(Survival manual/2. Social issues/After peak oil)
1. Peak Oil facts
2. When the lights go out
3. Depletion of key resources
4. Peak oil info and strategies
5. Urban vs. Rural Sustainability
6. Cities, Peak Oil and Sustainability
7. Surviving Peak Oil, The Economic Meltdown and A Possible New Great Depression
Oil is the fuel that enabled the growth of modern civilization, and all industrialized countries now rely on it to an extraordinary extent.
Oil provides 40 percent of all primary energy, and 90 percent of our transportation energy.
It is furthermore critical to industrial agriculture, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, much of the clothing industry, and a vast array of others.
The physical and chemical versatility of oil, combined with its high energy density, are such that no other known energy source can serve as a full or even adequate substitute. In short, oil is the lifeblood of the industrial world.
Once peak oil hits, economic growth will be gone. Our financial system needs growth to sustain it, so that loans can be paid back with interest. What has been economic growth may be replaced with economic decline.
1. Peak Oil Facts & What They Mean to You
Pasted from <http://www.energytrove.com/peak-oil-facts.html>
The peak oil facts are undisputed despite the raging debate over when it will actually occur. This page summarizes peak oil theory, facts and what it all means to you…
• Undisputed facts about peak oil
• Peak oil: taking the facts one step further
• Projections about peak oil’s timing
• Boiling it all down & next steps
Undisputed Peak Oil Facts
There are widely opposing viewpoints about peak oil. When will it happen? How much oil is left? How will renewable energy reduce its demand? What will be the impact to the national and global economy?
Before you can consider these questions, their implications and what they mean to you, you must first establish a foundation of the undisputed peak oil facts accepted by all viewpoints…
Fact #1 of 11 Peak Oil Facts:
Oil is a nonrenewable resource, which means that it can’t be reproduced for use by humans (it is made over millions of years). In other words, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Fact #2: Peak oil occurs and can be confirmed when the rate at which oil is taken from the ground worldwide hits its high point and starts to decline.
Fact #3: There are a finite number of oil reserves on the planet. Regardless of technological advancements that allow us to find and extract what’s there, eventually existing reserves will be depleted and there will be no more oil to find.
Fact #4: All individual oil fields (and therefore all nations’ and the planet’s oil production) inevitably peak, decline and are depleted. For example, the United States reached peak oil production in the 1970’s which has been in decline ever since.
Fact #5: One or both of two things must occur after peak oil is reached and the decline in oil production continues:
• The price of oil will go up
• The demand for oil will go down
__Peak Oil Facts In Context: Canadian Tar Sands
Canada has about 178 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (2nd only to Saudi Arabia), over 95% of which are in the form of oil sand deposits. If it could be easily extracted, it would still only add about another 5- 1/2 years to the world’s oil supply at the current rate of consumption. However…
The amount of oil able to be extracted per day from tar sands: About 3.5 million barrels or roughly 4% of the world’s daily consumption
__Environmental impact of tar sand oil extraction:
• By 2012, the Canadian tar sands operations are expected to use as much gas as is needed to heat all of the homes in Canada.
• Extracting oil from tar sands causes as much as 3 times the greenhouse gas pollution as a regular barrel of oil.
• Canadian tar sands production methods do not comply with many U.S. environmental laws.
In either case, all but the wealthiest individuals must reduce their dependence on oil as the price increases.
Fact #6: Our current prevailing culture is utterly dependent on oil.Oil makes the modern world tick… not only does it fuel our cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes but it is used to produce the materials they are made up of.
It’s also extensively used during every step of the food process up to the point that the food enters your mouth… oil’s products are used to plant seeds, fertilize crops, kill bugs and weeds, harvest crops (which are also fed to the animals we eat) and to preserve, package, ship and refrigerate our food. Fully one-fifth of the United States’ oil consumption is used to produce and transport our food.
Oil is also used directly or indirectly to create the utensils, plates, pots, pans, counters, stoves, dinner tables and chairs that we use when cooking and eating…not to mention part of the electricity used to cook our food and to keep the lights on while we eat.
Rather use candles? Most are made of paraffin wax which is made from refined oil.
Countless oil-derived products are used in our everyday lives. See some common examples in the table above:
Fact #7: Demand for oil is overtaking the speed at which we can produce it, regardless of peak oil’s timing, which will ultimately prevent oil prices from falling.
If demand continues on the same long-term trajectory — which appears to be the case outside of intermittent fluctuations caused by economic factors — there is no end in sight to rising oil prices.
The 2008 “Great Recession” caused a reduction in the demand of oil which caused its price to drop, but oil’s price must resume its increases for two main reasons:
1) As illustrated in Fact #6 above and Fact #8 below, oil is used in too many aspects of our lives for us to reduce our consumption past a certain point and there is not enough energy available from alternative sources to make up for a significant shortfall.
2) If oil’s demand drops for a long enough period of time, either production will slow down and bring prices back in line or production will continue at its current pace thus getting us closer to depleting the world’s oil (and therefore reducing oil’s supply which will eventually bringing its price back up). At best, reduction in the demand of oil would only serve to push back the timing of peak oil.
For a case in point about our world’s unquenchable and growing thirst for oil, consider that the United States and its 311 million citizens currently consume about 25% of the world’s oil and increase their demand every year.
__Chinese Oil Flow
China, the most populous country in the world with 1.3 billion citizens, currently consumes 9% of the world’s oil. It is increasing its oil consumption at a rate of 7.5% per year, 7 times faster than the U.S.
According to the International Energy Agency, by 2030 world energy demand will be 40% higher than it was in 2007: “Price volatility will continue, but the days of cheap energy are over.”
The United States Joint Forces Command concludes, “Assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day.”
__Peak Oil Facts In Context: New Oil Discoveries
The 10 largest oil discoveries from 2000 – 2010 combined (including Brazil’s 2010 discoveries) amount to about 48 billion barrels.
• The world’s 2010 oil consumption per day was 87.4 million barrels
• Number of days these combined discoveries will last at current rate of consumption: 549 (about 1.5 years)
In a typical economic scenario, when a price point gets too high consumers simply shift their buying over to another good or service. But what happens when our infrastructure, products and services
don’t have a viable replacement?
Fact #8: On the global scale, renewable energy sources and non-conventional oil will come nowhere close to offsetting our dependence on oil through 2030 and beyond.
According to United States Joint Forces Command, even taking into account all other available energy sources, oil will still need to satisfy the majority of our energy needs through 2030.
ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the world, agrees: “80% of global energy needs through 2030 will continue to be met by oil, natural gas and coal.”
Fact #9: Everyone will eventually be forced to reduce their consumption of oil and its byproducts. Whether oil price increases make it unaffordable or government policy requires less consumption, as oil production continues to decline every single person will be affected at some point.
__Energy Per Barrel: Pros & Cons
One barrel of oil is equivalent to about 25,000 hours of human labor. Assuming weekends off, no vacation time and a 40 hour work week, that’s equivalent to over 12 years of work from one person.
That much work packed into one barrel of oil has enabled humans to accomplish amazing feats, ultimately allowing us to grow our global population 575% since 1857 when the first large oil refinery was built. That’s a growth of 5.8 billion people over the last 150 years compared to 1.2 billion over the previous 2,000. What happens as that amazing energy source starts to go away?
Fact #10: Those people that have permanently adopted the use of less oil-dependent products, services, forms of energy and lifestyles will be less affected as the availability of oil declines and its price increases.
Fact #11: On the individual level, reducing dependence on oil is affordable and requires only minor changes to lifestyle. There are hundreds of ways to reduce your dependence on oil and the other finitely-available fossil fuels, many of which are either completely free or very affordable.
For example, replacing just one incandescent light bulb with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb and always turning it off when it’s not in use can save up to $75 or more per year (this is after taking the higher cost of the fluorescent bulb into account). And that’s just the very tip of the energy-saving, oil-dependence-reducing iceberg.
More on what can be done on the individual level in a moment. First, let’s discuss how these peak oil facts will affect the oil-dependent…
Taking the Peak Oil Facts One Step Further & What it Means to You
As illustrated above, oil is intimately connected to almost every aspect our culture. So what happens when the price of oil increases? History has shown the following three effects:
1) Inflation goes up proportionately. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), “inflation, measured by the rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI), tracks movements in the world oil price.”
What this means to you: A little inflation is a good thing. By encouraging people to outpace it, low inflation (as opposed to 0% inflation or deflation) leads to additional investing and borrowing thereby creating jobs, additional spending and an improved economy.
But rising inflation is bad for several reasons. In general, it means that the money you earn today (or saved in the past) will not buy you as much tomorrow… especially if your employer’s pay raises don’t keep up. For example, a 5% pay raise alongside 2% inflation means that you’ll be able to buy 3% more stuff with your money than you could previously. But that same 5% pay raise alongside 10% inflation has the opposite effect: a reduced standard of living.
It’s also bad news for retirement accounts since higher inflation makes it more difficult for your investments to outpace it, ultimately leaving you with a difficult decision: make riskier investments in an attempt to outpace higher inflation or remain in safer investments and watch your money lose value.
Higher inflation also leads to higher interest rates which makes borrowing money more expensive.
2) The price of oil-dependent goods and services increases. Not surprisingly, when the cost of a good or service’s underlying expenses go up, the price of those goods and services must go up as well.
What this means to you: Every oil-dependent product or service that you currently use will go up in price. In general, the more oil that a product or service uses, the more dramatic its price increase will be.
For example, the price of corn keeps pace with the price of oil since so much oil is used in its production and because ethanol, an alternative energy source, is made from corn. Organic crops, on the other hand, use much less oil and are therefore less affected.
3) Recession occurs. The DoE also points out that since the 1970s there have been “dramatic changes in GDP growth as the world oil price has undergone dramatic change.”11 More explicitly, as the price of oil and inflation (CPI’s rate of increase) go up, the economy goes down.
What this means to you: Recessions cause obvious hardships… unemployment rises, employer pay falls or remains stagnant, housing prices fall and inflation becomes more painful.
To recap what we’ve established so far…
1) Oil will eventually run out. As it does, the price will continue to go up.
2) If demand outpaces supply before oil runs out, the price will go up in a similar fashion since oil is unique in its energy-producing capacity and because…
3) On a global scale, oil will be still be required to provide as much as 80% of our energy needs by 2030; there will not be enough power available from alternative sources to reduce our projected dependence on oil much below this.
4) On an individual scale, reducing oil dependence is relatively easy and affordable.
Before getting into ways to reduce our individual oil dependence, the next question should be obvious: when will peak oil – or the time when demand outstrips supply – occur? In other words, how much time do we have?
Boiling down the Peak Oil Facts & Next Steps
Oil is going away eventually for all of us – either because we’ll use it all up or because it will become too expensive as its demand outstrips its supply.
