Thinking about Planning for the Future

It takes a long time to make big changes to society. I would argue that looking ahead 40 years, to 2050, is probably a wise thing to do for planning purposes.

The problem is that when we look ahead that far, there are so many conflicting ideas of what the future might look like, it is hard do know what to believe. I thought perhaps it might be helpful to put together some graphs of a range of fuel supply possibilities, in order to understand better what the challenges are. Depending on which scenario we believe, perhaps it will give us a better idea of where we should put our efforts.

In this post, I look at the following scenarios:

1. A Business as Usual (BAU) Scenario, as perceived by the press and EIA

2. A Scenario constrained by fossil fuel resource limits only, assuming that there are no issues with Liebig's Law of the Minimum, or reduced demand because of high prices, or international credit issues. It is assumed that wind, solar, and nuclear will continue to grow, at the rates assumed by EIA forecasts. I also show a related scenario with coal phase out.

3. A Crash Scenario, in which some combination of credit collapse, reduced demand because of high prices, and Liebig's Law of the Minimum (relating to oil) cause demand to collapse very quickly.

Obviously, all of these scenarios have wide ranges around them. Some people will believe one is most likely, others will believe another is most likely. But having some idea of what fuel supplies might be 40 years from now gives at least a little context for planning.

BAU Scenario as Perceived by the EIA and the Press

We know what this scenario is supposed to look like, because this is the scenario the US Energy Information Agency has been telling us about. It may not be exactly what climate change leaders are thinking about, but it is likely similar.

Figure 1. EIA estimates of future fuel supplies. Amounts through 2030 are based on EIA 2009 International Outlook. Annual increases between 2030 and 2050 assumed to be similar to those just before 2030. (Converted to Metric Tonnes of Oil Equivalent)

The EIA forecast is for continued growth in all fuels, but the rate of increase will gradually taper off. Because the growth rate is tapering off, there is a need for additional supply to allow economic growth to continue as in the past. Hence, the emphasis on new fuels from all possible sources, including biofuels, wind, and solar, to be able to continue to meet demand. There is also an interest in energy efficiency.

The EIA doesn't really give the economic growth rate to go with this scenario, but one would presume this would be close to 3% per year for the USA, based on past growth rates. To show how this economic growth would compound over time, I have shown a BAU growth rate, together with some other possible growth rates (for use in discussing other scenarios) in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Some theoretically possible economic growth scenarios.

A major reason for showing the BAU scenario is so that a person can see how it compares to the other scenarios.

Scenario Based on Fossil Fuel Decline

What is energy supply likely to look like, considering peak oil and limitations on the availability of natural gas and coal, if there are no economic interferences with supply/demand? I try to show this in Figure 3. There may be at least a small ramp up in coal and natural gas production to offset the oil shortfall, and nuclear and wind and solar might continue to be expanded. I have used the same scale on this graph as on Figure 1, so that a person can compare the two graphs.

Figure 3.

The coal forecast I used in this scenario is based on Energy Watch Group's 2007 analysis. The oil forecast is based on a combination of the forecast by Energy Watch Group, and Tony Eriksen's Oil Drum forecast. I have assumed world natural gas production will continue to grow until 2023, before tapering off. The hydro et al. estimates (that is, including wind, solar, geothermal, wood etc.) are based on EIA's estimate of expected growth until 2030. The growth rate in the 2029-2030 period is used to extend the forecast to 2050. Nuclear is also based on EIA's estimates used in Figure 1. These assume continued growth in the 1% to 2% a year range.

With this scenario, fuel supply from all sources in 2050 will be roughly 92% of the fuel supply in 2009. This is equivalent to a decline rate of 0.2% a year. One big issue is how many people this smaller energy supply needs to be shared by. According to the EIA, world population is expected to grow by 38% between 2009 and 2050. With this level of population growth, per capita availability of energy is expected to decline to 67% of its current level by 2050.

It is not clear how this level of fuel supply will work out. There is clearly a huge change in mix, with much less oil and relatively more electricity generated. There is a possibility that cities could continue pretty as much as today, and agriculture pretty much as today, if a way could be found to reserve the oil use primarily for food (or if quite a few of farm processes could be electrified). There would need to be fairly sharp changes in other uses of oil, with autos perhaps run by electricity, and other transportation perhaps by electric rail, in order for this scenario to "work".

I am not sure how this would translate to future GDP levels. It is possible that USA real GDP could continue to be flat, or increase a bit, perhaps to 1% a year, because of increases in efficiency, assuming that the oil supply is not significantly bid away by countries with higher population growth. The huge change from an oil to electric economy would be important in making this all work, though.

I have not explicitly included biofuels in this graph but there is enough error range, I don't think this is material. The inclusion of biofuels might make the result a little better--but probably not a whole lot better. It is difficult to see biofuels ramping up much, because of limitations on land availability and water, and difficulty to date in perfecting inexpensive cellulosic ethanol production.

Some would say the scenario shown in Figure 3 is optimistic, because it assumes continued expansion of coal. This scenario also does not address other limits we are reaching (like fresh water), or the likely unwind of debt that is likely to occur with the slowdown in growth. It also doesn't consider the huge cost (or perhaps impossibility) of transitioning away from oil in the transportation sector to other fuel sources--what could in effect be an application of Liebig's Law of the Minimum, because of declining oil supply. If we are missing a necessary element, oil, in some places in the economy, it may cripple that part of the economy, producing a greater decline than Figure 3 would indicate.

An alternate version of this, shown in Figure 4, assumes the same forecasts for all fuels except coal. Instead of following the Energy Watch Group forecast, coal is assumed to be phased out by 2020.

Figure 4.

In this scenario, instead of total world fuels in 2050 being 92% of those in 2009, they would be 64% of those in 2009. The average annual decline in fuel availability would be 1.1%, but this would be especially concentrated in the first few years. Taking into account the forecast growth in population, per-capita fuel availability would decline to 46% of today's level.

The impact would vary considerably by country. The decline would affect coal consuming countries very hard (China, USA, South Africa, for example), and many would likely see major cutbacks in electricity availability, unless alternate sources could be ramped up quickly. China would likely lose a considerable share of its manufacturing capability, and Australia would lose its very large coal export market, so would likely encounter financial difficulties.

In this scenario, it would be necessary to replace both the loss of oil and coal simultaneously, mostly with natural gas. It is hard to see how this could be done without natural gas supplies running low very quickly, perhaps not long after 2050, with different dates in different parts of the world.

It seems like from a planning point of view, in this scenario one would need to start the transition to living without fossil fuel fairly quickly. Cities would need to be reduced greatly in size, because there would be fewer jobs available in the city, and more manual labor would need for farming. People would need to be resettled on the land, and taught to farm. Plans would need to be made to make essential items, such as clothing, locally. The possible use of horses and other animals for transportation and farm labor would need to be considered.

Figure 5.

Figure 5 shows my estimate of what energy usage might look like in a crash scenario. In this scenario, the economy crashes, because of all of the interconnected problems--credit, oil shortages, and international trade problems. There may be other "limits to growth" type issues as well--inadequate fresh water and higher food prices because of food shortages. In this scenario, real GDP drops very quickly (Figure 2).

In this scenario, use of all fuels drops very quickly, (including oil, natural gas, and coal and nuclear) because credit is no longer available, people don't have jobs, and cannot afford the fuel. The anticipated ramp up in wind and solar doesn't really take place, and in fact, repair of transmission lines become more and more difficult, making long-distance transmission of electricity less certain.

While the proportion of coal use doesn't drop (and may even rise), the overall amount consumed drops greatly. In the scenario I show, total energy production drops to 13% of its 2009 level by 2050. One would expect that declines in population would occur as well, at least in some parts of the world.

The issue in the crash scenario is that people will need food and transportation, and their availability is likely to drop off quite quickly. Electrical supply disruptions may become common within only a few years. Local agriculture will be needed very quickly, as will non-fossil fuel transportation. Large cities will likely need to be reduced in size, because food and work for people will not be available.

Obviously, a crash scenario doesn't necessarily have to be as bad as this Figure 5 indicates, but it seems like there is at least some possibility of a scenario such as this, if credit and international trade become major issues, and it becomes difficult to get replacement parts for equipment, including fuel extraction equipment.

So, How Does One Plan?

That is the question for tonight. How does one plan, if there are multiple scenarios possible, some of which are more reasonable than others (and different people have different views regarding which ones are most likely)? Obviously, there are a range of scenarios possible between those shown as well.

Is it possible to do reasonable planning, other than by small groups of people who see the future one way or another, gearing off of their own views of the future?

Over the longer term, it appears that population growth will have far more impact on per capita fuel consumption than wind or solar--partly because wind and solar are so small that even with ramping up, they are likely not to be very large, and partly because in 40 years, there is a lot of room for population growth or contraction. How does one get the population issue addressed, when it is such an unpopular issue (and people are not likely to have very good pensions in the future, so will need children to support themselves)?

With the more adverse scenarios, we need local food production very soon. In other scenarios, local food production isn't an issue at all. If we plan for local food production, but don't need it, we don't lose very much. If we need local food production but don't plan for it, it seems like there is a fairly severe downside. How can we can greater attention be brought to this issue?

I have put together my interpretation of some of the issues of each of the scenarios, but others may have different views. What do you see as the big issues that need to be addressed, that are not being addressed?

One cannot plan against this sort of range of possible outcomes:

BAU: Unlikely but needs no plan just carry one as before.

SLOW DECLINE: Only requirement is to ensure you have a skill that is non-discretionary and thus remain employable.

FAST DECLINE: Much the same as slow but the range of useful skills is different

CRASH: Not worth planing for - luck will be far more important than any thing else

Personally I'm just glad I have no children.

Activities at the moment assume a slowish decline - pay off the mortgage by selling shares, brush up the mechanic skills as engineers who can both design and make are not common.

I would suggest that the most important factor is that this train wreck we are experiencing, slow or fast as it might become, is not happening by chance but by design. It order to mitigate this we must come to understand the design factors, human mindset issues, that are facilitating this outcome. Failure to do this will insure the train wreck will continue until we are all road kill. Therefore trying to save oneself from the coming four horsemen is a fools game. To save oneself we must save all.

Hear Hear, good words, that you speak.

See my post down thread.

Saving all is the answer.

Getting there in the problem.

I just read two articles listed in yahoo news.

The first one is talking about lawns might not be "Green" and good for us all like we thought,,,, Who amoung us have thought that? I sponser Edible Landscaping, not turf grass cut at 3 inches and all solid green. I want to never have to use a Lawn mower for that use ( it comes in handy as a slicer dicer for other things though).

The second talks about the people who ask for the BEST of Their desires while staying at hotels away from home. Kings in another era, asking the serfs to bend knee.

If we are the problem, we all have to be equally the solution. All men are created equal is true. You are born out of a womb, naked, and in need of care. Left on your own, in the grass, you will die.

Everything else is the trappings of life.


There is a lot to what you said, Bingley. Of course, the first and last scenarios do not need planning. About the others, and especially as to the employability plans, I would say this.

First of all, oil geologists and engineers will be in demand throughout, as Leanan's charts show. The oil will be more difficult to locate and to exract, and it will become more valuable and important over time. If you want a career with a future, that is one. Also, other energy fields, since we will want to keep the heat and lights on.

Serious agronomy, probably chemistry, and certainly medical people. Not just MD's, but RNs, pharmacists and med techs, as well as paramedical trained individuals. It seems to me that education will also be a continuing field, at least through high school, and probably certain technical fields in colleges. How about chemical engineers? Those are the people who enlarge our knowledge of biologics, and pharmaceuticals. While they will be in low powered labs, their work will still be important to combat disease as new vectors appear and diseases change and adapt.

I have children, and grandchildren. I am trying to steer their education into worthwhile fields. I wish them luck. I won't be here for the far ends of Leanan's charts... unless as the world's oldest person, which is a bit of a stretch.

Sounds like you have the skills needed to survive. Good to see you here at TOD.

"Of course, the first and last scenarios do not need planning."

I think that is a very grave error. There is no scenario that will not require planning. This has been the mistake of the boomers for the last 30 years, in assuming the "Morning in America" would go on unchallenged just as it had in the roaring 1980's and '90's, more is better, "greed is good", "the road goes on forever and the party never ends" and we will always be young...

Oops. I will make very few predictions, I hate assured scenarios of the future, but I will bet every dollar I can lay my hands on that BAU will NOT happen. It never has, NEVER. Planning and hedging will be extremely important tools no matter what. Warren Buffet swears that America will be richer in the next century than the last and that our children will live better than we do, but even as an old man he never stops planning.


The most important and unpredictable factor has not been mentioned... war. And a close second would be political turmoil or revolution.

Currently the US, the richest and most powerful nation on the planet, is spending an incredibly high percentage of total receipts on its military. And is spiraling deeper and deeper in debt. Even though the illegal invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have been going on for a very long time and are becoming increasingly unpopular there is little response by government to the will of the people. The government is still spoiling for more war, expanding militarism into Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, Honduras, Haiti, etc.

This creates a very unstable situation. How long will the other major powers, Russia, China, Europe, India, Brazil, etc. support/tolerate US militarism? How long can the US finance expanding militarism without economic growth? Will the US cut back military spending and cast off the trappings of empire peacefully? Will it invest the "peace dividend" in sustainable development and ecological repair?

Or will the US try to maintain its priority access, control and consumption of global resources through militarism? If so, will it succeed or will it provoke a backlash? Will a backlash escalate to world war? Limited nuclear war? All out nuclear war?

Not only are those possibilities difficult to predict, but their results are hard to evaluate too. For example, all out nuclear war seems the most horrendous possibility but one can imagine scenarios where it results in the best possible outcome for humanity. If for example we are nearing a threshhold of climate tipping points and accelerating feedbacks, successfully getting back on a BAU growth track might lead to a terrible wave of extinctions, perhaps even our own. All out nuclear war might be more benign.

Planning will be very hard. Damn hard to even know what to wish for.

What I wish for is that governments world wide (and especially in powerful nations like the US) become more democratic, more responsive to the will of the people, and more strongly guided by scientists, engineers and those who make understanding and dealing with reality their business. I hope rationalism eclipses imperialism, religious extremism, unfettered corporatism/capitalism, etc. But it seems we are headed in the opposite direction.

And while we sit around gabbing, planning and trying to understand the possibilities everything is developing at a quickening pace. Will we choose our destiny or will we be spectators?

What I wish for is that governments world wide (and especially in powerful nations like the US) become more democratic, more responsive to the will of the people, and more strongly guided by scientists, engineers and those who make understanding and dealing with reality their business. I hope rationalism eclipses imperialism, religious extremism, unfettered corporatism/capitalism, etc. But it seems we are headed in the opposite direction.

I would wish for the same. However the question I have is what to do about the will of the people that conflicts with a fair and equitable use of the commons.

It seems to me that the vast majority of the people that I run across have both the intellectual and emotional maturity of your average two year old. Submitting to their will, is not in my opinion, a reasonable path forward. If it were up to me I'd take away their toys, send them up to their room for a time out and then send them to bed with no supper.

Nicely put. It strikes me more and more that almost all of us are essentially spoiled little children.

I have seen students and others hear about PO and CC and they seem convinced that these are real and serious threats that must be addressed. But when the topic turns to making changes in their own life, like reducing or eliminating air travel, they suddenly find the whole thing unreasonable.

Someone does indeed need to take away the toys, but who will do it? Who will even loudly suggests to us spoiled brats that adjustments must be made?

On the one hand, recession is doing a good bit of this taking away. It strikes me that people (kind of) accept this because recession does not have a face. If resource reduction was done more consciously and equitably, people would be screaming from the rooftops--it would make the Tea Party look like, well, a tea party.

It strikes me more and more that almost all of us are essentially spoiled little children

That's one thing that I've been trying to figure out myself...I talk to people daily in the course of business, and sometimes try to steer conversation to problems and policies and such. Generally, almost always, what I find in place of concern, interest or ideas is joking and scorn, such as you get on US talk radio. Perhaps there is awareness, but nothing more than an excuse for slinging insults and derision at those involved.

This from people of all ages, and echoed everywhere in the news and media. I wonder if the ease of living in a resource-rich age has led to a culture of mental infants.

The joking is masking unease/nervousness.

There is something to be said for many of us being spoiled, but the attitudes of the people you talk to are not altogether wrong. Responding to the threat of reduced resources must be done in union. This has been discussed at length here before. This is the tragedy of the commons. Even if many people decide to cut back the remainder may simply see this as an opportunity to expand resulting in no net change. See also Jevon's Paradox. We need a government mandated approach that involves everyone, government being you and me acting through our elected officials.

We need a government mandated approach that involves everyone

Yes. Now how do we get this to happen?

I propose that we can't get this to happen, because most people don't want to be involved.

710, I second that proposal.

And this is exactly the catch 22--if most people don't want to personally alter their life styles, there will never be a large enough mass of people to insist that policies be put in place that enforce these lifestyle changes.

The answer to Jeavons paradox is not to give up on personal conservation and efficiency, but to convince so many people to conserve that they become a large, politically powerful element in society that through shame and policy punish "freeloaders" who continue to live in a profligate manner to the detriment of everyone else.

710, "don't want" or have been programmed from early childhood to "believe" that some mythical god would never let this type of really bad stuff happen to his chosen people? I.E. no critical thinking skills because these skills are dangerous to the established order of things.

Xianity attempted to program me, over and over and over and over, yet I eventually deleted the program and wrote my own. And because of whatever reason, I was never taught critical thinking skills, I also developed those on my own. My only guess is most people don't have the capacity to do this.

This is all in addition to the general lack of emotional desire for involvement. There may be a few people who want to be involved, but don't know how.

I resemble your remarks.

I just don't see the US military and the interventionism it is used for being sustainable at current levels much past the end of this decade, if even that long. We can't afford a military establishment this large now, and that is with the US still able to borrow money to support its deficit spending habit. That isn't going to continue for very much longer. One way or another, the US is going to have to cut back and pull back.

I don't put much stock in the talk about the US using its military to secure foreign oil supplies anyway. That hasn't really worked out all that well, after all. Whenever we've inserted our military forces, that has inevitably resulted in massive distruction to the oil infrastructure. Then, when we finally have to withdraw to move on to the next crisis spot, we have left behind people so angry at us that they make sure that their oil goes do anyone except us. About the only thing the US military is really good for is to assure that oil supplies are denied to other countries, if that is something we really want to do. We can play that game for a while, I suppose, but I don't see it being a winning formula for national prosperity.


And while we sit around gabbing, planning and trying to understand the possibilities everything is developing at a quickening pace. Will we choose our destiny or will we be spectators?


The pace only seems faster because we see more of the action, it is the same slow second by second tick of time, that has been going on for ages. We have to slow our thinking down, so we are not so overwhelmed by the information overload.

We can Wish for the best possible outcome. Everyone dies in their sleep, no one suffers and everyone is fed and everyone has shelter and is warm. That is what we should wish for.

We also need to help others along in that goal, even if we don't see any changes in the grand scheme of things.

We have to choose, and not sit back and watch. I can sit back and watch my garden grow, but doing that won't get me fed, I have to get up and pick something and eat it.

Grow a garden, then help your nieghbors grow a garden by giving them food from yours as presents, and in the course of talking to them, hinting that they can have fresh stuff too. Then helping them grow one too.

Live in a better sustainable house, by changing the one you have as best as you can, also helping your neigbors change theirs. Get involved with people building new homes like the EarthShip people, who would love to build one in your area, and show you and others how to build more.

They aren't the only ones doing it. Even helping Habitat for Humanity is helping shelter others, Maybe over time Habitat could be changed from the inside by those in the know and be more like an EarthShip building project, sustainable houses for all.

Voice your opinion in your local Gov't the street by street, block by block Gov't areas, get involved in changing their minds toward a better village for all of you.

Things like this, take time and energy. Or you could just set back and watch the bombs going off on CNN and get popcorn.


Charles, time ticks by at the same pace but change wrought by humanity is happening at an ever accelerating pace. We are a growing population wielding increasingly powerful technology. We are creating, consuming and destroying things faster than ever.

I've been doing most of the things you suggest. I retired young to pursue living more sustainably. I do lots of volunteer work and I'm politically active. But every major cause I've embraced is steadily becoming more serious.

I still hope for the best, but am increasingly expecting the worst.


Curious re why your crash scenario is so gradual and takes so long to play out to the lowest levels -- 40 years.

Alternatively, a real crash scenario would happen rapidly. A self-reinforcing negative feedback loop that would reach bottom very rapidly -- perhaps several years.

Afterward, the possibility of a very slow and gradual upward trend.

It is hard to say what the shape of the crash scenario would actually be. I expect there might be a stair step shape to it.

To some extent, there may be pieces of the economy that stay together, as long as equipment is in place, and continues to function. It could be that as equipment wears out and cannot be replaced, that there will more and more of a downward trend.

I think some of the major pieces of our current system are

1. Internatonal trade
2. The credit system/financial system
3. The electrical system
4. The industrial farm system

Once any of these start to go, it will trigger other problems.

Yeah, your point on #3 is interesting. In the past you've posted stuff on electrical grids, how they're setup and maintained and so on-- thanks!

I live in the NPCC (Ontario) but close to Quebec; the maps I see online often have Quebec as part of the NPCC but I always thought Quebec had its own separate grid. Am I mistaken?

One point I rarely see discussed is how the West might deal with a punctuated series of declines which are geographically very uneven. The point I'd like to make is that a more rapid decline/failure of one grid compared to the others could result in large population migrations as people go to live with friends and relatives to escape poverty, or just flee various catastrophes: Hurricane Katrina writ large. I'd like to suggest that those people left over and prepared to live in areas which collapse first will necessarily live in depopulated zones. I'd also like to suggest that living in a depopulated zone would increase one's chance of survival over the longer term, other things being equal.

They're not nice thoughts: I hate to think of what kind of catastrophe might cause all my suburban neighbours to flee or die. One metric for making one's own preparations is therefore to set oneself up to be able to stay at one's home indefinitely in the event of a grid failure.

People often talk about the "failure of the electrical system" as if it's a single event with a calendar date; any thoughts on how it might occur piecemeal by geography, and how that could help those willing to prepare?

Hi minisyntax,

It's impolite to point fingers, but NB Power is edging ever closer to financial collapse. The utility is saddled with an enormous debt load and the Province of New Brunswick, for political reasons, has kept power rates artificially low. The utility generates a large percentage of its electricity through imported oil, the refurbishment of its NGS is behind schedule and way over budget and, from what I read, there are costly maintenance issues with one of its major hydro-electric installations. NB Power is a ticking time bomb and time is fast running out.


I think bankruptcy is high on the list of likely causes of grid failure--and Paul in Halifax just gave an example of this possibility. With all of the renewable electricity mandates, reduced electricity sales because of recession, hard pressed consumers, and elected officials wanting to keep rates down, I think bankruptcies are likely, and governments are increasingly in financial difficulty to bail companies out.

Another issue is reduced maintenance staff and reduced maintenance in general, because of all of the foregoing problems. If a company can't get a rate increase, it will cut corners any way it can. This is likely to lead to more parts going bad, and not being replaced. It is also likely to lead to slow response to storm damage. If a storm is truly major (Katrina again, say, it may never get repaired.

Another issue I worry about is international trade. if the amount of international trade takes a dive, because of, for example, lack of creditworthiness of many governments, the availability of spare parts for transmission systems go down drastically.

Another issue might be lack of credit availability for some part of the grid. I am not all that familiar with the current financial arrangements of companies involved in grid ownership and electricity buying and selling, so I am going out on a limb here. But many kinds of companies have debt they have to "roll over" from time to time. If credit is not available when rollover time comes, some of these companies could find themselves in difficulty.

So how the failure would happen piecemeal by geography would not be easy to determine, except by knowing where the weak links are. I always think of California as vulnerable, because they were hit before, and seem to have barely enough. The environmentalist have been active there as well, limiting options.

The Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington) is another stressed area, at least in terms of transmission lines. The Gulf Coast is most subject to hurricane damage.

