On American Sustainability - Anatomy of Societal Collapse (Summary)

This guest post by Chris Clugston is a high level summary of a detailed analysis of America’s “predicament” and its inevitable consequences that he also prepared. His complete analysis and associated models, evidence, and references can be found at this link.

On American Sustainability—Anatomy of a Societal Collapse (Summary)

The Real “Inconvenient Truth”

Most Americans believe that we are “exceptional”—both as a society and as a species. We believe that America was ordained through divine providence to be the societal role model for the world. And we believe that through our superior intellect, we can harness and even conquer Nature in our continuous quest to improve the material living standards associated with our ever-increasing population.

The truth is that our pioneering predecessors drifted, quite by accident, upon a veritable treasure trove of natural resources and natural habitats, which they wrested by force from the native inhabitants, and which we have persistently overexploited in order to create and perpetuate our American way of life. The truth is that through our “divine ordination” and “superior intellect”, we have been persistently and systematically eliminating the very resources upon which our way of life and our existence depend.

We now find ourselves in a “predicament”. We are irreparably overextended—living hopelessly beyond our means ecologically and economically—at a time when the supplies of many critical resources upon which we depend will soon be insufficient to enable our American way of life. We are about to discover that we are simply another unsustainable society subject to the inescapable consequence of our unsustainable resource utilization behavior—societal collapse.

America’s Predicament—Societal Overextension

Societal Overextension

Societal overextension occurs when a society’s lifestyle paradigm, its “way of life”, is enabled by the persistent overexploitation of ecological resources and economic resources.

Ecological resource over-exploitation occurs when a society:

• Persistently utilizes renewable natural resources that are critical to its existence—such as water, croplands, grazing lands, wildlife, and forests—at levels exceeding those at which Nature can replenish them;

• Persistently utilizes nonrenewable natural resources that are critical to its existence—such as oil, natural gas, coal, minerals, and metals—which Nature does not replenish; and/or

• Persistently degrades atmospheric, aquatic, and terrestrial natural habitats that are critical to its existence, at levels exceeding those at which Nature can regenerate them.

Economic resources such as income, savings, and debt provide the “purchasing power” that enables people to procure natural resources and the manmade goods and services derived from those natural resources. Economic resource overexploitation occurs when a society:

• Persistently depletes its previously accumulated economic asset (wealth) reserves;

• Persistently incurs intergenerational debt, which it has neither the capacity nor the intention to repay; and/or

• Persistently underfunds investments critical to its future wellbeing.

An overextended society is unsustainable, and will inevitably collapse.

Consequence of American Societal Overextension

As the historically abundant and cheap resources upon which our American way of life depends become increasingly scarce and expensive, a scenario that is already in process, the total level of natural resources and derived goods and services available for our consumption will decline dramatically, as must some combination of our population level and material living standards.

Absent immediate fundamental changes to both our distorted worldview and our dysfunctional resource utilization behavior, American society will collapse—not in 1000 years, or 500 years, or even 50 years; but almost certainly within 25 years. America, as we know it, will cease to exist well before the year 2050.

The Magnitude of America’s Predicament

American Societal Overextension Quantified

The extent to which we are currently living unsustainably beyond our means is appalling.

In an attempt to put the incredible magnitude associated with our predicament into perspective, it is as though we are currently spending $30.40 from a finite, one-time inheritance for each $1 of current income that we earn—almost 97% of our current total consumption level is enabled by our dwindling inheritance. So while we have grown accustomed to living unsustainably on $31.40, we will have to learn to live sustainably on only $1—soon.

The Resolution of America’s Predicament

Sustainability is Inevitable

Most Americans believe that any conceivable problem can and will be resolved through some combination of American ingenuity, technical innovation, hard work, and perseverance. “They”, presumably a different “they” than the “they” who allegedly cause all of our societal level problems, have always developed timely solutions to our problems in the past—and they always will.

Our predicament—irreparable societal overextension resulting from our persistent overexploitation of the increasingly scarce ecological and economic resources that enable our very existence—cannot be resolved within the context of our existing inherently-overexploitive lifestyle paradigm, which is responsible for our predicament in the first place. No amount of ingenuity, innovation, and effort can create unlimited resources on a finite planet.

America’s Choice: Voluntary or Involuntary Transition to Sustainability

There are no other alternatives—we “will be” sustainable, either voluntarily or involuntarily; and we will be sustainable soon. Our maximum attainable population level and living standards at sustainability will be determined by our transition process.

Sustainable American Lifestyle Attributes

Even under the most optimistic scenario, whereby we transition voluntarily to a sustainable lifestyle paradigm, our population level and living standard combinations attainable “at sustainability” will be substantially lower than those that we currently enjoy.

America’s Destiny

We are the hapless perpetrators of our own demise: we are driving full speed on the self-chosen “industrialization” highway toward a minefield of lethal limits to our existing lifestyle paradigm; yet we are culturally incapable of stopping or of exiting from the highway.

America’s Paradox

The cause of our “success” will be the cause of our demise…

America’s culture of persistent resource overexploitation has enabled our historically unprecedented “success”—our extraordinary American way of life. Unfortunately, our culture of persistent resource overexploitation is also responsible for our “predicament”—irreparable societal overextension. And, since we are unwilling to voluntarily relinquish our success in order to resolve our predicament, our culture of persistent resource over-exploitation will be responsible for our inevitable demise—societal collapse.

The ultimate irony is that the more quickly we deplete remaining domestic and global resource reserves in futile attempts to perpetuate our American way of life, the more quickly we will reach a resource limit and trigger our Societal Collapse.

America’s Conundrum

The only rational solution to our predicament, a voluntary transition to sustainability, is an impossible solution…

Our American way of life is enabled almost exclusively by our ever-increasing utilization of nonrenewable natural resources; yet available supplies associated with these resources are finite and are becoming increasingly scarce.

A vast majority of us are “culturally incapable” of acknowledging our predicament, much less taking meaningful action to resolve it—we suffer from societal cognitive dissonance. While we acknowledge that “we have our problems”, we consider the idea that our American way of life is unsustainable to be utterly preposterous. America will continue to grow and prosper forever—because we say it will. Our vested interest in the continued success of our American way of life is simply too great to permit us to consider any argument or evidence to the contrary.

The minority who do acknowledge the reality of our predicament will continue to insist that “they”—our political and economic representatives—“fix it”; when, in fact, we ourselves are responsible for “it”, and for the fact that it cannot be fixed—because we will not allow it to be fixed. Fixing our predicament would require that we live sustainably within our means forever—a “sacrifice” that we consider to be totally unacceptable.

The Unraveling

We will not, therefore, take preemptive action to mitigate the consequences associated with our predicament. We will not choose to modify voluntarily our distorted, cornucopian worldview and our dysfunctional, detritovoric resource utilization behavior.

We will instead continue to use the remaining ecological and economic resources available to us in futile attempts to perpetuate our American way of life—behavior that will become increasingly desperate as we encounter increasingly severe resource supply shortages and disruptions.

We will continue to cling to the deluded belief that we can somehow substitute hope, faith, determination, technical ingenuity, and additional investment for the finite and dwindling resources that enable our unsustainable American way of life.

Warning Signs

From the perspective of mainstream America and our “thought leaders”, both our Last Depression and our Societal Collapse will “arrive without warning” and will “catch us totally by surprise”. We will continue to misconstrue the early warning signs associated with our two impending disasters as “normal cyclical economic activity”.

Rather than sounding alarms and attempting to take meaningful mitigating action, we will instead persist in our futile attempts to remedy the consequences associated with our past overexploitive resource utilization behavior with ever-increasing levels of current and future overexploitive resource utilization behavior. These measures will, at best, temporarily defer our inevitable collapse—they will not “fix” that which cannot possibly be fixed.

“George who?” – Nature

Thanks Chris! This is just part of Chris's 79 page document, available at this link. In that, Chris gives more background and links.

I think all of us hope that things don't turn out quite this badly. I expect people will have a lot of questions.

One thing Chris says is

Rather than sounding alarms and attempting to take meaningful mitigating action, we will instead persist in our futile attempts to remedy the consequences associated with our past overexploitive resource utilization behavior with ever-increasing levels of current and future overexploitive resource utilization behavior.

Chris, do you put building additional wind turbines and associated transmission lines in this category? Or does this relate to cars run through electric batteries? What do you think we should be doing?

I find these kinds of posts interesting but not particularly useful. I don't know what your sources for data are for your charts but it would take some pretty heavy studies to back up your estimated sustainability levels and on the face give no credence at all to the notion that technology provides anything relative to sustainability.

I will have to think about it. At the same time, like the Book of Revelation, some day your 'prediction' will come true. Just like I can begin to predict our sun exploding into a Red Giant. Some day that will come to pass. These kinds of posts remind me of the Woody Allen movie where a fifth grade Woody Allen is sitting in the principals office for refusing to do any homework after he finds out the Sun will one day explode. He looks at everybody and says 'What's the point?'

Does it count for anything that the US controls all the oceans of the world. Given the military position of the US it would tend to make more sense that other societies will collapse as the US hegemony drains their environments to supplement its own. I would tend to see America as the country that circles the drain on the way down if this scenario were to play out. In other words I do not necessarily see the collapse in the US. We are in too dominant a position to allow it to play out as displayed here, it will not just happen.

The only other comment is how lightly populated the US is relative to the rest of the world. I know energy use is high, but the US has more parks than almost anywhere, more unused land. So to look to areas more heavily populated, and I do not see collapse in those heavily populated regions. This is complex and I don't think a chart that shows we are here followed by a straight line down that says collapse really says anything.

AFA data sources, I invite you to check out the "long version". Chapter 7, "Evidence", provides compelling evidence of both ecological overextension and economic overextension. Also please check out the Endnotes--most of my numbers are obtained from the US government--EIA, USGS, Federal Reserve, etc.

AFA our collapse scenario, I agree that specific timing and circumstances are impossible to predict. In a general sense my view is:

I do not believe that the populations of industrialized societies such as America, who take for granted a lifestyle paradigm characterized by “continuously more and more”, will accommodate gracefully the ecological reality of “continuously less and less”. Nor do I believe that the populations of emerging societies, who are now aspiring to lifestyle paradigms characterized by “more and more”, will accommodate gracefully the ecological reality that there are insufficient resources to fulfill their aspirations.

My view is that the populations of both industrialized and emerging societies will fight against each other and among themselves—ultimately to the death—for remaining increasingly-scarce resources, and that the US will be among the most active (and devastated) in this regard.

I hope--every day--that I am wrong...

AFA data sources, I invite you to check out the "long version".

If you have any hope for your work to see a wider audience, keep in mind that "read my 80-page thesis" is not an acceptable response to "where is your evidence".

Your article here had plenty of space for supporting evidence; that it contained none made the article completely unpersuasive. Indeed, quite the opposite: you kept making exceptional assertions and insisting they were "the truth", which is one of the hallmarks of cranks and deluded zealots. That's not to say you are a crank or deluded, simply that your article reads like that.


As far as the evidence in your "long version", you are still confusing "my opinion" with "the truth". For example:

"It is obvious that...our current total debt level is [not] sustainable" (p.41)

Saying that something is obvious to you is not evidence, it's opinion.

Moreover, you make a variety of claims that aren't even true, and insist there are no alternatives; for example:

"Our only options for resolving our social entitlement dilemma are to increase payroll taxes by over 100%, from 15.3% to 33.3% of earnings, immediately and forever; to cut all social entitlement benefits by at least 50%, immediately and forever; to cut all non-entitlement federal government spending by 77.8%, immediately and forever; or some combination thereof." (p.42)

The overwhelming majority of these future costs is medical expenses; the overwhelming majority of those is due to rapid growth in medical spending, only a tiny fraction of which is due to demographics. You can see for yourself from that CBO chart that if healthcare expenses stop growing faster than the rate at which the population is growing and aging - essentially, if current healthcare is maintained forever - then there's no problem.

There doesn't need to be any cut; all that's needed is a slower rate of cost growth (which appears to be happening). So you're factually incorrect when you assert that massive and immediate cuts are the only options.


I could go on like this, but hopefully you get the idea: there's a large difference between "my opinion" and "the truth", and very few people are going to take your document seriously until it clearly distinguishes between the two. You need to support your claims much more tightly with evidence (and don't use end-notes, use foot-notes), and you need to dig down to the source of that evidence, rather than relying on what other people assert. (For example, several of your points cite the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian/anti-government think tank with notorious biases of its own.)

You need to keep asking "why is this the case?" until you dig down to the raw numbers. Nothing less will persuade doubters.

Pitt: I think you're right in sticking your neck out on these points. It's clear that Chris's lack of background in writing up "academic"/"scientific" type articles (rather than waffly glossy management reports) shows up here. I find I agree with most of his conclusions but would have got to them by radically different argument and presentation.

Chris's referring people to his full report is just following of what is the standard practice in many bureaucracies (which are not particularly interested in really informing their readers of what is involved).

Pitt, I remember you thrashing me soundly about the head and shoulders for the very same transgression during my short posting career on TOD. You were right then, and you're right now. This subject brings up strong emotions, and it's hard to resist the temptation to disguise opinions as truth in order to validate the emotions. I plead retrospectively guilty to that charge.

Well, it's quite obvious to me that our current debt level is not sustainable. I'd like to see a realistic scenario that demonstrates that it is sustainable.

On the contrary. As to national debt, it *is* sustainable, after all, we're not in default at this point. If we cut off our deficits, and are able to refinance at current interest rates, the debt will be sustainable for 30 or 40 years. It's possible, with a decrease in spending, to reduce the debt.

The part that isn't sustainable is Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. The solution to the projected Social Security shortfall is to revise the actuarial assumptions about Social Security to the equivalent of where they were in 1937, where the life expectancy was 59 years, whereas now median life expectancy is almost 20 years greater. This might mean setting the retirement age for people who were born in, say, 1948 and beyond to 75 years of age. It could also spell the end of the Social Security Disability Income program, and benefits to dependents. As for Medicare/Medicaid, the program faces imminent insolvency, so the solution might be a lot more drastic, perhaps involving the drafting of doctors and medical personnel into the Public Health Service (whose chief officer is the Surgeon-General) and the provision of medical care at reduced pay. Actually, what's more realistic is that the medical-industrial complex will collapse, being unable to sacrifice the smallest amount of its prerogatives, perhaps aided by persistent and incurable insolvency on the part of third-party insurors.

Thanks Pitt. It's remarkable how often you say more or less the same thing I would.

Caveat, I have not yet read Chris's pdf. Chris's post follows The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update which shows many different scenarios and that collapse is the likely outcome of most. I strongly recommend this book.

A bit disappointing that the post equates living standard with consumption, much of which is unnecessary.

Whilst very American centric applies to all of us, population and consumption can't continually keep growing. There is plenty of room for spending cuts, just to take one example America's military (not confusingly called defense!) spending is slightly less that the rest of the world combined.


Thanks for taking your time, and for your comments.

Re: the lack of references in the "short version"; Gail had asked me to limit my post to 2000 words--it was just under that number as I submitted it to her... There are so many references and so much evidence, I decided that it was best to summarize my case in the post, and refer interested readers to the "long version" for the details.

The comments you selected regarding our fiscal unsustainability are interesting. The conclusions are not mine; they are those of folks like David Walker (ex-Comptroller General of the US) and the "Trustees" (lead by the Treasury Department) who put together the yearly assessment of social entitlement program viability. Check out the references in the "endnotes"; it's all in there!

Pitt, I agree we all want certified evidence. Chris, like any supporting evidence, the conclusions are arrived at by making assumptions about what evidence is admissible to the discussion. So to that point I ask:

Given that nearly all resources are in fact abundant on the Earth, but not necessarily easily accessible, the ultimate question is: Do we have enough cheap energy to make acquiring those critical resouces economically feasible?

I am a supporter of renewable energy as a long term sustainable power source, but in reality renewables are insufficient to provide for the energy needs of a resource starved world.

Thus some flavor of Fast Neutron Reactors is needed if we are to avoid undershooting the "Sustainable Population and Living Standard" level.

Ultimately long term, no matter what we do, if we do not address the collective birth control issue, overshoot and undershoot seem like a given.

Politically a massive Fast Neutron Reactor construction program seems unlikely. Any delay will only hasten the overshoot.

So I would personally like to see a post directed specifically at the issues related to Sustainability and the expediting of massive Fast Neutron Reactor construction.

Chris, Thanks for the broad overview of this pertinent topic!

Pitt - You do yourself a disservice by not reading the entire 77 page PDF. While the paper excites the emotions in a number of ways due to overreach in some depicted scenarios, Chris is to be commended for an excellent and well researched paper.

With respect to your point about the present and future fiscal state of US entitlement programs, I think you are way too optimistic. Perhaps Chris' "opinion" on Americans' view of our special place in the world hit a nerve with you.

I suppose I should let Pitt speak for himself, but 1) it's clear that he did read the whole thing, and 2) I felt the same way - see my comments below on energy and minerals.

As to US entitlement programs, I have to disagree. The US has an actuarial problem: entitlements are scheduled to grow, and the US can't afford that. The simple answer: stop the growth. Easy to do (just takes legislation - there's no guarantee to Social Security or Medicare benefits), and there's an easy method: just make eligibility ages rise as life expectancy rises. Easy.


Thanks for the post!

The answers to your questions are covered in detail in the "long version" of my paper. My thoughts on renewable energy sources start on page 34; and my thoughts on what we should be doing start on page 25. (Is that an inducement to read the whole thing, or what?!)

But the short answer to the first question is - Renewable energy initiatives, while essential to our sustainable future, must be presented, evaluated, and assessed objectively—from the perspective of their economic return on investment (ROI), their energy return on investment (ERoEI), and their scalability. While it is true that renewable energy sources will provide all of the energy in our sustainable future, it is also true that renewable energy sources will never supply more than a small fraction of the total energy to which we have become accustomed and upon which our American way of life depends.

To the second - The only rational solution to our predicament is an American Cultural Revolution (ACR), during which we transition voluntarily, quickly—within 25 years—and beginning immediately, from our unsustainable American way of life to a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle paradigm—-a lifestyle paradigm in which we will live within our means ecologically and economically, forever.

Among the most salient ACR requirements: we must change fundamentally both our existing worldview and our existing resource utilization behavior; we must use remaining resources to facilitate our transition process, rather than waste them on futile attempts to perpetuate our unsustainable American way of life; and we must all participate—an ACR is an all-or-nothing proposition.

We live in a dynamic, chaotic world and I would postulate that living 'sustainably' is impossible if you mean a static level of consumption per head of population effectively forever.

Let's take the scenario where we attempt BAU as long as possible and hit some cliff -there will be huge resources remaining for any survivors. So this is not a steady state as they can then use these resources to expand. If on the other hand we attempt to transition to renewables the world is awash with energy -200 times more solar energy hits the Earth than humanity uses- so although we again might see a die off ultimatley we would expand into this massive supply until we hit some other non-sustainable impediment.

So my question to you is what exactly do you mean by 'sustainable'?


I thought the point had already been cleared up on tod that even though there is this huge surplus solar energy coming in, there is little prospect of the huge ready capacity to harvest it, in which case it means diddly-squat. Or are you playing a cracked record here?

Actually, no. That hasn't been cleared up at all.

If you want to discuss it, though, I'd focus more on wind, because the case for wind's success is far clearer. Multiple posts on TOD have shown it has high E-ROI, current large scale, and scalability to provide most of the energy we need.

Ok. Though from my own reading of previous TOD I got the impression, perhaps false, that both wind and solar would depend on substantial oil inputs for their construction and maintenance, to the extent that they would not be anything like as fab as might otherwise appear. I think I recall Gail considering them to be more like investments of foss-fuels rather than genuinely 'renewables'. Anyway, this probably isn't the ideal location to re-discuss such an important and complex question -- beyond perhaps adding some links in support of your last sentence above.

That is a thesis of one poster with some followers here.

Yes, the wind turbine manufacturer work force drives to work (the USA ones anyway) today. This does not mean that they could not 1) bicycle or 2) take a streetcar or 3) take an EV to work in the future.

Oil will become scarcer but not disappear for many decades. Work arounds exist today and will be progressively implemented if social organization does not collapse.


I don't think the transportation of the workforce is the issue. Truly sustainable windmills or solar panels will have to be manufactured, installed and maintained using the power from those same windmills and solar panels. As now, we get what is left.

Wind turbines produce electricity, so what you're saying is that we'll need to do these things with electricity.

Well, most manufacturing is powered by electricity right now, so that's straightforward.

Installation (transport and construction) takes a very small amount of liquid fuel, and that eventually will be electrified.

Maintenance takes a tiny amount of energy, and also eventually will be electrified.

we get what is left.

Given that wind has a very high E-ROI, that's no problem.

In the discussion there are some links to EROEI just after Gail asked this question.

About 2-5% of the energy used in manufacturing and installing turbines is for transportation, including transport of overseas components. This may be a bit high now because larger turbines are assembled closer to final sites. Larger turbines also have a much higher EROEI paying back energy uses in weeks or months. If you include the potential energy used by the workers employed ( ie personnel use based on value of turbines and energy/GDP) the energy payback is still less than 2 years.

You can do a few calculations about how much energy would be used to maintain all of the HV transmission lines in US(250,000 miles) assuming every pylon is inspected once a week by a 4 wheel drive crew, say 50,000 miles of travel per day at 1gallon diesel/25 miles= 2,000 gallons/day or 40 barrels/day(or I could be out by a factor of X10 lets say 400 barrels/day) compare this to 19,000,000 barrels/day used for transport in US, hard to see oil companies being excited about wind energy investments. It would be hard to think of what genuinely renewable would have to be if wind power doesn't quality. The biggest use of oil would be for lubrication of those turbines with gearboxes. Nick's point below about most of this EI being electricity is important for long term outcomes.

Neil1947: Thanks for carefully presenting this account. Just it appears to be bypassed into irrelevance by Rockman's proposed apology by Gail once someone starts spending the 10's of billions required to make it actually happen. Point is that technological feasibility counts for nothing if funding is not going to forthcome.
The project of my 2004 book www.lulu.com/content/140930 was designed to address the problem that "so many sound ideas....continue to be ignored...".

And on that basis, pending Gail having to send in that apology, my point appears to remain standing that:

there is little prospect of the huge ready capacity to harvest it, in which case it means diddly-squat.

Here you are living through the worst recession in 80 years, and what is happening about renewable energy? Last 3 months 2,800 MW of wind capacity was built, another 3,000 MW under construction. How does that compare with similar Q1 2008 before recession really started to bite, Q1 2008, 1,400MW completed, and about 3,000MW under construction.
Also some major solar energy projects http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/05/arizona-largest-solar-plant.php

It may well be that some projects have been delayed or canceled due to financing problems, but wind turbine parts were back-ordered to 2011 and now costs for steel and cement have declined.

It's happening now! this seems to be one sound idea that isn't being ignored, you are fortunate that you now have a leader who is supporting renewable energy 100%.

Here's a good article on solar PV:

"The economics of solar power are changing rapidly. And if the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development (PI) is right that solar module prices will fall more than 50% by 2012, grid parity will be achieved across many parts of the US."


The article cited claims grid parity in 2012 based on the anticipated cost of fossil fuel electricity midway through the life (i.e. in 2024) of the newly installed PV panels. Get serious.

I'm not sure what you feel is "un-serious". Do you disagree that electricity prices are likely to continue to rise?

Grid parity in 2024 in not the same thing as grid parity in 2012. Taking economic comfort in the fact that in three years time installing expensive PV generation will be our best option because of unstoppable energy price rises for a long time into the future does not seem very smart.

Well, that exaggerates the importance of the assumption of rising electricity prices.

The fact is, that PV grid-parity is beginning to emerge right now for a very few specific applications and locations. This will just expand over the coming years, and the assumption of rising power prices will only change the inflection point by 2-3 years.

Also, keep in mind that this is the unsubsidized price, which doesn't reflect any of the externalities, like CO2, sulfur, etc, etc.

The fact is, that solar is here: as production expands, prices will continue to fall, and demand will rise explosively.

It would be hard to think of what genuinely renewable would have to be if wind power doesn't quality

Hydroelectric is even better. And the USA has enough hydroelectric for "essential demand" in large areas of the USA.


Alan, what's the best source/explanation for that? Is there a good explanation of how it would satisfy those who have been opposing new hydro and pushing to dismantle old?

Most of the civil works for a dam will last centuries or millennium. One Chinese dam is about 4,000 years old. Earthfill dams get stronger over time.

If the reservoir fills up, the site can be converted to "run-of-the-river" powerplant by reworking the intakes.

"Good practice" is to rebuild the generator & turbine every 50 years; but many last longer than that. North Korea and Albania (in their decades of isolation) keep hydropower plants going with "minimal inputs".

Once built, minimal inputs required for centuries. Lots of power can be produced.

Best Hopes,


Ah. I thought you were saying that hydro could be expanded substantially in the US. 6% of current KWHs (248TWhrs/4,157) isn't nothing, but it's not quite as large as suggested by " enough hydroelectric for "essential demand" in large areas of the USA."

Depends on what defines as essential demand.

Some lighting (8 watt CFLs ?), refrigeration on the commercial & retail level at least, washing clothes with electricity is MUCH easier than the other way, some microwave cooking even. Machine tools, electrified railroads as well.

And the numbers a net loss from pumped storage (why hit hydro with that ?).

Some new small hydro in the USA and more large hydro from Canada (Manitoba is shopping 5 GW ATM).


These posts are really nice, but some comments are so naive that they actually reflect that naive American mentality that the author described so well... Many American are indeed naive (but not only Americans as this is a global issue). I think that the main contribution of this work is, in fact, to push the Americans (and not only) to think by using strong language and pictures. The author did a good job in this sense!

You don't need big numbers and equations (I am a mathematician btw) here to see the extent of the problem. You are speaking about building a network of wind power generators able to sustain the current lifestyle in the US. This is amazingly naive.

