Age of Limits Conference

Over Memorial Day weekend (May 25-28), I will be speaking at the Age of Limits Conference in southern Pennsylvania, not too far from Baltimore. The other speakers will be John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Whipple. The web site for the conference is

Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today's graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in "Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil"

The flyer for the conference has a heading of “Limits to Growth on a Finite Earth.”  The description is as follows:

For 50 years serious thinkers have questioned the assumptions of our global industrial culture and its prospects over the longer term. In recent decades they have succeeded in bringing at least some of the core science into popular discussion, notably petroleum depletion and especially climate change. Through these years proposals have been made outlining the governmental policies that would be necessary to begin “solving” these problems. Sadly, we can now see through the course of events, or rather non-events, that the window of opportunity is closing, if not already closed. We are now confronted not by a problem, but by a predicament; one which has no solution, but only adaptations and mitigations.

Tentatively, my talks will be on the following topics:

  • Resource Depletion in General and Fossil Fuels in Particular
  • Rentier Debt and the Collapse of Debt Based Finance
  • Understanding the Limits of Renewable Energy Systems

Many of you are probably familiar with the other speakers, and the kinds of things they are likely to talk about. The plan is to include plenty of time for discussion. There may be sessions where all of us are involved.

Furthermore, according to the flier:

This is not intended to be a conference in the usual sense of presentations to a passive audience. We will instead foster “Weekend Community” through the creation of physical spaces that encourage attendees meeting and exchanging with each other and with our presenters… in a very natural and beautiful setting. In addition to two full days of presentations and workshops, there will be low-key Appalachian string music in our community spaces featuring a finger foods social meet and greet Friday evening, a stage performance Saturday evening and an old style barn dance Sunday evening. And we will be offering community meal plans through our “Starvin’ Artist Kitchen.” It is not all Doom and Gloom!

Pavilion where presentations are to be given, while it was under construction.

The conference is sponsored by Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary, a religious and sustainability organization. Talks will be in one of the buildings on their 100+ acre property. The fee for the conference is $75  or $85 depending on the registration date. This fee does not include meals (available through a separate meal plan) or camping on the site ($15 for the weekend, plus $15 if you want a fire ring and firewood). There are also motels and Bed and Breakfasts nearby where a person can find accommodations.

I have not been involved with this type of arrangement before. I am sure it will be an interesting learning experience for all!

This entry was posted in Administrative Issues, Planning for the Future and tagged , by Gail Tverberg. Bookmark the permalink.

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 financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.

31 thoughts on “Age of Limits Conference

  1. Sounds like a nice Retreat/Conference. A bit far away though. I may try and make it nonetheless.

    Anyhow, an important consideration on the Limits end is the ongoing Climate disturbances. You might be interested in a different spin on the underlying causes of Climate Change. It may be Geo-Tectonic in nature and not driven by Atmospheric changes in gas content.


    • I am afraid I am not much of an expert on climate change. Too complicated and I don’t have the background. Did you see this article recently:

      New Comparison of Ocean Temperatures Reveals Rise Over the Last Century

      The article seems to say that ocean temperatures rose as much between 100 and 50 years ago as they did between 50 years ago and now. That would suggest to me that something other than burning more fossil fuels is behind the rising temperatures.

      The rise in earthquakes is very mysterious too. I have seen reports at an actuarial conference on this issue. The data showed way too many big earthquakes in the last 10 years. It seems like their data went back 100 years.

      • The NOAA data set goes back to 1955.

        I haven’t been able to locate a data set earlier than that, though there is probably stuff out there. In any event, just looking back to 1955 if you extrapolate back its probably been a steady rise for as long as we have been taking measurements.

        The really striking graphs though are for the increasing release of geothermal energy over the last 20 years reveled in dlindquist’s graphs. Whatever is going on, it has been picking up speed and energy.

        It appears unlikely based on this data that increasing ocean heat content and increasingly violent weather is anthropogenic in nature. By itself the earth is heating up enough to melt clathrates and release CH4 into the atmosphere. Limiting carbon emissions is a waste of time with this scenario. Of course we will be limiting them anyhow since the energy is unaffordable, but it won’t stop global climate change. That will proceed ahead regardless.


        • Actuaries are of course interested in all of this, because they need to set rates for earthquake and hurricane insurance, and they need to convince regulators that their methodology is correct. The usual approach (unless an actuary can convince a regulator otherwise) is to take the last “n” years of experience, and divide by the last “n” years of exposure. For catastrophes exposure, n = 20 would be typical, from what I remember. It is pretty easy to see how this wouldn’t work for earthquake coverage. We certainly need some kind of good theory to explain what is happening.

          • In the case of earthquakes where you have a solid data set going back 20 years showing steadily increasing risk, taking a straight average over the 20 years is crazy. You’re going to have a much more accurate picture of the risk if you simply extrapolate the curve. The numbers and tables are all there for any actuary to use, and from very reputable sources too, the NOAA and the USGS.

            There are similar though not as complete graphs showing steadily increasing Flooding events both in frequency and severity, as well as for tornado strikes. The atmosphere is simply growing more volatile and laden with water vapor because the system as a whole is releasing more energy. WHY it is doing that is a matter of speculation, but its not the burning of fossil fuels that is doing it, I’d bet the farm on that one.


            • Insurance regulators are state officials, acting at the behest of elected officials. Their role often is to try to keep rates down, especially if a coverage is a political issue (hurricane coverage in Florida, for example). So what makes sense, and what regulators are willing to accept, often diverge. I am not too close to the issue, but I would expect earthquake coverage on homeowners to be another sensitive issue. Commercial earthquake insurance would be less susceptible to the problem of over-regulation. There, the problem would tend to be unknowledgeable competitors, who don’t understand the situation well enough and simply take a long term average.

          • Goes a long way toward explaining why Insurance Companies need Bailouts so often. Not even TRYING to evaluate the risk correctly is bound to get you into trouble.


            • I know that there is a company called Allstate Florida, and several other companies have comparable carriers. The parent companies figure that if the claims experience gets too bad, they will just walk away and let the companies go under. I suppose some company will get the idea to make an “earthquake only” company. Flood insurance is in the silly state that it is, because the Federal Government runs it, in an unbusinesslike way. At one time, you could go to your insurance agent and buy coverage on your home/business, while the river was cresting upstream and predicted to hit your city as well. Now, I think the program is a bit better, but I don’t know how much better.

  2. “Walking should be our primary means of transportation”

    Just wondering how you are going to get there ?

    You know Al Gore takes a lot of heat about these kind of things. Have a fun trip and let us know what you learn so we don’t have to spend the energy (and money).

    Thanks for all your wonderful posts

    • As I say, the things I am suggesting are pretty much impossible. The oil that is extracted will be burned by someone–I guess it will be me. I will be flying from Atlanta to Baltimore, and then renting a car. I will be staying in a room at their facility–I expect those accommodations will be fairly simple.

      • Get a window seat, so that you can look down and think about the adventure you could have had on the apppalachian trail 200 years ago. And maybe 200 years from now, our ancestors will be looking up in the sky as they are walking the I85 trail thinking about the good old days.

        • You might be right. For those who aren’t familiar with the area, I85 is the interstate that heads from near where I live toward the conference; the Appalachian Trail is a hiking trail from Maine to Georgia that has a similar route in its southern portion.

    • Dmitri will ride his bicycle down and The Druid will fly in on a Witches Broom. If Gail starts hiking now, she just about might make it there by May.


  3. Cross posted to
    Interesting graph. It clears the sinuses and focuses the mind.
    Obviously the black line does not apply to me or thee.

  4. Hi Gail
    As you may be aware TPTB have a huge presence online and it seems your first commentator is either misled or one of them.;¬)

    An interesting perhaps seminal lecture given by a concerned female research prof. to a conference of US weatherpersons.

    More on the same lines all worth watching the main interview starts at ~23m featuring an interview with a scientist that has been to Greenland recently and returns shortly.
    Recent Arctic discussion gets very interesting from 25 minutes.
    One comment that should prick up your ears as an actuary is ~”the effective doubling rate of ice melt now in Greenland is 5-6 years”

    Have a good conference.
    Not seen your ASPO USA video appear online yet, any news?

    • Regardless of what is happening, there are a lot of questions: Is there anything that we reasonably can do about it? Is it too late? Have we been kidding ourselves that climate really is stable for the long term? Maybe there is a good reason that for most of humans’ existence, humans have been hunter-gatherers. If you are a hunter-gatherer, and the rainfall or temperature in an area isn’t to your liking, you just go somewhere else. Rising ocean levels are not a “big deal” either.

      • I expect you do know that TPTB are becoming outrageously brazen in their MOPE.
        As regards the hapless or duplicitous drone commentator above:
        The favourite ploy when faced with dramatic new evidence, is to deploy a different data set or failing that take means back as far as they can.
        Given the exponetial world we find ourself in and our inadequately comprehending brains this is an easy gig for the agents of doom.
        Take your good self you seem to be swayed towards the earthquake uptick may be caused by natural variations, could it also be caused by the exponential reduction in weight on bed rock caused by the ice melt.
        The reason it is not considered is the timeframe we don’t have the data and probably never will to establish a base level unlike climate where we have an ice record.
        TPTB use any such happenstance to rhetorically stir up a general feeling of doubt about scientific concensus. old fashioned MOPE.

        • and also :¬)
          as you may have noticed Dr Francis commentating the colour scheme used in satellite data was changed recently along with the way some of the data is presented.
          A classic trick used by TPTB agents of MOPE, you can now not so easy to believe your eyes by comparing progression series, the best pattern recognition software.
          This change was made for no good reason so is a breach of scientific method…

  5. It’s the rate of change that is critical regardless of where its coming from that makes it statistically significant.
    Although I have to say I am surprised to be having this conversation with you, in the UK the sceptical opinion really does not exist amongst people with your level of education.
    We could do something about it but we won’t simply it is too late for the decision makers if we hit 10C globally after they are gone.
    Yes and no on the gypsy hypothesis:
    Perhaps we just escaped from our ecological niche like some exotic garden plant on to the coastal fringe then around the world exploiting nutrient rich environments as we worked out how to unlock energy.

    I have always liked geometry and statistics you can check the answer by secondary measurement and make hypothesis based on no more than the shape of a curve…
    TPTB would have you believe the precious metals market is at its top, that may well be but given the rapidly increasing angle of the curve over time probabilities are to the up side.

    IMO you can apply the same analysis to the positive feedback processes being seen in the Arctic i.e. they will keep accelerating until they reach the limits of the system.
    As Prof. Bartlett says, ~ “humans don’t understand the exponential function”

    • There is a big difference between believing:

      1. Man’s actions have contributed to global warming.
      2. People in country X (or a group of countries) can fix the situation by limiting their own CO2 emissions.

      You may have read my earlier posts showing that world CO2 emissions got worse, rather than better, after the Kyoto protocol.

      Is it possible to decouple GDP growth from energy growth?

      Thoughts on why energy use and CO2 emissions are rising as fast as GDP

      Limiting emissions in some countries (or trying to) did nothing for the world situation, and may have made it worse. The fact that countries were trying to limit production of CO2 was yet another force encouraging outsourcing of heavy industry to the Far East. When the Far East was able to increase heavy industry, they greatly ramped up their coal production, and used it for internal projects as well as their increased exports. The result was much more CO2 worldwide.

      European countries have a horrible problem with declining local oil and gas production, and not a whole lot of coal left. Because of this, Europe needs to convince people to reduce their fossil fuel use. Emphasizing the climate change issue is a good way of doing this–even if present approaches do absolutely zero for world CO2 emissions.

      From everything I can see, there is much too close a tie between fossil fuel use and standard of living to realistically be able to get the world to limit emissions by a big enough amount to do anything, no matter how laudable the idea is. This is closely related to the Maximum Power Principle.

      • Yes, Kyoto was a waste of time I did remark at the time to a friend that although I detested the pea brained Bush Jr he was correct to refuse Kyoto if for all the wrong reasons.
        IMO at the time China would just increase coal emissions.
        All it would do is simultaneous export jobs to other non signatories more rapidly, while actually increase use of lower grade more polluting or environmentally degrading fuels.

        Europe does at least recognise the problem the US is in denial.
        Long term taxation policy has done much of the work in reducing demand and spurring efficiency.
        As to emphasising climate change the reality some politicians here actually do try to do the right thing I suspect.
        Politics is about getting people to do things it is easier to tell people they are being virtuous rather than thrifty.
        Guess which society I would rather live in ;¬)

        I noticed with interest a recent post where you seem to be suggesting gas is a viable option and so the crunch can be kicked down the road for the US and lets let those Europeans go hang ;¬)
        Your concern seemed to be on the best management of exploitation, IMO it doesn’t work on an EROEI basis, presently funny money in the form of the US dollar is underwriting the whole process.
        IMO the rest of the world will not carry the US for much longer, the real EROEI will kick in once fiat currency fails and there will be no gas fraking of shales to manage.

        The thermodynamic laws do not need a 4th addition IMO.
        I have some distant molecular biology background my appreciation is that increasingly observations of a pure science nature are finding even very simple molecules are capable of self replication IMO just by chance e.g. the mad cow agent (the last time checked awhile ago now) seems to act as a simple template with no mechanism other than the forces created by the electron distributions between atoms and the right environment.
        So the extrapolating this to the bag of assembled copies of various bits and pieces that evolution has formed into us is covered by the first law.
        IMO the second and third laws are just abstractions if you think of the universe as a singularity.
        That might seem to be a contradiction but not if you dwell on it.

        So my opinion on why we are doomed is mankind’s failure to evolve quickly enough to cope with the exponential function we have let loose via resource depletion.
        By logical deduction the solution would be ‘genuine enlightenment’ how would that work for a bag of evolved energy resources exploitation algorithms:¬)

  6. I like oil. Especially how angry it makes the left wing know-it-alls who ultimately know nothing…about anything. Period.

    • On the other hand, you have the right who don’t understand that resources are FINITE in this WORLD and that oil in the ground is money in the bank. Wasting OUR childrens energy future is a moral crime.

      • In my view, oil in the ground depends on having a lot infrastructure (pipelines, refineries, devices using refined oil) and trained individuals plus many more things behind the scene, like international trade and a banking system that works. If we leave the oil in the ground, in my view it is likely permanently in the ground. Society will not be sufficiently “together” to extract it later. Good from a global warming point of view; not so good for those thinking we will have it later.

        • Well Gail on this subject I have a different view than yourself. I see the world at or near peak oil with most of the infrastructure already in place. The only major additional need for new pipelines is going to come from major new land oil reserves (Keystone) and that hasn’t been the trend for over 50 years. If they find additional reserves in the next hundred years, they will figure out how to get it to market. I also don’t see a need for new refineries. The current refineries with some updating should be able to process future oil production. The bigger question is there going to be enough oil to pass through the current pipelines and refineries. This situation is more like driving around in your car with a half tank of gas and knowing you can’t fill it back up. Once it’s gone, the car is not going to have any transportation value. Don’t be surprised to see in 20 or 30 years from now a lot of perfectly good cars sitting around useless. I don’t see much need for international trade or banking systems to support the oil industry when there will be more demand for oil than supply. The big oil companies will become the banks and trade it themselves. At some point there will be little to no oil left in the ground no matter what speed we pump it. A lot like your car with an empty tank. Yes there could be a little bit left in the tank, but you can’t keep it running long enough to get the car to move.
          Another example of how oil in the ground is like money in the bank. Forty years ago, the Saudi’s were selling their oil for a few dollars a barrel and a pocket calculator costs $50. You can’t tell me that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t love to have that oil they pumped 40 years ago back in the ground today to sell. It’s a lot more valuable today compared to most other items in the past.
          If Society falls apart because of the end of oil, it will happen sooner because we depleted it quickly. This will mean less time to prepare for no or little oil and a harder landing when we do run dry. I also think today because most see our infrastructure as been mostly built out, this is a bigger problem for our economy than the high price of oil. Banks, government and corporations can’t find enough profitable projects out there to keep the work force fully employed. China doesn’t view it’s infrastructure as being close to complete. That’s the reason today a near zero interest rate isn’t very effective to stimulate.

          • The infrastructure may be in place, but we still have to keep it working–making replacements using parts that are now often imported from overseas (or are made with raw materials from overseas).

            And as you point out, minimum operating levels are important. Pipelines can’t be run close to empty, and refineries have to operate at a reasonable level, to keep their staff. University programs for petroleum engineers need some minimum number of attendees to make the finances work.

            Refineries and oil companies need to pay their employees, and buyers need to buy the oil. That is the reason for the need for the banking system and the international trade system. A country (which may be very small compared to today’s country) can define its own currency, but it can’t guarantee that anyone else will accept it.

            I agree that not being able to find enough profitable projects is very much part of the problem. If the price is too high relative to what buyers can pay (and the cost of extraction very high relative to the “worth” of the oil), it is going to be hard to find profitable projects.

    • Only a ‘merican fool could use a word where a full stop would do and actually say less than nothing.
      Right wing or left wing all that makes you virtuous in either regime is being a party member and member is a word that aptly describes you.

      • Yeah, are you French or French Canadian? Both are doing very well and have no problems, culturally or economically, right? If you actually believe that you have your head in SAND.

  7. My wife and I registered for the conference a few weeks ago. Just got the 4QS calendar/magazine in the mail today. Looking forward to the conference and to hearing you explain your take on some of these ideas.

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