Long term agricultural overshoot

This is a guest post by Peter Salonius, a Canadian soil microbiologist, that was originally posted in October 2008.

According to Peter, humanity has probably been in overshoot of the Earth's carrying capacity since it abandoned hunter gathering in favor of crop cultivation (~ 8,000 BCE). The problem is that soil needs tightly woven natural ecosystems to properly recycle nutrients and prevent soil erosion. Earth's inhabitants have devised a whole series of approaches to increase the amount of food that can produced, starting first with hand-cultivation and culminating in the last century with the widespread use of fossil fuels. These approaches strip the soil of its nutrients and cause soil erosion. Even Permaculture cannot be expected to overcome these problems. According to the paper, eventually, to reach sustainability, the world will need to reduce its population to that of the hunter-gathers, and go back to living on the resources the natural ecosystems can produce.

Peter's paper begins below the fold.

Part 1: Life Before Agriculture

The major departure for humans as just another member of the global animal species assemblage came when fire was first used about 400,000 years ago by Homo erectus (Price 1995). The dynamic cyclical stability of complex systems has been shown for most animal populations, except top predators, to depend on predation to dampen overshoot and runaway consumption dynamics of prey species (Rooney et al. 2006). The ability to control and use fire removed the influence of wild animal predators as moderators of human numbers. The use of fire made possible the colonization of cold lands at high latitudes where fuel for heating shelters was available in some form such as animal oil, dried dung and wood. Even though their shelters became more complex and elaborate, they were, for the most part, temporary encampments whose main structural components could be transported across the landscape so as to benefit from variable food availability as the seasons changed.

The bulk of human history has been that of a culture of hunter gathers or foragers. They did not plant crops or modify ecosystem dynamics in any significant manner as they were passively dependent on what the local environment had to offer. They did however domesticate dogs as early as 100,000 BCE (Vila et al. 1997); these animals were useful as hunting aids, guardians, and occasionally as food during times of scarcity. Hunter gatherers maintained social organization and interdependence, and prevented the loss of food to spoilage by sharing the harvest among community members. These people lived in harmony with their supporting ecosystems and their ability to unsustainably stress and damage their environment was limited by the fact that if their numbers exceeded the carrying capacity of the complex, self-managing, species diverse, resilient terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems from which they gained their sustenance, then hunger and lower fertility exercised negative feedback controls on further expansion.

They used culturally mediated behavior like extended suckling, abortifacients and infanticide to keep their numbers far below carrying capacity, and to avoid Malthusian constraints like starvation (Read and LeBlanc 2003). Warfare between groups competing for the same resources, before the evolution of states, also appears have been a significant constraint on the growth of human numbers (Keeley 1996).

Part 2: The Evolution of Agriculture

The development of agriculture is of great interest to us because it produces most of our food and it was a prerequisite for the tremendous growth of human numbers, and also for the various complex societies that have evolved since this new culture began (Diamond 2002).

After the advent of agriculture, mortality rates, caused by conflict, decreased somewhat as local raiding by chiefdoms evolved into long-distance territorial conquest by states (Spencer 2003). These cultural and conflict behaviors that limited human population growth served to maintain balance between humans and other species during most of the historical record. Read and Leblanc (2003) suggest that humans, in areas of low resource density, tend to maintain generally stable populations, while high resource density, such as that produced by agriculture, decreases the spacing of births more rapidly than the increase in resource density, which results in repeating cycles of carrying capacity overshoot and population collapse.

Nomads and Pastoralists

The earliest movement from strict hunter gathering toward agriculture came when people noticed the changes in ecosystems that they burned to move game animals to places where they could be more easily killed; sometimes the post-fire vegetation consisted of an increase in the numbers of plants used as food, such as berries and bulbs and also vegetation assemblages, like the sparse oak parkland of the U.S. Pacific Northwest that produced acorns for both human food and for the deer that they hunted (Angier 1974; Oregon State University 2003), while in other areas grasslands were periodically burned to encourage the growth of tender vegetation that was attractive to game animals.

Even though some hunter gatherer/ foragers did modify the vegetation or successional state of vegetation assemblages in specific areas with fire, these areas seldom were productive enough to support year round occupancy. Thus began the first steps of humans as a ‘patch-disturbance‘ species (Rees 2002), whose expansion would ultimately extend to and modify almost all of the ecosystems on the planet.

Movement toward actual cultivation agriculture began with the domestication of cereal grains at a time when postglacial climate warming was interrupted by climate reversal, even before the beginning of the consistently warm conditions of the Holocene (Hillman et al. 2001). Diamond (2002) shows that plant and animal domestication first occurred in areas where the most valuable and easiest species to cultivate were native. These species were later moved to new and more productive areas by the migratory expansion of their cultivators who overran resident hunter gatherers. As people worked with and cultured wild species, the process of genetic selection began to produce more easily managed individuals with modified behavior. Diamond (1997; 2002) outlines characteristics of wild animals dealing with diet, growth rate, captive breeding, disposition, and social structure that make individual species either candidates for domestication or that make domestication very difficult.

Nomads, inhabiting grassland / prairie ecosystems, who had relied on hunting herds of herbivores, learned enough about the habits of these species to begin the process of controlling some of them. The resulting pastoral herding culture of such animals as camels, goats, sheep, cattle, yaks, alpacas and reindeer made locating meat much less chancy, and allowed the further developing use of secondary products from living animals such as blood and milk. This very early form of species domestication without cultivation provides considerable independence in the face of environmental fluctuations because herds are moved to different areas as the seasons change and during periods of drought. These people developed a culture that moved to adapt to the environment as opposed to forcing changes on the environment to accommodate a particular food production culture, even though they did burn land to rejuvenate pasture and prevent forest growth from encroaching onto grasslands.

Pastoralists, like hunter-gatherers maintained close social organization and interdependence, and they prevented the loss of food to spoilage by sharing the harvest among community members. Hunter gathering, foraging and pastoral lifestyles are often thought of as precarious and requiring very hard work, while both archaeological evidence and the health of the few groups that have not yet been displaced by farming suggests that they lived quite long and much easier lives with better health and diets than the first people who practiced cultivation agriculture in the same localities (Diamond 1987).

Pastoralists were subject to the same constraints as hunter gatherers; their ability to unsustainably stress and damage their environment was limited by the fact that if their numbers exceeded the carrying capacity of the complex, self-managing, species diverse, resilient terrestrial ecosystems from which they gained their sustenance, then hunger and lower fertility exercised negative feedback controls on further expansion. There have only been a few groups that have been able to maintain the hunter gatherer life style even as they have been displaced and forced onto marginal land by agriculturalists. Pastoralists may continue to thrive into the modern era because the semi-arid lands they utilize are usually inappropriate for cultivation agriculture.

Of interest is the move back to nomadic pastoralism in some of the Central Asian republics that has followed the demise of the money economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union during the 1990s. Modern grass-fed cattle and sheep ranching, although not a subsistence culture, has a lot of similarities to pastoralism except that it is carried on in a grander scale to produce commodities for markets.

Beginnings of Cultivation Agriculture

The evolution of agriculture appears to have been an accidental, ‘hit-and-miss’ development that almost certainly sprang, not from necessity (Diamond 2002), but from the propensity of humans to experiment. Selective harvest and replanting of specific races of food plants took place at an accelerating pace as the hostile and unpredictable climate at the end of the Pleistocene gave way to warmer and more predictable conditions (Richerson et al. 2001). Although some authors suggest that the growth of human populations during the last 10,000 years has resulted in pressure to produce more food to feed them (Boserup 2005), most see the increased food production by cultivation agriculture as the driver of population growth (Abernethy 2002; Hopfenberg and Pimentel 2001; Hopfenberg 2008).

Cultivation agriculture usually began with shifting or ‘slash and burn’ techniques that utilized the accumulated nutrients, built up under native forest or grassland, and also those nutrients in the ash resulting from burning native vegetation. Reasonable productivity for cultivated plants lasts for only a few years on upland soils under shifting cultivation. Permanent agricultural cultivation appears to have been possible in river valleys that were fertilized annually by new soil carried by floodwaters. When soil nutrients are depleted on upland soils, it is necessary to move to a new patch of native vegetation cover and repeat the 'slash and burn' process. After the abandonment of temporary fields, a considerable period of native vegetation regrowth is necessary before soil nutrient levels are again built up to the point where another short cycle of cropping and nutrient depletion is profitable. On better soils in tropical climates the period of early successional woody vegetation growth may only need to be a few years before the next cultivation cycle, because temperature-driven soil weathering rates are very high in these areas.

Shifting cultivation is usually labor-intensive and the small plots involved do not produce enough to support humans and horses, oxen or other draft animals that could assist with tillage. Year round multi-cropping in tropical climates on erosion prone slopes such as areas of the Philippines sometimes involved as many as 40 different crop species on the same field so that there was always enough plant cover to break the force of the rain and minimize erosion. Shifting cultivation is only viable if the population remains low enough that the next cycle of temporary cultivation is not required until native forest or grassland regeneration on abandoned fields has rebuilt the supply of nitrogen (by biological fixation) and levels of plant available phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and micronutrients (by soil weathering).

At the time of European contact in eastern North America, from mid continent and southward, much of the low altitude land had already been submitted to enough Amerindian shifting agriculture that the settlers discovered a landscape mosaic of cleared gardens, abandoned clearings returning to forest vegetation and maturing forest that was ready for yet another cycle of clearing, burning and temporary cultivation (Williams, 2006). European settlers, whose rapidly moving diseases had already decimated the Amerindians, were able to start farming on cleared land that had been prepared by the former residents.

Amerindians did utilize the nitrogen fixation capabilities of leguminous beans in mixtures with squash, corn and various other crops, and they did augment depleting soil nutrients with the placement of fish in planting spots. However at the time of European contact, Amerindian population dynamics were probably already on the same ‘increase and collapse’ trajectory as those of other populations, whose numbers increase to exceed carrying capacity as food production is increased by the adoption of cultivation agriculture (Costanza et al. 2005). Rees (2002-03) states, as did Malthus (1826), that unless there are constraints on animal (including human) expansion, all populations grow to the point that they destroy some critical resource and then they collapse.

Intensive cultivation agriculture provides adequate food to allow the growth of large scale, populous societies living in settlements with permanent dwellings that are near enough to the food growing areas to facilitate their management and that allow for the storage of food from season to season. The transition from the passive dependence on existing complex self-managing ecosystems by mobile hunter gatherers gave way to the greater control of food sources provided by cultivation agriculture on land in specific localities with radically altered ecology. Its practitioners were tied to the land, and they were vulnerable to environmental vagaries that could produce local crop failures.

Diamond (1997) suggests that the development of plant cultivation agriculture was a ‘trap’ that precipitated massive changes in the way we feed ourselves and in the social organization that is a natural product of land ownership and control of stored foodstuffs. The thinking with regard to this ‘trap’ is that, as populations rise to utilize the increased food supplied by cultivation agriculture, it is very difficult to revert to less productive food producing systems without incurring hardship and starvation.

The egalitarian food-sharing social organization systems of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and shifting agriculturists, based on kinship, gave way to the class stratification of societies that rely on intensive cultivation agriculture. The stratum of society that controls the means of food production, and the land required for it, develops a hierarchy of property owners and leaders who are rich enough to thrive during periods of severe food shortages, while the less powerful, who are employed by them, suffer famine much more directly.

Eventually this social stratification and evolution of complex labor division proceeds to the point where merchants, craftsmen, military, clergy, bureaucrats, politicians and royalty occupy urban areas where food from the countryside is used, but not produced. A rich and politically powerful stratum develops absolute property rights that are accumulated as wealth and transferred to its descendants; this stratum, often doing very little labor, becomes more numerous and difficult to support as the ratio of elites to producers increases (Costanza et al 2005).

As economic class distinctions developed, the social changes usually included a decline in the status of women who were more equal partners in subsistence societies. While close to 100% of the people in foraging and hunter gatherer societies were involved directly in producing food, less than 60% of the population in non industrial agricultural societies may participate directly. In contrast, industrial, modern, mechanized agriculture that depends on non renewable fossil-fuelled machinery usually employs less than 5% of the population directly in food production.

The migration of foragers and hunter gathers to colder northern climates, the shift to more intensive food production systems that included increased densities of people living in the confines of enclosed permanent structures, the further migration of people into Asia, and the modern evolution of urban living conditions have all been accompanied by genetic changes in humans. The most well known of these changes are the adaptive development of resistance to "crowd diseases" spread from domesticated animals (Diamond 2002), food tolerances, the various blood groups we see in human populations, as well as the selection for lighter skin colors that has allowed people living in northern climates to use limited sunlight to accomplish the metabolic transformations of chemical precursors into Vitamin D (D’Adamo and Whitney 1996).

The transition to large-scale intensive cultivation agriculture in permanent fields often involved complex water management (irrigated rice) and the use of large animals such as horses, water buffalo and oxen to pull plows which turn up buried soil nutrients into the planting layer and aid in controlling weeds. Even though intensive cultivation agriculture did produce more food than subsistence food production on a specific area, severe local food shortages were not eliminated by the development of these techniques. Famine was caused by cyclic drought, climate cooling episodes and the natural propensity of humans to increase population numbers to meet then surpass any elevation of carrying capacity during benign conditions (Hopfenberg 2003).

Societies grew and prospered until soils were exhausted or as long as there was new land to cultivate, but they declined when they ran out of fertile soil options (Montgomery 2007). Temporary overshoot of carrying capacity has caused human numbers to fall back precipitously with some regularity throughout history (Stanton 2003), while less regular complete collapses of societies have been the norm since the advent of agriculture (Costanza et al. 2005).

Cultivation agriculture has resulted in a tremendous depletion of both soil mass by erosion ( Montgomery 2007; Sundquist 2007) and plant nutrients in soil (Williams 2006; Salonius 2007). Plant nutrients are lost because of bare soil cultivation and the lack of the very efficient recycling that is a characteristic of diverse, deep rooted, nutrient-conservative forest and grassland / prairie ecosystems. Nutrient replacement with fertilizers is the process that allowed intensive cultivation agriculture to continue after all of the arable soils on the planet had been occupied.

The Agricultural Revolution and Beyond

The Agricultural Revolution was the first of several food production improvements that took place after 1700. Soils, whose plant nutrients would normally be depleted after a period of cultivation, were augmented in the earliest stages of intensive agricultural development by forest leaves, animal manures, wood ash, fish, seaweed, mud from tidal zones, and pulverized bones. As a complex transportation industry began to develop based on coal and then petroleum for railways and ocean going ships, long distance transport of guano, Chilean nitrate, limestone, potash salts and rock phosphate allowed depleted soils to produce enough crops for domestic use and export. The absolute necessity for including legume crops in crop rotations was circumvented after the Haber- Bosch process began producing ammonia using methane and atmospheric nitrogen 1913 (Vance 2001).

Science-based management of soil nutrients and fertilizer materials became necessary as crop fertilization had to become increasingly efficient. The guiding principle for crop fertilization was Liebig’s Law of the Minimum that states that only by increasing the supply of the scarcest or most limiting soil nutrient would crop growth be improved. Later the emphasis shifted from crop fertilization to nutrient management planning which attempted to assess soil nutrients that would be released into solution during growth, the acidity of the soil as it effects plant nutrient availability, the nutrients contributed by manure applications and nitrogen fixing plants, and the possibility of environmental (especially to water) damage by nutrients that are not used by the existing crop or that are not held in the soil until the next crop begins to grow.

The next major increase in food production occurred as the Industrial Revolution began. Energy for manufacturing farm implements was first obtained from falling water. With the invention of the steam engine, energy from burning wood supplied power for the manufacture of farm machinery such as plows, mowers, diggers and threshers. The motive power to operate this machinery was provided by draft animals. Later these machines were pulled and operated by power obtained from internal combustion engines that slowly reduced reliance on draft animals such as oxen and horses, whose feed formerly came from the same arable land that grows food crops for people. Thus the Fossil Fuel Revolution began.

Since 1750 human society has increasingly augmented the solar energy that it relied on exclusively for most of its history with a progression of temporary supplies of non-renewable geological energy sources (coal, petroleum, natural gas and fissionable uranium). The profligate consumption of these energy subsidies has allowed tremendous increases in agricultural production and the global trading that removes the necessity for food to be produced in the region where it is to be consumed.

Thomas Malthus (1826) predicted that agricultural production increases would not be able to meet the requirements of a steadily growing human population. However he was not aware that the depletion of soils by the agriculture, that was feeding less than one billion humans in the 1700s, was already unsustainable in the long term. Malthus could not have conceived of the temporary increase of carrying capacity and food production that would be made possible by the use of non-renewable fossil and nuclear fuels during period after his death. The abandonment of the effective controls on human birth rates, exercised by pre-agricultural societies, and the decrease in mortality by warfare that followed the evolution of states have allowed the exponential expansion of human numbers to be fuelled by increased availability of food.

Human populations had grown very slowly until the advent of agriculture. Population grew rapidly in the context of both increased food security and the wealth that agricultural productivity created until the middle 1800s. During the latter part of this period, as soil productivity became seriously diminished by cultivation agriculture, and a scarcity of forest land that could be cleared for farming developed, migration to new lands such as North America and Australia was used to decrease the pressure on existing land. These new areas presented migrants with fertile land so that soil-depleting agriculture could continue (Manning 2004; Williams 2006).

This migration and exploitation of new lands continued the accelerating population expansion that increased agricultural food production makes possible. The historically unprecedented rapid exponential population explosion after 1800 was driven by the increased productivity that was made possible by the labor saving machinery of the Industrial Revolution in concert with the increasing access to cheap and abundant geological energy that characterized the Fossil Fuel Revolution.

Part 3: Our Current Agricultural Situation

The Green Revolution produced the last major improvement in food production during the latter decades of the twentieth century as new crop varieties were created by plant breeders. These new varieties depended on large inputs of fossil-fuel dependent fertilizers, irrigation, insecticides and herbicides. William Paddock (1970) warned, at the time of the beginning of the Green Revolution, that the increased agricultural productivity would simply produce more malnourished poor people if curbs were not applied to the increase in human numbers that would result from increased food availability. Global population growth since the beginning of the Green Revolution has borne out the futility of increasing food availability in the absence of measures to control human fertility (Diamond 2002).

Some forms of modern industrial agriculture, combined with the transportation necessary to ship food produced, use more than 10 calories of fossil fuel to deliver one calorie of food to the market (Younquist 1997). Montgomery (2007) states that before 1950, most increases in food production were the result of increased land under cultivation and better husbandry, but recently most of the increases have been the result of mechanization and escalating fertilizer use. Albert Bartlett (1978) has said, “Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food."
Salonius (2005) summarized evidence for the necessity that modern civilization must face the prospect of decreasing access to the cheap and abundant exhaustible geological energy that has served agriculture so effectively during the recent past. The cost of this energy is poised to increase and that eventually fossil fuel and fissionable nuclear energy will become economically unavailable.

The looming scarcity of fossil fuel resources will create great difficulty in continuing to supply fertilizer nitrogen for agriculture by the Haber-Bosch process. Inexpensive rock phosphate supplies are forecast to become depleted in as little as 60 years (Vance 2001). Dery and Anderson(2007) demonstrate peaking phosphorus production from several sources including the United States that follow the same trajectory as the Hubbert Peak for petroleum; these authors suggest that world rock phosphate production is already in decline and that future agricultural production will depend upon diligent phosphorus recycling.

North America has the largest reserves of potassium in the world that can be manufactured into fertilizer materials. Concerns about the stability of limited supplies as well as the increasing costs of transport, that are driven by petroleum scarcity, produced rapid escalation in the price of potassium fertilizer during the early years of the twenty-first century.

As fertilizer supplies and long distance transport are expected to dwindle in concert with fossil-fuel depletion during the twenty-first century, organic agricultural techniques are expected to replace the industrial agriculture that has been powered by fossil fuels and nourished by chemical fertilizers. The International Fertilizer Industry suggests that organic agriculture is only capable of producing one quarter of the protein produced when large amounts of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers are employed (www.fertilizer.org/ifa/sustainability.asp); however, Pimentel et al. (2005) have shown that weathering rates appear to be able to meet plant demand for nutrients when organic agriculture relies on nitrogen fixing by legumes on some soils.

Sustainability issues are becoming increasingly apparent to systems analysts who have begun to understand the dilemma faced by human populations that have overshot the carrying capacity of the ecosystems they rely on for the production of food and fiber. This understanding usually encompasses the looming current depletion of non-renewable fossil and nuclear energy subsidies, however more basic depletions are becoming recognized as having been sidestepped for the last 10,000 years.

The global human family has become dependent upon the enhanced food production made possible by temporary supplies of non-renewable geologically stored fossil and nuclear energy. The energy market, upon which present affluence levels are based, is a global one, and the availability of geological energy supplies cannot be maintained. As access to the energy upon which complex industrial societies are dependent becomes more expensive and less available during the twenty-first century, human population numbers will have to be brought into balance with the sustainable productivity levels of the local ecosystems upon which they rely for their sustenance.

The ecological deficits, that humans have sidestepped by migration to new lands, mining soil mass (erosion) and soil nutrients (leaching), and access to one-time supplies of exhaustible energy, will have to be squarely faced as the level of affluence diminishes. Food production per capita must fall as horses and oxen must again be fed from crop land and as access to fossil fuel dependent fertilizers diminishes.

Part 4: Intensive Crop Cultures Are Unsustainable

A growing number of commentators, such as Alan Weisman (2007), have begun to suggest that a world with fewer people would be far better placed to deal with climate change and the exhaustion of the dirty fuels of the industrial past. Many appear to think that high technologies such as nuclear energy and yet another agricultural revolution, this one supplying Genetically Modified crops, in combination with curbs on population growth, would begin to dampen the environmental disruption caused by human society that is becoming increasingly obvious. However the problem is even more serious than that visualized by these thoughtful individuals who are convinced that the neoclassical economic model of open-ended expansion and so-called ‘sustainable growth’ is a recipe for disaster.

William Rees (1992) originated the idea of the Ecological Footprint to measure the amount of land that people with different lifestyles both occupied and drew on for their sustenance. Wackernagel and Rees (1997) further developed this concept, calculating how many Earths would be required if all of the people on the planet lived at particular levels of consumption; they appear to believe that the human family overshot global carrying capacity sometime in the twentieth century. Regardless of the timing, we know we are in serious overshoot and that the total human footprint (whatever enormity it is) must get smaller.

As we run up against all of the renewable and nonrenewable resource depletions (oil, soil, phosphorus, minerals etc.) that will characterize the foreseeable future, we require an entire rethink as to how we do business, because the human enterprise has been living on borrowed time and resources for millennia. It is quite conceivable that most intensive crop culture is unsustainable and that it has been unsustainable since cultivation agriculture began.

It is reasonable to suggest that we begin unsustainable resource depletion (overshoot) as soon as we use (and become dependent upon) the first unit of any non-renewable resource or renewable resource used unsustainably whose further use becomes essential to the functioning of society. Each of the following has facilitated an increase in food availability and thus an increase in the human numbers that must continue to be fed whether the resources become depleted or not: the first tonne of coal, the first litre of oil, the first kilogram of fissionable uranium, the first barrel of fossil water for irrigation that exceeds the recharge rate of the aquifer being tapped, and the first hectare of formerly nutrient conservative native forest or grassland/prairie plowed.

The last item in the list, plowing of virgin ecosystems for cultivation agriculture, sets in motion unsustainable renewable resource depletion (excessive erosion and leaching/export of plant nutrients from arable soils, and more recently the excessive leaching and nutrient depletion that is associated with harvesting of nutrient-rich forest biomass) that has been looming over us, unseen, for 10,000 years (Salonius 2007). Some estimates suggest that nearly one-third of the arable soils on Earth have already been lost to erosion since cultivation began and recent moves to rely on agricultural crops as a source of biofuels (ethanol) are seen by some as trading a system based on mining oil for one based on mining soil (Montgomery 2007). We can expect that the unsustainable exploitation of soil will become increasingly apparent as the depletion of petroleum begins to affect the production of foodstuffs by unsustainable farming, and the production of fiber produced by unsustainable forestry upon which most of us are dependent.

Humanity has probably been in overshoot of the Earth's carrying capacity since it abandoned hunter gathering in favor of crop cultivation (~ 8,000 BCE) and it has been running up its ecological debt since that time.

Part 5: The Future of Food Production

In the context of depleting reserves of the fossil fuels that have supplied modern agriculture with motive power, machinery, fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides, it is expected that the way food is produced will have to change as the twenty-first century unfolds. 'Permaculture’ (Mollison and Holmgren 1979), and other modifications of agricultural practice that seek self sufficiency, such as those put forward by proponents like the Post Carbon Institute’s Relocalization program (www.postcarbon.org) include local food and biofuel systems, revitalization of local industry, and community cooperation.

These are good first steps that recognize global trade will wane as fossil fuel depletion gains momentum. They are also an attempt to wean people off the industrial food production that treats soil as a medium for fertilizer-dependent hydroponic agriculture, and simply a substrate to stand plants up in. These people are interested in popularizing organic agriculture, minimum tillage or no-till methods, solar powered tractors etc. that will make local economies less reliant on imported materials. However these alterations follow the cultivation agriculture model as a food production system, as they must in the short term.

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. 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.

Under natural grassland/prairie and forest ecosystems, erosion rates of soil mass are minimal, and the diverse and deep structure of the below-ground rooting community, with its microbial associates, makes the escape of plant nutrients entrained in downward-moving drainage (leaching) water to the ocean very difficult. Our ultimate goal, as we attempt to achieve a sustainable human culture on Earth, must be to move toward the sustainable exploitation of natural grassland/prairie and forest ecosystems at rates that do not cause the loss of physical soil mass or plant nutrient capital any faster than they can be replaced by biological and weathering processes.

Obviously, as we move back toward a solar-energy dependent economy based on self-managing natural ecosystems, we will no longer be able to run the massive ecological deficits that temporary fossil and nuclear fuel availability have allowed. Just as obviously the solar-energy dependent economy will not support the human numbers that have been able to exponentially increase slowly as a result of agricultural mining of soil mass and nutrient stores since ~8,000 BCE, and rapidly because of the availability of non renewable fossil and nuclear energy subsidies since 1750.

In order to lower the human population to levels supportable by sustainable exploitation of natural grassland/prairie and forest ecosystems we must begin to allow these ecosystems to reestablish on lands that have historically been devoted to intensive cultivation during our 10,000 year agricultural past. The best suggestion so far to produce Rapid Population Decline (RPD) is for the collective global human family to adopt a One Child Per Family (OCPF) 'modus operandi/philosophy'. Even with general acceptance of RPD and OCPF, the human population decrease that is necessary to achieve a sustainable solar energy-dependent culture, will take several centuries. Governments, as they become convinced that RPD is necessary, may choose monetary incentives, tax breaks and/or penalties to achieve general acceptance of OCPF or some other RPD program.

Part 6: Moving Beyond (Back From) Cultivation Agriculture

There are areas of the planet with such low rainfall as to preclude the growth of forest vegetation where a return to pastoral herding, with low stocking levels, will allow the reinvasion of native prairie vegetation. As we move toward the abandonment of unsustainable agricultural practices, it would be advisable to shift away from the cultivation of grains and forages that require bare ground cultivation on these lands.

As human numbers are contracting/shrinking under a OCPF/RPD or some other numbers reduction methodology, the extant population will insist on being properly nourished. The only way enough food can be produced for them is by cultivation agriculture that will further deplete most of the arable soils on the planet. During the centuries of transition, as we move toward a solar-dependent culture that again sustainably exploits natural grassland/prairie and forest ecosystems, we should be exercising as responsible agriculture as is possible on the shrinking arable land base where it is still practiced. During this transition, the growing amount of land that is abandoned will revert toward natural grassland/prairie and forest ecosystems very rapidly after we cease cultivating it (Weisman 2007).

Balancing of human numbers with the productivity of their supporting local ecosystems may be accomplished by planed attrition, much lower birth rates and the economic dislocations and hardships that a retreat from classical economic growth will incur, or the balancing of human numbers may be accomplished by a catastrophic collapse imposed by natural resource scarcity. The species with the large brain must make the choice between economic hardship and catastrophic collapse.

Cultivation agriculture must be relied upon for the bulk of the food required to support global humanity until we have reduced our numbers to a level that can be sustained by regulated exploitation/harvesting activities that fall within the
(now better understood) capacity of ecosystems to maintain diversity, to form soil and to replace soluble plant nutrients lost by harvesting or leaching.

The attractive aspect of moving toward sustainable co-existence with self-managing ecosystems is that the hit-and-miss process of evolution has already established how to make them work. Our responsibility (after our numbers have fallen to sustainable levels) will be to learn to live within the regeneration capacity of these restored ecosystems. The penalty for exceeding their regeneration capacity will be hunger and privation, as it was for our hunter gatherer, forager and pastoral ancestors.