Have you any clue of how many different materials you need to put up even just one of these generators? First of all steel, do you know the temperature needed to bake steel? And you want to reach that temperature with wind power? Assuming that you are going to use the last remaining oil for baking the steel and care about manufacturing/maintenance of your fabulous network. Do you know that in order to transmit electricity over large distances you have to put the hell of a current in the cables otherwise it's all dissipated on the way after a few KMs? Are you going to put a wind generator every 5 KM^2? And when there is no wind? How are you going to power machinery for mineral extraction (assuming that some mineral is left), how are you going to guarantee basic services such as air transport? Do you realize to which extent our society relies on air transport? Do you know how long it takes to bring a letter for NY to LA without a plane? Or are you going to keep internet up? How? How do you dig and lie the cables? With DC powered excavators? Batteries today can barely keep up my pc for 3 hours and can push a plastic car at 70km/h!!! Is that enough? How do you manufacture the cables? How do you harvest mineral resources from all around the world? Hu yeah, with the US army, well you will need a big deal of oil as well, cause fighters and tanks are not working on DC. Furthermore, how do you deliver food? Have you any idea of how much oil the world food logistic network requires? I do research on this topic and two words must suffice to you: "A LOT".

This is not to be pessimistic and to speak like if I write the "Book of Revelation". But here we have a clear and well defined problem. Resources are running out and the impact of this depletion is clearly visible worldwide (otherwise we wouldn't be here to discuss). According to many respectable research articles, resources will become scarce within our lifetime. Up to now noone came up with a feasible solution. Feasible is not, we put up a solar/wind/whatever network. Feasible means that we achieve the same EROEI as OIL and we have got the same transportability, flexibility (think about the fact that oil is also used for making fertilizers, pesticides, and thousands of other essential things you need to sustain 5 BILLION people on this tiny Earth) and AVAILABILITY.
The problem is indeed "can we make it without oil?". The likely scenario is that we won't make it. Occam's razor is clear, the simplest answer is always the correct explanation. If you come up with a complex, tricky, and most of all vague and simplicistic explanation of how you are going to sustain our society without oil, well that's not the answer, the answer is that our society will collapse.

The fact is that, indeed, we are going to collapse if we carry on like we are doing now... the point is to prove that we have a workaround! When you are ill, it's pointless to point the finger against the doctor, you have to get a cure as soon as possible, before it's too late!

You don't need big numbers and equations (I am a mathematician btw) here to see the extent of the problem.

Actually, you do.

do you know the temperature needed to bake steel? And you want to reach that temperature with wind power?

Sure. Did you know that the primary energy source for steel mills is...electricity??

More later...

All of the steps required are perfectly doable with available resources.

Your lack of technical knowledge may make them seem intimidating. They are really not.

The resources devoted to supporting & expanding Suburbia are >> than those required to build a reasonable renewable future.

Best Hopes for 3 TW of wind turbines and a North American HV DC grid.


Alan, you meant to reply to Gwren, and replied to me by mistake.

You might want to repost your reply to Gwren, to make that clearer to readers.

It is you who is showing a lack of knowledge about the world around you now in 2009. Wind power exists in the US, and is transmitted over long distances by HV transmission lines. Battery operated vehicles exist today that go more than 70km/h( actually more than 110km/h).
Wind turbines have a very high EROEI probably higher than oil extracted from US in 2009. Fertilizer is made form natural gas but can be made form electricity, see today's post. When you say "resources are running out" you probably are thinking of FF resources such as oil. We have been discussing resource depletion since at least "The Limits of Growth" was published in 1972, so far we haven't run out of any mineral resources, but will probably soon find oil less available than it has been in the past.

Thanks to you all for your answers :)

I thought I was late and the discussion was far too quick, instead someone read me ;)

I will answer only to Neil, cause he seem to summarize all the criticism above.

"Wind power exists in the US, and is transmitted over long distances by HV transmission lines."

I really cannot think about a non-hybrid wind network able to transmit over significant distances in a reliable way. Electricity CAN be produced from wind, that is out of doubt, the problem is HOW MUCH ELECTRICITY we can produce and is that enough to support suburbia? The point is that YOU are proposing this thesis, that it is possible, so YOU should provide data to support it, not just say "hey may I have a wind generator behind my house and it generate electricity". It is funny how people reverse the notion of "mathematical" proof on the oil drum. I know that OIL can support suburbia, I am not really sure that electricity can achieve that... numbers please...

"Battery operated vehicles exist today that go more than 70km/h( actually more than 110km/h)."

Battery operated vehicle DO NOT HAVE enough power to perform any work such as transporting and lifting heavy loads. I have never seen a battery operated CAT. I agree that there exists some very light prototype able to achieve 110... so is this invalidating my claim on the fact that you cannot rely on batteries for construction works or for transporting say 70 people on a bus at 110k/h?

"When you say "resources are running out" you probably are thinking of FF resources such as oil. We have been discussing resource depletion since at least "The Limits of Growth" was published in 1972, so far we haven't run out of any mineral resources, but will probably soon find oil less available than it has been in the past."

I know the limits to growth very well... I perfectly know that it is a capacity problem the one we are facing and not a problem of running out of something. Still, do you seriously think that when the world oil production will decline, you will be able to get oil as easily as today, but just in less quantity? I hope you are dreaming... people will fight like hell to get what remains!!! The cost will be prohibitive to allow any economic activity in the best scenario. In the worst... then war is the issue.

Battery operated vehicle DO NOT HAVE enough power to perform any work such as transporting and lifting heavy loads.

This is completely unrealistic. Electric power trains power freight trains, US military tanks, etc, etc.


Here is my definition of "sustainable", as it pertains to a society or population:

A sustainable society utilizes renewable natural resources exclusively, at levels less than or equal to the levels at which they are replenished by Nature; by extension, a sustainable society degrades natural habits at levels less than or equal to the levels at which they are regenerated by Nature—forever. All other resource utilization behavior, and all human societies that engage in this behavior, are unsustainable—period.

My view is that we don't really have a choice regarding whether or not we'd like to be sustainable; we'll either transition voluntarily to a sustainable lifestyle paradigm, or Nature will do it for us--horrifically. My money is on the second scenario!

This is a worthless definition for anything except the most abstract mind game theories.

Humanity can, and will, operate quite successfully with some minimal use of "non-sustainable" resource extraction for the next several thousand years.

For example, if coal use (to pick a bad resource extraction) is reduced to 1% of current levels (perhaps easier than charcoal for carbon steel), humanity will have thousands of years of coal left. And no noticeable climate impact by burning the coal.

There are lands that have been farmed for at least 4,500 years. Not "sustainably", but they have a few thousand years left.

Making decisions today because conditions in the year 4309 will force us to is not even prudent. Only a very few decisions need to consider impacts beyond a century in the future (and none past a half millennium that I can think of).

I appreciate the effort you have put forth, but you apparently think only in absolutes (X will not work do we must then go immediately to -X) with a bias towards the negative.

Your immediate conclusion that the USA cannot have better health care for less $ was clearly wrong (as I demonstrated with other nations). You appear to make the same limiting judgments in your long paper.

Best Hopes for Realistic Planning and Advocacy,


Nick asked for my definition of "sustainability" and I gave it to him. I never implied that "unsustainable" societies cannot and have not existed for long periods of time--they have! As you point out, agrarian societies are unsustainable, yet some have existed for centuries or more. Depending on soil quality and soil management techniques, it can sometimes take quite awhile to extract all of the nutrients--but it will happen eventually...

The issue with industrialized societies such as ours is that we are so overextended--dependent upon many nonrenewable resources, the supplies of which are unsustainable--that we are in a metaphorical sense driving full speed toward a minefield. We might be clever enough to dodge some of the mines, but we will not be able to dodge them all.

We need not experience exhaustion in all or even any of these resources in order to experience societal collapse--a permanent shortfall in a single critical nonrenewable resource, such as oil, could probably do the trick!

Hi Chris

There is strong evidence just above in some of the posts of the societal cognitive dissonance to which you refer. I recently finished a sustainability Masters degree; and I covered much of the material in your post at an academic level. The people who posted above know, at least intuitively, that we are suffering from oil depletion and that climate change is a serious risk management issue that is not being addressed. They may know about issues such as food shortages and what lies behind them. They will also be aware of conflict around the world and what is driving it. Failing to connect the dots between these issues, for they are all linked, is a good example of the cognitive dissonance we are talking about. Each of these issues is different and separate in most peoples minds; and they think a set of actions (no doubt according to their own political belief system) can fix each problem on its own, when of course systemic change is needed.

It all comes down to the scary fact that humans are in ecological overshoot. My children, (16, 13 and 9) will suffer the period when the die-back starts and that fact is deeply depressing for me. Mitigation is possible, but like you, I see scant evidence that we even recognize the problem, let alone are willing to do anything about it. Societal collapse is not new. It has happened many times before. What is different this time round is that it will be almost global. I am in awe of the grand arrogance we display. We think that all our knowledge and technology makes us smarter. But it doesn't; and deep down most people on this site know this is true.

BTW the Book of Revelations doesn't recognize overshoot. It was irrelevant in all previous societal collapses and is irrelevant now.


Thanks for your time and for your comments.

I'd be interested to know more about your formal education in "sustainability"; we didn't have such when I went to school! (Wish we would have!)

My kids are a bit older than yours, but I feel the same way. They were actually a primary motivator in my quest to research our predicament.

The interesting thing to me about impending societal collapses such as ours is that human societies have never been overextended to the extent that industrialized societies such as the US are today. When H-G or agrarian societies crashed, they didn't have that far to fall. If we're overextended on the order of 30 to 1, as my numbers suggest, we've got a LONG way to fall!!


Pink floyd

Standing still and waiting is the hardest thing to do

Administration Official "Chrysler Bankruptcy Could Last Two Years"
Posted by Tyler Durden at 8:59 AM
And so the backpedaling begins. Bloomberg quotes an administration official who has stated that the D-3's "bankruptcy might take as long as two years, not the two months President Barack Obama suggested as a target."

How long for GM!?

Trying to put a happy face on a grim situation, continuing to do things which are transparent attempts to instill false confidence, and leaving in power the people who caused the crisis reinforces the market's convictions that (1) government and business leaders are behaving irresponsibly instead of addressing the fundamental problems and (2) there is no accountability.

So people's trust declines still further, thus substantially delaying any chance of a sustainable economic recovery. In other words, by trying too hard to instill confidence, the powers-that-be actually undermine it and exacerbate the financial crisis.

Keeping quiet about how bad things are won't help. As the leading independent economists and financial experts all agree, the three things that will help are:

1. Honestly addressing the causes of the crisis;
2. Honestly addressing the necessary - if bitter - medicine needed to get out of the crisis; and
3. Holding responsible those who caused the crisis.


So people's trust declines still further, thus substantially delaying any chance of a sustainable economic recovery. In other words, by trying too hard to instill confidence, the powers-that-be actually undermine it and exacerbate the financial crisis.

Owing to [...] misunderstanding of the causal chains between policy and actions, we can easily trigger Black Swans thanks to aggressive ignorance—like a child playing with a chemistry kit.

Quotes From the Black Swan (written b. 2003-2006) that the IMBECILES did not want to hear


mcgowanmc in your post you said....

"Keeping quiet about how bad things are won't help. As the leading independent economists and financial experts all agree, the three things that will help are:

1. Honestly addressing the causes of the crisis;
2. Honestly addressing the necessary - if bitter - medicine needed to get out of the crisis; and
3. Holding responsible those who caused the crisis....."

Just a curious idea occurred to me....if all the doom and gloom are already on their way, as many posters here seem to acknowledge, then what exactly is the point to the third item in your list?? Wouldn't that just tie up resources that would be better aligned to saving our collective a$$. And if you do spend time and money going after the perps, I curiously wonder, would these people be in the 82% who stay or the 18% sent offshore....(TIC - gives a new meaning to 'offshoring'). (There's also the distinct possibility that we all would have to leave as the awakening to the problem has probably taken many of us some time to realize, therefore our past behavior might be somewhat culpable to being part of the cause)

Now all that said, what are the proposed solutions? One thing I continually see is very intelligent discussion, some rants, and parsing of the data on most all TOD posts, but often not much in posted, take the bull by the horns, solutions. A plan that has traction, it seems to me, is one that begins before the "the three things that will help", which for me, is primarily led by.....

1) Honestly admitting we have a problem.

....yes, that does sound like a 12 step program, which IMO is probably a good place to start.

Short of a bunch of folks going into survivalist mode, how can we get folks focused on a sustainable future and move the masses that way. Call me a manager, but focus on solutions is more effective than focus on fault, at least in my experience.

And forgive my novice question, but is there a place on TOD to share such?

Some possible other ways to share...

Sharing Sustainable Solutions
Northwest Institute


Thoughts? Always and forever more. ;}

The development comes as dealer representatives have stepped up lobbying in Washington to try to slow down closures they estimate would cost 200,000 dealership jobs.

Just a curious idea occurred to me....if all the doom and gloom are already on their way, as many posters here seem to acknowledge, then what exactly is the point to the third item in your list?? Wouldn't that just tie up resources that would be better aligned to saving our collective a$$."

No. Like leaving termites in the foundation that you're rebuilding.

And, if you're not rebuilding then you still have to move the foundation out of the way. One or the other.

And the problem has to be neutered. At the least. Or what's to stop
the $$$ Resources from being taken and squandered still?

"Now all that said, what are the proposed solutions? One thing I continually see is very intelligent discussion, some rants, and parsing of the data on most all TOD posts, but often not much in posted, take the bull by the horns, solutions."

Again. The importance of ridding the foundation of termites.
How can we have a "solution" if the problem is still amonst us?

And I've got a solution. Stand Still. For now. But only for now.

Then think trains and rollind stock and bicycles. Mules
and maximum people in a completely revised agbizness.

"No. Like leaving termites in the foundation that you're rebuilding.."

I like that metaphor....and I agree that there is a problem with the $$ being drained away via those same "termites", however, are the $$ drained going after the termites versus the $$ drained by the termites relatively the same AND still, in either case, the focus is on the....termites? rather than solutions?

To use your foundation metaphor, it seems that we need to move the foundation anyway. That is a HUGE paradigm shift on so many levels. A gross simplification is like making the world work by moving from a Friedman model to a more Keynesian model (apologies to the economics folks here - flame away if you wish). Fast Forward a few decades to the grinding halt of industrialization based on oil and don't you have a situation where the $$ become irrelevant? Really, what is the medium of exchange? IMO, at that point, going after the perps seems as effective as witch trials - no one wins. So, given the slant in the current legal system (towards thems that have) it will likely be lots of $$ and lots of time before any "justice" is served, if it gets served at all.

Maybe you are suggesting that we 'keep em busy' (like a kind of termite bait)while real effective change can be taken??

I agree with you on the light rail, community agbusiness and bicycles...and, I would add, embracing the local farmer. (I don't own a mule, but could be convinced to own a draft horse) I do see a place for local cooperative land-based communities.

From a certain perspective it seems that computer networking models provide a framework to view the needed change. Over the years, it seems, that computing has moved from a central processor strategy to a distributed processing strategy. From my perspective, (Self)Governance will need to move that way if we have a chance at sustainability....and systems thinking will have to take precedence over the profit motive.

Thanks for the spark... ;-)

"Now all that said, what are the proposed solutions?...And forgive my novice question, but is there a place on TOD to share such?"

Yes, the Campfire on Saturdays generally has solution-orientated discussions. Lots of good ideas, I am planning to print out ALL the Campfire sessions and comments, and bind them into a book for my growing transition library.

Gosh Gail. You and Chris are such whiners. Just teasing. Unfortunately it’s difficult to disagree with much of his analysis. Coincidently, just this morning I received a joke from a friend that may highlight a factor which could make adjustments all the more difficult. Though I am now a card-carrying member of the OFS (Old F_rt Society) this isn’t coming from that perspective. The joke essentially highlights all the terrible conditions folks of our generation suffered through: mothers who drank and smoked while pregnant, no car seats for babies, no antibacterial hand wipes, etc, etc. You can imagine the long list of “horrors” the older generations not only survived but excelled in spite of. It’s not difficult to see daily examples of the younger generations’ potential to not deal effectively with future hardships.

And I don’t blame them. It’s our own doing. We moms and dads struggled to provide a better world for our kids. It would appear to be an unsustainable better world but we didn’t think in those terms “back in the day”. Just an unprovable hypothesis but had we run into the Unsustainability Brick Wall in the early 1900’s it’s not difficult to imagine the situation being handled better then what we might imagine will occur over the next 20 to 30 years. Again, not an indictment of the younger half of our society but of us elders. Not only have we not prepared ourselves for such a future but have shielded our offspring and thus impeded their coping skills. I’m as guilty as any. I continue to strive to give my 8 yo daughter a better life then I had growing up. Though I may offer her verbal lessons regarding potential hard times down the road, it doesn’t match the learning curve of suffering through bad times herself. IMO it’s the father/daughter paradigm which is the worst case scenario…we are such a soft touch.

There may be a small portion of the younger population that is acknowledging the unsustainability conversation and may envision dealing with the decline. But it’s still not the same as having a first hand experience dealing with a world deficit of what most consider basic needs. I have a fairly well developed set of survival skills. I can spend days explaining to my daughter what to do in this event or that. But that doesn’t compare to the actual experience of sitting under a tree in a cold drizzling rain trying to light a fire when everything is wet. At times like that it’s not so much a matter of skill sets as one’s mental attitude. I suspect emotional responses to the pending predicament will overshadow the actualities of the situation. There may be steps which could be taken to effectively deal with the unsustainability issue but, as with many of the other potential “solutions” for a variety of our problems, a lack resolve will defeat the best of plans.

Rock on, Rockman!

Agree 100% that it'll be lack of resolve that gets us in the end; who in their right mind wants to give up our American way of life? Not me! Problem is, I don't think we have a choice...

I could resist

You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down t' mill, fourteen hours a day, week-in week-out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home our Dad would thrash us to sleep wi' his belt.
Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at six o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of 'ot gravel, work twenty hour day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would thrash us to sleep with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!
Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to 'ave to get up out of shoebox at twelve o'clock at night and lick road clean wit' tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit' bread knife.
Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.
And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.

Brilliant Rockman! I am also an Old Fart (kids 16, 13 and 9) who has raised a bunch of kids I love dearly; and who are being well educated; but are at the same time incapable of living in the bush on their own, even over-night.

I understand, deeply, sitting in the dark and drizzle trying to make a fire burn. It is a singular life experience that a "Camping Gaz" mini stove and Gore-tex has obliterated since those cold damp night times we spent all those years ago.

Well that was a cheerful dose of early morning reality with which to start the day!

So now I can add Chris Clugston to my Chris list :-)

Chris Jordan and Chris Martenson...any other good Chrises out there?

Sorry to be a wet blanket (understatement of the year!!)! I realize that my message is not one that people particulary want to hear... Hoping to spend the rest of my life proving myself wrong!!


Thanks Chris---
I will need to digest it fully.
The resource links look like a wealth of info--

Interesting post. I feel inclined to take with a grain of salt given the dire predictions. One point on which we agree: we are living an unsustainable lifestyle based on the given criteria.

An unknown that I don’t see discussed here is how much of our lifestyle is “trivial overhead”. We saw a little bit of this when oil shot up over $100/barrel- people adjust mostly by conserving. It seems to me that gratuitous consumption would act also as a buffer to cushion any collapse. In other words, we can get by just fine by consuming a lot less, even if we are compelled to do it, without collapsing the society. The question is- how much of a buffer is that?

By my calculations, we're "overextended" on the order of 30:1--meaning that about 3% of our total consumption level is sustainable and 97% is not--we ain't even close!!

But it's not even a question of "cutbacks" so much as it is an entire change of culture--of our worldview and resource utilization behavior. Cutting back, yet retaining the same unsustainable resource mix (largely nonrenewables) merely defers collapse rather than averting it.

Not saying that we will--actually saying that we won't--but we would have to decide voluntarily to live sustainably within our means--forever, which means:

Utilizing renewable natural resources exclusively, at levels less than or equal to the levels at which they are replenished by Nature; and degrading natural habits at levels less than or equal to the levels at which they are regenerated by Nature—forever. All other resource utilization behavior is unsustainable—period.

My guess is that we're not about to do that!!

You can think of it in parallel to the terms of the current financial crisis...

In that case, many firms leveraged their investments on the order of 30x to purchase the various "toxic" assets. At these levels of leverage, "toxic" would include pretty much anything that had any chance of losing value, at all. A loss of just 3% in the value of the underlying assets, essentially wipes out 100% of the book value because you can't pay off the leverage. The results, as we have all seen, then cascade through the financial and economic systems.

We have leveraged our real, physical, natural, sustainable environment something like 30x. At this level of leverage, the destruction of just 3% of the real backing assets (sustainable resources) essentially wipes out 100% of the perceived value (our current lifestyle/standard of living). The result of our leveraging nature is also going to cascade through our systems and, given that all other systems are essentially subsets of the natural system, very few systems (none?) will escape the impact.

The parallel is obviously not exact. But, given the pain being inflicted by the current financial crisis and resulting economic situation, if the parallel is even a little accurate you really don't want to go there.



Another parallel, or metaphor, would be the "savings account" metaphor. For each $100 we spend, approximately $97 is coming out of a finite and dwindling savings account, and $3 is coming from currently earned income.

Once the savings account runs out, which will unfortunately happen in the not-too-distant future, we'll have to live exclusively on currently earned income--$3!!

Like I say, we're not even close to being sustainable!!

For those who think we are capable of doing an about face, I offer exhibit A - today's NYTimes fashion article on men's clothing. Here's the description of what the model is wearing:

Neil Barrett glen plaid wool suit, $1,760 at Jeffrey; plaid cotton shirt, $165 at Billy Reid; cotton tie, $59.50 at J. Crew; leather loafers, $335 at Calvin Klein; balmacaan gabardine trench coat, $1,340 at Marc Jacobs

No,we will not go lightly into that good night. Kicking and screaming more like it.

And this is just one example of thousands. Is there a wake-up pill or just a short-cut-to-the-end pill? And which pill is it - the little red, green or blue one?

I agree with you evar about the "trivial overload". Kinda like that term but it also minimizes the importance of that gratuitous consumption. There are tens of millions of folks who pay their rent and feed their children with the incomes from dispensing those trivial pleasures. As an exercise (you’ve probably already done this). As you drive down the street take note of this store and that store that really could disappear without society missing it very much. Just how many Starbucks do you need n a one mile square area. But then the next time you drive down that street make note of the number of folks those stores employee.

The sad point is that we’ve designed a society in which a large portion of the population depends upon wasteful spending for the economic survival. Cut just a small portion of the waste quickly and maybe you add another 5 - 10 million to the unemployment roles. In my mind it sort of falls into the category of good news - bad news: we’ve got a cure to get rid of the disease. Bad news: it also kills the patient.

Bad news: it also kills the patient.

No, the patient is already dead, flat EKG, but its systems are still being kept alive by totally artificial means. It's time to call the undertaker and prepare for the funeral before decomposition really sets in, its starting to smell a little rancid as it is.

The sad point is that we’ve designed a society in which a large portion of the population depends upon wasteful spending for the economic survival.

Therein lies a major dilemma. How to utilize the portion of society that makes its living from such an unsustainable system in ways that allow for sustainability. My guess is that a very hard series of crashes are coming and a lot of these people (I include myself here) will be written off as collateral damage in the attempt at maintaining BAU for the small percentage of the population that hold the reins of power as it is.

Though I suspect that some of us will go down fighting the system. (I don't necessarily mean literally), though that may indeed happen as well. I think that posts like Chris' are warning shots across the bow of the TPTB.

Yep...that was my point FMagyar. If your "collateral damage" could just roll over and die we could start making our adjustments. But they won't. Society will be forced to deal with the situation compassionately or violently. Or a combination of both. But it will have to deal with the situation. We can all generate our own scenarios of how this will play out.


I think that if you look at our resource utilization behavior, you'll see that essentially ALL of us make our livings from unsustainable means... Over 95% of the resources that flow into the US economy are nonrenewable--that is a USGS number. Bottom line: in the absence of nonrenewables, the use of which is unsustainable by definition (because they are non-renewable), none of us could/would exist!

That's why we've got to do more (and we will do more, or Nature will do it for us) than simply "cut back"; we've got to change the paradigm! Our way of life itself is unsustainable--our culture exists through persistent resource overexploitation; see Chapter 5 of the "long version" if you've got the time...

Well this weekend I have been invited to hunt highly venomous invasive Lion fish on my local reef.
A few members of our kayak diving club are going out to dive and try to either capture or kill some of these fish that have recently been spotted in our waters. Anyone have a good use for a potent neurotoxin? ;-) Maybe they can be dried, ground up and used as fertilizer.

A big problem is that any paying activity immediately creates a constituency. The drug war is insane and counterproductive, but police departments and politicians depend on it for organization and funding. The US health mess is expensive and harmful, but a single-payer plan would put hundreds of medical insurance people out of work (no matter their work is denying claims). The March of Dimes was begun to fight polio; when a vaccine was developed, the organization didn't disband; it discovered a need to fight birth defects. The Church no longer credibly offers tickets to an afterlife, and the answer to prayer seems to be "Whatever happens," so what are all the organizations, theologies, clergy all about, anyway? Detroit used to sustain the US economy; how can we admit the day of the private auto has gone? Try as you will to put expiration dates on organizations -- their staffs and customers will try to prolong them.

Seems that the Lion fish poison disintegrates when the fish dies, as attempts to extract it from the spines of dead fish have failed

Source: http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifie...

So, the good news is even unsustainable practices have their uses.

A Story of Resource Limits and Allocation

Chief: Dude. You stole my wife.

2nd Chief: Dude. So?

Chief: Dude, it is SO on!

2nd Chief: Cool. Weapons?

Chief: Lion fish. We'll catch 'em. Location? Time?

2nd Chief: When the yellow orb has comes twice and the shadows are, like, really small.

Chief: Cool.

2nd Chief: Cool.

(Two days hence.)

Chief: Dude. Ready?

2nd Chief: Dude. Do fish swim?

Chief: Not these ones. Well, not any more.

2nd Chief: Uh... riiight. So, go?

Chief: Absolutely.

2nd Chief: Toss your fish!

