The church, the peak, and my old watch

The old pocket watch that I used as a prop for my talk on peak oil to a group of elderly people in a countryside church. It was made in 1946 - the date and the name of the owner are still engraved on the back.

When I arrive, the friend who has invited me tells me that he is sorry, but the room where they usually have these meetings is not available today. So, they have arranged my talk in the church. Will that be all right? I say that it will be all right, of course. It will be the first time I give a talk in a church but, why not? So, my friend takes me inside, where they have arranged the benches in a semi-circle. I will be speaking standing in front of the altar; as if I were giving a sermon. But, again, why not?

As I stand there, people start arriving. Not that I expected a crowd, but it is a sizeable number for a small countryside parish: about 20 people. I didn't expect to see anyone young, either; after all it is a Saturday afternoon and the young people have other things to do than to listen to my talk. Myself and my friend are the only ones in their 50s, it seems. Most of the others seem to be well in their 70s ore even in their 80s. Old couples, several old ladies alone. My friend had alerted me: they are people of the parish who have formed this group where they try to learn about energy and sustainability. They are also cultivating a vegetable garden on the parish's land.

Before we start, the priest comes to greet us. He thanks me for having accepted the invitation and he says that we should say a little prayer before starting. I think that the last time I prayed in church must have been when I was - perhaps - twelve years old. But I can't think of a reason why I should not join. We all hold hands together, in a circle, and we say a Pater Noster .

And here I am, in front of these good people. There is no way to show them slides and - even if there were - it would not be the way of speaking to them. Clearly, they are not interested in long lists of oil reserves or in details on future production. But I had suspected what I was going to face and so I am prepared. I take up the old pocket watch that I had taken with me. I show it to them. "It is an old watch," I say. "It belonged to Swiss man. I know that because there is his name engraved inside. You see? " I open the watch, showing to them the engraving inside. "There is a name and a date. This watch was made in 1946."

I continue, "I never met the owner of this watch, but I know who he was. He was a Swiss industrialist who had a hat factory in Florence. He must have liked Italy, because he got old here and he died here; in the 1970s. But it was also because Italy was less expensive than Switzerland and the salary of workers was lower. Some things never change over time; companies go where workers cost less. So, my grandfather used to work for this man, and my aunt took care of him when he was very old and sick. This watch was, I think, a gift of this man to my aunt; and so I have it now. You see, it is a a rare model. It has an internal alarm; it was not common at all to have this feature in a pocket watch. But the owner was a businessman and he probably travelled a lot and stayed in hotels. So, he needed a watch that was also an alarm clock. It is a nice object; I like it a lot and I use it sometimes, not very often because I am afraid of breaking it. But it still works very well."

I look around me. The old people seem to be fascinated. They are old enough to remember that kind of watch and the times when a watch was an expensive object. They are from a generation when you would get your first watch as a gift for the solemn occasion of your first communion.

I keep going. "These watches were not cheap at their time but you didn't need to be rich to have one. A friend of mine has one of these pocket watches that belonged to her grandfather. Not so fancy as this one, of course, but a good watch anyway. And her grandfather was a peasant of the Appennini mountains. He was not rich but he could afford a pocket watch. Today we think that a cheap watch is something that is made in China, costs very little and you throw it away after a few years, when you are tired of it. But are we sure that it is the way a cheap watch should be? What is that makes something cheap or expensive? Of course, it is the work that you need for making it and the materials that you need to make it. This watch that I have here doesn't contain expensive materials: it is only steel, glass and a little enamel, that's it. Its cost would be mainly for making it - paying the watchmakers, that is. So, it was expensive, especially if it was a bit fancy, like this one. But then it would last for a long time and so it made sense to make a little investment in something that you would keep for many years. Even a peasant could do it and this is the reason people had their name engraved on the rear of their watch. It was made to last."

They are listening. I know that they are thrifty and the idea of a watch that lasts a long time makes sense to them. I continue: "Now, think of a modern watch: it takes very little work to make it; it doesn't have all the delicate gears that are inside one of these old watches. But the problem is that a modern watch uses a lot of rare materials that have to come from far away. The battery, for instance, uses a metal called lithium that comes from Bolivia and it is rare. And there is a microprocessor inside, probably has gallium in it. Gallium is another rare metal - very, very rare. There are no gallium mines; gallium is just an impurity of aluminium. And, for the display, you need indium - another rare metal. You probably never heard of these names, but we are using elements of which there is a very small supply on this planet. So far, they haven't been so expensive, but there is not an infinite amount of them. Then, of course, the case of the watch, the strap and other components are made in plastics which is made from crude oil. And to make a watch like this one takes energy. Energy comes mainly from oil and every time we throw away a watch, to make another one we need to use more energy and to dig out more rare materials. And this is a problem because there is not an infinite amount of stuff that we can dig out of the ground."

From then on, it is easy. They are fascinated by the story of crude oil and they listen with great attention when I tell them how it is found, extracted, transported, refined and transformed into many things; from fuel to plastics. I don't tell them much about peak oil; I just mention it in passing. But it is not difficult for them to understand that oil resources are not infinite and not even abundant any more. They were born in a world where nothing was really abundant; a world in which everything had to be used sparingly. I try not to scare them, of course. I tell them that they should try to make up their own minds; "Don't just trust me but try to see all what is happening in light of what I said. Don't you think that these difficult times we are seeing could be due to the fact that mineral resources are slowly running out?" They nod. It makes sense to them.

I look at the time on the old pocket watch: I have spoken for just a little more than half an hour. So far, I didn't see anyone sleeping or distracted, but old people tend to tire rapidly, so it is better to close. I finish my talk with some more considerations on mineral resources and there come the usual applauses.

There comes the time for questions. They are a little shy, but a lady raises her hand. She is probably the youngest in the audience - in her early 60s, I'd say. She says "Professor, we enjoyed very much your talk and I can understand the problems you told us about. But, in practice, what should we do about it?"

I expected this question. I make a point not to tell people what they should do in my talks - not normally, at least. It think it is not so polite; I mean, who am I to tell other people what to do? But if they ask me, well, then I can give my opinion. So, I say, "You see, I speak sometimes to young people. For them, what I told you is very important and also very worrisome. They have to plan ahead for a world in which many things will not be so abundant as they had grown accustomed to. They will see enormous changes during their lifetime and they'll have to adapt to them, starting from scratch. In our case, well, we are not so young any more and we might tend to ignore these things. The world will change; sure, we see it changing already, but what we have done is done, and we can't restart from scratch. So, what can we do?"

I sort out again my old watch, "You see, this old watch is still working, more than 70 years after it was made. Whenever I look at it, I feel a kind of kinship to the man who left it to me. I am grateful to him because he left me something that still works, that I can use and that I like. And I think he may be happy, too, if he looks at us from above, that his old watch is still appreciated by someone in this world". I pause for a moment to look upwards, as if I were seeing the ghost of the old Swiss man. The people in the audience do the same. There is only the roof of the church, up there, but - who knows? - maybe the owner of the watch is really watching us from above.

I continue. "Now, for myself I think I would like to do something similar - to leave to those who will come after me something that they may use, that will be useful to them. I would like to leave something that lasts a long time and that doesn't need precious resources that can't be replaced. Something 'sustainable' as people say. Of course, I am not saying that we should go back to this old way of making watches - although, who knows? - But, surely, there are things that we can make which are sustainable and that will last a long time. Think of a wind turbine; you have surely seen them. They are big mechanical things, mostly made out of steel; like this watch. If they are well kept and maintained, turbines they can last many decades, like this watch, and why not a century or more? And they can produce good energy for all that time. That is true not just for wind turbine. Solar plants can last a long time and you can insulate your home in such a way that it doesn't need much energy to heat or cool. If you do that, I am sure that the people who'll live in it after you will be happy about what you did. There are many big things that you can do if you are rich and many small things that you can do even if you are not rich. I am sure that you can think of something you can do, and if we leave this kind of things to our descendants they may forgive us for having misused so badly of the mineral resources of this planet." They all nod. They are thinking about what they can do. I can't say whether they'll be really able do something, but they might.

I finish my talk pointing at one of the windows of the church. I say, "and a vegetable garden is sustainable as well, as the one I have seen when I came here." They smile. One of the old men says, "Yes, we are cultivating it. The young ones don't care too much about it." I say, "They'll learn and they'll be happy that you left it to them." They all smile. Then we all leave for a snack in a room nearby; with food that comes from their garden.


Now, for myself I think I would like to do something similar - to leave to those who will come after me something that they may use, that will be useful to them. I would like to leave something that lasts a long time and that doesn't need precious resources that can't be replaced. Something 'sustainable' as people say. . . There are many big things that you can do if you are rich and many small things that you can do even if you are not rich. I am sure that you can think of something you can do, and if we leave this kind of things to our descendants they may forgive us for having misused so badly of the mineral resources of this planet.
1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

Our footprints and anarchism. Sustainability ends when a man can own more than he needs.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

Yes, but a capitalist economy cannot survive on durable goods. But do we really need watches? How about learning to make a sundial?

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

The older folk in my family knew only how to drink, they lived in Manhattan in the 1920's and were coal miners in Central Pennsylvania. I am afraid this one is up to the young.

With deep foreboding I often wonder what our descendents will think of "Us" and what we are leaving "Them".

On a human life span some of our "sustainable" gifts to the future will be growing GHG's, rising sea levels, climate change, environmental deterioration, depleted renewable & nonrenewable resources and a declining energy base.

The biggest condemnation of future generations (some of them already alive and young children today) will be that "We" did not act. We had the knowledge but we did nothing to solve the sustainability issues.

I think we will be remembered as a selfish generation that multiplied uncontrollably, raped the planet and stole the future from our descendents for our own greed, and did nothing about it.

Is this our Legacy, our sustainable gift to future descendents?

"Is this our Legacy, our sustainable gift to future descendents?"

It looks like it, yes :-(

Drill Baby Drill !!!

Growth til it hurts.

Those of us who are miners and the producers of fossil fuels gave you the power and the technical revolution from which it is up to you to develop the technologies of tomorrow. Working in the mines was often brutal and highly stressful, but it provided the basis for a society that too often neglects or spurns those who labored in darkness, danger and dirt so that you do not have to. Be grateful to your family they helped to get us where we are today - living in a much better world.

Heading Out, I respectfully disagree with you.

I come from a family of miners, my grandfather was a coal miner and worked for the US bureau of Mines as an inspector. He died of Miner's consumption.

I am a miner, and I am not far behind Grandfather..

I think we would all of us be better off without the excess energy that allows us to be so cruel to one another. Humanity does not need coal, oil or gas. Or electricity. We dont need an "internet". We dont need armies and satellites and GPS and Google Earth. We got along just fine for many thousands of years without. We dont need religion as it exists today.

Collectively all these things serve not to "liberate" our intellect and spirit, but oppress and control us, including the internet. Most of these things are weapons of fear, are you afraid of the future?

There is no "technical revolution", but either there will be a revolution in empathy or we will us our power and technology as destructive forces in a war for dwindling resources.

Time will tell.

PDV, I agree with you as well. My Grandfather died of black lung and was
on strike often with others fighting for better wages and conditions. Fear, yes, that is how they control us, pushing more people into the mines. "What would you do with out heat, medicine?"

HeadingOut, I do not want any of this technology, so what did all these miners give me but dependency on technology that I now have to struggle to break in my 44th year of life? You say this is a better world, but I wish you to explain how. Because for each "better" there is a "worse". So I am not grateful to them, I feel sorry for them because they were used as pawns for the gain of a few. They were mostly suckers, prisoners, and wage-slaves and left a legacy of pollution and slavery.

Personally I think that Heading Out is perfectly justified in his sentiments.

If we want to find fault, we might as well go back to the ape that first banged two rocks together.

Or the man or woman who first tamed fire.

Or the first herder, or planter.

I suppose after all that my own profession of farming is the root of all evil, excepting all the professions that must have preceded it, such as flint knapper, the priesthood, the warrior hood......

Forgive me for being blunt , but I have heard and read this idealistic twaddle all my life, and it eminates exclusively, in my experience, from the mouths and pens of people who have had little or no real experience of living on the rough side.

Had I found my niche , I would have been a historian or other academic paid to read to my hearts content;but I have managed it anyway, by living modestly and working occasionally at a long series of jobs either with my hands or surrounded by people COMPELLED to work with thier hands and backs-people with NO HOPE of ever doing otherwise-unless by great economy and good luck they might some day manage to retire on a modest govt handout and continued part time work.

A few of them are millionaires today.

I know these people intimately-many of them are blood relatives and grade school buddies.Some of the older ones, now mostly gone, never went to school at all.

I know them in ways beyond the comprehension of social workers, and politicians of the right, or politicians of the left.

Such people, I assure you, have an altogether different way of looking at machinery and technology.

(Starting out sweeping the floor in Daddy's factory doesn't count, and doing it for a while in the peace corp or as a traveler doesn't count;for people in such circumstances have hope-nay, certainty-of escaping harsh circumstances temporarily endured..)

They have a toughness, an ability to suffer and endure, foreign to people who have always led soft lives.

Who am I to say this?

OFM is a throwback to another place and time, a virtual time traveler.

I have LIVED the first world, the world of ease and plenty and knowledge, but the path cannot be traveled in both directions.People who are not trapped cannot conceive of the reality-anymore than a man can know what a woman experiences in bearing a child.

I WAS BORN and grew up in the world where everybody had to work all f'ing day, no matter what,NO MATTER WHAT. Toothache, backache,belly ache, arthritis, rheauatism, hundred degree heat, a sadistic boss, a machine that sets the pace that must be kept up with...hollow eyed little girls longing thier little hearts out for JUST ONE pretty dress..just once

All of them are grateful for whatever the next level of bau brings to them-I can remember well my grandmothers talking with wonder, with awe, of the miracle of a washing machine, of an electric pump that brought the water into the house;or my old grandfather telling of how GRATEFUL HE WAS to get his first tractor, and plow sitting down-plowing a mule when you have to do it all day ,day after day, is so hard that it is simply beyond the comprehension of people who work in offices.

If you are having trouble seeing what I mean,visualize being railroaded into prison and held as a convict/ slave for the rest of your life in North Korea, and nobody even knows what has happened to you.And nobody is going to find out.That's being stuck at the bottom-and knowing you are going to stay there.

Sometime back I posted a comment to the effect that the typical young liberally well educated American woman is favorably disposed to all sorts of commendable and admirable initiatives, from eradicating poverty to cleaning up the environment and doing away with injustices of every sort-and that she is willing to pay for her idealism too-but only so long as the expense comes out of her percieved surplus of personal wealth.

If it once becomes obvious to her that paying for it means sacrificing some significant portion of her own expected very comfortable standard of living, or that of her 1.7 children to be,she suddenly begins to find reasons why SOMEBODY ELSE should pay for her ideals.She WILL by the big G have her Mc Mansion , and WILL have her nice car to ferry around her nicely groomed kids, and she WILL live surrounded by other females so situated.

She will do whatever is necessary to make it so.

So will her brother.

I convinced five of them to move in with me; married two of them;all of them did what was necessary and ditched me for somebody willing to get them thier McMansion and wear a tie. :) or :( ? Even now I cannot say.

Not one person talking this antitech twaddle in ten thousand will voluntarily put his or her actual life where his or her mouth is.A very few will go half way, if they can live simply but without much exertion or worry on proceeds saved from a former life;there are some of them in the woods around here-they bought everything necessary to become faux hillbillies with money gained in the bau world.

Now I'm old and fat and deaf, but I still ENJOY farming and watching the wildlife and curling up with a great book.

I am not expecting to enjoy being dead.

I am grateful that it is 72 in the sun room as I type this-particularly since I spent most of the day working outside and it barely missed a hundred and was quite humid.

I am ever so GRATEFUL that the little girls in my life can have a pretty dress occasionally.

I am grateful that it is within my power to see that none of the ones known to me personally will have to go to bed hungry if things go badly for thier parents.

I am ALMOST as grateful that the wisdom tooth that is bothering me will not hurt anymore after I get into my dentists office in a couple of days- or sooner if there is a opening.

I am GRATEFUL that I will never have to decide between eating myself and putting an elder out to starve.

Now we can dream all we like about the primitive life, and how great it would be.

I myself would have enjoyed being a tough young man in an American native tribe,in say the fourteenth century;but then I am a redneck who likes to hunt and play with guns.An occasional physical dispute in my young days in a bar over a girl or an insult was a welcome occasion to try my self against another young man FOR REAL.

I recognize that I am no more , and no less than, an animal , and that living that life, perhaps occasionally killing an enemy, and being looked up to for having done so, would only be doing what evolution programmed me to do.I would have been happy, I think.

But I probably wouldn't have lived as long as I have already, and I might be hungry , or in great pain, and the younger members of the family might get into such straits that they might expect me to do the right thing and wander off to die so the little girls and boys would have a little more to eat.

I am an Irishman, and I love to hear myself talk , or see the litttle letters appear on the screen, as well as anybody else;and I will jump into a fantasy based discussion as fast as anybody, and enjoy it.

This glorification of "no tech" is fun;but reality "is what it is" and we have to play the cards in our hand.Reality doesn't do redeals, redeals aren't in natures rulebook.

We are smarter than yeast in that we can contemplate the consequences of our actions;but at the most fundamental level , we have only a little more control over our behavior.

We eat,we sleep, we mate, we defend a patch of turf, and the resources associated with it, and we die, so that our children may do the same.

