Third time’s a charm?

Kurt Vonnegut often described World Wars I and II as western civilization’s first and second attempts, respectively, to commit suicide. He hinted at peak oil as our third attempt in his memoir, Man Without a Country, which was published shortly before his death.

After burying our collective heads in the sand for two years, peak oil has crept back into the margins of the national conversation. But it’s too little, too late. The end of the world as we know it already struck when, in 2008, the price of oil skyrocketed. Keynesian economics forestalled some economic pain in the short term, at huge expense to the living planet, but the music’s about to stop playing. Better grab a chair. And don’t say you didn’t see this coming.

Three of the largest companies in the world — Exxon, Shell, and Aramco — admit we’ve passed the world oil peak. The cat’s out of the bag, though we’re working hard to convince ourselves there are no felines in a world awash with Felis catus while investors are trying to determine how to put some more fiat currency into their safe-deposit boxes as the ship goes down.

To use one example from the big oil companies, former Shell Oil president Jon Hofmeister knows the price of oil is headed much higher in 2011 or 2012. Hofmeister has company, too, in the form of energy guru T. Boone Pickens, who anticipates oil priced at $140/barrel, and soon. Financier and author Stephen Leeb is calling for a bullet train to $150 oil. In a stunning display of journalism based in reality, even Newsweek admits we’re headed for $150 oil, though speculators are held responsible (as is often the case when people are looking to cast blame).

Even the Wall Street Journal, which bills itself as the most important publication in the world (mipw), claims OPEC should be alarmed at the high price of oil. Although mipw will never admit as much, I’d bet OPEC is well beyond the point of alarm and into the arena of sheer, eyes-as-big-as-dinner-plates, crapping-their-pants terror, if only because there is nothing OPEC can do about high oil prices: The price of oil already has risen too high, too quickly to prevent dire consequences for the industrial economy, but OPEC will not respond, because it cannot respond.

Mother Jones has finally climbed aboard the peak-oil ship, although — as with most mainstream publications — it confuses the notion of “no more cheap oil” with “no more oil.” Still, Mother Jones is ahead of Forbes, which is sticking to the absurd claim that there are no limits to growth. It’s as if Forbes is vying for political office in the U.S. Even Forbes’ second cousin, Foreign Policy, knows the global industrial economy is dead and gone.

The occasional right-wing, windbag, talk-show idiot understands slightly more than the editors at Forbes. Sean Hannity knows the price of gas is going up, so he proposes invading (or re-invading) Iraq and Kuwait to “take all their oil.” If printing money is the last resort of an empire, then occupation must be the first.

Price-forecasting pros are predicting oil priced at $150/bbl by Memorial Day. Or perhaps that price will hold off until October. Either way, $150 oil puts the final nail in the U.S. coffin. In fact, $120 oil probably does the trick, as I wrote nearly 18 months ago. As with the last trip to $140 oil, demand is being driven by China, rather than by the OECD countries still gripped by an economic recession.

There is an alternative trigger, albeit with the same outcome: China’s bubble could pop, thus bringing the age of industry to an end.

If demand for oil continues to climb, then high oil prices will contribute to high food prices, thus triggering further food riots around the world. Some pundits claim food riots are coming to America, whereas others claim the high price of fuel will break out the riot gear.

I’m guessing we can’t be bothered to tear ourselves away from the television screen long enough to notice increasing prices, much less act. After all, we keep ignoring a federal government that throws trillions of dollars at the giant banks while simultaneously denying support to states and main street. We keep ignoring a Federal Reserve bank that has been laughing at us since 2005, and probably much earlier, while the Fed is busy throwing Americans under the bus.

I am not suggesting the ongoing economic collapse will be complete the day the price of oil rises to $120/barrel or higher. Rather, I suspect we’ll witness a series of convulsions similar to those that transpired in the wake of oil rising to $147.27/barrel in July 2008. In the aftermath of that event, the U.S. industrial economy nearly reached its end several times between mid-September 2008 and mid-March 2009. If we assume a similar series of events in the wake of $140 oil between late May and late October, then western civilization could commit suicide between late July 2011 (two months after late May 2011, analogous to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the associated near-collapse of the U.S. economy two months after oil hit its record high) and late June 2012 (eight months after late October 2011, analogous to near-capitulation of U.S. stock markets in March 2009 eight months after the price of oil peaked). In the middle of these dates lies the 14-month-old forecast of Société Générale, and March 2011 is right on line with predictions from the 60 or so people I cited in my recent presentation predicting complete economic collapse before the middle of 2012. Hofmeister’s most conservative forecast of a spike in the price of oil in 2012 buys a little more time for the industrial economy. And if “no limits to growth” Forbes is correct, western civilization will hang on until we commit suicide by climate chaos. The latter option is the one preferred by the world’s governments and most people I know.

But not me. I’m hoping peak oil and the consequent high price of crude oil will spell the long-overdue death of western civilization and the associated liberation, for the living planet, from the oppression of industry. Call me quirky — the government’s term is terrorist — but I’m a fan of life.


This essay is permalinked at Island Breath, Before It’s News, and Running ‘Cause I Can’t Fly.

Comments 111

  • I agree with the basic premise that we are at the end of cheap petroleum energy and the collapse of our way of life is imminent. If the “powers that be” were playing cards with our resources, they would simply fold and the game would end. But these people are willing to bluff in hopes of winning a final hand or two without cards of real value. Our species got to where it is today by exploiting all the “wiggle room” possible in its limiting factors, and before the limits were reached, this strategy allowed for growth through the crack of the world’s limits. But we are approaching absolute limits now. Still, there is some wiggle room available, but increasingly the scale of the civilizational enterprise will be impossible to maintain. When the scale of the enterprise diminishes, things will be discarded, and by that I mean people. Those people who are perceived by the elite to have little or no value will be discarded and this will continue until revolution occurs, I suspect. The tensions are starting to build right now; with a prime example being the willingness of the Right to discard Obamacare and thus cast millions of Americans back to the healthcare limbo of no insurance and no likelihood of care for chronic, much less acute illnesses. How long with these millions of Americans continue to put up with such a fate?

    As we approach Peak Everything and pass the ultimate limits, something and some things will have to give. Food, water, fuel, you name it will be increasingly scarce and I agree that riots and civil insurrection appear inevitable. This will provoke authoritarian, totalitarian suppression of democracy in the “Land of the Free”, and “convulsions” as Guy has noted.

    Exactly how long will it take for this to play out? I cannot say for sure, but it is coming, is inevitable and unavoidable, and will be extremely unpleasant. It will literally reshape our world and it will reduce the human population and the human footprint on the planet. This is good for the world, but bad for a lot of people. It will be painful to observe and it will be hard to survive. But it is real and it is our own fault. And we cannot prevent it at this point.

  • Guy,
    perhaps you’ve already seen her nuanced explanation, but there’s an essential presentation by Nicole Foss linked at the 1/21/11 posting of The Automatic Earth. Not that her conclusions are any different, ultimately, but she shows how we could soon have $20 oil, and then $500 oil not long after. All in all, an excellent companion to your more “global” overview.

  • “Why didn’t you get us out of here before it was too late? We could’ve gone to ( insert fantastic lie told to self repeatedly during the years leading to your personal collapse)… ”

    Borrowed from Anne Frank’s Diary. Soon to be heard over and over again in kitchens, living rooms and emergency hiding places near you.

  • Well the good news is the wife and I will be somewhat on the move at that point. The bad news of course is our skill set is so limited we’ll have to adapt rather quickly to say the least. First Rule: Cardio.

  • I wonder if any of you repsonders have retirement accounts and have any suggestions about what to do and when to do it? I have about $0.5M sitting at an investment house, all in tax-deferred accounts. To get it out at my age, low 50’s, I have to first pay a 10% penalty, then pay the taxes on the remainder. Your thoughts appreciated!!


    Fine: run 12 Km 5 days a week. Once you get that, hold it and you’ll succeed: it might take 3-4 months to get it, training well.

    PD–> Avoid overtraining.

    PD PD–> Run 10 minutes the first day, then add 2 minutes a day, until you get 1 hour (10 km/h, slow rothm), then work on speed doing fartlek and series.

    AND REMEMBER: Resistance is not in your body, it’s in your mind. Control your mind and there will be no obstacle to stop you.

  • @ Jean…already on it. Making my own running sandals as well.

  • Third time might do it, Guy, but I think it will happen abroad first. Greece, Ireland, Tunisia, and Portugal, are failing and the list continues to grow. The US/Fed will drive all the weak countries out of business and crush their demand with their crazy monetary policy. To stay on top, the Fed just changed their own rules to hide their losses:

    They’ll keep changing the rules, because they can and because no one is going to take the US military head-on. I’m watching Iran, who just concluded talks without progress on inspections.

    Many countries including China depend on Iran for oil. If the US feels threatened, we’ll take out the Iranian oil supply for these countries under our continued false pretense. I believe the Japanese cited this as a reason for striking Pearl Harbor.

