all sorts, building factories for them, and importing enough raw materials for batteries for them would be a massive undertaking. People would also have to have income to pay for them, even when the trade in value of their current vehicle is close to $0.

I would be surprised if there were people who thought we could switch over quickly; automobiles last 18 years now, so the replacement of the auto fleet would take at least a decade. Their replacements are not going to be electric cars overnight, it will take time. Of course, many scenarios identify greater use of mass transit, telecommuting, biking, carpooling, etc to shift much of the transportation load off of personal vehicles.

While I sort of agree with you, it seems like you are under the assumption that the new society must look exactly like the old one, only be powered differently, to suffice. But I really doubt that advanced nations of the next century (whatever those nations be) will be populated with a bunch of people driving Chevy Volts and electric SUVs. And I'm okay with that.

I would not be surprised by a world where the rich drive Volts, and the masses use battery assisted bikes. Where hydrogen doesn't power personal transport, just the combine harvesters; Li-Ion doesn't get me to work, but maybe it gets local freight hauled. We drive Hummers to work because we can, not because we have to.

It's important to remember that while energy and work completed relate to each other, they are not the same thing because more energy encourages waste. The correlation is elastic, given time (and the will/foresight) to adjust.

"5 million ... The ugly part is how we get from here to there."

Nanotechnology and genetic engineering have a big part to play in your future.

On substitution, that's where a pile of the oil has been going:

* Energy to drive less efficient processes, because the quality substrates for easy methods are gone.
* Mining
* Deeper water wells
* Materials (plastics) to replace plant-fiber cloth, metal, glass, and wood.
* Glue to hold together what passes for 'wood' in much of construction and furnishing.
* Heating, instead of other sources like wood.
* Transport to redistribute what resources are left.

Oil is THE reason we've been able to keep this up this long, and push all the other resources to the brink in such a synchronized fashion. It substitutes, it compensates, it's cheap. For now.

"Start encouraging late marriages and one child families."

This is my favorite solution (both personally and theoretically). But HOW precisely does one encourage others to have less babies?

• Governmental mandates? - this hasn't worked too well in China and would certainly be greeted by riots in North America.

• Intensive marketing campaigns? - Capitalism as we know it thrives on even-increasing demand, so the idea of ultimately selling less wouldn't go over too well in most of the world.

• Arm-twisting friends? - I can speak from personal experience that this subject is taboo at parties or dinners out.

If anyone is interested, http://www.vhemt.org does a good job at concisely articulating why not to have children (or why to have less), but my own convincing came about not from realizing why NOT to have children but simply from being unable to discover any real good reason TO have them.

The tax code presently gives equal benefit for every additional child; that could be modified. Public policy & finances in general could be "reset" so that parents themselves bear more of the full cost for large families.

Hehe -- no more child credit in your tax return but a child penalty - a carbon tax on having a child? Hmmm, I wonder what the Church would think?

In the US of A the church should have no say - what with the seperation of church/state.

I think one of the issues on having children is that most of us talking about the subject have already had children ourselves. Telling our children not to have children, or other people's children not to have children, does not go over well.

Also, with peak oil, pension systems and social security systems are seriously in doubt. If you don't have children who outlive you, who are you going to count on?

If you don't have children who outlive you, who are you going to count on?

This points to another issue about our current social organization that will continue to cause us pain rather than contribute to solutions.

We have so naturalized the idea of "family" as being biological, that we have a hard time imagining other sorts of social support mechanisms. My suspicion is that this way of understanding "family" is part of the many social changes that come with the adoption of large scale agriculture - as part of the increasingly reified social stratification and the emphasis on the number of people available to work the fields.

How could we encourage the return to a more tribal form of identification, one where children and the elderly are cared for by need rather than by responsibility?

I think one of the problems is the number of handicapped adults around. Autism rates have been rising in recent years. We have also been able to keep alive quite a few children with other types of disabilities, that would have died in childhood. It seems to me that at least some of these illnesses are pollution (mercury etc.) related.

Who is to take care of these adults?

If there are fewer children, the combination of the disabled adults and the many elderly may be difficult for society to handle, no matter how it is divided up.

You may be understating the problem when you say it "may be difficult for society to handle." This could very well be one of the ugliest aspects of the "decline."

It will be one thing when we see the impact on the elderly when our health care system fails. They, at least, have already had full lives and are at least partly responsible (if only through acquiescence)for the multitude of "civilization diseases." When it comes to children who are paying the price of our affluence, and what will happen to them as that affluence wains, it breaks my heart.

Then again, this is already the situation throughout much of the so called "third world."

"And when you've let down your guard,
If I could change your mind,
I'd really love to break your heart."
- Tears for Fears

I happen to have a 14 year old son who has Aspergers which is part of the autistic spectrum.
He is very high functioning and has tested at college level in math and science and he is not even in high school yet. However his social skills still need quite a bit of work. I doubt if he could flourish on his own without the support of society at large. Granted I'm his father so my perspective is obviously biased but I believe it would be society's loss if his potential and that of others like him were not tapped.

I do indeed harbor fears that if we have societal collapse then people like him may not be able to survive on their own.

Re: "It seems to me that at least some of these illnesses are pollution (mercury etc.) related."

If this is in some way a reference to the autism is caused by vaccines containing mercury theory,
may I make it very clear that this is a completely debunked crank science claim. In my opinion, holding such a belief, is akin to being a climate change denialist, due to the overwhelming scientific evidence that exists to refute this claim.

Autism is not caused by exposure to Mercury.

My own son finds this claim ludicrous, and he could tell you why.

I have a son with Aspergers' syndrome also, and he will tell you that mercury in is not to blame. He is 30, and cannot live on his own.

There is something causing the rise in autism, and I can assure you that it is not a sudden shift in genetics in the last 40 or 50 years.


Research suggests that there may indeed be some underlying genetic predisposition to Apergers' however that certainly can not fully account for the the apparent increase in the number of diagnosed cases over the past decade or so. Environmental factors are highly likely to be playing some role in human developmental syndromes. I for one certainly don't discount that possibility.

In my case based on my and his mother's family histories there is very probably a genetic componenet. That is not to say that it couldn't have been exacerbated by environmental factors. As you probably well know, people with autism have brains that are wired differently than the rest of us.

My previous comment was a bit of a reaction to the well documented and debunked claim that vaccines containing Thimerosal were causing increased rates of autism. It happens to be a bit of a sore point with me.

BTW the Personal Genome Project is now seeking volunteers for the next phase of genome sequencing project. I have been thinking about it but don't know if I am ready to comply with one of their requirements:

You need to be willing to publicly share your genetic data to be eligible.

My son has also Asperger syndrome and my daugther has high functioning autism. My wife has also been diagnosed (recently) has Asperger, which goes with the genetic trait. Also many relatives of people with autism present "ghost autism" traits, for example nerd tendancies, low sociability... hang around online and anxiety about futur. I have been wondering how many people on TOD have autism or autism tendancies... I certainly have some of those traits too:) Maybe people on TOD could try the autism/Asperger online test to see if there is a correlation between worring about peak oil and being in the autism spectra disorder. The US statistics are 1 out of 150 with ASD.

Online autism/asperger test -
-which is devised to accord with and confirm Baron-Cohen's own flawed concept of autism as extreme male brain.
For a better overview of the syndrome characteristics see table 1 of http://cogprints.org/5207 which is a rearrangement of Wing (1976) plus some later additions, to give a fullest possible picture of the syndrome. And there can be no genuinely clear quantification here; it is a fuzzy syndrome and fuzzy concept (for reasons the theory explains). In such diagnostic criteria it is difficult to avoid the criteria/signs being dependent on what you are expecting to find anyway.

The notion that autism is not caused by mercury is very different from the notion that it is not caused by mercury-containing vaccines.
Back in 1982 I wrote a theory of autism/iq/genius, eventually part-published in 1993 as here http://cogprints.org/5207. Not the slightest challenge to its reasoning or evidence has been published by the world's "experts" since. Note in particular my 1993 paper did not mention mercury but did explain why things binding to dna and thereby obstructing gene-expression would cause autism. It since turns out that mercury binds to dna and impairs gene-expression. Furthermore a number of studies give a significance level of several trillions for involvement of mercury in autism causation.

I agree that the blaming of vacciness is overwhelmingly refuted by the evidence. The autism increase was caused by the change to non-gamma-2 dental amalgams from the 1970s onwards (as shown in an update review I have been too ill to finish publishing, due to untreated dental mercury poisoning which the nhs pretends does not exist (no irony intended.)

PS:- Not all autism is caused by mercury; it looks like about 70% can be cured by mercury removal. But all the increase can be strongly implicated to dental mercury patent no 3841860.

asberger's like bipolar is way over diagnosed these days. [i am not commenting as to any of the specific folks discussed]

for example, basically the medical profession has done away with personality disorder as a diagnosis as they have no primary 'approved' meds for such, & most any therapy is questioned or not paid for by insurance.

in general everyone that sees someone has to have a diagnosis for insurance to pay; even in the initial diagnostic session!

traits often get a fullblown diagnosis, when actually the very DSM

[Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides diagnostic criteria for mental disorders]

is flawed in that it is the {$} lifeblood of the profession. & big drug/med companies are a driver in all of this. complexity in mental health is in full bloom!

also- yes, i agree something is causing the dramatic increase in autism[other than overdiagnosis].

asberger's like bipolar is way over diagnosed these days.

Care to back that assertion up with some empirical data?

no data.

i shouldn't have said 'way' for asberger's.

in my experience autism is on the increase. i think due to this focus asberger's is getting diagnosed more & more, when other possibilities, or no diagnosis is possible. at least i have not seen this increase driven by drug companies.

again i was/am not speaking of anything i read in anyone's particular family. most of my strong feelings are re bipolar as way overdiagnosed.

he will tell you that mercury in is not to blame.

Because he KNOWS? Because that is what he's educated himself about?

Is this like the FDA making the claim that mercury containing fillings were OK and now have a different tune?

I'm not sure on what planet allowing Mercury *IN* a vaccine is OK - but I'm open to hearing that argument.

I can assure you that it is not a sudden shift in genetics in the last 40 or 50 years.

Really? You understand epigenetics enough to make this claim?

Ok - I'm open to getting a good epigenetic education on the topic.

Here is an interesting theory--blame the Dermatologists:


When did medical organizations first tell us to avoid the sun?
In 1989, around the time autism began to rise, the American Medical Association's (AMA) Council on Scientific Affairs first warned about the dangers of sun exposure, advising mothers to "keep infants out of the sun as much as possible." In 1999, when autism rates really exploded, the American Academy of Pediatrics went further, advising mothers always to keep infants out of direct sunlight, use sun-protective clothes and sunblock, and make sure children's activities minimize sunlight exposure. Quite inexplicably, they said there was "no evidence" such "rigorous sun protection" would affect vitamin D levels. By 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported such efforts were quite successful: "protection from sun exposure is reported for a high proportion of children."

I don't know how you feel about video game development, but Digipen seems to be a place where Aspergers kids who are good at math can really succeed.

-- Jon

Might work, the kid already has amazing 3D computer illustration skills but he seems to be more interested in navigation and map making at the moment.

other types of disabilities, that would have died in childhood.

One doesn't have to look far for examples of the reaction of people to disabilities - the deleted thread(s) on TOD with topics like 'your diabetes is/is not healthy' serve as an example of peoples reactions to loved ones and disabilities.

Ponzi. I guess PO really point out the Ponzi scheme we have cooked up and propagandized for so long. Do you think our government is going to acknowledge that? Good luck.

Excellent article, just what we've come to expect from TOD.

• Build communities of people who want to try to live in more of a sustainable fashion.

This is the crux of the matter, and needs much education in order to raise awareness enough to make this the norm, not just the efforts of a few.

The Transition Towns movement shows great promise in this regard.

But sadly the Transition Towns movement shows great unrealism in this regard. We have discussed this before. Needs to be smallish 100-300 groups of genuine cooperators (and remote from urban) rather than just some town/city having delusions of becoming a genuine mutually-supporting community by sheer hope and determination alone.

Just because you say so? Sorry, that doesn't qualify as substantive rationale. And I've seen not discussion on this that somehow obviates the changes taking place. You clearly have no understanding of any of the specific towns that are the farthest along in making the change.

Dunbar's number is a theoretical cognitive limit (150) to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

So you are saying, to function, a sustainable town can only be made up of people who have stable social relationships with every other person in the town? Why would this have to be the case? What are you stating would happen otherwise? Why don't towns that are larger now suffer the same fate you refer to?

Will, I stated "We have discussed this before", and I don't propose to rewind here. I have been centrally involved in a TT project. I also am aware that the prototype flagship TT Totnes is just a joke, about as globalisation-tourism dependent as you can get.

If there is more than a critical minimum of non-trustedfriend strangers in the locality, then the project breaks down due to the non-cooperaters s*itting on everyone elses's work, stealing their food for a start. Near any urban area the cooperators will be utterly overwhelmed by the 'deserving' selfish me-firsters. End of story.

Why don't towns that are larger now suffer the same fate you refer to?

Because we are not currently in a situation of many hungry heading towards starvation. And there is an established system of rule, rather than anarchy.

You are involved in one effort, and have an opinion about one other. I'm willing to bet that you know there are at least 159 officially designated Transition Towns, so I'll trust you aren't even familiar with the details of 1/20th of them.

If there is more than a critical minimum of non-trustedfriend strangers in the locality, then the project breaks down due to the non-cooperaters s*itting on everyone elses's work, stealing their food for a start.

This does not support your statement that towns larger than 100-300 people cannot be viable post-peak, with someone else providing Dunbar's number, which is a theoretical cognitive limit (150) to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

I see no reason whatsoever that every person in a town has to have a stable social relationship with every single other person in town. If you have a reference to a study on this subject, please provide it so that we can evaluate its applicability to your position. Otherwise, you are simply making an unsupported pronouncement. Note that there were many localities that were orders of magnitude larger than 100-300 people who made it through tough times before coal or oil, so that fact alone makes your position virtually untenable.

Without stable social relationships where everyone understands the entire social structure, this results in unmanageable complexity.

