U.S. Peak Oil Conference Conflicted Amidst The Oil Recession

This is a guest post by Jan Lundberg. It originally was published in Culture Change.

Upon the first global recession influenced by the peaking of oil extraction and record high prices, the question for "peak oilers" arises: does peak oil and energy decline mean great profits for modernizing industry, or is peak oil the beginning of huge changes in lifestyle toward sustainability after societal collapse?

Those were the two main concerns at play at the fifth annual meeting of the U.S. chapter of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO-USA), in Denver, Oct. 11-13.

U.S. Peak Oil Conference Conflicted Amidst The Oil Recession

Culture Change and other ecologically oriented nonprofits that were present are aware that the above concerns are somewhat present in society at large, in a different fashion. Widespread perception by the average person is that high gasoline prices and financial corruption at the top have caused the recession and made life very difficult. Society at large has minimal awareness of peak oil, as well as the need to change our way of life.

To demonstrate this, paid protesters in Chicken Little suits besieged the conference- entrance of the downtown Denver Sheraton Hotel without a break. They passed out a New York Times op-ed denying the reality of peak oil. They also missed a great conference and a chance to learn some tough truths.

There is no single message on peak oil, so the movement is a mixed bag. Most of the technocratic optimists and industry players assume a continuation of the global economy, yet expect the global peak to change business substantially. The opposing viewpoint in the movement is that much deeper changes can and should come about, such as the disappearance of most global trade and even of centralized authority. However, all adherents of this position may not voice it so strongly, in order to avoid controversy. Instead, their emphasis is on changing the world for the better via permaculture, for example, which is also in contrast with peak-oil opportunists in energy and finance.

The four hundred conference attendees were at times shocked by the blind optimism of certain speakers. A Brazilian official claimed there are massive oil reserves in the tropics. Similarly, hopes for great success in U.S. natural gas extraction from shale were aired, but severely discounted by others. Retired BP geologist Jerry Gilbert explained that exploration geologists are salesmen and story-tellers for their corporate bosses and the public, convincing them that projects have great promise. The validity of any claim that a major field has been discovered is subject to 20-30 years' passing in order to evaluate with any precision the amount of oil to be extracted according to expectations.

The daily Denver Post heralded the ASPO-USA meeting with an article titled "'Peak oil'" theorists: World running out". This irritated the conference organizers, not just over the idea that their findings are just "theory," but over the idea that peak oil means running out of oil reserves. Peak oil "theory" points out that the big fields have been discovered and are starting to decline, while replacement fields are small though numerous, offering generally heavier, more toxic crude oil. Mature fields are declining in output by 6.7% on average annually. Nevertheless, some conference speakers and attendees hold out for the possibility of a peak oil arrival of 2020, for example.

Findings presented at the conference, such as by Matthew Simmons (petroleum investment banker), showed that world oil extraction peaked in 2005. He showed that counter-claims of a 2008 peak depend on Saudi Arabian production being over a million barrels a day higher than what he believes occurred. Simmons has warned of a panic-driven "run on the energy bank" by the public seeking fuel in tight supply and rapidly escalating in price. This would cause major social disruption such as severe food shortage, he warns.

Generally absent from the conference and many peak oilers' thinking is much analysis of the role of the oil market in a severe shortage. Culture Change warns of the likelihood of an historic societal disruption stemming from oil dependence: petrocollapse. This may reshape society enough to eliminate oil as a common commodity; in effect "running out" of oil. This scenario falls into the category of "doom and gloom," despite possible positive outcomes of collapse such as the nonviolent end of the present industrialized, corporate, centralized system.

The ASPO-USA conference seemed to ignore a commonly recommended change in diet affecting energy use, when non-animal meals were not an option for the conferees. Additionally, permaculture ought to be a featured topic as a key tool for post-petroleum survival. On the other hand, some speakers calling for major cultural change were able to get their message across regarding agriculture, low-consumption living, and slashing energy use. Pat Murphy of Community Solutions, Jason Bradford of Vital Farmland LC, and David Wann of the book/movie Affluenza all envisioned with clarity the kinds of changes U.S. society can embrace painlessly for greater efficiency in building residences, growing local organic food, and nurturing community connection.

This trio of speakers at one of the sessions of the conference were criticized for not addressing the "C" word: collapse. Nor did they go into the population issue, as Albert Bartlett, the dean of exponential-growth bubble-bursting, criticized. As for collapse, brought up by questioner Andre Angelantoni, the response he got from the panel was a dodge, he felt. A negative, unpleasant depiction of peak oil's effects (as well as the effects of climate change and financial meltdown) are best unmentioned, according to such speakers as well as the ASPO-USA leadership. Murphy says that discussing collapse "keeps us from taking action." And speaker Wann, like others, went further by denying collapse can or will happen. Unexplored are the effects of the "run on the energy bank" and a crash in food supplies. Likewise, the beneficial aspects of collapse -- closer community, local economics as the rule, the end of corporate dominance -- are not part of a thorough sharing of ideas.

Culture Change was able to display, thanks to Post Carbon Institute's ASPO-USA sponsorship, the new Community Resilience Toolkit created by Bay Localize, a San Francisco-area group. A portion of the toolkit is "Our Post-Peak Oil Future," a primer that compares collapse scenarios, on hand in quantity. To further the discussion of collapse in a more advocacy-stance was the flyer announcing my book, Petrocollapse: the Basis of Crash and Culture Change, which was ordered in advance by some attendees. If not as a speaker or sponsor some day at an ASPO-USA conference, I hope my book will make clear that after we fall off "Hubbert's Cliff" after peak, a "new" sustainable and just culture is in store.

Economic concerns are half of what the conference was about, if one is in business in energy or investments. A threshold of $70 per barrel or a little higher was identified as the minimum for oil industry profit and investment, while not breaking the back of consumers. Price and availability of oil, it was said, might be determined greatly by "emerging markets" bidding away the oil. China has "latent demand" that advanced economies won't be able to match, thus reducing oil consumption in the latter countries via price rationing.

Speakers such as conservative writer Kevin Phillips and The Oil Drum editor Nate Hagens were superb in driving home the role of debt and deficit spending in the U.S. over the decades. The behavior of the nation regarding spending and borrowing looms even larger than peak oil in contributing to the present financial crisis, Phillips and Hagens believe. Attendees are not of one mind regarding "recovery" and resumption of "growth."

As to unexpected crash, a Homeland Security official presented a scenario of just the power grid going down. He reported that the Dept. of Defense and the nation are considered by the government to be more vulnerable to grid disruption through easy sabotage than sudden, severe oil shortage. One problem is that spare transformers are few and massive, so as to present a logistics challenge. The official, Scott Pugh, was the first executive director of ASPO-USA, and before that he commanded a nuclear-attack submarine.

Tom Petrie, a major energy investment banker, claimed at a lunch speech: "If rules were different, we could overcome recent peak, but still, large increases of extraction are a pipe dream." He sees a national motor-fuel switch for many of the U.S.'s 235 million motor vehicles as a major mitigation for peak oil. Culture Change has for two decades pointed out that this flies in the face of society's financial health, realistic infrastructure expectations (for any vehicle fleet), appropriate land use, and ecological sensitivity. But as a major player endorsing peak oil, Petrie can propound views that either don't make sense or disappoint critics of the status quo. Chris Skrebowski from London is an oil analyst tracking peak oil, who found that cheap oil peaked in 2004. His similarity to Petrie and other technofixers is in expecting "key solutions" to oil depletion via electrification of vehicles and biofuels.

