Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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3 Oct 2006

Communities, Refuges, and Refuge-Communities – a Survivalist Response by Zachary Nowak.

its*My response to Zachary’s recent article generated more comments than any other previous piece on **Transition Culture**. I will write something about all that soon, but in the meantime, he has written a thoughtful piece restating his thoughts and his position on all this. I am delighted that he has chosen this as the venue to publish it. It is a very honest piece, and one which, if the last one is anything to go by, you will enjoy commenting on!*

**Communities, Refuges, and Refuge-Communities by Zachary Nowak.**

A few weeks ago I wrote an article called Preparing For A Crash: Nuts and Bolts. In addition to a lengthier-than-normal comment from the editors of Energy Bulletin (one that seemed more like a disclaimer for having published it than a comment), the piece provoked a thoughtful-if-scathing critique from the creator of the website Transition Culture, Rob Hopkins. His blog in turn attracted a number of comments from readers and based on that and a few emails exchanged with some of the readers and with Rob himself, I decided to write another essay to make my position a little clearer.

The theme of my original essay was essentially preparation for the worst-case Peak Oil scenario. I think I can say quite safely that this is a topic that most peakniks prefer to avoid. It’s much easier psychologically, I suppose, to muse about proven reserves and drilling rig counts than to look at the second part of the following equation: “Given x, then …

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Brad Kik
3 Oct 1:26pm

Thanks for the extended and thoughtful essay. While I appreciate the need to begin to predict possible post-peak scenarios, from the pleasant to the perverse, I think there is a level of detail that is unguessable – might as well bet on horses or the stock market. The need is to be flexible.

More importantly, I think we need to look more closely at what our options are. I see lots and lots of guns and beans talk lately, mostly by middle aged men. I live in Northern Lower Michigan, where lots of these men (remember Tim McViegh?) have been set up for a long time.

There are two articles that form a nice context to this one. The first is by Bill McKibben in Orion, titled Mad Max meets American Gothic, and is about the hold that doomsday scenarios have on the American consciousness. The second is an article by Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden, about rural vs. urban post-peak living.

Lastly, while Mollisons “big black book” makes a great prop for a short table-leg, there are other books that are much better. Dave Jacke’s “Edible Forest Gardening” is one of the best, covering much more than just gardeing, as are “Gaia’s Garden” and Mollison’s “Introduction to Permaculture” – much better organization than the big book.

3 Oct 4:53pm

Great article..its kind of sad that some people think that only crazy people prepare for the unknown. I check out sometimes…they are a bit over the top quite often, but I enjoy reading the rational posts!

Joanne Poyourow
3 Oct 5:51pm

Ah, I see there is now some sort of label for myself, a neo-Jeffersonian-agrarian-what was it?

My first knee-jerk reaction was to Zachary’s declaration that “survival and sustainability are, in the long run, the same thing.” He partially redeemed himself on that one later in his essay by expressing his belief in the unlikelihood of neighbors to come around to the idea of power-down in time. I wrote a piece distinguishing between survivalism and sustainability some time ago ( To me, survivalism is about “I got mine,” while sustainability necessitates an integrated whole – bringing along the mass of society.

I live in Los Angeles. I mean, in the middle of Los Angeles, not in some outskirts where people have a hillside half-acre. I make the most of my little property with multiple fruit trees and as many vegetables as one woman can tend while raising two children. I teach my children as much of the skills (survivalist, sustainability, permaculture – the skills transcend the words, being skills for Living) as I can.

But when I can’t prevent the local college students from dumping beer bottles in my garden on Friday nights, nor slow the speeding SUVs on the city street beside me, I discover I am incredibly vulnerable. No matter how many fruit trees, no matter how many solar cookers or clotheslines, greywater and bicycles, I cannot protect my children from the impacts of any more than the mildest of energy-descent social impacts.

The riots in Los Angeles some years back are painful evidence of that. The “G” word that made Zachary pale, did the same for my acquaintences at Path To Freedom urban homestead project in Pasadena, CA ( see their blog, Feb 06). If anyone is trying to achieve self-sufficiency in this vast metropolitan area, they are far and away the leaders. But at gunpoint, what choice would they have, what choice would I have, but to surrender our well-labored home-grown foodstocks. Survivalist? Can’t do it in the cities. And there is not enough land on the planet for us all to find remote geography like Zachary has had privilege to do. (Nor could our wildlands ecosystems well-survive that sprawl, I might add.)

