Why I Don’t Believe Randers’ Limits to Growth Forecast to 2052

Jorgen Randers published a book in 2012 called 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years. A note on the front says, “A report to the Club of Rome, Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of The Limits to Growth.”

If we compare the new book to the book from 40 years ago, we see some surprising differences. In 1972, the analysis suggested that serious resource depletion issues would occur about now–the first part of the 21st century. In comparison, current indications look much better. According to Randers’ current analysis, world GDP growth will continue to rise through 2050, and energy consumption will continue to grow until 2040. While a decline in oil supply will take place, it will not occur until 2025. When it does happen, it will occur sufficiently slowly and incrementally that other fuels can replace its loss, apparently without disruption. Renewables will ramp up far more rapidly in the future than to date.

Figure 1. Comparison of oil and renewables forecast in 2052, based on spreadsheet from www.2052.info.

Figure 1. Comparison of oil and renewables forecast in 2052, based on spreadsheet from http://www.2052.info.

A person reading the front cover of 2052 might think that the model is quite close to the model used in the original The Limits to Growth analysis. My review indicates that the current model is fairly different. The book talks very little about the workings of the model, so doesn’t let us know what changes have been made.

It is possible to do some detective work regarding how the current model is constructed. Dolores “Doly” Garcia, who worked on the model, wrote three posts published on TheOilDrum.com explaining the model.  There is also a website (www.2052.info) provided by Randers giving the numerical output of the model in spreadsheet form.  Together, these point to a methodology which assumes that if world oil supply declines, the decline will be slow and will be quickly offset by a rise in the use of renewables, coal, and natural gas. Changes in the model, which I will describe further in another section, are the first reason I don’t believe Randers’ Limits to Growth forecast.

A second reason why I don’t believe Randers’ forecast has to do with limitations of the original forecast. These limitations did not make much difference back in 1972, when researchers were trying to estimate approximate impacts 40 or 50 years later, but they do now, when resources are becoming more depleted. One issue omitted from the model is a price mechanism. A related issue is that there is no true calculation of demand, based on what consumers can afford. The model also omits debt, and the role debt plays, both for investment purposes and in order for consumers to afford products made with oil and other energy products. Research regarding past collapses indicates they were financial in nature–the model should not overlook this important issue.

A third reason why I don’t believe the forecast in 2052 is because a model of this nature necessarily cannot model events that are important to ultimate collapse, but which happen on a smaller scale, and trigger cascading failures. An example might be oil depletion in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. All of these countries were at one point oil exporters. They each now have substantial financial problems because of the loss of oil exports. The population of each of these countries has now grown, so there are now many more mouths to feed. Unfortunately, without oil exports, the financial situation is such that it is not possible to provide the level of food subsidies and other benefits that an oil exporter can provide. The result seems to be serious civil disorder that threatens to spread beyond these countries own borders. See my post Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict. The 1972 Limits to Growth book warned readers that the report likely missed issues of this nature. The current book lacks such caveats.

A fourth issue is that the 2052 report is very much the work of a single individual, Jorgen Randers, while the earlier report was a committee report. Randers makes statements in the book that make it sound like he already knows the answer before he does the modeling. On page 61 he says,

I basically believe that we will see the same rate of technological and societal change over the next forty years as we have seen over the last forty years. That is because the drivers will be the same and the organization of global society is unlikely to change discontinuously.

Thus, Randers tells us he believes that he already knows that no swift change will take place. That is fine–unless the belief is based on a misunderstanding of real relationships.

On page 56, in a section called “The Deterministic Backbone,” Randers explains that some variables including population, industrial infrastructure, energy consumption, and GDP growth change very slowly, over periods of decades. With this view, methods are chosen so that none of these can change very quickly.

Oil Drum Posts by Dolores “Doly” Garcia

Dolores “Doly” Garcia published three posts on The Oil Drum related to versions of the model she was working on that ultimately was used in 2052. These posts are

A New World Model Including Energy and Climate Change Data (April 3, 2009)

New World Model – EROEI issues (Aug. 24, 2009)

An alternative version for three of the “key graphs” in IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook (July 7, 2011)

In these posts, especially in  New World Model – EROEI issues, Garcia explains why world energy supply now falls much more slowly than in the 1972 Limits to Growth scenarios. In her words, these are the three reasons:

  1. Renewable energy sources
  2. The decline of non-renewable energy sources follows a logistic curve. The exact equation is:Increase in production = 0.2*(fraction of fossil fuel remaining-0.5)*current production. .  . .
  3. Switching from some energy sources to others makes for a gentler, staged decline.

EROEI has only an effect on this last point, in that it’s the cause that drives the switching from one energy source to another.

What Doly Garcia is writing about is not exactly the model that is used in 2052–in fact she gives a range of outputs. But looking at the data from the spreadsheet associated with 2052, it is clear that some approach similar to this is being used. Using the revised approach, oil supply now declines relatively slowly, from an assumed peak in 2025 (Figure 1 and 2) and other fuels (coal, natural gas, renewables) rise in consumption relatively more quickly than in reports published by other forecasters (IEA World Energy Outlook, BP Energy Outlook, Exxon Mobil- A view to 2040). As noted in Figure 1 above, renewables ramp up very quickly.

Figure 2. Energy Consumption to 2050, based on spreadsheet data from www.2052.info.

Figure 2. Energy Consumption to 2050, based on spreadsheet data from http://www.2052.info.

Assuming that oil supply will follow the logistic curve on the down-slope, as well as assuming easy switching among fuels and a rapid ramp-up of renewables is basically assuming a best-possible outcome. It is basically assuming that a shortfall of oil won’t be a problem, because there will be a way around it–substitution and new fuel sources, until investment capital runs short.

I wrote a post recently called Stumbling Blocks to Figuring Out the Real Oil Limits Story, in which I talked about the common (incorrect) belief of many that M. King Hubbert  claimed the downslope of world oil supply would follow a slow curve, such as the logistic. As far as I know, he claimed no such thing. When population has risen because of the use of these resources, even a slowdown in supply is a huge problem, as we recently witnessed with the Great Recession that accompanied the 2008 run-up in oil prices.

There are some situations where such a logistic curve might be appropriate, for example, if we can make electric-plug in cars as cheaply as oil powered cars, and we don’t need to change over to plug-in electric cars until the oil-powered cars wear out, so we don’t have extra costs. But in general, there is no reason to expect a logistic curve on the decline. What I said in the post linked above is

If there is not a perfect substitute for oil or fossil fuels, the situation is vastly different from what Hubbert pictured. If oil supply drops (perhaps in response to a drop in oil prices), the world economy must quickly adjust to a lower energy supply, disrupting systems of every type. The drop-off in oil as well as other fossil fuels is likely to be much faster than the symmetric Hubbert curve would suggest.

In the above discussion, Doly Garcia mentions that the distribution of energy is determined based upon Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). These are values calculated by Dr. Charles Hall and various others with respect to the amount of energy needed to create new energy, with the idea that the types of fuels that need relatively less energy for new production will be exploited first.

The danger in using this approach is that a person can push off assumptions into variables in models without any real analysis as to whether such increases make sense in the real world. For example, hydroelectric is mostly built out in the US, and it is our largest source of renewable energy. Unless analysis is done using disaggregated data, with some tests for reasonableness, one can get very much overstated renewable energy estimates.

Financial Issues that the Model Misses

The model, when it was originally constructed in 1972, was mostly a model of amounts of industrial production and amounts of pollution, and numbers of population. It did not include much of an analysis of the economy, other than investment and depreciation, and these may have in fact been in units of production, rather than as monetary amounts. The new model has something called GDP (which Doly Garcia says she added), and something which is called “demand,” based on an estimate of the quantity of energy products which people might use, but which does not correspond to what people can actually pay for (which is likely quite different).

Recent research (Secular Cycles, by Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedof) suggests that when civilizations collapsed in the past, it was generally for financial reasons. A shortage of resources per capita led to increasing wage disparity, with falling wages for the common worker. The government was called upon to provide more and more services (such as bigger armies), leading to a need for higher taxes. The increasingly impoverished workers could not pay these higher taxes, and it was this clash between needed taxes and ability to pay these taxes that brought about the collapse. In such a situation, there was more of a tendency toward resource wars and revolutions, leading to deaths  of workers. Workers weakened by poor nutrition because of inability to afford adequate food also had higher death rates from disease.

The fact that we seem to be reaching very similar symptoms gives a hint that resource depletion may, in fact, already be playing a role in the economic problems we are seeing today. Perhaps analyses today should be examining the financial health of countries–the ability of countries to find enough jobs for potential workers, and the ability of these workers to earn adequate wages.

Labor Productivity

Randers assumes that Labor Productivity will continue to grow in the future, but that it will grow at a slower and slower rate, following a linear pattern. It seems to me that this linear pattern in optimistic, once oil starts reaching limits. Human productivity reflects a combination of  (a) human effort, (b) the amount of capital equipment people have to work with, and (c) the amount of energy products at the disposal of humans. If there is a shortfall at all in the energy products, we could see a big cutback in labor productivity. Already, countries with intermittent electricity are finding that their production drops as electricity availability drops.

Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

A strong case can be made that a shortage of one energy product will have cascading effects throughout the economy, which is closer to what the original Limits to Growth model assumed. We often talk about Liebig’s Law of the Minimum being a problem. This law says that if a particular process is missing some essential ingredient, it won’t happen. Thus, if delivery trucks don’t have oil, the effects will cascade throughout the system, causing what will look like a major recession. All types of fuel uses will drop simultaneously.

The effect of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum is difficult to model. The existence of this issue is a major reason why models assuming rapid substitutability are likely optimistic.


When reasonable forecasts don’t look good, it is hard to publish anything. A person doesn’t want to scare everyone to death.

We don’t know exactly what thought process went through Jorgen Randers’ head in putting together this projection. Is this truly Randers’ best estimate, based on an optimistic view of substitutability, rapid ramp up of renewables, and assumption that no unforeseen problems will come along? Or did he not understand how optimistic the forecast was, perhaps because he was unaware that one cannot count on energy declines following a logistic curve? Ugo Bardi instead talks about the Seneca Cliff, a far steeper curve.

Or did Randers pick his estimate from a range of estimates, knowing full well that it is optimistic, but feeling that this is all the American public can be told? Stranger things have happened in the past.

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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291 Responses to Why I Don’t Believe Randers’ Limits to Growth Forecast to 2052

  1. palloy says:

    The WTI Crude price actually broke out of the US$22 – 28 /barrel price bracket agreed between OPEC and OECD in December 2003, and never went back down, as it had done previously. In the previous 20 years the trend annual growth in demand had been 1.6% per year, and has since never been matched. So Peak Oil starts to bite economically, not on the post-peak decline, but on the failure to rise sufficiently to maintain growth.

    That brake on economic growth bit harder and harder until mid-2008, Friday 11 July to be precise, when WTI Futures reached the high of US$147 /barrel, and FDIC announced the failure of low-doc mortgage lender, IndyMac, and that talks were under way with Fanny and Freddy that led to their “caretakership”.

