Possible Responses to Peak Oil: Some Lessons from the Past

This is a guest post by Dr. Joerg Friedrichs, University Lecturer in Politics, University of Oxford.

In a recent article (found here (pre-publication PDF) and at Science Direct), I have investigated how different societies have responded to sharp and rapid cutbacks in their energy supplies. These responses may give us some insight into what might happen as our energy supplies shrink in the future.

In the examples I looked at, I found the following results:

North Korea, 1990s: Response was totalitarian retrenchment

Cuba, 1990s: Response was mobilization of local resilience

Japan, 1940s: Response was predatory militarism

My case studies lead me to formulate the following three hypotheses, which I state upfront here to facilitate discussion. However, please note that they are actually developed from the cases.

Hypothesis 1: The shorter and the less a country or society has practiced humanism, pluralism and liberal democracy, the more likely its elites will be willing and able to impose a policy of totalitarian retrenchment on their population (as in the case of North Korea).

Hypothesis 2: The shorter and the less a country or society has been exposed to individualism, industrialism and mass consumerism, the more likely there will be a adaptive regression to community-based values and a subsistence lifestyle (as in the case of Cuba).

Hypothesis 3: The greater a country’s military potential and the stronger the perception that force will be more effective than the free market to protect access to vital resources, the more likely there will be a strategy of predatory militarism (as in the case of Japan).

In addition to my three cases, I also looked at the South of the United States after the Civil War, where the abolition of slavery led to sharp economic decline and a full century was needed for recovery. This case seems to suggest a fourth hypothesis in addition to the three hypotheses stated above.

Hypothesis 4: In the event of peak oil, we should not expect either immediate collapse or a smooth transition. People do not give up their lifestyle easily. We should expect painful adaptation processes that may last for a century or more (as in the case of the US South).

Based on this, I show how different parts of the world would be likely to react to a peak oil scenario. After discussing what happened in each of my four case studies, in the final section I extract lessons for the first two decades after peak oil (assuming an annual decline of oil supply in the order of 2-5 %).

A full version of my article, complete with detailed references to the relevant literature, is published by the journal Energy Policy under the title “Global energy crunch: how different parts of the world would react to a peak oil scenario”. The pre-print version is freely accessible.

1. North Korea, 1990s: totalitarian retrenchment

My first case study is North Korea, where something comparable to peak oil happened in fast motion in the 1990s. After the demise of the Soviet Union, there was a massive loss of subsidized oil deliveries. The availability of oil went down by more than 50% within a couple of years after the end of the Cold War. North Korea reacted by a totalitarian retrenchment to maintain elite privileges, irrespective of the cost to the people. The military and state apparatus were kept intact, while industry and agriculture were crumbling in the absence of fuel and fertilizers. This culminated in a terrible famine between 1995 and 1998 that led to the starvation of 600,000 to 1 Million people, or 3 to 5% of the North Korean population. The international community was eventually forced to step in with food aid, thereby unintentionally stabilizing the regime. From the cynical viewpoint of the North Korean regime it all worked out handsomely. While life for North Koreans is more solitary, brutish and nasty than ever, Kim Jong-il and his cronies have managed to stay in power thanks to brutal repression and nuclear blackmail.

2. Cuba, 1990s: mobilization of local resilience

In the 1990s, Cuba faced a similar shock to North Korea. Subsidized oil deliveries from the Soviet Bloc were stopped, but the country could not afford buying an equivalent amount of oil on the world market. As a consequence, access to oil also fell by more than 50%.  Cuba is seen by many observers as a Stalinist regime similar to North Korea. However there is an important difference. While Pyongyang relies on the atomization of society for political control, Havana on the contrary relies on grassroots organizations at the neighbourhood level. Ever since 1959, the Cuban regime has heavily invested in social cohesion. This was done for the sake of social control rather than empowerment, and ordinary Cubans were not consulted. Nevertheless, the accumulated social capital could be mobilized to weather the “special period” after the loss of Soviet subsidies. People helped each other at the neighbourhood level, and the wastelands of Havana and other cities were utilized for urban gardening. Unlike North Korea, Cuba did therefore not experience mass starvation despite considerable hardship in the so-called “special period”.

3. Japan, 1940: predatory militarism

My third case is imperial Japan on the brink of the Pacific War (1941-1945). Since the world economic crisis of 1929, Tokyo was committed to a strategy of military expansion into China. The objective was to construct a geo-economic bloc in which Japan could sustain itself as a great power. However, oil was Nippon’s Achilles heel. Japan was almost completely dependent on oil deliveries from California. The only alternative to importing oil from the United States was looting it from the Dutch East Indies and British Borneo. In anticipation of a US oil embargo, Tokyo radicalized its strategy of military predation and decided to attack the East Indies where there were abundant oil resources. To secure its flank and pre-empt a strike by the US Pacific Fleet, Japan famously attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

For the sake of maximum clarity, let me summarize the cases discussed so far in a table:

Country Timing Challenge Reaction
North Korea 1990s Loss of access to subsidized oil Totalitarian retrenchment
Cuba 1990s Loss of access to subsidized oil Mobilization of local resilience
Japan 1929-1945 Dependency on imported oil Predatory militarism

The case studies seem to suggest that countries prone to military solutions may follow a Japanese-style strategy of predatory militarism. Countries with a strong authoritarian tradition may follow a North Korean path of totalitarian retrenchment. Countries with a strong community ethos may embark on a Cuban-style mobilization of local resilience, relying on their people to mitigate the effects of peak oil.

4. The South of the United States after the Civil War

After the Civil War (1861-5), the challenge for the former Confederate States of America was to abandon the slave economy and embark on radical socioeconomic change. This happened under the most favourable conditions. Southerners only had to look north to see industrial capitalism unfolding. They were operating in the same national economy, and the transfer of technology was no serious obstacle. Given the right incentives, it would not have been difficult to attract financial capital from the North. So Dixieland is the “most likely case” where we would expect to see smooth and successful adaptation. But alas, the historical record shows slow and painful adaptation: economically well into the 1950s/60s, politically at least until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and socially in part until the present day.

Dixieland is a cautionary tale for those who predict a smooth transition to a post-oil or even post-fossil world. If it took the South of the United States a full century to fully adopt an industrial upgrade, how much harder will it be for highly industrial countries to accept a de-industrial downgrade? In fact, an easy upgrade from oil to some superior resource does not appear to be in sight. Time is a serious issue. Oil exploration and exploitation takes considerable time. The invention and implementation of new technologies takes even more time. What takes most time of all, is socioeconomic adaptation and the formation of “new consciousness”. This can be gleaned from the painful adaptation in Dixieland.

5. Peak oil futures

My first case studies suggest different likely reactions to a global peak in oil production. There are other possible reactions, such as the mobilization of national sentiment by populist regimes. However, only for the scenarios depicted in my case studies could I easily identify historical precedents. It is possible to harness the knowledge gained from the case studies to develop plausible future scenarios.

The most obvious candidate for a Japanese-style strategy of military predation is the United States. There may be a point when the US will prefer the military stick to diplomatic skirmishes with people like Iran’s Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Chavez. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein has already experienced this. Other likely candidates for a military strategy are, although to a lesser extent, China and India. They do not have the ability to project power globally, but they may be tempted to scramble for oil in Central Asia.

North-Korean style totalitarian retrenchment is extremely repulsive to imagine, but we should not forget that even democracies may degenerate into autocracies. Remember Germany, 1933-45? Political elites are sometimes willing to “screw” their populations in order to preserve their own privileges. The ruling elites of certain petro-states, for example in Latin America and Africa, could be among them. There are many countries with an authoritarian or totalitarian past that might be recovered.

Cuban-style mobilization of local resilience is more appealing than totalitarian retrenchment. It may happen in places where industrialization has not yet eclipsed the traditional community ethos. Poor developing countries are more likely candidates for this than rich Western societies where individualism and mass consumerism have deep roots. Highly overpopulated areas may not be able to feed themselves in the absence of fertilizers and food aid, but other poor communities may become self-reliant.

Europe and Japan would be in a quandary because a strategy of rearmament and military predation would not be acceptable to citizens in the decisive phase of geopolitical positioning. Totalitarian retrenchment is hard to imagine because humanism, pluralism and liberalism are deeply rooted in these countries. And a smooth regression to a community-based lifestyle is also hard to imagine because societies in Europe and Japan have long been exposed to individualism, industrialism and mass consumerism. Europe and Japan have accumulated enormous wealth, but it is unclear how much this would help in adapting to peak oil (remember that we are assuming 2-5% decline of oil production every year).

Of course there would also be winners. Thus, oil producing countries in the Middle East are likely to prosper after peak oil. In some cases, ordinary people in these countries may benefit. We may imagine a certain inter-Arab solidarity, with migration flows redirected from an impoverishing Europe to an industrializing Muslim world. Russian elites could also afford distributing the gains from soaring oil prices more equitably. In other petro-states, from Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa, elites would be less likely to distribute a significant part of the national energy wealth to their populations.

Despite the difficulties, coal would become a more important energy source regardless of possible harmful consequences for the climate. This would particularly apply to Asia and Australasia, but also to the United States. By the same token available oil reserves (including “unconventional oil” from oil sands and oil shale) would be exploited regardless of the environmental consequences. There would be further investment in nuclear reactors, as well as relatively expensive forms of renewable energy. However, such investment would be seriously limited by the constraints imposed by economic turmoil.

6. Further readings

Detailed references to the relevant literature are found in the full academic version of this research; pre-print version. So I list just a few titles about my case studies here.

An excellent article on the crisis in North Korea is James H. Williams, David Von Hippel and Nautilus Team (2002) Fuel and famine: rural energy crisis in the DPRK, Asian Perspective 26 (1): 111-140. A free electronic version is available here.

On local resilience in Cuba I recommend Henry Louis Taylor (2009) Inside el Barrio: A Bottom-Up View of Neighbourhood Life in Castro’s Cuba, Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press. There is an extensive literature on urban gardening, but you can simply watch The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

For the Japanese case, see Michael A. Barnhart (1987) Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search for Economic Security, 1919-1941, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. Or download Jeffrey Record (2009) Japan’s Decision for War in 1941: Some Enduring Lessons, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute.

On the impact of the abolition of slavery on the South of the United States, see Gavin Wright (2006) Slavery and American Economic Development, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press; and Michael W. Fitzgerald (2007) Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South, Chicago: Dee.

It would be really interesting to have another column in that nice table above. I'll call it rationale. And it would tell us how each social case "rationalized" (explained) the chosen response.

For example, what were the Japanese people told when their military attacked Hawaii and invaded Malaysia for oil?

I think we need to understand the "story" that each society received.

We are going to get a story soon. Might as well know the particulars now.


That's an interesting thought, here are just a few comments.

The predatory military response requires the mobilization of hostility. To the Japanese, the Americans were just racists and hypocrites when at least to a large extent they were trying to contain Japanese expansion. Every possibility to demonize Saddam Hussein was exploited in the run-up to the 2003 war, while more reconciliatory views tended to disappear into the background. After peak oil, we should expect to see more of that.

The Cuban-style response is also called "mobilization of local solidarity", and despite the hardship people tend to perceive this as a community moment. As one inhabitant of a vulnerable neighbourhood put it, the crisis brought people closer together because it forced them to rely on one another. As another Habanero put it, “When the Special Period started, horticultural clubs were organized by farmers themselves. (…) Special emphasis was made to involve the whole family in these activities. (…) We wanted also to develop more collaboration and mutual help among ourselves; we exchanged seeds, varieties, and experiences. We achieved a sense and spirit of mutual help, solidarity, and we learned about agricultural production” (both quoted in my original article).

As for totalitarian retrenchment, it is really hard to tell. There are by definition no reliable opinion surveys for North Korea, and ethnographic research (which can be done places like Cuba) is hardly possible. Some scholars rely on refugees for information, but they are a notoriously unreliable source. In any case, the perceptions of common people under totalitarian retrenchment tend not to count for much. Elite perceptions count. And elites are either complicit, or they leave the country and become whistleblowers and therefore of limited reliability as a source. In short, there is the methodological problem that it is difficult to know how people feel in totalitarian system. The closest you can get is probably studies on Stalinist Russia or Pol Pot's Cambodia which are typically done after the fact.

As for the US South, we know a lot. There has been proud defiance against the new social order, and a widespread obstinacy to cling to obsolete ideals. Mark Twain, a highly perceptive observer of Life in the post-Civil-War South, wrote in 1883 that cultural life on the Mississippi was characterized by “practical, common-sense, progressive ideas, and progressive works, mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried” (quoted in my original article).

Dr Friedrichs, thank you for a thought-provoking work!

Having grown up in Mississippi during the 1950s, I will testify that people's attitude can be a key determinant. Growing up, I thought 'Damn Yankee' was one word, and we had Democrat politicians who were further right than anyone else in congress (voters had sworn they would NEVER vote for a Republican, the party of reconstruction). One of the reasons I question if the USA will survive peak oil intact is that many folk in Mississippi still have the 'rebel' attitude and are verbally hostile to the federal government.

That said, I will probably end up back there. Family members belong to the local National Guard, and the state can still feed itself. Life is ironic.

Errol in Miami

Or as Texans have been known to joke (joke?) about their oil - "Let the B******** freeze in the dark."

Given that elites - which means the federal government - are responsible for 2 out of 3 scenarios, don't you think that is by far the wisest course of action ? To kick out the federal government ?

Of course, it would require one to voluntary give up your lifestyle, even if you get to keep many goodies (such as, say, a good house) that will no doubt provide at least somewhat of a cushion.

But of course we all know the score : there is no way in hell that theoildrum "worldsavers" like any other leftists will let go of any and all power, money and luxury that they currently have. The people here would sooner kill their own mother, or child. After all, all such "moralities" can be rationalized away for "the greater good" (which always happens to be more goodies now).

I find the idiocy that the parent poster calls what happened in cuba a "success" is thoroughly unmatched by the rest of the stupidity here though. What happened in Cuba is a disaster, and cost many lives. It also oppressed an entire country for the benefit of a few elites. But of course, that's a success because every leftist wants to do the same, and imagines they'll be part of the protected elite. Historically that's beyond stupid, but hey, you get to steal goodies now, and only get fucked later. And, while leftists are so fond of accusing companies of short term thinking, they might want to examine their own policies. Just look at Greece : either the leftists get what they want, and Greece decends into civil war, or they are repressed by the leftist government. Needless to say, the government is going to use ever heavier force against the idiots, and throw them before the bus, after shooting them and driving over them a few times to make really sure.

This is, incidentally, the fate that awaits 99.999% of successfull leftists (or more). Of course, being a leftist failure is rather fun.

A straw man.


Your frothing rant is so far off any rational mark it nearly qualifies as seriously inappropriate. 1) US elites are NOT in the federal government, they are the rightwing leadership in Wall St. banks and multinational corporate boardrooms. The federal politicians are simply their hirelings. How many US politicians are among the extremely wealthy (or what IS your definition of "elites")? Not many. 2) No-one with any degree of sanity would categorize any significant proportion of US federal politicians as Leftist. That's just plain nonsense except perhaps for Klan leaders. 3) etc. 4) etc.


Your comments usually make sense although sometimes I see things differently.

But when you are talking about leftist politicans in the US and then say
"except perhaps for Klan leaders" I am at a complete loss as to your meaning.

At any rate,"The " Klan , meaning the KKK, is essentially only a very faint shadow of it's former self and can scarcely manage to stir up enough trouble these days to warrant an occasional line in a newspaper.

About the only time I see the Klan mentioned is either in history books or when a socialist or liberal leaning politician uses it as a whipping boy, which is fair of course, but falling rather behind the times.Blacks hold a good many elective offices in the heart of Dixie these days, including more than a few sheriff's offices.

Any conservative politician who is dumb enough to simply utter the word Klan is in for a sxxt storm of criticism,and few if any holding office are dumb enough to say it these days.

Ok, agreed OFM, that's way out of date. It just exercises me to see people (normally those on the further right) complaining about government "causing" every problem from a Wall Street economic meltdown to an oil slick on the GOM when in fact the government is our only hope of omposing sufficient discipline and regulation on corporations to hope to avoid these problems. Anyone with an ounce of reading ability knows that the Wall Street fiasco was primarily caused by bankers influencing governments to stop doing the jobs we need of them (regulation of financial institutions) and it wasn't any government which cause the GOM oil well blowout. I'd simply like to see some logic applied. The "government" is you and I, because we are responsible for who goes there and what they do. If they are being corrupted by big money then it is because we choose to allow it by not demanding proper controls on campaign financing, tax support ONLY for political campaigns, etc. etc.


Mostly I agree with you today but I still don't get the Klan part, unless you mean to say something different than I think you actually said.

Perhaps you meant to say that only a Klans man is far enough to the right, subjectively, to consider any current federal politician a leftist.

If so , operating on the most common American definition of right, middle, and left you are mistaken.There are many millions of people in this country who believe in civil rights who also believe that politicians such as Hillary Clinton are leftists or socialists;the two words are mostly interchangeable in this context.

Now of course using the most common European definitions of these same words, it is generally accepted that the American "left" politician would be center or even right of center.

OFM, Ithink what meant is that only the Klan (as representaing the fascist right wing nuts) still beleive that every Federal politician is Leftist. makes sense when you separate his numbered paragraphs.

2) No-one with any degree of sanity would categorize any significant proportion of US federal politicians as Leftist. That's just plain nonsense except perhaps for Klan leaders.

Dude. If there are really "many millions" of people in America who think Hillary Clinton is a socialist, then you've just described many millions of complete idiots. The only people who would be that confused are people who get their ideas from the likes of Glen Beck or the Teabagger movement. In other words, idiots.


You are of course free to call them idiots if you like;personally I think of Hillary only as a half baked socialist, as when the discussion turns to medicine;on that subject thre can be no question that she is a socialist even by European standards.

(Incidentally, even though I describe myself as a conservative,I believe in a Euro style health care system for this country, as such systems have proven themselves in the real world-where a true conservative lives intellectually.

Our current system has been virtually hog tied and is daily gang raped by big biz in collaboration with big govt;whether the recent bill will make things any better is doubtful in the extreme imo, but it may be useful as a 'stepping stone".)

There is no doubt in my own mind that in the in the main Hillary is not a true blue socialist.

But both the left and the right in this country run on sound bites.There are at least as many idiots, if you choose to use that term, on the left who possess only a single issue sound bite picture of many right wing political positions and persons.

when the discussion turns to medicine;on that subject thre can be no question that she is a socialist even by European standards.

(Incidentally, even though I describe myself as a conservative,I believe in a Euro style health care system for this country, as such systems have proven themselves in the real world-where a true conservative lives intellectually.

This doesn't seem consistent. Hilary likes a Euro style health care system for this country, and so do you. So, if you're a true conservative on this issue, then isn't she?

The Klan is alive and well and more widespread than ever.

It has moderated its public statements somewhat and now calls itself the Tea Party. But the motivating forces remain the same.

Yes, I think the Klan is not something to be dismissed lightly.

But I'm in a linguistic mood, so I'd just like to point out that this originally Irish word basically meant 'children.'

Irish K corresponds to Welsh P (or B--Irish mac "son" as in all the names corresponds to Welsh map/mab as in "The Mabiongion" = "story about the sons", and Irish ken- "head" as in Kennedy originally "hideous head" and Welsh pen...) soooo, the related word to klan in Welsh is plan(t) "children" a word that is plural by nature (maybe a commentary on how many kids they had?) and which then has a singulative ending, rather than a plural, for those rare occasions when you want to talk about just one kid---planten.

OK, enough arcania--back to serious political discussion about the perils the beset us all round.

Lobes, I don't know any other way to puit this-you are just geeting in a nasty swipe at people you disagree with, or else you simply have no idea what the KKK was and who the vast majority of the tea partiers are.

Of course all the nutcases will attach themselves to anmy and every mass movementthat looks even remotely like it might be useful to them as a political home, and the bulk of the media in this country is very good at digging up dirt on conservative movements.

The liberal bias is strong enough that any one who is in the media and disagrees is dismissed as a puppet rather than a journalist, and the liberal defenders of the press somehow fail to notice.

Somebody please point out a speech to me in which a liberal professor of journalism condemns his peers for calling Fox faux for instance.

Incidentally I don't own a tv,and I don't listen to talk radio.I get most of my news from NPR,the BBC, the NYT, and a half a dozen newspapers over the net.

I hope you do know the difference between liberal and socialist, eh? We in Canada have the huge advantage of having specific, viable political factions to represent each of them separately, as well as the conservatives. In Canada the liberals and the conservatives trade power for approximately equal time periods, while the socialists remain consistently below 10% of votes and seats in parliament, though they do occasionally capture a provincial government which gives them adequate opportunity to demonstrate why we should mistrust their policies.

As far as economic theory goes, the liberals and the conservatives are indistinguishable EXCEPT for the fact that conservatives like to cut taxes and run deficit budgets, whereas liberals like to pay down the deficit by putting tax rates at adequate levels to maintain balanced budgets with a small cushion surplus which goes to paying down historical conservative's debts. The situation is very cloes to the origins of the terms Liberal and conservative (Tory), where the Liberals represent wealthy businesspeople whose money comes from employing others, and the Conservatives represent inherited wealth whose money comes from gains on investments. Liberals typically shrewd businessmen who understand economics in reality, Conservatives long-wealthy upper class scions of inherited wealth who are more likely to have some wierd ideas about macro-economics, if they've ever even heard the term.


I would caution that elites are instrumental in all of my cases, including Cuban-style mobilization of local solidarity. There is a difference between Cuban-style and Somalian-style mobilization of local solidarity. Only the latter seems to work without central government.

Not so sure if peak oilers are leftist goodies. To my mind the crowd on this forum is enormously pluralistic, with some people verging to the left, some people verging to the right, and many people beyond categorization.

I'm personally not a fan of the Cuban regime but would have preferred to live in Cuba in the 1990s to living in North Korea during the same decade (hundreds of thousands of people starving) or in Japan in the early 1940s (total mobilization). I might have preferred living in Somalia to living in North Korea if I was a Muslim, but I would not have preferred living in Somalia to living in Cuba.

In short, what you suggest ("kick out the federal government") seems to me like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Any thoughts on a scenario where the elites are not instrumental in the outcome or path followed? Was the French Revolution non-elites whacking elites or is that just a story?

French revolution. I THINK it was essentially a revolt of the middle class against the upper class, with of course as usual the real power, the working class, enlisted to support the winning side but gain very little from it. But to say the revolutionaries weren't elites would likely be wrong, because they merely replaced a dictatorial monarchy with a representative democracy, and any time you have representatives, you will automatically have government by elites (because elites being better educated, more articulate and more wealthy, will naturally win that game). There's no solution until representative democracy is replaced with true democracy.

Which would mean the entire population spending all their time sitting through endless, unproductive meetings, and nobody ever getting anything done. You couldn't have a functioning democracy without representatives, and you can't have a human (or even primate) society without elites. Unless you're talking about a society of maybe a dozen people at the most.

Not at all. In the strategy I've discussed here and elsewhere before, all power resided with the voters (citizens) who are expected to vote on every decision regarding legislation, exactly the same rules as present parliamentary (congressional) voting. The difference is they are not required to cast all those votes themselves unless they wish to. For votes in areas in which they have little interest or expertise, they simply select any other citizen to "carry" their votes along with their own, for any time period they choose, changeable at any time for any reason. I would anticipate that for example on legislation regarding energy policy, Nate might be "carrying" the votes of 100,000 other citizens along with his own, leaving the 100,000 others to carry on their normal lives without the two or four-year interrruptions of needing to follow an election campaign and selecting a representative. Ditto all other "ministries / secretariats". Nate's and everyone else's voting record would be available for all to peruse, there being no longer any reason for voter secrecy to avoid coersion since no single vote event is significant enough to justify coersion.

"Which would mean the entire population spending all their time sitting through endless, unproductive meetings, and nobody ever getting anything done."

Preferable, perhaps, to a capitalist society where lots gets done, particularly lots of trashing the planet?

Not at all.
Switzerland is a direct democracy, and I don't think they have "the entire population spending all their time sitting through endless, unproductive meetings, and nobody ever getting anything done." It is one of the wealthiest societies on the planet not despite their voting system, but because of it.

Please educate yourself:

This looks like representative democracy to me:

"There are three primary election types. The first two, parliamentary elections and executive elections, allow Swiss citizens to vote for candidates to represent them in the government."

It is a mixed system. In order that people do net spend "all their time sitting in meetings" they do have elected representatives that do run the day-to-day stuff, but the swiss government actually has very little power. On any important issue they have a referendum. The swiss government wanted to join the european union already three times, but every time the swiss people voted against it in a referendum.

from wikipedia:
Citizens can call constitutional and legislative referenda, but only on laws passed by the legislature; they cannot initiate legislation of their own crafting.

Constitutional Referenda
Modifications to the constitution are subject to obligatory vote and require a double majority both of the votes and of the states. Such votes are called when the legislative proposes a constitutional modification, or when 100 000 citizens sign a "popular initiative" that clearly states a proposed constitutional change."

So while only the parliament can craft laws, the swiss people can vote directly for or against any law. This seems to me a very functional compromise where people do have the right and the opportunity to directly vote on any issue they deem important, but can also leave the everyday political work to elected representatives. It is important that the final decision is by the individual voters and not by the representatives. Under a swiss system, something as contentious as the health care bill in the US would have been decided by a referendum.

So, in effect it's a representative democracy with an additional layer: veto power over any law by referendum.

Yes, that provides more direct democracy. It's somewhat similar to the US Senate's requirement of a super-majority for, well, anything. Both are recipes for very slow change.

I believe it is very different from the US system which appears to be totally broken. The swiss system is highly effective both politically and socially.

A very good short overview on how swiss democracy works is this article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1435383/How-direct-democracy-makes-Switz...

and the official presentation: http://www.switzerland.com/en.cfm/home/government/offer-Switzerland-Gove...

Interestingly enough, the swiss took the idea of a double majority indeed from the US congress. But still the fact that the swiss people can directly veto any law and actually do so frequently, and even get to decide cantonal budgets by referendum is a vast difference from just having two bodies of paid representatives decide. The founder of the US wanted a republic, not a democracy, and that is what you got, while Switzerland is probably the only country in the world that has a true democracy, as in a "rule of the people".

from wikipedia: "In 1890, when the provisions for Swiss national citizen lawmaking were being debated by civil society and government, the Swiss copied the idea of double majorities from the United States Congress, in which House votes were to represent the people and Senate votes were to represent the states (Kobach, 1993). According to its supporters, this "legitimacy-rich" approach to national citizen lawmaking has been very successful. Kobach claims that Switzerland has had tandem successes both socially and economically which are matched by only a few other nations, and that the United States is not one of

The 'old elites' were replaced with what became the 'new elites'.

If the 'wanna be elites' think there is no path to 'elite' then they become part of the 'troops' in a battle to overthrow the established order.

So long as people think 'anyone can become president' or 'if you only work hard you can get ahead' or any of the other myths of class mobility are true - you have less of a group to draw from for the revolution.

So long as you have something to loose or think you have an investment in the system - you won't rebel against it.

Having a particularly bad day? Seriously, though, how many of us really understand what was and is going on in Cuba? What the hell were they supposed to do when 50% of their oil was cut off? Get it from the United States? Living in the shadow of the United States who tried to overthrow and kill Castro for all these years probably gives one a different perspective that actually sitting here in the United States with all its advantages.

Actually, Cuba's response was, in some ways, similar to the response of the U.S. during World War II. People made sacrifices, shared more, grew more locally and felt a sense of purpose. I would like to think that we could come up with a similar response when peak oil really kicks in. But we have become so atomized and polarized and full of greed, envy, and hubris, that I think we will degenerate into something extremely unpleasant. But I hope I am wrong.

Castro came to power when I was very young. I remember thinking that it would make sense to help him rather than try to destroy him. I think the course of his regime would have turned out very differently if we had not been so blinded by our anti communism, support of right wing dictators, and American corporations who were profiting in Cuba.

Despite it all, Cuba is probably in a better position to weather the future. They have been there, done that, and came out the other side a bit more resilient. Is it all good? Of course not. But we could probably learn something for their experience even if we might now support or adopt their political system.

Oh, and tell me where I can sign up to be part of the protected elite. Might come in handy somewhere down the road.

I was going to flag the anti-leftist rant as inappropriate, if nothing else for dropping the f-bomb (I thought that was automatically screened for), but the responses, right and left, were so eloquent (as usual for most regulars here) I didn't have the heart to see their contributions get zapped.

