300 Years of Fossil Fuels and Not One Bad Gal: Peak Oil, Women's History and Everyone's Future

If you haven't seen this video by Richard Heinberg and the Post Carbon Institute, you should. In a lot of ways it is an excellent summary of the history of fossil fuels, entertainingly and creatively done. In some ways, it is extremely valuable as a basic educational piece.

I'm very impressed with the clarity of this video, but it does have an odd gap in it - all of the human history of 300 years of fossil fuels doesn't have a single female person in it - not one. Women are addressed by implication when population is mentioned - but all the little hand-drawn people are men. There is a female figure meant to represent advertising, and a pony-tailed teenager of indeterminate gender with their back to you watching tv, but all the actors, all the movers, all the shakers, all the drivers of our fossil fuel usage are men in this story.

In this version of history, men invent things - the automobile, the oil well, the Haber-Bosch process, alternating current. Men consume things - all the figures with cars and cell phones. Men extract resources - the lumberjack chopping trees, the miner in his coal mine. Some of this is true - most major inventions were inventions of white males, most coal miners and lumberjacks were men. But the story Heinberg tells is both explicitly and by implication a story of male invention, male progress, male consumption, male destruction. If there's a redemption, that seems to be a guy project from the illustrations as well, but that's not much of the video. Most of all, the video operates to write a history of fossil fuel usage that is fully the responsibility - positive and negative - of one half of human society.

Before I go on to my main point, let me quote something I said in my very first public writings on peak oil and women, written back in 2004, before I even had a blog, in an essay "Peak Oil is a Women's Issue" because I've noticed that many people, suspicious of feminist analyses tend to turn off when women's issues are raised and view them as minor and secondary. I think it is quite as relevant to this piece as when I wrote about it so many years ago, and would argue that the failure to see the history of our society as a history of women's acts and women's influence is not at all minor, just as the failure to grapple with those issues has profound implications for the peak oil movement.

Let me be quite explicit here to begin with - when I speak or write about peak oil as a women's issue, I do not mean what many people have taken the term "women's issue" to mean - that is, something that is solely and primarily the interest of women, and therefore irrelevant to men, or a situation where women's interests are in some way in opposition with the interests of men. I mean, instead, that peak oil has not been envisioned or considered seriously as an issue with particular impacts upon and considerations for women, and that women and the men who care about women - any man with a mother, sister, wife, female partner, lover or friend, daughter or any other relationship with women - that is to say, all men and all women - need to think carefully about how women are going to be affected by peak oil. When I call for women to join the peak oil movement, it is not because our interests are different than the interests of the men presently working on that subject, but because without us, those men may not perceive the impact of their actions upon women, or the importance of the female perspective. I have no doubt that men are just as concerned about the fate of their children as women are, that they care as deeply as women do that their mothers not spend their old age in terrible poverty and that their female friends are well educated, free, healthy and safe. What I think women bring to the table is greater consciousness of the impact of peak oil on women's bodies, women's lives and women's goals. But whatever future we envision, it will only be accomplished as a joint and human project

In some ways the absence of women from a 300 year history of ecological destruction could be seen as a good thing and me as rather churlish for mentioning it - after all, other than our presumably passive role of birthin' too many babies, we women are left totally off the hook for the destruction of the earth. (This gap seems to be something detected even by YouTube, which, upon the completion of this video offered me not another Richard Heinberg piece or another piece about peak oil but a video entitled "Why Girls Don't Fart" by someone called "collegehumor" which has, in what I'm sure is a useful revelation about our culture, been viewed more than 10 million times - apparently even YouTube grasps that the real story is that we Chicks are exempt from all bad things!) There are probably plenty of feminists who would laud a narrative in which men were wholly responsible for the predicament in which we presently stand. What kind of crazy woman would want to claim our part in rendering the planet unliveable?

Well, me, actually. The problem with Heinberg's history is that it is not "the history" of fossil fuels in 300 seconds, it is *a* history - a particular kind of history, one focused heavily on individual heroic achievement (specific inventors, generally male and white, who are given more time and attention than those who machined, used and adapted the technologies into daily use) and one that leaves out a large chunk of the explanation for the growth of fossil fuel technologies out of the story - the roles and acts of women. Now it is perfectly reasonable for a very short history to leave things out. But if we have time to observe that Tesla invented alternating current and everyone has a cell phone, we also have time to observe that one of the largest social changes in human history altered conditions in the Global North so that instead of one person in a household using fossil fuels in the public economy - owning a car, supporting the consumer economy now there were two - or two households.

Consider these two graphs:

women in the workplace.gif


US Energy Use WWII.gif

The consumption of fossil fuels in the US isn't a perfect mirror image of the participation of women in the workforce, but the correlations are substantive and I think it is very hard to deny that women's shift away from domestic work into the public sphere had profound implications for both increased new consumption (cars, professional clothing, social status jockeying) and also for the abandonment of low-input labor that still needed doing (the replacement of the parent at home with the daycare provider to which one must drive, the replacement of home food production with the drive through and packaged food...).

As far as I'm aware, no peak oil analyst has ever really done a good numbers analysis of how much women's move from the informal, domestic economy to the formal, market economy cost us in energy terms - I've never found one and I've looked. But more than the need to use the WWII factory capacity, more than the invention of consumerism, the rise in women in the workforce which rose dramatically in World War II, never declined again to Depression levels (despite the claim that the women's movement didn't start until the 1960s, women's workforce participation remained higher than in the past, as did the divorce rate) and then changed rapidly beginning in the 1960s.

I have a pretty good idea why Heinberg doesn't mention either the rise in the divorce rate that drove up the number of households, creating smaller and smaller units, each with their own stoves and cars and consumer goods, or the rise in women's consumer buying power, the requirements of workforce participation in clothes, outside meals, domestic labor replaced, etc.... There are two reasons. The first is that conventional histories of technology are progressive stories with heavy emphasis on heroic individualism - that is, they tend to be stories about men and single events in industrialization, rather than how technologies are used in daily life. These histories have been challenged but the dominant narrative, the one we all learned in school is about who invented the cotton gin, not about the black slaves that built and repaired them, or the hands that ran them, about who invented the spinning jenny, not the young women factory workers who made use of them. What Heinberg tells here, intentionally or unconsciously, is a conventional history of human technology, one in which our progress is (horribly) inevitable, and in which the only conscious actions are invention - everything else is a tidal wave that leads us in one direction. This is the critical version of the liberal myth of the inevitability of progress, but it takes the same underlying assumptions - that these are natural events in which there are no agents.