It's easier with ff and technology.The rule book says that we will take the easiest path.

The yeast in the beaker eat the sugar and drown in thier waste.We will consume our resources, and drown in our waste.

Everything else above and beyond this basic scenario is commentary.

We aren't going back-except possibly as the consequence of a collapse so total that only a tiny percentage of us will survive it.

It's a complete waste of time pretending otherwise.

I have more respect for Heading Out's miners than all the
eggheads in the world put together.

Workers of the world....but we can never unite... unity is not compatible with the operating system.

We are afraid of the dark.

What a 19th century rant. Yes, afraid of the dark, and he walks on others backs to find a light switch.

I find fault with the people who continue the destruction that was started by another. I find fault with people who parade the idealism of "hard work" that is FORCED upon people. That is not hard work, that is slave labor. I guess I have worked as a slave long enough, and I am not afraid of the dark, I was willing to say eff-off to my gods and masters.

Grateful for a washing machine...HAH! They myth that keeps on mything! Your clothes will be cleaner, you little girl will be smiley...

I agree with your take on neo-liberalism, it is a farce. But you, just keep doing what you enjoy, you offer no sacrifice, because a sacrifice is giving up the fruits of your work for another. But you will be comfortable in your 72 degree house and your egghead book. No, I do not think you have ever sacrificed a thing in all your days of working.

If you were a poor kid in St. Louis, would you be grateful that some fat, deaf guy is getting his wisdom tooth fixed?

You said we will drown in our own waste, yet you have daughters. Are you telling me you are sh&ting on your kids and still will not change your life?


I am most certainly not afraid of the dark, or hard work,and I make a great many sacrifices.

I know what the dark is.

There are little kids in my life;they are nieces and nephews and nieghbors kids.I have no children that I am aware of , but there is a distinct possibility that there may be a couple from back in the days of free love, peace signs, brotherhood, long hair, pot, and Aqaurius.

Obviously you don't know anything personally about wearing clothes sweated thru a few times a day for a few days and thoroughly nasty-not just a little smelly, or carrying water from a long way away in buckets-not from personal experience at least.I do.

I watched my grandmother make lye soap, and wash a few pieces on a washboard, but she had a washing machine before I was born.

The little girls I saw grow up longing for just one pretty dress were the little girls I went to school with.

i wasa acutely aware of the fact that some little girls and boys had lots of new clothes , and money for ice cream after lunch in the cafeteria after lunch.

We could have had free lunches some years but Daddy ate pinto beans out of a canning jar on his job so we could pay the quarter for a hot lunch if we had a "good year" on the farm.If we had a bad year, we ate lunches out of paper bags, reused many times, packed at home.

We were fortunate enough that my sisters got a pretty dress-the cheapest sort of mass produced dress-at intervals-especially the older ones.The younger ones wore mostly hand me downs.

I can remember when we first had a well, and I could wind a bucket instead of toting it three hundred yards up a steep hill-personally, at nine years of age.

I can remember the day the pump went in a couple of years later.

I hoed our two acres plus of vegetables and potatos in ninety plus heat twice this year, and we use firewood, cut with my own hands, for over ninety percent of our heat.

We will give away a good bit of the surplus to nieghbors in real need.

I air condition one room-when I am in it.The sun room is not used until after sundown in hot weather.

This house was built, and all the stuff built on this land, by hand, as the money was saved up-no mortgages.

I have never flown in my life, except on necessary business,I drive a twenty six year old compact truck almost exclusively-and very seldom does it make an UNNNECESSARY TRIP.

I have never owned a new car or truck.My sole PURCHASED luxuries, other than running water and that sort of thing, are my books, my internet service, and a modest amount of electricity for air conditioning.Everything else must pay it's own way, including the shotgun and the small fishing boat, both of which contribute to the table.

My dear old Daddy and I will sleep on an open porch tonight, if the temperature drops below about eighty five or so by bedtime.

I tutor the nieghborhood kids free of charge, and I supply personal labor to help out the more unfortunate elderly people in my nieghborhood-at least a day a month.

I am building a solar powered domestic hot water system and will have it finished by the end of the summer.

I will leave our family farm in more productive and sustainable condition than it was formerly, and with infrastructure built to last hundreds of years, given due care..

My hands are covered with calluses, and I own only one good suit-it serves for both funerals and weddings.

Such plenty as I possess was created by my own hard work and that of others;what does not exist cannot be stolen or siezed by force by walking on other people's backs.

Most of my day to day clothes are second hand uniforms bought at flea markets.We live fairly well on less than twelve thousand dollars annually in cash expenditures, except for what I am spending getting another associates degree from the local community college.

Medical care may be sort of hard to come by in times to come, so I am learning what I can in the event there IS simply no doctor to be found. A nurse may not know much, compared to an MD, but if tshtf I will be properly trained in at least some of the basics, such as cleaning and bandaging wounds, infection control, and so forth.

It will be against the law for me to charge for my services-if "the law" is still around physically in the form of armed men and judges.If it isn't and I get paid at all it will probably be in firewood or beans.

I'm a realist-I know the score.

I might even know a few things about making sacrifices.

We must play the cards in our hands.

You with your uber condescending holier than everybody else ideas -well, you are not even holding a hand in the game.

You aren't even in the same universe WHERE THE GAME IS BEING PLAYED.

There was never any paradise-although many well educated people believe otherwise thru no fault of thier own.

If there ever is, it will be because we have mastered a suite of technologies making it possible.

Eggheads to me are people with plenty of education but no common sense or sense of day to day reality-some of them for example are professors who write articles about farming in high rise buildings-articles that can be definitively refuted as pipe dreams by any freshman student of agriculture or engineering on both technical and economic grounds.

Others write books espousing schemes of a sort you seem to find attractive.I find the anti utopian literature somewhat more convincing , to use English style dry humor or understatement, than the utopian.

That we will have an opportunity to try for an anti tech uptopia before too much longer seems like a very real possibility; real enough that I have shifted what money is available from such luxuries as health insurance to making sure there are sustainabilityhatches to batten down if and/or when the storm hits.

Getting to that new utopia will be sort of costly of course in terms of lives old young and in between.

In this new utopia there will be a few warlords and many slaves;dentists will be few or nonexistent;starvation will be a constant threat, as will the raid just before dawn.Women will be dragged away screaming if they are attractive or strong.

Old fat guys like me-well , if there are any, they won't waste an arrow on them; a club or swordwill suffice.

But I might still be useful as a watchman and be earning my cabbage and potatos thereby, so I, or somebody like me, could concieveably still be around.Slimmed down considerably of course.

Certainly most of what I have to say must be only the ravings of literally mad (insane) or unbalanced caveman in the eyes of many well intentioned people.

But what I have said should be wieghed on it's merits, insofar as it is possible for the udge to free himself or herself from the chains of preconcieved ideas.

I took me many years of hard thought to get to the place I inhabit intellectually today;along the way I lived in many other intellectual camps.Each contributed something, a little or a lot.

The sole criterion for i use for keeping an idea in my own intellectual construction/tool chest of a world model is that it pass the reality based smell test.

Chores call.

'Forgive them, Father Mac. They know not what they do..'

Damn Good rant, OFM. Christian was a bunch out of line up there, got himself into a good lather, I quess.. but ultimately I think you guys are both pretty solid and here for the same reasons I am.

I'm not trying to make your peace for you. Just glad this odd, opinionated and heated assembly of people exists. Hope it doesn't explode on us.

I want you to post pix and the story of your Solar Heater when you're done with it.

'Careful fellas, each of these Boys has a Mutha..' Riddler(?), 'The Batman Movie'

I'm not trying to make your peace for you. Just glad this odd, opinionated and heated assembly of people exists. Hope it doesn't explode on us.

So am I!, I'll take the occasional explosion too. Much rather have an honest passionate hollerin match and even a fist fight or too as opposed to that slime bucket two faced lying that you get from the MSM or from most of our know nothing fearless leaders... Now if OFM would invest a little time into transforming that solar heater into a solar still, maybe we could all go visit him and listen to his stories live...

I'll bring the sour mash and we'll check our weapons at the door.

My Brother has a Maine Winter Camping concoction with

1 part Vodka
1 part Maple Syrup

He calls it 'Too Sweet, Too Strong', but I'd settle for Jamiesons

A lot of the time TOD reminds me of a bunch of old ladies talking about some real or perceived social problem. Eventually (sooner, rather than later), one of them will say something like "lock them up and throw away the key" or "kids these days...." or some other pablum and that will be the end of the discussion because once someone says something like that it is very difficult to discuss anything in a nuanced way.

Of course, on TOD, it's usually "kids these days" or "we'd better become hunter-gatherers again"... and that's usually where the discussion ends.

Maybe TOD needs it's own version of Godwin's law where once pre-agricultural societies are mentioned, the discussion is forever tainted and irrelevant. Or a drinking game for every time someone on the internet suggests that we go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

A lot of the time TOD reminds me of a bunch of old ladies talking about some real or perceived social problem.

Hmm, Sounds like you're the one, getting your panties all twisted up in quite the bunch there, sistah!

That, and you seem to be picking cherries from the nuances. Discussion here often spans a very diverse spectrum of topics from science to philosophy, history, politics, culture, linguistics, etc... and is certainly colored by the extensive life experiences of the participants.

BTW, just because some of us discuss the probability of different future scenarios, including the admittedly doomerish one, of societal collapse, which might lead to some tough living conditions where hunter gatherer skills might not be the worst thing to have. I don't think any of us here are planning on living in caves anytime soon. Nor do I perceive, amongst us old ladies, much of the naivete that often accompanies superficial visions of noble savages living in harmony with their environment.

Stick around though, young lady, and you might actually learn something useful, from us wrinkled old gossipy witches... if nothing else, at least how to make your own straw broom.

Oh, and while you're here, do pick up some tools and set about digging some ditches and tending to fences or the garden, make yourself useful. Or go tune up the old tractor and reprogram the inverter for the new batteries and added solar panels. Learn some botany and chemistry and how to optimize crop yield by rotation. Sorry, your frilly little pink dress will probably get some cow dung on it and you won't be smelling much like roses, but that's OK with us!

Cheers! And have a stiff one >;^),

Oh, I agree that discussion here spans a great deal of topics and usually is very interesting - but things nearly always take a turn for the less interesting when someone says something to the effect of "pre-agricultural living is the only sustainable form of human existence". They may be right and I realize that so-called primitive skills are likely to be useful in the future but I still think that the best warning sign that a campfire thread is about to become pretty stale and uninteresting is the "pre-agricultural living is the only sustainable form of human existence" statement, just like how discussions on the rest of the internet are best avoided when someone gets compared to a Nazi.

Think of it as a tipping point :3.

but things nearly always take a turn for the less interesting when someone says something to the effect of "pre-agricultural living is the only sustainable form of human existence"

Who among us has ever said that "pre-agricultural living is the only sustainable form of human existence"?! As`a matter of fact there are plenty of people who argue that the fact that hunter gathering may appear to have been more sustainable that what came after was merely an accident of geography and evolution that most hunter gatherer societies were supplanted by civilized societies with technological advancements in their tool kits simply by luck of the draw.

In other words intrinsic evolved human behavior would have, given the chance, led any of the hunter gathering societies towards unsustainability regardless. It is only now that we humans may have gotten to the point of understanding our behavior and we might now be able to make a conscious course change.

Of course that remains to be seen and we are already quite aware that a future of hunting and gathering is not sustainable for our current population...

In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond,

points out that nearly all of humanity's achievements (scientific, artistic, architectural, political, etc.) have occurred on the Eurasian continent. The peoples of other continents (Sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians and New Guineans) have been largely conquered, displaced and in some extreme cases – referring to Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians and South Africa's indigenous Khoisan peoples – largely exterminated by Eurasians due to their military and political advantages, stemming from the early rise of agriculture after the last Ice Age. He proposes explanations to account for such disproportionate distributions of power and achievements.

Source Wikipedia

As for Godwin's Law... I don't think it really works like you seem to think it works.

Sometimes you just get a little tired, and have to fall back on relaxing truisms.

Hyup, Hyup..

or, you can always play it safe and just talk about the climate!

Yes, you see, many are here for fun. When you are faced with a truth you say "Why are you ruining our fun! Let us talk about happy things that make no difference! Keep the thread interesting! I want my life to be the same, I do not want to sacrifice!"

It is that end point, that truth, that when you face it makes all the discussions on TOD useless.

So, I am done with TOD. That last statement did it in for me. I am off to help end civilization. I hope you guys find your own liberation before it is too late.

So, I am done with TOD. That last statement did it in for me. I am off to help end civilization. I hope you guys find your own liberation before it is too late.

Well I guess you could go and join Sarah Palin's next campaign for the presidency...

But in case you want to do something that might make a difference instead... BTW, how about a campfire on this and we could donate the proceeds to TOD in case we come up with a winning idea. Or enter it on your own and keep the money for yourself!

July 27, 2010, New York — The Buckminster Fuller Institute announces the Call for Entries to the 2011 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, an annual $100,000 prize program to support the development and implementation of a solution that has significant potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems.

In a statement about the Challenge, The Buckminster Fuller Institute explains the background of the prize program:

Short term reductionist thinking which dominates all industrialized societies is a fundamental cause of the massive social, economic and environmental deterioration our world is confronted with today. It is now painfully obvious to many that most attempts by civil, corporate, scientific, academic and government sectors to deal with these breakdowns, despite good intentions and significant investment, often exhibit little more than a reflexive default to the same reductionist approach that created the problems in the first place. Little if any attention is ever directed toward optimizing whole systems. Instead the focus remains riveted only on improving various parts in isolation. Not surprisingly, when it comes to solving complex problems, actions are typically fragmented, disjointed and piecemeal. The net result: on a global scale the level of deterioration is rapidly increasing and imbalances have already reached crisis proportions.

Well I guess you could go and join Sarah Palin's next campaign for the presidency...

?- )

but as to the Bucky Challenge

Not surprisingly, when it comes to solving complex problems, actions are typically fragmented, disjointed and piecemeal. The net result:

is that in the 19th century Charles described how this sort of piecemeal, disjointed and fragmented process has yielded an extremely complex world.

I'm sure you of all people would not be one to suggest a top down (that includes an anthro top down) direction of the process is at all in the cards. Bits and pieces of innovation at the edges that get a toehold can really take off if the dominant systems they evolved around undermine themselves and crash.

"Certainly most of what I have to say must be only the ravings of literally mad (insane) or unbalanced caveman in the eyes of many well intentioned people."

What I'd like though is to understand "reality" to an equal degree as you, or at least as close as possible. How could I do that? Go off to some poor place in Africa and live there a long time to get all the hard stuff?

As if I don't have a level of understanding comparable to yours, which can *only* be gained through that experience and *absolutely no other way*, then I'm just another "egghead" and not a truly good person and only a part of the problem, right? So then what should I do?

Thus instead of seeing ravings, I see something that sort of helps me to understand, which I'd like to do as I don't want to be a part of the *problem*.

Well for God's sake, imagine the torment of the squirrels! Where shall we ever find all the nuts we need?

People were just as cruel and barbaric to each other when they were burning cow dung 4000 years ago. if you want a taste of it, go read the Bible and find the section where they destroy the walls of Jericho, go in and kill everybody, then take the survivors and make them slaves. That was standard operating procedure in those days, and it sure looks like it had nothing to do with energy availability.

That is a good point, we are a violent bunch, but I think your historical account needs some refining. ~;)

Boy ain't that the truth.

Biblical times were still filled with technology. I am talking well before then, back to the hunter and gathering lifestyle.

' either there will be a revolution in empathy or we will use our power and technology as destructive forces in a war for dwindling resources.'

i see 2 options.

1. you are wrong; the economic And energy crash is so powerful that most of the high tech killing tools don't get used. dmitry ovlov presents this line of thought. [after thought... we'd have a major dieoff anyway imo.]

2. we kill[dieoff] many of us in a short dramatic time almost everywhere on the globe; then leadership[?]; & the empathy revolution.

as we are currently 'wired' i think we have to be in something like dunbar's number [max 150] size groups to have empathy; so to get to this group sizing i would guess we'd have to kill/dieoff a lot more than 1/2.

i've worked in the human 'rewiring' business & i have a hard time imagining a global empathy revolution & the rewiring that would require for the empathy revolution to be sustained; it would require generations do such imo; & probably people would have to be reasonably fed, etc. during that time.

i've worked in the human 'rewiring' business & i have a hard time imagining a global empathy revolution & the rewiring that would require for the empathy revolution to be sustained; it would require generations do such imo; & probably people would have to be reasonably fed, etc. during that time.

Pray tell more! You have conjured up an image in my mind, of the quintessential mad scientist, in the white, slightly blood splattered, lab coat, inserting electrical probes into some poor unsuspecting human's open skull and gleefully gloating over the results on myriad blinking screens and oscilloscopes... >;^)

It's Not really all that difficult to change human behavior.
We are similar to any mammal.

All you have to do to breed in desirable characteristics is to prevent undesirables from passing on their genes.
We do it all the time.

Think of jails.
Don't they put one at a disadvantage in the race for wombs?
Or the shooting of outliers in China or the samurai beheadings in Nihon?
Or the Zulu practice of not allowing young men to breed before they had killed 30 men, after which they were allowed to dress their hair in a ring and were given 30 wives?

Us humans are plastic.
Shaped like putty in the hands of our cultures.
Just like dogs, come to think of it.


