A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work

In order to understand what solutions to our energy predicament will or won’t work, it is necessary to understand the true nature of our energy predicament. Most solutions fail because analysts assume that the nature of our energy problem is quite different from what it really is. Analysts assume that our problem is a slowly developing long-term problem, when in fact, it is a problem that is at our door step right now.

The point that most analysts miss is that our energy problem behaves very much like a near-term financial problem. We will discuss why this happens. This near-term financial problem is bound to work itself out in a way that leads to huge job losses and governmental changes in the near term. Our mitigation strategies need to be considered in this context. Strategies aimed simply at relieving energy shortages with high priced fuels and high-tech equipment are bound to be short lived solutions, if they are solutions at all.


1. Our number one energy problem is a rapidly rising need for investment capital, just to maintain a fixed level of resource extraction. This investment capital is physical “stuff” like oil, coal, and metals.

We pulled out the “easy to extract” oil, gas, and coal first. As we move on to the difficult to extract resources, we find that the need for investment capital escalates rapidly. According to Mark Lewis writing in the Financial Times, “upstream capital expenditures” for oil and gas amounted to  nearly $700 billion in 2012, compared to $350 billion in 2005, both in 2012 dollars. This corresponds to an inflation-adjusted annual increase of 10% per year for the seven year period. (If you have problems viewing the images, attached is a PDF of the article, including images: A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work | Our Finite World)

Figure 1. The way would expect the cost of the extraction of energy supplies to rise, as finite supplies deplete.

Figure 1. The way would expect the cost of the extraction of energy supplies to rise, as finite supplies deplete.

In theory, we would expect extraction costs to rise as we approach limits of the amount to be extracted. In fact, the steep rise in oil prices in recent years is of the type we would expect, if this is happening. We were able to get around the problem in the 1970s, by adding more oil extraction, substituting other energy products for oil, and increasing efficiency. This time, our options for fixing the situation are much fewer, since the low hanging fruit have already been picked, and we are reaching financial limits now.

Figure 2. Historical oil prices in 2012 dollars, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 data. (2013 included as well, from EIA data.)

Figure 2. Historical oil prices in 2012 dollars, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 data. (2013 included as well, from EIA data.)

To make matters worse, the rapidly rising need for investment capital arises is other industries as well as fossil fuels. Metals extraction follows somewhat the same pattern. We extracted the highest grade ores, in the most accessible locations first. We can still extract more metals, but we need to move to lower grade ores. This means we need to remove more of the unwanted waste products, using more resources, including energy resources.

Figure 3. Waste product to produce 100 units of metal

Figure 3. Waste product to produce 100 units of metal

There is a huge increase in the amount of waste products that must be extracted and disposed of, as we move to lower grade ores (Figure 3). The increase in waste products is only 3% when we move from ore with a concentration of .200, to ore with a concentration .195. When we move from a concentration of .010 to a concentration of .005, the amount of waste product more than doubles.

When we look at the inflation adjusted cost of base metals (Figure 4 below), we see that the index was generally falling for a long period between the 1960s and the 1990s, as productivity improvements were greater than falling ore quality.

Figure 4. World Bank inflation adjusted base metal index (excluding iron).

Figure 4. World Bank inflation adjusted base metal index (excluding iron).

Since 2002, the index is higher, as we might expect if we are starting to reach limits with respect to some of the metals in the index.

There are many other situations where we are fighting a losing battle with nature, and as a result need to make larger resource investments. We have badly over-fished the ocean, so  fishermen now need to use more resources too catch the remaining much smaller fish.  Pollution (including CO2 pollution) is becoming more of a problem, so we invest resources in  devices to capture mercury emissions and in wind turbines in the hope they will help our pollution problems. We also need to invest increasing amounts in roads,  bridges, electricity transmission lines, and pipelines, to compensate for deferred maintenance and aging infrastructure.

Some people say that the issue is one of falling Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI), and indeed, falling EROI is part of the problem. The steepness of the curve comes from the rapid increase in energy products used for extraction and many other purposes, as we approach limits.  The investment capital limit was discovered by the original modelers of Limits to Growth in 1972. I discuss this in my post Why EIA, IEA, and Randers’ 2052 Energy Forecasts are Wrong.

2. When the amount of oil extracted each year flattens out (as it has since 2004), a conflict arises: How can there be enough oil both (a) for the growing investment needed to maintain the status quo, plus (b) for new investment to promote growth?

In the previous section, we talked about the rising need for investment capital, just to maintain the status quo. At least some of this investment capital needs to be in the form of oil.  Another use for oil would be to grow the economy–adding new factories, or planting more crops, or transporting more goods. While in theory there is a possibility of substituting away from oil, at any given point in time, the ability to substitute away is quite limited. Most transport options require oil, and most farming requires oil. Construction and road equipment require oil, as do diesel powered irrigation pumps.

Because of the lack of short term substitutability, the need for oil for reinvestment tends to crowd out the possibility of growth. This is at least part of the reason for slower world-wide economic growth in recent years.

3. In the crowding out of growth, the countries that are most handicapped are the ones with the highest average cost of their energy supplies.

For oil importers, oil is a very high cost product, raising the average cost of energy products. This average cost of energy is highest in countries that use the highest percentage of oil in their energy mix.

If we look at a number of oil importing countries, we see that economic growth tends to be much slower in countries that use very much oil in their energy mix. This tends to happen  because high energy costs make products less affordable. For example, high oil costs make vacations to Greece unaffordable, and thus lead to cut backs in their tourist industry.

It is striking when looking at countries arrayed by the proportion of oil in their energy mix, the extent to which high oil use, and thus high cost energy use, is associated with slow economic growth (Figure 5, 6, and 7). There seems to almost be a dose response–the more oil use, the lower the economic growth. While the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) are shown as a group, each of the countries in the group shows the same pattern on high oil consumption as a percentage of its total energy production in 2004.

Globalization no doubt acted to accelerate this shift toward countries that used little oil. These countries tended to use much more coal in their energy mix–a much cheaper fuel.

Figure 5. Percent energy consumption from oil in 2004, for selected countries and country groups, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy. (EU - PIIGS means "EU-27 minus PIIGS')

Figure 5. Percent energy consumption from oil in 2004, for selected countries and country groups, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy. (EU – PIIGS means “EU-27 minus PIIGS’)

Figure 6. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.

Figure 6. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.

Figure 7. Average percentage consumption growth between 2004 and 2011, based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 7. Average percentage consumption growth between 2004 and 2011, based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

4. The financial systems of countries with slowing growth are especially affected, as are the governments. Debt becomes harder to repay with interest, as economic growth slows.

With slow growth, debt becomes harder to repay with interest. Governments are tempted to add programs to aid their citizens, because employment tends to be low. Governments find that tax revenue lags because of the lagging wages of most citizens, leading to government deficits. (This is precisely the problem that Turchin and Nefedov noted, prior to collapse, when they analyzed eight historical collapses in their book Secular Cycles.)

Governments have recently attempt to fix both their own financial problems and the problems of their citizens by lowering interest rates to very low levels and by using Quantitative Easing. The latter allows governments to keep even long term interest rates low.  With Quantitative Easing, governments are able to keep borrowing without having a market of ready buyers. Use of Quantitative Easing also tends to blow bubbles in prices of stocks and real estate, helping citizens to feel richer.

5. Wages of citizens of  countries oil importing countries tend to remain flat, as oil prices remain high.

At least part of the wage problem relates to the slow economic growth noted above. Furthermore, citizens of the country will cut back on discretionary goods, as the price of oil rises, because their cost of commuting and of food rises (because oil is used in growing food). The cutback in discretionary spending leads to layoffs in discretionary sectors. If exported goods are high priced as well, buyers from other countries will tend to cut back as well, further leading to layoffs and low wage growth.

6. Oil producers find that oil prices don’t rise high enough, cutting back on their funds for reinvestment. 

As oil extraction costs increase, it becomes difficult for the demand for oil to remain high, because wages are not increasing. This is the issue I describe in my post What’s Ahead? Lower Oil Prices, Despite Higher Extraction Costs.

We are seeing this issue today. Bloomberg reports, Oil Profits Slump as Higher Spending Fails to Raise Output. Business Week reports Shell Surprise Shows Profit Squeeze Even at $100 Oil. Statoil, the Norwegian company, is considering walking away from Greenland, to try to keep a lid on production costs.

7. We find ourselves with a long-term growth imperative relating to fossil fuel use, arising from the effects of globalization and from growing world population.

Globalization added approximately 4 billion consumers to the world market place in the 1997 to 2001 time period. These people previously had lived traditional life styles. Once they became aware of all of the goods that people in the rich countries have, they wanted to join in, buying motor bikes, cars, televisions, phones, and other goods. They would also like to eat meat more often. Population in these countries continues to grow adding to demand for goods of all kinds. These goods can only be made using fossil fuels, or by technologies that are enabled by fossil fuels (such as today’s hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and solar PV).

8. The combination of these forces leads to a situation in which economies, one by one, will turn downward in the very near future–in a few months to a year or two. Some are already on this path (Egypt, Syria, Greece, etc.)

We have two problems that tend to converge: financial problems that countries are now hiding, and ever rising need for resources in a wide range of areas that are reaching limits (oil, metals, over-fishing, deferred maintenance on pipelines).

On the financial side, we have countries trying to hang together despite a serious mismatch between revenue and expenses, using Quantitative Easing and ultra-low interest rates. If countries unwind the Quantitative Easing, interest rates are likely to rise. Because debt is widely used, the cost of everything from oil extraction to buying a new home to buying a new car is likely to rise. The cost of repaying the government’s own debt will rise as well, putting governments in worse financial condition than they are today.

A big concern is that these problems will carry over into debt markets. Rising interest rates will lead to widespread defaults. The availability of debt, including for oil drilling, will dry up.

Even if debt does not dry up, oil companies are already being squeezed for investment funds, and are considering cutting back on drilling. A freeze on credit would make certain this happens.

Meanwhile, we know that investment costs keep rising, in many different industries simultaneously, because we are reaching the limits of a finite world. There are more resources available; they are just more expensive. A mismatch occurs, because our wages aren’t going up.

The physical amount of oil needed for all of this investment keeps rising, but oil production continues on its relatively flat plateau, or may even begins to drop. This leads to less oil available to invest in the rest of the economy. Given the squeeze, even more countries are likely to encounter slowing growth or contraction.

9. My expectation is that the situation will end with a fairly rapid drop in the production of all kinds of energy products and the governments of quite a few countries failing. The governments that remain will dramatically cut services.

With falling oil production, promised government programs will be far in excess of what governments can afford, because governments are basically funded out of the surpluses of a fossil fuel economy–the difference between the cost of extraction and the value of these fossil fuels to society. As the cost of extraction rises, the surpluses tend to dry up.

Figure 8. Cost of extraction of barrel oil, compared to value to society. Economic growth is enabled by the difference.

Figure 8. Cost of extraction of barrel oil, compared to value to society. Economic growth is enabled by the difference.

As these surpluses shrink, governments will need to shrink back dramatically. Government failure will be easier than contracting back to a much smaller size.

International finance and trade will be particularly challenging in this context. Trying to start over will be difficult, because many of the new countries will be much smaller than their predecessors, and will have no “track record.” Those that do have track records will have track records of debt defaults and failed promises, things that will not give lenders confidence in their ability to repay new loans.

While it is clear that oil production will drop, with all of the disruption and a lack of operating financial markets, I expect natural gas and coal production will drop as well. Spare parts for almost anything will be difficult to get, because of the need for the system of international trade to support making these parts. High tech goods such as computers and phones will be especially difficult to purchase. All of these changes will result in a loss of most of the fossil fuel economy and the high tech renewables that these fossil fuels support.

A Forecast of Future Energy Supplies and their Impact

A rough estimate of the amounts by which energy supply will drop is given in Figure 9, below.

Figure 9. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

Figure 9. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

The issue we will be encountering could be much better described as “Limits to Growth” than “Peak Oil.” Massive job layoffs will occur, as fuel use declines. Governments will find that their finances are even more pressured than today, with calls for new programs at the time revenue is dropping dramatically. Debt defaults will be a huge problem. International trade will drop, especially to countries with the worst financial problems.

One big issue will be the need to reorganize governments in a new, much less expensive  way. In some cases, countries will break up into smaller units, as the Former Soviet Union did in 1991. In some cases, the situation will go back to local tribes with tribal leaders. The next challenge will be to try to get the governments to act in a somewhat co-ordinated way.  There may need to be more than one set of governmental changes, as the global energy supplies decline.

We will also need to begin manufacturing goods locally, at a time when debt financing no longer works very well, and governments are no longer maintaining roads. We will have to figure out new approaches, without the benefit of high tech goods like computers. With all of the disruption, the electric grid will not last very long either. The question will become: what can we do with local materials, to get some sort of economy going again?


There are a lot of proposed solutions to our problem. Most will not work well because the nature of the problem is different from what most people have expected.

1. Substitution. We don’t have time. Furthermore, whatever substitutions we make need to be with cheap local materials, if we expect them to be long-lasting. They also must not over-use resources such as wood, which is in limited supply.

Electricity is likely to decline in availability almost as quickly as oil because of inability to keep up the electrical grid and other disruptions (such as failing governments, lack of oil to lubricate machinery, lack of replacement parts, bankruptcy of companies involved with the production of electricity) so is not really a long-term solution to oil limits.

2. Efficiency. Again, we don’t have time to do much. Higher mileage cars tend to be more expensive, replacing one problem with another. A big problem in the future will be lack of road maintenance. Theoretical gains in efficiency may not hold in the real world. Also, as governments reduce services and often fail, lenders will be unwilling to lend funds for new projects which would in theory improve efficiency.

In some cases, simple devices may provide efficiency. For example, solar thermal can often be a good choice for heating hot water. These devices should be long-lasting.

3. Wind turbines. Current industrial type wind turbines will be hard to maintain, so are  unlikely to be long-lasting. The need for investment capital for wind turbines will compete with other needs for investment capital. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will drop dramatically, with or without wind turbines.

On the other hand, simple wind mills made with local materials may work for the long term. They are likely to be most useful for mechanical energy, such as pumping water or powering looms for cloth.

4. Solar Panels. Promised incentive plans to help homeowners pay for solar panels can be expected to mostly fall through. Inverters and batteries will need replacement, but probably will not be available. Handy homeowners who can rewire the solar panels for use apart from the grid may find them useful for devices that can run on direct current. As part of the electric grid, solar panels will not add to its lifetime. It probably will not be possible to make solar panels for very many years, as the fossil fuel economy reaches limits.

5. Shale Oil. Shale oil is an example of a product with very high investment costs, and returns which are doubtful at best. Big companies who have tried to extract shale oil have decided the rewards really aren’t there. Smaller companies have somehow been able to put together financial statements claiming profits, based on hoped for future production and very low interest rates.

Costs for extracting shale oil outside the US for shale oil are likely to be even higher than in the US. This happens because the US has laws that enable production (landowner gets a share of profits) and other beneficial situations such as pipelines in place, plentiful water supplies, and low population in areas where fracking is done. If countries decide to ramp up shale oil production, they are likely to run into similarly hugely negative cash flow situations. It is hard to see that these operations will save the world from its financial (and energy) problems.

6. Taxes. Taxes need to be very carefully structured, to have any carbon deterrent benefit. If part of taxes consumers would normally pay to the government are levied on fuel for vehicles, the practice can encourage more the use of more efficient vehicles.

On the other hand, if carbon taxes are levied on businesses, the taxes tend to encourage businesses to move their production to other, lower-cost countries. The shift in production leads to the use of more coal for electricity, rather than less. In theory, carbon taxes could be paired with a very high tax on imported goods made with coal, but this has not been done. Without such a pairing, carbon taxes seem likely to raise world CO2 emissions.

7.  Steady State Economy. Herman Daly was the editor of a book in 1973 called Toward a Steady State Economy, proposing that the world work toward a Steady State economy, instead of growth. Back in 1973, when resources were still fairly plentiful, such an approach would have acted to hold off  Limits to Growth for quite a few years, especially if zero population growth were included in the approach.  

Today, it is far too late for such an approach to work. We are already in a situation with very depleted resources. We can’t keep up current production levels if we want to–to do so would require greatly ramping up energy production because of the rising need for energy investment to maintain current production, discussed in Item (1) of Our Energy Predicament. Collapse will probably be impossible to avoid. We can’t even hope for an outcome as good as a Steady State Economy.

7. Basing Choice of Additional Energy Generation on EROI Calculations. In my view, basing new energy investment on EROI calculations is an iffy prospect at best. EROI calculations measure a theoretical piece of the whole system–“energy at the well-head.” Thus, they miss important parts of the system, which affect both EROI and cost. They also overlook timing, so can indicate that an investment is good, even if it digs a huge financial hole for organizations making the investment. EROI calculations also don’t consider repairability issues which may shorten real-world lifetimes.

Regardless of EROI indications, it is important to consider the likely financial outcome as well. If products are to be competitive in the world marketplace, electricity needs to be inexpensive, regardless of what the EROI calculations seem to say. Our real problem is lack of investment capital–something that is gobbled up at prodigious rates by energy generation devices whose costs occur primarily at the beginning of their lives. We need to be careful to use our investment capital wisely, not for fads that are expensive and won’t hold up for the long run.

8. Demand Reduction. This really needs to be the major way we move away from fossil fuels. Even if we don’t have other options, fossil fuels will move away from us. Encouraging couples to have smaller families would seem to be a good choice. 

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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630 Responses to A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work

  1. JP H says:

    HnH alluded to the nationalization of parts of the system – without doubt that will include the energy majors themselves further roiling the picture.

  2. Thomas Stone says:

    Ore quality degradation supported by http://phys.org/news/2014-01-costly-ores-rich.html

    • Thanks. That is a very good article. One quote:

      The minerals industry has seen an increase in production costs of 70% since the mid 1980s and ore quality has, on average, declined by 50%.

      I note that it says that iron costs have increased more than others. The chart I show of base minerals excludes iron (because that is the way the World Bank puts together its index). If the index included iron, the increase would be worse.

  3. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Gail, here is another great article on the rising costs of extraction from peakoil.com: http://peakoil.com/production/big-oil-companies-struggle-to-justify-soaring-project-costs
    Not much to show for 120 billion expended to increase extraction.

  4. edpell says:

    There are four kinds of debt/credit.
    1) Debt owed to rich individuals. If it is repudiated the worst that happens is the person is anger but still well feed and housed.
    2) Debt owed to low income retired people. If it is repudiated people starve, but even that need not destroy the system.
    3) Debt owed to business that do something useful. If that is not paid then that business does less or none at all of whatever – mining, oil drilling, food growing, etc.. society steps downward
    4) Debt owed to banks. The bank goes bankrupt and new banks are started. Some temporary delays in the system but it carries on. Without confidence no large quantity of new capital is possible. It takes time to build trust.

    It is #3 and #4 that represents the inability to marshal resources for new production be it food or oil.

    • I think it is the inability to put together new banks on a reasonable basis, and the failure of governments of countries that don’t have banks, that does us in. Also, money issued by some new small country or little tribe does little to purchase goods outside that tribe. There needs to be international (or perhaps intertribal) trade to make goods and services of the type we have today. It is that problem that is likely to completely mess us up.

  5. donn Hewes says:

    Just a few thoughts that occur to me. I believe in everything Gail has laid out on this site. If it were me I would say the same message without saying “2015” or some precise moment. While big forces will not be turned, there will still be the hundred little catalysts that are really unpredictable. One example comes to mind. many folks say the Fed can’t continue with their bond buying much longer. No one I have read says exactly what and when they will be prevented form continuing this practice.
    two graphs I find interesting and one I would like to see. First, the unemployment graph should all ways be shown along side the work place participation rate graph. They are well on theor way to taking the unemployment rate to zero, while no one can get a job. The graph I would find an interesting indcator of our current economy is a home price graph that was broken into a top third, middle third, and bottom third groups. We keep hearing how home prices have been rising lately and helping the slow economy. I suspect that the same folks that are gaining from a rising stock market are experiencing their home values going up; while the rest of us are not.
    great work, keep it up. Mulemandonn

    • Thanks! I don’t think I am saying 2015 precisely. The graph looks that way, because I am only showing points at five year intervals. If I showed individual points, it would be somewhat smoother, and the point could be 2014 or 2016–but it is about now.

      The financial system really has not been fixed since 2008. If interest rates rise, because of the end of QE or because the US dollar loses its place as reserve currency, we will have big problems. There are other problems that could bring down the system as well. We have a networked system, so even if it is Europe of Japan that fails first (or some Middle Eastern countries), it will tend to pull down others.

  6. Bill Simpson says:

    I think people will discover that without electricity from the grid, few people will be able to survive more than a few weeks. As someone who went without it for about 8 days in Slidell after Hurricane Katrina, I can tell you that virtually nothing works without electricity. You need it to refine oil, and it can’t be intermittent power because refineries can’t be frequently stopped and started. You need the electric grid energized to pump oil and oil products.
    Without electricity, cities in developed countries can’t function. There is no light, no refrigeration or heating, no water or sewer treatment, no communication after a few days, no subways, no traffic signals, no elevators, no Internet or financial transactions, no food processing, and a long list of other problems. I doubt if the government officials will ever let the grid fail. But if they do, very few of you will survive a full month after it fails. That is a fact. There is a big difference between living without electricity for a few days, and living without it for a few weeks. It is the difference between life and death.

    • xabier says:


      Few of us grasp this, having been brought up in the complex machines we call cities: a complexity and vulnerability which didn’t exist until very recently. What use is a machine without fuel?

    • justeunperdant says:

      Drinking water will become the main problem once the electrical grid goes down. Without water you can barely survive two days. You can survive two to three weeks without food.

      Any good good get away bag, puts water and heat as higher priority then food.

      • xabier says:


        The experience of millions in WW2 in Europe shows that one can survive for a long time indeed in a malnourished state, (although very vulnerable to infection as a result) but, as you say, without liquids, hardly anytime at all.

        Excellent high-quality bulk water filters are very cheap today and readily available, with spare parts, and here I have easy access to a river and local streams, as well as being able to catch and store water off a lot of roofing, which covers every base. I would not be happy to be in a town apartment in an area with water supply problems…..

    • I agree that almost everything that we use today uses electricity, especially in the city where water must be pumped uphill electrically. Electricity is also used in the sewage treatment plants. There are so many people in cities, that we would have a lot more disease if we had to get along without modern sewers and water treatment plants.

      Back 100 years ago, economies were planned without electricity, and it was not a huge problem. Now that we have electricity, we use it everywhere. This is an example of why we don’t just have one problem, like peak oil, or no electricity. We end up with a problem that is very difficult to work around, even for those who want to try. I have been saying that our economy is a complex adaptive system. It adapts to the technology we have today. This technology uses both oil and electricity. It is very difficult to get along without for very long.

      Even having a solar panel or two is not too helpful. First, they don’t fix basic problems like the water and sewer systems, unless that is where they are used. Inverters and batteries wear out quickly, so I am doubtful that they would be long lasting for using alternating current or working at night. This would be the case, whether the city attempts to use them to keep water and sewer going, or a homeowner tries to use them. They would work best for keeping today’s computers and phones charged, until the batteries in the computers and phones wear out, or for pumping water from a stream (as long as the pump still works).

  7. edpell says:

    Gail, super article. Why do you show nuclear declining right away? I agree no new plants will be build after the slowdown starts. But existing plants can carry on for 30 years. I do not see them needing much repair.

    I still hold out some hope for land based wind and PV. Also for Kirk Sorenson’s thorium reactors see http://www.flibe-energy.com

    • Gails graph seems to show to me that nuclear and renewables seems to add about the same to our total energy mix through 2035. The big drop in Gail’s graph seems to me to be coal, oil and natural gas.

      • I did try to let renewables drop less than others. The main thing helping is that some hydro-electric would remain working. Perhaps there would be enough transmission lines working near the hydroelectric that those living in the vicinity would be OK. (I know that Charles Hall retired to Montana, near a hydro-electric plant, with this in mind.) There would also be wood as a fuel–something that is used today as a fuel as well. It might increase in use, as in Greece. This isn’t necessarily good; it could mean widespread deforestation.

        • edpell says:

          Yes, people use wood. If the electric goes out I will use wood. I will not deforest because I have enough wood lot for my family. I will defend the wood lot from use by others. Of course if over powered by others I am trouble. In my little valley there are a few hundred people many with guns. The access points are controllable so I have some level of hope.

    • Nuclear is already declining in Europe, and some of US plants are being closed as well, for financial reasons generally. BP shows the peak in nuclear production to be in 2006. I expect 2013 will show more decline. A lot of European and US plants are reaching the ends of their planned lifetimes. We don’t have the money to replace more than a few of them, and I am not sure that people are really convinced that they are safe. We don’t have a plan for the spent fuel, and if we are reaching Limits to Growth, with lots of governmental problems, there is likely to be more civil disorder. In theory, we can get fuel for nuclear power plants indefinitely, but that may be less true if the governments of countries producing the fuel are collapsing, and if there is not credit available for investment in uranium extraction. Uranium prices are now quite low http://www.uxc.com/review/uxc_Prices.aspx In fact, at this price level a person would expect that production would drop back.

      I think it is too late for thorium reactors. Anything new is hard to get approved. Also, nuclear doesn’t fix our liquid fuel problem.

      • edpell says:

        Gail, now that you mention it Vermont Yankee nuclear just closed basically for financial reasons. There is talk of the owners shutdown Indian Point nuclear outside NYC again for money reasons. On the other hand the UAE are finishing 5000MW of nuclear by 2020. I guess they still have some capital to invest from their FF.

        • Yes, the UAE has capital to invest, and they know that electricity from oil is terribly expensive. They are not competing (very much) in the world market to sell goods other than oil, so even if electricity is somewhat high priced, it doesn’t hurt them. Also, there is a big range in cost of nuclear plants, depending on the level of safety devices added. UAE may be using lower cost approaches than would be allowed in the US or Europe.

      • Eclipse Now says:

        “Also, nuclear doesn’t fix our liquid fuel problem.” But it does *with* EV’s and boron and more public transport. Boron trucks can mine and harvesters can gather and cranes can build and dump trucks can dump and road crews can repair. Boron allows the infrastructure to carry on. Boron can do the heavy lifting: cheaper EV’s will allow the lighter loads. And pushbikes. And trains, trams, and trolley buses. Nuclear can provide the sheer electrical GRUNT to charge all that (with its very high EROEI). So nuclear power on its own produces electricity, for sure. Boron and EV’s only have to grow slightly faster than oil declines. Then the liquid fuels problem is solved, and we’ll have cleaner air and cities, and we’ll wonder why we didn’t do it decades ago. (We’ve had IFR technology for decades).

        • How do we ever get to the point where we can afford all of the expensive battery powered cars? Most citizens can’t afford them now, and the government can’t afford to subsidize them. Citizens will cutback on other spending, if they need to spend a large share of their salaries on battery-powered cars.

