Converging Energy Crises – And How our Current Situation Differs from the Past

At the Age of Limits Conference, I gave a talk called Converging Crises (PDF), talking about the crises facing us as we reach energy limits. In this post, I discuss some highlights from a fairly long talk.

A related topic is how our current situation is different from past collapses. John Michael Greer talked about prior collapses, but because both of our talks were late in the conference and because I was leaving to catch a plane, we never had a chance to discuss how “this time is different.” To fill this gap, I have included some comments on this subject at the end of this post.

The Nature of our Current Crisis

Figure 1

Figure 1

The first three crises are the basic ones: population growth, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. The other crises are not as basic, but still may act to bring the system down.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Humans have found a series of ways to keep deaths down, each adding more control of external energy.

  • Control of fire, starting over 1 million years ago. This allowed humans to cook their food, making it possible for more energy to go to develop the brain, and less to developing teeth and digestive apparatus. Humans could also extend their range into colder areas.
  • Agriculture, starting about 10,000 years ago. We grew desirable plants and animals and excluded other species, thus increasing the amount of food produced.
  • Coal, starting around 1800 C. E. With coal, we could make metals in quantity since we didn’t need to cut down trees for smelting. We could also make concrete and glass in quantity. With these, we could build hydroelectric power plants, and build electric transmission lines.
  • Oil, ramping up after World War II. Oil allowed the use of cars for personal transport, plus trucks to deliver goods precisely where they were needed. It also improved agricultural productivity through irrigation, refrigeration, herbicides, pesticides. The ability to use airplanes enabled globalization.

As humans’ control of energy improved, human population grew and the population of other species fell. According to Niles Eldredge, the Sixth Mass Extinction began 100,000 years ago, when there were fewer than 100,000 people on the planet, back in the days of hunter-gatherers. The extent of die-off of other species has grown as we added agriculture, and later added coal and oil use.

Humans are not doing anything “wrong.” Humans are reacting to the same instinct that all species have, namely to make use of available energy to allow more of the species to live to maturity. Population growth stops when a species reaches a limit of some sort–lack of food because the species eats too much of its would-be food supply; too much pollution; epidemics (related to crowding and poor nutrition); or limits associated with gathering external energy.

Individuals can change their personal actions, but built-in instincts tend to guide the direction of civilizations as a whole. Thus the population of civilizations tend to rise until bottlenecks are reached.

Resource Depletion is Particularly a Problem for Oil

We are seeing depletion in many areas right now, including fresh water aquifers, soil erosion, the number and size of fish in the ocean, the number of pollinators, and deforestation. The mineral concentration of ores we are mining keeps getting lower as well. For the purpose of the talk, I will concentrate on oil, however.

Right now, oil is suffering from depletion but prices don’t seem very high.

Figure 3.

Figure 3

The cost of extracting oil keeps rising, whether or not the prices consumers pay rise, because the cheapest to extract oil was pulled out first. The problem now is that oil prices are too low for producers, at the same time that they are very high for the consumer. The low prices for producers mean that oil companies must take extraordinary measures, such as adding more debt, or selling land they planned to develop, to have enough money to pay dividends. Companies extracting oil from shale formations are in particularly tough shape because they tend to be small and have poor credit ratings.

The low-price oil situation looks likely to reach a crisis stage in the near term. What has been holding the situation together is today’s low interest rates. With these low interest rates, investors who are desperate for higher yields will invest in “iffy” companies, like shale oil companies. In addition, oil producing companies can borrow at low rates, helping to keep costs down.

It is hard to see a fix for the problem oil producing companies are now having. If oil prices rise to help them, consumers will find that the higher oil prices “squeeze” their discretionary income. As a result, we will be pushed back into recession. So no oil price works.

How Decline in Oil Supply Can Be Expected to “Work”

Many people are of the view that if oil production declines, it will decline slowly, more or less over the same time-period it rose, in a symmetric “Hubbert” Curve. My expectation is that the downslope will be much steeper than the upslope. I also expect that all fuels will fall in use, more or less simultaneously. This pattern occurs because of the networked way the world economy is constructed and because of the role of debt, which I will describe later.

The Hubbert Curve was constructed in the special case where another fuel took over before fossil fuels started to decline (Figure 4), a situation which does not exist today.

Figure 4

Figure 4

In my view, a more realistic view of the expected downslope is shown in Figure 5, below.

Figure 5. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

Figure 5. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

It is my expectation that the supply of all fuels will decrease in use, more or less together, because of credit related financial problems that will affect the economy as a whole.

Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedov analyzed how eight agricultural civilizations collapsed  in the book Secular Cycles. First, there is a long period of growth and population expansion, as the group makes increasing use of a new resource available (such as land cleared for agriculture). This is followed by a “stagflation” period of 50 to 60 years after population reaches the carrying capacity of the new resource. Stagflation is followed by a crisis period of 20 to 50 years, when debt defaults became common, governments collapse, and population decreases. I show this pattern in Figure 6, below.

Figure 6

Figure 6

My forecast energy downslope in Figure 5 is  intended to follow roughly the shape of the curve of prior collapses, depicted in Figure 6. The sharpness of the points in Figure 6 occur because I plotted only 5-year points–annual points would have produced a smoother curve.

Environmental Degradation Takes Many Forms

Figure 7

Figure 7

The environmental degradation issue that gets the most “press” is climate change. If any one limit is modeled, whether it is soil problems, or the mass extinction of many species that seems to be currently taking place, or ocean acidification, it is likely to show that that particular problem is likely to take civilization down. To get a balanced view of what is ahead, a person would need to model all limits at once.

Climate change modelers are of course mainly interested in their limit. They have started to incorporate some information of the effect of other limits into the “low end” of their range (that is, the 2.6 degree scenario), but the “high estimate”–which gets much of the press–assumes no limits of any other sort. It includes far more carbon from fossil fuels than seems reasonable, in my view.

The Financial System is Terribly Important, and Debt Problems Can Bring it Down

Today’s economy is a network of interconnected businesses and consumers, regulated by governments. The financial system is extremely important to this network. In a way, the financial system is like the operating system of a computer. It telegraphs what products are needed, where, and what resources are available to meet these needs from one part of the economy to another. It allows businesses to profitably meet these needs.

Debt plays a surprisingly important role in our current economy. Increasing the amount of debt available increases the amount of goods a person can buy. For example, if a consumer has a job paying $40,000 a year, and gets a loan for $20,000 to buy a new car, the effect is similar to having $60,000 in income for that year. Similarly, if a business can borrow money for a new factory, it can add to jobs to the economy.

When the growth in debt turns to contraction (this happens if consumers default in large numbers, or if they buy fewer homes and cars), it has a huge impact on the economy. The shrinking debt tends to push the economy into contraction. Because there is less demand for commodities like oil, coal and natural gas, the prices of these commodities tend to fall. In fact, a credit contraction seems to be precisely what happened in July 2008, when oil prices took a steep drop. Prices of other fuels also dropped at the same time.

Figure 8

Figure 8

In fact, since 2008, the US economy is still struggling with inadequate growth in debt. The underlying reason is that consumers’ wages are lagging, so they cannot afford more debt. The government tries to make up for the lack of growth in consumer debt by borrowing more money itself and by keeping interest rates artificially low, through Quantitative Easing.

A basic underlying issue is the fact that our salaries don’t rise as oil prices rise. Similarly, our salaries don’t rise with rising interest rates. Both oil prices and interest rates very much affect what we need to pay, however. Oil prices affect food and transportation costs, and interest rates affect mortgage and auto loan payments. If interest rates rise again, or if oil prices rise, many consumers will be forced to cut back on discretionary spending. As a result, the economy is likely to shift back into recession. Prices of commodities such as oil, gas, coal, and uranium are likely to fall again.  Ultimately production of these commodities can be expected to fall, because without debt, they become unaffordable for most consumers.

Government Funding Issues

One issue noted by Turchin and Nefedov is that in prior collapses, government funding is generally a problem. This occurs because the government is funded by surpluses of an economy. If an economy is reaching diminishing returns, citizens find it harder and harder to get good-paying jobs at the same time that the government needs more funding to handle the problems it is confronting, such as the need for a larger army. As a result, it becomes very hard to collect enough taxes. If tax rates are raised too high, citizens find themselves unable to afford an adequate diet. With poor nutrition, citizens become more vulnerable to epidemics–one of the major causes of die-offs during collapses.

We are seeing the issue of inadequate government funding now. US publicly held debt has been soaring since mid 2008 (Figure 9).

Figure 9

Figure 9

Inadequate High-Paying Jobs Go with Too Little Energy

Figure 10

Figure 10

An early sign of lack of adequate energy is a lack of good-paying jobs for young people. Also, the jobs that are available tend to be low-paying service jobs that don’t require much energy.

Of course, if we have to go back to growing food without today’s energy inputs, there will be a huge number of manual labor jobs available. But these are not the jobs most people are thinking about.

Electrical Grid Problems

Figure 11

Figure 11

There is a popular myth that electricity will save us. This view is based on the belief that our problem is simply a liquid fuels problem. Our problem is really very much deeper–a systems problem that threatens to take down the financial system and the consumption of all types of fuels simultaneously. Thus, the same problems that bring down oil consumption threaten to bring down electricity consumption.

But even apart from the systems problem, it is clear that oil problems lead to electric grid  problems. The electric grid needs constant repairs. New parts must be transported using oil, and the supply lines of companies manufacturing these parts must continue to operate, again using oil. Trucks or helicopters using oil products are needed to put grid replacement parts in place. Workers need transportation for their work on the grid, as well.

The claim that wind and solar PV will save us is silly, if we have an unsolvable grid problem. The place for solar PV is off-grid. Wind also works off-grid, in uses such as pumping water. Of course, wind turbines used for this purpose are tiny compared to today’s electricity generating turbines.

Geopolitical Problems

Figure 12

Figure 12

As we become more resource constrained, we can expect more fighting among countries. Perhaps new alliances will  be formed, in an attempt to squeeze our current energy hogs–US, Europe, and Japan. It is possible that the US dollar will lose its status as reserve currency, leading to a lower standard of living for US citizens.

Solutions to Converging Crises

Figure 13

Figure 13

You may think I am kidding with respect to the last item, “We need help from a Higher Power,” but I am not. Our universe seems to have been created by a Big Bang. But big bangs don’t just happen. We live in a very orderly universe. According to Newton’s Laws of Motion, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We also know that useful energy is balanced by friction. This, in fact, is a necessary balance, or the system would spin out of control. We also would not be able to drive down the road in a car without friction.

If a big bang happened, it seems likely to me that there was a major force behind the big bang. We can call this force Nature or a Higher Power. I am doubtful that the force behind the big bang would fix the world situation so that humans can continue along their current destructive path on earth. But the force might fix the situation in some other way–perhaps make the transition for humans easier to bear, or produce a new kind of big bang supporting an afterlife for humans as envisioned by various religions.

How This Time is Different

Greer, in his talk, mentioned several points about prior collapses:

  • Typically 95% of the population died off.
  • The time between civilizations tended to be about 500 years.
  • The 5% who survived were able to go about doing things, pretty much as had been done in the past.
  • The downslopes often had jogs and bumps in them, and could be slow.

The question arises as to how helpful this information is with respect to what is ahead. As I see the situation, civilizations that failed in the past were not fossil fuel dependent or electricity dependent. While there was specialization of labor, there was much less specialization than there is today. While there was some trade, the majority of food and clothing was locally produced. The biggest problems were

  • Growing population
  • Arable farmland that did not expand to meet growing population
  • Soil problems (loss of fertility, erosion, salinity)
  • Deforestation
  • Competition from neighboring civilizations
  • Government collapse
  • Debt problems

I view the 500 year gap between civilizations as including what I show as the “inter cycle” period between civilizations in Figure 6, above. This is the gap that took place before new growth could occur.

The big problem in the past with civilizations that collapsed was that humans were using renewable resources faster than they could renew. Population continued to expand as well. The combination of rising population and depleting soil and forest resources led to diminishing returns, lower wages for many workers, and difficulty funding governments. A 500 year gap between civilizations took the population pressure off an area. Forests were able to regrow, and soil was able to renew (at least partly through regeneration of soil by erosion of base rock).

Today, we sill have the problems we had in the past, but we have some new ones as well:

  • We are depleting aquifers much more rapidly than they regenerate. In many cases, the water table is far below what can be reached with simple tools. It will take thousands of years for these aquifers to regenerate.
  • We are depleting minerals of all kinds, so that we now need “high tech” methods to extract the low ore concentrations. These minerals will be out of reach, without the use of electricity and fossil fuels. In fact, the vast majority of fossil fuel energy supplies will also be out of reach, without today’s high tech methods. Eventually this may change, with new fossil fuel formation and with earthquakes, but the timeframe is likely to be millions of years.
  • Most people today do not know how to live without fossil fuels and electricity. If fossil fusel and electricity disappeared, most of us would not know how to produce our own food, water, and other basic necessities.
  • Most of us could not just “pick up and do as we did before,” with respect to our current jobs, if the government and 95% of the population disappeared. Our jobs are often supported by global supply chains that would disappear, as well as direct use of fossil fuels and electricity.
  • The world is sufficiently networked that most of it is likely to be drawn into a world-wide collapse. In the past, areas that did not collapse continued to function. These areas could act as a back-up, if functions were lost.

In the past, the 500 year gap was enough to allow regeneration of forests and soil, once population pressures were reduced. If that were our only problem now, we could expect the same pattern again. Such a regeneration would allow a reasonably large group of people (say 500 million people) to get back to a non-fossil fuel based civilization in 500 years, with new governments, roads and other services.

In such a new civilization, we would likely have difficulty using much metals, because ores are now quite depleted. Even reprocessing of existing metals is likely to require more heat energy than is easily available from renewables sources.

We are now so dependent on fossil fuels and electricity that any collapse that does take place seems likely to be faster than prior collapses. If the electric grid goes down in an area, and cannot be repaired, most business functions will be lost–practically immediately. If oil supply is interrupted, it also will bring a halt to most business in an area, because workers can’t get to work and raw materials cannot be transported.

We are bing told, “Renewables will save us,” but this is basically a lie. Wind and solar PV are just as much a part of our current fossil fuel system as any other source of electricity. They will only last as long as the weakest link–inverters that need replacing, batteries that need replacing, or the electric grid that needs fixing. We are being told that these are our salvation, because politicians need to have something to point to as a solution–not because they really will work.


