The Promise of Decentralization, Localization, and Scale-Free Self-Sufficiency

Many, if not most of our current economic and political structures developed in an environment of expanding, readily available, comparatively inexpensive, and high-quality energy supplies. While there is certainly debate on this point, it seems likely that these same economic and political structures will fare poorly in an environment of continually contracting, more expensive, and lower-quality energy supplies. How can our political and social structures change to continue to meet the needs of humanity (and the limits of our planet)? Are there any alternative structures that could allow us to maintain, even dramatically improve our collective quality of life despite an ongoing decline in the quality and availability of energy? Specifically, what role will decentralized and localized production play in our future political system and economy (and what role are they already playing, especially in less developed countries)? Are decentralization and localization realistically implementable solutions? That’s the general topic for tonight’s Campfire discussion—below the fold, I will outline some possibilities and provide additional questions for discussion.

Below, I outline a number of topics for discussion. All of them relate to the potential to change our social, economic, and political structures in ways that may allow humanity to maintain and improve quality of life despite continually declining availability, affordability, and quality of global energy supplies. In short, they are all premised around the a core vision: that we can re-tool our civilization to eliminate the structural requirement for growth and to focus on providing true quality of life with far less energy use by building scale-free self-sufficiency and resiliency. Many people will label this as pie-in-the-sky fantasy—my hope is that this brief list of discussion questions will spur a discussion on both the potential and pitfalls of such a structural approach to our civilization’s energy crisis. In other words, rather than try to find a way to reverse energy descent, can we and should we instead find a way to improve our lives despite energy descent?

1. Scale-Free Self-Sufficiency. (Further Reading) If we don’t move toward true self-sufficiency, our civilization will continue to demand unsustainable levels of growth (see my essay on The Problem of Growth for a discussion of how peer-polity competition demands growth in the absence of self-sufficiency). If we hope to prosper during energy descent, we need first to control growth, and second to develop resilient access to food, water, community, and information. It may be possible for us all to live in totally isolated and self-sufficient compounds, but who would want to? I think the solution to this dilemma is “scale-free self-sufficiency,” or sourcing our needs in as localized a manner as possible. For example, grow some food, get as much of the rest as possible from as local as possible. Can this really serve as the basis for prospering during energy descent? If not, how should we structure our economy so as to allow us to do so?

2. 100,000 garages. (Further Reading) It’s tempting to think that the massively complex and complicated production of our industrial economy cannot be replicated on the hamlet scale, and at a minimum keeps us dependent on at least some centralized and distant manufacturing and resource supply chains. But what could we produce with a highly networked economy of small, localized manufacturers? What can’t be made in our collective garages with proper planning and information sharing?

3. Open-source IT and “franchise handbooks” for a sustainable civilization. (Further Reading) Almost all research, case studies, and information developed by our civilization’s considerable scientific and information processing capabilities goes to developing larger, more “efficient,” more centralized solutions. What is the potential to develop sustainable communities by instead focusing our collective information processing capabilities on establishing, improving, and building locally-suitable variations on best practices for small, local self-sufficiency. If we put the kind of effort into developing sustainable, resilient, low-input, and highly sustainable garden systems that we currently put into defense R&D, what kind of results are possible? Can such an effort be organized from the ground-up (like open-source software often is)?

4. Designing for quality of life defined by experiential and social wealth, not material wealth. (Further Reading) We often define “quality of life” in terms of material consumption—something that it seems fairly clear will decline due to energy descent. But is material consumption really what gives our lives quality? Our current system is geared toward maximizing production and consumption—how can it be redesigned to instead maximize our health, our happiness, the vibrancy of our communities, and other sources of true “quality” of life?

5. State backlash and the “Diagonal” economy. (Further Reading) Is any attempt to decentralize and localize our civilization doomed to fall victim to either a state backlash (if there is enough energy surplus for a powerful, centralized state), or to turn into a dystopia of local strong-men controlling the peasantry? What if the fabric of the localized economy does not try to supplant or directly confront the current structure, but rather produces a “diagonal,” an alternative and coexisting structure that gradually grows to replace the decaying system?

6. On a more direct note, what successes or failures have YOU experienced with decentralization, localization, and scale-free self-sufficiency as a means to weather energy descent? What examples would you point other to (either as success story or cautionary failure)? What is your opinion on whether we should attempt a “structural” solution to energy descent—and if not, what do you propose?

I'm intrigued by the 100,00 garages idea. I notice your link seems to assume each garage will have power equipment, and have fairly fancy raw materials (like plywood and paints) available to it. But it seems like it could also work with whatever happened to be available locally--parts of cars that could no longer be used, that could be recycled into something else, like wheelbarrows, for example. It seems like it really depends on how society is functioning as a whole, as to how this would work.

It's windy and cold out today. Much as I ought to be out side getting spring stuff taken care of, I'm not. So, Here I am at my computer, and my favorite topic just popped up at TOD. Yippie! I'll toss in my two cents.....

Were taking baby steps in the community I live in. Community it is, because our numbers are few, about 150, or maybe less, and everyone knows everyone. We argue and sometimes our disagreements are difficult, but, we always make up because we know that each of us depends on the other. Sometimes my neighbor floods my pasture with his irrigation water. I've told him we ought to be growing Alligators instead of Beefs. But, I need him with his backhoe when one of my underground irrigation valves or pipes breaks and so I know our arguments and disagreements can't be too serious. He saves me a ton of work that would otherwise have to be done with a digging bar and a shovel. I help him with shearing his sheep and I punch cows for him out on his allotment. It all evens out. I need him and he needs me. Two weeks ago all of us, about ten land owners, got together on a Saturday afternoon to burn our ditch. The "Ditch" provides water from the river to our holding pond that supplies our summertime irrigation water to our pastures and hay fields. We represent one of a half dozen "Ditch Companies" throughout the county. Ditch business always brings neighbors together, often contentiously. As they say, "Whiskey is for drinking, Water is for fighting over".

We've had a small farmer's market here for the past several years. This year it has official sponsorship by the county. It's open for garden produce, and home made items, such as canned fruit, quilts, seamstress products, knitted items, and whatever else. I'm not able to sell my farm made cheese there because of licensing requirements by the Board of Health, but, I can sell my eggs. I also intend to sell items I make in my shop, such as buckles for headstalls, spur straps, and belts, as well as my cowboy spurs and bits. I also make items from rawhide that are useful to the cowboys out here; quirts, hackemores, and reins.

Many of the locals here have big vegetable gardens and cold cellars to store produce throughout the winter months. Potatoes grow well as do turnips, beets, squashes, and other cool weather vegetables like peas, lettuce, cabbages, and beans. Garlic is easy to grow and boy is it tasty during the wintertime on or in about everything. Tomatoes and peppers are a tough go, but a number of folks have small greenhouses.

The new people who have lately discovered this place and have moved in because of the spectacular scenery, don't know how to do much and don't seem to be really interested in learning how to do anything. I've opened my garden to all who would like to participate in the spring preparation of the ground and the planting and then in the fall harvest. At first I had some enthusiastic and energetic takers, but they didn't last. Getting in a garden is hard work, weeding everyday for 30 minutes or so is absolutely necessary, and the harvest requires still more work to preserve what can be grown. But, I haven't given up and my offer is still good. Maybe I'll get some takers this spring. I'm still waiting for the ground to warm although I've already worked goat manure into my garden beds. Still, the temperature today is about 40 and last night it was 19.

All of the kids around here are handy; most can weld, and most understand basic engine mechanics. The county high school has an excellent vocational program; most of the kids who grow up here aren't headed for college. We have some excellent cabinet makers and some good carpenters. All rely on power tools, and would be helpless with a hand lathe, or a broad ax. I'm not sure how the transition is made to hand tools; all of the vocational education at the high school is geared around power tools. Mig and Tig welding will not be possible without high amp welding machines; acetylene torches require acetylene and oxygen, gases that require manufacture and distribution. Somehow, we have to make the transition to forge welding using hand bellows, hammer and anvil over a coke fire.

A proposal was made for bicycle paths along our roadways before our County Commissioners last fall and, by golly, they support the idea. We now have a citizens group working on getting some grants and we all hope construction will soon begin. Such paths would be a real asset for the County because they would draw bicyclists from all over the country because our countryside is truly spectacular. The past three years we have had a major bicycling race here, and the bicyclists are coming back.

Because this is a small community, it's perhaps easier to have a real sense of community. Events that promote our "community sense" include, a Bluegrass Music Festival, a community July 4th Parade, a Cowboy Poetry Gathering, outdoor dances at the Big Apple (a community built outdoor dance pavilion), a County Fair, and a County Rodeo where you know all of the cowboys and none of them do very well but it's sure fun. Our winters are god awful long and so there is much socializing during the cold nights; cards, music nights, and just good old fashioned dinners.

So, I'm hopeful, and I think our future here in our little nook is bright. Lots to do, but I believe we're on track to handle localization and community self sufficiency. We've got all of the makings, we just need a few more on board. Best from the Fremont

Fremont, kudos for helping continue to tradition of rawhide horse tack - it'a a splendid art form as well as functional : )

Thanks. I learned some basic knots from a Basque Cowboy out in the Ruby Valley many years ago. Otherwise, I'm self taught. I've passed on what I know to a couple of young fellers here locally and they make some nice stuff. They're better than I ever was. There aren't many rawhide braiders around these days. Once upon a time, every Cowboy could make some of his gear from a flinty old cowhide. Best from the Fremont

Fremont, I know this is a bit off topic from the subject of energy, but your mention of a "Basque Cowboy" made me think of an antique show I went to several years ago....there were these most beautiful chests and travel trunks which the Spanish immigrants to the United States brought with them when they came to America by ship, these most beautiful hand made pieces with leather covering and designs all hand made and custom artistic beautiful the time they were considered a bit of a mark of a refugee class, and of little value.

You should see what the baby boomer collectors will pay for them now!


very nice post Fremont. kudos on your welcoming gardeners; or would be ones.

thinking of dunbar's number's_number

150 or so might be about right; to 'get along' so to speak.

I have been keeping an eye on the 100K Garages idea for awhile. Having a background as a Manufacturing Engineer and a product designer I am familiar with the potential for such equipment to produce prototypes and few types of durable items. But it comes at high level of CAD skills, CNC programming, and experience in designing parts that will actually fit together. I would like to see the idea succeed though.

As an alternative, I've been noodling around with the idea of a co-op business that provides access to an assortment of wood and metal working equipment and drafting tables/CAD stations, along with providing materials (metal stock, wood, fasteners, tool bits, etc) and hands-on training.

And imagine this building full of productive equipment, staffed by a few knowledgeable machinists and woodworkers. You could sign up for a certain number of hours per months at different machines. And there would be a "break room" with free coffee where you could come and hang out with your fellow tinkerers for good conversation.

Now imagine one in every community...

Apropos of this, apparently many parts for the Mosquito fighter/bomber in WWII in the UK were made in homes by small teams of trained workers. Distributed manufacture in action! I've seen some archive film (long ago). Final assembly was in a factory though.

I know a local family that shared equipment, tractors, trailers, tools etc. Worked for awhile until the one who broke stuff couldn't fix it, so the others had to fit it. Who pays for what repair is another issue. And finally every family's financial issues spread into the shared equipment.
I think it has been through history that there are individual business's or "tradesmen" with whom you barter services. Those with no talents, skill, equipment will work for those who do.
I know if I break my tools I pay. Letting someone else break my tools doesn't sit well. Tool breakage will happen, unless you don't use them.
I think it far wiser to set your self up as necessary. Look around and see what is missing. 150 people cannot all turn bicycles into wheel barrows. Food- obviously, but what about food preservation. If I had the money I would build a cannery, but I think it is maybe a little premature and financially unprofitable currently, however my fear is that the change will happen so quickly that there will not be setup time when it is realized that it is needed.
Make yourself necessary, have something to trade or a "trade", that is needed, and prepare to barter.

I've worked with tools all my life. I have a lot of them at this point. They are NOT available for loan to anybody.
Tool breakage is a problem for communes and communal systems. When something is everyone's property, then it becomes no one's responsibility.

And rental systems don't fix this problem. Rental tools take a real beating and are always in much less good condition than my own, even my older, well used tools are still in better shape than almost any loaner I've ever seen.

Find someone old enough to have lived through the great depression and ask them about it. One thing that I have heard a lack of clothing, or the expense. Fixing clothing will happen, rips, tears, zippers, buttons etc.. The more manual our labor becomes the rougher it will be on clothing.
The other thing I heard was the lack of money. People didn't have money so they traded/bartered. Given the current financial games I don't see a functional currency in the future. I think barter will be the norm.

It may surprise educated, white collar people how many of those garage workshops exist out there in blue collar America. Usually they are hobby enterprises making non essential fun things. But I know in my area lots of people have fully equipped metal and wood shops that can be turned to just about any purpose. The resource exists. It's just not needed right now. And, yes, Gail that includes the ability generate electricity.

For myself, I recently bought a medium sized oil press run with a small diesel engine. Haven't started producing oils yet but the plan is to press locally grown sunflower, canola, soy, and, hopefully someday, hemp seed into oil with a high protein cake residue which could be used for either animal or human food or other useful products. In the last few years our state (Vermont) has developed a small but growing grain farming community after a couple hundred years of relying on other, more fertile, places to supply our grains. Worried about diesel fuel? The oil I press from local seed can go right into the fuel tank with some slight modifications.

Of course we have had active and growing farmer's markets for many years. Nearly every town has them and CSAs are spreading. This in addition to back yard type gardens becoming nearly ubiquitous.

That said, this very progressive region remains very much tied into the larger economy, national and global. (My oil press was made in China.) Still, Mr. Vail's vision is where we are headed.

Good luck with growing hemp. I know it is excellent for the soil, and it produces high quality fiber for rope, for fabrics and for paper (the wood pulp people were the main force in making it illegal). I suspect that the propaganda has persisted for too long to expect some states to allow it... and there are enough of those to prevent the Federal government from legalizing it, courtesy of the US Seante rules. Of course POTUS has made certain that only card carrying corporatists may be elected to Congress in any case, so I am not sanguine about prospects for rational policies.


I think that much of the current movement (100k garages is just one encapsulation of that) does assume that the current infrastructure and mode of energy supply will continue indefinitely. However, what I see as most interesting in 100k garages and other like concepts is the development of an open-source network for the coordination of manufacture, the sharing and cooperative improvement in design, and the ability to build something that stands in a "diagonal" plane to the "mainstream" economy. I actually think that the beauty of these diagonal networks is that they have the potential to continue to work quite well (even if perhaps not in the same mode) without the support of the current economy. They'll function quite differently, but the core network of cooperative and distributed design and manufacture works just as well with modern machinery and pre-industrial revolution tools and machinery...

Whether 100K garages is the appropriately sized unit of production seems to me a topic well worth discussing.

Specialization did not begin with the industrial revolution. As soon as agricultural production resulted in sufficient surpluses to support towns and cities, specialization began. (Maybe sooner.) Most people can learn to throw a pot on a wheel; only a few become good enough to do so quickly and reliably. Blacksmiths, tinkers, carpenters, masons, millers, potters, jewelers, and on and on. Few city dwellers are generalists. At least one of the reasons for that is the need for expensive and specialized capital equipment. It seems likely to me that specialization will continue.

Even without cheap energy, there are economies of scale. Consider the problem of building wooden tables for the community. One approach would be to outfit several garages in different parts of the town/city with all of the equipment to take raw lumber and produce attractive sturdy tables. Another would be to have a single building with a set of equipment to which a half-dozen table builders could walk. Such a table-building "factory" would need less equipment than the sum of what was in the garages. For example, one lathe for turning legs or pegs would easily meet the needs of multiple workers.

"Self sufficiency" in some form beyond subsistence agriculture (or all the way back to hunter/gatherer) seems likely to me to work best on at least a regional basis: enough farmland to produce a food surplus sufficient to support a town/city as the minimum. The greater the farm surplus, the larger the town that can be supported, and in turn, the greater the level of technology that will be possible.

This is true, that often the difference between a "professionally" produced item or service and a DIY project is the time involved in completion. But the value of time is largely an artifact of the industrial salary system. If one is unemployed, then one's time is less valuable. Also, even for employed people the value of time can be reordered. I do a lot of DIY projects. I'm almost always working on them. I almost never hire anyone to do anything for my household; only if I absolutely cannot do it myself. The thing that is particularly interesting about this approach is that it not only cuts down on my costs, but it also cuts down on the amount of tax dollars remitted to the "system" through the pay of the people who might be hired to do the work.

But this whole approach used to be commonplace. A good friend of mine grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Philly. He has told me about the attitude in these neighborhoods; if you weren't cleaning your house, then you were a slob. If you weren't giving your house a fresh coat of paint, then you were lazy and worthless.

And you know what? More and more I can really identify (and agree) with that perspective.

I am setting up solar powered workshop in the garage right now! It is an interesting thought. We are regaled by stories of Hulett Packard starting in a garage. Maybe they end up back there in the end.

Was it The Long Decline or the LOng Emergency that discussed using alternators on streams with sufficient drop? I am looking at properties in the Midwest that might be adequate for that. HOw much drop is needed?

Also, does anyone have any expertise in wind power? Would an alternator mounted with wind vanes work out? How much wind would be needed?



An old friend from India has just left after a good visit, and we spent some time talking and thinking about the differences in energy use. A big difference, which wasn't apparent to me at all a couple of years ago on his last visit, is that India is still securely on the path of increasing growth, consumption and presumably affluence, which is an entirely different mindset than myself at least, looking toward a low-energy US future.