The second reason is more fraught - a narrative in which women's entry in the workforce is responsible for our dramatic rise in fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions can look superficially like a tool for those who would prefer that women go back home and come out of the workforce, and would like to blame feminists and feminism for our present ecological disaster. Indeed, if no one has come up with this ideological claim yet, I'm sure it is only a matter of time before someone explains earnestly to me how wimmen's rights are destroying the planet as well as all the other ills routinely attributed to feminism.

That is not, however, a justification for pretending that women's participation in the workforce has nothing to do with our energy consumption however - it is demonstrably true that our move away from the domestic sphere had an enormous impact on our energy usage. We may not like it, but the story of men as environmental bad guys simply doesn't match up to the reality - there are plenty of bad gals for the planet. False narratives are simply never better than true ones, and we all know that not acknowledging the truth won't prevent others from using the story how they choose.

The other problem with avoiding the subject is that it implies that the shallow, empty anti-feminist argument is right - that the only way to tell the truth is to blame women for killing the planet, and that's just nonsense. Feminism has never been one thing, and in the early days of American 2nd wave feminism, it was a lot less one thing than it is now - there were powerful debates about what kind of social changes women actually wanted. What happened, however, was that a particular version of feminism emerged from the debates, successful. As I've argued before in _Depletion and Abundance_ and other places, in fact, the version of feminism that emerged was one that succeeded precisely because it so well served the encompassing model of consumptive market capitalism.

Thus, when early feminists called for men to take up a full half of the domestic labor, and tried to organize collaborative, communal efforts in which domestic labor from cooking to childcare were taken up equitably in group organizations to reduce the total workload, while spreading it more fairly between men and women, what actually happened was an "every household for itself" ethic. With women now working full time while also doing the majority of childcare and housework, what emerged was the abandonment of much domestic labor that once reduced consumption and energy usage, a lot of conflict over what remained, and the replacement of household labor with lower income employees and public economy replacements - ie, instead of the wife one now had a lawn service, the dry cleaner, the daycare center and the stop at the fast food place, and all the corresponding car trips.

The argument is not "the women's movement caused our environmental degradation" - we know historically speaking that social equity can exist in low-input societies, and we know that there is more than one version of feminism. It is my contention that we should be suspicious of this version of feminism's success, rather than laudatory, and that modern industrial feminism has never fully considered the degree to which its assumptions of natural progress are premised on the availability of cheap energy. Instead, what we need to do is ask "If this feminism succeeded not because it was primarily good for women, but instead good for the economy and some women in power, what are the alternatives?"

If feminism (even in collaboration with industrial capitalism) was powerful enough to radically shift the landscape of our economy, doubling and redoubling our energy consumption, and changing definitions of women's roles, it may be that we very much need feminism to change the terms again.

We never seriously questioned the ideology (and it is an ideology) that argued that women and men are more free when they are employed by bosses in the workplace than when they are working for the greater good of their partners and family in the home. It is certainly true that money conveys a measure of freedom - but we have never seriously considered ways in which access to funds might be assured to women in partnership with others - or ways in which men might come to equitably bear the burden of the domestic economy. Some of these have emerged as critiques or as functional alternatives, but overwhelmingly modern feminism has focused heavily on an energy-intensive, environmentally destructive abandonment of the home for the formal economy, rather than a balancing of domestic labor or a reclamation of it. The emphasis on personal choice the primary form of freedom also drove this unconsidered consumption.

Modern industrial feminism (and its partner in crime, modern industrial capitalism) has also uncritically accepted the idea that the progressive narrative in which women can do whatever they want more or less whenever they want is an accomplishment of their will, rather than a result of a fossil-energy intensive infrastructure that includes electric breast pumps, refrigeration, cars, a huge body of people shunted from homes and farms into low paid service economy jobs, the offshoring of things that were once not needed due to available home labor or were made in the home to far away countries, etc.... As I say in _Depletion and Abundance_ you couldn't have come up with a better plan for a consumptive industrial capitalism if we'd spent decades studying the problem. No wonder it was successful.

The deepest failure of modern industrial feminism was that it accepted what a patriarchal society had said about women's work and household and family labor by both genders - that it was meaningless, valueless, drudgery and contemptable. This work, which substituted for fossil labor in a host of ways, and offered in many cases much better alternatives than can be produced by industrial society (Consider, for example, the food - manifestly we ate better when someone was cooking at home) was replaced by fossil energies in a narrative that regarded such a replacement as natural, progressive and inevitable. It built on degradation of women's traditional work and convinced women and men that traditional domestic labor was valueless. instead of men and women sharing domestic labor more equitably, everyone left the home except a few hold-outs, and those paid the price of being told their work was valueless. This abandonment of the home had enormous environmental costs, which we are paying now.

None of this is a new observation - remember, feminism isn't one thing and ecological feminists have been pointing this out for a long time. But what is new is the that the realization that the resources this version of feminism depends on are going to be limited by material realities means that the women's movement needs to grapple - and fast - with the version of feminism we've accepted as normative. This, however is not my primary subject this time

More on track, and equally importantly, the peak oil movement is going to need to grapple with this history. On one level we know it - even at an event as male dominated as an ASPO Conference, I find myself standing with men telling me about how they entering a domestic sphere they have not lived in before, into gardening, food preservation and dealing with the day-to-day realities of living with a lot less consumption of energy. These are guys in suits who make five times as much as I do, asking me earnestly about how to put up their potatoes. In some measure, it is wholly impossible to understand the implications of peak oil without realizing that we're going to be travelling less, having less, staying home more and being able to rely on the formal economy for less. A return to domestic life for both men and women is partly inevitable. The way the recession has played out, driving men out of the workforce may well help with that shift.

It is not, however, sufficient to allow events to drive the way women's participation is understood and used in the peak oil movement. A refusal to grapple with issues of women's history and women's future leads to bad ends - first of all, if we can't identify where the uses of energy derive from, if we return to a passive narrative like the one in the video where male actors invent and then without agency or thought we consume, we will fail to find the places we can make radical change.

When addressing our consumer culture, for example, we must start with women who studies show make or primarily influence 80% of all purchases, including traditionally "male identified" items like cars, tools and building equipment. It is not enough to say we must "stablize the population" and show only pen sketches of little male faces - unless we envision of future in which women are rendered powerless over their own reproductive capacities, such a project involves engaging women.