I can't remember the title, but Larry Niven-I think it was Niven- wrote a novel partly based on the technological manipulation of the brain by means of electrical stimulation via implanted electrodes.

The users of this technology were known as juice addicts.

If you can find a copy you will enjoy it immensely.But you might not sleep well the night you read it.

""You have conjured up an image in my mind, of the quintessential mad scientist, in the white, slightly blood splattered, lab coat, inserting electrical probes into some poor unsuspecting human's open skull and gleefully gloating over the results on myriad blinking screens and oscilloscopes""

No wait,,,isn't that Dr Chu??

Our wonderful United States Secretary of Energy?

HO, This raises an interesting point!

Those of us who are miners and the producers of fossil fuels gave you the power and the technical revolution

Starting with Newcomen and Benz, the machinery of our industrial/technological age has been powered by FF. And yes, you the miners have given this power to us.

This has given us the best of times in electricity, travel, health, information and possesions. And it has given us the worst of times in overpopulation, environmental degradation and now looming resource depletion and an energy transition to a lower net energy future.

I know it is a hypothetical scenario but fossil fuels are not needed to power internal combustion engines or generate electricity. A modern hi tech industrial/technological civilisation could have developed without FF.

The downside of FF use now becoming apparent may mean that FF's have been a curse more than a blessing. This has resulted in humanity becoming overpopulated, producing excessive pollution and eventually leading to decline if not collapse.

There is no doubt, at least to my mind, that the last 100 years has been the best of all times to be alive if you were lucky enough to live in a developed economy and missed the carnage of the many wars.

But the technological advantages of that era could ave occurred without the curse of fossil fuels.

Overpopulation is due more to:

  • Agriculture: which increased the food supply and made it more predictable, but also resulted in the destruction of forests and prairies.

  • Sailing Ships: which transported farmers, farming methods, and new crops to every arable acre of the globe.

  • Medicine: which reduced the mortality from infectious diseases and allowed the rapid increase in population in the new agricultural lands

Fossil fuels are only secondary.

Fossil fuels are only secondary.

Merrill I respectfully disagree.

The large net energy in FF are directly related to the size of the human population that can be supported.

In developed economies it takes 10 calories of FF to produce 1 calorie of food at the point of consumption.

The massive factory farming agriculture producing food for nearly 7 billion humans could not exist without FF inputs. Or at least it could not exist at the current energy level.

Undoubtedly modern medicine and hygiene have saved countless millions of lives but these lives would be non existent without the available food sources underwritten by the FF economy.

Without FF's, total human population would have been limited by the available net energy of renewable energy sources far below the 6.7 billion today.

Fossil fuels are only secondary.

I think energy has a larger role in our population growth than you are giving it.

Fossil Fuels and Population

aangel is correct, 8 calories of hydrocarbons for one caalorie of food is a sobering statistic.

I think energy has a larger role in our population growth than you are giving it.

I think the human ingenuity which turned fossil fuels into a useful tool has an even larger role to play than whatever particular item such ingenuity improved from its "once useless" state.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like often, in the peaker movement, the use of fossil fuels is looked upon as something which humans just stumbled upon through sheer dumb luck, which flows forth in octane grades of 87, 89, 91 and #2 diesel, ready to be put into a fuel tank.

No credit is given to the ingenuity and scientific investigation over decades required to turn crude oil into what it became. By extension then, the argument can revolve around the impossibility of the same dumb luck happening twice, which avoids the alternative, which is that the same process which turned useless crude into a global commodity can do the same to something else. Human ingenuity not being restricted to the discovery process particulars of any given commodity.

"Human ingenuity" has been both a blessing and a curse; we have the electric toaster and blow driers right next to land mines and hydrogen bombs.

Land mines and hydrogen bombs are no more a curse than a loaded 357 magnum, they are but tools, and must be given their intent by humans, otherwise they are lumps of steel and fissionables which would otherwise sit there and bother no one.

Hydrogen bombs don't kill people, people do.

Yes, people kill people and many other species; we are are finally the real danger.

Of course we are a danger, but its because we have chosen to be a danger in some way or another. Just because we happen to have a hydrogen bomb laying around doesn't mean we are going to use it, just because we can kill off various species doesn't mean we have to because of our inherent "badness".

Hi reserve.
You are right.
I hope we are going to harvest the cosmological amount of energy in space.
as per O'Neil's High Frontier

However, the consensus of opinion is that it is a bridge too far.

However, the consensus of opinion is that it is a bridge too far.

Consensus of isn't run by consensus and short sighted Luddites don't get to dictate the future fortunes of mankind. Thank goodness for that.

In 1859, can you imagine the Colonel thinking about drilling in 5000' of water out of sight of land? A bridge too far. 150 years later? Just another well.

Factory farming agriculture doesn't produce food for nearly 7 billion people. At most, it produces food for about 2 billion of those people, using about a few percent of the labor force. Most of the rest of the population is fed using methods that depend on more animal and human labor, e.g. the rice paddies that feed half of the population. When tractors are used it is on a much smaller scale.

The estimate of 10 calories of FF per calorie on the table is valid only for diets that include a large proportion of meat and which consist of highly processed, packaged, and transported food, e.g. in the US supermarket. This is not at all true for the food eaten by most of the world's population.

If the average diet is 1500 Calories/day, then the annual energy in the food is almost exactly 15 Quads. If the 10 calories factor is right, then the world would be using about 150 Quads or nearly 40% of energy consumption for the production of food. This seems way too high, given that most energy is used in the developed countries for transportation, heating buildings, industrial processes, etc.

The forests of China, Southeast Asia, India, Europe, and North America were cleared by axes, not by chainsaws. They were tilled by humans and animals for centuries. Even in the US, the first mechanized farm implements were drawn by horses and oxen. Tractors did not become the norm in the US until after WW II, and even later in most other developed countries.

A major factor in population growth has been the importation or development of new crops. Improved cabbages and beets enabled the growth of eastern European populations. The importation of the potato from the New World allowed a massive expansion of population across the northern European plain. There are many more examples.

Fossil fuels have been important only in the last 60 or 70 years. The most fossil fuel is used for production of nitrogen. Other fossil fuel is used as the petrochemical feedstock for the production of insecticides and pesticides. These have been combined with plant breeding and genetic engineering to produce higher producing crops, but ones which require more fertilizer and pesticides.

Merrill, I respect your obvious knowledge and background in this field. However, the size of population and the amount of food produced in any society (including our global one) all comes down to the amount of available net energy. (and in agriculture of course the key elemunts N, P, K)

There are only 3 ways to get net energy into food production; i) human labour, ii) animal labour and iii) an exogenous energy source like FF (and wind, water etc).

As with all energy, especially FF energy, there is a horrendous variation in energy distribution in the planet. Bsically 4 groups of energy class countries: High eg the OECD countries, Medium eg middle ranking countries like Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Argentina etc, Low eg Nicaragua, Pakistan, Egypt, South Pacific Islands, and Destitute eg Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti etc

The lower down this list you go the less net energy available for food production. The only way to compensate is to vastly increase the human (or animal) labour input. This is exactly what happens. More and more people in poorer countries must be directly involved in food production. The result is less net energy for other economic activity - Result, Poverty.

The lower the country is on the available net energy scale then the more local the food supply and the higher percent the population needed to produce it.

I do not disagree with your sentiment that a lot of food in the world is locally produced. Perhaps the term "Factory Farming" should be replaced with "Fossil Fuel" Farming.

I believe your statement

Factory farming agriculture doesn't produce food for nearly 7 billion people. At most, it produces food for about 2 billion of those people

is way off the mark.

Even in countries with very high (cheap) labour inputs into food production like India and China there is still significant FF inputs into processing, distribution and transport.

Fossil fuels have been important only in the last 60 or 70 years.

Exactly. The global population 70 years ago was about 2.5 billion. I cannot believe there is a disconnect from the massive net energy inputs of FF into agriculture and the massive population increase in these same 70 years.

And finally

If the 10 calories factor is right, then the world would be using about 150 Quads or nearly 40% of energy consumption for the production of food. This seems way too high,

IIRC (and I can't find the reference now maybe aangel has it on hand) this is about the percentage of energy goung into all aspects of food from ground to mouth. (this would include such peripheral energy costs as in supermarket construction) I believe it is in the range of 30% to 40%

Net energy is the key for size of population and food production. Most (not all granted) of ours comes from FF.

See Table 4. "Estimated energy input and output to Bangladeshi agriculture" in Energy Flow in Agriculture: Bangladesh for an analysis of energy inputs and outputs in an agriculture system typical of at least a couple billion people. In 2000-01 total energy inputs were about 148 PetaJoules and outputs were about 1051 PetaJoules.

the last 100 years has been the best of all times to be alive if you were lucky enough to live in a developed economy and missed the carnage of the many wars.

I managed to escape wars in
Africa and get into the developed world as the door was being slammed shut.

But let us not stop there.
How about an even more privileged society who do not have to live at the bottom of a gravity well?

Before that door is slammed shut too.

H.O., I have no personal quarrel with miners in the same way that I empathize with soldiers ordered to war, while at the same time I am opposed to the policies that put them where they are . I'm sure that many miners have been exploited to the max by capitalism and corporatism. I'm sure they have suffered more than most of us. As a human being I'm capable of having a deep respect and empathy for them.

Yes, fossil fuels have given us our civilization and I most certainly have benefited greatly form all that, I have seen the world, I am a member of the privileged few. However I can not agree that we are living in a much better world.

Who is this we you speak of, does it include the vast majority of the people on this planet, no I think not. Are you taking into consideration the consequences of our exploitation of our natural resources for the benefit of the very few at the detriment of the majority?

Disclaimer, I'm an atheist so I'm not big on religion and faith, but I just listened to a fascinating program on NPR's Speaking of Faith Sunday morning program. I'd link to the podcast but it hasn't been posted yet. The featured speaker was a biologist, Alan Rabinowitz.

Alan Rabinowitz’s latest book, “Life in the Valley of Death,” describes the controversial efforts of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to establish the Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve in northern Burma’s Kachin State. In 1993, WCS became the first international nongovernmental organization to establish a project inside Burma. Rabinowitz is the executive director of the New York-based organization’s Science and Exploration Program.

If you have an opportunity listen to what he says. In particular his experience high in the mountains on the border of Myanmar where he talks about spending a few days alone with one of the last twelve remaining Mongoloid Pygmies, a soon to be completely extinct group of humans. He doesn't speak their language, yet he talks about a deep quasi spiritual communication with this man over the course of a few days. I'm rarely shaken to my core being well jaded by my own life experience, but this talk shook me out of my complacency at least for this morning...

To be honest H.O. I really don't think you have put much thought into defining what it really means to be living in a much better world. I see a world that is much much poorer that it might have been and getting poorer still. I despair at what my son will inherit. Though at least he knows that in my own way I am trying to make a dent, however small, in changing the world. At least my own conscience is clear and I am not withholding the very ugly truth of where we are and where we are going from him.

On the other hand...

Tim Minchin - Some people have it worse than I

HO : There's an old saying : "pride comes before a fall".

Why disparage those who work hard to provide energy for us all? It's not their fault that it's benefits aren't shared or used in the "best" way. If you're looking for someone to blame look in the mirror. We're all crazy plague monkeys multiplying and consuming as much as we can. So it is, so it has always been. Who's to blame is unproductive anyway. Right or wrong, good or bad; We share the fate of this planet together.

Didn't you post a picture of yourself someplace in Asia a while back?

What a nice article.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

Yes, but a capitalist economy cannot survive on durable goods.

Well if that is true, the conclusion is not "So we must make more trash faster". The conclusion is "So we have to ditch capitalism".

I know that some people will react as if I have just said that we should all eat babies, but think about it. Capitalism was not made in heaven - it is a human invention. If it does not serve human interests, it can be changed.

Thank you for this. A great deal of insight here.

Grazie molto, Ugo!

I'd like to re-post my response to a comment recently made by Gail.

Ugo, a few thoughts:

1) by far the the best things to do on a personal level are to buy an EV (bike or 4-wheel), and make your home use as little FF as possible.

2) communicate. You're doing your part - each person can talk to other people they know.

3) communicate with your political representatives: your condo president, your school board member, union rep, congressman, senator, president, member of parliament...

4) Fossil fuels are the problem, not minerals like lithium or indium. For info on lithium, see:

Start an orchard.
I live where Timber frame building is very common so I'd like to start some trees that can become timbers for a barn.

More specifically, start a food forest.

Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing this. It conveys what I believe is a plausible and helpful attitude about the problems we face. We are facing changes that have no easy answers and the best we can do will be none too good. But thinking hard about what we can do at an individual level to make the world better for the kind of human being we'd like to have as a friend is about the best approach I can imagine. And that seems to be what you are saying here.

Hey enjoyed the read, nice story. My sister and I always thought my folks had these bizarre hobbies; gardening, keeping chickens and rabbits, etc. ...Now it seems as though my childhood was a training course for energy descent. Thanks mom and dad!

Pigleg... we sold our house in the metro and bought the family farm in a distant rural area. We are teaching our kids to raise chickens, food, orchards, cattle, and appreciate the wonders of the lovely prairie around us. Our hope is that this farm becomes their lifeboat. We are replacing conventional row crops with perennial, rotational grazing and our other farmer neighbors think we are "idiots." But that's ok- if they REALLY thought we were idiots- they would not drive into our farm yard, chat about what we are doing, and call us idiots to our faces. They would only call us idiots behind our backs. So we are also building community and friends.

Views, and POVs, tend to change depending on resources available, and circumstances.

The stereotype is that farmers are set in thier ways and resist change but nothing could be further from the truth.

Farming is arguably one of the toughest and most competitive of businesses, witness the number of farmers who have gone out of business year after year for decades.

The ones who are left are generally pretty savvy business people trapped in a situation not of thier own making;they simply must do what they ARE DOING to survive from year to year.

Is your farm turning a cash profit that would allow you to make payments on equipment, land , machinery,pay taxes, and have something left to live on? Something adequate?

"Man does not live by bread alone" is a great little piece of philosophy, but it can be profitably twisted around to "Show me the bread" -an expression commonly heard in my younger days.

We could -AND SHOULD-be doing lots of things differently, collectively, but farmers have to live and survive individually.

I would like to do a better job myself in certain respects in running our place, but we are constrained by business realities;there are no buyers locally for many things we could produce, in the quantities that would make producing them practical..

We are forced by cost and price competition to produce what we do produce using less than optimum practices in respect to sustainability.

I could raise apples like my great grandfather did, with almost no fossil fuel inputs.He and his sons, including my grandfather, actually cleared the land used for thier orchards by hand, with axes and mattocks, and purchased fertilizers were something they had only heard of.

But nobody would buy the apples, and even if they could be sold,I couldn't make enough production using thier methods to make a living.

I'm just pointing out the day to day realities of farming for a living so those who are impatient for change will better understand the reality of the agricultural status quo.

It's great that some people interested in changing toward a more sustainable agricultural model have the resources to put into creating it, one example at a time..

I wish you and all the rest godspeed.

Great post! I'm looking forward to reading the discussion.

1. What we should leave our descendants is a sustainable philosophy. That would be far better than any "things" that would likely wear out anyway. A concept that I like is Seventh Generation and it comes from some Native Americans. Basically, we should be considering the needs of our seventh generation (my great, great, great, great, great grand-kids).

The beauty of this philosophy is that it really helps clarify what is likely to be sustainable. My grandparents may not have thought that my generation would run out of oil, but it's hard to believe there is enough for another three or four generations. Even the most rabid drill-baby-drill crowd will have trouble making that argument.

What will folks five generations from now think about our throw-away society? Will they need to mine land-fills to get the rare minerals that Ugo referenced? Will those land-fills be leaking hazardous leachate that fouls their water?

2. Absolutely! And we should. We should also consider what will happen to the "thing" when it has reached the end of its life. Can it be disassembled for recycling or composting?

3. Gardening clubs and other craft clubs are great ways to share skills regardless of generation.

Ugo, your watch discussion reminded me of a constant thought that I have when visiting museums. What items from present time are "museum worthy?" What present items will folks take to Antiques Roadshow fifty years from now?

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

Improved soil and a regrading/shaping of the land to retain rainwater.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

Engineer for life, not for lowest material cost/planned failure.

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

Ask the old folks to show you. Most will be happy to.

Getting the young to ask the old - now that is the trick.

Yes, the answer is not rocket science we need to make products that last and those that we need and not just what we want.

This will be hard, but like anyone with a heroin addiction the first step may be the hardest, but each day must continue with that same step after step.

We have an addiction too in the modern industrial societies, but ours is more dangerous than one person using heroin. Our addiction to all fossil fuels and the desire for new widgets now affects the entire planet.

In 1859 when Charles Darwin wrote On the Origins of Species there were separate habitats, but today all or most all species live in the habitat of Homo sapiens.

We may become extinct from our own vanity, but life will continue without us.

(1)What can we leave to our descendents,that is sustainable?

A steadily declining human population and a steadily increasing wild plant and animal population.

(2) Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

Start by junking the growth at any cost paradigm.

(3)Open your mind,look,listen,read,comprehend.

Beautiful, thought-provoking article. Thank you. Here's my suggestion in response:

Take some fine quality paper, non-acidic, the type that is used for archiving, and bind a sheaf of it in fine leather. Then take some good quality ink, and begin writing a diary. Put all of your knowledge and all of your experience into that diary, whether you are a philosopher, a doctor, an engineer or a farmer. Write about the society in which you live and the people that you meet on a daily basis. Write about the problems they face, particularly the problems that are related to their lack of money and resources.