In any case, they still produce excellent products at a fraction of the cost of US equivalents, and there is a real possibility that a worker there making $1 an hour may be better off and happier than a worker here making $10 an hour. I think you have to go pretty far into the structure of the society to see why that is. For instance (and this is giving examples from the Mumbai area) it is typical for families to live together, sharing one room for sleeping - children and parents together until at least fully grown. Its also typical for children to continue living at home as long as they need to or choose to, as housing is expensive. This makes for smaller houses, closer extended families, better behavior (proximity requires good behavior!), better supervision, easier schooling through college or trade schools. All of which provides for a larger young workforce which is capable of working for lower wages without significant stress. Many households, including my friend's, have a family business which is operated out of the household or close by. A city of such households is basically a fabric of local businesses, where all types of products and services are available within walking distance. A household might have a car, but the whole situation makes one a shared luxury rather than a necessity...

To some extent, if we look at the flight of manufacturing to less "developed" countries, I think the unions are not so much to blame as simply the costs of how we have chosen to live - each in our own independent little castle, self-sufficient, continuously entertained by electronics to stave off basic loneliness. Before we transition much toward local economies, I think we will have to have some transition toward lower-cost lifestyles and more efficient social structures. We are certainly being out-competed on the world market by those countries who live well with lower costs.

Definitely! And also that structural side of things is an important factor in medical costs! I moved to Japan 15 years ago and have not owned a car since then. Going to the doctor is simple for me---there are so many small clinics where the doctor lives above the clinic, has a tiny parking lot (because most patients walk or bike over or take a taxi because they have no car)That all keeps costs down. No huge parking lot, no separate hospital, no commuting costs. Multiplied by millions and you`ve got the reason why medical care is SO EXPENSIVE in the US, just half of that here, with a much longer avg lifespan....I daresay cars do not contribute to high longevity!!! It`s the cars. They are eating Americans up alive, literally, and even more so with the oil spill, where the losses of wildlife, fish, etc. will be numbered in the billions of dollars and may even be permanent.

When will the price people pay to keep the cars running become too high to pay? When will people stand up and say "free us from the bondage of cars!!"

Who will explain that having one third of the world`s cars but only 5% of the world`s population is a national disaster, invisible because it is structural???

Who will understand? Who will see it? Who will help the countless millions who are quite unable to comprehend the enormity of the situation?

...its happened several times lately that I find myself in a store or business and notice that every single other person there is overweight, and very unhappy looking. And all bound to their cars, no doubt. Just another part of the culture of consumption and isolation we have been acculturated into in the US, and which has rendered us incapable of effectively producing any of the mountains of products we about a dead end culture!

Not to be too negative, but it has to change.

"which has rendered us incapable of effectively producing any of the mountains of products we consume"

we are a $12 trillion dollar a year economy. we export almost $2 trillion dollars of goods per year. I disagree.

Hi pi,

Who will understand?

It seems pretty obvious to me that such understanding will be very hard to achieve - "you will only take my steering wheel from my cold dead fingers".

I believe that the personal automobile is the worst invention ever devised by mankind - I think the bicycle is the best. But, what I think is irrelevant. The car culture in the US is a cancer that costs us enormously in many ways. Maybe it is incurable.

The voters are in the driver's seat

Diebold is driving the voting machine...

Say we went from the horse culture to the bicycle culture, where would the bike lanes have come from, cars used to have to drive on gravel and mud roads, would we have gone the other way toward paved roads without cars?

Rome had paved roads, and that is one way of looking at our possible alternate future without cars. But would it have happened that way?

We can demonize cars, but we have to look at where we would have gone without them, and would we have liked that possible future any more than we like our current one?

We had already started using vast amounts of coal by the time Oil showed up on the scene. We would have to go back to a time before Coal use to stop the transition to cars. Hindsight is 20/20 and being back then and thinking about where we will be in 100 years is a hit or miss pot shot. Knowing what we know now, would we have done anything different if given the chance to change that past that we have lived already?

What we have to do now is know where it has all gotten us and change our future, or else we will have it change for us with no say on how it goes on our part.

It is the old time travel crux, do I go back and change something so that I have no suffering from said event, or do I risk causing another event equally as bad. We know where we are now, but to wish that cars were never invented is all well and good on paper, but to have it happen, imagine never finding all those people you hold dear right now, imagine all the other things that could have gone wrong, even without cars.

As I said above and it is worth repeating, now that we know what is happening we need to change our possible future to something more to our liking. That means getting people to see the dangers of cars today. Not an easy task, but not impossible either, because there is those of us here that have changed our own mindsets, surely we can help others change theirs.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

The League of American Wheelmen successfully got a great deal of road paving done, before cars.

Hi daxr,

A city of such households is basically a fabric of local businesses

It seems you are painting a picture of India that is thriving on an economy based upon local business. Perhaps I have misread your comment. However, from my experience as a computer software developer working in Bangalore (now Bengaluru)in the early and mid-nineties, it was the big corporations like Tata that drove their expanding economy. My first work was with a joint venture called Tata-Unisys. Later on, I worked with an IT start-up - but even they got there start by leveraging relationships with US corporations. I'm not suggesting that your comments about local businesses are not accurate - I'm just saying that a lot of money poured into India based upon some very large scale international relationships. Please note that I my knowledge of India is limited to my personal experiences.

As an aside, when I think about the availability of electricity, I have these vivid images of how we worked in Bangalore. First of all, the building was an old government relic from the British era - it was not wired for much electricity. It was a cavernous building with grand archways everywhere. Most of the lighting was from windows and air conditioning was from open windows (it gets very hot there). You could count on a half dozen electricity disruptions every day - some lasting an hour or more. Of course, software developers need constant electricity all day to be productive. The solution was a vast array of UPS devices. The floor of all the office area was a maze of electric wires, UPS boxes, and computer work stations. Any building inspector in the US would have instantly died of a heart attack seeing this situation. A few years later, this same start-up built an office building that was not much different from what you might see in San Jose CA.

Perhaps, their early makeshift method of dealing with electricity disruptions is a model for how we will operate as our electrical grid begins to deteriorate? These early software developers in India were driven to overcome any obstacles in order to keep working. I suspect that the inherent value of the Internet as a source of "know-how" will compel us keep it going for some time under adverse conditions.

Probably there's plenty of corporate money driving the economy there, but one point was that production there is inexpensive because of the basic structure of the society. I've never been to India, but my views are informed by some good conversations with my friend who lives in Mumbai, and of course his are limited to personal experience as well. So many things are different, but the basic thing he described is that the level of income necessary is so much lower that there is much more work going on. For instance, I was repainting the living room when he arrived, and he said nobody in India would do that themselves, it would be taking work away from people who knew how to do it well - at home he would just hire someone. And it works out because the person they'd hire lived inexpensively so could work cheaply, and also that his own living expenses were low enough that farming out work was no big deal. It kind of makes a closed loop which is vigorous enough that a foreign company can come in and hire up a workforce cheaply without (so far) transforming the culture in the direction of our own - which is to say, in the direction of being too inefficient, consumption and leisure driven to effectively produce the products we consume.

Hi daxr,

I was repainting the living room when he arrived, and he said nobody in India would do that themselves

Back here in Wisconsin, our office building had a crack in the concrete block wall that was 6 or 7 feet below grade. The crack was letting in water after a rainfall. To fix the leak, we called a contractor who showed up with a backhoe to remove the earth adjacent to the wall.

The day the contractor arrived, a manager from the Indian software company also arrived for his first trip to the US. He was totally amazed that we would use a backhoe for this job. In India, a little truck would arrive with a half dozen guys in the back equipped with shovels. He said the job would be done that day with very little cost.

In India, I watched a "concrete pour" - the mixer truck was on the roadway about 200 feet from the building. A very long line of many workers passed these flat bowls filled with concrete from person to person to get the stuff from the road to the building.

It was also interesting to see how some of the skilled workers did the finish work in the new office building - they simply camped (lived) in the unfinished building and worked very long days until the job was finished. They only went home when the work was finished.

This was all some 15 years ago, so maybe things have changed.

I had a next door neighbor who moved out so their house could have its internals ripped out and redone. One of the construction workers lived in it while it was redone.

I do not see a difference.

Lots of Western kids stay at home with parents into their 20s because they can't afford to branch out (or they are lazy).

Sleeping in the same room: What if your mother or father is extremely irritating? What if your brother or sister is insufferable? There's the old saying "you can choose your friends, not your family". Lots of people in their 20s and 30s live with friends in shared apartments. Why stay with parents instead? I know 4 people in their 30s who rent a house together. They'd each like to own a house but can't afford it.

Lower wages without significant stress: feel free to volunteer for that.

You hit on one important point - that people here tend to be, and tend to consider others to be, insufferable, irritating, selfish, etc. Not that that's a unique US characteristic, but much of the rest of the world does seem to be able to live successfully as extended families in close quarters, or even communally. I tend to look at it as a matter of good behavior - proximity requires it - and a matter of psychological maturity. For better or worse, and I don't think I need to even list examples, much of the US lives as if they were teenagers whose parents are gone for the weekend.

I know that its often hard to imagine the realities of a different culture, particularly if they are differences in mental realities, but a more distant example would be in the replacement of paganism by Christianity in Roman times. Things have changed of course now, but back then the culture of the Romans had infantalized somewhat like ours - bad behavior, constant need for entertainment, little work ethic, universal selfishness, etc. When the Christian sect arose, it was persecuted by the PTB for a number of reasons involving the maintenance of authority, but at the same time they admired the character of the people they persecuted, comparing them to the sober old patriarchs of Rome's own good history - people who were no longer to be found. Every generation begins from the beginning, and it is easier and faster to transform a culture than most people think if the necessity is there and the "empty space" of a failed culture allows room.

It pays to know how ot live with your family. I moved back in with my parents after losing a job and becoming ill. I learned a lot from my parents while I grew up, and they are peak Oil aware. But besides that my dad knows how to use hand tools of all sorts, and has a vast experience base being able to fix anything that breaks in the house. With either power tools or if need be hand tools.

It rained a lot over the weekend, I'd guess at least 4 inches total if not more, Our rainwater catchment system is in the works still, but right now we have supplies for a few weeks of dry weather.

On our street alone almost everyone has their own skill set, next door is a concrete man, a Glass man, and a HVAC man, the last two own their own businesses and the concrete man is an expert at what he does. My dad is retired, but his skill set allows him to sew a dress from scratch or build a cabinet with hand tools, or fix the computer, or small engine repair. I am not sure I could list everything he knows how to do.

I've used CAD in school and elsewhere, but I also know how to draft by hand, and that is one skill we're going to need to keep viable. To many people who depend on computers to do everything will be out of luck if the power goes down for a long time, or systems can't be repaired, having drafting tools handy is a must, and knowing how to use them even better.

I can't sell my knowledge of plants, and I know I don't know enough, but having training as a Landscape Architect is good in that with my love of gardening and my new goal in life, I've got the skills to push forward.

One of the things that will be helpful in later years if not now is making whole living systems house and garden working together for a better life now and in the future. depending on plants for food, is not going to be easy, but there are methods out there that can do a whole lot toward sustainability than depending on FFs all the time. If we lived knowing where our food comes from maybe we'd have the incentive to grow more of it ourselves. All I can do is plan accordingly and hope for the best.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

Some are already working on parts of this:

(one of the pages on the above links)

And there is always 'Amish electricity' (A way to store power that is NOT an electrochemical battery.)

I think the human world shows the same blind self-organization that we find in ant-hills and termite heaps. Like any individual ant, we don't really have any notion of how the structure works, or even how to build it.

Not being ants, we have a slightly less limited perception of the world and how it runs, but we can know only very little about how the world works, and probably even less about how to prod the elephant in the right direction.

Just as the story of how humans took over the planet was not consciously organized, the story of our descent will not be planned nor structured. As we have done up to now, we will do in the future : we will react to contingencies.

In the aftermath (if anyone with a scientific historical bent remains) we will be able to discern patterns in our downfall, and we should be able to learn from comparing the effects of scarcity to our experience of abundance. In all probability, we will invent stories, stick understandable scenarios to known facts, and all we will remember will be twisted caricatures.

We live in the remains of all of our ancestors' lives. We like to believe we have control, but we don't. Not even the Caesars and the Napoleons and the Lenins, all those men who 'took' control, could do more than brush lightly as a feather against history, here defined as 'what happened'.

'History', as in 'what we know about what happened', is only a series of opinions, some of which have a better correspondence to reality than others.
What really happened can only be read through our current circumstance. By necessity, our reading of it must be incomplete, precise in parts, vague and ambiguous most of the time.

Events, the consequence of those events, our reactions to these events and the consequence of those reactions are all unforeseeable. We may descend into cannibalism and extinction, we may survive and repair what is left, we may become callous and allow giant die-offs, and we may become altruistic angels. The possibilities are as endless as the number of ways we experience God. And we may even do all of these things at the same time.

How things will develop cannot be foretold. Eyjafjallajökull and Deep Horizon should remind us of that.

I agree with your general comment--our current situation is based on humans working within a civilizational structure that we have either been blind to or that we at least accepted and didn't try to change. In at least some sense, the "new frontier" of civilization in energy descent will be in design--specifically, design to maximize quality of life on less energy and (relevant in response to your comment) designing the very structure of our civilization. I realize that this sounds quite foreign to many of us--we tend to only think of it in terms of political revolution, and not economic revolution (and, I'd suggest that most political "revolutions" aren't very revolutionary precisely because they are just a fresh gloss on the same foundational economic structure). Decentralization, and especially the conscious implementation of scale-free self-sufficiency, could be a truly revolutionary economic restructuring...

Self sufficiency requires land. Land costs gobs of money. Thus, only the rich can be self sufficient.

The only reason the masses got a start in America was the Homestead Act- 160 acres of free land. Without it, or something like it, the poor and most of the middle class are flat out screwed.

If the urgent need is to get each and every individual feeding themselves, how do you propose to redistribute the land? For that is what would be required.

The lower 48 states is just shy of 2 billion acres. Much of that is desert or steep mountainous that cannot be farmed. All of it is either privately owned or government controlled. I have seen various figures tossed around as to what acreage per individual is the minimum to fully sustain that person; the most common figure I have seen is 2 acres. We have around 310 million people; times 2 acres a piece= 620 million acres must be distributed. All in arable land already owned by agribusiness or under suburbia.

And note: the Homestead Act gave the land FREE. It costs a bundle to get a farm up and running, and only slightly less of a bundle to keep it running. These newly self sufficient people cannot afford to be paying several thousand dollars an acre for land. It's going to take everything they've got just to get properly equipped for farming. Unless we go back to using a digging stick to plant with.

Until the cost of land and housing is addressed, the rest of it goes nowhere. Fine and dandy for people who already own a place to prattle on about how ready they are for the big powerdown. We are talking about the reruralizing of millions of people. Only about half of American households are owners.

VictorianTech wrote...

We are talking about the reruralizing of millions of people.

...and although we talk about reruralizing and small-scale agriculture here quite often, I don't think that's what we are talking about today.

I see this small-scale manufacturing discussion focusing more on those who chose to remain in the cities, towns, and villages. It's not required for EVERYBODY to grow crops.

In a long transistioning period, such small-scale manufacturing skills could provide a cushion and training ground for those being effected by the transistion. They can fulfill the leading edge needs that big corporations take too long to notice.

I don't really think land reform and access to land is as critical of an issue as is often portrayed. First, scale-free self-sufficiency is not the same as saying that everyone needs to be food self-sufficient. In fact, a 20% self-sufficiency in food at the family level could be revolutionary, and that could be paired with 20% more at the community level and quite realistically nearly 100% at the bioregional level. 2 acres may be necessary to support a single person in our current mode of industrial food production, but it certainly is more than is needed if the focus is maximizing production per acre, rather than profit. John Jeavons, for example, has illustrated that one person can be feed a balanced diet from 4,000 square feet (~ 1/11th of an acre), and that includes growing the carbon crops to improve the soil simultaneously. I think 1/4 acre is certainly realistic under most, though not all conditions. All that said, I don't think we want each family to grow their own food--that's the difference between "self-sufficiency" and scale-free self-sufficiency. Most american suburban homes can easily provide 10% of the family's calorie requirements and 75% of its vitamin requirements by something as simple as a fruit tree, a large bed of potatoes, and a bed of kale. That's an overly-simplistic approach, and not what I'm advocating everyone do, but the point is that there is great potential to move toward scale-free self-sufficiency in food even without any change in land ownership.

In fact, I've argued what many consider to be heresy that suburbia is actually fairly well positioned to move toward scale-free self-sufficiency. That said, I don't disagree that there will be dramatic changes in settlement patterns and land distribution over the next several decades, but that has been true in the past as well.

Also, self-sufficiency includes many things besides food production, though that's usually the first thing people focus on. Water self sufficiency is critical in many places (and very realistic through rainwater harvesting, or example). Similarly, the ability to build our houses, provide health care, education, tool manufacturing, etc. are just a few of the many areas to consider...

I don't really think land reform and access to land is as critical of an issue as is often portrayed

I agree, but for different reasons. While higher food prices resulting from higher fuel prices will inevitably lead to a great increase in suburban gardening (which will have their benefits, of course), you also have to consider that actual reductions in fossil fuel inputs to large-scale farming will have to be offset as well. That is to say, today's high-energy farmer grows food for 100+ people, where tomorrow's low-energy farmer may struggle to feed which case the adaptation of the system will be to increase the numbers of farmers. Lacking fossil fuel inputs, production will require greater human and animal inputs, and farm labor may be the biggest growth industry of the next century.

