This collapse, my art, and what I think I can see

by L.A.W., a well-traveled artist-educator living in Ohio

I recently read that Michelangelo stopped making art for two years because the Republic of Florence was under attack and he understood it to be his duty to contribute whole-heartedly to the survival of his country. I don’t flatter myself that I am like Michelangelo when it comes to skill and genius, however I do regard Petrocollapse (or Peak Oil) as great big news that gets virtually no coverage in the media. Without discussion and awareness, very little can be accomplished as we attempt to mitigate or prepare. As a visual artist, I understand I am part of “the media,” albeit a tiny one. Because of this realization, I spent quite a bit of time and money “making a statement.” (I think all artists, especially visual and performance artists, should pitch in for this one.) The statement that I made was, in essence, Petrocollapse is likely going to cause the deaths of many, many people, and because of the apparent scale of the catastrophe, everyone should be invited to contribute to “softening the crash” in every conceivable way. Oh yes, and Americans will be the hardest hit.

That statement met (and is meeting) with mixed reviews. Most commonly, people seek refuge in denial and they explain to me that technology will be harnessed and come to our rescue well before any disaster that would make World War II seem like a reprieve. Because they saw the artwork, and because I gave many of them a photocopy, I don’t try much harder to convert anyone. Still, I have come to believe that the images initiate the grief process enough to start raising awareness — a seed gets planted. The sooner people meet their denial the sooner there can be hope of that denial being overcome. (I worked as a chemical dependency counselor for four years.) That is also why I decided to put the images in the creative commons and give them away. What began as my using art to cope and process difficult realizations has become what could be a tool for raising awareness. I think art does this for me more than a graph … although I must say, graphs too can reach me. When I first saw and looked at the oil poster I went home and made a yellow Star of David with black outlines. In the middle, in Hebrew-esque lettering, I wrote “Peak Oil.” My friend Gordon Baer photographed me holding it against my suit coat where the Nazis required Jews to wear similar stars that said “Jew.” I did that because it communicates the peak oil-based Holocaust on an unimaginable scale. My awareness became oppressive and the only real coping skill for me is to make art about it. The more I learned, the more I found that the Black Death is the only event that compares at all and its influence on European culture gave us the longest running genre in the visual arts. I had to cross Danse Macabre imagery with issues of Peak Oil.

For this printmaker, the project went from photographing skeletons to arranging them in Photoshop to having the images laser cut into end-grain maple blocks and then printing them the very, very old fashioned way. I now realize I was losing valuable time relative to the larger purpose of the work. At first I envisioned making a few quaint but remarkable books but then the photocopied versions were so much faster and cheaper to generate and then once friends on the web saw the digital images, they helped me realize that a pdf file would be the swiftest and most easily shared version: Dans Macabre ad hoc Petrocollapse (large pdf).

My encounter with Peak Oil turned me into something of an activist, helped un-job me and is putting stresses into my life and marriage that are best dealt with using close and caring support groups. Because such local support groups don’t exist yet, we have to build them. (Nationally and internationally, Awakening the Dreamer workshops do help with this.) That adds more stress — however we are collectively reaching a public awareness tipping point. That is another reason I created what I refer to as “the little artist’s book” or “the doomer comic book.” For the same reason, I give it away. For the same reason, it is in the creative commons. Such efforts get us closer to public awareness in an arena that non-artists rarely step into. Such visual efforts reach out easier because they can jump the gulf between intellectual and non-intellectual, businessman and student, parent and teenager. The curious little pictures should be seen some place (many places!) to make some people ask questions. But it seems most people are too busy to bother with the collapse of their civilization. They would rather not deal with unpleasantries. When I pitched my most recent proposal to a group of artists at a gallery, I was very serious and earnest and my suggestion was met with peals of laughter. Not the kind of laughter that arises from a sense of humor, but instead the laughter that comes from sudden confrontation with what one regards as absurd. Humor is very important in facing the issues related to the depletion of our primary energy source. I have formed this opinion because laughter is adaptive and can facilitate discussion. The assumption that oil supplies will last forever is so entrenched that to actually question it can demolish one’s worldview. That is not a good feeling and humor is one of the few ameliorative tools in attempting to actually engage in dialogue. A nurse, who is an active member in the Transition movement, told me, “How you make them feel is almost as important as what you tell them.” When she said that, it occurred to me that the navy never seemed too concerned about feelings when the captain orders “man your life boat stations” and the Eugene Kleiner saw, “There is a time when panic is the appropriate response,” also crossed my mind.

We generally regard the unthinkable as absurd. But just because we don’t think about something certainly does not place it into the set of “impossible.” The unthinkable happens. When it does, we often are struck with a kind of awe. Encountering awe is another purpose in art. Journalist Bill Moyers interviewed a soldier who witnessed the huge counter-attack of the German army at the start of what would become “the Battle of the Bulge.” The soldier described it as “sublime.” I lived with a painter who was the first to tell me that not all art is beautiful. Some of the most powerful art is sublime. I was pleasantly surprised to see this confirmed by a curator giving my Danse Macabre work an award when I regard the images as “horror laced with gallows humor.” (She saw the large four-feet-high, carved versions.)

For those who wish to see the images as they were first posted in their blog context, they are posted here. Please share them.

Our preoccupations with our occupations often help us forget awe. In the Vedas it says, “When the people lose their sense of awe, there comes a visitation.” Our society lost its sense of awe (I believe) once consumerism got a good head of steam. Our value of human life is threatened by its over-abundance. Now we are torn between participating in a paradigm that cannot continue (growth forever) and going into forgotten territory that will feel uncharted because support is gone. (For example, harvesting wheat used to be a huge community effort. With petro-energy, large combines do what neighbors used to. Another example, if I do not get an earn-money job, I risk losing my home.) Soon we likely will be re-pioneering an urban and suburban wilderness in an environment of diminishing energy. (The Transition movement, started by Rob Hopkins, et al. is helping accomplish this vital work.) Unfortunately, the fuel most people will fall back on will affect an even steeper ecocide. We seem to be the fleas on a dog called Earth. We are invited by circumstances to come together in conscious conservation of limited resources. A learned friend recently pointed out that some who cannot or will not hear or understand the invitation are merely selected against. What the “preppers” are doing is prepping the follow-on gene pool.

The lessons our society needs most were learned long ago. They were embedded in the stories that we told that incorporated the value of the soil and our connection to the earth. The mythologies that tend to separate us from the earth are not as useful to us, now that we see they have led us into destroying our habitat. The messages we send to ourselves are about to change radically. The survivors of this die-off will have values that are very, very different from ours. There is a sacredness of the earth and connection to it that we have missed. It is soon to become very clear. Physicist Robert Hirsch claims that within two to five years it will be clear to everyone that we are in a very serious energy “mess.”

