Petrochemical Engineer Convinces Family & Friends, Offers Survival Options

Dear Peak Shrink,

I first became aware of Peak-Oil nearly two years ago after I went looking for a site to disclaim a preposterous abiotic oil claim in a debate I was having with an American about the obvious reason behind the Iraq war (I’m an Australian). I found the site and was immediately informed and enlightened (a link from there took me to you). I’d worked in engineering in petrochemical plants for a decade and suddenly understood the reason so much maintenance had been so miserly.

At first I was in shock and desperately began to search for every site/book related to the issue only to find the naysayers had much less legitimacy and poorer math than the proponents. I must admit I became depressed when I found it difficult to get even family members interested in such a pessimistic future event, but, I’m a particularly tenacious type and managed to convince everyone close, including friends, that disaster looms.

Then, of course, I had to deal with their shock and horror; the only way to do this is was to offer them various options for surviving the fall, something that I’ve been constantly studying and reworking since I became aware… I’ve pretty much joined every group there is around the world, helping to educate and inform others of the impending crises in the near future, and, preparing for changes both locally and nationwide.

I may have become an optimist of a sort, at least when it comes to the survival of those nearest and dearest – geographical isolation being one small bonus. My own wife was one of the last to join the “believers” so, clearly, convincing others is always going to be difficult.

My life has certainly changed since awareness. All geopolitical events are now shaded and jaded and I spend less time arguing moot points and now only look at the big picture. For instance, I absolutely detested G.W.Bush until I realised that his murderous war and destruction of the American standard with state-torture etc. was just the frantic reaction of an informed oil-man, now I couldn’t care less. America will not be spared the collapse and will likely suffer more than most other western nations, sadly I have some American relatives who are harder to convince and who may not make it during or after the collapse. While there is virtually no hope for most, there remains some measure for those who take stock and make preparations. Despair only comes when all hope is lost, so don’t despair.

Persuasive Petrochemical Engineer


Dear PPE,

I think most of my readers would be interested in knowing how you finally got your wife on-board, and what the experience was like before that happened. How did it strain the two of you to be on “different pages” so to speak. I’m also curious about what changes you’ve made that you feel best about? Which recommendations would you make to anyone in your area or in your situation?

Finally, I’m curious, if you’re willing to share, what types of approaches you’ve used to discuss peak oil with family and friends and which were most effective/least effective. What kind of “survival options” were they most open to hearing about? I know these are questions so many of my more isolated readers are interested in knowing, in order to connect with their own doubting family and friends. Many have been deeply discouraged in their attempts.

Thank you so much for writing, and I look forward to any additional insights you’d care to share.

Peak Shrink


Dear Peak Shrink,

I don’t know if I’m able to advance an approach that’d be easily used by others when trying to “convert” them to Peak-Oil and the ramifications that follow. I believe it was easier for me because of who I am; one who is normally optimistic and who is also pragmatic to a nearly absurd degree – I’m not the sort of person who suddenly starts to declare “the sky is falling and we’re all doomed” without exploring all the possibilities.

Thusly my wife was shocked to here the “news” initially and tried to avoid discussion until it was unavoidable (I spend an inordinate amount of energy on this topic and it’s hard to escape when you have to live in the same house.), eventually resignation set in and she had to deal with the knowledge in her own way. That’s a very personal thing to do and each of us deals with it in their own way, I think I skipped several of the downward “steps” myself, even with concerns over my children’s future, though most others wouldn’t.

Some friends had difficulty taking it in, or even believing it, while others were quick to assimilate; interestingly it was those friends with higher education who found it easier to believe (I have a very strange circle of friends by anyone’s measure, some are heavily credentialed while others are decidedly not.).

Nonetheless, I’ve been able to get them all into the circle, albeit with a degree of difficulty. With those who didn’t take to the information as quickly I was able to describe various shifts in oil prices and economic movements beforehand, eventually they decided to take a closer look. At the same time, I must say, several of those who were finally convinced took a fairly defeatist attitude saying that they’d “go down with the ship” until I pointed out “the options”.

The best recommendation I can give regarding conversion is to approach the uninitiated carefully but surely. Don’t give up when they lose interest in the topic, wait, then bring it up as often as other related topics, such as the price of gas or oil, pop up. When the topic does arise make sure you have facts and figures ready. Also give them options when they “bite”, plans A to C or Z, these can include everything from preparation for a powerdown to storing supplies for the crunch and relocation in the event of societal collapse – people don’t like having zero choices. There are no approaches that are better than others as they all depend on too many factors, such as how well you know the other person and how they’ll deal with bad news.