Therefore, I cannot prepare for the worst. In the worst, plain and simply, my children and I will die. Even Zachary admits, “the worst” could be as bad as a radioactive North American continent.

We have no choice: we can prepare only for a milder descent. In the way of Willits and Kinsdale. All these towns can do, Zachary, is prepare for not-so-severe. All we can do is weather the Long Emergency.

Therefore we must. Those of us in densely-populated areas cannot slide into the temptation of I’ve-got-mine survival. We have no choice but to “try to convince our neighbors.” Because we can’t do sustainability without them.

“Try convincing your street before you give a lecture on how all of us should use our time and energy to change everybody’s else’s minds, because I can tell you from experience, it tends to be an energy-intensive, time-consuming, and frustrating-if-not-futile exercise.” Zachary tells us.

It is energy-intensive, it is time-consuming. Frustrating? At times, but isn’t every worthwhile project, even building that biodiesel still? (I’ll leave my opinons about biodiesel and land-use out of this one) Futile? Well, it sure doesn’t seem like it, when I see the progress being made.

I talk from experience. I coordinate a group, yes, in the heart of Los Angeles, where we are devoted to “convincing our street.” (you can read more about it at We’ve been meeting for almost a year now, beginning to change our individual lives, becoming a community together. Our numbers are gradually growing. And we’re holding a Fair this coming weekend to showcase power-down and relocalization ideas to an even wider audience.

I think the key is in presentation. That would be my corporate background speaking. If we approach these hydrogen-god-worshiping neighbors with words like Energy Descent, Peak Oil, Power Down, and Societal Crisis, yes, their toenails will curl and they will dismiss us. If instead we show them reconnection to their communities (a.k.a. relocalization), the richness of locally produced fruits and vegetables, the pleasure of working together with their neighbors – hope, possibilities, solutions – we stand a much stronger chance of success.

Alan AtKisson had an excellent piece in his book Believing Cassandra. That chapter is now online ( In it, he talks about the anatomy of cultural change. He gives names to the various parts people play in getting the word out. Inventors, like Path To Freedom, are exploring ways that post-peak life is possible, even within densely-populated communitites. Change-Agents, like Rob, are adept at translating the language of the inventors into something the rest of us can understand (that Gulf oil article a few days back being a great example). Transformers are people who are already leaders within their communities. By adopting new societal patterns themselves, and massaging and molding those patterns into something practical, embraceable and enticing, the Transformers bring along enormous portions of the Mainstream.

If we recognize and work with this dynamic, and address the issues of new societal habits with those who are in Transformer positions, we stand the best chance. Not only to survive peak-oil, to actively engage in turning that crest into a not-so-severe post-oil future.

3 Oct 6:30pm


3 Oct 9:57pm

It is hard to pick fault with Zachary Nowak’s well thought-out, and ultimately rather gloomy analysis, but he makes the point that his is one of a spectrum of rational responses to our shared predicament. If the ‘survivalist’ response is better suited to the American continent (and to the mindset of some in the US?) Joanne Poyourow’s comment shows that this is clearly not an option for the majority. If this applies even in the vast USA, how much less likely is it that this strategy will be a workable option in crowded Europe (and especially in Britain). Like Joanne, I feel that only the ‘mild to moderate’ scenarios are worth preparing for in Britain (i.e. those where there is time enough to mount a response within our existing communities). Survival after one of the more ‘severe’ peak oil scenarios where society degenerates quite quickly (and these also seem quite plausible to me), would surely owe as much to luck and biological ‘fitness’ as to prior preparations.

On the other hand, (in anything but the worst case) just as a ‘survivalist’ response might be slightly more appropriate in the US so a ‘community’ response might be more inherently workable in Europe, with its surviving remnants of formerly close-knit communities?

3 Oct 10:07pm

LOL Rob!

Where are all the comments indeed?

I think we’re not all that different after all… Zachary is certainly not the type of survivalist I find most objectionable (the mad max crew).

I would like to question though: (although we cannot forsee any of this) how could a large scale economic crash, should it occur, not end up conserving oil for the future?

4 Oct 12:42am

Absolutely fabulous article. I found it very thought provoking. I think he hit the nail on on the head talking about peoples’ “axes” or basic beliefs being linked to their personal coping plans. In his writing I have found one of the few authors who gives me difinative ideas to prepare and sources to learn skills. Most articles I read are abstract to the point of being usless. I too hope for perma-culture communities. However, my game plan is to hone my skills so that I can whether a severe storm and then contribute to a community after the worst passes. In a worst case senario there could be crazy hungry mobs and one person or one family is eaier to hide than a large community.