(Mayhem ensues. A very long time later on this sleepy isle... like, 5 minutes.)

Chief: Stop! Hold your fishes!

2nd Chief: Ouch! Hey! He said hold yer damn fishes! Chief? Aren't these supposed to be deadly, neurotoxin-filled fishies?

Chief: Dude Chief, I sure thought so. My 13th wife stepped on one and fell over dead. Guess they have to be alive, eh?

2nd Chief: Guess so. Anymore fish?

Chief: Nope.

2nd Chief: Huh. All's well that ends well!

Chief: Tru dat. Party?

2nd Chief: Duuuude! We'll bring the volleyball and the pig.

Chief: Cool. We got the frisbee, coconuts and coconut wine.

Chief and 2nd Chief: Later!

Lion fish are beautiful. I have see a few on various reefs around the world, they seem shy and hide in holes. Why not just leave them alone?

They are beautiful indeed and I am the last person on earth to indiscriminately harm a marine organism, the coral reefs are my most favorite place on earth and I have been fortunate to have spent a considerable amount of time on them over the past 30 plus years of my scuba diving career.

However I live in Hollywood Florida and these fish are an invasive species that have been artificially introduced to these waters, they do not belong here and are voracious predators that may out compete the local species.


"they do not belong here and are voracious predators that may out compete the local species"

Speak for yourself FMagyar, Chuckle !!

Don in Maine

Actually I've been reading up on them and have found out that they are quite edible, maybe I'll kill two stone fish with one barb :-)

>> If your "collateral damage" could just roll over and die we could start making our adjustments. <<

Exactly, Rockman. It always boils down to the impossible question of depopulation. There's no solution, and no adaptations to make, as long as there are 6.5+ billion of us [plus livestock and pets], and counting.
At the moment, our central banks are doing their very best to create favourable circumstances for this 'rolling over'. If debts can no longer be rolled over, maybe people will?

Except that there wasn't so much conservation. I remember even if you don't, that people were amazed at how little conservation there was even as oil prices approached $150. It really wasn't until large capital fled in Sept 08 and declining house prices begin to slam this country that consumption declined. And it wasn't so much conservation as "why drive when you have no job or money, and by the way your house is in foreclosure and your car was reposessed". From Jan 07 to Jan 08 more than 5 million jobs were lost. Additionally, another 16 million went from full time to part time. Not precisely what I would call "trivial overhead".

One major fault with this analysis is the inferred definition of sustainable and the assumption that it is fixed at some historic level. It neglects the introduction of knowledge and new food species.

Bringing potatoes and corn from the New World increased the sustainable population of Europe and Asia. Tobacco not so much. Chocolate increased the sustainable quality of life :-)

The invention of the wheel barrow and bicycle also raised the sustainable level of society. Either in quality or perhaps quantity.

Had Hans Herren not preserved cassava (a "staff of life" food crop for 200 million people, source of half or more of their calories), the sustainable population of Africa would have dropped.

The path out (admittedly narrow) is a significant diversion of economic activity from consumption to energy efficient/renewable energy, environmentally benign long lived capital expenditures. And start the population curve down (see Italy & Japan).

A USA run off renewable energy is quite doable (90% renewable in 25 to 30 years) with much lower energy consumption, sustainable farming and fishing and a HIGHER quality of life (if different from the current American Way of Life).

Best Hopes for Seeing the Possibilities,


People keep bringing up Italy and Japan as hopeful examples of societies with declining populations. According to Wikipedia Japan has a population of 127 million with a density of 336 people per square kilometer. The population is declining at the rate of 0.191% per year. That means they are losing about 242,000 per year. Japan must import all of its fossil fuel and most other resources like timber. They are also foolishly trying to increase the birth rate.

Italy has a population of 60 million with a density of 196 per square kilometer. It is declining at the rate of 0.019% per year which is a miniscule 11,000 people. Italy also imports most of its fossil fuel and the majority of its food.

These countries are both going to be in a lot of trouble in a few years. They are both vastly overpopulated.

The human brain did not evolve to solve the overshoot problem.

The human brain did not evolve to solve the overshoot problem.

It has in some isolated places


Tikopians practice an intensive system of agriculture (which has been compared to permaculture), similar in principle to forest gardening and the gardens of the New Guinea highlands. Their agricultural practices are strongly and consciously tied to the population density. For example, around 1600 AD, the people agreed to slaughter all pigs on the island, and substitute fishing, because the pigs were taking too much food that could be eaten by people.


(I spell "Amerika" in Wake Up Amerika! in honor of Kafka; his work is ominous and foreboding--seemed to fit the bill for America's future!)

Tainter and Diamond write of several (a few) societies that practiced some type of self-limiting behavior in order to become "sustainable", or at least to avoid imminent collapse. Seems like it's easier in "autocratic" societies, where a ruler or ruling elite can enforce a mandate that causes some level of "pain" today in exchange for a more sustainable future.

We don't seem to be real good at self-limiting behavior!!

Kakfa can point to the example of the Tikopeans because they survived hence are there to be noted.

But how many (more?) groups decided to seek sustainability by doing xxx or yyy, and failed but for that reason are not so noticeable to us.


Thank you for your efforts, I have not had time to read your full report yet but I will. However, at a glance, your population estimates are very different from the estimates given by the Optimum Population Trust.

Could you explain where your methodology differs from theirs? They put the US at sustainable 241M with a modest European lifestyle.

As a side note. I adopted Kafka as a moniker because as I became aware of peak oil and it's implications I found myself increasingly out of step with those around me. This was my metamorphosis. Strictly speaking I should have used Gregor


The Optimum Population Trust is a fairly insane organisation that imagines that voluntary family reduction is a wise policy. In reality voluntary reduction means that people who care become an oppressed minority and the future of the human race is entrusted to those who don't care (both by genetics and upbringing), a horrendous disaster even worse than overpopulation.

They oppose compulsory control as too unthinkable.
And there's no way their proposed nice policies can provide even the 2x reduction their own footprint theories require, let alone the much greater reductions suggested by energy depletion considerations.
A bit like Transition Towns in fact--halfway to realism produces 100% failure.

Ah, you foresee Prisoner's Dilemma failures... There are bound to be some, but we've got to try -- after all, even in PD games the prisoners sometimes cooperate.


Not sure how the OPT arrives at their numbers?! Mine are derived from the model presented in Chapter 3 of the "long version", beginning on page 16. (I believe that they are actually optimistic...)

In essence my view is that the mix and level of ecological and economic resources available to a society determine the mix and level of goods and services that the society can produce (total consumption level), which, in turn, determine the combinations of population level and living standards attainable by that society.

Industrialized societies such as that of the US, are heavily dependent upon nonrenewable natural resources (and what I call "pseudo purchasing power"). Removing these resources from the equation results in a society that lives exclusively on renewable natural resources (and real purchasing power)--a sustainable society.

That is what my model attempts to do--determine the percentage of our current population level and living standards that are enabled "sustainably", from both ecological and economic perspectives, versus the percentage that is not.

Thank you for bringing up "pseudo purchasing power" as you did in the longer paper. It plugged some gaps in my economic picture. Clarify for me, if we destroy Maine's atlantic salmon to keep FPL's profit up, you see that as an asset liquidated? This story is repeated endlessly so I find the numbers you include for it lower than I would have expected.

I'd like to see a little more definition on the components of psuedo purchasing power.

A lot of good stuff here; I recommend the longer pdf. The comparison between footprint analysis and the societal overextension analysis is, umm, how do I put that on TOD, "depressing" doesn't seem adequate.

cfm in Gray, ME


Thanks for the read!

We've certainly been able to increase the "carrying capacity" of our habitats throughout of evolution--sometimes sustainably, recently--especially since our industrial revolution--unsustainably. There's the rub. While the US, for example, can currently support our 305 million people at a historically unprecedented material living standard (on average), it cannot do so sustainable. We're going to run short of the resources that currently enable our American way of life.

Don't know if you've read "Overshoot" by William Catton; but he says it better than I ever could!

We can have a HIGHER quality of life with far fewer material inputs for, say, 299 million Americans in 2035.

An odd contradiction is that most of our consumption of material resources reduces our standard of living, and much of the rest is neutral in it's impact.

Walkable & bikeable communities, connected by Urban Rail for longer distances, composed of energy efficient housing and eating a low meat diet (vegan for some, not for others), powered almost exclusively by renewable energy.

Such a New Society would have a HIGHER standard of living by most measures, such as

1) Life expectancy
2) Years of life without disability (quality years)
3) Infant mortality
4) Suicide rates (see social isolation among other factors)
5) Air quality
6) Social community
7) Aesthetic beauty
8) More leisure time, and quality pursuits to utilize that time.

Best Hopes for Seeing the Possibilities,



Would your New Society be sustainable, or would it just be deferring collapse by slightly reducing its utilization of nonrenewable resources?

Your bias shows in your use of the modifier "slightly".

It would significantly reduce the use of non-renewable resources, and absent further changes in society or our knowledge base (both assumptions are wrong) postpone the collapse you foresee for a century or more.

How long could 1945 Switzerland "get by" (they used less oil in a year/capita than the USA uses in a day) ?

Well over 100 years with minimal global trade and a decline period to prepare in (zero global trade for 7 years in their specific case, minimal with Germany & Italy, WW II came suddenly).

Best Hopes for Realistic Plans,



A consideration I don't recall in any of your comments, if you please. The developed world falling back to such-and-such a depletion rate of this and that resource is all well and good. Your assumption is that shinier solutions will be found in the future due to technology and science.

Fair enough.

But what of the very large percentage of the global population that is still far, far below such-and-such depletion rate wanting to get up to it, which for them might be just heavenly?

Ex.: The entire planet on US oil consumption rates eats up 1trillion barrels of oil in 5 years. Even at 3 trillion recoverable barrels, it'd all be gone in less than 20 years. Every drop.

If we fall back to US 1950 consumption of 6Mbbl/day?

1 Trillion bbl = 13 yrs.

2 Trillion bbl = 23 yrs.

3 Trillion bbl = 33 yrs.

Again, this isn't to peak, this is to all gonesville.

So, if we fall back to 1950, but they come up... Have you considered this?


I am reluctant to "preach" to societies that I do not belong to and do not understand at a variety of levels.

But, if pressed, I would say a zero population, slightly improved version of 1990 China might be the goal. Enough to eat (meat is a rarity), bicycles everywhere (simple, heavy long lasting bikes), an electrified railroad through (or close) to most villages, the mega-cities running largely on elevated or underground "subways" + bi/tricycles & ebikes.


zero population

I suspect you meant "zero population growth".


I've often wondered what it would take to remake our cities in a way that Alan suggest. Each time I drive into San Antonio or Austin I'm reminded of the magnitude of such an endeavor. I'm 53. I believe the next 20 years will be about the transition - not to what Alan imagines but to the stark reality that such a undertaking is utterly impossible.

I think the transition that Alan and others speak of is for a world that is populated in a vastly different way. Even if we all agreed that population is one of the crucial factors to address, how long would it take and how much of our remaining energy materials will be consumed? I seriously doubt it's possible.

What if (no really!) - what if it is impossible? I wonder, almost daily, how will the new equilibrium be accomplished? What is most likely to transpire, given what we know is possible? Every metropolitian area represents a huge undertaking. The task is enormous.

Let's say half of the population in these cities are aware of the storm circling humanity and the need for change. And that we are currently experiencing the collective response of this awareness. Well, they are not. And what we are currently experiencing is the collective response of the few who do and the many who do not. Meanwhile, another day just came and went, with a net increase in world population. Feel better yet?

It is possible.

I moved to Austin in 1974 (and when I last moved out I was delayed by the inaugural parade for Gov. George W. Bush). Austin could (and should) have developed in a much greener way. The loss by a few hundred votes of the 2000 Light Rail vote, and the influx of Suburbanites was the end of that.

For a comparable change of Urban form, look to 1950 to 1970. We trashed virtually every prime commercial property (known as "downtowns") and many well built, well located established neighborhoods (known as "inner cities") with some gov't aid.

We did it once, we can do it again.


PS: Housing space/capita is up ~300% since 1950, retail space/capita about 1000%. Going back to 1950 norms reduces the task considerably.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile for someone to look at what it would take for various levels of sustainability, and how big a population could be supported.

It seems to me that food for humans is only a small part of sustainability. Even at the lowest standard of living, we would need fuel to cook food and sterilize water, and we would need to create some form of cooking utensils, and build some form of housing. We would also need a way of storing some crops for time of famine and some minimal form of transportation (boats ?, shoes to make walking easier). We would need cisterns or hand dug wells.

If people live in anything but the warmest climates, we will need some way to store food for times when it doesn't grow, clothing, and perhaps some way to heat our homes. All of this adds to our footprint.

If we want to move a step up, we will need draft animals. They will need food. This will add to our footprint, but will make the amount of food available greater. Perhaps at this point we would need roads and some type of carts.

One can move up from this level to say, bicycles, but this would require quite a lot of additional infrastructure--roads, factories for bicycles, source of metal for bicycles and source of rubber or plastic for wheels.

It seems to me that food that is truly sustainable is that which grows with the amount of rain that is in the area, and with the amount of natural fertility that can be restored to through recycling wastes and crop rotation. This probably eliminates most of the high-yield crops that have been developed in recent years, unless a lot of infrastructure has been built to support these additional needs.

One would have to think through how each of these levels would work out, in terms of how many people they might support. It might be that some of the higher levels would support more people than the lowest level, because more land could be occupied. It seems like any kind of analysis from this direction would be fairly complicated, but might help us better understand what we are up against.

If you go through that exercise--well, if you're me and you go through that exercise--you keep coming around to the realization that the only sustainable lifesyle paradigm is a hunter-gatherer lifestyle paradigm. Hunter-gathers are the only societies that existed exclusively on renewable natural resources--and, for the most part, consumed them at levels less than or equal to the levels at which they were replenished by Nature.

All other lifestyle paradigms, agrarian and industrial (for sure), make some use of nonrenewable natural resources and/or deplete renewables at levels greater than those at which the are replenished--and are therefore not sustainable...

I use the "gozintas" and gozoutas" metaphor. As long as your gozoutas are less than or equal to Nature's gozintas, for any and all natural resource consumption (and habitat degradation), you're OK. Once your gozoutas exceed Nature's gozintas, you're in trouble--it's just a question of time and circumstances!!

So the ultimte fate that awaits some subset of homo sapiens is H-G; anything else is just a temporary stopping point along the way! (Which is the primary argument for a voluntary transition to sustainability--we might be able to manage a stopping point or two along the way if we orchestrate our own transition. If we wait for Nature to do it for us, all bets are off--and Nature typically overshoots to the downside!!)

Your comment sounds very similar to a guest post I put up a while back called Agriculture: Unsustainable Resource Depletion Began 10,000 Years Ago. The article is by Peter Salonius, a Canadian soil microbiologist.


I've communicated often with Peter over the past several years; matter of fact I quote his work in my paper. IMO he has an excellent grasp of our predicament--and he's also forgotten more about soils than I'll ever know!!

All cultivation agriculture depends on the replacement of complex, species diverse, self-managing, nutrient conservative, deep rooted, natural grassland/prairie and forest ecosystems with monocultures or 'near monocultures' of food crop plants that rely on intensive management.

I'd have to read his stuff, but this quote from the paper you linked shows a misunderstanding of permaculture practices. Monocultures in permaculture? Exactly the opposite. Intensive management? Again, the opposite.

The simple shallow rooting habit of food crops and the requirement for bare soil cultivation produces soil erosion and plant nutrient loss far above the levels that can be replaced by microbial nitrogen fixation, and the weathering of minerals (rocks and course fragments) into active soils and plant-available nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium on most of the soils on the planet.

Bare soil cultivation? I'd be dumbfounded to see bare soil on a permaculture farm. This guy needs to go take a permaculture cert course.

I don't know that permaculture will save the planet, but I do know there is enough arable land to feed the current population, plus some extra.


If you go through that exercise--well, if you're me and you go through that exercise--you keep coming around to the realization that the only sustainable lifesyle paradigm is a hunter-gatherer lifestyle paradigm. Hunter-gathers are the only societies that existed exclusively on renewable natural resources--and, for the most part, consumed them at levels less than or equal to the levels at which they were replenished by Nature.

I think this idea that there is something special that made the hunter-gatherer paradigm "sustainable" is not supportable. Hunter gatherers (particularly the hunters) almost certainly annihilated pre-historic mega-fauna species, or at least contributed significantly to their extinction. (See also my response to another recent post, here.)

That said, I'm hardly convinced that agricultural societies can't be sustainable. The fact that some agricultural societies of the past have depleted their soils does not mean that this is a necessary outcome; it's hardly clear that all or even most agricultural areas are headed for that fate, and better knowledge of soil science ought to improve the percentage. (Search also for "A farm for the future" on TOD.)

The key question is whether human beings around the entire world can create a culture where growth, and specifically population growth, is seen as a threat to sustainability, and thus to survival, and thus discourage population growth as a response to temporary food abundance. This requires a global cultural consensus, and that requires a level of technology (writing, at least, if not global electronic communication) to maintain such a consensus, which is something that mere hunter-gatherers lacked, and will always lack. It is possible that there are various levels of technology and population where a global cultural consensus on sustainability can be achieved. I think it's apparent, however, that a pure hunter-gatherer level of technology is insufficient.

I commend you at least for identifying the cultural component of this question, even if I'm skeptical of the way you quantify the predicament.

The H-G paradigm survived, in one form or another, for well over a million years--maybe not sustainable, but close! (And I'm certainly not saying that I'm looking forward to returning to such a lifestyle!)

AFA soils and the sustainability of agrarian societies, I'll leave you to hash that out with Peter (Selonius); he makes an excellent case that agrarian societies will ultimately fail.

Agree that our culture must change--but I don't see "growth", per se, as the culprit, but our persistent overexploitation of the very resources that enable our existence. We could decide today to "become static", and we'd still collapse, because our way of life is enabled almost exclusively by nonrenewable natural resources.

Unless and until we decide to forego the use of nonrenewables, it's just a matter of time. (Not saying that we will; matter of fact, I'd bet the ranch that we won't!!)

To me your phrase "in one form or another" effectively cancels out the word "survived". After all, many of our biological close relatives literally did not survive. But I'm glad to see that you're not mythologizing a hunter gatherer lifestyle the way some do.

More importantly...

I think you missed the point on growth. The "persistent overexploitation" of resources is an inescapable consequence of a culture which values growth over longevity, and which makes it it a fundamental goal to grow the human population to whatever numbers the current exploitation of resources will allow. To not see growth, "per se" as "the culprit" is to completely dodge the question of what is necessary to avoid overexploitation. Growth and overexploitation are not separable. If growth is happening, there will always be overexploitation at any given time, in the sense that the remaining years before a collapse will always be decreasing. (Note that this is regardless of whether the resources are renewable or not, and it will be as true right after a big collapse as before.) You cannot have any hope of creating a culture which forgoes the use of nonrenewables if that culture values growth more than longevity. And currently our global culture, taken as a whole, values growth above just about anything.

It's a logical fallacy to argue, as you've done, that because stopping growth is not sufficient to prevent a collapse of our present society, it is also not necessary, among other things. The fact that we are probably unable to forestall some level of collapse does not affect that logic either.

If we want to move a step up, we will need draft animals. They will need food. This will add to our footprint, but will make the amount of food available greater.

My understanding is that it doesn't. What it does do is make more food available per human, at the cost of requiring quite a lot of resources for the animals themselves that could otherwise feed more people.

Basically, draft animals amplify human power, enabling a higher quality of life, but lowering the overall population of humans that can be supported by the land. Farming without draft animals or machinery, on anything less than the absolutely most fertile land in the world, doesn't allow for much other than bare subsistence.

I think we are saying the same thing. You say "enabling a higher quality of life, but lowering the overall population of humans that can be supported by the land."

I say that humans will have a bigger footprint. That basically means the overall population of humans that can be supported will be lower.

Yes, I must have misinterpreted what you originally meant.

In Victorian times, there were around one million draught horses on British farms; now the number is less than ten thousand.

Thought-experiment: How long would it take to breed one million working horses?


Further (far less palatable, some readers may wish to stop here) thought-experiment: How long could it take for the uk population to fall by a factor of one million divided by ten thousand, due to starvation and thirst?

Thought-experiment: How long would it take to breed one million working horses?

Further assumptions:
- Start with 1000 brood mares
- You need to double that population 10 times
- Increase could be say 15% per year (assuming 1 breeding per year and allowing for failed breedings, male offspring, culling, and losses due to age, disease, etc) which would give a doubling time of about 5 years (by rule of 72)
- Thus 5 X 10 = aprox. 50 years.

Thought experiment: How long would it take to install one million miles of narrow-gauge SpiderWebs to augment/facilitate the buildout of Alan Drake's RR & TOD standard-gauge ideas?

My guess is with an all-out national effort the Webs could be built in less than five years. A person pedaling cargo on smooth rails is more efficient than a horse or draft animal per food calorie burned when broad boundaries are all considered. See prior postings for details.

PhilR, Last year the UK installed enough wind turbines to power one million small electric tractors, why would farmers want to go back to 1million draught horses?

'cause if tshtf horses will continue to make new horses,but tractors don't make new tractors,and batteries capable of powering commuter cars for an hour or so are not yet really what you would call readily available.tractors frequently have to run all day, and sometimes all night.I hope this will change of course,but at least tractors and other heavy machinery are used less and less per unit of production as farm tech marches on.Please note that I am refering to on the farm use, not transtortation,processing,etc.If big agriculture survives(and tptb will see to it if it can be done,or tptb will cease to be)the last dregs of petroleum not allocated to the military and police will be rationed to farmers, electric utilities,etc.We can obviously manufacture enough biofuel to run the farm sector as far as that goes.But the whole discussion today is about collapse,right?

I expect each and every draft horse will have it's own armed gaurd in that case.Otherwise somebody will butcher it pdq.

That's moreorless my line of thinking. We're going to hit resource depletion bottlenecks before too long which will make all our wonderful technofixes little more than pie-in-the-sky.

Surely must be a reason Cuba went with oxen, no years long wait to get a significant number, just rescue them from the food supply.

"Surely must be a reason Cuba went with oxen, no years long wait to get a significant number, just rescue them from the food supply."

It is my understanding based on discussions with a Canadian farmer who did some work with folks down in Cuba that the tropical climate has a lot to do with the choice of oxen over horses

Only a handfull of years if a cross breed with a regular hobby horse is good enough and they use artificial insemination.

But why use horses when it is easier to mass produce stirling, steam, producer gas or biogass powered tractors that also are compatible with current farming machinery and workforce? That is for workable ways for powering tractors with local fuel but it is likely that they will be small or medium sized.

For me it makes zero sense to fallback to horses or oxen when we got all the knowlede and factories needed to mass produce something that is easier to use even if the oil availability would fall unlikely fast.

I don't believe anyone can prove the assertion that draft animals (when used) results in either less or more food for people as a general princple.In specific situations,you cam make the case either way,depending upon local conditions.In an area such as say northwest North Carolina,where the soil is good but not exceptional,and there is ample land available, there is no question but that horses and mules pay thier own way and handsomely,partly because they serve additionally as transportation as needed.

In area such as the flood plains of temperate to subtropical Asia,the situation is such that actual net food production probably is higher without draft animals,as evidenced by the fact that so many subsistence farmers manage without one.The very small sizes of thier farms and the large amount of labor available apparently means most of them can't afford one.But there are usually at least a few in use,simply because they can be fed with roughages good for nothing else except compost.Geese are also commonly used to squeeze the last bit of net food out of otherwise inedible scraps or weedy plants,etc not worth harvesting directly by hand.

Your last point- about only bare subsistence being possible without animals and machinery ,and then only on the most productive land,cannot be overemphasized.I am afraid that a great many otherwise thoughtful and intelligent people who are making some plans for a future possible collapse are very seriuosly misinformed about the possibilities of small scale farming,call it what you will.If we do suffer an industrial collapse(which I personally fear may come to pass)most of the people pinning thier hopes on the various sustainability movements are not going to be a whole lot better off than Joe Six Pack unless they are ready to move and start over with next to nothing in more agreeable climes and geographies.At least they will have a head start on the learning curve.

I would argue for starting instead from where we are and diverting our current consumption towards long lived capital investments, with some behavorial changes that would come almost naturally from a changing built environment.

In the past a gov't promoted and subsidized move to expand Suburbia resulted in:

Massive increases in VMT
Massive increases in energy needed for heating & cooling
Massive material inputs to expand sprawl (residential space/capita increased by 350%, commercial space/capita increased 1000%, roads, sewer & water systems, more street lights/capita, etc.)
Fast food
Social isolation
(with more time I could increase the list).

Step #1 is use those same forces in reverse and abandon most of Suburbia.

1950 per capita resource use would free up significant resources for further social evolution/mitigation.

Build out electrified rail and trade 20 BTUs of oil for one BTU of electricity, which should be increasingly renewable.



My thoughts on what can be done, actually the only thing that can be done, start on page 26 of the "long version"...

Be interested in your comments!

Bottom line (and the "catch") is that anything that we do now has got to be sustainable within a lifestyle paradigm based exclusively on renewable natural resource utilization.

I hear the "let's build out all we can now while we have the resources" argument--but we (or somebody) will have to be able to operate, maintain, support, and replace whatever we do now going forward, or there will be further declines in some combination of population level and living standards (we won't be "sustainable")...

Alan, I was in New Orleans last week and picked up a book titled Images of New Orleans and another titled Missing New Orleans. This is history told in the form of photographs, beginning in the early 1850’s.

Steamboats were the predominant form of transportation in the lower Mississippi valley region until late in the 19th Century when railroads became widespread. The steamboats traveled the inland waterways and there are several photos of steamboats lined up along the Mississippi River with their principal routes identified, like Red River and Ouachita River. There are also pictures of men pulling carts with a (assumed 500 pound) bale of cotton on the docks.
Horse drawn trolleys are shown in 1870.