I agree with your comparison of Cuba's special period with US during WWII (and one might throw in Britain, Switzerland, and many other countries). But we are not now the America we were then. We are now filled with people with very much the attitude of our above ranter, sure that any sacrifice for the common good is a left-wing conspiracy to deprive them of their God-given right to as filthily rich as they can be, no matter the condition of their fellow country-men, -women and -children. Years of indoctrination that self-maximization is the fundamental, natural, holy, and righteous attitude of all God-fearing people have left us, I'm afraid, unable to respond to any real threat with anything other than me-first-ism.

So, on the one hand, I fear that the following eloquently put statement in the lead article may be our greatest curse and damnation: "What takes most time of all, is socioeconomic adaptation and the formation of “new consciousness”."

Social and cultural attitudes and identities can be very persistent and virulent.

On the other hand, the basic and millennia old habits and attitudes of frugality and making do without common up to the '40s changed radically to our current mass-consumerist mind set quite rapidly in the fifties. And much of the communitarian impulse that survived this first wave was displaced by the me-firstism, again quite rapidly, in the late '70s and (with a vengeance) in the Reagan years and on.

So very basic attitudes, supported by custom, religious attitude, social taboos...CAN be overturned in the matter of a few years. But this was done with the aid of a massive and ever-growing propaganda machine--err, advertising industry (annual spending on ads regularly outstrips all spending on higher education)--and it is hard to imaging the people that brought us slogans like "super-size me" turning to a mass campaign to "down size me" or "appropriate size me."

But maybe the web provides a way for memes to spread more rapidly than in the past?

Hi dohboi,

When people comment about the state of affairs in Cuba, I often wonder how much they know about the island from an unbiased perspective?

One of my favorite authors is Dervla Murphy, whose book "Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle" started her writing career, has published her 24th book: "The Island That Dared" (travels in Cuba).


This delightful book offers an intelligent and perceptive account of Cuba as seen through the eyes of a well-seasoned world-traveler. She has no ax to grind.

The above quote is from an Amazon comment and I think it sums up the book pretty well. Dervla clearly has left leanings but I think she does an amazing job of providing the history of Cuba along with present day observations - especially of the lives of ordinary people.

Another comment:

Oddly, as I read about the ubiquitous horse-drawn conveyances, 1957 Buicks, the chronic shortage of oil, aging housing stock with intermittent utility services and sparse availability of consumer goods, I wondered whether Cuba may not actually be a leading indicator of civil society in the first half of the twenty-first century. Could this describe our future rather than our past?

Bicycle Dave,

In fact there is a lot of one-sided stuff on Cuba. Due to the factionalism surrounding the issue it is difficult to formulate a balanced view. I try as hard as I can in the full version of my article, so let me quote the passage that is most relevant in this context.

Against all odds, ordinary Cubans managed to get along due to the remarkable cohesion of Cuban society at the community level. Although Cuba is highly urbanized, the typical barrio is an urban village. Households are tightly embedded in neighbourhood life. Most families have lived in the same home for generations. The typical Cuban household is shared by an extended family. Cuba’s multi-generational family households include aunts, uncles, and cousins. People cultivate close relationships with friends and relatives inside and outside the barrio.

One should not idealize this. Families stood in their homes because the regime had frozen the property structure after the revolution. People were cramped into narrow spaces because that was all they had. The regime had invested in community development not so much to create social glue but rather to increase political control. But be that as it may, most Cubans could rely on their families, friends, and neighbours. This local solidarity, or social capital, helped them to make ends meet during the “Special Period”. As one inhabitant of a vulnerable neighbourhood put it, the crisis brought people closer together because it forced them to rely on one another.


Urban agriculture was a local self-help movement, facilitated by the availability of traditional knowledge in combination with organic technologies and the Cuban-specific rustic ingenuity. Idle stretches of land between concrete blocks or in urban peripheries were turned into organic gardens. Vacant or abandoned plots in close vicinity to people’s homes were transformed into garden sites. People occupied these urban wastelands to grow vegetables and other foodstuffs. By the mid-1990s, there were hundreds of registered horticultural clubs in Havana alone. An urban cultivator from Havana explained in an interview: “When the Special Period started, horticultural clubs were organized by farmers themselves. (…) Special emphasis was made to involve the whole family in these activities. (…) We wanted also to develop more collaboration and mutual help among ourselves; we exchanged seeds, varieties, and experiences. We achieved a sense and spirit of mutual help, solidarity, and we learned about agricultural production”.

Again, one should not idealize this. Environmentalists have exalted Cuban farming during the Special Period as a social “experiment”, or even alternative “model” of organic agriculture. In reality, Cuba’s detour into low-input agriculture was of course not driven by ecological consciousness but by dire necessity. From the second half of the 1990s, when the economic situation improved and industrial inputs became more widely available, Cuba started drifting back to industrial farming. Nevertheless it is encouraging to note that, during the early and mid-1990s, Cubans managed for a few years to mitigate an atrocious resource supply shock by their remarkable community ethos. The comparison with North Korea shows that this was not a minor achievement.

Not so difficult to know what really is going on in Cuba.
Cuba, by Yoani Sánchez a blogger who lives and works there.
Squaring the Circle

A friend called my attention to the strange colored dots on the bottoms of the cans of soft drinks and beer sold in cafes and restaurants. I looked closer and it was true, the mark was red on some, blue or green on others, all drawn with a marker. I looked around and even on the empty or half-crushed cans at the recycling center the curious “seal” was on a good share of them. The contours were not as precise as from a labeling machine, but rather showed the unsteady stroke of a hand that is doing something forbidden.

Well yes, although it might sound simple, behind this colored dot lies a lucrative network that uses the State enterprises to sell private goods. The food service employees buy the canned drinks in hard currency stores, and then sell them – in the businesses where they work – getting a mark-up on each one of between 10% and 50% over the initial price. During the working day they give priority to the sale of their “own” products, while setting aside or delaying the sale of those from the State. At the end of the day, with the added centavos from each sale, they accrue dividends much greater than the symbolic salary they receive in the national currency.

Dangerous Liaisons (The book of snitches)

It was the detailed inventory of all the reports that the employees of a company had made against their colleagues. Without realizing her indiscretion, the director’s secretary sent it to be repaired – this register of complaints.
As in the plot of Dangerous Liaisons, in one part it could be read that Alberto, the chief of personnel, had been accused of taking raw material for his house. A few pages later it was the denounced himself who was relaying the “counterrevolutionary” expressions used by the cleaning assistant in the dining room. The murmurs overlapped, weaving a real and abominable box where everyone spied on everyone. Maricusa, the accountant – as witnessed by her office mate – was selling cigars at retail from her desk, but when she wasn’t involved in this illegal work she turned her attention to reporting that the administrator left some hours before closing. The mechanic appeared several times, mentioned for having extramarital relations with a woman in the union, while several reports against the cook were signed in his own hand.

Kisses For One Night

These men and women – merchants of desire – avoid tripping over the uniformed police who guard the area. Falling into their hands can mean a night in a cell or, for those in the city illegally, deportation to your home province. Everything can be “resolved” if the officer accepts the hint of a probing thigh and agrees to withhold an official warning in exchange for a few minutes of privacy. Some officers return regularly to take their cut, in money or in services, that allows these nocturnal beings to continue taking up their positions on the corner. A woman who refuses the exchange can find herself in a prostitute reeducation camp, while the men might be charged with the crime of pre-criminal dangerousness.

And so the cycle of sex for money comes full circle, in a city where honest work is a museum relic

That third item, about prostitution, could describe any city anywhere in the world which still tries to suppress prostitution. Not condoning it, simply observing reality. Is the trade in canned drinks worse than the trade in contrabaned cigarettes into Canada by the actual cigarette manufacturers (the product, purchasable from black-market dealers car trunks or from self-policed native's territories which have cross-border access to the US) bypassing the "sin taxes" which support the medical system?

"Environmentalists have exalted Cuban farming during the Special Period as a social “experiment”, or even alternative “model” of organic agriculture. In reality, Cuba’s detour into low-input agriculture was of course not driven by ecological consciousness but by dire necessity."

No environmentalist that I know of us unaware of the 'dire necessity' that Cuba was operating under during the Special Period.

Do you have a specific reference for an environmentalist who does, or are you just stereo-typing nameless "environmentalist" and assigning to them idiotic positions that none (or very few--there are idiots everywhere, of course) actually hold (a deplorable practice all to common around here)?

Do you consider yourself to be against the environment? or do you count yourself as one?


Let me give you a few references and some background.

In many cases the titles of environmentalist books on the Special Perod themselves testify to the first sentence of your quote from my article ("Environmentalists have exalted Cuban farming during the Special Period as a social 'experiment', or even alternative 'model' of organic agriculture").

Rosset, P., Benjamin, M. (Eds.), 1994. The Greening of the Revolution: Cuba’s Experiment with Organic Agriculture. Ocean Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Cruz, M.C., Sánchez Medina, R., 2003. Agriculture in the City: A Key to Sustainability in Havana, Cuba. Ian Randle, Kingston, Jamaica.

Funes, Fernando, Luis García, Martin Bourque, Nilda Pérez and Peter Rosset (eds) (2002) Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba, Oakland, Calif.: First Books.

Altieri, Miguel A., Nelso Companioni, Kristina Cañizares, Catherine Murphy, Peter Rosset, Martin Bourque and Clara I. Nicholls (1999) ‘The greening of the “barrios”: urban agriculture for food security in Cuba’, Agriculture and Human Values 16 (2): 131-140.

As for the second sentence of your quote from my article ("Cuba’s detour into low-input agriculture was of course not driven by ecological consciousness but by dire necessity"), most environmentalists do in fact not highlight the dire necessity motivating policies during the Special Period as far as they should. If you have a closer look at the books listed above, you'll see this confirmed.

In fact, when Fidel Castro was forced in 1990s to proclaim a national emergency called the “Special Period”, the crisis devastated the entire Cuban economy. Machines lay idle in the absence of fuel and spare parts. Public and private transportation was in shambles. Workers had difficulties getting to their jobs. Factories and households all over the island were struck by unpredictable electrical power outages (Pérez-López, 1995: 138-140). As in North Korea, the most painful effects were felt in the food sector. The nutritional intake of the average Cuban – especially protein and fat – fell considerably below the level of basic human needs (Alvarez, 2004: 154-169). Consumers resorted to chopped-up grapefruit peel as a surrogate for beef, and some people started breeding chicken in their flats or raising livestock on their balconies (Pérez-López, 1995: 138).


Pérez-López, J.F., 1995. Cuba’s Second Economy: From Behind the Scenes to Center Stage. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick.

Alvarez, J., 2004. Cuba’s Agricultural Sector. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

My motivation behind all of this is simply about stating the truth or at least trying to give a ballanced account. It has nothing to do with being either for or against the environment.

"most environmentalists do in fact not highlight the dire necessity motivating policies during the Special Period as far as they should"

So as a political scientist you don't think that they spend enough time discussing the history of Cuba when they are talking about the possibilities of expanding organic and low energy approaches.

Fine. And thank you for the added info and for your ruthless pursuit of the truth.

But of course the truth is endlessly complex so that it is impossible to present all aspects of every situation. Not everyone is going to pick the same point to stop pursuing its complexity. You don't like where they stopped in presenting background, but that of course is your judgment. From where I sit, that doesn't amount to seriously and intentionally trying to mislead anyone. And you certainly provided no evidence that they were unaware of it--they just chose not to make all the details behind the situation a major focus of their presentation, presumably because that is not what they were focussing on.


It is misleading to present what happened in Cuba during the Special Period as a "social experiement" or something of that sort. The problem is not just that people who do this place the focus somewhere different from where I would put it. No, it's a real misreprentation of the facts. Cuban propaganda has tried to sell the policies of the Special Period as "green", which however they were only to a very limited extent. Western environmentalists have eagerly picked up this official propaganda because it fits their political agenda. I may even share much of this agenda, but it is crucial to point out that without the crisis Cuba would have pursued further its wasteful strategy of industrial socialism.

In fact many reforms were aborted from the second half of the 1990s, when the economic situation improved and industrial inputs became more widely available. Cuba’s “experiment” with low-input agriculture was largely abandoned. Despite some continued support for urban agriculture, organic farming and alternative energy sources such as wind and solar energy, Cuba is drifting back to industrial farming (especially for sugar and potatoes). Since 2000, there have been preferential oil deliveries from Venezuela. Thanks to foreign investment, Cuba has also become able to cover about half of its oil and gas consumption from recently explored domestic sources.

The discussion is getting more and more academic, and as you said anything touching on Cuba tends to lead to polarized argument, but it really seems to boil down to your not liking the use of the term "experiment" for the Special Period.

May I gently suggest that the term is being used as a kind of metaphor. Obviously, from a Cuban perspective, it wasn't an "experiment" in the usual sense of the term, it was an emergency,

But from outside, it provides a kind of test case for what adjustments might be possible in a PO world, and presumably this was why you chose it. So would you would have been happier if the sources you cited had referred to it as a "test case" or "case study"?

"without the crisis Cuba would have pursued further its wasteful strategy of industrial socialism"

Again, I have never seen any discussion of the Special Period by any environmentalists that suggest anything other than this. Our perceptions seem to be different here. That doesn't lessen its value as a window into what a society might be able to do.

It is depressing for all humans societies that there are so few examples of societies moving seriously toward anything like deeply sustainable practices without very powerful outside pressures.

Besides this rather depressing lesson, the main lesson for me from the Cuban Special Period is that having a variety of alternative approaches to farming locally developed, even in minor ways, means that they are available for rapid up-scaling if the time comes, for whatever reason, that conventional approaches must be abandoned--diversity contributes to resilience.

(And yes, I know that the Cuban government had been far from wildly supportive of organic farming before the crises hit--more like barely tolerant.)


We both agree that it's an interesting case from which much can be learned. You are happy for people to take a pure outsider's perspective, while I insist that we must at least tentatively take an insider's viewpoint to understand what's been going on. I suggest that if we do not do that we run the risk of grossly mis-constructing Cuba during the special period as a sort of "ecotopia".

To see that this is not purely academic or far-fetched, just have a look at the following movie which I nevertheless recommend for other reasons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VHt5QchfdQ

(double post)


i think you need to separate out your criticisms of Cuba and the Castro regime, from their response to the sudden oil crisis. While I have no time for Castro and his regime it would seem that they dealt with their oil crisis in the best way that they could. They did not have the US option to go forth and secure oil from elsewhere, they just had to knuckle down and make do with what they had. And, it seems they were able to get by, largely, with their country, culture and dignity intact. They are not very wealthy, by our standards, but never have been either, so no real loss there.

if the US is faced with a similar situation, of a sudden, and permanent, 50% decrease in oil (effectively, all imports other than Can/Mexico), would it be able to do much better, it it had to rely on a made in America solution, rather than getting oil, by force if need be from somewhere else?

With a little luck, probably a great deal better.

First, the US has a Strategic Reserve, which can supply 20% of current consumption for 6 months.

2nd, it has an enormous surplus of energy - it's self sufficient in coal, nat gas (mostly), and electricity.

Think about US cars: there are about 2.3 per household, and each one is less than 1% utilized (only in motion 1 hour per day, and only 20% full even then).

The US could cut consumption by 25% in 3 months with just carpooling.

Heck, the improvement in the trade balance caused by reduced oil imports would probably be good for the US in the long run.


May I remind you that the oil crisis of 1973/4 was due to a shortfall of worldwide oil supply of only about 5%? It does not even qualify as a serious oil supply disruption under the definition of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which was founded on that occasion. The crisis lasted only a relatively short time, and yet it had severe consequences. Now imagine that after the 5% of 1973/4 there would have been another 5% in 1975/6, and again in 1976/7, and so on. Do you really believe such a scenario would have been unproblematic and simply have spurred technological innovation?

the oil crisis of 1973/4 was due to a shortfall of worldwide oil supply of only about 5%?... crisis lasted only a relatively short time, and yet it had severe consequences.

An interesting point. Some thoughts:

First, the meaning of "severe consequences" depends on your frame of reference. The effect on the economy was also short, and from a "collapse point of view" fairly small.

2nd, this was the very first oil shock. For all of the preceding history of oil production/consumption the main problem for the oil industry was over production, and excessively low prices. So, this was a psychological shock. Well, shock causes (economic) inaction. In this case, car sales fell, and this drop in capital spending caused a leveraged effect effect on the economy. There's much more to be said on the general dynamics of an oil shock, but perhaps this is enough for now.

3rd, oil substitutes exist now in a way that they didn't then. There was a long-term research and development effort launched by Jimmy Carter that ultimately resulted in the development of viable alternative energy sources.

Now, electric vehicles have actually been viable for 100 years, but recent developments (started by a R&D effort under Bill Clinton called PNGV) have developed hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles which are not only true alternatives, but also as convenient as conventional ICE vehicles.

Now imagine that after the 5% of 1973/4 there would have been another 5% in 1975/6, and again in 1976/7, and so on. Do you really believe such a scenario would have been unproblematic and simply have spurred technological innovation?

Not at all. But even then, we could have coped with it. As I've noted elsewhere, just carpooling can reduce US overall fuel consumption by 25%. And now, we have have vehicles that can eliminate oil consumption - it's just a matter of ramping up production.


I wouldn't mind if you were right. Better lose this argument and not face the protracted crisis and decline I believe would be looming in case of 2-5% loss of access to oil per annum for two decades.

However you seem to view electric cars as a panacea. Car traffic is important, but it is not everything. Trucks and container ships are unlikely to run on electricity for the forseeable future. As far as cars are concerned, the problem is not only replacing or revamping the vehicle fleet. An entire infrastructure complete with recharging stations and additional electricity production will be required. Your electric car may be wonderful for commuting, but less so for larger distances. I personally love your idea about care pooling and other practical solutions. Again, I hope you are right with your optimism. But please do not forget that all this adaptive behaviour would need to happen under crisis conditions. In Greece, many people are currently rioting. Others may be resorting to more adaptive responses to the impasse, but this does not simply take the crisis away. In a crisis, the odds for technological crash programmes, innovative but expensive consumer choices, and other top-down and bottom-up measures necessary to fix the situation are at risk of facing an uphill struggle. This is not to deny that there would be peaceful adaptive behavour.

Based on my cases I would predict more peaceful adaptive behaviour in some places than in others, as the comparison of North Korea, Cuba and Japan suggests. The implications of a peak oil scenario are not all doom and gloom, but nor are they just a minor nuissance or even a boon as you suggest.

Car traffic is important, but it is not everything.

No, but it's by far the single biggest use for oil, so it needs to be addressed first. In the US it's just under 50% of oil consumption, and in the rest of the world it's not that far below that.

Trucks and container ships are unlikely to run on electricity for the forseeable future.

First, trucking is already in the process of being replaced by inter-modal rail, which is 3x as efficient and can be electrified. 2nd, both trucking and container shipping can be electrified quite nicely. Please read my extended discussion here: http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/09/can-shipping-survive-peak-oil.html

As far as cars are concerned.... An entire infrastructure complete with recharging stations and additional electricity production will be required.

This already exists for the large majority of drivers in the US, Canada and Australia, and for a minority of drivers in Europe. Candadian drivers are quite used to charging points in public places, as they need engine warmers in winter. As Better Place is in the process of demonstrating, building infrastructure isn't that hard to do in older, denser places like Europe, or very small places like Israel.

Your electric car may be wonderful for commuting, but less so for larger distances.

That's why hybrids, and EVs with extended range generators like the Volt, are likely to be the transitional vehicles. EREVs like the Volt reduce fuel consumption by 90%.

I personally love your idea about care pooling and other practical solutions. Again, I hope you are right with your optimism.

Thanks. I think it's just realistic.

But please do not forget that all this adaptive behaviour would need to happen under crisis conditions.

Again, 1) that's assuming the premise, and 2) crisis conditions are often when change is easiest - see the book "Shock Doctrine", by Naomi Klein.

In Greece, many people are currently rioting.

We should note the Greek parliament nevertheless voted for the necessary measures with a large majority, despite being a socialist party which had promised very, very different things.

In a crisis, the odds for technological crash programmes, innovative but expensive consumer choices, and other top-down and bottom-up measures necessary to fix the situation are at risk of facing an uphill struggle.

True, but the risk of truly maladaptive measures is small. PO is, after all, not that hard. Not nearly as hard as Climate Change, for instance.

The implications of a peak oil scenario are not all doom and gloom, but nor are they just a minor nuissance

Again, this is all relative. The bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler were an enormous shock and hardship to many, but from a "collapse" point of view, barely a ripple in the economic pond.

or even a boon as you suggest

There are many economic transitions that wouldn't be considered a "boon" by those who they hurt (see Hayek's doctrine of "creative destruction"). Nevertheless, they usually lay the foundation for an improved economic future.


Foreseeing the future is a daunting task. It needs to be done because it's so important, but it is really challenging. I am not personally committed to peak oil, as I state in the full version of my article. Nor do I claim to have a crystal ball. I'm just exploring a plausible hypothesis and asking the question of "what if".

You seem to be an incorrigible optimist, although you'd say you are a realist. Personally I quite like that. You think I am an incorrigible pessimist, although I'd say I am the realist here. I rest unconvinced about your sanguine views and think I have provided good reasons. I assume you think the same of yourself.

Since our discussion is going nowhere, why don't we simply agree to disagree?

Foreseeing the future is a daunting task. It needs to be done because it's so important, but it is really challenging.

I agree.

I am not personally committed to peak oil, as I state in the full version of my article.

I'm glad to hear it. OTOH, you seem to have developed a strong intuition that peak oil is likely to force a change similar to the transition from slavery. I'd like to influence you away from that.

why don't we simply agree to disagree?

Well, if this is an important topic, why not pursue it? We don't, after all, have to stay in the realm of large generalizations and airy theory, where it's possible to debate all day and make no progress. Instead, we have a number of specific and more or less "testable" questions, like: are hybrids, EVs and EREVs technically ready and cost-effective? Can trucking and water freight be moved away from oil? Are wind and solar scalable, cost-effective, high E-ROI?

I've provided some good articles about these specific topics. I think they're well written and based on good information. I urge you to read them and consider them thoughtfully.


Tomorrow I'll go to a talk by David MacKay, entitled "Sustainable energy - without the hot air". The man purports to be all about facts. His book, which looks very good, can be freely downloaded at http://www.withouthotair.com/. I promise to listen carefully and do a little homework on EVs etc.

If you have an hour to spare, then why not reciprocate by reading my full article (http://www.qeh.ox.ac.uk/pdf/pdf-research/Global%20Energy%20Crunch.pdf)?

Good for you. On the other hand, it's David MacKay.....sigh.

I hope I'm not beginning to sound endlessly negative about the information sources you're looking at, but...you have to take him with a grain of salt.

We can get a clue to his attitude towards renewables from the second quote at the beginning of the chapter on wind power, where he quotes Lovelock: "Wind farms will devastate the countryside pointlessly". Here are a few thoughts, from previous times when I've looked at the book carefully.

First, his analysis just applies to the UK. It doesn't tell anything useful about the US, or other locations.

2nd, Mackay never says wind isn't feasible or useful. He commits the common error of evaluating wind's contribution as if we might expect it to provide 100% of grid requirements, when I don't think anyone would contemplate wind providing more than 50-60% of total KWH's, even with a 100% renewable grid. He claims that wind can't provide 100% of the UK's needs, and on that basis implies that it's useless.

3rd, Mackay's book is often quite unrealistic. He skews things against wind & solar in many places.

Here's an example - he says "if we covered the windiest 10% of the country with windmills (delivering 2W/m2), we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person, which is half of the power used by driving an average fossil-fuel car 50 km per day."

Well, that's just goofy. We're not going to power FF cars with electricity, we're going to power electric cars. Further, the average km/day/person in the UK is only 30, so we'd only need 4 KWHs (20% of the figure given) to drive that far.


Mackay claims that UK residents use 125KWH/day claim here http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c18/page_104.shtml.

He's talking about "“primary energy” (which means the energy contained in raw fuels, plus wind and hydroelectricity)". That's so inaccurate that it amounts to deliberate deception: the number of KWH's needed to replace primary energy is roughly one third as large, due to heat-engine inefficiency.


Neil1947 had the following comments on May 6, 2009

MacKay has made a serious error in his calculations of on-shore wind energy resources. In the interests of simplicity he has taken the average wind speed (6m/sec at 10 meters height). In fact the better locations in Scotland and off-shore islands have much higher wind speeds at the 100m hub height of wind turbines(10-12m/sec). This means MacKay has underestimated the potential of these regions by X5-X10. These regions are also distant to villages and more likely to be used in future wind farms once transmission lines are built.
Some of the wind farms initially built were in poorer locations but close to electric transmission lines, so his calculations are not good examples of what is possible in UK.

there's more discussion: http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/5354#more
"anyone" had the following comments on August 20, 2009 - 4:35pm

Sorry I couldn't resist. I just followed the link of that MacKay and first he gives every person 10 m2 of roof area and then claims that there IS only 10 m2 of roof area.

Let’s give every person 10 m2 of expensive (20%-efficient) solar panels and cover all south-facing roofs. These will deliver 5 kWh per day per person. Since the area of all south-facing roofs is 10 m2 per person, there certainly isn’t space on our roofs for these photovoltaic panels as well as the solar thermal panels of the last section.

Actually, the total area that is used by the households, the service industry and the production industry in Germany is according to the facts: 24,294 km2. http://tinyurl.com/ktt3ke

With a German population of 82,220,000 that leads to almost 300 m2 of built area per person...In addition: This built area obviously does not even include any facade area.

Someone who claims that there is not enough area for a considerable solar hot water or PV production, simply ignores the simple facts.



I'd by happy to read your full article.


Thank you for your views. I'll build my own opinion, but it's nice to know your take while doing so.

You're welcome.

I'll build my own opinion

I'd expect nothing less.

I hope I've helped with some new information. Anytime you want to bounce ideas off of me, I'm available at the email address in my TOD profile, and my blog is available with most of the information I've discussed.


I re-read the whole article (I'd skimmed it before).

I'd shift the discussion at the beginning about assumptions from Peak Oil to the question of substitutes for oil, and the timing of the need for those substitutes.

No one really disagrees with the concept of PO, just with it's timing: the debate is between those who think it's essentially here now, and those who think it's far enough away to not worry about.

The really key assumption is that there are no substitutes - this is subordinated a bit as a secondary assumption in the article, but it's really the key assumption.

This is the importance of the Southern Model: the hypothesis that any new major form of energy would require a wrenching social transformation that we saw essentially fail in the South.

As you know, I strongly assert that 1) substitutes for oil not only are possible but exist right now, and 2) transition to these would be nothing like Reconstruction: EVs operate the same way as ICE vehicles, and will be sold by the same companies. Similarly, wind power will mostly be operated the same way coal is today, essentially invisibly to the consumer. Solar PV may be used directly by consumers, but it and efficiency steps will only impinge on daily life ever so slightly.

Most authors imply, further, that no adequate alternate resource and technology will be available to replace oil as the backbone resource of industrial society.

This is the problem. These authors spend quite a bit of time on PO, and not enough on substitutes for oil. Generally, their treatments of substitutes are superficial. They spend quite a bit of time knocking off the easy targets, like biofuels and fuel cells. Sometimes they superficially dismiss EVs, rail, wind, solar and nuclear, and sometimes they actually acknowledge that they are feasible, but still growing.


As far as the rest of the article: the analysis of what might happen in a world where no practical substitutes existed for oil looked pretty accurate. Actually, I would think things would be worse: if energy supplies were doomed to decline monotonically and quickly, life would become nasty, brutish and much, much shorter.

an event comparable to peakoil has never happened at the global level

There have been a number of comparable events. I'd say the clearest come from "peak wood", which has happened in many places over the centuries, including around the 13th century in Europe (think Sherwood Forest, reserved for Royal use alone). While wood is renewable, it's growth cycle is slow, and so there were many "over shoot" events, where industry and population growth peaked and then fell again sharply. While these weren't global, they typically encompassed the reachable trading territory for each society, so they were comparable.

Wood, at least, was renewable in the long-term, so that after an overshoot event like the Plague things could go back to something bearable and reasonably similar to the recent past. If oil really were essential, we'd be in a true disaster.


But there is always another time, as infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. At some point, industrial society will start crumbling and free trade will begin to disintegrate.

Here you are showing a very, very pessimistic intuition. In fact, this is unrealistic: like the demographic transition for population growth, resource consumption does not show an infinite exponential pattern. Instead, it follows an S-curve, levelling off at some point. We have more than enough resources to allow that, though I'm not optimistic about preventing some of the terrible consequences of our neglect of the environment, like species extinction and climate change.

