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by Perry Jay Arnett


«The life contest is primarily a competition for available energy.»

— Ludwig Boltzman, Physicist

«Culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting the energy to work is increased.»

— White’s Law, Leslie White

«The ideology of constant growth is the ideology of the cancer cell…»

— Edward Abbey


  1. Living things obtain and satisfy their exosomatic energy needs from the ‘crust’ of the Earth.

  2. By comparison, the Earth’s crust is about the same relative thickness as the skin on an apple, (slightly thinner, actually); and the rest of the Earth is of LITTLE energetic value to living things, (except for gravity and atmosphere).

  3. Comparing the time-span of humans on earth, (roughly 2.4 million years), to a 24 hour clock, humans were “Hunter-gatherers” for the first 23 hours and 54 minutes of our total existence; and only in the last 6 minutes (i.e. ~10,000 years) have humans adopted Agriculture as the source for their exosomatic energy needs. [Jared Diamond; Joseph Tainter]

  4. The recent ~10,000 years – about 500 generations – are too short a time period for genetic adaptation to have occurred for humans to exist WELL, or OPTIMALLY on anything OTHER than a ‘Hunter-gatherer diet’; physiologically and metabolically, we all ARE Hunter-gatherers still. [Diamond; Loren Cordain]

    Present humans ARE, thus, genetically adapted to living a ‘Hunter-gatherer Lifestyle’ – yet most live ANOTHER, different, supposed ‘modern’ kind of lifestyle, out-of-sync with OUR nature, and out-of-sync with the nature of the Earth we live on. [Cordain]

  5. The adoption of Agriculture and the domestication of large animals by humans occurred between 3,500 and 12,000 years ago. [Diamond and others]

    1. While most humans CAN subsist (but not OPTIMALLY) on a variety of foods, since humans were not THEN, nor are we NOW genetically adapted to ‘agricultural products’ (i.e. grains, dairy products, starchy roots and tubers, legumes, refined sugars, salt, simple carbohydrates, processed foods, etc.), the adoption of Agriculture created a ‘false’ energetic human nutritional economy, which has been the cause of ill-health and oppression since. Diamond calls it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race”. [Diamond; Cordain]

    2. The adoption of Agriculture allowed for the creation of the ‘metabolic syndrome’ and the ‘diseases of civilization’ (type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and obesity), and for the first time, allowed for the concentration of wealth and power in the few – resulting in slavery and tyranny, all anathema to humans since. [Diamond; Cordain] “Agriculture was not so much about food as it was about the accumulation of wealth.” [Richard Manning] It benefited some few humans at the expense of most others. [Diamond]

    3. Significantly, the adoption of Agriculture allowed for the EXPONENTIAL increase of human population numbers, while the increase of foodstuffs was only ARITHMETIC. Problems arose. [Malthus; Al Bartlett; David Price; Garrett Hardin]

  6. For a ‘sustainable’, less than 2,000 watt per capita annual lifestyle, (similar to that lived in some nonwestern nations today), Earth’s Carrying Capacity is probably around 10 million humans. Yet the human population in late 2007 is around 6.6 BILLION humans! [Diamond]

    Said differently, if all humans lived at a 12,000 to 20,000 watt per capita annual lifestyle (as most in the West do), it would take ~23 MORE Earth’s to supply the exosomatic energy needs for all those humans. Obviously, something is wrong! – there is no BALANCE between population numbers and exosomatic energy resource availability. [Price; Boltzman]

    1. As Agriculture alone could not supply all the energy needs of rapidly expanding human populations, humans turned to OTHER energy sources for their nutritional needs. The best, most readily available, the cheapest, and the highest quality were non-replenishable fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas, which have been used to massively INCREASE human food supplies since.