Culture Changers

A vastly different kind of investment advocate is Jason Bradford, known for the Willits, California localization project. He has graduated to forming an investment model for maximizing conversion of farms to organic, local orientation. His presentation showed the overwhelming consolidation of organic brands into very few entities, just as the petrochemical/genetically modified seed/pharmaceutical sector is dominated by three corporations. Pat Murphy, author of Plan C, wonderfully complemented Bradford, pointing out that a cultural change cannot be facilitated by the market or bailouts that do not generate jobs in the urgent sectors of food security. At least, Murphy maintains, some of us are "building up a cadre" of people with the skills and plans for post-oil living.

A middle-ground ASPO-USA spokesman is Randy Udall, of the famed political family. His balanced concerns over peak oil and climate were well received, except (for some of us) his view that developing countries will be taking their "rightful share" of oil after the industrialized nations' phase of oil maximization. The idea of "a right" to oil may imply that the petrolization of modern society was not a bad thing.

ASPO-USA craves mainstream corporate acceptance, made clear from most speakers and the policies for attendance. Large media outlets were welcome free of charge, while small publishers and free-lance reporters paid full registration cost which included three days of lunches. The conference proceedings and PowerPoints are on-line, but a thoroughly modern approach would have included Wi-Fi for Twittering by the audience during outrageous or exciting statements from the podium.

The final panel explored public and individual consciousness about peak oil and quality of life. Chris Martenson (of Crash Course fame), Ken Eklund (game fame for "World Without Oil"), and Robert Hirsch (peak oil mitigation-failure fame) discussed challenges in building one's awareness and modifying one's expectations posed by peak oil and economic stress. Martenson said, "It's really about a change in culture." Eklund complemented Martenson's concerns about the extreme disparity in wealth today, by stating "Civilization without caring deserves a revolution."

Governor Bill Ritter addressed the crowd forcefully about the "new energy economy" in Colorado that he claims is leading the nation. Why? For the sake of climate protection, he repeatedly assured us. Afterward I introduced him to the concept of petrocollapse. He then found himself defending Colorado against the claims of another activist who accosted him regarding across-the-board road building being pursued despite the constraints of peak oil.

The conferees remained on hand for the final evening speaker of the third day: Nate Hagens of The Oil Drum. He regaled his many admirers with anthropological, biological and psychological observations that helped them understand their place in the world. His faith in policy-makers hinges upon their receiving models showing where we are headed. He also stands for the global system to stick together, via an energy-backed currency. His overall prescription for action is to educate people so that U.S. leadership can aid in the world's gradual energy descent. He received the only standing ovation of the conference.

A significant divide between attendees is regarding action: Endless analysis and discussion should end now, stated Connecticut's Terry Backer, a peak-oil advocate member of that state's legislature. His perspective on what the politicians need to be told about peak oil excludes discussing worst-case scenarios. Backer's message is that in government warnings about peak oil, the need for food security and heating for schools should be guaranteed.

Differences in the diverse peak oil movement are major, but our cause is a unifying force useful for a broad spectrum of society. Even so, the meaning of peak oil and energy dependence are constantly diluted for the public by "distractions" such as financial meltdown, climate failure, and more war. For today's limited peak oil movement, most of its adherents can visualize new conditions and innovations, such as Sail Transport Network (praised by Matt Simmons in concept). The final disagreements surrounding peak oil are about what kind of a life -- post die-off or economic shakeout -- the survivors will have. The feeling almost all of us at the conference shared was that all will be made clear in the near future.

here is the URL I was given for all presentations


Its OK everyone I've found the answer! There are apparently no limits to growth!


(edit: /sarcasm)

PDFs of the presentations of most of the speakers can be found at this link:

ASPO 2009 Proceedings

The talks by Oil Drum staff were as follows:

Brian Maschoff (Joulesburn) More Saudi Oil: Really?

Dave Murphy Recent Applications of Energy Return on Investment

Gail Tverberg (Gail the Actuary) What's Ahead? Two Scenarios

Jason Bradford Food Policy and a Resilient Food System

Jeff Vail The Renewables Gap: Systemic Challenges in Peak OIl Mitigation

Nate Hagens Asset Allocation in a Peak Oil World

Nate Hagens Chicken Little at a Crossroads

Paul Sears (Libelle) Reducing Canada's CO2 Footprint

Rembrandt Kopplaar Oil Megaprojects: A warning beacon for Oil Depletion

Sounds like ASPO has been highjacked by those in denial

That's not my interpretation. I thought it was a magnanimous gesture to invite in some of those who are touting huge new finds, such as Peter Dea (natural gas) and Marcio Rocho Mello (deepwater discoveries off Brazil and Africa). That's how we get a dialogue going: have both sides present their point of view. ASPO-USA has been trying for years to debate CERA which just ignores the peak oil community. If someone from "the other side" is willing to show up and present their views, I think that's a good sign and should be welcomed.

The next step is to get something like Herman Daly and your favorite neo-classical economist on the podium to talk to each other.


Gail discussed a Fast Crash scenario in her presentation, but it did not come up in any of the other talks that I attended, which is most of them (I'm the André Jan mentions).

Although I don't think there is denial in the speakers about:

  • a near-term peak in oil
  • an end to business as usual
  • the impossibility of infinite growth
  • bumping into limits in virtually every direction we look

I do think that most people (speakers included) are vastly underestimating the possibility of a fast crash scenario. I would say it's actually inevitable given the credit economy we've created. A credit collapse is the other elephant in the room that most people are trying hard to ignore (along with population).

It's hard to say whether it's denial or simply that people don't see the connection. The term "denial" is over-used in my view. Just because someone doesn't agree with one's point of view doesn't mean that person is in denial. They may simply "not get it." The only way to know if a person is in denial is if that person tells you after seeing it themselves ("I was arguing because I couldn't deal with the implications of what you were pointing to").

I think our future will look like what I'm calling the Early Staircase Model:

I think it's probable because of our interdependent systems and our enormous debt:

which won't ever get paid back.

Since money enters circulation via debt, that puts our entire paper currency system on very precarious footing indeed. There is simply too much money in the world for the shrinking energy base and that spells future trouble. Hubbert pointed this out long ago.

In fact, it's bankruptcies and bailouts from now on until the bailouts no longer work because people lose faith in the currency.

I walk through the logic more fully in Version 2.0 of my video, which I released on Oct 5 and is here.

I mentioned a fast crash scenario in my "Abstract Energy Gain and the Permanent Recession" speech on Sunday, which is not yet up on ASPO slide show site (but the video is).

BTW- that Trace Meyer pyramid graph is confusing - it conflates derivatives, claims and debt. I think debt is in neighborhood of 200-300 trillion, not 2 quadrillion, but it's not easy to quantify (still monstrous however)

Ah, thanks, Nate. I missed that.