          Another problem is that the government wont’t be able to maintain the roads, partly because it can’t afford it and partly because it needs oil to maintain the roads. Businesses or governments need oil to maintain all of the electrical transmission lines as well.

          • Chris Johnson says:

            Re ‘expensive battery powered cars’: are you aware that the production cost / sales price of battery packs for EV’s has been dropping by about 50% per year for the last 5 years. In fact, within the next 5 years the technical experts in the automotive industry are expecting the cost of EV powerpacks to drop to equivalence with gasoline powered engines.
            Re maintaining roads and electrical transmission lines, I hope you are not proposing that they will all die at once. Much more likely is gradual reduction of oil supplies, offset by increased production of EVs…
            By the way, have you considered the bitumin content of the Tar Sands? Minimal refining required for a huge road repair supply, but extensive refining needed to make fuel, fertilizer or anything else. And lots of pollution…

  8. Phil Harris says:

    WSJ quote:
    “But the three oil giants have little to show for all their big spending. Oil and gas production are down despite combined capital expenses of a half-trillion dollars in the past five years. Each company is expected to report later this week a profit decline for 2013 compared with 2012, even though oil prices are high.”

    But 2015?
    Several others have asked why so soon? Financial return on investment becomes low enough that it becomes a collapsing bubble? Just guessing.

    • QE seems to be the scotch tape that is giving the ultraslow interest rates that have allowed us to go this far. These ultra-low interest rates have allowed a lot of investment in oil that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Some of it is the low cost of debt; some of it is equity investment that can’t find a better home, so is willing to invest in Bakken oil companies with negative cash flow and claims of profitability (that look pretty iffy if you look at the numbers closely). If interest rates go up, we lose this bubble, besides seeing a big downturn in housing prices. I expect stock market prices will fall as well, and there will be a spike in debt defaults.

      IF unwinding QE doesn’t do us in, we have a choice of other problems–low earnings for oil companies, Europe’s problems, Japan’s problems, and a number of other countries around the world either in collapse, or nearing it. China seems to be having debt problems too. It really needs to grow rapidly, to keep far enough ahead of its debt bubble. The world is so interconnected today, that a problem in one part of the world is likely to lead to problems elsewhere.

      • BC says:

        Gail and all, the financial conditions you describe have already arrived, only the scale effects have yet to take hold.

        For example, the cumulative imputed compounding interest on total credit market debt outstanding to average term is now equivalent to private GDP. Total annual financial profits as a share of GDP now exceed the growth of nominal GDP.

        Therefore, the net debt service costs flowing to the financial sector as a share of GDP already preclude growth of nominal GDP after debt service.

        Moreover, looking at deposits/money supply currently, after hoarded bank cash assets, deposits/money supply are/is contracting yoy.

        Combine the two coincident phenomena, and the US is already into a contracting debt-money deflationary regime, only most of us don’t realize it because we have been conditioned for nearly three generations by inflation/disinflation.

        Take a look at the recent data for real US disposable personal income, which is contracting yoy in line with contracting deposits/money supply less bank cash assets.

        Finally, household formations are contracting yoy for the first time in the post-WW II era. Economists and housing bulls don’t yet realize that Millennials do not have the paid employment and after-tax incomes to form and sustain the typical suburban/exurban/penturban household. The housing market is heading for another cyclical deflationary downturn.

        Deflation is here, next manifesting in services, and the effects will be global. Soon it will be apparent that there is insufficient growth of employment, real income after tax and debt service, purchasing power, and overall liquidity and cash flow for households and businesses to avoid a deflationary contraction.

        Extreme wealth and income concentration to the top 0.01-0.1% to 1% and disproportionate flows to the financial sector as a share of GDP are by definition deflationary for the bottom 90-99%.

        • Thanks for pointing these things out. After a certain point, debt is such a big cost that it starts interfering with GDP growth.

          The recent contraction in debt of course directly affect the amount consumers can afford. If they are adding debt, they can buy in addition to the amount their salaries would provide. If they are reducing debt, it works the opposite way. Increasing government debt has helped to hide this trend. Educational debt (quite a bit of it through government programs) also has been increasing.

          I know my own three young adult children are having difficulty with getting established. None is married or owns property. One was recently laid off from work. I bought a fairly nice condo when I was 28. My kids couldn’t have considered this.

          • BC says:

            “I know my own three young adult children are having difficulty with getting established. None is married or owns property. One was recently laid off from work. I bought a fairly nice condo when I was 28. My kids couldn’t have considered this.”

            Gail, this is the emerging normative condition today for those under 35. The average FICO score for this demographic segment is 628 (scale of 300-850).

            Real consumer credit per houshold,
            Real median US household income,
            Real median US house price,
            Real US wages per capita:


            Real consumer credit per household less student loans:


            Total consumer credit per household today is twice the level as when peak Boomers entered the labor force in the 1970s, whereas real wages and real median household income are back to the levels of 1998 and 1986 respectively.

            Were the real median house price to reflect real wages and real household income, the median US house price would be 15% to 25-30% lower today. Perceived differently, the real cost of housing to real wages and income is as much as ~30-40% higher for peak Millennials today than for peak Boomers in the 1970s.

            Growth of the mass-consumer economy per capita in real terms is over, only most of us don’t yet know it. The bottom 90-99%+ of Millennials will experience a decline in their material standard of consumption in real terms per capita over their lifetimes. The only practical long-term solution is for them to double and triple up for employment, housing, utilities, transportation, etc., forgo having children, and learn to find comfort, purpose, and meaning beyond the crass, hyper-commercialization and -commodification of existence.

            • Thanks! It is a very difficult situation for today’s young people. Fortunately the son who got laid off lives with us. He is the one with Aspergers’ Syndrome. The handicapped have an especially hard time of it.

      • John Dunn says:

        Gail :
        This QE thing has me scratching my head. I just can’t get past the thought that QE hides something. And we’re missing (that), something hidden in plain sight. Let me elaborate. If you strip away all the bank assets, fed bond, swap, stuff first, to clear the core thinking?
        ~ Debt is an account, but it is not tangible, it has no real existence other than on a hard drive or ledger. So for the thought experiment.
        Let’s say we have a debt of (minus) $ 1000,000,000,000 on the books.
        ~ QE (As with Debt), is also an account, and is not tangible, and has no real existence other than on a hard drive or ledger. Let’s give QE a number.
        Let’s say we create some QE, (plus) $ 1000,000,000,000 on the books.
        What we have done here, surely is simply cancel out a (-) with a (+), but to the tune of billions. A minus + a plus = 0
        QE it seems to me, was in fact a kind of back door Debt Jubilee for the system. It was never designed to help the wider economy, which is why no-one can quite work out where all the QE money went. It didn’t go anywhere!!, because QE’s sole purpose was to throw a whole lot of pretend (++++++++’s), at a whole lot of pretend ( – – – – – – – – ‘s) to cancel each other out. In other words a Debt Jubilee for an incompetent banking system.
        Here is a link that perhaps better explains the point.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          @John Dunn:
          Is it proper to regard the margins as the financial engine that powers the entire system? If so, then reducing the fundamental margin to insignificance surely cannot energize much of anything.

          • John Dunn says:

            I’m simply pointing out that QE is little more than a fire-hose of imaginary (+) positives, intended to extinguish a banking system laden with too many imaginary (-) negatives.
            QE, might very well taper, i.e. the pressure from the fire-hose turned down, but it will never be reversed. Because there is (0) zero, nothing there, TOO reverse.
            And the reason interest rates will rise as the taper progresses, is because the banking system fire still rages with many (-), negatives that the QE fire-hose (+) positives, never got to.

        • Interesting point! But that further makes it clear that it is totally impossible to unwind QE. If you do, you are brining the debt back, in addition to “normal” debt add ons.

          • Chris Johnson says:

            To Gail and all other financial analysts:
            Does QE not play another role, that of preventing / avoiding deflation by stashing so much cash in vaults all over the country & world that can be released into the local mix to maintain a slight inflationary appearance without the Fed (either district or central bank) saying a word. It all just sorta happens, kind of like the way the Chinese manipulate their growth percentages… Of course, I could well be wrong, and it probably doesn’t matter that much.

        • BC says:

          QE was effectively the Too-Big-to-Exist (TBTE) banks using their ownership of the central bank’s reserve printing press to print themselves $3 trillion in no-cost bank reserves to bail out their insolvent balance sheets, resulting in the TBTE banks having hoarded $2.5 trillion to date.

          Bank lending has not increased since 2007 and is contracting yoy along with bank deposits less bank cash assets.

          Banks still have a total of ~$375 billion in charge-offs and delinquencies (CO&Ds) on their balance sheets, which is near the secular high going back to the Great Depression.

          Additionally, net interest on the federal debt is $400 billion/year.

          Therefore, the combined CO&Ds and net interest of ~$800 billion is why the TBTE banks are still directing the Fed to print $65 billion/month. In effect, the banks print themselves enough to cover CO&Ds and to provide liquidity to purchase gov’t issuances, some of the proceeds of which go to federal net interest payments to keep the process going.

          QE has next to nothing to do with “stimulating” the economy or reducing unemployment and other such silliness Fed officials espouse as political cover for the TBTE banks’ license to steal labor product, profits, and gov’t receipts in perpetuity.

          • Interesting theory!

            QE may not have anything to do with stimulating the economy, but I would argue that it its absence, we would see collapsing banks and higher interest rates. So QE is holding the economy together with bailing wire and twine, preventing dire outcomes.

          • Chris Johnson says:

            BC, What an eye-popping idea. But how to confirm it? And what to do about it? If Marx was basically correct — that they would end up owning everything — is there anything we can do about it?

          • BC says:

            Gail, Chris, et al., there is no reply link after your respective replies, so I am replying to myself in lieu of not being able to reply to Gail or Chris directly.

            Please consider Mr. Duncan’s analysis, perspective, and expecations:


            Please forgive me, but in my 25-30 years of economic and financial markets analyses, strategic investment advisory, asset allocation, trading, and hedging of equity, interest rate, and foreign exchange risks, my best estimate is that no more than 10% of the population ACTUALLY understands how the US financial system and economy functions, including the purpose, function, and objective of the Federal Reserve; and perhaps no more than 1% or fewer understand the system well enough to profit from the asymmetrical information from its functioning. The vast majority of us are quite literally CLUELESS about how debilitatingly exploitative the system is, i.e., purposefully “educated” NOT to know.

            In fact, I can say without reservation that, were the typical person to understand how the system ACTUALLY functions, the response would be mass-social revolt against the existing financial, economic, and politcal system that effectively rewards the top 0.01-0.1% to 1% at the cost of everyone else.

            To answer Chris’s question, at present, given the nature of the system’s hierarchical structure of power relations, division of labor, and wealth and income distribution, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that you, anyone, or I can do to affect change within the existing structure, and this has been the starting point for every mass-social r-evolution in human history and the impetus for genuine progress of the human ape species.

            Consider yourself informed. Whether you are sufficiently inspired is your choice.

  9. rob222 says:

    Gail, What do you think of Robert Hirsch’s committee review of Lawrenceville Plasma Physic’s Focus Fusion and how my that change your views?

    • Our problem is a financial problem here and now. It is related to the high cost of producing liquid fuels.

      As I understand it, the Hirsch committee said that the innovative research effort level of this group “deserves a much higher level of investment . . . based on their considerable progress to date.” Even if fusion were here tomorrow, it would only give us electricity–not cheap liquid fuels. It will take a lot of fossil fuel investment to do very much. I see it as a theoretical way to perhaps stop climate change, not solve our financial problem or our need for cheap liquid fuel. It is likely too late to do much of anything.

      • Eclipse Now says:

        Hi Gail,
        But a good electrical grid is the key to getting off oil when 70% of American driving can be charged by unused existing capacity overnight. (NREL).

        I don’t want to rave too much about higher end luxury EV’s, because that’s not going to help the average Aussie or American. But the fact that Tesla remains profitable helps Elon Musk realise his goal of mass producing affordable family-cars, not just the luxury end. The Gen3 is mean to be around $30,000 to $40,000.

        “Tesla sold 6,900 cars in the 4th quarter of 2013. Tesla facing trouble in meeting the growing demand for its Model S. The auto maker is working on overcoming this limitation. The firm extended its agreement with Panasonic, last year in November, whereby it will supply about 2 billion automotive grade lithium-ion battery cells to the firm for the next four years. This is sufficient to produce around 300K cars [about 75000 cars per year on average, but about 40K this year and 100K in later years]. Tesla Motors also might open a battery giga factory to increase cell production.

        Tesla is projected to produce 100,000 cars in 2016 Tesla would need to produce 200,000 Model S and Model X vehicles and 600,000 Gen IIIs in 2020 to maintain its stock position.

        So EV’s are on the way, and once the oil situation *really* starts to hurt economies the public will exponentially switch over to this next big thing. Then we’ll probably see a race between boron and EV’s. As EV’s enter the market and start eating up some of that overnight electricity, domestic oil demand will be cut some slack. The downward curve of oil will be offset by the upward curve of EV’s and boron. And the petrochemical sector can make high grade motor lubricants and sunglasses and plastics from household rubbish thrown through a plasma burner, so oil as an *ingredient* can be replaced by other sources. With enough electricity, we can get through this. Oil will be shown to be just another commodity after all. It can, and will, be replaced. One way or another. Now nations *could* fight over the last drops, or they could unite around James Hansen’s vision for a post-fossil fuel world. The way it goes largely depends on the type of memes we sow.

        • The problem in changing to EVs is not lack of electrical capacity. It is

          1. Failure of the financial system in near term. This will eliminate ability to borrow to buy expensive cars. Government subsidies will go away. Many fewer will have jobs. All of this will cut back on ability of citizens to buy EVs.

          2. Government inability to maintain roads as their finances fail. What good is an EV, without roads?

          3. Utility inability to maintain electric power lines. Also their ability to maintain sufficient profitability to operate, with fewer potential customers being able to afford services.

          4. Capacity aside, there still needs to be more fuel added to power the EVs. This has to include all of the parts of the system–bringing coal by rail using diesel fuel, importing uranium from somewhere, or extracting and transporting natural gas. As nuclear plants go offline because of age, we will need more capacity of other types from elsewhere.

          5. Failure of governments as we go along. If a government fails, we no longer have laws, or anyone with the responsibility for enforcing laws. This is a problem. Perhaps new methods come about quickly–or perhaps not. Without banks, it is really difficult to pay employees.

          • Eclipse Now says:

            Why do you think this financial collapse will be different to the GD? During the Great Depression they built the Hoover Dam to create jobs. Then, in a world with hardly any personal cars, the economy gradually grew around oil and cars and the building of the interstate highway system on a *fraction* of the oil we use today. Oil is not going to *vanish* overnight: Hubbert’s peak and even the export land model do not suggest that. Instead, there will be various rationing systems imposed, depending on the country and local resources and those trading contracts that remain intact after the Export Land Model tensions are worked out. Rationing of oil will see to the maintenance of the most important infrastructure as the new model comes online.

            “4. Capacity aside, there still needs to be more fuel added to power the EVs.”
            It takes about 16 years to turn most of the car fleet over, so because NREL says 70% of Americans could charge at night, extra capacity for the EV market is not going to be an issue for a decade at least. If the government mandated that no new cars could be oil based, but domestic family driving *had* to be EV, then natural attrition of the old paradigm ICE cars would probably occur faster than peak oil’s depletion rate.

            I simply don’t agree that government failure is inevitable, or that this economic crisis has to be the last. Drastic things can and probably will happen to avert Mad Max. Culture’s will change, and when society gets *serious* about energy then serious and optimistic scientific bodies like James Hansen’s SCGI will come to the public’s attention. Rationing the remaining oil and gas and coal will be directed into *massive* build outs of nuclear power and oil replacements (like boron & EV’s & fast rail & airships & synfuel for jets) and will stimulate the economy in new directions. Instead of America sending $600 billion overseas every year buying other nation’s oil, America can put this $6 TRILLION dollars / decade into local boron & EV jobs. Just this $600 billion annual redirection of funds into the USA will have a restorative effect after the GD. Maybe it will make the USA more protectionist in economic policies? Maybe there will be a resurgence in protection for local manufacturing jobs? Whatever the case, locally sourcing oil alternatives will create a substantial, if not total, recover package as America weans off oil and on to boron, EV’s, and trolley buses (which are 5 times cheaper to build than trams and much faster to deploy).

            • The big thing that got us out of the Great Depression was World War II, and the ramping up of debt that permitted. It also allowed a great deal more fossil fuel use, and more people (women especially) added to the labor force.

              I don’t care what Export Land Model says or for that matter what Hubbert Peak Model says. The models are basically temporary models, that work as long as world oil supply is increasing, but they definitely do not work when total oil supply in declining. Hubbert did not claim his model would work on the downslope without other fuel–he always provided another fuel rising in great quantity, before the downslope hit. Hubbert’s Peak model is a mis-interpretation of what HUbbert said. An obvious problem is that it becomes impossible to feed the large population that has grown on the upslope. Without food, these people will be very unhappy, and things will be quite different.

              Hubbert's view of nuclears' role before peak

              The reason why government failure is inevitable is because government taxes are only available out of the surpluses of the economy. Cheap fossil fuels are what make these possible. As fossil fuel availability falls, the number of people with jobs will drop dramatically, because fossil fuels enable virtually every fossil fuels. With the lower number of people with jobs, it will be impossible to collect enough taxes from everyone to pay for promised benefits. While it may be that a few governments will be able to hang together, even as they dramatically cut programs such as universal healthcare, pensions for the elderly, education, road maintenance, and police/armies, I expect it will be easier just to start over. Or the federal level will collapse, allowing (requiring) states to handle everything on their own.

      • DrTskoul says:

        You can make fuels with ample available electricity. The problem has not been the way to do it but rather the availability of cheap electricity. I can think of at least ten unique routes to get liquid fuels from water and CO2 if electricity availability was not a problem.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          To Dr.Tskoul, Gail, and others who may believe the human ape has a few tricks up his/her sleeve.
          You might be interested in knowing that a project is now achieving results far more satisfactory than anyone expected. It’s goal: to inexpensively transform natural gas to gasoline. By inexpensive, they are getting it down to half the price of gasoline sold on the market. Natural gas is not expected to run out in 10 years, at least in the USA, and certainly not in Asia. Both China and Russia have vast deposits, as do other countries. Also Europe, but the French want to preserve their wine crop and the Germans want to preserve their coal smog, or something…
          Negativity is understandable, but shouldn’t be the last word.
          Cordially, CWJ

          • Chris Johnson says:

            Dumkopf me, I forgot to name the company doing the novel research: it’s Siluria, established in California by a MIT trained Phd lady who appears to have broken the code.

          • timl2k11 says:

            The irony is that even if this were successful, natural gas wouldn’t last nearly 10 years. You’re just replacing one problem with another, the scarcity of crude with the scarcity of natural gas! Unbelievable!

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Well, BP and EIA and just about every other source I could find talk in terms of 187.3 trillion cubic meters lasting 55 years of natural gas reserves. And that was the 2012 number, which didn’t include recent findings in Europe and Asia. Tell you what, if it turns out that we only have 10 years left, then I’ll buy you a bottle of champagne.

            • The limit is investment capital not natural gas or coal or oil in the ground. The limit comes much before the funny published numbers suggest. The limit is a financial one. See my post Why EIA, IEA, and Randers’ 2052 Energy For Forecasts are Wrong.

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Re ‘the limit is investment capital not natural gas or coal or oil in the ground.’ Gail, I apologize up front, but I cannot accept that the USG or any other sapient government is willing at this time to throw in the towel due to a lack of investment cash. The world is still awash in cash, owned / controlled by the 1% of 1/10 of 1% or whatever. Atlas shrugs every now and the, but I’d bet my life that if the Treasurer of the United States needed to make something big happen, say in the Trillion dollar range, or the 10 Trillion dollar range, mox nix, arranging it would take two, perhaps three phone calls. The tricky part is distributing all the goodies and maintaining control. But money? that’s what printing presses are for.

            • The problem is not really printed cash. It is the physical capital – oil and coal and gas and steel. As we use more oil for investment capital just to keep existing operations going, then there is less oil for creating growth. It is the physical problem that underlies limits to growth.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail
              May I interject myself into this discussion, because I think it is very important.

              There is no doubt that, if the physical capital to do something is absent, then it doesn’t get done. A band of survivors on a tropical island can print all the money they want to, but that doesn’t give them the ability to build a steel mill.

              However, in the world we live in, there is still a lot of capital. The access to this capital is printed money. When the government prints more money and gives it to favored causes, then those favored causes can command more of the real capital. If the governments decide that fracked gas is extremely important, they can print some money and give it to landowners to compensate them for the ‘pain and suffering’ they will incur (as I understand Britain is doing). So the fracking operations are able to externalize certain costs onto the government and hence the taxpayers, making fracking financially attractive where it might not be if they had to compensate the landowners themselves.

              As the US, and other countries, have printed money, that money has ended up primarily with the One Percent and the financial institutions. Thus, the claims on real capital have been shifted in favor of the One Percent and the financial institutions, and away from the ordinary person who simply works for a living.

              This is in line with Nicole Foss’ longtime claim that, ‘when people realize that there aren’t enough real assets to pay off the claims, then the scramble for real assets will start’. And most people will be left holding the bag.

              The practical application to oil is, I think, as follows. The government can, through various mechanisms, including military force, subsidize the production of oil. The Bush II administration tried to subsidize the oil business by conquering Iraq, and spent 3 trillion dollars on it. The 3 trillion was at the expense of the US taxpayer. If oil shortages begin to really bind, then the government can simply buy bonds issued by the drilling companies, as the government purchased mortage backed securities.

              Even the governments won’t be able to get blood out of a turnip, but it seems to me that a determined government can keep oil production at the expense of the rest of the economy for some time. I won’t argue that doing so is a smart or long term sustainable activity, just that governments have been known to do much worse.

              Don Stewart

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Thank you, Don.

              And Gail, please accept my humble apologies. I’ll not argue the accounting for the various debits: people, resources, machinery, etc. My point is quite simply that our financial resources are neither unlimited no severely constrained, as of this date. Now that could conceivably change, perhaps in the blink of an eye. I’m not smart enough to argue that, either side.

              Don, your patient explanation expresses very well the point I was trying to make. I may well be wrong, but when we hear that all the gigabucks the Fed has printed and distributed for the last half dozen years are mostly still in bank vaults, unused, unspent, not in circulation due to demand being lower than supply — then the question becomes ‘why do that in the first place’? And one plausible answer is that governments like to manipulate stuff sometimes without anybody really knowing much about it. And those that do they can squeeze.

              Do you remember the LTCM (Long Term Capital Management) collapse in 1997? (I think it was 97…) They got caught overexposed to Russian debt to the tune of $700 plus Billion. Just before causing a big sucking noise on Wall Street, the Treasury made a few phone calls and the problems all went away. The power chiefs somehow lost their mojo 10 years later when the Lehman Brothers could have been saved with similar treatment — maybe — but nobody was really interested in trying, perhaps because the seniorest players all knew the party was ending. They also may have thought it might be educational to see how the ‘market’ really does correct itself. Or not
              Bottom line: is there plenty of money available for whatever needs to be done? Yep. I’m not smart enough to call thousand dollar bills ‘capital’ rather than ‘money’, so please forgive.

            • The capital we have has a huge amount of debt behind it. If the debt starts to evaporate, our ability to access this capital will disappear. We can only get this capital through the credit system, which we know is near breaking.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail
              It seems to me that it comes down to an either/ or:
              Either oil is a strategic material which is in short supply
              Oil is important, but free economic substitution will work if we let it.

              Let’s assume the first is correct: oil is strategic and in short supply. That means there is an awful lot of other stuff that is not in short supply. So a government would reason that doing whatever they have to in order to keep oil flowing for ‘essential’ uses may be the rational thing to do.

              We can look, for example, at the monetary history of the Confederacy in the US:

              The Confederacy had very limited ability to raise money through taxation, so they simply printed most of the paper that financed the war. As you would expect, this resulted in huge inflation. Most of the gold was stored in the North. Consequently, the rich in the Confederacy held monetary assets which were rapidly becoming worthless. Poor farmers who lived mostly by barter and self-sufficiency would have been much less affected. The paper notes that farmers moved away from growing for markets and moved toward farming for their own use.

              The Richmond Fed paper emphasizes the terribleness of the destruction of the currency…and, of course, says that the Confederates needed something very much like the modern Federal Reserve.

              My point is that the war did not end even as the paper money became worthless. The Confederate government found ways to supply its armies with guns and food. If the people who were so rabid for war in 1860 had been able to see the consequences, they might have been more amenable to a peaceful solution. But once the war started, it was a fight to the death. I imagine the same sort of thing happened in Germany in 1945. In The Third Man, Carroll Reed shows a Vienna where barter rules.

              Which tells me that governments have the ability to move strategic materials to where they want them, even as they break all the rules of economics. There is enormous waste of oil in the United States. We can see that simply by comparing the US to Europe or Japan. A determined government can squeeze out the waste and appropriate the oil for its own purposes. It won’t be pretty, but history tells me that governments can and probably will do it. I think the ‘voluntary’ mileage standards now in place for the auto industry may be the harbinger of things to come.

              Whether you say that the government has ‘collapsed’ and is no longer the government established by the Constituion depends mostly on how you want to use the words. The continuity would be in the ability to deploy deadly force…the military and police and spy apparatus. And also the ability to control the currency, as the Confederacy demonstrated.

              Don Stewart

            • I would add a third choice to your list:

              (3) Supply chains of all kinds are so badly broken that even having a little oil will do little good–workers can’t get to work, banks are closed, replacement parts for products of all kinds have “gone missing,” people are more concerned about lack of water and food than working at their jobs (where they won’t be paid anyway).

              Maybe there is some point early on where your two options make sense, but I think the basic issue is the “system breaking” like humpty dumpty, and not being able to be put back together again.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail
              After my response, I checked Dmitry Orlov’s post today. Some correspondence with Ugo Bardi relative to the different reactions to peak oil in the USSR and in Italy. Dmitry’s concluding statement:

              ‘But I think that you are exactly right that whereas the average Soviet citizen could not be fleeced, Italy, and much of the EU, still have plenty of fat sheep that the government can shear to keep things running. Thus we are looking at a few more years of steady decline before the lights start going out. This, then, is the key distinction: the USSR collapsed promptly because it was already skin and bones, whereas the US and the EU still have plenty of subcutaneous fat to burn through. But they are, in fact, burning through it. And so, the conclusion is, collapse will come, but here it will take a little longer.’

              The ‘fleecing’ is what I see in our immediate future. Abject collapse will happen when all the sheep are naked.

              Don Stewart

            • That may be right. It depends on how long the financial system holds up.

              Even with the Soviet Union, there was a delay between the time the decline in oil production started and the time the Soviet Union broke up. In the early years, exports were cut back, but Soviet consumption remained level.