    Within 3 months derivatives were unravelling, Lehmann collapsed, major banks stopped lending to each other, even just for overnight, importers wouldn’t take Letters of Credit as insurance for cargoes in transit, oil tankers were re-routed to new destinations where payments could be guaranteed, and the globalised system was on the brink of outright collapse.

    If you had asked 12 months previously if the system could go from boom to collapse in 12 months, they would have said you were mad.

    • Thanks for the link. Dennis Meadows and I agree on a lot of things.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Glad I read the comments, because I was going to make the point that 50% of the living authors of Limits To Growth disagree!

      (One could argues that, from her writings before her untimely death, Donella Meadows’ thinking was more in line with her brother’s, rather than Randers’, meaning Randers is in a fillabuster-proof minority here.)

      • I believe that Donella Meadows was Dennis Meadows’ wife.

        I understand that Jorgen Randers was a graduate student of Dr. Meadows who did some background work with respect to the Limits to Growth book. I was told that he was not listed as a co-author on the German version of the book–instead German graduate students were listed. I don’t know who William W. Behrens III was–another graduate student?

        In the 1972 book, Dr. Dennis Meadows is listed as the head of the MIT Project Team. There are 16 other people listed on the team, including Donella Meadows and Jorgen Randers.

        It was Dennis Meadows who received the $500,000 Japan Prize, for work on the subject.

  2. Ikonoclast says:

    Even if the fall-off in total energy available for useful work is gradual we will still have a problem. It goes like this. The gradual fall-off in energy and material resources crosses with world exponential growth going in the other direction. This process will rapidly create an “over-shoot gap”.

    Maybe Gail could create a graph of this. The fall-off in resources is likely a bell-curve skewed to the right. (Or is it a logistic? I dont know the right term). And world growth is an exponential going up. When they cross, the exponential rises ever more rapidly (for a while) and the other resource graph declines. The rapidly widening gap between the two is the over-shoot gap. It rapidalt becomes a chasm.

    • At least part of the problem is that as resources become shorter and shorter, the amount of effort (energy) we need expend on pulling resources out of the ground and refining them rises rapidly, because we took the easiest to extract out first. This happens to metals as well as energy resource. There are also indirect effects, such as desert populations that need to be fed, adding to our costs. And of course, the exponential growth of the population, and the expected rise in standard of living of the population.

      So even if oil supply is flat, it very quickly is not enough to stay even. This a major part of the reason the idea of a Steady State Economy is so absurd–unless it is without energy products, altogether.

  3. I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Randers on this topic in Tampere, Finland, recently. I got the distinct impression that he was personally much more pessimistic than the model, which, as such, was already quite shocking for the audience of business leaders. After the presentations, the audience had the task of planning future tasks for sustainable regional development, and as he was closing his presentation, Randers said something to the effect (I don’t remember the exact words) “plan all you want, I don’t expect to see any significant enough change in human behaviour”. This left an impression, as it in a way pulled the rug from the whole exercise. In other asides, as well, he was indicating in no uncertain terms that he expects himself and his generation, in the affluent North, to have a good life, but younger generations are in for a lot of trouble. No change after the Club of Rome report, no change now, or in the future, that was the baseline attitude.

    • Thanks for those observations. We really don’t know how quickly things will change. In some ways, it seems like the Affluent North might be even more at risk than the South. Europe tends to be densely populated. Areas that don’t need fuel for heating have an advantage–they were the dominant areas before fossil fuels.

      • xabier says:

        From the point of view of those living in a temperate climate like Britain, there is a level of heating and good clothing and shelter below which one cannot fall without , quite simply, dying rather sooner than one might wish!

        This basic level is actually quite high, and needs considerably industriousness and resources to support, and constant maintenance and investment.

        In Britain, and much of Europe, chilly damp kills, not extreme heat or cold.

        The year or two which I spent in penury with very little cash which nearly all had to go on food taught me this lesson! And I am glad to have had it. I was lucky to have very good warm clothing, and dry housing, if freezing – but again, these represented considerable past investment.

        Many people today are only adequately clothed today because of dirt cheap Asian goods, and only housed and heated by virtue of government deficit spending.

        • The fact that we are living outside of the tropics leads to a need for a lot more in the way of housing, heat, and clothing. Early civilizations were mostly in very warm areas. I think that Europe got started on industrialization, because there was such a problem with deforestation, early on. One Britain learned to use coal for heating, it adapted it for other uses as well.

        • Scott says:

          Hi Xabier, I was thinking if I had to head my home without gas or electricity, I would basically have to close off more than half my house and move into the one room that has a wood stove and that would be a central place for cooking and living. It is good to have a back up plan to heat your home if you live somewhere cold, it is not that cold in Oregon but it does get very cold and wet and some snow depending on your location. What I have been doing here the last few years is stocking a two year supply of wood. I buy it green and it takes that long to dry anyway, but at least I got some heat and cooking facitities if Gas/Electric is short – or too expensive to run my heaters.

          I just depends on where you live and how plentiful wood is, in Oregon not a problem yet.

          Not all homes can have a wood stove, but people with fireplaces in their homes can put in a fire place insert that can can also be cooked on and will really put out some heat and they are great back up systems during power outages and storms etc. I do believe we save money buying the wood and using the wood stove when it gets really cold. I have a clean burning wood stove so it is a bit better than the older ones on the pollution.

          What else can one do but prepare a bit, we have some food stored, enough for up to a year maybe if we have a garden too and have water source but that requires electricity to run my well pump, I am fortunate my neighbor has a hand well if I really need it then there is a pond here too. But in a situation we will likely be carrying buckes of water uphill which will be hard to grow a big garden. I would like to get a solar system like Jody has someday and I am looking at those, just wish they were cheaper. It would be good to have solar panels, batteries inverter system to run the well pump and a few basic things like lights.

          The last few years we have been enjoying cheap natural gas prices, I wonder if that will last, but even at these cheap prices buring the wood stove help our bills stay lower especially if we get the inflation many of us fear.

          It just cost money to modernize into a PV system and wood stove which sounds like a wise investment given the bleak financial outlook and views many of us on this site share.


          • Jan Steinman says:

            “… close off more than half my house and move into the one room that has a wood stove and that would be a central place for cooking and living.”

            That’s how I grew up, and I still have the habit of sleeping in a cold room. (A glass of water on the night stand would have a thin covering of ice in the morning!)

            In Switzerland, the bedrooms are above the animal quarters, and the animals heat the bedrooms!

            Having heated sleeping quarters is a modern invention, no older than the exploitation of fossil sunlight. A reversion to the mean is inevitable.

            • Scott says:

              Cool Jan, I grew up in the mountains also for most my younger years and I remember when I was a kid many years ago we lived in the mountains and the power went out for ten days and the phone for a month during a wet snow storm that brought down so many trees, we all huddled in one room close to the fire and closed off the rest of the cold house for a time. Good to have a wood stove somewhere in the house if you are able to have one.

              My neighbors are Mormons and they use gas heat but they have a wood stove in the shop with all the parts should they need to install it in their small home. It is good to have a Plan B.

              Best Regards,


  4. Maybe I should apologize for being “politically incorrect” (paradigm violation — I’ve seen Gail T. lectured here, for even mentioning the subject of religion, as if it could have some value in “love and truth”) — of course, we need to dismiss the work of the psychiatrists Raymond Moody & the late George Ritchie (who wrote the afterword to the 2000 edition of UCC pastor Howard Storm’s book, in which he said he was shown, in 1985, that the US was headed for collapse & civil chaos) — maybe we should also dismiss as junk & bunk, the Vatican’s 2001 endorsement of 3 of the visionaries of Kibeho, Rwanda, who warned of the 1994 genocide there, & said that that was also a warning for the rest of the world?

  5. Dmitry Orlov is another one who has highlighted the ‘steepness’ of the decline curve in some of his presentations. I suspect the fact that certain well paid presenters and status-quo researchers’s paychecks rely on them not presenting a very realistic picture of the future course of events. The catabolic nature of collapse is what makes it unpredictable, and likely steep and rather discontiguous. Since reversion to the mean is not a controlled process, it will likely take the shortest route to its destination.

    • I think that people do not focus on the possibility of major political changes. Yet these can indeed happen quickly. There is no way the US can balance the budget without huge, huge cuts to programs. Things that cannot go on indefinitely, won’t. We just don’t know when or how the discontinuity occurs.

      • Gail, the major political change that needs to come is to remove (TeaParty) Republicans from office. This we have to make “huge, huge cuts to programs” is the same BS (lies) we dealt with here in California with a Republican Governor and a do nothing blocking Republican legislature in our state. In 2010 a Democrat Governor Jerry Brown and a controlling Democrat legislature was elected into office. Within a year and a half our $20 billion deficit has been turned into a surplus. The California economy is now turning around. In the last 2 1/2 year under our new/old governor, I have not meet anyone who has even noticed any changes in taxes.

        In addition, California is a total supporter of the Affordable Care Act. Starting next year everyone will have access to affordable health insurance. This has also been a great stimulus to our economy. The federal government is paying for 100% for those who make less than $16,000 per year in our Medical system and will continue to pay 90% until 2020. But Republican governors in red states have refused to take part because of their short sightedness about having to pay the 10%. Instead they would rather have their citizens go without health coverage.

        California is also moving forward with high speed rail. Under the same plan a red governor state Florida has refused to take part in. We have good paying jobs coming from this adventure. In addition in the future one will be able to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a few hours without the use of any oil.

        If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

        • Politics is not my subject, sorry.

        • TheCarGuy says:

          It’s like California is to the United States as Germany is to Europe.

          “California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, our minimum wage is almost three dollars higher than the national rate, and in 10 years a third of our electricity will come from renewable energy and 15 percent of our cars will be electric.”


          • I hadn’t realized that Germany was that liberal, but I suppose it makes sense. Without supporters, the people who put renewables in place would be out of office.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          I don’t think there is a huge difference between Democans and Republicrats. They both tout “growth” as the answer. They are both propped up by big business interests.

          Indeed, there is much to be said for a Tea Party take over, which would wake up many sleepwalking sheeple.

          • TheCarGuy says:

            Democrats believe all Americans should have access to Affordable Health Care even if your poor and Republicans don’t.

            Democrats believe government can and should be used to help it’s citizens and Republicans don’t.

            • With respect to government spending, the issue at hand is that resources per capita are declining. We have been spending as if resources per capita were even higher than they actually are. Government is especially affected. The amount of energy resources ultimately determines how the workforce and thus spending is divided. In pre-fossil fuel days, the split was 80% for agriculture, and 20% for the sum of everything else–government services, healthcare, education, clothing, metals production, home building, transportation, energy production, water extraction and purification. When an economy is not rich, nearly everything needs to go toward food (agriculture) and water. We are trending in that direction.

