Forestry Part 2 – Harvesting Crop Trees


Guest Post by David Coulter
Part One – Forestry Part 1 – Selecting Crop Trees

Even Aged Forest – How Trees Grow

This would be a good point to go over how trees grow. If they are kept densely packed initially, they will tend to grow straight and tall just like some un-thinned vegetable in your garden. They will be spindly and, beyond a certain point, prone to disease though. Kept too long in that condition and the entire stand may die off. This is particularly true in even aged conifer plantations. If less than 1/3 of the crown is green in a conifer plantation, the stand as whole is in danger of dying.

At about half the rotation time (i.e. half the time to maturity; meaning reaching it maximum height), a hardwood stand should be released (thinned) to allow the trees to start to grow in girth. At that point, the maximum vertical growth rate of the tree will have halved. The idea here is to first get the trees to grow straight and tall with a large bole for the first half of the rotation life by having all the trees compete against each for light. Once they are about half way to rotation age, they will be about 2/3rds of their mature height. Whenever you release an even aged hardwood stand, you more or less fix the height of the bole (distance from the ground to the first fork). If you release a tree too early, you get a tree with a short bole and huge crown. The extra crown allows the tree to put on greater girth (and visa versa). You get a fat tree with a short bole. Such a tree is good for maple syrup production but not especially good for fire wood (hard to split a wide trunk) or timber (bole too short). If you release too late, you get a tree with a tall bole and small crown. This will be a spindly and likely unhealthy tree due to an insufficient crown of leaves to feed the tree. From the point of view of creating healthy commercial timber and/or good fire wood, the middle case of equal bole and crown height is preferred. See the figures below.


Even Aged Forest – Weeding and Thinning

Weeding the stand is just that, getting rid of the sick and unwanted trees. You take these trees regardless of their position in the canopy or position relative to crop trees. In fact you don’t need to have marked the crop trees to start weeding. Thinning is a bit more subtle. Here you are taking only those trees that are in the canopy and that are (or will before the next thinning) touching the crowns of the crop trees. The idea of thinning (or “releasing”) is to remove those tree that are or will compete with crop trees for light. The remaining trees are “released” in the sense that now they can start growing faster due to more light. When you thin a wood by the crown touching method, you are creating and maintaining a condition where each crop tree is effectively unaffected by competition for light with neighbouring trees. Release by thinning is most effective if the tree has grown vertically some but still has some room to grow further. Generally this condition occurs at half the rotation age i.e. at about 40 to 50 years of age.

What happens if you cut down all trees in the canopy save the crop trees right away? In this case you may be letting in too much light into the forest. If the lower part of the some trees such as maples and oaks are exposed to direct sunlight, they form “epicormic” branches off the top of the bole that effectively diminish the height of the bole. These epicormic branches may reduce the commercial value of the tree. In practice the problem is really that removing all non-crop trees is just too much work all at once and gives you way more poor quality wood than you can use immediately.

There is no need to cut down healthy trees in the understory as these will likely die back in any case, though, there is no harm done if you did so. In an even aged wood, these trees are of the same age as the crop trees but are effectively stunted for lack of light. These often show lack of “apical dominance” i.e. the tops of these little trees have flattened out indicating they are no longer growing vertically. Such stunted trees are not the best candidates for regeneration of the forest and may be cut down when harvesting nearby crop trees. The tree I do not cut down are supra-canopy pines and other unique or under represented species, especially mast trees. Mast trees are trees bearing large seeds (mast) such as acorns that are a source of food for wildlife.

Why leave legacy trees alone? Well, for the older trees I think its just respect more than anything. They survived the successions and have earned their keep. If that’s not enough, think biodiversity. The more diverse the tree species, the more biodiverse the entire woodland ecology. I’d say that’s an end in itself but if that’s not enough again: more biodiversity generally means a more resilient ecosystem. The entire wood will be less prone to complete devastation by fire, wind, and disease. The truth is those old timers from the first succession will eventually die without replacement. Left alone, a forest will tend towards tolerant trees only and so, all things being equal, less biodiversity. By keeping legacy trees you are at least not speeding that process. Dead trees should also be left standing or left fallen. Neither generally provide good wood and both provide habitat for your woodland friends thus adding to the forest biodiversity.

Forest Biodiversity – Tree, Stand, Forest

A few more words on biodiversity are in order. Ultimately biodiversity is a matter of scale. One tree with its associated species is not as biodiverse as a mixed forest. A large climax forest containing only one species of shade tolerant trees is also not as biodiverse as a mixed wood mid-succession forest. Though such a climax forest may be natural, a monoculture is still a monoculture with all its attendant risks. The issue is scale. A diverse forest comprised of small patches of pure stands of trees is biodiverse on a large scale but not on the scale of each pure stand. The point here is to take the big picture; to see the forest as well as the trees. Aim for biodiversity but don’t try to force the forest to go in direction it cannot go. If you have a pure stand of white oaks, great. There is little point in trying to change this but you could balance this stand by encouraging another species over oaks in a nearby stand where oaks do not dominate yet. Thus if your oaks fall prey to disease, you only lose a small stand not the entire forest.

Even Aged Forest – Harvesting Crop Trees

If we remove all crop trees at once, say at the end of the even aged hardwood rotation, if we clear cut in other words, we are initially selecting for shade intolerant trees if any seed sources are present. As these are less valuable for firewood and timber, this is not desired to say nothing of the complete destruction of the forest ecology you spent years cultivating. If we remove crop trees one by one, we are selecting for shade tolerant trees to replace each crop tree (thus perhaps lowering biodiversity). Also, though tolerant of shade, such trees do not necessarily grow quickly in the shade. Further, a very slow removal of crop trees means most will be “over mature” on harvest. These “over mature” trees (I prefer “Oldwood” as this is a more neutral term) are no longer growing much vertically and so the rate of change of wood volume is not as high as smaller trees.

A good compromise is to harvest small groups of adjacent crop trees. One rule of thumb is that if midtolerant trees are to be regenerated, a square area on the side equal to between one half and one times the height of adjacent trees is required. The issue here is allowing enough light in (at middle latitudes) to the forest floor to allow regrowth of the desired species. If we assume adjacent trees about 78 high, crop trees spaced 26 feet, and we wish to regenerate midtolerant trees, the removal of 4 crop tree in a square gives enough space (a square of about 52 by 52 feet) to regenerate tolerant species. A square area of 9 trees will create openings of 78 by 78 feet would be even better. The next square up of 16 trees is perhaps too large. One solution is to harvest your first crop trees early (when adjacent trees are about 80 feet high or less). The point here is that the choice of harvest groups is as important as crop tree spacing as these choices are directly related to each other. Attempting to regenerate midtolerant trees implies you have such trees to begin with. Simply providing the space for these when no seed source or stumps to regenerate off are available will not result in midtolerant trees regenerating. In that case, you might as well harvest smaller batches of trees and so favour what you in fact have: tolerant trees.

The actual height on maturity of your trees of course this depends on the species. It also depends on the site. Site Index is a numerical value used by foresters to evaluate the potential of a location. It is usually defined as the height in feet at age 50 years of the canopy of a stand of even aged trees. The fact that Site index is defined in terms of the height of trees alone underscores the point that it is the site that is the single most import factor in the ultimate height of a stand of trees of a particular species. A Site Index of 70 is about mid range for upland oaks. The final height of such oaks will be about 85 feet. A Site Index of 82 gives a final height of 100 feet.

