Businessweek Gets it Wrong—Everything You Know About Peak Oil is ‘Not’ Wrong

On January 26, Bloomberg Businessweek printed an editorial by Charles Kenny titled, “Everything You Know About Peak Oil Is Wrong”. This editorial reflects several common misunderstandings.

According to Kenny:

Titled Limits to Growth, their report suggested the world was heading toward economic collapse as it exhausted the natural resources, such as oil and copper, required for economic production. The report forecast that the world would run out of new gold in 2001 and petroleum by 2022, at the latest.

Limits to Growth gives a table that might be interpreted to show that oil and gold new extraction will be exhausted by the dates indicated. The book is careful to explain that the situation is more complicated, though. The way the book summarizes the issue is as a price problem:

Given present resource consumption rates and the projected increase in these rates, the great majority of non-renewable resources will be extremely costly 100 years from now.

In fact, high cost is precisely the issue with oil right now, and we are still ten years away from 2022. A graph of recent crude oil production is shown below. The amount of production has not been able to rise above about 75 million barrels a day (MBD) since 2005. At the same time, price is very high.

World Crude Oil - Quantity Extracted and Price

Figure 1. World crude oil production has been bumping up against a limit of about 75 million barrels a day (MBD) since 2005, as oil prices have gyrated wildly. (EIA data)

If we look at gold production and prices, it shows pretty much the same story: stalled out production and very high prices.

Figure 2. Gold production has been flat to slightly declining as gold prices soared. Gold production from USGS; Gold Price is from World Bank Commodity Markets Pink Sheet.

The problem is a two-fold problem: it is a price problem, and a problem of not being to increase extraction as much as one would like. The issue is one of declining quality of resources, as lower grade ores are found, and more difficult to extract oil is found. There are plenty of resources available; the issue is that we cannot afford the high cost of extracting them.

Kenny says, “Far from being depleted, worldwide reserves of minerals continue to climb.” He then goes on to list a whole host of resources: natural gas liquids of 1.2 trillion barrels, shale oil of 4.8 trillion barrels, and tar sands of 6 trillion barrels.

These are lower and lower quality resources. In order to make sense for these resources to be extracted, it is important that the cost of extraction not be too high. Many of the large oil importing nations went into recession in 2008-2009 when oil prices climbed to $147 barrel, and quite a few economies are struggling now, with prices in the $100 to $110 barrel range. Unless we can get the oil out at a reasonable price, there is no point in even counting them in the base.

There is also an issue of how quickly resources can be extracted. Canada has been attempting to develop the oil sands since 1967, but even after more than 40 years of attempted development, only 2% of the world’s oil supply is from this source.

Kenny also doesn’t seem to understand that Daniel Yergin is far from an unbiased observer. He says,

And yet according to renowned oil analyst Daniel Yergen [sic], technology advances and new discoveries have allowed oil reserves worldwide to keep growing.

Daniel Yergin is chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and Executive Vice President of IHS. The companies he works for do consulting work for oil companies. These oil companies would like you to think that their prospects for the future are as good as possible. In many ways, Daniel Yergin’s role is not too different from that of Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. If a person checks back, one finds that many of Yergin’s rosy predictions have proven false.

Kenny has another overstatement:

New technologies suggest the dawn of U.S. energy independence.

This is flowery language, but doesn’t represent the real situation. A big part of the reason our imports are down in recent years is because US oil consumption is down. People who are laid off from work drive less, and with high oil prices, fewer people take driving vacations or go by airplane. The EIA shows this graph of net imports.

Figure 3. Net imports as percentage of petroleum products supplied--Graph created by EIA.

We are still importing 45.2% of “products supplied”. This comparison is on a volume basis, not on an energy basis. If the comparison were on an energy basis, we would be importing over 50% of petroleum products. Biofuels and natural gas liquids, which are lower energy than oil, are treated if they were substituting for oil on a barrel for barrel basis, but they really are not.

We hear a lot about having very low natural gas prices right now, because of higher production of natural gas combined with a warm winter. Unfortunately, having more natural gas doesn’t fix our oil problem. Our oil problem is the fact that price is too high because of inadequate world supply and also because much of the cheap-to-extract oil is already gone. We have had to move on to more expensive-to-extract oil supplies.

Over time, natural gas may make a small dent in our oil problem, if a few vehicles can be converted to natural gas. But the large size of natural gas tanks and lack of refueling stations make them unsuitable for many uses. The amount of natural gas available for substitution also isn’t all that high, relative to the world oil deficit.

Kenny also said:

Limits to Growth suggested the world would be on the verge of complete economic collapse around about now, with industrial output falling to its level of 1900 by the end of this century, as resources vital to sustaining a modern economy dried up. However dire today’s global financial crisis, we are nowhere near such a doomsday scenario.

I would disagree with Kenny on this. He doesn’t seem to see the close connection between high oil prices and the economic problems we are seeing today. With high oil prices, people cut back on discretionary goods, resulting in layoffs among people who work in those industries. For example, fewer people have jobs in vacation industries (for example, in Greece and Spain) if oil prices are high. This leads to recession and debt defaults. If one country defaults, ripple effects can spread to banks around the world.

Our economy has a high level of debt. We need economic growth in order to repay that debt with interest. If oil supply remains flat, or worse yet, falls, it will be difficult to produce the level of economic growth needed to prevent debt defaults.

Hopefully, Kenny will be right about the issue of economic collapse, but it seems to me that the possibility should be a serious concern. Peak oil and the related issue of Limits to Growth are real issues, even if Charles Kenny doesn’t understand them.

This post was written for ASPO-USA’s February 6, 2012, Peak Oil Review. 

139 thoughts on “Businessweek Gets it Wrong—Everything You Know About Peak Oil is ‘Not’ Wrong

  1. I don’t normally follow politics. I was watching TV last night and there was a clip of Candidate Gingrich stating something like: “Peak Oil is not real, Peak Gas is not real, they are devices of the Liberal Left used to scare and attack us’ – (not a direct quote, going from memory.)

    Don’t underestimate the importance of this. A Major Political Candidate has acknowledged that Peak Oil as an idea exists. How does that saying go, first they ignore you, then they attack you, then… what comes next?