              The government could afford to provide healthcare for all, if the definition of healthcare were cut back greatly. Ultimately, it will probably need to go back to midwives for home deliveries, and not a whole lot more. With our 21st century mindset, we cannot even conceive of the cutbacks that would need to take place in many areas (government, healthcare, education, finance, clothing production, transportation, etc), to put the system back on a path where it can be supported by resources. What happens instead is that citizens blame the politicians when they cannot do the impossible. Either that, or politicians continually produce deficits, until the system implodes.

              Perhaps if we adopted a different, much cheaper healthcare system (say, like the Europeans), it could for a while be supported by tax revenue. But even that would be way too much to support for very long. This is simply an illustration of a limit we are up against.

  6. Leo Smith says:

    Well done to Gail for pointing out that in that pretty little graph ‘oil’ ‘gas’ and ‘renewables’ are all on the same grapht in different colours AS IF THEY WERE ALL EQUIVALENT.

    They are not.

    Intermittent Renewables do not replace oil coal or gas: they slightly augment them. Without coal oil and gas intermittent renewables are totally useless. They have to be complemented with some form of STORED energy.

    Currently and for the foreseeable future that represents either hydroelectric power, which Gail again correctly points out is ‘built out’ -a phrase that I had not heard before, but is unusually for an Americanism, succinct and to the point – or fossil.

    Worse, intermittent renewables co-operated with fossil introduce further inefficiencies in the use of that fossil, to the point where there is almost no net gain in terms of fossil fuel reduction, in deploying them at all.

    Renewable energy turns out to be a chimera. It is a cosmetic solution only – appearing to be beneficial but merely masking the underlying problem.

    Therefore in that pretty little graph renewable energy will not and cannot grow as predicted.
    And there is only one technology that (partially) can.

    But I wont grind that axe today :-)

  7. Ugo Bardi says:

    Hello Gail. Nice article. My comments on Randers’ book are here: http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.it/2013/04/jorgen-randers-what-future-will-be.html

    Generally speaking, I think that models are not there to be “believed” or “disbelieved”. Models tell us about options for the future. But the future depends on what we do. In this sense, Randers’ model has a purpose and a logic. Given some assumptions, it is perfectly possible that the decline will be gradual over a long time span. Given others, we have cassandric, “Seneca-like” scenarios.

    My personal impression is that the Seneca cliff is a much more likely scenario; also helped by discontinuities in the financial system. But, if we could be just a little more careful….. (but we never are)

    • I guess I see fewer possibilities that “free will” will reduce consumption than others, so don’t see a point in lecturing on it. As long as people receive a salary, they are going to spend it. If they cut back on spending on one thing, they will spend the salary on whatever else they can. They will eve use borrowed money to spend. If a country wants people to spend less, they need to raise taxes, and then use the tax money to pay down debt. This should produce recession and lower spending of all kinds.

      I am also less optimistic that renewables can have a society-wide benefit. They may help a family here and a family there, but they won’t fix the broken system.

      • Ert says:


        Regarding free will and attitude change…

        Had a discussion?! with my mother today – she likes to heat her large two-parted 35m² living room instead of dividing it with a curtain and heating only 20m² – because she likes the large “look” of it. Confronted with fracking and the like – as far as she understands it -she does not like or approve it. But she also does not want to compromise the “top 5% of the cream” of her life style – as long as she (or my dad) can pay it.

        Its something I see all around me. People complain about fracking, tar-sands, pollution, etc. pp. – but they are not even trying to reduce their own consumption. With reducing I only mean the “5% of the top” – so the 150 horse power car instead of the 200 horse power, heating to 21°C instead of 22°C, etc.

        Regarding ” they will spend the salary on whatever else they can” I had another solution for my self: Earn less – have more time to do things oneself. With earning less I do reduce my expenditure and do not feed the system to the max. Even If I would not spend the money I earn – it would be in a bank account or fund that would spend it for me… so it would buy, produce and consume to get some return, interest, etc.

        But with those thoughts I’m far outside of the thought lines and understanding of the people that surround me.

        • Unless a person can provide a fairly simple substitute–compact florescent bulb instead of incandescent, or add a little insulation, it is hard for me to believe that anyone will have much success in getting people to change. Like I said before, lower your salary. Of course, if someone else gets your job, then that person has more money, and the outcome is about the same. This is a game that is really hard to win.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “As long as people receive a salary, they are going to spend it.”

        Very well put! The most radical action one can take to support the planet and any possible future civilization is to quit your job!

        I’ve been living on under $12,000 a year for sixteen years. Of course, I’ve invested in renewable resources — not solar panels, not wind turbines, not micro-hydro, but land I can feed myself from, land that supplies a sustainable cut of firewood, land that supports a few cash crops to buy the things I can’t grow.

        Plus, this is coming to you from an six-year-old computer, which is about twice as old as the average computer retirement age. I have an excellent cell-phone plan that costs me nothing — and won’t give me brain cancer, either. We’re going to start producing our own oilseed for the small amount of diesel fuel we use. And the food is GMO-free, tasty, and much more healthy than that crap that most westerners eat these days.

        Not everyone can do this, of course. Maybe only the survivors will. You can find people to help you, and we could use your help, too!

        You don’t have to go “cold turkey.” Move into a smaller house, closer to work. Or better yet, work at home! Have income diversity — several part-time jobs or enterprises instead of one paycheque. Then you can easily shed income as you become more self-sufficient. Get rid of most of your crap, and repair stuff instead of replacing it. If you must buy something, buy used (they are often better constructed than new) or buy for maintainability. Grow food! Lots of it! Focus on quality fats and protein. Learn to preserve foods — and I don’t mean tossing them in the freezer. Can and steam-juice for room-temperatune storage. Cut down or eliminate meat-eating. Or at least grow your own meat in a way that is synergistic with other efforts. Even cavies can turn your table scraps into protein — very popular in Latin American apartments.

        De-consume! Starve the beast!

  8. How difficult it is to get away from fossil fuels even in a country with almost unlimited solar power is demonstrated again in Australia:

    Federal Government steps in to speed up coal seam gas drilling in New South Wales

    The Federal Government says it is intervening to fast-track coal seam gas (CSG) projects in New South Wales in response to the state’s “gas crisis”.

    Speaking at an “energy security summit” of gas industry stakeholders in Sydney today, Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said thousands of jobs could be lost and gas prices could spike in the state if moves were not taken to unlock CSG reserves.

    And not even plans to use gas as a transport fuel:

    Australia’s natural gas squandered in LNG exports

    • Perhaps it would be easier to work on encouraging smaller families instead.

      • I agree fully with you. Australian environement is not sustainable with 30-40 millions people. The continent is already reaching limits, according to Jared Diamond book Collapse…

        • Kathy says:

          Smaller families won’t help when the government imports people to keep up the growth rate.

          • This is an issue. Of course, it becomes more difficult to say “no” when each of us are ourselves descendants of immigrants. And adopting a baby from overseas is (arguably) better than having one yourself.

            Our whole system works on having young people to support older people. In fact, having more people helps growth. So governments are anxious to add immigrants (especially educated ones) from abroad. Of course, adding educated immigrants cuts back job opportunities for educated young people who grew up here.

    • Ralph says:

      The claim is we (NSW) need the new gas wells or there will be a shortage, the only shortage is because of exports. None of the gas wells are for domestic use, they are planning on exporting the gas at the international market price? So there will still be a shortage.

      But in WA/NT gas is currently exported at less than half the cost we are currently paying for it in the east (an international market price?). So it seems we have two world market prices, the east coast price and the north west price.

      Australia has an energy shortage because we do not control the energy market in our own country, not because we have a lack of resources.

      None of the official discussion relates to the potential damage done when the drilling/fracking occurs, so it is possible we will lose the use of the land for food growing as well.

  9. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail

    A good post about the shortcomings of Randers’ model.

    A few thoughts about modeling. There have been, I think, three revolutionary developments in human history. The first occurred at least 2500 years ago when some contemplatives in the East discovered the ability humans have to control thoughts and emotions. A current development in that lineage is Rick Hanson’s new book, which promises to:

    ‘In his new book, Dr. Hanson lays out a simple method that uses the hidden power of everyday experiences to build new brain wiring – for happiness, love, confidence, and peace.

    Can I get a shout-out for science? Hardwiring Happiness is the first book to map out a clear system to transform the simple positive experiences of daily life into neural structures that promote lasting contentment, health and effectiveness.’

    The second revolution has been our discovery of biological methods of growing food. I have written a lot here about that, so I won’t belabor the point more. Like Hanson’s work, it also arises out of science.

    The third revolution is our discovery that health care is really important, but that sick care is a dead end. For example, consider this passage from Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD:

    ‘Beyond calories, fat, protein, and micronutrients, we now understand that food is a powerful epigenetic modulator–meaning it can change our DNA for better or worse. Indeed…food actually regulates the expression of many of our genes. And we have only just begun to understand the damaging consequences of wheat consumption from this perspective.

    Most of us believe that we can live our lives however we choose, and then when medical problems arise, we can turn to our doctors for a quick fix in the form of the latest and greatest pill. This convenient scenario fosters an illness-centered approach on the part of physicians as they play their role as the purveyors of pills. But this approach is tragically flawed….I’m not going to have kind things to say about the pharmaceutical industry. I know far too many stories of people abused by it than helped by it.’

    Dr. Perlmutter then proceeds to lay out the science which indicates that deriving most of our calories from grains (which were the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago) was a big mistake. The low fat/ high sugar diet which became the official advice in the 1970s up to the present day has been associated with skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and brain diseases. There are many, many cross-links between biological farming and Perlmutter’s approach to health, and brain health in particular. This is what we might expect when we consider that all living things, including humans, are biological.

    I don’t wish to argue the details of what the Buddha, Thoreau, and Drs. Hanson and Perlmutter are saying that science shows. I want to merely point out that producing a prodigious GDP by using prodigious amounts of energy to transform raw materials into finished goods is supposed to somehow make us healthy and happy. But it hasn’t done that and is producing an uninhabitable planet. Plowing the land to produce large crops of grain were supposed to make us well fed…but they haven’t done that and have produced immense damage.

    The most fundamental modeling question I can think of is: Are homos really sapient? George Mobus sometimes writes articles giving ‘proof that homo is not sapient’. If the vast majority of people and virtually all of their governments are going to continue to pursue the failed paths, then modeling becomes an exercise in running out trends which are leading to disaster and simply trying to figure out the tipping points and the shape of the disaster (e.g., logistic vs. Seneca decline). Those who believe that science really matters and that a majority of humans can actually turn their lives around will be building models of quite a different type. Those who believe that science really matters, but that a majority of humans will not actually turn their lives around, will be looking for lifeboats. And then, of course, we have the cornucopians…

    Don Stewart

    • Interesting thoughts.

      There seem to be happy people in all kinds of conditions, and I expect that that will continue to be the case. There are also unhappy people, and most of them will continue to be unhappy. Happiness and taking care of our health are two things we have choices about.

  10. Good morning Don,
    Wonderful post! Now I have several books on order from Amazon and on hold at the local library. Very exciting stuff, epigenetics, the affects of grain particularly glutten on our brain, and how mediation and introspection can change our brain and behavior. I look forward to reading the “Grain Brain”. Rick Hanson also wrote some earlier books I thought might be interesting (“Just One thing” and “Buddha’s Brain”).

