WHAT TO DO?
by Ronald Greek
As oil and gas are depleted — expect problems
Restriction of oil and gas-fuelled activities:
Unavailability of oil and gas as "raw material", for fertilizers, insecticides,
and medicines, etc.
Economic collapse, as oil and gas-fuelled industry and business become crippled.
Severe food and water shortages, leading to riots, looting, and worse.
Demands for "sharing", anyone who prepared being accused of "hoarding"
Massive population dieoffs, as only a fraction of the present population can
be sustained without the present infrastructure, particularly that of the food industry.
Ecological disasters, as remaining natural resources are plundered in attempts
to maintain the failing infrastructure. Heavy pollution as survival overrides environmental concerns.
Harsher government at all levels, as governments struggle with local and external
challenges, without adequate resources to cope.
Civil disturbances as the public suffers relentlessly deteriorating quality
War, as those who are "better off" are seen as unjust, unfair, or evil, and
those armed with weapons (including the military) feels they have nothing to lose.
When to act:
Immediately. As the oil supply dwindles, the shortages, climbing prices, and
disruptions of shipping and industry will restrict personal preparations.
At present you can easily "click" on the web, make phone calls, and have unique
goods delivered, or work done.
As thousands of people are forced to switch to dirtier-burning fuels like
coal and wood, you are better off if you can select your home site away from the smog.
Alternatively, consider air filtration, especially independent of the electric
supply (electric grid blackouts are expected).
The running city water in your home may not continue to be properly treated,
even if the (fuel-driven) pumping continues. Whether you get your water from the city, a well, stream, or collect rainwater,
you may want to treat the water yourself.
Filters can be purchased many places, including a pre-plumbed "Water Organizing
Module" available from the "Earthship" people at http://www.earthship.org/nav/index.htm
A homemade filter of essentially sand, can remove larger particles.
Water in contact with silver tends to kill microorganisms. Running a small
DC current (i.e. from a cheap solar battery charger) through two silver electrodes submerged in the water will distribute
silver ions and kill bacteria.
You can fabricate (or purchase) a still. A still uses the heat of the sun
to evaporate water, then condenses the vapor into water for human consumption. It can be as simple as a sealed bottle sitting
in the sun, with a hose leading out of it to another bottle, that is buried in cool, shaded soil.
Expect that you will need to drastically restrict your use of water and to
conserve water. Washing water can be used to water plants. To avoid toilet flushing you can set up a composting, or solar
Humanity’s industrialized food production depends heavily on fertilizers
and chemicals made from natural gas and oil, both of which are getting scarcer.
Expect less and less ability to shop for groceries, and increasing need to
depend on food you grow yourself. o Research by organizations such as Ecology Action http://www.growbiointensive.org, which is included in books authored by John Jeavons, demonstrate techniques
that may let you grow a healthy diet of crops in an area as small as 1,000 sq.ft. per person. These techniques take effort
and time though, especially if you’re not starting with soil that is healthy and productive.
The present commercial food system has specialized on very few varieties of
food plants. Within those few, entire crops are essentially identical clones, all vulnerable to a particular pest or disease.
A good resource for robust plants suited for your location is the online database maintained by Plants for a Future, http://www.comp.leeds.ac.uk/pfaf/index.html
Plan so that you can survive even if you lose an entire crop despite your
best efforts. This requires a food storage program that "tides you over" until your garden is again able to feed you. While
your program must meet your personal taste and resources, good guidelines are available at http://www.mormons.org/rs/provident/foodstoragehelp.htm
Expect crop failures. Also consider crop "surpluses" for barter materials.
Such exchanges help build cooperation and security within your community.
Many energy-saving ideas are offered in "Earthships", a sustainable housing
option described by Michael Reynolds. "Sustainable" means only using renewable resources that constantly regenerate (like
wood, cotton and rainwater), instead of fossil fuels and mined minerals that can be depleted to extinction.) Reynolds’
Earth sheltering, and technical aspects of why you should insulate and waterproof
the soil for 20’ out from your home are explained in the book "Passive Annual Heat Storage", by John Hait, of the Rocky
Mountain Research Center http://www2.incom.net/rmrc/index.htm.