As Leanan has pointed out in the past, please use alternative forms to the f-word (like $#&!'d) so that the site doesn't get on blacklists.

It's going to be somewhat harder to be racist in a pluralistic society as exists in the US than it was for racially homogenous Imperial Japan. Accepting an overtly racist outlook would tear the US apart from within before it could do much damage abroad.
'The story' needs another way to dehumanise the enemy. We weren't fighting the Iraqis, we were fighting the evil regime there. AMERICA Fsck YEAH!...
The problem in Iraq was that it was a complete loss economically, politically, and did not do much to make the region more friendly to US interests. And of course Iraq had nothing to do with 911..
If the powers that be are going to cook up war as a solution, it really needs to be a solution. Wars would have to be done more the way the romans did them, to exact (valuable) tribute to continue long.
Of course it's hard to imagine a story that would justify 'raiding partys'. The US already keeps others friendly by protecting them militarily, but it's not QUITE mafia protection. The protection is from an outsider. That's why the Saudis have been willing to be nicer than they would if they weren't in bed with the US for security. Without a bad guy they have no reason not to tell the US to pound sand. Will the US manufacture a bad guy whose ass it can kick just to threaten those who don't pay? I don't think the US is that clever or that there are serious would be bad guys that stupid.
More likely the 'bad guys' will behave much as the US does, and seek to protect the weak ( Read 'The Prince' by Macheavelli, it's the rational way to be even if you're 'evil' ). There will form competing spheres of influence. The competition will make the big boys cater to their weaker allies rather than completely exploit them. Some sides that can keep each other in check may form ala 'the cold war' or maybe not. WWI started despite/or bc of the alliances that had formed. What is likely to happen seems worth thinking about.

I hate to reply to myself, but I was rereading this and noticed:

Will the US manufacture a bad guy whose ass it can kick just to
threaten those who don't pay? I don't think the US is that clever or
that there are serious would be bad guys that stupid.

That sorta does look like Iran and Saudi Arabia with the Iranians being the 'bad guy'. In a way they are working for the US. Har dee har har. Too bad they don't have enough oil to be worth it for anyone else to 'protect'. They're the US's perfect little pet terrorists, and since they are our sworn enemy, we're completely off the hook for it. Frikken hilareous!

I don't have time to read all of the great posts this evening. Some others have touched on this. It occurs to me that Japan, Korea, and Cuba are (were) all essentially mono-racial, mono-cultural, mono-religious societies. The U.S. is anything but that. It is perhaps the most pluralistic society, lacking the cohesiveness provided by the common societal/world views experienced in the examples provided.

The Balkans may provide a more accurate example of what can happen in a racially/religiously diverse/divided society WTSHTF.

Good discussion!

Cuba is most certainly not monoracial or monocultural. In many ways it is not that different from the US.

I do not anticipate a "national" response to the hard realities of peak oil that would mirror the historic experiences offered. As the process becomes truly entrenched it most likely will set off politically seismic events that will ultimately fracture the United States into a jumble of autonomous and semi autonomous parts. Large industrial nations, such as the U.S., are absolutely dependent on a ready supply of cheap energy to maintain political cohesion. A deindustrialization will set off a disintegration of the nation. How we will disintegrate is the real question. Some sections of the former U.S. will likely fare much better than others, although hardship and chaos are likely to affect every state and region. A number of states seem prime candidates to seek separation from a dysfunctional union. These include Alaska, Hawaii, Utah and the upper New England states. Several of the southwestern states could become extremely unstable. California could fracture into at least three parts. The northwestern states of Washington and Oregon could join forces to form a single nation. This disintegration could play out over a period of two or more decades, but it could begin rather quickly depending on the rate of economic/political decline as peak oil takes hold and reduces energy supplies.

Proposition number five:

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Seems most likely to me.

Art is prescient.

Very interesting analysis. I would like to make a few observations.

First, I would say that the U.S. is well along the road on Hypothesis 3. Franklin Roosevelt started the ball rolling in the 1940s by promising to defend Saudi Arabia in return for secure oil resources. Since then, U.S. military might has been projected globally to create a sphere of influence that equates to an empire in many respects. This was done for many reasons, but securing oil was certainly among the top reasons.

Second, you suggest a three dimensional model with each dimension being illustrated with an example country. But in any multidimensional model, an entity would need to be measured along each dimension rather than being measured against just one dimension. For example, you say that Cuba ranks low on the individualism/industrialism/mass consumerism scale. Yet, North Korea surely would rank as low or lower on the same scale. Likewise, I don't see how Cuba would rank much differently from North Korea on the humanism/pluralism/liberal democracy scale.

It is true that despite Cuba's authoritarian rule, North Korea's is worse. No question about that. But when it comes to post oil sustainability, I think the differences that make Cuba work better than North Korea are:

a. Climate -- It's much easier to grow food in tropical Cuba than in mountainous, cold North Korea.

b. Internationalism -- Cuba is much more open to the world than North Korea. In fact, with the exception of the United States, Cuba is pretty much open to every nation and has significant international trade.

c. Special situations -- Cuba's special relationship with Venezuela has provided an important source of cheap oil.

I think that Hypothesis 3 is really the one that matters. As oil production declines, markets will be unable to supply oil in the quantities desired regardless of price. Military power will become (and is already, I would argue) the primary arbiter of who will get what. Countries without military power will be forced to adapt (as they already are) and those with military power will fight for what's left. This fighting will not necessarily take the form of a hot war; proxy wars are less risky and more effective. Alliances will form and things will get very messy, indeed.

Thanks for your post.

Yes, Hyp3/Japan parallel is particularly interesting

"From 1894, Japan built an extensive empire that included Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and parts of northern China. The Japanese regarded this sphere of influence as a political and economic necessity, which prevented foreign states from strangling Japan by blocking its access to raw materials and crucial sea-lanes. Japan's large military force was regarded as essential to the empire's defense and prosperity by obtaining natural resources that the Japanese islands lacked." (wikipedia - Empire of Japan)

Sort of chilling sitting here next door in Canada with our tar, fresh water n' whatnot.

Relax, we'll have to bring 'regime change' to Venezuela first : )


In fact, Japanese imperialism reaches back to the late 19th Century. This is not to deny that, in the 1930s and 1940s, imperial Japan was a military aggressor. On the contrary, this is an important part of the story. To prevent military strangulation, during the 1930s resource-starved Japan tried to build a regional economic bloc. The American trade embargo further radicalized this geopolitical bent. Japan was prompted by the spectre of fuel scarcity to scrap the Open Door policy of free trade and to radicalize its strategy of predatory militarism to secure vital energy resources.

Interestingly, the main lesson the Japanese military had taken home from World War I was that a country cut off from raw materials was bound to lose in a military contest. In their view, Germany had lost because it did not muster the necessary industrial base to achieve wartime autarky. To be prepared for a total war, resource-poor Japan would therefore have to control access to strategic resources. Only a self-sufficient economic bloc in East Asia would sufficiently prop up Japanese industrial capacity to secure the desired status of a great power.

It was precisely to prevent fuel starvation and dependency on other strategic resources that Japan embarked on aggressive military campaigns. After a liberal interlude in the 1920s, the next decade saw the invasion of Manchuria (1931) followed by the invasion of China (1937). The paramount goal was to achieve self-sufficiency in an economic bloc that was later, in 1940, to be proclaimed as the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere”.

So, yes I agree with you: Japan was determined to be a great power and (despite the fact that a sizeable fraction of Japanese elites had liberal inclinations, and despite the liberal interlude in the 1920s) most of them believed that ultimately only a geoeconomic/military strategy could do that.

Sort of chilling sitting here next door in Canada with our tar, fresh water n' whatnot.

I've been watching for the signs for a while now. It's not likely to start until a) peak oil starts to hurt, eg. $4.00 gasoline and b) Canadians elect a less cooperative federal government than present neo-con's. The goal will be annexing only Alberta and parts of Northern BC, perhaps the Yukon and adjacent territories. The first sign will be a demand for a "secure corridor from lower 48 to oil resources in Alaska", perhaps triggered by another deliberate Exon Valdez, but off California. That'll get all the moderate "enviro's" so frothing they won't even notice. Next will be some completely illogical action by the Cdn Federal govt. supposedly, actually from deep plants which completely angers Albertans to the point they start a serious separation movement. Something like some leaked documents detailing a plan which would seriously hurt Alberta economically, etc. etc. At then, the US will simply step in to "protect Albertans". The entire territory will simply be annexed to Alaska in order to avoid needing to create two new senate seats, job done.


A US invasion of Canada to obtain oil resources??? I'd say that scenario is extremely unlikely. Canada is our trading partner and strong ally, even the most gullible in the US would see military action against Canada as "stabbing a friend in the back". Popular opinion in the US can be very simplistic (you good, he bad *grunt*). Sure, we have our "axis of evil", etc., but no matter how you slice it, Canada is a white hat, and the US tends to stand by our friends. ("La Fayette, we have come!")

Would that still apply in an oil shortage scenario if for example a Chinese oil company put a million temporary workers into the oil sands to develop them and a pipeline to Prince Rupert?

We will just enforce the "Share and share alike" provisions regarding oil in NAFTA.

And put down any terrorism by those Albertans.

Best Hopes for Comity,


Well, going on previous actions by the US government in relation to Canadian trade, we can indeed expect the "share" provisions to be enforced, but not necessarily the "share alike" part.

You know us far too well !

Best Hopes for a Benign Occupation,


even the most gullible in the US would see military action against Canada as "stabbing a friend in the back". Popular opinion in the US can be very simplistic (you good, he bad *grunt*). Sure, we have our "axis of evil", etc., but no matter how you slice it, Canada is a white hat

Apparently Runeshade has never seen Canadian Bacon

A more realistic version of what could happen was told in the CBC miniseries "H2O" with Paul Gross


In this one, the US does invade Canada, to secure access to water, to replace the dried up aquifers of the midwest.

Len, there is hardly enough oil left in Alaska to justify this, though there is, of course, plenty in Alberta. The really interesting question is, would the people/governments of Ontario, and, especially, Quebec, jump to Alberta's aid?

And, if the US is going to do this, they may as well take all of BC, not just the north. Plenty of water and hydro electricity to be had here.
There was, after all, a plan in the 60's , put forward by American engineers, of course), to dam the Fraser river (which drains an area larger than the State of Oregon) and divert the water (and hydro power) south into Wash. State.

if the US then claimed the hockey players from Alberta and BC, they might have a chance of beating Canada next time the two teams meet.

At least it would get rid of the interminable delays at the Peace Arch border crossing, and speed things up at Vancouver airport too.

But it means would have to listen to all the mind numbing US TV networks...

Reality checks:

_ Canada is too weak to defend itself against even a middle level power such as Pakistan. Take a look at its weapons, weapons making ability, size of army, level of training, depth and extend of experience like how much percentage of its troops have how much experience in past 20 years wars.

_ Canada is too close to usa to be uneconomic war zone such as iraq which is due to its vast distance, infact its on other side of world.

_ Canada is too resource rich to be neglected or spared.

_ Usa is too resource hungry to let go an opportunity.

_ Canada is just 20 million people, usa is 300 million people, 15 times population.

_ Canada is vast, having size almost equal to usa, but 95% of canadian population live along usa-canada border, excellent placement for efficient capture.

_ Canada is too far from any other major power to help. Sure russia is close but eastern siberian part of russia especially that near alaska is usually ignored being too sparsely populated being too cold.

_ Canada lack all of the high weapons technology like nuclear, spy satellites, land-to-space missiles to bring down satellites, fleets and an effective air force.

In case of a usa invasion of canada, its likely that some far off canadian province where the other 5% of canadian population live continue some resistance but for the most part it could easily be ignored and contained to that parts by usa.

We have a small military because we don't really fight anyone and we rely on the US navy and nuclear forces for deterrence. Economically and militarily we are very tightly bound with the US.

Our biggest problem from the US is likely to be economic refugees streaming north, not military invasion. I think we'll probably end up sharing the tar sands production to keep North Americans fed and warm for a few decades, if nothing else.

Canada is too weak to defend itself against even a middle level power such as Pakistan. Take a look at its weapons, weapons making ability, size of army, level of training, depth and extend of experience like how much percentage of its troops have how much experience in past 20 years wars.

Per List of top countries by military expenditures - Wikipedia Canada is 13th on the list, Packistan isn't on the list. Canada also maintains a relatively small but full-time professional military designed to operate as the core leadership of a much larger civilian force if a need arises. I'd suggest an invasion of Canada by Pakistan may be a bad idea for you.

Obviously, but not to you, Pakistan has no aggression plans against canada or any country including india. The last war we had was in 1971. The comparison of military powers of Pakistan and canada was just for that, comparison.

Pakistan has a standing army of 500,000 with 700,000 more in reserves. That is from a huge population of 200 million. Canada total has 22 million, how large standing army it has one can easily find.

Pakistan is a nuclear power, canada is not.

Pakistan has a long history of being invaded by foreigners: 1948, 1965, 1971 by india, the 1965 war included the second largest tank war after world war 2 till date. Invasion of siachin glacier in 1980s by india and a battle there. Even recently every day usa send one or two drones to martyr 5 to 20 people that resulted in Pakistan Air Force developing both its own drone and drone downing technology.

The point is, when canada can stand Pakistan how can it stand usa. Thats if usa last long enough to actually have an invasion. For that its also needed that canadians slave nature go away and they learn to say NO to america. Since that nature don't go away without a major shock and revolution its very likely that canadian govt will obey any order given covertly from usa.

Wisdom, you should do some fact checking before you embarrass yourself further here.

Firstly, the a five second trip to wikipedia will tell you that Canada's population is 33.3m, not 22 - your number is decades out of date.

You have said that Canada is almost as big as the US when in fact Canada is larger, It is the second largest country in the world, (after Russia) with 3.85 million sq. miles, the US has 3.7m. Pakistan, by the way is 36th on the list with just 0.3m sq.miles.

To say Canada could not defend against another middle power like Pakistan is just plain wrong. Were Pakistan to try to invade Canada, I doubt that one single soldier would ever make it to Canadian soil alive - you have a long way to go to get here.

Canada does not need a large army to defend itself, it's isolation by water from everyone but the US does a good job of that.

The fact that Pakistan has fought four wars with neighbouring countries in the last 60 yrs, while Canada has not done so for 198 years, suggests that Canada has done a much better job of getting along, peacefully, with its neighbours than Pakistan.

If, as you claim, Pakistan has no aggression plans against any other country then why the need for nuclear weapons? What else are they used for other than aggression against other countries? I'll guarantee you there is a plan, likely several of them, to use those weapons against other countries, if the need arises. I would call that an aggression plan. A country that truly has no aggression plan does not need the weapons to carry one out.

And as for no war since 1971, I'd say you have one, internally, right now, unless nothing has actually been happening in the Swat valley etc, and all the images we see of the army being mobilised are just false.

For a country that has internal strife, starving people, political instability, and is on the verge of civil war, to be lecturing Canada on military matters is a bit rich.

Your economic comments are much more interesting, and accurate, but leave the military stuff out - you are doing yourself a disservice.

We are told not to argue with jahils. Its plural of jahil. The arabic word jahil has no direct translation in english but its close to ignorant, a person who don't have knowledge because he/she don't seek knowledge. Since I don't want to argue I would not comment on this matter anymore after this post. For others I do like to clarify my points.

My first comment on this topic was not to make any military plans of invasion of any country, nor do pakistan has any plan of invasion of any country, never did Pakistan invaded any country, very much unlike usa btw. You took the discussion to the wrong way, very typical of what you are taught to do.

The wikipedia article on canada tell its population to be 31.24 million according to 2006 census, not 33.3 million as you wrote. I don't like to talk about such minor difference but since you put value of difference between 3.7 and 3.85 in areas of usa and canada and are loud to say they are not equal I would go in such details too about the population number.

After this increase in population its still very less as compare to usa, period.

The difference in 3.7 and 3.85 is 4.05% meaning that canada is 4.05% more in area than usa. That easily round off to being equal. Heck even if the difference was of 10% I would still round them off to equal. We have to make sense.

The talk about the distance between Pakistan and canada is again useless, a very typical of you. The idea was just to compare, not to actually invade. The physical distance thing here is meaningless.

Canada do need to have an army like all self-respecting countries and by army I means an army that can really stand a war. There is no isolation by water these days, heck not even in 1940s or even in 1600s. The real threat to canada is usa, so a lot that you talk about is plain useless and harmful stuff.

Pakistan had to fight wars because Pakistan tried and is very much successful in maintaining its freedom. It not cowardly tied itself in sheepish, exploitatory and slavish agreements. What freedom really means is understood by most only after being in captivity for a while. We had that for us back in 1700s, 1800s and first half of 1900s so we know better.

Why Pakistan has nuclear weapons? Its because its arch enemy india has it atleast since 1972 when it tested it openly. Remember that in 1971 Pakistan had to lose its eastern half. The proximity of two events can show the amount of urgency felt at that time here.

Keeping nukes is not always for attacking. Its also, like in our case, to maintain balance of power, to stop others using it because they know we can strike back. Thats how usa and ussr contained each other in cold war. BALANCE OF POWER.

What internally is happening can't be called a war. May be a battle but never a war. No all out invasion, no air bombers dropping bombs in major cities. You don't know what a war is. You are confusing war with skirmishes and battles.

Political instability? Lets see, Pervaiz Musharraf from 1999 to 2008, first 3 years non-elected and ruled by help of usa, rest elected in general elections and have parliament and all things of democracy. From 2008 till present its a fully elected president Asif Zardari and his political party PPP which is also the political party of Benazir Bhutto. Is that called instability?

Internal strife? Sure there is always internal disagreements, protests, public meetings, rallies and strikes. Thats democracy, right? Better awake than sleep.

Starving people? Really? Are you confusing us with africa? or with India? I never heard of anybody starving here and yes I do read a lots of newspapers and watch tv and surf internet. Heck we have enough rice and sugar to export, enough cotton to have a huge textile industry, enough animals to export both leather and its goods.

Verge of civil war? LAUGH OUT LOUD.

Not lecturing canada sir. Just telling a natural law. If you want to be free, you have to be powerful. Building tall buildings like in dubai don't exactly make dubai safer, infact it make it a sweeter target for aggressors.

Sorry all especially the editors for writing this here in this thread. Its not relevant to thread but I had to clarify. I would not comment anymore on this.

WfP, let's take a look at what you said before you start calling me ignorant;

Canada is too weak to defend itself against even a middle level power such as Pakistan.

That is a pretty explicit statement, for a country to defend itself against another can mean nothing other than an invasion, and I'll stand behind what I said that Canada could easily defend an invasion from Pakistan. If Pakistan happened to be where the US is, that would be a different story, but that is not the scenario you outlined.

if you want to say C has a smaller army than P, then I am fine with that, or that P has more weapons than C, that is true too. But what you said was that C could not defend against P, and, largely by virtue of geography, I think that is simply not true.

For population, google canada _ population and the top of the list is the graph from Google, showing 33.3m. Go to the wikipedia site;
Which will show the population year by year - even 2006 is out of date. In fact, so is my number, at end of 2009 it is 33,895,000. If you want to say that the population of C is much smaller than P or US, that is fine, and no one will argue that, because it is true. But you stated a specific number that was actually Canada's population in 1973. If you are going to quote numbers to back up your statements, you should verify those numbers.

Similarly with "95% of the population lives along the US border." If you had read the very next line on the general Wikipedia page for Canada where you got the 2006 population you would have read;
"About four-fifths of Canada's population lives within 150 kilometres (93 mi) of the United States border.[147] " The refernce is to a report from the Fraser Institute, a well established research body. Once again, if you want to say "most of Canada's population lives close to the US border" no one will disagree, but if you must quote numbers, verify them first.

Keeping nukes is not always for attacking. Its also, like in our case, to maintain balance of power, to stop others using it because they know we can strike back.
The mere fact that yo say you can strike back means, by definition, there is a plan to do so, under specific conditions - that is a plan of aggression. I'm guessing that you really meant something more like " P has no plans to strike first at any country" , but that is an important difference.

As for political instability, Musharraf seized power by a coup, hardly stable there. Benazir Bhutto was assasinated, more instability. I don;t have a hard and fast definition of political stability, but any country that has coups and assasinations definitely does not not qualify.

As for internal strife, howe about this;
The list of recent sectarian attacks makes for grim reading:
Feb 2009: Bomb attack on a Shia procession in Punjab leaving 35 dead
Dec 2008: 27 people killed in a car bombing at a Shia mosque in Peshawar
Aug 2008: 21 people killed in sectarian clashes in the Kurram tribal region
Aug 2008: 25 Shias killed in an attack on a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan
Mar 2008: 40 people killed in sectarian violence in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)

A country that has routine events like this qualifies as internal strife. AS for civil war, well you are there and I am not, so if you say that it is not likely, then I hope you are right. Not all internal strife leads to civil war, thankfully, but all civil war is preceded by internal strife of some sort.

As for starvation, if there isn;t any, then you should tel the UN World Food Program that, as their website says;
"The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) assists approximately four million food insecure people in Pakistan annually."
Admittedly, that is only 2% of the population, and yes, MUCH better than India, but if there was no starvation the WFP wouldn't be there in the first place.

You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. You started out with three factual inaccuracies about Canada (population, size relative to US and population close to US border), which naturally leads me to then question your other assertions. Data is readily available, and all our discussions are better informed if we verify our numbers before quoting them.

¡ Pobre Canadá ! Tan lejos de dios, y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos.

If that means what I take it to, (Poor Canada. So far from God and so close to the United States), then excellent saying, I will re-use it if allowed. Thanks.

Relax, it will be a friendly takeover. No physical harm will be done except for a bit of arm-twisting causing only temporary pain.

Have you read Tom Clancy's 'Endwar'? I won't spoil the ending for you!


Thank you very much for your kind words.

As I see it, the US oscillates between two roles/poles. America’s free-trade ideology militates against the open recourse to military coercion. In fact, the US tends to support the free market for oil as long as it is convenient. When the oil market comes under pressure due to tightening supply, the US will continue to defend it for a while. But when soaring prices start crippling the national economy, US leaders may find that coercive diplomacy is more effective than free-trade rhetoric. The US is then likely to put the blame on foreigners and pursue a geopolitical strategy of “energy security” to protect the American way of life. Why keep negotiating with recalcitrant leaders such as Chavez if there is a military option? This is not to say that the military option is easy, as the Iraq war has shown. However, military coercion is likely to gain ascendancy relative to free-market rhetoric as energy supplies become scarcer. In short, in a situation of chronic energy scarcity the US may be tempted more often than ever before to use its unrivalled power projection capacity to secure privileged access to oil. It has happened sometimes in the past, and may happen more often in the future, that US decision makers find military coercion more effective than trade.

China is no match for the US, but it would be capable of using its military muscle to secure access to oil and gas in Central Asia. Elsewhere the PRC would be unlikely to use a predatory strategy because, for the foreseeable future, its maritime forces and air power are not strong enough. Countries like India, Brazil or Israel have even more limited military clout, but might be tempted to engage in geopolitical operations in their regional neighbourhood.

Most countries, at any rate, do not really have a credible military option. This does not mean that their response will be uniform. In my model there are at least two possible responses for them, the mobilization of local solidarity and totalitarian retrenchment.

You are right in mentioning climate as an important difference between Korea and Cuba, and some other differences can be mentioned (revenue from tourism, remittances, foreign investment, and international aid). However I do believe that the key difference between the two cases is the one captured by Hypotheses 1 and 2. Just read a speech by Castro. The man has mostly acted as a moralist and humanist rather than a socialist or communist. Cuba is not just a cosy place. However they are far less totalitarian than North Korea. Pyongyang relies on the atomization of society for control, while Habana relies on grassroots communities. One should not idealize this. The regime has invested in community development not so much to create social glue but rather to increase political control. But be that as it may, most Cubans can rely on their families, friends, and neighbours. This local solidarity, or social capital, has helped them to make ends meet during the “Special Period”.

On the industrialism/mass consumerism scale, it is significant to note that North Korea became communist about 10 years earlier and almost entirely abolished private property of land. In Cuba, about 4% of family farmers kept their plots. Another 11% was organized in private cooperatives. The survival of traditional family farms alongside industrial agriculture turned out to be an important asset in the 1990s. Independent farms were more resilient to the crisis than state farms because they operated with less fuel and agrochemical inputs. Cuba’s remaining family farmers kept important traditional knowledge that could be recovered. Other formerly independent farmers had moved to state farms or urban areas, where they provided valuable know-how for self-provisioning and urban agriculture.

An interesting question you pose is how the three hypotheses are related. I'd suggest that the military option (Hypothesis 3) comes first. If a country has a credible military option, it is likely to use it. However this does not tell us if the regime will at the same time retrench or if local solidarity will be mobilized at the same time. Both of these reactions are sometimes observed in times of war. The likelihood of finding either of the two, or both, depends on where a country is with regard to Hypotheses 2 and 3. In short: you are right, the hypotheses are not mutually exclusive and one should always ask how a country "scores" on any of them to get the full picture.

Finally, let me reiterate that the three hypotheses are not exhaustive. This is just as much as I could glean from easily available historical evidence. It is not hard to imagine other possible reactions, such as the mobilization of national sentiment by populist regimes.

Actions resulting from the implementation of hypothesis 3 will take a while because we have to go through first a painful transition sequence:

1. The demand outstrips production and oil price drastically climbs and becomes unaffordable.

2. This leads to a recession where oil consumption is less and accordingly the price of oil drops.

3. The economy recovers and the cycles 1-2 will happen again. Yet, the peak oil prices in the subsequent cycles increase and the trough price between these wave also increase every time.

4. Then there comes a time where the demand in even a recession cycle outstrips production and the oil price increases to such an extend that it requires actions according to hypothesis 3.

I believe we just had the first cycle. The duration of a cycle is unknown and uneven and may vary in accordance with many domestic, global, economic, and political factors. It has been suggested that a typical cycle is 3-5 years.


You have some good arguments, and I don't rule out that you may be right. We do not know the future, we are just guessing although we are making educated and not just haphazard guesses. However, why do you think Hypothesis 3 will occur only after several of these cycles, rather than escalating along with them or following rather quickly? Ten years after the world economic crisis of 1929 you had World War II.

Why keep negotiating with
recalcitrant leaders such as Chavez if there is a military option?

Wars are hella expensive. Resource wars have to pay. That constrains options for using the military severely. A far more efficient use of military force is to rent it out by promising it in exchange for a steady supply of oil.

The guys with oil are going to want to get the most for it. What are the ( often unstable ) folks with the oil going to get the folks with the guns into?

I think it's worth pointing out that a military strategy will be counter-productive.

The Iraq war was counter-productive. There is a modest chance that it's oil production will increase soon, but all in all I think you have to call the war a failure. The possibility of increased production rests on the dramatic underutilization of Iraq's oil resources, a situation that exists nowhere else. Anywhere else, long-term guerrilla warfare would reduce oil production, not increase it.

Japan has been much more successful as a mercantile power than as an imperial power.

An aggressive conversion to electrical transportation would be far easier and more effective than military procurement of oil.

As readers here know, one of my primary examples, and the one most relevant to the US (and UK) is WW II Switzerland, which I have studied in some detail (Sweden to a lesser degree).

They successfully maintained a decent, if stressed, quality of life in a western industrialized democracy.

More later,


Situatins of siege (as well as neutral countries surrounded by war that is not of their own making) are very interesting to study from a survivalist viewpoint. Many lessons can be gleaned from them. However I have not included them in my analysis as, so far, there is little to indicate that peak oil must be seen in the context of a global conflagration such as World War II. Peak Oil seems more likely to occur in peacetime, and military operations are more likely as responses than triggers.

There is MUCH to be learned in the methods and means of surviving a seven year, 100% oil embargo with 10 to 11 months stockpiled, and the majority of that oil was devoted to the Swiss Army and Air Force.

In addition, international trade was cut by over 90% and trade was limited to certain goods (no oil, rubber, and even food traded).



I have not denied that. I have only laid out my rationale for selecting the cases I've selected.

RE: your reference to Germany; it would appear the Nazi strategy was to produce "growth" for ethnic Germans first by taking it from minorities like Jews, and then when that ran dry, seizing it from their neighbors.

I like your post Civil War analysis of Dixie.

Also, certain types of sieges might be instructive. Like Vicksburg, 1863.

However, I'd like to recommend the City of Rome, when the Vandals captured Tunisia and cut off their grain supply. The city of Rome declined from perhaps a million during the reign of Augustus, to maybe a quarter million or so in the late 4th C. (Peter Heather), and I've read it declined to perhaps 15 to 20,000 by the 8th and 9th Centuries. (can't remember the source)

Bryan Ward - Perkins' book "The fall of Rome and the end of civilization" is an excellent source for a synthesis of the latest archaeology. Specifically, cooking utensils, roofing tiles, and coinage vanished. So, without a roof over one's head, anything other than the most rudimentary cookware, and no coinage, one can extrapolate what life was like.