    I’m convinced from personal experience that eating too much grain (in particular gluten-containing grains such as wheat and barley) has a negative affect on my health. When I go gluten-free for a week the reduction in my sinus congestion, stomach upset, water retention, and joint aches diminishes greatly. I see dramatic improvement in my sleep patterns, breathing, sense of smell, and my flexibility. I have not been able to completely give up wheat, however, because I still enjoy baking bread. I am learning gluten-free recipes but it has been a slow process. I look forward to learning more about how grains affect our epigenetics and brain.

    In answer to your question “Are homos really sapient?” my answer is “Yes, but…” Yes, homo sapiens are capable of developing sapience, but it is not automatic. It is something we must work at and it requires a certain amount of time spent in introspection, peace and quiet, or practicing meditation.

    I have begun to wonder if humanity’s inability to recognize the debilitating effects or our modern diet and lifestyle are directly related to the development of our interconnectedness with the “herd” through telecommunications, television, and the internet. It seems to me that people no longer recognize that they aren’t thinking for themselves. We know that people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items. We look at the potential devastating consequences of climate change and peak oil, and wonder why people can’t seem to change, even if they accept that a cliff is ahead. This seems to be very fatalistic to me. Perhaps the reason that we don’t see much in the way of humanity’s sapience is because humanity has been captured in a “herd” mentality that is now globally reinforced through our economic system, the media, and the internet.

    Just more food for thought.


    PS. Don (or anyone else interested) could you drop me an email at soilmaker@mintel.net? I would like to follow up with more detailed discussion on the subject of biological farming but I’m not sure all the other readers want to follow this. So I thought a group email could allow us to explore this further. Gail do you have a preference? It seems like we end up dominating the conversations with farming and gardening issues.

  11. xabier says:

    When I stand on the footbridge over the motorway here, I often wonder at the cars and lorries tail-gating one another at high speed. We all know the rules about stopping distances, safe spacing, etc. All those drivers have at some point passed tests and have been examined on the subject.

    But they don’t practice it. I suspect in many cases, it’s not just carelessness, but they can’t help themselves.

    Now, how do we even begin to hope that our global civilization will modify its behaviour to avoid an horrendous crash?

    Or we can think of the trench warfare which bled the youth of most of Europe dry in 1914 to 1918: almost no-one wanted to be there, apart from psychopaths, but they were all, millions of them, locked into a destructive system.

    • As I said to someone else, any government can reduce the speed of its economy if it wants. All it needs to do is raise tax rates, and use the extra money to pay down debt. This should send the economy into recession, which is pretty much the same as “using less”. Somehow, this approach doesn’t sound appealing though. Telling people to spend less than their income is an exercise in futility.

    • As I said to someone else, any government can reduce the speed of its economy if it wants. All it needs to do is raise tax rates, and use the extra money to pay down debt. This should send the economy into recession, which is pretty much the same as “using less”. Somehow, this approach doesn’t sound appealing though. Telling people to spend less than their income is an exercise in futility.

      • Don Stewart says:

        People used to avoid debt and try to have money in the bank. Today, we accept it as ‘normal’ that people have no money in the bank and are up to their eyeballs in debts.

        I think it is an oversimplification to say that the current way of looking at money and debt is ‘normal’ or ‘inevitable’.

        Don Stewart

        • ‘Debt’ is another word for expectation
          we take out debt in ‘expectation’ of future prosperity, which we have had, in general terms, for less than 100 years at most.
          So in that context, debt has become our ‘normal’, but only in the sense that most of us got payrises to pay off those debts
          but those payrises were based on the ongoing availability of cheap energy, particularly oil, because money is only a tokenisation of energy, though few accept that. There is no more cheap oil left, so there are no more payrises, at least not for the average Joe. What increases there are, are swallowed up by increases in essentials, food, heat etc (energy again), pay hasn’t risen, it has effectively flatlined or gone down, while debt has continued to rise.

          • Don Stewart says:

            One other interesting angle. About 1930 or 1931 there was an upbeat popular song. The words went:
            Mr. Herbert Hoover
            Says that now’s the time to buy
            So let’s have another cup of coffee
            And let’s have another piece of pie.

            The problem that people perceived was that those with money were hanging onto it. You will see Hollywood movies made during the early days of the depression encouraging people to spend money. Keynes was concerned about the ‘liquidity trap’, where people preferred to hang onto cash rather than spend it.

            A profound shock such as a depression with armies of people living in Hoovervilles can rapidly change ‘normal’.

            Don Stewart

            • This view is closely aligned to the, “We can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” view. As long as spending more is all that is needed (I will cut your hair if you will give my daughter piano lessons), then this is the way to do things. Perhaps this kind of approach will add a little tweak to the economy, but it doesn’t fix basic underlying issues.

        • xabier says:

          Similarly, to see a sign in the window of a bank reading: ‘LOAN SALE THIS MONTH!’ would have been inconceivably until quite recently. Even obtaining a bank account was impossible for most people.

      • and of course everybody’s job depends on everybody spending money

      • Danny says:

        Unfortunately this would cause the system to spiral out of control. That is the Red Queen scenario we are in. Raise rates and taxes collapse the economy…then collapse the oil industry because the price of a barrel of oil will fall too low. I keep looking at this like an neurotic chess player- there has just got to be a move that we can make out of here but …..nope…. I don’t know if anyone has commented on this but I noticed on CNBC they have a story going called “how to invest in the end times”…shocking that they are admitting that in 17 years we will be facing massive resource limitations. I guess you got to start sowing the seeds in the psyche of the masses sometime.

    • justnobody says:

      Good comment. This is what I would reply to you.

      I real start to believe that life itself is flawed. I was thinking about violence and life the other day. I think violence is the mechanism that life uses to transform its environement.

      For example, a forest fire is a violent act against trees and animals living in the forest. Once the fire has accomplished its act of destruction, something new can appear.

      I don’t think any form of life is designed for living for ever. What we see now is normal and it cannot be otherwise. We are now seeing the begining of the extinction of the human race. We have to die, so something different can emerge from this.

      • top hyena says:

        “I think violence is the mechanism that life uses to transform its environment.”

        A certain Mr Hitler once had similar thoughts, from a rather different perspective. Fat lot of good it did him.

      • We know that on a finite world, one species dominates and then another. Species cycle, just a climates do. In the end, it is pretty clear humans will not be around. Whether that will be sooner or later is not as clear (fortunately).

  12. TheGhung Fu says:

    I view most long-range modeling the same way I viewed the model airplanes I built as a kid; fun to do, somewhat instructive, looks cool hanging from the ceiling, but I’m not going to fly one to Vegas for the weekend. I got really good at building models, but they weren’t good for much, later in life. My view of our future is mostly intuitive, but based on simple, overriding facts:

    In terms of population, resource consumption, and waste streams, humanity has reached unprecedented levels, is deep into overshoot in relation to the carrying capacity of the biosphere, and there is an immense amount of inertia inherent in all of these processes taking us farther into overshoot.

    This condition is now global; nowhere to run this time. Populations can’t simply disperse and be absorbed by other populations with a more favorable resource base. No new frontier.

    Reversing course in time to avert the cliff will be catastrophic in its own way, enough so that even discussions of contraction, change, doing an about face, elicit resistance and are rejected by the vast majority. Denial and delusion are at their peak, along with most everything else, excepting complexity perhaps. Some won’t change, many simply can’t. Our reach has exceeded our grasp, as Robert Browning said it should.

    Greer’s posited religion of progress is the defacto unifying theology of our time. Humanity, collectively, has never been more deeply invested in any other paradigm, and all of our systems are designed to support and further this idea of growth. The inertia in all of these systems is taking us closer towards the cliff, and turning away, reversing course, will be painful and damaging indeed. Nate Hagens’ “Monkey Trap’ is an apt description. How do we re-invent the lives of 7 billion humans? In a couple of decades? Virtually all of the ‘solutions’ that Randers’ and others cite will require resources that already have claims on them, far into the future, and will require a viable biosphere that we will continue to destroy.


    “Progress, man’s distinctive mark alone,
    Not God’s, and not the beasts’: God is, they are;
    Man partly is, and wholly hopes to be.”

    Will hope lead to our demise?

    • Thanks for your thoughts.

      I have done enough modeling to know that modelers generally know exactly which variables are important, and which can be “tweaked” to provide the desired output. I will have to admit me belief in the output of models is generally pretty low. Usually, the model shows what the people putting the model together want it to show. If consultants are putting together a model, it will probably be slanted to show what the clients paying for the report want it to show. Perhaps I am becoming cynical. There are some exceptions–the original Limits to Growth model was groundbreaking, and the authors went to great lengths to not call it a forecast.

      I agree that the solutions that Randers and others say that there are will require resources that already have claims on them, out into the future. The only real solution is population reduction, and this is one thing that Randers does not mention.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “The only real solution is population reduction…”

        Which will happen.

        Unfortunately, people have the arrowhead on the wrong end of the “population and energy” diagram. As one who has formally studied ecology, it seems very clear to me that energy causes population, not the other way around.

        So the solution is simple, the same for yeast as it is for humans: consume all available energy and die in your own excrement. Coming soon to a planet near you!

        So there, I’m officially branded as a “doomer” and a pessimist. But the behaviour of the whole does not mean individuals cannot make better choices. I’m actually quite optimistic about what small groups can do for themselves. On a global scale, it might not make much difference, but it can make a huge difference in one’s own outlook, if not one’s own ultimate demise.

        “Living well is the best revenge” — there are many ways to define “living well!”

        • You are right–there are many ways to define living well.

          We can take each day as it comes – in some ways that is the only solution. We can be happy with whatever we have, for as long as we have it.

  13. Edwin Pell says:

    Maybe Rander is just trying to make some money selling a book. A happy book sells better than an unhappy book. We would need to know Rander’s financial condition to gauge how susceptible he is to this type of human self serving action. Likewise, who are his friends and what do they believe?

    • Ugo Bardi says:

      Oh, come on! This is really nasty and unjustified. I can tell you that Jorgen Randers doesn’t need the money he can make with selling the book, but that’s not the point. Instead, can’t we, for once, stop thinking that anyone who says something we don’t agree with is paid by the PTB?

    • Actually, the book isn’t all that happy. Perhaps he figures this is as big a piece of the story as people can reasonably digest now. And that may be a good point.

  14. tmsr says:

    Enclosure. I see the future mismatch between available resources and population as being dealt with by ownership and exclusion based on money. Land and fishing rights will be owned by people or some corporate entities. Property rights will be enforced by the standard means police and army. Where the people without money to stay end up will be ignored by those with money. How extreme it will get for the zero asset population I do not know. Best case mandatory sterilization but you get food and housing. Worst case, death, in one form or another. Society will adjust. I do not see any need for disruption to services to the ownership class. Needless to say this will not be in the context of one person one vote. More in the original American/English context of the owning class votes, the rest do not. Basically where we are today but with out the pretense.