Learn as much as you can about how people used to live before they had cheap and abundant energy; how people grew their food and wrote their books and built their sailing ships and cathedrals. Use your own particular expertise to suggest how that knowledge can be regained and made useful again.

Encourage everyone you know to write a similar diary, and try to organise a central location in which the diaries can be stored and archived. You don't necessarily have to deposit them on the shores of the Dead Sea or in the desert near Nag Hammadi to ensure their survival, but if you are lucky, they will be read by people a thousand years from now, and you will have left the people of the future something of inestimable value.

That is an excellent idea PassingThrough!

Thanks, sidecross. I often think about how we have only recently learned about the Essenes from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were about 2000 years old when they were discovered in 1947, and about the Gnostics from the Nag Hammadi library, which was about 1700 years old when it was discoverd in 1945. Most of our knowledge about the artists of the Italian Renaissance comes from Vasari, who died in 1574, and Pepys left us an enormous amount of information about London in the 1600s.

All of these people wrote their books using feathers or reeds dipped in ink by candlelight, on papyrus or parchment or paper (actually, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls was written on copper). And all of these people had magnificent buildings all around them, from the temples and pyramids of Egypt to the cathedrals and churches of Florence and London.

And yet... there was not a barrel of oil or a computer or a television set or a petrol station in sight.

We need to learn from them, in my opinion, and pass their achievements and our mistakes (our greed and our rapacity and our dumbed-down consumerism) on to future generations because 1000 years from now, the technological achievements of the oil age will be just a blip in history, like the glory of ancient Greece or the horrors of the Inquisition, and the collective knowledge and imagination of humankind will have to leap-frog them.

Get out that pen and paper and start transcribing what you've written here. You've already started your diary.

Don't fall into the trap of over-romanticizing the past. People of the eras you describe generally led short, brutal and ignorant lives.

A good many People today very often lead Brutal, Short and Ignorant lives.. while we do have the records of some truly brilliant and also apparently some contented folk who've lived in days we would expect were simply deadly in their archaism.

There are simpler and better things that we can also find in this age and in earlier times. No sense dismissing them. We didn't invent Happiness and Joy as some extract of crude..

or was Shakespeare in 1609 just kidding himself?

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft' is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

My encounter with this sonnet as a boy set me off on a self-imposed task to discover its meaning, if any. "Summer's lease hath all to short a date" was the most baffling, Leash, like on a dog? "Date" like Charley had a date with Mary?, this guy Summer had put a rope on his shorty girl friend? So what? Then on to the stuff about "thy eternal summer shall not fade"; sadly, obvious BS unworthy of a scribe with such a big rep. I then decided that, aside from all that, main message was in fact important; the only thing immortal is ink. I have never forgotten it.

Thanks much Ugo, for a great story. My suggestion on what to do is like unto that- tell what you know to the kids, in their language, and write your memoirs truthfully, warts and all,with lots of detail.

And do it before you die, since we all know that what you write after that is invisible ink.

Most people in the present live LONG, brutal, and ignorant lives as WAGE-SLAVES. I would rather it be shorter and I be free with other who are free.

But you are demonizing the past. It was not all that short, nor brutal. Take, for instance, the Hadza tribe, who live much like we must have 10,000 years ago. They often live well into their 70's if they survive childhood.

Re. short and brutal lives in the past:

Studying the frescoes from Pompeii is very instructive. People at all levels of society had well-built homes with flowing water and gardens, abundant fresh food from local shops and markets, and the leisure time to maintain their gardens and read books. The wealthier members of society lived in fabulous villas with beautiful wall paintings, fine furniture, luxury tableware made of glass, expensive clothes and jewellery, etc., etc. Travel was by horseback, of course, but many Romans had villas in the Bay of Naples and travelled widely around (what we now call) Italy. Cicero and Pliny left us abundant evidence of this.

Pompeii, which was destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, is just one example of a sophisticated pre-industrial society for which we have particularly compelling evidence. I don't think I'm Romanticising the past; I believe that millions of people led full, happy and interesting lives before the industrial revolution, and that millions will successfully return to that pre-industrial way of life in the future.

Yes, Rome is an interesting case. While materially successful as you describe, it was also rather brutal. After all this is the civilization perfected the art of crucifixion and systematized slavery as never before.

As far as life duration, well at birth your life expectancy was 25 (some claim that is too high). If you got out of childhood it rose to 45. That gives you an idea how terrifying infant mortality rates were. Because of the rate of infant mortality women married very young (typically 12) and were breeding machines until they died or could no longer become pregnant. Infanticide of female babies was common.

So if you were a male child who made it through childhood and were a citizen and toed the line you could live pretty well for about 2/3 as long as we do now. Otherwise not so much.

While I think we have a real problem with sustainability I certainly don't think that returning to the past ways is the answer. Modern technologies and the philosophies of the Enlightenment should not be discarded. A post industrial Enlightenment based on naturalism, and a realization that growth must not be at the cost of the future is what is needed.

Graph of the Population of Rome Through History

From around a million during the peak of the Roman Empire it declined to about 20,000 during the 12th century.

Pompeii possessed the human equivalent of oil: 40% of the population were slaves.

Add to that their "balance of trade" was based on conquest.

Even though both slavery and conquest are probably renewable resources, it's not all that it might appear.

I wouldn't consider a life as a migratory hunter-gatherer with a neo-paleolithic set of tools (i.e. digging stick) an ideal.

But you are demonizing the past. It was not all that short, nor brutal.

Less than 1/4 of the population live the long life you are theorizing about.

I would rather it be shorter and I be free with other who are free.

The freedom now and then is the same. It is the freedom to starve.

If you want to starve in a grass hut go ahead but I won't be joining you.

Your assumption is that a long life is always better then a short life. That is a fallacy.

There is no ideal, there is only the truth. Living as we are, living with 7 billion on this planet, will lead to more people starving then if we had never started on the human agricultural experiment.

But you are someone who likes the prison, who takes some table scraps for your days spent as a wage slave if you can push death off by one more day. You are afraid of life.

And your study number is flawed but I do not care.

PassingTrough is not being a romantic, how many people even know about the Nag Hammadi library?

Up until Charles Darwin educated people thought life on Earth began at 4004 BCE and the concept of 'Prehistory' did not even exist.

how many people even know about the Nag Hammadi library?

I do.
And there are some Christian sects who are are quite on the defensive.
I got a pamphlet the other day trying to re-impose their customary authority.

I am particularly fond of the gospel of Thomas. (Doubting Thomas)

Would he not be the skeptical scientist, demanding evidence?

You really , desperately, need in the worse way to read Thoreau.

Read about his expenses and how he thought one should, and how he did, live.

Tied to the farms they became slaves to the industrial revolution or its precursor.

He found a better more sensible way and that of dealing fully with nature.

People might have lived those short brutal lives but not all. They who did were chasing the dream. The ,we will get rich, dream. They assumed mortgages and then became slaves to the bankers and lenders. They tried to do what we have finally succeeded in doing. That is in essence, that short,brutal, ignorant lifestyle. No room for reality there. No room for romance there. No room for the spirit there.

No room except for greed and ego by way of insane growth and borrowing and the result then as now is abject servitude, hidden by the media and lots of 'feel good' nonsense.

Thank you for the story. It's nice to think about simple things after months of hearing about nothing but technicalities and intrigues.

1. As noted already, knowledge and wisdom are valuable heirlooms to pass on. Personal, technical and historical, recorded on simple and durable media. A few choice tools, musical instruments and pocket watches might be appreciated, too. Hope that the ability and inclination to read is something that future generations possess.

2. Building things that last a long time is something we already know how to do, but are rapidly forgetting. Relearn those old ways in some area of personal interest and talent, and then pass them along as best you can.

3. In our contemporary culture, the wisdom of the elders is not highly valued by the young until they get old themselves, and by then their elders may be gone. Since time is getting short, both the elders and the young need to make more of an effort to communicate with each other on a regular basis. Reversing the modern trend of generations living apart would help. The recent economic collapse may be a benefit in this case. More young people are living near or with their parents. However, it's still pretty hard to break through the 'social media' and generational barriers to really make contact. It's important not to get discouraged by rejection and indifference and give up trying to get though. It will be worth the effort.

Thanks for the great story, as it provided a much needed break from the events of the day.

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

I intend to leave behind a productive farm whose soil is richer along with my extensive library that provides knowledge and the path to wisdom.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

Certainly, we did once before.

Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

We have Master Gardener programs and many arts and crafts fairs where it's possible to learn how from master artisans, with the latter being more popular amongst youth.

nice post! has a keen sense of caring about it.

to me, your watch says the most in your presentation; & answers the first two questions best for tonite's campfire.

re #3; we need to 'hang out with them'. genuine interest in their stories 'carries the day'. thanks.

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

Sustainability is a mirage. By 2050 there may be 10,000,000,000 people. Standing in formation on a grid of 1 meter squares, they would cover a square 100 kilometers on a side. The only way that there can be sustainability for our descendents is if most of them do not exist.

Most eschatologies do not envision a steady state. Some envision a catastrophic end. Some envision death and rebirth. Some envision growth, maturity, fruiting and dying, which is a process that is fairly ubiquitous in the natural world.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

Building things that last a long time is uneconomic. If something provides a benefit of $100 one hundred years from now, then for a 4% interest rate, the future benefit has a present value of $1.98. Only if interest is abolished is it possible to make investments for the long term.

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

A garden apartment at an eastern university is mostly occupied by Chinese graduate students. Some have parents or grandparents with them to tend the children while the students are at school. Behind the apartments, the squares of lawn have been dug up between the buildings and the parking lot. A tiny elderly Chinese couple grew the most produce from the least land that I've ever seen. Surviving the Communist Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution apparently sharpen one's gardening skills.

"Sustainability is a mirage. By 2050 there may be 10,000,000,000 people. Standing in formation on a grid of 1 meter squares, they would cover a square 100 kilometers on a side. The only way that there can be sustainability for our descendents is if most of them do not exist.Sustainability is a mirage. By 2050 there may be 10,000,000,000 people. Standing in formation on a grid of 1 meter squares, they would cover a square 100 kilometers on a side. The only way that there can be sustainability for our descendents is if most of them do not exist."

What matters is total consumption, as the 1 billion who are developed are the ones who consume the most:

I don't think that the populations of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) the CIVETs (Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey) as well as other countries like Niger, Pakistan, Iran, South Africa, Kazakstan, etc., are interested in being relegated to low consumption relative to the OECD countries. The developed countries' consumption is not growing, or growing very slowly at the moment. It is the developing countries where consumption is going up the fastest.

BAU is unrealistic.

But BABO (Business As Before Oil) and a return to a low energy agrarian past is even more unrealistic.

Actually, what we in India and elsewhere want is good quality of life, not standard of living as defined by material goods. That would include modern conveniences: watches, electricity, internet etc. But what level of consumption of resources do we need to create a high-quality lifestyle?

To me, the message from this story is that we can get a high quality lifestyle by creating long-lasting goods and energy sources, and then focusing on the other contributors to a good quality of life: spirituality, a vegetable garden, feeling of community etc.

The challenge is to rework both popular culture and the economic system so that this becomes feasible. The good news is that culturally we are all predispositioned to value just this type of a lifestyle as ideal - it is only commercial interests that keep pushing us to buy and consume more than we need.

The big challenge is to change the economic system so that it rewards sustainability. As pointed out above, an economic system that keeps trying to maximize interest on capital will never value durability. We need to move away from the current scarcity economics that emphasizes capital and standard of living to an abundance economics formulation that rewards value creation. We need to design a next-generation economic model.

But it is false to say that the planet does not have the resources for a population of six or ten billion to be sustainable at a high quality of life. It is only the current economic model of consumption that is unsustainable. The story is pointing out that cheap disposable watches create high resource consumption while lowering quality of life! That is our window of opportunity - if we can find a way to undo this idiocy, we can achieve sustainability while actually improving our quality of life.

Watches are an interesting product. If you window-shop in Geneva, you can find watches selling for a few francs up to a few hundred thousand francs. There are few other products that have selling prices that range over 5 orders of magnitude.

Despite the wide variation in price, they all keep time. Those that sell for a few tens of francs probably keep time as well as those costing a few hundred thousand francs -- possibly better, since they use more modern technology.

The most expensive watches have a lot of functions, such as moon phases. However, the watches with digital displays often have even more functions and sell for vastly less.

As for durability, I doubt that it scales with price. The cheap plastic sport watch is certainly more durable than the super-thin, jewel encrusted mechanical pieces.

Nor is longevity related to price. Electronic watches need battery replacements. However, the expensive mechanical movements require cleaning, lubrication and adjustment by skilled jewlers.

Studying how and why people buy watches demonstrates that consumption is not mainly driven by utilitarian or even rational considerations.

Off topic

But speaking of clocks with moon phases, we have a grandfather clock so equippedwith a semicircular face up top.

Does anybody know of a specific web site that explains how to read this feature?

Lots of people have taken a look at it, but nobody can read it.The clock works perfectly so far as we can tell and appears to be in mint condition.It keeps time to within five minutes per month.

I understand that in times gone by such a clock enabled people to plan night time travel and work such as war, burglary and harvest to take advantage of moonlight.

I think its rather simple. I have one.

The moon slides slowly from one end of the panel to the other and in doing so parts of it are covered , as is the real moon in its various 'phases'.

So you see that a phase goes from a small slice removed to a larger and finally FULL moon and then the other phases and finally NEW moon.

Its all really quite simple depending on how you view it. Partially hidden,fully , and then again partially.

New moon, waxing, waning, full and so forth and so on. I thought OFM understood celestial mechanics,was college educated , etc.......???????????????????????

Apparently ours doesn't look like most others;it could be that it must be read differently too.The moon phases portion might be broken, even though the clock keeps good time.

And yes, I have a good education, and understand the phases of the moon well enough, and the rudiments of celestial mechanics.

As I understand it-or don't, obviously-you should be able to read, or calculate, the approximate time of moon rise and moon set from the clock face days or weeks in advance.

It has two northern hemisphere half globe dials, East and West, that are apparently supposed to be used to help in the calculation depending apparently on the users longitude.

At one time many years ago there was a booklet that evidently came with the clock originally, written in German or possibly some other language , but it was falling apart then and it has been lost for a long time.

We don't need a clock to know the phase of the moon;that is perfectly obvious from simply looking at it, if it is visible. I can predict the days from one phase change to the next within a day with a mere fast glance;I could do it perfectly by actually remarking the first day a new moon appears and keeping count of the days.

If all the clock is supposed to do is indicate the current phase then reading it is as simple as falling off a log.

Antique clocks are definitely not my long suite, and nobody who has looked at it is a clock expert, although a couple of antique dealers thought they were until they saw this one.Both of THEM were obviously quite anxious to buy it.

Someday when I have nothing more interesting to do I will research the subject a bit.

Thanks for the replies.

Go show it to the Antiques Roadshow, Mac. I'm sure they would enjoy a character like you (and your clock). I sure do!

Des Moines on Aug. 7
Wash, DC on Aug 21

Post a picture for us. I posted a picture of my dog!

But it is false to say that the planet does not have the resources for a population of six or ten billion to be sustainable at a high quality of life. It is only the current economic model of consumption that is unsustainable.

With respect our current model of consumption I think we are in agreement.

As for the exact number of humans that this planet can sustain at a high quality of life, the number will most certainly vary widely according to our assumptions, expectations and definitions.

We would of course all need to agree as to what exactly it is that constitutes a high quality of life. Then we must, based on falsifiable science and empirical evidence accurately measure what our energy budget should be to achieve that number in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Of course that also leaves open the question, as to where it is written, that we should not set as a goal, a final number for the population, that is significantly lower than the maximum number possible.

For the record, I'm personally not convinced that a high quality of life for a human population in the range of 10 billion can be achieved in a sustainable manner. I base that on the fact that despite the majority of the world's population not consuming resources in the manner of the OECD countries. We are apparently, as a species, still incapable of understanding and going against our basic animal instincts and more primitive drives.

Perhaps that will change with evolutionary pressures and natural selection eventually weeding out those traits which are no longer conferring a survival advantage. Maybe there will one day be a human like primate, a new and improved Homo sapiens 2.0 version of ourselves, that can and will achieve such a goal. For now, I do not see that the current version is quite up to the task.

May I please be proven wrong.

To me, a good quality of life is when I wake up in the morning without pain and haven't a clue what I am going to do that day.

The more of those days the better my quality of life.

To me a good day is when I wake up and some pleasant chores pop into my mind.

I hate odious chores so I do not plan nor usually execute them. I try to keep a full list of chores I like to do.

Repair my boat motor. Process my sweet corn. Make sauerkraut. Build onto my barn. Visit a neighbor and talk on the front porch for however long we wish.

The list is endless and when its empty? That is when I will begin to die.

The whole secret is in your list. Good things and not bad. Worthy goals you can find pride and meaning in. Something that speaks to the inner man.

What sort of "drives" would have to be gone against to have 10 billion people with a high quality of life?

Good post swami.


both populations matter very much.

Consider the large overshoot populations in Africa who strip the land of trees for fire wood and hunt animals for bush meat. very poor people who do not consume oil and iron ore and lithium and etc can still denude the land and hunt species to extinction very effectively, through the force of their numbers.

Both sheer population and per-capita consumption matter.