In Britain, they apparently lost the knowledge of how to throw pots on a wheel, which had been used for millennia before Rome supplanted potters with factory produced wares, much of it from North Africa. It was centuries before "high tech" in the form of potting wheels reappeared.

it would appear the Nazi strategy was to produce "growth" for ethnic Germans first by taking it from minorities like Jews

Or how`about a simple us VS them position? My guess is as this thing goes all whisky Tango foxtrot the immigrants will be given the old 'they are the enemy' treatment. A simple paperwork check is all ya need to show the 'them' status, so it'll be popular.

In Britain, they apparently lost the knowledge of how to throw pots on a wheel,

Perhaps the issue wasn't the potters wheel but fuel for firing the pots?

Alan, a quick google doesn't seem to support the 100% embargo you mention above. Do you have any links?


The two axis powers (Germany and Italy) took 45% of Swiss exports in the years 1940-42. The main export items were machinery and iron and steel goods, tools and appliances, vehicles and chemicals.

These unquestionably contributed to the ability of the Axis to wage war, but the trade was reciprocal. The items imported by Switzerland - coal, petroleum products and raw materials for its factories, as well as food - were so many items removed from Germany's war effort


Switzerland's alpine railways were of central importance for transports between Germany and Italy . In case of an attack on Switzerland, the Swiss Army would have destroyed important bridges and tunnels, and would have paralyzed the connection for years. The Swiss compromise offer to Germany and Italy was, that Switzerland would allow transports between Germany and Italy in sealed box cars without checking the contents - in exchange for the supply of vital raw materials and goods. This obviously was more attractive to Germany than a destroyed railway line.

I have found accounts of the Swiss importing lubricants but not fuel. they did import reasonable quantities of coal, some of which went to their non-electrified rail lines (several were crash electrified, but the main lines were electrified before WW II).

The food accounts mention drafting city dwellers for periodic farm labor and reduced calories/person but not food imports. I could well believe that some olive oil and other items could have been imported.

I found more on Swiss-German trade than Swiss-Italian trade.

Oil use declined year by year, with 1945 #s for oil use was 1/400th per capita of US (2007) use. After the Normandy landing, the military cut back dramatically on their oil use. They assumed Germany would not invade at that moment.


There is a fundamental assumption here that the conditions around what happened in the past are the same as now. Is the world in 1860 or even 1940 really comparable with 2010?

I would need to see some strong justification for that assumption, before even considering whether these comparisons have merit.

That's a fair point. However historical analogues to Peak Oil are rare. I've studied about all straightforward cases that are available. There are some more, but with very few exceptions (Gaza Strip?) they are far less straightforward analogues. The best alternative to my historical method is formal modelling. Make assumptions, develop a model, plug data into it, and see what happens. They have tried this with climate change, where the application is much easier but even there I see is as quite speculative. Others may disagree, so let them do their formal modelling. What would you suggest? Refrain from asking what would happen in different parts of the world after peak oil? This seems to be exactly what most of my scientific colleagues are doing. But will it get us any further?

I will send you a draft of precisely that modeling, done by the Millennium Institute.

Send me an eMail (in link or decipher alan_drake at juno dott conn)

Best Hopes,


Funding a mixture of ASPO-USA and pro bono publico.


I've read the piece you've sent me ("Evaluating the creation of a parallel non-oil transportation system in an oil constrained future", http://www.millenniuminstitute.net/resources/elibrary/papers/Transportat...).

The piece is fuelled by noble intentions, but it is at best a parody of formal modelling. I do not have the time to go into detail here, but if this is formal modelling then my historical method is more reliable than the arbitrary assumptions and undocumented methods on which the piece relies. Fortunately there is more serious modelling out there, but let us not forget that even the modelling collated by the IPCC is being discredited. The current public scandalization serves in part defamatory purposes, but to a considerable extent real flaws in the formal models and how they were used have been detected. It turns out that formal modelling is as susceptible to distortions and manipulations than other methods. What is worse, these distortions and manipulations are harder to detect because the method is understood by only a few. If in my qualitative writing I make some momentous claim, informed people will catch me red-handed and shout back. If there is a momentous assumption hidden in some equation of a formal model, only very few people will be able to notice.

to a considerable extent real flaws in the formal models and how they were used have been detected

Could you provide more detail, or sources for that? My understanding is that you could reasonably call the IPCC errors "real" if you wanted, but that they weren't "important" in the sense that they changed the overall findings significantly.

If there is a momentous assumption hidden in some equation of a formal model, only very few people will be able to notice.

On the other hand, the IPCC is unique among models - it's so visible, and the issues it raises are so important, that their model really has received enormous attention. If you think of Climate Change debates as similar to the "adversarial method" of modern law, then you have to agree that CC (and all of it's work) has received a very thorough review from it's adversaries.


Gauging formal models is far more difficult for the layman than gauging qualitative analysis. People are very much in awe with models which they don't understand, while they often feel confident that they are experts of what somebody says in plain English even when they are not. This is why qualitative analysis tends to be much more exposed to public criticism than formal modelling (that's good).

The public impact of the IPCC compilations is indeed very impressive. I tend to agree with them, but I am not very much in awe with the "scientific objectivity" of their findings. Maybe I hang out with scientists too much to believe that peer review is really tough. If you proclaim accepted wisdom, you will face a downhill struggle. Peer review is tough only when you proclaim unconventional views.

That makes sense to me, but...it doesn't really answer my question.

Do you feel that the recent errors found in the IPCC compilations are important, or relatively minor? It sounds like you don't think that they're really earth-shaking. If you do feel that they are important, could you point me to what you feel is a good discussion of them?


The recent errors found in the IPCC compilations are not enormously important, although some of them are not entirely secondary either. The notorious "hockey stick" issue was actually rather serious.

For my money, however, the real issue is the risk that climate scientists may have built a culture of groupthink and inbreeding of which the IPCC is only the most visible expression. I say this despite great sympathies for the IPCC and its work. Even if the degree of confidence reported for climate change (something around 90%) may be exaggerated for the reasons named above, I caution that it may still be prudent for humanity to insure itself against a climate-change risk of, say, 70%.

The true reasons why we are unlikely to see such prudence do of course not have anything to do with the IPCC. Moreover, it seems to me that much of the recent campaigning against climate science in general and the IPCC in particular is mostly motivated by the post-Copenhagen hangover and political agendas.


I worry about the accusation of groupthink. It's levelled so ferociously by people who clearly are interested in nothing but defamation, that it seems very hard to evaluate. I read discussions by people who all in all seem sensible, who claim that such accusations are entirely baseless. It's very hard to evaluate all of this...

I've quite a bit of personal and professional experience with energy, but I don't have the independent information needed to evaluate the IPCC and CC. Again, it's tough to evaluate, but the climate scientists all in all seem credible, and I agree on the question of prudence relative to a 70% risk.

Heck, we need to do most of the same things to deal with PO and simple FF pollution...


The recent errors found in the IPCC compilations are not terribly important, although some of them are not entirely secondary either. The classical "hockey stick" issue is actually quite serious.

For my money, the real issue is the risk that climate scientists may have built a culture of groupthink and inbreeding of which the IPCC is only the most visible expression. I say this despite great sympathies for the IPCC and its important work. Even if the degree of certainty reported for climate change (something around 90%) may be exaggerated for the named reasons, I'd caution that it may still be prudent for humanity to insure itself against a risk of, say, 70%.

The true reasons why such prudence is unlikely to happen have of course nothing to do with the IPCC. And much of the recent campaign against climate science is driven by political agendas rather than a search for the truth.

"Refrain from asking what would happen in different parts of the world after peak oil? This seems to be exactly what most of my scientific colleagues are doing. "

I bet the CIA and other government's intelligence agencies have been asking that question for a long time now.

It is unfortunate that your scientific colleagues are so fat, happy, complacent and distracted.

Snarlin Aardvark

I hate blowing the wistle, but I must tell you that my colleagues have given me a real hard time with this article. Although I normally am a pretty successful scholar, this article was unanimously rejected twelve times (!) by my fellow political scientists. Usually every "reject" consists of two anonymous peer reviewers expressing an opinion, plus the editor of the journal in question taking a final decision. There was not a single case in all of these twelve "rejects" where even a single reviewer was recommending publication, or at least a "revise and resubmit". One reviewer told me my topic was too broad. He said that if this was something worthy of investigation, there would already be an extensive social scientific literature on peak oil from which to quote. In several cases the editor of the journal in question simply bounced back, telling me they just didn't want it.

In my despair, I finally sent my article to the journal "Energy Policy", which is transdisciplinary (not dominated by social scientists). Thanks God they accepted it without further ado. But as far as my colleagues in political science are concerned, this article has been my toughest sale ever.

Professor Friedrichs, I understand exactly.

I was a cadet at West Point in the Class of '77, and after I resigned the entire class was busted for cheating, in the biggest honor scandal in American History.

I devoted 18 years to writing about it, complete with 260 footnotes. It was to be called "Citadel of Corruption: the collapse of West Point's Honor system and America's defeat in Vietnam." Basically, instead of "honor," cadets learn to lie and cheat and get away with it, in an environment where they will be destroyed if they ever come clean about what they do.

My surviving classmates have become the top commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If I had been able to complete it before Gulf War 1, I probably would have had a best seller. But by 1999, nobody in New York cared about systemic corruption in West Point; the entire country (centered on New York) was busy descending into the greatest bout of fraud and systemic corruption in at least a century. (and after 9/11, it would be unthinkable to publish it.)

There is a very solid reason why so will listen to the Peak Oil perspective. They don't want to know the truth.

Actually, my experiences at West Point give me an insight into Dixie and Japanese examples.

I believe the Civil war was essentially a duel. At WP, first classmen sat at one end of the table, and fourth classmen (plebes), sat at the foot. The Plebes were little better than slaves, the first class men were planters, and the 3rd and 2nd class men were gradations of overseers, etc.

Essentially, the South overlaid the West Point model on their entire society, and fought to the death to preserve it. Duels, once lost, as so psychologically devastating that it is difficult to recover.

Japan pre 1945 was worse. They would rather die than risk dishonor. And that is why two nukes had to be dropped to force them to end the war.

In both these examples, honor came first, economics were intertwined.

Jim Burke,

You will be pleased to hear that quite possibly something has improved at West Point. One of my students here at Oxford is a West Point graduate. He is a truly independent thinker, a paragon of personal and moral integrity, and also very bright. But I admit, of course, that I know only this one student and cannot really say anything about West Point as an institution.

Been following your thoughts and appreciate them. The various cultural takes on "honor" have always been of interest. Long ago I read an interview with one of the Japanese officers in volved in the Bataan death march. I think it might have been at his war crimes trial. You probably know this or similar stories. The officer honestly couldn't understand why he was on trial. He felt the American people should be so ashamed that our troops surrendered that, at the least, they would accept the actions of the Japanese, and perhaps even applaude them for punishing all those men who brought such dishonor to our nation.

On a lighter note you may also be aware that (at one time years ago, at least) more generals graduated from the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M then West Point. As a grad student I was able to appreciate first hand a similar self imposed honor system. Not sure if the system ever stumbled and fell as it did at WP. But traditions and honor might have had a better survival rate in Texas than anywhere else. At least most Texacans would like to beleive that.

Mike Ivey married a cousin of mine. It is my understanding that he was on the cadet board that investigated and disciplined the honor scandal.

Just wondering if he made it into your book and in what way.

You can reply privately if you like.


Alan, thanks for the response. I am unfamiliar with him.

also, I doubt I'll do anything more on the book as long as the war continues, and afterward I'll probably not resume it. 18 years is enough time to invest in a economic dead end.


my colleagues have given me a real hard time with this article.

They were correct to do so.

One reviewer told me my topic was too broad. He said that if this was something worthy of investigation, there would already be an extensive social scientific literature on peak oil from which to quote.

He was partially right. The problem: there's no support in the economics realm for your unspoken hypothesis that an energy transition will be enormously difficult. In fact, the tech needed is already here.

Now, it did require a painful oil-price spike and imminent bankruptcy of several car makers to force the car industry to embrace electric vehicles, but they have now done so: the transition is taking place right now.


There seems to be some real disagreement between the two of us here. As a reviewer for various academic journals I regularly get papers with which I do not agree but which I recommend for publication. I do not think presenting accepted wisdom should be a requirement for publications.

As far as I am concerned, the only legitimate reason for rejecting a paper is a lack of quality. If there are arguments in the paper which I don't like, or statements with which I do not agree, then I still want the paper published so that it can be discussed openly rather than being trashed.

Fingers crossed for the electrification of traffic. But please do not forget that there is a lot of "sunk cost" in the existing vehicle park. Replacing that, and/or the conversion of cars, requires a lot of investment. This is not an easy or quick thing to happen under crisis conditions.

I do not think presenting accepted wisdom should be a requirement for publications.

I agree. Requirements should include reasonable assumptions and solid methodology.

The assumption that there are no alternative to oil is incorrect. See http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/09/can-everything-be-electrified.html , http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/09/can-shipping-survive-peak-oil.html , and http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/06/there-are-several-studies-by-rober... for details.

Regarding methodology: I would suggest that using a 1 year reduction of 50% as a proxy for a 20 year reduction is simply not valid.

Also, there is no evidence for a 20 year 50% reduction - see my comment below where I provide detail.


please do not forget that there is a lot of "sunk cost" in the existing vehicle park. Replacing that, and/or the conversion of cars, requires a lot of investment.

50% of vehicle miles in the US come from vehicles less than 6 years old. That means that the normal pace of replacement can replace 50 of the problem in 6 years - no abnormal investment is required.

This is not an easy or quick thing to happen under crisis conditions.

That there will be an economic crisis is precisely the thing in question - we cannot assume it.

Assumptions about the future are not correct or incorrect, they are reasonable or unreasonable based on evidence about the present or past. They become correct or incorrect only with wisdom of hindsight.

As for the proxies I use, they are as good as it gets. I am not aware of any better proxies available. For methodological reasons I am indeed not directly applying my proxies, but extracting variables which I then apply very carefully in order to derive plausible scenarios.

There are of course alternatives to oil, and if you take the time to read my full article there is an entire section discussing them (at the end of the article). However I doubt whether they will be adequate.

In a comment above, you can see the reasons why I do not believe the electrification of cars is a panacea. Just one additional thought: under conditions of an economic crisis people are less likely than usual to buy new cars. And, as mentioned, the problem with the electrification of car traffic is not just about replacing and/or revamping cars. A lot of investment in infrastructure is also required -- difficult under crisis conditions.

We can indeed assume that there will be a crisis if there is 2-5% decline of oil supply per annum for 20 years. We cannot incontrovertibly predict it, but there is more evidence to suggest that there will be a crisis than to suggest that there won't. I have already provided the reasons.

Assumptions about the future are not correct or incorrect, they are reasonable or unreasonable based on evidence about the present or past. They become correct or incorrect only with wisdom of hindsight.

I agree, which is why I used the word "reasonable" to begin with. Please, substitute"unreasonable" for the word "incorrect" in the following discussion. Or, you could use "unrealistic".

I've replied to the rest of your thoughts in this comment, elsewhere.

I am not aware of any better proxies available.

I would argue that the Swiss (and to a lesser extent Swedish) proxy is also a good comparable. Both for WW II and today, facing Peak Oil.

Quite frankly, your paper should have included "Option 4 - Switzerland" (and perhaps Sweden).

Besides WW II,

In 1998, the Swiss voted for a massive investment, comparable to the one the USA should make. And quite appropriate (if not ideal) for a post-Peak Oil world.

Magnus Redin, who posts here occasionally, is the technocrat in charge of vetting proposals for energy and environmental policy for the Moderate Party of Sweden.

Sweden is definitely investing in infrastructure for a post-Peak Oil world (also good for Climate Change).

France is another, with TGVs, the 2006 goal of electrifying "every meter of French railways" in 20 years, the massive expansion of trams (1,500 km, every town of 100,000) and increased bicycling (goal 10% of urban trips).

Best Hopes,



Yes, the Swiss and the other cases have a number of attractions if you are generally interested in socioeconomic adaptation. However I have not selected them as case studies for my research because they do not meet a number of criteria. As far as Switzerland (and Sweden) during WW II are concerned, I have specified these criteria in an earlier comment and simply repeat them here:

"Situations of siege (as well as neutral countries surrounded by war that is not of their own making) are very interesting to study from a survivalist viewpoint. Many lessons can be gleaned from them. However I have not included them in my analysis as, so far, there is little to indicate that peak oil must be seen in the context of a global conflagration such as World War II. Peak Oil seems more likely to occur in peacetime, and military operations are more likely as responses than triggers."

Contemporary Sweden (see the post on this thread by Magnus Redin, a policy evaluator for the major ruling party in Sweden today) as well as Switzerland and France appear to be viable options that meet your peace-time criteria.

Only the preliminary impacts of post-Peak Oil have yet arrived, but all three nations are making substantial steps to prepare.

Best Hopes,



Not quite.

Apart from peacetime my other criterion is a supply disruption of 20% or more over less than two decades. Good for Sweden and Switzerland if they take steps to prepare, but we are not there yet.

US oil consumption fell by 19% from 1978-1982. That's very close to the 20% criterion, and at the high end of the 2%-5% per year range.

Strikingly, US GDP rose slightly during this period, despite the presence of a "shock" monetary policy intended to deal not just with oil import prices but 15 years worth of built-up inflation expectations (that started with deficit spending for the Vietnam war, and grew with loose monetary policy to support the 1972 Nixon election).

Ok, say from 1940 to 2010:

1) Today there are several credible nuclear weapons arsenals, at least three of which assure retaliatory destruction.
2) Today mass media operates as an extremely powerfull propaganda medium.
3) Today large numbers of military casualties of self-identified "our side" people on foreign soil are much more difficult to conceal.
4) In most locations, a more humanist spirit is considered de rigeure, eg. one could never get half the people of a large developed nation to fight for race-based slavery or extermination of a religious sect.

1) The same elites are in control.
2) The motivations of the controlling elites are the same.
3) The same political system is still considered "state-of-the-art".


You must be very smart indeed. May I suggest that you send me your rigorous and scientifically incontrovertible research on the first twenty years after peak oil when it is ready? You can find my email on the following website: http://www.qeh.ox.ac.uk/people/staff/arDetail?qeh_id=FRI1JM2630.

Thank you very much in advance.

;<) You forgot the /sarconal

Sorry if something there offends you, I just do it to get useful feedback on what I'm thinking, and fail to see the harm.


Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you.

In terms of feedback on what you were thinking: Yes, times are a'changin. But does this not apply to the three similarities you mention just as much as to your four differences?

My own line of defence is that, if we are careful, we can compare situations structurally even if context is very different. For example, I take home many lessons from the stories Jesus tells us in the New Testament. I could not do so if I did not assume that the stories are applicable even in the absence of contextual factors like a slaveholder society, a Roman Emperor, or abundant fish in Lake Genezareth. Similarly, like many others I believe the process against Galileo Galilei gives us interesting general clues on how "accepted wisdom" can for a while stifle dissenters and how that "accepted wisdom" is eventually dethroned generations later.

My bottomline is that when comparing across space and time we need to be careful to extract the right factors that are truly analogous, but we do NOT ALWAYS need to be too much troubled by idiosyncratic contextual factors. This depends, however, on what these contextual factors are. If A relates to B like C relates to D, it is not necessarily a huge problem if E is the case in (A/B), while F is the case in (C/D) -- unless, that is, there is a mechanism how E impacts heavily on (A,B) or F on (C,D).

If I apply these rather abstract considerations to your original comment, then we'd have to show exactly how for example the presence of mass media makes lessons from Japan inapplicable to a US scenario. How would the presence of mass media prevent the US from embarking on the sort of strategy Japan has embarked upon? Can US elites not manipulate mass media just as effectively, or even more effectively, than Japanese elites could manipulate the Japanese press?

On a final note, we should of course also take account the fact that contextual similarities and differences may easily change a few years into the post-peak-oil world. Mass media, communication links, and humanism for example may gradually degenerate or disintegrate.

Perhaps you were too far away to observe firsthand the contribution of ALL US mass media to the 2nd US invasion of Iraq. A month before it started I was regularly getting banned from blogsites for holding fast (and loudly) to the position that the entire affair was about oil, and WMD was at best a distraction, at worst non-existent. NOT just Fox Media, though they are perhaps the worst example, but ALL US MSM, co-operated in proclaiming the false justifications, and in sanitizing the actual events, and have never acknowledged the problem or made any adjustments to repair it. News in the US is now a for-profit entertainment project at best (CNN) or a deliberate propaganda tool of the elites (FOX). They were able to create the necessary pre-conditions (everything from Freedom Fries to vilifying Dixie Chicks and many others) for the invasion EXTREMELY rapidly relative to anything available in the 1930's/1940's , and I consider this effect to be a very important difference which, if not adjusted for, will make your model outcomes irrelevant at best.

Similar for other issues.


Although I was not in the United States in 2003, I am of course aware of what you are saying. However, I am afraid this particular piece of evidence speaks against you. As you seem to suggest yourself, the effect of mass media makes it more, not less likely that the US will embark on a strategy of military predation. Mass media can be manipulated for jingoistic purposes.

If something is to make my model irrelevant, however, then it should counteract the predicted effect of predatory militarism rather than further reinforcing it as seems to be the case here. I therefore rest unconvinced by your objection unless you come up with something better.

I was disappointed to find how easily the Bush administration manipulated the emotional shock of 9/11 to support an invasion of Iraq.

Still, it's worth noting that it took a long time for the US to recover from the trauma of Vietnam. Afghanistan taught a bitter lesson to Russia, and Iraq and Afghanistan are now teaching similar lessons,both to the US and the world.

It's also worth noting that there were multiple motivations for the Iraq war, including helping Israel, increasing revenues to the military/industrial complex, and even a (little) bit of real concern about WMD.

Finally, 9/11 did provide a very powerful and unusual pretext. It will be harder for most world leaders to start similar resource wars.

One of the modern masters of such media control was the German Communist from whom Joseph Goebbels learned his trade, Willi Münzenberg. Münzenberg was not only the inventor of spin, he was also the first person who perfected the art of creating a network of opinion-forming journalists who propagated views which were germane to the needs of the Communist Party in Germany and to the Soviet Union. He also made a huge fortune in the process, since he amassed a considerable media empire from which he creamed off the profits.

I'll let the readers track down where that quote came from - and if you find other sources about Willi - feel free to post 'em.

He also made a huge fortune in the process, since he amassed a considerable media empire from which he creamed off the profits.

Wellllll.... hmmm. That's not exactly communist doctrine is it?

No. But then, it wasn't communist doctrine for Stalin and pals to get cash presents in the early '30s, but they did it anyways.

On it's way !

Check your eMail box.

Best Hopes,



Thank you. Got it.


I've read the piece you've sent me ("Evaluating the creation of a parallel non-oil transportation system in an oil constrained future", http://www.millenniuminstitute.net/resources/elibrary/papers/Transportat...).

The piece is fuelled by noble intentions, but it is at best a parody of formal modelling. I do not have the time to go into detail here, but if this is formal modelling then my historical method is more reliable than the arbitrary assumptions and undocumented methods on which the piece relies. Fortunately there is more serious modelling out there, but let us not forget that even the modelling collated by the IPCC is being discredited. The current public scandalization serves in part defamatory purposes, but to a considerable extent real flaws in the formal models and how they were used have been detected. It turns out that formal modelling is as susceptible to distortions and manipulations than other methods. What is worse, these distortions and manipulations are harder to detect because the method is understood by only a few. If in my qualitative writing I make some momentous claim, informed people will catch me red-handed and shout back. If there is a momentous assumption hidden in some equation of a formal model, only very few people will be able to notice.


The link for the paper got cut off.


Here's the full link: http://www.millenniuminstitute.net/resources/elibrary/papers/Transportation_MI09.pdf>


Well, I note one error: EVs were not included in the analysis. As Alan notes, he and I have had many discussions about this.

Personally, I thought Lengould made some good points, I didn't see it as a personal attack, just some constructive comments about a proposed hypothesis. His point on nuclear weapon arsenals is definately a consideration when it comes to warfare as an "option". As for the humanist spirit, however, I would disagree. While we'd like to think of ourselves as enlightened, the US is more than willing to go to war with a country that is different than ourselves. Recent wars are a good example of this (Afganistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yugoslavia) Our humanism only seems to extend to countries somewhat simailar to ourselves, and if our leaders decide we need to use military power, they will create the justification and the American people will fall in line (Support the Troops! right?)

There are so many potential flashpoints around the world, China/India/Pakistan/Venezula/Iran/Iraq(again)/Saudi Arabia etc. that conflict does seem extremely likely. I do think nuclear arsenals change the picture from that of 1940 Japan however. (Would Japan have attacked Pearl Harbor if they knew at the time we had an atomic bomb? If not, would they have gone after a softer target instead or tried instead to use economic power to acquire scarce resources?) China today is a perfect example of using economic power to obtain aceess to oil, without having to resort to a military invasion to achieve their goals.

The wrinkle I would add to the hypothesis is the dissolution of the USSR. Although some military flailing did occur in the run up to the dissolution, no major conflicts (on the order of invading China, etc.) occured. Would you argue that the USSR dissolution is non-relevant to Hypothesis 3?

If I have been too harsh on Lengould, then I apologize. The reason why I have so far not participated to debates on this site (nor am I planning to do so in the foreseeable future), is the extremely rude way people tend to treat each other. I see you as a bunch of very smart people often treating each other like shit, and I do not understand why. Maybe I am hyper-sensitive, but one of you seems to deserves that kind of treatment. In any case it was far from my intentions to be hostile to Lengould. I am still not convinced by his arguments, but I have now tried to respond in a more appropriate way.

On your own points, Runeshade, I just wonder how much nukes can ever help to get oil. It's a bit like trying to use a sledge hammer to get a nail off the wall. Btw, I'm not talking about some nuclear have-not attacking the US. On the contrary, I'm rather talking about a nuclear have such as the US going after some non-nuclear country. I fully agree with you that humanism so far has not prevented societies from savaging other societies. Let's not forget the "White Man's Burden".

As far as China is concerned, I have puzzled for a long time why they do these shopping sprees. It just does not seem to make sense. For now you can buy oil on the spot market, and when push comes to shove China won't be able to control the sea lanes from, say, Angola to China. Building pipelines from Central Asia, or from Burma to mainland China to avoid the Strait of Malacca, makes far more sense. So why are they doing these shopping sprees? A colleague, Niall Ferguson, finally had the answer, and I am inclined to believe he is right. The Chinese are sitting on a lot of US Dollar reserves. They'd love to get rid of these, but whenever they try to they get into trouble with the United States. Investing into commodities via production sharing agreements is an elegant way for them to get rid of some of their Dollars as it does not look like a Central Bank transaction. It can therefore not be interpreted as an unfair attempt to destabilize the Dollar and gain advantages from the devaluation of Chinese currency. At the same time, it may help Chinese NOCs in their quest to become international champions.

I do not think the peaceful end of the Soviet Union is relevant to Hypothesis 3. Some people argue that the demise of Soviet energy extraction played a role. Even so, I do not see this as a case either to verify or falsify Hypothesis 3. At least from the US point of view, it seems that the end of the Soviet Union was about entirely different issues.

I see you as a bunch of very smart people often treating each other like shit.

I come from an academic family and know what can go on there. Earlier TOD was ~20% professors (lower today).

I did my part in the early days to create and sharpen the criticism here, but it is a criticism of ideas. On-line peer review at it's best, and sharpest. There is a specific tone that has evolved here.

I have criticized people who I like and admire, but I disagree with.

It is a rough game here, I admit. But I hope that you return.

Best Hopes,


Given the stakes here, it seems comparatively civil. The really nasty dudes tend to drift away.

Yes and no. Yes, I think compared to some sites and discussions, those on TOD are comparatively civil and the really nasty people have left. I have benefited from conversations I have never participated in directly. Thank you, TOD.

No, it's not good enough and therefore I tend to agree more with Dr. Friedrichs on the civility issue. The high stakes should encourage us to see ourselves and our own positions in those we disagree with and therefore to be more polite than we would be "among friends." It's a question not only of actual treatment of each other but perceived treatment of each other, so that conversations which are not actually hostile are seen that way and thus discourage others from participating.

