DrumBeat: September 1, 2006

[Update by Leanan on 09/01/06 at 9:16 AM EDT]

United States faces bigger worries than ‘hot’ fuel

We’ve all heard the term “peak oil” but “net exports” are an even graver oil market fundamental. Current statistics (not projections) indicate global oil exports are falling three to four times faster than oil production, which is down 1.3 percent since the start of the year.

Preparing for a Crash: Nuts and Bolts

This essay is intended to address the serious “peaknik,” that is to say a person who accepts as axiomatic that Peak Oil will occur and that the consequences will be devastating for most of the world’s Homo sapiens sapiens. As one of these people, I am often frustrated by the lack of practical suggestions for what to do to survive the Peak and the Crash.

Nigerian Oil Workers Declare 'Warning Strike'

Nigerian oil unions have declared a three-day 'warning strike' to protest worsening violence and kidnapping of workers in the Niger Delta. The unions are demanding steps to improve the situation or they may withdraw their members from the region, indefinitely.

Eni declares force majeure on Nigeria oil field

Italy's Eni declared a force majeure on 50,000 barrels of crude lost at its Brass River oil field in Nigeria after a sabatoage attack late last month damaged its pipelines, a company official said on Friday.

The Curse of Natural Resources

Many countries with enormous reserves of oil, gas or precious metals, are plagued with disproportionate poverty, corruption and mismanagement. Would the people in Nigeria, Congo or Russia be better off without their natural gifts?

Wind Power Flounders in Japan

Unlike Germany, the world's largest wind-power generator, Japan lacks the national grid needed to iron out supply fluctuations from wind projects.

Gulf Oil Discovery Lifts Hopes for New Geological Play

A deepwater discovery reported Thursday underscores the growing importance of a geological formation in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico that's only recently become accessible to crude oil and natural gas producers.

Silicon deal amid scarcity

'Probably the demand (from solar companies) is twice the current supply,' he said.

This imbalance makes prices high, and is part of the reason photovoltaic solar energy, which converts sunlight into electricity by chemical reaction, must be heavily subsidized to compete with the price of electricity from fossil fuels.

Solar power may soon bring the Web to remote areas

Someone sent me this story today:

The wrong road to fuels of the future

Not sure if it has been discussed (I can barely keep up with what day it is lately), but here is an excerpt:

Socialism failed because the governments that embraced it couldn't solve the basic problem of economics: what to produce and how much. In the old Soviet bloc, warehouses filled up with things people wouldn't buy while consumers stood in long lines in the hope of getting what they wanted. Thanks to that experience, we're smarter than to think the government is better at judging what to sell than, say, Toyota or Target.
(I can barely keep up with what day it is lately)

I know the feeling. There is so much reading from the previous day's drumbeat alone when I come in the office in the morning that my work gets sloppy. Nothing like "pulling up a chair, grabbing a cold one, and watch".

BTW, there was an article on the energybulletin the other day arguing that the Soviet Union dissolved because of PO. That is a totally different argument then what you quote. And I have read many other reasons too.  

Well Robert, I have to agree with the guy.  If the technology still needed to be developped or could be improved, it would be fine to have gov subsides.

But when you think of actually building the whole infrastructure, I dont think it's worth it.

But anyway, us (like in very well educated us) know that it's not the solution.  For the layman, I think they feel it is.  So this Idea will keep up until 2 things happen :

  1. Gov subsides shrink to none (companies goes bankrupt)
  2. Oil go on rising and shortage in diesel makes growing stuff more of a challenge.

If you take a look at the last ethanol discussion we had here (boy it was an hard discussion) common sense won't restrain people from believing in anything.  
If you take a look at the last ethanol discussion we had here (boy it was an hard discussion) common sense won't restrain people from believing in anything.

I have to admit that I was surprised at how confused people got over this issue. A small percentage didn't seem to get it, no matter how many different ways we tried to explain it. But Michael Wang did ultimately write back to me and agree with my premise. I am trying to decide whether to post one more essay on our last exchange. It is a matter of me explaining why it is important that we get it right - the consequence of failure will be huge in a Peak Oil world. In his response, he agreed that I am correct about the efficiency argument, but says we have to look at other things. I told him that I agree that this is not the full sum of the debate; I was just addressing 1 false claim that is often repeated.

But, my next essay is going to be a guest essay from a very well-connected (politically) person who is supporting California's Prop 87. It is essentially a rebuttal to some Prop 87 essays that I wrote. I think it should generate some interesting discussion, especially from people who are sick of hearing about ethanol. I have the essay, but I will probably wait until early next week to post it.

I suspect Khosla's interest in discussing things with you was mostly over Prop 87.  It's surprisingly easy to derail ballot initiatives sometimes, and some people have some significant interests in seeing that proposal succeed.  Khosla could have been simply attempting to know his enemy and size you up for your ability to sow the seeds of doubt about his chosen "trajectory."  

If organized opponents of Prop 87 could find someone extremely knowledgable about the problems with ethanol and highly credible, it might help them stop  the proposal.  If you do get involved, you may find yourself the subject of a smear campaign.  At least, they will paint you as the stooge of the oil industry.  You no doubt know this.  Good luck, and watch your back.

There was a write up in the Providence Journal by one Maurice Webb (rocket scientist/combustion specialist) who argues that the higher density of gasoline vs. ethanol effects ultimate performance comparisons of the fuels as the fuel-to-air ratio for complete combustion of gasoline is higher than that of ethanol.  

To my understanding, this means that more btus are needed for max. temp and optimum combustion thus efficiency of gasoline as a motor fuel then ethanol.

And if that's the case, could engines not be specifically designed to run on E100 thus overcoming a large portion of the BTU deficiencies you oft mention?

AFAIK, there are just two design parameters that need to change to go from gasoline to E100:
  1. the fuel-air ratio;
  2. elimination of any plastic/rubber components from the fuel system that may be attacked by E100.

The second issue is obviously the more difficult design change. A modern engine can probably change its fuel/air ratio with a simple parametric tweak to its software.

Also have to deal with vaporization or atomization issues of ethanol at cold temps, the fuel must be preheated a bit, just like in an alcohol stove. Im sure fuel injection helps a great deal with this, but for small motors injection isnt always practical. IIRC the change in fuel-air ratio is big enough that your average run of the mill production car fuel system might not quite be able to have enough volume to be ok with just a software change, depends on how much "headroom" the engineers left in the system.
AFAIK, there are just two design parameters that need to change to go from gasoline to E100:

I think the most important is the compression ratio. Increasing the compression ratio has been shown to improve gas mileage of E85 vehicles. Instead of a 25% drop in fuel efficiency, they only have a 15% or so drop.

25% and 15% per gallon though.  What should we look at it we want to judge ethanol vs gasoline as a automotive fuel ... miles per Calorie or BTU?

I'd think we'd want to know the conversion efficiency from chemcial potential energy to practical kinetic energy.

What's the story with Cilion?  San Jose Merc News (Business section) today says they can be profitable with corn based ethanol production even if oil drops to $40/barrel. Have you covered Cilion before?
Is it a matter of markets or is it a matter of "knowing" and knowing well?

Everyone looks to France beacuse it has almost 80% of its electricity coming from nukes, as a result of strategic public policies.

I'll bet that the Danish government is behind their wind power development.

The "solution" presented by Steve Chapman is pure government planning, of the same kind he's rejecting. [ironic]How does the government know that fossil fuel are bad? The market are asking for more, how is it that taxes are needed to foster alternative energies? Let the market decide how and when and leave it to its own. [/ironic]

And how is it that USA has become the biggest energy consumer in the world? How come those wasteful SUVs in the first place? Maybe through the "market". People want SUVs let them have them!

So what's the answer? IMHO markets AND governments. Maybe through taxes on fossil fuels, maybe through direct investing (as France did with nuclear energy).



I'll bet that the Danish government is behind their wind power development.

You might lose that bet !

Only indirectly is the Danish Gov't behind their remarkable wind industry.

  1. The Danish Gov't published a survey of in-service performance for various wind turbines.  This brought more orders to the good models; and bankruptcy to the poor performers.

  2. They enacted a carbon tax.  An indirect wind subsidy.

  3. They made it easy (via laws) for a co-op of farmers or city-dwellers + a farmer to buy & operate wind turbines.  At one time, almost half of the WTs were owned by these co-ops.

  4. The national grid was encouraged to take wind power, even when additional lines were required.

Denmark did NOT spend massive amounts on R&D, or have gov't owned WTs.  Rather they provided fertile ground for the industry to grow.  Quite different from France.
Ok. At least I didn't state that as a fact!

But, part of the argument still holds. How does the Danish government know that "Wind is better". Why is it "distorting" market signals to provide "fertile ground"? The Danish government HAS diverted resources from some part of their economy to another place, probably a different one the market would have chosen.

How is subsidizing wind energy different from subsidizing corn ethanol?

"How is subsidizing wind energy different from subsidizing corn ethanol?"

What the government (the public) should subsidize in our society is a pretty fundamental expression of our values I suppose.  We should ask this question honestly in a broader sense.

We seem to value mobility, in fact we have become dependent on being mobile in order to survive - in this way we are like the nomadic people, except that we return to the same bed every night.  Is it possible that we will every come back to seeing the value in living in place, without he need for so much mobility?  If that happened, I think then the questions over what the public should subsidize would change quite a bit.  

"We seem to value mobility, in fact we have become dependent on being mobile in order to survive - "

Are we dependent on independence?  What a conundrum!

  ('Conundrum' - this could be Canada's Oil Drum!)

As far as valuing mobility.  I don't really dispute that, but it makes me think about how much we seem to strive for 'safe isolation' .. gated communities, soundproof cars, personal entertainment systems, ..  there is a lot of great comradery in our culture, too, but I think of the millions of people sitting together or apart, and all watching TV.  When I was a little kid, I wasn't allowed to watch TV until my folks realized it was all the other kids in the carpool were talking about, and my brother and I were miserable outsiders..

I would change the title to 'Canundrum'.
Guess I didn't see an answer to this one..

Well for the direct answer, subsidizing Wind, I contend, is one, wise direction to move our energy resources towards.  There is a great return, simple proven technology, and the  likelihood of a long future for this abundant resource, without serious downsides like soil depletion, increased water dependency and need for signifigant inputs like NG or Oil to produce it.

From another side, many see the benefits of wind without the helping hand of a gov't grant, so it could be it'll move forward fine without it.. that is, unless it needs it just to Compete with other subsidies like Corn, Ethanol, life-supports for GM and Exxon and the Contras..  See how Amtrak's subsidy could hardly be expected to armwrestle with The Auto Industry's favors, sweetheart deals in Saudi, the Highway system and the Airports..

Who's grant buried Grant in Grant's tomb?

Bob Fiske

How is subsidizing wind energy different from subsidizing corn ethanol?

Apart from point 4 (The national grid was encouraged to take wind power, even when additional lines were required.) this doesn't look like a subsidy, rather, facilitation of the "market rules" (point 1), removing red tape (point 3) and having a general incentive to carbon free energy (point 2) NOT specifically wind.
And this last may even have covered the costs of point 4 at least in part.
While subsidizing corn ethanol means gobs of money, even more so for subsidizing nuclear.

Forgot that:

probably a different one the market would have chosen

Does this means you assume that "the market" choose wisely?
The market actually "choose" SUVs!

How is subsidizing wind energy different from subsidizing corn ethanol?

In my opinion the important choice is not what alt-energy you fund, but: do you fund just research, or also production?

I'd say fund a broad array of research, but stay out of production funding.  That messes up the market and prevents us from knowing what is working.

That messes up the market and prevents us from knowing what is working.

"The Market", as you refer to this construct anthromorphicly, is composed of advertisers (aka persuaders, mind manipulators). They are the ones who "mess" with our minds and thus determine what "works" in the market place (albeit to a limited extent) and what doesn't. Ultimately, the things that "work" are those that pander to the irrational, child like desires of the masses.

Do I have a solution?
Sorry, no.
That is why I revisit TOD so often.
I keep hoping some of the way smarter people here will offer insights.

"The market" contains all that and more.

But ah, you got an alternative other than central planning?

Distributed divine guidance.  :-)
Extra credit: has central planning ever spanned more than a few years without sprouting its own crony network?
A gov. doesn't have to spend massive monies on R&D to be behind something. Nuclear power required gov intervention because of the nature of the power source--dual use for WMD when enriched enough--and the fact that the economics were never right--still aren't--from a "market" perspective.

Did the "free market" build our road network? I always found the case of Thomas Paine Bridge Designer, not revolutionist writer, to be very instructive.

In 1979, Denmark implemented a subsidy equal to 30% of wind turbine investment costs. This spurred much investment and led to the initial deployment of 200-300 machines a year. These subsidies were phased out for wind power in 1989, after they helped increase the reliability and decrease the price of turbines. Until 1999, the government provided direct grants for each kWh turbine owners sold to the grid. Now Denmark has about 15 subsidy programs for both energy production and consumption. The largest subsidy is a production subsidy per kWh for electricity generated from renewable energy resources. The majority of the subsidy schemes "are directed primarily at converting central and electric heating systems to district heathing and to expanding and renovating the existing district heating network" (Renewable Energy Policy Project)


Unfortunately I could not find a source for the exact amounts envolved but I could guess they are in the billions.

Another interesting article:


Despite their being cited as the shining example of what can be accomplished with wind power, the Danish government has cancelled plans for three offshore wind farms planned for 2008 and has scheduled the withdrawal of subsidies from existing sites. Development of onshore wind plants in Denmark has effectively stopped. Because Danish companies dominate the wind industry, however, the government is under pressure to continue their support. Spain began withdrawing subsidies in 2002. Germany reduced the tax breaks to wind power, and domestic construction drastically slowed in 2004. Switzerland also is cutting subsidies as too expensive for the lack of significant benefit. The Netherlands decommissioned 90 turbines in 2004. Many Japanese utilities severely limit the amount of wind-generated power they buy, because of the instability they cause. For the same reason, Ireland in December 2003 halted all new wind-power connections to the national grid. In early 2005, they were considering ending state support. In 2005, Spanish utilities began refusing new wind power connections. In 2004, Australia reduced the level of renewable energy that utilities are required to buy, dramatically slowing wind-project applications. On August 31, 2004, Bloomberg News reported that "the unstable flow of wind power in their networks" has forced German utilities to buy more expensive energy, requiring them to raise prices for the consumer.

And another one:


More specifically, Krogsgaard (2001a) claims that Danish electricity consumers annually pay more than DKK 10 billion (including VAT) in excess of what they would if the country only operated its central power stations, said to be amongst the most modern and least polluting in the world. Other estimates put the annual total Danish climate input cost at DKK 15 billion (From, 2001e). About DKK 2.5 billion of subsidies is paid to private owners of turbines (excluding VAT); and a further very large subsidy is paid to combined heat and power (CHP) plants, many of which (e.g. open field plants) are facing serious economical problems.

If Germany gave the benefits to the consumer via market rates (letting people buy power really cheap when the wind farms were cranking), that "problem" might have solved itself.

However, market mechanisms and Social Democrats don't mix.

What you are talking about is pie in the sky. First there is no infrastructure for demand management anywhere in the world; Second I don't see why do you think that the power will be "really cheap while turbines are cranking". The biggest costs for wind turbines are the fixed costs for construction and maintainance; if utilities are selling (probably much) cheaper if wind is in surplus they will be doing that at loss. Afterwards they will incurr another loss importing electricity when wind is not enough and overall they will still have to raise their base rates to cover these expenses. There is no such thing as free lunch, anywhere.
First there is no infrastructure for demand management anywhere in the world
Then what do you call all the programs to e.g. allow utilities to switch off water heaters and air conditioners at times of peak demand?  I got a leaflet about this in my electric bill last month.
Second I don't see why do you think that the power will be "really cheap while turbines are cranking".
Basic supply and demand.  It's the same reason that wee-hours off-peak rates are low and afternoon rates are high.
if utilities are selling (probably much) cheaper if wind is in surplus they will be doing that at loss.
Whereas the current situation is that utilities are selling off very expensive peak power at a loss, and subsidizing it with far higher-than-cost rates on cheap off-peak power, wind power, etc.

If you want people to invest in the infrastructure required to shift demand to periods of surplus (wee-hours or high winds, either way) you have to make it pay for them to do so.

I am not an engineer but always wondered if a super-conducting coil could store the wind generated electicity?
My understanding is that at absolute zero, there's effectively little loss, and the power could be stored indefinitely until needed.  This would seem to answer the problem of the erratic nature of wind power generation.

Flavius Aetius

The temperature maintenance is a problem.
You are correct about the superconductors, strictly speaking, the energy would be stored in the creation of the magnetic field around the coils.

My guess is that this would be work out to be a very expensive way of storing energy.

This is always the problem with energy, there are no lack of clever ideas for storing energy or converting it from one form to another. However, unlike manufactured goods which gain value by having more work done on them energy loses value the more you do to it. This is what makes oil such a miracle fuel. It is has extremely high energy density, it takes very little effort to get it (most of the time), you can carry it and store it in a bucket and you get the energy out by putting a match to it.

Other ideas for storing energy are pumping water uphill to a higher level reservoir  and then running that water downhill through a turbine to retrieve the energy. High tech fly wheels can store energy. Splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen so that they can be recombined later in a fuel cell is another. There is also talk of solar power generators in which a large collection of mirrors focus sunlight on an absorber which becomes very hot. This heat is transferred to a pool of molten salt. This pool of salt is used to heat a fluid to drive a turbine and generate electricity. This way the periodic inputs of solar power are converted to electricity available on demand.

I was hoping someone else would chime in on your post. You did a very good job of introducing the lay reader to the basics of energy storage.

We can take it one step further by lisiting the storage techniques more abstractly as:

  1. Static potential energy (i.e. water behind a dam)
  2. Kinetic energy (i.e. a flywheel)
  3. Chemical energy (i.e. combustible hydrocarbons)
  4. Thermal energy (i.e. molten salt)
  5. Radioactive decay energy (i.e. U238)

Anyone out there who can think of other generalized forms of energy storage?

Click on picture for article on magnetic superconducting storage

For more on energy storage concepts, try here:

This is a good discussion. Storage solutions are extremely important. We just need to find a cost effective solution, and then get a venture capitalist to fund it. :-)
I should have also included a link to this discussion on PO and its relation to a need for storage subsystems:
Kinetic energy via prayer wheels, just to hedge our bets.
aweo.org obviously is one of these private-run windpower-basher sites that spreads all that FUD (such as those alleged thousands of dead bats under just one turbine - a canard) devised by the hired guns of the heartland institute and the like.
And what do you think you are achieving with ad hominem attacks? Try to confront their main arguments.
FUD is no arguments.

And which "homo" did I attack?

Country Guardian is a rabidly anti-wind site (they want to "protect" scenic country vistas in England from the descrerations of wind turbines).  They earlier posted some bird kill stats that were simple false.  Having caught them once in a self serving lie; I do not bother reading any new claims of theirs.  A "zero crediability" source IMO.

provides with a lot of interesting background about this

the Danish government has cancelled plans for three offshore wind farms planned for 2008 and has scheduled the withdrawal of subsidies from existing sites.

I've asked Georg Nehls from the german Bioconsult-SH about this. The company serves for environmental expertise in the coastal environment.
Dr. Nehls told me that the danish wind parks are being installed as scheduled, however he spoke of two, not three.
He supposed the information about cancelling those wind parks was probably "old".
His company did not furnish an opinion about the danish wind parks, btw ..

So- the 'information' on aweo.org seems to be old, at best ..

I'll bet that the Danish government is behind their wind power development.

Good bet.  Here's an article about it:

On a tiny island off the Danish coast, life after oil is working out just fine

It seems obvious to me that flexibility is more important than ideology.  The Soviet Union was too inflexible.  

The U.S., OTOH, incorporated socialist elements when necessary.  

Bingo!  It will take a combination of markets and governments.  As I've argued several times over on my site, the optimal mix is to have governments push strategies (higher vehicle efficiency, cleaner alternatives) and let the market work out the tactics (technology X is better than technology Y).

In some rare cases, like solar or wind power, I think the answer is clear (more is better), so government should use technology-specific subsidies to promote growth of those sources.  But in most other cases, like vehicle efficiency, the government should avoid "picking winners"; instead they should increase CAFE standards and offer tax breaks based purely on a vehicle's MPG, and let the car companies and consumers figure out how best to get those lower numbers.

In short, the people can use public policy to guide and accelerate the market changes we want.

Yes!!! A good example of this would be...

  1. The government sets a mileage standard: 40 mpg.

  2. The market figures out how to get there.

Where we continually bollix it up is when we legislate 40 mpg:

except for this model, units built on Tuesdays, all cars in Alaska, or by those who gave money to "X's" PAC.

This shouldn't be hard to accomplish. It requires only a modest amount of integrity to enact a fair standard, which reflects the broad social direction, and is applied without exception across all sellers and purchasers.

Why can't we do this???

In large part because we're afraid of killing domestic car companies, whose only defense against foreign and non-union labor is their structural cost advantage in light trucks.

The straightforward answer (though not exactly easy) is to find other ways to help the car companies, like subsidizing their health care costs, or taking over their pensioners.  In the long run this would be much cheaper, and much better for the car companies, who are gradually losing their light truck market due to gas prices.

"we're afraid of killing domestic car companies"

We're afraid because it's the last thing actually "made" in America and even that is really not true anymore (parts from Mexico, China, Japan; assembled in Mexico; etc.)

We lose the US Auto companies and what else does the world want to import from us...perhaps mercenary services and military weaponry...we seem to excel at that.

"We're affraid of killing the car companies".
they have had ample DECADES to come up with something...you can only protect so much..look at all the other manufacturing that has left the US.  they have been plying thier protectionist political trade for years.
I feel sorry for the rank and file as they are getting the shorter end of the stick, though thier union wages are killing the price competitive part.  
We could probably get a pretty fast concensus here at TOD to apply guzzler fines to all light vechicles which score below some boundry MPG, thus killing Detroit.

But we aren't Amercia, are we?

Yes, though I think it would be fair to do something to help the car companies.

For instance, Japanese companies don't have to pay for health insurance in Japan, for current workers or retirees.  Whether that's Japanese corporate welfare, or bad US public policy, it's not a level playing field.

I believe that there are some other such differences.

The way I've heard it told, Detroit in the 70's complained about the uneven playing field, and that only if the Japanese had to build cars here things would be different.  Now, unfortunately, the Japanese are building cars here and beating Detroit on (almost) the same turf.

Now the difference is the classic newcomer (with lower pension obligations) advanatage, as well as more favorable labor deals.

I epxect that the "Japanese" will continue to expand their build in America system, but will be forever unable to acquire American companies because they have the union/pension obligations.  If Detroit can't negotiate itself down to the same deal Japan has in American plants, I don't see much hope.

For instance, Japanese companies don't have to pay for health insurance in Japan, for current workers or retirees.

Japanese companies most certainly do pay for their employees' health insurance--not for all of it, mind you, but they do make a not insignificant contribution. Is this less than GM pays on average per employee? Surely, yes. But they do pay.

Employee Health Insurance covers people who are working for medium to large companies; national or local government; or private schools. There is also a government-managed program within this plan for employees of small businesses. Premiums are based on monthly salary (excluding bonuses) and half is paid by the employer, half by the employee. The average contribution is around 4% of the person's salary. Those covered under Employee Health Insurance pay 20% of their medical costs when hospitalized and 30% of the costs for out-patient care.

So, there is a 4% contribution, which is shared 50% with the employee?

So this 2% contribution is essentially identical to the 1.45% Medicare contribution made by US companies?

So beyond this healthcare insurance premiums have no counterpart in Japan?

I'd say that qualifies as a non-level playing field.

Also, do Japanese companies pay the equivalent of Social Security taxes of 7.45% (not including employee contribution)?

Overall my impression is that Japanese companies are subject to a heavier tax burden than their American counterparts, but I don't have any hard data to back that up. They are responsible for pension payments, national corporate income tax, prefectural and other local taxes, and property taxes. I believe the U.S. is generally considered more business-friendly in terms of tax policy, but again, I don't have any links to support that at hand.

I'd say that qualifies as a non-level playing field.

You sound like you're complaining about a somewhat socialist government (Japan) providing unfair support for its businesses... But who said that the world is a level playing field, or that life is fair? The idea that people and companies should start out from a position of equality (that they should receive according to their needs!) is a socialist/Marxist one.

And in any case, are you seriously arguing that American corporations, operating comfortably from their resource-rich base in the most powerful and economically advanced country in the world, propsering in one of the most favorable regulatory environments in all of American history, are suffering from structural disadvantages that undermine their international competitiveness?

"Overall my impression is that Japanese companies are subject to a heavier tax burden than their American counterparts"

Interesting.  My impression was the Japanese companies had a more favorable regulatory/tax environment than American companies, but I don't have data either.  It will be interesting to be on the lookout for evidence either way.

"You sound like you're complaining about a somewhat socialist government (Japan) providing unfair support for its businesses... But who said that the world is a level playing field, or that life is fair?"

I'm arguing from the point of view of economic efficiency, and good public policy.  It's not
efficient for companies to lay people off in one country, and transfer capital to another to hire there, when the only difference is arbitrary regulatory preferences.  It's also mighty painful for the people who lose their jobs.

"The idea that people and companies should start out from a position of equality (that they should receive according to their needs!) is a socialist/Marxist one. "

No, it's just a sensible position.  As I discussed above, why have people tearing up manufacturing in one country and moving it to another to take advantage of arbitrary tax and regulatory differences?

Further, we started the discussion here on a question of public policy - should we institute a carbon/gas tax?  One of the major obstacles to a such a sensible idea is that it would hurt american car companies.  As a practical matter, it would be a good idea to appease car companies in order to get the tax passed.  So, the question arises, is giving the car companies something in return for a higher CAFE, or a new tax, a bad idea?  Well, if the car companies are indeed handicapped by regulatory/tax differences, then it is not unreasonable to give them something and the whole gordian knot is resolved.

Of course, if not then we have to decide how hard we're willing to hold our noses in order to bribe the car companies (and their employees).

It's not efficient for companies to lay people off in one country, and transfer capital to another to hire there, when the only difference is arbitrary regulatory preferences.  It's also mighty painful for the people who lose their jobs.

If it weren't efficient, I question if the companies would be doing it. It seems the process of shifting production is the very essence of buiding efficiency by lowering costs. It certainly is painful for the people who lose their jobs, but I wonder if the solution doesn't have more to do with building social systems for educating and retraining workers to give them new opportunities than it does with keeping their failing employers afloat with some form of subsidy.

In any case, I agree that the important thing is to get some kind of carbon or gas tax passed, and soon. So if what you suggest would do the trick, I'm definitely for it. At this point addressing our overuse of oil and all the environmental damage that goes along with it has to be the absolute and overriding priority.

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

"If it weren't efficient, I question if the companies would be doing it. "

Well, companies respond to whatever incentives are out there, whether they're tax/regulatory, or more basic financial ones.  That said, I suppose there's no question that lower wages are the main draw.

"It seems the process of shifting production is the very essence of buiding efficiency by lowering costs. "

I wouldn't describe cutting wages as building efficiency.  I would describe building efficiency as raising worker productivity - doing something in fewer hours.  Cutting wages, not so much.

When you cut wages by hiring someone cheaper you usually reduce productivity,  because the new person is less well trained and experienced, possibly less well educated.  The lower wages have to more than compensate for the lower productivity to make the switch worth it.  Sometimes it isn't, as some manufacturers have discovered to their regret.  Probably usually it is, but efficiency can't be described as going up - all you can say is that costs are lower.

The lower costs come from the middle class, and go to the poor and the rich.  Is that an improvement?  I don't know.  It's certainly hard on the middle class person who is now, literally, on the street:  unemployment in Detroit is now over 30%, and laidoff assembly workers are going to have a very hard time getting even minimum wage jobs.

"I wonder if the solution doesn't have more to do with building social systems"

They'll help a bit, but they can never begin to replace the good jobs that are being lost.

" keeping their failing employers afloat with some form of subsidy"

Well, that was my original point.  If overseas employers are getting implicit subsidies (by say, being able to pollute, or using child labor, or not paying for healthcare, or getting artificially low cost loans from government controlled lenders) then helping a company here may be appropriate, rather than corporate welfare.

"I agree that the important thing is to get some kind of carbon or gas tax passed, and soon."

Yeah, I agree.

Actually, the playing field is only uneven to the extent we've dug ourselves into a hole of consumption-driven debt-accumulating insanity. This is a bit off-topic, but the numbers never fail to surprise me:

Average household debt
United States: $71,500
(No figure for Japan)

Average household savings
United States: $4,201
Japan: $45,118

Trade balance
United States: -$113,240 million
Japan: +$77,110 million

Current account balance
United States: -$105,900 million
Japan: +$56,783 million

Investment as percentage of GDP:
United States: 17.1%
Japan: 30.6%

Average CEO's pay as multiple of average worker
United States: 17.5
Japan: 11.6

Size of middle class
United States: 53.7%
Japan: 90.0%

Deaths of malnutrition (per million)
United States: 20
Japan: 3

Healthcare expenditures as percentage of GDP
United States: 13.4%
Japan: 6.8%

Average paid maternity leave (1991)
United States: 0
Japan: 14 weeks

Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births)
United States: 10.4
Japan: 5.0

Teen pregnancies per 1,000 teenagers
United States: 98.0
Japan: 10.5

Prisoners (per 1,000 people)
United States: 4.2
Japan: 0.4

Murder rate (per 100,000 people)
United States: 8.40
Japan: 1.20

Rape (per 100,000 people)
United States: 37.20
Japan: 1.40

Armed robbery (per 100,000 people)
United States: 221
Japan: 1

Energy units of oil burned annually
United States: 791.5
Japan: 234.3

Carbon dioxide released per person per year
United States: 5.8 tons
Japan: 2.2

Debris inhaled per person per year
United States: 81 pounds
Japan: 2

Percentage of all paper and cardboard recycled
United States: 8.4
Japan: 54.5

Source: http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/8Comparison.htm

Yeah, this does diverge pretty far from our discussion.  In fact, I'm not sure what your point is.  Do we have things we could learn from the Japanese?  Sure.  But I'm not sure it's the joys of saving.

They save way too much.  That's one of the principal subsidies of Japanese companies, this very cheap source of capital.

The average Japanese is not all that happy.  Their birth rate has plummeted because young women are educated and working, and refuse to live with an oppressive mother-in-law and an overworking, never-there salary-man, and live in tiny homes with no privacy.

As a country they can invest more because their military is limited to about 1% of GDP, thus freeing up enormous engineering resources for better things.  This was not voluntary, but imposed by military occupation post WWII.  It certainly has turned out to be a good idea, and I wish the US would move further in that direction, but it wasn't their idea.

