So, I'm wondering how long I have to get my family off-grid
Before peak oil hits and we all starve to death.
I figure I can't stay where I am. I'll have to build a compound out in the middle of the desert where I'll be less likely to be accosted in raids over food, water, fuel, etc...
I can grow my own plants, process my own waste, produce my own heat, and maybe even generate a little electricity. The big problem I'm seeing is the complete inability to produce any complex pharmaceuticals.
March 27th, 2007 9:57am
..don't forget Sangamon's principle
March 27th, 2007 10:01am
It's not recreation that I'm concerned with. Rather survival.
March 27th, 2007 10:04am
Sangamon's principle still applies, even if you need them to stay alive.
Have you read Lucifer's Hammer? It's been a while, but I recall that as being one of the most (realistically) bleak depictions of survival after a disaster.
March 27th, 2007 10:07am
March 27th, 2007 10:18am
Never. The power grid's not going to fail within our grandkids' lifetimes any more than plumbing or roads or Internet will fail.
There may come a time when the prices converge much closer than they are now. But that's a much different, slower scenario (as price is the only benefit of a networked service, people will hop off the grid even when there's a premium).
March 27th, 2007 10:27am
That's a pretty bold statement.
March 27th, 2007 10:31am
I suggest you start getting experience by growing your own vegetables in the backyard and canning/preserving them. If your town has garden allotments, look into those for more turf to farm. Tomatoes are pretty hard to kill and you can make spaghetti sauce (which is also pretty hard to screw up). Pickles are harder to make (ok, I'm picky about pickles) but a next step in preserving food. Most supermarkets have a tiny section for canning supplies: Ball jars and caps, and you've probably overlooked it.
If you can't grow and preserve your own food, you won't live long enough to do other things. Start there.
March 27th, 2007 10:56am
Nope I've seen the canning supplies. Learning to preserve food is definitely on my list. Can't hurt even if it turns out I'm ultra-paranoid.
March 27th, 2007 10:58am
Which you are. You did the same thing during Y2K, which was pretty funny.
March 27th, 2007 11:01am
For Y2K I had a wall full of canned goods, about 20 gallons of water, a propane stove, and a battery powered lantern.
Not exactly preparations for the apocalypse.
March 27th, 2007 11:19am
Everyone should always be prepared for minor disasters -- major weather events, terrorist strikes, or just shit breaking down: Just look at how disrupted the East Coast was in 2003 when a power line broke in Ohio.
Having said that, you've Reddit a little too much if you really think peak oil is going to hit and chaos will erupt worldwide.
March 27th, 2007 11:26am
> in the middle of the desert
See you in the thunder dome!
son of parnas
March 27th, 2007 11:42am
If there is a complete, permanent breakdown of society, I'm afraid that the folks with health conditions that require a lot of specialized care and complex pharmaceuticals just to survive probably aren't going to last very long. File it under survival of the fittest.
March 27th, 2007 12:08pm
You'd be surprised how many drugs a determined person can stockpile.
Not only that, but there are enough homeopathic remedies around to keep me going if it became necessary. My drugs support a somewhat more permissive lifestyle.
March 27th, 2007 12:15pm
> That's a pretty bold statement.
For one thing there's far too much coal in the US. Then there's nuclear. It never surprises how adaptive humans are - when Germany ran out of natural nitrogen for ammunition and fertilizer due to WWI, it simply invented a manufacturing process. When it ran out of oil resources during WWII, it used coal. It built new railroads as fast as USSR and Britain could bomb them.
The Dark Ages will require more than one thing to go wrong.
March 27th, 2007 12:19pm
Well, granted there are alternatives and adaptations that can be made, but our society is SO petroleum addicted and SO dependant upon oil in nearly every aspect of industry that you can't honestly expect there to be anything less than major disruption when switching becomes necessary.
March 27th, 2007 12:21pm
I'm sure it's possible to stockpile a lifetime's supply of many things. If well taken care of, away from sunlight, doesn't require refrigeration, they can even last decades past the expiration date. Though depending on the drug, there may be a loss of pharmacological activity. It could be quite expensive to maintain that lifetime's supply at all times in preparation for an apocalypse though, I would imagine.
