Oil Limits and Climate Change

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. If future energy consumption (which is mostly fossil fuel) drops because of a financial collapse brought on by high oil prices and other limits, then, at least in theory, climate change should be less of a problem.  One of the important variables in climate change models is the amount of  carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels that enters the atmosphere. In a recent post (Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem), I showed the following estimate of future energy consumption.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

I explained in that post that oil limits are different from what most people expect. Oil limits are price limits. Indirectly because of these price limits, fuel consumption of all sorts (not just oil) will decline in the near future. The problem will be greater job loss and an inability to afford products of many kinds, including those made with fossil fuels. Financial collapse, particularly of governments, and a long-term decline in population are also part of this scenario.

My estimate of CO2 generation by fossil fuels in the 21st century is only about one-quarter of the amount (range midpoint) assumed in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report. When differences in estimates of an important variable are this far apart, one starts reaching the “Garbage in, garbage out” problem. This is a persistent problem for all modelers. Even if the climate model is perfect apart from its estimate of future CO2 fossil fuel use, and even if anthropogenic issues are implicated as a cause of recent climate changes, the model with its incorrect estimate of future fossil fuel energy consumption can still be unhelpful for determining needed future actions.

A comparison of energy consumption estimates is shown in Figure 2. My estimate of energy consumption (similar to that in Figure 1) is shown as the Collapse scenario.

Figure 2. Comparison of Energy Consumption Estimates. Climate high and Climate low are based on Figure 1 of this Oil Drum post by DeSousa and Mearns. "Peak oil" is based on  a 2013 estimate by  Energy Watch Group.  Collapse is my estimate, associated with Figure 1 of this post. In all of the estimates, there is an implicit assumption that the fuel mix stays relatively constant.

Figure 2. Comparison of Energy Consumption Estimates. Climate high and Climate low are based on Figure 1 of this Oil Drum post by DeSousa and Mearns. “Peak oil” is based on a 2013 estimate by Energy Watch Group. Collapse is my estimate, associated with Figure 1 of this post. In all of the estimates, there is an implicit assumption that the fuel mix stays relatively constant.

Figure 2 Explanation

The Collapse Scenario in Figure 2 is my estimate of future energy consumption, using amounts similar to Figure 1 of this post. It is based on the assumption that financial limits are what brings down the system. As the system is brought down, our capability to provide many basic services, such as our ability to maintain roads and electric transmission lines, disappears. Thus, we become unable to maintain the complex systems needed to extract oil and gas and coal, and because of this, are unable to maintain current energy supplies. Even renewables will become a problem, because we need fossil fuels to create new renewable energy generation. We also need fossil fuels to maintain the lines used to transmit the electricity, and to provide back-up generation.

If the problem we are facing is financial collapse, biomass can be expected to behave differently than other renewable energy resources. If people are poorer, there will be great demand for wood for heating, and perhaps for creating metals and glass. In fact, there is evidence that Greece is turning to wood burning already. (Greece is an early example of a country approaching the financial problems we expect world wide.) Thus, under the Collapse Scenario, a likely problem is deforestation.

The Peak Oil Scenario shown in Figure 2 is based on a 2013 estimate by the Energy Watch Group. The assumption in estimates using “Peak Oil” ways of evaluating supplies is that geological constraints determine supply. The question of price doesn’t come into the analysis; instead curve fitting techniques are used. If oil supplies decline, the assumption is made that natural gas and coal extraction will to some extent rise to offset the oil decline.

Many who support the peak oil method of calculating expected availability of future fuel supplies are advocates of a ramp-up of wind and solar PV. One reason use of these resources is supported is because fossil fuels are seen to be limited, and renewables might act as “fossil fuel extenders”. I personally am concerned about adding intermittent renewables to the grid in large quantities. Doing so is likely to shorten the lifespan of the grid, if the intermittent renewables introduce greater cost and complexity.

I believe that peak oil estimates are overstated because they do not consider the economics of depleting fossil fuel supplies. Oil consumption by importers starts to decline if price is high–something that happens long before world oil supply actually starts to decline. James Hamilton has shown that 10 out of 11 US recessions since World War II were associated with oil price spikes. (Recession tends to lead to less consumption of many products, including oil.) At the same time, oil exporters need high prices, and have financial problems if price or production declines too much. If exporters do not get enough revenue from oil exports, some of them collapse. See my post How Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse.

