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Energy limits: Is there anything we can do?



19 Votes


The energy limit we are running into is a cost limit. I would argue that neither the Republican or Democrat approach to solving the problem will really work.

The Republicans favor “Drill Baby Drill”. If the issue is that the price of oil extraction is too high, additional drilling doesn’t really fix the problem. At best, it gives us a little more expensive oil to add to the world’s supply. The Wall Street research firm Sanford Bernstein recently estimated that the non-Opec marginal cost of production rose to $104.50 a barrel in 2012, up more than 13 per cent from $92.30 a barrel in 2011.

US consumers still cannot afford to buy high-priced oil, even if we extract the oil ourselves. The countries that see rising oil consumption tend to be ones that can leverage its use better with cheaper fuels, particularly coal (Figure 1). See Why coal consumption keeps rising; what economists missed. The recent reduction in US oil usage is more related to young people not being able to afford to drive than it is to improved automobile efficiency. See my post, Why is gasoline mileage lower? Better gasoline mileage?

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

The Democrats favor subsidizing high-priced energy approaches that wouldn’t be competitive without such subsidies. Government debt is at 103% of GDP. It is hard to see that the government can afford such subsidies. Also, it is doubtful that the supposed carbon-saving benefit is really there, when all of the follow-on effects are included. Buying wind turbine parts, solar panels, and goods that use rare earth minerals (used in many high-tech goods, including electric cars and  wind turbines) helps to stimulate the Chinese economy, adding to their coal use. Furthermore, the higher taxes needed to pay for these subsidies reduces the spendable income of the common worker, pushing the country in the direction of recession.

So what do we do as an alternative, if neither the Republican or Democrat approach works? I would argue that we are dealing with a situation that is essentially unfixable. It can be expected to morph into a financial crash, for reasons I explained in How Resource Limits Lead to Financial Collapse. Thus, the issue we will need to mitigate will be debt defaults, loss of jobs, and possibly major changes to governments. If we are dealing with a financial crash, oil prices may in fact be lower, but people will still be unable to afford the oil because of other issues, such as lack of jobs or lack of access to money in their bank accounts.

Because neither political party can fix our problem, I expect that most of our responses will necessarily be individual, personal responses. These are a few ideas:

1. Get out of debt situations, if it is easy to do. There are a lot of people who own stocks on margin, or who own an expensive house with a big mortgage on it. Now, with prices of stocks and homes both higher, would be a good time to get out of both types of debt. Sell the stock or buy a less expensive house, without the mortgage.

Equities and home prices both seem to be inflated now, indirectly because of Quantitative Easing. Some recent analysis suggests that real (that is, inflation adjusted) interest rates are rising partly because inflation is falling.  The reason that inflation is falling is because oil prices are lower (Figure 2). Comparing the first four months of 2013 with the first four months of 2012, oil prices are about $9 per barrel lower. Oil prices are lower because of reduced demand due to economic contraction, especially in Europe.

Figure 2. Spot oil prices and actual refiners acquisition costs, based on EIA data.

Figure 2. Spot oil prices and actual refiners acquisition costs, based on EIA data. Refiners acquisition costs are what refiners actually pay for oil.

In the past month, there has also been an uptick in interest rates (even apart from the declining inflation component). According to the Wall Street Journal, “Yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note now stand above 2.1%—still low by historic standards, but nearly half a percentage point higher than at the start of May.” Mortgage rates are also reported to be half a percentage point higher than they were six months ago.

There are a number of risks with rising real interest rates and falling inflation. One is that the higher interest rates will trigger lower stock prices and lower house prices. Another is that deflation will continue, making debt payback more difficult. If this happens, it is something that the Fed can’t handle with its monetary easing policy. Interest rates can go to zero, but not below. A third issue, especially if interest rates rise further, is the adverse impact on the US government financial situation.

2. Reduce your expectations about what investments can do for you. Dmitry Orlov, who has had experience with the collapse of the Former Soviet Union, made the remark, “There are two kinds of investments: those that lose all their value at once, and those that lose value slowly.” Paper investments are a particular problem, because they can decline in value very quickly if conditions change. Even real estate can be a problem, though, because governments can take away what you thought you owned, or raise taxes to a level that you cannot afford. If you buy something and have to move, but cannot take the object with you, you will likely lose the value you invested. The only things that are really yours to keep (at least until your declining years) are skills that you learn.

3. Take up a hobby that will provide food for your family (planting a few fruit or nut trees, adding a garden, raising a few chickens, or learning to hunt/fish). Taking up hobbies such as these provide several functions: They provide a diversion away from the problems of the day, and let you feel like you are doing something helpful. They may actually provide a cushioning effect, if there is a sharp downturn. Taking up such hobbies can provide a useful skill for the future. In some cases, it may make sense to purchase land for purposes such as these. If considering doing this, a person should take note of items (1) and (2) above. It takes quite a long time to get started, and you can’t take the improved land with you, if you have to leave.

4. Learn to appreciate nature, family, and simple joys that can’t easily be taken away. It is possible to be happy, regardless of circumstances. We can find many good things in every day. Obsessing over the future is not really helpful. Don’t tie your happiness to having more “stuff”; you are likely to be disappointed. Learn to sing happy songs, or how to play a musical instrument. Or memorize uplifting poetry or religious writings.

5. Build a network of friends. If things go downhill, we can’t expect to use a gun to ward off intruders, night and day. If nothing else, we will run out of ammunition. Over the long term, the approach that is likely to be successful is working together with other community members toward a common goal.

6. Learn new skills, if you are concerned about job loss. Try to think of what will be needed in a lower-energy world. People will always need dentists and midwives, regardless of how poor they are. Buggy whip manufacturers went out of business long ago. Maybe we will need them back!

7. If you want to develop larger-scale plans (such as for cities or regions), keep them cheap and easy to implement. Governments are already running short of funds to implement plans. Look for approaches that are inexpensive to put in place, such as car-sharing plans. Alternatives that worked years ago, such as boats and canals, might be considered as well.

8. Aim for a flexible approach to problems. We don’t know things will turn out. Water may be in very short supply in one part of the country. Or job opportunities may open up in a place far from home. Even more than in the past, we are likely to need to be able to change our plans on short notice.

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About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. The financial system is also likely to be affected.

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439 Responses to Energy limits: Is there anything we can do?

  1. Scott says:

    I think the familiar graph makes it clear the “Rest of the World” is very thirsty for oil and gas. Our old cars go somewhere and more new cars are being built in developing countries these days than we want to know.

    • Yes. We cannot outbid the thirsty rest of the world. The people there have jobs, and have uses that take only a bit of oil relative to the benefit they provide (for example, motor scooters for someone to get to work).

    • Just to let everyone know, we now have Gail’s “Collapse 101″ Lecture from the Age of Limits Conference up inside the Diner. You do need to register on the Diner to find these links.;topicseen#msg24449

      In addition, beginning this Saturday June 8th we will begin Podcasts on the Diner Blog. These will not require registration inside the Diner to listen to.


      • Scott says:

        More on Japan, I have heard that food is very expensive there, here in the US too food has basically doubled too in price in the last few years for our monthly groceries etc.

        In Japan I suspect many older people will have a hard time the the state struggles financially. In the 60′s – the 1980′s Japan was our China for imports, but China took over the markets they previously held.

        Japan still makes the some of the best cars and electronics, but they have lost market share and with long living elders they have been out numbered and have a smaller young work force today.
        The decline in fishing and them paying hundreds of thousands of dollars US for a single large Tuna Fish has also got my attention.

        The road they have chosen of endless QE (money printing) is now starting to finally play out and it provides us a look into our futures if we stay on this path that our governments have pursued if you live in the US or the Euro Zone. So I will look to watch Japan to see what may lie in our futures for our over indebted governments.

        So sadly, I look to Japan to see how it all ends and I doubt our governments will change course as they really cannot as they are kind of in a corner the only way to keep going is to keep the game rolling, printing and keeping rates low. I have read many articles about how the bond markets can be upset by a sudden rate increase, and the bonds start dropping in value like a falling rock. So far not too bad but it seems like it looms.

        Japan is starting to see the higher rates forced on its over in debt bonds and it took awhile to come but is is here or on the doorstep it seems. Here in the US and the Euro Zone we also face this too – just later.

  2. Personally, I agree with you about debt. But there is an alternate school that says, “Take on as much fixed-interest debt as you can, and watch it inflate away.”

    How do you feel about that, Gail? What sorts of arguments can I make to such people?

    • Scott says:

      Well, if you invest it in silver and gold instead of paper money it would be a good thing to preserve some your savings, I believe. So, instead of opening a savings account, buy some gold or silver coins as savings instead to avoid loosing the value of your account.

      • Perhaps, but there aren’t many calories in silver and gold. Perhaps metals will hold value, but in some scenarios, maybe not.

        We have someone living here who liquidated everything and put it in gold — when it was $200 higher than it is now! He’s hurting, basically living like a student until gold “comes back.”

        Perhaps it’s too early to focus on Maslow’s Hierarchy, but in a worst-case scenario, precious metals satisfy none of the basic needs.

        • Problem is that there arent that many foods you can stock up over longer periods of time, so if you plan on doing that you need to at least eat through it and restock. Gold and silver doesnt change much over 20 years time. But since we have no idea when a rare earth metal might be come currency again is hard to know what to buy really. Perhaps buying good solid hand tools might be a good investment too. Although I would guess a sharp downturn in world economy will no doubt lead to lesser people on the planet as well – possibly making tools abundantly available for a long time. :)

          • There are lots of foods you can stock up and use over at least one complete year, which is the vital period.

            It’s funny that most “gold bugs” are also “doomers.” John, you seem to think lack of energy forces independence in your other posting here — “where will you get chicken feed,” etc. In such a scenario, it’s fair to ask, “who will want the gold you’ve hoarded?”

            I feel exactly the opposite: it’s going to be forming tightly-knit groups of mutual support that will get you through the worst of it, not “rugged individualism,” which is an artifact of high energy availability.

            To me, the key coping strategy is to have a job — and I don’t mean working for an employer, I mean some daily activity that puts food in your belly. Your job may be growing food, or it may mean being valuable to someone else who grows food. Hoarding (of which, collecting gold qualifies) is not a sustainable solution.

          • Scott says:

            Thanks Jan, I am not a gold bug – but I will take my chances with a few gold and silver coins in case there is a problem with paper money. Gold and silver has been money in the world for many thousands of years. It is just part of my plan I also store food as I know I cannot eat gold. I guess it depends on how bad it gets but gold and silver have the currency when all else fails. I understand that needed items are important so gold and silver are only a part of my plan, I also store food and needed items. I do however believe with this current monetary policy we will see continued manipulation in the gold and silver prices to keep the bankers in the best light so they can continue this currency game. Tools food etc and things needed are wonderful trading items too aside from a silver dollar or gold coin.

          • Gold and silver has been money in the world for many thousands of years.

            Any stockbroker will tell you that past history does not necessarily predict future performance. We’re about to go through a phase reversal, the likes of which has not been seen for many thousands of years.

            That said, I think having a “few gold coins” is a good idea for diversity. But I’ve sunk most of my resources into food-bearing land and the tools of food production.

          • Scott says:

            Hi Jan, I have also done the same, we moved up to the house in the mountains and bought this old place in the woods and brought supplies and food seeds and many tools. Gold and silver are just another tool in the tool box to trade while we can and I agree if things really get out of hand then the food will matter more but things semi okay for now and let us hope is stays that way. In the USA we do have a lot resources left and we still have much others have lost or do not have in arid places like the middle east and I am thankful for that.

          • Alan Long says:

            Just a quick note. Silver might be a better value then you think. Take a look at the medical values of silver as an anti-biotic, anti-fungal and an anti-viral agent, A silver coin placed in a container of milk makes it last longer. Silver in your drinking water purifies it (slowly), There are many medical uses for silver, so the chances of it being a good barter object in my opinion is high.

          • Scott says:

            Agreed Alan on Silver, it is used in Band aids too to kill germs, but it has been money for many thousands of years too, it also has solar uses etc. I wonder if my silver dollars will be melted someday to make something.

      • I believe in diversification. From this point of view, having some silver and gold probably makes some sense. Silver seems more practical for day-to-day transactions. Having these metals does have a downside. Metal coins or bullion can be stolen, or taken away by governments. They may work for trade, but it is not 100% certain that this is the case.

    • Right now, the trends do not look good for fixed-interest debt. There is an all-too-significant chance that you will lose your job. Then, paying back the fixed-interest debt will be a problem, whether the situation is viewed as inflation or deflation.

      The government certainly would like to inflate away debt, because it has a huge amount of debt itself, that it would like to get rid of. But a major component of inflation in oil price, and that is determined on a world market. If the Europeans are failing, and the Japanese are on the edge of failing, and Chinese demand is no longer growing by much, world oil price tends to lag. OPEC as a practical matter doesn’t do much to affect price, except hold high-cost production off the market if prices drop too much. (I see that they left their target at 30 million barrels a day.)

      Another issue is the kinds of assets one might buy with debt. Oversize houses have little long-run value. Stocks that will deflate in value aren’t very helpful either. Buying bonds, when a lot of issuers will likely default on their debt, has little appeal as well. Buying a fancy car to impress the neighbors will lead to a lot of fast depreciation.

      So usually, the answer is no, don’t add debt. It just adds to your worries.

      • Dave Fabick, Hermann, MO says:

        I have thought about this debt issue in different ways. There could be a wholesale debt cancellation so what you have is yours debt free. Something similiar happend in the former Soviate Union. I also agree with the idea of lowering worries. I feel mental preparations are the most important action that can be taken in the long emergency. Reducing debt would relieve what tends to be our grestest stress. Different debt has different value also depending on the asset in question. In this financial crisis I would shy away from margin debt for stocks unless of course you enjoy gambling.

        • The reason why I said, “Get out of debt situations if it is easy to do” is because I recognized that there is a real possibility of debt cancellation. There could be a lot of worry between now and cancellation, though. Or things could not work out right in some other way, like forced labor to pay off debt.

          In the past, I have tended to stay away from this subject, for precisely this reason. A lot of debt, once it is taken on, is virtually impossible to do without. For example, buying a car on credit is a necessity for a lot of people. The car often loses value, so trying to get rid of the loan, for example by buying a cheaper car, is very difficult to do. So people are stuck with the arrangement they are in.

      • xabier says:

        Getting into debt to buy a big house is pretty short-sighted, I agree.

        Maybe a small house, and a very big, useful garden? And do that cash down.

        For those who think of rental income, it’s worth noting that during the Weimar inflation, the German government imposed a rent-holiday, so property owners received no income on their properties for a time and couldn’t evict.

        • I didn’t realize that during Weimar inflation, the German government imposed a rent holiday. Clearly governments do not want people out on the street. They will do anything they can, to allow people to stay in their homes. It is even theoretically possible that they will let people with very large homes that they cannot afford stay in their homes.

  3. Some very good advice in there – particularly learning how to be happy without spending money.

    Some possible mistakes too, depending on circumstances. If you don’t own your own home, or don’t think your area is suitable for Living Simply, then don’t waste your time on fruit and nut trees – they take too long to reach maturity. Start with vegetables, and learn composting/mulching and natural fertilisers.

    Chickens are an enjoyable hobby, but they MUST have a predator-proof cage for overnighting. Different breeds having different characteristics – some are good egg-layers, some good for meat, some are a compromise between the two. Another compromise has to be made on free-ranging ability – most commercial breeds have no idea how to watch out for predators, or to give alarm calls when danger is present. In fact most are afraid of the sky and open spaces. Bantams can fly better than chickens, especially heavy meat birds, which give them a big advantage in the survival stakes, but their eggs are smaller and fewer. My bantams are self-selected for free-ranging survival in the forest, which is their natural habitat – raking through leaf litter looking for seeds and grubs. Even so, you need something to tempt them home to the cages nearing dusk, so a well-protected crop of grains will be needed when the shops shut for the last time.

    If you have to get in the car to go to somewhere where you can hunt or fish, then it should be considered a learning experience only. The real hunting/fishing thing is only going to be sustainable so long as you can walk there, and will be reasonably alone. This rules out all densely populated areas.

    And don’t forget home beer-brewing, wine-making, bread-making, all manner of preserving.

    So most people will have to move away from city/suburbia. I strongly recommend somewhere warm and wet – longer growing season, less fuel to keep warm, less impact from Global Warning.

    • Just a question for those with chicken. What do you feed them? And can you walk into the forest to forage whatever those chicken needs to eat?

      I often see a lot of gardening projects that seems to rely a lot on having access to the local garden store for nutrients and whatnot. I guess what we need is for people to get the skills and hobbies that has zero fossil fuel input besides a little wood that you can burn. Even simple things like painting requires paper and ink/paint – a resource that is pretty hard to get without the local shopping mall. No doubt you can learn how to make paper from old (which is a fun thing to do btw) – but the paint will be a problem for most.

      Is there a good web resource for zero fossil fuel input “hobbies” and crafts?

      • xabier says:

        Many people in Britain are already having trouble affording feed for their horses, pigs and hens: the price rises have been very significant. There is actually a glut of horses going to horse charities now, as people just give up trying to keep them. Same with dogs.

      • For zero fossil fuel use hobbies and crafts, I would look to Africa. Singing and dancing (a cappella, particularly) are fossil free. Walking and jogging are fossil free. Carving wood would be fossil free, if a person could do it with a dull stone. As we do it today, it requires embedded fossil fuels, in the form of a knife. (Long before agriculture, hunter-gatherers made sharpened stone blades by heating stones to high temperatures, so they could make the stones sharper.)

        • Long before agriculture, hunter-gatherers made sharpened stone blades by heating stones to high temperatures, so they could make the stones sharper.

          I remain hopeful that primitive metallurgy will endure.

          The village smithy certainly precedes fossil sunlight use, and is not really any more demanding than “heating stones to high temperatures.”

          But most of all, there’s a large pool of resource available in the form of junk. Future primitive man won’t have to get ore out of the earth and refine it; they’ll get degraded, but already refined metal from landfills.

          • Problem with any metallurgy is that the worlds forests would be gone in no time:

            I guess a large part of USA was pretty forested before…

          • I am afraid getting already refined metals from landfills will not fill a lot of needs. I expect these metals will not hold a sharp edge. They will not be of the precise qualities needed to power a computer or repair and wind turbine. They may allow someone to make a wagon, or some other simple device, but they won’t allow today’ high tech society to go on.

          • I was referring explicitly to your statement about knives being scarce. I agree that sophisticated modern alloys used in high-tech will go away. But they had some of the finest steel in Damascus some 2,000 years ago…

          • THis is a short article about Damascus steel. According to it,

            As it turns out, the technique was not lost, it just stopped working. The “secret” that produced such high quality weapons was not in the technique of the swordsmiths, but rather on the composition of the material they were using. The swordsmiths got their steel ingots from India. In the 19th Century, the mining region where those ingots came from changed. These new ingots had slightly different impurities than the prior ingots. Because of the new composition, the new ingots could not be forged into Damascus steel. Because of swordsmiths did not understand the nature of the material they used, when that material changed Damascus steel was lost.

            In 1998, J.D. Verhoeven, rediscovered the composition that would create this steel. His paper on the topic can be found at

            the JOM site. It is now again possible to buy items made of true Damascus steel (not pattern welded).

            So the amount of this material we can produce is likely pretty low–depends on particular impurities.

        • xabier says:


          A friend of mine learnt how to make stone tools from an Aborigine in Australia, in the 1970′s. He was an hereditary tool-maker. There is an artistic side to it which is very satisfying, it would appear: stone tools can be ‘elegant’ or ‘inelegant’…. Not a bad hobby, if you have the right rocks at hand.

    • You raise good points about chickens. I expect similar points can be made about a lot of kinds of crops/animals we raise. What we really want is practically wild varieties, that can take care of themselves. These are less available than types that are very demanding of fertilizer, cages, protection from predators, constant watering, and other care.

      One of the issues from a sustainability point of view is that fact that humans are already taking a very high percentage of the “net primary productivity” of land. Other species need to get their fare share, if the Sixth Mass Extinction is to wind back down. This means that from a sustainability point of view, we need to be moving toward a situation where predators get more of what we grow/ raise, and we will need more acres to support one human.

      To your list of preserving, I would add pickling and fermenting. Low energy approaches are especially good.

      I would second the idea of warm and wet. Such areas have less need to supplement the energy provided by the sun. The downside, though, is insects and diseases carried by insects. Also, insects such as termites can do damage quickly to what look like permanent structures. In Atlanta, there is a saying, “There are two kinds of houses: those that have had termites, and those that will have termites.” There may be a need for termite inspectors in the future, but I am not sure what they will be able to do. Chemicals are needed for stopping the termites. About all one can do is keep rebuilding.

      • “One of the issues from a sustainability point of view is that fact that humans are already taking a very high percentage of the “net primary productivity” of land.”

        Sorry I don’t have a reference handy, but I’ve read that North Americans currently exceed basic productivity by at least 50%. That means North Americans are using 50% more energy than the sunlight harvested via photosynthesis by all the plants growing in North America.

        Nuclear zealots and abiotic oil fans aside, that obviously cannot continue!

        “The downside [of warm and wet] is insects and diseases carried by insects.”

        Not to mention fungus and mould! That’s one of the reasons I chose cool and wet. If it doesn’t freeze solid in the winter, it isn’t too difficult to heat, and you can grow food year-round.

        • xabier says:


          Cool and wet is good: end of May in Britain, and I’ve only just seen a decent amount of flies!

    • Ed Pell says:

      Where I live chickens must a predator proof place during the day also. Otherwise the hawks eat them.

      • The Permaculture way is to put chickens in the orchard. Hawks can’t swoop in through the branches like they can if there’s open air above the chickens.

        • Scott says:

          Jan, We have lots of hawks and big birds here too and I worry about my little Chihuahua when she is in the yard. Especially small baby chickens need to be protected from the birds. We had to build chicken wire cedar framed covers over many of our gardens due to deer and even an occasional bear coming through, I built the covers for deer not birds, so I have to improve my screens to keep the birds off of my strawberries and sweet things growing as they even got into the garden through a small opening. I wish we had more property but we do have enough to do a few chickens I think, but not really goats any thing like that on just an acre and a quarter that is mostly forest. I have to build a barn before we can do chickens they need a safe place at night. The tough part for us animal lovers is butchering them. Although we buy meat in the stores, we have not known the animals and have named them or raised them which seems to make things easy. I guess if you have chickens you can also get help getting the butchering done for a fee.

          When I was a kid my dad had a bunch of chickens and when they got too old to lay eggs he just took them to a spring in the mountains and let them loose, which was strange, I guess he did not want to butcher them and I also guess you need to do it before they get old as an old chicken will stew pot chicken and not good for grilling. Timing is everything and everything has a harvest season including chickens.

          • “not really goats any thing like that on just an acre and a quarter that is mostly forest.”

            Plenty for a couple goats. Forest is good. Go through and limb up the trees and let the goats have the slash. They prefer browse to pasture, and would rather have maple leaves or even Doug fir needles than grass.

  4. Very good advice, Gail, and I certainly appreciate the analysis of what is likely to happen without profound political change. It is worth considering, however, what political changes are likely and what political changes are desirable under various circumstances. Anything might happen in a political vacuum. J. M Coetzee discusses this in *Diary of a Bad Year*. Who knows what the toughest bunch of thugs might do if they are able to centralize their power. Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill in *Enough is Enough, Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources* express the ideas from the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economies for the political change necessary to achieve a non-growth economy. I see only one glaring omission: If private profit is permitted in a steady or shrinking economy, the most talented players of the money game or the most adept cheaters will end up with everything and the rest of us will have nothing. Probably, it is still political suicide to suggest that the sustainable dividend of the community be divided equally among all citizens and that commerce, finance, banking, and other purely monetary activities consume too much energy to retain in a sustainable economy. Clearly, the profit motive is inconsistent with sustainability.

    • The profit motive and profit success are two different things. I expect that those who work on a traditional profit motive will be sorely disappointed.

      I am sure that there will be some people who are successful in making profits. Some of them will be recycling parts of buildings that can no longer be used, or will be selling “protection”–two businesses that are not necessarily very legal.

      I expect private profit will be around for a long time. The major other option I see is a gift economy, where people give away what surpluses they have. Such an approach works best with small groups–families, and small communities where everyone knows everyone else and there are unwritten rules to encourage such behavior. A gift economy would be better than an economy built on a profit motive, but getting to the small groups needed for a gift economy is likely to be difficult/ slow.

      A dictatorship might result in some other types of economy. Here again, small would be helpful in making a different approach work.

      Democracies require energy, and the larger the group governed, the more energy required. I expect these will fall by the wayside. Perhaps some representative systems can be kept, more like what was used when the US was first formed.

      • Of course, I am referring to any economy that permits private profit when I use the catch-all term “profit motive”; but, in the future, I expect to be more specific. That said, I am relieved that you have considered a wide spectrum of political scenarios any of which might be played out. I guess your comment about the cost of democracy applies to the sort of democracy we have in the US and elsewhere currently. I prefer the pure form described in the paragraph about fractal government at . I do not have very high expectations regarding Dematerialism and what I have regrettably called the natural economy; therefore, I continue to stay busy enjoying life. I will be 80 on my next birthday. Perhaps other events will intervene before I have to face complete economic collapse and live on stored food and buried bullets.

      • With regard to a gift economy, there are two books that I recommend:
        1. Kenneth E. Boulding, “The Economy of Love and Fear: A Preface to Grants Economics,” 1973. This is a short and readable book by an eminent radical economist.
        2. M. I. Finley, “The World of Odysseus,” 1978. This 200 page book has a lot on the importance of and the workings of gifts in ancient Greece.

        There is also a considerable literature on the importance of gifts in the anthropology literature.

        A market economy tends to destroy the importance of gifts; indeed markets tend to destroy all forms of tradition. Karl Marx correctly credits market capitalism as the most decisive element in the destruction of feudalism. For more on how market capitalism destroys tradition, see “The Great Transformation” by Karl Polanyi.

        After civilization collapses, market oriented societies and economies will also collapse. My educated guess is that new forms of tradition will eventually come to replace more and more of market-based economies. Note however, there are some detestable things traditional that also are likely from the destruction of market capitalism based economies, especially slavery and serfdom. There are only three ways that have ever been invented to organize economies: tradition, command, and the market. My WAG is that both tradition and command will more and more replace market capitalism. For example, a totalitarian society based on a religious dictatorship is a plausible combination of both tradition and command.

        • xabier says:


          ‘Protection’ became very big business in Argentina. When established supermarkets failed, crime gangs set up their own trading areas in warehouses and old factories, where they guaranteed safe trading conditions in return for a little commission. They killed anyone trying to disturb things.

          And of course, a hidden proto-dictatorship of the Left variety has been the result of the Argentine Crisis.

        • Don,

          I appreciate your insights and references. This is not a subject I have studied very much about. I see that there is now a Kindle version of The Great Transformation out for $9.99 on Amazon.

          • donsailorman says:

            I think one of the best ways to prepare for the future is to read widely about the past. For example, I just finished reading “When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation, and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany” by Adam Fergusson, a book that I strongly recommend to those concerned with how to survive an extreme financial collapse.
            During the early 1920s civilization in Germany nearly collapsed, and the paper mark did eventually achieve worthlessness. Some starved, undernutrition and malnutrition were general, crime rates increased, and both Nazi and Communist private armies roamed the streets. Coal consumption decreased drastically, in large part because the French occupied the area of the best coal fields in Germany and refused to allow any of this to be exported to nonoccupied Germany until the Germany made its reparations to France.

            One very interesting story in the book is about a woman who was able to feed her family from the black market by trading good cigars for food; she did this for a period of years before she ran out of cigars. I think it makes sense to stock up on nonperishable luxury goods, because there will always be rich and powerful people, and in addition to wanting power and sex, they also want luxury goods. Also, in a crisis or collapse (e.g. when the Soviet Union came crashing down), who you knew determined to a large extent how well you did. The Russian word for this is “blaht.” If you have luxury goods, the wealthy and powerful will tend to find you–or you can find them by letting it be known that you have cognac or single-malt Scotch or tobacco or even sugar available for barter.

            If I live until collapse happens, I plan to run a trading post out of my apartment, a trading post plus a tiny restaurant, because cooking is one of my skills.

          • That sounds like a reasonable strategy. If you can make yourself needed by the well-to-do, you have an in for getting by in the resource constrained world.