I don't think its realistic to say that joe-lunchbox can't afford a farm, therefore he won't be involved in agriculture unless we have some land reform or redistribution scheme - there are plenty of other more likely ways to get there from here.

In a number of societies past, farm labor that did not involve ownership was known as slavery or serfdom.

Just FYI JV, you're not alone in thinking that suburbia has potential. David Holmgren says the same , and rumor has it that how-to is the subject of his next book.

As I understand it, a major problem with converting suburbia back to farmland is that a lot of the land in many developments was scraped of all or nearly all the fertile humus--all that there is under the thin sheet of lawngrass is clay. This is done because it is easier to build on clay than on soil.

It would take a good while to turn that clay back into fertile soil.

Yes indeed. What we found under the thin layer of sod was solid clay full of rocks. We are having to slowly, tediously sift out the rocks by hand. Then add literally tons of organic matter, and soil amendments to get the nutrients right. We are going on our third year working on it, a bed at a time, as we can afford.

People who don't know, and not until food triples in price and then go "I'll just pop in a garden!" I feel sorry for them. I estimate it will take us a total of five years to get a good productive soil restored.

I don't have time to seriuosly get into this tonight but anyone who thinks a quarter acre of land is adequate to support a person in terms of his food supply is very very SERIOUSLY MISTAKEN;there is no doubt in my mind they are relying on information they believe to be correct, but hey are STILL mistaken. .Unless one lives in a tropical climate on a river delta and is willing to undertake the life of a Chinese peasent, he hasn't got a prayer of living on a quarter acre; and even then the odds are really high he won't make it very long.

Having the advantage of growing up in the dirt and a good technical education in ag,I might have been able to do it when I was a physically tough young man IF I were fortunate enough as have such a peasant as my mentor.

Under optimum conditions, in a good year, with excellent luck, eating a restricted diet adequate to maintain life and basic good health-it is just barely possible, and that is all.

I come from a long line of farmers and have a degree in ag form a good university.

The real world doesn't work like little demonstration farms.

I had to explain to a really old man once watching his first fishing show on tv that those guys weren't catching one big bass right after another, and filling up thier live well in an hour with a catch adequate to win almost any three day professional tournament. He was really disappointed, having already made his mind up to go fishing in that lake come hell or high water,even if he had to walk to get there.

The people who claim such yields on a consistent basis simply cannot put thier produce where thier mouth is.Extrapolating from these occasional results under super optimum conditions is no less than a recipe for a total disaster for any one creating self sufficiency plans.

A professional golfer will hit a hole in one , or make a double birdie, at very long intervals.

I am not saying such yields cannnot be achieved OCCASIONALLY, under perfect circumstances; I have made some incredible crops myself-occasionally.

But if I had time I could list about a hundred real world reasons why I can't make such yields consistently.

I do know this much: my parents do it. They consistently grow around half their calories (potatoes, beans, 20+ other types of veggies, fruit, eggs and chicken feed/forage, compost) on a bit under a quarter acre, and have done so for several years. And they don't focus on calories per acre, also growing lots of cut flowers. They are in Oregon with excellent climate, water, and soil, but it's proof in my book that it is certainly possible even outside the demonstration farm context (they both work full time off site).

If you want to grow primarily wheat or eat beef in American quantities, then it's not going to happen in 1/4 acre, but it's certainly possible...

Hi Jeff, You have made half my case for me immediately-your folks are in Oregon-a place legendary as a land of milk and honey.

Maybe as much as one percent of all the land in say the state of new York is as good, overall, as the place your parents live.Maybe one percent of the land in the county I live in.It's not just the soil, its the overall weather , the climate.

The other half of my case is the first year when it doesn't rain, or the year when it doesn't STOP raining,or when there is a truly major hailstorm, or a really hard late frost,etc.A couple of years back our gardens were simply devestated out by a powerful thunderstorm with a lot of hail and high winds-we get such a storm once every ten or fifteen years here on average.

The Old Man sez you go out on the ocean , you gotta fight it to a draw every single trip;you can't actually beat it, you only survive one trip at a time, but it can kill you in one single little instant.

I will hazard a guess that your folks are importing serious amounts of materials onto thier land in the form of mulch and so forth.That's cheating, in terms of talking about living on a quarter acre per person, because when and if it becomes necessary to intensivly cultivate that small plot, the nieghbors are not going to give away thier grass clippings, or animal bedding, any more..they may not even be willing to sell.

And just what portion of your folks diet comes from off that plot?More than likely , almost all the high quality protien such as eggs, fish meat, dairy,and so forth.

Of course beans have very high quality protien too, and I really like beans, but not every single day.

We have been in the orchard business for five generations on the same ground;given the realities of weather , trees getting old and dieing,etc, if I were planning an orchard/vineyard simply for our personal nuclear family consumption of apples, peaches, pears , plums,grapes,and vines and nuts, I would need a quarter acre just for this purpose , and there would still be be many years when fruits and nuts would be in short supply.We lost one hundred percent of our peaches , and eighty percent of our apples, to a late freeze last year.Of course there would be a salable surplus some years too, unless we decided to can and dry it as an emergency reserve.

I can't grow citrus or bananas at all, as a practical matter.

Of course I could grow a lot of vegetables between the trees.

Our weather here is generally mild, as weather goes, but when talking about the amount of land needed for self sufficiency, it is only fair to include the land needed for firewood, for free ranging chickens to run over, and so forth.In spite of the generally mild weather, we need a large woodlot to maintain a constant long term supply of firewood.

My quarrel is not so much with your position as it is in the failure to include the qualifications along with the claim;people hear this sort of thing, and it assumes a life of it's own.They can't add the "in Oregon" part, since they haven't heard it.


You make excellent points, and I should have been more clear to qualify that I think my parents plot is in just about the perfect position for sustainabiliy and self-sufficiency (they also have an acre of olive trees and are part of a mill cooperative among local olive farmers, more of an experiment as it's on the very edge of olive's tolerance, but they did survive the coldest winter in 40 years, so it's looking good). I do, however, think that the common statements that "all suburban topsoil have been scraped away," or worries about drought years or blight or pests can be overblown. I don't think these things aren't problems, and in many climates the "standard" approach to farming will lead quickly to failure, but I think these issues can be realistically addressed if we're creative and innovative. Probably my favorite example is Brad Lancaster's work in Tucson, Arizona (see his article on rainwater harvesting). He's taken one of the most inhospitable climates by the conventional conception of farming (12" rain/year, almost all in a few storms in July and August, searing heat, very poor soil), and turned his suburban plot into a rainwater-fed oasis that provides a significant portion of his family's food. This isn't to say it's easy or foolproof, but I really think it can be done just about anywhere if we start to focus on developing systems to do just that.

So, while I agree that it's easier to build this level of self-sufficiency "in Oregon," it's also possible "in Tucson," and that suggests to me that it's certainly possible in NY, OH, TX, CO, WA, and elsewhere. Easy? No. Will it let you eat burgers and fresh-squeezed orange juice every day? No. But I think that most parts of the country can support one person on roughly 1/4 acre. There are certainly qualifiers to that--your diet will need to shift to what's locally available, it will be labor intensive, it will take a few years to get on its feet, it will require a great deal of locally-appropriate and locally-developed knowledge (much of which may/does not exist yet), and it will require a significant amount of external inputs at the outset (at least if you want to be producing near full capacity within 5 years).

I don't mean to suggest that this means it's a panacea and that everyone can just go grow all their own food starting this summer. Far from it. However, I do think that it is realistic for people with a yard to start adding incremental self-sufficiency in food (part of the scale-free self-sufficiency vision). 10% self-sufficiency could provide HUGE benefits in terms of resiliency and nutrition. For example, if that 10% focused on two things (high-nutrition crops, like Kale or Broccoli, and storable crops like beans, potatoes, onions, apples, etc.), then it would have a disprportionate impact. I think that's well within reach of most people (and the skills and infrastructure they would develop as they move toward that 10% would also have huge long-term value), and can be done in one way or another in most climates, on very little land.

There are lots of good reasons for people to grow some food in home gardens, especially fruits and green vegetables, but this has very little impact on energy use, since in US food production and transportation only uses about 2.3% of energy use, while storing processing and cooking another 5-6%.
On the other hand reducing distances that people commute to work or travel to buy food and clothing, or greatly improve energy use per person mile traveled will dramatically reduce energy use, as will improving home insulation and lighting efficiency. This is where energy use can be reduced X5 or X10 fold, with very little impact on GDP or real standard of living.

Thanks, Neill, for that . I keep wondering why we don't have a list of things that REALLY cut down our energy use, listed in order of real reduction ratio. Such like what you have said.

My own experience is something like

Retired, and quit flying all over the planet in fruitless pursuit of solar thermal orders. now never fly-100% reduction in kerosene.

tripled insulation in attic, high quality windows- maybe 50% on wood heat used.

Cut my road miles/yr about 70%- etc, etc.

And, I am happier and healthier for it.

But another thing on that same line of thought- What do we do about the OBVIOUS fact that we work and sweat and burn energy to produce so much pure CRAP that would best never be made at all?

I just got back from a big box store with a few little bits of plumbing for my home grown solar water heater. Up and down the isles of junk looking for some simple fittings. I have a habit of asking, as I look at each bin of this and that "Do I need that? Does anyone need it? How much of our future does it cost? Most often, the answer is perfectly clear- nobody needs it at all. And I am NOT talking about 1/2 inch NPT pipe fittings, but things like do-dads for lawn ornaments, 6 different BBQ cookers, 9 different kinds of big stinky crappy sure-to-fail-real-fast lawn tractors, and so on.

Basically, I am arguing that we can and must, cut some items of our "standard of living" 100%, and we would all be better for it, not to mention our grandchildren.

BTW, my ever-busy wife grows about 30% of our calories in her garden, and uses NO gasoline to do it. She does, however, use as much of my expendable time as she can get, which isn't much, since I am doing important stuff like thinking about bicycle transmissions and skimming over TOD.

Hi Wimbi, I've been on TOD for over 4.5 years and I've always enjoyed your comments. Kind of sad you've given up on Stirling engines but good luck with the other important stuff you're doing!

Kind of sad you've given up on Stirling engines

Stirlings were gonna save the world with the $80 for a 1 hp in 20 foot container lots (nitrogen charged) or the Dean Kamen 'what is IT?' thing.

Catapiller spent lottsa money on their solar powered stirling, Solo was 'sposed to be selling their 10 meter dishes by now, whispergen's were 'sposed to be in mass produced CHP systems.

Thermal cycling is an issue in design - one that only seems to be worse as the quest for a more efficient design happens.

I'd rather see an engine that is reliable and only gets 10% and is shipping VS the designs of today that do not ship.

OK, eric, dammit. There you go again. A pessimist! What kinda TOD are you anyhow?

So, class, I am now gonna set it straight. eric is right. All of above on stirlings. I know, I was there.

Stirlings aren't very efficient. Simple reason- they have to transfer the input heat thru a pressure wall, which won't stand nearly as much temp as the combustion or solar input can put on it. So, maybe 650C and 30% efficiency is it, unless you are NASA and pay for far higher temps at far higher stress--that don't leak helium AT ALL.

Cheap stirlings have to use simple naked or finned SS heater heads, not fancy ones with lots and lots of brazed tubes ( "One tube is two leaks"). That cuts down their efficiency and power density even more.

Nitrogen stirlings are BIG, they have to be because N2 is a lousy heat transfer and high pressure drop gas. Big stirlings are expensive-simply too much metal/watt.

High power alternators inside the pressure vessel save shaft seal leaks, but forbid H2, the best gas. H2 is flat-out poison to rare earth magnets.

So? No hope? Not at all. Cheap, very long lived, fairly efficient designs have been made and proven, have been offered to the money men, and have not been funded. You have never heard about or seen them. Nor will you, until maybe hell crawls out of some under sea under salt oil well and takes over completely.

Why?- the real powers that be- the military-space people don't give a hoot about cheap. They love little, expensive, very high performance stirlings; that's what they will pay for, and that's what they get. It's called the free market, folks. not to be fooled with.

The rest of us peasants can go out and hoe potatoes in the hot, hotter, hottest sun.

Goodby to all that. I shall spend my remaining hours thinking about what the world could be if we weren't so goddam stupid.-- And preaching to the kids about it. Lots more rewarding.


I agree that, all other things being equal, increasing food self-sufficiency will have only a nominal energy savings compared to increased telecommuting, mass transit, more efficient home heating/cooling, and other low-hanging fruit.

The reason taht I think scale-free self-sufficiency, ESPECIALLY in food and water, is so critical, is that I think it's the key to moving our economy away from its fundamentally unsustainable growth requirement and toward something that can be ultimately sustainable. We can reduce energy use by 90% in the developed world, but if our global economy demands 3% annual growth to function without political breakdown (as I think the Nation-State system probably does), and if global population continues to increase, that energy savings will only push the reckoning of our civilization's fundamental unsustainability on our children and grandchildren. The reason is that, in societies that are not scale-free self-sufficient, there is peer-polity competition among hierarchies that drives this demand for perpetual growth (see my essay The Problem of Growth, linked above). Scale-free self-sufficiency, especially in true "needs" like food, water, and shelter, is the key to building an alternative structure for society that does not have this peer-polity competition (precisely because of the self-sufficiency), and therefore will support long-term sustainability.

If we don't solve the Problem of Growth, every other measure is just a stalling action that may buy us a bit of time, pushing the problem on to later generations. The Problem of Growth is not caused by our low-efficiency energy use, but by the fundamental structure of our political economy, and we cannot solve it by focusing on anything but this fundamental structure.

OK, that's my civilizational-theory rant for the day :)

Yes, growth is a key problem. It's the failure to address this, even on sites and forums such as this, that is really depressing. Those who are not aware of the various problems we face (of which peak energy is one) implicitly appear to believe in infinite resources, and an infinite capacity of the environment to harmlessly deal with our pollution and habitat destruction. Those who are aware, presumably including those who frequent this site, also appear, for the most part, to believe in infinite resources because most seem to think we can tinker at the edges or even completely re-engineer our economies and still end up with a growth based society, that has a remarkable resemblence (in terms of lifestyles and aspirations) to what we have now but with different infrastructure and technologies.

Sustainable growth is an oxymoron. Growth is unsustainable, period. Unsustainable societies and civilisations collapse. Most people seem to be happy with that prospect.

Yes, growth is a key problem. It's the failure to address this, even on sites and forums such as this, that is really depressing

Growth gets mentioned here on TOD.

We are just posters on the internet however - how much 'addressing' are you expecting?

Most people on forums such as this think growth can be sustained. It is this belief that underlies most comments.

You're right that this is just an internet forum but it would be nice to see more people understanding that growth cannot be sustained on a finite planet, especially those who do appear to have an inkling of the problems we face.

I would agree that their is a problem with GROWTH IN POPULATION, GROWTH IN RESOURCE CONSUMPTION, but I see no problem in growth in energy consumption( if this is provided from sustainable resources) or growth in GDP ( providing this is not due to high consumption of natural resources that are going to be exhausted).
Going local in some food production, water collection, solar and wind energy harvesting and some manufacturing makes sense but some global activities such as growing grains, tropical fruits, rubber, sugar cane at locations where it much more efficient to do so and transporting these products also makes sense. This is not to say that all global trade is sensible, clearly some only makes sense with abundant low cost energy. Grains and sugar were valuable enough to move globally 200 years ago by sail, large bulk transport ships are very efficient so we should expect these products to continue to be moved globally.

Growth is unsustainable, so growth in energy consumption is unsustainable. It's not possible to have a growing energy consumption, even from sustainable resources. GDP growth requires increasing consumption of resources (it's not possible to increase efficiency for ever and not possible to grow resource consumption of renewable resources, beyond the renewal rate of those resources).

It makes sense to grow food one place and transport them elsewhere only if there is more energy in the food than the energy employed in getting it from the seed (including the energy in producing that seed) to the stomachs of consumers, or if there is excess energy available to operate in that way. The notion of necessity also comes into play. Do we need the foods growing elsewhere? I remember eating many foods only when they are in season, and almost never eating foods that could only be grown elsewhere.

What we should expect and what is sensible to do might be very different things.

There are many parts of the economy especially services that dont use much energy, for example massages, hair and nail care, movies, medical care, theatre. If money is used on these activities instead of filling up gas guzzlers, the economy can growth with a reduction in FF based energy consumption.

"don't use much energy" means, "use energy and other resources".

But supposing the economy switched from productive tasks to predominately leisure tasks (not talking medical care here), how would that impact the kind of society we have? It would be very different and would simply delay collapse because it would still be unsustainable (perhaps even more so, because energy would be diverted to non-productive activities).

It sounds like you're an advocate for economic growth at any cost. We must have economic growth even if the entire economy became a near 100% service economy. Even if people agreed that such a society was liveable and better than having any kind of no-growth economy, growth is still unsustainable and so it would collapse or, at best, delay the day when hard decisions have to be made about how we can co-exist with the rest of nature without causing our own extinction.

Don't forget the second order effects of all this stuff.

If I spend the necessary amount of time growing a significant proportion of my food on my quarter acre suburban plot (about 60% of our current ditrect consumption - grain and mash for the chickens and the imports of wood mulch for clay reconditioning are still outside that) I also reduce the amount of time I have available for spending on other activities that are pure consumption.

So I get to travel less, don't go to distant public events, take such long holidays so far away etc etc etc. Nor do I play golf which must be one of the most wasteful uses of energy and landscape imaginable.