Rising oil prices will cause a severe and compounding downward spiral in a world that is dramatically underprepared with alternative energy sources; The inevitable oil-induced inflation increases, the higher cost of oil-dependent goods and services and an ongoing recession that is in lock-step with rising oil prices will eat away at more and more of our paychecks and savings.
When evaluating predictions from the US and international governments to the largest oil companies to organizations specifically focused on analyzing the data, it appears that if the scales have not tipped already, at the latest they will have by the time our babies are out of college.
This all may come as a shock. (Why hasn’t the media at-large assembled and communicated the research and opinions? Why isn’t the government acting more aggressively on the opinions of the organizations that they themselves have charged with compiling the research?)
Regardless of who’s right about the timing or how quickly the data will make its way into the minds of the masses, the peak oil facts should leave you asking three important questions first over all others:
1) When (not if) oil peaks or its demand outstrips its supply, how will the rising cost of oil affect you and your family?
2) What is the worst thing that can happen by beginning a transition to a less oil- and fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyle? (Here’s part of the answer: it will permanently reduce your expenses, freeing your money up for use elsewhere)
c) What can you do now to begin the transition?
Fortunately, the transition –- and where it leads — is neither all that bad nor expensive.
Pasted from <http://www.energytrove.com/peak-oil-facts.html>
First, about 2008-2010, global oil use per capita (purple bell curve on bottom) is seen just beginning to decline from its peak plateau. It’s use per capita declines at a rate of about 20% per decade so that in 50-60 years there is very little being used
Coal quickly peaks after oil and by 2025, it too is in decline.
The Human population has exploded as a result of the energy bonanza provided by petroleum and coal and their generation of electricity, resource extraction and transportation. The population numbers steeply declines when the free lunch diminishes.
2. When the Lights Go Out
When the Lights Go Out
10 January 2010, by Peter Goodchild
When fossil fuels begin to vanish, the first sign of the times will not be made of cardboard and propped up in front of an empty gas pump. The sign will be the flickering bulb in the ceiling, because electricity is always the weakest link in the synergistic triad that includes fossil fuels and metals.
When the lights go out, so does everything else. The house or apartment will be largely non-functioning. Not only will there be darkness throughout the dwelling between sunset and sunrise, but all the sockets in the wall will be useless. The “four major appliances,” stove, refrigerator, washer, and drier, will be nothing more than large white objects taking up space, so there will be no means of cooking food or preserving it, and no means of doing laundry. There will be no heating or air-conditioning, because these are either controlled by electricity or entirely powered by it. For the same reason, there will be no plumbing, so clean water will not be coming into the house, and waste water will not be leaving it.
And that is only one’s own habitation. The entire country will be affected, the whole world will be affected. Computers will cease to operate, and computers have insinuated themselves into almost every device we use. There will be no long-distance communication: no telephones, no Internet, no transmission of data from anywhere to anywhere.
Money will largely cease to exist, because there will be no electronic means of sending or receiving it, and no way of balancing accounts. In fact money nowadays is not reckoned as coins or bills, but as data on a screen, and the data will no longer be there. All bank accounts will cease to exist.
Modern medicine will vanish. Doctors will have almost no means of taking care of their patients. Hospitals will be burdened with the sick and dying, and there will be no means of taking care of them. There will not even be a means of removing and burying the dead.
The police will be immobilized, because they will have no means of sending or receiving information. Since police forces anywhere have only enough personnel to deal with normal crises, it will not take long for officers to realize that they are powerless to do anything, but stay home and protect their own families.
For anyone, it will be impossible to jump into a car and get help, because cars require gasoline, and the gas pumps are run by electricity. In any case, the oil wells and the refineries will have ceased operation. The biggest “vicious circle” will have taken place: no electricity means no fossil fuels, and no fossil fuels means no electricity.
For a while, people will try to get by with emergency devices and equipment. Backup generators can save lives for a while, but those generators are not meant to be running for more than a few weeks, because they themselves require fuel. On a more primitive level there will be battery-powered devices, and even simple oil lamps and candles, but these will not last very long.
“When the lights go out” is mainly a synecdoche, of course, because the incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs in a house will not be the major concern: in the daylight hours, one does not need light bulbs. But the flickering of bulbs will nevertheless act as an early-warning system, the canary in the coal mine. During a severe storm, it is the flickering of light bulbs that indicates that it is time to get to whatever emergency supplies have been put aside: bottled water, canned food, and in winter warm clothing. The unsolved problem, however, may be that the concept of “emergency” is usually regarded in terms of a short period of time. There is always the spoken or silent refrain of “until the authorities arrive.” But those authorities will be waiting for other authorities to arrive, and so on ad absurdum.
On a more optimistic note, nevertheless, it must be said that there is a great deal that can be done. Of all the resources one can accumulate, the most important are those that are stored inside one’s own head: knowledge, skills, wisdom. “Knowledge” is perhaps not the right word, though, because to have read or heard a particular fact does not automatically grant the ability to deal with particular issues.
Even more important than mere “knowledge” is practice. For example, I used to read a great many books on vegetable gardening, but when I owned and ran a market garden for several years I was constantly mumbling, “Why isn’t this information in the books?” And there were several answers to that question. In the first place, the books were badly written. Secondly, it is not the overall principles that count, but the minutiae. Thirdly, those particulars often cannot be put into writing or even into speech: “I can’t explain it, I can only show you” is an expression I often heard. A good gardener knows a thousand tiny tricks that lead to success, and it is those particulars that matter, not the general statement that one does not sprinkle seed in a snowstorm.
The skills needed for country living are rarely the same as those needed in the city, although anyone who has built up experience in what the books call “home repair and improvement” will be ahead of those whose knowledge consists of more ethereal matters. Hunting and fishing are not taught in academia.
When I say, “When the lights go out, so does everything else,” I mean “everything in the city.” What matters is not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Living in the city will certainly be a case of the wrong place at the wrong time. There will be no food and no water, and no mans of dealing with the victims of famine and disease. When there is an inkling that the light bulbs everywhere are about to fail, the answer is to be well outside the city limits. One should either be living in the country or at least have some property in the country and a well-tested means of getting there.
Even a plan of that sort, however, involves a few caveats. “Property” in the modern world is nothing more than a convenient legal fiction. If a gang of outlaws moves in next door, or even if there is a single oppressive neighbor to be dealt with, then the whole concept of “property” can vanish into thin air. I have known several cases in which people gave up house and land because they could not deal with troublemakers. What will it be like when the troublemakers are doing something more unpleasant than a little trespassing? So it is good to own property, but it is better to realize that ownership, in the modern sense of the word, might be nothing more than a scrap of paper.
Getting out of the city means knowing the roads ― not the main highways, but the back roads. In an emergency of any duration, the main roads become jammed, partly because of the volume of traffic but also because of accidents. In more severe situations, vehicles will even be abandoned, either because they are out of gas or because the passengers have discovered that it is quicker to walk. Knowing the back roads, and even knowing alternative routes among those back roads, means freedom of choice in one’s movements.
The last matter is that of community. As mentioned above, the concept of property can be illusive, but there is more to consider in the question of who lives in the general area. Neighbors who take pleasure in noisy dogs, loud radios, or heavy drinking can make proximity unpleasant nowadays, but such people may not prevail in the kind of “natural selection” that will take place, where common decency will be everyone’s concern. In any case, the greatest blessing of the post-petroleum age will be the demise of all-terrain vehicles, electronic amplifiers, and the other technological marvels with which people now ruin one another’s enjoyment of “cottage country.”
Even then, the trouble of having a neighbor may be less than the trouble of not having one. It has often been said, correctly, that in reality the loner will not survive. If such a person is the hero of a Hollywood movie, it is only for the sake of a story, for the vicarious excitement of defying the odds. No one can stay awake for a month, cradled in a corner with a gun. Without a family, a band, a tribe, there will be no means of distributing the tasks to be done.
It is not reasonable to expect a perfect neighborhood. Within the happiest band of jungle-dwellers there is gossip, discontent, jealousy, manipulation. Troubles and troublemakers can be dealt with in such a way that the community itself does not fall apart. In a primitive community, ostracism, for example, can be an effective means of resolving a problem. A community leader who lacks what we now call “managerial skills” can be replaced by one who does a better job. It is largely a myth to say that country people are nicer than city people; in any setting, neighbors are merely human, with common desires and antipathies and fears. What is important is not to wish for angelic neighbors but to have enough daily contact with them to anticipate how they will respond in a difficult situation.
When the lights go out, so does everything else, but that is not entirely true for those who are far from the city. Living out in the country when the lights go out means getting a better look at the stars.
3. Depletion of Key Resources
Depletion of Key Resources: Facts at Your Fingertips
27 January 2010, by Peter Goodchild
The author presents a definitive essay. Learn why,
• “Those who expect to get by with ‘victory gardens’ are unaware of the arithmetic involved.”
• “There are already too many people to be supported by non-mechanized agriculture.”
• “To meet the world’s present energy needs by using solar power, then, we would need… a machine the size of France. The production and maintenance of this array would require vast quantities of hydrocarbons, metals, and other materials — a self-defeating process. Solar power will therefore do little to solve the world’s energy problems.”
• “In a milieu of social chaos, what are the chances that the oil industry will be using extremely advanced technology to extract the last drops of oil? “
Modern industrial society is based on a triad of hydrocarbons, metals, and electricity.
The three are intricately connected; each is accessible only if the other two are present. Electricity, for example, can be generated on a global scale only with hydrocarbons. The same dependence on hydrocarbons is true of metals; in fact the better types of ore are now becoming depleted, while those that remain can be processed only with modern machinery and require more hydrocarbons for smelting. In turn, without metals and electricity there would be no means of extracting and processing hydrocarbons. Of the three members of the triad, electricity is the most fragile, and its failure serves as an early warning of trouble with the other two.
Often the interactions of this triad are hiding in plain sight. Global production of steel, for example, requires 420 million tons of coke (from coal) annually, as well as other hydrocarbons adding up to an equivalent of another 100 million tons. To maintain industrial society, the production of steel cannot be curtailed: there are no “green” materials for the construction of skyscrapers, large bridges, automobiles, machinery, or tools. But the interconnections among fossil fuels, metals, and electricity are innumerable.
As each of the three members of the triad threatens to break down, we are looking at a society that is far more primitive than the one to which we have been accustomed.
The ascent and descent of oil production are those of the famous promontory known as Hubbert’s curve. The back side of the mountain probably does not greatly resemble the front. It is likely that the descent will be rather steep, again because of synergistic factors. As oil declines, more energy and money must be devoted to getting the less-accessible and lower-quality oil out of the ground. In turn, as more energy and money are devoted to oil production, the production of metals and electricity becomes more difficult. One problem feeds on another. The issue can also be described in terms of sheer money: when oil production costs about 4.5 percent of the economy, the latter begins a downward spiral.