        • xabier says:

          Another plausible model in a soft collapse – maybe an early stage of the Great Collapse – would be a pseudo-market economy in a personality-cult dictatorship with false populist overtones: the poorer and less well educated people are, and the more ruthless the regime behind the scenes, the more they will accept this. Personality cults substitute for religion with the simple-minded. Just look at the weird Obama-cult of the early years….. (that’s not an intention of starting a wrangle over US politics!)

          • Danny van der Weide says:

            Oh dear…
            I live in Italy, and with you mentioning a “personality-cult dictatorship with false populist overtones”, I couldn’t help thinking of Silvio Berlusconi and especially Beppe Grilllo.

            For those who don’t know Beppe Grillo, he’s a famous Comic and the leader of a leftish populist antipolitical movement, with a dubious level of democracy.

    • BC says:

      Thomas: “I see only one glaring omission: If private profit is permitted in a steady or shrinking economy, the most talented players of the money game or the most adept cheaters will end up with everything and the rest of us will have nothing.”

      Thomas, a close examination of the US economy and society since the 1970s-80s, and especially since ’00-’07, indicates that what you describe has already occurred.

      The top 1-10% of US households own 40-85% of financial wealth and receive 20-45% of all US income.

      Real GDP per capita has gone nowhere since ’07.

      The US has not created a net new full-time private sector job per capita in 30-35 years.

      Real private gross domestic investment is not growing fast enough after depreciation and population/labor force to result in growth of the physical capital stock and real GDP per capita.

      Adjust the median US wage/salary for higher payroll taxes, debt service/income, and the higher cost of housing and energy to after-tax wages/salaries, and the typical American today receives an average wage/salary income equivalent to the purchasing power of minimum wage for 40 hours per week in 1970.

      The 5- and 10-yr. change rates of US wages and salaries continue to decline to the levels of the 1930s-40s.

      The last time the 5-yr. CPI rate was where it is today, the 5-yr. wage rate of 6-7% compared to 1.5% today. In real terms, the 5-yr. wage rate was 5% vs. negative today.

      And the decelerating wage rates are occurring coincident with the world tipping into recession in real per-capita terms, with the US appearing to be following behind as of Q1.

      Despite the top 0.1-1% to 10% of households being significantly wealthier, the bottom 90% are unquestionably poorer and increasingly dependent upon gov’t transfers for subsistence.

      For the bottom 90% of US society, the US has been in a “steady-state economy” for 40-45 years.

      • “For the bottom 90% of US society, the US has been in a “steady-state economy” for 40-45 years.”

        I hadn’t thought of it that way.

        I think the marriage situation has tended to add to the increased wealth dispersion of households. Wealthier individuals are more likely to be married than poor people (who can avoid the higher tax on a two income household by not getting married, as well as possibly qualify for other government benefits). Wealthy individuals tend to marry other wealthy individuals (doctors, other professionals, etc.) further concentrating wealth.

        • Gail,

          That was a useful comment about the concentration of wealth being already well under way. It is not clear, though, that the process of concentration will proceed toward the extreme limit I mentioned, namely, one person with everything and everyone else with nothing (except such crumbs from the table as Mr. Everything deigns to let fall). Extreme concentration of wealth is not a stable outcome. When we have nothing left to lose, violent revolution becomes an attractive alternative. Dematerialism was largely motivated by a desire to avoid die-off without violent revolution.

          Helen Swords, the painter, once suggested that a society without resource dominance might exist as a sort of open conspiracy among members of a sub-culture whose non-economic lives were indistinguishable from other people. All of their economic transactions would necessarily take place between themselves and other members of the open conspiracy with whom they would share equally. How would this work? The devil is in the details.

        • In my case, marriage (or more accurately, divorce) has been a wealth distribution scheme, rather than a wealth concentration scheme. :-(

          • I am surprised to hear someone say that married people filing jointly might be paying more income tax than the same two people if they were not married. I assume that that is not the case if only one partner is working. I do not recognize the right of the government to meddle in family matters and I do not recognize the right of churches to exist; therefore, it seems to me that gay couples should be demanding an end to all marital tax advantages rather than access to the obsolete institution of marriage.

          • If two people are each earning low wages, they are often better off financially if they are single than if they are married. Each one individually has a chance of qualifying for benefits like food stamps, that would be harder to qualify for if they were married. Income tax rates for married people are lower if one person is not working, but raise the tax level if both are working. If both are unmarried, and there is a child, one person can have an “Unmarried, head of household” status. With this status, the benefits are even better.

            I expect tax issues are part of the reason that so many children (40% if I remember correctly) are born out of wedlock in the US.

        • xabier says:


          From what I’ve observed, as our economies decline, many marriages are a concentration of apparent wealth, but real debt……….

  5. Arthur Robey says:

    I am a one- trick pony. OK. a three-trick pony.
    I do not have the scary blades of Wolverine or Thor’s mighty Hammer. And there is a lot of water between me and Igil Skallagrimson.
    I am not even as good a poet .
    However, I am not without my immodest strengths
    The Lesser of the two is a Mighty Throbbing Brain. This sort of effect.
    Source. The Oil Drum
    If I am to survive I had better put my Superpower to use.
    We (A cluster of exceptional survivors and me) need a few favours from the Gods.
    The first is a miraculous and bounteous source of portable energy. Apparently atheism is losing ground as such a source is in the offing. Gail and I doubt that it will come in good time to do you any favours. (Evolution is such a ruthless process).
    Rossie’s eCat has been verified by an argument of professors in Sweden and at Cornell University
    “An experimental investigation of possible anomalous heat production in a special type of reactor tube named E-Cat HT is carried out. The reactor tube is charged with a small amount of hydrogen loaded nickel powder plus some additives. The reaction is primarily initiated by heat from resistor coils inside the reactor tube. Measurement of the produced heat was performed with high-resolution thermal imaging cameras, recording data every second from the hot reactor tube. The measurements of electrical power input were performed with a large bandwidth three-phase power analyzer. Data were collected in two experimental runs lasting 96 and 116 hours, respectively. An anomalous heat production was indicated in both experiments. The 116-hour experiment also included a calibration of the experimental set-up without the active charge present in the E-Cat HT. In this case, no extra heat was generated beyond the expected heat from the electric input. Computed volumetric and gravimetric energy densities were found to be far above those of any known chemical source. Even by the most conservative assumptions as to the errors in the measurements, the result is still one order of magnitude greater than conventional energy sources.”
    Well. That will give us some breathing space. (Please do not be tempted to include yourselves in the pronoun “Us”).
    The next issue to be addressed is the need for artificial intelligence and robotics. I see that we are making steady progress. You might like to observe Big Dog. Primitive, but it has possibilities.
    The next thing that you we will need is a really smart way of building huge structures. And here another apple falls into our laps in the form of 3d printing.
    And God just keeps giving.
    What we also need is a lot of living space while we wrestle this urge to breed and it’s commensurate exponential function, to the ground.
    Now if you thought it was a long way to the pharmacy that is peanuts compared to space. (Apologies to Douglass Adams)
    At L4 alone there is enough room for several magnitudes of order more people than on the cramped two dimensional surface of this orb. Here is a graphic of what a Lagrange point looks like.
    Source. Wiki.
    But how do we get there? We all “know” that it takes thousands of dollars to get even one pound out of the well, don’t we?
    And just what will we find when we get there? The vacuum of space is no place for a trowel and mortar. But please- one issue at a time!!
    How are we going to loft the remnants of humanity off the planet? Well there are several options available to us. Colossal Carbon Nano-tubes offer us a splendid means of taking a lift. Or if a week of sitting around in a lift is just too boring, please consider orbital airships. At a cost of $1 per pound per vertical mile that might be within your our budget.
    But ponder this problem. Where are we going to get the materials? A hint: It will not be from the bottom of some gravity well. Gravity wells suck.
    To tell the truth I am getting bored spoon feeding you. Talk about pulling teeth! What I will do instead is to give you homework. Here is a fictional story that I wrote for your amusement and pleasure. It is all about human relationships and sex so there is something in it for the girls and the boys. (Sorry. No car chase).
    My story is called “The Breeding.” And if you are very good and read to the end there is a special treat.
    Unconvinced? May I suggest you stare for a good half hour into your crystal ball.

    • There are a lot of ideas in the pipeline. The problem is the time and energy use required for implementation. There was a study a while back that said that on average, a new technology in the oil and gas industry took 17 years, before it was in widespread use. Even if we have miraculous changes very quickly, it will take time and energy to implement them on a widespread basis.

      • Dan says:

        “There are a lot of ideas in the pipeline”.

        I truly admire your patience. I guess I’ll throw another idea of similar merit into that same pipeline – ‘The Water fueled car’. After all, what could be better? (Even better than the E-Cat in terms of portability AND world wide availability of the fuel source). Between the two – water wins hands down and running cars on water has been the subject of numerous international patents. I have no doubt that water, simple H2O, will be the power source of the future before Rossi’s E-Cat has its chance to save us all. You don’t need to believe me – just go read

        I’ll continue to enjoy your article’s until such time that the water-fueled cars put aside the foolish concerns about resource limitations and ‘peak oil’. ;)

    • tmsr says:

      Yes and no. There are literally thousands of articles on cold fusion research over the last 23 years. There is a fair amount of reason to be hopeful. Rossi’s latest paper by “the professors” is intriguing but only one among many reasons to be hopeful. Ed Pell

  6. Lizzy says:

    Good morning, Gail,
    One thing I wonder about. Often in these discussions it seems that energy = money = life. You take the money out of that, so energy = life. So when we talk about ‘not being able to afford’ to do things, maybe that won’t be relevant. It might be that oil is ‘too expensive’ (in terms of the amount of energy needed, EROEI) to extract – argument over. But what if it’s ‘too expensive’ in terms of labour, or brain-power, or pipelines, or derricks to extract? It can still be done. If this is the case, it will be done. Maybe there will be slave labour, or communist-style sharing of the fruits of labour. Maybe money as we know it will vanish from the equation.

    • Dan Hood says:

      Any kind of object or secure verifiable record that fulfills the following functions can be
      considered money.

      1. Medium of exchange
      2. Store of Value
      3. Unit of Account
      4. Standar of deferred payment

      Do to social complexities and sheer size of our global population. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to abandon the concept of money and the above functions mentioned.

      • If we have less and less, “Store of Value” tends to go away. It also becomes a problem for standard of deferred payment. So money as we now know it may go away, and morph into something that works more in the present.

    • The energy we are using today requires complex machinery and considerable human know-how to extract. (The one possible exception would be a little coal that is available near the surface, often in out-of-the-way locations, where it is difficult to transport.) Without money to facilitate the very long supply-lines needed to facilitate extraction, I expect it will not happen. I think the real issue is not local money–any government can institute some sort of local money, good only in its area. The real issue is interchangeability among money supplies. I see this as becoming a problem at some point, and making it much more difficult to keep up supply lines. In some cases, supply lines may hold up for a while, even if employees are not paid. But in the long term, money (and in particular international money) really is needed.

    • xabier says:


      I’ve been thinking too, that the elimination of private property and the command use of labour might well be the political form that emerges from the economic collapse. Ultimately, we would all labour for food and shelter if nothing else were on offer….it wouldn’t even need compulsion.

      • Scott says:

        Hi Xabier, Lets hope it is just community gardens and neighbors helping one another – instead of a government garden made with enslaved people.

        I just went to Walmart today (which is the closest big shopping 20 miles away from my mountain town) to do some monthly shopping and bought a bunch of stuff mostly food but thinking about how difficult it would be if I had get all those say 60 items that I buy monthly on my own to or to grow all of my food, it would be really tough if we had to create everything on our own on local coop type network which I would rather see than government gardens.

        Yes, I guess a military hard line solution may be forced upon us since most do think these things out on their own, sadly I think that way too many people are dependent on having others make decisions for them like some government agency and many seem to have lost the ability to makes on their own, so sadly it may take some kind of Federal Establishment to round people up into the slave gardens to feed us, it may be a good way to stay alive if you join it so there may be some benefit to some to join the government garden Corp.

        Instead of 60 or more food items that we consume each month, I imagine it would be reduced to a number closer to 10 if you are lucky. That is if we had to hunt, fish and grow it all ourselves.

        People will scavenge for things, but the good thing about that is that they will learn once again to fix things by hand.

        You may be eating the same deer all winter and get sick of deer, but better than starving if you are lucky enough to have meat during collapse. I hope stays out of our business in collapse if comes in my lifetime, but it appears that they will not just as I observe them operating now, a new for everything, why a Federal Farm Corp? Hope not!

      • Lizzy says:

        I think that might be right, Xabier. Yes, we would labour for food and shelter and security. That’s what some societies do now, I think. As for globalisation — will it exist as it does now? I know someone who studied the underlying philosophy of money. I can’t remember what he said, though…

  7. Dan Hood says:

    Some sound advice:

    1. Be debt free
    2. Be flexible
    3. Make sure you’re “valuable” in a low carbon world
    4. Live in reality, manage your expectations; this psychologically will keep your grounded when all about you are losing their heads. Those living in a delusional fantasy world will be hardest hit.
    5. Keep fit and healthy, this is essential.
    6. Reconnect with nature and be prepared to powerdown your consumer lifestyle
    7. Think about your local community and build networks
    8. Return to simplicity
    9. Trust yourself, trust your instincts at a time when many lies and distortions of truths are being told. Lies will accelerate as those desperate to maintain the status quo at all costs will try to convince, maybe even force you to sacrifice yourself for them and their interests.
    10. Accept increasing chaos and change and know that not everything is in your control

    • Those ideas sound good.

      One thing I could have mentioned, but didn’t is taking care of one’s health. People eating “Standard American Diet” (SAD) are generally in poor health. Moving away from SAD, even at this late date, is a good idea. Your body needs less processed food, and generally a lot less meat than most people eat. Fruits and vegetables are good. Getting some exercise is also recommended. It seems like at least 50% of healthcare could be avoided if people followed this approach.

      • Brian Kern says:

        Not to mention, eating a standard American diet is less calorie intensive. I eat at least 1000 calories less a day since I’ve lost 60lbs (which entailed me moving away from the SAD).

        I’ve read that the Okinawan people traditionally (traditional diet is a lot of sweet potatoes) eat a lot less calories than most, somewhere on average of 1800 a day. These people have the most centenarians in the world. Getting used to eating less would be beneficial to us all and it seems we could maintain a reasonably high life expectancy even without modern medicine. Many chronic diseases today are tied to overconsumption and poor diet. These issues could be solved fairly easily with just simple dietary changes. We have the nutritional knowledge to keep ourselves healthy without the energy intensive and wasteful reactionary medicine we currently rely upon.

        I’ve never had medical insurance and don’t expect to have it and I’m really not worried about it. Marijuana oil seems to be a rather effective medicine for many ailments, so perhaps we should all look into growing that as well. I certainly plan to.

      • tmsr says:

        Gail, I agree. I have a new doctor (about a year now) who has improved my health noticeably solely based on changes in diet. Lower sugar was important for me so with fruit keep in mind it is high in sugar, some fruit but not too much. Ed Pell

  8. Gail,
    It apparent that you are you are advising people as to how they might mitigate the effects of the financial collapse that is all but inevitable. That is a good thing and will, in the short term, help. Sadly, there is no way to mitigate the effects of a climate change that will make a financial collapse look like a day at the beach or a country picnic. No help can be forthcoming from an environmental collapse that renders the planet incapable of supporting the complex web of life that we all depend upon for sustenance. Consequently, it seems to me that the best that we can now do is to live one day at a time and find a way to enjoy and cherish each day and to love one another unconditionally.

    With warm personal regards,
    Edward Kerr

    • The financial collapse is all but inevitable. Climate change may be inevitable too (in some form–the precise version modeled may not be right). Why obsess over climate change? With financial collapse, we will be doing as much as anyone could imagine, to limit humans’ impact on the earth. Humans are the ones whose population is growing completely out of control, leading to the Sixth Mass Extinction. There perhaps is a possibility that climate change may “wipe out” humans, if the die-off from financial collapse isn’t enough.

      The earth may indeed support a different complex web of life. This is not something we have control over. Living organisms have been found in very improbably locations. The earth changes and evolves. It will be fine. The human species–that is less clear.

      But I do agree that living one day at a time is a good idea. Also enjoying and cherishing each day, and loving one another unconditionally.

  9. Ert says:

    Hi Gail,

    regarding Figure 1 – I have a question: In my observation the western countries have already converted in lots of applications from oil to gas. No one I know opts for oil in home-heating and lots of conversations from oil to gas have taken place. Also in transportation gas is applies more and more. In addition no oil is any more used for big style power generation in Europe. There is also a lot happening in home heating efficiency (burners, isolation) and fuel efficiency of transportation.

    The developing countries instead need the oil for transportation and production of goods. Where we may cut 100 litres of our 1000 – a person in a developing country goes from 1 to 10. Where we may shift to some other form of energy – or gain efficiency, the increased consumption in the developing countrys serves basic needs (as seen from our perspective).

    I think it may be important to rethink Figure 1 not only in terms of oil – but in terms of fossil “Joules”. Also the energy use in US, Europe and Japan has to be aligned for efficiency gains and the growth of the underlying population has to be watched (something like Joule per Capita). Otherwise I think there is the risk of information bias – and fooling oneself.

    I agree with you in most parts and think we view the future the same – but timing and time frames are what interests me currently most. They are important to me for prioritising my activities and some economic decisions.

    • I have done more work on looking at the pieces. See my post, Why coal consumption keeps rising-what economists missed, for example. The countries in the worst shape are those that used the most oil in their fuel mix (Greece, Spain, Portugal). Indeed, they have been switching away, but they have been losing jobs at the same time. It is hard to get jets transporting tourists to use natural gas instead of jet fuel!

      You are right that heating fuel has been switched from oil to natural gas. This happened back in the 1970s and the early 1980s in the US, because oil was so much more expensive, and has been most of the time since them. The growth in oil consumption has been much less than the growth in coal especially. The US and Europe shut down much of our manufacturing industries, and let manufacturing mostly go to China and other Asian countries.

      There is some efficiency that takes place, but mostly reduction in fossil fuel use looks like “job loss”. Young people who don’t have jobs can’t afford cars, for example, and this reduces oil use.

      I can look at total energy consumption again. BP in the past has put our their summary of energy use by country in June, so an update is due out soon.

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Greetings Gail and Fellow Responders:

        A Bloomberg article about Japan’s increased energy imports due to shuttering nuke plants, has driven up their monthly costs from $17 to $22 Billion. Nothing balances, especially their books.

        Japan’s problems really began in the late 80′s, at the peak of a real estate bubble: the aggregate value of Tokyo was said to equal the total value of all US real estate. Then the deflation and stagflation set in, and they’ve been flat ever since.

        I say this to emphasize Gail’s point that the collapse will be financial in nature. But will it be inflation? deflation? stagflation? Or do those things even matter?

        • “stagflation?”

          It’s like what a friend of mine said when she saw a woman with nine kids: “Y’know, they know what causes that!”

          Is there no one who remembers that the last time we saw “stagflation” was the last big energy crisis, in the ’70s, when US production peaked and OPEC put the screws to the US?

          • donsailorman says:

            Japan is in a situation of stagnation and gradual deflation. Thus it is not correct to say that Japan suffers from stagflation.

            Currently, Japan is doing well, despite a huge national debt. Unemployment is low; life expectancy is among the highest in the world, and for a country that has to import all of its fossil fuels and much of its food, the general prosperity is remarkable. They still have a problem of zombie banks, but they have been living with that for twenty years.

            Because Japan’s population is decreasing they really do not need economic growth.

          • The concern I have about Japan is that the steady increase in debt cannot end well. (It can’t end well for a lot of other countries, either.) At some point, the demographics become such that the elderly in Japan need to cash in their bonds, to buy goods and services, and they are not replaced by an even larger cohort of those still working, who want to invest in bonds for their retirement. Or the interest rate goes up for some other reason, and the interest payment becomes too high to pay, except by printing more money.

            If the economy were growing, the debt would become a smaller percentage of it. Without growth, this benefit doesn’t happen.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Chris and others, Yes I have been watching Japan closely as their stock markets are in turmoil lately. They have been playing the QE (money printing) Game longer than any of us and I guess we just have to look towards Japan to see how game ends.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Right on target, Scott. What struck me about the NY Times article was that for the first time a major economic / financial periodical was drawing a direct link between energy availability and financial strategy. For the last three months I thought Gail was the only person who believed that! Or am I wrong? Are MSM like NYT or WSJ full of articles that discuss those linkages? I think not.

          • Scott says:

            It will not be the first time a currency has collapsed if the dollar or euro goes down… Here is a past in of US History, “The paper bills issued by the colonies were known as “bills of credit”. Bills of credit were usually fiat money; that is, they could not be exchanged for a fixed amount of gold or silver coins upon demand.[3][5] Bills of credit were usually issued by colonial governments to pay debts. The governments would then retire the currency by accepting the bills for payment of taxes. When colonial governments issued too many bills of credit, or failed to tax them out of circulation, inflation resulted. This happened especially in New England and the southern colonies, which unlike the middle colonies, were frequently at war.[5]

            This depreciation of colonial currency was harmful to creditors in Great Britain when colonists paid their debts with money that had lost value. Adam Smith criticized colonial bills of credit in his famed 1776 work The Wealth of Nations. According to Smith, the inflationary nature of the currency was a “violent injustice” to the creditor; “a scheme of fraudulent debtors to cheat their creditors” (Book II, Chapter II). As a result, the British Parliament passed several Currency Acts to regulate the paper money issued by the colonies. The Currency Act of 1751 restricted the emission of paper money in New England. It allowed the existing bills to be used as legal tender for public debts (i.e. paying taxes), but disallowed their use for private debts (e.g. for paying merchants).[6]

            Another Currency Act in 1764 extended the restrictions to the colonies south of New England. Unlike the earlier act, this act did not prohibit the colonies in question from issuing paper money, but it did forbid them to designate their currency as legal tender for public or private debts. This prohibition created tension between the colonies and the mother country, and has sometimes been seen as a contributing factor in the coming of the American Revolution. After much lobbying, Parliament amended the act in 1773, permitting the colonies to issue paper currency as legal tender for public debts.[7] Shortly thereafter, some colonies once again began issuing paper money. When the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, all of the rebel colonies—soon to be independent states—issued paper money to pay for military expenses.
            By colony
            A twelve pence (one shilling) note in Massachusetts state currency, issued in 1776. These “codfish” bills, so-called because of the cod in the border design, were engraved by Paul Revere.[8]
            Colony/state Paper money
            first issued in:
            Connecticut pound 1709
            Delaware pound 1723
            Georgia pound 1735
            Maryland pound 1733
            Massachusetts pound 1690
            New Hampshire pound 1709
            New Jersey pound 1709
            New York pound 1709
            North Carolina pound 1712
            Pennsylvania pound 1723
            Rhode Island pound 1710
            South Carolina pound 1703
            Virginia pound 1755″

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Thanks Scott. That’s a delightful little history lesson. And I thought I knew everything about the history of money after reading Niall Ferguson’s book. Clearly you and Adam Smith bested him.

          • Scott says:

            Hi Chris and others, well you know my point was we can survive a collapse of a paper currency and it has happened time and time again. But the last 50 or so years are different as we have built up this world market full of special financial instruments such as derivatives and bonds and credit and who knows what else but it is now on a teeter tater. In the old days it would just be a state two that had a currency that went down, now if the US or Euro goes down it will be a good majority of the world. I wish we could go back to our good old local system where things happen local and stay that way. I believe we are headed that way anyway. After collapse things get local very fast.

            I hope it is a slow change and I do believe it will be a slow grind of higher prices and that will make us do with less and less each month forcing many to garden and get animals in their yards to raise for food.

            That is why many of us are thinking about goats and chickens etc. It also may hit is pretty hard pretty fast like JHK says. I still remember the gas lines of the 70′s when I worked a station during the so called Iran Embargo which was not enough oil to really do anything to cause shortages in those days,,, but instead some kind of a ploy.

          • The fact that our currency now allows us to do international transactions makes it very special. We can indeed go back to local currencies, but unless these truly allow international transactions, they do not provide the system needed to keep up our globalized economy. The problems experienced with early US currency illustrate the problems with it.

          • Scott says:

            I guess we can say that the dollar is getting pretty old and has lived past it’s expected life span if you look at the past history of currencies. Yes, local currencies may not be trade-able for international transactions, but gold and silver would be trade-able internationally as it has been for the last 5000 years. In the old days, all of those currencies died, but it was not such a big deal as they would make up a new one and they were only used locally as there was little international trade in those days. The US Dollar being world reserve currency, if it goes down, it is going to be big problem worldwide and it will be very serious indeed. I think what we might see is a new currency rolled out kind of like the Euro was, but the old dollar will be devalued against it meaning we all loose part of our money when we trade our old dollars for the new ones. That is one way the government can erase its some debts.

          • Thanks! This section is from the Early American Money section of Wikipedia.

          • It seems like we have so many economists denying the connection between energy and the economy (except as a recipient of “demand” if the economy is growing for some other reason), that most stay away from the issue. When a country is mostly doing manufacturing, like China, the connection between available supply and rising production is clearer than when a country is mostly providing services.

          • Christopher Johnson says:


            It’s difficult for a layman not skilled in the geomancy of economics or sworn to uphold its secrets to understand why economists do some things and refuse to do others. But I will cheerfully and gratefully state that your clear depiction of the energy – economy link is the first time I’d seen the subject articulated in detail. The Economist magazine has mentioned periodically through the years that something like 11 of the last 12 recessions were caused by petroleum crises, but they didn’t elaborate.

            Thus, when I saw that NYT article that alluded to the linkage, it was a big deal. It almost makes one wonder if the NY Fed called the NYT demanding that the writer and the editor be fired for inciting fear or telling the truth (one and the same sometimes).

            Now to the subject at hand, you said ‘when a country is mostly doing manufacturing, like China, he connection between available supply and rising production is clearer than when a country is mostly providing services.’ I would propose that Japan (which relied heavily on cheap nuclear power) really suffered an economic shock when it had to replace the inexpensive nuclear electricity with coal and expensive LPG and LNG. Can Japan even break even?

            This could very well explain PM Abe’s ‘race to the bottom’ for the Yen: the only positive elasticity possible to exploit is relative labor rates. The other primary inputs, raw materials, energy have prices tabulated globally and therefore increasingly dear. So Abe is taking Japanese manufacturing (Toyota, etc.) back to an earlier era. Even thought the Japanese workers are among the most productive in the world, their relative wages are necessarily slashed. And so far, at least, it appears that the country has accepted / approved his policies. But time wounds all heals…

          • It is not clear how well this is working, now that the higher cost of fuel needs to be factored in. The stock market has dropped 15% in eight days of trading. Japan’s Market Has Bulls Reeling. (You may have to type the name into google.)

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Right. The big risk PM Abe is taking is that the ‘automatic correction factors’ of the bond market will counteract the desired stimulative effect he has been trying to induce. At first the stock market behaved as he wished it to, but more recently it’s been falling, making the currency and bonds more dear. Ooops gets to be really big when you have a GDP – Debt ratio of 250%. Could Abe’s gamble result in Japan defaulting? The regional and strategic implications are too gruesome to consider.

          • Scott says:

            I would bet that Japan may be the first large country to default.

          • It could be.

          • Scott says:

            Chris a chart I found on the Yen, Their QE seemed to push it up fast and now running out of gas?

          • Scott says:

            Chris everyone – one last chart on Japan, the Yen priced in gold. The last chart I sent was US dollar priced in yen. They may be paying more for gold than others due to their currency collapse but it is rising in value in other ways, but this shows that it is in decline in value.


          • Scott says:

            Chris and everyone on the last link I sent – about Japan, you have to click on the ten year chart to see the trend I discussed.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Hi Scott: Thanks for your research. Good charts on Yen to gold exchange rates, and good description of what’s happening. Japan has not been struck by the Gold Bug for quite awhile, but is more sensitive to bonds, which are easier for their big trading houses to buy and sell by the bushel-basketful.
            Japan’s financial portfolio is not easy to decipher or assess. The average Japanese has far greater savings than do Europeans or Americans. My understanding is that Japan didn’t really begin QE until Abe was elected late last year. But the steps PM Abe took are increasingly seen as risky, as in this article:
            One can also liken these maneuverings to a chess game (‘Go’ or ‘Surround Chess’ is equally popular in Japan and China). It can also be likened to a traditional dance, a pas de deux, or the kind of martial arms dance karate and kung fu experts practice.
            However, I’m not sure if the Chinese or Japanese have been reading Gail Tverberg’s blog, so might be scratching their collective heads about some of these issues.
            Cheers, Chris

          • Scott says:

            Hello Chris, Yes and interest rate spike will really hurt Japan or the US too. It looks like Japan started QE in the early 2000′s, This latest round is huge and doubles Japans money supply.