Moreover, the women's movement was an incredibly powerful cultural shift - industrial capitalism may have subverted feminism, but it didn't create it - women are extraordinarily powerful in shifting the culture, and history suggests this is not a function of cheap energy. If we understand on some level that in order to address our energy consumption, we have to go home again and we need the participation of both men and women to alter our consumer culture, this will have to be formulated, argue and organized as first and second wave feminism themselves were formulated, argued and organized. Only in novels do women go contentedly back to the home as a natural event and return to the good old days complete with legal marital rape and a sixth grade education, and that's not likely to be much of an enticement. Everyone has to go home and the argument must be framed in a way that inspires and engages, revaluing domestic labor, taking the stigma off of traditional "women's work" while also making it the shared territory of men and women.

The beginnings of this cultural shift exist - they exist in the writings on Subsistence by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies, in the ecologically informed Global South feminism of Vandana Shiva and Helena Norberg-Hodge, in the ideology of Radical Homemaking of Shannon Hayes and in my own work, and in countless other places. At this point, however, as we can see so clearly from this video, these narratives are marginal - they aren't part of history and they aren't part of the future. Post-Carbon and Heinberg are telling a critical story - but the actors they need to engage, all the hands they want on deck are not engaged, because they aren't part of the tale. That needs to change. If the future depends on a new relationship to the world, to our children, to consumption, to the earth, that's got to be framed, and it can't happen without fifty-one percent of the world's population fully participating - and not as an afterthought.



More like this

...and lumberjacks were men.

Back when I cut timber in Arizona's White Mountains there were women working for the logging company. They drove log trucks & skidders, & worked on the fencing crew & in the office. But it was true: all the actual timber fallers were men. I reckon women have better sense than to do anything so dangerous & destructive as drop big trees with chainsaws. This said, I'm off to cut some pretty good size hybrid poplars today. Nothing I'd rather do than drop & dismember trees on a cold & blustery winter's day!

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 17 Dec 2010 #permalink

I'm glad you wrote this piece (and a little amused that what you called *not the main point* took up a lot more space than your main point!).

Perhaps looking more at paying employment - especially the less-attractive parts of paying employment in our capitalistic society - might be helpful in supporting the shift that you are describing. If more of us are to come home, we need to have time to do the work once we get there. It takes time to do a good job of domestic work. The shift to convenience products and low-paid domestic workers has been driven in part by the full-time work standard of 40+ hours/week jobs in order to receive full benefits. I think the proportion of women having full-time jobs has increased at least as much as the proportion of women having any paid employment. If we could reduce full-time employment hours per person per week in the paid workforce to 20-25 at a sufficient wage and with sufficient benefits to support a family, that would help. Two adult workers both working what we now call part-time jobs, but with the equivalent of full benefits and a good-enough wage, would each have enough time and energy to take on domestic work.

One way we might move in this direction is to highlight current dissatisfaction with paid employment. While people might not mind, or even enjoy, the work itself, a whole host of other factors can make paid employment quite stressful. Those factors seem to be increasing. The book Confronting Consumption includes a chapter on voluntary simplicity in which the author notes that a major factor that makes the idea of simplifying attractive to many people is their dissatisfaction with paid employment, both in terms of too many hours of it and in terms of the conditions of those hours.

At a larger level we need a much deeper critique than I am suggesting. Even at the level I focused on, difficult questions of what is a sufficient wage and what are sufficient benefits exist. Just to propose reducing full-time hours and increasing wages will draw the ire of those who benefit most from current practices. But we need to get the conversation going. And looking at paid work along with looking at domestic work in the ways you suggest might help people see better the connection between them.

Interesting that in this article you don't mention Kunstler's novels which have been described as reactionary and misogynistic in the way they portray women going back to the hearth.

In case any of the readers are not saturated on this topic, you can take a look at a relevant, but not totally parallel post of mine;


Lots of good comments on that post, which I was never able to find the time to adequately respond to.

We're still in that box- "history" has always been a boy's club; and so have universities. Getting out of the box cannot be easy. Attempts to have girls join the boys club run into the barrier that the original situation was not one club; but separate ones; women's magic and culture, and men's magic and culture. Having just one, where all can play, has perhaps not ever been achieved.

coal miners and lumberjacks were men

Well, I dunno about over there, but here in the UK, there were plenty of women (and children) working down coal mines up until the passage of The Mines Act of 1842, and even after that, women were heavily employed above-ground (mainly as "screen lasses") until well into the latter half of the 20th century.

@ GS - I think she did:

"Only in novels do women go contentedly back to the home as a natural event and return to the good old days complete with legal marital rape and a sixth grade education, and that's not likely to be much of an enticement."

She's clearly NOT suggesting that the solution is for women to go back the hearth:

"Everyone has to go home and the argument must be framed in a way that inspires and engages, revaluing domestic labor, taking the stigma off of traditional "women's work" while also making it the shared territory of men and women."

The thing is that this kind of work, which is clearly valuable to children, society in general, and the environment, is not truly valued as a legitimate way for modern, educated people to spend our time. It used to be done mostly by women, now the work is carried out largely by the new second-class citizens - the undereducated and the immigrant, who often make minimum wage or less in return. I think Sharon is suggesting that the way we all view manual and domestic work needs to be re-framed, so that it is valued by ALL of us, so that ALL of us are motivated to participate in these essential tasks with some sense of satisfaction and pride.

Actually, Clare, I didn't think it did. The background history of the women's movement and how it influenced our energy usage is relevant to both points. Perhaps I was unclear though - my smaller point (for this particular essay, it has been central in other writings of mine) is that the feminist movement will have to acknowledge that a lot of what it has naturalized over the decades is actually the result of an artificial and temporary abundance of cheap energy. The primary focus here is that the peak oil movement needs to grasp the way women's roles and feminism have shaped our energy usage, rather than feminism needs to do the reciprocal work of understanding how energy has shaped its story. That minor point was only a paragraph ;-).

Of course this is another excellent essay on the peak oil/domestic work/feminist role that you (Sharon) have endeavored to bring to the Peak Oil movement, It's a good thing it has been brought up for discussion by you and not the likes of Richard Heinberg because if somebody like him were to do so (and I'm not saying he's even capable of forming the thesis at all), he'd be thoroughly shouted down because nobody is going to listen to a old, white man lay any kind of blame whatsoever, on women, shared with the rest of their family, or not.

In my work, surrounded as I am by "progressive", liberal types, I have learned the hard way that one cannot talk in a frank, open manner about the shared responsibility people have had for perpetuating their predicaments regarding their failure to properly raise children in impoverished environments. Ditto talking among my coworkers about the unwillingness of my clients of color to engage in the outdoors, or of the racism in my organization that continues to expect that kids of color wouldn't be interested in outdoor activities over street basketball or playing with an Ipod. I realize that is most likely an over-condensed simplification of the situation I face at the human service agency and residential treatment center I work at, but I think it's close enough.

