The Breaking of the Fellowship of the Peak

Final report from John on the ASPO Conference

I am back on the train to New York, reviewing what occurred in the last three days. Thinking over what I learned in the talks given on an autopsy of the Gulf Oil spill brings to mind the ones given in the "Message, Media and Outreach" section.

There was no question that in the speaker's minds that the Gulf accident was the result of a series of almost inexplicable mistakes by the crew on the rig. There was a profound lack of communication between various levels of command both on the rig and above. As the errors were discussed, the realization of what was ignored became mind-boggling. Yet the speakers thought that BP technical actions on stopping the leak were more than adequate, if not commendable. When people asked why it took so long to stop the leak, the real issue is how BP was able to stop the leak so quickly. One speaker noted in discussing the issue of using a nuclear device (which was not possible in this case thank goodness), that Russia had success in stopping three out four gas well blowouts on which it was tried. The fourth gas well is still burning. Please note that I think that there was many other issues surrounding the way BP handled this leak that may not be at all commendable. It is an open question, maybe, whether the environment damage caused by the leak was made much worse by their actions.

Thinking back over the media coverage that I remember of this disaster, one issue that stands out in my mind was how it was claimed that this well was pushing the limits of deep water drilling. It turns out it wasn't. Wells have been drilled that are more than twice as deep. The area was a tricky one to drill in, but the dangers of the high gas pressures that were encountered were well known. This well was not far from being an average deep water well, of which hundreds have been drilled. This ignorance of these facts was manipulated in typically fashion by certain groups. I will cite one that appears to be from "conservative" commentators - this accident was the government's fault because by banning shallow water drilling, oil and companies were forced into deep water where they have little experience. Barf.

The observant reader will notice that I refer to groups in plural. I find what is now labeled as liberal opinions is often, but not always, far more factually correct than conservative ones. However such opinions often leave me with a burning question: "Yes, that is correct/good/moral. But what must we give up, and how, in order to do this?" (Sharon's work does not invoke this response for some reason.)

For to give up things we will, whether it is now willingly, or later unwillingly. One way or another, we will lose our precious, our barrel of power. What did not come out clearly of the sound and fury surrounding the coverage of the Gulf accident was the why of where we were drilling. Yes, I know why and probably you do too. But my day job co-workers don't and I bet yours don't either. Once again, the opportunity to talk about peak oil and what it implies to the public was lost.

Yes, that issue of getting a society to peacefully give things up was addressed in the Media and Message section. But will those messages overcome the message that "It is the government's/poor's/blacks'/gays' fault."?

I though that giving things up was unsurprisingly a theme of the conference, especially the last day. From Dr. Schlumberger's delightful talk on The Future of Air Transportation to Sharon's thoughtful "Feeding a Planet after Peak Oil", what we will give up and what we must not was a recurring theme.

At the end of the conference, a number of the panelists returned to the podium and were asked what they are doing in their life to prepare for what they see is going to happen. All had done something. Some had oriented their entire lives towards this (guess who), one had a careful plan to take their family to safety in another country in which they had deep roots. What are your plans?

Then it was over.

I want to thank Sharon so much for this opportunity to help her on this blog. It was an honor to be able to post on a site that I respect so highly.

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Assuming your question wasnât rhetorical . . . I am following Sharonâs lead. The beauty of this path for me is that even if she is totally wrong (no, I have not been brainwashed by Fox), it is the way I want to live ANYWAY. Hopefully I will have a less challenging time of adapting in place because I already live in a rural setting on a road to nowhere anybody else wants to go. I am learning how to grow and store my own foods. Eating will be less challenging because I already eat a plant-based diet. IMHO, the animal-based diet that so many people rely on will become the ultimate of luxuries.

Perry, your path is commendable. Industrialized meat destroys soil by demanding erosive and poison-dependent corn and soil rotations for feedstocks, pollutes through the dumping of concentrated manures, and sickens by encouraging superbugs.

Ultimately, soil health must be maintained. Diversified cropping and a largely vegetarian diet are needed. However, I think there is a place on small farms for humanely raised stock, for food and fiber and manure, which, properly handled, will help to maintain soil health.

We can draw worst case and best case scenarios from the data. Worst case is the triumph of the climate deniers in next two or more elections, leading to the taking of decisions that will perhaps condemn humanity to take our place among the roster of vanished species.

Best case is a la Sharon Astyk. I think most of us, not in the current generation necessarily, but in historical times, soon, will give up our lives. Most of the remainder will be grindingly poor. Perhaps, after that, another civilization may arise upon other energy-exploitative terms than fossil fuels. Perhaps several such civilizations.

And then? The Earth was only ever going to be habitable for a short time, geologically speaking. And then there is the expanding darkness. Entropy, you know.

For me, I'll espouse Sharon's best case. Eke out a low-carbon life. Eat home-grown kale. Not too much. Mostly plants. And have the neighbors over at Thanksgiving.

@ risa b.,

My father raised hogs from WWII to the 1980's. He typically piled manure until it went through a "heat" - began turning to compost - to kill any contained weed seed. That simple process made the "manure" problem pretty much a non-issue around our farm. Claiming that all manure, by nature, is biologically toxic to water and man is incendiary and only true when deliberate steps are taken to cause problems. Composting can be a simple step to "detox" manure.

If everyone goes vegetarian, and Peak Oil means no appreciable amount of goods will be transported across nations or oceans - what do you propose to make your shoes of? Before intercontinental rubber and modern plastic, that answer was leather. Leather has always been a byproduct of providing meat for the table. I have a delightful pair of leather and denim gloves, many industrial and construction tasks require the toughness and durability of leather. If you have never welded, let me give you a hint: Think of flying sparks, drops of burning metal. Even fire-resistant cloth is quickly perforated, it just doesn't burn. Wool is gathered from sheep - that only yield for a few years. Goats, llamas, and other animals are used for leather and wool.