I look forward to a future article with more details on how to’s etc.

Joanne- good points. It seems that location and reasources are also tightly linked to which type of planning will benefit our survival. It sounds like you have a best plan for your circumstances. It also sounds like Zachary has a best plan for his circumstances.

4 Oct 3:43am

Preparing for the coming changes is not an either/or situation. There are a lot of lifestyle eco-niches that different people will fit into. Starting now, doing more and more practical things to powerdown and doing them in different ways and in very different places- sharing and educating as we can, and knowing when to keep silent when we can’t- these are common to us all.

Sooner or later, however, the issue of predators has to come up- I live where there are truly huge brown bears, and it influences my life; what I put in my compost heap, what I bring with me for a walk in the woods…how trash is disposed, lots of things. In a big city, in a bad emergency, like Katrina, there will be predators, but they are apt to be human. Community is one answer, awareness another. Beyond that one needs to think about the children and those who cannot defend themselves.

When I read the Club of Rome report back in 1976 or so, what really shocked me was their extrapolation that human slavery would be the most likely way to survive economically. That was an idea I just could not accept. However, since the concept of peak oil brought more understanding of how oil is our energy slave, the ending of easy oil certainly makes the likelihood of slavery, or at least reinstitution of a servant class, greater. No, I don’t want this, but it is possible.

So, the upshot of all this is that every hopeful, peaceful, skillful step to powerdown for us and for our communities is good- but I have my doubts that without really being pushed by high price oil or real shortages that most people will make the number and quality of changes we all need to make to collectively all survive.

I think TS will HTF. Personally, I’m committed to doing all that I can to prepare my family and others (as far as they are willing) but we also have backups in place.

4 Oct 11:02am

Nice article. Expecially liked the bit about the advice in survivalist literature revolving around guns and canned goods – that’s been my experience too. I’d like though to take issue with the idea of the peak oil bell curve being a metaphor. Although I take the point that we should be careful which metaphors we choose to live by, and that metaphors shape our opinions rather than the other way around, I think the bell curve is supposed to be describing something non-metaphorically. That is to say, the oil discoveries of numerous countries more or less follow a bell curve, and so do the production curves for that oil. A good example is oil discovery in the North Sea, but there are many similar examples. The upshot is that it’s quite hard for me to convince myself that oil peaking is ‘just a metaphor’, a bit like the metaphor of a car zooming out of control or a sinking ship needing someone to launch the lifeboats. While peak oil doesn’t literally involve careering cars or sinking vessels and there is no literal mountain summit, it does literally involve, I maintain, a relatively brief period when oil production reaches a maximum, never to be repeated quantity, followed by an inexorable decline in production. We can debate what ‘oil’ is in the above sentence, but the description of the peak is surely on the low end of the metaphorical spectrum (given that all language could be called metaphorical if someone so chose). Have I missed something here?

4 Oct 10:41pm

Zachary’s article seems to me eminently well grounded, and seriously robust in its critique of the sloppy thinking over patently innapropriate metaphors –
owing to corrupt US delays the climate destabilization we now face is simply unprecedented –

The response of establishing a rural holding is open to millions if they’ve the courage to have a go –
while smallholdings are now getting absurd prices, the cost of a decent large farm,
if split between a dozen or so, is not exorbitant.
The issue then becomes one of paying any outstanding mortgage.

Those who see the rural option as escapist, callous, soft, self-serving and the rest seem to me delusional.
They’d better hope that many will follow this rural route
if they want sufficient food to be grown so as to reach them in their cosy city pads.
And they’d do well to consider just how “easy” it is to walk out up the mountain into a January blizzard to try and check the ewes.

Forgive me if I sound a little curt – my hands are hurting from the dozen or more barbed-wire cuts & grazes from the last few days’ fencing.
Later in the year such cuts usually go a bit septic when the frost gets into them.
Soft option it ain’t.

Necessary preparation it are !



Reality Check
6 Oct 2:38pm

Wonderful article, Zachary Nowak. I think it important that peakniks respect a variety of positions, a plurality of beliefs in how we are to prepare for the crises awaiting. I had a strong, visceral reaction to Rob Hopkins’s “all or nothing” approach to your initial article of survival prep: either you are a Jeffersonian organic utopian or a crazed survivalist.

Concerning Joanne Poyourow’s comment:

“Therefore, I cannot prepare for the worst. In the worst, plain and simply, my children and I will die.”