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While I consider myself a card carrying doomer and accept the fact that we are in agricultural population overshoot I think that insisting on looking only at land based agriculture is missing the big picture.

While I firmly believe that expanding into say, mariculture will only kick the can down the road a bit, there is no doubt in my mind that it is what we will do. Perhaps it stands a small chance of buying us some time to begin doing the things that need to be done. Perhaps not.

Case in point: http://openblueseafarms.com/

I'm sure that many of us will be colonizing the open oceans in the near future. Maybe we can find a use for all those idled oil rigs and empty tankers. If nothing else they'd make some pretty good temporary floating platforms for a remake of Waterworld...

Our ultimate goal, as we attempt to achieve a sustainable human culture on Earth, must be to move toward the sustainable exploitation of natural grassland/prairie and forest ecosystems at rates that do not cause the loss of physical soil mass or plant nutrient capital any faster than they can be replaced by biological and weathering processes.

I have just finished The Vegetarian Myth by Keith, a great read, but will make our vegan friends scream in protest.
It fills in the blanks of the above post, and agrees.

"Maybe we can find a use for all those idled oil rigs"

I invested in an upstart that developed systems to clean oysters and raise redfish and mahi by hanging giant rotating "drums" off of old oil rigs. (I think it was called "Seastar") back in the '90s. Their first endevour was to take oysters from contaminated beds and put them in giant racks suspended from oil rigs in clean gulf waters. The oysters would clean themselves of all diseases within 14 days. They also got huge, and more salty than coastal oysters. They actually got DOA and EPA approval to market these oysters. They also were raising Mahi and Redfish with the help of the Univerisity of Miss this way. Originally out of Texas, they ran into trouble with the PTB down there and lost the leases on the old rigs (they didn't feather the right nests in TX is my guess). Shortly after moving to Florida, huricanes took out their new facilities and they never recovered. Kind of sad. They worked really hard at it, but nature, politics and the economy conspired against them. A sign of the times, it seems.

Some of the best spearfishing I ever did (lots of Mahi) was on oil rigs off of Rio de Janeiro state during the time I worked there as a saturation diver. Note: the spearfishing was done during the time we spent waiting to do operational dives ;-)

Best wishes for many more experiments such as the one you mentioned.

I spearfished for a living in Micronesia, but the Mahi were all caught trolling.
Those were the days----

Never heard of catching Mahi-Mahi with a spear, good on you.

Only under a semi submersible rig 80 miles off shore. There used to be schools of them swimming around. Easy to shoot, almost like fish in a barrel ;-)

Hey Hightrekker, when were you in Micronesia? I was there back in 1987-1988. Interesting place.

I was there in 1975-76, and in 1983 for a stint and in 1999-2000.
The 75-76 was the spearfishing time, as a profession. The human skull candle holders were a primitive touch.

Remember Matt Simmons oft repeated remark that "Rust never sleeps". ;)

If we move out on the water it will have to be on boats made out of some kind of organic material eventually.

This paper is an excellent summary of the agricultural overshoot problem.

My guess however is that we will work out methods that will enable to keep us farming on a limited scale in the same places .

I will post some thoughts about that later.

Remember Matt Simmons oft repeated remark that "Rust never sleeps". ;)

Oh yeah! Especially if you're out on the ocean.

Actually, perhaps a word on this from personal experience. I started on a 3 acre sustainability project in Hawaii just over 3 years ago and have at this point achieved food and fuel sustainability at a level that would be globally equitable--at least with off the cuff assessments of personal needs and assuming the biosphere doesn't completely collapse and 75 percent of the world ends up as desert. Admittedly probably unrealistic assumptions but hang on a second. . . My major crops are taro, sweet, potato, chayote, chickens, and bananas that with only one acre of the 3 in production easily provides the resources of both food and fuel that I'd need for basic, even comfortable survival. Such living is indeed wholly possible if one researches the techniques and applies a realistic modern approach. Some permaculture ideas are involved, some ancient Hawaiian techniques, some modern cleverness and a lot of biochar have been key. And, of course a massive massive massive reduction in personal consumption and a lot of personal sweat. And there's the real problem, with this lifestyle you're likely to get a blister or two from time to time and well, that's just not doing for most people.

It doesn't take much game theory knowledge to figure out that projects such as mine are doomed to failure from the start--at least in some sense as the current conditions hold. First, such a lifestyle has required more or less dropping out of society for a couple of years and living a refined but semi-feral existence as I got the whole thing put together. Secondly, it's tiresome to be ahead of the curve and always thought off as either a nut case or an extremist or elsewise. The chickens, however, enjoy my company quite well. At this point, now that sustainability is becoming more fashionable, my major hurdle for the present is to figure a way to sell my produce in a market now becoming glutted by other small producers, unfortunately often those backed by 1) grant money 2) retirement income 3) trust funds or other outside sources that subsidize their sustainable living with unsustainable means. Ultimately, of course, these sources will dry up, but for the moment it's a pain in the butt to deal with and makes my project all the more complicated.

Not that it really matters--as the concept of sustainability is, of course, an empirical issue rather than an ideological one. Those who achieve real sustainability will soon enough be the only ones standing. I don't have much to add to the conversation at the end of this but to say--sustainability can indeed be had, if we worked together the quality of life we might all have could be equitable and comfortable. I doubt we'll work together. It's still worth trying though. It's nice to survive. Actually, I'm very optimistic about it all if I can hang on through the rush for the exits.

Hi Jay,

I guess you are new , welcome to TOD.

I'm glad you mention "grant money,retirement income,trust funds, and other outside sources" right up front in discussing your sustainability experiment.

Most of the sustainability cheerleading depends on some special circumstance or another which is all to often either ignored altogether or minimized when such projects are held forth as examples.

Small scale organic farmers seem to think they will always be able to get a really high price for thier produce for example.History suggests otherwise.

It is going to be a lot harder to make a long term go of any self sufficiency program that most people are willing to admit or believe.

Thanks for the welcome, Mac. Actually, I've been around for years off and on but not too often have much to contribute to the conversation, as, well, I think the peak oil issue has been pretty well talked out and has been for years. I'm very interested in the "what do about it issues" and I appreciate this forum for the service it provides, but I find the more active I am in preparing for our future the less time I've got to talk about it, as least in a merely conversational sense or theoretical sense. I'm not so interested in EROEI issues as I'm already set up to run my EU 2000 on papaya juice. It's no big deal really. A lot of the world already does it. If you need a couple gallons to run a chain saw making it is no big deal. If you need it to fly to Bali to raise ecological awareness among people already aware, well, harder to come by. I hope this at attitude doesn't come across as insulting and the intent in no way is to raise hackles, but rather to say that there exist real answers to these real questions and their existence isn't any kind of mystery once one faces the basic facts of what life in the future will mean for those of us who want to be successful in it. Whatever that means. I might define successful as fed.

The Big Island of Hawaii is becoming a bit of a mecca for people of that kind of mindset and rightly so. It's near ideal in climate, in cost, in rainfall, and in current political culture. That's all subject to change very quickly, but if anyone out there has similar values and would enjoy being a neighbor, I can hook you up. Part of this effort is recruitment as I could use the help.

I have heard of a few people living sustainable in Hawaii, but how many can it support?

Places like Reno, Pheonix, Las Vagas are all set to die out because they have to import all their food and most of their water. But if they move to the great places, they'll overwhelm them kinda fast.

I would love to move, but I have a place that while it won't be able to support many others, right now it works for me, even though I am no where near as set up as I would like. But I tend to live off the plants that grow here without me doing much of anything else but harvest and keeping certain plants out of certain areas.

Best of luck to you.


You sound as if you might make it and die of old age, Jay.

If I were young and without obligations I would love to come out of these hills and see the world but we are pretty well set up on a small farm and I expect to die of old age myself barring accidents and violence.

But the tropics sure do have a lot to offer.

It's about 18 Fahrenhiet here right this minute, with snow on the ground for the last week.

One thing at least that we won't have to contend with is malaria .

The tropics are a mixed bag. I'd probably had rather taken on my silvacultre project on the Vancouver Island of BC but land costs were simply far too sky high to make projects like mine viable, and I'd probably have needed close to 10 acres. The major boon of being here is an all the time growing season. The negative side is an all the time growing season and the fact that even plastic seems to rust. No major diseases yet in Hawaii, although that would change the situation. Climate change experts are predicting the malaria mosquitoes could move all the way up the west coast to S. Oregon before long. Next year will be a hot one, or so it looks to be and it will be interesting.

The island of Hawaii has, can and will again support a lot of people. The agricultural heritage of the island has been mightily assaulted by the tourist industry over the last couple of decades and the push to develop viable Ag land into residential housing--both making all but the larger farms really nonviable. That's changing quickly, however, and all it would take is a bump in fuel costs again to the 100 buck range to put a nail in that coffin.

At the moment Hawaii is a very non-sustainable state. The powergrid is diesel. Most all the food is imported because of the bad planning I just mentioned. There is an opportunity for those willing to jump in with both feet, however, that couldn't be found many places. I'm sure there will indeed be a last land rush here as there just aren't very many places that even can attempt to be "sustainable" at this point, but as has been alluded to few really "get it" as to what it takes and the unfamiliarity of tropical plants and foodstuffs add yet another difficult level.

But, it could be done. I've been tempted even set such projects up for people as a sort of "contractor" and to convert my place primarily into a nursery producing the plants and trees needed to develop the site. I could at this moment deliver a 3 acre property, 1 acre fully planted and the rest in timber for fuel and mulch inputs, with probably 50 or so productive banana trees, about the same in mixed citrus and papaya, 2000 or so taro plants--the rest in mixed varieties of sweet potatoes other crops. . .well, I'd be completely content to bid such a project as under 50k. It would be producing in 24 months. I doubt it's even possible to try that elsewhere. I'd invite comments from any interested in such a venture. I think we need exactly that kind of thing to happen and I'd be happy to see it take off.

Do you eat Taro every day ? Any oil ? Fish ?

typical daily diet ??

regarding "timber for fuel" ... what is the fuel for ? cooking ?

Taro is the backbone of the historic Hawaiian diet and a better subsistence crop could hardly be found. I eat a lot of it. As for eating it every day while the food is here on site I freely admit to eating great big greasy hamburgers last night that I didn't raise myself. As I see it and have alluded to those seeking real sustainability are in a very difficult spot needing to live in two worlds at the moment--one of which requires seeking the means to real sustainability in a manner of the highest level of integrity in a world without outside inputs--and the other is living in a world of property taxes, bizarre codes and requirements and fees and the need to wear shoes in public. The surprising strategy? Most of the produce I grow simply goes into the compost bin. It isn't worth the cost of production on the open market(for reasons above mentioned) and the best use of the production at this moment, as I see it, is to concentrate as much trace element material as I can on site while I can still get at it. One obviously cannot compete sustainably with sustainable stuff in a world with subsidized stuff. I'm growing it, collecting it, reusing it, and doing again. It's an investment in my personal future and the health of my land. It's thinking very akin to charging a bit 3 acre battery with the idea that it will give me a competitive edge in the future when those who don't think along those kinds of lines find out that what they were doing wasn't sustainable in spite of how it looked. Tropical soil is very poor and always needs a lot of help, and anything one can do to improve it is worth the effort. In my case, biochar has been the biggest single aid, and changes the game entirely. So it comes down to a dollar cost analysis kind of issue finally. I'm not out to save the world. The world is screwed. I'm out to save myself and other forthright and thoughtful people in a viable community. While those around the world are dumb enough to give away food for less than the cost of production I'll buy it and eat it, and piss in the yard. I'll buy scratch grains and feed it to the chickens. I'll buy 10-20-20 PLUS and use it to improve the soil while those will sell it. I know full well the days of that sort of availability are very numbered--so while others don't see that I'll quietly keep plugging away preparing for the inevitable. If the grocery stores were empty tomorrow I'd be happily fed forever.

Fish, unfortunately is pretty well gone here on the Big Island and was never much to crow about.

Oils are a difficult issue for me, but the "Ohana" or extended family system is the traditional manner for that sort of issue here in Hawaii. I live at 2200 feet on the volcano, others in the community live lower and readily farm kukui or avocado or other crops that provide oils. And of course, beef fat in spades, as the pasture land here really can't be beat. Here's the link. http://sensiblesimplicity.lefora.com/ A very smart bunch of people.

Actually, I think the surprise to most people is getting enough to eat is the easiest issue to solve. Growing enough to eat that you can sell it profitably enough to buy a pair of pants or pay your property taxes is the tough one. This issue requires a lot of strategic thought.

So again, I see this as a practical engineering issue rather than an ideological one. I'm no neo primitive. I love gibson guitars, class A amplifiers and trick effect boards. It's more of a matter of non-rhetorically looking at real issues, seeing what the real problems are, and finding real solutions.

You should write an article for TOD, Jay. They need some practical examples to stump their theoretical objections :D

Gail wrote an article about Hawaii and sustainability some time back.

Like I said, practical examples would be useful. I don't think we need any more "oil companies love us, but we're doomed" articles from Gail.

Kiashu, now I need to clean the coffee off my keyboard that I sprayed through my nose onto it. TKS!

Gail, no disrespect intended to you, I think your views knowledge and background are a very important part of what I continue to come to TOD for. But that was still pretty funny :-)

I thought it funny too. I enjoy most every article here but from my perspective there's a real heavy preponderance of well written, well thought out and researched articles where someone behind a computer looks up other similar articles(written in the same fine manner) and uses them for supporting evidence. While there is a place for the theoretical the theoretical begets the theoretical and the end result often is a debate contrived about a theoretical issue where factions debate back and forth with very little if any practical knowledge of the matter at hand. As well, the theoretical has a tendency to breed ideology--as we can often seen in the whole either "we're doomed" or "there's no problems at all" debate that seems to be present whether discussing peak oil, climate, or the current state of the global economy. Away from the computer screens the reality is always a little less well defined.

I fear as well that a tendency to seek the theoretical is a kind of escapism that neatly absolves many from their responsibility to the present. It's easy to argue oneself into an extreme view of the events where on can conveniently say "well, there's nothing I can do about it anyway. . ." and go on about one's life in the conventional manner. I disagree profoundly. While I'm utterly convinced that we're past peak in oil production(and near or post peak on a number of other critical commodities too) and our current way of living is wholly shot in the head--that we're far far far into population overshoot and standing around dumbly waiting for the cataclysm of a warming planet to hit us--there is a HELL of a lot we can still do personally that will make a positive impact for ourselves and our planet. These efforts will at this point require real physical and direct interventions in our personal lives and our communities, and won't be comfortable nor recreational. There's no sense complaining about the fact of that as they're also likely necessary for our own personal survival. So for myself it would be great, I think, to hear more about practical solutions to our practical problems. And not of the stupid "change your lightbulbs, tee hee!" type. Unless we're discussing solutions that holistically remove 90 percent or so of our footprint, it's a waste of time.

It takes about 80 pounds of papayas to run a chainsaw for 4 hours, by the way. LOL.

Back when I was a faller I used knock down and cut 100 to 120 logs (34' long w/ min 8" top) a day on a gallon or slightly more of gas with a 5 cube Husky, It will take a hell of a jump in oil prices to make chainsaw gas unaffordable for the work they do $10-20 a gallon is affordable. There you have some practical input ?-)

I agree 100 percent and that's a very good example. If you want to know what a gallon of gasoline is worth--hire a team of guys to cut trees by hand while you cut with a chainsaw, and see what you'll need to feed and pay them to keep up. I'd suggest you'll find a result easily in the 50 to 80 dollar a gallon range, especially if you figure holistically what those guys are going to eat. Now of course there's all sorts of stupid activities that won't happen with fuel at that price, but we won't be knapping flint, I promise you. Even at a 100 bucks a gallon it's worth driving a 4 cylinder light truck with a 1 ton axle 40 miles to town loaded with produce. To go back to the 80 pounds of papayas example-- I could eat 80 and cut with a hand saw. I could eat 40 or so and ferment 40 and cut with a chain saw running E95. I'll get at least 5 to 10 times the work done in the later case. I know there are primitive sorts out there who will argue with that, and I'm interested, but I'll tell you, if you have the proper tools and skills to sharpen a handsaw, you could probably build a chainsaw from scratch. And someone will, as they did once already.

I'm a Stihl man, but we need not quibble about your fetish with crappy saws. LOL!

Thanks for the feedback, by the way. These are exactly the kinds of discussions that need to happen among us.

I am with you there. Even most of the most pessimistic project about 40-50 million barrels a day worldwide production 30-40 years down the road. It may only be about half of what we squander a day right now but it is still a heck of a lot of oil. I used the $10-20 gal number because in today's dollars US oil use patterns change quite a bit at that price, but chainsaw use would be little affected. Double that fuel price they are still probably competitive. I used to buck firewood with a two man crosscut and roughed in the first two houses I built (both off grid) with sharp hands saws so I know from whence I speak. But with lots of time and little money hand tools start to look more enticing if you can somehow fuel yourself that is, being born and raised in the USA food has always been relatively cheap even when I was scrambling about for near minimum wage 'in the great north woods.' So the next point.

I've a picture of my grandfather's threshing machine and harvest crew in a huge format. I might have to try to shrink it down and post it. It took a heck of a crew to feed and off haul that beast and they all had to be fed, but it beat the heck out sickle or scythe work (and I used to cut 1/3 acre lawn with the latter so I know a little about it too). Industrial countries will maintain industrial capabilities through all but the most ugly of future scenarios.

Haven't owned a chainsaw in 20+ years, I drop the birches that die around here with an ax, but I think it is Swedish made too ?-) These last several years I went to burning oil, our firewood up here ain't too grand and interior winters are long and deep. About to give pellet systems a look, hate to burn up our exports. Thanks for the comeback by the way.

The first year I got my woodburner I tried cutting all my wood by hand as an experiment. It took me two weeks (between work and other jobs) felling, splitting and cutting and I had only enough for about half the winter.

Sounds like you were working plenty hard enough. How much house did you have to heat for how long? I imagine you got to be a fair hand at sharpenning the big crosscut saw, or were you using a bow saw with those more or less disposable blades. The former cuts a whole lot faster.

With our seven month winter and long stints at minus 20F I know my house would look a lot more like the ones that predominated up here a hundred years ago if I had to get all my firewood in by hand. And I'm an old timber faller--all the Rocky Mountain sawyers I worked with would have guffawed if someone called them 'timber fellers' by the way ?- )

It appears to be very difficult for people to think in terms of actual energy efficiency when the delivery systems are so different.

Look at it this way: Given electricity you create in a bicycle-generator & store in perfect batteries, what is the fastest way to accomplish the task? There are a whole host of activities which are more efficiently accomplished by using the generator to apply high-power or high-torque tools to problems that are just not practical with hand-powered devices. Chainsaw work is likely one of these. There are a lot of others which do in fact work more efficiently when guided 'by hand'.

This type of energy economics is something that is almost entirely neglected due to cheap fossil fuels. It's a science which would have to be developed anew in a major upset of our overly complex civilization just to ward off famine. The more gradual and optimistic scenarios, however, have enough biological(see: fermenting fruits) and otherwise renewable energy sources that we never have to reach the level of measuring human exertion.

You make a good point. The type of pop reduction that sends us entirely out of the industrial age, or worse, blows us right by the agricultural era isn't worth contemplating, there is no preparing for something like that. Inherited immune system strength would be more important than any specific knowledge base in that scenario. What few who could survive the diseases would find ways to eat.

But then how much of an upset would allow the productions of something like near perfect batteries? We all end up fairly hoaky fiction writers when we try to create what any future society looks like. Nonetheless research on the type of tech you are talking about is entirely worthwhile, as any sort of upheaval is likely to be very uneven in intensity/distribution. Those who would be less hand to mouth because they could use their energy more efficiently would have a leg up on their competition, members of such groups would tend to specialize to gain more efficiency--and so the move toward more complexity begins anew ?- )

I live at 2200 feet on the volcano,

You are perfectly located to utilise electricity to run your chainsaw/whatever. Living on the side of a mountain is ideal for pumped storage. Get some PV panels and hook them up to a pump, and move water from a lower dam to a higher one. When you need electricity, reverse the flor through a mini-turbine, and you've got 'free' juice!
I suspect you could go even more low-tech and use glass panels or whatever to simply evaporate water uphill, so long as you had a condenser/water trap at the top end.

"I've been tempted even set such projects up for people as a sort of "contractor" and to convert my place primarily into a nursery producing the plants and trees needed to develop the site," Jay

That is an outstanding idea. I also happen to live in Hawaii, and I believe you could make such a business a booming success. There are lots of residents in the early stages of developing a sustainable lifestyle, but the learning curve is steep and long. If done properly, you could give them the chance to get a running start. You could do it at various levels from simple consulting to "package" starters to full scale sustainabilityscaping a property. Give it a try.

Thank you for that and the feed back, I really appreciate it. It's very heartening and a sign of the general consciousness of us all catching pace with the trends around us.

The shift to a basic subsistence lifestyle is far more difficult than most can imagine. The knowledge base, skills and organization of subsistence cultures is much greater and complex than most people in industrial cultures can possibly imagine. I spent well over two decades living with and studying subsistence-based societies in northern Alaska beginning in the early 1960s. I followed them and participated in their efforts to wrest a living from a sparse and frequently harsh environment. I was impressed and often amazed at the depth of their knowledge of their environment and their ability to adapt to circumstances that would overwhelm so-called "civilized" societies. It cannot be captured and adequately transmitted by books or films. It is the product of countless generations of subsistence users acquiring knowledge and skills and passing it on to their successors. It has to be taught through an apprenticeship system where the learner is actually participating in the process. The popular image of the self sufficient mountain man is a certain dead end - emphasis on dead. Subsistence living is dependent on small group membership where members are able to efficiently work together. Mobility and flexibility are essential. Mother Nature is a stern taskmaster and has no sympathy for weakness or mistakes.

The popular image of the self sufficient mountain man is a certain dead end - emphasis on dead. Subsistence living is dependent on small group membership where members are able to efficiently work together. Mobility and flexibility are essential. Mother Nature is a stern taskmaster and has no sympathy for weakness or mistakes.

Do you remember Ötzi the Iceman?


"Do you remember Ötzi the Iceman?" Yes, it was a notable discovery of an early Bronze Age man, and it gives a picture of how Europeans lived in late prehistoric time. Otzi was undoubtedly the member of a social group. The optimum size for a true subsistence based hunting and gathering society with primitive technology varied, but some researchers believe that twenty (20) may be a mid range. A larger membership becomes too much of a strain on the productivity of a wild environment. Significantly smaller groups are less able to carry out coordinated wildlife drives, construct fish weirs, defend territory, etc. Even theses "groups" would seasonally breakdown into dispersed family harvest sites, and the core groups could briefly join in a larger (tribal) membership organizations.

Reverting to a sustainable subsistence-based lifestyle will be an enormous undertaking. Traveling back in time to rediscover the knowledge and skills required to live a so-called primitive subsistence way of life will be far more challenging than most can imagine. It will take generations. Natural habitats will need time to regenerate. Given the realities of a post hydrocarbon world, it is virtually certain that human numbers will have to decline to a small fraction of what currently exists. How this decline plays out will determine the survivability of our specie.

We have been in overshoot for 10,000 years? Well, I guess overshoot is not that bad...

Best wishes for the next 10,000 years of overshoot!


Exactly...and saying something like "We've been in overshoot since 8,000BC" basically puts a person in the camp with the "neo-primitivist", "noble savage" type of dreamers that will be taken seriously by NO ONE. I am not arguing with whether such a statement is "true" or not in some deep philosophical sense, I am simply saying that train has left the station, that bird has flown, the fat lady has sung! :-) Sometimes you have to play the ball where it lies...


......that pot's already been pissed in.....OK, we can stop now

We should remember that the public has a short memory.

Continiously talking about long term problems to people with short term time frames may result , probably does result, in people just dismissing the problem out of hand after a while.

A portion of the public may be gradually educated-but what if a larger portion is gradually alienated?

Remember the old saw about nobody ever going broke overestimating the gullibility of the public.

the fat lady has sung!

I thought that didn't happen until it was game over ;-)

Who knows, maybe it is over...we know it is almost over for the hunter gatherer lifestyle...which by the way is more the pity, we really should make an effort to protect the few remaining folks who live that way, they do have much to show us...most folks may not want to go back to doing it that way, but respect for the ones who do is important, and rare.


Actually, more people are becoming hunter-gatherers as we speak, as many as half a million a month in the US.


Now, I earned a snide comment on another site a while ago, something like, "Fleam, no one is going to worship you in the future because you know how to use a can opener" but it seemed the whole can opener subject had started because I was talking about an earlier paper, about studying the homeless and finding that they live much more differently from "us" than was supposed, They don't have can openers for instance so cans are either worried open with rocks or not opened at all.

Yet, note in the photo on the left, it's noted how unusual a can actually opened by a can opener is, that they note most are mangled or discarded unopened.

To be nomadic and homeless, and I was for a bit there, is to essentially be a hunter-gatherer. And like any hunter-gatherer, a homeless person will do what's the best for survival that particular day. Generally it comes down to panhandling, on a daily basis. Longer term, it's trying to prep to survive another winter, putting some work into decoding the secrets of food banks and free meals* and trying out various street hustles, scams, etc like making origami figures, maybe after lucking onto a musical instrument, learning to play it** and other street schemes. If any of you became homeless, your behavior would match these patterns, everyone's does. Longest term, if you were lucky enough not to have anything like sickness or injury take you down, and realized how short your life can be as a modern hunter-gatherer, you find some way to stay clean, stay flying right, and find some niche that gets you off of the street. That's what I did. That's what I think most here would do. The other route is becoming chronically homeless, and fatigue, violence, nutritional defiicencies, etc turn you into one of the smelly, huddled, slinking individuals we think of as The Homeless. They die relatively soon, generally within 5 years and certainly within 10.

*Food banks and free meals were always talked about, but I and a hungry friend were never able to find them. They are very well-kept secrets and one has to be honestly out ON the street, paired up with one of the chronic homeless, to begin to find them. Asking for food "they'd throw away anyway" at restaurants can work, but not nearly so well as you'd think, since these days the employees are living off of those scraps.

**I've given out two or three recorders to homeless folks, and by asking a violin repairman I used to know when doing OK, got a free violin bow and some rosin, it took me a year to actually amass a full musical-saw outfit. Theoretically you can "play your way to freedom" or back into society anyway, with a musical instrument, but the truth is, the chance of the instrument getting broken or stolen before you become even halfway skilled is high. And plain old panhandling pays better. Thus, most homeless get very discouraged from doing music, crafts, etc sad to say. I also give out craft materials and teach 'em when I can, but it's an uphill battle and those willing and ABLE to do crafts etc generally are probably getting off the street pretty quick.

Here in the central Arkansas area, Little Rock has 3 meals 5 days a week, breakfast and supper at the Salvation Army on markham street down by the old train station, and a soup kitchen lunch on 8th st just east of Cumberland. I know a lot of Homeless people, some wanting to stay that way for some unknown reason, when they could get out of it. While others have set up camps and come in to get the food everyday but can't be found when the places that offer meals are closed.

And a P-38 can be had for about .50cents at the local Army Surplus store. The old C-ration can opener. I have a can opener on my swiss army knife. And If I have most anything in a can, I don't need a fire to eat it, just open and eat. Unlike Fleam I have not been homeless as long as he says he has, but I have been homeless, or rather only living out of my car for a few months.

People tend to not want to help the homeless, and they never think about it much unless they are faced with it themselves.

When the big cities crash and everyone is looking for food, hunting and gathering for a while will take on a dire course of study. Later when people get settled that will be the MO for a long time, as farming or even gardening takes a lot of planning, and needs a lot of inputs.

Edible Yards is more a form of gathering than it is a form of gardening. As it mentioned above the Amerindians were closer to hunter gatherers than farmers.


"we know it is almost over for the hunter gatherer lifestyle," RC.

I wouldn't start the funeral just yet. There are still hunter gather groups to be found in remote regions around the world, although the modern world has definitely intruded into their cultures. Insofar as modern societies are concerned, the shift back to a sustainable subsistence based lifestyle will undoubtedly go through a scavenger stage with people trying to live off the declining remains of the past. In terms of stored edible food, that will quickly disappear, probably within a few years at the most. Modern firearms may be useable for a couple decades, but they too will eventually become useless unless some form of basic gunsmithing develops. That would also require the manufacture of black powder and shot. The more complex a piece of technology is the more likely it will become unusable as we return to a more basic life. It should be noted that hunter gatherers often acquire more game through the use of deadfalls, snares and traps than through actual hunting. Women quite often produce more food than do men through gathering edible plants, snaring small game, fishing and small-scale agriculture.

Human populations have oscillated above and below an average planetary carrying capacity. Imagine little blips above and below a baseline. Under good climatic conditions we blip up somewhat and during times of poor weather or plague we dip below the baseline. Agriculture has kept us above the long-term baseline for thousands of years, but only for a brief time in consideration of our long history as predators or hunter-gatherers.