    • tmsr says:

      the above post is from Ed Pell

      • I agree. It might be best to work hard, live frugally, avoid debt and save a little. Who needs cars that will do 0 to 60 in six seconds.

      • Apparently you are tsmr on wordpress, and Edwin Pell on facebook.

      • doomphd says:

        In precontact Hawaii, the reef and open-ocean fish were getting scarce from overfishing, as the population grew. So they developed aquaculture with numerous coastal fish ponds, some still in use today. There was a “kapu” system in effect, so lower class people could farm the fish, but they were reserved to be eaten by the Ali’i or ruling class. The penalties were harsh, with death often being the punishment for anyone bold enough to eat a pond fish, and unlucky enough to get caught.

        Same old, same old.

    • Patrick says:

      If the situation were confined to a particular area and the elite within that country would manage to stave off infighting, then I think that your thoughts would likely come close to what reality might look like.

      We have, however, several powerful nations with each their own set of elites, unwilling to let go of power. We have also considerable amount of strife within the elites of the US, UK, the EU etc. None of these elites are entrenched in such a way that a competitor might not use the masses to fight their wars for them. And both sets of elites might find it more palatable to fight an external enemy, who just so happens to have resources that might get annexed.

      There is also the issue that the Jackpot of hydrocarbon riches still resides in countries of the ME, and they are still worth fighting about. That is also why I do not believe that the US will find a peaceful solution with Syria and Iran, despite the diplomatic ouvertures at the moment.

      Given that this is a global problem, we will see global “solutions” with some regional quirks. I still believe that,with added pressures on resources and the financial system, we are likely to see an increased amount of regional conflicts between armed forces that have the potential to involve evermore powerful stakeholders.

      Therefore, the oppression of the suffering landless human masses will only occur if that nation or territory is powerful enough to defend itself against internal and external enemies. Looking at the ways in which the attack was executed in Nairobi, I have my doubts that this kind of protection exists anywhere in the world. New Zealand and Australia might be notable exceptions.

      • I expect there will be more local fighting. Local areas that are doing better financially, like Catalonia in Spain, will want to seceded. There will still be international fighting, but financial problems of the US and some other countries may tone down spending on this kind of thing.

        • gazon says:

          Gail, Cataluña is ruined. It has the biggest debt, and an enormous deficit of all the regions in Spain. It totally lacks Oil, Gas, Coal, and Water! The pop density is higher than in Germany and it doesn’t have its own industry. It is easy for me to know, I look at my left wrist and I ask: What is the Catalan Casio? They don’t have anything, all their industry and big companies were making houses in the building boom and are now totally, utterly ruined.

          Not long ago Samsung had a plant there (and another one in the UK, similar story) and Samsung left for Slovakia. The Catalan women working at the company making LCD screens fainted when they were told they were fired, and the plant closed for good.
          They had bought new houses, new cars they could not pay the mortgages now.
          They are at present picking cardboard and metal trash when they can find it.

          There are children going hungry, there is no welfare state, not of the kind you are familiar with in the UK, Europe and other countries.
          It is an economic disaster.
          As to going independent, they have been told by the EU authorities that they won’t be part of the Euro, they can’t join the EU, they can’t even join the UN, their banks and companies won’t have access to credit, the foreign companies there are already leaving.
          A Catalan University professor writes today in El País that if it happens it will be a failed state, like Somaliland.

          • THanks for the information. I suppose the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

            I have visited Catalonia twice, back when conditions were at least somewhat better. It was a beautiful country. No country can get along by itself though. Cheap oil and other energy products would make things a whole lot better from countries point of view.

          • xabier says:

            Agreed. The perception of which regions are ‘rich’ in Spain is somewhat out-of-date: same can be said for the Pais Vasco, a formerly powerful industrial region, but no longer. But most of its companies sell to Spain or maybe France, but not globally. At least they have water…..

            My Catalan cousins are certainly struggling since 2008, even the privileged ones.

            Nationalists are promising renewed prosperity as an outcome of independence: they are certainly misleading voters there.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “I see the future mismatch between available resources and population as being dealt with by ownership and exclusion based on money.”

      But I think what Gail is telling us is that money is falling apart, and may well be the first thing to go!

      You may be right if you replace “money” with “control of resources,” but the two are not necessarily the same.

  15. Scott says:

    Thanks Gail, Another interesting post. Looks like we are no where close to coming up with the renewable sources that the chart represented. I noticed the chart represented Nuclear Power as flat and an unrealistic expectation of growth in renewable energy.

    We are going to come up short if that mix does not change and change fast disaster will be forthcoming. Renewable energy is running way behind and so is nuclear, the others are simply running out.


  16. Pingback: Cascading failure + Liebig’s Law + Supply Chain Breakdown = Collapse of civilization | Peak Energy & Resources, Climate Change, and the Preservation of Knowledge

  17. Thanks for doing the hard work of trying to even figure out how the model was rigged to come up with business-as-usual results. I thumbed through his book and saw many flaws and missing data, here are just a few:

    Energy is the master resource that unlocks all the others. Don’t have fresh water? No problem, with oil you can drill down 1,000 feet and bring it up. Can’t find any fish? No problem, build a mega-factory boat and sail it to the ends of the earth to where the last schools of fish are.

    97% of transportation depends on oil. Electricity is irrelevant.

    The IEA calculated that from 2003 to 2007 the average decline rate of reservoirs past peak was 9% per year. And the rate of decline is increasing — in 2003 the rate was 8.7%, in 2007 it was 9.7%.(IEA, World Energy Outlook 2008 pp 221-48). Where did Randers get his decline rate info? And why wasn’t Dave Murphy’s “Net Energy Cliff” http://netenergy.theoildrum.com/node/5500 incorporated into the model?

    Liebig’s Law: I’m not done yet writing about the role of rare earth metals and platinum group minerals in high-tech, but they are absolutely essential for solar, wind, hybrid vehicle, computers, microchips, batteries, petroleum refining, cell phones, tablets, computer screens, and any other high-tech product. High-Tech can’t last: Rare Earth Minerals http://energyskeptic.com/2013/high-tech-cannot-last-rare-earth-metals/ and High-tech can’t last: Platinum Group Metals

    Alternative energy: solar PV will never work no matter how much it’s improved (see
    Tilting at Windmills, Spain’s disastrous attempt to replace fossil fuels with Solar Photovoltaics http://energyskeptic.com/2013/tilting-at-windmills-spains-solar-pv/) nor can any other kind of alternative energy replace fossil fuels http://energyskeptic.com/category/energy/alternative-energy-energy/

    I think a financial crash may be what collapses the House of Cards, but all of our energy, banking, infrastructure, transportation, and so on systems are so vulnerable to a systemic collapse that any one of them can bring it all down (i.e. “Trade-Off Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse” by David Korowicz and my in-progress “Cascading failure + Liebig’s Law + Supply Chain Breakdown = Collapse of civilization”

    • THanks for your comments. There are definitely a lot of applications of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. People who are doing modeling block them out of their minds.

      • Don Stewart says:

        One subtle point. Liebig’s Law applies mostly to human designed systems. Biological systems frequently have many different ways to accomplish a given task. For example, a plant’s roots may find the nutrients the plant needs directly, or the plant can release exudates which lure microbes into the root zone and bring the nutrients to the roots, or fungi can bring the nutrients from quite a distance. Permaculture attempts to copy the biological model, rather than Liebig’s. If a chemical farmer has killed most of the life in the soil, then Liebig’s law tends to hold.

        Don Stewart

        • That is an interesting point. Man-made systems (things like trucking and factories) don’t have a lot of redundancy built in.

        • timl2k11 says:

          I’m not sure I understand the relevancy of permaculture. I don’t know anybody that owns even a whole acre of land and could support a cow or goat. What am I missing? Very few people have enough land to practice permaculture.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear timl2k11
            Permaculture isn’t necessarily about farming and it doesn’t necessarily involve owning land. It is a design system. Let’s suppose you live in an urban place. Then Permaculture can be applied to help you design that urban place. (Toby Hemenway has an ‘urban permaculture’ session coming up in Miami, and will soon be publishing a book on the subject.) In terms of growing food, I see Permaculture as a certain type of biological agriculture…as opposed to chemical agriculture. Biological agriculture can be applied to a one square meter plot or a ranch with thousands of acres. Biological agriculture in a pot is a question mark, but containers are used by permaculturists in urban yards, as you will see by a careful examination of the photograph on the cover of Gaia’s Garden of Will Hooker’s garden in Raleigh, North Carolina.

            Don Stewart

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear timl2k11
            Here is an example of permaculture applied to a small, rather run-down urban location in Australia with a Mediterranean climate and sandy soil. The design incorporates food, water, passive solar heating, using plants for cooling, making a beautiful place to live, good relationships with neighbors, and probably some other things I can’t think of at the moment.

            The installation work makes efficient use of the fossil fuel powered tools we have today plus the city water. Once the installation is complete, hand tools would certainly take care of any maintenance of the infrastructure. If the city water fails, then he would probably have to redesign some of his plant selections. It is not possible to store enough water off a roof to get through a long Mediterranean dry season and water European type crops, even with the efficient drip irrigation. Also, drip irrigation systems wear out and if the industrial system has crashed, can’t be replaced. He would need to rely instead on storing water entirely in the soil. This will be difficult since the soil is sandy. Probably the native vegetation in this place was grasses with very deep roots which go dormant in the dry season.

            If you watched the videos from North Dakota, you will see many of the same principles at work, but the North Dakota farmers are working with several hundred acres, so they are sowing seeds with machinery–not working in potting sheds.

            At the end of the video, he sells the house. Probably the greatest threat to this installation is the lack of knowledge of the buyer. As you can see, everything is very knowledge intensive. A rich person can simply hire someone to do the maintenance. A poor person who falls in love with the place and buys it, but really doesn’t have any knowledge, will probably run it into the ground pretty quickly.

            This installation is, I imagine, the sort of thing that Jody Tishmack deals with regularly in her compost business.

            Don Stewart

          • Permaculture appeals to well-educated people who have both money to purchase land and time to work the land. This group doesn’t make up a very big portion of the population.

            In its current version, permaculture also makes use of things from our fossil fuel society (earth moving equipment, consultants from afar, shovels, devices of all kinds, plants transported from afar, soil amendments, fences, hoses, roads, etc). Besides being limiting from a point of view of not being sustainable in the very long run, these types of things add to the financial costs related to adoption of permaculture.

            While there are ways to theoretically work around these issues, I think they are still obstacles to widespread adoption.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Let me take one more crack at examining this issue. It is pointless to attack Permaculture, or any other system, for failing to be a ‘Garden of Eden’ solution. Unless one is independently wealthy, one has to make a living in the world as it is. Therefore, anyone who adopts a permaculture approach is almost certain to use the resources at hand. Martyrs need not apply.