Now, if I were somebody other than a middle-aged white male attempting a discussion of why black kids think that coyotes are going to eat them because, as one client told me once: "coyotes like chocolate people and I'm chocolate", then maybe I'd succeed some. But some theses and subjects just have no perceived legitimacy coming from us white, old guys, and that definitely applies to what you are discussing here in your blog today.

Hopefully, this essay of yours finds a larger audience.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 17 Dec 2010 #permalink


Spot on critique, and one that we're going to keep in mind as we produce our follow-up animation. Funny, only yesterday we were wondering aloud why our video seems permanently linked to the 'girl fart' effort. Ugh.

Thanks for yanking us out of our group-tunnel vision. Keep up your invaluable work and writing!

Post Carbon Institute.

Funny - I'm a woman and I've always looked more like a stick figure of a man than the one with a skirt and ponytail! :)

Honestly, I agree with you. And I agree with Kunstler. The status of women, it seems to me, as more equal citizens than in times past is simply due to fossil fuels' ability to provide an equalizer between the sexes. I worked as a fire fighter for many years, and while I was very strong I will never be as strong as a man, especially not a male fire fighter. However, the reason I was able to become strong enough to even do the job was due to the advances in physiology that have been made possible by fossil fuels and their contribution to scientific endeavor. I tend to believe that past generations were generally stronger than most of us now simply because the jobs were more demanding. If you couldn't vacuum your rug you'd have to take it out and beat it for example. But, men were and are stronger than women, and there are simply many jobs -- both necessary to life, and career -- that the great majority of women are simply not going to be physiologically appropriate for.

I think there is a reason the jobs were traditionally divided the way they were, and it made sense. It still makes sense, at least when children are small or women are pregnant.

I believe that sexual dimorphism in humans is more cultural and less "natural" than most people think. IIRC east coast Scottish wives a hundred years ago used to carry their husbands out to the fishing boats so they could at least start with dry feet and legs.

So I don't think it's true that women are usually smaller and weaker than men. I think our particular society has tended to select that way for several hundred years.

In a related theme, I have often wondered why accounts that do mention women in our (western european derived industrial) culture in the distant past usually describe them eating so much less than men, especially protien and fats. I thought perhaps it was just another example of maltreatment of women by men. I recently had a thought though; if a woman combines hard work, a low calorie diet and prolonged breast feeding, she will get pregnant a lot less and have fewer children spaced further apart. This might have survival advantages for everyone involved. The women, through lower exposure to the risks of child bearing, the children, because their mothers survive, and the men because they still have their partner with a vested interest in keeping her children with his genes alive.

As a side effect, this last would tend to result in women being smaller and weaker than men.

I think I'd rather have a Scottish fisherman's wife though.

Marrowstone Island

this was an excellent post, and you're right that this issue of peak oil and feminism needs to be faced. And for two reasons: for one, feminist and even "I'm not a feminist, but..."-modern women will be rightly resistant to a movement that tells them they'll have to go back to the "traditional work division" whether they like to or not (and I've sen a number of peak oil writers blithely assume this development), thus making it that much more difficult to get anywhere; two, if the issue isn't addressed, that's precisely what will happen: women WILL be crowded back into home labor, whether they want to or not, because if women don't try to control their roles during and after the descent, their roles will be decided for them by others.

So, women in the peak oil community need to push for an understanding that the future will require a lot more traditional work, there's no sane reason for the work to be once again divided into "male" and "female" work (and incidentally, there's plenty of things that are "female work" in one culture, but "male work" in another, so the division is largely arbitrary): it can just as well be shared equally between the partners/group, or divided along lines of skill and preference (and the rest divided up equally), rather than sex. But that will take feminist work of convincing people (especially men) that cooking, cleaning, and watching the kids are jobs that really don't require a vagina, and carpentry, animal husbandry, fishing, and agriculture don't require a penis.

In fact... I think I'm going to have to write a post on this on my blog, as well... hmmm.... something to research and ponder.

Women not smaller and weaker then men...lol.....you don't know much do you. In every race in every culture in recorded history....men have been bigger and stronger then women. In fact...nowdays the difference is less because their are so many sedentary men.....and men who are week and small survive and breed..which most didn't in more natural environments where big strong men were favored for mating. Testosterone my friend....men have 5 times as much as women...and that hormone is responsible for protein synthesis into muscle. That isn't the only reason men are bigger and stronger then women but it's a major reason. Heavy physical activity increases testosterone production so in the days where virtually all men had to perform hard physical labor....average testosterone levels would have been higher. Womens testosterone does not increase with hard physical activity because they haven't got testicals to stimulate and produce more.

God...some of the hair brained theories people come up with just to avoid accepting reality or in order to be PC.

I worked as a fire fighter for many years, and while I was very strong I will never be as strong as a man, especially not a male fire fighter.

Some women are stronger than most men. Some men are stronger than most women. On average, men may be stronger but there is greater within than between group variation.

I was a volunteer fire fighter for many years likewise, Susan. This Navajo guy & I took turns being Fire Chief. Volunteers came & went but we two were the core of the crew. No one wanted to be Fire Chief because it involved paper work & scheduling training & fire drills & equipment maintenance. We liked fighting fires but didn't like the paper work, so we alternated the Fire Chief position between us annually. One year when it was my turn to be Fire Chief we had a rather obese woman volunteer to fight fires. I told her that I didn't want her on the crew. She got offended & claimed that I was sexist & didn't want her on the crew because she was a woman. I didn't want to hurt her feelings but I eventually had to come right out & tell her that I didn't want her on the crew not because she was a woman but because she was too damn fat. I told her that if she became overcome with smoke I wasn't strong enough to carry her to safety. I had to tell her that I didn't want to be responsible for her. We finally worked it out where she ran the pumper & didn't go near the fire and all was well.

I relate this story as an example of why I don't like things broken down into gender terms. I don't care if someone is female, male, ambiguous or incongruous. I only care if they're up for the task. When the "narrative" is framed in gender terms, if someone isn't up for the task it's easy for them to fall back upon the allegation of gender bias. I wouldn't have wanted an obese guy on the fire crew any more than I wanted an obese woman on it. Since there's greater within than between group variance, the only sane thing to do is to consider the individual, in disregard of gender or biological sex. Can he or she fight the fire? Is the person up for it?