The excess energy from agricultural production allowed much greater specialization and the consequent organization of our settlements and cities. We have continued growing upwards without any net loss of population since we have applied fossil fuels to infrastructure to support hygienic living and give life support to our soils.

The departure from the average above the baseline has truly become a mountain of departure above the baseline. We will not return to the mean or average. Once we no longer have sufficient resources to protect our monocultures and infuse life into our soils, protect our over-bred livestock with technological intervention, afford infrastructure maintenance and so on, we will crash below the long-term average as all of the old nemesis’ held at bay by cheap energy will return, including warfare by desperate populations.

If we were a few steps above the baseline, we could jump back without damaging ourselves. However, we have boarded a rocket that is using every last ounce of fuel to achieve the highest altitude, the magical refueling ship has failed to arrive, and the fall will be terrifying. Too bad we can’t bring this ship in for landing while there’s still a little fuel in the tank. The frightening thing is that even if we decided to go back in a controlled manner, not everyone can come along. Perhaps the next century will be about who gets back to the baseline alive.

An excellent analysis by Peter that is consistent with many others. There are many interesting issues raised by these sorts of analyses:

1. What is the best mode of transition (and can it be adopted).
2. Who stands to gain (and lose) in orderly or disorderly, and late or early transition strategies.
3. What is the peak technology left available to humanity during and after transition (e.g. how long does it take for the number of semiconductor fabs to start falling; when does it go beneath critical mass).
4. And does all this allow humanity to continue efforts to change the system boundary and for how long can we keep trying (space, fusion, artificial intelligence).

My hunches for what they are worth are that answers are:

1. What is the best mode of transition (and can it be adopted).
= Orderly and early, and we are seeing the first signs of this not being achievable.

2. Who stands to gain (and lose) in orderly or disorderly, and late or early transition strategies.
= The gainers are the ones who are closest to their eventual carrying capacities as they can trade quality of life, but have less need to trade life itself (always a hard sell). This tends to suggest that EU and USA/Can are the natural beneficiaries (in a relative sense) as they have least population proprtionate to the local resource base. They also have the most defensible territories as they are separated by large distances from natural aggressors. In this scenario minimising population inflow through immigration will be crucial.
= Ironically India and China would be best served by early orderly transition as then they can force the costs onto the EU and CanUSA. Therefore it seems odd that they were the ones who killed Copehagen.
= It is also ironic that EU has been promoting post-modern integrationist approaches as in many ways they are a relative loser.
= But of course the USA has been a long term realpoitik realist, irrespective of administration du jour.

3. What is the peak technology left available to humanity during and after transition (e.g. how long does it take for the number of semiconductor fabs to start falling; when does it go beneath critical mass).
= At a guess if the EU-USA can make partial adaptation over the next 30 years then they will repatriate sufficient manufacturing capacity to stay above critical mass. That implies that approx 1 billion population can stay at critical mass for advanced manufacturing technologies which in turn means that we can continue to progress. The key technologies to watch out for repatriation will be the seriously heavy industries with dual use (major forgings, semiconductor fabs, shipyards).
= But I have serious doubts as to whether India and China will complete their industrialisation programmes before reaching terminal internal contradictions. The local mess therafter will not be pretty. The side-effects of such a collapse will tend to threaten the viability of Korea, Japan, Arab states, SE-Asian states, Australia, etc. and it will be necessary for EU-USA to make paradoxical investments in the military to minimise the collateral damage during a collapse.
= No nuclear armed state has ever gone completely through a collapse cycle. The closest analogue was the Soviet breakup.

4. And does all this allow humanity to continue efforts to change the system boundary and for how long can we keep trying (space, fusion, artificial intelligence).
= I think so, I hope so, and I fear not.

petit_plateau asks:
"1. What is the best mode of transition (and can it be adopted)."

I am personally enamored by the possibility that our species will understand the serial precariousness of its reproductive behavior during the last 10,000 years to the extent that it will NOW adopt NO or ONE CHILD FAMILIES as the only viable option -- to decrease human numbers, by attrition, to sustainable levels during the next few centuries. The alternative to this choice is to have the same decrease forced upon us by resource (energy, water, soil etc.) depletion, just as has happened almost all major civilizations through history.

Peter Salonius

Precarious reproductive behaviour. Nicely said.

Had past generations of westerners not indulged in having more than their share of children, it would now be possible for all of us to have one or two. Unfortunately, religion, ego and selfish or non-thinking caused many to have more than 1 or 2 children each (and in places like Quebec, often 10+). It is therefore NO BIG SURPRISE that we now find ourselves in global overshoot. I fully believe in no or one child policies. Had such policies been in place over the past 150 years, the world would look much more promising now.

That statement didn't look at all supported in the paper, either. Someone else's argument was referenced about overshoot occurring sometime in the mid-20th century, which seems a plausible case. But to claim that with all our knowledge and technology we can't get the planet to carry more than a hunter-gatherer population's numbers, a prior humanity with far less technology, and far-more-dispersed-and-unreliable knowledge ... well, there's an implied argument that all knowledge and tech is futile which requires, to say the least, some support. Anecdotes of tech failure don't suffice to prove the broad thesis.

It also seems our author is simply against cultivation, in all possible future forms. Yet there's no attempt to assess those possibilities. When current practices are unsustainable our choices are to advance or retreat. Sometimes. Sometimes there is no retreat, and only advance is possible. There most likely are dire years ahead. We need science fiction, not fantasy, to see our ways through and beyond them.

I had the same reaction but to be fair it is just a case of poor terminology. What he should have said is 'we have been in an overshoot trajectory since ~8000 BCE' that was the what the paper was constructing anyhow. It was an fairly tightly edited read though which fortutitously for me had some Tibetan documentary rich in sound and color running as background as I read it. Interesting how some of the Tibetan singing is so similar to native American. We couldn't be talking to one another around the planet in this way without the concentrations the 'overshoot trajectory' has brought about. So like you say best play the ball where it lies.

On the pastoralist part though, one of the most intense feelings of real wealth I ever possessed was the time when I tracked my Appy/Arab about a mile through the western MT woods. When I emerged into about a forty clearing she was grazing with another appy. I truly felt rich as my herd had instantly doubled (till I found the new neighbor whose horse had broke free and picked up mine on the way out--but that was hours later). Some kind of hard wiring from my ancestors I imagine, that was near thirty years ago and imprint is still strong.

I like very much the photo of the hunter-gatherer, with what seems to be a multinational corporation rolled cigarette in his mouth.

And now, coming to the article:

In reality be in overshoot may take much more time than a single human or individual lifespan to realize. And yes, I agree with Salonius.

You may have not noticed, but this discussion is at least some 3,000 years old.

The myth of Prometeus is precisely the myth of somebody discussing the inconvenience for humans of having jumped from the naked ape hunter gatherer to a hunter gatherer handling the fire stolen to the Gods. Even a step before of Savonius proposal. From the anthropolgical point of view, this jump took place some half a million years ago.

Savonius draws here the overshoot line in the Neolithic landmark, some 8,000 years ago, where man left the typical nomadic behavior of hunter gatherers and started to domesticate animals and to scratch the land to drop selected seeds and care the growing plants on purpose. It basically coincides with another Biblical tale; that of Adam and Eva, expelled from the Paradise (a hunter-gatherer territory, plentiful of resources at a glance, without having to work to have them –a hunter-gatherer not overshoot place, without any doubt) and forced to work to earn the subsistence with sweat. Another old discussion.

But what it called my attention is the growing number of people thinking like “Biologist”, an apparent affluent Westerner with a sustainability view going probably little beyond its own individual existence, when he sarcasticly comments:

We have been in overshoot for 10,000 years? Well, I guess overshoot is not that bad...
Best wishes for the next 10,000 years of overshoot!

In fact, this is also another old discussion. I do not know how many years elapsed from the Biblical myth of the Universal Deluge to the myth of the Babel Tower, a perfect example, probably trying to teach to future generations about the inevitable collapse of ever growing complex societies. much before Tainter. Or the myth of Sodom and Gomorra, another perfect example of complex, affluent societies collapsing.

But the most amazing example of human behavior on how can we be in the edge of the cliff and ignore it, it comes in a short mythical book authored by someone called John and titled Apocalypse.

I recommend to read from Apocalypse, 8,12 through Apocalypse 9, 19 on how the angels go blowing their trumpets, heralding the destruction of one third of the species and one third of the rivers and lakes and one third of the forests and grasslands, and one third of the light of the moon and the stars has faded (do you see two thirds of the existing stars from the big cities today?).
And the most stunning example is the conclusion of someone called John, when he writes in Apocalypse 9,20, after having passed all that destruction of one third of the natural resources and observing the surviving people that could not care less:

“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.”

That is probably the book is also called the Revelation book. That behaviour, besides of being very common, is also very revealing of human nature. But do not take my opinion for granted. After all, this book also prevents against a lot of false prophets, specially in difficult times like the ones ahead.

Sorry about the photo. It is my fault.

You might read the article in National Geographic about a month ago that shows how remnant hunter gatherer societies, whose lands are being encroached upon by nearby agriculturalists, do pick up some of the trappings of their neighbour's life styles -------- cigarette smoking by these people would not be unexpected.

Peter Salonius

No, I thought it was a great choice. Shows some of the nested ironies inherent in the discussion!

Gail, I was just joking a bit in my first paragraph. I apologize. Of course I agree with Salonius that the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies pick and/or copy some of the activities of surrounding cultures. I dno not believe there are many HG left in complete isolation. Perhaps in very deep places in Irian Jaya or in the Amazons, but rarely very few. I am with risa b that this photo is a big choice, as it shows ironies of the inevitable mix.

Going back to a primitive agriculture society seems to be an impossible task from our present heights.

A primitive agricultural society consumes and demands about 5 times more than just the metabolic needs. Today North Americans spent and demand 120 times more energy than the human metabolic needs; Europeans 60 times more than the metabolic needs and the whole human race, in average, about 22 times more than metabolic needs of a naked ape. Besides, we probably could go back by the force of facts (rather than voluntarily) to a primitive agricultural society, but only in mild climates, not in most of the septentrional (Northern) colonized and populated areas.

Going back to the pre-fire naked ape levels of consumption (the pure and real metabolic energy consumption needs) will demand that the naked ape will recover the hair already lost and a much stronger skin, bones and teeth in jaws that it has at present. Or breastfed for enough time to the offspring.

On the other hand, expecting that we can voluntarily cut population with NO or JUST ONE child policies in a sustained form is probably even more utopic than asking the rich portion of the planet (i.e. the 20% of the world population that consumes the 80% of the resources as per the Pareto principle) to voluntarily reduce their consumption to the one of a preindustrial age; some 5 times the metabolic needs.

They (we) possess the most powerful and devastating armies, the strenght to spoil, the dominance of the transport and commerce routes, the contractual skills to make unbalanced agreements in their favor (legal exploitation of alien resources, which are not in our backyard and therefore do not environmentally hurt at a first glance to us, distant exploiters).

But this attempt, from the mathematical point of view, will probably will be much more effective in trying to travel towards sustainability, at least in a couple generations time, than trying to control population in NO or ONE ONLY child policies of five billions living already close to preindustrial age consumption levels. Those couples will never give up, and will never accept lessons of demographic control, from a bunch of riches that continue consuming per person mostly in unnecesary things, like 40 or 100 of the meek and lowly.

That is why I was wondering, in the second part of my previous message, if we will be able to learn a different alternative than those always practiced and very well known in the past: that is, the "laissez faire, laissez passer", ignoring the evidences, the obvious signals until we are forced in the last minute to mutual annihilation, to MAD of most of the competitors (wars for resources.

I do hope that this time we can prove that we can behave different than a gene or a bacteria, because this time, to the best of my knowledge, it is the first time we have coped with the whole planet and have no more Terra Incognita to colonize and continue transplanting our yeast to a new barrel of fresh grape juice. This time is a Non Plus Ultra. This time there are no more fres grape juice barrels waiting for us, nor here neither in Mars. This time, we have absolute destruction means as never before in the records.

This time, mathematics of exhaustion indicate that war for resources, mainly for the fossil fuel main dwindling resources, even if the 20 percent of the riches succeed in exterminating the 80 percent of the world population to seize their remaining resources, without collateral damages to the riches (something quite implausible), the scarcity of oil, for instance, will delay the confrontation among the 20 percent of rich population, basically the remaining nuclear superpowers in just one decade more.

Shall we give credit again to John, in Apocalypse 9, 20, when he states: “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.”

This time, as always, it is up to us.

I do not believe there are many HG left in complete isolation

Isolated HG groups are just too valuable to researchers to be left isolated for very long.

This time there are no more fres grape juice barrels waiting for us

Nicely put.

Of course the debate is about just how many times our basic metabolic needs is a sustainable level of consumption. There is a limit to how much solar, lunar gravitational we can harvest even in the most enlightenned sci-fi mix, which of course is nothing like what we have now. Assuming successful (keeping our knowledge base intact) transitions through the bottle necks, at some point a future ever hungry for more energy civilization could really pull the plug on the planet by thermal syphoning its core enough to turn this beautifully heat balanced blue marble into cold white one.

Looks like a photo of the Kalahari Bushmen, made famous by The Gods Must Be Crazy and perhaps The Story of a !Kung Woman. In all liklihood, the photo is a mockup, as the Bushmen have now been forced into sedentry villages where they are dependent on Government handouts. Much like other H-G societies that are forcibly displaced, drug and alcohol-fueled (often sexual) violence is apparently commonplace.

I like very much the photo of the hunter-gatherer, with what seems to be a multinational corporation rolled cigarette in his mouth.

Sorry Pedro, I'm pretty sure you are wrong about that assumption.

I think that both the dimensions and the color are completely wrong for that to be any kind of a multinational corporation rolled cigarette in the hunter's mouth. In case you doubt me I first superimposed and scaled the two images in a semi transparent mode so I'm reasonably sure that the hunter's cigarette is way too fat.


Mag, I disagree. For one thing, it's a probably 6-foot tall guy against a 5-foot tall, very small boned, fellow. Second, in the picture on the left, some of the cig's size is hidden by the white background. Lastly, there are all kinds of odd brands of cigs outside the US, plus people do hand-roll and use rollers.

It *is* an odd looking cig though, I'll give you that, it's a cig but it does look a bit like a doob lol.

The hunter may be small but human head sizes do not generally vary by huge amounts. Even if what you say is true the hunter's cig is still the wrong color and looks hand rolled to me :-)

Heck with the cig

What's up with those kiddy sized bows they are shooting

Must have some very slow moving, soft skinned game there

A little more about the San people

The San are excellent hunters. Although they do a fair amount of trapping, the best method of hunting is with bow and arrow. The San arrow does not kill the animal straight away. It is the deadly poison, which eventually causes the death..

I think the small bows allows easier movement through the bush.

C'mon y'all. As I said below, I'll bet it ain't tobacco. It's a doobie, splif, reefer, cannabis. That's the way hunting/gathering works. You smoke some stash, get the munchies, and go gather up something to eat (and more weed). Pig out. Repeat tomorrow. Seems about 20% of the population is already prepared for this lifestyle.

To claim that is a cigarette is nonsense. It has ridges the entire length. Cigarettes don't have such ridges. And look at the shadow on his body. It has a lump at the end. Another characteristic that is absent in cigarettes.

Ron P.

How about that he DOES have a cig in his mouth, probably got paid a pack for going out and dressing like the old days etc., and here I was all set to gush about what beautiful people they are, well, I'm still going to say that - Beautiful.

I've been pondering saving up "doom money" in the form of factory smokes, get a CostCo membership or buy 'em at an Indian (nontaxed) smoke shop, and store 'em packed in nitrogen, possibly actually solder 'em in, in containers made of tincans or something.

But then I got into the logic of growing the stuff and so on ..... I dunno.

People WILL want their horrid factory smokes in the doom times though.

That's the problem of course. No one is able to conceive that it is only now that we are really up against it.

But a simple look at the population graph for say the last 2000 years will make it clear that we live in a very special time.

What would make it even clearer would be an accompanying graph of resource consumption for say the last 100 years, which rises far more precipitously than the population graph. That's what makes it totally clear that we are not talking about some distant calamity beyond our caring.

I don't doubt that we are in overshoot and I expect that there will be a serious dieoff in the near future, speaking in historical terms.

But as the author points out, soil is gradually replenished, and I think a pretty good case can be made that we can farm indefinitely on a much reduced scale using primitive methods, especially in flat well watered places such as river deltas.

The Blue Ridge Mountians where I live were once among the worlds biggest but now they are just the stumps of some of the worlds oldest mountians.

The Alps and the Rockies and the Himalayas will eventually be no taller.It takes a while but in terms of geological time soft is stronger than hard and those mountians will all be river deltas.

And if they flood occasionally, they will be fertile more or less forever.

My personal opinion is that a few tens of millions of people will still be farming until such a time as a supervolcano or asteroid takes us out permanently.

If we make it past the nuclear age even a superkiller disease is not likely to get us all, once the modern transportation system collapses.

And if by some accident agriculture is forgotten , it will be reinvented in short order.

Biologist, I concur. I am a fellow biologist. We should look forward to the next 10,000 years. It is clear that an adequate replacement is essential for fossil fuel. We are making a big dent into the fossil fuel energy resource. Diffuse and intermittent so-called renewable fuels can never replace fossil fuels. They are costly to our economy and wasteful of natural resources. Advance generation nuclear power can replace fossil fuels at the most affordable price tag. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) presented on this site January 20, 2009 appears to offer nearly limitless energy for millennium to come.

Some worry that we will run out of phosphorous for plant nutrition. However phosphorous and other minerals are not used up like fossil fuels. There is plenty of phosphorous in the earth’s crust, only it’s not quite as accessible as we have found it in the past. Abundant energy at an affordable cost can overcome increased mining expenses associated with lower grade ores. There are no show stoppers when a cheap and abundant energy is available. We can substitute, reclaim, or mine lower grade ores. The growth model continues to be our best strategy. It offers hope to all, especially the developing world. As the information age enlightens the have-nots, they seek to industrialize. With energy they produce goods thereby gaining wealth. Women gain freedom and opt for smaller families. There is a real possibility that before the end this century we could see a negative world population growth that is product of free choice and not starvation.

One really big fear remains, it is climate change that may lower the carrying capacity of the planet so much that coming advances in agriculture and low cost energy may not be able to compensate.

However, even if the productive cropland is reduced below the amount needed for human nutrition on our planet, we may still be able to feed our masses by creating synthetic food from carbon dioxide, hydrogen from water, and ammonia made from atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen. Energy to make synthetic food will not come from the sun but from the atom. Advance generation nuclear power can make hydrogen from water at greater than 50% efficiency. Just as cheap nuclear power can be used to make food it can also be the energy source to make synthetic liquid fuels (synfuels) for our buses trucks and combines. Let’s cheer for the next 10,000 years. We must stop listening to Amory Lovens, Ralph Nader, and the late Paul Ehrlich. They are all on record as opposing the discovery of a cheap energy source for fear of what people will do with it. I see no reason for all the pessimism. Don’t sell human ingenuity short.

While I could almost believe you when you say this:

Advance generation nuclear power can replace fossil fuels

This is pure science fiction:

However, even if the productive cropland is reduced below the amount needed for human nutrition on our planet, we may still be able to feed our masses by creating synthetic food from carbon dioxide, hydrogen from water, and ammonia made from atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen.

Care to back that up with something other than pure fantasy?

And this really takes the cake:

We must stop listening to Amory Lovens, Ralph Nader, and the late Paul Ehrlich. They are all on record as opposing the discovery of a cheap energy source for fear of what people will do with it.

Huh? Would you mind providing the link to those records?

"However, even if the productive cropland is reduced below the amount needed for human nutrition on our planet, we may still be able to feed our masses by creating synthetic food from carbon dioxide, hydrogen from water, and ammonia made from atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen."

"Care to back that up with something other than pure fantasy?"

I have just read the above sentance on the creation of synthetic food from basic chemicals, word for word almost, in either Jared Diamond's 'Collapse' or James Lovelock's 'Revenge of Gaia'. Not sure which as I'm reading both at the same time.

Yeah and did either Diamond or Lovelock have an implementation plan for something like that?

I have a pretty good understanding of both chemistry and biochemistry so I know that theoretically you could make food from basic elements. As for supporting civilization on it, I still call that pie in the sky thinking. You're more likely to get Mana from heaven. Good luck with that!

I recently read The Vanishing Face of Gaia. Lovelock does mention syn food and syn fuel. I too have a strong background in biochem so I appreciate that C02 can be chemically reduced to create hydrocarbons, sugars, and amino acids if we provide reduced nitrogen and clean energy. I also have a background in molecular biology so I appreciate that it is not out of the question to look to cell culture as a source of food. The huge limitation is the lag period to upgrade to mass production assuming adequate cheap clean energy. It is a bit of an illusion like Mama's bank account which replaced despair with a feeling of security and hope. My concern with this piece is that it sells science and human ingenuity short. We do need to invest more of our nation's resource in R&D for technologies that will support the transition to clean affordable energy and mitigation strategies to counter climate change while we still have the economic resources. Good science is our best hope, but it is difficult for the masses to distinguish good science from frauds. Science education must be promoted. I ran several NSF summer programs for high ability high school students in the 1960s and 1970s. Those programs served to steer many bright student into science. I still have contact with several of them who have become leaders in their respective fields. I doubt that our tax dollars have ever paid a higher dividend. We need a renewed effort along this line.

I also have a background in molecular biology so I appreciate that it is not out of the question to look to cell culture as a source of food. The huge limitation is the lag period to upgrade to mass production assuming adequate cheap clean energy.


If you haven't seen these lectures I think you'd appreciate them.

Craig Venter during his Edge Master Class 2009 lectures "A SHORT COURSE ON SYNTHETIC GENOMICS"which he gave with George Church, made this comment about the difficulty of producing oil from algae.

"Making algae make oil is not hard," Venter said. "It's the scalability that's the problem." Algae farms of the size required for organisms to become efficient and realistic sources of energy are expensive. Still, algae has the advantage that it uses CO2 as a carbon source — it actually consumes and metabolizes a greenhouse gas — and uses sunlight as an energy source. So what we have here, potentially, are living solar cells that eat carbon dioxide as they produce new hydrocarbons for fuel.

I'm quite sure that using similar biotechnology they could just as easily produce food from algae, yeast or a completely synthetic organism based on artificially constructing right-handed DNA to produce genetic mirror images of bacteria or other possible food producing organisms that would be even be immune to naturally occurring pathogens.

The technology is not in question, however the problem is scaling up production to the point where you will be able to economically sustain the present global population of humans.

That's where I think it becomes pie in the sky.

Thanks for the reference. I gave it a quick once over. Pie in the sky is my take too. If we had 50 to a 100 years, I would say maybe. NASA funded my doctoral work in the 1960s. I did basic research on the carbohydrate metabolism in a high temp strain of Chlorella. It is amazing how the complexity increases with the addition of one more variable - light. NASA wanted a sustainable system for recycling C02 and H20 into food and oxygen for long duration manne3d space flight. I can't be very optimistic about a successful scale up that will be cost competitive. Modern agriculture is going to be hard to improve on.

Thanks for the reference. I gave it a quick once over. Pie in the sky is my take too. If we had 50 to a 100 years, I would say maybe. NASA funded my doctoral work in the 1960s. I did basic research on the carbohydrate metabolism in a high temp strain of Chlorella. It is amazing how the complexity increases with the addition of one more variable - light. NASA wanted a sustainable system for recycling C02 and H20 into food and oxygen for long duration manne3d space flight. I can't be very optimistic about a successful scale up that will be cost competitive. Modern agriculture is going to be hard to improve on.

Making algae make oil is not hardI....I'm quite sure that using similar biotechnology they could just as easily produce food from algae

Kind of like a Lark, I put a few $ into alge -> oil. Did a fair amount of research into the most promising companies: lost over 80%. Lots of scan artists promoting algae stuff. Good thing it was only a few dollars.

Yes Lovelock mentions it twice in the Vanishing Face of Gaia although the second time he does say that it is a dream of his.

Being away from my computer this week I have some handicap with regard to references. I did how ever recall the source and I found it on line. I did confuse Rifkin and Nader. In my my mind neither is credible. Here is the reference and the quotes. http://rethinkingnuclearpower.googlepages.com/aimhigh
Giving society cheap abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun. Paul Ehrlich
It would be a little short of disastrous for us to discover the source of clean, cheap and abundant energy, because of what we might do with it. Amory Lovins
The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.
Jeremy Rifkin,

I think you're missing their point. I think what they're saying is that we have a tendancy to live beyond our means. Every time our means increase (agriculture, fossil fuels) the population expands to meet that capacity. Our means are huge now and so we have close to 7 Billion people. There is no reason to think that if our means increased even more that we would not quickly increase our population to the new upper limit. It's not a solution, it just kicks the can down the road.

So what, you say. People are great. People are the ultimate resource! Well, I think this kind of thinking leads to an ecosystem that consists of humans, our food that we grow, and not much else.

Actually people are not as bad as you believe them to be. Today 42 percent of the world population live in nations with a negative growth rate. They are mostly the developed countries. As countries industrialize people move to cities. Women in cities have new found freedom, they don't have to have babies to work on the farm and support them in old age. They opt for small families. Industrialization is happening in China, India and South America. Today 50% of us live in cities, demographers predict 80% by mid century. There are more people in India at our living standard than our total population. Of course India has a long way to go and a very young population. India and China's economy are recovering from the recession. A growth model offers the best hope for stabilizing the world's population. Some believe it will top out before 9 billion and then we will be concerned about negative population growth.

Hi John T,

I really try hard to be respectful in any responses I make to comments on the TOD. You are stressing my resolve.

Today 42 percent of the world population live in nations with a negative growth rate.

What nonsense: http://chartsbin.com/view/xr6

The world population is increasing and heading for over 9B. What evidence do you have that our planet can sustain half of that amount over the long haul?

Any thinking person should be advocating aggressive family planning to actually reduce population growth.

I am sorry about stressing your resolve. I certainly share your concern about overpopulation. We should all advocate aggressive family planning. Coming up with an effective plan is the hard part.
It seems counter intuitive that a growth model may be the best way to achieve zero population growth. There is plenty of evidence that industrialization is accompanied by a drop in the birth rate. We are now seeing industrialization coming to the developing world. It is much more likely that we can get to ZPG by helping the developing world come to our standard of living. If we decide to voluntarily reduce our consumption of energy and goods we will quickly become third world. Since we will not have an economic base to support social security we will resort to having more babies to help us hunt and gather and care for us in old age. Lorna Salsman who ran in 2004 for U S presidency on the green party ticket advocated a drastic reduction in energy and goods. I totally disagree with her. By keeping our growth model we are able to purchase goods from developing countries. We both benefit. Energy is the bases of an economy. Energy is wealth. Certainly we should not waste it any more than we should waste mineral resources. We should recycle mineral resources. Unlike fossil fuels, minerals are never used up. The energy to drive our world must come from clean and safe generation IV nuclear power. We will end up a third world country if we continue our love affair with wind and solar, as diffuse and intermittent sources take about ten time as much concrete and a hundred times as much steel as our current reactors. We can't be competitive with renewables. New generation nuclear power will use much less concrete and steel and be cheaper and faster to build. There is enough nuclear fuel to last until the sun heats up and incinerates the planet in about a half billion years.

No one knows what the carrying capacity of the planet might be. It is possible that the population may peak and fall back because an industrialized world opts for smaller families. Perhaps our world can endure a temporary overpopulation. As to support for my position, I can recommend a book by a conservationist, Stewart Brand, "The Whole Earth Discipline". He believes that industrialization will solve our overpopulation problem. He thinks that our world population will peak before we get of 9 million. A major concern is that climate change may greatly reduce the carrying capacity of the planet and then all bets are off. I also recommend James Lovelock, "The Vanishing Face of Gaia". He is another conservationist who endorses nuclear power and warns against renewables. He is not optimistic about our chances of overcoming our population problem. Realistically we have to view the attainment of ZPG without mass starvation to be a long shot. I think keeping hope alive is the best approach. Dispair insures defeat.

a growth model may be the best way to achieve zero population growth

Well, actually, I think you may be right. Just not in the way you think.

If something is unsustainable, it eventually...stops.

I just finished The Vanishing Face of Gaia. Personaly I dont like Lovelocks style of writing. He comes across as contradictory and sometimes seems to be shooting in all directions.

He does discuss overshoot and die-off and also mentions something quite relevant to this discussion. He suggests that human overshoot began with our use of fire. By setting fires to drive out game and hunt we began to alter the atmosphere especialy when these fires got out of control. I have read elsewhere that this is the suspected reason Australia is mostly a treeless continent now but was not so in the past. He thinks that this was enough to alter the climate and create the unusualy long and stable interglacial which again allowed the development of agriculture.