One major problem is the targetting of utilities by private equity funds. There is a classic model; perform a heavily leveraged buyout, load the costs onto the company, extract as much cash as possible by slashing costs, finally sell on or let it go bust and walk away. Works very well for utilities because they have a reliable cashflow; generates great profits for everyone apart from those who are holding the debt when it all collapses.

Also generates negative real-world value.


I like the flavour of your mind.

I think the biggest effect all except the BAU scenario (which I agree is unrealistic) will have is the dissolution of large political entities. I think the 21st century will see the balkanization of North America, which has up until now been only in a growth mode.

One way of thinking about this process is to see it as a combination of decaying "empires" and the growth of regional authority. Trade ports will continue to be critical centers, as they have been for time immemorial, even if the ships trading are modified wooden three masters rather than oil tankers. Thus, New York, Galveston, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Seattle/Vancouver areas will likely become the most vibrant, dynamic places, while much of the Midwest, the South, the Plains and the Mountain States will decline. Denver exists as a railway and air hub, but will fade in importance as these cities become effectively de facto countries in their own right. Places like Las Vegas will disappear back into the desert as the cost involved in reaching it becomes prohibitive. Other cities will devolve (the devolution of Detroit back into wilderness is a good case in point).

I think we're in a race for time on the information grid, which currently underlies #1 and #2. The wires exist, and in many cases those wires are going to be around for a long time (at least until tectonic activity begins to snap enough of them to isolate networks). The key is essentially maintaining the routers. My gut feel is that even with economic breakdown, people are going to be loathe to disrupt the Internet, though access to it may become dearer and dearer over time. The question is the degree to which knowledge about maintaining that particular system stays around. Thus, in your list, I'd add #2.5. The information grid.

The industrial farm system will go pretty quickly, and may actually precede the electrical grid. Too much of the IFS is built around petroleum intensive operations, and as those become less and less feasible, the companies that maintain the IFS will fail, and the land will go back into receivership or even revert to wilderness. Sharecropping and squatting will become more commonplace, and its also likely that in a land with a surfeit of office parks, MacMansions and megamalls, going increasingly empty, people will resort to demolition to try to recover this land. Of course, you still need to have the seeds and the farm equipment, and most of this is designed for heavy petroleum-powered usage. I can see a time in the not too distant future when you have tractors sitting idle while you have a team of draft-horses or jennies pulling a seeder or reaper. Biggest problem here is that most farmland is far enough away from major ports the the cost of gasoline distribution makes farming uneconomical except for localized food supplies, which means that MidWest in particular may run into real problems.

A second problem comes from the lack of topsoil. The Midwest faces a real threat from desertification, especially if global warming adds its own complexities to the equation. This unfortunately means that some of the formerly most productive land in the country would become unfarmable.

Offsetting this may be indoor grow-ops. These tend to be power intensive, obviously, but they may provide a means by which larger cities could ameliorate some of the loss from agriculture. Still, food supplies would diminish dramatically, even in a modest decline, and in a severe decline food supplies could disappear altogether, causing massive starvation. Per capita energy availability would rise as a consequence, of course, but distributing it becomes the issue.

The more the local regions end up becoming the primary de facto governments, the more likely they will become de jure governments as well. Much of California could end up being self-sustaining, of course, as could the Pacific Northwest. Given that, how long would it take before allegiance goes to the Republic of Cascadia rather than the United States of America. If, as is assumed here, that military reach continues to decline over the next couple of decades, I see this as being an increasingly likely reality.

You make many good points. I don't know if you remember the post I wrote a couple of years ago called Economic Impact of Peak OIl - What's Ahead? I talked about the possibility of the 50 state governments, each acting independently, among other things.

Particularly after reading Ostrom's work on the economics of local resource control, I think that's a good possibility and something to work towards (local control of local resources, that is).

I don't think 50 state governments would last long, though, as the borders are largely arbitrary. Regions with common interests and resources tend to join forces, and I think you can pick out 6 or 8 good potentially self-sufficient and characteristic regions in the US.

I'd agree. The state model was an offshoot of the original colonization model, with each original colony being the largest area that could be adequately policed by a British governor. Not surprisingly, each of them was about the size of England in size, if not population.

The information and energy distribution system, even post-Peak Oil, favors between 8 and fourteen larger regions, most of which are implicitly assumed even in regional sales models: Northern and Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, the mountain state, the plain states, the Western Gulf Region, the South, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic region up to Boston, New England, and sometimes Florida as a separate region. Some cities, like San Franciso, straddle two areas, and could just as readily be a part of Cascadia as SoCal (I see SoCal as being a primarily Spanish speaking region, and SF is just on the very edge of this as well).

Discussions about beliefs are a little strange for this site. Here is a course i highly recommend to my fellow oil drum participants, cause this is something we need to get comfortable with. Very relevant to each of our futures. especially lecture 22.

Now back to Prairie Home Companion.

Fundamental to peak oil, climate change, collapse. Excellent recommendation.

Would you believe you are the first person in over three years who i exposed to this very fundamental issue and message who has responded in any fashion. Folks just don't want to face it. Yet when you read the comments on this site the existential angst is both clear and obvious. Knowing what most here know and realizing its ramifications causes rumination about some fundamental issues. Whether one chooses to react based on emotions or rationally is going to be critical. Might just as well address the most important issues in a structured rational way and get it over. Many philosophers and writers have addressed it in very effective ways, but this series dissects it in a rational manner. Hell, if most would just watch the last 10 minutes of lecture 22 i am convinced they would feel better about things. Watching the whole series will literally change your life. Most of the students in this lecture are freshman, fresh out of high school. So clearly it won't hurt. The class, i mean. Here is the site again.

Hey Rube, have a little patience! It looks like a great lecture series and I've spent 30-40 minutes on it so far - but, most of us do have a few other time commitments :-) I do intend to listen to quite a bit more - so far I really like his presentation style.

I listened to all of lecture 22 - very interesting. I kept thinking that this is how religious preachers should be speaking to their flock - far more useful than contemplating the fires of hell.

Thanks for the link.

Hi, Rube. I took at brief look at it, too.

I have to admit that I wasn't very inspired to watch all the material on the topic of "the soul" — a very woo-woo concept, in my view. Many words have been written about something that is about as real as pink unicorns are (in my view).

I grew up in the Roman Catholic faith where I was taught to believe in "the father, son and holy ghost." Needless to say, I no longer believe in ghosts.

But I realize that many people believe in "souls" and the afterlife, so I suppose they must be addressed.

Sorry you only took a 'brief look." As the author of The Guide to Post Peak Living and an expert on peak oil preparation, who has a very honest video on our energy situation displayed on the internet I would have thought you might be interested in something that might cause some angst among your audience. I can tell you as a former faithful southern baptist you should have watched further. Kagan make a very rational case for there not being a "woo-woo and for our being better off without one. Please forgive my introducing this material. It's just that i learned of peak oil in the early 1970's and the angst it caused was one of my first major hurdles. Some very thoughtful authors have suggested that one cannot really live until they fully address this subject. I agree. Beautiful place you live in. Visited a couple of times, even got a friend there. You are a fortunate man.

Hi, Rube. I do like to talk straight to people — I relate to people like they are emotionally mature, powerful adults who are just as capable of facing the future as anyone on The Oil Drum. That may not in fact be the case for everyone but I can't really help that. My audience is the first group of people; the others weed themselves out when they look at the video and say to themselves, "This guy is a nutter" and happily go back to their life.

I don't doubt that there is lots of good material in the lecture series. It's just that 26 sessions of what appeared to be 45 minutes per session is a lot of time to carve out right now. Plus, without some further guidance (such as what you're now giving) I wasn't prepared to invest time only to find out that, well, it wasn't worth the time.

Can the lectures be taken in pill form? ;-)

No, unfortunately you can't get the information in pill form. But you can get the antidote in pill form. It is called "soma". If your druggist is not familiar refer him/her to Huxley's "Brave New World." I think it's generic now, especially to "emotionally mature powerful adults.", who don't have time to ruminate about the basic and fundamental issues before us. Suggest you and they only watch the last three lectures in the series;-)
Just kidding. It's the elixir and this damn ball game I am trying to watch.

"There's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is."
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 17

Dang, why didn't I think of starting a company that made that?!?


why? Because you spent your sunday afternoons jousting with a Cretin. Damn, i wish I was in New Orleans tonight. Would not need any soma. Be safe!

Last night was special :-)

Geaux Saints !


I too bookmarked it and will return as time permits

Likewise it is in my bookmarks too.For a faster and more to the point treatment if the subject of death, I strongly reccomend the work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross.Those of us who must prepare for the death of a loved one will find her work to be of truly great value.

Thanks for that EKRoss reference. gonna google it now. Any specific book you recommend? Got health issues myself and a 90 year old mother. Because we are in such overshoot I got a feeling this is a issue many of us need to get real familiar with. Joseph Campbell has been a great source of info for me. Lost my Dad in "84 and miss him everyday. Napoleon is credited with "immorality is in the mind of men." Seems about right to me. but, I am always open to better info.

How long have you thought of yourself living? 100 years, 1,000 years, 1,000,000 years, 1,000,000,000,000 years?

When you start talking forever, most people can't think about last week very clearly, let alone forever.

When you hear mentioned by Christians of going to Heaven and living forever with God, you can't conceive of the notion of forever doing What?

Even Christians can't think about it to much, our minds can't not cope with the scales of these numbers.

You have only a limited amount of mental space to store the world you have lived, into. What if you could instantly tell someone word for word of anything that has ever happened to you, by just accessing the time stamp, or the feeling stamp, or the taste stamp. The marker in the file structure that leads you to the data you seek, can be anything amoung 100's of sensations.

Forever is a long time, and It makes most people's toes curl when you even mention living forever, or dying and then your soul going somewhere to live forever.

Dying is simple. You go from here and now to somewhere else, that you might have an idea about, but really do not know what is on the other side of death.

Even being a Christian I can not fathom what it will be like once I die. I don't much worry about it. I Have been a walking dead man before.

Once in 2005 I should have been dead due to the amount of blood clots in various parts of my body, Arms, Legs, Lungs. If I had been told beforehand what I would later found out afterwards, I would have died of shock.

The doctors still can not explain why I was not dead. Was it a miracle, was it me being able to roll double sixes everytime for 600 rolls in a row.

I used to play the game Risk, the war game with armies and dice. Once I rolled the defenders dice. double six, double six, 5 and 6, double 6, double 6. What are the odds of that? maybe a lot less than a good example of the games of chance.

But having gone through dying once, as far as I am concerned, I was a dead man walking. Fearing death and the grave is pointless.


Hi Charles,

I grew up in a fundamendalist household in a fundamentalist family in a fundamntalist society-Primitive Southern Baptists in my case.

I remain a "born again" Christian PHILOSOPHICALLY although I am a Darwinist thru and thru intellectually since I first began to learn some science at a young age.

You can imagine the social mine fields I find myself in.

Now as what MY family members expect to do forever in Heaven:

They expect to lead a tribal existence doing what they have done here on earth , and they cannot imagine getting tired or bored with playing with little kids, socializing with thier nieghbors, fishing in a picturesque little lake, gardening,visiting some more-they are planning on walking ten miles or so for a visit, no wings needed, since they will be physically tough again,enjoying the walk,and the pleasant feeling of exhaustion that comes from exercise.In short, everything will be just like it is here when everything is running perfectly in thier day to day life except they will no longer have to do any work they don't enjoy, such as operating a machine in a factory.They will work -and some of it will be hard work too- because they enjoy working.

They see themselves as not trapped but encompassed forever in a sort of supremely satisfying "rinse and repeat loop" and having no idea that anything else could even exist, or wanting anything else to exist.

I envy them in this respect.But I do notice that nobody is in a hurry to get there.Maybe if the plan included a harem ala our Middle Eastern cousins the young men might be more interested in an early departure.;)


I have no problem reconciling Darwin with faith. I see it as Providential that the world came into being in such a way as to have a dynamic geology and climate. Were it not for that, we would not have land above sea level, nor water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, etc. cycles, and thus no life would be possible. I also see it as Providential that life exists in such a manner so that species have genetic variability and respond to selective pressures. Were this not so, life could not continue on a dynamic planet very long, and agriculture would have been impossible. Gen 1 is necessarilly something written after-the-fact, a thematic summary of natural history in seven acts, written with a great deal of artistic liberty, so I see no need at all to map the Bible to the chronology laid out by science.

As to expectations and imaginations as to what the afterlife will be like, I assume that these all get it wrong. It must be beyond our imagining. People don't understand that human language is rooted in our earthly experience; when prophets are given visions of heavenly things, human language fails them. They try to put it into words the best they can, and as good as anyone can, but it is a very great mistake to try and take those passages in the Bible very literally. The truth is, the actual reality is undescribable - the words simply don't exist. Best not to imagine anything at all, just have faith it is for the best.

They expect to lead a tribal existence doing what they have done here on earth

And these people can vote.

Yes, they can and do vote-but I can't say that I can discern any pattern in thier voting that depends on or is tied to thier religion-if the democrats would quit trying to collect our guns and actually practice a little more of what they preach in terms of being the common man's party,they would be getting a bigger vote around here than the republicans.As it is ,when we talk politics, religion seldom plays much part-it's all taxes ,taxes, taxes, except for the days the talk turns to how hard up we are and how the gubbermint oughta pay more bills for us.

Republicans are winning among family and community by about 10 points, 55 to 45 percent.Take out the guns and the handouts, which we can't get because we have lived very frugally but own our houses and farms, and the split would favor the democrats imo.

You simply cannot believe how bad it pisses a hillbilly off who has worked two jobs for forty years in order to own ten acres and a shack see people get thier doctor bills written off while living in subsidized apartments, eating with food stamps, and driving a better vehicle than he owns.

As a matter of fact , it is VERY common to hear such a person say that if they had it all to do over again, they wouldn't even try to get ahead-this usually after having been bankrupted by a hospital billwhile knowing somebody else who got the same treatment on the public dime.

Now I am not saying these people understand all this stuff-but this IS the way they see it.

When people ask what heaven is like, I say, I have never been there, but It will warp your mind and you can't imagine it.

Jesus says that there will be no marriage, or given in marriage in heaven. We will have a Full Relationship with God, which we only have a limited relationship with here on earth while we are alive.

We can be happy and at peace with that relationship here on earth, while we are alive, but it is still only a limited relationship.

Getting back what we lost in the first place will literally blow our minds away( if we were to see what it would be like in Heaven).

Until then we are to be as Christ like when we deal with others as we can.

Anyone wanting to further our discussions can mail me.


"When people ask what heaven is like, I say, I have never been there, but It will warp your mind and you can't imagine it."
Posted by CEOJr1963

There is a computer game just out that purports to show what Heaven is like.

Antoinetta III


Most people don't understand that time is a created dimension that came into being with space, mater and energy at the big bang. The only type of divine being or "heaven" that makes any sense at all, if one wishes to entertain such a notion, must exist outside of our time-space continuum. That means that God, and whatever beings exist with God - angels, and human souls - must exist outside of our time. "Eternity" is not an infinity of time, but an absence of time.

This is why the scriptures have God's name for himself as "I AM" - perpetual present tense. God (if one presumes that God exists) might have some sort of time, but it is not our time, and may not even be linear - we just don't know.

IMHO, the only God even worth considering for belief must be a being so utterly different from us and strange as to be unimaginable. Too many people try to project themselves on to their imagination of God, they end up making God into their own image. Such a God can only be a figment of their imagination. Any real God must be beyond our imagining.

Hardly anyone understands this, especially preachers and biblical commentators and other seminary-educated types. None of them knows anything at all about Einstein, of course.

God can only be a figment of their imagination


You just discribed a Lutheran truism. We can't fathom God. We should not put our mental picture of God as something that we know (Don't put God in a box).

God is outside the Universe, The Universe is inside God.

We can Talk more about it via e.mail

Oldfarmermac, mail me.


When you hear mentioned by Christians of going to Heaven and living forever with God, you can't conceive of the notion of forever doing What?

You could end up seated in Yaywehs Angelic Choir, singing his praises.
I don't know about anyone else, but I get irrirated if I have to listen to the same song regularly. Imagine having to sing it for the Rest. Of. Time. At least the classical Demons are up-front about what's going to happen to you.

Hi rube, It's been a while but "On Death and Dying" is the place to start.This book is assigned extra reading in many nursing schools.

You will find it to be a real treasure.

Any library should have a copy .


Would you believe that I've had that same experience regarding other central issues to collapse, including pain and death? When these issues come up, no-one wants to address them, out of inappropriate fear. I mentioned this the other day and, like you, got no responses.

It's not like if it weren't for peak oil, climate change, overpopulation, etc., that the billions of people on the planet would have been immortal. All the people alive today were going to die eventually anyway, regardless of collapse. It's uncomfortable to hear it this way, again out of fear, but the fear may be appropriate now, given that because of collapse there isn't enough of the living experience to satisfy those who want more.

I'd add one other situation in which fear is appropriate (watch lecture 22), when the fear is based on a lack of understanding or misconception that is taken as being accurate or true. Many people, having never investigated, thought about, or paid attention to death, have a lot of misunderstandings about it, and may have appropriate fear based on those dubious conceptions. And the fear may even be "rational" to them, in that they accept as being "true" some grossly flawed assumptions about the end of animate existence.

"Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?" -- Epicurus (341-270 BCE)

Is there a solution to the problem of death? It's an easy one: live life to the fullest.

The hardest problem now is: how do we do that in the times we have available? (Hint: Epicurus had insight about this as well. Pretty good for a someone who lived millennia before modern science.)

Five years ago, I was all het up about "preps" and warning people about the coming fossil fuel crunch.

Now I realize--I have no idea how things are going to pan out; therefore, I cannot possibly prepare.

For example: There's a belief system quite rampant among the peak oil crowd that one needs to grow one's own food (which I happen to have been doing for the last twenty years, because I like to do it, not because I think a famine is coming).

But who's to say if/when fuels go into decline recreational gasoline won't simply be requisitioned for use in the industrial agricultural sector? When you think of the importance of food, if fuels were to become scarce and/or expensive, it actually seems more likely that the existing agricultural infrastructure will be supported. Who says "local food" WILL become more essential? That's an assumption. Maybe local foods will become more difficult because high-yield industrial agriculture will be given first dibs on the gas.

I still grow my own food. But simply for enjoyment.

I don't worry about peak oil anymore.

There's some historical precedent. During WWII gas rationing, farmers received 'extra' rations for their tractors.



Bingo. This is why it's so insanely difficult to make projections about entire economies during times of highly disruptive change, like PO and GW. Simple linear extrapolations of our behavior or prices or whatever are virtually guaranteed to be wrong. (And no, I'm NOT saying the original article or anyone's comments made that kind of simplistic assessment.)

"There's some historical precedent. During WWII gas rationing, farmers received 'extra' rations for their tractors."

This is where it is very important to at least be prepared with basic facts, and it is surprising how many relatively educated people are not. They are not stupid per se, this is simply not their area of study.

For example, when you hear people talk about "gas" going to agricultural equipment, it is important to know that almsot ZERO gasoline is used in agriculture (unlike the WWII period when many gasoline tractors, trucks and combines still operated), but that the driving fuel fo agricultural equipment is now Diesel fuel. It has been said that "America plays on gasoline but it runs on Diesel." This will be only more true in upcoming years, but with one major caveat: Natural gas and recaptured methane will very possibly play a far greater role in agricultural production than now. Guesses on the future of natural gas supply are now all over the place, and the volume of methane that can be captured from agricultural byproduct is huge. What effect will that have? Could we see a peak in Diesel fuel demand in upcoming years as natural gas and methane begin to push crude oil out of agriculture and transport (as natural gas has already done in electric power production?)

Likewise when people say crude oil is used to produce fertilizer, which is simply not correct...this is a confusion of the terms crude oil and "petroleum", which includes natural gas.

The transition to natural gas and recaptured methane could drive agricultural and rail transit relatively easy IF (a big if) we are efficient in how we use it otherwise (i.e., reduced waste in electric consumption and home heating), and reduced waste in highway transit of crude oil would leave more than enough for agriculture and needed food transport.

Most of these are logistical discussions, but that does not reduce the import of getting them correct...people have been allowed to starve to death due to logistical mistakes, and as my friends at TOD often remind me, just because something can be done does not mean it will be. And therein lies the hard part about predicting: So much of it is trying to guess which way human whim will go, almost impossible.


Given my tendency to nitpick as well I should be careful in saying this.
The distinction between gas and diesel may not be important. What would have happened if diesel never existed but gas did? Then all the ag equipment would have run on gasoline. What would have happened if gasoline had never existed but diesel did? Then we would have all been driving around in diesel automobiles.

These two forms of fuel are largely exchangeable from a gross economic POV. What the heck am I missing here?

Webhubble, I think your essentially correct given both gasoline and Diesel come from crude oil. However, Diesel is a good deal more efficient in usage than gasoline, and it can also be more efficiently extracted from certain refineries, hevier oils, and vegetable sources if I understand what I have read correctly.

My point was more in the area of correctly understanding that even in the band of fossil fuels available, more switching is possible than most folks seem to realize. Of course in the longer view, this may be only small consolation since all the fossil fuels are depleting at some rate and not in any real sense renewable, but it can change timing of events considerably. As far as personal planning goes, being wrong in timing can be as damaging as being wrong in fact. Getting it right but getting it early or late can still leave a person very poor. This is one reason I have always had my doubts about food shortages in the near future. It could happen, but there are so many variables in fuel switching possibilities that trying to time it would be very, very difficult.

A lot of people are already moving to locally grown food for safety and health reasons anyway, and this seems to be a bigger factor in the immediate future than the fear of running short of fuel to grow food.

Again this seems to be an area a person (and a nation) would want to be hedged on, with a mix of local and national and even international distribution and production systems, which seems to be exactly the direction things seem to be moving right now. Mixed systems with a lot of redundant systems and varieties of scale seem to be the safest bet given the uncertainty.


Fertilizer is indeed manufactured from natural gas but a considerable amount of diesel is involved in transporting it.

Farm machinery can be built to run or gasoline or diesel.RC is correct that most of it is now diesel powered.If for sme reason we wanted to revert to gasoline powered farm equipment, it would take a long long time to do so.

The only reason I can see why we might want to do that is that it is a lot easier and cheaper to build gasoline engines that will run on dual fuels such as propane, cng, and ethanol or other alcohols.

I have no expertise whatsover in producing diesel from farm crops but My guess is that it is easier and less capital intensive to manufacture ethanol on a small scale for local use.It would seem likely that even in the most austere economic situation it will still be practical to distribute petro diesel to farmers for several decades at least-food is after all a pretty high value use when you get right down to the last original hole in your belt and start having to shorten it.

In either case, ethanol or diesel, we can easily produce enough fuel out of farm production to run the farms and probably also to distribute the food, but of course prices would rise considerably.More than likely we would be able to manage just fine by dropping down the food chain and abandoning highly processed and intricately packaged convenience type foods.

Unless ts really and truly htf due to flatout war or a collapse of civil society , there is not any real danger of widespread shortages of enough healthy and affordable basic foodstuffs in the US at least for all of us to eat reasonably well for the forseeable future.-whether some of us can pay for that food is another issue altogether.

there is not any real danger of widespread shortages of enough healthy and affordable basic foodstuffs in the US

I think you are right there - even without petroleum we do have the land and water to feed our population. What worries me is that we are uniquely fortunate in that respect, and its not hard to imagine a future where we have to become, collectively, as mean as junkyard dogs to keep what we have.

In warm weather, my M-B diesel runs fine on straight soybean oil. Interesting exhaust smell. Some issues with carbon build-up long term, but solvable.

Chemically treating vegetable oil (with lye) can make it suitable for cooler weather.


mike, like you I have come to realize that there are many factors interacting in complex ways, making planning difficult.

However, I have some confidence that a few trends currently in place will continue:
1) Jeffrey Brown has documented that the "ExportLand Model" is supported by the recent experience of Great Britain and Indonesia. I therefore think we have good reason to believe that total worldwide oil exports will decline, during this decade.
2) It appears that Nathan Martin is correct about the entire world having reached 'debt saturation'. This means that the world has all the debt it can service with present production (we borrowed against future income, that furture is now). This will limit investment going forward. In fact, it appears to create a positive feedback loop: lack of growth means that debt incurred assuming growth doesn't get paid off, which causes reduced lending, which causes reduced growth...