The opportunity costs of taking part in these activities are a plus, not a minus and they need to be factored in.

It wont save the planet, but its additive.


You, Sir,are a gentleman and a scholar, and if I were grading your comment like an ag teacher you would get an A on your expanded version.

You really hit it out of the park except you did not throw in enough info about the learning and culture change curves necessary to implement your vision.

But don't forget, if tshtf,it only takes one bad year to starve, or to get so hungry a forced move( migration?) might be in the cards.

Iam very much in favor of transition town movements and initiatives of that sort, but nobody should get too comfortable with the idea that if the industrial ag system goes down the average citizen in the average location can be food self sufficient , or even 50 % so, without going thru a long and painful learning process and to a very large extent, changing his whole lifestyle in many respects.

Joe Sixpack doesn't do his taxes until 4/14 unless he expects money back.He won't take up serious gardening any faster.

For instance:
There are indeed many super fertile lawns in this country, but people who try to turn one into a garden in a modern subdivision often wind up in a people's court aka the owners association, if not in a real court.......

anyone who thinks a quarter acre of land is adequate to support a person in terms of his food supply is very very SERIOUSLY MISTAKEN;

To be fair, the people who are doing exactly what you claim are mistaken in warm places like California are importing compost and electrical energy.

can't make such yields consistently.

The big one would be the lack of importation of soil fertility and the lack of a freezing cycle.

Yes, when you start adding in the qualifiers, things become possible-a little qualifier or two like being in a California climate and importing materials and energy can make the almost impossible merely rather chancy.

The problem with these blanket type statements is that the public, and a heck of a lot of readers, even a lot of the readers of THIS forum, will accept them uncritically.They enter the folklore as accepted wisdom.

I myself am making a similar blanket claim in my fast down and dirty dissent, but with the difference that I am stirring up a discussion of the qualifications DELIBERATELY.Otherwise my language would be more turn the cheek.

There is simply no other human endeavour more subject to the strictures of a harsh Mother nature and the whims of Mr Murphy than agriculture, excepting war.

I forgot to add that Jeff's paerents pass another essential qualification test.They have a LOT of experience.

Almost our entire conventional farming system is dependent upon importation of energy, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. so I don't see how things could be any worse for the small scale gardener.

Anyway, it is possible to grow a lot of your own food which avoids the importation of materials and energy required to process and transport that food over long distances. Besides, maybe I am just being subjective, but food this fresh tastes a lot better and is likely to be much safer.

A quarter of an acre may be more than enough. Of course there are qualifiers (I doubt it would be possible in Greenland) but, from my reading of practicing permaculturists, that amount of land is way over what is needed for one person. If society doesn't collapse by then, I can report back, in a few years, on our experiment to grow all our own food (and more) on 3/4 acre for 4 adults - even throwing in a few coppiced firewood trees - without importing anything. Some imports will be needed while we sort our soil out but, after that, we hope to be fine.

Goooood luck on that.

We started talking about this thread yesterday, and for giggles tried to calculate the minimum we would need to get anything near the diet we have now.

The figures we calculated assume the impossible: perfect soil, perfect weather, zero plant diseases, zero plant insect trouble, no drought, no hail, no flood, no hard late frosts, no hard early frosts, no deer, no raccoons, and NO HUMAN THIEVES.

We came up with 1/2 an acre just for the wheat for the flour for the bread, for 4 people for a year.

Want cream/milk/butter/buttermilk/cheese/whey/yogurt? Need a cow. Cow needs hay and grain. An acre for the hay, assuming perfect yields.

Want ham/bacon/sausage? Need a pig. Pig needs grain (and protein).
Want eggs? Need chickens. Chickens need grain.

So, cow and pig and chickens all need grain. An acre for that. And pray nothing goes wrong.

Then potato patch and fruit trees and big vegetable garden. Cow and pig and chickens kindly provide the fertilizer.

Wooded area for fuel for wood heat, and wood cook stove.

Space taken up with house, chicken coop, pig pen, cow barn, compost area.

We considered the lack of a fiber crop- flax? Wool sheep? But decided to go without.

The absolute bare minimum we could squeeze it onto came up 3 acres, assuming perfect yields and zero crop failures. Which is ridiculous- Ol' Man Murphy always comes around, and when he pays a visit, yields go in the tank.

Three acres; there's an old saying, 'Too big to mow, too small to plow.' How much does one want to include? More, to compensate for anticipated less-than-perfect yields? Then you start getting into too-big-to-do-by-hand. Getting into need-a-plow-team territory? Add horses and the acreage required jumps too.

It all comes down to what you want to accomplish. Full self sufficiency including flour and animal sources of protein and soil fertility? Or just veggie and fruit self sufficiency?

We are on a suburban mini-lot; a tenth of an acre. Half of that is covered by the house, deck, and driveway. So a twentieth of an acre, part of which is in trees I'm not allowed to remove. Obviously, fruit and veggie independence is the best we can hope for. But hey, anything is better than nothing, right?

All depends. The soil at my place is heavy clay, river bottom silt, hard as concrete after it dries out and sticks to everything when it's wet. But, I've been adding goat manure, chicken manure, horse manure, and hay waste for the past five years and it's finally coming around. My garden area is about 40x60 feet and although it doesn't provide year round vegetables, it goes quite a way. I plant potatoes, beets, and turnips, as well as cabbage, beans, cucumbers, garlic, onions, squash, zucchini, and corn. I've had little success with tomatoes and peppers, just too cold. I have an orchard with 11 trees, all apple but one, a plum tree. Whether I have apples or not depends on how late our last heavy frost is in the springtime. Last year I was pretty well wiped out, but, I'm still eating dried apples from the year before when I had tons. I have goats, right now, a Nanny, and a Buck and some new Kids. I only milk through the summertime, but, I make enough hard cheese to last through the wintertime. I've got one round left from last years cheese. Aged Goat Cheese is super delicious and better, in my opinion, than anything you can buy at the store. While I'm milking, I also make yogurt which I enjoy very much. I make yogurt during the winter from cows milk that comes from a local dairy. I've raised Doggie Lambs, but they're too cute to eat and you do get a bit attached to them. So, I buy a lamb or two from my neighbor every year or two and then there's no emotional attachment when it's time to make dinner of them. Same with pigs. Mutton is easy to come by, but you have to have a taste for it, which I do. Cook it until it crackles in an open Dutch Oven. Yum, yum!

My goats aren't much for grass, they prefer weedy scrubby stuff. So, I just turn them loose and they nibble at the hillside. When I'm milking my Nanny, I feed her a half coffee can of sweet feed that I get at the farm store. I milk her morning and night and she produces about a gallon of milk per day. Three gallons of milk makes a pretty good round of cheese. The sweet feed makes for good milk. Kid goats make good dinner, but, again, my problem is they're too cute to eat. So, I generally sell them. I'll be keeping my little Wether this year for company for my Buck. I grow hay on my place so that's what my goats get for dinner during the wintertime, but, they also forage on the hillside. If there is nothing else, goats will eat grass hay, with a bit of Alfalfa in it, but, they seem to do better on straight grass hay.

I have four Hens and a Rooster. I always have plenty of eggs. The four hens produce 2 or three eggs each day and they sure add up. I always have extras for neighbors. I like my chickens, and so I don't eat them, but, I could if necessary. At present I wont allow a hen to sit because the four I have are enough. They free range during the day, but I lock them up at night. I have 8 Geese (three of them Ganders). They do a pretty good job of keeping the coyotes, foxes, badgers, and raccoons away from my chickens. Skunks are the problem and now and then I'll loose a Hen to a skunk. My dogs will kill them, but then I have a skunked dog. I keep a .22 next to the front door, primarily for skunks. Last year I sent 12 of the nasty critters to skunk heaven.

I keep mules in the pasture. Mules are handy, like the Geese, in keeping the predators away. I used to get lions on my porch, and an occasional bear would wander through the place. Since I've had my Mules out back, no lion tracks in the new snow during the wintertime. I've watched the Mules spend the afternoon hunting in the willows for a coyote that crossed through. They'll stomple them good if they can get them. They'll kill dogs too and so they solve the problem of stray dogs. My dogs know to keep an eye on the Mules because the Mules are always skulking on my dogs. Now and then a dog will get rolled. Cats are a necessity to keep the mice and vole populations in check; there are plenty of feral cats around. I use a live trap to catch a few and then take them to the vet and get them fixed so I don't have lots of baby cats, some two headed. If babies do show up, my dogs will eat them, but I don't like that so it's just lots better to have the Vet neuter them. At present I have five cats that live in the barn. I feed them every day to keep them around. I rarely see a mouse.

So, my little operation is entirely possible on a quarter acre or less, if, there is an accessible area for grazing of the goats, such as a weedy lot. You must, however have access to winter feed. Most Farmers will sell some hay, 35 bales at 80 pounds each should keep a couple of goats through the winter. 35 bales is generally considered a ton and costs between $65 and $120 depending on how the hay crop was that year. During the wintertime I feed my chickens 30 pounds of laying pellets per month, about $12.

Good soil can be made from bad by adding organic matter. Most Farmers are more than willing to give away whatever manure you want and many have hay scrap from winter feeding. Goat Manure works very well and isn't nearly as hot as other manures, although it doesn't seem to break down as quickly either. I'll still find pellets at the end of the summer from manure I worked in in the springtime. My own garden is now producing pretty well and I haven't added a thing to the soil from the farm store. I haven't used insecticides. I plant Marigolds in the garden and they seem to keep some of the bugs out. I do get bugs, but, so far they haven't eaten all that much. They especially seem to enjoy the leaves on my potato plants, but the potatoes grow anyhow. I have however, in the past, lost beans to bugs and this year, if the bugs go after my beans, then I'll invest in some insecticide. I like beans.

The bottom line is my whole operation takes place on a piece of ground that is much less than a quarter acre, except, the Mules, and they're not necessary, just good company and nice to have around. The chickens free range, and they don't need much, a typical residential yard would do just fine. Same with the geese, but they aren't necessary, unless you want to eat the greasy things. They are prolific. I eat their eggs in the springtime so I won't have little geese running around. You've got to start somewhere, get a few hens, you don't need a rooster, find a farmer for your fertilizer and organic material, and stake out a Nanny Goat in the back yard. You don't need a Buck if you know someone who has one. Buck Goats can be hard to keep, until you get the hang of them. They can be quite sweet, they just get kind of stinky around August and their attitude changes. It's temporary though; they go back to being manageable about December 1.

Best from the Fremont

The soil at my place is heavy clay, river bottom silt, hard as concrete after it dries out and sticks to everything when it's wet. But, I've been adding goat manure, chicken manure, horse manure, and hay waste for the past five years and it's finally coming around.

I've found mixing with 50/50 spent brewers grain works well. Nice fungal bloom, 2 weeks of smelling like a swamp, then it smells of fresh dirt.

My garden area is about 40 x 60 feet

That's nearly the size of our entire lot: 47x90.

I've had little success with tomatoes

Try Territorial Seed. They carry several varieties of Canadian origin, real short season like 55 days.

I miss having goats, but I don't miss needing the Superman fencing- little escape artists. I love goat cheese, but must admit I don't care for their milk too much. The caproic acid tastes bitter to me. If you try different individual doe's milk, you can find one that is sweeter; in a herd of twenty or so I can usually find one that tastes mild enough. But generally I prefer cow. What we used to do was milk the cow, keep a little for cream and milk, then turn the rest into cheese. The whey left over from the cheese made the pigs next meal with grain soaked in it.

We never had trouble with the lions- coyotes were our big problem. Usually only one goat or sheep a year; the best one, of course! Our chicken losses were always raccoons.

I have had better luck with horse and cow manure than with goat or sheep, another thing that leans me toward cow if I had the space. A goat takes a lot less space though, that's for sure!

Thanks for the good luck but I'm quite confident. We have 8 hens that produce stacks of eggs and take up no space, since we move them from patch to patch before planting, to dig and manure. And, boy, do we have eggs.

Our experiment has just begun but for a period (of about 2-3 months) at the beginning of summer, we didn't have to buy any vegetables and imported hardly any soil amendments. This was just in a tiny fraction of what we'll end up cultivating, so that gives me hope. We already have one vegetarian among the four of us and I expect our meat intake to reduce significantly over the next few years, so food self-sufficiency seems possible although it will probably take longer to wean ourselves of meat by-products, such as milk, or to import those things through trade.

I see many attempts to discourage me in this endeavour but I'm not (yet) discouraged. From what I've read and seen from those using permaculture and bio-intensive techniques, 0.75 acre is more than adequate for us and should result in surplus. Luckily, we have a fairly benign climate with a long growing season (and much can be grown throughout the winter). The soil is OK, at the moment, for the most part, but will only get better.

Don't be put off by the nay-sayers. At the very least, our attempts will put us in a better position than I anticipate most will be as the long collapse unfolds.

No, don't get discouraged. If you go the animal-free or chickens-only route, the space requirement drops a great deal. With that strategy the main problem I forsee is gradual loss of soil fertility. Eight chickens can't make enough manure for three acres. But if you have a source of manure from elsewhere, someone who has cows or horses, that would work okay.

What amazes me is folk who want to keep the meat-heavy diet without understanding how much acreage it takes for animal feed. Sure, they can convert the garage into a barn. Will there be a source for hay? Affordable hay?

During one of my poor times in my youth, I lived quite a long time with eggs and peanut butter as my only protein source. Egg for breakfast, peanut butter on whole wheat for lunch, ramen for dinner. My health did fine and my weight stayed stable. If you have a long enough growing season peanuts are definitely something to check out. Versatile things, peanuts.

I'm doing some reading on rabbits as a meat and manure source. Their manure is supposed to be quite high quality, they need very little space, and are prolific breeders. I think the cuteness factor would stop most people from trying it, though.

There is the concept of growing for the soil, as well as for the table. Green "manure" and compost crops can be grown. I expect the soil quality to improve, not deteriorate. By the way, we have 0.75 acres (3/4 was meant to convey "three quarters"). We should really have 12 chickens but thought that 8 would be enough to start off with. It's still early days, though, so we'll see if 8 is enough.

We've had one attempt at peanuts. Not very successful (it seems) but they were rather smothered by other plants, so we'll definitely try again.

We've considered rabbits and may try that in the future but I've got enough on my plate already (pun not intended).

what successes or failures have YOU experienced with decentralization, localization

Zero successes.

In this regard, there seem to be three major divisions in the US: urban, suburban/xurban, and rural. Most of the TOD comments about successful localization seem to be either rural or in a run down urban area. For some 200+ million US citizens, it seems to me that the following questions are putting the cart before the horse:

we need first to control growth, and second to develop resilient access to food, water, community, and information......what could we produce with a highly networked economy of small, localized manufacturers?......potential to develop sustainable communities....redesigned to instead maximize our health, our happiness, the vibrancy of our communities, and other sources of true “quality” of life?

Solutions along these lines might build a very elegant "cart". But, without the existence of a horse - it has little value. Of course, the "horse" I'm referring to is the recognition of the problems that have a high probability of occurring in the next decade or two. From my POV, the real question is how do we get the average person to recognize the problems coming down the road. How can we stop corporations from spewing daily misinformation; get churches to explain why family planning is needed; get corporations to explain how they are exploiting/depleting common resources free of charge; how do we drive home the danger of species extinction; and a long list of such things. How do we get 20 million people in the greater LA area come to the conclusion that cars are a bad thing?

20,000,000 is a tough number. Here, with 150, most don't know that farmer's markets and buying local produce is a good idea because we'll likely have to depend upon such marketing in the not too far off future, but they do know that a farmer's market offer's an outlet for all of that Zucchini that gets left at the post office, or put on the seat of your car while you're at church. It's also kind of a fun thing on a Saturday afternoon to go visit with your neighbors and maybe buy a loaf or two of Randy's stone oven bread with some of his great homemade pesto. If we get our bicycle path done, connecting our little towns throughout the county, it'll be a great thing, because the kids will be able to ride their bikes to the schoolhouse from Lyman and even Bicknell. Good for the kids and easy on parents who won't have to make the auto trip to pickup junior after band practice. In our presentation to the County Commissioners there was no mention that maybe we'll all be riding bicycles, or wish that we could in the future.

I guess social connections are the tough nut. I've lived in town and I never knew my neighbors even though their places were within 40 feet of mine, on both sides. Why is that? Is it we're busy, our social relationships are all through our work place, or we just plain enjoy annonymity? I don't know what the answer is, but, if the 20,000,000 folks living in and around LA are to move in a direction that lends to sustainability and localization, then the question is the $64,000 dollar one. We've got to get to know our neighbors so that we can make communities out of our living arrangements wherever they might be. Best from the Fremont

Freemont, it looks as if you are in Utah. What is the source of water for the agriculture in your region. Is that going to be imperiled in the PO/GW world we are entering?