If we harvested one group out of four of crop trees in a grid pattern, we could harvest a quarter of our crop trees at a time. Over maturity would still occur after the first harvest for the crop trees left standing, but larger cuts would ease removal of more trees than removing only specific trees and not their neighbours. Such opening would also favour coppicing from the stumps of the harvested crop tree. The decision to maintain the coppice for small dimension fire wood, waddle fencing, long handle tools, etc. or letting the coppice go to standard is now available. If regeneration off stumps is intended, these stumps should be cut as close to the ground as possible. Such short stumps allow more and healthier coppicing. The crop trees will also be already appropriately spaced for the next harvest.

What is happening in this approach to small scale intensive forestry is that we are gradually changing a even aged forest into an uneven aged forest. We are doing this by creating a number of relatively small disturbances in the forest to forestall a very large one from clearcut, disease, wind, or fire. There is a lesson here on how to address potential societal collapse. The analogy is exact if you assume that natural complex communities of living things fail in the same way human communities do. Better to cut a little and heal, cut a little and heal, etc, than to bleed out all at once.

Even Aged Forest – Basal Area

A forestry professional would note that I did not mention Basal Area (BA). The reason is that it is not a terribly important idea for even aged woods. It is good for impressing friends and relatives though, so here we go: If you cut down an acre of your woods at breast height (defined as 4 ½ feet from the ground) and took the area of all the stumps 4 inches in diameter or greater, you would have the BA of that section of the forest. Of course you don’t actually need to clear cut your wood to determine BA.

In the Imperial system of units, BA is measures in square feet (of stump area) per acre (of forest). BA is used to measure the amount of canopy closure. When used for even aged forests, it must be used in conjunction with the number of trees per acre or the (square root mean squared) Dbh of the stand to find where the even aged forest is on a stocking chart. Such charts fill academic journals but are largely useless from a practical perspective. You want to know the extent of canopy closure? Look up. Want to know how many trees to cut? Count those touching the crowns of you crop trees. Still its cool to pull out a forestry prism and do a 360 degree sweep counting trees to get the BA. For those interested in such things, a stocking chart (BA versus N) for oaks (and other midtolerant hardwood even aged stands) can be derived from the equations given above. One rule of thumb is not to reduce BA by more than a third to avoid epicormics. This gives the lower limit of your cutting. Thinning based on the crown touching method gives the same result but with less math and bookwork. The forest itself is your book.

Uneven Aged Forest

So what if you have an uneven aged wood? Great, you probably have an old growth forest or something approaching it. Even if the area was logged well over a century ago, it has now reverted to a more natural state and is self thinning. That means the canopy is completely closed in and the rate of growth of individual trees is probably very slow due to lack of light. The wood will be wonderfully dense as a result of the slow growth. It also means there may be relatively low biodiversity given only a few tolerant species of trees are likely present. Now slow growth is not really a problem because you already have plenty of mature, and over mature, trees. In this case there is no need to mark crop trees, you’ve got plenty of mature crop trees already and they are obvious. All you have to do is harvest. You can harvest in much the same way as with even aged stands. Decide on the area to be harvested, based on what may replace your crop trees, and take all the trees out in the area to be harvested save those that might regenerate the area (i.e. still have apical dominance).

For those not comfortable with the math, please skip to the next section now. Otherwise allow me one more mathematical digression. Some people recommend using a “J-Curve” to determine how many trees in each each size category to thin to. A typical J Curve is of the form:

n = q^(b-d/a) where

n = number of trees in the interval
d = the Dq of the interval (nominally an integer multiples of a)
q = the ratio between intervals (typically 2.5 for a = 6 inches)
a = the interval (6 inches)
b = log(number of polewood)/log(q) +1

The equation above basically indicates that for any given size category, divide by 2.5 to find the ideal number of trees in the next category up, or multiply by 2.5 to find the same in the next category down. The idea is that once the number of trees in a particular interval (i.e. size category) exceeds the ideal value given by the equation above, you thin to get the number down to the ideal. This approach assumes you are dealing with an uneven aged tolerant hardwoods and you are selecting individual trees not groups of adjacent tree. Typical resulting profiles to the nearest integer for an acre (all with q=2.5) are as follows:


The idea here is to allow enough trees in each size category (or “interval”) so there are enough to allow recruitment into the next category up. If you are thinning to a Sugar Maple profile, you could mark the best 4 Oldwood, the best 7 Maturewood, the best 18 Youngwood, and the best 45 Polewood per acre. Thus you would mark a total of 74 trees per acre. You then cut everything else down. To make your work easy, you could just mark the top three categories for a total of 29 trees and only cut trees in those categories (i.e. don’t cut Polewood or smaller).
This approach is fine for the uneven aged Sugar Maple profile, but I think it is too much effort for the larger numbers involved for the other profiles. Its easier to just take out all the trees in a number of small squares. For tolerant hardwoods each such square would be about 50 feet (i.e. half the canopy height) on the side. Each square would be on a gird of the same dimensions. For each block of 4 such squares, you would remove all the trees in say the southwest corner. Thus you would remove no more than ¼ of the forest every 25 years.

Even Aged Forest – Sugar Maple Stand

One rule of thumb for tapping sugar maples is to put in a tap for every 6 inches in diameter above 4 inches Dbh rounded down to the nearest integer. This works out to the same as taking the number of dots on my tree marking scheme less one i.e. Youngwood (10 to 15 inches) gets 1 tap, Maturewood (16 to 21) 2, Oldwood (22 and greater) 3 or more. Each tap should produce about 10 imperial gallons of sap per season. At a ratio of 40 to 1, each tap then produces about 1 quart of syrup per season. My family of 5 uses about 12 quarts of syrup per year. In theory I need only 12 taps but I double that to increase the flow to reduce the time I spend gathering syrup by hand.

Notwithstanding the rules of thumb just given, trees with larger crowns produce more and sweeter sap per tap. Such trees have short boles relative to the height of their crowns. This suggests that if we wish to maximize syrup production per acre, we should thin early to create trees of great girth and short boles. There is little point in doing so if all that is desired is enough syrup for your family; just put in more taps and manage as a normal even aged stand spaced at 26 feet but keep the Oldwood if its no good for timber (bole too short) or difficult to get firewood from (bole too wide).

If you wish to maximize sap production for a commercial operation, we would have to start thinning well before the vertical growth rate drops off to half its maximum value, say at 20 years instead of 40 to 50 years of age. The crop trees would continue to grow vertically at about the same rate they would have if you had not thinned early, but their crown and so bole diameters would be greater earlier at the expense of shorter boles. If we spaced the crop trees 26 feet apart, they would reach 16 inches Dbh sooner but then stop growing in girth well before maturity because the canopy closed in early.

To accommodate the crowns being wider sooner and to ensure the crop trees continue to gain girth, we could space our crop trees farther apart. Let me give an extreme example of say 52 feet apart giving 16 crop trees (¼ of 64) per acre. At maturity at 100 years these trees would not yet have reached a girth of 38 inches (from SDI =136 equation given way above) corresponding to their spacing. If we assume 6 years per inch of Dbh, the crop trees will be be about over 200 years old before their crowns touch.