Your energy supply:
Both reduce your energy use, and add home generating capability that minimizes
the use of depletable fuels.
We have become expecially dependent on electricity. Unfortunately in North
America, about 20% of it is generated by large, gas-fired power stations, especially to cope at peak demand times. As gas
becomes less and less available to those centralized stations (probably within five to ten years), their output will decline
and be interrupted.
Unfortunately it seems that other stations — coal, nuclear, hydro, and
wind — will not meet electricity demand. Therefore widespread blackouts and brownouts will occur.
Even if you are wealthy, you will find yourself restricting your use of electricity.
Preparing now can be worthwhile. You need to consider which facilities depend on electricity — electronics, computing
— and which do not
Solar "photovoltaic" (electric) panels continue to improve in efficiency.
However, the power fluctuates with weather conditions, so a battery storage system is also required. Solar panels can supply
small computers, radios and TVs.
Windmill generation is increasingly popular, even though it only generates
power when the wind is blowing. It requires energy storage systems.
Fuel cells can directly generate electricity from a variety of fuels like
hydrogen, but require higher technology to produce and maintain. Note: Hydrogen is normally derived from (dwindling) natural
gas, but can be solar-created.)
Batteries can (at present…) be purchased to meet specific needs, or
made under low-tech conditions. See "How to Recycle Scrap Metal into Electricity", by John Hait.
Electricity can not only be stored in batteries, but by performing work (compressing
air, pumping water, splitting water for hydrogen, etc.) converted into potential power that can later be used to re-generate
electricity. Storage always wastes a significant percentage of the electricty though.
Warmth and cooling
Heating of water or homes by electricity will become too expensive, because
it will be reserved mainly for computers, communications and electrical control systems that cannot run on other energy supplies.
If possible, move somewhere warm. If not, insulate insulate your home and
yourself well. Plan to make use of direct sunlight if you can.Organize your household to warm or cool smaller spaces, and
only when essential.
Rooftop solar water heaters can provide heat stored for use at night.
Consider a high-efficiency, minimum-pollution coalburning fireplace.
If you happen to have access to a stream of water, "micro-hydro", might be
an option. It uses a suitcase sized generator, driven by a pipe of high pressure water. In situations where large containers
of water can be placed at significant differences in height, water pumped to the high tank can act as a "battery" when allowed
to flow to the lower tank through a hydro generator.
Internal/external combustion engines, burning "renewable" fuels (i.e. wood,
crop scraps, alcohol, biodiesel, hydrogen, etc.) can conveniently run generators "on demand". While they are a very low-efficiency
approach to converting sunlight into useable electricity, production of fuel, i.e. alcohol, can be a low-tech method, entirely
Heat for homes, cooking, etc., will probably need to be directly or indirectly
solar. There are home-made solar pressure cookers andsolar furnaces that can even melt copper pipe.
Fuels, in general:
The end of fossil fuels (oil and gas), does not mean the end of all fuels
for machines. It means that fuels for machines will have to come mostly from either (very polluting) coal, until it too runs
out (decades away, or from renewable sources.
Unfortunately there really are no renewable fuels, or power sources, that
can anywhere near match humanity’s enormous consumption of energy from oil, gas, and coal.
Most renewable, biological based fuels also entail a sacrifice of cropland
(at a time when cropland productivity is already reduced by lack of oil-and-gas-derived fertilizers and chemials).
If we burn the remaining trees and forests to heat our homes, or to fuel engines,
we destroy the planet’s oxygen generators, and the web of life that pollinates and nourishes our food crops, etc.
We will have to return extensively to "food fuels" — using animals more,
and our own muscles.