Ugo, many thanks for this thought provoking article. I am in an unusual position to be able to do something on a larger scale than most, and also have the good fortune to have been educated on peak resources and the likely consequences of their falling extraction. Our tree farm is set up to accomplish what we can in the production of sustainable commodities and energy. We base it on some very fast growing nitrogen fixing trees (NFT's). They provide nutrients for other trees, both lumber and food bearing, and other food resources, such as cattle and truck crops. The NFT's produce lumber, chips for energy and biochar, and very high protein feedstock for animals. The grasses that grow under these trees produce energy and feed as well. The biochar and the nutrients are used to enhance the growth of food, both tree foods and garden type. So the output of our 3000 acre project is 10 megawatts of power, enough lumber to support our islands needs, enough feed to finish off enough ruminants and fish, to support our present population, and numerous jobs which are permanent. It's a start.

May I ask which varieties of trees are nitrogen fixing?

There are many species of nitrogen fixing trees, thousands actually To see some of the species see here . In temperate climates the locust family, black locust, honey locust does well. We grow Paraserianthes falcataria, or albizia. A tropical tree, it is probably the fastest growing useful plant on land. It will exceed 80 feet in 4 years. One acre drops about 1200 pounds of organic nitrogen per acre per year. (1360 kilos per hectare) Compare that to soybeans at 160 pounds per acre per year. The green tops of the trees are very palatable and 24-27% protein.

Common Alder is one - also known as the "poor man's mahogany". When submerged, it is highly resistant to water decay (much of the foundations in Venice are made from it). Beyond trees, clover is nitrogen fixing, and is used in grass mixes sometimes for this reason.

for the display, you need indium - another rare metal.

It appears that indium will soon be redundant in LCDs and PV panels.  Graphene is cheaper, new processes make it from graphite fairly easily, and there is certainly no shortage of carbon to make it.

Ugo -

Beautifully done piece!

One observation: One of the main obstacles that we face in moving toward a more sustainable civilization whose manmade things are of higher quality and longer lasting is that people in general have been increasingly conditioned to discount the future.

In other words, probably most people would rather spend $600 for a refrigerator that lasts maybe 7 years rather than $1,200 for one that would last over 15 years. So, we wind up with two crappy refrigerators being built over the 15-year period rather than one good one. We have gotten used to shoddy quality, which we are willing to trade for low initial cost. One can see this in practically all consumer goods sold in the US. People expect junk and don't mind it being junk just as long as it's cheap to buy.

My parents bought a refrigerator in the early 1950s that lasted well into the mid-1970s. When it finally did wear out, my late mother actually complained! In that same time span of approximately 24 years my wife and I are now working on our third refrigerator, which is already showing some worrisome signs.

I don't know how to reverse this mindset, but I just wanted to point out that I think it is a major obstacle, and I fear that the more people become financially stressed, the more they will opt out for the low-price/short-life route rather than the build-to-last/expensive route.

And it's not just with individuals buying consumer goods. The modern corporation routinely prefers low initial capital cost even if it means higher operating and maintenance costs down the road. (This is one of the reason's why utilities generally prefer gas turbines when they add electrical generating capacity: the initial cost is low and they can play all sorts of cute games with fuel price escalation all during its operating life.) It's all about how heavily we discount the future, which gets translated direcly into the time value of money. Nate Hagens has quite eloquently dealt with this subject on a number of occasions on TOD, so I won't belabor the point.

I would also strongly endorse the view expressed in an earlier comment by FMagyar, to the effect that one does not need a high-tech, energy-intensive, globally-connected infrastructure to produce highly sophisticated useful mechanical contrivances. (It may take far more time and effort, but the point is that it CAN be done. Some of the most beautifully made firearms were created with little more than a blacksmith's forge, files, scrapers, and other hand tools, plus a great deal of skill and patience.)

First, let me introduce myself - I'm a lurker that started snooping around TOD when looking for sensible data relating to the GOM oil spill - and have found this website to be an incredible source of information on a variety of topics I had not thought about in depth. So I've signed on, and hope to join future conversations a bit while avoiding becoming too depressed as to how much I've missed the boat concerning energy, such as the energy used to create the junk some of us (me too) have been buying, made in China usually, that just breaks down and becomes landfill fodder.

Yet, the refrigerator comment I'm replying to makes only a little sense. Looking on eBay, I can find iceboxes by the dozen, some expensive, some less so - but most or all more expensive than the cheapest refrigerator I can purchase at the local China-outlet (i.e. Target, Sears, Wal-Mart - yeah, I'm American). So if you're looking for past glory, there's the old venerable icebox.

Anyway ...

In the garage, I have a freezer that's at least 20 years old - my Kill-A-Watt tells me the thing uses, sometimes, five times as much electricity (energy) as my newer side-by-side refrigerator! We're getting ready to go out and buy a modern version that will pay for itself in a short while - even here in the Pacific Northwest where electricity is still relatively inexpensive. Will I bemoan the loss of the older freezer, because it closer resembles a steel box one could use as an eternal container for his mortal remains? No, because I know that the newer freezer will be considerably more efficient than the outgoing freezer - its coolant will be newer (though less efficient than is freon), the motor will be newer and consume less electricity, and the insulation made of materials developed in the space-race will keep my food frozen more consistently and require less power. I'm sure you can reason why it's a better performer, considering Energy-Star initiatives and the like, etc.

Surely, on the downside, the new freezer will be built cheaply - and they're going to try and stick me for an extended warranty - and just as surely a number of years down the road, I'll be buying another one - perhaps sooner than 20 years. However, I don't feel I'm really wasting money, or harming the environment, as that newer freezer I buy after this one may use five times less energy and be more or less expensive than the one I'm going to purchase next, and will in turn pay for itself sooner, reduce electricity costs, etc., and in the long and short of it, my carbon footprint (even considering the freezer's eventual destination) will be less.

The point is that we today can lead long, comfortable lives thanks to technological advances that work together, hand-in-hand with humankind's ever growing awareness of the impact society and its mores has on the environment. One can't focus on throw-away plastic junk from the Dollar tree and use it as a basis for every argument thereafter - rather one must be moderate and consider that it wasn't that long ago smoking wasn't considered dangerous - yet today we wonder how could they have been so ignorant in spite of all the smoke one blows!

This highlights a problem. What do you do when you just don't have that initial capital, which will be more and more the case as financial stress increases? This needs to be solved, since we can't just keep burning up resources on throw-away crap.

Perhaps we need a wildly different kind of economy?

i just planted a dwarf julie mangoe tree outsied my condo... and it's doing real well... just water it... and while reading up on that learned you can twist the tops off pineapples and plant those... got two going... too early to tell what will happen with them...

i keep lobbying my hoa board to start planting stuff we can eat... instead of fertilize... cut... and blow... just so we can look at it...

i make my own fruit juice... fruit... water... blender...

i stopped buying individual plastic yogurts... now i have fresh fruit instead...

there's a million little things we do everyday... that if everyone did them... would make a difference...

and what a breath of fresh air to read an article that wasn't the 24 hour news cycle gotcha talking point rhetoric...


"Fertilize...cut...and blow..."

Gas leaf blowers pollute with noise and fumes and waste energy. Their use needs to be made politically incorrect.

The speech you made to them seems a bit lacking in reality.

Organic gardening won't support present world population at anywhere near first world standards.

Kucinich: Status must be awarded for service, not consumption.

Best I've heard. That means don't fall for the growth meme, which is very strong; don't avoid thinking about how population growth must stop and reverse.

Big families=>bad. Consumption growth=>bad. Organic farming=>bad. Carbon use=>bad.

No games about visiting families, flying to lectures, investing in growth.

It won't be pretty to do, but the alternative is less than pretty, it's grim. Really grim.

Population WILL drop, or the starving but informed masses will revolt. Ugly to the max.

Assuming you are right and organic farming cannot support a human population in excess of 7 billion or whatever: It is still necessary to create and maintain a system of sustainable agriculture, be it organic or something similar, in order that whatever the human population contracts to (once the various crises we have allowed to converge on this point in time have to some extent played out) will have that system in place to proceed along sustainable lines. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater?

What to leave the younger ones.

Well in the dim dark past of about 60 or 70 years ago we left them our experiences and our principles.

Our experiences dealt with how to farm and dealt with many issues, like cutting hogs,milking cows,raising corn and a garden, gearing up a mule team, catching fish, making lard and the list goes on and on. These were things I learned from my grandparents on the farm. I never forgot it either.

They also by example or by punishment (chastising) taught us their principles and beliefs. These were handed down from generation to generation.

Yet this all came to an end when the industrial revolution got into full swing and the men came home from WWII. They didn't want to farm or live the rural life any longer so a whole generation grew up discarding what they had been taught with love and concern and example.

And so it progressed to where youth despise older folks. You can see it readily in their attitudes and body language.

Just today my wife, son and I looked at a house made in 1959. Very very sturdy with good brick construction and very nice birch trim , sand finished drywall. Well put together. I thought it very much worth the price.

My son called it a 'old persons house'. He did NOT recognize quality and the virtues of good oak hardwood floors and the rest.

He wanted the cheap glitzy vinyl siding , no shade trees, and a large yard to mow and all the rest of the yuppie nonsense.

He did NOT learn his lessons or the culture(as he entered college life) ripped it all out of him.

I simply give up on this. I will buy the house on the lake with the private boat dock and he can go live in apartments for the rest of his life.

This then is the way we see real estate and all the rest of modern life. Glitzy and worthless and full of ugliness and lack of learning anything of real value.

Can he dress a fish? NO but I once showed him how. Can he set a trotline? No but I once showed him how. Can he sharpen a hunting knife? No but he saw me do it many times. Can he skin a squirrel? No he turned his head as I did it.

The list is long. The wasted time is lost. He will not survive well. All he cares for is how much his paycheck is.

My daughter the same. Her child the same.

All the rest.

I NOTE that the author was speaking to OLD FOLKS. Not youth. They must have been busy working on their 'FACEBOOK' or Twitter. Real goodies to know for the future.

And this is the way it is. At least here in the good ole USA.

Sorry to hear that, PassingBy.

Must be very hard to watch that. But I hope you will believe me that not all the young are ignoring such lessons.. and I'm sure that what you showed them is in there, at the very least as memories of 'what's possible', even if they'd have to find someone else to refresh the lesson again. That they know these skills are actually possible is a huge step over those who have no idea what a person can do with their own hands.

They were born into the end of a Baccanalian feast, as were we, really. Some just found the doors and looked at other parts of the world than the great Western Industrial Party..

The hangover will be a dooz..

I just taught my 7 year old how to tie a constriction knot and a double-fisherman's today, and we are starting to make some of the Pine Handlaunched Gliders that my Dad and I used to make and fly. She has her own woodworking bench, and will be sitting at the sewing machine before another 24 months have passed, too, either the modern Husqvarna or the old Treadle Singer.. her Granny (RIP) had her started with weaving and gardening.

They will thank you later, if you are still around - they may not be aware they need those skills now, but they will.

It may all be pretty rusty to them, but they will use those skills, and probably be sorry they didn't pay closer attention. Maybe you should write everything down.

…meanwhile, here in the good ole USA, I am a 22-year-old college graduate reading TOD on his Sunday afternoon. I’m not seeing a lot of confidence in my generation from the readers on this site; I’d like to offer some hope. I initially thought to try to refute some of the claims that passerby makes in his post, but I’m not really comfortable speaking for an entire generation. Rather, I’d like to offer my own perspective and lifestyle.

---“And so it progressed to where youth despise older folks. You can see it readily in their attitudes and body language.”

We’ll start with the fact that, in general, “Older folks” are a wealth of knowledge and experience. There are those among my generation who have realized that “you can’t make all the mistakes yourself”. When one discovers that, in the big picture, the realities of living as a human on Earth haven’t changed much (just the details), living and learning vicariously through your elders seems like a brilliant idea. But then there are the myriad others who haven’t yet discovered that fact, and a sad few who probably never will. It was an eye-opening day when I finally realized my parents were human, with emotions and ambitions, and not just props placed on earth to raise me. I was as much an aspect of their lives as they were of mine, and what’s more, maybe they actually understand what it means to be my age! It might seem like a small and obvious concept, but it’s a profound truth that many of my peers have yet to discover.

So where do “older folks” fit in to the “me” mindset? It seems, quite frankly, that they don’t, unless they’ve got something you want. So I would agree that an immature worldview is at fault for much of the misunderstanding between generations. You can lead a horse to water, but if the horse is an adolescent prima donna that’s convinced itself that it’s not thirsty, you’re probably not going to get a positive response. Yet for those horses that can see a drought coming, appreciation abounds.

---“My son called it a 'old persons house'. He did NOT recognize quality and the virtues of good oak hardwood floors and the rest.”

I drive a Buick LeSabre with 142k miles on it (fun fact: using full-synthetic oil is only about a $5 premium when you change your own oil). I learned to take care of automobiles from my father, and I plan on having this one until I finally do something to it that renders it unusable or irreparable. “Hey, are your grandparents visiting?” is a common playful taunt heard by peers with half-ton trucks. But 30/23 mpg hwy/city, no car payment, and little car trouble in sight is a tacit but powerful retort.

Regarding dwellings, I currently work for the US Forest Service. I am housed in a cabin built by the CCC. The only things worth fixing on it weren’t part of the original design, and as a structure it has long since paid for itself. It’s provided value to seasonal employees for decades and could continue to do so for decades more, yet most of my peers complain simply that it’s not as new as other USFS facilities. If it weren’t a fixed structure, it would be one of those items that you beg to buy when the current, under-appreciative owners finally decide to “upgrade”. Alas, one day it will be torn down before the end of its useful life and replaced with fancy, new testament to 2x4 construction and “efficiency”.

And as another, seemingly random anecdote from a young person valuing quality- I recently attended a wedding for one of my friends, also aged 22 years (a rare, young marriage built on a rock-solid foundation that I expect to last… fancy that!). My gift: a cast-iron skillet and lid. Gift opening stopped for a good ten minutes as the “older folks” waxed poetic on the utility of the simple, ages-old cooking implement. That didn’t happen e.g. for the novelty salt shakers.

I would additionally like to point out: Failure to appreciate good, solid craftsmanship or real value in an item is endemic not only to my generation, but to my entire national culture. People who have reached their 30th or 50th birthday by the 1st of July, 2010 aren’t necessarily immune to myopic economic reasoning. I looks to me as though this is not a conflict between the older generation and the youth of, say, the western world. This is a conflict between people with a broad lens of the world and those who are incapable or unwilling to see further than themselves or the next day, week, or year.

---“Can he dress a fish? NO but I once showed him how. Can he set a trotline? No but I once showed him how. Can he sharpen a hunting knife? No but he saw me do it many times. Can he skin a squirrel? No he turned his head as I did it.

“The list is long. The wasted time is lost. He will not survive well. All he cares for is how much his paycheck is.

“My daughter the same. Her child the same.

“All the rest.”

Wasted time is lost, yes. But passingby, I contend that your time wasn’t wasted at all. You spent time with your son. You took the time to show him skills. And he bore witness to them, no matter how little he seemed to internalize. We might seem impatient with, disinterested in or downright hostile to the idea of learning new (actually old) skills, but if you think any of that kept me from learning and remembering how to change my oil, clean a deer or the importance of safety glasses in the workshop (the last with a little help from Norm Abram), perhaps you’re being a little too pessimistic.

I’d like to close with my favorite part of the pre-flight speech given by the cabin crew on flights:
“Please don your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.”

When the time comes I, and plenty of others in my generation, will have their masks in place. And we’ll hopefully be in a position to help others with theirs, because we’re not the selfish, ignorant mass of spoiled consumers that we’re portrayed as. At least not all of us, all of the time. I hope.

Excellent points.

In general it is unhelpful to lump everyone into "old" and "young" categories. (I'm not sure where I'd categorize myself; probably somewhere in between...) We can all think of folks in each category that can be "good" and "bad" from a sustainability perspective.

While the "younger generation" may not have the age-old skills that will serve them well in a resource constrained world, they certainly are not the ones that got us into this conundrum. Since they are inheriting this situation perhaps they are owed an extra effort to be taught these useful skills.

I absolutely agree (probably b/c I'm a recent grad school graduate and 28)!

I would like to add just a few points of my own:

1 - There are some 'young folks' that do take the 'big problems' such as PO, climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, over population, etc... seriously. And there are plenty of 'young folks' that DO embrace older traditions. I have plenty of friends who, in their own ways, are living lives that a suited to a post-peak world. They garden, fix rather than throw out things, or do not rush to embrace materialism. While many in my circles have taken up such hobbies because they have the time and inclination, many in this country (USA) do so because they HAVE to take up these 'hobbies' due to poverty. (by global standards, i realize the poverty in the USA is not as 'bad' as in the third world)

2 - The people of my generation who are not allowing the old traditions to die will be (probably) the ones that survive the coming century in relative comfort. Of course if the fossil fuel collapse does happen in a way many on this site envision, none of it will be comfortable.

3 - So if a) some of the under 30 crowd are (consciously or not) living lives suited to a post peak/collapse world and b) they will be envied by the ones who currently are chasing the biggest paycheck, we must ask; will those who are not prepared sink he life boats of the rest?

Your last point, regarding the sinking of “life boats” by others who failed to prepare, has kept me up at night on more than one occasion. I suppose there are two main schools: yes and no.

