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A year ago, Adam Taggart chose Sebastopol as a "high resiliency" town from which to warn the world that its economy is poised for a long, hard slog.

Taggart and author Chris Martenson are the co-founders of PeakProsperity, a contrarian website known for asserting that humanity's best financial days lie in the rearview mirror.

PeakProsperity draws more than 250,000 unique visitors a month, Taggart said. Along with bracing predictions — "Blast Shields Up! Prepare for Incoming!" warned a recent headline — the site calls readers to consider a road less traveled, namely finding ways to boost their quality of life with less money in their pocketbooks.

According to Martenson's book, "The Crash Course," the worst-case scenario within the next two decades is "jarring chaos" caused when unsustainable debt and the end of cheap oil bring financial crises. The best case is a steady decline of global living standards.

In keeping with their convictions, both men left behind careers in corporate America — Taggart as a vice president at Yahoo and Martenson as a vice president at SAIC, a Fortune 500 company. They each moved their families to small towns with ample farmland and residents who look out for each other.

Outside Sebastopol last week, Taggart sat on his back deck with an unobstructed view of Mount St. Helena and the hills around Santa Rosa. The small ranchette near new vineyards and old apple orchards gives him the chance to raise a half-dozen chickens, a small garden and a few bee hives.

A jar of honey, he said, is "great social currency."

Western Sonoma County has a high degree of resiliency, Taggart maintained. He likes it not only for its climate, farmlands and watershed but also for residents who embrace sustainability and typically know their neighbors.

Should basic services ever be "compromised," he wrote later, "I'd rather be in Sonoma County, with Sonoma County people," than in Silicon Valley.

Despite their concerns, the two men seek to distinguish themselves from those futurists who "live in the doom-and-gloom space," Taggart said. They maintain that their readers subscribe to the website in order to forge connections with like-minded people and to find ways to build a more holistic vision of prosperity.

"I think the biggest thing we offer them is a community to plug into," said Taggart.

Martenson earned a doctorate in pathology from Duke University and an MBA from Cornell University. Nearly a decade ago he began developing presentations on the potential for economic troubles after seeking answers to why his stock portfolio declined during the bear market of 2002. He now lives in western Massachusetts and speaks to audiences around the globe.

Taggart spent nine years at Yahoo and received his MBA from Stanford University. He began his own economic investigations last decade during the housing market bubble — back then he offered $1 million for a very modest home in Silicon Valley and still found himself outbid.

Eventually Taggart came across Martenson's work, and the two joined forces three years ago. While they contract for certain services, it's basically a two-man operation, with Taggart running the business side and Martinson writing and speaking.

PeakProsperity's audience is 79 percent male. Sixty-seven percent of readers still have children living at home. Seventy-five percent have at least a college degree and about 40 percent have annual incomes of more than $100,000.

The company doesn't reveal the number of paid subscribers, who spend about $300 each a year. Many site visitors don't subscribe and receive access to a limited amount of free material.

In his writings and talks, Martenson focuses on the stresses facing the three Es: economy, energy and environment. To put his ideas in context, it helps to understand a controversial concept he subscribes to known as Peak Oil: the idea that the world is quickly reaching or has passed a point of maximum oil output.

The implications of declining oil production in a time of growing demand are enormous, Martenson writes. A decline would put the brakes on economic growth even as too many nations are strapped with enormous debt and still wobbly from the global recession of 2008.

Without a way to grow, economic decline inevitably would follow, along with the inability of both governments and companies to keep basic bargains with individuals who did their part by paying taxes, working decades to receive pensions and saving for retirement.

In regard to such bargains, Martenson said in a phone interview, "Our view is they won't be kept."

Past Sebastopol city officials have voiced sympathy for Peak Oil — another reason Taggart was drawn to the town. However, the theory ranks as one of the more contentious among energy experts today.

In the last two years, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have run opinion pieces dismissing Peak Oil — including one by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin, who said in the Journal that the peak of global oil production "is still not in sight."

As well, Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government last year published a paper concluding that, "Contrary to what most people believe, oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption."

Peak Oil adherents fired back, saying Yergin is biased toward Big Oil and the Harvard report exaggerated the true potential of new production while underestimating future declines in existing oil fields.

Regardless, Martenson and Taggart maintained what's most important to their projections is that future energy production will be increasingly more expensive. The costs are much greater to extract energy from tar sands or by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or deep water drilling.

"We are passed peak cheap oil," Martenson insisted.

Asher Miller, executive director of the Post Carbon Institute, a Santa Rosa think tank on resiliency and sustainability issues, acknowledged that the dominant story today about energy constraints is "problem solved." Still, he said, critics persist.

The loudest concerns come from those who argue that continued growth in oil consumption is unsustainable because of the global harm it will cause via climate change. But a much smaller group, including Martenson, maintains that the optimistic energy projections are flat out wrong.

Martenson, one of 30 fellows for the institute, brings the calm, authoritative voice of both a scientist and businessman, Miller said. He not only translates complex ideas on energy and economics, but he also speaks with a human touch on the need to build communities that can survive in an era of limits.

"It's important to have people like Chris to get that message out," Miller said.

At a 2011 conference in Madrid, in a presentation that has been viewed more than 180,000 times on YouTube, Martenson made a striking prediction about the world oil market: "I'm looking for supply and demand to get seriously out of whack in the 2013 time frame. When that does, we will see oil I think double in price pretty rapidly and then probably triple in price before it completely hamstrings world growth again."

Last week he acknowledged that such a sharp rise in oil prices had yet to occur. August prices were about 20 percent higher from two years earlier, attributed in part to concerns about instability in Syria and other portions of the Middle East.

Martenson suggested the timing and magnitude of economic chaos remain as "impossible to predict" as that of an earthquake. But he still maintained that his basic model is valid and that a lack of activity, like the quiet on a fault line, may simply mean the shaking "will be a little bigger when it does give."

In the Madrid presentation, given before a precious metals organization, Martenson told the audience that "75 percent of my total net worth is in gold and silver."

Last week both he and Taggart were quick to emphasize that they recommend a much smaller proportion of precious metal holdings for the average subscriber — about 10 percent of a portfolio.

When asked about Martenson's concepts, two economists last week acknowledged the limits of the earth's natural resources. But still they questioned whether the current global challenges might lead to innovative solutions rather than inevitable economic decline.

Eduardo Martinez, a senior economist for Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pa., noted that Hawaiian and California manufacturers not only struggle with the highest energy costs in the nation. They also have become the most efficient in using energy.

"The entrepreneurial spirit is to respond," Martinez said.

Similarly, Sonoma State University economics professor Robert Eyler said he prefers to see the glass as half full.

"The thing to do now is really look at innovation, where we become less dependent on non-renewable resources," he said.

Eyler's advice for how individuals can best prepare themselves for the future is to consume less and save more.

"Saving can be used to foster innovation and entrepreneurship," he said. "It can be used to fund it."

Taggart said he and Martenson "are rooting for these problems to be solved." But the sheer magnitude of the dilemma and the small window of time remaining make an oil crisis unavoidable, he said.

"Look, there's going to be a net energy gap and we don't know how long it's going to be," Taggart said.

Even so, he said, their message isn't for people to simply hunker down. Rather, once someone has put his or her own house in order, the next step is to "make sure your community is less vulnerable."

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