From the ancient stories, we know, intuitively, any who survive past the steepest part of the energy descent curve — those who understand what needs to be done and are willing to risk everything to help others to do the next right thing — they will be the heroes about whom our great-grandchildren sing. The one who goes past the known world (physically or conceptually) and returns to use the experience to help society: that’s what a hero is. More important than a mere “hero-story” is the actual function of such stories. We wrongly believe that myths are just old religions from other places or peoples. We have told our conceited selves that myths are things we do not need. We do need them and very badly. The purpose of a myth is to guide the individual and the society in living correctly in relation to the material world and the cosmos. Myths work like pictures and often on the same level. If I know the myth, I understand the meaning. The weakness of our civilization has been a lack of reverence for the awesome power of the mysteries in nature. We dismissed the “nature religions” as primitive. Impressed with using our science and technology, we flatter ourselves that we have conquered nature. Unfortunately, as C. P. Snow points out, technology offers us gifts with one hand and stabs us in the back with the other. Peak Oil and climate chaos are stabbing us in the back. Native Americans looked with suspicion on our culture’s fondness for innovation. Why risk the balance that affords life? While I don’t regard myself as a Luddite, or anti-technology, there is something to be said for long-term stability. Icarus was not deaf to warnings. He became intoxicated with the amazing power he briefly harnessed. We have briefly harnessed oil power. My grandfather harnessed horses to drive into town. Before I die, I may do the same.

I’m an old destroyer sailor and I believe there should be a plan for every conceivable scenario that we are likely to encounter. I instinctively started down the path of energy decline by trying to talk to commissioners and city planners to raise their awareness (“use your chain of command”). I was very naive. I still give talks where I teach and I have spoken to a group of Rotarians, but such approaches — trying to convert unbelievers — is very slow going, isolating, and a drain on energies better spent elsewhere. I still write articles and post to blogs, but there is a real need for activism of the embarrassing sort. The kind where someone cracks someone else’s weltanschauung out of a sense of community while in public. That’s a rare opportunity and a rare person who seizes such an opportunity. Performance artists are useful in that role. Puppeteers are also very useful in that role. I have taken to occasionally asking a stranger as we both get gas at a gas station, “Do you ever wonder how long we’ll be able to do this?” A surly person might think, ‘mind your own business,’ and that’s exactly what I think I’m doing. An uninformed community is a hard-hit community. John Seymour told Davie Philip that instead of self sufficiency, he should have written a book about co-sufficiency.

I’ve started making a list of “things that will be different” in Energy Descent and all the ways they will be different. I believe that the technologies and skills used to help get us up the per-capita energy consumption curve (e.g., Dr. Richard Duncan’s Olduvai Theory of Industrial Civilization) will apply to getting down the curve. The first up will be the last up, in a general sense (e.g. biplanes will fly later and longer in history than Boeing 787s). Generally speaking, “everything old will be new again.” My list is becoming my next art project, so that awareness can still be raised. Experience of truth, or even just truisms, is an aesthetic experience.

Since we have such a late start, my wife and I have ten acres and we have been learning everything we can about growing, processing, and storing food. I raised an acre of wheat and rye and did everything by hand to end up with bread — including building an earth oven. We keep enough stored food to last a year, including barter and charity. We are building resilience and community and trying to participate in Transition efforts.

I used to regret having changed trades or jobs or careers so often. I sometimes thought I was too much the pinball, bouncing from one interest to another, from one job to another … I sometimes believed I was too much the generalist and not enough the specialist for having gone from science to languages to art. Any more, I appreciate that I have been adapting and preparing. I have adapted fairly well. Others have not. Those of us who have adapted reasonably well may want to help those who have not. In the past when “haves” chose not to help the “have-nots” for long enough, bad things happened. That’s why one of the aphorisms for my exhibition will be a paraphrase of the rules of the board game Monopoly. “When one person owns everything, the game is over.” Another is “Nature draws more than ten oxen.” That’s very much like another I will use: “Nature bats last.”

Comments 56

  • Great essay! I don’t know your age, but if you’ve got ten acres, I invite you to engage in some sort of process by which younger people with fewer resources can work on the land. Check out things like WWOOF International and the ATTRA internship site. People will volunteer to work in exchange for food and lodging.

    By the way, it looks like many of your links are broken.

  • several links didn’t work for me, either.

    danse macabre petrocollapse blew me away. wonderful horror. plus it was a mini-partial art/history education. i had no knowledge of the genre or it’s origins prior. death of this sort (the sort we face in coming decades) is too appalling to get comfortable with. it’s born of the darkest hues of life. of the darkest experiences. loved the poetry. great essay. i’d amend the part about people being too busy to deal with collapse to most are too dogmatically ignorant/stupid/deluded to be concerned, while most of the rest perhaps are too alienated/hopeless/cynical/resigned to be bothered anymore with trying to ‘save the world’. instead, do what u can or will to save yourself, and keep in mind the option/ability to choose the time/place/circumstance of your own last dance, for there are fates worse than death.

    i’m posting a link to this art to a few lists. it’s subject is harsh, but it is sublime harshness, and it may serve it’s intended purpose for some. thanks for the contribution, l.a.w..

  • John Michael Greer had addressed the issue of denial / non-recognition on a societal level with what appears to be great insight in his blog The Archdruid Report quite a while back. The basic premise seemed to be that people’s receptiveness is crafted by the stories (“myths”) carried by society and culture. Information poured into that mould takes its shape and sets into a world-view that fits the preferred pattern. Breaking those moulds and reshaping world-views can be well-nigh impossible, and is quite unlikely to be accomplished by the decantation of yet more information.

  • With apologies for the technical issues, I believe I’ve fixed all the links.

  • L.A.W I like your art and appreciate your sharing it. Nothing else seems to be wrenching the people that be away from the stories of the powers that be. Who knows what might get through.

    Its coincidental that right now I am reading a SF book called the Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. It takes place in the future and the past. The future is experiencing a flu epidemic and the past is 1348 – the start of the Black Death which took out 1/3 or more of the population of Europe.

    Today on Democracy Now they talked about Richard Holbrooke and Amy Goodman stated “Holbrooke oversaw weapons shipments to the Indonesian military as it killed a third of East Timor’s population. ” I am not sure of the time frame but I think most of it was between 1975 and 1976 and of course I would guess that Indonesia (and the US and Australia) would dispute the numbers. Nonetheless as we sit here worrying about coming events it strikes me that in sections of the world rather large depopulations have occurred in our lifetimes.

    We (especially in the US) have come to feel like “these things don’t happen to us”. But on a small scale they are happening elsewhere and what we face is something that often the US has had a strong participation in in other countries.

    Not that that makes it any easier…. and in this case we are doing it to ourselves.

  • Ernest Becker’s book Denial of Death has the basic premise “that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism.”

    As far as we know we are the only creatures that can imagine their own death. Lots of creatures have fear that protects them from death. Our chickens are terrified of hawks, but nothing would indicate that they have any ongoing thoughts that a hawk might cause them to cease to exists. It is a thoughtless response and in the interest of overcaution will be triggered by a vulture or even crow overhead.

    However imagining our own death is not pleasant and might lead to inability to function if we dwell on it too much. Thus I think our brain uses its unconscious programs to deny death or at the least to refuse to let us thing about it much. I think these programs leach over into dealing with Peak Oil or Climate Change. Add to that programs that say tomorrow will be much like today (which works most of the time) and we are primed not to deal with future calamity. Thus people can live near a volcano that has erupted catastrophically in the past. I don’t think it takes much help from cultural memes or purposeful lies from the power elite to keep the majority of the public in denial.

    The constant use of survival as if it was some absolute, or the description of a Dr. saving a life rather than extending a life IMO are examples of this pervasive death denial that then extends to cover the death of a civilization.

  • Very interesting essay. I think that “Dan Macabre ad hoc Petrocollapse” is a great work of art. Thought provoking, but one that manages to present an unpleasant topic, peak oil, and do it with a certain finesse. Bravo!