Could we learn some specicic things from the Japanese? Sure.  But I'm not sure if there's any larger lessons to be learned from them.  I don't think they're tuned into a fundamentally better way of living.  I certainly don't think their export driven system is a model we could follow: we would need another country to export to.  I certainly think it would be a good idea for the US to greatly reduce it's balance of trade problem, though I think the best way of doing that is dramatically reducing oil imports...which brings us back to where we started.

Who does the US want to be when it grows up (in population denisty), Japan .. or China?
Don't think we'll have the chance, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective). If the U.S. was populated at the same density as Japan (337 people/sq km), our population would be almost 3.1 billion people. To reach China's population density, we'd have to hit 1.2 billion. I don't see that happening, either.
We don't know how to calculate the odds .. but it kind of strikes me as a darkly possible scenario.  If we don't crash, and we don't find a power-down curve to sustainable lower density living ... well, what happens with higher population?

I'd love it if the US followed Europe on a curve to lower population, even if that meant slower growth (by the GDP metric).

I'd love it if the US followed Europe on a curve to lower population, even if that meant slower growth (by the GDP metric).

Absolutely. What you just described is one of the best-case scenarios.
Well, we are on a curve to stable population - the US is exactly at a stable fertility rate of 2.1.

The problem is immigration, and demographic momentum:  Mexico is still exporting it's poor to us, and there's still a baby boom echo, which has to grow up.

If we want to reduce population growth we need to push Mexico to improve it's educational system, and open up it's economy so young ambitious Mexicans don't have to come to the US to open up their landscaping companies....or wash our dishes.

Nick, I think you cited a bunch of detailed population statistics a week or two ago, so I assume you know (a lot) more about this than I do. Is it fair to say that without immigration, there would be essentially zero population growth within 10 years or so?
It would be pretty close.  Recent immigrants  have a higher fertility rate than people who've been here a while (and higher than people who stay in Mexico! - I think they feel this is a better place to have kids...), so if immigration stopped the overall rate would be something below replacement.

There's still the baby boom echo that has to finish, and I'm not sure that would be done by 10 years from now.  Plus, life expectancy continues to rise (meaning death rates continue to fall), so there will probably be a very small increase for a while.

I suspect that in about 20 years the fertility rate would fall enough below the replacement rate to offset the falling death rates, and you'd have ZPG.

I'm not quite sure what my point was myself. I guess, regarding the playing field, that we've made our bed and now we're sleeping in it. That we've undermined our own propsects for future health and prosperity in profound ways.

As for learning from the Japanese, I agree with everything you just said. I lived there for eight years, and you're dead on right. What we can do is not so much learn from the Japanese, but examine what other forms a modern industrial or post-industrial society might take. Europe provides (in my view) a more interesting object lesson than Japan, but we were talking about Japan, so I threw that out there.

" we've undermined our own propsects for future health and prosperity in profound ways. "

Yeah, we've been pretty short sighted to ignore our oil imports.  Carter started a very good plan, and succeeding presidents undermined it.  If automotive CAFE had continued a gradual rise (even if it had been very gradual), and the truck loophole had been very gradually closed, Detroit (and the US) would be in much better shape now.

"As for learning from the Japanese, I agree with everything you just said. I lived there for eight years, and you're dead on right."

Thanks for your gracious reply.  It's very nice to have constructive discussions.

"Europe provides (in my view) a more interesting object lesson than Japan"

Yeah, they're doing a pretty good job of planning for a transition to renewables.  I have to like to say that I like their humane approach to an industrial transition, though it's certainly far from perfect, with it's very high unemployment.

I don't see why wind or solar should be treated as special cases. Instead of that we should examine exactly why exactly wind and solar are percieved as better technologies (because they are cleaner) and come up with regulations which encourage cleaner technologies and discourage dirtier ones. Then the market will sort out the technologies and besides wind and solar will probably come out with other solutions like tidal power, solar towers, and (why not?) fusion power.

A carbon and/or polution taxes fit exactly in this approach. On the encouraging side the revenues from it could go for subsidies/credits for startup (R&D,initial investments) on the alternative technologies. Now how exactly they are going to be separated is the tricky question, but if there is a will we could come up with some market based schema.

A carbon and/or polution taxes fit exactly in this approach.

Bingo. Make the fossil fuels less competitive with alternatives by increasing their cost, while at the same time encouraging conservation. Then, you don't favor one of the alternatives over another. They are allowed to compete against one another on an equal footing.

Just look at butanol. It appears to be superior to ethanol, can be grown from corn, gets better gas mileage, but doesn't have the benefit of the ethanol subsidies. Because legislators have picked ethanol as the winner, this is the situation we have.

Makes the most sense, but also the hardest to sell politically.  Needs a real leader to convince the people why it must be done.  
There's a very, very simple solution to creating an infrastructure that uses less fuel -

Tax fuel.

Add a federal "energy independance tax" on imported fossil fuels at $1/gallon of gas plus $0.25/gallon additional every year.

Add a federal "depletion tax" on fuel that looks like it may be depleted this century - uranium, fossil fuels, etc.

Add a federal "carbon tax" on co2-emitting fuels at the equivelent of 50 cents per the amount of co2 emitted from a gallon of gas.

Do all this at the producer level, where it's quite difficult to hide things.

Bam - we have a system which directs capitalism to solve the problems of a peak oil-aware world.  Conservation begins to happen.  Public transport gets built.  We have a floor for corporate worst-case estimates of oil price, in comparison to alternatives.  Right now all biofuels investors have to go up against the possibility that we'll plunge back to $15/gallon oil at anytime in the next 20 years and they'll go bankrupt.

Let all that money be pushed into top-down projects, with an eye for catching anything with the least bit of potential (does it really matter if we spend an extra 10 million on living expenses for 100 cold fusion / zero point energy people, if 990 million gets in the pockets of things that could work?).  But shore it up with a much greater amount of corporate, state, and local expenditure, on projects pulled into being by demand created by artificially high fuel prices.

It creates some major problems - a significant recession, a much more regressive tax structure, and globalization putting our production in the hands of other nations.  But the alternative, with the intelligence of the current government, appears to be to plow a few billion into ethanol for the sake of a few farming town's ballot boxes, dig a few thousand more coal mines, and bomb brown people in the hope that they'll give us oil, while oil companies get exponentially greater profits as the nation whithers.

" a significant recession, a much more regressive tax structure, "

These can be prevented by recycling the revenues in progressive ways, say by increasing the income tax exemptions.

We need a "Teddy R."
In short, the people can use public policy to guide and accelerate the market changes we want.

Lou, this is correct--IF, and only if, governance processes are working as they should. When industry lobbyists have a huge role in drafting legislation, they work hard to game the system.

Examples: SUV's were re-classified as "light trucks," which exempts them from key safety, economy, and emissions standards. Synfuels have been a bad joke, and the recent energy bill falls a tad short.

Public policy will shape market solutions only if companies find it easier to work on creating solutions, rather than subverting public policy.

Actually, there was an important news item related to this yesterday that I don't think has been posted here.  Rep. Edward Markey, D-MA, has proposed to eliminate the SUV tax breaks.  
He said "This makes no sense.  Congress is using the tax code to generate artificial demand for inefficient vehicles in the automobile marketplace," said Markey, who introduced the bill aimed at eliminating both tax breaks for SUVs.  
I sure hope this passes.  Perhaps since our US automakers are going bankrupt they are losing their lobbying power as well, so it can pass.  This law has done a great deal of damage to our average mileage, and vehicle sizes in this country for too many years.
And, Markey can be another politician to add to our energy "good" list.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-MA, has proposed to eliminate the SUV tax breaks.

Incidentally, the guest essay I will be posting early next week on Prop 87 was written by someone who used to work for Markey.

Excellent...the list is growing.  

Below is my energy-aware political dream team (representatives from both parties):

1 - Roscoe Bartlett (R - Maryland)
2 - Richard Lugar (R - Indiana)
3 - Tom Udall (D-New Mexico)
4 - Edward Markey (D - Massachusetts)
5 - Al Gore (Ex-presidential candidate & inventor of the Internet)

Let's keep them coming...we need more members.

BTW...if any of these senators are reading this, I highly recommend you dump your respective parties to form a new Independent party.  

May I suggest the title POP (Peak Oil Party).  You could even make it GO-POP (Grand Old Peak Oil Party) if would make the ex-Republicans more comfortable.

If I were to see such rebellion and forward thinking, I would then stop holding my vote hostage and give it up for the worthy cause.

Who's with me????   AHHHHHARRHHGGG!! (Oh my God...I'm being possessed by Howard Dean).  

By the way...where the hell has Nader been lately.

Definitely Rep. Mark Udall D-Colo.
I'd probably add John McCain for opposing ethanol long ago.
Not sure about John McCain.  We can throw it out to the floor.

Include the Senator from Arizona?  Ya or Nay?

How about Bill Clinton? See the article Clinton raises the alarm about oil depletion

Yes. I'm surprised how many readers here think government is interested in "doing right" by what they consider sensible standards, like health, safety, general welfare, the environment, even "justice". Google

critique of neoliberalism
and ponder that. The political system is merely another part of the game, essential if the corpo wants to maximize profits and dump costs. Best done on poor blacks overseas - they don't even count - but poor blacks here will do; they hardly count. The whole neoliberal mindset that the free market will solve everything is a large source of the corruption. What's the first thing a good neoliberal does? Game the system with lobbyists. Free market of many sellers and many buyers, free and willing with good information? Smoke that until you are stupid. Government regulates the system, enforces the rules. So the corpos buy the system and define how the "free market" gets "regulated".

Iraq is no joke, NOLA is no joke, US prison complex, hell, there might not even be any missiles in the silos in the ABM system - it doesn't matter - the profit is there because the system is rigged. It doesn't have to work, better if it does not! Is it reassuring that empty silos are better than silos with missles? Hurts the head. Failure is more profitable than success because the corpos get to sell the same crap over again. And charge to clean up. Responsibility? Spare me.

Citizens and communities need to reassert control over the corpos. If Verizon or Exxon breaks the law, the states should revoke their right to operate, break up and sell their assets to community trusts. Chavez is right; that is the people of VZ's oil. That article in today's list that says "oh, how terrible that poor blacks get oil - they don't know what to do with it", what bullshit. They know and I bet Nigeria (after the revolution) stops selling oil shortly. Smart move to recognize it is their oil and their right - their necessity, it strikes me. They better buy a bomb or two from Iran if they want to stay independent.

Public policy will not shape the market until citizens take responsiblity for their economies and reassert citizen control over the market, resources and production.

We don't inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. (little prince via laherre)
Do my grandchildren have "standing" against Exxon for Valdez? I would suggest that they do. And that the waters and wildlife does too. Exxon has exceeded its share of the oxygen and should have been broken up years ago. Instead, they continue to destroy our planet. That's how our system works.

cfm in Gray, ME

Chris, I don't go very far south.. so next time I head your way I owe you a beer and dinner.

Think ISP, north but still in Maine. Rock On.

Public policy will not shape the market until citizens take responsiblity for their economies and reassert citizen control over the market, resources and production.

Obviously the US govt has lost the mandate of heaven.

the government should avoid "picking winners"; instead they should increase CAFE standards and offer tax breaks based purely on a vehicle's MPG

First you say the government should avoid picking winners and then you say the government should declare CAFE as the winner to our energy needs.

and let the car companies and consumers figure out how best to get those lower numbers

Why is driving a 40 MPG car 20,000 miles per year more desireable than driving a 20 MPG car only 5000 miles per year?

Why is driving a 40 MPG car 20,000 miles per year more desireable than driving a 20 MPG car only 5000 miles per year?

Because you get to go to more places and take more stuff from there to there?

the government should avoid "picking winners"; instead they should increase CAFE standards and offer tax breaks based purely on a vehicle's MPG

First you say the government should avoid picking winners and then you say the government should declare CAFE as the winner to our energy needs.

I think that we ought to abandon CAFE and instead have a transfer fee & rebate, taxing low efficiency vehicles and paying buyers of high efficiency vehicles.  Trucks and cars are not distinguished.

The reason to support this rather than a fuel tax is that poorer people can't buy a new car and higher fuel taxes will make things much worse for them without any increase in income.   People who buy new cars are a small fraction of the population, i.e. the wealthy, and they can afford to drive low efficiency vehicles for a few years and then sell them.   As a smaller fraction of society accures more and more of the income, this problem will get worse.

The rest of society has to get used cars, the previous new-cars buyers cars.   If the pool of efficient vehicles available is high then that's good.

There is no substitute for a physically superior and more efficient vehicle fleet which isn't involuntary pain.

Reducing driving also helps---but it would help with high efficiency vehicles too.

have a transfer fee & rebate, taxing low efficiency vehicles and paying buyers of high efficiency vehicles.  
That is essentially what CAFE standards do.
hTrucks and cars are not distinguished.
If it weren't for the 3-tier standards (exempting vehicles over 8500 lbs GVW), they'd do that too.
CAFE, with the E85 loophole, certainly isn't doing that.

Also, by working with a vendor-average the CAFE plan is less direct than a straight "freebate."  With the freebate system Honda gets a benefit from having a higher fleet average MPG than Ford.  If they are just both working to satisfy CAFE (and make it under the bar somehow), it is revenue neutral.  Ford is not penalized for having a higher fleet MPG than Honda as long as it is CAFE legal.

"feebate" not "freebate".  i always get confused.
here is a little help. always c&p what you will Post into a word processor before pressing the preview button followed by the post button.
When I don't forget I use another window with google mail, they have a very good typo guesser.
Better a 40 mpg car driving 5,000 also.
The more efficient the better for whatever use.
If we had a high carbon tax, even those technologies, wind and solar, might do fine on their won without specific subidies. Although, we still might want to kick in some money for R&D. Once you start subidizing the good (wind and solar) you then ge the clamor to subsidize what may be the stupid (ethanol).  Buy we live in a world fraught with subsidies throughout the sytem, including subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels. So, as long as that is the status quo, we should expect that politics will dictate much of our technological solutions.  
 Do you happen to know the EROEI for Miscanthus as a biofuel?
Are you talking about a liquid or solid bio-fuel?  

Corn has a vastly higher energy return when burned for space heating than when processed into a liquid fuel prior to combustion.

Miscanthus, a perennial grass, has a high energy content, close to that of hard woods.  It also requires few inputs for growth.  It does not appear to be as well adapted to North America as switchgrass.  Switchgrass is native to much of this continent and if memory serves, miscanthus is African. Miscanthus may be suitable to areas not conducive to switchgrass. Research is ongoing.

Using grasses as 'energy crops' (bizarrely excluding food from the meaning of this term), other than sugar cane, to produce liquid fuel will under all known conditions be uneconomic as long as there is demand for food and demand for solid fuel for space/water heating and even electricity generation.  The tiny, if not negative, energy return from the grass based liquid fuel (excepting sugarcane based ethanol) falls too far short of the significant return from the grass based solid fuel.  Transportation is indeed desirable.  But not nearly so important as avoiding death by starvation or hypothermia.

But why even grow corn for a solid fuel when switchgrass is available and this latter requires fewer inputs, is drought resistant and can be grown on marginal agriculture land over much of North America. The answer to this question is that corn is more suitable for pellet stoves designed to accomodate wood, because of a lower ash content.  A new generation of pellet stoves changes this equasion, though the current higher price of these advanced stoves remains a factor in the continued use of corn as a solid fuel.

> if memory serves, miscanthus is African

No, it's from Asia. Miscanthus is "Chinese Reed".

There is a (very short - 'stub'-) article on the english wikipedia, a very exhaustive one on the german wikipedia which says, Miscanthus is very problematic from the ecological view. And it has a low bulk density, so it's not good for long distant transporting.


Peak oil is a liquid fuels crisis not a space heating/electrical one, thus the idea of converting biomass->electricity as opposed to LTFs seems rather shortsighted while biomass->space heating (essentially fireplaces) is also a step backwards IMHO.

North Americans literally float adrift in a sea of abundant energy for heating and lighting purposes, conservation and acceptance of societal adjustments on how and when we work/play could no doubt rectify many of our capacity problems.

I'll give you but one example:  

In Japan, the lights in city offices (even at city hall) are often dimmed or turned out on every floor during the lunch hour.

You cannot possibly imagine how refreshing and smart an experience this is and yet for some reason we in North America would never dream of doing such a thing.


I spend a lot of time thinking about this, also.  Why is Sweden able to have a conversation with its citizens about becoming oil-free by 2020?  Why do Germany and Japan have the most solar? Ethanol from corn is apparently all we can come up with.

Pride, I think.  It might sound almost Kremlin Face-saving of us, but I think we in the US have a sense that anything like dimming lights, especially in City Hall, would be some sort of concession, would be allowing our puffed-out chests to come back down to normal, human size again.  Cheney's line about our lifestyle not being negotiable goes very deep, and I think on both sides of the aisle..

Like Vonnegut said.. 'Life is High School'..

  I don't get the sense that you would be as tormented in a German High School (Gymnasium) for being one of the smart kids, but it was a definite taboo here.  I was a Prep-school kid, and I felt this distinctly in a very smart and positive institution.  Our history leaves us with a huge set of issues about 'doing the smart thing', or doing a compassionate thing.. which leaves us in exactly this kind of dilemma.  It's very hard to let go of that brass ring, once you've grabbed onto it.

  I think our pride is, in some respects, so fragile, that we would just die to think that we were being laughed at because we 'backed down'..

   -present company partially excepted, of course..

 I think our pride is, in some respects, so fragile, that we would just die to think that we were being laughed at because we 'backed down'..

It sure would be nice if the folks who think that way would hurry up and die, then. Wouldn't solve the overshoot but it would help.

Dunno about you, but every office I've worked in, we've worked through lunch.  Not all of us, but some of us.  Our lunch breaks were staggered, so there would always be people there to answer the phones, greet clients, etc.  

And then there are future CEO types who work through lunch even when they don't have to...

Why do people judge "Socialism" only through the command economy model of the former Soviet Union which most Western Socialists regardded as "State Capitalism". The Russians were broken by having military expenditure well above the econmic resources.   Try looking at the Scandinavian countries. These countries have the highest per-capta incomes in the world, with very high levals of social and economic equality. It is no accident that they are also among the best prepared for declining oil production and are co-operating so that Danish wind farms work together with Norwegian hydro.

Whereas American capitalism has created obscene inequalities (e.g. 46 million US residents without health cover) relative poverty for low level workers with a static minimum wage well below everywhere in Western Europe. Salaries for corporate boards and Wall Street have lost all contact with reality while ordinary workers are loaded with debt.  Additionnaly the US consumes 25% of the world gasoline output with only 3% of world reserves. Your society is destroying the planet via Global Warming  and your President refuses to sign up for even Kyoto because it would reduce the competitiveness of the US economy.
I think for every US resident your survival plans should include immigration.

"I think for every US resident your survival plans should include immigration."

OK.  Can you pull some strings and get me into your country?

Yeah me too! I knew (on the net) a gal who managed to escape the US, went from Texas to a town in Denmark, it was amazing - she was constantly amazed at the lack of dog-eat-dog bloodthirstiness there. She got pregnant (she escaped by marrying a Dane) and instead of being punished for it, she got kindness, consideration, and prenatal care. She was constantly being surprised by how different the society was there. Just everything 180-degrees different.

Now, not all of us can marry a Dane ha ha. It takes a LOT of money to leave the US and settle in Europe. I think you have to have something like a year's or is it 5 year's income, a job waiting for you, etc. This would be easy for the top 20% in the US to come up with, the rest of us just don't have the money to leave.

No Strings needed. I moved to the South of France years ago. There are no problems if you have either skills or money. There is already a significant US community here, especially writers. And Scandinavia is even easier to get settled and work. I have worked in Norway and Sweden because the larger, international companies use English as their normal working language.
There are no problems if you have either skills or money.

Oh, that's great to hear. I'm glad I'm Paris Hilton. I can add one more to the mix. All the guys love me. And the Girls. Hope your wife isn't one of them. Cuz I party on the South of France. And I have more money than God.

I read that item and my jaw dropped.  Someone actually proposing that we tax the p*** out of oil and letting the alternatives make it on their merits?  Someone in the news business?

Unfortunately, it will take more than a few pols getting on board to make it into reality.

Governor Schweitzer's coal-to-liquids initiative depends on developing the subbituminous Otter Creek Tracts.


According to an article in yesterday's Missoula Independent, the coal has unusually high levels of sodium, and building the Tongue River railroad might need to overcome serious levels of political opposition.

Knowledgeable readers might comment on the sodium problem, but it might cause mineral contaminants to slag instead of forming more manageable residues, and perhaps it has implications for materials of construction.

Quote from the article:

"But as we are finding out, not all of Davison's investment schemes worked out so well. For one thing, Tongue River ranchers weren't very excited about having a railroad running through their ranches, and have fought the line tooth and nail. Plus, the Otter Creek Coal Tracts are located on the eastern edge of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and the tribe has already sued the state once to preserve its cultural, historic and religious assets should the coal be developed. And finally, the coal there contains so much sodium that burning it in conventional power plants is highly problematic, hence, the market is limited or nonexistent until some new technology develops to deal with the sodium content."


As far as the process, it limits your choice of gasifiers.  As far as waste disposal, whether slag or ash is better depends.

In my travels yesterday, I noticed that The Falkland Islands supposedly has up to 60 Billion barrels of Oil...  There didn't seem to be a lot of information on it.


Is this being developed?  Does anyone have a better idea of reserve estimates?  Potential production rates?


This isn't the first time Falklanders have become mesmerized by oil. Six years ago, a number of foreign companies, including Shell, built a drilling platform in the waters off the islands. They found oil, but only in small amounts, at least at first. But then the price of oil plummeted to $9.50 a barrel on the world market, making expensive drilling a losing proposition. The oil companies quickly decided to abandon the project, which had already consumed $200 million.
I'm going to go out on a limb here. The Falkland Islands will have 60 Gb of recoverable oil when pigs can fly. Lots of this is local boosterism.

If there really that much oil there, why didn't this story appear 2 years ago? You don't have to believe me -- from here, which is referenced at the Falkland Islands Department of Mineral Resources

Good quality source rocks, reservoirs, seals and traps have all been identified in the North Falkland Basin. Although oil was recovered at surface in small quantities, the structures and primary reservoir targets drilled by the six wells [in 1998] did not contain commercially viable accumulations of hydrocarbons. However, all of the elements of a working petroleum system are present in the basin, suggesting that further drilling, planned using information such as that derived from this post-well analysis, could lead to better commercial results.
Talk to me after somebody drills some more test wells...

A few wells drilled so far, theoretically of the right geological age. No worthwhile oil so far (is what I am led to believe).

Not the next KSA by all accounts. Dont hold your breath



A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy
International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in
possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a

At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he
believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He did
not identify the man, who has been charged with carrying weapons of math

"Al-gebra is a problem for us," Gonzales said. "They desire solutions by
means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of
absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x ' and 'y' and refer to
themselves as 'unknowns', but it has been determined that they belong to
a common denominator of the axis of medieval with co-ordinates in every
country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say: 'There are three
sides to every triangle'."

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had
wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given
us more fingers and toes."

Well, that will keep me laughing for all the rest of the weekend.


A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
"Not very long," answered the Mexican.
"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his Needs and those of his family.
The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs . . I have a full life."
The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."
And after that?" asked the Mexican.
With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.
You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."
"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.
"And after that?"
"Afterwards? Well my Friend, That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"
"Millions? Really? And after that?" said the Mexican.
"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."
And the moral is: Know where you're going in life... you may already be there.
Wonderful parable.  Is it yours, or, when repeating it as I surely intend to do, should I acknowledge another author.
Wonderful parable.

I agree. It brought a smile to my face. It reminded me of my own situation. Opportunities keep knocking, but I am at a very satisfying place at the moment. My wife and kids are happy, and I am enjoying life.

This bit is a take-off on a very old story. The oldest version I can remember off the top of my head appears in Rabelais 16th Century work "The Truly Hair-raising Life of the Great Garganua." (Chapter 33) I expect Rabelais had a classical source, but if I ever knew what it was, I've forgotten.
Yup, just as much as all the other stuff, people have voluntarily given up their lives for status and wealth when a minimum wage job is more than enough to meet all of your needs, but supposedly culturally demeaning. People will realize how stupid those priorities are when they can't do that anymore and may even struggle to find the latter.
Same with the rituals of Easter Islanders that their leaders necessitated the large statues which they had to cut down a lot of their trees to roll the statues to their places until the trees were gone. They were all disenchanted with their whole belief system when that happened I read.
Seen this before, but it's always a good fun read the second time. hhanks.

Now to start a controversy: Who invented Algebra, the Arabs or the Indians? (or perhaps Al Gore? ;-)

Steep decline in UK oil production
Islamic Republic News Agency (Iran)


UK June gas output down 24% on the year: RBS index


The drops in production are ALARMING.

Oil production down 13% on the month.  Annual production down 18%.

Gas production down 24%.  Yikes!

Time to get the electric heat pump installed!

I replied to Chris Vernons' (of TOD UK) request to inform him about the progress of the Bacton-Balgzand-Gaspipeline. It will come on stream in December and will be utilized to full capacity next March. He did not reply so far.

This project was delyaed for a year; drilling through the dunes on the Dutch side failed last summer and they had to wait until this summer to try again, and succeeded.

The problem is that it is probably not sufficient to offset UK domestic depletion.

Royal Bank of Scotland comment
"It is a conundrum that the increase in investment spending seen over the
last year has not resulted in measurable output growth. Soaring costs fail to
explain the sluggish supply response, since higher input bills have not
prevented a sharp pick-up in drilling activity."

The bafflement of the economic community would be amusing if it were not so serious.

Oh, jeez.  That quote is absolutely classic.  
The only thing missing is a "sluggish growth in supply response".
For the latest british production, import and export statistics:
The UK is now a net importer.
You know, eventually some freakin econonist is going to win some nobel prize for developing a theory/model to account for this conundrum.  
That's ok. Yergin's (CERA) 2005 report shows UK oil production increasing the 2nd half of 2006. Not to worry.
Even better, cera is predicting lower ng prices, dropping under 5/mcf by 2010.  I agree ng will be weak at least through fall, but how anybody would predict low ng that far into the future when demand depends on weather and NA supply looks to continue declining, maybe crashing by then, is amazing.
I wonder if their predictions will still be so widely quoted if ng is actually around 20 in 2010.
No problem.
We will form  an orderly que and drink tea.
What, if any, is the additional effect of those long term oil purchase agreements that China is arranging?  It seems that over the long run, they would reserve a fixed, absolute amount of export supply, and effectively squeeze the net export capacity even more.

What fraction of exported oil is now traded this way?
Any trends?

What countries besides China are doing this?

On the "Prepare for a Crash" article. There are a number of flaws in that article, but I like to point out the following:

Finally, if we do indeed return to a stone-age level culture, we need to know how to live in it. Luckily there are well-documented examples in anthropological literature of just how hunter-gatherers do it, how they eat and how they self-govern. Limited Wants, Unlimited Means is a collection of essays on the economics of hunter-gatherers and includes an essay from the groundbreaking book Stone-Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins, the first to understand that hunter-gatherers do not live on the edge of starvation, but rather are "the original affluent society."

OK. Huge flaw number 1: Stone-Age culture is not the equivalent of hunter-gatherer. There were thousands of years that mankind in de Near East and Europe lived from agriculture.

Huge flaw number 2: There is enough iron and iron oar left to suggest that we won't go back top the stone age.

And the last enormous flaw is the suggestion that hordes of hungry people will turn into a vast army of marauders. The sad thing is that famine produces apathy, as the history of the Ukranian, Chinese and Ethiopian famines shows.

The article is bollocks.

We didn't leave the oil age because we ran out of rocks ... or something.
Maybe this is why the hobby of flint knapping is becoming so popular these days. You see, stone is better than metal for almost everything, people only started using metal because they needed to make better weapons (agricultural outbreed/outfight your neighbor societies). You can pick up a suitable piece of stone, and make an adze, arrow point, bowl, etc you name it. Metal takes a lot of work, fire, etc. Metal's much more work and work with it is done by a specialized person, a metalsmith, because of the technology involved. You need a special kind of fire, special tools often metal themselves, etc.

I like how the Bushmen did it - they were pre-stone age, they didn't even have stone tools, everything was bone, hardened wood, etc. Come to think of it, in the book The Netselik Eskimo, I seem to remember that their only traditional stone items were bowls made of soapstone which is quite soft. Hunting tools like spears didn't use any stone.

Flaw # &%

The present population of Earth can not be sustained by paleo-lithic hunting/gathering.

The jury is out on what population a neolithic agriculture could sustain -- especially since it would undoubtedly retain some elements of the modern age.  However, the limit to population is much more likely to be availability of water, and possibly breathable air than hydrocarbon reserves.

As any archeologist will tell you: The jury will be out forever. The reason for that is simple: We have not excavated but a tiny fraction from all stone-age stuff. The absolute majority of sites are destroyed forever for a large number of reasons. Washed away, dug out even during the stone-age for gold and/or fertile soil, ploughed under and torn in wars. And whatever other reasons there are.

Think about the simple fact that we excavated almost only settlements that were abandoned. Why? Because the settlements that weren't are our presentday cities and villages. You can't tear down you hometown for the sake of excavation. Recently knowledge about that has greatly improved though because the second worldwar brought the unique ability to excavate some stuff in current cities (You apparently can tear down a hometown for the sake of war.) and even those tiny bits greatly changed our view on history.

I keep remembering how in France they excavated a small Frankish settlement and found merely small huts made of mud. Conclusions were drawn from this that the Frankish settlers were poor farmers who'se culture was far inferiour to the Romans. Only recently the rest of the settlement has been excavated an lo and behold: The mud "houses" turned out to be nothing more than pigpens belonging to a huge wooden farm which was far superiour than anything in the neighbourhood.

Be very carefull with interpreting historical "evidence" I'd say.

So if the current population can't be sustained by hunting and gathering, and hunting and gathering becomes the only viable means of survival, well, you can see the result.  The fact that this implies die off does not mean that it's suddenly not true.  I don't think "Mother Nature" really cares very much if we suffer die off or not.  That the consequences are horrific doesn't make them not true.

I read the thread on agriculture, horticulture, and soil science and want to extend a hearty thanks to you and the other TOD participants for such an informative and fascinating discussion.  In particular, I found your analysis of the topic highly compelling and intuitively logical.  Great work!  Thanks again.

"The present population of Earth can not be sustained..."

Just leave it at that - Catton says it best, IMO.