Streetcars appear in the 1890’s and soon New Orleans has 25 streetcar companies and over 200 miles of track. One of the most fascinating photos is of rush hour on Canal St. in 1904, with dozens of streetcars and a few horse drawn wagons. About a decade later cars begin to replace horses, and electric lights begin to appear.

If we were able to live like this before, we can do it again. The efficiency of electrical generation is several times higher than it was then and also internal combustion engines are several times more efficient than steam engines.

One thing to note is that old New Orleans is densely populated. It would have been possible to bicycle around major areas of the city. I have an old letter that was sent across town by my great grandfather to his future wife by bicycle messenger in 1886.

We can't expect the future to be like the past, because of the difference in population then vs. now. It's clear the planet can't support 6.7+ billion hunter gatherers and it probably can't support 6.7 billion people living a late 1800s style lifestyle either. Also bear in mind that the 1800s still featured plenty of fossil fuel use from coal. Even if we HAVE the coal, for the sake of the environment we should not rely on it.


Perhaps you can discuss what assumptions underly the sustainable population/income combinations you have chosen. I believe it is based on a resource footprint calculation, done by some organization.


What I tried to do was quantify the extent to which we (US) are livivng beyond our means, both ecologically and economically (methods such as the Ecological Footprint Analysis deal exclusively with the ecological side).

I don't mean to beg off, but it would probably be easier for folks to check out the chapter on quantifying our predicament, which starts on page 16. I develop a method called the Societal Overextension Analysis (the "organization" is me!), in which I attempt to quantify the population level/living standard combinations that would be attainable to us were we living "sustainably".

So far I have found the subject of this paragraph to be true:

A vast majority of us are “culturally incapable” of acknowledging our predicament, much less taking meaningful action to resolve it—we suffer from societal cognitive dissonance.

I see this as stemming partly from the specialization that comes from complexity. People hardly pay attention to what is outside of their domain of expertise. Therefore, even the educated class don't know what is going on. And since they consider themselves so capable and in control of their own domain they assume that others are dealing with the kind of specialized issues, such as energy, that could topple our society.

This faith is dangerous because it leads to complacency.

Thanks Chris,

You are spot on....

I really do not see how this can be disputed.
Not sure how you can work to prevent it. It is just the time table that is the question. Some say I will be dead by the time this occurs and do nothing. Some say there is nothing that can be done and do nothing.

So most just wait for something to happen.


Agree 100% - we "presume the context"--we assume that the economic and ecological paradigm within which we live will persist indefinitely--a very dangerous and even fatal mistake when your context is as unsustainable as ours!!

Chris, I am so relieved that you give us a little remaining resource consumption growth from the position of your "You are here" arrow in your chart titled "American's Destiny". So at least you are hopeful then that we will pull out of the current recession before the end.


Interesting issue! I keep wondering if this is the "big one" from an economic perspective, or whether we've got another cycle or two left in us?!

The cost of the "fix" for this one is unprecedented in terms of debt and printed money; our major creditors (China, Russia, Gulf States) are becoming increasingly nervous about holding dollar denominated assests.

We'll have to (attempt to) borrow $2+ trillion this year, maybe more in the coming years, and we'll have to go overseas for a large chunk of it.

Sooner or later, we're going to hear "no mas"... (Either that or "sure you can have a couple hundred $billion--at 20%!)!

Either way, it won't be pretty!!

Chris, my "recession" comment above was my weak attempt at humor (who cares about recovery from a recession if a collapse is imminent). How confident are you in your analysis that the only possible outcome is catastrophic? Are you living in an undisclosed location filled with tins of baked beans and survival rations? I am not encouraging you to do so, but am just curious.


I figured it was a "funny", but you never know!!

I'm 100% sure that America will ultimately be populated again by hunter-gatherers, as it was before we "evolved" to an agrarian lifestyle paradigm. The major unknowns are "timing" and "circumstances"...

Based on my 3 years of researching our "predicament", there seems to be compelling evidence (Chapter 7 of the "long version"), that we are: 1) appallingly overextended, both ecologically and economically; 2) approaching a large number of impending limits to the dysfunctional resource utilization behavior that underlies our predicament; and 3) culturally incapable of taking the self-limiting actions required to mitigate the consequences associated with our predicament--rather, we seem content to continue to utilize every remaining resource to perpetuate our unsustainable American way of life!

So, given that, my view is that the timing of our collapse will be soon (w/in 25 years) and the circumstances will be ugly (Hobbsian)! But that's just me...

Chris Quote: "So, given that, my view is that the timing of our collapse will be soon (w/in 25 years) and the circumstances will be ugly (Hobbsian)! But that's just me...

Not just you, but Jay Hanson's Thermo/Gene Collision and Dieoff.org website largely agrees.

For any newbies [8-page PDF Warning]:

..If you were born after 1960, you will probably die of violence, starvation or contagious disease.

1 Fifteen years, plus or minus ten years, is when I estimate anarchy will reign in the United States. Please note that I do not advocate anarchy. Indeed, anarchy is the worst possible future. However, our government was not designed to solve social problems and will be utterly helpless in the face of unfolding biophysical law-driven events.
IMO, any effort towards Optimal Overshoot Decline means a huge ramp in wheelbarrows & bicycles, as this is a better use of resources than making bombs, guns & machetes. It remains to be seen what will be the ratio of wheelbarrow/machete'.

Or, since we evolved from being 'red in tooth and claw' should we automatically assume that machete' moshpits will far outnumber compost pits?

I like that wheelbarrow/machete ratio idea. I vote for that to be the next completely arbitrary statistic that everybody pays way too much attention to. CPI is old news.

Indeed, anarchy is the worst possible future.

I don't think you have thought that statement through or you mean something different when you use the word anarchy than I do. While I personally don't identify myself ideologically as an anarchist I do subscribe to the notion espoused by many anarchists that Anarchism can be non violent and that a social order can exist without a centralized, distant government controlling our lives.

Since I also believe that our centralized powers, be they our government or our corporations are inevitably on the verge of collapse, many of us will be forced to live in an anarchic state regradless of whether we want to or not.

Here is a link to to a review of a movie entitled Anarchism in America. I don't think this is the kind of worst possible future that you were envisioning.


Oh and BTW as someone who grew up in Brazil and spent time in the wilderness I can attest to the fact that the machete falls more into the category of useful tool than it does weapon.

Dear FMagyar, Words have more than one meaning. Anarchy has a specialised meaning among self-styled Anarchists and those discussing that (seriously misguided) ideology. But in general use (outside of that circle/context) it refers to something that is most definitely the worst of all worlds. It means in effect the rule of callous arbitrary brute violence.

As Toynbee explained, brutal universal states such as the Roman Empire were often welcomed as anything being better than the anarchy that preceded them. The day the Roman Empires' soldiers left Britain to its own inadequate defences was a day of great despair here, rest assured.

I have lived myself in conditions of (localised) anarchy and you wouldnt wish it on a dog (even though I don't much like them).

It means in effect the rule of callous arbitrary brute violence.

Well I have personally experienced some of that under a military dictatorship when thugs are allowed, with the full consent of the government, to oppress and abuse those that would otherwise live free. So I consider that to be antithetical to anarchism as I understand the word. That is precisely why I made comment that I did.

Anarchy is actually a belief in natural order, without a vertical elite dictating from above, with the obvious loss of rights and creativity.
But the word has been hijacked by propagandist, who fear the implications of self rule.

There is always a vertical elite dictating from above. If not a government then it is going to be a local warlord or thug. By the way, when are you moving to Somalia?

"I'm 100% sure that America will ultimately be populated again by hunter-gatherers, as it was before we "evolved" to an agrarian lifestyle paradigm. The major unknowns are "timing" and "circumstances"...

I'm not sure I agree that we have to go all the way back to HGs. Its quite possible to maintain a small garden as long as you are near a water source, have a local source of natural fertilizer eg moving leaf litter in the fall onto your garden for the next year, and you can save seeds from one year to the next. As long as you have these basics you can always continue with a limited form of agriculture.

Although I have only skimmed the full report, I urge everyone to take the time to read it. This is a fantastic piece of work!



Very much appreciate your time and your kind words; be delighted to discuss details with you (or any OD readers) at your convenience!

Is there any time specific prediction associated with this ?
I want to take the other side against these Malthusian predictions.

How about something around 2012, 2015 or 2018 ?

Specific timing and circumstances are impossible to call with certainty--but I do predict! My thought is "5 years possibly, 15 years probably, and 25 years almost certainly"...

Our collapse can be either a "pop" or a "fizz"; I lean toward the "pop" scenario, only because I don't believe that we'll handle the ecological reality of "continuously less and less" with grace and cooperation.

Check out Chapter 7 in the "long version"; we are simply too far overextended and heading toward too many limits to dodge them all...

Ok. So you sound confident [almost certain] to put something specific in for 25 years.

There is a venue for accountable predictions

Discussion is open to all registered users.

True names are required for user registration.

Any Prediction can become a Bet.

Minimum stakes for a Long Bet is $200 from each side.

Long Bets odds are always even, and the result is always win/lose (no partial wins).

Bettors provide the name of a charity to receive the winnings if they win.

So 2035: You predict some form of a near certain collapse (fizz or pop).
Ok, formulate something that you feel comfortably certain about.

US GDP - 50% of current levels after inflation adjustment.
US or World Energy usage - Instead of 400 some quads now and the IEA projected 600 some quads for 2030 it will be ...

Something where if it is a pop or fizz then your prediction will hold.
But it has to be specific and falsifiable. An independent judge can look at the predicted statement and say this is true or false.

Because the world or the US runs out of one the important things - then what has to fall below what (maximum level). No way can we be doing better than XXX.

I am pretty sure that whatever maximum level that you pick will be something where you are comfortable taking the under and I will take the over. But I will look at what you propose to make sure it is something that I think is specific and something that where I qualify that it will not happen from anything other than some form of collapse.

Scanned chapter 7 of your long version and saw that you are also making the financial deficits part of your "USA is boned" thesis. Fine, I am willing to take that one too. Of course you have the large "the World is boned" because we run out of oil, coal and natural gas. However, I think that while there will be some restrictions on the growth there from now to 2035. I think technology will increase recovery rates at affordable costs and their will be a lot of substitution with more electrification, nuclear and renewables, and biofuels.

Definitely that possibility is more likely and I am willing to believe a weak case for politics making the US underperform. But I think this can be overcome and a certain amount of self correction will come into play. Canada has taken a path to more fiscal responsibility. I see corrective forces preventing the US from running itself too far off the rails.

Hope you're right!

Re: the bet, I don't expect to be here in 2035--2025 is questionable--might have a shot at 2015!

I did originally suggest some bet for around 2015.

The long bet does not require that you personally be around for the judging of it. (I don't know how old you are or your personal health)

The issue is are you willing to quantify your belief into a testable and judgable statement and then put some reputation behind it now and later when it comes time to judge it.

Toss in some sudden death immediate judgement conditions along the way to 2035.

Can you not even quantify something that is specific and testable as a public statement now ?

We will not choose to modify voluntarily our distorted, cornucopian worldview and our dysfunctional, detritovoric resource utilization behavior.

Well, one would guess not. Change however will come, especially when the USA loses a lot of the present 'world clout' and when others find they need USA a lot less than USA needs them. For sure, IMHO a continuing 'growth paradigm' does look incredible .
However, a few slightly contrary thoughts:
1.It always was a fiction that the rest of the world could join USA on a sunny technological plateau, was it not? No great change needed to adjust to that reality?
2.There are only 300 million US citizens (OK it might go to 400 million).
3. Would it be better to regard USA as analogous to a powerful and large 'City State', having a very large client periphery with whom it is obliged to trade? To the advantage though of the 'City State' it is able to feed itself, provided enough inputs can be devoted to the task. With ingenuity, at a cost and with large readjustment, there is potential for sufficient farming inputs within USA borders for a long while to come. (There is I admit a serious 'joker' of unknown potential, namely homeland climate change).
4. Similarly, though the technological base will need to trade globally to obtain some critical inputs, ingenuity should enable some developments of hi-technology to continue.

The question then could be whether USA can successfully negotiate with itself some aspects of The Way of Life? The excessive demand for personal transport seems one obvious example, but collectively taking care of one another could be another?
Can the rest of the world support something like the USA, albeit a much less extravagant version? I hope so. The bigger question in my mind is whether the mechanisms and processes now set in motion in the rest of the world (that is a much bigger place) will bring, with or without the USA, those economies and societies crashing down. My guess is a patchwork of appalling crashes and more or less successful accommodations to realities will emerge despite a seriously constrained world.

Thanks for the read and comments Phil!

My focus in the analysis was on US sustainability--specifically what population level/living standard combinations can the US support on a sustainable basis? There are, as you say, a number of "interim scenarios", whereby some subset of our current population lives at some subset of our current material living standard--temporarily--before resuming our ultimate transition (descent) to a sustainable lifestyle paradigm.

You could (or I could!) argue that our transition has already begun!

One comment of yours that I would take issue with is your #1 where you state that it's self-evident that the rest of the world will never achieve the material living standards currently enjoyed by the US. I think that it's self-evident to you and me, but probably not to billions of folks in the BRIC countries, Persian Gulf states, and elsewhere, who are investing heavily (and consuming resources heavily as well) to realize their versions of the American Dream!

IMHO, they still think they can; and they'll fight for remaining increasingly-scarce resources in an attempt to do so. That's what's going to make the next 5-15-25 years so interesting!!

As I read through this post and comments (promising myself to read the long version when I have time), I keep thinking of the phrase "revolution of rising expectations" I learned in history class a long time ago.

What is the revolution of sinking expectations going to look like? Are people likely to go gently into the darkness?

The required cultural shift will not be easy. I have a neighbor I can't convince to recycle newspapers--a simple act supported by weekly service to their doorstep.

Here's my take on "sinking expectations" FWIW:

I do not believe that the populations of industrialized societies such as America, who take for granted a lifestyle paradigm characterized by “continuously more and more”, will accommodate gracefully the ecological reality of “continuously less and less”. Nor do I believe that the populations of emerging societies, who are now aspiring to lifestyle paradigms characterized by “more and more”, will accommodate gracefully the ecological reality that there are insufficient resources to fulfill their aspirations.

My view is that the populations of both industrialized and emerging societies will fight against each other and among themselves—ultimately to the death—for remaining increasingly-scarce resources, and that the US will be among the most active (and devastated) in this regard.

I do not believe that the populations of industrialized societies such as America, who take for granted a lifestyle paradigm characterized by “continuously more and more”, will accommodate gracefully the ecological reality of “continuously less and less”.

The above opinion is trivially easy to espouse, but what is the point of espousing it? If the war of all against all which you anticipate arrives no one will give a rat’s ass who ‘saw it coming’ and who did not. Insofar as I spend time and energy thinking about our predicament, I think in detail about possible means of ‘graceful accommodation’ because any other use of this time seems pointless. If I knew that a super giant tidal wave was hours way from my home and I did not have time to get to safety, I would probably spend those final hours taking a walk in the hills. I certainly would not waste my time surfing the internet and telling perfect strangers that we are all going to die and there is nothing we can do about it. I don’t have the mentality which takes satisfaction in correctly predicting disaster.


Thanks for your time and your comments!

Well, actually, for the longest time--the first 2 years anyway--I didn't think that I would have to be telling everybody we were going to die. I kept thinking that I was missing something--there had to be a happy ending; I grew up with Walt Disney!!

I just couldn't find one; so I'm publishing the results of my research; I welcome any and all evidence to the contrary!!

AFA if I knew there was a tidal wave coming in two hours, I'd grab the nicest babe I could find and have the best last few hours of my life!! Never give up hope!!

You missed the point of my comment. I did not need research results by you or anyone else to tell me that an economic system based on the proposition that the faster we consume resources the more secure and wealthy our future becomes is riding for a fall. Heck, there were people back at the beginning of the industrial revolution who recogized that economic expansion based on coal extraction was not a good idea. However, if you simultaneously hold the opinion that human psychology makes accommodation to resource limits impossible, then there is no point in doing research or publishing results. It’s like observing of group heavy drinkers and going and doing some medical research and coming back to them with the following conclusion:

My research indicates that if you keep on drinking at your current rate you will die in ten years time. Of course even before I started this research I knew that you would not stop drinking, but I thought that you would enjoy hearing the scientific evidence about how badly screwed up you are.

And yet there has been no collapse since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Although coal is still heavily used there has been diversification into oil, natural gas, hydro and nuclear power.

So great grand dads "drank" heavliy for 50 years and did not die from drinking.
Grand dad "drank" heavily for 60 years and did not die from drinking.
Dad "drank" heavily for 80 years and is still alive
I have been doing the same for 40 years and I am still alive and we are all richer and doing better.

So specifically when does it start hitting the crapper ? When do we get terminal liver disease ?

The prediction is something like 90% of the people will die or everyone becomes ten times poorer. That is not an instantaneous event so when does the per capita income drop more than 20% and does not recover for ten years and gets worse ? When would the number of deaths exceed 200 million in one year ?

There would be a point when it becomes clear that what is happening is not a bad depression.

Flesh out the signs. Distinguish the true sh** hitting the fan and the real chickens coming home to roost versus regular cyclical stuff.

People can and do choose to quit drinking; I just do not believe that we, as a society, will forego the amenities associated with our American way of life--especially those of us who feel "entitled" to it--and and choose to live sustainably.

Arguably the US military has been fighting small resource wars for some time. It does not seem very cost effective. Certainly soaks up resources. To me there seems an inherent absurdity in trying to preserve a highly-complex system by ever more deployment of high-powered ways of destroying chunks of it. Diminishing returns and all that. A nuclear war would be a quick way of ending the complex system, but eventually you get there by ordinary war fighting.
My guess is the world will try to find ways of staying out of the way until the USA fades and finds a new level, if they can survive the current instabilities. Some of the world's 'nouveau-riche' could try anything, I suppose, but apart from some barmy elites here and there, I am surprised by the rationality and relative realism of much of the world compared with the Washington and London of recent years.

Initially the resource wars were quite cost effective. It's only lately that they've not been.

But this is the pattern over history with all Great Powers. They become Great Powers because while their share of the world's population is (say) 5%, their share of the world's resources is (say) 10%. They use this disproportionately large share of resources to build a large military and go around acquiring more resources. They get to 25% or so and this annoys other Great Powers, and a few middle-ranked powers, too.

So then there's a war. Or maybe lots of little wars. The Great Power then diverts more and more of its extra share of resources into maintaining the large military it needs to keep those extra resources. It thus fails to invest in other areas of the economy, and things get run-down. It rots from within.

It's happened to Rome, Spain, Austria, Britain, France, China, lots of countries through history. The rise takes a century or two, the fall usually takes a century or two, as well. Some Great Powers go down gracefully (like Britain after WWII), but lots go down fighting, which is messy for all involved.

"The question then could be whether USA can successfully negotiate with itself some aspects of The Way of Life?"

Considering the reception Carter's sweater speech got, I'd say no.

I can't quite put my finger on it yet but this post rubs me wrong on so many levels. I am a long time reader of TOD and people like Kunstler and Simmons so it isn't that I doubt the premise. The people who wrote this present these staggering numbers as pure fact with nothing to support them except to say look at the detailed report. The detailed report is 79 pages of graphs and references but I take issue with GIGANTIC BROAD STROKES like "In 2007, we used approximately 7 billion tons of natural resources—energy resources and non-energy mineral resources—to produce $13.81 trillion worth of goods and services in America. Of these resources, at least 90% were nonrenewable natural resources, the ongoing use of
which is unsustainable."

Yes, 90% of the nonrenewable natural resources is not sustainable but that does not mean that is the only way to produce those goods and services. There are thousands and thousands of things that we could all be doing right now to stop the rate of consumption.

The Sun is going to be around for another 5 billion years. It is the true basis for life on Earth. Seeds go in the ground and they produce fruits and vegetables and the additional seeds necessary to grow again the next season. With local organic agriculture we wouldn't need the pesticides and chemical inputs because we would be replenishing the soil, eating better and not producing the millions of tons of trash we generate in cardboard and plastic to ship everything. We the readers of TOD are the "they" in this post. How many of you reading this have put in a garden this year? How many thousands of dollars of spending and consumption can you personally prevent with something so simple?

Based on this post we should all purchase our official "Children of Men" suicide kits because only 9.7 million Americans will survive. Personally, I can think of 15 scenarios that have positive outcomes. The first one that comes to mind is the possibility of a break through in fusion power. The 15th scenario would be something outrageous like contact with an advanced species. Some people (like the authors of Solari.com) suggest there is a great deal of technological suppression that is preventing technologies in medicine and energy from seeing the light of day.

My point is that life in the U.S. has been defined by the pursuit of things (a bunch of junk really) and not happiness. Life may be very different but I would like to see a discussion on how we can make it better and not hopeless.

Please check out the "long version"; you'll get plenty of references and evidence! The short version is lacking in this regard because, well, it's the short version!

You're correct that there are lots of renewable natural resources, both energy resources and non-energy resources--they simply will not, in any possible combination, enable anywhere near 305 million people to live anything like our American way of life...

Try to picture something in your life that is not enabled by at least one nonrenewable natural resource; then try to picture living exclusively on renewable natural resources--water, soil, forests, and biota--at levels that do not exceed the levels at which they are replenished by Nature. Then try to picture 305 million people in America doing the same...

AFA "positive outcomes", like you, I hope that one or more of them comes true--soon. As a matter of fact, we'll need a lot of them to come true--soon--if they are to seemlessly displace the increasingly-scarce resources upon which our American way of life currently depends...

Anything is possible; I just wouldn't have fusion and alien life forms as my Plan A for the future...

Thanks @jfkindc. When I was reading this article I was hoping that someone would channel Lovins or McDonough in reply to this - you've come the closest (along with AlanFTBE). We can design for true recycling, we can design for efficiency, we can design to live off current solar income. There are viable alternatives to AWOL (the American Way Of Life) which are rich in both utility and happiness.

True; the "viable alternatives" just won't support anywhere near 305 million people at our current material living standards.

And, your definition of a lifestyle that is "rich in both utility and happiness" might not conform to that of our American cohorts. Think 1800 for an agrarian lifestyle, and think 18,000 BC for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Then think 2009 self-entitled, self-indulged American. I'm thinking that you'll have a tough sell!

Hello Cris,

Thxs for this keypost, and I will eventually study your full document.

Consider just the number of 'Murkan TVs--I bet the hours of viewing dwarf the numbers of wheelbarrows and their hours of usage. But wheelbarrows can locally move I-NPK and/or O-NPK, but TV viewing just results in huge quantities of FFs being burned.

I hope people will check out the USGS websites for how import reliant we now are for the Elements NPKS; our true national security starts in having rich, healthy, mulchy topsoil. IMO, any effort towards sustainability requires a huge, full-on ramp of O-NPK recycling by SpiderWebRiding. Also google Dana Cordell's 20 minute audio presentation on Peak Phosphorus. It can also be found on Bart's EB website.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?


Thanks for your comments--and your time!

NPKs are certainly a point of vulnerability and concern: the "N" is the nitrogen which is fixed through the cracking of methane; the "P" and the "K" both peaked in 1989 according to some. (See Ugo Bardi's posts on the OD.) All are becoming increasingly scarce...

In the "long version" there's a source that says w/o NPKs, US agricultural yields would decline by about 50%--and that assumes the soils would still be arable in the absence of commercial fertilizers, which many believe not to be the case. (See Peter Selonius's OD post on US soil depletion.)

We think about fossil fuels, and especially oil, as being our Achilles heel; they're the ones that get all the press! Check out the chart on page 49 of the "long version"; there are scores of minerals and metals, supply shortfalls of which could push us over the edge!

N is not a problem because of legumes. The permaculture soil reconditioning regime via legumes is quite effective in that respect. Old school cover crops accomplish the same thing. The P and K are more problematic.

Mos,you are technically on solid ground,but as a practical matter,permaculture is not going to save more than a small portion of the 2or 3 billion people who depend on industrial agriculture if the broader industrial infastructure collapses.I don't have organized research to prove this point but I do have some personal knowledge of subsistence style agriculture and a good general knowledge of agriculture.

There are several major reasons why permaculture as a practical matter will not suffice given the status quo and the probable time scale of 10 to 20 years(could be less,or more,who really knows?)we're looking at.
One of the biggest reasons is that tens of millions of people currently live in areas that are agriculturally marginal in the extreme due to lack of rainfall.Unless some means of transporting food to these areas,and productive economic activity adequate to pay for it maintained in these areas, nearly all these folks will have to move-or starve.

Whole countries such as Saudi Arabia are in this predicament.Fossil water depletes just like oil.

Tens of millions more live in such concentrated pockets (ex. Japan) that it is doubtful whether present day populations can be fed sustainably from local arable land even under very optimistic assumptions.

Millions more in live in areas where due to cold winters and a short growing season double cropping and triple cropping are impossible.These are incidentally the techniques that historically enabled the third world to feed itself in Japan and China,etc,when combined with virtually 100percent recycling of every iota of organic material including "night soil".

Even if the growing season and rainfall are adequate,the soil and or topography in many parts of the world are not suited to raising crops.Of course mountiansides can be terraced,and even the notoriously thin soils of Vermont and Maine can be coaxed into producing passable crops if enough effort is put into the job.

Except in very fertile areas with the most favorable climate,the labor requirement of small scale organic garming without diesel,gasoline,pesticides,and electricity is such that little or no time will be left for any other income producing activity after meeting household needs-if indeed such needs can be met by newly minted subsistence farmers.Let us not forget that draft animals will be few and far between.

People such as my parents and grandparents who were accustomed to long hours of really hard physical labor year in year out are in very short supply these days in the developed world.I can't see valley girls and accountants making the transition.

So the (probably very small) portion of the population which embraces the sustainability movement early and with religious fervor will maybe make it.The remaining permaculturists will grow enough food in the few hours or couple of days a month that they put into it to live a little better if there is only a steep decline rather than a collapse.The rest of the suburban population will starve waiting for a resolution of the lawsuits between the home owners who want gardens and the property owners association looking to protect the nieghborhood from the hillbillies.

