Book list: What to do about peak everything and limits to growth

survive-collapseIf you search on prepping you’ll get 62 million results, but that hasn’t been my focus. I’m madly in love with my techno-optimist husband, we’re both senior citizens, and so we’re not going anywhere or preparing.   Where best to be will keep changing – initially cities might be the best as they have more wealth and buy up food and other goods from the interior.  But eventually at some point of oil decline, tractors, harvesters, and food distribution trucks will not be able to supply cities and you’ll wish you were in a farming region, preferably growing whatever food you can in your own yard.  So if you’re looking for a place to move to, be sure to check out Day and Hall’s book below.

No matter where you are, you’ll want to stockpile food and water — Germany recently recommended that people should have at least 10 days worth (2016 Reuters). Not just for collapse, but earthquake, hurricane, and other natural disasters, or when the electric grid is down.

And above all, stockpile worthwhile books of how to do stuff, and entertaining books so you have something to do when the electricity is out.

More booklists

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


  • Stan Cox.  Any way you slice it. The past, present, and future of rationing
  • USDOE. June 1980. Standby Gasoline Rationing Plan. U.S. Department of Energy Economic Regulatory Administration, Office of Regulations and Emergency Planning. (search energyskeptic for my review of it).

Where to Live

Given the popularity of concentration camps, involuntary conscription into armies, enslavement, civil war and chaos in other collapsing or war-torn nations, not only do you need to have useful skills, but where you live will play the biggest factor.

Energy Descent & Peak Oil Plans

  • Alexander S. 2020. The simpler way: collected writings of Ted Trainer. Simplicity Institute.  Many free books:
  • BTC. November 2010. (German) Armed Forces, capabilities and technologies in the 21st century environmental dimensions of security. Sub-study 1. Peak oil security policy implications of scarce resources. Bundeswehr Transformation Centre, Future Analysis Branch
  • De Decker, Kris. 2007-present. The Low Tech Magazine website has hundreds of useful articles about how to prepare for the future, energy, and related  topics.
  • Heinberg R, et al. 2006. The Oil Depletion Protocol. A plan to avert oil wars, terrorism & economic collapse. New Society Publishers.
  • Heinberg R. 2011. The end of growth: Adapting to our new economic reality. New Society Publishers.
  • Hirsch RL, et al. 2005. Peaking of World Oil Production: impacts, mitigation, & risk management. U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Hopkins R. 2008. The transition handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience. UIT  Cambridge Ltd.
  • Hopkins R. 2016. Transition companion: Making your community more resilient in uncertain times. Green books.
  • Kunstler JH. 2007. The Long Emergency: Surviving the end of oil, climate change, and other converging catastrophes of the 21st century. Grove Press.
  • Lawrence KS. 2011. Solutions to peak oil vulnerabilities: a response plan. Lawrence Kansas Mayor’s peak oil task force.
  • Lerch D. 2007. Post carbon cities: planning for energy and climate uncertainty. Post carbon institute.
  • Odum HT, et al. 2008. A prosperous way down. University Press of Colorado.

Richard Heinberg has written several books worth reading:

  1. The Oil Depletion Protocol. 2006. A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism And Economic Collapse
  2. Powerdown. 2004. Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World
  3. The Party’s Over. 2003. Oil, war, and the Fate of Industrial Societies

Other ideas

Howard T. Odum. 2008. The Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies
Ted Trainer. A list of his books is here


I think we’re heading back eventually to 90% farmers as it was before fossil fuels. Given that most of the land in the U.S. is owned by wealthy individuals, corporations, and the government (see Fellmeth 1973 Politics of Land), this probably means the future will be one of brutal feudalism.

And if you do go back to the land, you should understand why this movement failed the last time in my book review of Agnew’s Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back.

  • Jeavons J. 2002. How to grow more vegetables..on less land than you can imagine
  • Bender J. 1994. Future Harvest: Pesticide-Free Farming
  • Bane P, et al. 2012. The permaculture handbook: garden farming for town and country
  • Smil V. 2004. Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production. MIT Press.