Fixing this may involve a few extra key-strokes and phrases such as "I see what you mean but have you considered this," but in the long run it will increase rather than decrease the flow of needed information. Perhaps if it is too difficult or time-consuming to add these extra keystrokes, the comment wasn't really needed in the first place.

I'd invite Keith Akers and anyone else involved to go back and re-read the post which apparently offended the professor, then tell me exactly what the basis of his claimed offense is?

May 6, 2010 - 11:32am
starts with "Ok, say from 1940 to 2010:"

Is the professor simply trying to divert attention from a clear weakness in his thesis, eg. that events today are likely to unfold the same as they did 60 or 70 years ago? Clearly for example nuclear arsenals in USA and China are significant issues in game planning any competition between USA and China for eg. oil resources in Sudan, S.Arabia, Australia once shortages really start to bite.


If you really do not want attention to be diverted from the real issues, as you say, then please stop wasting your time here and go back to the other thread (starts with "Although I was not in the United States...") where I show clear weaknesses in your counter-arguments to my theses and invite you to come up with something better; and then come up with something better.

Nowhere do I say that things are going to unfold the same as 60 or 70 years ago. Instead I identify a pattern which I would expect to recur in broadly comparable ways. Why should the fact of having nuclear weapons, for example, prevent the United States from intervening in a place like Venezuela in order to secure access to resources that might otherwise be denied to it?

As far as competition between the US and China in places like Sudan is concerned, I would suggest that when push comes to shove this would depend on who controls the sea lanes. As long as the US has naval (and air) supremacy, I do not really see how nuclear weapons might help the Chinese secure oil from Sudan if the US wants to deny it to them. Nukes are a very blunt tool for such purposes.

Are you proposing that a Chinese operation to clear US naval bases from the western Pacific wouldn't become an issue? And that the fact of both the opponents also having viable nuclear power doesn't make it a different issue than WWII with US and Japan?

I think some things are being made clear by recent history. a) nuclear arsenals have made all-out conventional war pretty much obsolete among major powers. b) because of a, such competition is done in third-party countries who are not directly nuclear-armed, and who have no nuclear-armed sponsor. c) what is now being called terrorism is simply the logical outcome of overwhelming disparity in military power. d) while terrorism has always been restricted to the perpetrator's environment, modern travel has hugely expanded that environment (compare S.African's resistance to British in Boer war, Vietnamese resistance to USA in 1960's, to present forms of resistance of invaded peoples. It's not because the people are differrent, certainly no-one was more fanatic and self-sacrificing in their resistance than the Viet-Cong, but because travel / migration /communication etc. has changed).


Sorry, but you are wrong. Nuclear weapons are not Excalibur. They serve certain purposes but not others. For example they did not stop the insurgents in Vietnam from doing their thing.

On (a) and (b), that's simply besides the point. It is true that they have made all-out conventional war pretty much obsolete among major powers, but I am not talking about that. I'm talking about predatory militarism where the strong are likely to predate upon the weak and not directly on other predators.

Even at the risk of repeating myself, the fact of having nuclear weapons will not get oil from Angola or Sudan to China as long as the United States have naval and air supremacy. The Chinese might try some nuclear blackmail, but how credible is that given the overwhelming capacity of the United States to retaliate? Chinese decision makers do of course know exactly what the situation is, and therefore they will play nice for the foreseeable future. The utmost they may eventually do is play Tom and Jerry with the US in the Western Pacific. But even that is very limited. Who controls the Straits of Malacca? Why do you think they haven't tried anything serious in Taiwan so far?

I will not comment on your point (c) as it is does not seem to be supported by any firm evidence. You are right with your point (d), but I cannot see how on earth it is relates to our argument.

I am a bit a bit baffled by the argument you two are having here. As I see it, at least as far as the economic effects are concerned, we are already in a "peak oil lite" scenario (i.e. demand had already outstripped supply just before this current recession and we are already dealing with the consequences of scarcer oil for society) and the USA are actively pursuing a strategy of predatory militarism since the early 2000's. It is known that Dick Cheney was aware of oil depletion and that he said publicly that "the Middle East with two thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies". That the USA are responding militarily and predatory to the oil supply problem is a historic fact and not a theory.

see this: http://www.peakoil.net//Publications/Cheney_PeakOil_FCD.pdf


Thanks for this, you have a point. As pointy-headed people like me are wont to say in clumsy jargon, "there is mounting evidence that you may be right". But at least formally the jury is still out on some of the issues you are taking for granted. First, your Cheney quote is contradicted by other rationalizations of the Iraq War. Second, peak oil will be known only long after the fact. We cannot conclusively rebut people talking about an "ondulating plateau" until several years after the descent has started. I therefore see it as more prudent not to make such claims in the first place. I could easily make them on this site, as I am preaching (mostly) to the converted. But when it comes to convincing a mainstream audience, which seems to be the real tasks peak oilers are facing, it is necessary to concentrate as much as possible on claims that are backed by conclusive evidence.

Daer Joerg,

I completely agree that you could not make such an argument in a scientific article as PO can indeed be proven only after the fact and one man's "predatory militarism" is another man's "making the world safe for democracy". I also believe nothing is ever monocausal, so there will certainly be more reasons why the US went to war in Iraq.

But even though correlation is not causation it is an open fact that the US wages war in oil-rich regions, and from this we can estimate that it could be likely to keep doing this in the future. It's not science, but common sense.

Let me thank you for posting this very valuable paper. I found it to be a very interesting study and I think we need more inquiries along these lines.

About the "ondulating plateau": IMO peak oil will always look like an ondulating plateau when going through it. It will only look like a peak from far away, so the plateau meme is in fact an admission of PO, not a contradiction.

One thing that I perceive since the oil price spike, is that society is already adjusting to the fact that we are running out of oil. The immense boom in R&D in electric cars would have been unthinkable just three years ago. The car industry certainly has already gotten the wake up call.
I personally believe we will see a mix of strategies in response to PO and not all of them are regressive. As society at large is becoming aware of oil scarcity, infrastructure gets changed and the problem alleviated. At least that is how it appears from Germany.

But even though correlation is not causation it is an open fact that the US wages war in oil-rich regions, and from this we can estimate that it could be likely to keep doing this in the future. It's not science, but common sense.

Unfortunately, war for oil isn't speculation, it's official US policy. See the Carter Doctrine.


We can easily settle on this. Commonsense is valuable, and so is science. One can keep in check the other. In fact, much of the science I read is fairly remote from commonsense. On the other hand, commonsense is sometimes belied by scientific knowledge without realizing it. Both is a shame. What I am therefore proposing is that there should be checks and balances between commonsense and science. In fact, this is one of the benefits of exposing an academic article to discussion on a website like this one.

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil”

Alan Greenspan, in his 2007 memoir.

"....or extermination of a religious sect."

I reckon some of my Hindu and Sikh friends would disagree on that one ( Indian Sub continent clue).

just an observation - don't shoot the messenger...


Yes, but Lengould specified the inhabitants of "a large *developed* nation", not third-world nations.

Dr. Friedrichs -

Very nicely done article, and a very sensible and realistic one also (for a refreshing change).

My take on a central theme running through the several examples is that chronic resource scarcity and a free and open society are highly incompatible, for the simple reason that it takes an iron hand and a repressive police apparatus to enforce serious and painful restrictions on the way a country's people live. I have little difficulty is picturing the US becoming such in the next few decades. Oh, we will still have elections (albeit sham ones) and all the superficial trappings of a free society, but our day-to-day lives will be rigidly controlled by an increasingly ruthless security network. Arguably, we have already embarked down that road in a number of areas.

While I don't really take issue with most of what you've said, I would just like to offer the following observations:

North Korea - North Korea was a totalitarian state practically from its inception. Its energy supply problems of the 1990s didn't make it a totalitarian state but enabled such a state to continue. (That in itself is a good lesson regarding what might be in store for us).

Cuba - Unlike North Korea, Cuba's climate requires only a minimal amount of energy for home heating. So they were quite fortunate in that regard. As most people were too poor to own cars, their gasoline consumption was also pretty low to begin with. Their resourcefulness has been quite commendable. I love the way they have managed to keep 1950s-vintage US autos running by all sorts of creative ways (such as using a hacksaw and file to make piston rings for a '55 Chevy out of a section of steel pipe).

Japan - Japan had imperialist ambitions for quite some time before their oil supply problem became an obvious weak point. It just gave them another excuse to go foraging for resources in other countries. Of course, the total embargo of oil by the US in September of 1941, was the event that ensured war with the US.

The Confederacy - Here I might depart a bit from your analysis. I am not so sure that the problems the South had in the years after the Civil war was so heavily due to the fact that they no longer had slaves. There were still a lot of dirt-poor whites willing to work for practically nothing. I tend to think it might have had more to do with the fact that the South was both economically and physically wrecked as the result of desperately fighting a war they could not win. Why it took them so long to get back on their feet is something I don't fully understand.

I don't see how one can escape the conclusion that severe energy shortages pave the way for both war and oppressive governments.


We seem to be in almost full agreement. So here are just a few comments on your comments.

1. North Korea

This was of course a brutal Stalinist regime from the inception. However, there was an important change in the 1990s which I try to capture with the term "totalitarian retrenchment". In line with the ideology of "juche" (self reliance), up until the 1980s the regime had heavily invested in coalmines and hydropower to satisfy North Korea’s enormous energy needs. Furthermore, Pyongyang had developed a toxic industrialized agriculture to feed the highly urbanized North Korean population. Farming in North Korea was based on irrigation, mechanization, electrification, and the prodigious use of chemicals. In 1990, estimated per capita energy use was twice as large in North Korea as in China and over half that of Japan.

In a way, they tried to keep the population happy. But this was over when fuel became scarce in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, Pyongyang’s performance is a failure only when measured against the standards of liberal democracy. On its own (cynical) terms, the regime has been incredibly successful. The crisis prompted North Korean elites to abandon the Stalinist path of wasteful industrialism, and allocate systemic scarcity instead. This negative policy choice made it possible to avoid an economic and political opening, thus preserving cherished elite privileges. While Pyongyang's brinkmanship may be morally repugnant, Korean-style totalitarian retrenchment is without doubt one possible response to a severe energy supply disruption.

2. Japan

What you suggest is exactly my position, as I have pointed out in a previous comment further above.

3. Confederacy

Let me elaborate a bit more.

The socioeconomic backbone resource of the Old South was slaves. Precisely because the slave economy worked, white Southerners were willing to defend it in the bloody War of Secession of 1861-1865. The abolition of slavery after the War plunged the South into a deep crisis. The War was followed by the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877), when the victorious North tried to enlist dissident elites and former slaves to impose its political and socio-economic institutions on a reluctant South. Despite the introduction of representation and suffrage for former slaves, reconstruction was mostly thwarted by the recalcitrance of traditionalist Southern elites. Heavy subsidization of railroads by Republican state governments in the South did not lead to the hoped-for modernization but rather to corruption, making a few investors rich and otherwise contributing to soaring public deficits. After the withdrawal of the last federal troops from the South, race inequality was re-established under the banner of white supremacy.

Later in the Nineteenth Century, Southern elites were not prevented by their conservative values from embracing industrial capitalism. Initially, this amounted to an uneasy compromise between cherished industrialization and dreaded modernization. On the one hand, Southern elites became obsessed with the idea that an industrializing “New South” would rise like phoenix from the ashes of the “Old South”. On the other hand, they remained loyal to time-honoured values of agrarianism and patriarchal society.

This was reflected in a quasi-colonial economy. While railroads were finally built on a massive scale, often with Northern capital, Southern industrialization was initially dominated by low-wage and labour-intensive manufacturing. Most industries were dedicated to the processing of agricultural goods (e.g. cotton mills) or natural resources (e.g. blast furnaces). The real industrial takeoff came much later, after several generations of socio-economic backwardness, and after the New Deal of the 1930s (electrification) and the war economy of World War II. In the mid-20th Century, Dixieland finally became a growth region and came to be seen as part of the American “Sunbelt”. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 put an end to official race segregation in the South, although some race issues remain until the present day.

I was a child in Texas during WWII. It is said that the gasoline rationing was primarily designed to save rubber. My father had a B card for our single car but we drove very little and never over 35 mph. 1941 was the last year of full automobile production. I traveled around Amarillo mostly on a light weight "Victory" bike or on foot. Occasionally on a bus. Though some food was rationed I don't recall going hungry. For me personally the single greatest impact of rationing and shortages involved basketball shoes. I don't recall the populace being particularly unhappy. There was extreme solidarity. Amarillo had a busy air base and a bomb factory. Pantex, the bomb factory is now dismantling atomic weapons.

Robert Wilson,

There's an interesting contrast to Japan at the end of the war. In September 1945, Japan was so fuel-starved that it was difficult to find an ambulance with sufficient fuel to transport Premier Tojo to a hospital after his attempted suicide. Pine roots had been dug out from mountainsides all over the country in a desperate attempt to find a resinous substitute to fossil fuel. Much of the Japanese air force and navy had been sacrificed in kamikaze raids, at least in part because there was not sufficient petrol to refuel planes and ships to return from their sorties and keep fighting.

While the USA did have enough domestic oil to demand some sacrifices from its population but without stifling "normal" life, Japan was forced to do precisely that because they needed every drop. None of this is to condone any Japanese actions or atrocities. But the contrast seems to be really instructive.

robert wilson -

You comments bring out a good point: that is it's not just the size and type of restrictions that are relevant, but also the context in which they are imposed.

Gasoline and rubber rationing during WWII was strongly embraced by the general population because they felt (or were persuaded to believe ) it was but a temporary inconvenience well worth the sacrifice in the interest of the worthwhile goal of winning the war.

On the other hand, if such rationing is imposed as a permanent measure as the result of chronic resource shortages, then the general mood will be far from upbeat and will eventually get downright ugly, particularly when it becomes clear that the privileged elite have all the gas they want. That's where a repressive police state comes in .... to make the people afraid to act out their anger.

This is why a rationing system must be brought in as resources become constrained. To leave it to price or taxes in an effort to reduce consumption will lead to resentment and trouble.

Thing is, price itself (including category-specific taxes) *is* a rationing mechanism --just a market based one. And having lived through the OPEC fuel embargoes of the 70s, I can tell you while NASCAR Americans may bitch and moan about high gas prices, they resent "gubermint" rationing even *more*. Actually, high gas prices provide politicians tremendous political cover. When gas gets painfully expensive, they can just scapegoat Big Oil, OPEC and speculators (with some justification) and deflect public anger away from themselves.

Joule: You and several other of those commenting above are correct that The Confederacy example is much more complex than just the loss of slave power energy. Both poor whites, and poor blacks were available for work. Many poor blacks were soon back at agricultural work as sharecroppers or hired hands under conditions quite similar to slavery. Poor whites went to work in the new textile mills that were in full-growth mode within decades of the end or the war. And the devastation of the war was only a part of the problem.

A thick soup of myth and historical apology mixes with negative cliches to obscure the reality.

A truly eye-opening book on a lost aspect of the era is an out-of-print 1971 book: THE CONFEDERACY AS A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE by Emory M. Thomas, a University of Georgia historian writing for "The New Insights in History" Series. If you think you have read all there is to know about the era, dig up a copy of this.

Dr. Friedrichs has written a thought-provoking work. Preservation of American car craziness (to use Kunstler's term)may prove more important than civil liberties. Neither our vaunted free press, nor our enlightened cultural values were much protection against the scheming neo-con lies that propelled us into the recent U.S.-U.K. petro-adventure. And didn't Dr. Samsam Bhaktiar tell us before he died that Iran is already past Peak?

Cap'n Daddy

The one thing about the military option, though, is that it doesn't really work. Oil infrastructure is fragile and easily broken. Breaking things is something that militaries are good at. They are not nearly so good at keeping fragile things running and unbroken. Even if a military can manage to capture an oil infrastructure without breaking it, this merely invites their enemies to attack the oil infrastructure as a strategic move.

If the objective is merely to deny the oil to one's adversaries, then the military option is a highly effective one. If that is not the objective, that is likely about all you are going to end up with anyway.

WNC Observer,

I'd be delighted if that became accepted wisdom among decision makers in powerful countries. Even if we assume a military solution works for those wielding it, it's at best a temporary fix to gain time. It wastes resources that would be better used to build rather than destroy. If decision makers and common people see this, the necessary transition after peak oil will be far more manageable.

That is what I would wish to happen, not what I expect to happen given the historical record.

Dr. Friedrichs,

I agree that the military option is wasteful,and that it is generally of use for only a limited time, but the waste can easily if callously be justified by a winning aggressor.

The time span can sometimes be rather long-some empires based on, or dependent on, military power have lasted for a long time.

I disagree with the idea that an occupying military power cannot keep an infrastructure such as a modern oil field and treminal system functional,if the problem is viewed as a MILITARY rather than a political problem.

A power such as the US,or Britian in her heyday,is so reluctant to actually go out and simply wipe any local remaining opposition in occupied territory that pipelines and so forth can be sabotaged almost with impunity, for years and decades, especially if the locals are getting outside support.

But this squeamishness(for which I am grateful of course) does not mean that a modern power cannot absolutely enforce it's will on an occupied country, IF THE STAKES ARE HIGH ENOUGH.

Kipling is one of my very most favorite writers.I don't believe anyone else will ever do a better job explaining the realities of being involved in a war in a place such as Afghanistan.

I understand why winning in Vietnam was such a long shot.

I have talked with numerous military men, some for many long evenings. I am also a farmer,university trained, and familiar with herbicides.

Now let us suppose the chips are REALLY down, and for good measure, the tv cameras are excluded from the war zone.

The US, or any other major power with a serious air force and the ability to deploy it,could destroy the indigenous agricultural system of any small country with herbicides in a matter of days.Every body living there would have to leave or starve in a matter of weeks, months at the most.

Times change, in all matters, especially in matters of technology, and the technology of war all too often leads the way.

I do not believe my country would embark on a campaigm of mass extermination, or LITERALLY ENSLAVE the population of another country,at this time, nor at any time in the near future, given our current values.

But the people of Germany, Japan, and Russia mostly held similar beliefs in the first quarter of the last century, did they not?

If and when tshtf for real and for good, and tptb decide that the time has come to bet the whole game on simply siezing another country, there is considerable reason to believe that such a move CAN succeed.

Incidentally, oil infrastructure can be repaired;some other commenters are prone to ignore this obviious fact.Kuwait was producing oil again not that long after Saddam was driven out.

I am really impressed with your work and hope you will see fit to contribute another article to TOD soon.

Your interpretation of the history of the American South is obviously correct so far as it goes( I am somewhat of an armchair historian myself and read a lot of history )but it needs a generous injection of geographical data along the lines of the work done by Jared Diamond in Guns , Germs, and Steel.

Of course this might only seem so to me because I am a southern farmer and acutely conscious of how the erormous role played by climate, soils, and topography in the development of my native land. ;-)

"I do not believe my country would embark on a campaigm of mass extermination, or LITERALLY ENSLAVE the population of another country,at this time, nor at any time in the near future, given our current values.

But the people of Germany, Japan, and Russia mostly held similar beliefs in the first quarter of the last century, did they not?"

Actually, all three of these countries had no problem with de facto slavery. For Russia, serfs had only been freed in the 1870s. For Japan and Europeans, we only have to look at the forms colonialism took. Belgium, which we think of an enlightened country, was chopping off arms of Congolese who refused to work for free. Do a bit of reading as to Japan's colonization of Korea.

I have done my bit of reading and then some.until high speed internet arrived in my area, I spent just about every evening with a serious book for the last fifty years.many of the books were history books, and I am familiar with the broad outlines of nineteenth and early twentieth century history. We could add the history of the Spanish in Central America and the English in North America at a bit earlier dates to your examples, and as many others as we would care to tabulate , going farther back..

Perhaps I should have stated my case a little differently;while an actual war of aggression is UNDER WAY, the people still mostly believe thier country is in the right and is the aggrieved party in such instances.Of course the elites in power and the small minority of thinking and educated people know better.

Right now the average person in the US does not believe we are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan strictly for our own grubby purposes.As a matter of fact, unless he happens to have a family member or good buddy deployed there, the average man scarcely realizes we are even involved in a war overseas.His attention is almost 100 percent elsewhere.

I suppose I should have used a sarconal tag or two in my comment.

But I really do believe that the US will not resort to actual outright brutality on the grand scale for the forseeable future;it's not our style, as indicated by our eforts to get the water and sewer and schools up and running again in places we invade.

If and when tshtf for real and for good,we might just turn mean and viscious, in the sense that the nazis were mean, or the Japanese in China.
But circumstances will have to change a lot first.


"Cirmcumstances will have to change a lot first" -- sure -- but is it not the whole point about peak oil that circumstances are indeed likely to change a lot?

"The one thing about the military option, though, is that it doesn't really work"

Unfortunately, it works very well -- as long as both adversaries do not possess nuclear weapons.

During WWII, Hitler attacked Stalingrad to protect his flank while trying to grab the Caucasus oil fields. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor so it could grab Manila harbor, to protect its flanks while seizing the oil fields in the Dutch Indies (Indonesia).

The US invaded and occupied Iraq, and now the proceeds from oil sales largely go to supporting a nascent democracy, rather than Saddam's military machine. Which is probably what President Cheney intended.

And who can forget what the US gained from the Mexican war?

The reason we've had so many wars in the past and present is because, even though they are destructive, they *can* pay off handsomely for the victor.

If I lose 2 units to take 5 units from you, I'm 3 units ahead. If you are out 10 units, so what? That means you'll be too devastated to challenge me. So I win two ways. (not that I condone such things, being as I'm presently a Buddhist, but that is how it works).


while I concur that military action might work for a time if there is a great disparity of power between the adversaries (think colonialism), you cite examples were it really didn't work! Hitler failed completely, so did Japan and you must know how much the war in Iraq has cost the US. If the Iraq war was an attempt at energy colonialism it was a spectacular failure so far.

Dr. Friedrichs, very interesting analysis indeed, I was looking for a similar analysis for quite some time. Some comments below:

1) as highlighted by some previous comments, this work calls for a further analysis more mathematically / statistically based (ordered probit, panel data analysis, principal components, etc, ). Of course this requires more case studies and more data, which I absolutely agree are far from easy to get.

2) While the military option for the US is the easiest to use given its large military forces (and it has already used this option with Iraq), nevertheless using this option in the future is much more difficult for a series of reasons:
a) the US military is rather overstretched and considering additional military operations beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, start waging war to Venezuela and Iran (so it wages 4 wars simultaneously) is extremely difficult if not impossible. The US can easily proceed to aerial bombing operations or special forces , but this does result in new oil (Iraq is clearly showing how difficult it is to bring it back to a normal production level). It is well known that the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will last for decades to come , therefore it is not realistic to suppose that the US will embark in new large scale invasions.

b) the support for the current US wars is declining and the US population is starting to get tired of that

c) The US can (and probably will) try to topple governments and install friendly ones, like Chile in 1973 and Iran 1953. However, this is risky, and financially very expensive. In these days of financial turmoil and much more easily available means of information and communications, such operations are much more difficult to implement than in the past.

d) The US is by far the nation where the knowledge of peak oil is spread, and by far the one with the highest number of initiatives for sustainable living. In this regard, the Oildrum website is absolutely a great meeting place! Therefore, my personal idea is that close to the military approach, one should consider for the US also the possibility of a mobilization of local resilience (or similar type of behavior). Again, and we come back to my previous first point, a multi-dimensional (mathematically based) analysis is called for.


1) Agreed. Maybe my article spurs formal modelers to do precisely this kind of analysis. I have simply done what I do best, and hope others with different skill-sets will complement my analysis.

2) In the turbulent world depicted in my article, terrorism and "forward defense" in Afghanistan would soon become really minor concerns to the US. The real killing and dying probably happen for far more tangible motives. Iraq may now be seen as an asset in terms of energy supplies, but this is hardly true about Afghanistan. A concentration of US military power on the Western hemisphere plus sea-lanes and countries that are (a) not landlocked and (b) offer important strategic assets would probably impose itself. The USA may eventually lose some of its interest in its current military presence in Europe and Japan and redeploy troops to strategically more salient areas.

As mentioned in an earlier comment, I agree that military operations tend to create nasty side-effects. I also agree that from a religious and moral point of view, and for the sake of the future of mankind, wars will be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Nevertheless, do you really believe the US will keep discussing with people like Chavez when "artificially inflated Oil prices" (according to the propaganda you'd expect) endanger "freedom" or the "American way of life"?

If you look at my first two hypotheses, you get a further clue why I believe that the US is unlikely to renounce the military option: US society has been uniquely exposed to humanism, pluralism and liberal democracy; as well as to individualism, industrialism and mass consumerism. Unless patriotism and/or community spirit can be garnered to an absolutely incredible and unprecedented extent, and directed inwards to the mobilization of national cohesion and local solidarity rather than against external enemies, I frankly do not see very much choice for US leaders other than to play the military card. When you have an ace in an otherwise poor hand, you are likely to play it.

I`m not sure that it is possible to compare now and the past. In an environment of increasing worldwide oil discoveries and production, there is a natural predilection to go and grab what`s available to stop others from getting there first (a kind of variant of the prisoner`s dilemma). But in an environment where there is less oil every year, the winner is someone who can hang onto what they have while others over extend themselves. Going out to grab oil just costs too much oil!!

I can see the US just being content with the status quo---they have a lot of homegrown oil production compared to other countries. If Americans see the Eurozone collapse (today DOW is down over 400 on debt concerns in Eurozone) and watch the whole global economy tank, while they suffer only somewhat, merrily retrenching their huge acreage (no pun intended) to grow food, they might not see the need to go grab oil.

They would watch everyone else suffer a lot more first and we know that everything is relative in this world. Americans are set up to be the last to fall (the dollar, I mean) and the leaders can then tell people the truth without fear. Other countries will be doing a lot more belt-tightening. Americans may trade grain for oil without resorting to the military option.

In fact, Americans have suffered for years as their military dominated domestic spending priorities. As there wouldn`t be money for that any more, I could imagine that they would shrink the military as fast as they could, knowing that other countries were hungrier and more tired and wouldn`t pose a threat anymore. (Obama is already trying this a tiny bit and was elected to do this). The rest of the world would be thin and hungry, the population dressed in rags (except maybe for NZ, Canada and a few others). Americans would probably feel better about their own prospects and look on the bright side of a world without highways, aircraft carriers and other expensive waste products of the oil age.


I agree with you that the US will always try to use the military option if needed, but the problem now is that from a practical point of view currently against Iran or Venezuela the US can only use the military option of regime change by using funding and secret services, as it did with Chile 1973 and iran 1953. I am sorry but logistically speaking the US cannot think to invade Venezuela or Iran and continuiing the war in iraq and afghanistan , it is simply not possible, also considering the geographic particularities of these two countries: jungle and forests in the first and rugged mountains in the second.

The only possibility here is cover operations for regime changes: an example was the failed "twitter-based" revolution in Iran last year. However, one of the main reason of the failure is that simply moving some masses or only a part of the progressive cultural elite (Moussavi, etc) is not sufficient in a country where the power is concentrated in the military elite. Foe example, an article on Debkafile (if I remember correctly), pointed out recently that now the US is trying to work direclty withm some of the main generals of the Revolutionary guards (the Iranian military elite) to try to convince them to get rid of their president. This is what I meant before: the US will try to install friendly governments without the need to invade, since this is logistically not feasible.

The resonse of "industrialized" nations to unnaffordale/unavailable oil would seem likely to vary greatly based on an additional parameter, namely the degree to which their rural communities have retained traditional community cohesion and rural skills.
On these rest the possibility of readily following versions of Cuba's mobilization model, rather than the national-survivalist predatory model of Japan.

The comparison of some US prairie states, with an economic dependence on vast machinery and chemically-fed monoculture, with say France's surviving small farm traditions and vibrant rural communities, is worth considering.

In Europe at least, much has survived under the radar of MSM-fed popular perception. For instance, next Tuesday I'll set off at 7am to ride a few miles across the open mountains to breakfast in a hut with eight or ten other hill farmers. We'll then ride out, together with 20 or 30 sheepdogs, and spread out to find, gather and drive a couple of thousand ewes and their lambs back to the pens by the hut, where the some of the wives will have a large roast mutton lunch waiting. The afternoon will involve separating out all but that farmer's stock and ensuring they have their lambs, and then dosing, balling, ear-notching and pitching all the remaining lambs.

Each local farm hosts four such gatherings per year and most help out with at least three other farms' flocks. Given the bronze-age burial mounds around the area, this practice has been going on for some time. Peak oil will seem fairly remote to its continuation.