These two factors alone make a very strong case for declining production worldwide. My only concern is: how fast will the decline be?

I currently see no aknowledgement of these issues by industrialized nations, they are all currently trying to re-start growth by more borrowing. We are at a delicate point right now, some nations are nearing default, which will make borrowing more difficult. We are also starting to see protectionist policies, which made the last depression worse.

To me, economic contraction and increased unemployment worldwide are pretty much baked into the cake. If nations are faced with chronic unemployment, maybe increasing the number of people employed in food production will appeal to the political class.

Hasn't someone in the White House started an organic garden? This administration is the most sophisticated ever in the use of symbolism to mold public perception.

By far this post deserves the Best Post Award notindenial, as a response to this article.

I currently see no aknowledgement of these issues by industrialized nations, they are all currently trying to re-start growth by more borrowing.

That's what I see too. After 3 years of flat oil production causing increasing oil prices, in 08 the bottom fell out and was caught from collapse by huge borrowing against accumulated nations wealth.

But the problem as you point out is, there is an attempt to re-start growth, BAU, with more borrowing. There's two problems with that; It doesn't address the underlying problem of net energy decline, and there is only so much that can be borrowed before that option runs dry. In fact, what has been borrowed may be the last of it due to political and fiscal constraints.

I really feel sorry for Obama. He walked onto the job with the walls caving in and he's received mostly angry responses to what is an extremely difficult situation. I hope he can hold on until a Repub gets back in, and then the right can blame Obama for what the Repub has to deal with, but at least him and his nice family will out of there.

Hasn't someone in the White House started an organic garden? This administration is the most sophisticated ever in the use of symbolism to mold public perception.

If this "organic" garden is a "sophisticated use of symbolism to mold public perception," then it is an utter failure--because "organic" gardening is a scam.

Asking people in hard times not just to garden but to garden "organically" is like asking them to garden in a straight jacket. If times get really hard, people are going to grow food any damn way they please and they are not going to worry about following neo-rabbinical food laws.

Just a couple of points:

"Organic" guidelines dismiss "synthetic" pesticides as a whole as "toxic" without considering DOSES or EIQ ratings. Most gardening pesticides are perfectly harmless to humans when used as directed. In my own case, pesticides have saved crops. For example, applications of Captan (fungicide) had me harvesting some tomatoes during the worst blight in recent memory, while some tomato-less "organic" farmers were complaining that others were "cheating" by using fungicides. (I am not a certified organic gardener.)

Certified "organic" pesticides are given carte blanche so that people think they are "safe," but like synthetic pesticides it depends on the pesticide and the dose. Remember the fish-killer, Rotenone? Ever hear of bee-killing Pyganic?

In order to raise livestock "organically," you are expected to eschew modern medicine and prefer HOMEOPATHY (!) instead. This is not a joke (PDF).

Finally, one reason some "organic" foods cost 100% more at the market is a dishonest advertising campaign stating the "organic" foods are "safer, better-tasting, and more nutritious." These claims have not been verified scientifically, which is why Federal "organic" certification comes with the caveat, "The USDA makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food" source.

Feedlot cattle are given antibiotics routinely, even when completely healthy, because the feedlot environment is so toxic.

This is creating and spreading infectious bacteria with immunity to antibiotics.


Feedlot conditions is a separate issue from "organic" issues. I detest commercial feedlots myself and prefer my own home-raised, grass-fed beef.

Should I eschew modern veterinary medicine for my own three cows? Should I prefer repeatedly-debunked "homeopathic" remedies over conventional ones? That's what the "organics" movement wants us to do. The results could be just as disastrous as the immunity issues you astutely raise.

Some simplifications here?

"The organics movement" does not speak with one voice. I'm sure you can find all sorts of extremes within any movement.

I happen to agree that other criteria can be as or more important than being (or being certified) organic.

Knowing the farmer you buy from, visiting the farm, getting most of your food from within a relatively short distance (to facilitate the former points)...

These are probably more important. But moving away from widespread spraying of pesticides and herbicides is generally a good idea, wouldn't you say?

But moving away from widespread spraying of pesticides and herbicides is generally a good idea, wouldn't you say?

No. It works, and it's cheap.

And "organic" farmers spray pesticides, too--sometimes even more frequently, given that "organic" pesticides are often not as effective as conventional ones.

It is simply a pity that there are 6.8 billion people on the planet that need to be fed. No farming method is sustainable under these conditions.

That which sustains us is slowly killing us.

Perhaps more a problem with the understanding of life and death.

For instance, the primary cause of death of any person is not cancer, disease, hunger, exsanguination, dehydration, starvation, or old age. The primary cause of death is always that we are alive.

The claims of safer and more nutritious are most likely overrated for organic foods. However, some organic fruit has incredible flavor that I have never had from fruit raised with modern agricultural methods. Oranges that burst with flavor give the impression that they are more nutritious whether they are or not.


Two reasons why it might be good for us to learn organic gardening or farming:

First, in a fast crash scenario, sophisticated tech in general may become scarce. This would include pesticide manufacture. The organic farmers I know are successfully avoiding use of pesticides by utilizing crop diversity, soil improvement, biological controls, etc. The more people that can learn these methods, the better off we'll all be in a crash.

Second, the Tragedy of the Commons plays itself out in farming and gardening: due to either ignorance or lack of regulation, pesticides and chemical fertilizers are abused and overused world wide. You can posit the situation where a farmer is careful and precise and I'm sure many are, but as usual the problem comes from the ones that are not (African cacao farmers spraying the trees with Lindane). I have a large garden on the UCD campus (Experimental College Garden). It is necessarily organic, and you can immediately sense why this would be imperative. Just imagine hundreds of community gardeners doing their own thing with pesticides!

There are many chanllenges of course that arise from not using these "tools", but I think these can be overcome by having many more "bodies" involved in the work of growing our food.


Growing organically is good practice for the time when synthetic fertilizers and insecticides may not be available. It is also a way of decreasing nitrogen runoff, rebuilding the soil, and creating a healthy ecosystem of plants, microbes and animals animals (hopefully not too many of the latter.

Wendall Berry pointed out that old fashioned agriculture was a closed loop - crops provided food for animals and animals provided food for crops. Today we have a double problem- plants need artificial fertilizer and concentrated animal feeding operations create the problem of contaminated waste disposal.

Growing organically is good practice for the time when synthetic fertilizers and insecticides may not be available. It is also a way of decreasing nitrogen runoff, rebuilding the soil, and creating a healthy ecosystem of plants, microbes and animals animals (hopefully not too many of the latter.

A couple of misconceptions:

The idea that "synthetic fertilizers and insecticides may not be available" is simply an article of faith among peak oil back-to-the-landers, not an inevitable result of peak oil. The amount of oil used for fertilizers (natural gas, actually) and insecticides is minuscule compared to what is used for liquid fuels.

"It is also a way of decreasing nitrogen runoff, rebuilding the soil, and creating a healthy ecosystem of plants, microbes and animals," is another article of faith: one can ensure these without being certified "organic." Personally, I compost heavily, recycle cow manure, and rotate crops, but I use conventional pesticides so I can't be considered "organic."

Furthermore, most large "organic" operations do not use compost, they use "certified" amendments like rock phosphate, greensand, and seed meals.

The term "organic" needs to be jettisoned. Farming practices should be evaluated on an item-to-item basis and not according to pre-existing dogmas.

Well, you're obviously on some kind of war path here, so there may be no purpose in further discussion.

It may be that you are the user of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that uses these so judiciously that greater harms are minimal. But I would submit that you would then be the exception. The overuse of synthetic fertilizer is well documented, and it has killed many streams, rivers, and parts of the ocean. Humans now fix as much nitrogen as nature does, and this vast increase in the amount of available nitrogen is throwing many systems out of balance.

Best wishes on whatever you grow.

No, sir, not a warpath. The path to disillusionment.

I was CONVINCED for a long time that "organic" farming was the answer to surviving peak oil. I'm still employed at an organic farm, in fact--I love the place for what it is, not because it's organic.

But the more I began to research organic certification, the more shocked I got at how utterly ridiculous, baseless, and unscientific organic standards are.

There's no "there" there.

I would add that the problems you cite concerning pesticides, etc. have more to do with the fact that there's just too many damned people.

Hang in there Mike.

I don't have the energy tonight to get into this but yours is the voice of reality for the forseeable future.

Organic methods are coming along, but it will be a long long time before you can get a straight up and intellectually honest conversation going with organic enthusiasts.

When you really investigate what they are doing, you find them piggybacking off of the rest of the economy in some critical way just about every time-like using the nieghboors manure or rainspoiled hay for instance.

And no matter how you dice it or slice it , when you remove npk and trace elements from the farm to the city, they ultimately have to be replaced from off the farm with the possible exception of nitrates.

This from a farmer who has posted here before that ultimately we must go organic-but I didn't say when.

Yup, true enough. It's a big problem for me too. It's hard for people to figure out that I might 1) think permaculture techniques are great ideas but 2) so are discretionary uses of pesticides and 3) I might on occasion haul in some 10-20-20 plus. The fact is that with all of those in conjunction use smartly the practice is indeed sustainable, as the needed exterior inputs are so small that they're more than compensated for with output, in any foreseeable future. Biochar is a big part of the picture also, which I produce on site. I'd encourage anyone to get into it and it's worth a discussion in itself.

I certainly agree that there are problems with organic certification (though not as bad as there would have been if big ag had gotten its way on all points).

I do think (and hope) that the next wave will be that people will want to have a relationship with the people that grow their food, and that will become a more important criterion than what certification they do or don't have.

Best wishes on the coming season.

The current issue of Scientific American has an article relevant to this discussion, Fixing the Global Nitrogen Problem.

Unfortunately its behind a pay wall but a preview can be found here:

I expect that a lot of the "organic" approaches are not very sustainable either--if for no other reason than they may require soil amendments to be transported long distances. Organic can be irrigated. That may not be sustainable. There are organic sprays used on fruit. I don't know how these are prepared, but wouldn't be surprised if they require techniques and transportation that is not available long term.

One real eye-opener for me, Gail, was being left in charge of the composter at the farm where I work. The amount of materials ("brown" and "green"), the amount of work, and the amount of diesel it takes to make a big pile of compost are just shocking.

Then, I spread it out on the fields--and all that effort becomes a mere smear of brown behind the tractor....

Hi Mike,

I see that your actual, practical knowledge of organic husbandry and homoeopathy are considerably less than your willingness to comment negatively on them. Bad luck! Better luck with the comments when your actual knowledge -- especially that drawn from actual experience -- is greater.

Best wishes. Byeee. RhG

"Experience is not expertise." That's the fallacy you're invoking.

The idea that I need to practice homeopathy to learn about it is just crazy.

There's a lot--and I mean a lot--of people out there who have done the work of evaluating claims for us.

Perhaps I'm missing something but I don't place organic farming on the same plane as homeopathy.
Organic farming as practiced by a couple of earth scientists, agronomers and biologists that I know down in Brazil is done scientifically. BTW For what it is worth herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are a part of all ecosystems, they are a part of the natural system. We have the scientific knowledge to be able to use them wisely as tools.

As for homeopathy, yes, that is 100% highly distilled BS.

Hi Fmaygar,

You sure stuck your chin out for somebody to get in a haymaker this time.



I think perhaps your own knowledge of the day to day realities of agriculture is deficient-this from a working, mostly retired farmer with a degree in ag and enough credits now to get a degree in biology, but not correctly selected for any one program.

I have spent a considerable amount of time and effort informing myself in this area and there is essentially no evidence , viewed from a real world feet on the ground in the mud and manure pov, that we can get away from bau in agriculture in the near or mid term future.

Now the farmers in the dirt that get it done keeping us fed are using a little less fertilizer, water, and fuel every year per unit yield, and doing a little better job of looking after thier land.

We are gradually getting away from pesticides of all kinds-we use less than half as many per unit yield on our own farm as we once did.

Now as far as homeopathy is concerned,I realize that homeopathic enthusiastists do not speak as one, and that there may occasionally be more to it than using an infusion diluted some times by a factor so large that you could infuse the worst of pesticides at the same concentration and drink a couple of quarts every day without getting a belly ache, for the rest of your natural life!

Every government leader and every corporate CEO believes that long term growth is possible and will happen, that short-term contractions do happen occasionally and are just hurdles to get over. They surround themselves with "experts" that assure them that this is, in fact, the case. The thought that the nation or the entire globe even can, let alone will, enter into long-term economic decline simply does not even enter their mind, let alone be seriously contemplated.

There are a few people who are declinists, who do see decline as not just possible but likely. Some of us (I am one) hang around here, but all of us are very much relegated to the margins and are pretty much ignored.

As decline starts to unfold, don't expect to see acknowledgement, let alone an appropriate response, happen any time soon. Denial and vain, counterproductive efforts to sustain the unsustainable will be the order of the day for quite a while yet. The people who finally lead us into making the painful and necessary adjustments to long term decline will be completely different than the people who are in leadership now. The job requirements, and especially the mental outlook, are totally different.


There are a few people who are declinists, who do see decline as not just possible but likely. Some of us (I am one) hang around here, but all of us are very much relegated to the margins and are pretty much ignored.

I don't ignore you.

I am with you , WNC.

As I see it there is about a 75 to 95 percent chance of serious long term decline for the forseeable future, and about a ten or twenty percent chance of outright collapse-which would most likely be precipitated by a real war or a Black Swan event.Odds of serious war within two decades imo are at least 90 percent.

There is imo a very small but real chance that growth can resume for a while at least. OF COURSE the percentages don't add up-these are just my gut feelings.

%'s--- timeframe, especially the war one feels about right to me oldfarmer[my dad was one of u & a crack machinist/welder].

not a fun thing to read early on a mon. am.; but gimmy the truth doc & we'll use better the daylight left.

I still grow my own food. But simply for enjoyment

Nothing wrong with that - I do the same. After awhile you learn enough to do it well, and take for granted the built up knowledge you have gained that so many have lost, or never had to begin with.

If you want a deeper reason than enjoyment, I think of it as being able to provide for people, rather than depend on people.

I grow some of my own food because that is the lifestyle I prefer. I'm not particularly into food growing because I think it is likely to become unavailable. In that case, other people will steal anything I manage to grow, so it won't be worth the bother. However, I do think it is quite probable that the US economy is beginning a long-term decline, and that we're going to have hard times in the future with little hope of long-term relief. Given that assumption, it is worth getting set up to produce as much of your own food as you can, for the same reason why it was worth doing during the Great Depression: to save money, and stretch what little money you have further. It takes time for fruit trees to grow and for garden soils to improve, and there is certainly a learning curve involved, so it is very much worthwhile to get at it now, even if food is still cheap at the moment.

24 years old, newly graduated with a B.Sc in mechanical engineering from Canada. No job.

I have been thinking of going to British Columbia in search of a job. Any other Canadian doomers offer any advice as to where I can create a useful niche for myself within Canada?

I'm from the States, but I would be in BC.

To Rony

As a long time BC resident (45 years), it is not going well here. I think almost all pulp mills are shut down and this has created a glut of many types of trades and professions.

Mech Eng is a great degree. I would apply for an apprenticeship in a related trade if you cannot find a junior engineering position. Wait a bit, get your ticket while you wait, and then with your degree you will rise to the top. Trades in the tar sands earn 100-200k per year. Mechanical is made for the oil business. I have a friend who has worked all over the world as an engineer, for Shell I believe.

There are some huge projects on line for offshore wind generation and run of the river stuff. There are pilot tidal projects on the drawing board, as well. Remember, the jobs don't come to you. Looking for a job is a full time process. Go-getters always find work. If you get the brush off, simply follow up in person and be tenacious. You have achieved a fine degree at a very early age. Be confident of your success. It will come.

You might want to try Marine Harvest. They might be looking for an in-house engineer for special projects. Who knows? If you are willing to do other duties, often times a company will take someone on for future considerations. They are the one of the largest, if not the largest producers of farmed salmon in the world. No, it is not sustainable in peak oil, but right now they sell every fish they produce and they are world wide and huge. Closed containment farming is also on the horizon.

I have an ex student who got on as mech engineer co op student with Viking Air in Victoria. He knew CAD, and that is what got him hired.

To quote a friend who owned a helicopter company, "we are looking for attitude and personality Anyone can learn to fly a helicopter." Not entirely true, but in all work, attitude and effort is everything.

best of luck.

Having spent most of my life as a rolling stone,i have found it necessary many times to hunt a job-mostly just after quitting a good one a few months earlier and running out of ready cash.(I have never been interested in working a job aany longer than it takes to learn the basics unless it was one with self excellent employment potential.)

When there was only ONE big construction job in progress in this area during a down turn,I showed up there a half hour early every single day for my brushoff, stayed cheerful always said thanks, bs ed a little with the various foremen, etc.After three or four weeks they were being really nice to me and saying they were sorry, no opening that day-and they meant it.

The fifth week, the general super asked a foreman why I was hanging around the trailer every single morning while the other guys were loading up and getting out on the actual site.The guy said I didn't actually work there, I just didn't have enough sense not to come in anyway.

The super thought about that for about ten seconds and asked me what I could do, and turned to the foreman,named a man with the habit of laying out occasionally the day after payday, and told the foreman to put me in his truck the next day he failed to show up.Two days later I had a union scale job working six tens with bennies -hundreds and hundreds of people had APPLIED FOR that job at a time when jobs were scarce.

I APPLIED MYSELF TO GETTING IT. I was hired BEFORE I filled out an application. And since I made myself agreeable,and seemed to be the sort of guy who would travel with the company,they put me on a dozer one day when the operator failed to show ,the first time ever for me on a dozer,and later on an articulated loader under the same circumstances.I worked there two years-my longest stretch in one place in twenty years.

In 1956, just out of the USMC, I got a job as a flight line electronic technician. I was the last person hired for that particular project and location, so I was at the bottom of the seniority list.

I did not smoke or drink coffee, so during break times, I continued to work. At lunch break, I quickly finished my one salami sandwich and went back to work. When there were no squawks to work, I studied tech manuals rather than playing cards. Soon I was the best K-5 Bomb/Nav technician on the line.

One night the supervisor transferred me to the lab. After a few weeks the lab supervisor transferred me back to the flight line. This rotation was repeated several times. Being a naïve farm boy, it was years later before I figured out that they were transferring me to protect me from lay off.

When the project was completed (all plans delivered to the Air Force), the supervisors insisted that I be transferred with them to a new project.

Bottom line, always do more than required and even more than expected.

There may be situations in which this isn't the best tactic. I've just been let go from a job at a small firm (after a year) which was in, for me, mostly a new area for me so that I concentrated on figuring out all the new stuff, most often not engaging in the break activities. I've come to realise that, whilst there were several factors in that decision, including the economy, one of them was that all the higher-ups enjoy the time they spent on breaks and so not being there was a sign that I wasn't quite "one of them", and hence made it easier to choose me to get rid of when times got tough. Since it's their company this consideration can perfectly validly outweigh other considerations.

So whilst if you can definitively and demonstrably overdeliver that'll be seen very favourably, it's worth bearing in mind that "fitting in culturally" will often outweigh being a slightly harder worker than everyone else.

Everything in moderation, grasshopper.

Bottom line, always do more than required and even more than expected.

Since finishing school, I have always had a job. I have always applied myself, worked hard, worked long hours (without pay), and just 'manned up' and knucked down (albeit muttering darkly under my breath) whenever the higher-ups came up with some brilliant new way of doing things (which invariably meant doing the same amount of work in less time, doing more work in the same time, or simply doing more work in less time).

Two weeks ago, my reward for all this effort was a new roster (without consulatation, making a mockery of the companies stated 'goals' that they 'consider an Employees personal circumstances') which entails more working days. Given that the Manager said the only way I could stay on my current roster was to go on Salary, she confirmed my suspicion that I was being punished for not bending over for The Company.

This, while The Company is making money hand over fist.

Meanwhile, the slackers continue to roam about aimlessly.

I have been thinking of going to British Columbia in search of a job.

Not a Canadian Doomer, but close to it here in beautiful Puget Sound. If I was in your position there would be no doubt in my mind whatsoever: Alberta Oil Sands.

Yes, the conditions can be awful, but the money is fantastic. Especially for engineers. If you're lucky you might even land a gig with company provided housing. Hitch up yer britches and go north young 'un, that's where fortunes are to be made.


Don't hesitate to take any job they'll give you.That's how you get the good jobs. Learn all you can, volunteer for anything, and work your ass off. Be humble and seek mentors. Never look bored and forget about the money. Listen, pay attention, and remember "one awshit is worth ten ataboys". And never sell your soul. The fast track will find you if you do these things. Think Forest Gump!

Western Australia, North-west shelf. BHP Billiton. Oil Gas Iron ore.

Western Canada is much like Western Australia in that regard. Same industries, same jobs, same type of people. The main difference is that it is way too cold rather than way too hot.

I was going to say, "except for the iron ore", but then I remembered there are massive iron ore deposits in the northern territories (Canada has three northern territories rather than one). There is no way to get it to tidewater. They'll have to wait until the Australian deposits are exhausted before it is cost-effective, and that will be a long way in the future.

Northern Saskatchewan is pretty good for jobs at this point in time. Heavy oil, uranium, diamonds, etc. Companies generally hire out of their head offices, so it's not really worthwhile going up north until you have a firm job offer.

With a degree like that, you have to go where the jobs are, and the job competition isn't. This would mean Northern Alberta, Northern Saskatchewan, Northern BC, the Northwest Territories. It would mean oil sands, heavy oil, uranium, diamonds, and other resource industries. Working long hours in rough country. You have to pay your dues.

After you've spent a decade or so moving around places that you'd rather not likely be, you will have the qualifications to compete for good jobs in nicer places where you might want to live. And, if you are at all good at saving, you will likely have enough money to pay cash for a nice house there.

However, don't make the usual mistake of spending all the money you make. Put at least a quarter of it in good investments, and you'll find good use for it when boom turns to bust, as it always does.

Congratulations. Which school? I'm a grad of U of T Engineering.

All the advice given so far is very sound but I would encourage you to think like an entrepreneur. I'm living near Silicon Valley right now, which is a hot-bed of entrepreneurialism. There are lots of people looking to be hired but there are many, many people who are starting companies.

Consider starting a company that makes a useful product or provides a valuable service. Much manufacturing has to come back to North America and we need people to get that ball rolling.

In my experience, here are the things people tell themselves that stop them from going down this route:

  • "I don't have all the skills yet" — So? Learn some of them on the job and find other people who know what you don't know for the rest. There is so much talent out there waiting to do something right now you can find any skill you want. An interesting idea will attract people.
  • "I don't have the money to start a company" — So? Go find it. Get investors. Think like you're the producer of a movie. They don't have the money, they have to go find it then put together a team of hundreds and maybe thousands of people to get the project complete. They are the organizer.
  • "It's a bad time to start a company" — it's neither a bad time nor a good time, it's just now. Some things will be easier (finding highly qualified people), some things will be cheaper (rent) and some may be harder, but you may be surprised.. Again, people love exciting/interesting ideas.

For most people shifting from "I want to be hired" to "I want to hire" never happens because they believe the nonsense that someone else has told them somewhere along the way ("Entrepreneurs are born not made" and other silly things). Who cares if the first company fails? Go do it again, then again until it works. Here in the Valley many investors feel much more comfortable putting money into teams in which the leadership has experienced at least one really good failure (and people here have some really big ones under their belt). That's where the learning happens.

Yes, what Aangel said.

Just make sure you use OPM for your startup.