    • Just so we are clear here, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that would indicate that Obama is very aware of the peak oil/peak resources problem and its limits to growth. Chu, his energy secretary, is very aware of the problem. What one has to next think is: what is the benefit politically of admitting to it? What is the benefit if realistically you are just going to be called a crackpot by the other side and marginalized. It’s also questionable whether anything they could/would do would even make a difference. It’s highly unlikely that everyone would agree to anything and the citizenry would reject changes that effect their personal freedoms or personal interests, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor.

      We live in a society that in my opinion makes dealing with PO in a constructive way near impossible. We are divided now like no other time in history except the U.S. Civil War. We are on our own (and I mean each one of us, not us together).

      • I agree that a lot of these folks know about these issues. If I look hard enough, I can find a quote in the WSJ from Alan Greenspan saying that peak oil came sooner and harder than expected (or something like that). But no one want to panic the people.

        • Of course The President knows about Peak Oil. The EIA and the IEA know about it. The
          oil companies know about it. US Armed Forces know about – everybody that matters knows about it. How else could they have done such a good job at covering it up? They have experts like Yergin and many others busily thinking of ways of defusing the issue. Keeny’s article is just one example of many, and look how easily the arguments can be knocked down. But that won’t stop them trying to kick the can down the road for a bit longer.

          • I think you are right, on both issues–everyone knowing and kicking the can down the road. Kicking the can down the road a bit farther is the name of the game.

      • “We are on our own (and I mean each one of us, not us together).”

        Bingo. But why? Perhaps because everything we need and used to do for each other has been monetised. We can all go into our homes and have everything we need. Why would we interact with our neighbours if they can’t offer us anything we don’t already pay for? This is the source of our loss of community, increasing disconnection from each other, and subsequent loss of purpose and meaning. I don’t need to know the guy who makes my food or fixes my washing machine. If I offend him or vice versa I’ll just pay someone else to do it.

        However, we’re running out of social, environmental, and cultural fuel for the growth engine. There’s little left to monetise that hasn’t already been. This is a another factor, along with peak oil, contributing to the end of growth.

        • Dear Justin
          An entry in Permaculture Activist, a US magazine, written by Dave Jacke describes the research into an agricultural system in use in Italy from the late Middle Ages until it finally died in the 1950s. It was rediscovered when some ecologists found a peculiar distribution of alder trees. Alders fix nitrogen, and can be coppiced, and are fodder for browsing animals. A complex system of agriculture evolved involving wood, grains, and animals. The system would have had a multi-year rotation of activities and crops:
          Firewood harvest and sod burning
          Grain production (in the nitrogen rich soil) and young alder coppice
          Wood pasture with pollards
          Firewood harvest and sod burning and around again

          ‘Every year, the percentage of the landscape at each phase of the cycle would remain the same, more of less, yet every year the location of each of these patches would move: a mosaic that would be stable at the landscape scale, but every changing and cyclic at the patch scale’.

          ‘The complexity at the landscape scale would allow, if not demand, a significant division of labor: shepherds, wood cutters, grain farmers, wool processors, butchers, and so one would be needed. It would take a whole village to run the system well.’

          So you could do this with either a gigantic corporation which owns everything and employs workers for as little as it can pay them, or else you can do it with independent entrepreneurs who have learned to co-operate for their common good. It is so obvious to me that the latter option is the one we desperately need. But, as you observe, we are unused to thinking in terms of co-operation and will have to relearn these basic skills. Are we up to the challenge?

          Don Stewart

        • That is a good point, about everything being monetized, so we don’t need each other. We don’t need to join a church any more either, because economics tells us everything we need to know about values–he who dies with the most toys wins. Jobs are in different states than where we grew up, so we move across the country and leave our family.

          A lot of the growth engine came from monetizing things that we used to do for each other–day care for children, assisted living arrangements for the elderly, fixing things that don’t work. I remember one of my grandfathers used to make book cases and various built in arrangements with wood. My father did some of that too. Now most of us today would just buy shelves from Home Depot. Moving all these things from the “informal” to the “formal” economy added to “growth”.

          • I have no need to learn about values, because I can find the best price for everything on the web.

    • The politics are not pure.

      The Left wing activists believe Peak Oil is absurd and likely a manufactured Right wing meme to force drilling more wells and win more exploration subsidies for Big Oil.

      The Right wing activists believe the Peak Oil meme is an attack on God and the overarching concept that God will not present you with impossible tasks that preclude growth.

      I’ve personally seen more sneering at Peak Oil by liberal Democrats than by Republicans, though I am sure mileage will vary.

    • We certainly do seem to be seeing more attacks on Peak Oil in the press now. I am wondering if at some point facts will show the natural gas hype to be simply hype, and things will suddenly unwind. But the situation may still be perceived as a financial crisis, especially if defaulting European debt sets off debt defaults around the world. (I think the European debt problem is tied to high oil prices, as well.)

      • Greece oil consumption is 400,000 bpd. At Brent $114 this is 5% of GDP/yr.

        That’s a crushing drain.

  2. This is a response to Justin Nigh
    I am 71 years old. I live in North Carolina, USA. I know very little about Australia (except that when people like Bill Mollison draw diagrams, the sun is shining from the ‘wrong’ direction). I understand that land values are quite expensive.

    After listening to Nicole Foss confidently predicting deflation (so hand onto your money until land gets cheap) and watching the Federal Reserve print money to keep land in the unaffordable range, I finally settled on this strategy:
    1. I don’t try to be self-sufficient in grains and dried legumes. They require a lot of land to grow–and I have very little land. They are easy to ship.
    2. I try to grow as many low calorie density, high water content plants as I can. These are expensive because they are expensive to ship. They also lose nutrient values rapidly after harvest. So I grow leafy greens everywhere and use the Permaculture method of stacking. Urine is my principal fertilizer. If you recycle all your urine, and you are eating food not only from your own yard but also from someone’s farm, you are adding back more nutrients than your plants are taking from the soil. Urine contains about 90 percent of the nutrients that were in the plant. So, in round numbers, you may be adding back 150 percent of the nutrients the plants took out of your soil.
    3. I also work at a nearby farm. The farm is 8 miles away. If there is no gasoline whatsoever, then I can ride a bicycle to the farm. The farm is located on the property of an intentional community, to which I have contributed some money. While I have no legal rights, I feel pretty comfortable that they would not force me out. The farm supplies a lot of veggies such as root crops and string beans and the like. Most of the leafy greens come from my own yard and are harvested minutes before we eat them.
    4. Between my small yard and the farm, I either grow directly or work for half our calories, and probably 70 percent of the cost of our food.
    5. Neither my wife nor I have had a cold for the last 10 years. Neither of us have been diagnosed with any chronic disease. Both of us have low blood pressure and reasonable overall health indicators. With any luck, we will die after a short illness. Life style can do this for you. Medical Science cannot.