Stone age....iron age.  Hmmmm, not much difference.  First stages of hunger, marauding groups searching for food.  A few days and later stages of hunger, loss of energy, apathy...then death.  Not much difference.
The thought that when cheap oil disappears we will return to the stone age is silly.  We had okay cultures through 1800 before cheap oil.  And we have better knowledge with which to produce food and keep a population healthy.  But it is unlikely that we can support the world's(or U.S.'s) current numbers without cheap oil.  Hiding in the woods while well-armed isn't the solution, but neither is living in L.A. or Pheonix.  But having a piece of ground, the tools and knowledge to produce food and energy from it, and a community of like-minded people is something people need to seriously think about attaining ahead of collapse.  As he said in the article, think of it as insurance cost.
In the 1800s, we had lots of land that hadn't been farmed yet.  Farming a land kills it: it bleeds out the minerals and nutrients, and leads to erosion, salination, and depletion.  For 10,000 years, agriculture's been trying to outrun its own consequences, expanding to new cropland before the old cropland gave in and died--the "Fertile Crescent" wasn't always a cruel joke, of course.  Richard Manning details this history in Against the Grain, and also what happened in 1960, when we finally farmed the last bits of arable land, and ran out of room for the strategy we'd pursued for 10 millennia.  That's when the Green Revolution began, using petrochemicals to achieve what we'd once done through simple expansion.  Today, 85% of the minerals that were in North America's soil in 1900 are gone, and our crops are not grown in soil nearly so much as petrochemical fertilizer.  Take that fertilizer away, and you'll see that underneath it, the Great Plains are already a desert.

This isn't the 1800s anymore.  A lot more than just our knowledge has changed.  The consequences of agriculture have caught up to us.  In our climb up this long ladder of complexity, we've knocked out all the intermediate steps behind us, so when we fall, we're going to fall long and hard.

Richard Manning details this history in Against the Grain, and also what happened in 1960, when we finally farmed the last bits of arable land, and ran out of room for the strategy we'd pursued for 10 millennia.  That's when the Green Revolution began, using petrochemicals to achieve what we'd once done through simple expansion.  Today, 85% of the minerals that were in North America's soil in 1900 are gone, and our crops are not grown in soil nearly so much as petrochemical fertilizer.

SOME farmeres have followed for 10 millemnia.

Others added ground up rocks and seaweed (Ireland) and made soil.

Soil from natural weathering 1 inch per 1,000 years.   7 inches of soil per year when one uses eathworms.

Most of what we consider "organic agriculture," like you'd find with an organic label on it, is simply how we did farming pre-Green Revolution, and that is extremely destructive--just on a slightly longer timeline.

And these methods you speak of... why don't you explain them to us rather than hand-wave?

Because I want you to explain how the works of
Are the way things were done 10,000 years ago?

I'll be waiting.

Others added ground up rocks and seaweed (Ireland) and made soil.

Which substantially increases your cost and is tangential at best to the immediate goal of increasing yield--the kind of things that sometimes pop up in isolation, but can never take hold on a large scale because they have far too strong a ring of "ought" to them.

And these methods you speak of... why don't you explain them to us rather than hand-wave?

Eschew pesticides and petrochemical fertilizers, use plows rather than tractors, all the things you need to get a USDA Organic label.

As for your links, and for that matter, your Irish example as well, these are not agricultural techniques.  They haven't a thing to do with agriculture.  You could do these things without ever growing a single plant.  These things are being used specifically to counter-balance the effects of agriculture.  So, you're not really saying anything about the toll of agriculture, you're just offering a list of suggestions of things we can do to help heal the damage that agriculture causes.  That's a pretty big difference.  If I'm cut with a knife, and I put a band-aid on it, the band-aid doesn't prove that knives don't cut, does it?

Which substantially increases your cost and is tangential at best to the immediate goal of increasing yield

While it does involve more work (which I did not do....curse me), there IS an effect on planting with and without compost/organics in the soil.

I have a small plot of land I've got corn on.  This land has been in soy/corn/alphala rotation for years (20+, and using seed drills so the soil is compacted)   Last year, I added organics (spent brewers grain) under the plants.   Nice, green tomatoes and other plants.  Had piles of pulled weeds/grain in the field also.   This year the corn is either the correct height and green (over the spots where the grain/weeds were on top of the soil, or is yellow and not more than 2 feet high.

Tomato plants - either 3 feet high and has tomatoes on them or 1 foot high, with nothing.   so you must have a different definition of tangental than I do.

They haven't a thing to do with agriculture.

Main Entry: ag·ri·cul·ture
Pronunciation: 'a-gri-"k&l-ch&r
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin agricultura, from ager field + cultura cultivation -- more at ACRE, CULTURE
: the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil,

cultivate (DEVELOP)
 [Show phonetics]
verb [T]
to create (a new condition) by directed effort

Therefore: cultivate soil is argriculture.   Your  claim that chainging the soil by direct action is not agraculture is not correct.

Tomatoes the easy plant.

Its a vine. It has root hairs on the stem, In the wild, where it did once grow, it laid down and rooted wherever it touched the grown.

Using this.

Grow a 6 inch plant, pinch all but the very top leaves off of it. then bury the plant right up to the "chin" of this last tip, in a larger half gallon milk or other tube.  Let this plant grow 6 to 9 inches tall.  Then nip all the leaves but the very tip off, and gently lay this stem and bigger root ball in a furrow (trench) and cover the whole stem up to the "chin" of the tip, put a small paper collar to prevent stem damage and bugs from eating it.  Water the whole length of the trench, and mulch with anything that will keep it moist and not moldy.

This method has never failed me, and I saw it on the Victory Garden on PBS about 20 years ago.  The plants have a ton of root system and fruit soon as they get a few leaves going and grow till frost kills them. I have had mine 10 feet high and going strong.

Every plant has its gifts and its best growing condition.  Hunters and Gatherers knew this. They know the land around which they live. Not taking more than they need, and keeping some for next time.

Learn how the world works around you before you try to second guess it.   We won't all starve to death.  

In the "prepare for the crash" 2,000 calories is the USADA's male 101 min. Calories.  Really it is 800 for most adults, less than that and you loss muscle mass and strave.  1,500 or 1,100 or even 900 for a few weeks is okay for most healthy adults.  The more you work the more you need to eat.   WATER is what you really need to have in good supply, 7 days without it and you are dead.

7 Days without water and you are dead.  Think about that and plan accordingly.

Charles Owens,   I have eaten out of my wild front lawn enough to stay healthy and have my water too.

Have you?

Grow a 6 inch plant,

Mine are usually a bit more leggy so I get 10-14 inches below ground.

Try putting things like rabbit dropping or other organic matter under the tomato plants.

Charles Owens,   I have eaten out of my wild front lawn enough to stay healthy and have my water too.
Have you?

Hard to do on a 60X40 foot lot.  Not alot of 'front lawn'

Jason, I share your concern for the heatlh of our soil and -- sure -- I have to agree with you that bad farming practices weren't born with the so-called Green Revolution.  But I think you are making some broad generalizations about agriculture's harmful effects that can't be universally applied.

You state:

Today, 85% of the minerals that were in North America's soil in 1900 are gone.

First of all, I don't know how anyone could make such a statement given that soils vary so widely. Some have formed in highly weathered materials that are dominated by silica, iron, and aluminum oxides and these tend to be somewhat- to extremely-infertile even in a "virgin" state.  

Secondly, minerals are not merely removed from the soil profile by agriculture, but also by natural weathering and leaching processes and this has been the case since long before man arrived on the planet. I've done a lot of work in soils in the Southeastern US, where soil parent materials tend to be highly weathered and I can tell you, with certainty, that most of the plant-available nutrients occur in the upper couple of feet of the soil profile -- in the biotic zone.  When you sample undisturbed regolith from below this zone -- in portions of the soil where no corn or alfalfa root ever penetrated -- you often find that it is quite acid and infertile. How could this be?

IMHO, the time-bomb in modern US-style agriculture isn't that we've irreversibly depleted our soils of their nutrients -- I don't believe that for a minute -- it's that we've forced our farmers into a situation where they can't afford to be generalists any more.  When that happened, we traded good agricultural practices like crop rotation, manuring, etc. for a lot of expensive external inputs whose expense could only be justified by extremely high and unsustainable yields.

There is a lot of good literature out there on soil husbandry.  If you haven't already done so, I would encourage you to do some reading on the work of E.B Balfour.  I think you will come away feeling that it is possible to farm effectively, ecologically and sustainably.

First of all, I don't know how anyone could make such a statement given that soils vary so widely.

As I said, I'm still trying to track down the ultimate source, but it was expressed as an average, so I'm guessing they had a given sample size and calculated the mean.  I fully expect there to be fertile pockets, but if the average is 85% and it takes 50 years to regenerate an inch of topsoil, I don't think that bodes well for the prospects of post-peak agriculture.

Secondly, minerals are not merely removed from the soil profile by agriculture, but also by natural weathering and leaching processes and this has been the case since long before man arrived on the planet.

That is true, but those processes lag behind the soil regeneration process.  Agriculture doesn't just remove minerals directly, it also opens up fields to erosion, salination, and other second-hand effects that accelerate these natural processes.  We didn't invent these things, but we did speed them up and shatter any semblance of balance that once existed.

Again, by analogy to the human body, we generate new skin cells, and old skin cells die, all the time.  If I speed up the rate at which your skin cells die 100 times, and we do nothing to improve the creation of new skin cells, you're going to be in some pretty big trouble, pretty quickly.

IMHO, the time-bomb in modern US-style agriculture isn't that we've irreversibly depleted our soils of their nutrients -- I don't believe that for a minute -- it's that we've forced our farmers into a situation where they can't afford to be generalists any more.  When that happened, we traded good agricultural practices like crop rotation, manuring, etc. for a lot of expensive external inputs whose expense could only be justified by extremely high and unsustainable yields.

That hasn't helped, but even before that, agriculture was killing off soil.  Not permanently, no; soil always regenerates.  But we can't just take a break from agriculture to let the soil regenerate, "OK everyone, no eating this decade; gotta let the soil regenerate."  Fallowing is as close as we have to that, but even then the pressure to increase yields is too strong to leave it as long as it really should be left--this was the case even in the Middle Ages, leading to degrading soils.  Soil is a renewable resource, but only on a fairly long timeline--no, not as long as petroleum, but long, nonetheless.

Jason, I  don't think we need to have a back-and-forth argument about any of this because I'm sure that we would find much more to agree on than to disagree.  The primary reason why I went from an undergraduate degree in agronomy to a grad program in soil science was because I couldn't stomach the land-grant approach to teaching and practicing agriculture and I hoped that by studying soil morphology and genesis, I could learn something about soils as natural systems.  Eventually, I had to give that up as well because it seemed that most of the "consulting" work that I was being paid to do was destructive of the soil system and not the least bit concerned with sustainability.

My concern is not that we can't learn to farm the land sustainably -- that has to be possible -- but it is rather that we have so far exceeded the numbers of people that can be fed via anything resembling a sustainable agricultural system, that eventual widespread famine may be inevitable.  

To me, the word "farming" is synonymous with a thoughtful, sustainable way of life that is concerned with providing one of the most basic of human needs -- food.  Personally, I feel that there are far worse things that a person could spend his or her time doing.

To me, the word "farming" is synonymous with a thoughtful, sustainable way of life that is concerned with providing one of the most basic of human needs -- food.  Personally, I feel that there are far worse things that a person could spend his or her time doing.

I'm interested in permaculture in large part because of its potential to help heal some of the damage we've caused: as a means of rebuilding soil and rewilding domesticates, for example.

Does it help or hurt to call a forest garden a "farm"?  I admit your definition of agriculture tugs at the heart strings, but is that a good thing?  Do we want to associate the idea of a "thoughtful, sustainable way of life" with what Monsanto's doing?  I don't think there's anyone saying that they're not farming—but I don't think you could call it sustainable or thoughtful, either.  So obviously, there's a lot of farming that's the opposite of thoughtful and sustainable ... so how can farming be synonymous with that?

I agree, you sound like someone I'd agree with more than not, and I'd love to have a long disucssion with you about soil some time just to beef up my own knowledge of the subject, but I also put great value on precision in the use of words.  I've often found that a failure to do so creates confusion that can take a very long time to get around, that could have been entirely avoided if only we'd been more precise in the words we use.

I know a lot of cultivation techniques that help build the soil and create a real, thriving ecosystem that humans can be part of—but there's not a one of them that I'd call "agricultural."

Hello Jason, et al.

I teach a college course with the innocuous title "Sustainable Gardening", but it really should be called "Sustainability".

One of the first things I do is go over definitions (garden, farm, agriculture, horticulture, whatever), and make it clear that "humans tweaking an ecosystem to favor the stuff that they like" runs the gamut from hideous ADM/Monsanto-style agritorture-with-attendant-industrial-feedlots, through more traditional mixed farming (read Wendel Berry), through organic, through no-till methods, through Fukuoka-style "Natural Gardening", through Permaculture/Forest Gardening, all the way over to swidden horticulture stuff.

There are modes of growing things that do indeed build soil. That's not the issue, really. There are also modes of growing, sustainably, that produce rather nice yields per acre. But not on that many acres at a time.

Based on a lifetime of studying soil science, ecology, botany, forestry, anthropology and agriculture, here's my take:

What sustainable ANYTHING boils down to is population. There are way too many people, by at least a factor of 3 (probably greater than 3), to live decently based on the energy and nutrient fluxes available on this planet. This 6-billion-people thing has been based on x-million years of stored sunlight. This particular party is over. There's nothing remotely on the horizon that can make up for that subsidy. It was an inheritance, we squandered it foolishly in 100 years, and no amount of wishing on a star will make it better.

The only question to me is how hard the landing is going to be. I don't think there is much chance of a soft landing at this point. Too much denial still. A rather nasty side effect of our (US) national innumeracy and religious anti-science trends.

Wow, I guess that makes me a doomer! Cool!

There's a saying going around here: Guess I'll pull up a chair, grab a cold one, and watch :-)

- Steve

PS - I'm doing a lot more than just watching...

Hear, hear.
Thanks for opening up this range and variety of ways to cultivate soil and food.

Could you recommend any basic layman's text that covers the basics of nutrient cycles and flows, analyzing and comparing some of these different approaches?

I have no doubt that in say 500 years we will see a dramatically smaller human population on the planet, and the road to get there is going to have some nasty bumps. I want to do what I can to help winnow the best of what we've learned along the way as we partied through our fossil fuel inheritance, and to pass along as many nuggets of wisdom as possible, so the 7th generation and the 14th have more to go on than our monstrous garbage land fills.

Actually, I will quibble with you about one thing:  

In response to my assertion that natural weathering and leaching processes continually strip nutrients from the soil you said...

That is true, but those processes lag behind the soil regeneration process.

It is absolutely the case that soils are a dynamic system.  At any given time, under absolutely "natural" conditions, any soil parameter -- be it top soil thickness, organic matter content, the level of plant available nutrients, the level of microbial activity -- may be increasing or it may be falling.  So, it is not always the case that what you might consider "regenerative" processes are taking place.  Like anything else, soils morph over time, and at times the slate may even be completely wiped clean by geologic events -- a land slide, a flood, by glaciation, etc.  So, don't convince yourself that without human interference, soils would always be "progressing" toward some ideal, highly-fertile state.  It isn't the case.

You're absolutely right, I simplified the situation.  Still, I think the main point stands that that is a very different dynamic from the dramatic changes going on now.
Soil Science is a hugely complex subject, one that I've been studying for decades. I am most familiar with forest soils (being a forest ecologist by training). Some forests store most of their nutrient capital in the soil - e.g., most northern forests. Some forests store most of their nutrient capital in above-ground biomass - e.g., most tropical forests. Dynamic is the word, for sure.

That said, in most temperate parts of the world, native soils tend to accumulate organic matter over time, and become more fertile. I wouldn't use the word "progress" or "ideal", just accumulation.

Yes, there are fires, glaciers, etc. In fact, I recall a conference at Hubbard Brook where a speaker suggested that sooner or later the northeastern forests needed another good glaciation to refresh the raw mineral content of the soil :-)

In the end, all species are successional, because the environment will change.

To make an analogy with petroleum, we had, in the topsoils of the eastern forests and prairies of the US, millennia of stored fertility, which we handled rather sloppily. Most of it is gone, and petro-chemicals take up the slack for the time being.

- Steve

PO Tarzan,

You mentioned you are in the SE and you seem to have quite an understanding of soil.

I'm in the SE, and as I look at future scenarios I wonder if the SE will have problems because of historical and current land management practices (excessive logging resulting in topsoil erosion, etc).

What is your opinion of soil quality here and the potential future for creating locally sustainable communities relative to other places in the US?

"When that happened, we traded good agricultural practices like crop rotation, manuring, etc. for a lot of expensive external inputs whose expense could only be justified by extremely high and unsustainable yields."

To feed just the population of the USA would not take very much land , using todays methods.The rest could be used for energy purposes perhaps if we just concerned with our own livelhood and quit 'running in place' constantly for naught.  

Its the rest of the world we are selling our crops to that lead to soil depletion, intensive cropping, highly erodeable land, drops in aquifers , high use of commercial fertilizers and so on.

It may be just an urban legend but I read somewhere that just the hog production of the state of Indiana could satisfy all the domestic demands for pork in this country.

However that being said, I submit that anyone on this site visiting a 'confinement feeding' operation would be very suprised at the inhumane treatment we apply to our meat animals.  

I have worked some in broiler houses and its not something I share with folks who eat chicken. Pork confinement is far far worse.

We are all dining at the table with our eyes shut and don't wish to be reminded nor told of such.

I asked a farmer who was curing his own hogs why he didn't use his own that he raised on concrete. His reply was that they could not be home cured for they wouldn't 'take the salt'. He grew hogs but didn't want to eat those himself. He said that he preferred those raised on dirt. Now getting har d to find those so a few years back he just gave up on home curing and smoking pork. He used to do at least 8 or more at a time. His home made sausage was enough to make me give up on store brought. I had forgotten just how good real sausage was and just how disagreeable the store variety was. Garbage in a plastic wrapper. Turns rancid in just a few days. Smells awful and high priced as well.

And so it goes in the country who 'has the best food in the world'...sure. I am certain we are shipping 'the best' to other countries. For myself I can't touch a piece of 'prime steak' unless I slaughter it myself.

Out here where we grow the food the farmers nearby grocery store sells the worst in food products. We get the 'leavings'. The almost stale bread, near spoiled fruit, cheap low brand canned goods,and most expensive milk(4.95/gal). By law we can't sell our own milk to neighbors. My own cousin has a dairy operation and he can't even give me a gallon or gets in trouble.

The world is upside down.

Please give a reference for the Great Plains desert and 85% of the minerals in the soil being gone.
Farming a land kills it: it bleeds out the minerals and nutrients, and leads to erosion, salination, and depletion.

I would completely agree that conventional farming (ie. the dominant form of farming today) kills land. However, it need not be that way. Probably the best reference on a sustainable farming system is the classic Farmers of Forty Centuries by F.H. King. You can read the book on The Soil and Health Library site if you'd like.

As an agricultural landowner and a farmer (versus the more conventional miner), I have a vested interest in sustainable agriculture. The problems you cite are real, but all can, and have, been addressed.

In my opinion, the greatest barrier to sustainable agriculture, after cheap energy, is the conventional toilet.

There was more bollocks in there than that. The man is seriously advocating planning to live by yourself or with your family and a few others for the rest of your life. Well, that may be fine for you if it works out, but what about your children? And their children? Inbreeding doesn't result in good genetics.

Not only that, but it wouldn't work out. Maybe in the short term, but not for the long haul. You would quickly run into the prinicple of 'Thoreau's Axe'.

No person is an island. To think you can be completely self-sufficient is ridiculous -unless you want to be a solo hunterer gatherer, hunting with a spear and sling, and not have much else to your life. A fairly unsatisfying existence from my vantage point. Everyone needs a community to truly have a good life.

The editors' comments at the end stated just that point. The strength of the article is it's outline of what steps an individual needs to do to avoid becoming an early victim as the population descends towards equilibrium. Those willful enough to take those steps (I am not, yet!) will then presumably coalesce into the sustainable lifboat communities after dieoff.
And how are they going to find them? Fire up the net?

It could work for most a couple of years. If you want any kind of a life, you can't life on your own. We're a social creature to begin with, and Thoreau's Axe will bite you in the butt real quick.

What's wrong with taking the parts of an article that make sense, and ignoring the rest? If there are some flaws that you can't digest, why throw up on everyone? Does this board have to become a nest of nitpicking, negative doomers who can only tear down others' honest attempts to spread useful ideas? Thats not what it was just a few months ago, long before my first post.
OK rant is over...
I think the heat is making all of us irritable. ;-)

Of course, it doesn't help that the number of trolls has picked uplately.

I hope you're not couting me as one of your "trolls."  We have some very different viewpoints, but I've done my level best to remain courteous in the discussion.  Though, this....

That statement right there shows up just how ignorant you are.

...hardly seems like I'm being returned that favor.  I'd normally shrug it off and think nothing of it in order to help maintain a courteous exchange, but you have been quite insulting to me in this discussion overall, so I do very much hope that you're not counting me in your "troll" count.

IMO, Jason, you are not a troll...please keep posting.
Actually, the troll/non troll ratio  here seems amazingly low. Perhaps there is a web site somewhere that measures this.  
Isn't the concept of the "troll" somewhat relative anyhow?  It seems to me that to a considerable degree this label gets applied to people who happen to argue for a belief system so at variance with one's own that one finds the resulting cognitive dissonance irritating.
I always thought the troll was one who posted just to get reactions from others...
with that wide of a definition, just about everyone is a troll because they 'want someone to get a reaction.'
The implication is that they are posting things they don't really believe, just to stir people up.
I think the heat is making all of us irritable. ;-)

Of course, it doesn't help that the number of trolls has picked uplately

I don't see the necessity for this post at all. Just because I live by myself, doesn't necessarily mean I'm a Troll

Hang on a minute.

What's this problem with Trolls?

My daughter called me a Cave-Troll tonight. I was flattered...

Is a troll something bad in the blogosphere?

Reply if you want. I probably wont be able to work out which thread it is on tomorrow.

It all smacks of Trollophobia to me.

As one of the better prepared doomers here, I'd like to comment on the whole idea of survival post PO.  My intent is not to be able to survive forever with no outside input but rather to buy significant time until things "settle down" (whatever that means).  By significant, I mean 10-20 years.

I believe that those of us who are actually doing it recognize far, far more than sidewalk superintendents how extrodinairely difficult self-sufficiency is.  I have no illusions that the physical systems I've installed will last forever.  Or, that I will physically be able to do what I do now (I'm 67 and among other things, I fell the trees for our firewood, buck them up and split them; prune the orchard and grapes and put in the garden.).  What I hope we can do is hang in there until society re-groups into some new, sustainable form.

As far as individual versus group survival goes, there are pros and cons to each.  However, it is better to take a shot at it as a family than to do nothing at all.

Lastly, those of us who are doing it are better prepared psychologically for tough times.  In other words, we want to survive.


What kind of axe do you prefer?  I've picked up a Fiskars super splitter and LOVE it.
Not going into specific brands, as I'm not an american, but you do need 4-5 different types of axe.

First of, there's a about 1.5 kg (3 lbs) splitting axe for most firewood.

Secondly, there's the 3-4 kg (6-8lbs) sledgehammer axe for the really tough pieces of firewood, and also for using wedges to split really, really, really thick wood.

Thirdly, you need the good ole hand axe, around 1 lbs, as a utility or something you can carry in the woods, for hunting, making a fire etc.

Four, you need a cleaning or culling axe, to clean or cull the forest of inferior trees and saplings, so that the goods ones have better conditions to grow.

Five, you need the felling axe, unless you want to rely on a much more brittle saw to take down your trees.

And then there are the de-barking axes, axes for making logs for loghouses.

The list goes on and on. As for durability, buy a few extra axes, heads and handles. If nothing else you can sell them or barter. It will get you through the rough years until society stabilizes.

But the problem with these rough years is that before that we will have a downslide maybe lasting 10-20 years, before society collapses. You have to have the strength and resilience to last those non-chaos years without exhausting your resources and your willpower.

Holding our during 1-2 chaotic years is one thing, managing a slow descent before that is much worse. But the chaos won't last long, people won't have the strength. Once someone runs out of food, it's a matter of days before they're too weak to do much, and weeks until they die.

For the record, I am no 'sidewalk superintendant'. I am as self-sufficient as I can possibly be given the limitations of my current situation. (re: i'm in graduate school)
And I grew up homeless for the most part -so trust me, I know how to survive and more about self-sufficiency than most people will ever care to. And I am most certainly preparing to survive PO. Trust me on that one.

Tate: who made that axe? Out of what? Who brought it to the store you bought it from? Who made the car you drove there to get it in? What about the gas? Where'd it come from?

Now, you can take that axe and go completely off grid. But someday its going to break beyond repair. Then what? Can you make an axe? If not, you'll need to find a store (if one exists then) or a blacksmith.

That's the principle of Thoreau's Axe. He went into the woods to try and be sulf-sufficient, and discovered he could never entirely divorce himself from others without eventually reverting to a stone age caveman existence.

Todd, I think you have the right idea. Thanks for replying and for being courteous.


Thanks.  I think what is going to get more people will be lack of practiced skills.  These could be hunting-gathering skills or blacksmithing skills.  BTW, I do have a small forge but only 200# of blacksmithing coal..plus I'm barely an amature but I could make an axe or saw.

The advantage that people like I have is that we have had to learn skills and practice them.  Further, we have had to accept a life that most people would find unacceptable.  For example, it isn't unusual to get snowed in for a week or two with the power off (This is when we rely on the PV system and back-up generator - and, yes, if there is no gas in the future I'll run it on wood gas.).  We know people in the area who got snowed in for 6 weeks last year.  These sorts of things build self-reliance because that is the only way to survive in the mountains where I am, even with all of today's technology.

At the same time, we have accumulated the "stuff" necessary for survival such as food preservation equipment and hand tools.

The movie, Testament was mentioned on another forum this morning and I happened to be watching it last night (we don't get TV but rely on our old tapes and DVD's).  I think it provides an excellent vehicle for asking what the people in the town did right - very little- and what they should have done.  This can be applied to how one might have to cope in the future.


"Who made that axe?"

A blacksmith can and once did make them.

I used to own 3 coal forges, 8 anvils and 4 leg vises and made
many items. Most farms had forges and the rest and 'made' some tools , depending on their skill.

I have seen a farrier hot forge an outstanding horseshoe in a very short time and it was far better than the 'cold' shoes one had to buy.

There is plenty of scrap iron(mild and carbon steel) laying around the country side ready to be forged.

Future survival will require metalsmiths. How many can do that? How many will be around after the supposed dieoff?

Sadly all my forges and anvils went the way of the auction a few years back...I didn't see this coming.

Now I intend to replace them , if I have the time or energy.

Blacksmiths still exist and can perform wonders with hot steel.

Can you recommend any books that would be helpful to someone with 0 knowledge of blacksmithing? A resource to start learning the basics.
 I figure there will be a tremendous amount of scrap metal available as the economy slows and someone with the proper tools and knowledge of blacksmithing help themselves. Plus it sounds enjoyable.
A good basic book is The Art of Blacksmithing by Alex W. Bealer, ISBN 0-7858-0395-5.  I bought a remaindered copy from Edward Hamilton Bookseller a few years ago.

A couple of others I have are Farm Blacksmithing by J.M. Drew.  The book was first published in 1901.  The other is Forging by John Jernberg first published in 1918.  These are reprints by Algrove Publishing.

Another useful book is A Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane, 1964.

ABANA is an organization of blacksmiths and farriers.
They have a website and plenty of information as well as
pointers to much more.

I have accumulated many good books on the subject but they are currently archived in my barn/shed/workshop and not easily available.

Good coal is probably harder to find now but I used to get mine in Greensboro,NC as well as in Louisville, Ky.

Again web resources as well as forums have plenty of answers.

The point is that you need to start finding the physical resources as soon as you can. A good handcranked blower on a good wide forge along with a couple of good anvils.

The best anvils I had were Hay Budden and (forgot the other). There are some very cheap worthless anvils about and you need to shun those. My 300 pounder anvil could ring so loud and clear as to make your ears hurt. That was just with a slight tap on the anvil and of course you NEVER NEVER stike an anvil with force without something between the anvil and your hammer.

The blacksmith is one who has the ability to 'make his own tools' and bootstrap upwards by such means. No smell that I loved more than that of good coal forming coke and watching the metal go thru its heat changes.

There is a store in Wisconsin that sells firepots , and other tools as well as anvils. They likely do mail order as well.

Then if you are serious about this skill/craft the best thing to do is find someone local who can teach you or you can watch and learn the skills in the best way..rather than books.

I learned far more watching and working with my peers at the forge than I could ever have gotten from books.

You will find a large population of blacksmiths and farriers hidden in the niches and crack in this country. Men who can do wonders with hot metal and pride themselves on their skills. A craft that almost disappeared.

Good luck.

I am most certainly preparing to survive PO. Trust me on that one.

I won't unless you take the test and report your score.

Wharf Rats are survivors.

The Cannibal
You scored 56 Strength, 71 Guile, 40 Morality, and 85 Survival Rate!
Well here you are. Alive and kickin'. Wait.. was that you kickin' or did that come from your stomache? Nevermind. What's important is that you made it... right? All those other survivors are just cattle. Congratulations and welcome to the REAL top of the food chain.

looks like i get through.

The "Doctor"
You scored 38 Strength, 57 Guile, 57 Morality, and 58 Survival Rate!
You're intelligent and you care about the well-being of your fellow man. Maybe to a fault. You're just bearly keeping yourself together. Regardless, everyone is glad to have you around. Just make sure you look out for number one once in a while.

No problems here:

   "Cult Leader"
Strength: 54
Guile: 80
Morality: 57
Survival Rate: 81

And how about you, Kevembuangga?

It was a while ago, I dont remember all details.
It was Cannibal, survival rate 75.

Hahahahhaahhaa. Oh wait, Aahhaahahaa. Oh, you're killing me.75? Aaahhaahaahaha. Ugh. Aha..

Haha. Oh, please, somebody bring me a cookie. Please,I can't breath. OH! That was a good one, my friend.

"What I hope we can do is hang in there until society re-groups into some new, sustainable form."

Absolute chaos/marauding/starvation would linger 1-2 years, nothing to sustain it much longer than that. Switching from heads up!, marauders, danger, to community building could take much longer. Survive past the first few years, then chance plays a huge role who might remain, who we meet.

Old thread, but anyway.