At that point, each of the 16 crop tree should hold about 5 taps giving 80 taps per acre. Compare this against 64 crop trees per acre (at 26 feet apart) with Dq = 16 inches and so 2 taps per tree and so 128 taps per acre. Though the 16 trees per acre will likely produce more per tap to generate perpas about the same overall flow of sap, the whole process of such drastic thinning may not have been worthwhile due to all the extra work involved. Also you now do not have the timber you might otherwise have had since the boles are so short. Likewise the crops trees would also not be easy to get fire wood from given the greater width of the boles makes it harder handle and to split.

At the other extreme, we can now look at how you might thin a mature even aged stand for maple syrup production exclusively. Lets say most of the trees are 100 years old and were thinned using the crown touching method from about 50 years and so have a Dq of about 16 inches. This again assumes about 6 years per inch of Dbh which is not unreasonable if the crowns never touch. We could again select crop trees at an interval of 52 feet and thin using the crown touching method. In 100 or so more years these 16 crop trees per acre would be the only trees left in the stand if no crop trees were harvested and the next owner continued the process.

Though the 16 trees per acre will again likely produce more per tap to generate about the same overall flow of sap, the whole process of further thinning would again not have been worthwhile. Though you have more timber per acre (as the bole reached their commercial height), you had to wait 100 years to get it. You, of course, are now dead and the next owner now has no choice but to clearcut as the trees may not live much longer anyways.

My conclusion is that it is generally a better approach to space crop trees at 26 feet and take ¼ of your crop trees in groups of 4 every 25 years as you would for any even aged tolerant hardwood forest. The only real difference is that you would not remove Oldwood that already has a short bole or a bole too large to easily work with. This process of harvesting ¼ of your crop trees in groups of 4 every 25 years could continue indefinitely with a continuous harvest of syrup, firewood, and timber.

Even Aged Forest – Conifer Plantation

Conifer plantations are an extreme case of an even aged forest. Generally the individual trees are planted in rows on a square grid at a uniform distance apart. A plantation needs to be thinned before the crowns have died back to less than 1/3th the height of the tree. The first thinning generally involves removing every 2nd tree in each row with such trees staggered between rows i.e. removing all trees in every second diagonal row. The trees remaining are now on a diagonal grid spaced as 1.4 (square root of 2) times the original distance between trees. The second thinning generally involves removing every second diagonal row again; leaving ¼ of the original trees spaced at twice the original distance (1.4 times 1.4). As always, health and form take priority over exact spacing. Keep the best, take the rest. Final harvest could also be done in groups and started early to encourage midtolerant trees unless you wish to start from scratch again by clear cutting. I do not recommend this. Often conifer plantations offer excellent shelter for midtolerant trees. These trees should be released if not too old to move the stand in the direction of a mixed wood mid-succession forest.


Despite the length of this article, what you actually do is really quite simple. Determine if you have an even aged hardwood stand and, if you do, select and mark crop trees. Health, rare species for your woodlot, and form take priority over exact spacing. Having marked these crop trees, don’t cut them down. Weed and thin the trees between the crop trees to ensure no crop tree has its branches touching another tree. When the crop trees mature, harvest them in blocks of adjacent trees of no less than 4 per block. There are some modifications of this basic plan for uneven aged stands, sugar maples, and conifer plantations, but the same basic principles apply in all cases.

Further Reading:

Green Wizards Forum – Eighth Circle: Energy and Power

(“Man Chopping Wood” by HalfPoint:


Forestry Part 1 – Selecting Crop Trees


Guest Post by David Coulter


This article is the first in a series on basic intensive small scale forestry for producing firewood and timber while improving the quality of your woodlot. My experience is limited to a woodlot in eastern Ontario Canada. As a consequence, what I have to say is most applicable to forests typical to northeast North America. I’m not a professional forester, just gifted amateur. I’ve logged my own woodlot to provide my own firewood for 17 years. Firewood is the principle means by which I heat my house in the winter.

Though my recommendations are based on my experience in eastern Ontario, I have nonetheless tried to write this article in the most general terms so that the concepts may be adapted to other environs. This article assumes you have few acres of mixed upland woods and want to sustainably produce firewood sufficient for your needs. Managing (conifer) plantations, sugar maple stands, and other special cases will be addressed but the focus will be on mixed woods and hardwood stands.

I think it is worth stating that firewood and commercial quality timber are certainly not the only values of a forest. They are, however, pressing ones, particularly firewood, when it comes to matters of basic survival in a northern climate. Basically what I’m trying to do is show a means of getting what you need from the forest without doing damage to the forest and perhaps even “improving” it. I have included a number of rule of thumb that I have found useful. The idea being to give enough practical knowledge to manage your woods without burdening you with too much theoretical considerations of limited practical value. I have allowed myself two transgressions in this regard for those who wish to deviate from what I recommend.

Before I start, I think I should discuss why burning wood is preferable to burning natural gas or fuel oil or heating by electricity. The most obvious is up front cost. If you don’t include capital costs (land and equipment), your time, physical effort, and a few gallons of gasoline to run your chainsaw, splitter, and truck; wood heat will cost far less than a winter’s worth of gas, fuel oil or electricity to heat your house. The downside are those things I just discounted plus the physical danger associated with saws, falling trees, moving wood, risk of chimney fire, and the general messiness of firewood and ash in your house. One significant positive by-product is the wood ash that can be used as a potassium fertilizer and adjust the pH of your vegetable gardens and fields.

I think it is worth noting that burning wood for heat is simply displacing one set of dependencies for another. So it is for most projects involving preparation for the long descent. The presumption is not lack of dependence, but that one set of dependencies is preferred over another due to greater resilience. The core issue in choosing an energy source or technology is how such may fail you. Does the energy source fail gracefully or catastrophically? Does the absence or interruption of an energy source or technology mean the task can no longer done at all or just that it must be done differently?

Another point worth noting is that the tools you use for a job determine the way the job is done to a fair extent. I assume the use of a chainsaw as a minimum A splitter is less essential but still pretty important. If such are not available, as may someday be the case, then coppice (for firewood) and standards (for timber) may be your best bet if your winters are not extreme. Fortunately the method of forest management I present here can be converted to coppice and standard. This means the method I present here is not a a dead end if power tools fail you in the long term. If power tools are not available, the method here could still be used but providing firewood for your home would no longer be a one man job.

Age Distribution

The first step is to spend sometime in your woods and get to know what species of trees you have and what their age distribution is. To find the age distribution, take a 1/10 acre plot (66 feet square) typical of your woods and measure the diameter at breast height (Dbh) of the main stem (bole) of all the trees greater than or equal to 4 inches in diameter in that plot. A forester’s tape is handy for this as it provides the diameter reading directly when measuring the trees circumference. Dbh is really a proxy measurement for the diameter of the crown of the tree. Measuring the diameter of the crown of a tree directly is difficult. Measuring Dbh is easy. Fortunately there is a relationship between the two for most hardwoods that I will discuss later.

Once you have this data, plot Number of Trees against Dbh Range. The Dbh ranges I use are less than 4 inches (Saplings: not recorded); 4 to 9 inches (Polewood: nominally 6 inches); 10 to 15 inches (Youngwood: nominally 12 inches); 16 to 21 inches (Maturewood: nominally 18 inches); 22 inches and greater (Oldwood: nominally 24 inches). If your plot decreases gradually from left to right, you have uneven age woods. If your plot is roughly bell shaped (or drops immediately from Polewood), you have even aged woods. In northeastern North America, almost all woods are even aged woods. Such woods have been disturbed at least once, typically by clear cut, sometime in the last 100 years.