I keep a decent supply of antibiotics and basics like peroxide and alchohol at hand, but I don't go extreme with it. Have about a years supply of food at hand, though it would need to be supplemented through foraging. I already do canning from the garden and smoking of meats, so I'm all set there, and I'm already off the grid so I don't have too many worries about that.
If there's fallout in this area, that would be a problem. I have iodine pills to reduce the problems from having to eat stuff laced with ionizing radiation, but it would still be a serious problem.
March 27th, 2007 12:24pm
We're less dependent on oil than 30 years ago.
But why do folks think dependence (on other people, other economic entities) is a categorically bad thing?
As Adam Smith would have said, the sandwich maker is dependent on the baker who is dependent on the miller who's dependent on the farmer who's dependent on energy inputs. If interdependence was always bad then the sandwich maker should be planting his own wheat.
March 27th, 2007 12:44pm
Dependance isn't a bad thing at all. It breeds harmony and that's a good thing.
The problem is dependance on unsustainable constructs, like a crude-oil based society.
March 27th, 2007 12:47pm
>Well, granted there are alternatives and adaptations that
>can be made, but our society is SO petroleum addicted and
>SO dependant upon oil in nearly every aspect of industry
>that you can't honestly expect there to be anything
>less than major disruption when switching becomes necessary.
The switchover is not going to be instantaneous. In fact, I'd be surprised if it took under a decade of economic pressure forcing a switchover.
We have the technology to switch from using oil to using shale instead, the only reason we're not using it now is because it's not cost effective while oil is < $60 a barrel. It will be as soon as oil is $80 a barrel. When that happens we might start flying a little less, but the collapse of society it sure as hell won't be.
You'd do better to worry about global warming - there's no economic incentive to solve it. At the moment all that means, however, is to check and see if there's a possibility that land you own will go under water.
March 27th, 2007 1:09pm
And you don't think that a 33% jump in the price of crude oil over 10 years would be catastrophic?
March 27th, 2007 1:12pm
In 2001 oil was $24. Today it is $60.
*looks around at the vast destruction that ensued*
March 27th, 2007 1:15pm
March 27th, 2007 1:16pm
Much use of crude oil - land transportation fuel - can be exchanged out for nuclear -> hydrogen. The cost will probably go up though.
Air transport by jet will probably become a thing of the past, but this won't affect society very much. You won't be able to buy fresh produce in the US air shipped from New Zealand.
Plastics will be replaced by going back to paper and wood, and using organic plastics when necessary.
We'll need oil for lubrication. Corn and soy oil will probably have to fill in here as there are not enough whales. It might be that the lubrication oil will be among the highest cost of operating a vehicle.
March 27th, 2007 1:20pm
Well, Ford and GM both declared bankruptcy, seeing as how their cash cow, the SUV, dropped in sales overnight. This gave them their excuse, since they're bankrupt and all, to let the Federal Government manage their Retirement Accounts.
Somehow Toyota is EXPANDING in this time of "outrageous" gas prices. Curious.
March 27th, 2007 1:21pm
>Plastics will be replaced by going back to paper and wood,
>and using organic plastics when necessary.
Plastics can very easily be manufactured from crops, it's just more expensive. That isn't going away.
March 27th, 2007 1:23pm
Yeah, that's why I said organic plastics, you can make them from plants and all kinds of stuff, and it's been done for a while already. Bakelite was the world's first plastic and it doesn't use petroleum as an input. The main reason we make plastics from oil now is that there is little else that can be done from the heavy sludge in crude oil that is left after refining out the lighter components.
I was also thinking about the lube oil for cars, that actually won't be any problem at all since the average american eats many times more oil in the form of french fries and burger lard per year than they add lubrication oil to their cars.
March 27th, 2007 1:27pm
"Somehow Toyota is EXPANDING in this time of "outrageous" gas prices"
Ford has said this is because Toyota has unfair competition by using low-paid japanese workers. Something about this doesn't sound right though. Maybe since Toyota builds their cars in the american southeast? Or because japanese workers are paid more not less than americans? Maybe both.
March 27th, 2007 1:29pm
Higher gas prices well just mean businesses will be more open to telecommuting. That will lower cost of living, more time with loved ones, etc.
