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4 Dec 2006

Is Peak Oil Pessimism a Generation of Men Coming to Realise How Useless They Are?

menIn this post I want to discuss an evolving theory I have which may illuminate some and enrage others. I have come to think that part of the reason behind the “die-off” perspective and the mind-set which thinks that Western civilisation is doomed because humanity is basically selfish and foolish, and that it is too late for humanity to do anything on the necessary scale is in fact that a generation of men are coming to realise on some level that they are almost entirely unequipped to face the challenge that peak oil creates.

lawnOne of the main impacts of the Age of Cheap Oil, the great Petroleum Party so rapidly drawing to a close, has been the monumental deskilling that has gone on during that time. A friend of mine recently told me of a friend of his 14 year old son, who had grown up eating sliced bread, and was unable to actually cut a slice of bread from a loaf! How many people now know how to cook, garden, build, repair, mend, pickle, prune or scythe? In the space of two generations, we have lost so much basic knowledge and skills that previous generations learnt by osmosis without even thinking about it.

menOver the last few weeks I have been doing oral history interviews with older people in and around Totnes of their memories of the 30s, 40s and 50s. They remember working with horses on the farms, raising children with gas lamps, candles, home grown vegetables and home made clothes. This is less than 2 generations ago. What emerges is an innate sense, in the generation that made it through World War Two, of what constitutes *enough*, of an instinctive sense of self-reliance and an almost universal ability to turn one’s hand to anything.

A couple of years ago I went to London to a peak oil conference, and the evening before it I went to the pre-event social. I was struck by the fact that everyone there (with one exception) was male, aged 25-40, and, as far as I could tell, worked in IT. They were all very pleasant, intelligent, well read on the whole peak oil issue, and as able as anyone to argue that the peak is imminent and we need to act. There were however, almost no women, no gardeners, no builders, no foresters in the room, nor at the subsequent conference as far as I can tell.

Writers such as [Shepherd Bliss](”Bliss”) and [Carolyn Baker](”Baker”) have questioned why it is that women are less prominent in the peak oil community. I have a nagging suspicion that it is because what we are seeing is, in part, a generation of men awakening to the fact that they are completely ill-prepared for life beyond oil. Almost all of the peak oil writers, and the vast majority of peak oil website writers and bloggers, are men. When I have organised peak oil-related events, finding female speakers on the subject is very tricky.

menFrom the oral history interviews I have been doing, I have seen how older men are less concerned about “going back” to the kind of lifestyles of the 40s and 50s because they still remember how to do things. They often say “well it’s not a problem, I still know how to do all that stuff”. Something happened around the 1960s and the passing-on of that knowledge just stopped. Perhaps mens’ natural instinct is to protect and to provide, and at a time when we feel on some level the need to be doing so again, we are realising that our education has left us completely incapable of doing either. The oil-based economic system has basically said “don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of that for you” for that last 50 years, but that system is now starting to look very shaky, and we realise we have been taught the wrong skills.

The skills one needs to work in the service industry, in sales, in IT, in the insurance industry, in a call centre, are of very little use when one starts thinking about what might follow that in a more localised near-future. What those of 2 generations ago had that we have lost was a practical attitude. They knew how to use the various tools around them, and had a confidence that they could turn their hands to most things. They had the core skills they would need to get through most challenges. Dig for Victory was possible because most people still knew how to garden.

menI think that panic and woe is a natural first response to peak oil. In [my recent interview with Richard Heinberg](”RH”) he discussed the different stages of peak oil awareness. *”Probably the typical stages of grief, denial, anger and all that and very often an obsession with the facts themselves and trying to become knowledgeable about those facts, internalise the information and then verify the information so they can be sure of this. After all, they are probably in the process of reorienting their lives and their priorities and they may be trying to convince their friends and family about this and they need to have better information and get all the facts straight so they can do that”*. I would add to this that what often follows that is a realisation that we have lost the skills to adequately respond. In running the [recent Transition Town Totnes Open Space days](”TTOS”), I have seen that one of the most powerful things about them is that people get to meet and chat with other people who have the skills they are realising that they need. I came away from the food day with a great sense of hope, there are lots of knowledgable people around here, there are the skills to tap into.

I’m a 38 year old male. I know how to grow food. I can build walls, plaster, make compost, plant trees, design, cook, make jam and chutney, make turf roofs and chop wood. I’m hopeless with electrics. I’m not a great carpenter, and I have no clue about fixing machines of any kind. Yet having learnt to do the things I can do, I feel confident that I could turn my hand to most things. Almost as importantly, I am starting to find the people around me who could teach me thing things I need to learn. Although you may disagree with the theory I have set out above, I have found it an interesting way of looking at where the numbing sense of peak oil catastrophism comes from. It is, in the main, a theory most felt and promoted by men.

menMy feeling is that it represents a stage in evolving peak oil awareness, and is rooted in a dawning sense of horror at ones personal inadequacy in terms of skills and personal resources. My hope is that, within and beyond the peak oil movement, this sense of despair and futility can be harnessed by the acquiring of skills and local networking and turned into a catalyst for the relearning of a wide range of skills. In Transition Town Totnes we are doing our part by planning a series of workshops for the next programme called “The Great Reskilling”, which contains, among other things, workshops on sock darning and on edible container gardening. Succumbing to peak oil die-off despair gets us nowhere, unless we can use it as a spur to action and to reskilling.

**Does this resonate with you? Any thoughts or discussion on the above much appreciated, I’d like to hear your thoughts…**

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


Michael Hunt
4 Dec 10:16am

As a 67 year old male in New Zealand we still quote Number 8 wire as a means of fixing and overcoming problems. I think that overall once the population realise what is happening New Zealand as a whole we will be able to cope with what ever the future throws at us.

Rev Sam
4 Dec 11:54am

Great post – and certainly applies to me. I just wanted to say that Robert Pirsig’s book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ (1974) is about this issue as a whole, and has some very eloquent passages describing the transition of the 1950’s, 1960’s that you mention.

4 Dec 11:56am

I fully agree with your theory. I’m 40 and in the process of reorienting my life because I’m in the IT and know that it will be useless pretty soon. I feel fear in front of the chasm of my ignorance (although I have already learnt a lot, much more is needed).
I saw in Seymour’s “Forgotten arts and crafts” a lot of tools I had the chance to get in my hands because my grand father collected them, but now he is dead and cannot teach me how to build or even use them.
Now my son and newphews are 15-18, I try to persuade them to really think hard about their career: either be very very good and motivated at school or learn a usable knowledge that will still be needed if the economic situation turns bad. It’s really difficult for them to understand because what they have in front of them are adult consumers, and easy money, plus the fact that marketing has really done a good job to control their mind.
Anyway, keep going on with your blog, for me it’s the best.

George Peattie
4 Dec 12:08pm

The point is a good one and it comes up in almost any discussions on trying to make changes in the way we live. Sadly we are becoming increasingly useless, or at least we are led to believe we are useless. Specialism is one of the causes but there is something beyond that, we are becoming lazy, comfortable in our own wee world where we know what is required of us and are unwilling to test ourselves in new situations. Rewards increase as we move into either more specialist areas, or less productive areas (management). I would guess that some of this the natural result on the drive to move us from a manufacturing to a service based economy.
In discussions with about LETs it appears many schemes fail or falter due to a lack of people with practical skills. Perhaps the other cause is that we are increasingly encouraged to see relationships in terms of customers and suppliers rather than as a community working together.
I’m optimistic on this although there may be a lack of willingness to make a change now people will adapt, its what we do.
What we will need is a good network of folk out there who do have appropriate skills, gardeners, builders, practical DIY skills, basic mechanics and electrical skills. Sadly government seems willing to fence off larger chunks of fairly basic knowledge from the general population as they have done recently by restricting the ability of homeowners to carry out electrical work.

Mike Grenville
4 Dec 12:47pm

Completely agree with this generational loss of skills. Ceratinly that was my experience at school in the 1960s that we learnt nothing practical. Also at the same time was the introduction of the transistor and the circuit board which meant that most things could no longer be repaired.

Douglas Adams described this situation in the 5th Hitch Hiker’s book ‘Mostly Harmless’ first published in 1992. In it Arthur Dent faces the grim reality that as 20th centurry man he has little to offer any planet in the universe: “… although he came from a world which had cars and computers and ballet and armagnac he didn’t, by himself, know how any of it worked. He couldn’t do it. Left to his own devices he couldn’t build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it. There was not a lot of demand for his services.”

Ugo Bardi
4 Dec 2:22pm

Well, it seems to me that Rob’s interpretation makes a lot of sense. Thinking about that, I discovered that in the last 4-5 years, since I have been involved with ASPO, I developed the following skills, among others:

  1. Flint knapping. I can make good arrow tips out of flint and, if needed, from old beer bottles.

  2. Fire lighting using the striker/flint method. It took me a year, but now I can make the steel striker using an old style forge. Not easy, try it to believe! Forging is awfully difficult but it gives great satifaction

  3. Assorted carpentry; I try not to use power tools.

There are other minor things I learned, but I must also report that my attempt at learning a bit of domestic plumbing was, so far, an abject failure. The same was with my attempt at haberdashery, although not so bad.

Anyway, this idea of working with one’s hands seems to be related with the perception that we’ll need those skills soon. I also agree that the new generation of people are totally unable of working with their hands. Everyone is in software, P.R., education and the like. On the other hand, right now people who do have skills, are underpaid. Something is going to give…..

By the way, the attempt to find a female speaker at a peak-oil conference is a disaster. I tried hard with ASPO-5, but no luck. Something has to be wrong with the way male brains work. However, in ASPO-Italy, we have a couple of great ladies involved with peak oil, one of them has a very nice blog on the subject, unfortunately it is in Italian. Anyway, if you are curious, it is at


4 Dec 2:54pm

I’m afraid I might out-enrage you:

What if “peak oil” isn’t really about the powerlessness people fear in any near future, but is actually about the powerlessness they feel today?

(I think man and nature are going to throw us some curves, but I think they will take decades to play out. I fear that people who condense those decades into short term fears are really worried about something else.)

Caroline Walker
4 Dec 3:11pm

Your post and the responses are very interesting to me. I was a teacher at the Small School in Hartland for many years and we made sure that all the youngsters (aged 11 – 16) learnt cooking, cleaning, gardening, building, camping alongside academic and other creative subjects. The need for young people to learn ‘post-fossil fuel’ skills is urgent, could be enormously engaging for children who instinctively reject the irrelevant curriculum they are offered and would help to dissipate the sense of futility and despair that much current debate around climate change and the future of the planet engenders.

4 Dec 3:59pm

BTW, I do believe we are near “peak oil” and I do try to work for sustainable solutions. I just also think that a lot of people get the timescale wrong, and don’t think of it as a decades-long transition. They see the problem pressing down on them and feel panic. In my opinion, that’s where irrational fears creep in.

Jason Cole
4 Dec 4:12pm

“What those of 2 generations ago had that we have lost was a practical attitude.”

I think you’re a bit off the mark here, Rob.

You’re essentially presuming that service-industry people have very limited skills, or don’t have the aptitude to do anything with their hands, or think in a practical manner.

For me, pessimism is not driven by what I can or can’t do. It’s about how much of a fight I’d have to put up against NIMBY and BANANA types who don’t understand the problems we are facing.

The attitude we need to engender is that agriculture is not “backward” or “old hat”. It’s interesting to see TV programmes about Cuba, describing them as “backwards” when we all know that their agriculture is streets ahead of our own.

4 Dec 5:33pm

This obviously resonates

Matt Savinar
4 Dec 6:05pm

I wrote a piece on this a while back. It’s simple: us guys are wired to increase our social and political power. Oil distribution is the primary arbitrer of social and political power so to a certain degree it makes sense men would disproportionately be interested in what is going to happen to it.

The “realization of uselessness” analysis is a poor one in terms of explaining why the peak oil crowd is so male-dominated. Modern women are just as useless as men sans the petroleum supplies. How many women have skills – including skills related to child rearing – that arent’ wholly dependent on petroleum? I think the percentage of useless men and useless women in our society is both very high and very equal.

It’s not like the “peak oil solutions” crowd is any less male dominated than the “peak oil catasrophism” crowd. Both are well over 85% men.