Unmanaged complexity results in internally-driven, unrestrained growth to solve unmanaged, misunderstood problems, or results in internally-driven collapse, due to unmanaged, misunderstood problems.

I did not get the impression that Gail was trying to make any hard and fast predictions, but rather was trying to get the point across that it's a bit myopic to excessively focus on peak oil because there are a whole host of other constraints, natural and man-made, that are closing in on us. I can't argue with that.

One man-made constraint that I don't think was mentioned, is the obscene amount of financial resources that continues to be diverted to military spending, particularly in the US. The defense budget for the US is now over $500 billion, and the tab for US involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is now closing in on $1 trillion, and most of this has been paid for by printing money.

Perhaps this is just a subset of the general category of financial constraints, but it is so huge a hemorrhaging of resources with no (and some might say negative) payback, that it would be incomplete not to take it into consideration. I fear that as things get tighter, 'defense' spending will increase rather than decrease because i) there is a mistaken notion that defense spending improves the economy, ii) the perceived need to compete with other nations over dwindling resources, and iii) the willingness to pay for it all by printing more money.

I have gotten to a fairly advanced age without ever really realizing just how world-dominating the US military really has become. I became more aware of this reading "The Next 100 Years" by George Friedman, recommended. At the start of WWII, eg 1939, Britain was the country who, with their naval fleet, dominated the world. 60 years on, the US now dominates the world militarily by such a larger margin than Britain ever did it is mind-boggling. The US can put naval forces at any place on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans simultaneously which are impossible for any other country to even consider matching in a contest even on their own waters. Each of those naval forces carries sufficient air power to challenge any hostile air force it might encounter. Then there is the independent Air Force with sufficient power to obliterate any other air power in the world, plus the attached air arms of the ground forces which in close support can again independently challenge any foreign air power likely encountered. The mechanized ground forces are formidable now, their only weakness being the US citizen's unwillingness to sustain even minor casualties overseas. Once the "DOD" perfects robot ground soldiers, that last limitation will disappear, along with any further need to recruit, train, supply and motivate human battlefield soldiers. Then there's the underseas forces, with attack subs sufficient to independently obliterate any foreign naval fleet, and with silent attack missile subs which can obliterate any target in the world many times over. Then there's the minor and auxiliary forces, often themselve having sufficient strength to challenge mid-sized countries.

Added together, it an incredible array, which does do a decent job of removing major war as an option in inter-continental diplomacy. I suppose my only question is "Is Washington the proper place where such power should be totally controlled?"

During the Cold War the balance of terror between the USSR and the West prevented major wars.

We now have a situation where nuclear weapons are more widespread and the probability of nuclear war is higher - extreme danger here.The USA certainly has overwhelming global naval power.It's ability to project power on land is limited.Iraq,and lately,Afganistan, are good examples.

If the naval power of the USA is diminished relative to other nations then there will inevitably be a higher probability of conventional war as well given that resource constraints will increase.

I hope that other Western nations will pull their weight in sea power and not leave it to the USA to carry the whole burden.That said,I believe that both the Iraq and Afganistan adventures were,and are,a waste of precious resources.

Jeezus Len, when was the last time the US won a war? What are you on!?

Dmitry Orlov has talked about the defense spending issue as well. He views this as one of the causes of USSR's collapse, and sees that it will play a role in the collapse of USA.

Someone else pointed out that this is a way to employ young people. If you can sell bonds to fund the military (or just print money), it is possible for the country to do this for virtually no cost.

It seems as though the financial system will be the deciding factor on the amount spent. If the US can get away with its current approach, it will continue to do so. At some point, the rest of the world will blow a whistle on our approach. But once this changes, a whole lot of other things will change as well.

The problem with Orlov's analysis: the U.S. is currently, even while running 2 major wars, spending less as a percentage of GDP on the military during "peacetime" up through the 90s, less than 4%:


It's hard to say how much the USSR was spending, but most estimates have it as 15%, some as high as 25%.

We're not really close to bankrupting ourselves on the military. And as they move away from expensive soldiers and toward cheap robots, it will get even cheaper.

jimbo -

We may not literally bankrupt the US as the direct result of military spending, but if we do, it certainly will contribute. This will become a more significant factor as the economy tanks. Due to inertia and the clout of the politically well-connected military-industrial complex, military spending is not likely to shrink, but the GDP certainly looks like it will. So, the numerator is staying the same (if not getting larger), but the denominator is shrinking.

I think that military spending as a percent of GDP is a poor metric, largely because i) the GDP itself includes military spending, and ii) there is a great deal on unproductive activity included in GDP (e.g., real estate commissions, legal fees, etc.). So, the ratio of military spending to what I would refer to as the 'productive GDP' is probably quite a bit higher than your stated amount.

The other issue is deployment of increasingly limited capital. The US is no longer swimming in real money. Capital is no longer easy to come by. However, it seems that the military-industrial complex almost always gets what it wants. (In fact, it often gets stuff it doesn't really want if some congressperson decides to throw some pork towards his/her district).

This all gets down to productive versus unproductive use of capital. This will be critical and is likely to be the thing that does us in.

Finally, don't get too excited about combat robots. By the time the defense contractors get done with the concept, they will probably cost a million dollars each. We already have an incredibly complex and incredibly expensive array of military assets deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and look how well both of these ventures have come along.

A perfect example of what sort of bang for the buck the US is currently getting on its military spending is the Somali pirate episode. The US Navy deployed probably several billion dollars worth of assets in the area and successfully overpowered four teenage Somalis in a lifeboat that had run out of fuel. Great show!

It would be well to read up on so-called 'fourth generation warfare', as this is what the US is increasingly up against, and it is an area where high-tech military stuff is not only ineffective, but actually a liability.

Essentially, we are pissing away close to a trillion dollars a year on something with next to zero payback.

The US military is obviously a strength for the US. In a symmetric attritionalist type campaign there is no real competition. However a technologically advanced military has a very big weakness and that is its reliance on the military industrial complex. This creates a paradox: the more technologically capable the military, the better its capability but on the downside the greater the risk that this technology will fail. It will take some time, but over the next few decades I expect to see lots of military hardware becoming unusable. The reason will be that as the economy contracts, more and more manufacturers and contractors will shut up shop and critical parts will become unavailable. This will also no doubt happen to wider society as well.

How do you mitigate against this? I would suggest KISS: Keep it simple stupid.

This has been my concern for the rest of our high-tech infrastructure as well.

Watch the airline industry as a 1st example of one that needs bulk to force down costs.

Less fliers -> higher cost per seat -> less fliers -> Less planes means higher cost per plane -> (you get the idea)

this is a way to employ young people.

Covered in this book:


Chalmers Johnson confronts questions of pressing urgency: What are the unintended consequences of our dependence on a permanent war economy? What does it mean when a nation’s main intelligence organization becomes the president’s secret army? Or when the globe’s sole “hyperpower” becomes the greatest hyper-debtor of all times?

Make like a seagull, not a hummingbird.
Be a good generalist. Be able to fly, swim, walk, beg, fish and live off dumps.
Poor old humming bird has a beak designed for only one thing.

Gail is a whole systems thinker.

And systems operate according to a few well known principles that can frame any discussion about limits and consequences.

One of those principles has to do with the role of energy flow through a system and its impact on internal organization. Namely systems organize when appropriate energies flow through them and are eventually dissipated. Energies are captured and temporarily stored in structures that are forever in flux and function to redistribute material and energy. The earth has been undergoing such organization since its formation. Biological, and more recently cultural, evolution are part of that organization process.

Cultural evolution has been driven rapidly in the last several hundred years by the availability of high EROEI fossil fuels. But now both the availability and the EROEI ratios are in decline, meaning declining net energy available to do work. All economic activity (actually all activity) depends on energy flow to maintain it. Even embodied energy (lowering the entropy of materials) dissipates without constant input of energy for repairs.

Now that energy flow has peaked and is now declining (first with peak oil). It is starting to revert to mostly just real-time solar flux, everything is going into contraction. That the financial system was just part of a culture utterly dependent on high potential energy from fossil fuels and is now failing due to the reduction in those flows is not at all surprising and does not need verification from empirical studies. It follows from the first principles of system evolution (and devolution). The sense of the truth of this is spreading rapidly. The social unrest and concerns reflect that many people intuitively recognize that we are entering a new and alarming phase of human existence. Gail, as well as anyone, expresses this growing realization.

As far as what might be done in the short and intermediate terms, I have just posted a May Day, Revolutionary Thoughts, blog outlining some of the things that need to be done if we are to avoid a complete and catastrophic collapse. As others have pointed out, such actions as suggested (and they are revolutionary insofar as typical American thinking is concerned) would require uncommon political will. So they remain hypotheticals until a visionary and truthful leader emerges (probably after some catastrophic event -- worse than Katrina). It might never happen at that.

Our future depends entirely upon our ability to recognize when our institutions and processes are no longer working as advertised and to begin to question why. And to question how we might reorganize in light of a declining net energy world so as to adapt and eventually reach something like a steady-state dynamic in balance with the rest of the Ecos.

Question Everything

Gail is a whole systems thinker.

I generally appreciate whole systems thinkers as they see the the big picture where others get lost in the details. These whole systems thinkers have alerted us to the big issues of our time when others were caught up in believing the impossible. I've listed what I consider to be the big issues in chronological order of appearance in the US:

  1. financial crisis
  2. energy shortfall
  3. political crisis
  4. food shortfall

(I've only included issues that are apparent at the individual level. Climate change and over-population will be manifested at the local level as one or more of the above. In other countries the order may need to be arranged.)

My problem with whole systems thinkers is that they present their insights as if the whole system were the only system.

The fact is that the reality for individuals and communities is much more local and need not look like what happens at the more abstract whole system level. Local communities are of course influenced by what happens to the whole system but I believe there is much more autonomy then some at TOD believe.

A couple of historical examples:

1) In 1936, whole systems thinkers in Jewish stettels in Poland would have advised their kin that "the end of the world is coming". For their immediate communities they were absolutely right. Throughout central Europe some of their predictions would have come close to the mark. But South America and West Africa, though affected by the war, saw something entirely different.

2) In 1985, whole systems thinkers in the Soviet Union would have seen the "end of the world as we know it". And they would have rightly predicted an impending collapse, details of which Dmitry Orlov has documented for us. But most of the rest of the world suffered little negative impact.

Now I don't mean to sound like a nay-sayer. I believe that energy issues are very important and will affect a large percentage of the global population. But I feel like sometimes the discussion about what is going to happen to the world as we know it is really about what will happen to certain American suburbs.

And I happen to be very optimistic about the amount by which we can reduce our energy consumption. As I like say to my friends: "The best and worst think about the American lifestyle is the level of waste. What's bad is obvious but what's good is that we can cut our level of consumption of everything by half and still live like kings compared to most of the world."

Of course there will be political fallout and a massive restructuring of the kinds of jobs people have but is that really "the end of the world"?

I live in a functional, in-city neighborhood in Seattle which has a mild climate, lots of hydropower and an educated and concerned citizenry. We own both the utility that provides us electricity and the entire watershed that provides us water. Washington is a food exporting state with a port for low-energy transportation of goods. I happen to believe that my community will do tolerably well going forward even if we have to cut our energy use by 20% - 50%.

I think one of the reasons people predicting capital 'C' Collapse are surprised is that they imagine our society is primarily engineered and susceptible to catastrophic failure whereas I believe that my local community is primarily organic in nature and more robust to change.

Call me an optimistic pessimist if you will but I see the list of crises before us as a huge opportunity to do things differently (better) than we have before. Yes, some people will get hurt along the way. They always have. And yes, more of those that get hurt may live in America than in years past. But some countries and cities (like Seattle!) will show the way forward into a newer, more sustainable future.

-- Jon

If your only change is paring energy use by 20% to 50%, I agree you will do pretty well.

The problem is that that is likely not to be the only change. It is all of the other unpredictable changes that go one at the same time that will make life difficult. We depend on so many systems right now--it is not just one at a time that has problems.

Gail, I think your point sums this up well: there are a variety of changes related to climate change, water depletion, petroleum depletion, and other habitat destruction that alone will challenge our species no matter where we live.

Add in the complications wrought by our various responses to this widespread and serious habitat deterioration, and we have increasing violence on small and large scales. We will see increased use of every kind of weapon that our species has made.

The probable self-destructive responses of our species easily outweigh the probable positive responses.

Once again, three characteristics define our species at this time:

-- stone age emotions
-- medieval self-understanding
-- God-like weapons

this, as E.O. Wilson says, is not a good combination for species survival -- it simply is not, no matter how we try to rationalize these three characteristics away.

Even so, I plug away at the positive responses I can plug away at, and I am thankful that others do so as well. I suppose this effort in the face of futility is some sort of survival mechanism as well.

Finally, I try to remember that I (we) exist within this Infinite, Inscrutable Mystery. Somehow that helps me to feel a little bit better. Maybe less fatalistic.

Gail is being kind in her response.

The examples you provide are NOT examples of "whole system thinking." Indeed, they are precisely examples of the failure of a (hypothetical) person to escape their own circumstances so as to be able to see the whole.

You have aptly demonstrated that people often view the world from within the context of their own experience. Are you sure that your own view is any different?

You are absolutely correct that I view the world from my own experience. We all do. The wise among us also take advantage of the experience of others (written or spoken) to help inform our decision making.

I guess I feel compelled to respond because I believe that many of us can "create our own reality" much more than we think -- just as well informed Jews who left Poland for the US in the 1930's managed to avoid the worst.

Much of the dicussion here at The Oil Drum falls into either the "We're all freakin doomed!" camp or the "Massive infrastructure overhaul." camp, both of which leave the individual feeling helpless. It is my belief that intelligent, motiviated and flexible members of society (much of the TOD readership) can make choices that will shelter them from the worst of the future crises. Admittedly, this will also require some $$$ if relocation is required.

I just would like to see more discussion at TOD of choices that well informed individuals can make to improve their own outlook. I'm doing my part to let non-doomers learn about energy issues with the Energy Export Databrowser. I see it as a step-down transformer that brings some of the technical discussion here at TOD down to the level of the intellegent, interested layman or policy maker.

Most of all, I think TOD will have a much greater affect on society at large if the message contains an strong dose of "Here's what you can do to avoid the worst." And the "what you can do" will always need to be locally relevant.