I agree that the graph is a little confusing. I asked the author about the numbers and he said they are "slippery and change often" but they do come from the IMF and other sources (possibly the Bank of International Settlements, IIRC).

It's best to relate to the numbers as "something in the ballpark" rather than precise. Thanks for pointing that out.

BTW, Trace Meyers did not come up with that inverse debt pryamid. John Exter created it in the 1970s. He was on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, as well as SVP at First National City Bank (Citi)

I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about fast crash too. Some believe it should have happened already, or that it is tied to the geological decline rate of oil.

It seems to me that a "fast crash" occurs in steps, perhaps over a 20 year or more period. It is likely to be more closely tied to a decline in credit, international finance, and international trade than to geological decline. Peak oil is very closely tied to peak credit, and it is the lack of credit that start interfering with our current system.

The issue is that we live in a highly networked system. Once one part of that system starts to unwind (because of lack of credit, or lack of investment due to lack of credit), then other parts stop working as well. We are likely to find it more and more difficult to obtain imports of all types, including replacement parts for cars, electrical transmission, and oil production. Demand may drop way back as well--but because of a lack of credit.

We have heard the statement that oil production will decline slowly so often that we have come to believe it is Gospel Truth. In order for it to be true, quite a few pieces of BAU need to remain in place, including the ability of the US to buy oil on credit, even though it doesn't really have funds to pay for it. Take a look at my presentation found here.

Is it a lack of credit or a lack of customers that has caused a drop in demand? Big Business has been exporting jobs to slave wage countries for decades and it has now come back and bit them in the butt. I am amazed at how little I have to wait in line at checkout even at relatively busy Walmart. My last trip to Home Depot I had three eager employees helping me. The expectation of future customers is what drives investment and if the expectation is a lack of customers the investments dry up.

As for all that debt the question I have is who is it owed to?

The Fed is the biggest stake holder @ 4.7 trillion. Then China (800b), Mutuals, Japan (711b), individuals and businesses, state/local governments, pension funds, the UK, OPEC countries(191b).

As for all that debt the question I have is who is it owed to?

Good question?

Taking the upside- down pyramid (or the BIS derivaties summary) you see enormous numbers, far into the hundreds of trillions. At national and GDP scales the numbers are simple trillions. The compounding debt overhang seems impossible to manage and the likelihood of debt- driven collapse is found from Marc Faber to Stoneleigh to Mish and ... here, there, everywhere.

Collapse, like gold and dollar decline is a crowded trade, best to stay clear. I think the debt excess is irrelevant and meaningful only to finance. 'Financialism', not capitalism is ending. When finance - which provided the service of marshalling private capital for ambitious public and private purposes - exits, it will take its overhang of pointless and useless debt with it. There is no way any of finance's claims against the physical world - or its inhabitants - can be perfected. The greatest amount of all the debt is banks lending back and forth to each other to create balance sheet entries. Much of the debt is old- rolled over and over; its point long forgotten.

The greater the amount of debt, the less relevant to anything real it becomes. The more impoverished and plentiful the debtors become the more pointless claims against them become.

The trillions in unfunded mandates will simply not be met, promises will be unfulfilled. People will fend for themselves rather than cashing government welfare checks, which simply won't be sent; dividents will not be paid, pensions will disappear, balance statements and debits will not be tendered. The banks will close and people will lose some money, but the money will be of little worth so that the losses will be small.

I think the idea of 'debt=> collapse' is a misunderstanding of how American 'Kulture' works. If something is annoying or antagonistic - a government agency, Supreme Court, investment bankers, disco, Richard Nixon - there is no violent revolution or other grand gesture; upheaval or distress raised against it in the streets, the issue is simply ignored. The problem's particular internal dynamic renders itself irrelevant.

Collapse implies a form or structure against which disorganization takes place. Irrelevance dissolves structure, there are no rules because participants refuse to acknowledge them.

Nixon's Watergate made a splash in the newspapers and in the Federal government ambit ... and people outside of Washington stopped paying attention to the government.

The government became irrelevant - where it mostly remains to this day. Nixon was the precursor to Ronald Reagan and Newt, 'political gridlock', hyper- partisanship and 'rule by lobbyist'. Government has very little traction in most peoples' lives. Their interactions take place at tax time and during retirement. People simply ignore what the governments tell them to do.

The massive debt is likewise irrelevant; who cares whether 'some Dude' owes $500,000 to a bank on a house, thence to a second bank, then a 'servicer', then many investors overseas, etc.? Mr. Dude squats in the house, he defies the 'owners' (lenders) to remove him which they won't because the 'loss' shows up on a 'book' somewhere, all of which become less meaningful as more and more squatters take over more and more houses, or take land and build their own houses as they please.

Here, North America becomes more like South America, poor, peaceful and disorderly where people take over pieces of land and create whole communities, such as the favelas in Rio. Nobody has any title to any of that land, its ownership is perfected by possession. Possession is maintained by greater force; the police do not enter the favelas. The land records are incomplete.

I recall driving with a friend in Cuenca, Ecuador looking at all the new houses built in the main public park running through the middle of town. It would be as if some persons built some houses in the middle of Central Park.

Who is to stop them?

The great debts are owed to other massive debtors in circular fashion, the end is to create 'liquidity' and nothing else; there is no purpose to it. The debt/liquidity is created in one building and destroyed in another building across the street. It is only those debts represented by the claims can be perfected will be made to stand. The rest will simply evaporate.

The idea of collapse represents the idea of rigidity in a system that maintains rules of structure even when the purpose of the rules vanishes.

Who will perfect the claims? China just gave sevaral of the 'Mega- Banks' the stiff middle finger over oil price hedging - derivatives contracts. This is the wave of the future. How does a (hated, loathed and despised within any given community) banker remove a heavily armed squatter from a property he covets. How can a lender perfect its claim when the chain of possession is hopelessly muddled as inescapable outcome of its own actions? It cannot, and so the bank fails and good riddance.

In the end, this is the real problem, not collapse as much as the loss of standing of a useful business in a community - in communities all around the country and the world. The bankers should perhaps all learn a trade, to become respected again like plumbers.

You make some good points. I wonder, though, if there are massive defaults on debts in the US, won't the governments of other countries try to retaliate by grabbing assets from companies domiciled in their countries? Maybe this will happen before things fall too far apart. Eventually, they may get to the situation you describe, but it seems like things would have to go pretty far downhill first.

Great post aangel. I agree. The step down graph really captures something most aren't getting. Even this ASPO conference is a reflection of the step down, as some get it and some haven't yet. Once the final plunge occurs it will be too late for 'what ifs'. I also think its naive to think in terms of an ever more even handed gradual reduction in economic activit as post peak presses forward, when the reality is SHTF at some threshold, which is shown on your staircase model.

Have you ever been just about to go to sleep and in your first dream you step off a curb but there is no pavement there to catch you, causing you wake suddenly, only to realize the illusion that jolted you awake. Well, that last step of post peak oil will be like that, except it won't be an illusion.

Hello Aangel,

I much appreciate the 'falling down the missing stairsteps' graphic. I believe it helps support Jay Hanson's fast-crash Thermo/Gene prediction timeline, Duncan's Olduvai Re-equalizing, and my feeble [19 @ '19] USA WAG:


Time will tell..