There is a final piece of ill luck that occurs after the peak. When individual countries such as the USA begin to run out of domestic oil, depletion can be mitigated by the importation of oil from other countries, so the descent is not as troublesome as it might have been. When the entire planet begins to run out of oil, however, there will be nowhere to turn in order to make up the difference. We cannot get oil from outer space.
Global Energy per Capita
Global consumption of energy for the year 2005 was about 500 exajoules (EJ), most of which was supplied by fossil fuels. This annual consumption of energy can also be expressed in terms of billion barrels of oil equivalent. What is more important in terms of the effects on daily human life, though, is not consumption in an absolute sense, but consumption per capita, which reached what Richard C. Duncan calls a “rough plateau” in 1979.
Use of electricity worldwide rose by 70 percent from 1990 to 2008 . This means an increase per capita of 41 percent. Since global energy per capita is not increasing significantly, there may come a point at which there is insufficient energy to prevent widespread brownouts and rolling blackouts [6, 7].
The entire world’s economy is based on oil and other fossil fuels. These provide fuel, lubricants, asphalt, paint, plastics, fertilizer, and many other products. In 1850, before commercial production began, there were about 2 trillion barrels of oil in the ground. By about the year 2010, half of that oil had been
consumed, so about 1 trillion barrels remain. At the moment about 30 billion barrels of oil are consumed annually, and that is probably close to the maximum that will ever be possible. By the year 2030, some analysts say, oil production will be down to about half of that amount. [Editor’s note: we must consider the factor of oil-industry inflexibility to contract and to maintain extraction if collapse has already hit the economy.]
A vast amount of debate has gone on about “peak oil,” the date at which the world’s annual oil production will reach (or did reach) its maximum and will begin (or did begin) to decline. The exact numbers are unobtainable, mainly because oil-producing countries give rather inexact figures on their remaining supplies. The situation can perhaps be summarized by saying that many studies have been done, and that the consensus is that the peak is somewhere between the years 2000 and 2020. Within that period, a middle date seems rather more likely. Among the many who have contributed to that debate are Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Colin J. Campbell, Jean Laherrère, Dale Allen Pfeiffer, and Matthew R. Simmons, and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil has done its own appraisals.
The quest for the date of peak oil is somewhat of a red herring. In terms of daily life, what is more important is not peak oil in the absolute sense, but peak oil per capita. The date of the latter was 1979, when there were 5.5 barrels of oil per person annually, as opposed to 4.5 in 2007. This per-capita date of 1979 for oil consumption is the same as that noted above for per-capita consumption of energy in general.
Coal and natural gas are also disappearing. Coal will be available for a while after oil is gone, although previous reports of its abundance in the US were highly exaggerated. Coal is highly polluting and cannot be used as a fuel for most forms of transportation. Natural gas is not easily transported, and it is not suitable for most equipment.
The world’s deserts have an area of 36 million km2, and the solar energy they receive annually is 300,000 EJ, which at a typical 11-percent electrical-conversion rate would result in 33,000 EJ.
(EJ=exajoule; 1 EJ = 1018 joules.
Electrically, one joule is the work required to produce one watt of electric power for one second. Mechanically , one joule is the energy expended in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one meter. [The United States uses roughly 94 exojoules per year, so 1 exojoule is about 1% of the US energy needs.]
As noted above, annual global energy consumption in 2005 was approximately 500 EJ. To meet the world’s present energy needs by using solar power, then, we would need an array (or an equivalent number of smaller ones) with a size of 500/33,000 x 36 million km2, which is about 550,000 km2 — a machine the size of France. The production and maintenance of this array would require vast quantities of hydrocarbons, metals, and other materials — a self-defeating process. Solar power will therefore do little to solve the world’s energy problems.
Minerals Other than Petroleum
Depletion of other minerals on a global scale is somewhat difficult to determine, partly because recycling complicates the issues, partly because trade goes on in all directions, and partly because one material can sometimes be replaced by another. Figures from the US Geological Survey indicate that within the US most types of minerals and other nonrenewable resources are well past their peak dates of production. Besides oil, these include bauxite (peaking in 1943), copper (1998), iron ore (1951),
magnesium (1966), phosphate rock (1980), potash (1967), rare earth metals (1984), tin (1945), titanium (1964), and zinc (1969). The depletion of these resources continues swiftly in spite of recycling.
In the past it was iron ores such as natural hematite (Fe2O3) that were being mined. For thousands of years, also, tools were produced by melting down bog iron, mainly goethite, FeO(OH), in clay cylinders only a meter or so in height. Modern mining must rely more heavily on taconite, a flint-like ore containing less than 30 percent magnetite and hematite.
Iron ore of the sort that can be processed with primitive equipment is becoming scarce, in other words, and only the less-tractable forms such as taconite will be available when the oil-powered machinery has disappeared — a chicken-and-egg problem. To put it more bluntly: with the types of iron ore used in the past, a fair proportion of the human race would have been able to survive; in the post-industrial world, with only taconite, it will not.
Annual world production of grain per capita peaked in 1984 at 342 kg. For years production has not met demand, so carryover stocks must fill the gap, now leaving less than 2 months’ supply as a buffer.
Rising temperatures and falling water tables are causing havoc in grain harvests everywhere, but the biggest dent is caused by the bio-fuel industry, which is growing at over 20 percent per year. In 2007, 88 million tons of US corn, a quarter of the entire US harvest, was turned into automotive fuel.
The production rate of fresh water is declining everywhere. According to the UN’s Global Environment Outlook 4, “by 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under conditions of water stress ― the threshold for meeting the water requirements for agriculture, industry, domestic purposes, energy and the environment. . . .”
[While reading this section, remember that 1 acre is about the area as a football field and that 2.5 acres is the area of 1 hectare]
With “low technology,” i.e. technology that does not use fossil fuels, crop yields diminish considerably. The production of so-called field or grain corn (maize) without irrigation or mechanized agriculture is only about 2,000 kilograms per hectare (10,000 m2), about a third of the yield that a farmer would get with modern machinery and chemical fertilizer.
Yields for corn provide a handy baseline for other studies of population and food supply. More specifically, corn is one of the most useful grains for supporting human life; the native people of the Americas lived on it for thousands of years. Corn is high-yielding and needs little in the way of equipment, and the more ancient varieties are largely trouble-free in terms of diseases, pests, and soil depletion.
[A hard-working (i.e. farming) adult burns about 2 million kilocalories (“calories”) per year. The food energy from a2.5 acres of corn is about 7 million kilocalories. Under primitive conditions, then, 2.5 acres of corn would support only 3 or 4 people. [2.5 acre or about an area about 208 ft x 520 ft – lfp]
Even those figures are rather idealistic. We are assuming that people will follow a largely vegetarian diet; if not, they will need even more land. We also need to allow for fallow land, cover crops, and green manure, for inevitable inequities in distribution, and for other uses of the land. On a global scale a far more realistic ratio would be 2 people to each 2.5 acres of arable land. [Or about 1 person/1.25 acre just for food]
The average American house lot is about 900 square yards, i.e. less than a tenth of a hectare, including the land the house is sitting on. Those who expect to get by with “victory gardens” are unaware of the arithmetic involved.
In the entire world there are 15,749,300 square yards of arable land. This is 11 percent of the world’s total land area. The present world population is about 6,900,000,000. Dividing the figure for population by that for arable land, we see that there are 438 people per km2 of arable land. On a smaller scale that means about 4 people per hectare. Less than a third of the world’s 200-odd countries are actually within that ratio.
In other words, there are already too many people to be supported by non-mechanized agriculture. [Currently, with fossil fuels, fertilizer and mechanized farming, there are globally, 4 people receiving food from each hectare arable land. Without fossil fuel inputs, ie no gas/oil, no fertilizer, and without modern farm mechanization, global arable land will only support 2 people/hectare – lfp]
The UK, for example, has a population-to-arable ratio of slightly more than 10 people per hectare (2.5 acres or 2.5 football fields]. What exactly is going to happen to the 8 people who will not fit onto the hectare? But many countries have far worse ratios.
The world’s population grew from about 1.6 billion in 1900, to about 2.5 in 1950, to about 6.1 billion in 2000 and in Nov 2011 has become 7 billion. It has often been said that without fossil fuels the population must drop to about 2 or 3 billion. The above figures on arable land indicate that in terms of agriculture alone we would be able to accommodate only about half the present number of people.
Another calculation about future population can be made by looking more closely at Hubbert’s curve. The rapid increase in population over the last hundred years is not merely coincident with the rapid increase in oil production. It is the latter that has actually allowed the former: that is to say, oil has been the main source of energy within industrial society. It is only with abundant oil that a large population is possible. It was industrialization, improved agriculture, improved medicine, the expansion of humanity into the Americas, and so on, that first created the modern rise in population, but it was oil in particular that made it possible for human population to grow as fast as it has been doing. It is not only fossil fuels that form a bell curve: there is also a bell curve for human population.
Of course, this calculation of population on the basis of oil is largely the converse of the calculation on the basis of arable land, since in industrial society the amount of farm production is mainly a reflection of the amount of available oil.
If we look further into the future, we see an even smaller number for human population, still using previous ratios of oil to population as the basis for our figures. But the world a hundred years from now might not be a mirror image of the world of a hundred years in the past. The general depletion of resources could cause such damage to the structure of society that government, education, and intricate division of labor no longer exist. In a milieu of social chaos, what are the chances that the oil industry will be using extremely advanced technology to extract the last drops of oil? Even then we have not factored in war, epidemics, and other aspects of social breakdown. The figure of 1 to 3 billion may be wildly optimistic.
A great deal of silliness goes on in the name of preparing for the future. Global collapse should not been seen in terms of middle-class country elegance. At present there are no “transition towns” that acquire food, clothing, or shelter without large quantities of fossil fuels somewhere in the background. The post-oil world will be much grimmer than most people imagine, and that is partly because they are not looking at the big picture. Hydrocarbons are the entire substructure of modern society. The usual concept of “transition towns” evades the sheer enormity of the problems.
Whatever a “transition” polity might be, it most certainly will not be a city or town. Those who are living at the end of all the bell curves will prosper only if they are far from anything resembling an urban or suburban area. It has always been possible for small rural communities to live close to the land, somewhat avoiding the use of fossil fuels, metals, and electricity, but modern large centers of population are founded on the premise of an abundance of all three. Urban areas, in fact, will be experiencing the worst of each form of depletion described above.
In view of the general unpopularity of family-planning policies, it can only be said euphemistically that nature will decide the outcome. Even if his words owe as much to observation of the stages of collapse as to divine inspiration, it is St. John’s ‘Four Horsemen’ of war, famine, plague, and death who will characterize the future of the industrial world. Nor can we expect people to be overly concerned about good manners: although there are too many variables for civil strife to be entirely predictable, if we look at accounts of large-scale disasters of the past, ranging from the financial to the meteorological, we can see that there is a point at which the looting and lynching begin. The survivors of industrial society will have to distance themselves from the carnage.