  • It is always interesting to get different perpsectives on collapse and the potential horrors associated with it. And theoretically, every little helps. So if someone else is devoting time and energy to confronting those in denial with a bit of reality that ought to be a good thing.

    ‘Since we have such a late start, my wife and I have ten acres and we have been learning everything we can about growing, processing, and storing food. I raised an acre of wheat and rye and did everything by hand to end up with bread — including building an earth oven.’ A most admirable effort.

    On the other hand I personally disagree with some of the viewpoints presented. For instance: ‘I believe that the technologies and skills used to help get us up the per-capita energy consumption curve … will apply to getting down the curve. The first up will be the last up, in a general sense (e.g. biplanes will fly later and longer in history than Boeing 787s).

    When Japan was in the last phase of WW2 all available fuel was directed towards powering the suicide missions of young men on one way plane trips and one way boat trips. When Germany was in dire straits it was using its latest developments -rockets and jet-powered planes -to fight off reality. It seems to me the military are very likely to be the last to go under as society collapses and they will commandeer whatever fuel is available to power whatever the latest form of weaponry and transport is available to them. Some how I can’t see them relying on bicycles and hang gliders. And food, of course: can’t have fighting men going hungry.

    Due to the massive depletion of readily-obtainable resources and exponential growth of population I don’t see how we can possibly retrace our steps via previous technologies. A fairly fast ‘descent’ to the 14th century seems more likely to me.

    ‘While I don’t regard myself as a Luddite, or anti-technology, there is something to be said for long-term stability’

    There are the poor Luddites getting bad press again. I could be misinformed, but from what I understand of the Ludddites were spot on in attmepting to halt the march of industrialism which was destroying llivelihoods and communities 200 years ago. Needless to say, many were murdered by ‘the empire’ for daring to oppose profit before people.

    The disconnect between mainstream thinking and geological and geochemical realities remains as wide as ever, if not wider than ever; discussion about transport and accommodation for spectators at the 2022 soccer world cup in Qatar. And irrespective of the world cup, ‘we are going to need tens of thousdands of new aircraft to meet growth in tourism’.

    No wonder the proles dismiss talk of collapse as nonsense.

  • It is quite possible that “biplanes will fly later and longer in history than Boeing 787s”: they were made in a bicycle shop before there were aircraft manufacturers – and they may yet again be made in a bicycle shop when aircraft manufacturers are history.

  • We tend to think of cultures before us as having a much simpler life and infrastructure, when in fact they had a very complex infrastructure. It depended not on specialized machines tended by humans, but rather on humans with specialized skills. People had to know how to blow glass and what raw materials to use. This is not just head knowledge but actual body knowledge that comes to people through apprenticeships just as playing an instrument well comes from years of practice. They had to know how to carve wood, what woods to use for what applications, how to forge metal in a blacksmith shop, how to craft bows and arrows. The blacksmith needed someone to raise and then kill animals and turn their hides into leather to make his bellows. The middle ages was full of serfs but these serfs had among them a very important body of knowledge built up through the ages and learned at the feet of their mothers and fathers. Hunter-gatherers had important bodies of knowledge, knapping flint, fire making, bow making, tracking, cleaning kill, finding water, etc.
    We don’t know what level of skills to prepare for and we do in fact need communities large enough to embody all the various skills needed. And we need time. Yet we a faced with very little time and huge doses of denial.
    Energy bulletin had a nice article on hand tools It gives some idea of what we are lacking in just one area.
    I find it hard to believe in the midst of collapse that we are going to be able to build another infrastructure of even the middle ages. So much to learn, so little time, so little understanding of what knowledge needs to be recovered. I listened to a NPR show on my way to town the other day. They were having a serious discussion about making sweets for the holiday and how chocolate and citrus was a delightful combination. As Terry is won’t to say “surreal”.

  • Further to what Kathy and Kevin have to say, we tend to think of the other side of Hubbert’s curve as a gradual descent similar to the way up – that time and history will appear to reverse thems3elves gradually over decades – that’s the way it is always presented, graphically. This is not true at all. The other side of Hubbert’s curve will be a bit bumpy at first as it is today (the famous “undulating plateau), which is where we are presently – economies going up, supply limits hit, demand destruction, economies recovering briefly, supply limits hit, demand destruction, and on and on, but ever more frequently and always on an overall downward slope. In the meantime, even during the economic low points, we are, as a huge globalised civilisation, using enormous quantities of resources, esp fossil fuels, fresh water, minerals, metal ores and arable soil. As an example, during the last demand destruction cycle, oil production decreased less than 5%. Why? Because 7 billion people depend on oil every day of their lives – we eat it, drink it, sleep in it, clean with it, medicate ourselves with it, and commute to work with it.

    As oil productivity enters terminal decline, prices will spike hugely, and the economies will enter a stage of severe contraction. This is where all the bad things start happening – wars, die-offs, supply disruptions, sudden food supply disruptions, and the breakdown of transport, among many, many other symptoms. When that happens, I think you are going to find that Hubbert’s curve takes on a much more ominous shape – not a gradual slope on the other side corresponding to the way up, but a sudden and vicious drop, as manufacturing, industrial agriculture, and technology in general take huge hits through inflation, shortages, and lack of humans to keep them going. And when that happens, the whole structure collapses suddenly – within a few years, if we are lucky.

    But perhaps I am being a bit on the pessimistic side here. I am certainly open to an argument that says otherwise. Unfortunately, I have heard none yet. It is a truth we cannot seem to grasp or in any way truly accept without threatening everything we think we know about how things really work in today’s world and how utterly dependent upon fossil fuels we are. But this realisation and acceptance MUST happen.

    Our common sense of “reality” must be destroyed and re-built based upon new knowledge and a new perspective and the development of a new paradigm, if we are to have any hope of survival as a species. Frankly, I am not optimistic about that.

    You won’t be doing anything in your garage. You will be out daily trying to find food and water and fuel (to cook, sterilise and clean) to live another day.

    We won’t revert back to the Middle Ages, because we won’t have the knowledge, skills, and easily accessible resources to go back to, and events will overtake us so rapidly that we will lose orientation and chaos will ensue.

    We have only to the point that we lose electricity. Then it is over….forever.

    Try to get your heads around that word….forever. It’s critically important in order to make one understand that we now need an entirely new way of looking at how we plan for the future – or not. Growth is over. All we know about living life is over. Our civilisation is over. Nearly all of us are dead men walking. We must face that if we are to find a way to survive in the coming new world.

  • [Kathy] “I listened to a NPR show on my way to town the other day. They were having a serious discussion about making sweets for the holiday and how chocolate and citrus was a delightful combination. As Terry is won’t to say “surreal”.”

    My wife, a nurse, was at work the other day. All her colleagues were discussing the latest on X-Factor and the soaps and other such things. My wife knows absolutely nothing about such subjects. So to find a common ground of discussion where all could contribute, she asked, “What do you think about the latest on WikiLeaks?”

    Sudden silence. Then someone mustered the nerve to ask, “What is WikiLeaks?”

    I rest my case.

  • Surreality indeed, and it extends to editors of the self-proclaimed energy websites. I routinely submit my essays to Energy Bulletin, and they run them a little less than half the time. Occasionally an editor writes back, saying they’re tired of the focus on hopelessness in light of collapse and they’ll like something fresh. I think the contributors here know about hope and hopelessness, and also about reality. I’m not so sure about the editors at Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum.

