Peak Oil survivalists: all sorts of questions...

In a thread long ago, I noted the existence of Peak Oil survivalists - people who are making drastic changes to their lifestyles on the assumption that global civilization will be collapsing in their lifetimes.

The Harper’s article I refer to may not be online (I’ve so far failed to find it), but this AP article shows the efforts some of these people are going to. Others mentioned in my previous thread including buying gold and moving to places like New Zealand or offshore houseboats.

This whole phenomenon, especially in light of modern economic realities as quoted in my linked article, have brought up several questions in my mind:

Are most Peak Oil believers taking such actions themselves, especially the higher profile ones? If so, why? If not, why not? Would most Peak Oil believers, especially the higher profile ones, encourage such actions? Again, why or why not? What about just the average joe who believes (both questions)? What exactly should we be doing?

Are the efforts the people in the article (and mentioned in my earlier thread) going through worthwhile? (Worthwhile in the sense that, although losing weight and becoming more self-sufficient are arguably good things in of themselves, these actions could very well be mutually exclusive with self-interest should the worst NOT happen.) Does the number of people (or lack thereof) taking these steps do anything to one side or the other of the whole debate?

That’s a lot of questions. I think I’ll start by saying that I don’t think the peak oil theory is correct, because I don’t see why oil production would suddenly drop to almost nothing instead of gradually becoming harder to extract over time. No resource behaves in this way, so why should oil?

I think most people (including myself) will agree that oil resources can’t last forever against rapidly increasing worldwide demand, but rational people realize that the situation is bad enough without exaggerating it.

The problem most peak oil survivalists have is that they are excessive. Reducing oil consumption is a good good thing. Learning how to reuse things you would otherwise have to replace is good too. Withdrawing from the worldwide economy and stockpiling gold doesn’t do anyone any good. Reverting to 17th century technology is retarded. It’s like going to the emergency room for a papercut, or amputating your arm when you break your finger.

I don’t think the “debate” matters much. The market is very good at supplying us with stuff it can sell to us, and finding alternatives if it can’t. As oil becomes more expensive, measures to improve oil conservation become more attractive. In the future when oil becomes even more expensive, alternatives to oil will become more attractive. Nothing anyone says on either side of the peak oil debate will change this, so it doesn’t really matter too much what lengths the nutjobs go to in order to protect themselves from a collapsed economy.

Part of the Peak Oil thesis is that the oil supply doesn’t need to drop to zero instantaneously to cause the collapse of society; just a sharp increase in demand combined with declining supplies is enough to do it.

I’m not sure why they advocate hoarding silver and gold. In the post-oil world they describe, wouldn’t they just be heavy metals that you can’t eat?

Yeah… I’d be stockpiling oil


Or both! Then the guns could be well-lubricated!

Didn’t The Road Warrior already answer these questions?

Soon the strong among us shall all be roaming the deserts carrying shotguns and wearing football pads and bondage gear.

I will take my advice for surviving a post-oil apocalypse from Mad Max, hence I’m buying me a five-liter V8 interceptor :slight_smile:


Sadly, most 'dopers being gun adverse, will quickly go extinct. But I will remember you all as I roam the wastelands in my tight leather with my sawed off shotgun and trusty gurkha knife at my side…


While a supercharged V8 Ford Falcon has to be the worst posible vehicle to own in a world short on gas, Mutants battling in modified Priuses wouldn’t be as badass.

It wouldn’t. Demand would continue increasing at whatever rate, however supply would start to decrease as additional sources became harder and more expensive to get at. The result would be that oil prices would become dramatically higher.

Oh, I dunno. In the video for You Got Lucky, Tom Petty managed to look pretty badass wandering the wastelands in a very Prius-like vehicle.

I’m not terribly surprised that no one, even BrainGlutton the Kunstler fanatic, takes these people seriously. After all, if you did, you sure wouldn’t be hanging around here.

On the other hand, some of my questions still leave me wondering. Is creating people like that a goal of apocalyptic Peak Oil advocates like Kunstler? How would they generally react to people doing this because of what they say?

I also have to wonder if their reaction is quite as unreasonable as some make it out to be. After all, as Spectre of Pithecanthropus said, part of the thesis is that it would just take a couple of random events (in a CNN special’s hypothetical case, a category 5 hurricane taking out Texas refineries, then a major terrorist attack on Saudi oil fields by bin Laden) to completely wipe out Western technological civilization. Given what we’re seeing these days with $4/gallon gas, is it REALLY all that unlikely? If not, can we really blame some folks for overreacting a tad? (I ask not whether they’re rational, but if they’re really as irrational as “amputating an arm because of a paper cut.”)

You can speculate all sorts of crazy hyptheticals that are a lot more likely and scary than “several random unrelated events all come together with perfect timing to make gas really REALLY expensive”. The oil mega-infrastructure is a little more widespread and resilient than you give it credit for.

The terrorist threat is negligible. You can’t just plant a bomb somewhere or get a couple of guys to hijack a plane or three and destroy the world’s oil supply. Destroying a single target, like an oil rig or the World Trade Center, is easy. Destroying the whole Saudi oil infrastructure or the entire American business economy just isn’t possible with a terrorist attack, or even a whole bunch of them. Terrorist attacks could drive the cost of oil up, obviously, but that’s a big leap from sudden worldwide civilization collapse.


It seems to me we see a pretty constant, low-level stream of people dropping out, setting up compounds loaded with guns and gold, and waiting for civilization to collapse. I heard about a lot of them in the run-up to 2000, but “survivalists” were a meme long before that.

I think some people just have a tendency to do this, and will latch onto whatever the excuse du jour might be. Then the media does some stories about a handful of kooks, and there you go, a movement.

Oh, it’s all fun and games until somebody blows up a courthouse!

Well, the Oklahoma City bombing certainly took away some of the lustre of the survivalist/militia movement, didn’t it? I guess they’ve slowly rebuilt from the collapse of their civilization and are now unashamed to be seen in public again.

I think some of what they say makes sense, and would be a lot more true if we didn’t have alternate sources of energy. Fact is, if we ever got into a crunch like that (which what I’m saying is we might), it may be chaos at first but within a year or two we’d just be liquifying coal.

But really the point is: the argument is that supplies won’t suddenly drop, instead prices would suddenly skyrocket. That’s what I think is possible. But all this means is we’ll surrender all our valuables to the oil kings, but there’d still be plenty of fuel to actually keep machinery running.

I’ve been reading more of the other thread… it seems Kunstler doesn’t understand the self-eating snake of supply and demand. He’s saying that if prices quintuple or even rise much less than that, we’ll all be unable to afford oil. But if we “can’t afford” it and don’t buy it, prices wouldn’t quintuple. Either people will fight to give their money to oil companies until the poorer people just drop out of the competition (how a high price regulates distibution) or no one will want to go gas stations out of dignity, and thus drop themselves out of the competition (how lowered demand will keep prices at bay).

Actually… if anything… ‘peak oil’ may be a catastrophy for the developing nations. Of course, they already know a thing or two about civilization that’s not as we know it…