The need for a successful community to be far removed from urban areas is also a matter of access to the natural resources that will remain. With primitive technology, it takes a great deal of land to support human life. What may look like a long stretch of empty wilderness is certainly not empty to the people who are out there picking blueberries or catching fish. That emptiness is not a prerogative or luxury of the summer vacationer. It is an essential ratio of the human world to the non-human.
4. Peak Oil Info and Strategies
Peak Oil Info and Strategies
The world is not running out of oil itself, but rather its ability to produce high-quality cheap and economically extractable oil on demand. After more than fifty years of research and analysis on the subject by the most widely respected & rational scientists, it is now clear that the rate at which world oil producers can extract oil is reaching the maximum level possible. This is what is meant by Peak Oil. With great effort and expenditure, the current level of oil production can possibly be maintained for a few more years, but beyond that oil production must begin a permanent & irreversible decline. The Stone Age did not end because of the lack of stones, and the Oil Age won’t end because of lack of oil. The issue is lack of further growth, followed by gradual, then steep decline. Dr King Hubbert correctly predicted peaking of USA oil production in the 1970’s on this basis.
We have taken our lifestyles and the cheap & abundant supply of oil all for granted. We expect the pumps will run to supply us with fuel to drive our SUV’s to run around town, work and school and we cannot accept an alternate future. But when oil becomes more scarce, it is very likely that these pumps will be the first to run dry, because they are at the end of the supply chain. But implications will be much worse than that.
It is not a question if but when the world economy will be confronted with a major shock that will stunt economic growth, increase inflation, and potentially destabilize the Middle East. It will make the Great Second Depression look like a dress rehearsal and may change the world as we know it today.
It is a coming crisis that few understand, but with far reaching implications. Nations will fight over the remaining oil. Without hydrocarbons, this planet can only produce enough food to sustain a population of 2.5 billion. The current world population is in excess of 7 billion and growing (UN projection: 7.3 billion by 2050). In the US, without industrial agriculture, it is estimated that only 2/3’s of the current population can be fed (D. Preiffer). Fossil fuels effectively temporarily raised the carrying capacity of the earth.
__A. Peak Oil Imminent
While there is no agreement yet on the exact date that world oil production will peak, the degree of consensus among them is quite remarkable. Out of 21 studies, the statistical mean date is 2013 (excluding some of the biased oil company estimates), suggesting that the world may be facing shortfalls much sooner than expected.
Recently, CNN and Britain’s Independent also point out the reality of Peak Oil, acknowledging that world oil and gas reserves are as much as 80% less than predicted.
__B. The fallacy of Alternatives
The public, business leaders and politicians are all under the false assumption that oil depletion is a straightforward engineering problem of exactly the kind that technology and human ingenuity have so successfully solved before. Technology itself has become a kind of supernatural force, although in reality it is just the hardware and programming for running that fuel, and governed by the basic laws of physics and thermodynamics. Much of our existing technology simply won’t work without an abundant underlying fossil fuel base. In addition, physicist Jonathan Huebner has concluded in The History of Science and Technology that the rate of innovation in the US peaked in 1873, and the current rate of innovation is about the same as it was in 1600.
According to Huebner, by 2024 it will have slumped to the same level as it was in the Dark Ages. Hence, without sufficient innovation and a comfortable surplus of fossil fuels, we may simply lack the tools to move forward.
With this energy base dwindling, there is simply not enough time to replace a fluid so cheap, abundant and versatile. It is rich in energy, easy to use, store, and transport. Nothing has the bang for the buck of oil, and nothing can replace it in time – either separately or in combination. Wind, waves and other renewables are all pretty marginal and also take a lot of energy to construct and require a petroleum platform to work off.
• Natural gas is a diminishing resource as well and cannot satisfy the growing demand for energy. US Gas supplies were so low in 2003 after a harsh winter that to preserve life and property supplies were close to being cut off to manufacturers, electric plants and lastly homes.
• Ethanol has a net energy value of zero (not accounting for soil and water damage and other costs due to unsustainable agricultural practices) – it is subsidized as a boon to agribusiness and would have a negligible effect (Prindle, ACEEE).
• Solar energy produces marginal net energy, but are still decades away at best from being a viable substitute given the recent rate of progress in efficiency and costs (averaging about five percent a year) and is nowhere ready to meet the world’s energy needs. More importantly, solar photovoltaic cells (PVC) are built from hydrocarbon feed stocks and therefore require excess resources. It is estimated that a global solar energy system would take a century to build and would consume a major portion of world iron production (Foreign Affairs, Rhodes).
• The widespread belief that hydrogen is going to save the day is a good example of how delusional people have become. Hydrogen fuel cells are not an energy source at all, but are more properly termed a form of energy storage. Free hydrogen does not exist on this planet. It requires more energy to break a hydrogen bond than will ever be garnered from that free hydrogen. The current source of hydrogen is natural gas – that is, a hydrocarbon. In the envisioned system of solar PVC & hydrogen fuel cells, every major component of the system, from the PVC to the fuel cells themselves will require hydrocarbon energy and feedstocks. The oil age will never be replaced by a hydrogen fuel-cell economy.
• Coal is abundant, but its net energy profile is poor compared to oil and its conversion process to synthetic fuels is very inefficient. Coal would have to be mined at much higher rates to replace declining oil field. In addition, coal production is extremely harmful to the environment. One large coal burning electric plant releases enough radioactive material in a year to build two atomic bombs, apart from emitting more greenhouse gases than any other fuels. Coal is implicated in mercury pollution that causes 60.000 cases of brain damage in newborn children every year in the USA. Resorting to coal would be a very big step backwards and what we may face then may be more like the Dim Ages. More importantly, coal is distributed very unevenly with the top three countries (China, USA, USSR) possessing almost 70% of total. Much of the current oil and gas supply is in low-population countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that cannot possibly use all of the production for themselves. They are hence quite willing, indeed eager, to sell it to other countries. When oil and gas are gone, and only coal remains, and the few (large-population) countries that possess it need all of it for their own populations, it will be
interesting to see how much is offered for sale to other countries.
• Obtaining usable oil from tar sands requires huge amounts of energy, as it has to be mined and washed with super hot water. From an energy balance, it takes the equivalence of two barrels of oil to produce three, which is still positive but poor in terms of energy economics. In the early days of conventional oil, this ratio used to be one to thirty.
• Nuclear power plants are simply too expensive and take ten years to build, relying on a fossil fuel platform for all stages of construction, maintenance, and extracting & processing nuclear fuels. Additionally, uranium is also a rare and finite source with its own production peak. Since 2006, the uranium price has already more than doubled.
• Nuclear fusion is the kind of energy that the world needs. However, mastering it has been 25 years away for the past 50 years, and still is…
Fossil fuels allowed us to operate highly complex systems at gigantic scales. Renewables are simply incompatible in this context and the new fuels and technologies required would simply take a lot more time to develop than available and require access to abundant supplies of cheap fossil fuels, putting the industrial adventure out of business.
In a recent interview with The Times, Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer calls for a “reality check” and warns that the world’s energy crisis cannot be solved by renewables. “Contrary to public perceptions, renewable energy is not the silver bullet that will soon solve all our problems. Just when energy demand is surging, many of the world’s conventional oilfields are going into decline. The world is blinding itself to the reality of its energy problems, ignoring the scale of growth in demand from developing countries and
placing too much faith in renewable sources of power”, according to van der Veer.
Nobody knows exactly what will happen. We have never seen a situation like this where the excesses have been so extreme. It is difficult to see how it will resolve itself. What is terrifying is that when you get excesses this bad you get results you can’t expect.
Highlights of what to expect:
• Oil extraction from wells will be physically unable to meet global demand
• Alternative energy sources will fall far short of compensating for expected shortages of oil. There is simply not enough time to convert over to them and all require an underlying fossil fuel platform.
• Disruptions to transportation and the economy are expected as the global decline of petroleum begins.
• Gradual, permanent cut-off of fuel for transport and for industrial machinery. Global trade will greatly
• Food shortages; agrobusinesses would not be able to operate without the supporting fossil fuels
• Resource scarcity; most products depend on fossil fuels
• Reduction of virtually all business and government activity and very serious unemployment
• Social unrest
• Resource wars
Dr. Smalley, in the February 2005 issue of Discover magazine gave the following prognosis as a result of the energy shortage brought on by peak oil and the fact that the world cannot produce oil as fast as the world’s growing economies demand it: “There will be inflation as billions of people compete for insufficient resources. There will be famine. There will be terrorism and war.”
__C. Rising Oil Prices
The inexorable tightening of supply is destabilizing oil markets, which now exhibit extreme price responses to the smallest of disturbances. Higher oil prices are hurting economies by increasing the cost of consumer goods while simultaneously reducing disposable income. Sharply rising oil prices have always preceded economic recession and plummeting stocks.
Analysts predict that market-based panic will drive prices skyward. And as supplies can no longer slack daily world demand, the market will become paralyzed at prices too high for the wheels of economy and even daily living in ‘advanced’ societies”. No region in the world would be able to rely on distant energy supplies and they would have to fall back on their own resources.
One economic aspect of oil is that its demand is very price inelastic in the short term, meaning that it would require a large price increase to cause a significant reduction in demand. Prices at the pumps in the USA have almost doubled in recent times, yet gas-guzzling Hummers and other SUV’s are still purchased like there is no tomorrow. Industry experts say massive effects on behavior will only happen if supplies are disrupted or prices hit $5-a-gallon.
Another complication is that in the more developed countries the services industry has replaced much of their traditional oil dependent industries. This is why I don’t believe that the oil prices will stop at $100 a barrel, like some financial experts predict. In the short term, they would probably have to increase in excess of 300% or so to have the desired effect. This uptrend would then eventually be (temporarily) interrupted by slowing economic growth and from efforts of conservation.
Rising energy prices would spur overall price increases, causing inflation. Energy costs will then become an increasingly bigger part of the economy, and the same % increase in oil prices that once had a negligible economic effect will suddenly be significant. At the same time, higher prices will cause a fall in demand and a stagnating economy. This is called ‘stagflation’ and is exactly what happened during the 1973 oil crisis.
Debt in many countries like the USA and the United Kingdom are at record levels, and strong economic growth then becomes essential. Falling home prices would threaten the foundations of those economies. Therefore, efforts to curb inflation by raising interest rates would hit house prices, which in a leveraged economy would cause a devastating downward spiral, pulling down businesses, consumers and banks. Policymakers will therefore be powerless to fight inflation that will then soon become widespread. Prices of food and manufactured goods will shoot up.
