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What works, maybe: individual options

Mon, Apr 26, 2010

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Like global climate change, peak oil represents a predicament, not a problem. There is no politically viable solution to either of these great challenges. Political solutions require economic growth, forever, and therefore no significant sacrifice on the behalf of the electorate. Further, the industrial economy is underlain by the assumption of growth: The industrial economy grows or it dies.

As should be clear by now, we cannot grow the industrial economy while reducing use of energy. As a result, we cannot grow the economy while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Thus, we’re stuck in a politically untenable situation: To save the living planet, including habitat for our own species, we need to shrink the industrial economy. But the industrial economy requires growth. Recent research indicates we need to shrink the industrial economy to oblivion to save our species. In other words, what we really need is to kill the industrial economy before it kills us. And by us, I mean all of us: the entire collection of wise apes. As a society, clearly we have made our choice. But as an individual, you can choose to the contrary, with benefits for your psyche and quite possibly your survival.

Crude oil is the master material, the energy source that provides access to all others. Economic growth requires ever-increasing supplies of crude oil. As availability of oil declines the price goes up (with considerable variability, as we have observed during five years since we passed the world oil peak) and the industrial economy starts to sputter. When the price gets high enough, long enough, the economy simply, finally, expires. The world has been on an undulating plateau of oil availability for several years, but that plateau leads to a cliff. According to the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. military’s Joint Forces Command, the cliff comes in 8 months or so.

I know no energy-literate person who thinks we’ll be able to avoid the post-industrial Stone Age by 2025. Assuming a conservative 4% annual decline rate of crude oil between now and then indicates we will have access to the same amount of oil in 2025 as we did in 1970, when the planet held half as many people as it now does and the world was considerably less industrialized than it now is. And that’s merely the gross rate of decline, whereas the net rate of decline will be much more rapid because it takes so much energy to extract and deliver energy. Oil priced a $147.27 per barrel nearly brought down the industrial economy five times I know about, and we’re hardly out of the woods yet. There is little hope for the industrial era to persist more than a few years, and the next spike in the price of oil could very well be the trigger that brings the industrial era to a sudden close in an unprepared nation.

I suspect we’ll pass through a new Dark Age en route to the post-industrial Stone Age. Indeed, many countries in the world are already there because they lack the world’s reserve currency and the world’s largest military. Bully for us: We have both, thus ensuring a steady supply of fossil-fuel-driven energy into every city and town in the United States. Well, so far.

As an aside, how long do you think we can maintain a military and a functioning industrial economy if we keep spending 58% of our budget on the former? We could stop our involvement in wars, but that would be quite un-American, wouldn’t it?

The costs of maintaining the non-negotiable American way of life are huge, even beyond simple economics. The American suburbs are the antithesis of durable living, as they require us to live far from work, far from play, and far from the places we shop for disposable items in our throw-away culture. They require obedience at home and oppression abroad. American Empire is city living (i.e., civilized), writ large.

The relatively few people paying attention to the undercurrents of the industrial economy know the ship is taking on water faster than the governments can run the printing presses. As the industrial economy continues to lurch and stumble, the vaunted American consumer loses the ability to consume (in part because inflation is rampant on items that actually matter, notably including food). Because ours is a consumer culture, with personal consumption accounting for 70% of the industrial economy, the ship is listing. The next financial crisis is already unfolding — notwithstanding absurd reports from politicians, media, and the irrational exuberance, again, in the stock markets — and governments have nearly exhausted their supply of tools to deal with economic issues. We hit the iceberg of peak oil and, as government administrators busily rearrange the deck chairs, it’s time to launch the lifeboats, even if you believe consumption is a good thing. Personally, I think it’s not, in part based on the definition:

Consume:

1. To do away with completely; destroy

2a. To spend wastefully; squander
2b. Use up

3. To waste or burn away; perish

Consuming gives most people a temporary emotional “high.” We’re addicted to shopping. But I trust it’s clear why rational people want no part of the consumer economy. If we cannot terminate the industrial economy, and soon, we’ll exhaust all habitat for humans on Earth by the end of this century (and, if the models are to be believed, much sooner). Along the way, if we have our way, we’ll destroy every non-industrial culture and every non-human species.

In the face of a contracting industrial economy and the knowledge we’re headed for a situation with extremely limited access to fossil fuels, a quote from Peter Drucker comes to mind: “You can either take action, or you can hang back and hope for a miracle. Miracles are great, but they are so unpredictable.”

What’s an individual to do, in light of the imminent collapse of western civilization? In addition to hastening the collapse, some tools for which I’ve listed before, I describe four points along a continuum for your own, individual, post-carbon future: (1) transition towns, (2) agricultural anarchy, (3) hunting and gathering, and (4) traveling. I will describe each approach, briefly, as a means of generating thought, action, and perhaps even discussion.