Yeah, there’s Megan Quinn and Sharon Astyk who have po blogs or visible positions. But that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish there were way more women than men but there’s not and the gender demographics are not likely to change dramatically anytime soon. Although I will say I’m doing my part to bring in more women. Aside from my dashing good looks and native charm, I have appointed two women to moderate my site forum. =)

Matt Savinar
4 Dec 6:14pm

BTW, Rob I think your optimism along with your distaste for the more catastrophic-minded of us stems from the town you live in.

Try coming over the pond and organizing around energy descent here in the states and see how long you go before becoming a “catastrophist”. Even Jason Bradford has expressed exasperation at the unwillingness of people to “get it.” He’s still got some hope but from his recent post at TOD it looks like the utter asshatery of the county around him is stressing that sense of hope. I don’t blame him of course, I gave up hope there would be any REAL organizing around these issues beyond the family level a while ago. The asshatery here is at a level you need to experience to believe. And while I’m sure europe has its share it really does not compare to the states.

Outside of Willits and a few other hamlets of awareness most intelligent folks are too so hopped up on electronic corporate propaganda, chemical laden fast food, and mind altering medications to understand anything not from the television. The less intelligent people are hopped up on methamphetamine or too busy dealing with relatives hopped up on methamphetamine or going to prison to deal with energy descent. When you realize this there really isn’t much option left other than seeing this for what it is: a catastrophe.

aaron newton
4 Dec 6:34pm

Jonathan Ansell
4 Dec 9:34pm

Hi Rob
As someone brought up in the fifties and sixties farming and sailing I have often thought much the same. There is no doubt people can learn but will they? We do our bit to help in the Devon Rural Skills Trust.

Tom Atkins
4 Dec 10:01pm

When asked what he thought of Western civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi memorably said “I think it would be a good idea.”

For me, the impending ‘die-off’, ‘end of Western civilisation’ and the fact that humans in Western societies act collectively in ‘foolish and selfish’ ways are all realities that can be looked at objectively and give me strength. To deny that ‘Western civilisation’ (read ‘growth based money systems’ and ‘short-termist democracies’) and overpopulation are not the causes of the issues we face would be to stick ones head in the (tar) sands. Peak Oil is merely a side-show for the wealthy West which has time to worry about such things.

This is not pessimism – it’s realism. First, any basic understanding of ecological footprinting will quickly lead you to the realisation that the planet really cannot healthily support 6 billion people. Thus we need to have ‘die-off’. Second, a study of growth based money systems will lead you to realise that learning to mend your trousers and pull up turnips won’t stop destructive economic growth.

The sadness about our unsustainable species for me is not because we have ‘lost the skills to be able to respond’ it is because the global political and economic (Western) system makes effective response and planning on a global scale impossible. Until the economic system collapses and is replaced by a new non-growth based money system, there is nothing we can effectively do apart from ‘building life-boats’. Initiatives like Transition Town Totnes are important, but in my opinion are no more than life-boats.

Rob has talked about ‘visioning a future’ which is very important. If we are interested in sustainability, what are we aiming to sustain? Clearly at some point in several billion years the earth will be uninhabitable for humans because the sun will be enveloping it. So what is our aim for sustainability? Is it to allow the maximum number of human lives the chance to ‘enjoy’ life? If so, should this be over many generations with a small global population? Or maybe over a few generations with a large population? (Both scenarios could have the same number of ‘lives lived’.) For reasons that I won’t go into here, there is a very strong case for many generations of a small population. Thus I suggest that the sooner the current plague of humans has a ‘die-off’ and the sooner the current global political and economic system implodes, the better the chances we have of many generations surviving into the future.

I might work in IT and my garden is over-run with slugs but I try to keep an anthropologist’s eye on things! Long live the optimists!

P.S. Perhaps the reason that men are involved in all this debate much more than women is because it is primarily men that got us into this mess! Our ego’s and competitive nature’s have increased population and created these crazy violent economic systems.

Tom Atkins
4 Dec 10:26pm

Oops – I meant to link to Paul Kingsnorth’s blog post on the reaction to the Stern report. I’m with Paul!

daniel winings
4 Dec 10:38pm

I would be curious to see how location determines how catastrphoc one’s view becomes. Living in a rural area I have competing views. In regard to the people around here, we will do just fine. Every farmer can weld, every household has at least a small garden and there is a lot of flat land that could be redistributed if commercial ag became unsustainable. Will my friends who live in the 3rd ring suburbs adjust? survive? The engineers yes, everyone else? who knows. I guess it boils down to the slow vs fast crash debate.

4 Dec 11:25pm

Thank you; great thought-provoking posting. I don’t think this is a male-female issue other than what triggers our survival (and propogation) buttons. Adrienne

5 Dec 12:54am

As Tom Atkins, above, I believe that human population pressure is the biggest problem we face. Even if every person could grow food and do all the other necessary things for themselves, if the planet cannot support their numbers without the artificial input of oil, then their skills are only usefull, if they are lucky enough to live in an environment where they are able to carry them out. I would like to add one further point to the case for many generations of small populations (probably what he refers to as ‘for reasons I won’t go into here’), and that is, that it allows many more species to live next to us, and we all have a better quality of life.
As far as blame is concerned for the population pressure, I believe that women carry at least half. I have wrtitten more on that subject in a previous comment on Zachary’s article here on Transition Culture. It is also worth seeking out, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement’s website. Extinction may be taking it a little far, but there are many good arguments, which apply equally to reduced populations.

5 Dec 1:10am

Interesting article. I don’t know why there aren’t more women in the spot light in this discussion.

I personally am not interested in the spot light. I would be interested in leadership however, I find myself consumed with learning skills to take care of my family in my “spare time.”

Frank Black
5 Dec 1:34am

I think a lot of this is our loss of autonomy and our utter dependence on technology, the state and fossil fuel. I think we are looking around and seeing that all the pretty toys are not worth the loss of our freedom (in whatever sense you think you’ve lost it). Peak Oil is real, looming and malicious. But, if anything good does come of it, I hope it is the restoration of our dignity and the reclaiming of the right to author our own lives. I pray this period of history will be put away and we stop being obedient consumers and mules for the corporate-controlled state. I’d swap a flush toilet for that any day.

Jennifer Hartley
5 Dec 3:17am

Thanks for this article, Rob. The whole issue of gender in peak oil circles is fascinating. I have long noticed that men are dominating the discussion. I think it is a mistake, however, to think (as Matt Savinar seems to imply) that women are not engaged or interested in this topic. There are many women like me who are avid readers of peak oil blogs and literature, speak to family and friends frequently on this topic, are activists on a local level, and are somehow not visible or counted as being part of a larger Peak Oil Community.

Personally, I find it much more comfortable to speak with people one-on-one about peak oil than to seek a public speaking career on the topic. I also do not enjoy struggling to be heard in a male-dominated conversation, especially one characterized by one-upmanship or power plays; I prefer to speak with people who are willing to listen.

Time is also a very real issue for every woman I know. Working, taking care of children, trying to build community, attending to all the details of daily life– this is exhausting. Women do a huge amount of necessary work in this world. Most women I know are too busy actually using their practical skills than to sit around and pontificate about using practical skills.

Although I am 34 years old and immersed in American culture, I do not feel completely unequipped to deal with a post-carbon future. I was taught strong principles of self-reliance as well as an understanding of necessary interdependence. I believe this is partly a gendered phenomenon, since men are often socialized to fight to be the top dog and women are often socialized to get along with people. I know a lot of people with valuable skills, and we care about each other, and we can offer help to each other in hard times. I am becoming more confident in my ability to identify local, wild, edible plants; to grow food; to use permaculture as a precious tool; to preserve food; to make and mend clothing; and especially to think critically about what my family needs and how to prioritize things.

5 Dec 7:35am

My experience has been that women are ready to accept & talk about PO, but men, especially older men, are not ready to hear a women tell them (for example), that car-driving is going (at best) to get more expensive, and (at worst) to be severely compromised. I would like to take a more active role in PO awareness, but have been soundly squashed by most men when I bring the subject up.

Perhaps those like yourself, Rob, and Jason Bradford in Willits, are more successful because you are men and other men will listen to you.

5 Dec 9:55am

Being a 33 year old doctor in Scandinavia, grown up on a farm in Iceland, I sense that the things that will be of most help to me are the things I learned during my childhood on the farm.

I know how a community works in cooperating and helping each other out, have first hand knowledge of how to grow things and take care of animals and a sense of being able to do different things if I put myself to it.

I really can´t imagine what it would be like to face the future without this experience. We fear things that we don´t know and having a recollection of a farmers community that works makes the future much less frightening. Sadly there aren´t so many men of my age in the western world that have this recollection and I can imagine their despair.

Ugo Bardi
5 Dec 11:01am

A very interesting thread. Rob has this ability to go to the heart of the matter with his posts, a rare skill. Most people just can’t see what the problem is, and once they see it their answer is the wrong one.

It is a long story, but the point is that it is known that people tend to react too late to problems and then to overreact. Read the papers by Erling Moxnes on the matter, they call this phenomenon “Misperception of Dynamics” (MOD). The first overreaction is the one that Rob has correctly criticized several times, that of stockpiling food and weapons in some remote place or, in a gentler version, to build a little farm on the hills. It won’t work except for some very special scenarios. In most scenarios it will make problems worse.

The real, and perhaps the only, ability to be developed is that of living in a local community. Being able to do something with one’s hands will help, but it is not so crucial.


5 Dec 11:33am

I certainly don’t dispute the validity of the issues raised on this site, but as a man brought up in the fifties and now nearing 60 I find the tone of this debate disquieting, in that there seems to be a good deal here which is about men expressing, either explicitly or implicitly, a degree of contempt for their own sex, or at least for their particular generation of men.

The use of pergorative language (such as “uselessness” for example) is unhelpful and will do little to promote the sort of change in male attitudes and behaviour that is being advocated. In fact, it is a mistake to suggest that this is somehow a gender-specific problem and we should be grateful for the contribution of the minority of women who have posted comments to that effect.

I find, as an older man, that it is depressing to note the underlying element of male self-loathing that one detects in some emails. We have seen this before during my lifetime, but it had nothing to do then with the “peak oil” question. It came in the wake of an era in the seventies when the feminist movement made great strides. Nothing wrong with that in itself: the efforts of women at that time to alter aspects of modern society benefitted everyone in the long run, but in the short to medium term it created a challenge to men to adapt to changes in the role of women and the implications of those changes for the way we defined and experienced maleness.

It would take too long to elaborate on this here, and in any case I imagine most men reading this will have a pretty good idea of this recent history and of the issues to which I am referring. What I am trying to draw attention to is that there is a significance to the fact that this is a male-dominated arena, which many men have noted and lamented but feel unable to account for.

There is, I think, a subtext to this debate of which most men appear to be only dimly aware, which has to do with the uneasy relationship that many young men have to their own masculinity. I am not sure that learning motor mechanics, carpentry or plumbing, useful as those skills might be, will get to the heart of this distress and confusion about what it means to be a man in our culture and at this point in our history. It is also naive to idealise men of my own generation as somehow still being more in touch with a past that is seen as being more”real” or healthy, in one sense or another.

I offer no solutions; only the suggestion that men concerned about all this should consider more deeply where that concern is coming from within themselves, and whether it has to do with more than just an admittedly very real energy crisis in the external world. There is another dimension to this which lies in the emotional domain for men: it cannot be adressed by externalising the issue and dealing with it at a purely practical level, in terms of recovering lost knowledge and skills. Men have to learn to be men in the world as we now find it and have helped to create it.

The answer will not be found in romanticised notions of a return to the world of our fathers and grandfathers. I won’t be around to see what young men make of all this – hence this offering from one who reads with concern of the obvious and genuine anxiety of those men AND WOMEN who will have to make something of the mess that earlier generations have made of the planet.