A word on the Dbh and its relationship to the age of the tree: Of course, if the Dbh is large, the tree is relatively old. It doesn’t work the other way around. A tree can have a small diameter and still be relatively old; it just didn’t do as well in the same time as an adjacent wider (and probably taller) trees of the same age In even aged woods (by definition), most of the tree are about the same age, i.e. they date from the disturbance, but there is a spread in tree width (and often height) as a result of their differing success in competition for light and nutrients.

I will address the case of an even aged wood first and in detail as this is the most common case and the one requiring the most attention. How to address an uneven aged wood will become obvious as we proceed.


Before we go further, we should talk a little about the species of trees you sampled. Generally speaking, if a large area has been disturbed by clearcut, fire, disease, or a blow down, the first trees to establish themselves are fast growing shade intolerant trees. Slightly slower growing mid shade tolerant trees will often succeed these; followed finally by slow growing shade tolerant trees. Fast growing trees generally have wood that is less dense i.e. it weighs less for the same volume. Slow growing trees have the most dense wood. The notion of succession is that light loving fast growing trees have the advantage at the start of the creation of a forest but the slower growing shade tolerant trees have the advantage later in an established wood. The result is that, all things being equal, (shade) tolerant trees tend to succeed intolerant trees.

Firewood and Timber

Wood density (weight per volume) matters for firewood since it is directly related to the energy density of the wood. The heat available per pound of wood is essentially the same for all types of wood save those that are extremely resinous. This value is 8600 Btu (2.5 kWh) per pound of dry wood. Generally there is a bout 3,000 lbs of wood in a full cord (8x4x4 feet) of wood. Since the amount of time and fuel required to fell, buck (cut up to length), split, move, and stack is roughly the same no matter the species of tree, you get more value for your work by taking trees with greater wood density. Yes, denser wood weighs more (by definition) and so takes more work to lift and stack. However, you will need less of it for the same energy required to heat your house through the winter. The net effect is less physical work and less space required if you use denser wood. A similar rule applies for choosing trees for timber. Denser wood is usually stronger and so generally considered of greater commercial value.

Even Aged Forest – Selecting Crop Trees

Back to managing your even aged wood. The next step is marking crop trees. “Crop trees” are the trees intended to be keep to maturity. You may never cut these trees down. In any case, you will not be cutting them down right away. The reason why they are marked is to avoid cutting them down right away. The trees to mark as crop trees are the healthiest trees with the straightest and tallest bole. A “mature” tree means a tree in the range of 16 to 21 inches Dbh. Such trees are roughly 100 years old and have generally stopped growing much vertically. If left to live without competition from neighbouring trees, a mature tree will continue to put on girth but the annual increase in timber does not generally make it commercially worthwhile to keep in lieu of one that might replace it. This is not to suggest other values might incline you to keep it.

How many crop trees do you select, mark, and perhaps record, per acre? 60 equally spaced hardwood crop trees per acre is typically recommended. This recommendation is based on the crown of crop trees just beginning to touch each other at the time of crop tree maturity. The condition of the canopy just starting to close when the crop trees reach maturity gives the maximum density of trees per acre at (potential) harvest while allowing good tree growth (due to gaps in the forest canopy) before the forest canopy closing. As I suggested earlier, Dbh is a proxy measurement for the canopy occupied by any particular tree. In the range of about 16 Dbh, the diameter of a hardwood tree’s crown will be about 20 times the Dbh. At lower Dbh the factor is greater, and at higher Dbh it is lower.

Using the rule of thumb of 20, if all crop trees had a Dbh of 16 inches, each tree’s crown would be about 26 feet in diameter. At that point in the tree’s growth, the next closest crop tree should be no closer than 26 feet. Any closer and the two crop trees will have their branches growing into each other (i.e. the crowns of the two trees are just touching) thus slowing growth due to less light available. Any farther away and we are wasting space and so valuable crop trees. Crop trees spaced 26 feet on a rectangular grid gives 64 trees per acre (close enough to 60).

What happens to all the trees in the canopy before the crop tree maturity? You remove them before they touch the branches of the crop trees and so interfere with the growth of the crop tree. The trees you remove are your firewood and perhaps some timber. The basic principle here is “keep the best and take the rest.” What you are doing is effectively weeding and thinning the woods to favour the crop trees. This is the way to improve the health and quality of your herd of trees.

I believe that crop trees should not be selected only on the basis of what makes the best timber i.e. healthy trees with straight high boles of largely shade tolerant species. Selecting only shade tolerant trees pushes your woodlot towards a monoculture. There is a tendency for woods to work there way towards a monoculture over time, but one is not advised to accelerate this process. Monocultures are not resilient and so to be avoided.

The way to avoid a monoculture forest is to also select rarer tree species as crop trees. In a typical maple, hickory, and red oak forest, I would select and mark as crop trees rarer healthy trees in that particular stand. These would be species such as black cherry, supra-canopy pines, or white oak. Keeping the rarer (often mid tolerant) trees helps slow the natural tendency towards a monoculture of tolerant trees only. Maintaining the species diversity of your forest helps it be more resilient to disease. It also helps maintain the diversity of other beings in your forest from decomposers all the way to the apex species of the ecosystem.

Now lets say you don’t want to harvest all crop trees when they reach 16 inches Dbh. No problem, harvest half the wood on the diagonal and the remaining crop trees are spaced at roughly the square root of 2 (i.e. 1.414) times 26 feet or 37 feet. The Dbh when the branches of these remaining trees touch will be about 23 inches. Or you can choose not to harvest these trees at all and let the wood go to old growth. In this condition of the canopy being completely closed in, the crop trees and any other trees that remained would eventually self thin. It would still have been worthwhile to select crop trees because now you have an old growth forest of healthy trees, though perhaps of better commercial form than you need. You can’t go wrong by keeping the best and taking the rest.

Even Aged Forest – Self Thinning, Canopy Closure, Crown Touching

As just indicated, a closed canopy forest self thins. Trees that cannot compete for light gradually die off. Well before this happens, the trees slow their growth due to less light. At 26 feet between trees, complete canopy closure occurs at about18” Dbh. Though not essential to know, there is a relationship between Number of Trees and Dbh at self thinning, canopy closure, and crown touching that is just too fun not to share. Its the sort of thing that gives enthusiastic biologists a sudden rush of blood to below the waist. Another reason for sharing this information is my own frustration when an author holds back on providing the information that allows me to derive things from first principles. If the math bothers you; however, just skip to the paragraph below starting with “Now back to the real world.” Otherwise, indulge me. The relationships are as follows:

Nst = 230 (Dq/10)^-1.6

where Nst = number of trees per acre at self thinning and Dq = SQRT(Sum((Dbh)^2)/N) in inches, i.e. the square root mean Dbh squared of all the trees (N) per acre

Ncc = 164 (Dq/10)^-1.6

where Ncc = number of trees per acre at complete canopy closure

Nct = 136 (Dq/10)^-1.6

where Nct = number of trees per acre at crown touching

If N is plotted against Dq, these three equation will give you three straight lines of slope -1.6 on a log-log plot. Straight lines in nature are cool. These equations are special cases of the allometric (sometimes called “allomorphic”) principle in biology. The allometric principle states than in some cases the percent change in growth of one part of an organism (say your shoe size … but not your waist size) is related to the percent change in another part of the organism (say your hat size) by a constant. Yes, the tailor of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels comes to mind; nonetheless, we will proceed.