Less time than that.  I go back to my earlier post.  Where are you getting your water.  If the fall happens into a Chaos.  Lack of Water will kill all but the most hardy of the Land Pirates. Then food spoilage and animal bites and poor health care.  The Land Pirates will be begging for hand outs sooner than you think.  Our Tin cans do spoil and they spoil faster without power on in a house than they do in a fairly stable warehouse.  

If it gets that bad, the Land Pirate will Have to organize and do it fast or die off like the rest just for differant reasons.

Don't forget Just In Time Food Transit Systems Have loaded the store shelf against getting food for your group of Land Pirates.

Everyone needs a community to truly have a good life.

That all depends on your difination of a "Good Life"

I had a lot of problems with the article, too, but I disagree with your take on iron.  We exhausted all of the economic, near-surface iron ore deposits long ago.  What remains is much deeper in the earth.  Most of the stuff above the surface is alloyed, and needs industrial techniques to rework.  Rusted pure iron, bog iron, and so forth will provide for a scavenger's iron age for a few centuries, but even that won't last for long.

As for the Neolithic, we turned to industrial agriculture because our soil could no longer support agriculture.  Agriculture kills soil; for 10,000 years, agriculture has been in a race to outpace its own consequences.  See Richard Manning's Against the Grain for a full history.  Today, 85% of the minerals that were in North America's soil in 1900 are gone.  We don't grow our crops in soil so much as we grow our crops in fertilizer.  Take away the fertilizer, and the Great Plains are already a desert.  So it's not going to be the Neolithic; we don't have the soil for the Neolithic anymore.  Sure, in the long term, soil heals, but now we're talking about the same time scale in whcih global climate change ends our artificially-extended Holocene interglacial, and the climatological window that allows for agriculture slams shut.

Jason, you don't know much about agriculture.

Industrial agriculture destroys soil. But properly done, which granted has been the exception rather than the rule, agriculute builds rather than destroys the soil.

I say that as an organic gardener who very much loves the soil and knows that its the basis of all life.

So we were practicing industrial agriculture 10,000 years ago in the Middle East?  Because we turned that into a desert.

Take a look at Manning's book, or even just "The Oil We Eat."  Industrial agriculture destroys soil faster, but agriculture was laying waste to whole bioregions millennia before the Industrial Revolution.

Jason, fossil fuel inputs are merely a stepped up version of a model that was played out unsuccssfully in various places for millenia.

Since you obviously think farming = bad and humans should return to a hunter gatherer lifestyle, there's no way I can convince you, but I will say it once more: farming when done right, does NOT destroy the land, the soil, the ecosystems, or anything else.

Repeating it doesn't make it so.  I didn't form my opinion and then collect facts to buttress it; I collected facts and came to this opinion.  I don't think farming is "bad" so much as it is destructive and unsustainable by its very nature.  The cultivation of cereal grains requires keeping a region at the lowest levels of succession, and that means actively creating a catastrophe in that land every year, to make sure the land doesn't heal and move on to things like shrubs, trees, and other life that might provide food for non-human animals.  This is what makes agriculture so destructive, and this is the defining process of agriculture.

If you're engaging in cultivation and not tearing up fields in this manner, planting rows and fields of a single crop, then what you're doing is probably properly called horticulture.  The intuitive distinction between "farming" and "gardening" generally holds here.  Permaculture DOES help heal the soil, and creates a very verdant ecosystem.  Mann makes a good case in 1491 that most of pre-Columbian North America was essentially a permacultural garden, and the accounts of "wilderness" we have from centuries later are essentially nothing more than a continent-wide, untended garden that had become overgrown.

But that's a different thing from organic agriculture—essentially, the same way we did agriculture before the Green Revolution.  It was organic agriculture that turned the Fertile Crescent into a cruel joke and the Great Plains into the dust bowl.  Ruddiman's "Early Anthropocene" hypothesis suggests that it's organic agriculture that may have led to global warming and an artifical extension of the current interglacial.  It's an undeniable historical fact that organic agriculture has, over the past 10,000 years, created a global ecological catastrophe, long before the Industrial Revolution.  This has nothing to do with my opinions or beliefs; this is plain fact.

Would you say that there is no such thing as sustainable organic agriculture?  It seems to me that the examples you are giving are of clearly unsustainable agriculture, organic or not.  The fertile crescent was salinated from irrigation: an attempt to unsustainably harvest from the region.  Does that mean that sustainable agriculture is impossible, or does it just mean that it has to be intentionally sustainable agriculture to carry on for long periods?
I would say that sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron.  Hemenway taught me a lot about permaculture (I'm actually undertaking a permaculture project of my own), and he says I taught him a lot about anthropology (though I think he gives me too much credit).  You'll find me in the "Acknowledgements" of that particular article, because in it Hemenway does such a magnificent job of summarizing so many of the discussions we've had about agriculture at the Anthropik Network.

There are many different ways in which agriculture destroys the soil.  Monocropping leads to depletion of minerals.  Irrigation leads to salination.  There's erosion to consider, and so forth.

But at its base, agriculture is about wounding an ecology, and then regularly picking the scab to make sure it never heals.  This is not a sustainable way to live, any way you cut it.

There might be sustainable cultivation techniques, but those do not fall under the heading of "farming" nearly so much as "gardening."  There's a great deal of diversity in that, mind you.  I've been fascinated recently by David Jacke's edible forest gardens (thanks to Hemenway for that tip).  But if we want to come up with a sustainable form of cultivation, we need to give up on the idea of "farming" right off the bat.  Anything that can be legitimately called "farming" is an incredibly destructive, unsustainable form of subsistence.  When we're looking at sustainable systems, we're immediately entering the realm of permaculture, horticulture, and the gardener.  There's simply no sustainable way to claim vast tracts of land for solely human use.

Oh, I see, you're redefining the word agriculture.  That's what the Hemenway article did as well.  That explains my confusion.
It's hardly a redefinition.  My mother planted some tomatoes in her backyard, and made a joke to get a rise out of me saying she was a "farmer."  We all recognize, intuitively, the difference between "farming" and "gardening."  I'm not redefining anything; we all know a garden in the backyard is not a "farm."  There's a reason we make this distinction: because we all intuit a major, qualitative difference between the two, even though they're both forms of cultivation.

I come from an anthropology background, and in that field, the difference between horticulture and agriculture is not semantic at all: agricultural and horticultural socieites look utterly nothing like each other, but often share many things in common amongst themselves.  The difference between horticulture and agriculture is ALL the difference.

We all recognize, intuitively, the difference between "farming" and "gardening."

the difference between horticulture and agriculture is not semantic at all

I am constantly amazed by the range of ways that people understand language and the world. I am even more amazed that someone with an "anthropology background" could make these kinds of statements.

I have no problem with someone working to develop a distinction between farming=agriculture and gardening=horticulture. But it sounds to me that you, Jason, are claiming that these words inhererently and intuitively have the meanings that you want to assign to them. Would this even be true for non-native speakers of English? Does every language in the world have a corresponding pair of words with precisely the difference in meaning that you are claiming? When you start talking about the meanings of the words and then claim it has nothing to do with semantics, I just have to discount everything you say, because it sounds like you don't know the meanings of the words you use!

I think it is really important that we develop deeper understandings of the ways we relate to the soil and air and water, the ways in which these are sustainable, etc. I would like to suggest that claims that "We all recognize, intuitively," any kind of difference at all - such claims are not helpful in developing new understandings. Such claims tend merely to amplify divisiveness, to attempt to concretize differences that could, if left fluid, enhance deeper understandings all around - not just of the soil and air and water, but of each other and our own living dynamics.

When you start talking about the meanings of the words and then claim it has nothing to do with semantics, I just have to discount everything you say, because it sounds like you don't know the meanings of the words you use!

I'm not talking about the meanings of words, I'm talking about two sets of techniques, one called "agriculture" or coloquially, "farming," and another called "horticulture," or coloquially, "gardening."  I'm not talking about the words or what they mean, I'm talking about the practices they describe.  You could call them "Tweedledee" and "Tweedledum," and they would still be very different things.  They look different, they act different, they have very different consequences and principles and foundations.  They are very different practices.  We all intuitively recognize that, because they ARE so different, so we come up with different words to describe them, because they're very, very different things.  This is not a merely semantic argument about defining words, this is about two very different approaches to cultivation.

someone could use these semantics to say that sustainabile agriculture replaces farming with large scale gardening.
No, he's not really redefining agriculture.  The distinction between agriculture and horticulture is one anthropologists have made for decades.

Agriculture is horticulture on steroids.  Agriculture uses irrigation, draft animals, tractors.  Agriculture is usually associated with grains or other crops that can be stored for a long time - allowing wealth accumulation, by individuals or governments.

Jared Diamond calls agriculture The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race, but praises the horicultural practices of the sustainable societies described in Collapse.

    The science, art, and business of cultivating soil, producing crops, and raising livestock; farming.

It doesn't appear to me that either of you are using that definition, so you are redefining the word.  I don't see anything in the definition that requires agriculture to use irrigation, draft animals, or tractors, or that the crops produced have to be capable of long-term storage.  And Diamond is talking about foraging, not horticulture.  You won't find the word "horticulture" in "The Worst Mistake...".  The only instance of "garden" is in reference to agriculture.  

Contrast with horticulture

   1. The science or art of cultivating fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants.
   2. The cultivation of a garden.

The second meaning is funny, because a garden is defined the same way as a farm is, an area of land in which one grows things, except that one doesn't grow animals in a garden (except for the bugs and bunnies in mine), and one often does grow animals on a farm.

I read these as 1) horticulture doesn't necessarily involve altering the soil, though the definition doesn't preclude that; 2) agriculture does involve altering the soil, though there's nothing in the definition that requires unsustainability or even breaking the soil surface; and 3) agriculture includes raising livestock but horticulture does not.

It doesn't appear to me that either of you are using that definition, so you are redefining the word.

That's the definitive definition?  I've rarely found useful definitions in dictionaries.  For instance, when I use the University of Alabama's anthropological glossary, I get the following definitions:

Domesticated food production involving minimally the cultivation of plants but usually also the raising of domesticated animals; more narrowly, plant domestication making use of the plow (versus horticulture). (Hunter and Whitten, 1982)

I think the existence of words is sufficient to denote that there is some general understanding of terms referring to different things, but the popular understanding of what those differences are, is rarely precise.  For definitions, dictionaries are rarely useful as anything but a starting point.  I'd recommend researching this a little more deeply: you'll find that I'm not redefining the term at all, but using a long-standing, but precise, definition.

And Diamond is talking about foraging, not horticulture.  You won't find the word "horticulture" in "The Worst Mistake...".  The only instance of "garden" is in reference to agriculture.  

Leanan said that Diamond refers to horticulturalists in Collapse—which he does.  I'm not sure if he uses that term, but the societies he talks about are classified as horticulturalists by anthropologists.

The second meaning is funny, because a garden is defined the same way as a farm is, an area of land in which one grows things, except that one doesn't grow animals in a garden (except for the bugs and bunnies in mine), and one often does grow animals on a farm.

Yet expected; dictionaries simply do not provide precise definitions.  They try to capture the popular understanding of the term, which is usually at least a little bit confused and contradictory.  This does not mean the phenomenon does not exist, only that most people have not pondered it at such length as to really come up with a precise delineation of its defining characteristics.  In other words: it's a dictionary, not a peer-reviewed scholarly paper—you get what you pay for, so to speak.  We're talking about much more precise definitions here; to accuse me of "redefining" the word, this argument has essentially become a case of scholarly journals vs. encyclopedias.  A dictionary definition is a starting point for a deeper inquiry, just like an encyclopedia article.

The glossary you site explicitly says at the top of the page "There is a great deal of difference of opinion about the correct definitions of many terms among anthropologists, as can be seen in the varying definitions offered from different sources for many key terms."

There are no less than six partially contradictory definitions for agriculture there.  I'll stick with the dictionary, thanks.

That's mere laziness.  Of course there's discussion and difference of opinion!  That's why the dictionary fails to provide a precise definition!

By comparison, scholars have raging feuds in the pages of peer-reviewed journals constantly.  Breaking into a conference and dismissing them because you don't want to wade through it, saying, "I'll stick with my encyclopedia article, thanks," is a sure sign that you're in an argument over your head.

Are you sure you're not in over your head on this one?

Quite sure, your insults aside.
Perhaps redefining the word is not what you are guilty of, but making the assumption that the difference between the words is intuitive is something you yourself just prosecuted upon yourself by pointing to the shortcomings of dictionaries, and then drawing upon a specific background (anthropology) which determines your reference point.

If dictionaries provide "common" definitions which are imprecise, then how can you expect the usage of your words from a more refined and precise refence point to be intuitive to people who are not also at that same reference point i.e. are not anthropologists?

Sorry but semantics is at the very heart of this exchange, and the shortcoming I think came from your side by assuming your audience was as knowledgable in anthropology and its precision as you.

Humans are much better at observing things, than describing them.  We can easily note that two things are different, even if we have a hard time really coming up with what makes them different.  So, for instance, we all have an idea of what it means to be "obscene," but when you press the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States to define it, even they can only come up with, "I know it when I see it."

Ultimately, don't all of our definitions come down to that?

We all know there's two different things here.  We know a backyard garden is not a farm, and we know Monsanto doesn't do gardening.  But beyond that "I know it when I see it," where is the line?  The difference is intuitive; the distinction is not.

I don't assume an anthropological background; that's why I began by specifically iterating the precise distinctions between agriculture and horticulture used by anthropologists, because while the difference is intuitive, the distinction is not.  That's when I was accused of "redefining" agriculture, at which point I was under pressure to prove that anthropologists had indeed spent a good deal of time on this definition.  At which point I was told it was too confusing, and we should stick with the dictionary.

The problem is, the conversation becomes very unwieldy when everything is "agriculture."  Anthropologists defined these terms because it makes it much easier to discuss these kinds of distinctions, the social ramifications, and so forth.  It's useful here for all the same reasons it's useful to anthropologists, because the problems we're discussing here are the same problems they've been discussing for quite some time.  As with all language, the goal should be communication: to communicate an idea as clearly, precisely, and concisely as possible.  Obviously, I have failed in that here, but I hope something more solid than "sustainable agriculture" can be developed, as "sustainable" is, itself, a much abused word.

I won't argue the difficulty of defining precise terminology.  Its a challenge in many different specialties.  In fact as part of my job I take databases from competing products, extract the data and "fit" them into place in our database.

The common problem when doing this is that the definition that some types of data are created with in the other product is not always an accurate fit in our product.

Very similar in some respects to language "mapping", data mapping can be a royal pain in the backside.  Because of this I try to be very sensitive when working with our customers when gathering definitions from them, and explaining our definitions back.  It causes for some longer exchanges initially, but the precision of the conversion of the data ends up much higher.

I have to admit I got caught up on the thread debating the sustainability and ecological effects of agriculture versus horticulture, but I must confess that the earlier portion of the debate made little sense(or more accurately distinction) until I finally saw your later more precise definitions.  Perhaps prefacing future arguments by explaining your reference point would avoid this problem in the future?  I know thats generally what I have to do when I'm explaining the definition mapping of data with customers, and in the long run it usually avoids a lot of confusion, frustration, and ultimately wasted time.

Anyhow, I hope to hear more about both sides of this debate, preferrably with both sides taking a bit of effort to both more fully explain their definitions, and be more willing to accept or adapt to a meaning not traditionally used.

I take databases from competing products, extract the data and "fit" them into place in our database.

I am really interested in this kind of work. Have you ever looked at William Kent's Data and Reality or Brian Cantwell Smith's On the Origin of Objects? If you have any other good resources on this puzzle, I would love to expand my horizons!

I am really fascinated by the limitations of logic and language. How can we improve our ability to juggle multiple systems of terminology, &c.? Just like a sustainable way of working with ecosystems seems to require a less aggressive approach that is open to variety and change and interdependence, similarly I think that a sustainable way of working with ideas requires something other than the equivalent of monoculture. The challenges of reconciling multiple databases, that is work that I think brings these issues into crisp focus.

Have you ever looked at William Kent's Data and Reality or Brian Cantwell Smith's On the Origin of Objects?

A very interesting reference, though I didn't read it (yet) I would like to, but consider the KIND OF ARGUMENTS which goes on here at TOD!
Pretty hopeless to bring this into the dispute.
Did you ever looked at the sillyness which surrounds the Semantic Web in spite of the supposedly high-tech savvyness of these folks.

To the morons of all breeds and creeds in ANY field an enforced monoculture solves it all.
This is just Orwellian but alas it "works" by choking alternative views until reality hits back.

Try an anthropology glossary.

The dictionary definitions you posted are the ones my dad, an agronomist, uses.  He doesn't have much respect for those pansy-@$$ horticulture types.  ;-)

Diamond was talking about foraging in that article, but in his book, Collapse, the sustainable societies he holds up as examples are mostly horticultural.

That glossary defines both agriculture and horticulture as forms of farming, and then it doesn't bother to define farming.

If that's our reference then horticulture can't use clippers or anything else more advanced than a digging stick, and agriculture can't use hand tools like a shovel and must use non-human power.  That still doesn't mean that horticulture has to be sustainable or that agriculture can't be sustainable by those definitions.

I would say that the societies Diamond points out in Collapse practiced sustainable agriculture or foraging.  The Japanese practiced sustainable agriculture.  If I remember right, New Guinea was an example of mixed sustainable agriculture and foraging.  It seems like Tikopia was the foraging and population control example, and I don't recall if they cultivated anything.

OK, fine, redefine "horticulture" as "sustainable farming."  Hell, call it Umpeelumpee.  It doesn't change the fact that it's an extremely different system, it just means you'll have a hell of a time looking up anything else on the subject, since no one else uses that phrase.
I would say the Japanese did practice agriculture, because rice is a grain that can be stored.  (However, they were probably the least sustainable of the sustainable societies described.  They "exported their shortages," much as we do today.)  

The others, I would say practiced horticulture.  I believe Diamond actually used the word "sylvaculture" for one society.  Because, among other things, they cultivated trees for firewood.

Growing large amounts of grain is a pretty good "test" of agriculture vs. horticulture, IMO.  (From an anthropology POV, I mean.  My dad would disagree.)  Growing a crop that can be stored is really what sets a society onto the treadmill.  If you're growing "horticulture" crops, like sweet potatoes, it really doesn't do you any good to work twice as long and grow twice as many.  You can't store them; they rot.  This is the basic difference between horticultural and agricultural societies.  

That's as good a distinction as I've ever heard.
One big difference between agricultural and horticultural societies is that usually women do most of the work in the gardens (so the men can sit around, drink beer, and discuss politics) while in agriculture it is most often a man behind the plow.

The status of women is much higher in horticultural than in agricultural societies, and indeed, many horticultural societies are matrilineal and matrilocal (though not matriarchal).

To be fair, in horticultural societies, men may not do as much work, but they generally do the more dangerous work: in swidden systems, they pull down trees; they hunt, and so forth.

Horticultural societies show us that separate can still be equal, so long as it's not simply a euphemism for racists.

In ancient Hawai`i, men were responsible for all food-producing activities.  They not only fished, foraged, tended the taro and sweet potatoes, and hunted...they were responsible for all the cooking, too.  

The missionaries were horrified at how "lazy" Hawaiian women were.  

However, there were many foods that only men were allowed to eat, so that might be why they had to do all the work.  The women were reportedly very happy to break the food taboos, as long as they weren't caught.

They were also at the upper limits of population at the time Cook arrived, and had elaborate food laws, such as a member of the royalty could take any food package anyone was carrying at any time. But, not if it was an offering to the gods - result: people disguising food parcels as offerings to the gods so they could get them safely to their ailing aunt up in the valley. Crime and punishment was elaborate, strict, and ruthless in old Hawaii, because they were at the point we're nearing - one of too darned many people and so people becoming worthless. I guess less than worthless, since they were worth more to the living as one less mouth to feed - dead. So there were elaborate taboos and the punishment was mutiliation (often leading to a slow death) or death. The kings used to keep prisoners in cages and wound them, break their limbs, so the gangrenous wounds would make them tastier to the sharks, which they'd feed the prisoners. There were more ways of killing and mutilating others for the simple materials and tools they had in Hawaiian society than just about anywhere. They had elaborate ways of tying people down, special clubs and implements for splitting heads, skinning, wounding, cutting, etc.

In short it was a very brutal society! Now, Hawaiian society at the time of Cook was a feudal society, hence the similarities to feudal disregard for non-Noble life in our own past. But, scientists think there may have been 3 migrations to Hawaii, the original people, small, dark, and how the stuff of legends at the "Menehune" which are in legends the helpers of the common man, builders of the most beautiful stone walls, magical hard workers. etc. Legend has it they'd only come out at night, and help people who were oppressed, were capable of prodigious amounts of work, and were kind and wise. The next migration were the "run of the mill" Hawaiians, they think from the Marquesas islands. The last migration was from Tahiti, and is where the taller, lighter-skinned, Alii (nobles) came from.

The original ancient people "Menehune" and possibly the Marquesas people probably had a much more egalitarian, sustainable society. The folks from Tahiti were like all feudal overlords utter bastards of course. Imagine the Parker Family with shark-tooth lined clubs lol.

I'm familiar with the island of Oahu and there are large land areas even there, by far the most populated island, where there are just no people. This was not the case in the past, I was never told growing up that the main highway cutting through the center of the island and going through pineapple and sugar cane fields, that whole area, was at one time lived in from edge to edge by Hawaiians, farming and living their lives. Out in the middle-of-nowhere forest, one often comes across "old Hawaiian walls" made of black volcanic rock.

There were really 4 migrations to Hawaii, the last and most damaging was by Modern Industrial Man and they came from England, Portugal, US, Japan, Philippines, Tonga, Samoa, Mexico, Middle-East, etc you name it. None of 'em know how to do anything related to permaculture, most don't even have any foraging skills. But they know how to open a can with a can opener and they have the modern hierarchal social/oppression system down pat.

Sweet potatoes rot?

I grow a lot of them and they store extremely well and in fact
store longer and better than regular(what we call Irish Potatoes). Better than Pontiac Red, Kennebeck White and far better than Yukon Gold.

In fact just today I harvested (took a sample) of some sweet potatoes out of my fairly large bed.

I also have some white potatoes in the basement rotting already.

One must store the sweet potatoes preferably in the attic to cure and develop more sugar.

No you but most debating these issues seem IMO to know very little about farming.

To do sustainable farming you had damn well be a very very good gardener or you just aint gonna make it. Crops? Some hay for animal forage in the winter. Corn , just enough for feed when working the draft animals.

My kin were grade A farmers and did it just as above. They didn't give a hoot about all the rest. They had to LIVE off that farm and trade eggs,fryers ,butter and cream for the flour , sugar and other essentials. Barter is was called. No money involved.

Argue all you wish but that was not the way it was.

Today a person who does big AG? He is termed an 'operator' but not in town..just by the FSA operatives and the USDA and Ag Extension Agents.

He rents or shares land. He runs big equipment. He could care less about sustainablitity and not much about Peak Oil.

He wants what the big ass Corpo Execs got. Lots of money. He is 'running in place' just like the rest of us who were in the rat race. He isn't making it though. He will cut down trees, rape the land, do whatever he needs to.

He will only do conservation if PAID to do it.

Get real here folks.

Sweet potatoes rot?


Keep in mind that many horticultural societies are in tropical areas.  No cold cellars.

And even in areas that aren't as hot and humid, there's a limit to how long you can store tubers.  Remember the Bible story, about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows?  It was a warning to store food grown during seven years of plenty for use during seven years of famine.  Would be pretty tough to store sweet potatoes for seven years.

Of course they will eventually 'sprout' and then can be replanted as next years crop. That is exaclty how I do mine. They will keep pretty much all winter and some used to place them near the stove/wood heater. When it gets near planting time I cut them into smaller pieces and place in a container of sawdust and loam. Voila in a few weeks I have all the slips I need.

I have never seen any rot like regular potatoes do but I suppose it might happen if conditions were humid like in a cellar.

Its normal also for regular potatoes to shrink (if they don't rot) and put forth shoots. Again can be planted early for next years crop. The ones that I see rotting usually have defects associated with them. On the farm way back we used to spread lime over them and that seemed to preserve them quite well as well as keeping the varmits at bay.

I don't live in a tropical area. I live in Kentucky.
We eat a lot of sweet potatoes. You definitely need to 'cure' them. A very warm area, like an attic, is best.

I think you're missing the point.  Sweet potatoes, taro, etc., can't be hoarded like grain can - in vast amounts, for years.  This means wealth cannot be concentrated.  And that means a whole different pattern of society.    
As much as I hate to beat this dead horse, and as much as I doubt anyone will read this in the future, I have looked things up in Collapse, and Diamond uses the term "sustainable agriculture."  Look at page 280 in the hardcover edition, about halfway down the page.

"When more Europeans followed up the pilots' discoveries overland, they found that the inhabitants were farmers who grew taro, bananas, yams, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, pigs, and chickens.  We now know that the first four of those major crops (plus other minor ones) were domesticated in New Guinea itself, that the New Guinea highlands were one of only nine independent centers of plant domestication in the world, and that agriculture has been going on there for about 7,000 years - one of the world's longest-running experiments in sustainable food production."

Beginning of the last paragraph on page 281:
"Sustainable agriculture in the New Guinea highlands poses difficult problems not only of soil fertility but also of wood supplies..."

Note that the New Guineans use only hand tools.  As Leanan points out, on page 282 he discusses the growing of casuarina as silviculture.  I plant enough trees that that doesn't surprise me a bit.  Silviculture is the usual term for tree farming.  I haven't seen any reference to horticulture in this section yet.

I don't think anyone can accuse Diamond of not knowing that some anthropologists use the terms agriculture and horticulture differently than he is here.  I doubt that it's because he's "in over his head", as Jason asked if I was.  Diamond wrote this book for a non-anthropologist audience, and that audience uses the standard definitions.  If he were writing for an audience of anthropologists, I would expect that he would first define his terms and then use them, just as the glossaries Leanan and Jason cited did.  

The problem is that if you are trying to convince the public that industrial agriculture can't continue when oil supplies decrease, then a natural response is to call for sustainable agriculture.  If you then say, as Jason did, that this is an oxymoron and agriculture cannot be made sustainable, then your audience will decide that you are simply a doomer and either agree to be a doomer with you or go look for someone who thinks it can be made sustainable.  They will most likely find one of the 20,000+ hits on sustainable agriculture on Google, figure out how to make agriculture sustainable, and ignore you from then on.  This is unnecessary, if you are willing to use the commonly accepted definitions.

They will most likely find one of the 20,000+ hits on sustainable agriculture on Google, figure out how to make agriculture sustainable, and ignore you from then on.

Sustainable agriculture cannot sustain 6.5 billions+ people, even less so with climate change.

Solve climate 'whatever it costs'

LOL, hard to argue with that point!  I agree that we may not be able to feed everyone.  I wasn't arguing that we could.  Frankly, I don't think we'll need to.  
Have you read "Farmers of Forty Centuries," F.H. King's classic on agriculture in China, Korea and Japan? Though it's not scintillating reading, King makes a strong case for sustainable agriculture - at least under certain conditions. China has only experienced soil depletion with the advent of industrial agriculture.

Html version:


Project Gutenberg version:


As for the scab analogy, of course you can keep picking it forever, as long as the underlying body has enough vitality to form a new one. And with the old Chinese system, which included recycling all human and animal waste, regularly dumping dredged canal mud onto the fields, and a hundred other bits of ingenuity, this appears to have been the case.

But it was not easy.

I was a very small-scale certified organic grower years ago but the reality is that production agriculture is going to be around in the months and years after energy usage peaks in the US.  Production ag will be here whether it mines or builds the soil.

Two sites that deal with sustainable agriculture are:


This is the site of the Sustainable Research and Education Project.  They used to offer a free download of their book, The New American Farmer - Profiles of Agricultural Innovation.  I don't know it this is still available but it is an excellent introduction into what some farmers are doing.  I bought a printed version in 2001.

The other site is:


This is the University of California at Davis' site on sustainable ag.

There are also many state organizations with web sites.

I think it's important to recognize that life isn't perfect. Unfortunately, this is the way it is.

KJ, his premise is that agriculture of any type is in and of itself inherently unsustainable.

Dude, if you seriously believe we should all be hunter gatherers again, I challenge you to be the first to go for it. Watching should be fun.

KJ, his premise is that agriculture of any type is in and of itself inherently unsustainable.

No, that's my conclusion, not my premise.  I've provided an argument for it, so it's not a premise.

Dude, if you seriously believe we should all be hunter gatherers again, I challenge you to be the first to go for it. Watching should be fun.

Well, I do believe that, and I am already underway, but here all I'm saying is that we'll have to be.  We're not really getting a choice in this matter.  Hunting and gathering is what humans did ofr most of our existence, and it's what we're going back to.  This brief experiment with complexity is a passing blip.

I've provided an argument for it, so it's not a premise.

If this is the core of your argument:

But at its base, agriculture is about wounding an ecology

then really it is a simple matter of definition. It sounds as though you have defined agriculture to be those ways of working with the earth that wound the ecology, whereas horticulture is the set of ways that heal the ecology, or at least don't harm it.

It's a reasonable way to want to use words, but so far hasn't helped me decide whether or where to plant my tomatoes!

That is not the core of my argument.  Having established the process of agriculture, I felt free to go on to invest that process with a certain amount of normative language, but the facts always come first.

Defining the precise difference between horticulture and agriculture is difficult.  Some draw the line between the hoe and the plow; others between whether or not a fallowing period is used; others on whether or not the land is cleared and then planted, or simply planted as it is.  The best line I've yet found is EROEI.  I'm not even sure if the threshold is the point of diminishing returns, or when EROEI becomes negative (I believe all agriculture has negative EROEI--I know ours is about 1:10, and that agriculture prior to the Green Revolution was something more like 1:4--but there might be a positive EROEI agriculture out there I don't know about), but so far that's my working hypothesis.

What we DO know is that agriculture and horticulture don't look anything like each other, and that while all agricultural societies are compelled to create ever more complex, stratified societies, most of the world's simple, sustainable, egalitarian societies are horticultural to one degree or another.

Horticulture is small scale, low intensity farming.  This subsistence pattern involves at least part time planting and tending of domesticated food plants.  Pigs, chickens, or other relatively small domesticated animals are often raised for food and prestige.  Many horticultural societies supplement their farming subsistence base with occasional hunting and gathering of wild plants and animals.  Horticulturalist population densities are higher than those of most foragers and pastoralists.  Usually, there are at least 1-10 people per square mile with community sizes ranging from around 30 to several hundred.  In most cases, horticulture is more productive than foraging (with the exception of aquatic foraging).  Some horticulturalists are not only subsistence farmers but also produce a small surplus to sell or exchange in local markets for things that they cannot produce themselves.