"Think globally, act locally." (It's not as trite as you think.)

But perhaps my comments would be more relevant to a "Campfire" post.

Best wishes for a slow, highly inhomogeneous crash.

-- Jon

• Develop open pollinated seeds that will provide a balanced diet for many different climate areas.

Gail, I think that your approach to solutions to limitation - related problems (blocked above) would be improved by saying • Redevelop open pollinated seeds that will provide human dietary needs in many different climate zones.

As many are aware, farmers all over the world did this very thing intuitively for eons. The result were crops that did best under prevailing conditions. It was only with the advent of high-tech agricultural advances that this trend was reversed.

Hi-tech companies driven by the desire (greed) to make money - lots of money - sped up development of first hybrids and more recently of crops with suicide genes both of which make the farmer totally dependent on the high-tech companies to supply seed grains. Some of these new products gave improved yields but usually required more fertilizer (and often water) than traditional varieties. But farmers found that they had to grow these new varieties to remain competitive. However, when the cost of seeds and fertilizer are subtracted from the increased money brought in by increased yields, often the grower finds they are not much ahead. And of course the new seeds require, overall more energy input than the traditional seeds.

As a result of this profit driven revolution, many of the traditional, environmentally adapted varieties have been completely lost to growers. Thus they need to be redeveloped which is a difficult and time consuming process.

I agree. The fact that this is a difficult and time consuming process means we need to start on it now, even if there is some chance we can put off the absolute need for them for 20 years.

It was crazy to lose what we had. Some of the plants might now be useful for slightly different areas. Using these seeds will make agriculture more resilient when faced with drought or excess water, and will limit the need for irrigation. But it will also lower yields per acre, which some may object to.

Seed costs.

Last I heard I believe hybrid/genetic seed corn (perhaps BT as well) was in the neighborhood of $200 / bag. There may be discounts or not. Depends.

Now a bag will usually plant about 2 1/2 acres depending again on what it known as 'poplulation'...which is seed drop spacing and row spacing.

Both of which has been getting smaller and smaller so 'pops' keep getting higher and I will note that this is somewhat smallish ears. Compared to open pollen that is. And usually no more than two ears per stalk.Sometimes just one...and if the heat gets high then the yield is dropped and the corn doesn't pollinate very well. High temps kill pollen.

So around here its about break even at a little bit under 3 dollar corn. Avr yields are 150..which is nice but you will hear of braggarts shouting they get 200 and over.

The usual USA average yield is close to 150.

I once kept some of this corn from the combine. Not anymore.
I far prefer the open pollen which I harvest about 2 or 3 bushels of and thats plenty for my needs. Plus I get the cobs and the shucks.
And its sweet enough to eat for dinner as well. Truckers Favorite.

I once asked a sorta friend who did owe me some favors since I sold him some big round hay bales at a very cheap price , asked him for a small amount of seed corn...maybe a gallon jar...but he whined and bitched and said I needed to buy my own. Next time his cows got on my land I told him to get them off,or the sheriff would impound them or I would fill them with buckshot.

He wasn't raised here so he is a fathead , and has a fat ass as well. I look the other way when hes around.

If we crash so hard that we wind up farming and consuming on the local level as a matter of necessity,and the seed and fertilizer companies are all out of business, then all this fuss about hybrids and engineered crops versus the older open pollinated strains and varieties will mean something.If,however, we continue to have a viable industrial base,even if it is much smaller than currently, then the vast majority of our crops will continue to to be grown from hybrid seed and ,increasingly, from genetically engineered seed.

The fact that farmers are subject to the hayseed stereotype does not mean that they can't keep books.Some of us are (not me!) quite as at home programming and spreadsheeting as your average accountant.All of us who earn a living farming are pretty good at tallying up costs and returns.The SIMPLE reason that hybrids dominate is that, taken all the way around, they are FAR more productive,FAR more disease resistant, FAR better suited to long distance shipping,FAR better suited to mechanical harvesting,FAR fewer days to harvest,FAR longer or shorter,as desired, in terms of days that the crop can be harvested.

For example,we grow tomato varieties that produce just about all summer right up to frost in our garden, but commercial growers want successive fields to ripen to picking stage a few days apart so as to keep their employees and equipment busy.The canneries and supermarkets want as nearly constant supply as possible.We grow commercially developed varieties of apples and peaches for the same reasons.The earlier varieties enable us to get to market sooner.The later varieties of peaches extend our sales season,as peaches don't store well.When our nieghbors who grow cabbage have problems with a particular fungus or virus etc, they plant a resistant variety the following season. Fewer days to harvest means some vegetables and grains can be double cropped.

Now the primary reason most of these varieties are available can be summed up in two words:hybrids and more hybrids.The only real difference between hybridizing crops and developing new open pollinated varieties is that the first method takes a few years and the second a few decades or even longer.Of course the seed companies get patents,and you must buy seed every year,but generally speaking,hybrids out compete open pollinated crops on a commercial farm the same way a tractor outcompetes a horse. I can't afford a workhorse as long as diesel is less than maybe 25 dollars or even more a gallon, because I can do more work in a day with my small diesel tractor than my Pa used to do in two weeks with a mule.As a matter of fact,I believe I could pay fifty dollars cheaper than I could work a horse.

This is not to say that we are as a society not missing out on some wonderful eating experiences, or that if you want to be self sufficient that you shouldn't stick to the old open pollinated crops.You will certainly get yields sufficient for your purposes, assuming you are competent.On the other hand, you will find that you still have just about the same problems with Mother Nature"s freeloaders(rats, mice,viruses,fungus,mites,worms,bugs,slugs,grasshoppers,rabbits,deer,birds,aphids)as you would if you were to be growing hybrids.

Most of our agricultural problems that have to do with pests and diseases are rooted in the fact that we are locked into the monoculture system.Replacing a thousand acres of hybrid corn with an open pollinated variety will not cure this problem.Monoculture is a xxxx big complicated issue and I can't write about it without spending a lot of time organizing what needs to be said.Perhaps someday if someboby else doesn't do it here, maybe...

You will find that as fertilizer and irrigation become more expensive, the seed companies will be coming out with varieties that out compete any existing open pollinated variety grown in adjacent fields with comparable inputs. This should not suprise anyone any more than the fact that newer model cars get better mileage than older ones,and will continue to do so if the typical buyer shops on the basis of fuel economy.Farmers shop on the basis of profitability.

Incidentally ,there are quite a few farmers who as a matter of prudence, tradition, or historical interest are growing hierloom varieties of various crops and tree fruits.There are also a number of organized seed banks that are preserving the older varieties as an insurance policy against the loss of genetic diversity.

If the numbers change back in favor of the old time varieties due to unforeseen circumstances you will be amazed at just how fast farmers can change their strategies.If we need it, a thousand acres of open pollinated corn grown for seed this year will provide seed enough for one hundred thousand or more acres next year. This kind of exponential growth is not generally encountered in the business world ,so it is not suprising that most folks are unaware of just how fast things can be done an a farm.

If however we do need to go back to open pollinated corn, we will need to expand the acreage by maybe 50 per cent, which means a lot more plowing,cultivating, or spraying herbicide at the least etc. Fifty percent more corn acreage means less acreage for wheat or soybeans or whatever, or maybe just reclaiming a few million acres of farmland that has been going back to forest or converted into subdivisions.

Let me summarize that when it comes to problems with our food supply, worrying about hybrids is about like worrying about the deck chairs on the Titanic.

My remarks were mainly aimed at small scale, nearly subsistence farming which represents a large amount of agriculture in the world. These farmers have to sell part of their crop to obtain some cash. They are finding that the benefits of many new industrial varieties barely counter the increased cost for seed and fertilizer. These are the people that previously depended on seed stock especially suited to their micro environment. Industrial agriculture, in general, does not give a rats a** about adapting to its environment. Instead, industrialists believe in forcing crops to fit by use of huge amounts of artificial amendments.

Large scale farming like you describe is highly subsidized in much of the world. In addition to large subsidies, big farmers get lower tax rates on "purple fuel" which are not readily available for small time farmers. If subsidies were to be removed (probably will not happen because of the politics involved) and energy prices go sky high there will be serious problems for large growers.

I have no doubt that governments will find a way to artificially keep fuel prices low for industrial farms in order to fend off mass starvation, at least until the world petroleum sources get deeper into the decline that is in progress.

I would certainly agree that certain hybrids have many advantages. I operated an organic farm for many years and grew some sweet corn. Many organic growers try old, non-hybrid varieties of sweet corn such as "Golden Bantam". What they find is that they lose half of their sweetness a few hours after picking and rapidly becomes nearly inedible. Also, the window of picking opportunity is very small, that is it does not keep quality in the field and must be picked immediately. I grew only hybrid "sugar enhanced" varieties. However, sweetcorn has the lowest payoff per hectare of any crop we grew and we discontinued growing it for pragmatic reasons.

However, in our hands certain non-hybrid tomatoes did marvelously in unheated tunnels with enormous yields of tomatoes that have irreproachable flavour and good transport properties. We did not need to use hybrid varieties to get excellent results.

I will not discuss, in this response, the obvious negatives of the use of huge amounts of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are utilized in industrial agriculture.


Sweet corn was not something we were able to enjoy for long periods.

We picked some of it when it was edible and that was a small window.

This is why we ate a lot of corn products though.

I prefer Truckers Favorite. A white corn that has some sweetness and is excellent for corn flour,meal and grits. That is what we ate and what I eat now.

I used to always plant a lot of Silver Queen and Golden Queen. Still got lots in my freezer but do so no more starting this year.
I will go with the OP varieties and do with a long period of sweet hybrid corn.

Better to adapt my ways now than later. Slip into it so to speak.

One needs a variety of corn that can feed animals and eat yourself. Trying to grow several varieties without a lot of seperation can result in bad seed due to cross pollination. Better to stick with one good one. Unless you got lots of land to do so and the time and effort.

Airdale-very few hybrids will be found on my place


I have to disagree with you totally on this.

Computers for instance. I have to fix these guys computers. They are applicance users ,yes. But the most they can do is a rote process. Spreadsheets? You just lost them. A few can use them if given one with a developed overlay/forget the term.

Most tear up equipment and despise technology like this yet when their computer controlled tractor breaks they are totally helpless. Can't even read out the DTCs and don't believe you if you tell them what it is. They are not too bright and so use technology but despise it.

Go back to old methods? Nope.

Work soil the old way? Not a chance.

These people are cutting down the fence rows, taking out bordering treelines and so on.

On TOD it is mostly taken as truth that Big Ag is killing the land.

If you wish to state otherwise you had better have some very very good arguements.

Run off of chemicals might be a good place for you to start. The destruction of water ways and the algae spawns from massive chemcials that farmers use,,would be a good place to start.

Can you refute any of this?


Airdale perhaps you failed to notice that I framed my remarks in terms of business as usualas it is practiced today continueing into the future,with a functional industrial economy.Commercialfarmers operating under the constraints of the current wholesaler/packer processor/shipper /retailer food industry will continue to use the hybrids and when available the genetically engineered varieties because that's the "sweet spot"taken all the way around,given the way the "game"is playedtoday.Itis the only way you can play if you want to stay in business ,unless you can do a little boutique marketing and get a premium price at upscale stores or maybe a roadside stand.

you will notice also that I said that it might be necessary to return to the old time openpollinated varieties if circumstances change.As far as what the guys you work with can do or not do with thier computers, you must admit that just about every business bigger than a bread box has a tech on staff to keep things running. the average commercial farmer these days growing corn or wheat is running a million dollar operation at least,with maybe one or two employees,and he cannot be expected to know how to fix everything anymore because he is now surrounded by too much new technology.Your average dentist can't read diagnostic the codes out of his Audi, but he does know who to call as does the farmer.Of course there a lot of old guys still out there who can't do spreadsheets, but their kids can, they teach spreadsheets at most high schools these days.

I confined myself in my post to mostly to simply stating the case for hybribs under the current paradigm, and I did not attempt to justify thier use on any terms other than profit and loss on commercial farms.

i did point out that if a farmer chooses to return to the old varieties, he will still have to deal with the full spectrum of problems farmers always have to deal with, from deer to birds to rats to worms rot mold,etc

he will still have to plow and cultivate and apply fertilizer and pesticides or use a herbicede to control weeds. he will still have to deal with soil erosion,pesticide and fertilizer runoff,and all the other ills that people who don't farm seem to think are the results of raising hybrids. these very real problems are the result of large scale industrialstyle farming, and they will not go away just because a farmer gives up hybrids.they would in many cases get worse.

I helped hoe cornfields from early to late when I was a kid,and evenploughed a few furrows with the family mule.Only those of us who have been there and done that, or traveled in the third world,can have any conception of what life is like on a subsistence farm.damned few of us will ever do any sort of work even half as physically demanding and for so many hours unless at the brink of starvation or the muzzle of a gun maybe.

when you haul corn off of a farm,the nutrients in the corn are GONEinsofar as the farm is concerned,they must be replaced no matter WHAT KIND of corn you ship.you either replace them with commercial fertilizer or whatever local organics you can scrounge up.there are ways to scrimp and you can rotate beans and clover to replenish nitrogen, and you can pump your septic tank and put the contents in your cornfield,if you don't get caught.phosphorus and potassium are another story altogether.

but in the endthat old cornfield is a corn factory,and you must put in in order to take out.period.if you are a subsistence farmer, you have a mule crapping in the field and you haul the manure from the barn to the garden, and every thing can be kept on a fairly even keel for centuries.you grow a few beans this year next to the house and next year you plant them somewhere else, which helps a lot about keeping the bugs down.you grow enough for your own use, and maybe a few hundred acres produces enough surplus to support a few local village specialists such as the blacksmith.there is no surplus to support a city unless the hinterland is huge and unusually fertile.

BELIEVE ME,we don't want to go there unless we are forced to it.I believe most of the younger men in the country today would take up robbery first, and most of the younger women would probably commit suicide rather than have leathery skin, callused hands and dirty fingernails.I'm just a crabby old farmer, so don't take me too seriously.

there is a middle ground of course,and perhaps we will find time to explore it soon.ps every body should realize by now that i am a one finger typist,and i cant always spend a lot of time correcting all th errors.