Transition towns allow us the fantasy of keeping the current omnicidal culture going, albeit in slightly different form. This model assumes a long descent that allows time for cities to develop alternative energy sources. Think solar on every rooftop, for starters, and gardens in every suburban lot. For this approach to work, though, the food shed must be sufficiently nearby and sufficiently productive to support all the people in the transition town. This seems hugely problematic in sprawling western cities, especially those with more than a few thousand people. And for areas with limited supplies of water, or water that is several hundred feet below the surface of the ground, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn’t include massive suffering along the way to a huge die-off. The inability to store energy in the absence of fossil fuels beyond a few years in expensive, transient, and toxic batteries is a microscopic problem relative to the absence of ready access to water and food. And there’s an additional problem with the transition-town notion: I seriously doubt we have access to the fossil fuels needed to create the needed infrastructure for the 250 million city-living Americans, much less the 3.5 billion people who occupy the world’s cities. Solar panels and batteries simply won’t make the grade — there’s not enough oil left to pull this one off.

When the lights go out in the city, chaos often erupts. Is your city different? If so, will that difference persist when the lights don’t come back on, ever? I’ve often said and written that I would give my life to terminate the industrial economy, if only to alleviate the burden of oppression on the living world. I’ve no doubt, in fact, that I will make this sacrifice. And that’s okay: My insignificant life pales in contrast to the living planet and the persistence of our species. On the other hand, although I loved city life, my city was not worth dying for. So I left to prepare, recognizing that fortune favors the prepared. In contrast, Michael Ruppert moved to his home city of Los Angeles with full knowledge L.A. would be among the first cities to go up in flames. Ruppert is willing to die for the privilege of comforting the afflicted there.

Agricultural anarchy was offered as a model by Thomas Jefferson, and Monticello was the prime example before it became a museum. Contemporary examples are found in nearly every “third-world” country. A large proportion of the towns and cities in Central America and South America never have had ready access to abundant fossil fuels. As a result, communities have communal water sources and people dig shallow wells and harvest rain from rooftops. On a daily basis, local markets are filled with fresh food brought from nearby gardens and farms. The power goes out frequently, and nobody seems to mind because the towns and cities are actually located in livable areas in the absence of fossil fuels to heat or cool every building (cf. Tucson, Arizona). In short, agriculture has always been, and still is, at the center of everyday life.

Hunting and gathering will doubtless make a comeback for a very few hardy, quick-witted folks. This model resembles the prior Stone Age, and clearly is the most durable approach. It worked for the first 2 million years of the human experience, and we fled from it as recently as a few thousand years ago. But if you can’t find a tribe to go along, you’ll be as lonely as a Saguaro cactus on an ice floe.

Finally, individuals can largely avoid the ravages of collapse by traveling from spot to spot. History has been kind to travelers because people rooted in a particular place hunger for knowledge. If you’re to pursue this route, you’ll need to be quick-witted, good-humored, and willing to lend a hand when needed. Also, you’ll need to recognize and avoid danger. Traveling will be terrifying, but no worse than staying in one location. And you’ll get to see the world and live an adventure-filled life, just as promised by U.S. military recruiters.

None of these options offer a life similar to the one you’ve known. But a different life doesn’t mean a worse life, especially if you give a rat’s backside about anybody besides yourself. There will be plenty of opportunities to serve your community, as there has always been, in the months and years ahead. We’ll be living closer to our neighbors and closer to the living planet that sustains us all. For those courageous, compassionate, and creative souls willing to live in the world rather than in a cubicle, life’s about to get even more interesting. For the vast majority of industrial Americans, though, life is about to become miserable and surprisingly short.

_______________

This essay was inspired by a comment from Danielle Charbonneau. It is permalinked at Counter Currents, Island Breath, and A Climate for Change.

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44 Responses to “What works, maybe: individual options”

  1. vera Says:

    Danielle, I think Guy is right… large cities are not a reasonable place to do a Transition Initiative… unless the political will exists to knock down houses and make room for neighborhoods surrounded by farm land. That will seems to exist in places that are already partly defunct like Detroit, but not elsewhere. Also… does Tucson have its own water, or is the water “stolen” from other parts and people? If the latter, then no amount of transition planning will make it viable when those “other” people decide to keep the water where it belongs.

    If Transition is in your future, and you want to keep a measure of urban culture, maybe you should consider relocating to a small town where transitioning can be a realistic proposition?

  2. greentangle Says:

    Enjoyed the post and put a link to it on my blog. I also added a poll for people to vote for their choice of the four options. Personally, I’m relatively old and tired and just expect to go down with the ship, and hope it sinks before it wipes out too many more species.

  3. Guy McPherson Says:

    Thanks for the poll, greentangle. I voted, and I encourage readers here to do the same at greentangle’s blog.

  4. Stan Moore Says:

    Here is more to think about:

    Richard Duncan’s Olduvai Gorge Theory predicts the life of industrial civilization (within certain parameters he describes) as lasting 100 years and extending from 1930 to 2030, after which mankind will reenter “the Stone Age”.

    Of course, in 1930 we had large cities in the world, such as New York, London, Paris, etc. Those cities were not electrified during their histories to that point, but had coal oil lamps, whale oil lamps, coal heat, lowrise buildings, ice boxes instead of refrigerators, etc.