Lots of good advice here. I will add my 2 cents, as a guy who has hired many engineers, and who has had very good, technically enjoyable, and profitable jobs through the years. I have managed experienced engineers twice my age and new-grads and interns. I have had just 5 jobs in my professional career, and not one required going to HR before I had an offer. For 3 I had a specific position made for me -- the last one HR didn't know there was an opening until the VP got the CEO to tell them to make it, and the position closed 20 minutes later when I'd filled out the forms. It did take me six months of work before they figured out what a good idea that was, though. During a hiring freeze. :)

1) Pick an industry with legs. Make it one you are interested in as well as one that you believe has solid prospects. Here you'll get the energy industry pitch, but I'm sure there are others.
2) Pick the company (or companies) who are the "best" for what you want, and target those. Think of yourself as a rifle hunter, not a shot-gunner. Sure, look around - you're young and flexible -- but don't ignore jobs locally. There are little engineering places everywhere, if you look. It only takes one opening. :)
3) Think hard about choosing a small company with lots of smaller projects, not much structure, and lots of headaches, but sharp staff. Companies that support larger companies or the gov't via contracts can be pretty good this way. With some work, you can have 6 projects under your belt in 3 years or less, and have a much better idea of what you want to do. Companies that have old engineers in the mix are a great match to your energy, sharp brains, and naivete.
4) Network, using profs, other engineers, local professional societies, and so forth. Find a way into the company that doesn't go through HR. Ideally you'll already know a few engineers, a manager, and be introduced to a VP before anybody talks about resumes and paperwork. At the worst, the guy who gets your resume should be the guy who decides who to hire -- not a person in HR whose job it is to screen out applicants.
5) Don't be picky about the first position, if you've done a good job on the other points. If they aren't hiring engineers but they need a technician, tell them you'll take the job if they'll give you some engineering work. Or take an internship spot instead of a full-time role with bennies. The rest will come.
6) Listen a lot, answer carefully, and ask good questions. People love to talk, so be a listener instead. Give them enough to allow them to assume the best of you, rather than knowing the worst. :)
7) Be enthusiastic and confident but not cocky. Know how to interview well - go on some interviews just for practice (besides, if you get a free trip it's fun!). Be polite, and send thank-yous and follow-ups as appropriate, and mean it. I have had more than one VP tell me that of all the candidates they'd interviewed that year I was the only one to send a personalized thank-you. It doesn't take much to stand-out above self-centered norms.
8) Know yourself. I know I'm an intrapreneur, not an entrepreneur. I'm a right-hand-man, not the prince-who-would-be-king. I'm a path-plotter, not a visionary.

Oh, and the most important point -- be good at what you do. Hopefully you've already mastered that part prior to your senior projects!

I am co-author of a paper in peer review that uses the Millennium Institute's T21 econometric model to model solutions. ASPO-USA helped fund the initial work.

The best public policy options combined, in twenty years, have positive impacts in all areas.

GDP +13%
CO2 -38%
Oil Use -22% (it would be more but a BAU economy post-Peak Oil is depressed enough to reduce oil use)
Employment (i.e. less unemployment) +4.5%

Too early to publicly release the paper.

Best Hopes,


Am looking forward to seeing this paper.
Public policy seems likely to be key.
As somebody up-thread remarks: 'save ourselves by saving all'. Individual solutions can only work within a context. Individual saving by both commercial and domestic electricity users (or provided as a money-making/saving service, e.g. ToD's 'Paul in Halifax') makes more sense if the grids are maintained. Few (?) are likely to have sufficient local micro-electricity generation capacity & storage and to be physically and financially able to maintain these over decades. Economies of scale could still be 'economies'.
I am very uncertain about dispersing cities (one of Gail's scenarios). Although USA (and Europe) relies almost entirely on mechanization in farming, this is much less true for the majority of the world. But even in the USA the actual energy costs of farming needed to provide enough food could be very minor compared with overall present use of energy. Additionally, significant 'costs' attributable to food production in USA and Europe arise from production heavily skewed in favor of 'staple' crops going for meat production. And in USA much staple crop production also goes for export for meat production elsewhere, and latterly a significant fraction is also diverted into producing biofuels. In my opinion also, the fuel and financial cost of distribution and manufacture of retail food products could be rapidly rationalized if there was a need to supply cities with essential supplies in case of scarcity. Then there is food waste. Unspoiled food thrown out by large food stores is enormous here in the UK - I saw a figure of 17 billion GBP (about 27 billion US dollars) for a population one fifth your size). What are the figures for the US?

Some cities provide very good efficiency in energy use and distribution of services and also provide concentrated opportunities for productive and perhaps enjoyable activity. With good rail connections it is possible as well to get out of them. I remember as a child in mega-London having access (with our bicycles) to beautiful woodlands, small hills, river fishing and sea-bathing and a lovely network of small ancient villages and towns. I think we will not be able to afford to disperse and abandon all the legacy of built city assets, at least here in the UK.

Best Hopes for Cities with affordable rail connections and gardens and with public renovation priorities for low energy use.

I was thinking that at some point, there wouldn't be enough left over food from the farms to send to the cities, and not enough jobs in the cities for those who lived there. Also, if we couldn't maintain out equipment, a lot more labor would be needed on farms. Of course, if we can maintain closer to a BAU scenario, this isn't an issue.

I think one has to evaluate each city for its ability to grow a percentage of food for itself.

Clearly, cities that do not have water access, or relatively close proximity to arable land, are going to have serious problems, because they won't be able to afford to freight in all their needs. Especially cities that are essentially at the end of the supply chain today.

I don't see why some cities that are positioned correctly couldn't do quite well, if there is land access, water access and transportation access.

Having said that, they may not exist in the same form as they do today, or support as many people. But cities such as Rome outlasted the Roman Empire because they are well-situated, even though they suffered a substantially-reduced population after being sacked by the Visigoths.

According to McKibben, Hong Kong supplies 40% of its vegetables from within its city limits. If that level can be achieved in one of the most compact cities in the world, surely other cities can grow a much higher percent of their food within or near their city limits.

On the other hand, before the age of fossil fuels, very few cities had populations of more than one million for very long, and most of those were the centers of empires.

Cities will continue, but most will dwindle to a fraction of their current size. The largest migration in world history, from the Chinese countryside to the cities, has now started to reverse itself. Most of these people still have rural connections, so not much adjustment is needed. In the US, most urban dwellers are more than two generations from their rural forebears. They might still have a distant cousin still in the country, but it is likely the move back to the land will mostly not happen through families. How it will is anyone's guess.

For a lot of cities, water rather than food is likely to end up being the Liebig limit. Cities have multiple options when it comes to getting food, and we have seen cities survive (barely) sieges of several years. On the other hand, no city can survive without a steady and reliable supply of water, nor can any city long sustain a population that exceeds its water supply.

My recommendation to anyone living in arid places like Las Vegas or Phoenix or even LA would be to get out now while you can.

Great advice.

I think part of what needs to be done is, if one lives in an arid location, to learn to live with that in mind. Plant things that grow in arid conditions. Learn to store water. Take fewer showers.

Mostly, people who live in arid areas, today, still want to behave as if they live in a water-rich area.

That's going to require some adaptation. If people can't (or won't) adapt, they will probably want to relocate, and areas that have water will probably experience a lot of pressure.

By the way, I think people who live in water-rich areas should also get used to using less. We don't know how supplies anywhere will hold up, under future conditions.

The trouble is, if you live in a city that is suffering a severe water shortage, it is not just a matter of you coping. You are a part of a whole system, and beyond a certain limit that whole system will start breaking down.

It is like being a really good swimmer, but finding oneself swept up in a raging torrent. It doesn't matter how good a swimmer you are, you are still going to get swept away and probably drowned.

My concern is more related to the habits we have developed as former hunter-gatherers i.e. we occupy an ecosystem till we have denuded it of edible fruits and game, and then we move on to the next fruitful place.

We never seem to learn to stay in one place and make do with what we have.

I don't see behavior changing, any time soon - except that we now have fewer places (or, really, no place) to go.

I am really not worried about the Mississippi River drying up.



I sent you a copy. One of the co-authors is Hans R. Herren. Google him.


The US agricultural surplus if we stop feeding corn, etc. to cattle is enormous. A halving of production would still leave a surplus of staples for cities & export.

You need to be aware that very little corn is for human consumption. And land in corn can grow soybeans, wheat and other human foods. And we can eat more tortillas, cornbread, etc.

A significant fraction of cattle grazing land could grow smallish plots of vegetables or orchards. Often, the soil has good fertility and water, but the terrain is not suitable for row crops on a large scale. More labor intensive "large gardens" can increase healthy food production as well as fruit & nut trees.

Silvaculture of fruit and nut trees is sustainable and productive. Also Suburbia cannot be easily returned to conventional agriculture, but planting peach and pecan (and other species) trees in Atlanta suburbs is viable.

The post-Peak Oil solution to any US ag problem is simple. Just eat MUCH less beef (say once or twice a year grass fed beef), significantly reduce pork and slightly reduce chicken/turkey with more coming from free range sources.

Note: the efficiency of corn to meat is about 7 to 1 for cattle and 3 to 1 for chickens. Free range chickens with corn supplement are lower still.

Best Hopes for Seeing the Possible,


PS: I try to limit my beef to a porterhouse on Mardi Gras afternoon :-) Carnival means farewell to meat.

Nice work Phil.
But what is an optimist doing here?
James Lovelock identifies the three big no-no's. Cows, Cars and Clearing.

The US agricultural surplus if we stop feeding corn, etc. to cattle is enormous.

The surplus if you just stop turning corn into fuel ethanol to pad out the gasoline supply is also enormous.

This is the fundamental problem with the fuel ethanol subsidies - you are paying industry to convert food into fuel. A more rational solution is to reduce fuel consumption by forcing people to drive more fuel efficient vehicles. This is easily accomplished by high gasoline taxes, and the surplus revenues can be used to fund things like education, health care, and public transit.

That of course is the European solution, which is why Europeans get good education, free health care, and high-speed trains, while Americans get cheap fuel for their gas guzzlers. It's a political choice - you get what you ask for. Are you sure that's what you asked for?

Hi Rocky,

Europeans get good education

We have talked with college age kids in Europe - they can go to college with very little concern for the cost - for just the reason you mentioned. Although the kids we know also complain about lazy friends who have the ability and opportunity but are too busy enjoying the good life to worry about higher education.

I would agree with everything that has been said about eating less meat will help our food supply. I would just like to add to it that I think putting corn in the gas tank is even more wasteful than putting it into cattle.

Lester Brown has written about this problem and provided some eye opening graphs on this subject.



You quote the figure of converting one pound of corn to 7 pounds of beef. Unfortunately that is far from the whole story. That figure is for cattle being fattened in a feedlot. Cattle do not spend their whole lives in feedlots. Calves are normally produced in a pasture setting with minimal grain inputs. Then they are placed in a feedlot probably at 1/2 or more of their ultimate slaughter weight. In a simplified case if placed in a feedlot at 1/2 of slaughter weight the conversion of corn to beef would go to 1 pound of corn to 1 pound of beef.

The misuse of the 1 to 7 ratio is widespread often by people who should know better.

The question of whether cattle should be finished on grain or on grass should be argued from accurate numbers.

The key information is that cattle are ruminants(they can eat grass), hogs and chickens are not ruminants. If a hog or chicken can eat it so can people though one often would not want to. Beef cattle have the ability to covert grass which can be grown on land unsuitable for row crops or vegetables. In an expensive energy environment cattle have a large advantage over hogs or chickens as a source of high quality protein.

I will leave this now or it will get far too long.

Note that no one is saying that no cattle should ever be raised. But do you really doubt that an increase in meat eating world wide has contributed to grain shortages?

And do you care to back up your rather rosy sounding stats with any links to studies?

Don't we need to expand this analysis to whether some of the land growing grass (for cattle) could in fact grow food for humans?

In a crash scenario, the land now growing GMO corn for cattle feed and biofuel may not be suited to growing food for humans. All these conversions are theoretical. We need to factor in some of these uncertainties.

No question cattle take up resources that could go into supporting humans, or (imagine that!) into necessary wilderness.

"In a crash scenario, the land now growing GMO corn for cattle feed and biofuel may not be suited to growing food for humans."

I fail to see why or how this would be the case. If soil can raise corn, whether GMO or not, why couldn't it raise other crops, or raise corn that could feed humans? Am I missing something here?

Cattle, of course, also require vast amounts of potable water, a dwindling resource that will likely be the real limiting factor going forward. You die very quickly without water. Hunger takes a bit longer. And most of humanity lived out their entire lives without using a drop of oil, a gram of coal, or a BTU of natural gas.

See my post above. There may be just a little pasture land that could be plowed for crops, but not very much. Actually, I would rather see some crop land rotated into pasturage, as that is what truly sustainable agriculture will require. The big gains you will get from not raising so much beef cattle will be in the crops that don't have to go into feeding them.

Most of the pasture land that is presently for beef cattle will have to remain pasture, but beef cattle are not the only, or even best, choice of livestock to put on it. For the more well-watered pasturage, we really should be thinking of changing from beef to dairy cattle. I know we produce a lot of dairly products already, but we'll need to be thinking in terms of substituting even more dairy for beef consumption. As for the more marginal land, IMHO bison, sheep, or goats are better choices, as long as the land is not allowed to be overgrazed. I especially favor increasing our sheep production a very great deal, as we'll need to increase wool production as well. As petrochemical feedstocks become more scarce and expensive, we'll have to shift back from artifical to natural fibers. People will also want textiles that are more durable, because they won't be able to afford to throw away and replace things as often as they have been, and wool is a very durable fiber. The textile and clothing industry is one of the few that have been largely offshored that might actually come back to a modest extent. We won't be able to pay for many imports once the economy has declined far enough, we'll have to produce necessities here at home.

Virtually all the land currently being used to grow corn could be used for production of other grains suitable for food use.A very large percentage of pasture land(I have no idea what percentage) is totally unsuited to producing crops due to terrain, water shortages, stony soil, etc.

Some of this land can be cropped if enough labor is avalable by terracing it or growing fruit on it.Orchards in the mountians were formerly located on land to steep for any other use except pasture or woodlot.

I grew up working in such orchards.

Rotate some goats in with your cows and your advantage increases. Rotate your chickens in with your cows and goats and your advantage increases more.

It sounds like you're thinking of Satalin's Polyface farm.

I like how he times it so that the chickens are released into the cow pasture just as the maggots are growing fat on the cow pies.

And the eggs are delicious, nutritious! The chickens are happy and sassy! Properly managed, the pastures are far more productive and sustainable. Even the deer enjoy their time there.

I'm familiar with Satalin's concepts. Funny thing is that these methods have been used for millenia in different cultures. We just have the need to quantify things in modern terms. 500 years ago it was just common sense. In our moutains the bottoms are used for crops and the hills for pasture. The rich, fertile runoff from the hills enriches the bottoms for next years's crops. Many people would call that "organic" these days. This whole argument seems ridiculous to me. The problem isn't the pests and and blight. It's the use of monocrop farming.

In this week's Time, there is Q&A with Michael Pollan. He says the one thing he would most like to see is bringing animals back on to the farms. We need an integrated system, that is the only way toward sustainable agriculture.

just so long as the chickens don't eat the "rooms." Man needs an escape to a "separate reality" occasionally. but then it might make the chickens easier to catch. guess you got to be from the south, just north of the cody scarp. sometimes you gotta be cryptic. Bet someone knows what i am talking about.

Hadn't thought about that possibility. Would it make the eating the eggs a special kind of 'experience'?

True, but sheep and goats and bison can do better on marginal land than cattle, and the pasturage that can support beef cattle might arguably be put to better use supporting dairy cattle. I'm all in favor of putting sheep and goats and bison on marginal land that won't support crops, as long as it is not overgrazed. The last thing we want to do is plow that marginal land up and recreate another dust bowl; hopefully we've learned that lesson. Neither do we want to plow up every square inch of arable land - sustainable agriculture really does require diversity and rotation between crops, hay, and pasture. Dairy cattle are the livestock you want to put on that pasture, though, the energy/acre works out better for them.

As for hogs and chickens:

Chickens are the perfect distributed livestock. Just about every household could have a few, and maybe someday in the future they will, just as everyone had them in the past. We don't really need the large battery operations, those could go away without either chicken meat or eggs going away from our diets. If chickens are given the opportunity to scratch around in the soil enough (and they don't have to be totally free range to do this), their need for supplemental feed is pretty minimal, except in winter.

Hogs could also be raised on a smaller household scale. It used to be that every rural family and even quite a few households in town would have a hog. Garbage wouldn't go to a compost pile, it would go to the hog. Hog manure, rather than compost, is what went into the garden to enrich the soil. Giving them a little bit of supplemental feed will fatten them up quicker, but it need not be anything like what they are fed in the large scale operations. Being raised solo like that minimizes their risk of infection from other hogs, too.

Exactly right. Not to mention plowing up all the front yards and planting potatoes like they did in Switzerland in WWII. I do not lose any sleep worrying about starvation in North America. As I mentioned in another post above, though, it will still make good sense for those who can to raise whatever garden produce that they can, for the same reason that it made sense for people during the depression: to save money and stretch shrinking household budgets. Also, having some home-grown vegies and fruits might make for a very welcome relief from a steady diet of rice, beans, oatmeal, potatoes, and cornbread. More healthy for you, too.

We have enough land and water to not just feed ourselves, but also to produce enough biodiesel to at least keep agricultural, public service, and other essential equipment running, and STILL have some foodstuffs to export. It is just a question of managing it properly.

Not to mention plowing up all the front yards and planting potatoes like they did in Switzerland in WWII. I do not lose any sleep worrying about starvation in North America.

It wasn't just Switzerland in WWII. In Canada, after we moved off the farm into town, my father plowed up his front yard and planted potatoes. His story was that he was "conditioning the soil" for the future lawn he intended to plant. I think it was about 10 years before he actually planted grass. He wasn't fond of flowers, either, so all our flower beds had carrots, radishes, lettuce, and tomatoes.

Our mother found this convenient. She would serve us the potatoes and meat, and then point toward the door and say, "your vegetables are outside". A great time saver and fewer dishes to wash. It was less self-sufficient than the farm, where meal planning often started with my father handing me an ax and pointing at the chicken coop, but it did keep food costs down. (Our mother was particularly fond of chicken dinners, as it resulted in the feather pillows being bigger and fluffier.)

During WWII the British plowed up their yards and managed to grow about half the food they needed to feed themselves on their small garden plots. Their health improved significantly during the war because of the better diet they had from home grown food.

American yards are much bigger, especially in the suburbs, so I imagine Americans could grow all the vegetables they needed, if they really wanted to. If they added a few chickens they could probably have enough protein, too. And those ornamental trees could all be growing fruit and nuts instead of just looking decorative.


Glad to hear the T21 work is continuing. We did a first cut at running a variety of scenarios in this paper:

"Possible Futures for Bangladesh, Tunisia, and the United States: A Technical Report" by Philip Bogdonoff, Weishuang Qu, and Gerald O. Barney, 1997. < >

I look forward to reading the new paper.

-- Philip B. / Washington, DC

Send me your eMail address at A lan_Drake at Juno dot conn (spam protected). I worked a bit with Weishuang, but co-authors are Andrea Bassi, Hans Herren and Ed Tennyson.

Best Hopes,


You don't factor in climate change. If we really do have to decrease our CO2 emissions by 80%, then the estimates of fossil fuel use will have to drop. I know that a drop in emissions is not overly likely in today's political climate, but as the real (i.e. not political) climate starts to show it's stuff in a more forceful manner, there may well be a drive to reduce emissions. What would the scenarios be then.


CO2 emissions would drop by more than 80% in the crash scenario, without any particular cutback in coal, because overall energy use would be down. I am pretty sure the scenario with the normal decline of oil and natural gas, plus phasing out coal, would either come close or reach this result by 2050. The calculations that are done all assume the normal situation is ramp ups of all fossil fuels.

The scenarios I have been working with factor in climate changes with different degrees of disruptive impact along side the different projections for net energy flows. Essentially, in all cases, as climate disruptions increase humanity will have need for more energy to do the work of adaptation (moving New York City inland for example, or just moving large populations from impact zones to more hospitable zones) above and beyond that needed just to keep some form of civilization going. This is where I think the conventional thinking misses the more complex scenarios that lead to collapse. Even if FFs decline isn't as bad as some think, it is, as you said Gail, improbable that alternative energy sources of sufficient scale to replace the lost joules of FF energy would compensate. Then as the climate scenarios unfold, flooding, droughts, storms, etc. (all more massive and intense than we have been accustomed to) our likely first responses will be to adapt in some fashion. But that takes work and that takes energy. How much and where it will come from is anyone's guess now. But we can say for sure that these two phenomena are on a collision course that doesn't look good.

It could be that the New Orleans trauma and failures to mitigate or adapt (as in moving the city up river and away from the lake) is a model for what is to come. Maybe we will not attempt any large scale adaptations (moving populations at risk) and just let nature take its course while those who have access to energy continue to use it for their own purposes.

Probably the largest unknown factor in all of this (and reasons plans are so ephemeral) is what we humans will do in response to the situations. In the days immediately after the earthquake in Haiti we heard stories of people coming together for mutual aid (same happened in NO) but over the last few days as people are getting really hungry and thirsty the mood has changed and criminal behavior has emerged. It will be interesting to see what plays out on a global stage.

Question Everything

It seems like every area will be sliding downhill in terms of its energy availability and usage. Those that are in the paths of earthquakes or storms are going to find themselves at least one step worse off. The ones that started out the worst off are the most vulnerable.

I did some looking at the figures, and Haiti has an extremely small amount of electricity per capita--even less than Afghanistan. On a per capita basis, it amounts to about 0.2% of US electricity. Their electricity is mostly from petroleum--plus some hydroelectric during the rainy season. Petroleum based electricity tends to be quite expensive, putting industries who use very much at a disadvantage.

Under the current circumstances, it will be hard to add industry in Haiti, and there are too many people to feed on the amount of arable land on Haiti. The country has been importing (or taking donations) to a much greater extent than it has been exporting. It looks like either this situation must continue indefinitely, or a large number or people need to be moved off the island. Not at all good! How will the world deal with this issue? If we do manage to solve the problem for the Haitians, how do we solve the next problem that arises, say in Bangladesh, or some other vulnerable place?

Lot's of small island nations in the Pacific are actively seeking locations where they can migrate to as their homes become inundated and their wells become too salty to drink. They are not finding many welcoming shores.

"Environmentalists have warned that global warming, caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases, will cause thermal expansion and a meltdown of glaciers. That could lead to seas rising by up to 23ft, and would be devastating for countries such as Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and China. But the tiny nations of the Pacific, where some of the world's lowest-lying islands are situated, would be the first to be swamped. Those considered particularly vulnerable, as well as Kiribati, are Vanuatu; the Marshall Islands; Tuvalu and parts of Papua New Guinea."

How will the world deal with this issue?

Very likely as it has all along, by shipping in food aid. I've read that in recent years 40% of the Haitian GDP consists of donations from foreign countries. Tragic that the first nation of slaves to throw off their shackles should end up so...

I'll bet they actually have some pretty good wind potential. Unfortunately, it all comes down to money, which they don't have. Using some of the dollars coming in to put up some WTs would probably be a good idea, but I don't know if it will happen.

It could be that the New Orleans trauma and failures to mitigate or adapt (as in moving the city up river and away from the lake) is a model for what is to come. Maybe we will not attempt any large scale adaptations (moving populations at risk) and just let nature take its course while those who have access to energy continue to use it for their own purposes.

I see that as the direction that things will move. Take my own state of NC as a case study. Our Outer Banks and a huge swath of low-lying land on the other side of the sounds is terribly vulnerable to sea level increases. Those in charge of our state government are hardly even aware of this, let alone doing anything about it. They are still talking about replacing bridges on the Outer Banks, as if they are going to be staying there forever. There seems to be no awareness that as the sea level goes up, the Outer Banks move west; that is how they work, and have since the last glaciation. Centimeters per year isn't the issue, either: it is complete over-wash of the islands due to the storm surge during a hurricane. Sometime within my remaining lifetime, I fully expect at least one Outer Bank island to essentially be wiped off the map; all the others will follow within a century or two. There will still BE Outer Banks, but they will be new islands farther west. I don't think that anybody living there, or anybody in a position or authority in this state, has really confronted that reality yet. I very much doubt that anything will be done, either, before it happens.

