PERMACULTURE: Life After Peak Oil

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
generally though, it seems to me that debates about when precisely peak oil occurred or will occur (or foolish outright denial of the whole 'peak oil' concept) have a worrying tendancy to obscure more important discussions that focus on what we can do to make the transition to a non fossil fuel based society less painful.

definitely. reckon the more important conversation anyway is about reducing use, rather than what fuel to use. I don't really mean like riding a bike or more efficient light bulbs (tho that stuff is all, yunno, thumbs up) but the infrastructure things you're getting at; how & where we get our food/water/energy, how goods & people move from place to place, etc. all of which take a lot of time & an enormous amount of effort to change. that "the challenges are surmountable" line - eh can't say I'm even as ambiguously optimistic as you are, but we'll see I guess...

only tangentially related, but this looks good, it's down on the inter-library loan list


The sigh is because no one is addressing any of Lynch's points, just immediately dismissing them out of hand based on some conjecture that isn't necessarily even relevant. Not much critical insight from Padraig and only platitudes from Zhao.

Look, it's trivial to say that oil is a finite resource, because that tells us nothing about what we really want to know, viz. according what timescale, and given that oil's finititude is governed by technological development, what is and what should go on there. What do the trends look like? Framing the question properly (for instance, what constitutes a new discovery and how should we think about this) is critical if we want to get some kind of clear and valid answer. Which also, isn't impossible, I believe -- to the extent that these are logically consistent positions (debatable, I suppose), they are mutually exclusive. Someone is right and someone is wrong.

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
for the record, I'm not a believer in peak oil or the lack thereof. I'm open to different views. but alright, point by point then:

Lynch's Points

1. People have made numerous predictions about the specific date of peak oil that have proved to be wrong.

No arguments here. Doesn't discredit the idea tho, just the people who made those predictions. Making dramatic, specific predictions like that is usually a bad idea.

2. Peak oil proponents do poor/don't understand science, specifically geology.

I'm not an expert, neither is Vimothy or anyone else on Dissensus AFAIK, so none of us can dispute (or confirm) any of Lynch's points here. here's's brief explanation re: discovery vs. consumption, rates of discovery & so on. I have definitely heard scientists say very different things from Lynch. I don't who's right & who's wrong. Lynch does base some of his arguments on assumptions about technical advancements that will make more oil "recoverable".

3. Peak oil advocates are wrong to worry about geopolitical instability because the industry will just invest in new oil-producing regions that are more stable.

Lynch says "the deep waters off West Africa and Latin America, in East Africa, and perhaps in the Bakken oil shale fields of Montana and North Dakota." the Bakken shale fields have, by all accounts, ~3-5 billion barrels, or what the U.S. uses in 6-8 months. here's a recent article on oil in East Africa, about a discovery on the Uganda/DCR border. I don't think I need to remind anyone about the "stability" of East Africa around the Kivus. "off West Africa" looks right, or at least I found several articles discussing recent discoveries/drilling/etc there. here's an article about oil in Brazil & Petrobras. Verdict on Lynch's point: mixed - there are some new regions but their greater stability is dubious at best.

4. People who talk about peak oil are stupid; Malthusian, Chicken Littles, harebrained.

Is there a point to answering this one?

Vimothy's Points

1. The unorthodox view is important. Lynch's view is the unorthodox view.

A resounding yes to the first. The second I'm very dubious of. Why is his the unorthodox view? How is peak oil the established view?

2. Someone is right & someone is wrong. Peak oil is "true" or it isn't.

But the science is inexact, the models used for prediction are inexact, technological advances are unforeseeable, stability in oil-producing regions is often unpredictable. Generally, there are too many factors and too much uncertainty to arrive at a single clear answer. If you have evidence to the contrary by all means produce it.


Peak oil definitely seems like the orthodox view to me. I was just reading a thread at the Oil Drum (or something similar) where one commenter who works in the energy industry was explaining that more than half the CEOs in the business believe in peak oil, as do the regulatory bodies, government agencies, academics, etc, etc.

I found another interesting contra peak oil piece at Counterpoint (though as you might expect, coming from the other side of the political spectrum): The Recurring Myth of Peak Oil. He said something similar to me (not knowledgeable enough to go as far as he does in the last sentence, though), but phrased it slightly more crisply:

This is why although the Peak Oil theory is not false in saying that there are limits to oil production, it does not explain much. In a real sense, it is a truism. It explains neither the current energy crisis nor any of the past ones. Nor can, therefore, its dire predictions about future global oil production be trustworthy.