    My largest concern is actually drinking water. Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture has some neat drawings of cisterns for capturing drinking water. Farm houses in the US (and back to ancient Greece and Rome) had cisterns. But they have fallen into disuse and are seldom built anymore. It would be very hard to build a cistern at my house. There are some ponds, and the water would be drinkable with a good filter. But filters eventually fail. So drinking water is an issue.

    As for hot and cold weather. Because we are thin and have a low metabolic rate (because of our life style), we don’t suffer much from hot weather. We do get cold in the winter. So we just add layers. We routinely wear long underwear. If we have a particularly cold snap, our pipes might freeze. So we would have to drain our pipes for perhaps 10 days each year. That is an annoyance, but doable.

    We don’t owe anyone any money. But our children are all 500 miles away, or more. So we can’t rely on family.

    Your own solution is doubtless going to be different than mine–which is imperfect. But I think that just identifying the primary challenges and starting to work on them is good for what ails you. It took me about 18 months to locate the farm–and I have been there now for 3 years. I thought about trying to buy some land within a few miles of the house. My daughter in Portland, Oregon tells me that theft of food is a real problem unless the farmer actually lives on the land. I suspect the theft problem will only get worse. I posed the question to Dmitri Orlov once upon a time. He suggested getting Bikers to camp on the property. Whatever works, I suppose.

    Hope this helps
    Don Stewart

    • That’s a thought out arrangement, which puts you ahead of many.

      But it’s time for secondary and tertiary thinking.

      What happens when your bicycle breaks and there are no spare parts?

      With no hot water for washing, disease will come.

      Where is your salt supply? A 100 pound field dressed deer will feed you for two days, max. No, you don’t eat 100 lbs. You eat 3 pounds in two days. The rest spoils as 48-72 hrs is a lot of time for bacteria to go crazy in the absence of functioning immune system.

      How will you stay warm in winter with no fires burning the smoke from which will bring the enemy to you? Mountain streams can drive banks of car alternators (there will be hundreds laying around so failure/malfunction doesn’t matter) and run space heaters. Far superior to solar.

      Anyway, think tertiary. And not in terms of years. It’s not years. It’s forever.

      • Dear Owen
        As I have said, survival for humans is a matter of small groups cooperating (extended families, clans, etc.) and also everyone has to examine their own situation. My situation is that ‘forever’ is perhaps 15 years and then it’s not my problem anymore. In terms of clan, I have done the best I can given the cards I have been dealt.

        Of course a lot of things can go wrong. The farm could fail financially and there goes a lot of my food supply. In the meantime, I am learning skills (seedsaving, etc.) and living rather frugally. I expect the bicycle to last 15 years, about the same as me.

        As I have also said in another post, it doesn’t pay to get too far ahead of the curve. As Chris Martenson says in his post today, we are already in the collapse. But the collapse may take a long time–think the Roman Empire or even Napoleon. It pays to know how to forage and children should be taught (, but it doesn’t make sense to take to the woods today, in my opinion.

        I could be wrong. But I sure don’t regret the things I HAVE done…Don Stewart

        • Thank you Don, Owen, Joe Clarkson, and Gail for taking the time to provide some thoughtful advice. It would seem our choice to not buy property and continue to rent while saving as much as we can is the course we should keep on. I’ve always preferred the flexibility of renting (not to mention avoiding debt slavery), which may serve us well in what’s to come.

          Don, we are both 33 years old, in great health due to a well balanced vegan diet and plenty of regular exercise. I suppose that’s a bonus going into this mess. However, I suspect we’ll have to adjust that diet and incorporate animal products again should it really fall apart. We too are growing mainly green leaf produce in our backyard garden. We also have a large rainwater tank that is directly plumbed into the house for use in toilets and washing machine. These are commonplace in Australia, particularly newly built homes like the one we rent, as you might expect with the cycles of drought we experience. They may prove useful as sources of drinking water down the track. Interesting you mention bikers. I’ve recently seen groups of them, as we do now and again, in the area and was contemplating how peak oil would affect their lifestyle. While they would be good deterrents to protect property, I’d be uneasy having them so close at hand should they decide I was no longer required.

          I’ve previously discovered some intentional communities in the area and will investigate them further.

          Owen, your advice about salt makes sense. Salt is quite heavy, especially in the volume I imagine you’d need to preserve a large game animal. Given we may need to be very mobile to survive, I wonder how we’ll manage to get around with kilos of salt in tow. When we start to think about how to survive we realise how much there is to consider and how easy it is to miss important details like this.

          Something I’m especially conscious of is the fact I recently left my full time job to start our own business. I had a career in IT for the past 10 years and being a high-stress job, couldn’t tolerate it any longer. I suppose computers will have less relevance if things play out as described by Gail, so perhaps nothing much lost there. However, the new venture I’m undertaking is very reliant on the transportation system and refrigeration. I’m already fairly committed and changing gears now would be a problem on a number of levels. If things don’t turn out as bad as we think, it should be OK. If not, well I guess we just put our other skills to work (I also used to work in horticulture).

          As for family clans, my parents live in Canada (where I’m from) and we only have my mother-in-law and an aunt/uncle nearby. Neither of which I’m comfortable discussing this with in great detail. I’ve broached the issue briefly with my mother-in-law and she didn’t take much notice, dismissing it as pessimistic. Though she has spent time living on land with very little creature comforts, so at least she will be more resilient than most. The aunt/uncle are conservative and likely to think I’m absolutely nuts. I know I’m not, but even my own optimism likes to think I am sometimes.

          • Justin
            This is just to think about. When you kill a deer, there are two courses of action you can take. The first is to smoke it or salt it or freeze it or pickle it or otherwise preserve it for your own use over a long period of time.

            The second is to have a feast for your clan or extended family or friends and neighbors. This is the option favored by most hunting and gathering groups. You kill the deer this week, one of your neighbors kills a deer next week. In both cases, you get some deer meat to eat. But in the second alternative, you avoid all the labor of preserving. And you don’t develop stomach cancer from all the salt preservative. Stomach cancer was one of the leading causes of death back when meat was regularly salted to preserve it.