This is not to belittle the problems - much of Europe has cut its number of farm workers massively, and farms are seriously short of skilled labour. Sadly modern, mostly urban, youth is not best suited for this given the prevalence of an entitlement culture and very soft work ethic. Farmwork will be rather a shock for many, and not easy for farmers to supervise.

That said, while the basis of community spirit is strong and rural skills survive, the post-peak-oil prognosis is plainly very different to that for societies where these have been destroyed.

With thanks for your fascinating and seminal analysis,



Farmwork will be rather a shock for many, and not easy for farmers to supervise.

No kidding! Unless one could select the most reliable and smart, it would require an increased effort in training and supervision rather than helping out. Though i suppose a lot would depend on motivational factors.


My father-in-law is a dairy farmer in North-Western Germany. He's had a very hard time over the last couple of years due to the low prices for milk. However he has all the knowledge and skills to revert to traditional farming if need be. His son already has lost much of that knowledge, especially the subsistence mindset, but he could still re-adjust with relative ease.

A farm of that size in the past would have fed about 15 people, and have provided food for another 25 or so townsfolk. Currently my father in law is running the farm with his wife and one daughter who lives also on the farm. They could train another twelve people and revert to a post-peak adaptation of traditional farming, taking into account a trough period of about ten years when the land would yield much less due to a lack of chemical inputs. Because that trough is dreadful on yields, a slow energy descent and rising prices for fertilizers would be better. Farms like theirs would then also become (again) more competitive vis-a-vis larger and more industrialized farms.

But how many such farmers are left, even in Europe, as a percentage of the population? Many of those who are left are struggling or about to throw the towel. Let's hope the descent after peak oil is very very smooth indeed. As I mention in the article, Europe does not seem to have a credible military option. Totalitarian retrenchment is neither desirable nor likely, at least for the first decade or so. And communal solidarity is in short supply after fifty years of unfettered consumerism.

Here is what I've writen on Europe in the original article (you can freely download the pre-print version at http://www.qeh.ox.ac.uk/pdf/pdf-research/Global%20Energy%20Crunch.pdf). I think you can recognize the first three of my hypotheses behind what I say in the next couple of paragraphs.

After peak oil, Western Europe would be in a difficult quandary. Although in principle Germany and France could easily arm, a credible military option is not available. Europeans have good historical reasons to dread predatory militarism, and the social consensus necessary for this strategy would not be forthcoming at the decisive initial stages of geopolitical positioning. In most of Western Europe, the path of totalitarian retrenchment does not seem to be available either. Concomitantly, Western European countries would be forced to strike opportunistic “bargains” with Russia and the oil exporting countries of North Africa. Unfortunately, however, such deals are inherently fragile and subject to constant renegotiation. Investment in renewable energy and innovative technologies might somewhat mitigate the transition, but ultimately Europeans could hardly avoid a transition to a more community-based lifestyle. Despite the present affluence of Western European societies (or precisely because of it), this would be extremely painful and last for several generations.

As a result, people would be forced to rely on local communities for their welfare if not their survival. However a regression to community-based values and a subsistence lifestyle would be difficult because the habits of industrial society are deeply rooted. Western Europe’s problems would be compounded by social segregation along immigrant groups and/or religious fault lines which, on the one hand, might enhance communal support for specific groups but, on the other, would conjure up severe conflict in Europe’s multiethnic societies.


I'd well agree that the traditional farmer is rapidly ageing as well as being under pressure from many directions - more so in the easily commercialized lowlands than in upland areas. Yet their skills and knowledge will survive for a couple of decades yet, even if age means they are teaching rather than doing the work.

One option that will be critical to mitigating the fertilizer issue is that of biochar, which offers gains both in yields and in soil-moisture stability, which will be particularly valuable as droughts and persistent rain events increase.

The co-yields of biochar production, syngas and a crude oil liquor, will also be of serious value, with end products including domestic gas, biodiesel and power. With a substantial area of coppice woodland (mostly on non-farmland), along with Europe's good tree growth-rates, at least a subsistence level of liquid fuel could be provided sustainably.

Another potentially crucial option that is as yet untapped is that of constructing city-scale offshore wave energy vessels. Not only are there scores of idle ship-building docks that could be employing large numbers, and the vessels produced being readily delivered to any buyer around the world, in the '80s a report for the EU demonstrated that Europe's western seaboard could yield 80% of the contemporary power demand. This option, alongside other non-fossil energies, should reduce otherwise problematic dependence on imported fossil fuels.

With respect, regarding the issue of racial & cultural divides, it is worth remarking how Europe has both the best of traditions of tolerance and integration, as well as having had some of the worst of outbreaks of brutality. Leadership, at local, national and EU levels will thus be critical for people pulling together in solidarity rather than falling apart in scape-goating. (Roll on the Transition Initiative emphasizing participation in politics).

In light of these factors, alongside strong R,D&D capacities as well as substantial fuel and mineral resources, Europe may well find the transition more manageable than many other regions, enabling it to assist less fortunate ones. Indeed, applying that capacity will be of critical value in maintaining compassionate values within Europe and co-operative values within the international community.



backstop, I think you are reaching a bit with biochar here.

While biochar can improve soil and plant productivity, there has been no commercial scale implementation of this, so there is no real assessment of the cost effectiveness of the process at a large scale, in a short time frame.

You claim that biochar production yields a "crude oil liquor" but this label is misleading. It yields a tar rich condensate, some times called bio-oil, though it is not really an oil at all. It can be burned in boilers and the like, but not as fuel for IC engines. It can be processed into liquid fuels via gasification and Fischer-Tropsch, but then so can the original wood, and in either case it is horrifically expensive and capital intensive to do. There is not one commercial operation in existence yet.

The two Canadian companies doing bio oil (Dynamotive and Ensyn) have achieved little success or market penetration other than some demonstration projects and spending a lot of government and shareholder money.

And, not all char production produces syngas and condensate. In fact, the most common forms of charcoal production burn the gas and condensate to provide the heat for the charring process. It does produce more heat than required, and so far there is only one commercial process that is capturing this excess heat (for electricity production).

So biochar is an option, and it's a good way to produce electricity and char, but as a pathway for liquid fuels there are much better ways. And a better way still is to adapt engines to run on solid fuels, but that's a whole different discussion.

Paul -
With regard to the evidence for the outcomes of biochar as a soil enhancer it is worth finding the site of "The Biochar Initiative" which tallies the very promising results to date from around the world. Notably, an old man who is the best local horticulturalist recently told me how he'd learned from his father, (who was head gardener on a large estate here in Wales), who had learned from his father (who farmed and kept a veg garden) that you must always put some charcoal under the soil in a flowerpot "to keep the soil sweet and well drained . . . ."

You are quite right about the bio-oil product. It was a poor choice of words on my part (being easily misunderstood) to call it a crude oil liquor - a crude tar liquor might have been nearer the mark.

It would seem that the best use for this liquor is to re-entrain it in the production sequence to be reduced to syngas + residuals, since the capital-cost-efficient boilers custom-rigged to burn it would seem likely to require a daily volume of the bio-oil reflecting an untenable feedstock catchment area with counter-productive haulage disbenefits.

On the financial viability of biodiesel made by converting the syngas available from pyrolisis for charcoal, we appear to differ. I'd observe that until the early '70s a wood-fuelled methanol plant had operated since the '20s in the Forest of Dean not far from here. Sadly it was closed just before the first oil shock, being unable to compete with the dirt cheap oil-based methanol of the day.

In terms of the volumes of gas available, the ongoing tradition of charcoal burning still closes the kiln's air inlets once the wood is well alight and the reaction has become exothermic, with all the remaining syngas components (H2+CO+CH4) being vented to the sky. (Roughly 3/4ths as a rule of thumb).

As you'll no doubt know, a well made retort gets a far better yield of charcoal per tonne of feedstock than a kiln. While it uses a part of the combustible syngas components emitted from the chamber to achieve the start of full pyrolisis within the chamber (with a small firebox to initiate the process) it will also deliver a better fraction of the syngas components (potentially for processing) than any normal kiln could provide.

With regard to current conversion costs (including plant depreciation), the last price that I heard for wood-based methanol to be competitive with fossil oil was $78/Bbl. As biodiesel requires a more sophisticated process, it will thus have a somewhat higher 'viability oil-price'. Given the sort of liquid fuel prices and shortages we are heading into, these costs don't seem untenable, particularly in view of the methanol viability-price above reflecting western labour costs rather than those of developing nations.

The problem is not I think in the conventional scale plant's costs, but in the absence of modular 'village-scale' plant designs needed to avoid the counter-productive haulage costs of an over-large catchment area. Washington State Uni has been trialing a micro-unit for methanol from forest thinnings, which is mounted in a pick-up to all but nullify those haulage costs. This seems to me sub optimal in unit scale, and limited by its access capacity - much forest land is far too rough and steep for a laden pick-up, meaning that a feedstock extraction capacity will still be required.

The prime advantage of a modular village-scale unit would be the degree of capital cost saving by its mass replication to utilize sustainable forestry resources worldwide.

In short biochar production will at best be a village-scale affair for CO2, energy and (due to scale of replication) capital cost efficiencies. The aspiration for the carbon recovery goal is of a gigahectare of native species afforestation worldwide in the optimum regime of medium cycle coppice. It will be producing very large volumes of combustible gas in many places too remote for a power grid to be viable, and without sufficient local population to utilize that gas. Just from the issue of energy density, the gas's conversion to a liquid fuel for tankering out appears to be the rational option. And for the many countries unable to afford imported oil, it will be a godsend.

Given that it was in 1956 that Shell's strategic planning group came to the conclusion that 'coppice woodland for methanol' was the sensible 'backstop' option in the event of global oil supply peaking, it seems as absurd as it is sad that blueprints of basic village-scale wood refineries are not readily available. Fortunately there is now research ongoing in many developing countries as well as some developed ones of the potentially critical option of wood's diverse fuels potential.




No question there is lots of promise for biochar, it just hasn;t been done on large scales yet (other than the Amazon, and we still aren't sure exactly how they did it)

I didn;t know about the methanol plant in the F of D - was that at Coleford? You might be surprised to hear this from an Aussie, sitting in Canada, but I spent a summer in the F of D, managing the Malt Shovel Inn, at Ruardean. Great area, great pub and longest hours, hardest work, least paying job I have ever had, but lots of fun. Good ale too, although our bestselling beer at the pub was Labatt's Canadian Lager - go figure!

I think that methanol/charcoal from wood is absolutely the way to go, and would agree that cracking the tars to increase syngas and methanol yield is also best. That said, you can get almost any oil burning boiler/furnace, to run on the condensate.

I suspect that wood based methanol needs oil over $100 to work, but perhaps more importantly, it needs natural gas to be expensive too, which it is not here, though the UK is a different story.

I have been contemplating the mobile plant myself, as I live in the middle of lumberland in coastal BC, there are piles of wood waste everywhere that just get burnt!

Agreed that a pick up scale is a bit too small, I presume you mean this unit;

although I kinda like this one;


They claim to produce bio oil,, but I think it is just condensate.

Overall, I am in agreement with you. I think wood energy, in general, is a great source, and is perfect for village scale power production. Most efficient way is woodgas for stationary engines, but methanol is better for mobile. And lump charcoal can be used, and sold, for high value, and the charcoal dust is perfect for soil amendment.

I say all this as my province has over one billion tons of standing, dead trees (pine beetle kill) that they don;t know what to do with (no good for lumber once they are dead for more than three years). if we don;t cut and burn them, Nature will just burn them where they stand, and we will have uncontrollable bushfires.

But the wood energy potential of this place is huge, and anywhere else can grow wood as an energy crop far easier than corn/canola/wheat/sugarcane/palm oil etc etc.

If you see a village system get up and running - I want to know about it!

"Sadly modern, mostly urban, youth is not best suited for this given the prevalence of an entitlement culture and very soft work ethic. Farmwork will be rather a shock for many, and not easy for farmers to supervise."

Ouch, that rings true. I have a fellow peak-oiler who helps on our farm, and his 13 year old son helped me yesterday. It was a hot and humid day, and while dad sweated to do some (of his typically outstanding) work on our weatherboard siding, son and I found a relatively shady spot and repainted a bush hog I'd primed the week before.

The kid was in a flannel shirt. He soon pooped out, tired by the heat, and scared of...ticks.

Something similar has happened to every kid we've had help on the farm as we cleared stormfall, stacked wood, and similar tasks that I, an old geezer, can do all day long.

I'm not encouraged that younger Americans can do hard physical work without a lot of reality adjustment. At 13 I had good wind, ran and played outside, and was half-way decent at soccer. All the way home in my truck, this young man could talk about one thing: the car he was going to buy when he turned 16.

Dad agreed that he and his son--who lives with mom--would be outside more and he'd "toughen the boy up."

I hope so, because he's a nice kid who can follow instructions. But he's got hard lessons ahead of him. I'm honestly glad that I'm not his age. I plan to be dead when the worst effects of post-Peak life come to my part of the world.

Joe -
I find myself wondering if that fixation on buying a car might be used to advance the boy's education. Specifically, learning to split wood well and fast can be very satisfying in itself, as well as building strength and perseverance. No doubt you or his Dad could start him off with choosing a line and 'backing' the axe when necessary.

Supposing his Dad were to afford or borrow a pick-up and get weekly loads of logs home, perhaps the boy might start saving towards his dream by splitting firewood and helping deliver it around the county, and so earn a bit of money each week per load split ? That could be a lot more fun than most part-time jobs for young people.

Sorry to hear you're aiming to leave this mortal coil before things get hard - you sound like one with an old fashioned perspective on life that is going to be sorely needed in difficult times.

All the best,


Fairly thought provoking(and amusing) but there is still a huge amount of fossil fuels left in the world, especially the USA/North America. Europe's falling demographics and efficient infrastructure should be fairly well off as I expect Russia will supply plenty of coal and gas for a very long time.

All the examples are for a quick wartime-like cutoff of fuel driving change.
This seems unlikely to me. Let's assume a 2.5% decline rate in all fossil fuels per Colin Campbell(for oil/gas). In 30 years fossil energy would and GDP drop by 54%. For the US that world drop energy intensity down to the level of Europe today.

The only real driver for a hard cutoff is Climate Change considerations which are pretty much lied about or ignored by all.

The real problem come from China which is highly nationalistic now. I imagine they will 'capture' the Caspian but I think are already facing coal shortages as is India.
These two drivers of the the world economy
are pursing truly unsustainable energy policies and will soon hit the wall.
Africa is already hit the wall.

The West will yield the dwindling oil reserves
which it already knows it cannot hold.

The US will increase tar sands, oil shale and ethanol.

And the Earth will fry faced with rapidly increasing GHG.

It's interesting to compare the parallels between Canada's relationship to the US (vis. oil sands) with Australia's relationship to China (coal) and perhaps even Russia's relationship to Europe (natural gas)?


I'm glad you bring this on. It gives me a nice opportunity to offer my thoughts on "energy alternatives" (you can freely download the pre-print version of my full article at http://www.qeh.ox.ac.uk/pdf/pdf-research/Global%20Energy%20Crunch.pdf).

A key assumption of my article is that, in the event of peak oil, no obvious alternate resource and technology would be at hand to replace oil as the backbone resource of industrial society. To mitigate the impact of peak oil, a massive crash program to develop a mix of substitute resources and implement adequate technologies would be desperately needed. The program would have to start early, as it would come to fruition only after much more than a decade. In the absence of such a crash program, and after the onset of the crisis, rather than grandiose designs we should expect haphazard moves to make the best of a very difficult situation.

The most attractive resource to mitigate the impact of peak oil is NATURAL GAS as a transition fuel. Although gas reserves are limited, they are relatively more abundant than oil reserves. Recently, there have been encouraging developments in the extraction of unconventional gas, and notably shale gas. However, it remains to be seen if reports of an “unconventional glut” can be trusted. As always, technology and infrastructure are major challenges. The exploration and exploitation of shale gas takes time. While oil is easily traded and transported as a liquid fuel, gas requires pipelines or needs to be liquefied. In any case the world’s vehicle fleet runs on oil, not gas. Compensating a decline of 2-5% of oil production per year with gas would be a tall order.

At least for a couple of decades, COAL would become a more important energy source. Coal is still fairly abundant in Asia, Australasia, and the United States. Increased carbon emissions would lead to very harmful consequences for the environment and global climate, not least because heavy investment in clean coal technologies is unlikely under crisis conditions. Rising oil prices would make coal mining and transport more difficult, but coal-rich countries are highly motivated to tackle such challenges as long as coal production makes financial and energetic sense.

To gain access to available OIL RESERVES, protected areas from the Arctic to Antarctica would be cleared for exploitation. Unconventional oil from tar sands and oil shale would be exploited, regardless of the harmful environmental consequences. As in the case of clean coal technologies, heavy investment of scarce financial resources in environmentally friendly technologies is unlikely under crisis conditions. Another downside of these otherwise desirable technologies is that they tend to reduce the energy return on energy invested (EROEI), which would be hardly acceptable in a situation of soaring energy scarcity.

In the unlikely event that massive financial resources and planning horizons of more than fifteen years were still available after peak oil, NUCLEAR REACTORS would be rushed through regardless of the risks involved. However, this can never do the trick. The current share of nuclear power in world energy production is only a few per cent, and it could hardly expand much under crisis conditions. Moreover, uranium is as finite as any other energy source.

To the extent possible in times of economic turmoil, there would be further investment in RENEWABLE ENERGY. But alas, this could hardly make up for the losses. As in the case of nuclear power, the share of renewable energy in world energy production is only a few per cent, and it is not clear how much and how quickly it could expand under crisis conditions. As any other energy source, renewable energy requires inputs of energy, raw materials, and investment. Nevertheless, the odds for renewable energy are better than for nuclear energy. From an ecological viewpoint, the greatest hope for the mitigation of peak oil is a combination of conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

If a mix of substitute fuels can be found, and if alternate technologies are developed in time, this may mitigate the impact of peak oil and postpone the decline of overall world energy consumption for a while. But there’s always another time, as infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. At some point, industrial society will start crumbling and free trade will begin to disintegrate.

Problem solved in large part. *IF* we implement it.

See paper.

best Hopes,


It is even worse than you state Dr. Freidrichs.

When it comes to auto/trucks and aircraft, petroleum is not fungible. Nothing will substitute for it in any necessarily massive way. In the U.S. that means our car-culture suburbs, malls, strip malls and most of our cities are in deep trouble. No substitute is going to bring back car culture - not in a decade of crash programs or five decades. There are no solar, nuclear or coal-powered cars and there won't be. The crash of car culture will make us too poor to do a massive switch to electric cars - even if we do continue solving the battery problems with lithium, or converting a small portion of our car fleet to natural gas.

We would turn the nation into a desert trying to run our cars on bio-fuel.

Now all of the substitute fuels can work to an extent in buildings and the built environment: solar, nuclear, coal, wind etc. But Peak Petroleum means Peak Car-Culture. No escape. No reprieve. No substitution.

Electrified railroads can displace 80+% of inter-city trucking (90% in WW II).

Urban rail plus bicycling (and much more Transit Orientated Development) can displace much private car travel.

Take the changes wrought by DC Metro in Washington DC since 1972 and extend that (add 15 specific lines, light rail, streetcars, more Metro & Commuter rail) PLUS add much more biking (bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue are coming, woman in charge said that 30% modal share by biking was possible in DC).

Apply everywhere else. Every French town of 100,000 is getting at least one tram line. The USA did *FAR* more from 1897-1916.

There is Hope,


Change costs money, Alan. (Not to mention a lot of petroleum energy to build that new infrastructure, all at a time when we are severely strained for both.) I have advocated for years that we do exactly what you suggest. But if we wait until the wolf is inside the gate (we will, maybe already have)it will be highly unlikely that we can.

I would hope for the sake of my grandchildren that your hopes come true. But when we begin the downslope of Peak, we will not have the excess energy wealth had on the upslope between 1897-1916.

Those streetcar lines were built with "Coal, Mules and Sweat".

Coal was mined by hand, 1 ton/12 hour day/miner was good production.

No advanced technology. 3% to 4% of today's GDP. And more.

500 cities and towns and villages with streetcar lines in the USA.

It can be easier this time.

Best Hopes,


Well, let's hope it is easier. The grinding contraction of our car-culture cities won't be TEOTW. But most Americans won't be enchanted with the return of "coal, mules and sweat," either.

Peak car culture is exactly what we need, quickly followed by minimal car culture. That will remove the majority of oil use, and remaining essential uses (e.g. petrochemicals) will have enough supply.

Yes the suburbs as built will be unsustainable, so, we rebuild our cities, and economies, to do without cars. if we can adapt to live, and live well, without cars, then we can live in a "minimal oil" world.

America will expend all its resources trying to maintain the oil/car culture.
Those countries that free themselves from oil's grip the most, will do the best.


You are right that we need to go to a minimal car culture. You are also right that we won't like it and that we will waste a lot of our resources trying to maintain the oil/car culture. Therefore we will be close to broke and building-machinery deficient when we, at last and far-too-late, begin trying to rebuild our cities and economies. Unfortunately, we're more likely to feel like the Romans of the "Dark Ages," living in the decay of their wrecked grandeur.

Yep, It's kinda like preparing for retirement - you have to do certain things while you are still earning the money (i.e. have the capital, or borrowing ability).
With retirement, of course, everyone knows it's coming, sooner or later, maybe stepwise, maybe not (personal choice). But with peak oil, well, not everyone can agree that it's coming, so we have a fractured response. And for a real transition away from car culture, it needs a united response.
Funny thing is, even if peak oil doesn't happen (for a decades or longer), the societies that go car free will still be better off. Their collective resources are going into things that get built and used, rather than burned. And they achieve independence of world energy prices, thus controlling their own future - what a way to go!

Right you are. Retirement preparation is a good analogy.

And you are right that societies that go car-free early will be much better off.

Turning the Chinese into the #1 car consumers on the planet just as we reach global peak oil is probably the most subversive, damaging thing that could have been done to them.

...Not too great for the polar ice cap, either.


Worldwide, energy use per capita is inversely related to density. No city in the United States, including New York, even comes close to cities like Paris, Frankfurt, and London. Americans detest and fear density like the plague. By the time, they see the necessity to live in density regardless of the problems, it will be way too late.

Cities are not conducive to family life, nor would anyone wish to be any where near them with crippling unemployment and the various ills that will bring. Not every European lives in a city, many have no desire to live in one.

Cities are not conducive to family life, nor would anyone wish to be any where near them

BS !!

Just your conservative myopia and prejudices, not reality.

Many people raise families in cities and many will want to stay even in troubled times because they will be better places than the alternatives.


When New Orleans turns into something akin to modern day Athens once the various entitlement programs have gone bust, you too will be fleeing as fast your car can drive.

The last big riot we had here was the White Citizens League and the Knights of the White Camelia attacking the New Orleans Police in a 15 minute pitched battle. Over 100 dead and wounded. A smaller anti-Italian riot (a couple of Dagos lynched from memory) around the turn of the century. That's about it.

The most likely result from a cutback in safety nets in New Orleans is Catholic Charities and others stepping up to help fill the slack. You see, in general, liberals have compassion and like to help others and build communities. Conservatives, again in general, are the ones that like to buy guns and live in gated communities.

Much better to live amongst liberals when times get tough (or have liberal children when you get old and feeble).


Why can't the orthodox church help everyone over in Athens then? The people rioting aren't just liberals, many are full blown communists. Charities aren't going to do much as government begins to fold.

Somewhat OT But the high probability of this being the demise of cars really elates me.

20 years ago I was a passenger in a car which was being driven by a sick friend of mine.

We crashed into the cement divider on a US turnpike after he lost control of the car.

Luckily I had only whiplash. But the car was totaled and I have had recurrent nightmares ever since (occasionally only now after all this time.) My friend was also unhurt.

I found out about PO and really felt happy. Cars need to go away.

Hello JF,

Thanks for your reply. I did read your paper
which makes a lot of excellent points but I am still worried by your analogies of isolated states sucessfully(?) or unsucessfully coping with energy cutoff as models.

This resembles the A2 scenario of IPCC AR4, regionalism.

Climate Change and Peak Oil are both global issues, so is terrorism and ballistic A bombs. These contagions can't be quarantined. Already the world is far more interconnected that we can comprehend( maybe against our will?). So I question that the world will inevitably break into these models.

I think you need to take more global view. That means a means of bolstering the world export market in oil, gas and electricity.

OPEC is a symbol of oil nationalism but they have been rather poor producers and their power neutralized by the world oil markets.

I also disagree with your assessment that unconventional oil cannot be brought up to
speed in enough time. The capital cost of
unconventional oil facilities is $100000 per daily barrel to produce 75 mbpd would cost $7.5 trillion dollars in a $50 trillion dollar world economy. A $1 trillion dollar(Iraq war)investment could produce 10 mbpd.

Still, where would this money come from?
Only the biggest countries plus the World Bank and IMF could afford this. The fact is only nations have been able to develop these giant enterprises, Canada's tar sands, Alaskan pipeline, the world's giant dams the world's nuclear programs. Rather than a crumbling of society, you would need to see unprecedented international cooperation to supply the internation oil market with a minimum amount of crude.


I see national crises as the best available proxy for a global peak in oil production. In the absence of a global precedent, studying national crises is the second-best solution. I do not directly apply my cases but rather extract hypotheses which I then apply to world politics. This procedure is not perfect, and I believe the future is open. Despite this acknowledged uncertainty, I believe that the precautionary principle mandates to take warnings of peak oil seriously and assess possible consequences rather than capitulating before the methodological difficulties.

We experience the world as global because this is the reality that has been created after few generations of abundant resources and liberal hegemony. Take abundant resources away, and liberal hegemony may become up for grabs even at the very core of the world system, in the United States. With increasingly scarce resources, I'd expect that there will be a world that is less and less global and where you'd see more and more local variety.

Another version of my article is entitled "Peak Oil Futures: Same Crisis, Different Responses" (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/52722).

(By the way: even today the world is perhaps not as global as we make it in discourse, but that's a different story.)

In other words: while a global peak of oil production is per definition a planetary event, reactions are likely to increasingly differ in different parts of the world. Insofar as globalization has been fuelled by cheap and abundant energy, traded as a commodity on a liberal free market, increasing conflict over scarce energy would undermine the very foundations of the world-wide social, economic and political normalization processes seen as "globalization".

Many of you will know it already, but the best long-term futures book about peak oil is probably John Michael Greer (2009) The Ecotechnic Future, Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

RE investment, the most serious trouble is that under crisis conditions the investment for ambitious crash programmes would have to be diverted from other sectors of society, thus further increasing the vicious cycle of social disintegration. But of course, unconventional oil will be mined.

Another possible response to a peak oil economic collapse could be a regression into a quasi-feudalism. Instead of trying to sell off entire foreclosed communities the banks would appoint managers of productive assets and other real estate. In exchange for not evicting people from their homes they would offer long term labor contracts so they could cheaply get businesses going again. The land Lords could manage township size property blocks under the oversight of County level supervisors. Regions would be overseen by Regents who would all be managed by a national level banking trust such as the Federal Reserve. All hail Oberfuerher Bernanke.

Thomas Deplume,

This is a fascinating idea. It is indeed how default on debt was often handled in pre-modern times. For example, ancient Greek and Roman history is full of examples of "debt-slavery".

On the other hand, what you suggest presumes that (a) banks would not themselves fall victims, (b) their loans would remain enforceable, and (c) the legal system would make the necessary adjustments.

These assumptions are perhaps a little bit far-fetched. But who knows, maybe something along the lines of what you suggest would be conceivable somewhere in the world at some point in the future.

OMG, I see.

If we don't accept the totalitarian threats of Big Oil's peak oil projects then here comes the communism, dictators,and militans and we'll end up like China, Cube and North Korea, Oh PLEASE.

Monolithic oil companies are not FREE Markets, their are monopolies. In 1970's big oil played this peak oil game too, and you saw long lines to get gasoline and "no gas" signs at gas stations but it was all an illusion put on by big oil. And a centruy, but merely 30 years later we're back to square one, as we seem to have forgotten, 1985 - we found that getting oil from the mideast was far cheaper and the oil markets crashed, natrually.

Dr. Joerg Friedrichs must have gotten his degree from Exxon/Mobil's Pipedream University.

The OPEC embargo was caused by publicly traded oil companies? I guess you learn something new every day.

Tinfoil hats could have prevented the conclusions you've reached. Dang it, WaitJustASecond, had you contacted me earlier I'd have sent one by parcel post or uploaded the easy-to-follow instructions so you could use your own foil.

Seems, to my faulty and aged memory, that OPEC began something called an embargo after the 1973 war with Israel, but I may be getting old and dotty.