I am with you on most of this.

Note that I have leathery skin,callused hands and wear dirty bib overalls a lot since they are supremely comfortable or else wear military BDUs. And my fingernails are always greasy from working on engines,motorcycles and such as farm equipment.

To me the closest to heaven was when I would go out early in the morning of a spring day to the back 40 on my IH diesel with the haybine and cut some very nice hay. And later baled it up good and proper.

My son though would have nothing to do with this. He had learned from his mom to practice his hate of it and never learned to ride any of my very good saddle horses.

So goes youth. So goes the problems in ag land. So goes society.
So here comes the results. We(our fled youth) play with fake chits representing nothing while hard working people deal with real assets ,like bales of hay or crops, and so we crash and burn.

Yet there IMO is only one road back. I hope I have taken that road. But I would live no other way irregardless. On the land of my ancestors and kinfolk.



Good post Mac. Gently put with out put down and lots of truth and wisdom. I too am old enough to remember poly cultural farming before industrial farming took over. I think you Airdale and I are speaking from the same pulpit for the most part.

For sure though, big changes in current practices are not far off - out of necessity.

Isn't hybrid seed something that a farmer/gardener can produce themself locally? I don't recall Mendel having a big corporation backing him. If I understand the process correctly it is largely a hand, non-mechanised, matter of covering the flowers and transferring the chosen pollen by hand.


Yes but its work. That I am sure is how hybrids are developed. Say you would plant corn in such and such a manner to have 'bull rows' say and then do some hand work to cross pollinate, etc.

If you plant some OP yellow near some OP white then you get speckled corn.

If you wish to preserve the purity of your OP variety then you want it way far off from other varieties.

There are battles going on with the Big Seed companies over traits crossing fields and people being sued ,,etc. A big ass mess.

They even I recall use satellites to photograph a farmer perhaps using seed out of his own grain bin that they say they have rights to and he can't do that so he gets fined and cutoff or whatever.

Farmers tend to hate seed companies yet use them. Go figure.


My Economic 101 teacher told me that there are 4 limits to growth:

(1) Energy and material resources' annual production
(2) Absorption of wastes by environment
(3) Product of people and their skills, capabilities
(4) Technology

If any of these reached the limit is reached. Infact today we reach the limit of three of them, that is why the "problem" looks so complex. Energy resources are at their limits as proved by TOD. Material resources are also at its limit as proved at many places by TOD. Environment can absorb no more wastes as its fighting back by melting polars' ice. The consensus among climate scientists that even if we stop fossil fuels' burning today the changes in climate would continue shows that the limit of absorption by environment has long reached. People are taught as much as they can, a masters degree today is essential to get a good job, which means a 20 years of formal education. A quarter of the working age is already gone before a person enter in the work force. Population is however increasing and would continue increasing in foreseeable future.

One important thing is that for now the limit on technological development has also reached. Intel is unable to produce higher capacity processor due to heat problems, nasa can't reduce per kg cost of space material transportation, viruses are beating advancements in medical sciences, car efficency has also reached its limit, even URR can't reach more than 34% of OIP.

I suspect technology will still do a few more things, but it is difficult to overcome so many other obstacles.

Abby Joseph Cohen says S&P may go to 1050 in the next few months

this is a key contra indicator: SELL EVERYTHING

When its proved that the entire system is falling down it seems unlikely, even illogical that two things, solar cells and wind turbines can save the system or even stay unaffected. Wind turbines seems the solution at first glance, it can be built very easily, its low tech, it can work for centuries with little repairs, it can produce electricity and can be directly used for mechanical work such as milling and weaving but if we look deeply it has problems of its own. If you place a wind turbine in a place where people live, which post-oil must be near a farm, it would kill birds, those birds are keeping insects population in check, so we can have an out growth of insects that hurt crops and reduce food supply for humans. If we place a wind turbine in deserts or in islands in seas where people don't live, we not have the above problem but there must be some problem for which we should not be doing this. I don't know what this thing would be but a random thought that come in mind is disturbed wind patterns that eventually disturb rain patterns making it humanly impossible to predict rains and hence do farming. It may have other problems too that may be an order of magnitude higher than the problems due to fossil fuels.

Solar cells on the other hand don't have any of the above problems but it has problems of its own. It is high-tech, we can't have a working industry of it without having the entire system running. We need education system intact, law & order maintained etc. It also needs repairing that can't be done low-tech and locally. It also not keep running for centuries. It may run for only 30 to 40 years which is just the time needed to pay back the energy used in making it at the first place and the energy needed for repairs.

Though I agree with much of your sentiment, I believe you have much of the technical incorrect. a) bird kills by modern wind turbines is a very insignificant problem (mainly a particular species of raptor in a particular part of CA with a particular outdated design of turbine.) b) curently common solar PV is agreed a deadend, but is not the benchmark by which solar generation should be measured. Small distributed solar-thermal-stirling-engine systems and/or optical rectenna if R&D can survive that long, are the proper evaluations.

Don't discount re-localization out of hand as though it's an awful thing: it's so much more pleasant than trying to convince 6.7 billion people to have one child per couple, to switch over to wind turbines and 4th genration biofuels, etc

remember, 1/3 of the world's population doesn't use internet or cars or all these things we have to find an "intermediate solution" for. It is only us in the richest countries - perhaps 1 billion people - who are in trouble because of peak oil.

It would do us rich (and incredibly wasteful) snobs a lot of good to grow our own gardens, form local tribes for making our living, and generally drop our ecological footprint - which we have to drop by 70% or more just to be sustainable so we might as well get started before economic and ecologic circumstances force us into it.

And it's a much quicker solution than the "intermediate solutions" that you have proposed. Why not proactively start learning how to be self-sufficient again, instead of pedantically worrying on about high-tech solutions that most of us, here in the richest part of the world, don't have the faintest understanding of? Why not have all the commuters going to their big-box retail jobs or janitor jobs or car salesman jobs instead taking weekend courses on intensive gardening, personal financial management, basic tool-making, and so on?

Anyone reading this article actually know how to make a rope or feed themselves from the wild?

sounds a lot more fun to me than watching 4 hours a t.v. every night and worrying about the damn flu



Anyone reading this article actually know how to make a rope or feed themselves from the wild?


And I still prefer every effort to retain and judiciously employ whatever technical and other common knowledge we've accumulated in the past several thousand years.

Maybe 1/3 of the world's population doesn't use the internet or cars. I would question whether many of them are still independent from our current situation.

In China and India, the types of rice are grown that are quite water dependent and fertilizer dependent. If the countries went back to older varieties and stopped using chemical fertilizers, it is likely yields would decline and they would not be able to feed their populations.

There are now huge cities in many quite poor countries. These cities depend on food being brought to them by some means of transportation, and on public water supplies.

I would add support to your comments Gail.

We have traveled through India, China and most Southeastern Asian countries. Tractors and large, often very ancient, rototillers were widely in use in both India and China for working ordinary fields. Large tillers with huge, pressed iron drums, in place of wheels, were in use to turn over the mud in flooded rice paddies prior to re-planting. Few animals were in use in many areas. Thus, I disagree with the earlier post by lauranimist that only the more developed countries would be impacted by peak oil. The poor people of many of the above countries have adapted and employed machines to decrease the toil that they have endured since agriculture began. This has made it possible to feed more people with less human effort. Also, the use of motor rickshaws and trucks have exploded throughout much of that part of the world.

Now, when we seem to be at peak oil, we find the current situation feels a lot more like a "box" caused by limits to growth, rather than a liquid fuels crisis. The limits are of many forms--not just geological limits relating to oil--but other resource limits as well, such as fresh water, and concerns about climate change and the environment. The financial system is even behaving strangely.

Gail seems rather pessimistic. She fears some fundamental reversal of civilization which is not yet demonstrable. I believe that every step of human civilization has been forced to stare at its own limitations.

Imagine a group of hunter gatherers feasting on the last known herd of mastodons which they had just recently run off of a cliff, bemoaning in their imaginations the famine to come. Even their wisest elders could not think of where they would go in order to find another herd. They were just going to need to subsist on wheat seeds for a while until more herd meat showed up. This subsistence might have lasted many generations but its outcome was agriculture.

The current financial crisis is one of finally realizing that enormous sums of human resources and money have been wasted on not so useful things such as delusional financial engineering, Realtor careers and McMansions. This period can also be characterized by the lack of any centralized action to counter the decline of carbon based resources.

Naturally, there will be a period of adjustment.

Only trial, error, and time will suffice to work out the civilization to come.

Imagine a group of hunter gatherers feasting on the last known herd of mastodons which they had just recently run off of a cliff, bemoaning in their imaginations the famine to come. Even their wisest elders could not think of where they would go in order to find another herd. They were just going to need to subsist on wheat seeds for a while until more herd meat showed up. This subsistence might have lasted many generations but its outcome was agriculture.

I hope you were trying to be funny.

I did think it was an amusing contemplation. But also probative. Just as the hunter gatherers could not see the eventual outcome of mastodon extinction; we see our limitations concerning Peak Oil but we do not yet "see" the technologies and solutions which I am certain will be found. Many other such "crises" have occurred in human history.

In my mind, nuclear energy can be a backstop solution if as and when oil and gas declines leave us energetically stranded. In the interim, we can also just consume less.

I estimate that my family and I could get by with 30 per cent less energy than currently without a heartbreaking decline in our standard of living. We could grow some vegetables. We could cancel our jet plane vacations. We could eat less strawberries in the winter and drink less imported wine. We could lower our home's heating temperature from 70 to 60. We could drive to the ski hill less frequently. The list goes on.

By analogy these are the same changes which the mastodon eating hunter gatherers faced. All previous civilizations faced such challenges. I am optimistic that there will be solutions.

You sound like a cornucopian in a hard lander's clothing.

After following this blog for many years, making comments that others mocked and reviled, after suffering the "doomer" label and being accused of a certain schadenfreude, I see that my ideas are now the mainstream at the Oil Drum.

Good. Maybe the administration, the media, the corporatocracy (don't count on them), or even common citizens will awaken from their hangovers and realize they have trashed the house, the spouse has left, that the food is gone, the house is cold, and the situation may get worse--much worse.

To rehash my basic argument: We need to use the relatively cheap and abundant materials we have left to de-engineer, to head thoughtfully towards the destination--to real sustainability--that we will come to no matter how we thrash and whine. That means no cars, no nukes, no factory farms, and no further destruction of the house, our world.

Let us hope that people like Gail will be able to gain the ear of the administration, academia, and the citizens, not consumers (a curse word if ever one existed).

Good work, Gail. I pray for you. May the technophiles let you get on with actual realistic solutions.

I appreciate your thoughts.

What end state do you see us arriving at and what means of transition do you think will be feasible? Have you seen the Transition Town movement? Are you a lifeboat proponent?

Gail I agree with most of your article. Only one point the tie between oil and money is complex deep under the covers we don't have a fiat currency but one backed by oil with a change in the discount rate between oil and money. At the top of the financial food chain you in fact have a number of very direct and hard links between oil and money. I don't yet know of a easy way to explain except to say oil and money are the same thing.

Oil is sort of like potential money its put into the base of our economy and money is used to target where its invested and out the top pops wealth creation. The money supply interest rates and velocity of money determine both the rate at which oil is transformed into other forms of wealth and the routes taken in the transformation. And finally the relative value of the transformed wealth vs oil. If its higher and expanding then the system expands it oil usage the value difference in terms of money depends on the financial system et. We have for many decades via inflation claimed that the value generated from a barrel of oil has grown dramatically. I think that its becoming increasingly clear that this was pure BS.

You can see that peak oil is the mother of all monkey wrenches dropped into this system.

Whats important is what to do whats the final conclusion ?

I like you have come to the conclusion that a solution on the political social front is to simply extend ELP
( Economize Localize Produce) to include the social and political aspects of the problem. Start with your own household then work with your neighbors then the village or region. What is ELP and how do you do it.

First off its sustainability look at what you buy locate local sources change your usage grow your own etc.
From a financial system what you want is for most of the money to circulate in a tight loop with 90% of it never leaving the local economy certainly some is going to leave in trade but it should be balanced by a inflow. Overall wealth accumulates only slowly as real value is added to the system in the form of permanent structures efficiencies etc. Depending on how the overall money supply is grown price should be flat to declining never ever should the price of a good increase unless its in physical shortage.

Personally since I'm a chemist I started in my bathroom looking at all the crap we buy for the modern home.
I'm slowly working towards sustainable toiletries :)

I'm a big fan of toilet paper having lived in places where its not used so its and addiction I'm going to either have to find a substitute for or go back to the Asian water ladle method.

This may sound insane but seriously the easiest way to work on our problem is to create a renewable household you don't have to produce all your own stuff like a farm but you have to build out that web.
Right now it may mean grinding your own flour but if you decide to take that route then consider getting a commercial quality flower mill and also bake bread. Offer to grind wheat for a small fee or even bake bread fresh for people and deliver it if needed. Work through the complex web of stuff and interactions starting from your own personal use and localize sourcing it or making it yourself.

Once the money starts circulating in a tight circle in a community then you have sustainability !
As far as population goes well all I can say is you need to recognize the limits and respect them.
Once you have a sustainable community then you can really understand the local carrying capacity.
This requires social changes to be honest I think for the US the biggest is to accept sexual activity but strongly encourage people to respect their bodies and use birth control. A combination of openness and personal pride if you will in your sexuality and no fear of birth control should work to keep unwanted pregnancies at a minimum. A change in social mores to encourage people to wait till they pay their house off before having children should ensure that population remains in check. And of course and explicit one child policy helps. If you have a very tight local neighborhood then single children can grow up with their friends as effective siblings. A move to parents with single children sharing child rearing duties to the extent that the children feel like siblings works quite well. The parents that share will have more free time and the children will get exposure to the raw social structure of sibling interaction.