          • I expect that quite a lot of the savings of Japanese citizens is held in Japanese debt. So if the government defaults, it will have a lot of elderly citizens, who do not have funding for their retirement.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Yes Ma’am,
            I believe you will find that the Japanese are among the ‘world’s best’ savers. Since 1945, perhaps before, the Post Office Savings Bank has been collecting regular deposits from almost the entire population. It’s one of the most powerful funds in the world, perhaps. I will look it up, but remember studying it somewhat in decades past, and am confident in predicting that the average elderly Japanese will be well cared for. Their sense of obligation and formalized relationships constitutes a structured society that cannot be easily comprehended from afar.

          • And yet, I recall reading of at least one Japanese prefecture where the old people were expected to go up the mountain and die, rather than be a burden on future generations.

            With all the quantitative easing going on, is the same thing happening metaphorically with their savings?

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Sir I do not know the answer to your intriguing question. I’ll ask Mr. Google and some of his friends. The ‘confrontational approach’ to medical care rationing may be unappealing, but also may be unavoidable in a collapse. In Confucian societies where responsibilities are more emphasized than rights, behaviors may appear strange to outsiders.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Jan, the answer is not particularly attractive. After a few tries, the search question “Japan elderly dying alone” yielded far more hits than I would want to admit. Good articles from respected publications discuss the hundreds of thousands of single Asians who are dying alone. The articles note how modern lifestyles chipped away at Confucian values, leaving elderly away from their families. Sure would be nice to be 25 again. And some government ministers (in Japan) are on record as encouraging the old folks to hurry up and die. Take that, Confucius!

          • Scott says:

            Hello Chris and others this is on a slightly different subject, but rates are already going up in many places.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Thanks Scott. You’re right that Japan was using a milder stimulation program for many years, and just recently throttled up. Although we’ve never experienced deflation in our lifetimes, economists claim it is the worst situation an economy can encounter.– much worse than inflation. And with Japan’s debt to gdp ratio of greater than 200, they were running out of time. So PM Abe took a gamble with the expanded QE / stimulation program. If it succeeds, Japanese will be relatively poorer, but still competitive. If it fails, Japan could be like sushi tuna…ready for cutting up and selling wherever a buyer might be.

          • Scott says:

            Hello Chris, they surely do not want deflation and they are hell bent on that, they can print away and inject money into many programs and in many ways, and it will surely be inflationary. And the US and Euro Zones are on the same plan. But when the bond markets go down – who knows we could see a sudden and deep deflation on the other side of the coin. This is going to be tricky.

          • Scott says:

            Hi Chris and others, that reminds me about the social fabric and that is the part I have been talking about that holds back the collapse, the social fabric and groups of people helping each other holds back what looks sometimes like total disaster. Japan does have deep respect to their elders and they will most likely surprise us in what they come up with. No doubt that they are in for hard times though such as all of us are. The social fabric can be strong and it has a power to overcome may obstacles and forestall things for longer than we think.

            That gets me back to my points I made yesterday about the uneven collapse I see out there it is not fair to everyone, some will live in good areas with loving neighbors and families, churches etc. and others will live in places of upheaval and it may be that you were born into those countries which ever they are.

          • Scott says:

            Hi Chris, I know we have been talking a lot about Japan but is a pertinent subject. So you say they are good at saving money, good savers. The problem with that is that they may most likely bough Japanese Bonds which as we know in a currency crisis or rising rates scenario they will fall in value very fast and maybe even be worthless in a true financial crisis.

            I do think that many of them bought investments around the world and other things such as real estate, farm lands and commodity investments. But I think many Japanese own government bonds and that is worrisome that their savings are in those things although it is great to believe in ones country — but when it comes to ones finances we have to be careful and bonds of any country are not on my list.

          • When I have talked to retirement actuaries, they have come to the conclusion that they only way a country-wide retirement program can work is if those who are working today produce enough goods and services to provide for both the workers (and their children) and the retirees. If a person stops to think about the practicalities of the situation, this is the way it has to work as well. There is no way that a person, during his or her lifetime can set aside food and clothing and all of the goods and services needed during retirement. Instead, we have to use goods and services that are actually produced in our retirement years.

            We have bank accounts and Post Office Savings Banks that lead us to the fiction that we can set aside funds for the goods and services we will need in retirement, but when the time comes when it is necessary to buy all of these goods and services, if the money is there but the goods and services are not, the savers will be in for a big surprise. The money they put away won’t really be able to buy what they need.

            The Japanese government has huge public debt. Most of this is held by the Japanese people. But the way things are going, the Japanese will produce less in the future than they do today (because they won’t be able to afford energy products to run their factories). So at best, a much smaller pie will need to be divided between the workers and the (very many) retirees. The situation looks worrisome.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            Gracias, Gail. Or should it be ‘Domo Arigato’? You have neatly described the demographic trap the Japanese are in, which the Chinese are entering, and which the Germans and some other Europeans are facing. One additional feature that should not be overlooked is that all these societies are largely urban (the Chinese are least urbanized, but pushing harder…). and therefore more expensive than country living. While living with family reduces financial burdens at the routine cost of increased frictions, nursing homes make retirement savings disappear.

          • We have the luxury of nursing homes now. This is not something that can last for the long term.

          • The entire notion of “retirement” is a relatively recent phenomenon — corresponding roughly with the age of fossil sunlight exploitation. I don’t expect it to continue for much longer.

            In the near future, most of us will work until we die. Some of us, through luck or planning, will make ourselves invaluable to younger people immediately around us, and will get away with less demanding work. But I think that’s as good as it gets for the “99%.”

          • I agree that retirement is likely going away. I believe that Social Security was started in the 1930s as a way of reducing the number of unemployed. At that point, there were a lot of displaced farm workers because coal made such a difference in the productivity of horses. Also, the availability of barbed wire allowed fields to be fenced in, and electricity (often enabled by hydroelectric, which required coal to make the concrete and the transmission lines) helped with other needs. There weren’t jobs for everyone. As fossil fuels go away, the world will go back to the old system of everyone working.

          • Scott says:

            Gail that is scary because most of us are getting older and we will not have our government pensions as courthouse workers, cops, school teachers we will all be without checks and how are we going to mitigate the missing retirements? Looks like chaos and you know I worry about our old people and like many of my neighbors that are just getting by on small social security checks.

            Many Including us do not have insurance for medical which has become far too expensive.

          • Scott says:

            Hello Gail and everyone, not to sound like a gold bug but gold is getting expensive for countries that are having trouble like Japan, Greece Etc. They are devaluing their currencies.

            Japan recently started a QE to double their currency 2 for 1, twice the amount of money chasing the same goods. Although the money does not flow evenly into all areas it will eventually make its way into the streets and prices should double too but I think it will be uneven like those prices they pay for a sushi tuna fish. So food and basic cost will likely get hit making it harder for young families and old alike. I see the same thing here and in Europe and expect it to get worse in the next few years.

        • That is a very good article you linked to.

          I am not sure that inflation/deflation will matter going forward. Money won’t hold its value, and we will have problems buying things we need, but those descriptions may not hold.

          • Scott says:

            Looks to be very oil dependent…Japan’s nuclear was only 30 percent with all plants running before the quake so that means 70 percent was fossil fuels before that and now maybe 80 percent. Fossil fuels seem to be the easy political solution these days. Meaning it is easier to build a coal or natural gas generation plant than a nuclear one. They are all dangerous, so pick your poison.

  10. Dave Fabick, Hermann, MO says:

    Great list Gail! As we both know there are no silver bullets just multiple tasks and actions. Look at it like insurance. Spend a few percent of your income on survival insurance every month. I recommend a 2 month supply of essential food stuff, water purification, camping equipment, and a money belt with 10 oz gold coins and $100 bills (12 coins 6 bills). I have been building up a collection of gadgets, tools, and gear that have a deindustrialized future, I recommend a library of relevant books both for enjoyment and essential reference. Barter items with long shelf life (alcohol as an example). If able developing a situation where animal power can be utilized for transport and agriculture. Take care of your health and teeth now. Most important is a psychological and spiritual understanding and acceptance. Part of this is actual actions of preparation. Spend time without modern conveniences, go 3 days without food, and visit a slum.

    • Ert. says:

      To make that a more friendly experience – try to do 5-7 day trips hiking with a backpack or a journey with a bike. You have to carry tent, food, clothes and can only shop for water and some extra fresh food stuff – but the core food you should take with you.

      You still can call that holiday, use camp-sites – but it teaches oneself how much is really required.

      If you want to extend that experience – try it in the winter time or with bad weather. That is something I still have to try out , not with an aim for “preparation”, but to learn and experience my limits. The whole experience build self confidence and shifts part of ones value system – which is most important (for me).

    • Some slums are best avoided. When I lived in Lisbon, the police would only go into the local slum mob-handed, pistols drawn. I think that if anyone had simply strolled into it, they would have come out minus anything of value, including any gold fillings they had.

    • The issue I see with 10 gold coins and $100 bills is these denominations are higher than what you would need for most purposes. I would think a few silver coins and $20 bills would be more helpful (if they work as currency).

      One of the big issues I see is maintaining roads. If you can’t do that, there is a huge problem. Even animal-pulled carts become a problem.

      I have a hard time seeing animal power being used to a significant extent. Horses in particular need land to grow their food, so they are in some sense expensive. In ancient times, kings used them for their chariots, but common people couldn’t afford them. I am told that horses today are much larger than they were 100 or 200 years ago. The smaller horses in days past required less food, so were less expensive to keep.

      • Ert says:

        You are right with gold and larger bills. No one can give you change for those – of want to have something that is hard to pass on for the same reason. Small denominations and silver is the way to got – if there is any way. Gold is primarily for storage in terms of decades and more stable times or issues of “last resort”.

        In terms of street maintenance – most stress is put on them by heavy vehicles. Roads have to be smaller, lighter and heavy traffic has to parish, as the just-in-time and cesar-salat-from 2.000 miles away are over, soon. Where I live the are some 100 of metres of cut off road – with primarily bicycle usage and no maintenance this part still keeps quite well over the last 10 years.

      • Oxen are multi-use animals that may be the motive power of choice for the peasant class. Goats can pull a significant load, and are generally easier to manage and get by on a rougher diet.

        • One point that a person who has tried using draft animals for plowing in Finland has made, is that they have to be pretty small, or they will eat up all of the food supply that is produced. I don’t know how trainable goats are. It might be that they would work for certain purposes.

          • Scott says:

            Goats: Not my favorite milk or meat but eatable. This may off subject and not solve our issues but, I grew up with goats at my neighbors house and you can milk them and as Jan said they eat almost anything including fir pine needles. If I did not have gas for my lawnmower, a goat would be an option as I have a large area to keep mowed, mostly weeds. My problem is I would have to spend a bunch of money on a fence as there is none now. But I agree with Jan that goats are very helpful and are easier to handle. They can live on steep slopes you just need a fence of some sort to keep them in. They provide milk and meat and needed house cleaning in time of need. Well, a make shift fence and a few goats would be a good thing in hard times and they do not need much land to survive and can live on steep hillsides. They keep the fire danger down and are usable if needed for meat. An easy to manage animal that helps your property in most cases.

          • “I don’t know how trainable goats are. It might be that they would work for certain purposes.”

            You hit the nail on the head! Goats are generally very intelligent and trainable. Ours know their names and a half-dozen voice commands. Most of them lead well, a couple will even “heel” on command. I haven’t tried any on a cart, but would love to if I had the time. It would be great to have them pulling around stuff that is now done by wheelbarrow. (They give better milk and companionship than most wheelbarrows.)

            But as with people, it’s motivation more than intelligence that is important. I’ve found a few cut-up pears in my jacket pocket can raise their IQ by a fair amount. :-)

          • I take it that goats like pears.

          • … and apples, and carrots, and your entire garden… :-)

            I mention pears only because we have lots of them to use as “goat bait.”

          • Scott wrote: “Goats: Not my favorite milk or meat but eatable.”

            There are many factors that influence flavour of milk and meat. You’ve been spoiled by the industrial food system, which provides a rigidly standardized product!

            As a vegetarian, I don’t know too much about meat, but certainly the browse that they have available and whether they’re a wether (castrated) can have a huge influence.

            Milk flavour is also influenced by browse, but also if a buck runs with the does, how quickly the milk is chilled, how much agitation happens, processing, the breed, state of general health, and even the individual animal.

            People who have our sweet Nubian milk often can’t tell it from cow’s milk, except it’s richer. We treat it like champagne, milking down the side of the bucket, never shaking it, etc. The caprinolsthat give it a “goaty” flavour are long-chain fatty acids, the shorter of which have more goaty flavour than the longer chains. Hand milking makes better tasting milk! Many European breeds (French Alpine, Toggenburg, Obehasli) used for cheese-making have been selected for goaty flavour.

            We milk into a double bucket, with the outer bucket filled with ice cubes, which cools it super-quickly.

            If all you’ve had is machine-milked, pasteurized swill from the store, I don’t blame you for not liking goat milk! But the backyard goat will likely taste much better.

          • Scott says:

            Hello Jan and others, I understand you about all the junk processed foods out there. When I walk through the store there are very little unprocessed plain simple items. I try to buy organic when I can and just simple ingredients for the most part, which involves cooking at home which is harder to do when you are working outside the home, but it is much healthier. I also have avoid gluten as I am much healthier without it and that is in most everything too. Gluten was making me ill I discovered a couple of years ago. It is expensive to eat well as organic foods surely costs more but it is worthwhile and I like to support the organic farmer with my pocket book.

            I will not buy eggs unless they are cage free as I do not like to see factory chicken farms. Those also cost more but are better too. At least we can support the responsible farmer that does organic farming whether it is growing organic vegetables or organic chicken. Being vegetarian would probably be good for me too, but I guess I was raised on meat and I have not been able to give it up. Factory farming is very troublesome to me, but it seems like the only way they can feed so many billions. I do not like to see small animals in tiny cages. I wish all our animals that are raised for meat could be free range and allowed some freedom and fed nothing but wholesome organic feeds, but that is not our world today for the most part. I think if more people spend the money on the organic free range type foods the factory farmer could be converted to something better.

            I cannot think of a more useful animal than a goat. When I was growing up my friend had some goats and we used to milk them and I have tasted the milk and it is different tasting, but I know how good raw milk is for you. Sounds like they are smart too. Recently I visited someone that has sheep and I got to pick one up they sure are gentle creatures. They provide wool and also meat and they seem easy to manage. So maybe a pig too! So Goats, Chickens, lambs and pigs sounds like the way to go depending on your type of property. I know lambs mostly like to graze on grass so they may require more acreage to manage.

      • xabier says:

        Historically, good horses were very rare in Western Europe, (hence the small numbers of of knights) and bullock carts and oxen for ploughing were the order of the day, and of course mules for long-distance transport over rough or non-existent roads.

        I don’t see many of those around at present!

        The magnificent working horses of Northern Europe were nearly all shot after WW2, when tractors really came in, it was a tragedy.

        More old and useful breeds of dogs have been retained as they still have a role in country sports, although many breeds have degenerated completely in the show-ring (shrinkage of brain size, etc). Dogs for guarding, fighting, warning, keeping us company and finding and killing food: we can’t survive without them really, they are worth the expense and more valuable than a human being who can’t pull their weight….

  11. ravinathan says:

    Fine article Gail. Looks like the long weekend with doomers at the Age of Limits conference had some effect on your thinking. :) How was the conference by the way? Have you become more concerned about climate change after listening to Bill McPherson?

    • The Age of Limits Conference was fine. The weather was cold and windy–especially the first day or two. That cut back attendance a bit, and meant that people walked around with blankets over themselves, if their coats were too thin. It never occurred to me that a stocking cap and gloves would be useful in southern Pennsylvania on Memorial Day weekend. The speakers stayed in a Bed and Breakfast, and the tent where we talked was heated a bit, so we stayed warmer than most of the attendees. (Last year’s conference had unseasonably warm temperatures–confused people who were coming back for a second year.)

      Guy McPherson quoted a long list of scientist who forecast high increases in temperatures, if CO2 continued increasing as in the past. He also gave a long list of tipping points that he felt we had already passed. His conclusion was that it was too late to do anything that would prevent huge changes, in the next two decades. If anything would “save” us, it would be collapse–something that hadn’t been built into the models.

      He was coming to the same conclusion I was–there really isn’t much that we can do, apart from collapse, to mitigate the climate issue. I am not willing to be quite as pessimistic as he is, especially if there are a lot of unknowns in the modeling. Humans have lived through a lot of climate change in the past. We have had to move to better locations on the earth’s surface, and that may happen again.

      • If it is now too late to do much about climate change and we are going to have to endure whatever it throws our way, then surely those who have done so much to persuade the public that climate change was all a hoax, or something not to worry about, even that it might be a good thing should face some sanction for endangering their nation, afterall, it is public reaction that drives politicians to act. As it is there are a number of individuals living in the lap of luxury from the profits they have made from their fossil fuels and should really be behind bars instead. There are also a couple of British Lords who should be investigated and preferably be stripped of their titles if the evidence supports such action (almost inevitable in one case).

        • Yes I agree. People behind organizations like Heartland, that Monckton clown and that nonsense WUWT blog should all be put on trial for deliberately misleading the public, stalling any effort into a quicker transition away from fossil fuels. Its clear their motives is purely economical ones and there should be quite a severe punishment for soiling the science that has been known for so long now. This is why I wondered if it would be possible to stage a mass personal lawsuit towards these people. Not quite aware what possibilities there within the law – but would it be possible for e.g. a couple of million people to get together for one big lawsuit? Its about time we got rid of these people who are spreading lies about climate change.

  12. Brian Hanley says:

    250,000 years of uranium fuel. 4.2 billion tons of it in the ocean. That’s what we should have been doing since the 1960′s.

    Coal plants release at least 7,000 tons of uranium into the air (and that’s with most of it precipitated out). Coal plants cause, on average, 90 deaths a year, which adds up to more casualties for one coal plant over its lifetime than the maximum plausible casualties for all nuclear accidents put together. (Direct, those are under 200. Stretching things over 50 years, its’ about 4,000.)

    So that is what future generations will do. They won’t have a choice.

    • “250,000 years of uranium fuel. 4.2 billion tons of it in the ocean.”

      Yea, and what’s the ERoEI of oceanic uranium? Do you know how to obtain it? Göthe noted, “A confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.”

      I get so weary of absolutist arguments from pollyanna nuclear zealots. You don’t do your cause any good when you spout such arguments to educated people, and only make yourself look uneducated and silly.

      Show me the evidence that you can get uranium from seawater at an ERoEI above unity, and I’ll listen. And don’t even get me started on your pollyanna “best possible case” of nuclear casualties. I can make coal plants look stellar comparing nuclear apples to coal apples, while you insist on apples-to-oranges comparisons.

      Sorry to be so crabby. Disqus really needs an “ignore filter.”

    • I suppose I now must return to my very old uranium calculations that showed an extremely short period of availability unless breeder reactors are a go. Perhaps, someone on this forum can find my mistake if I made one:

      • tmsr says:

        I think you are all correct. IF we could get the U out of sea water there would be plenty. The cost to get U out of sea water is presently so high nobody does it. And yes the standard reserves of U will run out quickly if use as a sole source to power society.

        The Chinese are doing the research for the use of Th as a nuclear fuel. There is lots of low cost accessible land based Th in the world. Nuclear is not my favorite but I would pick well run nuclear over well run coal. But in a for profit system well run is hard to come by. And in a no profit, we are all equal, system well run is equally hard to find though perhaps for slightly different reasons.

        Ed Pell

  13. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    You have a good list of things to consider. I would add:
    Make yourself disease proof.

    Here, for example, is a current article reviewing the facts about breast cancer and lifestyle and genes. Lifestyle is far more important than genes. I note that the same recommendations will virtually eliminate heart disease, stroke, and diabetes–just with slightly different mechanisms.

    I will also note that the dietary recommendations are strongly related to the gardening issue. Most of the dietary ingredients are readily grown in a backyard garden. And the greens, green onions, and berries are at their most potent immediately after harvest.

    While beans are relatively calorie dense, it is quite likely that either some additional garden space will need to be devoted to calorie dense foods or else that one relies on farm grown calorie dense foods such as grains or tubers. Grains are easily transported, since they are dry. Tubers are not as efficiently transported as grains, but they are far easier to transport than leafy greens. If you want to be 85 percent calorie self-sufficient, I recommend the book Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham. Markham is an engineer in New Hampshire, so he addresses issues such as nutrient cycling and growing compost and mulch crops intelligently. (In my opinion, if one grows their own organic matter, it may well require half an acre for a small family. But in suburbia, there is usually a lot of organic waste floating around waiting for some intelligent person to salvage and compost it or use it for mulch). I will also note that if you are anywhere south of DC, you will have a considerably longer season than Markham assumes.

    Don Stewart

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, Yes using food from our own gardens is probably the best thing you can do for your health and it also taste great. The whole process of growing and nurturing your garden is also good for your mental and physical and spiritual health. I am planning to dry a lot of my extra veggies in my food dehydrator this summer and put them in jars to use next winter to make soups etc. those taste good too. Certain veggies are good to dry, like Bell Pepper, squashes, celery and even Asparagus. When you dry them right away it locks in the flavor and vitamins. Drying does take energy though, I do have plans for a solar dryer if needed, but electric one in more temperature regulated.

      I think if we fall upon hard times or emergency, the types of foods we will be eating will be things that can be made in a stir pot, So, I store some beans, dried veggies, freeze dried meats in cans (these last nearly 30 years on the shelf but they are pricey but good to have). So you can throw a few handfuls beans, dried veggies and some freeze dried meat into a pot along with some water, salt and spices and you can make a rather large amount of food this way. So that is the way I plan eat if times get hard and food is hard to get or too expensive. These are things I eat anyway (except for the freeze dried meats those cases if cans I am saving).

      I also found that exercising (fast walking or treadmill with hand weights) for about almost an hour at least three times a week keeps me feeling better and hopefully stay away from the doctors. It also helps me keep my strength up so I can work in my gardens.

      These little things you can do for yourself will not really solve our problems, but it helps and at least I feel somewhat productive. Gardening could become tough in an emergency if our water is turned off, we have a well here but well needs power which could be a problem, it would be nice to have a solar system strong enough to power my well and a few things, which I may consider at some point – but a solar system and batteries and inverter would be pricey but would be nice to have. Pumping water is a pretty much needed basic function unless you live next to a creek or stream. My thinking is as long as I can have water, chances of survival will greatly improve.

    • I have been following a largely vegetarian (some fish, some dairy, a little meat in soups from time to time) diet, with little processed food. If the medical profession had to get along on what I have spent on them (multiplied by 7 billion people), they would likely go out of business. My biggest problem has been allergic reactions–something that is somewhat unavoidable. It may be that I had too little conditioning to allergens as a child–my mother was a cleanliness “nut”.

      • My biggest problem has been allergic reactions–something that is somewhat unavoidable. It may be that I had too little conditioning to allergens as a child–my mother was a cleanliness “nut”.

        Can you find raw dairy? I have known adults who have had allergies “cured” by raw dairy, and a peer-reviewed Swiss studyhas shown that children who consume raw dairy have half the allergy problems and children who consume either no milk or pasteurized milk.

        I hear you about childhood conditioning to allergens — luckily, I grew up on a farm, and was exposed to everything — but I’ve found that what few reactions I used to experience have largely cleared up after moving back to a farm and consuming raw dairy daily.

        • Thanks for the idea.

          I don’t have a big enough problem that I have actively sought a solution–just occasional times when I get a much worse reaction to an insect sting/bite than I should have, or to a plant like poison ivy, or even a physical stress–standing for too long in one place, and getting swollen feet.

    • tmsr says:

      There is an older book “Five Acres and Independence” that seems a bit more realistic.

      Ed Pell

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear tmsr
        At the extreme is this backyard farm in Los Angeles:

        Over 6,000 pounds of food per year, on 1/10 acre located just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The Dervaes family grows over 400 species of plants, 4,300 pounds of vegetable food, 900 chicken and 1,000 duck eggs, 25 lbs of honey, plus seasonal fruits throughout the year.

        From 1/10th of an acre, four people manage to get over 90% of their daily food and the family reports earnings of $20,000 per year (AFTER they eat from what is produced). This is done without the use of the expensive & destructive synthetic chemicals associated with industrial mono-cropping, while simultaneously improving the fertility and overall condition of the land being used to grow this food on. Scaled up to an acre, that would equal $200,000 per year!

        To follow the Dervaes and their Urban Homesteading activites, you can find them at

        Urban and near-urban farming can be highly productive, causing whatever size of land you have to work with to produce with more abundance. It is time to solve hunger worldwide, through creating local food abundance…. Anyone can do it, once you learn how.

        Don Stewart
        PS I am not familiar enough with this farm to know where they are getting the water in semi-arid Southern California. They may also be buying fertilizer and compost–but compostable material is readily available in urban areas. They probably don’t have enough land to run a big enough compost operation. But increased landfill fees are encouraging waste generators to sell their organic waste to commercial composters. My community garden just bought a delivered dump-truck of compost for 100 dollars.

  14. Patrick Flynn says:

    Great Post, though I wonder if we are a generation ahead of ourselves. The US began drilling for oil in 1858 and didn’t peak until 1970.

    Saudi Arabia began drilling after WW2. Won’t they also last 100 years before they peak?

    • Mean Mr Mustard says:

      During WW2, we extracted and burned on tenth of the volumes of oil that we are using now. That’s sufficient info to understand why the US peaked early, and what it implies for Saudi prospects…

    • Scott says:

      Extraction Techniques and pumps: Well Patrick, yes! But the well they drill today and the high powered pumps can bring up the oil and gas very fast compared to the early wells. I am not an expert on it, but I believe that the depletion rate must be accelerating very fast too. An Oil well drilled in the 1800′s must pump very slow compared to today’s extraction techniques. They are sucking the Earth Dry fast these days.

    • When Saudi Arabia peaks is not the issue (but I would argue it is before 100 years–they do not tell us much useful about what is happening-their spare capacity is mostly fictional). The issue is one of price. The oil exporters need a high price; the oil importers need a low price. We are now reaching the point where the price the oil exporters need (because they fund much of their economy on the proceeds) is higher than the price the oil importers can afford. At some point, the whole system looks likely to collapse. See my posts, How Resource Limits Lead to Financial Collapse and oil exporters reach financial collapse.

      • Ert says:

        And one should not forget the export-land-model (ELM): Especially Saudi Arabia needs more and more of the stuff that it pumps – and thus exports less and less in the future.

        Limits appear anywhere one does look.

        • Scott says:

          I read somewhere that Saudi is pumping in lots and lots of sea water into those old fields to try to keep up the pressure for extraction, but I also read that the seawater damages the field and a lot of water and oil mix will start coming up, sounds like depletion is upon them more than they will admit. That sucking sound of a straw at the bottom of a cup running dry… Well I am sure there is still lots of oil in places like this but harder and more expensive to get, which will keep financial pressure on us all, like a vise tightening as energy costs rise.

        • I agree. There are limits everywhere.

          • Scott says:

            Gail, The Unknown is out there and… The only short term fix which will only postpone the inevitable is some kind of synthetic fuel that will pump through our current gas pumps and systems. Most likely coal will be the source of this new liquid fuel. So, we will likely see 500 PPM of CO2 or more which then we will see many planet changes. I hope we can find something better than burning that large amount of Coal out there. Although this will make our environment worse they most likely will go with this if there is nothing better being rolled out.

            I hope things hold together for all of us but we are running low on light sweet crued oil, Unless there is something out there we do not know like the Hydrogen Separator, or the Hyper Drive unveiled that can use water to fuel or something else to power our cars and trucks or an other power supply not yet known to us which I am still hopeful about. But as most of us see – it really does look like a big dye off ahead for many people on the planet. Some areas on the planet may be better off than others as we have discussed. The oil that we are pumping now is getting more expensive, and more sour and harder to refine pretty much everywhere.