    I saw John Hofmeister on CNBC yesterday. He suggested that if we merely get the politicians out of the oil companies way, we can get back to 10mb/d domestic production no problem! What a horrible joke.

    Who knows what gas will cost this summer! I suspect we’ll have lots to talk about next fall, if the internet is still up.

  • Stan.

    ‘And we cannot prevent it at this point.’ Agreed.

    ‘As we approach Peak Everything’.

    I believe we are past Peak Everything (except Peak Mayhem). Obviously it’s impossible to quantify everything and give it an appropriate weighting, but just for starters:

    area of natural forests
    biodiversity and absolute numbers of non-farm species
    tonnage of soil
    availability of glacial water
    tonnage of large fish caught in seas and oceans
    tonnage of high-quality coal extracted
    extraction of conventional oil
    house valuations
    financial markets

    I’m sure there are another 20 significant items that could readily be added with further thought.

    There don’t seem to be many thing left to peak -maybe natural gas, low-grade coal, phosphate rock, GM crops and plastic floating in the oceans.

  • tgriz,

    I am a problem solver/analyst by trade. Too bad about your time line. The issue is: do you sit on it an hope is does not become worthless numbers, or take the hit. Try to minimise your losses, and maximize the usefulness. By this I mean, make every lifestyle change to reduce overhead. Consider moving to a cheaper area. If you are working, consider time off (quit/semi-retire). This will reduce your taxes(no FICA, low bracket). Try to follow as much as you can, what Guy is doing. After living expenses, put your money into useful tools and supplies, and spend your now freed up time into developing any needed skills you can. You have more than enough until the end.
    Hardest thing to do is to cut your own path and be your own person. When I have been faced with major decisions, I would look to see what everyone else was doing, and then keep my mouth shut and do the opposite. In 1978 I decided working full time at a career was a waste of my life. So I quit my job and became one of the early independent IT consultants. I only worked when I wanted/needed to. People thought I was nuts. I didn’t care. Fuckum. Lived cheap, went camping all over N. America. No regrets, other than I probably worked too much. Retired now, and don’t miss it for a moment. It was all a total waste of time.
    I became peak oil aware in 1987. Literally took me about 15 seconds to see what was coming in about 20 years. So, now the waiting is over.
    If you sit with the numbers, you will look real foolish and not be able to look at yourself in the mirror.
    Get moving. Good luck.

  • Hofmeister – total shithead.

  • I don’t think the world is coming to an end in 2011-2012. However, we likely have a series of depressions. wars, regional die-offs, and brownouts/blackouts before the remains of the ship take us under for good. For global civilisation, it will be like getting one’s head dunked under water several times to the point of drowning, only to be lifted momentarily for a breath of air before being dunked again. At some point civilisation will be dunked and there will be no lift.

    Which country is most vulnerable? Can’t really predict that one. My first guess, however, would be poor nations who can’t afford oil. The next would likely be countries currently experiencing high growth – China, the Far East – as their bubbles are burst through oil price spikes. The US would follow as it is the most vulnerable country on earth to oil price rises as it’s infrastructure is built entirely upon the need for cheap and available oil. Due to its military might and the dollar still being the world currency in spite of efforts otherwise, it will hang on a while, but the end is inevitable.

  • Thom Hartman is running a really quite informative series on Peak Oil here:

    The latest in the series has Nicole Foss (TheAutomaticEarth) speaking – a really quite useful analysis.

  • tgriz

    Advice is cheap and easy to obtain. As I have an affinity for giving cheap advice (let the hearer beware!), I would propose you listen to folks like Nicole Foss (The Automatic Earth), an economist who really seems to have her act together. Also, she has just released a new video in association with Thom Hartmann that discusses the financial impact of peak oil and our current situation. Basically, I would think that she would recommend:

    1) get out of debt
    2) convert any financial instruments you have to cash or cash equivalents as soon as possible – this would include retirement accounts – they won’t be much use in the future.
    3) rent, don’t purchase (unless you have the cash to purchase – don’t take out another mortgage!)
    4) With your cash purchase tools, supplies, etc. whilst they are still available on the market – some day much of what is available to us today won’t be. But don’t use credit for any of this!
    5) Get to know your neighbours
    6) Start learning how to live without fossil fuels. Get rid of your car, or minimise its use. Start cycling, or walking, or use mass transit. My wife and I purchased an electric bike as an example.

    There are lots of other things. If you get the same kind of opportunity as Guy, you might invest some of your cash in a new lifestyle.

    For what it is worth, good luck to you.


  • We may not be at Peak Lies or Peak Denial yet.

    Victor, poor nations will be hit harder by rising food prices and fuel prices. Their people however are used to being poor unlike most in the US. Even a small hit in lifestyle (you know the one that Bush said was non-negotiable) may create more panic and discord in the US than the prospect of starving does in countries that have never been off the bottom of the heap.

    Re fuel prices. I last filled our propane tank in Sept. We use it for hot water, kitchen stove and a small heater in the back of the house. Been pretty cold for us and old bodies feel the cold more so we just filled it again. The cost was 30% higher than in Sept. While higher prices at the pump are problematic to people, when you buy 140 gals of something that has increased 30% it really hits home. I imagine that many in our area are really feeling the pinch, especially if propane is their only heat.

  • Kathy

    Yes, the US is particularly vulnerable for petrol rises, but honestly, as you say, almost anything can set it all off there – no other nation on earth depends so heavily in all aspects of its daily life than does the US. As for poor nations, what you say is true, but it is the price of oil that will really drive those other commodity prices up. And then there is the fuel price for diesel to run their irrigation pumps and what little transport and distribution services they have. Whilst the poor people of the world live closer to the land than us, yet they depend very heavily upon the global infrastructure for much of their needs.

    As an example, I have been watching a series on the Arctic on BBC lately. They centre much of the show on the various indigenous folks living in that region on the various continents and how global warming is affecting them and their traditional way of life. What struck me, however, is how very dependent they have become on modern tools, equipment and sources of food and energy – snow vehicles, clothing, supermarkets, rifles and bullets for hunting, heating fuel, tools, equipment, all kinds of things. I’m sure the same is true for sub-Arctic areas as well. It’s not going to be a pretty picture wherever a person resides. There will literally be nowhere to hide.

  • I keep turning over in my mind the problems I hear on this forum about people that want to get out and do a Guy, but can’t because of constraints. One thing that we have learned and Guy will agree is that once you get away from the city, and the locals start to open up to you that there are alot of opportunities to do things in very inexpensive ways. Land of course is the first obstacle based on the prices I’ve heard from the UK or New Zealand. I’ve always admired a man in the UK his name is Ken Fern, and he has some videos on youtube, but he bought some land in the UK, in the most God foresaken place, and was turning it into a paradise (understand he has health problems now). We aid probably 800 dollars and acre for our property and around here it’s not considered worth much more than that. Maybe there are situations where the property is considered so bad that the owners don’t even bother to list it. The other angle is you might not need as much as you think you do. Look at Robert Hart on You Tube as well, and recognize that he is working with 8,000 square feet.
    Perhaps volunteering at an organic farm on the weekends. You’ll learn alot about growing stuff and you’ll also learn alot from a locals perspective about the economical ways of doing things. My two cents.

    Easy Jean on the training schedule, you’re not dealing with recruits. :-))

    A long history of marathons and triathlons has taught that anything more than a 5% increase per week is asking for trouble.

    Priveleged: would love to hear more about the running sandles you are making for yourself.

  • “I believe we are past Peak Everything”…..”I’m sure there are another 20 significant items”…..

    One of the more significant items is numbers of humans – and / or the total weight of human biomass. I read somewhere that the total human biomass exceeds the biomass of all other vertebrates combined.

    “I would propose you listen to folks like Nicole Foss (The Automatic Earth), an economist who really seems to have her act together.”

    It would be so nice if she is right about deflation: then anyone with spare “cash or cash equivalents” would be sitting pretty. Of course if we are headed for the initial deflation, commodities including precious metals would be a mistake. She is quite perceptive in noting that Cheney’s declaration that “our way of life is non-negotiable” is correct: reality does not negotiate.

    However, if initial hyperinflation is in the cards, then the cash would not be worth the paper it is printed on (hence the Zimbabwe hundred trillion dollar bill – if one could convert it into one dollar bills, the paper would have significant scrap value), In such a case, the folks in “cash and cash equivalents” might find themselves in a stony field, a “stone leigh” – as in Stoneleigh (Nicole Foss’ nom de plume on The Automatic Earth). (Leigh / lee / lea: a clearing; a field; a meadow; a sheltered area – from Celtic).

