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Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

Take our Pledge for Climate Protection and learn about the Global Warming Crisis Council.

SEI hometown action!
Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

Overpopulation has become a reality.  Overpopulation Resources and News Tidbits

Sail Transport Network

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Long Distance

The people of Humboldt County, northern California rejected in March 2004 a Liquified Natural Gas plant for its bay.  With also a recent victory against the marauder corporation Pacific Lumber (owned by Maxxam Corp.) as it unsuccessfully tried to recall the District Attorney, discussions have flourished on where active citizens should next put their energy.  

In support of sustainability, responding to Humboldt's Alliance for Ethical Business's call for economic vision in maximizing local-based trade, Jan Lundberg offered an essay to a large audience.  First is a memo to and

April 5, 2005   
Re "Sustainable Economic Growth" 

"The economy is a usage of the ecosystem, and the ecosystem is finite. If you were to change your phrase to "sustainable economic development" you would only be alienating half the people that "sustainable economic growth" alienates. Growth of the economy at the expense of the ecosystem (and therefore of long-term economic survival) has been facilitated in much of the world through the exuberance of cheap petroleum. Cheap petroleum is already a thing of the past, but this is not apparent due to the many subsidies, overt and hidden, to keep oil and natural gas "affordable." As we know from the CalPine scheme and the destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, reliance on petroleum is a questionable way to proceed into the future. The peak of world oil production is upon us, which is the prime reason for emphasizing gas and LNG and for taking over Iraq. 

"To learn more about energy and what is technically sustainable, please see our website. I invite you to put the following link on your website, as I'm sure you want to be inclusive and stimulate discussion within known parameters. The essay Sustainable Humboldt - Economic Vision (below) has been recently shared with the local news media in light of various planning meetings."

Culture Change essay

Sustainable Humboldt: Economic vision

by Jan Lundberg

Originally written for the book The Final Energy Crisis,  Pluto Press, London, 2004, edited by Andrew McKillop

Humboldt County is in the northwest corner of what is now California, and is a part of the Pacific Northwest.  Humboldt shares the same basic climate as southeast Alaska and coastal British Columbia.  Before the devastation of the white invasion, a native-culture grouping stretched along this whole coastal section of North America, and Humboldt Bay was the southernmost part of that cultural area.

Rather significant for Humboldt County today, and that of its north and south neighboring counties (Del Norte and Mendocino, respectively), is that there is no Interstate Highway nearby.  Connecting this part of the West Coast of the U.S. to the rest of the nation are smaller highways that go through mountains, and are only two lanes in places because of giant trees.

Earthquakes and torrential rains are more frequent in this region than in the rest of the U.S., and this helps explain why there is no rail service whatsoever.  As for ports, Eureka is small and the bay is silted in due to deforestation and roads' erosion.

The "Redwood Curtain" refers to the mild isolation that Humboldtonians enjoy, though some lament it as an obstacle to economic riches.  Presently, at this stage of frenzied energy consumption gripping the developed world, the Humboldt region has a slower pace and a slightly different outlook from mainstream U.S. culture.  Humboldt feels "laid back," and "getting ahead" is not the automatic by-word for self-fulfillment.  In addition, job opportunities are lower than in many places, but this does not worry people as much as it does in most other parts of the U.S.  People come and live here not so much because they must make money here ó as the case with living in Los Angeles ó but because they really want to stay here, and they accept less income as the trade-off to do so.  "Back to the land" hippies as well as urbanites retiring in Humboldt opt for solar panels and wood stoves to minimize imported energy, but natural gas supplies the main fuel for homes, as well as the electric power supplied by regional electric utilities produce.

The populace is more rural than urban, but even townsfolk are fond of gardening and buying local produce.  Skills are multiple, allowing many people to make a living, and includes marijuana cultivation, which although pervasive is nevertheless only one economic activity.  Although a cash crop, marijuana is not the forced cash crop for local farmers that coffee is in many Third World countries ó whose real need, today, is sustainable food self-sufficiency ó and which are engaged in a race against falling commodity prices to pay off foreign debt.

Speaking of marijuana brings up outlaws, and all kinds of folk imagine what might happen to Humboldt County if there is some breakdown affecting California or the wider USA.  People say how easy it would be to destroy or block mountain roads to cut Humboldt off from invading hordes of city folk.  However, this may not have the best effect, as many Humboldtonians might themselves want to leave Humboldt because their families are in most cases elsewhere and far away. 

Sustainable population and the ecosystem

Given that the only successful model of long-term sustainability the world has known is found in traditional cultures, it is more than reasonable to set out what might be

Humboldt's future once the U.S.'s massive, unsustainable energy consumption starts to fall and much-reduced quantities of commodities become the norm in any economic or social use. 

There are two variables in the model, but one major factor is that the ecosystem has been rather trashed ó striking proof of this being that salmon are almost extinct.  In addition, sea level rise will strongly affect, perhaps wipe out, some or most of the currently most-urbanized areas.

Secondly, we assume the use of energy for modern technology will continue in some forms, but this will be at greatly reduced levels.