    Some form of cities could be possible in a post Peak Oil world, but they would not have electric buses, wi-fi internet access, or municipal sewage treatment plants. They would likely be severely polluted, lacking in air conditioning and creature comforts Americans in the past thirty years have become accustomed to, and could not support the densities we see now.

    Meanwhile, we have Cuba as an example of a modern population that survived a crisis similar to Peak Oil. Urban agriculture, human kindness, and the recognition that poverty itself is not invariably fatal helped the Cuban people maintain dignity and survival after they were blockaded by first the US and then even the Russians.

    I guess the point is that people can and will survive Peak Oil in significant numbers, but at lower densities and overall numbers compared to recent decades. Of course, this is a rare experiment in human history to move in a technilogically “backwards” direction, with simultaneous loss of luxury and wealth over large numbers of humans who became accustomed to prosperity and all it entails. The situation cold very easily bring on resource wars larger than anything seen previously.

    Global warming is another wild card of which the effects cannot be predicted.

    We do know that we are in severe overshoot and the carrying capacity of the planet for humans will have to be brought into balance, probably on an involuntary basis.

    The details will have to be worked out by time and interplay of forces known and unknown and perhaps unknowable. I doubt that there will be heroic statues of Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney for an admiring public to lament the loss of. But time will march on…

    Stan Moore

  5. vera Says:

    I think pretty much the same, Stan, except to call an age Stone Age when there will be all sorts of non-stone salvage lying around seems to me… er, less than apt. (Plus a lot of non-stone-age knowledge extant.)

    I hear Tainter describes the unwinding of the Ottoman empire as a somewhat successful simplification of an empire that was then able to carry on in a more localized fashion. Haven’t read it yet. I don’t think they were in overshoot though, and so their example may not be of any use to us.

  6. John Andersen Says:

    That was a fantastic essay.

    We live just a little too close to a big city, but have our eye on a small town some 23 miles from the city. The small town is surrounded by excellent farmland.

    That is perhaps where we’ll make our stand.

  7. D. Charbonneau Says:

    If you hadn’t mentioned playing football during youth in one of your earlier posts, I would have thought you a former slam-dunking basketball pro, Guy McPherson.

    I found a little heel dust on my shoulders this morning.

    One excellent link to share is Sharon Astyk’s post on how to talk about peak oil with folks. Sometimes finding the first words to introduce this difficult topic is the toughest part, and Sharon helps us find a way with her thoughtful and witty style.

    http://www.casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-to-explain-peak-oil-to-anyone.html

    You need to link to Sharon Astyk’s past and present blog posts often because of Sharon’s emphasis on adapting in place. People will want to/have to stay put no matter your predictions because home is home, and where the heart is. So, please include Sharon’s view in your writings. I don’t think this will compromise your position at all.

    In Sharon’s first book, I found her Appendix One list of Things You Can Do To Get Ready For Peak Oil, Climate Change and Difficult Times to be priceless. To this day, her book is helpful:

    http://www.amazon.com/Depletion-Abundance-Life-Home-Front/dp/0865716145/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272353971&sr=1-3

    Lastly, regarding this passage: “I’ve often said and written that I would give my life to terminate the industrial economy, if only to alleviate the burden of oppression on the living world. I’ve no doubt, in fact, that I will make this sacrifice. And that’s okay: My insignificant life pales in…..”

    Guy, please honor your life until you reach your last breath, no matter when this happens. The first time I read this statement, I found it painful. Our predicaments will lead a great number of us to assess our life’s journey to its end, and we should do this in private and in closeness with our loved ones. This special respectful gesture is a bequest to them, I think.

    The closest thing to an antidote to feeling unsettled and fearful is solid preparation and meaningful community involvement.

    Let’s gently yet assuredly keep on rock ‘n rollin’…

    Sincerely,

    Danielle Charbonneau
    Tucson, Arizona

  8. torchsinger Says:

    At least we’ll still have germ theory…

  9. Robin Datta Says:

    Recently there have been noises about cadmium telluride thin film photovoltaics having an ERoEI of 40 or more. That could suggest salvation, but the figures come from the CdTe folks. And they do not address the scalability issues: there may be constraints imposed by availability of the raw material and the capital costs for the transition.

  10. Stan Moore Says:

    another new essay, just written this morning:

    Selective Hysteria in our High Stakes, High Risk Civilization

    by Stan Moore

    Just recently I had a chance to read the new book by Dr. James Hansen, “Storms of my Grandchildren”, where he describes the basis for his fears over the future of the world due to anthropogenic global warming. A cold, concise, detailed, deep-thinking scientist with many years of intense effort on the subject matter, Dr. Hansen came across as the opposite of hysterical. He is almost too matter-of-fact in his demeanor, but his arguments should be driving appropriate intense alarm in sane people, in my opinion. But our civilization is highly selective in its hysteria and often mistaken in its response reflexes to problems, large and small. The book has gotten almost no mainstream media attention at all.