Now of course permaculture,depending on who you are talking to, probably comes in different varieties sort of like vegetarianism,so these remarks may not apply in all cases.It all depends on how far you want to take it.All the organic growers I have ever met ship by truck,except for a couple from Thialand who used to use a wheelbarrow before they moved over here.So thier model is closer to sustainability than ordinary industrial agriculture,but still dependent upon ff for transport and the manufacture of the machinery they use.

I'm just a crabby old farmer.Don't take me too seriously.

Ok, so you're saying that the problem is not farming per se, but peak oil.

If so, this appears to be another example of how an assumption, that oil is not replaceable, underlies many Limits to Growth analyses.

Whole countries such as Saudi Arabia are in this predicament.Fossil water depletes just like oil.

As in Jordan?


And Afghanistan?


Even if the growing season and rainfall are adequate,the soil and or topography in many parts of the world are not suited to raising crops.Of course mountiansides can be terraced,and even the notoriously thin soils of Vermont and Maine can be coaxed into producing passable crops if enough effort is put into the job.

Passable, indeed. Ask Sepp.


As with everything, our problems have nothing to do with can't, but with won't. Cuba gives a good example, even if not perfect, of what a country can do. Your assumption appears to be that we will simply impose permaculture onto existing social structures and organization, in which case, I have to agree with you. It is obvious to me that a large die off is on;y avoided by a major restructuring. There's more than enough land to feed the current population, and more to be had through re-building soils as in the first two links above. However, ultimately, a different socio-political structure must rise to avoid the fall. Most of us, for example, will have to participate in feeding ourselves. That means land will be distributed differently, etc.

So, success is not likely, but is eminently doable.


Nick,Ccpo, the point that I was primarily trying to make is not that there is anything conceptually wrong with permaculture,or that it is not feasible, if the practictioner is both knowledgeable and possessed of some hands on experience.

My point is that the typical suburbanite who thinks that when and if tshtf he can,because he has been reading up and gardening in the back yard, ramp up and suddenly become self sufficient in food, or mostly so, and still have enough time left to earn some money or whatever passes for money to meet his remaining needs, is seriously mistaken.Probably fatally mistaken.Let me try to show why this is so by pointing out a few facts about my personal situation in the latter part of this post.

Cuba is a special case that is not really comparable to the US for several reasons.We have only a small fraction of our land with such a favorable climate.We don't ,as yet any way ,have a police state capable of forcing us back onto the farm.We don't have a citizenry accustomed to an extremely modest standard of living,hard labor(excepting the young guys who nail together houses,etc) and low expectations.We aren't already dispersed thru the country side to an extent anything like the Cuban population.We need heat for more than just cooking.This is not meant to minimize the Cuban accomplishment by any means.

Professional people who have never followed a trade or worked with thier hands invariably badly underestimate the length of time it takes to become a proficient carpenter,auto mechanic,or plumber.It takes at least 4or 5 years to become a fairly proficient gardener,and even then any honest gardener will admit to making serious mistakes as he trys new crops and methods.

So where will all the good people in New York and Boston going to go,exactly,when and if?I can squeeze a half dozen good friends and relatives into our farm house,and maybe a couple more could camp out in the barn.That half dozen,if they ever wind up here,will find that we will be hard at work pretty much all the time,raising enough to feed ourselves and maybe have a little left over to trade for shoes or nails or salt.

And that's on a farm that is already up and running,with a barn full of mattocks,hoes pruning saws,ropes, shovels,and a hundred other tools needed in the course of a year.We have cleared ground that has been well cared for,in a high state of fertility,that we can work without ff inputs if we are forced to do so, by collecting leaves in the woods and doing number one and number two in buckets, as is still done in much of China.

We will not be able to let a hog run in the woods,as was commonly done here as late as the 1930's and occasionally into the fifties.Way too many hungry people will be roaming the woods.We probably will be able to keep a dairy cow by grazing her on steep ground(very close to the house) which will have to be mowed twice yearly with scythes to keep the woods from taking the grassland back.

I hope I can keep my tractor running on hoarded diesel long enough to raise and train an ox-something I have never done.A horse or mule will be beyond my reach.I would buy one now if I were really convinced the crash is on its way.We have gravity water from a spring up the hill from the house,but even here in the hills not even 10 percent of us have suitably situated springs.My nieghbors well is 600 feet deep, and 8 inches in diameter.I expect I could get enough water out of that well to drink and cook with by means of some sort of jury rigged windlass in a couple of hours a day.Oh well the creek is not that far away.Only a half a mile but the hill is kinda steep.

I took a look at the video, and as a demonstration of what is possible,it is fine.I've seen a fuel cell car too.That doesn't mean I can buy one, or build one.As a large scale practical reality capable of feeding tens of millions of people,the switch to food sustainability under whatever name is simply not going to happen fast enough to prevent mass mayhem if things actually do go to hell in a handbasket with little or no warning.

This is not to say that we should abandon hope, or quit researching new solutions.I am saying that the food situation is comparable to the energy situation.I don't think too many Readers here believe that we will be getting enough biofuel,or wind energy, or solar energy ,or geothermal energy, into actual production to maintain our society we know it within the next ten or fifteen years if oil production or availability suddenly crashes as a result of depletion or war. Chalk me up as a short term pessimist,meaning the next 10 or 15 years, and a long term optimist, meaning 20 or more years out.I hope we are still around to argue about it.

Now for what it is worth, I do think that if the crash comes tptb may be able to maintain enough control to see that the farmers and the truckers get enough fuel to prevent mass starvation here in the US.That would open up a window of opportunity to get the sustainability movement up to speed,as it would then hopefully be obvious to anybody except a classical economist that we have no choice in the matter.

I guess what I am really trying to say is that if the crash comes,you can save yourself and your family,BUT IS IS GOING TO TAKE TEN TIMES THE WORK ,PLANNING, AND SACRIFICE you expect.

As a child, my family (6) got 3/4ths of their calories# fresh from a 2 acre garden for half the year, and a smaller % from preserved food (mainly frozen, less work) and early/late crops for the rest of the year.

As the oldest, I still remember my relief when my father bought a rototiller.

My father's BS was agriculture, Masters Farm Management and PhD Agricultural Economics. He grew up on a share cropper's farm (HARD work !)

Do away with the flowers my mother loved, and we could have grown some more.

But to grow AND preserve enough to get through a full year ? Potatoes and field corn would be the best hope.

I can see doing it at my age, but not likely in ten years. Hard work even with fertilizer !

I see a well established mixed fruit & nut orchard (trade for other foods) as being the best hope for an old man (STILL work, but not as much, and harvest help can be hired).

And there is a learning curve in every area and every crop.


# Dairy, very small portions of meat, bananas & some other fruit and cooking oil were bought year round. My SWAG is that was 25% calories bought. On the table for half the year was dishes of garden produce.

Cogent comments, Alan, very much to the point. Being already a tottering old fart myself, I'm now very focussed on maximum fresh/storable yield for minimum muscle/sweat input, perforce. It's an interesting exploration, but surprisingly encouraging. Permaculture approaches seem to me definitely to be the most promising ways to go, with forest-agri and no-till as the best of them.

Robert Hart, who died in 2000 in his nineties (like Fukuoka; what is it about maverick permaculturists...?) set out to create a forest garden on the sort of very limited acreage which is standard here in small, over-crowded Britain, to see how much a suburban garden could provide for its household. The results are impressive. See here, for example: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=659155658226666080

But note that it took thirty years for Robert to feel his way to this climax system. Younger-generation forest permaculturists, such as Martin Crawford, and Chris and Lyn Dixon are doing similar oddysseys on, respectively, two-acre and seven-acre holdings here too.



Their experience seems to confirm Robert's conclusion that, once established (big proviso!) a mature forest garden seems to need about ten days work PER YEAR! (sic!) to do everything that gathers the yields and keeps everything working well.

My other big delight, born of work-reducing experience on my own place, is the advantages of no-till growing. I love it. Ruth Stout was a great apostle of this, though there are many others now. See, for instance:


Note one vital point about this method: you don't have to use only bought-in hay or straw. I never buy any. Instead, I have a scythe, and a lot of rough, neglected ground nearby which yields a highly varied cut of grass, 'weeds', herbs, etc. every few weeks in the warm season, just for a bit of pleasant rural work. Incidentally, until you've tried scything with the East European-style scythe, and have got, through a bit of regular practice, the knack of the 'meditational, martial-arts' entranced rhythm going, don't let anyone tell you that it's back-breaking labour. I sure as hell wouldn't do it if it were. I've been scoffed at on TOD before for saying this, presumably by someone who has less experience of this style of scything than I have, but the fact is that you can come out of one of those chi-gathering meditations with MORE energy than you went into it, and an endorphin high to boot. And a load of rich herbal hay for excellent mulching too.


The other key things that I do here is to grow masses of the wonder-plant comfrey; and I scythe regular loads of wild-growing nettles. These two, with a bit of of humanure and duck-shit, and regular hand-broadcasting of white-clover seeds on any bare patch which looks as if it could benefit, take care of all my place's NPK needs. This Autumn, I aim to have a complete inventory of stashed storeables, plus my every-single-goddamned-day-of-the-year-something-fresh-picked raised beds, guaranteeing my and my partner and her daughter a survival diet, at least, even if there were a total breakdown of food supplies here. I don't suppose that there will be, if luck holds. I just want to be fully competent to do that.

Oldfarmermac is dead-centre spot on with this experienced-food-grower analysis. This is EXACTLY how it is. I speak from current sharp-end experience too. Like him, I believe we have to be short-term pessimists, rushing to get up to speed with desperate haste as practical homegrown food-permaculturists; but I too am reasonably long-term optimistic. The food bottleneck, though, if TSHTF very suddenly and bigtime, is going to starve a lot of us. Particularly in that famous 'world-leader' (hah!) conglomerate state USukis, ultra-vulnerable as it's turning out to be -- big nukes and all. Diamond and Catton are so right about how empires collapse.

No amount of ingenuity, innovation, and effort can create unlimited resources on a finite planet.

I agree with most of what is written, but you have to acknowledge that technology COULD save us. The only real limitation is energy. If we had unlimited energy we could recycle all that wasted metal/plastic/whatever back in to usable materials. I'm not saying we will ever have unlimited energy of course. But if we had an abundant source of clean energy (come on NIF!) we could potentially sustain a much larger population of humans than otherwise. It is near-sighted to say that there is a particular sustainable carrying-capacity for humans that we can't possible increase in any way.

I'm not saying it's going to happen. Just that the possibility should be acknowledged.

Technology is a two-edged sword, for sure...

Technological advances are responsible of our enormous "success"; in the sense that they "net deplete" natural resource reserves in the process, they are also responsible for our predicament. And most new technologies seem to involve the utilization of incremental resources, because the "goal" is typically to save human labor or discomfort or energy through the utilization of more natural resources.

So, technology as a "savior"; maybe, if instead of using technology to save human effort at the expense of natural resources, we used technology to save natural resources at the expense of human effort! Think your mainstream American would go for that--especially if you told him/her there were no more nonrenewables!?

The point I was making is that technology can't substitute for resources; once you use natural resources, they're gone, especially nonrenewables--all the technology in the world won't put Humpty Dumpty together again!

AFA recycling; currently about 8% of the resource inflows to the US economy are recycled. We could undoubtedly do better, but remember: not all natural resources can be recycled, you "lose some" on every iteration, and recycling requires resources as well, many of which are nonrenewable.

Tough to get around the inevitable conclusion that eventually it's going to boil down to renewables--exclusively; and there's just not much--in the way of industrialization--that you can do with renewables exclusively!!

all the technology in the world won't put Humpty Dumpty together again!

That's just it. We could do it. With enough energy you can turn CO2 and filthy salt water back into sweet sweet petroleum. There's no point in doing it now, but if energy were extremely abundant we could. What natural resource is truly gone once we use it? Until the atoms actually leave Earth they are not really gone. With enough energy they could be recovered and turned back in to almost anything. What natural resource can't be recycled? Most are not recycled simply because it does not make economic sense, or because people are too lazy. If NIF is success and we are able to successfully harness fusion power the rules would change on what you're saying.

Again, I'm not saying that is likely but is it a possibility at some point in the future. The only things that are truly impossible are those that break the laws of thermodynamics.

Again, I just wouldn't have fusion be my Plan A going forward--ever try to put the sun in a bottle!?

Fair enough. It's certainly not something we can or should count on. I agree with your predictions and conclusions for the most part. I'm just pointing out that you should never say never.*

*Unless thermodynamics says never, then you really should say never.

So what is your Plan A ? B ? C??

Chris,I'm not so sure that you are correct in predicting such a hard landing,but I do believe that such is possible and have thought so for a long time.You are right about fusion power saving our bacon. Most of us probably won't live long enough to see a fusion power plant built.Anybody who wants to know why can check out the Von Karmen Lecture Series sponsored by Cal Tech using thier own faculty.It's free on the net.This particular lecture is entitled Where in the World Is Our Energy .. by a world class chemist.Feb 2008



Technology is not energy. Energy is a resource converted to power, not a resource.

Anyway, eventually we would exhaust the landfills and a crucial non-renewable resource or two and the behemoth population you envision would crash even harder than the American crash Chris has detailed.

Unlimited power is the ultimate fools dream in terms of the supporting technology and supposed benefit it would bring to mankind.

Curious how resistant we are to a hunter gatherer lifestyle when without exception hunter gathers are extremely happy people. Except of course when facing disease, famine, or attack.


I'm not from Minnetonka, although I can see it from where I'm sitting right now. Anyways.. I know what energy and power are. So not unlimited power, but how much power? Right now we get a good amount from the sun. If we could utilize it better we could support more people. If we could effectively use fusion to generate power we would have much more power available to us. That power could sustain even more people. Obviously there are only so many atoms of iron, copper, potassium, lithium, etc. on Earth that we would have to recycle. But if those were efficiently recycled they could support many more people. So of course we would reach a population plateau, but it would be MUCH higher than if we had no technology to speak of, ie. 10000 years ago.

I am just saying that the POSSIBLE contribution of technology should not be disregarded.


What benefit do you see to larger populations? You seem quite fixated on maximizing available resource consumption in order to grow the largest possible human population.

Beyond that, elements can not be economically made (absent of course unlimited power, but then there is that pesky thermodynamics thing). That is why they are elements. So a burgeoning population consuming a finite resource can not sustainably plateau. It can max out and correct to sustainable levels though.

But back to the original question, what is so good about massive populations?

If you are thinking with your wallet and fantasizing about maintaining economic growth through population expansion you really are in denial about the whole notion and impact of peak oil.

I would think that the immediate benefit of a larger population is obvious. I don't particularly want to die any time soon. If the sustainable population level of the planet is 1 billion (just pulling an arbitrary number), then the vast majority of people need to die and not reproduce. I'm 24 and was kind of hoping to have at least one kid. I'm not advocating a massive population, just a slow decline rather than a crash. I would imagine that the vast majority of people share this opinion.

You said it again, sustainable levels. I'm saying that with technology it is possible that we could increase that sustainable level. I feel like this is extremely obvious. My whole point is that that sustainable level is not carved in stone.

I don't even know what you're getting at when you say thinking with my wallet. I can tell you, for what it's worth, that I could have been making double my current salary if I had accepted a job in the oil industry.

I absolutely do not want the human population of Earth to continue to increase. People like 'Octamom' are criminals in my opinion. I just think it would be a bummer if most of us died violent deaths over the next 25 years.

I know I'm a bit late to this thread but for the sake of balance I feel compelled to comment. MNChemE brings up a valid point that technology changes our situation. The charts above suggest that ~50-100 years after the peak in oil production, humanity will return to ~1700s living standards. This is completely absurd as it ignores the last 300 years of technological innovation. Chitowncarl states that "Technology is not energy" and in general this is true but technology is also more than big TVs and faster cars. I work in the field of PV (solar panels) and this is a perfect example of technology which offers nearly unlimited energy generation. Also, the energy intensity of computation (Watts per flop) is currently 100s of MFLOPS/Watt which is ~10 orders of magnitude better than just 50 years ago. Finally, technology can result in efficiency thresholds which enable dramatic drops in energy consumption. For example PV+Green Buildings+Intelligent consumption = 10x reduction in electricity consumption in the built environment.

I think the critical weakness in the type of arguments in this thread is the assumption that since oil has been dominate for 100 years that there CAN'T possibly be any viable alternatives aside from fusion power or the stone age. An entirely different interpretation is that oil has simply been the cheapest source of energy and that the feasibility of alternatives have never really been tested in the past ~70 years or so. It's always been possible that an alternative would arise which could undercut oil in the same disruptive way as cell phones, DVDs, etc but it looks like this won't happen soon without a 2-5x increase in oil prices. However, when the price inevitably climbs back up past $100/bbl we'll see a horde of alternatives continuously destroy demand in such a way that collapse doesn't happen. Eventually (~2015), these alternatives will get a true foothold, achieve ubiquity (~2020), and finally push oil consumption to the fringe (~2030). I know this is a tough pill for most on TOD to swallow but I see it as increasingly likely especially after what's happen over the past 12 months.

MNChemE - your instincts are correct. Don't back down from the doomers and don't pose your arguments so meekly. Technology does change things and we'll see a new and sustainable energy paradigm unfold in the next 2 decades.

"Curious how resistant we are to a hunter gatherer lifestyle when without exception hunter gathers are extremely happy people. Except of course when facing disease, famine, or attack."

Among other things, it's the massive population bottleneck we'd all have to successfully live through to be able to enjoy such a future. It's like being forced into a game of russian roulette.


This is further commentary of the kind getting some traction recently. Good companion to "Overcoming Systemic Roadblocks..." posted here a couple of days ago. The chart "Inevitable consequences of social overextension" looks quite a bit like David Holmgren's Future scenarios.

I am hopeful we can descend with some success. We will descend either way. But when I talk with people about the "predicament" (I like that understated description), their eyes glaze over or they become fatalistic and resigned. And the news about possibly increasing ethanol in gas to 15% and the push for coal liquification looks more like grabbing on the slope with bloody fingernails and burning the furniture than an enlightened "great turning."

Your full report goes in my document library. Thanks!

Thanks for your comments, and for your time!

Actually stole "predicament" from William Catton; he used it in "Overshoot"; I couldn't think of a better term to describe our "situation"!

If you've never read "Overshoot", I strongly recommend it!

A graceful descent would be nice!

A comment like this:

"it is as though we are currently spending $30.40 from a finite, one-time inheritance for each $1 of current income that we earn—almost 97% of our current total consumption level is enabled by our dwindling inheritance. So while we have grown accustomed to living unsustainably on $31.40, we will have to learn to live sustainably on only $1—soon."

without reasonable justification or data to support it is worse than meaningless.

Keep in mind that this is the "short version"; the "long version" contains the references and evidence--and there is plenty of each!

As a matter of fact, the purpose of chapter 3 is to quantify our predicament, and chapter 7 is nothing but evidence. Please take a look if you have the time and the inclination; I would be very much interested in your comments--you sound like you're from Missouri!!

One problem I have with even considering moving to sustainability is there simply does not seem to be and easy way to decrease population. Decrease births to fast and you end up with a society of older people which is not sustainable for demographic reasons.

I think this is the real problem with population growth once it hits it limits its far easier to lower the standard of living then it is to actually reduce the population. In general in areas with a low standard of living you have higher birth rates as the only way people can make money and ensure being cared for in their old age is via having children.

I don't a single plan that solves this I have hope that its possible to allow the population to decline with dignity via using our innovate nature to ease the living condition of the poor and potentially via devoting most of societies output to caring for the elderly for decades. And this would not be a sustainable decline but would hopefully slow the rate we exploit non-renewable resources to limit the damage to the climate.
And of course done correctly more advanced renewable technologies such as cheap high efficiency PV cells could work to cushion the living conditions.

Even with this you would probably have to do some draconian population management schemes such as only allowing half of each generation to have one child or probably better a even lower number say 25% to have 1-3 children.

This sort of solution implies a very draconian approach that would simply not be acceptable and would be forced effectively some sort of biological warfare.

Its not clear that this is any more desirable then simply allowing our population to decline via natural means as it exhausts the remaining resources and of course by simply stripping the planet and assuming that some humanity will survive we can be assured that they will have no choice but to create a sustainable society probably on a planet with a very small habitable zone and that it would take thousands if not millions of years before the earth recovered.

By the time that resources where again abundant enough to exploit the human species itself would have evolved by force to the point that this would be unthinkable.

From the very big picture point of view given a few million years the planet earth will recover from our excess and if humanity survives it will have learned its lesson or a new smarter species would have arisen so its probably better for humanity to destroy itself now and destroy the planet to the point that evolution can work its slow changes to ensure that a species like ours is no longer possible.

Better to lose almost everything to rid the planet of humans. Whats really interesting is this outcome seems to be the one humanity has chosen its a intrinsically suicidal species its just to bad about the collateral damage. But how else can species like ours become blocked from evolving until a more frugal species fills the top niche ? Its a bit interesting that a intelligent suicidal species that exhausts the earths resources is a prequisite for the rise of a more intelligent species willing to be a steward of the planets meager remaining resources. Lets hope enough of us survive that we form the ancestor branch for this species.

Well, you've hit upon one of the biggest taboos known to man--population reduction; even the "overpopulation" folks don't want to talk about it--but we must! My thoughts are on page 28 of the "long version". Nothing really "new" or "innovative" unfortunately...

The thing to remember is that population and living standard are a "trade-off" at any given level of total consumption. So, you can always have more people at lower average living standards, or fewer people at higher average living standards--at a given total consumption level.

So what we are really talking about is attainable population level/living standard combinations at sustainability. Then the "problem to be solved" becomes determining the mix and levels of sustainable resources that will be available "at sustainability"; which will, in turn, determine the total consumption level; which will, in turn, determine attainable population level/living standard combinations.

Not easy, but it offers some latitude in determining "the number"!!

The future does look bleak, by present standards, and I have five kids who will be facing it if I don't. Avoiding collapse with any known politics or education looks unlikely. So . . .

If we can't preserve our so-called civilization, can we preserve our culture? What will be the equivalent of medieval monasteries, the library at Alexandria, the Arabic scholars? (And if the knowledge stored at Alexandria proved flamable, what of present-day knowledge stored on media unreadable without matching electronics?) I quite like having the sense of knowing so much about how the universe works. Hate to see it all lost.

Dinosaurs developed high skills at predation -- I haven't seen any evidence that they were moving in the direction of self-reflection or science. Genetic evidence indicates that the earliest ancestors of present-day humankind lived about 150,000 years ago -- it was a long wait for systematic philosophy or experimentation to come along. If present-day knowledge is lost in social collapse, could future generations of hunter-gatherers rediscover it?

But what good would it do them? Since I get off on that sort of thing, I guess I'm just lucky to have lived at the peak of the age of knowledge. Knowing how to smelt iron, or make flint arrowheads, might be more satisfying in future than wondering if string-theory will prove out.

I don't see any intrinsic reason for humanity to go extinct as far as knowledge goes over the short period of time I don't see any reason for our knowledge base to be lost. You don't actually need to retain anything but the core science principals to give a new generation of smart thinkers enough info to rapidly create advanced technology. A few boxes of books is enough.

The loss of knowledge from the Roman Empire had a lot more to do with the fact that the real secondary civilization was the rising Moslem culture not Europe or Rome. I'd argue most of the losses actually occurred during the meager transfer from the Moslem cultures back to the newly civilized west.
Eventually in the ensuing wars more was lost before it could be transferred.

If you look the Moslem scholars pretty much took Roman knowledge forward to new heights along with input from India and China I don't see any real break in the continuity of transfer of knowledge.

However on the engineering side one wonders how much will be discarded as simply of no use. I'd suggest that a lot will be and that we will be surprised what remains and whats thrown away.

I hope that we continue to advance in computers believe it or not actually manufacturing computer chips is not as hard as people think it does require some advanced instrumentation but its more the knowledge of how to build it not actually building its thats important. If your happy making a small number of expensive chips then its doable.

And oldie but goodie.



Similar things hold true for our medical technology.

I see no intrinsic reason for us to actually lose our science or even our advanced technology.
I do see that a lot of the stuff we now mass manufacture esp a lot of the ways we use plastic just simply are not relevant to a resource constrained world. A reusable clay, wood, glass, metal or even thicker plastic cup works just fine. Given durable goods hand manufacture works just fine. The amount of goods you actually need to live and ok life are quite small. One area I wonder about is cloth manufacture and clothes given that mass manufacturing in this area blows away small scale one can suspect that clothes may well be one of the last areas where hand made goods predominate.

Plenty of places in the world have population levels close to sustainability. Russia for example is probably in good shape esp with global warming. Parts of Africa if left alone long enough could probably create sustainable cultures fairly rapidly.

Its only when you look at the problem of saving six billion plus people that have no interest in being saved that you are faced with a insurmountable problem.

It may be cruel but I've come to the conclusion that the only viable path is to focus on the regions and people that are "worth" saving. And by worth I mean simple triage not that these people are intrinsically better or worse than any others. They just happen to live in a region that has good local resources and a relatively small high tech population with easily defensible borders that can be readily closed to prevent a influx of lightly armed migrants.

Nothing good bad or evil simply strategic moves. You have a number of places around the world that fit this set of strategic requirements.

Then I think its simply a matter of maybe these regions can come up with something new maybe a variant on fusion a cheap solar cell a breakthrough batter who knows.

Maybe they don't maybe some of them simply survive long enough to pass on technology once the population has dropped off.

I don't really feel all that bad about this conclusion many Jews escaped from Nazi Germany as it became obvious that conditions where deteriorating.

At some point you just have to focus on issues you think you can solve work take care of yourself and your loved ones try and devote and increasing amount of your efforts to coming up with ways to support a sustainable society and go on with life.

The moment you restrict your concerns to a regional level and convince yourself you live in a region that is sensible then you need not worry about the big picture its not important.

If your lucky and make the right choices then theres a good chance that even if your life gets much harder it will be 10,000 times better than what others are facing. Ruthless ?

I don't know and I personally hate to give up on mankind but on the same hand what else can be done ?