The world will first enter a recession followed by a very deep Depression that may well be greater than the 1930’s Great Depression. Stock markets may plunge, businesses will go bankrupt and huge job losses will follow. Eventually, economic growth will cease or continue only in a few places at the expense of other places. The economic stress among almost all nations, advanced and developing, rich and poor will be considerable and is certain to lead to increasingly desperate competition for diminishing supplies of oil. The world will become a larger place again with less and less globalism.
Many countries have become heavily reliant on Middle Eastern oil, and the geopolitical stakes of conflicts in this region have risen to all-time highs.
Indeed, the worst case scenarios are terrifying: genocide on a scale never before seen, as control of the remaining oil divides along racial, ethnic and national boundaries. Even the best-case scenarios, all of which require unprecedented levels of international cooperation, political courage and public participation, offer grim life-and-death choices. (Richard Heinberg)
So far, only the United States have ventured into the Middle East. But what is to stop China from continuing into Iran, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia as China will be energy starved in the foreseeable future. A military contest over oil could eventually spread war from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, and it could leave the oil production infrastructure of many countries severely damaged in the process. Such a conflict may be the Third World War.
Some Latin American countries may find themselves combatants in their own oil wars. Australia and New Zealand may fall victim to desperate Chinese adventuring or to anarchy emanating from Southeast Asia.
Social Chaos & Dark Ages
The European fuel protests of 2000 were an excellent example of what will happen when we are deprived of our the fuel powering our artificial lives. The implications of just this minor shortage
caused by blockades of fuel depots was tremendous. Naturally, there were huge lines at petrol stations to refuel, but there was also panic buying at the shops. Some ran out of bread and milk. Postal collections were suspended on Sundays to conserve fuel. Farm animals were threatened with starvation because
the feed was unable to be delivered. Schools closed down and hospitals cancelled all but emergency operations. And all this from two and a half weeks. Similar events happened in the USA during the 1973 Oil Embargo.
The impending fuel crisis will be permanent though and the trucks will no longer pull into the Wal-Marts or supermarkets. The freighters bringing cheap and disposable household products from China will have no fuel. There will be fuel in many places, but hoarding and uncertainty will trigger outages, violence, and chaos. For only a short time will the police and military be able to maintain order, if at all.”
When worldwide oil production starts to decline considerably, countries will be competing aggressively for fossil fuels as difficulties will start with even keeping electricity plants running.
The blackouts that hit the eastern USA and Canada in August 2003, and the lesser failure that hit London’s Underground system shortly afterwards shows the how totally dependent we are on electricity power and the dramatic effects that its absence causes.
Reduced food supplies will also comprise immune systems and set up refugee camps will lead to diseases. New strains of the age-old human enemies such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera and others will be on hand while vaccines will be ineffective and out of reach.
It may come as a surprise to many that the world’s industrial food supply system is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels. Vast amounts of oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy in the manufacture of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and as cheap and readily available energy at all stages of food production. Fossil fuels are also essential in the construction and the repair of equipment and infrastructure needed to facilitate this industry, including farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads. Just consider that currently agriculture accounts for 17% of the US annual energy budget.
Industrial, ‘green revolution’-style agriculture is particularly energy intensive. Every calorie of food produced today requires between 10-16 calories of hydrocarbon energy (from planting, irrigation, feeding and harvesting, through to processing, distribution and packaging). This style of agriculture increased world grain production by 250%, and was almost entirely attributable to fossil fuel input.
Food production will become a problem of extreme urgency
Modern agriculture is merely a way of converting petroleum into food. Without energy, food supplies decrease and the current world population of 7 billion has no hope whatsoever of sustaining itself at current levels.
It has been estimated that, without hydrocarbons to provide energy, fertilizers and pesticides, agriculture could not support a population greater than two billion. This reduction would take us back to pre-20th century levels but the disruption to society and its infrastructure would probably mean a reversion to pre-industrial revolution.
The example of North Korea shows us what happens to agriculture when oil products are removed. After the Korean war, it had developed a modern farming system depending on machinery and oil-based fertilizers. After the Soviet Union fell, Communist aid to the country stopped and they were unable to purchase oil and supplies. Without oil, farm machinery was sitting idle and large proportions of the people had to return to the agriculture. Unfortunately the soil had been drained of nutrients over the
years and, without fertilizers, it was unable to produce the same output as before. Crop yields fell by 60% over the period 1989-1998. US congressmen and others who have visited North Korea tell stories of people eating grass and bark. Other reports talk of soldiers who are nothing more than skin and bones.
Throughout the country, there is starvation to rival the worst found in Africa.
Chronic malnutrition has reached the point where many of the effects are irreversible. Unless it can get access to oil and fertilizers again, the population will decline until it reaches a sustainable level and civilization will be faced with the delicate task of determining who survives. The history of North-Korea (DPRK) demonstrates how an energy crisis in an industrialized nation can lead to complete systemic breakdown.
Peak Oil represents a unique challenge and unlike 1973, peaking won’t be brief but permanent. The inescapable conclusion is that the scale and complexity of the problems that must be resolved to avert a permanent crisis are enormous and almost inconceivable. More than a decade will be required, under the most favorable circumstances, for the collective contributions of substitutes to produce meaningful results. Understanding Net Energy is crucial. Optimists may argue that technology, the market, brilliant scientists, and comprehensive government programs are going to hold things together. However, with an acute lack of awareness, time, knowledge, capital, energy, political will, and international collaboration, it is difficult to see how business can continue as usual. This is a startling conclusion, but it would be the most logical and likely outcome of a process that has been building for decades. Addictions are hard to shake…
“You cannot solve this world’s problems with the same thinking that created them,” Albert Einstein
“You must not only be able to survive the crash, but continue afterward”
“… it’s easier to put off dealing with problems that seem just too complicated and unpleasant to fix now (because of human nature).”
September 27, 2010, Fortune.., by Becky Quick
The experts and politicians have no plan B to fall back on. On a global scale Peak Oil is a problem without a solution. No amount of savings will help us if there is no more oil to purchase. We need to
start planning for alternative sources of energy now. If we wait until we are given no other option, it could be chaos.
It is extremely difficult to gather and process the enormous amount of information available and figure out what to do about it. Is it not a problem with an immediate solution or as some say, a condition without a remedy. You must not only be able to survive the crash, but continue afterward.
We must shortly choose a new path, or one will be forced upon us.
In the short time available, attempts to make collective changes are most likely to fail. Energy expert Simmons says that once energy peaks, the shock will be greater than anyone could imagine, while there is no solution to the problem other than to pray.
However, on the level of the individual/family there is much that can be done at relatively low cost to not only prepare for an economic crash, but to leapfrog past it to a post oil paradigm. While the present infrastructure continues to function you still have vast resources disposable that are only a click away. Once a crisis begins, it may be too late.
There is probably no cluster of solutions which do not involve some major changes in lifestyles, especially for the global affluent. Peak Oil presents the potential for quite catastrophic upheavals, but also some more hopeful possibilities, a chance to address many underlying societal problems, and the opportunity return to simpler, healthier and more community oriented lifestyles.
Hope for the best, Prepare for the worst, and Accept whatever comes.
• The majority of the preparation (perhaps as much as 2/3) is mental preparation. Acceptance of a new future is crucial and knowledge about Peak Oil will give you a new perspective on life and the future and will serve as an excellent guidance when making important decisions in areas such as careers, real estate and retirement, even absent a well defined ‘plan B’.
• Protection of your wealth is a crucial step, and having many of your assets hedged against inflation, in my opinion, is never going to hurt you, even if a peak oil crisis fails to materialize in the short or medium term future. Purchasing power will most likely have a positive impact on survival chances during a crisis.
• If you think the crisis is going to be severe, if you can afford it, it would be a good idea to plan some sort of safe haven, at least 200 miles or so from any major city / metropolitan area.
I am fairly pessimistic about the feasibility (especially long-term) of isolated retreats. It is going to involved extensive, informed planning tailored to the precise needs of the people who will use it. The problems that you must resolve in making such an arrangement viable are enormous and most likely unachievable. Land ownership laws may become meaningless in a post-oil world.
• It is useless to be well prepared if you are in the wrong place to start with. Some countries around the globe will without doubt suffer much more than others as a result of a Peak Oil crisis. The odds of eventually being discovered are not negligible and will go up as a function of general population density. And then, once you have been discovered, the chances of you becoming a target of jealous & needy thieves, mobs or organized gangs much depend on how relatively well-off a country is as a whole during a global crisis. As an example there is the story about a village in India during a famine. After a while, the starving villagers noticed that some villagers did not seem to be as starving as the rest of them. The end result was that the well off who had stored food were killed and the food stolen. [Killed by the ‘Zombies’- Mr Larry] You may be better off ill-prepared, but in the right place than vice-versa. There are going to be some countries that may remain relatively immune, based on their geographic position and potential degree of self-sufficiency, where ambient chances of survival are relatively higher. This is why the focus of my research & planning is on individual countries.
• When considering strategic relocation and you want to also take into account climate change, an excellent and very recent source of information on average predicted temperature changes is the BBC site that ran an experiment involving millions of computers from around the world. In its conclusions, countries like New Zealand will be relatively unaffected, while other areas like Asia and Central America will be greatly affected.
• You can never be sure what will happen, and it is extremely difficult to cross that mental barrier to jump into action. Any life impacting decision you make, you must be able to live with until the crisis unfolds, even if this is still a decade away.
__D. History As A Guide To Survival….
For a year, five experts ditched theory for practice, running a Welsh farm using 17th Century methods. What lessons for modern living did they learn? The BBC series Tales from the Green Valley follows historians and archaeologists as they recreate farm life from the age of the Stuarts. They wear the clothes, eat the food and use the tools, skills and technology of the 1620s.
It was a time when daily life was a hard grind, intimately connected with the physical environment where routines were dictated by the weather and the seasons. A far cry from today’s experience of the countryside, which for many involves a bracing walk ahead of a pub lunch.
While few would choose to live a 17th Century lifestyle, the participants found they picked up some valuable tips for modern life.
• Know thy neighbor’s. Today it’s possible to live alone, without knowing anyone within a 20-mile radius (the same goes for townies). That was simply not possible in the past – not only did the neighbors provide social contact, people shared labor, specialist skills and produce. “And women were judged on good neighborliness,” says historian Ruth Goodman. “If you were willing to help others – particularly during and after childbirth – then others would be more prepared to help you in times of need.”
• Share the load. It was nigh on impossible to run a 1620s farm single-handedly, and the family – either blood relatives, or a farmer, his wife and hired help – had to be multi-skilled. Labor, too, was
often divided along gender lines, but at busy periods, such as harvest time, it was all hands on deck.