          • Current gas to liquid projects are very front-end investment inventive (both stuff and $$). I expect the natural gas to gasoline project will be as well. If our limit is investment capital, building these plants will get us to the limit more quickly.

        • You are right. We just need very, very cheap electricity. M. King Hubbert talked about this when he thought nuclear would save us. He suggested “reversing combustion” with the too-cheap-to-meter nuclear electricity.

          • Chris Johnson says:

            @Gail and Dr. Tskoul re making gasoline from natural gas.
            Please take a look at the MIT Technology Review magazine article about Siluria,


            which is developing catalysts that convert natural gas into ethylene and water, and then the ethylene into gasoline, very cheaply, with very low electric power required. The low power requirements are very different from what you know about.

            Yes, you can say that it’s merely an R&D project and it doesn’t ‘exist yet’ in the market, so you’re not quite ready to consider that it could work or have any impact, but I would hope you might keep an open mind about things like this that are actually working and are likely to yield economically attractive results. Undue pessimism is as dangerous as undue optimism. Balance is good.

  10. John D says:

    Thanks Gail, you are the source of wisdom for our family since we met you at one of the 4 Quarters events a couple of years ago. Thanks for the doing the work! Comment and a question:

    Comment: Lots of people talk about “we” can do this or “we” will do that as if some sort of organized collective will still function in the midst of all this coming chaos (I’m of course assuming nothing will happen until a crisis begins in earnest). But I’d suggest that all semblance of “we” collapses very early in the powerdown; once the grocery stores begin to go empty, the government militarizes the energy industry as a strategic resource, oil rationing begins, etc, it will quickly devolve into every man/family/tribe for himself. Crime will overwhelm any semblance of social order, gangs will overwhelm any sense of organized police and the predator/prey instincts of humans will rule the process. I just can’t get my arms around anything less than social chaos beyond imagining. I guess that makes me the ultimate doomer!

    Question: That uber-doom comment said, in the short term why can’t the US Treasury just cut a check for, say, $100 trillion, cash it at the Fed, pay all of its debt everywhere (including that of all the states) and then have the Fed simply forgive the loan. Doesn’t that buy a short reprieve and keep the game afloat here in North America? Would it be hyper-inflationary if there are no new jobs and no cheap raw materials, so no new demand? I suspect there is a “reset” option such as this that will allow central govt to stay in business and in power.

    I no longer pretend to understand how it all works, however. Just wondering what that would do.

    john d.

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      Any reset ignores the problem of resource depletion, i.e. dropping eroei. As energy extraction costs more our complex society devolves. Think about it; EROEI descends while we insist on economic growth, which are headed in opposite directions. As Rod Serling would say, “At the sign post up ahead…”

    • A debt is in some sense an obligation to give the holder a share of future production from the economy. Big holders of debt are pension funds, banks, and insurance companies.

      As long as the economy was growing rapidly, and debt not too rapidly, there was sort of a match between the two. The catch comes when the economy begins slowing or shrinks. Suddenly there are far too many people who want claims on future output. There are folks who think that they are getting Social Security or Medicare. There are people who are to be paid pensions by their former employers. There are people with automobile and other types of insurance. Debt also underlies the funds people think they have in the bank. There are also some rich people who hold debt, who might not miss the money too much, if all the debt were forgiven.

      If the government eliminates all the debts, then the people who indirectly hold these debts don’t get a share of future production. Your bank balance isn’t worth anything. Your parents’ pensions aren’t there. Your insurance policies doesn’t mean anything.

      It would be hard to run an economy on this basis. We are so used to being able to make future promises, it would be hard to do without them. But of course nature doesn’t really make future promises. We have what we have today, and that is it. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Nature doesn’t offer us “I Owe You’s.”

      If the amount of food produced drops dramatically in future years, there will be a question: Who gets the food that is grown? Will it be the people who raised it? Will is be pensioners? Will it be the government to pay government workers? Without debt, certain people get left out of the distribution.

  11. jeremy890 says:

    I can hear it now,
    “Another fine mess you got me into to!”
    Yep, can’t wait for the blame game to play out.

  12. Judy says:

    Thanks for this post. Just to pick up on your very last sentence Gail, the global average number of children per couple is currently 2.36. The number of children being born each year has already peaked. See http://www.gapminder.org/videos/dont-panic-the-facts-about-population/ for a brilliant video which explains why the population is still growing slowly, even though the number of children born isn’t. I think you will like it Gail, as there are lots of great graphs :)

    I find it amazing that globally we have managed to crack population growth. It always seemed unstoppable and out of our hands, but clearly we have not just thought as a species but acted as a species too. It makes me feel more positive that we can resolve some of our other problems.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Judy, I hope you may have considered that it’s not that “we have managed to crack population growth”, but that the ‘demographic transition’ from high birth and death rates to lower birth and death rates occurs naturally as societies climb the wealth ladder. It’s why Taiwan and Hong Kong and Japan have birth rates of around 1.3 — without government imposition as in China. This was first discovered 80 plus years ago, and occurs globally. Unfortunately, not fast enough, it seems. Africa doubled its population in the last 50 years and is set to double again in the coming 40-50. Or if some of the positive signs of economic growth continue there, those societies will see slower population growth.

      • BC says:

        Judy and Chris, consider that, given the rate of growth of births and population from the mid-18th century to the 1960s-70s, the human ape population will experience over the next 30-50 years the largest number of deaths from “natural causes” as a share of total population ever experienced by the human ape species on Spaceship Earth; and this does not include premature deaths from disease, famine, ethnic/racial/religious conflict, war, and infant mortality. The human ape species is due a mass die-off on a scale and scope one dare not even think about.

        Thus, having children since the 1980s-90s is a virtual guarantee of their experiencing relative privation, labor underutilization, low income and falling purchasing power after taxes and price effects, economic insecurity, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, violence, no incentive to couple and reproduce, and premature death.

        Thus, don’t be surprised if ritualistic suicide, death cults, asceticism, monasticism, Spartanism, child sacrifice, “Hunger Games”, “Rollerball”, “Logan’s Run”, and “Soylent Green”, and other forms of fatalism emerge as mass-social trends during the coming zombie apocalypse along side the top 0.01-0.1% and the further evolution of their Elyisium-like rentier extractive corporate-state.

        Nature has little use for 7 billion human apes hereafter, save for carbon-dense humus or fertilizer we can provide collectively in abundance to replenish forests, grasslands, and populations of fish, invertabrates, and terrestrial and oceanic mammals.

        Evolution, if it needs us at all, would tolerate a mere fraction of our numbers today. How we accept, adapt, and acquiesce to the reality is what will condition the adaptive, self-selected traits of our successors.

        Therefore, I’m rooting for those under age 30-35 to acknowledge the lack of evolutionary utility of the further growth of population of human apes, cease breeding, and demonstrate wisdom well beyond their age and experience in devising ways to humanely dispense efficiently with their elders, including the writer.

        Soylent Green is people. It’s time for Sol to “go home”, but Boomers will fight the process to the end. It’s the job of Millennials to end the fight as soon as possible.

        Boomers, “go home”.

        • InAlaska says:

          I am not really sure what a “human ape species” is. I think we are much closer genetically to chimpanzees and monkeys that apes and gorillas. Having said that, my children appreciate being born and having a chance to live.

          • xabier says:


            Agreed. Last time I looked in the mirror it wasn’t very pretty, but I’m certainly no ‘ape’.

            Also, the ‘Millennials versus Boomers’ meme has obviously been introduced as crude propaganda by the political/financial class to distract from the real problems and to justify harsh measures to come, ie cutting pensions and welfare, higher taxes on ‘Boomer’ property, etc.

            ‘Boomers’ didn’t take anything, they just got born.

          • edpell says:

            Freud said there are three things people do not talk about sex, money, and death. Which I would say are basically birth, life, and death. These are super emotionally hot topics.

            I look forward to the day when women who are intelligent and well educated are able to reproduce at reasonably high rates. Maybe extra uterine gestation by technology will be the solution. Currently, it seems the genome is such that intelligence and high education lead to infertility a clear genome defect; solely from the point of view of evolution. I love and respect all who have few or zero offspring. .

          • DrTskoul says:

            Hmm…. Sorry but wrong. Chimps are no monkeys. Humans are genetically closer to great apes. (Family Hominidae: great apes, including humans (seven species))

          • BC says:

            Chimps are apes, as they are our closest primate relatives; ergo, so are we apes. If you don’t know that, well, sorry.

            Having infant apes with 7 billion of us overpopulating Spaceship Earth is to ensure that they will be forced to engage in a “war of all against all” in a last-ape-standing contest for the remaining scarce resouces of the planet.

            We can’t accept this because we imagine ourselves (Nature endows us with the capacity for self-delusion) to be rational, caring, well-equipped, and well-intentioned human beings to bear offspring and raise them to adulthood, conditioning them to want the same.

            But US real GDP per capita has not grown in 5 years, real wages per capita have not grown in 15 years, and the US has not created a net new full-time private sector job per capita since the late 1970s to early 1980s. Yet, the population has increased 3.5% to 15-30% since 2008 to 1978-82, with 1 million legal immigrants entering the country and countless undocumented migrants invading every year. With no growth of jobs, wages, and real GDP per capita, every new birth and additional immigrant means less per capita for everyone else.

    • As I mentioned in the post, a big part of our problem is that we have moved so many people into being consumers of fossil fuel devices and of fossil fuels. Whether or not the population grows, there are an awfully lot of people who would like to have the same kinds of things people in the West do. That is a big problem in itself.

      • Judy says:

        Chris, you are right that most of the population growth is happening in Africa. It is a big continent with a relatively low population. In the UK our population would be declining if it weren’t for immigration. Immigration is reliant on people believing they will get a better life here than elsewhere, which could change instantly with economic collapse. Look at the example of Ireland, where the young are emmigrating. It is not wealth though that changes the birthrate. Look at Bangledesh with a fertility rate of 2.2. They are certainly not a wealthy country. Watch the video on the link I posted and you will find out the world has changed a lot since 80 years ago.

        BC, I don’t think a Zombie apocalypse, i.e. being attacked by dead people, is one of our problems. No doubt if our techno-society persists then someone would work out how to insert electrical sensors into a dead body so that it could be operated like a remote controlled car. I mean they have already done it with a live cockroach (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24455141), though I’m sure a decomposing corpse would be much tougher to work on.

        Honestly BC, we don’t get any ritualistic suicides or death cults over here in the UK. I have never heard of any in the very long history of the country. Wars and invasions yes – death cults no! Are you just making it all up to frighten people out of taking sensible steps to prepare? Trust me when I say that nobody in the UK prepared for y2k, there are no ‘doomers’, guns are illegal (not to say that the aristocracy don’t have their sports rifles) and if the world is collapsing you can guarantee that the cows will still be milked and your newspaper delivered! Things will get tough, but don’t expect the British to degenerate into ‘mad max’ like charaters and I would say the same for most Europeans too. Isn’t it mainly in the US that all these apocalyptic cults and warmongering in general arise? I’m kinda glad there is a big ocean between us, if that is what you really think is likely to happen there.

        Look at France for instance. They have a really rural culture, where they produce lots of local food on small farms all within pony-trap distance of villages and small towns where the produce can be sold. Even their capital Paris is not that densely populated. Do you think a lack of fuel or electricity will alter traditions that have been carried on for generations? So some city folk may have to relocate to the countryside as labourers, but there is no reason they would starve. The nuclear energy plants may be an issue though.

        There was a fictional book I read as a kid called The Death of Grass, (though it is called something else in the US), where the grain crops round the world were all diseased and there was only enough food to feed one third of the population. The British government decided to drop bombs on the biggest cities to instantly wipe out a third of the population to retain order and allow the rest of the population to survive in peace. It isn’t beyond the realms of imagination for our government / army generals to have an emergency plan like this. I mean there are 7 million people in a very densly-populated London, who would struggle without electricity and regular deliveries to supermarkets, whereas more rural towns and villages would probably muddle through just fine, so long as they aren’t invaded by huge numbers of people fleeing London.

        It is worth remembering that it may be a ‘global economy’, but every nation is different and unique in cultures and resources. I’m not saying that there won’t be protests and anger like in Greece and Egypt – I’m angry too that we bailed out the banks and I am surprised we haven’t seen more protests. But that is still people pulling together to display their disgust with their rulers. Its human nature to pull together not fall apart.

        InAlaska, I am glad that your children were born too. Really we need the young people for the labour force and to give us hope, and we need the old people for their wisdom and knowledge of life before electric gadgets. The only people we don’t need are the wealthy – nobody ever says it! It is their greed to always want more and more that has got us into this mess. The rich can afford to fly everywhere, polluting the World and live in huge energy guzzling mansions. Cutting out the richest 0.1% could make life a lot more possible for the remaining 99.9%.

        Gail, the wealthiest 1 billion people on the planet create half of the global carbon emissions. We may worry that car ownership is growing in China, but that isn’t the problem right now. It is the wealthy westerners who fly around the world for pleasure and consume so much energy and ‘stuff’. We need to take the lead for the rest of the world by cutting back. Besides the Chinese will still have their bicycle tucked away at the back of the garage for when they need it again :)

        I like Positive Money’s (http://www.positivemoney.org/) ideas of taking away from banks the ability to create money. I would suggest going further and making interest on any debt illegal and annulling all existing debts (especially third world debts). This should cause a few wealthy individuals to have heart attacks and would hopefully solve the issue of greed. It would give us a level playing field to start from scratch with only the resources we have now – not stealing from the future.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Thanks for the ‘tour d’ horizon’, Judy. I enjoyed much of what you said and will try to find time later to respond to more of your thoughts. For now, please allow this partial response regarding gasoline, cars, and development.
          The first thing a newly enriched citizen of the world, regardless if he/she is from Ethiopia or Belarus or Uruguay or Mindanao, is an automobile. ‘Newly enriched’ is relative — this ‘first set of wheels’ might cost US$500, but it provides freedom and mobility.
          We rich westerners don’t even consider the implications: Chinese buy more new cars than Americans. The problem is that 1.2 billion of China’s 1.3 billion population live in an area the size of Western Europe, or USA east of the Mississippi. Now that’s a problem. Their air traffic is so congested that they allow planes to take off from one place without clearance to fly to or land at their destination. Beijing recently said that only one out of 6 of its residents would be allowed to have a vehicle. Or was it 1/10?
          India has similar problems, maybe worse in the long run. Have you ever noticed that the land mass of India is just about the same as that of Saudi Arabia? But the population of SA is 40 million while the population of India is about 1.2 Billion.
          These fundamental conditions cause problems that we pampered westerners can barely conceive or imagine. And we do have a responsibility to try to ensure that solutions applied in one place don’t result in ‘buggering thy neighbor’ and thereby adding friction and aggravation into the mix. It’s going to be difficult enough even if we all keep smiling.

          • Judy says:

            Thanks Chris.
            I am hearing you that China and India are a big problem, but they are way out of my control or concern. If Gail is right then this ‘Globalisation’ is going to come to an end pretty soon. Which means we need to start looking for solutions locally. If we work on what we can do locally this could then spread. I am just thinking that many big changes that have happened before started in one country and then were adopted in other countries, such as abolishment of slavery, industrialisation, votes for women, consumerism, facebook. If something like ‘carbon rationing’ (and I am not saying this solves anything) or ‘abolishing interest’ got implemented in the UK, then other countries could see it working and may feel encouraged to follow suit. I just feel focusing on the local situation, the stuff I know about and understand, is more likely to yield results, than being overwhelmed by the global situation. I’m not trying to bury my head, I still want to know about the air polution in China, but we led the world into this situation and we need to lead them out.

            I think China is unbelievable. It always amazes me how so many people can live together in such a small area. Just the engineering and logistics of getting food, water and sanitation to everyone is incomprehensively mindboggling. In a collapse scenario, I feel they have a far better chance of re-organising themselves to meet new contraints on energy or food. They have a leadership that can make decisions and a population that follows. I’m clearly far too opinionated to follow anything, even if our leaders could make a relevant decision on energy security and climate change :-)

  13. Robin Clarke says:

    I rather believe land owners will not find their huge possessions very useful,
    Few people understand that “ownership” whether of money or property, does not exist in reality but merely as some peoples’ beliefs in it. And when too many people don’t find it convenient to believe, the “billionaires” become merely pathetic two-legged animals who never learnt how to use a screwdriver or shovel or spreadsheet.

    • In reality, land ownership only exist if you can protect your land with violence and extreme physical force.

      • edpell says:

        This is why owners have retainers. They have layers of middlemen that each benefit from their position and are willing to use physical violence to keep it.

        • Paul says:

          Why wouldn’t the retainer turn on the land owner and take his land – why fight his battles?

          I’ve recently put in place a sharing policy on the land I occupy here in Bali – half goes to people who work with us — hopefully that arrangement is allowed to continue in the future.

          I suppose it all depends on if the village is able to produce enough food to feed themselves – if not my gesture will be forgotten….

          Might is right at the end of the day

          • edpell says:

            How to structure your servant class so they feel loyalty and are willing to die for “the cause” is the central issue for owners. It is not people several ranks down the hierarchy that can successfully attack the king/owner it is the first rank of “nobels” that is the most dangerous. One way to keep them in line is to use sons and daughters, another is to treat them well (as Machiavelli suggests), another is treat them extremely harshly (as Machiavelli suggests as a less desirable choice to treat them well). I think you have the right approach treat your retainer class well.

        • Paul says:

          Re: how to create a loyal servant class…..

          Now if I was Jamie Dimon I would hire a team of psychologists who would conduct interviews for all the people I plan to use to staff my island hideaway

          I’d want particular attention paid to my private militia — the profile I would go after would be those with little ambition — no leaders — I AM the leader — nobody very bright — nobody with a streak of independence….

          I would want mentally weak people who know one thing only – loyalty to their leader — who would protect me at all costs – who would never think to cross me.

          And I would make sure those individuals and their families were VERY well provided for on my island.

      • You may be correct, unfortunately.

    • I am afraid you are right. If conditions get too bad, land owners may choose to abandon the land that they theoretically own.

    • Paul says:

      These ‘masters of the universe’ have no doubt go their escape plans in place (Ellison with his island for instance)

      But I agree – when the SHTF they will have the same problems we have — sure they will have their security force in place — but if I were the head of that force I might decide that me and the boys don’t need useless Jamie — we’ll just toss this piece of trash out on the street because might is right — and we have the guns — and we’ve just decided we want the caviar and champagne.

      All bets are off — these guys will have nothing to offer going forward.

      • xabier says:


        Too true.

        The history of the Arab Empire and the early French kingdom show that once the leader has become a mere figurehead without real power or charisma, he’s highly dispensable in the eyes of the men with the swords and guns.

        The early English were brought in to Britain a mercenaries as Rome collapsed, and then thought ‘Wait a minute, this could all be ours!’

        People get worked up about TPTB saving themselves, when they are unlikely to be the powers of the future……

    • InAlaska says:

      Yep. Owning land is only as good as the government you have to enforce your private property rights. When the SHTF the only right most will have will be the right to defend their land or have it taken from them.

      • edpell says:

        This is why the first 90 fighters to form a group that can act cohesively wins. Lesson, make friends with your neighbors before the SHTF.

  14. Christian says:

    Good post Gail, congratulations!

    Statu quo and growth are dead. It seems you’re right the way it happens is low oil prices, and this leads you to an estimation of future energy supply quite similar of Ugo Bardi’s. This makes me thrill, ASPO forecasting being already hard to deal with. Finances, debt and wages are concepts without future, but may be this is not so evident upon the language you still use (for instance, future “lending” and “taxes”).

    Electricity is not at all to substitute anything, but I wonder if the grid itself is to decline so fast as oil and not with some delay. Another point is to privilege some parts of it: electric bulbs being increasingly in excess because of falling electricity supply, the places where they are most needed, such as hospitals, may still have some for a while even without producing new ones.

    Industrial steady state is obviously impossible, but some low tech steady state can be undertaken. Take wood burning, for instance. This winter, Greeks are no more able to afford NG or fuel for heating, and have massively turned to wood. This is done so badly that smog levels have skyrocketed and deforestation seems to go the same path. Government doesn’t react and just advise the people not to do physical exercise the worst smog days… It’s pathetic, and if they continue this way they will be in a situation worst than Middle Ages in a few years. On the other hand, Nicaragua has a lot of rural population, which use of wood for cooking (not for heating, of course) in traditional stoves generated respiratory problems. So, the government is providing population with almost a million cheap simple design highly efficient wood stoves (I believe they are similar to rocket stoves) to preserve woods and improve health care. This is the way.

    You don’t talk about it, but some people in this blog wonder if the State must buy land to give it to urbanites willing to move to the country. I rather believe land owners will not find their huge possessions very useful, and there will be no need to compensate them for it. The State will not be in a position to afford it anyway, and the only way will be just taking it, in a context where most private property will be disturbed.

    Finally, I want to share some words Uruguay’s president Pepe Mujica issued yesterday at a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit: “Globalization is headed to disaster. If mankind is not able to think as a species, if mankind continues thinking as a country, and within a country as a social class, then civilization is condemned”. May be his words come too late, but he is the best guy in the world.

    • I think that electricity in not more than a few years behind oil in failing. In fact, it may be at the same time. Part of the reason is that government is needed to keep order. If this fails, there are problems with all kinds of energy supplies. Failure can come for reasons other than “running out” of supplies. It can come from bankruptcy of important parts of the system, or lack of a financial system to pay workers, or inability of citizens to afford the electricity, or inability to repair damage after storms.

      Regarding taxes, if you plan to have any kind of government, you pretty much need some form of taxes. It can be a percentage of the grain and other farm products produced, rather than money as we think of it. Government can be pretty simple–a local ruler of some sort, without much staff.

      There seems to be a lot of debt around, as well, just because barter is cumbersome, It makes more sense to have a general store, and have people bring goods of one kind and take other goods back. In such a system, a patron “runs a tab.” There may not be much time-shifting involved. Debt can also reflect the amount the government expects to be paid.

      You are quite likely right about the government just taking land away from rich people. This has happened over and over throughout history. Government doesn’t have any way of getting enough funds to pay for it. It is possible that a new government will take over, and they will confiscate land above a certain amount per person. Or maybe government won’t pay much attention at all, and just let people fight over the land.

      • Christian says:

        I like your general store, and see now it’s possible to give some words a non monetary meaning. Of course, the grid may overcome oil for a while just if there is a government who takes care of it.

      • Paul says:

        Gail – your point that China and India’s use of cheap (and polluting) coal has buoyed their economies vs the more oil dependent economies was very insightful.

        I think also the fact that the OECD countries are massively consumer driven also impacts things — they buy more than people in China and India (most of whom exist within a localized, barely subsistence economy) – and ‘stuff’ requires oil – no doubt that exacerbates the expensive oil growth discrepancies

        • The other thing that helps China and India is the fact that they are relatively warm countries. When energy supplies are scarce, having a subsidy from the sun is helpful. With globalization, there is pressure to equalize salaries. The catch is that people in cold parts of the world need to earn more, in order to have more substantial homes and the funds to pay for heating those homes. Cars are somewhat more of a necessity as well. People in cold countries have more of a need to store food for winter (or use meat instead of grains), if only one crop a year can be grown, instead of two.

          The Industrial Revolution started in England, when there was a problem with deforestation, and someone discovered coal made an adequate substitute for wood. Those who figured out how to use coal for heating soon put coal to industrial uses as well. At that time, there was no manufacturing competition with warmer countries. But if we try now to compete with warmer countries, we are sure to lose, because we need higher salaries to support a similar life style.

      • edpell says:

        Here in New York state we are moving to 100% natural gas fueled electric generation. If natural gas ever becomes unavailable the light go out.

  15. Robin Clarke says:

    Here in Birmingham Uk last year I went to a big meeting about energy in 2025 with top energy “gurus” Prof David McKay (govt energy advisor) and Mark Lynas (campaigner/author). Ten days before I had sent them my careful explanation that their ideas were nonsense because we already had a crisis of shortage of money and energy – basically the same themes as here. I also handed out 60 sheets of the same to the professional energy “expert” audience. Not one response has come back.
    More generally, I have found no-one I talk to in Birmingham (where this modern energy-consuming/transporting world was invented!) takes any notice of the evidence I present. Ditto all family members. Meanwhile the city’s “leaders” are having wondrous visions of yet more airports and grand transport schemes and skyscrapers and that the the city “will” grow anyway. (All this despite the council simultaneously having to slash its budget by a third, closing down libraries and essential services.)
    If anyone knows of any (other) sane people over this way could they please put me in contact?
    Meanwhile of course the Ukraine crisis is “because” the country is so split between Russian east and Ukrian west. But that split’s been there for past 70 years. So what’s changed? Ukr is particularly dependent on energy imports, which are getting tougher. I think all sides are clueless that Ukr’s problem is energy deficiency which can’t be addressed by mere political musical chairs..

    • The media still don’t connect the dots towards energy. And neither did they connect the crisis in Syria to the energy and climate change conditions they went through. When people are unemployed and starving, its a recipe for riots. But its important for the media to pin these “dissidents” to either religion or political motivations as its considered taboo to report anything real about why industrial civilization even exists and especially why it will come to an end.

      • Paul says:

        I think when it comes to critical issues — like this one — the MSM is instructed by the powers of the world to not connect the dots.

        Because that would only cause panic — and it would bust the matrix — and the mother of all crashes would happen sooner.

        A crash is a crash is a crash — so I prefer that that MSM stay quiet on this – it’s not like awareness will allow us to fix anything.

        There is nothing to fix

        • InAlaska says:

          The Mayan ruins show evidence of an entire population and civilization that just died out all at once. Jared Diamond believes it was triggered by a rapid ecological decline followed by a massive war. Within one generation it was all gone, leaving nothing but the stones, but it happened so fast that all the stuff remained behind virtually untouched.

    • Ikonoclast says:

      Gail’s site seems to be about the only site on the planet that is realistic about these matters. I have disagreed with Gail on occasion and on details but more often than not I have had to retract, modify my views and admit Gail was closer to the mark than I was. I pride myself that real data can actually change my views. This is actually very rare. Most people entrench their views when confronted with disconfirming data.

      People are actuated, in the main, by belief not knowledge. A number of studies have shown that most people do not change their views when real evidence debunks their beliefs. They “double-down” so to speak, investing even more belief, more psychological dependence and more money into their false beliefs.

      Clearly, there will be a psychological disjunction point. When real material conditions get so bad that the collapse (or at least a severe economic depression) cannot be denied then people will react with shock and anger. Expect riots, revolutions and reactions (crackdowns by authority) to become the order of the day at that point. Disorder will worsen the situation further and imperil the lives of all involved in the disorder. The key to survival might well be to move to a really quiet, out of the way place where food can be generally assured from local sources. However, don’t underestimate the ability of hordes (some still with petrol powered vehicles) to scour the countryside for food and implements and easy targets.