    We see in appropriate hysteria sometimes with raptors — hysterical screams by a few that eagles are in danger of extinction, while the root causes of demographic difficulties are ignored in favor of fantasy alarmism, otherwise known as hysteria. Based on little or nothing real. Sheep pose a bigger threat to eagle populations by virtue of habitat degradation than mortality sources such as wind turbines. Mortality by human persecution is ignored by the few who apologize for their friends, the gamekeepers, while hysterically screaming at non-existent wind turbines, like Sancho Panza and Don Quixote.

    We have a financial system that is precariously propped up by government intervention because the elite investor class of the world has been allowed to engage in high risk, engineered-to-fail, manipulation of the markets with no meaingful government regulation. A sane population led by a watchdog world media, should hysterically cry for criminal prosecution of these thieves and white collar criminals in high places, along with the government agencies that allow them to prosper and reward them for utter failure. But people begrudgingly admire the “upper crust” out of envy for their wealth and lifestyle, instead of understanding that in a zero sum world of finite resources, the only way that the few can become obscenely wealthy is to take wealth away from the masses and discard them like chattel. Where is the hysteria that ought to be forging revolution in these desperate times? Instead, we have television shows admiring Paris Hilton as some sort of hero and providing blow by blow accounts of her maneuvers to find a suitable British friend. Now that is hysterically funny!

    We just saw a major environmental conference in Bolivia, where indigenous Bolivian President Evo Morales called for reparations and engagement from the wealthy northern countries to account for their harm to the global environment and pay for their damage to the global commons, including the climate of the world. This is not hysterical — this is rational and fair and just. Instead in America we hear a duped, dumbed down citizenry questioning whether humans have any impact on the climate at all! We see television commentators hysterically opposed to rationality on this issue.

    Our entire civilization seems like this now. We are poised on the precipice of disaster from so many sources that we are in a form of shock. We reward failure and fail to act on pending crises. We act as if we think a little more DDT in the world is going to be disastrous for something, yet we cannot say what. Yes, DDT is harmful and moves around on its own (it seems) and so to keep a total ban on it makes us feel as if we are accomplishing something major, even if we cannot prove it. Yet we continue burning coal in enormous quantities, spilling oil into the oceans, warring over the fate of the last oil reserves on the planet, overfishing our oceans, deforesting our tropics and temperate regions at the same time, and tagging as many wild animals with satellite tags as we can deploy in order to pretend that we are somehow going to save a small percentage of some part of what is left, somewhere, somehow, some day.

    And time is getting short. Dr. Hansen’s grandchildren are getting a bit bigger and his hair is falling out in worrying about their future. But he his still no hysterical. Why not! If anyone should be hysterical, it should be Dr. Hansen.

  11. Doctor Doomlove Says:

    Post-industrial Stone Age by 2025!! Allahu-fucking-Akbar, that’s the best news I’ve heard in years! Finally some *real* change! I have my loincloth on, stone knife in hand, saber-tooth tiger Zabu by my side and I’m ready to rumble in the new Savage Land! Bring that Stone Age on in 2025! Aaaaawww-aaaawww-aaaw-aw-rawwwww!! (that’s my Ka-Zar battle cry, for those of you who didn’t grow up reading Marvel Comics)

  12. Frank Mezek Says:

    Pity the poor PIIGS—-First it was Greece,then Portugal,now Spain.

    The good have to suffer for their virtue.Our Stan called ProfEmGuy “Dr.”
    McPherson, but failed to acknowlege me as Reverend Mezek.What a depraved world we live in,when a DD is not as honored as a PHD !!! My colleagues at The Harvard Divinity School would be appalled.

    Sigh.

    Double D

  13. Frank Mezek Says:

    —————but let’s move on to an important secular matter.

    This is not a Bull Market,nor a Bear Market,but a Wile E. Coyote
    stock market.

    The idiots on Wall Street have run off the cliff long ago,but
    have yet to look down.

    Double D

  14. vera Says:

    Heh, Frank, that’s because like the Coyote himself, they know that when they crash and have the pile of rocks fall on their head, they’ll be bailed out by the toon reality they have created.

  15. Jan Steinman Says:

    Greentangle’s poll shows that “agricultural anarchy” is the clear leader by a wide margin. I find this coping strategy to be similar in many ways to Richard Heinberg’s “lifeboat communities.”

    And yet, getting to agricultural anarchy is not simple in the western world. There are zoning regulations, building codes, public health laws, parking requirements, and many other insane impediments to sustainable living.

    Here in the Capital Regional District of British Columbia (for example), you cannot even house un-related people together in the same building, nor can you have more than two houses per 20 acres of land. According to one study, we need one full-time agricultural worker for every two acres in intensive, organic, non-industrial farming. How can we do that when limited to a house-full of related people per ten acres?

    We’re trying to implement agricultural anarchy on Salt Spring Island, but we need help. Come and help us!

    http://www.EcoReality.org/wiki/Land_purchase_fund_drive

  16. Frank Mezek Says:

    Heads Up:

    Ireland is the next PIIGS to get it.Seems there is a technical peculiarity masking the true depth of Ireland’s economy.Irish
    newspapers claim that they are really worse off than Greece.