Intensive agriculture is the primary subsistence pattern of large-scale, populous societies.  It results in much more food being produced per acre compared to other subsistence patterns.  Beginning about 5,000 years ago, the development of intensive farming methods became necessary as the human population grew in some major river valleys to levels beyond the carrying capacity of the environment using horticulture and pastoralism.  The transition to intensive agriculture was originally made possible by water management systems and the domestication of large animals for pulling plows.  This allowed farmers to get below the top soil to bring buried nutrients up to the surface.  It also allowed farmers to maintain much larger fields of crops.


The "Patterns of Subsistence" website those two quotes come from is extremely useful.

Now, if we consider what agriculture then implies—the use of the plow to reduce a given region to the lowest level of succession, in effect creating a catastrophe in order to favor the growth of catastrophe-adapted cereal grains that we can harvest—then my characterization is certainly legitimate.  Agriculture is wounding the ecology, and then picking the scab to make sure it never heals (because the part we're interested in—the cereal grains—are essentially the "platelets" of an ecology's response to such "wounding").

Thanks, this is very helpful. There are so many different speciallzed systems of terminology all conflicting with each other, and anyway most folks haven't studied any of them. So providing some definitions like this and some references, this provides a common ground that can open up discussion.
Jason wrote:

Well, I do believe that, (we will all become hunter-gatherers) and I am already underway, but here all I'm saying is that we'll have to be.  We're not really getting a choice in this matter.  Hunting and gathering is what humans did ofr most of our existence, and it's what we're going back to.  This brief experiment with complexity is a passing blip.

In most famines of the past, people have hunted the songbirds out of the trees. But because past famines have been confined to a given area, the wildlife was replenished, from outside the area, after only a few years. But a worldwide famine would strip the world of virtually every edible animal. And that dear friends will be the real tragedy of civilization. When civilization eventually leaves this world, it will take virtually everything else with it. The world will be stripped of virtually all its wildlife. We will leave this planet largely barren and sterile.

Ron Patterson

I'm not so sure.  In famines, people have hunted songbirds—where songbirds were still counted as "food."  "Food" is not simply all edible matter: it is the culturally constructed subset of edible matter.  In the First World, at least, that construction is so narrow that I think most people won't even try to eat a growth of Lady's Thumb in the sidewalk.  I think we do face a very real possibility of die-off, but I think the overwhelming majority will die for a lack of imagination.

If previous collapses are any guide, civilizations have a tendency to kind of "implode" upon collapse.  Populations move out of the countryside and into the cities; then the cities break down in the most horrific manner imaginable.  That gives me at least the small hope that though civilization may end, at least the rest of life on this planet--and humanity, too, I think--will get to survive.

"Westerners", Americans I'm familiar with, as far as I can tell will lie down and die before they'll eat a dog, but then in WWI and WWII it was westerners fighting in Europe and many are the tales of cooking up a dog when food became scarce. And due to the Wonders Of Globalism<sup>TM</sup> we have, or are achieving, a state where there are people from all kinds of different cultures distributed in all the major countries, and having historically lived through many famines, Asians don't balk at eating much of anything. I'm sure they'll teach the rest of us, heck they are - I had a delicious bowl of soup yesterday that featured parts of the cow I'd never have thought are food, but..... it's good stuff! Yes, this is the trouble with a slow collapse, people have time to experiment with new foods. The birds in the trees will indeed be eaten, then the trees cut down for wood. There's a cult movie out right now about eating worms, and yes people will eat the worms out of the ground if given the time to think about it.

When we got very hungry when I was a kid, it was time to experiment with new foods! We learned some of the "lexicon" of the foods of the poor, like buying a small tub of cool-whip because it's 1/2 the price of ice cream and thus eating processed.... dunno what it is. I discovered sweet potato leaves after I'd dug the sweet potatos up, and discovered the sweet inner part of the tips of grass. Leavings and stuff others won't eat because they don't consider it food are a boon to the near-starving. We boiled green fruit and I learned how to fish, in overfished waters yielding nothing much over 8 inches long.

Now, if we can get by like this and simply not have so many kids, we can have something like a soft landing. But, the poorer and more desperate people are, the more kids they have!

Yeah, kick back, pop open a cold one, and watch....

Globalization is hardly a peaceful synthesis of global cultures, anymore than Hellenism was an equal give-and-take.  It's never a completely one-way process, but by the same token, it's never exactly a fair balance, either.  Despite our expanding intellectual knowledge of what is edible, this has done little to change our acculturated definition of "food."  Fear Factor still makes us squirm at the notion of eating a bull's penis—something which we might know is a delicacy in China, eaten to improve sexual virility.

The Donner party resorted to cannibalism—in the middle of a pine grove.  Paiute Indians had even given them meals made of smashed pine nuts months before, but it still never dawned on them that you can eat pine nuts and pine bark, or make tea from the needles.  No, they never touched the pine.

Diamond raises the example of the Greenland Vikings, living in full view of the Inuit making a happy living from the sea.  Their own Scandinavian families were expert fishermen, and yet we can't find a single fish bone.  We find even the calves of their all-important cow herds, eaten down to the hoofs.  We find they ate their dogs.  But they never ate the fish.

I understand the theoretical fear, but this isn't the first time a civilization has collapsed, and what history tells us is that civilizations basically implode.

Wow Jason you win, looks like the few, the resourceful, will have those tasty ant larvae to themselves!
makes us squirm at the notion of eating a bull's penis

"Si' Senior. Your dish was smaller today. But you see, sometimes in the bull ring, it is the bull who wins the bout. At this fine restaurant we serve nothing but best of the losers."

Is it an organic dog or was it fed road kill, Mad Cow and chemicals?

"Food" is not simply all edible matter: it is the culturally constructed subset of edible matter.

Yes, but given the scarcity of edible wild animals with respect to the HUGE crowds of the starving there will enough of them which "culturally constructed subset of edible matter" will encompass anything that moves.
This is already happening in Africa and the culturally constructed subset extends easily.

So Darwinian is right :

The world will be stripped of virtually all its wildlife. We will leave this planet largely barren and sterile.

P.S. Preaching your "hard core" primitivist gospel at TOD is not likely to be very successful, given how much more moderate powerdown suggestions are received.


"The world will be stripped of virtually all its wildlife. We will leave this planet largely barren and sterile."

No there are vast track of the Planet we have just begun to look at and they are filled with life.  Most of that life we can't eat, and most of that life lives in manners we likely can't currupt to much.  

Creatures live off the Volcanic vents in water so acidic that it'd kill us, but they don't need sunlight to live, in fact have nothing we would term eyes to see light, but heat, and acid content of the water.

But in all I doubt we will get to far into totally distroying the earth as a whole, and all other life on it.  We need water to drink and most humans have not clue how to get it.

Im grabbing my chair, a cold one and sitting back to watch.
Without the "empty continent" to constatly move west into, the anglo experiment in North America would have failed, as farmers as a rule cleared and then destroyed the viability of their land using technologies of the 17-1800s. Hell, look how long it took to realize that soil is ALIVE, constitutes a very complex, dynamic organism that needs to be nurtured if it's structure is to be altered. This fundamental aspect of soil is why each different soil-type region must have its own particular strategy for maintaining/building soil viability. A good case study for the latter aspect is the multi-millenial rice culture of southeast Asia and recent studies that show conclusively that traditional rice culture trumps GMO rice production by outyielding it 2:1.
A good case study for the latter aspect is the multi-millenial rice culture of southeast Asia and recent studies that show conclusively that traditional rice culture trumps GMO rice production by outyielding it 2:1.

It would be nice if you could retrieve and publish a link to this.
For the record and to dampen a bit the techno-freaks here.

Here's a link providing results from new "sustainable" ag trials, http://www.mindfully.org/GE/Madagascar-Rice-Revolution.htm

I should also modify my previous comment because of faulty memory. The method used to increase yields is not traditional culture but the one mentioned in the link above. Here's another that leads to a series of articles on the subject, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/RiceWars.php

This is where I remember the yield differential from: "Advocates of SRI routinely report yields up to twice or more those achieved by conventional agriculture."

Here's a quote I like, "Of course, what is best practice for corporate agriculture is not necessarily best practice for the farmer."

An interesting report from Norman Uphoff, Director of Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development(CIIFAD) and of the International Program Agriculture, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: http://ciifad.cornell.edu/sri/countries/bangladesh/bangtr902.html

An excerpt from above text: "5. The two actors played a young farmer (pro-SRI) and his elderly grandfather (skeptical about SRI and critical of "new ways"). The latter had a snow-white beard and a cane, and acted very cantankerously. He sometimes chased the young man around the stage, waving his cane and chastizing the grandson for his insolence. The only part of the dialogue that was translated for me (it was very fast-moving) was when the young man noted, to justify SRI, that since he was young and could run fast, and the grandfather was old and could not move very fast, it stood to reason the "young seedlings" could grow much faster and produce much better than "old seedlings." This elicited an angry outburst from the grandfather to the merriment of all."

In any google for ag info having anything to do with GMOs, it serves to go deep into the hits as it seems the first several pages are inundated by anything pro-GMO.

I just remembered an old link about non GMO advanced practices : Perfect maize, in three simple steps.

Look you're both more or less right. Most agriculture involves tilling the soil and growing grains, but that is NOT the only kind of agriculture. Look up Joel Salatin's Polyface farm as described in Ominovore's Dilemma and several of his own books. More and more farmers are using this systems approach to raise plants and animals in harmony. (The key is management intensive grazing, rather than tilling and growing grains.) It is organic; it is sustainable; it enriches the soil rather than depleting it, and I don't know why you would restrict the use of the term "agriculture" to plowing and grains.
Polyface is even in the list of "External links" for Wikipedia's entry on Permaculture.  What Salatin's doing is "agriculture" only in the broadest possible sense: the same sense in which my mother's backyard patch of tomatoes makes her a "farmer."

I don't know why you would restrict the use of the term "agriculture" to plowing and grains.

Because otherwise you end up with blatantly ridiculous things like calling my mother's backyard tomato garden a farm.

I just read Mannings "The Oil We Eat", recommended by jason above, and I would highly recommend it to readers of TOD. I think we should be thinking about Peak Soil (my words, not Mannings), besides all of the other issues we are dealing with.
Peak Soil is a problem too but just to know about "eating Oil" you may look at HABER & BOSCH Most influential persons of the 20th century (according to Nature, July 29 1999).

I should also note that "permaculture," which you may be referring to, is really a form of "horticulture," and is a very different thing than agriculture.  Most of what we consider "organic agriculture," like you'd find with an organic label on it, is simply how we did farming pre-Green Revolution, and that is extremely destructive—just on a slightly longer timeline.
Jason, you make very good points, and your definitions and differences when it comes to agriculture and horticulture, to farms and gardens, are irrefutable, and I agree with 99%.
But I don't quite understand why you exclude forest gardens as a way of living, and instead move right back to hunting. Guess I'm also wondering what there'll be left to hunt for.
Which takes us back to jellyfish for dinner. And breakfast. That comes from an earlier thread, in case you missed it.
Yeah, I guess I must've missed that, but I'm not dismissing forest gardens at all.  As Hemenway and I finally hammered out, there's a continuum of foraging and horticulture.  There's no such thing as a pure hunter-gatherer; they all engage in some amount of activity to favor the regrowth of preferred plants.  At the same time, horticulturalists continue to hunt for protein (I think that's what keeps them sustainable: unlike agriculture, horticulture requires wilderness, making a wilderness a valuable resource, rather than land going to waste that harbors "pests"), so the question is less "which one" than "where on this spectrum do you land, and what can your ecosystem support"?

I'm pretty excited.  I already know a good number of wild edibles, and the basics of tracking.  I'm learning to hunt this fall, and we've started a forest garden.

Jason, normally in the face of such ignorance as you display in this thread, I bite my malicious tongue, but this time I can't.  To wit, you obviously know shite about soil or agriculture.

Yes, there were historic mistakes which damaged some part of the fertile crescent, but it is well known among agronomists that most of the soil degradation in the crescent (which covers an area from the mediterranean to iran) has occurred in recent decades, due to modern agricultural practices, usually, but not only monoculture.  The area still produces a goodly amount of food. Changes in agricultural practices could raise this productivity, as well as improving the soil in almost all parts of the crescent.

 Other factors which historically and at present degrade the productive potential of farmland, including that in the Fertile Crescent, are inappropriate crop or animal selection, deforestation, the loss of local and regional biodiversity (often as a result of deforestation, but also due to the use of petrochemicals) and changes in the hydrology of an area (again frequently related to deforestation, but also affected by monocropping, a practice made worse by the selection of inappropriate plants).  Poorly informed grazing practices, including selection of species, timing and length of the grazing period, intensity of animals per unit of area, also degrade soils.  

But be sure of this, most of the land that has or is being degraded by poor practice, including neighbouring deforestation and all the other mistakes, among which monoculture is the reigning champion, can be restored to its natural potential in three years.  Most of the rest can be restored over a longer time frame.

Geological processes constantly generate soil, if at an insufficient rate to overcome poor practice (the rate varies according to climate, water, source rock, topography,etc. It is however incomparably quicker than the formation of hydrocarbons).  

It is mostly flora, fauna and skill which do the necessary work to achieve the restoration/net improvement of the soil.

Althought I don't doubt that agriculture will have access to hydrocarbons for decades after the automobile has been largely relegated to museums, I anticipate with vicarious pleasure the improvement in the quality of food and the quality of rural life that will emerge as hydrocarbons are slowly withdrawn from agriculture.  

If there is starvation post-peak, it will be for the same reasons that it is occuring pre-peak. Reaons rooted in our systems of social relations.

You and others might enjoy the story of James Hutton as told in "James Hutton and the discovery of deep time".  Hutton, the father of modern geology, was widely know in his day (especially in France) for his publications on the restoration of farmland.  He cultivated (sorry) his knowledge on some theretofore exhausted land in Scotland.  The biography provides a pleasant account of this effort.

Other factors which historically and at present degrade the productive potential of farmland, including that in the Fertile Crescent, are inappropriate crop or animal selection, deforestation, the loss of local and regional biodiversity (often as a result of deforestation, but also due to the use of petrochemicals) and changes in the hydrology of an area (again frequently related to deforestation, but also affected by monocropping, a practice made worse by the selection of inappropriate plants).  

Poorly informed grazing practices, including selection of species, timing and length of the grazing period, intensity of animals per unit of area, also degrade soils.

It would seem that you describe agriculture itself here, to a t, as it is/has been practised. Trying to say that it need not be so, would be doing what Jason is accused of: redefining agriculture. You make his point, so why tell him he doesn't know anything about it?

Yes, soil regeneration looks like our best, perhaps only, shot at survival on some scale, the optimum way to capture solar energy Terra Preta is an intriguing concept.

Yes, there were historic mistakes which damaged some part of the fertile crescent, but it is well known among agronomists that most of the soil degradation in the crescent (which covers an area from the mediterranean to iran) has occurred in recent decades, due to modern agricultural practices, usually, but not only monoculture.

You're quite right that industrial agriculture has greatly deepened the problems in the Fertile Crescent, but that refutes a claim I never made.  When agriculture first arose, the Fertile Crescent was, indeed, fertile.  The earliest farmers turned it into a desert.  We know this.  Now, modern practices have used the Green Revolution to try to farm the desert, and the harm has been deeply compounded, but Iraq was already a desert in 1900.  To refute the claim I made, you'd need to show either that Iraq was not a desert in 1900, or that the Fertile Crescent was never particularly fertile.  In fact, the decimation of the Fertile Crescent is well known and accepted among archaeologists.  Richard Manning discusses this at length in Against the Grain.

Geological processes constantly generate soil, if at an insufficient rate to overcome poor practice (the rate varies according to climate, water, source rock, topography,etc. It is however incomparably quicker than the formation of hydrocarbons).

I am aware of this; in fact, I also know that on average, the rate of soil regeneration is about an inch every 50 years.  This belies your claim that this "can be restored to its natural potential in three years."  Erosion is another major problem caused by agriculture, which has washed away a great deal of soil.

If there is starvation post-peak, it will be for the same reasons that it is occuring pre-peak. Reaons rooted in our systems of social relations.

Organic farming can never produce the absolute yields that industrial farming can.  There will be less food, pure and simple.  This is not a mere problem of allocation; we did not begin the Green Revolution on a lark.  We began it, like all our other "revolutions," because we were left with no alternative.

Organic farming can never produce the absolute yields that industrial farming can.  There will be less food, pure and simple.

That statement right there shows up just how ignorant you are. Good organic farming practices, once fully implemented, produce as much or more as 'conventional' techniques.

Prove it. And if it requires rotations and horse manure, etc, include the acreage & production required for these inputs/practices. I am not against organic farming (in fact I would prefer it), but I doubt your claim and if you are going to insult people I ask that you show proof of your position. I will be happy to change my mind with evidence.
A few to get you started...
Results from the first 8 years of the project show that the organic and low-input systems had yields comparable to the conventional systems in all crops which were tested - tomato, safflower, corn and bean, and in some instances yielding higher than conventional systems (Clark, 1999a). Tomato yields in the organic system were lower in the first three years, but reached the levels of the conventional tomatoes in the subsequent years and had a higher yield during the last year of the experiment (80 t/ha in the organic compared to 68 t/ha in the conventional in 1996). Corn production in the organic system had a higher variability than conventional systems, with lower yields in some years and higher in others.
Both organic and low-input systems resulted in increases in the organic carbon content of the soil and larger pools of stored nutrients, each of which are critical for long-term fertility maintenance (Clark, 1998).
http://www.clarkecenter.org/Readings-Resources/organic%20bioscience%202005.pdf#search=%22organic%20v ersus%20commercial%20crop%20yields%22
  • In Madhya Pradesh, India, average cotton yields on farms participating in the Maikaal Bio-Cotton Project are 20 per cent higher than on neighboring conventional farms.

  • In Madagascar, SRI (System of Rice Intensification) has increased yields from the usual 2-3 tons per hectare to yields of 6, 8 or 10 tons per hectare.

  • In Tigray, Ethiopia, a move away from intensive agrochemical usage in favor of composting has seen an increase in yields and in the range of crops it is possible to grow.

  • In the highlands of Bolivia, the use of bonemeal and phosphate rock and intercropping with nitrogen-fixing Lupin species have significantly contributed to increases in potato yields.
A 22-year farm trial study by Cornell University published in 2005 concluded that organic farming produces the same corn and soybean yields as conventional methods, but consumes less energy and contains no pesticide residues. However, a prominent 21-year Swiss study found an average of 20% lower organic yields over conventional, along with 50% lower expenditure on fertilizer and energy, and 97% less pesticides[1]. A major US survey published in 2001, analyzed results from 150 growing seasons for various crops and concluded that organic yields were 95-100% of conventional yields[2]. Comparative yield studies are still scarce, and overall results remain "inconclusive".
Thanks for the time spent in the reply. It'll take a while for me to go through it all, but I promise to review the links.

Appreciated once again

Funny, a commenter on Anthropik posted these exact same links months ago, and since we've had this argument there so many times, I'll simply reiterate the position I came to then:

Soils vary.  Some places are very good, others places not so much.  Moreover, organic processes rely heavily on adapting to a specific ground: soil, sunlight, and so forth.  That means yield will vary greatly from acre to acre.  This acre has good soil, that acre's on a hill, etc.  So you can't just measure your best acre, and multiply that by how many acres you have.  It's not that simple.  I have no doubt that some pockets might be able to give you even bigger yields using organic farming and ripping the soil up with your own plow, versus ripping it up with a tractor and laying down a bunch of fertilizer and pesticides.  But that's going to be an exceptional acre.  That's why we came up with the Green Revolution: because it improved yields compared to what organic agriculture was coming up with (though much of that was simply keeping pace with what organic agriculture had once produced, once the consequences of so many decades of organic agriculture began to bleed the soil dry and leave it impossible for further organic agriculture to take place).

That means yield will vary greatly from acre to acre.  This acre has good soil, that acre's on a hill, etc.  

Exactly.  That's one of the reasons we have monocultures.  It maximizes yields.  If, say, Castro Valley is ideal for growing artichokes, that's what all the farmers grow.  Why grow another crop, which isn't suited to the area?

While there may be more than one crop ideally suited to a particular area, farmers are under a lot of pressure to grow the most valuable crop they can, because the value of their land, and hence their mortgages and taxes, are based on that.    

Supporting the current American population via horticulture implies a massive shift in our culture and economy.  It might be possible, for awhile at least, but it would mean most of us would have to become full-time farmers again.

Like peakearl, I'd like some proof for that.  I've evaluated many such claims, and always found them wanting in one respect or another.  You offer nothing solid here for me to analyze, but I'm fairly certain there would be some major flaw in your accounting.  I've examined dozens of such claims, and there's always such a flaw.  I've come to approach such claims the same way the Patent Office approaches perpetual motion machines, and for very similar reasons.
I just ordered "Against the Grain" from Amazon but from one of their participating used book suppliers. They did not have the book in stock. I just had to have it after reading your posts about it.

At any rate I just had to add this. The Fertile Crescent is much more sterile than it once was. And Asia Minor, now mostly Turkey, was once a lush wooded area. It is now mostly desert. The trees were cut for fuel and building, the land was farmed then used as grazing land. It eventually just washed away, filling up all the ports in the area.

Do a Google search on the ancient biblical city of Ephesus and you will see what I mean. Ephesus was a port city but after a few centuries it was nothing but an inland ruin many miles from the sea. The reason, clearing the land, then farming, then overgrazing. Jared Diamond had this to say about the area:

Look at the land: steep hills farmed right up to the crests, without any protective terracing; rivers thick with mud from erosion; extreme deforestation leading to irregular rainfall and famine; staggeringly high population densities; the exhaustion of the topsoil; falling per-capita food production. This was a society on the brink of ecological disaster, and if there is anything that is clear from the study of such societies it is that they inevitably descend into genocidal chaos.
     Jared Diamond, "Collapse"

Ron Patterson

I believe the above Jared Diamond quote is from his chapter on modern day Rwanda and the recent genocide.
Goodness, how you are married to misinformation!

I see you make the all too common error of confusing Messopotamia, if I might borrow from Jon Stewart, with the Fertile Crescent.

Iraq is only one of many countries, from Iran through Turkey to Lebanon that fall within the boundaries of the Fertile Crescent.  So your challenge regarding Iraq is rather meaningless.  Nonetheless, let's deal with the lands of present day Iraq and in particular the lands between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

A desert describes dry and barren land.  This indeed describes much of the land between the rivers for the first several thousands of years of the agricultural revolution, when agriculture was confined to rainfed areas.  Even today, about one half of the agriculture land in Iraq, about one quarter of the country's land area, is rain fed.
Other parts of the land between the rivers was (and some still is, swamp).
By and by, as millenia pass and knowledge and wealth slowly accumulate, irrigation via canals is developed and introduced to the dry and barren lands between the rivers.  Canals are also used to drain swamps and more land becomes available for agriculture.

Time passes and some of the lands made fertile by the introduction of water, or re-ordering of the water supply in the case of swampland, deteriorates because of salinization.  Where annual flooding could still occur, salinazation never became a problem.

We can note that salinization has only recently become a problem in Egypt in spite of thousands of years of irrigated farming.  And this due to the construction of massive dams on the Nile.

Still, periodic flooding continued to cleanse much of the land between the rivers, and the civilization flourished.

Now comes the part that self-proclaimed Darwinian will like.

Invasion and war, took a slow and steady toll on the canal system in the land between the rivers.  The worst came when the ignorant Mongols, with Dick Cheney's spiritual ancestors pulling the strings, laid waste to almost the entire system of canals. And even worse, murdered the people with the knowledge of how the system worked.  Their demise spelled tragedy.  Agricultural production crashed and the knowledge needed to restore it was lost. Pastoralism became the norm.

Now this is a rough and ready accounting, but it is broadly describes the situation in Iraq until more modern times.

By 1900, despite the Ottomans, agriculture, date production in particular, but also grain production, was again practiced in the lands of modern day Iraq.

All this to say, that it is not agriculture which explains the barren and arid condition of some parts of the Fertile Crescent and especially those parts which indeed were desert during approximately the first half of the age of agriculture, only becoming productive with the introduction of canals.

Now you may want me to provide references and the like.  But it is quite obvious to me at least that a little disciplined research on your part will go a long way.

As for the time frame to restore dirt to a rich and vibrant soil, I never suggested that geology alone could do the job in three years.  If you might calm your heart beat somewhat and actually read my comments, I said flora, fauna and skill are the main ingredients for a three year plan.

Regarding the Green Revolution.  It was not the only alternative to meet the nutritional requirements of the population. It was not the beginning of plant breeding, nor the end, but it did develop strains that served special interests.

The Green Revolution did serve the interests of those profiting from an expansion of the pool of cheap urbanized labour.  It did serve the interests of those in the petro-chemical industry, and it is no fluke that it occured during a period of expanding hydrocarbon production (and low and declining prices).  New markets needed to be developed and made dependent.

I don't like to use the word organic, since it has now become another hat that is worn on so many heads as to fit none. I prefer polyculture, since it more accurately captures the sense of the sustainable practices that can provide food to the masses.  I also don't object to the use of chemicals to control pests.  Nature does it in our absence.  Polyculture, as is pointed out in the very readable "Omnivore's Dilemma", minimises the need for synthetic intervention in natural processes. But there is likely to always be some need.  Moderation in all things.

The question we face is not whether polyculture can produce the same amount of wheat or soybeans or rice or corn as monoculture.  The question is what do we need to do to maintain the productive capacity of land, lake and sea, to adequately feed the current population and the anticipated increase in population, until peak population around 2075 (Longman, Philip) and afterwards.  

For this task, polyculture, an ancient practice now enhanced by decades of research and experimentation, is most ably suited.  Nonetheless, monoculture will continue for some time past peak oil, as institutional inertia and a continued, albeit declining, supply of hydrocarbons will encourage its persistence.    

you obviously know shite about soil or agriculture.

Neither do you seemingly.

it is well known among agronomists that most of the soil degradation in the crescent (which covers an area from the mediterranean to iran) has occurred in recent decades

The first recorded civilisation of the Sumerians was thriving in the southern Tigris-Euphrates Valley by the 4th millennium B.C. Over the course of years, Sumerian irrigation practices destroyed the pedosphere in such a way that this civilisation collapsed.
In the fertile crescent Tigris-Euphrates rivers salted up 5-2 millennia ago and ... creating serious problems of soil salinization in Syria and Iraq.

Look at the whole text.

You might start here http://history-world.org/sumeria.htm for a serious analysis of Sumerian history.

For three thousand years after the end of the Sumerian period, the land between the rivers, produced food in abundance, and many civilizations rose and fell.

Thinking logically and learning to do research will serve you well.  Locating a single citation by persons out of their field and possibbly out of their depth does not amount to research.

Today, 85% of the minerals that were in North America's soil in 1900 are gone.

I read something like that in Discover last year:

Can common nutrients curb violent tendencies and dispel clinical depression?

In 1997 a British study compared the mineral content of fruits and vegetables grown in the 1930s with the mineral content of produce grown in the 1980s. It found that several nutrients had dropped dramatically, including calcium (down nearly 30 percent), iron (down 32 percent), and magnesium (down 21 percent).

Apparently, farmers treat aggressive, antisocial behavior in pigs with high doses of vitamins and minerals.  One decided to try it on his psychotic kids.  It worked, and he managed to get some scientists on his side.  I believe there's a large-scale study going on now.  

At the time the above article was written, the Canadian government had declared the vitamin therapy quackery, but since then, they lost a court case.  The judge ruled that there was plenty of evidence it worked.  

Today, 85% of the minerals that were in North America's soil in 1900 are gone.

Is that information from "Against the Grain"? I would like to see the source for that. My understanding, which could certainly be wrong, is that soil is composed of minerals, organic matter, and microorganisms in horizons. Minerals, in a geologic sense, are the rocky material that makes up the strata underneath the topsoil and part of the material in the topsoil. If you strip away the topsoil, you're left with minerals, in the form of whatever the underlying soil horizons are made of in your area. I've certainly heard that we've lost a lot of organic soil and topsoil, but I'm a little less clear on how you lose minerals.

Is that information from "Against the Grain"? I would like to see the source for that.

I actually found it just yesterday, and I'm still trying to find the ultimate source for it.  I found this table reproduced several times, and it seems to have originally come from a report done for the U.S. Senate, though I haven't been able to track it down yet (like I said, I found this yesterday):

Soil depletion by continent
North America - 85%
South America - 76%
Asia - 76%
Africa - 74%
Europe - 72%
Australia - 55%

Apparently, at least the 85% figure is cited by Randall Fitzgerald in The Hundred-Year Lie.

I've certainly heard that we've lost a lot of organic soil and topsoil, but I'm a little less clear on how you lose minerals.

They're probably referring to minerals useful to plants, which is just a small subset of the total.  I've been trying to track down more on this, so help is appreciated.

First, as you wrote above, it's "soil depletion by continent", which if it's referring to topsoil, I might buy (in 40lb bags).  I'm not convinced that it applies to minerals.  Soil is usually much more than minerals, though petrochemical-based farming is destroying the non-mineral components of the soil.

Second, I notice that the primary definition of "mineral" is based on geology/chemistry, but the fourth meaning is minerals that are essential to the nutrition of plants and animals.  So, while silica is a mineral, it is not a mineral that is essential to the nutrition of plants and animals.

Also, if you do a websearch on mineral depletion, you get far fewer hits (and many of those are about oil depletion!) than if you search for soil depletion.

Yes, I found this on a search for soil depletion.  I found this table at:


I normally wouldn't consider any one of these sources terribly reliable on its own, but the same numbers indicate a common source that may be credible.  The second one seems to indicate the source is a Senate report of some kind.  This is why I mentioned my trouble tracking down the source; I would very much like to find it.  I can't definitively say what those numbers refer to, only my assumptions, until I find that source.

You lose minerals by harvesting the crops.  Some are replaced via synthetic fertilizer, but not all.

I've heard modern American agriculture described as more like hydroponics than farming.  Since the farmer has to provide all the nutrients.

"Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food"
Bartlett (1978)
Yep it's like hydroponics, the soil is considered just a mass to hold the artificial fertilizers.

I've seen this in the apartment complex here - they have a bunch of guys of low intelligence but cheap to hire, ordered to "keep the grounds neat" so they go around and remove any organic matter (leaves etc) every other day and it's been a process of removing the nutrients from the soil and turning it into a dead mass. Ivy barely grows now, weeds are unknown, and the mass that was once soil is cracked and barren, with stringy ivy just barely hanging on.