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

Hi, Bob. I think we are all in the right ballpark...

aangel, I think another arrow added to the graph would be in order. At the very edge of the final lip, just before the vertical crash to the bottom of the graph, an arrow should be pointed, with the caption: "At this point, a critical mass of the population comes to the realization that the era of "growth" and "progress" is over--Forever."

Antoinetta III

Good idea, although the number of people running for the exits could be quite small and then the computers take over to finish the job.

I have been hanging out at BAU business sites, such as Calculated Risk, as I have become fascinated with the workings of the process. They have a very robust analysis, that holds its own, as long as resource constraints are not added, which they cannot do.
My time frame has been shaken, and I'm not solid on what events will come apart first.

Hi, hightrekker. I'm in the same boat. The most I'm confident in saying is that I doubt we'll make it out of the next decade with an economy that resembles anything like what we have now.

Looking at one set of facts, I see the possibility of it all unravelling within two years. Looking at another set I see that we could carry on the charade for as much as a decade if there are many stair steps between here and there. Very hard to tell when the big stair step will occur...


What are some of your favorite business sites?

Thanks in advance!

I visit these regularly:
Calculated Risk
Mish's Global Economic Analysis
The Automatic Earth

I visit these occasionally:
Jesse's Cafè Américain (good link to a video on the Crash of 1929 right now: http://tinyurl.com/ylqulqr)
Washington Monthly
CBS Marketwatch

To keep tabs on the technical side of things I visit:

And Leanan keeps me busy with her great links :-).

Sounds like ASPO has been highjacked by those in denial

I don't see that in Jan's writeup. But I am fearful when I read: ASPO-USA craves mainstream corporate acceptance, made clear from most speakers and the policies for attendance.

What's needed IMO is a transition to the next stage of the debate: can non-hydrocarbons in aggregate replace any substantial fraction of the energy supplied by hydrocarbons now? In other words, is the industrial era coming to an end?

Some corporate acceptance of peak oil is conceivable -- but not for the coming end of the industrial era. Craving corporate acceptance is incompatible with facilitating that debate.

Citizens and workers!

This talk of not making vegetarian meals available at a peak oil conference does fill me with some small concern.

There are a few scenarios that may suffice as explanation.

1. Accidental oversight. There have been many times that I've forgotten to specify my meal preferences when flying Pan-Am to visit worker's movements in Latin America.

2. Purposeful message sending. This would infer that ASPO has been overtaken zealots who desire to use every last scrap of oil as swiftly as possible. Knowing as they do that meat production consumes an ungodly amount of natural resources, this new cabal took the obvious course of action to help bring about the 'Oil Rapture' so they may be proven 'right' and bask in the glory of fallen civilization.

3. Ignorance. This last is by far the most likely. Too often, we excel at talking the talk, but fail to walk the walk. I've spent many decades marching among those who do both, and I can tell you that the true leaders, those who fight the fight with every breath and action, are growing scarcer by the day. In this soft and gluttonous age of ours, it is one thing to call for a shift to a more responsible society, and another to show evidence of this desire in one's personal habits. To profess concern for resource scarcity and its impact upon the natural world and human society while simultaneously engaging in a consumptive habit that is unparalleled in its destruction is to announce publicly that one is either ignorant (preferable as with knowledge comes new habits) or willfully dismissive of the charge that has been set upon the individual--and therefore a plague to the movement.

I wish you all well and urge strength, strength, strength to your sword arms.


My apologies in advance for not reading the attendee list myself..the flu and my Mom's visit with numerous hikes in the mountains come first...

Did any representatives from any governments present, or at least attend?

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor Bill Ritter, and former Colorado governor Dick Lamm were all speakers, as was Terry Backer, a state representative from Connecticut. There were some other public officials in the audience as well. Was there anyone else I left out?

Michael Hassig - Mayor of Carbondale Colorado was there. I recall seeing about a hand full more of public officials there, not to mention those too scared to identify themselves as part of the Govt. ;-)

Keith and Odysseus, thanks!

I'm a vegetarian and was at the ASPO-USA conference and was also duly annoyed at the lack of vegetarian options. I mentioned this briefly to Richard Heinberg, who has been a vegetarian for 37 years, and he agreed with this general assessment. I've already mentioned my concerns to several of the people working with ASPO-USA and, as soon as I get a moment, will put together my thoughts in an e-mail to them as to how they could do it better next year.

However, I also have experience at organizing conferences and know that food is a difficult issue to wrap your brain around, especially for nonvegetarians. The irony was that there were vegetarian and vegan options there but that bad communication prevented people from figuring this out.

Monday breakfast, Monday lunch, and Tuesday lunch all had a meat option and a lacto-ovo-vegetarian option. So, if you were lacto-ovo, you were O. K., but vegans were out of luck. I asked the hotel staff about this and they said there were no vegan options. I had providentially already eaten breakfast, so this wasn't too bad; I just drank tea and got into some conversations. Monday lunch was the best; this was an "a la carte" buffet that allowed you to assemble your own burrito. You could pick and choose, and make it vegan. I was annoyed that they put cheese in the guacamole (who does that?), but I could actually eat a meal there.

Tuesday breakfast was strictly meat; not even lacto-ovo-vegetarian was available. Another of my friends (who was lacto-ovo-vegetarian) and I complained, pointing out that not even lacto-ovo-vegetarian was available. They went back to the kitchen and got a vegetarian breakfast for her, but no vegan was available.

I mentioned this to some ASPO-USA people who advised that we raised this issue with the hotel staff -- which of course was precisely what we had been doing. I gave them my card and suggested that they contact me about ideas for future conferences.

After Tuesday lunch I happened to ask the tall guy among the hotel staff who seemed to be supervising. He said that you had to ask in advance for a vegan option, but of course it was too late at that point. No one, neither ASPO-USA people nor other hotel staff, had been able to tell me this, despite repeated questions, but if I had realized this earlier, I could have had vegan meals all the way.

Vegetarian and vegan options are not that difficult. Vegetarianism is an important component of our energy future -- in fact, it's the most critical component. Everyone knows that eating high on the food chain -- a diet high in meat, dairy, eggs, etc. -- is energy intensive, water intensive, land intensive, and in general resource intensive. Without oil, it's back to the horse and buggy, but without food, it's an entirely different story.

And while I'm on the subject, let's not forget that it should be on the podium as well as in the meal line. I asked several pointed questions about vegetarianism during Debbie Cook's Energy, Food, and Water Policy symposium; they were uniformly ignored. Several of the speakers, especially Jason Bradford and Michael Webber, presented impressive arguments for vegetarianism without mentioning the "V-word." I would suggest that this would be an area that could be more openly discussed in the future.

Keith Akers

Worker Keith -

The 'v' word has powerful reverberations that buffet many of the established order. I would advise, from deep experience, that you dedicate efforts toward ennobling the term. In my time the 's' word referred not to defecatory practices, but to the great ideal of Socialism. Alas, we did not recognize the coming conflation with Communism that would forever tarnish our Socialist aims, and did not do enough to protect the sanctity and original spirit of the term.