Horses, at one time, were used for leather as well as work and for food. Horses grace the tables in Europe and Japan today. Until the last couple of decades horse meat was a viable industry and export product for the US is not resulting, as well as necessary means of handling excess animals.

In the mean time, the "everyone vegetarian" war cry is assuming a lot of residual wealth, residual energy, and residual petroleum products that might or might not be available.

Farm work is rough on clothes - if you aren't using draft animals for working the fields, you are looking at a lot of human labor to grow the foods and fibers needed by a (by then) hungry world population. And producing meat on the farm condenses grain calories to make transport of those calories more economical. Will the old West trail drive return? I don't know - but I cannot drive a field of soybeans to market.

Show me an non-animal agricultural community not depending on oil, electricity or other cheap energy, and not depending on materials provided by oil, electricity or other cheap energy, including transport. Then I might be willing to listen to "everyone vegetarian".

@ John,

I see a corollary issue here. That is - the world is fairly small today, in terms of interconnections, and closeness of bindings. As peak oil interferes with that, I expect regional differences to spill over into aggression, including international hegemony disputes (i.e., UN and third world nations, the "tail wagging the dog" kind of thing). If we know there is oil on our shores, and in the Gulf, and we don't drill - are we ready to repulse others from drilling that oil? At gunpoint? Suppose the UN were to declare all unexploited oil "confiscated" or "internationalized for the good of mankind" and deemed to be the property of the son in law of whoever happens to be the sitting Secretary General at the time, as happens so often amidst the ongoing corruption of the UN and various international entities.

Unilateral actions will always be an invitation for others to exploit, whether unilaterally choosing fewer children (i.e., sacrifice our nation and culture in the next two or three generations), or failing to drill oil that we know is there. True or false, it has been said that the US entered Iraq partly to remove Saddam Hussein, but also because of Iraqi oil. That was even before Peak Oil. And other nations agreed that the oil was important enough to move into Iraq. Are we now ready for Saudi Arabia to move into the gulf and drill, without regard for American interests or markets? Or Venezuela, Brazil, or Iran? And why should they not? Great Britain is apparently present in the Gulf of Mexico, or has been. I believe US companies are present in many of the world's oil fields.

The US Navy hasn't had a serious mechanical failure onboard a serving vessel in many years. But the size of the fleet is smaller than projected needs, and older than is desirable. It takes time and a lot of energy to produce the steel and systems to assemble any ocean going vessel, and a lot of electronics and weapons systems to make an effective warship. Are our resources adequate, today, to unilaterally leave Gulf of Mexico oil untapped?

Corria o ano de 1977, numa grande feira de artes gráficas, na F.I.L. - Feira Internacional de Lisboa, nessa altura sediada na Junqueira.
A feira era dedicada a profissionais do ramo, como eu o era.
Como interesado também em coleccionar de tudo quanto fosse papel impresso, descobri a colecção de Ex-Libris, porquanto era de bom tom os livros de uma livraria, serem arrumados com aquela marca pessoalizada.
Comecei a dedicar-me a fazer uma colecção daquelas marcas. De imediato tratei de mandar executar a minha pessoal. Porém, o tempo não me deu para tratar da impressão, fiquei apenas com as provas de artista.
Apresento uma que foi de Moreira Rato, que conhecera na F.I.L. presente como animador daquele passatempo.
E uma outra de Mealha Costa, com quem contactei depois, um verdadeiro entusiasta.
Estes homens, pela idade, não deverão já fazer parte do nosso mundo e deixei sequer de ouvir falar em Ex-Libris.

Brad K. - There's a difference between "largely vegetarian" or "plant-based" and "totally vegan," and nobody commenting before you suggested we should choose the latter. Veganism is not a natural diet for humans; neither is the Western diet laden with grain-fed fatty meat, which seems to be clearly related to heart disease and cancer.

@ Risa B,

I maintain a small flock of chickens and ducks on my homestead. I feed them a high-quality organic commercially prepared diet, supplemented by treats from the garden and some free-range grazing. I am going to try to grow their feed (corn, oats & sunflower seeds) in next summerâs garden. I am trying to answer the question of whether it is better to devote the space, water, labor, etc., to growing food for them and then harvesting their eggs and fertilizer versus just using the same space to just grow crops for my own direct consumption. I think Sharon referred to this issue in Depletion and Abundance and cited a study. I wish that I had marked the page . . . I canât find it today. Everything else that I have read suggests that growing grains to feed to animals for human consumption is an inefficient way to use available resources.

@ Brad K,

I agree that leather is an excellent choice for work shoes and work gloves. An ample supply of work gloves is part of my preparedness stockpile. I still question how efficient it will be to feed animals used for food when we donât have the massive amount of carbon-based fertilizers and the commercial grain harvesting methods that are so popular today. I am still experimenting, trying to find what will work for me on a small scale in my location (the mountains of Northern California).

Uhh, yeah, I think Brad and I are in about 98% agreement -- over the last 61 years, I've done most of the things recommended in the post. And I was thinking of serving local ham for Thanksgiving, as well as our own chicken and goose.

Still feel strongly that CAFOs are a major no-no. We can handle chicken, duck, goose, sheep, rabbit and humanure profitably at our place ... but where there are millions of gallons of the stuff in any one spot, due to debt-capitalized food industrialization, the temptation to let it just slide into the river is often too much for the CAFO "farmer."

Small-acreage and yard foodies of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but that coming bleak moment of realization, staring at the empty shelves at Safeway.

I canât find it today. Everything else that I have read suggests that growing grains to feed to animals for human consumption is an inefficient way to use available resources.