    While there are plenty of very successful runners of every kind from marathoners to sprinters, running does tend to be more jarring on the weight bearing skeleton and is therefore harsher on the joints particularly the knees and low back) when compared to speed walking (race walking). The difference between the two is that in race walking, at least one foot is on the ground at all times. And speed walkers can maintain quite good speeds (6 miles per hour – that’s 9.656064 kilometers per hour (Microsoft’s downloadable – free for validated copies of Windows XP and up – CalcPlus in its converter functions).

    For those who are unable to walk or run significant distances, pushups could be an option. The standard uS Army pushup is with both upper extremities extended in a straight line with palms resting on the ground vertically below the shoulders and the back and lower extremities straight with the toes and the ball of the foot also resting on the ground. The upper extremities are flexed until the chest touches the ground; one returns to the resting position by extending the upper extremities. The back and the lower extremities remain straight throughout. In addition to the upper extremities, it helps strengthen the back.

    Increasing by one pushup each week (an imperceptible change when past the early stages), it took 10 years to build up to 500 pushups (consecutively) in 60 +/- 5 minutes. I quit them altogether in April of 1994 when I started riding a bicycle to work. Unfortunately, I quit riding a bicycle as well, and then “retired”.

  • Regarding inflation/deflation, I suspect we will have deflation in some areas and inflation in others. Right now in fact we are having deflation of housing prices and inflation in food prices (grapes over $3 a pound for instance). I don’t think anyone with spare cash will be sitting pretty. The devaluing of the purchasing power of paper or digital money for necessary goods will continue just as the romans devalued the denarius IMHO.

    Re running, scientists have now confirmed that barefoot running is the best for the rest of the body.
    I don’t know if running sandals would replicate the benefits of barefoot running. Dmitry Orlov recommends that a good preparation for the collapse is developing tough soles by going barefoot as much as one can. Shoes will run out much sooner than other clothing.

    Recently I went to the Shoe Outlet to get some new shoes. They had a variety called ShapeUps which is supposed to make you walk more like a barefoot person does. Most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. I went back for a few more pairs at about $25 a clip. They sell retail at $70 or more. I should follow Dmitry’s advice but I am a wimp about cold feet and stepping on stones. Another company is trying to cash in on the barefoot idea with their five fingers shoes
    Seems to me that moccasins would work about the same.

  • tgriz,

    I have no qualifications to advise anyone on financial matters, but I’ll share what I’m doing as well as my motivation. Maybe it will help.

    I bypassed the financial markets most of my life. Instead, I’ve invested my meager excess cash in real estate. Rental property mostly. This year I’m going to get rid of 75% of my apartment holdings. I may take a bath in order to get them sold, but the way I figure, if I keep them too much longer there’s a very real chance that they will have no value at all – either because no one has jobs and therefore can’t pay the rent (already starting to be a problem), or because government services have collapsed and there will be no law enforcement or fire services to protect my property and allow me to collect the rents.

    I will then take the money from the sale (assuming there is anything left after paying off mortgages, closings, and taxes) and follow the suggestions made here already: buy human-powered tools, etc. I will probably buy some more timber-covered as well as arable land surrounding my home if I can convince my neighbors to sell.

    For everyone else:
    I have a very humble home on 7 acres – mostly wooded. It’s in an area of rolling hills that is sparsely populated by urban standards but crowded compared to what Guy has described for his place. We’re far enough away from urban areas to be safe from roaming hordes of hungry people (at least I hope so). I have grand plans for the place this year with respect to growing our own food, raising chickens and bees, etc. I would love to have some knowledgeable help. If anyone knows of someone with a little experience in this area who might be looking to simplify his or her life and would be willing to relocate, I would be interested in talking with that person. I might be able to afford a small stipend and would certainly provide room and board. Let me know. Leave a comment here or on my site with instructions how to contact you, or contact Guy for my email address.


  • Re. Curtis A. Heretic:
    “When I have been faced with major decisions, I would look to see what everyone else was doing, and then keep my mouth shut and do the opposite”

    When reading this site, I tend to keep my mouth shut and take notes ; )

  • Privileged: Don’t forget rule #17, Limber up, rule #4 “Double Tap, don’t be stingy with your bullets and rule #3, Seat Belts. Better buckle up, its going to be a rough ride. (From the film, Zombieland.)

    Guy, I agree with Peter, Nicole Foss is really on the ball on this issue, wish I had crossed paths with her six years ago.

    As to deflation vs hyperinflation, what stands out in my mind is that those who can produce for themselves (food, energy, water, wool, hay) will be the ones who flourish (or at least survive) during these difficult times. Now is the time to change your lifestyle and living location, not after things come unglued. Now is the time to unload things you don’t need for things you do need. If your a small farmer, consider selling the tractors and pto driven equipment for draft horses and ground driven equipment. Horses are way more fun then tractors anyway. As to cash or metals, I have a mix of both, US dollars and US silver coinage, but I’m not to concerned about paying bills once things really go to pieces. The banking system will not survive this collapse, I don’t expect the US GOV to survive this collapse (expect for DoD, they will for a while, and will probably be the government). The banks for as long as they do survive will be so tied up with foreclosures that by the time they get to me their robo-signers will be so busy foraging for food that they won’t be able to file the paperwork, and that’s assuming there is a judge or sheriff around to deal with the case. Floyd county, VA just laid off two more deputies and they only had nine to begin with.
    When it is all said and done, one harsh winter and it will be all over for most of us.

    Guy, great post. Contributors: great comments.
    Randy C.
    Willis, VA.

  • Dr House: What state is your home in? We might be able to point you in the direction for help if we know where you are kind of locate.


  • Ed, I’m in Northeast Arkansas.

  • I like the refrain, “Don’t say you didn’t see it coming.”

  • I run in sandals and barefoot when it allows. Minimalist shoes are close to bf running because they have no heel lifts and they don’t allow you to heel strike. Running with a mid-foot strike is much easier on the body. People have been running bf for millions of years.
    BORN TO RUN is a great book that really looks at the problems with civilization and a culture trying to survive it. Plus it really looks at running as a way of life instead of a simple cardio workout.

  • Why you run up the road? That was a title of an article by a first world young man who had gone to an African country with some aid group. One day he was feeling stressed and decided a good run would help him de-stress. So he began to run. A concerned African stopped him and asked “why you run up the road?” because he was concerned that there was something bad he was running from. He could not understand the idea of running for running’s sake. When calories are limited they are conserved and running will be once again for a reason, not for exercise. There will be plenty of physical labor for getting one in shape in the process of procuring one’s own food and shelter.

  • @Kathy:
    “There will be plenty of physical labor for getting one in shape in the process of procuring one’s own food and shelter.”

    Interesting coincidence. I’m leading a fitness seminar at my clinic in a couple of weeks. As a way of introducing the problems facing our society to a group of unhealthy, overweight, over-indulged Americans, I will discuss returning to the basics. ‘If you don’t grow it, don’t eat it’ is the mantra. Virtually impossible for most people these days, but it should be a good way for me to introduce the concept that people in the pre-industrial world were healthier than we are today. To get healthy, live as they did. I’ll be discussing good foods, how to grow them, and how to use them to the body’s benefit. I’m not sure it will be well received but who knows, people have done far stranger things to get thin.

  • Working with horses as draft animals not as easy as it sounds. If people are serious about this they had better figure out where to get training, how to make the hay (it comes on big trucks) where to get the grain (ditto trucks) and harnesses. Somebody should set up a blog on horse farming and horse transportation and get a list of resources. Does anyone know of such a thing?

  • Back to what Guy wrote:

    ‘And if “no limits to growth” Forbes is correct, western civilization will hang on until we commit suicide by climate chaos’.

    Climate chaos is here. Around here early spring was extraordinarilty wet and windy, leading to poor pollination. Then we had an extradordinarily dry period of two months which set back growth. That was followed by very unsettled weather, swinging from wet and windy to hot and dry. Just now we have experienced a very severe storm which has caused much damage (one of my fruit trees that was looking promising has been snapped and others are looking very sad).

    Most people are aware of the extraordinary weather patterns that have occured in numerous parts of the world recently ….Russia, Pakistan, much of eastern Australia going from severe drought to inundation over a matter of just a couple of years, Brazil geting ‘washed away’ while Argentina bakes. And we’re only up by just under 1oC !!! Presumably even another 0.2oC rise in average temperature is going to be pretty devastating.


    ‘people in the pre-industrial world were healthier than we are today.’

    No question about that.

    ‘To get healthy, live as they did.’

    It is a great concept that I fully agree with. Unfortunately it is not possible for 99.9% of the world’s population. The foreets are largely gone (or are inaccessible), the commons are gone, most of the flora and fauna are gone. And we are competing for food with five times as many people on average.

    ‘I’ll be discussing good foods, how to grow them, and how to use them to the body’s benefit.’

    Clearly what needs to be done. However, not wishing to rain on you parade I must point out that, as discussed above, growing food looks to be an increasingly difficult undertaking except in ‘ideal’ locations, wherever they might be.

    As time goes on the ‘answers’ start to look a lot less like answers.