If they were smart they'd have let the ivy grow, and only trim the edges back. Removed large fallen twigs etc but let the small organic stuff get trapped in the ivy "mat". The "mat" would gradually get taller, greener, and more beautiful. It would become a treasurehouse underneath of trapped material, that feeds it. Just add water and trim as needed. Which would make this a beautiful complex. But no, that takes some intelligence......

If I have it correctly, hydroponics became popular because it's the logical extension of how corporate farming is done in the US. Hydroponics was seen as a way to completely control the process, no more messy ol' soil. It was seen as a way for space station inhabitants to grow something to get a break from those Space Food Sticks, and lastly it was seen as a way to grow pot inside your house.

Yes, but 85% loss?  If you're using the primary meaning of mineral, that makes no sense whatsoever.  If you're using the quaternary meaning, it's still much harder to believe than 85% of organic material or 85% of topsoil.  All of the depletion I've heard about to that extent is topsoil or organic matter, or soil organisms.  Poor agriculture practices have certainly resulted in significant loses of topsoil, and probably in large losses of essential minerals as well, but 85% of minerals sounds like mistake.
Flaws...I don't think this is a statistical matter.  

Stone age, iron age,  middle ages,  1900s,  whatever...it isn't going to be the Jetson's that is for sure.

Mauraders - gangs, thugs, whatever you like to call them - there will be bad people who will take what you have - violently.   (see eg Katrina - N.O., La, the Sudan, Ethopia, Argentina,  Russia,  Brazil...)

In his essay,  it would appear that he assumes die off, not 6 billion people sustaining on gathering or agriculture, but I could be wrong.    If you factor this into his essay, then the planning he suggests is just about surviving through the mess until things level off.

I think it would be very difficult to encompass all the possibilities in a short essay.  

I think he has the right idea in general.   Like in life (BAU),  you have to plan for yourself, then for the community, then the nation.    And clearly, there is little action at the national level, and in most communities,  so you have to do something for yourself ifi you want to survive.

My 2 cents is if you think staying in the big city is a great idea, your smoking something great...send me a bag.

It's all about population!

P wrote:

And the last enormous flaw is the suggestion that hordes of hungry people will turn into a vast army of marauders. The sad thing is that famine produces apathy, as the history of the Ukranian, Chinese and Ethiopian famines shows.

While this last sentence is obviously true, it does not tell the whole story. As Steven LeBlanc explains in his great book "Constant Battles":

Humans starve only when there are no other choices. One of those choices is to attempt to take either food, or food-producing land, from someone else. People do perceive resource stress before they are starving. If no state or central authority is there to stop them, they will fight before the situation gets hopeless.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the Somalian famine of the early 90s. The starving were very apathetic but that was because those not starving had already taken all their food and resources from them. Theese were marauding gangs led by a warlord.

People will fight for food as long as they have the strength. They will plan, scheme, organize, and do whatever is necessary to keep themselves alive. That is, as long as there is no strong central government controlling their every move.  But when the situation gets obviously hopeless and they begin to starve, they become very apathetic, lay down and die, just like the Somalians did.

I might add that the warlords are still there, and getting fat. Somalia is currently the only nation in the world with no central government. Each warlord rules his little patch of turf. Perhaps this is a picture of most of the world in fifty years.....or less.

Ron Patterson

Jasper Becker's book, Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, describes a practice known as "swap children, then eat." Parents couldn't bear to kill and eat their own children, so they would trade with a neighbor.  You eat theirs, they eat yours.

I have previously suggested that we use Cornucopians as a food supply.  What was that Twilight Zone episode, "How to serve humans?"
Wasn't that based on Damon Knight's short story, To Serve Man?  "It's a cookbook!"
"How to Serve Man"  When I first saw it, I thought no one would be dumb enough to board a spacecraft with an alien race we hardly knew, but now ...

I reponded to the anti-wind letters in my local paper, and although they spelled my name wrong, they did finally publish it:

That has the ghastly ring of truth to it.  Britain's MI5 has a maxim that society is only four meals away from anarchy.

As a little black humour, here are the lyrics from the song "Going Hunting" by the Canadian group "The Arrogant Worms":

We're goin' huntin'
We're gonna kill somethin'
I don't care what it is
Maybe a raccoon, maybe a gopher,
Maybe the neighbour's kids!

That has the ghastly ring of truth to it.  Britain's MI5 has a maxim that society is only four meals away from anarchy.
As a little black humour, here are the lyrics from the song "Going Hunting" by the Canadian group "The Arrogant Worms":

We're goin' huntin'
We're gonna kill somethin'
I don't care what it is
Maybe a raccoon, maybe a gopher,
Maybe the neighbour's kids!

THIS is why some people call us an echo chamber for the insane!

God, how disgusting.

Some of us have a higher tolerance than others for grim realities and the gallows humour they inspire.

It is useful, though, to understand that human beings in extremis are capable of just about anything.  That knowledge makes it clear why keeping nightmare scenarios from becoming a reality is so crucial.

Knowing what humans can do in extreme circumstances is one thing -making jokes about it is another enitrely.
Sometimes you have to either laugh or cry, and you can't be crying all the time.
Humor has long been a way to deal with things utterly and completely not funny.

My uncle, a cop can crack some pretty off color jokes, but after riding around with him one day on a "slow" day, it didn't take me long to realize that if he didn't have his sense of humor, he probably wouldn't have his sanity.

I'm sure there are surgeons, military personnel, EMS, aid workers, and hosts of other professions that fall back to the same defense that our minds have in humor.

If PeakOil is as bad as doomers predict, I'll take some off color gallows humor from my fellow survivors, over them going insane and doing something stupid.

OH FOR THE LOVE OF... (insert personal deity here)!

The Arrogant Worms are a grass roots comedy band.

They also sing about the screams of vegetables being boiled and peeled not to mention an all-time personal drinking favorite - the Saskatchewan River Pirates.

Gebus man.  


The Last Saskatchewan Pirate has been found!


Please enjoy some true Canadian heritage.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm out for the long weekend and off to the pub.  Be needing to find me some rum and crew fer me ship.

I dont think we are an echo chamber for the insane.
Any reasonably in-depth study of PO or peak water, peak minerals etc drags you, ineluctably, towards the nightmare of the chasm. Once knowledgeable of PO and all its awful ramifications, then you realise that staying out of the chasm will be exceedingly difficult. PO is the stuff of nightmares for any sane person.

PO and our innability to face it head on and deal with it is insane.

But on the other hand, if you want a real echo chamber of the insane, try Hannity and Colmes, The Oh really factor, or that scary-skinny blonde nazi bitch (Coulter?). Or even that squeaky voiced, bug-eyed, bat-eared twelve year old uber-capitalist they wheel on, whose name (If he has one) escapes me.

First time I saw Fox,  I thought it was some kind of advanced satirical piss-take... Like Brass Eye, or the Time Trumpet.

Or just read anything by Yergin.

or that other one, on tonight

Charles Krauthammer

talk about ''mad, bad and dangerous to know''.

pure Adams Family

"I might add that the warlords are still there, and getting fat. Somalia is currently the only nation in the world with no central government. Each warlord rules his little patch of turf. Perhaps this is a picture of most of the world in fifty years.....or less."

Hello Ron,

I see that you continue, like most doomsters, to bend reality to fit your conclusion.  Popularly supported Islamic militias, guided by a clear concept of governance through law, have largely routed the warlords from Somalia's capital city and other parts of the country.  It is only support from the USA that gives these warlords any hope of recovery.  Their hopes do not rest with hunger among the population, nor with any other scarcity of resources.

The success of this popular movement in Somalia undermines rather convincingly your take on history and its direction.

I note your use yesterday of the example of the Police Strike in Montreal in 1969, and subsequent riot, to fuel your downward spiral through the circles of your personal inferno.  Please note:  99.99 of the people of Montreal remained calm, respectful and law-abiding throughout this incident.  The tiny group of hooligans were quickly corraled by other agencies.  This incident in no way should be used to try to add credence to your religious conviction in the inevitability of social disaster as tradeable energy declines in availability (and quality).

As far back as we can see in time, we have had one form or another of governance.  We have always found ways to deal with anti-social behavior.  Call it dependence on the strong arm of the law if you like.  But the law rests on a stronger foundation of love, logic and learning, qualities intrinsic to our humanity and never more than temporarily upset by events.  

War is the worst form of anti-social behaviour.  In my father's lifetime (1903-2000) there was plenty of this.  It was also the age of oil.  But the age is ending, changes are coming.  At this point in time, there is as much, if not more, reason to believe that the future holds a decline in war and other forms of anti-social behaviour.  For example, the declining influence of hydrocarbons will weaken the US and the imperial ambitions of its elites. It will weaken the State of Israel (and hopefully save the nation of Israel from retribution)and contain its reckless pursuit of evermore territory.  Said territorial ambitions having nothing to do with shortages of food, though demand for water for swimming pools and hi-tech industry certainly plays a role. When the US (and Israel)is reeled into the tent of international law and the warmongering face punitive repercussions for their behaviour, then you can expect peace to break out in many corners of the globe.  You can also expect that the use of brute force in places such as Chechyna will not be so easily executed without repercussions and perpetuators everywhere will be more cautious.

I don't expect violence to end with the end of the era of cheap energy, nor with the full internationalization of the rule of law.  But there is every reason to hope that the 21st and subsequent centuries will see less of it than did the horrible age of oil.

Toilforoil wrote:
I see that you continue, like most doomsters, to bend reality to fit your conclusion.  Popularly supported Islamic militias, guided by a clear concept of governance through law, have largely routed the warlords from Somalia's capital city and other parts of the country.

Pure and absolute poppycock! Read the truth here.

The country has a weak transitional government operating largely out of neighboring Kenya and the southern city of Baidoa. Most of Somalia is in anarchy, ruled by a patchwork of competing warlords; the capital is too unsafe for even Somalia's acting prime minister to visit.

At least I can post URLs to support my position Toil For Oil, you, like a poster above, post a statement with no proof or reference whatsoever and expect that position to be taken as truth. It is not, it is pure fiction.

And yes, the US may indeed be supporting the warlords in Somalia. That is because al-Qaeda is trying to form a government there. I will not defend either the US position or that of al-Qaeda, but my point is you are simply dead wrong in saying that Islamic militias have routed the warlords. If that were the case there would be no need for them to have their headquarters in Kenya.

Toilforoil wrote:

Please note: 99.99 of the people of Montreal remained calm, respectful and law-abiding throughout this incident. The tiny group of hooligans were quickly corraled by other agencies. This incident in no way should be used to try to add credence to your religious conviction in the inevitability of social disaster as tradeable energy declines in availability (and quality).

Where did you get that 99.99 (percent?) of the people remained calm and law abiding? Got a URL for that? No, you just pulled that figure right out of your posterior, the same place you got your information on Somalia. At any rate that means only one in 10,000 took place in the riots. Montreal, at that time, had a population of approximately 1.3 million. That means only about 130 people did all that damage. Yeah Right! It took the Army and the Mounties to restore order. But all this misses the point. The point is, when the rule of law disappears, all hell breaks loose. Thomas Hobbes pointed this out five hundred years ago. Without the rule of law people will simply behave like the animals they are.

The rest of your post is nothing but pure rant about the "US and the imperial ambitions of its elites." I am not here to defend the actions of the US nor those of your beloved Islamic Terrorists. I will only say that your idea that the end of oil will bring about the end of war is nothing but ideological dreaming. A far higher percentage of the population died as a result of conflict in the days of tribal societies than today, and it will be so in the future. You should brush up on your history as well as current events Toil, instead of praising the ideological and violent actions of your beloved Islamic Terrorists, or, as you call them:

Popularly supported Islamic militias, guided by a clear concept of governance through law,

Good Lord, how ridiculous can one possibly get!

Ron Patterson

About the riots, all I can say is an armed society is a polite society and the one thing that keeps rioters out of the 'burbs whether in the US or in Canada is Mr Ex-Boy Scout who got his marksmanship badge, standing on his roof with his deer rifle. Your good old Joe Average Blow, who goes out with his buddies for deer and dove in season, that's who is the real police. I'm not going to go into types who have 14 army-looking rifles and all that, although those guys factor in too, my point is, when you have a centralized Corpgov that disarms everyone but their cronies (and thus the criminals must be considered their cronies) you get this kind of thing. Among hunter-gatherers, everyone's got a spear, a bow'n'arrow, etc. and these societies are known for their absence of violence against each other - if it's called for, there are stylized and less lethal ways of settling things.

Riots and warlordism are another wonderful byproduct of the corpgov way of life!

About the riots, all I can say is an armed society is a polite society

I hear that Miss Manners writing a new edition from the politeness capital of the planet, Baghdad.


and the one thing that keeps rioters out of the 'burbs whether in the US or in Canada is Mr Ex-Boy Scout who got his marksmanship badge, standing on his roof with his deer rifle.

What happens when the rioters are mr Ex-Boy scout and mr ex-marine sharpshooter and have M-16s, and they want your food?

You know, these kinds of scenarios (the bad guys come and have lots of guns) have come up on prep and survival forums for years and been discussed to death (a play on words, I suppose).

I can't speak to suburban or urban areas.  Here is a 300 page plus story about a suburban area with lots of good, usable information and a good read.  I highly recommend it.


But, I live on the top of a mountain in the boondocks and what we'll do is kill them all.  A well positioned person with a 22LR with a noise/flash suppressor and a scope can take out all the guys with M-16's before they know what's happening.  But almost everyone has a 30-30 or 30-06 or a 308 that can problably take them out from beyond an accurate range for an M-16.

I can't speak for other areas but the "bad guys" are going to hang close to the roads.  They are not going to climb up 60 degree slopes in the woods in the hope of finding something to raid.

Further, there is an ERoEI investment cost in the boondocks since homes are far apart and it assumes that roads will provide access to vehicles (wrong).

There's lots more but that's enough.

''I can't speak for other areas but the "bad guys" are going to hang close to the roads.  They are not going to climb up 60 degree slopes in the woods in the hope of finding something to raid.''

Until they read this....

Bad Guys tend to be quite smart.

I just checked the Lights Out link since I hadn't looked at and it's actually a total of 611 pages.
Left out,  looked at it "for a while."  Not that it matters.
"Taking out the bad guys"

Yes the 22LR say a Ruger 10-22 with a bull barrel can be quite accurate and deadly out to about 125 yds. I can place three shots in about a 3 inch group , with a very well setup 3x9 scope....BUT  

I will take a Sako .243 winchester bolt action anyday with which I can reach out to 300 yds with some good knockdown power.

I have reloading equipment for the .243 but I am buying more ammo for the 10-22 since its an excellent small game rifle and light to carry. You can stock up many cases of .22LR ammo at a reasonable cost. AND you can replace the 10 round factory clip with a bannana clip of 30,40 or 50 round capacity.

For close in I prefer a Ruger P345 or a semi auto 12 guage.

Everyone to his own taste and what works best for them.

In my state we passed a Concealed Carry law. It makes it tougher on the criminals when they are unsure as to whether or not you are armed.

Also a fine carry weapon I am discovering is the Keltec in .380....the men who work at my favorite gun shop carry this piece everywhere they go , legal or not.

Disclaimer:I am not a card carrying member of the NRA, I just believe in the right to survive and not be harmed by others. I don't sense that much altruism abroad in the land. I sense quite the opposite. Like a recent trip to DC where we came very close to being carjacked.

To me finding  such crime right next(5 blocks away) to the nations Capitol speaks volumes to me about preparedness and the role of government.

With all respect to any and all victims of gun-related crime or warfare,
past, present and future.

Yet again the gung-ho Rambo-like duke-it-out-at-my-homestead
Holloywoodesque naive american gun-lobby mentality rears it's ugly head in
the forum.

I fully understand that ownin' guns and prayin' in school is what the US
is all about, and that ownin' guns is your constitutional right and what
defines you as a good christian americans.

Before I go further into this rant, I must stress that I do not embrace
the scenarios below, neither as likely or desireable. And they will
probably not come true in old-World Europe, and us Europeans will probably
not have to worry about this at all, just the quiet degradation of

However, let's assume as a theoretical scenario that TS really HTF and
it gets really, really, really bad. Starvation and misery in the cities in
the future, refugees roaming the countryside, and eventually armed bands
of mauraders or raiders. To draw some pop-culture references, think
Lucifer's Hammer, think The Postman, think Mad Max.

First, yes, ownin' a gun might let you as a good christian scare off any
visitors, without having to talk to them or needing to offer them food and
a days shelter in exchange for a days labour. Or you can as a good
christian just kill them right away for trespassing on your property. At
least if they are a hungry, confused, desperate and impoverished family,
maybe having a knife, stick or a club or a simple handgun or something.
Good luck with that, I hope you will sleep well at night after butchering
a starving family.

But sooner or later, in the above scenario, there will be ex-military
people taking up raiding. I'll say good luck to you for dukin' it out at
your homestead, Rambo-like, but without any ficitional special forces


I will now briefly describe how the attack on your homestead will proceed,
given a party of about 10 raiders, who (unlike you) makes a living on
plundering homesteads with gung-ho farmers.

The raiders will have done this before. Every time they raid a farm they
will be able to scavenge weapons, and while they cannot carry everything,
this will let them select the best weapons. Sooner or later they will have
scavenged a homestead and get their hands on a machine-gun or something.
But let's assume that they just have a couple of .30-06 scoped hunting
rifles and a few semi-automatic 5.56 assault rifles.

It is fall. You and your family are working in the fields, harvesting
crops. As you are gung-ho you will have your guns with you. Your oldest
son stands guard.

The raiders will take their time, recon two or three firing positions
200-400 meters away, and then sneak up to one of those positions and
proceed with a coordinated simultaneous fire-assault.

You're wife's chest explodes as a .30-06 oryx-bonded hunting bullet
pierces her torso (a bullet capable of downing a 600 kg (1300 lbs) moose
or a 250 kg (600lbs) boar at 150 meters in a single shot), splattering you
with her blood and lung tissue. Then you will hear smattering shounds of
the shots, and you will look up as a reflex. As you look up you see how
the head of your oldest son explodes from a 5.56 full metal jacket, while
a second bullet tears off his arm making it drop to the ground before his
body does. You still don't know where the shots came from. As adrenalin,
fear and emotion overwhelms you and you dive for cover in a ditch, you see
how your daughter fall over back at the barnyard, cluthing her stomach as
her instestines wallow out on the ground, her screaming pierces the clear
air. She will continue to scream endlessly for 30 minutes as she bleeds

Now, in spite of being in a total panic from seeing half of your family
torn to bits, and in spite of bullets hitting the rim of the ditch, you
gather strength and manage to think and behave rationally. You ready your
weapon, unchecks the safety, check that no mud has entered the barrel as
you dove into the ditch (wrong order, but hey, you're under a lot of
pressure here), and you carefully peek over the edge of the ditch, braving
the bullets, just to try to identify where the attackers are. A sharp
flash of pain hits you as a 5.56 passes close to your head, tearing of
your ear in the process and causing your ear to pop. However, you still
ignore this and manages to identify where the attackers where, from some
residual gunsmoke. You bring up your own .30-06 and aim through the scope
at the small hill where the fire assualt took place. And see nothing.

The raiders are already on their way re-locating to an alternate firing
position. You strenghten yourself, and run out of the ditch, ignoring the
body of your wife and oldest son, ignoring the incessant screams of your
mortally wounded daughter and run back towards the farmhouse. As you do,
you see your two remaining sons exiting the barn, brandishing their
weapons, not behaving as rationally as you do (as they never saw combat in
Iraq, as you did in the National Guard).

The sniper's bullet hits your youngest son straight in the chest, and he
just drops to his knees and fall over. Your remaining son starts firing
his assualt-rifle at something, but by now the raiding party has reached
their alternate firing position and open fire once again. Your second son
explodes as a dozen bullets hit him.

Still you're unharmed, except for the missing ear. But finally your
emotions and fear overwhelm you. When you were in combat in the Gulf, you
fought alongside your squad of semi-professionals, and even though you
became as close, or closer than, as a family, you still had a professional
relationship and could take the loss of a brother-in-arms rationally. But
now, you've seen your entire family torn to bits, much like you saw many
Iraqi families torn to bits by car-bombs or collateral damage. You just
collapse into a foetal position and start sobbing. (No, not you, gentle
reader, as you will be able to stand the pressure and act cooly and
rationally under the above circumstances. Ah irony)

The raiders quitely collects your family's abandaned weapons. One raider,
in a moment of compassion, puts a bullet through the head of your
screaming daughter. You recognize him. Isn't that the lieutentant from
that special forces unit you supported once in Iraq? He seems to be the
leader of the raiding party.

He walks over to where you are held tied up to a fence. As he brings out
his knife, he smiles and ask, "Now, we can do this the hard way or the
easy way. I don't care which. Where are your supplies?"


No way are you going to be able to duke it out at your homestead

I've preached this before. Run away. Attackers will have the element of
surprise. Attackers will have the initiative. Running away let's you get
reinforcements, and might make you live slightly longer. If your two
youngest sons above hadn't been overcome by emotions and instead
rationally run off, they might have survived. I expect naive rebuttals
like "I will hit them before they hit me". Well, good luck with that. You
only need to fail once. And also, what kind of person are you, who will
just open fire on anyone approaching your homestead? Yeah, that will make
necessary trade of goods, services and information easy...

Also, if you think of fighting back, first realize you do not have to
sit on something to defend it. Scout several firing positions in advance,
positions which cover the approaches to and from your homestead, from
where you can deny access (or take them out as they leave) without having
to sit on the objective. Set up one or two rallying points a bit into the
woods, where you store a few days of food and water as well as guns,
ammunition, medical supplies and communication devices. If you never
brandish arms, and just run into the woods empty-handed, chances are that
no bullets (in short supply) will be wasted into your backs as you
obviously are of no danger to the raiders. Then you can muster and
counter-attack at a time and place of your choice. You can very well deny
raiders your homestead by sniping at them from afar, once they have taken
it over. The scenario above will be reversed, you will have the
intitative, and the only things a 10-man raiding party can do is to hide
or run away.
They won't find your sniping positions as you have superior local
knowledge, and any outflanking attempts will be stopped by ambushes by the
non-snipers in your household.

As you can keep the raiders contained at your homestead indefinetly by
switching firing positions and denying outflanking, you can spare a person
to get reinforcements from neighbouring homesteads, the law-enforcement,
milita, Home Guard, National Guard or whatever setup you have. And as you
get a superior force by firearms and numbers, as well as with superior
local knowledge and regular joint training, they will send the raiders
a-packin, or even better - bring them to justice, whatever that will mean.

But the best way to defend your homestead is not to have to defend it. If
you can setup a joint defense of your community/county/valley/whatnot,
with listening posts at all approaches as well as mobile recon teams on a
rotating basis, you can give a heads up to the community beforehand, so
that raiders can be stopped before they reach a single homestead. But this
requires hundreds of farms so that you can spare the manpower for
listening posts, mobile recon and communications headquarters and command
and control.

A second alternative is to not fight back at all. Have the white flag up
at all times. Convincing a raiding party that by you paying tribute (yup,
hurts doesn't it) to them, make it possible for them to return for tribute
next year. The odds of succeeding at that are probably higher than armed
resistance. Odds are also that the raiders will be killed by someone else,
one at a time, before next year, so perhaps no tribute necessary come next

Sooner or later someone will muster a force big enough to become a feudal
war-lord who will extract tribute, Postman-like, from all farms in an
area, in exchange for "protection". Unless you manage to set up a defense
force by yourselves.


I do not find the above likely, I do not find it desireable. More likely
will be misinformed riots and plunder inside the cities, as obviously the
rich still have food, so let's all go steal it back...

But please, get the "I can defend my homestead" out of your head, unless
you're trained in military small-unit tactics and have an absolutely
optimal setup where no-one can approach your homestead (even by crawling
at night) without being discovered 24/7 before they get inside gun-range.
A machine-gun has a effective reach of well over 1000 meters, so you need
to be in the open. But how do you solve the crawling at night issue....
(How?) It is very difficult to spot/measure distance to a firing position
set up in the middle of a field, with no discernible land-marks. Are you
going to have a person dedicated to standing guard 24/7 on a rotating
basis? That will take away much needed manpower from other stuff.

He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.

Do not fear. Accept, embrace, understand, respect and prepare.

But like I said, the above is neither likely nor desireable.

How much armed raiders did you have in the Great Depression of the 1930:s?

The world does not end with a bang, but with a whimper.

However, let's assume as a theoretical scenario that TS really HTF and
it gets really, really, really bad. Starvation and misery in the cities in
the future, refugees roaming the countryside, and eventually armed bands
of mauraders or raiders. To draw some pop-culture references, think
Lucifer's Hammer, think The Postman, think Mad Max.

Now let's take a real-world, historical example.

The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648

I lived in Montreal for all of 1969. My wife and I hardly even noticed the Ploice Strike (we were preoccupied by getting married).

As she said, Canadians (even River Pirates) don't get too excited about anything.

thank-you for the link, self-proclaimed Darwinian.

It leads to a story of May 17, 2006 headed "US Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia", a story which illustrates my point about the nefarious effects of the imperialist policies of the Empire in Decline.

While I hate to arrest your dark descent into the hell of your imagination, here is a round-up of news from Reuters of August 25, 2006: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/1f19eb00766bdcb4937bb059ab0251bf.htm

SOMALIA: Mogadishu port re-opens after 11 years
As another sign of improved security in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the country's main port was officially re-opened on Thursday after more than 11 years.
"The chairman of the courts [Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed] officially opened the port today [Thursday]," said Sheikh Umar Ahmed Weheliye, the port manager. Full story at:
SOMALIA: Islamic courts ban trade in charcoal and wildlife
The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which controls the capital, Mogadishu, and much of south and central Somalia, issued a directive on Tuesday banning exports of charcoal and rare birds and animals, an official told IRIN.
The Executive Committee of the UIC issued the directive after a full committee meeting agreed to the ban, Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar, the UIC Vice-Chairman, said. Full story at:
SOMALIA: Premier appoints new cabinet
Somalia's interim Prime Minister, Ali Muhammad Gedi, on Monday appointed a 31-member cabinet, two weeks after the dissolution of the previous one amid disagreements over the premier's handling of peace talks between the transitional government and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who heads Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), dissolved the cabinet on 7 August, a week after a vote of no-confidence in Gedi was defeated in parliament. Full story at:

Sorry to present you with so much good news.  I should say it accords with reports from the many Somalians who live in my neighbourhood.  

As for the Montreal riot of 1969, which you try to use to somehow demonstrate the inevitability of crisis and chaos after peak oil, the toll was: 108 arrested, 20 injured, $11 million (Canadian adjusted to 2006 value) in property damage.  After some overnight violence, by hooligans, some military were posted at public buildings, the fear being that separatists might try to take advantage of the situation.  Nothing happened.  The 1969 riot barely compares to the 1955 riot following the suspension of famed hockey player, Maurice, the Rocket, Richard.

Hardly a descent into chaos.  

But apparently Steven Pinker still wet himself :-)
This was at Energy Biz today:

The Intrigue of On-site Power

  September 1, 2006

With folks still sweating over the summer heat wave, attention remains focused on increasing electricity reliability at a reasonable price. As such, distributed generation is in the spotlight.

Ken Silverstein
EnergyBiz Insider

To the extent that businesses derive their power from such on-site generators, the wear and tear on the electric grid is diminished and reliability for customers is enhanced. Costs, technology and fuel supply are still hurdles, which is why customers with overriding power quality concerns will pave the way for others to benefit. Indeed, it appears that the emphasis on reliability will gain traction in certain circles, namely customers and regulators looking for unwavering reliability as well as environmentalists who see such projects as a way to cut harmful emissions.

Implementing distributed generation can be as simple as installing a small electric generator to provide backup power at an electricity consumer's site. Alternatively, it can be a more complex system, consisting of electricity generation, energy storage and demand management systems as well as rate designs to influence customer behavior. Distributed resources that run on fuel cells can be installed by utilities or customers.

According to energy educator Enerdynamics, about 550,000 small distributed generation units now exist in the United States. Of those, roughly 25,000 are operational all the time. By 2020, the American Gas Association has forecast that such facilities will account for 20 percent of all new capacity in this country, or 5 percent of all electricity generated. Some say that will not make enough of a difference on overall grid reliability, and emphasize that building new central generation and transmission is still essential.

The larger industrial users that also recycle the byproduct steam to create heat can justify the investments. Others, such as those businesses that need a continuous supply of energy, must buy distributed generation because of its reliability. On-site power can be clean and efficient when compared to modern combined cycle power plants. Indeed, projects are in the works that are said to be 80 percent efficient compared to 40 percent and 50 percent for coal and modern combined cycle plants, respectively.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for example, is working on a fuel cell that yields an 80 percent efficiency rate -- yet no burning of carbon takes place. "The conversion system must use a low-cost domestic resource, have comparable or lower capital and operating costs, achieve higher efficiency, and capture fuel oxidation products internally to achieve zero emissions of toxic and greenhouse gases," adds Lawrence Dubois, with SRI International, a research firm in Menlo Park, Calif.

Innovations Emerging

Residential fuel cells supply between 2-5 kilowatts of power and are mostly in the experimental stage. Meanwhile, those used for commercial enterprises can generate 200 kilowatts and are implemented if businesses need uninterruptible power or where access to the transmission grid is limited.

Practical applications are taking place. Dow Chemical and General Motors Corp. will integrate earlier fuel cell research and apply it to Dow's Texas operations in Freeport at its chemical and plastics production facility. The fuel cells will produce as much as one megawatt of electricity. If it works, Dow would pursue large-scale commercialization and use as many as 400 fuel cells to generate 35 megawatts of power. That would be enough to power 2 percent of Dow's Texas operations.

The obstacles to wider implementation, however, are high. For starters, many distributed generation technologies rely on natural gas, which is not only expensive but also limited in supply. Others also note that modern combined cycle natural gas plants that are centralized can burn electricity more efficiently than distributed resources.

Meanwhile, many large energy consumers find it less troublesome to buy bulk power from wholesale providers than to generate their own as well as interconnect to the incumbent's grid system. The interconnection issue is particularly problematic because utilities still have to charge customers that link with them, even though they may not be using their power.

At the same time, there is no accepted standard for how to interconnect with the grid -- a dilemma that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is trying to address. That quandary, however, has meant that equipment makers have no customary prototype from which to allow industrials to switch back and forth between power taken from the grid and power generated by on-site facilities. That has diminished the economies of scale that manufacturers might otherwise achieve.