The best thing I can do is to give the next generations that will be forced to clean up our mess the best I can think to give them. For better or worse keeping technology and knowledge and working to re-purpose it for a sustainable high tech society is the best I can come up with. Not for the stupid EV car crap people talk about today but say a electric assist pedicab to ease the burden of the pedicab driver.

Say something like this with a solar panel.


Maybe a pedicab station with solar panels and maybe using fast charge capacitors.

If it makes sense and works I'd argue it dramatically increases the quality of life of the pedicab driver allowing them to say haul that 300 pound women uphill without killing themselves.
It opens the door to allow older people to potentially operate pedicabs in certain areas.
If they are effectively fully electric then you could easily operate one well into your 60's.
And of course people who are disabled could readily get jobs as drivers maybe not pedicabs but
electric trolley cars or other similar jobs are possible.

This is the sort of blending of high tech/low tech thats probably the sort of thing we will desire in a post peak world.

So you just give up on the big picture and start focusing on the little things. Outside of taking a hard look at the area where you reside and seriously considering its local sustainability the rest is just a matter of making and intentional effort toward sustainability. Even if you can't easily change your job you can certainly change your personal lifestyle.

Pay attention do the best you can and don't worry about it. If you live long enough to see your children's overall life is joyful they are well fed and have access to knowledge and some technology to build their own dreams then you have done enough and thats all your children need provide their children ...

And although I know many people have chosen to not have kids because of population levels but in the end its up to us who have kids to bear the responsibility for their future and we need to teach our own children about sustainable living. Historically wealthy cultures tend to have negative birth rates so I think that if we can keep a very high standard of living or more likely give it a chance to grow later that the population problem will tend to take care of itself. Certainly our culture could move to strongly support people who choose to not have kids simply relaxing the cultural pressure alone is probably enough for society to move towards a more renewable balanced level.

I don't see a solution for our current population problems however regardless of how things play out one can envision that at some point in the future maybe thousands of years from now we will have a depopulated planet that has recovered from whatever ravages we finally inflict on it. We can hope that this population chooses to remain small and raise its standard of living. Our job is to do our best to try and ensure they make the right decision and don't take the path we have chosen.

The burning of the Library at Alexandria may of been one of the largess losses of information of all time, and the resulting Dark Ages in Europe followed it, along with the rise of Christianity.

May have been the largest loss of misinformation of all time too, though we don't know as it's been destroyed. The vast Dark Ages certainly wasn't due to a library thousands of miles away getting burned. Given that several universities and cities were razed to the ground by the Islamic jihad invasions of India, it wouldn't be surprising if they also destroyed the Alex on the basis that its contents either conflicted with the Qur'an hence heretical or agreed hence superfluous.

As for Islamic preservation of the ancient texts, that was because the papyrus all rotted in the humid north but was preserved in the dry Egypt-Arabia. Subsequent "Muslim" scholars were more usually non-Muslim dhimmi subsisting in the conquered terrortories.

Please educate yourself: The destruction of the Library of Alexandria predated Islam by hundreds of years.

Maybe a pedicab station with solar panels and maybe using fast charge capacitors.

SolarLabs had a nice futuristic design for a solar powered rickshaw to be used in London at one point.
Don't know if they ever got it past the design stage. They seem to have built some really nice solar powered boats though. http://www.solarlab.org/

... believe it or not, actually manufacturing computer chips is not as hard as people think


I suspect you are beginning to lose touch with reality.

I live and work in Silicon Valley.
The reality is exactly the opposite of what you propose. Manufacture of computer chips is incredibly complex. It takes thousands of people in thousands of exotic niches of specialty to make it all come together. However, because these niches are hidden from the public, thanks to the magic of the market, one can foolishly come to believe that all which needs to be done is to bring your body into a Fry's or Best Buy store and, bam, there it is: the low priced computer and all the easily manufactured innards that go in it.

If a number of people were willing to pay $10,000/chip for a 5 MHz 8086 equivalent (larger chip perhaps), how many people/much high tech would be required to set up and operate a production line ?

Assume that old chip factory scrap was around.

If there is a product suited for global trade, it is computer chips. One factory in the world (two for redundancy) could supply the "critical needs" of the future.



I suggest you are trying to run away from the issue.
Yes of course we can mass produce chips full of nothing but NOR or NAND gates and then let the user figure it out from there (using DeMorgan's Theorem).

The issue was however, How complicated is it to manuafacture today's modern computer chips?

The answer is: very.

The bigger issue is that the word is indeed very complex,
But on the other hand we each possess a brain that is incapable of appreciating the full extent of the big picture and its complexities. We each behave like a worker ant in an ant colony. I do my job. You do your job. And somehow, by the grace of the giant King Ant in the sky, our colony will successfully muddle through and forward like it always has in the past.

"One problem I have with even considering moving to sustainability is there simply does not seem to be and easy way to decrease population"

How about 1.9 children per woman, many western countries already have this birth rate, doesn't seem to be draconian to me.

Population isn't going to be decreased without mass starvation because there isn't any interest in decreasing global population by those in power. If there was this interest, it would be accomplished relatively easily-the average woman on this planet is so poor she would gladly be sterilized for a modest sum ($3000 US ?)-just a guesstimate. The thing is, those in power want a greater global population, not a lesser population. You make more money being at the top of a much larger, though poorer, pyramid. A lot more.

I suggest that old people 'man up' and be willing to accept not having young people around to swap out their bed pans or serve them their burgers and fries.

It's called 'Overshoot', by Catton.


One of your points I'd like to take issue with is this:

A vast majority of us are "culturally incapable" of acknowledging our predicament, much less taking meaningful action to resolve it—we suffer from societal cognitive dissonance. While we acknowledge that "we have our problems", we consider the idea that our American way of life is unsustainable to be utterly preposterous. America will continue to grow and prosper forever—because we say it will. Our vested interest in the continued success of our American way of life is simply too great to permit us to consider any argument or evidence to the contrary.

The minority who do acknowledge the reality of our predicament will continue to insist that "they"—our political and economic representatives— "fix it"; when, in fact, we ourselves are responsible for "it", and for the fact that it cannot be fixed—because we will not allow it to be fixed. Fixing our predicament would require that we live sustainably within our means forever—a "sacrifice" that we consider to be totally unacceptable.

There is a small but significant minority of people who recognize the predicament, accept ownership of the role of the individual in creating it, as well as the role of the individual in responding to it. They do not look to representatives to "fix it" because they recognize at some level that those people represent the system that created the predicament in the first place.

While the accepted wisdom in collapse circles is that the majority will always drive the agenda (right off the cliff), this is demonstrably untrue in real life. Very often, large-scale positive change is driven by individuals -- names like Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King spring easily to mind. Each of these people was the spark of change that shifted the beliefs and behaviour of tens of millions of people.

Today we have a spreading movement of individuals and small independent groups claiming personal ownership of local aspects of the predicament. The larger that movement grows the greater the probability that a catalyst individual will emerge from it. Paul Hawken's book "Blessed Unrest" documents the largest, most diverse, most decentralized, most resilient social movement ever seen on this poor planet. It consists of over two million small, local environmental, social justice and aboriginal rights groups spread through every city on the planet. The movement has grown from 150,000 groups in 2004 to two million or even more today. If anything can be a game-changer, this movement can.

To believe that the monolith will inevitably triumph is to ignore the evidence that is right in front of us. There will be massive changes, that much is certain. Many of us will perceive the changes as "collapse" if our sense of self is sufficiently invested in the world as it is today. There are others, though, who are already responding to the changes as an opportunity, like the hard-coated seeds that can only germinate after a forest fire. This is the minority that you have ignored in your bifurcation fallacy above. If there is hope for the future of humanity, it seems to me that it lies with them.

Fortunately, I'd be willing to bet that not a single one of them is an economist.

Chris, Thanks for this presentation, although I only had time to skim the longer document. The graphs are very nice and clear. The points about sustainability are simply and powerfully made. Using non-renewable resources as the basis of the economy is not going to work. Anymore than a dot-com company can try to grow forever on a fixed fund of IPO money. We have to generate a renewable cash flow.

But I do want to encourage you to modify the final chapter on "what to do". GuilderGlider (who also did a large model of future energy and world society) has an excellent point that there are other methods of responding besides chaos and destruction. And it has been my experience that most people who are working on peak oil are very cooperative and helpful to one another. I think that will get stronger, not weaker.

302 million at 1.8K per year does not sound like much money, but it is well beyond the world poverty rate. And the US has a huge amount of built infrastructure that most of those countries do not have. I have seen photographs of the poor in Latin America carrying water in plastic coke bottles. The US will have used coke bottles for the next 100 years! (ok, that was a joke, but think of the metal in cars that won't be needed after the oil runs out. More than enough to build quite a few tiny tractors).

Also, as growth ends and we turn down, the flow of non-renewable resources demanded drops sharply. Exponential growth starts running the other way as we head into the tails of the far side bell curve. With some renewable energy and an annual income of 1.8k per year, it is possible society could maintain that level for centuries.

There is no doubt that we will suffer a down turn as severe as you outline. I just think it will take much longer to reach bottom. And there are ways people can work together to push our scenario more toward "fizz" and less toward "pop". A little more writing in your final chapter on that possibility could go a long ways to helping make it happen.


Thanks for your time, and your comments!!

The $1.8K was just a way to sort of put things into context--dollars was the only common denominator that I could find to express material living standards on a universal basis!

It's not so much the dollars really, although I still think that anybody would be hard pressed to sell ALL Americans on the idea of downscaling to $1.8K per capita, when our average per capita consumption level is now over $57K! The real "gotcha" is the fact that our resource mix must change to "renewables only", because renewables, used sustainably, are the only sustainable resources...

No matter how misty eyed we get about the glorious days of yore, nobody in their right mind wants to revert to an 1800 lifestyle, much less to an 18,000 BC lifestyle!

But we'll have to--I just don't think most Americans will go peacefully--especially if it happens fast! (I'm not sure that I will!!)

[But even if our collapse scenario is a "fizz" rather than a "pop", how many years do you think Americans who are used to "continuously more and more" are going to sit back and accept "continuously less and less"? AND, even if 99 out of 100 are willing to do so, the other 1 with the guns will cause a lot of trouble for the other 99!]

"No matter how misty eyed we get about the glorious days of yore, nobody in their right mind wants to revert to an 1800 lifestyle, much less to an 18,000 BC lifestyle!"

Guess I'm not in my right mind, must have been living through the 60's. Seriously, the town I live in was incorporated in 1787, next town over was founded in 1613. Lives, with wonderful stories, great feats, and enduring loves have happened here. It's different here now than the 1800's but only in so many ways, we have around 33 people per square mile, ocean, forests and abundant game.

Yup, people worked hard then, and people do here now as well. Generations add to the stonewalls their great ancestors started when first working the land. Kids park their trucks, right where the old folks used to park their buggies for a look at the moon and maybe a little more. Grin. I suspect the buggy would come right back quickly.

These were full and wonderous lives, with moments of great joy and great sorrow. I don't see that as horrible for a future at all.

Don in Maine

Well spoken. We are largely trapped by the idea that the way we live now is the only way we could possibly live. If we believe that, then the threat of change brings despair. If we don't believe that, then change loses much of its menace. I'm sure people were actually happy back in the Neolithic, as heretical as that sounds.

I don't know.

Infant and maternal mortality of 75%+. Constant warfare (see Pinker). Life expectancy of less than 30. Parasites. Bad teeth.

Don't get attached to your husband, wife or children. Kids, don't expect much love from your unattached parents.

A bad life.

Quite a few places in the world like that today, my readings of life in the USA in the 1800's is nothing like that. You're born, you live, then you die, get used to it. Make the most of what you get.

Don in Maine

Life in the US in the early & mid 1800's was exactly like that.

It was the norm for women to die in child-birth. Infant and small child mortality was so high that it was the norm for people not to attach to or nurture their children - the concept of close parental attention was extremely novel in the late 1900's and early 20th century.

Life expectancy in the US at 1900 was about 45: half of the people on TOD would not be alive, under such a regime, and certainly very few of their parents.

Have you looked closely at photographs of adults in the 1800's? They never smile, because their teeth were terrible.

It was a very, very hard life.

- the concept of close parental attention was extremely novel in the late 1900's and early 20th century.

What a load of hot steaming crap!



"Families of the 1600s and 1700s may have valued children for their role in inheritance, but children clearly didn't elicit the same kind of sentiment that they elicit from adults today.4

This rather "unsentimental" treatment of children probably had something to do with demographic realities. Fatal disease in the Middle Ages was quite prevalent, and infant mortality rates were extremely high. Young children were not expected to live for very long. In 17th century France, for instance, between 20 and 50 percent of all infants died within the first year after birth.5

People commonly believed, therefore, that if they wanted only a few children, they should have many more in order to "hedge their bets.� Parents couldn't allow themselves to get too emotionally attached to something that was seen as a probable loss. Some even referred to their infant as "it" until the child reached an age at which survival was likely."



People were cold in the winter and hot in the summer; average life expectancy was mid-30s; if the crops failed, you went hungry--if they failed for several years, you died; if you got sick, you died; infant mortality was high, the percentage of women dying in childbirth was high. Life for most was barely above subsistence.

Be interesting to take 100 Americans from 1800 and ask them if they'd rather live then or now; and take 100 Americans from now and ask them if they'd rather live then or now--or better yet, ask any person in a "developing" or "emerging" country if they'd rather continue their way of life or have an American way of life.

I don't see many people worldwide striving for a subsistence way of life; but there are billions striving for the American way of life! Problem is, there just aren't sufficient resources to enable it...

The fact that people aren't striving for a return to a Neolithic existence and think it would be intolerable compared to what they have today misses a crucial point.

The point is that the life of a hunter-gatherer was not perceived by the tribe members as being blighted, since the only way it can be seen as such is through comparison. The same holds true for people in the 1800s or 1600s or the Middle Ages or any other time you care to name. Our definition of life in those times as "bad" is largely the result of projection, based on what we perceive as normal.

Some people were miserable then, some people are miserable now. Some people were joyful then, some people are joyful now. When the conditions you are living in are all you know, you simply live in them. You may want to improve your personal lot, but that's because you compare your lot to others living around you, not to some ideal you have never experienced.

Now it's reasonable that we would feel fearful of a decline in living standards, because we would remember our previous situation and compare it to our newly straitened circumstances. However, each new generation that comes along takes the conditions of their childhood as their baseline for normalcy, and live out their lives with reference to that.

A future generation born into a damaged, resource-poor world would accept that situation as normal. Though they will have information about previous times in which life was "better" (at least in some ways), their emotional connection will be to the world they are born into. Since all cultures make a point of reframing history it's entirely possible that their new cultural narrative will cause them to look back on our times not with envy but with sorrow -- sorrow that our values had so thoroughly missed the mark.

"The point is that the life of a hunter-gatherer was not perceived by the tribe members as being blighted, since the only way it can be seen as such is through comparison. "

They would be objectively less happy. They might not know greater happiness was possible, but why is that important?

They would be objectively less happy. They might not know greater happiness was possible, but why is that important?

Nick, you can't be serious.

On what do you base that assumption? How do you propose to quantify their happiness?

I would argue that a even well fed sow after wallowing in the mud would be able to derive pleasure and a feeling of contentedness when suckling its piglets.


Unhappy Humans and Happy Pigs

when we consider happiness purely quantitatively, as I believe utilitarianism
must, we can see that, taking into account differences between human and
animal natures, an unhappy person does not score more ‘points’ than a happy
pig. I have, furthermore, attempted to argue that such a ‘points’ system is really
the only viable way of making utilitarianism work: Mill’s quotation requires that
happiness be comparable, comparison requires that happiness be calculable, and
calculability necessitates units of quantification.
We are now in a position to observe how the claim that it is ‘better’ to
be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied functions, and how it is
incompatible with utilitarianism’s conception of the good. In section one we
saw that an unhappy person is not happier than a happy pig.


This Month in Photo of the Day: Your Photos

The piglet is one day old and crippled. The mother had more babies than nipples to feed them. The farmer talked about putting this one out of its misery but decided to let some Swazi orphan children take care of it and feed it with a bottle instead. Now the little pig has grown big and strong!
—Caption by Amanda Kopp

On what do you base that assumption?

There's quite a lot of research into what makes people happy. It's pretty well established that it's not a purely relativistic thing, as you suggest. Instead, the absence of basic human necessities objectively makes people miserable.

How do you propose to quantify their happiness?

First of all, you can ask people. 2nd, you can look at biological markers (stress hormones, etc), to validate what people say. It turns out that there's a strong correlation between what people say, and what their bodies say.

Now, when you ask people, it turns out there's a strong correlation between income and happiness up to about $5k. After that, happiness levels off. (for further info, you can start with McKibben's book "Deep Economy")

Now, humans as well as pigs will still be able to derive some pleasure from basic things, but humans aren't pigs (or chimpanzees). Humans will be aware of death, disease and suffering, and it will hurt their happiness.

The Bhudda described life as "suffering". He didn't do it for nothing.

Please see my reply to your earlier comment.

"The point is that the life of a hunter-gatherer was not perceived by the tribe members as being blighted, since the only way it can be seen as such is through comparison. "

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point. My question is how do you purport to measure the happiness of hunter gatherer's and compare that with the happiness of someone living in the 1800's Unless you have a time machine you won't be able to

Now, when you ask people, it turns out there's a strong correlation between income and happiness up to about $5k. After that, happiness levels off. (for further info, you can start with McKibben's book "Deep Economy")

Ok I accept that correlation for our modern western society. I've actually read a few of those studies.

However are you seriously suggesting that there is no way that cro magnon man was able to be happy because he didn't live in a society where he could purchase a rubber duckie for his jacuzzi?

Or a hunter gatherer living in the Amazon rain forest today isn't truly happy to have a successful hunt and join his tribe in a feast after the hunt in singing and dancing and drinking fermented brew?

What I'm saying is that you are comparing apples to oranges therefore your assumptions are flawed

are you seriously suggesting that there is no way that cro magnon man was able to be happy because he didn't live in a society where he could purchase a rubber duckie for his jacuzzi

I'm not talking about toys and hot tubs. I'm talking about living past age 30. Cro Magnon man very probably didn't, on average.

Or a hunter gatherer living in the Amazon rain forest today isn't truly happy to have a successful hunt and join his tribe in a feast after the hunt in singing and dancing and drinking fermented brew?

Oh, I'm sure there were good spots. On the other hand, let me partially repeat myself:

It was the norm for women to die in child-birth - each birth would have had, very roughly a 5% chance of killing the mother, and after a pregnancy each and every year, for 10 or 15 years, few women would be left. Re-marriage after widower-hood or widow-hood (due to equally risky chronic warfare) was necessary - see the biblical instructions for marrying widowed in-laws.

Infant and small child mortality in pre-industrial Europe/US was so high that it was the norm for people not to attach to or nurture their children - the concept of close parental attention was extremely novel in the late 1900's and early 20th century. This would have been worse for hunter-gatherers.

Life expectancy for hunter-gatherers was about 30: most of the people on TOD would not be alive, under such a regime, and none of their parents.

Living with painful and unpredictable death around you, on a daily basis, is miserable - there's no way around it.

There would also be enormous amounts of very painful chronic disease. Have you looked closely at photographs of adults in the 1800's? They never smile, because their teeth were terrible (bad teeth are very painful). Parasites, skin problems...

The Bhudda said "life is suffering". He said that with good reason.

It was a very, very hard life. There are some things that are not relative.

If we go back to living in caves we will have electric lights and hair dryers, electricity is just to convenient to forget about, and our women will definitely not let us forget. I can imagine a world without oil, NG, coal but definitely not without electricity, possibly not 1.5kW per person, but even 100W makes the difference between a hunter gather and civilization. There is no going back!

I agree.

Actually, given how cheap wind power is, I just don't see the problem.

I mean, 1.5KW average power means about 5KW nameplate wind capacity, which would only cost $10K, on a onetime basis.

We're not going to spend $10K per person, spread over the next 30 years ($300/year)?? That's just...goofy.


Assuming you believe that "sustainability" is inevitable, and that sustainability means living exclusively on renewable natural resources (in a non-mining manner), how do you propose to convince 305 million Americans--whose extraordinary way of life depends almost exclusively on nonrenewable natural resources--to transition to what will be essentially a hunter-gatherer existence? (And that available resources will only support a small fraction of the 305 million, even at a H-G level?)

I couldn't figure out a way!!

I believe the following:

  • Sustainability means living entirely off off renewable resources (actually as a Deep Ecology adherent I'd go even further, and say that it requires us to constrain even that consumption to leave room for the needs of all other remaining species).
  • Sustainability is inevitable.
  • There will be a lot of hardship and misery involved in getting there, as people are forced to redefine what sort of life is possible, let alone desirable.
  • The shift to sustainability will be involuntary for most of us.
  • The shift will be voluntary, though progressive, for some.
  • Mother Nature will do the heavy lifting, and she has no need to convince anyone of anything.
  • Populations will reduce naturally as they always have, through involuntary limitations on the food supply.

The groups and individuals I speak of have three roles in this drama:

  1. They are acting as "Gaia's antibodies". They arise spontaneously in response to local symptoms of dis-ease, and work to try and fix the local problems causing the symptoms. They take information, but not direction, from outside their local areas. As there are apparently so many of these groups, their action is somewhat analogous to the operation of an immune system.
  2. They may act as cultural "imaginal cells" and catalyze the broad shift in values that will ensure that as many people as possible enter the "voluntary shift" category.
  3. They will act as the seed stock for a critical set of sustainable values. These groups tend to share a set of values — cooperation, consensus, nurturing, recognition of interdependence, acceptance of limits, universal justice and the respect for other life — that are precisely the ones a civilization would need to become sustainable. As the groups are so widely distributed and are not bound into a single organization, the movement is very resilient. That resilience maximizes the probability that some groups will survive to transit these values into the surrounding culture, no matter how many areas on Earth experience various changes up to and including collapse. Just as seeds spread their genetic material into the new plants they become, these groups act as seeds to spread their own cultural memetic material — their sustainable values. The space for these values to grow will be opened up as the guardian institutions of the old value system rupture due to the converging crisis.

I see the predicament and our potential response to it in fundamentally different terms than you do, and in a very different light than I did myself up until a year ago. I saw humanity in a box of our own construction, with all the potential exit doors mere painted images on the walls. I wept for the deaths of billions and the intractable human nature that made misery inevitable. I now accept that misery has always been inevitable, as has joy, and that how individuals respond to the vagaries of life is literally the only thing that matters. The human enterprise will change form as it has before. There is still hope, but it's not where most of the people on this board are looking.

This is a great post and is quite different from the thinking you have displayed in the past. I get sick and tired of people telling me that all forms of the human enterprise have already been tried, and that no possiblity exists of anything new under the sun socially or politically.

I'm not persuaded that GG's is a great post. Firstly GG listed Ghandi, Mandela etc, all four of whom were inspirators of some group rights movement, with a ready audience for an entirely "what we want" message. Very different from inspiring people to understand a complex scientific challenge, and face dauntingly difficult choices of how to massively reduce population and consumption.

GG then says: [with my omissions]
"# There will be a lot of hardship and misery involved in getting there, [....].
# The shift to sustainability will be involuntary for most of us.
# [....].
# [....].
# Populations will reduce naturally as they always have, through involuntary limitations on the food supply."

Sure, but I suspect the same words mean something very different to me and others. Namely "most of the population will starve or freeze to death".

Unless there are highly improbable developments such as fusion power, the population will reduce very sharply in coming years. I expect there will indeed be inspiring individuals such as you indicate (and some names on this site come to mind) but they are only going to be useful if they work on realistic ("doomer" collapse) assumptions, and build minimal lifeboat communities rather than try to convert New York to run on algae-power and composting.
An example of an inspirer who is misguidedly heading many people down a blind alley is in my opinion the Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins.

Are we talking about the same post? It sure doesn’t seem like it. GG made no reference to Gandhi, Mandela, or any other specific leader of the past. He does not deny the possibility of catastrophic scenarios. e.g.

As the groups are so widely distributed and are not bound into a single organization, the movement is very resilient. That resilience maximizes the probability that some groups will survive to transit these values into the surrounding culture, no matter how many areas on Earth experience various changes up to and including collapse.

This does not sound like an attempt to run New York on algae and compost to me.

I did refer to Gandhi and Mandela in my original reply to the article:

While the accepted wisdom in collapse circles is that the majority will always drive the agenda (right off the cliff), this is demonstrably untrue in real life. Very often, large-scale positive change is driven by individuals -- names like Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King spring easily to mind. Each of these people was the spark of change that shifted the beliefs and behaviour of tens of millions of people.

I definitely don't rule out collapse, though I think the coming changes will look more like collapse in some areas than others. That's why the decentralized, resilient qualities of "the world's largest social movement" is so crucial.

I definitely think that the USA is a candidate for one area where the changes will "look more like collapse".

I believe that there is a growing constituency for the message that these small groups are offering. That's why their number is expanding so explosively.

My fundamental disagreement with most of the approaches touted on TOD is captured in your phrase, "inspiring people to understand a complex scientific challenge".

I do not believe that the challenge is one of scientific understanding, or that the predicament should be viewed as a "scientific" problem at all. Some responses to it will be scientific, and some of them may do some good. However, I believe the core problem is with our cultural narrative. Our narrative tells us that we are separate from nature; that the world consists of two categories of things: people and resources; that we have a (right/duty/mission) to bend nature to our will; that growth, for want of a better word, is good; that hierarchy is inevitable and beneficial and that power should always win. In the face of this narrative little will change. Fortunately the converging crisis is going to rupture many of the cultural institutions that create, disseminate and defend this narrative. The groups of the movement I talk about have already rejected it and are actively working to replace it with its diametric opposite, one person at a time.

For a comprehensive look at why I think this way, read Charles Eisenstein's remarkable online book, The Ascent of Humanity.

hierarchy is inevitable

Yes indeed.

My take on all of this is that, as was the case in just about every other era of decline, the scum will rise to the top. Never waste a crisis is the guiding principle of the sociopath. This is why I am convinced that the more intelligent members of the TPTB have anticipated the coming collapse and have worked out how to stay on top all the way down. This means a techno-fascist future a la Orwell and Huxley. Resource constraints cease to be a problem when you are in control of who, and how many, get to feed at the trough. Thanks to the vast range of surveillance and psychological manipulation techniques available today, totalitarian control has never been easier.