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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749 Responses to Converging Energy Crises – And How our Current Situation Differs from the Past

  1. Christian says:

    Isn’t remarkable Jay Forrester and RAM memory were at the heart of the technological turnover we somewhat agree is the key problem in overall complexity? This way, excess of complexity started just with Tainter’s stagflation after the first oil shock, and LTG is rooted in the very same origin.

  2. Quitollis says:

    My compliments to Gail on a truly outstanding survey of the state of affairs.

    As a secondary observation, it is tempting to say that people generally (but clearly not universally) have no detectible sense of dilemma, it is all moral black and white, and no sense of sacrifice. We see this especially with regard to matters that affect the common good. Our civilization seems to be set on the side of every individual over the common good or the common good understood as every single person, possibly quantity over quality. That is all “good and proper” but it will have consequences. Are we really capable of such a fundamental mistake? A decision seems to have been made circa WWII, maybe long before I don’t know. Dilemmas tend to be moral and practical, moral and political. And they do have consequences either way, for the individual or for the common good. My feeling is that we have gone to an extreme, big time and that it is going to take us all down. Arguably we have failed as a civilization to moderate the instincts by reason. My feeling is that we have learnt nothing good from 2000 years of Christianity. I mean, to not even get the bit about sacrifice. And so I just watch.

    • We certainly have gone through a long period where, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” is the ethic taught on television and in business. We need to have a moderating force to provide a sense of ethics and to keep the system in balance. In Europe, the balance is to some extent provided by the government, but in the US, even the government is not very helpful. If religions are “working,” they should be able to provide some of the moderating force.

      • Quitollis says:

        In my opinion the influence of European governments is just as individualistic as in America. It is perhaps not as focused on laissez fair capitalism, more on socialism but it is the same individualistic tendency in the guise of the common good. I mean, our governments feel the need to look after everyone. They have a policy of admitting asylum seekers because of what is good for them as individuals. They provide welfare to masses because of what is good for them as individuals. The common good does not really come into it because they do not get the whole bit about the sacrifice of the individual for the common good. That is a very basic mistake. If we had as a civilization any pretence of reason then we would have aimed for a sustainable future for the most complete persons possible. We would have bred complete, healthy, smart people instead of this grotesque parody of humanity. That said, I agree with you that capitalism is a serious problem as an organisational principle. I do not say that we should chuck it completely and go to the opposite extreme, which would likely just be the same individualism in another guise, but as you say there needs to be other moderating priciples. We seem to be agreed about the principle of the sacrifice of the instincts of the individual for the common good.

        • Quitollis says:

          I think that my grammar may have obscured my meaning so I will clarify a couple of key sentences.

          Our civilization seems to be set on the side of every individual over the common good or (on the side of) the common good understood as every single person, possibly (on the side of) quantity over quality…

          They have a policy of admitting asylum seekers because of what is good for (asylum seekers) as individuals. They provide welfare to masses because of what is good for (those masses) as individuals.

          Yes I am arguing that an ill-thought-out altruism that does not take regard of the principles of breeding is a form of social individualism and that it is a destructive error. It is classic liberalism, everyone cooperates (at least in the observance of a common law) so that they all obtain their personal good. Arguably it is also Christianity, “love thy neighbour and support everyone though charity”. The principle of breeding means that we have to sacrifice innumerable individuals, let them go to the wall, if the people of the future are to obtain their human good. Jesus gave us a figure of that sacrifrice of individuals for the common good even if I reject his ‘humanitarianism’. I think that Jesus has become a figure of selfishness, charity, in the guise of selflessness.

          • Quitollis –Let’s get off of this topic.

            “Breeding” is what all species are designed to do. It isn’t a form of social individualism and a destructive error. It is the way Darwinian natural selection works. Humans are no different from any other species.

            There needs to be a balance between “every man for himself” and altruism. Religions are part of what has provided the altruism balance to the “every person for himself” view. Religions have also helped natural selection along, by giving humans something else to fight over. Fighting is part of the natural order, just as varying religions are part of the natural order.

            If we look at religions as an absolute, then indeed, it is easy to find fault with them. But they are a necessary part of our whole system, whether you have an interest in participating in one of them or not. I don’t want to hear any more about how terrible religions are.

            • Quitollis says:

              Gail, yes breeding is what we basically do so we do not get off the subject. This is what everyone is saying in Europe. We cannot make excuses saying this is what all species do. Man is a rational animal, we do not chuck that idea. It is very bad practice to breed beyond our means. Everyone says that about families. It is basic common sense. Otherwise we place an unacceptable burden on our fellows. It is the same with humanity as a whole. We cannot gobble up the earth and leave nothing for future generations just because we are a species. We have to use our common sense and there is no excuse if we do not. We have to pay the bill in every case. We are rational and we consider both quantity and quality when we breed. Because we are a species. Let us not censor common sense ideas because we feel uncomfortable with them. We try to have a sensible civilization as late in the day as it may be.

            • xabier says:

              Denigrating religion per se is ultimately as sterile as denigrating any other abstraction, such as Socialism or Capitalism. Particular religions and the way they operate is another matter – but that’s beside the point here.

              Another interesting way to view religions is as a kind of vehicle or instrument, designed to make a journey or accomplish some further end, to produce something more and not be an end in itself.

              That vehicle might function pretty well, and be controlled by those who know its function.

              It can also be badly maintained; outdated, past its best and worn out; vulnerable to high-jack; or simply have a crazy driver in whose hands it becomes an instrument of destruction. Or it can even turn into a kind of cult-object, in which people get pleasure just standing around and looking it at. (Look at the absurd way some people treat cars -beautiful I agree, but…!)

              Gail’s point about the wide potential social and ethical value of religions reflects this view.

              The ancient Parsee religion of the Persians inculcated respect for the Earth, for trees, for agriculture as a worthy pursuit, and had a humane legal code which abhorred the death penalty or cruel punishments: sound and practical ethical beliefs which have nothing other-worldly about them at all. I don’t know what its position was on infanticide, but like most of the ancient world no doubt it was understood and sanctioned.

              Like all humans, they often failed in the performance of these precepts, and the actions of their empire were often cruel and brutal, but the religion as such is not invalidated and certainly worthy of respect.

              By giving sensible policies a ‘sacred’ status, a religion can help to set a whole society on the right track and keep it there for a time. And as Gail rightly points out time and time again, it can restrain the worst of our selfish impulses.

            • Paul says:

              “By giving sensible policies a ‘sacred’ status, a religion can help to set a whole society on the right track and keep it there for a time. And as Gail rightly points out time and time again, it can restrain the worst of our selfish impulses.”

              I cannot think of a single country where things have worked out this way (maybe Bhutan?)

              Some of the most heinous crimes in history were committed in the name of religion — and some of the countries with very strong religious communities commit depravities that would make an atheist blush.

              Not to pick on the US (again) but this is a nation of Christians — yet does anyone stand up when the US pillages other countries — tortures – invades – nukes — you name it.

              And what is the response to this of the good Christians? Many of them roll into the streets baying for blood – chanting USA USA USA … Religion tempers none of this — in fact it is often used to inflame — see ‘the dirty Muslims who are all terrorists’ PR campaign…

              As for selfish impulses — Christianity has done nothing to tamp these down — look at the mega mansions — the culture of ‘me’ — greed — competition with thy neighbour for the biggest SUV etc etc etc… hypocrisy at its finest

              The argument that religion makes societies better is specious — what makes a society better is a well informed — well educated — politically vigilant population…

              If anything religion acts against the above — it teaches people to be obey authority — it teaches anti-logic (man in the sky making rules … fires of hell … dead people rising up…). Religion has been used since the beginning of civilization to control people – often to get them to kill one another.

              I came to the conclusion when I was about 13 that this ‘god’ think made no sense — I do not require a man in the sky to tell me how to lead my life. I recall thinking ‘how ridiculous this all is – it’s like believing in the tooth fairy — or Santa Claus’

              If people would reject religions and instead follow this philosophy the world would be a far better place:

              Secular humanism

              The philosophy or life stance of secular humanism (alternatively known by some adherents as Humanism, specifically with a capital H to distinguish it from other forms of humanism) embraces human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.[1][2][3]

              It posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. It does not, however, assume that humans are either inherently evil or innately good, nor does it present humans as being superior to nature. Rather, the humanist life stance emphasizes the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions. Fundamental to the concept of secular humanism is the strongly held viewpoint that ideology—be it religious or political—must be thoroughly examined by each individual and not simply accepted or rejected on faith. Along with this, an essential part of secular humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy. Many Humanists derive their moral codes from a philosophy of utilitarianism, ethical naturalism or evolutionary ethics, and some, such as Sam Harris advocate a science of morality.


            • Perhaps secular humanism needs to be set up as another religion. But the point is, we need some way to counter the natural tendency toward greed and every person for himself.

      • Terry says:

        Since the notion of religion seems to have earned some contemplation among the reply comments, I’ll add my $.02. “Any” organized religion in this day and age are simply groups of people sharing a common belief system about the “Great Mystery”…and regardless of what these groups believe…none of the various religions can “prove” anything. They take the belief systems of their ancestors and become self-serving small governments in a way, each perpetuating old beliefs against the same lack of proof. Most are big on “their’s is the only true religion”, or “we are God’s chosen people.” Many are big on ritual and appeasement. “None” seem to have grasped the true “purpose” of most religions, which is simply to help individual people develop their own idea of, and relationship with, “spirituality”. I have nothing against groups of people with common beliefs gathering together under that common belief to exhibit the good qualities of humanity…compassion, love, friendship, feed the hungry, house the poor, seek peace, be understanding, tolerance, etc., along the way towards helping with the true “purpose”. These groups of people would likely exhibit these characteristics regardless.

        However, when one group under belief system “A” justifies the slaughter of another group “B”…just because the people in “B” believe in a different Great Mystery…(again, for which there exists no evidence either way)…I call this the absolute height of human insanity. They are the equivalent of the ultimate “thought police”…and make themselves judge, jury, and executioner without any evidence whatsoever to justify their acts.

        Somehow the human race exists. Hopefully, our consciousness and spirit will survive temporal reality when each of our times comes to an end. Since “hope” is one of our more beneficial qualities, I see benefit to it. Without hope, people are encouraged to simply not give much thought to eternity and what comes next. That is their right. But nothing can give them the right to squash the hopes of others. “Time” will decide everyone’s fate soon enough…and who had the right belief and who didn’t. Seems such a simple concept for people to come to terms with. Failure to understand and accept this simple universal notion has much to do with out current state of affairs. Freedom is the right to believe whatever one desires…but not to impose that belief on others.

        • Rodster says:

          That’s my biggest problem with religion or I should say organized religion. I believe there is a God who created the Universe but that’s my belief. The problem with organized religion and why I no longer subscribe to it although I used to, is that it boils down to this. My God is better than your God. My God can kick the crap out of your God. My God is the true God, yours isn’t. Since you don’t believe in my God, my God will punish and destroy you.

          Organized religion is basically a company which makes money off it’s worshipers but like the US Govt sends patriotic men and women to fight unjust and criminal wars. It’s always the same we’re just, they’re NOT. You have to believe we are stopping evil and you are the method and means to achieve it.

        • There is a constant competition among all species, including humans. This is part of what has held population down over time. Religion plays a role in this as well. From our point of view, this is bad, but from the point of view of not over-populating the planet, this conflict plays a necessary role.

          In our world of fossil fuel abundance, we (including myself) have been able to take an accepting view of a wide range of religions. As long as there is enough of everything to go around, why should be care whether another group of people have a different set of customs and beliefs than our group does? But once there is not enough to go around, different religious beliefs are one of the things that divides. Just as globalization goes away, religious tolerance is likely disappear.

          • Coast Watcher says:

            I don’t want to get in the habit of saying “right on” to you, Gail, but again you have made what I see as a vital point regarding the breakdown ahead. Abundance has allowed tolerance of not only religion but also of other differences. Once there is not enough to go around, those assorted tolerances will disappear and people will gather into like-minded groups for defense and security. I’m reminded of a post-apocalyptic story I read in, of all places, the old Saturday Evening Post, about a conflict over a resource (water IIRC) between the Knights of Columbus and the Masons. Both were wandering tribes in the post-atomic war wilderness.

    • xabier says:


      I rather admire the social ethics of the old German and Scandinavian tribes: they lived in the expectation of perhaps dying with their lords (who had fed, clothed and armed them) if Fate decreed defeat in battle. Whoever failed to keep that compact was shamed: no running away, you made return for the goods you had received, and some one sang a song about it afterwards. The whole of ancient German culture was dominated by the idea of fate and inevitable doom – a pretty accurate grasp of the realities of life on the face of this Earth I would suggest!

      I’m afraid you are right: European socialism which began as a justified reaction to industrial exploitation and had a real sense of brotherhood about it, has become just another form of egotistic consumerism in disguise. The old slogan ‘He who won’t work, shan’t eat’ has long been forgotten.

      In Spain people on the Left have been talking about job-sharing, ‘to share wealth and work’, ‘for social justice’ etc: however, when a regional government recently attempted to put this into practice in the public sector, the Left were up in arms and protesting with great indignation. Very funny: the other guy can make the sacrifices, not me! All just empty posturing…….

      • Paul says:

        Yep. Never me.

        I have encountered numerous people who complain that over-population is the gravest problem we face — but they still insist on having children. Of course they religiously blue-box and reuse plastic bags….

        Not that it matters nor is this a judgment — just an observation…

        • I understand Rob Hopkins has four children. Sharon Astk has (IIRC) four of her own, plus others she has taken in–total nine the last I looked.

      • From what little I have seen, it is the minimum jobs that get shared, so the people who are barely making it get half as much. The higher level supervisory jobs tend not to be shared. So it doesn’t help very much. And the goods that are produced are still uncompetitive with those from low-wage countries.

        • xabier says:


          Yes, the uncompetitiveness kills it: the European Bank and the Brussels people have made it clear that they expect Europeans in the ‘peripherals’, unable to devalue while within the Euro-zone, to take substantial pay cuts in order to restore competitiveness, as costs of labour in Asia move up – all supposedly balancing out in ten to twenty years time. A comfortable view to take if you have an index-linked pension, etc, and as you rightly point out, totally illogical.