This would take the beginnings of human overshoot of its environment much further back than even Peter suggests.

apparently that crap sells copies. A whole lot of collective choices where made to bring us to the reality of overshoot since we started controlling fire. This author and others say the wrong choice was to leave HG mode. Lovelock goes back further and says 'no trying to shape the larger environment for ourselves in any way' was the wrong choice, too slippery a slope to stop on at the HG mode. To put it simply they are saying the big brain is an evolutionary dead end good bye. Well it lines his pockets but does little else but create an imaginary past nirvana for reader's big brains to escape into. Most move out of that phase by the time they make their thirties, oh that would be the age almost all of the those nirvana inhabitants would have been dead by. Interesting.

Don’t sell human ingenuity short.

A lot of Human Ingenuity has involved expanding the Clan/Family/Nations population base and using that to go and take your neighbours stuff. No group maintains a technical advantage for very long, and it eventually comes back to numbers.

Every time I read a paper on the idea of going back to hunting and gathering, I look for the human numbers. No-one will stick their necks out and say just how many humans can be supported using this model, and how they plan for us to get there.

I did a little googling a while back and found a number somewhere of about 250,000 (yes, thousand), humans on the planet - if I find that reference again, I'll link to it.

Understanding that we are at the top of the food chain, our numbers must, necessarily, be the smallest (Food Chain Pyramid)


How do we achieve a 99.9% population reduction ?

How do we achieve a 99.9% (or 90% or even just a 50%) population reduction? We don't. We won't. If it happens it will happen despite our efforts not because of them. Planning is unlikely to enter into any scenario that's that extreme.

I'm definitely not saying it won't happen, just that it won't be planned.

90%. It will happen. We'll fight it all the way, too, but it will happen.

spring_tides asks:
"How do we achieve a 99.9% population reduction ?"

If my thesis is correct -- then the 'population bomb', that continues to make natural resource management problematic, exploded a long, long time ago.

My 'guesstimate' for sustainable human numbers in the 100s of millions, if correct, suggests that the present global population has so far overshot the carrying capacity of its supporting ecosystems that most analyses of the relationship of excessive human numbers to SPECIFIC ASPECTS of environmental damage are simply indulgent academic exercises.

There are more people on the planet (and have been for millennia) than it can sustainably support.

Many of us have concluded that even TWO CHILD FAMILIES -- that would only slowly stabilize the human population -- are not an adequate response to this problem; we require the VOLUNTARY adoption of NO or ONE CHILD PER FAMILY behavior to orchestrate the Rapid Population DECLINE that is necessary now.

Peter Salonius

we require the VOLUNTARY adoption of NO or ONE CHILD PER FAMILY behavior to orchestrate the Rapid Population DECLINE that is necessary now.

Peter, then we would have societies of mostly old people trying to feed themselves. Perhaps a "Soilent Green" early checkout would be more humane, combined with limited birthrates. I don't see humanity cooperating either way.

Correct spelling: "Soylent Green"

I note with interest that...

A remake of the classic is set to be released in 2012...

Hope the new 'Soylent' doesn't fall as flat as 'the day the earth stood still' remake. Lots of room for improving Heston's character, so it could turn out. As for population dumps Vincent Price's portrayal in Ubaldo Ragona's 'The Last Man on Earth' certainly has stuck with me for the long haul.

On the flipside, the unemotional, stilted character of Klaatu was a perfect role for Neo, er, Keanu Reeves to take on.

I got to the end of the movie, where Klaatu destroyed his nanites (which were destroying all evidence of Humans) in order to prevent the extinction of the Human race, only to condem the remnants of Humanity to a slower extinction via starvation and disease, and just thought "What. The. F**k.". Arsehole.

Also consider Trek's End.

Soylent, soilent. I was eating chicken pot pie. It always messes up my spelling. SOYLENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT..........

Oh, is that all this boils down to? Another wealthy childless Westerner saying that we should have less babies?


Been through that before. The typical Westerner will grasp at any crazy idea from population reduction to fusion power to avoid the horror of... reducing consumption and waste.

Hi Kiashu,

I really do respect your opinion about consumption. But, why should we not argue for population reduction? I would argue that Western folks have the greatest responsiblity for having zero to one child (per your consumption position). But, look at this kind of nonsense going on in the christian world:

Ten Great Reasons To Have Another Child


We ought not to argue for population reduction because nobody is going to kill their children, so "let's reduce population" is just another way of saying, "I am going to do nothing."

eg, "I drive a Porsche and live in a 1,250m2 house... but I don't have any children."

Remember that people are looking for excuses not to change. "We should reduce population!" gives them another excuse to do nothing.

Kiashu, this is Binary logic. Either/Or. There's no fundamental reason why we can't do both. Reducing birth rates and thus the population directly reduces consumption and environmental impact. If we add to the declining population a program of "Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle", the total benefit is more than the sum of the parts.

In theory, yes.

In practice, no.

People are looking for excuses not to change, and the problem exclusion principle means that once they focus on one problem they will generally deny the existence or downplay the importance of all others.

And again, those - outside the UN/WHO - making a big noise about how population is a problem generally speak in favour of compulsion of some kind for population control, rather than the proven solutions of promoting the education, prosperity and political power of women in the Third World.

Ten Great Reasons To Have Another Child

VHEMT has something to say about this. :)

Have another child to join with God in the creation of an immortal soul.

God can't create his own Souls? Mindless obiedience to Dogma.

Have another child to bring joy into your life.

Ignoring lack of joy in your existing children. Consider adoption.

Have another child to grown in holiness and virtue.

Mindless obedience to religous Dogma. Consider volunteering.

Have another child to help end abortion.

Logically inconsistant.

Have another child so your sons will have brothers and your daughters will have sisters.

Implied unhapiness in existing children. Allow your children contact with other families. "It takes a village".

Have another child so you (and your parents) won’t be lonely in old age.

Fear of Aging. Exploitative personality. Selfish.

Have another child because people are our greatest resource.

Shortighted view of reality.

Have another child to contribute to the economy.

Sacrifice children to National Economy. Indentured Servitude.

Have another child to counter global depopulation.

You're missing the point.

Have another child to help populate heaven.

Whence do Souls come from?

Have another child to counter global depopulation.


Now maybe if that publication is basicly put out there for the white fundamentalist audience I can fathom where they are coming from in a KKK kind of way.

Thanks for picking it apart, I couldn't bring myself to even click the link...Palin :-( being our ex-gov and all, just one more thing to raise my bloodpressure.

Your thesis presupposes that there is something out there to hunt and to gather.

We have decimated the populations of large mammals, many to the point of extinction. There are not many "wild" varieties of plants left either, and changing climate may decimate those that remain.

I'll take an example from my neighbor state, Wisconsin, a hunting state, to paint a picture.

Black Bear Population : Between 26,000 and 40,000 individuals


Wolf Population : 102 - 108 animals


Deer Population : 1.7 million animals


American Bald Eagle : 1,150 breeding pairs


Sockeye Salmon : on the endangered list.


HUMAN Population : 5,627,967 or just over 5.6 million individuals.


Being that we are at the top of the food chain, and that we, therefore, need to have the smallest population of all, including other predators, if one wants sustainability for all animals and not just humans, I suggest, therefore, that, based on the current availability of game to hunt in Wisconsin, the human population ought to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a few hundred individuals. i.e. we have to knock off about 4 zeros, or divide by 10,000.

No offense to anyone here from Wisconsin, I'm just trying to paint a picture.

Addendum :-

"There are only about 3000 thousand San that still follow a totally traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering (out of a population of 95,000). Groups (or bands) usually number 10 to 15 individuals and move around frequently to find new foods to gather, water resources and to follow migrating game. Shelter is temporary and made of branches tied together in a semi-circle with grass tufts on top. Groups are made up of family members and there is no official leader or chief. The San men traditionally hunt and the women are responsible for gathering. Hunting is a collaborative exercise and the meat is always shared among the group. The San are expert hunters with bows and arrows tipped with poison. Gathering has less social significance but generally provides up to 80% of the food."


My personal opinion is that some men find the notion of hunting preferable to the notion of farming because of its perceived social status in such groups.

No one knows how far we'll have to retrench. But retrench we must. The sooner we begin, and the more we do under our own control, the better and more comfortable it will be.

The ultimate sustainable population is a matter for discovery, as are the means. But things can't be made worse by consciously addressing them.

I totally agree we have to retrench by several orders of magnitude, but returning to a hunting and gathering lifestyle just is not going to work based on my back-of-the-envelope calculations of what's left of the wild habitat.

We have to "power down" our food consumption by non-invasive means, and that means gardening, and learning how to do it with minimal inputs.

It also means eating lower on the food chain i.e. less meat, as Michael Pollan suggests.

Hi Gail,
I don't have the background to argue with Mr. Salonius on population overshoot, and certainly agriculture around the world will have problems where water use is also dependent on energy availability. However, apparent from this article, Mr. Salonius is not aware of all the implications of Permaculture. In particular, there is a farming method subset of Permaculture that is based on self sustaining forest ecosystems. It is called Edible Forest Gardening. My family and I are in the process of planting one in Oregon. In deference to Mr. Salonius contention of agricultural overshoot, Forest Gardening requires hand labor and is not well suited to mechanization. Accordingly, far more of the population would need to be Forest Gardeners than are currently farmers if we are to attempt to feed more people in this way, but productivity is potentially very high, with an acre feeding as many as 10 people, twice what mechanized organic farming can do. The catch is that an Edible Forest Garden takes between 4 and 8 years to get started, and a lifetime to mature. We are after all taking about trees in a forest and glade like setting. Forest Gardens can be grown anywhere in the world, although their productivity and particular products would be dictated by the particular sites. The bottom line is that I do not agree that we all need to return to aboriginal lifestyles. The indications I have seen is that Forest Gardening is indeed sustainable, requires us to be smarter than ever before about our environment, and can be accomplished with nothing more than human energy. Since it can even be accomplished in a suburban backyard, I would encourage everyone to at least look into it.

I know permaculture is currently popular, but the few applications I have seen to date seemed to require too many inputs to really be sustainable. Those practicing it we not really growing enough food for themselves, with amounts left over to trade for clothing, heating, transportation, for example. Instead, they were spending time teaching courses on permaculture design.

It seems like raised beds require a lot of labor to produce a few vegetables. I wonder how sustainable they really are.

I am not sure permaculture practitioners have looked widely enough at the issues. Some seem to think it is OK to use autos, trucks, soil amendments brought from afar, plastic swimming pools, plastic hose, etc, even though these things are not sustainable. I haven't seen much use of horses or other beasts of burden by them.

Hi Gail,

Not many permies have reached self-sufficiency nirvana yet, this is true, especially in the US where Permaculture is relatively new and not wide-spread.

However, as we are moving in the right direction I would say the criticism is not really helpful. It's like criticizing social justice activists because they haven't achieved world peace and the end of poverty just yet.

We use cars and trucks and hoses because these things are available today and help us move toward sustainability. Over the lifetime of the system, these energy costs need to be accounted for. Again, it all comes down to where you draw the system boundary. It would be interesting to do an EROI on the broccoli I grow in the back yard vs. the broccoli that comes from California. I bet mine wins on every measure!

I don't know how raised beds (technique) get conflated with Permaculture (design system). They're useful in certain circumstances, such as growing food on lead-contaminated vacant city lots for example.

Instead, they were spending time teaching courses on permaculture design.

Yea, I've noticed that also. Now if the parasitic loads of taxes, insurance (and others) was removed that might not be the case.

But land taxes are a killer. Yet a permaculture design allows the low 'wood lot' tax structure.

It seems like raised beds require a lot of labor to produce a few vegetables.

Ever try to move all the earth that usually gets moved in a typical non raised bed?

If one does a raised bed right, there is so many organics the earthworms will keep the soil airated.

(and via http://cryptogon.com/?p=12781 )

The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener by Eliot Coleman

The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman

And keep in mind water management - Brad Lancaster seems to be the go to reference.

The author's statements about Permaculture are a complete mischaracterization:

... 'Permaculture’ (Mollison and Holmgren 1979), and other modifications of agricultural practice that seek self sufficiency, such as those put forward by proponents like the Post Carbon Institute’s Relocalization program (www.postcarbon.org) include local food and biofuel systems, revitalization of local industry, and community cooperation.

These are good first steps that recognize global trade will wane as fossil fuel depletion gains momentum. They are also an attempt to wean people off the industrial food production that treats soil as a medium for fertilizer-dependent hydroponic agriculture, and simply a substrate to stand plants up in. These people are interested in popularizing organic agriculture, minimum tillage or no-till methods, solar powered tractors etc. that will make local economies less reliant on imported materials. However these alterations follow the cultivation agriculture model as a food production system, as they must in the short term.

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...

Permaculture specifically defines sustainable agriculture in terms of having the same stability, resilience and diversity as natural eco-systems. Permaculture aims toward the extent that these systems manage their soils and nutrients. It is a complex framework for developing appropriate solutions in many different climates and micro-climates. Mollison rails at nothing more vehemently than straight-line monoculture row-cropping!

So Permaculture can hardly be characterized as a "modification" or "alteration" of current agricultural practice. On the contrary, Permaculture embodies a radical re-thinking of food production on almost every level. The author would be well-advised to read the Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, perhaps especially the chapter on soils.

The book "Farmers of 40 Centuries" answers all the questions about Whether it can be done and How. And it's free online.

Not necessarily a fun way to live, depends on what your idea of fun is.

Humans are much more proactive as hunter-gatherers than wolves or coyotes, or even pigs. We tend to spread the seeds of plants we like more effectively, will team up and go after competitors, and tend to create "edible forests" or "edible landscapes".

gyurash writes:
"I do not agree that we all need to return to aboriginal lifestyles.'

I hope we can visualize a pretty sophisticated lifestyle for the small population that may be supportable by non destructively using the INTEREST from ecosystem 'bank accounts' as opposed to eating into the PRINCIPLE, which is repreasented by the long-term productive capacity of intact, complex, species diverse ecosystems. We have after all learned a few cultural tricks (about food storage etc.) during our 10,000 year PLUS adventure.

gyurash als0 writes:
"The indications I have seen is that Forest Gardening is indeed sustainable"

I agree that Forest Gardening -- if practiced so as to maintain plant nutrient levels against leaching and soil mass against erosion -- may indeed be sustainable, BUT certainly not to support nearly SEVEN BILLION people. Again we will either plan for a decline in human numbers - or - have the decline thrust upon us by resource scarcity.

Peter Salonius

Folks might be interested in the very well researched and thoroughly depressing "Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" which documents long term erosional issues that have dogged human civilizations beginning with basic agriculture. He does provide some counter examples of cultures that have managed to build their soils rather than send them all to the oceans.

The book "Topsoil And Civilization" is another really good read.

Dirt needs more reverence and respect!

We need a new religion. Soiloastrianism..... Hindirtism perhaps.

How about No-Religionism - just a pragmatic appreciation of our place in the ecosphere. Reduce human population in a humane fashion and then enjoy life free of mythical oppressions.

I don't know Hindirtism has a certain ring to it ?-)

We may well be hard wired for some sort of mythcentricity, especially at the group level.
Even bacterium don't seem to like to be alone Don't read too much in my including that link here, just a really interesting find so I worked it in as best I could.

Anyhow, story and self awareness are awfully deeply intermixed...not so sure the pragmatic society you envision is in the cards our deck is made up of. Like those bacterium sending and receiving inputs which advised them of the proximity or not of other bacterium our consciousness seems always to be looking for some other discernable consciousness out there. We just have no way of knowing if we are just making up our own feedbacks or are actually prewired to tap into a greater conscious framework, or whether we prewired ourselves to see a greater conscious framework of our own making. All that said, No-Religionism just doesn't seem to be where we are headed, even if that would be in our best interests.

Now maybe if No-Religionism can be fashioned into some nice myth based population controlling belief system...

I am not convinced by all of this, it is so broad brush it is difficult to assess, however indigenous people are doing a great job in protecting the environment and I would highly recommend that people reading here get out and support them.

Aidesep who are the indigenous network of the Peruvian Amazon have used non violent direct action to stop the Peruvian government logging the Amazon and handing it over to oil companies.

I also think that the energy revolution in Cuba shows we can cut carbon and environmental damage massively, so it would be good to hear more about this.

The intercontinental cry website is a great source of information on indigenous politics, do have a look and subscribe....this story about aidesep evicting Hunt Oil is a good start http://intercontinentalcry.org/amazon-natives-move-to-evict-u-s-oil-comp...

By the way most of the indigenous people I know use mobiles and the net and some smoke but they want to keep an economy based on the land that works

I don't know how far we will have to retrench, but certainly it will be a considerable amount. But as far as population reduction is concerned, I feel one of the key items is to get ourselves reconnected with the earth, the soil, the sooner the better. It is when we are reconnected and are directly responsible for matching resources against needs that we will see the need for controlling, and yes reducing, our numbers, and see the need to fit ourselves back into a long-term relationship with nature.

We will have the chance to experiment and see what works and doesn't work in terms of sustainability and restorability of nature, the surface ecology.

Population control that is primarily top-down in capitalist, urban, and industrial environments are going to be coercive in the worst way - i.e. forcing people without their understanding the need. And to understand the need, people need to see the need. And to see the need, they need to reconnect with the surface ecology, soil, water, trees, etc.

I don't know how far we will have to retrench, but for sure we will have to radically change our relationship with nature. There's no fundamental reason we can't.

Gov't at various levels can no longer be the way we experience it now, as either providers of services or controlling and coercive entities far above us, but rather as our instruments of communication, of sharing of knowledge and expertise and science, of entities that local and regional groupings choose to contribute to because they need to be in the loop. These entities will be essentially dependent for their existence on providing those needed services.

The big difficulty will be in retaining the knowledge and science we have accumulated, and communicating and sharing the new knowledge we acquire in re-integrating ourselves into the surface ecology.

Meantime, the bombs continue to fall, the soil erode, the aquifers deplete, the oceans die. At some point collapse will force us to wake up and seriously address the issue of our own survival.

P.S. Right now, when I need something, I go to the store and buy it. The only problem is having the money. Life is very simple. The only time I can concretely imagine a different way is when I visit my daughter on her commune/farm in W Va. They too buy stuff, but not everything. There are trees, there is soil, there is water (until it gets spoiled by drilling for NG). There I find some hope. How much can they produce for themselves? They already barter with their neighbors. So they don't have to produce everything. But they can't barter for internet access. There at least I can concretely think about such issues. That's my point. Most of us can't because we're not in a position to. Whatever the limits are to what might be done, the first step is to reconnect with the soil in large numbers. There is no other way.

An interesting read. Mostly I agree with the problem statement and "where we are". However, I don't think the conclusions were as well thought out.

Nothing will have to be intentionally "brought into balance". Economics regulates resources naturally. I would argue that overshoots are the obvious result when ever a resource is abundant (and therefore cheap). As the inputs to agriculture become more expensive, marginal land will no longer be worth cultivating. This will reduce the food supply, making it more expensive and reducing the incentive for population growth.

It doesn't matter whether we are discussing oil, water, soil or anything else. As resources become constrained, the rising price causes conservation and switching. Higher prices are followed by demand reduction and then lower prices. The lower prices start the cycle of overuse all over again.

Over time the trend will be toward higher prices and greater capacity constraints. But the process is gradual and self regulating. Which is good because nobody is in a position to dictate population levels, or how resources are to be allocated (certainly not on a global scale).

It doesn't matter whether we are discussing oil, water, soil or anything else. As resources become constrained, the rising price causes conservation and switching. Higher prices are followed by demand reduction and then lower prices. The lower prices start the cycle of overuse all over again.

We've done that. That's why we are where we are. Business is wringing the very last out of the planet and the human race. From water desalination, cities in the desert, ocean factory ships, "renewable energy", genetic manipulation, factory meat production to rampant consumerism.

Now businesses are consolidating. As the consumer market shrinks they will merge, absorb and take one another over to preserve their market share. Nothing is off the table including lies, deceit and the manipulation of laws.

The spiel now is "buy a hybrid" save the planet. Build an energy efficient home, build energy efficient jet liners, car pool, use energy efficient light bulbs and so on. That is business in self preservation mode, trying to outlast the competition.

Don't think for one minute that a business converts to energy efficient lighting for the good of the planet. They are in competition, just as every human from now on is in competition with each other. Without growth there is less for all. You either go out of business or consume all or a portion of someone else's share, be it food or a resource, the analogy is the same.

Yes, Bandit. We've done that. All those ridiculous things you listed, like cities in the desert, only exist because oil is too cheap. Someday after peak oil, maybe those cities won't make sense any more... and will either be abandoned, or not built in the first place.

I welcome peak oil. It can't come too soon for me. Because I want to see an end to the pollution and stupid waste of it all. I don't think it will be some doomsday, or an end to modern life. I just think it will wring out the obvious nonsense.

Hi mkkby,

I don't think it will be some doomsday, or an end to modern life.

Could this just be wishful thinking? I don't want my lifestyle to end either - but the evidence is not so optimistic. I submit that "modern life" in western countries is simply unsustainable without dramatic reductions of human populations and a significant redefinition of "modern life".

Maybe it is wishful thinking. Nobody can predict the future.

But please consider this... Perhaps our lifestyle IS rational, given how cheap oil, water and soil have been. Or rather, how foolish it would be for us to kill ourselves farming by hand (or with animal power), when cheap oil let's us do it easily? Or how foolish it would be to make our products locally at a high cost, when we can take advantage of cheap labor abroad.

Someday these resources will get more constrained, and the economic equations will change. When that happens, marginal land that's barely profitable now will be taken offline. The food supply will shrink and people will have less incentive to have babies. Higher prices will naturally cause the population slow down you desire.

But as long as food (and all the inputs it requires) remains cheap, you can expect continued population growth... unfortunately.

The food supply will shrink and people will have less incentive to have babies. Higher prices will naturally cause the population slow down you desire.

But as long as food (and all the inputs it requires) remains cheap, you can expect continued population growth... unfortunately.

I think you have that completely ass backwards.
Do you have any examples, of lack of food inhibiting "incentives". How come many millions starve to death each year, if lack of food is a disincentive to breed. People don't think "oh the food supply has shrunk we won't have children".

The eternal optimism of our nature just shuts it out (many posting here suffer from it). Thinking, things will get better or we'll find a way dominates and fogs clear thinking.

The population "slow down" as you refer to it won't happen because of selecting option "b"............. to not produce offspring.
"The food supply will shrink" is what will kill the offspring, they'll get born but not live and in turn, the humans available to breed will shrink.

But as long as food (and all the inputs it requires) remains cheap, you can expect continued population growth... unfortunately.

You have it backwards.

Countries where only a small proportion of income is needed to buy food have low birth rates. Countries where half or more of their income is needed to buy food have high birth rates.

People adjust their birth rates to circumstances. In nature, there are two basic ways of ensuring your genes are passed on: have a zillion babies and leave them to fend for themselves, some are bound to survive, or else have a few babies and take great care of them, all of them will survive.

If you only earn $2 a day and have to spend $1.98 of that on food, cooking fuel and water, and if your country is wracked with civil conflict and corruption, you are illiterate and cannot afford school for your children, you feel insecure about the future, so having several children - who you can send out to work, boosting household income to as much as $10 a day - well, that looks good.

If you earn $200 a day and only have to spend $20 of that on food, or $50 if you go to restaurants, and if your country is at peace and more or less honest, you have a PhD and can send your children to private boarding schools, you feel very secure about the future, so having just 1 or 2 children seems good.

Just check with the World Health Organisation: the things that lower birthrates are education, prosperity (relative) and political power for women. Funnily enough, whenever people talk about the problem of population, they don't advocate giving poor Third World women an education, money and more political power.

You have a very practical answer. It is a much better idea to help the Third World move to our standard of living than for us to lower our living standard. Lowering the standard of living in the First World will stop development in the developing world because they need the First World to buy their goods. If there is no market for their goods women will remain on the farms where circumstances mandate large families.

Of course we should not waste energy or natural resources. We must focus on recycling not on living with less.

Giving money, education, and power to poor Third World women will result in a lowered birth rate. It is especially important to free women trapped on subsistence farms where they have to bare children to provide labor for the farm. Since rural child mortality is high, they must have large families so that at least one child will survive to care for them in old age. The information age, through cell phones and the web, is motivating and educating women. They gain freedom when they move to the city and they are heading for the cities in droves. Stewart Brand notes that 50% of us now live in cities. He predicts that by mid century 80% will live in cities. He believes that our movement toward urbanization and industrialization is the solution to our over population problem. He thinks our world population may peak before it reaches nine billion. Clean and cheap energy is a basic need for industrialization. Nuclear power is the only currently available energy source that can replace peaking, dirty fossil fuels. We need to develop clean modest size, advanced generation nuclear power for our own use and for export to the Third World. It may help to bring down the birth rate and spare us from a population crash caused by mass starvation.

"It is a much better idea to help the Third World move to our standard of living"
Posted by John T

You are describing the so-called Demographic Transition. According to this theory, the world's population and economy will continue to grow until around 2050. At this time, the planetary population is reckoned at about 9.5 billion whose general standard of living would be roughly that of contemporary Europe. This would then cause births to decline, and the population would subsequently start gradually declining.

Unfortunately, the resources do not exist in sufficient quantity for this to happen. China and India have moved maybe 300,000,000 people out of the traditional agrarian model into the modern house-car-job routine, but they have another 2 billion to go. Another 100,000,000 or so may make this transition, but then the whole enterprize will slam full tilt in the wall of resource availability. And that's just these two countries. Add another 3 billion worldwide and...just ain't gonna happen.

The Demographic Transition seems to have become a straw that some are clutching at in hope of avoiding disaster. Stuart had a post here a year or so ago entitled "Why Not Four Billion Cars?" in which this topic was explored and which generated a bit of ridicule, if I recall correctly. Unfortunately, the more people latch on to this stuff, the more they feel they won't have to be concerned, that everything will take care of itself, but its all just Hopium, whistling past the grave-yard.

Antoinetta III

You are describing the so-called Demographic Transition. According to this theory [...] around 2050 [...global] standard of living would be roughly that of contemporary Europe.

So far as I know, nobody has actually predicted that.

Rather, the UN projects that the minimum standard of living will be on the order of a few thousand dollars in GDP per capita.

What we find is that when GDPpc is under $1,000, the standard of living is atrocious - civil war, famine and so on. And the birthrate is high - because the deathrate is high, and because even one extra worker in your family could greatly improve the household income, from $1,000 to $2,000 makes a big difference.

Above about $20,000, the standard of living doesn't improve much. Once you have reliable electricity and clean water, free primary and secondary education, a radio and tv, food not more than a quarter your income, extra wealth doesn't do much for your quality of life and happiness. From no tv to a tv is a big jump, from a CRT TV to a plasma isn't much of a jump. So these people have low birthrates, because they're confident the children they have can earn well and look after them in their old age.

So, somewhere between $1,000 and $20,000 is where we're aiming at as a minimum for most of the world's population. And that's what the UN is projecting, that the GDPpc for the poorest people will be a few thousand.

Unfortunately, the resources do not exist in sufficient quantity for this to happen.

Not for it to happen in the traditional fossil fuel burning way, no. But renewably? Much more plausible. Remember that $5,000 pc GDP is not really that much.

Rising income doesn't have to mean greater use of resources. We can imagine for example two farms. One is created by slash-and-burn agriculture, the farmer grows wheat, after three seasons the land is basically depleted, and the farmer buys in some artificial fertiliser, pesticides, etc. Big emissions, big uses of resources, and he achieves an income of about $1,000.

His neighbour just cuts down a few select trees and builds his house out of them, and plants cocoa bushes under them. He has a cow and some pigs and chickens and a vegie patch. It takes a few years for the bushes to grow and he struggles with an income of $500 or so from his livestock. Then in the fourth year the cocoa beans are ready, and he sells them on the organic market, and has an income of $5,000. Much fewer emissions, minimal use of resources, but higher income.

"Oh but he'll use his higher income to buy stuff." He might. Or he might buy services - education for his children. And the stuff he buys could be wasteful things like plasma screen tvs and diesel four wheel-drives, or less wasteful things like a wind turbine to give some light to himself and his neighbours.

So it's not inevitable that improving the wealth of the poorest people means vast use of resources. Around 1930 or so, Gandhi said that the world had enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed. I don't think this has changed.

Can the whole world live a wastefully affluent life? No. Can the whole world live a decent life? I think so. It is in any case worth giving a go. Even racists should want to improve the wealth of poor dark-skinned people, since if we don't, they'll just migrate to the West. They'll get their share one way or another.