      However, I don’t plan on being a survivalist. I am 60. Maybe if I was 30 or younger and in prime health I would give it a shot. At 60, forget it. I wouldn’t stand a chance. I will stay quiet in my house on the periphery of a large city and see what happens. I don’t even plan on buying a gun. Australia does not have a civilian gun owning culture but that could change with collapse.

      I expect Australia to initially maintain order and retain enough energy sources and food sources for a controlled power down. We are uniquely endowed to do that with a low population compared to our real carrying capacity. But I doubt that other nations like Indonesia and China will leave use alone in this situation. Once you realise that wars, invasions and mass migrations of millions or 100s of millions of refugees are on the cards, then you realise this event is so huge you cannot possibly plan for it or credibly plan to survive it.

      • Bonnet says:

        “Once you realise that wars, invasions and mass migrations of millions or 100s of millions of refugees are on the cards, then you realise this event is so huge you cannot possibly plan for it or credibly plan to survive it.”

        Are “millions of refugees” with the intent of taking other country’s or people’s resources really “refugees”? Where’s the line between needy refugees and armies, doing what armies have always done in the past, namely conquesting for the sake of resource and land?

        Food for thought. By branding them as refugees, you give moral legitimacy, but calling them an army of invaders, not so much… ‘Hey, please, let me come in, or else I will have to break in!’

      • xabier says:


        A fair view, very realistic.

        On the whole, people don’t riot unless deliberately led into violence by interested parties: what is reported as ‘spontaneous and popular’ is rarely so.

        If things are really tough, if not provoked by agitators, provocateurs and the like, most will be too busy in the perpetual search for food, clothing and fuel – or simply robbing others!

        Not much time left over for mass protests after all that. They are the luxury of the still-fed……

    • There are a lot of people that believe what MSM tells them. They say what people want to hear.

      There are a number of readers of Our Finite World in the UK. Maybe you need to set up a London fan club (or wherever you are).

      • Robin Clarke says:

        Hmm, the madhouse “wealth”-bubble that is London is (thankfully, gasp!) 110 miles away by train from here (Birmingham). Of course on the transatlantic scale that’s cheek-to-cheek but for those who struggle to pay even a 66% discounted £30 train fare it certainly ain’t!

      • icarus62 says:

        I live on the outskirts of one of the most densely populated cities in the UK, and the UK is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Currently, I would say, we’re heading down the other side of the North Sea oil and gas boom which went a long way to offsetting the decline of the latter half of the 20th Century as coal mining was on its way out and manufacturing was disappearing to other parts of the world with cheaper (and less troublesome) labour forces. So we’re probably in massive overshoot now, in terms of the population our country could actually support long-term with its own resources. I completely agree with the analysis that so-called ‘renewables’ cannot magically replace fossil fuels as our primary source of energy – at least not to maintain anything like the civilisation and standard of living we have now.

        Somewhere on another blog there was mention of “20 acres, a cow and some chickens” as being the minimum you could give a family and expect them to sustain themselves – something of that order, anyway. It would be interesting to try to work out very roughly how many people that would support, if adopted by the UK and based on available reasonable quality cultivable land in this country today. I really doubt it would amount to the 60+ million we have now – even assuming that the land use could be changed so dramatically and that people could be persuaded to leave their city homes and big screen TVs, and take up subsistence agriculture/permaculture/horticulture/whatever!

        • Paul says:

          I am told by my organic farm instructor — that in a place like BC Canada — that an acre can produce enough food for a family of 4.

          • icarus62 says:

            I’d heard 10 people per acre, from a permaculture enthusiast… but I’m sceptical. You would need quite a large area of coppiced woodland for fuel, I think… plus perhaps other land for livestock. The land I have amounts to about a tenth of an acre, and I can’t imagine that it could keep one person in food all year, every year.

          • edpell says:

            I have a book “Five acres and Independence”. I will go with five acres for four people in an area that has winter and needs firewood. Sure, an always warm place does not need a wood lot and so less land is needed.

          • timl2k11 says:

            This is my problem with Permaculture activists. According to http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/arable-land-percent-of-land-area-wb-data.html there is 1.2 acres of arable land in the U.S. per person. Now not all arable land is created equal, so can the “average” acre of arable land support 4 people? I’m also not sure what the site counts as “arable”. For example do they really mean “arable assuming the input of fossil fuels”? How many hectares of arable land do we have without the input of fossil fuels? I imagine it would be much less. I have a hard time believing there is enough land for permaculture and related practices to support anywhere near 300 million people. My guess is that to live sustainably, without fossil fuels, even supporting less than 30 million people in an area the size of the US would be an incredible challenge, if possible at all. I’ve been told I should study Cuba, and I would like to, but even if all there fossil fuel imports were cutoff, were they not still able to import other items with “embedded” fossil fuel energy. If Cuba post-USSR is indeed a good case study, than we should all be taking a look.

            • I would caution you that Cuba has very different stories told by different authors. Some claim that Cuba imports 80% of its food. Cuba put in irrigation in Havana during the Special Period, but it is not clear that that is sustainable. Havana has problems with salt water incursion and a dropping fresh water table, at least according to some authors. Some people clearly grew (and still grow) vegetables locally, and that has helped some. But how big a dent that has made in their total problem, and whether it is really sustainable, are subject to different opinions.

          • I would guess that your organic farm instructor assumes that you have electric fences, soil amendments trucked in from afar, supplemental watering if you need it, a good way to store the food so that it is not attacked by insects, and refrigeration or canning available as storage techniques. All of these are fossil fuel dependent. Also, he is probably assuming that fruit and nuts tress are mature trees, not ones that you are starting this year. Somehow, your land (or some other source) will need to provide fibre for clothing and wood for heating as well. There is also the natural variability issue–you need to acre to feed you in the worst year out of 100, not on average. What it “can produce” is not the question.

            My guess is that in the real world, the one acre for four people is way too low, especially that far north. You can get by with not to much land in warm parts of the world, where you can get two crops a year and you don’t need to worry about heating a home or dressing warmly.

        • The total amount of land given to agriculture in the UK is given as 43 million acres. Of that, 15.3 acres is arable, according to Wikipedia. At 20 acres apiece, the 43 million acres would support 2,150,000 families. If each family consists of four people (maybe some grandparents included), then the land would support 8,600,000 people. If we only use the 15.3 arable acres, the land can only support 3,060,000 people, again with four to a family. The answer doesn’t come anywhere near 60 million.

          • Paul says:

            Houston —- we have a problem

          • Judy says:

            Actually there has already been a very thorough study carried out by Simon Fairlie into how many people can be fed by the land in the UK. I think I read it in ‘The Land’ magazine, but I will see if I can dig up a reference. If you farm by hand then 1 acre can feed a family. This obviously isn’t to current standards, so you would eat the occasional rabbit, rather than having regular beef for instance. We currently throw away a third of the food, so that would have to stop too. Also it doesn’t include wood for heating. Based on a basic and mainly vegetarian diet with some meat (there are lots of hill farms for sheep which are unsuitable for crops) there is sufficient land to feed the full UK population.

            It assumes that land is distributed fairly, so no large country estates or pony paddocks for the rich or golf courses. Would that ever happen? In the war it did. The government was allowed to take any land that was not productive and re-allocate it to someone else.

            If you look back in history peasants used to have relatively small areas of land to feed their families and there was common land to graze the odd sheep. The current allotment system was always based on the old plots, which traditionally was 1/16th of an acre. It may seem small, but if it is worked by hand then every available space can be used.

            Carol at http://journeyintofoodproduction.wordpress.com/ has spent the last year growing organic veg in a small plot and weighing and measuring the results, to determine exactly how much can be produced in a small space.

            Even in the short term Vinay Gupta (http://vinay.howtolivewiki.com/blog/about) says that there is enough cattle and sheep stood in the fields to feed the population for 6 months in a crisis . I’m not so convinced that it would give us that long, however it is a good point that we would have a grace period to get cultivating.

            I do think if you live in a city, you just see the view of the city, where not much grows, whereas if you live in a more rural area you see all the potential there is.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Judy
              I have referred to Simon Fairlie’s work three or four times, over the last couple of years.

              My conclusion is that you cannot get people who want to believe in the ‘starvation theory’ to look at it. They are going to believe what they want to believe.

              Don Stewart

            • If the farmer got the output of the one acre, plus was able to graze his sheep elsewhere, he effectively had the use of more than one acre of land. His calories included the calories from the sheep, and his clothing included the wool from the sheep. The animals also helped provide fertilizer for the land. Without the extra land grazing animals and going into rotation with the one acre plots, I doubt the scheme would work. Otherwise, it is necessary to let land remain idle from time to time, to restore fertility.

          • edpell says:

            I wonder is the ratio better in Scotland? If so, they had better hurry up and succeed.

      • circusmaestro says:

        Gail, thank you so much for your work, to bring such clarity to debate. Please help us to know how many of us (by country or region), have read this post…. It would be useful to get a sense of how far or close we are from what could be a strong signal…

        • I don’t really know how many have read this post, or will read it in the future. My posts are copied on a lot of other sites, and I don’t know how many readers the other sites have. I know that on this site, this post is setting a record for readership (but not by a huge margin). I find that even after a post is put up, I have a lot of readers even months or years later. Lately I have been getting about 20,000 hits a week on Our Finite World, and I put up a little less than one post a week.

    • Paul says:

      I wonder if it is not best to let sleeping dogs lie.

      Most people could not handle reality.

      I am surprised the makers of Xanax have not broken ranks and run ads ‘a horrible crash is coming — Xanax can alleviate all symptoms in the run up and after — two a day and you’ll forget all about starving’

      They could sell 5 year mega packs on that campaign slogan

      • I have a difficult time handling the advent of this and I have known for forty years it was coming…

        Recently spent a great deal of time trying to inform my locality that it is time to prepare. I backed off of a blunt approach because I realized how cruel it would be to crash people’s worlds. So I couched my words, hoping at least those who could read between the lines would take my advice.

        Still it did not stave off a string of sleepless nights and extended grieving process. One only accepts the death of someone dear after years of grieving. You may emerge stronger or you may succumb to grief. Frequently, married couples die within a short span from the first to pass.

  16. Pingback: A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work | ResourceIndustry

  17. Ikonoclast says:

    I have changed my stance recently from “renewables might save something” to “nothing will save anything now”. This is not a bad thing. Civilization is a vanity project. Even farming or permaculture are civilization and vanity and doomed. Hunter-gathering is the only valid, sustainable system long term. Hunter-gathering systems create less net oppression per capita than any other system. Of course, I won’t be around to see hunter-gathering become the main system again.

    • One view is that we have been hunter-gatherers for 98% of our time on earth. It certainly simplifies climate change issues.

    • Eclipse Now says:

      Hi Ikonoclast,
      H&G’s wiped out the Mammoths. Today we’d put them in zoo’s and create a breeding program. Not everything about H&G’s was sustainable.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        “Scientists are divided over whether hunting or (natural) climate change, which led to the disappearance of its habitat, was the main factor that contributed to the extinction of the woolly mammoth, but it is likely that it was a combination of the two.” – Wikipedia

        Certainly Hunter-gatherers already have some technology; fire, spears etc. But overall, whilst possibly causing some megafauna extinctions on several continents, hunter-gatherers did not cause global warming, ocean destruction, land degradation, deforestation and a massive extinction event right through the global ecosystem. Hunter-gathering is sustainable overall in a way that modern industrial civilization simply is not.

        • SteveK says:

          Maybe. There weren’t a lot of them. That’s a big factor. Deer, without technology (or yeast in a vat for that matter) on an island can overpopulate, deplete the resources, and crash too.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Hi Ikonoclast,
          I hear you! The damage HG’s did to the earth is minimal compared to today’s out of control industrial system. However, I see signs of hope. The exponentially destructive ecocide we see in front of us can have legislative, technological, and cultural improvements. Just weaning off fossil fuels onto clean nukes & oil alternatives (boron, EV’s, hydrogen, New Urbanism, trains, trams, & trolley buses that are 5 times cheaper to build than trams) would put us on a far more sustainable footing, and we already have the technology to do that. The rest is political and cultural pressure around adequate marine parks and valuing ecosystem services. EG: Food from seawater greenhouses in the desert are already economical (see Sundrop Farms outside Adelaide). The damage to our world is HUGE. There is a place for grieving that loss. But there is also hope for change. We do NOT have to tell young people to commit suicide!

        • InAlaska says:

          Well, as a part time hunter gatherer myself, I can say that hunting/gathering only works if there is something left to hunt and gather. But at a 6 degree rise in global temperatures, forests will burn, grassland turn to desert, rivers will run dry, mountain glaciers melt. Fish die with ocean acidification and animals can’t migrate fast enough to bear their young in safety. Plus hunter gatherers lived in low density populations, not in the middle of a 7 billion person die-off. Sorry, unless you plan on hunting and gathering other humans, hunting/gathering is a part of our past, I’m afraid.

        • I think I would say Hunter Gatherers are “less unsustainable” than today’s economy. It doesn’t really make them sustainable. The major issues I see are fact that we need (1) cooked food, (2) heat in many parts of the world, and (3) are smart enough to kill off large animals, and (4) we will burn down forests if it will get us what we want and (5) H – G population tends to grow because with control of fire, humans have superiority over other animals. These issues together pretty much mean that H-G life style is not sustainable either.

      • Paul says:

        Nah – today we think on much bigger terms — we wipe out entire oceans of fish — heck, we don’t stop there — we have even set things up so that we wipe ourselves out!

        Remember this: we feed 7.2 billion people only because we have oil and gas based fertilizers and pesticides…. reflect on the significance of that for a few minutes

    • Paul says:

      I am increasingly inclining towards your position — those that survive will likely be living like the animals (that we are).

      As Marlow (Conrad) said ‘Civilization is but a veneer hiding the savage reality of the human condition”

      As there is nothing we can do to change the outcome beyond our personal preparations — we may as well sit back and observe this Titanic moment in history.

      Reminds me of Network ‘Live is not a TV show’ — well — this kinda is — more like a movie though — Mad Max comes to mind….

  18. Eclipse Now says:

    PS Everyone: France went from 8% nuclear to 70% nuclear in 40 years? No. 30 years? No. Try this: “In one decade (1977–1987), France increased its nuclear power production 15-fold, with the nuclear portion of its electricity increasing from 8% to 70%.”
    This isn’t speculative fiction, or wishful daydreaming, or even some form of denial. This is HISTORY folks!
    PS: If they move to EV’s, 70% of American driving can be charged in existing grid capacity: at night. (NREL study from years ago). My guess is a lot of boron recharging would be done at night as well. As long as nuclear’s high EROEI is generating the electricity, even some hydrogen becomes feasible. (Although it’s a tricky beast to store). Boron and direct electric driving seem better. New Urbanism with trains, trams, and trolley buses and walking and cycling seems best.

  19. mikestasse says:

    Reblogged this on Damn the Matrix and commented:
    Gail Tverberg at her best……. I hope nuclear wet dreamers take heed of this. ‘Doomers’ are realists.

    • Eclipse Now says:

      “We pulled out the “easy to extract” oil, gas, and coal first. As we move on to the difficult to extract resources, we find that the need for investment capital escalates rapidly. According to Mark Lewis writing in the Financial Times, “upstream capital expenditures” for oil and gas amounted to nearly $700 billion in 2012, compared to $350 billion in 2005, both in 2012 dollars. This corresponds to an inflation-adjusted annual increase of 10% per year for the seven year period.”
      Problem is, the *fuel* for nuclear isn’t the issue. We have enough sitting around in cooling ponds for half a millennia of clean, abundant, cheap enough electricity. With enough electricity + boron, that’s coal oil and gas replaced. Sorry to rain on your doomer parade, but I’ll take Hansen’s opinion over yours any day of the week.

      • Jonathan Madden says:

        The IFR reactor appears sound and much more efficient than conventional slow neutron designs. But it does need a higher degree of Uranium enrichment (20%) to get the show on the road. This rings alarm bells.

        More importantly, though, when is all this going to happen? How long will it take to get a comprehensive fleet of these things up and running? Are countries like China, Russia and North Korea, who don’t give two hoots for NIMBYs (local objectors) and who presumably are up to speed with fast neutron technology and can see the benefits, are they actually planning to build any? And if not, why not?

        My understanding is that there is not single IFR running anywhere today. (Is the Argonne test site still working?) I’ve read things like ‘they can be buried safely in a protective dome’; doubtless true, but try selling stories like that to your average householder in the populated west. You can’t even frack a well here in the UK without a chorus of protest, let alone bury liquid Sodium coolant surrounding enriched U and Pu. There’s a long wait at best to get Joe public to accept this type of nuclear power, and the clock’s ticking.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Why does it ring alarm bells Jonathan? IFR’s can be set up to burn plutonium through that phase.
          Indeed, IFR’s can deal with nuclear bombs. In fact, many of today’s reactors can do the same thing, and something like 10% of American power comes from burning old Soviet bombs!
          There’s still enough uranium in the world to run the planet on *todays* super-safe Gen3.5 reactors like the AP1000 (China’s just completing another 2 AP1000’s as we speak).

          So why are there no IFR’s now? The answer appears to be both financial and political.

          1: FINANCIAL
          While the EBR2 ran for 30 years and effectively *was* an IFR, so much so that GE’s S-PRISM is based on it…
          … the real problem is that it takes decades to fully commercialise these models. EG: With the S-PRISM, they’re not building *one* reactor, but the modularised prototype that will allow them to build any number of reactors on an assembly line. They’re concentrating on getting the mould right.

          2: POLITICAL
          Also, because Clinton misunderstood ‘breeding’ through the plutonium phase he shut down the EBR2 program. We probably would have had IFR’s by now!

          But the UK are interested. “A 2012 Guardian article pointed out that a new generation of fast reactors such as the PRISM “could dispose of the waste problem, reducing the threat of radiation and nuclear proliferation, and at the same time generate vast amounts of low-carbon energy”. David J. C. MacKay, chief scientist at the DECC, recently said that British plutonium contains enough energy to run the country’s electricity grid for 500 years.[9]”

          • Robin Clarke says:

            Re David McKay (/MacKay?), I have already posted my comment about his meeting, his failure to take into account the points made by G here, and his complete and utter failure to respond to my critiques of his notions. So I don’t find him to have any credibility, regardless of his Chief govt advisor status.

        • Paul says:

          It’s like that joke ‘Free Beer – tomorrow’

          Always tomorrow — always on the cusp — coming soon! — stay tuned!

          Maybe if we put out the bat signal the miracle man will swoop in to save the day!

          Or better still — let’s unite the religions of the world and designate 2 minutes of global prayer – for the Christians of course it would be most appropriate to recite — The Hail Mary (perhaps we do this on Super Bowl day with 2 minutes on the clock)

          Tick tock….

          • Eclipse Now says:

            Hi Paul,
            China are building out AP1000’s now because we already have commercialised models for them. We simply don’t *need* IFR’s today. They *can* burn the waste ‘tomorrow’ because we know they work. It’s an OLD technology, from yesteryear! The EBR2 kicked off *decades* ago.
            But here’s the reality. While it is *true* that today’s nuclear waste could run the world for centuries, there’s not enough waste right now. If I waved a magic wand and every coal fired plant were turned into IFR’s right now, there would not be enough waste to go around. It takes *time* to breed up the waste through the higher elements. So yes, today’s waste could run the world for hundreds of years, but no, not right away. So we have to build out tsunami proof nukes like the Gen3.5 AP1000’s *anyway*. And then when the IFR’s like GE’s S-PRISM finally arrive in 10 to 15 years, there will be even more waste for them to burn.

          • Paul says:

            Eclipse — i read in the noos that Fukushima is a good thing — because it’s releasing cesium and plutonium into the atmosphere — and ‘medical experts’ have released research saying that our bodies need these crucial elements to achieve peak health – much the same as we need iron and other minerals.

            There is even talk that all multivitamins will soon include cesium and plutonium.

            So yes – more nuclear reactors of all sorts are absolutely necessary – we can call them ‘Vitamin Factories’ — that’s more palatable — no?

          • Eclipse Now says:

            Why do you all keep praising Simon Michaux? It’s a *ridiculous* talk because YES ore grades are declining and YES it takes more energy to extract lower grades of ore but NO peak uranium will NOT prevent us using nuclear power to run mines! The way he skipped past the seriously deployable small modular reactors was woeful! He might know the mining game quite well, but the nudge nudge wink wink attitude to nuclear power (Oh dear, we don’t know what to do with the WASTE!) would have James Hansen, and even Hubbert himself, ask him to leave the room. (Hubbert also visualised us running for thousands of years on nuclear energy after peak fossil fuels). Why do these ‘smart’ people not realise that waste-eating nukes *exist*!? That it is an *old* technology? Don’t they know about the EBR2?

            The other thing he of course ignores is the ocean and space.

            OCEAN HAS 6000 YEARS OF METALS
            “Previously we had talked about a researcher who indicated that ocean floor mineral resources could provide current world demand for over 6000 years.”

            Mining the oceans can start off small in some local areas while we study the biodiversity down there, and get a handle on how to do it with minimal impacts. But the oceans are BIG! It may be that we’ll have a space industry before we need to mine even a *tiny* percent of the ocean floor.

            Advancing mining technologies are making the prospect of exploiting seafloor minerals—including gold, copper, zinc, cobalt and rare earth elements (REEs)—not only possible but also imminent, with commercial licenses to be granted by the International Seabed Authority from 2016.

            After 6000 years of slowly mining through the oceans, and encouraging old areas to rehabilitate, then there is SPACE. Once we have a space mining industry, gifts will parachute in from the sky.

            “UPDATE – The Near Earth Asteroids have thousands of trillions in metals. One asteroid Amun has over thirty times all of the metal that has ever be mined in human history”

            But not only that: with nuclear power abundant and plentiful, maybe we’ll just munch through the bedrock somewhere, extracting what we need from tiny ppm dirt? Yes concentrated ore bodies are running low, with many concentrated ores to be exhausted in our lifetime. But, with enough energy, we can recycle metal. It doesn’t ‘run out’ like burning fossil fuels. We just keep recycling the same stuff, over and over again. Also with enough energy, we have heaps of other options! Lastly, with new glues and state-of-the-art water systems, some architects are talking about wooden skyscrapers! Yep, wood panelling glued together just so performs like steel. If a metal becomes too expensive for a job, sometimes there are other materials.

            • The issue is rising use of oil to solve all of these investment problems. With this rising use of oil, less oil is available for all of our other energy needs.

      • We don’t have the plants to convert the cooling rods to fuel. In theory we could build the plants, but it takes fossil fuels, time, and someone able of finance all of the building to get the plants built. We don’t have the time to do it, or anyone willing to finance it.

        I would suggest you cool your rhetoric. Otherwise it will be the end of your posting privileges.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Hi Gail,
          do you have evidence that we don’t have time? I’m thinking of France. As oil and coal and gas wind down, nuclear will be winding up, keeping a stable electricity grid. All other transport systems will adapt to that.

          • The banking systems of all of the countries are interconnected. France has made way more promises to its people, in terms of government programs, than it can possibly continue to pay. I understand that France has a 12% unemployment rate, and a high tax rate, which is a problem for everyone. France hasn’t been building new nuclear reactors. Instead, it is facing an aging fleet of reactors that will need to be decommissioned at high cost, and new reactors built. France has run through its own uranium supplies, and now is faced with buying them on the world market–assuming they are available on the world market.

            How do you expect all other transport forms to adapt to electricity, in France? Will someone come in and build $40,000 (or more) electric cars for everyone? How will the 12% unemployed pay for them? How about everyone else? Are you aware of plans for electric long distance trucks? (I’m not.) The lifespan of trucks on the road is very long–maybe 40 years, I haven;t checked. How will trucking companies afford to replace their trucks before they normally need replacement? How will they afford to pay a much higher cost for them? Then we come to construction equipment and diesel irrigation, and a whole host of other usages.

            I don’t think France is any exception.

          • Ignacio says:

            Not all electric vehicles are expensive. Take, for example, Renault Twizy. This is a fully electric car, with a price tag of $10,000, and a good fuel economy, doing 10 miles per kWh.
            It has some disadvantages, though. It can carry a maximum of two passengers, and maximum speed is 30 mph. However, it could still be useful as a cheap in-city “per hour” rental car.
            Regarding trucks, I would expect that as soon as oil is more scarce, a lot of cargo will be shifted to train transportation. I would expect the same for passengers, by the way.

      • Paul says:

        Well — if that is the case then I’ll be watching the front page for the announcement of this miracle in the coming months — and it better come soon — because if you haven’t noticed — the collapse is happening in slow motion right before your eyes

        And I don’t want to hear ‘but give us a another few years — we promise — we have the solution’

        Giddyup — we ain’t got much time left dude.

        Perhaps you might explain how this miracle cure is going to:

        – allow airplanes to fly
        – allow combustion engines to operate
        – allow us to continue to make pesticides and fertilizers (which are made from oil and gas)
        – how does that miracle help replenish fish stocks that are collapsing?
        – and what about fresh water supplies – how does this grand miracle fix that problem?

        Let’s start with those 5 rather significant issues.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          * I’m NOT saying this is going to be painless! I’m saying that there is a VAST difference between a Great Depression and Mad Max. I don’t know the future, and maybe it doesn’t even have to get down to a GD. Maybe a variety of things are going to kick-start a green economy before it gets that bad. But economies eventually adapt. America did AMAZING things in WW2, above and beyond expectations once the big car manufacturers and corporations had been quickly retooled for the ‘war time economy’. So the following is not a timetable of what is going to happen when, because I’m not a prophet. Just what is technically possible when the timing, or the pricing, is right.
          * Nuclear power can run the electricity grid in the day and ‘recharge’ electric cars and boron for larger vehicles at night.
          * Today’s existing overnight off-peak power supply can charge about 70% of American domestic driving. (NREL study a few years ago).
          * Nuclear power can split water and make nitrogen fertiliser. Nuclear charged boron mining trucks and harvesters can mine and move stuff around for mineral fertiliser needs. The peak phosphorus guys in our sustainability institutes are starting up a conversation with our sewerage management systems so that one day we’ll be able to stop flushing all those NPK goodies out to sea and recycle them back onto the land.
          * It DOESN’T all have to start overnight. As the price of oil rises, there will not be a sudden collapse of civilisation overnight. That’s a myth. There’s a vast, vast difference between the Great Depression and Mad Max. America built the Hoover Dam during the GD! It was a jobs creation process. America had some high oil prices and a GFC and the marketplace contracted and *suddenly* American’s were getting by on a QUARTER less oil. A whole quarter! Now imagine the ‘oil is running down slowly’ message finally gets out there. Can you imagine the new funds for Elon Musk’s Tesla cars? For Boron cars? (James Hansen’s preferred method of getting off oil).
          * Some jet planes can run on nuclear power generated synfuel.
          * Airships are making a comeback in some sectors. Instead of rushing to your holiday, you’ll pay a bit more and the ride there will be half the attraction: half way between a jet plane and an ocean liner. 4 days to get to Europe from Australia, and a gym and bed and bar on the way. You arrive refreshed and not jet lagged.
          * Seawater + desert + solar power +(backup nuclear power) = food. Sundrop farms are building 4 HECTARES of food, and it’s just the first prototype. It’s already viable commercially. It’s starting to go around the world. Many of the nutrients actually come from the seawater.
          5 minutes ABC science show Catalyst

          * Other farmers are trying a vast number of soil rehabilitation and restoration schemes, from permaculture to biochar to biofarming to low till farming.
          * THIS IS NOT ABOUT GROWTH ON A FINITE PLANET! Supplying everyone with everything they *need* (food & water & education & dignified work & medical & birth control & security in old age) creates the Demographic Transition which sees populations declining.
          * Plasma Burners can recycle ALL household waste into syngas products like lubricants, paints, varnishes, some jet fuels, though to the harder lava flow producing bricks, tiles, rock-wool for hydroponics through to insulation, then mix rockwool with glues = fibreglass or faux wood panels for the side of your house. In other words, Plasma Burners convert household rubbish into two-thirds of your next house!

