Post Peak Career? Forget Law, Consider Geology

In 2007, Byron King was chatting with Mr. Wang, a marine geologist from China, and what he learned knocked his socks off:

“[T]here are about 40,000 or 50,000 students studying geology in China today at the university level. Maybe more, but I do not want to give you a number that is too high.”

That’s about 25 times the students studying in the US (and about half the US graduates are foreign nationals).

For every geologist in the US, we have about 50-100 lawyers, King estimates.

What about the population difference?  China has 4 times our population, but 50 times the number of geologists.

First year salaries:

Lawyers: $38,118 – $91,256

Petroleum Geologists: $44,385 – $106,4367857167_s



And geologists get longer vacation times and better bonuses, too.

Educational Requirements

Sixty-three percent of geologist have B.A degrees.

Match that to a doctoral degree you’d need for law.


The US Bureau of labor statistics predicts a 21% increase in need for geologists, vs 10% for lawyers by 2020.  We have a lot of retiring petroleum geologists with an average number of years in the biz averaging 19.  And their pay went up 13% last year.  Faster salary increases were seen for women.

It’s also a great profession for single women looking for men.  It’s a field that’s 90% men.


And hate your boss?  According to Oil on My Shoes,

“Good geologists need virtually no supervision, once they are told what the objectives of the company are.”

Job Satisfaction

And the same site reports 0ne poll that found that geologists ranked #2 in job satisfaction out of all professions.

After meeting hundreds of geologists over the years, I can say that people who fall into geology naturally (as most do) are extremely satisfied with their profession.”

So what’s the education?

B.S. in Geology OR make up the following course load:  Physical Geology (4 hours), Historical Geology (4 hours), Mineralogy (4 hours), Optical Mineralogy (4 hours), Petrology (3 hours), Stratigraphy/Sedimentation (3 hours), Structural Geology (3 hours), Geology Field Camp (6-8 hours), General Chemistry (8 hours), Physics (8 hours), Computer Science or Statistics (3 hours), Calculus (6 hours), and a possible foreign language requirement.


In the future scramble for understanding our world, and locating the last remaining resources available to exploit, or impacting how companies approach this exploration, we’ll need those who understand geology.


See more here


Saying Goodbye to Tomorrow.



Today is the last day on Earth, according to some New Age interpretation of the Mayan calendar.

This belief has caused endless suffering and useless expensive purchases by people trying to “beat the clock” and find somewhere safe to spend their last few hours.  Cheap places have suddenly become outrageously expensive, because someone said “Hang out there!” during your final hours.

This story caused one young woman to take her life.

However, saying “Goodbye to Tomorrow” has a long history that goes beyond this moment in time.  Humans are famous for planning the end of not only their own anticipated deaths, but because that is just too commonplace, they have to anticipate the death of everyone and everything around them.

The End of the World.  Or more modestly put, The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI).

One psychologist got interested in one “Say Goodbye to Tomorrow” group, and actually hung out with them during their “final moments.”  He wanted to know how they cognitively justified it, when the end of the world failed to materialize.

He reported that great anticipation happened during the moments ticking up to “the end.”  Five minutes “after doomsday,” the euphoria of the group changed to anxiety.  After several hours, when the followers began to look doubtfully at their leader, he enthusiastically announced “We’ve done it!

In a twist of mental gymnastics, he proclaimed that given his followers’ prayers and preparations, they had successfully “stopped” the end!  But now he was in a bit of a dilemma:  If the whole raison d’etre of the group was the “end,” he needed another “end,” or what’s the point?

What I’m noticing is a disturbing trend that mimics this same pattern.  Saying “We’re screwed!” is a good start when you are trying to build enthusiasm, but not quite as good as “We’re screwed next Tuesday!”  When next Tuesday comes, and the “screwing” didn’t happen on cue, what do you do to maintain your credibility?

Again and again over the years, I’ve noticed that people have taken dramatic actions in anticipation of this or that “end.”  For some, it is the end of civilization.  For others, it is “goodbye to the global economic system.”  For still others, it is the end of the Earth as a livable planet.  For these intelligent, sincere individuals, their goal, despite their critics, isn’t making a fast buck.  Most of them make no or little money on their predictions.  They really believe in what they are predicting.  So, to live in congruency, they pack up, sell off, and move to some more “sustainable” or “safe” location, and try in earnest to live in keeping with their anticipated tomorrow.  They “do it anyway” as a friend of Sharon Astyk says.

But it causes some of them tremendous social hardship.

Nostalgia for the Present

For some, they start to miss their “old life,” that “yesterday” that they abandoned with conviction.  For most living in this “yesterday,” they weren’t nearly as wastefully as others.  They were already living lean, using a fraction of resources compared to the average person in Western Civilization.  And they, themselves, are products of this Civilization they’ve come to critique.  They are writers, intellectuals, scientists, and professionals. They often leave culturally rich environs to move to remote locations known for, well, known for nothing in particular that most people care very much about.  Let’s call that location “Rural Nowhere.”

Then they wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Rural Nowhere is not noted for great employment opportunities. They’ve often given up their jobs and their incomes as a matter of conviction and necessity.  No matter how long they anticipated their resources to last, as the months and years tick on, they see the bank accounts dwindling.  Some have sold their homes, bought an RV, and drove around believing the “end of oil” is upon us.  (Yes, I know…)

Plus, if they left an intellectually alive place for Rural Nowhere, they get lonely.  They get resentful.  They start to look back at all of their colleagues and neighbors, the “Sheeple,” that continue to rake in decent salaries and take in decent cinema, without driving a few hours.  They feel increasing disdain  and then increasing hostility.

If they confidently provided a timeline, their families begin to stare at them with their own impatient brand of “Sooooo?”  Few of us would move on the promise that “the end of tomorrow” will happen in 50 years.  Most of us drag our feet at dramatic lifestyle change if doom is expected in over 5 years.  So many are stuck with an accelerating Doomline, and a stubbornly “Todaylike” tomorrow.

What happens to your marriage, when you took her out to Rural Nowhere, and you have day after day of Todaylike tomorrows?  What happens when Tomorrow stubbornly refuses to leave?

The pressure is enormous.

As the clock continues to build, not only must Tomorrow be something that is going, it starts to mutate.  Despite the hardship, Today has got to go.

Evil Believers

It is one thing to be a Panglossian, who believes that nothing in the world could possibly go wrong.  Now, however, what about those who continue to believe in Tomorrow?  They are viewed in the worst possible light.  You want children? You’re pregnant?  Those bearing children become “breeders” who should be shunned.  You bought a new car, or iphone?  You are killing off the ecosystem.

3-E Hair Shirts

But caution is in order, because it is really very difficult to live purely, even in Rural Nowhere.  To resolve the hypocrisy, some proclaim “I won’t change, it is the corporations that need to change!” They say their contribution to Demise is hardly significant. So they go on living like they did yesterday, while predicting the end of tomorrow. The rest of us us still secretly driving to buy take-out, and are ashamed of ourselves or embarrassed when we’re “caught.”

We find ourselves lusting for that “really cool” gadget, then hating ourselves.  In an attempt to purify ourselves, no different than the saints who wore hair shirts or whipped themselves into trances to rid themselves of impure thoughts, these modern day Doomers also look for relief.

As if I haven’t created enough enemies in our community at this point, allow me to push forward.

 You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned…

Nudging Along the End of Today

If civilization is going to fall, and isn’t falling fast enough, it should now be nudged along.

The solution is also an old one.

A movement is gaining popularity whereby this nudging has taken on violent overtones.  The narrative is outlined in the starkest terms:  If you love the planet, there is only one recourse to those who are killing it.  You are either with us, or against us.  You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned.