Zachary Nowak
5 Dec 11:34am

Ciao Rob, as always an interesting post though there are a number of points I don’t agree with. Before I get into it, though, a disclaimer: I believe in a probable collapse and die-off.
First, the destruction of the earth is not because we are selfish and foolish. Yeast overuse resources and have a massive die-off in fermenting must because they follow basic ecological “rules,

5 Dec 12:03pm

Sometimes I think it has to do with self determination. I feel a desire to be in control of my destiny in some way. Hillwalking appeals to me because the difficulty, the challenge, contracts to placing one foot in front of the other. Sometimes physically difficult, but ultimately uncomplicated. I know what I am doing, and where I am going and I am confident of my ability to get there. In todays world we are constrained by “conventional wisdom”, the patterns and constructs of todays consumer serfdom. I rarely feel a sense of self determination beyond a couple of days, the rules were made by someone else and without a deeper insight into their meaning and motivation I am powerless to use them to seek my own ends, I am a target market and a drone of production. In some ways I view peak oil, or a similar challenge, as an opportunity to see this “conventional wisdom” torn down and replaced by something less opaque. In reality regardless of the potentially altruistic intentions of those that partake in the reconstruction there will be those that will subvert it to their own machiavellian purposes, to guarantee their capability of self determination they will need serfs of their own.

Linda Shaw
5 Dec 12:14pm

Well, well…

I’m a woman who believes that the peaking of oil will change the way we live. Granted, I’m now 68 with a Bachelor’s degree in music.

However, I can garden, preserve what I raise in Mason jars, make compost, bake bread and make cottage cheese from “real milk.” I can sew a nice coat out of a wool blanket, knit socks, repair a broken waterline. I’m currently involved in building a large strawbale dwelling that will house three families if necessary.

So, don’t say that women aren’t involved in peak oil and don’t have the skills. If it weren’t for this 68-year-old body, I could live forever!

Be well.

Big Gav
5 Dec 12:17pm

Great post Rob – I’ve thought the same myself on quite a few occasions.

That said I pretty much fit the caricature you outlined – except after thinking about the future for a while I eventually decided that life with less oil is likely to be much improved (plus I just can’t justify collapse due to peak oil is a likely possibility anyway).

One of the best cures for depressed doomers is probably to simply go and get some “real skills”, even if this is simply a hobby of some sort – lets face it, “doing stuff” with your hands is something people managed for a long time before our generation.

John Weber
5 Dec 12:46pm

I agree and have commented on these stages of grief I have seen in the various mailing lists. (The bargaining is with the god technology.)
In 1968, I had a realization that humans could not socially live as they do (too stressful, rats in an overpopulated cage). When Limits to Growth arrived it added another whole awareness. From 1973, for 30 years I lived off the grid. For the first ten years without electricity. Then using sun and wind for a minimum of less than 1kW a day. I cooked and heated with wood. All this in Minnesota where I (a person born and raised in Florida) learned to live with the cold, organic garden, carpentry, masonry, and numerous other skills. I early on developed a library of technical, scientific and actual literary sources to preserve some for the future.
When in 1973 I was diagnosed with cancer and given 3 weeks to live, I didn’t say “why me”. I met and am surviving it. I sold my old place, moved to a lake further north, put up (my labor) 3 kW of grid-tie solar electric and recently bought with my partner 40 more acres to develop for animals and plants especially trees. I don’t believe that physical survival will be the issue (I do understand that there will be physical stresses from the four horseman but they are always riding it is the nature of the beast). We must find a new approach to the “animal (life itself)” tendency to overshoot. On this I have some ideas but for another day.

Mike Bendzela
5 Dec 12:55pm

How many people now know how to cook, garden, build, repair, mend, pickle, prune or scythe?

That would be me. Plus, I do a little dairying, and hay farming.

That being said, this new theory of yours is yet more retarded than your theory that oil dependency is like drug addiction.

The tendency to psychoanalyze those on “the other side” is a trap, Rob. You keep stepping into it and making a fool of yourself.

5 Dec 1:20pm

You’ve certainly touched a collective sensitive spot with this article. My thoughts…

I have also spent most of my working life in the knowledge or service sector. I would acknowledge that I have felt and still feel a sense of fear and inadequacy about my own skills base and its relevance to the post-PO world. I have felt that same feeling at points in the past, when I have felt the need to change direction. At the personal level, this is no different, but I’d agree with others here that any leanings we have towards doomsterism are also or principally because, even if we are making changes in our own lives (skills, finance etc), we can still see the likely long term trend. Projects like Rob Hopkins’ Transition Town Totnes are brilliant: powering down, learning more practical skills and de-specialisation etc are all the right things to do, but in the end, they are all just about managing Joseph Tainter and Jared Diamond’s collapse process. Managed collapse is much more preferable to unmanaged collapse, but it is still collapse. Maybe recognising this fact is what defines us as so-called ‘doomsters’.

There’s a thread with more here:

Joseph Sweet
5 Dec 1:29pm

“Tomorrow is promised to no one.”

5 Dec 1:42pm

I agree with most of your idea here. The vast majority of today’s workers spend their lives shuffling meaningless papers, clicking at keyboards, or assembling the parts of tech-machines, all occupations that “have no future.” They’ve ceded all other skills to vast and faceless corporations.

But I don’t agree with the part about men vs. women (which isn’t really developed very well). I suspect that, from a post-PO perspective, women are approximately as useless as men and will participate in the approaching dieoff just as vigorously.

5 Dec 2:19pm

Hi folks,

Well this post certainly seems to have got people talking, whether they agree or not, it has been fascinating reading the thread here. I did want to just make a couple of points.

The article was supposed to be specifically about men, as being a man myself and the father of 4 boys, it is something that interests me. All I am doing in the piece is hypothesising that there may be a connection between the degree to which we feel that peak oil is a society-collapsing nightmare or to which we feel it is a managable leap and the degree to which we have certain core life-skills.

My theory is that the more skilled an individual or a community is, the more resilient it is, and therefore the more able to make the transition to a lower energy scenario.

I picked on IT people unfairly really, as many of them are also excellent engineers and have a number of transferable skills, but I use them to illustrate how so many of the ‘trades’ we have nowadays would not fill many of those in them that they are able to turn their hands to anything. It might have been fairer to look at call-centre operatives, insurance salesmen or whatever, it would be a very long list for 21st century Britain. My point is that as a society the loss of skills over the past 40 years has been enormous.

I am not, as some people have stated, saying that in the 1930s men were Real Men, and that now we are all wimps. What I am saying is the fact that many people (men and women) grew up around skilled people and were practical people themselves, meant they looked at times of increased hardship in a different way. This has nothing to do with ‘manliness’ or anything, my point is about skills and personal adaptability.

I am merely postulating the theory that there may be a connection between the degree to which we feel bleak about peak oil and the level of skills we possess. I don’t have the answer, but I am fascinated by the wealth of wisdom and insights that have been posted here. As I said in the piece, I am no paragon of virtue, I can do somethings and am crap at others, but it is an observation within myself that the more skills I have learnt the more capable I feel to play a part in the transition to a lower energy future.

I liked Mike Peplar’s post on the thread over at Powerswitch where he says

“One thing I know for sure – I started out as a 100% doomer, but now though I think there is still a real risk of deep trouble, I’m a lot less worried about it. The process of getting away from the doom and gloom for me began when I quit working in software/electronics and started towards working on something I saw as more useful to myself, my community and hopefully the world in general”.

I guess he put his finger on what I’ve been trying to say. Thanks Mike, and to everyone who commented here, as Adam1 says, the piece certainly seems to have hit a collective soft spot. I have no answers, just felt like an important question to ask.

Thanks for all your thoughts,

5 Dec 2:34pm

I agree, and then again I don’t.
Yes, discovering and understanding the implications of P.O.
are bound to lead to an existential crisis, with feelings of inadequecy and all the rest.
But, I disagree that women are any better equipped to deal with
the implications than men.
Here’s a thought: Since the oil age coincided with the emancipation of women, might this explain why women may be less reluctant to
accept P.O.? I’m not suggesting that we need to go back to a gender role based system of work and production, but that may well be a possibility.

5 Dec 2:48pm

I am 61, and feel lucky that my father taught me a lot, and that I’ve always been a tinkerer, and then that I spent 18 years living communally on a 120 acre farm, where we grew our food, had orchards and animals, and built our own buildings. I can fix things (including bicycles, but not cars), sew, cook, do plumbing, electric work, concrete work, etc.

I never imagined that these things might become crucial for me as I face the next (I hope) 30 years.

Here’s my suggestion: the next thing you really want to buy, unless it’s a basic tool or necessity, don’t buy it … and then see how you feel, and deal with it. Do without; you can, and eventually, you will have to.

5 Dec 3:14pm

The other day while out for a walk with my 2 year old daughter, I pointed out a fuzzy caterpillar to her, and made a point of telling her to look but not to touch it, because it could give her a “boo boo”. And then it hit me: Did I really know that for sure? I vaguely remember some teacher telling me when I was young that some fuzzy caterpillars were poisonous. Which ones? I didn’t know. Why didn’t I know that? Because I didn’t have to. (And how did I find out the answer later on? The internet, how else?) It struck me that several hundred years ago, someone standing on that spot would probably have known about that caterpillar, as well as every other type of flora and fauna in that area – because he would have to. Survival in that world would depend on it.

What does survival mean for modern man? Nose to the grindstone for the first quarter of your life, “learning”, then prostrate yourself for the chance to move ones and zeros around and help your tribe generate numbers that we all agree have value, called “wealth”, sometimes represented in dirty paper slips, which we can exchange for the luxury of not having to know how to make the things we think we need to “survive”. Our values and skills only make sense in a world that in turn only makes sense in terms of itself. It’s quite a dysfunctional relationship we’ve developed with our planet, needing things from it but abusing it in mind-boggling ways, yet all the while denying it because the fortress we’ve built has few windows, and, well, life is good inside the castle, inside our manufactured context that we call “normal”. It’s in the best interest of the King that his people know of nothing else than working their one skill, eating, sleeping, and screwing (and quite often combinations of the four).

5 Dec 3:52pm

Tom Atkins you have hit the nail on the head.

I don’t want to repeat what you have said so eloquently, so I will only add that we need to realize that we may need to see an insurgency of sorts. We may need to all become elves in the service of Gaia.

What is it that people who love their country and see it invaded do? They revolt. Why do they revolt? Because the invaders are destroying their country.

If we allow the engineers to attempt a transition to other destructive technologies, such as coal to liquids or nuclear power, that may destroy the country, i.e. the planet, we must treat them as invaders. We cannot form alternative societies based on integration with nature and then let the dominionists undermine that progress, unless we are willing to let the planet scourge the cancer from its skin. If that is the case, then there is no point in working toward a sustainable nature-centered world. Nature will take care of the problem easily enough, wiping us out with a shrug and a shiver.

I for one would like to see a willingness to take the fight seriously enough to use radical action to prevent the dominionists from continuing their feckless destruction.

These are early days in the struggle for the planet. Many people will die not knowing what they made the ultimate sacrifice for. Many will join the dominionists and sell their natures in order to enjoy the ever diminishing comforts of technoman’s cancerous lifestyle. And finally, others will awaken and teach their young that this is a fight for mother earth and that they must do everything they can to further fight whether is be through material support or in arms to protect the planet.

The choice is simple: Life in nature or death in black technology.

5 Dec 3:59pm


I’m one of those guys in IT, age 47. After digesting the whole peak oil disaster (and hopefully coming to terms with it), I set about reskilling. So I’m on a formal plumbing course, which also includes other building knowledge. I’m reading up on permaculture, organic farming, etc in my own time. And getting hold of lots of books on useful knowledge, like medical books, gardening/farming, building, leadership/psychology etc.

I intend getting a small farm next to a mountain (where it rains). Staying in Cape Town, a city of 3 million+, will be far too risky, given the huge number of extremely poor, hungry and unskilled people within walking distance. So I need to be somewhere when I can grow food, hunt and gather if necessary, and not be attacked by thousands of starving people.

Besides, what with global warming, I don’t want to be next to our nuclear power station when the sea level rises and floods it…

The situation in the UK and USA is different… in the UK, you apparently import 80% of your food… what happens when the transport system collapses? Good neighbours do not stay good neighbours when they are starving.

Thus I do not want to rely on the goodwill of my neighbours, since in desperate times, people do desperate things. I believe my family will have a better chance in a rural community.

Brian Merchant
5 Dec 4:09pm

I’m afraid you may have skipped a step. Before we reach the stage of growing vegetables and making clothes, we are dealing with mitigation, the attempt to avert collapse, changing the course of society.