The Climate High and Climate Low estimates are based on carbon amounts shown in Figure 1 of this 2008 Oil Drum post by De Sousa and Mearns. In converting these carbon estimates to energy consumption estimates, I implicitly assumed that the carbon intensity of energy use would remain unchanged–that is, improvements resulting from  more use of natural gas and renewables use would be offset by increases in coal consumption. This assumption is probably not what the IPCC would make. Their “Low Estimate” would probably assume greater use of renewables and natural gas than their High Estimate, so that the actual energy available in their Low Estimate would be closer to the energy available in their High Estimate than what my graph would suggest. The  2007 IPCC report does not give much detail, except to generally discuss their reasoning.

The IPCC’s basic assumptions seem to be:

1. Demand is the basic determiner of supply. In the view of the IPCC, there is lots of oil, gas, and coal in the ground (see Figure 4.2 of Working Group III Report). It is assumed that we can get these fuels out, essentially as fast as we want. No consideration is given of diminishing returns, and the resulting likely run-up in both needed investment funds and  price to the user. (See Our Investment Sinkhole Problem.)

2. Because the IPCC report misses the issue of diminishing returns and resulting higher price, it assumes that demand can keep on ramping up pretty much indefinitely. In the real word, demand is what customers can afford to buy. This is already declining for the US, Europe and Japan, with the high oil prices experienced in recent years.

Figure 3. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 3. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

Overview of IPCC 2007 Report

As I see it, there are three important aspects  of the 2007 IPCC analysis:

1. The Climate Model. This is the part of the report that says, if CO2 is such and such, and other forcings are so much, the effect on the climate is this amount. I personally do not have expertise to evaluate this part of the report. I note, however, that at least some climate scientists seem to be back-pedalling on how much impact is expected from a given amount of carbon. A letter published in Nature Geoscience on May 19, 2013, titled Energy Budget Constraints on Climate Response indicates that the climate effects of a given set of forcings seems to be lower than the 2007 IPCC report suggested. This letter, together with explanatory information is available free for download, with registration.

2. The Estimates of Fossil Fuels going into the Model. It is this part of the model that seems to be seriously in error. The carbon added during the 21st century in the Collapse Scenario is only about 25% of what the IPCC estimates use (averaging the high and low) . De Sousa and Mearns calculate that their Peak Oil estimates would keep CO2 emissions below 450 parts per million. My Collapse Scenario estimates are considerably below De Sousa and Mearn’s Peak Oil estimates, so would in theory produce lower yet CO2 impacts.

3. What to Do About the Problem. I think this part of IPCC report has a serious problem as well. The report, as it is published, is not about How to Reduce CO2 Emissions. If this had been the goal, the report would likely have talked about reducing population, eating less meat, making manufactured goods that last longer, and standardizing goods, so that it is not necessary to buy new goods, just replacement parts. Instead, the IPCC 2007 report provides a wish list of ways we might keep Business as Usual (BAU) going, using techniques that might reduce fossil fuel use with little pain to the business community and consumers.

A big part of the problem with the analysis of what to do about the problem is that the researchers putting together the analysis do not understand the way the current system works. According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Unfortunately, there is something very similar when one tries to make energy substitutions. A researcher might assume that substitution of higher-priced renewable energy for lower-priced fossil fuel energy would reduce world carbon emissions, but this is true only if second and third order effects don’t undo the supposed benefit. Higher-priced fuels make a country less competitive in the world marketplace, and give an advantage to countries using coal for their generation. Adding a carbon tax has similar unplanned effects.

Figure 4. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

Figure 4. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

When JG Wentworth took a look at actual CO2 emissions, they find that they have risen remarkably since the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in 1997 (Figure 3, above). (See my posts, Twelve Reasons Why Globalization is a Huge Problem and Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work.)

One of the implicit assumptions in the IPCC report is that continued growth in a finite world makes sense, and can be expected to continue until 2100. In fact, we are reaching limits of many kinds.

Figure 5. Various types of limits we are now reaching

Figure 5. Various types of limits we are now reaching

In fact, modelers should be considering all of the limits simultaneously. Modeling any one limit on Figure 5 by itself will produce results that will suggest that that limit is a huge problem, that perhaps can be fixed. To a significant extent, there are workarounds for many of these problems, including more research on antibiotics, desalination of water, and intermittent renewables to substitute for some fossil fuels. The problem with each of these workarounds is that they all involve higher cost, and thus tend to create financial problems, especially for governments that try to fix the problems. Thus, the real issue is a likely near-term financial problem. This financial problem can be expected to lead to economic shrinkage which will by itself help mitigate several of the problems, including climate change.

