Monday, March 05, 2012

No Physical Basis for Recovery

Cyril Lagel
[Update: This post used to be about non-renewable natural resource scarcity, but things didn't go as planned. Now it's mostly about turning the heads on a small boat into a steam room/sauna, and that's just fine. See the comments for details.]

[This is a guest post from Chris, who has been looking into nonrenewable resource depletion for some time now. His conclusion is that, even if oil weren't the immediate problem, we'd still be "running out of planet" for many commodities without which an industrial civilization will collapse.]

The prevailing perception among the American public is that the hard times we are currently experiencing are temporary, that their leaders are implementing the proper mix of economic and political fixes, and that life will be back to normal soon. While this perception is entirely understandable given their historical experience, it is also entirely wrong. There will be no recovery this time.

[The ungrateful author didn't like my edits (his manuscript, as submitted, was a bit woolly) so I am taking down the text and leaving the graphics, which tell the story just fine even without the text. For more on this topic, read Richard Heinberg's Peak Everything.]

20th Century US Societal Well-being

20th Century US NNR Utilization

Peak US NNR Utilization

Peak US Societal Well-being


RebelFarmer said...

This is a fascinating way of looking at our future life circumstance. It gives new meaning to "peak everything". Thanks for posting this!

DeVaul said...

Interesting new way of looking at the same problem. I did a similar personal calculation based on just one tiny aspect of my resource usage: potable water.

I looked at my water bill a few years ago and saw that my family of three used 300 gallons of water a day. That's 100 gallons of clean water per person, and I live under the poverty line and in a poor neighborhood with a small water bill compared to others.

It seemed like a lot of water, so I tried to think what was using it all. The first culprit was the dishwasher, which I run every night because my wife cooks from scratch (we cannot afford to eat out). Next comes the washing machine, and then the hot water heater. Since we mostly shower at the YMCA (or not at all, in my case), our shower is rarely used.

So, the 300 gallons of water that flows through my house each day is drawn by mainly two machines: a dishwasher and a clothes washer. I grew up washing dishes by hand, and my grandfather grew up without clean clothes or clean water.

Think about it. Imagine toting 100 gallons of water from a nearby freshwater spring (assuming, for the sake of arguement, that one exists nearby) everyday for each person in your household. Unimaginable. Running water is what makes modern civilization possible, in my mind.

Without running water, we go back to the 17th century pronto. I can light candles and burn firewood and be happy, but no clean water?

That's when the die-off begins in earnest, as disease will spread like wildfire. I try not to think about it even as I prepare for that day. said...

Think...; Buffaloes; Whales; passenger pigeons; Redwoods; how the Colorado never reaches the sea; how the Rio Grande barely does; I am sure there are other less well-remembered and more local examples of the exhausting "American Way".

Jayhawk said...

"The historical reality of “continuously more and more,” which Americans had experienced since the inception of industrial revolution and had come to take for granted, is giving way to a new reality of “continuously less and less,” for reasons that are entirely beyond of their control or ability to fix."

Absolutely correct. None of which prevents us from blaming it on "the 1%" and insisting on raising taxes on them to pay for fixing that problem, nor does it prevent politicians seeking reelection from promising to do precisely that.

peacemonger said...

Great post and well put DeVaul. Water is what makes life possible, not oil nor fractured gas as most people seem to believe. Imagine one aspect of your life that does not include the use of water in one form or another; I can't. If water were to run scarce in this country, or in any other western cultured country for that matter, each one of us would be up the creek (pun intended). During the industrial revolution, people would flock to the city to find work and prosperity. Since WWII, people have been drawn to the suburbs, trying to compromise urban prosperity with suburban serenity; all to no avail. Over the last decade, it seems, the movement of the "simple life" has brought people out of the urban/suburban mode back to the country. This is where life seems to be slower and psychologically more bountiful. We have water here. Fresh water streams and enough to quench the thirst for many, but not all. I dread the day when water becomes so scarce that urbanites and suburbanites come to our creek and bring their urban and suburban misery with them. God help us all when that day comes, and it will. God help us all when water becomes more valuable than gold or silver

Ozymandius said...

Then don't think about it....act! Save your pennies and go to a solar hot water system. Install a system to collect potable water from your roof. Convert to a composting toilet. If you have the room build/install an aquaponics set-up. Doing those things is the way to commence your move to self-sufficiency and the saving of big dollars long-term.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

De Vaul, your comment left me astonished! Like Dmitry, I live on a boat, and often tote my water aboard by hand. So naturally I'm keenly aware of how much I carry. For everything on the boat, including a minute version of an on-board sauna/sweat-lodge which gets you just as overall clean and comfortable as a shower or a bath, I probably average about two and a half to three gallons a day. That's for one person.