    That leaves only one PIGGS left—-Italy.

    Stay tuned.

    Double D

  17. Jerry Scovel Says:

    Guy,
    Very well written piece about what will come after the crash. I believe that there is one path that you may have overlooked, living on the ocean. It is my contention that artificial floating islands can be made from plastic barrels, bottles, styrofoam and other buoyant materials found in landfills. Richard Sowa, the Flying Neutrinos and I are each building floating islands that can be used to grow crops, collect water, generate electricity and can be lived on. The islands will be low tech, low cost and can be built quickly by semi skilled labor.
    I believe that if we can build enough of these islands we can reverse climate change. Every northern hemisphere summer there is a 4 ppm drop in the atmospheric carbon levels http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/carbonlevels/ that is due to vegetation growing there. During the northern hemisphere winter the level goes up 6 ppm because there is less land in the southern hemisphere.
    Jerry.

  18. Guy McPherson Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, D. Charbonneau. I follow Sharon now and then, but I’m often disappointed. This post, for example, fails to acknowledge Jevons’ paradox (i.e., conservation will not work) and also fails to acknowledge the strong link between oil prices and the industrial economy. Conservation and paying more for gasoline are minor issues compared to economic effects of high oil prices. We’re headed for economic collapse, and there will be insufficient time to adapt to high energy prices.

    Reverend Mezek, Simon Johnson points out the likelihood of contagion taking out the entire euro zone in today’s essay.

  19. Stan Moore Says:

    Signs of the times (unfortunately) –

    (Back then) — JP Morgan got fabulously wealthy as a banker making loans on infrastructure growth like railroads and owning real wealth created by real industry

    (Now) JP Morgan/Chase gets exponentially more wealthy by trading bogus securities that liquidate real wealth and real industry and by trading virtual computer-generated paper in the realm of self-generated bubbles. And the infrastructure built a century ago decays and falls apart for lack of investment.

    In short — capitalism has run its course on a finite planet and is now in process of consuming its own consumers with predatory/parastic practices.

    Stan Moore

  20. Jerry Scovel Says:

    The Amish can teach us a lesson on survival. When an Amish person builds a house or a barn, everyone works on it. I intend to take this same approach on building the islands that I mentioned earlier. I have enough tools to keep a hundred people working and we can use the Mississippi river current to produce all of the energy that we need. We will grow our own food, purify our water, make our energy and make our own houseboat islands.

  21. Stan Moore Says:

    I like the Amish example in principle. Tribalism works. However, for long-term results, it might be best to import some Italian or Greek or Lebanese women for genetic
    reasons in order to minimize inbreeding problems…

    Stan Moore

  22. vera Says:

    Jerry, where are you building these islands? (Best of luck.)

  23. Jerry Scovel Says:

    I hope to have millions of folks of all races going along, although I hope none of them are bankers or politicians. I will be building the islands in Osco and Rock Island Illinois. Anyone interested in trying to survive on the rivers or the sea should go our website at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/riverats/ I do not care if you want to help or start your own project, the information on the site is free to everyone.

  24. D. Charbonneau Says:

    In all fairness, I must add that the article by Sharon Astyk was written in 2007. Sharon has been writing about the issues that plague us for quite a while. Perhaps we get particularly disappointed at those we consider because they don’t fully endorse our point-of-view to its…apex, as data driven as it may be, in these hard times. I support Sharon’s continually evolving phenomenal efforts that bring about illuminating understanding to people across the world, including for practical home front application.

    Stan Moore, some woman here wonders how much more insensitive you can get in your condescension.

    Sigh and bye for now.

    Danielle C.
    Tucson, Arizona

  25. jackinthegreen Says:

    Great read, if for no other reason than to make me feel downright positive (in your view PollyAnna-ish?). I’m seen as a hopeless pessimist in most circles.

    In any case, your future scenario either depends on hard data and number crunching, or it is but one more guess.

    Since I doubt anyone’s got sufficiently hard numbers to hazard more than a guess about how soon post-peak oil duress will arrive, and how quickly it’ll progress, I’d say your pessimism regarding transition towns, or even wildly optimistic visions such as “bright green cities”, is just that: pessimism…and yet another guess.

    All that said, perhaps the transition movement can indeed benefit from examining the anarchist agriculture option, at least to assess any potential to incorporate its inherent resilience into their planning.. such as it is. I suppose real resilience thinking must include the worst case scenario (short of perhaps an asteroid the size of Cleveland slamming home?), and proceed under the assumption that there may indeed be no functional source of power, water , food.. and so on.

    So, yes, a useful read, all things considered.

    Cheers

  26. F White Says:

    No disrespect intended to Dr M or to the readers who added comments, but it would be helpful if Dr M could distribute his article to other respected and qualified experts in the fields of peak oil, climate change and macroeconomics for a kind of peer review of his paper.

    I certainly don’t consider myself sufficiently well informed to assess the validity of the arguments. Therefore,I am understandably hesitant to accept the logic at face value without hearing from others.