And last but not least one thing most people miss about population control is its not really about how many kids a family has. This may come as a shocker but its about getting enough people to choose to have no children. For example I have three kids but my brother has no children and for lots of reasons probably never will. Between the two of us we are 25% below replacement. The easiest and simplest way to drop population is not to focus to much on families but to encourage people who don't want kids to live lifestyles without children. Obviously if 50% of the population choose to have zero kids it does not really matter all that much exactly how many children people who have families choose. Basically 1-5 depending is doable depending on the distribution. By encouraging a sufficient number of people to live without having children then you take almost all the pressure off the system. I'd suggest that people who have families with more than one child encourage their children to lead a life without having children of their own.
In a tight knit family aunts and uncles can readily take on raising their sibling children.

I have no problem dumping my kids on my own siblings at a moments notice. I've even tried leaving them on street corners but they keep coming back :) ( Thats a joke !)

In the middle ages celibacy was associated with religion and obviously we know know how to make birth control so strict celibacy is not required to live a full life without children what is required is to foster a range of lifestyle choices for people and encourage people to take routes that don't involve having kids at all.

So I agree at the end of the day it all seems to boil down to doing a sort of ground up refactoring change how we use goods to a renewable or closed cycle work on our social system to encourage responsible population growth and support people strongly that are not desperate to have kids to not feel like they have too. Over time in a few generations people will look back at this period as one of a sort of global insanity fueled by raping the earth. And the sad part is they will be correct.

All well and good EXCEPT there are, in the present political-economic system operating in most countries, advantages to elites from increasing populations and disadvantages from decreasing (reductions in tax base, gross labour force, military age potential soldiers etc. etc.) Until I see a workable worldwide resolution to those issues, I'll continue to believe that any small local steps will be countered by elites.

Ignore them.

I'm serious realistically how can they prevent you from going local.

If you start buying local then your local producers will have jobs and you can work local.

And certainly global jobs if you will exist such as writing a book or even software.
This is not against exports its against imports and exports of stuff that could easily
be made locally.

The powers that be would have to adopt some untenable positions to prevent this.

The steps are simple identify something you use that you can make if it makes sens make a bit of excess
and try and sell it to your neighbors or even better trade it for something.

I'm serious realistically how can they prevent you from going local.

By very oppressive regulations already in force. Planning restrictions on needed developments such as residential and functional buildings in farming locations. In uk, local abbatoirs closed down and only huge distant ones allowed able to cope with extreme regulatory demands.
By making one's efforts uneconomic, especially given that taxes must be paid. Big biz subsidised and using cheap transport forces everyone to either use their system or else live in economic oppressedness.
Very difficult to localise until the non-localised system has already collapsed. Catch 22.

The Hirsch report has been overtaken by events. For example page 44 "...so electric vehicles cannot now(2005) be projected to provide any off-set to future gasoline use"

On page 24, .."We cannot conceive of any affordable government-sponsored crash program to accelerate normal replacement schedules...."

How about a government take-over of the car industry and a $7,000 subsidy for electric vehicles? Probably not conceivable in 2005. You might argue that's its not affordable, what is the price to save civilization as we know it?, surely it's worth more than an additional $7,000 a vehicle!

Where do we get all of the batteries from? It is not just the $7,000 that is the problem.

Most lithium batteries (and everything else) are being manufactured in China. I suppose this is why Buffet is investing in BYD. Although GM has tapped a S. Korean company for the Volt batteries.

Good article Gail. So glad this website stays on topic. I'm an overview type person. I like to view a complex subject as a whole and then if needed look at specific aspects of the system. The overview of post Peak Oil in my opinion can be viewed in this manner:

As EROEI increases and as oil depletion continues post peak, the cost of energy increases, pushing up against the capability of economic strength, represented by the massess to support a certain energy expense price point.

When the price of oil hit 145 the 3rd world had already passed the point of affordibility at a much lower price, but the western economies were revving high on borrowed money, yet none the less reached a point of unaffordibility for energy, a recession ensued along with demand destruction of oil.

Now the economies of the entire world are reduced in the capability to afford energy, and the price of 50 dollars a barrel seems to be the equilibrium point of affordibility to sustain this weakened economy.

However, if EROEI decreases, meaning less energy received for every dollar invested, and supply is constrained by depletion, the cost of energy rises, in effect applying greater pressure on the world economy in a recessionary direction.

As this affordibilty of energy decreases, more and more people experience higher costs of living, and thus diminishing affordibility. The question is; At what point on this decline does unrest begin to occur? At what point are the western economies non-viable? Or a better way to ask the question in quantifiable terms, is; what will be the EROEI and or price of oil at the juncture of non-viability?

(As a side note to this overview perspective; during the run up to 145 dollars a barrel, there were many posters here who thought it was conceivable that oil could reach a 1,000 dollars per barrel. I kept arguing that it wasn't possible because the average person could not afford that level of energy expense for transportation, products and services. Please tell me no one still thinks a thou per barrel is possible.)

Do you see what I'm driving at here? The level of affordibility, which is the masses of the economy's overall ability to afford energy, is a price that apparently could not exceed 145 dollars in 2008 dollars. And now due to the recession the new level is around 50 dollars. So let's push that price up to what OPEC wants to sell oil for, which is 70 dollars. What does that do to this overview perspective? Does the economy fall deeper into a recession, which causes greater demand destruction, etc, etc...?

If the price goes up, more people start defaulting on their loans, and we have more financial problems. They also stop buying discretionary items, and more people are laid off from work. But we are likely to get more oil, at least for a time, before production starts declining again.

I think the financial system will determine where (or whether) equilibrium is reached. If there is a complete breakdown in the financial system, it will be difficult to buy anything, oil-related or otherwise.

Jay Hanson, who is the most intelligent human being I have ever encountered by a long shot, has devoted the past 15 years of his life to finding a humane solution to our predicament. His dismal conclusion is that governments everywhere will try everything they can to re-kindle economic growth. And when it finally fails (10 years or so) we will have a full-scale nuclear war that will bring the curtain down on this civilization as well as most higher life forms on the planet. I have seen or read nothing that would indicate he is wrong.

Lots of very smart people think the same (with variations, of course). I did too, for a while, but then, I got to thinking- Something wrong here, we aren't ALL stupid, are we? I thought of the retreat of the French army from Moscow. Everything a mess, no coordination, Nappy ran off to France, Cossacks butchering frienchies for sport and plunder. Everybody starving and freezing.

But, some people HAD looked ahead, knew what was coming, and prepared for it. Individual units, led by capable and energetic officers, got themselves ready, stored up food and furs, stuck together against the Cossacks, and came thru.

We can do the same-- some of us. Where I live, I know lots of people with the skills to grow food, make electricity, handle animals, make things out of trash, and on and on. And even more important, we have local leaders who can lead--I think.

You all should be concerned about nuclear war...support the 'A World Free of Nuclear Weapons' concept. Even if we don't use them, we and everyone else are spending ridiculous sums on these things, and the strategy that supports them...things that contribute NOTHING to solving any of the World's problems.

The major threat is nuclear terrorism (Los Angeles suddenly gets creamed from a device on a container ship) or an exchange between Pakistan and India.

I do not see any deliberate act from the major nuclear powers to end civilization...unless hard-core religious end-times fanatics somehow rise to the top positions of power in one or both of the top-two nuclear powers. That is motivation enough to dismantle these dangerous device, and blend down the innards to 'burn' in civilian nuclear reactors.

I am continually amazed at the justified concern about AGW, whilst everyone seems to think that the threat of nuclear Armageddon vaporized with the fall of the Berlin wall. People have short attention spans and excellent denial mechanisms. Unlike AGW, nuclear disarmament does not require trillions of dollars and potentially huge lifestyle changes, just some adults at the table who agree to put the guns down, then saw them in half.

It's the problem exclusion principle.

"No more than one global problem may be acknowledged by a person at one time. After the first problem is acknowledged, any others must be downplayed or denied."

That's why we have a few TOD editors who are climate change deniers, and why you get someone working on climate models saying,

"Fossil fuels supply is effectively infinite up to the end of this century: the coal can supply the energy we needed for a few more centuries."

It's the Problem Exclusion Principle. It's hard to acknowledge more than one global problem at once, it makes things overwhelming. I deal with the overwhelmed feeling by looking for common solutions to the multiple problems; this is particularly easy with climate change/peak FF.

Nuclear's a difficult one, though, since one proposed solution to the CC/FF problems is more nuclear power; but this leads to the problem of more nuclear weapons, too. Fundamentally it's a diplomatic problem. If nuclear-armed states threaten non-nuclear-armed states, the latter will naturally seek to acquire weapons to deter them. Which the larger states then use as their excuse to keep their own weapons programmes. And so it goes. Basically the Great Powers need to use their power with a bit more intelligence and subtlety, rather than blundering and blustering.

Robert Jay Lifton once proposed that all international conferences should be held stark naked. It's a bit harder to shake your fist imperiously or storm out in anger with your bits wobbling around. Nudity makes you humble. If it's good enough for unlawful combatants, it should be good enough for our leaders!

I'm split on whether it should be televised, though. It could be unpleasant to watch, but it'd help keep them humble. Hmmm.

I was one of Jay's supporters on the USENET during the 90's and once had the opportunity to visit with him in Hawaii. The Dieoff site was remarkable. He established energyresources and other groups at a site later purchased by Yahoo and was the first to post the Hubbert Center Newsletter on the internet. At the moment he seems obsessed with Milton Friedman. I found the situation regarding the possibility of nuclear war to be far scarier in the years following the late 40's.

Gail, superb analysis, as usual. Thank you.
The Club of Rome thought in 1972 (Limits to Growth) that environmental damage would be greater and would be the first big limit we would encounter.
Climate change, if it's caused by humans, could be such a limit. But the consequences of climate change are very small and mild and they will be for the next 30 to 50 years.
With the use of fossil fuels decreasing, climate change may slow down even more.

I think we need another documentary like "An Inconvenient Truth". But "Inconvenient Truth part 2" should explain the vieuwers the concept of limits and finite resources.

Climate change, if it's caused by humans, could be such a limit. But the consequences of climate change are very small and mild and they will be for the next 30 to 50 years.

Tell that to the people of Victoria (Melbourne region) Australia where grain production has fallen by half.

MicroHydro,it is dangerous to confuse weather with climate and it does the case for human induced climate change no good service.The deniers can just as easily point to cold and wet conditions.Witness the very recent cold conditions and early snowfalls in the Victorian and NSW high country.

Both the recent bushfires in the Melbourne area and the ongoing drought in the Murray-Darling basin have been linked, by people who should know better,with climate change.
Maybe they are,but Australia is an arid continent with a notoriously fickle climate.

The longer term trends are certainly pointing to human induced climate change.Let's stick with the science.

Get your facts straight.
Droughts in Australia are a cyclical phenomenon caused by currents in the Indian Ocean:

And my family has a history of heart disease, but that does not mean that if I smoke a pack a day along with eating my greasy burger, that's okay.

It's quite possible for something to be natural, but for it to altered by man-made causes, too.

There is a new one: http://noteviljustwrong.com/

What should we do now? Here's my suggestions:

Move the blend wall past 10% (The Obama Admin is considering 15% now)

Remove the tariff on imported Ethanol.

Open up and expedite new oil production offshore and on Federal lands.

Provide a $10,000 government coupon for new hybrid and electric vehicle purchases.(This would help the auto industry, the economy, and reduce oil consumption)

Require all new gasoline vehicles sold in the US to be flex-fuel.
(This suggestion came from the RFA)

Anyone have contact information for Michael Moore, (the one who makes documentaries) or better yet, know him personally? How would one go about getting him interested in a project of this type?

Michael Moore may be popular and recognizable, and while not exactly disingenuous with his documentaries, he isn't exactly ingenuous either. I'd avoid him.

Here you go:


Contacting Michael
If you have something you want to tell Michael directly, contact him at: mike at michaelmoore.com

Gail - why not consider going to the 'local' film school, finding some students who'd share your passion and do the documentary "yourself".

Any film needs an accountant.....

I think Peak Oil has had a lot of movies that have been sold on the Internet to a few people.

The story of Limits to Growth, or whatever we want to call our current condition, needs to be told by someone people would listen to. We need to get a movie or two out that would be as widely listened to and watched as "An Inconvenient Truth." The movie probably needs some humor in it, as well as a good dose of what is going on.

Michael Moore may very well not be the right one. He does come on pretty strong.

We need someone with drawing power, not someone no one will listen to.

Another thought is John DeGraaf. What do others think?

If the message is compelling enough - the teller of the tale won't matter.

Someone has to be the "next" Micheal Moore - the canvas of limits to growth could allow a quite masterful painting.

Besides - the message is a "bummer" - and historically no one wants to go to a movie that doesn't have redemption at the end. So the "big boys" won't take it on if they can't make it be positive in the end.

Gail-you are absolutely correct that we need someone with drawing power,someone people will listen to,and of course that implies credentials as an expert in some relevant area such as engineering, geology, climate or maybe economics or public policy.whatever.

I can't think of anybody that is perfect,but we have all heard about "two out of three ain't bad, right?

We need Stephen King!!If he would agree to consult with a few of us and write a novel about End Times with a little more recognizable current history in the making(-ffdepletion,aquifers going dry,war over oil and religion,etc),with a little less of the supernatural twists he does so well,I do believe peak oil would be on millions of new minds within a few months.

Drawing power and followers(readers) he does have and in spades!!

"Needs to be told by someone people would listen to."

This is going to appear as if I'm making this more complex or difficult, and I'm bringing in some principles that maybe many aren't familiar with. But I think that going with a "big name" is only one method worth pursuing out of many effective methods.

There are six main influences to human behavior identified by Robert Cialdini, in "Influence: Science and Practice", including:

Reciprocity. We do things for people who have done something for us. This is the most powerful influence, the give-and-take being ingrained in us since childhood.

Liking/similarity. We do things for people who we like and who are similar to ourselves.

Scarcity. If it isn't available, I want it.

Authority. If an expert recommends it, it should be done. The most powerful authorities are those who are both knowledgeable and trustworthy. Cialdini discusses an interesting technique to boost your smarts and integrity in another person's eyes.

Consistency. People do things that are consistent with what they've done in the past.

Consensus. People tend to do what the other monkeys are doing.

Going the big name route, this employs only Authority and Liking, and it's expensive with someone like Moore.

The method needed would be a multi-pronged, systemic approach, which employs most or all of these.