  • I read this website weekly but I haven’t commented before. I have a question: why is it so important to be out of debt? If you live in an overpopulated area and are surrounded by hordes of people why will it matter to be out of debt WTSHTF? When money is worthless will anyone worry about debt anymore?

  • @Kathy: Thanks for the link to the Science Digest article. It lead to two further links with significant detail. This old dog learnt a new trick. But of course this research wal not yet done when i was learning in the 1960s.

    Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners

    Endurance running and the evolution of Homo

    The natural trend is for items of the primary and secondary economies to adjust in value to each other according to their actual values to humans. Real estate had been artificially pumped up in the housing bubble and is therefore deflating. But everything else, au contraire, is inflating (not having been artificially pumped up beforehand). Once real estate reaches its realistic comparative value to everything else, it too will start an uptrend. For practical purposes, if one is not in the market to acquire deflating items such as real estate, one gains no benefit from the deflation.

    The contracting economy, by destroying demand for petroleum may indeed pull down the price of the barrel of oil. But there are some demands that are elastic and others that are quite inelastic.

    An elastic demand would be something like the demand for movie tickets. It can go down with hard times and promptly bounce back up with recovery. Less elastic is the demand for petroleum: one may trade in a gas-guzzler for a more sensible car. But when recovery occurs, it may be many years before an upgrade to another gas-guzzler.

    Some demands are quite inelastic, such as the demand for food. Without food, death reduces the demand. But that demand destruction will take a generation to recover. Even longer-lasthg will be the effects from failure to maintain infrastructure. As James Howard Kunstler points out, without appropriate high-tech maintenance, modern glass – steel – high tech composite skyscrapers, will sustain irreparable degradation. Inelastic demands will be the killers in an economic contraction, regardless of how the (symbolic) tertiary economy relates to the (real) primary and secondary economies.

    It takes energy to convert items form the primary economy (such as timber) into usable items of the secondary economy (such as a chair). The difference in this example between the pre-industrial economy and the industrial economy is the difference between muscle power and power tools – the latter would enable a lot more conversion from the primary to the secondary economies – more chairs produced. The depletion of the cheap abundant energy will hamstring, cripple and ultimately kill the industrial secondary economy.

    The last connection between the symbols of the tertiary economy and the primary and secondary economies was uncoupled by R. M. Nixon in August of 1971 when the redemption of uS dollars in gold by foreign governments was terminated. This allowed the tertiary economy to be pumped up to sizes that suited the preference of those manipulating it for their own ends.

    Securities were symbols representing other symbols – dollars.
    When the primary and secondary economies stopped growing to keep pace with the symbols of symbols, gaping holes were suddenly apparent. All the fiat currency injected by recent bailouts and quantitative easing to fill those holes constitute promises that the currency will be redeemable at some future date in items from the primary and secondary economies. When, sooner or later, the beneficiaries of this largesse tender their holdings in expectation of an exchange for items in the (stagnant or contracting) primary and secondary economies, it will be the time to pay the piper.

  • Jamie, we don’t know how long collapse may take. There may be some period of undulating plateau. Being out of debt would protect you during that time…but as you note WTSHTF full bore, it becomes irrelevant. For instance if you own land and can’t pay the mortgage or the land taxes, you could loose it. While it may not matter in the end, it could well matter for some years. IMO that is why being out of debt matters for now. Others may have different thoughts.

    Kevin, I agree that growing food is becoming more problematic all the time. Sure is here. But any pleasure is basically for the moment in which it is had. If TRDH gets some people to have the joy of growing something now and eating good food, that pleasure is real even though it may be snatched away relatively soon. The way the future looks we have to grab what good times we can have NOW.

    Sorry to hear your climate story. Ours isn’t quite so bad but it is not good. The extended heat last summer and drought was the worst I had seen here and if I was hand pumping water we would have had very little from the garden. And to make it worse the chaos part means we can’t even be sure what kind of food we could grow….

  • Kevin, you’re right, of course, in that as things get worse it will be more and more difficult for people to grow their own food or anything else for that matter. And perhaps in some places it’s already too late. But, in the meantime, I’ll keep talking and sharing and trying to figure things out as best I can. With the soft touch, I may be able to open some minds. I’m not trying to save the world, but I do hope to accomplish two things: 1) maybe ease some suffering as much as is possible, and 2) find others of like mind in my area with whom I may be able to build some community. At this point, I still don’t know anyone outside of my house who is making preparations to survive the collapse. As so many have stated, it takes a community.

    And don’t worry about raining on my parade; my parade’s been rained on so many times that I just carry an umbrella wherever I go. :-)

  • Ellen I think Randy understands that about draft horses. I remember some of his earlier posts were about the training that he would have to go through. That said, the too closest farms to us each have had some pretty dramatic injuries due to the big animals. One farmer broke his hip when a cow squashed him in a loading chute and another fell off his horse and had some pretty bad damage done.

    While we’re on growing things, here are 3 for you. Celest Figs, Garden Huckleberries, and Ground Cherries. Our blog:
    shows a Celest Fig which we move indoors for the really cold weather. We purchased it spring/10 and it is now covered with figs. The two fruits mentioned I found on Seed Savers Exchange. They are annuals around here, but I understand the Huckleberries will reseed, not sure on the Ground Cherries. Both are producing 70 days after transplanted out. Said a while ago we would post what we were growing and trying to grow. That’s up now on the blog.
    TRDH: Good for you. My BH is working with The Head Start program in the closest town trying work up a program for getting good food from the farms around here to people that need it.
    If we were looking for an intern for the summer we would post an ad in either NOFA or PASA. Both of these organizations have areas where you can do that. I’m afraid that I don’t know about Arkansas. Your idea for a stipend is a good one (usually runs around 800/month). The problem is that you may not be able to teach them much, which is what most are looking for, though your situation may be interesting since summer interns end up picking and weeding most of the time. Also check out There is a section for exactly this kind of thing. I looked this morning and there was an agroforestry student from UC Berkley looking for something to do this summer. Good Luck

  • @Dr. House – Re your fitness seminar, assuming your audience is receptive, you might consider giving a lesson on how we evolved as gatherer-hunters and what that looked like vis-v-vis physical activity, food gathering, eating, etc. Viewed from this perspective and with a little knowledge about biological evolution, it makes more sense to someone when they’re told to live like a gatherer-hunter. The modern concept of sleeping through the night for eight hours, three meals a day, too many hours enduring artificial light indoors, sitting at a desk or a car for hours on end, all of our modern living habits along these lines, are antithetical to how we evolved. Our bodies have not evolved to adapt to these ways of living. I believe that’s why so many people are on pharmaceuticals to fix their “ills,” i.e., sleeping pills, anti-depressants, ADHD meds, plug-in drugs, the list goes on. Good luck with it and I hope you’ll let us all hear how it goes.

  • Good article in Energy Bulletin
    Memorable quote:
    “The This Week In Petroleum notes that demand for oil will grow by 3 million bbl/d over the next two years but there is no supply risk because EIA “expects” OPEC to fill in the need. That is like being lost in a desert and saying that you will be hungry and thirsty at 6 PM so you “expect” the pizza delivery company will find you. Oh, and you will need to borrow money from China to pay for the meal.”

  • Kathy,

    I was always sure that the tooth fairy would save us.

  • I continue to sit incredulous to the absence of truth about oil production and consumption. OTOH, if there was an extinction level meteor headed for earth and there was nothing we could do about it except wait, should we be told?

    Of course one could argue that the loss of oil is not exactly an extinction level event, and that though we would suffer great loss of life, we could begin conserving and make the orderly transition to alternative energy sources. Those that survived could then become permaculture experts and we could all live happily ever after.

    That tooth fairy is going to be very busy indeed!

  • Victor, if a patient is terminal should they be told? Those who I know who have been told, do better than those who don’t, in my small experience.

    If a planet smashing meteor was headed to earth, I think the people of earth should be told and that faced with that I suspect most people would behave better not worse.

    As you note in the case of oil if it was presented so people didn’t think it was a trick – government disinformation, perhaps a more orderly transition could be made. Or maybe that is my own tooth fairy belief. I still think on the whole that the general public, when not manipulated by TPTB, act better than TPTB.

  • Ellen,
    For draft horse resources, take a look at the following: 1) Rural is an excellent resource site. 2) Live near people working horses. Just up the road from here in Copper Hill, VA, a guy named Jason Rutledge operates a horse logging training school called Healing Harvest Forestry Foundation. He also does the Southern Draft Animals Days, last year it was in Ferrum, VA. That is where I met up with Ammon Weaver, from Liberty, Kentucky who makes modern horse treadmills. Another source is the Horse Progress Days in Lancaster, PA this coming Jule 1st and 2nd.
    As to working with large animals, 1) keep Jersey cows, they are smaller than Holsteins and give better milk (in my opinion), 2) stay out of squeeze shoots, that farmer should have known better, 3) don’t work at night, that is when accidents happen, 4) buy a well broke team from someone local with a good reputation and pay them to help train you. Start out with one horse pulling a sled with a load on it so that if it decides to run off, it won’t get far, then work up to a team. Just do a little at a time and always end on a positive note. Oh, and wear steel toed boots.