Protect your V, Worker Keith. Hold it aloft. Emblazon it upon your chest. When you say it, let your top teeth bite with righteous force into your lower lip, your enunciation claiming VEGETARIAN for all workers, thrusting it irrevocably deep into their hearts and minds. When the time comes that you need my help marching upon the factories and their owners, reach out. A man who has battled Pinkerton has no fear of ConAgra.


I think diet/meat issues will simply sort themselves out the way gasoline useage will. As contemporary agriculture becomes more and more unsustainable, meat will, like gasoline become more and more expensive, and eventually less and less obtainable. Peoples diets will reflect this, so I expect meat-eating will decline as a result. But the way this comes across in this thread is as a moralistic issue which I think is counterproductive. People don't like being preached to so I think its better to focus on the more macro elements of how future societies will be organized, our personal diets will be dictated by availability and expense issues. The idea of "strength to our sword arms" sounds like the political, social justice sloganeering of the '30s. What's "justice" is largely dictated by the context in which a given society is organized; what we might consider "just" in our current globalized, industrial era may not be relevant in a future, localized, and more agrarian situation. Likewise with the whole socialism/communism stuff mentioned earlier in the thread; all our modern post revolutionary political and economic "isms" are artefacts of the industrial era and their relevance in what is likely to be a quite different scale and ordering of society seems to be in doubt.

Antoinetta III

Hi Antoinetta,

But the way this comes across in this thread is as a moralistic issue which I think is counterproductive

It was very interesting to hear a debate on our Wisconsin Public Radio network where an advocate for eating less meat was challenged by many Wisconsin farmers. I can attest to the fact that a moralistic approach to eating less meat is, indeed, counterproductive.

Every time I hear a no-meat advocate proclaim that we could feed many more humans with a vegetable diet - I cringe! The goal is not to feed ever more humans - I submit that the goal is to preserve human life on planet earth for an indefinite time into the future. From my POV, this means a human balance with the ecosphere that features about 1/3 of today's human population by the end of the century.

With 2B humans on the planet, it may well make sense to eat a certain amount of meat. Perhaps we would even make a positive contribution by killing and eating a certain amount of meat - just as wolves made a positive contribution by quickly eliminating sick deer.

The whole issue of being a vegetarian to benefit mankind really leaves me cold. I can truly appreciate a person being a vegetarian because they believe in the health benefits - probably a lot of truth to this. But, it would be silly to suggest to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago that they should not eat that wooly mammoth because veggies would be healthier.

IMHO, we need to get our priorites in order - priority number one is global family planning.

"But, it would be silly to suggest to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago that they should not eat that wooly mammoth because veggies would be healthier." Posted by bicycle dave

And the reason our ancestors ate that mammoth was because he was available, and they could get it. When mammoths became less and less available, fewer were eaten. I think our conemporary meat/diet discussion will likely end the same way. I expect that over the next decade or so, fundamental realities will force a mammoth (pun intended) reduction in meat consumption regardless of the rhetoric of anti-meat advocates and cattlemens' associations. Since this appears to me to be a problem that will in essence "solve itself" in a relatively short time-frame, spending a lot of time, energy and passion debating it seems to be rather a waste.

Antoinetta III

I agree. The modern vegetarian movement got a tremendous boost during the oil shocks of the 1970's when the price of food and especially meat went up. I expect a similar thing to happen in the coming years. We can assist this process by providing good information and by generally being helpful.


Let me ask a question. Would you rather eat tofu made from Brazillian soybeans that replaced tropical rainforest and needing fertilizer, pesticide and annual tractor cultivation, seeding and harvesting, etc., or a steak from an animal that grazed on diverse pasture near where you live and requiring little inputs once established?

I just want to point out that this is actually a very complex issue. I was vegetarian for 8 years so don't find it odd or difficult to eat that way.

I don't mention the v-word because while I believe that people eat WAY too much meat and that the meat typically eaten is produced in horrific ways, I also feel that pasture is an incredibly good form of agricultural land-use.

I brought this up in the context of a question on "peak phosphorus." One way to deal with a reduction in mined phosphorus applications is to rotate land through pasture. The mychorizzal fungal associations with deeply rooted plants convert P into plant available forms and the plants transport these to the surface where animals eat them and poop, etc. Instead of farming the top foot or so of topsoil, pasture allows you to farm 20 ft deep or more.

Also, the passage of plants through ruminant guts and the action of hooves does wonders for innoculation of the soil with bacteria that breakdown dead organic matter and make nutrients available to plants to grow again.

I really enjoyed your talks at ASPO. Do you have some links to papers on mychorizzal fungi transporting phosphorous from deep in the soil? I'm a big fan of using fungal allies in agriculture ever since reading some of Paul Stammets' work. I've inoculated my garden with mychorizzal and other fungi and they seem to have much deeper root systems. No control group to compare to, but when I see that big white mat of mycellium in the soil I know a much richer bio system is at work.

I've also cut way back on commercial meat consumption and have primarily fed our family with personally harvested game plus as much locally grown veggies as we can grow and purchase. There really is room for the western diet to radically shift toward more grain, fruits and much much less animal protein. I too noticed lack of more vegetarian snacks, although I must say that the food served at the conference was some of the best I have ever had at a large meeting like this. No complaints on how the food tasted!!!

Hi Jason,

Given the option between Brazilian tofu and range-fed beef, I'd fast until I found some collards and quinoa. (Both of these grow rather well in Colorado where I live).

My main point is not to make the case for vegetarianism; my main point is that vegetarianism should be discussed. If ASPO-USA can invite people like Marcio Rocho Mello and Peter Dea to give "the other side" of the fossil fuel supply story, why can't they invite someone like Dr. Michael Greger to give "the other side" of the food story?

Sure, there are cases at the extremes where meat-eating might actually use fewer resources than vegetarianism environmentally speaking, but on the whole, animal products are more land-intensive, water-intensive, and energy-intensive than plant foods, and not just marginally, but by orders of magnitude. A lot of people from Michael Pollan on down are infatuated with pasture-fed beef. I'd mention a few things in reply:

1. You can't scale up pasture fed beef. Actually, in the western U. S. that very thing occurred in the late nineteenth century, and the consequence was catastrophic soil erosion of a type that rivals anything that thousands of years of misuse of the soil had done in Europe. A similar thing happened in North Africa after the fall of the Roman Empire. A plausible argument could be made that cattle grazing is the single most destructive environmental force in history. People talk about how holistic it all is, but historically, cattle grazing has done immense damage. If you do it environmentally, you're not going to see anything even remotely close to contemporary American meat consumption.

2. Biodiversity is an extremely serious issue. It's been said that 98% of the biomass of all land-based vertebrates are humans, their livestock, and their pets. That leaves 2% for everything else, including racoons, elephants, zebras, and deer. How low can this non-human biomass go before we have an unpleasant ecological disaster at human expense? The easiest activity to scale back that would allow more wilderness is pasture land (about 70% of all agricultural land, as I recall), which has a relatively small food output at a fairly heavy environmental cost.

3. How are you going to control erosion on grazing land? Right now it is eroding on the order of 10-20 times faster than it is being formed. I am skeptical of the claims of "Holistic Resource Management" (not sure if this is what you are relying on). Who's going to police this? Look at the history of public lands grazing in the Western United States.