Given the multiple limits we are reaching, I think we need to step back. Energy is truly needed to create products and services of all kinds. The IPCC is claiming that with a few tweaks, economic growth of the type we have grown to expect can continue until the year 2100.  This assertion is clearly false, with or without the tweaks they are advocating.

We need to be figuring out how to live with a world that is rapidly changing for the worse, in terms of energy availability. I am not sure climate change should be our Number 1 concern, because the CO2 part of the problem is likely to mostly take care of itself. Instead, we need to be looking at how we can make the best use possible of energy sources we have. We also need to be cutting back on the real source of demand–population growth.

Perhaps we need to be thinking about different options than we have been thinking about to date–for example, making supply chains shorter and bringing production closer to the end-user. We might want to make such a change in an attempt to sustain production for longer, whether or not this has an adverse CO2 effect, viewed from today’s peculiar perspective: Only manufacturing which results in local CO2 production seems to be viewed as “bad;” exporting coal to China, or importing goods manufactured using coal from China/ India is not viewed as a problem.  Having economists with a mindset of BAU forever and helping businesses get ahead, doesn’t necessarily produce the best results from the point of view of taking care of the existing population. Perhaps we should be looking at our current problems from a broader perspective than the IPCC report suggests.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to inadequate supply.
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159 Responses to Oil Limits and Climate Change

  1. Manolo El Lobo says:

    “Sorry, there is no silver lining”. Indeed, it is actually WAY to LATE. The latest (2013) in Paleo – Climatology shows that at 400ppm, the Arctic was at about 8 degree Celsius hotter than today. West Antarctica was gone, and so was most of Greenland’s Ice Sheet. See http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2013/05/when-the-arctic-was-8-c-warmer.html#more
    And Watch this video, from Doc Prof. Brigham-Grette et al., 2013, Science. : Lake El’ gygytgyn Research

    The speed of the rate of change to 400ppm makes the climate system play “catch-up” right now.
    The implications are that all of the CO2 and Methane Hydrates in the Arctic will be released, have no doubt about that. Do your own research under “Arctic Emergency”, it already started.
    The CO2 and Methane concentrations in the atmosphere will grow fast and exponentially. This will seal the faith of life “as we know it” . How long will it take ? Unknown, but growing exponentially, for sure. Can we do anything about it at that stage? Nope, Pure delusion. Way to much energy stored and to be released already. Brace for impact soon.
    This is what makes James Hansen have nightmares.

    • Scott says:

      Yes, all of that methane under the ice that is melting worries me. Too bad we cannot harvest the methane and burn it up to make power but it is going to rise up out of a very vast area as the dark soils are exposed under the melting ice sheets. I am not sure how much this will warm the planet, I am sure there are estimates out there but looks like 5 or 6 degrees is baked in the cake over the next 20 or 30 years or so.

      This much change this fast will not allow Eco systems to adapt in time including us, farmers are changing around things trying to keep up with the change. Food is surely going to be a problem soon with all of the unpredictable weather and after last summer in the US we sure saw that. The next 50 years are going to be wild in the weather dept. Growing crops and live stock could become a real challenge soon as it already is in some places.

      I have been gardening to grow some of my food for five years or more and plan to keep that up and it will be trial and error. The fresh food is good and the work is good for the soul. I hope things do not change to fast where I cannot grow things I am used to growing in my garden and the heat can be a real bummer, scary fires in the forest here too.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Scott
        I suggest you think in terms of annuals and perennials. Annuals have to germinate from seed every year. Conditions have to be just right–not to hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry. Yet the current thinking is that unfavorable patterns are likely to become more common. See Stuart Staniford’s weekend blog:
        Click through on the ‘Jet Stream’ links.

        Perennials have a large root ball with roots several feet into the soil, and are much more resilient to less than ideal weather (I find). This year, I lost quite a few perennials that I transplanted early and have had a lot of annual seed lost to rot in the damp, cold soil. But my perennials are mostly on track or maybe a week late, and are yielding well.

        In my opinion, it is prudent to increase our dependence on perennials and decrease our dependence on annuals.

        Don Stewart
        PS The first link in Stuart’s blog is very long. At least look at the picture from Britain showing the snow drifts in mid-March and read the conclusions. Also note that, on Memorial Day Weekend at Four Quarters in Pennsylvania, it was 34 degrees.

        • Scott says:

          Don, It seems like some plants like perennials are anchored like Oysters and cannot move fast and will die on the vine sort to speak, others are annuals yearly can easily moved and seed can travel in the winds and be planted by farmers. Is this what what you were saying Don?