    As to hay, it sometimes comes on trucks but one can still get ground driven movers, rakes and hay loaders and do all the haying with the horses. Also, horses don’t need grain, I just use it to train them to follow me around and make them easy to catch. Cows, goats, sheep and horses do well on hay, even chickens do well on it as Gene Logsdon would tell you.

    Now is the time, if you are interested in working horses, sell the tractors and attend some auctions (amish auctions can have good horse drawn equipment, or buy new from I&J Equipment. As to harnesses, a quick google search will reveal that there are lots of harness makers in the US, both east, central and western states, and, really harness are not that hard to make, collars a bit more of a challenge.
    Hope this helps.

  • Dear Kathy and Friends,

    What would you think about acknowledging the science of human population dynamics and human overpopulation as a way of beginning to take a new path toward sustainability? If we keep repeating the mistakes made in the past by denying extant and unchallenged science, nothing can happen. Without an acknowledgement of the root cause(s) of what is ailing the human family, how are we to move forward to raise awareness of the global predicament? Once awareness is raised among a critical mass of people, it becomes possible to organize for the purpose of formulating policies and programs of action.

    The willful denial of science has kept us, and continues to keep us, from gaining momentum needed to address and overcome the human-driven challenges that currently threaten human wellbeing and environmental health.



  • Of course Steve if the world would acknowledge that overpopulation is a problem and find a way to deal with it that would help extend civilization. However the time to do that was 40 years ago or earlier. Its too late. We need to get down to something I would guess around 1/2 billion yesterday. You have any ideas how to do that in time that you would like to advocate governments take up. Voluntary suicide clinics? Forced abortions and sterilizations? Selectively nuking all large cities? Even the milder versions that are too little too late such as free birth control are not politically popular.

  • Dear Kathy,

    Thanks for asking the question. That alone is refreshing. Please note that I am one of the those people who holds onto to a robust disregard for what appears to others as impossible.

    Human overpopulation of the Earth appears to me as such a daunting and imminent global threat, both to human wellbeing and environmental health, that all nations would be well-advised to commit to the same set of self-restraint policies sooner rather than later. All nations would agree to educate, provide sensible incentives and humane means so that self-limiting behavior can be voluntarily chosen. Perhaps some specific proposals regarding what the human community might consider doing in the process of beginning to address and overcome the distinctly human-induced predicament that looms ominously before humanity, even now visible on the far horizon.

    1. Immediate, universal and free access to humane contraception is to provided to those who want this alternative;

    2. Family planning and health education is made available to everyone who chooses it;

    3. The time for the economic and social empowerment of women is now.

    4. As a means of accelerating the present downward movement in birth rates in many Western countries, a voluntary policy of one child per family would be initiated worldwide.

    5. The many human beings who are suffering the unhealthy effects of obesity will share their over-abundant resources with many too many people who are starving.

    6. Every effort to conserve energy and scarce material resources will be implemented.

    7. Much more substantial economic incentives are necessary for the development of energy resources as alternatives to fossil fuels.

    8. Overhaul national tax systems so that conspicuous per human over-consumption of Earth’s limited resources is meaningfully put at a disadvantage.

    9. Humanity needs a modified economic system, one that is more completely subordinated to democratic principles and more adequately meets the basic needs of a majority of humanity who could choose to live healthier and better lives with lesser amounts of energy and natural resources.

    10. Overall, what is to be accomplished is a fair, more equitable and sustainable distribution of the world’s tangible resources (e.g., food) along with humanity’s most indispensable intangible resource (e.g., education), as soon as possible.



  • Kathy:

    Some time ago on this site,after my return from Cambodia,I theorized that we could start to repair the earth by relocating the Yuppie Scum
    social class to “reeducation camps”.The purpose was to organize them into work units to tear down the sloburbs (a new word provided by Guy),and teach their children of the evils of the capitalist system,
    that rendered these atrocious sites in the first place.

    I was inspired by my studies of the Khmer Rouge revolution and their extreme agrarian communist ideology.

    Your posting above–and you are right thinking–reminded me of my past
    musings on the evils of human overpopulation.We would get along fine.

    Double D

  • Steve, those are all great suggestions. But given that I believe that Guy is right and the crash begins within a year, looks like the population thing will be taken care of by the usual methods. Please note that even after China instituted its one child policy which required a very strong and undemocratic state to enforce, China’s population still increased. Seems counterintuitive but relates to the number of years between generations, the number of people entering child bearing age and the longevity of the elderly.'s_Republic_of_China
    The rate of growth slowed and perhaps would stabilize and decline if our future included BAU. But we are about done with BAU and thus your 10 points will never be considered by governments going bankrupt left and right. Limits to Growth pointed out the problem years ago and they were ridiculed and ignored. The Catholic church continued to ban contraceptives. And now, here at TEOTWAWKI you think these proposals will be considered by those in power? Food riots are happening in countries across the world. Pensions are being slashed. It starts with famine and disease and war won’t be far behind.

  • Steve/Kathy,

    Prior to the Limits to Growth report, Paul Erhlich covered the same ground.

    When in a tough spot and the choice is between doing the rational but hard work solution, or to go “ape shit”, the masses choose “ape shit”.

  • Dear Kathy, Frank and Curtis,

    Your comments are appreciated. Of course Guy could be correct about 2012. Then again, he might not be.

    It seems to me that it is never too late to speak out loudly and clearly of whatsoever is believed to be true and, so far as it is within our power as human beings with feet of clay, to do the right thing.



  • “I don’t know if running sandals would replicate the benefits of barefoot running. Dmitry Orlov recommends that a good preparation for the collapse is developing tough soles by going barefoot as much as one can. Shoes will run out much sooner than other clothing.” -kathy

    as already noted by ‘privileged’, interesting book recently published on the topic of ultra-long distance marathon running in bare feet, BORN TO RUN, title. theorizes that pre-historic human hunters ran after prey animals for hours or days on end, until they collapsed from exhaustion, as i recall.

    obviously now is a good time to stock up on all kinds of clothing, enough to last however long one anticipates possibly living. shoes, boots, underwear, etc.. for example, in the past 6 mos. i’ve bought 2 pairs of excellent used winter boots for about $5 each. get them oversized so u can wear several pairs of warm socks to keep feet warm, which is key to having an overall sense of body warmth/comfort in the cold. it’s how i now deal with living in a 5 degree celsius home atmosphere. won’t be long before many others who live in cold winter climates will have to do the same.

  • Steve, China started its one child policy in 1979 at about 1 billion. They have since added 3 million people – over 30 percent increase in 32 years. So if we had a worldwide 1 child policy enforced we could expect the world population of 6.9 billion to become almost 9 billion in 32 years. Would your 10 point plan do better than that? How?

  • Even if Kathy were wrong and the human population were to be miraculously reduced to 1/2 billion in a few years time (which will likely happen anyway), have you considered what such a world would be like at that population level? Perhaps not what you would hope.

  • VT,

    You might also consider making shoes from old auto tyres – there should be plenty of those lying about. And with a bit of car window glass and a tyre and possibly some reflective material you can make a pretty efficient solar oven…. ;-)

  • Sorry to say, but voluntary population control would never, ever get off its feet. Huge portions of the global population would consider population control unnatural and in some cases contrary to religious practice. Education only works if there is an open and receptive mind. I think Mother Nature will solve this problem for us, and we won’t even have to change our behaviour…. ;-)

  • Remember also that low population demands a less complex social structure; i.e., technology suffers considerably. 1/2 billion people will not be able to support an infrastructure that has an internet, computers, mobile phones, iPads, televisions, autos, internal combustion engines, and on and on.

    Indeed, if Mother Nature takes care of it, the most vulnerable will be the half of humanity living in the urban areas of the world. I’ll leave it to you folks to guess where technology production is achieved today. Then connect the dots… :-)

  • Corrections – China added 300 million in 32 years not 3 million

    And the demographics link I posted earlier got broken


  • Still keeps cutting off the link for direct clicking – try

  • Steven.

    I don’t think you get it.

    ‘Much more substantial economic incentives are necessary for the development of energy resources as alternatives to fossil fuels.’

    There are NO ALTERNATIVES TO FOSIL FUELS. The hundreds or dozens of ‘energy slaves’ (depending where you live) are about to ‘start dying’ and will not be replaced. We are headed for a solar-input societies long term and there is nothing we can do about it, though we could have made the descent somewhat more comfortable by careful planning a few years ago.

    ‘Humanity needs a modified economic system, one that is more completely subordinated to democratic principles and more adequately meets the basic needs of a majority of humanity who could choose to live healthier and better lives with lesser amounts of energy and natural resources.’