    The current essay by L.A.W., for which I’m very grateful, certainly qualifies as fresh. I’m disappointed Energy Bulletin didn’t pick it up because it poses a unique approach at distributing an important message. Maybe the editors are still irritated about the shot I took at them in this post, but that’s no reason to close the door to a fresh look at reality.

    As I’ve written before, we need witnesses and warriors. Sadly, it seems we will not be drawing from the ranks of energy wonks for either.

  • This has already been linked but worth posting again.

  • “I’ve started making a list of “things that will be different” in Energy Descent and all the ways they will be different. … My list is becoming my next art project …”

    Sending encouragement for your next project … and thanks for the images you shared in this post … you bring clarity

  • Victor, I am afraid I would get the same response from my neighbors. Sigh.

    Guy, denial from those who are supposed to be telling us about Peak Oil and its consequences is the most depressing. Double sigh.

  • When I comment that [once the slide down energy descent gets to a critical point] I believe we will see a fairly rapid transition to the 14th century, I do not mean a literal recreation of the 14th century, of course: as Kathy and Victor have pointed out, entire human societies canbot go back to a previous way of life. I just think the 14th century is a fair period for comparison those who might get through the energy bottleneck because:

    widespread plague was wiping out up to 2/3 of populations, especially in cities and densely populated regions

    there was little international trade, and what little there was was accomplished via horses and carts, camel trains, small coastal vessels etc.

    transoceanic travel was virtuallly unknown

    the majority of people did not venture beyond their own horizon, and many did not venture beyond their immediate locality, i.e. less than 20 km.

    a large portion of the populace was enganged in food production

    most people had only one or two sets of clothing

    regular bathing was virtually unknown

    practically all energy was derived from the Sun, either directly or via that captured through photosynthesis

    The 14th century condition could be reached over a period of many decades, via slow system fialure, or just a couple of decades via catastrophic system faiilure.

    On the other hand, Guy may be correct in postulating that we will be back to some kind of stone age by 2030. Or do you have some updated thoughts that push out the time frame, Guy?

  • During the Black Death Europe lost 1/3 to 1/2 of its population in about 2 years. That is staggering not only in the numbers but also in the short time frame.

    I have just done a back of the envelope figure on what we face. Lets say the crash starts in full in 5 years. Lets say it takes 20 years to get down to a sustainable population. Lets say that that means that 5.5 billion people die untimely deaths. The current world death rate is 153,000 per day. If I did my calcs right, 20 years is 7,300 days which would mean that we would have a death rate of about 750,000 per day not counting deaths to counteract births (birth rate will surely go down so I am just leaving that out of the equation). That would mean a death rate 5 times higher than today. That may not seem much and certainly would not be even over those 20 years. But it would stress every part of society, starting with morgues (which in some states are already heard pressed because indigent families are not claiming the bodies of their family members).

    I think the death knell of Industrial Civilization will be the end of electricity. We can’t even begin to imagine life without it. I know some people have gone off the grid, but I imagine very few have stopped getting any products made with the assistance of electricity.

    Kevin I agree we will be plunged into the world of the Middle Ages, but without the considerable skills of middle age peasants. That is why we will probably keep going back to hunter-gatherers and again without the considerable skills of those folks. One advantage will be the considerable amount of metal and glass around to use. One disadvantage will be the pollution, climate change, and damage to the soil. I think those who are still hunter-gatherers or peasant farmers will have the easiest time with the transition. Except for those pesky nukes.

  • Kathy. You often raise the nukes. I cannot see the point in using them. The term in the 80s was MAD, was it not? Mutually assured destruction? Nuclear winter? Nobody wins. Not even elites in well-socked bunkers.

    I think falling water tables could well be the number one issue for hundreds of millions of people, hitting before oil depletion or in conjunction with oil depletion. And rapid encroachement of sea water for a few million others living on low-lying islands, deltas and coastal plains.

    How is Lake Mead (Meade?) these days? Last I heard it was at the lowest level ever.

  • Sorry Kevin, I have to disagree over the 14th century scenario you present. The facts are that the 14th century civilisation was just that – a vital and active and growing civilisation. It was a civilisation leveraging off thousands of years of human technological progress to that time and rested upon an extensive and well developed agricultural base. You have to remember that those living in the 14th century were the recipients of the Roman Empire, the Arabic culture and the Asian civilisations and all that that implies. There was an extensive trade network fully developed via trade routes between East and West at the time. Indeed, ship building was advancing rapidly at that time with the development of the stern-mounted rudder, the compass, and the multi-mast ship. Marco Polo did his thing in the 13th century. The seas around Europe, Africa and Asia were well explored and provided increasing trade. Overland trade routes were well known and travelled extensively.

    Great cities were evolving based upon international trade routes. Though the Americas, Australia, NZ were not yet contributors to the world economy, certainly, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia were. The Arabs had a quite advanced society, greater than the European at the time.

    Whilst what you describe for the common man was essentially true for those living in agrarian regions during that time, it does not at all present a complete picture of the 14th century. And though most of the technology of the 14th century was really composed of improvements over old technology developed throughout the Ages, those improvements were significant and drove the Renaissance to come towards the end of the century. You had significant improvements and new developments such as the water-driven mill, windmills, improved heavy ploughs, cast iron and metallurgy technology, crane technology, multi-mast ships, the horse collar and horse shoes, mechanical clocks and the hour glass, glass mirrors, the compass, moveable type printing, and on and on. Most importantly, you have the development of hops as a preservative for beer and the wine press! Where would we be today without those???

    Most importantly you have cities in the 14th century, not only ancient cities but also newer cities based upon trade and other specialisations. Cities by definition are the results and propagators of civilisation. And civilisation is characterised by specialisation (see above technologies).

    What is approaching us in the form of the Great Unravelling is the destruction of the city. The old transport and distribution systems and the technology base making possible cities of the 14th century no longer exist. Nor can they be rapidly reproduced. Indeed, I would venture that they will not be able to be reproduced at all given that we have already used the low hanging fruit of metal ores, minerals, arable land and fossil fuels (which includes energy rich coal). And even if we hadn’t used all the low hanging fruit, who will be left around with the knowledge and skills to reproduce it?

    I’m afraid that with the collapse of modern technology and the global social structure, we will be forced into near instant (as time and history is recorded) Stone Age, only without the proper tools, skills and knowledge present and appropriately distributed to ensure survival of the few who might exit the bottleneck.

  • Certainly if the Empire is ultimately successful in deployment of its global missile shield, it will be sorely tempted to exercise a first strike strategy, especially as it becomes threatened by economic factors, loss of world prestige, loss of energy markets to other rising powers, and domestic social breakdown. Anything is possible in that environment. Such an action would accelerate the Great Unravelling by an order of magnitude, I would think.

  • Of course, one might suppose that if a power such as the Soviet Union didn’t use it nukes during its collapse, then there is little reason to believe the Empire would either. But I would question that line of reasoning. The Soviet Union was not run by lunatics.