          The world has never seen this kind of fast change and it will be very hard to keep up with it. This will surely lead to not only food shortages but the end of abundance of choice, we may find ourselves eating 3 or 4 main things soon as other things get more expensive.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Many perennials make plenty of seed. And the seeds are dispersed by a wide variety of mechanisms. For example, the spring ephemerals should theoretically not have had time to make the migration from the Gulf coast to Canada since the last Ice Age–but they have clearly made that journey. The current explanation is white tailed deer carrying the seeds much farther than the plants could have moved by themselves.

            My point is to the ability of perennials to produce good yields in weather which hurts annuals pretty severely.

            Don Stewart

      • Manolo El Lobo says:

        Maybe I should have added this link:
        Video Arctic Emergency

  2. dolph says:

    One of the problems I see is that even though we could conceivably take action that would help to mitigate the decline and at least make things livable for awhile, we refuse to do so.

    Witness how the U.K., a small island nation, goes into fits of apoplexy over the immigration debate. As if they should allow millions of more people to crowd into their cities, and somehow this is a good thing. Forget for a moment how they once ran a global empire with half of their current population.

    Still, at least they are having a debate. In America, it’s “to infinity and beyond” when it comes to population. It’s the official policy of the mandarins running America to allow endless immigration from Latin America and Asia, and to keep growing until we are the most populous country on the planet. Again, this is official policy of both parties, and there is NO DEBATE. It’s also official policy to turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, and, once problems start happening, to legalize them and pat ourselves on the back to prove how progressive and enlightened we are. American policy is a big slap in the face to people born in the country, as well as legal immigrants who play by the rules.

    In contrast, in China, the most populous country, it’s long been their official policy to at least get their population under some control.

    • Immigration:- the human instinct to move and resettle since humans began, is an important but sensitive issue that even the left/liberal need to discuss. It has been the domain of the right and far right, the nationalists and those who think their colour skin is superior, it is also prone to induce exaggeration and alarmism. Millions of Muslims have not entered Europe to degree Sharia law is going to be introduced and neither will any tradition be swamped by alien values. Populations change, new culture emerges and if anything the immigrant is the one who changes most. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad.

      The real debate is about ‘sustainable’ populations- a subject hotly debated here given that oil has driven population growth. The facts are fairly clear, educated populations where women have more control over their lives have lower even sustainable birthrates- ie static. Rich westerners feel entitled to live anywhere in the world and often their money and expertise is welcome and surely that is a freedom of being a citizen of Planet Earth. When it comes to immigrants to the UK my view is we should welcome those who bring their own richness and expertise and that what is important is a common national purpose. Who would not welcome a modern Voltare- and anglophile and philosopher?

      Sustainability is an issue- there would be little purpose in having lowly paid, poorly educated slum dwellers causing problems for society and in a post oil peak world it would be unaffordable. When it comes to the wealth of an immigrant we in the UK have little problem with Russian millionaires coming to the city and I would argue that a Vietnamese small farmer who was good at what they did would be more valuable if they moved onto a little plot of land and provided fresh food and showed us small intensive farming. If they simply came to make money and were exploited by business then this would serve no-one.

      It is a debate worth having, essential even but it needs detoxifying.

  3. Bill says:

    re: “Leo Smith” … Gail, you have arrived, you have automated, context sensitive troll software keeping an eye on your work!

  4. Pingback: Tech Talk – Cutting Back on Supply in the Presence of Optimism « olduvaiblog

  5. Don Stewart says:

    Charles Hugh Smith has an interesting chart today contributed by one of his readers. Oil is currently ‘cheap’ when priced in gold. Assume that gold and oil are two assets where hot money goes looking for a return when the Central Banks are depressing interest rates. Now suppose the supposed ‘recovery’ turns out to be mostly smoke and mirrors, and the hot money people begin to sense that to be the case. Then how high can the price of oil go, and what will be the effect on the already shaky economy? It’s a different way of thinking about Economic Collapse, I think….Don Stewart


    • It doesn’t look like there is much stability in the ratio of gold price to oil. I’m quite sure what this means.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Here is the tentative way I look at it.

        In round numbers, the one percent own 99 percent of the assets. What the man in the street thinks about investing is basically irrelevant.

        At the very top of the heap we have some billionaires who are trying to amass more billions than the other billionaires. Mine is bigger than yours. But perhaps they also have some sense that things aren’t right and putting all one’s eggs in financial assets is not a good idea.