Also found a pretty good thread on the Oil Drum discussing the NYT article. It seems that they have some history with Lynch. Some fairly uninteresting comments but two commenters -- Nate Hagens and WebHubbleTelescope -- in particular impressed with a sound grasp of the numbers and a generally patient rationalism (although Hagens does tend to go off on his pet theory of everything a bit too much), and the substantive aspects of Lynch's piece. E.g.,

Having read carefully many of Lynch's papers over the years, he actually does a fair job of pointing out weaknesses in the heuristic PO arguments. He essentially employs Judo/Jujitsu tactics in using his opponent's strength against themselves. By that I mean that for all the heuristic arguments that PO pessimists seem to advocate and rely on, Lynch will basically launch broadsides at our lack of understanding and derivation of of these heuristics. And of course, he is right, as a heuristic can not be derived! That's the definition of a heuristic. Our supposed strengths at relying on heuristics of curve fitting via HL are laid to waste if we can't fundamentally derive how they come about. And that is the way that Lynch works.

The classic case is his trotting out the reserve growth argument in the OpEd. This is one angle that I have seen him use before. His implicit argument is that no one really understands how reserve growth comes about and that we have no real model for it based on first principles. And no, backdating is not a model as it is simply data collection. So he shows how PO people will continually update their empirical observations of reserve growth, via creaming curves, etc, and then point out that they have no exit criteria for an asymptotic leveling of the reserve growth. He is correct in the fact that indeed no one has a credible model for this effect and therefore no one has a justified argument for an asymptote. So to answer him is pretty easy: let's standardize on a reserve growth model, doh!

This is actually pretty obvious stuff; as an engineer I would not try to defend the behavior of an electric circuit without having knowledge of Kirchoff's law. I might be qualitatively right but I would look like an idiot if I were to invoke "ethers" as an explanation. That is the basic state we are in when trying to argue with Lynch.

Mr BoShambles

Regenerating rural communities.....

This paper - The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture - challenges the conventional wisdom that large-scale, mechanized, corporate agriculture is superior to unproductive and inefficient smallholdings. The author presents evidence, gathered in both the developed and developing worlds, to support the assertion that small "multi-functional" farms are in fact "more productive, more efficient, and contribute more to economic development than large farms". He goes on to argue that "small farmers make better stewards of natural resources, conserving biodiversity and better safe-guarding the sustainability of production."

Whole thing definitely worth a read but this section on productivity is particularly interesting:

Small Farm Productivity

How many times have we heard that large farms are more productive than small farms? Or that they are more efficient? And that we need to consolidate land holdings to take advantage of that greater productivity and efficiency? The actual data shows exactly the reverse for productivity: that smaller farms produce far more per unit area than larger farms. Part of the problem lies in the confusing language used to compare the performance of different farm sizes. As long as we use crop yield as the measure of productivity, we will be giving an unfair advantage to larger farms.

Total Output versus Yield

If we are to fairly evaluate the relative productivity of small and large farms, we must discard "yield" as our measurement tool. Yield means the production per unit area of a single crop, like "metric tons of corn per hectare." One can often obtain he highest yield of a single crop by planting it alone on a field -- in a monoculture. But while a monoculture may allow for a high yield of one crop, it produces nothing else of use to the farmer. The bare ground between the crop rows -- empty "niche space" in ecological terms -- invites weed infestation. The presence of weeds makes the farmer invest labor in weeding or capital in herbicide.

Large farmers tend to plant monocultures because they are the simplest to manage with heavy machinery. Small farmers on the other hand, especially in the Third world, are much more likely to plant crop mixtures -- intercropping -- where the empty niche space that would otherwise produce weeds instead is occupied by other crops. They also tend to combine or rotate crops and livestock, with manure serving to replenish soil fertility.

Such integrated farming systems produce far more per unit area than do monocultures. Though the yield per unit area of one crop—corn, for example—may be lower on a small farm than on a large monoculture, the total output per unit area, often composed of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, can be far, far higher. Therefore, if we are to compare small and large farms we should use total output, rather than yield. Total output is the sum of everything a small farmer produces: various grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, animal products, etc. While yield almost always biases the results toward larger farms, total output allows us to see the true productivity advantage of small farms.