  • Victor, exactly. Reports say that 1/3 of the US military is now Christian fundamentalists. While the Soviet Union had is die-hard communists, they wanted a world while the fundamentalists want an apocalypse. I have been accused on other sites wishing for an apocalypse as I predict a more dire future than most can bear to imagine. But these folks truly WANT the apocalypse as in the one scenario they get to by-pass death and get zapped directly in heaven or in the other scenario they get to rein on earth for 1,000 year (pre-millenialists vs post-millenialists). Several guys of this ilk were heavily involved in electronic votion (see Bob and Todd Urosevich at ). A nuclear war would actually be desirable in some of these end time scenarios. Our policy towards Israel is pushed forward by the need to fulfill bibilical prophecy and has been since the state of Israel was established. There was a book out some time back “The Late Great Planet Earth” that predicted that Russia was the great bear predicted to come down from the North in Daniel or Revelations or somewhere. My father was sure of the predictions and told my brother to get converted by the end of 1980 (he didn’t know I had left the Christian fold so I was spared). Does the failure of Russia and the time line dim his view. Nope he now thinks Turkey is the great Bear but I think he has learned not to predict a time. Is he unusual. NO.

    The Iraq war was clearly seen as unwinnable before the war. They just removed those generals from power. History clearly told us what our chances were in Afganistan. Did that stop TPTB from waging that war. Chenney, Rummsfeld, Wolfowiz and crew were once known as the crazies in the basement during earlier administration. They gave them free rein to impoverish our government with their schemes.

    I can’t see the US losing superpower status without unleashing their nukes. Telling me that even the elites would loose is not news. Of course they would. But because you and I hold that realistic view doesn’t mean that they do, Many truly believe they are acting as agents of God in the grand and glorious end times. Google General Boykin

  • As I write snow is falling outside my window. Straight down. Soft. White. Quite lovely, I must say. I have just broken up some bread for the birds in my garden. As I do so, the wood pigeons lust from a distance. There is a blackbird watching my every move. His is the most beautiful song of all. The crows and their cousins the magpie rest on rooftops overlooking their respective kingdoms. The blue tits chatter amongst themselves like excited little girls. The squirrels play endlessly in the trees out front.

    It’s good to be warm. Well fed. Able to take time to appreciate the wonders of nature.

    I know there is storm on the horizon. I see it clearly. But let me have just these few rare moments to feel like a true human – connected.

  • Victor, I just hung out laundry – I use a hand washer and wringer. Bit cold but the sun is peaking out through the clouds and my greens damaged from a previous few days of below freezing nights are already perking up.

    Rare moments. Connections. Yes.

  • “The hour has come, now dance with me.” from p.20, ‘the maiden’

    Really beautiful work, LAW. Thank you very much for sharing this with us; your creativity is inspiring. Although I love the images and the poetry, I can’t think of a single person I can share this with. Nobody will listen.

    I gave a brief, completely unrelated talk the other day with slides. My last slide was the graph from the 2010 IEA report showing oil production (decline). The audience was absolutely silent. Not a single question.

    Echoing Guy’s experience above, I too have noticed that some of the peak oil sites are more focused on selling cute stories and advertising than the hard cold truth.

    I agree with Mr. Moore’s assesment: “It seems to me the military are very likely to be the last to go under as society collapses..” What little provisions are available will be rationed and taxed by local ‘authorities.’

  • Victor. I think you overstate the degree of complexity of life in the 14th century and the extent of civilisation. I think of my home town, Southampton, which at the time was a walled town a mile or so across, surrounded by fields and woodland which were literally a stone’s throw away, inhabited most of the time by a few hundred people. Sure, there may have been one or two small vessels arrive every couple of months from Portugal carrying a bit of wine and returning with a few bales of wool. But the prime concern seems to have been repelling foreigners, interspersed with attempts to raid their lands.

    The degree of trade and degree of complexity was a long way down from that prevailing during the peak of the Roman occupation, when magnificent palaces were built with underfloor heating systems and bath houses etc., roads linked every major town and metalurgy flourished.

    Even as late as the 19th century many people’s lives in Britan were extremely slow and simple (and Britain was the most advanced nation at the time). I think of the writing of Emily Bronte or Thomas Hardy. Most people walked everywhere and performed all tasks by hand.

    As we have discussed previously, the Britan (and most other nations) face are; the 30-fold increase in population; the depletion -often to the point of elimination- of resources; the loss of basic skill/knowledge; the externimation of most of the wildlife.

    Anyway, it’s all a bit hypothetical if we have already triggered sufficient positive feedbacks to ensure abrupt climate change. A 14th-century-type lifestyle would just be a step along the way to compelete self-annihilation for the human species.

    Kathy. Surely the war in Iraq was a great success. The last I heard Shell had got a large share of the oil extraction rights. Afghanistan seems to be coming along nicely for the corporations. A nuclear war would rather mess things up for corporations -the real power base on this planet. And surely the whole point about modern wars is not to win them, but to keep them going for a long as possible. I take your point about the large proportion of criminally insane in the US military, but there is a big difference between saying something and actually doing it. It seems to me most of what we hear is simply propaganda, designed to keep the proles fearful and obedient.

  • Follow up from ‘We Are Toast’, Rickards plays the same CNBC clip on military prep:

    He calls military discussion of and planning for collapse a “mainstream kinda subject.”

  • Kevin, Iraq and Afghanistan wars were to usher in the New American Century. Seems to me that America had about 60 years, not even a century, and is now toast. If we had gotten a lot of cheap oil out of Iraq wouldn’t we be sitting pretty, still growing the economy. Sure some corporations and corporate execs are sitting pretty. Heck they have even gotten a break now on estate taxes so they can pass more on their gene lines. Clearly they care about their children. So why are they destroying the planet with CO2? While that is a slower destruction it is a destruction of the future of their gene lines, yet American PTB more than any country have resisted saving the future for the sake of saving the present. I suppose you could argue that they actually don’t believe that 4 degrees of climate change will destroy any chance of their gene lines persisting into the future. I believe that some of them also believe that a nuclear war is winnable and that they and their gene lines would survive. NY Times, Dec 15, 2010 “U.S. Rethinks Strategy for the Unthinkable – Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another big city with an atom bomb. What should people there do? The government has a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don’t come out till officials say it’s safe.” read the full article – I rest my case

    At any rate after we descend to the 14th century what happens to all those nukes, nuclear power plants, nuclear waste. Even without a nuclear war that becomes a major problem. When the grid goes down, who will safely decommission the nuclear power plants so we don’t nuke ourselves with meltdown?

    I think the 14th century was not more complex but complex in ways we discount as being unimportant. We buy wine at the store. Complex activities go into allowing us to do that very uncomplex action of picking up a bottle and paying for it. I have tried making wine and have made some really great vinegar :) It probably didn’t seem difficult at all to 14th century folks even without the fancy equipment one now buys to make it. I don’t know if more or less complex is the way to look at it. They had a functioning society with people growing up in various trades. The serf knew how to sharpen his scythe and how to efficiently cut hay. Someone else knew how to make a scythe. What wood to use for the handle. The correct shape so it could be wielded efficiently. I do know how to kill a chicken and clean it but haven’t a clue how to start on a deer much less tan its hide to make shoes and other clothing. Its not that we humans can’t relearn these things it is that a whole society has scorned such skills and will suddenly need them. How about fires without matches? How will we get salt? What trade routes should we use to get the salt. With credit to Jean, how do you get a recalcitrant donkey to behave? Who knows anymore where the right clay is for making pots and how to build a kiln to fire them. I read an article on energy bulletin – the author thought it was important to get some things down for future historians. Lets see to have future historians we need pen, ink and paper. Who knows how to make paper anymore? Our daily lives are very simple. Turn on the switch – light. Turn on the faucet – water. Turn on the stove – heat to cook. Turn up the thermostat – heat your house. Most of our daily lives seems to be turning on and off stuff and exchanging paper for stuff. Behind that is complexity, and many have jobs that involve very complex stuff. But what we need to do is take care of ourselves and I think we are all going to find that incredibly complex and difficult compared to taking care of ourselves now.