In the equations above, we are effectively relating crown diameter (given in terms of number of trees per acre) to Dq (called the “quadratic” diameter … effectively a type of average Dbh for the forest) for even aged midtolerant hardwoods (oaks specifically).

The first equation above was determined empirically by biologist named L.H. Reineke (published in 1933. “Perfecting a Stand-Density Index for Even-Aged Forests” Journal of Agricultural Research 46:627-638). Note that at a Dq of 10 inches, the numbers are 230, 164, and 136 trees per acre respectively for self thinning, complete canopy closure, and crown touching. These numbers are, by definition, the respective Stocking Density Index (SDI) for the given conditions for upland oaks. Though determined for oaks, they are broadly applicable to hardwoods in middle latitudes. These SDI values are independent of the particular values of Dq and N. Thus, if you wish a different value of Dq on harvest than 16 inches, Nct will give you the appropriate crop tree spacing as follows:

C = 66*SQRT(10/Nct)

where C is the diameter of the crown in feet (and so crop tree spacing). Note: an acre is 66^2 x 10 sqft

Combining the last two equations we get

C/Dq = 34/Dq^0.2

where Dq and C are in inches (and so C/Dq is dimensionless)

This last equation is the source of the rule of thumb that the ratio of C to Dbh is about 20 when Dbh is in the region of about 16 inches. All this to show I didn’t pull the rule of thumb out of the back of my pants.

Even Aged Forest – Marking Crop Trees

Back to the real world: Now of course natural life is not normally set on horizontal grids. Sometimes two very good trees are right next to each other. Good, mark them both and keep them. The health, species (keep rare species in your woodlot), and form of the crop trees are the primary values, in that order. Their spacing is a distant fourth. If a tree is open on three sides of an imaginary square around its trunk, that is sufficient. It will have enough light. Nonetheless, each of the 64 crop trees per acre can be thought of as occupying a square of about 26 feet on average.

How you mark your crop trees is up to you. I spray paint blue dots (one per size category i.e. trees between from 16 to 21 inched Dbh gets 3 dots for 3 x 6 = the nominal diameter of 18 inches) on the north side of each crop tree. The north side is less conspicuous and the paint will fade less. Blue is clearly of human origin but dark enough not to spoil the view. Yes I am suggesting spray painting your woods. If this does not appeal to you, find another way to mark these trees. Perhaps a hammer, some nails, and some trail tape will do the trick. I don’t recommend blazing crop trees however.

I use a GPS to record the species of each crop tree and its Dbh. GPS or even maps are not necessary however. A rope 26 feet long, a magnetic compass, and a can of outdoor blue spray paint are all that is required for marking crop trees. Pen and paper are all that is needed to record the position, species, and Dbh. Even these notes are not required: the information is all in the woods after all. Nonetheless, UTM projection found on most topographical maps provides a convenient reference grid. Most such maps are marked off in 100 m square grids (one hectare in area by definition). If I plan to mark 64 trees per acre, each crop trees will be in a 26 foot sided square on average. 26 feet is about 8 meters. Thus about 9 crop trees arranged in a square are about 1/16 of a hectare (24 or 25 meters on a side). One square hectare would contain 144 crop trees. This gives 12 such trees per side of a square hectare. Checking the number of crop trees marked in a given UTM grid area (or distance) on your topo map could keep you on track.

(To Be Continued)

Further Reading:

Green Wizards Forum – Eighth Circle: Energy and Power

(“Fairytale Forest” by Arrlxx1:

Running Out Of Gas – Peak Easy Energy



(Author’s Note: When discussing complex concepts like “Peak Oil”, its easy to get lost in a hair splitting contest of numbers and how each side interrupts those numbers. Here at Green Wizards, what we try to do is give you a basic understanding of the concepts, and then let you make up your own mind. Thru Dissensus Comes Strength.)

Imagine you get a phone call tomorrow. Its from a lawyer, who tells you your Aunt, you know the one everyone in the family always called a bit crazy, has died and left you her sizable fortune. A very sizable fortune. After you take a moment and jump up and down in excitement, he then explains the conditions of the Will and you figure out why everyone thought she was crazy.

Instead of hiding all her money under her mattress, your Aunt put it into the bank. Well, lots of banks. The lawyer gives you a list and its dozens of pages long. Banks in your city, banks in the suburbs, even banks several counties over. A few in the next state. The list also has the amounts in each account, some with several thousand dollars, some with much less.

You can visit any account and take out money BUT the catch is you can only do it once a day.

Fossil fuels, coal and petroleum, are kind of like those bank accounts.

Our crazy Aunt, Mother Nature, has scattered the deposits all across the globe in various sizes and ease of access. Deposits laid down over hundreds of millions of years, and while huge, they are not infinite. Though they may have seemed unlimited when people first began exploiting them as an energy source.

While coal has been used as a fuel source since before recorded history, mined from surface deposits and outcroppings, fossil fuel exploitation only recently took off in the 18th century. Before that the renewable resource of wood was our primary way of powering our machines, heating our homes and cooking our foods. People understood the importance of not over cutting their forests too. With the discovery of steam power and the start of the Industrial Revolution, coal and then petroleum took an ascendancy.

We had hit the “Carbon Lotto”, millions of years of stored energy from the Sun and like most winners of sudden wealth, we went hog wild.

Given the restrictions of your Aunt’s Will, that you can only withdrawal money from one account a day, the smart thing to do would be to find the closest and largest deposits then tap those first. The exploitation cost of driving to the bank is there, but when the payoff is large then the cost of a bit of gas is negligible.

Where you had be living on a modest weekly salary from your employer, now you have available much more resources. When each day you can draw out many times that weekly salary, then you would probably forgo employment, to live on the money from your Aunt.

And like most faced with sudden wealth, your lifestyle would change, wouldn’t it. Why drive that decade old used car, when you can buy a new one? Why live in a small cramped home, when you can buy one much bigger? Why eat soup, when you can eat steak?

With the past restrictions of living within the limits of a renewable wood stocks fundamentally over, Mankind exploded into a building frenzy. Beginning first in the developed countries of Europe, and then the newly colonized and expanding United States, the resources of the Carbon Lotto, coal, gas, and oil radically remade societies.

In a world where 90% of your population is rural and in the business of food production, the ability to put a machine to work at a task meant fewer and few people were stuck at subsistence level living. Transportation costs went down, no longer horse drawn wagons but rail roads and then trucks moved goods to market.

Many of those people freed from toil on farms then migrated to the cities and urban areas, seeking their own wealth and prosperity. And as the knowledge of how to use fossil fuels spread, so did the number of people on the move and looking for their share of wealth.

Wealth is a hard thing to hide. You can try and hide it, live like you did and hoard it but how many of us would do that? No, the secret of your Aunt’s money would soon come out as your friends and family began to see how your lifestyle changed. Soon you would have a knock on your door. It might be a sibling, in need of a loan. Or a friend with a problem a few dollars would solve. Unless you were a total hard case, you would probably be willing to share the wealth. More needs and more expenses.