            I do think we may see some natural gas fired locomotives and although I am fond of the old days and the old trains I am hoping we can find something else to use to power them than wood, coal or gas. I kind see the comeback of the locomotive after the collapse and the old trains may be rebuilt if they can find the iron and wood to rebuild.

            Going back to the old ways and the old locomotive, this would only work with a much smaller population as we all know. There are far too many of us now to have horses, as each horse needs like 40 or more acres to be self sustainable. This group would be surviving perhaps by digging through our old dumps to get things to pull out refined steel and metals. I am thinking maybe a few million will be left and starting over in this new after collapse and they will be once again spread out and perhaps isolated by the seas.

          • “each horse needs like 40 or more acres to be self sustainable.”

            Depending on the biome, it’s generally much less than that. In our cool Mediterranean climate, a horse can get by on an acre of good pasture.

          • Scott says:

            Hello Jan, I guess it depends on where you are some places are like an an oasis and others dry and no grass for the horses. Thanks for the info on the Goats that was helpful to remember.

          • I don’t see that the finances are there for a synthetic fuel. It would need to be available in huge quantity, with huge up-fornt cost.

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Iraq is now supplying 1.5 million barrels per day to China, whose petroleum appetite is growing leaps and bounds. How many million new cars were put on Chinese roads last year? Was it 5 million or 6?

        • Scott says:

          Gail and Chris I would argue that Saudi has already peaked and they are pumping huge amounts of sea water to keep up the field pressure in their largest fields.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            I think you’re right, amigo. It’s merely a question of how big are the whoppers they’re telling.

        • Scott says:

          Gail had said that Saudi would peak during the next one hundred years, or did I misunderstand? I would argue that Saudi already has peaked and they are pumping in huge amounts of sea water to keep the pressure up in those old fields.

          • Christopher Johnson says:


            You may wish to look at some of Keith Kohl’s postings on Energy and Capital. One of them is here:
            He believes Saudi will be importing petroleum in a few years.
            Cheers, Chris

          • Scott says:

            Thanks Chris, I will check it out, I do know that Saudi is using much than they used to for their own needs, they are hot and need lots of AC a growing population thanks to their oil riches. I do believe collapse will be felt first and the hardest in these type of countries built up around oil.

          • Scott says:

            Looks like the Fracking boom will fall short and dry up very fast, these are not the deep large pools of oil that we need that pump for generations. They will fall short of output expectations although they will be a continual source of fuel at high cost.

          • This is a link to a different article on Energy and Capital (by Jeff Siegal) called “US to Export Oil to Saudi Arabia.”

            Saudi Arabia’s energy use has been growing amazingly, even as its oil production is down this year, compared to last year. This is an energy consumption chart I showed earlier:

            Saudi energy consumption per capita, compared to US and EU, based on BP data.

    • tmsr says:

      The high estimate for SA is 270 billion barrels. This is almost certainly an over inflated number but using it anyway. That is 67.5 years. So if SA is lucky they will provide 12% of the worlds oil for the next 67.5 years. If you want to know the case for the number being lower read “Sunset in the Desert”. If we use 200 billion barrels a mildly optimistic number we have 50 years. How much of that SA will export is an important question.

      Ed Pell

  15. Bill Simpson says:

    Living near a main railroad line might help. Major cities used to have to be located on rivers or on coasts to serve their transport needs. Then the railroads and highways came along and inland cities and towns could grow. Trains might go back to steam engines powered by coal. Ships too. Coal is more abundant than oil. Steam engines provide a lot of employment too. Railroads in the USA were still using them during World War II. China might still be using a few. South Africa was still using them in the 1980′s. Most people won’t care about pollution if hunger is the alternative.

    • Scott says:

      That is true, we live in a rural town that has a small railroad to move lumber, but I wonder that perhaps in the future it will be used to bring us food and supplies and move farm goods hopefully.
      I would be glad to see the railroads used properly to move food and goods once again.

    • I agree that coal is appealing if hunger is an alternative, but I wonder whether it will be easy to make a quick change. We would need to make coal fired engines again, and set up a system where trains could carry coal with them or pick up additional along the route. It wouldn’t in theory be all that difficult, but each step would require investment and access to energy sources of the right type. People would also need to be trained to operate the “new” equipment.

      • We would need to make coal fired engines again, and set up a system where trains could carry coal with them or pick up additional along the route. It wouldn’t in theory be all that difficult, but each step would require investment and access to energy sources of the right type. People would also need to be trained to operate the “new” equipment.


        Such a policy would take us back to the start of the industrial revolution and look where that has got us. Whilst climate change might be ‘fixed’ by the coming collapse, it will only be a temporary fix if it is not even considered in such discussions as the above. I don’t know what it is going to take to bring it centre stage, but surely something must. We have just passed the 400 ppm mark for CO2 and that has to be due to it not getting the attention it deserves in the past.

        If we continue to pump excess CO2 into the atmosphere over and above the natural carbon cycle, the temperatures are going to rise. The stuff stays up there for many decades, even centuries. The warming we have now is set to increase as the heat that has been pumped into the oceans due to the recent predominance of La Niña events will rise to the surface as the El Niño/La Niña cycle averages itself out, as it always does. If we pass almost any of the known tipping points (don’t forget Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns) we could hit a runaway situation. It won’t wipe us out, but it will make life hell for the few that survive, as though they won’t have enough to contend with.

        I love steam engines, but they have to be the last option to be considered, if they are to remain an option at all, that is.

  16. Randall says:


    I’ve appreciated your articles both here and at The Oil Drum for several years. I’ve never commented before. However, it seems to me the “no chicken feed” responses from readers appear a little over-the-top. I don’t want to sound too simplistic, but shortages first bring out militaries, as in international-level conflict…not local civic variety. Does anybody really believe the USA is going to graciously starve to death before 2/3 of the world’s population in developing countries? With that unfortunate fall in human population will come some resource relief for survivors, whoever they might be. Second point similar to the first: The old saw about global economics is: “When the USA catches a cold, the rest of the world get’s Pneumonia.” Again, a) the USA being the breadbasket of the world, and b) North America having the largest boreal forests available as resources…don’t you believe North Americans will adapt sooner and more seamlessly than those without large arable spaces such as Libya, Egypt or Cameroon? I don’t want to sound heartless here, but it would appear the USA is a pretty good bet for “last man standing” even with greatly diminished mechanized agriculture.

    • Randall, please don’t lump “North America” together. The US has hardly any boreal forest left.

      Perhaps Canada will give up without a fight, but there’s something really grating when such assumptions are made. I purposely moved to Canada because I thought the US — without Anschluss — was a lost cause.

      I don’t know if my fellow Canadians will give up without a fight. It appears that we have a Vichy government in place already!

      • Randall says:

        I only referenced North America to distinguish it from resource poor regions of the globe, such as the Middle East ( scarce water), Africa ( scarce infrastructure), or Micronesia (scarce landmass). I was not assuming Canada and the USA would “fight”…but rather, that some sort of regional trade will long survive, even after regions like the Middle East are nuclear war wastelands (A position I do NOT advocate. I’m simply quoting another blog site). North America has a modicum of similar culture, similar religious values and similar governmental expectations. North Americans are no where near the powder keg scenario of the tribalism/authoritarian/intolerence of some other heavily populated areas. Many articles already predict the hoped-for Arab Spring to evolve into a nightmarish Arab Winter even later this year.

        Gail offered very sound advice about becoming self sufficient and getting out of debt. And I certainly understand the impulse for those heavily leveraged, living in major urban areas, to feel vulnerable. In full disclosure, I’m one of those fortunate souls who live in a semi-rural area. We have a large organic garden, we compost, and I have many of those skills such as carpentry work, which can be bartered. I also have 30 years of experience in renewable energies, and we are members of a grow/eat local food cooperative, and I live in a small, affordable, energy efficient house.

        My main point from my original post was (unlike the tone of several on this forum) that I don’t expect to wake up one morning and discover the Mad Max movie becoming reality outside my bedroom window. Decline will come, but I believe it will be an evolution. Stage one will probably be resource wars, which a case could be made we’ve been in since WWII. But I expect the “haves” (North Americans for one) will beat down and oppress the have nots, rather than go without. I expect this will be the condition for several decades before anybody needs to move to Montana and raise draft horses IMO.

        • tmsr says:

          Randall, I agree North America will be one of the last places to fall. Jan, what I see is that Canada is “well integrated” into the global money system. That is it is a much run by money as the U.S.. So if China or the U.S. or E.U. show up and say we have money dig the tar sands then they will be dug.

          Ed Pell

    • My money would be on almost any of the Sub-Saharan countries whose populations are almost all far more used to the conditions expected to face those of us in the ‘developed’ world to win the ‘Last Man Standing’ prize, if could ever be considered such. The only advantage that those in the developed world have is that most will be able to live off their body fat for several months before they have to fight for survival.

    • The United States does have definite advantages. We have far less population, relative to our land area, than Eurasia. (That is also true of Central/South America). We have some very good soils, and these are in areas with temperate temperatures. While there has been some erosion, it is less than in the parts of the world where agriculture has been practiced intensively for thousands of years. We do have a lot of forested area as well, and the world’s largest military.

      I am not sure how this all works out, but there is a definite possibility that the US could end up with a larger share of its population being able to survive than the rest of the world. How the military works out is another question. A few bombs in the wrong place could be catastrophic. I expect war against close neighbors, and civil war, will become more common than international war, but there could be both.

      • Scott says:

        Hello Gail, I think the Western US will stand the best chance as the East is very populated and has many very large cities. Places like Oregon and Washington States will have more resources and less people, but no oil those states, Montana is close to them and their is coal and oil there and also in California to the south. Much of the old west US was the last frontier and much of it was not even settled until the 1900′s so the land is new and fresh and still some areas that are unspoiled although the logging has pretty much gotten into everywhere and most of the old growth forests are gone.

        We decided on Oregon as a nice place to move to after I retired. There is not quite as much rain here as Washington State. We have been here almost three years now and we love it. Plenty of water here, but it sure does rain for months in the winter. Great gardening here but It is a much shorter growing season than we had in California. Coming here from California we noticed that the summer are a bit longer, because the farther north you go the summer days are longer, but the winter days are shorter. So colder dark winters and brighter summers.

        • I think water will be critical for any place. There is quite a bit of California that is short of very water relative to the population. I expect that may limit how much the West can do.

          Transport to the West is also more difficult than elsewhere. The landlocked areas (Montana, Idaho, Colorado etc) will have to depend on their own resources. With sail boats, I suppose most goods transported to the coast would be north and south, as opposed to all the way to China/Japan.

    • My “no chicken feed” comment was a general response to the fact that a lot of people might regard their new sustainable life dependent on some source of water, chicken feed or fertilizer that will be very hard to get hold of during a serious collapse. Although a part of me believes that if it turns that bad you wont worry too much about your chickens. :)

      I believe Guy McPherson frequently comments the fact that many people regard water as a magical thing coming out of their faucets. The fact is that a lot of things we take for granted in normal day to day life is extremely dependent on all the domino chips still standing, including the delivery of fertilizer to an urban garden. It doesn’t mean its impossible to get though, some are lucky, some not. And I totally agree that any such scenario is best solved within a community of people.

      I believe donsailor commented that there is a lot of good knowledge in past society breakdown experiences, and that is surely something we should all be looking into. But I also agree that we live in a different world now compared to then, and the barriers to pass into a harder life might be bigger.

  17. Vazzellinn says:

    Dear friends,

    I don’t usually post comments but if you think Dmitry Orlov is a highest authority on
    survival during Russian collapse…., I feel compelled to share with you a couple of really genuine ideas.

    (After all, if not me then who ? Russians are very reluctant to talk on that topic,they consider
    too horrible even thinking about it.The consensus is that someone who lived through this already knows, someone who didn’t live through this won’t understand anything in any case.
    No need to mention, of course, that all books written by Western observers about
    USSR collapse are complete nonsense ).

    First and foremost : Dmitry did not live through collapse of Soviet Union. He emigrated with his parents to US in 70s when he was 7 years old. He definitely has good understanding of Russian mentality and they way how things were and are going on in Russia but, again, he didn’t lived through 90s there.

    When he visited Russia first time in 1992 as an American tourist of Russian descent, that looked for locals exactly as if Bill Gates visited Bangladesh now days. (In Russia in 1992 doctor made about $25 per month, huge fresh organic turkey was $1 each, Samsung VCR $300, 2 bedroom appаrtment approx $3-5K and inflation was a moderate 50% per week. (welfare assistance for the family of 3 in Ontario was CAN $1350).
    Government price control was abolished and price for a sour cream jumped from 3.50 RB on Dec 31, 91 to 76 RB on Jan 2, 92. Millions of refuges from outskirts of the empire just began to appear in large cities begging for food).
    And now imagine Dmitry, computer engineer with American Passport, coming to St. Petersburg with a couple of hundreds dollars in his pocket! (to understand it better you may recall visiting Caribbean during good old days of 80-90ss…., did you notice how locals looked at you back then ?)

    The point I am making is: everything Dmitry knows is a hearsay, take it with a grain of salt.

    Here is my take on that topic.

    I share the Dmitry’s opinion on Americans: this nation of smiling overconfident crack snorting
    salespersons/business executives and pot bellied family men totally ignorant of anything not related to making money or baseball is poorly positioned as a whole to withstand systemic collapse. (> 40% of people depending for survival on government which is on the verge of insolvency, what are we talking about ?)

    For example, take Russians: anticipation of disaster is deeply imprinted into the nation conscience. Nothing is cut in stone, everything may suddenly change, everybody must be mentally prepared for disaster. Importantly, the effort-payout relationship
    doesn’t stand, rules of the game are not clearly defined and events are not under someone’s control. During 30s almost a million people were shot, many more died in GULAG, people from highest echelons were killed by hundred thousands and their families starved.
    More than 30Millions people died in WW2. Indeed, everyone who managed to survive that time was truly a special human being. (my grandfathers survived and shared with me their stories)

    In contrast, the worst thing Americans experienced so far was Great Depression of 20-30s.
    Well, that wasn’t a great time by any means, but can you compare it with a hunger in Ukraine in 29-32 when several millions (nobody knows how many) starved to death ? With WW2 when 30 million died ? With Stalin purges of 30s ?

    1.You are talking a lot about growing his/her own food. Yes, this is a sensible idea in moderate climate with good soil and enough ground water (Moscow and everything north of it is not good subsistence farming, let alone St.Petersburg, Canada, Siberia,North Russia, etc)

    During 80- 90s when collective farms collapsed government distributed lots of quality land (black soil plots 0.12 hectare per family withing 30-40km from cities) for almost nothing. People spent all weekends working on their plots, trying to grow fruits, vegetables and ,
    importantly, potato. If properly stored, the potato may last in appаrtment till New Year. Cucumbers and tomatoes were used for making preservatives which (as my wife make them) are very tasty. Fruits were used mostly for making jams (every russian woman has her
    own way of making jams but all of them are delicious).

    The drawback for this is that not everyone is suited for toiling in open field for 10-12 hours under hot sun. To me, the task is excruciating. You may try to bend for an hour to test yourselves, just make sure your back will allow you that. Besides, you need to have a genuine like for agricultural activity, I personally abhor working in the garden but like eating
    tomatoes which my wife grows.

    In any case, please don’t try too hard: Quite a few people not used to physical activity died from hard work on their plots. I personally knew two surgeons who suddenly died digging potatoes (aged 45 and 47). So, please be cautious.

    As for growing chickens or rabbits pigs, turkeys, this may be a good idea (considering you have an access to cheap food supply for them, you won’t imagine how much they eat !). I know some people were trying to grow rabbits on their balconies: the smell was simply unbearable.
    Someone who had an access to food waste (cooks, restaurants owners, etc) raised pigs year after year but you need to know how to do that. The problem is that at times of crisis food waste and grain to feed animals becomes in a very short supply and expensive.

    I don’t have personal experience but raising animals but my friend (doctor anesthesiologist) spent several years in 90s raising turkeys and his final verdict is: it is a very difficult thing to do and not profitable at all. On the other hand, my brother Mechanical Engineer tried to salt fish in his bathtub and sold it as a profit. (his wife (Engineer too) was peddling the fish on the street). Unfortunately for them, the business collapsed when they were asked to pay significant tribute to local mafia boss.

    I also know the University Professor Mathematician who raised sheep with his in-laws but don’t know details. Another doctor-anesthesiologist I knew was very successful as bee keeper working with his father. BTW, honey will be a very valuable commodity during crisis times (and very expensive one !!!). Same goes for Condensed milk,ketchup, backweat kasha, and everything solid, nutritious and which can be stored for a long time without refrigeration.

    2. The most important point I am going to make: if you want to survive collapse, first and foremost, please take care of your health. Do whatever it takes to keep you weight down, your blood pressure in control, exercise, etc. It is imperative to develop good health habits.
    Eat simple, be flexible, don’t be vegetarian, no special dietary restrictions, etc. No need to mention how important it in times of crisis.

    It is not necessarily true that someone with a chronic disease or is old will be the first one to perish. (I sense that this is an implicit assumption many of you are making). My grandmother survived 90s and lived till 2011 on a tiny government pension caring for her disabled son (who also survived) Of course, help, proper care, attention provided by family members is absolutely critical. (Besides, she had an experience of surviving hunger in her childhood in 30s and 4 years of WW2, so an example may not entirely relevant ).

    In any case,basic medications, insulin etc will be available although expensive. Hospitals will still be open, operations will be performed, etc. Be prepared to pay up front and a lot, exp if you wish to be treated well. (it will be possible to pay directly to doctor under the table but don’t expect much discount).
    How will medical service look during time of collapse ? Do you want to know ??
    Well, just imagine for a second that Medicaid/Medicare and private insurances are abolished and you pay for everything from your pocket (as millions of people in many countries do nowdays).

    What is absolutely, absolutely critical (no objections to that) is importance of being mentally healthy. Good mood, positive attitude, moral stamina, stable family relationship (with extended family too) are of paramount importance if you hope to survive.
    Millions of people who lost everything,were displaced, persecuted, without any place to go, hungry, under stress etc got depressed or developed other mental condition, turned to alcohol, drugs. Out of them nobody survived. Suicide rates skyrocketed, you won’t believe
    how terrible was that. (please look for Greek situation for some idea).

    In US there are 25 millions of people who are drug dependent. They will be dying first and at the fast rate but that will be a very violent time. The bad thing, the epidemy of drug addition, home made cheap alcohol, prostitution in its most gruesome form will engulf not only inner cities but will be spreading widely all over the country.

    As for midwifes : birth rate collapsed, most of maternity ward were closed. There was no jobs for midwifes at all. Gynecologist opened private clinic and did mostly abortions.
    Dentist will always be needed but not everyone will be able to afford them. (Be prepared to see
    people without frontal teeth )
    Well, I am already tired, let me know if you find the info interesting, I will write more (if I find time).

    Have a great weekend.
    Take care of yourself, end each others.


    • I hope many of us want to hear more from you. You are a library of information on collapse. Please send anything you write along with permission to re-post on my blogs and websites or instructions to not re-post whichever you wish.

      • Vazzellinn says:

        Thomas , I am glad you found my writing interesting. Definitely, feel free to re-post it on any blog provided you improve on style and correct grammar.

        I am a very busy person and don’t promise to write often. However, time permitting, I may
        post a second installment of critical ideas today. You may email me on, I check this account from time to time.

    • tmsr says:

      Vazzellinn, yes please post more. It is very interesting. In the U.S. everything is Walt Disney-fied we seldom hear hard truths. Great idea about honey.

      Ed Pell

    • I appreciate your comments. One thing I would point out is that the Soviet Union collapse was a temporary, partial collapse. The fact that it still had plenty of oil that could be extracted at a higher price, meant that oil extraction could bounce back, once world oil price rose again. The rest of the world was doing well, and that helped as well. The Soviet Union may be a model for the first years of collapse (or may not), but as things get worse, the situation may definitely be worse than the Soviet example.

      I saw the beautiful black dirt plots around Moscow. They could grow quite a bit–although When I visited in June last year, it definitely was still cold. We saw tulips blooming. Living where the soil is not nearly as good, farming/gardening becomes more iffy.

      Growing animals requires a lot more food inputs than growing crops. In warm areas of the world, people tend to eat the crops directly. In cold areas of the world, if there is enough wild greens to eat, people tend to raise a lot more animals. The animals can be kept alive until they are eaten, so are convenient in that way. So there is no universal answer.

      • Vazzellinn says:

        Gail, I admire your analysis of the current trends but
        when you are talking about survival (which isn’t your strong thing)
        I see lot of misunderstanding in every point you are making.
        To clarify them would require lots of time which I, sadly, don’t have.

        The problem is that completely logical assumptions turn out to be totally incorrect
        in situations which defy logic.

        For example, you are talking about importance of living in community, acquiring
        friends, mutual help, etc.

        The topic is dangerously misunderstood.

        The assumption all of you are making is that violence from inner cities will spread
        and engulf your quiet cozy neighbors.Therefore, you survival is dependent
        on amount of food you store, caliber of your guns, food you may grow etc etc.

        That assumption totally wrong ! The most critical danger you are facing is from your own neighbors,
        the same man and women who smile to you when you meet them. You will never believe
        what people in distress are capable of doing. You would never think how people mentality will change
        just in a week ! If they don’t kill you or destroy your property (just out of jealousy or pure sadism)
        they may embroil you in an endless litigation which will totally ruin your health.

        In asiatic and kaukazian republic of the former SU Russians lived peacefully with locals for generations and
        where brutally evicted or killed by the same neighbors overnight. Jews lived for generations in Baltic republics,
        Ukraine, Poland and saw themselves robbed and killed in the most horrible fashion by the same neighbors they played just yesterday.

        The relationships between people around you will drastically change as time will become hard. It absolutely critical to
        realize that currently the law and threat of persecution (and not some abstract moral standards) are true restraints on people behavior.
        When government won’t be able (or willing ) to enforce that threat you may see lots of interesting things. For example, some of your
        good neighbors may suddenly recall that your background is way too big for your family or his ancestors were
        buried on your plot….. (the list may go on indefinitely)

        It is absolutely critical to have good relationship with your neighbors in order not to provoke them.
        Any hope of cooperation and mutual help should be dispensed with, I cannot be more clear on that.
        In time of distress, people around you won’t be willing to cooperate in any case.

        I reiterate: your goal is to preserve your mental and physical health (not your properly though) at any cost.
        For ex. my friend was heavily traumatized when he saw his dog brutally shot by his neighbors (the dog was presumably
        barking) No need to mention that the boy’s parents didn’t press any charges against the shooter.

        I remember being approached by my neighbors and warned that my dog’s barking interfered with his sleep and if I don’t
        do anything about it, he will shoot the dog. It was very imprudent for me to refer to law and order…..
        Well, the guy said, in this case next time I hear your dog barking I will shoot you. Only then I realize that
        it wasn’t an empty thread. I profusely excused myself and took all appropriate actions.

        As for making friends, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of it.

        The “you make me haircut and I will mow your lawn” approach to friendship is an absurd.
        The idea of friendship itself and what it is all about completely lost its meaning, at least in US.
        Even before Facebook was introduced the meaning of the ford “Friend” was completely distorted
        and devalued.

        Yes, it is critically important to have someone to rely on and cooperate with during hard times.
        However, if you want to make friends now in order to cooperate during hard times, it is already way too late.
        True friendship is something which takes decades to build. Don’t mistake acquaintance and fellows for friends.
        If you currently don’t have someone whom you may call your true friend, prepare to act alone.

        It is much better to rely solely on yourself than have someone you relied upon to betray you in a time of trouble.

        Having someone to rely on and cooperate with is critically important. I mean having someone who will shelter you in his/her
        basement when you are forcefully displaced and have nowhere to go, who may give you some work to do to earn a few dollars,
        who may defend you when you are brutally attacked by others,someone who will say couple of words for you to your local gang leader,
        someone who may lend you money to save your from hardship or share his food with you, someone who knows the doctor who will take money
        directly in his pocket for the operation you need and save you money on that.

        If you already have someone who may be helpful to you at that extent, please accept my congratulations .
        If you don’t, completely dispense with the whole idea.

        For ex, my father has friends whom he knows since 60s, the value of this friendship for him is hard to overestimate.

        The topics of community living (mennonite-like versus Texas style approach) , survival of old people during crisis, medical service,
        recreation, proper mindset, health, family relationship, using horses for driving, law and order, Government actions and how they affects people, true valuables, property,
        displaced people, and many others are absolutely critical and require long and separate discussions each.

        I may put some ideas on every topic in a future if I have time.
        I apologize for improper grammar, cannot spend time on it.


        • Thanks for your thoughts.

          Family and clan are probably more important than friendships, per se. In the US, we often are on the edge of losing these. But in a tougher world, even family and clan will have a harder time taking care of all of the dependent (disabled, elderly, etc) people we have today. Turning on other ethnic groups seems to happen everywhere–one of the things you mention.

  18. dolph says:

    I agree with the comments above about trying to maintain good health. In the end time will catch up to all of us, but while we are alive we should take care of our bodies.

    I’m an internist and, let me tell you, healthcare in the United States is in an advanced state of collapse. The basic reason is that it’s all financed by debt and nobody understands the concept of limits. Because nobody understands the concept of limits, it’s distorted the perception of what’s possible and what isn’t, even within medical science.

    Many of my patients are in their 60s and 70s and have abused their minds and bodies through the years, and they are now on multiple medications and undergo endless procedures which are supposed to “reduce mortality” or “improve function” by 5 or 7 percent or something like that. We place people on 20 medications and then institute bureaucracies and checklists to make sure it’s safe to do so! There’s very little meaningful communication between specialists, just enough to move the patients around to the next intervention. Nobody has time. We bankrupt patients until they go on disability and medicare, and by then it doesn’t matter. We keep on doing more without asking what we are trying to accomplish. If we are trying to make the people with the most disease ridden bodies live to 200 years old and feel like they are 20 years old when they arrive there, we will fail and fail miserably.

    It’s all going to implode in a few short years,

    • Scott says:

      Dolph, Good to hear you on here, I believe that most of us here on this site all agree with you. Thanks for your candid remarks about the corrupt healthcare system out there.

    • xabier says:


      That’s a refreshing contribution from someone in the medical profession!

      It’s very clear from an historical perspective that the greatest improvements in general health have come from the provision of clean drinking water, sanitation, and improved understanding of personal hygiene, not from medication.

      You very rightly point out that now it is mostly a matter of huge expenditure which is disproportionate to the real gain, above all at the end of life (which is what is going to bankrupt the welfare systems of Europe.)

      • xabier says:


        Thank you for your very valuable post. You confirm much of what I have been thinking about Orlov myself, reading between the lines of what he writes.

        (As a footnote about dental health, it was quite common before WW2 in Britain for people to have all their teeth taken out by the age of 40 and replaced by good dentures. If people fear being too poor to afford dental care in the future, it’s one preventative option to consider.)

    • Vazzellinn says:

      That is really sad to read such depressing remarks from respectable doctor….
      If his opinion is shared by other members of medical community, the situation may be definitely very serious.

      I personally think that one day government will renege on its obligations and
      drastically reduce health coverage.The decision will be wrapped in appropriate phrasing
      of course, with examples from other countries, etc. The actual meaning will be
      as much obscured as possible. The will be an endless talk about making things more
      efficient, bringing services close to the population, prophylactic (which is supposedly cheaper and more efficient) , doctors professional duty for society etc.

      When the situation finally downs to the population affected (it won’t take long)
      that will cause a huge uproar. To calm down the population, some universal coverage may be introduced with very basic services covered for all. Private companies won’t be able to increase premium indefinitely, therefore, they will also reduce coverage by wide margin.

      Doctors will be having a REALLY HARD time getting money transfers for their services. Top notch specialists, university professors,will be charging patients directly (similar to what plastic surgeons do now) and won’t bother with insurance companies. This way is currently employed in Israel.

      Doctors will always be in demand , but demand, as you may know is what people can afford to pay and not what they need (even when desperately need).

      If majority of your patients “are in their 60s and 70s and have abused their minds and bodies through the years” your next Mercedes may be much less affordable for you.