March 27th, 2007 1:32pm
>Higher gas prices well just mean businesses will be more open to telecommuting. That will lower cost of living, more time with loved ones, etc.
Because employers care about the expense of your commute, which they aren't responsible for in any way.
March 27th, 2007 1:33pm
Because they know if they want to employ you, they'll have to pay you more because the OTHER employer will let them work from home and they'll be better off.
You are being particularly clueless today.
March 27th, 2007 1:37pm
There are not enough telecommuting-friendly employers in the US to make it an issue of competition. I doubt gas prices will be a deciding factor in whether there will ever be.
March 27th, 2007 1:45pm
Possibly. Possibly not. I'd wager that telecommuting will increase proportionally to oil prices though.
March 27th, 2007 2:07pm
It times of crises, authoritarian seek to increase their level of control over their submissives, since the authoritarians have stress over the loss of control in other parts of their lives. Because of this, I'd say that telecommuting will decrease not increase in these circumstances.
People will have to move closer to their place of work so that they can walk or bike to work.
Many companies will build dormitories for workers.
Many of these dormitories will be locked at night - from the outside.
March 27th, 2007 2:21pm
> I'd wager that telecommuting will increase proportionally to oil prices though.
I agree. On the other hand telecommuting ain't no panacea either. Being always plugged in means always being available.
March 27th, 2007 2:38pm
>Because of this, I'd say that telecommuting will decrease
>not increase in these circumstances.
Agreed, but this isn't going to degenerate into a crisis. We've known about this for a long time. An oil shock might do it, but I'll doubt we'll have more than one or two of those.
March 27th, 2007 2:42pm
Yes, I agree that it will take more than this for a crises. We'd have to have a nuclear war thrown in or something like that.
The end of oil may very will eliminate the US's ability to wage these air wars with few casualties on our side. This could have interesting consequences, though it probably won't change the reality that the US is still really hard to invade.
March 27th, 2007 2:56pm
>Because of this, I'd say that telecommuting will decrease not increase in these circumstances.
Telecommuting encompasses many ranges. One trend that I am surprised hasn't kicked off yet is more pervasive physical monitoring of telecommuting employees -- one or more work hour cameras, with the constant threat of monitoring, screen monitoring (already possible with SMS), IP voice monitoring, and forced routing through the normal company firewall.
Sucks like hell compared to the in-your-underwear style of telecommuting, but many people would welcome it if it allowed it as an option.
March 27th, 2007 2:56pm
>The end of oil
There won't be an end of oil until long, long, long past when we're dead.
Despite all of the fear-mongering about the imminent collapse of oil stocks, "peak oil" simply says that the easy supply will dwindle, and we just have to work successively harder to maintain production levels (albeit still with unbelievably massive amounts of easy to procure oil, but having to top it up with shale, oil sands, and unconventional drilling). We have barely tapped the world's oil, basically sucking from the largest, easiest supplies, which is why gas is so amazing inexpensive, really.
Just look around at the unbelievable energy waste and try to rationalize that with any concept that the tap is suddenly going to run dry.
March 27th, 2007 2:59pm
"one or more work hour cameras, with the constant threat of monitoring"
That's a pretty good idea. You'd want to add the electronic monitoring shackles they have for serving time at home, to make sure that the coders aren't stealing from the company by popping out for a quick Starbucks or similar company time thefts.
People will complain, but they will get used to it. And with the implants being inserted at birth, the monitoring shackles you won't even realize you are wearing them.
March 27th, 2007 3:03pm
"Just look at how disrupted the East Coast was in 2003 when a power line broke in Ohio. "
What are you talking about, I took a flashlight and walked to the nearest Chinese place and ordered dinner. The pizza place next door drove a car up on to the sidwalk for light. Took folding tables & chairs and had a sunset meal outside the building. All the neighbors gathered, and a while later someone came out with ice cream cake because it was going to melt.
March 27th, 2007 3:31pm
>The switchover is not going to be instantaneous. In fact, I'd be surprised if it took under a decade of economic pressure forcing a switchover.
As a country, we've gone out of our way to prevent "switching over" or even making any changes in our livestyles. Look at how much hate the reagan/bush_1 administrations had for CAFE and how they went out of their way to gut and defang those regulations. Vehicle gas milage in the US has made no significant changes in the past 2 decades.