Does this make me a doomer ?

"Does this make me a doomer?"

Hardly. Though as a practical matter some of the toys of the techo-Fascists will break down err the end. Still, there will be plenty of play time for the run-o-the-mill Fascists running around with wooden clubs in jackboots. Or if things get really bad very quickly, then even the raw organizational impulse of Fascism will be unwound and we can enjoy a very fine organic chaos.

But don't underestimate the pleasures to be found in chaos. Served us for 4.5 million years, you know. And look what industrial controls got us. Reap the whirlwind, embrace your inner animal.


There is nothing wrong with what Rob is doing. He himself says "I don't know if this is really going to work". He is trying to provide a path for the future that is more palatable to the masses than anarcho-primitivist apocalyptic narratives that will eventually lead to hunter-gatherer utopias.

There's a ton wrong with what Rob is doing. Even his original Totnes is a joke of globalised tourism not remotely heading towards resilience. TTers fail to grasp that a group of nice people cooperating is a waste of time if there are thousands of strangers nonmembers near at hand to demand their "rightful share" when things get hairy.
TTers shrink from criticalness preferring to be "positive". They look in delusion to a false example of Cuba which is miles out of the way in various respects.
They fantasise that they can be inclusive and still function in localities where most people are not involved.
TTers are not even discussing any possibility of collapse, only the very hopeful scenario of a gradual plane-landing to sustainability.
They falsely mistake exciting activity now (before the crunch) as being success in passing a test which is yet to come.
They are just nice gullible impractical people in semi-denial.

Notwithstanding that Rob says he doesnt know if it is going to work, his followers don't have such doubts.
I know all this because I have been very much involved myself, the only difference from a cult is that the people are nice rather than nasty.
TT is a tragic distraction from viable options. Rob has some good ideas but at the end of the day is just someone who wrote a muddled book and is leading a collection of equally muddled people over a cliff. Tragic.

One of the most insane concepts of the TTers is "the collective genius of the community". In reality genius is exactly what the community (all but very rare individuals) lacks. Where was the "collective genius" when this overshoot crisis was being wound up with manic production of cars and roads and supermarkets? Where was the "collective genius" when 3 million of the Nazi army marched into Russia?

In reality genius is a very rare thing and a vitally important thing for steering through novel times. Without the ability to even recognise its existence the TT movement is doomed.

While I do not wholly disagree with your premise I feel that you underestimate the response that societies can make. Within 4 years the borough I live in has gone from recycling 3% of household waste to 40%. The EU is banning the sale of incandesant lightbulbs reducing significantly electricity demand. Yes such changes only gives more time to adjust.
But then I remember talking to my grandparents about living through he second world war in the UK. Peak everything hit at once, because of submarine blockades, but people adapted incredibly qucikly. There was no choice. When you see the rations people survived on you wonder how the food lasted a day let alone a week. Society can adjust once it is clear to all that there is no choice and a will exists to cope with the conditions. That will yet take us a long way if you have some trust in your fellow man.

Think in terms of living on renewables--exclusively; water, soil, timber/wood, and biota (wildlife and naturally growing vegetation)... The "deprivations" we've experienced in the past will seem like picnics...

How much "industrialization" can you build with wood--in the absence of fossil fuels?

Underestimating the response??? How much has your borough reduced its population so far? Forget it.

WW2 was a long time ago and things are vastly different now. People will "adapt incredibly quickly" to the need to avoid being seen by hostile desperate others. But not incredibly quickly enough to avoid being killed by them.

trust in your fellow man.

And there's the most damning change of them all. The greatest "benefit" of the multicliquism experiment.

I remember the depression and the second war very well. We did adapt very fast, turned off private car production instantly, for example. We responded to a national emergency, and everybody felt better about it. How many people do you know who remember that war as high point of their lives- because they had a purpose, and a way to get it.

I suggest a solution- not a hopeless lament, not a description of the mess we are in, but a solution.

1)Declare National emergency
2) As in war, direct non-essential efforts of entire nation to provide sustainable energy, food, shelter, etc. (USA is almost all non-essential effort)
3) construct wind, solar energy sources connected by HVDC, with hydro storage, adequate for sustained modest level of life.
4) emphasize local sustainability, population reduction, environmental preservation

This gives purpose to nation, meaning to personal lives- a sense of purpose, togetherness, achievement. It increases, not decreases, our quality of life.

Result. Catastrophe avoided.
Essential element- leadership, followership.

There are plenty of examples thru history of group survival of far more dire situations. Let's quit whimpering and get to it.

Wimbi: Tell us please how you are going to get the national emergency declared. Answer, you aren't.
The uk govt is trying to enable us to buy even more cars, even though our roads are clogged with the things already. So much for instantly stopping their production.

I've read many "let's do this" documents. They don't result in the "this" being done. And my extensive experience is that projects aimed at mobilising governments to do anything useful are an utter waste of time. Forget about stopping the hurricane. Prepare to weather it instead.

Robin. Of course I am not going to declare a national emergency. I am an old geezer wheezing in a corner. I just note that there is precedent for things getting done in far worse situations. The real problem- people don't see what's coming, and so just laze around and get more obese. All right, if we are too stupid to survive, we won't. So be it.

I like the old story of Xenophon in his tent after the battle. He is lying there listening to the victors whooping it up outside and he says " Hey, why are us Greeks just lying around here waiting for those Persians to get sober and come kill us? We should be getting the hell out of here NOW. What are our leaders thinking? And so he takes charge and does the job, and writes a book about it telling everybody how good he was at saving the asses of those 10,000 mercenaries.

So? You do it. And quit tellin' me it can't be done.

On second thought, maybe I CAN declare a national emergency. I am reminded of the MAD magazine cover showing the simpleton holding a gun to the head of a dog saying " Get out of Vietnam or I will shoot this puppy". That'll do it!

Link to ...

" spreading movement of individuals and small independent groups claiming personal ownership of local aspects of the predicament."


"The movement has grown from 150,000 groups in 2004 to two million or even more today"

I just don't see it in my area

If this is what you speak of , I feel we are in real trouble


Me too. I think the Transition Towns is a tragic delusion. And worse it distracts valuable people from potentially useful projects.

Like what, fletching arrows and raising teepees?

The answer is a bit longer than that. Very briefly lifeboat communities have to be set up with personnel and locales which satisfy all the required conditions. TT projects are invariably set up with any number of the required conditions overlooked. So when times get hard they will go under very quickly. Till then the TTers will be radiating joy at their supposed enlightenment.

In respect of the uk (where I am), it is quite conceivable that the number of communities satisfying all the conditions will be zilch. In which case the population of the uk will become zilch too. That's life. Or rather death I suppose.

Here are the links you need:


Transition Towns may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's just one initiative in a sea of groups working in every way imaginable on every aspect of the crisis you can imagine. The fact that you're unaware of the movement doesn't mean it don't exist, it just means you haven't brushed up against it yet. It's very, very real, it just took someone (Paul Hawken) to recognize what was happening and give it a context.

I have been aware of those , but still don't see that they are doing anything besides trying to sell books and raising money for their ideas.

Worst than the Transition Towns IMHO.

We are running out of time and resources.

Soon it will be to late for spider web communities and electric rail and those don't have a whole lot of mainstream support.

Like tipping points in Climate Change ... options are fading fast.

Have you read the book?
What exactly is wrong with raising money to support ideas?
The contents of that book and the individuals and groups registered on the WiserEarth site are evidence of the movement I speak of.

I understand why you and so many others feel negative and cynical, I shared those feelings up until a year ago. I went through a three-year "dark night of the soul" over this issue, the evidence of which is still on my web site (http://www.paulchefurka.ca#Articles) in the article section labeled "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here". I couldn't break my despair because I knew of no legitimate alternative perspective. Discovering this movement played an enormous part in my recovery. But that recovery was not possible until I understood the emergent mechanism at work in this movement, realized that my feelings were not "truth" and accepted that hope was as acceptable a response to the crisis as despair.

Perhaps it would help if I or a friend could physically visit/view the work of these movements.

What is the location ?

Maybe something like this ... (not books or internet money raising)


Click on over to http://www.wiserearth.org/organization and take your pick from among 111,000 organizations. WiserEarth isn't a fundraising portal, it's a connection portal. Here is how they describe themselves:

WiserEarth helps the global movement of people and organizations working toward social justice, indigenous rights, and environmental stewardship connect, collaborate, share knowledge, and build alliances.

You can read about Totnes, which is the prototype of Rob Hopkins's Transition Towns projects. Even though it's a small (8000) wealthy mini-town, it doesn't take much research to confirm that it is a joke as far as resilience against energy decline is concerned:


And that's supposed to be a marvellously successful movement worth publishing a handbook for.

Please understand I don't want to be negative about TT. Would be wonderful if I could find something to have faith in there. Just there isn't much to be positive about it beyond the hype-thusiasm.

You talk about USA, but what about ROV, is for example Europe=USA???


Thanks for your time and your comment!

I focused on the US because we keep great statistics, we're probably the greatest offender in terms of resource overexploitation, and I live here!

My guess is that other industrialized societies are similarly overextended--the more industrialized, the more overextended--because industrialized societies are very heavy users of nonrenewable natural resources. BUT, I believe that America sets the record in terms of overexploitation of economic resources--nobody prints and borrows money like we do!! (Neither will we actually in the not-too-distant future!)

I would enjoy the opportunity to work on such a project for other countries or the world as a whole, or for segments thereof such as the OECD...

"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense."
-Obama's Inaugural.

Yeah, but at least he didn't explicitly state that it was "Non Negotiable"

I think that as a lawyer he is familiar with the concept of settling a case out of court.
It's pretty obvious that he has a situation that is not defensible. I think he is smart enough to know that when it comes down to it his clients do not have an ironclad case and will probably have to negotiate or risk losing it all.

And let's face it the guy is a politician he couldn't exactly just come out and say, "Sorry folks, the shit is hitting the fan and we are sooo screwed, so please mail me all the keys to your cars and hand in all your guns as well ok? Now don't forget to vote for me next time, Love ya! God Bless! Go Red White and Blue! ..."

Now there's a political platform I can sign up to!!!

I see no evidence that Obama is aware of peak oil or overshoot issues. Global warming, yes, but not the rest of the doom mixture.

Neither do I really, however that quote of his doesn't automatically paint him into a corner, hence my comment about him knowing that he may have to negotiate and as a lawyer he should be smart enough to leave himself an out. I think he is politically savvy. As for everything else, he has surrounded himself with people who should know and probably do know. Are thye ready to come out and tell the the people the truth? Probably not.


There ya' go! BHO was just on TV today telling me how he's going to provide more healthcare for everybody at a lower total cost... More for less; what's not to like?! (Who was that before talking about the second law of thermodynamics?!)

Nature bats last...

VERY easy to do ! More and better health care for less $ than current American health care.

This may illustrate your limitations in analysis that you do not see this.


USA is #1 in GDP for healthcare @ 15.3% (2006, higher today). Switzerland is #2 at 11.3%. EVERYONE else is lower than that !

The USA is way down the list (bottom half/quarter of OECD) for life expectancy, infant mortality and other health care outcomes.

We spend a third more than Switzerland (and even more for anyone else).

A reorganized healthcare system along the lines, of say, Switzerland can deliver more & better healthcare at lower cost.

Best Hopes for learning from other societies,


What is it in some people to define the American way of life in purely economic terms? Things like the freedom to change your religion, to move from one state to another without some official permission, and even to have open debates about any issue without fear of government reprisal is the part of the American way of life which I see as non-negotiable. Our economic success is the result of our freedom of self expression and not the other way around.


Thanks for your comments and for the read!

Folks typically use $$ (per capita income, per capita consumption) in these kinds of analyses because dollars enable relatively straightforward comparisons over time and among populations. You're right that dollars tend to focus on the "material" side of things and omit the "intangibles"--but intangible lifestyle preferences vary among individuals, so it is difficult to make direct comparisons or general conclusions.

"Freedom" is an interesting concept. We cherish our freedom; yet we have freely chosen to overexploit the resources that enable our way of life and our existence, which will soon be insufficient to enable either!!

t. de p. wrote:

Our economic success


Well, as the Jefferson Airplane so eloquently put:
It doesn't mean sh#t to a tree
Our "economic success" is our ability to overshoot, like most other species, and the resulting population adjustment. It would be a anomaly if this were not the case.

Chris --

Thank you for this interesting report. It is clear you put a lot of work into it.

While I am generally receptive to the message, I think your analysis double-counts the effects of 'ecological' and 'economic' overextension when it is likely that elements of the two are related and integral to each other. This results in an 'overshoot estimate' that is biased high, and makes more dire the predictions of collapse.

Your ultimate population number might be OK; certainly I couldn't refute it with a better number. But if your estimates of economic and ecological overextension are off by a little bit, your ultimate population numbers would actually change a lot. I'm not convinced it's an analytically useful result.

I will admit I have a bit of a personal bias. Mainly, I'm concerned that if we accept that '90% of all people have to go' to achieve sustainability, we start to intellectualize some horrific solutions. Personally, I would sooner have draconian birth control than condone 'mortality rate increases' as described on p. 28 of your report.

To be clear, I don't claim that you advocate slaughter. But if we come to a point of saying 'it's okay that millions died in a resource conflict because we were due for a 90% population correction' then we will have collapsed in spirit, independent of resources.


Thanks for your time and comments!

Would be very interested in discussing flaws/limitations associated with my model offline. I've got a logic that I used--won't go into it here, you can sort of pick it up in the "long version"--but I know that it has its limitations; am always anxious to improve it!

Interesting, I can make a strong case that I've overstated attainable population level/living standard combinations attainable at sustainability!

That being said, my hope/belief/view is that the numbers are "close enough" to convey the idea that we're not "just a little bit overextended", so if we turn off the water when we brush our teeth and quit using plastic bags at the grocery, we'll be just fine!

We are WAY overextended--irreparably so; there can be no soft landing...

I've got a logic that I used--won't go into it here, you can sort of pick it up in the "long version"

I get the gist of it: 10% X 32% = 3.2% (page 20). It just seems to me that, inasmuch as our unsustainable borrowing is based on our unsustainable resource use, these two parameters should be linked or dependent. Cross-multiplying them seems to imply they are independent. From there, this quite small number ripples through....

Chris C,
I enjoy posts such as yours because it allows us to focus on what we have and what we need for a sustainable future.
The major needs of any developed economy are food, energy and minerals; North America has a super abundance of all of these and the most valuable resource millions of highly educated creative people.

I have only started reading the "long version chapter7" but was stopped by your table: "US critical mineral supplies"

The first entry having "limited or unreliable resources" is BAUXITE. Australia has very very large Bauxite deposits, I would have thought the US would consider Australia a reliable supplier especially since we buy a lot more from the US than we sell to the US. Please explain!

I quickly scanned down the list and saw "SILICON" - "limited or unreliable resources". Are you serious? Have you heard of quartz? 99% silicon dioxide. Sure you import 99.9% quartz from Canada, ( a fairly reliable supplier) but you could use local quartz in a pinch.

I will follow up on COBALT, GRAPHITE?? and the other minerals once I have read all of the long version

You really need to re-do the table of "US critical mineral supplies". Firstly include Canada, because of NAFTA and the fact that US and Canadian economies are so closely tied.
Secondly as well as bauxite and silicon, exclude Magnesium ( abundant in sea water), Potassium ( large supplies in Saskatchewan and abundant in sea water), iron 5% of worlds crust, very very large reserves of >85% iron oxide in Brazil and Australia, and high re-cycle potential.
If you focus on the critical minerals Niobium, Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten, Gallium, Lithium , phosphate rock, etc you may be able to make a case that shortages will occur.

Cobalt is a by-product of Nickel mining, reserves of low grade ores are large, but supply would depend upon Ni demand. Graphite can be synthesized from metal carbides http://www.springerlink.com/content/j166543262p6t7x7/

I would also question forest depletion, the link you provided to reference 7-57 "Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005" shows on p200, US in 1990 298,000,000 ha and in 2005 303,000,000 ha; that looks like an increase in forested area to me! Can you explain what you meant?


If the mineral suppliers are either limited in number OR potentially unreliable, I put a check in that category. (Possible oversight in combining two categories into one...) Both Canada and Australia are currently "friendly"; might not always be the case. Australia is also geographically distant; transport might become an issue.

Point is, the US imports a tremendous amount of the minerals that are critical to its "success", and to perpetuating our American way of life. Some are near, at, or past peak; others are available from a limited number of sources, some of which are potentially adversarial; others have few, if any, viable substitutes for some or all critical applications.

I'll be happy to revisit bauxite, silicon, cobalt, and graphite--appreciate your perspective!

The US geological survey has figures for "reserves"(confirmed, immediately available at today's prices) and resources(probable reserves that may require higher prices/more energy to extract). It's important to also include other possible ores that are not presently extracted especially the more abundant elements that are present in relatively high concentrations for example aluminium is a major component of clays but would never be considered a resource because bauxite is much easier to extract.

The other issue is what is your definition of sustainability? The earth will be destroyed by the sun in 2-3 Billion years, so technically life on earth is not sustainable. You need to define and defend a time( sorry if you did and I missed it in long version). Geologic processes such as CO2/CaCO3 cycle, ice ages take place over 10,000-100,000 years so I don't see any point of calculating if we are going to run out of iron ore in >10,000 years. Recorded history has been around for >5,000 years so I would suppose you could use that figure, but technology has changes so much that it seems more reasonable that a shorter period perhaps 500 years( the time for mature trees to grow, new topsoil to develop). Also population in 500 years could be <100Million by natural low birth rates without any collapse, just slow decline and even higher standards of living than the US today. You seem to be arguing for a <50 year time frame, this is making it very hard to argue that except for FF the US will not be able to access any minerals. What about Canada and Australia, should we stop buying computers, pharmaceuticals from the US and stop selling our minerals? My pension depends upon Canada and Australia selling minerals, I won't vote for a boycott of US trade.

The other issue of renewable energy requires more than the 2 references you gave. I have gone to the trouble of reading the long version and your citations and so has Nick, so I think you need to defend your position and provide more support for you arguments. Solar and wind energy resources are 10-1000 times larger than what is used today, so the argument has to be around can wind and solar farms be built in the future or WHY they won't be built in the future, because as you know they are being built now.

What about "declining " forest resources, surely >50 years supply at present logging rates?
You don't define "sustainable" in glossary, see comments below

I have to second Neil's comments.

Also, import supply security is a very, very odd thing to analyze in the context of sustainability. Let's say Canada has a 10,000 year supply of one item, and the US has none, while the situation is reversed for a 2nd item. Further, let's assume that the overall cost of each is about the same, so that there's no trade deficit problem. Is this really something to worry about??

Also, timeframe is important in the context of imports: the US has a lot of ores that it doesn't exploit because they're slightly cheaper to get elsewhere. An import disruption would be a problem in the short-term, but not in the long-term.

I agree with the overall analysis, but I'm not quite as fatalistic about outcomes. People are in many cases individually doing rational things: driving less or not at all, moving in with family, sharing more, growing gardens, etc.

But none of this is supported or led by the gov't -- which wants to restore growth and call it green, whatever that means -- green growth is an oxymoron if ever there was.

The current direction is one of trying to prop up and tweak the empire and the military machine, in order to retain domination of resources, energy in particular.

There needs to be a return to the soil, small dense towns, aimed at local and regional self-sufficiency, a much lessened dependence on global markets. Tens of millions are being thrown out of work globally, and hundreds of millions more will be.

There will be no else place to go for all these people, and yet our gov't and others will not want to let them slip out of the world market. But gov't hostility will not stop the movement, it cannot, because there is no other road to survival. What could it be? That's what I think will play out. Nobody gives up on survival, nor will Americans. But it is going to be one hell of a struggle.

BTW, some if not all of the groups our gov't is so hostile to, bombing even, are survival groups, rural movements.

Edit: Barely a day goes by that one doesn't see evidence of the rapid decline of the empire. Today in FT is see that US debt is threatened with loss of triple AAA, GM nears bankruptcy, the war in Pakistan on people trying to survive is not going well, and so on. Rapid decline on all fronts, that's for sure.

Thought experiment:

How was early 1945 Switzerland not sustainable ?

Powered almost exclusively by renewable energy, agriculture practices similar to last 1,000+ years#, metals largely recycled, etc.

A "stressed society", yes. But a cohesive sustainable, Western Democratic industrial society as well. Low meat, low calorie diet, but sustainable.

Must we decline further that early 1945 Switzerland ?

Only if we make bad choices.


# If someone argues that agricultural practices good for 1,000 years will not be good for 10,000 years, I reject their argument.


I haven't looked into 1945 Switzerland specifically; but what I would check if I were to do so would be the extent to which they were utilizing nonrenewable natural resources. The greater their use of nonrenewables, the "less sustainable" they were...

I have tried to understand WW II Switzerland (within limits due to distance, time and language barriers) because it is a role model of a Western industrial democracy under extreme stress (and few natural resources) that did adapt.

They traded for small amounts of coal (mainly for the minority of train lines not yet electrified; over half electrified by 1928. Today's electrification would eliminate this need). Heating from wood & hydroelectricity (heat pumps not yet invented, so resistance heat), steel largely recycled, city workers were drafted for weekend farm work (take electric train or tram and then walk or bicycle rest of the way) and for a couple of weeks during harvest.

Oil for military, police, medical and minimal leftover for farms.

The non-renewable resources used were so small that our remaining supplies could last for millennium.


BTW, posit a world where Grand Inga (steady 40 GW of hydroelectricity for 50.5 weeks/year) is built and maintained.

Chris C: I don't find any contact info for you; if you have time drop me an email by clicking on my user name. best.

Chris, I think you have two central cases to make: 1-renewable energy can't replace fossil fuels, and 2-minerals will run out.

Here's an important point: you have to make these two cases independently. It's not ok to say that renewable energy won't work because we'll run out of minerals, and at the same time say that we'll run out of minerals because we won't have enough energy.

The only support you provide for case #1 (5-15, page 72) is the EIA forecast! These forecasts have been thoroughly debunked as unreliable on TOD. Your other argument is 5-16, which, as I noted above, is circular.

As far as case #2 goes, I think your sources are inadequate. Magnesium and iron, for instance, appear to be essentially unlimited. I suggest you check the recent TOD article on minerals. The authors identify a number of elements ("elements of hope") which are essentially unlimited. It's important to note that his argument that the others were limited were largely based on energy limits, which largely invalidates his approach. Nevertheless, I think you'll find some of his information useful.


I'm not sure that I'm reading you clearly. My point is that ANY persistent use of nonrenewable natural resources is unsustainable; conversely, NO persistent use of nonrenewable natural resources is sustainable. Our industrialized society is almost entirely dependent upon the persistent use of a vast array of nonrenewable natural resources (in addition to the persistent depletion of renewable natural resource reserves and the persistent degradation of natural habitats), and is therefore NOT sustainable.

The corollary is that the population level and material living standard combinations ultimately attainable by our society in the future will depend upon the supplies of renewable natural resources available to us, and upon our capacity to utilize them effectively.

The purpose of the Evidence chapter is to specify some of the areas in which we are approaching limits to our unsustainable resource utilization behavior--both ecological and economic; the point being that there are many, and they are imminent in many cases!

Re: renewable energy sources, I do not believe that we will ever be able to generate sufficient energy from renewable sources to perpetuate our American way of life. AFA "running out of minerals", I didn't mean to imply that we would run out of anything, just experience a permanent shortfall--either a shortage or disruption-to the supply of one or more critical resources in the not-to-distant future, which will precipitate our societal collapse.

My point is that ANY persistent use of nonrenewable natural resources is unsustainable

I understand that's your argument, but you haven't begun to prove it.

Re: renewable energy sources, I do not believe that we will ever be able to generate sufficient energy from renewable sources to perpetuate our American way of life.

Again, I understand that's your argument, but you haven't proven it. In fact, I believe you can't, because it's not realistic. As I pointed out, the evidence you presented is....unreliable: the EIA is a source you don't trust for oil production projections - why would you believe it for renewable energy projections??

I didn't mean to imply that we would run out of anything, just experience a permanent shortfall

Sure - I was just being too brief to be clear.

Let me provide one more thought: many of your sources base their analysis on Peak Oil or Peak Fossil Fuel. The analyses of "footprint" I've looked at include FF as more than 50% of the problem. If FF can indeed be replaced with renewables, then their analyses are unrealistic.

My point is that ANY persistent use of nonrenewable natural resources is unsustainable; conversely, NO persistent use of nonrenewable natural resources is sustainable.

The fundamental error that makes this massive project worthless.

Simply not true for time periods less than millennium #.

All that is needed is significantly reduced use of non-renewable resources, NOT the absolutism expressed above.

As noted earlier, just reduce coal use by 99.5% and we will have plenty of coal for MANY generations. The absolutism of Chris C is what drives his arguments into logical failures.


# And given changes in EVERYTHING in 1,000 years, deliberately going back to hunter-gatherers because of some conclusion based on the USA of 2009 is ridiculous.

Thanks Alan. Hope other folks read down this far.

>All that is needed is significantly reduced use of non-renewable resources, NOT the absolutism expressed >above.

In fact, you are endorsing his claim. First of all, what is "significantly"? Do you want to solve our sustainability problem or hand it over to you gran gran gran gran son? If you want to switch to a sustainable society that has to be sustainable in its absolute meaning, otherwise by definition, you are switching to another option which attains a different kind of unsustainability (long lasting). After all, for our gran fathers, a society based on OIL was perfectly sustainable (we now see that it was simply long lasting unsustainable)...

>As noted earlier, just reduce coal use by 99.5% and we will have plenty of coal for MANY generations. >The absolutism of Chris C is what drives his arguments into logical failures.