  3. Andrew the clockwinder says:

    Thank you for this latest of your insightful posts, which I always appreciate. My comment relates to your point about oil prices being too low for producers, but too high for consumers. That concept has been hard for me to accept. For all of mainstream economics’ flaws, one tenet that does seem sound is the idea of supply and demand curves determining prices in a free market.
    Perhaps what has been happening is a temporary oversupply in the market due to a mistake on the part of suppliers. Oil companies and their investors have been slow to catch on to the fact that their investments in new capacity are not bringing up nearly as much oil per dollar as they formerly brought. This has created losses for suppliers and subsidies for consumers.
    If we could calculate the value of those subsidies, it might turn out that rather than being essentially stagnant over the past several years, overall costs (market price paid by consumers, plus subsidy from the industry) have continued to increase substantially. If oil companies decide to cut back on their money-losing investments in new production (as may already be occurring), then production will inevitably suffer.

    • The models of economists would work a lot better if supply would really increase, as more investment is made, and if wages of workers would increase, as the cost of oil extraction increases. As it is, the oil-extraction system becomes less and less efficient over time. If an oil worker bought only oil, he could afford less and less of the oil he is producing. Not so good!

      As the process becomes less efficient, more of the oil is simply burned in the extraction process, so it doesn’t go to benefit the workers. Because of this, the workers cannot afford as much oil. This lack of demand by the workers (and by others) holds the price of oil down.

      • MG says:

        This is a very interesting comment about the oil extraction system and how it looses its efficiency. Then, when the oil price rises, we need to stop rising it, so that the costs are kept down. The too high price of oil is not in the interest of the oil producers, too.

        Now we have the agriculture using subsidized fuels. These covert subsidies for oil extraction in the form of low interest rates are/will not be enough. It is very probable that we will experience similar subsidies to oil extraction as the so called “green energies” are/were experiencing.

        The subsidies for lignite mining are present in my country (Slovakia). Without them the domestic brown coal production would not be economical anymore. Redirecting the subsidies from green energies to oil production may be the next step after the world experiences lack of oil.

        We know that this is just a temporary step downwards, but I guess this can be the emergency brake that will finally stop the growth of the oil based population, „sucking out“ the energy (money) out of the people and redirecting it to the oil production. Now in a covert way as cheap loans to oil producing companies, later openly as subsidies for oil production.

        • MG says:

          In fact the higher prices of oil based fuels in Europe caused by special taxes “suck out” the energy (money) out of the people in the same way.

          That is why the Europe experiences the impacts of oil depletion sooner than the rest of the world. In comparison to Japan, the population decline is dampened by the immigration.

          So the population decline is not so visible in case of Europe.

          • The higher taxes on gas are offset by lower taxes on other things, though. Europe has a lot of other problems. It has promised a lot of programs that it will never be able to pay for, for example.

            The effect of the taxes has been less than one might expect. This is a chart I put together a while ago showing the amount of energy per Trillion $ of GDP for various countries. The USA is higher, but it has been making more progress in reducing the amount than the EU and Japan.

            Energy intensity of GDP for various countries.

        • It could be. Oil has traditionally been a major source of funding for governments. If it turns around and needs subsidies, it is hard to see how the governments making those subsidies will last very long. Governments are funded by the surpluses of the economy, and if oil isn’t providing a surplus, what will?

  4. edpell says:

    It is a zero sum game. When oil (energy) prices are high someone has to loose, has to receive less benefits than in the past. It is the bottom of the social pyramid that is elected. Even if that leads to death. That is why we have so many town police, county sheriffs, state police, FBI, DHS, MIA, NSA, ATF, IRS, etc…

    • xabier says:


      And even when the pay gets bad, those state agents can start to extract money from citizens and criminals through bribes and beatings -see the police in most of the world. Also, sexual favours.

      In a declining state, stick to the governing structures, they have the greatest extractive power.

  5. james irwin says:

    Ms Tverberg, I am wondering if it is possible to use your actuarial skills or some combination thereof and assign more quantitative limits to the upper end of oil prices that cause economic decline, I recognized that this a very complex problem but might be worth a crack at it

    • Economic problems seem to come after oil prices hit about $35 barrel. We are far above that. That is why we need QE and other tricks to try to hide our problems.

      Average wages compared to oil price

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        Gail, that graph appears to show avg. wages in lock step with oil cost, except maybe a tad lower in the right hand circle. So I’m not sure that indicates the need for QE, unless wages need to be much higher than oil cost?

        • Rodster says:

          It’s possible that wages need to be higher especially when you factor in that it takes 10 calories of oil per one calorie consumed. The most prosperous times in the US were in the 1950’s thru the mid 60’s.

        • Average wages tend to flatten when oil prices are high. The denominator is total population, not working population, so it also considered percentage of the population working. The increasing wages when oil prices were low pushed the economy along. Now we need to use something else (QE) to try to push the economy along.

          • Rodster says:

            Here’s a scary GDP vs Asset prices chart posted on Zerohedge

            • It is amazing what QE can do. As economic growth goes to zero, stock prices approach infinity!

            • Rodster says:

              Here’s another infograph on Peak Water

              “The Path To Peak Water – The Infographic”

              Quote: “Water is the lifeblood of humanity; it turns out it is in short supply. Like any other commodity high in demand, you should keep an eye on it for investment purposes as we get closer and closer to “peak water.”

            • Looking at the infographic, “all” we need to do is melt some of the fresh water that is permanently locked up as permanent snow cover and pipe it to where it is needed. There seems to be a huge amount of it. Of course, the energy cost would be huge.

            • Rodster says:

              Yes, thanks for pointing the abundance of water stored in ice. I forgot to mention that but you are also correct again that the energy and costs needed to transport that melted water would be enormous. At that point as you have said regarding EROI that it gets to point that you have NO choice but to leave the oil in the ground.

              It would be tragic if at some point in the future if our civilization will have to divert most of it’s oil and energy resources to extract the most valuable resource of all, Water !

            • Paul says:

              I have seen that chart — it pretty much defines insanity … another reason that I am certain that when this next bust up comes — there will be no recovery of any sort… this is the big one. The distortions in the economy are of a magnitude many times greater than 2007/08

            • says:

              Apparently there is a maximum depth of replies. This is actually to Gail’s comment:
              Looking at the infographic, “all” we need to do is melt some of the fresh water that is permanently locked up as permanent snow cover and pipe it to where it is needed. There seems to be a huge amount of it. Of course, the energy cost would be huge.
              . . .
              I read Willy Ley’s 1954 book Engineers’ Dreams in the sixth grade in 1957:
              The only one I remember that has actually been built is Chunnel. One that hasn’t been done is lassoing an iceberg off the coast of Antarctica and towing it to Los Angeles harbor, putting a skirt around it (as fresh melt water floats on salt water) and pumping it to shore.

            • Yes, there is a maximum depth of comments. I had it higher for a while, and people complained that the comments became too narrow to read.

  6. TM says:

    Al Bartlett said that “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” In his spirit, I created rigorous and up-to-date materials for teaching growth, the exponential function and sustainability. It remains true that ignorance about the implications of growth is widespread and good references are rare – a lot of what you find on the internet is, of course, inaccurate, and Al Bartlett’s own materials are decades old and not very internet-friendly (although his presentation is still a must-see). Please take a look and use for your own purposes:


    Rigorous mathematical fact sheet:

    Exercises and case studies:

  7. Julian Brown says:

    Yet another really excellent article.
    Having read a lot of Gail’s work over the past few years, am I alone in detecting a distinctly darker tone of late ?
    I get the the impression of resignation – that it is now really too late for any meaningful change towards a more sustainable global culture and that we are on an inevitable roller-coaster ride to systemic collapse. In this Gail is not alone. I have been following many of the most astute and qualified thinkers and writers such as Dennis Meadows, David Holmgren, James Hansen, and all – despite individual differences in emphasis and focus – seem to have come to basically the same conclusion.
    If I may chip in with my own two cents of opinion, I incline to the (Gail’s?) view that that the break in BAU will be slightly delayed but exceedingly rapid when it does occur, precisely because of all the inherent positive feedbacks of a strongly coupled system. Tempting comparisons with the fall of earlier civilizations do not stand up to scrutiny, in my view. What we face is orders of magnitude more disruptive that anything in the historical record, for all the reasons set out in this article.
    A sort of global Easter Island, in fact.

    • You are right.

      Although I didn’t go into it in this article, I think our civilization, like past civilizations are “dissipative structures,” that have lives of their own, and eventually fail. In that regard, they are like hurricanes and like human beings. We live within this dissipative structure, but don’t really have power to prevent it from eventually collapsing. Perhaps we can save ourselves and our families for a few years (or longer) with actions we take, but that is about all.

      The idea that we could save civilization was a naive one, given the nature of dissipative structures. Dissipative structures are complex systems formed in “open systems.” They turn energy into waste heat, for a period of time. We have no real power to change this process. While we have free will, instincts are so powerful that they prevent the natural process from proceeding according to process ordained by physics. The fact that energy is so much tied in with population growth is part of this problem.

      • Terry says:

        Gail…I agree with your thought that “our civilization, like past civilizations are “dissipative structures,” that have lives of their own, and eventually fail”. I would even go so far as to support the notion that the power of instinct is exceedingly strong…as evidenced by the mere fact that we are here today. However, I suspect that what determines the arrow of human evolution is our ability to rationalize steps towards a more pleasant outcome if we are able to curb (or at least harness) our instincts and habits. This would appear to be a function of conscious awareness of the situation at hand…a state that informative contributions from persons such as yourself can help manifest. It is a matter of reason, fed by information and knowledge, overcoming typical and traditional reaction. Seems most folks subscribe to the “ignorance is bliss” state of mind, which prevents reason from playing a role in shaping behaviors that could lead to potential better outcomes. Of course the “system” has reached a state where most don’t have the time to seek the information, and to know what information can be trusted even if they did. An eternal optimist, I can’t help but believe there is hope in increasing awareness. Keep up the good work.

        • timl2k11 says:

          I think most individuals in society have to remain fairly ignorant in order to function. Start thinking too much and you might start to question everything, like your job, your motivations, your family, your community, your role in society, and so on. It’s easier to get things done when you don’t question the meaning or motivations of your actions. You definitely don’t want to start considering the broader implications of everything you do if want to conform to society in the ways which allow you to put food on the table and pay the rent.
          For those in power, it is very important to keep people from thinking too much, society cannot work (nor can those in power stay in power) if everyone starts to question what is going on.
          In other words, the entirety of civilization is built on “vital lies”, lies that convince us that whatever we are doing is right, just, and good.

          • Christian says:

            I see it differently. Here, people rather hold to what they are doing, watherver, and change almost nothing. The knowledge changes expectations, but not daily life. External limits are likely to do that.

            • xabier says:


              Yes, talking to people who haven’t studied this, I encounter a stubborn refusal to consider that our civilization itself has fundamental problems, and a firm belief that ‘normality’ can be restored.

              Curiously, I’ve found my Argentinian relations to be particularly resistant, as they have been used to lots of crises – ‘it’s just another one, this will pass…..’

              I’m not talking about it to them any more or I’ll just confirm my reputation as one of the more depressing prophets of the Old Testament!

            • kesar says:

              @ xabier
              I guess that we all present on this blog site have been experiencing this kind of experience. I am trying to avoid such topics, since I know I will lose my friends/coleagues. They will probably all put me in the box with a label conspiracy theorist/heavy psychiatric treatment required/what a big frustration/lost his mind/etc. It’s sometimes not easy. Did you guys introduced this topic to your kids?

            • kesar says:

              Sorry, the question was addressed to all reading this blog. Just would like to know your approach and experiences.

            • InAlaska says:

              I attempted to explain these concepts to my kids (14,12,10). My wife was anxious about it. We soft-pedaled it a little bit, leaving out the parts about 7 billion people dying off, and perhaps our starvation. Rather we focused on the fact that there will be some very hard times ahead for the world and that we must do what we can to prepare to lead very hard lives. This is already easy for them to get since we keep chickens, hunt our own food, raise a huge garden and cut our own firewood for heat. We talked to them about lowered expectations. I have one son who wants very much to be an author or actor. Another wants to be a professional hockey player. We didn’t pop their bubble about the fact that these professions will likely disappear in their life times. Children are such naturally hopeful beings, full of energy and enthusiasm for the future that even with grim concepts, kids tend to shrug it off and say, “well that’s your problem, watch me do better!” Anyway, we do focus more on the climate change and how this is a problem that will be their generation’s greatest challenge.

            • Interguru says:

              What I tell others ( short elevator talk follows )

              Our system is very fragile, the problems that caused 2008 — high oil prices and impossible-to-pay debt are still with us. The next breakdown may be too big to bail out.

              I leave out the Mad Max stuff,

            • Sounds like a good choice of elevator talk.

            • kesar says:

              inAlaska, Interguru,
              thanks for sharing this. My kids are 18 yo right now, but their reaction was similar to your younger kids, inAlaska. When you see everything on the streets, everything works, people go to work, play, make love, driving their SUVs and you are surrounded by pure MSM propaganda you have no choice – you have to believe in the eternal growth paradigm. Maybe it’s even better for them. Most people want to believe instead of understand. See my lighthouse story – it’s a good metaphor, I think.

            • Christian says:

              My son is 4, so nothing to tell him yet, and I send my best wishes to those who have to deal with this situation. But in dayly life it has become difficult to teach him things, even to play with him, because I know almost nothing of this culture will be useful to him, in case he ever gets to maturity. It’s really sad.

              I’ve also noticed some of my readers got upset with my last post (which also had a somewhat heavy tone), where some millions of deaths were mentioned. It’s interesting, because it’s educated people that obviously could infer the consequences of all previous posts, but they can’t hold this point, yet. Many others accept it better, while some still have a bit of hope in a miracle to happen.

              Xabier, you can give this address to your argentinean friends, local issues are a topic as well. Btw, I removed the last two posts. May be I’ll make some corrections and post again.


            • You need to play with your son and enjoy him now, both for your sake and his. We don’t know how long he will have. Make the best use you can of what time he does have. ( I guess that is true, with or without collapse.)

            • Christian says:

              Or a video located at at an argentinean political party portail:

        • Clearly, human lives can be extended by better diet, exercise, and medicine. Perhaps the lives of civilizations can be extended by planned lower growth–especially if undertaken early on.

          Increased awareness now seems more likely to help the people who become aware and their families, than to help the civilization as a whole. Maybe there is a more broadly helpful outcome, as well, if their knowledge can help others as well.