"What is really needed before fuel cells can become economic and begin to have a significant impact is basic innovation in fuel cell materials and chemistry," says David Redstone, editor and publisher of a fuel cell newsletter. "In my view there is nothing 'inevitable' about the prospects for success for the fuel cell industry."

But, lots of research and development is underway. Vancouver, Canada-based Ballard Power Systems is now demonstrating a pre-commercial 1 kilowatt combined heat and power fuel cell generator to be used in the residential market in Japan. At 100 percent capacity, it has a 34 percent electricity efficiency rate, although that can be as high as 92 percent assuming the steam can be captured and re-used.

Along those lines, a recent report from Jackson Associates out of Durham, N.C. says that the Long Island Power Authority needs to increase generation by 100 megawatts per year through 2011. The study says that natural gas-fueled distributed generation could supply as much as 63 percent of that need.

The utility already uses 17 fuel cells at several commercial and municipal customer locations. The 5 kilowatt fuel cells are interconnected to the utility's grid and provide electricity and heat to those customers.

While the distributed generation market has promise, it will be limited for now to those businesses that need uninterruptible energy supplies and those that can re-use the steam to create additional energy. That's a small segment. But, costs are falling and new innovations are emerging. And, over time the use of such technology will play a bigger part in the global energy picture.

Interesting article. Thanks for posting.

as well as environmentalists who see such projects as a way to cut harmful emissions

Huh? How is an oil- or natural gas-fired generator different than an oil- or natural gas-fired grid?

Exploration in Eastern Siberia found only 7% of the new oil they were planning to find (link in Russian).
Translation of Article...

Increase in the oil stockpiles in East Siberia and Yakutiya lags behind the plan for 93%.

 01.09.2006, Moscow 16:06:16 increase in the extracted oil stockpiles in the territory of East Siberia and republic of Saha (Yakutiya) lag behind the planned indices to the beginning of 200'g. to 93%, reported the director of the department of gospolitiki in the region of geology and nedropol'zovaniya of the ministry of natural resources of Russia Sergey Fedorov at the session of advisory board with the ministry. According to him, increase in the oil stockpiles was only 5,8 million t against 90,7 million t, planned by the program of geo-study and assignment into the use of the layers of the hydrocarbon raw material of East Siberia and Yakutiya. The state of geological survey works (GRR) on the license obligations in the territory of region it named unsatisfactory, reported press- service MPR. In the region of 66 license sections, in which is provided conducting reconnaissance boring, to 49 are executed less than 25% works from the planned volume. Of 17 sections, in which is provided the fulfillment of seismic survey works ed, less than fourth volume are executed in 14 sections. In this case the significant number of license agreements does not contain conditions on the conducting GRR. The exception the licenses, given out in last three years, compose. Soon commission for the study of the problems about the early curtailment of the right of the use of depths will examine the materials of checkings of the performance of 12 licenses on the largest sections of depths. Among them - The yurubcheno-Takhomskoye and Kuyumbinskoye layers in the territory evenk AO with the volume of reserves on the categories SY-S2 are more than 580 million t. As noted the minister of natural resources Yuri trutnev, MPR will use all provided by law administrative measures for the introduction of changes in the so-called "empty licenses" for the purpose of concrete definition it is timetable and the volumes of performing geological work. In the cases of essential violations of license obligations will be initsiirovana the procedure of the curtailment of the rights of the use of the sections of depths. The sections transmitted into the undistributed fund will be repeatedly advanced at the auctions.



AS I SEE IT: United States faces bigger worries than `hot' fuel


That's a pretty decent article from a local KC boy...good job.

Just to put this in context, the KC Star ran an article last weekend (I think) saying that gas stations were ripping people off because the tanks were hotter than they should be and therefore somehow ripping people off at the pump.

Leanan's first piece of the day, top of the page

United States faces bigger worries than `hot' fuel

We've all heard the term "peak oil" but "net exports" are an even graver oil market fundamental. Current statistics (not projections) indicate global oil exports are falling three to four times faster than oil production, which is down 1.3 percent since the start of the year.

A 5% cut in net exports is at the very least significant, if a guesstimate 50 mbd is exported, we lost 2.5 mbd on the market. I think westexas has been trying to make us aware of this in the past few days, and hope there will be more, and more specifics. Because the problem with this article is that the author does not provide the source of his statistics.

A 5% trend is bad enough, but can be expected to grow as well. It's not just increased domestic consumption, more important may be countries finding out they're in decline, and keeping reserves for themselves. There are voices in Kuwait to make this official policy, and many others will at least be considering it.

That's how we arrive at peak oil as an exponential function: for every percentage point in lost productiion, 3 or 4 more are made unavailable.

I thought I read on this site that exports of oil were 38-40 m/b/d. Where did you get the 50 m/b/d?
BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2006 puts "Trade Movement" of oil at 49.906 mmbd. Given the US figures, I assume this includes both crude oil and refined products.
Roel, "Because the problem with this article is that the author does not provide the source of his statistics."  

As best that I can tell, the author is probably quoting me.  I took the 2004 list of top 10 net oil exporters and compared their May, 2006 production to their December production (EIA, crude + condensate).  

Production by the top 10 net oil exporters was down by 3.0% from December to May.  Note that domestic consumption generally has to be satisfied first.  For example, a country producing two mbpd, consuming one mbpd and exporting one mbpd that had a 25% drop in production would see a 50% drop in exports.

Production by the top exporters, in the first five months of 2006, was dropping more than twice as fast as world production.  If you plug in rising domestic consumption in the exporting countries, you get my estimate that net exports by the top exporters are dropping three to four times faster than world production is dropping.

"Net Oil Exports Revisited"


As of the May, 2006 EIA numbers, the world is down 1.3% since December, an annual decline rate of 3.1% per year, but the top 10 oil exporters are down 3.0%, an annual decline rate of 7.2%.

 I estimate that net oil exports from the top exporters are probably down by 4% to 5% (over a five month period), an annual decline rate of as much as 12% per year, which suggests that exports from the top exporters are falling about three to four times faster than world oil production is falling

I wonder when Canada is going to figure out that it will need to declare "Force Majeure" and abrogate NAFTA Article 605?  If they don't, we in the Great White North are going to turn blue in a hurry.

Canada's in such a bad situation with rspect to exports.  Near as I can tell we produce 3 Mbpd, export better than half of it to the US, and then re-import half of that amount from elsewhere.  Canada's situation is much more precarious than a naive look at production and export numbers would indicate.  If we ever decide to abrogate NAFTA, exports to the USA from their largest foriegn supplier would dry up in short order.  That wouldn't make anyone inside the Beltway very happy...

As best that I can tell, the author is probably quoting me

I figured that too. Not crediting his source does not enhance Anderson's point.

Thanks for the data, much appreciated. Do you have any thoughts on the future of this development? As I said, I am not sure it's actual consumption that accounts for the entire drop in exports, and I would expect hoarding, or whatever name we might give it, to play a role, likely increasingly so.

PS I'm sorry if the guesstimate of 50 mbd total world exports is off a few barrels. My opposable digits are not always reliable, but I allowed myself the laziness, since the argument addresses a trend, not a number.

These pieces in the KC Star are invited guest articles by the "Common Joe/Jane".  They are most times not high on investigative research.

The main point is, overall, he is getting the correct arguement out there in a major newspaper.

"Do you have any thoughts on the future of this development"

My original point many months ago (in my original post in January), was that based on Khebab's HL work, the top exporters (I just looked at the top three) were more depleted than the world was overall--thus my conclusion that production by the top exporters would fall faster than overall production.

If you then plug in the positive feedback loop of rising domestic consumption as we send vast amounts of money to the exporters, you get the "Export Land" model, where exports are squeezed between falling production and rising consumption.

As best that I can tell, the author is probably quoting me.

Heh.  I thought so.  The way he phrased it was very "Westexas."  ;-)


I love this guy Janszen.  

Now is a good time for me to introduce you to my Jocks and Geeks Theory of Monetary and Financial Markets Mismanagement.

Now, the Jocks were starting to worry about their new boy back in March 2006 when it looked like the Fed might keep raising rates and keep draining liquidity, the withdrawl of which had started a shuddering of the financial machinery in emerging markets at the periphery of The System. Was this new head geek some kind of idiot that was going to spoil the whole game for everyone?

The Geeks and Jocks inevitably overdo it, and eventually The System becomes so corrupt and dysfunctional that a crisis occurs, such as the NASDAQ crash.

The Jocks run for cover. If the economic fallout is not too bad, the Geeks can repair the financial system machinery and the game picks up again where it left off, albeit in a new arena.

The entire crew of Geeks and Jocks gets thrown out and replaced by a new regime. A new Head Jock Geek, if you will, ala Paul Volcker, steps in to clean things up.

The new cultural watchword on Wall Street becomes Ethics. But nature over time restores the balance. The Jocks take over, and the game begins anew.

Janszen has addressed peak oil, but he seems to discount it a bit and I believe he may have faith in tech, but I can't seem to find anything on it in the forums.  I'll try again, but in the back of my mind, there won't be a saving grace for the financial meltdown we will witness.

itulip's take on peak oil is here...


very nice. easy to understand, my hats off to you.
Agree, thanks for posting.  
Great!  I particularly like the John Duetch quote catch.  RR could probably do better, but Duetch has some excellent credentials.  

How Middle-Class Families Go Bankrupt

Ninety percent of the families who file for bankruptcy do so following a job loss, a medical problem or a family torn apart by death or divorce

Medical bankruptcies are a modern phenomenon, right? Why didn't we see them at the turn of the century, let alone very often a generation ago?

At the turn of the century, people didn't live as long. And when they got sick, medicine couldn't do much for them. The bad news was that they died. The good financial news was that they didn't go broke. Today we've just reversed it. A person may recover physically from a serious illness, but her family may never recover financially. I have a friend whose child was hit on the head in a soccer game and lost consciousness for a few seconds. They took the little boy to the emergency room, where he spent the day and released him at the end of the day with the diagnosis that he had a bump on his head. The bill was $20,000 ... What would they have done if they hadn't had health insurance? It's not simply people with leukemia and heart transplants who run up large medical bills. It's appendectomies and blown-out knees that can leave a family financially devastated.

Bankruptcy is a symptom of the cause.  We need universal healthcare at least as adequete as any Euro country(danes maybe) and I know all the econ POV's about how bad this is, however I say: Is this working?  I dare say it's broken and hanging on, meanwhile insurance co's LOVE healthcare.
Well, I had an appendectomy last year...fairly routine with about 3 extra days in hospital for complications. I believe the "sticker price" (before insurance company discount) was between $35,000 and $40,000. And some of my friends still have no health insurance...

Medical tourism is on the rise:

My son's tonsilectomoy was around $11,000 before insurance.  My other son's visit to the emergency room for a knocked out tooth....$1,000 pre-insurance.
I can not believe what you pay in the USA.

Here in Australia you can have insurance if you want, about 40% do.  However you can also go to the public hospitals for free if you don't have insurance.  Thats what I do and you always get good treatment.

You can go to any doctor.  Some charge full fees .  Others bulk bill that  means you do not pay.  These are the ones I go to.  So the only thing I pay for is glasses (1 set every 3 or 4 years) and the dentist (usually about $150 every 6 months.  

I am in the top tax bracket but without insurance so I pay an extra 1 0r 2 % tax.

There are more comprehensive systems in Europe but this is better than nothing.  

My major medical policy (with a $4000 deductible) costs me $250/month...thanks for the Aussie perspective, BTW.
Favorite quote on the US healthcare system:

"Only the devil could have invented such a system"--Uwe Reinhardt

After insurance, the tonsillectomy (misspelled up top...sorry) was only about $200 and the emergency room visit only about $14.  It was late enough in the year that I'd hit the family deductible and I have pretty decent insurance.

Those in this country (US) without good insurance are screwed.  

Even those with good insurance are screwed, if they get a serious or chronic illness.  Three quarters of those who declare bankruptcy have insurance when they first got sick.

The problem is that insurance is tied to your job here in the U.S.  If you're so sick you can't work, you eventually lose your insurance.  And of course, the company has incentive to cut you loose as quickly as possible, since you're raising the rates for the rest of their employees.

Even if you don't lose your insurance, there are all kinds of caps, co-pays, etc., even with "good" insurance.  One person with a serious illness can wipe out the coverage for the while family.  When you sign on the dotted line, a three million dollar cap sounds like plenty, but one child with a serious illness can wipe that out quickly.

At my last job, a coworker's husband was very badly injured in an auto accident, and was flat on his back in recovery for over a year.  Last I heard, his old company was terminating him and offering them the usual expensive COBRA, and my company was cutting her to 3 days a week.
This is one of those things that grows out of our system of private insurance enforced by mandates.  COBRA is actually the same rate your company negotiated with its insurer, plus a 2% management fee.

This means that it's all equal.  If I work for company X and my company drove a good insurance rate in general, my COBRA rates will look low.  If company Y could not drive as good a deal, or had a risky pool of employees, etc., etc., then whoever leaves that company will have COBRA rates that look high.

But it's not the COBRA.  It's the system of mandated continued coverage:

When you were an active employee, your employer may have paid all or part of your group health premiums.  Under COBRA, as a former employee no longer receiving benefits, you will usually pay the entire premium amount, that is, the portion of the premium that you paid as an active employee and the amount of the contribution made by your employer.  In addition, there may be a 2 percent administrative fee.


Oops, I meant to open the second pragraph saying that "it's all unequal" of course.
I thought you might like to see what is being worked on in Minnesota using wind energy.


Short abstract below:

"What if you could use wind power to harvest the hydrogen from water, then use that hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, or combine it with nitrogen stripped from the air to make ammonia fertilizer for farmers strapped by rising input costs?"

"The world's first wind-to-hydrogen-to-fertilizer plant will soon be right here in our backyard, specifically at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center, Morris. This is where Mike Reese, Renewable Energy coordinator, will soon be scaling up and testing just such a system powered by a 1.65 megawatt wind turbine already in place, which provides much of the electricity demands of the U of M campus at Morris."

"Reese said design and preliminary testing for the actual production of anhydrous ammonia is already under way with some early results available within the year. It is anticipated the pilot plant will be producing anhydrous ammonia in the fall of 2007. This pilot project is part of the University of Minnesota Renewable Energy Research and Demonstration Center, financed by a $2.5 million package in the 2006 Minnesota bonding bill."

I have heard of people kicking around this concept for a while, but this is the first I have heard of anyone actually attempting to do it. Pretty cool if it works. Good luck to them.
Mr. Technofix himself, Ray Kurzweil, has established yet another project, the Lifeboat Foundation. I have always wondered where he thinks he will find the energy sources for his grand endeavors. So no, this is not a lifeboat for peak oil, or shortages of any kind. It's more about Stephen Hawking wanting to "send humanity into space". I say: let's send Hawking instead.

The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring that humanity safely adopts increasingly powerful technologies, including genetics/biotechnology, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, as we move towards a technological singularity.

Lifeboat Foundation is pursuing a variety of options, including helping to accelerate the development of technologies to defend humanity, including new methods to combat viruses (such as RNA interference and new vaccine methods), effective nanotechnological defensive strategies, and even self-sustaining space colonies in case the other defensive strategies fail.

A technological singularity?
In futures studies, a technological singularity (often the Singularity) is a predicted future event believed to precede immense technological progress in an unprecedentedly brief time. Futurists give varying predictions as to the extent of this progress, the speed at which it occurs, and the exact cause and nature of the event itself....

Another school, promoted heavily by Ray Kurzweil, claims that technological progress follows a pattern of exponential (or super-exponential) growth, suggesting rapid technological change in the 21st century. Kurzweil considers the advent of superhuman intelligence to be part of an overall exponential trend in human technological development seen originally in Moore's Law and extrapolated into a general trend in Kurzweil's own Law of Accelerating Returns. Unlike a hyperbolic function, Kurzweil's predicted exponential model never experiences a true mathematical singularity.

This is a new one for me, sometimes I think I've seen everything but I'm always wrong. I've got a post coming on Cornucopians, maybe I can squeeze this in somewhere.

Meanwhile, guess who this is:

Superhuman Intelligence

Viewing the image is not allowed!

Kurzweil extrapolates Moore's Law, and takes it from there, basically.

I maintain that we are rapidly approaching a technological singularity, alright, just not that one Kurzweil dreams of.

Zero points on the picture. Cheney in drag?

At a recent business meeting, the big boss handed copies of Kurzweil's book out to everybody. The guy and his ideas sound utterly insane to me, but apparently it's dogma in some signification chunk of the technocratic elite. Hard for me to be optimistic with this kind of disconnect so prominent. If only this were the worst of the disconnects!
I read Singularity, and it is one of those books that kind of blows your mind. He doesn't really address energy issues in the book, other than to basically say future computing needs would require much less energy. I remember that discussions on where the energy would come from to drive this futuristic society were missing.

But, I recommend the book. It will just blow you away to see the vision that some people have of the future. And Kurzweil is no dummy; I just think he has blinders on.

Right, he's no dummy, he's just delusional.
Delusional disorder ... is a type of serious mental illness called a "psychosis" in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue.

Conventional anti-psychotics include Thorazine, Prolixin, Haldol, Navane, ...


I guess he has been influenced by "why stock markets crash - critical events in complex financial systems" by Didier Sornette, a professor of geophysics at the university of California. The basic argument is, that in a finite world exponential or even superexponential growth leads to a singularity were the system fails. A fascinating book with many mathematical insights on fractals, self organising systems, log periodicity, power laws,  and system failure for the lay person.
D. Sornette holds  patents for stress testing and predicting failure points  of the fuel tanks of the european ariane rocket. He has three scenarios for the future.
 a) collapse
 b) transition to sustainability
 c) resuming accelerating growth by overpassing fundamental barriers - (computers may "awake" with superhumanly intelligence, biotechnology may improve human nature, computer human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhuman..) Based on the analysis of various data sets, not the least beeing population increase and carrying capacity, He predicts the occurrence of this "singularity" around 2050 +/- 10 yrs.
It was good to see your's and Dave's views on Kurzweil. I haven't read his book. But I heard an hour-long interview with him. I probably shouldn't comment.

If I may ask, what was your internal reaction to your boss when he did this?  My guess is something out of Dilbert!


forget this BS:

You were right about the Shrinking Willys:

''Polar Bear Penises Shrink--Are Humans Next?

Bristly, 1000-pound brutes willing to claw it out for females and whisk them off for a week of spirited shagging, male polar bears might hook up with several mates in a season. They are not the stripe of male to suffer from any image problems when it comes to, well, having the right equipment--not, at least, until today, when the Nunatsiaq News of the Nunavik region of Arctic Quebec--surely an authority on polar bears--reported that their penises are shrinking.

A photograph accompanying the article shows a woman holding 20-odd polar bear penis bones, which were found by a recent study to be significantly shorter in bears exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals. The findings, published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, adds fuel to concerns that a massive buildup of pesticides in the bodies of Arctic animals and hunters is causing environmental and health problems (see the story in Mother Jones). The issue may compound troubles caused by the bears' loss of Arctic habitat. "Added to the stress of climate change," the Nunatsiaq News points out, "this could be bad news for their survival."

The same toxic buildup taking place in polar bears is happening to a lesser but increasing degree in the fatty tissues of humans--even in some places outside the Arctic. For the sake of our own mating rituals, let's hope the global masculinity index isn't going bearish.

Posted by Josh Harkinson

From Mother Jones (he says in a squeaky voice).

Yeah, I linked to this af ew days ago on my breaking news page. I did a project on environmental estrogens for my high school audio/video class way back in 1994. It was a video PSA entitled "Environmental Estrogens: We're Half the Men We Used to Be." As you might imagine, I was ridiculed to no end for that one.

As far as what to do about it, I've already started supplementing my diet with Reseveratol which supposedly will offset some of the xeno-estrogens in the environment. It's also an antioxidant and has lots of other generalized health benefits, or at least that's what the advertising says.  Am looking into some other supplements also. Figure may as well use em while I can.

Don't know if it actually works but I ain't going down without a fight. Well without popping a few pills at least.

Peak penis?
It didn't surprise me too much when the copies of Kurzweil's books got passed around. Another debate at work where I find myself in an extreme minority - most folks are big fans of outer space exploration & look forward to space colonization. The thinking is roughly: we're well on our way to trashing this planet, the only hope for the future is to colonize other planets. I think this is a bit more insane than the Kurzweil-itis. If only the folks at the lunch table weren't all PhD engineers and mathematicians and really as much leaders and makers of the future as anybody.

Exactly what is the flaw in Kurzweil's vision, that is a nice puzzle. It relates back to discussion here from a couple weeks ago on the sustainability of electronic integrated circuit manufacturing, or of the internet. Whether or not we can gracefully pull back to Intel 4040 technology, to push ahead to 35 nm or 20 nm technology is no joke at all. Look at the superconducting supercollider or the international space station. Sometimes people just thow in the towel & decide the exponentially increasing cost is just not worth the bother. I.e. exceeds the discretionary budget. Again, the question isn't whether your thousand dollar laptop is worth the money and the electricity it burns. The question is whether the billion dollar chip fab and the thousands of people involved in keeping the whole mess running, will there be enough of a market to keep that alive & pushing the technology envelope.

Do we have supersonic passenger planes running anymore? Sometimes it just doesn't pay to keep pushing in some fixed direction.

The deeper fallacy behind Kurzweil's thinking is that he gets to play loose with metrics so he can paint the picture he wants. I heard Stephen Jay Gould give a talk once & he constrasted the bushy view of evolution versus the idea that evolution somehow strives to optimize something or other. As if by any objective measure humans were somehow the most "advanced" product of evolution. This is the trap that Kurzweil falls into, as far as I can tell. That and just being far too smart for his own good. Wolfram is in that same category. Like a rocket without a working guidance system. Take cover!

Like a rocket without a working guidance system. Take cover!

Too late, it already hit some unexpected places.

Oh yeah, these are the kind of nutballs who probably believe we'll just use nanotechnology to send little bitty bots down into the earth to synthesize oil or some damned thing.

This idiotic religion didn't die away completely with the dot-bomb.

"Oh yeah, these are the kind of nutballs who probably believe we'll just use nanotechnology to send little bitty bots down into the earth to synthesize oil or some damned thing."

Ha ha!!

That reads like a snippet from that "superhuman intelligence" known as "M-x yow"  {keys for Zippy the Pinhead on emacs}

More specifically on Kurzweil.    

The reason why Moore's law has worked is because of the laws of physics.  Specifically "There's a lot of room down there".   The physical length scales that we could engineer things at in 1960 were many orders of magnitude bigger than atoms.   There was many orders of magnitude of headroom possible in electronics.

In energy there isn't.  There aren't many orders of magnitude available under the laws of thermodynamics for massive improvements.

A super-human intelligence still can't break the laws of physics any more than the captain of the high school math team can beat the jocks at football.

A superhuman intelligence would quickly come to the conclusion that reduction of human population to match sustainable production is essential.   Why don't we call it BlueSkyNet?

Is it Amory Lovins?

I saw him speak a long, long time ago ('78 or so). He was talking about possible energy futures back then. Very high on solar/wind. Very down on nuclear. He had two lines that have stuck with me ever since:

"Using nuclear energy to make electricity is like using a chainsaw to cut butter".

"Nuclear Energy: A future technology whose time has passed".

If it's not AL, then I have no idea who it is.

- Steve

Amory Lovins, superhuman intelligence. We have a winner!

Winning the Oil Endgame

This independent, peer-reviewed synthesis for American business and military leaders charts a roadmap for getting the United States completely, attractively, and profitably off oil. Our strategy integrates four technological ways to displace oil: using oil twice as efficiently, then substituting biofuels, saved natural gas, and, optionally, hydrogen. Fully applying today's best efficiency technologies in a doubled-GDP 2025 economy would save half the projected U.S. oil use at half its forecast cost per barrel. Non-oil substitutes for the remaining consumption would also cost less than oil. These comparisons conservatively assign zero value to avoiding oil's many "externalized" costs, including the costs incurred by military insecurity, rivalry with developing countries, pollution, and depletion. The vehicle improvements and other savings required needn't be as fast as those achieved after the 1979 oil shock.
The challenge for all of us now is to count how many lies there are in this text.

I win, I win! Do I get a t-shirt or something?  :-)

I'll quit while I'm ahead, and not attempt to parse out that quote for lies. Ol' AL is a great talker, really knows how to turn a phrase, but has become pollyannish in the extreme in these past few years. Or maybe he always was, I don't know.

- Steve

The challenge for all of us now is to count how many lies there are in this text.

Sounds like too much trouble. He makes no sense in any sense. I conservatively assign zero value that everything he's saying.

No, the challenge for us is to get access to the same drugs he's having. That's some potent stuff.

A lie is an "untruth told with intent to deceive".  I don't think Amory is lying.  Not all of what he says in the oil game book might turn out to be true, but I think he is sincere, and, he always puts down his logic with enough background so anyone can check it out.

I am amazed that most people here would not instantly recognize the picture, and I am also somewhat surprised to hear the instant rejection of what seems to me to be his worthwhile arguments on how to get out of our self-created mess.

Just as a bit of anecdotal support for his thesis on waste as a source of energy-  My rotary power saw quit on me; I found its bearing had committed suicide and scattered its guts all around the insides of the saw.  I sent off for 4 small, light, simple replacement parts.  I got the four little parts in 4 SEPARATE UPS SHIPMENTS ON A DIESEL TRUCK DRIVING ABOUT 17 MILES.

So, all you numbers freaks count that one up.  What is the ratio of energy that could have been sufficient to get me those diddly little parts to the energy that was used to do it??  Hint- that ratio is way less than 1/4.

Amory is right.  IMO.

Apparently.  The filename is: AmoryLovins_lg.jpg
Cross my heart and hope to die, I did not look at the photo filename :-)

- Steve

Reality-Challenged Christians -> The Rapture and/or The Millenium of Peace

Reality-Challenged Environmentalists -> The Great Turning

Reality-Challenged Technocrats -> The Singularity

The mental template in each case is basically the same, a quasi utopic belief about a future in which one's own ideas about how things should be are the reality and one's own in-group are running the show.

Before somebody says:

"Reality-Challenged Doomers -> Dieoff"

. . . you'e comparing apples and oranges there. No doomer I know wants this to happen or is excited about it. Why not? Because most/many of us are niche professionals whose skill set (law, writing, software programing,) renders us useless in a dystopic Mad Max style future. We know we're likely dead meat post-collapse sans a major career shift into something like warlordism. But my guess is that social niche will be quickly filled by the likes of these guys:



What makes you so sure A PRIORI that biblical prophecy might not be of genuinely divine origin, and have much to say about events yet future?  That is, in fact, an A PRIORI belief that seems to be very common on this site, if not nearly universal; but I daresay that very few who post here who hold that presupposition have ever conducted a serious investigation into its merits.

I have been giving this matter careful study for three and a half years now.  In my considered opinion, the case for an eventual, supernaturally inaugurated "millenium of peace" scenario is at least as intellectually defensible as anything else that exists in the way of prognostications about the future on the part of that small minority of people who make a serious effort to see the world as it really is.  

And those who debunk biblical prophecy on the basis of reasonable knowledge of the Bible and ancient history invariably do so on the basis of reasoning that is manifestly circular, and highly selective in its use of evidence.  Seeing the grave intellectual weaknesses in the opposing position only serves to bolster my own confidence in a Biblically anchored view of things.


You are welcome to believe that God is going to initiate a factory recall (aka the rapture) followed by 1,000 years of peace if you wish.

As far as the Bible goes: I suspect the author(s) were very intelligent and, on some level, understood what happens when a society becomes to complex for it's own good even though they had not read Tainter.

The predictions in Revelation, for instance, are essentially a rehash of the Tower of Babel story just projected into the future. IE, the story of what happens to a society based on constantly increasing levels of consumption: alliances with less than dubious nations in order to secure the necessary resources coupled with internal decay particular in regards to previous accepted moral/ethical codes followed by economic collapse followed by societal balkinization and warfare.

I will say that the original Greek translation of REvelation 9:11 makes me uncomfortable being that I live in Kali-Fourhn-Yah. It references a tyrant from Mount Olympus whose name is "Abadon" which means destroyer. Arnold Schwarzenegger is of course best known for being  "the terminator" and Mr. Olympia. A little too close for comfort there if you ask me!



Read Tom Harpur's "The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light" and learn how 95% of the bible amounts to selective plagiarism of the ancient myths of the Egyptians.

You will also learn why the great libraries of antiquity were burnt by representatives of the Church after it was captured by politicians and bureaucrats of the day.  Fortunately, the discovery of the Rosetta Stone provided the key to writings in stone that survived the great tragedy of the 3rd century, when the notion of the christos in all people, was twisted into the idea that 'God' had only invested 'His' hope into one man, and the texts that revealed this perversion were burnt.

The real conspiracy had nothing to do with the bullshit found in Mr. Brown's fairy tale.

For a spiritual person there is a message of hope in this book for better times ahead, once we regain the understanding that truth is only found in myth (narrative).

Harpur is a Rhodes Scholar, an ordained Anglican priest, a theologian, and formerly the religious writer for the Toronto Star.  

If you have an open mind, this book will open doors for you.
If you have a closed mind you will still enjoy the book, especially the link to solar power.


I heard a Catholic Priest relate this in a Sermon once..

'If you want to hear the sound of Divine Laughter, tell God your plans'

  No offense, but I read religious words less literally.  I heard an idea once that suggests that getting caught up in the 'actuality of miracles' is really materialism, and is not within the domain of spiritual work.

  When the question arises, however.. 'Where was God at Aushwitz?'.. 'Why are these things allowed to happen?' I have to think that 'God' (if you will) is right there, watching.. and still smiling, but only because this is the complete knowledge of who we are, complete knowledge of us, not in some mirth over the tragedy.  But the actions are ours and ours fully.  What we do to or for each other, to or for the Earth in the next decades is up to us.

"After two years we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too--`Thou shalt' and `Do thou.' And this was the gold from our mining: `Thou mayest.' `Thou mayest rule over sin.' The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek."

Samuel said, "It's a fantastic story. And I've tried to follow and maybe I've missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?"

Lee's hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. "Don't you see?" he cried. "The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in `Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel--`Thou mayest'-- that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if `Thou mayest'--it is also true that `Thou mayest not.' Don't you see?"      
                      -John Steinbeck, East of Eden



I won't do it myself, but someone might submit this comment to fstdt.com :-)
All of the comments above are duly noted and appreciated, but I do not get the sense that any of them are based on a careful and serious study of a) the intellectual strength of the claim that the Bible IS of divine origin; and b) the intellectual weaknesses of the claim that it is not.