    I used to think that, but now I see it is too late. The present economic system will achieve self-modification to low energy and low resource consumption via collapse.

    The time for most solutions to our way-of-life problems was years ago, and the time for solutions to the population problem was half a century ago. We are now in the dire predicament phase.

    I was disappointed to see Mike Ruppert recently suggest roof-top gardens and balconey gardens for people living in apartments as a way of saving lives. His heart may be in the right place but his brain does not seem to be. From where does he think people living in appartment blocks will obtain water?

    It is always useful to remember that we are on the Titanic and have a hole in the hull, but the captain’s plan is to ram his way through the iceberg. And most people onboard think that’s a great idea.

  • When growing up in Pakistan, tiresole shoes were considered to be the best, due to the durability of the soles. The trade of shoemaking goes back to ancient times: hence the surnames Schumaker, Shoemaker. etc. It was even known in ancient India; there is the story of a cobbler (they were considered to be a “low” caste) who was an enlightened person named Chamara in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Shoemaking can be done in a relatively low-tech society – but maxing shoes by hand is a skill that will have to be relearnt.

  • These are paper thin sandals…kit available…

    I wear these and it is close to bf without the risk…bf is best but not always available if ya know what I mean.?

  • Dear Kevin Moore,

    I do not agree with the idea that there are “no alternatives to fossil fuels”, or fossil fools. Do you get that much?



  • Steve, I am sure others can say it better than I can but I will say it anyway. There are alternative fuels. There are no alternative fuels that can deliver the high ERoEI that oil had when our industrialized civilization was built up ie about 100 measures of energy returned for 1 measure of energy built up. There are no alternative fuels that have yet had their infrastructure built without using fossil fuels. Even if you could build a windmill (from extraction of raw materials to delivery of electricity to houses) with only alternative fuels, the low ERoEI of the energy out put would further lower the Energy return. The total amount of energy required to fuel our current society would be much much greater because the input would be so much greater.

    If you could put up enough windmills and solar panels to power our society at the current level you would be extracting much more wind and solar energy from the environs than you are now. While it seems to be the belief that wind and sunlight energy is unused that is never the case. They are part of the environs and appropriating huge amounts of anything in our environs for other purposes can have unintended consequences. Oil and coal just seem to be sitting in the ground doing nothing. What they were doing was among other things sequestering Carbon from the atmosphere which we realized a bit late in the game. We have no idea what massive capture of solar or wind or tidal energy from their current uses will do to our environment. Haven’t we meddled enough.

    And of course ethanol and bio diesel are such a joke that they hardly warrant mention.

    Oh and alternative energies like solar and wind have come to depend on a variety of unusual metals for the higher return they are getting these days – and some are in short supply and many are concentrated in China….

    Times up for human manipulation of the world. Nature’s turn at the bat.

  • Steve

    I think Kevin was saying that there exists no alternative to fossil fuels, especially oil, that gives even close to the EROEI. It simply does not exist. To make the infrastructural changes required to support electricity production for a global community of near 7 billion folks would be improbable, if not nigh impossible, given current and projected political, economic and resource factors. Alternative sources have a place, but only a relatively small one, I fear. Just in the area of transport alone, there is no substitute for oil, if for no other reason than some one billion vehicles would have to be replaced in the relatively short period of time before peak oil shortages come into full view in the next 2-4 years. Even if we had 10 years, it would cause enormous economic disruption.

  • On the issue of population control…

    I’ve delivered way more than my share of babies – not my favorite activity, but a doc does what a doc has to do. Anyway, the desire that an overwhelming number of women have to bear children cannot be rationalized nor legislated away. Even the women I know who are quite aware of what’s happening globally with overpopulation want to have at least two children – some 3 or more. Religion plays a convenient role in this, particularly here in the Bible belt. “The Duggars” are a perfect example of this.

    Compound that with the lesser aware women in our society who can’t be bothered with birth control or who see more children as a way to hold onto their man or who think they can get more welfare money or because God commands us to “be fruitful and multiply” . . . the reasons go on and on.

    I have quite a few patients who are on their 9th or 10th pregnancy. They live in abject poverty and frankly just aren’t intelligent enough to allow reason to overcome their innate desire to procreate.

    The movie “Idiocracy”, while a farce, had a certain ring of truth to it.

    The sad truth is that I’m describing one of the most developed and scientifically advanced countries in the world. I can only imagine what it’s like in third world countries where children are still viewed as a sign of prosperity or virility, etc.

  • Dr House, thanks for your comments on how hard it is to get mot people to take overpopulation to heart personally. I will add one observation. In the 60’s when I didn’t finish college, married and 5 years later started a family of 2 kids, many women in my age group took a different life course. They were going to be successful in a man’s world and having children was not part of that. Then 15 years latter I started hearing about “my biological clock is running down” and these professional women started having kids, sometimes with extra procedures to facilitate impregnation at these older ages. The program to procreate is quite strong, and not very rational.

  • continuing the conversation on overpopulation …

    heard Paul Ehrlich interviewed yesterday, He talked about the fact that research shows humans are hard wired for empathy and as a culture we have the ability to quickly organize around agreed upon goals. The example he gave was the war efforts during the second WW … pointing out that we went from making cars to making tanks and rationing sugar and other food items in the span of a few short years.

    The important point for me is that if we had agreement on goals we could do what needs to be done … I suppose forging the agreement proves to be elusive – and in many cases even agreeing there is a problem.

    I do agree with Dr. House and Kathy that biological drives don’t hear our rational arguments. Over population may be one of the first problems solved (some large die off due to disease as one possibility) being that human life is fragile when compared to the atmosphere/environment.

    No matter how in control the population numbers become until the individuals that form the population learn to relate to the earth differently the problem is still with us.

  • Even (especially?) for the “wise apes” (i.e., Homo sapiens sapiens), overcoming evolution will be nearly impossible. An excerpt of Peter Goodchild’s latest essay is telling:

    “One solution that is sometimes proposed for the dilemma of fossil-fuel decline is a global campaign for the humane implementation of rapid population decline. With all due respect for the attempt to find a satisfying answer to the question of overpopulation, such a proposal would conflict with the available data on the rate of decline in fossil fuels. The annual rate of population decline, in a civilization in which fossil fuels are by far the most important sources of energy, must roughly equal the 3-percent (if not greater) annual rate of fossil-fuel decline.”

    “Unfortunately there is no practical humane means of imposing a similar annual rate of decline on the world’s population. If we allow the loss of petroleum to take its course, a decline of 3 percent would result in a drop in world population to half its present level, i.e. to 3.5 billion, by about the year 2030. The only means, however, would be a rather grim one: famine.”

    The full essay is here:

  • Dear Steve,

    In fourteenth century Europe I’m sure that most people agreed the Earth was flat and that the Sun went round the Earth. As I understand it, around 60% of Americans currently do not agree that there is any link between climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.

    That people agree with something or disagree with it has no relevance when discussing scientific facts.

    Yes, we can burn ethanol in internal combustion engines, but since ethanol has a C-O-H bond compared to ethane it delivers slightly less energy per mole. However, to make worthwhile quantities of ethanol we have to devote a monstrous area of land to growing the required crop, go through a series of biochemical steps, followed by distillation procedure -all of which require expensive equipment and energy.

    Yes, we can generate ethene from ethanol to make polythene, by stripping out a water molecule using concentrated sulphuric acid. The energy requirement for such a process is horrendous.

    Yes, we can burn vegetable oil in internal combustion engines. But can anybody explain where we are going to obtain 80 million barrels of vegetable oil a day from? By chopping down all the remaining jungles on this planet and replacing them with palm oil plantations?

    If I were to collect all the vegetable oil from all the supermarket shelves in the region where I live, I guess that would provide enough fuel to run one truck for one day.

    Yes, we can extract hydrocarbons from sheep tallow. It is a long and messy process with a horrendously low energy return on energy invested. I have no idea how much sheep tallow is available worldwide: I suspect enough to keep one large diesel ship running.

    By devoting ethanol, vegetable oils, animal fats or anything else we can think of to trying to sustain the unsustanable we simply exacerbate our problems (and deny other users those substances).

    The numbers just do not stack up, neither for the necessary chemical procedures nor for the quantities required.

    Moving past the bargaining stage is part of the Kubler-Ross grieving process.

  • Guy, thanks for the Goodchild article. So my numbers show that 1 child takes a long time to affect population growth, much less begin a decline. He shows that zero population growth cannot accomplish the job if his projections of what population can be supported in 20 or 30 years are correct. There is a chart in this article that shows population rise along with barrels of oil rise.
    Its clear from the chart that oil is not the only factor in population rise as the population begins its rise before oil makes its steep climb. But nonetheless at about 1/2 of the current consumption of oil the world population was 3 billion. Clearly we don’t have much more water to pump, more soil to overuse, another America to capture and exploit. There is nothing to buffer the loss of oil. Oil is holding up everything and I expect that when we are at 1/2 the production that we have today far more than half the population of the world will die early deaths and the situation will deteriorate so rapidly that the other 1/2 will never be pumped.