Most often, of course, history has taught us that within these movements, there appears to be two classes of people:  The Leaders and the Followers.  The Leaders are often most valuable for continuing to do what they have been doing all along:  Thinking.  Writing.  Lecturing.  Pontificating.  They are justified in any eco-transgressions because, after all, they are the Leaders, and are attempting to gather more Followers to speed up The End of Tomorrow.

The Followers

The Followers also appear to be remarkably similar over the years.  They are usually much younger than the Leaders.  They have far fewer resources and often live lives much closer to “The End of Tomorrow” than the Leaders do.  They are often directly impacted by the worst parts of today, whether this is the crappy jobs during the rise of the industrial empire, or crippling student loans today.  But whether we are talking about the turn of the century or today, the role of the Followers are the same:  they are the handmaidens, the expendables.   They read the call to action and are ready to act.  They will engage in behaviors that cause them to either die or be put in cages for a very, very long time.


Sometimes we’ve learned, decades later, that the provocateurs were actually agents of the government who were seeking to discredit a popular movement that was gaining power.  They were “plants” who said: “We have to do this!” and yet, when everyone was imprisoned or dead, these “Leaders” safely vanished.  Popular movements become “unpopular” when associated with “senseless” acts violence.

Anyone who carefully studies human history will notice this trend.  And they will notice another mantra:  “Things have never been as bad as they are today.”  And usually they are right.  And dramatic actions are called for when we are talking about the End of the World.

They will also notice how slow the progress of change is, and how unpopular ideas seem to almost overnight, become popular ideas.  And despite how dire things are, no matter how bad today is, compared to all the badness of yesterday, remarkably, “today” continued to seamlessly flow into “tomorrow,” against all the odds.  And those who wrote the Doomline re-write the predictions, and no one seems particularly interested in the miscalculation.

Now I hate to have to be the one to write any of this.  What I’m saying is hardly revolutionary or new.  In fact, what I’m saying is easily what the most conservative endorsers of Today would say in response to social critics.  I’ve hardly been a cheerleader of Today, and don’t imagine Tomorrow will be swell, either.

But I care about young people, and I care about their passion and their enthusiasm.  And while I’m terrified of the future, too, I can’t imagine how violence that will mostly impact the poor and working classes will lead to a healthier planet.  I don’t see how spending decades of your life behind bars (“in a cage”) will somehow make the world a safer place for dying species.

And while most of these Thought Leaders proclaim how delighted they’d be to give their own lives for the future of a healthy planet, they live on.

They prep on.

They pontificate on.

And they tell us over and over that if we don’t “do something,” something increasingly dramatic as their Doomlines creep forward, we won’t have Tomorrow.

So for those who believe that Today is the last day on Earth I say:

”So long, it’s been good to know you.”

For the rest of us, let’s continue to work for change, with the utmost of care, and always anticipate that Tomorrow MIGHT come.

Alternate Energy – It may be closer than you think

It is obvious reading all the MSM articles on energy that they still are counting on technology to ride to the rescue of the declining oil age in the form of alternate energy on a white horse.  I wish I shared their optimism, but the facts don’t seem to support that rosy outlook.  I do believe we are closer to the alternate energy that no one wishes to think about.  It is time proven, inexpensive to implement, useful for growing crops, building or repairing houses, transporting you 10-20 miles, but nowhere as efficient as what we use today.  Where is this miraculous alternate energy?  Why it is in your very house.  Get up and go to the bathroom. Take a look in the mirror.  You are looking at the alternate energy of the future that you, your family, and neighbors will have to depend on—-you.

That’s right, you, that miraculous machine that takes in food energy and converts it into useful work.  Wait a minute you say, I am a pencil pushing paper shuffling e-mail dynamo, how is that going to be useful alternate energy in the world unfolding before us?  Well, in a few words, it won’t.  One of the mantras we have heard repeated during this economic downturn, is that to stay employed you have to constantly re-invent yourself.  Welcome to the biggest re-invention you will ever experience, the world’s newest (and oldest!) alternate energy source.  This alternate energy source already runs on bio-fuels without any need to convert its inner workings.  It will work in extreme heat or cold, just not as well as in moderate temperatures.

Uh oh, I think I hear the term physical conditioning coming.  Is this some kind of New Year’s resolution thing?  I don’t do well with those.  Well, those of us who have been to a Dr. in the last 10 years have already heard the speech, so I will dispense with it here.  What I would like to focus on is how we can make better use of this age old form of alternate energy in the future.  If one looks at a copy of an old Sears catalog from the late 1800’s, you will find all sorts of tools to multiply one’s ability to accomplish work.  Some are simple and still in use today, the crowbar and the pulley being two such items.  Others are a little more complex, such as the bicycle.  In order for these to be useful to you, two things must be in place.  First, you must understand how to use these tools in a manner for which they were designed, and their limitations.  Secondly, you must possess or have access to these tools when they are needed.

There is a second way to multiply this alternate energy when needed, recruit other alternate energy supplies to assist you with your task at hand.  This may be the biggest challenge to the new alternate energy.  We have lived several decades, at least one full generation, with the notion that to ask for help is a sign of weakness.  Our pride can be our undoing.  In order for this alternate energy of the future (and the past) to be effective, it will have to be a collective effort in many cases.  Unless you live in a very small community, calling your friend on the other side of town to assist may not be your best idea.  Instead, you will need to start cultivating the fields of neighbors right around you.  The sooner the better.   Not only can you acquire different skill sets by doing so, but you can come up with a way to multiply your tool access in the process.  It will usually be sufficient for there to be only one or two sets of certain tools among your group to accomplish most tasks.  It is very inefficient for everyone to have a copy of the same tool set, if it isn’t used very often.  Part of the process to break the ice, is to have an inventory of your own tools and skills  which you pass to each neighbor with the understanding that they are available if needed, and ask them to add anything to the list they might be able to make available if needed.  This is an early step in making “community” right where you live.

Up to now, this seems to be a “me and mine” or “you and yours” type of arrangement.  There is another group you need to realize your alternate energy will have to be used for.  In your “community of neighbors” will be those whose alternate energy has decreased to a barely functioning level, either by age or physical infirmities, who will have to depend on you and your neighbors to assist with, or in some cases completely take on a task of theirs which is beyond their capability.  In the future, giving them a phone number of a United Way agency or telling them to call an out of town relative for assistance will probably not be an option, and will not discharge your obligations to the “community”.

All of this prepping for the new alternate energy takes something all of us try to hoard, TIME.  Some of your neighbors today will see no reason to invest any of their time in any endeavor of this sort, because they don’t see a problem they can’t solve themselves or with a phone call……..yet.  I’m reminded of times when a strong hurricane is approaching shore, and the population has been put under a mandatory evacuation order, there are still those who want to do it all themselves and stay put, their pride won’t allow them to be anything but completely independent.  Unfortunately, they put others at grave risk trying to rescue them later.  You probably won’t be able to convince a large portion of your neighbor community to work at mutual assistance initially, but seeing it in action can be a powerful incentive.  Somebody from the city or the state is not going to come in to set up the kind of “community” you need, it will have to originate with YOU.  Will you start using your alternate energy productively today?  Let’s hope so.  It may be all we have available in a few years.


Chuck Willis

written by Chuck Willis on 1/9/11


In the Garden of Your Mind…

Scientists have a particular kind of limitation that’s used when applying imagination.

The whole question of imagination in science is often misunderstood by people in other disciplines. They try to test our imagination in the following way. They say, “Here is a picture of some people in a situation. What do you imagine will happen next”. When we say, “I can’t imagine,” they may think we have a weak imagination. They overlook the fact that whatever we are allowed to imagine in science must be consistent with everything else we know; that the electric fields and the waves we talk about are not just some happy thoughts which we are free to make as we wish, but ideas which must be consistent with all the laws of physics we know.