Nothing can really be prevented, except just maybe preventing idiots from staying on the Banks thinking they can "ride out" the next hurricane. The question really is: how many beachside houses and hotels must be reduced to toothpicks before it starts to sink in that this is not just a freak, non-repeatable phenomenon but rather "the new normal" from here on out, to which we must adjust and adapt? More importantly, how long will those living in the Piedmont and Mountains continue to agree to see our tax bills and insurance bills go up to cover the losses of those living on the coast - especially those who have been living a lot better than we have? At what point does the state say to those on the coast, "You're on your own, continue living there at your own risk"? At what point are insurers given the green light to refuse to insure anyone living east of the fall line?

The conclusion is that changes are not likely to be gradual, but sudden. BAU will continue until suddenly an island that everyone assumed would always be there isn't there any more. BAU will continue until property owners along the coast suddenly find they can't get insurance any more. Then you'll see a very quick and massive migration away from the coast, and especially the Outer Banks. There might be some assistance in resettlement, or those on the move might get about as much assistance as the Okies got in California.

The problem that both Peak Oil and Climate Change run into is that these are long term issues. Saudi Arabia or Mexico is not going to stop producing oil next year ... rather the price of the oil will go up, the amount available will go down, in little increments. Climate change is the same way. Most people live in the now, and assume that their world is the same, even when it changes dramatically, if those changes are incremental in nature. Twenty years ago, the idea of the Internet was not even on nearly anybody's radar, today it's pervasive, yet for many people, it is hard to remember just how radically different life was even that recently.

We generally only changes, as you point out, when they are sudden, catastrophic, and require a shift in our thinking, and the wrench of dislocation only stays with us for just long enough to have the edges warned down. When Michael Jackson died last year, people who had likely never even thought about him for the last thirty some-odd years suddenly remembered him, and there was a void that was created not only in his sudden death, but in the awareness of the fact that he was actually a middle-aged man, not a dynamic singer in his twenties. Yet after his death, most people promptly relegated him to yesterday's news, and just as promptly forgot about him again.

The challenge here is that both PO and CC are civilization changing problems. Ironically, I think insurance actually makes it worse, because people believe that one can always get insurance, and so they can kick the can down the road a little further. The current credit crisis stems directly from that, as AIG was one of the primary insurers for otherwise bad or faulty decisions. Unfortunately, the real cost of insuring against the collapse of civilization, while admittedly long odds, would bankrupt even the most financially solvent institutions.

And once again we get to the argument I see constantly online and with local environmentalists: Will PO "save us" from GW, will GW "save us" from PO, or will we take the needed actions so that neither has to save us from the other?

Right now, I think the second is the most likely. The way GW effects keep accelerating (as well as our recognition of those effects), I think we're not far from a forced recognition that we're in incredibly deep trouble on the climate front. It will take more than another New Orleans to push us over the tipping point (proof: NO in 2005 happened and it changed nothing), but there are other potential events, like a collapse of a big piece of the West Antarctic ice shelf that raises worldwide sea level by 6 to 12 inches. (This is a scenario Joe Romm mentioned on It will take a very big, very painful event, one that's swift enough that it can't be ignored. That's what we're reduced to in our current US and international situation: Hoping Mother Nature slaps us really hard, but doesn't kill us.

"I think we're not far from a forced recognition"

And what exactly will "force" such a recognition?

Perhaps tens of thousands of affluent people in the developed world being killed in one week by an extreme heat wave?

Ooops, that already happened in Europe, Summer of '03.

Perhaps a major American city being destroyed by a powerful hurricane?

Ooops, Katrina.

Perhaps a whole developed country drying out, burning up, and blowing away?

Ooops, already underway in Australia.

The total loss of thick, multi-year ice from the Arctic polar ice cap and its dramatic reduction to a fraction of its former size?....

All of these have happened/are happening, along with many, many more striking events.

Yet latest polls show that FEWER, not more, people are convinced that GW is real and dangerous.

As long as denialists are at it with their well funded disinformation campaign, no amount of data from the real world will convince the masses that there is a planetary threat going on that we have to address immediately.

Hi dohboi,

As long as denialists are at it with their well funded disinformation campaign, no amount of data from the real world will convince the masses that there is a planetary threat going on that we have to address immediately.

I think this is a very fundamental issue. And, just what is the mechanism(s) that cause the masses to accept this fairly obvious disinformation? Why is the average US citizen so delusional?

I recall some old saying about how you can expect bad folks to do bad things but it takes religion to get good folks to do bad things. (or something like this) I suspect that our degree of denial of obvious facts can only be accounted for by very deeply ingrained belief systems that also have no basis in fact (like going to an afterlife)

The denialist machine knows that, just as in court, all they need to establish in people's minds is (even marginally) "reasonable doubt" and then they have won.

People presented with new info that could threaten their comfortable view of themselves and their accustomed activities (GW) are generally going to be very hungry to find any reason to NOT believe it so they can discard it and go on their merry way (or rather attend to the myriad other troubles they are fretting about.)

If most people hear something that on the face of it seems to throw some doubt on the claim that GW is real and dangerous, they are likely to grab on to that and dismiss any further messages they hear on the subject. Most are far too busy (and unfortunately far too un-schooled in basic science) to follow up on disinformation and dig into the real story.

And the disinformationists are well practiced at their craft--many worked for decades confusing people about the nature of the effects of cigarettes. And they are, of course, very well funded, Exxon being the most profitable corporation in the world, and all that...

The CO2 reductions just aren't going to happen. We don't have a world government, we have a couple hundred national governments. They are all playing a non-zero-sum game, not all that different really from "The Prisoner's Dilemma". The unfortunate thing is that the usual outcome of that game is "lose-lose".

HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities

On June 16, 2009, EPA joined with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide. Through a set of guiding livability principles and a partnership agreement that will guide the agencies' efforts, this partnership will coordinate federal housing, transportation, and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development, and help to address the challenges of climate change."

While Peak Oil isn't specifically mentioned here, all of the above help with depletion scenarios too.

The old saying "hope for the best, plan for the worst" pretty much applies due to the broad range of scenarios. A list of your exposures to possible events/effects would be a good place to start. If we could eliminate some of these exposures completely, reduce others, it would simplify things in a less than ideal scenario.

On a scale, 1-10, how self reliant are you? Are you totally dependent on external inputs/sources (1) or could you sustain yourself indefinitely with zero external inputs (10)? How well are you prepared for blackouts or fuel rationing?

Are your skills totally specialized or are you multi-disciplined, a jack of all trades?

Where do you live and what are the exposures there to a downturn?

How adaptable are you? Do you get along under most situations or do you have to have everything your way and change things to suit you?

I would agree with your "hope for the best, plan for the worst" philosophy, in general.

I think whatever plan or approach one chooses, one has to keep fine-tuning it. If all you are concerned about is fuel shortages, and the issue is a water shortage, you could be taken by surprise.

Emulate the sea gull.
It can fly, swim, walk, dive for fish, hustle chips, bully, beg, feed off the city dump. It has a sharp eye and bad table manners. They gang up to defend the chicks but don't get too brave.
All hail the Gull.

That's great Arthur! Did you just come up with that?

All hail the tough, flexible, multi-talented, omnivorous Gull.

Emulate the sea gull.

Eat the sea gull. A nearly inexhaustible source of cheap protein. Anybody with a small-gauge shotgun should be able to walk down to the city dump and shoot enough to feed their family for days.

Doomers often overlook these simple, obvious solutions. You have to stay flexible and think outside the box.

Squab is one of my favorites. Free range squab, h'mmmm


I agree with you, Ghung. I tell friends to basically take short term emergency preparation seriously and start thinking about gardening. My hope is that someone with an emergency food cache would be in good shape to weather the initial shortage emergencies that will crop up with PO. And, by that point, enough people will realize we are in trouble to seriously organize at the community level.

I also tell friends that no matter what you do to prepare, it still might not save you from dislocation or calamity. The big benefit of doing something - anything - is that you don't feel completely helpless in the face of the coming unforeseen troubles. And all of us are limited in what we can afford to do to prepare on a personal level. Doing something has definitely calmed me down about the future.

Exactly. Being prepared is a mind-set, a proccess. I have driven for over 30 years without a single serious incident (knock on wood!). No accidents or tickets (I did hit a cow once, well she hit me ,really). I did this by incorporating "what if" into my programming. I even drove professionally for a while. I'm not a white-knuckled paranoid. I just try to not allow a sense of complacency to get me into situations. This mindset allows one to respond to the unexpected without the panic that often makes matters much worse. I see people everyday that put themselves into situations that, if anything little goes wrong, thet're "in a tight spot". This "lack-of-preparation" mindset seems to be pervasive in our society. "Don't worry, be happy" becomes "Aw shit!, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

City living requires less energy than rural living, and cities with good mass transit will use the least energy. Car pooling alone could get us through until 2040. Also, people without jobs don't need to commute.

Agricultural mechanization is probably the highest value use for oil, saving enough labor to make synthetic fuels highly financially worthwhile even at twice or more than today's prices. Horses and mules are not an option. We'd need 50 million or more and we don't have enough land to feed them.

Two oil price spikes, 1970’s-80’s and late 2000's have shown sharp economic slowdowns and reduced energy consumption. There is no reason to expect the response to shortages in the future to be any different, except this time we will realize that the oil is not there. Also, developing countries will out bid developed countries for oil.

We have the technology and the means to make a transition. It will take a realization of the problem for us to act. That realization will be in the form of $250/bbl oil.

The WPA of the 2020’s-‘30’s will be mass transit and synfuels projects.

City living may require less energy with good mass transit, but what are you doing in the city? The days that you left your row home in Steelton, PA on the trolley to work in the steel plant are over. What necessary product is going to be manufactured in your favorite city that is going to support a city's infrastructure, and the necessary intra city mass transit?

Now, what collection of products is your city going to produce that create (or support) a transit system that brings food from a diffuse network of really small scale farms (100ish acres) to your city. In the case of the Northeast those farms are generally dairy farms. how they work is they send their milk to a central location which then distributes them to SEVERAL cities, hundreds of suburbs, etc. There is no living experience at those farms to ship non liquid foodstuffs to city markets which of course don't exist anymore but certainly be created out of closed down walmarts (whoops no, they are in the suburbans) - city parks I guess.

I'd vote that more reality and less energy is going to be wrapped around the small towns and villages surrounded by farms and this is going to be sustainable. As a farmer I'm going to need someone to patch up my 15 year old F250 in town (by cannibalizing the ones that have leather seats), someone to help build me another press for my patch of soybeans that I'm growing for my own use of biodiesel and lubricant. "mechanics and meche's" will rule the world again.

Some examples from New Orleans.

Port - modal transfers between barge-ocean going ships-rail-truck (any combination), minor ship, barge & rail repairs, ship, barge & tug building (rail cars are built in Alexandria LA), ship resupply, rail transfers (New Orleans and Chicago are the only two cities with six Class I Railroads and rail cars & cargoes are transferred between them here), freezing poultry for export, warehousing copper, zinc, etc. for Metal exchanges

Food processing - We roast 1/3rd of all coffee in USA, mayonnaise, hot sauce, vegetable canning, spices & mixes

Tourism - In "Gone with the Wind", Scarlett & Rhett honeymooned in New Orleans. It may shrink but not disappear

Education - Two medical schools, one dental, one pharmacy school, six colleges and universities. Some shrinkage, but still viable

Regional distribution/warehousing

Retirement - A growing sector. For the frail and those that cannot drive, New Orleans is attractive. Not much cold weather, etc.

Music, and more recently film industry (remember that the Great Depression was a Golden Age for film)

Those that can live anywhere (such as myself) often chose New Orleans.

Best Hopes for New Orleans,


And "emergency love." Please don't forget the house of the rising sun. I love your fine city. My son married a gal from there and i have visited many times. the greatest city in the world with the most interesting politics since the time of the Greeks. But, Sen. Vitter???? Guess you got to be tolerant of some pretty awful things.

We have a more tolerant view of working girls than most. Sen. Vitter's sexual preferences were illustrated on several Krewe du Vieux floats (they roll hours before the Mardi Gras parade laws, such as those banning obscene subjects# on floats, go into effect). They involve enemas and diapers.

But Vitter was elected by the Republican suburbs and Shreveport, etc. Not New Orleans.

Best Hopes for Vitter's retrirement,


# The Krewe d'etat once had two floats that illustrated eating crawfish (which almost all locals have done). Pres. Clinton was pinching the tails and Monica Lewinsky was sucking the heads.

To be honest is the first time I had heard of thIs and will check it out, and take some action (at least write letters, question city council, etc.) if true.

I do know that post-Katrina, two weeks before they started enforcing laws against prostitution, that officers went around and informed the street walkers of the upcoming change.

It is NOT representative of the average citizen's view.


"City living requires less energy than rural living..."

Currently, this is true on average. However, Houston and Phoenix are not New York City (or AlanFromBigEasy's small subset of New Orleans), and driving a 4x4 4-door "1-ton" pickup from a ranch to a 40-mile-distant city for a nuclear family's groceries is not the same as a relatively self-sufficient intentional community in the country where 70 people share one "town trip" per week.

Since the direness of things is not sufficiently obvious yet to force low usage in either city or rural living, what's more important to me is the *capability* for minimal energy and land use. I believe it is necessary for an overwhelming majority of individuals to see, with her/his own eyes, the effects of their way of life. And this is just not possible in a large city where everything is trucked in and out, and the "in" places are far removed from the "out" places (i.e., no closed loop is possible).

I have lived in relatively self-sufficient rural communities, and I've heard it argued from "ecologically-educated" city people coming to visit that the internet allows the information to flow well enough that city people can see the effects of their living ... and after they get tired of the work involved (or the lack of things to "do", without seeing the irony and hypocrisy of that viewpoint), they go back to the city and continue to shop at Whole Foods, Pottery Barn, and Home Depot, and having their trash and "recycling" shipped far from their sight without really getting what they are not seeing.

(Heavy Sigh...)

Best hopes for seeing the long-term effects of actions, and truly sustainable living situations,


I lived in Atlanta for 20 years. Jobs are clustered in edge cities, like Perimeter Center, Buckhead, Marietta. It is easy to live colse to work and be in a decent neighborhood.

I retired and moved to a small town, yet drive almost as much as in Atlanta. The variety of shoping is very limited unless you drive.

Also, there are few employment opportunities in this charming little retirement town where I live. But plenty of food is grown in the sorrounding area.

I was able to live a little "greener" by building my onw super insulated house. I could not have afforded the land to do build on in Atlanta, at least close in.

I start from the premise that BAU, BAU Lite, "Green" BAU and "Sustainable" BAU are dead meat. And, further, that there will be a die-off sometime during this period for a variety of reasons but revolving around the fact that almost no one took action in a timely manner.

So, my best guess is that there will be isolated groups of people who did the right things even though they couldn't predict timing and just, in essence, dropped out to pursue their beliefs whether the collapse would come in their or their children's lifetimes.

Society in the US is psychologically unprepared for anything except BAU (and a Depression is closer to BAU than collapse).


Edit to add: And these individuals/groups that tried to prepare will also have had to be damn lucky. There are Black Swans galore just waiting out there.


I think dieoff is in the cards for a major part of the world myself-are you saying you believe there will be a dieoff in the Us within three decades?

Is the future here already? Many of the unemployed worked in oil-intensive industries like auto manufacturing, construction, and airlines. The USA and most (every?) other countries are running huge deficits. Taxes will have to be raised further cutting consumer spending. Natural gas production is going to decline this year in the USA. World oil exports probably will decline again. I cannot imagine what 2015 will bring much less 2050.

the initial ideas are simple; prepare for worst case first, crash, then fast decline,etc. to mildest case- as money & time permit.

a few of the very worst scenarios merit only limited time & $ as they are virtually impossible to prep significantly for.

the details are hell at times though. we are near a million person metro area; 10-30 miles away. we probably have a great place ; slow decline scenario. crash; probably not!

the 2 most important things to do;

1.prep psychologically[this includes social--family/friends even if they won't hear/plan they are likely to openup when the bigger changes are in our face.

a huge part for me of this part has been to develop a mindset of knowing there is very little control, & we/i'd better figure out when/where that/those opportunities exist & act on them. this will require flexibility to be a very very high priority lest i/we lose the opening. for us this could include moving.
keeping necessities- air, water, food -distinguished from our luxuries/non necessities will also be crucial.

& 2. get info, & keep current. this requires imo prep for getting info during a 'bad crash as info[accurate/detailed] will especially be needed then.

Planning for the future is extremely important and definitive action is essential even though it is impossible to have a clear understanding how the future will unfold.

The global economy is currently in unstoppable rundown mode. This economy has been built on a foundation of $10 – 20 oil, 40 – 80 cent copper, massive debt, and exploitation of ‘third world’ peoples. All of these foundational components are rapidly crumbling.

In the USA, we are bankrupt at Federal, state, county and personal level. We are faced with 1) Chronic/permanent unemployment due to off shoring, automation and illegal labor, 2) Huge personal debts rather than savings, 3) Non government pension funds and insurance companies that have used wildly optimistic investment return projections and made bad investments in both residential and commercial real estate or exotic (toxic) financial instruments, 4) Government sponsored pensions and entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare that are unsustainable, 5) The possibility of confiscatory property taxes, and 6) The real possibility of hyperinflation due to the Federal Reserve printing of money.

Additionally, we have reared one or two generations that are in effect wards of the state. Even those who are currently productive will be totally lost in the emerging economy. Few know how to milk a goat, butcher a chicken, grow a turnip, change out a light switch or repair a flat tire. Our social safety nets and affluence have robed of us of our ability to cope with hardship or even work with our hands.

If my opinion about our economic future is valid, what is a Daddy to do? How can we plan and prepare for the future? How can we even care for our families while we are in such an economic environment? I have a few, though not new suggestions!

1. Invest in your family. Selfishness, lack of patience, incompatible values, etc cause many families to drift apart and over time loose any semblance of cohesiveness and mutual support. A willed spirit of generosity, longsuffering, and self-sacrifice pays great dividends to the family that practices them. If you insist on doing it your own way for only your benefit, you will find yourself alone and greatly impoverished.
2. Marry well. A good marriage is priceless. Too often a mate is selected primarily on the basis of sex rather than values. Young men there are high maintenance women (demanding an elegant and opulent life style) and there are low maintenance women (willing to get by with what you can provide and be satisfied with what you can honestly and ethically provide). You need to determine which is which and which you can be happy with for the next 60 + years.
3. Invest in your Church and community. A willed spirit of generosity, longsuffering, and self-sacrifice pays great dividends in the Church and community as it does in the family. Naturally as the sphere of relationships increases, mutual support and cohesiveness will decrease but even so great wealth can be stored in these extended relationships. I realize that many of you have utter contempt for the church but when my valley was destroyed by flood in 2007 it was church people who came every week for five months to rebuild the destroyed homes. They asked for nothing and did no preaching.
4. Develop a wide range of essential skills. Today many skills pertain to discretionary products and services. Our culture has developed a disdain for manual labor and associated skills. The typical mother is more likely to brag about her son the professor or lawyer than to brag about her son the machinist or plumber. I believe that in the future there will be far more demand for people who can do things with their hands than the mind worker. Even if I am wrong in my view of the future, knowing how to turn a shaft on a metal lathe or trouble shoot and repair a washing machine or kitchen cook stove or rewire a house can bring great personal satisfaction. If I am right about the future, your probability of having food on the table and a roof over that table will be directly proportional to your essential skill base.

Young women, go ahead and strive to be a corporate CEO if that is your desire, but I advise that you also learn skills such as homemaking, nursing, teaching, gardening, food preservation, etc. If I am right in my view of the future, we will quickly go back to traditional men/women roles in the work place. Social policies such as Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action will soon come to be seen as relics of an affluent society that once existed for a short span of twenty or thirty years. The basis for employment in the future will be is the job absolutely essential and who is the best person for the job regardless of sex, color or any other discriminating characteristic.

Peak oil along with other diminishing natural resources and over population, will only exacerbate and accelerate the economic collapse and resulting social chaos that we have spent sixty five years creating.

Excellent Comment, TGN

I really don't see what more can be said other than pick a good place to live. I would like to echo your view that essential skills and a willingness to do whatever it takes, is key.

The States may be broke, and Canada is supposed to be in better shape, but I see such a sense of entitlement in people. When the mills close, some simply cannot believe it and do nothing. Kids in school often refuse to do any work, whatsoever. Call it lazy....I call it their home. Many parents are content to let their kids veg in front of the screen, tv or gaming, for hour after hour.

An old John Prine song says it well, and excuse my mistakes. "Blow up your tv, plant a little garden, move to the country, build us a home".

One of the best things that ever happened to me, (in hindsight), was losing my job in the 81 recession. I was 24, married with a child, wife at home, fresh mortgage. Our company laid most of us off in order to break the Union. It was a very lonely time for me. I cut firewood, built all kinds of things for folks and was paid under the table. We worked on Canso wings for a water bomber, I built a carport, retaining walls, decks.....whatever. I did a rec room and was paid with a wood stove and piano. In the spring I worked away in the Yukon for 3 months. We survived. We were wood stove warm, ate venison, rabbit, home grown vegetables, drank home made wine, (and I even had a still for hard stuff). All this while we lived in town on 1/2 acre. We didn't miss a mortgage payment. Not wanting to move I was underemployed for years and had to often work away, nevertheless, the times were okay. It gave us strength. A side effect of all that is today I am a firewood nut. I always have 5 years worth of wood cut and a freezer full of veggies and fish. It did have an effect. I do this stuff even with a secure job. My wife calls it wood sickness.


i agree with your praise of TNG. It's folks like ya'll that will make a difference on the other side of the bottleneck. wood sickness is a common malady around here.

We have wood sckness to the extent of haiving at least a three year supply , maybe more.

I wish those who are so opposed to religion that they see only it's downside would give some serious thought to it's upsides.

With religion out of the picture just WHO do they think will be establishing our social mores and morality? Better perhaps, the devil you know, than the one you don't.

One thing is for dxxn sure-the schools aren't going to handle that for us,any better than they are handling all our other social problems starting with lack of a sound education. And while they may not realise it,the people who support organizations such as the Boy Scouts are mostly religious people.

Hi Mac,

I wish those who are so opposed to religion that they see only it's downside would give some serious thought to it's upsides. With religion out of the picture just WHO do they think will be establishing our social mores and morality? Better perhaps, the devil you know, than the one you don't.

I'm clearly opposed to religion and both my reading of history and my personal life experiences lead me hold opinions on this subject that are opposite to yours.

But that aside, how many preachers do you know that stand up on Sunday morning and warn about the issues discussed every day here on TOD? What is moral about ignoring population overshoot and all the damage being done to the planet that we are leaving for future generations?

I live in a very religious community with lots of different "faiths". They all have their separate church buildings and they all think the other church down the street is "wrong" in their beliefs. Too bad all these buildings could not be turned into community centers where all kinds of folks could come together to address the real issue facing the planet and our future generations - instead of worrying about what kind of deal they are going to get in their fairy tale afterlife.

Just who is going to teach us honesty, forbearance, humility, sharing, community , responsibility,in short the whole enchilida that undrepins a liberal democratic society?

Religion is a survival machine, it's built into our mental programming, you will never get rid of it without creating a yawning vacuum just waiting for some other set of beliefs to rush in and take the vacated place.

When it's gone in it's current form(s) , you may well find yourself living with people worshiping a Stalin or a Hitler or Korean Dear Leader.Or maybe the ALMIGHTY DOLLAR.

I suggest you read Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov.One of the characters in it spells it out;"If there is no God, then anything goes."

Civilization is only a very thin veneer laid on over a very rough and crude animal.Just WHERE do you think the values that make civilization possible originated?

If you want to accomplish something, you work with the facts , rather than condemning thier existence.Judo, not boxing.

Let the slaves toil and suffer and fill their master's and holy men's coffers. When we are finished exploiting them, we shall plant them deep into the soil so that they may also inherit the earth. How much is it worth to believe that your passed loved ones are living in a celestial paradise? Apparently quite a lot.

Hi Mac,

Given your handle, I assume you are around my age. And given that I'm as old as dirt, it is highly unlikely that we are going change each other's thinking. However, it's hard for me to read some of your comments about religion and just let them slide by. BTW, I appreciate many of your comments on other topics.