  • Read Jeff Rubin’s article 0f 12-8-2010: crude in triple digits in one quarter.

    I believe he said $200,by 2011.On top of everything else–and everything else is getting worse–our economy cannot tolerate
    this price.

    2012 sure looks like the apocolyptic year.Haven’t you and others said
    the same thing Guy?

    Double D

  • ——– but maybe $100 crude will be the killer point,based on skittish
    sentiment.Won’t that cause CNBC and Cavuto to take Peak Oil seriously ?
    Peak Oil is a killer perception for the masses,plus a great story for the media.2011 might be the year of fear and panic.

    Read Jeff Rubin carefully.He covers in detail what the problems are.This
    is truly scary stuff.

    Double D

  • Hi again Kathy.

    You raise some important topics I have thought long and hard about

    ‘If we had gotten a lot of cheap oil out of Iraq wouldn’t we be sitting pretty, still growing the economy’.

    Surely it’s about acquisition of wealth, or control of assets and resources, by certain financial groups, rather than the overal US economy. I think you will find that the major oil corporations are all doing very nicely at the moment, and several are looking to make spectacular profits out of Iraqi oil. (And don’t forget the Shell tie-up with royalty).

    ‘Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another big city with an atom bomb’

    There are no terrorists. Terrorist is the name given by the empire to anyone who opposes its agenda of control (of everything and everyone), or looks out of place. The biggest source of terror on this planet is the US military, along with its various cohorts -primarily Britain and a few other Europena nations.

    I recently watched a film about the composer Tchaikovsky: he was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist! However, he was released after a few hours, as opposed to being rendered and tortured for several months or years, as seems to happen all to often these days.

    Atomic bomss in cities? No way, not unless TPTB organise it as a pretext for the next war (as per 9/11). The whole concept of ‘dirty bombs’ fails to stand up to scientific scrutiny.

    I think most, if not all nuclear power plants have automated shutdown systems whereby moderator rods drop into place in the case of emergency. And missiles could just corrode in their silos. It takes a conventional explosion to trigger the atomic warhead.

    More interesting is the matter of whether the PTB believe the Earth will still be habitable after a 2C, or 4C. or 6C degree rise in average temperature. Presumabky they work on the premise that whichever part of the globe fares best, they will be able to relocate there. That might be the northern coast of Siberia or Greenland. They certianly have no interest in the welfare of the billions.

    I still contend that the wild card is the death of the oceans, because no large species of mammalian life form is likely to survive death of the ocaeans … back to shrew-like creatures of 65 million years ago?

    Assuming we have a few dacades, don’t underestimate the capacity of modern humans to reinvent ancient skills. I have seen the production of stone blades from flint by an absolute beginner. And original wine making obviously came from a chance discovery of naturally fermenting fruit. In many locations the limiting factor for even a 14th century-type lifestyle would seem to be the lack of trees.


    A coule of years ago we were repeatedly warned about $250 a barrel oil. And more recenetly about $150 a barel oil. I don’t think those kinds of prices are achievable. The world economy grinds to a halt very qickly above $100. In the longer term they are all too likely, with money losing 10-30% of its value every year.

  • Kevin you wrote “Atomic bomss in cities? No way, not unless TPTB organise it as a pretext for the next war (as per 9/11)” Exactly, what type of war would they be planning if the false flag event was an atomic bomb in a US city?

    From my reading of “The world without us” I understand that there would be a problem with keeping cooling water in the tanks that store the spent fuel from nuclear plants. If it doesn’t keep coming in then the water would boil off. I am not sure if the scenario in the book shown at the link is for Palo Verde only or all Nuke plants. Also of course in the last days of Empire the upkeep on the plants would no doubt be lax and Three Mile Island events could become common.

    But as you say the death of the oceans is sufficient to do us in.

    Some say the world will end in warming,
    Some say in Nuclear Winter.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire for fossil fuels
    I hold with those who favor warming.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction nukes
    Are also great
    And would suffice.

    With apologies to Robert Frost

  • Reading the link reminds me of George Carlin’s comment regarding the longevity of plastic. The Earth couldn’t make plastic on its own, so it allowed us to evolve. Eventually we made the plastic the Earth wanted. After we have ammihilated oursleves there will be a new paradigm: Earth + Plastic.

    Life is remarkably resilient when it comes to nuclear explosions and meltdowns. Although the incidence of cancers [in humans] in the Chernobyl region is well above the norm, the region is now teeming with widlife. If the report on Food in the Danger zone is to be believed, people now harvest from the ‘no go zone’. A few years ago there was much speculation that radioactive dust resulting from use of ‘depleted’ uranium would circulate the round globe. To my knowledge it hasn’t happened. People now live in the two cities that were the test sites for the only atomic bombs ever actually used in hostilities.

    One thing is for sure: 2011 will be tougher than 2010 for most people on this planet.

  • Kevin,
    Life is remarkably resilient to one nuclear plant blowing up or 2 small atom bombs being detonated. With nukes we have much more power and many more bombs. Even if the bomb doesn’t get you and the radiation doesn’t get you, the disruption of infrastructure surely will get you in a war where many bombs are released.

  • Correction:

    Rubin said crude at $225 by the end of 2011.That weans most people will
    pay $7 for a gallon of gas within one year.

    Can you imagine the implications of this ?

    Apocalypse Now.

    Double D

  • Reread Kevin Moore’s latest posting above.In Rubin’s 45 minute speech
    he lays out in gruesome detail what happens above $100 crude.

    Thank you Kevin.

    Double D

  • [Kevin] “Assuming we have a few dacades, don’t underestimate the capacity of modern humans to reinvent ancient skills. I have seen the production of stone blades from flint by an absolute beginner. And original wine making obviously came from a chance discovery of naturally fermenting fruit. In many locations the limiting factor for even a 14th century-type lifestyle would seem to be the lack of trees.”

    Well, good luck to’em, mate. You have just described how we might reinvent Stone Age implements. Which is, of course, where I believe we are headed. How people will re-invent the many, many tools that formed the basis of earlier civilisations is beyond me. A small, local community of people after Collapse will have to “reinvent” such skills as to make clothes, tan leather, make shoes, mill wheat, find and pump water, make soap, make cream and butter, fashion eating utensils, know the art of medicinal herbs, start fires without matches, hunt without guns, slaughter animals for food, know what to do with the remaining parts like hide and hooves, grow food, build their own houses, make their own tools, make an earthen oven, store roots, preserve vegetables for the winter, collect/dry/store seeds, preserve and store meat, and “reinvent” all the basic tools necessary for the above.

    What do you think are the chances for that in any given area of the world today? Even among the indigent peoples, they have taken to using modern tools to survive.

    And then, as you mentioned, there is Global Warming to consider. BTW, I doubt that northern Siberia would be a good place to start over – what you have there is frozen tundra that is becoming unfrozen. In time it will be releasing large amounts of methane, making it a bit hazardous to live there. Besides, when frozen tundra melts, things that are built on it, have a habit of sinking or falling over. And it is not particularly good for farming either. The elite will have to find somewhere else, I fear. Perhaps they can eat all that gold they are buying up.