Your scenario may be the outcome, I certainly do not have the depth of understanding to make a good case to counter your line of thought. I really have not seen convincing arguments for or against the resource limitation hypothesis. My optimism is the thought that maybe no one has factored in what a really clean abundant energy source such as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor(LFTR) might do extending the supply of limiting mineral resources. An energy source that can extract minerals from granite and lower grade ores at an affordable cost, coupled with a really strong effort to recycle minerals may buy a substantial amount of time. Also, Paul Ehrlich underestimated advances in agriculture in his population crash prediction. As a farm owner and former farmer, with degrees in plant physiology and microbiology, I am keenly aware of the leaps forward that are taking place in agriculture. I know that people worry about phosphorous. I seem to recall reading that phosphorous is present in our earth mantle at 0.1% It is clearly not limiting if the cost of extraction and concentration is affordable. All this may be pipe dream. I will give it up if I can find convincing evidence that no amount of cheap energy can substitute for dwindling resources. The possibility of climate change causing a drastic reduction in the carrying capacity of the planet raises an even greater concern about a mass extinction. Anyway, thanks for your views, we need to explore the range of mitigation strategies.

Wind turbines can be built much faster (by 2+ decades), and in greater quantity than your conceptual reactor. And the EROEI is likely comparable.


Alan, I must refute your claim about wind with data. Here is a comparison of projected costs for new power generation provided by SCANA’s CEO, Bill Timmerman, December 2009. The per megawatt hour (MWh) cost of electricity with nuclear fuel is $76, compared with $114 for coal, $132 for wind, and $614 for solar. He concluded, “Building more nuclear power plants promises to hold down future electric costs.”

Large government subsidies keep wind and solar competitive. The Energy Information Administration (IEA) reports the 2007 US federal subsidy for wind at $23.37/MWh and for solar at $24.34/MWh. In contrast the federal energy subsidy for nuclear was only $1.59/MWh.. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projections for 2016 also finds nuclear to be the lowest cost. The total system levelized cost (includes construction costs) for on shore wind is $141.50/MWh and $229.60/MWh for off shore wind. Nuclear is $107.30/MWh.

Building comparable generating capacity from diffuse and intermittent energy sources takes a toll on our mineral resources. Wind needs 7 times more concrete and 90 times more steel than nuclear. Thermal solar requires 14 times more concrete and 140 times more steel than nuclear. Also to supply that much concrete adds a lot of carbon dioxide to our footprint. Wind and solar are not “smart and sensible” energy solutions.

The Energy Information Adiminstration (EIA) is pessimistic about wind. The IEA (a neutral source) concludes that the German renewable model which is a recognized leader in wind has not only failed, but had failed miserably.

On-shore wind, widely regarded as a mature technology, requires feed-in tariffs that exceed the per-kWh cost of conventional electricity by up to 300% to remain competitive. They estimate that the wind power subsidies may total US $28.1 billion.
The IEA found that solar PV performance was even worse. For this huge price the German renewable policy has lead to only 6.3% of German electricity being generated by wind. In contrast German nuclear power plants, which the German Greens and Socialists were intent on shutting down, produce 28% of all German electricity. Thus without any recent investments, no subsidies, and despite political opposition German nuclear power produces 80% of German carbon free electricity.

The Tree Hugger Magazine reports that Denmark’s power which is 20% wind costs about three times as much as power in Canada or France and more than double the cost of electricity in the USA. Wind is a poor way to lower the carbon foot print.

Our fleet of reactors, built in about a twenty year period, is making a big dent, producing 20% of our nation’s electricity and 70% of our emission-free power.
Nuclear power is the safest, most achievable, and economical energy solution. Advanced generation nuclear power will operate at ambient pressure, negating the need for the very expensive reactor vessel and the so-called billion dollar dome. They can be manufactured in factories and assembled in months rather than years. Since they can fission the spent fuel (waste) from our current generation reactors, reactor fuel will not need to be mined for centuries.

Supporters of nuke have unrealistic #s and history has shown them to be disastrously low all too often (see WHOOPS and TVA canceling 11 nukes in one day). I discount their cost estimates. Likewise EIA (although I would like to see link).

You are wrong about the subsidies. In the 2005 Energy Policy Act, new nukes got what wind gets PLUS many billions more; cost over run protection plus subsidies for licensing plus... (including an extension of Price -Anderson).

Result, MANY GW of new wind (with lower subsidies) on-line and generating and some semi-serious paper shuffling for new nukes (and TVA deciding to finish Watts Bar 2 30 years after starting to build it).

The USA can, at most (if Mr. Murphy takes a holiday) eight new conventional reactors in ten years. We will be lucky to build six new nukes by 2020.

China plans to have 100 GW of wind by 2020, the USA could surpass that if we wanted to (vs. 10 GW ? on new nukes).

A new paper concept reactor is 3 decades from widespread implementation. We can get to a 75% non-FF grid by them (1/2 wind). Your favored reactor may replace the older wind turbines as they are recycled but not sooner.

Best Hopes for a Rush to Wind (plus HV DC & pumped storage) and an economical, safe build-out of new nukes,


Your materials analysis is also very faulty. Wind turbines can be built from any average quality steel & concrete and their steel can be easily and readily recycled. Nuke steel is super high grade steel and typically goes to special radioactive waste dumps.

Compare the aluminum that Boeing uses to build aircraft from (nuke grade) vs. the aluminum in beer cans (wind turbines). They are both aluminum, but NOT the same thing !

And used nuke steel cannot be readily recycled while wind turbine scrap steel can.


There is no way that a diffuse and intermittent energy source which is only able to manage 25% capacity can compete can compete with nuclear power which runs at 90% capacity on fuel that contains an extremely high energy density. Wind can not even compete with fossil fuels. The hydrocarbon bond has a relatively high energy density, but nuclear fuel has 2 million to 4 million times more energy density than fossil fuels.
Another problem with wind is that the gears have to endure the highest force of any machine ever built. Steel crystallizes when it is placed under years of high stress. The Europeans are having difficulty keeping turbines operational longer than fifteen years. It would take more than a million wind turbines to replace coal. I can’t imagine how we would ever rid our land of all that buried concrete when they wear out. Contrast that with the 60 year license for a new reactor and an option for a twenty year renewal. Two hundred fifty nuclear power plants can replace coal.

New generation nuclear reactors will be simpler and require mostly ordinary steel because they will not operate at 2500 pounds pressure, but at near ambient pressure. The reactor vessel for similar capacity will be much smaller and lighter than the LWR vessel. It may be constructed from ordinary stainless steel or if it is to operate at very high temperature such as temperatures required for highly efficient separation of hydrogen from water it will be built of a special nickel steel alloy. New reactors may require only about one third as much material as our current LWRs.

"You are wrong about the subsidies. In the 2005 Energy Policy Act, new nukes got what wind gets PLUS many billions more; cost over run protection plus subsidies for licensing plus... (including an extension of Price -Anderson)."

Alan I am not an industry pro-nuke. I am a retired professor of biology. During to past decade since retirement I have made a serious study of world energy sources. I don’t know even one person in any energy industry, but I read and study a great deal of data. Especially government and IEA sources. As near as I can tell they do not have a pronuclear stance. Over time I have found that nuclear power has been given an unwarranted black eye.

I suppose that I have began to favor nuclear because I usually cheer for the underdog. Nuclear energy has never enjoyed the confidence of the masses. There is a great deal of hysteria against nuclear power. The industry does not have a powerful lobby like coal or oil. I have studied Price-Anderson. First the potential liability is non-existent. An accident large enough to exceed the mandated industry liability is well beyond any realistic assessment. But if such an unrealistic event were to occur the act does not assign the liability to the tax payer. It says the senate that shall decide how much the injured shall receive and decide who will pay. Congress may assess the additional cost to the industry. The last reactor capable of horrific accident was just shut down in Lithuania. New generation reactors will have negative nucleation meaning that if coolant fails the physics causes the nuclear fission process to slow to a near stop. The 2005 Energy Policy Act does give nukes more than wind if you multiply the 0.0159 times the 794 billion kWh generated by nuclear it comes to$12.62 billion .Wind got 0 .2337 time 31 billion kWh or $7.25 billion in 2007. Wind power is growing. It may now have a larger share of federal dollars than nuclear. In fact I object to the nuclear subsidy. Nuclear power is profitable and does not need a subsidy. A subsidy of less than two tenth of a cent/kWh is not going to make or break the industry. The nuclear industry could use a loan guarantee program because of the fear factor. The risk to the government is very small as cheapest and safest energy source is unlikely to fail. If it did, the government would cease the assets and the loss would be minimal. The tax payer assumes very little risk and we all gain with cheaper electricity when nuclear is built. My big fear is that we are over subsidizing renewables. We can’t put people back to work if our energy cost more than the nuclear generated energy which i being built in the majority of the world. Our goods will not be competitive if we insist on generating high cost kWh by wind. Germany and Denmark also need to wake up and face up to the wind power disaster.

Actually I am not quite as negative on wind as I have presented above. From Texas to North Dakota the wind blows strong and consistent. Supplementing with windpower in selected areas gives us energy diversity. As a biologist I recognize the value of diversity,be it pllnts and animals or energy source. I have never given a dime to aid nuclear power but for about ten years I have voluntarily been subsidizing wind. I signed up about a decade ago to pay and additional two cents/kWh for a portion of my electricity usage. I don’t miss the small extra cost and my utility promises to pay the extra cost for the purchase that amount of wind generated electricity. I encourage others to join that plan. Most utilities offer it. If more people would sign up, the government subsidy could be reduced. I have some data I will post it if you are interested.

I actually grew up with a windmill for water and a wind charger for lights.

Your numbers are too low for wind turbines and too high for new nukes.

VERY few nukes get 90% in their first decade of operation (except CANDUs), and new US WTs are much closer to 35% (new Texas 38% from memory) than 25%.

France is putting more effort into new WTs than new nukes. Why ? Because they need more winter power, when WTs are at a peak.

If wind cannot compete with FF, then neither can new US nukes.

New USA nukes get MORE (*MUCH* more) subsidy than WTs. Reality.

Your calcs are simply not applicable, you are using the wrong numerators, since you used existing nuke generation vs. existing wind generation.

We are talking subsidies of new vs. new. New US nukes get *MUCH* more subsidy than new US wind.

BTW, Wind can produce more power than nukes by 2015/17 if they were given as large a subsidy as new US nukes are getting. Other than completing 30 year old Watts Bar 2, there will not be a single new US nuke by 2016.

* Extends the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act through 2025;
* Authorizes cost-overrun support of up to $2 billion total for up to six new nuclear power plants;
* Authorizes a production tax credit of up to $125 million total per year, estimated at 1.8 US¢/kWh during the first eight years of operation for the first 6.000 MW of capacity; consistent with renewables;
* Authorizes loan guarantees of up to 80% of project cost to be repaid within 30 years or 90% of the project's life [VERY risky];
* Authorizes $2.95 billion for R&D and the building of an advanced hydrogen cogeneration reactor at Idaho National Laboratory[2];
* Authorizes 'standby support' for new reactor delays that offset the financial impact of delays beyond the industry's control for the first six reactors, including 100% coverage of the first two plants with up to $500 million each and 50% of the cost of delays for plants three through six with up to $350 million each for;
* Allows nuclear plant employees and certain contractors to carry firearms;
* Prohibits the sale, export or transfer of nuclear materials and "sensitive nuclear technology" to any state sponsor of terrorist activities;
* Updates tax treatment of decommissioning funds;
* A provision for the U.S. Department of Energy to report in one year on how to dispose of high-level nuclear waste;


No financial risk from yet to be built new nukes ?


Look at US Gov't owned TVA, they would have been bankrupted by the 11 unfinished nukes they had to cancel were they not owned by US G'ovt.! Just 11 of many dozens on partially completed nukes littering the landscape. 4 more for WHOOPS. Billions of $ in nuke parts were sold for millions.

Just one unremarkable example, Perry 2

Built at a cost of $6 billion, Perry-1 is one of the most expensive power plants ever constructed.

Perry was originally designed as a two-unit installation, but construction on Unit 2 was suspended in 1985 and formally cancelled in 1994. At the time of cancellation, all of the major buildings and structures for the second unit were completed, including the 500-foot tall cooling tower. Aerial pictures of Perry show what appears to be two nuclear units.

I drove by the Trojan plant (a financial black hole) a week after they imploded the cooling tower. I also toured Browns Ferry 1 when it was being built. TVA will never break even on that reactor.

Switzerland has 12 GW of new pumped storage coming on-line that solve any variability problem for wind or nukes.

New nukes can only be a secondary "clean up" to our energy issues. Too slow to come on-line in quantity.

Your proposed nuke is just a paper fantasy. Design & licensing is decades away (if ever). Not more than 10 GW in new US nukes to existing designs by 2020. Multi-GWs of new WTs each year are REAL !! 25 GW of wind/year is quite possible by 2017.

You simply do not understand commercial reality. YOUR type of promotion is why the US stopped building new nukes for a generation (a true tragedy). OVER promise and complete failure to deliver.

I was there. I know how the US nuke building industry committed hari kari, and damaged society in the process.

Let us not repeat the disaster of the past.

A Rush to Wind combined with a safe, economic build-out of new nukes,


In 2038, let new nukes replace worn out wind turbines.

All new technology suffer growing pains. It is human nature to get over eager when an new technology comes along. That certainly was the cases with nuclear power. Over development was taking place even before Three Mile Island. The accident and an economic slowdown resulted in many investor losses and bankruptcies. Wall Street has the memory of an elephant. It is hard to attract investors without loan guarantees even today. Certainly the industry shares a major part of the blame. They did not attempt to standardize; and they were so anxious to start construction, they didn't even wait until the plans were completed. Without a blueprint you can't go to bid. You must go with cost plus. That is a recipe for huge cost overruns. Without standardization and an immature technology the capacity was poor due to breakdowns. Today the industry is making so much money that some in congress wonder if nuclear power should be charged an excess profit tax. Actually the anti-nukes can be credited with causing this happy balance sheet. They demanded such high level of perfection that the industry has over-engineered to the point where downtime due to technology failure is a rare event. In recent years the industry has improved its capacity to over 91%. A typical reactor operates 8000 hour/year. Today's fleet of reactors are bought a paid for. In one year a one gigawatt reactor produces 8 billion kilowatts. The O&M is only 1.85 cents/kWh which is less than the 2.3 cents/kWh that dirty coal costs. Here is a comparison of projected costs for new power generation provided recently by SCANA Corp'CEO Bill Timmerman: The per megawatthour (MWH)cost of electricity with nuclear fuel is $76 compared with $114 for coal, $132 for wind and $614 for solar. He concluded, "Building more nuclear power plants promises to hold down future electric costs". Corn ethanol has likely over built as we now hear of bankruptcies. Wind may also be in danger of bankruptcies as the news from Europe about wind is grim and nuclear is beginning to show signs of new life.

I'm guessing that by the time the WT we put in now wear out much of the steel stress issue will have been addressed and brought to a more acceptable level, the concrete will be reused (our appetite for electrical power will grow a lot if we don't crash as FF gets dear). I'm also guessing the concrete footprint for wind can be subtantially reduced with more creative design than the just plop down a big pad one we have now. Good place to put some engineering money. Personally I like concrete, pays the bills, but its CO2 print concerns me. You missed a couple of the biggest US wind areas by the way. Northern CA/OR have a stretch of the best wind potential in the US and they are close to big markets. If we can ever find a good way to transmit power a long way cheap, the real wind is a nice little strectch from the Aleutians to south central AK.

I'm all for the new nuke you are talking about, unfortunately talk time seems to take up about 80% of the nuke construction schedule-when they actually get to that point, wind only has seems to have that problem offshore of the Kennedy compound. Which system will employ more people for the next decade or two? Not a small consideration if the KWH costs are near in the same ball park, the multiplier on incomes in the domestic economoy are no triffling matter, and can add much more economic activity than slightly higher power costs will remove.

But your final qualification helps me to understand your position. Putting a lot of wind capacity in marginal wind areas is a poor allocation of resources. I will like nuke a lot better when I see it actually burning up the waste stockpiles rather than adding to them. Seems to be a fair amount of debate about just when in the timeline that corner will be turned. Off course the blind no nuke stance doesn't bring that day any closer.

"But your final qualification helps me to understand your position. Putting a lot of wind capacity in marginal wind areas is a poor allocation of resources. I will like nuke a lot better when I see it actually burning up the waste stockpiles rather than adding to them. Seems to be a fair amount of debate about just when in the timeline that corner will be turned. Off course the blind no nuke stance doesn't bring that day any closer"

The Russians are currently consuming their weapons grade fuel in an IFR. This month Japan plans to bring on line a large IFR. The day when reactors are fueled with the waste from LWRs is beginning. The reactor that appears to be the most promising is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). Two reactors of this type were operated at ORNL in the 1950s and 1960s. Since they produced only trace amounts of plutonium, funding was canceled by congress because they could not contribute to the arms race. Today it is hard to get support for restarting LFTRs as no one yet active in the industry has a knowledge base for a reactor that uses liquid fuel. I don't expect to live to see one. Yet someday they may be a main energy source. They can operate on spent LWR fuel blended with thorium. We are the only nation to ever operate this type of molten salt reactor. We built one for the Air Force to power a bomber. It can follow load. It can go from zero to full power as fast as one can push the throttle to full power. It is small and light and it can be scaled down in size with little loss of efficiency. It fissions essentially 100% of its fuel. Only fission products remain with a maximum half life of 30 years remains. After ten years of storage the radioactive waste from a year's operation a one gigawatt reactor will weigh only 340 pounds. Liquid fueled reactors can't melt down because if coolant fails the temp goes up and the fuel expands resulting in a reduced rate of fission. An added safety feature is a freeze plug that will melt in the event of overheating causing the molten fuel to drain into a cistern away from moderator so fission completely stops. If we could complete the development of this reactor we would have a product that the whole world want. It could safely be put in the hands of the developing world. It is so simple and no operator is required so it can be buried making it safe from a terrorist attack. Without solid fuel rods, in never has to shut down for refueling. Fission products can be withdrawn and new liquid fuel added as needed. I have mentioned only a partial list of the pluses.

Charles Barton's post on TOD last january first brought my attention to LFTR technology. It looked very promising to my untrained eye so I followed it up a little. It seems one of the big flys in its ointment right now is the cost of complete fuel reprocessing every ten days on a commercial scale reactor. You'd wonder if an energy secretary with Chu's background might just put together a properly monitored LFTR prototype program. I can only hope there are people with real credentials in the nuke field pressing this forward.


I read that post too. While the LFTR type reactor operated by Alvin Weinberg, participant in the Manhattan project, holder of the patent on the LWR, and director of ORNL 1955-73 was highly successful there were still areas that needed development. He wrote, "Though some technical uncertainties remain, particularly those connected with the graphite moderator, the path to a successful molten-salt breeder appear to be well defined. The molten salt approach to a breeder promises to satisfy the the three criteria of technical feasibility, very low power cost, and good fuel utilization. Its development as a uniquely promising competitor to the fast breeder is, we believe, in the national interest."

The project was killed by the politicians when Weinberg was fired. They sa id he was too insistent on safety and his project was for the peaceful development of nuclear power and not for bombs. A war hawk (can't recall his name) wrote a shamefully dishonest paper to wrap up Weinberg's project after Weinberg's ouster. There evidence that Energy Secretary Chu has bought into that unethical summary paper. I am not optimistic about a revival of LFTR in the foreseeable future.

"If we can ever find a good way to transmit power a long way cheap, the real wind is a nice little strectch from the Aleutians to south central AK".

Certainly capturing those cold gale forces is something to dream about. I would not count that energy source out. I think that beaming solar from outer space is also a dream worth having. No loss through the atmosphere and continuous 24 hour sunlight means nine fold more energy and no intermittentcy problem. NASA has demonstrated that it can be beamed down as microwaves. The clean energy options of the future are exciting to contemplate. Some will come to pass. Let's keep on dreaming.

Why not look at the native american farmers of the not too distant past ....

"Among my own people, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi and Oklahoma, vegetables are the traditional diet mainstay. A French manuscript of the eighteenth century describes the Choctaws' vegetarian leanings in shelter and food. The principal food, eaten daily from earthen pots, was a vegetarian stew containing corn, pumpkin and beans. The bread was made from corn and acorns. Other common favorites were roasted corn and corn porridge. (Meat in the form of small game was an infrequent repast.) The ancient Choctaws were, first and foremost, farmers.

"More tribes were like the Choctaws than were different. Aztec, Mayan, and Zapotec children in olden times ate 100% vegetarian diets until at least the age of ten years old. The primary food was cereal, especially varieties of corn. Such a diet was believed to make the child strong and disease resistant. (The Spaniards were amazed to discover that these Indians had twice the life-span they did.) A totally vegetarian diet also insured that the children would retain a life-long love of grains, and thus, live a healthier life."

AND no draft animals


3 words: Kids Eat Bugs.

We have a STRONG taboo against doing this, and even against talking about it, but as a kid I was a diligent little bug-hunter, and if eating 'em had been OK I'd have nibbled all day. Ants (rile 'em up and they bring out the tasty pupae and eggs) termites, all kinds of grubs etc.

I bet those kids kept the corn etc bug-free and the deprivation of meat until they're bigger may have been a way to keep 'em buggin'.

Insects may be a food all of us will become less squeamish about in the not so distant future.

Maybe we could hire kids to harvest insects off of our crops instead of killing them (the insects) with pesticides.


“Americans have no idea how wasteful these large mammals are,” Gracer says. “If you want to feed a lot of people, insects are the best choice in terms of getting the biggest bang for your buck.” Insects, he claims, are nutritious. Although they typically contain less protein by weight than beef or chicken—100 grams of giant water bugs or small grasshoppers, for example, have about 20 grams of protein, compared with 27 grams in the same amount of lean ground beef—they do have other benefits. For instance, grasshoppers contain just one-third of the fat found in beef, and water bugs offer almost four times as much iron. A 100-gram portion of the cooked caterpillar Usata terpsichore has about 28 grams of protein. In their dried form, as they are commonly sold in Africa, insects such as grasshoppers may contain up to 60 percent protein.

Raising insects has a low impact on the environment. They require little water, perhaps because they obtain much of their moisture from their food. It takes 869 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef, about enough for a large hamburger. By contrast, to supply water to a quarter pound of crickets, Gracer simply places­ a moist paper towel at the bottom of their tank and refreshes it weekly.

IMHO, the advocacy to eat insects is just bargaining away die-off all the way to mud cakes and soylent green. So let's not get too excited about it like it's some kind of magic bullet. It's a canary in the coal mine if ever there was one.

They're DELICACIES in non-Western cultures.

As it is, if I still had the bucks, I'd still be making my regular visits to the sushi bar, my favorite one being the one in Sunnyvale, with the little boats. They have some very good dishes, and one of the mandatory ones was "salt and pepper shrimp" or as I think of it, "headfirst shrimp". They're shrimp, fried whole, heads, little legs, beady eyes, and antennae and all. They're fried in really hot oil so the shell's crunchy and you eat the whole thing. The way, I've found, to do this without getting a spine in my gums is, to first stick it in my mouth head first, so I first bite down on, and thus disable, that spearpoint shrimp wear between their eyes. Hence "headfirst shrimp". They are yummy-good and the little plate of them is $4 or so. Other Caucasians who brave the dish at all tend to just eat the tail end, leaving a pile of incriminating faces on their plate. Shame, shame, they're really missing out. A large step above is the "sweet shrimp" which you order and they make for you, the shrimp is taken alive, the tail twisted off and served still twitching, and the front half deep fried, which you eat also. Since most patrons don't like face-to-face encounters with their food, especially food that was just probing the space around it with gently waving antennae, often a dish of these fried heads will come around and they're very good, with a rich shrimp flavor.

Shrimp are nothing but bugs, and not even very nice bugs, they're bottom feeders.

I've read that for Western people the nicest bug to start with are mealworms. You can raise them yourself, and many have done so for pet lizards etc. as children. They're peaceful grain-eaters, and if the flour beetles I ate once, raw, are any indication, grain-eaters are some tasty bugs. Fried, they probably taste like rich shrimp.

There are many YouTube videos of the outdoor "bug markets" in Asia, with the required really cute Asian girls chowing down on some big ugly bugs lol.

I'd approach raising and/or eating bugs like anything else around here, I go out in the garden for my greens for dinner, I pick mushrooms off of the trees for dinner, the walnuts all over the sides of the roads here are excellent, the domesticated and wild foods are all over and they're just good. I do a lot in a small space here but I may look into raising some mealworms here and try 'em out.

It took me about a week of mental preparation before I could cook and eat spaghetti that hosted weevils. (And you can bet that I picked every weevil out, and washed the spaghetti too).

I think that it is difficult to override the anti-bug part of western culture. Motivation will make it possible, but developing that motivation is tough.

However, I did like the flavor of a bee I once accidentally ate (like plastic dipped in honey). And thinking about it, chicken isn't that attractive when it hasn't been butchered and cleaned up to supermarket standards.

Probably the same beetles/weevils I found in flour, and honestly, they're good! I was eating a bit of the flour mixture while dipping chicken pieces in it to fry ... and luxuriating on the wonderful rich taste of the sunflower seeds ..... hey wait a minute! There's not been a sunflower seed in this house for months! Looked closely and there were the weevils about their weevily business. I didn't tell my family a thing, and I sure ate my share of the fried chicken.

Overriding the taboo IS hard. Basically you do what you can and try to raise the next generation less bug-averse. My mom was NOT going to eat the crawdads we caught, but at least she didn't tell us to not catch them.

My Girlfriends mother went to SEA a few years ago on some 'Christian fact-finding mission', and came back with stories of the local markets. The vendors has pot of boiling oil, into which they would trown live 'anything that moved'. Apparently, big spiders are a delicacy, and when they hit the water, they splay their legs out, trying not to get cooked.
These same people would turn their noses up at the Spirulina breakfast 'cereal' she took with her.

Every culture is weird. :)

So let's not get too excited about it like it's some kind of magic bullet.

I do not believe advocacy for raising insects for food is any kind of magic bullet.

However under the current circumstances it sure as hell makes more sense from an environmental and an EROEI perspective than continuing to raise cows, pigs and chickens with corn on industrial farms that use fossil fuel and unsustainable amounts of water as inputs.

Quite frankly I doubt that you have put any serious thought into your comment, it comes across as a knee jerk reaction to the thought of having to eat insects which most people in our society think is a horrible thing. It certainly has a high, though completely unwarranted ick factor.

Insects are high in protein and are consumed right now all over the world. Comparing them to mud cakes and soylent green is rather lame, though given the choice I think I know which I'd choose.

Insects also make great chicken feed and therfore good for egg, meat and fertilizer production.

Although I agree in principle with the paper I don't think its necessary to go all the way back to a HG lifestyle to be sustainable in the future.

I have a garden of limited size but I grow everything organically. I replace lost nutrients and keep my soil healthy using composted kitchen waste, charcoal leftovers from my wood burner, manure (chicken and cow) and plenty of leaf litter collected from nearby woodland in the Autumn.

To date I have had no nutrient problems even though I have grown a variety of fruit and vegetables, some successively in the same year. This has been achieved with the aid of hand tools only and I haven't started to use human manure yet.

I don't grow enough to feed my family for a whole year but if I had the available land (supporting woodland for leaf litter is important)and time I don't see why this couldn't be scaled up.

If nothing else horticulture can and will be practised in the future in areas that can support it.

Grautr has written that woodland leaf litter, that is nutrient rich, is important to maintaining plant nutrient levels in garden soil. This importation is not much different than using fertilizer out of a bag - in as much the garden needs inputs from somewhere else to maintain its fertility. In Europe, before commercial fertilizers were available, litter raked from forests allowed agricultural field to maintain their productivity -- BUT -- the woodland soils became impoverished of nutrients and much more acid as their productive capacity was diminished by this process of 'robbing Peter (forest soils) to pay Paul (agricultural soils). Sorry, there is no free lunch.

Peter Salonius

Thats very true. Its also important that the supporting woodland is managed properly.

The trees can pull nutrients from much lower levels of the soil, muck, heavy clays, and will even crack boulders in their quest for nutrients. Not a free lunch, but a lot better than crops at making nutrients available.

In the 'burbs, other people's lawn fertilizer reaches the curb as leaves.

But yes, nutrient cycling in forests is subtle. There was a study of isotopes in old growth forests of the pacific northwest, and it was determined that these trees rely heavily on bear shit that started as salmon.

Heres an article on the study your talking about;


its a very interesting read and backs up why I throw everything into the compost heap including meat scraps, bones, kids dead hampsters etc.

It’s hard to make a case for returning to a hunter gather society now that we have scientific knowledge.

We were amazingly ignorant in the past. We did not understand plant nutrients until the early 1800’s, which roughly coincides with a crude understanding of chemistry. The periodic table of elements wasn’t conceived until 1869 and we didn’t know for a fact that electrons had a discrete charge until 1910 when it was measured by Millikan. Even more interesting is that preserving food by canning was accidently discovered around 1810, it would be over 50 years before Pasteur would demonstrate sterilization by heating (1860-64), although John Snow had shown the incidence of cholera on a map of the area around the Broad St. Pump in London during the epidemic in 1854. When the pump handle was removed the cholera epidemic stopped (later a leaking cesspit had been found one meter from the well, however, the cholera bacteria would not be discovered until the 1880’s).

