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Triage for the post-peak oil age

When casualties overwhelm battlefield doctors, they are often forced to sort the wounded into three groups: those who will survive without treatment, those who will likely die even with treatment, and those who will probably live but only with treatment. In the post-peak oil age we will likely be faced with a similar situation in deciding which activities a lower-energy society can support.

Tentatively, I propose the following triage for various broad areas:

1) activities that are "Expected to Make a Full Recovery," ones that I think will spread and intensify out of necessity,

2) activities labeled "Code Blue"--the medical term for emergency treatment of heart attack patients--activities which I think may only survive with our active intervention or which may only be available at the level we want them to be through special efforts, and

3) activities labeled "Do Not Resuscitate" which are unlikely to survive post-peak no matter how much effort we put into them. Only "Code Blue" items are meant to indicate my preferences for a post-peak oil world.

The other categories are predictions (a dangerous practice) about what I think will and won't thrive in a low-energy society. I will certainly miss some activities such as cheap air travel. Others such as motorized sports, I won't. But, my preferences don't matter since the availability and price of liquid fuels will, in my view, determine the fate of both activities.

The table below is not meant to be a complete list by any means. No doubt readers will disagree--perhaps vehemently in some cases--with my predictions and preferences. My aim is neither to irritate nor to prescribe, but rather to help begin a process that I believe will become absolutely necessary. I say absolutely necessary because our failure to recognize those activities which won't survive under any circumstances may cause us to waste valuable (and diminishing) energy resources on hopeless cases. That lost energy will be energy that we cannot spend on things that we will desperately need such as wind and solar power.

No one likes to choose, but choose we must if we are going to have the future that we want (given our constraints) rather than the one that is simply forced upon us.

Expected to Make A Full Recovery
Do Not Resuscitate


Organic farming Scientific research on organic practices; non-GMO seed preservation Industrial/Chemical Farming


Walking; bicycling; sail power Passenger and freight train service; water transportation Private automobiles; transcontinental trucking; commercial air travel; vacation cruise lines


Face-to-face conversation The Internet Cable/Satellite Television


Oral history and storytelling Libraries; certain museums; unique nationally recognized performing groups (opera, theater, ballet, symphony) Theme parks; any sport involving motorized vehicles; large-scale professional sports teams


Neighborhood and home schooling Smaller, decentralized secondary and higher education Large, energy-intensive colleges and universities


Widespread curiosity about and close observation of the natural world Scientific research and education on truly sustainable practices Megaprojects such as particle accelerators and space exploration


Spiritual teachings that view the natural world as sacred Ecumenism and tolerance Megachurches; television ministries


Local governance Local democratic participation Large, centralized administration


Local, small-scale craft and manufacturing; locally owned retail; personal service Local economic networks Big box chain stores; just-in-time delivery; worldwide logistics

City/Land Use Planning

Planning which focuses on local resources Vibrant urban centers; preservation of arable land Suburban and exurban sprawl; megacities


Physical labor; animal power Renewable energy especially wind and solar Corn ethanol; any net energy negative biofuel
Editorial Notes: To comment on this article, go to the placeholder for this article at Resource Insights. -BA

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