I have often wondered why accounts that do mention women in our . . . culture in the distant past usually describe them eating so much less than men, especially protien (sic) and fats.

When New England & upstate New York and the upper Midwest were being deforested in the 19th century, the loggers who wielded the double bitted axes & misery whips were obliged to consume up to 9K Kcals day^-1! Accounts of the meals that had to be served them, to keep up their metabolic output, are amazing to read. A dozen eggs, two dozen flapjacks, bacon, potatoes, gravy, butter, cream.. and that was just for breakfast. Had there been any women working that hard, they would have had to have eaten that much, too.

In years past, on a winter's day like today, how come my wife never offered to go out & cut wood, so that I could stay inside & keep the fire going, cook, do laundry & run the sweeper? Because she knew that between us, it was me who had the greasy, disagreeable, dangerous, wet, dirty, heavy.. task, and her who got to stay warm & exercise creativity in the kitchen, I reckon. If women want to be loggers, or engage in combat, more power to 'em! I have no problem staying in camp fryin' up all them taters & eggs.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

Hi Sharon, I don't think it's quite correct that "Only in novels do women go contentedly back to the home as a natural event and return to the good old days complete with legal marital rape and a sixth grade education, and that's not likely to be much of an enticement."

It seems that a certain number of American women are doing just this nowadays, for reasons of their particular flavor of religion. Various websites teach that women must and should be subordinate; the husband rules and woman obeys without question. I think it is very sad.


By Pat Meadows (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

Thanks for your post - and I'm glad to discover your blog! It helps to counter a concern of mine. I've only come to understand the implications of peak oil over the last few years and my experience has been that the topic, both in my personal experiences and in the online community, is largely dominated my males. Obviously men and women are different, but it has been concerning to me that not one female I've encountered in person has seen this issue as important. So thanks again for your comments and proving that this isn't a male issue but a human one!

@ Emily,

Funny - very funny. Of course, emphasizing the skirt and pony tail depiction of 'feminine' really concedes to the image that most profits the fashion and men's entertainment industries.

@ Claire,

I think the 40 hour work week was an invention of organized labor (rhymes with organized crime), and industrial 'efficiency means how efficient you are at turning my money into profit' magnates. Any measure of work that includes the terms they set continues to distract us from rediscovering what is an essential value, apart from industrial 'efficiency'.

@ Sharon,

What you propose is a rather radical change in society. Much of the advance of recognizing the personhood, and citizen rights, of women accompanied breaking society away from strictly religious dominance (mostly Protestant) of early America. Taking women from the home to the factories took them outside the Church-ordained role as 'household headed by man/husband'. Further re-examining the roles of adults - and children - in the household further challenges that font of ancient social values.

It occurs to me that modern education (Please write your Senators and Congressman to abolish the US Department of Education!) reinforces the industrial version of 'equality' - put people into the formal economy, where they consume debt and pay taxes. Just as the Dept of Ag favors industrial farming, the Dept of Ed favors creating more taxpayers.

Which puts what you advocate at odds with the goals of the American government. You want to recognize that fewer people will be in a position to pay taxes. Focusing now on surviving, on working toward food, shelter, and social stability at the family and community level, might be sensible. But it cuts into the number of tax payers. It reduces government revenues now, at a time when they plan to spend and spend and spend into the unseen future.

The modern US school system is uniquely geared to fuel the next generation of the industrial version of feminism and racial activism.

Which brings up a point. You focused on the conspicuous absence of women in responsible roles in the presentation. Among all those males. Those white males.

I remember one of those kid westerns way back when, before most Saturday programs were cartoons. Whether it was My Friend Flicka or Fury (a boy and his horse), the ranch had that colorful hired hand. I would propose that that hired hand was a part of the informal economy - that the bulk of what he gained was occupation, respect and regard, food and a bunk. I doubt that there was enough money flow to show up in taxes of any sort.

In some novels, and in my family history, there was the occasional aunt that lived in. Helped with the household work, care of an invalid. I doubt there was a 'salary' involved, at least, no wheres near the point of taxable income.

Most farms used to take a lot of labor - and a lot of hands - to keep them productive. Raising children was one way of adding labor to an operation, but there were also short term and long term 'hands'.

When you talk about people returning home, I think we need to consider wider-spread changes. I think we need to consider households that encompass a family - and as many additional 'hands' and live-in help as can be supported. That is - many fewer tax-paying households.

And this is a direct challenge to our current government. Reducing the roles of industrially employed workers by half, or 7/8ths - won't leave the government much tax revenue. And that won't sit well with industrial lobbyists or special interest activists and lobbyists. Let alone organized labor.

Claire - I think we need to consider that the minimum value of my labor might be room and board, and two suits of clothes a year, and not (a taxable) $7.25 an hour. Convincing the US Government of that might be as big an issue as losing the (taxable) affluence of abundant cheap energy.

I read your "Perfect Storm" blog post, Dr. House. You end it by asking:

The question is not whether the storm will hit us, but rather will we even survive it?

The answer is no. Just as no individual organism avoids death, no population that exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment avoids collapse and no species avoids extinction. The issues of human overpopulation, peak oil, climate change, and fresh water supply depletion, that you address, along with other issues such as anthropogenic mass extinction, surface ocean acidification, resource warfare, etc., interact synergistically & nonadditively to precipitate human population collapse to, or quite near to, extinction, on a time scale of decades to a century or two. Even if collapsed population manages some "bottom bouncing" for several generations, the absorbing boundary will be achieved by means of environmental/demographic stochasticity and Homo is no more.

This conclusion is clear, although you're apt to encounter quite a bit of resistance to it. You've identified some of the stressors and have emphasized the risk they represent. Now take the next logical step and recognize - and acknowledge that recognition to self & others - that human extinction is impending. From that position of clarity you can decide what you, personally, need to do, if anything.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

Darwinsdog - while I agree that the outlook for humanity is quite bleak, I'm not convinced (yet?) that human beings will become extinct any time soon. I realize that we've been on the scene the geologic equivalent of a blink of an eye, but since we came out of the trees, we've shown remarkable ability to adapt. That being said, never before have we faced such dismal prospects for the future - one of our making, to be certain. But at this point, there isn't enough evidence that absolutely none of us will survive this coming collapse. Perhaps nature will select for a better, more environmentally aware and connected human. Or perhaps nature will simply select for a different species all together. Who knows?


Sorry to divert Sharon's thread, but I think this point bears further discussion.

My point was that sexual dimorphism in our species is not neccessarily genetic. Cultural selection has a lot to do with it. I would also suggest that it is you, rather than me that is out of touch with history.