              There are, I think, three critical issues. The first is efficiency, the second is resilience, and the third is migration path. If a permaculture house and lot in the suburbs makes more efficient use of scarce resources by better use of Nature’s free gifts, then it is a better choice than a suburban house and lot which is entirely dependent on a financialized industrial system. If a family is able to supply its own drinking water, provide itself with economical, debt-free shelter, and grow a significant amount of its own food, it will be more resilient than a family which is deeply in debt and entirely dependent on income from employment to buy things which are entirely supplied by the industrialized system. If the family has manual tools which can replace any fossil fuel dependent tools if need be, then the family is better off. If the soil has been built to have a vigorous biological life and the consequent ability to store water and mobilize nutrients, then the family will be much better off if transportation collapses.

              The family needs to have a lot of knowledge about how things work, but the knowledge is not the kind that is usually taught in colleges. It is true that a person with zero money can’t do much of anything in our society. But building a tiny shelter on a cheap lot and collecting rainwater for drinking isn’t an ‘elitist’ approach to life.

              Don Stewart

          • Jan Steinman says:

            “I don’t know anybody that owns even a whole acre of land and could support a cow or goat.”

            Better start working on that! Either directly, or by making different friends.

            After the Soviet Union fall, most people knew someone who had some access to land. These “dacha gardens” are now supplying nearly half the food in Russia, by some accounts, with far less energy input (per unit output) than the centrally-planned state farms.

            According to Dmitry Orlov, the worst was avoided because the Russian people had human community connections and networks, instead of iPhones and Faceplant.

            “Grow food or die” is my story and I’m sticking to it. But none of us has a perfect crystal ball. If growing food doesn’t appeal to you, for heaven’s sake, make some other viable plan and start working on it!

        • FutureShock says:

          “Liebig’s Law applies mostly to human designed systems.”

          This sentence is ambiguous to me…Do you mean to say LLOTM applies to all human designed systems, as well as some, but not most, non-human-designed systems?

          At any rate, I offer an alternative statement on the matter:

          LLOTM applies 100% to all systems, both human-designed systems and system not designed by humans. Regardless of how clever and redundant and resilient natural (non-human-designed) systems are, this does not change the fact that all elements/minerals/compounds required for life are finite, and further, one of these will be the least plentiful/available of all of these resources, and this resource will be the limiting factor for growth.

          The point I think you are trying to make is valid, though…that point being that human-designed systems can only exceed the output of natural systems by exploiting finite stored reserves of energy…such as fossil fuels, and uranium. Therefore, human-designed systems achieve higher output (‘Yield’ in terms of farming) compared to natural systems for a finite time…the time it takes to deplete the stored energy sources which power the importation of resources that are too distant and/or deeply buried in the Earth to be available to natural systems.


          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Future Shock
            Let’s take, for example, carbon and nitrogen, which are frequently seen as limiting factors in agriculture. Carbon is available from the atmosphere, and nitrogen is the most common element in the atmosphere. If a farmer has depleted the ability of the soil biology to deliver carbon and nitrogen to his plants, then he has to buy industrial inputs. And Liebig’s law becomes quite important…because the farmer only wants to buy as much as is required. As a practical matter, the farmer buys way more or the industrial inputs than are required from the equivalent biology as one can see by looking at the dead zones at the mouths of the major rivers. Soil biology delivers just the right amount of nutrients, when it is functioning properly. Liebig’s law isn’t something a biological farmer would think much about. A biological farmer would tend to think in terms of keeping his biology functioning—which isn’t about adding industrial inputs, for the most part.

            An industrial farm can produce a lot of corn per acre…but it cannot rival a biologically based farm in terms of total biological activity per acre. For example, the peak of photosynthetic potential in Iowa is around June 21st…but the corn is very small at that point and can’t make efficient use of the photosynthetic potential. A native prairie would make far more efficient use of the sunshine. A diversified farm designed with biological principles in mind can come close to mimicking a prairie. But it may not yield as much corn. Again, Liebig’s Law isn’t something to worry very much about. What one worries about is nudging Nature in the direction of yielding more outputs that are particularly beneficial to humans.

            Don Stewart

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “Liebig’s Law applies mostly to human designed systems.”

          I would say it more properly applies to closed systems, like flowerpots or planets.

          • Don Stewart says:

            The amount of carbon and nitrogen on and in and above the Earth has not changed appreciably for a few billion years. So Earth is a closed system. Liebig’s law applies. But there certainly are LOCAL shortages of carbon and nitrogen which can afflict productive capacity in a piece of land. My point is that if the land is a pristine forest or an unplowed prairie, Liebig’s Law isn’t something one usually needs to be greatly concerned about. But if one is managing a biologically dead Iowa corn field, then getting the proportions of synthetic fertilizers optimized is important because the synthetic fertilizers cost money. The fertility of the pristine forest and unplowed prairie are free gifts from Nature.

            Don Stewart

          • Some would argue that as long as the sun shines on the earth, and as long as water evaporates from the flower pot, they systems are not really closed. But I agree with your point. The more closed the system, the more it is subject to Liebig’s Law of the Minimum.

            I do not buy flower pots to put outside, unless I think I will be around to water them. (I suppose I could put in “water crystals” instead.)

  18. Well now, this provides a little fodder for discussion, now doesn’t it. ;)

    I will plead some ignorance, since I haven’t looked at Jorgen’s model specifically, but I will say that all the models generate out “smooth curves” to one degree or another. Ugo’s Seneca Cliff model shows a faster decline rate, but it is still a smooth curve on the downslope.

    This type of mathematical treatment appears to ignore the kinds of discontinuities you mentioned in an earlier article, and which David Korowicz describes in his Tipping Point paper.

    Looking forward to chatting with the gang about this at the OK Corral…er..Collapse Cafe. :)


    • For the rest who are reading this, there is a group of us (George Mobus, David Korowicz, Ugo Bardi, and myself) who are planning to make a recording (hopefully video, if all goes well) with the Collapse Cafe folks on the topic of the current Limits to Growth model. It should be interesting.

      • Scott says:

        Hello Gail and others, This story is about debt that we have taken on under our current and recent presidents. Since 2008 is about $43K USD per household. I think most of the money went to the 1 percent though.

        This debt is really starting to bite us now from looking at the current spectacle in Washington. I am still amazed we have not had double digit inflation yet, I think that is because the money is being held in banks and blown into bubbles like the stocks and bonds mostly held by the rich.

        I also read this too in another story, the former president spent some serious money too – but not as much as we have spent since the 2008 financial crisis.

        “Under President Bush in eight years, we added $4.9 trillion to the debt,” Ayotte told the crowd Thursday, August 23, 2012, at Merrimack High School. “Under President Obama, we’ve added $5.3 trillion … in the 3 1/2 years he’s been in office.”

        I believe the former president would have likely spent almost as much if he had held office in the years following the 2008 crisis before he left he had already begun to put us into debt.

        So I do no really think it would matter who is president as both parties have embraced this “Keynesian” Debt based unlimited expansion economic policies here and also in Europe.




        • Oil prices were very different when Bush was in office than they are now. That made a big difference in the economy, and in the ability of the economy to operate without debt. Without additional debt recently, the I expect the economy would implode. Of course, we will at some point reach the situation where we are unable to add more debt (perhaps related to the debt ceiling). This could create the same effect.

    • For those interested in further discussion of the Limits to Growth model, the Panel Discussion with Gail Tverberg, Ugo Bardi, George Mobus and David Korowicz is now UP on the Collapse Cafe at the Doomstead Diner.



  19. dolph says:

    Events have taken on a life of their own, and are beyond the ability of any one individual, group, or state to control.

    I look at the past 32 odd years and think to myself…we all decided to go out in a blaze of glory, but we had no idea how long the blaze would last. I think it actually lasted a lot longer than many thought it would, so we got used to it. So we keep doubling down, and even the crash of 2008 couldn’t stop it, as credit was reinflated and we discovered we still have more energy left.

    It’s like a guy who has a devil may care attitude, and he drinks and smokes and parties all his life, and he gets a heart attack and all sorts of problems when he’s 50, but lo and behold the ambulances and hospitals rush in to save him, and lo and behold the government gives him disability checks and food stamps, so he rightfully thinks, maybe I’ll change a little, but I’m still going to smoke a little and enjoy some beers and cheetos. Life is meant to be lived, right?

    As a young adult who is aware of our problems, I’ve decided the single best thing I can do is to “drop out” so to say, to collapse first and avoid the rush. To make an existential commitment to remove myself from failing systems. And yes, I’ve begun to do this. I’ve lost touch with many people, I don’t visit relatives, and I don’t buy anything that I don’t need.

    It’s not so much that I’m angry that other people had it well. I would have done similar things. It’s just this: now that the party is ending, you aren’t going to get me to clean up. I won’t be lectured to be responsible by people who have no idea what the meaning of that word is.

    • In some sense, as we lose “things,” pretty much all we have left is people. So I am not sure that dropping out is necessarily the way to go. We will need our contacts with others. I make a point to keep up contacts with relatives and others.

      From a financial point of view, “dropping out” in some cases may be our only option. The problem is that most people need to work to get the means to buy food and other necessities. Without working, we either depend on the government or on friends/relatives. We live in a world where government programs will support us, but this is not likely to be around for long.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Drop out of “the beast,” sure, but drop out of people? That’s just sad.

      In the end, people who are close to us may be all we have left.

    • xabier says:

      Alas, ‘Blaze of Banality’ might be more accurate. Glory was the Renaissance, the Enlightenment…… But what have we squandered oil wealth on?!

  20. Stan says:

    Gail wrote that Jorgen Randers says (on page 61),
    “I basically believe that we will see the same
    rate of technological and societal change …
    …because the drivers will be the same…”

    Wow…that guy has one hell of a crystal ball! I feel a need to put a crack in it. For example, in the 60’s we had the cold war as a “driver” which we don’t have now. And that created a “sub-driver” (please don’t be angry with that word invention) of the space-race. And that drove a lot of new tech in directions that would not have happened that quickly without the space-race. I would like for Randers to point to present-day “drivers” that do what the cold war and space-race no longer do.


    • timl2k11 says:

      I would go a step farther. The drivers are vanishing. I think on a subconscious level, society is beginning to realize that exponential growth cannot continue forever nor can exponential technological advancement. The only driver will be survival of business as usual, and that is just not going to happen. The new Limits to Growth is only $10 on Kindle, I’d like to have a look for myself.

    • We have the war on terrorism, and all of the jobs screening people in airports. Wow! And oversees war of the month, that helps keep both young people and defense contractors employed.

      Randers never gives credit to anyone helping him with the book–programmers, etc. He (instead) shows a large photo of himself with his hand on his hip near the back. This struck me as very strange.

      • sponia says:

        Don’t forget to count all the ‘black’ budgets that are nominally used to spy on ‘enemies of the state’. That’s a really big driver that is being shielded from publicity. It’s true that some of the giant motivators from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s have faded, but we are evolving new ones all the time. Since the nation has turned away from hope for the future and fastened on paranoia instead to determine it priorities, that’s where you will now find the focus of the forces that direct our economy. And as America goes, the world follows.

        • Yes, paranoia seems to be a big industry now. But with the partial government shutdown, it would seem like it would go into lower gear as well. Or is it essential?