  • Victor. May I remind you that the general theme on NBL has been massive die-off (via war, starvation, disease, failure to breed etc.) as a portion of humanity passes through the P.O. bottleneck. There could well be clothes galore for decades! And if climate projections plus positive feednacks apply it might well be so damned hot people won’t need clothes anyway. :)

    Actually, if my memory serves me correctly, the first Europeans to make contact with the natives of Terra de Fuego were astonished to find the more or less naked natives in and out of the icy water like seals. (They were exterminated or died off within a couple of generations of being discovered).

    One problem rarely mentioned is the intense UV in higher latitudes which is resulting from destruction of ozone in the upper atmosphere. Going out without clothing could be extremely hazardous. (Actually it already is in many locations: skin cancer rates ‘going through the roof’). High flying aircraft are now implicated in ozone destruction -another reason to look forward to collspse of current economic arrangements.

    I do agree with your point about traditional technology having been largely lost. Of course, depending on the number of survivors and just how it all plays out, there could well be treasurehouses of old technology awaiting raiding …. museums. And there are few liivng museums, where people are attempting to recreate long-gone lifestyles and techniques -if only for a weekend. However, in practice I don’t think survivors of the bottleneck will be particularly concerned with growing and milling wheat, making butter etc. Most indigenous people did fine for millenia without them.

    Ten years ago, even five years ago I did think we could organise things around some kind of soft landing, but years of inaction (or rather counter action) founded on ignorance and stupidity on behalf of our so-called leaders, who still do not acknowledge have a problem even at this late stage, convinces me there will be no soft landing.

    By the way, have you not seem ‘Man Versus Wild’. Starting a fire without marches is sooooo easy. Only on one occasion in the series I saw did he fail.

    Kathy. I suppose we have a different perspective in this part of the world, not having any nuclear power plants or missile silos. Robert Atack often metaphorically refered to the present as ‘On the Beach’ (Neville Shute) time. If it is to be literal, let it be fast. (I do wonder how many of the old missiles would actually work if require to, having sat around for decades deteriorating -that’s if they were assembled correctly in the first place.)

    And though footwear is pretty essential in currently cold climates, in practice human feet are designed to be used shoeless.

  • So let me get this straight….those getting through the bottleneck will be running around stark naked without shoes, sweating their arses off, being bombarded by UV and errant missiles!…. God help us!… LOL

  • Victor. I think so. But I could be wrong. Very wrong. In fact I’d like to be wrong. :)

    ‘God help us!’

    Seems to be the only one who can.

    But do we deserve help?

  • Not enough to be able to make a sharp edge on a flint. Gotta attach it to a spear and then kill an animal with it. That’s the hard part. Which is why modern hunters use guns or if they bow hunt it is usually with a modern compound bow. Anyone killed a large mammal with a flint spear lately? :)

  • Hi, Guy. This sunday I’ve come to the village to eat well in the only restaurant I’ve found here. Now my donkey is more obedient.

    “How about fires without matches?”

    Scratching 2 pieces of wood, or using certain kind of rocks (the name in spanish is pedernal). Our grandpas did it, and they were no geniuses.

    “How will we get salt?”

    Any trading route that leads you to the sea and a small community of fishermen can provide you lots of salt; you can change it for gunpowder (if you have sulphur in your area), leather (if you have cows), etc.

    “What trade routes should we use to get the salt?”

    The most difficult one, since the easiest will also be the more dangerous in the times comming.

    “With credit to Jean, how do you get a recalcitrant donkey to behave?”

    Punch him in the middle of his eyes. If it does not work, do it twice.

    “Who knows anymore where the right clay is for making pots and how to build a kiln to fire them.”

    If there are ALUMINIUM minerals and other SILICATES in the area, you’re lucky if you find clay there, because that’s the right one.

    WELL, Prof. McPherson, as you see I spent 2 years studying and building, but I did my homework. :-)

  • Here you can find a whole explanation and a scheme of a complete roman kiln for your pots:

    Romans were very good at this. And obviously, the kiln works with wood.

    Archaeology is very useful for us, undeniably. :-)

  • As I said Jean, community will find you. Of course it doesn’t take geniuses to live close to nature. It takes geniuses to totally destroy nature :) But it does take skill to track game and kill it with hand weapons. One you have to know the game, know its habits etc. Obviously stone age humans did this quite successfully. They also grew up learning the skills. Skills are partly head knowledge but also body knowledge – like learning to bat or ride a bike. It doesn’t take genius to ride a bike. In fact thinking about it probably is the worse thing you can do. It takes practice.

    I keep being told that making a fire by rubbing sticks together is not difficult but I haven’t heard yet than anyone on this site has done it only that they have seen someone else do it or that it is know that our grandpas did it. So to confirm that it is not at all difficult, will anyone who has actually done it please say so. I know it is doable, I just want to hear if it is something you can easily do first try or if it is a skill that takes some practice to get right.

    I have read lots of stuff on sharpening knives but I still don’t get an edge that one can shave with. I know it can be done. I am not a genius so I should qualify for being able to do it. But I never get it quite right – sharper yes, razor sharp no.

  • Just done some research on fire making. Looks like materials matter somewhat. So just taking two sticks is not as efficient as say mulefat and Yucca
    In this one the base wood is cottonwood and the spindle goldenrod

    Another used cattails for the spindle

    cutting your board to let the embers out appears to be important

    Good luck – I have a magnifying glass.

    Techinique matters too.

  • Ps there is a reason why people saved coals rather than starting from scratch each day.

  • Jean

    Agree that it doesn’t take a genius to do many of the things mentioned, but how many people do you know who can do these things? I suspect not many. And how many overland trade routes are you aware of? No one uses such routes any more. They are nearly all by lorry (truck) or sea lanes, routes that require diesel or petrol powered vehicles today which might be totally unable to operate under peak oil conditions. And how many people do you know have any idea of where Aluminium is located, or sulphur, or any other metal or mineral in its raw form? You say these things quite easily, but go to your neighbours. Ask them. I would wager that they would just look at you like some strange creature…. ;-) And even if they did know, would they know how to extract the metal or the ore? Not likely. On another site someone suggested that there is plenty of metal just lying around that could be cut or re-cast. My question is just how are you going to do that? Where will you get the equipment? The energy required? The knowledge and skills? Even for the best case, where you could cut the metal with something like a hacksaw, how many times could you do that before your blade wore out? Where would you get more blades?


    There are so many things that the average person has no idea of that would be absolutely crucial to their life when faced with it. Very often what we need to know must be learned before we face the situation, or we might well be faced with serious injury or even death. So who is to tell us? And how do we know what we need to be told? In the old days, people simply grew up with that knowledge. Not so at all today, as you have so ably pointed out.


    If folks need to make bread, they need to know how to mill the grain properly. If it is a breadless society as with hunter/gatherers, you killed game and gathered food in season as needed, so yes, you did not depend upon such skills. Again, you make a good argument for a hunter/gatherer society when you say such things.

    I personally do not think there is a chance in hell that we will be able to adapt quickly enough. The knowledge and skills and the tools required for any adequate level of living are simply not present any more except in very isolated instances. So should the electricity go, just what will people do, right then, right there? I suspect that most will simply wait for days for it to come back on, not being even capable of thinking that it might never come back on – critical days wasted.

    I like to go through the mental exercise of imagining what I would do if this or that suddenly disappeared. It’s frightening.