• Fewer creature comforts have some benefits. No electricity meant once daylight faded, work stopped in favor of conversation, music-making and knitting. And no carpets meant fewer dust mites,
which are linked to asthma and allergies. “They scattered herbs on the floor which released scent when trodden on – this drove out flies and other insects,” says Ms Goodman.
• Eat seasonally. Today it’s because of “food miles” and the inferior quality of forced products. In the 1620s, it was because foods were only available at certain times of year – and not just fruit and veg. Mutton, for instance, was in abundance in spring, soon after shearing time. This was because a sheep’s wool quality plunges after eight years – thus animals of that age were killed after their final fleece was
• Tasty food comes in small batches. Today farmers’ markets are a tourist attraction and many delight in regional specialties. For these producers play to the strengths of their ingredients, unlike, for instance, the makers of mass-produced cheese. This has to taste the same year-round, despite seasonal variations in milk quality. “So high-quality milk in the spring is downgraded so the finished product is consistent throughout the year,” says Ms Goodman.
• Reuse and recycle. Today we throw away vast mountains of packaging, food, garden waste and other materials. In 1620s, there was a use for everything, with tattered bed linens made into fire-lighters and animal fat into soap. Even human waste had uses. Faeces was a fertiliser, and urine was stored to make ammonia to remove laundry stains.
• Dress for practicalities. Today fashion and social convention dictate our wardrobes. While polar fleeces and high-performance tramping boots may be all the rage when going rural, the wardrobe of 400 years ago proved more comfortable. “While the crew shivered in their modern garb, we never felt the cold in just two layers – a linen shirt and woolen doublet,” says archaeologist Alex Langlands.
Breeches meant no wet and muddy trouser legs, and staying covered up – rather than stripping off in the heat – prevented bites, stings, sunburn and scratches.
• Corsets, not bras. “By that I don’t mean Victorian corseting,” says Ms Goodman. “Corsets support your back as well as your chest, and don’t leave red welts on your skin like bra elastic does. They made it hard to breath walking up hills, but I get short of breath doing that anyway. And most people feel sexy in a corset.”
• Biodiversity protects against unforeseen calamity. While the developed world no longer counts the cost of crop failure in starvation and mass migration – the result of Ireland’s Great Potato Famine in 1845 – the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis decimated farms up and down the country as animals, the farmers’ livelihoods, were put to death. The 1620s farm had grains, fruit and vegetables, and a range of animals – if one failed, alternatives were available.
• Reliance on any one thing leaves you vulnerable. Hence the country ground to a halt during the petrol blockades of 2000, and a shortage of coal during 1978-9’s Winter of Discontent caused electricity shortages. On the 1620s farm, when oxen used to plough fields fell ill, the implements were reshaped and horses did the job instead.
• No pesticides means a richer variety of birds, butterflies and other insects, many of which feast on pests – a result as desirable for the gardener as the farmer. And the hedgerow and fields of wild flowers of the past are today making a comeback, as these provide habitats for these creatures and allow edible plants to flourish.
5. Urban vs. Rural Sustainability
Urban vs. Rural Sustainability
Published Dec 25 2004 by Permaculture Activist
by Toby Hemenway
“Over ten years ago my wife and I moved to the country. One of our many reasons for leaving the city was to finally pursue the dream of self-reliance: to create a permaculture homestead that would trim our resource use and let us tap in more fully to nature’s abundance. And in the back of my mind was the quietly nibbling worry that someday the overconsumption party would end—the oil would run out, and things might get ugly. I wanted to be settled where we could be less dependent on the fossil fuel umbilicus when the cord finally snapped.
We went a good way toward making that dream come true. The red clay of our former clearcut turned, in places, to chocolate loam, though I noticed that even as our trees matured I still seemed to be needing more wood chips from the electric company or manure from a stable two miles away. From the garden flowed a steady procession of fruit and vegetables, but I confess I tried to ignore how much well-water we were pumping once our rain catchment ran dry partway through Southern Oregon’s four-month dry season.
We became involved in the local community: Master Gardeners, an environmental group, town meetings. Although we were busy in regional life in the beginning, eventually I found I preferred to drive the hour to see friends in progressive-minded Eugene than fight the pro-logging consciousness that permeated our county. Over the years my few local friends fell away as I became more drawn to the mind-set of those in Eugene, and as the local economics made it necessary for me to be away for weeks to teach and do design work. We were on good speaking terms with all our neighbors, but never found much common ground with them. Local parties began with watery beer and often ended in drunken fights, and neither was to our taste.
Slowly a mild paranoia set in. I started to wonder whether, if the Big Crash came, I was really in the right place. We had the best garden for miles around, and everyone knew it. If law broke down, wasn’t there more than a chance that my next door neighbor, a gun-selling meth dealer and felon, might just shoot me for all that food? How about the right-wing fundamentalists past him, who shot Stellar’s jays for fun and clear cut their land when they suspected spotted owls lived there? Or the two feuding families beyond them—one had fired a pistol during an argument, and neither would give way when their cars met on the road. I began to sense the outlines of a pattern that replicated one in society at large. We have the technical means to feed, clothe, and house all humanity. But legions starve because we have not learned to tolerate and support one another. People’s real problems are not technical, they are social and political. Down in Douglas County, I’d solved most of the technical problems for our own personal survival, but the social hurdles to true security were staring me in the face.
Our isolation also meant we were burning a lot of gas. A simple drive for groceries was a 40-minute round trip. Fortunately we both worked at home and had no children, so we could go for days without using the car. But the odometer was whirling to higher numbers than it ever had in the city. A couple of families had moved off our hill because they were exhausted by two to four round trips each day down our steep, potholed gravel road to work, school, soccer practice, music lessons, and shopping.
We cherished our decade-plus in the country, but eventually the realities began to pile up. There wasn’t a local market for the work we did. Community events left us saddened by the gulf between our way of life and theirs. And we were still tethered to the fossil-fuel beast, just by a much longer lifeline of wire, pipe, and pavement. That the beast looked smaller by being farther away no longer fooled us.
There was a positive side, too. We had achieved what we’d set out to do: to make sense of our lives, find the work we loved, and grow into ourselves. The portents now spoke clearly. It was time to return to where the people were, and to be in the thick of things once more.
So we have moved to Portland, and into the heart of town. We love it. The first of many good omens was the bio-diesel Mercedes across the street sporting a Kucinich sticker. And it’s a pleasure to be within walking distance of a bookstore, good coffee, and Ben and Jerry’s.
During the first few days in the city I would stand on the back porch, eyeing our yard with permaculture dreams in my head. The sole tree is a sprawling European prune plum. Other than that, the yard is a blank slate, dominated by a brick patio, a lawn, and an old dog run. And it’s small. I wondered how I would I fit all my favorite fruit trees in that tiny space.
The answer soon came. The plum tree straddles the fence we share with our neighbor Johnny, who has lived next door for 55 years. One day, on opposite sides of the fence, Johnny and I were gathering a small fraction of the branch-bending loads of plums when he called out, “Do you like figs?” I said I did, and soon a tub of black mission figs wobbled over the fence toward me.
We kept returning the basin to Johnny, but it found its way back almost immediately, full of figs. “You weren’t here in time for the apricots I’ve got,” Johnny told us, “But next year you’ll get your fill of them.”
As the buckets of plums began to fill up the yard, I tried to unload some on Theressa across the street. “Oh, no,” she said, “I’ve got my own tree. But when the Granny Smith’s come on, you’d better help me with them. And next year’s peaches will knock you out.”
When I met our neighbor Will, he begged me to take some of the pears that were plopping onto his yard. The American chestnuts up the street are bearing heavily, although the Asian community is all over them each morning before I wake up. I’ve cracked a few of the local walnuts, and they’re pretty good. And yesterday I discovered a nearby strawberry tree dotted with creamy mild fruit.
This informal assessment of local resources has revised my mental landscape design. I don’t need to grow all my favorite trees, only the ones that my neighbors lack (I’m thinking Asian pears, persimmons, and some early and storage apples). My neighbor’s yards are my Zones Two and Three. [Ed’s note: a common feature of permaculture design is the zoning of a property up into areas, numbered one through to five or so, relating to proximity to the house and levels of required maintainence. -AF ] Plus, Stacey and Troy on the next block have persuaded the owner of a vacant lot to let eight families create a community garden on the site. A local tree service will soon be dumping chips there for sheet mulch, and next year we’ll be awash in food.
The Big Rural Footprint
I had always assumed that cities would be the worst place to be in bad times. I’m revising my opinion. Granted, Portland is an exceptional city. (Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!) But I can’t help comparing this neighborhood to our old one. There, we were twelve families on two miles of road, driveways hundreds of feet long, all served by long runs of phone and electric wire, individual septic systems and wells, each commuting long distances. And with political and social views so divergent that feuds, gossip, and awkward conversations about safe topics were the norm.
In the city, an equal group of twelve families use 10% of the road, wire, and pipe needed in my old neighborhood. Many neighbors bus or bike to work, or at worst, drive single-digit mileages. And our social and political views are close enough that I am fairly confident we can work in mutual support if times get tough.
This is not the place to go deeply into the question of whether cities are more sustainable than contemporary American country life, but at each point where I delve into the issues, I find suggestions that urbanites have a smaller ecological footprint per capita.
Over the last two decades, millions of people have moved out of cities. Many of them are people of modest means, driven out by the high costs of urban life. Unfortunately, they have brought their city ways with them. Our neighbors in the country all clear cut their land and planted acres of grass. Many built enormous houses, since low interest rates made more square footage affordable. Some put up
glaring streetlights in their front yards. They bought boats, ATVs, RVs, and other gas-guzzling toys. Unlike earlier self-reliant country folk, these are simply city people with really big yards. And there are millions of them.
Sociologists Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford have each noted that during the Depression and other hard times, urban residents have generally fared better than ruralites. The causes mainly boil down to market forces and simple physics. Since most of the population lives in or near cities, when goods are scarce the greater demand, density, and economic power in the cities directs resources to them. Shipping hubs are mostly in cities, so trucks are emptied before they get out of town.
In the Depression, farmers initially had the advantage of being able to feed themselves. But they soon ran out of other supplies: coal to run forges to fix machinery, fertilizer, medicine, clothing, and almost every other non-food item. Without those, they couldn’t grow food. Farmers who could still do business with cities survived. Those too remote or obstinate blew away with the Kansas dust.
Today the situation for farmers has worsened. Few farmers grow their own food. Agribusiness has made them utterly dependent on chemicals and other shipped-in products. The main lack of cities compared to farms is food-growing, but farms lack nearly everything else—and most of that comes from cities. Setting aside for the moment the all-important issue of social and political cohesion, for cities to survive a peak-oil crash, the critical necessity is for them to learn to grow food. For country people to survive, inhabitants will need to provide nearly every single other essential good for themselves. And since many country people are simply transplanted urbanites lacking gardening or other land skills, but having the isolation that makes social cohesion unnecessary to learn (for now), their survival is even more doubtful. If catastrophe comes, the cities may be unpleasant, but I fear the countryside may be far worse off.