  21. timl2k11 says:

    Hi Gail. Another great post. I was wondering the other day what would have happened to civilization if fossil fuels had never been discovered. Do you know anyone who has considered such an “alternative reality”? Namely, without fossil fuels, what limits were we likely reaching and has anyone conjectured on what sort of collapse the world might have experienced if fossil fuels hadn’t come to save the day? It is my understanding that fossil fuels saved us from ecological disaster by shifting where we were extracting energy from the biosphere (if I’m not mistaken whales were on the verge of extinction because we were using them for their oil to burn lamps, and certainly we no longer had to use wood for fuel).

    • The rise of fossil fuels came at the time Malthus was writing about the likelihood of starvation. In fact, I wrote a post about the issue: Why Malthus Got His Forecast Wrong. The population at that time was about 1 billion.

      If fossil fuels had not been ramped up (they had been discovered earlier, but adding debt greatly helped with their ramping up, both from the point of view of giving those doing the extraction money for their businesses, and the people buying goods money to purchase the goods made with fossil fuels), populations would likely have dropped way down at that point. Perhaps it would have collapsed to perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 million, as groups reached the same collapse dynamics as in the past–that is, wages of the common people not keeping up, many unemployed, and the government needing more tax revenue to try to keep the whole system going. There would be more resource wars, and more people dying from disease, because they could not afford proper food, and because population pressure had led to deforestation.

      I expect that by now, some of the remnant would have regrouped, although this would not come until many years later. The world population now would be a small increment up from where the population had crashed to–say in the 105 million to 210 million range. Whale populations would again increase, in this regrouping period. So this is where the world might be today. At least 80% of the workers would work in agriculture. Governments would be fairly simple dictators/kings/tribal leaders. Technology would not have taken off.

      • Seppo S says:

        In 1750 or so, in Sweden, 195 of 200 people worked in agriculture (read from Somero history book, no reference available now… So perhaps 80% is a bit optimistic. May of course depend on where you are…

        • The CIA Factbook says that today, Burundi has 94% of its population in agriculture. Ethiopia and Angola are both at 85%. Uganda is at 82%. Cold places maybe needed a higher percentage in agriculture, with the short growing season.

          • xabier says:

            In Spain now -until yesterday a country of cnically exploited peasants – it’s 6% in agriculture, and only about 15% under the age of 35. Great change in a couple of generations. A great many of those will be imported semi- slaves from North Africa, too.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “I was wondering the other day what would have happened to civilization if fossil fuels had never been discovered. Do you know anyone who has considered such an “alternative reality”?”

      I believe it was Frank Herbert who wrote a sci-fi novel about a planet without any fossil fuels, nor even any metals. I don’t recall much about it, except that humans lived for millions of years barely able to feed themselves, but the answer is that at least one sci-fi writer has considered such a thing.

      Come to think of it, I think sci-fi has as much grip on reality as most predictions — including Randers’ — these days. (Nice segue back to the topic, if I do say so myself… :-)

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Jan: It was ‘Dune,’ circa 1968, followed by ‘Dune Messiah’ and several more, He rightly placed water as the most precious commodity; energy was abundant. It’s a good read.

  22. timl2k11 says:

    It didn’t take me long to find where this book goes horribly wrong. In the first essay by Carlos Joly it is stated

    New technology is not the barrier: 100% wind, water and solar energy can be achieved with existing technology.

    The source for this statement is the following Scientific American article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-path-to-sustainable-energy-by-2030
    In that article is the following preposterous statement

    Our plan calls for millions of wind turbines, water machines and solar installations. The numbers are large, but the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle; society has achieved massive transformations before. During World War II, the U.S. retooled automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft, and other countries produced 486,000 more. In 1956 the U.S. began building the Interstate Highway System, which after 35 years extended for 47,000 miles, changing commerce and society.

    Apparently the authors Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi are not aware of how much cheaper and abundant fossil fuels were back then.
    The article is from a Scientific American special edition in November 2009 called “A Plan for a Sustainable Future: How to Get All Energy from Wind, Water, and Solar by 2030”.
    If Carlos Joly can’t see the fallacies in the article he cites and Randers can’t spot such fallacious statements I don’t believe this book has any credibility.

    • I agree with you about ‘retooling’ for the production of wartoys was not the same problem that we have now.
      And yet the highest in the land, politicians and economists, spout the same nonsense, convinced that it is the answer to our problems, blind to the fact that all that kit represented the conversion of energy, oil coal and gas, into hardware that was ultimately destroyed. (the same applies to roads–they wear out)
      Availability of energy was a secondary consideration, we simply burned it, and in doing so created millions of jobs.
      But we can’t do it again.
      Windfarms do not create ongoing employment, they only create employment for the period of their erection. Electricity is useless unless it can be used, and to use it, you must convert some other material into an artifact we CAN use. (Which was the essence of war-based production, roads too are a direct conversion of oil into solid surfaces)
      But of course we are running out of materials with which to do that, because things we use are made from mineral substances

    • I will have to admit that there are big pieces of the book I did not read. Carlos Joly’s essay did not look like it had much promise. I was looking for what Randers himself said.

      I wrote an article to counter the ridiculousness of the Scientific American article back when I was writing on The Oil Drum. This is a link: Scientific American’s Path to Sustainability: Let’s Think about the Details.

  23. Stan says:

    Gail wrote:
    “The model also omits debt, and the role debt plays,
    both for investment purposes and in order for
    consumers to afford products made with oil and
    other energy products.”

    A bit later on:
    ” …because a model of this nature necessarily cannot
    model events that are important to ultimate collapse,
    but which happen on a smaller scale…”

    I would suggest that these two ideas combined describe a sequence of events which further invalidate models that do not incorporate debt into the equation. My beginning observation is that every time there is a global crisis ,commodities prices (e.g. oil, tantalum, etc) become un-predictable. Then futures traders step in, buy low & sell high. This transfers wealth from the working class to the 1%. The working class has to take on more debt to maintain their standard of living. This debt coupled with “A shortage of resources per capita (leads to) falling wages for the common worker.” (from Secular Cycles, as Gail pointed out) becomes another invalidating factor of Randers’ conclusions.

    Simply put, every “hiccup” in the Middle East (among other locales) causes ripples which further de-rails forecasts such as Randers’. Maybe not one big death-invoking slash to his model, but a model can still “die from a thousand cuts”.

    Keep chopping Gail!


  24. Very interesting posts on Randers’book. I have the stomach feeling we will experience a situation between abrupt collapse and Randers’slowdown, partly because oil prices will be disconnected temporally from market prices. Chinese are leasing at any prices land worldwide to sustain its population. They ill produce food and extract resources as much as possible, at any price.

    • If the Chinese take oil for their own use, it will leave less for everyone else. Perhaps the Chinese can keep their economy going, but it doesn’t help the rest of us. No what the market price or other price, large portions of the world won’t get much oil, which is a problem. In a networked system this can cause the whole system to crash.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Hi Gail:
        The Chinese care very little for the rest of the system and would love to crash it. Not all Chinese, of course, but the Chinese 1% that uses government funding to procure resources (mineral, agricultural, industrial) all over the world. China doesn’t play by other people’s rules: their debt (state secret) is estimated at well beyond their published data, but they keep changing the balance sheets. Western financial reporters are coerced to report Beijing’s false data (which is ‘revised’ every month and quarter and year — and by ‘revised’ I mean corporate entities disappear and new ones emerge) lest they be defrocked and lose their access and job. So the Chinese use monopoly money to buy all the resources of Africa and as much oil as they can squeeze from all players in bilateral deals (no market forces) and they are out to gain control of as much as they can. It’s called ‘Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics.’
        The real problem is that the USA, the EU and the UN don’t know exactly how to respond. Most people in the world don’t understand or know about or accept as truth the above paragraphs, so they treat China as just another economic player. Open your eyes, people!

        • all outthrusts of nations beyond their natural borders have been for the extraction of resources from nations perceived as weaker.
          In every case, those weaker nations have ”not known how to respond”
          Also in every case, the empire builders are convinced that theirs is the one that will last forever.
          I don’t pretend to have any answers, just offering observations from history

          • xabier says:

            E of M

            Quite true: it’s a natural law. My spaniel bitch’s puppies tried – as soon as they could – to steal the food from their mother’s bowl. And bite her all over. She challenged them and put up a fight for a few days, but then gave up and preferred to run away! She wasn’t a great responder in those terms! The Alpha male triumphed: he was the biggest pup, and is an excellent guard dog now. We can’t buck nature.

        • Yes, I agree that it is an unusual place. When a country publishes wrong data, it is hard to know what is going on. But this kind of thing seems to be tolerated/encouraged.

        • xabier says:


          Excellent summary of Chinese mental characteristics, at least the leadership!

          • Chris Johnson says:

            Thanks, Xabier. What we in the West forget is that they are still driven by Marxist theology. Their objectives are not truth oriented but control and conquest oriented, just like mother Russia. All news is propaganda designed to convince any and all that their rise is inevitable and you’d better like it. ‘United Front’ tactics dominate everything they do. They are fundamentally bullies, which means that the only way to deal with them is via thick stick to side of the head. Because they are bullies they back off quickly. This is why Taiwan is so important: because the people of Taiwan have made a healthy, vibrant society that serves as a beacon to lead the Chinese out of their Marxist hellhole.
            Cheers, Chris

        • Edwin Pell says:

          I was at an IBM internal meeting 20 years ago that talked about Chinese use of predatory capitalism. Worry not our predators understand their predators.

  25. Everyone commenting in here is interested in the function of world economics and politics.
    I strongly recommended downloading this video interview by Olaf Grimmson the president of Iceland, on the way things should be and could be

  26. Danny says:

    I understand and believe all that you have written. My only fear is that I am part of the choir in the church…I am always watching to the fact that we are too attached to this negative outcome that we can’t see any positive. There is a lot invested in this doomer theory that we can’t be wrong?! or can we….

    • I am always amazed at how long that thing that look like they can’t continue, in fact do. I think the big issue is timing. There is always the hope that if we can put off the collapse long enough, we will figure out a way around it.

    • I am always amazed at how long that thing that look like they can’t continue, in fact do. I think the big issue is timing. There is always the hope that if we can put off the collapse long enough, we will figure out a way around it.

    • top hyena says:

      On the other hand, we ARE at “the peak” of oil usage, and it has taken us since 1870 to get here. Surely collapse will not come overnight. Gail thinks within 20 years. Hmm – but then she repeatedly mentions Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, and I think she could have a point. If we learn to retrench in good time, and accept what is coming, then we will suffer decline rather than collapse. John Michael Greer’s stepwise view, of periods of decline, interspersed by sudden collapses down to lower levels (such as 2008, after which we had to introduce various cuts to expenditure) also sounds good. Ultimately, though, we can’t predict the future accurately, other than to say that our current economic material growth and excess cannot continue in the medium term,

  27. Dear Gail,
    “Perhaps analyses today should be examining the financial health of countries–the ability of countries to find enough jobs for potential workers, and the ability of these workers to earn adequate wages.”