  • Kathy

    I was a boy scout in a former life – long, long, long ago in a land faraway. I actually started a fire with two sticks, but I also needed a length of leather string as well. You tie the leather string to both ends of one stick, and loop it through the other stick and play it like a violin over a third piece of wood or other material with a groove cut in it large enough to accommodate the end of the stick being rotated with the leather string. That produces a high friction heat which is transferred to a bit of kindling you have surrounded it with. It’s a frustrating process, but after a time, you can learn to do it.

  • “How many people do you know who can do these things?”

    Hundreds. All my comrades from French Foreign Legion were instructed for this: survival. Quite like me. All of them will make it through the chaos, I’m sure. The most difficult thing was getting it in Guyanne, during a turnante in 3eme REI: in the jungle, hummidity is very high: if you lite a fire there, you can get it anywhere, my friend.

    “And how many people do you know have any idea of where Aluminium is located, or sulphur, or any other metal or mineral in its raw form”

    Anyone who studied geology at university. I studied Pahrmacy and Biochemistry, but I have some notions of geology. As Guy will confirm, SIAL is very common on the surface of earth, so locating the clay is not difficult. WORKING clay is difficult.

    Sulphur is difficult to find, but in the Pyrenees, very near me, I got some info about a small sulphur mine: I’ll find more info, although I’ll have to travel to the capital of the province.

    HEY, IMPORTANT: Gunpowder = 50% coal (powder) + 40% sulphur (powder) + 10% KNO3 (powder, again). Mix them and ka-boom. It’s not difficult.

    If you get some kilograms of sulphur and KNO3 (not difficult to find) you can make a lot of gunpowder: a 9 mm bullet has about 4 grams of gunpowder: IT’S A SHIT LOT OF SHOTS.

    “My question is just how are you going to do that? Where will you get the equipment? The energy required? The knowledge and skills? Even for the best case, where you could cut the metal with something like a hacksaw, how many times could you do that before your blade wore out? Where would you get more blades?”

    “I have a small anvil and a good hammer. Rests of metal will be EVERYWHERE after the collapse. You need coal (not difficult to find) or vegetal coal (easy to get, just burning wood in a controlled over digged anywhere).”

    Metal does not have to be cut, generally: when it’s hot it’s like BUTTER. If you have to cut it, then use a file and BE PATIENT. :-) There are also metal saws.

    So, start STUDYING NOW: TRAIN, ENDURE YOUR BODY, MANAGE TO GET THE MONEY TO BUILD A FARMHOUSE, GET SOME MILITARY TRINING, LEARN FROM PEASANT: I did. Now I’m ready. Right now I’ve paid some drinks to the few young people in this village, because when everything collapse I suspect that I’ll have to lead them, and pick up some refugees.

    Once I do it, I’ll know what will be the name of community: considering that Rome was originally founded on the human basis of peasant-soldiers, the name of the community will be ROMULUS, in honor to the mythic founder of Rome.

    This is fucking real: so stop thinking: I CAN NOT DO IT (YOU CAN), I DO NOT HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE (LOOK FOR IT), I’M NOT RESISTANT ENOUGH (TRAIN AND IN 4 MONTHS TIME, TELL ME HOW STRONG YOU ARE). Your mental attitude must be this: I KNOW I can do it through this. I’M AWARE OF THE KIND OF THINGS that we’ve done to the planet. And over all: my children will rule this lands, being a part of it and having a sustainable future.

    THINK THAT WAY, AND FUTURE WILL BE YOURS. Real strenght is in your mind.

    PS–> I’m exhausted. I’m not a good speaker: when I have to express this kind of things I do it writing, but in my daily life I barely use 100 words a day.

    PS PS–> Fear no man.

  • “And how many overland trade routes are you aware of? No one uses such routes any more.”

    The most difficult one means: “do it through the mountains, through the forest, where no man lives”. Give me a map, my rifle and my donkey (and something to pay), and I’ll bring you salt or any other thing. It’s not difficult.

  • Jean, I suspect that some Navy Seals and other trained military in the country are, like you, well prepared for many eventualities. I am glad you are ready for what lies ahead. You are probably the most realistic and prepared person I have encountered on any discussion site. But when all is said and done you will die as we all will. What you gain is extra years and a chance to pass on your genes. You will not survive even though you may well be one of the few through the bottleneck.

    You cannot know what it is like to be closing in on the natural end of your life. You can only know what that is like when you get there. Your mortality becomes more real with each passing year. Instead of thinking it would be nice to plant an apple tree and enjoy the fruits you think well I won’t enjoy the fruits of this tree I am planting but perhaps someone will. Planting a tree takes on a different aspect as do all sorts of future plans.

    Please don’t be so hard on us with extra years – if we just want to enjoy today and share with others about the future, isn’t that OK? You will very likely be old one day although few young people living now will get to be old. Then you can reflect on what it took to get old and decide if it was worth it. I hope it is for you.

    Any rate if we talk about how hard something is no doubt that will spur you to prove it isn’t and increase your chances :)

  • Ps regarding saving fire rather than making fire see

  • Here is a skill that might be the most useful. Doing Nothing. We in the first world are so geared to making things better and living with lots of stuff and comfort that we are busy all the time. What if the most important skill is to accept with less, far less. I remember how my ex and I packed for a camping trip years back. In this article the author says
    “There are many things, both small and large, that a person can do, or not do, to better the art of doing nothing. This can be as simple as cupping one’s hands to drink from the stream, instead of making and carrying a cup,”
    a good read at

    How to learn primitive skills, some of which seem to be less difficult than I thought, may not be the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge for first world humans is how to change their world view.

    I remember watching a documentary on the prison of war camps in Japan. One aging veteran remembered new prisoners coming in – how horrified some were to find worms in their food. He would tell them they needed to eat the worms for protein or they would died. He said some wouldn’t and then with a wry smile he said and they died.

    At my final job before retirement I was assaulted with fake flower smells whenever I used the bathroom. It appears that some humans cannot bear to shit in a flush toilet without some odor to cover up the evidence of the fact that like all animals they defecate. A fan and a flush are not enough. No they must plug something into an electric outlet to constantly put out lilac or cinnamon smells. Needless to say I never tried to educate them on the wonders of a humanure toilet. Simple, yet impossible for most Americans.

  • I want to thank Guy for inviting me to submit an essay and all those who left a reply.

    The Virgin Terry is close to my thinking by having beautifully written:
    “Keep in mind the option/ability to choose the time/place/circumstance of your own last dance, for there are fates worse than death.”
    Actually that was the “take-away” for me from Dans Macabre ad hoc Petrocollapse.

    The Derrick Jensen article is important to all who would “mobilize” in any useful way. So thinking, those who wish to will encounter their duty/dharma/destiny. Interestingly, to my thinking, it is very similar to the conclusions drawn by effective soldiers going into combat– namely that the mission is more important than my individual life. Some soldiers talk of the “you’re-already-dead” mentality as the ingredient to successful combat performance.

    Kevin Moore– we agree on so much! Hard vs Soft Crash. Boogey man terrorism, etc.

    I believe Kathy has the heart of a poet.
    “Instead of thinking it would be nice to plant an apple tree and enjoy the fruits you think well I won’t enjoy the fruits of this tree I am planting but perhaps someone will. Planting a tree takes on a different aspect as do all sorts of future plans.”
    My 2 cents: We are united with the Is when we realize “what is there is also here and what is here is also there.” The true self is the universal self.
    Paul said that he practiced dying every day.
    I am “stratifying” (freezing) cherry pits, hickory and walnuts in the hopes that the “me-and-you” that exists in everyone someday will enjoy them.
    Happy Holidays to everyone.