    When things begin to collapse depends on how long the plateau holds and depressed economies stay afloat.

    But everyone now alive is going to die anyway. We are mortal. So treasure each day.

  • Kathy,

    ‘Its clear from the chart that oil is not the only factor in population rise as the population begins its rise before oil makes its steep climb’

    I’m sure you are aware, but I’ll just remind you that the transition from wood to coal, leading to the use of traction engines etc. increased food production. Also, coal-based antispetics reduced deaths from infection. And coal was a significant source of energy in the extraction of phophate rock in the early days of fertilisers.

    If the remaining oil were used wisely and we stopped all the frivilous uses, especially tourism, and stopped the war machine, we could continue to run tractors and irrigation systems for a long time into the future.

    Kowever, in view of the fact that we have ignoramuses in charge (or maybe they are just plain evil), the chance of us using the remaining oil wisely seems to be about zero.

  • “Yes, we can extract hydrocarbons from sheep tallow.”
    In keeping with some of the more apocalyptic narrateves, one might substitute “sheeple”.

  • [Kevin]”If the remaining oil were used wisely and we stopped all the frivilous uses, especially tourism, and stopped the war machine, we could continue to run tractors and irrigation systems for a long time into the future.”

    Maybe. But likely not. The livelihood of many millions of people depend upon those frivolous uses of oil today. Tourism, as you mentioned, is one of the world’s largest industries deeply ingrained in virtually all countries of the world, even the poor ones who encourages tourism as a national source of income. This is a way of saying that our global community depends upon mass consumerism and mass production. Anything that slows that down, like reduced consumption, will result in at first jobs and livelihoods lost, then deaths.

    It is mass consumerism and mass production that maintain modern technology and populations. It is oil that allows mass consumerism and mass production. One must see the chain of dependency, or we draw the wrong conclusions and see the wrong solutions.

    On the peak oil situation, it is true that a Hubbert’s view of a normal distribution curve of oil production will show an approximate 3-4% decline on the other half of production, but as some peak oil advocates indicate, the situation is far grimmer when EROEI is considered in the variables. As we run out of our huge cache of sweet light oil, we must depend more and more upon less energy rich thick deposits and harder=to-reach, more expensive deposits to maintain production to meet demand. These oils have significantly less EROEI associated with them, and therefore, one must pump more such oils to equal prior energy returns. So when EROEI is fed into the equation, the drop on the other side of the curve is significantly steeper.

    And to demonstrate my almost limitless affinity towards the dark side, when you consider Jeff Brown’s Export Land Model of oil exports, there comes a point when oil producing countries, stop selling oil as they need to supply a growing local population, modernising through oil wealth and consuming more. This of course means that some countries who export oil for sale today, when suddenly stop, or markedly reduce their exports at a given point in their own local Hubbert curve. Oil consuming countries are at high risk in this scenario.

    As for irrigation and commercial agriculture more broadly, that too is working on a shortening fuse as non-renewable or slow renewable fresh water supplies are depleted and phosphates reach peak production. But that is another thread…. ;-)

  • Robin, I take it you have watched Soylent Green

    Kevin, yes coal and technology based on coal were a large part of the early rise of population, but also the ancient stored sunlight in the rich top soils of the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, and the stored sunlight in the old growth forests in the US. The movement of too rich societies to relatively untouched lands was a significant factor. Oil continued and expanded that trend. Such rises of population are always at the expense of the future.

  • Richard Heinberg states well our condition. We no longer have problems to solve. What we have is a dilemma… “a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives.” We can’t solve this. We have to choose – if we don’t nature will choose. Since the “great” minds of the world seem bent on solutions, nature comes to bat.

    I did some more calcs based on Goodchild’s work. Our daily world death rate is about 150,000. My calcs say that if you continued that death rate with zero births, reducing the world population to 3 billion would take 55 years. At that point you would have almost 4 billion alive. They would all be 55 years old or older. Given that very few women are fertile at 55 (and enforcing zero births would take a universal sterilization of one or the other gender or both), the human race would be over, done. There is no humane, fair human policy that can shrink the population to what it surely must shrink to as the fuel that sustained it runs out.

    That said anyone forgoing reproduction will be saving a potential child not only from death (which is the fate of each child born) but also from very likely an unpleasant life before death.

    “While man is growing life is in decrease
    And Cradles rock us nearer to the tomb.”
    Edward young

  • Just watched “Zeitgeist:Moving Forward”, 2 hr 41 min video produced by Peter Joseph including interviews with Mike Ruppert and Jacques Fresco. I would be most interested in opinions here.

  • Victor, re Zeitgeist moving forward, available on line or do you have to buy the DVD?

  • oops! Forgot the link!!

  • Here are the numbers to back up Guy:

    If any idiot laughs at GW, just pass this on to them.

  • Victor,

    My ‘if we put an immediate end to tourism and wars’ scenario was very much hypothetical. One might imagine that people involved in tourism would prefer having a daily ration of government-supplied food to having a job for a few more years (months?) and no food. However, that’s not the way the world works. I know they will just keep doing it till they can’t (which is now one of my ‘favourite’ expressions) because governments will encourage them to do so.

    Indeed ‘they’ll just keep doing it till they can’t’ is particularly true of the elites who control governments and governments themselves. Thus we see the UK rapidly headed for the plug hole (with other nations a little ahead or a little behind) because the government steadfastly refuses to address any of the fundamental issues.

    That does suggest the export-land model could well be circumvented by ‘the destablise unfriendly governments, and if that doesn’t work bomb the s**t out of them and steal their oil model’, which has been successfully applied for nearly a century.

    I do hope Zeitgeist III is better than Zeitgeist II, which degenerated into utter crap in the latter section, with fantasy solutions based on impossible EROEI being presented as achievable.


    I think we both understand that Richard Heinberg has a tendency to understate. We do not have problems. We are not in a dilemma. We are in a predicament from which there is no escape: we are headed for the bottleneck. The only real matter of debate is whether there is a cork in the bottle or not. He cannot (or will not) go public with such a message at this stage.

    Although individually we can make some choices, we have no agency over the important choices, which are made for us on a continuous basis by people who are either deranged or reptilian, and are supported by the severely deluded masses.

  • Kevin, yes not only does Heinberg understate, I think he knowingly understates, perhaps in the hope that his worst fears are wrong.

    “Although individually we can make some choices, we have no agency over the important choices, which are made for us on a continuous basis by people who are either deranged or reptilian, and are supported by the severely deluded masses.”

    Exactly. How refreshing to be on a site where I am regularly outdoomed. I mean that seriously. I try write with a bit more hope than I feel, but I like knowing that others more knowledgeable than me agree with what I think.

    Since there well may be a cork at the end of the bottleneck I recommend popping a few corks now. :)

  • Kathy,

    Looking at N. Africa, and the Middle East, the world may outdoom us all. If the food shortages are approaching soon, the govs will not tell us. The entire region could go nuts. A few hundred million hungry people will not go back in the bottle.

  • “That does suggest the export-land model could well be circumvented by ‘the destablise unfriendly governments, and if that doesn’t work bomb the s**t out of them and steal their oil model’, which has been successfully applied for nearly a century. ”

    Indeed. Only such a solution this time will only spark a nuclear war. Solutions sometimes lead to problems… ;-)

  • Curtis,

    Thanks for the link. Awaiting the NSIDC update on the extent of Arctic sea ice:

    ‘January 5, 2011
    Repeat of a negative Arctic Oscillation leads to warm Arctic, low sea ice extent Arctic sea ice extent for December 2010 was the lowest in the satellite record for that month. These low ice conditions are linked to a strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation, similar to the situation that dominated the winter of 2009-2010.’

  • Thank you for the essay, Guy.

    Egypt is imploding, hard on the heels of Tunisia.

    Austerity measures are in the works for Spain, after the examples of Greece and Ireland.

    “Things fall apart” indeed. Things are getting really interesting, to put it mildly.

    Egyptians have lost all faith in their government. Dmitry Orlov stated that a loss of faith is what will bring about the downfall of the U.S., similar to what happened in the USSR after Chernobyl.

    Did anyone here actually watch the State of the Union address? I honestly couldn’t think of a reason why I should have… and I don’t know of anyone who actually did watch it. Nobody gives a shit what the President or Congress has to say any more, and rightly so.

    The loss of faith, of trust, is almost palpable, at least outside the Beltway. Detroit streets may soon resemble those in Ismailia.

