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The Path Beyond Petroleum:
Twelve Theses

By Peter Goodchild

25 October, 2006

"Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed." (Gen. 19:17)

1. Oil production in the year 2025 will be half that of the year 2000. If we combine those figures with those of world population, we find a ratio of 5 barrels of oil per person per year in 2000, but only 2 barrels of oil per person per year in 2025.

2. Alternative sources of energy have been a failure because of an extremely insufficient energy return on energy invested (EROEI).

3. Because the entire world economy is tied to petroleum for manufacture, transportation, and communication, there will be an increasing problem of high prices and low wages. Such economic struggles could in turn result in a lack of investor confidence, and a sudden collapse of the currency market and stock market.

4. The shortage of oil will continue to result in warfare, which will be increasingly global in nature.

5. The above events - and their further consequences, such as pestilence - will cause considerable mortality. Population expansion, in other words, will be followed by population contraction.

6. The conventional news media and the politicians will not state the problems. It is bad business to deliver bad news, and always has been - e.g., during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

7. Solutions on a global scale are impossible, because there is no responsible governing or decision-making body for all those billions of people, or even for a large segment of those people. There are no Illuminati. Nor can one hope for a great deal in terms of more-subtle or more-indirect influences from the scientific or academic community, since there are about 5,000 languages, and most people are basically illiterate.

8. Nevertheless, planning for post-oil survival must be on a scale larger than that of the individual person. Anthropological studies indicate that the working group (i.e. the group that collectively performs most daily activities) in most societies is about 100 people. Groups of that size may be impossible at first, of course, but the number provides an ideal to be kept in mind.

9. Since the Industrial Revolution, most people in developed countries have increasingly lost touch with the concepts of home town and family. They have not "followed the plow" but rather the factory, which is built or rebuilt wherever the owners find it convenient to do so. Returning to those earlier concepts will therefore be difficult, but it will be necessary.

10. Survival in the country will be easier than survival in the city, because cities require the importation of food, water, heating fuel, and other materials.

11. The modern world has been characterized by an elaborate infrastructure (transportation, communication, etc.) and an elaborate division of labor. The basic skills for providing food, clothing, and shelter have therefore been largely forgotten, but they must be relearned.

12. Present texts on country living contain a great deal of misinformation, because of decades of cribbing: much on the topics of permaculture, organic gardening, and intensive gardening fits into this category. Relearning will therefore be largely a matter of getting one's hands dirty and doing much experimentation. The simple life is, for most people of the modern world, not simple at all: even a supposedly simple task may require, for the uninitiated, an apparently infinite number of sub-tasks, which will often require methods of learning beyond that of following written texts.


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Peter Goodchild can be reached at: [email protected]

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