4. There's also the global warming problem -- not sure where you stand on global warming issues (and not wanting to get into a discussion of that here), but agriculture contributes about 18% of all global warming emissions, and most of that is from cattle grazing. Factory farmed cattle actually aren't nearly so bad in global warming terms.

5. There are serious health issues surrounding meat consumption, including heart disease, most common varieties of cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney stones, and now avian flu and swine flu, mad cow disease, and so forth. Some of these can be laid at the feet of refined foods and factory farms, but a lot of these problems were quite visible before the modern advent of factory farming and the glut of refined foods. Older food reform movements in the United States (Sylvester Graham, John Kellogg, etc.) already were in arms against the American diet in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Obviously this could be debated at some length -- you've probably been there and done that. My main point is not to take up the case against rangeland beef, just to say that we need to talk about this stuff rather than ignore it. In most foreseeable futures (and I saw quite a range of those expressed at the conference), most people, even in America, will be mostly vegetarian most of the time. There will be a whole slew of nutritional issues and practical problems that are going to arise. We need to be looking at these.

Oh, and by the way, let's talk. You mentioned to me after your talk that there are ways of controlling soil erosion, and actually building it up so that soil formation exceeds soil erosion, while using it agriculturally? Where can I find more information -- print sources or web links?

All the best,


5. There are serious health issues surrounding meat consumption, including heart disease, most common varieties of cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney stones, and now avian flu and swine flu, mad cow disease, and so forth.

Most of the maladies you described here are relatively recent (in historical terms) problems mainly due to massive overconsumption of sugar/HFCS and refined carbohydrates: heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes.

Human beings have been eating meat since our distant ancestors became hunter gatherers millions of years ago, whereas we have been farming and consuming carbohydrate-rich crops for less than 10,000. And sugar has only been cheap and readily available to the masses for a little more than 100 years.

Kidney stones are most often caused by not drinking enough water (b/c people are drinking HFCS-laden soft drinks instead?), or other conditions that affect calcium absorption, such as IBS.

Mad cow disease (BSE) is caused by feeding cows spine or brain material from other cows that contain specific deformed proteins called prions. In other words, from factory farming that turns cows into unwitting cannibals.

Re: swine flu, the H1N1 swine flu virus is a human virus spread by people and not by pigs. The only way to get the new swine flu is from another person.

Re: avian flu: avoid direct contact with infected birds and bird droppings, and there's little to worry about.

You might want to check out WebMD or the CDC's website before making erroneous blanket statements like this.

Now as to your points #1-4, I would agree that turning 7 billion+ human beings into U.S.-scale meat-eaters is not likely to happen and would certainly not be sustainable. However, I would counter that having 7 billion+ human beings inhabit a planet that might comfortably sustain 1-2 billion max. is *not* a good idea in the first place, and that humanity should be doing everything possible to lower that number, not increase it.

It's the total population and all the material needs/wants and waste products of that sea of humanity --energy, food, shelter, clothing, manufacturing, transportation, entertainment, etc.-- that is responsible for the myriad and related global problems we are facing. Not meat eating.

Hi Harm,

It's the total population and all the material needs/wants and waste products of that sea of humanity --energy, food, shelter, clothing, manufacturing, transportation, entertainment, etc.-- that is responsible for the myriad and related global problems we are facing. Not meat eating.

Well said - but a simple truth that falls on delusional ears.

Thanks, BD. Fyi: I left some sources in my other post below.

Certainly I've heard a lot of people try to blame all the diseases of western civilization on high fructose corn syrup. A conference such as the ASPO-USA conference is an appropriate forum to raise this whole set of issues, and if we did this in an objective way (as ASPO-USA did by bringing in Peter Dea and Arthur Berman), I'm pretty sure the blame would be pretty evenly spread around at all aspects of the standard American diet. As energy becomes a more important problem in our society, we will increasingly have to confront these kinds of food questions.

The statements I made (which are hardly unique to me) are well supported by the evidence. We need to look at both sides of this question. On problems with animal products in general, check out "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell (the Cornell professor, not the petroleum geologist). This evidence is pretty persuasive. On H1N1 and H5N1 viruses, check out Michael Greger's book on "Bird Flu," now available free online, and his DVD "Pandemic Prevention." Avian flu cannot really be spread between people, so far, but it could mutate fast and other kinds of avian flu have done so in the past. The 1918 pandemic was a bird flu.

And by the way, this just in: an article in the current issue of WorldWatch says that the real global warming contribution of livestock agriculture is more like 51%, not 18%.

I agree about population -- somewhere in the range of 1 - 3 billion people is about the maximum the planet can support, even if everyone is a vegan. This is an issue which the ASPO-USA conference explicitly raised, by the way, and I congratulate them on "stalking the wild taboo." Vegetarianism and veganism will not solve all the world's problems, but they are an important part of the solution.


Hi, Keith,

Thanks for your measured and thoughtful reply.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that HFCS is the root of all food evils, but it --and sugar-- should at least be in the top-3 of anyone's list of problem foods of the modern age. I would add trans fats to that list as well.

For reference, here are some prominent studies comparing the results of low-carb vs. low-fat diets:

And some info on the Paleolithic diet:

Regardless, at least we agree that overpopulation underlies most of our macro problems. Unfortunately, it also continues to be the taboo elephant in the room that few politicians, much less spiritual leaders, dare to touch.


Good links and I also recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories


I believe yiou are advocating the healthier and more sustainable position for the long haul-there will always be opportunities to produce meat economically and with small environmental impact on some land not well suited to conventional crops.Furthermore there is likely to be a substantial long term supply of waste food and various edible organic materials that can be better utilized as livestock feeds than as biofuel , mulch , or compost.

Small farmers such as my grand parents supplied themselves with meat ,milk and leather for generations in this area by pasturing a cow or two on land too rough and steep for any other use.

If the economy crashes I will see single cow dairies again in my nieghborhood.

Hi Mac,

If the economy crashes I will see single cow dairies again in my nieghborhood.

Maybe in your neighborhood - but, for most of us the crush of human population is going to make it really hard to pasture that cow.

Hi Dave,

A few of the recreational cyclists are back-I never did figure out where the rest of them went.Maybe they had to hock thier bikes but I guess they just found a spot they like better maybe with fewer trucks or something,althought the trucks are mostly gone too.

I lived in a fairly good sized city for a while but I was never as happy there as I am out in what used to be the deep country.

When tshtf I don't think there is really any better place to be than in the mountians of the southesat if you can buy a few acres of land here-and you can get a fairly decent old house and ten or twenty acres for about the same or less than a decent tract house in many places.

But jobs are few and far between here nowadays and there are more than enough well established local small businesses of every stripe to meet local needs.

That makes this a good cheap place to retire for those interested in self sufficiency who have some savings or income.

The quality of life is very high in relation to the expenses-especially for those into the outdoors.

Hi Mac,

Sure would like to test those roads of yours myself!

We have also bounced back and forth between urban and rural. The urban was too urban and the rural was too rural. We settled on a semi-rural area north of Milwaukee. Not too crowded but still good medical care and other amenities. Unfortunately, the old body does need a lot of repair work to keep me biking.