Lifespans doubled because of public health measures taken to treat water and sewage as explained in Laurie Garrett’s Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health.

One of the best books I’ve ever read for many reasons  is John Barry’s The Great Influenza. The epic story of the deadliest plague in History. The lesson to be learned is that people with poor / malnutrition were the most vulnerable to flu to dying.  Only two percent of America’s population died because the population was well-fed, but some countries may have lost up to half their population.

Best overview books on energy and the rise and fall of civilizations

I find it comforting to know that the rise and fall of civilizations has happened before many times. It makes me feel better to know that, and if you are trying to figure out where to move to, these may help. Plus they’re fascinating in their own right.

  • Ahmed N. 2016. Failing states, collapsing system, biophysical triggers of political violence. Springer.
  • Catton W. 1982. Overshoot: the ecological basis of revolutionary change. University of Illinois Press.
  • Cline EH. 2014. 1177 B.C. The year civilization collapsed.
  • Diamond, J. 2004. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed.
  • Hall CAS, et al. 2012. Energy & the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical economy. Springer.
  • Harper K. The fate of Rome. Climate, disease, and the end of an empire.
  • Hardin G. 1995. Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos. Oxford University Press.
  • Heather P. 2009. Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe. Oxford University Press.
  • Meadows D. 2004. The Limits to Growth: The 30-year update. Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • Opuls W. Immoderate greatness: why civilizations fail.
  • Ponting CA. 2007. New green history of the world: The environment & the collapse of great civilizations. Penguin books.
  • Perlin J. 2005, A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization. Countryman Press
  • Turchin P. “Secular cycles” and “War and Peace and War”
  • Vogel S. 2002. Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle. W W Norton & Co Inc.
  • Youngquist W. 1997. Geodestinies: The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources over Nations & Individuals

Mineral Resources

  • Bardi U, et al. 2014. Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet.  Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • Beiser V. 2018. The world in a grain: the story of sand and how it transformed civilization.
  • Courland R. 2011. Concrete Planet.
  • Klare M. 2012. The Race for What’s Left: The Global scramble for the world’s last resources. Picador.
  • Mann CC. 2012, 1493: Uncovering the new world Columbus created. Vintage.

Best big picture books on other topics

  • Bryson B. 2003. A short history of nearly everything. Broadway books.
  • Ward PD. 2003. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. Copernicus.
  • Weart SR. 2004. The Discovery of Global Warming
  • Wilson EO. 2012. The Social Conquest of Earth. Liveright.
  • Wrangham R. 2010. Catching Fire: How cooking made us human. Basic Books.

To preserve knowledge, have something to do when the grid goes down, and find hundreds of other books worth reading, check out my other book lists at:

Good luck everyone!

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14 Responses to Book list: What to do about peak everything and limits to growth

  1. yt75 says:

    Rimbaud : “une saison en enfer”
    Everything was already seen, alas

  2. Dr. Chris says:

    Hi Alice, thank you so much for sharing this list, I’ve always been curious, where you get all this fascinating information from, some of it, I even know already. We’ve been talking before, but your picture above really resonates with me, where did you find this? And another question: do you have also some literature, how to cope with all this terrifying information? I remember Richard Heinberg once responded in an interview to the question, what was the question, no one ever asked him although he would have expected it. And his reply was: “No one ever asked me, how I feel about all of this, how terrified I am.” Do you have some literature, how to cope with all this really discomforting information, and secondly, how to speak about this with your children? I read, that depression is becoming wide spread amongst scientists like me, which seems to be true. however, the only commenter worth mentioning seems to be Jem Bendell, and a few lines by Dmitry Orlov, but do you have some other psychological book, except for Kubler-Ross as Guy McPherson wold advise?