Then again, I'm not sure that we need to get the word out about an unavoidable collapse. The subject matter of Limits to Growth is tied in with species extinction, overshoot and dieoff, teotwawki, and can be very depressing. People are becoming non compos mentis as it is.

Hello Gail,

Your Quote: "Instead, it seems like we should concentrate on projects where a more immediate payoff is clear, or that will help us better reach a sustainable long-term situation."

Thus my prior posts on the need to ramp to full-on O-NPK recycling and SpiderWebRiding. Have you hugged your bag of NPK today?

I think the biggest two things that would make a large difference are 1)convincing religious leaders like the Pope that population and birth control is absolutely essential, and 2)adding an extra year onto economics and business school programs at university -- the first year should be entirely ecology and earth sciences, since this is fundamentally what supports our economies, yet economists in my experience tend to have less knowledge about these topics than anyone.

I think all your intermediate approaches have value except for:

"Develop open pollinated seeds that will provide a balanced diet for many different climate areas."

Do you realize that 90% of human calories come from self pollinated wheat, rice, barley and vegetative propagated potato, cassava, banana, plantains and yams. Each of these crops have thousands of locally adapted cultivars.

As climate changes these can and are being exchanged to suit locally changed conditions.

For maize there is some value on growing open pollinated diverse cultivars that can adapt to year to year climate variations, especially for poor subsistence farmers in marginal climates.
Modern plant breeding, especially international NGO's CIMMYT, IRRI, ICARDA,ICRISAT, have done a very good job of feeding the world, we don't need to fix it because it isn't broken.

Perhaps I don't fully understand the issue.

There are several reason why open pollinated seed seems desirable:
1. No dependence on a vulnerable long-distance seed company.
2. Farmers can save their own seed and re-use it.
3. Non-hybrid seed will have more variability, and thus at least some of the seeds will survive, if the weather is too hot/ cold / wet/ dry.
4. Many of the older seed varieties were better adapted to water levels without irrigation, and to natural fertility levels. If we lose irrigation and purchased fertilizer, we will need seeds adapted to the condition of the land, as it really is with modern improvements, even if yields are lower.

How do you see seed companies surviving long-term? Can they get along with virtually no fossil fuels? How are farmers going to afford purchased seed, if they are very poor?

Would farmers be able to save seeds and replant with self-pollinating rice, wheat, and barley?

All of this would probably make good material for a post.

5. More diverse cultivars mean a greater mitigation to the risk that emerging diseases or pests can devastate a few highly monocultured cultivars.

We used open-pollinated seeds almost exclusively in our garden.

It is possible for 'both sides' to be both right and wrong about plant breeding issues. A few points
1. Grains provide about 2/3 of human calories (for reference see Dyson 1999 in my guest-post in March http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5181 )
2. We should not confuse 'farm-saved' seed with 'open pollination' or indeed with self-pollination'. 'Hybrid seed' is a special issue. Farmer-saved wheat for example can continue a lineage for thousands of years. Hybrid seed is a one-off, and needs purchasing each year. (The big example is corn / maize, although there are many modern hybrid-seed vegetables). US corn crops have benefited since the 60s-70s from higher yields from 'hybrid vigor'. This was not without a hiccup early on because most of the US crop at one stage derived from a single maternal lineage, and therefor contained the same mitochondrial genome (a non-nucleus genome).This happened to make the whole crop susceptible to a previously minor pathogen, which proceeded to a continent-wide epidemic. They had to change that situation.
(As has been pointed out, it is still possible to grow non-hybrid corn.)
3. Susceptibility to disease is indeed a problem. Vast areas under monoculture do provide potential for pandemics or serious regional losses. The modern varieties of cereals have been bred to take advantage of high soil nitrogen (thus allowing per capita production to keep up with human population increase - see again my March post).
High selection pressure during breeding though means that there has been a loss of some genetic potential in the modern genomes, and pest resistance has had to be 'bred back in'. This is much more difficult than having a very wide range of resistance already there 'on background'. Modern varieties tend to need routine protection from pesticide, particularly fungicides. (I grow small amounts of an ancient cultivated species of wheat, Emmer Wheat, used in the bronze age, ancient Egypt etc. It has been remarkably free of pathogens for 25 years using my own saved-seed. Yields are small compared with modern wheat although the high protein content >20% compensates a bit for that.)
4. There has been a vast loss of diversity even in farm-saved seed where high yielding varieties have taken over. A 1979 estimate calculated that most of the 30,000 traditional rice varieties in India were replaced by just 10 varieties in 73% of the cultivated area. Similarly, of 10,000 wheat varieties in China, 1000 remained by 1995. Maintenance by farmers world-wide of local 'landraces' has been judged essential for the future plant breeding.
5. Ownership of the world inventory of crops is a very big issue, and this has increasingly come into the hands of international corporations, initially based in the USA. I have short accounts of points 3 and 4 in a chapter I wrote for a technical book on biotechnology published in 1998.

While I am in sympathy with your desire for a more "sustainable" agriculture, you are perpetuating some of the myths about the green revolution and plant breeding.
Maize wheat and rice yields have increased X5 fold in last 70years. These yields in the farmers hands are part due to better fertilizers, use of pesticides, BUT old cultivars from 1930's grown side by side in test plots with a range of fertilizer inputs still only have one third the yield or newer cultivars.

Modern cultivars have a very diverse genetic base, derived from many wild wheat relatives( and land races), and much more diverse than old land races. The number of land races doesn't indicate the level of genetic diversity, the number of parents and diversity of parents is more significant. World collections of 100,000's land races are maintained and sometimes used in breeding, more significant are wild grass relatives that are sources of disease resistance. Cereal cultivars are changed as the pathogens change. With wheat cereal rusts travel around the world( in time). One small field of one specific wheat can stay resistant to the main pathogens, but we need 600 million tonnes of wheat per year. Pathogens evolve to attack those 150million hectares(not necessarily your 1-10 hectares).
Most wheat and rice is bred by NGO organizations(CIMMYT, IRRI) which are non-profit with collaboration of local plant breeders. Farmer saved seed is mainly used, and new cultivars introduced every few years. The farmers try a small amount of the new cultivar if they like it's performance grow more if not keep using the older cultivar.

I am at a bit of a loss with your comment - my knowledge is built on official sources and publications (I was a small cog in that official world). My specialist field was in plant quarantine and in risk assessment in both that and in new biotechnology. I live in area of modern cereal farming in the UK.
I think you misunderstand where I am coming from. The older cereal varieties pre-1960s in the UK derived from plant breeding scientific selection supported in large part by public agencies during the 20thC and were not particularly resistant to diseases and pests (unlike my ancient Emmer Wheat) and still fell over (unharvested) if given too much nitrogen. Most of eastern Britain's wheat was planted in those days with seed coated in a mercury-based dressing to insure against a serious pest. Mercury was banned and other dressings take its place. The 1960s saw major break through in cereal breeding world-wide (very importantly in rice), but all of the cereal cropping round here continues to need to be sprayed with fungicide typically more than once in the season. The post-60s crops have much higher yields, more than double that of the varieties that were around when I did my degree in agriculture in the early 60s. The higher yields derive from the now increased ability of late-modern varieties to make use of Nitrogen applied at 200kg/ha, and from the partition during grain-fill of photosynthate in favor of the grain in much shorter plants.
The figures I quoted for the vast loss of cereal landraces in India and China came from published sources; Nature and Outlook on Agriculture, and the quote on the need for farmer-maintained landraces came from the the then head of IPGRI (which began as the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources). See http://www.bioversityinternational.org/publications/publications/annual_... for a bit on Geoffrey Hawtin. I drew for example on an article by Hawtin 1996, "Safeguarding and sharing plant genetic resources", Outlook on Agriculture, 25:2:81-87. Ex situ genetic collections were explicitly regarded as inadequate. Hawtin was also advocating back in 1995/96 rebuilding Afghanistan agriculture post the Soviet withdrawal, using local landraces because of their 'system' robustness (Gail's more general point, I think), in the face of adversity in a desperately poor country. Unfortunately that last strategy seems to have been blown away by poppy and politics and warfare.

With regard to the ownership of plant breeding and increasingly the ownership of modern world cropping I derived my references 1998 from official and industry sources, including Pioneer-Hi Bred International. The diminishing role of public sector in plant breeding was noted, particularly for the USA by 1992. When I was writing in 1997/98, 'The Green Revolution' (previously led by international public agencies) was seen to have significantly helped increase global crop yields, although these productivity increases were substantially less in developing than in developed countries. (The yields could not have been realized without an increase in soil nitrogen from synthetic fetilizer.) A rapid breakdown of pest and disease resistance however in some regions and a loss of of diversity failed to provide a basis for continuing increases (Brady, 1995, "Modern Biotechnology at International Agriculture Research Centers"). Biotechnology (genetic engineering) was supposed to fix this and produce a second 'wave' but some of my then most authoritative sources believed this 'fix' to be highly unlikely. (I continue to agree with these old expert skeptics more than 10 years later.)
We (the world?) must look elsewhere.
EDIT I should add that although a different story could be told concerning the balance up to 1992 of public and private breeding of wheat in the USA, the general thrust during the the early years of biotechnology in the 1990s was toward more control of 'intellectual property" (patenting seed) and this accentuated an already existing difference in approach compared with other advanced countries. US seed breeders had always relied more on 'trade secrets', and in the major case of corn, physical possession of the parental material for hybrid seed.

If you are interested is reading about what is happening especially in the developing world economies( rather than US maize breeding or UK wheat breeding, even though they are important), have a look at this site:

If you re-read what I said, farmer yield increases are due to BOTH more fertilizer, better agronomy AND improved genotypes having better disease resistance, and much higher yields( at low and high fertilizer rates).

Most wheat grown in the world is from CIMMYT derived cultivars. I am not disputing that many land races have been lost, just that a lot more genetic diversity is present in wild wheat relatives. Modern wheat varieties have a very diverse pedigree including land races from different continents, wild relatives, contributing >60 different rust resistance genes, some having resistance to smuts, scab, mildew, midge, sawfly, hessian fly, Russian wheat aphid, etc etc......

Not many "trade secrets" in wheat breeding, while involved in public wheat breeding I visited and talked to breeders at Monsanto, and many other "commercial" wheat breeding companies, they protect IP through plant breeders rights and patents of technologies. Nearly all work is published.

Thanks for your comments. I think all of this about seeds and plant reproduction is an important issue that we don't understand well enough.

It seems to me that to the extent that we need to make changes in seed production, we probably need to start doing it pretty quickly. If we wait a while, it may be too late.

Our loss of all of the seed cultivars we had through the years is a worry. Food is terribly important to our survival, so we need to think through what is the right seed to have available for the world's population.

Gail, at least for me this seems like one of your best posts ever. It crystalizes my thinking on the price point issue. No, the price of energy cannot increase. Simply because we cannot afford it in this paradigm/energy regime.

Demand has dropped, because society could not afford high priced petroleum products, but the supply has not yet declined to reflect the lower price level.

One would think we could afford and pay more. But we cannot AND maintain the same energy regime. That's the link I didn't quite understand before.

The steps down, I think, will be steps in the energy regime. Remember that graph Nate Hagens posted upside down of energy use and country? There's the stairway. Bump, bump, bump. I've been wrestling with that in terms of halvings of energy availability post peak - where every decade we [US] have half what we had the decade before.

There is another piece to this too. It doesn't make economic sense to live and build for a lower level energy regime. It makes all kinds of other sense, but it doesn't pay the bills. Solar is more expensive now - whether that is PV on the roof or beets in your cellar. Those of us trying to build templates for a lower level energy regime are economically not competitive.

At the state capital today I was testifying about REAL ID. Using Homer-Dixon's discussion of Diocletian, the Roman census and talking about resiliency vs brittleness, community vs authoritarianism. And handing out mangel seeds for a fall mangel toss. The state, of course, wants to number everyone and everything - just like Diocletian. Got to try to beet some sense into the legislature. Try, not do, Yoda.

cfm in Gray, ME

Hello TODers,

We talk about FFs quite a bit here on TOD, but even if your society is already very primitive--it can still get much worse:

The human survivors were still coming to terms with their shock and grief when they began to notice it: one after another, the water buffalo, which ploughed the fields and fertilised the ground, were starting to die...

..It is a year today since Cyclone Nargis struck southern Burma, passing straight through Bantoung Khaung.

Their buffalo — the lumbering tractors of the paddy fields — have died and there is no money to replace them.

..The problem suggests a sinister possibility: that the force of the cyclone permanently altered watercourses in the area, forcing salt into the groundwater. The residents rely on deliveries of purified water brought in by boat, which is the only way to gain access to the village.

The salt has washed through the fields, harming their productivity. “To plant rice we only needed a buffalo and a knife,” Soe Min Myat said. The farmers of Bantoung Khaung have neither, and the rice planting, which should take place in July, is in doubt.

..Even the generosity of the outside world appears to have given out..
In other news: golfing fans worldwide are rapturously following Tiger & Phil 'tearing up the course' at the tragically named Quail Hollow...

First, as a new contributor I must say that I absolutely love following The Oil Drum daily.

I do not believe we have yet experienced or even tested the limits of growth from Peak Oil (which I believe happened in 2005 or 2008 depending on how you are measuring). The financial system breakdown and the current recession were caused primarily by promiscuous lending which would have caused difficulties in any era. This is especially true in a period when financial institutions balance sheets have become too intertwined.

In other words, go out and give a lot of people, even non-residents, no income check loans and sooner or later your going to have a lot of defaults. This is supported by the fact that 70% of defaults are by those who admittedly lied on their mortgage applications. Oil prices may have been one contributing factor to the default avalanche but this had to happen anyway and inevitably would cause temporary serious financial systemic disruption.

My other point is that I would like to see or have more discussion about where to invest in a Peak Oil world. It seems to me that as this unfolds there will be only a few practical ways to prepare.

These preparations could include growing your own food or becoming less entrenched in the grid and reducing your footprint. Another way is to prepare financially. In every problem is an opportunity and hopefully society won't totally collapse (I have that speculatively at about 3%) in which case it will be highly beneficial to invest for a future peak oil world.