Sure, easy for you to say at this point in time. The fact is, however, that you and so many others will most likely attempt to survive in a worst-case scenario. You will do something to get through an additional minute, hour, day, month.

Do you have a suicide plan in case of total urban anarchy in LA? Maybe your children will want to attempt to survive; will you deny them this opportunity? Shame on you for making that decision for them.

Remember, it’s your decision to live in LA, unless you are financially stuck and cannot find a way to get out of the dystopia that is this city.

6 Oct 4:44pm

Lunar Lander Metaphor

The peakoil challenge is similar to the Lunar Lander (LL) problem which I
used to have on my programmable hand held calculator in the 1980’s.

In the Lunar Lander problem the LL pilot has a finite amount of fuel for the retro rockets to conteract the force of gravity to land the LL on the moon.

Using too much fuel at the start will cause the LL will slow down and stop the LL above the lunar surface without enough fuel for the remainder of the journey and the LL will crash into the lunar surface.

Using too little fuel at the start will result in lunar gravity accelorating the LL to such as speed that there is not enough
fuel to slow the LL down , which will again result in the LL crashing into the lunar surface.

The Lunar Lander is like the world economy, if we use too much fossil fuel now we will not have enough fuel to sustain the economy and it will crash after the fossil fuels have been depleted. If we cut back too quickly on fossil fuel use then our high energy based economy will still crash and will be unable to support our civilization.

The solution in both cases is a gradual planned reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

jason bradford
6 Oct 4:49pm

Different axioms play out in our minds all the time and we talk past each other. This nearly drives me batty sometimes. A very useful essay!

I try to find a balance between the personal and the communal–though I am often drawn more to the communal now by established obligations. Sometimes I try to interweave them.

For example, this month I am eating all local food (with a bit of cheating), picking up great skills along the way, but also making fantastic connections in the area–neighbors, restaurant owners, land owners, etc.

Since I am very happy with this project I’ll shamelessly promote it:

Might be something the Jeffersonian Agrarians and Doomer Survivalists can agree up as worthy.

Cheers, Jason

6 Oct 5:11pm

One comment on the ‘axes’: I think that ‘speed’ and ‘severity’ are not necessarily orthogonal. In fact, I think that they may really the same. Consider: in the case of low speed, there would be more time for people to wake up and begin learning new skills (as well as begin massive conservation, which would lower the speed even more), time for railroad and alternative energy construction, time to get over the psychological and emotional trauma, time to form community support groups and co-ops, all of which would dramatically lessen the severity. On the other hand, if the speed is high, the severity will likely be quite high as well.

I’m more community-minded than survival-minded in my personal beliefs (maybe the alternative is just too terrifying for me to rationalize). My recent thinking on community building has been to approach the problem in terms of environment rather then energy. Green is cool and hip and saves money, energy depletion is scary.

On the other hand, I occasionally find myself kind-of hoping for a hard crash for the sake of the environment. But then, my father-in-law owns 500+ acres of woods that also encompass some decent farmland and has so many deer that you can get a nuisance permit, so my family has an ‘out’ that many people don’t have. And I have a firearm owner’s ID card (grrr … Illinois), but I don’t have a gun.

Still, I sincerely, dearly hope for and honestly believe that the community solution will be the one that happens, at least here in rural Illinois. Still, I’m going down to the 500 acres this weekend, and I’m going to scout out some sites for planting apple trees in the spring, all the while hoping that the apples turn out to be deer food and that I’ll never need to depend on my ability to prune them.

Zeke Putnam
6 Oct 5:57pm

I grew up in the lifestyle promoted as the way billion (millions in the US) are going to survive in a wonderful self sufficient life style. And I’ve spent many years working with a variety of personality types in the mental health system. I couldn’t agree with the author more. When the chaos, wars, etc. end, there’s going to be a whole lot less of us.

6 Oct 6:43pm

Well thought out article. Agree with a lot of it.

Only one main point:
Under heading Three Axes you stated…..Hurricane Katrina, started a domino effect whose outcomes reverberated through the area.

Peak Oil will start a domino effect, (A cumulative effect produced when one event sets off a chain of similar events: the domino effect of increasing the speed limit in one of several contiguous states.)that will increase the speed of collapse. I think you comments that a crisis in a highly-interlinked society often means time without outside assistance, whereas the crisis we could be facing might mean a permanent severe situation with no outside inputs arriving, ever, is spot on.

The problem is that all the technology upon which we have come to depend requires a complete and sophisticated infrastructure to produce and maintain it, and that infrastructure is based on fossil fuels. Take that away, and the rest is all but impossible.