I’d say the best survival options are all of them. Fortunately, here in Australia we have a lot of public transport with an electric rail system that could be used for food movements and we have a lot of natural resources to draw on. I’m able to point this out when a look of dread passes across the face of a new local convert. If they live near the coast they have access to fairly decent fishing. If they live inland they may or may not have access to arable land and fresh water, if not they can relocate when it hits the fan. Preparations can include storing non-perishable food to adding water tanks to buildings, there are many things that can be done though there may be some things we’ll have to do that will be very hard to do when the time comes, a lot will depend on how much mass hysteria interferes with the best laid plans.

I hope this has been helpful, I remain hopeful,




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About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.


  1. My wife and I are pretty well on the same page, although we don’t always live by that knowledge.

    Our approach is to adopt a framework for lower energy consumption and for shifting from money-denominated to hard assets.

    GET TO KNOW THE NEIGHBOURS Exchange produce, surplus seedlings, favours, coffees.
    The power down includes moving much closer to my wife’s work (I work from home so that is about as minimal as you can get)
    Paying off all debts (we have been debt free for years and opnly put on the card what we can pay in full on the due date)
    Live “downmarket” where the same money buys more land (and incidentally matches the job location criterion)
    Water tanks being installed today (4000 litres under the house – these ones
    Solar water heating coming shortly
    PV backup for lights and the water pumps will be next
    We cook with an electric oven but have a bottled gas hob which we use for most cooking and enough bottles to last 6 months for a start.
    We have a log fire and I planted 10 gum trees for firewood last weekend (we will coppice) I have spaces for another 10 or so marked out and they will go in shortly.
    20 square metres of vege garden with another 40 or so to come shortly
    About 300 square metres of front lawn that will become a fruit and nut and bird attracting (predators to go) feature
    For the cost of a plasma TV we get the water storage, for the cost of a new car we get all the rest of the upgrades.
    I spend a lot on new tools (turning money into hard assets) and a lot time (at least an hour a day) working the land up to something productive and more nearly sustainable. (great exercise, very satisfying, saves a fortune on gym memberships and you have something lasting to show for the work)

    In the short term we are putting our money and our efforts where our mouths are.

    The long term strategy is to be able to show others that living this way works and that as energy costs rise, we will reap ever more benefits from the changes we are making. When they start screaming about energy costs we will be able to point to real things they can do to make real differences and not just keep ourselves warm with hot air.

    Plus, by the time it starts to really bite, we hope to have enough experience to with others that will make us more valuable members of the community.

    PS, did you know loquat seeds can be dried, roasted, shelled and ground to make a damned fine coffee substitute? We haven’t repalced the coffee yet, but we are experimenting with the brews and its very good so far.

  2. dantreecraft says:

    Dear PPE,

    There’s much to think about in your back-and-forth with the Doc, BUT, first I must get through my quibble over what seemed like your “excusation” [my word?] of The Little Bush Child as “a well informed oil-man” who suffered a “frantic reaction”. Is the man an idiot, or is he in on one hoax after another? If we can’t have a genius sitting at the desk with the red phone, I’d sure like to have a guy who could shoot straight. I suspect there is some line of reasoning that you’ve got running, which comes to some sense that I might get. Other than, perhaps, the notion that “millions of people are likely to die from consequenses of the coming Oil Crash, and we might as well let the United States, under the leadership of the well-informed oil-man, G. Bush, begin the slaughter” I’m at a loss to understand your seeming excuse of his misleadership of this [increasingly inexcusable] country.

    Please forgive, if you can, my somewhat intemperate rant in the face of what may seem a larger problem, but I’m thinking you got Mr. Bush right the first time.
    Please bring me along with your thoughts on this if you have the energy. It seems to me that America, no less than anyone else, could use some truly strong,
    intelligent AND honest leadership for awhile. That said….

    I’m impressed with how you dogged your way – with temperance – to an understanding, on your wife’s part, of the sort of grand future we have in store for us. Sounds like there must be an exceptional person or two in your marriage. I doubt that I could have pulled off such a feat as well myself. That probably owes to my own nature. I wonder if I might be a “better” pragmatist if I wasn’t such a deeply talented pessimist. More’n likely methinks.

    I do, and perhaps will, perennially tend to lapse into despair over the fate of the only race of opposable-thumbed bipeds the planet, apparently, ever spawned. When I think of the toll our naive arrogance and clever inventions have wreaked on this moist rock that so many have called home for so long, I fall into thinking we might as well HAVE an idiot like Ring-Leader-in-Chief G.W.B. strutting our deluded circus parade over the nearest off-ramp.

    Well, there’s a tangential flight into pragmatism, PESSIMIST style. Wonder what the Peak Coach will do with this lovely bit. We put it out – she gets to sort it.
    Separatinging the dark colors from the light ones.