I really find this to be a dilemma - there is no way, at our age, that we could manage in that north woods 80 we used to own. In the city proper, I would feel really vunerable when tshtf. However, we are still pretty close to a major city and it is problematic if this area can withstand issues of unrest in the central city.

Right now, we have an extremely nice life style with excellent biking, good medical care, etc. Sure would be nice if this bubble did not burst for 20 years or so - but, those chances don't look so good.

We need to get animals back on the farm, as this has been a major disconnect. Grass fed ungulates from a carbon sink environment powered by sunlight is ideal.
Wheat (or any grain, unless you are one of those small niches in Western Europe or Japan) is losing proposition, and a lot of work for poor nutrition.

Here is an interesting book "Our kind : who we are, where we came from, where we are going : Marvin Harris" or any of his earlier books where he describes how the "holy cow" came about. Or other dietary restrictions of middle east. Calorie economics.

Let me ask a question. Would you rather eat tofu made from Brazillian soybeans that replaced tropical rainforest and needing fertilizer, pesticide and annual tractor cultivation, seeding and harvesting, etc., or a steak from an animal that grazed on diverse pasture near where you live and requiring little inputs once established?

How about free range roast chipmunk? Nom Nom Nom! :-)


Nice summary. While it appears Jan Lundberg was in the "Connecting Peak Oil and the Recession" I was in the other concurrent session on Sunday, Oct 11: "Stalking the Wild Taboo: The Missing Discussions about Population and Energy".

To me, this is the core underlying issue driving peak oil and CO2 emission. If you address this ONE VARIABLE you drive the whole system toward real sustainability. It genuinely seems insane to not make this the biggest focus of planning our descent down the backside of PO. I wrote down quotes from Albert Bartlett who is truly a Professor Emeritus in this area. Preceding Dr. Bartlett was former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm. His talk seemed less focused and was aimed at immigration as the "taboo" topic needing to be addressed in the US. I agreed with most of his points, however he seemed to miss the global nature of this problem. You can't build high enough fences or strong enough borders to control the flood of humans. Once PO really wrecks the economy look out for the real crush to begin. Mr. Lamm had one quote I liked: “Democracy is a crisis activated system”.

My disappointment with this session on population was that the core taboo was talked around and ignored. I spoke in private about this with Dr. Bartlett later during the break. IMHO the REAL taboo is the triangle formed by Reproduction, Religion, and Sexuality. We can't seem to really get a reduction in reproduction while religions like Catholicism and Islam are promoting huge families and teaching sex only for reproduction not recreation. It's the Gordian Knot at the middle of all this and it needs to be cut. OK, enough of my rant, I wanted to share these wonderful quotes by Dr. Barteltt that I took notes of. (I can’t promise these are 100% accurate due to my slow longhand but you can confirm the exact wording on the ASPO conf. DVDs’).

1st law of sustainability: You cannot have sustainability with growth in population and in resource use!
2nd law of sustainability: The larger the population the harder it is to make a transition to sustainability!

The cost of reducing a ton of CO2 by family planning is 1/5th the cost of using technological means to reduce that CO2 production.

Zero population growth has to be the goal. Slow growth in population is still unsustainable.

Economic growth is unsustainable.

Whereas regular dumb growth destroys the environment, smart growth destroys the environment with good taste.

Modern agriculture is simply the use of land to turn petroleum into food.

Studies have shown that growth (houses & population) never pays for itself.

China has proven that population growth interferes with economic development.

China’s one-child policy has prevented 300MM births; this is the largest CO2 reduction that has been made by any world power.

In 1970 the population in Boulder was 10K and there were 9 people on city council to represent the citizens. By 2009 the population in Boulder was 100K and there are only 9 people on city council to represent the citizens. Based upon the numbers, we only have 20% Democracy! If we keep the population growth at that rate we’ll soon have no Democracy at all!

There’s a time for growth, and it’s when you are an infant. Our time for growth is past.

For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD. (this was in answer to a question if the USA would be better off if we had more PhD’s…)

I agree, Odysseus. We are one planet It's our duty, as the (probably) only sentient species here to protect and defend the richness and variety of species on earth. Not to crowd other species that require space or habitat different from ours completely out! We should be much less numerous, so that we can all live in comfort and beauty.

Our economic system appears to presuppose population growth, as a declining population, as in some European countries, is greeted with horror and dismay, although it doesn't seem to be affecting people's comfort. I am very interested in the topic of countries and areas with declining populations, but am uncertain where to find information about them. Any ideas?

I try to promote childlessness. There are many satisfactions to having time and energy for the rest of the world. The anxiety that parents feel about getting their offspring competitively better situated vis a vis others' offspring is a real downer and is leading to really crazy behavior.

Let me start by saying that WE are now more inter-connected, than at any other time in human history.

However, this has been enabled by a cheap & abundant source of energy (Oil), which has recently (2005) Peaked over Hubbert's hill and some of the Human Population have Peeked at the downhill slope, some were already aware.

As I said, we are inter-connected; with Energy, Food Production, Climate & other issues, all linked to and feeding off each other and Population growth.

Clearly, there is great change coming, but the establishment is also clearly trying to retain the status quo, in Economics & Politics, as long as possible.

In trying to retain the status quo, there are reasons that the establishment, including Oil producing countries, particularly OPEC, would want to refuse to verify or even discuss their actual level of their reserves and talk up the likelihood of future Discoveries & Technologies.

There are advantages in conjecture & uncertainty?

There are a few likely scenarios -
1) The levels of current reserves & likely future discoveries are UNDERSTATED, THE IS MUCH MORE OIL THAN COMMONLY THOUGHT.
Whilst this is a very unlikely outcome, in this instance the result would be the usual where Supply exceeds Demand, the Price of Oil would fall!
An outcome not favoured by major self interest groups!

2) The levels of current reserves & likely future discoveries are substantially OVERSTATED, THE IS MUCH LESS OIL THAN COMMONLY THOUGHT.
This would be the likely outcome and in this instance that would spark a MASSIVE & URGENT MOVE AWAY FROM OIL, towards other possible Energy sources, particularly for the transport sector.
That would result in a massive fall in Demand for Oil, in the near term and as usual where Supply exceeds Demand, the Price of Oil would fall!
An outcome not favoured by major self interest groups!

3) The levels of current reserves & likely future discoveries REMAINS UNKNOWN, UNVERIFIED & SUBJECT TO CONSTANT CONCERN.
This is the current Status Quo outcome and the result is as usual where Demand appears to exceed Supply, there is constant pressure on the Price of Oil to rise!
THE PREFERRED OUTCOME for major self interest groups!

Real Power seldom cedes Power to another, voluntarily!

Hi Odysseus,

My disappointment with this session on population was that the core taboo was talked around and ignored. I spoke in private about this with Dr. Bartlett later during the break. IMHO the REAL taboo is the triangle formed by Reproduction, Religion, and Sexuality. We can't seem to really get a reduction in reproduction while religions like Catholicism and Islam are promoting huge families and teaching sex only for reproduction not recreation.