  7. It took ~150 million years for nature to create fossil fuels, yet humans have used up roughly HALF the ‘original endowment’ in less than 250 YEARS – the most RECENT 250 years. At current rates of depletion and demand, the remainder of the total endowment may be EFFECTIVELY gone in less than 30 to 50 years. [Colin Campbell; Jean Laherrere; Price; John Attarian]

  8. Some now realize that the original endowment of irreplaceable fossil fuels was a banked ‘savings account’ that humans foolishly ‘spent’, rather than shepherding and saving. [Walter Youngquist]

  9. The use of fossil fuels for exosomatic energy exploitation by humans has permitted a far more rampant increase of human population – by orders of magnitude – than what the Earth can reasonably ‘carry’, or sustain, under Hunter-gatherer-lifestyle energy norms. As a result, humans have become a “plague” on our own habitat. [N. Georgescu-Roegen; Morrison]

    And, since in the West, it takes between 10 and 17 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce and deliver ONE calorie of edible food to the table, as fossil fuels irreversibly deplete, food shortages, and ultimately, massive human starvation MUST result. Food and fossil fuels exist in a locked relationship: THIS human civilization DEPENDS on fossil-fueled Mega-agriculture to supply its exosomatic energy needs for nutrition; as fossil fuels deplete, food availability must also. [Tainter; Mario Giampietro; David Pimental] “Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food” [Bartlett], and “the oil we eat”. [Manning]

    1. As a result, the human population of the Earth is, thus, currently, in formal, biological “Overshoot”, and is poised for an imminent, massive, formal, biological “Dieoff” (or “Crash”, or “Collapse”) to a level, at which from 1 to 10 million humans can be sustained at a less than 2,000 watt per capita lifestyle again. [Price; Tainter; Reg Morrison; William Catton]

    2. Since there is NO OTHER alternative energy resource (or combination thereof) capable of supplying the same type, kind, quality and amount of exosomatic energy fossil fuels currently do for world food production, this biological Dieoff is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. No new invention, nor any ‘alternative’ energy source or other effort (political, scientific, environmental, technological, etc.) NOW, can prevent, delay or ameliorate the Dieoff. [Price; White]

  10. The current and on-going ‘peaking’ of almost everything humans consume for their exosomatic energy requirements (oil, natural gas, coal, potable water, fertile top soil, clean air, essential minerals, etc.) suggests that the Dieoff is IMMINENT. (In October 2007, e.g., world crude oil production equals about 85 million barrels per day, while world DEMAND for crude oil is said to be over 87 million barrels per day – with the differential continually widening.) [CNBC; Campbell; others] Rampant population increase creates rampant demand for almost all commodities with catastrophic results if not satisfied. Expect population-culling ‘resource wars’.

  11. As fossil fuels continue to deplete at ever-faster RATES now, some suggest the Dieoff will begin SOON – within a very few years – and may take ONLY 20 to 50 years to rapidly reach the former, lower, sustainable human population level. Thus, expect a “fast crash” rather than a “slow crash”. [Price; Jay Hanson; Mark Buchanan]

    1. ‘Humanity’ will survive the ‘Exosomatic Energy Bottleneck’; but most alive now will not. [Price; James Lovelock]

      After the dust has settled, small, scattered, autonomous enclaves of survivors numbering LESS than 10 million or so IN AGGREGATE, will rapidly devolve back to a lifestyle for which humans were originally, and currently adapted, and as permitted by the Carrying Capacity of the Earth they live on. THIS “Fossil-fueled Industrial Civilization’ will soon CEASE and all remnants will be quickly forgotten.

      “This is a one shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.” [Fred Hoyle, Astronomer, 1964]

  12. While this may be a unique, pivotal event in human history, we can be assured that this is the way Biology ultimately works! We can’t change that. The very nature of life requires exosomatic energy inputs to sustain it, and the total aggregate world supply is in irreversible and PERPETUAL DECLINE – with no substitute source available. [Don Lancaster]

    “The life contest IS primarily a competition for available energy.”

  13. …see you on the “Road to the Olduvai”! [Richard Duncan]


© 2007 Perry Jay Arnett, Cedar City, Utah
(May be cited and distributed with notification
and appropriate attribution – pjarnett9939@msn.com)