          • Paul says:

            My money is on ‘Mad Max’ — I am hoping I can star in the lead since Mel Gibson is a bit long in the tooth.

          • Eclipse Now says:

            Hi Chris Johnson,
            my original tag-line back when I had my own peak oil awareness moment in 2004 was ‘We must eclipse ourselves or be eclipsed’. I had a kid with cancer and then learned that Mad Max was coming! I went manic, and within 6 months had helped gather a bunch of like minded people and we were presenting Hubbert’s peak to the NSW minority parties. My original website was all about the idea of so outshining ourselves that we ‘eclipse’ all previous paradigms, and that if we failed we could be cast into utter darkness. The eclipse is a time of opportunity and threat. Now I’m not so sure it is as binary as all that, and realise there are a thousand shades of grey between a bright green future and total collapse. As I say on my summary page:

            ////I think we can and probably will make it. I am not a doomer preaching rabidly about the end of the world. There are risks. The decades ahead really do appear to be dangerous as we bump up against a variety of feedback loops and cascading negative interactions. International tensions could well boil over into war if we compete for the remaining oil, water, and farmland. How will the world respond if climate chaos forces massive waves of immigration? As oil runs thin which nations will agree to oil rationing, and which will resist any proposals for any kind of Oil Depletion Protocol? What resilience does the western world have to climate induced droughts, especially as our industrial agriculture is destroying topsoil as we speak? What will America do about their water aquifers running dry? What other wild-cards are coming our way?

            My motto used to be a bit too melodramatic: “We must eclipse ourselves or be eclipsed.” I wanted to highlight that while there are enormous risks ahead, there are also opportunities ahead for us to really shine. The reality is that there are a thousand nuanced and subtle ways we might succeed in some areas and fail in others. While we might not “be eclipsed” and cast into a new dark age, there is still a significant risk that we could end up stuck in the twilight. Today’s trends indicate our children will inherit a planet we hardly recognise, with half the biodiversity extinct by 2050 and many nations living in poverty and starvation. We can and must do better. Do we really want to leave them a depleted and denuded planet with weakened ecosystems and a shameful legacy of destruction?

            Or will we change the way it goes? We have the tools design a prosperous society that preserves the natural systems that preserve us. This blog documents some of the experts I’ve been reading that indicate how we might get there./////

            Anyway, James Hansen AGREES with Gail T on the many limitations of renewables. He says: “Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”

            For James its all about the fast build out of nuclear power and switching off oil onto that nuclear power through boron, EV’s, even hydrogen. Nuclear power will have to do the heavy lifting in the years ahead.

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Thanks Eclipse for you good essay. I find much to admire in Gail’s analysis and, I suppose I’ll enjoy James Hansen’s views as well. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that new and emerging technologies and systems are generally ignored, regardless of their real or potential impact. Electric vehicles is a good example, as are cheap simple batteries for grid use of renewables. They might not be deployed until 2016, but they could begin making a difference then, while our industrial system is still viable. All too often the commentary is that ‘that’ll never work because we’re running out of money and gasoline and the roads will all be full of potholes and the entire economy will be shut down except for the gangs pillaging the neighborhoods. As if we’re on the verge of total social implosion, right now, and get ready to start camping out next week… If some people want to cry that the sky is falling, there’s little we can do to reassure them, I guess.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          I have twice taken the time and effort to answer your questions sincerely, to have you just basically blow a raspberry back at me. I’ll not be bothering in future.

          • Paul says:

            What you don’t seem to get is that we need this to happen ‘overnight’

            In case you haven’t noticed we are in the final innings of the collapse.

            Always tomorrow — always a few years away — been hearing that for decades now so forgive me if I am cynical.

            Wake me up when the miracle arrives.

          • Chris Johnson says:

            Hi Eclipse
            You clearly enjoy shining light, at least some of the time. Do you also enjoy limiting or obstructing it other times as your handle suggests? (I ask in friendship; your handle is kinda neat). Anyway, I wanted to point out that NO SINGLE TECHNOLOGY or SYSTEM WILL SOLVE THE PROBLEMS. It won’t be just nuke, or boron, or geothermal or chemical reformation of natural gas into gasoline / diesel. It won’t even be the Keystone pipeline or the discovery of a way to turn coal into gasoline. The solutions will come slowly, perhaps painfully, and unevenly. They might not all arrive in time to prevent a difficult ‘flattening downward slope’ of economic activity and financial solvency.
            Alternatively, the whole system could collapse, and it appears that many contributors on this site just can’t wait to practice their ‘post collapse apocalyptic survival skills’ shows that they’ve been watching on TV.
            Here’s a question for a Poll Gail could run: How many of you believe the population of the world will reduce to 1 billion persons in approximately 40 years? 30 years? 20 years? 10 years?
            5 years? Come on, quit beating around the bush; tell us what you really think. Or not.
            I’ve noted previously that over-pessimism is as wrong (and probably as dangerous) as over-optimism, especially when assessing such weighty issues. Unfortunately, far too many of us sound like we’re intent on holding a ‘pity party’ rather than analyzing what’s wrong and whether or not we really are doomed.

            • Paul says:

              Chris – all due respect I totally disagree with this “many contributors on this site just can’t wait to practice their ‘post collapse apocalyptic survival skills’ shows that they’ve been watching on TV.”

              Personally I have not had a TV for 6 years — and never watched it much before that anyway — I have never seen one of these ‘doomsday prepper shows’ — and I will assume most of them are religious fanatics or simply whack jobs who pray for end of world scenarios because the lives they live now are filled with misery and disappointment.

              I am no such person – I cherish the life I live — I run a business remotely which allows me and my wife to set up shop somewhere else in the world every few months for 3-4 weeks. We have great friends and are lucky to be able to live most of the year on our hobby farm in Bali.

              The last thing I want to be doing is ‘practicing my survival skills’ in a devastated world — I am no rambo who thinks ‘bring it on – I will kick ass’ On the contrary – I think what is coming is highly likely to kick my ass

              And I think I speak for most of the people on this blog – I don’t think anyone is eagerly anticipating the collapse – but if one applies logic to the situation it is impossible to conclude that what is coming is going to be anything but a crash landing.

              And hence the discussions of how to prepare for what is almost certainly coming.

              On a personal level I have accepted what is inevitable — and I do see the future as a personal challenge — can I survive this??? — but if it were up to me and I could kick this can another 30 or 40 years so that I don’t have to go through this — I would most definitely take that option.

              I have zero desire to trade my current relatively cushy life for one where I am scraping and clawing to get my next meal — if it comes to that I will scrape and claw and do what it takes.

              Congratulations to those who think a soft landing is coming and that we’ll emerge from this better off so welcome the crash — or to those who pine for ‘doomsday’ because it means everyone gets to join them in misery — but …

              Be careful what you wish for. I have absolutely zero doubt that what is coming is exponentially worse than your worst nightmare.

              This is not a Hollywood movie – Superman (or Jesus for the prepper crowd) is not coming to save the day.

            • timl2k11 says:

              As for myself, I unfortunately do not have any “post collapse apocalyptic survival skills”. (Nor do I own a TV, I think I ought to get a HAM radio though)

            • Paul says:

              That’s a good idea — one with a hand crank charger or that can be charged by solar.

              There will be no CNN coverage of the breaking news when the collapse gets into full gear — not even of Justin Bieber — wonder how people like Justin will cope when they no longer have their sycophants spoon feeding them.

            • Stilgar Wilcox says:

              Bieber and Cyrus will have to get even more outlandish. Meanwhile here is info. from zero hedge:


              “The deceptive news was that the Fed, in its last Ben Bernanke moment, would stay the course. The course in question is the “12-Step Counterfeiters Anonymous” program popularly known as “tapering” of QE.

              The Fed says it will stay on the program, leading investors to believe that the central bank’s PhDs were steadfast in their commitment to end their bond buying … and that the economy was healthy enough that it didn’t need QE to prop it up. Neither of those things is true.”

              We’ll see if they can continue to taper. So far it hasn’t been very pretty for stock markets worldwide.

            • Paul says:

              Recall that the US government recently revised how they calculate GDP resulting in a half a trillion dollar gain being added to the overall number.

              Of course what the MSM prints and what people are actually experiencing on the ground are two different matters – no matter how hard people want to be sucked into the Edward Bernaysian PR that there is a recovery — when you don’t have a job and no money — that is a very difficult mental feat to perform — no amount of cognitive dissonance can overcome the cold, hard reality that you cannot ‘live the life of a rockstar’ that you were lead to believe was possible.

              Of course such a realization can lead to intense frustration and perhaps clinical depression – so two choices:

              1. Family Size Packs of Xanaz
              2. Open fire on society with an automatic weapon – because it’s there fault that you are not ‘living large’

              Evidence of this comes from the UK – where the right-wing UKIP party is now leading the pack to win the next election. Seems strange given that Cameron has lead the UK to what the MSM tells us is a momentum gathering recovery.

              But if you dig deeper you will find that there is no recovery – the UK is simply playing at the same games – debt-fueled… stimulus-fueled ‘growth’ And the average person is aware that this is all smoke and mirrors – so they are looking for another solution believing UKIP can solve their problems.

            • Unfortunately popularism is the politics of the desperate- it has been going on for 1000s of years when any civilisation stagnates or declines. Ramasis II was supposedly the greatest Pharaoh but regional climate change caused a great deal of migration and famine- yet the monuments reflected a previous golden age. The narrative now is a golden age has been taken from us by a bad influence, the golden age of the European right was cheap energy and military prowess and the enemy is immigrants, or the left, or gay marriage, or the EU [for UKip] or the UN conspiracy of climate change and even peak oil.

              The question is whether people will fall for the lie again- perhaps we can by-pass this fantastical politics this time round.

            • Christian says:

              Ahahahah! Very funny

            • Christian says:

              I mean Couterfeiters Anonymous

            • xabier says:


              If it gets really bad, I’m sure we here at OFW can pose on wrecking balls, naked.

              That should cause a media distraction of epic proportions.

            • InAlaska says:

              You’ll have to define “OFW” for me.

            • InAlaska says:


            • InAlaska says:

              Oh, got it. “OFW” Our FInite World. Truly, we can extrapolate about the future on this blog. Sure it is fun, but prediction is a tricky business and I feel that most of what we have all said here can only be viewed as mostly flawed. The future never unfolds as we think it might, must or should. There are so many random variables over which we have no control or even insight into, that however brilliant our analysis we will fall short of understanding something so complex as the collapse of our civilization. If, when, how, and why. Sorry to throw cold water on y’all.

            • xabier says:

              In Alaska

              Heartily agree with you.

              At best we are like the men in the old Persian story, in a blacked-out room trying to describe an elephant from what they feel as they bump into it. People use the phrase elephant in the room today to suggest that something big is being ignored, but that’s not the original meaning of the tale.

              However, the elephant IS there, which is not what the MSM would have us believe. So I feel discussions are useful and particularly for people from different regions of the globe to offer their insights into what is unfolding.

              I spent a few years of my life reading a great many diplomatic documents from the end of WW1. It was amusing and highly instructive to see how even well-informed and experienced people got nearly everything wrong about the course of events.

              Similarly, reading about the ‘welfare state future’ of Britain as predicted in 1945 is very illuminating….

              Though I did notice that the greatest errors originate in emotion and wishful-thinking (or pessimism) , which distorted what they saw unfolding.

              And there was a clever man in 1919 who said quite calmly that there would be another world war with Germany in the next 20 years, not a bad forecast!

            • InAlaska says:

              You are of course correct. The best we can do may not be good enough but we must act as we feel the situation dictates at the time. We can do nothing else. My only criticism is that many folks on this blog speak with a degree of certitude about our collective future which I find to be arrogant, disturbing, ignorant, amusing. Enough said.

            • jeremy890 says:

              Just line Seven (7) people up in a line….take away one or two from that group. Those will be the ones left “standing”. To “plan” for this “event”, well is simply a flash in the pan.

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Offending you was not my objective; if it resulted from my writings, I apologize. On the other hand, my remarks are not baseless: some comments more than occasionally cast an “uber-doomer” pall, a thoroughly negative reading of a situation that has never existed and may never exist. I believe quite simply that excessive pessimism is as harmful as excessive optimism, and that if we’re not focused on exploring the parameters of reality then we shouldn’t be here. It’s pretty clear to me that you are.

            • Tony says:

              It’s not pessimism to realise that our way of life (aka civilisation) is wrecking the environment on which all life depends and that consuming resources beyond their renewal rates (in order to wreck the environment) simply can’t go on. As this whole edifice is bound to collapse eventually, it really would be better that it collapses sooner rather than later (to limit the damage). Of course, one may only care about the present time, in which case one can be as optimistic as is necessary to wish for a solution. No one can foretell the future in an exact way but it’s clear that certain actions eventually lead to certain outcomes (in broad terms). I have no illusions about my survival skills (and I almost never watch television, so won’t “learn” anything there) but I am fairly rational when it comes to realising the impacts of our behaviour.

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Thanks, Tony. Well said.

            • Paul says:

              Chris – no offense taken – I just don’t agree primarily because the logic of the situation leads me to be pessimistic — and nobody here or on any other site has been able to even slightly convince me that a cataclysm is not imminent.

              I always come back to this key point:

              – 7.2 billion people are fed only because we use oil and gas based fertilizers and pesticides
              – as oil and gas become increasingly expensive people will not be able to afford food
              – if oil and gas are no longer extracted because nobody can afford to pay for them or the many products they are used to make – then food production will crash
              – it takes 3+ years to convert industrial farms to organic methods and realize a crop

              Now if you can explain to me how we get around the rather significant problem of food production in a collapsing world – I might exude a glimmer of hope.

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Paul: Thanks for your explanation. I had not previously considered those factors, nor the timing and interrelationships. Nor do I have any fixes. Much to explore.

            • charlie says:

              @chris johnson, Feb 1.
              I took your challenge Chris;;;;; and discovered some startling numbers. I chose approx 1/2 the worlds population, 3.5 BILLION and divided it by 20 years (7300 days). What I came up with is, Close to 500,000 people/day, (479,450) would have to die every day for 20 years just to get it down to 1/2 the population. That is not taking into consideration the birth rate for the world. To get it down to 1 BILLION would be close to twice that number. Just looking at the numbers boggles my mind, about all I can say is, a whole lot of people are going to be in one world of “HURT” real soon………With those kinds of numbers I suspect it’s going to take at least a Century to collapse

            • Chris Johnson says:


              Thank you for your insight and effort. What a remarkable finding. Perhaps a ‘sky coming to earth’, as in scripture, will be the approved method. The scenario you highlighted sounds sort of like waiting for the 4.15 train to Dachau.

            • Stilgar Wilcox says:

              Yeah, Charlie but numbers are just that, numbers. Who set 550k as the max. a day to perish? Remember how fast the numbers dropped when the mice that were over-running the Aussies outback ran out of food? Their numbers ballooned for months, then suddenly over a few days met their demise. How many bit the dust daily? Many millions I’m sure. In fact a strange phenomenon occurred when their moment of truth arrived. They found them in piles, with bite marks all over each other, so they actually killed one another. I don’t think people will bite each other, but the end result may not be much different, as I’m sure people won’t hesitate to kill in one manner or another to get their food, and then the rate of loss lives skyrockets.

            • Stilgar Wilcox says:

              I meant 500k a day.

            • edpell says:

              Looking at the standard run of the Limits to Growth it seems about 450k deaths per day. 250k being normal deaths and 200k being above births. This carries on over 60 years and takes the population from 9 billion to 4.5 billion by 2100.

          • timl2k11 says:

            I’m curious Chris, have you watched this video? “Peak mining & implications for natural resource management – Simon Michaux” http://youtu.be/TFyTSiCXWEE
            The analyzing has been done and yes, we are really doomed. But asking someone to predict when the population will hit 1 billion? That is a very massive die-off. Why should we have to predict when that population “milestone” will be hit?

            • Chris Johnson says:

              Thank you, Simon Michaux is superb. He’s realistic, committed, and not ready to start running around in circles screaming ‘the sky is falling’, even if it might be ready to. There are things happening that I am not at liberty to discuss, but which could affect these considerations. My basic point remains the same: undue pessimism is as dangerous as undue optimism.

    • Eclipse Now says:

      Sorry Mike, I forgot the James Hansen link.

      Also, here’s the free book that discusses boron replacing oil, and completely by passing the chicken and egg problem of supplier networks V enough customers to get things going. While there *is* a cheap oil civilisation in place, boron is so inert that it can just be *mailed* to the recharging depot. Have enough at home, and a boron car can even run your home’s electricity in a power outage. Boron cars could save lives in ‘Drunken Arctic’ storms across North America. (Free book below: backed by James Hansen’s SCGI).

      • Robin Clarke says:

        Some quotes from that book re “boron cars”:

        “Unlike fossil fuels, metal fuels are not really energy sources.
        They, like hydrogen, are energy carriers.”
        “He has been pondering this for nearly a decade and early on came up with the inspiration of burning boron in pure oxygen. Therein lies the key.”
        “Here’s where that two hundred dollars becomes vanishingly
        cheap. The boron oxide would be hauled back to a recycling center.
        There it would be heated to about 700° Celsius and processed with a
        couple of catalysts to drive off the oxygen,”
        “There are a number of marvelous aspects to this system.”
        “The only costs would be the recycling,
        and since the IFR fuel that would power the recycling process is
        essentially free, that processing charge would be minimal.”

        If there is a sound case for “boron replacing oil”, I don’t see it made clear there.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Hi Robin,
          Boron is not an energy source. Neither are electric cars. But tens of thousands of electric cars are being sold each year. How is this so? The EV is ‘borrowing’ from the EROEI of the coal. In the same way, Boron will borrow from the very high EROEI of nuclear power. If you have concerns, try asking the crew over at James Hansen’s SCGI or you can ask at the BNC forum here.

          • Robin Clarke says:

            Your point about EV borrowing from coal is a valid one. There remains the question of to what extent societies can afford to spend on pricey new cars, when my information is that more and more people in uk cannot afford to run cars at all anyway let alone splash out on a new flashy one. If anyone knows how to do the maths on that….

            • I don’t think banks want to raise the monthly payment to wage ratios that they permit now. Expensive cars price a lot of people out of the market. They need to use older cars that are not EVs longer, or take public transport.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Hi Robin,
          I just wanted to say that I agree, and that price is a big deal. I’m not buying a Tesla Gen3 even if it comes down to $30,000. But there are many who will. There are a surprising number of the super-expensive Tesla S sales each year, and that was just Elon’s way of raising the funds to get Tesla really up and running so he could bring the price down of more modest cars. So once the (to me) super expensive Tesla Gen3 starts selling in volume, maybe he’ll be able to rinse & repeat and bring the cost down further? Or maybe not? Maybe cultures and habits will change. I hope so. I’m a fan of New Urbanism, and you know the old rule about New Urbanism: if you build it they will come. If you build more rail, New Urbanism grows up around it (and sometimes even over it!) Less of us driving would actually be a good thing in the long term. Less traffic, more community.

          • Paul says:

            I am reading down these comments and I am beginning to think you are taking the piss.
            At least I hope so because otherwise….

          • Peter S says:

            You do know that the electricity for electric cars has to come from somewhere, don’t you?
            Either you burn the oil making the car and then in the car engine, or you burn it making the electric car and in the electricity generation.

            Electricity comes from fossil fuels.

      • Paul says:

        Wow – awesome – I’ll run right out and buy that (not)

        How about when the first plant is up and running you come back to this blog — and you let us know all about it.

        All kidding aside — how many times have we heard this bs?

        I can’t run my car on a theory — and that’s what this is — just another pie in the sky theory that has not been demonstrated to work.

        I am still waiting for Japan to haul those frozen balls of energy out of the ocean depths – just like I am waiting for the first 10 million tonne asteroid made of pure copper to be towed back to earth — oh and I keep going back to that bar and they keep telling me to come back tomorrow for the free beer.

  20. HnH says:

    The prediction of 2015 being the major trigger point for the unraveling is,although logical, quite bold indeed.

    Personally, I thought that the 2008 crisis would mark the swift breakdown of our financial system, dragging the interdependent just-in-time globalized trade with it. But nope, it was not to be, which is probably a good thing.

    The amount of governmental control on supporting BAU in emergency situations is quite astonishing. While my list is far from exhaustive it provides a glimpse what desperate governments may do:

    -The Cyprus crisis showed that governments are willing to make large depositors contribute towards saving the banking system. The IWF suggested including all accounts with more than 100.000 Euros.

    – New legislation is very likely to nationalize crucial cogs in industry, finance and other sectors. The costs will be borne by the population by means of increased taxes.

    – Extended powers will go to executive functions necessary to control a restive population, e.g. police, paramilitary and military organizations.

    – Alternative means of preserving wealth, e.g. real estate, precious metals, electronic currencies and retirement funds will be increasingly taxed, outlawed or appropriated on reasons of national security, etc.

    – nationalist tendencies and emotions will be stoked against immigrant groups, elderly pensioners, women, homosexuals, the unemployed..you name it.

    -On the foreign policy side countries with relatively low cost energy resources will be even further targeted and possibly attacked on whatever grounds one may think of.

    The list is too long to continue, but by no means exhaustive. The thing is that desperate governments can become exceedingly creative and controlling in an all out attempt to stem against the tide, or remain on top of the pyramid against all other competitors vying for a bigger slice of the shrinking pie.

    Also, the majority of the population will accept or go along with the measures because the increased stress stemming from bumping against the limits to growth may not be understood consciously, but is being felt. Just have a look at the inexorable rise of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain without physical explanation, migraine, alcohol, drug and benzodiazepine abuse …again, the list is endless.

    Basically, more than a fourth of all the population in western countries is or has been suffering from clinically relevant psychological disorders. And that situation is going to get worse. I am convinced that a very large part of this rise is related to the increased stress that people feel because of the energy predicament. It is quite irrelevant whether they are aware of it or not. The impact is felt everywhere.

    • Robin Clarke says:

      The reason the collapse hasn’t happened is because the collapse IS happening. The Titanic can sink in two ways. A: The way it did – namely break in two and end up on the seabed. B: Drown out the lowest decks and settle on a new equilibrium less high in the water – and all but the lower classes still complete the voyage to McLand. We are currently seeing collapse type B. Millions of households even in “rich” countries are finding their budgets no longer add up and those households then collapse. They are dying of starvation and stress, but this is not being recorded in the media as it isn’t what people want to be told and it happens out of sight unlike the grand megaprojects of continuing globalisation.

      • xabier says:


        I tend to agree. We are in the middle of a stepped collapse: there will be few dramas I suspect.

        The poor suffer in the shadows (until they are actually out on the street with no home and food – then one gets a mass explosion), anxious and stressed.

        The elderly poor die silently and unseen from neglect, malnutrition, not quite enough food, not quite enough heat…)

        German Army doctors noted an ‘inexplicable disease’ among the troops, leading to sudden death. It was ‘inexplicable’ because they were reluctant to face the simple fact that the troops were dying of starvation and hypothermia……. A soldier could stand sentry, say ‘Ill just have something to eat now’, and drop dead by the time his officer came back down the line.

        Not only are the financial interests energetically struggling to maintain an illusion of normality and recovery, but modern societies can take a lot of punishment and seemingly cohere while they are being hollowed out and destroyed in a gradual but steady decline.

        All the indicators point to this decline in Europe and the US.

      • edpell says:

        Robin, I tend to agree it will at least start with type B collapse. Type B has already started. Whether type B can stabilize and avoid eventual type A is iffy in my mind.

        Of course governments have some extraordinary powers, like “congratulations from the president you have just been drafted into the 276th coal mining brigade serving in Alaska. You will be provided food and housing and if the economy ever recovers you will be set free.”

        • Paul says:

          Kind of like being ordered to build a temple at Angkor Wat — or a pyramid at Giza ….

        • InAlaska says:

          You’ll be lucky to be sent to Alaska. With climate change, our winters are very mild. In fact, it is warmer here than wherever most of you are now. Warmest winter in recorded history in Alaska. Also we have low population density, a citizenry skilled in living close to the land, abundant wildlife, fish, oil, land, water, wood, gold. Throw in solar PV and wind and you have all the elements of survival.

      • I hadn’t thought of putting the problem this way. You are probably right that that is one of the way collapse happens. There are a lot of young people who can’t find good paying jobs, and have postponed having a family indefinitely. (Maybe not all bad.)

      • Paul says:

        Agree – very much so. The MSM reports are no reflection of reality

    • “I Personally, I thought that the 2008 crisis would mark the swift breakdown of our financial system, dragging the interdependent just-in-time globalized trade with it.
      But nope, it was not to be, which is probably a good thing.”

      I disagree: I believe our financial sytem is officially broken and has been since 2008. Everything and the kitchen sink is being thrown at our financial system with unprecedented Fed intervention and the patient is still dying. The only thing that allows the extend and pretend zero percent interest rates in the USA is the petrodollar. The biggest threat to this country would be for an oil exporter to price their oil in a currency outside of the USD. I don’t know what would precipitate such a crisis but it could be the black swan event. There is a good chance the Fed can keep the party going (in the USA at least) as long as the petrodollar system remains in place. With every new Arab Springs comes a new threat to the petrodollar.

      • I agree with you that the financial system has been broken since 2008. If it weren’t for throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the problem, the price of oil would now be in the $30 range. Even with putting everything into the effort, the price isn’t really high enough for oil companies to make the level of profits they need to keep up their drilling. This is part of our current financial problem, and ultimately could lead to a drop in oil production.

        The petrodollar is definitely related to this. It is amazing the level of debt the US has been able to amass, as the result of the petrodollar.

      • Hmmm …

        Petrodollar is not what it was in the ‘good old days’, whatever they were. Once upon a time, a petrodollar was one held by an overseas oil producer gained from the sale of his product. The petrodollar of the 1970s and 80’s was a problem: what to do with all of them?