This step involves 25 X 25, the Apollo Alliance, and the Oil Depletion Protocol. It involves the Post Carbon Institute, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and Transition Culture.

This is the step that requires the expertise of everyone who has ever lived and worked in our society. It involves, first, imagining how we can do things differently. Soon enough, it will involve actually doing things differently in every segment of society.

Yes, we will grieve. We will mourn the loss of what we had and we will mourn the loss of what we could have had. We will suffer the loss of certainty and the comfort of complacency. But there is a great deal of work to be done.

Instead of workshops on sock darning and container gardening, perhaps we could consider workshops on changing national energy policy, promoting policies for localization, and directing revenue from oil and gas leases to renewable energy.

The next three years will be critical. Make some noise – tell truth to power.

Kamau Beno
5 Dec 4:19pm

I too agree with most of your theory, especially the part that mentions the role of men as protectors and providers. I am 42, grew up on a ranch in the southern US. I recall the early days (60s). We raised chickens, collected eggs, kept pigs, had a number of large gardens and then there were cows. We went to the woods once a year in the fall to cut wood for the winter. Momma washed clothes in a large tub and hung them out to dry in the sun. I remember watching it all change for the “better” as we finally got a family car, started buying foods we wouldn’t have to grow anymore, etc. My fear about the coming world is the fact that we have 6.5 billion people on the planet. Aside for the massive potential for human suffering, the threat of global, nuclear conflict, one of my more local concerns is that of the lack of communal living and mentality here at home. In the states, our cities are extremely overcrowded. Suburban development stretches farther than the eye can see as a matter fact in almost every population center. In fact there is hardly any open land left. Yes, I may know how to raise food, preserve food, repair and maintain anything about my home, including electronics. I religiously keep a garden, I can build things, I can hunt, fish and do a number of things I think will at least help me provide for my family. And I hope I have forced my unwilling children to participate in enough of the aforementioned activities to enable them to learn enough, fast enough to use when the time comes. However, I am scared that the guy next door or the people across the street cannot. What will happen when food prices go through the ceiling and I have my nice green gardens? What will the neighbors, who are too busy surviving already, to get to know me feel when I have rain barrels of water when the spigots aren’t dependable anymore? Will all of them ask politely and learn or will some choose to take? Will I be able to protect as well as provide? I have read many of the Peak Oil writers warn about this and the common theme resonates through all of the literature that we are in the most serious trouble because we no longer know how to live with each other at home and around the world.
Good post, keep writing and spreading the word.

5 Dec 4:32pm

Regardless of Peak Oil, modern industrial societies are filled with people who are deskilled. That has all been part of the industrialisation process – deskilling, breaking jobs down to their smallest part. We have also become lazy due to our ‘success’. Our easy access to wealth has meant that not so many people try as hard to go for the harder jobs. And less glamorous jobs. But this can all change quickly. Passing on knowledge is cheap. Passing on practical skills maybe not so cheap because of material costs to practice with. If we need to learn something, we can learn it (except how to break the laws of thermodynamics, etc.) Many of the IT males in the 25-40 bracket that I know (and I am one of them too!) have taken the warning of Peak Oil and begun adjusting their lives accordingly and begun the reskilling process. Of course, it is not easy to know what exactly to reskill for, because we are still facing many possible worlds, from one where we need to pick up our garden tools, to the one where we need to pick up our guns. While gardening will be a useful skill for all, employment may be more easily found in the security services or military!

We still have time for the transition. And we will adapt because we will have to. It is going to be bumpy. For many, indeed, for most, it is going to be a shock, and painful over a long period. Thus is it not fair to argue that the Peak Oil aware have a duty to make that transition as smooth as possible? Indeed, it may well be that the early heralds of the Peak Oil message, the IT men of 25-40, doomsayers or not, will play a key role in the great transition.

Interesting times!

5 Dec 4:52pm

I agree with Crysal, Jennifer and Bev who posted earlier – it is not that women are not interested or not aware or not accepting of peak oil, it is just that we are less visible in public, including both face-to-face gatherings and on-line. I read a lot on the web, but rarely post comments. Perhaps women are just less likely to speak up in a conversation unless they are overtly invited to do so. Whether it is nature or nurture, most women behave as if it is not “feminine” to push oneself forward. As for being active in local communities – there is an old feminist slogan: “I wanted to go out and change the world, but I couldn’t find a babysitter”. As for practical skills – growing food for survival is only a small step away from doing all the rest of the housework. 10% knowledge and 90% repetitive boring hard work – so most women are already conditioned to accept it.

kevin moore
5 Dec 6:03pm

Having spent around 6 years trying to raise awareness of Peak Oil and environmental collapse, I have spoken with a lot os people of both sexes. My general feeling is that those men who deny there are problems are hookied into the macho image of racing cars, speed boats etc. and simply do not want to face the fact that their world of high energy consumption is causing massive problems (in the form of global warming and general planetary destruction) and will soon come to an ignominiuous end. The corporate controlled media feed the perception that pek oil is far intoi the future and that technological fixes are just around the corner.
Most women seem to be more amenable to discussion of the problems, but their lives tend to be bound up with the daily tasks of putting food on the table and household chores assiciated with chld rearing. To suggest that there will not be supermarkets in the future or that their children or grandchildren could die from starvation is such an anethema to their role of nurturing is causes a blank out response. The fact that shopping malls are filled with all sorts of ‘goodies’ at the moment and that advertisers have worked hard to remove women from the real world by promoting all sorts of cosmetic quick-fixes from nail manicures to wrinkle reduction therapies does not help of course.

5 Dec 6:29pm

Great article! Great comments!

In short I’d say all of us from industrialized nations will have some degree of uselessness in a low energy world. However, most of us (peak oilers not the general pop.) are smart and will adapt after a bit of suffering.

Now, as to the women versus men thing. First, all of us (peak oilers) make up a very small percentage of the general population, male or female. As to why there are so many men and so few women; I think it points out to a difference in socialization. Women are generally awarded for being team players, not rocking the boat, going with the flow, following the herd.

For men the maverick is held out as a hero and the guy who follows the herd is seen as a chump. Peak oil asks that we go against the flow and do the hard thing. Men are generally more willing to do that. Of course my wife is an exception to that. Although she doesn’t really talk about PO with her friends; she is will to work on preparing our lives for an uncertain future.

5 Dec 7:17pm

I am a woman in IT, age 47, who is very aware of the subject of peak oil; so much so that I am going back to school for Horticulture. My IT friends think I am a nut, but I don’t care. They’ll be asking my advise when the stores shut down and they’re kids are hungry.

I think it’s difficult to find anyone, both male or female who is tuned into this critical subject.

Skills I possess; Gardening, baking, cooking, carpentry (my husband and I built an apartment in a duplex we owned), computers (not that that will matter), reading (voraciously), biking (I bike to work from March to November).

Zachary Nowak
5 Dec 7:26pm

Sorry, just wanted to throw another comment in here. A lot of the thoughtful comments above assume that if we all could just use less energy, plant a biodynamic garden, and use biodiesel (or whatever combination of responses you choose) we coulc avert a collapse. I think it’s important to accept at least as a theory that there is nothing we can do to avert it.

If a hurricane is coming, you batten down the hatches, stock up on food, and try to ride out something that is out of your control. There is no way to avert a hurricane. To me, trying to organize powerdown plans for the next twenty-five years is useful only in the short term. It’s like taking in the windchimes as the storm approaches: functional, but in no way going to avert what’s coming.

Am I the only one who thinks that there is no solution to collapse, that it is pretty damn near inevitable? I don’t think so, but we’re all scared of being called loonies or doomers by the rest of the peakniks. I am beyond trying to save the world – I think we had better start to prepare for a major problem and how the survivors of that are going to get back together and reorganize.

That’s my two cents, thanks, Rob!

5 Dec 7:51pm

Nice article. Yes, I’m a 36 year old IT-consultant. But I’m not pessimistic anymore. Took the net of the dotcom days and purchased some forest and a farm. Picked up skills the last five years, forestry, gardening, hunting, some machinery and now some animal husbandry. I don’t worry about the future anymore.

I know I can provide for my family, we won’t freeze to death, we wont starve to death, we won’t thirst to death.

With only a couple of hours of work each day we’re self sufficient and even produce a net surplus for sale or barter of firewood, timber, construction wood, christmas trees, potatoes, sugarpod peas, strawberries, apples, wineberries, onions, lamb, lambskin, mutton, sheepskin and eggs.

As a scandinavian we can sustainably forage for fungi and mushrooms, wild berries such as wild strawberries, blueberries, cloudberry etc to supplement the diet. I have a share in hunting lands that on a sustainable level lets us eat game every other week.

We just need diary, sugar, salt and wheat, which we hopefully can barter. Also not necessary to learn everything, leave curing of skin to others.

Just the non-freeze storage of meat left, salting, smoking, curing, drying and whatnot.

Not depressed at all anymore. Lesson. It takes years to learn, due to the seasonality in farming, gardening, husbandry, forestry and hunting. Get started with at least one of them, gardening is simplest.

Yes, when fuel is gone, it will take a little while longer to get the winter feed using scythe for haying and by culling saplings. Just a couple of summer weeks. Also cutting trees by axe instead of chainsaw. No big deal.

We will still get a lot of time to do whatever else we want.

So, yes, depression comes from uselessness. Becoming useful removes depression.

aaron newton
5 Dec 7:52pm


There you’ve gone and said it yourself, “how the survivors of that are going to get back together and reorganize.” Even if you believe that the future means almost complete collapse there will be survivors and they will need to address a different way of doing things. So is the idea of doing such reorganization ahead of time really that silly? I don’t think so. It’s called planning. I mean you make your point about preparing for the bad years, or the riots or whatever horrible response might occur as energy descent begins but I see the work of Rob and others like him as very important in a pioneering sort of way. If you think food will be less available in a world with less oil and energy and if you think there is any chance you’ll survive doesn’t it make sense to learn how to grow some? And then perhaps to help your neighbors and then you launch into a community wide approach to growing food and there you are. You are creating change in anticipation of a problem. I think just talking about how we’re all doomed is another form of sticking your head in the sand. People argue gardening as a way to address energy descent won’t work because everyone will just steal the food. Maybe they will but are you really telling me not to learn how to grow food because it’ll get stolen? It’s not the pragmatism that bugs me about the Doomers it’s the defeatism that seems to come out of that sort of thinking.

Plus I would get bored just sitting around waiting to die…

Also I can think of three, no at least four differences between yeast and humans…

aaron newton
5 Dec 8:19pm


I think my point might have gotten lost in the specifics of my comment. My point is this, if there are ideas that will be relevant in a post peak world and some of those same ideas might help us avoid total collapse and die off doesn’t it make sense to go ahead and get to work on them? If collapse happens we’ll still need them right?

Plus some of them are just better ways to live.


5 Dec 8:41pm

the ideas resonante with me, surely. But I don’t quite get why it’s only men who might feel useless in a post-peak future. Women today make their living in IT or some job area that doesn’t seem like it would survivie post-peak. They don’t necesarily know how to do more domestic things or farming things than most modern American men.

Women are going to have lots to lose if we really lose modern medicine–birth control options will definitely be limited without modern chemicals. And preganancy and childbirthwithout modern medicine–not a happy thought really.

I think lots of people can learn more than they realize when presented with the opportunity to do so. I’m very good with a needle and thread and sewing.

5 Dec 8:47pm

One more comment about the more men than women in peak oil generally. I think as more of us become aware of it and related issues more women will be interested. I discovered peak oil about 18 months ago and became interested in everything that was related to it.

I think from now on it’s a matter of more individuals being aware of the issue.

Jan Steinman
5 Dec 10:07pm

One thing is certain about the future: no one really knows what is going to happen!
Rob’s perspective seems to be one of a rapid disintegration of modern civilization, and I think his thoughts are spot-on in such a scenario.

However, I think the future is both more hopeful and more precipitous than Rob envisions. If rich countries endure a “slow melt down” lasting several generations, there is both a better chance that localized communities can work towards being Heinberg’s “lifeboats,” and a greater chance that the vast majority of people will end up as “boiling frogs,” with each day, each week, each month, and each year imperceptibly worse than the previous one, but not bad enough to actually do anything about it.