    I’ve reached the conclusion that it won’t be possible to create enough good paying jobs to maintain the middle class lifestyle. Industrial jobs used to allow a man with a high school education to get married, buy a home and raise a family. My father didn’t even complete high school and yet he was able to do this. Today, even college graduates are having a difficult time finding good paying jobs.

    How can we create good paying jobs in an era of declining resources? My impression is that more and more families are trying to support themselves working multiple jobs (full and part time because they can’t find full time) but receive low wages and no benefits. This is now becoming the norm, a lifestyle of working poor, and no one in this situation has much satisfaction in life or hope for the future, nor do their children. The percentage of children living in poverty in the U.S. is skyrocketing. I believe it has moved above 50%. This means that 50% of our youth have little expectation of getting an education or finding a good paying job that will lift them out of poverty.

    Even in families still within a middle class income, when young adults can’t find the means to establish a life or career, what do they do? How can they grow and learn to take responsibility and leadership in society? The only answer I see is the re-formation of the extended family needing to live and work a farm together in order to support their basic needs.

    There is plenty of work to do on a small farm with crops, animals, household chores such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, child rearing. However there is enormous difficulty in making this transition. Finding others with the skills or resources needed to form an “extended family”. Money to buy and operate a farm. And being able to have the money buy necessities you can’t make or need such as health care and energy. Hard to see this happening on today’s middle income. This is definitely a rock and hard place.


    • I agree with you.

      Having less resources means that income is lower. The income of a small farm is not enough to pay for energy and health care (assuming one can find the money in the first place to buy such a farm). There is also the issue of taxes on the farm.

      People long ago lived at a much lower standard than we have today. If we can make a transition work (and it is not really a transition–it is must people not succeeding at all, and a small number making it at a much lower level), it will be without things we now consider necessities, like energy, most health care, road maintenance, etc.

      • xabier says:

        The myth of the 20th century was that everyone potentially can, and ought, to live a high resource-consumption life with increasing leisure: it lies behind both State Communism and Consumerist Capitalism – the moulding of a standardized human being and the smoking factory chimney lie behind both systems. Nazism also for a briefer period offered the same dream, but not for everyone: subject peoples would be enslaved and do the labouring. At present, we have largely outsourced the dirty and polluting work to Asia, Africa and Latin America (at huge social cost), and the expansion of this mode of living is faltering and will start to retract.

        A lot of what we are taught to regard, not always incorrectly, as permanent material and social gains seem likely to be lost, and perhaps rather rapidly. And what disasters, insurrections, wars, famines, plagues and so on will accompany this contraction we can only surmise. We have come to believe that many things are essential to human life, and we will learn that they are merely ephemeral.

        However, without romanticizing the past, we can note that low-consumption societies, in which most people were labourers, produced beautiful art, architecture, gardens, song, music, poetry and costume, and were rich in spiritual achievement. The highest form of human achievement is perhaps not the middle-class American consumer of 1960 retiring on a nice pension, nor the ardent Communist worker of 1930 content to suffer if all are equal. Earlier societies were of course extremely unequal, and this is what terrifies most as they peer forward imagining life stripped of everything they enjoy now, but they were -some of them – not without very great achievements, and I suggest we might take some hope from this. And enjoy fully the fruits of this decaying system while it still offers them to us.

        • Xabier,
          Excellent point! Hope in the face of unknown is of great value. And meaning in life trumps everything else.

        • the beautiful art of the middle ages was still created on the surplus of those working the land. or looting other lands to provide that excess .
          the cathedral we look on now in awe, took a century or more to build, in spurts when times were good, stopping when they were not. It was a form of spiritual acheivement, based on the fostered myth of living in poverty in this life in return for bliss in the next.
          A favourite yarn there then.

          • xabier says:

            E of M

            Well, we live on the Earth, not in Paradise, (whether Christian, Socialist or Consumerist) so there are flaws in everything.

            At least the Middle Ages and pre-fossil fuel civilizations didn’t spew banal ugliness everywhere……. The horror of our civilization was fully realized by John Ruskin in the 1850’s, and every word he wrote resonates now.

        • Randers perpetuates this myth. I was looking some more at his spreadsheet. It is sort of a little game, where you can fill in your own guesses. The value range he lets you select from never goes negative, when it comes to things that would help growth and efficiency. Somehow, living standards don’t go down, even with less energy.

          • FutureShock says:

            I read 2052, and just opened it back up and glanced a few pages again…somewhere in his tome Randers states words to the effect that his model, if extended past ~2052 (perhaps as little as ten years past 2052), may show results that would indicate a rather substantial downturn in the human condition..significantly worse than the results at the end of his model’s 40-year run period. I wished he would have extended his model’s time domain to capture these results, but he said he had to drive a stake in the ground somewhere, and noted that the model’s output became less certain the longer it ran. At least he admitted this. Overall, I opine that his model’s outputs are fairly optimistic…but perhaps not out of the realm of possible.

          • xabier says:


            It’s important to note that now in Europe and the UK living standards have fallen very considerably: I saw some articles on the actual purchasing power of the average Spaniard having fallen between 15 and 30% since 2008 (and let’s just not think about the 60% youth unemployment, 25% general unemployment rates).

            This decline is common knowledge – if Randers doesn’t acknowledge it, the whole model is a nonsense.

            It’s like checking the weather on the national service, and then looking out of the window to see something just the opposite!

            • I learned some other things after I wrote the post, and included them in the video. One has to do with how Randers came up with at least some of his estimates. He polled a group of about 40 people, and asked them their views. They often thought their own field had problems, but everything else was fine. (Climate change may have been an exception. Randers specializes in climate change, and climate change is probably over-represented in those polled.) When he averaged everything together, hardly anything showed much contraction.

              Randers spreadsheet at http://www.2052.info seems to contain more or less the complete model. The model estimates total energy consumption, then splits it using typed in percentages adding to 100% for oil, gas, coal, renewables, and nuclear. These typed in percentages seem to be at least somewhat based on Doly’s work.

      • What you are describing is ‘frontier’ living
        I keep pointing this out to the lunatics who want to return to the ‘no government’ lifestyle of total independence

        • Scott says:

          Hello, Perhaps the USA President Obama has decided we cannot afford a war with Iran. They are backing off from the brink of war with Syria and Iran it seems perhaps due to financial reality or?

          I was happy to see this today as there has not been much good news out there lately.



          • It is hard to see how a country can make war, if it doesn’t have funds for Social Security payments. Maybe the US will forget some of the war business.

          • FutureShock says:

            All sectors of the human enterprise will be subject to the Limits To Growth. However, some sectors will have a better prospect of maintaining as large a share as possible of a diminishing pie. It seems likely that the pie’s allocation will not be logical, but will be subject to the power of each sector’s beneficiaries, and this power will facilitate the manipulation of the general populace’s inherent fears. Therefore, it seems likely that resources will be allocated in such a manner as to lessen the optimum outcomes for all people in the future…but that will heighten the outcomes for a select group of people.

            • Scott says:

              Hello, Yes, it will likely be an uneven collapse with the remaining oil/gas and power in a fewer and fewer hands as time goes on. I think the third world and perhaps middle east will be hit first once they are no longer to export all of that oil.


            • I think you are right.

              A large number of species exhibit hierarchical behavior, including humans. Research says this hierarchical behavior gets worse in time of energy scarcity (Craig Dilworth–Too Smart for Our Own Good). The people at the top of the hierarchy make certain that they get enough. In the animal kingdom, this pattern is to assure that at least some of the species survive. If goods were shared evenly, the whole group might die of starvation. This does not seem very equitable to us, but if we think about evolutionary long term needs, the outcome makes sense.

        • xabier says:

          E of M

          Well, frontier living is an attractive thought. But I agree, not on the menu card for most of us: in all likelihood we’ll be ‘choosing’ Totalitarian Dictatorship Left or Right-wing option, with or without ‘elections’ as our economies crumple, not heading for the hills in a wagon. At the present, I’m trying for Semi-Rural Modern Peasant as a lifestyle until I’m taxed off the land by a desperate State. It’s only a fringe option of course.

  28. Wim Weber says:

    Dear Ms Tverberg,
    You make the very good point about the problems with modelling. To me the only valid modelling seems to be the short-term weather forecasts. All the other models are black boxes that always lead to outcomes that the modellers are comfortable with.

    I wonder what your opinion is on the other recent modelling exercise, the IPCC report. It is hard to reconcile with the limits to cheap oil supply in the near future.

    • The people who put together IPCC reports generally don’t believe in limits to oil and other fossil. So their results tend to be high compared to what the indications would be if they put in more realistic estimates.

      I haven’t looked at the new report, but understand it is supposed to have a peak oil version. I would expect that this version still assumes very high natural gas and coal use, so would still be high. I should look at it though and see.

      In the past, some people concerned about peak oil have thought that climate change was a way for politicians to talk about reducing fuel usage, without talking about the shortage issue–something too difficult to bring up.

      I wrote a post earlier that relates more to the previous IPCC report:Oil limits and climate change

      • Ikonoclast says:

        Unfortunately, there are enough recoverable quantities of fossil fuels to wreck our climate if they are burnt. Indeed, we have already burnt enough fossil fuels to lock in 2 degrees C or more of global warming. And every day matters get worse. Warming is now releasing tundra methanes and some methane clathrates from the seabed. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 but it does break down relatively quickly in the atmosphere (into more CO2 and water vapour by reaction with oxygen).

        We are still burning fossil fuels at a record rate. Peak oil has been reached but not yet peak gas and peak coal so the CO2 release rate continues to rise. We are approaching the “perfect storm” of resource depletion, species extinctions and climate change.

  29. Vineyard says:

    Rander’s book was a big let down for me. I only read “LTG the 30 years update” before and liked it because it because didn’t show a single prophecy, but a half douzend specific szenarios based on different data. But all of them sooner or later resulted in “overshoot” when dimisshing returns turned into negative.

    The New Book just felt too simple and what I didn’t like were all these expert stories, which all ended with Rander’s giving them a “I like”.

    Also, Randers did a lot of damage to the book, with his “honarable dictator” talk…

    @Meadows: Afaik, he left the Club of Rome years ago, didn’t he?
    He never said why, but in some interviews it seemed that he felt that the CoR was only doing “greenwashing” nowadays.

    • I looked at the membership of the Club of Rome, and didn’t see Dennis Meadows name. I did see Herman Daly on the list, and some people who are listed as being environmentalists. The fact that the Club of Rome published this book would seem to support the view that the Club of Rome is doing greenwashing these days. Otherwise, I suspect they would have thrown it out.

      THe fact that Amory Lovins wrote a testimony on the back of 2052 (and not Dennis Meadows) says something to me.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “I looked at the membership of the Club of Rome, and didn’t see Dennis Meadows name.”

        Don’t know about “membership,” but Dennis was one of the four authors of Limits To Growth.

        • I am talking about current membership. The Club of Rome site gives a link to it on its front page. Dennis Meadows was an author of Limits to Growth in 1972, and also of some previous updates.

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