Improvement to the seed drill by Jethro Tull in 1701 was around the time of the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution. The drill is actually a seed spacing and depth placing device that greatly increased yields by ensuring a greater use of space and increased germination. Also, it saved a lot of grain at a time when one grain planted yielded about six, in a good year.

Although infectious diseases took their tool on the population, findings of the past decades by analyzing death rates and available food in Britain and France show that the population was weakened by hunger, having barely enough energy to do a few hours work each day. In France the situation was so desperate that the peasants essentially hibernated in the winter by covering themselves and staying in bed. The chronic hunger and malnutrition left people susceptible to disease and premature death. This has been discovered by analyzing height and weight information:

The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 by Robert William Fogel

People in developed counties were not adequately nourished until the 20th Century, mainly because of lack of food, although several important vitamins were not discovered until the early 20th Century.

Paul_the_engineer -

I generally agree. Even long before even the 16th Century, many parts Europe and the rest of the world were already experiencing severe chronic food shortages. It was simply a case of too many people on too little good land, a situation made worse by a rapacious aristocracy that took most of the goodies for themselves. The aristocracy was then largely replaced by an equally rapacious merchant class, in a continuation of the human zero-sum game.

Sure, hunter/gatherers can lead a healthy and comfortable life as long as there are very few of them and a great deal of territory that they can control and prevent rival groups from encroaching upon. I think we're several millennia too late for that sort of thing. It's the stuff of bad post-apocalypse science fiction.

By the way, those modern-day hunter/gatherers in the photo accompanying the article don't look terribly impressive. Hell, when my son was nine years old, he and his friend made better looking (and probably more powerful) bows than that. I hope those guys don't encounter anything bigger than a rat, because that's all those dinky little bows look to be good for. Nay, give me a longbow of fine English yew with at least a 70-pound pull.

Note also that one of the hunter/gatherers appears to have gathered a modern-looking cigarette. I didn't know these things grew on trees.

Maybe it's not tobacco. Seems people have been smoking cannabis a lot longer. Looks like a splif to me.

I hope those guys don't encounter anything bigger than a rat, because that's all those dinky little bows look to be good for.

Strophanthus, the sub-Saharan equilizer for scrawny bows. Arrow tips are commonly laced with sap from it or some other equally toxic plant.

barrett -

Poison arrows?!

That is LOW! Something to which a Christian and a sporting Englishman would never stoop.

Tis far preferable to use your matched pair of custom Holland & Holland big game rifles: one for you and one for your faithful gun bearer. Without the second rifle, if you miss twice during a lion charge, it'd be a bit of nasty bad luck, old sport.


See the article entitled '21st-Century Hunter-Gatherers', starting on page 94, National Geographic magazine, December 2009 ---- to read about the poison arrows used with "dinky little bows".

Also, as I said in an earlier comment, hunter-gatherer remnant societies are NOW often in such close proximity to the agricultural societies that are incrementally displacing them -- that they barter for the trappings of modernity (such as filter tipped cigarettes).

As concerns your comment that "we're several millennia too late for that sort of thing. It's the stuff of bad post-apocalypse science fiction." ----- I believe that it's never too late to make amends // in this case instituting population reduction by attrition orchestrated by a volumtary global NO or ONE CHILD PER FAMILY program.

By the way, what is your solution to the problem of human overshoot?

Peter Salonius

By the way, what is your solution to the problem of human overshoot?

Hold onto your chair, Salonius, this may come as a shock to you.

We can consume less, and waste nothing.

Radical idea, I know. Asia supported populations of hundreds of millions for a few thousand years this way. As one small example, the Japanese were collecting upwards of 20 million tonnes of human manure annually in the early 1900s and taking it back to the fields, we flush it away into the sea. The Chinese were taking rice field mud to the mulberry trees and mulberry tree mud to the rice fields, because they found each helped the other. The Koreans, Chinese and Japanese all had agriforestry programmes, planting trees specifically for each purpose, firewood, pulp, timber, and so on - and when the wood was no longer useful, its ashes returned to the fields, too.

If illiterate peasants could do it for 4,000 years, it should not be beyond the modern Westerner.

Consume less, waste nothing. Frightening idea to a typical middle-class Westerner, I know. But there it is. I hope you didn't fall off your chair.

Asia supported populations of hundreds of millions for a few thousand years this way.

An exaggeration, really, since "hundreds of millions" must mean "more than 200 hundred million", and "a few thousand years" must mean "more than 3000 years", and Asia's human population three thousand years ago might have been 200 hundred million at the very max.

Not that this delegitimizes any of your examples, it just suggests that overshoot may still be a problem even if global civilization adopts such measures.

Scientific knowledge helped put us into overshoot. It is designed for solving individual problems through knowledge and inventions, but it appears unable to teach humans about limits. If we cannot accept limits, science will lead us to extinction - we are well on the way... Its not that science doesn't understand limits, it is that it's successes have created the belief that we are not bound by limits. Yet even though science can reveal to us all sorts of limits, the belief that we humans can conquer limits seems impervious to that revelation.

Scientific knowledge helped put us into overshoot. It is designed for solving individual problems through knowledge and inventions, but it appears unable to teach humans about limits.

I think you are confusing science with engineering, the former can and indeed has taught us about many limits that we face, anthropogenic climate change is one example that comes to mind. Engineering and technology while dependent on scientific knowledge are what we bring to task when trying to solve individual problems. Unfortunately it seems it is easier for humans in general to grasp limited technical solutions to problems while at the same time losing sight of how those solutions might affect complex systemic interactions within say the climate or an ecosystem.

XKCD offers bonus points if you can identify the science in this particular comic, if you can't, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo It ain't engineering...

I didn't say that science was unable to show us our limits (in the sense of providing the information), I said it was unable to TEACH us our limits (in the sense of making that knowledge something we accept with all its consequences for our futures). The pursuit of science and the success of technologies it has made possible, has made us believe we are the masters of our fate. If science was able to TEACH us (meaning humanity) that some limits cannot be overcome we wouldn't be in this mess. I would suggest that we have brain programs for denial (documented by research scientists) and live in a culture that together help us deny limits. If we had time we could study those who accept limits and see what is different and use that to design programs that would then teach people to understand and accept limits. But we don't have much time left and to do the study the researchers would have to accept a world that is going to change drastically quite soon. I haven't heard any neuroscientists talk about the world Post Peak. First we have to teach THEM to accept that there are limits and those limits will probably mean that the goals they envision for their field will never be met. There is the problem I think. To accept such earth shaking limits as peak energy, you have to let your future dreams die. So even though the limits can be shown, those who have an investment in a future accelerating like the past cannot be taught to accept them.

160.4ghz peak frequency seems of big bang significance if memory serves. I'd take a crack at the equation but all my interpretations come up raunchy ?-) but the it is the big bang

Correct! Plus background microwave radiation... BTW Watch Lawrence Krauss's lecture he's a truly great mind!

watched it last time you linked it. That is the one where the quantum foam empty space making up 70% of molecular mass animation is shown right? There were moments of the deepest feeling in Larry's talk interspersed with those that put me in mind of a yuppie used Beemer salesman. But the other guy you linked, Feynman, I really liked. Have you watched his entire lecture series? The one you linked last time was kind of aimed at those lacking deep math backgrounds, which certainly describes me who barely scratched diffeQ two score years ago. If the rest of his lecture series is aimed at the more or less general public I think I just might attend.

On the equation I really was trying to find some raunchy double entendre interpretation to it, being a comic and all ?-)

Scientific knowledge helped put us into overshoot. It is designed for solving individual problems through knowledge and inventions, but it appears unable to teach humans about limits.

Science appears better able to teach us about limits than anything else. I dare say that were it not for science, we would not be having the discussions we have on this website. We may be a minority in global society, but at least we exist, and we can thank our science education for that.

In the collapse of previous civilizations there was always a loss of knowledge. Concidering the next collapse is going to be the big one I wonder how much we will forget as we simplify our lives.

During the Zimbabwe cholera epidemic I saw a man being interviewed on TV. He said that when they could afford wood they boiled their water before drinking it but if they had no money they just drank the water as is. Here was a clear case of a man understanding the basic conditions for making water safe but was prepared to put his own life and that of his family at risk when he had no other choice.

Let's face it - we are in overshoot in every category from agriculture and population to FF usage, ore depletion etc. In the 70's over-population was a big topic, until it was whisked under the rug from pressure from the right. I had a high school teacher in 74 talk about defortestation in Brazil, i.e. slash and burn. The book Overshoot was written in the early 80's. We have seen where we are headed for some time now.

However, humankind cannot restrain ourselves from using what is available as fast as possible. It's like there is a greed gene in our system, or maybe it's hardwired into our sense of survival. Either way the result is a natural desire to take whatever is available. Look at Tiger Woods. He's a millionaire 600 times over - has multiple multi-million dollar mansions scattered around the World - a wife that was a model who bore them two kids - will probably set every major golf record by the time he retires, but that was not enough! He needed some on the side, in fact lots of them. One James Bond movie sized up humankind with a single slogan,

"The World is not enough".

The reason it took two and a half centuries for the Industrial Revolution to overtake hunger is that the population rose as soon as food supplies increased.

Industrialization caused a mass migration to places like Manchester, which is described by Friedrich Engles in The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844. WARNING: The conditions described are horrific.


This piece of history is worse than any dystopian nightmare ever made into a book or movie.

People were probably better off as hunter gatherers than the mill workers of Manchester, but the mill workers, mostly Irish, fared better than those who remained in Ireland to face the potato famine.
The miracle is that in a little over a half century these horrible conditions had been remedied, at least in England.

It is possible to make many of the reforms needed to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but lacking political will we will probably collapse first.

I am not a vegan but it seems like a vegan
diet would be biologically sustainable for
7 billion people if pretty bland.

You could choose between access to delicious food or having kids.

That should end overpopulation.

Do vegans eat bugs?

Whether they do so knowingly or not you can be sure they do so unwittingly from time to time. There is almost no way to eliminate all bugs from a plant based diet.


You seem to be confusing vegans and jainist.

You mean Jains - not jainists.

Kosher laws prevent, as much as anyone can, eating bugs. There are actually 1-2 species of cricket/locust that are OK, and you'd know if you ate one of those! Interestingly, they have a Hebrew character on their back, which means ..... about as much as the hourglass on a black widow or the violin on some lethal spiders .... Nature just being a jokester.

Anyway, one of the uber-Kosher rules is to wash veggies really carefully and make double-dast-sure there are no bugs sneaking by, which means you're not likely to encounter broccoli in a really Kosher household. There's nothing wrong with broccoli on its own, it's just that there are so many nooks and crannies for bugs to hide in in the stuff, and we all know they're there because we've all seen those little bugs in broccoli, that the informal really Kosher rule is to just not mess with it.

This stuff is fascinating. Ask me nicely and I'll tell you how you can have Kosher water.

You could choose between access to delicious food or having kids.

The choice is dependent on access to birth control and accurate education regarding where babies come from. Lacking these things people will not choose, they will just pursue both options.

I scanned the responses to this article and its a bit surprising that people are still hell bent on maximizing population. I'm actually a bit shocked that the concept of this or that approach to agriculture is renewable and can feed X number of people per acre is so common.

When not if we actually take control of our destiny and control our population then what level should it be at ? I'd argue that this article is spot on a population level much over a what we when we where hunter gathers is probably unsustainable over the time periods he is discussing.

Everyone is impressed we managed to live 8,000 years of unsustainable living before finally obviously starting to hit the wall. Yet we lived thousands if not millions of years before that without a huge impact on our environment.
Certainly we seem to have been involved in some extinction events esp for example Mammoths. However we did not destroy the elephants so its hard to know for sure what exactly happened. Australia also seems to have suffered extinctions at the hand of ancient hunter gatherers. But again the record is murky. Regardless although its not a perfect score card compared to 8,000 years resulting in a poisoned planet is a landslide victory.

The key is not how you live exactly but if you choose to finally reduce your population then reduce it back to a few hundred million or so.
There is simply no reason once you control population to allow it to become much larger than that. Nothing man would want to do on this planet requires a population larger than that. I'd argue the biggest achievement we should consider is moving into space surely that can be accomplished with a few million people if that. Assuming scientist and thinkers are free to think and discover without being forced to support and expanding "high tech" society I'd argue our ability to discover and learn would be greater. The number of people actually engaged in expanding our knowledge base at the fundamental level could well be higher than it is today.

Artists, Scientists, Poets, Historians, Research Engineering etc etc. We have all kinds of technology and knowledge that would readily allow 300 million people to live easily and sustainabily effectively forever on this planet.

The key argument of this article is population level the second is at such low levels you can actually live fairly well via foraging and hunting if you wish. Certainly if you limit population then a small amount of agriculture or other sort of stewardship of the earths resources can ensure that such a small population need not worry about food.

Does this mean we become hunters again ? Well as long as we continue to eat meat then its in my opinion better to hunt than to corral and animal some of course die to feed us but its no different from any other predator and the quality of life is much better for the individual animal.

Do we go back to gathering perhaps not directly if you look at the historical record archaeologist are focused completely on grains almost to the exclusion of all other sources of food. Its the easiest to see however I'd argue that gardening or tending of naturally good regions for other vegetables has probably been going on long before grains dominated our diets. Grain simply was not "gardened" because for a long time it was not dominate in the diet.

Its probably more correct to describe our long period before the rise of grain based agriculture as hunter gardening than hunter gathering. With the amount of work required to tend or manage naturally occurring food sources highly variable. Every single documentary I've seen on a tribe that eats vegetables shows them treating their forest as one huge garden understanding where everything grows. No different from modern people gathering mushrooms from the perfect spots. Even something as small as say keeping the brush down or breaking up the soil via digging generally encourages the maintenance of the plot.

Will we return to something similar perhaps who knows it depends on our knowledge base going forward what we keep what we lose and how we decide to employ it. Regardless at the core once we do take control of our population the best level is fairly obvious and it has nothing to do with how many people you can feed per acre of land but how light of a fingerprint you leave.

Hi Memmel,

bit surprising that people are still hell bent on maximizing population.

I'm beginning to think that ignorance (probably driven by religion) has totally compromised our ability to see the "elephant in the room". Any sane person should recogize the urgent need to reduce humane population on our planet.

Sure, consumption by western countries distorts a simple global population reduction argument. Reminds me of the "two wrongs don't make a right". Our survival depends upon the controlling human population - one way or the other.

It may be as simple as this: societies, belief systems, cultures, sovereign units and economic systems all have a life cycle that isn't dramatically different from the human life cycle.

In the same way that humans individually adopt belief systems and attitudes that either mitigate or deny the unpleasant truth of a finite life span, so too do larger social units adopt irrational beliefs in their desire to maintain enjoyable living arrangements in perpetuity. Among these irrational beliefs are much of modern economics, technology-based cargoism, and the inability to grasp the end-game when an entire way of life is based upon non-renewable resources.

"A preoccupation with abstraction" is a nice summary of many of humanity's problems today. Even those who see the long term challenges that others miss, such as overshoot, "phantom carrying capacity", etc., still get mired in the completely abstract horror show of pulling tomorrow's nightmares into the present. The corny and the doomer each often experiences a mental state with little connection to reality.

The reality of today is that how we got here and where we are going are just elective abstractions to noodle on as an alternative to just appreciating the wonder of this moment.

Each of us will die one day. Each of our societies and all other treasured institutions will also pass away. Are these facts something that we should worry about? I don't know. I guess you can worry if you want to, but what's the point? In what way will lamenting the fact that over hundreds of years humanity has made individually rational, but collectively destructive decisions alter the effect of those decisions?

For those who believe that we are somehow a few government programs or internet discussions away from a truly effective mitigation strategy, I do not believe you understand what it is we are trying to mitigate. The problem is not humanity in its current configuration--cavemen would have done the same thing with a one-time allotment of energy that we have done with it (i.e., consume it as quickly as possible). The problem is the combination of instinctive drives and the higher functions of human imagination bumping into hard limits of the finite world (which is a pattern that has unfolded countless times in human history). Mitigation, at its best, will slow down the decline; it will not reverse it. The decline is the natural consequence of the ascendance.

Whether humanity survives another 10,000 years in one configuration or 1,000 years in a different configuration is difficult for me to make relevant today, other than as one more set of abstractions to tease my imagination. People will always live according to their values and based upon what they believe to be true. If we knew the world was going to end in six weeks, I don't think that people who are concerned about the environment would all of the sudden start littering. Similarly, if we knew that an infinite and magical power supply would become available in six months, I don't think that people like Kunstler who are frustrated by society's current configuration would be any less frustrated.

Appreciate what is beautiful and meaningful in this world, in this moment. It is all perishable and is all in the process of culmination or decay. Recognizing this is, to me, a basis for a meaningful sense of gratitude and humility, which for some can lead to a durable sense of peace (or at least prevent one from being kept in a constant state of fear).

I agree Tex, yet I still wonder what my Grandaughter will face in 20 years. Fear is the mind killer. It is also the great motivator.

Thanks for some very articulate writing.
I suppose those "in the know" will deal with their realizations of doom in their own way.
Many will go down in ignorant bliss, many others will have ascended to the acceptance stage as I think you have successfully attained.

The destructiveness in us, is our belief in our greatness, our admiration and worship of the things we build and natural processes we manipulate. For me, it's too hard to get past that. So I wallow in what is and what might have been.

I think that wrestling with peak oil has two stages:

1. Fully digesting the concept and the ripple effects it has on the world we have built.

2. Coming to terms with what this realization actually means to any given individual, including the effect it has/should have on his daily life.

Simply becoming aware of some future event that has no other effect on your own life than to make you miserable today sounds like the worst kind of intellectual trap to fall into.

Unfortunately, this aspect of the story doesn't get told much. The doomsayers drown it out with their wailing.

BigTex, not every person that predicts the collapse of civilization and the return eventually to hunter-gatherer lifestyle perceives this as doom. The label is applied by those who don't want to see it happen. Regardless of what happens in the world I will die (how doomist of me) because I am mortal. But I feel that a return to hunter-gatherer lifestyle would be a boon not a doom. A boon for the planet that is currently overrun by one species, a boon for those who get relieved of the shackles of civilization. Because you don't like the future predicted by some doesn't mean that they don't like it. In fact some like Derreck Jensen would like to see the collapse hastened - see his book End Game. BAU is clearly doom for humans IMO, an early collapse is best for humans and should be welcomed (again IMO). Either plan is fraught with unpleasantness to say the least, but BAU may well lead to extinction of humans.

That's a good point, though in my experience there are about 20 Matt Savinars for each Derrick Jensen.

There is also some degree of hubris in seeking to completely change the world in a way that will involve the death of billions because of a personal belief that a world with fewer people would be more sustainable and, therefore, desirable.

Big Tex, every one of those billions of humans is going to die anyway because each and every one of them is mortal. The question is not to die or not to die but how long do we each get to live (and how do we die and do we pass on genes into the future). The question is not a more sustainable world being more desirable, the question IMO is will we have a world in which humans are able to exist or all. To keep the human species from extinction may require the earlier death of most now alive.

If some people like Derrick do begin to take action (he talks a lot but apparently has not done anything) and the result is a world where humans can exist, is that worse than letting every human now alive live to 80 while destroying the world's ecosystem so that no future generations can exist? How do we weight future generations against currently living humans? Wouldn't it also be hubris to choose to keep using up the resources of the earth leaving little or nothing for any future humans? That may or may not be the choice but assuming that it is, which is better? Life doesn't always give us a good choice versus a bad choice but sometimes gives us two bad choices and we have to decide the lesser evil. Check out the movies "Sophie's Choice" and "The Grey Zone" for two excellent explorations of the morals trying to chose the lesser of two evils.

The question is just "who decides?"

There is no good answer to that one.

One way or another we are talking about imposing one set of beliefs on all of humanity.

The fact that we believe we are "right" in our ecological views is of little relevance. Everyone thinks their views are right. That's why violence is often needed to resolve disagreements.

TPTB decide. They decided at Copenhagen.

Hi BigTex,

Appreciate what is beautiful and meaningful in this world, in this moment. It is all perishable and is all in the process of culmination or decay. Recognizing this is, to me, a basis for a meaningful sense of gratitude and humility, which for some can lead to a durable sense of peace (or at least prevent one from being kept in a constant state of fear).

Good thoughts. This is what I'll tell my great granddaughter as way of explaining why we left left her with a destroyed environment and all the miseries she is probably going to endure because of our thoughtlessness.

I'll explain that our "gratitude and humility" for the SUVs, big TVs, fast food, etc that we needed for our "durable sense of peace". My BS meter just exploded.

I don't understand why you feel personally responsible for the errors of an entire society.

Nobody asked you or me to be born into this world and neither of us ever voted to destroy it through industrialization and resource depletion.

We each decide how to assemble the meaning we extract from the world we perceive. You can call my perspective BS, but it sounds like the alternative you would pass on to your granddaughter is both defeatist and very depressing. What possible value could there be in telling a child that his/her world is broken and hopeless? If I were that child I would say "Thanks a lot grandpa. Do you have a gun so I can shoot myself now?"

I can't undo the bad decisions others have made, but I can decide what I want to focus on and how I want to spend my days.

I can spin the discs on the doomtable as well as anyone. If, however, I choose to look for something hopeful or some basis for personal optimism, don't call that BS just because YOU happen to be going through a nihilistic stage of understanding.

I've been there brother; you're not telling me anything I haven't thought about and ruminated on for longer than I would like to admit. I just chose not to make that purgatory my permanent psychological home.

Hi Big Tex,

Sorry about the abrasive tone of my comment - bad day for other reasons. And, I may have zeroed in on partial aspects of your original comment.

Perhaps I misunderstand your thinking. From your original comment, it seemed to me that you were resigned to a miserable outcome and had decided to enjoy the pleasures of here and now - and let the future generations deal with the their own problems. Perhaps that is not how you feel.

I am neither a defeatist doomer (or "going through a nihilistic stage of understanding") nor a person who feels that the bumpy road ahead will be resolved by technology or whatever. I am mostly uncertain about the future but do believe that the most important issue is for humans to come to grips with population. My position is not defeatist - I always urge people to support "Population Connection" http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer as a proactive way to address this issue. I also believe that there are ways to mitigate the upcoming problems and think that the recognition of these problems is a key issue. To that end, I've helped Aniya develop a petition http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Understanding-Peak-Oil to get the National Academy of Sciences involved in the peak oil issue.

Again, perhaps I misread your message - it seemed like you were the more pessimistic party who was more interested in "being happy" than trying to solve problems - sorry about that.

No problem.

To date, the only real population reduction program that seems to work is increasing per capita income, and unfortunately that makes the overall ecological problem worse, not better, even at nominally lower population numbers.

People don't reproduce because they are incapable of understanding collective effects of overpopulation. They reproduce because it is an instinctive desire that is very hard to suppress on a large scale.

I feel that I have a complete enough understanding of human nature to make my own way through the world, and my belief is that orderly population reduction is unlikely to work. With that said, I am happy to talk to anyone about the overall macro-mess we have created for ourselves and I do so often. As anyone who has traveled this road can attest, however, when you get deep into the population issue it becomes clear that much of what people consider good (improved nutrition, prenatal care, sanitation, etc.) is actually bad from a population control perspective. This is not a point many people are prepared for or interested in hearing.

Going back to the theme of my original post, I think that acknowledging that certain social, political and cultural configurations have a life span similar to an individual human's (i.e, birth, ascendance, peak, decline, and death) helps me to be more realistic about what any particular stage of human social evolution is actually capable of achieving. So far, I think we are still working on developing a way of living sustainably, and I fear that the entire industrial capitalism/growth-based economic model will ultimately prove to be a gigantic dead end. Where we go from there, however, I have no idea.

When I spoke of gratitude and humility, I meant it solely in terms of having gratitude for the gift of consciousness (wherever it came from) and humility because it helps me to see the world around me more clearly. I share them as something that has worked for me, not as something that will work for everyone.

At this level of the comments pretty much no one but you and me are reading our exchange, so I was happy to read your more agreeable tone. Two people wasting energy arguing past one another in an anonymous internet discussion doesn't make a lot of sense (though I'm sure we've both done our share of it ;) ).

Take it easy, my friend.

Thanks for the comment and I do appreciate your thinking. I think you have a pretty good insight on the population issue.

I tend to keep hammering on this population problem because I have such a hard time understanding how 7 to 9+ billion people will be able to continue with anything like the status quo. As I'm sure you understand, it is not just peak oil, but climate warming, habitat destruction, ocean fish depletion, the soil problem in this thread, etc. I keep wondering if there is any feasible way to move beyond the impediments as you have outlined. If not, one really has to wonder what kind of contribution we can make for the next generations. I am keenly aware of the benefits I've received from the generations of my family (and lots of others) that have preceded me. As you mentioned, however, it can be quite useless to assume responsibility for things we did not cause to happen or have the ability to change.

I'm over 70 now and really enjoy a great life - financially very modest, but rich in friends and the area in which I live (great rural biking roads). I guess it is just part of my up bringing to feel that we should leave our environment in better condition than we found it - not worse. However, I've been around long enough to know that some problems really don't have nice and neat solutions.

Best wishes for the New Year

I'm over 70 now and really enjoy a great life

I am 39 and most of what I have learned in life has come from paying attention to what people older and more experienced than me have to say. Thank you for sharing your insights.

I really can't understand why folks shy away from farming/gardening Corn for personal consumption.

Its almost like it is not as cool as Permaculture or growing some exotic food so they can tell there friends.

If one is serious about growing food , then 7000 years of gardening corn should have some importance, ... but seems not.

Maybe folks want something more romantic and not something considered so lowly ?

"Native Americans discovered that, unlike wild plants and animals, a surplus of maize could be grown and harvested without harming their environment. Tribes in southern New England harvested great amounts of maize and dried them in heaps upon mats. The drying piles of maize, usually two or three for each Narragansett family, often contained from 12 to 20 bushels of the grain. Surplus maize would be stored in underground storage pits, ingeniously constructed and lined with grasses to prevent mildew or spoiling, for winter consumption of the grain. "


"Scientists believe people living in central Mexico developed corn at least 7000 years ago. It was started from a wild grass called teosinte. Teosinte looked very different from our corn today. The kernels were small and were not placed close together like kernels on the husked ear of modern corn. Also known as maize Indians throughout North and South America, eventually depended upon this crop for much of their food.

From Mexico maize spread north into the Southwestern United States and south down the coast to Peru. About 1000 years ago, as Indian people migrated north to the eastern woodlands of present day North America, they brought corn with them."


Growing corn for yourself is really easy, and fun. Really!


Yes indeed, Native Americans in Southern new England grew maize --- however when the Europeans came, they found active fields as well as abandonned fields that were being allowed to regrow forest trees - AND - second growth maturing forest that was ready for another episode of nutrient depleting corn cultivation. This is classic 'slash and burn' agriculture, although we know that native Americans partially reversed the flow of plant nutrients to the ocean by placing fish in the spots where they grew corn, beans and squash. Native Americans, at the time of European contact, had already begun the process of soil depletion by cultivation agriculture which facilitates exponentially growing human numbers. Their population growth would have continued to the point of overshoot if European diseases had not decimated them.

Peter Salonius

Peter Salonius

Boy .. I would like to see the author that told you that.

Link ?

Who is telling the story of the Natives ?

the Natives or the English/Spanish/French ?

80,000 years of raising Corn and the English Immigrants tell how things were ?

"when the Europeans came, they found active fields as well as abandonned fields that were being allowed to regrow forest trees - AND - second growth maturing forest that was ready for another episode of nutrient depleting corn cultivation. This is classic 'slash and burn' agriculture, although we know that native Americans partially reversed the flow of plant nutrients to the ocean by placing fish in the spots where they grew corn, beans and squash. Native Americans, at the time of European contact, had already begun the process of soil depletion by cultivation agriculture which facilitates exponentially growing human numbers. Their population growth would have continued to the point of overshoot if European diseases had not decimated them."

jmygann asks:
"Boy .. I would like to see the author that told you that. Link ? Who is telling the story of the Natives ?"

See the most thorough treatise in existence (I think) on the interaction -- between forest conversion to cultivation agriculture, and the collapse of civilizations as a result of population numbers exceeding the carrying capacity of their supporting ecosystems - at:

Williams, Michael. 2006. Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis – An Abridgement. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Read also 1491 by Michael Mann; he pieces together "the story of the Natives" before Columbus and the Europeans blundered into the Americas in 1492.

Peter Salonius

Its almost like it is not as cool as Permaculture or growing some exotic food so they can tell there friends.

Who says that permaculture eschews corn? Methinks permaculture is just a word you've heard somewhere, rather than something you've actually studied. Certainly the links you provided are the kind of thing that many permaculture folks love to talk about.