Is it beyond the pale that BOTH positions are 'truthy'?

That oil firms allowed the event to go on longer than it should have in an attempt to maximize their profit?

What would be acceptable as 'truth' - Congressional testimony/findings? Court depositions?

Enron with the Californian rolling blackouts seems to have stopped delivery of electrical power to max their profits.


Mensch... there's a lot to get into here... and thanks for a well-argued post.

What is war really? Why do we fight, when "objectively" it would seem better and cheaper to just buy what we need? If one compares pre World War Two Japan, with post World War Two Japan, it would seem that the second course; the capitalist, market, course; diverting resources from militarism towards a highly effective economy, is vastly more effective and vastly less bloody than war. Through commerce Japan became an economic world power, not through war/imperialism. One could argue that Germany too, became a great economic power when it chose to abandon militarism. Which I suppose is cause for optimism.

How could the US, for example, deal with the challenge of peak oil? Well, the ruling elite could abandon the imperial project and divert the collosal resources "wasted" on the global empire, and instead use them to totally transform US society and leave the fossil fuel era behind, at least in theory.
The alternative is that one uses the biggest miliatry machine the world has ever seen to grab what's left of the world's oil before it's too late.

The US has always been controlled by an elite with two factions, the "progressive conservatives" and the "reactionary conservatives."

One can argue that the Civil War was a clash between these two factions, over the direction of the nation and who would control its future. The new, industrial elite versus the old, agrarian aristocracy. A war about the speed of the changes everyone knew had to come. However, the cultures of the agrarian aristocracy compared to the industrial magnates are very different.

Here we come to the central issue of Power. Ojectively one can argue that people should look at the way society is changing and adapt to new circumstances, for exaple that slavery was a doomed economic model, free the slaves and pay them a wage and avoid the horror of war and virtual "colonization" by the North.

Unfortunately, if the changes required threaten fundamental power relationships, the culture of power one supports and lives by, then even though, objectively, these changes are coming and the world is changing; it doesn't follow that one will choose change, preferring instead to cling to one's culture, one's way of life, what one knows, what one is, for as long as possible, regardless of the consequences and sacrifices.

It seems almost like heresy, but I believe one can make an argument, that the Civil War was "about" the historic momentum of imperialism. Was the US going to remain "just" a continental power, or was it's destiny to become a great empire, rivalling and ultimately eclipsing the great European empires? An empire without limits? In this scenario the crushing of the South was "inevitable", as inevitable as the move from fuedalism to industrialism was in Europe, when axis of power, the balance of power in society changed from the aristocracy to the industrialists.

How did Britain, which was the world's US at the beginning of the last century, deal with a challenge to its position in the world, a position challenged by a rising Germany? How will the US deal with the rise of China? Will one compete with China in just the marketplace, or is that battle already lost and irrelevant? If so, in what sphere is the US still a super-power compared to China? It's obvious. The US is still vastly superior to China militarily and will be for the next twenty or thirty years, but then what?

but then what?

is obviously war, but I'll be shocked if it takes 30 years from now to happen, with or without oil peaking into severe shortage.

In this thread:

there is a post by Francois Cellier on April 22, 2009 - 12:58am which says:

During WWII, Switzerland received very little imports (it did receive some coal from Germany), but the situation was quite different then in comparison with today.

Switzerland had during WWII about half as many inhabitants (4 million people instead of 8), it had twice as much arable land (much of it has meanwhile been paved over), and it had 3.5 times as many farmers (14% during WWII, 2% currently).

Switzerland managed to feed its population, but only barely. Executing the Anbauschlacht of the (later) Federal Councillor Wahlen, Switzerland slaughtered most of its farm animals and converted every piece of arable land into a potato field. Every able-bodied person had to help during the weekends with working the fields, and those without a job had to work the fields six days out of seven.

The rationing was severe, but thanks to the Anbauschlacht, Switzerland was able to feed every person living here in Switzerland a diet of 1800 calories per day.

Today, this would be impossible. Switzerland cannot feed its current population without food imports.

I would humbly submit there is a fourth way: the Swiss Way of shared responsibility and sacrifice. At the end, Mr Cellier was pessimistic that CH can/will survive the coming energy crisis, but that is another discussion. Here, we are talking about forms of sociality around a prolonged/permanent energy crisis, and while the three listed are prime examples, they are not the only examples available to us, and that a society with a long and deep relationship and respect for democracy could work it like the Swiss. It would not be optimal, but it would beat a subgenerational die-off.

Is Stock market droppng 1,000 points in a day in response to Greek debt protests = response to peak oil? Its a chain reaction.....

My prediction finally occurred. The mystery to me is why it did not plunge earlier.

Cramer says someone hit a "b" when they meant an "m". Funny how that works.

So what are the Chinese waiting for? It would seem to be in their best interest to start building bridges with the middle east and start their proxy war with the US now. They could secretly weaken us militarily without much cost to them. They must know that when push comes to shove we will not allow their oil contracts to be honored if we need the oil. Are they and the Indians just hoping that the US will economically collapse and leave them with Asian oil?

I can certainly understand their wanting to play the game as it is right now as long as they can. It allows them to take American manufacturing capacity away while not overly antagonizing the US. But it seems like they're quickly running out of time. Is there some grand alliance with Russia that I'm missing?

I think it's of paramount importance to remind oneself that North Korea, Cuba, Switzerland... are very small countries, both geographically and demographically. Comparing their responses, to various national crises, with the United States is, problematic at the very least, simply because of the enormous difference in scale between these countries and the United States.

Then there's the question of cultural and historic differences, and the central issue of differing levels of social organization between them.

I thin one can argue that the US is arguably the least well-organised compared to the above mentioned countries for a large number of reasons.

What seems clear, is that if we are going to get through the challenge of Peak Oil we will need to increase our level of social organization substantially. Cuba given its size and socio-political structure, compensates for its relatively poverty, by being extremely well-organized, for example one can compare how Cuba deals with hurricanes and how the US dealt with Hurricane Katrina.

North Korea is a centralized command economy, with a highly disciplined and pyramid-like social structure, the opposite to the United States.

I'm not sure that the United States can learn very much from looking at how nations like these deal with crises.

Whilst these countries are highly mobile yachts with the ability to read the changes in the sea around them and change course, the US is a collosal, monsterous, super-tanker... or the Titanic.

Writerman, I don't think these countries had any better ability to read the sea than the US, in fact, probably worse, as they do not have the information gathering network the US does.
I will agree that what worked for them may not work for the US, but that does not mean that we can;t learn anything from it.

The simplest, but most important point, is that they all found a way to cope with much reduced oil availability. At present the US policy is to do whatever it takes to keep the oil available - a totally different approach, because it is deemed that reduced availability is unacceptable.

If we take an alternate view, that a major reduction in living standard is unacceptable, so all we have to do is find ways to maintain this living standard with dramatically reduced oil consumption. Given that many countries have similar living standards with 50% less oil use per capita, I'd say it can be done.

The problem is, as you say, social organisation, because any hint of that, in America, is viewed as creeping socialism and an erosion of individual freedoms. Can a dramatic change on oil use be achieved without increased social organisation? Possibly, but I haven;t seen any examples of it.
There is a hard choice ahead for America, either live with increased social organisation, or have a lot less people, like about 1/3rd, living in the country so there are enough resources per capita to maintain the social disconnect. But I don;t think that is an acceptable scenario,, either.

Can we really transition from oil fast enough to deal with Peak Oil?

Sure. We need to be clear: we have two separate problems: climate change, and liquid fuels, not a general problem of peak energy. If wind and natural gas are inadequate, we have more than enough coal to keep the lights (and whatever else we want to power with electricity) on during a transition (for better or worse). See Are we running out of coal? and Are we running out of coal? - part 2

You might ask:

During a transition to what?

Wind would be the biggest, with (in rough descending order) nuclear, solar, hydro and others.

how long it would take?

However long we choose - we could do it in 20 years if we want, or we could do it in 50. 50 years would be no more expensive than BAU, but terrible for AGW mitigation.

What would be the cost of both producing those renewables

For wind: about $7/average watt capex, giving about $.07/KWH wholesale cost, or about $.12/KWH retail. That's a little more expensive than old, dirty coal plants, but it's competitive with any form of new generation (including new coal, even without sequestration). We can see in Germany and Japan that $.12/KWH is more than cheap enough to support a strong economy.

What would be the cost of converting everything that now uses oil to use those renewables?

Very little, if we did it through attrition. An EREV like the Chevy Volt will cost about the same as the average new US vehicle, with large volume production, and reduce liquid fuel consumption by 90% (that's the range that biofuels can scale to - ethanol production is about 10% of gasoline volume right now).

Don't you have to add in the cost of all those batteries and inverters?

Like the Prego commercial, "that's in there". In other words, wind power costs include inverters and transmission, and EREV costs include batteries.

The wind doesn't blow all the time

Actually, it does, somewhere. It just takes some geographic diversity to take advantage of that fact, and a moderate amount of long-distance transmission.

the sun shines only in the daytime.

Isn't it convenient that's when we use the most?

The transition target has to be vastly scalable

Which wind is.

but cost less than existing energy sources, else the effort to switch alone will cause significant disruption.

Not if the transition is long enough. We could transition over 30 years, and that's more than enough time to amortize the capex of existing generation. Personal vehicles, of course, last a much shorter time: we can replace about 10% of VMT per year with no pain at all.

How could we replace about 10% of VMT per year - wouldn't that require new car sales of 25M per year (50% more than the all time record)?

The thing you have to keep in mind is that some vehicles travel many more miles than other: Commercial vehicles like taxis drive much more, and newer personal vehicles drive more. Vehicles less than 1 year old account for roughly 10% of US Vehicle Miles travelled.

An aggressive transition to electric would accelerate that tendency, both in terms of sales and in terms of preferential usage of new vehicles. After all, what difference is there between current new vehicles and those from 50 years ago, when automatic transmissions were introduced? Sure, electronic stability control and ABS are nice, but 95% of new vehicle sales come from a desire for the latest fashion - that's part of why people can so easily defer purchases during times of uncertainly, like the last 2 years.

Any transition to more expensive energy, which is the only reasonable expectation, will cause significantly greater pain.

A little, but we see in Japan and Germany that electricity twice as expensive as that in the US can easily support a strong economy.

Can renewables really make up the difference?

There's at least 5x as much easily usable wind resource as we need, and 1,000x as much solar.

And there is more elemental hydrogen in the universe than any other element, but this does not make the hydrogen economy any closer.

This doesn't really relate. I was answering a question about scalability, and wind does scale.

But a great acceleration would be necessary.

That's the thing - it wouldn't. First, wind is already "here" - it provided 42% of new generation in the US last year. 2nd, we have enough coal to cover any transition (unless, of course, we want to do something about climate change, as we should - but that's a different problem).

can we afford wind?

An investment of about $2.6k in wind power per vehicle could provide all the "fuel" needed for personal transportation (13k miles per year/4miles per KWH/8760 hours per year x $7 per watt = $2,597). For 100k miles, that's about $.03/mile, much less than gas or diesel. It will be easy and cheap to power EREV/EVs (either bicycles or Volts). As this article stresses, that's the big kahuna.

That assumes $2 per nameplate watt, at 30% capacity factor. The US has more than enough of that, at that price, to supply 200% of our current electricity consumption. Heck, either N. Dakota or Texas alone could provide 30-50%.

What role do you see conservation, efficiency and simple doing without playing in your future scenario?

Really, we haven't converted to a renewable electricity economy already because it would hurt the careers and investments of too many people. When we get to the "tipping point" where the overall society demands solutions to AGW and PO, we'll move very quickly to EREV/EVs and wind power - there will be some temporary personal conservation on the way, but that won't be the primary thing.

Heck, why do without when you can just buy an EREV/EV?

if we put all our energy into producing enough solar and wind energy to power a world of Prius cars and don't have enough resources to upgrade the grid or supply charging stations we have wasted our remaining fossil fuel resources.

So manufacturing wind/solar might use so much resources that we wouldn't have enough to upgrade the grid or supply charging stations? The answer: we have more than enough energy to do both. First, manufacturing (of solar panels, wind turbines, grid equipment or charging stations) mainly uses electricity, and we have plenty of that from coal (see how useful it is to deal with things one at a time?), if needed. 2nd, wind has a very high E-ROI, meaning that it will pay for itself. 3rd, HEVs don't need grid upgrades or charging, and the grid is just fine as it is for a pretty large buildup of EREV/EVs.

Isn't the statistic that matters how much of our current FF fired electrical generation has been replaced by wind or any other source?

No, it really doesn't. Nobody's retiring generation at the moment, unless it's seriously functionally obsolete. People often get confused by that point, but it's a red herring.

There is a difference between having enough power, and decarbonizing our power. We should decarbonize our power, but that's very different from the premise of the Original Post, which is that we're running out of energy.

We are at least as dependent upon FF for for energy today as we were 5 years ago. And possibley more so. Isn't that the big issue?

That's the issue for decarbonizing. But it's not the issue for our economy running out of power We have plenty of coal - enough to bake the planet. Will we do so? I'm afraid we probably will...but we won't run out of electricity.

But isn't our economy going to grind to a halt because of oil scarcity?

No. The food-and-goods freight transport network of the modern world uses about 25% of oil consumption in the US. Light vehicles overall account for 45% of oil consumption: their utilization could be doubled with carpooling in a matter of months, freeing up whatever fuel was needed by the freight network.

While I agree with your points, we probably have to get to the point where at least one EV or PHEV is on each block( about 0.5% of vehicles)before people really understand the vehicle transport revolution that is about to happen. Until that point SUV owners will bitch about $10/gallon or even $3/gallon fuel at BBQ's. After that point they will be embarrassed to admit that they are flushing $500 a month fuel costs down the drain, while their neighbor is paying <$50/month for electric transportation. Actually they will probably be still bitching about the 6month back-orders for EVs, or having to car pool, or walk to the local shops.

Gail is probably right that people will try to hand onto their way of life, after all it did take a generation for horse transportation to be replaced by street cars and ICE vehicles, and will certainly take a generation for all ICE vehicles to be replaced by EV. Fortunately we dont have to build an entire electric charging infrastructure from scratch as was required when ICE replaced horse power.

I agree.

The funny thing is, that the first part of the EV revolution is here, in the form of the Prius. The Prius cuts fuel consumption in 50%, and in the US they're 3% of new sales, and there are 1,000,000 on the road.

And now, the Leaf and the Volt are coming out, so very soon there'll be no excuse at all - it will be really clear that we have all the technology we need, we just need to use it.

I expect that the Swedish response to the post peak oil era will be a gradual government and municipiality ramp up of the apropriate investments in efficiency and logistics and a gradual adaption of the (physical) markets that will eclipse the political response in volume and value.
I also expect the same reaction as we have had during recent economical crisises, downsizing of government institutions and entitlements and lots of constructive change.

This will be paid for by our physical resources and a diversified industry that gives us a trade surplus that to a sigificant degree is goods that are attractive in the post peak oil era.

It will be a seamless extension to the climate policies and you can argue that we already have started, its about half a decade since peak oil were used for motivating government policy at the highest level and everything serious done back then has been continued. Physical efficiency is not a left-wing versus right-wing issue in Sweden.

I expect that the role for the "transition" movement will be to keep weary people busy and thus keep them happy and that is a good thing while it also provides some resources. We might start manufacturing farm tractors again with new engines but I dont expect any additional horse breeding, I expect less horses since they mostly are an expensive hobby. This is too important and too large a business opportunity for odd communal and nostalgic solutions, most people who can do them will start businesses instead and do more stuff in the more efficient framework of mass manufacturing and distribution.

I have weaved these thoughts with much better motivations into my little book "När resurser sinar" that I have started to distribute. Its 130 pages of peak oil angst and solutions and ways for finding and evaluating solutions has not yet been translated into english. I have to sell the Swedish version and get some feedback first.

Dr Friedrichs

Thanks a a lot for your post.
Everything is very well thought-out - great discussion, too.

However, you seem to compare Cuba and North Korea in today's situation (with 50 per cent of their original oil supply I guess) without putting much attention to the time dimension of the decline process after a GLOBAL peak oil.

I take it you had to do that to reduce the complexity of your post.

Well, obviously we can't hope for a decline of whatever percentage after peak oil and then a sudden stop at 50 per cent, so that we'll be living happily ever after like Cuba und North Korea have been doing for the last 15 years. Instead, a country with 80 or 50 per cent of the original oil supply will look entirely different from what we'll see with 20 oder 0 per cent. And those 'situations' will be only some years apart, depending on the decline rate and whatever 'discontinuities' will appear.

Of course, to capture all these facts and to make educated predictions we would have to create a model more complex than current simulations on climate change.

But even without a model it's clear that looking at North Korea and Cuba today we're being shown only a snapshot - artificially frozen in time for 15 years.

After global peak oil things will move a lot faster.


In fact, I was compelled to make a few simplifying moves. One is that I am talking about the first two decades after peak oil only, assuming a 2-5% decline per annum. You are quite right that, after this, all bets are off.

2-5% over two decades amounts to, very roughly, around 50%. In a way, you can therefore view the North Korean and Cuban cases as the equivalent of the first twenty years after peak oil in fast motion. The disadvantage is that certain systemic feedback mechanisms such as the effects of changing birth rates or slow migration processes are thereby taken off the table. However, the shorter time span has the advantage that we can see the effects much more clearly. In a chain of events that takes over twenty years, it can be very difficult to attribute causality because there are many perturbing factors. For example, you can interpret resource wars as consequences of peak oil but you can also see them as contingencies having independent effects. A Volcano may break out, and then you don't know what is due to the Volcano and what is due to peak oil. In the Cuban and North Korean cases, by contrast, there are fairly clear chains of causality. I see that as an important analytical advantage. It may also help us to have a better gaze and make more accurate diagnoses. In fact, people who do not have the mental frame of peak oil thinking will be prone to resort to superficial interpretations of events, e.g. taking financial crises or armed conflictes as the cause of the mailaisse when they are rather symptoms. Again: I am talking about the first two decades after peak oil only. For the longer-term view see John Michael Greer (2009) The Ecotechnic Future, Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

2-5% over two decades amounts to, very roughly, around 50%. In a way, you can therefore view the North Korean and Cuban cases as the equivalent of the first twenty years after peak oil in fast motion.

This is unrealistic. Braking a vehicle from 100km/hr to a stop in 10 seconds is entirely different from hitting a brick wall and stopping in .25 seconds.

A decline rate of 3.6% per year could be handled relatively easily by existing institutions (e.g., something that could be described as Business as Usual), while a 50% decline would take serious emergency measures.


May I remind you that the oil crisis of 1973/4 was due to a shortfall of worldwide oil supply of only about 5%? It does not even qualify as a serious oil supply disruption under the definition of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which was founded on that occasion. The crisis lasted only a relatively short time, and yet it had severe consequences. Now imagine that after the 5% of 1973/4 there would have been another 5% in 1975/6, and again in 1976/7, and so on. Do you really believe such a scenario would have been unproblematic and simply have spurred technological innovation?

There may be a categorical difference between stopping from 100km/h in 10 seconds or in .25 seconds. But the difference is not so enormous between stopping in .25 seconds and in 1.5 seconds. Despite the obvious differences which I readily admit, the scenario of a 50% reduction of oil supply over two decades is still serious enough for very serious consideration of the consequences.

I replied to your 1st paragraph above.

the scenario of a 50% reduction of oil supply over two decades is still serious enough for very serious consideration of the consequences.

True, but

1) you can't use a 1 year reduction as a proxy/model for a 20 year reduction, and

2) There is no evidence for a 20 year 50% reduction.

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil's President Kjell Aleklett, of ASPO International...warned a Senate committee that the International Energy Agency had wildly overestimated oil production, lulling nations such as Australia into a false sense of security.

Rather than oil production rising by 20 per cent to 101.5 million barrels a day in 2030, he says production is likely to fall 11 per cent, to just 76 million barrels a day.


Look at page 40 of the presentation: http://www.aspo-australia.org.au/References/Aleklett/20090611%20Sydney4.pdf
We see only a .5% annual decline rate over the next 20 years.

On page 42 of the presentation - we see that this projection is precisely in the middle - between the "Standard Case High End" and "Standard Case Low End".

See for more discussion: http://peakoildebunked.blogspot.com/2009/07/408-kjell-aleklett-05-per-annum-post.html


Estimates vary. For every estimate you quote, I could quote a different one. But if you want to state anything about the future, you need to make assumptions. I used the following article, which reflects mainstream opinion in the peak oil community, as a basis for my assumptions.

Hirsch, R.L., 2008. Mitigation of maximum world oil production: shortage scenarios. Energy Policy 36:2, 881-889.

Regarding the issue of whether my proxies are adequate, I have given you my explanations in a comment above. For the sake of simplicity let us just revert to your initial assertion that "braking a vehicle from 100 km/hr to a stop in 10 seconds is entirely different from hitting a brick wall and stopping at .25 seconds". While this is certainly true, I believe I have supplied enough evidence to suggest that 2-5% decline of oil supply per annum for a couple of decades is the equivalent of, say, braking a vehicle from 100 km/hr to a stop in 1.5 seconds.

If we can settle on this, then I believe it becomes obvious that the study of my proxies is not futile. The "perfect" equivalent of a crash test with a brick wall is simply not available because a global scenario equivalent to 2-5% decline of oil supply per annum for a a couple of decades has not yet occurred. My proxies are the closest approximation available. The bottomline is that they are sufficiently close to peak oil to extract variables (indicated in my hypotheses) which can then be carefully applied to develop plausible peak oil scenarios.

This is exactly what I have done.

Estimates vary.

Actually, they don't. First, this presentation is by the President of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. How more representative of the "peak oil community" can you get? 2nd, if you look closely, you'll find that it's entirely consistent with other projections. One of the keys to the difference lies on page 40, where you'll see projections broken out by type of liquid. We see that crude oil falls by 27%, but all liquids drop by only 11%.

Now, I'm very familiar with Hirsch's work and, sadly, it's not very helpful. Here's what he said:

"I have just completed a study looking at what the shape of oil production maximum — peaking — might look like. And I looked across the data and across history and I have looked at a number of forecasts and so forth. Because it is impossible to know in advance, the position that I took is to define three scenarios.

The best scenario would be a plateau where oil reaches a maximum and stays within a modest range over an extended period of time and a number of forecasters have suggested that that may happen but one sees in the data for all of North America and for Europe plateaus that occurred and lasted for a number of years. So a plateau is indeed possible.

One can also look at other regions that were reasonably well managed and relatively free market developed and see a sharp peak, something where you can’t see the peak coming and it occurs relatively quickly, which maybe a year or two and then goes into significant decline so that kind of ramp up ramp down is another possibility. That was the second scenario that came out of the study that I did.

The third scenario gets into resource nationalism and here the situation as many people know is that the big oil companies, the international oil companies do not control the majority of oil production in the world. The national oil companies do it. And they have their own particular interests, they want to make money, some of them look for political control, some of them just mismanaged what they got and so forth." http://contreinfo.info/article.php3?id_article=1358

So, he makes these sound a bit like authoritative projections, but they're not - they are "scenarios". If you look at other analyses that are really intended to be forecasts, I would bet dollars to donuts that 1) the decline is smaller than 50% from 2010 to 2030, and 2) if it's very different from Aleklett's overall projection, then it's a projection just for crude oil, not for "all liquids".

I believe I have supplied enough evidence to suggest that 2-5% decline of oil supply per annum for a couple of decades is the equivalent of, say, braking a vehicle from 100 km/hr to a stop in 1.5 seconds.

I would disagree - stopping in 1.5 seconds isn't braking, it's a crash, which is almost certainly going to result in more or less catastrophic loss of control of the vehicle. The world has a range of both short-term and long-term strategies that almost certainly will be employed to prevent that kind of "crash".

Personal transportation oil consumption can be reduced by 25% in months, and EVs clearly can be "ramped up" well before 20 years from now. If you'll read my articles, you'll see that the same is true for other uses of oil as well. For instance, at the peak of oil prices in 2008, water shipping reduced speed, and reduced oil consumption per ton-mile by 20% literally overnight. In the longer term, water shipping can easily electrify - in fact, it already has to some extent. The same is true of rail, space heating, etc, etc. For instance, light vehicles get 50% of their lifetime useage in only 6 years: if we can replace them over 20 years, the cost in premature obsolescence is very small. Again, oil substitution measured in months is catagorically different from a process measured in years or decades.

Now, you might ask why Cuba and N. Korea couldn't at least use the short-term responses I mention above. The answer is that there is another reason why these case studies are not comparable: Cuba and N. Korea were so poor to start with, and they didn't have domestic industries that could respond with innovations - they were dependent on imports from a world that didn't face the same challenges. The OECD has an enormous surplus of energy and equipment, and a much more flexible set of policy options.

My proxies are the closest approximation available.

That's very possible, but that doesn't make it adequate. I'd say the UK transition from coal to oil is a much closer approximation, though still not a very good one.


Whether you like it or not, estimates do vary. This is simply a fact of life which we do not have to discuss here.

I am not surprised that you dislike Hirsch's work. Since you disagree with the views he expresses, you dislike it. But actually Hirsch is just being honest. He does not claim to have reliable projections when all that is possible, given the uncertainties, is plausible scenarios.

I do something similar. I first specify my assumptions, and then try to develop plausible scenarios. You don't like my findings, and you make very different assumptions. I find these implausible and have explained why. I have also explained that I am not directly applying my cases. I simply work with the closest possible approximations and extract variables which I then apply carefully.

The transition from coal to oil is not an approximation to peak oil at all, because oil is an energetically superior surrogate to coal. The transition from coal to oil was an energetic upgrade. This is almost the opposite from peak oil, which most people argue is about an energetic downgrade.

Whether you like it or not, estimates do vary. This is simply a fact of life which we do not have to discuss here.

Of course. My point is that in this specific case, an estimate of 50% reduction of liquid fuel supplies is not representative of the researchers in the "peak oil community" who are working hard to develop good projections.

. Since you disagree with the views he expresses, you dislike it.

No, that's really not the case. I've reviewed his work very carefully, and it's simply not rigorous. He chooses assumptions/data points that are inaccurate (or unreasonable), and works from them using very poor logic. He's just not a good source.

He has published several studies. The last one suggests that oil consumption is related to GDP in a 1:1 ratio - in other words, if oil consumption drops by 10%, GDP will as well. Here is what he said recently: "So then if one calculates a range of 2 to 5 percent, some people think the number may be larger, 2 to 5 percent per year increase in oil shortage, one comes up with a rather disastrous indication world GDP will decline by 2 to 5 percent a year in tandem with increasing oil shortages."

Is this realistic?

No. We can see this from economic history: in the US, oil consumption fell by 19% from 1978 to 1983, and yet GDP grew slightly. Similarly, world oil consumption was flat 2004-2008, but GDP growth was quite strong, stronger than for the US (which itself grew 8% 2005-2008, with flat oil consumption). Oil consumption in the US fell much faster in 2008 and 2009 than GDP. Lately, in the 4th quarter of 2009, US oil consumption continued to fall by 1.1% over the previous quarter, while GDP grew by 5.8%.

Hirsch seems to have looked at the relationship between oil and GDP over the last 20 years, noticed that the ratio of oil increase to GDP increase has dropped from the previous 1:1 to roughly 1:2.5 (an analysis which he attributes to the DeutcheBank, but which can be derived straightforwardly from IEA statistics). In other words, in previous decades as the economy grew, oil consumption grew as quickly, while lately less oil has been needed. Hirsch drew the very strange inference that GDP has become more dependent on oil, rather than less. http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/06/there-are-several-studies-by-rober...

You don't like my findings

No, I disagree with the assumptions and logic. It's true that I come to different conclusions. I'm perfectly ready to come to dismal conclusions, if the reality warrants it. For instance, I think Climate Change is a very big deal, and that humanity is likely to deal with it very badly.

The transition from coal to oil is not an approximation to peak oil at all, because oil is an energetically superior surrogate to coal. The transition from coal to oil was an energetic upgrade. This is almost the opposite from peak oil, which most people argue is about an energetic downgrade.

Well, you see, this is an important point where PO pessimists are being unrealistic. Wind and solar (and nuclear) are very high quality sources of energy: abundant, high E-ROI, clean. It's not a pain-free transition by any means, because it involves a transition from several legacy industries to several new ones, but from a "collapse" point of view, it's very small. It's true that electricity is harder to store than coal or oil, but that's amenable to straightforward solutions. Not always simple, in a certain sense, but straightforward.


You may disagree, but to my mind Hirsch makes reasonable assumptions. 2-5% reduction per year is broadly representative of the "peak oil community" as he convincingly shows.