        The (petro)dollar is now is the preferred medium of exchange for petroleum … along with euros, yen and sterling … as opposed to other, lesser currencies.

        The reason is because these media are freely available in needed amounts, and are freely exchangeable in forex markets … so far. The lesser currencies, much less so.

        Since World War Two, money — including dollars, yen, euros, etc. — has been a proxy for commerce. In this context, commerce is deemed to be worth more than money so there is incentive for ‘customers’ to trade money they hold for goods and services as quickly as possible.

        Almost everything the establishment has attempted since the Lehman crisis has been to reinforce this theme of commerce being worth more than money.

        Meanwhile, under the establishments’ noses, money is becoming a proxy for petroleum. In that context, petroleum is observed as being worth more than commerce; this is because commerce is revealing itself to be unproductive/auto-destructive. The ‘money choice’ is being made starting within the marginal economies around the world: money is less about commerce and more the resource inputs needed for commerce … indeed, for survival.

        If money as a proxy for commerce, customers rapidly trade it for goods and services. When money becomes a proxy for petroleum, customers hold money b/c it becomes the last, best chance to gain goods that are certain to be scarce in the future. Here, the dollar becomes a hard currency, much like 1930s dollar, redeemable for gold.

        Right not the ‘price’ of dollars and other currencies is set — not by central bankers or by government fiat — but by millions of motorists using dollars in exchange for gasoline in filling stations all over the world 24/7. Here, other, lesser currencies are proxies for dollars, some moreso than others.

        It’s a very small step from exchangeability to redeemability. Making that step is what is underway right now. In the early 1930s, the economy of the developed world shifted from a preference for commerce toward one of holding gold. Gold became the last, best chance to get a roof overhead or something to eat. The world’s economy became gold arbitrage and little else; contracts, currencies and credit were deployed as blunt instruments in a deterministic contest to gain gold. In 3 short years business, banking and to some degree agriculture collapsed. This is the background behind Gail’s brilliant thesis.

        Preference takes place in people’s minds, it effects how they perceive relative worth and what their own conditions allow. In the 1930s, the US and other countries severed the gold-money connection, they ‘went off gold’. Today, we face ‘petroleum arbitrage’ and the use of blunt instruments to gain fuel the same way our hapless ancestors struggled to gain gold.

        As then, our challenge is to ‘go off petroleum’, we do so or else. We must grasp the nettle and court an industrial depression in order to avoid the alternative, an endless Greater Depression.

    • The forecast isn’t 2015 exactly. My chart is only plotted at 5 year intervals, so misses shorter periods of time. I expect the collapse is to some extent a country by country collapse, with some already in collapse, some going into collapse in 2014, some in 2015 and so on. But the trends is down, and there is a definite contagion problem, if the country involved is the US instead of Cyprus.

    • Markus says:

      Nationalist tendencies don’t need to be stoked, they’re already present, and have been for a long time. Public opinion, which is a fundamental pillar of democracy, is simply ignored. The Immigration Act of 1965, which we were lied about, was not popular, and for a law with such importance, not consulting with the American people was a grave democratic deficit, to say the least. I could comment about the pushers, but I have no desire to create a controversy here.

      You don’t need to go far to notice this sentiment. Almost any large news website with an article on amnesty will arouse comments against it and they are always upvoted.

      Nationalist tendencies go against immigrant groups (the reason: resource competition, Darwin anyone?) and race can be a factor as well — although not always — as many people who belong to a race don’t like watching its displacement/replacement. It’s an in-group / out-group mentality, which will surely become very significant in case of collapse. Women, elderly pensioners and the unemployed are not and will never be victims of nationalism.

      • HnH says:

        Nationalist tendencies are indeed an outgrowth of the in-group/out-group mentality, although I’ll never understand how that group could include so many people when this mentality is arguably a evolutionary selection mechanism that had its most tangible and beneficial impact during our Hunter-Gatherer times, and communities rarely exceeded 200 individuals… So, I accept nationalism as social reality, but I struggle to understand how it makes sense from an evolutionary/sociological/psychological point of view.

        I have to disagree on your assessment that women, the elderly and the unemployed will never be victims of nationalism. The stronger the nationalist sentiment, the stronger the pressure towards conformism and homogeneity becomes and the likelier it is that women’s freedoms are curtailed. In highly nationalistic countries the unemployed and elderly are also blamed for consuming precious resources, see pressure to conform to particular notions.

        Nationalism is all about strengthening the in-group and its ability to project power. As such, it needs to curtail women’s freedoms to increase the in-group by means of a higher birthrate. It also needs to reduce the amount of people who are considered as not contributing enough. That explicitly includes the elderly and the unemployed.

        I do hope that nationalism is going to disappear during the coming bottleneck because its contribution to human societies and civilizations has been, on the whole, highly detrimental at best. I have a similar view on racism.

        Let’s see how that collapse plays out and what kinds a notions and concepts will bite the dust.

        • I am afraid nationalism will go away, and be replaced by something even more local. “We are the people who lived in this area, before. You folks coming here from California (or Nevada or wherever) will need to go somewhere else. There is not enough to share.”

      • Peter S says:

        “the unemployed are not and will never be victims of nationalism”

        With all due respect, that last part is blatantly untrue. Have you seen the growing class war in the USA? (Also in other countries.) The unemployed, the poor, the lower classes, are actively being more and more discriminated against. The rich (for lack of a better word) are using patriotism – nationalism – and arguing that the poor are not truly citizens, they don’t produce, they suck the wealth and resources away etc.

        The unemployed – which will eventually become the majority – will be the competition for resources, the enemy.

        • xabier says:

          I agree: interesting to note how ‘welfare spending’ (originally designed to prevent the repitition of the semi-starvation of the 1930’s) has been redesignated ‘ growth-killing entitlement spending’. Pure Nazism in the manipulation of language. Like the ‘Boomer’ rhetoric.

          • Peter S says:

            I agree. But I wonder if it may even be logical in politician’s minds. They may be thinking that they really won’t be able to afford to spend money on services. Each year a little less. And I think that’s where it’s going.

      • Markus says:


        Your vision of nationalism seems to be that of nazism, and you assume it cannot be anything other than oppressive and imperialist. I have to disagree here, and say that the modern democracies are guilty of falling back to both principles. America has been “projecting power” for decades now, and I fail to see the country’s nationalism for a set of diverse reasons.

        I would say that nationalism does indeed strive towards homogeneity (the well-being and maintenance of the in-group), and that this is rooted in evolution, rather than an abstract human invention. Nationalists also wish for a fertility good enough to replace the existing population. Failing to do so would do no good to the society as a whole, unless we somehow exit the current economic paradigm and all its benefits, in special the pension for the elderly, then we can allow the population numbers to decrease (to an extent). Treating humans as interchangeable economic units is a capitalist, globalist idea, which nationalists, for opposing immigration and the cold ideals of globalist capitalism, do not agree with, unless those are of a similar stock and not large in numbers, and resources allow their presence.

        When did humans first become human? The answer is far from simple, because the question assumes that sometime in the past, humans achieved modernity and were locked within an evolutionary loophole where natural selection no longer applies. Despite the absurdity of this scenario, and in stark contrast to empirical data, it is widely believed that humans have not changed physically or mentally for the past 50,000 years or so.

        How can we test the sincerity of the anti-identitarian crowd? One-world utopians believe in their disillusions as long as they have the presence of the likes of them in society in the form of friends, neighbors, scientists, engineers, educators, doctors, government officials, family etc. Move and force them to live solely among an overcrowded, radically different people, without a single member of his in-group around, and let’s see if we are indeed all the same, that evolution has stopped somewhere 50,000 years ago, that they would be as happy as, say, nationalists who wish and can live up to the contrary. Or do utopians believe in what they preach, as long as they are allowed to roam in the midst of those they wish to destroy?

        Regarding racism, it’s a symptom, a reaction, rather than the disease. Races are not known to be racist among their own. The Scottish, the Japanese, the Norwegian, the Hungarian, the Bantu, they can’t be racist among themselves. There may be conflicts due to religion or the government’s actions, but not racism. If you want a cure to racism, give people their racial rights, teach about it, demand its recognition and respect. Racism is the result of races having their racial rights violated, namely the right to geographical integrity and self-governance, which are the linchpin of their continued existence as different and unique peoples, guaranteeing them protection against ethnic displacement, replacement, loss of self-rule and extinction. In this context, racial rights are anti-genocide and anti-colonialist.

        When these rights are violated, you can expect a then non-existent phenomenon to become a reality.

        • xabier says:

          Nationalism. Internationalism.

          Such lovely ideals: until the knives come out, the ‘traitors’ are purged and the bombs planted…….

          In a survival context, the thing is to be is perhaps in a place where you don’t stick out, for whatever reason. ( Unless one has the charisma to lead, I suppose?!)

        • HnH says:


          I did not fully understand the meaning of the second half of your first paragraph. The spelling of your name makes me think that German is your first language. If you would like to converse in German to convey your meaning you could do so, as I speak German.

          I also think that there are a couple of misunderstandings that would need to be cleared up to make this conversation more meaningful.

          First, I stated that I understand the need for in-group/out-group but I don’t understand that need, if the in-group exceeds 200-300 individuals. That’s why nationalism does not make sense to me. Nations are based on physical boundaries with up to 1.3 billion people in it.

          What you seem to mix together are the concepts of race, culture and nation.

          Genetically speaking, there is no such thing as race because genetic variability within “races” is higher than between races. Race is a social construct based on differences in appearance, that has been infused with significant meaning in our current civilization. The concept of different human races is created by man, not by nature.

          Scots, Bantu or Japanese are not races. They are an assembly of individuals that are grouped together based on geographical boundaries called nations, and *culture*.

          The notion of culture is fraught with difficulties, but simply speaking it can be described as a unifying set of values, beliefs and a sharing of understanding on how one should behave. Language, perceptions on history and accepted standards of social interaction make part of what is culture.

          What I also would like to convey is that democracies, or what we currently understand by that term, are continuously evolving. Our current democracies are not comparable to the ones in ancient Greece or to the ones we had in the 1950’s.

          A state is *always* creating laws that support the state’s elite and powerful. In the beginning the creation of particular laws are also beneficial to the lower classes, but that changes over time.

          It is a myth that there such thing as sovereignty and self-governance in a nation or state. The sovereigns are always the rich and powerful, changing the laws and their application to their favor. This is even more the case for modern democracies, but here the populace has the *illusion* of self-governance.

          If you look closer, you will see that, in any country or nation, a particular kind of individual is getting to the levers of power, regardless of party. In the US it is the moneyed elite, or those that promote the ideas of the moneyed elite. In the UK it is the moneyed elite, mostly of old money, that has been educated at Eton or other public schools which are similarly inaccessible without money. In Germany, you have to have been formed and vetted by decades of promoting the right ideas in the respective political parties, and a solid middle-class background as a lawyer, teacher or public servant would certainly help. This can easily be extended to every democracy we have at the moment. The only less extreme example might be Switzerland.

          Our current democracies have devolved into plutocracies, for the corporations and those with money to afford lobbying efforts, aided and abetted by carefully vetted politicians, who know what they are allowed to say, and what not.

          It is thus that nationalism makes no sense whatsoever to me. Friends, family, identity based on small villages, and communities of like minded people; OK. But nations? Just a concept to make yourself a willing servant of the respective moneyed elite and their flavor of the day notions. The only advantage up to now was that being a national of the US or Western nations allowed you a standard of living that was unobtainable for many others. This is very likely to change in the not too distant future.

          Put into this potent mix the need of any larger group, and nations in particular, to increase its power while struggling with the consequences of finite resources, and you have a toxic cocktail of unique proportions.

        • Markus says:


          Whilst I may favor nationalism, or identitarianism if you will, I am no fan of authoritarian or war-like governments, though I will support defensive measures if the nation, or historical people that have inhabited the region, are being the victims of inward or outward aggression.

          You said:
          “Genetically speaking, there is no such thing as race because genetic variability within “races” is higher than between races. Race is a social construct based on differences in appearance, that has been infused with significant meaning in our current civilization. The concept of different human races is created by man, not by nature.”

          This is Boasian anthropology, and false. Races, or populations geographically separated and evolved over a long period of time, or subspecies — whatever you like to call them — are biological realities, not social constructs.

          See: http://i.imgur.com/ANdJBsQ.jpg

          You can take an East Asian to Africa, make him accustomed to local beliefs and language, indoctrinate him with x beliefs and do an all-out effort to ‘socially engineer’ your target, but in the end, his genetic test will still group him with other East Asians. You may use all the social forces available in your arsenal to shape your target’s beliefs and culture, but you won’t make him cluster genetically with Africans, so his biology, his racial origins and genetic distance from Africans will still show up in a map detailing genetic distance between human races.

          Being socially constructed implies being influenced by the forces of culture as it is shaped by other individuals, and living accordingly. Your democracy, financial institutions, police, schools, laws etc. are all social constructs. Being biological, on the other hand, implies having a hereditary, genetic basis, which race has. The day you can ‘socially engineer’ yourself to a racial cluster you don’t belong is the day I will agree that yes, race is a social construct shaped by culture. Goodluck with that.

          • HnH says:

            ^This. This argument is precisely what happens when people without knowledge but a whole lot of convictions are taking snippets of scientific data they do not understand to make a point they think is valid, but only underscores the extent of how clueless they are.

            The picture you have taken stems from a research paper that tried to find differences on 29 (out of several dozens of thousands) gene loci based on geographical differences. They used so few, because including more would not have yielded the results they hoped to find. Maybe you should have read that paper. The authors didn’t even name the amount of people that they included in the data, but they were explicit in that they used samples from *tribes* and they had to exclude a lot of others to come to that result. They also concluded that the significance of data was often very weak. All in all, that research is of incredibly weak quality with the results being completely valueless. This is compounded by the fact that it stems from 1993, a time when research on genetic differences was very much in its infancy.

            I can not persuade you that your convictions are incompatible with contemporary research, although many a researcher tried to find what you claim as your truth. If, however, you are willing to have your views challenged, then I can recommend you this PDF chapter from a book from 2002 (http://tinyurl.com/olofk4w) that tries, without jargon, to explain the myths and the facts on the differences of human races. More recent books from 2011 coming to the very same conclusion are briefly discussed here (http://tinyurl.com/bbaxfok). And please don’t come up with works from Lynn, because his works have repeatedly been shown to have serious flaws. That’s why he needed to publish his recent findings (2006) in book form. He could not get it through peer review, because it was not good enough.

            Your beliefs and convictions are your own, but please don’t argue that they have any scientific basis. Because they don’t.

          • timl2k11 says:

            I think you two are talking past each other because the concept of race is being confused with the concept of ethnicity by someone. If Markus replaced the word race with ethnicity, I don’t think you could argue with him. Perhaps there is some overlap as well in the way people use the terms (proper or not).

          • HnH says:

            @timl2k11. True :). It was the way he used the notion of race that annoyed me. Ethnicity is much less loaded, but even then I would highly value precise phrasing.

  21. Paul says:

    We are in a very precarious economic situation — http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/10605957/World-risks-deflationary-shock-as-BRICS-puncture-credit-bubbles.html

    Interesting — I have not seen a single analyst/economist recognize that the disease is the end of cheap oil…. I suppose if they were to acknowledge that then logic would kick in and they would realize that all this nattering is totally pointless drivel.

    They’d be confronted by prospect of the end of the industrial revolution — and the rather disturbing implications associated with that.

    They prefer to put head into sand.

    • Thanks! I had not seen that report. The deflation countries are seeing seems to me to be somewhat related to the oil prices that are trending slightly downward, rather than upward. This, of course, is part of the problem for oil companies that are losing their collective shirts.

  22. http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_24998206/californias-wall-debt-is-only-slice-its-liability shows some of the finances (?) of the State of California.
    Gail T. emailed me, about that: “Thanks! Debt is what will bring the system down.”
    James Kunstler emailed me, about it: “Looks pretty grim.
    The ability to keep things running despite all these lethal imbalances is astounding. But I suppose it will only make the inevitable adjustment worse when it comes.”

    • It seems like everywhere we look, we find problems with over-indebtedness. The only fix available seems to be more debt, and ultra low interest rates.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Timely article from Germany’s Der Spiegel today: “Gone With the Wind: Weak Returns Cripple German Renewables”.
        Und how does one say ‘oops’ auf deutsch?

        • Stan says:

          Chris Johnson asked: “Und how does one say ‘oops’ auf deutsch?”

          “Heilige Scheisse”!


        • In Norwegian (my background), the word for Oops is “Uff da”.

          It is hard to see how any of the intermittent renewables will do as promised, whether it is return to shareholders or payback to owners of solar panels. One of The Oil Drum contributors, quite a while ago, when I mentioned the problem, said simply–“That is OK. The debt will simply be defaulted on, and the wind turbines bought at a much lower price by new investors. So the wind turbines will keep on operating. That is what happened with nuclear.”

          I think widespread default or very low return means the end of new investment, though. And if governments fail, there will be a problem in maintaining the wind turbines.

  23. Ignored in the equation here is that the very people in control of the Energy Resource are the SAME people who issued out the Credit to access said Energy Resource.

    Generally in this country this originally sprouted from John D. Rockefeller gaining Monopoly over energy resource in the FSoA, while simultaneously with Samuel Chase founding the Chase Manhattan Bank, now JP Morgan Chase.

    In cooperation with European Banking interests, specifically the Rothschilds, Credit has been issued to Goobermints and other Private interests to build out the infrastructure to utilize that energy.

    It all worked great so long as they had full control of the Energy Resource and the Credit Creation apparatus. They no longer have such control due to physical restraints on supply. Issuing more Credit in the absence of supply simply ends up with rising Bankruptcy Rates, which is what we see now.

    In order to have a functioning monetary system, we have to switch off this resource base, which essentially no longer exists in sufficient quantity to grow and issue additional credit on.

    This can be done, but in order to do it you first have to eliminate the Banking System that grew up around it, and the people who control this system. They will not let go of the system willingly, it has made them fabulously Wealthy and Powerful through the Age of Oil. However, not until this power and wealth is removed from them can we pursue a more Sustainable Paradigm and a Better Tomorrow.


    • Oh but the US wields a lot of power over global energy resources which feed directly into the central bank (The Fed). The petrodollar!

      • Certainly the use of the dollar as proxy for energy, petroleum in particular has allowed Da Fed and it’s member banks to control the energy trade for the last century. However, control over the credit creation process doesn’t put more cheap energy in the ground upon which to issue credit. So there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot Da Fed can do.


    • I expect the financial systems will collapse with the governments. I am not sure which will go first. I expect that in some cases, it would be the financial system that goes first.

      As I was reading your post, the humorous thought that wind and solar PV could pair with a new banking system ran through my mind. Petroleum was a great generator of wealth. It paired well with banks, because with a little debt, customers could become much more efficient using fossil fuels. But industrial wind turbines and solar PV have proven to be very different. Instead of generating more wealth quickly, they are great “sinks” for wealth. It becomes clear why such a new system won’t work, if it was’t clear before.

      • Actually, nobody ever became more efficient using Fossil Fuels. The whole industrial apparatus was built on debt, and never was able to pay for itself. Steve from Virginia on Economic Undertow has demonstrated this quite well. Costs in terms of environmental destruction and resource depletion were never factored in. Agelbert on the Diner often hammers down on this point, as he did in his recent rebuttal to your last article. I’d certainly be interested to see your defense of the points he questioned in your analysis.

        In terms of creating a new banking system based on renewable energy, it is possible as long as you can make whatever system it is you devise self sustaining and have a means to store the energy collected, which could be in the form of thermal mass or mechanical energy storage.

        You really just need to step outside the box of centralized system thinking and move into distributed and redundant systems thinking.


        • InAlaska says:

          We already know how to use molten salt as thermal storage from solar in order to store energy, even at night, and release it into steam turbines to power a small grid. Replicate this all over the country and you have a massive, decentralized, and redundant grid system.

        • I agree that the whole industrial apparatus was built on debt. It seems to me that the economic growth that ensued allowed debt to be paid back with interest. This economic growth was enabled by the difference between the value to society of the fuel and the cost of extraction (without deduction for environmental harms). Obviously we are using resources that deplete, and we are adding more pollution to the environment every day, so the situation is only a temporary one.

          Can you suggest any particular posts of Steve’s that I should look at?

          Re the sustainable energy system, I suppose you are building something that is sort of equivalent to a temporary storage battery with your renewable energy device. (The renewable energy temporarily allows electricity to be generated by the device.) The renewable energy device degrades as friction and other forces take their toll. You add storage to your device as well, so that the output isn’t intermittent. This adds to the cost and makes one more point of potential failure to the system. The storage system is also less than 100% efficient. The issues I see are

          1. Finding the funds (and fossil fuels) to make such devices and their electricity storage devices, and
          2. The short lives of such devices, considering the difficulty of repairing them, and the impossibility of replacing them.

          Aren’t these devices just one more example of what humans do–extract resources and add to pollution? How are these devices different from others? How do you expect to make your system self-sustaining? Exempt it from friction?

          • I’ll forward your post to Steve. He knows his own work better than I do, so he will point you to the appropriate articles.

            “I agree that the whole industrial apparatus was built on debt. It seems to me that the economic growth that ensued allowed debt to be paid back with interest.”-GT

            No, the debt was never paid back with interest, it was rolled over into ever larger loans, with persistent Bankruptcy of every form of Industrial production, beginning with the Railroads which all went BK, followed by Automotive companies which went BK and Airlines which went BK. The bankruptcies went into the Public debt, while the early “profit” was all Privatized. The size of the Debt Bubble has been ever increasing since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 18th Century.

            Any device you build with moving parts has wear and tear, so you have to replace periodically. The main question is can you replace these parts, how and with what? The types of energy systems we are working on generally have few moving parts, and are relatively simple to build. I study medieval technology and then apply modern engineering principles to it. I’m not concerned with Photovoltaics, that technology is insupportable for many of the same reasons Nuclear energy is, though not quite so potentially destructive to all life on the planet.

            The main Energy storage for a society based on this type of Energy tech comes in the form of Food, so your units are Calories. Medieval Japan used the Koku, the amount of rice necessary to feed a person for a year as their basic unit of currency. Its perfectly possible to design a monetary system on this basis, been done before of course.

            Actual Carrying Capacity for the planet based on Best Practices could approach what we have now IMHO, but I sincerely doubt a transition can be made rapidly enough to keep it that high. So there will be a likely Die Off, just how big that will be can’t be determined. Too many impacting factors in the interim.

            I’ll be seeing you at Age of Limits, so we can hash it out further there. :)


            • You are right that there has been a lot of rolled over debt and many debt defaults. With the debt rollovers, the payback has looked good enough that insurance companies, banks, and pension plans have been willing to continue buying this debt. Without the rollover, the system completely locks up. Rollover is essential to the system. Reinhart and Rogoff unexpectedly discover that growing economies have much better debt paybacks than others in their paper “This Time is Different: A Panoramic View of Eight Centuries of Financial Crises. (March 2008) NBER Working Paper No. 13882.” They say

              It is notable that the non-defaulters, by and large, are all hugely successful growth stories.

              Thanks for asking Steve. I know him as well. Met him in person at one of the ASPO-USA meetings.

              Will see you at the Age of Limits Conference in Pennsylvania in May.

          • Sent an email off to Steve, he should come back with something tomorrow I expect. For now, here is a comment he made from his recent Good News, Bad News article on EU:

            “steve from virginia on January 31, 2014 at 8:21 pm said:

            All industries or other at-scale businesses are subsidized by debt. No debt = no industry. Why do you think we have so much debt now?

            If industry could pay for itself it would, if a machine could pay its own way there would be no debts as deploying the machine would retire all of them. Eventually the machine would make everyone rich, by ‘producing’ more than it consumed. Instead, there are more machines of greater complexity and there are now stifling debts.

            Industry cannot pay for itself because such a thing is thermodynamically impossible. Debt is a means to gain available energy from the future, it’s an actionable claim. We live in two separate worlds; we destroy the present while we rob from the future. Most humans have no idea this process is taking place.

            Debt is required because the costs to create a large-scale enterprise must be met before the enterprise can begin to do business. From that point forward, the business is ‘underwater’ and it never can catch back up.

            A firm doesn’t have catch up because just undertaking any sort of activity justifies borrowing by the firm. The fashionability of a firm is all that matters. A good example is Facebook, that has no product or actual ‘good’ but is able to borrow billion$. Another example is Bitcoin. Neither offer anything other than the chance for a small handful to borrow immense sums that others are coerced or tricked into repaying.

            The firm can borrow against its own accounts (banks and other lenders), against the accounts of its customers (like Apple and GM, real estate and airlines), against the accounts of the state and/or against foreign exchange. See my ‘Debtonomics’ series. I am working on a new article about borrowing against foreign exchange, it will appear later this week.

            Our economy is nothing more than interconnected daisy-chains of debt, none of it gets paid, the debt only expands, or is reduced in worth by the creation of more debt, or the borrower and lender wind up on the same balance sheet. In the past, creditors were executed (Rogoff and Reihart).

            Nationalization is a change of ownership not a change of condition. The firm is still reliant upon debt as a continuing subsidy.

            Countries without banks such as the Soviet Union used other means to allocate resources and manage obligations: planning committees and five-year plans. As in the West, there were crooked dealings under the table.”


          • Seppo S says:

            Hmm, comment below or above, not sure which, brought to mind the age-old method in plantations, of having workers, pay something to them for the work done, but then having shop, living spagetti, whatever, costing a bit more so in the end the worker is forever in debt to the plantation owner – some similarity to companies being forever in debt to banks….

          • I’m not a cite-able source, my hypothesis is pretty far out on the radical fringe, so to speak.

            However, reality provides its own proofs, we can see that the increase in debt accompanies the so-called advance of progress. Common bookkeeping illustrates the absolute requirement for ‘capital’ (borrowed money) in order to advance industrial works of every kind. The assumption on the part of others is that an industry can turn around ‘at some point’ and begin to pay its own way. Which it cannot do, this is simple thermodynamics.

            Instead, the process of successfully borrowing — by itself! — is collateral for further rounds of loans, each round larger than the last. Loans are never ‘paid off’ (finance level loans are impossible to repay even with 10% growth), the growth becomes a form of permission for more loans, not the means of repayment. Eventually the costs of lending become unbearable, which is one of the burdens we are beginning to bear right now.

            Instead there is the rolling default as the worth of funds used to repay become less than the worth (purchasing power) of funds lent. Of course, the joke is on the borrower because his loan cost the lender nothing yet he must find circulating money and hand it over to his lender. The cost of obtaining circulating money rather than interest is the real burden associated with debt. There is far less circulating money than there are debts, the cost is then simply supply-and-demand rather than the fixed percentage of interest.

            Buried within this tangled web of contradictions is the fallacy of currency debasement which I won’t go into here.