Surveying the data we indeed find that small farms almost always produce far more agricultural output per unit area than larger farms. This holds true whether we are talking about an industrial country like the United States, or any country in the Third World. This is now widely recognized by agricultural economists across the political spectrum, as the "inverse relationship between farm size and output" (Barret, 1993; Ellis, 1993; Tomich et al., 1995; Berry and Cline, 1979; Feder, 1985; Prosterman and Riedinger, 1987; Cornia, 1985; to name a few). Even leading development economists at the World Bank have come around to this view, to the point that they now accept that redistribution of land to small farmers would lead to greater overall productivity (Deininger, 1999; Binswanger et al., 1995), a view long since arrived at by others (see Sobhan, 1993; Lappé et al., 1998).

Check out the table and graphs provided!

Also, this brief article by George Monbiot - Small is Bountiful - draws on research by Amartya Sen and others to reach similar conclusions.

And a useful overview on smallholdings generally, check out LILI.

Mr BoShambles

Examining agricultural systems

Agriculture operates within complex systems and is multifunctional in its nature. A multifunctional approach to implementing agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) will enhance its impact on hunger and poverty, improving human nutrition and livelihoods in an equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable manner. Multifunctionality recognizes the inescapable interconnectedness of agriculture’s different roles and functions, i.e., agriculture is a multi-output activity producing not only commodities, but also non-commodity outputs such as environmental services, landscape amenities and cultural heritages.

Over the last 60 years, intensive production practices of high-yielding staple food crops were promoted, often on land cleared of much of its natural vegetation. To be productive for more than a few years, these crops require inputs of fertilizers, pesticides and often irrigation. In high-input agricultural systems, fertilizer and pesticide use is often excessive and environmentally damaging. In many parts of the world, small-scale farmers do not have sufficient access to state-of-the-art technologies, inputs, knowledge and innovations that enhance productivity while protecting health and the environment.

Thus, increased attention needs to be directed towards new and successful existing approaches to maintain and restore soil fertility and to maintain sustainable production through practices such as low input resource-conserving technologies based on integrated management systems and an understanding of agroecology and soil science (e.g., agroforestry, conservation agriculture, organic agriculture and permaculture). These technologies minimize the need for high levels of inputs and are socially appropriate approaches to small-scale agriculture.

from this report produced as part of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) -- a collaborative effort bringing together governments; Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs); the private sector; producers; consumers; the scientific community; Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs) as well as multiple international agencies involved in the agricultural and rural development sectors to share views and gain common understanding and vision for the future.

Sustainable agriculture -- so what is agroecology?

The sustainability concept has prompted much discussion and has led to proposed adjustments in conventional agriculture to make it more environmentally, socially and economically viable and compatible. Various solutions to the environmental problems created by capital- and technology- intensive farming systems have been suggested, and research evaluating alternative systems is being undertaken (Gliessman, 1998). Two main focuses are on plant protection through organic nutrient sources and integrated pest management (IPM), and on the reduction or elimination of agrochemical inputs by making changes in management that give adequate plant nutrition and better crop protection. Different soil and water management practices are also important to nurture microbiological populations in the rhizosphere.

Although hundreds of research projects have now shown the benefits from such reorientation, and many lessons have been learned from old and new practices, most development investment and research programmes still emphasise chemical or engineering solutions, seeking to suppress limiting factors or eliminate the symptoms that reflect ill-balanced agroecosystem dynamics. The prevalent view is that pests, nutrient deficiencies or other particular factors are the cause of low productivity, rather than that pest or nutrient problems reflect agroecosytem conditions that are not in a biological equilibrium (Carrol et al, 1990). The focus on specific factors to be overcome through new technologies remains a narrow, mechanistic one. It has diverted agriculturalists from appreciating the context and complexity of agroecological processes, which in turn has led to inadequate understanding of the root causes of constraints in the agricultural sector.