I currently have 50% energy stocks, 10% in very defensive Reits and 40% in Canadian Bonds (the Canadian dollar has a high correlation to oil prices). I would find it interesting to know what the rest of the community is doing, companies, commodities, gold, other investments etc.


Are you looking for good stock tips?

Or are you interested in real life or a make believe gambling game?

It is the financial folken that have been responsible for one of our immediate crises.

I really don't give a shit what stocks you hold. I don't see this as a place to lay off tips and play the frigging market.

So flag me then. I don't care.

I didn't come here to garner ideas on stock manipulations.


Money is currently the medium for exchange and likely will remain so in the future. It can be used in exchange for solar panels, farmland, materials, seeds etc. It does have a use in this world. Also, it was the congress (Barnie, Dodd)that primarily started the immediate mess (despite 8 different foiled attempts by the Bush administration to regulate Fannie May and Freddie Mac)by pushing easy lending standards.

First, as a new contributor I must say that I absolutely love following The Oil Drum daily.

I do not believe we have yet experienced or even tested the limits of growth from Peak Oil (which I believe happened in 2005 or 2008 depending on how you are measuring). The financial system breakdown and the current recession were caused primarily by promiscuous lending which would have caused difficulties in any era. This is especially true in a period when financial institutions balance sheets have become too intertwined.

In other words, go out and give a lot of people, even non-residents, no income check loans and sooner or later your going to have a lot of defaults. This is supported by the fact that 70% of defaults are by those who admittedly lied on their mortgage applications. Oil prices may have been one contributing factor to the default avalanche but this had to happen anyway and inevitably would cause temporary serious financial systemic disruption.

My other point is that I would like to see or have more discussion about where to invest in a Peak Oil world. It seems to me that as this unfolds there will be only a few practical ways to prepare.

These preparations could include growing your own food or becoming less entrenched in the grid and reducing your footprint. Another way is to prepare financially. In every problem is an opportunity and hopefully society won't totally collapse (I have that speculatively at about 3%) in which case it will be highly beneficial to invest for a future peak oil world.

I currently have 50% energy stocks, 10% in very defensive Reits and 40% in Canadian Bonds (the Canadian dollar has a high correlation to oil prices). I would find it interesting to know what the rest of the community is doing, companies, commodities, gold, other investments etc.


Agricultural land. However be aware that we have a huge bubble in this area. If your going to invest you need to spend a lot of time looking at prices where agricultural land can cash flow. You probably want to buy in a area your familiar with and frequent. In general if you read you will find the best land probably is not worth more than 2000 and acre using old pre peak assumptions. I'd suggest post peak its probably a lot less.

At some point I suspect we will see America's export market for food begin to collapse as our customers countries unravel. Egypt and Pakistan for example. Its not that they don't want or need food but these countries could easily become so disrupted that your talking about food aid that difficult to deliver.

Next a lot of the grain is used to feed animals for meat expect people at some point to cut down on meat this will lead to a large surplus of grain for human use.

All of these factors point towards a collapse in grain and soybean prices.
Next of course peak oil means input costs should skyrocket.

Can you say flat broke farmers ?

This situation should result in a huge collapse of the large collective farms. Now whats interesting is in some ways these farms are to big to fail often covering several thousand acres. The first ones that go under will be bought but fairly quickly no one will be willing to buy several thousand acre blocks of farmland.

Next of course you have large blocks of farmland bought speculating in the price bubble and in the housing bubble at some point the owner of this land will be forced to dump it. There is and enormous amount of land primarily agricultural thats been tied up in multi-decade speculation. More bought recently with leverage.
Expect huge tracks to enter the market and simply have no buyer at effectively any price.

Eventually they will be forced to sell these huge in smaller chunks piecemeal at rock bottom prices.

Finally at this point esp if you do your homework land is a good investment. I'd suggest if your serious about this spend some time with the Amish and find out what they are willing to pay for land that can cash flow using their methods. Also organic farmers but take any number they give and cut it by 70%.

In any case at some point farming won't look so bad to a lot of people and smaller farms would become viable. The nice thing is if your in the land for cash at a cheap price you can become your own bank and accept part of the crop as payment from someone willing to farm it. In the interm you can put the land under a restoration program for several years. Probably use it as grazing land etc. Eventually once things start to settle down you should be able to get it back into production and cash flow of the crop.

Probably more to it than that but farmland has value in the sense that you can always plant a crop and sell it. If you can sell it for more than it cost to grow is a open question but at some point obviously the system will balance such that farming is profitable. It has to :)

One rule of farmland is buy when the oldtimers buy and sell when they sell. But productive land is always capable of providing some return if your careful maybe not every year and you have to be able to not plant or plow the crop under as needed but its one of the few areas that will on average make a profit if you have zero debt. Certainly not every year and its not a easy business by any means but you have a fairly steady supply of customers.

Also once mechanized farming collapses because of ruinous fertilizer costs coupled with all the financial factors I mentioned a lot of that land will be worthless for sustainable agriculture as its really just a material to hold the chemicals. Land bought earlier and restored to the point its capable of sustainable agriculture would have value vs the vast tracks of chemical wasteland that no one can do much with.

A lot of our farmland is really desert and this is hidden by irrigation and chemicals. And of course speaking of irrigation if you dig you will find that huge tracks of US farmland are maybe years away from being rendered useless as the aquifers run dry. So again large tracks of farmland will be rendered useless because they can no longer be irrigated. Obviously your looking for land that can be irrigated easily with surface water or were rainfall is sufficient to grow crops. Preferably both.


The Ogallala aquifer, the vast underground pool that feeds faucets across the Great Plains, is running low, forcing farmers and towns to find other sources of water and pay dearly for it, too.

"Out here, water is like gold," Mayor Ed Wiltse said as he ran his hands over a chart of the town's faltering wells. "Without it, we perish."

The Ogallala aquifer is the world's largest underground water system, irrigating one-third of the nation's corn crops and providing drinking water to Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. It contains enough water to cover the entire United States to a depth of one and one-half feet.

But because of heavy usage, some water experts have pronounced it one of the fastest-disappearing aquifers in the world.

Peak water has been covered some on the oildrum generally the dynamics are about the same as oil fields.
You can bet if the experts are saying 25 years that we will face real problems a lot sooner.

Also in my opinion there is a very good chance of a return of the dustbowl I don't agree it was purely a man made event. Farming practices certainly played a role.



The researchers, based at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (both affiliates of Columbia University’s Earth Institute) used a computer model to simulate a 1930s drought driven only by the change in sea-surface temperature. This showed a 5% drop in rainfall, centered over northern Mexico and the U.S. southwest, where little agriculture then took place. This would have affected the Great Plains too, but probably would have not brought disaster. Then the modelers added in the effects of dust, using data from the ‘30s that indicated dust sources, and allowing the computer to create dust storms. This yielded a simulated event eerily like the real one, with a full 10% drop in rain—to just 18 inches a year--and centered over the prairie farm regions of north Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

Lead author Benjamin Cook, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration postdoctoral researcher affiliated with both Lamont and Goddard, said the effect occurred because dust particles suspended in air reflect solar radiation. Studies by researchers in other parts of the world show that this causes a drop in temperatures at or near the soil surface, lessening evaporation of moisture into the air, and thus decreasing precipitation even further. Dust on the Great Plains helped draw the drought northward like a siphon, said Cook. “This is what made the Dust Bowl the Dust Bowl,” he said. “It was a process that fed on itself.”

Given global warming and a collapse of irrigation and lands left fallow you have this situation of large tracts of land that have yet to develop sustainable grass cover opened up to be blown by the wind a almost exact duplicate of conditions during the dust bowl.

My opinion is the chances of this are close to 100% within the next 20 years esp with global warming.
At some point as the US is dealing with peak oil it will be hit with another dust bowl.

My personal opinion is the trigger was the fast drop in particulate emissions following the Great Depression. Coal was still a huge source of energy in the 1920-1930's. In todays world the primary source is China but as China finally falls to the global depression we should see coal usage cut back dramatically as plants are closed. Another huge source is shipping. A few years after the global economy winds down if I'm right we will have the same conditions that started the dust bowl. Global dimming from short lived particulates should drop rapidly and soils all over the world will see a marked drying. This probably will result in dust bowls in several regions not just the US. China, Parts of Russia and the Stans and maybe even parts of eastern Europe and of course parts of Africa. South America maybe also I just don't know where Argentina ?


Now this prediction hinges on my believe that changes in particulate pollution plays a huge role in soil dryness. One major way this works is that without particulates diffusing the solar radiation more of it hits the ground in less diffuse form warming the top layer of soil and more importantly causing a secondary effect. With the heating concentrated now at the soil level you have a dramatic increase in the formation of thermals which leads to a large increase in wind speeds esp close to the surface these new stronger surface winds dry the soil more and actually lead to the acting more like a mirror as they become lighter but still hot soil. These winds dry the soil even more. Now my really "outlandish view" is that the soil drying under thermals actually acts like a Fresnel mirror.



Mini dust dunes act to reflect the light horizontally the thermal acts to create a circular wind pattern around the base with wind rushing in form all directions equally. Regardless you get patterning of the surface into light and dark regions which serves to reflect the light back at and angle increasing the solar absorption closer to the ground. Only once the soil is fully dessicated does this effect cease.
Obviously regardless of the details unless grass cover is reestablished quickly desertification is rapid.

Here we find hints of wind speed anomalies during this period.


In particular

We know for a fact that the fast drop in industrial production certainly resulted in lots of wild weather in the following decades.

So yes there are other opportunities. And yes you probably will make money but more importantly if you have the money are are willing to invest in husbanding and renewing agricultural land outside the region I've mentioned it probably will become very valuable. Obvious place are the lower Mississippi the Ohio rive basin and numerous other places with both decent rainfall good soils and irrigation from river water.

I've said enough about Oregon that it should be obvious that I expect the Willamette valley to eventually become important as a basic supplier of crops. As far as eastern Washington and eastern Oregon I really don't know they will suffer similar effects but its a different micro climate.

Not that its without problems.


But in my reading the situation in this area does not seem as dire as in the Great plains.

But its not good either.


This suggests that the well watered western regions will again be called on to provide food and the suburban tracks and horsie estates replaced with productive use. And yes I absolutely hate "horse properties".

memmel / Mike
I find your comment stimulating with many ideas.
There is an interesting chapter on Oglalla irrigation in Geoff Cunfer's 'On the Great Plains'that adds detail to your comment. His expert review as of 2005 concluded that Texas and the southern Great Plains had pretty much drained their end of the Oglalla aquifer, but Nebraska and the north might have a longer trajectory than Texas before irrigation declines, because it has a larger resource to draw from. But Cunfer writes

" Only with the development of underground water were farmers able to surpass the natural limits imposed by low rainfall. Irrigation worked only in conjunction with the development of large amounts of fossil-fuel energy to lift deep water. ... That solution built on technology, a cash economy, and imported supplies of energy, was only temporary. Farmers will eventually use up their underground water supply and will then be pulled back within natural limits imposed by climate. Likewise, interruption in the supply of gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, and electricity would doom irrigation regardless of water supplies. ..."

Hello Memmel,

Thxs for posting this info--I found it utterly fascinating. Makes me wonder if shutting down ag & irrigation in much of Cali so the water can be fed to the cities will also be a jumpstarter to the next Dust Bowl.

I have a question that may seem naive and I have not studied water shortages at all. Would it be possible to divert a river or part of a river into an aquifer?


Peter B.

First, as a new contributor I must say that I absolutely love following The Oil Drum daily.

I do not believe we have yet experienced or even tested the limits of growth from Peak Oil (which I believe happened in 2005 or 2008 depending on how you are measuring). The financial system breakdown and the current recession were caused primarily by promiscuous lending which would have caused difficulties in any era. This is especially true in a period when financial institutions balance sheets have become too intertwined.

In other words, go out and give a lot of people, even non-residents, no income check loans and sooner or later your going to have a lot of defaults. This is supported by the fact that 70% of defaults are by those who admittedly lied on their mortgage applications. Oil prices may have been one contributing factor to the default avalanche but this had to happen anyway and inevitably would cause temporary serious financial systemic disruption.

My other point is that I would like to see or have more discussion about where to invest in a Peak Oil world. It seems to me that as this unfolds there will be only a few practical ways to prepare.

These preparations could include growing your own food or becoming less entrenched in the grid and reducing your footprint. Another way is to prepare financially. In every problem is an opportunity and hopefully society won't totally collapse (I have that speculatively at about 3%) in which case it will be highly beneficial to invest for a future peak oil world.

I currently have 50% energy stocks, 10% in very defensive Reits and 40% in Canadian Bonds (the Canadian dollar has a high correlation to oil prices). I would find it interesting to know what the rest of the community is doing, companies, commodities, gold, other investments etc.


I recommend "hard" assets - food, land, tools, water, materials, and things needed to survive.

Paper assets like stocks, bonds, and money will all become worthless at some point.

I recommend soft assets - skills.

Learn low-tech medicine and medicinal herbs, water supplies and irrigation, surveying, arboriculture, basic wooden construction. If you're inclined, learn counselling, leadership, negotiation, military strategy, metalworking, boatbuilding, working with animals.

Paper representing money (bonds, equity certificates) won't be worth much. Paper in the form of books may have some value. Other hard assets can be "commandeered."

The peak in liquid fuels production seems to have come and gone, but nothing too terrible has happened.

The peak suggests a halfway point, not an end point, so why on earth is something terrible supposed to have happened? If we have used up half of our easily available supply of oil, that suggests that we still have that second half that can be used. Maybe there can be no more growth, only a slow decline, but certainly it does not imply some sort of catastrophe. I am wondering why you expected something terrible to occur?

At this point, it seems to me that we are in the lull before the storm.

What is "the storm" that is supposed to happen? Why must there be a storm? Couldn't there be more moderate and slow behavior?

It appears to me that we have two very different underlying philosophies trying to make "predictions" about what will happen. One philosophy is catastrophism, the other regularism. Catastrophism is the underlying assumption of the creationist theory of life; while regularism is the foundation for the theory of evolution. These may be the two basic metaphysical assumptions underlying worldviews. I wonder how much or how little the facts influence the adherents of either of these two approaches?