“We can’t allow ourselves to seriously imagine things which are obviously in contradiction to the known laws of nature. And so our kind of imagination is quite a difficult game. One has to have the imagination to think of something that has never been seen before, never been heard of before. At the same time the thoughts are restricted in a straitjacket, so to speak, limited by the conditions that come from our knowledge of the way nature really is

The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty.”

The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. II, 1964, p. 20-10. (thanks to Michael   A. Gottlieb   from for the original  citation)

Sometimes, however, the unconscious, as in sleep, can assist in this imaginative endeavor:

Elias Howe was one of many people who worked independently to invent a sewing machine. Exhausted, after working intensely on the invention, he fell asleep and had the following dream:

He dreamed that the natives, in a jungle, threw him into a large stew-pot. He was trying frantically to get out while the natives poked at him with their spears.

Later the next day, he recalled his dream, and with a start realized that the spears poking at him in the dream had holes at the point. This unconscious realization shook up his operating paradigm, which framed a needle as a hand-held instrument with the hole at the top. Through reflecting on his dream, he realized this needed to be reversed in the invention, the “sewing machine.”

Another story I’ve heard involves James Watson, one of two men who won the Nobel Prize for conceiving of the DNA double helix. According to the tale, Watson also fell asleep, this time napping, after being stymied about this problem, and dreamed of two snakes intertwining in an ascending helix, biting their tales.  He now had the visual design.

Good ideas, like the one my friend, Robert Beartsch has been working on, require creative imagination combined with scientific know-how. Watch this video and imagine a rail system that’s cheap, sleek, and solar powered:

With a little more imagination, we can remove the roadways and autos altogether, and envision bike paths instead.

When scientists dream, they also need the general public to dream along with them.  We need to be able to imagine putting ourselves in the dream.  These Skytran allow no more than one or two passengers, which enables them to float as they do.  Can you imagine no more traffic jams?  No more smog?

Learn More.

Geologists and Engineers are Today’s Peak Oil Cowboys


Hello Penelope Trunk readers!  She’s a great consultant!

She “outed me,” though.  I don’t like to talk about my clients, but I do like to work with engineers, geologists, and those in the energy sector. However, I’d never name names.

These are men of action, and they know how to do things.  I have an ‘I-can-do-that’ envy.

Not all of these guys have woken up to the reality of Peak Oil.  The guy at Peak Engineering believes there are six reasons for this:

(1)  Everything still looks normal.

“Just look around you — there are no signs of Peak Oil”.

(2) Supply and Price

Older guys remember that when the price of oil goes through the roof, so do the investment dollars.

“For example, forty years ago the offshore industry in the Gulf of Mexico consisted primarily of small, four leg platforms in shallow water (less than 1000 feet). As production from these platforms declined and oil prices went up, so the industry was able to move into deeper and deeper waters, with considerable success.”

(3)  Technology- évidemment

(4)  Crying Wolf

“I heard this once before, and it all turned out to be exaggerated and misleading. Fool me once: shame on you; fool me twice: shame on me.”

(5)  Imagination

“We don’t serve neutrinos here,” says the bartender.
A neutrino walks into a bar.

(That’s an Internet physics joke)

Look at this great letter I got from a geologist in 2006:

Good Evening Peak Shrink,

I found your website a few weeks ago and have spent several evenings reading the stories and going through the site. After some debate while reading your website, I thought I might add a different perspective from a person that has the means and the past to deal with this issue in his own way.

First of all, I used to literally live in the oil field. I am a Professional Geologist by trade. I used to direct oil rigs drilling for oil. For many years I averaged 30 weeks a year in the field, babysitting drilling rigs. After a few years of gaining experience, I became a wildcatter with a fellow Geologist, started a independent oil company in [MidWest]and eventually found a nice oil field on the [MidWest] line. My partner and I found several other minor oil wells and we were eventually bought out by our rich [Western US] investors. I kept my royalties/working interest and now I find it most ironic, that I am spending my oil money in preparation for Peak Oil. I would add that I have watched my own oilfields hit Peak Oil and start their own decline curves, the same as they all will do worldwide, with time.

I learned about Peak Oil about 15 months ago from a wall street Market Watch article on stock investing, and since then I have dedicated a part of nearly every day in preparation for this event. I have read and own most all of the Peak Oil books. My library of books concerning Solar, Gardening, Root Cellaring, Organic Farming, Alternate Energy, etc., etc. has grown large enough to stock a small book case and I have read every one of them, several of them more than once.

I was divorced 16 years ago and raised my 20 year-old daughter as a single parent. Now that she is in college, I live alone. I have made several moves to prepare for peak oil. At first, I reacted as many of you have when learning and understanding the concept Peak Oil. I was in a daze for several weeks unsure of “what to do”. I overreacted by immediately purchasing a -40 degree sleeping bag, a water purification kit, a solar battery charger, a solar powered radio and a few other small items including a lot of ammunition for the several guns that I own. As I became more convinced that the books and articles were correct, I decided to make several moves that would enhance my country home and make me more self sufficient. I am in the camp of the early peakers. I think we are about there, but not quite. Mexico showed us a few things this year when they made up our lost Prudhoe Bay production (way to go BP). Now we have found what looks to be a major oil field producing from a new horizon in the Gulf. This all will help delay Peak Oil and give us time to get ready.

Fortunately, I live on 20 acres with lots of woods, a lake and a view, located in rural Nebraska. The house I built nine years ago is a very energy efficient home. I built this house to withstand the wind, cold and in general, the worst of Nebraska weather, 2X6 walls, R-50 insulation, triple pane gas filled windows, big garage protecting the house from the North winds, etc. Because I have a great job and with my oilfield money, I have taken some steps that many of your readers have wished they could do and some have. I feel very fortunate. Maybe I am still over-reacting, but these actions should make me more self sufficient and increase the value of the house, when the time comes for my daughter to sell it because I am not around. I try to take a conservative line just in case we are wrong about when Peak Oil will occur. If it’s later than sooner, she can sell this place and deal with Peak Oil in her own way. I have talked to her about it, starting to get her familiar with the concept. She and her boyfriend have been very receptive to the issue as much as 20 year olds can be. She thinks some of the stuff I have done is pretty cool and probably a little weird.

I have spent the last nine months designing and installing a 1.35 Kilowatt off-the-grid solar power system for the house. I was amused that the last time my daughter came up to visit, she headed directly downstairs to see how I was progressing on the project. She likes to look at the solar electrical equipment hanging on the wall in the laundry room. Not to mention the bright red Rolls Surrette batteries sitting in their enclosure being recharged each day. I have recently brought the system on line and hey, it’s not that hard to live with an all 120 volt solar powered house. My power company actually called me this week to warn me that I may have read the meter wrong because it was 1/4 of what is has been. I had to laugh and explain to her that the reading was right. The 220 volt stuff like the well pump is still on the grid and so is the fridge, the electric oven and the AC/Heating, but every one of those items can be swapped out for propane or wood and they will be soon. The only thing I can’t find a good alternative for is the well pump. My well is 450 deep and it takes a 240 volt pump to bring the water to the surface and pressurize a house. However, advances are being made even for that problem.

This summer I put in a 40 X 50 foot garden, importing the top 22 inches of top soil and removing same from the gardens location. Our soil here is pure clay so I overexcavated the garden area with a track Caterpillar and removed about 150 cubic yards of clay and replaced it with good black dirt. Since then I am growing veggies organically. No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. The entire garden is surrounded with multiple layers of solar powered electric fence to keep the critters out. It works well and the food is great.

The last project for this year is a high end wood burning stove installation. I am going to install a Vermont Castings wood burning stove. That little project is already underway as I am reinforcing around one attic roof truss that I must cut, to center the stove in the room. Once the truss work is finished, the stove installation will be easy. It will be in by the end of October. I have been cutting, splitting and selling all the wood from my acreage with friends for nine years, no more. The wood is now being stockpiled for me and the stove.

Last winter I purchased a Honda Civic that is currently getting 41.4 MPG, because I drive 97% two lane highway at 60 MPH, 20 miles to get to work. The Honda is not a hybrid. The car replaced my 3/4 ton Chevy pick-up that got 12 MPG.

My lake is stocked with edible fish and is self supporting with bluegills, catfish and bass. Fishing will be my retirement one way or the other. Either for survival or hopefully, for just the sport and an occasional fish supper.

So I have addressed several energy issues and self sufficiency issues the first year, and there will be more to come I would like an “on demand” water heater, a propane powered stove, high efficiency fridge (Sun Frost) and a root cellar. I would also like to add to the solar system to include 240 volt. We’ll work on that the next year. I don’t talk to many people about Peak Oil, when they see what I have done, especially the big solar array that sits beside my house and follows the sun, I just tell them it’s time to address the higher cost of energy and that I believe it will go much higher soon. I think they get the feeling that I am probably right, but little is said. Like the books say, everyone hates bad news. The one person that will talk about the future with me, is my electrician who helped me install the solar system. He thinks that I am doing the right thing and is making some moves himself. I have another friend who is well versed on Peak Oil, but has lived a sustainable life style for many years, way before we ever considered the concept of Peak Oil. He lives in a beautiful straw bale designed house on 20 acres that is heated solely by wood and grows and raises much of his own food. He has a wife and three kids. He is way ahead of me and I envy him. He has bees for honey, chickens for eggs and meat, goats for milk, an organic garden, a large greenhouse and participates in farming partnerships with his neighbors for other food items.

So in my first year I have enhanced the value of my home and my lifestyle. I feel nothing is wrong with that, and it gives me something to do during my free time. Are these things the right things to do? I think so but who knows really, Peak Oil has never happened before, and what will actually happen is anyone’s guess. But I do know the wolf is truly at the door and our Government as well as most people are doing nothing about this issue, and don’t have a clue that something bad is coming. Our railroads are in miserable shape and our government still protects the American auto manufacturer, so we continue to use oil for transportation at a ridiculous rate. Mother earth has had just about enough and soon we all will have to deal with reality, one way or another. The global economy is about to come to an end and as a guy with a degree in science, (geology) it will be most interesting to watch for as long as I can.

I am enjoying this evening writing this note with my computer running on today’s sun and it’s a great feeling. Makes me think that if the population as a whole will start to make some basic changes like I have, and many of you have, then we will be fine. We have just got to get started and that’s the hardest part.

Good luck to you all out there. I have enjoyed your articles. It’s interesting hearing from the folks across the rest of the country on this issue and what you are doing about it. Keep up the good work.

Former Wildcatter Eating Bass


He’s writing on his solar powered computer!

Or this engineer who wrote me privately;

“Keep in mind I am living in two worlds: in my professional life in a huge, conservative, fossil fuel extraction corporation, and in my private life in a small, liberal, renewable energy supporting community. My professional life is extremely lucrative and quite frankly boring, but it supports my personal life. Last year, I worked professionally on multimillion dollar work in coal mining and Canadian oilsands mining; but I also converted a car from diesel to waste vegetable oil which I drive regularly; installed a small wind turbine; installed a micro hydro plant and; took a course in photovoltaics.

Here is the thing: each world perceives the other world as a threat, so I am a threat to both, but the hard reality is that neither one can achieve their agenda without the other, and they are both in denial about that. I am sort of a bridge between both – I’m groping with what kind of bridge, but I guess one day I will figure it out.


This same guy cured his own severe diabetes through diet change, while traveling half the year on business trips.

These are the real tough “cowboys” in today’s world.  And these are men who’d like to think  that talking to a psychologist is in the same light as having their palms read, or signing up to compete in a high school popularity contest…but they know better.  Eating bass alone gets, well, lonely. They don’t like is to have to talk about their feelings or their fears. They prefer to fix and build stuff.  They like to solve problems, but maintaining a satisfying marriage is one of those things that they try to fix, but it just doesn’t stay fixed.  So being practical people, they look for someone who knows that we’ve got big problems AND can talk about the feelings stuff and specializes in fixing marriages.

And then they are shocked when I tell them I have to speak to their wives.

“Why the fudge do you have to do that?”

But I insist, and they are stunned that their wives are delighted to talk to anybody about how to get through to their husbands.  Even some psychologist who calls herself a “Peak Shrink.”  And if their husbands are willing to talk to a psychologist, they want to know how I did it.

How do you get him to talk to  you?

But that is secondary.  I tell her that that’s not the important part.  The important part is my teaching her how to talk to him. And visa verse.

I think part of the trick for why this all works, and they start really talking and cooperating with each other is that… I’m a groupie .

I admire the modern day energy cowboys.  I see them offering us hope for a better future.


Where Will the Grandkids Live?

For several months I have pondered the above question. As we age we become more reflective than when we were young, and the hustle and bustle of life filled every waking minute. No, I am not talking about the geographic location of their future life, but the time period in which they will live, and what their way of life may be.

My study and research over the past 6 years have led myself and many others to believe that we are about to embark upon a very unique time in the history of mankind on this planet. I believe we are about to witness time running backward with the decline of the oil age. I’m not talking about the hands of your clock moving in reverse, but the achievements that we have come to embrace and depend upon gradually ceasing to exist in a useable form, for those living at that time. It will be living as if we were at the back of the history book, and reading forward to the front as the passage of time moves ahead.

Skills, materials, processes, and techniques crucial to our lives today will gradually be replaced by less sophisticated and less efficient skills, materials, processes, and techniques similar to those of a bygone era. James Kuntsler has written extensively about this process in several of his books. Many have read his works and pushed them aside as being a very imaginative work of fiction that surely never could happen. After all, the great works of fiction written in the past, such as those of Jules Verne, have suggested forward growth to the time period we are familiar with today. Not so fast though. Has there been a historical precedent when the very process of regression actually did occur?

Because of the diligent work of historians and archeologists in the last several decades, we have a view of a significant period of time in which such a regression indeed has occurred. Many techniques and technologies from this prior period were lost to humanity, for hundreds or even thousands of years, only to be “re-discovered” in the last two centuries. That period of time existed from around the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD forward. With its demise, many skills and technologies were lost. Hydraulic setting cement, which is an extensive component used to build our modern seaports, bridges, navigation channels, and dams, was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire, and not re-discovered until 1300 years later.

Modern brain surgery dating from around 1935, actually had its origins as far back as 7000 BC, but that skill also disappeared during the fall of the Roman Empire, only to be re-discovered 78 years ago.

The Antikythera Mechanism, a very sophisticated analog scientific computer, comprised of many intricate gears and dials, was in use during the first century BC, but its use was lost around the fall of Roman Empire, only to be re-discovered in the mid 1800’s. Not until the late 1800’s could precise gears be made to replicate some of the functions found in the earlier device from 1900 years previous.

History reveals that we have had massive society regression on a large scale in the past. To think ourselves immune to that today is faulty societal thinking. My belief is that we will begin to experience this process at a gradually accelerating pace sometime within the next five years. The decline of the oil age, and depletion of other natural resources will begin to remove the familiar from our lives at an ever increasing pace. All are now familiar with the predicted demise of the fossil fueled private transportation, and commercial air travel. What other goods and services also will begin a slow disappearing act? Just about anything depending on a supply of fossil fuel in its manufacture, transportation or content can be expected to decline in availability. Modern medicine, modern electronics, abundant affordable food, clothing, plastics, glues, building materials, school supplies, sports equipment, and just about anything your else your eyes see today.

So where do I think my grandchildren will live when they are 40 (ages today 10, 14, and 21)? I think they will live in a world very similar to the first decade of the last century. There will be some electricity available, mostly in the cities I think, but it will be intermittent. Those who are lucky enough still to have a land line will maintain some communication ability. There will be limited use of airplanes, but not for air travel. Medicine and medical supplies will be limited and not available in the variety that we have today. Anything plastic will be a curiosity, and not currently available. Radio, TV and Internet will become “things of the past” . Media, and the internet to some extent, exist only for one purpose, to advertise goods and services for you to buy. At some point the amount and variety of available goods will decline to a level that will no longer sustain the operational expense of any of those venues.

We seem to be building a better mouse trap for ourselves worldwide. The written word and pictures are now converting to an all electronic format. Book store closings abound. What will result when the lack of energy and fossil fuel chemicals make the devices displaying that media unavailable? A great amount of collective and personal history, along with “how to” will vanish. We will still have libraries with “hands on” physical books, but new material will be slow to obtain.

The hardest reality that my grandchildren will experience, will be the memory of a time when many more conveniences and goods were commonplace and available. If you were able to go back and ask people living at the beginning of the last century about the quality of their lives, they would likely tell you that life was pretty good for them. Quality of life would appear to them to be far better than that experienced by their ancestors.

I think that many generations may pass before the world, its people, and its resources will regain some form of sustainable equilibrium.

Where do you think your grandchildren will live?


The Limits of Technology

Last week we watched an unusual early spring outbreak of tornados from Kansas through Virginia. Some 39 people lost their lives in these violent storms. Having viewed the destruction on nightly TV news programs, it is amazing the fatalities weren’t even higher. During that outbreak, one community, Harveyville, Kansas, was hit without warning, with the loss of a resident. What made this particular incident so unnerving was the fact that the community was close to a powerful weather radar facility and experienced weather bureau staff. The storm had produced a tornado in an adjacent county prompting a warning for that county. But the radar seemed to show the storm falling apart quickly, and the weather bureau staff chose not to extend the warning to the next county, and the sirens didn’t sound.

It was not the fault of the radar or the radar operator in the interpretation of all those green, red and yellow displays. It was simply the fact that technology can do only so much in the detection and analysis of impending natural weather events. After many decades as a trained storm spotter, I have come to accept the limitations of technology in “Tornado Alley”, where there is no substitute for eyes on the ground. It may come as a shock to some that radar does not see a large percentage of tornados on the ground or funnel clouds aloft. We have become complacent in expecting that the colorful displays we see on TV are the final word on the threats before us. We have trusted that technology has reached a point where we no longer have to worry about a surprise attack from Mother Nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What surprised the weather bureau after the 2011 tornado outbreaks in Alabama and the Joplin tornado was the loss of life, some 500 plus individuals, the greatest loss since 1936, long before radar had been invented. Clearly, from the devastation observed, early warnings kept that loss from being many times greater. It demonstrated that technology was a significant contributor to preserving lives, but it was not a total solution to their living safely with Mother Nature on the rampage.

So what does all this rambling have to do with Peak Oil Blues? Over the past several days I have received several e-mails from friends about “new” technology in the oil and gas fields making us energy independent in a few short years. First of all, the “new” technology is some 60+ years old; it is only since oil and gas have reached higher prices allowing newer technologies to be employed.

Secondly, we have collectively come to expect that technology will triumph over any obstacle, even if it is the total lack of an available resource. As a nation we have allowed ourselves to become lulled into complacency, assuming that the wizards of technology will somehow allow us to extract the proverbial blood from a turnip, and therefore, we as a population have to do nothing but sit back, and continue our customary driving and consuming, while waiting. We much prefer to accept hype over facts, which can be uncomfortable.

But what happens when the population runs directly into the limits of technology? I think that like the storms of weather, we will face the storms of economics and energy. There will be many consequences where people and these storms collide. The consequences will be physical, economic, emotional, mental, and intellectual. Many will ask “Why didn’t the sirens sound?” so that we could take precautions and make preparations. The result will be very troubling times. There are no guidelines to follow. As a population we will have to write the “book” on how to deal with the decline of the energy age from Chapter 1 forward, since this has not occurred before. Many authors and websites have written the Preface; we will have to build upon their work.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but we must understand its limits in supplying solutions for our daily needs. Some of that supply will have to come from the work of our own hands and those immediately around us (community).

From all appearances, the economics and energy storm in reality is not diminishing, but the technology is not really detecting that, either from an omission or commission in reading its displays. Our technology is nearing its limits, but public awareness is almost “nil” that a storm indeed is approaching.

The sirens should be wailing now for you to take precautions, but they remain silent.

This is the time for you to have eyes to the sky.


The Snow Globe Crystal Ball

Every year about this time, little snow globes with winter scenes, snowmen and Santa appear on store shelves. As long as they are not disturbed the “snow” stays at the bottom of the globe. Shake the snow globe, and you have an instant blizzard. Fortune tellers, on the other hand, have frequently employed crystal balls to foresee the future. So what happens when you combine the two globes?

You get a situation that gives a glimpse of the future from current events that occurred during an intense snow storm. On Oct 29, the Northeastern part of the US was blanketed by a very heavy snow storm, unusual for its intensity this early in the winter season. The trees, still having their fall foliage, acted like giant strainers, catching and trapping much of the heavy wet snow. Predictably, the snow laden branches came crashing down on power lines all over the Northeast, blacking out large areas. The state of Connecticut was especially hard hit, the second time in as many months.

At first the inconveniences of the power outage were endured for a few days. Not only were residences affected, but the business sector was also powerless from the effects of this intense storm. After three or four days, people were becoming impatient, especially in hard hit Connecticut. After about a week of being without power, the public was getting very upset with the pace of power restoration, complaining loudly and frequently to their government officials and the utility. What made them even more distressed were the daily pronouncements from the utility and government officials that the power will all be restored “tomorrow”. Tomorrow came and went, in the dark. Even today, some 15 days after the initial snow fell, there are isolated places in Connecticut without electricity.

Being without electricity is very distressing. I know from experience. In 2005, we had an ice storm in early January that knocked out power in our neighborhood for 9 days. It was an eye-opener to see how dependent we had become on the genie in the wall outlet.

Peering into this combo snow globe-crystal ball of the Oct 29 storm, what can we foresee? Well, I think we can see what the public reaction will be when we start having energy shortages in the fossil fuel sectors. First, there may be annoyed resignation over the service stations being out of fuel. After three or four days pass and still no fuel, annoyance may turn to anger. After seven or eight days, anger may give way to rage. The public won’t have the visual reminders that a snow storm has left behind. Instead, there won’t be any fuel energy, and the sky may be sunny, and the birds are chirping. The culprit for their discomfort won’t be anywhere in sight. Public and private leadership will be passing the same information, “Tomorrow, everything will be restored”.

We in the peak oil community keep wondering when someone in leadership, either in the government, or in industry will own up to the dilemmas of peak oil. The truth is, they never will utter the words “peak oil”. To do so would beg the questions of “Exactly what did you know, and when did you first learn of it?” and “Why have you done nothing to prepare for this situation?”

What comes after rage? It all depends on the individual, and their circumstances in life. You may have rage turn to action, such as the Occupy movement. That will probably not be as effective or visible, because the fuel won’t be as available for them to travel to a point of protest. I believe rage will morph into fear. As the realization that a “normal” tomorrow isn’t likely a part of our future, the fear will encroach on everyone’s lives. People with great fear are prone to making all sorts of bad decisions, even those in top levels of government.

I feel we will see much of our remaining resources squandered, both individually and collectively, in an effort to re-establish some kind of familiar normal. The only way I know to prevent this type of activity personally, and calm some of the butterflies in our stomach, is to do a little something every day, every week, every month to prepare you for the inevitable decline in our energy futures.

We know in the peak oil community, that the day of permanent loss of personal fossil energy is drawing close. By preparing now for this future, we are letting the “snow” in our personal snow globe settle out, so we can see our choices for the future clearly. Most, unfortunately, will be trapped by the “snow” in a physical, mental, and emotional blizzard within their personal snow globes and therefore see no future. Our society is in for great turmoil, the likes of which we have never seen.

Take a sheet of paper. Write one thing you have done in the last 30 days to prepare for the future. If the page is blank, then my crystal ball sees a blizzard in your personal snow globe.

A snow shovel won’t help!


The Charge of the Peak Oil Brigade

Over 150 years ago, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem about a famous battle in the Crimean War. The poem was called “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and many of us had to read it in high school or college. One passage was called to mind this morning as I scanned my usual news sources.

Cannon to the right of them,
Cannon to the left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Today, instead of cannon, we can substitute turmoil. It seems that economic turmoil is firing volleys of bad news at us from one side, political turmoil fires volleys of bad news at us from the other side, and energy turmoil is loading up directly in front of us. Environmental turmoil continues to snipe at us from behind every rock.

Many of the Light Brigade 157 years ago knew their plight to be very dismal indeed. But as the poem said “Boldly they rode and well”. I have begun to see a weak connection between “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and those of us who have been on active duty in the peak oil community for a while.

There are many similarities between the “peak oilers” and the soldiers of Light Brigade. The Light Brigade was few in number, some 600, as recorded in the poem. We in the peak oil community find our number to be far less than needed for the magnitude of the energy shortage challenges approaching. Large caliber media cannons fire at us from every side. Governmental agency cannons fire at us repeatedly, from behind a very thick “smoke screen”. Corporate cannons fire at us from behind “smoke and mirrors media campaigns”. Our closest associates snipe at us from behind every rock. And yet, we continue pressing forward, for we know that there is no going back to the life of wasteful energy usage. Yes, we ride boldly forward with many of us having been wounded by ridicule, or apathy.

The Charge of the Peak Oil Brigade bears many similarities to the Light Brigade, and yet there are many differences too. The field across which we must ride recently filled with economic land mines, a problem the Light Brigade did not have to endure. We cannot anticipate what exact effect these land mines will have as we charge the challenges of peak oil. It is one thing to prepare for a peak oil future when the economic ground beneath our feet remains firm. It is totally another when we have to proceed with small steps, analyzing every inch of ground for fear that the path ahead of us may explode at any moment.

One trait common among the soldiers in the peak oil community is battle fatigue. The survivors of the Light Brigade knew this well. I think that on a regular basis, I really need to stop and step away from the issue a bit and rest, but I find myself drawn back to the issues and preparations like a moth to a porch light. Fighting a war on one front is hard. Fighting a war on two fronts is extremely difficult. We are engaged in wars on both the economic and energy fronts while contending with environmental issues as well..

I think that the large scale Occupy movement erupting all over the US, and now spreading to the rest of the world is a collective cry for relief from economic battle fatigue. Even those still employed are developing this malady, afraid to open emails from the boss on Fridays, afraid to watch the evening news, afraid to open the business section of the newspaper, afraid to look at their bank and credit card statements, and afraid to open their quarterly 401k statement.

What can we do to combat this battle fatigue? I find that working with my hands towards a long term sustainability goal is a great stress reliever. Peak Shrink has encouraged us to take a break from the talking heads on TV, as well as the peak oil sites when things seem to be overwhelming. Good advice. You can’t stick your head in the sand and leave it there like 98% of the population, but you must maintain balance in life. Like the old saying we used to hear; “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” The version that we need to consider is “All Peak Oil and no play makes Jack very mal-adjusted”.

We could combat economic battle fatigue by joining a protest movement like the Occupy group, but I think that beneath the surface we realize the economic battle fatigue has roots further down than the financial institutions, The energy monster is what we peak oilers most fear. Gathering in front of banks would soon be recognized as a fruitless venture for us.

How is our charge to proceed? Everyone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. This statement will have to be our marching order going forward. We will need to build our community around us and share the things we can do with others, as they in turn share with us. This is our only practical formula for combating energy and economic battle fatigue.

All the soldiers of the Light Brigade had great fear for the immediate future before them, but they were determined not to be defined by their fears and battle fatigue.

Is your sword at the ready, or is it rusty?



Of Hurricanes, Hubris and Hot Water


Welcome Chris Martenson readers and Radio EcoShock listeners.

This post is both my own experiences of living through Hurricane Irene on Sunday, 8/29/11, and a few thoughts about what is truly dangerous and what kills people in this type of storm.  Most of the “news” clippings below are deaths from Hurricane Irene.  These dramatic photos are all Hurricane Irene today, in Western MA (and one from Southern VT).  I hope they give you cause for sober reflection when news reports say “It was all overblown!”  Let’s be careful out there, those of us on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.  Even as the sun shines, most of the dangers of a hurricane happen AFTER the winds and rains die down.
Dr. K

"That Road is closed, Lady." Credit: Bridget Lilly

I was at a wedding of a dear friend yesterday, far north of my home, and returned later than we planned.  We knew we were racing against Hurricane Irene, but somehow, the gorgeous weather all day on Saturday, which made my friends’ wedding picture perfect, lulled us into believing that no real danger was possible.

That was my “feeling.”

I “felt” safe, although I intellectually realized that high winds and heavy rain could, indeed, do damage.

The rain was steady, sometimes heavy, but the tropical force wind never materialized as we drove, lulling us into a false sense of security.  We passed several downed trees of considerable size, on the interstate, and they blocked one of the two lanes.  They were taken down not by wind, but by the amount of rain we were getting.  We were able to get around both of them.  We stuck to the highway for most of our travels, but closer to home, we stopped to get gas, and chose the “faster” route home, over the “highway” route.

Richardson's Candy Kitchen - Deerfield, MA "The town where we got gas today." Credit: Taylor Williams

Remember, we were out to “beat” Irene.  We were rewarded with a washed out road and a flooded downtown of one small village.  We retraced our steps and re-routed to the interstate once again.

Getting home in a rural area doesn’t lend itself to unlimited choices.  There are “main roads” and there are “back roads.”  And I mean “back:” deep woods and bad dirt roads that would leave you stranded and flooded out, with downed trees and mudslides.  In truth, I had no idea how “bad” the reality actually was.

Colrain St. (the street is under water) - Greenfield, MA.: What Can Happen on Our "Back Roads"

Only 45 minutes from our home, we were turned away again, as the river overflowed its banks onto the main road.  Each detour brought us closer and closer to the hurricane’s “center” for our area, as we drove south.  We made another two stops, consulting with road crews and police, when downed electrical poles and flooding once again blocked our path.  There was a downed power line, and while DH told me to “pull farther over,” I thought we were well clear of his walking on the electric wire.  Now I wasn’t so sure.  During our final stop for flashing lights we could see the road closing up, sinking under the rising water.  Lucky for us, while the cop and the road crew disagreed, we were finally allowed to slip through, as it was still somewhat passable, although just about to close to traffic.

As we turned each corner, we were fully aware that a tree limb or power line could prevent us from arriving home.  We had two downed electrical poles on our street alone, during our last 5-day power outage.  We forgot the rain ponchos and the Wellingtons, of course, and even so, walking in a hurricane, through forested roads, isn’t the brightest idea.

On My Way Back Home - Rt 9 - Williamsburg, Ma Photo: John Warriner

That “good feeling” turned to deep, profound anxiety.

From “Modern Petroleum Homo Sapien” we became the “Saps” in Homo Sapien.  It was a “thinning of the herd” moment, when you realize that you’re the one being tested for possible thinning for your poor timing or lack of wits. “Why the hell are you not at home during a hurricane!?!…” I heard a voice shout in my head.  I kept thinking all about the wind.  DH and I were focused on the wind.

We aren’t alone.

As I’ve written earlier, your mental maps can kill you.

Eighty-one percent of those surveyed about hurricanes perceive their wind risk to be medium or high while 42% perceive their flood risk to be so.  In other words, we think wind dangerous, but we tend to critically underestimate the dangers of flooding.

No Passage - Dunbar Brook - Monroe Bridge, MA

Our vegetables were harvested and the land was picked up of all projectiles.  We drove in our heaviest car.  But what we had completely underestimated was the sheer power of water.  Too much water.  Surging all around us. Water tipping over trees and power lines.  It had washed away or flooded the roads we desperately needed to use to get home.  Many of these washed-out roads had no safety officials to send us away.  The road wasn’t closed.  We’d just be driving along, and suddenly,  no road would be ahead of us.

On Hot Water and Dirty Dishes

Our home was in darkness when we arrived, and again, the problem was water.  Hot water.  While most often reliable, DD had forgotten to do the dishes, and she was worried and relieved when we walked in.  So were we.  It was so dark out, it looked to be 7:30 pm, although it was only 1 pm.  We had been on the road 5 hours for a trip that should have taken half as long, but now we were home.  All of the cleaning and tidying was easier to do in pale sunlight than pitch dark, so a new race was on.

DH and I had lived without electricity in the dead of winter for five days, and we knew how to function that way.  We have a well, but the pump that brings water to us is still electric.  One of our next purchases will be a “Simple Pump,” that allows us to pump and therefore access our own water.  We had put up water for drinking and for washing before we left, and now we had to heat that water to do the dishes or as bath (-like) water.  Folks in the year 1900 would have given an eye tooth for a bath full of delightfully hot water, and I know why.  After heating water on a stovetop to pore in a tub, and finding the right balance between “scalding” and “cold,” you’ve got what, about 8 minutes to wash and get out of the water?

We kept “drinking” water separated from the “washing” or “waste” water, (we are looking for a good whole house filter) and these needed to be clearly marked.  Toilets can flush with a rush of water when the pump stops.  It hits the toilet after running through the kitchen to clean the dishes.  Water is never wasted when you have no electricity.  (The most hated household task before running water was cleaning clothes, because of all the lugging of water…)

Clesson Brook Road - Buckland, MA Credit: Sarah Blinn

Any task is made tougher without water, but especially hot running water.  But starting out with a dirty house makes a tough job even tougher.  One of my friends argues that hygiene standards degrade during hard times, and while that may be true, it should be the opposite.  When disasters strike, keeping things clean and sanitary should become an even GREATER priority, because the risk of infection increases.  If you are forewarned about upcoming trouble, take the time to clean the dishes, do the laundry and tidy as well as bring in needed supplies including daily medication.  Being without hot running water is no time to discover a moldy fridge.  Without electricity, you’ll be fighting that problem anyway, so there’s no need to give mold a running head start.

My freezers were filled with bags of ice, ready for the electrical loss, but my kitchen was a mess–dirty dishes, counters, sink, wash basin, cutting boards and island.  Even the containers that filter our water were less than stellar.  Doing this sort of cleaning without plenty of hot water was a real chore.  And it requires a lot more in the way of dish towels, and even the drawer that usually had plenty, turned up meager pickings.  Without running water and electricity, the modern housekeeper is sent back to the 1860’s-1890’s.

The electricity returned just as I put the last (grimy) cold-water washed glass in the strainer.  The hot water immediately pored from the tap, and I rewashed them with considerable satisfaction.  Dish towels went into the washing machine, and the kitchen was once again spotless in no time.  But here’s what I was left to think about:  Much of surviving or staying safe during a natural disaster is the work you do well in advance.  The gutters you repaired and used the right nails to secure, so they won’t blow off.  The propane tanks you filled last month.  The car wipers that were replaced and the tires that have tread.  The extra month’s supply of medicines you got from your MD, so you don’t have to run to the pharmacy today, even if you have just a few pills left in the current month’s prescription.  Your larder.

And, of course, the time you spent considering that “nature” is not your “friend” and is not invested in keeping you alive, if you do not respect the sheer magnitude of its force, is time well spent.  Hubris is deadly, as is ignorance.

One set of actions that we did years before, that we’ve never regretted is having the trees cut down around our home, made it easier to survive this challenge, with one less threat to our safety.  But we had to think beyond just “wind damage” and onto the other types of problems that hurricanes present.

Most of the injuries and deaths that come from hurricanes are preventable, but these actions require foresight:


  • Do as I say, not as I do.  Stop trying to play “chicken” with natural disasters.  Get off the road.  Too many people are just too ill-informed about the power of a raging surge of water.
    • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling.  Without sonar or a ruler, you can’t “tell” how deep the water is in the middle of that “puddle.”  Don’t risk it.
    • A foot of water will float many vehicles.
    • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-ups.

Woodard St. - Greenfield, MA Credit: Dave Sherman

Puerto Rico:  A 62-year-old woman was killed as she tried to cross a river in her car and was swept away, Melina Simeonides, a spokeswoman for the commonwealth’s emergency management agency, said in a phone interview.

New Jersey:  The body of a 20-year-old woman was recovered from a gray Honda Accord in floodwaters in Pilesgrove, 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Philadelphia, said Sergeant Brian Polite, a spokesman for the state police. A diver found the woman in the submerged car about 150 feet off of Route 40 at 9:30 a.m. local time, eight hours after she had phoned her boyfriend and police to report she was “up to her neck” in water, Polite said at a news conference.  Emergency crews who were looking for that woman rescued another stranded motorist, Polite said.

Car is Under Water in Downtown Charlemont

Today, one of my neighbors told of the rising river lifting and floating her neighbor’s horse trailer down the river behind her house…


A tree falls on a roof in Holyoke, MA Credit: Linda

  • Deaths resulting from trees and tree limbs collapsing on roofs can be prevented by cutting down trees over-hanging or too close to the house.  It costs a ton of cash to remove trees, and it is not a job for amateurs, but the lives you save after cutting down that old dying majestic elm in your front yard, could be your own.  Or your child’s.  And you can use it to heat your home, if you have a wood-burning stove.  The Weather-Resilient Garden: A Defensive Approach to Planning & Landscaping, by Charles W. G. Smith is chock full of defensive landscaping for many types of natural disasters, and defensive cutting of trees for forest fires (what I thought would be our greatest danger) turned out to be a great plan for hurricanes too.

Maryland:  A woman was killed in Queen Anne’s County after a tree fell on a house, collapsing the chimney, said Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the state emergency management agency.

Connecticut:  One fatality has been reported, after an unidentified senior citizen died in a house fire caused by a falling tree limb in the town of Prospect, according to Lieutenant P.J. Conway, a fire department spokesman.

Newport News, Va: an 11-year-old boy was killed when a tree crashed into his apartment building, said Kim Lee, a spokeswoman for the city.