So don’t worry that you’re in IT and your hands are baby-soft from a lifetime of hard keyboard work. Rather, get out and learn the skills that your grandchildren will need, then pass them on to someone.

:::: Jan Steinman, Communication Steward, EcoReality ::::

Dick Gibson
5 Dec 10:12pm

Wow! All this makes me feel that there is hope yet for bringing understanding to Americans. I have grown very cynical about our collective ability to think rationally. I wish I had the land on which to garden…

Cheryl Nechamen
5 Dec 10:55pm


I take exception to your contention that women are not prominent in the Peak Oil debate. I’ve gotten very involved in the movement to relocalize our food supply, as a response to Peak Oil, and have tapped into the network of local food activists. Interestingly, the vast majority of them are women! Maybe we women are just too busy getting involved in our communities to spend much time in the blogosphere.

Anita Laurin
5 Dec 11:22pm

As a woman very much involved in the Peak Oil movement, I found this discussion quite interesting. Last January I founded a relocalization group. There are quite a few men involved in our group and we seem to struggle with issues regarding the adaptability of our community similarly. Some days we are encouraged and many days we are discouraged.

However, one of the biggest differences I have found between men and women in general is that most men seem to believe there is absolutely no way to avoid a pending catastrophe (and most are unwilling to even try). They seemed to be convinced that the competitive nature of society in the US makes the collapse of our civilization inevitable. In fact, close male friends have told me to give up on our town and move elsewhere. Women however, are more likely to have faith that our community (and species) has the ability to adapt.

Is the competitive nature of the American male (who is conditioned at a very young age via competitive sports) making it difficult for them to actually visualize a community learning to pull together and adapt to societal change? When I remind the men I know that adaptation to change has occured many many times in history, they reluctlantly admit it is a possibility – and then add, “I hope you’re right”. They seem to need to be reminded (and are appreciative of hearing) that much of our society works cooperatively on a local level and has for a very long time. It’s a quiet cooperation that isn’t in the papers or on TV, but goes on all the time. Granted it was more prevalent in the 50’s than it is today. But those who remember shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor need to speak up and help educate (and model for) those that do not. Those that know how to garden and sew need to be ready to teach those that do not. Never before have I seen more of a need for the “elders” in the community to come forward and help teach those who were not lucky enough to have learned soooo many skills. Perhaps the transition past cheap energy will turn around the Madison Avenue “youth culture” and revive a societal appreciation for the knowledge and wisdom that comes from a lifetime of learning.

I often wonder – have men forgot about wisdom and the role it has played in societies and cultures over the millenia?

Nancy John
5 Dec 11:31pm

Reading the comments and picking up on “Crystal, Jennifer, Bev, Linda and Christine” (fewer posting women than men), I’ll comment that I’m a 62 year old woman, and believe that men and women are both intimately involved in the peak oil concern, though the genders approach it in different ways. This will be my first actual post since becoming aware over two years ago…I’ve been through a transition of horror and panic and have begun to “settle in” to the path of putting my hands to work.

Having grown up under the guidance of a father who spent his life teaching survival skills to the leaders in the Boy Scout movement, I can attest that anyone can learn and apply knowledge to carry on in the face of our impending challenges.

My passion has always been plants and gardening… This interest has now led me to become knowledgeable about wild, edible plants in our area, as well as establishing many perennial varieties – jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, chinese yam, potato onions, egyptian walking onions, dandelions, and many others. Garden beds are being created, organically, through sheet mulching – layers of horse manure, newspaper, shredded leaves, hardwood mulch – to begin building up ever larger areas of soil improvement. I am preparing both in the city and in the country.

Our families are not quite “on board” with these issues. In fact, my husband is somewhat skeptical. With what I know to be coming, I can prepare, in my own diligent, persevering, and somewhat quiet way.

There are, out there, many, many more women who are aware and are preparing for themselves and their loved ones. And, of course, men who are articulate, skilled, and perhaps more apt to be sharing online. I have learned so much from so many.

Thank you for this post. It was my inspiration, Nancy John

Lara Braveheart
6 Dec 12:01am

I’m a 40 year old woman, who has spent 14 years sailing and backpacking around the world. I have paper and experiential qualifications to do any of the following: Skipper a sail-yacht anywhere, fix a small diesel-engine/pump or similar, tile, paint or do odd jobs around the house, sew, knit, hitch-hike thousands of miles (with a backpack and sleep under the stars), grow food, farm, look after children, work with horses, make soap, jam and preservatives, live in a urban extremely violent gang-infested ghetto without any immediate support from anyone who resembles my own physical (European) features; I can survive 14 months in an African prison, surrounded by extremely violent selfish, ignorant and obedient predators; and I can sit and meditate out in nature simply happily being, and observing ‘being’ in life for days without food.

While I do not categorise myself as a ‘die-off doomer’, I think it is an extremely strong probability that Western Civilisation is doomed to experience a die-off.

I don’t think that it is too late for humanity to do anything on the necessary scale, but I do think that – given what I experientially know, understand and have observed about human nature, on 4 different continents, living simply and mostly illegally in 10 different countries (from Antigua, Djibouti, & Russia to America, France & the UK) — it is virtually 99.9999% improbable that humanity will do anything on the necessary scale.

My opinion as to the simplistic causes for die-off: approximately 92% of humanity is (a) selfish and (b) obedient to (external) authority (See Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority studies). The ‘external’ can either be physical, emotional, psychological, ideological, spiritual or otherwise, and generally manifests itself in the ego-decision made by “I

jason bradford
6 Dec 12:56am

Here in Willits there is a very nice gender balance. And I would say women are a bit ahead of the men in terms of implementing hands-on projects–although me and a few other guys are developing a school farm and that is a big undertaking.

Within Mendocino County I’d say the situation is similar, i.e., groups of women tend to be very committed and form the “core” of the activist community.

It may be that men are a bit more outspoken and like to post all the great stuff they are doing on web blogs to get attention.

WELL has a registered membership and I could gather some gender data perhaps.

Matt Savinar
6 Dec 1:21am

It may be that men are a bit more outspoken and like to post all the great stuff they are doing on web blogs to get attention.

Tribesman in New Guinea have their penis sheaths. We have our Peak Oil blogs. As you know, I feel they serve the same purposes. 😉

6 Dec 1:38am

I am an obstetrician-gynecologist. I trained for 14 years after high school. I have delivered babies and done surgery for 26 years. We work about 80-100 hours a week and miss 2-3 nights sleep each week.I would say that the average OBGYN saves about 500 lives in their career (babies in distress, cancer, tubal pregnancies, hemorrhage, etc). Needless to say it is extremely rewarding and we feel very useful, although usually exhausted. For years my spouse said that this job is killing me. Two years ago I woke up with a 5 cm lump on my neck that was a very aggressive cancer. Two medical centers each gave me 1 % chance of survival. After considerable surgeries and radiation (lost 20 kilos in starvation and couldn’t talk for months). While healing I started reading about peak oil. I also started going to a wonderful church and believe that being a Christian is very helpful in hard times whether cancer or collapse. I had a 40 hectare farm with pastures and forests. I built about a dozen houses on it over the last 20 years. I usually had a herd of Herefords (incl 2 bulls). Since learning of PO I have gotten very serious about the farm. I put in (and fenced 2 meters high) a very large organic raised bed garden plus 20 fruit trees, blueberries, strawberries, etc. In the spring I am getting bees, chickens and rabbits, more fruit trees, learning seed saving,etc. I have wonderful neighbors and am trying to draw them in gently, trying to get them to garden, on my fields if they want, I will help them cut and split as much wood as they want, sharing the vegetables and the 13 deer that friends shot on the farm. I am trying to learn basic ‘old fashioned’ medicine. Rather than get frustrated with them it’s better to be ready to pull together as a community of friends with skills and trust when the time comes. The time to get ready is now, build the warm little house, fence the fields, dig the wells, dig the gardens, plant the trees, get the skills. When they need the help hopefully I will have the ability to ramp up the chickens, gardens, rabbits, cattle, etc. to care for them. It’s really God’s farm, I am only the steward. For me, every day is an unexpected joy. Hope this will give some hope as some of the people seem pretty sad and lost as to what to do. best wishes to all, robin

Ray Bane
6 Dec 3:12am

So-called “basic subsistence skills” are the product of countless centuries of trial and error. They are passed from one generation to the next through practical apprenticeship and on-the-job training. Once abandoned, they cannot be reinvented overnight or over a single decade. I studied the subsistence skills and traditions of Eskimos and Indian groups in northern Alaska during the 60s and 70s and was amazed at the detailed knowledge they had about their environment and multitude of ways to wrest a living from the land. I studied and practiced the lessons I learned from Native elders. Even after years of learning and practicing the lessons they taught me, I would be hard pressed to survive in the arctic without modern tools and supplies.

Todd Blanton
6 Dec 3:35am

I am a 43 year old male that learned of peak oil and infrastructural failure problems, in 1989, at a series of engineering seminars. I took the lectures to heart and according to most of my peers wigged out and dropped out of society. I married in 1992 and my wife and I began a mission to relearn the skills of our ancestors. I now own an 80 acre farm and have three Belgian work horses, I have a blacksmith’s shop, we built our own house from native materials… timber framed from oak and floored with ash. We have a sawmill, a furniture shop, I can make windows, doors, and cabinetry. I also have a small home foundry that I constructed and could even make my own firearms if I chose to.
My wife, cooks, cans, drys and stores food, bakes from scratch… unbelievable breads, understands herbology and natural medicines, gardens, sews, weaves, quilts, tends to livestock and the vegetable gardens.
We have three kids and are home schooling them, teaching them the same skills it has taken us fifteeen years to relearn and master. I would say that we are the typical right wing fanatical religious nuts that the Democratic party so fears and most of the elites would not consider us to be among the enlightened. We are not, however, Republicans. We tend to consider all political parties to be full of the same wonderful stuff that we compost to maintain the fertility of our farmlands.
I hear that we, as a nation, are deeply divided. The feminist movement, the sexual revolution, the gay rights movement, the abortion movement, the political correctness movement. All these and many more are mechanisms perpetuated by the access to cheap energy and the subsequent effects on human exertion (ie. labor) that have awarded mankind with much idle time and tend to disconnect the greater population from traditional roles held by the different genders in past ages.
I found that once we began this quest my family unwittingly seperated into the roles that I observed my grandparents holding. We also found that the family is more than a collection of individuals. It is a functioning unit that can not perform without each member’s contribution. My wife can perform the skills that I do but farming with two animals that weigh a ton each is hard work and I have greater upper body strength than she does. This does not make her inferior to me only different and suited to jobs that require greater dexterity that I would stink at.
This, as a society, is our problem. As we replaced historical roles with machinery and technological process, we also erased the social order that had been created by the necessities driving this order. We are now a rudderless collection of individuals, screaming at the top of our lungs about the various injustices that we must endure by the larger sect of an often unidentified collection of villians. We can scarcely focus on anything other than what we desire at the present. We have a right to and demand cheap energy, etc. (To paraphase Gramps, “Folks in hell want ice water too.”)
From our experience I think I understand why you have few female interests in this problem. My wife tends to think in present terms. She is worried about today. What is for supper, how are the kids, how will we heat the house… today. I tend to look into the future. What crop must I plant, when will I need to get the machinery ready to plant. What would be a good day to butcher the beef. I tend to look at making sure provisions are there long term to provide for my family’s short term needs. She takes care of the short term. All I know is that it works. After a long day’s work, nothing is better than sitting at the table, enjoying a plate of home made stew and eating some of her heavenly bread, engaging in a “lively” conversation about the days’ events, all the while surrounded by the bounty we have stored in our cellars.

Joe Mingle
6 Dec 4:02am

Sexism and Male Supremacy in Our Movement.

I encourage the men reading this material to carefully review and consider the comments by various sisters posted above. If you are committed to building an alternative culture that is egalitarian and just, it’s critical that we struggle against sexism and male supremacy in our movement.

I’ve been involved in lots of different activist scenes over the last 25 years or so but one thing has always remained the same. Men are often the spokespeople and public leaders while women do a lot of the behind the scenes work. Meetings and events are often dominated by male speakers and women are often turned off by the lack of balance.