      Life expectation for men in SU was 72 years, it dropped to 56 by mid 90s. (it recovered to 63 recently). Cardiac mortality for cohort 30-75 years old in Russia is currently 9 times higher than in US for both sexes (JAMA report 2013).
      You may expect the ratio to be drastically changed in a future .

      As a money saving measure, I expect government to authorize Registered Nurses to prescribe non A schedule medications, at least for chronically sick patients.
      Moreover, it may even happen that the medications will be available over the counter without prescription at all ! Pharmacist will be expected to recommend medications and explain side effects. This is a current situation in Russia (no joking).

      That move will drastically reduce the need for family physicians and gerontologists.
      So perhaps your next car won’t even be a Mercedes after all….

      • Vazzellinn, You have a lot to say and a strong original voice to say it with. I truly believe that correcting the usage and grammar would detract from the interesting character of the messages, which I hope continue.

        • Vazzellinn says:

          Thank you Tom.
          It occurred to me that my apocalyptic scenarios may be way too depressing (and improbable) for the target audience of affluent gentlemen and ladies reflecting after a nutritious dinner on issues facing our planet . I’d rather stop at this point.
          The general idea what life in collapsed society looks like is given to you.
          Verbum sapienti satis est.

          • xabier says:

            Our friend Vazzellin has given us the pointers we need: I’d suggest reading up on contemporary Argentina and the Balkan wars to gain further perspectives on how economic shocks and societal collapse can act on modern societies. There’s some interesting personal stuff out there on the net. It does not make for happy reading, but it’s useful……

      • John Michael Greer gave a talk about how lodges and guilds functioned in the past, before health insurance. One of the things that some did was collect dues from their members, and use those dues to hire a physician to provide services for their members. This approach to funding for doctors kept costs down, and was one reason doctors very much opposed lodges–wanted fee for service, with insurance companies paying, so they could get more money, be more in control. Also, if the members did not like the services a particular doctor was providing, they would fire him.

        • xabier says:


          Doctors had a very low social status for much of history, and did not expect to get rich. It has all become profoundly corrupted.

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Health care is the worst combination of medical practice and financials that could possibly be conceived. And it’s getting worse. Routine procedures cost 4, 5 or more times as much here (eg, colonoscopy) as Europe. The hospitals set the prices to make maximum bucks. Since the financial demand has been transferred to the insurance company — for the first procedure — it costs the patient relatively little, or so he thinks. Once hooked, his premiums skyrocket and he can afford more such treatment only by declaring bankruptcy and becoming a ward of the state. This route is followed routinely now by middle income, respectable elderly (former professors, etc), who wish to leave a little bit to their children..

      • Ed Pell says:

        Wow, a free market for medications exists in Russia but not in the U.S.

    • I keep thinking about writing about the health care system, but the connection between it and the other things I have been writing about is not terribly close (at least in some ways).

      My father was a doctor. I grew up hearing about doctors who made their livings doing hysterectomies for Catholic women who needed birth control, but the church wouldn’t allow. Also taking out normal appendices. Never reading a medical journal.

      Later I became an actuary, and got involved in Medical Malpractice, among other things. The more medicine, the more malpractice.

      And also the amount of medical care has very little to do with life expectancy. Our Standard American Diet is terrible. In terms of life expectancy, the United States ranks 17th out of 17 wealthy countries. In fact, the relative ranking has been going down, year after year.

      The amount we spend on health care in the United States is absurd, as well. Way higher than other countries.

      If we fixed our diets and exercise, quite a large percentage of our problems would disappear. More equal income distribution would help as well.

      • “The amount we spend on health care in the United States is absurd”

        I believe it’s 16% of GDP, compared to 7% or less in Canada, Japan, Germany, and most of the rest of the industrial world.

        That’s a big part of why I left the US. You guys are getting ripped off.

    • beckyz says:

      Darn! I’m a med tech (run those zillion expensive tests) I see it all falling apart sometime soon. It’s too wasteful and expensive. I was hoping for *dis*confirmation.

      • Beckyz, perhaps you can look into naturopathy, or take a course in medicinal herbs. That might be a way of leveraging your current skills and predisposition with the needs of an uncertain future.

        • beckyz says:

          Maybe. My chemistry skills are pretty rusty. Mostly I tend fancy machinery that does the actual work. The inexactitude of the old way will be a pain for me. That’s why I haven’t even made a tincture from the Valerian growing profusely in my yard.

  19. Perk Earl says:

    Speaking of learning new jobs, during the big recession my business was falling behind on bills, so at the age of 54 I took on learning how to make molds for figurative sculpture. Not simple 2 part box molds, 3D figurative molds for arms, legs, etc. in which part lines must be figured out, and then make a rigid mother mold over the rubber mold with different part lines. This was to take advantage of the opportunity to make molds for my wife as a commissioned Sculptor instead of subbing the work out. Let me tell you, mold making is very difficult to learn and execute because it requires a combination of mental and motor skills and there are not many people that will even give you a hint as to how to do it. Applying rubber is a timed event and how well your technique is determines the quality of the detail achieved. It requires full attention and the ability to physically work hard. In any case, I never expected at that age to have to push myself so hard to learn a new trade, but it paid off because we can keep more money from each project and keep paying the bills. I really hope my remaining years will not require learning another trade/profession, however my story is a reflection of a society in flux, unlike years ago marked by consistency in which most people learned just one trade or profession.

    Bernanke recently said most people entering the work force today will have to reinvent themselves many times to learn new jobs and Obama told a class of college graduates, “No excuses.” This is a reflection of survival pressures increasing as adaptation (to learn new jobs) demands greater flexibility from each one of us to out compete the one’s that will become disenfranchised.

    As we drop down the net energy ladder, it will in a sense be like a game of musical chairs in which some continue to do well while many others become disenfranchised from their jobs and assets. Unfortunately, those that still have chairs will probably be too busy (as the bottle-neck approaches) to get over wrought by those no longer having chairs, i.e. still in the game. For those that want to keep your chairs, remain as flexible as you can to the needs around you to fill those needs.

    • xabier says:

      Perk Earl

      Satisfying to make things, isn’t it?! A day spent making something well is quite as important as getting the money that’s needed. ( I find in my own craft that I’m treated with great respect by my customers – how many jobs are like that? It makes up for the bad times.)

      You are very right in saying that as this process unfolds the unlucky people will just drop by the wayside: they’ll just drop out of sight, family by family, region by region, industry by industry, as this Great Depression continues. That’s how economic failure and poverty always is. You fail, you become invisible. The rich won’t notice you, the struggling masses haven’t the time or energy.

      I think the line that politicians are pushing of ‘continual lifetime re-education’ is pretty fraudulent: it’s not the answer, particularly when each career change can cost so much in time and money.

      Well, maybe they could give a lead and step aside for some more competent people!

      It would be more to the point if they were to stand up and say: ‘Look, this is all unravelling, so don’t put all your trust in a failing economic model, learn to take care of yourselves rather than buying services, and relying on the State, and grow some food as an insurance policy.’

      And they could help us to help ourselves by reducing taxes: this is, of course, a fantasy…….we have to effect our own personal transitions while they attempt to keep this failing structure intact (by building more over-priced real estate with no gardens.)

      • I agree that it is VERY satisfying to make things. In my hobby, one learns to make everything – but not necessarily without consuming fossil fuel directly and indirectly. I don’t know of many activities that have absolutely no fossil-fuel energy load. In any case, I uploaded a few photos of a petroleum crude unit I am working on that will not contribute very much to climate change or resource exhaustion. In addition, it illustrates efficient material recycle. I don’t know if Energy Round Table photos are available to everyone, but these will be:

    • Pretty much all of the things I have learned about energy have been since 2005–a pretty recent timeframe. Of course, I learned about finding and analyzing data, and writing reports that lay people could understand long ago.

  20. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    As we try to visualize what ‘collapse’ looks like, there seems to be a tendency to assume a reversion to the most primitive possible technology. I would like to suggest an alternative. Bear with me for a paragraph or two.

    Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, in Surfaces and Essences, are looking carefully at words and how they relate to concepts. They look at the way that children change the way they use language as their grasp of concepts expands with age and experience. As our world changes, we adults add new words (e.g., television) and drop old words (such as the words which described the six different medieval specialties which we now subsume under the name ‘tanner’ (of hides). On page 88 they examine certain common compound words such as ‘living room’ and ‘dishwasher’ and point out that a native speaker will not disassemble those compound words into their components, but will use them and perceive them as a single word denoting a single category.

    I am 72. On Memorial Day, we had lunch with two other couples and our combined married years totaled over 300 (6 people times 50 plus years). So we got to reminiscing about couples we had known who had spectacular breakups. I recounted my story about the two disastrous times I ‘aided and abetted’ a runaway wife (about as bad as a runaway slave, in North Carolina). The first time my wife and I were living in our first apartment. One of the apartments was occupied by a young woman and her husband. The young woman was almost always standing at the front window washing dishes in her sink. We called her ‘the little dishwasher’. One day I saw her walking with a suitcase, and stopped my car and picked her up. She said she wanted to go to the bus station, so I took her there. To make a long story short, she was going back to Mother.

    Now focus on that word ‘dish washer’. I am 73. To me, an automatic dishwasher is a ‘dish washing machine’. Even in our apartment in the late 1960s, there were no dishwashing machines. People washed dishes by hand. To have called the young woman a ‘little dishwashing machine’ would have been ludicrous. But, apparently, as I read Hofstadter and Sander, most English speakers now use the word ‘dishwasher’ to denote a machine. I am old enough and lived long enough without a machine and I wash the dishes 4 or 5 times a day while I run the machine only about every other day…that my language has trouble coping with the labeling of a machine as doing human work.

    If you worked for the farmer I work for, you would quickly find that there are several dozen tools designed to make dealing with soil and plants easier. There are all different kinds of hoes and seeders and screens for sorting seeds and implements for threshing seeds and Japanese and American scythes and the list is endless. If you looked at our concept of ‘horse’ and tried to have an intelligent conversation with someone from the 18th century, you would have a hard time. There were hundreds of breeds of horses, each best at doing some particular job. Likewise, there were hundreds of breeds of sheep and cattle. Conservancies exist today to try to keep the old breeds alive. Each breed was particularly suited to a climate, an ecosystem, and a purpose.

    One effect of Modernity has been to enormously compress the variety available. It is hard to find any ‘meat chickens’ in the United States which are not Cornish Crosses. Cornish Crosses have been bred to be exceptionally stupid, but to make enormous breasts real fast. And so people who have visions of ‘free range’ meat birds have to figure out how to deal with a chicken which is too stupid to live in a pasture. Similarly, cows have come to be ‘Angus’, which means ‘black cow’. They are exceptionally well suited for the industrial meat system which is just about the same around the globe, but they are woefully mal-adapted to making their own way with minimal human help in the real world. A friend of mine tried raising Bourbon Red turkeys. They taste delicious. But after a couple of years he gave up on them because ‘they are too smart and too mean for me’. Compare that with a Cornish Cross. In a collapse, which would you rather have at your homestead?

    If we look at old languages, we see very fine distinctions made, just as breeds of livestock were differentiated into innumberable niches. About 10 years ago I decided to study French again (I studied it one year in college, got a D, which got me out of college, having met my language requirement). I always liked the Maigret mysteries. Georges Simenon, the author, would take the Inspector from Paris into some sub-world in Paris or out in the provinces to solve some crime. The stories were ‘psychology rich’, so human behavior and human emotion and human thought were the key elements in the plot. I very quickly found that the sort of French-English dictionary you might buy at an airport was no help at all. As the Inspector moved into the sub-world, a very rich language was used. But the words were so obscure that I had to go to the library and use the unabridged dictionary way to often. Many of those stories were written in the 1930s.

    The common theme here is energy conservation. Just as there are hundreds of types of birds which use slightly different designs to maximize their ability to harvest and use energy in some particular environment, humans have used occupational specialization, language specialization related to conceptual specialization, tool design, domesticated animal design, crop design, housing design, and so on and so forth to make it possible to get along in a world which had little to no fossil fuels. Abundant fossil fuels allowed us to ‘simplify’ everything and just solve problems by overpowering them.

    I pose the conjecture that ‘collapse’ means ‘enormous differentiation in what humans do, think, speak, and how they construct their world’. We will largely reinvent the world of our ancestors.

    Don Stewart

    • Lovely missive, Don, but I’m not sure I agree with your conjecture.

      HT Odum (et. al.) teach us that complexity is a function of energy. We may think of having six different sub-specialties of “tanning” or hundreds of breeds of horses as being a complexity, but compared to what goes into a modern leather factory, or a modern tractor, the complexity of bygone days is pretty minor.

      I’ve read that the human brain is shrinking. This may be due to specialization, driven by replacing intrinsic knowledge with extrinsic knowledge. The hundreds of breeds of horses were maintained by the living memories of living humans, whereas the tens of thousands of parts and bits of information needed to create and maintain a tractor is stored my microscopic bits of magnetic material, requiring a global supply chain, including the global financial system, the industrial education system, and much more.

      People will need to be generalists first in the future. This is reflected in basic ecology, where the most specialized species are found in high-energy environments, such as the tropics. Species in low-energy environments can’t afford to put all their eggs in one basket, and tend to be generalists.

      Perhaps we’re in “heated agreement” here. I just didn’t want the impression that things were somehow more complex in the past go unchallenged.

      • Don Stewart says:

        From the perspective of ‘requirements on human skill and cognition’ and ‘adaption to specific circumstances’, I think things were more complex. What I do at a small farm is a lot more complex than what a farmer with thousands of acres of corn does. The small farm does not require a hugely complex industrial society for what it produces, whereas the corn farmers with thousands of acres is utterly dependent on that hugely complex industrial society. If we are trying to answer the question ‘what does collapse look and feel like’, then I think it is worthwhile recognizing what it is humans are likely to be doing and how they will perceive the world (which is one of the fundamentals in Hostadter and Sanders’ book).

        By the way. If you want to make a pretty good first crude estimate of the population of the world after the Reverse Singularity, then get your spouse to engage in a parlor game. Start observing people and putting them into two categories: Bourbon Reds and Cornish Crosses. If 1 percent are Bourbon Reds and 99 percent are Cornish Crosses, then multiply 7 billion by 1 percent and you get (I think) 70 million people. Good for cocktail party chatter. If you are an academic, publish a paper.

        Don Stewart

    • Ert says:


      Good thoughts. Reminds me on the conclusion of the peak-oil study of the German military from 2010: We moved from redundant, robust and low-complexity systems to maximum lean, efficient and complex systems, as robustness and especially redundancy minimizes profit in a market driven economy. If something breaks or stutters… we will have immediate problems.

      Going back to the “old ways” is near to impossible for most people. Even if the old races, seeds, etc. would still exist, it would take a long time to re-adjust, re-learn and re-tool. I have a small garden – but living from it? Whoa… – that’s a different story and would require much, much more time to learn, scale up and take care of everything – especially preservation techniques.

      But with my parents generation the rest of that old knowledge passes away… and even they (>70 years) did not practice many of if – or reduced the scale – in the last 10 years since the stuff in the market is/was so butt-cheap.

      Another aspect is the available land. If you are jobless, live in the city, have no money – you may have no access to land and some basic tools. In Germany most one-family houses have between 600-900 square meters (6000-9000 square foot) total ground – there is not much left for gardening or some fruit trees if you deduct the space for the house, garage, paths, etc.

      This all will be an “interesting” journey…..

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear ERT
        See my answer to Jan regarding how to estimate the number of people who will make it through the Reverse Singularity. (On the Internet, you have to explain everything. The Singularity is Ray Kurzweil’s dream that someday our machines will know everything there is to know and we will all live on Easy Street. My ‘population estimation’ method is with tongue firmly in cheek. And I hope those things translate into German. After reading Hofstadter and Sander on the vagaries of translation, I shouldn’t take anything for granted.)

        Don Stewart

        • Ert says:


          Thanks for the quick answer. For “tongue firmly in cheek” I had to use a dictionary ;-) How many will live – depends on how fast collapse proceeds. I think diseases will take care of much, the Cornish breed people for much, too – desperation will sort out many other. Even I don’t know where I stand. Weather wise we have here enough rain but it’s quite cold – and this year is very cold and extreme wet.

          But here in the centre of Europe there are so many atomic power plants around – that what really worries me – if a collapse scenario may start big time (i.e. the issues regarding food may become essential).

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Ert
        Here is another example to contemplate. You might think that in a Post Reverse Singularity world cattle which can survive only on grass would be a really good idea. And it doesn’t seem to absurd–their wild relatives do fine on grass. But we humans have bred them down to Black Angus which need corn and the like and do well in feedlots.

        So a local guy plus five other cattle people from around the US hired a consultant to find the breed best suited for 100 percent grass. He came back with the recommendation for Red Devon cattle. They originated in Devonshire in England, but are extinct in England. They were once common in the US, but had gone extinct under pressure from the Industrial Model. They located some in New Zealand. With money from a foundation, they got some fertilized eggs in New Zealand, flew them to the US, and implanted them in, you guessed it, Black Angus. So they are slowly building up a herd across the US which is not dependent on the Industrial System.

        Don Stewart

        • Ert says:

          Yes, I know. If you put a highly “evolved” milk-cow on a grass-only diet, the cow will die.

          Who knows – we may be grow milk, meat, plant extracts (e.g. tomato-mash) in specialized facilities and tanks – thanks to DNA and nano-engineering before collapse happens. That way we could rid ourself totally of anything that may resemble the “natural” way – and the clean-up in the collapse phase would be must faster ;-)

          Corn is already an abomination in regard to feed cows with it. And it is even worse as most corn in now GMO corn – probably with lots of residues of glyphosat (i.e. Roundup). That is a core reason I skip on all soy and corn products and avoid processed foods to a high degree.

          • “If you put a highly “evolved” milk-cow on a grass-only diet, the cow will die.”

            As someone in the dairy industry, I must take exception. It is the opposite that is true; dairy animals not on a grass diet develop all sorts of health problems, “fixed” by routinely lacing their food with antibiotics, which are creating resistant strains.

          • Don Stewart says:

            We have had some local dairy people convert to an ‘organic, grass only’ regime. In the first year, they had practically no veterinary bills. That should tell you something.

            Don Stewart

          • What are these “veterinary bills” of which you write?

            The only money we’ve spent on the vet in five years is for disbudding. I’d do it myself, but it breaks my heart…

          • Don Stewart says:

            I think the dairy guys spent no money at all on Vets in the first 12 months. The meat guy who started with the Red Devons seldom if ever sees a Vet on his property. He uses rotational grazing and his pastures are so beautiful it takes your breath away. Native grasses that had not been seen in 50 years have come back. The stream that runs through the pastureland has clear water in it. It’s truly Eden.

          • We strive for rotational grazing, but goats are a bit harder to control than cattle. Alan Savory thinks rotational grazing can reverse climate change.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Alan Savory gave a talk at the farm I am talking about several years ago. When the farmer switched from regular grazing to rotational, it went from ‘nice’ to ‘sensational’.

            Don Stewart

          • Scott says:

            Hello Don, So the cows can actually still eat grass and nothing else?

          • Ert says:


            Thanks for the information.

          • Scott says:

            That was interesting what Jan said about cows no longer able to survive on grass. So I guess if the cows of today cannot survive on grass anymore they have changed from the old days and Gail said the horses were smaller then too. Farmers will still need to grow corn to feed the animals, sounds like corn will needed. The animals have changed due to breeding and feeding and drugs over time it seems. I guess humans have changed too and maybe not in a good way.
            Corn could be tough to grown without all the machines and water pumping.

          • “That was interesting what Jan said about cows no longer able to survive on grass.”

            Woa, Scott — I never said that, although it may have been in what I quoted.

            Cows are made for grass! I don’t know of any modern breed that could not survive on nothing but grass. They are only fed grain to either make them fat (corn, other carbs) or to increase production (oats, peas, other protein).

          • Scott says:

            Hi Jan, Sorry, I got your meaning that they will not do as well and get fat and meaty on just grass. Nothing like corn fed beef I guess. So they will live but maybe not as fat. That is what I think you meant.
            Kind Regards,

        • beckyz says:

          We raise a few Highland cattle originally from Scotland almost entirely on grass. We didn’t have to import them from any farther than 30 miles away. Why did they rate the Red Devon higher?

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear beckyz
            I was not involved in the group which selected the consultant who picked the Red Devon. There were six cattle people from around the US who were in the group. The criteria was ‘the breed which is best able to thrive and produce marketable Grade A meat solely on grass’. Grade A requires a certain amount of marbling.

            As Jan said, surviving on grass is what cattle do. But many of them don’t fatten on grass–just as a deer won’t fatten on grass. The typical fat content of a wild animal is similar to the fat content of a marathon runner. Fat prey animals don’t last long.

            Don Stewart

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Some years, or decades, ago, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on ‘Car Talk’ asked their puzzler: if the world were to collapse, what kind of vehicle would best serve your survival needs? After lots of wrong answers, they provided the solution: a 1969 Chevy Suburban that’s been well maintained in Arizona or New Mexico — low humidity, less rust. After 1969 carburetors were replaced by fuel injectors and smog control system, so later model vehicles needed professional maintenance and specialized parts.

        • I suppose a Chevy Suburban Subdivision (as Dave Berry calls it) would make a good shelter, but really — where are you going to get the fuel?

          I can grow the fuel for my fleet of diesel vehicles.

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, Yes I think last time we experienced a collapse in America was the Great Depression of the 30′s and most still worked on farms and were much better prepared than our dependent generation that we have today. I imagine today that far less than half the people of the world have never grown their own food and far less that have worked on a farm.

      We now have all the machines doing most of it although there are a group of people but they are mostly running the machines and not on foot, but some crops are still harvested by hand and it is hard work.

      Those were simpler days in the 1930′s for sure and people had very little conveniences. But since then the world has changes so much and people are used to having so many things today, so my point is I think that will make things worse in the next collapse when ever it comes, people seem less prepared this time and have lost the knowledge of the way to make a simple life with less.

      • xabier says:


        More than that, they will look for someone to blame in their anger that ‘the good life’ has been switched off.

        I see some very nasty politics coming up if the financial system takes another lurch downwards.

        Equally, though, the urban young today are a lot softer on the whole than in the 1930′s, and so perhaps less of a threat because of that. No masses of hardened and bitter factory workers to revolt any more, and so on.

        In Spain they are saying that a very hot summer this year will see blood on the streets, but I’m not so sure: there’s more posturing today: that’s what Facebook is all about after all. It’s cool to protest, but I don’t see an ideology which would inspire real rebellion: in the 1930′s in Europe, Anarchism and Communism were very strong indeed.

    • We probably will have more differentiation, of the types you mention. But I expect we will also have to be more generalists in some sense. Instead of working in a particular “niche” world, working on some sub-specialty (say “refrigeration”) we will need to learn more about more practical subjects. We will in many ways need to be more broadly educated, so we can handle more tasks ourselves. We won’t be able to rely on our current system to hand us everything we need.

  21. Off the keyboard of RE
    Published on the Doomstead Diner on June 1, 2013

    Discuss this article at the Podcast Table inside the Diner
    The Diner is happy to announce we are adding regular Podcasts for Diners on the go to listen to if you can’t sit at the Laptop for hours on end reading.

    We are beginning with recordings of lectures made at the Age of Limits 2013 Conference, and currently have up lectures from Albert Bates and Orren Whiddon.

    Beginning next week we will have our own Monsta Doom show, hosted by Monsta666 based in the U.K and one of the Diner Mods. First couple of Podcasts will feature Interviews with Yours Truly and with Surly, Admin of ourFacepalm Page and one of the Founding Diners who came from the Reverse Engineering Yahoo Group. Further Podcasts are planned with William Hunter Duncan of Off the Grid in Minneapolis, another Diner Admin, and Lucid Dreams of Epiphany Now, one of the Diner Mods.

    In addition to chatting with each other, we are hoping to schedule up Interviews with some of our Cross Posting Bloggers like Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World and Steve Ludlum of Economic Undertow. Look for Announcements inside the Diner of Upcoming Podcasts.

    Some of the Podcasts will be available to Guests, some will require Registration on the Diner to listen to.


  22. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    I just finished listening to the talk by Albert Bates at Four Quarters as presented by the Doomstead Diner. A few thoughts.

    Albert says that the future one is trying to prepare for needs some definition if one’s preparations are going to pay dividends. Are we going back to the 18th Century, or back to Hunting and Gathering, or maybe just back to the Depression? I have said the same thing on many occasions. But I have been thinking some more about the question, and will share a few thoughts with you.

    What counts in life is relationships. What is the relationship between a Park Avenue Billionaire and the doorman? How is that relationship mediated? Will the mediating mechanism survive collapse (however we define it)? What is the relationship between an Industrial Farmer and his land? How is that relationship mediated? Will the mediating mechanisms survive collapse (however we define it)? What is the relationship between a Small Farmer and a part time employee who works the farm? How is that relationship mediated? Will the mediating mechanisms survive collapse?

    Another scenario. Assume two neighbors. Neighbor One has a fine example of suburban grass, with the ornamentals in the lawn having been chosen for their ‘low maintenance’. Neighbor One couldn’t grow dandelions if he worked hard at it. Neighbor Two has turned his yard into a productive garden that Geoff Lawton would be proud to visit. He saves seeds and has the hand tools he needs to do his work, with a finely developed irrigation system using all the water which falls on or runs onto his property. There is no real relationship between the two neighbors. They nod politely, but neither picks up the others’ paper in the front yard and tosses it on the porch. Then the collapse (however defined) happens. What is the emerging relationship between Neighbor One and Neighbor Two (excluding things like thuggery)? What will mediate that relationship?

    On Park Avenue it is all about money. If the money dies, so will the relationship. No one will do the Billionaire’s bidding and he will have to provide entirely for himself. On an Industrial Farm, it is all about being a cog in a Very Big Machine. The Farmer may be thought of as a Capital Manager as much as a Grower of Food. The Farmer, in fact, may have a very tenuous grasp of how Nature works to produce food. Plowing, fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are applied on a schedule suggested by the vendors. Harvesting happens when sampling says it is time to do it and doesn’t involve much in the way of manual skill since heavy machinery is used. The Industrial Farmer has no personal use for his crops, instead relying on the money he gets from The System for selling them. If collapse entails the falling apart of the Very Big Machine, then the Industrial Farmer will be only marginally better off than the Park Avenue Billionaire.

    What about the Small Farmer? The Small Farmer will typically do things like save seeds and will have hand implements to manage the soil and food plants and the weeds. The Small Farmer may have animals worked in as part of the production equation. The small farmer knows how to manage animal breeding and harvesting to achieve a steady state population of animals. A Small Farmer, to be successful in 2013, needs to buy certain inputs rather than do everything for himself, but he probably CAN do everything for himself. But the Small Farmer is currently dependent on at least semi-skilled labor…he can direct the employee to weed a crop and confidently expect the weeding to be done competently. He will need at least all the help he uses now after the collapse. Collapse has a considerably smaller impact on the Small Farmer than it does on the Billionaire or on the Industrial Farmer, and probably modestly enhances the status of the hired worker (maybe he/she can get dates now in the crossroads bar).

    What about the two neighbors? Neighbor One may very suddenly find himself begging for help from Neighbor Two. Neighbor Two has the knowledge and the tools to do something very valuable: to grow food and irrigate it efficiently. Neighbor Two may suddenly become the Alpha Male in the neighborhood, rather than the guy down the block with the biggest SUV and the biggest debts due to his fabulous beach house.

    One could play out other scenarios involving craftspeople. For example, a cabinetmaker who can make and repair things with hand tools already in his possession is likely to prosper whereas the guys who are totally dependent on power tools will fade. Anyone with a good operating still may become an Alpha Male. Women who have mastered the art of solar cooking may become honorary Alpha Males. (Just irony. No disrespect intended.) I was watching a Harold Lloyd movie from 1919. He is sitting in his little room sewing rips in his clothing with needle and thread. Having some needles and having some thread and knowing how to mend may be a valuable skill for both men and women.

    What about all the way back to Hunting and Gathering? I think we should consider all those ‘primitive skills’ workshops which are cropping up and think seriously about mastering some portion of them–as insurance if nothing else. Very few people may make it through the Bottleneck and, if you do, you want to be able to make your living from what is there.

    What about the Thuggery that I excluded? If your neighbor shoots you first to get your food, and then starves to death himself two weeks later because he ate it all, then there is nothing I can suggest. The best we can hope to do is align ourselves so that neighbors behaving rationally will find it worthwhile to treat us with respect.