  • After the storm has dissipated, hurricanes still kill. One of the greatest risks come from fallen power lines.  People don’t have to actually touch them to be injured. People can be badly burned even if they are standing a distance away, because the wet ground can transmit electricity from the wires.

Dale Gauding, a spokesman for Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk, Va, said:

 “We see injuries as people go outside on ladders and try to clean up. These are people who use chain saws only once a year, and suddenly they are getting themselves hurt.

Losing power, or trying to replace the wonders of electricity, or power your home another way, also causes injury and death.


    • The summer heat can cause hyperthermia after days without electricity to run fans or air conditioners.  Hyperthermia can be a big problem, especially for children and the elderly, as people wait in upper floors of tenements for electricity to return, and air conditioners to start up again.  Learning the signs and treatments for hyperthermia can be a lifesaver.


  • The risks of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning goes up after a hurricane, as people run portable generators after losing electricity, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.  More than 80 people die from generator-related carbon monoxide poisoning every year.  Install carbon monoxide alarms outside sleeping area and on every level of the home to protect against poisoning. They are cheap protection.  Change the alarms’ batteries every year, on your birthday, so you remember.
  • The safest way to set up a generator is on a permanent concrete slab, at least 50 yards from the house, secured with a metal chain, but like cutting down trees, this takes money and planning ahead. Many are fearful that their generator will get stolen, so choose, instead, to run them in their basements or garages.  Even running them next to your house is a bad idea.
  • CO is odorless and colorless, and it can kill in minutes.  Of those that pass out from carbon monoxide poisoning, one-third die, and another third have permanent injuries.


Bring out the board games and card games for bored children, and take time to play them with your kids.  Expect some “electronic entertainment device withdrawal.” This can last hours or even a day or two, with whining and demanding their computer and X-Box “fix.”  Be sure to demonstrate that they “don’t work without electricity” and make it a teaching moment after they calm down from their protests.  Explain that now you need their help to keep the family running smoothly.  Keep them busy with necessary age-appropriate tasks that have to get done.  Then give them “you time.”  What’s amazing is that we learned the last time we went without electrical juice, that we all calmed down a bit more, and came together (esp. in the winter to keep warm)  all in the same room.  We started to engaged in fun activities that don’t seem so fun when the power is on.  We played board games and did puzzles.  We made jewelry and sang songs.   Even a jaded late teen got into the groove because it went on so long, and was “almost sorry” that the power came back on.  I know what he meant.

But not everyone can imagine living even a day without power…

After days without electricity to power the TV — when laptop batteries are long dead — people sometimes fire up generators simply to fuel their home entertainment systems, says Caroline Fife, professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. After Hurricane Ike hit Texas in 2008, more than half the patients treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at a Houston hospital had turned on the generator to power TV or video games, according to her 2009 report in Pediatrics.

Parents may be especially tempted to power up video equipment if they worry that it’s too dangerous to let kids play outside because of debris or fallen power lines, Fife says.

…five people between the ages of 14 and 54 were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning, after being found in the 600 block of Greendale Road, Glenview fire officials told TribLocal. The victims, identified by as the Sulski family, were taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.

Their generator was operating in a garage, and should have been outside, Habermehl reported. Fire officials believe the fumes seeped into the family’s house, resulting in a dangerous carbon monoxide concentration of 600 parts per million, TribLocal reported.

Rob Sulski told the generator was positioned away from the family’s home, but a portable air conditioning unit might have drawn the poisonous gas in. He told the Web site the family became alarmed when everyone was getting up to urinate frequently in the night, then began getting headaches.

•There were at least seven carbon-monoxide-related deaths from charcoal or charcoal grills in 2007.  Don’t use charcoal grills or camp stoves indoors.


•Battery Powered LED Puck Lights are a cheap alternative to candles.  They are cheap enough to put up in every room, and leave there until an emergency.  I put ours next to the light switch, because I always go to turn on the light during a power outage, even days later.  With the Puck Lights, I just transfer the habit.


    • Flooded basements can be dangerous.  This pamphlet provides basic information.

Bad Things Happen to Good People in Conway MA


    • Know what to do, if you have to evacuate your home. Become educated about the natural disasters that befall your home region.  For hurricanes, The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale informs people of the risk and what the intensity of a hurricane actually means. Discuss with household decisionmakers if, when, how, and where you will go if you are presented with evacuation directives and at what level of intensity would you leave. Would you go if it were a voluntary evacuation? In response to a mandatory evacuation order?  Most of those who evacuate stay with friends or family.  Don’t leave it to a time of crisis to check with your loved ones whether they’ll have you, and whether you can bring “Peppy” the pet.  Know what you will do with your pets, who may not be able to travel with you. Learn how to close up a home to keep it safe, while you are gone.  The best book I know on how to do that, complete with detailed instructions, is Kathy Harrison’s Just In Case.  Kathy and I are friends, but it is still the best book I’ve found on the subject.

“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”    Charlemont, MA Credit: Katie Benedetti


  • Storm surges during hurricanes do the most damage.  While most people tend to focus on the intensity of hurricane winds, more will consider evacuating if they believe flooding is likely.  There were 25 foot storm surges in Galveston Bay, Texas in 2008.  That means the seas there rose a maximum of 25 feet above mean sea level.  If you are at or below sea level, or are close to oceans, rivers or even streams, consider flood insurance.  Not sure?  Here’s a handy map where you can check just where you live, and what will flood when water rises.  It covers almost everywhere on Earth.  Water does tremendous damage not only to houses, but to roads as well.  When immediate danger is over, drivers can find themselves the victims of collapsing roads that were invisibly damaged by flooding then receding water.
  Stage Road – Cummington, MA   Credit: Joanne Tear
  • I’m downhill, and heck, with the way the weather has been, DH insisted we get it and I’m glad we did.  Few people have it.  More will in the future.  Estimate your premiums if you are in the US, at  If your rates are high, perhaps you might ask yourself why.  The policy does not take effect for 30 days, for obvious reasons.  One of the reasons hurricanes are so damaging today, is that more and more people are insisting on living closer and closer to the water.  And the oceans are rising. The one-foot rise in our oceans over the last century means that a five foot ocean break built a century ago is only 4 feet of protection today. Especially in cities like New York, where hurricanes are a relative unknown, how much public monies will be spent shoring up against rising tides?  We’ll perhaps see fewer hurricanes touching down on land because of the conditions of the oceans, but scientists agree that those that make landfall will be more powerful and destructive. How great will it be to live in some of the “best” neighborhoods in wonderful cities, if part of the price is periodic evacuations, flooding, and death? And what about the costs? Flood insurance alone for these “high risk” areas will soon become even more prohibitive.  The cost of an evacuation – travel expenditures, lost wages, and missed vacations – is of secondary importance, if it is considered at all, yet it figures into decision-making for both public officials and private citizens. One study found that hurricane evacuation costs for ocean counties in North Carolina ranged from about $1 million to $50 million (in 2000 dollars) depending on storm intensity and emergency management policy.  How will governments bear this repeated costs?

Which brings me to my closing thoughts about my own experience, and perhaps a common human experience.  When we think about disaster, we often imagine taking immediate action to minimize the damage:  running out and pulling in the lawn chairs and flower pots so they don’t become hurricane projectiles.  But more often, preparing for all the impending risks requires more careful long-term thinking.  But despite all the planning over the years, all the things we’ve done to prepare for the unexpected, our lack of planning this day, even our few hours delay because of an extra hour or two of sleep after a joyful evening of celebration, could have cost us our lives.

For all of those who lost loved ones in Hurricane Irene, my heart goes out to you.  May their memory be a blessing.