I'm not criticizing your assumption, just asking you to be aware that you may be holding to an expectation of catastrophe and storm out of "faith" rather than reason.

A breakdown in the international monetary system could cause a major interruption to trade and start a downward spiral.

Again, a downward spiral of what, or into what? And why should an interruption result in--again I use the term--catastrophe? Why couldn't an interruption be just that, an interruption, like a telephone call when you're eating dinner; it sure doesn't cause a catastrophe, just a bit of annoyance.

And maybe the interruption could lead to a change--a different monetary system, a different system of trade. God knows we trade enough junk as it is, so an interruption would be a blessing. Maybe if we stop trading in worthless dollars and start trading in worthless Yuan, things will get better?

It is my view that because of this networking, all systems will eventually fail together.

On the other hand, maybe instead of failing we'll have people in business and government who realize--finally!--that systems thinking is needed, and we will do away with our short-term, immediate gratification models political and business activities, so instead of failing together they'll get fixed or solved together.

The global peak is not a halfway point, because the backside of the global production curve won't look anything like the front side.

I take it you missed this graph up-thread.

Also, stop and think about paying back your mortgage, if each year you get a pay cut. (Or the federal government, meeting its debt obligations, if each year it collects less taxes). It is not going to work. If you want to think the future is going to work out nicely, think about all of the debt defaults (or perhaps, attempts at inflating away debt). All these problems don't look like much, until you start examining the situation more closely; then they are very apparent.

I take it you missed my post pointing out that the issue is more complex than reindeer eating moss. We humans have a variety of energy resources we can use in a variety of ways, and are not brute animals.

This doesn't mean there can't be a decline, simply that it's unlikely to be as dramatic as reindeer running out of moss to eat.

We don't have a variety of energy sources we can use in a variety of ways. We have seven main energy sources, each of which we can use in very specific and non-varying ways. Coal, petroleum, methane, uranium, solar, wind, and geothermal require specific infrastructures to make energy available, their inputs are non-substitutable at any significant scale, and they are all interdependent on each other.

Further, coal, methane, and geothermal produce mainly electricity and heat. Uranium, solar, and wind produce mainly electricity. Petroleum produces the bulk of all individual, commercial, and industrial transportation worldwide, as well as a staggering array of critical products such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and everything made of plastic.

Yes, the situation is a bit more complex. This increased complexity is what leads us to use over 100 times more energy per person than our tribal ancestors did in order to keep our society running.

The increased complexity and increased energy dependency means a hard crash, probably worse than reindeer eating moss.

I would agree. Built infrastructure is very limiting. It will even be difficult to mine and transport coal, once oil supply is substantially down.

Oops, we have EIGHT main energy sources, I forgot hydroelectric. Sorry to any 'dro fans out there.

We shouldn't expect things to really breakdown near the peak. Afterall, the world is still awash in oil and many other key resources. We should expect global economic growth to stagnate. That's why we can expect a mild economic recovery of some sort.

It's on the downside, maybe 10 years from now, that things will start to get really rough, even if the world wakes up and starts to take this seriously. The standard "Limits to Growth" scenario says the same thing (p. 169 of the 30-year Update): it predicts a crash in the 1920 to 1930 time frame.

Here's the kind of reasoning we're up against: Two nights ago I heard Lord Nicholas Stern (of the UK Stern Report) speak in Seattle. He's a top globe trotting economist who's goal is to simultaneously take on climate change and global poverty. He claims that it will take only 1% or 2% of GDP annually and continued economic growth for a few more decades. In response to my question on Peak Oil and the Limits to Growth scenario, he claimed that growth could continue if we just invested sufficiently in alternative fuels, etc., and that the growth would be necessary to bring the world's poor out of poverty so that they could reduce their birth rate.

It became clear that Stern has the economist's faith that proper investment and technology will rescue us, so that economic growth is a policy choice. He also assumes that the world's poor will have sufficient food and water, so that population control will happen through development, not famine, epidemics, war, etc. His projections appeared to be extrapolation from experience over the past 60 years, without any Limits to Growth type analysis (non-linear interactions, including feedbacks, among Resources, Food, Population, Industrial Production, and Pollution, and their rates of change).

Now I have no doubt that there will be massive investment in alternatives, but that this will become ever more difficult to finance, so that it will likely be too little, too late. To actually see how all this could play out, we'd need a global economic modeling effort that is similar to current global climate modeling, supercomputers and all. Essentially this would be a vast elaboration of the Limits to Growth World3 model, but I don't know of any economist who's trained in this kind of thing. Even the most progressive economists either don't understand the ecological / resource basis of economics or don't have the necessary mathematical knowledge and computer skills.

Meanwhile relocalization and reversion to more primitive technologies will happen naturally as key resources become more scarce, i.e., expensive. But the more severe the shortages, the more difficult it will be to cope in an orderly way with the falling living standards, especially when the poor begin starving and rioting in large numbers. So most effort should go into (1) developing alternative resources, (2) conservation of resources, (3) developing better ways of sharing technology and resources, and (4) an all-out campaign to reduce global population by promoting an average of one child per woman with that child born when the woman is in her thirties. All four efforts must work in tandem, or catastrophic failure is likely, as the Limits to Growth scenarios demonstrate.

simple yet brilliant gail, especially in communicating clearly.

agree on the monetary system; 'we all fall down'. this will be the major dropoff- several stair tumble. ... but it will likely include war- major/international or local- US. at least Orlov sees it mostly as local, i. e. not major nuclear.

gotta survive this part to do the sustainable things; so our plan:

community/small tight group, places to hunker down + food/shelter, etc. Sad we've got ourselves boxed in here; but we are!

also {gail} re 'collapse as inevitable; & we all fall down':


this is by jason godesky

In collapse, all the rules reverse themselves. Sustainabilty becomes not only feasible, but advantageous. Small, egalitarian groups out-compete large, hierarchical ones. Human nature becomes adaptive, rather than something we must suppress. That process is the inevitable end of any civilization, because nothing can grow forever and without limit in a finite universe. Moreover, that process will begin sooner, rather than later. It has already begun, and in all likelihood, most of us alive today will live to see its completion.'

i think jason overstates at times, but is very correct about our civilization failing as a system- like gail[i believe u would say] proposes. the word civilization 'hits' me harder; but i believe is more accurate.

It would cost about $150 Billion/Yr to replace 10% of the World's Petroleum with Bio-refineries.

The GDP of Plantet Earth is about $45 Trillion/Yr. What's that? About 0.003? About three tenths of one percent, annually?

Nah, I don't think we're all gonna die-off over this monkey.

Hello, this is my first post although I have been an avid reader of the Drum for a while.

Peak Oil and the subsequent declines in production pose a lot of questions about how we re-order our civilizations. A lot of energy (pun intended) has gone into thinking about how we deal with re-ordering transportation and heating, which are by far the largest users of oil. However there doesn't seem to have been much debate about how we replace the petrochemical industry's oil dependence and in particular how we continue to produce large quantities of food cheaply without the oil-based fertilizer inputs.

I believe that there will be a growing debate on which sectors of the economy should have first chance on the remaining oil now that we are starting to decline. It would be possible to continue to produce the same amount of fertilizer products and other petrochemical outputs even with a substantially less global production but only at the explicit agreement from the 'transportation consumers'.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how this debate my progress?

Hello HAcland - Some people are suggesting that farming only uses ~10% of oil, or food supply only uses x% more than that, so "therefore" the food will easily be supplied even if oil shrinks by a big percentage, say 50%. They reason that governments will allocate the fuel to the food supply. I'm sceptical of that. It depends on there being someone organising that allocation. It depends on it not being corrupted, such that the rich and powerful get to hog it rather than farmers. It depends on markets not being paralysed by panic. Any thoughts on such notions?

I have a hard time seeing this working out well.

For one thing, public officials have a hard time facing up to problems, so I expect the problem will be unaddressed.

For another , I think that our fertilizer problem is more than replacing nitrogen fertilizer. We also have a problem with phosphorus, and a number of other elements.

We have a two fold problem:
1. The amount of phosphorous available is declining.
2. With lower oil availability, it will be more difficult to mine what is available.

We somehow have to get back to recycling the nutrients in the soil, or we will be losing them to the oceans. To do this, you really need people living in the area where the food is produced, and recycling them locally.

Even if we wanted to allocate enough oil to food, so as to take care of its problems, I doubt that we could do it, because of details like the fertilizer problem.

From financial crisis to global catastrophe

Financial crisis which manifested in the 2008 (but started much earlier) has led to discussion in alarmists circles - is this crisis the beginning of the final sunset of mankind? In this article we will not consider the view that the crisis will suddenly disappear and everything returns to its own as trivial and in my opinion false. Transition of the crisis into the global catastrophe emerged the following perspective:


Hi guys,

First up - farming. We do NOT need to follow established cultural practices with "plowed field agriculture". This is covered in the last part of "A Farm for the Future". This is an important BBC documentary on the subject... you owe it to yourself to watch this if you haven't seen it; it's on the web. What's shown can be summarised as vertical hedge cropping; this gives high yields, demands low acreage and is very low maintenance to boot. This is practical, proven and on film to watch.

Next up - conserving FF at home. Hm. Given that industry, transport, electricity supply systems etc take the bulk of FF - not just the home - then, how can we enjoy a modern industrial society just by economising FF spend in the home? Economies need to happen everywhere; just at the home alone does not solve the problem. I see this as tinkering at the edges, a 10% solution which leaves the other 90% hanging.

Where next? Ah, the finite resource area. This one is straightforward-ish. Consider the present world population and the years-of-resource available. Here is a guess: 500 billion human years. That implies (for argument's sake) that 5 billion people could be kept alive and happy for 100 years - then they "fall off a cliff" (experience a perfect die-off) as resources become 100% destroyed. Given this simplistic model, what sort of world would flow from (say) a worldwide population of: 1 billion, 10 billion, 100 billion? Clearly the world is going to be less ravaged by a lower population and last longer. And that's.... better?

Locked into this is an assumption: we want to live for "longer". Who is to say that's right? Whats wrong with burning the lot ASAP? You still get 500 billion human years of living... and sudden extinction.

Perhaps the world would be best with us gone.

Anyhow, back to the core problems. Humanity is poor at:

a) grasping anything invisible
b) grasping anything occurring on a time frame longer then a few years
c) co-ordinating and organising thoughts, decisions, policies on long time frames
d) refuses to co-operate with each other because "my belief-set is the real one / I'm more important then you / I'm better / more blessed / more needy then you / Anyhow, who cares anyhow about you? / I can't be bothered by you, just give me all your stuff and stop existing"
e) humanity have no widespread education on macro-scale issues.

Our Global economy is at the root of this, for it is designed to devour as much as possible as fast as possible, so to deliver as much profit as possible into the hands of the rich. That speed / churn of wealth (= "velocity" of money) is a deliberate feature and highly desired, for it dumps maximum $$$ into the maws of the rich at a peak rate. Consumption is regulated deliberately to "fastest can-do".

That is the purpose of advertising and marketing; to increase the speed of consumption. And to decrease forward thinking, to distract, to disempower, to decouple the individual from nature, their own enlightened self-interest and to isolate. A nation of predominantly single people buys more washing machines, fridges, cars, furniture then a nation of predominantly large families - who will share resources.

The name of the game is consumerism and is the best-yet model of capitalism. This system delivers the maximum velocity of profit whilst inducing consumer-dependence.

Here is an example. Car engines can be better; here is an internal combustion engine with efficiency x2 of a standard unit, developed by John Archer. But wide-scale introduction of that engine would lower global fuel demand and crimp the velocity of profit i.e. it is not in the system's interest to introduce such a device (see http://web.archive.org/web/20061004093757/http://www.archerengine.dabsol...)

And there we have the rub. We live in an established system which has different motives and drivers to those now appropriate. Until that dichotomy is addressed, progress is limited to the individual, who typically just does not have the resources or skill-base to make it alone.

Most like "the system" would prefer to crash and burn on the grounds that the system does not know what else to do. The system consists of billions of people trained and organised to behave according to the rote, set by the system. Like lemmings, they know no other path then marching ever on (even if it is over a cliff). There is poor - even non-existent - oversight and direction.

To change path will need wide-scale education and most likely an overthrow of those in charge who don't get it; a time of pitch-forks; perhaps even a new Year Zero (think Reign of Terror / Nazis / Khmer Rouge) alas. The system of course would resist; such new times would be seen not as the road to survival but the road to extinction; the new survivalists would be seen as a threat.

I just don't think that change will come about "naturally". We'll need a bigger shock then we've had before habits ingrained get license to change en masse. The system must be seen to fail and do so in a clearly broken-forever style.

Interesting times...



Yes I watched the video of A Farm For The Future.

Here is the catch. England is a small place. They have a certain type of climate.

The USA is very big. We have many diverse climates and soil types.

What works in the video is not a one-for-all-solution. This is not a choice for the whole world either.

It takes a long time for fruit trees to mature. It takes a long time to revert to other forms of 'fiber'. In fact I don't think we could make do with fig leaves any more. So the sheep the woman was raising had good value.

I saw it. I liked it. Will I do it? Not on your life.

I am planting my own berries and fruit trees but just like the massive ice storm killed most my fruit trees. This is part of the problem then. Crazy weather is coming. We already had ours.

It can destroy trees easily. Even a bad spring like we had two years ago and you get ZERO ,,,that is ZERO fruit. Zero ..like ZERO berries.

Have to go dig groundhogs out of the ground then.

Yet its something that many could do...depending on a couple of factors. I just say its not something that I could do here.

Airdale-I don't think there is a 'one size fits all' for homesteading

By class I meant of High School. Sorta defines one.
What they painted on water towers.

Todd and a few others are from the same year of class as I. So I throw it around instead of stating my age.

I am betting your somewhere close to Arkansas or Missouri or possibly Tennessee. Yet I don't note tooo much southern aspect to your commenting.

Airdale-not trying to pin your location down,just midwestern ,southern,etc

Excellent article by Gail. I found it odd so many of the comments missed what I thought was her key point:networked failure. Gail may be premature, she may emphasize one point at the expense of another but I find it hard to ignore her.

Thanks. I think people miss the networking. That is a big reason we can't plan for the next 20 years to look much like the last 20 years.