By now though, you would have probably tapped out the larger, closer and easier to get to accounts. You would have two choices then, to travel further away to larger accounts, there by raising the expense in gas and auto wear, or tap closer but smaller accounts. Smaller accounts would take less gas to get to, but as a percentage of the return, they would still be more expensive.

Probably you would do a combination of both. When the daily expenses of you and your extended family were small, tap smaller accounts, and when they were larger, travel further to get more money. You could also begin to cut back on some expenses, prioritizing them in importance.

The days of free spending would be over.

While coal has a variety of uses, from fuel to heat our homes, cook our food, and drive our engines, its oil and petroleum which really is versatile as an energy source and a raw material.

It was quickly discovered that oil could be converted into an amazing array of chemicals, from lubricants to food additives, from fragrances to cleaning agents. And not just chemicals, oil is that main raw material for the world’s plastics. Consider how much plastic is in the world.

Then there is Food.

From fossil fueled farm equipment to fertilizers and herbicides, the Green Revolution of the past two centuries wouldn’t have happened. And that use of oil related products is what has directly lead to the spike in global population. There are few facets of modern life and global civilization that are not effected by oil and its ease of supplying energy for our needs.

Or should we say, “easy energy”?

The amounts in the remaining bank accounts start getting smaller and smaller.

Having depleted the larger accounts, and now many of the smaller ones nearby, you are facing a tough time. You have tell your friends and extended family “No” more and more. You and your own family have to begin cutting out all those extra luxuries and expenses you could so easily afford when times were good.

You find that the cost of a tank of gas compared to the money gotten goes up and up. Where you spent $20 to get $2000, now you spend $20 to get $200. It doesn’t matter that there is still plenty of money out there, the cost to get it is fast approaching too much.

You start taking the bus, cutting the cost of gas but increasing the time it takes. Or you drive to an area that has a few accounts, draw from one, then sleep in your car over night to tap another the next day. And you begin to think, perhaps its time to find a job again.

You will have to relearn how to live within the means of less.

If you take the time to do further research into Peak Oil, what you will often find from critics is the argument that there is still plenty of oil out there yet to be tap. Of course there is but just like the person in our story, it doesn’t matter how much of a resource is out there. What matters is whether you can exploit it at a cost that make it feasible to do so.

The concept we need to discuss then is “Return on Investment” (aka ROI).

Simply put, Return On Investment is the Amount of Return (or Output) from a process divided by the Amount of Input (or Investment) needed to get that return.

An easy way to picture this when talking about energy, is the case of firewood. Anyone who has spent a long day felling a tree and then turning that into firewood knows there is a huge amount of input to get that done. There is first the effort to drop the tree. Then the time to remove the branches and limbs that you won’t be using, and disposing of them in some fashion. Then first cutting the usable trunk and large branches into manageable portions, that you can then use a log splitter to turn into even smaller portions, and then sometimes and ax to turn those into pieces the size that will fit into your fireplace.

All of this physical work, the gas to run the chainsaws, log splitters and perhaps the truck to transport the finished wood to a place of storage, even the food you eat at midday, are all ROI Inputs. The Output then is the energy released as heat, by that wood, come a cold Winter day.

For energy we don’t speak of ROI but “Energy Return On Investment” or EROI.

Consider a campfire made of wood versus a barbecue using charcoal. Cooking a meal over a wood fire uses more physical weight of wood to do the same job a barbecue with charcoal would. A pound of charcoal will keep generating heat long past the time a pound of wood will have turned to ash.

Similarly, a 5 pound bucket of coal will take up less space and return more heat than 5 pounds of wood. Consider how hard it is to fill up a bucket full of coal, and how hard it is to chop five pounds of wood? Coal then has a much higher EROI than wood, and is why it replaced wood as an energy source. Oil has an even higher EROI than coal.

Not all sources of coal or oil are as easily exploited as others. The cost of of a barrel of Saudi oil, which sits close to the ground is far less than a similar barrel of oil when pumped from a deep offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf oil therefore has a lower EROI than Saudi.

When the price you get for your oil, aka the Return, is high enough, then that difference in the Input costs, while there, doesn’t matter as much. If the Saudi’s are making 5 times as much as their inputs are, and you are only making 3 times, you are still making a profit.

Its when your Return suddenly tanks, like oil has done recently, that things get interesting. See you still have all those input costs no matter what the return you are getting.

That brings up one of a few important factors about ROI, Time.

The process that are covered by Return on Investment rarely take place in a brief period. Almost all happen over a long time, years and sometimes decades. In that time, the factors which define your return can change. Primarily as with oil, the cost you receive for the finished product and the ongoing costs of your inputs. A decision when your ROI is high may make sense, but when changing conditions makes it low, not so much.

Unfortunately you can often be locked into your input costs. We see that with the fraking boom here in the United States. Oil companies producing oil in that sector have huge input costs in the form of loans. It does matter how much they are getting as a return, they must still service those input costs. Its one of the reasons that they are still pumping, even in many cases where their EROI is negative.

(We will discuss the current low gas prices and why that doesn’t mean peak easy energy is wrong in our next blog post.)

Now negative ROI is not always a bad thing.

Consider the home garden. I know many people recently had begun gardens, or have been gardening for years. They point to their basket of home grown tomatoes or their corn on the cob and are quite rightly proud of their ability to grow them. Yet take a moment and consider the true cost of that fresh food. Often times that basket of tomatoes comes at a large input of bought plants, bought compost, time spent weeding and watering, so that if the final cost of those vegetables was tallied people would be shocked.

Yet negative ROI makes complete sense if the reason you are doing the process isn’t the final product of a basket of tomatoes, but instead, it is learning the skill to produce that basket. Just as the return can go down, as with gas prices now, the price of your return can go up. Spending resources to build infrastructure at a time when you have excess resources, aka you can afford to have a garden that doesn’t pay for itself, makes complete sense if you expect that the price of fresh produce will go up as transportation costs climb.

In the “Age of Easy Energy”, the margin between our ROI outputs and the inputs has been quite large. We could afford a bit of throw-away. As that margin gets tighter, as the return gets smaller and the costs get greater, we will all need to become smarter with our processes.

Next Up: “Externalization of Costs and Why Low Gas Is Really About The End of Easy Energy”

 (“self service gas station” by kozzi:

Clothing and Laundry in the Long Descent

Guest Post by Elaine Codling:

Many of the machines that frame our lives in the modern world are ‘skill-saving’ rather than ‘labour-saving’ as we generally think of them. If you look around you’ll find very few that are actually labour-saving. That is: sparing us the drudgery of difficult, repetitive, non-productive work. The shining example of a labour saving machine is the washer. Even before I saw Hans Rosling’s fascinating TED talk “The Magic Washing Machine” I knew that the development of the automatic clothes washer was a huge step forward for women in the western world. His talk made me realize that of all the modern domestic appliances available it’s the washing machine I would be miss the most.

I love clothes and since I’ve bought my clothes at thrift stores since the late 70’s I’ve always had a huge wardrobe. So clothes, yes, clothes and no washing machine? Hmm. I began to think about clothing and laundry in the pre-industrial era. Doing laundry was the work of the poorest women. It’s drudgery and even if you couldn’t afford any other servants you’d want to have a laundress. If you were poor you’d do your own laundry as well as everything else. If you were really poor and had no other skills or ways to earn you’d take in laundry.