My easy argument could be that the winners write the histories, or at least edit and control access to information. I am _not_ one of the people who posits a happy pre-patriarchal golden age of matriarchy; since I am wary of the trap of dualism. But, your view of history is distorted through the lens of a society in which men rule, and male values prevail.

More to my point, even our eurocentric male-centric histories can't avoid all references to large, strong, aggressive women. The Romans were appalled when they faced both Celtic and Germanic female warriors; whom they indeed did describe as being as large and fierce as the men. We have followed the Roman path since then, rather than that of the Celts and Teutons. And our societal selection of small women has prevailed.

And the Roman accounts were rejected as exagerations by modern historians along with stories of Amazons. And now we have dug up Scythian tombs containing women's bodies wearing armour and bearing weapons. And we have dug up skeletons in southern Germany of women dressed in "mens" clothing whose bones bear the same marks as men killed in battle (limbs severed by sword cuts) and who were also buried with weapons.

One of my hypothoses was in my previous post; that keeping off extra fat helps reduce fertility and space out children. Otherwise it is too easy in a successful agricultural society for women to breed too often and die.

In a modern industrial society, such as ours _at present_ with access to good nutrition and universally available birth control, women's size is rapidly increasing, much as the size of the Japanese after WWII.

Hence, my original posit, that sexual dimorphism is more cultural than genetic. Human genetics can take a long time to change; cultural change can be much faster. So you, Stu, and a great many others, don't realize how great the change has been.

To return more to the topic of this thread. That being said, I agree with Sharon that some activities are more suitable for a pregnant or nursing woman who needs to stay close to the house (at least in a temperate or boreal climate). And when the die off gets more severe a successful culture is more likely to want to "protect" or at least control fertile women and girls who may grow up to be fertile women. However, given the vast number of successful societies and cultures in the world with divergent gender role activities, I think there is a lot of room for what is and isn't men's or women's work in a post peak, post industrial world. Keeping women alive through pregnancy will be vital. Raising live children will be vital. I think a geat many other things will be open to a wider variety of interpretation.


Marrowstone Island

Sharon, you've hit the nail on the head when you say that homemaking has been marginalized, but you fail to follow the line of thought a bit in relation to our culture and the effects of feminism - homemaking is marginalized, but it is still MUCH more acceptable for women than for men. Women are much less likely to marry a man that makes less than them, and of course the culture at large views a man who stays home cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids as unmanly. A woman who is a homemaker keeps her dignity and is much more likely to find support from their partner - in fact is much more likely to find a parter in the first place.

If we hope to prevent a massive, worldwide slide backward in gender roles going along with a massive worldwide slide back down the energy ladder, it's going to require not just dignifying work like cooking, but dignifying it for both genders. That means men will have to be willing to do it, but it also means women will have to be willing to live with a man that is cooking the bacon rather than bringing it home.

If we hope to prevent a massive, worldwide slide backward in gender roles going along with a massive worldwide slide back down the energy ladder, it's going to require not just dignifying work like cooking, but dignifying it for both genders. That means men will have to be willing to do it, but it also means women will have to be willing to live with a man that is cooking the bacon rather than bringing it home.


some countries are already doing that, inadvertently (meaning they're not doing it because of Peak Oil), most notably Sweden where SAHD's are becoming more and more normal and accepted, and it's up to the parents how their split their parental care.

Glenn- beautifully reasoned, very erudite, nonsense. Do cultures vary? Gosh, I think so. Do body types vary? well, I'll be darned, so they do.

The fact; for all known populations of Homo, all species, male and female populations beautifully illustrate the bell-curve type distribution. The two bell curves overlap greatly. But the peaks are always in the same place; male heavier, female lighter.

By Ranklebiter (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

..but since we came out of the trees, we've shown remarkable ability to adapt.

Bipedalism is the plesiomorphic condition for hominids, with knuckle walking & brachiation being apomorphies that evolved independently in forest dwelling great apes.

Adaptation is the outcome of selection. Humans have hardly adapted at all since the time of speciation. If anything, selection pressures have been relaxed allowing drift to predominate over selection in human populations. The outcome of drift is overwhelmingly maladaptive. What you attribute to adaptation is actually the outcome of cultural innovation. Language and the cultural transmission of acquired traits have allowed fitness intensification in humans, to the point that the carrying capacity of the biosphere has been grossly transgressed. Since populations that transgress the carrying capacity crash, language & the cultural transmission of acquired traits must be regarded as supremely maladaptive human characteristics which contribute greatly to the likelihood of near term extinction.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

..populations beautifully illustrate the bell-curve type distribution.

Conformity to the normal distribution is the hallmark of polygenic traits modified by the influence of environmental factors. But beware in pointing this out! Absolute cultural determinism is de rigueur on ScienceBlogs. It seems to be the one consistent criteria Seed Media execs use for determining who to invite to blog on this forum. It seems to be a major component of the worldview Seed seeks to inculcate in participants, one of the primary biases they display and seek to instill in readers. Commenters desperate for acceptance to the point of sycophancy, will attack dissenters who actually display some knowledge of quantitative genetics. So better watch out, Rank!

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

Stephen, you may be right that Heinberg can't say it is women's fault, although I think that he and post-carbon could imply it was a little bit women's fault without too much critique ;-). But yes, the strongest voices for a reconsideration of women's role in our ecological destruction have to be women, the strongest voices that speak to the African American community about their roles in our society have to be African American. Those voices exist even now, but it can be hard to get them into place - and there's a price to pay.

As for physical strength, I think we can recognize that on average women are physically less strong than men, but that there is huge variability. At 6' tall, I can carry two 50lb feed sacks, one on each shoulder. I can't throw them up in the hayloft though, the way my husband can, but I can push the limits of *my* strength, and quite a few men I know can't even carry them.

Pat, there are certainly examples of deeply repressive religious cultures in the US from which some people aren't free to dissent, and that is sad. That said, however, that's not the mainstream - the mainstream religious submission movements actually take fairly well educated and often middle class women and ask them to voluntarily submit. I personally don't see the appeal of submission to male authority (and anyone who has met me know that there's probably nothing more unlikely on the earth for me personally ;-)), as a principle, but I do think that there's something very different about a self-conscious choice in an adult woman in a comparatively free culture to return to that - which seems much more mainstream than the cults in Utah where women really have no choice.