I envision a “yes” scenario where some folks (a distinct minority) have the wherewithal to survive, but their potentially-successful plans are ruined by e.g. looters, untimely deaths in accidents, etc. This, I suppose, is what John Wesley-Rawles is portraying and guarding his readers against in his book Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse. Basically, to avoid this, one would hole up in a remote location with food, shelter, and water (and a generous garnish of guns and ammunition) until most people die off and the resulting population is more sustainable. Also, a second dark age ensues, since few people have electricity and running water, and I doubt much pertinent technological information made it to hard copy prior to a collapse (the kind you would need to rebuild even a sustainable manufacturing economy).

A “no” scenario isn’t entirely inconceivable, however. In a net-energy constrained world, it’s still possible that communities could sustain themselves (maintaining at least a good deal of their populations), provided that the citizenry, (or a few, very-well-stocked citizens) had the reserves and desire to feed and protect their fellows (I’m mostly considering towns and villages, here. Cities, I have less optimism for.). This is even more possible in communities that have a decent distribution of renewable electricity, household propane tanks, etc (basically, off-grid living). People would naturally die off from infections, etc., and I imagine fewer children would be birthed and survive. However, there’s no real reason that localized agriculture couldn’t pick back up in a few seasons, and if you and your community can survive for that long, there might just be hope. But one thing is for certain: one can only store so much food in advance, and it has a limited shelf life. Survival depends on communities, in this view. The number-one long-term goal has to be re-establishing some sense of a society, and one would do well to develop a skill that can contribute to this impromptu economy.

I’m too pessimistic to accept the latter scenario without reservation, but I’ve little desire to live in the dystopian hell that is the former. I think there’s going to be a middle ground, depending on geography, resilience of one’s community (food stocks, the diversity of local businesses, etc), and myriad other factors. The influence of other people on one’s plans is definitely one of the largest unknowns, but I intend to focus on acquiring skills and resources that will be of use to others, rather than just myself. Maybe it’s an overly-optimistic plan, but there’s nothing like being useful to keep people from growing sick of having you around.

I am 56 years old. I live with (and am writing this with) 110% solar and hydro power. I teach solar thermal and PV after developing two courses. I've got a garden - not a farm, I live in a creek bed, after all, for the hydro power - but I've bought little food this summer. I don't drive or use fossil fuels when I don't absolutely have to.

My children think I'm crazy, but I don't care - I post links to articles like yours, Ugo, on my FaceBook page and I suspect they read them. Though they will never admit it. At least, not for a few more years...

We all do what we can.

Good piece. But the young do not seem terribly interested in their future. It is natural to care less about the future as one ages. But for the young today, that process seems to have started early. We constantly hear that the young are the hope of the future. Not much hope, apparently.

Anyway, frugality is its own reward and buying quality is its own reward.

A generation raised by the TV while their parents worked two jobs to pay the bills. I had the advantage of living with my grandpa when I was younger. He always had some project going, and could always use my "help". I learned so many lessons from him. I sometimes feel frustrated with my generation, but I try to cut them a little slack; A TV is a poor substitute for a parent.

Thank you, Ugo. I was touched.

Today I spent most of the day cleaning out my mom's house as it has been sold. She is in extended care. I have taken in most of the furniture and made room for some fine dovetailed dressers. My daughter will be getting all those things to set up for a new family. In a safe deposit box there is waiting a watch, a pocket watch owned by my Grandfather on my Mom's side, who I never met. It is still supposed to work. It is a family heirloom because my Mom was a Depression kid. For some reason I was told many years ago that I was supposed to receive it.

And then I read this post.

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

We have built up a small farm with good ground, gardens, woodlot, pond, sheep...and land on a river full of salmon and trout. It will be waiting. I have nurtured a relationship with my children and we are close. I am there if needed until there is no more that I can do or provide.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?
I have taught my son to make handmade furniture when I was his shop teacher, and we are rebuilding a house together. I think I have passed down my family values that were given to me. My daughter is more than special and we have passed down gardening lore to their family. Work ethic!!!!!

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

Older folks should be treated with respect and younger folks/kids are a hoot. (I am middle aged) When you don't get through, simply be quiet. You'd be surprise what is remembered as time goes by. I have enjoyed remembering fishing with my Dad's father and learning how things were done in the Depression. I hope to provide the same stories for my family and that it will help with transition.

I think the most important thing we share are laughs and zest....We are doing our best and that has to be enough.


My wife and daughter and I just moved into the house my Mom had for her last 15 years or so.. and this house is from 1850's or so, a pretty durable and hard-working inheritance.. she left within it a legacy of handcrafts, homecrafts and artistic experience that I would offer as worthy gifts to pass along to future generations.

I keep my Far-Far's (Dad's Dad) old Delta Bandsaw running strong in my woodshop, my Mor-Far's Drafting Pencils and Knife in the Office, and his framing vise in the shop.. Mor- Mor- Mor's Sewing tools still permeate our sewing area, and Far-Mor's, Mor-Far's Paintings, and Mom's Quilts, Rugs, Homemade Cabinetry, Piano, Canning, Gardening, Weaving, Housebuilding, ... too tired to go on..

But it's Solid Tools, Shared Experiences and Skills, and lots of Art, not just pretty pictures, but a sharing of how we look at the world, and how we think laterally, not just literally or linearly about our place in it.

Thanks for the thoughts, Ugo and Paulo.

EDIT; I do love the old tools, making something useful and DURABLE with saws and drills that my grandfather used to build the bench that I'm working on. And after moving all our stuff in cardboard boxes once more, I really relish the chance to put the quality items, like precious family books, into quality Wooden Cases and Boxes.. to make Solid wooden shelves and Handles and Appliances and StepStools, Toys.. and so on. (If TOTO is out there, I just put together another Wheelbarrow!) These things are comforting to handle, to use, to know that they are their and won't crumble like the modern junk.

I took Mom's sort of Cheap wooden Computer desk apart, finding that it had been built of real plywood, and not this awful particle board we see so much of.. and now, it's been reformed into a Chest where I can safely store the extra paintings from my grandparents. Plywood, while probably 'unsustainable' is something I will use a piece of again and again for many years.. Just assemble boxes and things with simple screws, and pull it back apart for another use down the road. No need to crush and junk it.

Ah! One more thing. I've been building my 'Adult's Erector Set' (Which might sound inappropriate, I suppose..) but it's basically a collection of metal poles and bars with regular holes along them and generic fittings, so that one can assemble a wide range of tools and rigs with them, and then disassemble when done to have this core material available again for the next gadget you have to slap together for a quick job. The main Beams are 90 degree angle-irons from discarded bedframes, and a small-scale (1" or 25mm) steel pipe. Handrail fittings and a BIG collection of 3/8" nuts and bolts makes this a very flexible way to set up sturdy frames quickly.

FYI, Wind turbine contain rare earth elements too (in that case neodymium).

Private vegetables gardens are no panacea either. Indeed they are the least sustainable form of agriculture that you could find : Their owners usually over saturates their soil with fertilizers and use great quantities of water. This is of course natural : the real limiters for gardeners is the surface of their land, not the amount of fertilizers that they can purchase. Real resource and energy efficiency in agriculture is on the industrial side not the individual one.
Incidentally, sustainable agriculture without significant energy input (other than solar photosynthesis of course) is hard. Actually there is a real question that it ever existed at all : The birthplace of agriculture (the so-called "fertile croissant") is now a land dominated by deserts. Same thing for ancient Greece which was a much greener place at the time. Regularly flooded Nile or Yang-Tse-Kiang banks maybe... But that is not going to feed 7 billion people !

For better or for worse, we are wedded to high EROEI energy system, and I use the word "system" purposefully. It makes no sense to try to identify "sustainable parts" as any object is only useful within a network of other objects and existing skills, which take natural resource and human labor. The system is too complex to be able to imagine from scratch what it would be if some inputs were unavailable. The only sensible way is to increasingly tax the use of finite sources of inputs (coal, oil, fertile soil) the closer they get to depletion, and then let the people find the best ways. The current practice of micromanaging to push wasteful "winners" like ethanol production or wind in places where it blows 25% of the time is counterproductive.

Wind generation doesn't depend of neodymium, in fact some people think conventional ferrite magnets are more suitable.


You speak as though the only solution will require “central planning” as the source of the taxing authority. But the free market will also raise the price of things that are in short supply. From your perspective are they the same thing?

One wonders since one of the very important things we can try to leave to our children is the concept of freedom and liberty.

As to sustainability, my belief is that as we grow in wisdom we move naturally towards sustainability. After all, what is in our enlightened self interest? Greed? Devastation of the planet?

I like the phrase, “for better or worse” because we are in this for better or worse. Maybe the population will be driven down by sickness and disease, maybe by voluntary reduction of the birth rate. We don’t know how the future will develop.

As far as technology being responsible for our situation – I don’t buy that. Our greatness (or lack thereof) as a species is our ability to be predictive in both the long and short term. What we do with these tools is what we leave to our children, but the tech genie does not willingly go back into the bottle. More likely we will have wars and depressions and bubbles and times of peace. In short, mankind will attempt to solve the problems of sustainability. That we are talking about it now is a good start. That we are not rejecting any potential solutions in favor of a “rifle shot fix” is also good.

Note that I don't say we can't have a good standard of living. I also don't say we should cast away efficiency in favor of waste.


The greatest thing we can leave them is our values. Next we should teach them essential life skills. Both take complete dedication on the part of the parents and grandparents.

Our children decided to home school our grand children. That became a family project. I taught mathematics, physics, chemistry, and public speaking. My wife taught phonics, grammar, literature and art. Their parents taught history, social studies and shop. They were usually finished with their school work before noon and available to help us completely build two houses from the footing up. Accordingly, they can wire a house, lay a T&G hardwood floor, or any other house building task. They have also been taught to maintain their own old cars using the on farm shop. The oldest is an IT professional plus a certified auto mechanic, The second is a senior in Mechanical Engineering at State University, and the two younger ones are in community college.

We teach family values continually by example and specific instruction. The grand children are usually at my house every Saturday morning at 7:00 for a breakfast that I started preparing at 6:30. While they eat, I lecture on a particular subject that deals with family values. All of them are fully aware of current economic conditions and the potential negative impacts of peak oil.

The entire family meets at my house for dinner every Saturday evening and we usually touch on family business and the impact of the collapsing international economy and peak oil. This evening, we discussed the practicality of a small hydropower system in the stream that runs thru our property.

This evening at dinner, I mentioned that I had bought but not installed a rebuilt distributor for my 77 F-250. My eldest grandson had it installed in fifteen minutes after dinner and headed to the shop to time it. Nothing beats having loving, cooperative family next door.

2.- Are there ways that we can build things to last longer ?

Things well designed and made with quality materials can last very long.

A read about an american who has travelled 528,000 miles in his 5-series BMW
with a GASOLINE engine. He uses synthetic oil and he has not changed the rings
or any other internal parts of the engine.
528,000 miles would be reasonable for a car with a diesel engine, but it is amazing for a gas engine.

A photographer who travels a lot in a BMW 2-cylinder motorcycle has put more than 400,000 miles into his bike.

My BRAUN electric shaver (made in Germany) has more than 12 years performing very well. I have saved a lot of
disposable razors and shave gel.
My mother's Turmix juice extractor (made in Switzerland) is more than 30 years old and works fine.
In a grocery store near my home there is a refrigerator (brand = Frigidaire) which is 50 years old and
is still working well.

My sister recently purchased a toaster made in China and it did not work in the first try.
The brand is Oster.

I would pass down a few words of wisdom. Money doesn't buy long term happiness and a lot less gasoline than it use too.

Thanks everyone for the nice comments. One interesting point that has been made is how to leave something written to our descendants. We have so much written material, and it is so fragile! Just last week I had a disk crash - didn't lose anything important; but it was close. If I hadn't made a backup I would have lost years of family pictures. It reminds me of a friend whose house had burned down. He told me that the house was not such a big loss: the insurance had paid for a new house, new furniture, new everything. But the insurance couldn't bring back the family pictures. That was a terrible loss for him. So, we should think of something to leave to our descendants in terms of knowledge.

Yes, some people have been warning about the looming Digital Dark Age for several years now. I would highly recommend Stuart Brand's book, The Clock of the Long Now for anybody interested in the subject.

The observation is often made that digital media (meaning a huge percentage of all the media in the world today) has a storage lifespan of decades at most whereas we can still read the Library of Ashurbanipal which was deposited in Nineveh in the 7th century BCE. Why? Because it was written on clay tablets.

The lesson is, if you want to leave a diary or some photographs for your gandchildren, make sure they're on good quality paper using good quality ink.

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

A good set of attitudes: e.g. quality is not quantity; stop whining and do something; we are not little gods who have the right of mastery over the universe; longer-term thinking.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

By extra planning, doing things in parallel, designing in redundancies and alternative options, by going beyond short-termist thinking. In the longer term, what is economically sustainable and what is ecologically sustainable begin to overlap and reinforce one another.

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

Not unless we stop channel surfing on TV and unplugging from our gadgets long enough to actually pay attention. After a certain period of distraction, younger people tend to pay attention to their grandparents generation and activities and ideas - especially if those seem to contradict those of their parents' and teachers' generation!

Technology destroys the Price System
Using money in a contract society .. when resources are running out or being needlessly destroyed dead ends survivability in a high energy conversion system

Thinking in terms of the current political Price System ensure that society is destroyed by an oligarchy of no nothing politicians controlled by corporate fascist scam artists... only.

In a Price System, if it does not make money it is not done.

Green is the Color of Money

All the bad choices have piled up now. Besides, it is pointless to burn oil with its effects on the environment now. So really Peak Oil should be a moot point these days. Thermal Depolymerization could be a bridge to solar maybe... but the Price System does not really care, if it is making a short term profit.

Converting to a Biophysical non market energy accounting system is the only 'viable' way out of the mess we are in <- a link to Man-Hours And Distribution.

As the second and more intense collapse occurs now shortly maybe more viable things will be discussed.
Right now that is not happening much. If we want a collapsed feudalistic wage slave society with tiny amounts of technology thrown in ala Mad Max.. then it is around the corner.

If we want a creative secular society based on science, then that is an option... but not in the Price System

It's a shame the Freedumb crowd here in the US would have a fit if anything like this was even considered. They'd be tea baggin' all up and down the street.

Yeah that is funny. Freedumb crowd.. ha.

Mostly history will sweep them away as being the last stage of the utter nonsense of an antique system... in its decline and collapse.
Can not imagine a dumber bunch of people than the Teabag group for sure.
Sara Palin has to be good for comic routines though.
Guess when you bring a dysfunctional system to it logical end you end up with people like her or Obama or McCain raising to to top.
More info.
A statement of the social objectives of the Technocracy technate design.

Interesting stuff. As a future Environmental Resources Engineer it fits my thinking well. I joined the group on Facebook, I'll have to see if there are any Technocrats where I live.

Thanks ThisOne.

We plant the flowers along the path hoping people will pick them.

This is more basic information on that subject.

We are an educational group only.

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

I hope to, by example at least, leave my descendents a world view that emphasizes austerity and meeting needs over exploitation of the present. A sense of responsibility to the future and its inhabitants should always trump short term gain and increased comfort. Purchasing things with a usefulness that can outlast the purchaser is one small way to do this.

I canned pickles yesterday in a canner that my Grandmother purchased in 1947. While my Granny is long gone, as is my Mother who inhereted it (and used it every year), all of it's original parts are here along with the original "Ball Guide to Home Canning" that came with it. Alas, I may need to buy a new pressure canner because the gasket is going bad and I have been unable to find a replacement. I'll keep using the old canner for non-pressure canning and hope to pass it on to my offspring along with the new canner (if I can't find a gasket).

Some here have talked of keeping a diary. I think this is a wonderful thing. History shows us that the stories we tell will outlive us if we tell the right stories. We need to pass on the right stories, stories that will have value to our descendents regardless of what their future holds. Stories like the one that Ugo has given us.

Alas, I may need to buy a new pressure canner because the gasket is going bad and I have been unable to find a replacement

That got me thinking, I have quite a bit of experience with making things with silicone.

Wonder if you could make yourself a few gaskets and keep your canner and possibly bequeath it to your great great grandchildren.

Might be worth investigating...

I was thinking of one of those silicone baking mats for use in a sheet pan! Maybe you could cut a new gasket out of that. Kitchen Aid used to make some of those things. It would be cheaper than those fancy French ones, if you use it for gasket material. Just a thought. It,s a shame to not use the old canner.

Ha! I think I found it. Granny and Mom actually saved the old parts list and I found out that the part number I was using wasn't quite correct. Part #1075 Seal Ring. $0.40 ea (in 1947). Now only $12.49 (plus s&h):

Made in USA! I better order an extra or two for my grandkids. How many things can we buy today that will still have parts available in 60 years?

Originally Northwestern Steel and Iron Works it is now National Presto. A fun read about the company:


'''''''''''Purchasing things with a usefulness that can outlast the purchaser is one small way to do this. '''''

Good luck on that.
Things are not made to last in a Price System. That defeats the purpose of planned obsolescence.. which is planned.
Really buying things, the notion of using debt tokens to get stuff is mostly the undercurrent of the problem and partly the cause.
The idea of contract society and maintaining a class system and carrot and sticking people.
What happens if you run out of debt tokens.
Your screwed.
And... your going to.. because labor as in human labor is an antique notion now.
The labor theory of value still used does not work anymore, and is not going to work in the future.
So unless you are investing in buggy whips, really the whole question of 'investing' is pointless.
More encouraging of the same unthinking default template actions we have used and used, that no longer work, is not gonna change society An Idea For Now - Technocracy technate design.