        • xabier says:


          We are potentially capable of self-knowledge, and self-control: we persistently fail to act upon it. ‘Know thyself’ is somewhere a lot of people don’t want to go to……

    • InAlaska says:

      Or perhaps at the elementary school age version would be: “the bigger they are, the harder they fall!” We are the biggest civilization that has ever existed to date, and so we will have the hardest fall, when our time comes.

      • Calista says:

        I would request that you use a more specific term than bigger. We are both the most populous civilization to date as well as the most spread out as well as the most interdependent. Each of those dimensions are “big” and are a weak link in the “fall” part of the equation. ;^)

        • InAlaska says:

          Yes, “bigger” was an inadequate term. Although the phrase “the bigger they are…” prompted it. Perhaps “more complex”, “more global,” or “most interdependent” would have been better. Blogs tend to emphasize speed of response rather than reasoned and accurate responses. My apologies.

    • cytochromeC says:

      But growth is just around the corner:

    • According to your link:

      These actions follow the recent adoption of the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD) and the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) regulation in the EU. The negative outlooks reflect Moody’s view that, with the legislation underlying the new resolution framework now in place and the explicit inclusion of burden-sharing with unsecured creditors as a means of reducing the public cost of bank resolutions, the balance of risk for banks’ senior unsecured creditors has shifted to the downside. While Moody’s support assessments are unchanged for now, the probability has risen that they will be revised downwards to reflect the new framework.

      So it sounds like they are expecting more Cyprus-like situations.

  8. dorji yangka says:

    wow…..great post! so you mean to say that the present human civilization can’t be sustained without oil? oil is center to economic growth? Is it a lock in effect that can’t be done with?
    what are your direct contributions to sustainable development?

    • Christian says:

      Sustainable and development are contradictory terms…

      Gail, very good job

      • InAlaska says:

        Maybe if we institute a modern version of the 1970s movie “Logan’s Run”, where everyone is euthanized after the age of 30 to make room for the next generation.

    • There is no such thing as “sustainable development.” Perhaps that is something that needs to be pointed out to folks.

      • timl2k11 says:

        Definitely an oxymoron if ever there was one! One that the United Nations seems to embrace. “Sustainable growth” too.

        • Phil says:

          Even consumption (of non-replenishing natural resources) is not sustainable.

          And bear in mind that all ‘use’ involves consumption. Recycling cannot be 100% efficient.

          • I agree. The fact that consumption of non-replenishing natural resources is not sustainable pretty way does away with the idea of a steady economy. Without non-replenishing natural resources, we would lose metals and pretty much all energy sources except burned biomass and wind and water harnessed with wooden structures. All of today’s “renewables” would go away. With 7 billion people, we would have a hard time making the wood and biomass provide much energy per person, without depleting the forests.

            • rentzhilyer says:

              Very interesting article. And very literal definition of steady state economy that I had not considered. One of Herman Daly’s main rules is that we shouldn’t use resources faster than they can be replaced, so any metal consumption not sustainable. Readers may be interested in for info on a steady state economy.

            • carefully does not tell you about how large a drop would be necessary for a “Steady State”. Remove all metals and all fossil fuels, (which pretty much means all renewables, except perhaps wood and other biomass, and wind and water captured through wooden devices) and resources per person are not very high.

  9. Paul says:

    Although China is giving Japan a good run for first spot:

    China’s Housing Bubble Desperation In Six Words: “Buy One Floor, Get One Free”

    Stein’s Law…..

  10. Paul says:

    If Japan were a dog I’d suggest we put it out of its misery…. but we don’t want to do that … because Japan is a very important hub — if … I mean when this sucker goes down …. it will shatter the global financial system… irreparably I suspect…

    Abenomics Suffers Crippling Blow: Economy Sputters As Inflation Soars, BOJ QE Delayed Indefinitely

    Japan remains my pick for first domino to go.

    • cytochromeC says:

      Pakistan will be the first over the cliff, I think.
      Population overshoot, devastated ecosystems, water issues, dependent on imported energy, a illiterate religious population, all run by a corrupt military.
      Oh, with nukes.

      • You are right that Pakistan deserves a high place on the list of candidates to go over the cliff first.

        We have lots of other candidates for first also: Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia etc

        • Paul says:

          Many failed state candidates — but I don’t think that the collapse of these minor players setting off a death spiral.

          For that to happen I think the state needs to be a significant economy — with deep connections to the international debt markets — Yemen and Pakistan are already pretty much collapsed economies — only handouts from the US and its allies keep them from totally imploding.

          If a key hub like say Japan or China or the EU busts — as the saying goes — they are too big to bail…. those would be the ones to watch.

          • xabier says:

            Perhaps Japan is one of the few societies where retired people could be persuaded to terminate their lives early for the sake of the community? The demographic imbalance is one of their greatest problems. Do they still have that sense of discipline and obedience, one wonders?

            • Calista says:

              Indeed, I can see them having both the discipline and obedience. However, it would be the middle generation they need to terminate for a combination of lack of skills and lack of physical health to undertake the hard labor required by farming. The youngest need to re-learn farming skills from the last generation that actually farmed. Most of them are in their upper 70s now.

            • We probably need to go back to skills even earlier than those in their 70s know now. How about “pre-fossil fuel skills?”

      • Lizzy says:

        and also, polio, thanks to the enlightened Taliban forbidding vaccination. Apparently it’s spreading to other countries from there.

        • Paul says:

          The reason the Taliban are killing polio vaccination teams is because the CIA is using these teams as cover for its spying operations ….

          If we get a global epidemic of polio then don’t blame the Taliban – blame America — blame Obama – blame the CIA:

          The White House confirmed this week that the Central Intelligence Agency will no longer use vaccination campaigns in its operations, reviving the debate over a surprise comeback of the polio virus. The CIA famously used fake vaccinations during its hunt for Osama bin Laden, which ended in his killing at a Pakistan hideout in 2011. The operation spawned a backlash against vaccination workers that hampered efforts to eradicate the disease there. After the deans of 12 U.S. public health schools complained (PDF) to President Obama in January 2013 of the “collateral damage,” the White House replied on May 16, saying a CIA policy established in August 2013 banned the use of such campaigns.

          • Lizzy says:

            Oh well, bravo the brave Taleban, then. Crippling their children (but surely not their own children, others’ in their communities) to spit in the face of Obama. What an admirable bunch. Bet they feel righteous. Paul, I heard a very sad item on the radio this morning about a father in Wasiristan (sp?) desperate to get the vaccine for his son. He was prevented from doing so by the Taleban who were trying to kill him. The sad consequence was a two-year-old screaming in pain, with shrivelled limbs.

            • Paul says:

              I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the Deep State (not Obama) — if the CIA were not to have yet again played dirty (this is truly despicable) and used vaccination teams in this way then the Taliban would not have attacked these teams.

              If I were in their position I would do the exact same thing – I would assume every one of these teams was CIA and I will get them before they got me.

              Before you let rip at me for that comment — what would you do if you were them? Allow these teams to visit your village – work out where the ‘bad guys’ live — and then visit you with a drone that evening?

              Perhaps the Deep State should have thought about the consequences of their actions?

              Oh but of course they knew this was a likely outcome – they are not stupid — but they do not care — this is ‘collateral damage’ to them — as we know these are the same people who believe it is ok to starve half a million children to death — the ends (enriching themselves and gorging on power is always the ends) justify the means.

              Let’s revisit the wicked hag of the west as she speaks on 60 MInutes

              And likewise in Iraq — every death — every bit of suffering that happens there day after day to this day — is the result of a Deep State decision taken over a decade a go – a decision to invent a lie and invade and destroy yet another country — then walk away and leave hell on earth behind.

              Of course the Deep State knows there will be blow-back in the form of terrorism – but so what? More collateral damage when an American gets offed…. no big deal… people do not matter to these guys. Yet Americans are there chanting USA USA USA — like a scene out of ‘1984’

              Bush’s Anti-Terror Chief: Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld Can Be Tried at the Hague for the War Crimes They Committed In Iraq


              In a fair world Bush and Obama would be swinging from nooses… along with those who issued the orders.

              And of course the US is engaged in yet another dirty war in the Crimea — as usual we have to turn to Vlad Putin to get at what is truly happening there:

              Putin Top 10 Quotes Re: Crimea

            • Lizzy says:

              Yes, Paul, fair enough. I certainly agree with you about Crimea. By the way, I wasn’t “letting rip”! Certainly not at you. I just think it’s a sad situation that polio has returned with a vengeance to poor, benighted Pakistan.

    • James Howard Kunstler picked Japan as the first domino to go, shortly after the Fukushima accident, if I remember correctly. It is a fairly reasonable guess.

      • St. Roy says:

        JHK is right. With no FF energy or other resources plus a fished-out ocean and a large dose of ionizing radiation, Japan will rapidly collapse and be the canary in the coal mine for the rest of us watch. I believe “the first to go medieval” is Jim’s forecast for the country.

  11. sheilach2 says:

    When the grid goes down, our problems will extend far beyond the shops closing.

    Imagine your in your apartment on a hot summer night, the power goes out. In the morning, it’s still out. You go to the bathroom to wash up. You turn on the tap – nothing. You do your business & flush & don’t hear the tank refill.
    You try to get to work but the streets are gridlocked, buss’s aren’t running, traffic lights don’t work, you can’t refuel because all the stations are closed, when you get to work, your sent home.The rivers soon becomes putrid with untreated sewage. Garbage remains in the streets, homeless dogs roam the streets in packs.
    It’s dangerous to go outside.

    What would you do? Where could you go? No water fit to drink, no job, no food, millions of other people nearby in the same predicament.
    How long could you hold out hoping the juice comes back on?
    What if it doesn’t?

    • Paul says:

      You nail it on the head.

      I think most people look at this as an emergency situation — one in which their government will help them — that this will be temporary — that we’ll put Humpty back together again and resume sort of normal existence.

      Not only will governments will be powerless to do much — they may not even bother to do the bare minimum — e.g. implement martial law or distribute any food and water….

      No doubt they will have worked out that such measures would be futile — the food and water would not last for long — why bother wasting the strategic fuel reserves on maintaining general order?

      I can imagine when the reality of the situation sinks it — it will not be a very pleasant thought.

      If I were a city dweller I’d probably try to hedge a bit and keep a few months of food and water handy…. much better to be ensconced in a secure place waiting for the hordes to dissipate…

      • CTG says:

        Paul – a stupid and jokingly asked question – what is your next move when your months of food and water supply is gone? Go to the countryside and start farming? It takes a few weeks to a few months for vegetables to grown and that is provided you know how to farm….

        • Paul says:

          I’m already in the countryside… a small village in Bali…

          Over the past 6 months we have implemented an intensive permaculture plan converting a large part of our 1.5 hectares into farm… we are able to produce enough fruit and vegetables already for us and the staff who work with us here… we’ve just started terracing the slopes of the land (should be completed in another month) and will plant many more fast growing fruit trees like papaya and banana — mixed with more pumpkins, sweet potatoes and beans…

          I personally do the hardest filthiest work to set an example as well as to ensure that I am respected as one of the team (at some point I will only be able to pay the help with food… so it is important not to be the king on the hill shouting out orders + I enjoy the work immensely)

          We have also stocked up on the tools and manual farming implements required to keep this small operation going…

          We are also stockpiling enormous amounts of compost (when the SHTF we will immediately tear up the rest of our grass and start producing food from those areas as well – so having compost ready is key)

          My latest project involves seeding the expansive public areas of jungle around our land with various types of pumpkin seeds — these grow with virtually no care — and will provide high carb food for hungry people at some point….

          Additionally I have piled up hundreds of books + I have over 8000 ebooks suitable for a kindle stored + two small solar panel kits to be able to charge a kindle and keep a small LED light or two going…

          We have a good supply of mostly protein rich foods stashed away because protein is much harder to produce than carbs… we also have some other dry and canned food stuffs stored — this is mainly as a bridge to self-sufficiency — but also as a back up should something go wrong in the garden…

          I am not so concerned about food issues — more concerned about the fact that most others are not doing anything to anticipate a food crisis.

          • CTG says:

            Thanks Paul. I know you are in Bali. What I meant was “What will happen to that city dweller” ? ;-)

            Actually nothing much !

    • edpell says:

      On the light hearted side this reminded me of Ghost Busters
      Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
      Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
      Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
      Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
      Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
      Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes…
      Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
      Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

    • Rodster says:

      Now play that scenario around the world because the way we are headed that very well could be mankind’s future.

      • Paul says:

        Most certainly that phenomenon will be global — the only places that won’t be affected would be those that do not participate in the globalized economy…. places where people are for the most part self-sufficient i.e. they don’t go to an office — they don’t require gasoline or electricity to live — they don’t buy their food in a shop.

        Hmmmm…. I’ve been to one place like that — Irian Jaya — in the remote villages they don’t even have a bottle — those people will probably not even know anything has happened. No doubt there are other places like this around the world – few and far between though.

        • Rodster says:

          They could also be affected as well, Paul. Climate Change, pollution, nuclear fallout from Nuclear waste that goes unattended after a collapse. Let’s not forget WAR. Don’t rule out the psychopaths who are in charge of pushing buttons and setting off EMP’s or Nukes.

    • Exactly. If you work on the 20th story of a building whose windows don’t open, how long are you going to work there without electricity?

      Learning hunter-gatherer skills looks like a good idea–if there is enough food and water around to use for hunting and gathering.

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        “Learning hunter-gatherer skills looks like a good idea”
        Tastes like chicken

      • InAlaska says:

        I’m afraid that after about 6 months there won’t be much left to hunt, and anything worth gathering will have been stripped bare…

    • Ron jr. says:

      While Sheila makes some very sobering points, the true dangers will be the collapse of the medical system, (why will doctors and nurses show up for work when there may not be anything to compensate them for it?) and the total, or near total absence of law-enforcement. Unless one is perfectly healthy, and will remain so for the long-term, a lack of a contemporary medical system, with it’s prescription drugs, operating rooms, and emergency departments will result in a steady rate of mass-fatalities, (not to mention the unchecked spread of epidemics that are very likely as we experience a large drop in hygiene). There are an enormous amount of high-caliber fire-arms distributed among civilians in the USA. When the panic begins don’t expect the mass media to be fair and balanced, rather there will only be finger-pointing, a bonanza of conspiracy theories, and nothing really but divisive, rage-stoking propaganda. Citizens will no doubt coalesce into various-sized armed groups that will be based on a mission statement of “purifying” or of delivering retribution to the ones that they see responsible for the collapse. It will only take a small number of these armed groups to result in a widespread murder spree that will rival the sadism and destructive capabilities of the einsatzgruppen in the Second World War.