DD, I like chopping wood, and hauling wood - and I've had days home with the kids running the carpet sweeper where I would have paid a zillion dollars to get to go out in the quiet, cold woods, even if the work was tough, particularly, say, during periods when the newly pointy toothed children were nursing and hadn't yet learned not to bite. I take your point, but it is not the case that domestic labor is always more fun or less painful ;-).

Adam, I agree with you entirely, and indeed I didn't follow that out in this particular piece, but have in the past. This actually becomes incredibly urgent given the way the economic crisis has driven us - almost 70% of the present unmployed are men, and without the idead of dignifying domestic work for me, without the cultural support for subsistence labor as also "providing for" one's family, it has a painful double price - men are demoralized by being thrust into these roles, and the work doesn't get done because it isn't seen as serious and valuable. So yes, I agree entirely with you!


Liked your view, very refreshing!
I'm going to tease my wife with this.
Its interesting when looking at the Taliban and how they have a low carbon way of life. We already know their views about women in society.
Are the current worlds evil doers actually saviors of civilization (not as we know it)?

FWIW, my impression is that males on average have superior upper body strength just for biological reasons in every culture - even if you exclude from consideration those many cultures where they have used their greater size and cooperative aggression to hog the high-quality food - but that both sexes average much stronger than we would expect in cultures where they had or have to do serious manual labor. I am always amazed to see women considerably smaller than I am making good time while carrying a load that I couldn't even lift.

I completely agree with the main thesis of this post. We are constantly being told that what people need is Jobs. No, we don't have an inherent need to toil at someone else's command; we need food, shelter, and clothing, and if we could get those things without having to submit to a corporate boss, most of us would probably be happier. My DH is now serving as our chatelaine after being laid off from a lousy and unhealthy job. I honestly hope that he will not get another job, since we're both happier now despite having a lower income.

OTOH, my husband knows for certain that I will never divorce him and will very likely outlive him. If he didn't, he'd be running a grave risk by depending on me, since the employing class in America treats men with "gaps in their work history" even worse than women. To support homemaking, maybe we need to circumscribe our families or households more broadly than we have recently; under the nuclear family model, everyone in a house is dependent on the wages of a single worker. What if we had a house with four or five adults, two of whom worked in the formal economy? This would be much more resilient. Of course, many jurisdictions prohibit such non-nuclear households - maybe in part because they allow some members not to be good strivers?

Your prosperity, freedom, lifestyle is based on Oil.
How can you say women are not involved. When in 1990 US
household spent 50% of their income for food. Women stayed
home because it required a lot of effort to just do basic things.
In fact Women only got their freedoms from Oil. Even civil war
was about banks shifting to industrial economy from agriculture.

When cheap oil and food disappears things will go back to the past.
White man will have to enslave the rest of the world like it does
currently with Dollar reserve currency.
Current price of Oil is above $12/gallon if you factor in military
and currency that all the countries have to keep just to buy oil.
All that is world is subsidizing your lifestyle.

I don't see how you are trying to reason the coming storm.

I don't see how you are trying to reason the coming storm.

Some of us understand that storms can't be reasoned with, rd. A lot of people are in for a rude awakening. There's a tempest looming that a lot of people aren't going to survive. I'm not convinced that anyone is going to survive it.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

..those many cultures where they (males) have used their greater size and cooperative aggression to hog the high-quality food -

I don't think that males of cultures in tune with the environment of ancestral adaptation (foraging/scavenging cultures) necessary "hog" the high-quality food. They share it with females in exchange for sex, rather. Food high in fat, protein & B12 (meat) is just what pregnant & lactating women need. In such cultures women provide the bulk of the calories for both sexes but it is the men who scavenge carcasses & trap small game. For the sake of individual fitness men share meat with women and women accept it. Since the menstrual cycle has evolved from the estrus cycle in apes, ovulation is cloaked and men aren't necessarily assured of paternity. This is an adaptation that inhibits infanticide & promotes the sharing of meat with women.

We are constantly being told that what people need is Jobs. No, we don't have an inherent need to toil at someone else's command; we need food, shelter, and clothing, and if we could get those things without having to submit to a corporate boss, most of us would probably be happier.

Amen, dewey. Unfortunately, in a Fascist corporatocracy, which is what the US in fact is, by design few people can function economically without a job, vehicle to get to work in, and home replete with a mortgage. The alternative is to sell one's soul in exchange for entrance into the parasitic class, be sentenced to prison, or live the life of a hippie gypsy. The latter is preferable, when one is young. I'm too old to be comfortable with homelessness any more, sad to say..

Of course, many jurisdictions prohibit such non-nuclear households - maybe in part because they allow some members not to be good strivers?

You are among the most astute of commentors on Sharon's, or any other blog, I'm aware of. Of course government, on all levels, stack the deck on behalf of their corporate overlords, at the expense of the people. The people are considered the host that the parasitic class feeds off of. Why are the parasites killing the host? Why now? Because they know that the game is just about up.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

Shell Oil spam at the top. Saab/GM/Spyker spam to the right. Some "investment" ripoff bullshit below that. McLuhen was right: The medium really is the message. We all ought to consider that we may be doing more harm than good by participating in this forum. Or are we not really serious about the message?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

Yep, I was wrong about sexual dimorphism. I looked it up, like I should have done before airing my half baked hypotheses here. There is definitely a genetic cause for sexual dimorphism in humans. My apologies for wasting your time.

This is the only Science Blog I read, and I'd never heard of a "Social Determinism" policy and frankly had never encountered the phrase before DD heaped it on me. I'm not particularly PC, and it's unwise to attribute motives to people you don't know personally. I DO, however, enjoy playing devil's advocate, and arguing against "common wisdom". Sic transit gloria mundi.

Stu, Rankle, Darwinsdog: I was not saying that men and women were the same size and strength, I was erroneously attributing the differences entirely to culture and not to genetics and culture.

Rankle: You confused two of my statements. I was not saying that alternative cultures were any proof one way or the other about dimorphism. I _was_ saying that there are a lot more successful ways for a society to function in a non-industrial world than "me Tarzan, you Jane." I'm somewhat tired of people who say that due to the physical differences between the sexes, a post industrial society is going to look like the Old Testament and sound like Road Warrior.


Marrowstone Island

Wait, it's actually illegal to live with non-relatives in some parts of the US? ::confused::

That's pretty scary actually. I would never be able to make ends meet if I didn't have roommates (granted, I live in a very expensive metro area), but even if money weren't an issue, I'd much rather live with other people than live alone; and since I have no intention whatsoever of either starting a family or moving in with my parents, my only option is to live with non-relatives.