            I also wrote a comment about dollar preference down below (soon on my own site).

            • Your observations add to my observation that our current debt system is reaching a limit. As economic growth slows and as there is an attempt to unwind QE, the whole thing will start blowing up in our faces. The system is enabled by growth. As growth slows, the system has to collapse.

  24. I also wonder if something new makes you say maximum 2 years? Earlier you havent been so clear on timing.

    • Daniel Hood says:

      @ roberthoglund,

      Since 2008, after speaking with many analysts/scientists the world over, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that 2015 (or around that period give or take a few years) would be the start of the great energy powerdown. If you search the net “energy decline 2015” you see many articles the last 6 years predicting this period give or take.

      I think it’s clear now the end game is getting closer. The guys at the top (of which is was initially critical) have performed miracles to keep the game going for a little longer but as every day passes their interventions to mask the physical finite world we live are having a lesser effect. I think another 3 years from now it will quite clear to many in the form of chaos across many areas…energy/financial/economic/social/political…maybe war.

      How will America and her 20 aircraft carriers prowling the earth respond to having to deal with the threat of massive decline?

      • Thanks. I’m wondering if people who comment on this blog and believe in near term financial collapse make investments in line with their believes? Like betting against oil companies and so on. If that is the case, do you have any advice on how to “buy insurance” for a collapse?

        • Robin Clarke says:

          Learn skills to survive without shops to buy from. Collect hand-powered tools food preserving tech etc. Develop a group of co-operators. All else is folly.

          • TheGhung Fu says:

            Invest in personal alternative energy sources such as passive solar, simple solar hot water and PV. I know Gail’s stance is that “PV won’t save us”, but that’s not the point. Avoiding panic and buying yourself and yours an adjustment period may be priceless. Indeed, having a paid-for off-grid system, including pumping our own water, may have saved our home after 2008 (both lost jobs) since we didn’t have the worry and expense of utility bills. Our garden also provided a lot of our food until things settled down and the employment picture improved.

            That 3 year ‘dress rehearsal’ rekindled our fire to get totally debt free, and now we produce all of our home’s energy locally (except a little propane for cooking), much of our food is grown here or traded for, and we’re able to save for other things like property taxes. In 2008, when my wife began to panic a bit, I told her to “relax; we have most of what we need right here. We’ll be warm, reasonably well fed, and keep the lights on.” That made a huge difference.

            Do I think it’s a permanent solution? Maybe not, but the point is to not be panicing when most everyone else is, and to be able to provide assistance to others; friends, family, neighbours. Paying some needs forward is buying time to assess where all of this is headed and respond in a reasonable manner. Attempting to do these things after the fact is a fool’s game since everyone else will be competing for alternative solutions. Becoming more self-reliant is a win/win under any circumstances. It’s our primary retirement plan, though not the only one.

            • Thanks for your thoughts. This approach works best for folks with money, in a part of the world where it is possible to buy land and move to it. Somehow, they need to deal with food needs as well as water, taxes, broken parts on pumps etc, clothing, health care, and transportation Those involved need to be in physical good health. The approach will work for some folks, but not for others.

          • InAlaska says:

            Agreed. All else is folly. There will be no “alternative investments.” Instead, buy a farm, a crosscut saw, canning materials, a hunting rifle, lots of open pollinated seeds, consider a small generator and 500 gallons of gas to power a well pump and other small items. There is no insurance for whats a’ comin’.

        • Daniel Hood says:

          Absolutely, I recently ran an energy, strategy & defense conference and talk of tinsel town was shorting Western oil majors. As if by magic right on cue, Shell, BP, BG, Exxon are all now starting to issue the mother of profit warnings. There will be many more.

          Sharks are circling.


          Insurance as you put it, in the form of gold but maybe silver is better (physical). As weird as it sounds, personal survival skills and those skills that will be valuable to others in a low carbon environment. Learn to grow food. Check out what things/skills suddenly became valuable when the USSR fell to pieces. You’d be surprised.

          Listen it’s a mugs game making predictions, the world is crazy complicated and unpredictable but I’m willing to place a bet that 2015 the wheels well and truly start to fall off.

          If you head Bernanke’s closing speech at the Fed, it was ominous at best. He basically said that we’ll all understand why he did what he did when he did and not to be too hard on him.

          • Thanks for the link. Oil profitability is a big issue. The Middle Eastern countries don’t report the same numbers, but I am sure that they are getting pressured as well. They spend their oil company cash flow on their growing populations. As the cash flow shrinks, they have less to spend, and even less per capita to spend. Even if there are far more people than jobs, the full population has to be taken care of, or there will be riots. Venezuela is another problem spot. Brazil’s Petrobas is cutting its drilling this year, because of high cost.

          • InAlaska says:

            Shell Oil just announced they wont’ be drilling off the coast of Alaska this summer as planned. The cost of adhering to environmental regulations makes the cost of drilling to high.

          • Paul says:

            Yes my thoughts exactly — when he said that I don’t think he meant that QE benefited the elites at the expense of pensioners and others — rather I think he was saying ‘I cannot tell you the real enemy I was fighting for obvious reasons — but soon that snarling beast is going to be off the chain — because it is all powerful — and my hands are torn and bloodied from clutching that chain for many years’

            I used to think Bernanke was like Chauncey the Gardener — but I have seen the error of that — he has done heroic duty —- if QE meant getting a month or a year or even an extra day of BAU — it’s been worth it.

            Because when that beast gets loose — those who have said ‘bring it on — I’ve got my guns and ammo and canned food’ — well – they are gonna have a re-think on that very quickly.

          • Paul says:

            This statement says it all:

            “The costs of finding this stuff (oil) has gone through the roof,” Chanos said. “The economics are clearly deteriorating.”

        • The problem is that there really aren’t very good choices, because all paper investments are likely to turn out badly in the long run. Diversification is probably as good a bet as anything. Owning physical property is a form of diversification. Even with that there is a risk that governments will raise taxes to a point that they are unaffordable. Or that services will be so limited that it is necessary to move elsewhere, even if you own the property.

        • Paul says:

          I stepped back from any of that in 2008 – because I realized that Central Bank actions were only delaying the inevitable – a massive crash. I went into gold and property at the time mainly because I thought those would hold at least some value.

          But I have changed my tune having realized that this is not a financial crisis at all – this is an energy crisis — and this is the end of the industrial revolution. I had suspected this for a couple of years but when I stumbled onto this blog and a few other sources of info I had an epiphany – the old paradigm is definitely over.

          I can imagine in the near future one could pile some gold coins next to a pile of tinned fish — and the gold would be ignored.

          I am investing in the knowledge to be able to produce food — growing as much food as possible – now — having as many tools possible on hand to help with the transition — and long storage food supplies to help with dealing with what is going to be a brutal transition.

          I also make it a point (within reason) to live life to its fullest — we’ve been traveling as often as possible since 08 seeing places I was planning to save for a bucket list — if a bottle of wine or a bottle of whiskey is a bit pricey I’ve thrown caution to the wind and said screw it – I will take a case of that!!!

          In many respects I think having an awareness of what we are facing has been enervating —- I’d hate to be one of those billions who — when the SHTF — say ‘damn — if I’d have know this I’d have ________’

          My motto since 2008 has been: “Sine paenitentia vive”

          • InAlaska says:

            I don’t read latin, but I agree with your post. I, too, have been doing the things you have listed above. Making small and large investments over time in tools, food, etc. hoping to easy the transition. The problem is that desperate people with guns will come for it. Brutal.

          • Lindon says:

            Paul, I am one hundred percent with you on your expressed sentiments. I put a lot of time, thought and research into finding a property where I could “set up” for the big collapse. But in the end, it just didn’t make sense. If you have a home out in the middle of nowhere and a band of raiders come by, what are you going to do? I’m not interested in getting into a wild-west style shootout. Also, I still have to work to pay the bills. So, given the fact that I have a big backyard which is totally secluded in a small(ish) town of 20K, I decided to just set up to do maximum permaculture veg growing and chicken raising here. I only have two neighbors, they can’t see what I’m doing in my backyard, anybody driving by would have no reason to suspect that I have a very productive food production operation going on in my back yard. I also “drilled” my own irrigation well, and the water from about 10 feet underground might even be good enough to drink — I’m going to get it tested to make sure. In the meantime, I don’t even bother saving for “retirement” — what for? I put all my money these days into sushi — lots of sushi — and into gardening/chicken raising materials, and into other forms of entertainment. We are truly in the calm before the storm right now, so might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

      • From everything I have read I put together a feeling that even if some “Hail Mary pass” comes along and extends and pretends to 2020 the collapse will then be even faster and harder. A shark fin collapse.

      • edpell says:

        Daniel, Nigeria, Venezuela, Mexico, and Canada will continue their supplies to the U.S. the aircraft carriers and other national means will ensure that.

        The U.S. military is big into renewables on military bases. Ships and bases will also use nuclear power, hopefully including Thorium molten salt reactors. Naval artillery is moving to electric power from nuclear generators. The air force is not making much progress with substitutes. They may need to drop gas guzzlers like the F-35 and B2 and go with fuel efficient drones and blimps. What the army will do for tanks and artillery I do not know. The military has been moving to sustainable energy for more than 15 years. They do see the future and are working the problem.

        • Paul says:

          As has been outlined on previous topics — I don’t see how any of the above will happen.

          How do you maintain any of those energy sources when supply chains and the complex economic system that supports all of this shatters? Have you seen an image of the infrastructure that runs the Tar Sands? Where are all the spare parts going to come from?

          The industrial revolution is soon to be over – none of this will be possible.

      • Eclipse Now says:

        Hi Daniel Hood,
        Fossil fuel decline may or may not begin in 2015, but with rationing Hubbert’s Peak could stretch that out a long way the other end. That’s *more* than enough energy to build out a good fraction of nuclear power plants. I’ve said it so many times now but the message doesn’t seem to be sinking in. France went from 8% nuclear to 70% nuclear in 10 years. I’m not saying we have to do a build out anything like that fast, but to even get to half that in 10 years, say 35% nuclear, would take the pressure off peak coal. At the same time we could start charging more and more EV’s overnight on spare EXISTING electricity capacity, where about 70% of American drivers could hypothetically charge their vehicles before requiring any extra capacity. Whatever is going to replace oil (whatever final boron, EV, and hydrogen mix) will borrow from the high ERoEI of nuclear power and be ‘charged’ by it. Alternatives only have to be deployed ahead of the Hubbert’s downward curve. The vehicle fleet turns over every 16 years, and so my guess is once we start, natural attrition will take over.
        In other words, I simply don’t think ‘peak energy’ is true. Peak fossil fuels most definitely is: but peak energy? It’s a myth. There are simply too many viable alternatives.

        • Forget “Hubbert’s Peak.” It is a construct by people who don’t understand what the financial implications are of where we are going that I am sure Hubbert himself would not agree with. EROEI means nothing, if financial systems aren’t working and investment capital isn’t available.

    • Jonathan Madden says:

      The unwinding of quantitative easing in the US may be one of the triggers for increasing financial instability. There is a limit to far QE can go – the amount of assets available for purchase is finite. I don’t know the figure, but I guess that somewhere in excess of 50% of all previously issued US and UK fixed interest stock has now been bought in with printed money. As Gail has said in the past, reining in QE can have dramatic consequences on interest rates (rising) and asset values (falling).

      The combined pressures of this, together with rising economic pressure on governments dependent upon oil tax revenue, seems to be causing a domino effect of unrest in these countries. Ukraine is the most recent example.

      The indicators I keep an eye on are the change, and rate of change, in oil price (which Gail believes will fall), and bond interest rates. If bond rates and inter-bank loan show signs of rising sharply along with a fall in oil price I will take this as indicative of impending serious worldwide financial turmoil. Two years’ doesn’t seem too unreasonable before things deteriorate rapidly.

    • It is hard to see how things can hold together for very much longer. Exactly how fast apart is somewhat unknown–we have never been to this place before in the past. We have creative financiers.

      I expect what really happens is that one country after another moves toward collapse, and then falls over the edge into needing a new government, or civil war, or some other big problem. There is not really a clean cut off date–just a range of dates for each country.

  25. Well you are bold to make predictions like this with 2015 as the year it all falls. No doubt there will be some disruptions in the near future, but I am not so sure that it will all go downhill quite so fast unless there is a major unraveling and complete collapse scenario playing out. I think it will be more like a long staircase thing going on, as each system is trying to cope with less energy around and we funnel money and energy into the vital parts of society. There is probably a tipping point in how many people that gets unemployed before chaos emerges. Its pretty bad in the EU now, but I believe its only the tip of the iceberg.

    • InAlaska says:

      Gail, I am glad that you have actually stated a date (and a very close one) that you believe will begin the unraveling You have the courage of your convictions. I find others in the peak oil business lose credibility by always pushing the date back by 5-8 years, each time the system proves more robust than we thought. I do, however, hope you are wrong!

    • What I think is happening is we have been going down a staircase now for 40 years. The gov’t accounting tricks keep changing the way statistics are computed to make it appear that things are improving and that there is growth. Whereas real GDP growth (when all externalities are factored in) has been negative for a long time. Gail had a chart once showing how real GDP has been negative for a while. If one view the stair steps as the bubbles that are blown up such as: S&L bubble, dot-com bubble, real estate, bond bubble, student loan bubble as each bubble pops its harder to maintain the illusion of growth. The next big bubble (the mother of all bubbles) the globalization bubble, when that one pops I think thats when SHTF. All around the world, everywhere you look, economies are struggling, there are protests and riots. The Eurozone is stuggling to stay united, globalization is in peril. Perhaps WWIII will save us from a fast collapse

      • When I talk about the book Secular Cycles (the study of earlier collapses), the thing that they noted was periods of “Stagflation” prior to collapse, for a long time–perhaps 50 years. I think that is the period we have been going through.

        GDP is a calculation of how much the economy has produced, but the calculation doesn’t make any substation for debt. So giving a home loan to everyone who asks for one, will pump up reported GDP. Unfortunately, the bubbles have a tendency to collapse, when conditions are less favorable.

      • Paul says:

        Indeed — the fight against expensive energy has gone on since the US peaked.

        Oil did drop to as low as $12 in 1998 but what is not factored into that is the hidden costs that went into that namely the massive amounts of money spent on wars and protection of shipping lanes to get that oil to the world.

        So even though oil appeared to be cheap — we still had all these massive headwinds impacting growth — so this problem started well before the price of oil spiked to $38 in 2001. I think 2001 was just the point at which it really go serious.

    • With points plotted only at five years intervals, that is a little room either way in where the actual decline begins. And as you say, there may be more stair stepping. The slope is that of the Former Soviet Union, in the years immediately following its collapse. When the main issue is governments collapsing, then I expect that the slope will be quite different from anything we can imagine based on our experience to date.

      Quite a bit of the collapse is likely to relate to oil exporting nations. Russia has the possibility of collapsing again, perhaps falling into smaller pieces yet. The Middle East is likely to be increasingly at war. We have seen Libya’s problems, even though it has what looks like good oil supplies, and not too large a population. If it can’t hang together, what will be the situation with other counties with supply problems?

      When governments collapse, financial institutions are likely to follow suit. This is what makes international trade such a problem.

  26. Dr. Doom says:

    Gail, I have to admire the coolness of your analysis and frank manner of stating its implications. Few if any have presented our predicament as calmly and logically. Your figure 9 had me holding the computer screen at angles to pick the peak date. Looks like 2015, give or take a few months. I feel so sorry for the younger ones, still in school and hoping for a chance to participate in our high-tech, industrial society. There seems to be no easy way to tell them the truth.

    For me, reading these last few posts and many of the comments and your replies, I think it best to tie up a few loose ends. It’s a little like retirement planning, knowing that things will likely never be the same afterward. For example, I have possession of some licensed materials that I want to see secured. I wish the IAEA and the US NRC would exercise some similar forethought. Just the obvious climate change should be enough to warn them. Why they don’t see the societal warnings is a mystery–are their hands really tied? Let’s hope the military can step up to the task and at least save what’s left of our farmland from potential contamination.

    • Lindon says:

      2015 is a good year to hang your hat on. In the 2010 Joint Operating Environment — a strategic defense study done by top military security experts with a goal of identifying future threats — the year 2015 was predicted as being the one where we first hit “energy shortfalls”, along with dire security implications that go along with that shortfall. At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 (the billionaire’s club), wasn’t it Jeremy Leggett who made a presentation and again mentioned 2015 as “the year” that we needed to wary of? And there is some active duty U.S. Air Force Colonel who is also making the rounds, mentioning 2015 as one we need to watch out for. In any case, I think most of us realize that the entire bubble economy we live in is like a balloon stretched to its maximum limit — all it takes is a small pin prick anywhere and the whole thing will POP, with a very loud bang most likely. Those of us who are “smart” will prepare ourselves as if “it” could go down at any moment, and count our blessings I suppose if the financial and global powers that be do manage to keep this balloon floating for another couple or more years.

    • Lindon says:

      I found that “U.S. Air Force Colonel” I mentioned in my post above. He is US national security expert, Lt-Colonel Daniel Davis. It is interesting that an active duty military officer is NOT prevented by his commanding officers or by President Obama’s admin from going around and adding his credibility to the peak oil (and its consequences) debate — we might infer that the U.S. military and political leaders are allowing Lt-Colonel Daniel Davis to spread a message of warning on their behalf that they themselves cannot actively do.

      “A conference sponsored by a US military official convened experts in Washington DC and London warning that continued dependence on fossil fuels puts the world at risk of an unprecedented energy crunch that could inflame financial crisis and exacerbate dangerous climate change.

      The ‘Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue’, which took place on 10th December last year, was co-organised by a US Army official, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis, operating in a private capacity, in association with former petroleum geologist Jeremy Leggett, covener of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.”


      • Paul says:

        Recently there have been a few hints in the MSM about the dire situation we are in — I saw something similar to the above in the FT.com

        I agree — if this is in the MSM someone wants in the MSM — which I think is a hint that the end game is not far off — not sure of the purpose though — maybe they are dropping hints so that people can try to prepare?

        If that’s the case then it’s not working — most people that I know are totally ignoring these stories (I emailed that Guardian one + the FT one to a few people — they choose to exercise their cognitive dissonance).

        Thinking about that — I wonder if there is any point in alerting people to what is coming — what purpose does it serve to do that?

        It’s not as if most people can really do much to prepare — most are not going to just quite their jobs and buy a remote farm and take up permaculture. And even that is no guarantee of survival.

        I wonder if it is not better just to let them continue marching towards the cliff and just let them fall over — having to endure only a few seconds of anxiety rather than months or years….

        • Lindon says:

          Paul — My university education was in mass communications and specifically in Public Relations — the art of manipulating public opinion, influencing the masses, and generating subtle messages. Communications media have always fascinated me, not because I’m a couch potato sitting in front of the tv, but because I am so highly aware of how those mass media (tv, radio, newspaper, internet, etc…) can and ARE used for purposes that are not immediately apparent to most people. The amount of disinformation pouring through those communication channels these days is amazing, and as far as I can tell, a huge majority of it is part of a planned and coordinated effort to keep the masses calm in the face of impending disaster. But there are plenty of outlets like Gail’s blog that just cut straight to the truth, thank God. I do know that a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Military would NOT be going around to peak oil symposiums and presentations and making statements to national media “on the record” UNLESS he had been given approval by his superiors. And since such a message has the chance to really rock the boat on a national scale, it is absurd to think that this officer’s superiors (generals, etc…) did not only give him approval, but basically gave him his marching orders, upon approval and/or direction from the political offices of even higher authorities. In Public Relations, we have what is called a “PR Event” — a staged and well-planned event which purports to be for one purpose but in fact has multiple other intentions. I personally believe that this Lt-Colonel Daniel Davis is in fact part of a planned strategy to “get the message” out, without disturbing the masses. There are only a small percentage of the population in the world who will hear the message and recognize it for what it is — and that small percentage is exactly who they are trying to reach. That’s my guess.

    • In the chart, I only plotted five year intervals, so 2015 turns out to be the peak. The chart would be a little smoother if I had plotted individual year points. It is possible that the actual peak will be 2014. We will see.

      With respect to Nuclear, the organizations surrounding nuclear are primarily organizations to promote nuclear. The question regarding how dangerous nuclear power plants are is disputed–without energy of any kind, most of us are likely dead, so the options are not good–certainly dead, probably dead, etc.

      Nuclear clearly “works” a lot better than wind and solar PV–it at least gives power 24/7, and in reasonable quantity. Built without too many safeguards (as Fukushima was built in Japan, and as many other reactors have been built around the world), it is not all that expensive. It is expensive in the US and Europe, with more safeguards. I can’t see we can possibly decommission all the plants that have been built. Without reprocessing fuel, we will run short on uranium supply quickly. There are stories about building reprocessing plants, but these are expensive and slow to build, and I am sure do not give 100% returns. There are all kinds of things we theoretically could do with thorium, but we don’t have time to try them and build them.

      So net, I don’t think much will happen with nuclear. It will just decay in place, along with the spent fuel rods. Not a good outcome, but it is hard to see with anyone coming up with money to do much of anything else. If the nuclear radiation problem is huge, people will move as far away from the plants as possible.

  27. While I agree that the current situation is unsustainable and heading toward collapse, I am wondering how much longer governments and institutions can juggle financial systems to avoid it. I feel as though the peak oil/finite world community has continuously underestimated the proliferation of creative financial shenanigans to conceal the situation and continue BAU. The former Soviet Union, often used in your examples, had the disadvantage of much of the larger world economy being relatively OK with the Soviet Union disintegrating — if not actively cheering it. This time, all the large global powers are in a similar boat because of their interconnectedness and approach of similar limits, and they all know and fear the consequences of financial collapse spreading to their countries. So they are highly motivated to come up with as much crazy financial nonsense as possible to stave off the inevitable.

    I am also wondering if this unusually coherent, world-wide motivation to forestall collapse implies a sort of stair-step phenomenon rather than a fast, continuous dropoff. Say, on a roughly 6-10 year cycle, we have a financial crisis and sharp economic dropoff, followed by a series of “extraordinary measures” to cloak the reality of the situation, ala 2008-2009, a few years of steady-ish state, then another crisis. Human misery spreads, but propaganda, financial market manipulation, and increasingly oppressive governments keep things from spiraling out quite as fast as you predict. Given the unusual shared-motivation of world powers to figure out creative new ways to coordinate on mitigating the crisis, perhaps this cycle might repeat itself 2-3 times before the stresses finally start toppling major governments.

    • InAlaska says:

      Janice, I think that your analysis is the correct one. Many “finite-worlders” to coin a phrase tend to underestimate the coping mechanisms and robustness of the system. A stair step decline, rather than immediate total collapse, seems more likely as all governments worldwide take extraordinary measures (such as debt forgiveness, and command-economy style economic reallocation of resources) to forestall the inevitable. What this does is buy those “in the know” a bit more time to prepare.

      • Daniel Hood says:

        I think Elon Musk said it best….”natural human tendancy is to suffer wishful thinking” Reality/nature tends to be a little more brutal. I think what you mean is “you wish the system would collapse in a nice controlled step by step phase” giving us plenty of time to adjust. There’s a strong possibility you could be suffering wishful thinking as Elon identifies which is entirely unerstandable. Nobody wants to have to deal with sudden collapse or sudden shocks to the system. Very few people are able to cope with that mentally/physically.

        I think the risks of sudden collapse are increasing and pressures are building. You assume 7 billion people will do what’s right collectively but that’s not reality. There are many who will seek to survive over others. Darwinian survival of the fittest. Besides history has proven many times over that sudden shifts can and will occur. I think Niall Feguson history professor at Harvard wrote a great book about the science behind sudden collapse.

        It’s positive that you accept decline is coming but I think you should also factor in the increasing risks that sudden collapse could occur in ways you’re simply not able to comprehend. Try not to soften the blow because when it comes, you may be hardest hit. Base your existance off the premise that sudden collapse is a real possibility and anything else is a bonus.Taleb coined the term…Black Swan event.

        • Yes, there are certainly countervailing forces that could create a sudden collapse. I’m particularly worried in the United States about trends involving the breakdown of trust between individuals, groups, and institutions. There are also some worrying socioeconomic studies suggesting an oversupply of ambitious elites that could disrupt the global cooperation necessary to do damage control in a financial crisis.

          So I’m aware that sudden collapse could happen and am doing what I can to prepare for that personally, even if I don’t think it is the most likely scenario. I think it is prudent for everyone to prepare for scenarios worse than the ones they think are more likely, that’s simply common sense. But what scenarios are worth spending some time preparing for is a different question from what is the more likely scenario going forward, which I think is what Gail is trying to address here.

          • Daniel Hood says:

            All valid points and I pray I’m wrong and that I’m being incredibly pessimistic but as a young driven competitive male that served in the military, I know thy enemy better than anyone and there are many more just like me fighting anyway they can for their place in the world at the alpha table. Just look at the oil majors, corporates, political elites, banks, lawyers, media etc the world over.

            The betas will never understand that or would rather forget/ignore our types exist. Well we do exist in massive numbers.

            I’ve had the good/bad fortune depending on how you look at it to have worked in the City of London, to have run incredibly competitive/ruthless corporate based trading floors and I know how many testosterone fuelled guys/girls like me are out there globally. If you take America as an example, the dollar and your gobal hegemon backed by 20 aircraft carriers prowling the oceans and the mightiest military on earth. This is what has underwritten Western prosperity after Britain handed the batton over after her long decline. Of course Iran, India, Brazil, China, Russia et al would like to put an end to that. They want their rightful place at the table before time is up and as we speak wars are being fought all over the place; politically, financially, culturally, socially, economically, etc.

            Our society is incredibly competitive and I don’t think that will ever change. Our species is heading right off a cliff as a result. The only way to stop such competitive aggression is to castrate males but I can’t see that ever happening.

            Male nature is inherently aggressive and at the end of the day bulls will be bulls.

            Knowing how incredibly difficult it is myself to stop being competitive, this is where I base my gloomy predictions. For the record now I’m channelling that competitiveness into things like agriculture given that food will become our most valuable commodity. I can think of no greater challenge than that of sustainable food production in the 21st century.

          • Lindon says:

            Janice, one thing we need to keep in mind when contemplating collapse scenarios is “the herd mentality.” My guess is that when we hit that first “step down”, the shockwave will be felt around the world. All of the propaganda and “rosy high-tech future scenarios” that the MSM and corporate and political leaders have been pumping out to keep “the herd” calm will no longer work. People will KNOW that something very wrong and threatening is descending upon them, and that their futures are in fact threatened. When that happens — when “the herd” collectively realizes that the end of growth is here and that we are sliding down a steep slope into the unknown — there will be instant panic. People invested in oil can be expected to take their money out of oil stocks, banks will probably stop withdrawals in a lame attempt to prevent their own immediate demise, there will most likely be raids on supermarkets — mass mayhem everywhere, with police and military units sent out in an attempt to restore order. All of this, or any degree of this type of panicked response, will just feed back into the fear and the uncertainty. In short, that first step down will be a doozy. That’s what I expect.