Whatever happened to US oil consumption from 1978-1983, the longer-term data speak a different language. See http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_psup_dc_nus_mbblpd_a.htm

I do not buy your statement that solar is high EROEI when compared to conventional oil. I'm not just talking about silicium panels but also other methods of converting sunlight into electricity.

I find it questionable as a matter of principle to compare coal and oil to electricity, as you do in your final paragraph. Coal and oil are primary energy sources, electricity isn't.

I won't go into any further detail here. There are many specialist posts where such issues can be discussed. Our reciprocal viewpoints are reasonably clear now, and for everyone to see. Let readers judge.

Whatever happened to US oil consumption from 1978-1983, the longer-term data speak a different language. See http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_psup_dc_nus_mbblpd_a.htm

I think you've been misled by a couple of things. First, the Y axis isn't zero, so it exaggerates the growth in the last 30 years. 2nd, you need to look at the latest monthly numbers. If you do, you'll see that US consumption is now down to about 18,500 bbls per day. That's lower than US consumption in 1978, yet US GDP is 130% higher than in 1978 (and US manufacturing is 50% larger than in 1978). Since the 1970's, when oil prices first rose, GDP has consistently grown faster than oil consumption. At times GDP has grown while oil consumption was falling.

If you look at the whole world, the situation is even more dramatic. World GDP annual growth was about 5% for the last 5 years, and briefly dipped last year. This is while oil production & consumption has been almost flat. Clearly, economic growth and oil consumption are not closely linked.

I do not buy your statement that solar is high EROEI when compared to conventional oil. I'm not just talking about silicium panels but also other methods of converting sunlight into electricity.

Well, it depends on the oil, and on the form of solar power. Saudi oil is hard to beat - deep offshore oil, not so much. Some forms of solar have rather higher E-ROI than others. It's important to keep in mind a couple of things: 1) E-ROI doesn't matter very much once it reaches a certain level - somewhere between 5-15. The research literature on solar E-ROI dried up about 10 years ago, when solar generally clearly reached that point. 2) older literature on solar E-ROI is out of date: manufacturers have been cutting energy inputs, as well as other costs, quite dramatically in the last few years.

I would note that if the main source(s) of power are very high E-ROI, it's also not as important if a secondary source is as high. Wind power is clearly very high (as is nuclear, if you like nuclear), and it could subsidize solar a bit if it were necessary. Solar is very useful because it easily provides peaking power (unlike wind and nuclear), and is negatively correlated with wind.

I find it questionable as a matter of principle to compare coal and oil to electricity, as you do in your final paragraph. Coal and oil are primary energy sources, electricity isn't.

Sure. Just substitute "renewably generated electricity" instead.

Finally, I don't see this as a game-like debate, which others might judge. While I'm mindful of the "lurkers" who are learning from what we say, I also see this as a dialogue in search of "truth" and consensus. So, what the heck, I'll keep going until we come to agreement!


Disagreement is normal. We may search areas of consensus (as we have), but we won't reach harmony.

US oil Consumption 1978, according to EIA: 18,847 Thousand Barrels per Day.

This was a maximum, before a drop related to the 1979 oil crisis and ensuing recession.

US Oil consumption 2008, according to EIA: 19,489 Thousand Barrels per Day.

Data for 2009 are not yet available online. You say: most recent figure 18,500 (source?)

We have to take into account that we are comparing a boom with a recession. The US has significantly deindustrialized its economy since 1978. Much energy-intensive stuff is produced abroad. You simply ship the products in, rather than the oil. If world oil production declines significantly, this must have strong effects on all sorts of prices. It must have especially strong effects on oil prices, even if domestic oil consumption in the US remains flat. So far the US has not de-coupled itself from such effects.

The same goes of course for my native Europe, and some other highly industrialized countries.

Your point that energy intensity decreases is well taken. But even so, a decline in oil supply is bound to negatively affect the economy. There is a very basic point about leverage, which I know you won't be willing to accept but here it is. If we increase energy leverage by a factor of X by decreasing energy intensity, then we will suffer X as much if the same amount of energy supply is withdrawn.

Disagreement is normal. We may search areas of consensus (as we have), but we won't reach harmony.

I have found that when people work hard, and listen with an open mind, that it's quite striking how much consensus can be found. It becomes impossible when people stop thinking for themselves - say, if they accept religious authority, or simply choose to subscribe to the group-think of whatever political, professional or social group they identify with.

If you don't have the time right now to really try to do that, I entirely understand. Still...I think it's very possible to do.

US oil Consumption 1978, according to EIA: 18,847 Thousand Barrels per Day. - This was a maximum, before a drop related to the 1979 oil crisis and ensuing recession.

Sure. Of course, I was looking for the most dramatic comparison. Still the comparison is valid - if we choose different times for reference the percentages will change slightly, but the point will still hold.

US Oil consumption 2008, according to EIA: 19,489 Thousand Barrels per Day. - Data for 2009 are not yet available online. You say: most recent figure 18,500 (source?)

Go back to the same DOE/EIA web page, and choose "monthly" at the top, then choose "history" at the right. You'll see data through February 2010. Here it is: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MTTUPUS2...

Compare january 1976 to January 2010. 34 years later, we're back at the same level of consumption, but with GDP that's 130% higher, and manufacturing that's 50% higher (see below).

The US has significantly deindustrialized its economy since 1978. Much energy-intensive stuff is produced abroad. You simply ship the products in, rather than the oil.

Actually, this just isn't true, at least in absolute terms. The US manufactures 50% more now than it did in 1978. People are misled by the fact that US manufacturing employment has dropped substantially in that period. But, that was caused by sharply rising manufacturing labor productivity, rather than by a decline in absolute levels of manufacturing output. See http://www.census.gov/manufacturing/m3/index.html

There is a very basic point about leverage, which I know you won't be willing to accept but here it is.

You're right, I don't accept it. There's no basis for this in the literature, or in our experience. Dropping oil:GDP intensity is a sign of less dependence on oil, not more. For instance, take a look at the US monthly oil consumption numbers: consumption is currently falling, while GDP (and domestic manufacturing volume) rises.

One important thing to keep in mind: the end-point to increasing oil-use efficiency isn't asymptotic levelling off and decreasing marginal gains, it's the elimination of oil entirely. For instance, 40 years ago the US used a great deal of oil to generate electricity. From 1975 to 1990 that was reduced dramatically. Five years ago that had been reduced to 3% of electrical generation, and now it's below 1%. Effectively, it's been eliminated from that sector. Similarly, fuel oil for home heating is gradually being eliminated entirely. Another example: oil (kerosene) was used in 1870 for illumination - in several decades it had been replaced entirely by electric lighting.

Now, the same thing is happening in freight, where trucks are well on their way to being replaced by rail, and ICE light vehicles are starting to be replaced by hybrids, EREVs and EVs.

Oil is simply not essential. We need to "think outside the box", and see a world without it.

Coal and oil are primary energy sources, electricity isn't.

There is no large scale economic use for nuclear heat, falling water and blowing wind except to make electricity.

To a lessor extent, with caveats, this is also true of geothermal heat and sunshine. The sunshine and geothermal heat converted to electricity have no other economic use.

Thus electricity can be thought of as a surrogate for these "primary sources" since they have no other use.

Oil, natural gas and coal fired electricity are not primary sources of energy, but renewable and nuclear electricity are primary sources of energy.



Hairsplitting aside, there are primary and secondary energy sources. Coal and oil are primary energy sources. Electricity as such isn't. Do you really want to debate this simple and uncontroversial fact?

Actually yes, because electricity production is the only way to account for falling water, nuclear heat and blowing wind (as well as sunshine and geothermal heat).

Electricity is thus the primary source when derived from renewable and nuclear heat sources although the exact same physical phenomena is a secondary source when derived from fossil fuels since FF can also be used directly.

One can heat one's home with natural gas directly, or with natural gas fired electricity (via resistance heat or heat pumps). The same is true of oil and even coal (although direct heat by coal has fallen into disfavor).

But the only way to heat ones home with renewable energy is via electricity (or opening curtains to let sunlight in).

The same is true for moving trains (except NG is not viable for direct use).

This is a novel insight, but a correct one I believe.


Another factor to it is that those problems were with two countries only and not with the entire world. So, even in worst days there was some hope that some help would come from somewhere or oil prices would fall enough to be affordable again or these countries would be able to earn enough foreign exchange to import sufficient quantities of oil. In case of all out global decline situation would be much more worse. An analogy is one person getting ill and able to use some hospital or get some charity from neighbours (like in case of north korea getting food aids from other countries) and entire city getting ill all at the same time leaving no person to help.


That's an excellent point. You are absolutely right. Just think of financial markets. If they expect shrinkage of the cake every year, who is going to invest real money there? It does indeed make a difference if something is or feels like a local and temporary crisis, or if something is or feels like a global and permanent crisis. The only thing I am not so sure about is whether people will really perceive peak oil as a global and permanent crisis. Some people no doubt will (otherwise we would not be debating here about pak oil), but many others are more likely to look at the symptoms such as financial crises or military aggression and declare these to be the fundamental problems.

Before the real sunrise there is a false one after which it get darks again, then the real sunrise happen after a while. The symptoms and effects of energy decline can be blamed to opposing political leaders, enemy countries, oil companies and govts for sometime and this is an excellent window to bring a political change in your favor, but, like all windows this one too is time limited and soon in a matter of a couple of years perhaps or five years at maximum probably things would be so clear as the real sunrise. When one country fall after another, when stock exchanges' indexes fall consistently in real term, when govts get weak and locals get strong, it would be hard to blame the things on anything else except energy decline. Before that major political changes may come, some dictators may surface and some of them get strong enough to rule afterwards.

A lot can be hide by money inflation but not for long.



The main change that happen as energy sources decline, energy sources be fossil fuels, slaves, food supply, fodder, whatever, is de-urbanization. Cities are made for trade and industry, villages for food production. Decline in energy sources results in declines in both trade and industry. In trade because of less travelling opportunities as less oil, gas, liquified coal, fodder, draft animals etc are now available for locomotion. In industry because the machines cannot be run at previous levels due to lack of the above mentioned energy sources.

When cities shrink, a lot of formerly employed people are out of job. Decline in incomes in these people, most of them of lower socio-economic class, especially factory workers, soon lead to starvation and hunger-related diseases. To get out of this vicious cycle these people organize in mobs and political movements in best case and all-out looting and sabotaging in worst case. In both cases govt have to step in to maintain itself and law and order. Any govt that fail to do this go out of existence pretty soon.

In energy decline, govt role have to be increased. There is no other way except total anarchism and chaos. As long as there is some level of society and organization in people, there have to be some kind of govt. Its also a duty of govt to increase its role in crisis. A govt can't be blamed of increasing its role in such situations, infact it should be appreciated that its doing something and maintaining some level of law and order. A total loss of govt is the worst of worst where any powerful can kill any weak without getting caught.

Its totally rational for any govt to increase its role in any crisis including energy decline. Govt should try to make itself more efficient but efficiency can't be brought in system overnight while maintaining same level of effectiveness or increasing it. Govt have to employ the out-of-job mob somewhere, govt have to provide people food and fuel and shelter. Govt have to save the debted masses.

The best and immediate way govt can employ the people is in service, recruiting 4 people in job of one. Govt expenses do increase but that can be compensated through increased taxation in short term and increased efficiency in middle term. Ofcourse increased taxes make situation worse for private sector but there is no other workable solution to it. Once things get in order govt can nationalize some of the industries and employ the extra staff there. If country has excess arable land then some people can be employed in agriculture, if not in food production then atleast in fodder production to support more draft animals. Then slowly after a few years govt can and should privatise.

The total liberal opinion of letting the system work and that govt must keep quiet is totally wrong. The very existence of govt can't sustain an over-the-mark unemployment and debt enslavement of masses. Govt must react but must hand over the commercial things to private sector when things get in order.

You need to get people to do productive things, hiering four people to do one persons job makes for three people not finding a niche were they can add value to the economy and someone has to pay taxes or get inflation to pay for this wich further hinders the market adaptations to the new situation.

Things will also never ever be in order, they are not even perfect in good times. Having one clumsy system that stays in control and power until things are well and then disbands itself when the dictator no longer is needed is an old formula for continued political disaster. You got to have the same basic policies and roles for your government both in good times, bad times and during disasters where the governments role allways is to support the people and the peoples volontary businesses with each other creating value, markets and constructive change.

Hiring one person to do four persons' work, leaves three people out of work.

This is not so bad if you think growth is a good idea, and possible.

In a setting where there is no room to add more "value" to the economy, the "market adaptations to the new situation" will be to leave those three stranded. I believe the economical euphemism for this is "demand destruction", as in, they will be destroyed.

Now people don't take kindly to that. They riot, revolt, rather than resign themselves to poverty or worse in the market-efficient manner. Have a look at Greece?

A government that wants to keep governing will -- must -- try to either: keep them occupied (with make-work/entitlement programs), or: keep them down (by force).

I vastly prefer the first option

There will not be a lack of things to do post peak oil but the pay will buy less energy and energy intensive goods.

Spot on, WisdomfromPakistan. I hope Oelewapperke reads your comment.

I don't think the South is a very useful Peak Oil model for most of the world. It might be a good model for oil exporters.

First, it needs to be said that the South had just lost the first modern war of total destruction. 30% of all white males aged 18-40 were killed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War), and undoubtedly the percentage of healthy white males was even higher. Both ex-masters and ex-slaves were left without financial, industrial or technological capital with which to rebuild.

The impact on human capital may have been the worst: slavery left a cultural heritage of passivity and violent authoritarianism (classism, racism, sexism, domestic violence, etc, etc) for both ex-masters and ex-slaves that cannot be underestimated (as discussed above regarding West Point traditions). To work (expecially with your hands) was dishonorable for ex-masters, and to think and take responsibility for oneself was terrifying for people who had been publically tortured and killed for centuries, and who now faced a similar lynching campaign. The lack of more practical human capital can't be underestimated: ex-slaves didn't know how to read and write, how to run their lives (handling money, land titles, etc), how to raise their children or relate to spouses, etc, etc.

2nd, the South was a commodity exporter, like Russia and Saudi Arabia today. It was devastated by the "resource curse". "During the time of the Civil War, there was a dramatic slowdown in British cotton demand. As the textile industry matured, its rapid replacement of traditional methods naturally slowed. While the industry was still growing, its rate of growth slowed to match the relatively natural growth of population and incomes. The drop in demand growth, coupled with the tremendous cotton supply coming from the Southeastern states, led to falling prices. As poor conditions persisted for South Carolina’s cotton producers, no viable alternative crop could be found. The now relatively stagnant cotton economy remained until the end of the 19th century, as industrialization reached the state."


In fact the South is not a direct Peak Oil model. Japan, North Korea and Cuba are models for different possible reactions to peak oil (see my Hypotheses 1-3 in the original post). The South is not a direct model. Instead, it serves to bring home the point that people do not give up their livestyles easily (see my Hypothesis 4 in the original post). THIS is what would also apply if oil became a very scarce and expensive commodity so that societies would have to adjust their industrialist modes of production and transportation, and people their consumerist lifestyles.

Dixie is a cautionary tale for those who believe that, after peak oil, there will be an easy technological upgrade. If even in the US South, despite uniquely favourable circumstances, adaptation took a full century, then a technological upgrade will be even harder under the more challenging circumstances of a global energy crunch. The world would be struggling with an energetic downgrade, rather than an industrial upgrade as in the case of the American South. Developing energy technologies is never fast and easy, and even less so in times of crisis. After peak oil, we should expect extremely slow and painful processes of social and technological adjustment that may last for a century or more.

Instead, it serves to bring home the point that people do not give up their livestyles easily (see my Hypothesis 4 in the original post). THIS is what would also apply if oil became a very scarce and expensive commodity

I disagree. The South had a uniquely frozen culture, due to the violence, abuse and misinformation required to maintain a slave society.

If even in the US South, despite uniquely favourable circumstances, adaptation took a full century,

The South was devastated after the civil war, had a unique lack of capital, especially human capital, and lost it's primary customer for it's primary industry. These were uniquely unfavourable circumstances. It may be a model for oil exporters like Russia and KSA, but not for dynamic, educated countries in the OECD.

Developing energy technologies is never fast and easy, and even less so in times of crisis.

This is a change of topic from the question of the South as a useful model, but I have to say, this is highly unrealistic. The technology needed is already here. See my other comment, as well as http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/09/can-everything-be-electrified.html

(See comment further below.)

I also disagree that thee South was in a uniquely favorable situation during Reconstruction.

They had the disadvantages of Germany in 1920 plus more. A vengeful victor that wished to disrupt their society and economy. One in 4 white adult males were dead and many severely wounded. Transportation, industry and even agriculture were laid waste. And then the situation where former slaves could vote but former citizens could not. And more.


One in 4 white adult males were dead and many severely wounded.

Good point. There are usually more injuries than deaths. Very likely only 20% of the white adult males were left healthy at the end of the war.

Transportation, industry and even agriculture were laid waste.

Yes. Think of Sherman's march to the sea: everything was systematically destroyed.

A vengeful victor that wished to disrupt their society and economy.

Alan, could you expand on that? The Original Post assumes that the North was helpful during Reconstruction - I wasn't aware that it was a barrier to true reconstruction. Could you give more info?

Nick and Alan,

The South was indeed in a uniquely favourable position. If they were too resentful to accept support from the North which had defeated them, then this is exactly my point. They were clinging to a dysfunctional way of life, even against their own interests. You are right that they had a frozen culture, and my point is exactly that they were not willing to unfreeze it. My prediction is that rich oil suckers used to a consumerist lifestyle will have comparable problems to face new realities.

Capitalist investors are not normally hindered by resentment or revenge to invest where it's lucrative. The South could have attracted investment, introduced innovations, and modernized rather easily. Some Southerners wanted the trapping of industrial society, but the general unwillingness in the South to embrace the new socioeconomic and sociopolitical reality was the problem. Or do you believe Northern investors would not have put their money and transferred technologies to the South given the right incentives, within one and the same national economy and legal system? Why should they have invested in distant places abroad, with considerable legal and political uncertainty, but not in the South of their own country? Can you answer that question?

Final remark: even the technology that you say is already there needs to be implemented, and this takes time. It also requires heavy investment which is not easily forthcoming under crisis conditions.

The South was indeed in a uniquely favourable position.

Only if you exclude considerations of their slavery-warped culture. My point is that such a culture is very unusual. You'd have to go to places like Saudi Arabia to find it these days.

my point is exactly that they were not willing to unfreeze it.

Not "unwilling", instead they were unable.

My prediction is that rich oil suckers used to a consumerist lifestyle will have comparable problems to face new realities.

This is oddly judgmental, and unrealistic. OECD economies show a much greater ability to change. Look at Japan post 1870. Look at Germany and Japan post-WWII. Look at the US post-WWII. Look at the world car industry, which is gearing up to produce EVs, something which they found anathema only 5-15 years ago.

even the technology that you say is already there needs to be implemented, and this takes time.

Yes...something less than 20 years. Which brings us back to the difference between 1 year and 20 years.

It also requires heavy investment which is not easily forthcoming under crisis conditions.

On the one hand, that's assuming the premise. On the other, it's precisely under crisis conditions when investment is easiest - look at WWII: the US Depression ended because the war provided a good excuse for massive governmental spending and investment.

The South of 1866 had victors much like Germany of 1920, just more so.

France, UK and Belgium were willing to let Germany govern itself. The North was not.

Railroad rates were configured to frustrate Southern industrialization.
Shipping steel from Pittsburgh PA was 1/3rd the price of shipping from Birmingham AL as one specific example.

For many decades, the South offered incentives to build factories and railroads, but with modest results until a few decades ago.

Helpful ?

I can hear the bitter laughter of ghosts.

First, it depends on the POV, Freedman (black) or Southern white (regardless of class or even loyalty during the war).

The history of Reconstruction

Republicans in Congress refused to accept Johnson's lenient terms, rejected the new members of Congress selected by the South, and in 1865-66 broke with the president. A sweeping Republican victory in the 1866 Congressional elections in the North gave the Radical Republicans enough control of Congress that they over-rode Johnson's vetoes and began what is called "Radical reconstruction" in 1867.

Congress removed the civilian governments in the South[2] in 1867 and put the former Confederacy under the rule of the U.S. Army. The army then conducted new elections in which the freed slaves could vote while those who held leading positions under the Confederacy were denied the vote and could not run for office


Much more,


Alan and Nick,

It is rather common for the vanquished to be resentful, and more often than not the victors give them reason or pretext for such sentiment. However it is unusual for an outgunned faction to take a full century for recovery, and even 150 years later to still put most of the blame on the victors. Don't forget that after Reconstruction (1865-1877), the North took a more reconciliatory stance. As a result, race inequality was re-established under the banner of white supremacy after the withdrawal of the last federal troops from the South.

Do you want to blame even that on the North?

Nick's points about Japan and Germany play down the real situation. Both countries went twice to war. Nevertheless, they did not take a full century to get over their grudge and recover. The most likely reason why Japan and Germany had a somewhat easier time to adapt and overcome resentment is that they did not have to give up their way of life. They only had to modify it, which is already hard enough. The Post-War US South, by contrast, had to give up its way of life. If anything, the inflexible behaviour of Southerners confirms that people do not give up their way of life easily.

In a peak oil scenario, we should expect something broadly comparable for the attitudes of people with regard to wasteful industrialism and consumerist lifestyles (see my Hypothesis 4).

For Nick, on technology: the implementation of technology such as a nation-wide infrastructure for EVs takes much more than one year. Probably closer to a decade if you want to be reasistic. Under crisis conditions, as I have pointed out, even longer. Think of railroads in Dixieland.

This brings me to Alan, on railroads: during the Reconstruction Era, heavy subsidization of railroads by Republican state governments in the South did not lead to the hoped-for modernization but rather to corruption, making a few investors rich and otherwise contributing to soaring public deficits. Later railroads were built on a massive scale, often with Northern capital. The modest result may not be the exclusive fault of the investors. The pattern of low return on capital investment is known from other socially backward areas, such as the South of Italy.

Some sources:

Foner, Eric (1988) Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, New York: Harper and Row.

Fitzgerald, Michael W. (2007) Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South, Chicago: Dee.

it is unusual for an outgunned faction to take a full century for recovery, and even 150 years later to still put most of the blame on the victors.

That is exactly my point: the US South post-Civil War experience was very unusual. Therefore, it's not useful as a data point for the rest of the world.

If anything, the inflexible behaviour of Southerners confirms that people do not give up their way of life easily.

Look at Japan post 1870. The Japanese aggressively and quickly gave up their previous way of life. Germany post-WWII may not have had to change to a whole different economic model, but they did have to rebuild from scratch. Japan did indeed change to a fairly different society - they renounced their previous imperial ambitions, and became rather more democratic. Both showed enormous flexibility and adaptability.

In a peak oil scenario, we should expect something broadly comparable for the attitudes of people with regard to wasteful industrialism and consumerist lifestyles

This is not a reasonable assumption. Good substitutes exist for oil - if their use is easier then moving to a post-consumer economic model, then the obvious assumption is that they will be used, and therefore the straightforward question is: "how hard is a transition to oil substitutes?". I'd suggest that a transition to oil substitutes in the present relatively peaceful environment is much, much easier than the challenges faced by post-WWII Germany and Japan.


The Japanese did not give up their imperial ambitions after 1870. They started them. They had a war starting in 1895, another one in 1905, then in 1914, again in 1931, then 1937, and finally 1941. If this was a peaceful and democratic society, then I wonder what sort of history books (if any) you read.

The US South post-Civil War experience is applicable precisely because it was so unusual. An entire way of life was at stake. This does not happen often, but it may again happen in case of peak oil. Your technological fantasies seem unrealistic to me, but I hope technological adaptation will mitigate the descent.


I wasn't clear - when I wrote about Japan giving up imperial ambitions, I was talking about post-WWII. As you note, the Japanese were extremely aggressive militarily pre-WWII, which makes their post-WWII conversion to mercantile pacifism all the more remarkable.

I wonder what sort of history books (if any) you read.

I'm sorry if I'm starting to stress you out, and tempt you towards ad hominem remarks. Please be assured, my criticisms of the arguments put forth are not personal. I pursue these things strongly because there are people out there, reading these articles and forming their world-views and life-strategies. I don't want anyone deciding to pursue a miserable life of marginal farming, or give up having children, based on unrealistically pessimistic ideas they find here.

technological fantasies seem unrealistic to me

Well, I hope you read the articles I offer. There's nothing unrealistic there at all. All of the technology I discuss is here, now. There's nothing that has to be discovered, or invented. The odd thing is that PO pessimists seem to have a very hard time envisioning a society that is only marginally different: a world of EVs, electric rail, wind and solar, etc.


OK, so you mean 1945 rather than 1870.

After 1945, the Japanese and Germans were offered the opportunity to join industrialism powered by free trade and sponsered by the United States, rather than relying on the myopic nationalist kind they had pursued before. In other words, they were offered a progressive upgrade. Such an upgrade had not worked during the liberal interlude in both countries during the 1920s, but it worked after 1945. My point, as repeatedly stated, is that such an upgrade after peak oil would not be available.

Our reciprocal standpoints are reasonably clear now, and for everyone to see. Neither of us can claim a monopoly on truth. Let readers build their own views.

OK, so you mean 1945 rather than 1870.

Well, I referred first to Japan in 1870, then to Germany post-WWII, and then again to Japan post-WWII.

My point, as repeatedly stated, is that such an upgrade after peak oil would not be available.

Yes, but my point is that both post-WWI Japan and post-civil war South had similar choices - the South was the outlier, in it's refusal to make the positive choice. The reason for that was the very unusual culture of violent authoritarianism necessary to maintain slavery. That kind of psychology doesn't exist very much now, except perhaps in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the ME.

Also, of course, I disagree with the assumption that high-quality energy won't be available in the future.


Our areas of (dis)agreement are sufficiently clear now. No need to constantly repeat the same points.

It seemed worth the clarification.

What the heck - my mother taught me: "you can't communicate too much".

One sidenote.

"National character" is often mis-stated and over blown, for we are all indivivduals.

None-the-less, the only people that I am aware of that have the same stubborn tenacity of the Southern Scotch-Irish (of which I am one) are the Germanic Swiss.


Thank you for your latest sensationalist, scare stories, Gail The Religious Nut.

A couple of points.

Nick and I agree on a variety of points but have a long running disagreement on the desirability (as opposed to technical feasibility) of electric cars and I am not quite as sanguine as he on the technical and economic hurdles they face.

What I propose will take an investment of between 2% and 3% of GDP for twenty years (with economic returns from the earlier investments paying for most or all of the later investments).

Other relevant and useful investments (such as conservation) could take over 1% of GDP.

Some of this investment could come from investments made in other areas (new highways for example) but some will need to come from consumption.

This has lead me to some thoughts (not yet formalized) that the USA has passed the point of Peak Ideal Consumption.

We consume too much for our own good and happiness. See obesity rates, the social isolation of Suburbia, the ugliness of most of American built environment and more.

An economy driven by investments in long lived energy producing and energy efficient infrastructure (rather than consumption) could have low unemployment, balanced budgets, modest growth and lower levels of consumption than today.

There is an option to make the transition to post-Peak Oil a positive one for quality of life.

Not likely I admit, but quite possible.

Best Hopes,


Nick and I agree on a variety of points but have a long running disagreement on the desirability (as opposed to technical feasibility) of electric cars

Actually, we agree pretty closely on the desirability (or lack thereof) of primary reliance on personal transportation (e.g., EVs). We both have chosen to live in very walkable dense urban areas, rely on electric rail, and keep our cars for decades and use them relatively little. I'm simply aware that 1) this is a much more expensive approach overall than suburban living, and 2) conversion from ICE to EV transportation is much, much faster and cheaper than a transition to urban rail and Transit Oriented Development.

I agree with the rest of what you said (except for the likelihood of high-quality life post-PO). I think people in general, and people in the US in particular, have gotten stuck on a low rung of the Maslow hierarchy, trying to find emotional rewards and meaning in life from...material consumption.

Dear all,

This is the seventh day after the post, so I assume it is soon going to be "time out". This has been an enormously interesting experience for me. I have never before taken part in a blog, so this was really new and exciting; a fascinating complement and contrast to the academic debates I'm used to.

Many thanks to all those who have actively contributed to the debate. Some of you guys are really formidable sparring partners, such as Nick. One has even come to my office to see me. Another one has sent me a very interesting paper. Special thanks to Gail the Actuary for making it happen.

Thanks - I've enjoyed it too.