DD - Thanks! While the meat-sharing you describe is the way humans ought to work, there are tribal societies that have (male-imposed) taboos forbidding women to consume certain high-quality foods. In Hawaii, women were threatened with death if they ate forbidden foods, and it's been suggested that kuru in Papua New Guinea hit women and children hardest because, deprived of meat, they were primary practitioners of nutritional cannibalism and were forced to take the less desirable parts (e.g., the brain).

In agricultural societies, men often eat first and best, leaving little for the women and children in hard times, and this may be rational: if the guy doing the heavy labor is starved, he won't have the strength to plow or harvest, and then everyone may starve, whereas if the children are starved, at worst you can always have more children. Of course, while protein is going mostly to males, there's no way of knowing how much of the observed difference in size and strength is really innate. We are all taller than our recent ancestors, but it seems to me that women are getting taller faster than men are, and hence partly catching up.

Isis - Some places forbid more than three unrelated people to live together - and by that they often mean that every person must be related to every other by blood or legal (i.e., het) marriage, so if you are a couple with one child you can't legally take in a friend. We have in St. Louis a certain street, occupied by rich snots in large mansions (in an otherwise working-class neighborhood), where such a restriction applies. About a decade ago the rich snots used it to prevent five or six elderly nuns from retiring into a mansion owned by their convent - they said it would ruin the character of their neighborhood to have so many unrelated people living together [no doubt having wild parties and leaving trash in the yard]. Hope someone was taking notes on who needs to go to the guillotine after the revolution comes.


Thanks for the explanation. I guess it's just one of those insane regulations that people with too much money subject themselves and their neighbors to. It's also really short sighted. I'm thinking how, some 20 years ago, when war broke out in Bosnia, my family had several friends from there stay with us for a few months, maybe a year. Sure, it was overcrowded for a while, but it never occurred to me that it could actually be illegal in some places. I guess people living in these neighborhoods would show their friends a cozy spot under a bridge (far away from their nice neighborhood, of course) where they could place their tent.

Exactly, just like they try to keep their neighbors from using clotheslines, but don't even think of asking them for help with the electric bill they thereby impose upon you.

I've both slept on someone else's couch and had someone else sleeping on mine, and I'm all for it. It is very comforting for all involved to know that someone cares enough to not leave them to freeze in an alley. Also, the more people you have in a household, the less housework per capita!

While the meat-sharing you describe is the way humans ought to work, there are tribal societies that have (male-imposed) taboos forbidding women to consume certain high-quality foods.

As a teen I read Frazer's Golden Bough and it was an eye-opener, to be sure. Any imaginable cultural or ecological pathology (and many I could've never imagined) has been the norm somewhere & at some time, in human history. These pathologies are the artifact of language & the cultural transmission of acquired traits being maladaptive in the long term. So I'm sure you're correct. No doubt that men have used superstitious fear to impose maladaptive constraints on womens' & childrens' nutrition. Corporate profit from infant formula sales even today motivates such nutritional maladaptation. What I'm saying is that in cultures humans are actually biologically adapted for - sane cultures, in other words - women accept high quality food that men obtain, in exchange for sex, for the sake of mutual fitness, for the benefit of the children. As things should be. Our species would already be extinct if this was not so.

Women could obtain high quality foods for themselves if they weren't carrying (internally or externally) a child. Men aren't the child bearers so it serves fitness for both sexes to have men be the ones who attempt to run big cats off from their kills, or wring the necks of critters who may bite & transmit rabies. Men can still serve their own fitness by being relatively expendable, in this regard.

In agricultural societies, men often eat first and best, leaving little for the women and children in hard times, and this may be rational..

Well, rational in the context of agricultural societies, which aren't rational to begin with. Substance agriculturalists work far harder, are more poorly nourished, more vulnerable to 'drought,' disease, & plundering.. than their foraging/scavenging neighbors. The only thing they have going for them is empty calories, i.e., carrying capacity excess potential: an ultimately maladaptive cultural innovation.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 22 Dec 2010 #permalink

In other words, they can produce enough warriors to grab land via genocide to replace the land that was depleted by overfarming - as some author has said, ten malnourished farmers can overrun one well-nourished hunter-gatherer.

I was just reading about the Moche Decapitator(s) yesterday. What a lovely culture. While plenty of traditional foraging cultures are violent, it seems like the extremes of sadism are almost always found in agricultural societies (e.g., Dark Ages Europe). I wonder if there is some reason why agriculture, or the resulting more elaborate hierarchy, inspires more creative nastiness.

In other words, they (agriculturalists) can produce enough warriors to grab land via genocide to replace the land that was depleted by overfarming -

Bingo! dewey. Which describes the Bantu Expansion, Toltec imperialism, Sumerian dynastic expansion, etc., etc., perfectly. Agriculture is seen as a cultural innovation that fosters short term fitness while leading to carrying capacity overshoot, population collapse, local & eventual global extinction.

- as some author has said, ten malnourished farmers can overrun one well-nourished hunter-gatherer.

I prefer the term "forager-scavenger" over the more commonly employed "hunter-gatherer" for a variety of reasons, to whit: "Gathering" is the more quantitatively important activity so should come first. But "gathering" implies the aggregation of foraged foodstuffs at a central location. This is unnecessary; foraged food items can be consumed where found, rendering energetically expensive transport unnecessary. Also, "hunting," especially the organized hunting of big game, is a technologically sophisticated, neoteric activity. For many tens of millenia of human history the scavenging of carcasses, raiding of burrows & nests, nabbing or simple trapping of small game, entomophagy, etc., predated what we usually think of as "hunting," i.e., the employment of knapped lithic projectile points propelled by the atlatl & later the bow, elaborate pit-fall traps and pre-planned organized game driving strategies. The cultural development of actual hunting precipitated anthropogenic mass extinction and is as unsustainable & maladaptive as agriculture. Hence, I refer to the sustainable economic paradigm of the environment of ancestral adaptation as "forager/scavenger" rather than "gatherer/hunter."

While plenty of traditional foraging cultures are violent, it seems like the extremes of sadism are almost always found in agricultural societies..

Apes are nasty critters. I'm not going to defend them, regardless of level of economic activity or technological sophistication. Apes will inflict suffering on other apes whether equipped with a broken stick or hydrogen bomb.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 23 Dec 2010 #permalink

I'll go along with that. A very important source of protein getting short shrift, though. Got my share yesterday through 8" of ice.

In an economic crisis, women are more likely than men to be impoverished, and more seriously. Elderly women are the poorest and most vulnerable people in the US, and their lives are not likely to be improved by peak oil.