          • Robin Clarke says:

            My guess is that when we hit that first “step down”,

            But a step of what nature?

            the shockwave will be felt around the world.

            We’ve heard about Tunisia, Libya, Syria, now Ukraine. How many are joining the dots – none.

            when “the herd” collectively realizes that the end of growth is here and that we are sliding down a steep slope into the unknown — there will be instant panic.

            My experience of human herds is that they are almost entirely incapable of “collectively realising” anything that takes more than one sentence to understand (to say nothing of whole paradigm shifts). They just act on instinct, blaming others for incompetence, greed, etc. As is happening right now.

            People invested in oil can be expected to take their money out of oil stocks,

            Or more likely can be expected to continue deluding themselves their price will go back up to the “correct” high level they “cunningly” foresaw. Most people will never understand what happened. And they won’t give any credit to us who foresaw it all, as in “no-one expected the [fill in predicted event here]”.

          • Lindon says:

            Hi Robin,

            I think Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Ukraine are too small and insignificant contributors to the global economy to have much of an impact. If shadow banking in China (for example) experiences a series of defaults, or a major player in the world economy goes down, then that might set off the first “step down”. I think the original context of “step down” as described Janice envisions a major shock to the world economy — that was my interpretation. I think that a first “major shock” to the world economy will result in a “step down” initially and then a cascading effect thereafter.

            I’m going to have to disagree with your take on human “herd mentality.” Here’s a link that kind of expresses my point of view on that: “Fear Factor: How Herd Mentality Drives Us” — http://www.cbsnews.com/news/fear-factor-how-herd-mentality-drives-us/

            Regarding people invested in oil stocks, I’m not sure if it is a case of them 100% deluding themselves, or if it is a combination of self-deluding AND the constant barrage of “feel good” propaganda/lies that trumpet America surpassing Saudi Arabia in oil production, of “gluts of oil”, of American “self sufficiency” in oil — and all that garbage that we see so much of. My guess is that probably a majority of investors in oil are buying into the propaganda pumped out by places like Forbes, Bloomberg and MotleyFool, just to name a few. But when that first big shock hits, it may rip the illusion of “BAU forever” into shreds — and those investors will be running for the hills, just like everybody else. That’s what I *think*.

          • Robin Clarke says:

            “I think Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Ukraine are too small and insignificant contributors to the global economy to have much of an impact.”

            I didn’t cite them as causes of stepdown. I cited them as already happening step down. Millions of peope in those countries are already seeing “collapse” as far as their own lives and households and businesses are concerned. The fact that China or US continue to build xyz makes no difference to those personal collapses.

            “I’m going to have to disagree with your take on human “herd mentality.””

            But all your cited article points to is the herd mentality being of mindless kneejerking rather than any grain of “understanding” of anything let alone outright paradigm shift. So there’s no basis of disagreement there.

          • Paul says:

            Lindon – I am with you on this issue — at some point there will be a realization on a global scale that there will be not only has the MSM is full of it — that there is no hope of recovery — and all hell breaks loose.

            There will be a massive rush to safe havens – particularly gold — not that anything will be safe.

            When the next shoe drops we will find out what would have happened in 08 if Central Banks had not rode to the rescue – their steeds are exhausted — if not dead. There will be no rescue.

            Supply chains will stop — as they were stopping in 08 — grocery stores will empty – troops will roll onto the streets to try to keep things under control.

            Perhaps we get a period of desperate calm out of this – as in months at best while strategic oil reserves hold out — but the fracking will stop — the deep see drilling will stop — the oil tankers from Saudi will mostly stop

            And if we are fortunate to get a holding pattern after the initial shock that will not last for long — I suspect the people of the world will rip it to shreds when emergency food supplies run out — and people begin to starve — not in Egypt, and Yemen and Ethiopia — in every single country of the world.

            Most farming requires oil and gas inputs to grow crops — there will be no crops when the oil and gas pesticides stop.

            That’s where the rubber meets the road in all this

          • Paul says:

            Robin – I would argue that the countries mentioned have not really stepped down much at all yet —- just as say Greece has not stepped down.

            All still have a functioning global economy supporting them – in all instances they have financial backing that is prevent a real step down — for instance Greece is still being bailed out by the ECB — the Saudi’s and US are bankrolling Egypt — Russia is standing behind Syria and Ukraine.

            At some point those back-stops will end — and then we will see what a real step down looks like.

            And the riots we are seeing now will be tame compared to what happens going forward — 3 meals from anarchy….

          • Peter says:

            Carriers are sitting ducks for modern militaries such as Russia, with her long-range missiles and satellites. Indeed, it’s a very expensive suck in terms of life and military hardware being carried that it seems almost inadequate against certain few enemies. But for weaker countries, its value is unquestionable.

        • InAlaska says:

          Yes, it is good to plan for the worse and hope for the best. Natural human tendency is also to fight the next war with the last war’s weapons. All of the various doomsday scenarios that we blog about on this site, continually underestimate our ability to think our way out of the corner. We also continually underestimate the human factor. In the crunch time, there will be acts of altruism, kindness, bravery. If these things weren’t true, then civilization would never have risen at all.

      • kiwichick says:


        • In my opinion, “robustness” is the wrong word to describe our system. I think “momentum” is a better way of expressing the state of our current system. The herd mentality is another factor that plays into this momentum we have. I agree with Linden that when that herd mentality shifts it will take the momentum with it but, in an opposite direction. The first step down will be a doozy.

          • InAlaska says:

            Agreed. I used “robustness” because it was 1 am, but “momentum” word be a fine substitute. It will be a doozy no doubt, but it will also be a clarion call to action.

        • Stilgar Wilcox says:

          I didn’t see a reply button below Robin Clarke, so I’ll post it here. Fabulous post – unfortunately you describe human responses perfectly. One of my greatest disappointments has been the realization of those behaviors.

          On the topic of slow or fast collapse, look at Gail’s figure 9 regarding our energy future, which looks very much like a shark fin collapse. It appears to begin descending in 2015. That is what I’m expecting because the BAU system is being pushed as far as it can with huge deficits and QE money printing. Essentially anything and everything to push us to greater growth while EROEI descends. Remember the super wealthy and those in power are going to do whatever they can to hold their wealth and power. Any plan B no matter how much sense it may make will be rejected because it will threaten their status quo.

          • The reason you didn’t see a reply button is because the comment indent setting is set at “five”. I used a higher setting before, and people complained that the comments became unreadable. So you do have to sometimes start a new thread. Sorry about that.

            I agree that governments will not be of much assistance in Plan B’s. There is no way that they can fix things for everyone. They are already in a “world of hurt” financially. It is their own problems that are pulling down the system–which is why the situation is so hard to fix.

          • Eclipse Now says:

            “The reason you didn’t see a reply button is because the comment indent setting is set at “five”. I used a higher setting before, and people complained that the comments became unreadable. So you do have to sometimes start a new thread. Sorry about that.”
            Thanks for explaining that Gail. I most often use forums, not WP comments with layered threads. The ‘reply’ button I’m getting in email notifications does not take me directly to the most recent reply to a comment of mine. Is there a setting I can use to fix that?

      • Eclipse Now says:

        Hi InAlaska, what do you make of the historical fact that France went from 8% nuclear to 70% nuclear in one decade? What do you make of James Hansen recommending Tom Blee’s book, “Prescription for the planet” that predicts we can quickly and easily switch to boron to rechargeable boron to replace oil?
        (Book now a FREE PDF here).

        Basically, if governments were to break out in a command economy rush to nuclear + boron to turn off the world’s fossil fuels, how long do you think until we emerged with a clean, green, nuclear machine running the world for 5 centuries just on today’s nuclear waste?

    • Now we have a situation where many countries around the world are being affected by our energy limits. The problems play out in many different ways–difficulty in keeping up fuel subsidies in countries with subsidies; Ukraine’s problems and Russia’s need for the Ukraine for pipe transit; Syria; Egypt; Japan and its big resurgence in fuel imports and balance of payments shift; Germany in its attempt at renewables; not to mention the US QE story, and Greece and a number of other countries in trouble.

      The question is what problems play out first, and how they spread to others. Maybe some of the financial wizards can fix problems, but it questionable that all of the financial wizards can fix all of the problems. The situation is related to the saying, “You can fool some of the people, some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time.

      • Lindon says:

        Another way to say it is:
        All the king’s horses and all the King’s men
        Couldn’t put Humpty together again……

    • acomfort says:

      I can picture the stair-step phenomenon happening but, the step that brings the electric grid down will be the last as 100 nuclear reactors in the US do not work without the grid. It takes about 5 years to cool the fuel enough to not need pumps. NRC requires each plant to store enough diesel to run backup generators 5 weeks of to power the electric cooling pumps. If the grid is down for more than 5 weeks, every nuclear plant will go Fukushima. No economy will step away from that and maybe not much life either.

      • Robin Clarke says:

        Does anyone have details of the equivalent for UK/EU? Anyway there’s no nukes in our city (that we are told about haha).

        • Robin Clarke says:

          But surely a nuke plant supplies its own leccy so as long as it’s hot it has the power to cool itself?

          • Paul says:

            It takes more than just electricity — it takes technicians (who may run for the hills when chaos strikes) — it takes spare parts — it takes a supply chain — all of these will disappear…

            The better option is to try to power them all down before things get too bad because there is no way in hell nuclear plants are going to be of any use when this hits.

            The grid is going to collapse because there will be no possible way to maintain such a complex system when the economy blows out

        • I found this BBC map.

          Map of UK nuclear power plants

          • John Drake says:

            Just imagine what the UK would look like if its high tech society became rapidly incapable of maintaining those nuclear fission reactors into safe operation or monthballing… not to mention the numerous spent fuel cooling ponds not appearing on your map…

            How long would those nuclear fission power plants and spent fuel cooling ponds remain “stable” if their cooling pumps lost access to the electrical grid, as was the case in Fukushima ? Their oil fueled back-up generators would stop within less than a week…

            The UK is just a small part of the global nuclear disaster that is hanging over our collective heads, if our high tech society suddently collapses.

        • Paul says:

          Map of global nukes:

          Southern hemisphere is obviously safest….

      • Paul says:

        Yes that is the one issue that perhaps moots all others…. If things are raging out of control who is going to maintain these plants? The technicians will be like the rest of the population — worrying about feeding themselves.

        Without a doubt governments have put contingency plants in place to triage the situation — distributing food, crowd control, keeping nukes from melting down…

        Perhaps there is a specific contingency in place to immediately power down all plants the moment things start to unravel?

        Japan and Germany have already done this — so perhaps they are just getting a head start thinking better to do it now than try this now vs when there is chaos?

        The more I think about that the more I think it is likely particularly in the case of Japan — by shutting down their remaining reactors they have committed economic suicide….

        Surely they know that — and they are looking big picture and trying to make sure their entire country doesn’t get Fukushima’ed?

        • Paul says:

          Just as I was getting more optimistic on the nuclear front following what I thought might have been an epiphany in the earlier comment….

          I was just thinking — even if we shut down all nuclear plants we still have the much larger issue of the spent fuel rods that need cooling – there are literally thousands of pools around the world that require cooling water to circulate continuously.

          Not sure what sort of contingency plan could deal with that. :(

      • Let’s hope that the radiation problem is not too terrible. I see little way around the problem of not being about to bring our nuclear plants to a nice end.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Given nuclear waste is our only stable, clean, energy *resource* worth $30 TRILLION dollars, I don’t see us just *burying* this invaluable material! It’s not the problem, it’s the *solution*!

          • If we had the resources to make the transition to nuclear, and also to safely decommission the nuclear power plants at the ends of their lives and handle the spent fuel, I might say “Yes.” I would agree that nuclear has worked a lot better than wind and solar. But as I explained before, nuclear doesn’t fix our oil problem–it just allows us to use our oil and gas more slowly.

    • Paul says:

      Janice – you are correct that this battle against rising energy costs has been going on for over a decade now — I think it got underway when oil spiked to $38 in 2001 from a low of $12 in 1998.

      They have kicked the can quite a ways down the road first with easy money that lead to the housing bubble and crash — and now with QE and ZIRP.

      I truly believe we are in the 7th or perhaps 8th inning of the ball game — and we’re losing by some 50 runs.

      QE — or money printing — and ZIRP — are the policies of absolute desperation — when we were saturated with debt (personal, corporate, sovereign) and could borrow no more we turned to money printing.

      Historically when that decision has been made that was the beginning of the end – there is no such thing as economic perpetual motion machine — QE must end.

      Since there is nothing else in the tool box to kick the can further I think the next crisis will be like 2008 on steroids, HGH, coke, speed and meth — combined.

      Central banks will be powerless to step in — because the crisis dwarfs everything now — the whole world is in a massive bubble — not just housing.

      We’ve fired the nuclear missiles — what else can Central Banks do to restore CONfidence having printing tens of trillions of dollars — and keep interest rates at historic lows for nearly 6 years —- and none of this has worked?

      They really are out of ammo.

      They can of course try to keep this current iteration of the crisis of the end of cheap oil going — but something is going to bust — impossible to know when — but when we revisit 2008 this time — we will be left to fend for ourselves.

      Bernanke will not be able to help. The powerful leaders of the world will be helpless to do anything this time.

      I think the months to max 2 years is a good prediction. I cannot see how we don’t get a black swan event that tears this QE inspired matrix down. Just have a look around — there are probably a dozen or more flash points that could set the fire raging.

        • I wouldn’t like to live in California now. The state’s finances are not in good shape. If businesses cannot operate because of lack of water, that is a big problem. Electrical utilities are often big water users. Is that an issue here, as well?

          • Many growers have groundwater available. I am not so sure how hydropower will be effected. There are environmental flow requirements, so there is still water behind dams that must be released.

            There will definitely be challenges for business but, as with many impacts of these times, I fear the worse falls on the middle and lower classes. Newspapers here are already predicting unemployment rivaling recent highs in the state’s farm sector.

            California raises 90% of the nations tomatoes and a good chunk of other specialty fruits and vegetables. Expect high prices nationwide if the drought emergency continues.

            Is it the Black Swan? Probably not. Might even do our state good as a preparedness exercise. But is definitely a foreshadowing.

          • Correction. State just announced there will be little Hydroelectric this year. electric rates to rise accordingly.

      • edpell says:

        I see forced labor by the government as the next mechanism to kick the can down the road. “It is the patriotic duty of all citizens age 19 to 38 to serve in the citizens recovery corp. By executive order of the president four departments of the corp will be food, energy, roads, security. Service is an honor not a duty. You will serve a tour of six years….”

    • Tony says:

      Agreed, Janice Collins. A slow stepping down of economies and societies seems the most likely path. Consequently, “collapse” won’t actually happen, at least from the point of view of the centre. However, those that are effectively shut out of the functioning society at each step will eventually outnumber those left in. I’m not sure what it would take for the dispossessed to fight back, in “developed” economies.

      So, the slow “collapse” may accelerate to a full collapse if there is revolution, or nuclear reactors can’t be cooled (as others have mentioned), or climate change (and environmental degradation, generally) takes a fairly sudden turn for the worse. At the moment, I think the last is the most likely to impinge on the slow step deterioration and, indeed, I’m slowly changing my view to its being the most imminent threat to our way of life as the science continues to show an acceleration of change.

    • Bill Simpson says:

      You are absolutely correct. Governments can, and will, adopt what now seem like radical measures, never seen before to keep the financial system functioning. They can create all the imaginary money they need to, and we have to use it. The coming collapse will play out over decades, not months or years, for just that reason. The rich and powerful will do whatever is necessary to maintain their easy lifestyle. They can’t do that if the financial system collapses, or the electric grid goes down. Money would be valueless if that happened. Without banks or electricity, the Warren Buffett’s of the world would be in the same sinking boat with the rest of us.
      You can’t apply existing rules and laws to a life – threatening crisis. The financial system is man made. It can be changed however is necessary. There is no law of nature that prevents the government from creating money out of thin air without borrowing it from rich folks as has always been done. They could continue QE for decades. What other money is the world going to use? The Chinese could devalue your savings overnight. Inflation isn’t that bad!
      Now if we were out of coal, oil and gas, it would be a different story. But we aren’t. Billions of tons of coal are sitting untouched along the northern coast of Alaska. One of the largest copper deposits ever found is now sitting unused along the southern coast of Alaska because the locals don’t want to risk affecting some fish. Another enormous copper/gold/moly/cobalt deposit is sitting in the ground near the Canadian border while environmental studies are being done. It is huge. A big deposit of rare earth elements is sitting in the ground in Nebraska. Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan have a lot of uranium left. All that kind of stuff will be opened up as people start to get poorer and poorer and demand change. Hungry, cold people won’t worry about fish, or pollution as much as they do today. You will see steam locomotives belching coal dust out before you see Americans starving to death.

  28. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Bravo Gail – great post. Gotta love all those graphs, particularly 5,6 & 7. Found this great article linked below regarding recent emerging market problems stemming from reduced US QE. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think the Fed will be able to taper QE to zero before negative economic feedbacks take hold part way down.


    “Investors Look Toward Safer Options as Ground Shifts

    The Fed’s moves are exacerbating the currency declines faced by a number of emerging-market countries already struggling with domestic economic and political woes of their own making. Several emerging-market central banks in recent days have tried—and failed—to stem slides in their currencies.

    As investors flee those markets, they also have moved out of U.S. stocks, which are seen as more risky than some other assets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank for the sixth out of seven sessions, losing 1.2% to 15738.79. The blue-chip index has fallen 5% since hitting a record high at the close of 2013.”

    You mention a timeline of months to two years I think in this post as to when you think the big unwind may begin. Is there anything in particular that makes you think it may occur that soon?

    • It is hard to see how our financial problems can stay hidden very long. Stopping QE looks like it will raise interest rates, and, as this article says, pull investors out of emerging markets. Raising interest rates will be the end–it really can’t happen to a very great extent without governments needing to raise taxes to pay their higher interest expenses, among other things.

      Even if the US can make it past current problems, Europe and Japan have big problems as well, not to mention the Middle East and North Africa. There is considerable contagion in all of the problem areas.

      • garand555 says:

        Actually, the immediate effect of stopping QE is likely to be an equities crash. As people sell, or are forced to sell by margin calls, they’re going to have cash that they’ll want to put to work, and there will be a stampede into the “safety” of US Treasuries. That will actually drive interest rates down for the time being. Compare treasury yields to the dates that QE was ended in the past, and you’ll see a confirmation of this. The kicker is that this will only be a transient effect that is simply the result all that liquidity sloshing around and readjusting after all of the Fed’s market manipulations, and another source of money will be needed.

        There are two realistic options for where that money will come from. Another round of QE is one such option, and I think it’s clear that the point of diminishing returns has been reached when it comes to printing more money. *Puts on tinfoil* The other option is for the treasury department to raid retirement accounts. We now have a vehicle to do that via the MyRA. When retirement accounts take a hit due to declining equities, don’t be surprised if, after enough time has passed for yields to start rising, the CFPB or some other alphabet soup agency mandates that some minimum percentage retirement accounts be in MyRAs or some other US Treasury instrument for people’s own “safety.”

        The next question is can the financial system survive long enough for all of this to occur? My gut says no, but in reality, I have no idea. Gut feelings are no substitute for hard facts and data. I have no idea what kinds of OTC derivatives there are tied to stocks. I have no idea what other shady deals the banks have pulled. What I do know is that the dollar is a ponzi scheme, and that ponzi’s must continue to grow, else all the wealth goes to those at the top of the pyramid who started the scheme, then the pyramid collapses. The sound that you’re hearing right now is the whooshing of the former middle class’s wealth whooshing to the top of the pyramid.

        • Thanks for your insights. If QE stops, it is hard to know exactly what will happen, because of the effects and the secondary and tertiary effects.

          If interest rates rise, I expect that equities will fall, because then bonds will theoretically be a better investment. But there are so many things going on at the same time, and so many folks trying to fix the system, it is hard to know exactly how things will play out.

          • garand555 says:

            My comment about interest rates dropping in the face of a stock market crash is something that I view as short to medium term. Assuming that even this taper doesn’t crater a megabank, which would likely crater them all, it’s tough to say just how long a panicked stampede into treasuries beyond saying roughly as long as the stock market continues to crash. You can see what happened today – the DOW down over 300 points, and the 10 year treasury opened at 2.68% and closed at 2.58%. Treasury yields potentially have a long way down to go yet before starting the long arduous climb back up. If I were playing in the markets, I would actually be long on US treasuries right now, and would have been so since around 2.9%-3.0%.

            I also think that it is possible that the Fed may suddenly decide to massively un-taper. Even if it does so, I still think that there is a good possibility of raiding retirement accounts. I believe this because I can envision situations where the shadow banking system starts to violently unwind, and the un-taper occurs to soak up the losses that a bail-in cannot handle, while the retirement account theft would be used to further push treasury yields down. I seems as though, while there are still quite a few manipulative measures that can be taken, they will need to be taken more and more frequently. They might also eventually get to the point where they start pissing people off, and the torches and pitchforks may yet be brought out.

            IMO, we are going to get whipsawed by deflationary and inflationary forces, and it will be hyperinflation that wins in the end, when all of those dollars held by foreign hands come flooding back. But, I wouldn’t bet anything on that outcome, other than having stated it with the possibility of being wrong. The only outcome that I am betting on is collapse.

            Of course, none of this takes into account the physical economy. California’s drought conditions will probably lead to higher produce prices this year, and the harsh winter, having killed cattle in an already depleted herd, likely means higher beef and possibly dairy prices. This will put further financial strain on the already dying middle class as food prices only continue to rise. This means either less discretionary income, or eating crap food. All of that expensive oil does no good when it comes to shipping food if the food does not exist. At some point, this leads to rumbling bellies, and we all know what that brings.

            (Speaking of crap food, pay attention to labels in supermarkets for “Product of China.” With all their pollution and historical lack of quality control, no thank you!)

            Once this whole show comes crashing down, perhaps there will be a place for gold and silver as a means of trade amongst the survivors, but I think there will be a significant period where food and water are the biggest issues. (People always forget about water for some reason. While my location is more heavily populated than I would like, I can hit the water table with a shovel – I’m staying! I’m just glad I’m not anywhere near the heavily populated coasts!) After that, it will be things like the ability to defend what you have, skills, etc… While these are illegal right now, knowing how to do things like produce moonshine from corn and grow marijuana are probably going to be skills that would make some who want what you have think that you are useful. Take away pharmaceuticals, and a lot of people are going to want a means of coping.

            • Thanks! I can see that US treasuries might still rise in a flight to safety, as you say.

              I have thought about the water issue too. About all I have is a nearby creek–better than nothing.

              Growing hemp for fibre would probably be good too, if seeds were available.

          • garand555 says:

            There are a lot of other things to worry about too. Soap is a big one. It’s not hard to make, but most people wouldn’t have a clue how. Without modern medical care, being sanitary is going to be a big factor when it comes to disease. And what do you do without toilet paper? Simple things that we take for granted are going to make a lot of people go hmmmmm.

            I think it’s worth studying how humans survived from the neolithic, all the way up through the 19th century to figure out how to live in a post oil world. It’s tough to know how it will all turn out and what knowledge will be useful, and that’s both the frightening and the fascinating thing about it.

          • garand555 says:

            The problem with human waste, or any carnivore/omnivore waste for that matter, as fertilizer is the pathogens they sometimes contain. Fortunately, hot composting them can take care of that, but systems would have to be devised to deal with the fact that human waste can spread disease. Once you get over the yuck factor, recycling the waste into agriculture might be a necessity in a post industrial world.

            Much of the progress since the industrial revolution has been devising means to not just control nature, but often to fight it. I think we’re going to have to take a different philosophical path by observing nature and piggybacking off it. Instead of genetically similar GMO crops that you can spray for weeds and insects, we’re going to want to look at things such as locally adapted genetically diverse landrace crops that co-evolve with the weeds and pests, for example. You get the added benefit of not having to alter your soil’s PH, having crops that are more adapted to your water conditions, your level of sunlight, etc… In essence, you’re piggybacking off of evolution, which might be a necessity, considering that the climate is going to continue to change.

            We will need to be more intelligent about how we use the land and how we spend our energy, but if we do that, the other side of collapse might not be that bad if we can deal with diseases in some meaningful way. I’m more frightened of the collapse itself than I am of what comes after.

    • timl2k11 says:

      According to a study summarized here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-31/bernanke-secret-sauce-drops-effective-fed-rate-as-qe-quantified.html QE has in effect created negative interest rates. So easing QE has the same effect has raising interest rates.

      • I agree. Removing QE has the effect of raising interest rates. Raise interest rates, and the economy will sink. Oil prices will go down. Oil companies will be worse off than they are.

  29. Hickory says:

    The phenomena described in #1 above is very well illustrated by the trends in the energy content of US coal production [ BTU/ton, or oil equivalency per ton ]-
    In the chart below, toe refers to the total oil equivalent
    2010 0.543 toe/tonne
    2009 0.641 toe/tonne
    2008 0.635 toe/tonne
    2005 0.632 toe/tonne

    This shows a rapid decline in the energy content of each ton, as lower and lower grades of ore are worked. This data comes from the International Energy Agency via Wikipedia-

    I have seen other data that also illustrates this trend. The # of train cars needed to deliver the same # of coal btu’s has rapidly increased.

    • Around the world, people have mined the high-grade coal first, because these could be best used for metals production. I imagine lower shipping costs, relative to production costs played a role as well.

      I think that there are a couple of other distinctions that have played a role as well. One distinction is underground mining versus strip mining; another is high sulfur vs low sulfur. The existence of low sulfur, strip mineable, low energy coal in the US West has accelerated the shift toward low energy coal.

      • John C Green Jr says:

        Trick question: In the era of high-grade resources the Mesabi iron range was in Minnesota; then why were the steel mills in Pittsburgh PA, Youngstown OH, Gary IN, etc.? Answer: Because of shipping costs. It took a lot more high grade anthracite coal than high grade hematite iron ore to produce a ton of steel. So you shipped the iron ore to the coal rather than vice versa.

        • Interesting! I hadn’t thought about the coal vs hematite shipping costs.

          We now ship low grade coal across the country, at high cost, to power electric power plants.

          • ResearcherGuy says:

            It’s worse than that, Gail. We ship low sulfur coal from WY to PA where it can be burned in densely populated areas. Then we ship high sulfur coal from PA to WY wher it doesn’t matter if it pollutes. Where I work, I often see two full coal trains passing each other in opposite directions at the same time.

            A former neighbor of mine works for the largest railroad. He said that in ’09, 88% of their rail transport was for transporting coal.

            Side note, due to the business economics, we ship NE corn to TX to “process” before it becomes feedstock back in NE ethanol plants…. and then shipped to other states for mixing into consumer E-15 Ethanol-Gasoline.

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