            This is another reason why I think that survival needs to be understood as a small group phenomenon.

            Don Stewart

            • Incidentally. Consider the effect of game laws. We have in the US a plague of deer. They eat everything. But we have a ridiculously short deer season. So you have to go out and shoot your deer and then preserve it. The more sensible course of killing a deer when you need some meat for a communal feast is, essentially, against the law.

              As Orlov says, the collapse of the governments is one of the advantages we can look forward to.

              Don Stewart

            • This is a case of “managing the commons”. The problem with no regulation, is the likely outcome that “all the dear will be hunted”, leaving no dear for anyone. Regulation may not be ideal but it is preferable to no regulation.
              Anarchy is unlikely to be beneficial for social of environmental outcomes. Orlov may be spectacularly wrong.

          • Don and Justin-

            Just a note about water.

            My family has lived on catchment water for over 25 years. We have a rodent-proof covered catchment tank and house roof. The house roof is painted metal which drains through PVC piping into the tank.

            We live in an area with little air pollution (what little we have is from volcanic haze).

            Considering these conditions, we have never filtered or sterilized our water for any purpose and have had no problems. We felt quite comfortable giving this water to our young children.

      • I can see from your posting you are Long on Mad Max.

        First off, if you strip and dry the meat its not going to spoil in 3 days.

        Insofar as roving Zombies spying your fires, moving around 50 miles through the bush takes quite a few days with no mechanized transport. If you are doing a nomadic lifestyle, by the time they get to where you were, you are long gone.

        In any event, we are likely to go through a period of extreme fascism and then warlordism in most areas before its the Last of the Mohicans out there in the bush. Making it through that period takes different strategies.


        • I’m a former Air Force officer. I bring a military perspective to what is usually somewhat left wing Peak Oil thinking, and by that I mean not so much long Mad Max as short the concept of globally agreed upon uniformly distributed resources.

          It’s just silly to think that everyone will accept an annual 3% decline . . . of whatever parameter. The US burns 24% of oil production with 4% of global population. The world will insist on sharper US GDP declines, sharper US oil consumption declines (same thing as GDP decline) and sharper US lifestyle declines than the rest of the world endures, because we have a lead and to close that lead they won’t speed up. They’ll slow us down. Yes, everyone will slow down. They’ll steepen our decline rate to close the lead.

          There is no way in hell any US president of either party will sign onto that. They’ll lose re-election for sure. And, of course, they’ll have an alternative. Suppress competing demand for oil. Militarily. That wins elections.

          Okay, so not long Mad Max. Long inevitability of disproportion.

          Drying/smoking requires fire to do it efficiently. If you put it outside in a rainstorm, you’re not going to dry it well, and it will still spoil.

          No, don’t carry salt around. Remember, 0.001% can survive in place. You have to prepare what you want/need in the location that has it and then plan to walk there. Meaning a mountain cabin with a flowing stream for micro hydro power, no road leading to it, 50 miles from town, with a cold/snowy winter, AND NEAR A SALT MINE. Cities were formed on rivers near salt mines. The word salary comes from salt, because Roman legionnaires were paid in salt or more commonly were paid a salt stipend to purchase it (outsourced).

          Yes, salt will cause stomach cancer. Stomach cancer will develop and kill slower than starvation.

          I do agree with the enclave concept, though “small group” seems unlikely to be safe larger than 10 people. Odds just explode of having slackers if your only criterion is family unit, and even 10 generates huge risks of big mouths pre deployment or even on the mountain during deployment. Shouting fights must not happen. They reveal presence.

          But you do need more than one person for standing watch and posting sentries. The hairy chested survivalists who spend 80 pages picking out what gun to have never consider that it will not be effective when you’re asleep.

          • Your perspective definitely is one of a Military nature, and under certain circumstances, some of the ideas you propose are quite valid. For myself, I am a person who has lived a Nomadic life for a long time and observed how communities and people operate on different scales and under different parameters.

            Anyhow, if you are just prepping for a year in the Bush and can preposition Preps, Salt is not an issue, its just one of the preps you cache. If you are anywhere near Salt Water, evaporation provides the long term supply of salt you need.

            In Winter, you don’t have to salt anything in a cold climate. You live in a big Freezer anyhow. You also can build Icehouses in the winter that will make it through virtually the entire Summer. If you are running a decent size Tribal Group, building Icehouses is not a problem and takes no Oil whatsoever. Did the Inuit mine Salt? Hell no, and they lived up here for at least 10,000 years without doing that. The salt comes from the saltwater fish you eat.

            Your concern about “Slackers” is an artifact of the type of society we currently live in. In Tribal Societies, people do not “slack” for if they do they are Shunned. You simply do not last long once you are shunned in a Tribe. Tribal groups assemble up spontaneously when disaster strikes, and those who do not know how to cooperate and who do not provide some value to the Tribe as a group are rapidly shunned. So your best bet is to start out with a decent size group that can protect and defend the resources in your area, and then work out a Political system that allows for adequate distribution of those resources. You’ll never be able to do such a thing inside the Belly of the Beast in Big Shities with populations in the Millions, but in sparsely populated regions with towns in the 10K and less range, this is much more possible to do.

            I will not make the case that the paradigm is foolproof, not by any means. It is however a better paradigm than going Full Primitive out in the Bush. The best alternative is not the Military Survivalist one. Its a Tribal one organizing up a decent size group of people to work together for the Common Good. You have to be in the right locations to do this, but Alaska is not the only one. I can name others down in the Lower 48. The Bayou of Lousiana is one place you could do it also. Just differnet parameters for living in a swamp which I do not particularly like. Borderline Desert areas are another. The Bushmen of the Kalahari still do it this way. Its not impossible, its just outside what we have been used to. If you are tough enough, you’ll figure it out in due time if you are there and have your tribe. When the Going gets Tough, the tough get Going.


      • Where will you get Heat to survive in 30 Below temps?

        Do you live in an environment where the temps go that low on a regular basis? I do, and although I keep my Cabin around 45 degrees to keep the internal piping from freezing, its hardly necessary to do that.

        Cold weather living is all about INSULATION, not about Heating. The interior temperature of an Igloo depending on its size and the number of Dogs and Peoples inside it tends to hover around 40 degrees no matter how cold it gets outside the Igloo. This because all those Living Breathing bodies inside the Igloo are themselves cooking at around 98 degrees or so and the snow provides fabulous insulation values.

        Do you know the derivation of the word “Eskimo”, which is not what Inuit and Aleuts call themselves? Its an Algonquin word which means “Raw Meat Eater”. Why did these folks eat their meat Raw? because on the tundra there just ain’t a whole lot out there to Burn at any time, particularly in the winter. A little dried dung is about all you got here for fuel.

        I haven;t run the Iditarod myself, but I have friends who have. They mush for dyas on end with no heat. As long as you have enough FOOD for yourself and your Dogs, you are ALL little heat engines burning the stuff, and all you need to do is INSULATE from the cold. You flip over the sled and you and your dogs hunker down while the blozzard piles up the snow around you. HTF do you think Penguins survive in Antarctica? They are warm blooded and can’t even build any type of shelter at all! They pack together in groups and rotate penguins to the exterior while the interior penguins warm back up.

        In any event, we are a LONG way from not having shelters or burnable Coal up here in Alaska, just how MUCH of it we do burn is a matter of choice and lifestyle. You do not NEED to burn any of it at all, even at 50 below, long as you can feed yourself and isulate yourself from the cold.

        I have treated the Salt problem already at least 3 times in this thread, so I am not going to repeat that again. Suffice it to say, “Eskimos” have NEVER had a salt mine, and they did just fine without one. Salt comes in the diet of a carnivore, its captured already by the creatures it eats. If you real needed Salt Mines, Eskimos never could have survived for all these millenia since Toba went ballistic. If yu really needed to burn stuff for heat, they would not have been able to survive either. But they DID.

        Done once, it can be done again. Perhaps not by former Air Force officers, but there are still some Inuit who can do it, and I for one intend on learning just as much as I can from them before this all goes to hell in a handbasket.


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  4. The further afield we venture, the more liquid hydrocarbons we can “count”, which makes the picture quite rosy if we conveniently ignore the issue that the further afield, the less we can “count on them. 

    By extending the same method of reckoning, there is an obvious solution to the fossil-fuel problem –  just include all the planets and their moons:

    According to the Wikipedia entry about the Lakes of Titan, one of the moons of Saturn

    Titan hosts within its polar lakes “hundreds of times more natural gas and other liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth..

    Reminds one of the Mock Turtle’s song in Alice in Wonderland’s The Lobster Quadrille:

    “The further off from England the nearer is to France —
    Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.”

  5. I’d like to rebut a few more of Owen’s Mad Max predictions as absolutes or even as likelihoods under many scenarios you can conjure up for a global power down. Unfortunately, every time I write something more than a couple of paragraphs here it gets hung up in the SPAM filter, I’ve got at least one post still missing. I’ll try to keep this one short enough to make it through the filter.

    Suffice it to say that first monetary collapse has led in the past to empire collapses, read that Rome and Babylon, but in the wake of such collapses smaller political units form up. You can have massive losses in some towns, and near total survival in others. There were some towns in Germany that recorded near total population loss in the Dark Ages, while others regrouped.

    The loss of copious energy means the loss of much of the waste currently going on, and generally speaking under the current paradigm the overall population will decrease substantially, but it is unlikely to be uniform in distribution. Various forms of Triage and Rationing are likely. Goobermint failure on the large scale will result in Ad Hoc Goobermints forming on the small scale.

    Unless you are absolutely first class out in the Bush, your survival chances would be smaller out so far than they would be in a larger community that reorganizes to make use of its local resources as a Tribal Sized group. 100 is good, 1000 still better.

    In any event, I wouldn’t make a Final Bugout to the Yukon Territory without any less than 10 People, 5 Sleds and 30 Dogs. You also better know WTF you are doing out there in the winter. You should have at least 2 Mushers who have run the Iditarod and completed it. Even if you survive that way, unless you eventually meet up with some others, you haven’t enough genetic diversity to prevent inbreeding problems. Its not a very good long term survival paradigm. The small community/tribal paradigm is better.


    • It is often hard to reply here. Shrug.

      Yeah, I alluded to the intelligent selection of your 10 people above. Purely family as the selection criterion starts to guarantee slackers . . . or diabetics.

      And I wasn’t clear about one critical item. This hunker down mode is about First Winter. Winter kills the city hordes. Once they’re dead, they’re dead, You can have a fire Second Winter. Or Third Winter. You can have even cropland after First Winter. The hordes are dead. You can plant your handful of acres for the 10.

      You basically have to store 1 year of food for your 10 people, and augment it with snared/hunted meat (snaring small game hunts for you 24/7 without burning calories). If the Upheaval occurs in March, tractors won’t get gasoline, crops won’t get planted and the die off will be powerful by September, even before Winter. If the Upheaval occurs in September, Winter kills immediately. Being good in the Bush loses some imperative when you store for 1 year and plant crops the next Spring.

      The Upheaval will be some discrete event, perhaps the nuking of the Gulf coast refineries. The SPR will be either empty in a few months, or inaccessible if they are within the radiation zone. The good part about that, if there is a good part, is you won’t have any decisions to make about when to leave for your sanctuary. It will be clear that the time has come.

      Ten is indeed not enough for genetic diversity, but that concept is not a great one for the post Peak apocalypse. “Genetic Diversity” suggests “let’s get started rebuilding”. There won’t be any rebuilding. There won’t be any recovery. The oil will be gone. Civilization’s decline will be permanent enroute eventual extinction as each enclave has a crop failure or disease.

      • I guess I’m like Bicycle Dave in that I still hold some hope the crisis will be less harsh than you’ve described, or we might find some mitigation strategies that soften the landing. Naivety? Perhaps. The facts certainly stand on their own and I have gone through the period of psychological despair they elicit. Remaining in that place for any length of time is no way to live, so I take Gail’s advice and try to enjoy what time we have left while also thinking about strategies should things play out as described here.

        Owen your ‘winter’ strategy has some merit, but what of the areas where winter is mild, or non-existent, like where I call home, Australia? We will have plenty of access to saltwalter and where I am is surrounded by large families of kangaroo. Even without their meat, Aborigines had a nearly vegetarian diet so there’s proof one can survive off the land with the right knowledge (which I intend to learn more about). Also, I don’t fully appreciate why humans will eventually become extinct just because there’s no oil. We survived proportionately much longer without than with it. Won’t things simply return to pre-fossil fuel civilisation once population stabilises?

        Reverse Engineer. My uncle lives in the Yukon as a fur trapper and can survive in the bush for great lengths of time, but is still dependent on civilisation for a number of resources, including petrol for his snowmobile (though this is likely a convenience he could live without). Assuming the writing on the wall becomes obvious while one can still travel internationally, I’d seriously consider joining him. Oh, and I get a kick out of the way you write. “Final Bugout” gave me a chuckle.

        • I’m a Gonzo writer 🙂 If you like Gonzo, you should join Reverse Engineering. I seriously water down what I write on Other People’s Blogs. Some folks think if you write Gonzo you aren’t “serious” enough in your approach. I’ve had this chat with Bicycle Dave from the other end. He is NOT a fan of Gonzo.

          You don’t prep for something like this with Snowmobiles. That’s why the paradigm has 30 Dogs. There is plenty of fuel in the Yukon for Dogs, and besides pulling the sleds they make excellent hunting partners. You train them to run down the Game toward you. Saves a lot of running around on your part. Besides that, they are an excellent Early Warning System for Zombies, and if the Zombies don’t have their OWN Dogs, you’ll never see them anyhow. They’ll never make it out so far as you, not in Winter. No Dogs, no Snow Machines with Gas, you go about NOWHERE up here in the Winter.


        • I think people in warm areas have a better chance of surviving, just because they do not have to worry about the issue of keeping warm, and at least some food can grow year around, meaning that less has to be stored/prepared. Historically, the highest populations have been in warm parts of the world.

          We also don’t know what the rate of the decline will be. 100 years is a long time to us, but not a long time in geological time.

          • I agree that warm areas are a different kettle of fish.

            I have put a great deal of thought into this matter, mostly as a function of high altitude atmospheric prevailing winds and fallout from the inevitable nuclear exchanges, and the likely targets. It’s because of these that I reject going south in the US. The northern cities will empty and most will head south. Chicago will empty and head to Iowa and wipe out whatever communal beret wearers they find there. Philly and Pittsburgh will empty and head to the Amish. New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, the Ohio cities, St. Louis . . . all of those are headed south as temperature drops. Visualize coast lines of Georgia and Florida lined with hundreds of thousands of people standing elbow to elbow with fishing poles casting into the surf. Behind them are the urban gang members with Uzi’s waiting to steal whatever fish are caught.

            The point being warm is too obvious. The primary threat is people. Not cold and not hunger. People can kill you faster than either. Warm is obvious. You’ll be walking right into your primary threat.

            But to the contrary, I am bullish Brazil. They have spectacular agriculture. They have 3 growing seasons a year. (!!!) They have oil and they have refineries, though the Chinese are trying to control that supply and therefore those rigs will be destroyed by the US Navy. But in general, if they just have the fortitude to man their borders with ruthless troops to mow down the refugees trying to get in, Brazil can dominate the world. I’d bet they can hold their die-off to a mere 50%, down to 90 million. Good chance that will be the largest population of any country when the time comes.

      • Another note on the ‘eventual extinction’ idea. I’m not sure this takes into consideration the existing tribal humans in the jungles of South America, etc. They certainly don’t depend on oil and while they won’t be ‘rebuilding’ I imagine they can simply keep on living as they always have. Civilisation collapse is not a new concept, and humans have yet to go extinct. Can you provide more details on the scenario you’ve described?

      • The fundamental difference here is you think this is an Extinction Level Event that will include a full scale exchange of Thermonuclear ICBMs, and I consider that to only be a marginal possibility at this point. You also envision this as a Fast Crash Scenario as opposed to a Long Emergency (borrowing the term from Jimmy Kunstler), which again is a possibility, but not necessarily the most probable scenario.

        I can give you a lot of reasons why Global Thermonuclear warfare is unlikely, but I’ll just stick to one for brevity. The dislocation here is Global, which means every society is going to be more engaged with their own Civil Wars than international ones. Chinese will be fighting other Chinese while Amerikans fight other Amerikans. You don’t need to use Nukes to take out the other guy’s Oil Refineries, Missiles tipped with conventional warheads are just fine for that. There is simply no point to using Nukes in such a scenario.

        What seems most likely to me at the present time is a monetary system crash followed by reorganization of the Nation States into smaller entities via a Civil War vector. Oil and its fuel products won’t become instantly unavailable, they’re being Triaged already. You’ll see various types of Comunist and Fascist solutions before you wind down to a complete Mad Max. So if you choose the Bush, you are likely to have to stay out there for the entire duration of this period, not just one year.


        • No, not extinction level event of nuclear exchange.

          The extinction scenario derives from The Oil Is Gone. You cannot grow. There is no improvement. Stagnation eventually kills.

          There will be no interplanetary colonization. No advance of science. Calories get consumed walking behind oxen. No one has any time left to build rockets. There is no significant terrestrial travel. Sailing ships for a while. Weeks to get from Asia to the US. Then the weather satellites fail and some of those ships don’t reach destination.

          Spare parts for radios and computers can’t ship. Raw materials can’t get to the semiconductor foundries to do anything with them. People can’t get to work. Executives can’t relocate for horizon expansion and skillset improvement. Overall sales plummet because they are limited to local areas.

          Planet wide stagnation. Shrinkage to enclaves. One at a time each will be wiped out by natural disaster or disease. Extinction becomes inevitable.

          Grow or die. There is no happy contentment medium.

          • Nonsense.

            First off, there are many ways to grow besides technologically. Second, its in the historical record that people lived for 10s of 1000s years without sigificant changes to their style of living, the Aboriginals of Australia being just one example.

            You have a very parochial way of looking at things Owen. If we don’t “grow” in technological sense and “stagnate”, we therefore must inevitably go Extinct? You are drawing a conclusion which makes many unsupported assumptions, It might be correct, but not necessarily so and really not likely at least in the near term. Too many other equally likely scenarios can play out.


            • Well, improbable things stay improbable. A stagnant village of Abos stay stagnant and the odds of a plague wiping them out in a (not any year, a ) year is 0.001%.

              The odds of a plague wiping that village out over 500 years is perhaps 0.22. Or more specific, the odds of a famine/drought/plant disease nailing them in 500 years are XX%.

              The odds kill you when you are sitting stagnant and letting time pass. Have a look at famines. The 1696-7 year was not pretty. 33% of Finland died. 41% of Prussia. That’s not ancient history. Irrigation was understood. They weren’t sacrificing to gods to make food in 1700. Their number came up, as it were.

              Monsanto won’t be shipping anything.

              No Red Cross with UN Refugee Programme biscuits when crops are bad and everyone is isolated. No trucks and planes arrive with crates. Time passes, disasters hit.

              Grow or die.

            • You are doing the long version of the Zero Hedge Tagline. “On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to Zero”. The main leap of faith you take here though is that the timeline is very short and the mere disappearance of Oil is in and of itself sufficient to precipitate an Extinction Level Event without even the Nukes.

              Anyhow, some 70,000 years ago another bunch of Homo Sapiens faced imminent Extinction when Toba went ballistic. In a world covered in Ashfall, somehow those 10,000 Human Souls made it through that Zero Point. It has been DONE before, it can be done again.


            • Well, this is all speculation, but no, it hasn’t been done before. This world has not existed anymore.

              The Toba Bottleneck occurred with all sorts of resources available near the surface. Salt, for one. Those easy salt mines are used up now. The next Toba bottleneck will find the 10,000 spread far apart with no chance of “stumbling onto” this or that to save one’s butt because all the this or that iron ore or copper or whatever close to the surface has been mined and isn’t there to be stumbled upon to save the species.

              So the issue is not “it has been done before so it can be done again.” It’s “It has been done before and therefore can’t be done again.”

              Or better might be . . . there has never before been 6 billion rotting corpses in the rivers breeding all sorts of disease. The Toba folks didn’t face that.

              Species survival odds are not good. We had our chance. We failed. We didn’t discover FTL propulsion and now the party is over and so it goes. Maybe it’s always like this. Maybe that’s why there are no alien visitors. Maybe civilizations always run out of oil and decline to extinction before FTL can be discovered.

            • Back to the Peak Salt problem. Gail put my post up from last night, so that is in here now.

              Look, while Salt is a necessary ingredient in the diet of ALL mammals, only Homo Sapiens bothers to mine it up. This because the Ag diet tends to be somewhat lacking in Salt content. Chimpanzees don’t mine salt, and they do just fine running 95% the same genome you and I have. If you are near the ocean, Salt is always available, it is left behind when water evaporates in tide pools. It can always be collected. However, if your diet includes salt water fish and filter feeders, they have plenty of salt in them already. If you just DRINK salt water and your body is low in salt, its going to flow across the membrane of your small intestine by osmosis.

              Massive numbers of rotting corpses may be a fate for some of the Big Shities in a fast enough crash, but you know even the Plague years survivors managed to burn and bury the dead. In low population zones, dead bodies will get picked clean by scavengers and decomposers.

              The fact many minerals have already been close to “mined out” isn’t a real big problem since it is all still here, its just sitting in landfills. A vastly reduced population will have all the minerals it needs for a long time to come just by scavenging the flotsam and jetsam of the Age of Oil.

              About the only way to squash out Homo Sapiens COMPLETELY is either by thorughly poisoning the atmosphere or by sufficiently changing Ocean pH to bust the food chain down at the phytoplankton level. Then the atmosphere would rapidly become depleted of free Oxygen, and about all life forms above the level of the Tardigrades would be extinguished.

              I do not discount the possibility of either of these things, but the mere disappearance of the Oil Resource OR of Salt Mines or Phophate mines is not a sufficient condition for species extinction. Neither were accessed prior to the Age of Agriculture. Homo Sapiens is just another Great Ape, and assuming the rest of the food chain below Homo sapiens doesn;t disappear completely, some of these Predators will survive. The species won’t recover very fast, the rest of the ecosystem has to recover before that can happen, and that could take millenia. For a real ELE to occur, we need more than just the disappearance of the Oil Resource.


          • “Sailing ships for a while. Weeks to get from Asia to the US. Then the weather satellites fail and some of those ships don’t reach destination.”-Owen

            I missed this one in the first read.

            You need SATELLITES for Navigation? I don’t think so. If you did, North America would never have been colonized by Europeans, Hawaii would never have been colonized by Polynesians and World War II with all the Battleships and Aircraft carriers could not have been fought either. Satellites are a VERY recent invention upon which Global Navigation of the High Seas depends not a whit really.

            I will grant though that intercontinental travel via Sail will not be very safe to engage in for quite some time to come. People will expect all arriving Saiolboats to be full of Pirates or Raiders and just rowing into shore in your Longboats would likely result in your being killed on the spot by whatever Locals still occupy the location.


            • Two quick comments.

              1) Salt is not about mineral diet requirements. It’s about food preservation. An enclave of 10 people will waste about half a deer. They won’t be able to eat it in the 48 hrs it takes to start rotting. They won’t in general be able to put food away for tough times. Salt does that. Yeah, the body needs it, but that’s not the source of my salt focus.

              2) Satellites keep ships away from hurricanes. Not a navigation thing.

            • Salt is not the only means of preserving meat. You already postulated using a micro-hydro electric system, so you could can the meat or use an electric drying rack. Also in winter, this whole area is one big freezer anyhow. You can build ice houses that will last through the summer.

              Also, most of your animal protein comes in the form of fish which you can consume all of immediately. You can also trap smaller animals rather than taking large ones like Moose.

              Anyhow, if you are just worried about the first year of Zombie Hordes, you can live off your stock of freeze dried foods, you don’t need to hunt at all that year. After that, you get out the Smoker.

              Far as hurricane avoidance goes, you just have to take your chances on that as the mariners of old did. Not going to be much commerce going onthat way anyhow. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that.


    • Thanks! Sorry abut the spam filter problem. It is not really length that hangs it up–it is slightly off-color language that tends to hang it up.

      I was traveling and speaking the last few days (at the University of New Mexico), with limited Internet access, so I didn’t have much time for responding to comments and finding lost comments.

  6. I’ll respond here to a few comments made above on the Land Ownership question.

    Land “ownership” is basically an outcome of Agriculture which has been codified into common law, and the monetary system is an outgrowth of that which provides a distribution mechanism for the produce of an Ag based society.

    When the monetary system fails and then Da Goobermint collapses, nobody really Owns any land anymore, not until you can establish some new form of Goobermint that proteccts Property ownership rights of individuals.

    Into such a vaccuum many other systems can step in, and you can be sure one will since nature abhors a vaccuum. If it descends to Mad Max, local Warlords are likely to take control over farms to support the gangs/militias they need to keep control of an area. On larger scales, Fascist or Communist solutions are likely. In any event, no Farm in even the most remote location can protect its own land without some sort of cooperative protection scheme being put into place, which essentially is the process of forming a local Goobermint.

    Whatever the solution is in a given area, its unlikely to occur overnight except under some very extreme circumstances. The FSofA Goobermint and its associated Military while it may go completely BROKE still has sufficient integrity where the whole food production and distribution scheme could be put under Military control, and that could last for quite some time. If/when the Military loses its access to Oil and its products, then the Military itself will fracture, probably then producing many Local Warlords out of former Military Base commanders.

    One thing is for sure, no individuals even the most prepped with Guns and Ammo can stand up to an assault from the local Military, so for as long as the Ammo holds out, the Military will run the show. When they run outta Bullets, then you really see some reorganization taking place. Run outta bulets they will, since Rogue Commanders will all be fighting each other in the Civil Wars such an outcome necessitates. However, I don’t see lack of Ammo here in the FSofA for at least another decade.


  7. I like the debate between Owen and Reverse Engineering. I am more in agreement with Owen.

    Let me offer you some inside about winter. I live in Canada around Montreal island. I am about 44 year old. I always done of lot of biking especially during summer. Two year ago I decided to start biking in the winter as a cardio sport. I was in for a surprise. The biking itself is fine. It is the way the body react to cold. First off, I was always having ears pain after riding on hour at -5 degree Celsius. Because I could not find a hat that work for me I decided to make my own. So I bought a sewing machine and started to make hat. I took my 15 model to make it right. My final model has two cord with one under my chin and one around my neck so cold air does not comes in. But this was still not good enough. So eventually I came up with a three layer system. A small polar fleece hat, ear mug on top and finally the soft shell hat that I made on top. This seems to work fine but it is bit warm. Then there is the problem of body sweat released during biking. Because the road are not equally plowed you are constantly making effort and thus sweating. After an hour your clothes are wet. Even if the dry fast they are still wet. I don’t mind because I go back into my house. But imagine if you are alone in the wood hypothermia could become a problem rather rapidly. Just try winter camping and having no spare cloves because you feel down hands first in a water stream.

    So to make my story short, I plan seems to work fine until you try it. I don’t talk about the fact the cotton fabric just does not work well in winter. You need polyester or nylon fabrics such as fleece (another petroleum product) in winter climate.

    My plan has change, I will probably try to be nomadic instead of staying in place. I will try to trade some skill for what I need. But I don’t really believed in this plan either, but I could not come up with anything better. So I tend to agreed with Owen on his Mad Max scenario. An plan looks good until you tried it.

    • The saying is, “The devil is in the details.” Some of these ideas look good, until you try them. If you fall and get hurt, and are already wet, your chance of hypothermia before you can get to a warm place would seem to be awfully high. Looking back at what our ancestors did doesn’t seem like that bad an idea–they had a chance to test the ideas in practice.

    • Dmitri Orlov recently wrote a piece about Bicycling in the Winter in Boston, you might want to check it out.

      In any event, bicycles aren’t a permanent solution anywhere. Where do you get the rubber for the tires? Anyhow, once there is snow on the ground, skis and sleds are better than wheeled wheeled transport. You don’t do all the pulling yourself, that is what you use Dogs for.

      Gail observed that historically speaking most of the population lived in warm climates. Reason for that is that the cold climates can’t support large populations, only small ones. Up here in Alaska, the native population prior to European invasion is estmated to have maxed out at around 50,000. However, we have better technology for boat building and fishing even in the absence of Oil, so I suspect Alaska could support 100,000 people. That would represent around an 80% Die Off or out-migration, which is a whole lot better odds than the 99% Die Off you’re likely to see in the more densely populated southern climates, and far better than the 99.99999% Die Off likely in the Big Shities.

      It is also a canard that you need high tech fabrics to survive in such an environment, animal skins and furs provide what you need. However, the polymer fabrics we do have are long lasting in the extreme and can be recycled and handed down I suspect at least two generations with repair. Personally, I keep two full sets of winter gear I never wear at all. Its all brand spanking new, and when I go to the Great Beyond I’ll hand it off to some younger friends, along with my used set which is in fine shape. Besides this, just taking one Bear or so every couple of years provides a full set of winter clothing which doesn’t even require that much tailoring if skinned carefully. Add some caribou skins and trap some furry creatures and you are good to go to 50 Below. I have a beautiful pair of Red Fox Fur Mittens I got in barter from a neighbor. They are Musher’s Mittens and go all the way up your forearm, so I never wear them. Too warm. If I was outdoors all the time though, then they would be useful.

      In short, the total population of Homo Sapiens in any given neighborhood has to back off to just what it can support, but it doesn’t have to back off to Owen predicts. It may do that, but it is not carved in stone.


        • Mainly Gail, you just have to learn the parmeters involved with living in a very cold climate. Most people do not like it, and this is a GOOD thing for people who do. Alaska doesn’t have very many people living here to this day for the simple reason it is so COLD and uncomofrtable inthe Winter. Same can be said for Siberia.

          You don;t want to migrate to places everyone else is migrating to, you want to go OPPOSITE the flow of traffic. Few people want to go to cold climates, no matter WHAT the rewards are. It has been over the last 30 years hard to attract people to Alaska even though salaries on the Slope are far higher than they are in the lower 48. These folks simply cannot take the cold and the isolation.

          When the Slope closes for Bizness, most of the current population of Alaska will leave of their own free will, it will not take Die Off to depopulate Alaska. Only those who embrace the Cold and Love it wil stay here. Like the Inuit who lived here before, those few people will have much to pick from, as long as they are tough enough to survive the environment. It is a far better paradigm than what you will get in the warmer climates where many wil seek refuge. For that refuge, they will sacrifice their FREEDOM. Here on the Last Great Frontier, those who can survive the environment will have their Freedom, restricted mainly by Nature, not the whim of other men. For me, it is a far better place to finish off my life than in a warm climate. Here in Alsaka, a small measure of FREEDOM still exists. It is gone completely fromt he Lower 48 now, and it will not be retrieved in our lifetimes. It wil only get much much worse down there.


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