Hello Dohboi,

The area I live in is high desert; my own place sits at about 7,000 feet elevation and there are eleven thousand foot mountains to the north, south, and west. The elevation drops of to the east rapidly to what I call badlands desert and the Henry Mountains, again eleven thousand footers. So, the weatherman doesn't bother with weather predictions for this area as the aloft winds are erratic and unpredictable due to the extreme temperature differentials which are caused by our varied topography. So, what this means is our climate is quite unpredictable. Some years we may get 12 to 14 inches of moisture, while, others, we're lucky to get 4 or 5. The previous three or four years have been drought years. This past winter we have had heavy snows on the mountains and so, we're OK water wise for a while. Last summer, water was short, and the guests at the motels in town found they didn't have water to take a shower. Drinking water for town comes from a spring up on the mountain; it's good water and we don't need any water treatment. There just isn't much of it. If you don't live in town then you must have a well for your house water. Drilling a well is expensive, $30 + per foot these days, and generally you have to get down 250 to 400 feet before there is any chance of finding good water and then it's still a crap shoot. Lots of dry holes out here. Well never have a golf course and our population will never grow much beyond where it is now because of the water issue. Our irrigation water comes from the Fremont River, that comes off of Fish Lake Mountain. Actually, the Fremont isn't a river at all, by most standards, in fact, it's barely a creek. But, it's all we have and it's a year round stream. The Fremont provides all of the irrigation water for all of the farms in the county. Consequently, all of our farms are located along the river.

The county itself is 97% Federal Lands, split between National Parks, The Forest Service and BLM. The remaining 3% that is privately owned property is primarily Ranches. A Rancher needs enough ground to grow enough Hay to get him through those short periods during the fall and the early spring when their cattle aren't on open range grazing. Open range grazing means there aren't any fences. Each Ranch brands it's cows. The cattle are "gathered" during the early spring and the fall roundups. The brands allow sorting of the cattle among the ranches that share the range. Cowboys "hold" the cows with their new calves on horseback while a couple or riders on good horses "separate the pairs" by brand. When separating is done, the -B- has it's cows and calves as does the Lazy J Bar, and so on. Calves are born over the winter months on the desert range. All of our cow work must be done horseback, and so we have Cowboys. When the cows are brought off of the desert range in the spring the calves are worked, that is, they're vaccinated, the bulls castrated, ears marked, and they're branded. Generally the steers are sold in the fall after they've had a chance to gain some weight on the rich grass of the mountain ranges. Cattle spend their summertimes on the mountain ranges and their winters on the deserts. Our Ranches therefore are small in terms of private land holdings, many do not exceed 70 or 80 acres. But, we have millions of acres available for open range cattle grazing.

All of our irrigation systems work pretty much the same. There is a holding pond where water is diverted from the Fremont, and then there is slope to the fields that will create water pressure in underground piping that takes the water to the fields. In the fields we use what we call "Hand Lines" which are sections of aluminum pipe, each 30 feet long, with a sprinkler in the middle atop a 12 inch riser, or, we use "Wheel Lines" which are long sections of aluminum pipe, with sprinkler nozzles spaced about every 40 feet, supported by 6 foot aluminum wheels, all of which is attached to a small 3 hp gasoline engine. The engine is attached to a hydraulic clutch and the whole Wheel Line is therefore moveable. Twenty years ago we didn't have Wheel Lines or Hand Lines. We irrigated with a shovel, by diverting river water through a intricate system of open ditches. The Department of Agriculture provided most of our present systems through grants and low interest loans. The Fremont River is part of the Colorado Drainage and so the water available to us from the river has very strict limits. The ditch company I belong to has an allotment of 5 cubic feet/sec of water. This water is split between about 12 water users. My share is .33 cubic feet per second. And that's plenty for the 20 or so acres that I water. I've gone on a bit to answer a simple question. It's a long answer for a short question. But, the wind is howling again this evening and so I don't have much else to do. Hope I didn't overdo it. Best from the Fremont

Sounds like a beautiful spot. Here's to hoping the Fremont never runs dry.

Hang in there ,Fremont

Short answers all too often create as many false impresssions as they correct. The devil is in the details, and any real appreciation of a problem, or opportunity, is dependent upon a knowledge of such details.

Sound bites have a LOT to do with the mess we are in today.

The people interested in a sound bite sized understanding of any particular issue can skip long comments.

Hopefully somewhere along the line they have heard or read a sound bite sized explaination of the up and down fast scroll the up and down arrow keys.

The only way is to reduce population. And all humanity must agree on this issue and place a plan how to achive this goal.
We can start in humane way reduce it by simple curb our fertility rate.
We all know that key resources, critical like water are depleted more and more. Overpopulation is a fact, the planet cant handle this mass of humanity.
We are part of the planet and we dont have more rigts than other species and now we drive them on brink of annihilation.

The planet is finite so we must have finite population on some level. Its simple.
Why people dont recognize this obvious fact?

The source of all evil and mess is Overpopulation.

The planet is finite in size but is always changing. Humanity and other life forms have had to deal with ice ages and temperature fluctuations in the past all of which alter the carrying capacity on a global scale. Concidering this tendancy of the planet to change there is no one sure stable carrying capacity level for humans to live at. We have evolved as has all other life forms to exploit the good times and suffer the consiquences as things go bad.

Agree, but its better to humane reduce population then waiting to Planet rage to wipe us out.
Very small eruption in Islandic and so much havoc in Europe. And this volcano was nothing compare to Katla or Laki.
Energy is not all. We still need others resources which running out fast.

Basicly we have to option:
1. Do nothing and make more babies
2. Do the right thing

In point first nature take its course and it will be devasteting. Wars for remains, famine, plague etc.

In second will be hard but we can manage and evolve to better future.

Yes, like all other species, we adapt to changing conditions and tend to maximize our population relative to available carrying capacity. However, unlike other species, only humans have been able to figure out how to increase carrying capacity by using up finite resources formed over geologic time periods. This form of change in carrying capacity is, by definition, temporary (as it turned out, a few hundred years +/-).

The point is that we have expanded our population as though this temporary "surplus" of carrying capacity, was actually not only permanent, but somehow repeatable. In reality, our population has, arguably, already overshot even this temporarily increased capacity (given that, by most accounts, there are something like 2B hungry, starving, malnourished, sick people on our planet at the moment). We have already overshot the extra capacity that our one-time utilization of resources allows. As the capacity inevitably reduces, population increase will increasingly stress already stressed systems to the point of collapse. And the population will continue to increase for the foreseeable future because of our global belief that we are somehow immune to the very concept of carrying capacity.

The facts are that carrying capacity is going to fall and, as a result, population is going to fall. The only question that matters, at least from the standpoint of looking at the foundations of future realities, is how that fall is going to happen. Either we (as a species) decide to act together in our mutual interest to find humane and compassionate ways to manage our population descent, or Mother Nature does it the way she always has (starvation, disease, resource competition (read, war)). Since I don't much like the sound of Mother Nature's way, I'm hoping we get out collective s**t together.... but, if I was Goldman Sachs, I'd hedge the other way. ;-)

Nope, make no mistake about it, population is the elephant in the room. Without addressing population, there are no humane, reasonable responses.


"In reality, our population has, arguably, already overshot even this temporarily increased capacity (given that, by most accounts, there are something like 2B hungry, starving, malnourished, sick people on our planet at the moment)."
- while i agree that we do need to reduce the population and what it consumes, the idea that people are malnourished because there just isn't enough food is a fallacy. There is enough food to feed people, it's just being exported while people starve.
It's a problem of distribution not abundance.

There is no way to humanely reduce population fast enough to escape the resource shortfalls that will impact the planet in only a manner of a few decades. Even if each couple had only one offspring it would take at least 70 years to cut population in half and nearly 200 years to get below what many believe would be a comfortable sustainable population of around one billion. The next century will be an even more inhumane place than the previous several centuries.

The immigration problems of Europe and America now have looks like there will be serious draconian measures taken to keep the hungry billions out. I don't know if the recent law passed in Arizona really addresses the true problems Arizona has. It has all the earmarks of Jim Crow bigotry in it. The legislative gridlock in the US Senate has made creating an effective immigration program impossible at the national level. The individual states are now trying to cope with the problem. Will state level efforts to keep the wrong people out next turn to local efforts to keep the wrong people out of your town or county. Such practices were tried during the 1930s where transients were rounded up and taken to the county line by the sheriff. If the next county refuses to let them in then what are you ready to do to keep your local population down to a local self sufficiency level? Would you support lynch mobs? A local concentration camp where you let the wrong people starve? Will Hispanics, Africans, and Muslims become the "Jews" of the 21st century?

Hi pit-bb,

I see you have only recently joined TOD - welcome!

The planet is finite so we must have finite population on some level. Its simple.

Of course you are correct and you will find a few of us (like yours truly) are always beating this drum. I suspect there are more TOD folks that either think the concern is unfounded (birth/fertility rates are going down) or don't believe there is any humane way to make a meaningful reduction in a useful time frame.

I don't buy the birth/fertility rate argument because it is too slow (we don't want another 2B people around 2050) and it is too susceptible to rising again because there are few national policies addressing the issue (China is the exception). I argue for actual recognition of the problem at national and international levels (current UN policy is not very useful).

I think there are rational and humane ways to approach the problem - admitting that we will still be in substantial overshoot. But, why ignore the issue and make it even worse. I suggest supporting organizations like Population Connection. I believe the US should be a leader in developing a national debate and policy regarding population growth. Perhaps this is a futile effort but I feel better promoting the idea than doing nothing.

Why people dont recognize this obvious fact?

Because religions, corporations, political parties, and other "powers that be" want growth in there respective arenas. These folks need to be confronted with some basic mathematical facts.

Agree, this is slow move. It takes many decades of years until population will come down to proper level.
But what choice do we have? This is the only peacfully way to naturally reduce population.
If we dont do anything we will be in horrible and unstoppable mess.

Yes, you can't throw mathematical out of window, and "power that be" are dilusional. You can't have infinite growth on finite planet.
Unfortunatly now is time for humanity to evolve. We must change ours ways doings things completely.

US must stop this imperial policy and start doings the proper things but agree now it looks like very futile effort.

What choice to we have? War. It's how it's always been, probably how it's always gonna be. Yeah, it sucks, but them's the breaks. It's the price of living, you or any other creature don't have any special right to be here, it's not an accident the word survival is so often tied to words like fight or battle. Whether this fight is sanitized for your protection to the extent you forget something else must die for you to live every single day or not and you get all misty-eyed or not, it doesn't change the facts on the ground.

You're not going to get every nation to agree to population control, the peaceful "evolved" folks preaching coexistence and living within their means in the end will simply be easy pickings to have their resources plundered by those who don't. You've inherited the genes of 3-4 billion years of organisms who made hay when the sun shined and cannibalized their neighbors when it didn't. All the peaceful coexisters in the end made excellent mulch and you inherited the genes of their mulchers. Sorry.

Even if our leaders did realize everything you realize, if they set the survival of their tribe as the highest priority, the rational thing to do is exactly not to acknowledge it, so as to have the most warm bodies available when the fight comes. Maybe keep a seemingly absurd level of military preparedness for the current political climate in the meantime, and make sure you always have a little conflict here and there so as to always have an existing population of combat veterans for when TSHTF. Oh, wait....

Hi Hector,

I think you present a valid perspective - probably, most of the world would agree with you (at least in their private thoughts).

Carl Sagan pondered about this. He felt that if your POV prevailed that the human race could not survive over the long haul (millions of years). He recognized your premise - that aggression is a primary component of evolution - is a fundamental aspect of human evolution. He also recognized that humans have the capacity to use the power of reason to change their historic modes of behaviour. He felt that humans had the potential to move beyond aggression as a primary mode on tribal interaction. He hoped we would make that transition.

I hope you are wrong - but, I won't be betting against you.

Yeah, but we have to guard against that kind of thinking being a convenient way of not addressing our problems on an individual basis. If it all ends up the same way, why bother trying to do anything about it? The result is that nothing is done and our much vaunted intelligence counts for nothing.

The weekend is here, so of course, I am here. In relation to some of the fascinating questions raised by jeffvail, and also to one of my favorites sources, from 1980, Alvin Tofflers masterful book "The Third Wave. Briefly, Toffler defined human history going back as the art and artifacts can take us as being importantly classified by only three major methods of wealth production. These were given as (a)agricultural (b)industrial manufacturing (whether it be capitalist, socialist or fascist was a minor sub-classification, all three of these governing systems was guided first and most importantly by manufacturing capitalism) and what Toffler called "The Third Wave" or post industrial society and wealth production, still forming today, but born in the years of the middle 1950's, when the computer, the nuclear device and the "information age" all begin to come to fruition.

Toffler says that this age can be defined by one telling the mid 1950's, there were fewer people employed in handling "things", in agriculture and manufacturing combined, than there were in people employed in handing "information", i.e., handling non-tangible essentially non-existent goods, except as they existed as the product of the human mind. This would include everyone in the insurance industry for example (without the human mind, does "insurance" exist in the natural environment the way a corn plant does, or the way iron ore does? Insurance, financial services, managers, accountants, market and media research, all exist only as creations of the mind, and so many more industries as well. An automobile may be the product of the mind, but it is also the product of the material, it is still a physical opposed to for example, the theory of relativity, or an actuarial table.

The systems which had underpinned the earlier industrial society began to immediately come under attack, and started to fray at the edges...what really are these systems? Toffler defined them in some of the KEY CONCEPTS of industrial manufacturing as listed below:


I ask the reader to really think about these words, because they define the age we were all born into. Even the end of farming and manufacturing cannot wash these concepts from our mind and culture, because they so define what we commonly accept as the rationale of existance. Look out into our "modern" culture and you will see the concepts above ebodied in almost all the works of our culture, at least in all the works we commonly accept as valuable.

The idea of "Concentration" for example, in huge cities, in massive skyscrapers, in centralized sports in giant stadiums, in centralized schools and "mega-universities"...the "cult of bigness" writ large in both capitalist and communist post WWII cultures, BIG is always better, maximization coupled with centralization...

Take is fascinating to look at those great speeded up films of traffic patterns....the highway is empty...almost nothing on the roads, then a few cars, and then more and then strings of traffic flooding into the cities, all at THE SAME TIME. Then a few hours later, the highway begins to empty out...until mid-day and again almost empty....and then the flow reverses....everyone BACK OUT of the city! It is sheer madness. But we are addicted to synchronized living, everything must be on schedule...all schools start at about the same time of day as all workplaces must start...and end...we build our culture around synchronization.

We could go on and on...but once we see the code words, the underlying concepts around which our minds are formed, we suddenly see why we do so many of the things we do and accept so many of the concepts we do without even thinking. I will use an example used by Toffler....think of the "modern" symphony orchestra: It is considered the highest acheivement of modern big scale musical art. We forget that it is essentially an industrial construction.

The orchestra has a "CEO", the conductor, and it's "departments", the strings, the horns, the percussion...each specialized in its own "division of labor", but all synchronized to deliver a "product". With the rise of the symphony orchestra, the small chamber music groups and solo artists which had been popular prior to the symphony, what Toffler cleverly calls "The music factory". After industrialism, art, religion, education, even the "nuclear" family (what a telling term that is!) were all organized to fit perfectly into the standardized, synchronized "modern" industrial world.

It is the world as described by these key concepts that is unraveling, and this will occur with or with an "energy crisis", but our energy systems are organized into this same industrial pattern. Toffler makes the argument that we cannot hope to break out of the industrial past, now in decline, until our one of our most central of all systems, our energy production, distibution and consumption patterns break free wrom the KEY concepts of Centralization,Concentration,Maximimization,Modernization,
Standardization and Synchronization.

Try to imagine a world broken free from those is VERY hard to do. Try to imagine a world energy system broken from from the key is almost impossible to easily visualize.

It is this crisis of visualization that is the crisis. jeffvail uses terms like "energy descent" and "energy crisis" with relative abandon, but we should restate the facts...there is no indication of "energy descent" or "energy crisis" in the universe. Yes, "oil descent" or "fossil fuel use descent"...or perhaps "fossil fuel crisis", but it must be restated over and over again that oil is not energy, but is simply one way energy can be contained. Only since 1945 have we seen on the face of the earth the split atom, and only in recent years have we bothered to really count the amount of energy falling on one square mile of the earth....and it is staggering. Our mind is now alert to more energy being present in nature than it has ever been. I could make the argument that on the intellectual level, we are on a massive energy ascent.

To unlock the potential of this energy will require us throwing off the chains, by way of our liberation from outdated concepts....such as Centralization, Concentration, Maximimization, Modernization,
Standardization and Synchronization. It will be one of the greatest mass intellectual liberations in history IF, and this is a big IF, we can pull it off. There is nothing in physics or science that says we cannot, but much in human history indicates we will find it very difficult. For those interested, I will handle some example visualizations in a follow on post, because I know that my audience sometimes does not take well to my "maximization" of word usage! Let me start with one to finish this post however...what if there were as many micro solar devices or even wind devices on earth as there are electric motors? It is an interesting thought.


If you grew up in the age of big "space dreams", you waited for the day when some macho guys would step off of a giant rocket on Mars, a rocket sent there by the good ole USA. It would be HUGE of course, and it would be powerful and sleek, and our astronauts would be classic Ameican guys, the best of the breed with the right stuff.

That is the way we thought in those days...big, powerful, patriotic (those were the cold war days).

When the day came that we saw what would be our first real interplanetary exploration, who would have guessed it would come in the form of a device barely a meter in lenth, be solar powered, and would be the most advanced use of robotics in human history, the Mars Lander:

Robotic, solar and small, a "tinker toy" as some called it, an "erector set" as Bill Maher called it...and yet we learned more about the construction of another planet with this "toy" than we could afford to learn by way of a manned mission using a giant rocket to the planets.

This is the type of change in visualization we are seeing since the collapse of the core concepts of industrialism. Much can be done small...much can be done with low decentralized energy, much can be done with "micro devices".