I'd like to see a gas guzzler tax on anything that gets below 30mpg city. $1k/mpg below 30. This way the rich cats can still buy their Rolls with 8mpg or their Hummers. Yes that will cripple the domestic manufacturers, but their idiot CEO/executive class has been destroying the big three for the past three decades with their nonstop mismanagement.
>Ford has said this is because Toyota has unfair competition by using low-paid japanese workers. Something about this doesn't sound right though. Maybe since Toyota builds their cars in the american southeast? Or because japanese workers are paid more not less than americans?
They have a much lower pension overhead than the big three. GM is spending about $1700/car on healthcare, and both GM and Ford have a workforce where the average age is 55. Toyota has much younger workers (about 20 years younger), so their pension funding requirements are far far lower. In addition, Toyota's plans are defined contribution, not defined benefits, so they aren't going to end up in the same demographic squeeze in ~20 years.
(numbers are for 2004 plan year as GM is very late filing, about 1 year late)
Looking at the 5500 filings for GM and Toyota:
GM Salaried - 198k participants, $28B assets - defined benefits
GM Hourly - 500k participants, $59B assets - defined benefits
Toyota Salaried - 4k participants, $180M assets - defined contribution
Toyota Hourly -13k participants, $350M assets - defined contribution
Looking at the Schedule B, the GM plans combined show 170k active particpants, and 460K retirees that they're writing checks to each month. Toyota is writing checks to 31 people, not thousand, not hundred, 31. That's right, thirty one vs four hundred sixty thousand.
A defined contribution plan is one where you only have contributions guaranteed, like a 401k plan. A defined benefits plan is one where the amount of money you get is guaranteed, those are "traditional pension" plans. Less than 20% of US workers are covered by pension plans and more than half of them are already retired. Of people currently in the workforce, about 10% are/will be covered by traditional pensions at any time in their careers.
Companies can use the bankruptcy courts to bail out on pension plans, and PBGC picks up the tabs for part of them. The current cap on bailouts is about $44k/year. A bigger problem is going to be state and local governments trying to dodge pension liabilities as their bankruptcy laws (chapter 9) don't allow for similar escapes, and the 14th amendment appears to prohibit such escapes. Even if we pretend that magic (like vouchers) can eliminate all public schools, there will still be tax money going to pay the pensions of the teachers/staff that retired in the past. I think many cities and states are spending about 10% of their budgets on retirement benefits for past workers.
March 27th, 2007 4:47pm
Wow, thanks for that detailed analysis, Peter, I had no idea how different the situation was for GM and Toyota.
March 27th, 2007 5:25pm
>> GM Salaried - 198k participants, $28B assets - defined benefits
GM Hourly - 500k participants, $59B assets - defined benefits
Toyota Salaried - 4k participants, $180M assets - defined contribution
Toyota Hourly -13k participants, $350M assets - defined contribution <<
Doing the math:
GM Salaried: $141,414 per participant
GM Hourly: $118,000 per participant
Toyota Salaried: $45,000 per participant
Toyota Hourly: $26,923 per participant
If the avg age of a GM worker is 55, and they've only got $118-141k available to them in retirement benefits, that's a real problem. Those folks are going to be living off Social Security & cat food.
The Toyota workers seem to be in much better shape, with ~35 avg age workforce.
March 27th, 2007 6:07pm
The other thing, if you're a GM worker, it'll probably be better to retire sooner than later, as the pot may run out if you retire later.
March 27th, 2007 6:07pm
I'd like to use this situation as an example of how, if you're gonna have to trust somebody, trusting GM or "the market" is MUCH riskier than trusting Social Security.
Not that Social Security is going to pay for a GOOD retirement, but at least it's dependable. Replacing it with a free-market alternative seems fraught with peril.
March 27th, 2007 6:17pm
"They have a much lower pension overhead than the big three"
Yes, Ford and GM bring this up that they want a pension bailout from the feds.