One important tenet of permaculture is to design for disaster. While giving a talk on the wildfire that destroyed his cabin at the Lama Foundation, Santa Fe designer Ben Haggard was asked what his biggest lesson was. “Plan for disaster,” he said. “Whatever is the likely catastrophe at your site, count on
it happening. Because sooner or later, it will.”
A technique displayed in good design that also happens to be a way to deter disaster is to meet destructive forces with mechanisms or attitudes that transform them into productive, or at worst, harmless energies. When this machinery of transformation is missing, even seemingly mild events wreak havoc. A gentle rain falling on bare ground will quickly sluice away topsoil and wash downhill in gullies. If instead plants carpet that same patch of earth, the rain becomes not an erosive force, but life-giving moisture whose energy is damped and welcomed by the vegetation. Instead of gullying, the water is held by the plants, stored over a longer time for them and for the animals that feed on or live among the vegetation. This is one of nature’s secrets: knowing how to create structures and systems that convert gales to refreshing breezes, change baking sun into sugars and living tissue.
What nature doesn’t do, and humans attempt so often, is to treat large forces as enemies to be vanquished and destroyed. This summer, as hurricanes repeatedly battered the Caribbean, ridiculous proposals appeared in letters-to-the-editor columns: Let’s build giant fans on the Florida coast
to blow away the storms. Pour oil over the Atlantic to smooth out the waves. And (inevitably), why can’t we toss a few nukes into those pesky hurricanes? (Whether it’s replacing the Panama canal or toppling Saddam, someone always seems to propose atomic bombs.)
The conceptual tool offered by permaculture in these cases is to view large forces as sector energies: influences from off the site that are beyond the control of the designer. We deal with sector energies by designing systems or placing elements to deflect, absorb, or harvest these forces, or allow them to pass unhindered. This is nature’s way as well, and how she does it offers, as usual, some profound lessons.
As ecosystems mature, biomass and complexity increase. Ecologist Ramon Margalef, in his landmark 1963 paper, “On Certain Unifying Principles in Ecology” (American Naturalist 97:357-374), suggests we think of biomass as “a keeper of organization, something that is proportional to the influence that an actual ecosystem can exert on future events.” In other words, we can think of biomass, complexity, and the other indicators of maturity as measures not only of the resilience of a system, but as a form of wisdom. That’s because as ecosystems mature, the aftermath of environmental tumult such as storm or
drought depends more on the richness of the ecosystem than on the nature of the disturbance. A drought that withers a weed lot doesn’t faze an old-growth forest—the forest has learned what to do with drought. It has grown structures, cycles, and patterns that convert nearly any outside influence into more forest, and that protect key cycles during bad times. It has become wise.
Nature uses two principal tools to achieve this protection from catastrophe.
1) The first is diversity in space—in size, shape, physical pattern, and composition. If all the pieces of a system are at the same physical scale—all the same size, or the same genetic makeup, for example—a disturbance occurring at that scale will wipe out the whole system. Diversity in scale brings protection. When a hurricane hits a trailer park, the trailers blow away, but the bacteria, mice, and other elements of very different size escape damage. A plague of cats, on the other hand, strikes at the scale of the mice, leaving the trailers and bacteria unscathed. Mature ecosystems have enough diversity in space that any catastrophe may knock out the pieces living at that particular scale but will almost never destroy the whole landscape.
2) The second protective tool of mature ecosystems is diversity in time—in rate, frequency, and schedule. Understory shrubs often leaf out earlier in spring than canopy trees, which lets the shrubs grab enough light to build plenty of leaves. Then when the trees grow leaves, the shrubs have the photosynthetic area to gather ample light in the dappled shade. Another classic example of diversity in time is the hatching cycle of locusts. Timed to emerge at intervals of years having prime numbers such as 13 and 17, they frustrate the predators whose more regular breeding period requires their food to arrive more predictably.
Permaculture designers use similar approaches to design for disaster. Instead of using concrete embankments and other brute-force tactics to resist flood, we place fences that can lie down, reed-like as rushing waters advance and then can be easily set up afterward. Rather than gouging enormous barren firebreaks into their hillside, Lama Foundation stacks roads, swales, and plantings together in
a multiply functioning firebreak. When monsoon downpours arrive in Tucson, instead of standing by as flooding street runoff pours down sewers, Brad Lancaster harvests the water with cleverly placed curb cuts that lead to mulched food-tree basins. All these examples are detailed in Permaculture Activist #54 (November, 2004).
By observing nature’s wisdom, permaculturists follow nature’s lead and use patterning, succession, edge, and cyclic opportunities to convert large pulses of energy into smooth generators of structure, harvest, and nutrient flow. Permaculture design inquires into the nature of some of these “large pulses” and shows how they can teach us to use their energy, aikido-like, to benefit ourselves and the larger ecosystem.”
6. Cities, peak oil, and sustainability
Cities, peak oil, and sustainability
Energy Bulletin, Published Dec 25 2004, by Permaculture Activist by Toby Hemenway
In mid-August I drove to a party in the country outside of Portland, Oregon. Twenty miles of freeway took me to a two-lane road that wound ten miles up steep forested hills and down through remote valleys. As the roads grew narrower and less traveled, I began to wonder how, if gas hits $5 or $10 a
gallon, people and supplies will reach these isolated spots. What kind of post-oil vehicle will climb this hilly, winding road that quite literally goes nowhere—a converted truck run on home-made biodigested methane? Then, after I arrived at the secluded acreage, I questioned whether my hosts could really supply most of their own needs, just the two of them and their kids.
I think these isolated places will disappear the way that Roman outposts in Britain and Gaul did during the empire’s decline.
In a recent issue of this magazine (Permaculture Activist 54 p. 2, “Designing Beyond Disaster”) I wrote that when I moved to the country 11 years ago, I assumed that rural people use fewer resources than urbanites, but now that I’m back in the city I can see that isn’t true. That article [“Urban vs. Rural Sustainability.”-immediately above this article-lfp] has generated more response than any other I’ve written, and has been reprinted around the Web many times, often with some furious comments. Obviously, a lot of people are thinking about the same topics. I’d like to re-visit the subject, respond to some of the commentary, elaborate on my reasoning, and describe some new thoughts on the subject.
First, a clarification on word usage. When I speak of rural, I generally mean places where people live on acreage outside of towns, with most services too far to walk to. Small towns decreasingly can be called rural, as their takeover by chain stores, engulfment by sprawl, and reliance on non-local goods renders many indistinguishable from suburbs.
• I’m not a believer in the Peak Oil “end of the world” scenario, where decreasing oil production somehow mutates into the sudden, permanent shutoff of urban water supplies, and contented suburbanites are transformed overnight into looting gangs. Yes, fossil fuels surely will become much more expensive in the next decades, and scarce soon after. I don’t doubt that several tipping points will be broached along the way, with rapid and unexpected changes cascading through society. But civilization won’t end. People have repeatedly predicted the apocalypse: in millennial 1000, again in 1666 (the number of the beast), and many times between and since. Is our memory so short that we have forgotten the foolishness around Y2k? Or are we so wedded to the delicious notion of our annihilation that we grasp at any possibility? Why do we hunger so for our own extinction?
• Neither the mega-cities nor the survivalist’s bunker will be viable in a post-oil future. The places with the best chance of surviving an oil peak will be cities of less than a million people, ranging down to well-placed smaller cities and towns. Cities of a million or so existed before fossil fuels—ancient Rome proper held roughly a million people—thus they are clearly possible in a limited-oil era.
Scale works to the advantage of sensibly sized cities. For example, Portland’s 500,000 people are served by two sewage treatment plants that use about 2000 miles of pipe to reach every home. Building this cost in the low hundreds of millions of dollars (exact figures don’t exist). Compare this to the sewage system for 500,000 rural people. That’s roughly 125,000 septic tanks, each with 300 or more feet of drain-field pipe, plus trenching and drain rock for all. A septic system costs about $10,000 to build, so the cost of 125,000 of them is $1.25 billion, several times that of the urban system, and the ruralites need 7000 miles of pipe compared to Portland’s 2000 miles. Of course, composting toilets and graywater systems would obviate the need for both of those unsustainable, resource-intensive methods of waste treatment, but I’m talking about what exists right now. Virtually any service system—electricity, fuel, food—follows the same brutal mathematics of scale. A dispersed population requires more resources to serve it—and to connect it together—than a concentrated one. That fact cannot be gotten around.
• One of the most common responses to the Peak Oil panic is, “We’re planning on moving to the country with our friends and producing everything we need.” Let me burst that bubble: Back-to-the-landers have been pursuing this dream for 40 years now, and I don’t know of a single homesteader or community that has achieved it. Even the Amish shop in town. When I moved to the country, I became rapidly disabused of the idea of growing even half my own food. I like doing one or two other things during my day. During my life…” [Having ‘been there and done that’ myself, with 27 years experience on 29 acres of rural MN acreage, I agree. Mr. Larry]
7. Surviving Peak Oil, The Economic Meltdown and A Possible New Great Depression.
Surviving Peak Oil, The Economic Meltdown and A Possible New Great Depression: Hypothetical Scenarios and Crazy Ideas For a Crazy New World.
The following survival strategies are for the possibility a post peak oil world that is truly in chaos. No one knows if we will see such a scenario come to pass and I hope that they won’t. As a self described “survivalist” and a Red Cross Volunteer who has spent time at the epicenter of category 5 hurricanes, I have firsthand knowledge of what you need to stay alive. You need: 1) clean water, 2) food, 3) shelter, 4) medicines and 5) communications, basically in that order and last but not least, 6) a good plan.
If you are one of the lucky ones and can afford to keep your home during the current financial crisis or an even worse one that could happen, what kind of neighborhood will your home be located in? Already, in the early stages of the mortgage meltdown some of our suburbs are turning into suburban slums as the homeless and criminals occupy foreclosed homes and mosquitoes breed in abandoned swimming pools. There are nearly 12 million U.S. homeowners who owe more on their homes than those homes are worth and many people are walking away, bad credit be damned because they can now rent for a fraction of what they were paying the bank. For those who choose to hang on to their homes it will be a challenge to keep that home safe as the crime rate increases.
