The industrialized world has been bathed in cheap energy for generations. As a result, not only is it hard to find someone who remembers the days before cheap energy; it’s hard to find anyone who can imagine such a world. So your first task as a post-petroleum pioneer is to imagine the world without cheap and plentiful fossil fuels.

For generations, we have learned to expect that each problem confronting us will be solved when one or more entrepreneurial geniuses sense a business opportunity and develop a new product or service to make our lives easier. There will surely be entrepreneurs who sense and take advantage of opportunities that confront us in the post-petroleum era. However, the changes that affect our lives most dramatically will from our own “distributed genius.” We will left to solve our own problems. Those who learn to do it well will prosper.

The energy solution to the long emergency we face will come in two forms, conservation and new sources. There will always be those who encourage us to count on new sources of energy that will take the place of petroleum. Because we want so desperately to believe them, we will, but we will be wrong. When all is said and done, the most important adjustment we will make is not using different forms of energy but using less.


We will have no choice. Because less energy is available (at least at prices most of us can afford) we will use dramatically less of it. For some of us, this will be a brutal adjustment, forcing us to huddle together in the dark and curse the wind. For those willing to live in community and who have anticipated the challenges we face, however, life will be more manageable. What are the strategies that make the difference?

  • We will live closer to where we work, or work closer to where we live. A wise planner told us this: “moving people and property from one place to another is really hard; the purpose of cities to keep both to a minimum.” She was right. And now it’s going to get harder.
  • We will reach out to our neighbors and share transportation of people and property.
  • We will rethink the way we design and live in our shelter.
  • We will drive smaller, lighter, simpler cars, and we will share ownership of them with our family and neighbors. Click here to read about the ideal post-petroleum vehicle.
  • More of us will avoid car ownership entirely. Read how we expect we would survive if gasoline cost $100 per gallon.
  • We will reduce the movement of people and property from one place to another. Remember, it’s really hard.
  • We will relearn the rhythms of the seasons, opening our lives to the sun to stay warm and protecting ourselves from the sun to stay cool.
  • We will develop a new ethic (hard for us to anticipate now) about useless packaging for products, particularly food.
  • More of our food will be from nearby farms and will look more like real food. We will eat less processed food and will do more food preparation at home.

That’s a short list. More to come.

New Sources of Energy

Even though the most dramatic change we face will be learning to live with less energy, we will develop new forms of energy. They just won’t be as plentiful as those driven by fossil fuels.

  • We will make more consistent and thoughtful use of people power, particularly for transportation.
  • We will deploy renewable energy, like solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal.
  • We will use the heat of the sun to heat water for washing and bathing.

But most of all, unfortunately, we will believe and hope. We will believe every breathless report of some process, some invention (usually one kept carefully hidden by powerful governments or corporations) that will provide boundless cheap energy and allow us to live pretty much in the way we always have. The hydrogen economy won’t do it. Corn-based ethanol won’t do it. It’s just not there. We can’t make a car that runs on water or a battery that produces its own electricity, and those who wait for such a development will be distracted from the hard work ahead.

The new sources of energy we find will be welcome, and in many cases they will be critical to our safety (think dialysis). They will not replace the almost limitless energy we have enjoyed during the oil age from fossil fuels.