    • energyskeptic says:

      Dear Dr. Chris, Oh, I feel for you, I went through about 3 months of depression when I figured this out in 2000. Anger, grief at the loss, and could think of millions of things, travel, dancing to a live band, and more that would be gone, and all my friends and family and me dying in the social unrest that would enfold, the hunger, pandemics. Because I’d read non-fiction across fields for a long time, especially in ecology and seminal works like “Limits to Growth” and “Overshoot” by Catton, the big picture collapse sucker punched me all at once. I’ve always wondered if it’s easier to take as people grow little by little more aware, but I expect it is hard no matter what.

      During the heyday of peak oil from 2006 to 2010, there were therapists in the Bay Area who sought to counsel those who were grief stricken. There are also peak oil grief groups and websites if you look for them, though perhaps somewhat inactive, but reading the posts might be of use. There are books about coping with this sad awareness, but the best one that comes to mind is Nate Hagens and DJ White’s book: The Bottlenecks of the 21st Century: Essays on the Systems Synthesis of the Human Predicament. At $49 it’s pricey, but worth it. Nate taught students a course called Reality 101 at the University of Minnesota for many years. In this book, Nate and DJ go deeply into human psychology and spend quite a bit of time helping prepare students to cope with their new knowledge. I also like their book, because my goal has been to publish a book only in print to preserve knowledge so that survivors don’t revert to false notions like an angry God or not enough solar panels were built. Nate & DJ are very anguished over imparting the awareness of limits to growth and consequences of energy decline. No one wants to be a bad news messenger, not even me, that’s why I have never tried to publish in the mainstream, and my books are with Springer and seen mainly by those in academia and the “choir” of those who are already aware of our situation.
      After I pulled out of depression, I took action – enrolled in the community college for courses in soil science, plant propagation, botany and more. Volunteered to take 4th and 5th graders on hikes, participated in the city of San Francisco and Oakland Peak Oil Task Forces, interfaced with groups that had parallel interests in local food, more bicycle infrastructure, and more. Started a garden in our yard that provides lettuce and greens year round as well as fruit trees, tomatoes and more. My advice is to take action of some kind, learn new skills, meet others who are also aware, because it is lonely to be walking around seeing while everyone else is energy blind.

      • Kira says:

        What about people in 20s or early 30s. What in your opinion should be told to them? After all these people are the future and their decisions are the ones that can make some positive impact. They have all their lives planned ahead like career, wedding, kids, car and a house. Are you suggesting that they should be told that all that has been cancelled because the EROEI of fossil fuels is declining? That wind and solar cannot scale up to replace them and everything told to them by politicians, most engineers and scientists is a lie that results from cognitive biases and denial. In the very unlikely event that they believe you it will spiral them into depression from which they may not recover as they will lose their purpose. It would be too cruel. Knowing what I know I wish that I had taken the blue pill and never thought about all this.

        • energyskeptic says:

          Hell yes tell them the truth. They’ve been hearing that climate change is going to destroy all life for years now, so they can handle the truth. It’s their one chance at survival, choosing to major in organic agriculture, ranching, irrigation, etc., instead of computers, becoming a lawyer, or just about anything else. Given how such a huge percent of humans are able to deny reality no matter what evidence is shown them, such as Trump losing due to voting fraud, why not tell the truth? Telling lies has gotten us into so much trouble and allowed the 6th extinction to continue, pollution at a massive scale, the inability to talk about carrying capacity and why birth control and abortion are needed at this stage of human overshoot and more. Also, don’t those who can handle, and want the truth, deserve to know what the real score is? Those that hear the truth, and don’t want to know, will deny it, forget it, and believe whatever they want to believe since they can always find bad evidence to deny it, such as that wind and solar will save us.

  3. Freya says:

    Another way to “prep” is to set up Knowledge Arks in order to preserve our cumulative learning and culture. That way, if everything does go kablooey, the descendants of the survivors won’t have to rediscover a lot of science, and will still enjoy and learn from our classic literature, music, drama, etc.

  4. Sean says:

    Hi Alice,

    I was with you on wondering if Nov. 2018 was peak oil. Thought I’d post this link where they are projecting that we’re not there yet, although their base-case assumptions greatly simplify future price projections.