        We have corporations whose sole purpose in life is to maximize current income.

        We have countries who are using oil revenues to subsidize the country, and who will act like corporations and maximize current income.

        The Saud family used to try to manage their asset for the long terms, but perhaps they are now desperate to subsidize the country.

        The other class of investor is wealthy by ‘man in the street’ standards, but no billionaire would admit to knowing them. I have met some of these families. I met one a year or so ago who have been happily collecting checks on their oil wells for decades. They aren’t interested in maximizing current income. They want to use the wells as the guarantee of a long term income stream. They are currently taking in about 75,000 dollars per year. With their day jobs, they live well and contentedly.

        Let’s assume more of these ‘wealthy poor’ people become convinced that the financial markets are quite vulnerable. And that oil has an intrinsic value and can produce an income for a long time if it is slowly harvested from a natural reservoir. (Fracking is more like a roll on the roulette wheel.)

        So a ‘wealthy poor’ family can buy some gold, where the only hope is that it will appreciate in value as people turn to it as a store of value. OR, they can buy oil in the ground in a natural reservoir and let it produce income for a long time.

        Now look at the price of gold and look at the price of oil. What seems to make sense to me is more family owned wells and more limited partnerships owning wells. With the price of oil increasing to perhaps 8 dollars a barrel. The oil dependent countries like the US will be in big trouble, but 8 dollar oil isn’t going to be outrageous to people using it efficiently.

        Don Stewart

        • I still wonder about the ability of oil wells to keep operating in a low price situation. All of the parts of the system need to keep operating. For example, refineries and pipelines need to keep operating. If pipelines need to keep operating, we need electricity for them to maintain their flow. It is again a Liebig’s Law of the Minimum issue. Once something critical goes wrong (maybe no one with the knowledge regarding how to fix a problem), the system goes down.

          Another issue is that if oil is really a store of value, a government could appropriate it for its own use, and cut the investor out.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Anyone with an asset of any kind is always going to be exposed to expropriation or just plain theft. The medieval bankers in Europe who loaned money to the kings so the kings could wage war either got rich or got killed to erase the debt. The peasants in Seven Samurai only need to hire the Samurai because they have overheard the bandits plan to come back after the barley harvest and take it from them. Parkinson wrote a funny story about Chinese billionaires…they live in hovels and then one day they move into a compound with armed guards…having hidden their steady accretion of wealth.

            So the government can take your money or they can take your assets such as oil or they can levy a tax on your rice crop (Edo Japan). But still, I think, people who have paper assets today are going to try to retain some assets. I suspect that oil in the ground being produced slowly is about as good as assets get. One could argue for agricultural land. But agricultural land which is being carefully enhanced with ecological farming practices may be losing money when all around people are mining and poisoning their land. Oil in reservoirs can produce cash flow from day one.

            Back in the 1950s, I lived in a town in Oklahoma with a population of 9000 (now 6000). The town had two defunct oil refineries from the 1920s. They weren’t very large and not all that complicated. If we look at the value of refined oil and natural gas as a feedstock for materials such as plastic and for critical fuel such as farm implements, I suspect that society will find a way to do the job even if the massive refineries on the Gulf have rusted away. The oil may be 400 dollars a barrel, but there are plenty of applications where that is far better than any alternative.

            On the other hand, commuting to a low wage job 100 miles each way in a Hummer won’t survive.

            Don Stewart

            • You may be right. Some things will have value, as long as we can make them.

            • Scott says:

              Gas Lines: If you remember in 2008 when credit shut down and the price of oil fell too low below the cost to produce it (I think it was briefly close to 30 if I recall). Much production did shut down for a time. If we had a prolonged event like that again, but longer without the Fed pumping money into the system to inflate, we could see shortages very fast. Though the Fed is going to have a harder time next time because the Fed’s balance sheet already holds trillions of paper that could be worthless. I think the same goes for the many countries in the Euro Zone, next time is going to be harder to lift us out if it… A more prolonged event could occur.

              In the 1970’s I worked at a gas station during the Iran embargo and signs everywhere “No Gas” In those days we pumped the gas full service and I served long line of people that odd or even plates depending on what day it was and I was only allowed to give them six gallons each. They were lined up waiting hours for gas and how quickly people got irritated. When things get tough otherwise nice people can get irritated quickly and people were mad at me for giving them like 6 gallons after waiting in line for hours.

              I remember the station owner letting me fill up my gas hog Pontiac FireBird-400 after it got dark and no one would see after we closed the station, he told me to wait until after closing and he let me sometimes sneak in next to the dark pumps with lights powered off and fill my car if we had any gas left that day.