    Don Stewart

    • it’s easy to forget that society at any level is ultimately dependent on the excess energy production of that society.
      Thus aboriginal people don’t produce any ‘stuff’ other than that necessary for immediate survival, (and which is easily portable) because they only have muscle power available. On the other hand we ‘civilised’ tribes produce masses of ‘stuff’ to keep ourselves safe warm and well fed, by using energy sources other than muscle power, but we are still bound by the same law: we can only exist by the production of excess energy by someone else, no matter how far back down the production line that is. In the ultimate sense, the aboriginal tribesman has to literally ‘work’ to stay alive, we in our modern context, do not. Hydrocarbons do that for us.
      the ultimate conclusion then must be that as our access to that energy goes into depletion, then so will the excess of it. As the excess available to us falls away, humanity will have to resort to muscle power alone, (just like aboriginal tribes) to stay alive. Those of us who sit around waiting for food to be delivered are going to starve to death, while those able to go and get hold of it, will thrive. That brings us to the point of the ‘alpha’ male. We may not like the idea very much, but a woman will always breed with the male she thinks is likely to be able to support her offspring. A few centuries of relative prosperity may have clouded that fact, but it is nevertheless accurate

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear End of More
        If you are arguing that humans must, of necessity, revert to a very primitive existence, then I think you are wrong. We MAY so utterly destoy the world that we will be lucky to exist at all, but we have actually made a lot of progress in terms of understanding design and how that can facilitate human flourishing.

        I have covered the Permaculture approach to design many times, and I won’t repeat all that. Humans exist in communities, and I am not sure whether we have, on balance, learned very much about communities. I would defer to Albert Bates as way more knowledgable than I am on that subject.

        So let’s take the book Design In Nature by Adrian Bejan, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke. Bejan made his name by figuring out ways to let microprocessors dump excess heat. In other words, facilitating the flow of excess heat to the sink of the environment. What else needs to disperse heat? Snowflakes. On page 10: ‘Consider the snowflake. The prevailing view in science is that the intricate crystals formed by the snowflake have no function. That is wrong. In fact, the snowflake is a flow design for dispersing the heat–called the latent heat of solidification–generated on its surface during freezing.’ So…snowflakes and modern microprocessors have design elements in common. But the microprocessor of today is not like the microprocessor of 50 years ago. It is vastly better at dispersing the heat. Bejan played a large role in that evolution.

        Here is his formulation of the Constructal Law: ‘For a finite-size flow system to persist in time (to live), its configuration must evolve in such a way that provides easier access to the currents that flow through it’. And, Bejan argues, that is a Law of Physics, and thus also of all other sciences.

        Bejan’s description of the evolution of logs floating down rivers and tree root systems and mud puddles drying out show the breadth of the idea in the Natural World. And there are abundant examples of the Law at work in the man-made world. In fact, using fossil fuels, we have made it work so well that we now endanger ourselves. But…let’s suppose the fossil fuels go away. Does the Law vanish with them? No. Trees will still branch and logs will still float down rivers and mud puddles will still dry and humans will still seek to gain ‘easier access to the currents’. ‘Easier access to currents’ is a pretty good definition of Permaculture.

        Those who can, will.
        Those who give up without trying will die.
        Many will try and fail.

        Don Stewart

        • it’s a head hurting subject Don, and I can see your point, but ultimately we are trying to maintain an environment that we built with cheap energy. It is now too big and complex for the (expensive) remaining energy available.
          It seems to follow then that complexity of our society must of necessity simplify itself. The only unknown factor (the head hurty bit) is by how much and how soon and how violently.
          The explosions across the middle east right now would seem to give us a clue. The EU and the USA might see their situation differently, but so far not many people there are actually starving or in a majority of unemployed. when they are, i can guarantee the same degree of violence.
          Our genes will see to it that we will strive to survive, I’ve had my allotted span so in my case that’s probably not very much and it’s not very important. My grandkids are another matter of course, they will strive far more. Just how good they are at that will determine their future… but they think I’m nuts anyway.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More
            Just by happenstance, I have been sitting drinking a cup of tea and reading some more in Surfaces and Essences by Hofstadter and Sander. On page 111 they begin a discussion of fables, with Aesop’s 2600 year old fable of the Fox and the Grapes being the centerpiece. You will remember that a hungry fox tries to get some grapes which are high up on a trellis, but can’t jump that high, so concludes that ‘they are still too green anyway’. The fable has been continuously recycled since Aesop’s original telling (and may predate him).

            On page 115 they begin discussing How to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance in a Fox, building on the modern psychological research of Leon Festinger and others. ‘presence of conflicting cognitive states in an individual results in a state of inner tension that the individual tries to reduce by modifying one or another of their conflicting internal states’. The Fox, of course, resorts to the suppression of his desire to eat the grapes. But only after he has exhausted himself by jumping until he is exhausted.

            We might describe the Cognitive Dissonance in the Industrial World as a conflict between our desire for ever greater material wealth and the fact that we can’t reach those grapes. The Peak Oilers and Gail and the Climate Change People are patiently trying to explain to the Fox that it is a waste of time and, in fact, damaging to continue to try to change the physical facts. Most of the Foxes are ignoring the advice and continuing to jump.

            What will happen when people are exhausted by jumping? James Howard Kunstler suspects that Japan is headed back to Edo (see his post this morning). Give up on the Industrial dream and invent some explanation about how it was all better in Edo anyway.

            What Adrian Bejan and the Permaculture movement bring to the story is the fact that, over time, systems evolves to more efficiently capture and use for work the flows in Nature. Bejan’s work in microelectronics uses materials and design as opposed to refrigeration, for example, to disperse the dangerous heat. Permaculture uses water management in ways Mother Nature never thought of. In Albert Bates’ talk at Four Quarters, you will hear him show a slide of some agricultural efforts back in the early 1970s and then he explains that they discovered Permaculture and don’t farm that way any more. In fact, Albert now teaches Permaculture. The point is that there is no necessity to do things the same way hunter-gatherers did it.

            We will lose a lot when we lose the Industrial Economy. But survival depends on our ability to calmly look at the facts and make a good selection of a strategy and then go out and actually execute that strategy (plus some good luck). So we need some combination of psychological insight into both our own minds but also the mind of society at large, and a clear assessment of the technologies we can reasonably use to capture Mother Nature’s flows to do useful work.

            There is a sub-set of people (call them doomers) who would have been described by Aesop as ‘Foxes who chose to lay down and die’. This isn’t to deny that something like Climate Change may already have doomed the human race or that global nuclear war could break out and kill all of us or that our neighbor who can’t deal with the Cognitive Dissonance tries to solve his problem by shooting us.

            I just don’t choose to ‘lay down and die’….Don Stewart

          • I fully agree with you here Don. As a species we have a bigger understanding of the physical world now and can use its “natural powers” way better than our predecessors even without computers around (sad for me since I work within the computing field and have always enjoyed that). I am fairly confident that even after a serious collapse and even a famine that kills off half of the planets population or more, we will still have enough knowledge to master some form of technology to assist us in anything we do. The temptation to use some kind of energy by burning it will still be around though as humans are lazy and really want something for nothing if they can (for example the stock market).

            So things like permaculture and better use of water downflow and wind will always be around. I have no doubt that we will still be making a lot of purer metals and even plastics in the future too even without an abundance of fossil fuels around.

            The question remains though, what state the planet will be in when we transition into this new world. If we get burst output of methane from the Arctic area I am not sure at all what kind of future awaits us…

        • xabier says:


          Man is infinitely resourceful: the problem is our governments – I often think of them these days as ‘frozen stupidity.’

          It’s not surprising: just look at how politicians and bureaucrats are actually selected: it’s a system designed for inflexibility and to frustrate the able and far-sighted.

          • Dear Don

            Leonardo da Vince had the technology (albeit in a rudimentary form) what his ‘technology’ lacked was motive power.
            You can’t run an airline if all the passengers have to pedal like mad to stay airborne. or an aircraft carrier if most of the crew have to row.
            energy allows science and technology to flourish, that doesn’t happen in reverse

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More

            I can’t discuss this intelligently with you unless you are willing to read the first few pages of Design in Nature and also take a look at things like Emilia Hazelip’s methods of growing food. There are plenty of example of Science enabling processes to work more efficiently and effectively while decreasing the amount of external energy used.

            While you are at it, read Teaming With Microbes…letting the microbes do the work.

            These are science at a very high level. How things work. Where to intervene to get the most return.

            Not just pouring on the gasoline to overpower everything….Don Stewart

          • I am afraid you are right about, “energy allows science and technology to flourish, that doesn’t happen in reverse.”

          • Nevertheless, I was impressed with the agricultural technology of the Amish in Northern New York State. The Amish farmer I visited did not tap any reservoirs of energy that had been stored for much more than a year, that is, water power, wind, but not fossil fuels; but, he must have had a reasonably complete notion of Newtonian physics judging by the clever devices he employed to increase his productivity.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Thomas
            Can science allow energy to flourish? (I guess that is the reverse of the ‘energy allows science to flourish’ statement.)

            And the answer is clearly ‘Yes’. Things like levers are quite useful when one is doing physical work…and our understanding of them is a result of science (maybe small science rather than Big Science). The Amish farmer you visited has a very good understanding of Newtonian science, and it allows him to operate a farm with a current energy budget.

            When it rains, the clouds deposit water at high elevations. Gravity gives that water potential energy. Smart people know how to use that potential energy to do work. Science helps.

            Microbes get their energy from carbon in the soil, and smart gardeners know how to use the microbes to grow more food. We are only beginning to understand the role of microbes in the soil in the last 20 years.

            Science doesn’t create energy…but it sure can help humans help energy flourish.

            Don Stewart

          • I agree that science can liberate energy although not the torrential flows liberated by setting the world on fire that were wasted almost to the extent that energy is wasted in a fire storm.

          • Dear Don
            the constructal flow principle is a logical and obvious form and force of nature.
            That much I accept
            The problem we have with humankind vs Nature is that we learned the unfortunate trick of setting fire to it. No other animal living within nature’s flow can do that. That was the single step that began our million year evolution to our current delusion of ourselves as homo sapiens.
            Fire enabled us to kill off everything that we saw as impeding our ‘progress’, (including each other) we interfered with the constructal flow
            it gave us time to think, and develop sophisticated speech. cooking food decreased our jaw size and increased our brain size, and allowed extended periods of child rearing. we found we could grow corn and enclose animals and forge weapons.
            we invented ‘property’ and in so doing invented greed.
            Fire also exploded our population.
            It doesn’t matter what ‘models of nature’ or methods of growing food are exemplified, human beings will not alter a million years of evolutionary greed in order to ‘save’ people they have no connection with. Diverting corn into biofuel and
            Africa used to be pretty much a self supporting continent, the exponential growth of humanity turned vast swathes of it to desert. Unless they are supplied with food, millions are going to starve to death there. There isn’t enough water to grow the food they need, and as energy depletes, there won’t be the means to ship much to them. Already, tens of thousands live in camps where the only water is trucked in. That will eventually cease.
            Saudi Arabia can only buy its food in exchange for oil. 30 million live in a desert that used to support 1 million. When oilflow stops, their population is going to crash.
            Which is exactly in line with Gail’s projection, on the world scale
            I would prefer to be wrong, I don’t think I am though.

        • Don. I wouldn’t choose to lay down and die either, but ultimately we are forced by our genes to eat and procreate our species. We have no choice but to seek out energy sources that will allows us to do just that.
          Everything else seems to be mere window dressing—but maybe I strip things too much to their barest of essentials?
          We build houses, elect governments, fight wars and so on, purely to safeguard our personal environment. We use that environment to rear offspring safely and successfully…and that’s it. My offspring have flown the nest, therefore I am theoretically surplus to requirements. (no applause please–save it for my wake!!)
          As to sustaining that environment long term there seems to be a broad agreement that 7 billion people cannot exist in an environment with the resources to carry 1 or 2 billion at most. if we accept that, then it would seem that at least 5 billion are going to lose out somewhere, whether they ‘choose’ to lay down and die or not. And of course that doesn’t take into account the 2 billion more due to arrive by 2050.
          this isn’t something subject to government edict, or wishful thinking, or ‘we must do this’ or ‘they must do that’, it seems to be horrifyingly obvious. Or I may be missing something here?
          If we can’t produce enough food, and deliver it to those in need of it (fuel shortages) then starvation follows

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More
            In my response to someone else (I still can’t effectively search this blog), I suggested mentally dividing the people you meet between Bourbon Red turkeys and the completely inept Cornish Cross chickens that are served at McDonalds. If 1 percent of the people you meet resemble Bourbon Reds, then 1 percent of the people are likely to make it through the Bottleneck. You can do the math. Probably not a bad first approximation.

            To me, the fate of the Cornish Crosses of the world isn’t something I can do anything about. I just don’t want to end up on the truck taking them to McDonalds. And I will try to join a band of Bourbon Reds. And the Bourbon Reds will likely be interested in using technology to live as well as they can. The people in Edo lived pretty good lives. We have better science now. That’s cause for optimism.

            Don Stewart

          • “I will try to join a band of Bourbon Reds.”

            C’mon over! We could use your help!

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear End of More

            Regarding population. Consider Gail’s recent chart:

            As a reminder, Gail is the ‘collapse’ line. Now consider all of her charts showing a correlation between population and energy.

            Gail is a very delicate person, who would never hint to the fly that the fly swatter she is holding is anything other than an amusing toy. But if she had to do so, what do you think she might project as world population as the world goes down the energy collapse curve?

            If the energy collapse curve does in fact materialize, what do you think will happen to population?

            Don Stewart

    • Over the life of the earth, hunter-gathering has been the predominant approach humans have used to support themselves. It also requires the least structure, but it does require huge knowledge–exactly what crops grow where and when they are in season; how to capture insects and animals of various sorts for food; which plants/animals are poisonous. It would not shock me if ultimately, we fall back to hunter-gathering. I don’t know what will happen on the way down; how it will work out. We don’t have the support structures built for any intermediate layer, which is why it is difficult to imagine getting to an intermediate level, and staying there. Also, we know we have had a problem with rising population forever, and this tends to wipe out our ability to maintain any level–we need a higher level to take care of our rising population. So it would seem like we would keep falling back to lower levels, if population rises.

  23. Pingback: Energy Risk and Limits: What Can We Do? price of oil extraction is too high, | Renewables Energy

  24. Ert says:

    Regarding climate Change I found this recent presentation (by David Wasdell) in a German peak-oil forum – they are seriously shocking. Based on the observed data and trends Arctic Ice in September will probably parish by September 2015 – or earlier….

    Arctic Feedback Dynamics Part 1:
    Arctic Feedback Dynamics Part 2:

    • Yes, the Arctic ice will be gone in the summertime within the next 5 years definitely. IPCC’s last assessment talks about 2085 – which is where the majority of climate panels discussions are today. The reality of the rate of change just haven’t seeped in yet among a lot of people.

      Whats uncertain though is at what rate we will see methane releases from the area. It can be anything from trickle to catastrophic. No doubt, any rise in methane (and CO2) is still bad as it is – so its really odd that we are still willy-nillying about action to limit this. No doubt the Koch funded anti-science campaigns has “paid off” for them at the expense of humanity.

      • Ert says:

        In the two videos Wasdell also explains the addtional speed-up effects that the parishing arcic summer ice will have on greenland, ice-mass, sea-levels, tundra methane, jet-stream and weather patterns in the northern and global hemi- and biosphere.

        The 2085 time-frame you mention from the IPCC is a linear one – Wasdell also talks about that, and that this is long past, because even the measured data are already diverting from that scenario in an exponential one.

        Wasdell conclusion is put in good words – but is not cheerful. He reached me much better than all others, which tell their conclusion and some facts. Wasdell tells facts and his conclusion is only repeating whats already on my mind – have to remember that even more when I talk with people.

        • Yes I have seen those videos, they explain it rather plainly that the planet is shifting to a new state triggered by our CO2 emissions. Once those serious feedbacks kick in it is really out of our hands. This is why there is growing concern and growth in the NTE-camp fronted by people like Guy McPherson. Perhaps there will be so massive methane emissions that rather dramatic collapses in ecosystems happen due to severe warming of the planet. There seems to be very few scientists airing this kind of angle though, understandably as its already hard enough get people to understand our current impact on the planet. Although if you look into the geological record and the work within paleoclimatology the rates of change earth is enduring now is often in the magnitude of 10 to 100 times that of past extinction events. So clearly we are crossing into dangerous terrain, and for what we know Guy McPherson might be right in his predictions if we dont act on this information now.

          • Ert says:

            As I understand Guy McPershon – its already to late, even If we would put a full stop to the whole global industrial world:

            Ask what it would change If we reduce now – and hard – he answered: If may help some species not to become extinct. But the whole climate machine is already underway and the lasting effects of the pollution until now are enough to kick the machine further (summary in my own words…).

            Its really absurd, that the whole system seemingly puts more energy into disinformation and producing obstacles in contrast to solutions – that at least aim to lessen the burden of the times to come. But of course: There is no real return of investment NOW or in the next quarter or in the next election period.

            Basically no one I know in my peer group of family and friends like to discuss or go down those topics, not even the evidently pure cheap-peak-oil or the economy. The outlook Guy McPershon gives is basically not discussable. Lots of my peer groups has kids now and have recently build their house – are are big in debt now. Thinking those thoughts that are thought here would nag, nag and nag on them – one had to change everything and most important: oneself.

            Even I have hard times with that – and I are no debt slave – but do currently so no real way out, except to plant fruit trees, get know-how regarding food and basic preservation, improve some things energy wise, etc. But I’m clear: When the shit hits the fan: My preparations are only as good as those that my neighbours and their neighbours and their ….. have done. And even I have to look for where the money comes from until we are at the point where everything degrades or brakes.

          • Christopher Johnson says:

            The only significant thing McPherson didn’t say was, “How long can you tread water?” But he didn’t need to because he knows the answers: a) not long enough, and b) it’s not the water that’ll kill us, but maybe the lack of it.

          • Guy’s contention is that there is absolutely nothing we can do. It is already too late. I would agree, if he is right about the situation.

            I think we are kidding ourselves if the think we can “act on this information now” and produce any different outcome. The world will recover. It is made to be very resilient, and to produce a new equilibrium. Humanity may not be part of the new equilibrium–but that was true, with or without climate change.

    • Indeed things are changing. Is there anything we can do–I would say no. It is too late, if our activity is affecting the arctic. The upcoming collapse will do as much as we can possibly do to fix the situation.

      • Ert says:

        Hello Gail,

        How much “good” time do you think we still have in central Europe / USA? So with a half-working economy, reasonable food supply and the possibility for land-based holidays if one is debt free now and has some savings?

        If I take what David Wasdell, Guy McPershon and Heinberg say… I assume mostly to the end of this decade. After that things will deteriorate fast.. China wont/cant double again, Energy-Cost problems will get bigger, Climate Change may then already disturb harvest across the globe…, some may already fight to survive or get the Rest (with reference to M. T. Clare – Ressource Wars) to many possible bad things then that can cause chain or ripple effects…..

        I would be very interested what you see time-scale-wise.

        • Scott says:

          I think we have some time, perhaps a generation or so but something could happen to shake things up fast but if it stays quiet like right now we go on this way farther that one thinks. This is a slow collapse- well that is, unless something happens to speed things up.

          • xabier says:


            With energy and determination , a crumbling economic/political system can be kept going for far longer than our imaginations might lead us to think. And individually we can prepare for the likely economic shocks which are not hard to imagine, but which can arise very suddenly, as in 2007. I envisage a long bumpy ride down, rather than a sudden drop down a lift-shaft, but may well be very wrong indeed…..

        • I think that there will be steps down, and the size of the steps will vary in different parts of the globe. My guess is that we will start seeing some steps down in the next few months or year, perhaps because of rising interest rates or because of countries dropping out of the Eurozone or because of a failure of Japanese finances. The 2007-2009 recession was probably the start of the worldwide trend toward collapse. In the past, collapses seemed to take 20 to 50 years.

          I think we have to take things as they come. We really don’t know how things will work out. Even if we lose the ability to buy new things, there will still be quite a lot of “stuff” we can continue to use until it falls apart. Worrying won’t really help the situation. Climate in particular is something we can’t do much about. We know that in the past, humans lived through a lot of climate change by moving to parts of the world that were more hospitable. I expect that that will happen again, if climate does change.

  25. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    Here are a few thoughts triggered by some reactions I have heard to the various speakers at Four Quarters.

    First, a local film reviewer characterized the Baby Boom generation as dominated by the feeling that self-expression is the supreme value. He contrasted that with older generations who put the ability to actually accomplish something as the supreme value. That distinction comes through loud and clear in the reactions…and not necessarily split by generation. A majority of people say ‘If the speaker isn’t describing the future I want in order to further my own self-expression, then I will simply reject it’. This reminds me of Bush the Senior’s comment that ‘the American Way of Life is not up for negotiation’ and the retort ‘George, whatever gave you the idea that Nature wanted to Negotiate with you?’.

    Second, someone made the comment that the villages that Albert Bates described are worthless examples because they are still based on fossil fuels. I’ll give a little bit more elaborate response to this point.

    Axiom: There are an infinite number of possible futures in which your plans for that future would turn out to be unworkable.

    Anyone can take cheap shots at any survival plan by conjuring up one of the infinite number of possibilities which aren’t adequately addressed by the speaker’s or the village’s or the family’s plan. I submit that the real judgment should take place in your own brain and emotional system:
    Based on what you know and can reasonably project about the future,
    Is your present course of action both sustainable in the current environment and also increasing your assets (physical, skill sets, social) that will increase your room for maneuver when the future actually comes to pass?
    Has the speaker or the village you are studying or the family you have met suggesting any changes which deserve more thought and, perhaps, experimentation?

    It is quite obvious that no group of people (unless they start from a position of financial wealth) can survive in the current environment without using fossil fuels. If those who are competing with you have 100 energy slaves, you will be ground to competitive dust unless you also use at least some energy slaves. But some people ARE diverting some of their energy slaves to building resilience for the future.

    Since the future is inherently unknowable in detail, and since every single one of us begins from a different starting point, and since we all have unique emotional maps, everyone’s plans for the future and current actions which are both based in reality and reasonable projections and also realistic emotional shaping, deserves respect.

    During a tour of his facility in Tennessee, Albert Bates remarked that 35 years ago he thought that Industrial Civilization was about the collapse. And so he set off on the course he has lived. But, he admitted, Industrial Civilization turned out to be far more resilient that he thought it was. Does he regret his choices? I don’t think so. Albert has a lot of room for maneuver.

    Don Stewart

  26. Christopher Johnson says:

    T’would be a good study for someone capable of analyzing Japan’s economic history in terms of energy input – product output. Like Western Europe, Japan does not produce petroleum or much coal, but imports all it uses. Their development model emphasized economic efficiency; Peter Drucker is still revered, and Japanese companies and society were regarded very highly worldwide, from the early sixties to the turn of the century. In the 90′s Japan’s economic model had been shaken by many events, including the loss of oil from Iran and Iraq and some serious bubbles. But it’s not clear how the Japanese stagnation is related to energy prices.
    Japan recently mined (experimentally) some frozen methane from 20,000 ft depths, from a site within a few hundred km away. Exploitation might be difficult, but they sure want/need all the energy sources they can find, and the cheaper the better.

    • Kunstlers post this week
      is an excellent piece on Japan and its likelihood of going medeival, I am inclined to agree with him, but as he points out, they have a population problem, and in that they mirror the rest of the world. Downsizing to 16th C peasantry simply will not support a 21st century population. No matter how you cut it, that is the problem you run into.
      yet it is certain that as we run out of raw materials, our economy will inevitably power down.
      Japan faces another problem too, it has a large powerful hungry neighbour, who it pissed off 80 years ago. Memories are long and bitter there, and as Japan weakens, China will assert its regional dominance. (that’s happening right now) Japan will attempt to retain its delusion of past military strength but without the resources to do so. In terms of Pearl Harbour, that will mean honourable suicide. They will not voluntarily revert to medievalism any more than we will in the west

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        Gracias, End of More. Kunstler’s analysis is delightful, and even posits some hope that Japan may actually be able to ‘lead the way.’ That might well be, as the fabric of Japanese society is probably more capable than most of meeting the upcoming challenges.

      • Thanks! I heard Kunstler give a talk in which he mentioned the possibility of Japan being the first country to leave the current industrial society not long after the Fukushima earthquake in 2011. He may be right that they will be the first country to have serious problems–but we have quite a few countries in a contest as to which one is first.

  27. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    If there is anything that a single human, a family, an extended family, a village, a nation, or humanity can do about The Limits to Growth, it will require thinking analogically.

    I have been reading Surfaces and Essences, by Hofstadter and Sander. I won’t have completed my first pass through the book until perhaps July. And it will take a very long time for me to perceive that I have ‘finished’ the book. But the more I read in it, the more relevance I see to our current predicament.

    The authors put many building blocks in place to support their assertion that all thinking is analogical. We call up a memory and relate the memory to what is happening to us right now. The memory is encoded ‘not by rote, but by distillation’. And the distillation is very frequently characterized by emotion. In other words, what makes two events similar is the emotional response–not the physical particulars. The authors offer abundant evidence in support of that thesis. On page 157, they state that ‘the comparison…is helping you figure out how you feel about a situation you’ve just encountered’.

    On page 162, they consider the category ‘A Trivial Side Show that is More Fascinating than the Main Event’. This exploration springs from having taken a 1 year old to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and discovering that the boy was very interested in the ants and leaves in the sand but not at all interested in ‘the Grand Canyon’. They extend the exploration by considering two authors (themselves) in Paris working on a book together. In one scenario the authors totally waste their time in magical Paris by closeting themselves in a room and slaving away on their book. In another scenario two authors, who are supposed to be serious scholars, fritter away their time in Paris munching on patisseries. And then they throw in this gem:

    ‘A mosquito hovering about Albert Einstein’s body sees it as nothing more than a warm object filled with liquid sustenance.’

    My earliest years were spent in a world which had very little access to fossil fuels by today’s standards. Walking was our standard way of getting about, for example. So many of my earliest memories are of things like building treehouses out of scrap and digging clay out of ditches and making stuff with it and similar homely amusements. We did have a radio, which mostly had factual advertisements from local businesses. So I have a pretty rich vein of analogies which don’t involve the Post-WWII world. Which probably makes it hard for me to communicate with most Baby Boomers who grew up in a world of abundant fossil fuels and television advertisements depicting dream sequences built around the theme of ‘expressing yourself’. Today I work with people in their early 20s who are living in a world quite unlike that of the Baby Boomers. So, again, I can make a lot of analogies that most people in the Social Security age bracket can’t, or won’t, make.

    The authors discuss on page 157 the scenario where a traveler arrives at a busy airport in an exotic location and is trying to get through customs at 4am and things are going wrong and lines are long. The locals arriving on the plane seem to know what to do (they have been here before), but the traveler hasn’t got a clue. ‘no helpful haven of a memory would spring to mind’. If we think about the experiences that the Baby Boom generation can call on to generate analogies for coping with our current predicament, they are likely to strike you as pretty unhelpful.

    I have found that people do adjust to reality. Even religions change–without ever admitting it. Part of the problem today is that the politicians and the corporations are determined that people will not be required to confront reality. Consequently, people are not allowed to develop helpful analogies.

    For example, let’s go back to the child at the Grand Canyon. I see this played out twice a week in the summer at my food co-op. The co-op sponsors concerts on the lawn (which is actually wood chips). Parents bring their children who have a glorious time running and jumping and dancing and the toddlers are discovering the magic of wood chips and friendly dogs. This is about as far as you can get from the vision of happiness put out by the government and the corporations. One can certainly see some snakes in this wood-pile, as even toddlers come dressed in costumes (fancy shoes, etc.) But ‘serious adults’ have learned that simply running around for the sheer joy of running is not something one should do. It is OK to run on a treadmill at an expensive gym, but playing on a lawn is an affront to the Ayn Rand crowd. It has to be about money.

    If we apply the thinking of children, but with adult intelligence, we end up with something like The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. Endless entertainment within a short bike ride of one’s home. No pressing need for the Grand Canyon. Thoreau ‘traveling widely in Concord’.