Just who is going to teach us honesty, forbearance, humility, sharing, community, responsibility

I know lots of religious folks who fail miserably in regard to these traits. I know non-religious people that excel in this regard. On the balance, it is my experience that non-religious people are more trustworthy, honest, caring, etc. than people who grew up in religious homes. In fact, some of worst human beings I've known had solid religious upbringing.

Funny you should mention Brothers Karamazov because, when I read that as a youth, it was one of the books that opened my eyes to the sham of religion.

If you really enjoy working with the facts, then I suggest you read "God: The Failed Hypothesis" to see how religion is not necessary for the guidance you believe people need. And the notion that the alternative to religion is Hitler - is just not supported by any facts.

I just don't see how humanity can prevent the scenarios discussed here on TOD if we persist in these deep beliefs in myths and fairy tales. I think it is time that we moved on to a more rational view of our existence. And, it seems that there is some glimmer of hope in this regard. A new book "Dark Green Religion" appears to touch on belief systems that many younger people are starting to think about. I haven't read the book yet, but I heard the author on public radio and thought he made some very good points. Basically, he seemed to be saying that respect for the planet is far more appropriate than our so-called "salvation" for an unproven afterlife.

Humans have made massive changes before - hunter gatherer to farmer - slave labor to human rights - the industrial revolution - etc. The idea that we can't shed these religious belief systems is silly. Religion developed before modern science - we now understand most of the questions that religion tried to answer for us. It is time to move on.

BTW, one of your favorite authors Carl Sagan understood the need for humans to make fundamental changes in the way we operate if we are to survive in the long run.

But in Carl Sagan's case his upbringing helped form his ideas. He was from Russian Jewish parents, so he had heard about GOD.

What OFM is trying to say, if you can form a society, where from the start they are not told anything about a GOD, what will you get as a result of it?

The thought puzzle is thus.

Create an isolated human population, where over time all forms of God worship are forgotten. What will happen to them over time, will they war and kill each other off, or will they live in harmony.

As it stands, we can't do that, because we don't have any groups that have been raised without some form of belief system, even if it is mother earth based.

There is a book out called, What if Jesus were never born? that if I can find it again I'll finish, but it is an interesting read, even though it might be biased in your opinion because it was written by christians.


Just WHERE do you think the values that make civilization possible originated?

I suspect that 'social obligations' and a general sense of 'do unto others' existed a long time before Religion arrived on the scene.

The 'basic tenents' of religion (don't steal, commit murder, etc etc) are all just plain common sense. The role of religion is just another layer on top of the basics (why typically serves to allow the accumulation of wealth towards those who 'preach').

Religion, in some cases, simply pushes social crimes underground. Paedophilia and adultery, for example, aren't punished by religions, especially is the perpetrator in a member of the heirachy itself. Typically, the crimes are hidden away, with the blame being dumped on the victim. And it wasn't too long ago that unwed mothers-to-be were simply evicted from communities until the baby was born, so that the community and the family could 'avoid the shame'.

Religion, like Secularism, has its good points and bad. The difference is that religion is at best an additional, unnecessary layer on top of society, and a duplication of existing social agreements.

To quote Einstein, "if we were constrained in our actions by the promise of reward or punishment after death, we would be in a poor way indeed".

How does one get the population issue addressed, when it is such an unpopular issue

As others have pointed out, most planning strategies are very problematic. However, there is zero doubt that reducing global population (peacefully, humanely) would provide the most benefit of any other possible action. Although the argument for lower per ca pita consumption by western nations is very important, it ignores the fact that every new human (some exceptions in remote areas) stresses the planet in many ways. There is no need for hand wringing on this issue - lots of good folks have already taken action via various organizations - pick an organization(s) and send money (I like Population Connection). Vote for political candidates that have some clue about this issue.

The next major point is to recognize that the most powerful force driving population growth is religion. We have debated this point here several times and I'm too tired to rehash the whole argument - but, the key point is that extremely few religious leaders take a strong position regarding human population overshoot. Overshoot is the single greatest threat to the planet and the so-called "moral" leaders ignore the issue - indeed, actively promote breeding. Once again, find organizations such as Separation of Church and State and send money.

Sent them a check a few days ago as part of my New Year Resolution to back up my speech with dollars.

Ghung, very happy to see that you are aware of this organization.

Choosing not to have children, or to have only one, benefits those making that decision almost immediately, financially of course, but also emotionally, as child-rearing today has turned into an unending treadmill of dreary decisions (see the NY Times article from last Wednesday, Jan. 20, on "Snack Time," about the ridiculousness of the constant demand for snacks for children's activities, along with the apparent inability of those recognizing its ridiculousness to stop providing them.)

And it benefits the planet very quickly, and keeps benefiting the planet long term. Voluntarily limiting the number of children one chooses to have to one or none ought to be front and center for any policy recommendations.

And putting off having any children for as long as possible is just as important. It is the only humane way that world population can be reduced in the near term rather than just slowing down the rate of increase.

We have to start looking at many things in a new light.

In a world pushing 7 billion, the only truly perverse form of consensual sex is unprotected sex between a man and woman of childbearing age. When that becomes the basic world morality, we might be starting to get somewhere.

Meanwhile, all of us well off enough to chat on line can do a lot more to cut back on our consumption levels. Check out, for example,

Not that that is enough, but we gain credibility if, while telling others what to do with their bodies, we are watching what we do with ours.

It's good to see more discussions like this on TOD, although it seems a bit odd that people wish to continually re-hash what is essentially the same material already well researched and presented in detail in the Limits to Growth study.

Anyone familiar with that work already knows what the dozen or so most likely scenarios are, and exactly what global policy responses would have gotten us to a better place. That is, if they had been adopted 20 years ago.

It's really not that hard to figure out, besides which the case already has been made over and over again in the last few decades by qualified people from a variety of disciplines:

  • Reduce population pressure
  • Reduce throughput of energy and resources in the economy
  • Reduce pollution
  • Conserve vital natural resources, such as fresh water and topsoil
  • Conserve vital natural systems, such as fisheries and forests

All of which has largely fallen on deaf ears, if not openly hostile ears as people are easily infuriated at the mere suggestion that maybe, just maybe infinite prosperity is not our GOD GIVEN RIGHT.

As is typical of overshoot, because of the lag times involved, by the time people wake up and realize that we have a problem it will already be way, WAY too late. And even that will only come after the situation is actually made worse by so-called "solutions" that are conceived from a world view that is tragically inappropriate to the actual situation.

My response to a possible collapse scenario? Pour another cold beer.


It is a lot easier to "do" something if the problem is that described in the BAU scenario or the fossil fuel decline only scenario, than if it is a Limits to Growth scenario, which is really the collapse scenario. I'll have to admit I am not doing a whole lot either. Appreciating what we have now, and our friends and family, is high up on the list of what we can really do now. Spending our time worrying about bad things that may happen that we really can do little to prevent, doesn't do much. There probably are some things we can do, but they are pretty limited, and related to your list above.

Thanks Gail,

...a Limits to Growth scenario, which is really the collapse scenario.

I think this is a common misconception. The "base case" or "standard run" scenario that is most commonly identified with LTG is for all intents and purposes exactly the same as what you are calling the "BAU" scenario.

Yes, it is correct to say that in the LTG model if we continue with BAU then that will most likely lead to a collapse over the first decades of the 21st century, for reasons that have already been discussed.

What is rarely mentioned is the fact that the LTG study goes on to present, in detail, a dozen more scenarios that methodically step through specific global policy responses to the population, resource, and pollution crises that become manifest in the BAU scenario.

Each policy response is evaluated for it's impact on the overall behavior of the global system and it becomes painfully clear after the first few scenarios that any one "solution" to a given crisis only causes the global system to hit another biophysical limit. Thus their conclusion that the only really effective solutions are the ones that re-evaluate the underlying and often unspoken goal of continuous growth itself.

They then go on to evaluate policy responses such as the ones in my list above for their impact on the global system and the result is a scenario, the last one presented in the study, that leads to a stable population, at reasonable levels of resource consumption, and enjoying a relatively high standard of living per capita.

Unfortunately, and this is the really bad news that most people are unwilling to hear, that last "sustainable" scenario was really only possible if we had begun those policies at the point when we actually overshot the Earth's long term carrying capacity (preferably BEFORE), which by some estimates was as much as 30 years ago.

Yes, I know, plenty of people are rolling their eyes right now and wondering how I can be so "fatalistic". As William Catton brilliantly points out in his new book "Bottleneck" there is a world of difference between "fatalism" and "determinism".

Fatalism implies that events are pre-determined. I know Nate in particular likes to twang doomers on that, but it totally misses the point. We live in a deterministic system, just ask any baseball player how they know where to run when they catch a fly ball. That, however, does NOT translate into pre-determinism. A giant gust of wind or the ball hitting a bird could (and have before) completely alter the course of events.

How likely those events are is another discussion altogether, but as Catton also brilliantly points out our current situation is not unlike the unfortunate airline pilots who have just realized that their speed and momentum will cause them to overshoot the runway in the very near future. Furthermore, much to their shock and horror, they also realize that due to the aforementioned speed and momentum their window of opportunity to actually do anything about it has already passed.

Appreciating what we have now, and our friends and family, is high up on the list of what we can really do now.

Beautifully put, and I couldn't agree more.


Perhaps I should have put what I said differently, about which scenario is the Limits to Growth scenario. It really depends where we are along the limits to growth path. A few years ago, overshoot looked like it would continue quite a while, along the BAU scenario. Now, it is looking more and more like we may be heading for a collapse scenario. So it really depends on how far along on Limits to Growth we are.

I have corresponded with Dennis Meadows a bit recently. He feels that things are moving along quite a bit faster than the scenarios they laid out suggested. I would not describe him as terribly optimistic at this point.

I apologise if my own comment wasn't as clear as it could be.

What you are describing in the article as BAU is what the LTG model would probably call the "physically impossible" scenario primarily because it can be demonstrated with a fairly high level of confidence that the Earth's ability to provide resources and absorb wastes is not growing, whereas our population, consumption, and pollution are growing.

What you are calling the collapse scenario is actually the BAU scenario because our current arrangement is manifestly unsustainable, for all the reasons already discussed, and any attempt to continue on the current trajectory, no matter how well intentioned, will ultimately lead to collapse.

Even a slow growth scenario will push industrial society up against hard biophysical limits and, as Dennis Meadows has surmised, probably sooner rather than later.

The great unknown is what the response will be to the various resource, population, food, climate and pollution crises. It would be fascinating to apply some sort of rules based system to a world simulation that would allow people to play it like a game. Input a few basic assumptions about what the most likely policy responses will be and then let the simulated population decide if it's going to be a techno-utopia, all out nuclear war, or something in between.



"I'll have to admit I am not doing a whole lot either. "

u are honing u'r intellect re these problems.

very important, see my comment above.

i actually don't understand u'r statement[ u have brought up many practical concerns in posts]; even in the context of dieoff concerns.
there are gobs of things most anyone could & i think should be doing, & i'm thinking of the more concrete things--- also using orlov's model & minsyntax's incrementalism model below one can come up with even more to do at this stage 1 of collapse.

jerry's list above is the kind of list the that imo leads to inaction as the components are primarily societal; not personal.

when reality is kicking us in the face we will instinctively react. going ahead & practice/practice/practice re the things i am pretty sure will go on, so i might mold & shape how i will react is how i/we prepare.

i don't think dieoffs can happen overnight w/o fullon nuclear/meteor etc. so we likely get at least days/weeks/seasons to respond. a multi-decade dieoff would be very very fast imo.

just because our plans won't survive long doesn't mean we don't make them; as the process of making them gives us the ability to adapt- having already done most of the 'thinking thru work'.

Regarding what I am doing--

I am doing things I consider interesting, and sharing what I find with others on the Internet.

We have made more of an effort to visit family and friends that we might not otherwise see.

I am appreciating what I have more, and not too much about what may be ahead. I always "bounce" when problems hit--why not this time too.

I tried doing some gardening, but with poor soil (clay with rocks), and too much shade, the results were not very good. There is a reason why food is grown in some areas and shipped to other areas. Not every place is well adapted to growing food.

The soil around Atlanta wasn't always bad. It depends on were you are and what the developers did to it. We had great gardens there for years. The soil can be ammended to be very fertile. Instead of putting our leaves on the street or burning them as others did, we turned them into our beds in winter, converting the mineral rich clay into very productive soil. Add a little lime and bone meal and you're good to go. Raised beds are a great option as well. The many creek bottoms in the area, Peachtree Creek, Nancy Creek, etc. used to flood periodically, like the Nile, creating wonderful soil. Too bad they allowed so much development there. Many of the soccer fields, golf courses and parks used to be very productive farms when I was a kid. The problem isn't the soil, it's what humans did to it. Lenox Square was a large dairy farm when I was very young. We lived just down the road. My birth home is under GA 400 now, about 200 yards north of Peachtree. When my mom was a kid, the entire Nancy Creek flood plain, from Roswell Rd. to the 'hooch', including Chastain Park down past Northside drive was in cropland, very fertile, later horse farms, now million dollar mansions. Much of that bottom land could be reclaimed as productive farm land in a crash senario. There won't be enough folks playing golf to support the courses, IMO. Many of these courses and sports complexes could be great farmland again, with water features and irrigation already in place. I'll move into the Capitol City Club, or the Standard and start my own dairy. MOOO! ;-)

Edit: My wife told me the Standard is now a development. Oh well...

We are not on a creek bottom, and the developer may have taken top soil away.

I will have to admit I have not spent the time I would need to, to figure out what I needed to. I read Gardening when it Counts and realized that one of Atlanta's problems is that we get too much rain--it tends to wash nutrients down too deep, quite quickly. This not a problem if one can keep replenishing them with fertilizer or soil amendments, but it was hard to see how getting these amendments on a regular basis would be at all feasible, if everyone else had the same problems.

I will admit I did not try terribly hard at the project, but I could see it was going to be an uphill battle--and perhaps not very sustainable.

There's not much you can do about shade, but leaves are the easiest soil amendment. The south area of my yard that was best placed for a garden had been used for many years as a storage area, and was a packed clay, gravel and rock dead-zone. I did slave away with a shovel loosening things up and moving rocks for a year or two, but primarily for the last 12 years I've taken the neighbor's maple leaves in fall (which would otherwise go to the dump) and spread a good 12" layer over my garden area as winter mulch. I turn it in by hand in spring, which is just a day's work as there's usually not much leaves left and the soil stays soft and light. I've gained about 18" of worm-rich productive topsoil now, which is very fine to work with.

What's with this article about Venezuela oil... USGS geologists estimate the area could yield more than 500bn barrels of crude oil. Looking for some feedback from those here in the know.


Some discussion on today's Drumbeat:

I just don't see the problems.

1. There are truly enormous possibilities for energy conservation which have relatively small consequences for quality of life. People don't do them now because energy is so cheap; they will when it gets more expensive.

2. I don't see the big problems in expanding solar massively as prices get cheaper (for example residential solar). It's like saying when the personal computer just came out that it will take a century until the majority of the population has one because the base is so low. It didn't take nearly that long. Nuclear could also be expanded massively--if governments were to follow the policies of Frances--rather than the crazy regulatory structures in the United States.

I just don't see the problems

To the point I've made many times: The major problem is that most people do not agree that a significant problem actually exists.

"I just don't see the problems."

Just look around. The guy next to you at the traffic light in the Escalade, or at the counter at Jiffy Mart. The girl at the Waffle Doodle who's worried about getting to her other job on time, or the kid on the Jet Ski. Watch C-Span. Read this week's Supreme Court decision.

Here's your problem

Actually, if there were the types of vehicles on US roads that are depicted in that photo, it would be quite a bit less of a problem.

Firstly you forgot the "Western world" qualifier to the "population" in your computer example. Secondly, I think that there's a widespread, although not universal, belief that it's not "qualitative" issues but "quantitative" issues relative to possible decline rates that are the big problem. For instance, the French have built about 425TWh/years worth of nuclear power plants in about 40 years. Assuming you want to provide a third of america's 29PWh/year energy usage by nuclear then you've got to build over 20 times as much nuclear plant. So if you're considering doing this in even less than 100 years you're looking at a rate that hasn't been done before, even before considering doing it in a declining energy-availability situation: this inevitably throws up problems which need solving (rather than blithely asserting that they will of course be solved).

That's just a typical example raised by your choice of example. So I see problems (in the case of significant fossil fuel declines), problems which look like they may well be soluble. But for me the big thing is that just because a problem is soluble doens't guarantee that people will notice the problem and commit to actually solving it.

You hit an important ideological problem which has done more than anything has been an impediment to action. Techno-cornucopians see no problem because they believe any issues that arise can be solved by advanced technology and can therefore psychologically justify inaction. I personally believe that we will get through the peak oil crisis (even if extremely painfully) a combination of advanced technology, efficiencies that can be made when we actually pay attention to energy consumption, etc. HereInHalifax's posts show what those actions can do if we actually try. I am however confident that we will do it the hard way and can't dismiss the possibility of a collapse or near collapse scenario. And putting faith in a whiz-bang technological fix that isn't even in conceptual form not a plan and courts disaster.

The real issue with technocopianism (a pretty cool word?) is that it just kicks the can down the road a little. Bartlett goes over that pretty well in his lectures on population growth, basically that technical solutions to growth problems are next to useless; you quickly just wind up having to solve the same problem all over again for a larger population. The "green revolution" is a textbook example.

I'm thinking that we'll "get through" the PO crisis, but that a lot of that "getting through" will simply have to be adjusting to getting buy with a lot less energy in general, and oil in particular, and that will mean generally getting used to being a lot poorer than we are now.

In a fast collapse, we're all toast. But if the crash isn't too fast, then planning may be worthwhile.

Let me share my collapse strategy, which is based on incrementalism, and what I call "trigger indicators". It's incrementalist, in part by necessity (I have a steady job in a city, but no means to fortify myself overnight, kitted with seeds and gear, in the countryside, self-sufficient and multi-skilled).

I base incrementalism on Dmitry Orlov's 5 stages of collapse:
1. Financial
2. Commercial
3. Political
4. Social
5. Cultural

I argue that at any one stage, POA strategists like us can only plan meaningfully for the next stage of civilization's demise. There are too many unknowns to plan meaningfully more than one stage away. In the current stage, financial collapse, one thus prepares for commercial collapse.

Preparing for Stage 2/commercial collapse involves assessing one's current situation in Stage 1 and planning to get from it to a new situation where you're not too badly off in Stage 2. Breaking the problems down into smaller issues, one is faced with questions such as:
What do I do when the furnace breaks down and it takes repair companies at least three weeks to source the part?
How do I deal with a multi-day blackout during an ice-storm?
How do I deal with a three-day lack of tapwater?
What does my shopping list look like when food prices quadruple during an oil price spike?

...and so on.

None of these issues spells the collapse of homo sapiens on its own, of course. But each is a "visible" scenario in Stage 2 of Orlov's model of collapse. And it's not going to get much easier to prepare for them, so one must begin now.

Whatever one does to prepare for political collapse during times of economic collapse (Orlov's Stage 2 -> Stage 3) only gradually becomes clear as the situation worsens. Does one need weapons or affiliation with a local political or security organization of some sort? Does it help to be a trusted member of the local community, or is it better to be invisible? Some people may already have their own answers but for most, the answers (and the optimal questions) are hazy at best.

Trigger indicators
Alongside incrementalist plans for subsequent stages of collapse, it's reasonable to suppose that a series of IF>>THEN statements guiding one's plans might be in order. For instance, one of mine is:

IF: The Bank of Canada announces that the annual rate of inflation in Canada is 6% or greater;
THEN: Consider sinking all savings into immediate home improvements (in my case, fix roof, improve insulation).

Such statements aren't set in stone, but noted and modified as circumstances change. The statement above, for instance, presupposes that inflation creeps upwards gradually, oil's baseline is around $150 with spikes around $300 (in a non-deflationary recession), and the inflation isn't the result of a one-time catastrophe (e.g. war between Saudi Arabia and Iran halting commercial traffic in the Gulf).

This set of trigger indicators is most valuable for situations which arise in the upcoming stage of Orlov's collapse model. So it's meaningless for me to prepare now for the following IF-THEN statement no matter how true it might become:

IF: Most of my neighbours' protein intake is derived through scavenging and killing city squirrels;
THEN: ?!?

… but something like that will make it onto my list if I'm (un)lucky enough to survive until then.

nice model. thanks. i will sharpen some of my plans by evaluating with this.

'There are too many unknowns to plan meaningfully more than one stage away.' thanks!

Thanks. And like I hinted at, I'm pretty well hoping for a slow decline - after all, I like our civilization and would like us to keep it. The faster the decline is, the shorter the timespans are between Orlov's stages, making things harder to prepare for under incrementalism.

And there's other factors at play. One that worries me is the differential between a POA person (you or me) in readiness for collapse vis-a-vis our community. The greater the differential, the less chance of our survival. To illustrate the extreme, one individual kitted up in a private fortress among the starving just becomes a target til the ammo runs out; whereas a reasonably prepared individual in a resilient community can become a source of information or a guide as collapse enfolds.

Ah, so many factors and so many unknowns. Gotta love Campfire...

It seems to me that we have a race between many asymptotes driven by positive feedback.
There is the exponential increase in information processing which is accelerating upwards.
And there is the exponential growth of the economy.China's GDP doubles every 8.5 years.
There are other exponential functions also in the brew. Climate change will have a positive feedback loop when the clathrates sublimate.

Gazing into this cauldron of infinities makes me dizzy.

But just as a simple iterative process can create chaos such as the Mandlebrot set of self similar forms, Chaos can produce simple, self-similar outcomes, such as the mind. Or ecology.

I anticipate that that whatever comes out of this fathomless chaos of infinities will be self-similar and simple.

Lets hear it for the black swans I see lurking in the bushes. Swans such as perennial nitrogen fixing wheat. Genetically manipulated of cause.
Which reminds me. I have to get my brain augmented. I must upgrade my computer.

Very perceptive comment Gail on Australia's financial dependence on coal exports . If all those countries that talked big at Copenhagen actually cut their emissions then you'd think the coal trade would decline steeply. In fact China is increasing coal imports and some say they will not be able to maintain their 2.5 billion tonne a year coal habit past 2015 or so. If the Chindia bubble bursts then it will take Australia's food and mineral exports with it. Then all of the Anglosphere will be on hard times.

Therefore I think there must be some major shakeout in the coming decade. Whether the flow-on effects will be gradual or violent is hard to say. Logic suggests there will be more nuclear and more localisation but entrenched forces will insist that BAU is necessary. A minor example being cheap fuel for large farms when perhaps they should be semi abandoned. A steady decline with calls to bring back the glory days, hopefully no major conflicts.

My 2 cents...

1) The coal phase-out scenario can be disregarded from the start. Unrealistic on so many levels.

2) Rather than spending much time actively prepare for collapse, I think it is better to just be very aware of the issues, focus on self-improvement, and avoid doing anything obviously stupid (e.g. buying up properties in Phoenix).

And a couple more pennies:

Rapid coal phase-out is, of course, the only realistic scenario, in the sense that this is the only way we have a remote chance of avoiding very bad climate consequences--turning the earth into a starkly different planet.

But of course you are right that it seems POLITICALLY un-realistic right now. But politics can change radically and dramatically. One would have said in the late '80 that it would be unrealistic to expect the entire Soviet empire to collapse, mostly peacefully, but it did. As did South African apartheid.

And yes, avoiding really stupid decisions like moving to an overpopulated desert, would be a good start. Beach front property might not be the best long term investment, either.

And a final cent:

If I have to bet, and the US population is given the choice between blackouts of various lengths or burn the large amounts of coal that are available, I'll bet that they burn the coal. This will be especially true in the western states. Montana and Wyoming between them hold almost 40% of all reserves and are sparsely populated. They can keep the lights on for a very long time using local coal, and are apt to take unkindly to the federal government telling them to sit in the dark instead.

Could well be. I have long pointed out that one of the first uses of oil was to facilitate coal mining, and it is likely to be one of its last uses.