    Thanks for considering this request.

  27. Guy McPherson Says:

    Thanks for your first-time comments, jackinthegreen and F White. My analyses here and elsewhere rely heavily on data.

    We know we’ve passed the world oil peak, so we know how much oil remains. We know the form of the derivatives (usually called alternatives), and we know how abundant they are. And, as much as I appreciate the process of peer review, I don’t want to wait three years to publish this essay, in part because I doubt we’ll avoid a new Dark Age by then.

    If, however, you would like a hopelessly optimistic assessment completely watered down by the process of peer review, here’s my latest publication, due to appear next month on the prestigious pages of Conservation Biology (let me know via email if you’d like the entire paper in pdf form). For a more realistic and time assessment of near-term oil prices, check out Jeff Rubin’s recent forecast for record-breaking oil prices next year. That’ll almost certainly finish off the industrial economy.

  28. Resa Says:

    Hi Guy:

    Yes, I’d like a PDF copy of your watered-down optimistic assessment that will appear next month in “Conservation Biology.”

    According to Michael Pollan, us farmers will eventually solve all three of the world’s biggest problems — energy, health care and climate change.

    The Renewable Fuels Association says as recent as April 16, 2010, “farmers have once again produced enough corn for all uses, and still (have) some left over.”

    Out of Amsterdam: “Within a decade, passenger planes will be flying on jet fuel largely made from plants.” Rest assured, “the industry is focusing on agrofuels that (will) cause minimal environmental destruction.”

    Don’t worry so much. Us farmers have this whole crises situation handled.

    Now, if only this crappy Spring weather would encourage my seed to germinate …

  29. Stan Moore Says:

    Congratulations Guy for getting something in Conservation Biology. In comparison, another wildlifer with connections to UA, Dr. Brian Czech, now a biologist with the US FWS Wildlife Refuge system, heads an organization with a title along the lines of Center for Study of the Steady-State Economy, or something similar. I like and admire Dr. Czech a lot, but I think his mission is already fulfilled, because Peak Oil has removed the possibility of future long-term economic growth and the trajectory of the national and world economies will be downhill in the future no matter what the steady state economics conservationsts do or say.

    Of course, my position still holds true on the matter, as far as I am concerned, which is that we should give increased attention to the makeup of the economy and overall size in ecological terms, with effort made to determine that an appropriate national economy should allow for the simultaneous recovery of all threatened and endangered species as a gauge for setting its size. And the distribution of wealth within the national economy should be a priority in terms of fairness and equitable treatment of all sovereign citizens.

    I might add that Brian Czech has had a hell of a time getting organizations such as the Society for Conservation Biology, the Wildlife Society, and others to take official positions on the need for a steady state economy as opposed to a growth economy, and he has done yeoman work for the past decade.

    But I suspect that pretty soon the US President and Congress will stop talking about “recovery” to past economic heights and will be forced to recognize that contraction will be the order of the day for the foreseeable future. If they can force themselves to be honest, that is — which may be asking too much.

    And no Resa! If the detritus of millions of years is depleted as an energy source for mankind’s fuel needs, the annual production of grains and other biofuels and renewable replacements will never replace the oil that has been lost at the scale needed. You are pursuing a pipe dream and the energy returns on some of the touted fuels are actually less than the energy it takes to produce those fuels.

    Stan Moore

  30. Jerry Scovel Says:

    I grew up on a real farm where you could pull up a spade full of dirt that was teeming with life. We rotated our crops so we never needed massive amounts of fertilizer, the cattle, pigs chickens supplied all of the fertilizer that we needed. We made our own methane and our electricity came from four six volt generators on an old wind mill. We let the land lie fallow one year out of four and grew legumes that we plowed under one year out of four. Our soil improved every year with no runoff, erosion or ground water pollution.

    I now live in an industrial agriculture area where a hobby farm is 2,000 acres. A spade full of dirt has no life, it was murdered long ago by pesticides and herbicides. Giant combines and tractors compact the soil and use more fuel in a day than we used in a year. You buy your fuel and your electricity comes from the grid. You cannot drink the water from the wells, creeks now have steep banks that make it difficult for wild life to drink, and flooding is common. If you measure success by dollars you may be very successful, if you measure successs by land stewardship then you would be a failure. You are no longer a farmer, you are a businessman.

  31. Stan Moore Says:

    I am sorry that Danielle feels like women have been treated condescendingly by me. That was not my intent and could be just a by-product of my matter-of-fact style.

    I actually thought I was going far out of my way to be ultra-sensitive, not condescending, because Danielle herself appeared to me to be hypersensitive to the concerns of women, and women alone.

    Generally speaking, Peak Oil is a universal human problem, not a male or female or American or Tucson problem and undue attention to one segment of humanity creates its own dilemmas. This is especially true when one tends to ignore relevant facts that relate to the problem, as Danielle has done and which I have pointed out. It was not intended to be done condesdendingly, but openly and honestly. If Danielle thinks this is condescending, I suspect the chip is on her shoulder and not on mine.