Why should I accord such a standpoint any more intellectual respect than the degree of intellectual respect customarily accorded to religious standpoints on this site?  An attitude of summary dismissal towards an opposing viewpoint should at least be rooted in serious understanding thereof.

I'm a non-beliver and this makes perfect sense to me:

a) the intellectual strength of the claim that the Bible IS of divine origin; and b) the intellectual weaknesses of the claim that it is not.

I define "of divine origin" as origination from the human brain.

The Bible is full of insightful stories that give us a reflection of ourselves and human nature: jealousy, greed, envy; all that good stuff.

God exists
        --in the brain of those who believe in Him , Her or It: The Spaghetti Monster

Yesterday, BTW, the glorious it belessed be its name brought me a delicious bowl of spaghetti with chopped meat. It was a gastronomical miracle. Praised be its name.

The Bible is full of insightful stories that give us a reflection of ourselves and human nature: jealousy, greed, envy; all that good stuff.

Of course, though I never read the whole Bible I have about the same opinion :

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5 NRSV)

Though I am a strict atheist I think that such pronouncements do not come out of thin air but from some wisdom of the collective inconscious, which of course has been hijacked/recycled for other questionable purposes.

However I don't agree with your stance that it "makes perfect sense" :

I define "of divine origin" as origination from the human brain.

This is NOT the meaning of "divine" for true believers, so, either they will reject it OR (much worse...) use your admission to back any other of their silly claims.

Please don't do that, even as a joke or sarcasm.

This is NOT the meaning of "divine" for true believers

Well, when "they" pray (silently), who or what exactly is it that hears their prayers? Deep down in their subconscious, they know. They will never admit it out loud --not even to themselves. You have to be a total whacko to admit that you talk to yourself as if you were God. So you say instead that you are communing with "the divine". You have to be an even greater whacko to talk to yourself online. But then again ... there are all these monologue blogs ...and TOD comments. What does that say about the human condition?  ;-)

I am not impressed with ANY of your summary dismissals of my position, because as far as I can tell based on what you all have said, your atheism is as much a matter of unproven faith as my theism.
An atheist doesn't have to be someone who thinks he has a proof that there can't be a god. He only has to be someone who believes that the evidence on the God question is at a similar level to the evidence on the werewolf question.

John McCarthy , a cornucopian BTW.

P.S. About my OTHER beliefs, I believe that the hidden face of the moon is inhabited by the HOLY SMOKED HERRINGS and that you should never pee on Mondays because that offends them and then they make your life miserable.
That of course explains a LOT of the problems we have since so many people are ignorant or dismissive of this holy prescription.


From your Professor McCarthy link:

Q. When will we run out of oil?

A. Twenty years ago, I had been convinced that by the end of the 20th century we would be out of oil directly pumpable from the ground. Obviously, we aren't, and I am cautious about how much oil there is left. Maybe 20 years, maybe 50 years, maybe 100 years, but I can't see it lasting longer than 100 years.

However, oil can be extracted from oil shale, from tar sands (as it is in Alberta, Canada) and synthesized from coal. These processes (except for tar sands) are too expensive to compete with just letting it just flow out of the ground in Saudi Arabia, but the technologies were developed when it was thought oil would run out soon. The costs would be affordable. Taking these sources into account we probably have several hundred years supply of oil, provided "greenhouse" warming and soot pollution permit its continued use.[2002 March 20: New studies claim that submicron particles from power plants are more harmful to health than previously thought.]

Q. What will happen when all these sources run out or if global warming requires severe restrictions?
A. Oil is readily replaced by nuclear energy for electricity generation. However, it is not so readily replaced for transportation. If we can develop good enough batteries, electric cars are a solution. If not, liquid hydrogen will work for cars and trucks. Other solutions are being promoted these days, e.g. compressed gaseous hydrogen, but I don't see anything but liquid hydrogen that will both avoid the emission of CO2 and give the range of gasoline powered cars. In the end, I don't think we will give up the range. 2003 note: It doesn't look like batteries will make it for cars in spite of enormous expenditures.

He is a Peak Oiler but also a cornucopian didn't I say he was?

Ridicule is no substitute for sound argument.  As such, I reaffirm what I previously stated: The atheism and unbelief in the possibility of supernatural intervention in history that is pervasive on TOD is ITSELF just as much a matter of unproven belief as my own theism allegedly is.
Ridicule is no substitute for sound argument.
2 points :
  • Please understand that for an atheist the "historical" religions are just AS RIDICULOUS as my little joke.
  • As about "arguments" try to get the logic of PLAUSIBILITY argument exemplified by John McCarthy , WHY favor r that insane hypotesis over all others, don't you think yourself that the Greek gods are just myths?
Oops, typo "WHY favor this or that insane hypothesis"
The way to understand the singluarity is as a "what if."  That's the way science fiction author Vernor Vinge and (IIRC) evolutionary neurobiologist William Calvin treat it.

The idea is, "what if" artificial intelligence actually works, and they create a computer that as smart as a human?  Leaving aside what "smart" means in that context, the follow-on is based on the fact that we do know how to make computers faster, and faster.  We do know how to give computers more memory, and more memory.

So the idea is that if you can make it past that "what if" you are sort of set for an explosion past human intelligence.  It's human intelligence, only faster, only with better memory, etc.

I've never read Kurzweil directly, but I gather that he is more commited to that "what if" happening than other people.  I think Vinge and Calvin just play with the idea, without commiting to the "what if" happening soon, or ever.

In a 1993 talk, Vinge stated that he suspected that the technological singularity would probably happen between 2005 and 2030.

Here's a copy of his singularity talk.

I used to believe that the singularity was likely. Once I educated myself on PO, technological singularity no longer seems likely to me. Though I don't rule it out completely.

Once Moore's Law is seen to have expired, Singularity enthusiasts have to give up or call it the Rapture.
It's also interesting that computers might continue to be 'faster' without becomong 'intelligent.'
BTW, the original singularity idea did not require that humans themselves transform into long-lived or more intelligent post-humans.  The origina idea was that 'something' would break loose following AI, creating 'post human intelligence' whatever that is.  One dangerous interpretation is that the machines all become hyper-smart and we just become ants to them.

If I understaind the singularity-rapture folks correctly, they hope that (a) the singularity will occur, and (b) it will benefit us old "version 1.0" homo sapiens.

I think I have read that sometime in the past.  The paragraph that starts:

Well, maybe it won't happen at all: Sometimes I try to imagine the symptoms that we should expect to see if the Singularity is not to develop. There are the widely respected arguments of Penrose [19] and Searle [22] against the practicality of machine sapience. In August of 1992, [...]

Is one I like, and makes me think we are playing with the idea, and not 'locked in' on the outcome.

A very healthy attitude, if I may.

"A very healthy attitude, if I may."

Yes, indeed.

Incidentally, I've talked with Vinge in person about the singularity, and he certainly does seem to be less of a fatalist about it in than some others.

Of course, he also recognized that a major catastrophe, such as the oft-touted asteroid impact, could put the kibosh on singularity. Perhaps it is Peak Oil that'll do the trick. :o)


Here's a nice article:


"Incompleteness, Mechanism, and Optimism" by Stewart Shapiro. He discusses Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem and the various ways people try to use it to prove that mind transcends mechanism. Lots of fun!

So the idea is that if you can make it past that "what if" you are sort of set for an explosion past human intelligence.

Superintelligence or not it is not likely to beat the second law of thermodynamics, though it seems stupidity can, from what is read here a TOD from time to time.

P.S. I am no more an AI basher a than a doomer, still having some hope but just a bit pessimistic in boths cases.

BTW, if I were going to put down $5 on whether AI was going to work in the old-time sense of an artificial human-like intelligence ... I'd say not anytime soon.  Maybe out in the unforseeable future, but not in the next decade or two.

(Probably the popular press versions of "singularity" miss the technical detail, and must treat it as a general technological nirvana.  That is not my (perhaps dated) understanding.  It actualy all hinges on AI.)

human-like intelligence ...

What the heck would you do with that?

It actualy all hinges on AI.

Yes but actual AI if found may not "look and feel" like expected.
This is where the singularitarians skid toward religious fantasy and, indeed, a "general technological nirvana".
Look at a severely hooked one.

human-like intelligence ...

What the heck would you do with that?

Fire all your programmers.  (I actually remember a co-worker in the early 80's saying that our days were numbered, and that we'd be replaced by AI's in ... what did he say, 20 years?)

On the link, I guess transhumanists choose their path to immortality.  Either through AI uploads (of brain contents) or through perfected medicine.  (Medicine would have to be pretty perfect to get us to 1000 years.)

I actually remember a co-worker in the early 80's saying that our days were numbered,

My training instructor at IBM said that in 1968!

I guess transhumanists choose their path to immortality.

Pure bollocks, some life extension may be.

I saw Kurzweil on TV a few days ago. He didn't look like someone with the inner workings of a 30-year old, as he claims in Singularity. If I was a betting man, I would say he is not going to live forever like he thinks. He was showing some age.
Does he want to "upload" or somethign?  That's an even bigger suggestion than AI.  It requires that the AI be compatible with HI, and that a transcription is possible.
I saw that guy who invented the Segway at a robot show a couple of years ago. First I thought it was just a guy on a Segway. I considered kinda bumping into him to see how well a Segway rider could cope. Then decided not to, and be nice. Later, thinking about it, I realized that's ... that guy who invented the Segway. He's probably have kicked my ass. I've heard Dean Kamen has a temper lol.
Headline on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News:



$8.2 billion deal to bring 600 new metro jobs.

"Lockheed Martin Corp. landed a high-profile NASA contract to design and build a spacecraft to return humans to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program in 1972.

Lockheed - led by its Jefferson Country operations - bested a Northrop Grumman-Boeing team to lay claim to the new Orion spacecracft program.  NASA ultimately wants to use Orion to transport astronauts to Mars."

my comment: this is another gross misallocation of govt funds and more evidence that that the MSM is trying to keep up the business as usual facade.

I agree this money should instead be allocated toward an Apollo energy project... but with our current government (both Dems & Reps) I am not going to hold my breath.  

I must confess that as a child in the 60's I was mesmerized by the whole Apollo program.  It inspired me to become an engineer, and I would love to work on the next lunar shot. The most positive aspect of Apollo was the wonder, awe, and shared vision that held the country for a few days. Returning to the moon makes no sense, other than it is technically cool and a challenge. I would hope PO could inspire a similar shared vision and purpose, but I suspect it will instead get delayed until it hits us hard and people panic.

We will need a good band as the Titanic called America does a slow nosedive into cold post peak-oil waters.  Pull up a chair, grab your favorite instrument, and play along...

yeah!! gonna be some rockin' tunes as we go doooooooowwwnnnnnn........
oh my God, where is Bob Shaw?! I bet this is part of some type of plan by the elites to terraform the moon or mars and transport themselves there where they will live in bio-solar habitats. In this case, they won't need Earthmarines to protect them from us peasents but to protect themselves from each other.

Talk about a dsytopia.

I still say we have to use this money to shoot Hawking into space. He started. And Kurzweil, who after all uses the Hawking space quote on his Lifeboat opening page. Money where your mouth is, ye ageless ones.
And now of course we can all pick who else can or should join them.
Can we shoot my boss into space?  I'll pay for the (one way) ticket.
..."some type of plan by the elites to terraform the moon or mars and transport themselves there where they will live in bio-solar habitats..."

Actually, the scary part about all of this is that's not that far off from the truth.  I was escorting a group of school kids around at one of the president's second inaguration events on the Elipse, wondering if the festivities in that erie palladium of Free Masonry we call DC was what Rome could have felt like before there were cars and GoreTex, when I happened upon a NASA promotional tent.  There were some movie-set worthy displays and some experts to talk to.  I asked a guy how long it'd be before we were mining Mars.  He said, "Well, Mars might be a while, but we'll be mining the moon in about 15 years."

"Do you think that's a good idea?" I quizzed.

He replied, "Well, we'll be running out of resources here on earth pretty soon, and we need to get 'em from somewhere."

These elites know there's an energy crisis - for god's sake Cheney of all bastards knows that.  Their solution is pure conquistador.

This whole Moon/Mars space crapola was yet another distraction thrown out by the whacko White House so nobody would notice Iraq  

Naturally, I'm all for sending Hawking, Kurzweil and a few hundred other people I can't think of just off the top of my head. The spaceship is misnamed.

The Pipe Dream

And there's always Ray! He should go too.

Bradbury's excitement comes from his belief that outer space will be our next home, that fiction will again become fact when we colonize other planets.

"A million years from tonight, space travel will ensure that we're immortal," he said. "We'll be living on other planets; we're not going to stay here. We're going back to the moon; we should have never left there because the night we landed on the moon was the most wonderful night in the history of the world.

"The first step is the moon, then Mars. We colonize Mars, and then 400 years from tonight we go out to the Alpha Centauri. We are the lifeworks that guarantee immortality. I happen to care for the human race -- a lot of people don't like it, but I like it very much -- and I want it to survive."

then 400 years from tonight,
we go out to Alpha Centauri

Guaranteed immortality. Again I ask: Thorazine?

Dave Cohen -

Bradbury writes science FICTION, i.e., stories that are made up out of whole cloth. He happens to be very good at it, and has made a nice living doing so. But what does he possibly have to contribute to any debate about the future of energy and the human race in general?

Does this look like a guy who has ever actually BUILT anything?  Does this look like a guy who has ever skinned his knuckles trying to bring an old car back to life, or spent whole nights trying to make a new invention work?  Does the term 'entropy' mean anything to him?

Hardly!  He is but a wanker of words.  Which is fine, as the Bard himself might also have been called a wanker of words. But I would take the Bard to task if he ever had tried to pretend that he knew anything about science, or if he ever presented some  grand schema for the future of the human race. Doing so is the height of pretentiousness.

The engineer wanting to be a poet and the poet wanting to be an engineer, if successful,  would result in both mediocre engineers and mediocre poets.

Shoemaker, stick to thy last!

I've listened to a lot of Bradbury live interviews on the radio in Los Angeles (where he lives) and the guy's always struck me as a blowhard, a pretentious, bombastic, asshole.

Give me Pirx the Pilot anytime!

While I think manned spaceflights are definitely a terrible waste of resources from the energy economy standpoint, I have recently encountered a fascinating argument for new manned flights to the Moon. A return to the Moon would certainly be a huge media stunt and as such it would draw attention away from things that get worse when the public attention is focused on them, such as terrorism and the clash of the civilizations. It just might actually be worth it.
Re: Preparing for a Crash: Nuts and Bolts - my wife and I are bailing out of California, having just closed a deal on a property in Oregon, and are starting an "intentional household" with another couple.  We're on the outer edge of a larger town that has a large and growing permaculture community, plenty of water, and has electricity mostly provided by hydropower.  Property is large enough to grow most - if not all - of our food, and has an irrigation well.  It promises to be a great advaenture.
I'm willing to bet money (albeit not much) that somebody ends up cheating with somebody else in this arrangement you folks have.

My guess is inside of 18 months. But you might not find out till later. Or admit to it till later.


Come on AMPOD, don't be so pessimistic. In my poverty-years as a kid, we lived in "intentional households" a few times and as far as I could tell, there was damned little to no fucking around. More danger from the guy up the street than the guy under the roof.

On Craigs List there are offers of rooms to rent in "intentional households" of 3-4-sometimes more people, generally it sounds like it works best in the 3-5 single individuals range, not for the purpose of fucking around but for the purpose of sharing, saving on rent, a bit of cooperation for survival - read Audie Murphy's WWII memoirs on this, even though most ghost-written, they were ghost-written by one of his WWII buddies who fought alongside him. Soldiers who don't always naturally get along, doing so because "one has the legs and one has the brains" kind of thing.

Then there's the whole culture of renting rooms and rooming houses. You end up thrown in with an odd assortment of people, and you get along because you have to, and it pretty much works fine. If someone's a proglem, they get told to leave lol.

Still, if I were entering into this kind of thing, I'd make sure I had some alternative if things turned sour. The option of selling out my half of the farm or something.

Can science and religion save the earth?

Award-winning scientist seeks to heal rift, for environment's sake

NEW YORK - Scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author E.O. Wilson is out to save life on Earth -- literally -- and as a secular humanist has decided to enlist people of religious faith in his mission.

The Harvard professor sees science and religion as potential allies for averting the mass extinction of the species being caused by man, as he argues in his latest book, "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth" (W.W. Norton), due out Tuesday.

Asked whether he could unite two groups with clashing world views, Wilson immediately responded, "I know I can."

Asked whether he could unite two groups with clashing world views, Wilson immediately responded, "I know I can."

Just wait until the subject of evolution comes up, then he will see how fast the group splinters. When a religious person happens to be a Creationist, they tend to regard the opposing view as Satan himself.

"Just wait until the subject of evolution comes up, then he will see how fast the group splinters. When a religious person happens to be a Creationist, they tend to regard the opposing view as Satan himself. "

That may be, but in this context, why bring up the creationist/evolution thing at all?  They are trying to "save the earth".  Now, he may have trouble with the ones that take to heart the part about "be fruitful and multiply".  

Asked whether he could unite two groups with clashing world views, Wilson immediately responded, "I know I can."


Why does the phrase, "famous last words" come to mind?

I'm willing to bet money (albeit not much) that if:

A) this guy gains any prominence


B) the central government collapses leaving the radical militant christians the most organized faction of the American political landscape


C) this guy will be the first person they string up to prove to God they are serious about implementing his(God's) agenda.

I can already hear the voice of the inquistor:

" . . . the Bible says decievers will come in the last days does it not? And who are the biggest deciever(s) of them all but secular humanists? The fact that this guy would try to co-opt the Christian community to promote his secular agenda is evidence he is on a mission from the Devil!"

"if ()this guy gains any prominence"

'This guy' is E.O. Wilson.  Where have you been?  

never heard of him. And I can guaran-damn-tee you I am more aware of these matters than the average person he is trying to convince, the ones who pray to God their favorite NASCAR driver wins.
Dang it AMPOD, we can't fix your spelling and grammar overnight but at least you can read up on E.O. Wilson.
It's like a clergyman asking who this Jesus guy was anyway.
No, it's worse. It's like a 28-year old who actually believes he can use peak-oil to start a seventh-day adventist cult. And figures that at worst he'll sell some tee-shirts.

Even worse still, he's figuring you and everybody else tuning in are just stupid enough(on average) to buy this shit.

Judging from the likes of AngryChimp, he just might turn a buck. Over and Out.

"Judging from the likes of AngryChimp, he just might turn a buck. Over and Out."

Are you trying to hurt my feelings?? ;-(  I still love you CEO!!

 "No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine"
~William Blum, "Rogue State"

No, I'm done. I'm trying to practice Love now. Seriously. I saw a light.
Holy crap, Matt!  I'm shocked you haven't heard of E.O. Wilson.  Many of the ideas you post here are from his work.  You know, Sociobiology?
Go get yourself a coffee table book on ants or something, Matt.

Saw him on Charlie Rose the other night with James D Watson, I think it was recorded last year some time. It seems they have both edited books on Darwin.

Anyhow, Wilson has an amazing intellect.

I think you might be surprised.  E.O. Wilson, because of his role in developing and popularizing  sociobiology, is the devil incarnate to many in the  religious right.  He's the Grand Wizard of the Secular Humanists.  They've heard of him.
have you read this book
blew my mind, I think you might like it.
if you want to swap a book email me
AMOD, here you go:

E.O. Wilson is no nutcase or slouch.


Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
Sociobiology, as Wilson originally called his new synthesis work in 1975, is "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior." By applying evolutionary principles to the understanding of human social behavior and human culture, Wilson established sociobiology as an entirely new field of science. He argued that humans, like other social animals, are not entirely of a free will. Rather, they are still on a genetic leash and continued to be governed by certain biologically based rules (i.e. epigenetic rules) worked out by the laws of evolution. This theory and research proved to be seminal, controversial, and influential.[2]

Sociobiology set forth a scientfic argument for rejecting the common doctrine of tabula rasa (i.e. "blank slate"), which held that human beings were born without any innate mental content and that culture functioned to increase human knowledge and aid in survival and success. Wilson's argued that the human mind was shaped as much by genetic inheritance as it was by culture (if not more). There were limits on just how much influence social and environmental factors could have in altering human behavior. These ideas managed to offend both liberals and conservatives. Sociobiology re-ignited the "nature versus nurture" debate and Wilson's scientific perspective on human nature touched off a firestorm of public debate. He was accused of racism, misogyny, and eugenics.[3] In one famous incident, members of the International Committee Against Racism poured a pitcher of water on Wilson's head and chanted "Wilson, you're all wet" at a conference in 1978.

Consilience: The Unity Of Knowledge
In his 1998 book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, Wilson discusses methods that have been used to unite the sciences and might in the future unite the sciences with the humanities. Wilson prefers and uses the term consilience to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor.

He defines human nature as a collection of epigenetic rules: the genetic patterns of mental development. Cultural phenomena, rituals, etc. are products, not parts, of human nature. Artworks, for example, are not part of human nature, but our appreciation of art is. And this art appreciation, or our fear for snakes, or incest taboo (Westermarck effect) can be studied by the methods of reductionism. Until then these phenomena were only part of psychological, sociological or anthropological studies. Wilson proposes that they can be part of interdisciplinary research.

Wilson coined the phrase scientific humanism (when referring to Humanism) as "the only worldview compatible with science's growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature".

The latest International Petroleum Monthly is just out. World crude oil production was up slightly from (revised) 73,334,000 barrels per day in May to 73,382,000 in June. That's a gain of 49,000 bp/d, May to June. I was expecting the gain to be much greater given the huge jump in OPEC output. Note, the IPM is always two months behind in its data.

The increase came entirely from OPEC which increased crude production from 30,448,000 barrels per day in May to 39,797,000 in June. That's a gain of 349,000 bp/d for OPEC.

Non OPEC crude production was down from 42,886,000 bp/d in May to 42,585,000 in June. That's a drop of 301,000 bp/d for non-OPEC nations. Considering Russia was up 100,000 barrels per day in June, to 9,450,000, that means there were some pretty big drops in the rest of the non-OPEC nations. The IPM does not have a category for non-OPEC production so I just subtracted OPEC from World to arrive at the correct fiugre.

Note: Russia is still down 50,000 barrels per day from her output in December 05.

According to most estimates OPEC production is down in July verses June by about 240,000 bp/d. So look for the world data next month to show a huge drop from December to July, greater than the drop from December to May.

All the above figures are for crude + condensate. You can get so-called "all liquids" from the IPM also but I do not track that. I am concerned only with peak oil, not peak alcohol, biodiesel or bottled gas.

Ron Patterson

Thanks, Ron.

Just a small type, should be 30,797,000 for June (OPEC).

What about Peak Fish (fish oil?)

Thanks Dave, and another typeo, Russia was up 60,000 bp/d, not 100,000.

Ron P.

Part of the OPEC bump may have come from Iran selling some oil that they had been storing in tankers.
Iran was up 80,000 bp/d and Nigeria was up 95,000 bp/d. The biggest jump was from Iraq who was up 250,000 bp/d to 2,153,000 bp/d. Saudi Arabia was down 100,000 bp/d to 9,100,000 bp/d.

Other biggies, Norway down 170,000 bp/d, UK down 97,000 bp/d, Brazil down 118,000 bp/d, and US up 119,000 bp/d.

Brazil was probably down for maintenance of something and should recover next month. The US should be slightly lower next month.

After continuing revision, December 2005 is now the unchallenged peak according to EIA figures. Deffeyes's crystal is looking peculiarly limpid.
It's early so it's not over yet, but when you get more than 240 comments on a thread,  "NOTHING"  and I mean nothing gets done.  I've wasted the whole afternoon reading mostly arguments on the syntax of the "English" language.    MY BAD!!!!!!!!!!!
Yeah, my apologies.  I should have known better and not bothered to waste your time or mine.
This will get lost, but its early still.

Yesterday's topic about sandals got me thinking.

What happens when we want something in our Post Peak world and can't find in on a store shelf?

I have the basic knowledge to hand craft wood for houses, and a few other projects and have a lot of hand tools here abouts.  But what about sandals and shoes and pants and coats and a ton of other things we have been taking for granted.

Many have said we can just raid the stores or homes till they all run out.  But some things decay, and clothing just happens to be one of the fastest things to decay if you have ever had a ton of cloth to handle in wet and damp conditions.  

So what will we run out of the fastest and need the most?

Shoot the next person that says they have a semi-truck in their back yard with toilet tissue in it.

Ha. I've been thinking about that lately too. My solution is to get this thing I saw on an infomertial once. You know? The big plastic bag that you attatch a vaccum cleaner to and suck all the air out. Basically you could have a second-hand clothes shopping binge and vacuum pack enough clothes to last you the rest of your life. you might be abit ouy of fashion but I wreckon vanity will figure less in peoples priorities as the years go by post peak :-)
Hemp and Polyester..

I'm wearing a fleece sweater I've had for a dozen years or so.. it just won't die.  Probably giving me cancer, which leads to..  I understand that hemp is a great fiber for clothing.. very strong, but you can only wear it for certain medical purposes.  (Maybe we just make all the 'scrubs' out of it)

I'm wild about tools and building stuff.. my favorite 'new' tool is the sewing machine.  Didn't make any clothes yet (I even have a Treadle-type, for post-peak, tho' I'm gunning to use it interchangably for a range of other shoptools.), but I've made Bags, Pouches, Kites, Cushions, Straps, Hats, Puppets, Sculptures, etc etc..

I'm betting the stuff that'll get thin will be stupid little things like button batteries, super-glue, lightbulbs, toilet-paper. (Hi Volume movers, 'disposables', plastic garbage bags )  There'll be lots of old appliances and TV's lying around, but we'll be waiting for a shipment (cartload?) of soap to get in.  Maybe getting replacement parts for newly treasured but still poorly-built appliances?

Sandals are easy.  Find some old car tires, shouldn't be hard for a few decades, cut the tread in the shape of a sandal bottom, attach some straps.  I had a pair of sandals like this when I was a kid.  Back in the 70s, come to think of it.
From one of Ron's favorites...

"The whole drift of our law is toward the absolute prohibition of all ideas that diverge in the slightest form from the accepted platitudes, and behind that drift of law there is a far more potent force of growing custom, and under that custom there is a natural philosophy which erects conformity into the noblest of virtues and the free functioning of personality into a capital crime against society."
~ H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American Journalist, Editor, Essayist, Linguist, Lexicographer, and Critic Source: quoted in New York Times Magazine, 9 August 1964


Rotate Menckens' quotes don't repeat, there are lots of them.

Make hay Westexas!

EIA just came out with new numbers, and we are still below December. In fact, the first 6 mos of 2006 are about 100,000 bpd average less that the first 6 mos of 2005.


Man,these forums are getting longer and I think many of us are addicted!! The whole discussion about sustainability in agriculture , especially in the Middle East, brought up some good points about non-agricultural activities that likely had as much to do with the loss of productivity in the soils of the region.  Cutting forests and then grazing that same land afterwards is guaranteed to reduce forest cover in a few decades to near zero.  It wasn't the cropping , per se that caused the depletion of local ecosystems nearly as much as other activities related to human occupation of a region. Loss of forest cover does increase albedo, changes local wind patterns, and both of these factors have long term affects on local and regional climate.
However,the claims by Jason that all agriculture is depleting soils is not defensible, based not only on studies cited by the above readers but Jason ignores one of the biggest sources of organic agriculture research, that ofthe Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania. No, I don't have a URL, I'm too tired, and frankly the pomposity in the tone of the above discussions left me a bit jaded about responding at all. Look it up yourself. The Rodale people have decades of research concerning the best ways to maintain soil fertility and growing healthy food. Sustainable ag takes the general approach that the farmer MUST replenish the soil, so that means cover cropping, green manures(e.g. clovers,vetches, winter rye) used specifically to regenerate nutrients in the topsoil. I agree 100% that thesoil is everything when it comes to keeping food production at a level that can support large numbers of people with a variety of food items. Crop rotation is another major factor that must occur in order to avoid depleting soils and keeping pests at low levels.  I would at least hypothesize that it wasn't the inability  of pre-1950 basically organic agricutlure to feed the masses that caused the switch to "modern" fossil fuel based agriculture but instead , fossil fuels enabled bigger to become even bigger which of course meant better. It's a hell of a lot easier to plow several hundred acres in a couple of days with a large, several hundred horsepower tractor versus a team of Belgian draft horses. I beleive it was due to the factor of ease of working the land that encouraged the near wholesale switchover to FF based ag.  A fatal mistake in my opinion.  If the sustained ag I've described above is nothing more than horticulture then so be it. We've had a significant group of people, the Amish , using these same methods since before the American Revolution and they haven't depleted their soils yet.
It comes down to this: You must replace what you remove with a bit more added in.  Protect your soil from wind and rain erosion by maintaining maximum cover. Minimize plowing, which only destroys soil tilth and speeds up oxidation of critical organic matter. Rotate crops. Create diversity around the fields. The native insects do a bang up job dealing with agricultural pests so provide for them. Birds and other vertebrates,if encouraged to live as part of the ecosystem (not ecology-that's a science) make a phenomenal difference in pest control. Mass spraying of pesticides is sheer madness. Feed the living organisms in the soil. As someone stated above, in fossilfuel based agriculture the soil is treated as merely a substrate for plant growth.  In reality,it is that significant living component of microrganisms that makes a soil truly productive. Fossilfuel based agriculture will fail, no doubt.  Don't count out ag using sustainable methods. And yes,Jason,  there is a huge difference in soils between regions, so it doesn't always make sense to farm or graze  everything that's flat or grows vegetation. Has man fouled his own nest through poor management?  HELL yes. Do  possiblities exist to grow food in harmony with ecosystems? There is enough proof out there IMO to respond Yes,as well
Excellent post, thankyou.  
To illustrate a little picture for everyone about the current ecosystems here in the midwest...
We have few areas of native grassland and virgin prairies left around where I live.  These prairies provided the rich soils we've come to farm.
Since I'm very interested in plant species, last summer I visited small rural cemetaries near where I grew up, since they are known to be some of the few locations left with virgin prairie and wildflowers.
What I found was truly depressing.  It seems, local youth groups such as 4-H are adopting these cemetaries and "cleaning them up".  They go in and remove all trees and brush and "weeds", and start a weekly mowing program.  They poison the fencelines, which are also known to be one of the best areas of all in which to find these native plant species.  One of the larger plots had just been "cleaned up" and after they were finished poisoning the fencelines etc, they hung a butterfly box on one of the posts for "charm".  
Incidentally there is a small grassroots movement that recognizes the value of these small plots as native unploughed prairie.
Al Gore, Huckster

Oh man, missed it! Now I'll never get rich!