      • Paul says:

        I agree Ron — I don’t think what is coming will be far worse than anyone can imagine… the level of savagery will likely be off the scale — hungry people with lots of guns does not make for a pleasant outcome

    • CTG says:

      Modern humans have a tendency to rely too much on technological improvements and forget that it will someday be our downfall. We are lucky in the sense that historically, we have great substitutes coming in at the right time. Wood to coal to whale oil and oil; from fire to stone to iron to bronze and to steam; from telegraph to telephone to internet; from local production to product globalization, service globalization and extreme outsourcing (like outsourcing radiography, legal work, etc). For some countries in Asia like Malaysia and Singapore, we are so dependent on foreign workers (from neighbouring countries) that we are factoring them in all the calculations (cost of labour, work, etc).

      You are absolutely right when we are so dependent on the grid from banking to food delivery and hospital services and even locking of electric gates and doors. There are many experts saying that severe solar flares or solar storms are very common. If another Carrington Event happen today, we are all gone. See and

      It has no impact when it happened 100, 200 or 500 years ago as we have no electricity. Imagine now, if half of northern hemisphere is hit with this event and many electronic devices fail and electric grid fail. The countries at the tropics will be impacted as well as supply chain breaks.

      I am not a doomer nor am I being pessimistic. I see that even after NASA and National Geographic has highlighted it, there is no awareness among general population and no action is taken. To me, life will continue as it is until something happens or breaks. I see no solution to this and rather than being depressed, I am just living my day to its fullest and be thankful for a day that my eyes can still open and see the sun. I view things so differently and I smiled when I see how some people can cheat/kill just to earn a lot of money, not knowing that we are just picking up pennies on the road when the huge steamroller is just a few feet away.

      By coming to this site, I am sharing my thoughts and be among a group who has the same idea. To me, this is one way to live life to the fullest. I am not looking forward to TSHTF and I do hope that I am wrong in what I say but as the days passes, it is very unlikely that things will change (in fact things accelerated in the wrong direction).

      • Paul says:

        Great post.

        And btw — I heard that once QE and ZIRP are not enough to keep the hamster going — the Fed has a Plan B — this involves bringing Lance Armstrong is as a highly paid consultant — to help the hamster crank it up a gear and keep on going….

        So maybe we will get a few more years yet? :)

      • kesar says:

        Fully agree. Life is a gift.

        As this saying goes:
        Hope for the best,
        be prepared for the worst,
        screw what others think,
        and just do your own thing.

      • Greg Machala says:

        I know we are very close to the end of the industrial revolution. I have always wanted a old house with a porch. So, I finally bought an old 1940 fixer upper. I am restoring a lot of the original windows and woodwork in the house. It is really rewarding and gets my mind off things. I am just doing the things I have always wanted to do. I feel its now or never.

      • I agree, living life to the fullest now is a good response.

  12. edpell says:

    Here in New York State if we were allowed to borrow one trillion dollars at 0.25% from the fed and if we then used it to build a sun, wind, nuclear, storage based energy system in state we would be far better off than those who did not. Taking out the last big loan that will never be paid and investing it in something productive can be a winner. Yes, I agree, it will break down over time without the rest of the country and world to supply parts, expertise, etc.. But, it could buy 30 years of better living locally. I feel this is what Germany is doing. We all know no big loans are ever going to be paid. Inflation and hyper inflation may nullify them if the system holds together long enough.

    • As I said in the talk, the place for wind and solar are off grid. I would prefer that the actual cost be paid for who ever is buying them–not subsidized.

      All of these things are going to need a steady supply of inputs. Nuclear will need uranium; workers will need a way to get to the plant. I really doubt that your plan could lead to 30 years of better living locally. Maybe five years, with some luck.

  13. edpell says:

    Gail, a bold and gutsy article. :) I also love the rye turn of phrase “Still can dig in dirt with a stick, example of job not requiring energy” LOL.

    I agree we will live by the grace of God.

  14. etfideas says:

    Would not it be possible to electrify transportation as well let’s say over a period of 20 to 30 years using nuclear fission energy (mostly) together with a mix of renewable, and declining reserves of fossil fuels? The transition would be certainly be painful at times, but would not it be possible? Ground transportation would be using batteries, large boats might be go nuclear, however planes might just more more less disappear…

    On a longer time frame, we could go on with nuclear fusion (sun in a box) for electricity generation.

    • It is necessary to keep the whole “system” together to do anything, whether it is electrifying transportation or adding wind to the grid. If governments fail (so we are dealing with a much larger set of states, each with their own currencies) and banks close, it becomes very hard to do anything. If it becomes impossible to pay workers because of a lack of banks, everything screeches to a stop. If banks forget who has how much in their accounts, because there is no electricity, the whole system stops.

      Our current system is very complex, and requires cheap oil to run–not electricity. It would take amazing costs and many, many years to transform our current system into a different one. All of that time, cheap oil would be required.

  15. Connorhus says:

    Good Job Gail!!! I am so glad someone with some clout (like you) responded directly or indirectly to JMG’s “It’s Different this Time (Not)” theory. I like many of Greer’s concepts and he usually seems amiable to different views, although never seems to accept any but he does it politely :)

    Anyway you did a wonderful job of showing how indeed it is different this time but not in a good way which is what I think JMG was really hinting at. Its going to be much worse is the reality.

    I would add that you seemed to not touch on the social side differences. Although many Empires did encompass different cultures none seemingly tried to import them all together and force them to live elbow to elbow, nor has any Empire attempted the massive welfare the US tries today. I believe these two aspects are going to have some heavy consequences to the final body count as well.

    Still nicely done. Thank you.

  16. Terry says:

    Gail…as usual your post is stellar and on point. Of the major electric companies I’ve spoken with over the last year or so, they all report a decline in demand for the last 3 years…and are currently with an excess of generating capacity. (Of course, this makes it easier for them to price what they’ll pay for renewable electricity just below finance-ability.) I did a study last year on the effort required just to be at 50% renewable electricity by 2055. With the ,major media only singing from the pages of government and corporation hymnbooks, the vast majority of folks will never see anything coming until they’re caught up in it with no good way out. I’m sure you can estimate the 50% challenge…several hundred substantial wind-farms, several thousand substantial solar arrays, and an impressive number of waste-to-electricity facilities…every year between now and then. It will never happen (well, perhaps after the collapse as there will be far less demand) considering the intertwined momentum of all the forces you discuss above. The “speed” at which the “down-slope” manifests is governed by a fragile issue…which of the larger forces involved will blink first (like in the 2009 banking mess where banks started doubting their gambling wins would get paid). Increasingly speedy dominoes after that.

    • Of course, once we add all of the wind and solar, we have to keep repairing it, and balance the load on the grid properly. I presume you also figured out how much storage would be needed–or how much overbuilding would be required, so that “spilling” could be used when there is too much electricity produced.

      • edpell says:

        Yeah, people really do not want to talk about storage and about long haul transmission lines to even of variable sun and wind. I means lots of transmission lines 20,000MW here and there and everywhere.

        • Also, the studies that have been done using actual data (rather than just theory) say that smoothing out the flows doesn’t work very well in practice in a place like Europe. The size of weather systems is just too large, so low wind or high wind conditions tend to be very widespread. Also, the cost per kWh of operating a transmission line that is used only, say, 5% of the time is likely to be 20 times higher than the cost of a transmission line that is used 100% of the time. It is hard to ever afford such transmission lines.

      • CTG says:

        Just to add in Gail’s comment. I have seen many blogs talking about plugging in the grid with renewables. Here is my take, from the perspective of an engineer. I am not a high voltage transmission engineer and I stand to be corrected. I based on what my engineering friend says and what I have read from books.

        1. Load balancing is critical for electrical transmission. There is must be users/consumers for the electricity. You cannot have power plants going online and no one using it. If the power generation is intermittent like renewables, backup power generation like gas-fed or coal-fired plants must be turned on to balance the grid. So, assuming that the number of users drop dramatically, how are to balance the line? Do we still have gas-fired power generating plants? Do we even have users who have money to pay for the exorbitant electricity bills?

        2. Again supply chain. See the link$file/1zcl000002eg%20users%20manual.pdf. If the link cannot open, just google “electrical transformer maintenance”. Although transformers is low maintenance, it is very critical and parts are hard to come by (manufacturers may not keep stock). If you read the maintenance manual, you need to check the oil level, check for leaks and replace gasket when necessary. I am pretty sure those oil (used as heat transfer, insulator and lubricant) are expensive and hard to make and the gasket are probably made from some exotic materials as well.

        3. Skills – I will give you the manual for transformer maintenance, anyone knows how to do it? Anyone in your town of 100,000 knows how to maintain it? If TSHTF, do you think that few guys who knows will be around and will he be able to call for help or buy parts. Let us say we don’t have TSHTF and it is slow decline. Do you think the parts that used to take 5 weeks to arrive will be available or if the electric company will hold stock for it (do they still have the money to keep parts)? If the grid is down at your area due to a busted transformer, it may take weeks to arrive and by then the whole town will probably go down in chaos

        4. Cascading effect on grids. The grid will have a cascading failure if one part of the grid fails. It will load other parts of the grid and will bring it down. If the whole grid is down and if the parts are not easily available (due to supply chain or financial problems like no money to buy parts), then what happens? Will the solar panel and wind turbine works? how will the electricity be transmitted ?

        It is very easy to say that we plug in this and that into the grid but from the engineering perspective, it is difficult. We live in a world where we need the parts from another side of the world to ensure that everything is working. There is way too many electronic parts that will spoil and once it goes wrong, it will bring down the whole thing. Remember that in 1970s, if you have a washing machine or toaster that is spoilt, you take them to the shop, they will open up and repair it as the parts are discrete. They can change the transistor, the resistor or the motor. Now, the motor has a built in controller and it will always say “There are no user serviceable parts inside”. You have to change the entire phone, toaster or washing machine. Basically, what the manufacturer wants is to make more profits but in the end, it is like shooting oneself in the foot and this time, it is the foot of human civilization.

        • Lizzy says:

          Very interesting … and alarming.Thanks.

          • Paul says:

            I can’t seem to find the full comment:

            Just to add in Gail’s comment. I have seen many blogs talking about plugging in the grid with renewables. Here is my take, from the perspective of an engineer. I am not a high voltage transmission engineer and I stand to be corrected. I based on what my engineering friend says and what I have […]

            • CTG says:

              Sorry… here is Gail’s post that I commented :

              Gail Tverberg says:
              May 29, 2014 at 11:02 pm

              Of course, once we add all of the wind and solar, we have to keep repairing it, and balance the load on the grid properly. I presume you also figured out how much storage would be needed–or how much overbuilding would be required, so that “spilling” could be used when there is too much electricity produced.

              It is on the grid balancing… From the engineering perspective, we are basically too connected. When one section fails, it will bring down the entire grid and it takes effort to bring it back up again. If it happens in a war-like situation or severe depression / TSHTF, then it will be extremely difficult…

  17. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    I know you’re thinking Nevell, what happened to Stilgar Wilcox? Nevell is my real name – the other is my stage name, lol.

  18. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    “You may think I am kidding with respect to the last item, “We need help from a Higher Power,” but I am not. Our universe seems to have been created by a Big Bang. But big bangs don’t just happen. We live in a very orderly universe. According to Newton’s Laws of Motion, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We also know that useful energy is balanced by friction. This, in fact, is a necessary balance, or the system would spin out of control.”

    “But big bangs don’t just happen.” I love it – thanks for writing this section in there, Gail. I find it fascinating that science ascribes to the idea of ‘an accidental spark from nothingness’ to explain the big bang. With all the exactness of explaining physics that is a very weak explanation indeed. At one time Einstein asserted with many other scientists to an idea of a static universe. The scientific position at the time was an expanding universe from a point of origin suggested a higher power. Then a Belgium university professor and priest put forth the idea that if relativity was accurate, then the universe must be expanding or it would have collapsed long ago. Later his idea was proven correct by Hubble’s discovery of the red shift – an astronomical observation indicating an expansion from a point of origin. That priest said he did not think science and theology were incompatible.

    I wrote a theory about the design of the Universe in the book Nevell vs. Hawking, available on Kindle for just .99 cents. Not trying to make money obviously, just trying to put forth an alternative explanation that is simple and logical based on the simple hypothesis of equal amounts of two forms of matter that can hold and release energy with entropy and the opposite, ectropy. That is the minimum number of forms of matter to oscillate energy from one big bang to the next. I need to change the cover to remove the word determinism – I had the wrong idea about its meaning at the time, so don’t let that throw you off. It’s not in the book, just on the cover.
    It’s called Nevell vs. Hawking because Hawking asserts there is only one form of matter, which then cannot explain why the big bang occurred beyond being accidental. I doubt very much it was accidental. Too many forces needed to be calibrated for an exact expansion. Don’t worry, this is not about religion, but where science and theology come together to more common ground.

    I know many will take umbrage at my suggestion above, but please read the theory before making a judgment.

    As for this most recent post, Gail, great stuff as usual! You do a great job of coalescing different aspects of peak oil to help provide the big picture. I noticed that about your posts from the early days on the oil drum. Seems like things are building to a crescendo, a point where there isn’t much more that can be done to keep BAU rolling along. When exactly that threshold hits and we take another step down, like 08 is the only question I have at this point. The rest is academic as they say. I don’t think the next step down will be the big Kahuna, but it will certainly be rough for many.

    • I am not a student of what explanations science has given for the big bang. It just seems like the system is awfully tightly connected together. A universe doesn’t just happen, and complex structures (like dissipative systems) don’t just keep forming, without a lot of advance planning.

      • timl2k11 says:

        Science basically says “It’s just so.” I see a parallel in religion if you ask someone “If a higher power created the universe well who created the higher power?” All one can really say in either case is “It is just so.” Science has it’s scope and the why with regards to the Big Bang or existence itself is outside of it by definition. Personally, two questions I can never answer, as a scientist and an atheist is “Am I really what I seem to be?” and “Is reality really what it seems to be?”

        • Paul says:

          I think it was Bill Maher who said — I most certainly don’t rule out that there is a creator — but it/he is definitely not that guy in the sky that religions point to — anymore than it’s the lint in my belly button… (George Carlin doesn’t mention a creator — but he also take a poke at the organized religions

          So ya — just because logic would require one to ask who created the creator — doesn’t mean that is not possible — perhaps we are simply unable to understand how that works.

          So I don’t rule out Gail’s suggestion…

          Perhaps the ‘entity’ has realized it’s folly — and is clearing the table in order to start again.

          • Stilgar Wilcox says:

            People think the Universe cannot be explained but it just requires one form of matter to consciously release it’s energy into the other form of matter to cause the the big bang, then over the duration of the Universe mass releases it’s energy (entropy) for the other form of matter (consciousness) to make its way back to a peaked energy level, to then cycle it over again by transferring into the mass. The rest is matter oscillation also explained in my theory. Just as there are many black holes there are many gods. Each one of us has a consciousness that is at the same thought level as the DNA will support. If one increases the other matches it, always moving towards higher thought levels. My theory has 12 predictions. Maybe some day it can be proven.

            • Paul says:

              I am open to the points you have made — but I am not open to the concept of organized religions whereby each one has found one of these ’12 gods’ and spends its time praying to the god that they found.

              Like George Carlin says ‘there’s a guy in the sky – making the rules — and if you break them you spend eternity burning and suffering in the fires of hell — but he loves you!!! — and he needs money!!! – he always needs more money – he’s omnipotent but he can’t handle money.

              I will go as far as saying that I cannot rule out a creator — but to suggest that naming rights went to Allah or Buddha or Christ or whatever other thousands of gods we have worshiped throughout history —– well that would be like me trying to convince you that the tooth fairy exists… or that 1+1 = 3.

          • St. Roy says:

            Thanks Paul. I had not sen that episode of Carlin. Made my day as will as did this episode of Gail.

            • Coilin MacLochlainn says:

              I don’t think it’s a good idea, Paul, to quote George Carlin in support of your arguments. You might as well be quoting Donald Duck. George Carlin was a very funny comedian and his ‘American Dream’ rant was a major highlight, I thought; it was amazing. But he did not understand science or nature. His show ‘Saving the Planet’ was very funny, but it was so ignorant that even a kid could pick holes in it. I think even George knew that, but he knew what buttons to press to make people laugh, so that’s what he did.

            • Paul says:

              I don’t know about his take on the saving the planet – but there is an appeal to my sense of logic when he calls out this belief in god as ‘a guy in the sky who has rules we must follow — and if we don’t follow them — we burn in a fire pit’

              That is not his interpretation – I was raised Christian so I know about the threats that are used to keep the adherents in line (and giving money of course).

              Carlin suggests it makes more sense to worship the sun – after all it gives you good things — warmth, food, light … and it does not threaten you with a torturous death if you don’t listen to it.

              This is in line with my animist leanings…

        • fmagyar says:

          “In this sense, science, as physicist Steven Weinberg has emphasized, does not make it impossible to believe in God, but rather makes it possible to not believe in God.”
          ― Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing

          “Metaphysical speculation is independent of the physical validity of the Big Bang itself and is irrelevant to our understanding of it.”
          ― Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

          • timl2k11 says:

            I think experience alone can be sufficient to make it impossible to believe in god or possible to not believe in god. No science necessary.

      • edpell says:

        I am a student of what explanations science has given for the big bang and I believe in God and I see no contradictions. That is not to say I know how the two coexist but I do not feel that is my problem. I am happy to level such details to God.

        • Paul says:

          Do you mean a god as in one of those espoused by the many mainstream religions – and if so which one is the correct one?

          As an aside, I was on a trip to Canada last summer and while waiting for my wife outside the Eaton Centre in TO struck up a conversation with a guy who was selling religion — he had a sign that said homosexuals, jews, etc were blasphemous … I found that quite interesting so I said — pitch me on this bud — what do I get out of joining your outfit….

          There were some muslims a few metres away doing their thing — so after his pitch I said what can you specifically offer me – everyone is offering the minimum of eternal life — I want to make sure I go with the religion that gives me the best package — I want MORE!!!

          Those guys told me that they could give me endless virgins and honey and milk — well he said — the muslims were full of $%#$ they cannot deliver .. and I said that’s funny – they said the same thing about you …

          He grumbled …. I said well what should we do about that? What do you think — if I join you then we should go over their and straighten those guys out right??? right??? Then we can straighten out the gays and the jews and everyone else on the list. Where do I sign up?

          And then my wife arrived and scolded me for tormenting the fanatics… and off we went to watch the Book of Mormon :)

          Or do you mean a creator – as in some sort of entity that cannot be understood – that does not dictate the rules?

          My thinking is agnostic but I’d have to say I would lean towards Door Number Two — if I were to lean at all…

          • Julian Brown says:

            For me, God is the word we give for all that is unknowable (ie beyond contemporary science or any conceivable extension thereof) and undefinable (ie beyond the dogmas of any fundamentalist religion).
            I think the greatest tragedy of the past century has been that science, spirituality and religion have all gone off on increasingly divergent trajectories.
            It could have been so different.
            Back in the 1920s, it was perfectly clear to the formulators of the new quantum theory such as Schrödinger that the then-as-now dominant materialist paradigm was plain wrong – on basic mathematical/logical grounds. For some reason (probably because the priinciples governing the quantum world are indeed difficult to conceptualize), the powers-to-be continued to run the world as if it were a machine to be run at the maximum possible speed, thus bringing us to the present disastrous juncture.

            • Paul says:

              If I had to choose a religion it would be animism … the worship of nature… many (all?) ancient cultures were animists… until the organized religions emerged and taught them to be ashamed of their beliefs

            • Thanks for your insights.

              Unfortunately, I am afraid we would also have eventually gotten to this place, even if we continued to grow at a slower speed. Growth can’t be sustainable for very long in a finite world.

            • InAlaska says:

              Yes, Julian, agree with you. Religion seeks to explain the unknowable, but its flaw is that it purports itself to be incontrovertible through moral certitude. Science seeks to explain the Universe, basically saying that all things are eventually “knowable” if you follow the dogma of the scientific method, and that all morals are relative. Spirituality is the understanding that there are things in the Universe both knowable and unknowable, and that the important thing is to learn to live with grace and wonder between these two great poles. It is sad that they have all gone their “divergent trajectories,” as you say.

            • yt75 says:

              Describing “animism” as the “worship of nature” is very restrictive, religion is not only about the “moral” and “historical” aspects of things, it is also about the “now”, life and death, ability to talk, to name, etc.

          • What religions actually give is some insight on how to live in this world. Forgiving others is good for your own personal mental health, for example. The world tells us, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Most religions say that this view is non-sense. We need a balance to that view–otherwise life simply becomes a drive to join the top 0.01%. Government can sort of do this; so can philosophy. But religions have done better than other approaches in this regard.

            • Paul says:

              Yes that is true —- but on the other hand religions espouse intolerance and often hatred… virtually all mainstream religions are guilty of this. How many people suffered to build that blasphemous building in Rome? How many people have been murdered or suffered in the name of religion? It works both ways.

              I prefer secular humanism — I do not need a man in the sky to tell me how to behave.

            • You have to pick your religion carefully. And even then, you probably can’t take 100% of the teachings. My background is Lutheran; my husband’s is Episcopalian. We are currently ELCA Lutheran.

            • Paul says:

              I do see one of the benefits of religion being the community spirit that is promotes. That is something we are sorely missing in many societies these days. It is certainly a binding force in the villages here in Bali — life revolves around Hindu ceremonies (many, many ceremonies)

            • For women in my age group, church groups are where women get together, where I live. Even if a person believes only a small % of what is preached, there is a point to belonging.

          • xabier says:

            Good story Paul.

            Wasn’t it the Khazaks who, finding themselves between a militant Muslim and a crusading Christian Kingdom, thought hard and solved the problem of which religion to choose without automatically bringing the other side down upon them by declaring themselves…..Jewish? !

            • InAlaska says:

              xabier, perhaps this is why the Jews are the Chosen People after all. Perhaps a small community of Jewish folk will survive to start this whole civilization thing over again!

            • Paul says:

              You could be right …. perhaps Gaza is about honing the skills necessary to wipe out the remnants of what is left after the SHTF…

            • xabier says:

              The irony is that when Hitler was intent on exterminating Jews some 1,000 years later, the people he killed in Eastern Europe were mostly descendants of those converts, and their ancestors had never seen ancient Israel.

              ‘If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which seed will grow and which will not…..’

    • Simply Simon says:

      When: how soon?, how bad? is THE pair of questions for me.
      We are on the Titanic, the iceberg is dead (‘scuse the pun) ahead – all that remains to know is the nature of the collision (how fast, how devastating) and how many people can the lifeboats take for a never-to-be-rescued scenario.
      So, I would like to ask people reading/contributing to Gail’s superb place:
      WHEN do you think the GFC rerun will happen, and after that, when do you see the next stages of collapse happening, and how bad?
      Aggregating everyone’s input in specific, quantified terms could give us all a better assessment of these key issues.
      For me:
      Late 2015 GFC rerun begins
      2025 International trade/global civilisation pretty much gone; back to the levels of about 1800 with international trade/communications a slow trickle (about 1% of present levels).
      2050 All nation states have collapsed. Society back to A) at best, medieval Europe – villages of up to a 1,000 people B) at worst, very poor Stone Age, scrabbling for existence in small groups of up to 20-30.

      Your timelines/scenarios?

      • CTG says:

        Simple Simon,

        I don’t think anyone can give you the timing on when things will break. Remember that it takes only one last snowflake to cause the avalanche or what people use to say – the straw that broke the camel’s back. It can happen next week or even next year. No one can tell.

        What I, personally can tell is that, the conditions that allows it to happen is a lot. You have economic issues in US, Japan, China, Europe and basically most of the countries in the world. You have geopolitical issues in Russia, China/Vietnam/Japan and Middle East. You have the Central Banks going totally out of the way to kick the can down the road. Every imaginable thing that can be conjured up will be used. Time travel back to 1990s and ask them if they can think of ZIRP, QE, negative interest rates, etc. They will say you are mad.

        With every can-kicking, the consequence will be more disastrous down the road. Personally, to me, in my opinion, this is the last round of GFC. Globalization will go down the drain within days of the start of GFC and the funding for shale and difficult-to-get-oil will vaporize and the oil will stay in the ground. Food and electricity may be a problem within weeks.

        What triggers a GFC? I don’t know? The last one was Lehman’s collapse. Even a simple natural disaster can trigger one. I have read an article in the 1990s (not online) that if the world will plunge into a deep financial criss if Tokyo is heavily damaged by Earthquake (which is way overdue).. The article mentioned that the insurers will liquidate their holdings in US and other places to pay for the damages and this will trigger a collapse asset prices. Do remember that that is in 1990s. Fast forward to 2014 where you have trillions of financial derivatives interconnected with every imaginable company and assets (real or virtual). You have Tokyo as a hub for manufacturing and the world-wide supply chain may collapse (see Korowicz’s Trade Off) quickly. The domino effect or chain effect can be dramatic, very damaging and quick. Substitute “Tokyo” with “Los Angeles”, “NYC” or “London” and substiute earthquake with other disasters like the virus SARS, tsunami or other disaster and you will realize how fragile our civilization is.

        “Bay of Pigs” invasion or Cuban Missle Crisis – I can confidently wage a big bet that at that time, my parents in South East Asia does not even know about this untile many years later. A trader or businessman in Japan may not know the severity of the issue as he can only read it through newspapers. Definately at that point of time, a Chinese city dweller does not even though it happened.

        Imagine something similar happen now. Do you think our world economy will survive this kind of situation? Everyone will know what is happening instanteanously. News and photos will be out within seconds for everyone in the world to know. World trade will collapse, stock market will tank and many other things can happen.

        We are at a point where just a slight pertubation in the realm of finance or energy will cause a massive shock to the entire civilization. 2008 was actually a very severe GFC and we were only rescued by Central Banks via various schemes (mostly money printing). Now, when it happens again, the Central Bank has no ammunication left and this one, it might possibly the last one for us. Globalization, just in time logistic management, complex interconnected financial systems and over-reliance on fossil fuel input for food production may make the next GFC an extinction level event !

  19. Adding to my post above…For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Applying this basic principle to Gails secular cycle graph and goosing the upslope will surely have the reaction of increasing the rate of collapse.

  20. This time it’s different. I agree. It seems to me that our standard of living has largely been exponentially and smoothly upwards; and followed exponential increases in finite energy consumption. The rise was artificially goosed the fall will be a natural regression. Therefore I feel strongly that the curve that will best fit the coming collapse will absolutely not be symmetrical. I also feel strongly that because we have used unfathomable amounts of energy reach our current peak that the collapse we are facing will be more rapid and longer lasting than previous collapses. The intercycle period of 500 years in previous secular cycles may well be 5000 years or more.

  21. This is a great blog, but I think I’m going to need more convincing on the issue of the lack of suitability of renewables to stave off the worst of what you are talking about. Perhaps this is related to the speed of the decline?

    Obviously business will not continue as usual and the decline, especially in America, will be extensive.

    Looking at your estimate of future energy production, I don’t see the amount of renewable energy being produced decreasing, as the variable costs of such projects are very low. Further, wouldn’t the lack of alternatives spur production increases?

    A lot of the energy used in our society is wasted; in commuting in cars, in living in poorly-insulated, poorly-positioned housing, in taking cross-continent discretionary holidays. These are all things that can be cut without great decreases in living standards.

    Granted large decreases are ahead of us, but what would have to happen to reduce renewable energy production, as shown in your estimates?

    • Renewable energy production looks like rounding error, when one puts together data on quantities. This is a chart of US electricity production, split by source.
      US electricity production by source

      When you look at the various types of renewable energy, you realize that they aren’t really very sustainable. For example, there is sawdust from saw mills that is burned for electricity. Of course, the saw mills have to be kept functioning, with oil transporting the logs to the saw mills, and someone cutting down trees using portable saws, quite possibly powered by diesel.

      There is biogas, if we can still somehow gather the waste materials (today done using oil) and use suitable apparatus to collect the gas and burn it. If we need replacement parts, the system will stop operating.

      Wind in 2013 amounted to 4.1% of US electricity supply in 2013. Solar amounted to 0.2% of electricity supply in 2013. Both of these are not long-lasting fuel sources. They require frequent replacement of inverters, and in wind turbines, replacements of moving parts. One person in the wind turbine insurance industry remarked to me, “Wind turbines don’t operate on fuel of the usual type. Instead, they operate on a steady supply of replacement parts.” If anyone thinks this approach is sustainable without our current fossil fuel system, they are kidding themselves. The parts need to be made in specialized shops, with long supply chains, and transported around the world.

      Total costs for renewables are hard to figure out, partly because subsidies so much permeate the whole process, and partly because intermittent renewables (wind and solar PV) add a whole layer of costs for mitigating intermittency that utilities are stuck paying. No one stops to figure these costs out in advance–they just dump them on the electricity system. The benefit of adding intermittent electricity to an electric utility is at most the wholesale cost of electricity–about 4 or 5 cents per kWh. But very often utilities are stuck “net metering” the electricity, forcing them to subsidize the solar panel owner (besides all of the other subsidies).

      Renewable energy production would go down, if oil supplies go down. Hydroelectric might last longer than other types of electricity, because it seems to have fewer parts to replace on a regular basis. But the grid that the electricity is transmitted on still will need to be repaired frequently, using oil, so even with that, supply will drop.

      Ethanol (used to dilute gasoline) is created by growing corn, using todays big machinery fueled by oil-based fuels. It is transported in trucks using diesel. Some of the ethanol is irrigated, removing water from aquifers that take thousands of years to refill. The soil is worn out more quickly, and large amounts of Round-up and other herbicides and pesticides are used.

    • Paul says:

      If we cut back on energy consumption because it becomes too expensive then that results in the end of growth. Energy consumption and GDP fit like a glove – they are tightly correlated

      That is exactly what is happening now — with oil over $100 that means we have less money to spend – so we consume less of everything.

      We drive less – we fly less – we buy less ‘stuff’ etc etc etc

      QE and ZIRP (and other stimulus programs) are all about — trying to counter the impacts of high oil prices.

      Cutting back is the natural response to the end of cheap oil – but that is not a solution – as has been stated on this blog many times – the high price of oil manifests itself in a series of symptoms — primarily financial in nature.

      The most damaging one is the deflationary spiral that results from a death spiral in consumption.

      That is why Bernanke has said on many occasions that he would do anything to prevent deflation including the proverbial flinging of money out of a helicopter — because central bankers understand that deflation = death of the system.

      {In reality, Bernanke has already flung trillions out of the helicopter – most of it went over Park Avenue addresses (and other affluent neighbourhoods) and global banks — but he’s flung a fair bit to students (loans) – disability (recipients are at record levels) – extended unemployment benefits etc etc etc}

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        “QE and ZIRP (and other stimulus programs) are all about — trying to counter the impacts of high oil prices.

        Cutting back is the natural response to the end of cheap oil – but that is not a solution – as has been stated on this blog many times – the high price of oil manifests itself in a series of symptoms — primarily financial in nature.”

        Agreed, Paul. It’s not only not the solution, that process of stepping down employs fewer people until there is unrest. I think we’ve seem some unrest, particularly with the Arab Spring, but the widespread, real dangerous stuff is in the offing, waiting for some threshold whereby no matter how much they QE or Zirp, it doesn’t work.

      • edpell says:

        Why hasn’t Ben flung any of it my way. Ben, two million and I am out of your hair.

        • Paul says:

          I’ve cut away some trees on nice expanse of flat land up here in the jungle — put a big SOS on it — also got some twigs ready to fire up and get some smoke happening — just in case I see some Fed choppers in the area….

    • fastrover says:

      Maybe not your standard off living but the poor folk who`s job is in the holiday industry is definitely going to suffer.And when enough suffer and stop purchasing goods then maybe you will be next for the redundancy notice. Every action as a reaction.

    • CTG says:

      Hi, for those who have followed my post know that I am working in a semiconductor company in Malaysia and who is fascinated with supply chain. I am an electronic engineer by profession, dealing with voltages less than 20V but of course I do have some knowledge in those high tension voltages.

      Whenever someone talks about renewables like solar, nuclear, wind or any other renewables taking over the role of traditional power generating plants (gas, coal, etc), I just keep my mouth shut. That is the easiest way to keep my sanity. I am going to share with you what I have in mind, from the engineering perspective. If there are any engineers out there, do correct me if I am wrong but basically, I think I am 95% correct.

      Solar panels, wind turbines and other machines/controller/inverter that runs provide renewables will have some electronic parts, from the basic like wires, solder, microchips and circuit boards. Most of the things are electronic now (including modern vehicles) – why it is easier and faster to design, cheap to build (chips are not expensive) and is more sophisticated (lots of features and probably making it look high tech and thus can charge a premium). Even cars transmission has gone from simple “torque converter” to 9-speed dry clutch microprocessor controlled super efficient and lightweight (space age alloys) gearbox. However, one simple error in the sensor and the gear box is completely useless and the modern high tech car cannot even start (talk about great software !)

      Electronics have a lifespan. All electronics parts have it. It is just physics. There will be migration of aluminium into silicon and if the electricity runs for a long time in the microscopic wires, it gets heated up and the lifespan is reduced. There are a lot of these reliability and lifespan issue. This especially true for high performance chips like microprocessors. Therefore electronic parts need to be changed frequently.

      Electronic part manufacturers like to have planned obsolescence so that they can make lots of money. The solar panel that you buy 5 years ago may not have the parts in stock now and you might need to wait for 5-8 weeks to get a replacement. The company may offer you a newer and more efficient solar panel. Some companies may just go bankrupt and there goes all the parts. Remember, just a simple part like a broken solder in the chip may just render the whole “setup” useless. So, you think your solar panel manufacturer or wind turbine maker will keep any spares for you (just think if BAU continues, let us not dwell on the fact that you cannot get it after TSHTF)

      Making semiconductor, yes, it is a very resource intensive product. We use a lot of water and electricity (really really a lot). We use a lot of exotic stuff like Indium, pure helium and other gases that no one in the main street knows. We use gallium arsenide and many other chemicals and rare earth just to make chips for mobile phones and game consoles. The machine that makes these chips uses ceramic parts that is very pure and very difficult to manufacture. We use ultra-pure water that requires fantastic filtration systems. We use diamond tipped blades to cut the wafers. We use specialty adhesive to bond the chips to the products. We use extremely precise parts like mass flow controllers (that has dual use in uranium enrichment) in our equipment. Our O-rings has space age materials and one 20-inch diameter o-ring may cost USD2000.

      Do a Google search on GALDEN coolant that we use in our chillers. Galden is also used in the NASA space program. Do a Google check on EKC265 and see why Dupont is charging semiconductor companies thousands of dollars just for a few gallons of these liquid. Even in good times, the lead time for these materials are long and the supplier wants a forecast so that they can prepare for us. You cannot call them and say I want 10 bottles now.

      With all the exotic materials and part, think again on where the manufacturer source their parts to make these exotic materials for us. Think of their supply chain that is so long and also the supplier’s supplier. Think of the proprietary materials that they know only. Think on where to get Indium and gallium when the quality of ore is getting worse. There are tens of thousands of parts that can spoil in the semiconductor factory.

      What I have said the last 6-7 paragraphs are for the SEMICONDUCTOR CHIPS that goes into the controller and not the entire wind turbine or solar panel. The skills required to change the parts is another story. When TSHTF, do we still have the skills? Anyone knows how to change the inverters of a solar farm? Anyone can get a crane and climb up the wind turbine and see which part to change. Without the skills, no one dares to climb up or change any parts.

      Remember, like the semiconductor factory or a modern car, one spoilt part or busted bearing (made with futuristic alloy that can withstand the stress and heat) and that machine cannot be used.

      Tell me how we can manufacture semiconductor chips (which are so pervasive in our life) if any of the supplies mentioned above is gone. As far as I know, there are no substitutes. I stand to be corrected. Anyone out there, let me know if I am wrong.

      • Paul says:

        You couldn’t be more right.

      • Calista says:

        I know the guy who climbs up and changes those parts locally for the turbines, so, yeah. I agree with your statements and they are true if we are speaking of datacenters, server farms, consumer electronics and electricity from PV as we have it today. The controllers are the issue, not the PV silicon itself. That is a visible trace that could be made with extremely crude materials if need be, in fact there are some engineers doing the cooking of the sealant in Africa for solar powered lights in a solar box oven. If you are doing that and could scare up a DC controller you could indeed have solar PV, but again, the controller is the issue. But what about the other end. The consumer side is where the delicacy is. I can see the 1% wanting this and paying for it, even in the crudest forms for the sake of light, aircon, fans. The rest of us? Nope.

        And for one of the better consumer examples of the fragility of consumer electronics you can look at Nvidia’s bumpgate issue.

      • Calling such the high-tech devices “renewables” is hilarious in my view. We then add them to the grid, that has even more high tech upkeep. If we can keep the whole system together, we are fine–not so fine otherwise.

      • CTG says:


        Do a Google search on “digital snow days” or click on For those who are using computers in their work, they definitely have encountered this before. When the network is down, nothing can be done. This is not “resilience”. Resilience is like a bank in 1970s where everything is paper based with a little of computing work done. It is something that is not so reliant on one type of technology. If the computer is down, money can still be withdrawn from the bank’s cashier counter and money can still be transferred via “telegraphic transfer” (real telegraphic transfer, though the term is still used today for “transfer using internet”)

        When you talk about wind turbines, there are magnets inside that contains neodymium which is definitely not easy to obtain when fossil fuel output goes low for two reasons (easy to mine neodymium are gone and diesel is expensive). Wind turbines are very high tech. Please click on and definitely we do not have the parts easily available when FF runs low and the skills required to maintain and repair is not easy to find.

        Solar Panels – The supply chain required is also high tech – the glass, the manufacturing process, the frame

        solar cooker is low-tech and is easily available provided the aluminium foil made is not to high… (I mean the manufacturing process). You can click on to read more on the high tech stuff of solar panels.

        Lastly imagine a very big solar farm and a steel mill with electric arc furnace. Each high-efficient panel has an output of 315W max (refer It takes about 440kWh to produce a ton of steel ( Thus, you need about 1400 panels working for 1 hour to produce that ton of steel. How many solar panels you need to plug in the grid when normal gas/coal power plants fail?

  22. MJ says:

    Oil prices JUMP to over $109 on Brent crude….gasoline demand to be strong this driving season

  23. dashui says:

    Hey I’m applying for that digging n the dirt with a stick job.
    Can I use you as a reference?

  24. Rodster says:

    As Gail mentioned towards the end of her blog. I see it playing out differently this time with the potential for man’s extinction. Why?

    Never before have we been so locked in or as I like to say “domesticated” into a system grid which shows massive signs of failure. In prior civilization collapses, I don’t believe the Earth was as toxic from pollution as it is today. The soil in many parts of the Country where GMO crops are used have been so badly damaged by GMO seeds that the soil can’t grow anything but GMO crop. Water is at an all time shortage with China having 60% of it’s water unfit for human consumption.

    Then we have the droughts in the US and clean water being used for shale fracking and IIRC there are several stages where clean water is needed, hundreds of millions of gallons of water.

    I don’t think in the past humans have created this type of no way out scenario like we have today, coming at us from all sides.

    • I didn’t really discuss the possibility of extinction, but you are right, it is a distinct possibility.

      • BC says:

        Extinction of the human ape species is a stretch. However, a decline of 90-95% over the course of 1-2 generational fertility cycles of 35-40 to 70-80 years is much more plausible, but for the vast majority of us who return to dust, and for that remnant of the species that remains, it will surely seem like extinction.

        And certainly our non-negotiable “way of life” will have gone extinct in the process.

        Then again, one can at least imagine that the top 0.01-0.1% will have anticipated the many worst case scenarios and prepared to turn the rest of us into Soylent Green and/or fertilizer for their ultra-high-tech, self-contained, fully secure, Elysium-like, post-apocalyptic Heaven on (or off) Earth. If I could live for the pay day, I’d make a small wager on some form of that scenario being most likely.

        • Paul says:

          I don’t see how the die-off takes generations – when the oil stops flowing the food stops growing — so I see a massive very fast die-off.

          Extinction event? What happens when thousands of spent nuclear fuel rod ponds are not maintained…

          Also I am not sure how the Jamie Dimon’s of this world would be able to maintain secure environments for themselves in such a world – what would they have to offer?

          I suspect the local lords of war would chew Mr Dimon up and spit him out in a heart beat.

          I think Afghanistan after Russia was forced out is a good model — from what I have read gangsters ruled the day — one could not even drive down a street to get home without having to pay a thug to pass… keep in mind these are the conditions that lead the people to support the Taliban — they offered an alternative to rule by mafia…

          • Connorhus says:

            Well maybe the next President won’t be such a schmuck and deep six the nuclear waste storage facility plan that had already been approved. What was that called Crystal Mountain or something? The smaller reactors might then be able to contain just a few rods on property with much less environmental damage overall in the case of a complete systems failure. All plans I have seen for keeping the rods cooled in a grid down scenario require paid staff and diesel generators. What happens when no one pays the staff and the diesel runs out?

            As I said before however you are correct this BS with having 1500 rods stuffed in a pool made for 200 has got to be dealt with and quickly. It is in my opinion the most pressing issue we face today because humanity will not be able to survive with all those plumes of radioactivity popping up all over the place.

            • Paul says:

              I think it is a quaint notion that the President decides anything ….

              Might I suggest that these are the people who make the key decisions

              The President and the other bought and paid for politicians do make decisions — on stuff like gay marriage — when to paint the white house bathrooms — anything that doesn’t involve big money and power.

              I doubt we will make it through Obama’s term – but if we do — I wouldn’t hold my breath on the spent fuel rods issue — nothing will change — and that is probably because there is nothing that can be done about them — you either encase them and cool them for decades — or — as someone suggested here – if you can’t cool them you shove them into the ocean.

              I bet a Think Tank has worked out what would happen if the latter solution were deployed — I wonder what their conclusion was…. maybe that’s what will happen – at the last minute the rods get shifted to the Marianas Trench.

            • kesar says:

              I guess there is quite simple and relatively cheap way of dumping all the world nuclear waste. It might be possible to shoot it to the sun. Estimations say that 1MT of orbital cargo costs around 5 milion USD. Let’s even consider triple the price.
              Total global nuclear waste today is around 1800 MT. Not so big deal. Shoot it out in the right direction and the Sun will happily receive some juicy matter to burn in its’ fusion furnace. Fire and forget. I am not sure about available number of shuttles/rockets to perform such massive operation. Such bullets would need only single acceleration boost – no gravitation, no resistance in space. Even when the cargo meets Mercury or Venus there is no risk for Earth.
              Did anyone analyzed such solution?

            • Christian says:

              Never analyzed, but always considered the best solution. Still have to cool the s.. before launching

              Btw I talked about this issue in crashoil blog (spanish) but got absolutely no answer. Strange, given I’ve received many just before, adressing Belgium.

              In case anyone wants to go and give another push, it’s in the end of the thread
              Post: Una propuesta de futuro (AMT)

              It’s true more people is becoming aware of the situation. And accepting it. I see also it’s more difficult for young people, and this matchs older persons more adapted to hold the facts, which is likely happening a bit.

            • kesar says:

              Yep, cooling might be a little difficult. But hey, it’s much better than leaving this sh… on Earth in the long run. Don’t you think? The guys upstairs would have to admit and address this issue, but again – do they even care considering our current predicament?

          • Interguru says:

            “I suspect the local lords of war would chew Mr Dimon up and spit him out in a heart beat.”

            I suspect that Mr. Dimon will use his leadership abilities to become a warlord. No matter how little we think of him, he did become leader of a gang of thieves.

          • Arthur says:

            Well if the population is a problem….spread a virus that will kill most of it off and keep yourself and others inoculated… it must at least be plan d or e….

        • It is hard to plan for all contingencies. Too often, the “help” turn on their masters, and the arrangement doesn’t last very long.

        • Robert Firth says:

          If the top x% think they can survive collapse they are deluding themselves. The tipping point comes when the servants realise they can protect either their masters or their families, but not both. Then the chickens come home to roost.
          In the collapse at Easter Island, the tribal chiefs ended up as lunch, same as most of the population.

          • Paul says:

            If I were George Soro’s head of security — I would quickly realize that I have the guns — George has the island and the food — and he needs me more than I need him — I would likely get tired of George ordering me around and watching him dine on caviar and champagne — at some point I would put George into a rowboat with a picnic lunch and paddle and send him on his way saying ‘bon chance George!’

            And then I’d set myself up like Ricardo Montalban

          • Lizzy says:

            Robert, and everyone, there was a documentary about Easter Island on the BBC a month or two ago. It rebutted the theory that the islanders themselves devastated the environment. Here’s a summary:
            It might not all be as inevitable Mr Diamond seems to think.

            Watching this I had the same sense of disbelief as when I properly learned about “flat-earthers” (Victorian invention) and the “scores of thousands dead” in Chernobyl (more like 50 in total). There was also a very interesting idea about Joan of Arc, but that’s another story.

            Gail, great article as always. I think there will be areas of the world where people will continue to exist and thrive: the warm, eco-rich areas (Indonesia, Central America, Turkey) — and the semi-unspoiled agricultural lands such as NZ and Argentina that are not over populated. I’ve said once before that my friend’s father, a farmer who’s now about 82, used to drive teams of horses to cut the hay when he was a young man in NZ. It wasn’t that long ago. He also used to walk the sheep to market with a couple of dogs – 20 miles each way. We can adapt.

            • Paul says:

              Nice find. Why Nations Fail also challenged one of Diamond’s books – Guns Germs Steel.

              It would be interesting to see how Diamond would respond to those comments.

            • Brent says:

              In fact Jared Diamond did respond to the article, look for the link near the bottom. His rebuttal in my mind comes out on top.

            • InAlaska says:

              Saint Lizzy,
              I agree that life will go on in the corners, and maybe not just in the warm eco-rich areas. I recently hand dug a potato patch out of the cold Alaska soil and then added to it by borrowing my neighbors tractor and disc. I figured I better do it while there was still time. I now have a potato patch that can provide year’s worth of potatoes, carrots, cabbage, beets and turnips. Moose and wood in the forest. Hope springs eternal.

            • Paul says:

              Good idea! — I am cheating as much as possible to save effort later — we’ve brought in a few large trucks of manure to create large composting depositories.

            • Simply Simon says:

              Unfortunately, New Zealand IS overpopulated. The Maori, pre-European (fossil fuelled) population had maxed out at less than 150,000. The Maori were the most advanced Stone age population ever on planet Earth – supporting a population of around 3% (yes, three) of NZ’s present 4 million plus.
              They had persistent inter-tribal warfare, including cannibalism.
              Not pretty – particularly if it indicates the future as I’m expecting.

            • Robert Firth says:

              Thanks for the comment. I read the reference you cite, and Jared Diamond’s response, and have to report that I found the latter by far the more convincing.

              However, I have often found that what I see when I visit the sites of past civilisations (as a physicist and engineer) is fairly often different from what the archaeologists say. For instance, they say the Inca had no writing – but I saw their heliograph towers, so how come?

              So perhaps best to reserve judgement until I can visit the place myself. Thanks again – it’s always good to have ones biews challenged.

    • hebertmw says:


      Rome did the same thing Big Agra is doing to the US (and the World). The Palestine, Sicily and the North Africa areas were fertile enough to support local populations (as alluded to in Gail’s post above) and local crops. Then the Roman version of Big Agra came in and changed the agriculture to cash crops, denuding the land and draining the aquifers. Those same areas today have not returned back to their former fertility. This same issue is happening in the West US (and the rest of the country) with aquifers being so drained, on top of the drought, that if they collapse from lack of water to maintain them they can never, ever hold water again.

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      How does a task get done?
      1. skills

      Take the task of building a log cabin post fossil fuel
      knowledge to build it with hand tools- no
      physical condition present to build without hand tools-no
      determination to build without hand tools- possible
      hand tools- possible

      Based on this assessment it seems to me the probability of this task to be accomplished to be very low. It seems to me the human apes of the past had both much better physical condition and determination than is common in the species today. These characteristics seem vital to accomplishing the tasks needed for survival. The probability of the average human possessing the underlying skills and assets needed for food production and the ability to also perform basic post fossil fuel survival tasks is very low. Most people have no idea that the amount of calories they consume is massive ongoing and vital. Food is purchased in small amounts the refuse hauled away the enormity of food calories needed to sustain a human is not apparent.

  25. Rodster says:

    Going along with what Gail mentioned in this excellent blog is the statistic that since 1998 US gasoline consumption has decreased by a WHOPPING 75%. That is absolutely astonishing.

    • Rodster says:

      IIRC, back around 1998 gas was around $1.25 a gallon in Florida.

      • timl2k11 says:

        Actually I have managed to hang on to a receipt from a 1998 gas purchase and the gas price on it is 98.9¢ (This was in Tampa). Also I remember in 2001 distinctly the gas price here bottoming out at 83.9¢. I remember I used to get upset when gas was in the $1.40 range!

    • Joe Clarkson says:

      Only retail sales by refiners have been dropping significantly, since refiners are leaving the retail marketplace. This was the statistic that was referred to in your bullionbullscanada link. Total gasoline consumption is down by about 6% since the peak in 2007, not 75%.

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        “In 2013, about 134.51 billion gallons1 (or 3.20 billion barrels) of gasoline were consumed2 in the United States, a daily average of about 368.51 million gallons (or 8.77 million barrels). This was about 6% less than the record high of about 142.35 billion gallons (or 3.39 billion barrels) consumed in 2007.”

        That quote from your linked article seems like accurate information. How that other article came up with 75% reduction is a mystery. If it had, we’d all be standing in soup lines.

    • I don’t think the article you link to is correct. See these EIA statistics on gasoline consumption.

      Consumption was 7,336,000 barrels per day in 1988. In 2013, it was 8,774,000 barrels per day. Gasoline consumption has done better than some other types of oil consumption, because the government is anxious to keep voters happy–adding ethanol to the supply, for example.

    • Coast Watcher says:

      Sorry, that is simply not true. Gas tax receipts, for example, have remained stable to slightly increasing and the taxes themselves, state and federal, have not increased significantly enough to cover a 75 percent decrease in consumption.
      In fact, from 1997 to 20011, state and local tax receipts have increased from $28.1 billion to $41.2 billion.

      • Coast Watcher says:

        Gale, didn’t see your reply. Exactly right. My post was in reply to Rodster’s post.

  26. Paul says:

    Just realized we have a new excellent article!

    I like the comparison of finance with the computer OS….

    “Of course, if we have to go back to growing food without today’s energy inputs, there will be a huge number of manual labor jobs available. But these are not the jobs most people are thinking about.”

    Yes I cannot imagine the FB generation have envisioned shoveling cow dung for a living… :)

    A little typo here? It includes far carbon from fossil fuel than seems reasonable, in my view.

  27. Lindon says:

    Gail — Great job describing in detail just how screwed we all are! What you are talking about is the perfect storm — the real one, not the movie version. But like the doomed fisherman in the movie of that title, we are all figuratively huddled together in the cabin of a little ship that is being tossed and thrown around by the circumstances you have described. The only questions are, when will we sink and will any of us manage to survive the storm.

    Your point about unfunded government liabilities and inability to meet obligations is a big one and perhaps should have been put in bold font. When governments can no longer take care of those people that the economy is squeezing the hardest, things will become very interesting indeed. Here is an article I just happened to find today that seems to make a pretty good argument that cascading municipal bankruptcies are looming just over the horizon:

    Dire times are upon us.

    • Paul says:

      Meredith Whitney was actually right when she predicted a deluge of muni bankruptcies — but of course the Fed has been holding back the flood waters… she will ultimately be right.

      Of course this is a global phenomenon :

      France Budget Forecast “Wildly Inaccurate” Leaving €14 Billion Black Hole; Sharp Rise in French Unemployment


      When asked how did you go bankrupt Hemingway replied “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

    • Thanks! At one point, insurance companies were the big owners of municipal debt. I am not sure if that is still the case. Some insurers have insured municipal debt also. Clearly someone gets left “holding the bag”–the cities’ pensioners, or insurance companies, or any number of others.

  28. Paul says:

    Why The Promise Of American LNG Exports Is Gassy Hype
    Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 12:49AM

    Natural gas production has been on a tear in the US. The fracking boom caused coal use to go into remission, broadsided the solar-panel industry, and motivated energy-intensive industries or those that use natural gas as feedstock to build new plants in the US. It has changed the energy equation. It created tens of thousands of good jobs. It created a whole industry of lobbyists and activists, battling each other and greasing politicians along the way.

    And it caused earthquakes, not just in Oklahoma, but also in the minds of speculators, hype artists, and Wall Street hope mongers, funded by a tsunami of nearly free money that was drilled into the ground for years while the price of natural gas remained stubbornly below the cost of production.

    That money is gone for good. And the price? After some tumultuous gyrations earlier this year, it’s up 140% from the April 2012 low. But it’s still below the cost of production, and the industry has shown no eagerness whatsoever to drill for dry natural gas. Wells that also produce enough oil and natural gas liquids, which fetch a much higher price, are better deals.

    So production last year rose a scant 1% to a new record of 24.3 trillion cubic feet, not nearly enough to meet demand. In 2013, gas in underground storage was drawn down by 700 billion cubic feet and ended the year 20% below where it had started the year. After some additional nasty winter weather, natural gas in storage is now at 1,266 Bcf. That’s 786 Bcf, or 38%, below where it had been at this time last year, and last year’s storage levels were already running below average, which caused the price gyrations this winter.

    And current levels are 1,478 Bcf, or 54%, below those of the same period in 2012. In other words, demand has exceeded supply for two years in a row by over 700 Bcf each. But now there isn’t enough gas in storage to keep the system operational if a similar drawdown occurs again [read…. Boss, We Got a Situation in Natural Gas].

    Questions are percolating if the US is going to have enough natural gas in storage by end of October to last through the winter. People are crunching all sorts of numbers to get a handle on it. But the Energy Department’s EIA remains sanguine. Its predictions concerning natural gas are almost always far off target, and its predictions of a super-low price over the last two years have become – with hindsight – a silly joke.

    Much depends on the weather. A cool summer and a warm winter will get us through it. But if a long heat spell hits densely populated areas and AC units are maxed out for weeks at a time, and if major cold waves roll over the land in the winter, the US would have to import Liquefied Natural Gas from the international markets, in competition with Korea and Japan which pay nearly four times the current price at the Henry Hub. It’s going to be mayhem.

    While all these questions are being kicked around and visions of shortages hover over every calculation, billions of dollars are thrown at LNG export terminals and deals are made to ship US LNG to other parts of the world. The idea is to take this dirt-cheap natural gas that would be produced in the US in maniacal bouts of over-drilling and arbitrage the price differential. And when Russia annexed the Crimea, voices clamored for the US to start selling LNG to Europe to lessen Europe’s dependence on Gazprom and save it from Russia.

    But where the heck is all this natural gas supposed to come from?

    The US is a net importer of natural gas. OK, exports via pipeline to Mexico and Canada have steadily risen over the last ten years, except in 2013 when they edged down 1% as the US was running a little short. And imports, which ballooned from the mid-1980s to max out when the fracking boom kicked off in earnest in 2007, have since dropped every year. Last year, imports – mostly by pipeline from Canada and some LNG – were down 8%. The difference – net imports – dropped to 1,311 Bcf, the lowest since 1989.

    If these trends were to continue, the US could possibly reach natural-gas independence over the next four or five years and might become a net exporter after that. But consumption has exceeded production over the last 24 months – largely due to the damage the persistent low price has done to the drilling industry. Demand has been met by drawing storage levels down 54%! But that resource has now been used up.

    For the US to perform the super-feat of becoming a major net-exporter of natural gas, a new mega-drilling boom for dry gas would have to burst on the scene, like right now, and resources, equipment, and people would have to be moved from drilling for oil to drilling for dry natural gas. But that isn’t going to happen with high oil prices and still dirt-cheap natural gas prices. Production goes where the profits are – and they aren’t in natural gas. Not yet. Not at the current price.

    And so the promise that American LNG could relieve Japan’s thirst for natural gas and lower its dependence on the price gougers in the Middle East, and that the very same LNG could also calm Europe’s angst about Russia’s reliability as a supplier, the promise that easy billions could be made exporting that LNG has turned out to be just gassy hype.

    The US has its hands full dealing with its own demand – at least until a dizzying increase in the price of natural gas triggers another drilling boom. Then all bets are off. But wait … once the price spikes enough to trigger that drilling boom, the promise of big profits from exporting cheap natural gas as high-priced LNG would turn into even more gassy hype.

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