Beside the problem above, the major problem in your argument is this: if you are using COAL and you get a certain energy out of it, say an amount X, whenever you replace coal (and it is assumed you are not going to dramatically reduce your energy consumption) you have to replace it with something... if you replace it with a sustainable source then you achieve sustainability, otherwise you simply remain unsustainable. The answer therefor is not "just reduce coal bla bla bla...", the answer should include a "and replace it with XXXX", where XXXX is a sustainable source with the same properties. Do you have XXXX? If not, the argument of Chris is perfectly viable.

Do you want to solve our sustainability problem or hand it over to you gran gran gran gran son?

I want to hand the absolute problem over to my "gran gran gran gran son".

If we can reduce the consumption of non-renewables by 3/4ths in the next three or four decades, problem solved ! (for the time being, let the next generations cut the remainder by a third or a half).

(and it is assumed you are not going to dramatically reduce your energy consumption

Where did you get that "assumption" from ?

Electrified rail trades 20 BTUs of oil for one BTU of electricity (hopefully from a renewable source). A fairly dramatic reduction.

Bicycling trades some # of oil BTUs for food calories. (Bicycles are superbly efficient).

eBikes trade oil BTUs for food and/or electricity BTUs.

Such trades do not require a reduction in the quality of life. I would argue that they improve life while dramatically reducing FF energy consumption.


"(and it is assumed you are not going to dramatically reduce your energy consumption)

Where did you get that "assumption" from ?"

I thought someone said we wanted to preserve the American way of life with all the comforts...

The American way of life seemed to be OK before Detroit introduced gas guzzling SUV's, in fact you can still go out into the woods and shoot a few squirrels in a 2 wheel drive. People were fairly satisfied living in 1200 sq ft 3 bedroom homes before "Mac Mansions" were being built.
A fuel efficient car is only uncomfortable if you are grossly obese and should be walking. If you visit Washington DC, you will find the metro more comfortable than driving providing you can fit through the doors.

thought someone said we wanted to preserve the American way of life with all the comforts...

I was certainly not that "someone". Nor do I promote preserving Suburbia (some narrow exceptions).

I do promote a higher quality of life, but said life will be absent many of the "comforts" Americans "enjoy" today.

Best Hopes for Clarity,


Do you have XXXX? <.i>

Sure. Wind, solar, nuclear. Scalable, affordable, high E-ROI.

Alan, I suspect that agriculture is part of our predicament, and not just modern industagri, but all of it from the Agrarian Revolution onward.

The destructive nature of agri, especially tillage-agri, has been demonstrated in many places locally, many times since the revolution. But it's always managed to keep growing our total global aggregate food acquisition nontheless, thereby sustaining the inexorable exponential rise in human population to the present locust-swarm crisis.

So now we have a global agriculture crisis, because now the population numbers are so huge that there is nowhere left that can fallow its way back into fertility again, by natural spontaneous action, whilst other pristine areas take their turn to get their soil-fertility run into the ground by destructive tillage agri. Just about everywhere that can be exploited is already in use. Clearing more forest to do yet more agri is a short way to even greater global catastrophe than the one already scheduled. We're already full and over.

Cymru was right about our extraordinary lives here in Britain during WW2. I remember it as a little kid. Given the right sudden and drastic sobering of perception and expectation, whole populations can turn on a dime, and start doing all the details of daily life in a radically new way, virtually at once. Soon, I think, events will become so shocking that huge numbers of us, especially we of the global Pampered Twenty Percent, will go through that sobering suddenly and very quickly, and with surprising little resistance. (That includes USAmerican's I believe. You'll find you still have the old, tough, resourceful pioneer competence, which has been silently marking time within you all this while after all. Think Sharon Astyk, for example; and she's not at all alone.) It's always a matter of critical mass anyway. It never needs everyone to concur; just the necessary threshold percentage.

But Chris has a crucial point; the Archdruid muses a lot around it too: Ultimately, all of us will have to live 100% sustainably, in some way that mirrors the completely sustainable lives of the ancient gatherer-hunters. We have no choice about that, and it may be necessary much sooner than we like to imagine now. And to get there, the current huge human population overshoot must and will go down. Our only real choice about that is how. I see the possibilities for a humane, voluntary reduction, as hinted by, for example, GG. But I wouldn't give you short odds that we'll have the collective, worldwide gumption to do it. The default route is by means of the Four Horsemen.

I suspect that when the shocks of that route have begun to manifest themselves appallingly enough, very much amongst the PTP, as well as amongst the ADEP (the Abused and Deprived Eighty Percent) another big, turn-on-a-dime sobering will happen, spontaneously, and we might then agree amongst ourselves to call the Horsemen off by volunteering for proactive population reduction without their agency.

The problem at the moment for the peoples and the 'leaders', in your country and in mine, is that largely we haven't yet confronted these stark realities. It will take the big shocks to make that happen. Like Chris, I suspect that that will need no more than a 25 year time-frame, and probably a lot less. I'd give you good odds for a lot less.

Thanks Chris for this excellent piece of work. The long version goes into my archive to keep.

Incidentally, I'm not at all against agriculture as a complement to overt wilderness gather-hunter living. They can coexist, as they have extensively in the past; and both of them with at least smallish cities of manageable size too. It's just that all of those three lifestyles will have to embrace the imperatives of sophisticated styles of permaculture, incorporating the pioneering work of Mollison, Fukuoka, Holmgren, Hazelip and all the other way-back trail-blazers, in order to be properly sustainable and cherishing of the living Earth, without whose planetwide life-support systems we're all dead anyway. I do permaculture on my own patch, with terra-preta creation for enhanced fertility AND atmospheric carbon re-sequestration, and it works impressively well. That's an agriculture that the Earth can live with. And it's very good for the average human soul, let me tell ya!

"No till" agriculture is finding a larger market share in commercial/industrial agriculture. Add orchard farming (what is not sustainable about fruit & nut trees ?)

"One day" "we must all be 100% sustainable" is nonsense today.

That "one day" is several centuries (if not millennium) away and insisting that we must ALL convert to 100% sustainable ASAP (my reading of this piece) is a recipe for doing nothing.

An impossible, impractical and worthless goal for the next, say, 35 years.

Evolving towards Switzerland of 1945 (or better) is a more viable goal.

And no one has shown how Switzerland of 1945 is NOT sustainable.


Switzerland 1945 had hills (wind) and valleys (hydro) and not too far north (low heating demands) and probably a lot of stuff smuggled from Deutschland next door (not least by W Furtwangler). And in the subsequent 60 yrs there's apparently been a major environmental degradation. Is this a persuasive archetype?

Post-WW II Switzerland, not at all.

But the preparation for war in the 1920s & 1930s, and then the actual response during the war, shows what is possible for a society worth living in.

Best Hopes,



I couldn't have said it better myself! I hope that you're right about our "resourcefulness" kicking in at the right time--and in the right way! (Have to say that I'm not seeing much of it at the moment; we seem to be lining up for bailouts!)

Chris: Thanks for freely publishing your report. I read it with interest because I am been working on a similar sort of project myself.

Interestingly I agree with most of your conclusions, though my reasonings differ significantly at some points.

I agree with Pitt's critique above about your manner of argument and presentation. He is right especially that what is needed is rigorous distinction between opinion and evidence. I can imagine you are looking forward to a rest after completing your grand project. But I would urge you to take Pitt's critique to heart and work on enhancing your document (which can include shortening). Many of your graphics I don't find particularly helpful. Better to nab things off theoildrum without permission (sorry only joking there).

Just one bit of your argument I'll pick at here is the response of society to the challenge. You use the stereotypical "we" which I find unacceptable. The professional dogma of sociology professors notwithstanding, society is composed of varying individuals, just as a cake is composed of varying atoms.

What we may call "ordinary people" does indeed include many clueless McDumboes who will put their trust in the "they" who will supposedly do something. But "ordinary people" also includes many with the sense to see through the spin, and see that there are daunting problems. They (many, not all) are not in denial of the crisis, but are at a loss as to what they can do about it anyway. Not being in the tiny minority holding the puppet-strings they have no power to steer this tornado. They don't know how to organise. At best they may be sucked into the Transition Towns delusion.

Meanwhile, even if controlling regime minds can make the paradigm shift of understanding what is involved (and they very likely can't even though they have the info), they are still unable to advance any realistic program, as it must involve a massive reduction of their nation's population. And so, as you say, the collapse is the inevitable outcome.

Of the various survival strategies you describe, you (just) miss out the one I favour myself.

By the way, I found your second sentence here (slightly copyedited) hilarious:

Most Americans believe that any conceivable problem can and will be resolved through some combination of American ingenuity, technical innovation, hard work, and perseverance. “They”--presumably a different “they” than the “they” who caused all of our societal level problems--have always developed timely solutions to our problems in the past, and they always will.

One of those nice points which demolishes the critiqued perspective flat out.


Thanks for your time and comments throughout!

I'd be anxious to learn more about your work--your approach, methods, models, etc. If you'd like to contact me (I neglected to provide contact info) - coclugston @ comcast.net

AFA the use of the term "we"; I believe that we are all responsible for our predicament, including myself!

All Americans past and present, but primarily those of us living since the inception of our industrial revolution, are responsible for our predicament. We are directly responsible through our individual overexploitation of the ecological and economic resources upon which our American way of life depends. More importantly, we are indirectly responsible as the ever-so-willing beneficiaries of resource overexploitation perpetrated on our behalf by those who provision, operate, and maintain the critical support systems that comprise our industrial mosaic.

I don't buy the "we are just innocent victims--they are to blame" arguement!

AFA Pitt's suggestions, I'll have to reread his post and think about it. My approach is to make assertions and back them up with evidence; I believe that the evidence that I have supplied confirms indisputably that we are living hopelessly beyond our means, both ecologically and economically; our American way of life is not sustainable.

The specific timing and circumstances associated with our collapse are certainly open to speculation--I can't call it with certainty. But I believe that I've provided compelling (indisputable?) evidence to support the case that it is imminent.

We'll certainly know in 25 years!!

In chapter 5 of the long version you say; " it is also true that renewable energy will never supply more than a fraction of the total energy to which we have become accustomed'

Your references are the EIA projections of renewable energy being at most 14.2% of the 101QUADS ( 2007 consumption).
Just to illustrate how far off the EIA estimates for wind power are, the EIA report in your link has other(wind, geothermal and solar ) accounting for 2.1QUADS in 2030, only a 50% increase from 2009. In the last year win has increased by 0.25QUADS( 3GW average) so the estimate for other renewable will be met by 2011 NOT 2030. My estimate for what would be possible for wind is 38 QUADS by 2030

very little increase projected by EIA from hydro(2.5 to 2.9QUADS), even though only 10% of the US potential has been developed.

Your second reference makes the point that most of the resources to develop more renewable energy depend on non-renewable resources. Mineral resources for wind energy are mainly steel, aluminium, glass fibre and copper, none of which are going to run out in next few hundred years, copper is now highly recycled and steel can be >95% recycled. Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earths crust. "rare earths" used in magnets are not that rare but difficult to purify from ores with low concentrations. Oil and NG used to produce epoxy resins are minor and can easily be replace by a fraction of the ethanol presently produced from maize, or from charcoal via acetylene.

About 10% of the North American energy use is from nuclear or renewable, much more than needed to refine iron ore and aluminium and copper and less abundant elements used to build 10 or 100GW wind energy capacity per year. It's only 10% because we still have lots of FF energy available, as FF decline renewables will increase, WHY WOULD THEY NOT INCREASE?? Wind has an EROEI 20-200:1( energy payback in a few weeks or months).

"About 10% of the North American energy use is from nuclear or renewable, much more than needed to refine iron ore and aluminium and copper and less abundant elements used to build 10 or 100GW wind energy capacity per year."

This is extremely naive... Aluminium processing is one of the most energy consuming task in the world. Most of the processing worldwide is currently done in Iceland because of geothermal potential of this nation. You have got to think in GLOBAL terms! US are not existing alone, US get a lot of things done from abroad and pay for it in dollars!!! Without oil, long distance shipments are out of questions (expecially big machinery and large stuffs, like wind turbines).

Again, the problem is not the electricity, you CAN generate a lot of electricity, but electricity is a very bad and inelastic form of energy. It is the last form of energy you would want if you are searching for ores, minerals, resources, if you are farming or in general if you have to deal with big spaces and long distances. Electricity cannot be easily transported or stored. In this sense it is antithetic to oil... Perfectly useless for a wide range of tasks! Oil is, in contrast, suitable for almost everything. I could put a small engine in my bedroom and power up my laptop if I wanted. And I could do that even on the top of a mountain! Try to do that at -20 with a DC battery!

"It's only 10% because we still have lots of FF energy available, as FF decline renewables will increase, WHY WOULD THEY NOT INCREASE?? Wind has an EROEI 20-200:1( energy payback in a few weeks or months)."

Wind will indeed increase, this does not mean that US can keep on with the current consumption levels.

Most of the processing worldwide is currently done in Iceland because of geothermal potential of this nation.

About 3% of the world's aluminum is smelted in Iceland, and hydroelectricity is the dominant source (>80% now I believe).

BTW, I hosted two Icelanders for JazzFest. One a professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Iceland and the other project manager for Karahnjukar, a 700 MW hydropower plant.

You are correct that power intensive industry should be built near massive renewable energy sources. Grand Inga could be a cheap 40 GW of hydroelectricity.

electricity is a very bad and inelastic form of energy. It is the last form of energy you would want if you are searching for ores, minerals, resources, if you are farming or in general if you have to deal with big spaces and long distances. Electricity cannot be easily transported or stored

BS !!

Electricity is the nearly perfect form of energy. VERY high efficiency motors with great characteristics (oil motors are horrible in every way in comparison). VERY easily controlled and modulated as needed.

One can travel, or ship freight, from Scotland to the Pacific Ocean TODAY with electrified rail.

Mines much prefer electrified conveyor belts to oil fired trucks, despite the much higher initial costs, because of the much greater efficiency.

HV DC transmission can span continents. The proposed Grand Inga grid would go from Spain to South Africa to Saudi Arabia.

Pumped storage works extremely well (81% cycle efficiency, massive quantities) in storing electricity. Hydroelectric dams also work quite well.


Africa and electricity and the proven magic of HVDC transmission (with long-life solar heat collection in the north and Grand Inga in the middle) would not provide an 'American Lifestyle', but I can imagine access to a cell phone, a bicycle, clean water and enough to eat. Might even get away from communal clashes and other nightmares worthy of European Middle-ages and away from the hellish extractive economies (latter well reported by ROCKMAN and others: e.g. Equatorial Guinea). http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/4184 )
Absurd that in 2002, costs of investment in Grand Inga were estimated at less than 10 per cent of the recent idiot Bernie Madow scam. Looks as though it might still happen http://af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/idAFJOE53M03C20090423

Add geothermal along the Great Rift Valley and some low environmental impact hydropower still undeveloped.

I can see 100+% of current African electrical demand from renewable resources at competitive prices.

Best Hopes,


Hope you are right, and I perfectly agree as long as we also put in the equation this "drastic reduction" of current energy expenditures :)

Aluminium from ore is extreem energy consuming. recycling of aluminium needs much less power. We use materials so careless because they are way to cheap, because energy is way to cheap.

Imagine the dutch could half there energy consumption easily without loosing comfort. Think of lights of, solar heating for warm water, more efficient fridges and washing machines, get rid of the drier, kill standby use of equipment etc.

Imagine what the USA could save as they start from double the amount of energy per person.....

Then wind power or solar power is suddenly a much bigger share from a much smaller pie

As with all things evolution is the solution.

Question Everything

The possible harnessing of fusion power is not the only technology which could save us.

What if in the near future almost everyone is connected to a virtual reality computer system such that a lavish (or otherwise desirable) lifestyle could be experienced without real resources (apart from minimum amounts of basic food) needing to be consumed?

Current virtual reality systems are quite basic, but at an exponential (Moore's law) rate of technological development it is not out of the question for large scale and believable simulated reality systems to be in place within 25 years. This is a far more achievable and sustainable solution to our resource constraints than any possible fusion breakthrough. It would also be a more civilized alternative to society collapsing.


As long as it can be designed, developed, produced, provisioned, supported, upgraded, and maintained exclusively with nonrenewable natural resources, I'm in!!!

You mean like The Matrix? We should just shit up the planet and "escape" into a massive roleplaying game?

Yes. Except we would do it to conserve resources and live sustainably rather than for the negative reasons that movie portrayed. It would be a great improvement on current reality for the vast majority of people.

"They" figured something out. As early as 1953, the EBR-I reactor in Idaho was breeding as much plutonium as it was consuming. The BN-600 fast reactor has provided commercial power to the grid since 1980, and has the best operating record of all Russia's nuclear plants. The BN-800 the the Russians are building next year will demonstrate that a fast reactor can be just as cheap as a light water reactor.

Of course, the U.S. has had superior technology since 1994, when Clinton squashed the Integral Fast Reactor.

As Kunstler says in "The Long Emergency," "But nuclear power may be all that stands between civilization and its alternatives."

The BN-800 the the Russians are building next year will demonstrate that a fast reactor can be just as cheap as a light water reactor.

*WAY* too much faith in the JIT technological fairy !

Wrong on several levels.



I would quibble with the assumptions, the numbers and the conclusions. While I agree with you regarding the severity of the situation we face, it is not possible to sum it up with straighforward numbers.

As Jared Diamond explains in "Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive" some societies have made it back from the brink of overshoot and collapse, most notably the Icelanders. Others did not collapse outright but declined in a series of notable milestone events such as the fall of Rome to their own Visigoth mercenaries. The Roman power structure collapsed, but Roman culture itself never did and much knowledge and skills survived until the Renaissance. There was even new knowledge acquired, notably the introduction of the Indian number system by Fibonacci in 1202.

The societies that collapsed all have one thing in common - when they were clearly in trouble, they were unable to recognise the need for reform and persisted with business as usual, making collapse inevitable. The Easter Islanders were unable to change their belief system, persisted with building statues and collapsed utterly. The Icelanders recognised the need for drastic action and saved their island - all be it in a very damaged state.

I do not accept that societal collapse is now inevitable. I think we can still do what the Icelanders did. We may also see the collapse of our power structure, which I contend is called Capitalism, but not our entire culture. If we don't start killing each other and work together to manage the emergency, the means are available for transformation and survival - all be it on a very damaged planet.


Lionel, I agree with your hopeful assessment. I'd add that though the planet is damaged, and probably is now scheduled to suffer worse damage, it can heal and recover itself, especially if humans desert their recent aberration as destructive parasites, and go back past the ancient status of 'just another species living naturally' to become humble stewards doing remedial work for their supporting planet and its life-robe,

Permacultural innovators, and other associated pioneers, have already done useful work in this direction. It could be expanded mightily.

Ran Prieur sometimes describes an imagined future which is neither more of the same that we're doing now (impossible, as Chris and many others see), nor back to the remote past (which might suit such as me and Ray Mears, but clearly isn't possible whilst the planetary life-robe contains an innovative species such as us within its systems). Instead, Ran imagines a creative gaming into existence by humans (actually serving and cooperating with Gaia at last!) of some of the more savvy and healing possibilities out of the immense set that this unprecedented (for planet Earth) current situation actually offers.

This again includes the idea of humans as handy innovators actually helping the life-systems on this planet to find new postures of fecundity and stabilising diversity. But of course it also implies a species which has found its way securely past our current collective feckless irresponsibility, towards a more 'Vulcan' rationality and collective self-control. Don't know how that would work, exactly, but it had better!

In passing, can I just say too that the idea of modern Switzerland, or even Switzerland any time in this past thousand years, as an exemplar of 'self-sufficient' sustainability is unconvincing to me. To keep much of the physical equipment of its current life going, it has no option but to trade with the rest of the world for commodities not present in its own territory. And that puts it at the same level of risk as the rest of us, as constrictions of supply press on us all, and as cascading systems breakdowns make much of long-distance, international exchange of commodities/goods unreliable. Relocalisation is an imperative which none of us can escape now.

I suspect -- let's put it no more forcefully than that -- that Chris's guesstimate of a 5-25 year time-frame before these imperatives begin to bite us in the over-developed, over-prosperous West forcefully and with shocking violence is dead right. So much so that I'm willing to offer my customary bullion-bet to anyone who cares to take it: We can have a little bet on this, so long as the stakes are in actual, physical gold of certified quality, held by an escrow agent that all parties to the bet can trust. I often offer odds, but this time I think I'll stick with evens. This is a very unpredictable situation. I want very much to be wrong in my dark forebodings, and I comfort myself with the understanding that the inevitable upcoming black swans could well make me so.

Those of us who survive these Interesting Times will make our peace with the imperative of 100% sustainability-living perforce, I intuit (see how tentative I'm being in these wholly unpredictable circumstances!) sometime in the next few decades, and no longer. Many of us will get out of the way of the survivors by dying untimely -- and for many horribly -- during that period. Our fecklessness has assured that by now, I fear. I still hope for the humane option for popredux. But I imagine that we shall need those initial terrible, worldwide shocks to shake us into that sobered frame of mind first.

Cheerful old bugger, aren't I. Best of luck, as Matt Savinar likes to say.

PS: Chris, may I suggest that we of the PTP don't 'enjoy' our current crass hyperprosperity, as you say in several places. Actually, we suffer it. It's as disastrous for us, body and soul, as it is for the ADEP who's oppression and looting by us makes it possible, briefly. A small but crucial adjustment of terminology, may I suggest. I say this despite appreciating intensely, especially as I age and begin to have bodily crises, the true blessings of hitech prosperity, which are real and legion, as everyone knows. Had I achieved one of my lifelong daydreams, and been able to live the gatherer-hunter life several-score millennia ago, I would have died in appalling pain long before my current age. I can even pinpoint the particular bodily crises that would have killed me, several times over. There is indeed something to be said for science, technology, and a reasonably prosperous urban way of life, so long as it's shared fairly, and done with profound respect to Gaia, by a small and stable human planetary population. Cheers!


Thanks for your comments!

My view is that unless and until we (somebody) quantify the magnitude associated with our predicament and it's inevitable consequences, nobody (especially those in the mainstream) will pay attention! So that was my goal...

AFA collapse being inevitable, I've made my case--but I hope you're right!!

1. If 66% of us are obese, I would say that our current population is not around 300 million, but more like 500 million. By making obesity a crime, we could almost halve the population--and the resource depletion. I fully support the idea of charging passengers by their weight or by the number of seats they need on planes, buses, trains, and other public forms of transportation, vertical (e.g., elevators) as well as horizontal.

2. Your claim that the US is almost solely responsible is far from the truth. The phenomenon of non-negotiable lifestyle has become a world-wide one, with China for one far exceeding the US in resource utilization, particularly for its 600 million urban citizens.

3. Your claim that there is little likelihood that any "action" will be taken, and that sustainability will be forced upon us is probably true, but why does it necessarily involve social collapse? There seems to be this bizarre feeling in the air that collapse--of society, civilization, etc.--is inevitable, though this is far from obvious from the facts, and is probably a wish or subjective projection.

4. That said, I guess I have to read the entire document to find the facts, the evidence, to support your view that we are overextended in just about all natural resources, but the evidence now available is definitely not conclusive and does not support your view.

5. Perhaps our greatest achievement as a species is to have developed an evidence-based form of reasoning (known as science) to counteract appeals to emotion, authority, revelation, or other forms of irrationality. This essay as a whole is big on doomer ideas, but weak on evidence.

Most of the article could simply be replaced by the word,


I find calls to action more interesting and useful than cries of the inevitability of inaction. If everyone thought like in this article, then the US would still be a bunch of colonies, blacks would still be enslaved, men of no property would not vote, let alone women, and so on.

Actually, we--some very small subset of we--would still be in caves; interesting that that's precisely where some small subset of us are heading!!

If the above article hasn't convinced any of you that something radically different needs to be tried, nothing else will.

Again, nature has provided humanity with an "escape hatch" from this predicament that nearly everyone refuses to recognize:


See statements by "Endorsers" at the site.

While there are never any guarantees, this technology and the energy sources which it enables, is our best shot at rescuing our and our children's chestnuts from the fire.

You all need to stop being a bunch of "surrender monkeys", and do something positive.

this [vortex] technology and the energy sources which it enables, is our best shot

While I'm not desirous of pooh pooing anyone's ideas, the web site you point to speaks with some fundamental thermodynamic flaws. One does not "admit" hot air into a chimney. Instead it is being pumped in; pumped in by the cold air mass behind it and against the pressure of the gas already in the chimney. Hot air does not actually "rise". Instead, low density air pockets are displaced by high density air pockets as they compete under the force of gravity. Just because some air movement is called a "vortex", that does not imbue it with magical powers. I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock in this proposal.

"You all need to stop being a bunch of "surrender monkeys", and do something positive."

I say folks need to figure out which grains and legumes they want to eat and start growing them. Instead of waiting for some machine or new technology to save them.

A lot of keyboard quarterbacks out there.

Just because some air movement is called a "vortex", that does not imbue it with magical powers.

Not always, Step Back, but in many cases, such as this one, it can and does provide enormous improvements over "non-vortex" versions.


Some form of the vortex creating ideas presented in the video either are (or can be) incorporated into AVE designs.

With respect to your chimney analogy, you seem to be parsing the term "admit". What causes the air to flow inward, and eventually to rise, is the fact that it contains Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), either initially present in the air (warm, humid summer days, especially in the midwest and east) or CAPE that has been artificially added to the air stream in the approach conduits of the device where it is contacted with warm fluid, either directly or through pipe-walls (extended surfaces with condensing steam or organic refrigerant, maybe). The latter is the preferred mode during the winter or at night. It is very easy to store heat for night/winter use with this type of device since it doesn't need real high-temperature heat to operate efficiently.

Once established, a continuous flow occurs via the creation of an "artificial low-pressure zone", where surface air is treated (heated/humidified) and/or work energy is extracted. From here, vorticity is added via airfoils and the still buoyant air rises from the device, several miles into the troposphere dragging replacement air in behind it. The AVE is really not much different dynamically than an "overgrown" dust devil or water spout which lives off the warm surface air layer just above the hot dirt or warm water layer just below it.

If you are unfamiliar with the term CAPE, I suggest you visit http://www.tornadochaser.net and click on the capeclass tab.