            • Don Stewart says:

              What I think will happen is that people won’t have enough money to buy all the oil and natural gas and products made from them that they would like to have. Today, a plastic container for strawberries costs 14 cents. That container is worth a lot in terms of preserving the micronutrients in the strawberries and preventing bruises. But competition plus abundant supply keeps the price low.

              Fast forward to a world where people are not as rich, there aren’t enough fossil fuels to go around, and a lot of the industrial capacity is sitting idle. I think we will go through a process of triage. Those things which are really important will be continued, somehow. I expect plastics to be one of the things that makes it through the bottleneck. Plastics are tremendously useful and today they are very cheap. If the price triples, they will still largely be worth the higher price.

              But if gasoline triples, then a lot of people will be forced to seriously adjust their lifestyles.

              For example, a few days ago there was an article about teenage girls and bicycling. If it was deemed ‘cool’ in a certain social setting, then most of the girls bicycled. But if it was deemed ‘uncool’, then very few girls bicycled. Now teenagers (boys and girls) have always gone through this stage, but the wealth in the OECD countries since about 1955 has allowed parents to indulge the behavior. If gasoline prices triple or quadruple, then I expect the indulgence of teenage whims to be one of the casualties. ‘If you want to go, walk or ride your bike’.

              In short, I suspect that we will be forced to look seriously as the usefulness of a lot of things, not merely our immature ‘demands’. If the total supply of fossil fuels goes back to where it was in the 1920s, then the sort of infrastructure I described in my small town may be rebuilt, while the gigantic infrastructure turns out to be cost ineffective in the new world.

              The world of gigantism (from Wal-Marts to TBTF banks to Monsanto to Exxon-Mobil) may fail, to be replaced by people like the Marland Oil Company and the Savings and Loan and the Feed and Seed and the home-owned grocery store in my hometown.

              I think the reason I don’t actually fear all those companies failing is because I was around when they didn’t exist…and most things were better then.

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Too Many People with nothing to do: Hi Don, That reminds me of a story about guy I knew that had a modern Almond Orchard, the Chinese business people came and looked at the orchard business at it and saw all the machines the tree shakers and nut gathering machines and when they left they looked at each other and said what are our people going to do?

              A large part of our population has been idled by such devices for so long they are like rusty machines and have long ago lost the skills needed to make our way, have we forgotten? Are the people that live in the welfare such as some island nations as western Samoa where their grandfathers would catch and dry fish and feed their families now they rely on food stamp cards. The same goes for many native nations that whether in USA or in Australia. They have lost their old ways. Many talents have been lost due to the welfare state, Perhaps many can pull themselves up and once again learn to fish or take care of themselves in the forthcoming emergency, but I think we back to that old way of survival of the fittest and the smartest. That is another good reason to read the old books, perhaps we can re-learn some of what we lost.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Scott
              Primitive and traditional skills are very trendy around here right now. The popularity of fermentation is hard to believe. There is a gathering out near Asheville in a few weeks with survival classes on both starting friction fires and starting flint and steel fires. Last Saturday there was a Full Moon Feast with the edibles being gathered in the woods and fields by the guests and then prepared by the host who knows everything there is to know about wild edibles.

              We are fond of saying things like ‘everyone is equal’ and ‘no one should be in distress’, but when the going gets tough, humans almost always engage in triage. I think it will happen politically without anyone ever admitting what is going on.

              My fear is that the political process will, at all costs, save the very perpetrators who have gotten us into such a mess.

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Good Don, Let us all try to study such things about the old ways and to take care of ourselves according to where we are. Right now I am trying to re learn how to grow food and I enjoy doing work with my hands, that is something good for the soul especially if you look upon a completed project that came out nice built by hand. I like a world built by hand I just fear there are far to many of us to do that but some of us can depending on where you are. I think it will be more like “A World Built Partly By Hand” to give credit to our friend JHK. Meaning there will be things from the past used and scavenged for years it will not exactly be the old frontier but instead a wild and wooly place with men riding fast powered battery operated charge vehicles shooting lasers! But then camping at night and cooking an animal they killed.

          • xabier says:


            Knowledge dying out is a real possibility. You made me think of my cousin, who is the last man in Britain who has practical experience of installing and maintaining a key component of a steel mill. He actually couldn’t retire when he wanted to, because he was needed and could charge a high fee. Things are more delicately balanced than many imagine, youa re completely right.