    I don’t have any kids [if I do – they never call or write] so I can only imagine the kind of gumption people [like my wife] who have children will have to sustain. When I’m gone this gene-line gets to relax for the duration of eternity. There have been times when I felt a ‘little bit’ sorry for myself for not having any children. I’ve sometimes thought it was because of my cowardice. But, plenty of times, I’ve chalked it up to pragmatism. To the extent that I’m capable of willful choice, I’ve willfully evaded parenthood. Even now, as we move into an apparently bleaker future, I expect both my judgements and feelings will wobble as they have in the past. I expect I won’t be alone on that.

    Arrogantly, as usual, many of us have long supposed that we’re the only species on the planet with a significant suspicion that our candles are going to peter out one
    dark night. Now, a bunch has posited that our cousins the pachyderms might share a similar talent for looking into the future, darkly. What is this going to do to the human propensity for the sort of magical thinking that religion specializes in?
    Seems like some of us might get some kind of “good” religion, and that others of us might get something “different”. There’s been a pretty strong correlation between the growth of some of the “extreme-different” kinds since the last War of the Worlds, coincident with the “use” of the Atomic Bomb. Come to think of it, a lot of us WERE in a pretty shaky mental state during the height of the cold war when the USSR and the good ol’ USA were reportedly building nuclear warheads, arms-racing faster than Ford was selling Edsels. Seems like a [somewhat] similar kind of fret was gripping folks then.

    Now, I’m reminded of a dark, grimly campy oil painting my dad had. It’s been 40 years since I’ve seen it, but the subject was something like : an ashtray sitting on a desk, with pipe smoldering in it; beside the pipe a human skull with a jewelled gold crown perched on it, sits atop a dusty, darkly-bound, heavy book; on the spine of the book, the title embossed in gold – “GET BUSY”. Don’t know what ever became of that painting. I always coveted it.

  3. dantreecraft says:

    Dear Coach, and PPE, et al,

    What would we do if we could inveigle the gods to give us “just one more TWO TRILLION BARREL re-fill”? We’d do it – right? Just so it would give us a little more time to figure out how we could replace it with some cleaner, limitless alternative energy source. That would get the “popular vote” wouldn’t it!!? Would the Supreme Court try to block us? Could it? Man! I’d love be an angel-on-the-wall, to watch that play out on a national ballot [and I’d want the johns – Kerry and Edwards – to make sure they counted every vote].

    Where AM I? Is this just my own version of the Denial Phase of the Grief Process. Or do I just have too much free time? Both, maybe? Can’t say for sure yet.

    Since I’d long-ago figured something-much-like “the future” we’re obsessing over – was out there – waiting for us to wake up to it – seems like I’d be more at peace about our predicament. But I’m not. I knew, since I was eight or ten years old, this was gonna happen. But – I thought I was going to pass through the eye of the needle before the story got to this part. I might yet. I’m 58 years old. Gonna be pretty well worn out in ten years. That’s nearly SEVENTY. And that’s pretty damned old for a “natural” Homo sapiens. [I don’t recall any of the Leakey clan claiming to have dug up anybody who’d made it that far, back in the days when their girl, ‘Lucy’, was cavorting in the Olduvai neighborhood. Lucy would have been in about the second grade when she packed in. That seems like such a long time ago!] So, I’m old, and maybe I’ll get even older. It looks like I might live a ways into the “Doomsday Era”. I thought this was going to be somebody else’s bad situation to deal with. Sort of like parenthood – thought I was going to evade the inevitable, coming DARK AGE. Some people in the future were going to have to deal with the BIG ‘Final Solution’, not me. Somebody else can pay for this party.

    Jim Kunstler’s LONG EMERGENCY has a confrontationally sobering quote at the top of Chapter Six…

    “The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is THE SACRIFICE OF THE FUTURE FOR THE PRESENT, and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose.”
    William James

    Seems to me that we’ve chosen sides, already. And, if we haven’t already chosen sides, then we have that choice in front of us now.

    There it is.


  4. Dear Engineer:

    I was immediately attacted by your use of the term “preposterous abiotic oil claim,” I correspond daily with a somewhat strange character who from time to time tries to convince me that the earth is continually manufacturing more oil through an abiotic process (he does not believe in natural selection and dismisses as “ridiculous” the idea that oil could have been formed 300 million years ago out of decaying plant matter). He has never been clear as to exactly how this “oil” is formed but–and here’s another interesting peek behind the curtain of his sanity–he claims the Russians know about this oil, that they’ve found it at levels below 70,000 feet, that they have a technology for extracting it, and that once they succeed in their dastardly plot to convince gullible Westerners that regular petroleum supplies have been exhausted they’ll start pumping it in rationed quantities and at onopoly prices that will make us their slaves. Any comments?


  5. These are some really grewat tips for making it after the problems our land is going to face soon.


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