Even though the chore was pushed down to the poorest of the poor the way people wore clothes and the approach to laundry was very different than it is today. Clothes were aired and brushed, spot cleaning and stain removal was much more common and much more sophisticated than it is today. [It turns out washers are labour-saving and skill-saving.] There were also key differences in how people dressed. Houses and buildings were definitely cooler before the oil glut so clothes were heavier with high necklines and tight cuffs for indoor warmth.

As I thought about clothes and laundry in the post-industrial world I began to identify the following strategies for staying warm in cooler indoor spaces and still minimizing the laundry; a heavy, energy intensive, time consuming chore with, as Rosling points out, very low productivity.

Under clothes:
Dressing in layers keeps you warmer. Wearing a lightweight layer of easily washable fabric next to your skin absorbs sweat, body odours, and dead skin cells etc. This saves your heavier outer clothes. Under clothes are changed and laundered frequently so your outer layer stays cleaner. Depending on your climate and season you may think of these as over-underwear; a base layer of long sleeved t-shirt and long johns that are worn over your regular underwear.

Just as wearing under clothes saves your daytime clothes from bodily excretions so pyjamas save your bedding. In some places in the world your undergarments are your pyjamas. You strip down at night and go to bed in your base layer then get up in the morning, shower and put on clean under clothes. This is normally done only in those totally enlightened cultures where all the clothes are comfortable clothes!

Wearing pyjamas may seem optional and a matter of personal taste when a load of laundry is done at the touch of a button. But in a world without washing machines wearing pyjamas and airing the bed for a few hours before you make it up can keep the sheets fresher longer. Sheets and quilt bags are big and very heavy when they are wet.

Protective clothing:
Aprons, shop coats, coveralls, and smocks keep your clothes from the dirt and grit in your work space. Depending on the type of work being done this top layer would be made of lighter fabrics that were easily washed or heavier fabrics that would stand up to more wear.

In the last couple of decades aprons seem to have made a comeback as retro fashion. Unfortunately some of the more specialized forms of protective gear haven’t come back. Sleeve guards or gauntlets seem to be a thing of the past. A sleeve guard is a lightweight fabric tube that covers the cuffs of your shirt or jacket from the wrist to just above the elbow. These are very functional. Cuffs get dirty easily when you are working with your hands. A sleeve guard is a great option if you don’t want to roll up your sleeves while working outdoors or in colder indoor spaces.

Collars are another area prone to staining. The high necklines and detachable collars of the past aren’t likely to make a come back but keeping your neck warm can make the difference between being chilled and being comfortable when the thermometer is turned down a few degrees. A lightweight scarf or bandana that can be tucked around an open neckline might do the same job.

There is also a category of protective clothing that is heavier than your regular clothes. Overalls, chaps, work gloves, and gauntlets in canvas or leather are intended to protect you from more than just dirt. Leather was preferred were hard use was expected. Leather aprons were used by blacksmiths and farriers. Leather is much more durable than any woven fabric and needs no washing, These are work clothes that get dirty and stay dirty.

Jeans were part of this category before they became a ubiquitous item of fashion. Typically you wash them infrequently; taking them off and hanging them somewhere for reuse when the job is done. Taking them off before you come into the main part of the house is a good idea. A vestibule or mudroom is great if you have one. Keep the dirt out if you can.

Actual Clothes:
Your outer layer then is protected both from you, inside, and from the worst of the of the dirt outside. This layer is the one that shows when you aren’t working. In the pre-industrial world’s cooler indoor spaces these clothes are typically heavier and fancier fabrics that needed special care.

I’m an avid collector of wool sweaters. This means hand washing. Fortunately wool is very odour resistant so it doesn’t need washing very often. Airing, brushing and spot cleaning work very well for wool clothing. This makes it very popular for active wear. Easy care machine washable wool under garments or base layers are sold in outdoor stores. It’s pricy stuff but its well worth the investment if you can afford it.

In general natural fibre clothes are less prone to picking up body odours than synthetics. [There are lots of other reasons to avoid synthetics too but I’ll save that for another time.] The downside is that they don’t dry as quickly so getting as much of the clean rinse water out as possible is important. This is the step that makes hand washing laundry such a pain. The 10 minute of agitation needed to get things clean is relatively easy. Rinsing requires lots of clean water. Using the minimum amount of soap to break the surface tension of the water and loosen the dirt is both thrifty and easier on your clothes. Soap residues and any remaining dirt break down the fibres. Washing clothes is energy and resource intensive no matter how you do it. And it’s hard on the clothes.

The multi outfit strategy:
My husband has a strategy that works very well for keeping the volume of laundry down. He usually has 2 or 3 sets of clothes on the go. He has a pair of work pants, work shirt, and an old sweater hanging in the basement stairwell for working outdoors or in the shop; he has a pair of warm comfortable sweat pants he wears as ‘house’ pants with a t-shirt and bulky knit ‘house’ sweater; and he has a pair of ‘dress’ jeans he puts on with a clean shirt if he has to go into town. The ‘dress’ clothes and the ‘house’ clothes stay pretty clean since they are never used for work. The work clothes hang in the stairwell and get thrown into the laundry periodically when we have a full load of really dirty clothes.

Even if your job requires a specific wardrobe that doesn’t fit into these categories it’s worth following some of these practices. Making a habit of changing to house clothes when you get home, hanging and airing your work clothes, dressing in layers and using an apron reduces the volume of laundry and keeps your good clothes good for longer.

We still have our old washer. I’m not sure what we’ll do when it’s time to replace it. The newer high efficiency models use less water but don’t get the really dirty stuff clean. The human powered washing machines being developed for the poor world are not available for sale here. It has always frustrated me that appropriate tech is only for the poor world.

It’s only since I started reading the ARD and specifically “Not the Future We Ordered” by John Michael Greer that I began to understand that dropping our energy use and our dependence on modern conveniences was heresy against Progress. I have my eye the Lehman’s Washer and wringer or maybe just the wringer. Washing is the easy part. It’s getting the water out; getting things wrung out enough that they’ll dry on the line that is such a chore. Fortunately the decision can wait. Until it breaks down I have the luxury of an automatic clothes washer: a genuine labour-saving device. Sweet.

Further Reading:

Green Wizard Forum – Fifth Circle: Your Crafts

Forum Threads of Interest:
Any fibre craft masters/apprentices here?

Sewing Tips and Questions

Home made soap

Simple tips for keeping warm?

(“Laundry in Vintage House” by welcomia:

Something In The Air


“Call out the instigators
Because there’s something in the air
We’ve got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution’s here, and you know it’s right
And you know that it’s right
We have got to get it together
We have got to get it together now”

“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman.

It is getting harder and harder to pretend that things in our modern world are going fine, isn’t it?

Whether it is losing your job, spending weeks trying to find a new one, only to accept one at half your previous salary, to doing your weekly grocery shopping and seeing the products’ prices you bought just a few months before, now 10 or 20 cents more, meaning you spend more and more to feed your family on less and less, to visiting the doctor only to find that the insurance you have been paying for year after year, now has such a high co-pay that it pays for nothing and leaves you saddled with crushing debt.

Hard to square your personal observations with media reports that unemployment is very low, that inflation is zero, and that so many people now have insurance that they didn’t.