There ARE things being well-made here and there, and there are a lot of Mom and Pop shops that are custom working metals, wood, ceramics, glass and many other materials..

If you're hoping to get the good stuff in the big-box stores, you're right, there's VERY little there that you can count on, besides some brass and copper fittings, and similar root materials. But there are still ways to identify quality materials and products to invest in for the long-term.

Not really.
The Price System does not care about quality or long term.
People getting excited about the Volt/Tesla etc. for instance. Har har.
They are in the money/debt token business, not the car business.
That is true across the board with price system values... being old time scarcity values.
As Veblen said, that also ties in with brainwashing and conspicuous consumption.

Also all the 'green' movement stuff is fake
Green is the color of money.
Going back to some handicraft society .?.. not a good idea.
The Price System fails now because that which ceases to function ceases to exist.

Then things are going to get interesting. And we are now days to weeks away from that

"Also all the 'green' movement stuff is fake.."

Only a Sith speaks in absolutes. That video is a nice Greenpeace Hit Piece. What it says is it has been effective at least enough for someone to work hard to try to chop their ankles off.

It's too easy to blame the environmental movement for their failure to stem the flow of the things they've tried to oppose. 'Whiney Losers' are easy targets when your other choice would only get you called a 'Whiney Loser' yourself for critiquing where the real money is going, and the damage it does.. does the green label get absconded and abused? Of course it does.. look up the origins of 'Red Herring' .. very similar problem- when the baby is the same color as the bathwater.

There ARE good tools available, there are good appliances, good bikes, good furniture, good houses, good food, good information, good TV. You have to look hard for it, and you have to pay for it, but it generally pays you back, too. You can blame the values of the 'price' system.. but half of that system is the price that you as a consumer are willing to pay for your products.

So, back to the pressure canner. My sister bought the newest version of the old canner I inherited from my mother. $90, perhaps the same price or less, adjusted for inflation, that my Granny paid for my old model. Still made by National Presto. It looks like it could last for generations, just as mine has.

Could it be that the maker of the "Fry Baby", the "Salad Shooter", and the Rotary Pizza Oven also understand that there are some of us that value things that last, things that will be as useful generations from now as they are today? I think that this was Ugo's point. We do have choices. Planned obsolesence is not universal, nor is its control over our lives.

Those who feel that they are a slave to the "Price System" perhaps need to begin operating in a different economy. They may find it has a higher EROEI. I don't pay money to any utility. I don't have a phone bill, I pay as I go and keep phones for a long time. My ISP is a cooperative. I buy locally and locally produced whenever possible (even the batteries in my PV system were made less than 60 miles away).

JC said above: "Really buying things, the notion of using debt tokens to get stuff is mostly the undercurrent of the problem and partly the cause."

I trade and barter often, goods and labor. I buy or trade for tools that can be repaired locally, indefinitly, whenever possible. Most of the things I need fall into these categories (emphasis on need). I can often find things I need at salvage or in someone elses junk pile (if not my own ;-) I have an aversion to just "throwing things away". Even if I get a new pressure canner, I'll find a use for the old one (a still perhaps? :)

I'm not part of any "Green Movement".

Those who feel that they are a slave to the "Price System" perhaps need to begin operating in a different economy. They may find it has a higher EROEI. I don't pay money to any utility. I don't have a phone bill, I pay as I go and keep phones for a long time. My ISP is a cooperative. I buy locally and locally produced whenever possible (even the batteries in my PV system were made less than 60 miles away).

Ghung, old boy, give it up already! You don't pay money to any utility... Ha! You really expect people to believe stuff like that?! Sheesh, next you'll be telling us something really absurd, like you get your electricity from solar panels. You're just living in denial of reality. You are in need of some serious help!


Thanks, Fred! Can you come help me pick and can the tomatoes I imagined I grew? I imagine it's hot and is going to be kinda hard work, but you're welcome, regardless. I guess I should have bought real tomatoes in real cans...

It's hard being so deluded :-0

Funny you mention tomatoes, I live just down the street from what used to be the "Tomato Capital of the world. Not what it used to be anymore but there are still enough tomatoes left for us locals... Maybe I'll invest in one of your pressure cookers and can some of my own.

Tomato Capital of the World
Early immigrants prospered in tomato farming and, as early as 1910, the Florida East Coast Railway was shipping to northern U.S. cities from "The Tomato Capital of the World". During the 3-month winter harvest, over 200 farmers shipped 1,000 to 1,500 train carloads of tomatoes and V. Taoring of New Orleans set up a tomato paste factory which contributed to local prosperity.

In 1927, the first "Tomato Day Celebration" was held to raise funds for the new Dania Methodist Church. Attracting a crowd of over 5,000, it was so successful, that the celebration continued into the 1940’s featuring messy, but official, tomato fights and a Miss Tomato Festival Pageant. In the late ‘40’s, the tomato boom was over, as crops began to fail from salt water intrusion into the fields.

I worked over in Ruskin/Apollo Beach in the '70s, driving forklifts at the tomato packing plants. "Tomato Capitol" was their claim to fame too. Since the tomatoes were packed green they used to give the ripe ones away to local folks and workers who would can them. They rejected any red tomatoes. Used them as animal feed. The green ones were packed in large coolers and gassed with ethylene glycol to make them turn red and look ripe. They kept and shipped a lot better that way. Tasted like crap, but who would notice once they're smothered in 'Special Sauce' and fake cheese.

It's great and all to read where people have achieved this and that, off the grid and whatnot. It's completely useless to know that others have done it, when it comes to trying to do it yourself. The last time I tried to buy a piece of property as a step toward self-sufficiency and reduced consumption, led to utter bankruptcy and default, with the end result so far that I live in a city, pay rent, commute over an hour, and am so bitter about the experience that I stopped caring about my impact on the planet and now set my goals of sustainability at "just getting by for a few months at a time."

Gee James, are you down on your luck, or just down on yourself? Maybe you should join a commune.

Or you could live in an old RV for ten years, do any job that comes your way, save every penny, and learn as much as you can about anything you can.

Once, while unemployed, I hooked up with a tile setter and volunteered to be his helper for free if he would teach me to set tile. He bought lunch, paid me a few bucks and a cold beer or two. Even after I got a job he used me evenings and weekends to help him with catch-up work and to cleanup after his jobs. It put an extra $50 - $75 bucks in my pocket most weeks. Later, I made good money using the skills he taught me and some old tools he gave me. I still set tile on occasion for extra dough, usually helping some DIY homeowner do their own tile work. I did the same thing to learn plumbing, electrical, and carpentry. That's how I was able to build my own house.

I now groom dogs. I learned by helping the groomer/breeder I bought a puppy from bathe dogs. In return, she taught me to groom my puppy. Within a year she offered me a job and I started getting my own clients.

In tough times or to acheive goals I have (usually in my spare time):
Washed cars. Washed windows. Mowed lawns. Helped folks move. House sat. Picked up garbage. Fixed computers. Bailed hay. Scrubbed floors. Traded work for work or stuff. Pulled weeds. Walked dogs..........and picked up their poop. Need I go on?

In tough times or to acheive goals I have (usually in my spare time):
Washed cars. Washed windows. Mowed lawns. Helped folks move. House sat. Picked up garbage. Fixed computers. Bailed hay. Scrubbed floors. Traded work for work or stuff. Pulled weeds. Walked dogs..........and picked up their poop. Need I go on?

It's people like you who make the rest of us look bad! >;^)

Yeah Fred, a bear got into the garbage again last night, and after reading my post above one might assume I would be out there cleaning up the mess.

NO! I'm having a good bourbon and cooking dinner, hoping the bear will come back tonight and clean up his own mess (bears are great at recycling things).

It's nice not having neighbors who would complain. I value procrastination and industriousness equally.

NO! I'm having a good bourbon and cooking dinner, hoping the bear will come back tonight and clean up his own mess (bears are great at recycling things).


The most I ever get to do around here is clean up after racoons and possums... It's been many years since I lived in a place where there were jaguars but like most cats they were very clean and didn't leave much trace of themselves. An occasional goat carcass but hey.

On the other hand consider yourself lucky it just got into your garbage and not your car...

Ha! It looks like he tried to steal the radio. This is why I tell my wife not to leave food in the car. Last fall, trying to get into her Subaru (he's bigger now, thanks to our garbage):
I just can't make myself shoot this guy. He only comes around when my sister's bird feeders run out of seed.

Live and let live!

"a bear got into the garbage again last night, and after reading my post above one might assume I would be out there cleaning up the mess."

...and how he got into my TOD Account I'll never know!

LittleBigBear has my password, 'cause he seems to have a better idea of what he wants (and needs) than most posters here.

Besides, he's "too cute to shoot".

One bears garbage.............

Sorry it went south on you, James.

As Sam Shepard said (Yeager) in The Right Stuff.. 'Sometimes you get a pooch that can't be screwed..'

Might have to look for a different angle on the problem, skin a different cat..
(but keep clear of the pooches for now.. they've probably gotten the word out.)


Nice essay. I enjoyed reading it. It created a delightful atmosphere.

In what has to be an odd piece of synchronicity, I was thinking this week about becoming a watch/clock maker/repairman.

I have been thinking about a post retirement career, and I remembered an uncle (now dead) who worked on clocks and watches. Even in this age of digital everything, finding someone to repair an old clock or watch is not easy.

Our Sewing-machine repair guy just retired.

A truly valuable tradesman in this drag and drop, point and click environment.

I'm keeping an eye on the tool-sharpening market, for an ultra-basic fallback.

jokuhl: You should check out Tormek. Pretty nice. I've had mine for 15 years and still going strong.

Not wishing to pour cold water on your idea, but it strikes me that maybe the watch/clock is actually an (outgoing) symbol of the industrial era where punctuality and timekeeping are/were essential to the smooth running of the "system". Are we not envisaging a future in which adherence to the tick of business time gives way to more natural circadian rhythms?

Not wishing to pour cold water on your idea, but it strikes me that maybe the watch/clock is actually an (outgoing) symbol of the industrial era where punctuality and timekeeping are/were essential to the smooth running of the "system".

Interesting that you begin your comment with cold water... In a post GPS world some of us may still wish to sail and be able to navigate the seven seas. A compass, sextant and a good timepiece are essential instruments if one wishes to get to where one would like to go. Even though one would be dependent upon the vagaries of the wind and might not be able to say with absolute certainty the time of one's arrival to port...

Here are my suggestions.

1 Outlaw usury.
This will dry up funny money, loaned into existence, which forces growth because it has to be paid back plus interest.
(The wages of sin)

2 Do not abandon the fruits of our civilisation.
(I love root canal work.)

3 Onward and upward
We have got to escape from the confines of this planet.
It is too constricting.

Why leave the world in the state we found it?
We must leave it in a better state.
Just like our fathers did for us.

It seems to me as though we are about to reverse species extinction with designer life.

I am ever hopeful that we will see the virtues of designer humans.
Women carefully choose the father's of their children, so why not put some rigor and efficacy into the process? In other words we already ruthlessly choose which human traits will make it into the future.
We cannot escape choosing, so lets do it right.
(Imagine if ovulation was an act of volition.)

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?
Knowledge and a deep understanding that we live within the web of life, not outside of it. The most sustainable and used gift my grandparents gave me was a working knowledge of gardening, traditional cooking (Irish-American) and folk medicine. I use it daily and am passing it on to my own child.

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?
I have a hand drill from England that works beautifully despite being at least 120 years old. It is solid metal with a thumb screw that tightens to hold the bit. It is simple, with few parts that can break and is repairable by a metalsmith. Returning to quality craftmanship and producing/consuming products that last a lifetime or more is key.

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?
Younger folks need to turn off the electronic media, smile and strike up a conversation. It means going to meetings or places that older folks hang out and listening to what is being said. I am not sure how many young folks will or can get past the fear of the unknown in order to do this though.

CB summed it up...'a capitalist economy cannot survive on durable goods.'

Victor Lebow the founding father of American consumer capitalism

"Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns...We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption."

Our world is upside down, when the right way to s sustainable future will bring our world down. The only thing to do to keep the Ponzi scheme going is to do just the opposite of prudent advice.

What would happen to our economy if we took the advice and did as this reworked 'victory' poster from WW II suggested?

What would happen is our country would COLLAPSE!

IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE TO DO A 180...Without compulsive spending and conspicuous consumption funded by unaffordable debt, we would fail as a country. Since our economy if fueled 70% by the consumer, we must stay in debt and consume by any means necessary to keep the Ponzi scheme from collapsing.

We must make shoddy products that self-destruct quickly - so new products are in constant demand to keep the workforce of drones working. All the while squandering natural resources, but we are increasing the business of the landfills.

We must not grow our own food. We must buy poisonous food from chemical laden farms. Our concrete jungles could never hope to allow anything else from their inhabitants.

Would you rather eat an embalmed potato or a live potato? The store bought 'Green Giant' red potato vs home grown KB potato. Both stored for 7 months in my root cellar.

And we must squander fossil fuels as fast as possible to keep the economy booming. What would all the tourists traps from Las Vegas to Florida do without the travelers? And the multitude of business that depend on travel along the pilgrimage routes?

On an a more global level, lets say everyone becomes voluntary simplicity and frugal squirrel devotees. We recycle, reuse, repair and just say NO to buying more crap. If we stop buying all the stuff that America imports from China - who keeps the 1.3 billion plus people in China from starving, so they do not go back to old ways of trying to take over the world?

We can see we have created a time bomb. Even the highest level brainiac economists can't fix what ails us.

Our whole system is based on an unsustainable model that will eventually collapse no matter how much money that is printed up by the Fed. (...they don't even need to print money nowadays, all that needs to be done to create billions is to magnetize a silicon chip!)

"Both stored for 7 months in my root cellar."

I'm sure you are aware of the relative point where "owning a root cellar" puts you on the global economic spectrum. It puts you at a point where I have aspired to be, and have failed to attain, and doubt I ever will.

Dear Friends,

It seems to me that there is no sensible way to address looming global problems while knowledgeable people deny credible evidence about the possible cause(s) of the problems themselves.

Let's imagine for a moment that the human population on Earth is exploding in an unbridled way, at least in part, because people do not share an adequate understanding of all of the possible causes of the skyrocketing growth. The best available scientific evidence of human population dynamics is being willfully denied. How do we move forward toward sustainability and assure the children a good enough future when human population numbers are growing unsustainably and experts refuse to openly discuss one of the possible root causes of this situation?

Thanks, Steve

I don't have to "imagine" much I'm afraid. Call me a "Doomer" but the seeds of our own extinction are hardwired into our own genetic code. Actually pretty much any complex organism on the planet has the same instincts wired-in, which would doom them too if no checks and balances were applied to their numbers.

I filter none of these observations through Religion, as any competent "Engineer" would equip their "Design" with enough of a knowledge base to at least manage its own numbers and the limited resources at their disposal.

Unfortunately, our evolutionary process has placed us in the position of being a Tribalistic, Superstitious, bunch of Talking Apes that rarely learn from our own history, and repeat its mistakes time and time again, with the exception of now we have developed the technology to kill ourselves (and a good portion of everything else) off, as we fight amongst the other "Tribes" to either keep what we have or take what they have in order to keep our comfortable standards of living.

My apologies to "Polyanna", sure wish it had turned out different for her sake...


We are hard wired and it looks like we are driven to go from crisis to crisis. And you are correct, one day the crisis we will face will be something that we have failed to adequately plan for and we will die or significantly devastate the population. But then maybe those who are left will devise a better system?

Even though what you say is true, you may find that the end does not occur until many years have passed. After all, Paul Erlich predicted disaster when I was still in college and we are still here. What happened I believe is that advances in technology forestalled some of his more dire calculations. This did not make them go away, just put them off and in the meantime we have developed other concerns that threaten to become crises. A current one is how we let politicians spend us into debt. (Will we run out of energy or will our debts be called?)

So with the time we have, should we crawl under a rock or make the most of it – and by this I mean try to move in the direction of sustainability?

We are consciously refusing to openly discuss the science of human population dynamics and, by so doing, artificially masking credible evidence that could awaken people to the forbidding urgency of the human-driven global predicament soon to confront the human family.

People are not being helped by top-rank experts and leaders to see the evidence of the colossal predicament in which we have placed ourselves by 'virtue' of denying research people could be discussing.

People in positions to make a difference because they possess knowledge, wealth, and power over communication are abjectly failing to assume responsibilities to humankind and perform duties as stewards of the Earth.

Debts are not real. The political Price System runs the default template now. Unless that changes into a science based system based on a balanced load... 'energy accounting' we are doomed. Technate Design Some Basic Facts, Dean D. Cameron essay author.

Hubbert was the main author of the Technocracy Study Course.
How it is that people can not understand viable alternative these days is beyond me, but there is a viable alternative to the present system.. however the window to that alternative will close with time.

Energy accounting formulated by the Technical Alliance from Columbia University is a non political, non monetary method that eliminates the current Price System method.

Looking at this information that came from arguably the most creative idea of the 20th. century... seems like a logical thing to do for people interested in actually doing something alternative.

Spinning in circles is the alternative in a dysfunctional and non reformable system... because this system not only destroys society, but also creates havoc and chaos as it collapses.

It is pretty pointless for sites like this one not to adopt actual alternative ideas and focus on those... rather than 'actuarial' 'debt token' nonsense aspects of changing society.