Strategy # 1: Standing Your Ground In The City
If you are able to hold onto your home and can find work in the area where you live then your home will become your fortress against the increasingly dangerous urban world around you. Residents of “bad neighborhoods” such as parts of East Los Angeles already have experience in protecting their castles against invaders. But for those of us accustomed to living in “nice” neighborhoods the learning curve will be steep.
a) You can start by spending some of the money you might have left on security bars for your windows, a shotgun, and a fence for your yard. By this time property associations will be bankrupt and won’t be able to enforce rules so make your fence as high as possible. You’ll be building the fence to keep thieves out and a dog in. Dog food is an added expense but a good watchdog can be worth their weight in gold.
b) See the book, The Secure Home for more ideas on how to protect your property.
c) You’ll need a backup source of power since the power grid will become increasingly unreliable and power may only be available for certain hours of the day. A tri fuel generator that runs on natural gas, propane and gasoline is a good choice. So is a diesel generator since you can store barrels of diesel more safely than gasoline. Ideally a large propane tank, in an area away from thieves, is the best way to go. You can run a tri-fuel generator several days straight on a 150 gallon propane tank. You will need at least 5000 watts of power to run your appliances.
d) A more lasting solution is to invest in a solar power system of at least 500 watts for battery charging and to power an inverter to run small appliances. If you can afford a larger backup solar power system of at least 3KW, with multiple deep cycle batteries now is the time to buy one before prices skyrocket. An Air Marine wind generator can provide additional power when the sun is not shining.
e) A wood stove can burn waste wood and lumber to keep your home warm in winter. Choose one that has a cooking surface. You will need a flue cleaning kit to clean your smokestack regularly when burning anything other than clean firewood.
f) For water you can divert your gutters into a 1000 gallon or larger fiberglass tank and use a solar panel and RV type demand pump to pressure up your plumbing if city water is interrupted. Broken water mains will be a frequent problem as cities go bankrupt and can’t afford to pay for repair crews.
g) If your yard is big enough you will want to replace much of your existing lawn with food producing
plants including fruit trees.
There are many varieties of greens such as mustard, collard and kale that grow in marginal soil and shade. You can plant pinto beans, straight from the pantry to produce green beans in spring and summer. Choose hardy varieties of plants such as hybrid tomatoes that are resistant to blight and fungus. Plant the eyes of russet potatoes in deep flower beds or stacked up tires filled with soil. You can kill pests with diluted dishwashing soap and by picking them off by hand. It is unlikely that you will be able to produce enough food on your own city lot to feed your family but your garden will fill in when other sources are scarce. You can also trade for different varieties of vegetables with your neighbors.
h) Since food supplies will be disrupted having a good supply of food on hand is a must. Buy canned
staples such as corned beef, evaporated milk, brown rice and beans and keep them in airtight containers such as Rubbermaid trash cans. Rust is the enemy of canned food so add dehydration packets which are available at boating supply stores. Keep a stock of dehydrated and freeze dried food for more long term storage. One good tasting brand is made by a company called Mountain House. Also keep a good supply of multivitamins to supply the nutrients you may be missing. Body-builder’s protein powder made from soy or whey also keeps well.
i) Skills like sewing will be needed again to mend items. Get a good quality sewing machine, a supply of thread and spare parts for it.
j) You’ll need a source of news and it is unlikely you will be able to afford or even get cable at this point. A simple solar powered radio may become your entertainment center. A small portable TV that operates on 12 volts can be operated from your solar battery bank.
k) You may not be able to afford medical care. Keep a good supply of broad spectrum antibiotics such
as Cipro and pain killers. You may want to consider stocking up on essential prescription medicines that you need but do so with caution and always store medicines in a cool dry place sealed in airtight containers.
Communications Gear For Survival
It is unlikely that you will be able to afford cell phone service in a severe depression if it is even available. Instead you can utilize long range handheld radios to keep in touch with family around your neighborhood. There is a new type, that blows away the previous GRMS/FRS radios and gives about the same range. It is called a 900MHz FHSS 2-Way Radio and it uses a new type of frequency hopping to provide up to a billion privacy codes so your transmissions are just between you and the other party.
High power SSB CB and ham radios can reach out for thirty miles under the right conditions and using “skip” or bouncing the signal off the atmosphere can talk around the world. Unlike some peak oil “doomers” I don’t see high tech going away in the near term.
There are enough garage inventors out there to scavenge and come up with all kinds of technology to fill in the gaps when the grid goes down as we have seen in third world countries.
In Thailand entrepreneurs pedal around neighborhoods with solar powered Wi-Fi. As in India, neighbors may also agree to set up and share a single secure wireless connection across several city blocks with long range wi-fi antennas. Internet telephony services like Skype may replace traditional phones as land based networks become increasingly unreliable. There are now handheld phones that allow you to talk on the Skype network for free with any open WiFi connection in the world. Read more about how to set up a free internet connection with super long range WiFi antennas and boosters:
Someday you may have to decide to either hit the road or stand your ground.
Should you start buying guns? Should you start a neighborhood watch organization or patrol? Should you put in a garden for extra food or buy emergency rations? What about the infrastructure? Will power keep flowing down the lines with no money to fix our upgrade our electrical grid? Should you put in an auxiliary power supply such as solar panels or a generator? Maybe you should just pack up and hit the road.
Strategy #2: Going Mobile, Mad Max Style
For each of us our personal survival strategy may be different. For some it may mean leaving the home behind and taking to the road to find a less violent place to take shelter or an area where work can still be found. An RV, travel trailer or even a large tent might become your new residence as they have become for so many evicted homeowners recently. For those who choose the mobile path traveling smart and light are essential.
You’ll want a good supply of freeze dried food or MRE’s, tools, a multi – fuel generator for power and some communications gear such as a ham radio or CB in your vehicle for emergencies. You’ll also want a number of water storage containers and a pump system for filling from streams. You will need a good water purifier to deal with contaminated sources. You will need a means of buying food so you will want a hiding place in your vehicle or RV for cash and small denominations of silver and gold coins in case the dollar becomes worthless. A versatile gun that can also be used for hunting, such as a shotgun is a must . You’ll want a good supply of ammunition. Just remember to keep that gun in a safe place, both from thieves and your kids.
“Here’s your burger sir, that’ll be two twelve gauge shells and five 22 calibers please”. It is very possible that ammunition will become a currency itself so carry a large supply of the most commonly used sizes including 12 gauge shotgun shells and 22 caliber bullets. The barter system may replace currency for most transactions. Items such as disposable razors, cigarettes and hand tools will be good for trading for gas and food. Sticking with a group of like minded people will be good insurance against trouble. This means finding safe RV parks and campgrounds where law and order still prevails. You’ll need good neighbors to watch your things while you leave to find work, if there is any.
For those without a car you’ll need a good frame backpack and everything you need to survive in miniature. Weight is your enemy so choose lightweight tents, sleeping bags, water purifiers and take along freeze dried food and MRE’s to live on. Carry your cash, silver and gold in a money belt or shoe hiding place. You’ll want to avoid crime ridden cities and find shelter and camping in safe campgrounds or on farms where you can find work. Setting up camp near a body of water has advantages for bathing and catching fish. Since you may be crossing many jurisdictions carrying a pistol may not be wise. Consider large pepper spray – dye spray containers instead. You’ll need a lightweight crank or solar powered radio for news and if traveling with family a couple of GMRS radios to keep in touch with each other plus a solar battery charger. Consider a high power SSB CB radio for long range communication.
There are other options. A small sailboat is one of them. A self contained sailboat can provide shelter and mobility without the use of fuel. It can allow for movement to areas where there is work and safety along the vast Intercoastal Highway and navigable rivers as well as a way to leave the U.S. if necessary. There are many books that have been written about self-sufficient living aboard sailboats. In a post peak oil world sailboats may be one of the only affordable means of covering long distances. A fuel efficient motorcycle is another. The same packing strategy for backpacking applies to traveling by bike. Carry spare motorcycle parts, tire tubes, a good toolkit and extra gas.
Strategy #3: Rural Survival
If you are lucky enough to own your own farm you will be in the best position of all for survival in a post peak or post economic meltdown world. You will be able to produce not only enough food to supply yourself but also for trade. Since the supply chain will be disrupted and parts hard to find you will want to have spares of everything and the means to can and store your own food. Farmers will undoubtedly form closer alliances with other nearby farmers and cooperative groups for tasks like firefighting and crop harvesting. Home canning and self sufficiency skills as described in the aforementioned books apply both to urban dwellers and rural residents. It will be essential for small farmers to re-learn the ways and the wisdom of the old timers before they pass on, such as growing crops without expensive chemical fertilizers.
Take The Middle Path, Be Prepared In The Early Stages Of The Crisis
I have met quite a few other individuals who call themselves “survivalists” in the hurricane ravaged areas where I have volunteered with the American Red Cross. Although it is never a good idea to try to ride out a hurricane, the ones that made it had electricity, water, food and medicine plus communication gear such as CB or Ham Radio. Unlike the common image of survivalists as gun toting hoarders, these individuals often became excellent volunteers, helping their less prepared neighbors and beginning the rebuilding of their community.
A total economic meltdown caused either by peak oil or something else will bring out both the best and the worse in people. I’d like to think that most will choose to work to keep their community intact but those who are inclined to take advantage by looting and stealing instead of cooperating will do so. I believe, cynically perhaps, that many of our citizens would react differently than they did in the Great Depression of the 1930’s because now many of us see having certain possessions and lifestyles as a right and therefore any means of getting them is justified.
I think that we would seem like a spoiled nation to those people of the 1930’s if they could have looked into the future and seen us now and the excessive energy wasting lifestyle that we take for granted. Once this is ripped away from us how will Americans react and who will they blame? Surely not ourselves. When the full blown crash comes there will be calls for more government bailouts or even wars to punish whoever caused us such hardship. Few will realize that it was living beyond our means and failing to have a plan of energy self sufficiency behind it all.
The current economic situation could go either way. There are many signs that point to it getting worse and all it will take is some type of unpredicted event to send the economy spiraling downward toward total collapse. The best thing to do right now is to prepare for the worst case scenario that could happen. Tailor your personal survival plan to either one of staying put or going mobile, based on your home ownership situation. You may want to prepare on both fronts, by having a ready pack of supplies in case you are forced to leave and at the same time preparing your home for a long term crisis.
Start by preparing your home to be a safe place when outside support systems fail. If you can afford to add things like solar backup power and rainwater collection now is the time to do it, not when it is too late. Invest in things that make your home more energy efficient and vehicles that use less fuel. Stock up on freeze dried food and MRE’s now before they become unavailable or extremely expensive and have things like home medical kits and supplies already in place. In case paper money becomes worthless you should keep a savings of small denomination gold and silver coins in a good hiding place to buy food with.
Whether our nation turns a corner and is able to establish a renewable energy future and avoid a severe peak oil crash remains to be seen. Yet investing in home energy efficiency and more efficient vehicles is a win-win way of preparing. Having a stockpile of food and supplies is a cheap peace of mind insurance policy, regardless of how things turn out.
Ultimately it all comes down to preparedness and keeping one step ahead of the tide. Those who make fun of your survivalist ways will be the ones coming to you for help when the poop hits the fan.
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