The military planners of the world now visualize a world in which the ultimate assination device might be a "robotic insect", containing a tiny "stinger" would fly to a target and one sting with a tiny hypodermic, the target falls dead in minutes. Not exactly the giant war machines once envisioned by many so called futurist planners, because many "futurists" still use concepts created in the past, concepts of big, centralized planning and large powerful devices. The new world relies on information, design, planning and the ability to visualize outside the normal frame of industrial thinking.

This is the revolution coming in our future, a revolution in transportation device, in city planning, in energy production, in which small turbines and large ones, methane recapture, solar, wind and geothermal are mixed in a complex network, like the cells of a living organism. If one cell dies, the larger system carries on and works around it, as one cell becomes outdated it is replaced with another cell, but the larger organization continues.

Alvin Toffler once used the descriptive phrase "mouse milk runs" in describing small runs of production of items, perhaps custom built one off items designed and manufactured for a special application. In the information age, mass manufacturing losses its special advantage of "economic of scale". "Scalability" may be an outdated concept, because it makes the assumption that if millions of a large scalable technology cannot be built the item is thus useless.

Giant office parks are built around the idea of "scalability" and now find themselves competing with home office nooks which contain all the computers, communications and printers needed to conduct business. We are facing not so much an "energy crisis" as a visualization crisis.


OMG! does that bring back memories

Standing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream's in sight
You've got to admit it
At this point in time that it's clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
Well by seventy-six we'll be A.O.K.

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

Get your ticket to that wheel in space
While there's time

the Future ain't what it use to be :-(

Lately I've been reading alot of different stuff regarding peak oil, peak food, energy problems, energy possibilities etc. Here is my take on it(very short version), and I don't think I have all the answers and they might be totally wrong.

First and foremost I recognize the fact that everyone is talking about decentralization and self sustained, small communities. I don't think this is possible without a massive die out. It will be possible for some few of us lucky enough to have land, possibilities etc. For most it will not. It will also put a massive strain on nature, since humans will occupy enormous amounts of land, banishing wild-life and ecosystems. Half of the worlds population is living in cities, and they are occupying only 2,8 percent of the worlds land area.

Cities are the most green invention the world has ever seen (How many raised their eyebrows at that?). People living in the country side or in suburbs have to travel longer distances, occupies more land area etc. In cities everything is close. Education, health care, social get-togethers are all closer and at least in most european cities within walking distance. Electricity, water and sanitation is easier and cheaper per capita.

Cities also make people more effective, inventive, and they gather an enormous mix of people and ideas. In a landmark paper, "Growth, Innovation, Scaling, and the Pace of Life in Cities", the researchers found that when a city doubles its size, it more than doubles its rate of innovation, people walk faster and are more effective.

When it comes to energy, we probably all know that we are in a s**t load of trouble.

1. Biofuels, bioethanol etc. I find despicable when using agricultural land. It can have it's use, but that is with waste products from industry etc. Never agricultural land. Some of the worst ideas ever.

2. Wind. Can have it's use, but will never be baseload, and not near enough for our needs. but by all means we should do alot of research and fix problems and difficulties. Fluctuating.

3. Solar. Needs alot of research to be even close to what is needed. Creates close to nothing on world basis at the moment. (not including PV-panels for pools etc.) Is also very dependent on where in the world you are. Fluctuating.

4. Thermal. Don't know too much about it, but hopefully a good possibility. Not fluctuating.

5. Coal. The prime evil. CCS will never be a success. Sorry to say so. If carbon capture is to make a difference, then CO2 will be the world's largest transported good. The best carbon sequestration technique is to leave the coal in the ground. One can also mention the enormous amounts of toxics that go into the air, among it radioactive material.

6. Gas. Is a lesser evil compared to other proven energy suppliers. Hopefully also zoned out in not too long a time.

7. Oil (and gas). Should not be used for transport whatsoever. It is vital for so many other things to throw out the window with internal combustion engines. Food production among it.

8. Nuclear. Unlike most people, this is my baby. Like many great scientists and environmentalists have said:

"With climate change, those who know the most are the most frightened. With nuclear power, those who know the most are the least frightened."

It's carbon free, save that emitted when building the plant. It's safe. If all electricity was nuclear (uranium), each person would accumulate one coke can's worth of nuclear waste. In comparison coal would make 68 tons of solid stuff, and 77 tons of C02 per person. Not mentioning all the other toxics released into the air. Nuclear also uses a minuscule amount of land per watt. The solar energy equivalent of a 1-gigawatt nuclear reactor would require approx. 150 sq. kilometres, the wind power equivalent 770 sq. kilometres, and the corn biofuel equivalent 2500 sq. kilometres.

This is not even mentioning Thorium reactors that are essentially everything fusion power promised. It has been proven on a small scale, but was rejected because the U.S military wanted plutonium. We have enough Thorium for thousands of years. It produces extremely small amounts of waste (which has to be stored for approx 200 years instead of the thousands with uranium waste). It has a liquid core which makes it extremely stable and safe. It can be used for boats (actually uranium can be used too, and there are two in the world atm), and has been tested for planes.

I can rant on forever but that would become boring.

What i want for my country, Norway, is to bet their 5 cents on nuclear power and get alot of money in research on Thorium reactors. Then they should give the people incentives to change to electric cars instead of the old ones. For example by taxing gazoline and subsidizing electric cars.

The government actually did ask a group of scientists to find out if Norway should be going for nuclear power. They did their research and found out that the best way to cope with the CO2 problems and future energy shortages would be nuclear. This was obviously not the answer the government wanted, and reiterated that the energy policy of Norway would not change.

. Oil (and gas). Should not be used for transport whatsoever. It is vital for so many other things to throw out the window with internal combustion engines. Food production among it.

Errrrr, exactly how is food production at the levels "we" are used to gonna happen without big ICE moving the dirt and harvesting the crop?

8. Nuclear. Unlike most people, this is my baby.

Then I expect distortions. Or lies, if one calls a spade a spade.

many great scientists and environmentalists have said:
"With climate change, those who know the most are the most frightened. With nuclear power, those who know the most are the least frightened."

Huh. 'many great scientists and environmentalists have said' things about fission power that don't agree with your quote.

And typically how a quote works is one person says it, then others repeat it. What exactly are you tying to prove with a quote you assign to many anonymous people?

It's carbon free, save that emitted when building the plant.

Huh. So mining operations and concentration of fissionable material is now a no carbon operation?

It's safe.

Three Mile Island

Need more examples of 'safety'?

(and here's a link on the 'too cheap to meter' lie)

. Oil (and gas). Should not be used for transport whatsoever. It is vital for so many other things to throw out the window with internal combustion engines. Food production among it.

Errrrr, exactly how is food production at the levels "we" are used to gonna happen without big ICE moving the dirt and harvesting the crop?
Maintaining todays levels is not sustainable, no. But that's no reason to give in and ignore the importance of oil and gas in food production. It's also no reason to come with stupid comments about "ICE". The future is not carved in stone.
8. Nuclear. Unlike most people, this is my baby.

Then I expect distortions. Or lies, if one calls a spade a spade.

many great scientists and environmentalists have said:
"With climate change, those who know the most are the most frightened. With nuclear power, those who know the most are the least frightened."

Huh. 'many great scientists and environmentalists have said' things about fission power that don't agree with your quote.

And typically how a quote works is one person says it, then others repeat it. What exactly are you tying to prove with a quote you assign to many anonymous people?
Distortions and lies is exactly what nuclear power has endured for 65 years. Just not in the way you are implying. The cold war and it's nuclear war warnings have done it's work. Just to mention it, no country has ever gone from nuclear power plants, to then making nukes. Fission is also doing the best work in the world at the moment in making the world safer. The "Megaton to Megawatts"-programs goal is to convert 20000 nuclear warheads into fuel, and that's enough to run the entire U.S. nuclear fleet for two years. It began in 1994m, and currently 10 percent of the electricity Americans use comes from Russian nukes.

As to environmentalists who is supporting nuclear power and have used those quotes, James Lovelock and Stewart Brand is among them. More and more environmentalists are leaving their environmental groups, because the groups adamantly work against nuclear power.
It's carbon free, save that emitted when building the plant.

Huh. So mining operations and concentration of fissionable material is now a no carbon operation?

It's safe.

Three Mile Island

Need more examples of 'safety'?

(and here's a link on the 'too cheap to meter' lie)
That's your argument against nuclear power being carbon free? Please find some scary numbers for me. Mining will produce small amounts of CO2 for all mining operations, including those needed for the making of windmills etc. The amount of uranium needed is a small fraction of that needed in for example coal plants. In 2008 there were 443 civilian nuclear reactors, making 16 percent of the worlds electricity and keeping a yearly tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, that would have been made by coal. So yes: Carbon free!

As to accidents, there have been 3 major accidents in the history of nuclear power plants. Englands windscale fire in 1957, Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, and the biggest, the Chernobyl steam explosion in 1986. 56 people died from the Chernobyl accident. According to WHO, there were 250000 abortions in the area, but no human birth defects had been found to result from the accident(nor from Hiroshima). It is estimated that deaths from cancer among the 600000 that were the most exposed to radiation will be 4000. 100000 of those would have died of cancer anyways. After the accident the area has been a haven for wild life, and two biologists made 15 years of research on the animals in the area where pines had been killed by the fall out. Here's some of what the said:

"We were surprised to find that although each mouse registered unprecedented levels of radiation in its bones and muscles, all the animals seemed physically normal, and many of the females were carrying normal-looking embryos. This was true of pretty much every creature we examined - highly radioactive, but physically normal. It was the first of many revelations."

This also an old type of reactor that would never run today. Also, as good as everything went wrong that day.

Wind, with it's tiny output, has had 652 accidents with 61 deaths(numbers from june 2009). It also takes a much greater toll on ecosystems, wild life etc. with its massive need for space.
Coal is the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. The air pollution from coal burning is estimated to cause 30000 deaths a year in the U.S. and 350000 in China. I have more examples if you want. Over 10000 reactor years have caused an incredibly small amounts of accidents. Nuclear power is as safe as anything.

And last of your complaints: It's not that nuclear power isn't cheap. It's just that coal is cheaper. And much of the reason that nuclear is as "expensive" as it is today, is because of ridiculous rules and regulation, and it takes ages to get the permission to build. An example is The Environmental Protection Agency's "no threshold model" that requires nuclear sites to do whatever it takes to expose the nearby public to no more than 15 millirems of radiation. We can compare that with the average U.S. background radiation (284 millirems) or the city Ramsar in Iran with background radiation of 13000 millirems, and no apparent health consequences. The fear of radiation is a far more important health threat than radiation itself. Nuclear power is also undersubsidized compared to other sources (excluding coal). Wind, in many places, doesn't even need to sell power, cause they are making money on subsidizing.

Even though it might not be the cheapest, it's what we need.

(just a question. how do you guys quote with the blue squares?)

That's your argument against nuclear power being carbon free?

Oh, is that what you want is a discussion to convince you to change your position?

I don't see the point - you say 'carbon free 'cept for construction' then admit that carbon is emitted during mining (you never discuss the carbon issues of processing) then at the end you hand wave with: "So yes: Carbon free!"

You are living in a bubble of delusion. All I can do is remind others of your delusion.

A simple example of the lack of responsibility:

Or how about this:

Sellafield Nuclear Plant is located on the Northwest Coast of England on the Irish Sea. It is a government owned facility that produces about one-fourth of the United Kingdom's energy. Nuclear waste from this facility had turned the Irish sea into one of the most radioactive bodies of water in the world. .... Since 1952, Sellafield has been dumping radioactive waste into the Irish Sea. This sea is now considered one of the most radioactive bodies of water in the world.

Again dear readers - look at this statement:
And much of the reason that nuclear is as "expensive" as it is today, is because of ridiculous rules and regulation,

Yea, silly rules like if you are a security guard you should be guarding, not checking your eyelids for holes. (or was it sleeping?)

Kerry Beal was taken aback when he discovered last March that many of his fellow security guards at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania were taking regular naps in what they called "the ready room."
When he spoke to supervisors at his company, Wackenhut Corp., they told Beal to be a team player. When he alerted the regional office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, regulators let the matter drop after the plant's owner, Exelon, said it found no evidence of guards asleep on the job.

Keep posting (err digging a deeper hole) and I'll keep filling it with facts to counter your misstatements.

oh my!

1. you are clearly not seeing the big picture. CO2 emissions will be due to oil usage in mining, and it's smaaall. Nuclear gives us something like 15-17 % of the worlds electricity. And yes, the carbon print is so small it's negligible.

2. Some rules ARE ridiculuos. That doesn't mean I want no rules. You are being petty.

3. The sellafield thing should never have happened. BUT, radioactivity is far from the monster some people think. You are radioactive, the ground is radioactive, air flights are exposing you to a lot of radioactivity and life would be impossible without radioactivity. When it produces 16 % of the worlds electricity, only a moron with 50 iq would not be able to find incidents. "Google -> nuclear accidents"
But you can't argue that nuclear, providing as mush energy as it has, has a very good record when it comes to accidents. More (xx-fold) people die directly or indirectly from coal each year, than has ever from nuclear.

4. Radioactivity is treated like a monster. No one shouts about, for example, the incident in Bhopal, where a chemical plant released methyl isocyanate gas and other toxins, and killed 6000 people. Or the dumping of toxins from Photovoltaics production in China. That causes people to have to stay indoors if the wind is in their direction, and nothing will ever grow again where it was dumped. In contrast to radioactivity, it stay toxic forever.

5. Posting stuff like:

"You are living in a bubble of delusion. All I can do is remind others of your delusion."
"Keep posting (err digging a deeper hole) and I'll keep filling it with facts to counter your misstatements.",

Won't get you anywhere. You just look stupid. And do you really think that people who read this will think that you are the one with a clear view of the big picture here. You are just twisting words and add nothing new.

6. You are working against the only thing that can provide the energy needed in the near future, if we want to stay clear of coal.

7. My vision is that Thorium Reactors will provide most of our electricity in the near future, and then this argument will be even easier.

3. The sellafield thing should never have happened. BUT,

The correct answer was "Sorry, I forgot to mention the disaster of Sellafield - worse than Three Mile Island that I had said was really bad".

But you can't argue that nuclear, providing as mush energy as it has, has a very good record when it comes to accidents.

You dig the hole, I fill it with truth.

#1. Chernobyl
$200 Billion

On April 26, 1986, the world witnessed the costliest accident in history. The Chernobyl disaster has been called the biggest socio-economic catastrophe in peacetime history. 50% of the area of Ukraine is in some way contaminated. Over 200,000 people had to be evacuated and resettled while 1.7 million people were directly affected by the disaster. The death toll attributed to Chernobyl, including people who died from cancer years later, is estimated at 125,000. The total costs including cleanup, resettlement, and compensation to victims has been estimated to be roughly $200 Billion. The cost of a new steel shelter for the Chernobyl nuclear plant will cost $2 billion alone. The accident was officially attributed to power plant operators who violated plant procedures and were ignorant of the safety requirements needed.

6. You are working against the only thing that can provide the energy needed in the near future, if we want to stay clear of coal.

"the only thing" - Given oil is used as a portable, 'storeable' energy source - Fission and coal to electrical power does not offer the same feature set as Oil.

7. My vision is that Thorium Reactors will provide most of our electricity in the near future, and then this argument will be even easier.

"this argument"? Thorium reactors will somehow address human failings like sleeping guards, crooked contractors and Corporations cutting corners trying to maximize profits?

Oh, do tell.

Your information about Chernobyl is wrong when it comes to the death toll. That's fact. It was costly, but that is also due to an immense overreaction. And i just realized that I am arguing with a forum troll. You come with nothing new like always. And btw, the future is electric. Electricity is also energy. Of course it's not the same as oil. I already addressed the issue that oil should be used for the most important things. "human failings like sleeping guards, crooked contractors and Corporations cutting corners trying to maximize profits" will be a problem in everything. That's not an argument against Thorium. Or uranium for that matter. More on the contrary since nothing in this world will be more closely supervised, monitored and regulated.

You should learn how to discuss without suppression techniques and actually come with something new.

How do you feel we should address the problem with declining energy, peak oil, not enough food, climate change etc.? Do you have anything else to come with, besides suppression techniques and ignorance concerning nuclear power? Is your plan to oppose everything and predict doom and gloom? Please contribute.

Your information about Chernobyl is wrong when it comes to the death toll.

So you do not dispute its #1 status on that list?

It was costly, but that is also due to an immense overreaction.

Really? And you base this on?

How do you feel we should address the problem with declining energy, peak oil, not enough food, climate change etc.?

My record of posting is my record. If you've not bothered to read what has been posted in the past, well, why should I re-state them just for you?

Do you have anything else to come with, besides suppression techniques and ignorance concerning nuclear power?

'ignorance concerning nuclear power'? You must mean that you've been shown to lie and shown you to be wrong, have a different position than you and therefore is ignorant.

Is your plan to oppose everything and predict doom and gloom?

Considering your plan - doom is what will follow your plan.

I don't "oppose everything" - just what you are pimping as 'the one true plan'.

But perhaps you'll do what no one else has done - show the effect of a coronal mass ejection on a fission plant. My guess is that will mess things up REALLY bad.

Please contribute.

I have, I've shown the readers that your position is flawed in tragic biosphere ending ways because man and man's creations are flawed. Man has tried to show mastery of fission and man has failed. Time to move on. Moving onto the topic of this campfire "The Promise of Decentralization, Localization, and Scale-Free Self-Sufficiency" - which fission power does not match any of those features.

"I have, I've shown the readers that your position is flawed"

You are really funny. I give up on you, but remain faithful for the rest of us.

You are really funny.

Only a sociopath would be laughing at things like water table pollution from fission plant operation.