    And obviously net energy with worsening EROEIs will likely decline regardless. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Thanks Sean, this is really interesting, but really confusing too, a see-saw of it has peaked (On page 10 they report that oil peaked in 2008 and that it has peaked in several other ways on the same page) followed by many pages of maybe not given x y and z, such as oil reaching $70 a barrel making more fracking possible. One chart includes biofuels (other), gas, and oil shale (kerogen, which is not being extracted anywhere), these are not diesel and don’t keep civilization going. Nor does fracked/shale gas for that matter, it’s too light, mainly good for making plastics, but useful to mix with tar sands which are too close to asphalt, yet that is what Rystad imagines will be revived but which the IEA doubts will happen. this is not just geological, it’s financial, wall street has stopped lending because of lack of profits. So they make the case it will go up until 2030, then change their mind and explain for several pages why the 31.7 Mb/d missing oil isn’t likely to materialize: Figure 7 also reveals that, only to maintain production at its 2019 level (96.5 Mb/d), one-third of the current (2019) production will need to be substituted by 2030. This decline in current production that needs to be made up for over the next ten years is 31.7 Mb/d, equivalent to the current combined production capacities of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s three largest producers17
      If we are to reach the total production level of 103.6 Mb/d expected for 203018, nearly a quarter of this (23.6 Mb/d) will have to be obtained from past discoveries (green) or from possible future discoveries (blue). The actual development potential of these discoveries is by nature problematic, both from an economic and a geological perspective. From 2023 onwards, the ability to maintain production depends on the actual development of past discoveries and, from 2026 onwards, it depends on the development of possible future discoveries. Of these conjectural 23.6 Mb/d of new production capacity, 70% will have to be provided by tight oil or natural gas liquids from unconventional gas wells: figure 8.

      And then suddenly a shift to this missing oil will be produced after all. Well, dinner time, so must end this fast stream of consciousness quick look. I’ll give it more attention in the future.

      • Sean says:

        Thank you. Yes, it’s a good point about diesel–a focus of yours, I know. And it’s quite strange how they hedge themselves in Section III regarding the peak:

        “The truth will likely fit somewhere between these two dates: now or in the middle of the next decade.
        As we pointed out in the introduction, after 2026, production will only be sustained if large, but as yet hypothetical oil discoveries can be brought on stream.”

        And as you note on Wall Street no longer lending to tight oil:
        “This assumption of a continued tight oil boom is actually a bold one, if we recall that, after a decade
        of massive and overall loss-making investments to reap the low-hanging fruit of this new tree, the industry seemed, at the end of 2019, to be about to finally achieve economic balance, yet only at the price of a notable investment reduction in future production.”

        They truly aren’t ruling out that Nov. 2018 was the peak and note the possibility of a supply crunch in the mid-2020s. And I shudder to think where Wall Street investment would be without the constant central-bank intervention over the past few years.

        Thanks again.

  5. L. Phoenix says:

    Re: gas rationing, your earlier article said the rationing plan said: “Diesel-powered vehicles also will not receive an allotment index, as diesel fuel will not be subject to rationing under this plan.”

    So I wonder what you think now about whether they would change the rationing for diesel now, even though they didn’t see the need back then.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Heck yes! Especially in the U.S. because the oil we were blessed with produces mainly gasoline. But with the Repubs having so much power and wealth, I’m guessing no rationing except by who can afford expensive gas, everyone for themselves, and whoever has the must guns wins.

  6. Bill Chaffee says:

    Will peak natural gas coincide with peak oil? I often see buses powered by LNG or CNG.

    • energyskeptic says:

      I see varying figures for peak NG, most around 2050. NG isn’t fungible with oil. It would take decades to convert existing diesel trucks, which can last for 40 years, to burn CNG or LNG, and even long to build up a CNG distribution system. CNG service stations cost $1 million each, LNG $2 million. What would have made more sense are NG cars, because electric cars are using coal and natural gas, both of which lose 66% of their energy as heat when burned to create electricity, and another 6-10% is lost over the wires.