It should be obvious that the mass hysteria and unbridled fear stemming from a crisis of the magnitude contemplated here will not have a calming effect upon the hatred and fragmentation that already exist in our society. In addition to the violence-prone, there will be the element of normally decent people who didn’t prepare and who will try to take what they need by whatever means necessary to keep themselves and their families alive.

How reasonable do you think people are going to be when their children are dying of dehydration, they can’t take a bath, they can’t cook a hot meal? With our interdependent society once the power (electric) goes then other services like water and sewage will be close behind.

Most people have never had to cope with sustained, substantial levels of fear, either in themselves or in others in close proximity. I will say I believe you should be prepared to see and deal with behaviour you would never have believed possible from civilized humans. The reason you should avoid crowds has to do with the fact that individual frustration is one thing, but the frustration of many people feeds individual frustration and fear, which, of course, feeds the frustration of the crowd.

I look forward to more from Zachary.

7 Oct 12:00am

Zachary: I remember reading your Nuts & Bolts article and thinking, well now, here’s one of the few who seems to be willing to look at Peak Oil, without his do-gooder-utopian sunglasses on….

I found your advice extremely helpful. I interpreted you as saying… what you’ve said above: prepare for the worst, and hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, then you’ve done all you can to prepare for it.

When I subsequently read Rob’s response at EB, I had quite a few thoughts about it, and put pen to paper, with an Essay, titled, “The Demise of one ‘right’ correct ‘morally appropriate’ response to, and definition of, Crisis,” by “Crisis of “I””.

It’s at:

I emailed a copy to Rob, as well as submitted it to Energy Bulletin. Oh so politically correct, and oh so politically ‘white’ Rob never responded. Ditto Oh So Politically correct & white Energy Bulletin gave it the ‘delete’ pass rate! 😉

It includes two very politically incorrect words, even if said affectionately (the “N” word in the US, and the “K” word in South Africa), not to mention some oh so politically incorrect ideas…

In my essay/rant I referred to Pretend IC (Intentional communities) and Real Communities. I would just like to re-iterate that here! I spent a plenty time in American ‘activist’ communities… and let me tell you, that when TSHTF… few are there to back you up. Many of these communities are RIDDLED WITH HYPOCRISY, with behind people’s backs gossip, about whose sleeping with who, and so on.. you know the usual gossip grapevine.. and yet when you see them, they will act as if they are your lifelong friends!

One of the worst delusional dillemas you can place yourself in, is imagining you are in a ‘community’ of support… because it appears (if you ignore the telltale red flags, because you prefer to live in denial) so… during happy times… only to find out when TSHTF.. that, that ‘community’ is nothing but a den of two-faced vipers, who will rob you off your food, because you were dumb enough to give them a key, in case of emergency!

I spent some time in real community.. where transparency ruled the roost… NOT BECAUSE IT WAS ANY STUPID RULE MADE UP BY SOME ‘GURU’, but because it was our INTENTIONAL CHOICE. It was our strongest asset towards trusting our own vices, our own petty BS, and letting it out and building REAL TRUST.. not a bunch of fake do-gooder HORSE-SHITE…

I certainly HOPE for Rob’s sake and for his fellow ‘can’t face the reality of dieoff’ and it’s various versions… who believe in the sanctity of the human race.. as if it is somehow superior to any other race of animality on the planet! that Peak Oil manifests according to thier agenda…

Living in a country which is currently going through a dieoff, rated as the most dangerous place besidees any warzone.. and having experienced a little more of living with the people most lilly-white-Peak-Oilers seem to imagine don’t exist, for failure to mention (the darkies), it appears to me, that there are more than a few Peakniks who are in for as big an awakening as those currently clueless about Peak Oil….

Again, I’d be happy to be proven wrong..

Lastly, thanks again Zachary! I’d welcome you to my Ishmael Tribe any day!

7 Oct 12:02am

very interesting all those survivalists out there just remember humans are a pack animal and can’t survive man is an island. ps no one can forsee the future all we know is the present and the past
and past experience tells us that its not going to be rosy

Les Holladay
7 Oct 12:43pm

Absolutely the best essay yet about Peak Oil. I would like to expand the Titanic analogy a bit, as it is the one I prefer.

  1. the crew knew there were enough lifeboats for only half the passengers, but did not inform the passengers. (The Powers That Be know about Peak Oil, but the managed mass media is silent).
  2. the crew could have told all the men from the get-go to begin building expedient lifeboats from chairs, desks, rope, et cetera, but did not. TPTB do not tell folks the real skinny on Peak Oil. In both cases this was/is done on the premise of “avoiding panic.”