    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, Here is an interesting article about Japan, it appears the US and Euro Zones are all on this same path to destroy the value of their currency. This is why I believe Gold and Silver will increase in value over time, these huge QE Programs and they are addicted to it now…

      • A person wonders how the debt situation in Japan could have gone on for as long as it has. It seems like something has to give sometime.

        • Scott says:

          Yes Gail, with the debt situation I am always surprised how long they can “Keep Juggling the Balls in the Air”. It will give way at some point. Japan has gone about three times more in debt than the USA and they still have their currency. Maybe we have a bit of time in the US as the reserve currency – can they push the national debt as far as Japan,,,,, say 50 trillion dollars?

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        HI Scott:

        I just saw an appropriate quotation from Voltaire: “Paper currency inevitably achieves its inherent value.”

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  7. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    Here is a quotation from the new Green Party member of the British Columbia parliament. I pass it along with no comment…other than that some microbes are awfully smart, when we actually take the trouble to figure out all the things they do with no brain. Don Stewart

    “Of course we will need something that resembles a steady state economy because it’s a finite world!”
    I asked Dr. Weaver to consider the counter-argument: Gail Tverberg wrote recently that a global human population collapse is inevitable; that many animal populations throughout history have followed a pattern of exponential overpopulation and collapse.
    “I don’t want to end up on that collapse trajectory and I don’t think we have to do that,” he responded.
    Gail notes that human population numbers have correlated closely with energy use — just like economic growth. She argues that we’d have to go back to hunter-gatherer lifestyles to achieve a steady state economy.
    She could be right. But why might she be wrong?
    Dr. Weaver was quick with his response: “because we’re smarter than phytoplankton!” While phytoplankton or bacteria inevitably grow exponentially in a finite system, human beings are different for a very important reason. “We have brains! We can put men on the moon, we built the Internet! I’m sure we can keep from collapsing!”


    • Thanks! It looks like some of the steady state folks found my article.

      We may be smarter than phytoplankton, but we haven’t learned how to control our population any better than theirs. So I am not as optimistic.

      • Scott says:

        Gail, I mentioned 50 Trillion dollars for the US as a max debt, but if you look at the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Social Security and other programs such as Obama Care, etc., I believe we are already in the 30 trillion dollar range or more….

    • Scott says:

      Last lump of coal: Dr. Weaver is very optimistic, Perhaps we can find enough fuel to burn with all that gas and coal still out there, but what about our environment and acidification of the oceans. Many countries in the world mostly eat fish, and the world is crawling with hungry fish eaters, also more and more are eating beef too – which uses lots or resources.

      We have done a pretty good job learning how to farm fish etc and it is not as good as the wild versions most always, but it will help. They are feeding corn meal and antibiotics to salmon in farms so they can survive in close the quarters of a fish farm.

      If the ocean continues to decline as it has we will not enough fish to eat in the world which in itself could lead to a collapse I believe. It seems food limits due to environmental reasons could be reached before we run out of our last lump of coal.

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  9. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    It was a good morning for me! First, I went to the library to get The Merchant of Prado (thanks to Xabier). Close to it on the shelf was Commercial Agreements and Social Dynamics in Medieval Genoa, by Van Doosselaere. Just flipping the book open, I find on page 86-7 the fact that occupational facts are available in Genoa from 1154 onward–much earlier than elsewhere in Europe. And this…

    ‘just the modern translation of “tanner” regroups six different occupations. However, the variety of occupations and the fine specialization of functions in certain industrial fields hide a fundamental medieval reality: most men, even artisans, would not easily fit into the modern rigid occupational classification because they were all capable of devoting themselves for extended periods to activities as diverse as agriculture, war making, and house building.’

    When we say that collapse will take us ‘back to the medieval’, we tend to use the words perjoratively. If we think of it as the necessity for all of us to gain a much broader palette of skills, then it takes on a different light. It becomes more like Bill McKibben bemoaning ‘The Age of Missing Information’ when describing our supposedly information rich society. It also begins to sound like Charles Hugh Smith’s prescription for how young people should think about their future.

    Second, I sat down with a nice cup of coffee and read a little in Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander. The gist of their argument is that all thinking occurs in analogies. On page 61, we find:

    ‘Our intense human drive to avoid ambiguity, to pinpoint the true and discard the false, to separate the wheat from the chaff, tends to make us seek and believe in very sharp answers to questions that have none.’