Agroecology is an applied science, adapting ecological concepts and principles to the design and maintenance of sustainable agroecosystems and providing a framework for assessing the performance of agroecosystems (Altieri, 1995). When fully developed, agroecology does more than inform the selection and use of alternative practices; it helps farmers fashion and maintain agroecosystems that have minimal dependence on expensive chemical and energy inputs. Agricultural systems are supported by interactions and synergies between and among biological components that enable these systems to sponsor their own soil fertility, productivity enhancement and crop protection.

from Altieri, chap 3, of this book. There are shit loads of peer-reviewed journal papers, produced from empirical research programmes conducted around the world, exploring the costs and benefits of agroecological practices. This is rigorous science not some wooly idealism.

It is important to stress that sustainability should be seen as a relative concept - whereby practices are more or less sustainable upon various sliding scales - rather than an absolute value. Further, it should not be used as a dogmatic position from which to attack certain practices or technological advances a priori. Jules Pretty makes both points well (from here):

The idea of agricultural sustainability, though, does not mean ruling out any technologies or practices on ideological grounds. If a technology works to improve productivity for farmers, and does not cause undue harm to the environment, then it is likely to have some sustainability benefits. Agricultural systems emphasising these principles also tend to be multi-functional within landscapes and economies. They jointly produce food and other goods for farmers and markets, but also contribute to a range of valued public goods, such as clean water, wildlife and habitats, carbon sequestration, flood protection, groundwater recharge, landscape amenity value, and leisure/tourism. In this way, sustainability can be seen as both relative and case-dependent, and implies a balance between a range of agricultural and environmental goods and services.

So where does this get us? Agroecology:

  1. calls into question the oft presumed superiority of mainstream (i.e. capital- and technology- intensive and land-extensive) agricultural practices viz. low-tech labour- and land- intensive alternatives.
  2. but does not deny the benefits of mainstream mechanised/industrial practices for productivity and profit in some/many contexts (important modifications notwithstanding).
  3. suggests a shift away from the dominant mechanical paradigm towards a biological-mechanical synthesis --> to develop a robust "hybrid" set of agricultural practices that increase diversity, complexity and resilience across agroecological systems (at all levels) and are thus better capable of meeting human needs in the 21st C and beyond.
Last edited:

Mr BoShambles

Defining "agroecosystems", "agroecology" and "agroecological research":

Just to be clear, this is the way Altieri (see above) has it:

Agroecosystems are communities of plants and animals interacting with their physical and chemical environments that have been modified by people to produce food, fibre, fuel and other products for human consumption and processing.

Agroecology focuses on the forms, dynamics and functions of inter-relationships among environmental and human elements, and on the multiple, parallel processes in which these elements and their interactions are involved. An area used for agricultural production, such a field, is regarded as a system in which ecological processes that are found also under natural conditions are occurring: e.g., nutrient cycling, predator/prey interactions, competition among species, symbiosis and successional changes.

Implicit in agroecological research is the idea that, by understanding these ecological relationships and processes, agroecosystems can be enhanced to improve production and to produce food, fibre, etc. more sustainably, with fewer negative environmental and social aspects, and using fewer external inputs.

Mr BoShambles

Note to self: LESS HYPERBOLE!

Before anyone else has the good sense to point it out, I realise that I have moderated my position quite substantially since my original thread opening post. This:
The so-called 'Green Revolution' is an unsustainable disaster
is pretty embarrassing to read now :eek:

Spose you could say that that was my starting hypothesis which has failed to hold in light of the evidence (*cringe*). Still, I think I've found some promising and fruitful avenues for further exploration :D

This IAASTD report - Agriculture at a Crossroads - looks excellent!


Anyone else notice this

Researchers at KTH have been able to prove that the fossils of animals and plants are not necessary to generate raw oil and natural gas. This result is extremely radical as it means that it will be much easier to find these energy sources and that they may be located all over the world.

“With the help of our research we even know where oil could be found in Sweden!” says Vladimir Kutcherov, Professor at the KTH Department of Energy Technology in Stockholm.

Together with two research colleagues, Professor Kutcherov has simulated the process of pressure and heat that occurs naturally in the inner strata of the earth’s crust. This process generates hydrocarbons, the primary elements of oil and natural gas.

According to Vladimir Kutcherov, these results are a clear indication that oil supplies are not drying up, which has long been feared by researchers and experts in the field.