I’m doing what I can to inform my closest neighbors about Peak Oil and to be on the best of terms with them. We are close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a rural and isolated area. Like the author, I’m planting fruit trees, expanding my skill sets as fast as I can, and storing things that my neighbors will need to help feed themselves. I’m trying to follow the advice of the sage Hippocrates, “First do no harm.” I cannot see how any of my actions will impact negatively on anyone else. I hope they will have a beneficial effect on my neighbors in the coming hard and lean times

7 Oct 4:03pm


i’ve enjoyed this back and forth – thanks to zachary for the emotional maturity to rescue a respectful conversation from the wreckage of ridicule.

a couple aspects of the conversation seem a little off to me – but maybe could be brought in now that a certain tone of decency has been established and shared.

first – the tone of disconnect with the planet seems strong, even among the discussion of how to move “back to the land”. much of this discussion seems to involve humans striding heroically around an inanimate planetary stage. trapped as i alsom am within this mindset i can still recognized that this alienated way of perceiving is conditioned by our current system of production – my hope is that the back-to-the-landers might be able to slowly reconnect to an understanding of human life as intertwingled with the rest of the folks on the planet. i like derrick jensen’s suggestions about trying to restart dialog with trees and rivers and places as a means to reconnect.

this disconnect relates to the second aspect i’d like to question – the regretability of collapse. some scenarios of collapse (such as “die off”) are scary and tragic – but i’m not sure that this way of life we are currently living is worth extending. i feel like there is a parallel to be made now, in the matrix-world many of us mostly inhabit, to the perception of europeans after the 1st and 2nd world wars. i believe there is a widespread sense of futility, falseness, anomie, and boredom – in some ways it really is the age of the simulacra. bush is holding hands with a sheik and pronouncing Kazakhstan a “free nation” while claiming to be attempting to spread democracy with bombers and tanks in iraq. on the subway i see some people reading celebrity magazines, and others are reading mass circulation newspapers or sex-novels, or playing video games on their cell phones. people are killing time, as well as killing off most of the ecosphere. has anyone read MT Anderson’s “Feed”? is the collapse of this bored, boring, and ecocidal civilization something we should work to prevent, or to accelerate? i guess the answer partly depends on another question – what would likely come after?

one might regret some of the consequences of a collapse without regretting the collapse itself. i think i’m personally more disturbed by a vision of our matrix world spinning forever into ever greater alienation and meaninglessness than i am by a tragic and reality-affirming collapse.

Timothy Dicks
7 Oct 5:20pm

Excellent! I think it’s time for this ‘movement’ to face the facts, die-off is inevitable, but not necessarily instantanious. I am eagerly awaiting that reading list when you have it together.

Population has increased incrementaly along side our energy availablity. When that energy begins to become less and less available, our population will decrease in tandem.


7 Oct 7:01pm

There’s a further issue arising from Zachary’s article,
which concerns peoples’ motivations for heading to the countryside
as well as for planning prudent changes in city ways of life.

I’d suggest that there are just two broad but quite distinct outlooks in play –
the first being Isolationist –
I neither know nor want to know my neighbours –

and the second being Integrationist –
I know that my wellbeing not only depends on communal wellbeing,
but a serious part of the former is actually my joy in the latter.

Notably, this pair of contrasting outlooks goes to the heart
of the manic anthropocentrism that drives our lethal ecological incompetence.

It is perhaps worth noting that Zachary appears well aware of the advantages of the Integrationist mindset,
without committing to dependence on patently unsustainable urban population densities.



8 Oct 6:42pm

Thanks for the piece and I have to agree with much of what you say. My family and I are on the path you describe, of learning to grow food, build housing, and can tomatoes. The great thing is that we love this life and the land we are now committed to. It economic terms, it is a good hedge because this life has value in itself, regardless of how events in the world play out in the coming years. It is Thanksgiving in Canada, and I am thankful for what we have. I also document our process on my blog, lichenology.

9 Oct 5:54pm

I would like to inject the following ideas into this rather “me” centered discussion. Much of it is coming from the point of view of priveledged individuals who, purely through an accident of birth, are living in advanced societies in the forefront of enriching themselves, so far, by the absurdly excessive and increasingly violent desperate drawdown of the planets dwindling hydro carbon deposits.

Consider how this debate might seem to, for example:-

A Cuban Farmer
A resident of Baghdad or Kabul
A car mechanic in Soweto
A Niger Delta fisherman

I could go on………..