    Consider the question is ‘How can we get the debt fueled, fossil fuel powered Economy back on track?’. If you are reading this, you probably think ‘that question has no answer’. And probably many people in the OECD countries recognize, dimly, that it has no answer. And so most people will turn to slogans:
    We must adopt principles of Liberalism
    We must adopt principles of Conservatism
    We must adopt Free Trade
    We must get Local
    Religion will save us
    Religion blinds us to solutions
    And so a loud argument getting us mostly nowhere ensues. ‘If Only’ scenarios abound…with no idea how we are going to cause the ‘If Only’ to happen in the real world.

    I haven’t got to the part where Douglas and Emmanuel reveal the blinding and obvious Truth to all of us. When I get there, I will let you know.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks! I like the line, “Our intense human drive to avoid ambiguity, to pinpoint the true and discard the false, to separate the wheat from the chaff, tends to make us seek and believe in very sharp answers to questions that have none.’

      It is amazing the amount that people in times past needed to know. Even hunter-gatherers had to know a huge amount–where plants and animals of which kind were located, what time of year food items might be available, how to get to the desired location (without maps or roads), which foods were poisonous, which foods need to be cooked.

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    • People don’t respond very well to real life messages that are in all-caps, even if they are true. The question becomes, “How does one explain the problem, in a way people can think about the issue?”

  12. Son O. Bush says:

    However, the environment is paying a serious price for our unbridled consumption of fossil fuels and our climate is warming at a rate that may cause irreversible consequences. Oil spills, ecological damage, pollution and human health risks are just some of the negative impacts of oil exploration, development and use.

  13. ralfy says:

    According to the IEA, the problem of global warming will still persist even with peak oil:

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  15. Bastien says:


    Among the various solutions to lessen the problem, there is one solution I’ve had in mind, and I wonder how people would react to its simple existence : to make suicide legal and provide support in doing so.

    Please don’t yell at once, okay ?

    Technically : stop discouraging people from suiciding without encouraging it either.
    People wishing to part from this world could go to places where they are allowed to end themselves cleanly, without making it a horrible mess and without pain (like a room with gradual carbon monoxyde), after filling in paperwork and having time to say goodbye to society.

    Morally, why, you may ask ?
    Because even nowadays, several people feel they don’t have a place anymore, but still live on because that’s what they’ve always done. They don’t provide value added to the society, like – frankly – none of us provides it either. They may be old people, who don’t want to pile additional days of fatigue and decay. They may be pennyless people fed up with struggling for nothing.
    They may be depressed people who can’t stand this idea of a collapsing world and want to stop witnessing it.

    Either way, to be frank, that will slightly reduce the overpopulation issues and lessen the burden on state expenses, while the living will be, in average, more dynamic and apathically despaired.

    What do you think about this idea, I’m curious ? Me, frankly, I’d vouch for it.
    Of course, that wouldn’t work in the democracies of today. But, how long do you think they’ll last ? I think the next 50 years will see other forms of government (possibly fascist-based, like in the 1930+ years in Italy) raise, that would maybe allow this as a crowd management solution.

    • Scott says:

      This is a difficult subject Bastien, In my state Oregon USA there is assisted suicide available to those diagnosed with less than six months to live and I think that is okay for those that are suffering and it a very personal decision, I would prefer to see a natural death though. But the only thing I can really say about it is I learned from having a dog that I loved too long and did not want to put him to sleep at the vet. I ended up doing it but wished I had done it sooner because the dog suffered too long and that bothered my wife and I very much.

      I think I agree with our law here after seeing the prolonged pain of my dog.

      • Bastien says:

        True, this is a difficult subject. The way I view it, this ought to concern, though, adults willing to cut decades from their statistically probable lifespan…
        Do you see what I mean ? I don’t have relieving someone of the inevitable, I see adults deliberately removing themselves from society, this is… how to say… a different focus…

    • Suicide is really a touchy issue.

      But the fact that we keep “rescuing” people from ailments, so that eventually their body is in such poor shape that it can’t support them is a huge problem as well.

      I think at some point, with less resources, one has to at least reach the point where people who are in poor health, and want to leave now, can.

      How widely this should be available is not clear. One soon reaches the closely related question–should parents who give birth to a child will severe medical problems be forced to raise the child? Should parents be able to choose this option for an infant who will likely require lifelong care?

      • Scott says:

        Hello Gail,Yes a very touchy issue, like I said yesterday her in Oregon if you have less than six months to live they give you the option with help if you want. I think personal freedom is needed here and should be valued.

  16. Scott says:

    Sorry for the typo, but meant to say “here” in Oregon.

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