Four Letters Re: What Will We Eat as the Oil Runs Out?, by Richard Heinberg

What scares me [in Heinberg’s article] is the use of words like “policy,” “regulations,” “controls,” “comprehensive plan,” etc.
At the least, this is government control of the economy. At the worst, of our personal lives. (Population control.)
He may have some technical points, but he is a bad sociologist. And a bad economist.

A free economy may not be the most efficient, but it works very well when the social side is considered.
There are all ready farmers of multi thousand acre places on the Great Plains, both US and Canada that are growing a few hundred acres of oil seed stock for their own, on farm, bio diesel operations.
Solar heated pig houses have been around for decades.
It is not uncommon for today’s dairy farms to create more electricity than they need with generators running off methane made on site.
I just read a story where a local ice company converted from electric refrigeration to a solar heated ammonia system. His electric bill was virtually eliminated.
All this so Joe Sixpack can get a bag of ice on his way to the lake.

All this is being done by individuals looking at current events, and thinking about the future. On their own.No “comprehensive plan” needed. No government involvement needed. (Or wanted.)

People are not stupid. They can, and do, make mistakes. But in the end, no control has always won out over control.
Do I think we have problems on the horizon? Sure. And I am making plans.
But I do not think running out of oil will be the cause. There are two factors keeping this from happening. First,
People, and companies, are, on their own, starting to conserve and convert.(Wal-Mart, and others, are putting solar panels on their store roofs.)

Second., There are still huge, untapped reserves around the Earth.
To date they have been bypassed for economic and political reasons, but when the price becomes right, those obstacles seem to go away.
According to Paul Ehrlich we all should have starved to death 30 years ago if we didn’t come up with a “comprehensive plan.”
We didn’t, and I don’t know about you, but I weigh about twice what I did 30 years ago. – Ken S.


The article by Richard Heinberg was very informative, but after all is said and done the fact remains that the problem is not food production, peak oil, peak water, phosphorous or anything else. Unless population growth is addressed, no amount of organic farming, technology or other methods of increasing production can be anything but a temporary fix.
Thank you for your fine blog. – E.L. in Washington



I am not so sure about the veracity of the two-part article by Richard Heinberg . Let me give you two examples:

On the point of needing fertilizer he wrote:
“The only solution here will be to recycle nutrients by returning all animal and humans manures to cultivated soil, as Asian farmers did for many centuries, and as many ecological farmers have long advocated.”

It has been long known that spreading human waste in the field also spreads stomach ailments and other diseases. I would advise thinking about this a bit more
before doing it.

At the end of his article Richard Heinberg mentioned no-interest loans for farm land purchases. Didn’t we just see what low interest rates for home loans did? Something like create a bubble in house prices, bubble pops, people lose their homes, banks around the world start failing. God only knows what else is in store for us because of bad monetary policy. And this guy wants to repeat this who thing by putting the same conditions on farm land, the thing that grows our food. – Ben M.


Dear Jim:
Well Richard Heinberg’s article certainly alarmed me, but not in the way he intended!
Yes, Peak Oil is real – but like any other commodity in a free market, shortages produce higher prices. Higher prices produce conservation, substitution, innovation, and a horde of entrepreneurs seeking to profit from the changed economic circumstances by giving consumers better options. No guarantees that our standard of living won’t go down during the transition to other energy sources, but the free (or currently semi-free) market has produced an incredible rise in living standards for a few centuries now (even before oil came on stream).
Richard Heinberg seems blind to the power of the market, and instead worships the power of the state to solve the Peak Oil problem. My jaw dropped when he spoke approvingly of how Cuba’s command economy adapted to the loss of Soviet oil. Yes, let’s just listen to the “experts” and go back to using oxen like the Cubans! Yikes! Somehow I think the human race has the creativity and ingenuity to do a little better than that!
But the biggest clue to his statist mindset – he calls for government subsidies of the “appropriate” solutions. And exactly which “omniscient” bureaucrat or politician figures out the optimal solution(s) to subsidize? To quote Thomas Sowell roughly: “I can’t think of a worse system than having the the people making the decisions be the same ones who pay no price for being wrong.”

How about entrepreneurs with their own money on the line making those decisions? How about consumers, voting with their own money, deciding which of these entrepreneurs profits? You know, the free market system that has the poorest folks in our society living better than the kings of 300 years ago…
Finally, the US government that Mr. Heinberg thinks can make rational decisions currently subsidizes the insane ethanol boondoggle. Many studies indicate ethanol takes more energy in oil inputs than the energy produced as ethanol. So our government subsidizes this energy sinkhole, sucking up scarce grain supplies, and consequently grain prices are artificially high. This is causing malnutrition of some of the poorest people on the planet. Why not even a peep about the reality of government subsidies distorting the market, and the truly evil results.
The sad part is that all the good that comes from his organization (the Post Carbon Institute) and its’ promotion of creative solutions will be overshadowed by the damage done by giving more intellectual support to government intervention.

So, indeed I am alarmed. If the Congress Critters listen to “experts” like this, who are ignorant of free market economics, we will have more boondoggles like the ethanol subsidies. If Peak Oil is a big a problem as he thinks it is, then we can’t afford government “help” misallocating scarce resources into losing propositions – while over taxation and over-regulation strangles entrepreneurs searching for viable solutions. Yours truly, – OSOM