The estimates that I've seen put the number of people in the US who are basically atheists at about 16%. And yet, it is virtually impossible for a declared atheist to get elected to public office. IMHO, those of us who reject the idea of some invisible guy-in-the-sky who wants us to breed more souls - we need to speak out more forcefully. Enough of this crazy stuff about being saved to get a better box seat in heaven - we need to think about our children, grandchildren and generations to come. We need to get serious about the planet we are leaving them. Getting god out of the picture is step one.

I don't have sources at hand, but studies have repeatedly shown that the rate of birth control use, even abortions, doesn't vary much between religious and non-religious people, at least in the US. The main drivers of population reduction have been increased wealth linked to the transition to urban-industrialism and having some safety net in old age besides children who will take you in. Cities as population sinks, the countryside as net population exporter via rural to urban migration.

While encouraging, all this leads one to wonder about demographic consequences of end of industrialism, assuming non-hydrocarbons can't begin to make up the difference. A reverse demographic transition model? Stage five - rising death rates, followed by stage six - rising birth rates, for a return to a reequilibrated overall population characterized by offsetting high birth and death rates?

Hi Love,

I agree that religion is less of a factor in places like the US where better educated and richer folks tend to have fewer children. But, the US population is still increasing and the catholic church is still opposed to birth control. I personally know catholics that are having large families simply because they are religiously opposed to birth control.

According to Brown of Plan B, the most important factor (from a global perspective) is the education on women - more educated women tend to find ways to have fewer children regardless of religion. However, religion is often a major factor in preventing women from getting a good education in many parts of the world.

But, the big picture is the fact that the world population is still growing and rich countries like the US have not done anything meaningful to support real family planning. Bush basically refused to allow US funds for this purpose - and this was primarily because of pressure from religious fundamentalists.

We need to push god aside and think more creatively.

Yes religion is somewhat less of a factor in educated western democracies. But like BD pointed out above religion is still very important factor in family planning. I came from a small rural Catholic town in Illinois and my closest friends came from families of sizes 12 & 13. That's just in the US. The real problem is in developing countries, Asia and Latin America where church and mosque have real sway. It's still a bloody mess, despite some leveling off of birth rate in small wealthy countries.

The best place to put efforts is in educating and uplifting the status, power and wealth of women, but here again religion and it's cultural sway is one of the biggest obstacles to change. Even GW Bush wouldn't do anything about family planning bcause of religious concerns. IMHO LoveOregon you greatly underestimate how much organized major religions have been an obstacle in real discussions of family planning, reproductive rights, and sexuality as a normal part of human nature (not a sacred sacrament only reserved for patriarchal marriage). We have a long way to evolve...

to the editors, i nominate a phrase for the upper right masthead on TOD:

What Is To Be Done?

This was the title of a pamphlet Lenin wrote in 1901. Different subject but the sentiment is right
We have to get past debating the peak and focus on practicalities.

History will not judge us kindly

Just to clarify.

Lenin borrowed this famous title from Russian literary critic Nikolai Chernyshevsky who wrote the critical piece “What Shall we do?” in 1862 in response to Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons”. I recommend reading both of this works (you can skip Lenin’s though). We had to study all three of them in high school at depth in Russia. ;)


What happened to the other story on the ASPO conference, from an international perspective? It was up briefly and disappeared.

Sorry. Changed our mind. There will be a different story up tomorrow that refers to Kjell Aleklett.

I think this article answers the question Gail was posing last week about how the site should change, "now that Peak Oil is in the rear-view mirror." Even this conference is "conflicted" on that basic fact. I think it important that this site keep sifting through the data to hone the answer to the "are we there yet" question while introducing "now what" articles such as Campfire.

I really don't see why the staff has a problem with the site as it is - except for the very real, very vexing issues of the time and energy spent on it by the staff, and the issue of apparently heated disagreements among them about what next. But, would changing the site's focus solve those problems?

[As you can tell, I'm an admirer of the site as it is].

Just a PS on the vegetarian question - vegetarian options are absolutely standard for all conferences, and vegan choices are fairly common. The organizers probably just forgot to ask.


In the UK, and I suspect most parts of Europe, there would be vegetarian choices by default. Nobody would have to ask. Vegans might not fair so well without advance warning. It is several years since I entered an establishment and found nothing I was prepared to eat. Sometimes the options were such poor quality I chose not to be hungry, but it least they tried !

The worst place I found was a restaurant in Germany where even the vegetable side dishes were soaked in beef stock.

Nice to see that the two best eyewitnesses to events of the 1970's, Jan Lundberg (concerning oil) and Kevin Phillips (on politics), have written so forcefully on the subject.

It would really be cool to hear their opinions of the similarities and contrasts between what is happening now and what happened during the earlier oil crisis.


Even in my short lifetime (44 years), from my youth up, I have put to memeory several demonstrable occurrences that equate oil disruptions to financial instability.

The very same year of the long gas lines of 73' I remember a large steel framed structure in Lake Tahoe, that was later to become Caesars Tahoe, sit idle for a full two years.

Obviously, the financial downturn of 83' is a vivid memory, caused by the Iranian Revolution and more reduction in imports.By 86' the sudden and consequent building boom and economic uptick that had no equivalent in American History was fueled by Saudi Arabia's flooding the market with $10-$20 per barrel plentiful oil supplies.

It would take a rather extaordinary naivete not to see the relationship between oil production incongruities and economic fluctuations.

So where are we today?

I am not proud to admit that I live in Las Vegas, and those on this site should pity me; Las Vegas is one of those cities that represents the apex in profligate consumption....But again,because of the excess and ignorance of city planners and entreprenuers the effects of diminishing oil supplies become demonstrably axiomatic.
There are several large building projects that are sitting idle as I type.And when I say several I am not being hyperbolic.
How big are these projects?
One of them is called the Fontainebleau, and it is a 4.5 billion, yes, billion $dollar project.This massive construction project now sits on the Strip in suspended animation across the street from the Sahara Hotel an unbelievingly 70% complete.The banks who were financing this project abruptly pulled their funding earlier this year.
There is a litany of large projects like this all over the city including:
A second billion dollar casino/hotel/condo project where the Stardust used to sit;they had only completed the underground and about 6 stories of iron work before that project lost its funding.
There is also the largest mall in the Vegas Valley to be built with its 9 stories of iron rusting in the elements/ shades of the 73' oil crisis.
Collin Campbell is proving himself to be quite the prophet, as concerning cities analogous to Las Vegas, as each day passes.

Needless to say, there is not going to be a recovery from this financial crisis.Once you get past all of the smoke and mirrors of Wall Street and the Republican rhetoric (no offence conservationist), all one has to do to measure the health of the Global Economy is to check the latest data at TOD.
The ship is sinking and the band is still playing, at least in Vegas' anyway.

I'm afraid my compatriots we are headed towards global conflict,we have seen this scenario in history before - on a much smaller scale - for the crisis of the 30's was in no way comparable to what we face today, and that crisis led to WW 2.

It is absolutely astonishing what I hear in the media today, the demagogue dogs of war are ramping it up with their insane accusations and calls to literally hit Iran with nuclear weapons.
Is there no shame?

We are headed for massive paradigm shifts in the next decade; it is time to be introspective and to seek truth, real truth, apart from man made institutions and political bodies.The book of Revelation seems to be having its fulfillment within this current generation.