But I have guilty secret. On my mooring, I have a shore-side washing machine. It's one of those hitech conveniences that I'm going to have to replace with a muscle- or wind-driven equivalent as soon as I can get it to the head of my workshop queue. But it's a real boon either way.

Even with this device, though (a German design, top-rated for water and electricity economy) I estimate that my water use can't be over seven gallons a day.

Have to say that I don't find this life anything remotely like water poverty, though. It all seems to work fine, and clothes and self are always clean and fresh-smelling.

My partner -- who insists in living in her own small landward house -- used to have a dishwasher. But it died, and she decided -- without prodding -- that it was more bother than it was really worth. Now, even with occasional watering of her food garden in Summer, she and daughter probably doesn't exceed fifty gallons a day. A huge waste by my reckoning. But then, they just won't accept my dry composting john. They still want to flush away several gallons of purified drinking water each time they go.

I suppose what you're illustrating, DeVaul, is that without even noticing it, USAmericans have got used to many amazingly profligate usage habits, including with water.

The good news, though, from this side of the divide, is that life is actually better without all that splurge. And washing your own dishes by hand is no big deal. Try it. Pretty soon you begin to wonder what possessed you (the baleful spirit of ad-enslaved consumerism, maybe?) to want anything as useless and unnecessary as a dishwasher.

Well, my partner thinks like that now. I never wanted the ridiculous thing in the first place...

Come across the divide, DV, as soon as you can persuade your family to follow. Things are much better in this 'deep poverty'.

Cheers bro!

Dmitry Orlov said...


Here's a boat-sized manual washing machine I've thought of buying, for when the shoreside laundromat ceases to be an option.

As a trade, can you tell us about your tiny sauna/sweat lodge? How do you get rid of the moisture it generates?

DeVaul said...

I wish I could leave for the country or even a nice sailboat, but my family is not willing, plus I have two sons who were kidnapped by my ex-wife and her family who I would lose all touch with if I moved anywhere right now.

Thanks for reminding me about the toilet bowl. That would actually be the number 3 user of water in my house, perhaps even on par with the washing machine. My wife recently chided me for not flushing after I urinated. I also am not allowed to share bowls or dishes in order to cut down on how many I must load into the machine.

So you see, it is all about who is around you. I plan silently, knowing that when the collapse comes, everyone will run around like chickens with their heads cut off while I calmly get out the water purifier, the rain barrell, the solar panels, the firewood, and the food and medical supplies stockpiled in the basement.

At least my wife knows how to cook, how to sew, and how to garden. We farm mushrooms too. Compared to my neighbors, we are already miles ahead. I admit it may not be enough, but I want my daughter and my sons to at least have a chance.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Thanks for the washing machine info, Dmitry.

My sauna is also my head (john, toilet, shitter, etc.) The composting bucket, with seat and water-shedding lid, slides under a side-rack seat that swings down to sit on when the sauna is in use. (My partner insists that if she ever uses the sauna the bucket must go ashore for the duration; it doesn't bother me though; it only ever smells faintly of forest floor litter because of the soak-up material that I use, and not even of that when the lid's down)

The whole space is cupboard size -- strictly one-person at a time. But as it's also insulated with glass-fibre behind marine ply liner it's very quick to get hot.

I put about a pint of hot charcoal into a tiny, shielded, stainless-steel wood burner of my own making, that runs up one corner and vents through the roof. I bring in (from my main dual-use Ianto Evans J-rocket stick-fueled cook/heat stove) about a gallon of just-bearably-hot water, which sits in a stainless bucket in a secured stand at convenient height. There is also soap, shampoo, whatever, and a good big sponge on a convenient ledge.

The floor is suspended above the main cabin sole by a few inches, and sloped both ways to drain to a low point sump -- which can accommodate well over a gallon easily. There's a high, step-over lip across the doorway. The entire cubicle is furnished in marine ply or similar appropriate timber; all joints are heavily sealed with best quality sealants (to taste) and everything is slathered with several coats of yacht varnish.

That's it. I sit on the open-grating timber rack, squeeze a spongeful or two of hot water over my head, lather up everywhere, squeeze more doses of water over until clean, and meanwhile feel the whole hole getting hot as hell. The fire can last from a few minutes up to half an hour, according to fuel charge. There are window and roof vents, open or closed as wanted.