. No one shouts about, for example, the incident in Bhopal, where a chemical plant released methyl isocyanate gas and other toxins, and killed 6000 people.

So nice of you to refer to the people of India, the yes men, or even posters on TOD who post the image links for advertising the benefits of the Bhopal plant as nobodies.

Or the dumping of toxins from Photovoltaics production in China.

Got links to this claim?

If nuclear is ramped up, the number of incidents is ramped up. That's simple statistics. Humans aren't perfect and can't built perfect machines or nuclear plants. As the number of incidents increase, the chances of a severe incident increase. And the waste keeps building up.

We should concentrate on building simple generation capacity where even a bad accident doesn't threaten the lives (in more ways than just death) of people in a whole region or hemisphere. We should also concentrate on potentially sustainable sources, not unsustainable ones. Isn't that a definition of madness? To do the same things over and over, expecting different results?

That is true Sofistek. But the safety of nuclear reactors has also improved alot, and the risk of a new Chernobyl is a tiny fraction of what it was 25-30 years ago.

The waste issue has been exaggerated a great deal. One persons life time worth of electricity from nuclear is one coke can of waste approx. The waste can also be recycled despite what most people think. It's just that it's better economically to use new uranium.

Within 30 (pessimistic guess) years it will be possible to make Thorium reactors on a large scale, and we have enough Thorium to last for thousands of years, if it replaced all energy usage. Thorium reactors produce a fraction of the waste uranium reactors produce, it's safer (Can't have melt down. Impossible.), can be built underground, produce excess heat that can be used for desalination of sea water, can be shut on and off anytime etc.

There was a Thorium reactor running in the U.S. in the 70s i think. The military wanted uranium reactors for it's plutonium and the rest is history. Read about it on the internet. I have to sleep!

"We should concentrate on building simple generation capacity where even a bad accident doesn't threaten the lives (in more ways than just death) of people in a whole region or hemisphere. We should also concentrate on potentially sustainable sources, not unsustainable ones."

I agree wholeheartedly but what if there was no such options?

I have commented before on the economics of localization but the more I learn the more complicated it gets, and not in a good way (if complexity can ever be considered good). I have heard that JMG addresses this issue to some degree and for that I applaud him although I have also heard this highly detrimental issue get a wave of the hand dismissal by simply stating that "success just depends on careful timing" Pfffissst!

I have many friends who are market farmers. Hardest working folks I know and I do everything I can to support them. There is a dynamic that happens every year where later in the season more and more people talk about how their own squash, peppers, carrots, etc. are growing gangbusters, or ask them how they can make their own veggies grow better. They don't seem to realize they are talking to a person who is trying to sell them those very same items. Its like at craft fairs when people come up to vendors and say "how do you make those" or they look at it and say "I could make that".

Now the farmers still sell OK but they do see a drop off of biz at that point. When the economy really started to tank and there were constant murmurings of layoffs, sales at the farmers market fell off big time and people went out of their way to shop for bargains.

PO means ever decreasing purchasing power for the vast majority of the population, HELLO????

This dynamic is now and the future.

Those who think that farmers markets will eventually faze out supermarkets or that supermarkets will gradually decline and farmers markets will pick up the slack, are most likely wrong. And we should hope that this is so. Even if a local farmers market ramped up 10 times the production, which is massively challenging, they would still only be feeding around 10 or maybe 20% of the population. What's the other 80% going to do for food?

Supermarkets will change significantly for sure but they will always represent the most cost effective way to feed the population.

Instead of dreaming of some fantasy future where we all shop at the renaissance fair like market in the oak grove, you would perhaps best serve your community by producing local processed food for your local Safeway.

The "renaissance fair like market in the oak grove" scenario would only be possible after massive dieoff in the very near future and I would posit that if we start down that road (The Road) few will be crawling out of the other end of the bottleneck.

By the way I just talked about local food production but the dynamics of the economics of localization applies to everything.

Supermarkets will change significantly for sure but they will always represent the most cost effective way to feed the population.
- In terms of a p.o future, not sure how you've come to this conclusion?

I'm a graphic designer, I also owned a small ad business in the past. I've worked with business owners for a long time and to a man they have all asked one thing from me - more. More leads, more customers, more sales, more profit, more. As well, every employee I have ever met wanted more money in their pay envelope. I count myself in both of those camps.

So, right off the bat, I just don't see any large scale, voluntary movement towards less, at least within the 18 to 54 set. I'm just now about to leave that group and I was only a little early in making a big change at 48 in abandoning the race for property in the sticks we own outright. And our move was not really voluntary - the impending California RE Bust was very obvious to me and though I didn't know exactly when it was going to happen I knew it was going to put the hurt on me.

So as far as "how should we structure our economy" or anything else for that matter, I'm pretty sure "we" aren't going to "structure" anything any more than we "structured" what we have now. I'm somewhat left of center politically, have been convinced of the problem of PO for nearly a decade and still I'm not even much of a collectivist except in the area of keeping a rein on the rich and powerful (which isn't working out very well anyway).

As far as what the average guy can or will do when and if serious energy shortfalls occur, I think we should take a hint from things happening right now. Obviously, local grey market businesses, informal economies, home based income etc will sprout if the entire old system slows. But I think there will be many surprises along the way - think "strategic default".

Lots of people are walking away from underwater mortgages or not even walking away, just not making the payment. Even though they are able to pay, they've concluded the equation doesn't balance. Isn't that what economists think we all do - run a tape in our heads to find the perfectly rational decision? These people decided the mortgage game isn't in their favor but keep up their credit cards because of their utility. This is very different from what an earlier generation would have done I think.

In our case (with one foot in an earlier generation) our credit card upped the rate from 8% to 16% a year and a half ago for absolutely no reason except that they still could. Several months later I became ill and was late on a payment and my rate went to 29.9%. Long story short I got pissed and didn't make another payment – I settled for 15¢ on the dollar. I don't recommend such if you do have a mortgage and a regular paycheck but since I have neither...

I guess my points are two, first, the majority of people will not believe in, much less act on, a scary story, especially a story that changes everything they were taught about how the world works, until the boogieman is breathing down their neck - or more likely, has them BY the neck.

Second, be careful making your assessments and plans, once in a great while, things are different and the familiar rules no longer apply.

You are correct, which is why the only positive things that are happening are on a small scale in small, individual communities, or neighborhoods. Semi collective action is happening on a small scale and offers an opportunity for like minded people to push those small scale groups in a positive and mutually supportive direction. This is not the answer for the society or world as a whole but I don't see that we as individuals can really do much more than that. We can vote, lobby, etc. but that is largely pissing in the wind.

Further proof will probably be in the nasty pudding that is being created by the epochal oil spill disaster currently occurring in the gulf. You would think this would be a black swan event but I believe this will be largely ignored like the other black swan events we have had.

I don't believe in self sufficiency per se as I still believe in the power of specialization and group effort. I still believe that no man is an island or can be an island. Maybe there are a few isolate exceptions but a decent society cannot be built upon the island concept.

Having said that, however, there is much we can do at the household and small community level to provide some resilience through local energy production, energy efficiency, tool and skill sharing, and food production. Local food production makes sense regardless. It is simply better tasting, fresher, cleaner, and safer.

We will not solve the "big" problems like climate change and peak oil but will possibly muddle through addressing the "little" problems like short term survival and community dysfunction.

Deploy Emergency Bright Neighbor Systems to Communities Around the Country

Story by Nikhil Swaminathan

Could the threat of a peaking oil supply lead to a hyperlocal revolution? A group of Portlanders thinks so.
Normally, when you need compost for your garden, you drive to the nearest Home Depot and pick up a couple of bags. It seems straightforward enough, but for some back-to-basics Portlanders, that would be a foolish way to accomplish such an errand. Instead, they log onto an online social network called Bright Neighbor to locate someone in their neighborhood who might have some compost on offer. If everything works out, they will walk their wheelbarrow down the street and return with it piled high with fertilizer. At what cost? It could be free. Or it might cost a few tomatoes from their garden. Or a complimentary kayaking lesson.

Bright Neighbor began in early 2008 as a “virtual commune,” allowing Portland, Oregon, residents to connect with their neighbors to set up ride shares, learn about community events, and barter goods and services—anything from astrological readings to chicken feed to household items. Its mission was never quite so simple, however. According to Tod Sloan, a Bright Neighbor member and a faculty member in the Department of Counseling Psychology at Lewis & Clark College, the site is facilitating the teaching of “real skills that are still intact in much of the world that we’re having to relearn, such as gardening and sharing tools.”

But why would those of us in the developed world need the skills obviated by modern conveniences? In February, a group of British businessmen led by the Virgin Group CEO Sir Richard Branson sounded the alarm for peak oil—the point at which the world’s oil supply will begin dwindling, bringing about economic calamities like soaring energy and food prices. If we take seriously the forecasts that it will occur in 2015, then our reliance on those modern conveniences needs to be rethought.

“We needed an all-in-one system that educated people, that taught them living skills, that is a resurgence of what people used to know how to do—which is everything from growing food to trying to build the idealism of a Beaver Cleaver world,” says Randy White, Bright Neighbor’s founder. “Peak oil will either lead to a complete social breakdown or the mother of all local opportunities.”

The effects of peak oil remain to be seen, and the predicted economic shocks may never come. If they do, however, the Bright Neighbor community will be ready.

A little over a year since its launch, the site has 5,000 members, who discover it via word of mouth or from the several write-ups it has garnered in The Oregonian, Portland’s Pulitzer Prize–winning newspaper. Tamara Staton, a 35-year-old language tutor who lives in the Cathedral Park neighborhood, discovered Bright Neighbor in late January when her husband read an article about Worm Island, the group’s new community-supported-agriculture venture based on worm farming. Staton, a self-professed Craigslist junkie, says that Bright Neighbor offers “a deeper option for connection,” a computerized version of knocking on your neighbor’s door to borrow a cup of sugar.

“I think people at this point seem to still be testing the waters, putting in their profile but not engaging as much,” says Jonathan (who asked that his last name not be used), a 33-year-old who just returned to Portland after a year of traveling. “There doesn’t seem to be the critical mass of users who are ready to barter.” There are other shortcomings to the system: For instance, users can affiliate with multiple neighborhoods, making it difficult to tell who is actually your neighbor, and the site lacks a robust mapping feature, making it difficult for users to see where they are in relation to other members.

White admits that he hasn’t yet seen the surge in membership that he wanted. Regardless, he is busy extending the Bright Neighbor brand. He has begun setting up community-wide rallies, where skills such as tree pruning are taught. Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams, bought one of the first $250 shares in the Worm Island CSA. Meanwhile, with, White has produced a series of web videos that feature sustainable-minded local businesses and offer how-tos on creating home-based ecosystems.

If early interest is any indication, one of Bright Neighbor’s more promising ventures will be in the carbon-offsets business, using what White calls “an open accounting system.” A business looking to neutralize its footprint can buy fruit- or nut-bearing trees through Bright Neighbor, which plants them in the “food forest” (or yard) of a Portland resident. A picture of each tree will be displayed on the Bright Neighbor website with the logo of the business that sponsored it. Tom Dwyer Automotive Services, a local carbon-neutral shop, has bought 40 soon-to-be planted trees. The shop already offsets its carbon usage through an accredited foundation, but its outreach coordinator, Charles Letherwood notes that if White’s system becomes more official, “that would be probably the basis of our offset system.” White is also in talks with the Portland Trail Blazers to offset its carbon footprint from the operation of the Rose Garden Arena and its fans’ travel to and from games.

From its sports teams to its people, Portland’s progressive bona fides are the city’s primary calling card. A major city of 600,000 with a community-based, neighborhoody feel of Portland is the ideal venue for the Bright Neighbor social experiment, says Damin Tarlow, the director of asset management at the sustainable development company Gerding Edlen, another potential future participant in Bright Neighbor’s carbon-offsetting program. “In Portland, everyone is Kevin Bacon,” he says. “Our foundations lie in a very interpersonal, interactive environment.”

At a Bright Neighbor rally in late January, the roughly 150 people assembled ranged from people living entirely off the grid to small business leaders, Pakistani immigrants, and Oregon Institute of Technology grad students studying sustainability. According to Sam Drevo, an early Bright Neighbor adopter, the crowds at such events are steadily growing. Drevo has used the site for everything from finding a bookkeeper for his kayak-instruction business to buying compost and seeds for his garden to organizing carpools for river cleanups. “Bright Neighbor has been something that I’ve met a lot of knowledgeable people through,” he says. “If you were to take a cross section of the people using it right now, you’d probably be surprised by the expertise in different sorts of sustainability.”

Ultimately, that’s what White’s entire enterprise is about: crowd-sourcing information. He hopes to export the knowledge base he builds to other cities, employing people nationwide as worm farmers or administrators of other Bright Neighbor sites. And while he admits that he doesn’t know if there’s a demand for the platform outside Portland, he knows that serious threats to our way of life may be looming.

“Cheap energy has allowed us to increase our population exponentially, and not everybody will be able to evolve fast enough to keep up,” he says. “There’s a comic that I think about: You see these two dinosaurs sitting on the edge of the shore and in the distance you see a boat with two elephants and two giraffes. And one of the dinosaurs turns to the other and says, ‘Ah shit, was that today?’

“If you can’t evolve and realize that we’re going to have to help ourselves, then you might be sitting around waiting for someone to rescue you who never comes.”

I believe we are now and have been for some time in a "diagonal" shift or " fundamental change " as described by the Obama administration. we are going to be 'restructured into a modern fudal society and thus into an aggrate of warring mini-states. much effort has been expended twoard reducing America to 'equality' instead of supremacy in the world. Europe is on the brink and is accelerating towards economic doom due to the (I believe planned via UN collapse of Greece. I never believed the many small 'kingdoms' of EU would long be content with a shotgun marriage. Only one power will soon emegre through war and intimidation. Most likely via resourse control as Russia has been doing lately, ie South Ossetia and Georgia. We are likewise being 'economicaly repressed' by the false manipulation of energy and it's price. Many "botique" fuel requirements in select citys is a false premise. Botique fuels are controlled and 'sold' because of politics and the revalent patent on the specific 'brand'. Exampls city A. is 'sold' a botique fuel to a politician for campaigh cash, the politician then 'requires' said fuel to be used in thier 'domain' or city. thus goes the myriad varint and competing fuel patent holders and the respective politicians. Not one of whhich may be shown to improve any aspect of fuel usage one whit.
We here in the US. are being divided to be conquered by the warring primary parties. They both seek only power, not the best interests of we the people.
We need a new paridigm - one of Statesmen and a return to respecting honoring the Constitition and the true intent of it's founding, we may return to being a truly Great and successfull nation.

We are not going to get any new paradigm at the level of the State as the two parties have proven their utter dysfunctionality and inability to even address must less solve our planetary scale problems. It cannot be done at the individual state level anyway.

I don't see how so called honoring the constitution has much to do with our current problems as it is arguable that the constitution, as written, is not structured in a way that we can meaningful address our problems. Besides, what you think is honoring the constitution may be completely different from the way I read it.

Whether we are a great or successful nation seems a bit off the mark; more germane would be whether or not we are going to be viable at all. I think it would be a step forward if we would focus more on obviating the need to maintain an empire of hundreds of bases throughout the world, most of which are geared to maintaining the realm vis a vis our energy needs.

At the national level, we are being bled to death with our mostly worthless military expenditures which mainly just serve as a way to prop up the military industrial complex and the millions of people who are dependent upon that complext. This is about being truly great but is a product of a totally corrupted way of viewing so called national security which has grown and prospered ever since World War II.

Politics at the national level has become completely moronic. While a functional politics which actually addressed real needs would be welcome, it is truly a waste of time to focus one's energy at that level. Yes, we need a national energy policy which is consonsistent with the real world of peak oil, peak energy, peak resources, and global heating. It has been demonstrated over and over, however, that neither one of the parties is capable of accomplishing that. Corporatism rules and corporatism cares not one bit about the future of our country or the well being of it citizens and non human residents.

Yes, where did I read the word Corpratocracy? The last nail in that coffin was the Citizens United ruling which gave corporations free speech rights just like us old fashioned kind of persons.

"Citizens United" - perfect example of Newspeak, don't you think?

I will grant that ruling that corporations are, in effect, persons, was a perversion of the constitution.

I don't get the whole local is better thing. I think part of it is just smart marketing on the part of local businesses and the chamber of commerce who want you to buy their goods. local is ok but it shouldn't be the only reason to buy something and shouldn't be the way we organize a global economy.

I could buy local clothes only but they would cost more and someone who needs that job in another country is out of a job. most likely that person is more needy than the american who got the job.

I know a lot of people will find this controversial but I bet they aren't typing on a local computer!

oil is but one scare resource. there are many others factors that determine where something is made. in the end the cost of goods at the store and what people can afford will determine where things are made and by whom. who careS if something is sustainable if nobody wants to buy because it costs too much?

Obviously, there are limits to local and we can't just throw out all the advantages of specialization and comparative advantage. On the other hand, some of us just enjoy supporting our friends and neighbors and keeping more of our money in the local economy. While it would be easier, for example, just to pop into Safeway, and buy all our needs, some of us would rather make the trek to the local farm to get a mix of vegetables which might not be precisely what we want at that time.

I don't get the whole local is better thing.

Didn't you used to make economic arguments in the past?

Local 'trading' has to do with the velocity of money. Plenty of papers and books have been written on the topic if you are not familiar with the idea.

who careS if something is sustainable if nobody wants to buy because it costs too much?