    But the current media soaked environment narrowly channels ‘experiences’ toward the virtual and the commercially driven. Amusements which were popular 40 years ago have dwindled (picking apples and floating down rivers in canoes). When I try to talk to my children about what fun we had, they shrug their shoulders and turn their own children over to much shallower experiences.

    I will draw six summary conclusions:
    1. We are each entirely dependent on the analogies we can make. We can only make analogies in response to real or virtual experiences which had some emotional content.
    2. Most people today (in the rich countries) cannot effectively make emotionally rewarding analogies which involve a world where fossil fuels are not abundant and reality has hard limits.
    3. Ancient peoples (like myself) and young people confronting a hard economy are able to make more helpful analogies than typical Baby Boomers.
    4. Governments prevent adaptation when they suppress unpleasant consequences.
    5. I think it likely that the majority of people will continue to act like a mosquito in the vicinity of Einstein.
    6. Small groups may be able to isolate themselves and survive.

    Don Stewart

    • Don Stewart says:

      One more thing. We had little in the way of fossil fuels and practically nothing in the way of debt. Since Gail’s concern is a debt crisis, this is perhaps very relevant. I never had any family experience with debt until I was 17 years old and my parents took on a 5 thousand dollar mortgage. My wife and I took on a 25 thousand dollar mortgage when I was 25. We never bought a car with debt. While I had a credit card from the time I was 22, I never ran a balance on it. My wife and I were out of the mortgage by our late 40s.

      So one huge difference in my experience and the experience of most of the young people I work with is their student loan debt. I paid for college as I went–which was very hard. But I graduated with money in the bank. The young people have a huge student loan to pay off, and, having no real paying job, have no access to the credit market. Yet the things they need to buy are bid up in price by older people who do have access to the credit market. If houses and cars and farmland had to be paid for in cash, they would be a great deal cheaper than they are. In a profound sense, Ben Bernanke is doing a great deal of damage to the younger generation trying to protect the wealthiest people who own the assets.

      I was having a conversation with a young person last week. What should they be doing with their life? I find it hard to bring up analogies from the time when I was 25 because everything is so different. My advice would be ‘find some impossibly cute little chick from Jersey City and marry her and have three children (bang, bang, bang) and deal with 2 am feedings and colicky babies and cloth diapers and playing in the park with your children.’ That advice would be about as relevant to them as something from a Martian.

      Don Stewart

      • xabier says:


        Debt is the Devil. Look at whom it makes rich……..

        When the financial crisis first blew up 5 years ago, a financier I know got very agitated (he’d lost about 10 million and it destroyed his hedge fund, so it’s understandable I suppose) and said:’ This is what happens when you let poor people think they can buy things!’

        He hit the nail on the head: your generation spent money you’d earned, or undertook a mortgage very cautiously, but over the last two decades it’s all been about extending credit, creating the debt bomb. Governments are still trying to reinflate that bubble, because the consequences of unwinding are horrendous.

        It’s enriched a very few, like my friend, but enslaved the rest and distorted their views: just try to tell a 20 yr-old that the can only get about henceforth on foot or by bicycle……and that they’ll have to pay cash for the latter: End of the World!

    • Jody Tishmack says:

      The story about the child visiting the Grand Canyon reminded me of an experience I had visiting Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border. I had been traveling alone for several days from Phoenix, AZ heading across country for Wyoming. I can still remember what it felt like as I drove down into Monument Valley from the high plateau on the Arizona side of the valley. I can distinctly remember the awe and amazement I felt looking across the valley, seeing towers hundreds of feet tall and reflecting on the volume and force of water it required to form the valley.

      I traveled many miles across that valley before I came to the official “Monument Valley” look out point that attracts the tourists. Once at the look out I could see that yes, they had located it at a very nice position from which to view several towers, but that one spot didn’t add anything significant to my overall impression already formed. It was not more impressive to me than the whole experience of coming to the edge of the plateau and dropping down into this amazing geological feature
      As I stood drinking in the view and savoring the whole afternoon’s experience a van carrying a family of tourists arrived. They pulled up and out jumped excited adults with cameras clicking. The adults rushed to the railing yelling for their children to “come and see”. The teenage children removing head phones, looked bored asking “What are we supposed to see?”. After five or ten minutes of this the adults shifted their attention from their cameras to their maps, plotting out the route to the next site they would travel off to see. And then almost as fast as they arrived they piled back into their van and drove off, apparently satisfied with their “Monument Valley” visit.

      I couldn’t help but compare my experience of Monument Valley with what theirs appeared to be. I had been struck with awe from the moment I drove down into the valley, and the awe just keep on resonating within me as I tried to take it all in. And years later I can still find that feeling imprinted within my memories. The tourists were only fixed on seeing what they thought they were supposed to see according to the tourist map. They probably have some nice pictures to show for their effort, but I imagine few lasting memories.

      I’m not sure what this experience means but I have never forgotten it. It stands out in my mind as a moment when I realized that we all experience life differently, even when we are living in it at the same time. I expect that the future will look different to everyone and for much of same reasons. I am happy to say that I’m learning to love the slow life; the garden after it’s been freshly weeded, the bird song, the smell of good soil, the feel of shade on a sunny day, and a cool breeze drying the work sweat off my skin. There is little in life that can make me feel more content.

      • xabier says:


        All to true, such a good description: same planet, very different experiences, and very divergent capacities for experience.

        Someone will be happy and sane in their garden, deriving infinite solace and interest from it, and others will pity and patronize them for leading an ‘unambitious life’ and having to get their hands dirty…..more fools they!

        In Florence once, surrounded by magnificent buildings and art, I was with a group of supposedly educated people who could only plan as to which luxury brands shops to visit next, (which they could have found in any major city) and their view of the world centred around ‘the best’ luxury (ie ultra expensive) hotels in the cities they knew or had heard about. We might as well have come from -and been on – different planets.

        I was also amused that they walked around shopping in the afternoon heat of August, but went to bed at 9, thus missing the lovely Tuscan nights. They literally had no real perception of place…… But they thought they were educated, sophisticated citizens of the world.

        • Scott says:

          Asian markets dropping again tonight for what seems like a week.

        • Jody Tishmack says:


          I know exactly the type of people you are talking about. They spend a lot of time and money trying to convince themselves they have found the important things in life, until their neighbor gets something new
          The Buddhists call it mindfulness, being present and aware in each moment. Where ever we travel, or sit, being fully present in the moment brings so much richness and texture to life. It’s something money can’t buy.

          The weather this spring has been particularly kind to the fruiting trees and plants in my garden. Or perhaps it was the bad production last year due to summer in March and exceptional drought the rest of the summer. It seems that fruiting plants produce extra the year after a bad year, as if to make up for the shortfall.

          So far, I’ve harvested over 50 lbs of strawberries from a 12 x 20 plot and the plants are still a week or so from being done. We are almost tired of fresh strawberries, although the homemade strawberry ice cream is always a favorite. I’ve made 30 pints of various strawberry jams. Yum! Home bread toasted with jam makes winter breakfast a pleasure! My grape vines are loaded with fruit as well the peaches, pears, and apple trees. Raspberries too soon to tell. If Michigan has a bumper crop fruit prices will be really low this summer. Cherries are coming to the midwest from California but cost $4 a pound. I’m waiting for the Michigan cherries, their price will be much better. This is a good year to put up some fruit preserves.

    • THanks for your thoughts. It is unfortunate that we are running head on into a situation that most people are not adapted for. I am sure this will be a big problem.

      I hope of us have been thinking about the situation enough that these issues will not be as much of a shock as you suggest. It probably helps to know first-hand how things were done in the past, but those of us who are younger remember big changes that have taken place as well. We also have learned from our parents and grandparents about how things use to be. Some people (I am afraid not me) even read historical novels, talking about distant lands.

      • Scott says:

        I would suggest people read these old books about the old days to help them re learn some things lost. I have been reading Louis Lamour and the books of Zane Gray, great writings.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Perhaps one more example may elucidate the thoughts that the ‘thinking with analogies’ book is prompting in me.

        When I was about 6 I built a treehouse. Scrap lumber was plentiful everywhere. But nails were a treasure. So I went around looking at old boards searching for nails which were salvageable. I got pretty good at straightening nails. My father had a hand drill and one could find odd bits of scrap dowel in the refuse from cabinet shops. So I learned how to make joints with wooden pegs, also. I would never claim to be skilled at cabinetry, but I could build a treehouse.

        If we see the next couple of hundred years as being substantially about a ‘salvage economy’, then I have childhood memories which may serve me pretty well. I will also have the emotional intelligence to see a salvageable nail or a well stocked screw jar as a positive experience–not as an affront to my dignity.

        My experience with joints may also serve me well. Good cabinet makers are quite skillful with joints and don’t use a lot of screws and nails. But less skilled people do use screws and nails a lot. If one has had experience scavenging screws and nails, then one begins to make distinctions:

        ***Joinery hardware is very valuable. A lot of the other stuff sold in hardware stores is not nearly so valuable***.

        So the issue isn’t so much about the survival of hardware store chains–it’s about the continued availability of joinery equipment. This sort of thinking leads to a more nuanced view of collapse, I think.

        Orion Magazine had an article about ‘professions for a downsized future’ and one of them was ‘crosscut saw sharpener’. They opined that the US stopped making good crosscut saws 100 years ago…but I think that some very good crosscut saws are available now at about 10 times the cost of a cheap one. My father had a good crosscut saw which was old before WWII–I think he got it from his father. We took the saw to a neighborhood man who sharpened saws in his barn.

        So it isn’t the survival of the Skil Saw that is important, it is the acquisition of a really good crosscut saw and either the mastery of saw sharpening oneself or else having a neighbor who can do it. Having a little oil to put on your saw so it doesn’t rust may come to be seen as more valuable than having a tank full of gasoline. So, again, a more nuanced view of ‘the end of oil’ comes into focus.

        Don Stewart

        • Thanks! I think that a lot of people have lost sight of the fact that abundant cheap metals is something the fossil fuel age has given us. Abundant cheap glass as well. So it is not just plastics and synthetics that we tend to lose, if fossil fuels are a problem, it is metal and glass as well. This is the reason for log cabins and other types of buildings that avoided nail use.

        • Scott says:

          Hello Don and others; I remember when I was in HIgh School in the 1970′s in Santa Cruz, CA and a wise teacher told the class that someday we may be mining our waste dumps and landfills. We have thrown so much valuable metals and things away I have no doubt it is true.

  28. To understand the policies that need be changed within the USA, for the nation to convert from fossil fuels to Renewables, it is first necessary to confront it’s myths, as follows:
    a. The natural resource base is, for all practical purposes infinite
    b. The US Federal Government is revenue constrained, and running out of money
    c. The EROEI of renewables is much lower than alternatives.
    d. Renewables are intermittent and unreliable, and there is no way to obviate this
    e. Renewables cost more than fossil fuels

    Myth “a” is a direct consequence of the “release effect” described in “The Eternal Frontier” by Flannery, and came into existence because, to the original few thousand European settlers, the resource base of North America was enormous. Like the Folsom people who decimated the mega-fauna they found within 300 years, the European settlers churned through the resource base of North America, in a similar time frame. Just 80 years ago, US petroleum resources flowed copiously from vertical wells drilled only a few hundred meters deep, at an EROEI of > 100, while today it is necessary to drill thousands of meters down, then to make subsequent multiple horizontal branches additional thousands of meters long, then to fracture the surrounding rock to produce a hundredth as much per well per day as previously at an EROEI of ~2.
    Myth “b” is a hold over from the past, when the US Dollar was backed by Gold/Silver. Nixon ended that in 69, about the time US petroleum production peaked, and the US Dollar represents a claim on the “Full Faith And Credit” of the US. The advent of electronic currency means that it is not even necessary to mint coins or print banknotes, because a few keystrokes at the right computer at the Federal Reserve, will create trillions, from nothing.
    Myth “c” is the direct consequence of comparing apples to oranges. Fossil fuels and the energy conversion systems they drive, are burdened only with the cost of getting petroleum to the surface, while the famous Spanish study, burdened PV with the inputs necessary to construct panels, plus the grid, plus the regulatory burden, not to mention the kitchen sink. The Energy Returned by a PV panel as compared to the energy required to manufacture that panel, is ~55:1, today.
    Myth “d” focuses on conditions in one location, without storage. Given storage, and a network encompassing the entire nation, Renewables provide lower cost power, available on demand.
    Myth “e” came about because as recent as 2 years ago, PV panels cost $3/watt in the US, and $2/watt in China. Today Sun Electronics of Miami sells PV at $0.38 / watt FOB Miami, and PV manufacturers in China sell 20% efficient PV for $0.25/watt by the 40 ft container load.
    In it’s regulatory filing for acquisition of a 50 Mwe solar power plant in New Mexico from Element Power, First Solar revealed that it’s customer, El Paso Electric is paying $0.579/kWh). Which is almost a third of the price that thin-film solar PV project power typically costs, $0.163 / kWh,, and less than half the $0.128 / kWh average price for new coal plants, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

    The exceptional nature of renewable energy

    If solar power prices are now at these levels, why are governments across Europe and in the US apparently thwarting the growth of PV connected to the grid? The answer goes back to the deregulation and privatization strategies taken about a decade ago. At the same time governments were setting up feed-in tariffs and subsidies to renewable energies in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were also implementing a new electricity market paradigm, dismantling the monopolistic state owned companies, un-bundling energy production from grid management and generally privatizing the sector. This created a new market where multiple companies trade electricity in the short (spot market) and long term (futures market), supposedly all in the best interest of consumers, until ENRON participated. Things went well at first, up to the point renewables reached a critical size and simply killed this venerated electricity market. To understand why this happened, one must comprehend the essential concepts of economics regarding renewable energy.
    In recent years the solar market has undergone a transformation imposed by what is usually termed economies of scale. From small factories in Europe and the US, the production of solar PV cells migrated to huge factories in Asia. And with this transformation came the usual cycles in large markets where product differentiation isn’t obvious. By the midst of 2012 some Asian producers were reportedly selling cells about $0.25 /Wp below cost, in a clear supply destruction cycle. This has created a row in The US & Europe, with local producers calling for taxes on Asian products and investors claiming that this is the way for affordable electricity. Even if this supply destruction cycle is indeed the driver of recent price drops, a return to prices of two, or even one year ago, is not to be expected, because the solar market is showing clear similarities with the computer hardware market, with similar breathtaking price declines. In both cases the final product is pure technology, which can only improve with time, like the number of transistors per unit of area. The efficiency of PV technology keeps increasing, and improvements like proton-induced exfoliation and auto-cooling have yet to reach the market. Production is not going back to either the US or Europe, either. If it’s not economical to produce a smartphone or a laptop in either, it will be much less so with a simpler technology like a solar cell. The catalyst for the abrupt collapse of the past several years is termination of subsidies in the US and the EU, with Solyndra as poster child, in a glorious $250 million bankruptcy, but the nature of the business meant consolidation was inevitable.
    Renewable electricity producing technologies like wind, solar, tidal or geothermal dispense with any sort of fuel to produce electricity. A gas or diesel fired power plant has a cost every time it produces power, so the operator is permanently on the market for fuel, managing prices that can be rather volatile. Additionally, there are other costs associated with operation and maintenance of the plant. In contrast, a solar panel, or a windmill just sits there. They too have maintenance costs, but these are much smaller and can be predicted fairly accurately at project start. The result is that generating an extra kWh of electricity from an operating solar panel or wind turbine costs close to zero $0.00 / kWh. This is what in economics is termed the marginal cost (in this case for electricity generation).
    The second important aspect of renewable technologies is that they generate electricity, and once it is injected into the grid that electron is equal to any other. Moreover, if I have a PV system on my roof and the sun is shining, I can be sure that any other neighbor, or any other investor in the region with a PV system will also be generating electricity. In economics, a market where supply agents are unable to differentiate their products from one another are called Perfect Concurrency Markets; cereals agriculture is the classical class room example. This sort of market has a very important characteristic: long term the price matches marginal costs and supply agents struggle to make a profit (this is one of the reasons why there are subsidies to agriculture).
    A perfect concurrency market with a marginal cost of zero is something totally outside standard study and practice in economics. It is the reason why spot electricity prices collapse during sunny summer days or why during autumn storms there can even be negative prices. These are all symptoms of a market whose price will get closer and closer to zero the larger the number of renewable energy systems connected.
    This trend is inevitable in the US where sufficient roof space exists to host 1Twe of PV as shown in the USDOE study by Denholm & Margolis, equally divided between commercial and residential buildings. Total project cost is $835 bilion or $835/kwe producing power with an LEC of $0.033/kwh, with no subsidies whatever(no storage). Adding 24 hours storage raises project cost to $2 trillion or $2346 / kwe, producing power at an LEC of $0.08 / kwh. Costs of emplacing these systems are so low, that their construction is inevitable. Their nature lends itself to consumption of production on-site, unaffected by grid regulations, or pricing. Fully implemented, rooftop PV would provide 40% of current electricity demand, in and of itself, or 1,640 Twh / yr. This is the elephant beneath the carpet.
    The cost of energy is prompting conversion of the US housing stock to PassivHaus standard, thereby reducing household consumption of power by 80%. This is the cape buffalo beneath the carpet.
    Were refrigerators/airconditioners were built with SawaFuji Free-Piston Compressors, double the existing insulation, and with hold over plates so they run during the day, when the sun is shining, much of the need for storage would disappear and consequent demand would be halved. This is the lion beneath the carpet.
    Conversion of all lighting to LED eliminates 80% of power demand for lighting. This is the cheetah beneath the carpet.
    And these paradigms are killing the traditional electricity suppliers with business models dependent upon fossil fuel energies. They simply cannot make it in such a market, that on reflection seems clearly ill conceived. Governments have nothing innate against renewable energies, they are simply trying to protect these important companies, and also the philosophical reverence for the market.
    Particularly in Germany, far from the sunniest or windiest place in Europe, the mismatch between a fully liberalised market and renewable energy growth is creating all sorts of problems. Grid managers are unable or unwilling to upgrade the grid, voltage goes up during sunny days threatening to bring the grid down and even maintenance is an issue. In some lands it is getting so serious that the government, whether Conservative or Liberal, is contemplating the outright nationalisation of the grid.

    Feed-in Tariffs
    Governments should be working towards the complete integration of renewable systems into the grid, not to their exclusion. In the first place they must reckon that only by using schemes like feed-in tariffs can they guarantee the long term permanence of renewable power producers in the grid. With marginal generation costs close to 0 $ / kWh, these systems will never be able to yield proper cash flows in the liberalised electricity market. If the investment in grid connected renewable power technologies is to continue to come from private investors, stable revenues must be guaranteed in the long term. Looking at laws in states like Luxembourg some advantageous changes become obvious: first of all extend the feed-in tariff to the whole lifetime of the technology and then lower their values. Using the example in Spain, with an expected cost of 0.06 €/kWp for industrial systems, the state can set a 0.10 €/kWp tariff for the first ten years and 0.04 €/kWp for the last decade of production, thus also preserving the important role of break-even anticipation that feed-in tariffs perform.
    With proper feed-in tariffs in place governments can then focus on the monolithic base load electricity suppliers; they won’t disappear, but their role will fundamentally change. They must shift their focus from production to storage and load-balancing. Governments can perhaps aid with subsidies on the set up of large and small scale storage infrastructure and most importantly, steer towards the most effective technologies, avoiding pipe dreams like hydrogen.

    • Dr. Oprisko, I, too, am a holder of an earned PhD. Mine is in chemical engineering; so, I am rather well acquainted with energy balances. In addition, I have given some thought to the notion of ERoEI. If you have the time, you might take a quick look at . Now, whereas you have claimed that the ERoEI of renewables is as good as or better than the ERoEI for petroleum, I am not at all convinced that it is even as great as 1.0. I would be delighted if it were, except, to be sustainable, it would have to be computed as I suggested in . I wonder if you would share your own computation of ERoEI for some renewable energy technology – photo-voltaic solar, for example.

      • Scott says:

        Hello Thomas, you know looking at the group of people we have posting comments on this site it is clear we have some of the best minds in the world here as those of us are awake to these issues. I guess the problem is getting our message out to the rest of the world as more people believe in ghosts than peak oil. (although I am deeply believer in ghost too). I have had some experiences in that area too. But today more believe in ghost than peak oil.

        Call me a weirdo if you like, But I have posted my story about a UFO I saw when I was 16 years old and I am now in my early 50′s and my message has been one of hope as I saw new power source propel this craft many hundreds of miles in the frame of a second or two and I believe that there are forces (beings) amongst us that have knowledge that are not being shared with us not just yet and this knowledge could be used right now, perhaps they are planning to share it soon.

        I think most of us agree our government has become very secretive these days, area 51 etc. I still will argue that there is hope and something out there will some reveal itself. The next few years should be very interesting indeed.

      • See my second post:
        In my analysis I do not burden PV with the Grid, I do not burden it with Inverters, I do not burden it with mountings, wiring, switchgear.

        In the analysis of the EROEI of petroleum, it is not burdened with the grid, powerconversion systems, conversion losses, wiring, switchgear, etc:

        From: An Empirical Perspective on the Energy Payback Time for Photovoltaic Mocules by Karl E. Knapp and Theresa L. Jester, Solar 2000, Madison, June 2000, updated to reflect proton-induced exfoilation, inprovements in efficiency, but not including gains from replacing glass with film:
        2000 2013
        Kwh of inputs / Kwe of Pv 5,713 (200micron) 2,917 (20micron)
        Kwh produced -30 yr life 0.5%/yr degradation – White Co, IN 43,453 kwh
        EROEI 7.6 15

        From Drill Baby Drill:
        The net energy (or EROEI) of natural gas has been calculated by Skone et al. at 7.6:l. 118 This includes the energy inputs for drilling, extraction, and transport for all domestic gas production compared to the energy delivered. Shale gas is more energy intensive than conventional gas due to the nature of the hydraulic-fracturing process, which involves handling and disposing of millions of gallons of water, several hundred heavy truck trips per well, very high pressures for fluid injection, and so forth. Thus the EROEI for shale gas will be substantially lower than 7.6:1, perhaps 5:1 or less on average, although there have been no definitive studies. Furthermore, the EROEI of shale gas can be expected to decline over time as evidenced by the EIA estimates of the number of wells required to extract it discussed above.

        Gagnon et al. estimated the EROEI of global oil and gas production at the wellhead at 18:1, (although they did not separate oil from gas)

        There have been no definitive studies on the net energy (EROEI) of tight oil and it is certain to be highly variable depending on the productivity of the play. However it is likely to be lower on average than for conventional oil given the nature of the hydraulic-fracturing process, which involves handling and disposing of millions of gallons of water, several hundred heavy truck trips per well, very high pressures for fluid injection, and so forth.

        Although the mean EROEI of mined bitumen is relatively high at 12.4:1, the bitumen needs to be upgraded somewhere before it can be used, and therefore 5.0:1 is the appropriate metric for the end product. In situ recoverable bitumen, which comprises 80 percent of the resource, starts at a mean EROEI of 5.0:1 and is much lower at 2.9:1 when upgraded.

        Now, if tarsands are economic with an EROEI of 3 at the mine mouth, not including conversion efficiencies of 40% to make electricity, and the energy cost of the central power station, HV Xmission, distribution, line losses, how can anyone question today’s PV returning 15:1 with no transmission losses, conversion losses <5%, even less if 40 VDC is used in the residence, thus no inverter?


        • I just finished your two long posts and I am very impressed; so, I can’t complain about you not reading wherein I explain what I mean by sustainable and what I consider essential components of the ERoEI computation if it is to determine sustainability or even if it is to determine if the technology is a net provider of energy or not. If for each kilowatt-hour delivered to the consumer, the purveyors and others who earn part of their living providing services to the purveyors such as their doctors and lawyers spend only 0.3 kilowatt-hours producing the 1.0 kilowatt-hour but require more than 0.7 kilowatt-hours to support all or the appropriate pro-rata share of their living standards, then that energy technology is a net consumer of energy in that economy. In the case of natural gas for which you computed an ERoEI of 1.18 without considering the lives of the participants and the costs of commerce, I would guess that natural gas is a net consumer. One would like to think that not every energy technology can have an ERoEI* < 1.0 unless the civilization of which it is part has commenced to die off. But, for all we know, that is exactly what is happening. You can imagine my disappointment that ERoEI is NEVER computed according to my suggestions.

          By the way, the 1.25 TWe is a very generous estimate of our solar capacity; but, it is not nearly enough to replace our entire energy budget, which would have to get much larger to support the anticipated waves of new immigrants. Moreover, this is local capacity, which suffers from Myth D, the lack of on-demand availability. Somehow one needs to consider the costs of storage and distribution. Decent battery technology is probably 20 years away – and, as the joke goes about nuclear fusion – always will be. In the case of distribution, even granting a super-conductive grid, the problems are immense. Nevertheless, I am with you. Let’s begin to tackle it. If the central government expects to avoid disintegration, it better assign top priority to installing renewable energy technology with as much dedication as it applied to defeating the axis powers during WWII. I mean total commitment with rationing, wage and price controls, etc.

          • It misconstrues my message to imply I believe business as usual (BAU) can
            continue, or should continue. I don’t.
            I know first hand, that domestic power consumption can be cut 80% while still
            providing the services desired.
            I specifically mentioned conversion of the housing stock to PassivHaus standard, and conversion of all lighting to LEDs, and conversion of refrigeration/aircon to holdover plate systems.
            Additionally, all houses should have solar hot water heaters. Germany has developed quite efficient ones suitable for CONUS, and we should adopt them.
            Additionally, all houses should convert to composting toilets, which will unburden waste treatment plants.
            I specifically recommend sizing domestic PV systems at 6Kwe to provide sufficient power for cooking, as well as lighting, refrigeration/aircon, etc.
            I specifically recommend replacing computers with energy efficient ones, my Mini-Itx system for example has 1000 X the power of a DEC-VAX-11-780, fits easily into a ladies shoe box, and uses 80 watts.
            I specifically recommend NaS batteries because the materials are readily avaiable, they are reasonably efficient, and compact. Now that NGK has solved the fire problem, mass production can commence.
            I specifically recommend distributed PV power generation to eliminate distribution losses, and recommend conversion of dwellings to 40 VDC operation to eliminate inverters and their associated costs. For the record, my computer runs on 12 VDC, my lighting ditto, my freezer ditto. I and most boaters have already converted, so now it’s time for housing.
            WRT your comments regarding Lawyers, and accountants as part of the energy mix, It would seem to me that burdening an energy source with those services, is similar to burdening a horse with all the hay he will need for the winter, mounted on his back, while trying to get him to pull a plow in spring.
            It seems to me that it is sufficient to calculate the net energy delivered to the end user, when determining EROEI, and my analysis, which builds upon respected analysis does exactly that.
            What should be disconcerting, is that the net delivered EROEI for Nat Gas is ~1 currently, and the net delivered EROEI for oil is ~2 currently.
            It is this reality which need be brought to the attention of decisionmakers, provided one can get them to think of things other than creating chaos in the oil producing regions of the planet, for short term profit.
            It is this reality which should be driving trade relations between the OECD and the PRC, for the purpose of engaging the latter in the mass production of low cost, efficient PV for mass emplacement, to effect the conversion of US electric power from central hydrocarbon fired generation, to distributed renewable generation.
            BTW the USDOE paper found sufficient space at 20% efficiency for 1.1Twe.
            Their numbers don’t include covering parking lots.


          • Hello Dr. Oprisko,

            You seem to be doing your part to reduce energy consumption per capita, which I agree is necessary if energy is to be harvested in real time or almost real time. I wish to pay particular attention to the following remarks which begin near the end of your reply: My responses are in square brackets.

            GWO: WRT your comments regarding lawyers, and accountants as part of the energy mix, It would seem to me that burdening an energy source with those services, is similar to burdening a horse with all the hay he will need for the winter, mounted on his back, while trying to get him to pull a plow in spring.

            [TLW: Bravo.]

            GWO: It seems to me that it is sufficient to calculate the net energy delivered to the end user, when determining EROEI, and my analysis, which builds upon respected analysis does exactly that. What should be disconcerting, is that the net delivered EROEI for Nat Gas is ~1 currently, and the net delivered EROEI for oil is ~2 currently. It is this reality which need be brought to the attention of decision makers, provided one can get them to think of things other than creating chaos in the oil producing regions of the planet, for short term profit. It is this reality which should be driving trade relations between the OECD and the PRC, for the purpose of engaging the latter in the mass production of low cost, efficient PV for mass emplacement, to effect the conversion of US electric power from central hydrocarbon fired generation, to distributed renewable generation.