For what it's worth, I'd say this site is in the middle of the Thought Process.. it's an important mixing area, as far as I'm concerned, but I don't see it as the place to initiate a particular program, or even to take a specific approach, even one as applicable as 'energy accounting' .. This is the mixing hall where these ideas are presented, mulled, challenged. But the conclusions derived from them comes back to all of us, and where we are acting on what the thinking here is revealing to us.

I think a forum like this NEEDS to remain loose and unfixed on 'conclusions'. This is where multiple themes come in to be auditioned and examined from as many sides as possible, hopefully with those of us seeing one end of a thing to be able to notice the reflections of its other faces via multiple perspectives and get a fuller view, make a more informed evaluation to base our next choices on..


It is also pointless to keep avoiding discussion any vital matter of concern, especially when the matter involves human wellbeing and environmental health. I would like to make a suggestion. My idea could be advanced with kind assistance of Gail Tverberg, Jason C. Bradford, Nate Hagens, Fred Magyar and others who are willing to examine evidence heretofore ignored by most people. Perhaps the interested members of this discussion would agree to participate in a separate, open Campfire discussion of the human overpopulation predicament. Friends of TOD might be willing to assist here by asking leading experts like Gary Peters and/or other top notch scientists to be involved as moderator(s), for example, of a discussion of any and all credible evidence related to the topic of human population dynamics.

That won't do any good.

It does not get at the cause. A Price System must grow .. expand or it collapses. We have over population because we encourage more resource destruction as in 'growing' the economy.
That means that more light bulbs and toilet paper can be sold. That is the name of the game in the Price System.
That is the game.
So talking about population is pointless unless that is tagged with talking about getting out of the Price System and using thermoeconomics in a non monetary system.

Other wise it is pretty pointless.
As to making a play for one set of ideas, or not... this site overtly posts monetary information as mostly the context point.

So it is not doing a real service in the sense that it appeals to the status quo... and that is a failure which kills everyone for desultory reasons.

Maybe that is what people here want. So maybe that is ok.
Boring though.

Hi Steve,

To be honest, I give up!

I just read this article posted by PZ Myers over at his blog, Pharyngula.

Every day, Jittawadee Murphy unlocks a hot, padlocked room at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, to a swarm of malaria-carrying mosquitoes (Anopheles stephensi). She gives millions of larvae a diet of ground-up fish food, and offers the gravid females blood to suck from the bellies of unconscious mice — they drain 24 of the rodents a month. Murphy has been studying mosquitoes for 20 years, working on ways to limit the spread of the parasites they carry. Still, she says, she would rather they were wiped off the Earth.

We have here a trained biologist, an entomologist no less who doesn't even grasp the consequence of eliminating an entire species from the biosphere for the supposed benefit of humans. Words fail me!

How the heck are we going to be able to rationally discuss population control or openly discuss say cause and effect of food supply on population with the average person or our politicians.

Here I come, with a banner that says preserve the Anopheles mosquito because not only does its biomass support fish, birds, bats and other insects but it also keeps human population in check through many habitats that would otherwise be overrun by populations of humans.

Someone tell me please how do we even start the necessary discourse if our biologists don't even get it.

This is most depressing! @#$%^!

Yet in many cases, scientists acknowledge that the ecological scar left by a missing mosquito would heal quickly as the niche was filled by other organisms. Life would continue as before — or even better. When it comes to the major disease vectors, "it's difficult to see what the downside would be to removal, except for collateral damage", says insect ecologist Steven Juliano, of Illinois State University in Normal. A world without mosquitoes would be "more secure for us", says medical entomologist Carlos Brisola Marcondes from the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil. "The elimination of Anopheles would be very significant for mankind."

Even our best scientists seem to be morons of the highest order when it comes to understanding the big picture. My dear fellow Brazilian Carlos Marcondes, yes indeed the elimination of Anopheles would be a most significant event for mankind, it would be one more nail in our collective coffins.

I've had enough! please stop the planet I really would like to get off now!

Dear John Carter,

Please note that virtually no top rank scientists will openly discuss the science of human population dynamics. Gary Peters is an exception. Uncontested scientific evidence is extant and scientists with appropriate expertise willfully refuse to acknowledge it. Why?

I believe if reasonable and sensible people recognized that human population dynamics are essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species, the world would have to change because people would see that there is no choice but to begin making necessary adaptations. That means to stop doing things in a business-as-usual way. They could see that we cannot keep sleepwalking through space-time as we are now. We cannot keep reflexively overpopulating; rapaciously overconsuming and outrageously hoarding; and relentlessly overproducing and polluting on the surface of a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth. We are living in a patently unsustainable way. There is no question about it. We will see that we have reached a fork in the road. We will either embrace fundamental change or face unimaginable consequences.

It has been said that open discussion of the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers would overcome "the last taboo". But that is not correct. As I see it, the last taboo remains hidden. At the core of the human-driven global challenges that loom so ominously before the human family in our time is this unacknowledged,unchallenged scientific evidence: human population dynamics are common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species and absolute global human population numbers appear as a function of food supply. From a global perspective, more food equals more people; less food equals less people; and no food, no people. The implications of this scientific evidence is nothing short of profound, I believe.



PS: To Fred Magyar. Keep going, my friend, and keep in touch. Perhaps, as one of the children's songwriters puts it so well, we will not have to speak out (and stand by) much longer while "waiting for the world to change" (John Mayer). And also as the children say, "Keep hope alive." Changes toward sustainable lifestyles and human-scale business enterprises can already be seen in the offing.

Great article you've linked, FMagyar! I was an Intern at U Michigan (proof: try "finger staben(at)") some years ago and never saw as many Mosquitoes as I did there, huge ones too ... taking shortcuts across a lawn in summer in Michigan is a NO-NO! Instead, one walks around on the sidewalk/pavement, otherwise a literal cloud will rise up out of the grass for the human feast!! I hate Mosquitoes, and fully support the idea of eradicating them from existence. I will be among the first to rejoice.

There was about two years ago an article in National Geographic about Malaria - one passage stands out in memory - it stated that one out of every two people who have ever lived died of Malaria. Whether true or not, I believe Malaria is a major drain on human productivity. While I don't think elimination of mosquitos will lead to utopia, etc., I think things would certainly be more pleasant overall.

Quixotically, humans are also a factor (another jolt of memory from that NG article) that allows Malaria to spread unchecked - DDT is a known extremely effective mosquito deterrent - just that humans can't seem to be careful with dangerous stuff and instead of using DDT sparingly as prescribed, it was abused causing the side-effects that caused DDT to be eventually banned. IIRC, DDT was actually so effective that incidents of Malaria had been reduced to near zero in some areas - areas that now experience extremely high rates of infection.

So maybe you're right, FMagyar - too many people "making it" will lead to too many people doing dumb stuff ... education is the key ... or is it? Education seems to work in Africa, teaching Africans that raping virgins doesn't cure AIDS. I've noticed people who don't have access to education are surprisingly dumb ... perhaps we're just animals with books that provide us a collective intelligence - nothing more, nothing less?

Without education, man can be *worse* than the animal.

1. What can we leave to our descendants, that is sustainable?

2. Are there ways that we can build things to last longer?

3. Older folks and younger folks sometimes travel in different circles. Are there ways we can learn more from those with years of experience in gardening and other needed skills?

Sustainable is tough. How long does it have to be to be sustainable? Greg Bear has a book, "Across Deep Time" that talks about actions that endure over millennia.

Lots of evidence that farming practices aren't good for long periods of time.

So I am going to arbitrarily define sustainable as "lasting 3 generations with little apparent change" This isn't true sustainability, but its better than we do now.

So what can we do?

1. Rewrite out laws that affect corporate management so that executives have very strong incentives to plan 20-30 years down the line instead of the next quarter. This can be done by paying executives no more than twice their highest paid wage employee + dividends from a block of stock for the next 20 years. Each year they get dividends from another block for 20 years. Thus their future earnings for at least 20 years depend on this year's actions. And almost none of this year's pay is a result of this year's actions.

2. Tax carbon. If the price of using oil/coal rises according to a predictable schedule, the abilities of a lot of bright people will focus on finding alternatives.

3. ALL companies need to be required to handle the end of life of their product. So Timex has to have a scheme to collect their watches back. Proctor and Gamble has to have a way to get their Tide bottles back. Most of this will be done with a deposit that makes it worth while for someone to return it to a depot. We have done this for beverage bottles. It works. Bottles provide a meager income for a whole class of underpeople.

4. Just in Time processing is unstable. In general efficiency is the enemy of robust systems. Our laws need to encourage, not discourage inventory.

5. Very large energy cuts are possible through better engineering of our dwellings and our cities. In the 50's a Chicago archetect built and sold houses that didn't have furnaces. They were built well enough that the waste heat from living in them was sufficient to keep the house warm. We need more of this mind set.

My present house is not terribly well built. I live in a climate that has 10,000 heating degree days per year. My furnace runs less than 6 months of the year. The house is solar heating until temps around 10F, if it's sunny.

Diversity is good. Ecologists know that the border between life zones often has more productivity than the zones on either side. In general we need more edges.

Wherever we can the people with clout need to live with the consequences of their actions. I've heard that there is a Swedish law that has nearly eliminated the problems of water pollution enforcement: Organizations are required to put their water intake immediately downstream from the discharge pipe. I would love to require that the management team for an oil refinery be required to live on site.

Making things last longer:

Story time: Lister engines are stationery power plants used for running small generators, grain elevators, and so on on all over the world. They typically run very slowly -- about 600 rpm. They are heavy. A 6 HP version weighs about 1200 lbs. But they run for decades at a time. They are simple. They will run on just about any form of liquid fat -- crude oil, deep fryer grease.

They have fuel efficiencies comparable to modern engines, mostly due their slow cycle.

But you seldom see them in North America. They are initially expensive. Our current accounting system doesn't take into account things that last for decades

Another step in the right direction is to force companies to reveal realistic total cost of ownership. E.g. realistic repair & consumables costs based on typical use. Buy an inkjet printer, and plainly it tells you that it is expected to live 10,000 pages; and that over that period of time it will cost 950 bucks for the ink.

Just another illustration of that H. G. Wells aphorism "Progress is a race between education and catastrophy"

Generation Gap.

My experience has been that young people are fascinated by the stories old people tell. We need to figure out venues that bring them together. Elders are a resource. Use them. Encourage Elders to work at child care centers, schools part time. Give school credits for young people to apprentice to an elder to learn a skill such as gardening, or canning, or hand lathe work.

Dear Sherwood Botsford,

I just want to thank you. Your suggestions are not those from rocket science. If it pleases you to do so, please contact me at I have a few more ideas for change to pass by you.

It is both shameful and shameless the way people with knowledge, wealth and power are colluding to avoid sharing an understanding of what is ailing the human community and the Earth with the as yet uninformed members of the human family. Perhaps silence is both vanquishing science and, thereby, presenting itself as a mortal enemy of human wellbeing and environmental health. Because of this elective mutism and willful denial of extant scientific evidence, the human family is not able to recognize the need for changes in human enterprise and lifestyles, such as the ones you are reasonably putting forward. Sensible and responsible people have got to step forward, speak out, and stop hiding what could somehow be real in silence. There is lot of work to do, per your proposals. Time is of the essence. The future of the children could be at risk fairly soon.

The self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us who are acting the part of a modern-day Nero are fiddlin' while our planetary home is beginning to burn and be ravaged.

Thanks, Sherwood, for speaking out so loudly and clearly about what so few people are willing to openly discuss.



Dear Fred Magyar,

It is not difficult to understand, even to sense your feelings when you report, "I give up."

We are in a long arduous uphill struggle against a formidable foe and great odds. I am one who has come late to the battlefield, this field of action where the outcome of the struggle is still in doubt. No doubt about that. The socially aggreeable, politically convenient, economic expedient, religiously dogmatic, ideologically idiotic and culturally prescribed have all been assembled and arrayed against science and humanity.

As I recall, it was two to three years that I was blogging on the NYTimes' Dot Earth Blog and a fellow, who refused to identify himself other than with the moniker, sas NY City, and I were discussing human population dynamics. Please note that on the Dot Earth Blog, as Professor Emeritus Gary L. Peters knows all too well, discussion of the science of human population dynamics is all but forbidden. My comments on this peer-reviewed research are tolerated but not invited.

Anyway, I was doing what I have been doing for a long time: blogging about human population dynamics. The blogger, sas NY City, said that I should present this bad science to those at TOD. He assured me that the TOD editors and commentators would take me and my 'science' apart, limb by limb.

TOD was new to me then. I went to the TOD website, registered, and looked around. Because the topics seemed so focused on oil, I thought it would be inappropriate to mount the "offensive" I have recently initiated, thanks to your encouragement and assistance. Again, now here, I want to thank you.

Fred, there are probably less than one million people who recognize and understand the potentially profound implications of this virtually unassailable scientific evidence. With few exceptions, they are standing shoulder to shoulder, hiding scientific evidence in silence, refusing the assume their responsibilities to science, and denying their "duty to warn" the human family at large of human-induced threats to future human wellbeing and environmental health.

If I am mistaken about what I report, then shame on me. But if the science of human population dynamics to which I have been trying to draw attention is somehow on the "right" track, then I say, "Shame on all of them."

Science is not a game either to be played or played with like we play "the economic globalization game". Science is not some artificially designed, ideologically driven, manmade construction like the global economy. Science is a gift to humanity. Science is. Whatsoever is is, is it not?

Talking heads, opinion makers, thought leaders and other 'famous' people who are hiding science in silence say, "Our way of life is non-negotiable." But that cannot be correct, not really. This way of life that is everywhere extolled by the powerful, rich and famous as the only way to live happens to be a way of life that could soon become patently unsustainable.

I suppose that science is our best guide to determining what could somehow be real, and what is to be our future path to sustainability. The best available scientific research needs to be everywhere embraced and "the only way to live" has to be modified and eventually replaced because it cannot be sustained much longer.

Extolling the virtue of what is unsustainable is a game for losers, even though the organizers and managers of "the only game in town" are clearly winning. Look at their billion dollar bank accounts, gated communities, private clubs, multiple McMansions, fleets of autos, mega-yachts, distant hideaways and personal aircraft. Conspicuous per-capita overconsumption and outrageous individual hoarding order the days of their lives. But at what cost to the future of children everywhere is this unsustainable behavior so recklessly occurring? That is the question. Perhaps the cost of such outlandish behavior is too high.

Hopefully necessary change toward sustainability is in the offing.



Nice posts Steve! Upthread you posted:

"It is both shameful and shameless the way people with knowledge, wealth and power are colluding to avoid sharing an understanding of what is ailing the human community and the Earth with the as yet uninformed members of the human family."

It is my determination that a majority of the "human family" is adverse to being "informed". They therefore seek enlightenment. They live in a dreamworld of magical thinking because they must. They lack the capacity, the raw courage to deal with scientific reality. Those with "wealth and power" have and exploit this "knowledge". I know I sound cynical but I believe history bears me out.

Are you are indulging in another form of magical thinking: hope?

I respect your courage.

Dear Ghung,

As you might imagine, I am wildly appreciative of your compliment. Thank you.

Please note now here, as sharply and firmly as I am able, that we are in complete disagreement with regard to your determination "that a majority of the "human family" is adverse to being "informed". They therefore seek enlightenment. They live in a dreamworld of magical thinking because they must. They lack the capacity, the raw courage to deal with scientific reality. Those with "wealth and power" have and exploit this "knowledge". I know I sound cynical but I believe history bears me out."

The "dreamworld" of which you report is not, I repeat not, the making of the majority of human family. That is incorrect. The dreamworld that is threatening human wellbeing and environment is an unsustainable, colossal product of a small minority of self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe who organize and manage the dreamworld all of us inhabit for their own benefit primarily. This minority has consolidated much of the world's wealth with which they have purchased the power to suppress unwelcome science and promote whatsoever fantasies improve their own selfish interests. Science, sustainability and humanity are not objects of primary regard to most of them.

The malignant narcissism, pathological arrogance, extreme foolhardiness and unbridled greed of this tiny minority rule the world in our time....and rule absolutely, I believe. If you would like to discuss in more depth "the dreamworld" constructed by these Masters of the Universe, it would please me to do so. Their bold-faced effort to extol as a virtue that "greed is good" and then to surreptitiously arrange for this 'virtue' to be cleverly institutionalized and willfully legalized within the global political economy of the family of humanity is anathema.



1:I don't care for an alarm watch as I have my donkey that brays at sunrise;that's what I'll leave to our heirs,the Baudet du Poitou breed of donkeys.They'll be better off than whith your time grinder.They'll don't have to dig the earth and melt the stones to reproduce it,only watch and make dirty jokes.They'll never feel lonely,or out of love.They will be carried when old or/and drunk,they'll raise their orphaned babies with the jennies'milk.They'll get their bread from it,and water and firewood.They'll write their wisdom on it's skin,so that it'll keep forever,and with it's jaw they'll become famous murderers.As the Nobelprized Juan Ramon Jimenez stated,a donkey will pacify the soul,that's all is needed.
Them future folks wont need anything apart from animals and trees and weeds.Any fool can re-invent the watch or supercomputers from raw materials in a week or so,but it took two thousand years to make the Baudet from common grey-and-stripes donkeys,and it would take the same time to make it again,not a year less.Don't talk me about those bioengineered six-legged-faster-donks,as they are not as shapely as ours.
Nor our machines nor ideas wont keep.
As long as they have the donkey I don't feel the least worried for them people of the future,even if we leave them a desert,they'll make it.
2:The only things that last are those that are born,grow and die,like trees,so build wooden machines.
3:Go to the country.