If men want women to take a larger role in leading the work, we must make a deliberate effort to support and promote women’s leadership. Men need to examine and change the ways they communicate and participate in group life to make this possible. We need to educate ourselves ond other men — there’s a vast literature on this subject available to anyone willing to struggle with themselves and grow.

In some ways, I’ve come to believe that macho, aggressive, competitive behavior — so often associated with the male of our species — is really at the root of our dilemma, you know? Men have pretty much been completely in charge during the whole industrial age and we’ve totally bollixed it up, don’t ya think? We’ve destroyed the planet and our childern’s future in a never ending competition to dominate everyone else and the natural world. Maybe if we re-organize focused on the needs of women and children, we won’t make the same mistakes next time?

Anyway, I know this was a quite a tangent off the origional posting but I just want men to know it’s a common problem in activist circles. It’s not something to feel bad or defensive about but just one more thing we need to learn — how to struggle against the male supremacist programming that society imprints on us.

Stay strong — struggle on!

daniel arthur
6 Dec 4:28am

How is Rob’s disingenuous transference furthering the debate, when his intent was only meant to slander?

Associating “die theory

Jan Steinman
6 Dec 4:38am

How is Rob’s disingenuous transference furthering the debate, when his intent was only meant to slander?

You don’t know his intent. Don’t pretend to.

Associating “die theory

6 Dec 5:15am

Amen. As a 46-year old male engineer- turned-attorney, I know a lot that equips me to function in the high-energy society we enjoy today–and damn little to nothing that equips me to cope with far less energy.

I have given some PO talks and am just now concluding an energy law class, and I tell all the students the same thing:

If you have kids, make sure that they either are good at growing food or at making themselves essential to people who are (because of your skills as a healer, a hunter, a smith, a scavenger, etc.). I think if you fall into either of those two camps, you will be well off, relatively speaking. Otherwise, not so much.

Kathy Mcmahon
6 Dec 6:38am

Hi all,

As a psychologist, a woman, a peak oil blogger and someone interested in gender, I’d say this is a great discussion that makes me proud to be a member of the Peak Oil community.

It is hard to generalize about “people,

john newson
6 Dec 7:44am

I’m 60 and my wife and I have just dumped publishing and journalism in Hong Kong – a rickety post-collapse structure if ever I saw one – for life in an agricultural village in the Slovenian Alps, where people tend to use scythes instead of machines and informal ‘work-gangs’ gather around any major job any villager is doing. Rain-shadow guarantees water, altitude offers a generation or two of agriculture on the high meadows when warming really bites and all the houses are survival machines. Guess what? I’m now strong and slim and life in general is more than 9000% better. This should not come as a surprise, but it takes guts…particularly if you’ve got kids.

Seattle Woman
6 Dec 9:02am

You should come to Seattle, then, where– with the exception of one very nice man– our governing board is all women and our President, Vicky Opperman, has been congratulated by Al Gore himself. Sustainable Ballard is only 3 years old but growing rapidly.

Tonight, Seattle had the pleasure of hearing female writer Elizabeth Kolbert discuss climate change.

I am extremely busy building and leading my community and while I read The Oil Drum and other blogs, I usually choose not to comment.

I do have to say this, when people are wondering “Gosh, golly, why aren’t there more women?” Do you ever consider that some of your comments are not very respectful of women and/or seem to suggest we should go back to the good ol’ days of Father Knows Best? It’s not welcoming.

I work in IT but am transitioning out. Sexism is rampant in IT, and I’ve learned to tune it out, like background noise. I do the same when I encounter sexist comments at peak oil blogs. At The Oil Drum and at Matt Savinar’s site, there have been several threads about ha ha ha, I’m special and entitled because I’m a peak oil aware man and will win out over the other losers, and so I get to select only young, nubile women as partners. Even here, the dumb comment about penis sheaths. What the hell does this have to do with preparing for powerdown? Grow up already.

Anita Kelman
6 Dec 1:00pm

Interesting article and comments. I too have noticed the lack of women involved in the PO movement, other than a few. I would theorize that this has a few causes. The world of fossil fuels; coal, gas and oil has tended to be dominated by men, and thus they were the ones to raise the alarm re: PO and also had the creds to become prominant in the PO movement. As well, there are fewer women involved in any area of science than are men, and this is science related.

In terms of blogs and writing, I know that I am turned off by much of what I see posted on the net. Many of the comments on other blogs(not this one it seems), are rude, nasty and disprespectful, eg: comments on Kunstler’s blog for instance. I don’t have the stomach to wade through this stuff and don’t want to engage with those who are strident, rude and disrespectful. I am quite willing to have a conversation with others that is respectful, no matter what our opinions.

In terms of your theories about men and their perceived uselessness, well, I’m not so sure about that. I think most modern day women are just as useless. Our current lifestyles have not prepared us for anything other than modern living and the thought of change requiring a different sort of knowledge is scary and threatening to many, male or female.

I myself have developed many skills that are not technology dependent. I farm, can, raise livestock, build, heat with wood and am starting to cut my own wood by hand, as well as many other skills. These skills are not rewarded or respected in our current society. They are definitely not rewarded in a financial sense, nor are they respected among the general population. Spending time and energy developing and practicing these skills requires that one ignore the message from our dominant society that technology is king and old-time knowledge is of little value.

6 Dec 2:14pm

Todd Blanton: I recognise what you are saying about the differences between how men and women think about things. In general, if a mixed group of people sit around a table to discuss an onging project, the men will orientate towards future plans, but won’t see what is going on now, whereas the women will see more clearly the current situation, tensions, etc. but not think very far ahead. As a women, I have found myself to be an exception as I see the bigger picture but miss what is happening with the people around me

6 Dec 2:25pm


The (several) comments about men worrying about the future and women worrying about the present is an incorrect classification.

It’s not male/female at all, but rather the difference between the iNtuitive and the Sensing personality scales, on the Myers-Briggs personality test.

Men or women can be either iNtuitive (tend to live in the future) or Sensing (tend to live in the present).

Some nice descriptions on

john newson
6 Dec 4:06pm

I notice that this discussion is tending towards the difference between the sexes. Far from its original theme of the ‘de-skilling’ of western humans. I find that this is categorised mainly as the greater upper body strength of men, and their putative ability to look further forward. Women, on the other hand, are categorised as being nurturing but stuck in the moment. Has it occurred to anyone that these are complementary abilities. We are one species – nearly one organism – and without all these differentiated abilities we ain’t going nowhere, and we wouldn’t have come as far as we have. The job in front of us, ladies and gentlemen, is cleaning, repairing and putting a new coat of paint on Mother Earth. Are we up to the job, or are our gonads going to continue doing what they’ve always done?

6 Dec 4:11pm

Great word, gonads.

john newson
6 Dec 4:16pm

Yes Rob, thank you. I think you make my point quite clearly.

Matt Savinar
6 Dec 6:06pm

Seattle Women,

The comment about penis sheaths was my comment and I think you missed the point which is the same as what your point seems to be: men take their Peak Oil blogs/postings like it’s some sort of chest thumping primitive dick size contest. That’s, in part, why you see all these ridiculous threads about how “when da oil runs out i’m gonna have me lots’ o’ wimmins cause I’m stockin’ up the canned peas!”

There are some sexist threads over at my forum. Did you also notice the two moderators I appointed are both women, one of who (like you) also works in IT? There is also a forum specific to women’s issues. I also made it perfectly clear from the get-go that the two female mods have the full right to “layeth the smacketh downeth on your monkey ass” to anybody who gets out of hand. Did you also happen to notice the sexist threads get sent straight to the “LATOC Thunderdome”, which is where we keep such ridiculousness?

Matt Savinar
6 Dec 6:11pm

Seattle Women,

And, if Rob has the gonads to post this, I would say this is a classic example of a very sexist thread. If Rob had come up with some theory that the reason women don’t come to the PO meetings is because of some deficiency on their part you can imagine how quick people would have ripped him a new one.

But since he said its other men who are deficient lots of people chimed in to say, “yeah, right on Rob!”

6 Dec 8:06pm

OOOH! Yes there might be a little truth in what you say, Matt Savinar.
Any discussion about gender roles is bound to throw up a lot of strong opinions and that is all part of the fun.
I agree with the comment that men and women’s roles and types are complimentary. In more traditional cultures, this was understood, it seems to have been forgotten in the post-modern cultural chaos.
I think it is also worth looking at how fossil fuels may have been the main driver in the feminist movements, the need of capitalism to move women into the work place etc, the possibility of machines doing the drudgery in the home as well.
And especially I think we should consider how energy descent will likely lead to a reversal to more traditional gender roles.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? The difference in roles is not so important- just the need for them to be equally valued.
Obviously men are no more challenged in the area of post-peak skills than women-at least not in the kind of skills that Rob was originally alluding to. But there is one area of skills that the 150-year Carbon Party may not have eroded quite so much, that will be just as important in the post-peak world, and that is more in the area of the female value-sphere and domain than the male: networking, social skills, the “glue” that holds the community together, and all the daily acts of social nourishing and care that tend to be more the role of women. These qualities may be ultimately more important than knowing how to skin a rabbit.
Also, the feelings of inadequacy amongst men may not be related to lacking the practical skills necessary to survive collapse, but a more general malaise caused by the high-energy modern world which has undermined the traditional male role already for quite some time.
Incidentally,I am doing a bit of blogging, PO talks etc but also consider myself reasonably well equipped with practical skills.
As for Collapse or Powerdown, it is not such a clear-cut dichotomy. Much of the world is clearly already collapsing under the combined effects of Human Overshoot; I still have hope that some parts of the world, including where I live, will fair reasonably well and have not given up on the potential of communities to come together and plan energy descent.

Nancy John
6 Dec 8:28pm

To john newson:

Thanks, john, for emphasis on the job before us: “a new coat of paint on Mother Earth.” Beautifully put! This reflects my afternoon of stuffing bags of leaves into my VW jetta and unloading 25 wheelbarrows of horse manure from the trailer – all for replenishing the soil and building organically from the ground up. Mother Earth needs a lot of help right now.

Women have muscles too. Women can see into the future and plan. Men have sensitivity to the moment. Men do appreciate the “complimentary abilities.” But really, it’s like Ian pointed out, it’s not a man or woman thing, it’s about personality type and orientation. And I’ll go further and add that I think it’s about perception, awareness, and most of all …consciousness…

I like this thread, Nancy John

Nancy John
6 Dec 8:41pm

To Matt Savinar:

I’ve been a daily reader of LATOC for several years, but have never been involved with any discussion threads, until yesterday. You mentioned two forums, with women moderators, which discuss women’s issues and I think I’ll check it out tonight. LATOC has been absolutely invaluable to me…trying to see my way into the future and trying to bring along those more skeptical. Sometimes I have felt lost and lonely with the issues, but checking into your site always brings insight and hope that there are just enough people out there to make a real difference in the direction we are all headed towards. Thanks again, Nancy John

6 Dec 9:18pm

I work for an oil company. I am 47 years old, born in 1958. I was raised mainly in Houston, Texas, the largest metropolitan area in the south. I live smack dab in the middle of suburbia – Kunstler would say I was in a wasteland, and others in a very “precarious” place in the event of civil discontent from any source.

However, I can make cement, brick, lay brick, pour cement, plumb septic systems and entire houses, build an entire home from mud bricks to logs to standard lumber, run all the necessary wiring, including voltage regulators, etc. for solar power and batteries on the grid or off, grow my own fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts in my small yard with aquaponics, have one year food, 300 gallons gasoline, 100 gallons lamp oil, 8000 gallons fresh water, I rebuild car engines and transmissions, have built an electric car, can tan hides and hunt and fish, built a canoe from wood with hand tools, the list is endless of the things I have done and know I can do.

What propelled me to learn all this was my grandfather scaring the beejezus out of me during the cold war when I was young. I also read “Earth Abides” and other stories of that nature, and was determined to have the skills to do whatever I needed to with what was on hand.

I went to work in the oil patch because it was great money for minimal working time. Now I am looking at Peak Oil just as we did in college when Hubberts paper first came out and made the rounds. And I am watching my industry do what all of them do – look 90 days ahead and plan. No need to look farther – it’s too murky, and we could be bought or sold by then.