We realy need to advance genetical engineering and develop extremely intensive electricity based farming to have an alternative to eroding natural ecosystems.

Gotta love those technocopians. I guess the androids doing the farming will dream of electric sheep as well.

That's either some VERY sly doomer humor, or an outstanding example of modern day cargoist thinking.

Its cargoist if nobody does the actual work of figuring out how to design better crops, nutrient recycling and how to process more kind of minerals into the forms needed for food production. And you need to power all of this withot oil and the most flexible energy carrier is electricity, the hydrogen economy will likely be limited to nitrogen fixation and the liquid and gaseous fuels will be made from leftover resource streams that are below good food quality.

I am quite serious that we need more advanced science and engineering to lessen the impact of various resource problems and we also actually need to implement the solutions, view graphs is not enough.

The obvious consensus to follow to be a popular person in this discussion is obviously to agree about the situation being hopeless and mumble about there being too manny people on the globe. I would like to give that consensus a finger and swim against the flow.

Welcome, Magnus!

Show us what you've got. I'm always open to solutions.

Ghung. You seem to be a good thinker, so I will put up my target for you to shoot down, to the edification of all, please.

1) we humans have way more energy than we will ever need in solar and wind- clean, lasts forever.
2) We know how to turn solar and wind into electricity. Electricity can do anything.
3) We know how to store it (hydro) and transmit it a long way (HVDC)
4) NONE of above NEEDS anything exotic-no rare earths, etc. Just iron, copper, aluminum, etc. +energy, which comes from solar and wind, as above
5) No way will ANYTHING work unless we cut our population way, way down.
6) If we can sell idiotic things like bottled water, we can sell zero or one kid.
Problem solved.

Now I will quick duck into my hole and hope the incoming don't get me.

An economic system premised upon growth wouldn't work in a declining population environment. Efforts at population reduction would be viewed as hostile to the viability of the economy (and thus the state).

The only situation in which compulsory population reduction would work would not be enjoyable for the participants and would require more power at the level of the sovereign than I would ever like to see turned over to it.

Can anyone point to a top-down population reduction program that didn't end badly for the individuals who had to live through it?

If step one of a 394 step plan is voluntary and orderly population reduction (at least within the current values/beliefs/ethics paradigm), I say don't worry about the last 393 steps--step one will never happen.

solar and wind- clean, lasts forever.

Till the day the sun dies/swallows the Earth. Not quite forever, but a long, long time.

Electricity can do anything.

If the 1950's vintage information from the petrolium council is right - oil is used for making tires and other stuff. Cuz its made of atoms. And these atoms are in an energetic position so reactions can happen.

Electricity isn't atoms - thus hard to make stuff directly from the 'raw material' of electricity.

4) NONE of above NEEDS anything exotic-no rare earths, etc. Just iron, copper, aluminum, etc. +energy, which comes from solar and wind, as above

And yet, motors made with rare earth need lees electrical consumption over time to do the same work. Switching with solid state has advantages like speed or a lack of welding action on the closing actions.

6) If we can sell idiotic things like bottled water, we can sell zero or one kid.

What's the counter message to plastic water bottles? What base drives/needs are addressed in the counter message of plastic water bottles?

Now - what have been the counter messages to China's one child? Or in the US - abortion?

Thanks for the reply----.

Well, once again, when I make this, my standard comment, I get replies, if any at all, to the effect that:

"your suggestion is politically impossible, costs too much, will take too long, needs oil to do it, won't fit the conventional banking/corporate/political structure, does not appeal sufficiently to the baser instincts to be sellable, displays a total absence of understanding of reality, and besides, was suggested by you instead of somebody I like".

Ah, well. So, once again over lightly:

We got lotsa sun and wind, and it will last a hell of a lot longer than we will.

we don't need a bit more tech to turn sun/wind into electricity than was available to my dad, born in 1895, Water turbine/wound field alternators work great, and all we have to do is pump water over them with the solar/wind things. It's stupid to do anything but pump water with wind. Gets rid of the gearbox/alternator problem and replaces it with a tough, simple thing that can last more or less forever. 20 2 megawatt wind turbines go to one 40 megawatt water turbine, etc etc. simple. Ditto with solar thermal, steam engines and all that. Or, If I can convince anybody, which is extremely unlikely, stirling water pumpers.

Electricity doesn't actually have to actually DO everything, just make it possible to do it. Diesels, no matter how big, work great on vegetable oil and/or biogas. If electricity is used everywhere it makes sense, then the other stuff is freed up to do the rest of it. See below for costing to make it happen. It's far easier for a farmer to grow fuel for his diesel than for his horse.

Pay for it? Just quit a fraction of the insanely wasteful and useless doings we are doing, and put that saving into above mentioned widgets. This will happen automatically via our beloved capitalistic system if we just put the full price, instead of a mere shadow of it, on the things we do.

Population? No problem, we cut it to way below replacement by putting out beer ads suggesting to joe sexpack that he will get that lovely babe on the next stool only if he is wearing a v for vasectomy on his foreskin, And/or, make a bunch of dolls individually programmed to the insane perverted lusts of each purchaser, to the effect that they will have exactly zero libido left over for real humans, with their manifold imperfections, hangups, hangovers ,hangdowns and tendency to get pregnant.

But all this is too much effort for lazy old poppy here, time for a nap.

Perhaps it will all be as simple as you suggest...When oil and other fossil fuels cease to provide an energy surplus we will simply adopt solar and wind technologies to take their place. Sort of like a software upgrade.

It is my opinion that this outlook overlooks a mountain of problems and incorporates a high degree of techno-cargoism.

But if that outlook helps you feel better about things, I say enjoy the peace of mind you get from it. It's certainly not the most irrational thing a human being has ever believed to ease his mind about the future.

And yet, motors made with rare earth need lees electrical consumption over time to do the same work. Switching with solid state has advantages like speed or a lack of welding action on the closing actions.

"Perfect is the enemy of good".
How about we get this stuff built in the first place. If needed later on (doubtful, if population and/or financial resources are declining), we can just swap out the motor for fandangled RE equipped ones.

Hi wimbi!

Thanks for your faith in my thinking abilities, although I am often humbled by many on TOD and their abilities to analyse whatever the subject of the day is. What I try to consider and offer up is my need to consider things systematically, as none of the things we discuss exist in a vacuum (well, the planet does,but....).

We (collectively, globally) are facing (or often not) the fact that most of the systems that we rely upon to survive and thrive need to be changed, modified, replaced fairly quickly. As in nature, all of these systems are interconnected (more deeply than most people grasp). Energy, food sources/fresh water, transportation, economies, production of goods such as clothing and shelter, even politics and religion are all connected and inter-reliant. We humans have indeed created a tangled web for ourselves and our finite planet. Our systems are complex, and humans are deeply committed to them for their survival. Changing one system will always have an effect on other systems. An example is how transportation has changed over the last 200 years. The change from sailing ships and animals, to planes, trains, ships and automobiles has affected everything. The transition to fossil fuels has been revolutionary and we are now totally committed to that path. This is why I take peak oil and climate change so seriously. If we don't solve both issues quickly, the paradigm for humanity will change dramatically, and the change will be more dramatic and quicker than the energy revolution that got us into this conundrum (IMHO). Yet how do we make the transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels without affecting all other systems. We don't, and I submit that the effects will be as revolutionary as the changes that got us to this point, for all things ultimatly must balance out (the laws of thermodynamics apply, no matter how complex the system). Peak oil, at this point, is peak everything when you consider how committed we are to fossil fuels and the immense scale of that commitment.

Your faith in solar energy hits close to home, as we have been off grid since 1996 and most of our electricity is from PV. While we have reduced our overall energy consumption to a fraction of what it was, we are still reliant upon fossil fuels for many things. The more we work to get away from non-renewable sources of energy, whether it be direct use or the energy embodied in the things we need, the more we realise how bound we are to non-renewables. It's humbling and a real education. If it's so hard for one committed family to make the transition, what does that say about humans at large, many of whom don't acknowledge the problem?

BTW, solar and wind (in their current form) do require the use of certain rare/finite elements (neodymium for wind turbines, gallium for PV, etc.) many of which are currently found mostly in China. The issues that I see with even a full scale effort to transition to renewables is the problem of scale and the level of effect on all of our systems. Our utter committment to non-renewables means that a move to sustainable forms of energy will be a mitigating factor but not a solution in itself. Electricity can't do everything yet.

I had fun with your use of bottled water related to the one or no child policy. Since water symbolises life, and procreation symbolises the continuity of life, I submit that the things that cause one to have offsping are the same things that cause us to reach for a bottle of water. Both are essential to continuity of the species. Having offspring or a bottle of water fulfill some primal need. The genetic program that causes salmon to swim upriver to spawn and die is part of the "go forth and multiply" factor that all lifeforms on earth share. It is the most powerful force that we will have to deal with, if population is to be reduced voluntarily. The need to reproduce has been institutionalized by religion and science and this need is compounded by desire and social stigma. Humans exist first and foremost to reproduce. All of our other qualities, our activities, our world views are either derived from this or secondary to it. Even the human female's breasts have evolved beyond the need to feed offspring to the need to attract a mate. So any call for reducing population voluntarily is going to be a tall order. China's experiment in population control has failed to reduce their population. They have only succeeded in slowing growth, and this in a totalitarian system that has stigmatized/penalized large families.

So... what do humans need to do within the next 2-3 generations, or, The World According to Ghung:

We must:

Redefine the growth paradigm

Reduce human population by half

Reduce consumption by remaining humans by half

Achieve full-scale transition to renewable forms of energy
and preserve remaining finite resources for future essential uses

Restore and maintain ecosystems planetwide

Develop sustainable food sources

Mitigate climate change and control our waste streams

Recycle everything

Develop political, economic, social and religious systems that support all of the above in perpetuity

End warfare, period.

Convince 6.8+ billion humans to do all of the above at the same time, and all while they are trying to survive.

Or continue BAU and see what happens. It's worked (sort of) so far....

Wow! Thanks for that reply, took about an order of magnitude more effort than my question did.

Sure, all you say rings true in my head- lots and lots of complexity. But I was making a very simple point-

We have lots of energy in wind/solar. Period.

I think, for the reasons you give, that we won't go to it quick enough, but I am not just seeking personal comfort from these cosy little solar delusions.- I am scheduled to be most comfortably dead before TS really HTF. As for my grandkids, well, I've warned them.

On a minor point. I do R&D on thermal machines, and while I know that rare earths are very nice indeed (wife complains she can't get the magnets off the fridge!), they are by no means NECESSARY, for reasons already mentioned above.

The only real solution to this huge mess that I can think might actually work, is a bad one - an honest-to-god dictatorship, in which a General Mac Arthur just tells us to do this and that, no wiggle room at all. Very bad idea--except for all the others. Did sort of work with Japan, tho.

Given what sort of creature Homo-sapiens is, I am thinking that personal freedom of choice is no longer survivable.

But, as I say, Up to you guys. Have fun.

As I've been saying for years, we need all the solar and wind and geothermal and whatever that we can muster. I too have concern for my grandkids. I could have sold the farm a few years ago and retired to some little lake cottage. Instead, I'm land rich and cash poor. My hope is to get most of my second and third generation on board and trained before TSHTF, and at least give'em a chance. They're going to have an interesting future, more localized, I suspect.

As for govt of the people, by the people, for the people, I too think it may have run it's course. Maybe humanity will grow up someday. Not in our lifetime, methinks.

an honest-to-god dictatorship

I'd have no problem with such, if it was for the good of humanity.

VS the next lining of the people in charge...taking for their and theirs benefit.

I am thinking that personal freedom of choice is no longer survivable.

Do "we" actually have this now?

The problem with a dictatorships is precisely that they are rarely if ever good for humanity, because you have no say in whether they are.

Even the human female's breasts have evolved beyond the need to feed offspring to the need to attract a mate.

And thank FSM for that! :D

Here is the definition of cargoism that Catton uses:

Cargoism: faith that technological progress will stave off major institutional change.

He goes on to write:

In referring to Cargoist thoughtways I am not now merely speaking of particular technological proposals—of domestic solar water heaters or other "soft energy paths," of the breeder reactor, stepped-up oil exploration, better carburetors or smaller cars, gasification of coal, geothermal power generation, etc. At this point I have in mind the general background belief that carrying capacity can "always" be raised anew by further technological breakthroughs. As we saw in Chapter 2, major technological achievements did in past ages repeatedly raise the ceiling for human population. Modern Cargoism naively supposes this picture of the past must also be a valid picture of the future. It may not be.

I wouldn't say that is doomer or otherwise. It's just an observation concerning our tendency to use past results to extrapolate future events, and the risks involved in doing so.

Electric based solutions with present HP outputs of industrial farming won't work well with present battery tech or electrical power distribution systems. (Go ahead. Do the math. 800 HP for a big tractor. 744 watts per HP - almost 5000 amps at 120 volts)

Even 40 HP (think the old sod buster teams of 40 beasts) is over 200 amps.

20 HP would be a high power output for a hydraulic style rototiller. But you've got to provide 100 amps of battery at 120 volts or 50 amps at 220. Or flexible power cables (now you get to deal with cable management)
http://www.barretomfg.com/ as an example. Never met ground these can't bust up.

Now, 1 hp motors are able to be fed with a household wall outlet, a few hours with a car battery, the cable management is an extension cord, won't weigh as much as the big AG machines and therefore can work wetter conditions and compact the soil less. Downside - hard to move a whole lotta dirt with 1HP so you are limited to Ag tasks that do not move dirt.

(Go ahead. Do the math. 800 HP for a big tractor. 744 watts per HP - almost 5000 amps at 120 volts)

...which is why high HP electric vehicles don't generally operate at 110 volts. Your amperage numbers at 110 volts are pretty much red

20 HP would be a high power output for a hydraulic style rototiller. But you've got to provide 100 amps of battery at 120 volts or 50 amps at 220

How about 30 amps at 500V, directly from a solar array (80 200W panels)? Now you've reduced the problem to the cable management. Overhead trolleys should do the trick.

It's not an engineering problem...

Your amperage numbers at 110 volts are pretty much red herrings.

Ok lets go to 540 volts. 1000 amps.

Tell ya what, why don't you post a voltage and current for a cable that isn't a "red herring'.

How about 30 amps at 500V, directly from a solar array

Yea, no issues with hooking together the 100's of solar PV cells to get the 500 volts.

Say, got a reference implementation of this idea?

It's not an engineering problem...

Yea, not at all a materials science problem with getting the amps to drive a 800 hp tractor. And no problems with coming up with all the metals needed to distribute 1000 or 5000 amps.

Do you mean I have to explain basic electrical engineering concepts to you? Such as raising voltage to decrease amperage?

If you think there are "materials science" obstacles to making an 800 HP electric tractor, maybe you can explain why this 8600 HP electric locomotive doesn't exist.

Btw, I myself was testing solar arrays at more than 400 volts earlier this month. If you used the first google shopping result for solar panels for our 30amp 500V example, (smaller than what you'd want, actually) you'd use 6 strings of 20 panels.

Garden tillers can be electric (low hp, close to house, most farms keep a garden)) and perhaps post hole diggers (mobile batteries) but most ag as we know it, it is not economic/practical.

Bio-diesel, methanol, ethanol, butanol and much less mechanization are more viable solutions IMHO.

Farming is very time sensitive (make hay while the sun shines) and cannot wait for a slower solution.


A well written overview of the path and causes of our current overshoot. However, the solution of single child families over a period of centuries is an idealistic fantasy. The demographic shock of halving the population in one generation [after the work out of the current demographic profile] would be unsustainable as a cultural meme. Think of all the current angst caused by the baby boom generation aging going on and on in an exaggerated fashion. China's one child policy has already created issues and they are only sub-adult or young adults now. The path to overshoot is not symmetrical with a guided population decrease. The same hubris that got us into overshoot cannot plan a nice decline.

What characterized our successful hunter-gatherer forebearers was a certain stability of population over periods of time that appeared changeless combined with very conservative cultural practices. All contingent on being at ease and familiar with the environment they inhabited. There were few universal rules of behavior because the environment called for adaptations. Variations of adaptations arose even within similar ecotones. So each cluster of groups considered their way of life to be the right way and only way. Xenaphobia however seems to be a universal trait.

Whatever remanents of humanity might be left standing after collapse will bear the cultural imprints [and probably the genetic selection] of the path through agriculture. This will include any remaining true aboriginal groups left as they have been affected by the dominant cultures also.

Our modern sensibilities are ill suited to reestablishing the hunter-gatherer mentality, much less their adaptations to environmental conditions as they exist today. The trashing of the world has been done and will likely continue unabated until the human footprint is negligible.

My own solution to this conundrum of the human dilemma is to create small communities of families or like-minded people that find ways to get back to the default hunter-gatherer mentality [warts and all] but adapt culturally on the way down the collapse trajectory. I probably sound like a total idiot but I think that some of the religious practices of mindfulness and being in the present moment are actually attempts by 'fallen mankind' to renew and reestablish these bodily/mental states.

"The same hubris that got us into overshoot cannot plan a nice decline."

Agreed. The hunter-gatherer societies existed (for a time) only as a result/symptom of environmental/technical limits. The hubris of thinking that we can rise above those limitations is who we are. I submit that we can't go back. We're not wired that way. It can't be engineered as long as we see the natural world as a set of problems to be solved. As in the beginning, Nature will set the limits, because humans aren't good at that. Accepting limits isn't what got us this far. Adam and Eve couldn't do it and they had it all (except for that one little thing). Ah! The wisdom of the Ancients....

Any society willing to adopt one-child will do so based on a cost-benefit assessment.

Demographic shock vs. DIE OFF.

Which is more disruptive?

The choice is clear.

Hey mos.

Are you saying that the same government that can't patch the potholes is going to be trusted with booking the Soylent Green factory tours?

Always interesting how anti-government types enjoy all the benefits of our US systems of legal, financial, educational, medical, infrastructure, etc. seem to think they are superior beings who have "boot strapped" themselves to success. I wonder how well you folks would do in Somolia?

Potholes? I'm amazed every time I ride my bike at these fantastic ribbons of asphalt under my wheels.

In my view, governments do not have a good track record in deciding who gets to live and who gets to die in a managed population reduction.

If, however, you are aware of successful examples of government-managed human population control, I would like to hear about it.

It's not anti-government to be unwilling to trust the government to decide whether you will be permitted to live or die.

To the extent that the U.S. ever had impressive political institutions, it was because the founding fathers had a profound sense of distrust of government.

I'm surprised that viewing government as an entity that should be limited in scope and power is considered "anti-government." I would say that an attempt to design a sovereign entity that will have built in protections against tyranny is actually PRO-government, since the resulting government is, IMHO, the most likely to be sustainable (i.e., the least likely to drive its subjects to violent revolution).

Hi BigTex,

Clearly my grumpy mood the other day did not contribute to a good discussion - I'll try to be less caustic. However, I don't think it is quite fair for you to frame the discussion as

trust the government to decide whether you will be permitted to live or die

I certainly am not advocating any such power for our government, nor do I know anyone who is advocating that either. What I am advocating is for our leadership to recognize that our economic paradigm based on continual growth of consumption and population is flawed. I'm advocating that the US support the UN efforts in this area. I am advocating that our government stop interfering in our personal lives in areas of sex education and a woman's reproductive choices. Our founding fathers where also concerned about the tyranny of religion and wanted a separation of church and state.

Lester Brown in Plan B has a sensible approach to population reduction. Population Connection http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer is a great organization to support. I think a goal of 4B by the end of this century is feasible without any kind of draconian measures.

From what I understand about Japan after the WWII, they did a pretty good job of promoting the idea of one or two child families without deciding who would be permitted to live or die. Only in recent times have their commercial interests caused them to back off of this position.

I'm pretty sure that we have opposing views about the role of government. I would like to see more emphasis placed on the old idea of the "common good". I want to see industry include the full cost of the natural resources they have embodied in their goods - this is not going to happen without government intervention. But, I'll try to have this discussion in a more civil manner.

If our government is a reflection of the moneyed interests in society, it seems unlikely that it would be possible to have a public policy that was inconsistent with the economic growth on which those moneyed interests rely for their existence.

An additional problem is that being on a two or four year election cycle makes it virtually impossible to focus on long term (i.e., intergenerational) problems such as resource depletion, environmental degradation, etc., even if our leaders wanted to focus on these things (which they apparently do not).

In a world where the overall economic pie is likely to shrink in coming years (per Gail's peak credit-peak oil analysis), it's hard to imagine government voluntarily reducing its size and scope in harmony with the underlying structural economic contraction. If we are not careful, we will have a late-stage Roman empire scenario where ever-greater tribute is required to fund public functions that were conceived of in an era of much greater prosperity and surplus.

Social Security, Medicare, and vast military commitments are but a few well-intentioned concepts that are likely to outlive the economic output on which they were premised. I fear that valuable capital will be consumed trying to maintain these foolish promises, rather than investing in an alternative social/political/economic structure that might last more than a few generations.

In other words, I think that the governments of the future are going to be treading water along with many other institutions, and will be in no position to be engaging in human population management, even if it was approached in an enlightened manner.

Unfortunately, I fear that war and disease will be the two methods of population control that will see the most of in the future.

I think you make some very valid points. My concern is like that old saying: democracy is the worst form of government except for all other forms of government. My instinct is keep badgering my elected representatives for the kinds of change I believe in - but, I would have to admit that this is mostly a fruitless effort.

More than government, I fear what happens when reasonable governments break down. I trust even less military rule, corporate dominance, or ultimately warlords.

Well, let's hope that some middle ground reveals itself.

Wishing you a good New Year.

Enforcing a one-child policy creates a chock right away, it might even be simpler to make obesity illegal. Either kind of regualtion is very destructive for individuality and thus also democrarcy and humanism since they need a respect for individuals.

I realy dont like that since democracy and humanism and so on can be god tools for making a society more adatable and every society needs to adapt to new circumstances to avoid problems.

I don't think first agriculture itself was an overshoot. Clearly if the population had not exploded as it has in the past 1000 years, agriculture would be sustainable. For eg. Jared in Collapse explains how New Guinea highlanders practiced silviculture and sustainable agriculture.

You would ofcourse expect occassional local die-offs because of climate changes even without overshoot.

" According to the paper, eventually, to reach sustainability, the world will need to reduce its population to that of the hunter-gathers, and go back to living on the resources the natural ecosystems can produce."

Yeah, after you, Salonius. I think he probably never ate a bush tomato or witchety-grub.

The International Fertilizer Industry suggests that organic agriculture is only capable of producing one quarter of the protein

Wow, an artificial fertiliser company reckons it's essential to use artificial fertilisers.

It seems that the authour is unaware that we currently produce around twice the food we need to sustain everyone, and that around half our food is produced with no fossil fuel inputs whatsoever. In most Third World countries, fossil fuel inputs in food agriculture are minimal or zero; the fossil fuels come in for the cash crops like peanuts, tobacco, sugar and so on.

Thus, absent fossil fuels we should not have a problem feeding ourselves, only having a problem producing cash crops. This will certainly change what we eat and how many of us are involved in food production. It need not mean mass famine. In the future, people will starve because someone else chose for them to starve. This is of course no different to today.

"we currently produce around twice the food we need to sustain everyone, and that around half our food is produced with no fossil fuel inputs whatsoever."

link please ???????

Correction: I ought to have written "little or no fossil fuel inputs whatsoever." I get sloppy in these comments which hardly anyone reads properly anyway.

Just read through any FAO World Food Outlook to find out how much grain the world produces. For example, June 2008.

Now go read the side of a packet of oats or bread to figure out how many calories are in a tonne of rice, wheat, maize, etc. Do the arithmetic. Okay, now you have the total calories we have from grain. Add in world production of a few basics like vegetable oils, fruit and vegetables, and so on.

Now go and divide by the world population.

For example, June 2008, they reckoned the world was looking at 2,192 million tonnes of grain. At that time we had about 6,600 million people. Basically, one-third of a tonne each. 900g a day. Grains vary a bit, but a fair average is 3.3kcal/g. Thus, 900g --> 3,000kcal daily in grain per person in the world.

World oilseed production was about 390 million tonnes. That's 160g each daily, and oil is basically pure fat, 9kcal/g. That's another 1,440kcal, brings it up to 3,440kcal.

Then there's 168 million tonnes of sugar, around 900 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables. And of course let's not forget 325 million tonnes of potatoes.

All in all, just looking at plant products, we've got around 4,000kcal daily available to every member of the human race today.

A physically active large adult might need 3,500kcal, but older adults and small sedentary people only 1,000-1,500kcal, small children just a few hundred, and so on. When aid agencies give out rations after natural disasters or famines, they work on 2,000kcal per day per person as an average.

Thus, worldwide we produce about twice as much food as we need. In practice, about one-third the grain goes to feed livestock to make one-quarter as much weight of meat and milk, and one-sixth the grain to make biofuels. And while 1,000 million people are overweight or obese, 800 million people are hungry.

So we don't allocate our food resources very well. Nonetheless, the physical facts are that we produce twice as much food as we need to nourish everyone.

As to food production with and without artificial fertiliser, you can see kg fertiliser per hectare of land here. Up the top is Ireland with 595kg/ha, down the bottom is Sierra Leone with 0.3kg/ha. In the middle is the US with 103kg/ha.

Sierra Leone, with the others down the bottom, is a country recently beset by civil conflicts - so whether they're using little fertiliser because they think they don't need it or because people got driven off their farms, well that's an open question.

Better to look up the list a bit, to Ghana, with 2kg/ha. They produce 152,000 tonnes grains - nowhere enough to feed their 23 million people - with a yield of 1.4576t/ha, telling us they use 104,000ha for grain production. Not much out of the 5,809,000ha of arable land and permanent cropland. To get one-third of a tonne each annually (world average, as noted above), they'd need 7.6 million tonnes grain. They'd need about 5 million of their 5.8 million hectares. Not nothing, but doable.

Or you could consider Tanzania, and compare it to the UK.

Tanzania uses 1.8kg/ha to get 101,000t grains with a yield of 1.472t/ha
UK uses 285.8kg/ha to get 100,000t grains with a yield of 7.2994t/ha

So by using 159 times as much fertiliser, you can grow the same grain on 1/5 the land. That's the real use of fertiliser, letting you get as much production from a smaller area. That way you can then build cities on your most fertile land, as we do here in the West.

Looking at yields/ha, even the not desperately advanced Albanians manage 3.8t/ha with just 13.3kg/ha fertilisers.

Fertiliser turns out to be like everything else - a little bit helps a lot, a lot doesn't do much more, but if it's cheap, what the hell, chuck it on.

Hi Kiashu,

you write

Tanzania uses 1.8kg/ha to get 101,000t grains with a yield of 1.472t/ha
UK uses 285.8kg/ha to get 100,000t grains with a yield of 7.2994t/ha

So by using 159 times as much fertiliser, you can grow the same grain on 1/5 the land. That's the real use of fertiliser, letting you get as much production from a smaller area. That way you can then build cities on your most fertile land, as we do here in the West.

Looking at yields/ha, even the not desperately advanced Albanians manage 3.8t/ha with just 13.3kg/ha fertilisers.

1) What happens if for some reason the UK (or similar european countries) do not get the
fertilizers etc for one or a few growing seasons?
Will it imply that big cities are unsustainable? (i think it would mean this!)

2) What happens to Tanzania if they loose the fertilizers for a similar time?


As it stands, the high fossil fuel input countries, if they didn't get the inputs, would have great troubles. Not because it's physically impossible for them to produce food without those inputs, but because changing the way we do things takes time. You can't go from combine harvesters to peasants with hoes overnight. You can do it in a few years on a single farm, but thousands of farms? Plus we'd need to land redistribution, the 10,000 acre farms becoming 2,000 5 acre farms, or something.

Like all social and economic change, it'd be messy.

Tanzania won't see such confusion and chaos. Countries with near-zero artificial fertiliser manage 1-1.5t/ha grain yield. Those with low <10kg/ha input get 1.4-2t/ha. Then 200+kg gets you 7t/ha. But the key thing really is labour and the general approach used. The Tanzanians don't have many combine harvesters, they have a few tractors and lots of people with hoes who live on the land they're tilling, and who expect their children to live there, too. They just happen to have a few bags of fertiliser, too.

There's a big difference between a family living in a house together with a few chickens and pigs and maybe a cow, working their few hectares and using 1 or 2 bags of fertiliser a year on the spots they see a bit dead and hoping the rains won't fail this year, and some farmer kept going by his wife's off-farm job, loading up the whole pallet-full of fertiliser bags into a hopper dragged along by his $40,000 tractor scattering the fertiliser according to a calendar the company gave him, and turning on the irrigation system subsidised by the government.

Anyway, I don't see why the fossil fuel and products supply would suddenly disappear overnight. I don't believe in the Olduvai cliff. We're more than two years past the "permanent widespread blackouts" prophesied. Things won't explode overnight, they'll just gradually turn shittier.