Let me buy you a clue. There is this thing called a fully funded pension fund. Earns interest even. Back during the tech boom, GM and Ford decided that that pension fund was 'overfunded' and they raided it to nearly nothing in order to give themselves hefty executive bonuses. This is fraud of course, it is embezzlement and theft. What Ford and GM executives need now is not a federal taxpayer funded bailout, but a federal taxpayer funded jailcell in federal taxpayer funded pound-me-in-the-ass prison.
March 27th, 2007 7:05pm
Actually, I don't have the accounting skill to do a careful/detailed analysis. Schedules B and H are the important ones to look at. H is for large plans (more than 100 folks), and schedule I is the version for smaller plans. Some of the screwy numbers show that the salaried pension plan is getting 8.5% return on assets (schedule b, 6i) and the hourly version is getting 3.1%.
xampl, the Toyota plan is basically a 401k. If the employees don't save, then they starve when they hit 65+. Also, during the takeover binge in the 80s, many takeover artists plundered the assets in pension plans to repay the loans for buying the companies. When stocks shot up in the late 90s, some plans became "over funded" and the companies stopped adding to their plans, or even diverted assets out, then when stocks took a dump, the plans became crippling liabilities and severly underfunded. Other takeover artists liked to purchase companies with overfunded plans, strip the assets from the plans, then let the companies sink into bankruptcy, blaming unions, lawyers and "the chinese" on the way down the drain.
From my memory of what my pension benefits from GM are going to be in 20 years, it will be something like $27/month multiplied by the number of years I worked there (in 1990 dollars). Inflation would adjust those numbers. So, presuming I worked there for 40 years, like many folks did, my pension payments would be over $1k/month in 1990 dollars. I believe that my social security would have been about $700/month in 1990 dollars. Not a lot of money for a single person, but a vast mountain of money when you multiply it by 460k checks each month. I worked there for 5 years, just enough to vest, so $130/month will probably buy a happy meal/month in 2025.
I don't understand actuarial tables enough to determine how funky they're diddling the numbers. But they do look suspicious to me.
Schedule H shows income/loss of the investments. The salaried plan had $23M added during the year (schedule H, line 2a3) while the hourly plan had $0 added. The assets lost a lot: $180M for salaried, $300M for hourly.
Also, lines 2L show the money transferred in/out. In the case of the salaried plan, $114 ended up getting transferred in, while in the case of the hourly plan, $2M got transferred out.
Line 2e shows how much is being paid to the "beneficiaries"
Line 2i shows how much the plan administrators are sucking out of the plan.
Oh, my point in all this?
The only way you're going to find out just how much your 401k is getting soaked for fees is to be able and willing to read the 5500 filings for your employers. 5500 filings are supposed to be publically available 45 days after they are filed with the IRS/DoL/PBGC. Over your working career, a mere 1/2% difference in fees means that your 401k will be tens of thousands of dollars lighter than it should be. Most of the time, the 5500 filing is the *only* reporting of these fees and the only reporting of how healthy/sick these plans are.
In general, every 401k, deferred compensation, healthcare and pension plan is supposed to have a 5500 filing. For most plans for companies, it is a single form 5500EZ which is about 1 page. It is also supposed to be filed 7 months after the end of the fiscal year. And in the case of the GM plans above, it was filed exactly 1 year late.
In the case of a bankruptcy, I'm not sure where the assets in a 401k disappear to, so it would be smart to roll your assets into an IRA with a different provider. Many of the United Airlines workers lost the moneys that they had contributed and left in the pension plan, and the local papers had some sob stories of retired pilots (who had taken permanent 20% salary cuts to have that 20% diverted to their pension plan for several decades) getting $100k/year cuts in their pensions (max bailout by PBGC is about $44k/year). If you can leave them to "ripen" to the point where the employer contribution fully vests, that is great (then get them out), although many companies do not permit such, or don't permit it if the assets are below a certain dollar amount.
When Enron went tits up, the 401k assets were in a special class of stock that prohibited the holder from selling before age 50, or selling without board of director approval. In addition, if you had other classes of company stock, you were forbidden from selling (never granted) or purchasing (always granted) stock without board approval during "quiet periods." Those quiet periods covered all but about 4 days in the final year of trading before trading in Enron was halted. There were a lot of sob stories of people who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in 401k assets as they were forbidden from selling during the wild plunge from $100/share to 28cents/share.