My friends have alwasy thought me eccentric – and yet most of my neighbors have uprooted their crappy shrubberies in favor of fruit and citrus trees since I did it almost a decade ago. Why? It simply tastes better, and it helps not to buy that stuff. Several of the wives have gone to container gardening in their back yards as we did. I bought a Prius when they came out – there are now 6 on my street. I sold my V-8 4X4 truck and got a 4 cylinder 4X4 truck. My neighbors are all downsizing too, as gas hammered them hard this past year.

I talk about Peak Oil when appropriate – but I live in readiness. My kids all laughed at me going on about it for so many years, until it started hitting the internet. Now they ask questions with a seriousness I never dreamed them capable of.

All you can do is share what you know with those who want to know. Teach your children how to grow and can their food. Teach them how to build things with their hands and how to use tools. Get their imaginations working….THAT is the one thing people tend to forget. It is imagination and creativity that will get us all through this.

Understand that it will be crises followed by crises followed by crises with “normality” in between. Only the “normal” periods will be decreasing in length…

I’m just hoping that Peak Oil hits in time to slow global warming and population overshoot… I am hoping very hard for Peak Oil sooner rather than later, because those other two horsemen on the horizon seem much, much meaner.

Andrew Leahy
6 Dec 10:53pm

Fascinating thread.

Re: Rob’s original post – My permaculture teacher has a name for it, “IT refugees”. There are always a couple of us in each PDC course she runs!

Jan Steinman
7 Dec 12:44am

My husband and I killed three roosters yesterday, with the help of some friends, but we did the math and it would clearly have been cheaper to buy them in the store if having poultry meat was our only interest.

When you say you “did the math,” do you mean that you went out and bought feed for these roosters, and bought the roosters themselves?

Permaculture teaches us that everything should have multiple purposes. Chickens are not primarily useful as protein! Put them in your orchard, and have insect-free apples! Put them in your garden (after it’s started) and get rid of pests. Put them where your garden will, be, and they’ll turn and fertilized the soil for you. Hens give eggs, too, which is why roosters are generally cheap or free.

Although Permaculture by name is relatively new, it is timeless. Anyone who feels inadequate with their current skill set should be studying Permaculture!

As co-founder Bill Mollison put it, “Permaculture is revolution disguised as organic gardening.” Check it out!

:::: Jan Steinman, Communication Steward, EcoReality ::::

John Fry
7 Dec 4:12am

Call me crazy but after reading the whole nine yards on peak oil for a few years and pondering the pedigrees of all the spokesmen popping up like mushrooms – repeating each other endlessly – I have concluded that most of the guys are having a mid-life crisis and the women are frantic that they will indeed have to go it alone once all the guys have nervous breakdowns. Seriously, I think that peak oil is actually a cover story for something else which will be a profound shock in its own right and that is when 50 million boomers try to cash in the promises they so easily made to themselves at just about the same time that bankrupt governments at all levels lose all semblance of functioning. We need a cover story right? Who’s going to take the blame for that whole stinking mess? We need a Deus Ex Peakola. Let me go one further and hypothesize that the whole society in the USA is already analogous to the group of workers that gets called into the industrial cafeteria for their pink slips. Having been outsourced twice in the last seven years – with a hat trick on the way – my impression is that the free-for-all began long ago and the community skills operative thus far are amusing so I doubt they’d be much better under real stress. The clustering for post-peak survival discussion reminds me of the narcissism inherent in the lifeboat economics quizzes of yesteryear. I had a geology prof in 1971 in Detroit who was a peak oil maniac and when he wasn’t in class he was out and about impressing female students in various coffee shops with quotes from Schopenhauer(?). Nobody wants to be left out in the cold, eh? Anyway, if the folks who are running this “bust out” on the US – a business practice known to all organized crime groups – can keep y’all barefoot and sewing/sowing then more power to ’em, right? Can I say it any clearer? This is a scam with a huge payoff. No, I can’t delineate all the players any more than y’all can in honesty verify how much oil is left on the planet or on a more positive note whether Raytheon is just about ready to tap into 60 GigaWatts of Aurora Borealis and relegate whatever remaining oil to the dustbin of history. There is so much more that we don’t know about this onrushing kaliedoscope of changes than what we do. It’s obvious that something big – some new arrangement – is being brought into our awareness – something that perhaps requires a recompense for past atrocities and profligacy. Something that is done by agreement not politics. Something that requires huge collateral to swing the deal. Something that requires the USA to take a turn in the dunk tank. Put on your magic beanies kids – Beyond Petroleum ads in National Geographic – are we being primed or what? What a hoot!! By the way I love all the productive hands on stuff too and spend some time each day being aware of what a tough lot it is for the critters who manage to survive the Hill Country in Texas – much less what it will be for human residents as these changes manifest. All in all I think I’d rather see Raytheon hit paydirt than a new dark age settle in on the planet. That said – I think it’s neat if folks like you can do what y’all say you can and are doing. Regards

Rick Swirkal
8 Dec 7:14pm

My initial response to your title was…

Wow. A revival of the male bashing of the 80s under the guise of a peak oil article. Obviously men aren’t completely useless.

Upon reading the article I found that there was more to it… but not much more. You have some interesting ideas, but your title together with the caustic graphics and demeaning photos you placed in the text make it clear that you are simply pandering to women looking for a place to (mis)direct their rage – rage both genders feel in the face of a global event largely beyond our individual control.

Upon further investigation of your site I see that you are hawking a “12-Step” solution for “oil addiction” that has absolutely nothing to do with the Twelve Steps that have been successfully used by millions of recovering addicts throughout the world.

Provocative title, though.

Will the title of your next “article” be “Animal Rights and Peak Oil” or perhaps “Black Lesbian Mothers Disenfranchised By Solar Industry?”

Can’t wait.

Ted Howard
10 Dec 8:00am

Hi Rob
An interesting post and very interesting comments….

IMHO it’s not about men or women, as that distinction is not as important, and tends to become anthropocentric in this context.

It’s more about the difference
between ‘civilised’ and indigenous people. As Derrick Jensen says in his new book “Endgame”, this culture is insane and so are most of it’s members, and they are mostly unreachable. Read the premises from the book a few times to get an excellent big picture view of our prediciment at

There will be a collapse, and the question is how much of a sustainable environment will be left for those who follow. In fact the collapse has already started. In the face of 570+ species going to extinction every day, at a rate of between 100 and 1000 times normal background extinction rates, it’s bullshit to be arguing over why more or less women are involved in peak oil groups (I co-founded and co-ordinate the local on here, and am on the executive board of ASPO-NZ that I also co-founded).

The best thing that could happen for us ‘civilised’ ones to get our arses kicked, get off our arrogant high energy lifestyle, belief in our superiority and our sense on entitlement, and re-enter a humble, simple lifestyle.

When we do this and start relying on and falling in love with our local landbases for our livelyhoods as if our lives depended on it, maybe we’ll get a glimmer of hope for something approaching susutainability in the future. Doing this now out of choice and out of waking up to the fact that this will be a life and death matter sooner than later, may make a difference.

Where are the indigenous people in peak oil discussions and groups? I would think that that may be a more profound question to ask. We will need their wisdom and insight. Thom Hartmann make that point in his book “The Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight”.

I don’t care so much whether peak oil peaple are men or women. What I care about is whether they can see passed peak oil as a narrow concept, to the big picture of how insane and unsustainable our way of life in this civilisation is.

Kevin Moore who has posted a comment above, is a friend of mine in NZ. He came up with a term that sums things up well : peak mayhem = peak oil, peak water, peak food, peak human population, mass extinction, climate change, rampant militarism, political corruption, debt, etc…it’s time we as a species (homo colossus, homo economicus) die out for the sake of all other life (including homo sapiens!).

I’m really not sure I’ll survive, but I will do what it takes to walk my talk, and defend my landbase. Training in permaculture is a great place to start.

Ted Howard
Nelson, NZ

john newson
10 Dec 11:59am

Well, that’s all very relevant, but here in the Alps, the mountain villages are pretty sustainable already. It must be the same in many other areas so a blue-print exists and is functioning. Every house is a farm really, but General Winter marches in hard, and energy’s the thing, so our whole village is covered with log-piles (drawn on the current carbon account don’t forget – not an oil/coal overdraft) Yes, we’ll miss chainsaws and tractors, but the wood is stashed up the mountain (it isn’t big stuff, and so hand-sawing is perfectly feasible) and it comes down in winter on sledges. Low friction, see. It just means devoting more of the summer to firewood instead of a few weeks in autumn.

Another fact that I find interesting is that throughout human history mankind has gathered in villages of around 150 souls, from the equator to the extremes of the temperate regions. It seems to be an instinct or natural law of some kind. Usually (geography permitting) these villages cluster in numbers around a dozen strong supporting a market town, where of course you get your blacksmith etc. This is a very sustainable configuration, given the right population densities.

Now I don’t want to live without modern appurtenances any more than the next guy – particularly medicine – but do we need cities now we have the net? Of course that begs the question of how do a bunch of agrarian anarchists make chips, hydro parts and the like.

I’m still working on that one.

11 Dec 3:18pm

Hi i am peter from holland. I was as a punkrocker touring all over europe doing squats and underground places. What happenend in this scene was the reluctancy of beeing part of the global destruction machine and the drive to find alternatives to live a normal nondestructive life. Most of the needed skills are being exchanged. And communities are capable of sustaining themselves on small scale if they are allowed and left alone without interference from authorities. I believe in the power of goodwill in people and know we can survive a planet without fossil fuels. We did that over miljion years. How could we forget?
I am looking forward to the end of the oil-age. I am sick of this stench and pollution of trillions of damping vehicules standing in line to get these clercs to their stupid jobs.
I am not pleeding for total unscrupuless chaos. I am pleeding for little selfsustaining communities like Crystal Waters.
Tank God for Bill Mollisson´s Permaculture.
And also for Lea Harrisson´s teaching them.
Ptr, Rotterdam

C. M.
4 Feb 5:49am

I don’t care how much breadbaking, housecleaning and constant childrearing are ‘valued’ – they are boring as hell for most highly intelligent persons. Assigning an equal social value to something doesn’t make it any more interesting or attractive, folks. We cannot expect women to go backwards…it should be interesting to watch.

I think we will see a lot of ‘women only’ villages spring up after PO – a consequence of women having learned they don’t need men…and knowing that women tend to spend their lives having to bear babies and bake bread when men are around. Men are more visble in PO because they TALK – and they talk because they care about prominence and dominating. People who want to learn or share ideas mainly LISTEN….rest assured there are plenty of us women out here, listening and learning, but eschewing power struggles and contant blather.

Men, get a vasectomy NOW – because you won’t have much of a sex life post PO without one. 😉

Stephen Watson
4 Feb 12:44pm

Hey C.M. – come on. As a highly intelligent man I really enjoy breadmaking, crazy levels of housecleaning though is another matter. And not quite so hetero-centred please; I imagine that a vasectomy will be as irrelevant to the quality of my sex life post PO as it is now :-)

And women not needing men, or vice-versa – I don’t think so.

Perhaps a bit sweeping in the generalisations here…

Lara Johnstone
4 Feb 2:25pm

Hi Stephen,

I understand your response to C.M., and would gently advise you to sit with it for a while, observe and notice, and listen…. perhaps that may help!

5 Feb 8:14am

quite frankly, i think you’re an idiot.

and i mean that quite literally, i think you’re incapable to guard against common dangers, in this case common dangers threatening sense.

first off, “peak oil” or in actual words, a situation wherein sudden lack of fossil fuel catches the world economy off guard and yields significant shortages and social turmoil may or may not actually happen as predicated.

i happen to think that market economy is perfectly capable to handle shortages, and in fact as resource availability dwindles prices go up, forcing alternatives into use (for instance, “ecologists” can keep nuclear power out of use with oil at 50$ a barel. maybe less so at 55, and even less at 75, 100 and 500$ a barrel. the us railroad system may be ridiculous at the moment, and trucks mostly used for freight, but with oil expensive enough, electric trains may become economically preferable. people will learn to walk more and suv less. better distribution models than the supermarket could, after all, be designed. etc)

this oppinion of mine may well be wrong, but let me point out that it is a brave stance indeed to simply predicate you, as an individual, are somehow seing the future more clearly than the market. brave even if you were buffett.

which is a mere point on credibility, and without much weight. still, it tells something about a certain bravery of spirit.

on to the second point, whether males in general are useless or feel they are useless as you describe is arguable. whether you personally are, or seem to feel you are, is apparently less arguable on the merits of your own prose.

that notwithstanding, allow me to laugh along with the men that “made it through World War Two” at the 38 year old male that knows how to grow food and make compost, which compost, if i understand correctly, contains, among other things, workshops on sock darning and on edible container gardening.

they did no workshops on sock darning in world war two, or leading to it. and as far as the collective memory goes, the line “succumbing to die-off despair gets us nowhere, unless we can use it as a spur to action and to counter-attack” was not delivered by any officers on the front, on either side, at any point. nor anything all that similar.

in fact, to get my stomach splitting with roaring laughter, i need just try imagine you as a suitor for some 18th century sweetheart. you’d be easy to spot, the blushy lanky 38 year old male who nonetheless could make edible growth containers and darn socks. you know, as the straw competitor to all the other boys who could make barns and hunt.

by hunting, for the record, i mean going out in the open, which tends to be rainy, freezing, hailing and scorched by unforgiving sun all at once, also muddy and icy. walking. for possibly days. trying to find something. preferably an innocent animal. like, say, a cute cuddly bunny. then shooting it. as a best case scenario. hitting it with a rock or an arrow could come into play. then skinning it. with a knife.

which, for the record, means forcibly sepparating the skin from it’s flesh, by use of a knife, which ideally if not all that often is not dull, and pulling. then gutting the thing. or maybe gutting it first. then sort-of wiping the blood of your hands and face. and going to find another cute, cuddly bunny. or whatever. really.

and more importantly, the other boys who could kick the living shit out of wanna be thieves, thugs, plunderers, rapists, arsonists, cannibals, methodists and royal dragoons. and by kick the living shit we do mean just that, forcible blows applied to another living, breathing (yet) human being that result in fecal matter surrounded in bloddy gut tissue flying out in all directions.

o, yes, and the royal dragoons. people with better gear, more training, and who make it their life’s work to extract tea tax from hippy farmer types.

in short, you have no idea. and untill the day someone comes up with the clue workshop, i fear you will remain an idiot. i can only hope that at least you taste good.

3 Apr 3:30pm

The semantics in this article are disturbing. There are two separate points being made: That the generation born into and after the 1960s is ill-equipped for a semi-medieval, subsistence farming environment. He’s quite right, I’d say.

Then, mixed in throughout is this weird Women’s Studies ‘Correct Thought’ whereby it is strongly and repeatedly implied that “women’s ways of knowing” somehow cause women, like ants and bees, to be born instinctively knowing so much more than those useless males

University feminists might be delighted, but it makes for strange reading.

Richard Embleton
3 Apr 7:52pm

Skills loss is only a small part of the problem we face in trying to rediscover sustainability. In addition we have also lost the tools around which those skills are centered, the soil fertility (due to our overuse of artificial fertilizers and pesticides) critical to producing food, billions of tons of top soil lost to wind and water erosion and chemical salination. Perhaps the pessimism you refer to is based in a deeper study and understanding of what it is going to take to salvage anything meaningful and sustainable out of this virtual human society we have created. We have lost touch with the web-of-life of which we are a part and the natural world outside of our virtual world without which our virtual world could not survive.
As far as the men versus women thing, perhaps if women were more inclined to step forward into leadership roles, assuming men could set aside their “gonads” and listen for a while, we might be far more able to salvage something and regain our humanity.
Richard Embleton,

3 Apr 11:01pm

as C.M. says, there are lots of women who are aware of peak oil and doing things to change their own lives. in my community, there are many more women than men concerned about the changes and what will happen. But none of them are going out getting conference gigs talking about it–we’re all learning the skills we need to have to thrive in a post oil world, and acquiring land to settle ourselves on.

Jan Steinman
8 Apr 3:25pm

Cherenkov radiates: … we need to realize that we may need to see an insurgency of sorts. We may need to all become elves in the service of Gaia.

I agree completely, and you can all do this, too! It doesn’t hurt much, once you’ve given up your “life style” for one that is at least equally rewarding.

What is it that people who love their country and see it invaded do? They revolt. Why do they revolt? Because the invaders are destroying their country.

My personal fight against the “invaders” is a commitment to build soil and to stop spewing carbon and nutrients into the air.

It’s fairly common here to see wafts of smoke going up here and there, as people gather brush and slash and burn it.

I got a wood chipper (that I power from biodiesel we make here) and have been “saving” slash piles from the fire. We berm and compost the smallest branches, split and dry the largest ones for next winter’s heat, and chip up the rest. We may even be able to sell some of that to rich summer people, who get a nice warm green feeling about putting cedar chips down instead of mowing grass.

Other people’s free waste plus your labour equals an improved future!

11 Apr 9:35pm

I am 36 years old and I feel completely unequipped to deal with a post-carbon future!!!

I’ve never planted a seed, grown a tomatoe, or milked a cow. I’ve never been a DIY kind of person. I’m not a bad person, its just my personality. If i can give some of these dollar bills, which I have plenty of, to fix my car,hot water heater, plumbing or anything else, then I will. I never had or have an interest in such things. Ive never had to wrry about these things……so I didn’t!! As I get older I realize that was probably a mistake of mine. Instead of going out every weekend to the latest and greatest club or party maybe I shouldve been more interested in learning something other than IT. But i wasn’t. Now, you guys are telling me I’m screwed becuase of Peak Oil? I dont think I’ll see doomsday in my lifetime. I’m not that arrogant to think I’m that special. So, I’ll continue my pampered , party driven, sex loving, good time. Besides, if the SHTF, you guys will help me out, right?

john newson
12 Apr 7:00pm

I’m not sure how much help you’ll get – or anyone else for that matter – if (when)the shit hits the fan. (“you guys will help me out, right?”)Food supply is the instant motivator. It’s fine talking about ethics, but the ethics of survival in a refugee-ridden world may well be quite pure: kill to protect your food stash. After all, the ethics of being a refugee are also simple…food at any cost.

For myself, I spring-boarded out of metropolitan life. Apart from delivering a life worth living, rural life also delivers some kind of viscerally recogisable set of values. As well as these factors it appeared to me that the risks of metropolitan life were becoming unacceptable. I should also extend this to the suburbs – equally reliant on complex food supply-chains, politicised and (arguably) diminishing energy supplies, ever-ramping security constraints and a vast array of social disease.

Boys and girls…it’s all or nothing. You either make the leap or continue to be a ‘dancer on the edge of time’.

Ray Hinton
14 May 3:40am

I can’t believe how much that Richard Heinberg quote fit my own situation. It is a perfect description of what I have gone through, to the T; even the inclusion of the word “obsession”. I thought I was the only person who got this bent out of shape about the whole thing! I am certainly going to check this website regularly from now on.

[…] and commerce. It will be a different world, and many people aren’t prepared. Check out this fascinating report about how we’ve lost basic living skills in the last two generations, and how some are retraining […]

Pat Coffey
18 Jun 7:41am

Could it be that women aren’t more prominent in peak oil discussions because an oil-supported technology has given them advantages that previous generations of women didn’t have, and which most women don’t want to even think about having to give up? The gains that recent generations of women have experienced have followed the upward curve of per-capita energy use, and women’s economic and social opportunities, relative to men’s, will probably decline as supplies of oil decline. The same may be true of liberal ideas about social progress in general. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the concomitant growth in energy use and liberal social programs since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution has not been a mere coincidence. If I’m correct in seeing a causal link between the rising social status of women and the proliferation of energy-sucking technology, the failure of energy supplies will entail a shift in the way that men and women think about themselves and each other, and a reassessment of their respective economic and social roles–probably in a more conservative direction than most women born in the last half-century have envisioned.

Succinctly: Peak oil will probably be accompanied by peak opportunities for women, and most women, regardless of their politics, understandably might not want to think or talk about the implications of that probability–until they can no longer put off thinking about it.

Jason Cole
27 Nov 1:06am

CM wrote:

“I think we will see a lot of ‘women only’ villages spring up after PO – a consequence of women having learned they don’t need men”

Great – keep all of those fascist lesbians together! Out of sight, out of mind, a win-win scenario for everyone.

“Men, get a vasectomy NOW – because you won’t have much of a sex life post PO without one.”

If that’s the case, we wouldn’t need vasectomies, would we? I hope you conjure some suitable organic sex toys after we’ve passed “peak Rabbit vibrators” 😛

David WaRR
27 Nov 12:35pm

It is now hard to find the tools my father used such as a brace and bit and the hand tools ~ in the so-called “hand tools” section of the hardware outlets are nearly all, battery operated.
So If I merely wanted to drill a small hole in a bit of wood, I would have to fork out a small fortune for a power tool, instead of the little hand drill my dad had.
Luckily for me, I still kept the family tools and keep them sharp and oiled ~ particularily when not using them.
Using hand tools requires both care and habit. There is no mystery only necessity being the mother of the twins – Invention and KnowHow.

Vilhelm Black
3 Apr 12:38am

This is the dopiest blog I’ve ever seen. Smart men like me will solve the energy problem (via technology) just as smart men have solved every other problem that our species has faced.

All you dummies who can’t plant a seed or turn a screw driver will simply have to turn to us (and probably serve us) which is how it should be. The dumb have always served the smart.

4 May 1:48pm

Interesting blog with lots of good insights, however there could be other factors involved. Perhaps 25-40yr old IT workers are the only ones with the surplus money and corresponding leisure time to attend these conferences.

I would love to attend one but as a non wage earning homemaker I don’t have the resources or the time to do so. Plus, my garden needs watering!

Mel Riser
4 May 5:29pm

Well the good thing about what’s coming is DARWIN.

any of the fat asses who can’t grow, survive and thrive will die….

We have kept a lot of stupid people alive too long because we make it easy for them to eat.

The intelligent and hard working will SurThrive….

no worries…

got preps?
got seeds?
no how to grow?


Sheila Newman
5 May 3:00pm

I have blogged, corresponded and theorised extensively about oil depletion and I co-edited McKillop & Newman, The Final Energy Crisis, Pluto, UK, 2005 and am the sole editor of Newman (ed) The Final Energy Crisis, 2nd Edition, Pluto UK, 2008, due out in September. (Ten new articles, ten authors, of which only two are women.)

I am currently writing a book of the history of British capitalism (based on rise of fossil fuels) and of French democracy.

As well as where I write articles about issues related to overshoot, I have my thesis (which compares the response to the first oil shock of France and Australia) at

I was also interviewed by Kellia Ramares twice on the subject of Peak Oil.

I have filmed Mike Stasse, Australian Running on Empty Oz list owner, viewable here:

I think that oil depletion is a sexy issue due to its enormous importance and the need to understand some basic thermodymanics to grasp it. I have noticed that a lot of men like to be identified as peak oilers because it gives them a sense of importance to be able to warn people about the future; they can imagine saving people, or trying to save them and failing – being leaders. It also offers engagement and peer discussion. I think also, whilst it is entirely real, it also serves as a powerful metaphor for death and as such is unconsciously used as a way of coming to terms with one’s own mortality.

Because it is a ‘sexy’ area, there is a lot of competition from men to be heard in it, and that tends to put women off. Most women will not compete with men where there is real jostling for the podium.

In my own case, the many issues surrounding oil (and other fossil fuel depletion) are too fascinating to leave me much time for heroic blogging.

I have a number of other ideas, but just wanted to let you know that I exist and that I am a Woman. :-)


Sheila Newman
Energy, Population, Environment, Land-use Planning and Housing sociologist.

Renee the Neo HIppy
6 May 7:10pm

Great article! I am a 27 year old and see myself as an outcast among peers. The 20 and 30 somethings today are so bound by consumerism they have forgotten to think!

I value the adaptability and hard work ethics of my grandparents and their parents generation as well. When we, as a country, start slipping down the steep hill our values will get a shake up that’s been a long time coming! The coolest shoes or what money can buy will no longer judge a persons worth. Living harmoniously within your local environment is going to prove far more valuable than having the latest Dolce & Gabbana handbag.