Lots of people won't adjust, sure. Even Schicklegruber in his bunker with Red Army artillery exploding overhead and shaking mortar down on his brilliantined head hoped for final victory. But most people muddle along.

Hi again, you didn't reply to
>Will it imply that big cities are unsustainable? (i think it would mean this!)

anyway this aside it seems that your vision is a gradual transition from
homo colossos (as Catton defines us) to homo (a few hundred years ago?)

Anyway, I don't see why the fossil fuel and products supply would suddenly disappear overnight. I don't believe in the Olduvai cliff. We're more than two years past the "permanent widespread blackouts" prophesied. Things won't explode overnight, they'll just gradually turn shittier.

Lots of people won't adjust, sure. Even Schicklegruber in his bunker with Red Army artillery exploding overhead and shaking mortar down on his brilliantined head hoped for final victory. But most people muddle along.

For the sudden changes..

well such things happen from time to time. Collapse of Soviet Union happened quickly and
was unavoidable as problems have been ignored for years.

Lets say it will not happen for all people all the time but sometimes it happens and even for the rich!
Just one big storm or an earthquake in a stressed situation for example.

A factory might close, following a bank closure, just overnight for example.

Yes, some people/countries have put up safety reserves to "survive" for some time.

For the Olduvai cliff etc..

>We're more than two years past the "permanent widespread blackouts" prophesied.

Well Duncan said around 2008 without error bars.
He didn't write about economic crisis prior to the electric energy supply problems.
But imagine that we would not have had the 10% "collapse" in energy use at the end of 2008.

The French electric grid just managed during the cold days early 2009 because of the reduced demand crisis. Things have not improved however. It was pretty warm so far, the nuclear power plants
are not in a great shape and since october 2009 5-10 GWe need to be imported.
They just had an outage for 2 million people for an hour (21.12) because of a tiny failure
and the danger of a country wide blackout.

And the winter is just starting. Lets see for the coming weeks.

anyway give Duncans 2008 hypothesis an error margin lets say +-2 years with 65% chance
and +-4 years with 95% chance. with or without an unlikely economic recovery


Sorry, so busy replying to other stuff I forgot the bit about cities. I write about that how I see peak oil playing out here, and about cities in particular here.

Essentially, cities over a million will be very hard to maintain absent fossil fuels, but the suburbs may not be the death-traps most peak oilers expect.

And Duncan was very specific: 2007. He put no error bars on it.

Both good and bad events take longer to happen than we expect. Yes, the Soviet Union collapsed in a year or so; but I don't think that's terribly relevant. We're talking about things that affect people's daily lives, like access to food, water, heating/cooling, and transport. The SU's existence or disappearance was irrelevant to day-to-day life - which is partly why it disappeared, but that's another story.

ok, so if cities with over a million are unsustainable in your view
what is going to happen for these cities and with its people?

sounds rather traumatic to me!

But if you think that is what will happen it means you could perhaps explain why
the current food system is not going to deliver!

For Duncan. I don't know about what of his work you are talking but here is a reference: the year 2007 is not mentioned
but 2012 is when according to him permanent blackouts occur worldwide.

also for the decline starting in 2008 (may be by chance?) he was relatively accurate.


Figure 4. The Olduvai Theory: 1930-2030

Notes: (1) 1930 => Industrial Civilization began when (ê) reached 30% of its peak value. (2) 1979 => ê reached its peak value of 11.15 boe/c. (3) 1999 => The end of cheap oil. (4) 2000 => Start of the "Jerusalem Jihad". (5) 2006 => Predicted peak of world oil production (Figure 1, this paper). (6) 2008 => The OPEC crossover event (Figure 1). (7) 2012 => Permanent blackouts occur worldwide. (8) 2030 => Industrial Civilization ends when ê falls to its 1930 value. (9) Observe that there are three intervals of decline in the Olduvai schema: slope, slide and cliff - each steeper than the previous. (10) The small cartoons stress that electricity is the essential end-use energy for Industrial Civilization.

he writes: (http://www.warsocialism.com/duncan_tscq_07.pdf)

The theory has five postulates:
1. The exponential growth of world energy production ended in1970.
2. U.S. e intervals anticipate Olduvai e intervals:
(1)growth, (2)stagnation, and(3)terminal decline.

3. The terminal decline of industrial civilization will begin circa2008-2012.
4. Brownouts and blackouts are reliable leading indicators of terminal decline.
5. World population will decline proximate with e.

ok, so if cities with over a million are unsustainable in your view
what is going to happen for these cities and with its people?

I posted a link where I'd explained.

It's not a conversation if only one of us is reading what the other says.


i read through your two links but didn't find what I was looking for.
never mind. Reality will tell.

but at least you could/should try to quote Duncan correctly!


but at least you could/should try to quote Duncan correctly!

And you should try actually reading Duncan. I understand if you don't want to read what I've written. Reading things that you disagree with is surely most distressing. But you could at least read the people you agree with. Otherwise there's just no hope for you at all.

Richard Duncan wrote,

A fifth advance is proposed in this study. It forecasts that electrical blackouts in the US -- due to a shortage of natural gas in North America -- will precipitate the Olduvai 'cliff event' worldwide (i.e. 'avalanche' or 'trigger') in ca. 2007.


A previous study put the 'cliff event' in year 2012 (Duncan, 2001). However, it no appears that 2012 was too optimistic. The following study indicates that the 'cliff event' will occur about 5 years earlier than 2012 due an epidemic of 'rolling blackouts' that have already begun in the US. This 'electrical epidemic' spreads nationwide, then worldwide, and by ca. 2007 most of the blackouts are permanent. The 'modern way of life' is history by ca. 2025.

He didn't give a "plus or minus 2 years", but even if he had, well 2007+2 = 2009, which just finished and we did not have worldwide permanent blackouts. Maybe Duncan could talk to a few religious cults to find out what they do when their predictions of Judgment Day pass without event.

Where did Duncan go once he had lost all credibility? Why, to associate with other hate-filled people with no credibility, of course.

Nowadays Duncan writes for a racist mag called The Social Contract. The Southern Poverty Law Centre tell us about them here.

At a 1997 CCC conference, [Social Contract editor] Lutton said Third Worlders "have declared racial demographic war against us. ... Why are their populations exploding? Because ... our people have exported medical technology and we feed them.

"Had we left them alone, many of them would be going extinct today."

[The above I picked up through an article here; all the references check out.]

Evidently Lutton is not keen on the only proven non-genocidal method of reducing the birthrate of the poor: improving the education, wealth and political power of the women.

There's a famous equation that

Impact = Population x Consumption

It's fair to look at both population and consumption as problems. Unfortunately, many of those who prefer to focus on population are racists who, like the editor of The Social Contract, wish that the Third World would go "extinct".

"If only those nasty brown people would stop having so many babies, we could have burgers and SUVs forEVER!"


Don't know why I even reply.
The discussion is not about Duncan but about the
sustainability and the unsustainable situation for big cities.

We seem to agree on this with a different view on the probability of
collapse for this way of life.

But in case, I am not a fanatic admirer neither of Duncan nor his hypothesis.

However, people try to look for the weakest element where the ``bridge" will collapse.

Duncan put the case for the element of the electric grid braking down.
He made very interesting troubling observations.
And yes he iterated the hypothesis a few times. (the links i provided)
Yes, he was too pessimistic about the Gas supply for the USA and
so what.

Perhaps you can take this as a warning to prevent the country wide blackouts.
Nothing fundamentally has changed. Did you never made a too pessimistic/optimistic prediction?
Or perhaps you never made a prediction which could be tested?

Anyway, Western Europe is getting more and more into a troubling gas and other resource supply dependence.
France is in a particular difficult situation lets see how it will evolve during this winter.


There's a famous equation that

Impact = Population x Consumption

It's fair to look at both population and consumption as problems. Unfortunately, many of those who prefer to focus on population are racists who, like the editor of The Social Contract, wish that the Third World would go "extinct".

"If only those nasty brown people would stop having so many babies, we could have burgers and SUVs forEVER!"


And what does it mean?

We in the rich countries are having a far too large impact!
The average european about 10x more than an average indian!
And 20 times for the average US citizen.

Thus, lets acknowledge this first.


The discussion is not about Duncan but about the
sustainability and the unsustainable situation for big cities.

We seem to agree on this with a different view on the probability of
collapse for this way of life.

Our way of life is not sustainable, in the sense that we cannot keep it up forever. From that, it does not follow that everything will collapse overnight with millions perishing horribly.

Consider someone who is earning $50,000 annually but spending $55,000, the extra $5,000 coming from a mixture of credit card and redrawing from their mortgage. This unsustainable; at some point, spending must be less than their income. If they cannot increase their income, they must decrease their spending.

However, their unsustainable finances do not mean that the repo guy is going to kick down their door tomorrow. They absolutely do have to sort their shit out asap, but disaster is not instantly imminent if they don't.

We in the rich countries are having a far too large impact!
The average european about 10x more than an average indian!
And 20 times for the average US citizen.

Thus, lets acknowledge this first.

I think we've done enough acknowledgement, and it's time for some action. Consume less, waste nothing; reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order. Learn to live as we'll have to live in the future. I offer some guidelines here.

>I think we've done enough acknowledgement,

May be you and me and a few others. But this is certainly less than 1% of the world population
or the population of the most impact societies.

If I understand your link you suggest that a 1 tonne co2 equivalent per capita is required?
(from todays 49Gt CO2e 6.7 Gpersons or on average 7 Gtons per person today? )

Thus, we in the rich part of the world (in Europe about a factor of 3 above the average
and in the USA a factor 6 need to reduce a lot!)

The chinese in contrast are allowed to increase a little more?
and the indians and africans etc etc much more?

and all this by 2050? What happens after 2050?
oil and gas will be largely gone and forever.
Thus the gradual reduction by 10%/year or 5% per year in the rich countries
will have to continue after 2050 as well!

What will happen if the 5% per year reduction in the rich countries will not be reached
by 2015 and 2020 etc

this needs to be included in the acknowledgement doesn't it?

>and it's time for some action.

yes, enforcement on this reduction strategy for the rich countries.
We just saw a total failure here.

>Consume less, waste nothing; reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order. Learn to live as we'll have to live in the future. I offer some guidelines here.

yes sure ... but what does it change if less than 1% of the population follows this?
it will not avoid the drastic transition eventually
and we are back to the Duncan and similar scenarios..

you might be prepared for that but not the 6.7 billion other people!


May be you and me and a few others. But this is certainly less than 1% of the world population or the population of the most impact societies.

Sure. But genuine social change doesn't happen because the majority votes for it. Otherwise the US would never have ended segregation, few countries would have allowed women to vote, there'd be no openly homosexual relationships, and so on.

What happens is that people just go ahead and do radical stuff so much that it starts to look ordinary, then suddenly everyone else follows and claims they supported change all along.

Where legislative change is required, again you never get a majority. You just get a minority who's so loud and annoying they put the change in just to get them to shut up.

So I plug along. I don't expect to be part of a majority. I talk about that here.

If I understand your link you suggest that a 1 tonne co2 equivalent per capita is required?
(from todays 49Gt CO2e 6.7 Gpersons or on average 7 Gtons per person today? )

Your maths is muddled. Again, I think you have trouble reading other people's articles.

However, 1t CO2e is for things which households can control, any Westerner (but not every, as I note in the article) can achieve this in a few years. And the things households can control (food, transport chosen, heating/cooling, waste, etc) make up around half of total emissions. The other half is stuff households can't control, like aluminium smelters and stuff made for export. But in a situation where households were reducing so much, there'd be considerable political pressure for the rest of the economy to change, too.

Thus, we in the rich part of the world (in Europe about a factor of 3 above the average
and in the USA a factor 6 need to reduce a lot!)

The chinese in contrast are allowed to increase a little more?
and the indians and africans etc etc much more?

Again, your maths is muddled. 1t CO2e is a reduction of a factor 12 for Australia, about 10 for the US, 5-8 for Western Europe and Japan, and is about status quo for the Third World - but most of their emissions are in locals' deforestation and Western-owned mining and energy companies.

Remember that with the Third World, essentially each country is an upper class living like Westerners and making 5-30t emissions, and a majority lower class living in the poo and making 0-2t emissions. So for the Third World to reduce emissions we're talking basically the same things as for the West to do so - reduce, reuse, recycle, put in renewable energy and decent public transport, etc - just combined with sustainable forestry management, etc.

It's quite doable.

ok, 7 ton per person on average today not 7 Gtons

> i wrote to quickly (from todays 49Gt CO2e 6.7 Gpersons or on average 7 Gtons per person today? )

I talked about the energy per capita use not only co2 producing ones.

Thus my rough average for western Europe is 50000 kwh (thermal energy) per capita
USA roughly 90000 kwh China 10000 kwh india perhaps 5000 kwh
and so on. World average is roughly 17000 kwh per person and this has to go down
by a few % per year following the oil decline (and other Co2 requirements)

Whats wrong with that?

lets take the real co2 numbers:


28.4 Gtons total ... if this is too much and you and me seems to think so
how much would be ok/safe/ sustainable?

7-10 Gtons perhaps? (why?) but if so lets look like people live in countries with 1 ton co2 on average..
India for example! or Bolivia roughly the list could be extended.

So you talk only about personal household contribution?
Why? That makes only a third of the total cake or perhaps 50% + if you include ``moving" people around.

Lets do the total numbers and how they need to be reduced!

For the local elites who consume as much as the rich in the rich countries sure.
But again lets take averages and let each country to figure out what they do with those local
elite. I am afraid that they will not just change by example of a few Gandhi like figures.
History seems to tell that more radical measures are needed and even those do only exchange
one elite with another most of the times.

why shouldn't one on egalitarian principles punish countries/regions who
have used up all their co2 share during the past 100 years

why don't countries regions with remaining fossil fuels have more rights to use them?

similar for soil and other resources.

Niger (Africa) for example should get some good agriculture land from Europe for example
such that Europe pays back for past exploitations.


Yes, I only speak of household contributions because those are what we as individuals and families can control by our actions.

The way we heat and cool and light, the food we eat, the stuff we buy, the way we transport ourselves, all these add up to around half the emissions our countries cause.

That's half the problem addressed. It's up to you and me and him and her, not up to governments or corporations. Why do I address that? I'm a practical guy. First deal with what you can, once that's done deal with the other stuff. Change begins at home. If a significant number of households change, that creates political pressure to deal with the other half of emissions, the things we can't control directly.

Yes, there are issues of fairness about past actions between nations. But I see those as unsolvable problems. It's like the issue of reparations to descendants of American slaves - what if some of your ancestors were slavers, and some slaves? What about the Arabs and Africans involved in the African slave trade? Should Saudi Arabia give compensation, too? The Zanzibar Arabs who were involved in the slave trade? But what about the massacre of the Zanzibar Arabs in the 1960s? How does the massacre of thousands weigh up against the enslavement of tens of thousands?

Some problems are unsolvable. At some point you just have to get on with life, quit arguing about who made the mess or should clean it up, and just fucking clean it up.

There's a story that when the Greeks came to Thermopylae, everyone started arguing about how and where it'd be best to build a wall to defend themselves from the Persians. The argument went on and on, then Leonidas, the old King of the Spartans, walked away from the people arguing, picked up and stone and walked over with it to a spot, and put the stone down. Then he put the next stone on top of it. And so everyone else felt ashamed and just started building the damned wall. The Persians were coming, better a badly-built wall in the wrong place but at least ready when the Persians came, than a perfectly-built wall in the perfect place... not ready when they came.

There comes a point when any action, however imperfect, is better than arguing about what to do next.

I'm all about putting one stone on top of the other. Is it in the right spot? Perfectly built? Probably not. But it's time to start building the future.

I'm working towards a one-tonne carbon lifestyle. My progress is public. What about you? Still planning, or are you going to put one stone on top of the other?

Let's get on with it.


for the first half you are addressing. Yes agreed (more or less). Thats what can be done ``easily" and if done with sufficient thoughts
and consistency and yes success is required as well convince others.

But, it requires some minimum starting "capital". Lets say a shelter, a garden to be transformed into the small island of paradise
(it can be done! I have seen some examples! and yes it can be fun) and some "health strength" and ``money capital or stable work income.

Those who like the idea and are without the above ingredients need support and need to get organized by themselves(?)
But for what purpose? Take from the rich and greedy with the help from those in the rich and greedy camp i guess.

The greedy and sleepy need to be told again and again

"your way of life is unsustainable!" Better start changing now or "blackouts", war and other things will come home to you!
"it is you who will also loose your head in the coming collateral damage" and on and on.

In contrast, just praying to continue living in the "modified" environment of the rich will not result into the action you want to see.

Gandhi was putting stones together as you wrote, with a lot of success. He demonstrated lots of things and he stepped down
from a career of what could have become of him a successful lawyer rich and whatever.

Thus in summary I am not convinced that hiding the truth about the real world and just putting stones together in a nice
way and starting within a "rich" environment is much less damaging (without addressing the origins of our problems.. our human
impact it too large I = P x A , or our overshoot in the rich countries is even larger than in many poor countries)
than just continuing business as usual and falling down the cliff
a few years earlier than otherwise.


you addressed only the unsolvable problems from the past.
The solvable one like access to oil and gas by means of war or power in general. Western Europe has emptied is share long ago
thus "We" should accept that our way of life using oil and gas must quickly come to an end if we do not want to plan for new
resource wars!

For typical crops N+P+K (expressed as N, P2O5 and K2O) equals from 2% to 3 % of the weight of the harvested crop. Adjusting for the salts like chloride and sulfate found in typical fertilizer blends about doubles the out of the bag number to 4-6% fertilizer to grain by weight. However, the numbers cited make no reference to what constitutes fertilizer, pure NPK or as used.

Therefore, a 6 metric tonne per hectare crop would require 120 to 360 Kg/hectare of fertilizer, depending on what is grown and the basis of fertilizer (as used or 100%).

Unused P and K bind with the soil as a reserve for future crops. N is readily lost. It is common to use excess levels of P and K to rebuild depleted soils.

Fertiliser turns out to be like everything else - a little bit helps a lot, a lot doesn't do much more, but if it's cheap, what the hell, chuck it on.

Yes and that over use of commercial fertilizer and failure to return organic material to the ground has depleted and burned topsoils. Thus when the mined and produced fertilizers fail we will find out just what the soil will produce without those inputs. I suspect little. I have been restoring soil that grew cotton for years. I borrow organic matter from people who rake leaves in town and manure from our chickens feed on grain from the midwest fertilized and watered thanks to oil.

When the oil runs out we will find out just what the millions of acres of commercial farmland are able to grow without those inputs. Well I suppose we could mine bat and bird guano for fertilizer - oops no that was already mined out which shows that the world of the late 1800's already had depleted soil that needed fertilization from stored ancient poop.

If we replace fossil fuel with generation IV nuclear power, LFTR paradigm,Jan 20, 2009, entry on this site we will have energy and excellent crops as long as this plant is habitable. Modern agriculture builds soil.


The idea is to make ammonia using intermittent power we get from wind/solar - instead of trying to connect PV/Wind to the grid. That is one way to make fertilizer.

That is a good way to utilize wind. High temp reactors can double the efficiency of electric generation for electrolysis by a thermochemical process with catalysts of H2SO4 and I2.

If we replace fossil fuel with generation IV nuclear power,

Yea, lets see how that works out for Iran.

Modern agriculture builds soil.

And your proof of that John is your assertion that it is true?
Modern agriculture does no such thing. It causes massive erosion and destroys the natural structure of the soil. We were doing better in the US for a while after the Dust Bowl woke us up, but then in came agribusiness, Now the business model of quick profit is ruining our soil. Meanwhile dams have deprived what were once fertile delta areas of the annual silt that enriched those soils. Oh and of course we pave over some of the best farmland for suburbs. And then there is the problem of salt coming into the soil from over irrigation.

From http://www.mvoai.org/02_hazards.html
The Hazards of Modern Agriculture

In order to fully understand the goals and direction of Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture Institute, it is necessary to have a perspective on modern agriculture. Agriculture is one of society’s most basic needs and activities–an activity that has been at the heart of every culture throughout the ages. The focus of agriculture should be to provide an abundant food supply for the nation in a healthy, cost-effective and sustainable manner.

Most recently, the ever-increasing trend in agriculture has been towards large-scale, chemical-based farming. Harmful chemical fertilizers, non-degradable pesticides and herbicides have destroyed the life of the soil, causing widespread erosion and sterility. Food has become polluted with the byproducts of these applications, sacrificing quality to unhealthy growing and processing practices. There is a continual emphasis on killing–killing predators, insects, weeds, bacteria–anything and everything that is outside the mono-crop system. The whole food chain is thus polluted with poisons and killing agents, and the natural balance of species in the environment is completely disrupted.

Erosion of the Soil

The most basic threat to the health of our food and food production systems begins with the soil. The earth is continuously discarding its old worn-out skin and renewing its living sheath of soil from the rock beneath. Unless the equilibrium is disturbed, a mature soil preserves more or less a constant depth and character indefinitely.

Soil erosion disrupts this natural equilibrium. It is accelerated by human mismanagement through aggressive cultivation technologies, uncontrolled deforestation, or the destruction of natural vegetation by overgrazing. Erosion is the modern symptom of maladjustment between human society and its environment.

Conventional agriculture has resulted, almost invariably, in a catastrophic decrease in soil fertility. The illusion that fertility can always be restored by applying huge amounts of artificial fertilizers has been shattered by the recognition that fertility is not merely a matter of plant-food supply (for even exhausted soils usually contain ample reserves of plant food), but is also closely connected with soil stability. An exhausted soil is an unstable soil; Nature has no further use for it and removes it bodily.

Under normal conditions a fraction of an inch of soil may become exhausted and be removed in a century. Under human control the entire depth of soil may become exhausted and be eroded in just a few years. At present about 10 million hectares of the world's arable land (0.7 per cent) is lost every year through soil degradation. The world is now losing some 2 billion tons of topsoil per year, and productivity of about one-third of the world's arable land has been severely impaired due to accelerated erosion.

Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture Institute will educate farmers to improve soil conditions and reestablish the stability and nourishing life-force in the soil for balanced crops. This will establish a healthy world family, now, in this generation, and for all future generations to come

Modern agriculture builds soil.
where do you get this stuff from? I can't believe you have any experience of modern agriculture if you make statements like this...

Like there is one kind of modern agriculture.

When the oil runs out we will find out just what the millions of acres of commercial farmland are able to grow without those inputs.

Natural gas, mate. That's the one that produces fertiliser. Oil? Well, that's for tractors and stuff. But post an oil peak we're going to have lots of unemployed people, so labour for hoeing and harvesting will be the least of our worries. Fertiliser's the key one.

Well, that and fungi/herbi/pesticides. But without tractors and combine harvesters, thousand-acre monocultures just won't happen, the crops will be in smaller stands and more mixed, so there'll be less of a fungi/herbi/pest problem to deal with.

Thanks for fixing that, made it easier to follow. You are up late or early, one. I was talking to a couple from Western Australia in Denali last spring. Dry hardly describes the precip numbers they mentioned. Any break in that drought yet? Changing rainfall patterns coming at the same time as fossil fuel supply constriction will make things interesting to say the least. Western govs have plenty of tax/tax credit incentives to use if things get real tight, farm, police and military machinery will be kept fueled for as long as governments can maintain order.

Kiashu, natural gas produces nitrogen fertilizer. Oil runs the machines that mine the phosphate (which is peaking and harder to get, and harder to get always means takes more energy, that is until it runs out). Potash is also mined to get potassium. Of course none of this manufacturing of nitrogen and mining of phosphate and potassium takes place in the farmers fields thus the parts are transported to a place where energy is used to combine them and then more oil is used to transport them to the farmer's fields.

BTW not all fungi are bad, some are beneficial

Fungi are microscopic cells that usually grow as long threads or strands called hyphae, which push their way between soil particles, roots, and rocks. Hyphae are usually only several thousandths of an inch (a few micrometers) in diameter. A single hyphae can span in length from a few cells to many yards. A few fungi, such as yeast, are single cells. Hyphae sometimes group into masses called mycelium or thick, cord-like “rhizomorphs” that look like roots. Fungal fruiting structures (mushrooms) are made of hyphal strands, spores, and some special structures like gills on which spores form. (See figure) A single individual fungus can include many fruiting bodies scattered across an area as large as a baseball diamond. Fungi perform important services related to water dynamics, nutrient cycling, and disease suppression. Along with bacteria, fungi are important as decomposers in the soil food web. They convert hard-to-digest organic material into forms that other organisms can use. Fungal hyphae physically bind soil particles together, creating stable aggregates that help increase water infiltration and soil water holding capacity.


Of course our current pesticides and fungicides (oil based) often kill the good with the bad.

Fungi are also extremely important soil builders in the rain forest. They cheaply and quickly build huge structure in the canopy that takes up water very efficiently and constantly rains down huge amounts of the organic materials it generates. A young man from our neighborhood has been doing ground breaking research on this in Costa Rica, though I not sure if he has published yet.

I think that's nicely put.

It's important to understand that it's possible to farm in such a manner as to enrich the natural environment rather than to screw it up. Having adopted the forest gardening model myself it's very obvious to me personally that one can produce shocking quantities of foodstuffs without destroying an ecosystem--rather the health of the ecosystem would be vastly improved. It requires a change in mindset--for example, defining a "fisherman" not as one who catches fish but rather one who restores streams where fish can spawn--but it's a wholly do-able thing. Hardly theoretical, in the tropics a forest garden can reliably produce 5 tons an acre without fertilizer inputs. There's a lot of dawn to dusk labor in that, but there also is a lot of labor in losing systems where you ultimately end up with dead land.

I say 100% of Americans depend on the burning of fossil fuels for their food.

I would say 90+% of the worlds population depends on the burning of fossil fuels for their food.

Especially from the diesel machine

If we want to get off the fossil fuel tit , better look at history

Archeological evidence of corn's early presence in the western hemisphere was identified from corn pollen grain considered to be 80,000 years old obtained from drill cores 200 feet below Mexico City ......

Corn was the most important cultivated plant in ancient times in America. Early North American expeditions show that the corn‑growing area ex­tended from southern North Dakota and both sides of the lower St. Lawrence Valley southward to northern Argentina and Chile. It extended west­ward to the middle of Kansas and Nebraska, and an important lobe of the Mexican area extended northward to Arizona, New Mexico and southern Colorado. It was also an important crop in the high valleys of the Andes in South America."


Some facts.

Natural stands of American chestnuts formed a near mono-culture along the mountain ridges of the Eastern USA. Land with limited of no row crop potential.

Chestnuts are comparable to grains, such as wheat, in nutrition (very low oil % for a nut).

Nut yields from mature chestnut stands (giants 5 m in diameter) were comparable to the best wheat fields of 1910.

Papayas (I planted several a year ago, largest is now 2 m tall and flowering) bear 50 to 100 lb/year and can be planted close together. Bananas alos are heavy bearers, and more.

I can deduce that silvaculture (as opposed to agriculture) has the potential to be much more sustainable and support a much larger than simple hunter gatherer population.

The choices available due to human dispersion of food trees & vines is substantially more than 40,000 years ago.


"The Indians might have planted corn right here and had their corn and chestnuts,"

American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree
By Susan Freinkel


Don't forget kukui nuts, gotta have those.

Greer in his Long Descent talks about this kind of theory.

Neoprimitive theorists such as John Zerzan and Daniel Quinn, for example, replace Marxist economics with anthropology. For them, the hunter-gathere societies of the prehistoric past are Eden, the invention of agriculture is the original sin that led to the Fall ...

A look into pre european world in America ..... read "1491"

"Part Three: Landscape With Figures

" William Cronon explains that "people accustomed to keeping domesticated animals lacked the conceptual tools to recognize that the Indians were practicing a more distant kind of husbandry of their own." Indians simply domesticated animals and plant life differently than their European counterparts.

The single biggest missing link to the past was a lack of voices to the past. Europeans held biased and sometimes racist views of Indians, in addition to not speaking a common language. This fact led to people being misled with the result that they misunderstood Indians unjustly. In Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise, Betty J. Meggers suggests the "law of environmental limitation of culture," meaning they "reached their optimal level of environment." Whatever Indians did before slash and burn the logic goes, had to have worked thanks to the acres of healthy forest seen before Europeans arrived.

Mann concludes that Indians were a "keystone species," one that "affects the survival and abundance of many other species." By the time the Europeans arrived and settled in the Americas, the "boss" (Indians) had been almost completely eliminated. Disease ran rampant and killed off the Indians, disrupting their control of the environment. When Indians died, animal populations, such as that of the buffalo grew immensely. "Because they (Europeans) did not burn the land with the same skill and frequency as its previous occupants, the forests grew thicker." The world discovered by Christopher Columbus was to begin to change from that point on so Columbus "was also one of the last to see it in pure form."

Mann concludes with the idea that we must look to the past to right the future. "Native Americans ran the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its state in 1491, they will have to create the world’s largest gardens."