    And since Danielle never addressed the relevant issues I raised, I suspect she has not learned much and is still stuck in her unflinching focus on female victimhood as if it is all that matters in the world to her.

    I certainly am concerned about female victimhood, and so much more.

    Stan Moore

  32. Resa Says:

    Guy: Received it. Thank you.

    Stan: You totally missed the point of my closing sentence.

    Another tidbit I’ll pass along … currently the West Coast exports 3 million tons of crop residue (grain straw, corn stover, pea vines, etc.) to other countries for feedstock. One proposal is to divert his biomass into bio-energy instead. Two million dry tons would fire a 500-megaWatt power plant stateside.

    I’m not saying the above is feasible long-term, but I’m pretty sure all manner of recovery (or salvage, depending upon your outlook) will be attempted first before collapse is awknowledged.

  33. vera Says:

    Stan, I think Danielle reacted to your “However, for long-term results, it might be best to import some Italian or Greek or Lebanese women for genetic
    reasons in order to minimize inbreeding problems…”

    Yeah… I guess you like your breeder women swarthy, huh… :(

  34. Jerry Scovel Says:

    When selecting mates it is best to choose by desired traits rather than by race. Breeds are generally stronger, brighter and less susceptible to disease than members of ‘pure’ races. I prefer that my breeder women are bright, strong and healthy, their color is irrelevant.

  35. jackinthegreen Says:

    Thanx Guy, I will take a PDF copy of your paper, if the offer still holds. :)

    I guess my main bone of contention is that, tho we agree on the “if”, I’m less convinced on the “when”. I’d add as well that persons of science should heed the lesson of the infamous Simon/Ehrlich wager, and not get burned by the fickle timing of non-linear open systems; they run on their own schedule.

    Still – and again – great stuff! Plz keep it coming.

  36. Stan Moore Says:

    Dear Vera –

    I am not Amish. I am not part of a tribe that has inbreeding problems like the Amish (who spring from German-speaking Swiss ancestry) do. So, in the context of problem solving as if I was a member of a tribe, such as the fair-skinned Amish, which has well-known inbreeding problems (see below), I would see the value of introducing genes from other human populations that differ from my own tribe’s genes. Examples of different genes from other human populations that could add diversity to those in the Amish population could be Italian, Lebanese, or other swarthy peoples. And for that matter, they could probably come from males introduced into the Amish population, even by use of artificial insemination without human contact. My own person attractions are not part of the picture since I am not part of that picture. So, I feel hard-pressed to understand how an abbreviated depiction of this well-known situation (I thought) could be interpreted as condescending towards women.

    American Journal of Epidemiology Vol. 125, No. 3: 453-461
    Copyright © 1987 by The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health
    research-article
    INBREEDING AND PREREPRODUCTIVE MORTALITY IN THE OLD ORDER AMISH. I. GENEALOGIC EPIDEMIOLOGY OF INBREEDING
    MUIN J. KHOURY1 2, BERNICE H. COHEN1,, EARL L. DIAMOND1, GARY A. CHASE3 and VICTOR A. MCKUSICK4

    1Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore MD 21205
    3Department of Mental Hygiene, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health Baltimore, MD
    4Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Hospital Baltimore, MD

    Reprint requests to Dr. Bernice H. Cohen

    Epidemiologic patterns of inbreeding in the Old Order Amish were Investigated using a unique genealogic registry of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Amish that contains information on 8,163 marriages, dating back to the time of the pioneer migrants in the 1700s and spanning more than 10 generations. The kinship coefficient for each marriage was computed using the path method of tracing common ancestors in the multigenerational pedigrees. Because of exten sive genealogic connections, mean kinship coefficients and the proportion of related marriages have increased significantly over time, from 0.004 and 37%, respectlveiy, for marriages before 1850 to 0.012 and 98%, respectively, for marriages after 1950. Demographic factors related to higher kinship levels include young age at marriage, large sibship size for both husband and wife, husband being a farmer, and marriages occurring in the marriage season (November or December). The rise in inbreeding levels in the Amish over time can be uniquely contrasted with the decline in inbreeding in most areas of the world. Furthermore, because some of the demographic factors related to high inbreeding levels may be associated with levels of mortality, such factors have to be taken into account when studying the effects of inbreeding on mortality in the Amish. This study uses an epidemiologic approach to the evaluation of inbreeding patterns in a population over time.

    consanguinity; ethnic groups; genealogy; inbreeding; mortality; religion

    2Current address: Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA.

  37. Jerry Scovel Says:

    One has to wonder, if there were man made islands between the oil rig that went down and the coast, would we be facing an ecological disaster now? Could large offshore islands cool the gulf enough to stop hurricanes?

  38. vera Says:

    Stan, when you respond to our criticism with data, I feel disheartened, because I am hoping to be heard. Would you be willing to listen to our discomfort on its own terms?

    As for the data, the Amish come from Swiss, German, and Dutch stock by and large, and consequently, any other population would introduce needed gene pool refreshment. In addition, their main problem is not so much associating with like Dutch, Swiss et al people, but rather having small inbred gene pools within their splintered church districts.