After use, I sponge up the gallon-max of sump water (with a different sponge!) and wipe dry with a dry floor rag. There's no other drainage. With vents open and the fire still burning down, the place dries very rapidly.

All items needing to stay dry are secured before saunaing in a water-tight, top-lid container in a corner. The whole small, varnished space can be wiped down with suitable multi-surface cleaner very quickly.

This set up I find actually more convenient -- and economical of water -- than a shower even; and wonderfully cleansing. A real treat.

yvesT said...

A new overall report on ressource availibility :

Scary indeed

Ozymandius said...


Seems like you are already acting. Shame that we often have to do these things in silence. Like you, I'm more concerned about what will happen to my offspring and grandchildren when the going gets tougher. Nevertheless, I still think that the community at large will get the message before it is too late and will realise that the era of happy motoring (quote: Jim Kunstler) is fast coming to an end and that innovative public transport services and car pooling will be at least the short term alternatives to individual use of the motor car.

Puzzler said...

Dmitry, I'm sorry the author didn't like your editing. The (edited) version you posted was still pretty wooly.

The author would reach people more effectively if he works with an editor to tighten up his writing.

Unknown said...

As far as there being "No Physical Basis for Recovery," I have seen other examples of this problem. They say that a sailboat is a "hole in the water that you pour money into." Having been both a deep sea and inland sailor since I was 13-years-old, I have often thought about just getting away. However, all the calculations and charts I came up with looked worse than the ones provided here.

In fact, taking a sailboat and escaping to the sea is more expensive than remaining on land, at least until your arrival in each new port for water, food, fuel, supplies, repairs, stops making you a beacon for paying whatever the market will bear for all this stuff.

I would imagine that in a world where ROL had disappeared, the realities would be even worse at least until the people had disappeared along with the ROL.

The world is not like taking a landing party ashore and scavanging whatever you need.

Have you found this to be the case or a concern?

DeVaul said...


You are definitely an optimist, and I hope you are right about people coming together to help each other. So far, though, that has always occured here in Kentucky when everyone could "drive" to the disaster zone.

I am worried about how people will act when they no longer have cars to drive around. Yesterday, I drove to the rifle range, a place of relative quiet and natural serenity compared to the rode that takes you there. It's as if driving at or below the speed limit to avoid human mayhem is "against the law", as everyone tried to run me off the road for going too slow or something.

Dmitry had an article some time ago about how to survive in an urban local, and his advice was to "not stand out", i.e. be invisible, which is exactly what many who survived the siege of Sarajevo and other towns there have said also. Never draw attention to yourself, which is another reason why I plan silently.

I don't trust my neighbors, to be honest. Not one helped me or my family during the last disaster here. Most fled in their cars, and those who still had heat did not share it with those who did not. It was a chilling reminder that at the end of the day, you and your immediate family may be entirely on your own.

I sure hope I am wrong about that, but I plan for the worst. My first order of business after the collapse is to find a horse, which are now increasingly free-to-a-good-home here in Kentucky since no one can afford to feed them and house them.

As for water, the snow melt off my roof yesterday was so pure I could drink it without a purifier. Still, I worry about not having enough for even basic needs. Plus, a rain barrel is something that can easily be stolen.

subgenius said...

@ Rhisiart

...any chance you could do a guest post about your compost head/sauna, ideally with some photos?

What size (model?) of boat do you have?

I am planning on creating a compost head, but the sauna idea hadn't occurred to me and sounds like a winner. More details would be greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little baffled by DeVaul's suggestion that washing clothes and washing dishes is what keeps disease at bay.

In odor- and "filth-" conscious America, everyone's convinced by cultural signals that nobody should ever go out in public unless/until they've scrubbed themselves and their clothes (and their plates, glasses, flatware, pots, pans) to hospital cleanliness standards. People spend lots of money washing clothes after being worn without perspiration or soiling. They shower and/or bathe daily even when not exercising or otherwise getting stinky.

Most Americans couldn't ever begin to consider living in a way that would require consciousness of water use. For example, they couldn't live in the mountains taking their water from a creek. They'd need tapwater and purification to boot. And they'd need the freedom to use 300 gal/day without a nagging conscience.

What wastefulness!

Dmitry Orlov said...

@Rhisiart—I second the motion. Please provide pictures and detail. I might actually build the thing. I already have the composting toilet, the charcoal stove and the deck vent.