Ever think that the expectation of what something "costs" is distorted?

Exactly how does something that is not renewable is priced less than something that is renewable? (Gasoline VS Cows milk in the US of A)

Thank you for another interesting article. You are making several assumptions that are worth challenging.
1) While it is true"infinite growth requires infinite energy" it does not follow that a slow growth rate( say 1% pa) requires any a growth in energy use, in fact improved efficiencies, a move from manufactured economy to a service economy, are trends that allow growth(GDP) without any growth in resource consumption.
2) Jevon's paradox will work against improved efficiency of energy use IF the cost of energy remains stable. We should expect much higher energy costs so improved efficiencies should reduce energy consumption( at least down to <10% of GDP)
3) Local food production and manufacturing makes sense IF transportation of manufactured goods uses significant energy. This doesn't have to be the case if most transport is by electric rail. We dont do this at present because oil is just so cheap, but we could use rail/ electric short haul vehicles exclusively. The big oil energy consumption is by commuters, going to work or shopping or recreation, NOT moving commercial goods.
4) Your assumption is that renewable and nuclear will not scale to replace the WORK performed by FF energy. The US presently get >10% of electricity from renewable(2.2% wind, 7% hydro), 19% from nuclear. It may be that the EROEI of wind is not 50, but it is definitely >1.0. Wind may not be able to scale to replace 100% of FF but it certainly can be increased X10 to X100 fold. A lot of the uncertainty in the EROEI boundaries are due not to LCA in manufacturing but to employee energy use( distorted by massive FF consumption). I would agree that we may never replace the energy content of FF use, but we never have to do this we only have to replace the WORK output or in other words, replace a 15mpg SUV with an electric bus or car using one tenth or one hundredth the MJ/person/mile. Decentralization could also reduce the person miles traveled but is this relevant with very high efficiency electric transportation?

1) That is only theoretically true and only for some finite period of time. Efficiencies have limits. Free markets (or what's left of them) don't care about efficiencies, per se, but about profits. So whilst it may be possible to come up with a theoretical way to get growth without increasing energy consumption, for a period, whether that theory could ever become reality is open to question. It may only be possible, for a limited period, in a benign dictatorship that mandates efficiency improvements, to increase sales without increasing resource use. Energy is a lose proxy for resources in general. It will become increasingly difficult to maintain growth without increasing energy consumption.

2) Fair enough but for this to work, efficiencies would have to closely match (inversely) energy price increases. If efficiencies were too great, the rebound effect (Jevons Paradox) would kick in. If efficiencies were too small, costs would go up or energy consumption would go up. Ultimately, of course, economic growth will require energy and resource consumption growth, since efficiencies have limits.

3) I think we'd have to measure energy use of non-localised food production carefully. We can't really afford the 10:1 (energy use versus instrinsic energy of the food) that is BAU, without cheap abundant energy. Would 2:1 be acceptable? Personally, I don't think so. We would be better off getting more energy out of food that the energy we expend producing and preparing it.

4) I think we need to avoid making assumptions about the side-effects of renewable energy, or not considering them at all, and about how much non-renewable resources are required to harness the renewable energy. Can wind be increased 100 fold? Technically perhaps but practically or in an ecologically sound way is not so certain.

"We can't really afford the 10:1 (energy use versus instrinsic energy of the food) that is BAU, without cheap abundant energy."
Why do you say this? Only 1.3% of US energy is used to produce food. Be more concerned about the energy used to process and cook as this is larger.Surely the US can produce enough renewable energy to grow, and transport food. Only a few items are going to be greatly impacted by more expensive energy.

"I think we need to avoid making assumptions about the side-effects of renewable energy, or not considering them at all, and about how much non-renewable resources are required to harness the renewable energy."

In the case of scaling wind by X10 to X100 fold we have a good idea of the types of side effects from existing wind farms. As for FF inputs, these are very low in comparison to FF savings by building additional turbines.

I say that because as we start down the energy slope, a greater and greater proportion of our energy will go into producing food. We need to get energy positive on food, rather than hugely energy negative. That then gives us a solid foundation, which we don't have, at the moment, because we believe that we'll always have abundant and affordable energy. That is wishful thinking and we need to get our basic survival requirement right in case wishes don't come true.

What is the good idea we have about the side-effects of scaling wind by a factor of 100? I've never seen any comprehensive studies about the impacts of any renewable energy project. FF inputs may be low in comparison to something else but they are still FF inputs. Other resources are also used.

Garage manufacturing? The US had large scale manufacturing in the 1920s. What was the per capita energy usage then? Unless we fall far below 1920s per capita energy usage I do not expect large centralized manufacturing to stop.

One has to assume a level of per capita energy usage that is too low to support large scale manufacturing before small scale manufacturing becomes viable.

Once small scale manufacturing makes more sense productivity in the manufacturing sector will plummet. As things stand now a small number of smart guys figure out how a far larger number of dumber guys will do simple tasks with machines. That's what makes high productivity and complex designs possible. Take that away and we'll regress to some point in the 19th century.

FuturePundit says,

"Unless we fall far below 1920s per capita energy usage I do not expect large centralized manufacturing to stop."

I don't think that is the goal is it? There are some items that mass manufacturing simply does better, no doubt.

But should there be some areas where variety of scale is still permitted?

E. F. Schumacher once said of his book "Small Is Beautiful" that he did not intend for it to endorse all organizations or manufacturing projects to be "small" but simply was working toward a mixed variety of scales, what is called "appropriate technology". Schumacher said if he had lived in a world of only small institutions, he would have written a book called "Big is Beautiful". Everything cannot be mouse scale, but everything cannot be gigantic elephant scale either, which is the direction the culture has been going in the last century Think of the size of the banks that helped trigger the most recent financial crisis as an example. There should be some larger banks yes, but should there be only a handful of absolutely gigantic mega-banks, so large in scale that if they go out of control they crash through the culture like a financial meteor hit? What is the advantage of that kind of scale? I will deal with this seperately, because to jeff's question "what successes with decentralization?", my answer comes in financial decentralization, which is the ONLY way real decentralization of the culture can occur in a humane way (and no I am not talking about printing your own currency out back of the house...:-)


If the goal is to reduce supply line lengths then I can see how some stuff could be produced in regional factories or even in individual cities. But I do not see a big role for garage-level manufacturing.

With small factories it is possible to use NC tools, molding machines, and the like to make things from electronically transmitted designs. But getting down to individual home level the productivity goes down too far since too little capital is available at such a small scale of production.

If we can keep the trains going with electric power then the main reason to do local manufacturing will be faster response time for needs that arise suddenly. That might work for low volume goods that are not too complicated to make.

I am an oilfield cementer. I understand some of this. The cement is mixed pumped down the casing which is run into hold drilled. A collar with a baffle is put on top of first joint of casing put in well and a connection called a guide shoe is run on bottam of first joint put in well. once cement is pumped which varies in amount since you do not have to cover all the casing in the hole with cement only were pay is and were zones in hole that could be a pay zone later or is very corrisive to casing are covered. The cement has diffrent additives to stop lost circulation or zones that take fluid while drilling and addatives for retarding the cement. Being pumped at this depth the cement was prob not a very hot cement and was being pumped at a high rate called barrels per min. You can not always get what is called a good bond on the casing with cement due to down hole conditions. however you hook up to the casing with a plug container which has a rubber plug in it the same size as the casing. it has two valves on this container one one bottam one on top, top is closed bottam is open between the two you have a screw in pin that holds the plug above the bottam valve and under the top valve. you pump your cement through the bottam valved. then you take approx 3-5 mins and wash out your pumps and lines to well. at this time the cement is falling down the casing due to the fact it is heavier than the drilling mud in well bore usally weighs aroung twelve and fifteen lbs per gallon. once the pump is cleaned you close bottam valve unscrew pin to relase plug and open top valve then us start pumping what is called displacement usally on these wells in the ocean u pump mud behind your plug due to the fact u dont have fresh water which on land rigs is used to pump down the plug. once you are pumping your displacment it takes a while to catch up to your cement with your plug and colum of mud. once you have caught this cement you push it out the bottam of the casing up the back side of your casing. sometimes this cement bridges off due to tight holes or sluff offs from the well bore against the casing and can cause great pressure jumps at this point you have to know weather to shut down or continue trying to get the plug to bottam. usally you have a predetrmined top pressure. allways want to get plug to bottam if possible but a pressure incerse can happin in a matter of seconds you have to be on your toes at all times you can blow a hole in the casing if you bridge off and catch pressure pumping to fast. they prob ran either 5.5 inch or 4.5 inch casing in this well which would take aprox 426 barrels of displacment to get the plug to bottam. once the plug hits the collar which is on top of bottam joint in well you shut down. if you continue pumping you will then pressure up since your plug has hit its baffle plate at this point you can also rupture the casing by applying to much press. if a guys or girls calculations are off it can cause the displacement of your plug to be off and you can run into the baffle plate in your casing two fast and rapidly catch pressure. causing rupture in the casing up hole or even part the casin. usally the well is drilled several hundered feet deeper than the amount of casing in it. once you have your plug to bottam there is what is called a shoe jonint of casing usally the last joint on bottam is left full of cement this seals your casing and there is a valve in the casing were your plug bumps that shuts u open a valve to check for flowback if its there you shut in your plug container valves to give cement time to set usally cement is set im approx 6-8 hrs enough to stop flow and after 24 can be drilled out of bottam joint to allow you to produce the well. how ever cement on this deep of a well was prob a slow setting type with lots of retarders to keep it from flash setting while being pumped down hole. prob also had stage collars through out casing in itervels that could be cemented in small amounts rather than pumping lots of cement at once that could be dehydratd bye the well ont he backside and flash on you so that you cant get your plug to bottam. this well could have bad cement job and still would be hard to cause blow out because at the bop the well is sealed off while drilling usally a large 20inch hole is drilled to 1000-3000 feet and cemented in place then the bop is attached to it then smaller size holes are drilled inside of this large starter hole funneling everything up through the bop with valves and flow lines to pits that will vent off oil and gas kicks off the side of rig at a safe distance to not allow the fumes to get n running engine intakes. or casing could have had a split or a hole developed while running it in hole causeing it to fail. once a well is cemented the take the bop off and put a perment well head on it maybe the bop was removed before valves were checked to see if pressure was there. cementer could have blew hole in casing then bop failed. bop could have had wrong rams or blinds in it for a diffrent size pipe and all bops can be changed for the sizes or pipe or tubing being used for example if your using 2 and 3 eights tubing in a well you have that size rams and blinds or it will not close on your pipe correctly. lots to ask lots to know. all we want i an answer lots have a play in these wells. cement, bop rig hands mud weight, down hole pressure, down hole temp is great at this depth also. no matter how bad the cement job bop should have closed secureing well. i seen these things on wells not work when tested. prob on this well at that depth with that much saftey concerns bop was prob tested daily if not at every shift change. once well is cemented and completion process is started were it can produce. well is logged with a bond tool to check cement. then perfarted were pay zone is by a wireline shoot which shoots holes in casing then a string of tubing is ran in well to with a down hole packer to produce through.

Let us now look at an example of "mouse milk" engineering as I described in my earlier post up this string.

There are high tech items that simply will not scale as a mass produced item...but which are at the very front of radical "elegant design.

Let us assume that fossil fuel is very limited, or even more likely, is made more and more expensive by regulation such as carbon limits or carbon tax. How can a person move about with any real efficiency but without carbon based liquid fuel? Perhaps we should go beyond our normal thinking and break out of the box a bit...

This is the remarkable world of the electric motor glider. Gliders must be very efficient devices due to their purpose, and advances in lithium ion batteries and advanced motors now make it possible to build motor gliders with electric assist on launch. They can then glide for hours on currents in the air, and can cover great distances. With the electric assist, they require no fossil fuels and are perhaps the most efficient device per mile traveled of any vehicle ever created by humans (even a person walking or bicycling cannot take advantage of air currents to decrease his calorie intake!)

It is important to remind ourselves that even considering such an aircraft only a couple of decades ago would have been almsot like science fiction.

This plane obviously does not need a highway or well developed highway is point to point transport with no infrastructure between points needed.

This is the type of design and engineering that can take us into a future of some of the most beautiful design humans have accomplished. It is done by small shops and labs. This is engineering that cannot easily be "mass-produced" in any normal way, it is "information" based design. As the batteries get even stronger per kilogram and flexible solar cells can be incorporated into the wing without affecting the aerodynamics of the plane, it is not beyond the realm of the design limits to visualize a 500 kilometer travel distance with ZERO use of fossil fuels and at comparably high speed. In the meantime, it is just beautiful to look at, all the more so if you are prone to great respect for elegant engineering.


That could become a lovely piece of kit to series produce and ship out via rail and sea freight.

The biggest current problem is a debt based currency. Three hundred years ago, it was a pretty smart idea, since there were few economic measures to determine how much money was necessary and debt grows at roughly the same rate as productivity. It does create a problem in that productivity must constantly increase to service this debt, which goes a long way to explaining the inherent voraciousness of capitalism. The situation now is that the financial system has been allowed and frankly encouraged to turn the entire economy into a debt production machine to create the illusion of wealth far exceeding the productive capacity of the economy and often subverting actual production in the process. This will eventually destroy the system and that leaves open the opportunity to consider new economic models.

Since money is drawing rights to productivity, the question is how to formulate a viable and healthy production based currency system.

Money serves as a store of value and a medium of exchange. As a store of value, it is private property, but as a medium of exchange, it is a public utility. As property, there is the desire to accumulate as much as possible, but as a medium of exchange, more money than productivity eventually destroys the value of the money. Money should only be treated as a public utility. In that way, it would be similar to a road system. You own your car, house, business, etc. but not the roads connecting them and no one seriously cries socialism over that. The fact is that money already is a government owned public utility. Just try printing some, if you think otherwise.

The reason banks and government like us to think of money as property is because it encourages us to use it in all economic transactions, which makes them potentially taxable. Treating money as form of public commons would make people very careful what value they would take from social relations and environmental resources to convert into currency in the first place. This would be healthy for society, the environment and the monetary system. Of course, it would create a slower, but more sustainable economy. We all like having roads, but there is little inclination to pave more than we need. If we applied the same principle to money, life would be in better shape. Instead of valuing ourselves by how big our bank accounts are, our sense of worth would be on how strong our community is and how healthy our environment is. A much smaller money supply would go a long way to limiting the size of the government and the banking system.

By the Federal Reserve's own logic of reducing the money supply by selling bonds and retiring the money collected, a surplus of money is in the hands of those with a surplus of wealth. The people at the top can't just keep much of the wealth and loan it out to everyone else forever.

The function of the central bank is to make maintaining the value of the currency a public responsibility, while leaving private banks to profit from managing it Political power started as private enterprise and eventually became monarchy. When monarchs lost sight of the fact that their purpose was to guide their people, as opposed to simply exploiting them, they tended to be overthrown and eventually the whole system of hierarchal power was replaced by political power as a public trust. Democracy works by pushing power down to the level it is responsive. If we were to make banking a public function, it would also be bottom up. Local credit unions would use local deposits to loan to local enterprises and use the profits to fund local needs. They would then form regional banks for broader investments.

With a debt based currency, there is an overwhelming need to create debt. A good example is government spending. The current system is designed to overspend by buying votes for enormous bills that can only be passed or vetoed. This serves to create debt in order to store capital, as government debt is the primary investment vehicle. In the spirit of actual budgeting, a possible solution would be to break the spending bills down to their constituent items and have every legislator assign a percentage value to each item and then re-assemble them in order of preference. The president would draw the line at what would be funded. This would divide responsibility, allowing the legislature to prioritize, while giving the president final authority over total spending. Since making the cut would be graded on a curve, there would be much less incentive to trade favors and the percentage system would allow legislators to fine tune their granting of favors to other legislators and lobbyists. Since this would likely reduce funding for local projects, a system of local public banks would fill this need.

Another issue would be the variability of needs by different communities from their currencies, so possibly a system of various currencies could be developed, of different exchanges rates, inflationary expectations, etc. Then countries/banking collectives could join what most suits their needs and if necessary, switch from one to another, or start new ones. Obviously somewhat chaotic, but it would be an evolving system and would engender a deeper understanding of economics among the larger population, thus making them less vulnerable to financial predation.

Then there is the question of how to introduce it into the economy. Currently it is by loaning it out at low enough interest rates to allow sufficient productive returns to pay interest back. This has proven to lead to speculative booms, when interest rates are lower than assets are appreciating, creating feedback loops that increase appreciation and thus more speculation.

The reason debt worked so much better than precious metals, or kings/politicians issuing it, was because it did provide a rough approximation for economic growth, but that is not a problem anymore, as we have a lot of information on the economy. One method that has been put forward is for governments to issue it to pay for public works, but this tends to encourage more public works simply to get the economy moving, rather than necessary expenditures, as various applications of Keynesian theories show. Another might be to issue it as tax subsidies when prices decline and increase taxes when they are rising. This would inject it directly into the broad economy, yet still allow some sense of overall direction of promoting productive sustainability and providing basic needs. As well as simply taxing those with excess savings, as opposed to having to borrow it back in order to reduce money supply. Obviously most people's incomes would still depend on earnings in the economy. There would hopefully remain the bias towards a limited money supply, since the tendency to save currency above useful limits would be discouraged and value would flow to tangible assets and stronger social connections.

Интересно !!! А у вас на сайте есть рассылка новостей чтобы подписатья можно было ? по мылу ? ;) ...

I lost you after "Interesting!!!" (or maybe before?) 8-o