11 Oct 2:46am

Well I’ll be the first to say I have problems with Zach’s premise…and here is why. I have no ethical problem with choosing a rural escape hatch, but I believe that it is strategically one of the worst decisions one could make to prepare for post-peak.

The main reason is one that felled the “Back-to-the-land” movement of the late 60’s/70’s and it is simple- jobs. Even if you have stored up some wealth and are going in on a farm with some firnds/family, there is still a great need for ongoing finanical inputs for…

mortgage, taxes, food, energy needs, clothing, medical and dental care, supplies, etc.

In order to have that incoming money, some of the community members must work, even if they have pared their expenses down to a minimum.

When the energy descent takes place, rural communities will lose the massive influx of state and federal dollars that helps prop up their infrastructure in terms of roads, county jobs, schools and police/fire/medical care.

It also takes a great deal of energy to transport supplies, fuel, electricity and food to these locales. For that reason businesses will be pinched and will shut down. Most folks will move towards the built up areas where the jobs are and those rural survival communities will feel very isolated indeed.

Many of those lifeboat community people will lose their jobs or find it impossible to commute long distances to get available work.

So building a rural community? I’d have to call it a very naive response to the problem…strategically and financially unsound for all but the most wealthy.

12 Oct 11:06pm

ATTN: Zachary Nowak and “Survivalist

13 Oct 4:44am

Zimba, you got ahead of me here. Been procrastinating about a comment on population, so your comment has kickstarted me into action at last. Population has been aluded to a few times, but more as a fact, not something to be dealt with.
Whilst we should do all we can to reduce our impact on this planet anyway, Peak oil or not, we also need to reduce our numbers. The most benign way is non-replacement. Failing that, nature has a way of regulating numbers, and does not care how. Nature takes care of these things, nature always has. Population control MUST cease to be a taboo subject. Not politically correct to talk about encouraging less off springs? Interfering with freedom of choice? If this freedom will choke us all to death, then no, it should not be a freedom, just as we are not free to do other things that cause harm. I realise that it will take a big shift in attitude. Starting with “I don’t feel a whole woman without children”. Do you really, or do you think that society sees you that way? I had my tubes tied when I was twenty. Lucky for me I lived in a country at the time which does not have such outragously patronising rules as they have in the UK, that you must have your husband’s permission and must have already given birth to x number of children. I have not only never regretted having done it, but with every day I am more and more glad that I did it. At the time I did it for personal reasons, i.e. I just didn’t want children. Selfish? Perhaps, but I’d rather be passively selfish than actively selfish with all the wider repercussions. Now I would certainly not have them even if I wanted them, both from the child’s aspect as well as the environmental aspect. Am I not a complete woman? You bet I am, with every fiber I am woman, and with every fiber I am also man. I am a very full person. I lived my life as me, and did not live it through someone else or what expectations society have of the way women are supposed to be. Women without children are whole and not freaks, nor are they ogres or eat little babies.
The procreation urge is driven by two instincts – sex and nurture. We can satisfy both without actual procreation. You can have as much sex as you like, when you take good precautions, and the nurture instinct can be directed towards other living things, whether human or not.
Before deciding on having a child be brutally honest with yourself, and ask ‘why?’, examine your real motives. Who really benefits? The child? How con one bestow benefit onto something that does not yet exist? More likely the ego is bestowed onto the child – ‘I’ll create a perfect specimen. My child will do this, be that..’. Is it not arrogance to create a human being to mold it to ones design? ‘My child will be the saviour of the world’ a la Terminator. Yeah, sure. Does anyone turn out the way their parents wanted them to turn out? Would it not be better to use that energy to educate and live by example instead? ‘Who will pay our pension?’ With the way the population is going, we’ll be lucky to reach pension age, let alone collect any pension.
One of the most effective ways to reduce consumption, whether for environmental reasons (resources, pollution, global warming etc.) or to make the oil (and other resources) last a little longer, is to have less people consume. Simple maths. A very good piece of writing on the topic is The Tragedy of the Commons which also makes a very compelling case for not just relying on voluntary population control.
I have heard many a socialist say that the world can feed all the humans on the planet if the resources were distributed more equally. This anthropocentric view is not only selfish but downright dangerous. Six and a half billion people do not only eat, but they require and also want other resources and energy. With less oil even more trees will be burnt, and if they should all want a car driven on bio fuel, how many acres should/could be given over to fuel crops? Zachary rightfully pointed out that other creatures have as much right to this planet as we do. If we try to cultivate every last patch of earth and unbalance the ecosphere, the knock-on effect could be catastrophic. We can’t even begin to understand the complex inter-relationships of all life forms. Even rats and cockroaches might be lucky to inherit the world.