DeVaul said...

@Karl Franz Ochstradt

I never suggested that cleaning dishes and clothes stops disease from spreading. I did suggest that clean water stops disease from spreading. If you do not believe me, please feel free to go hang out in any refugee camp you so choose, or dig your latrine or outhouse right next to your water source. See how long you live.

Americans do waste water, huge amounts, but then so do the Italians, the Thais, and all other cultures that believe in showering twice a day. I shower once a week, sweaty or no, a habit I picked up during my two years in West Germany.

Most people here in Eastern Kentucky drank water straight from the creeks and streams until the mines contaminated all the streams and also all the wells that had been dug. I do believe it is important to remove mercury, arsenic, cadmium, oil, and other heavy metals not normally found in above ground water before drinking it, hence the water purifier. If you choose to drink polluted water everyday, that is your choice.

Good luck with that.

Also, I would like to apologize to everyone here about an inadvertant typo on my part. After reviewing my water meter and water bill again, and calling the city about why I was being charged for 300 gallons of water per day when only 150 entered my home, I was told, that while the water company did deliver 150 gallons of clean water to my home, I delivered 150 gallons of filthy water to the city sewer system, which, as anyone who can do math will attest to, adds up to 300 gallons.

I see. (sigh)

I think I will just close this by saying that, on the bright side, in a post-collapse world, when you tote 150 gallons of water to your home, your muscles will not be charged for toting 300 gallons. Try to keep that in mind as you look for clean water. It is a small, but possibly important psychological benefit.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

OK folks, I'll offer a bit more on my saunaloo. But be advised: in my early 70s every damn' thing that I do is now snail slow, and I have a constant queue of projects on my workshop list. I don't keep digi-cam, cell-phone, video-cam, etc. So I'll have to borrow one from my more hip younger friends. It'll take me a few days to organise. I'll send the whole thing to Dmitry as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, here are a few background details:

My boat is twenty-six foot, with a seventeen foot main cabin, and an eight by seven wheel house. It's actually a canal vessel, not really sea-capable. The whole vessel is seven feet wide, with just a bit of taper in the stem, but otherwise shaped like a floating brick.

(I gave my 70 foot steel self-build proa to a younger couple, who are now using it as their home. It was still somewhat unfinished, though liveable, and was just getting away from me as I got older. It's great to watch them pick up the baton! All I retain of 'Orca' now is the angle-grinder scars and the welder burns.)

'Gwichiad'. though, is much more within my old-man's scope: Small enough; doesn't have to move from my residential mooring in a secluded side-arm of the canal; very easy and peaceful, with my own food garden ashore, and the CSA of which I'm an active member just a bike ride away.

There's piped water, electricity and phone line on the shore, though I always maintain my domestic on-board systems to be able to function comfortably without any of them if/when they go on the blink.

I've been tempted by solar/deep-cycle-battery electrical systems. But in the end, I like being able to live here with zero dependence on hitech, distant manufacturers. So all my cooking and heating is by my tailored-to-boat variant of Ianto Evans' J-rocket mass heater; a small bundle of thumb-thickness sticks is all that's needed each day (about twenty pounds), even in Winter; less in Summer; a seventeen by seven by six insulated cabin is very easy to keep toasty warm. I pick the sticks up free as I walk the dogs.

Useful information and videos here:

But note: I have no room aboard for the extended, 3-to-5 ton masonry mass that acts as the heat-store in landward homes. So I make do with a couple of hundred pounds of pea-gravel, simply packed around the rocket, within its outer case. This is fine for my small space, though it may need two firings a day in cold spells.

All my lighting when the power goes out is by candle and simple wick-style paraffin lamp.

You can get absolutely everything that a single person needs for a comfortable home onto such a boat. But I have to say that if I were going to sea at all regularly, I'd want a boat-house and a slip, to be my land-base storage and workshop. Can't see how you'd manage to run a sea-vessel for long without those facilities somewhere. And for more than one crew, even just two, I'm more comfortable with the space offered by about a forty-foot monohull, or a sixty/seventy-foot proa. (Only one long narrow hull habitable on most proa designs)

My saunaloo cupboard is 36 inches by 40, and not quite standing headroom, because of the suspended floor. But I only ever want to sit in there anyway.

Until I can provide the pictures, I guess this and my previous posts on this thread is about as much as there is to say profitably about it. So, back with more as quickly as I can -- me hearties!