If denialist would take a rest (and be seen by others as the dangerous liars or delusionists they are), we might be able to start to get it across to people that at this point using any ff is writing a death sentence for your children and their progeny. Once this nail of reality gets pounded into most people's skulls we may see a change of attitude.

(Lights, by the way, are one of the most easily forms of electrical use to minimize the energy requirements for. Once you get a highly efficient compact florescent or LED bulb, a bit of wind or sun generated battery power will keep you lit up for a good long while. And then there are always bees' wax candles ;-)

In the USA, the primary energy breakdown is basically--
43% goes to electricity, 29% goes to transport and 28% goes to heat or fossil fuel products like plastics.
I would guess the USA is probably close to Peak Transport now, with more efficient cars and more telecommuting and too many highways. Heating loads will drop with more efficient buildings and GW and fossil fuel products will
decline slightly with recycling and more renewable substitutes(cloth grocery bags?). Electricity demand will probably drop with more efficient lights and appliances and computers.
This probably holds for all the OECD countries.
In Chindia and Arab countries there will be large growth in the demand for electricity but not so much in energy for transport as they are already densely populated but there will be some demand for petrochemical products. In Latin America and Africa, it seems unlikely that they will major economic players before 2050 and so will not increase their take of energy.
The emerging econnomy areas don't need a lot of fuel for heating.
Historically oil refineries were built to make transport fuel but developed plastics as a sideline.
Repeated high oil prices could disrupt global shipping trade(globalization) triggering a bigger depression.

The biggest reducer of global energy use would probably be the implementation of CO2 controls.

What do you see as the big issues that need to be addressed, that are not being addressed?

Its a little late in the evening for me to digest this very thoroughly, but here's my one thought: Fresh water. If you look at the UN information on population projections and water use projections (and I'll try to dig up a good link in the AM) you will find one very interesting tidbit which I overlooked myself until recently: past 2015 or so, the majority of the new water supply to provide for population increases past that point comes from desalination. Which is another way of saying we don't have any more water, and the best plan they ever came up with was apparently from back in the days when the future was well supplied with cheap and abundant nuclear power - the only source capable of economically desalinating any quantities of water. Needless to say, it isn't happening.

So that's one thing to look into, or the one point at which population hits the wall pretty hard, even before energy issues become severe.

past 2015 or so, the majority of the new water supply to provide for population increases past that point comes from desalination. Which is another way of saying we don't have any more water, and the best plan they ever came up with was apparently from back in the days when the future was well supplied with cheap and abundant nuclear power - the only source capable of economically desalinating any quantities of water.

You can desalinate sea water for less than $1 per ton. This makes it a viable solution for personal water supplies (nobody needs to use a ton of water per day), but not for irrigation.

Let me toss this out: wind-powered desalinaters. Take an offshore wind generator, remove the generator, and substitute a direct-drive reverse osmosis unit. That eliminates a lot of inefficiency in the system.

One advantage of this is that you don't waste power when the wind blows but demand is low, and don't need back-up power when the wind doesn't blow. When the wind blows hard you use it to desalinate more water than you need, and when it doesn't you use water you have stored.

People seem to think in small little boxes. One of the boxes contains the idea of using wind-generators to produce electricity, another of the boxes contains the idea of using electricity to power reverse-osmosis desalination plants. They don't connect the two.

Interesting idea on wind generated desalination.

Of course, this doesn't help folks in the hinterland much, unless you are going to put in pipelines and pump it inland, presumably at a much higher cost in energy and money.

Given global sea rise, moving everyone to the coast does not seem wise.

As for water usage, once you include all uses of water, a ton a day is not that far off from what many urbanites and suburbanites use.

Just a quick google shows Dallas has a rate of 244 gallons a day, or just about a ton a day.

...which, looking at the population of Dallas, means desalinating about 585 million gallons a day, and that's just for the metropolitan area. Even if you say everything we have will be supplied by existing fresh water, and we'll just add desalination capacity for new population, that's a vast number for this country, and unimaginable number for the world as a whole.

The growth rate is around 3 percent at the moment. That's a doubling of population every 22 years or so, which means that in addition to maintaining current inadequate service, a capacity equivalent to the current water infrastructure of the world would need to be added by 2032 to supply new population.

One of the problems with seeing anything but a collapse scenario is that so few people can comprehend the scale of the problem or the consequences of growth. Once we're past what the resources of the planet provide for free, more or less, that's the wall.

on edit: wrong on the global growth rate - its around 1.17% most recent figure for 2008. That's better, but still a doubling of population in less than a lifetime. This is a great population rate resource, btw:

Hi daxr,

global growth rate - its around 1.17% most recent figure for 2008. That's better, but still a doubling of population in less than a lifetime

Thanks for the link - added it to my collection.

Thank you for using "growth rate". We get lots of comments on TOD regarding birth rates, fertility rates, etc. that ignore the only one that counts: growth rate.

Global population will not shrink until the growth rate number is negative. With a zero growth rate the population stays the same. A one percent growth rate adds billions of people over time.

The US growth rate is just shy of 1% and (if it continues) will increase the US population from a little over 300M now to nearly 500M in 2050. If anyone doubts this math (and is math deficient like me) just set up an Excel spreadsheet and run the numbers.

The growth rate is around 3 percent at the moment
on edit: wrong on the global growth rate - its around 1.17% most recent figure for 2008. That's better, but still a doubling of population in less than a lifetime.

That's an illustration of a phenomenon that I like to call "Peak People". It's not a hyperbolic curve as commonly assumed, it's a bell-shaped curve similar to the Hubbert Curve and it's already starting to level off.

Global birth rates have fallen and the current population growth rate is basically caused by the fact that the children from the preceding boom have not finished their reproductive years. When that happens (around 2050), global population will peak (at about nine billion) and start to decline.

Nine billion are a lot, but it's a survivable situation. Survivable for you but not for other people. Africa is an area where it might not be survivable for a lot of people. There will be others, but most countries have the situation under control - China, with its "one child" policy is an example of things being under control.

The people in the hinterland can desalinate brackish water. There are vast reservoirs of salt water from ancient seas buried underground. The real problem is finding drinkable aquifers. A reverse osmosis unit can turn brackish water into fresh water as easily as it can turn sea water into fresh water. And then a pipeline moving salt water inland is not impossible, just unusual.

Dallas has a rate of 244 gallons a day, or just about a ton a day.

You will note that I said, "nobody needs to use a ton of water per day". Presumably residents of Dallas get their water very cheap because almost everybody else uses less. If they have huge lawns that need nearly a ton of water a day, it is easily corrected. Tear up the lawn, bring in sand and rockwork, plant cactus and other desert plants, put in a low-flush toilet and shower flow restricters, problem solved. For that matter, a ton of desalinated water only costs $1 so maybe they can afford a nice big lawn for $1/day.

Yes, conservation is easy, but nobody does it until they have to due to scarcity or cost. I'm not too worried about water myself, as I know I can get the fresh water I need, and its not hard to find a technological solution for a family or a village...its when you have a big city or an agricultural area or nation to supply that all the solutions go away.

Add to the mix climate change, the depletion of fossil-water reservoirs, and the amount of deferred maintenance our infrastructure suffers from, and supporting even the existing population begins to look shaky.

"Tear up the lawn, bring in sand and rockwork, plant cactus and other desert plants, put in a low-flush toilet and shower flow restricters"

No argument from me there. I'll do you one better and call for composting toilets and sponge "showers."

The point is that the way we do things will have to change in a lot of basic ways, and people generally don't change readily unless properly "incentivized" either in nice ways with lots of "carrots" and education, or in not so nice ways, by deprivation and necessity.

I dont see why preparing for all eventualities is so difficult.

For a fast crash you learn some basic survival skills. How to filter and clean water, hunting, trapping, foraging and gardening.

A slow decline you might need to use some of the above skills but also learn something more, for example, trade and craft skills.

For BAU you educate yourself so you can improve your lot and get a better job.

Theres no reason why you cant do all of the above.

As for those people who think not having children is a good idea then I would say who is going to look after you when you get old? Your possible condeming yourself to an early death assuming state support will no longer be available in the future.
I had my children after becoming peak oil aware and they are now 2 and 4 years old. The 4 year old can already identify some wild edibles that most adults cannot.
The measure of success in life is not how big your house is or how fast the car. The real measure according to evolution is that you pass on your genes succesfully and if you havnt had children then you have fallen flat at the start line.

Then I have fallen flat. I don't care whether my genes are passed on, I just don't.

As for children taking care of parents, maybe yes, maybe no. Right now, what I am seeing, is parents taking care of adult children, long after the age of majority is passed.

Those of us without children already watch out for each other a bit, we know we are all in the same boat!

What matters to me is that life continues on this planet, as many species as it is gifted with, and that we humans recognize that our role is to celebrate and defend the others.

who is going to look after you when you get old?

While I don't assume anyone is going to look after me, I think it is very wrong to think that the current norm will be the future norm, minus government. The nuclear family as a social unit is an anomaly outside of our resource-rich present and every civilized society finds some level of community whereby the old are not abandoned to die. Lacking civilized society, I'd not expect my kids to hang around and feed me.

and on success:

The real measure according to evolution is that you pass on your genes succesfully and if you havnt had children then you have fallen flat

As a species, the more of us that adopt that view the more thoroughly screwed we are. What is needed is some limit to population growth other than the utter misery and deprivation we will find at the limit of the planet's resources.

As for those people who think not having children is a good idea then I would say who is going to look after you when you get old? Your possible condeming yourself to an early death assuming state support will no longer be available in the future.

We didn't have kids. I've heard variations on this theme more times than I can count. Sorry, but it strikes me as deciding to have children so one can produce for oneself a personal slave. Hardly sounds all that noble to me.

You assume that just because you have a child, they will survive to adulthood. Most do, but there are no guarantees, and sometimes some tragedies. You also assume that the child is going to be around and available to help when you need them. I hear few people who spout this line suggesting that THEY are committed to relocating to be wherever the kid can find a job. Yet, is this not more realistic?

Our plan is to remodel our home so that we can offer room and board to someone at least a little younger in exchange for some caregiving, if and when it get to the point where that is what we need. That seems to me to be more fair, for it is purely on a voluntary and contractual basis. If the financial situation is such that we can't even swing that, then we might indeed die early and quick. We might anyway, no matter what we do, and whether we have kids or not.

Is it possible to do reasonable planning, other than by small groups of people who see the future one way or another, gearing off of their own views of the future?

I have raised the issue in a small local county government (1/2 mill inhabitants) here in Norway, with no response at all. I even referred to IEA's urge to governments to "leave oil before oil leaves us".

Since no major media covers the issue of declining oil production forecasts, no one bothers. Most people prefer to remain "techno optimists".

Still, I promote P+R solutions, poublic transport priority projects and "passive houses" with extra insulation etc. I have suggested that our county become a member of "Transitiontowns" or similar, with little success. I am no CO2 emission fanatic at all, those emissions will take care of themselves as the energy supply is going down. Climate fanatics may help us to prepare, though, since the mitigation requirements are fairly similar to P-O.

My conclusion so far is to not even try to prepare the public for what may come. The media's stonewalling of the theme works, one can only admit it. I advised my son to call our grandson SUE, after Johnny Cash's song, to grow up tough and mean. I am also trying to get some land with multi feeding capabilities, but the family also need to be convinced.

(Gosh - as I was writing this, a moose just walked by in my garden :-))

Like wise my attempts to get the locals interested have met with uncompromising resistance.
Asking a local council to fund a feasibility study for hydro power on their river was scuppered by the local squires control of his fiefdom and the fawning apathy of the locals.
"Too expensive for the power that could be generated".
So they are sitting on a big pile of money worth about 20% of its value in 2001 - laughing out loud.
More than £100,000 and all I wanted was < £1,000.
If the project was feasible that would have been the full extent of their costs, the fools.
What can you do with the conceited, at least we are trying.

How does one get the population issue addressed, when it is such an unpopular issue (and people are not likely to have very good pensions in the future, so will need children to support themselves)?

After a total collapse has faded from memory.
No need for pensions, the perennial agriculture way.

Excess old people, children that stray from protection of the village fine tuning the leopard way.

Historically, elderly bush people no longer able to contribute or feeling they had had enough live in the bush on their own until taken by a leopard.


Cougar: The American equivalent

Over the last 6 or 7 years there have been more than 72,000 posts on another po site in a forum named Planning For The Future. Want to know what 99% (my guess) of the people posting there did to prepare for po?


Hopefully many more lurkers actually changed some portion of their life to become less dependent. FWIW, here is what I wrote a few years ago and have been living TRYING to live for more...

Because PO will impact your personal economy first and foremost, for what it is worth here are my 5 rules:

Pops Five Don’ts:

Don't buy - Quit buying crap and learn to live on less.

Don't borrow - Get out of debt and stay out, things will go waay downhill before your creditors will quit looking for you - they will need income too and will always have the upper hand.

Don't specialize - Diversify your sources of income, it's easy to tell if your job will be hurt, but hard to be certain it won't.

Don't go hungry – Stock up and rotate necessities – not because they will become unavailable but because at some point (hopefully temporarily) you may not be able to afford them..

Don't be dependent - Try to become more independent from infrastructures of all kinds – especially those for which you have to pay.

Mine happen to be framed as Don'ts simply because they are opposite from the average American's typical life - they could just as easily be Do's.

You won't make it on your own. Community and a network of shared responsibilities and duties are key. Friends, families, do this and I do that. JHK and the Long Emergency....His site is wacko and I believe that his conclusions on American people are nasty, in particular his diatribe on the south. However, his book had some good suggestions. Any worse than that is Mad Max stuff and such a world is not worth living in, anyway.

Pops 5 don'ts are plain common sense and reflect the values many have been raised with. My parents were children in the Depression and the stories my dad told were fascinating. I have never forgotten them.

When people are too lazy and well fed to think, they become a nation of consumers....not citizens. The clothes and cars determine the choice of mates and subsequent children. Hoped for bank accounts determine choice of professions. If this continues, one day we wake up to see that the Supreme Court just enshrined the ownership of Govt. to business, even foreign controlled business. Oooops.

How will you take back your country? Will it take PO calamity? Cities flooding out? How many have considered leaving the US?

In Canada our ruling conservatives are in bed with big business. The fact they are a minority Govt is keeping us safe, for now. We are no different. A facebook protest on Harper's tactics seems to be snowballing into workable criticism. Just an idea.

Do people think PO will make the politics and control of Big Business irrelevant?

Don't be dependent

You put that one as not being dependent on infrastructure, but I also like to think of it as not being dependent on others, in a positive way, as in learning to be one who can provide rather than one who needs to be provided for.

Fair enough. There's a lot of talk but that's shifting very rapidly. Really, it is. It's always an 80/20 scenario between talkers and doers if it isn't 95/5. But, let me inform you all that 5 is very active and very proactive at the moment. They're very well informed, very aggressive, and very forthright in their understanding of peak oil and climate change. And what are a lot of them doing? Moving to my neck of the woods, the Big Island of Hawaii, which is just about the best bet out there for managing these issues in any sensible manner. It's a landrush, really. I'm glad to have the neighbors. It beats the hell out of golf courses.

You can't really expect people to act. My dad was an undertaker and one of my jobs in the past was to pre-plan estates for people in that context. Now, get this: confronted with a fact--you're going to bloody die at some point--how many people do any sort of estate planning? Well, 80/20 if it's not 95/5. Very few. Stupid in the extreme even when faced with obvious reality. Peak oil is way more esoteric than that, even though it's obvious. Climate change is off the charts in terms of accessibility, although it's completely obvious too.

Never underestimate the power of people to lie to themselves. It's absolutely unbelievable. Either you've got the ability to do that or you don't, it seems. I don't. No pride in that, I simply can't do it. Others are very very capable of doing that indeed. That might be a good survival strategy a lot of the time, but it's going to be a bugger over the next century, for sure.

We pretty much have the same attitude towards energy as a culture of bacteria in a petri dish. Eat the low hanging fruit first, then when energy becomes scarce a new cascade of enzymatic tools will be made that can unlock the second most useful energy source (in our case, natural gas) and then a third set of enzymatic tools until every source and every tool has been exhausted. When there are no more tools and no more sources, the colony stops growing and dies.

The sun and ecosystem was perfect, providing steady and perpetual energy and food, but it wasn’t enough. Why? Because there was more energy, unrecognized until lately, that could be used to expand population and consumption. Humans not only ate the hydrocarbons of buffalo, they also burned the hydrocarbons of trees that allowed expansion into temperate regions where farming could be accomplished on thick, rich soils.

With fire and primitive tools it was only a matter of time until the curious monkey put them together to create fantastically powerful new tools. Now we run out of energy to run our tools and substrate to exploit.

We’re now running out of time. We wait in anticipation for the next set of magical tools that will unlock a new wealth of energy. The new tools of energy acquisition are not PVC and wind generator but rather F-16s and killer drones.

We are so mentally screwed-up in so many ways that we may never escape a sad fate, but the good news is that we have not yet exhausted all of our fuel sources nor made the petri dish unlivable, yet.

I backed out of business as usual quite a long time ago. I live in a 700 square foot log cabin, heat with wood from the mountain, ( there is lots and lots of wood up there), grow a big garden, have a fruit orchard, raise goats for both milk and meat, have chickens for eggs and meat, and raise a beef or some lambs every year. The area I live in is as remote as anywhere can be in the USA and our economy is based upon free range beef production. There will always be beef in our outback. Our cattle aren't pasture cows, they're free range and we graze them over millions and millions of acres of ground, most desert, but some mountainous. They're as wild as deer. We use horses 100% to manage them. All of our grazing is on public lands, and so our agricultural infrastructure is small. A cowman owns a tractor, swather, and a bailer. That's it. Horses and mules are a part of life and are thought of as utilities, just as a good dog is a utility and necessary when gathering cows. Until 25 years ago, most of our roadways were unpaved and quite rough.

We all live with a small footprint out here and so I think the world can change quite a lot and we won't notice. The old folks here say that nobody noticed the 30's depression because nothing changed. In 1972 National Geographic did a special on this area, and titled it America's Outback. Old A.C. Ecker was on the front cover. He ran the Robber's Roost Ranch, out east of Hanksville. His cows were Longhorns crossed with Corrientes (Mexican Cows). His roundups were real western. If beef prices were good he sold his steers for beef. If not they went as roping steers. He always had a market. As AC got older he began using a little airplane for his roundups. He'd fly the canyons looking for cows. When he'd find some, he'd draw a little map on a piece of yellow paper, wrap the paper around one of the rocks stacked on the passenger seat, secure it with a rubber band, go find his cowboys, and toss the rock out of the window. The cowboys would retrieve the rock and follow AC's map to where they'd find some cows. We lost AC a few years ago when he couldn't pull his little airplane out of a box canyon.

Your slow decline model is the one I would prefer from a global perspective, but I am more focused on what will be happening in the US. The biggest single factor looming over the US will be the virtual elimination of oil imports due to the ELM, and due to our increasing inability to pay for them; there will be less and less available, and we will be outbid for what little there is. I expect that most of this will hit in the period 2015-2025. Beyond 2025, the US will be forced to live with what it can produce internally (about 1/3 of the present total), plus maybe a trickle from Canada, plus whatever biofuels it can manage to produce without starving its citizenry. A second factor, and something that is generally off the radar screen and thus will be something of a black swan, will be our need to actually EXPORT some of our coal to pay for essential imports. We won't be able to pay for them with slips of green paper any more, so we will have to export something valuable, and coal is one of the few things we have that we could export. People thinking that coal is our ace in the hole that we can ramp up massively to make up for other things (with CTL, for example) may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Thus, for the US only, the pattern might end up looking more like something between your figure 3 and figure 4. That is not a crash, but it does mean hard times ahead, and it does mean that the US is destined to be a much poorer nation than it is now by 2050.

Our species very successfully tramples the fauna and flora of this planet, poisoning water and air, all leading to major problems in near future. Do nations care? See Copenhagen! Does anyone believe that, when oil is in decline, any country will advocate pollution control, leave alone enforcement? No, we are pigs now and will be greater pigs to prevent our life style to change. The US has 30% of the world’s coal reserves and when time comes, the US will scoop up the last lump of coal, flattening the mountaintops of lovely W. Virginia. Canada, China, Russia will not hold back either.

It will be very ugly for us here but if you believe in parallel universes then there are numerous other Earths where we live simultaneously with more or less variations and there should be some societies that have found a better way.

How does one plan?

There is only one thing that can make any difference in obtaining any hope of survival for your self and your loved ones. MONEY .

all that the survival doomstead stuff will do is buy you a short reprieve then guarantee a bloody end.

Money always has and always will be number one in survival. Live with it.

"Money always has and always will be number one in survival."

How many people throughout history that thought this ended up begging in the streets? Real wealth isn't printed.

"Real wealth isn't printed." Aughhhhh, How sweet.

Spoken like someone who has lots (great pics of your house by the way).

Land rich. Cash poor. Still wealthy.

Spend it while you can!

"spend it while you can" a BAU scenario, that may be for awhile and money may well keep many out of trouble. In a collapse scenario, its a dice roll. Odds are fiat currency won't last long at all. Gold may be good for longer, but if tshtf even that may be more of a liability than an asset. (In more than one historical collapse, the PTB and the wealthy have been marched off to the gallows).

If you're putting your trust in money, timing may be the most important thing; plan on putting it to good use while it still has value, and have a "plan B".

In Britain there's a long history of stashes of gold and silver being dug up. Much of it buried during the collapse after the Roman's left 1600 years ago, when the Vikings or Saxons came etc., plus more from political upheavals down the millennia.

Money guarantees nothing (but does tilt the odds in your favour).The best defence is a strong community and the maintenance of some kind of order.

The perfect example of why talk about planning is counterproductive.

"The only way to transition is to do more of the same - to actually change makes you a survivalist nutjob."

The question is how long money will really have value. If it stops having value, you are out of luck.

How does one get the population issue addressed, when it is such an unpopular issue (and people are not likely to have very good pensions in the future, so will need children to support themselves)?

There is a factor that Doomers often overlook: Peak People. On the current trendlines, Peak People will occur around 2050 at about 9 billion people. After that world population will start to decline (no doubt following the familiar bell-shaped Hubbert curve). This will occur even without any complications cause by Peak Oil.

Some countries are already in population decline, many others will soon follow. Birth rates in developed countries are already below the replacement levels, and birth rates in developing countries are getting close to break even.

We are already in overshoot mode, and the only reason population is increasing is because of the time lag between the drop in birth rates and the drop in the reproducing population. Once the bulge passes through the reproductive window, global population will start to decline.

This is because most countries have already responded to this issue and have taken steps to mitigate it. China, for instance, has its draconian one-child policy, and most other countries have taken measures to promote birth control. Pensions, as noted, are a major factor, so once a country has a good pension plan, people realize that having more children is counterproductive. Countries which have very good pension plans have very low birth rates.

The major exceptions are in Africa and the Near East, where birth rates are still far too high. This is where die-off will occur, and is already starting to occur. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will solve the problem for us, in the nastiest possible way - Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death.

Notable example: Pakistan, where the average woman has eight children and agricultural resources are already stretched to the limit. Look for things to blow up in a major way in the near future, and most of the surplus people to be eliminated from the population by the Four Horsemen. Unfortunately, the Pakistanis will blame everybody else except themselves for this. They still don't realize that birth control is much easier than starving to death.

Indeed, Pakistan at 166 million and still growing exponentially is truly mind boggling, but so is the whole Indian subcontinent.

On the other hand, if everyone lived at the resource consuming level of the average Dalit, we would be in much better shape on both the resource depletion and the pollution fronts, even with current population levels.

One (relative) bright spot seems to be Kerala, along the SW coast of India.

Their population seems to have stabilized, and they seem to have attained a higher than average rate of overall well being at a very modest level of GDP per capita.

RockyMtnGuy, India with 1.3 Billion inhabitants and rising is out of control. Unlike China where a dictatorial government can invoke any law, India is the largest democracy in the world and thus, it is difficult to come to any solution concerning population control. Irinda Ghandi in the 1970's introduced population control, but that was incessantly attacked by western press on human rights issues and had to be abandoned.

RockyMtnGuy, India with 1.3 Billion inhabitants and rising is out of control.