Where to live:
Try to move away from the wors air, water, and soil contamination.
Move away from large concentrations of people.
Seek adequate soil, water, and a reasonable growing season.
Try to locate near similarly concerned neighbors.
Consider laws, and local government that might interfere with preparations.
Security and health:
The time of transition to a post-oil paradigm world is likely to be an unpleasant
period. Many whose lives are overturned and threatened will lash out in bitterness and desperation. Consider how you can respond.
Will you welcome, or feed, strangers? How many?
Who can you include, who can you not?
How will you respond to squatters, or raiders, or worse?
Concealment is a security option. But once concealment is lost, are you going
to defend yourself, your family, and friends? Specifically how? Know your local laws, and try to work within them.
Exercise so that you will be stronger coping with harder times.
If you are interested in any martial arts, begin training.
If you decide on weapons that require advanced technology for parts or ammunition,
"stock up" appropriately
Storing books, tools, resources:
The crash and recovery could be swift, or take decades. Try to prepare for
chaotic, lawless society over many years. There are many vital items easily and cheaply available cheap today, that you can
store, for your use or bartering when they become scarce. (Nails, other fasteners, insulation, tools, piping and fittings,
With a modest collection of quality hand tools, even an inexperienced person
can make vital repairs. You can disassemble obsolete equipment, build things. Imagine trying to "double dig" a garden bed
(see Jeavon’s books) without a shovel, or taking any device apart without a screwdriver or pliers.
Stainless steel and cast iron cookware have a much longer and varied useable
life than aluminum, teflon, and plastic ones.
There is useful information on technology for primitive situations at http://www.vita.org and http://www.attra.org You can print this web site and those, for future reference.
A bow and arrows, and even an air rifle, are simple weapons for hunting and
protection that require no licence and can be maintained operable with primitive tools and materials.
Social links, and risks:
The most serious, unresolved problem is how to cope with needy others when
you yourself have nothing to spare. At least in the earlier stages of the energy decline there will probably be more advantage
in pooling your resources and socializing with a group for comfort and protection."Ham" radio may be your most likely means
of maintaining contact when phone lines and the web fail.
Isolation exposes you to looters, pirates and military exploitation. This
applies to all farms and islands. In dozens of conversations, we have not been able to visualize any safe situation that enables
a person or group to produce their own food (from crops that have to have sunlight) without some risk of discovery and pillaging.
The most likely survival organizations may be (a) thedefended community of
a few hundred farming people who exclude visitors and strictly limits their population according to food supply, and (b) the
aggressive group of looters who live by attacking such communities.
Use of fuels for personal transport will probably too expensive. Transport
will probably be for farming, emergency services and war.
In calories of food/fuel consumed per mile, the bicycle is the most efficient
vehicle. (Five times more efficent than walking.). It was first intended as a serious means of transport, but became overshadowed
by fossil fuel engines. Various bicycle designs are used worldwide to meet many transportation needs. With an athlete as the
"poweplant", an enclosed recumbent bicycle has exceeded 65 mph. A bicycle assisted by a small fuel or electric motor, can
carry you a hundred miles.
Adjust your lifestyle to be as independent of fuelled transport as possible.
Plan you "neighborhood" to be within modest walking or bicycling distance.
Humankind’s accumulated knowledge is recorded in many places, in many
mediums. Much of this is likely to perish in the disasters of the crash (neglect, civil unrest and wars) so you will no longer
have access to it.
At present, huge amounts of knowledge is just a "click" away on the web. As
a minimum, download and print out what you feel could be the most vital.
It will be left to those who prepare, and make it through the crash intact,
to reset the foundations of human society. What do you think you, and the future, needs to know?
Books, or other printed means, are the simplest means of accessing knowledge
in a crashed society.
Microfiche, once a popular means to store large volumes of information, has
become "old fashioned". But in microfiche, a person or community can carry hundreds, indeed thousands of books. Microfiche
can be adequately read using even a child’s toy microscope.