Makes you wonder what world you are living in, doesn’t it? The one of the rose colored glasses worn by the priests of the “Myth of Progress” or the one of Grimm’s fairy tales. Too many people forget that the original tales told by those brothers were ones dark and scary. And without happy endings.

The current media over attention on the United States 2016 political race, the hype and shrill posturing, is but the froth on top of real deep underlying problems that our current global civilization is having. Problems few people are talking about, or more importantly, dealing with. Problems that are going to lead to a radical reset of almost every facet of our culture and will change how we live over the coming decades, and into the centuries beyond. Yet you can’t figure out a way to deal with a situation, until you look at the real root of the problem.

Let us take a moment and look.

You might be surprised that I started with Overpopulation as the first of the root problems we as a global civilization are now facing, but while under discussed, it is the key driver in many of the other root problems we will have in the coming decades. The majority of root problems we as a civilization would be easier to handle if global population was low.

Current estimates of global population are around 7 billion people total (give or take, depending on the source). This figure is set to rise to 10 billion by 2050.

The inter connectivity of global commerce has brought the benefits of modern medical techniques and resources to more and more areas of the world, which has cut infant mortality and extended life spans. Modern agricultural techniques have increased crop yields and so cut malnutrition and starvation. Access to global markets bring increases in capital and commerce, raising standards of living.

These are the good side of global commerce, and is often sighted in the media, yet so often do they neglect the downside.

Increasingly the overuse of medical techniques like antibiotics gives rise to resistant strains of common pathogens, in both livestock and humans. Increase use of expensive life extending technology in the very old and very young, siphons off capital and resources.

Increased use of mono crop farming, fertilizer and pesticides leads to environment degradation and pollution like algae blooms and dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico here in the US. Over Farming also leads to depletion of local water resources as more water is pumped out than can be naturally replenished.

Increase access to the global market can help lift the standard of living for a society, but taken to extremes the capitalistic economic model of “Winner Take All, Greed Is Good” can lead to massive income inequalities. Is it right when 1% of a country’s population owns more wealth than the bottom 90%?

A policy of “one child per family” would drop population by an estimated 1.6 billion people over the next few decades. Even a modest proposal of universal birth control would do a lot to slow the rise yet try to propose that and find yourself tied to the pole while the screaming masses virtually burn you at the stake. Cultural habits of large families and religious dogma to “be fruitful and multiply” are about to run headlong into a collapsing World that will no longer support it.

Resource Depletion – Drinkable Water:
Did you know that a big killer of people trapped in lifeboats after a ship sinking is dehydration? All that water, and people still die of thirst. Humans evolved to handle water with a slim range of salinity and impurities. Too much salt or metal concentrations and it poisons us.

Luckily the Earth has a wonderful way of purifying water. The ecosystem takes water up and drops it as rain, the rain seeps through hundreds of feet of natural filtering rock and soil, then settles in porous layers of rock. At points that layer comes to the surface, or is accessible via wells and springs. People settle around those springs, using it to feed themselves, their crops and their livestock.

For thousands of years, human population was kept in check by the output of those springs. The Earth would only give up what it could naturally cycle in the normal slow process and you had to live within that limit. Then came the technology to drill our own wells and pump out more water than the natural rate of renewal. Fast forward to today, where centuries of slow accumulation is being pumped out in mere years. Wells drilled decades past are going dry as the water table drops.

Yet do people take the logical pathway and seek to cut back on the number of people in the area? Instead it seems it is doubling down on the extraction rate while vested interests fight over a smaller and smaller share of the pie.

Nature – Droughts:
Technology has allowed us to live in harsher and harsher places. Even with the added boost of technology though, there is a limit to the carrying capacity of the land. The problem is when an outside force suddenly lowers that capacity. One such force is Drought.

Even without factors such as climate change, the Earth’s weather varies. Seasonal oscillations like El Niño can disrupt rain patterns. Longer changes can disrupt it for many years.

This was fine when the land affected were small areas, intervention from outside, government help could tide the residents through until the weather changed. Now though you see droughts taking hold across whole nations and global regions. The Southwest of the United States, and the Middle East are two places among others where long term multiyear droughts are causing real problems. When crops die from lack of water, then people go hungry. When people go hungry, then societal stress goes up. Factions fight for a dwindling share of resources, governments act in desperation, and countries can go to war or face revolution. While the civil war in Syria has a religious and political appearance, its root cause is the years long drought. You look at other regions of the Arab Spring and it is the same.

Wars, political instability and a collapsing food base leads to the next root problem.

Mass Migrations:
One word…Europe.

As long as I can remember, the United States has had a low level influx of people fleeing economic hardship and political repression from Mexico and the Central American nations. Additionally in those past few decades there have been regional crisis, ethnic conflict in Europe and Asia which have spawned minor waves of refugees, seeking new homes. Never before in recent history have we seen such a large migration of people, millions, fleeing with little more than what they could carry.

It’s only going to get worse.

It is estimated that over 100 million people worldwide live within 3 feet of sea level, a rise that is already baked into the climate change models for the next century. For those people it’s not going to be if they have to move, but when. Each year as the ocean rises a few more inches, as a little bit more beach and shore disappears, as each storm surge floods cities and towns destroying infrastructure that we don’t have the money to replace and repair, more and more people will decide to go.

And it doesn’t have to be flooded homes and businesses to cause migration. Rising ocean levels in places like Florida are already contaminating fresh water tables miles inland. When the roots of Florida orange groves are salty and infertile, when the only water to drink will come in bottles, people will be on the road seeking somewhere else to live. This doesn’t even compare to areas like the Indian subcontinent coastal regions. Floridians at least have a functional government and economic system to cushion their migration. For the tens of millions living in poverty in Bangladesh, there will be no aid or comfort as they begin their long trek north.

Those displaced millions will add to the political, economic and social stress that will be the day to day life in the coming centuries of the Long Descent.

Politics – The Unwillingness To Take Action:
Each and every root problem, and the lesser ones discussed have clear solutions. Not easy ones, nor cheap ones, but solutions and responses that would go along way to mitigate or even eliminate what is going to happen to our global civilization.

If you think any of them are going to done in anything other than piecemeal and unhelpful ways, then you are way more of an optimist than I am.

Our political and economic world is made up of a wide variety of competing power blocks, focus groups and constituent bases, all of which jockey for their share of the global pig trough. This is the way that humans have done things since the dawn of civilization, and will no doubt continue into the Long Descent. In a world of increasing wealth, increasing resources that usually meant that even for marginal power groups, the excess was there and they could get some too. In a world where there are no longer excesses, where in fact from year to year, the share of the pig slop gets less and less, power groups will increasingly fight tooth and nail to maintain their share, damned the rest.

Unfortunately, capitalism has emerged as the evolutionary big dog of the economic food chain just at the time when more cooperative ways of doing business are in most need. The winner take all mentality, the “greed is good”, the wealth transfer to the global elite all come at a time when we most need humans to act not in their best interests, but in the interests of all of us.

Like I said, nothing is going to get done at the global level.

Does that mean we as individuals or even family groups should do nothing? No but it does mean you need to realize that surviving in a world made hot, stressful and chaotic is going to be in your own hands.

As John Michael Greer sums it up, “Collapse now and avoid the rush”.

NEXT UP: “Externalization of Costs and Why Low Gas Is Really About The End of Easy Energy”

(“Lightning, Weather and Storms” by macrossman: