From the Zone5 Archives: Five Years till Doomsday

The New Year is a suitable time to shake out the old cobwebs, so I have finally decided to retire my first blog, which I wrote for six years from May 2006- May 2012. As of midnight tonight or thereabouts it shall officially turn into a pumpkin and thenceforth cease to exist.
Its byeline- On the Edge between Nature and Culture- reflected my interests through much of that time which I still hold- the interaction between humans and the environment. My main focus was permaculture, sustainability, peak oil, civilizational collapse, climate change and the like.
As the years rolled by and the promised collapse failed to materialize, my views changed. Radically. Which is why I started Skepteco.
The Zone5 archives- more than a hundred posts and hundreds of comments- chronicle my gradual change from naive Deep Dark Green Doomer, through skeptical rationalist homeopathy-bashing Dawkins-fan, into, eventually, the well-adjusted and enlightened pragmatist I am to-day.
Over the next few weeks I may occasionally post a relic from those dark doomer days, an offering if you will to whatever gods of Truth there may still be out there, a testimony to show how deeply held beliefs that are in fact wrong can actually be rejected in a single lifetime. By baring all once again I hope my past delusions may serve as some kind of cautionary tale to the young radicals just getting going in life who may be open to some kind of guidance in making sense of the klaxons of environmental alarm that have scarcely quietened in the intervening years. I often wonder how my choices in life may have been different had I had someone like me as I am today around to give the younger me a kick up the back-side. It’s doubtful I would have listened, and a kick would surely have been necessary. However, I also think that many of the ideas and insights and evidence that influence me today simply never crossed my path until I painfully, laboriously uncovered them more recently. If nothing else, it shows how easy it is to get trapped in a bubble where a strong community of like-minded- and similarly deluded folk shout out any alternative views until they cannot disturb the cozy illusion of certainty. I was so wrong, yet I was so sure I was right.
We start appropriately enough with a failed prediction from 2007. Many of the early posts are pretty cringe-making, this one being a good example, in which I claimed that we may only have 5 years before the peak-oil-alypse reduces society to rubble, where only those with the largest stock-piles of beans survive. That was six years ago. Was this really me writing? What was I thinking? My only defense: I was quoting a report from the IEA. Now, they really should have known better…

Originally posted on 20 July 2007 on the now retired Zone5 blog.

Five Years

With all the interest in the mainstream media being shown recently about peak oil it seems the world may be finally waking up to the realities of the limits to growth and the beginnings of the end of the industrial cycle.
The big news has been the International Energy Agency’s report last week admitting that there may be a serious oil production crunch within the next 5 years, raising eyebrows around the world as this represents an astonishing about-turn on their stance of the past 30 years which has been to simply assert that whatever the world demands, so shall we be supplied.
Another aspect of this has been highlighted by James Kunstler concerning the crises developing in the five principle oil-exporting areas of Saudi Arabia, Iran, the North Sea, Russia and Venezuela: it seems that they will have far less to export in the near future. The declines in exports will decline far faster than actual production declines because of a rapidly growing domestic markets. In other words, the main oil producing regions of the world are using far more of the stuff themselves, so there will be less for the rest of us. This is likely to unfold also on a shockingly short time-scale- just a few years. Kunstler concludes:
“Every day thousands of new driver’s licenses are issued to Saudi Arabian men. Every day, thousands of new cars are sold in Russia (and China and India). Every day the price of crude oil on the futures markets creeps a few cents higher. Every day the US version of “money” (the dollar) loses a few clicks of value against other world currencies. The markets and the American public are headed for a collision with reality. When it happens, perhaps this fall, it is not going to be pretty.”
Ireland, remember, is considered at least as exposed to oil shortages as the US. This doesnt mean that we may still have five years to hope for something else to happen; it means we have really very little time to prepare for the inevitable: real shortages, rationing and severe economic slump. It is really time to gather your family friends and community around you and have serious discussions about how you are going to pay the mortgage, whether you will still have a job or not, and how are you going to get to see the grandparents/grandchildren once air travel becomes prohibitively expensive.
We will not simply carry on roughly as we have been up till now and then in five years’ time suddenly- Wham! -no more oil. The slide into economic recession and then depression is starting now and will merely gather pace as time goes on, with likely abrupt disruptions. Anything you can do to prepare for a time in the not-to-distant future in which we will be relatively poor and thrown back to a large degree on our own resources should be commenced now. Where can you start a garden? Have you space to store food? Have you any back-up power system for essential lights?
Become aware of the “embodied energy” in everything you might need: what has high fossil-fuel content, either in the materials used or the energy needed to create it and transport it to your door? Spend wisely now on infrastructure that will last and save you energy in the long run, like insulation and a suitable stove; avoid systems that will depend always on imports, even if they appear to be part of a self-sufficient system.(One that is often missed, for example, is imported feed for chickens and other animals.)
If you are preparing well, there is much to look forward to in the future low-energy world, but we should avoid romantic projections also: the future will be hard. So much that we take for granted is performed for us by cheap energy, and few of us have actually experienced life for any length of time without the back-up systems that the fossil-fuel society provides. So I don’t go along with the “bring it on” response that many people give me when I speak of this. We need to be prepared for things to be much harder than we expect, and in many unexpected ways.
Any spare cash you have now, invest it in anything that may help you ride the coming hard times. As far as possible, limit your needs and requirements- the Buddhists have it right: the simple life is the best. “Hedonism” has become synonymous with excessive self-indulgent consumerism, and the pursuit of endless pleasures of the material world, but in fact the philosophy of the original Hedon was quite the reverse: Hedon believed that the key to happiness was not the pursuit of pleasure, but the avoidance of pain. Therefore, he concluded, the fewer possessions and attachments we have, the less active and engaged with the material world we are, the less pain we will create, the more at peace with ourselves and the rest of nature we will be.
This has greater relevance today, as “less is more” becomes the motto for the coming times: less consumerism means less pollution and environmental destruction; less economic growth will mean less stress and waste.
So as the meditation teacher has said, “Don’t just do something- Sit there”.
But make sure you have a functioning permaculture system well established first.


16 thoughts on “From the Zone5 Archives: Five Years till Doomsday

  1. Hehe, amazing how one’s perspective can change in just a few years. Compare “make sure you have a functioning permaculture system” to your post on perma a couple of months ago!

    For what it’s worth, your current phase appears happily rational and balanced to me, but maybe that’s just another instance of the Web echo chamber in action: how’s one to know?

    If you happen to have any posts from the skeptical rationalist homeopathy-bashing Dawkins-fan phase, those could be equally illuminating and backside-walloping for those of us who might inadvertently have drifted too far in that direction…


    • well thankyou Andy.

      but maybe that’s just another instance of the Web echo chamber in action: how’s one to know?

      ah now dont be going all relativistic on me, I never actually went down that particular rabbit hole myself. Some shit is real and some aint, data, evidence, logic innit. That and the fact we are still all here I guess 🙂

      • I didn’t read that as relativism … just that we inevitably need a bit of distance on ourselves to see ourselves properly. As you have so well exposed, such distance is most readily achieved through time. But exposure to people who disagree with us is about the best proxy we have for the here and now in the absence of a time machine (hence the reference to the Web echo chamber, which can protect us from those who disagree).

      • I’m probably overthinking this for a fun post, but yep data/evidence is the only meaningful way to sort the aesthetically appealing eco-bullshit from stuff that actually works. People will always have strong opinions, but no debate on whose beliefs are best can ever be resolved unless there is some absolute reference point.

        Sadly, many ideas that are “obviously beneficial” and “natural” fail the evidence test, hence the religious nature of so many online eco discussions (in exact parallel with alt med, and probably involving many of the same people… on both sides). I don’t hear of many “conventional” farming methods being debunked by data (although the evolution of GMO usage is an interesting case), perhaps because of the equivalent of “alternative medicine that works = medicine”.

        Like I said, overthinking 😉 Happy New Year.


        • Thanks again Andy and Happy New Year to you to! I was only kidding as well- but there is a strong temptation to drift into relativism, viz Mike’s comment as well. Relativists’ always apply their relativism selectively however, that is the problem…. 😉 Your analogy with alternative medicine and “farming that works” is very apposite! I think that applies to permaculture very well – an “alternative design system” -well, if it works, we need only call it “good design”.

  2. “Drats! You may have figured it out this time, but I’ll get you next time…”
    – Peak Man

  3. Hi Graham. Great example of how we change but also a great example of how we stay the same! My progress and change in beliefs has fairly well paralleled yours. But the constant in all this change is your unwavering self belief in your own truth which whilst admirable and completely necessary as one who puts himself out there as a purveyor of truth always sails close to and occasionally spills over into arrogance. Fantastic that you are making this rear facing gesture of humility but it’s entirely possible that you will be doing the same thing in another 6 years with what you are writing now. So maybe a little forward facing ‘I don’t actually know’ might actually be a little more palatable to those who you would like to inform and who actually find you hard to digest? Only a thought, it depends on whether you genuinely want to bring people on board or just enjoy a good scrap. But whatever keep it up. You get me thinking and provide a conduit for some very interesting perspectives that i probably would not come across otherwise.

    • it’s entirely possible that you will be doing the same thing in another 6 years with what you are writing now

      um, no. It’s not. Sorry if that comes over as being arrogant. Peak oil doom really really did not happen 5 years after that IEA prediction- which would have been last year- nor will it happen in another 6 years. The problem with relativism is the same as with doomer theory- you cannot prove a negative. What you can do is put your money where your mouth is- how about a public bet Mike- 1000 euros? how about 10,000? you game for that? didnt think so! You are basically arguing like a homeopath, just like you always have done- “science has been wrong before!” “Science used to think the earth was flat!” (Ofcourse, science never thought the earth was flat…) -the implication being, it might think it is flat again sometime in the future. But knowledge isnt like a randomly swinging pendulum, first one way, then another, then back again; to suggest it is would be like claiming that children dont grow up, they just randomly change from childish ways of perceiving the world and then adult ways, and then the adults might swing back to childish ways again. Rather, knowledge accumulates holonically and hierarchically, building on past errors and accumulating more information. There is no going back. You cannot undo knowledge and understanding once you have it (Alzheimer’s notwithstanding…) And by the way, I argued what I believed five years ago just as strongly as I do now, but I was never, ever called “arrogant” or pulled up for my tone in those days. That only happened when I started calling out the homeopaths and the bliss-ninnies.

  4. Have Faith!!! Doomsday is just around the corner. Don’t sell those solar panels and windmills just yet.

    Actually I still believe that peak oil is eminent(even though I too have waited for five years). So what went wrong? Nothing. We found more oil. We used less. More people became unemployed so they didn’t even have cars or phones.

    We found more oil but that just prolongs the journey. Fracking is nothing more than just “wringing the sponge.” We used to have gushers and now we have moon landing investments to search for oil. How long can we survive? Like the prior commentator said just say the words” I don’t know.”

    Everyday I ponder things such as “Should I get a new snow blower? Should I bother learning those minor arpeggios on my accordion? Should I visit my relatives again one last time.”

    I can’t place a time for this scenario but I am certain that it will happen in my lifetime. Sorry, that’s the best I can do because really “I just don’t know.”

    • Don’t sell those solar panels and windmills just yet.

      Too late! Sold them as soon as I had the mains on….

      Everyday I ponder things such as “Should I get a new snow blower? Should I bother learning those minor arpeggios on my accordion? Should I visit my relatives again one last time.”

      I know exactly how you feel. I was there too. I understand.

      Yes! It is worth doing those things! (dont know about the snow-blower mind you, not something there would be much call for here). I think that is the really sad thing about doomerism in general- it causes people to give up on parts of their life in the present, and be pre-occupied with scare stories, because of some hypothetical future threat. In the long run, we are all dead.

      You are “certain..” then you “just dont know” ? seems a contradiction. None of us know- you have to go with what is most likely, which is that humans will keep doing what they always have done, and been spectacularly successful at: innovation and problem solving. Being certain “it” (what exactly?) will happen in your lifetime is a kind of narcissism -in every age there were people who believed this. It is really a kind of religious mania, akin to self-flagellation and Revelations-type thinking. Peak Oil is just one of its modern forms. Humans have been progressing and improving their lot for millenia, there is no reason to think this will stop now just because it’s YOUR lifetime! Maybe we need to set up some kind of Peak Oil Recovery Support program.

      • So is your declaration “Peak oil will never happen, economic collapse will never happen, food and water shortages will never happen, climate change will never happen?”

        • Only True Believers deal with certainties! The rest of us go with what is most likely. I also cannot be certain we wont get destroyed by an asteroid- in fact, that seems quite likely in time- but not any time soon. Regionally, all those things may happen temporarily and recur from time to time. Shortages tend to lead to problem-solving, looking for new solutions. This is the lesson of human history. Global Peak Oil Collapse is not on the horizon any time soon. Likewise the 70’s scares about rising population and food shortages were met by the Green revolution. Will a second Green Revolution come to our aid again now? We are already seeing it with improvements in plant breeding and genetics and many other technologies. Predictions of doom have always been around – the current batch are not anything unusual if you take a historical perspective. See The Perils of Prediction. The source of convictions about impending Doom and End of Times should be sought in the human psyche more than what is actually happening in the world.

  5. Good for you Graham – being true to thine own self in fearlessly seeking truth.
    I have followed a similar path and come to concurring conclusions – it is frustrating to try and press home fact based evidence to faith based believers in whatever discipline they base their blind faith.
    Dawkins is fashionably held to be arrogant – but it is understandable, for instance, that a committed evolutionary scientist faced with the constant creationist barrage of a fundamentalist backlash might have his pedagogical insistence on logic and fact based evidence interpreted as “frustration arrogance”.
    Keep on posting and blogging your clear headed articulation helps to reassure me as I stumble along my own truth seeking path.
    Now here’s a bit of doggerel from the current edition [#99] of “Philosophy Now” magazine to keep us going.

  6. I subscribe to Philosophy Now and so can access content – it seems that non subscribers have been unable to open my link to the “bit of doggerel” so here it is :-
    by Louise R. Chapman

    Be not afeared of thinking,
    Or searching for the truth,
    Prepare for the revision
    Of dogmas held in youth.

    Adopt a new perspective,
    Immerse yourself in logic,
    And critically assess
    The deadly demagogic.

    Examine your opinions,
    Seek new ones if you please,
    Resist indoctrination:
    It spreads like a disease.

    Let reason be your mentor,
    And keep an open mind,
    Reflect upon your principles,
    Leave prejudice behind.

    Read with discrimination,
    Let reason reign supreme,
    And don’t discount the radical
    For being ‘too extreme’.

    For what once seemed preposterous,
    To people just like you,
    Has now achieved the status
    Of being clearly true:

    The rights and needs of animals;
    The move from faith to doubt;
    The struggle for equality;
    Once delusions of the devout.

    So be not afeared of voicing
    Your disagreeing cry,
    And be not too deferential,
    Continue asking “Why?”

    Be not afeared of thinking,
    And listen when I say,
    “Make strange the dogmas of the past,
    Let reason guide your way.”

    © Louise R. Chapman 2013

    Louise Rebecca Chapman studies Philosophy at King’s College London.

  7. […] are more details of his conversion from green ideology  in this post on GMOs, and more on this one, where he writes  “By baring all once again I hope my past delusions may serve as some kind […]

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