            [TLW: I must now invest a little time to try to convince you that it is NOT sufficient to do as “respected” analysts have been doing in the peer-reviewed literature, which, by the way, seems to have gone over to the “dark side” (corporate side). The principal reason not to reject the methodology implicit in my thought experiment regarding the autonomous alternative energy district is apparent in the otherwise laudable article in which ERoEI comes to Forbes on June 5th. We read, “SUNY professor (Charles) Hall estimates that for an industrial society to function and grow [italics mine], EROI should measure at least five to nine”. Now, it is no mean task to estimate an EROI (ERoEI) that does not determine feasibility (sustainability) for ERoEI > 1.0. Why should all that work be wasted with at best a rough guess at how great ERoEI must be to avoid economic shrinkage, which, if you favor shrinkage in over-developed countries, you might refer to as “degrowth”. Undoubtedly, to rescue the initial effort will entail considerable additional effort; but, unless that effort is forthcoming, we will never know if the ERoEI of photovoltaic solar energy technology is enough to support a stable population. (Clearly, NOTHING can support perpetual exponential growth.) Once again, the URL is the blog begun at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil conference last December in Austin, Texas, where I spent rather a lot of time with Charles trying to get him to see the light is at . I think the problem is that a better methodology permits finer distinctions one of which is likely to reveal the essential unsuitability of market economies, which, after all, the powers-that-be cannot tolerate. By the way, they (the-powers) must be extremely gratified that almost nobody looks at my blog – not even the NSA. 

            GWO: BTW the USDOE paper found sufficient space at 20% efficiency for 1.1 Twe. Their numbers don’t include covering parking lots.

            [TLW: If we have many more covered parking lots, we shall fill them with many more cars. It will take a great deal higher efficiency than 20% to return the energy the car (or cars) under the roof consume. But, I have no doubt that the irony of this is not lost on you. But, you say, we do what we can do. Remember, I am your ally and friend if you wish to replace fossil fuel with heavily front-loaded PV solar, my favorite alternative energy technology. (Where were you when I was debating Dave Kimble as described in “Photovoltaic for Australia:” at ?)

            Finally, I notice that Public Research Institute has performed a number of services for corporate clients. How do you continue to be a non-profit corporation? Why didn’t you tell us that your interest in PV is more than academic? Quite frankly, you have me worried.

          • You need to remember that all of this conversion takes energy and money.

            And it is my understanding that to continue, these systems require our current systems to continue. For example, Passive Hauses don’t work as well, if a window or two breaks, and it is not possible to replace them.

            Roads need to continue to be maintained under any system that continues. And manufacturing capability needs to maintained. These uses of energy do not shrink nearly as much as the systems you mention.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail and George
            Here is what we should be aiming at, instead of Passiv Haus:


            (Gail, sorry for the reference to Nicole’s site. But she sometimes has wonderful photographs).
            Don Stewart

          • We are at a watershed. We can turn round and go back with our tail between our legs to the primitive conditions that Don would appear to prefer – as per his link – or we can bite the bullet and go on to a future that employs the technological and scientific knowledge that we have thus far amassed to get us over this watershed and take us onwards and upwards. No guesses as to which I prefer. To consider the alternative as a first choice is an admission of defeat before we have even started. By all means plan for the worst case, but only as a fall-back position, and if we do go down the Don Stewart route, then we must provide better protection for our current state of knowledge than that that was afforded the contents of the Great Library at Alexandria so that that body of knowledge is available for a time when our species is brave enough to make full use of it.

            Perhaps we should let climate change be the vehicle for providing impetus to our scientific future. We as a species have been aware of the danger of excess CO2 in the atmosphere since the mid 1800s. Yet even today, over a century and half later, when we have clear evidence of the planet actually warming and oceans are acidifying while they rise, we have scientists and columnists clearly manipulating the data to show it is a hoax (no coincidence that many of them rely on the fossil fuel industry for funding in one way or another). On top of that we have that clown Monckton doing his one man vaudeville act in the form of a supposedly serious talk on climate change while waving a big white flag when challenged, only to come back spouting the same old same old when he thinks the bogeyman has gone away. It is a mystery to me how it is possible for someone to remain a peer while doing their best to thwart efforts to curb climate change and thus harm their country (Monckton is not the only peer who I would like to see ‘reduced to the ranks’. It is no wonder that the public are confused, especially in America where one of the two main political parties has climate change denial as a rite of passage – amazing.

            If Gail is correct and BAU is not possible, then the danger from climate change recedes, but does not disappear. If we are to take advantage of our scientific abilities, in any field not just atmospheric sciences, then we must not let those who have done so much to influence public opinion, and the resulting political opinion, get away with their actions. All it will take is a major breakthrough in energy storage and the push will be on for more electricity production. If we fail to keep climate change at the front of our thinking that push will likely include a massive increase in coal fired power stations along with a ‘frack baby frack’ philosophy. If that happens, then heaven help us and our children.

            I don’t think scientists and technologists have a choice in this matter. We have to foster respect for the advances we have made. What an abject failure we will be as a species if we just throw it all away and live in the sort of conditions that Don would prefer us to. If we can show that people who have abused their positions to endanger our species should face sanction, preferably involving the loss of freedom, then that should get the public on the side of science and opposed to the miscreants and those behind them. First, is the need to get people aware of the dangers to our current energy supply and the need to act. Gail is doing her best, but is it enough and if not, what more can we do? Ideas, anyone?

          • Don Stewart says:

            My points about the Maori are two:
            1. Aim for protection from the elements rather than micro-control of the environment in a building.
            2. The extended family replaces the welfare state.

            I submit that if humanity in the OECD countries made these two changes, we would solve a lot of problems. Not all of the problems, but a lot of them. Both points are illustrated by the photograph.

            Perhaps a modern analog to the Maori shack is the Roma, or young people building Tiny Houses, or the Cob structures at Albert Bates place. They have the advantage of not requiring mortgages. A Passiv Haus is generally conceded to be more expensive than a conventional house. The cost is driven by the desire for micro-control of the environment.

            Don Stewart

          • Don, as I stated, I was going by the photo you linked to. I think we can do better for our children and grandchildren and said as much.

            I also took the opportunity to try and get some action against all those ‘nice’ people who, either by design or simply out of ignorance have managed to abuse their position in order to hinder action to curtail climate change. That hindrance has endangered the security and well-being of my son and any children he has already sired (he has been a bit of a lad, which might be heriditary) or children he might sire if he ever settles down, of course.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Hofstadter and Sander say (page 256) that ‘it would seem that the flexibility of our category systems is the key which distinguishes Homo sapiens sapiens from a Yorkshire terrier’ and on page 253) ‘the proliferation of levels of abstraction grants us the freedom to shift viewpoint whenever one of the categories that we are currently focusing on seems to be leading us into a box canyon’.

            I submit that the society at large, and many of the comments on this blog, are focused on abstractions which have led us into a box canyon. Gail admirably shows us the dimensions of the canyon. As she herself says, she is less certain how we back this mule up and get out of the box canyon.

            I pointed out that rather than see Passiv Hous and Obamacare as solutions to our problems, they may well just get us further into the box canyon. Passiv Haus requires us to continue to maintain a global industrial system, and Obamacare requires us to devote a fifth of our GDP to mostly useless medical interventions and the maintenance of an enormous global sickcare system. So…let’s fall back 10 yards and rethink the categories. If we adopt simple shelters (and I gave examples from current practice on the fringes of society) and extended families with a pro-health agenda exemplified by this article today:
            then we have radically changed the nature of the discussion. Gone are the financialization of the economy with ever growing levels of debt and gone is the welfare state with high tax rates and government corruption (as exemplified by the spying scandal and the Executive claiming the privilege of killing people at will).

            One has to make some choices in life and they have consequences. You (I think) vote for using some modified version of the Global Industrial System plus Welfare State to try to finely control the comfort level in houses and insuring expensive medical treatment for people who are sick because they have bad habits. I vote for very simple solutions which eliminate a great deal of the baggage that you would erect trying to achieve your goals.

            There aren’t any guarantees. You might be right. What my experience tells me is that we are in a box canyon and we need, urgently, to get out of it.

            Don Stewart

          • Nice posting, Don!

            There seem to be a lot of TINA (There Is No Alternative) people who think that if we just change some policies here, add some new technology there, and spread out the wealth everywhere, Everything Will Be Alright(TM).

            Somehow, I doubt that any of the TINA people have ever grown much — if any — of their own food. I doubt they’ve directly taken a life for their own sustenance. I doubt they’ve ever set a broken bone, or aided in childbirth.

            I submit that in the future, the “survivors” will mostly be people with such skills.

            I’d like to write more, but I have a doe ready for birth that I have to check in on every hour and plants in the greenhouse that are going to bolt if I don’t get them in the ground soon, my fertigation system filter is clogged and needs cleaning, and a bad batch of biodiesel has our market vehicle down — glycerine in the fuel filter. The good news is, no bones to set today… so far… :-)

            There goes half my daily Internet budget that I put myself on — with few exceptions, if you’re spending more than an hour or two a day on the Internet, you may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

            It’s been said the human brain is shrinking, probably due to excessive specialization and prevalence of extrinsic knowledge. Specialist species tend to not survive extinction events. So go learn something new that will help your survival today — and I don’t mean a new fact within your existing specialty — jump into something you know nothing about! You’re never too old to add neural connections.

          • Don, I am a mechanical engineer and as such I obviously have scientific leanings – but would never claim to be a scientist. I am not American and am not affected by such issues as Obamacare. In fact, I really don’t care one way or the other about it, sorry. What exercises my little grey cells is how daft the human species is and how easily manipulated it is by those in power. By ‘in power’ I am almost certainly talking about those shadowy people in the background pulling the strings of those who think that they are in power. When I said that we were at a watershed, I meant it. We really need to take stock of just how badly we have managed our society and learn some vital lessons before we carry on the way we are. I think on that we will be in agreement.

            An example of how the public has been manipultated: 3000 people were murdered on 9/11 and any half-decent investigation shows that four fundamental laws of physics have to be flawed for the official explanation to be valid. Two thousand, or thereabouts, architects (including members and fellows of the American Institute of Architects) and engineers (including civil, electrical and explosives experts) have signed a petition calling for a re-investigation of the WTC attack. A group of pilots, some with airtime on the aircraft involved on that day are also calling for a re-investigation of the events of that day because they, like the architects and engineers just don’t believe the official story. Among their evidence is the fact that either the NTSB have made a mistake in their analysis of the FDR from American 77 and 14 eye-witnesses (including two Pentagon police sergeants and a Pentagon heli-pad employee) are mistaken in what they saw, or two aircraft have to have been involved in the Pentagon attack, one of them probably a cruise missile. Add to that the presence of nano-thermite (a military grade explosive/incendiary material whose patent application lists building demolition where the noise of explosions is to be kept to a minimum as a major application) permeating the dust of the WTC site and one has the closest thing to a cast-iron case that I can think of. Yet, raise the matter and one is automatically dismissed as a tinfoil hat wearing ‘truther’ who should be dismissed as a crank. (I am not going to get into a slanging match over this as I have promised not to. All I would ask is that anyone who feels strongly enough to reply on this point should explain the free-fall acceleration of WTC7 as part of their reply. The video ‘Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out’ should help in that regard, if only to see the quality of those with whom they will be in disagreement.)

            Climate change provides another example of public manipulation. We have pundits claiming it is all a hoax while 97% of the world’s top climate scientists are in agreement that the planet is not only warming, it is warming at an alarming rate and unless we cease BAU and move to a much lower level of production of CO2, our children and grandchildren will suffer terribly. If it were only happening on some island somewhere, I am sure that anyone with a double digit IQ would be aghast at the failure of the islanders to act and be forced to conclude that they are pretty nasty people who obviously don’t care about future generation. But it isn’t limited to some far-flung island, it affects the whole planet and we have known of the danger for over a century and a half. One would expect that in a sane world, the people would be demanding that the matter be solved by now. Instead we have done precious little and are now reaping the whirlwind. And it is going to get a lot worse if we don’t do something. While Gail may well be correct in that BAU is not going to be possible, that will only postpone matters or could even make it worse if we turn to coal to make up the shortfall in energy supply. It is not as though we haven’t been here before. Look at the way public opinion was slanted away from reducing cigarette smoking. How many people had to die before the harm it was doing became common knowledge? (And how much profit did the tobacco industry make in the meantime?) And now the same advertising agencies are running the fossil fuel industry’s campaign to curtail any action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Talk about ‘blatant’!

            Don, you can go on about box canyons, whatever they are, and mules etc, but I will go where my life experience has taken me thus far. I am sure that if we had Manhattan type projects to restructure our energy provision more towards nuclear, preferably LFTR designs (preferably small modular ones), and towards solving our energy storage problem so that transportation could be predominantly electric powered, then this entire nightmare that we currently face would soon be just a bad dream. It is sad that the major hurdle to such a solution is that public opinion (again) has been swayed – by the Greens this time – to see all things nuclear as evil. The only evil nuclear items are the latest nuclear weapons. Trident C4 and earlier actually kept the peace and if the Greens had bothered to explore them in depth so that they could take an informed position on them then those weapons might just be still around to work their magic. As it is, well that’s another couple of pages and its late …

            Just one closing comment. The thing that amazes me about the U.S.A. is that it is so backward for an advanced nation. Its people still seem to believe in the American dream without realising that it has gone to the rich and they are going to keep it unless it is wrested from them. The people still go to the polls, but why is a mystery to me. All the major issues are sorted out by lobbyists and those in the revolving door between the legislature and industry.For example: a Monsanto genetically modified crop seed can blow onto a neighbouring farmer’s land and the poor bloke gets sued by Monsanto for having his farm in the wrong place. Unless we become aware of the injustice of the modern world, and do something about it, any move to a simpler lifestyle, redolent of a bygone age, as seems to be your preferred solution, will simply postpone the nightmare. I say let’s tackle it head on. And that difference Don is, I suspect, fairly irreconcilable.

          • Scott says:

            Yes Mel I am bewildered at how easily my fellow Americans have been fooled by all the hype, and also the way they eat are being fed by these fast food joints that are sickening people. When I go shopping there are far too many sick people riding around in carts that and too sick to push a shopping cart. But there is a group of us that are waking up to it and taking measures into our own hands but looks like too little too late as we are the minority in this thing. If you did a poll on Thorium to the Americans or maybe even the Europeans would they know what it is?

            There are many things we should be doing but they are not getting done due to the propaganda that out there. World Trade Center is just a good example and the 911 attacks were likely sadly put on by our own governments and corporate interests that really control our government. Sadly we can see what happened after that with the expansion of war in the middle east and quest for power over oil rich nations. Charges were likely planted in the twin towers. When I saw that event did not even wake up our country to being mislead by greed and corporate and special interest groups and such powers, I knew we were in trouble…

            You know Mel, it has gotten even worse since then, not subject perhaps for this blog but I will put it out there anyway as I am a rebel… we now have Geo engineering underway and Chemtrails being sprayed upon the citizens here without our votes or permission.

          • Don Stewart says:

            I know (slightly) an official in the US Green Party. I think they would be quite amused at your assumption that they can sway public opinion on any topic whatsoever.

            As to your not caring about Obamacare. We spend somewhere around 6 percent of our GDP on energy and 20 percent on sickcare and the sickcare cartel controls our government. And, next year, the Federal Surveillance Machine will ferret out those people who are not paying for the mandatory insurance. In effect, Obamacare puts a fixed cost of 20 percent of our GDP on the economy. Even if energy went up to 10 percent, it would still be only half the effect of a dysfunctional healtcare system. Such are the effects of government sponsored cartelization.

            So what can the ordinary citizen do about it? I modestly suggest looking at the Maori photograph and then looking seriously at those people on the fringes who are making modern adaptations. I know some of them…and they are a pretty happy lot. If you can make infinite energy happen and can solve all the other problems, then my suggestion is moot.

            Don Stewart

          • Scott says:

            Hello Mel and others, A stark and striking article about Oyster Farms no longer viable in the Pacific Northwest and moving to Hawaii. Clear evidence of acidification of our seas.


          • Don,

            I like that photo. That type of building is substantially more sustainable than a Passiv Haus. If termites come and eat it, it will be easy to make a new one.

          • Scott says:

            That was a good picture, at least they had pristine hunting grounds (then) which would have given them the upper hand on us right away.

  29. A recurring theme in nature and technology is that creation of a waste product tends to create a niche for something which uses that product. For the past century, millions of tons of a particular waste product have been accumulating. It contains no useful energy or rare elements, yet it might become something far more important to the future of man; a cheap and abundant energy-resource.
    A consistent element of technological advancement is the gap between discovery and commercialization. The first oil well in the USA was Drake’s, in 1859, for the purpose of providing kerosene as a substitute for whale oil as an illuminant. Naptha (gasoline) was originally an almost unmarketable byproduct that was used as a cleaning fluid and paint thinner, but no application could use all that was being produced until the carburetor for the internal combustion engine was invented. Today, demand for gasoline is a major driver for oil production.
    Given the delay between invention and widespread commercialization, productive responses to peak oil will come from inventions and resources already known but not yet widely used. Photovoltaics are a case in point.
    Four types of photovoltaic cell are marketed today:
    1. Single-crystal silicon.
    2. Polycrystalline silicon.
    3. Amorphous silicon.
    4. Thin film (silicon, CdTe, and CIGS are most widely used).
    Because silicon is the 2nd most abundant element in Earth’s crust (27.7% by weight). we should be able to make as many silicon PV cells as we choose. Silicon PV production began with circular wafers sawn from single crystals drawn incrementally from a molten bath of silicon. Single crystals create the most efficient cells, but this is a slow and expensive process. Polycrystalline and amorphous silicon films are much cheaper than large single crystals, in both money and energy. Until recently the PV industry was too small to be worth its own supply of silicon, so it utilized surplus from the semiconductor industry. This surplus had a way of disappearing when electronics were hot, squeezing out the PV industry. But this is changing in a very big way, and the consequences have revolutionized the industry.
    This revolution has its origin in mines producing phosphate rock. Phosphates have long been in high demand as fertilizer (phosphorus is an essential element of life) and phosphate rock (fluoroapatite, Ca3(PO4)3CaF2) is today’s major mineral source of phosphorus. Fluoroapatite is dissolved in sulfuric acid (H2SO4) to release phosphoric acid, with gypsum (CaSO4) and hydrogen fluoride (HF) as byproducts. Gypsum is used to make gypsum board, commonly known as “drywall”, leaving the Hydrogen fluoride as a disposal problem. Today, it is combined with silicon dioxide (quartz sand) to make fluorosilicic acid, and then neutralized with sodium hydroxide (lye) to make sodium fluorosilicate, Na2SiF6. This has some minor uses as a source of fluoride for drinking water, but far more is produced than can be used. It’s been piling up for a long time, and a million tons of this stuff (containing about 147,000 tons of silicon) is added to the pile every year.
    During the alt-energy boom which followed the 1970′s US peak in oil production, SRI International created a process in which sodium fluorosilicate is reacted with metallic sodium (Na), producing elemental silicon at < $15/kg in volume),which is easily scaled up to 1000 tons/year. The Sodium Fluoride byproduct, can be used in drinking water fluoridation, as a wood preservative, and in steelmaking. Recent high petrofuel prices have sparked renewed interest in this process. The silicon can be cast directly into round crystals or ribbons. Evergreen Solar’s “string ribbon” process produces 100-micron (0.1 mm) thick polycrystalline silicon ribbons directly from a molten silicon bath. Twin Creek’s proton splitting process produces 20-micron (0.02)mm thick monocrystalline silicon wafers from round crystals. The new source of PV silicon; semi-toxic fertilizer waste and metallic sodium in, production-ready silicon wafers out.
    Making silicon is one thing. Making enough cheap enough to seriously change our energy situation is another thing entirely. So the important questions are,
    1. How much silicon is really available,
    2. How much (area) of wafers can it make,
    3. How much power (peak) could they produce, and
    4. How much will it all cost?
    How much silicon: The million tons may not all be available. Some of it may be contaminated, or unsuitable for whatever reason. Since SRI claims to have tested this process, let’s assume 25% waste giving production of 112,000 metric tons of silicon per year, from current phosphorus production.. The specific gravity of silicon is about 2.8, so this is about 40,000 cubic meters of solid elemental silicon.
    How much area can it make: proton split into wafers 20 𝛍m (10-6 meters) thick, it would make a staggering 5 million acres of wafers. This is enough to cover a square ~90 miles on a side.
    How much peak power could they produce: Current monocrystalline cells are about 21% efficient. At the standard 1000 W/m² irradiance, the 20 billion square meters of panels would support 1.25 Twe of capacity, and would produce ~2,100 Twh /yr, at $0.054/kwh, saving 900 Billion mt of CO2 emissions / yr, if located in Indiana. That’s ~88% of US average electric consumption. We could probably add that much power every year, just from the waste produced in Florida from current mining. There are other phosphate mines, and probably a lot of raw material piled up over the years.
    How much will it all cost: SRI claims a cost (after sale of byproducts) of $14-something per kilogram of raw silicon. Let’s round up to $15/kg and then multiply by ten to account for the cost of casting into ingots, proton splitting, doping, printing electrodes, laminating onto film and attaching connections (production of 2 million hectares per year will have some serious automation applied to it, so it shouldn’t be all that expensive). A square meter of 20-micron cells has only two hundredths (0.02) of a liter of silicon, or 56 grams. Multiply by $150/kg and we get a price of $8.40/m² or about 4 cents per peak watt. The annual cost for all of this (112 million kg/year at $150/kg) would be just $16.8 billion. That’s downright cheap; at less than $0.80 per square foot, it would be highly competitive with conventional roofing. The cost of everything else, mounting,wiring, inverters, switchgear will be far greater than the PV itself, or about $1/watt, and the entire 1.25 Twe project will cost $1.3 Trillion, or about the cost of the GWOT since 2001. We might see a situation where non-PV surfaces become the exception. For the rough price of 3 years of the war in Afghanistan $ 1,300 billion, we could generate sufficient power to equal current US consumption.
    Where would we put the panels? USDOE in a recent study estimated sufficient suitable roof space for 900 Gwe of solar panels. If we covered parking lots, we’d likely have enough space for the entire 1.25 Twe.
    Would we be able to absorb that much solar power? Most certainly, and two developments would make it almost trivial: holdover plate refrigeration/air conditioning and a nationwide electrified rail system fed by electric vehicles. Holdover plate refrigeration has been in use in the marine industry for more than 30 years, and is now entering the mainstream, driven by the difference between peak and overnight electric rates. The nationwide electrified, double tracked rail system fed by electric vehicles and bicycles is the current state of the art in France. These developments are a grid manager’s wet dream, allowing generation to be averaged over hours instead of seconds. Wind, most prevalent at night, complements daytime PV power, to power both of these trends.
    Twin Creeks Technologies of San Jose next generation PV panel consisting of a 20 micron layer of silicon bonded to a plastic film.. When fabricated at 20 microns, the silicon can bend without cracking, and its characteristics are appropriate for bonding to a flexible plastic film, giving the results shown below:

    Last year the Department of Energy backed a Boston-area company that found a way to cast the wafers at 200 microns.
    Twin Creeks process involves shooting protons, which are essentially hydrogen atoms, into a block of silicon, embedding them to the precise depth desired and then heating the protons so they take up more space, cracking off a layer in a process called “proton-induced exfoliation.”
    Manufacturing a standard cell today requires 6.5 grams of silicon per watt of capacity, worth about 20 cents; the new system will use just 600 milligrams and the silicon will cost ~2 cents per cell. The finished product can be wrapped in plastic instead of being covered with a special grade of low-iron glass on a hard backing further reducing costs.
    The elimination of sawing kerf loss combined with its ability to make thinner wafers of high quality make the above implant-cleave wafering approach technically and economically attractive. For example, while it typically takes 6g of silicon to make 1 watt of solar wafer, including kerf loss, the new implant-cleave process consumes merely 0.3g/W at 20µm. Using $15/kg for the price of silicon, this corresponds to a 95% cost savings in silicon material. The new wafering method reduces the variation in wafer thickness and roughness during the manufacturing process. Not only are the variations much smaller than wafers that have been wire sawed, the implant and cleave physics cause a linear coupling between these variations and the wafer thickness. For example, a 150µm PolyMax as-cleaved wafer will typically have a variation of +/- 2µm and RMS roughness of 0.4µm, but a 20µm PolyMax wafer will show thickness variation of less than +/- 0.2µm and RMS roughness of 0.06µm. This thickness-variation interdependence enables the method to make ultra-thin wafers.
    Implant-cleaved wafers have consistently shown to be of equal or greater mechanical strength than conventionally sawn wafers, even after the saw-mark damage surface removal etch.  Even at lower thicknesses where wire sawn wafers are unavailable for comparison, the ultra-thin wafers exhibit impressive mechanical qualities. In the case of the ultra-thin 20µm thick wafers (called a silicon “foil” due to its high flexibility), the high strength of the wafers can be demonstrated in a custom-designed, two-point bend test where a full wafer is shown to be capable of bending with a radius of curvature as small as 5mm, even before any surface treatment has been added. Building-integrated PV (BIPV) and other applications requiring flexible absorbers can now be of high conversion efficiency.
    In Conclusion:
    The economics and material properties of implant-cleaved wafers are superior to traditional wire-sawn wafers. The cleaved wafers exhibited superior mechanical properties, while using 5% of the material currently required. The implant cleave method, enabling manufacture of 20µm to 150µm thickness wafers, without kerf loss, is a low cost high quality wafering approach with scale-up potential.

    • I specifically brought the above discussion to this forum to bring it to the attention of non-scientists and non-engineers. Both scientists and engineers have been discussing these topics for decades. However, economists and liberally trained professionals, are oblivious to this. The follow on comments, totally ignoring my message, are a case in point.
      The EROEI of various traditional energy sources vs renewables is key to sound decision making, but most seem intent on ignoring this.

      What are you going to do when London, NYC, Baltimore, Kiel, Miami, Jacksonville, Boston, Shanghai, Shenzhen, St. Petersburg, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Cartagena, Rio, and Buenos Aires are flooded within the next several decades? Don’t think so? Consider that Sandy flooded the bottom 3 floors of the Manhattan VA medical center, and today’s high tide was only 2 meters less than Sandy’s storm surge.


      • In my above analysis of the EROEI of PV, I neglected to account for the efficiency gains made since the quoted study was completed in 2000. At the time of the study, mono-crystalline PV efficiencies were ~13%. When I purchased my PV array in 2009, the mfr delivered 15.5% efficient panels. Today mono-crystalline PV panels of 21% are being delivered. In 2000 PV power density was 130 watts / sq meter. Today PV power density is 210 watts/ sq meter. Today’s panel is 60% of the area of one manufactured in 2000, for the same power. Were production carried out similarly, costs would have dropped by 40% for that reason alone. However, as I mentioned, PV shares many similarities with solid state electronics, and major gains in processing efficiencies and process improvements have been made which reduced the processing costs, and materials inputs, of which silicon was the largest single item.
        WRT housing, I recommend that one and all visit the sites covering energy
        positive homes and PassivHaus. Here in NYC we have apt buildings which
        meet PassivHaus standard, and they look like ordinary apt buildings!


  30. xabier says:

    Interesting comment from the British ‘Guardian’ newspaper on the impending crisis/collapse of Egypt: it states that the real problem is not so much lack of food (although production has been falling) but the enormous population growth and the inability of people to pay for the food that is available. Most of the population depend on government subsidies for all or part of their nutrition, and many of the young are severely malnourished. Illustrates very well many of Gail’s points re. oil and other forms of energy.




GDP, E, ERoEI v. a program parameter


Total Energy Budget (E) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) must increase to compensate for diminishing ERoEI* if we wish to prevent the reduction of standard of living as we approach the absolute limits to economic growth.


The prevention …

The prevention of competition for wealth and power is a necessary and sufficient condition for Universal Sustainable Happiness. Any method whatever for achieving this is dematerialism.

This is the epigraph of the website Dematerialism and Energy, which was created shortly after the argument was perfected that permitted us to justify Dematerialism on physical grounds alone, even though the necessity to abandon resource dominance hierarchies was established originally on moral grounds principally.