China’s one child policy is often cited as a failure. I don’t believe its a total failure, as no doubt, the Chinese population would be greater still without it, though there are certainly problems with it. However, in principle it is a good policy, and instead of dismissing it as unworkable, we should learn from the mistakes and figure out how it could work, but also consider cultural differences in any model. I don’t have the answers as to how a monumental task as persuading the world population to keep its numbers down could be achieved, but what I do know is, that pussyfooting around the subject will not do anything. Making it a topic for discussion rather than taboo is the first step. So I have put my neck out, though seeing the size of the problem, I fear it will be Nature who will take care of population. Pity, as I said earlier, non-replacement is the most benign way.
I occasionally hear or read comments about why the government does not do more for the environment, don’t they take problems serious? Oh but they do, only not how you’d want them to. They are probably very aware of human nature, and know that it would be highly unpopular if not impossible to curb consumption (they probably have alterior motives too), and in the shortrun they probably want us to consume in order to eek out the last bit of profit and benefit to them and big business until TSHTF. They have been preparing for that for some time now, gradually bringing in greater controll by giving us the sugared pill ‘security against terrorists’. At least in the UK and the US the laws since 911 (how convenient?) can make almost anyone a terrorist (interpretation is so loose) and get you locked up for a long time, maybe even without trial. CCTV cameras are being equipped with softwear which can read licence plates and send the information back to a central computer. RFID will become reality, and the ID card is just around the corner. Your every move is logged if you use a cell phone or a credit card. That is just the tip of the ice berg, I’m sure. I shudder to think what ’emergancy plans’ they are hatching, or have hatched. I, for one, will resist in any vaccination campaign.
Back to main topic of the discussion again. Personally I am probably more of a ‘gloomer’. Whilst I see some glimmer of hope here and there, and I do believe that a sustainable way of living is important whatever the oil situation, I believe it is more likely to be a rough ride for many, and that the descent will be a sequence of crisis, with some recovery inbetween, but never to the previous level. I agree with most of what Zachary sais, though I would take issue with the vacation home on two points. One is that second homes are not sustainable on a number of levels, second, I live in an area where I have seen checkbook invaders drive up property prices sky high making it impossible for locals to get a chance to buy even one home, let alone a second home. I believe that anyone who wants to take to the hills should do so as a way of life, and make it their only home. For anyone who is curious about my own situation, I did actually take to the hills thirteen years ago (before I had even heard of peak oil), bought a 23 acre woodland with a swamp (though the swamp was not a deliberately sought feature) to live a more selfreliant lifestyle, which I try to live as sustainably as possible, using Permaculture principles. And I am a ‘survivalist’. Will it stand me in good stead when TSHTF? Maybe, maybe not. If I were left to live on ‘my’ land, then I could make a go of being also selfsufficient, but what of land confiscation? Tree confiscation? Being forced into town? Jailed as a subversive (it happened to Lara of post 17)? As Zachary said, you can only prepare for so much, and hope for the best.

13 Oct 5:01am

The links for

The Tragedy of the Commons


CCTV cameras are being equipped with softwear

[…] no possible replacement, we’re heading for a complete collapse…In fact, I was reading a long article last night on a site that seems to promote exactly that […]

[…] in video clips how we got to where we are, prefers the phrase “serious survivalist.” Zachary Nowak is also uncomfortable with the label, but nonetheless believes that it is prudent to err on the […]

4 Jul 4:30pm

Wow…I have been waiting for this intersection of all the evolving transition groups…be it survivalist, gloomer, doomer etc….how can we keep it going?…I too, have been deep in thought about all of the great points being made in the article and the above comments…let’s not lose this dialogue!

Mike Martin
26 Aug 5:19am

Please, please tell me that an individual so seemingly intelligent as his erudition might signal, does not know that (in this case) the so-called noun ‘Zog’, is the widely recognized acronym for the morally offensive term ‘Zionist Occupation Government’.
A term associated with worst of bigoted militia and skinhead ‘Aryan Nation’ violence/anarchism scum known to haunt the land.
Have I been taken in by an insidiously, appealingly articulate writer? Is this an effort afoot to seduce and slip one past flatulently self-important mensa failures?
Say it ain’t so. . . Mike Martin