Boltzman, Ludwig; The Second Law of Thermodynamics, in Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems, 1886
White, Leslie; White’s Law, The Science of Culture: a Study of Man and Civilization, 1949
Abbey, Edward;
Diamond, Jared; The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race; Why Societies Collapse
Tainter, Joseph; Complexity, Problem solving, and Sustainable Societies
Cordain, Loren; The Paleo Diet
Manning, Richard; The Oil We Eat
Malthus, Thomas; An Essay on the Principle of Population
Bartlett, Al; Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis
Price, David; Energy and Human Evolution
Hardin, Garrett; An Ecolate View of the Human Predicament; Carrying Capacity; Stalking the Wild Taboo
Campbell, Colin; The End of Cheap Oil; The Association for the Study of Peak Oil
Laherrere, Jean; The End of Cheap Oil (with Campbell)
Attarian, John; The Coming End of Cheap Oil
Youngquist, Walter; Spending Our Great Inheritance – Then What?; Geodestinies
Georgescu-Roegen, N.; “…the economic process is solidly anchored to a material base which is subject to definite constraints”; The Entropy Law and the Economic Problem
Giampietro, Mario; Feasibility of Large-scale Biofuel Production
Pimental, David; Feasibility of Large-scale Biofuel Production
Morrison, Reg; Hydrogen, Life’s Maker and Breaker
Catton, William; Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
Hanson, Jay; www.dieoff.org
Buchanan, Mark; Ubiquity, Why Catastrophes Happen
Lovelock, James; The Prophet of Climate Change, Rolling Stone
Hoyle, Fred; Of Men and Galaxies
Lancaster, Don; Some Energy Fundamentals; www.tinaja.com
Duncan, Richard; The Olduvai Theory; Institute on Energy and Man


Addendum #1 [in response to a question from a reader]

Once fossil fuels begin to deplete in earnest (VERY soon, or NOW…), and food supplies begin to diminish in earnest (as a consequence, NOW), and the resource wars begin in earnest (as a further consequence, going on NOW), and the Dieoff begins in earnest (as a further consequence, probably NOW, though we here in the West may not realize it yet), the numbers of those who die will be so large, in so short a period of time, that those few who do survive the Exosomatic Energy Bottleneck will have so much trouble trying to stay alive (from starvation, disease, polluted water, others, radiation, etc.) that there will be NO time for things like invention, scientific inquiry, the arts, music, etc. NONE!

Therefore, once the devolution begins in earnest, it will not stop until those few who remain are left with nothing but a totally destroyed and non-functional landscape of the remnants of this dead Industrial Civilization. No electricity, no grids, no governments, no infrastructures, NOTHING that we take for granted every day in OUR existence. Thus, NOTHING we have now is going with anyone as they travel ‘back to the Olduvai’. And, their entire daily efforts will be devoted to getting enough food to sustain themselves, and to staying out of the way of those who might kill them. Therefore, those who remain alive in the future will surely, take upon themselves the role of Hunter-gatherers – primarily because that is all that is left for them to do! (Remembering that hunter-gatherers subsist “sustainably”, and on just ENOUGH to live on, and no more.)

Additionally, when the trappings of this Industrial Civilization are gone, there will be no attempts to resurrect any of it. Why?

Because those few who remain will be smart enough (after all, they are still ‘human’) to realize that adopting Agriculture 10,00 years ago was WRONG, that exploiting fossil fuels to increase population numbers 250 years ago was WRONG, that trying to increase the Carrying Capacity of the earth by artificial means was WRONG, that discovering and adopting science, engineering, the law, literature, the printing press, going to the moon, etc. were all WRONG attempts to make human existence ‘better’ – when the existence humans had prior to 10,000 BC was the best time of any of humanity’s existence!

And so they will resolve themselves to be ‘happy’ – happy being who and what they are: Human Hunter-gatherers in a world devastated by a 10,000 year experiment of intellectual exploitation and greed and attempts at constant Growth – that all failed.

Without Agriculture and without Fossil Fuels, there will be no more savings, surplus, accumulation of wealth and power, no more tyranny, slavery, etc. Humans will devolve back to who and what we were destined to be before the “worst mistake” was discovered and adopted. Thus, THIS Industrial Civilization will disappear, be gone, and never be remembered, except as a time when humans made BIG mistakes, and tried to do and be something that we are not.

IF we are lucky, we can be thankful that we do not blow ourselves into extinction so that there may be a few who DO survive. That may be our only legacy from THIS time in the history of humanity.

I hope that makes my view more clear.

I did not include this in my last paper because I wanted to keep it brief, and because I assumed most would fill in those blanks on their own.