He adds that there is no chance that fossil oils, with the help of gravity or other forces, would have been able to seep down to a depth of 10.5 kilometres in, for example the US state of Texas, which is rich in oil deposits. This is, according to Vladimir Kutcherov, in addition to his own research results, further evidence that this energy sources can occur other than via fossils - something which will cause a lively discussion among researchers for a considerable period of time.

“There is no doubt that our research has shown that raw oil and natural gas occur without the inclusion of fossils. All types of rock formations can act as hosts for oil deposits,” asserts Vladimir and adds that this applies to areas of land that have previously remained unexplored as possible sources of this type of energy.

This discovery has several positive aspects. Rate of success as concerns finding oil increases dramatically – from 20 till 70 percent. As drilling for oil and natural gas is an extremely expensive process, costs levels will be radically changed for the petroleum companies and eventually also for the end user.


This is the abiogenic thesis -- right? I know that this theory (if it is this theory) is not particularly well regarded, so I'd be interested to see discussion of the KTH research at any of the big peak oil sites.

Also, I noticed the massive new BG find off the coast of Brazil:

EDIT: And BP found another huge field in the Gulf of Mexico:

EDIT: And Iran:
Last edited:


On the Mexico find, check this:

Analysts were estimating last week that BP's cost of production from the Tiber field could be as high as $40 (Dh146.92) a barrel, which given that we have seen oil as low as $33 this year may not be very attractive to shareholders. Also, while there may be five billion barrels of oil in the field the chances of BP getting anywhere near that amount out of the ground is zero.

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
Interesting peice in this months edition of The Nation - Ending Africa's Hunger

so I finally got through one of these articles (the shortest one, natch - the IAASTD report's up next!). I very much enjoyed the perversity of the term "land mobility".

not surprised he went after the "technical advances", that seems the weakest link in most of the anti-peak oil stuff I've read. being as it assumes stuff which hasn't actually happened yet.

also want to say that generally about peak oil - 1) climate change seems considerably more ominous & 2) the debate around it always feels like everyone's groping around in the dark.
Last edited:


not surprised he went after the "technical advances", that seems the weakest link in most of the anti-peak oil stuff I've read. being as it assumes stuff which hasn't actually happened yet.

Reading Simmons, not only have "technical advances" not yet happened, but the trend seems to point in the other direction -- they haven't happened for years.


PERMACULTURE Life After Peak Oil

The topography of the planet shows three major earth-killer catastrophes. For some time I assumed that if oil were the product of organic matter as claimed, then the planet had no fewer than three major rebirths of life. I find the idea fascinating that life could re-spawn.

If oil exists, which it does, and my observation of the catastrophes is reasonably correct, then the greater oil deposits would be found near the inner ridges of mountain ranges, which it is.

In the back of my mind I have never liked the idea of organics being the sole source of oil and coal, and I currently fancy the idea that oil/coal is generally the result of volcanic ash and water that was buried and compressed under in-coming space debris.

I have read that there are approximately 3 billion sequences in the human genome. Personally, I find the number quite irrational when compared to the estimated age of the earth. If the sequence count is reasonably close, and a previous estimate of the earth’s age is about 3 billion years old dates change weekly is seems, then there had to be about one evolutionary development per year of the earth’s existence. Adding in the three catastrophes, Darwinian-like evolution would have had to evolve perhaps 10 or more genome sequences per year to create humans, which does not appear rational since we would be observing evolutionary steps during one person’s life.

Stefan’s post is excellent. The chance for life to occur according to popular evolutionary methods is all but zero. The chance for life to re-spawn after the catastrophes is even more unlikely. If the new NASA estimates are reasonably close I myself will wager the age will be changed again in the near future, then life may have only had half a billion years or less to spawn after the last major catastrophe.

To my current way of thinking, life on earth had help from a source that is not visible today. Was the earth seeded as Stefan said? Perhaps. Was life created by spirit entities as Edgar Cayce said? Perhaps. Was life created as a natural rhythmic development of natural laws as sacred geometry? Perhaps. Was this 3D created by non-dimensional entities as like a game? Perhaps. Was life an evolutionary hit-and-miss-chance creation as modern theories say? I strongly doubt it.
panspermia - i've always like the sperm and egg idea. the fertile earthly planet being inseminated by the life bearing comet. and then theres the still? unexplained cambrian explosion. i'm totally open to alien intervention and collective amnesia, kinda like nodding off after drunken sex with a stranger :D