It is the transition to real sustainability, after the debacle of the petroleum economy's collapse, that concerns us in this book.  There are many unknowable factors, such as (1) when the "rollover" past the peak of world oil extraction will hit, (2) the decline rate ensuing, and (3) how long before unavailability or unreliability of supplies to key users becomes quite noticeable, starting with food production, processing and transport.  We do not know how severe those effects will be, although paralysis of the distribution system is foreseeable when the dynamics of oil-supply tightness drive prices through the roof.

 [For a brief description of the dynamics of the coming oil crisis, see Jan Lundberg's speech to The Institute of Petroleum, February 17, 2003.  It is in part based on the author's experience predicting accurately the 2nd shock of the 1970s.  It can be read at his website at]

We will experience a thorough post-oil discontinuity, but it may transpire without collapse ó assuming people remain basically calm as alternative means of production, trade and consumption take over; the effects of the recent financial collapse of Argentina is an example: bartering and neighborhood councils have taken over, with less and less dependence on transnational corporations' jobs and investment. 

The high-energy techno economy, like the plasticized Green Utopias peddled by well-funded authors such as Amory Lovins and Jeremy Rifkin, will fast fade away when the Green Utopiasí basic requirement ñ cheap oil and gas ñ disappears.  Soon after, when the dust settles and weeds are pushing out through the rubble-strewn pavements, some people somewhere--say in the hills of Humboldt ó could be employing a variety of sustainable living strategies, at varying levels of success, provided of course that ëthe nukes donít get them;í one of the ënukesí in fact being stationed nearby. 

Humboldt Bay has a mothballed nuclear power plant located on a major earthquake fault. In addition, as shown by Chernobyl, nuclear accidents are generous in their reach and durability ó several West European countries, at over 1,500 kilometers from Chernobyl, still report cancer deaths attributable to this catastrophe (See Section in The Final Energy Crisis). 

Around 85% of Humboldt's food, today, is brought in by trucks.  Functionally and food-wise, Humboldt is a part of ëInterstate Highwaylandí and the Global Fossil Fuel Fantasy. Not unrelatedly, salmon are no longer choking the rivers and streams, and food production capacities without fossil energy props are certainly lower than 100 years ago. In any scenario for population crash, human numbers might easily fall to a tenth of the present 130,000. On Humboldt Bay, the Indians living off the fat of the land numbered less than 3,000 at the time of culture contact.  The fact that the ecosystem has been terribly degraded since then, and pastures for inefficient cow farms occupy former wetlands of the bay area that easily fed more people than these dairy farms do today, suggests that a survival rate of one tenth of today's population might even be an optimistic forecast. That would be a level we could call a soft landing, if it was programmed and planned over, say, 50 years. A hard landing or Maximum Dieoff might throw our species' continuity into doubt, and we may as well not labor over images of the worst case, even if copies of this book are in the hands of survivors surviving nuclear winter conditions or accelerated, worst-case scenario climate change (See Section in The Final Energy Crisis). 

In assuming human life will continue past the Final Energy Crisis, we need not speculate, for example by asking if cannibalism will play a role in reducing numbers of people even in Humboldt County, on the ëEasters Endí model.  Nor should we even speculate on the precise population size that the reduced carrying capacity would allow for the Humboldtonians of tomorrow.  We did not set out to find what the sustainable population size would be in a hundred years, although it could be 10,000 for the county as delineated today.  What we can do, however, is imagine what the future population of Humboldt will be doing energy-wise.  In this exercise we would be describing an economy that works through efficient local arrangements between neighbors ó human and other species. 

Scenario "A" might be called the soft-tech approach that continues to use some hard-path technology as long as it remains accessible and functional.  The novel Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach may typify this vision, although it idealized the dirtier aspects of industry so as to make them nearly invisible. 

Scenario "B" might be called post-tech, if people have lived through a relatively quick transition out of global interdependence, and found that what really works is to grow food and restore the natural environment.  The short story by Jan Lundberg, ëThe Nature Revolutioní (see, might reflect a more severe outlook (and without the sexual adventurism of Ecotopia) inherent in Scenario B.


Ironically, energy from petroleum, and machines using it such as bulldozers, will likely be sorely needed to enable transition, for example to take out and backfill roads that continue to cause severe erosion.  It has also been noted (see article by R McCluney in The Final Energy Crisis) by observers of world energy trends that any significant transition to renewable energy will necessarily require significant fossil fuel investment to manufacture, install and maintain equipment and components of the new, increasingly-renewable energy systems that must be placed in operation ñ unless, of course, we wish for maximum die-off.  However, just because something is needed and is sensible to have, does not mean it will happen.  Our exercise for this chapter is not given over to wishful thinking, but instead would be an analysis of what is likely to happen - in the absence of complete catastrophe from global warming, nuclear accident, sabotage of nuclear, pesticide or other life-threatening installations, or nuclear war.

Scenario A:

Population size....

Scenario B:

Population size......

The above article was written in fall 2002.

Back to home page

Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:


Articles of interest:
Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results.  WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California . Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



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Culture Change (Trademarked) is published by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) California non-stock corporation. Contributions are tax-deductible.