  • i second kevin’s appreciation for curtis the heretic’s climate link. that’s some astonishing freakish warmth in the canadian arctic. to put it in perspective, i took the maximum average deviation from average reported in the article from mid december to mid january, 38 degrees fahrenheit, and plugged in that number for where i live at 42 degrees north in the northeastern u.s.. instead of having to bulk up in winter clothes, i’d be wearing shorts and t shirts outdoor afternoons. instead of late january weather, it would be like late may. almost summer.

    as i just wrote in a post to others, it’s unfortunate this freakish warmth is happening where almost no one lives, while the anomalous recent cold in heavily populated places like britain and florida get tons of media. it’s as if mother nature is part of a conspiracy to keep the masses ignorant and deluded. surreal.

  • Curtis,

    Very impressive link. I followed some of the data presented by the link contained in the caption below the picture. Fascinating to see how the weather changed from day to day, month to month. It was not just Canada experiencing these highs; it was virtually the whole of the Arctic area far into Russia as well. Indeed, the blue (below average temps) were only in isolated areas!

    The note about the absence of sea-ice was interesting as well.

    But of course climate sceptics will see none of that.

  • “I do hope Zeitgeist III is better than Zeitgeist II, which degenerated into utter crap in the latter section, with fantasy solutions based on impossible EROEI being presented as achievable. ”


    I think I can guess how you are going to feel about Zeitgeist: Moving Forward…… ;-)

  • Christopher

    Some good points you make, especially that about faith. I’m sure any of the global Elite would be the first to agree that they rule only as long as the people have faith in the government they have imposed upon those people. All governments rule through the consent of the people. When the people lose faith, watch out. And the Elite know this and fear greatly that moment when it all breaks apart and they are faced with a “Bastille” of their own.

    What we also have to consider, however, is the length to which the Elite will use their power to hold. No sacrifice is too great – none. Even mass murder through nukes or biological weapons. And if they see that they are losing, they will use every means possible to strip the remaining wealth of the people in a last ditch effort to take all before it all comes flying apart.

    Like any addiction, there is sickness at work here. The lust for money. The lust for power. They can do no other than to reach for more even when it is obvious that they themselves are at risk.

    The Enlightened Ones, indeed….

  • Victor,
    When they people no longer have faith in the government then amok with rein and a new rude beast will begin its advance.

    Where I’m from there was a failed attempt to bomb the MLK match last week and yesterday someone broke the legs of two horses (crushed them above and below the ‘knee’).

    Cry, “Havoc” indeed.

    Michael Irving

  • Drought in China, Floods in Australia – add these to Russia’s heat and fires last year and what do you get.
    Global Food Supplies
    Concern is growing that food shortages across Asia are leading to rapidly rising food prices that, with the increasing cost of fuel, will stifle economic growth in the region. The UN’s food index shows prices now have reached record levels and are poised to move still higher. In China a prolonged drought across the northern provinces is threatening to devastate this year’s wheat crop further threatening the food supply for millions. The drought, said to be the worst in 60 years, has left Beijing with no precipitation for the last 90 days. The Chinese have already stepped up food imports and recently concluded one of the largest purchases of US soybeans on record. It seems likely that food prices as well as oil prices will play a major part in events during the coming year.
    By James Hall 7:00AM GMT 04 Jan 2011

    US wheat futures rose heavily yesterday as concerns grew that Australian wheat growers will be unable to deliver their harvests as a result of the devastation. Australia is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wheat after the USA, Canada and Russia.

    At the Chicago Board of Trade, the price of wheat for March delivery rose over 3pc, at one point hitting $8.25 (£5.30) a bushel, the highest since last August. Warnings over impending cold weather in the US were also cited as reasons for the rise.

    Gordon Polson, a director at the Federation of Bakers, which represents the UK baking industry, said that although the ‘spot’ price of wheat is not what large bread producers pay for their supply, the increase could eventually lead to higher prices on the shelf.

    “There is no doubt that if there is a longer trend of higher wheat prices, this will be reflected in [bakers’] costs. If there are a couple of poor harvests in the world that will obviously impact prices,” he said.

    The Queensland area of Australia has been hit by calamitous flooding. Andrew Fraser, Queensland’s State Treasurer, described the floods as a “disaster of biblical proportions”. Water is covering land the size of France and Germany. It is expected to reach over 30 feet deep in some areas in coming days.

  • Coming soon to a country near you…..

    In pictures:

    Anger in Egypt

    Thousands protest in Jordan:

    Protesters gather across the country, demanding the prime minister step down.

    Yemen: Tens of thousands call on president to leave:

    Tens of thousands of Yemenis have demonstrated in the capital Sanaa, calling on Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for 30 years, to step down.

    3 killed as thousands of Albanian protest despite warnings:

    Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the Albanian capital Tirana Friday for a silent protest closely monitored by police, a week after another demonstration turned deadly.

  • Victor.

    I guess I’ll get to see Zg III some time. Anything with a subtitle ‘moving forward’ does suggest a degree of delusion.

    Derrick Jensen sums it up pretty succinctly in the film End Civ. (well worth watching). Greenwash just enables the empire to keep destroying our life support systems.

  • Little end time humor song – Tom Lehrer We will all go together when we go. :) (Note that the number to go was at that time 3 billion – now its more than double that will all go together if the Nukes fly)

  • If I hear one more MSM comment about “stifiling economic growth”, I will barf all over myself. This world is just nuts. They will be talking about this “economic growth” as hundreds of millions die.

  • My friends, our greatest minds have long foreseen that a day of doom might come for our planet and our species. But they also foresaw how we would escape it: into the infinite reaches of the Cosmos. There, all physical and spiritual limits to growth disappear, along with all threats of extinction.

    How fortunate we are to be alive at a time when life on this planet is more than algae! How privileged to be members of a species that can see 13 billion light years in all directions and imagine a limitless future among the stars. To be so full of hatred for our civilization is to be ignorant of its achievements. I can only conclude that the likes of Derrick Jensen have never looked upon the pictures of our planet from space or the beautiful images of stars and galaxies from our space telescopes or listened to the words of astronauts who have experienced spiritual revelations in orbit.

    In any case, there’s no turning back now; India, China and the rest of the world are reaching for the stars and embracing scientific civilization with our without the West. Even if Western civilization should fall, the human adventure will continue indefinitely, because the genie is out of the bottle and as Gene Roddenberry said, “We are on a journey to keep an appointment with whatever we are.”

    “Unless we are willing to settle down into a world that is our prison, we must be ready to move beyond Earth… People who view industrialization as a source of the Earth’s troubles, its pollution, and the desecration of its surface, can only advocate that we give it up. This is something that we can’t do; we have the tiger by the tail. We have 4.5 billion people on Earth. We can’t support that many unless we’re industrialized and technologically advanced. So, the idea is not to get rid of industrialization but to move it somewhere else. If we can move it a few thousand miles into space, we still have it, but not on Earth. Earth can then become a world of parks, farms, and wilderness without giving up the benefits of industrialization.” —Isaac Asimov

    “There are three reasons,… apart from scientific considerations, mankind needs to travel in space. The first… is garbage disposal; we need to transfer industrial processes into space so that the earth may remain a green and pleasant place for our grandchildren to live in. The second… to escape material impoverishment: the resources of this planet are finite, and we shall not forego forever the abundance of solar energy and minerals and living space that are spread out all around us. The third… our spiritual need for an open frontier.” —Freeman J. Dyson

    “There is no way back into the past; the choice, as Wells once said, is the universe—or nothing. Though men and civilizations may yearn for rest, for the dream of the lotus-eaters, that is a desire that merges imperceptibly into death. The challenge of the great spaces between the worlds is a stupendous one; but if we fail to meet it, the story of our race will be drawing to its close.” —Arthur C. Clarke

    “If the human species, or indeed any part of the biosphere, is to continue to survive, it must eventually leave the Earth and colonize space. For the simple fact of the matter is, the planet Earth is doomed… Let us follow many environmentalists and regard the Earth as Gaia, the mother of all life (which indeed she is). Gaia, like all mothers, is not immortal. She is going to die. But her line of descent might be immortal. . . . Gaia’s children might never die out–provided they move into space. The Earth should be regarded as the womb of life—but one cannot remain in the womb forever.” –Frank Tipler

  • Kevin
    I’ll exempt you from watching the video…don’t want to upset you… LOL


    Only you would find such a video! Good song!


    Dream on… I wouldn’t think for a moment to wake you up. I would, however, wish I could give you a wee nudge to keep you from talking in your sleep.

  • cosmist – [To be so full of hatred for our civilization is to be ignorant of its achievements.]

    One of our great achievements is to be able to created DU babies
    Please look at this web site and then see if you can still make that statement

    I cannot mourn the death of civilization creates huge numbers of humans starving, in sexual slavery, in daily fear of US drones. “Official numbers of individuals in sexual slavery worldwide vary. In 2001 International Organization for Migration estimated 400,000, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated 700,000 and UNICEF estimated 1.75 million.[48]” wiki

  • @Cosmist, “You can have the greatest excuse in the world or you can have the world.” DJ

    “Drug use is bad.” Privileged