  39. Danielle C. Says:

    Stan — Import: women as commodity. Some: headless body. I can appreciate that you want to be heard, and I think we would also like to hear more about you, you life, your preparation efforts, you as the man. As I result, I think you would hear us better, too.

    Men, women, bambinos, it’s all there in the mix of our overall concern.

    Let’s move on together, respectfully.

    Thanks.

    Danielle C.

  40. Jan Steinman Says:

    Resa, I’m wondering if you have really considered the scope of the predicament we’re in?

    I’ve calculated that “A 200 horsepower gasoline engine… consumes about 60 million watts of ancient sunlight when it is running. This is the sunlight falling on an area of about 150 square miles…” when harvested by photosynthesis.

    Photosynthesis is not a particularly efficient process for storing energy, unless you have millions of years to wait. What makes fossil fuel energy-dense is not the plants that gathered it, but the time over which it was gathered. “Crop residues” are not going to support the status-quo in real-time!

    But even if crop residues could supply some meaningful portion of even a downsized energy diet, what are we doing to the earth? Crop residues need to be returned to the earth to maintain soil tilth and fertility! We are currently removing phosphorous from our soil at the rate of nearly 2% annually. It is treated in sewage and flushed into the sea, where it will remain for millions of years until the rock cycle brings it back to the surface. We are very near — if not actually past — “peak phosphorous.”

    (Actually, salmon and other migratory epipelagic fish bring significant amounts of phosphorous inland, but we all know what’s been happening to them…)

    And even if we were able to somehow utilize crop residues without losing their nutrients, how are we producing them in the first place? The “green revolution” of agriculture is more properly called a “brown revolution,” because it is utterly dependent on fossil energy. The ammonia fertilizer used to produce “crop residues” — not to mention the actual crops — comes via natural gas in the Haber-Bosch process. The other primary nutrients, phosphorous and potassium, come from mines, worked by diesel equipment.

    It comes down to this: sustainable, organic agriculture is largely incompatible with biofuels. The soil’s nutrient cycle must be closed. Removing crop residues is not sustainable. Heck, removing even crops is unsustainable unless we’re putting our own human waste back on the ground!

    Would you be willing to read the “Energy Primer” article (linked above) and let me know if it helps you to understand the predicament we’re in, and why no number of farmers are going to change it? Either that, or tell me where I’m wrong!

  41. Resa Says:

    Jan:

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Not to belabor the issue, but you’re missing my point. I understand the predicament we’re in.

    Crop residue should be returned to the soil. However, we’re not currently doing so. Annually, the West Coast exports 3 million dry tons of it overseas. OTHER countries benefit from what’s left after we harvest.

    There’s presently a big push underfoot to convert biomass into alternative energy. Crop residue is seen as one such source, along with logging residue and orchard residue. If I subscribed to the “Green Source” power option from my local electric provider, I’d be receiving 11% of my electricity from biomass combustion.

    As I stipulated in my original post, I’m “pretty sure all manner of recovery (or salvage, depending upon your outlook) will be attempted first before collapse is awknowledged.” I didn’t advocate such endeavors nor state they would be successful.

    I do not believe farmers can save the planet. Less than 1 percent of the American population even identifies with agriculture. Everyone else consumes. (Don’t even get me started on “organic sustainability.”)

    Another tidbit I’ll toss out:

    “Cows Power Passenger Train: Amtrak and transportation officials from Oklahoma and Texas have started a yearlong test to see whether beef-based biodiesel can efficiently run The Heartland Flyer passenger train between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. Tallow from Texas cattle — fat often used in soap or animal feed — is supplying 20 percent of the fuel for the 3,200-horsepower engine, the rest is regular No. 2 diesel.
    After a year, Amtrak will inspect the engine and collect exhaust data. Other tests will be performed throughout the year.”

    Again, NOT advocating the longterm feasibility of beef tallow as a fuel source, afterall, our national bovine herd is only 96 million head. Although I suppose we could always cajole India, China, and Brazil out of their 483 million head. After that, we’re down to smaller populations that may be more energy depletive than they’re worth. But then, there are those 150 million water buffalo. Perhaps we could swap some biomass combustive residue for them. Our national bison herd, I’m afraid, wouldn’t last long. Neither would our 9 million equines. After that, we’re pretty much out of tallow, at least from domesticated large animal sources.

    Are there any whales left?

  42. Niki Yanakou Says:

    The Oil Drum has some articles concerning the use of alternatives to produce energy. The authors explain in detail why a/e will not be the life line that many expect. The articles are long and detailed.

    The articles are very long and detailed.
    The Fake Fire Brigade: How We Cheat Ourselves about our Energy Future
    Revisiting the Fake Fire Brigade – Part 1 – General Issues
    Revisiting the Fake Fire Brigade Part 2: Biomass – A Panacea?
    The Fake Fire Brigade Revisited #3 – The Biggest Part of Business As Usual – Electricity

    If the links dont work I will repost them


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