Actually, the fertility rate in India has been cut in half over the last 50 years, from nearly six children per woman in 1960 to less than three today. That's still not good enough - they need to get it down to only a little over two children per woman to achieve a level population.

China's fertility rate is only about 1.7 children per woman. That means their population will start decline in a few years. China's fertility rate is actually lower than the US and UK.

By 2050, India will have more people than China, and Indian does not have as much farmland as China, so it will be a difficult experience for them. China will do okay, though.

Hi Rocky,

Peak People will occur around 2050 at about 9 billion people. After that world population will start to decline

I've commented many times about the need to reduce population and just can't share your optimism about this issue.

However, simply accepting your numbers (which is the common prediction), do you imagine that this much population growth in the next 40 years will allow us to squeak by without really serious consequences? It seems to me that adding a couple billion more folks over the next 40 years will greatly stress our planet.

I would hope for much more aggressive attitudes toward peaceful and humane programs for reducing global population at a much faster pace. And, I don't think this is an impossible goal.

POPULATION is the elephant in the room. We feel we must continue to ignore it because it’s a taboo subject. However, we do so at our own risk. Peak oil and depletion in general are merely symptoms of several more fundamental problems, exponential growth in population and resource consumption. As our resource pies, such as oil, natural gas, eventually coal, fresh water (fossil water), topsoil, and food production from oceans etc, begins to decline, and the number of mouths to feed continues to increase, I can’t help but feel the world is one giant Easter Island. In our case, money, credit, and stuff we don’t need have taken the place of giant statues overlooking the ocean.

If the population time bomb were dealt with, peak oil would merely by an inconvenience rather than potential disaster. But rather than deal with a subject that can’t be mentioned in polite conversation, we must continue the make fun of European countries with more stable populations and China with it’s one child policy.

Does anyone on the blog want to see the U.S. level off with a population of 500,000,000 or one billion people?

leduck, most of those projections for the U.S. account for unchanged immigration laws and with PO in the very near future they are most likely inaccurate. Although it would be interesting to see if say Social Safety nets, pensions, and other birthrate reducing programs were to fail because they rely on perpetual growth to remain funded. I wonder what will happen to the fertility rate if those programs break down.

Current projections show the U.S. with nearly 1.2 Billion people come 2100 if nothing is changed, that does not seem possible to me.

Hi Floridian,

Current projections show the U.S. with nearly 1.2 Billion people come 2100 if nothing is changed, that does not seem possible to me.

I can't imagine this either - but, is it not insane that, on one hand, we have this kind of mathematical prediction based upon BAU; and on the the hand, we have no (zero) national policy regarding population growth. Unless, of course, you interpret all the government and media cheering when we exceeded 300M as a tacit agreement for more growth as our national policy.

Current projections show the U.S. with nearly 1.2 Billion people come 2100 if nothing is changed, that does not seem possible to me.

Floridian, China has 1.3 billion people and manages to feed them on less agricultural land than the US has. However, I don't think most Americans would like to live at Chinese population densities, and I don't think they're mentally prepared for the transition to a lifestyle involving a lot less personal space. But it could well happen.

RockyMtn, in a world of declining fossil fuels, I do not see how we could service such large populations. I believe things will change out of necessity long before then. I believe going from a wealthy car culture to one of perhaps near mass poverty in the not so distant future will derail any sort of population disaster within the U.S. But as said before, these are just BAU demographic projections.

I don't think there's actually any pressing shortage of all fossil fuels. US natural gas production is hitting new highs as a result of shale gas development, and there are unbelievably large amounts of coal under Wyoming and Montana's semi-arid plains (Many people are not really aware of the latter).

The upcoming Peak Oil crisis is primarily a liquid fuels crisis. US oil production has been declining for the last 40 years, and it now produces only a third of its consumption. Solid and gaseous fossil fuels are available in much larger quantities. The same is generally true for other major industrialized countries.

Even China has at least 50 years of coal left in reserves, and the US has considerably more coal than China.

The USGS did ten times as many boreholes and used improved software and cut the WY/MO coal reserves by almost half. Zero media coverage.


Cutting the reserves in half assumed the same price. If you raise the price a bit, there is no problem. Given the small share of the price of electricity that coal is, it seems like one can assume the price can go up a bit. It would still be cheap relative to natural gas and oil.

Burning Natural Gas is cheaper than burning coal today in many markets.


Burning natural gas is often cheaper than burning coal - if you have to comply with all the environmental regulations. Sulfur scrubbers and baghouses really run the costs up on a power plant, and doing a first-class reclamation job on a strip mine (making it look like it was never there) is also expensive.

Just as a reality check on reserve numbers, I looked up Canadian coal reserves on Wikipedia, which come from BP's annual survey of energy resources. They were 6.6 billion tons. That seemed low, so I looked up the Alberta government's estimates for Alberta: 37 billion tons. So, apparently Alberta has nearly six times as much coal as Canada does.

I'm living in a former coal mining town in the Alberta Rockies so I can see what is going on. They didn't shut down these mines because they ran out of coal, they shut them down because the railways stopped using coal in their locomotives. Canada unfortunately manged to put most of its heavy industry at the other end of the country from its coal reserves, so Canadian steel mills and Ontario's power plants (the biggest coal burners in North America) use US coal.

As a result, there are no longer any underground coal mines left in Alberta. The coal is still there, but the markets are not, so BP and Wikipedia don't include it in their reserve estimates.

Now, obviously if the railways were to switch back to coal because they couldn't get diesel fuel, the coal reserves to power them would magically reappear out of nowhere. If China was willing to pay enough, they could ship it to China, too. It's a lot cheaper to ship it to China than Eastern Canada.

Montana and Wyoming are in a similar situation. So, there is a really large amount of coal sitting around in unused formations that could be produced if there was a market for it.

This is my first post. I have followed theoildrum for several years. When Jimmy Carter was president the energy problem was in the news. For years I worried about what would happen. I raised four children and have five grandchildren today. No one knows for certain what will happen tomorrow. Try to enjoy each day of your life. Yes we will run out of oil, coal, natural gas and eventually space. Someday all of mankind will be walking on 'The Road' but until then I'm going to drive to town and pick up a couple of steaks.


Hi hotrod, I always wondered why people who plan on doing exactly what they have always done read sites such as this?

There are a lot of frequencies on the thought spectrum. People are always twisting the dial to find something soothing and comfortable. How about some good ole time religion or some comedy, anything to avoid facing reality or dealing with problems. Sometimes people will change the frequency right in the middle of your warning them of our dire situation. But don’t even reach for the dial, save your energy and let an MSM proxy or pundit change the dial for you as you blissfully drift into TV narcoma.

However, if we are in a predicament, rather than a problem as Chris Martenson says, then the steak frequency with high volume is a great option, IMO.

For many people, their personal experience of joblessness, underemployment and mismatch between their current skill set and skills that would actually be of some use are more important than the scenario.

Last winter, I bailed out some folks with food and first aid. I was happy to be able to do it. This winter I'm seeing half as many aw-rats bailout moments. The relatives, friends and friends of relatives are seeing more work. A little work is trickling in to my small business as well, enough to pay the bills and little enough to make me appreciate all that gardening and preserving time that I put in last summer.

Any scenario unraveling in the larger world can turn into a personal fast crash. It is not lost on me that social capital is the bungee cord that stops a person before their private fast crash turns into an encounter with a wall.

A person of my acquaintance who was headed down the tubes, no job, no money, legal issues, more and more issues, in fact got a bungee cord save because of his social capital. He got to sleep in the back of an auto repair shop (shhh...), got some odd jobs here and there, a chance to have a shower, a decent meal and laundry done at my house, and to my astonishment pulled his head out of his rear end. I thought the guy was going to be toast, due to the issues, but two years later he's working on boats, he has a girlfriend and he's house sitting for an airline pilot.

Nicely put. Likewise; here.

I am as ready as an old man can be. I probably won't be here to see the complete collapse of the oil base economy. If I were a young man there are more things I would do. Even then I would be restricted by my economic circumstance. My children would rather live in a fantasy world where they won't be touched by the hardships that will certainly touch every one from their generation onward. My property is paid for. I have a garden. I expect someday the kids and grandkids will have to move home with mom and dad. Until that time I will drive my car, eat meat, and read sites like the oil drum.

Me too hotrod!

Check me out at - my website needs as much work as the farm!

It is possible that USA real GDP could continue to be flat, or increase a bit, perhaps to 1% a year, because of increases in efficiency, assuming that the oil supply is not significantly bid away by countries with higher population growth.

I'd be interested to hear how the necessary increases in efficiency would be possible. At a rough calculation, a 1% GDP growth per year would require a 1% improvement in efficiency. Over 40 years, that translates to near 60% efficiency improvements, across the board. I don't know if populaion growth would require even greater efficiencies to achieve a 1% growth rate. Is a 60% increase in efficiency even possible?

A flat GDP, with a growing population, means decreasing living standards. Is this possible? Wouldn't there likely be all out effort to resume living standards growth? And, if that didn't work, wouldn't there likely be riots, precipitating a collapse anyway?

With all of the problems we're facing in the foreseeable future (fuel is just one of them), the only outcome, surely, is collapse. So how does one plan for collapse? Well, firstly, that scenario has to be accepted (and, since it won't be, collapse is certain) and then a change in direction initiated. Societies have to move towards sustainable living arrangements to avoid collapse.

If societies somehow manage to contrive another 40 years of growth, I pity my children and grandchildren.

I think a lot of the reduced use of energy in the past has been from shipping heavy industry off shore, and changing to the financial industry for "growth". Without this kind of improvement (which I think is a one-time distortion, probably going away), I don't think changes like more efficient cars and light bulbs is going to make enough difference.

OK, so you don't think it's possible to continue economic growth at a low rate, or even have it flat, for the next 40 years. That's my opinion also. Thanks for confirming.

I think the biggest threat we face is not whether or not we will be capable of maintaining a minimum level of services including maintaining food production capacity. The biggest threat that we have been witnessing now since 2007 is what PO does to the capital markets. It is so disruptive and destructive it has the potential to severely cripple our now largely digital wealth economy and the banks/monetary systems that go with it. The resulting petro-collapse scenario is a much larger threat as we deal with shortages in credit and capital. So is people's ability to purchase anything including food even if it is available is a moot point as unemployment will continue to be at record levels.

If we have another large dip in this current recession banks will not just discontinue lending to consumers as they have done during this first shock but they will then cancel credit with the next level up including credit facilities with large and medium sized companies deemed to have high risk balance sheets. This would include energy companies and especially E&P companies which are totally dependent on their access to large credit facilities to fund their drilling operations. Oil & gas is an extremely capital intensive business built on borrowing large sums of money and paying it back later.

If rates are pushed higher like they must be in the future to slow inflation or more banks collapse due to continued energy recession borrowing costs will go up significantly and this will translate into higher energy prices that fewer people can afford which induces further recession and petro- collapse.

So maintaining a minimum level of food production and some services while feasible based on the amount of available energy will be possible but not probable due to the chaos that credit and capital markets collapse will have on the system. The only alternative is to have massive government takeovers of the energy and food sectors which given the U.S. deficits will be difficult to see happening. This would also cause a lot of public outrage as they wouldn't understand what is happening.

I've been re-reading Catton's latest book, and just finished Jim Hansen's "Storms of My Grandchildren..."

Both are superb.

Key points:

First, there is no future. Many people sense this although it is taboo.

We have mortally wounded our own habitat so that we will not have a place to live. Some other things might live, who knows?

Second, we learned to lie early in our evolution. As hunters we lied to our prey. As prey we lied to species that hunted us.

Third, a critical component for survival is to be able to define the macro-situation. (Catton details this quite a bit.)

That is, we must be able to accurately understand and respond to the changes occurring in our environment with a desire to survive or to help our kids and grand-kids survive. And we'd prefer to thrive, of course -- not merely survive.

Over specialization has created what Catton calls a "Pick Pocket Culture" where the bonds between people that keep us honest and constructive in relationships have broken down. Bankers, doctors, lawyers, politicians -- especially the wealthy and powerful -- develop ways to defraud others on a large scale and still bear no responsibility for it.

This kind of self destructive fraud infuses our culture to the point that we insulate ourselves from the real macro-situation and make up whatever we want to in order to justify our theft of resources.

Hanson notes repeatedly that Big Money from the very interests who need to change the most, but who will not adapt in a way that benefits all, destroys any opportunity for change.

To quote two songs:

"Mighty tongues tell mighty lies."

"Some men rob the passersby for a little cash to spend. Some men rob whole countries dry and still get called their friend."

Both scientists see little hope for change as a myopic power elite shapes all of the news and entertainment in order to create a specific fraud: our macro-definition of the situation is given to us at every turn.

I enjoy now as much as I can. I love and enjoy my family and friends as much as I can -- right now.

My plan is to live well until I die. I will do my best to ride each wave as it comes along, but most of us born after, say, 1955, will most likely not die of the "old age natural causes." We will encounter people and situations that will deal death to us in a way that is very much not on our own terms.

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Hi Beggar,

reading Catton's latest book

Halfway through Bottleneck now - very well written book.

First, there is no future. Many people sense this although it is taboo.

Hi beggar,

Yes, there is a future, but it is easier to see once the dualism of self/not self is eliminated. Humans are expressions of the body of the universe, each of us a "node" in the expression. The end of human existence is not the end of life, intelligence, awareness. Our absence will give other species a chance to try something different.

There is no first or last.


The past no longer exists. The "history" we know was re-written by the winners of some pretty terrible wars.

The future does not yet exist and we cannot see who or what will happen until the future is the present. Even then we will --none of us -- have enough information to actually understand what is happening.

We understand some things about what is happening now, but just as the chthonic forces that cause earthquakes always will catch us off-guard and will often dwarf our abilities to cope, there are huge silent forces at work that we simply do not understand, and most likely never will.

We see through a dark and distorting glass and can see very little of what is going on in the universe.

We may not be fighting over food and water in ten years. In ten years there may be so few of us on the planet that we will have a tough time finding one another.

Our imaginations are too small when it comes to predicting the future, which maybe makes it so interesting -- so much fun to try to do.

"We are so mentally screwed-up in so many ways that we may never escape a sad fate, but the good news is that we have not yet exhausted all of our fuel sources nor made the petri dish unlivable, yet."

All right, but as Dr. Albert Bartlett points out, 'BUT WHAT TIME IS IT?' (on the exponential hockey stick of runaway population growth). The answer is indeed 'One Minute to 12 Noon' or less so that I would say the moment of the 'SHTF' is pretty damn CLOSE, again as far as population growth is concerned (and this would necessarily preclude any attempts by anyone to do anything positive about it.

I give it till the end of 2012, (the infamous date of the Mayan Calendar, oh and the John Cusack movie ;)


Here is a link to Bartlett's presentation. Highly recommended to anyone who hasn't seen it.

I find it fascinating that after 155 posts (as I write this), I am the only one who has mentioned Die-Off - way up thread.

We often talk about minimum operating levels (MOL) for pipelines where the line itself holds a certain amount of product that can never be reclaimed and what comes out is what is presently put in.

Society is no different; it has a MOL too. Once there is nothing going in, nothing is going to come out. Further, society has many interconnected pipelines such that the failure of one leads to cascading failures throughout the system.

There seems to be an assumption on many writer's part that there are "work-arounds" and, in addition, the failures will be slow while the "work-arounds" will be fast. It isn't going to happen. We all know or should know how little (food, fuel, you name it) is actually available.

I can see the system crapping out in 1-2 years once the MOL is gone resulting in a die-off. Those who only talk about stuff are going to die or be forced to confront their worst moral fears...are you going to watch your kids starve or die of thirst or are you going to try to take mine by force?


Several others have hinted at the issue. There is a long series of comments about a course on death, and in particular Lecture 22: Fear of Death.

It is impossible to predict: our error rate grows exponentially as we go forwards in time.
Too many what if's, too many contingencies, too many people trying to influence too many things.
A couple of years ago, oil prices were predicted to remain at 27$ for the next 25 years.
We cannot predict.

We can look at history, and here an interesting pattern folds out:
In many domains, be it war, financial trouble, the effects of natural catastrophes and more, The last really big event is usually a degree of magnitude or more larger than the previous big event. For example, the first world war we count in millions dead, the second world war is counted in tens of millions. The tulip bubble in Holland was an earth-shattering financial crisis, but the south sea bubble was orders of magnitude bigger, and so on and so forth, great depression through to the present mess. Even earthquakes cause more damage than they used to, as there are more people concentrated in larger cities, that need more complicated infrastructure.

I think the next really big event will be spectacular, an eye-opener.

I had NBC News on while reading posts here. They showed an old (100+ years) woman in the countryside of Haiti. She had a small compound, some land, a beautiful steam and some crops and banana trees. Her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids were all trickling in from the earthquake zone. They asked her how many had come and she said; "many, but many died". She seemed to be taking it in stride though, even happy that so many of her offspring were returning home.

I saw that piece by the reporter Michelle Kazinski this morning. She described the location as being a "green paradise". Yet, all I saw was a denuded hillside with some trees and patches of grass.

We all know that Haiti's soil has been worn down.

Probably there will be something fast, like the debt problem in Greece coming to a head, then a long slow period where people are dealing with the consequences.
In the future maybe, we`ll see a currency collapse---stores all close (that is fast) then the military tries to restore order and help people get medical care and food and water (that will be slow). (but that will be energy constrained too so it will come to an end, but it will buy some time for more people to get adjusted.)

In the end, it will be good to live where there is some green fields at least, although if there are doctors within walking distance that is also helpful and both are best to havve.

Thinking about planning for the future.

That is a broad stroke of a painter's brush, knowing what most of us knows. We ask, what can we do to change the future? We also ask dozen's of other questions all about equalling as mysterious.

I don't worry much about my personal future. I do acknowledge that I can not know if I'll drop dead in the street on the way to a Sustainable Futures Confab sometime in the future. I do acknowledge that If I had the choice, I would fix everything that is troubling to this whole set of events.

I would limit future growth in population, say by somehow educating everyone that growth is population will kill us all, so we all have to take proactive steps not to have childern. I don't mean slicing and dicing body parts so no one can have kids. But changing our habits so that we don't just breed willy nilly, I know there are ways to have all the enjoyment of sex without producing kids, and still leaving that option open for everyone involved.

If you want to snip your own body parts, we will need sperm and eggs from you, so that we won't lose your genetic foot print, never know when your exact DNA code will be the cure for cancer or living to 200. We have to be careful that way. So snip ahead and save the planet, but save the code and save a future generation.

Everyone will have to work at saving the planet's ability to support us. So along with getting things going in the right direction, we will have to set aside our petty wants, and differences, jealous desires and greed goes out the door.

Everyone has to do their part, willingly making the changes that will reduce population, and make a nice living arrangemnet for everyone that is still living here.


I read a snippet of a paper where someone thought that it would do well to dissolve the lines between countries. It made me think back to my days collecting data points off of Nautical Charts. The planet has only topographical boundarys, mountain ranges, rivers, oceans, soil types but in reality none of them are hard lines. They are all fuzzies, how thin can you draw a line on a map inside a computer data set? You have to stop at a point and say THERE that is where I want the middle to be, and give up, because on a computer you can keep on zooming in and zooming in, It is all a Fractal. Computers think in fractals, you have a hard time zooming in on a sheet of paper, after a while you are seeing the atoms, and not the ink.

We can't put a line in the sand and say this side is mine and that side is yours. Because in about 12 hours the tide will have washed it away, or the wind blown it away, or the rain washed it away. Anyone working with sand knows that lining up individual grains is a time consuming process, and one mistake and your prefect little line gets a grain out of place.

Lines are human inventions. They give us a have and have not state of thinking, a mine and not yours way of seeing things.

If we as a species wants to fix the future we have to fix ourselves first, and then we have to work as a team, one big happy family to get the job done so that all the members get go to our beds at night, fed, warm and stress free.


I have been Blessed to have had two wonderful parents, I live with them right now, On Feb 6th my mom turns 80, On Feb 17th my dad turns 74. We sat down at the dinner table last night (sunday night) and had roasted catfish filets, seasoned baked potato chunks, and mixed lettuce and tomatoes with some kind of dressing my dad made. We did not fight over the food. We did not argue over who would get to talk first. We laughed, joked, talked about serious matters in the wrold, and enjoyed our meal, even up till all our conversations till bedtime. I have never lived with them in any other manner, and I am 46 years old, All the days that I have known them, we have been a happy family.

Why can't the rest of the world be like my family I often ask myself? I have had friends from college come here and stay with us. They always to a person ask to join the family, saying that their own families were never like ours. It always boggled my mind when hearing that. I thought for a time that everyone's family was like mine.

I can't solve the future's problems. But if I could I would have everyone look more like the Family I grew up in.

We each have our filters, we call that Nuture and Nature, that shows us the world, we see things in our mind's eye as we have seen things in the past and with a bit of the possible changes thrown in to the mix.

Can't we all work together to get to a better future where, everyone is fed, no one has to die in a ditch alone and not be missed by someone else.

The future is what we pray for, and work at, work for a better future for yourself and everyone else.

That is my future planning.

One last note, By dad was paying my life insurance "We have it with Thrivent which is a non-profit Lutheran financial company that offers full line insurances, and savings programs" I asked him how much it was, $35 for 3 months. I kind of laughed, and said, why bother. By the time I die, you'll have been gone a long time, and my brother has enough money to put my in a pine box in the back yard.

He said, at least it'll help bury you so someone else is not burdened.

In all honest thought, I don't know when I might die, so having the insurance, might help them bury me so I am not a burden even in death.

I'll budget it now that I know I have the stuff, I can afford to pay it, even though I won't be able to go play pool another night of the week.


One point of scenario planning is to find actions that are robust across various scenarios. Likelihood of each scenario is not important as long as the planning participants agree that the scenario is not completely improbable.

Actions such as building emergency resilience through local organizations, improving bicycle access, increasing local food production are robust across many scenarios, and should be pursued. Concentration of activities that are robust across scenarios should lead to better, but not perfect outcomes.

Sorry, but I don't see the value in this exercise at all. The assumption that it's "wise" for planning purposes has no basis in reality.

First off, there is no manager and if there was we would all rebel against him/her/them. Why? Because nobody knows what's going to happen an hour from now. Our ability to plan 40 years into the future will be off by orders of magnitude. That is why we ridicule central planning.

Second -- like it or not, the world is optimized for the given set of resources and prices that we have. As these change, business and lifestyles will adjust as well. There will be winners and losers. But to continually predict scare stories and doomsday is arrogant and myopic.

Personally, I'd like to see someone write about the benefits of peak oil. Personally, I see a lot of positives, like living on a cleaner planet.

The question is how many can live on the cleaner planet. The ones who don't "make the cut" might not consider it such an advantage.

Hi mkkby,

Our ability to plan 40 years into the future will be off by orders of magnitude. That is why we ridicule central planning

Is this always true? The US Founding Fathers did a pretty good job with planning when they wrote the constitution. Folks researching cures for diseases have long planning timeframes. Unemploymnent and Social Security were long term plans.

Personally, I'd like to see someone write about the benefits of peak oil. Personally, I see a lot of positives, like living on a cleaner planet.

Kind of sounds like you would like to see an analysis of the PO coupled with a nice long term plan for achieving a cleaner planet :-)

Debates surrounding the future of energy supply and what people should do to prepare are widespread and this blog adds some interesting views to the discussion. Another article touching on a similar subject has been written on the Future Agenda Project website ( by Leo Roodhart, President of the society of Petroleum Engineers, where he discusses the possibilities and way forward for the energy sector in the coming decade.

There would need to be fairly sharp changes in other uses of oil, with autos perhaps run by electricity, and other transportation perhaps by electric rail, in order for this scenario to "work".

But still more likely fossil fuel heaters will be substituted by heat pumps and more efficient trucks and cars will run on natural gas.

And if non-producing bankers continue to commute in their inefficient gasoline-powered F-150s, farmers will just switch to tractors powered by biogas produced from manure:

And if tax-payer dependent bankers continue to commute in their inefficient gasoline-powered F-150s, commercial ships and even airliners will just run on natural gas instead: