The Connection of Depressed Wages to High Oil Prices and Limits to Growth

In my view, wages are the backbone an economy. If workers have difficulty finding a job, or have difficulty earning sufficient wages, the lack of wages will be a problem, not just for the workers, but for governments and businesses. Governments will have a hard time collecting enough taxes, and businesses will have a hard time finding enough customers. There can be business-to-business transactions, but ultimately somewhere “downstream,” businesses need wage-earning customers who can afford to pay for goods and services. Even if a business produces a resource that is in very high demand, such as oil, it still needs wage-earning customers either to buy the resource directly (for example, as gasoline), or to buy the resource indirectly (for example, as food which uses oil in production and transport).

It is not just any wages that are important. It is the wages paid by private companies (rather than governments) that are important, as the backbone to the economy. Governments tend to get their revenues from private citizens and from businesses, both of which are dependent on wages of private citizens. There are a few pieces outside of this loop, such as taxes on imports from foreign countries. With the advent of free international trade, this source is disappearing. Another piece outside the US wage-loop is taxes on resource extraction, if these resources are exported.

Instead of using the analogy of a backbone, perhaps I should say that wages are the base that ultimately determines the quantity of goods and services an economy can afford.

Figure 1. Author's view of structure of the economy. Non-governmental wages form the base of the entire economy.

Figure 1. Author’s view of structure of the economy. Non-governmental wages form the base of the entire economy.

Obviously there are other kinds of income, such as “rents,” but these, too, ultimately come from wage earners. Furthermore, businesses cannot earn money to pay dividends unless some consumer, somewhere, can afford to buy the goods and services their business is selling.

I have written recently about how the proportion of Americans with jobs rose to a peak, and since has been declining.

Figure 2. US Number Employed / Population, where US Number Employed is Total Non_Farm Workers from Current Employment Statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Population is US Resident Population from the US Census.  2012 is partial year estimate.

Figure 2. US Number Employed / Population, where US Number Employed is Total Non_Farm Workers from Current Employment Statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Population is US Resident Population from the US Census. 2012 is partial year estimate.

I decided in this post to look at the dollars these workers are earning. In particular, I decided to look at wages, other than government wages, adjusted to today’s cost level using the “CPI- Urban,” cost index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I discovered that these wages are doing very poorly. I also discovered a disturbing connection between high oil prices and flattening or declining wages. Putting all of these pieces together suggests a connection to “Limits to Growth.”

Per Capita Non-Government Wages

If we take inflation-adjusted non-government wages, and divide by the total US population (not just employed workers), we get a measure of the extent to which wages have been growing or shrinking. Some of this growth will be from a second wage-earner in a family joining the workforce. Some of this growth will be from families in recent years having fewer children, so that adults make up a larger portion of the population. If some jobs move overseas and are not replaced, this will act to reduce wages.

 Figure 3. US per capita non-governmental wages, in 2012 dollars. Non-governmental wages and population from Bureau of Economic Analysis; Adjusted to 2012 cost level using CPI-Urban from Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Figure 3. US per capita non-governmental wages, in 2012 dollars. Non-governmental wages and population from Bureau of Economic Analysis; Adjusted to 2012 cost level using CPI-Urban from Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Comparing Figure 2 and Figure 3, we can see that they follow generally the same shape. A major portion of the increase in wages in Figure 3 is thus driven by a higher proportion of the population having jobs, at least up until the year 2000.

Figure 3 emphasizes how poorly wages have performed since the year 2000. Average wages on a Figure 3 basis hit a high point of $$19,112 in 2000. They then dropped back to $18,145 in 2003. In 2007, they briefly surpassed the year 2000 high point, hitting $19,573. More recently they dipped again and (with government deficit spending) have recovered a bit, rising to $18,053 in 2012. This is very low by historical standards; it is between the level they were in 1998 and 1999.

Looking at Figure 3, the other time when wages were flat was the period between 1973 and 1983. The thing that is striking is that both the current period and the previous “flat” period took place during periods of high oil prices (Figure 4, below). The vast majority of the rise in non-government per capita wages that has taken place has happened when the inflation-adjusted price of oil was less than $30 barrel.

Figure 4. Per capita non-government wages, as in Figure3, together with historical oil prices in 2012$, based on BP 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data, updated with 2012 IEA Brent oil price data.

Figure 4. Per capita non-government wages, as in Figure 3, together with historical oil prices in 2012$, based on BP 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data, updated with 2012 IEA Brent oil price data.

We have discussed previously why high oil prices can be expected to have an adverse impact on wages. There are multiple ways this can happen. For example, oil plays a very direct role in growing and transporting food and in making gasoline. Thus, the cost of food and of commuting increases. This causes people to cut back on discretionary expenditures, leading to layoffs in discretionary sectors. Lay-offs in discretionary sectors means fewer jobs.

Another thing that happens is a change in the competitive situation that indirectly leads to layoffs. Oil is used in transporting many types of goods, and is used in producing a wide variety of products, such as asphalt shingles and synthetic cloth. Wages don’t rise at the same time as oil prices rise. The result is a mismatch between what citizens can afford, and the cost to manufacture and transport products. Some customers are “priced out” of the market. Businesses find that they must scale back the size of their operations to produce only the amount customers can afford. For example, a delivery service will operate fewer vehicles, if demand is lower, laying off workers.

Also playing a role in reduced employment is increased competition from China, India, and other low wage countries. These countries typically use a lot of coal in their energy mix, so are less affected by high oil prices. As a result, their prices become more competitive as oil prices rise.

Changes in trade agreements can also be expected to play a role in the competitive situation. China started growing rapidly immediately after it joined the World Trade Organization in December, 2001. The big drop-off in US employment coincides very closely in time to the time China started growing quickly.

Figure 5. China's energy consumption by source, based on BP's Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 5. China’s energy consumption by source, based on BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Another factor in reduced wages is increased automation, in an attempt to compete with low-wage countries. An employer may replace several workers with a single worker, using a new high-tech machine. The worker with the new machine may earn more, but the others are left to find jobs elsewhere.

Going forward, increased retirement of “baby boomers” is likely to add further challenges. Retirees will need to be fed and cared for, mostly from taxes on current workers. In theory, the retirement of baby boomers should leave more jobs for unemployed young people, but this will depend on whether such jobs are really available.

One important point is that the impact of high oil prices on wages doesn’t “go away” to any significant extent over time. This is clear from Figure 4, and is a point I have made previously. Increased fuel efficiency helps a bit, as do adaptations like finding a job closer to where a person lives. But high oil prices continue to make goods that are made using oil less competitive on a world market. High oil prices also continue to make increased automation attractive, and continue to keep the cost of transport of high. Individuals find they need to permanently cut back on discretionary spending to balance their budgets.

Oil prices are likely to remain high, and in fact, rise in the future. When we started extracting oil, we began with the easy (and cheap) to extract oil first. Now, the inexpensive to extract oil is mostly gone; what is left is high-priced oil.  Over time, the price becomes even higher, as diminishing returns set in. The recent publicity about the possibility of more tight oil in the United States doesn’t change this dynamic. What the press releases don’t say is that this oil will only be available if it is sufficiently high-priced. A recent survey by Barclays indicates that North American oil and gas companies are anticipating less than a one per cent increase in “exploration and production” expenses in 2013; current North American oil and gas prices are not high enough to justify much increase in investment.

Per Capita Real GDP

In recent years, the economy as a whole has tended to fare better than wage earners. This happens partly because deficit spending is being used to provide income to the many unemployed people, and partly because businesses are able to “bounce back” from an earnings point of view better than wage-earners, because they can cut back the size of their operations to keep profits high. Sometimes they can even substitute low overseas labor costs, or automation.

If we compare per capita real (that is, inflation-adjusted) GDP with oil prices (both in 2012$), this is what we see:

Figure 6. Per capita real GDP (based on US Bureau of Economic Analysis data) compared to oil prices in 2012$, based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 6. Per capita real GDP (based on US Bureau of Economic Analysis data) compared to oil prices in 2012$, based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

There is some stalling in the rise of real GDP per capita, with high oil prices, but it is not nearly as pronounced as the stalling of wage growth. Nevertheless, Economist James Hamilton found that 10 out of the last 11 US recessions were associated with oil price spikes.

On a per capita basis, real GDP per capita in 2012 is between the 2005 and the 2006 level. This is far better than the situation with non-government wages. In Figure 4, we saw that in 2012, non-government wages were only between the 1998 to 1999 level. Ouch!

Hitting “Limits to Growth?” 

I wonder if the situation we are reaching now isn’t “Limits to Growth,” as described by the book by that name by Meadows et al. written in 1972.  The way we seem to be reaching Limits to Growth is through high oil prices, and the impacts these high oil prices have both on wages and on competitiveness with other countries. I explained some of these issues earlier in this post. There are also impacts on governments:

  • Low wages in total mean less tax revenue for governments;
  • Fewer employed means more government outlays for unemployment benefits;
  • Low wages lead to more problems with debt defaults, and more need for bank bailouts;
  • Governments can’t raise taxes fast enough or reduce benefits quickly enough, so they find themselves with rapidly rising deficits. If governments do raise taxes, workers are even worse off. If they reduce expenditures (less unemployment payments or allowing banks to fail), citizens are also unhappy.

Over the last several thousand years, many civilizations have grown up, reached limits of one sort or another, and eventually collapsed. Based on the work of  Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov in the book  Secular Cycles, there were financial issues not too different from the ones we are seeing now involved in these collapses. I showed in my post 2013: Beginning of Long-Term Recession? that there seem to be significant parallels to our current situation. These collapses often took 20 years or more, but the situation is still concerning.

While the situation we are looking at is unpleasant, if we understand the source of our problems, we can at least look at our situation a bit more rationally. We may not be able to find solutions, but we can at least eliminate some approaches as being unrealistic. We may be able to find partial solutions, such as making survival possible for a subset of humanity, if not everyone. If we don’t understand our predicament, there is no way we can rationally address it.

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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138 Responses to The Connection of Depressed Wages to High Oil Prices and Limits to Growth

  1. dashui says:

    My friend is an investigator for DHS. And I’m turning all your names in!
    Actually I asked him about ammo. He said that they only buy 1 type of ammo so they don’t get confused and have the wrong one in their gun.

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      I am not an expert in the matter, but all the comments that I have seen on the procurement of the ammunition for the DHS commented on the amount being procured. If the majority were used for training, then we can expect the DHS to send a pistol shooting team to the next Olympics.

  2. Don Stewart says:

    Here are some interesting results from a farming trial. 3 different systems were compared: a purely human powered system with modern hand tools; a walk-behind mini-tractor; and oxen. The productivity rates were as follows:

    Labor $ per hour: 22.94 30.79 25.38
    Land $ per hectare 56,497 53,503 28,445
    Energy EROEI 5.1 2.3 6.5

    As you can see, if energy is really cheap the mini-tractor may be the best choice, but it has a low EROEI and if energy costs go up it will become increasingly less acceptable. The oxen actually generate the highest labor productivity and the highest EROEI, but they do not generate as much productivity per hectare because the oxen require grazing land. (If the grazing land were unsuitable for crops, that could make a difference. In China early in the 20th century, F.H. King found that the Chinese grazed their water buffalo in graveyards.)

    We currently use about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of consumed food. If our goal is to use less than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food, then it seems unlikely that mini-tractors will be part of the equation. Instead, we will either do everything by hand or else we will use draft animals. Draft animals have the capability of slightly increasing human incomes. Draft animals will only make sense if the Fed stops printing money and lets the value of farmland fall.

    These numbers are from Rebuilding The Foodshed, page 34.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks! Part of the issue, too, is how much food can be produced in total. The current system likely wins in that regard. As you know, farming prevailed over hunter-gathering, because it could produce more food relative to a given acreage, not that it was particularly good in any other regard. The level of effort for humans was much higher and the quality of nutrition much worse.

      In the time since mankind discovered fire over 1 million years ago, humans have used more than one calorie of energy to produce their food and get it to the table in prepared form. It seems like it is possible that we may be setting too high a standard if we expect to spend less than one calorie of energy in growing one calorie of food. Draft animals are a way of increasing energy available to humans, and at least in some instances, increasing total food production.

      • Don Stewart says:

        There simply isn’t much evidence that fossil fuels increase production in the field. We have recently discussed the Iowa State trials, and today on Resilience.Org is a story from Australia about a system of combining perennials and annuals and never plowing. The total yields are the same in both the Iowa State trials and in Australia. But the reliance on fossil fuels is very much lower. I will note that the Iowa State trials were over a 10 year period and the Australian system has been in operation for 20 years. So these are not flash-in-the pans. If you look at the Australian results, also note the carbon sequestration results. If we ever get desperate enough to pay farmers to sequester carbon, farming might actually become profitable.

        The use of fossil fuels in the food business is actually mostly not on the farm. The biggest single factor in energy use is food preparation–at home and in fast food restaurants. Refrigeration is one of the huge energy hogs.

        To my simple minded way of thinking, we should at least be able to get a calorie out the farm gate by expending only one calorie of energy. That leaves many calories consumed by transportation, packaging, processing, storing, and preparation to be dealt with.

        The low EROEI of the small tractor solution leads me to think about what is really driving the decision making. Are we trying to maximize income to pay the note to the bank (the historical situation of small farmers)? Are we trying to maximize labor productivity (the historical way capitalism has looked at it)? Are we driven to use energy with the greatest efficiency (the way ecologists usually look at it)? I won’t even discuss such a ridiculous concept as ‘maximizing profit’ in terms of small farms–anybody who thought that way would be in some other business–such as robbing banks or running banks.

        Don Stewart

        • I agree that transporting, storing, and processing grains and other foods are huge energy users. Someone (maybe you) said that part of the need for slaves in ancient times was to grind grain, IIRC. These are huge issues–one of the reasons why hunting and gathering looked like a good choice for so long.

          I expect that there is a big difference between “little fossil fuels” and “no fossil fuels” in growing food. We really need fossil fuels in order to have enough metals for transport and for such basic items as fences. I know I was surprised to discover that the big drop in the need for farm workers came with the availability of coal, and the changes it made possible. It was possible to make better plows for horses to pull, for example.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail
            The question of how much, if any, fossil fuels we might have in 25 or 50 years, what our society will look like at that point, what will be the population, etc. is way to complicated for me to forecast with any credibility.

            If we are real optimists, I suppose we come out with one of Herman Daly’s Steady State Economies. If we are doomers, we come out with something like the implosion of a dynamited building–nothing but rubble left. If we have faith in rationalism, I suppose we visualize a military medical unit performing triage and saving the most essential functions.

            I tend toward the triage scenario myself. Not because I am confident that we will behave so rationally, but because it is one that I can do something about today–I can begin the triage process in my own life and in my social relationships.

            To get a picture of what triage might look like in food, I suggest you take a look at this chapter in David Kennedy’s book 21st Century Greens:

            Just read the first 4 or 5 pages and then scan down his list of cover crops. I think he will pretty quickly convince you that cover crops can do anything industrial agriculture can do–just better and more cheaply. Cover crops can also provide a significant portion of the dietary vegetables that our human health depends upon.

            Let’s suppose you have a backyard garden and you decide to begin the cover crop scenario David outlines on page 138 under Home Vegetable Garden. So you buy some seeds and get started. Now buying the seeds assumes that either you have bought seeds once and subsequently saved them or else someone is in the business of saving seeds and you buy some from them. It also assumes that seeds can be transported from the seller to you in the society which exists in the coming decades. Is it reasonable to assume that seeds will be available?

            The lecture this spring at the local Botanical Garden features the man who restored the Monticello garden to a very near replica of what was there when Thomas Jefferson lived in Monticello. Jefferson avidly collected seeds from all over the world. There were no fossil fuels. So if our wise ‘arbitrage councils’ have any sense at all, they will insure that we are able to trade seeds with each other. Perhaps the Post Office will be useful after all.

            Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers plowed with those iron plows you mention. Their reward was eroded soil and the depletion of fertility. There are surviving letters between guys like Washington and Hamilton bemoaning the loss of soils and fertility on the Eastern Seaboard. The only answer they really had was ‘going West’. Some Europeans tried to explain better practices, but Americans were a stubborn lot because we were blessed with ‘infinite space as a gift from God’.

            The knowledge encapsulated in 21st Century Greens would be high on my list of important things for the ‘Triage Council’ to consider worth saving.

            We also need a way to knock back (or kill) the cover crops to deposit organic matter and nutrients deep into the soil without tilling. Crimping is the current best solution. The Rodale Institute developed a roller which is pulled behind a tractor which is filled with water to make it heavy. The roller has crimping blades which knock back the cover crop and leave mulch on the soil. At the more humble garden level, one can buy metal crimpers that you just work with your foot and the weight of your body. Put together a well made boadfork, a crimper, several hoes designed by Eliot Coleman in Maine, perhaps an Austrian sickle, and a scythe and you have pretty much what you need in the way of equipment to garden successfully.

            But will you have any land on which to garden? That depends on how our society turns out. The new book Rebuilding The Foodshed spends several pages describing how local officials are frequently the biggest obstacle to making a garden and perhaps putting up some of that produce and selling it to raise the cash to buy more seeds. Let’s hope that, somehow, our Triage Council figures out a way to utterly destroy governments so that we can start over and design something sensible–while avoiding lawlessness and unrestrained violence. Then people can do what they need to do to survive in relative safety. Making sure that golf courses are destroyed and turned into gardens would be high on my list, as well as growing food in every yard.

            This has gone on for too long already. Getting into things like food preparation would take me a lot longer. I will only mention that Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City lays out the decade long results of an effort to mostly eat fresh food in Massachusetts. By cleverly selecting their mostly perennial plants, they have fresh fruit almost all year–with a 2 week gap in August that they have plans to fill. So they are approaching the hunter-gatherer ideal rather than the ‘huge pantry full of canned goods’ ideal.

            In short, if we can achieve a Triage scenario, and if some people begin to prepare themselves today, I think that those who do prepare may well have a life worth living.

            Don Stewart

  3. david john says:

    Thanks to Gail and all the commenters. It is apparent to me that we are edging closer to collapse. I think climate change is underestimated – all it takes to jeopardize our survival is for the grass not to grow for a year. Which is what happens during a drought.

    Peak oil is linked to wages and the economy, as you observed. What I don’t hear is any discussion about saving some oil for higher purposes, such as producing pharmaceuticals, eyeglasses, fertilizer, tires, etc. instead of simply burning it for the energy content. Very shortsighted, IMO.

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      David, you are absolutely right in identifying the need to protect the production of important, let alone vital, goods. Such protection is not going to come from self-serving politicians who have only got the next election in sight. “Climate change? To hell with that, let’s win the next election first.” (And then the next, and the next, and so on, seemingly ad infinitum. That has to be their attitude when one considers just how urgent the need for action is on that topic and is one of the many reasons why I have been trying to initiate a call for better governance. Watch the video of Prime Minister’s Questions in the U.K. House of Commons and the need for change becomes blindingly obvious. I think Stephen Sondheim must have got the idea for ‘Send in the Clowns’ from watching their vauderville act. The situation in America is nothing like as amusing, but much more serious, considering how much more important it is on the world stage.

    • I don’t see that there is any way of “saving oil for higher purposes”. Oil extraction is part of a huge system that includes pipelines, refineries, and education of engineers. I don’t see any way that the system can operate below a certain production level. In a world market, reducing our consumption doesn’t really reduce total consumption–it just reduces price a bit, and lets developing nations have more of the total oil that is produced.

      I think if we were going to save oil for certain purposes, we would have to refine it and store it in tanks, earmarked for that purpose. This procedure would limit severely how much we could do. There is also an issue of refined products not “keeping”. Hopefully that would not be a problem in this case.

      • I agree. I don’t see any way that we can operate below a certain production level of oil. Our cumulative, aggregate purchases is what makes oil so cheap for all of us. One person trying to get a barrel of oil would face an impossible situation. Even now the oil companies and nations are spending the equivalent of lunar explorations just to bring us our “run to the store and get milk” fuel.

        Essentially when the bubble bursts even Bill Gates will have to spend millions and millions of dollars to get fuel. The reason why is because the rest of us will be unable to buy or pay for any fuel. The rest of us will not be able to share the cost.

        The costs will become exponential.

  4. Bicycle Dave says:

    Hi Gail,

    If we don’t understand our predicament, there is no way we can rationally address it.

    Your point supports my belief that all the solutions to our predicament suggested by your followers (well-intentioned as they may be) are pretty much just academic exercises that have little current value – although they might prove useful at some far point in the future.

    I’ve found this problem solving model to be very useful:

    1. Define the problem in terms of symptoms and root causes. Symptom identification should be relatively non-controversial. In times of medieval plagues most people would agree that the volume and nature of the death rate was an undesirable symptom. Root causes are always much more difficult to understand. But, again in those plague times, eventually most people came to accept the sanitation issues as being a root cause.

    2. Set goals and objectives that are consistent with problem. The people in those medieval plague times could easily agree to cutting the death rate by something like 80% in a few years. Not many folks would disagree even if this was not explicitly published in the town square.

    3. Brainstorm solutions that are designed to meet the goals; experiment with the most likely solutions; fully implement the most successful ones. Killing rats and getting sewage out of the village worked well for the medieval folks – offering sacrifices was not very effective.

    4. Monitor the success of the solutions as measured against the goals; re-evaluate progress and iterate back through any previous steps as more information is discovered; rinse and repeat.

    You and I agree that the rate of natural resource consumption is a demonstrable symptom of our predicament – your excellent analysis is basically a documentation of this. We also agree that a fundamental driver of resource consumption is the current and projected number of humans on the planet and most other factors pale in comparison. And, it seems we agree that most people don’t understand these simple facts and therefore ” there is no way we can rationally address” our predicament. According to my model, we therefore can’t agree on the goals needed to address our predicament and all the proposed solutions lack real purpose.

    We disagree on what I consider to be a fundamental root cause: the cultural memes related to religion, politics, and economics. I think Richard Dawkins is completely correct that these cultural influences blind us to certain otherwise obvious realities of our existence. Clearly we have the brainpower and technology to deal with the population problem. If we can put a robot on Mars we can understand the Limits to Growth idea. Birth control technology is now pretty well established. The idea that a village can only have one child per hundred adults only sounds ridiculous if one doesn’t understand the problem or one simply does not care about future generations – and most people would “care” if they believed what we think is in store for today’s infants.

    So, until most people on the planet deeply believe in the concept of Limits To Growth, we aren’t going to set some goal like: 4B humans on the planet by 2100 (via humane means). Without such a goal there’s a very slim chance of any agreement on potentially effective solutions. And, I contend that understanding the mentally crippling effect of our cultural memes is a necessary part of understanding the root cause of our predicament. This understanding would lead to much different solutions than we normally talk about. I also admit that my musings are also just an academic exercise as there is almost no chance of humanity coming to grips with the adverse effects of our religious, economic and political belief systems.

    • Mel Tisdale says:

      Now who’s being academic, and with pretty basic academics at that? No mention of how we move from the current system of combative governance with limp oversight by the U.N. to one of mutual support, especially at a time when resource wars are highly likely. No realisation that our systems of selecting our leaders are clearly not putting people of sufficient calibre into office. No mention of the degree that developing nations will feel aggrieved by any attempt to deny them the standards to which developed nations have become accustomed and how we address that conumdrum. Take the U.K. All we get from our ‘leaders’ is “We are all in this together.” When it is obvious that whatever it is that the privileged leaders are in, it is not the same thing that the rest of the population is in and ‘togetherness’ is far from reality, or even possible, yet.

      If anything is going to work, I suspect that we need to put the planet on a collective war footing with poor Old Mother Nature, who is totally innocent. She is only doing what she has been telling us she would do if we didn’t listen. If we let that stance imbue the notion of ‘needs must when the devil drives’ it might circumvent the hindrance the current systems are bound to produce. Perhaps when the world stops listening to the nonsense put about by the denialati and realises that its children and grandchildren are likely to die a slow death from malnutrition, we might get some action. We will never defeat Old Mother Nature, but we might achieve a meaningful truce. Until that happens, the status quo is going to result in the rich getting richer with the poor getting poorer, and when one considers just how much money talks (or ‘swears’ as Bob Dylan has it), the less likely we are to get the change we need.

      But first of all we need proper governance by people capable of managing the change so obviously needed. Then will be the time for academic analysis of the options open to us, options which are becoming fewer and fewer as time passes.

    • I think instincts play a big role. Humans have instincts, just as animals. I expect you would have a very hard time telling cats or dogs or chickens to limit their population. The instinct of all animals is to make use of whatever energy sources are available, and expand their population. Humans have the same instinct; it expresses itself in different forms. Some of it is in religions of various types. Even if a small share of the world population understands the problem and rationally agrees that a solution is needed, it is hard to get the whole world to agree. This is why population limitation doesn’t work.

      • Bicycle Dave says:

        Hi Gail,

        This is why population limitation doesn’t work.

        If we agree that human population levels prevent an actual “solution” to our predicament, and that there is no humane/deliberate way to limit the growth, then the conclusion is pretty obvious. At least in our way of thinking, then it’s just a matter of when and how a collapse will occur – but not “if”. Some of us might engineer some coping/mitigating strategies but these will not avoid some very nasty consequences for future generations, the young people today, or even us old folks if the timeline is short enough.

        My main point is that suggesting possible “solutions” is ineffective if most people on the planet don’t understand the problem. I give you great credit (even if I like to argue with you) because the main thing you do is explain why we have a problem. I wish there were some great world leaders who could take your message forward – but, this is not likely to happen.

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