Electronic media, whether CD’s, tapes, disks, etc., all require a functioning
appropriate player which may become defective.
The authors mentioned earlier, Jeavons for agriculture http://www.growbiointensive.org, and Reynolds http://www.earthship.org/nav/index.htm. for housing, are good examples of places to begin.
Visit your local library regularly, and keep organized notes. Ask about interlibrary
loans of books you need to see, but are not held locally.
Used bookstores, and web sales, can yield out-of-print "gems". Try ABE at
http://www.abebooks.com or Powell’s at http://www.powells.com/home.html, or Amazon at www.Amazon.com.
How long it may last:
If there is widespread or high level conflict, especially involving nuclear,
biological or chemical warfare, very large populations could die within days or weeks.
If food and other supplies slowly dwindle and the situations gradually worsens,
it may take years before many realize the crash is already taking place, and decades before society stabilizes again.
Members of the RunningOnEmpty discussion group have repeatedly contacted prominent
media, and local and national governments all over the world. The reaction has been disbelief. The issue is complex and and
nobody likes conserving energy, because it entails sacrifices that bring discomfort and disadvantage to whoever makes them..
Governments might impose the tough measures to deal with dwindling fuel, food,
water, and clean air. They might impose limits on procreation, and "encourage" early deaths. But our eighteen months of investigating
suggest it is unlikely. We find that individuals and institutions invariably deny the problem.
So there will be no "preparing" in the time remaining (from now until about
2005). Instead, the world will just "collide with" to the "unexpected" consequences of energy shortages. You therefore cannot
assume the government will have the resources to take care of you. The government is far more likely to confiscates whatever
resources you yourself prepare.
Attempting to warn, to avert/reduce the crash
If you are currently in a position of public prominence or influence, you
might guide others — decision makers and the public — toward awareness of the problem and the best preparations.
Every definable area, the globe, a continent, a nation, an island, or a valley,
has a limited number of humans that can be provided for by its sustainable resources. (This is called the "carrying capacity"
of the area.)
It is tragically clear that for the foreseable future, every individual who
has a child now is adding population to an already overburdened Earth, and placing that child into a world of great scarcity
We have stripped much of the natural resources from the Earth, and would need
action to restore them. The remaining natural resources can not be used faster than they are renewed. Starvation and conflict
Non-renewable resources (such as metals and plastics) and energy-expensive
materials (like glass, concrete and paper) need to be used in ways that maximize their eventual recovery and reuse.
As the fossil energy decline reduces food resources, any pollution that damages
the life systems that feed us will cost human lives, probably including our own and those of our families.
In the absence of cheap, easy shipping, the focus for production of food and
products needs to return to local people making a variety of products, rather than large factories making a products to ship
Simply "digging in"
Alternatively, you might just list the assets of your organization, or your
community, and identify the shortfalls that threaten survival. Consider independent leadership, and defense for yourself and
your group. Change infrastructure to be localized rather than dependent on transport or communication from afar. Steer new
development toward sustainable, entirely self-sufficient methods.
This sheet, and all references and authorities for this information are available
for download by temporarily joining the RunningOnEmpty2 internet forum mentioned below. In MyGroups page, click the Files
section. It is among the first files, and is called WhatToDo.doc
This leaflet is also displayed in full on the Web at www.RunningOnEmpty.org/whattodo.htm
The oil crash is explained in up-to-date detail at www.hubbertpeak.com, and www.dieoff.org Both sites are keyword-searchable, with scientific and oil industry literature
about this topic. It is heavily annotated with authoritative references.
Discussion forum — Technical/scientific: www.egroups.com/group/energyresources
Discussion forum — Implications, action: www.egroups.com/group/RunningOnEmpty2
Author of this sheet:
Ronald Greek, one of the moderators of RunningOnEmpty2 forum at www.egroups.com/group/RunningOnEmpty2 and helped by members of those groups.