Oil Limits and Climate Change

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. If future energy consumption (which is mostly fossil fuel) drops because of a financial collapse brought on by high oil prices and other limits, then, at least in theory, climate change should be less of a problem.  One of the important variables in climate change models is the amount of  carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels that enters the atmosphere. In a recent post (Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem), I showed the following estimate of future energy consumption.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

I explained in that post that oil limits are different from what most people expect. Oil limits are price limits. Indirectly because of these price limits, fuel consumption of all sorts (not just oil) will decline in the near future. The problem will be greater job loss and an inability to afford products of many kinds, including those made with fossil fuels. Financial collapse, particularly of governments, and a long-term decline in population are also part of this scenario.

My estimate of CO2 generation by fossil fuels in the 21st century is only about one-quarter of the amount (range midpoint) assumed in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report. When differences in estimates of an important variable are this far apart, one starts reaching the “Garbage in, garbage out” problem. This is a persistent problem for all modelers. Even if the climate model is perfect apart from its estimate of future CO2 fossil fuel use, and even if anthropogenic issues are implicated as a cause of recent climate changes, the model with its incorrect estimate of future fossil fuel energy consumption can still be unhelpful for determining needed future actions.

A comparison of energy consumption estimates is shown in Figure 2. My estimate of energy consumption (similar to that in Figure 1) is shown as the Collapse scenario.

Figure 2. Comparison of Energy Consumption Estimates. Climate high and Climate low are based on Figure 1 of this Oil Drum post by DeSousa and Mearns. "Peak oil" is based on  a 2013 estimate by  Energy Watch Group.  Collapse is my estimate, associated with Figure 1 of this post. In all of the estimates, there is an implicit assumption that the fuel mix stays relatively constant.

Figure 2. Comparison of Energy Consumption Estimates. Climate high and Climate low are based on Figure 1 of this Oil Drum post by DeSousa and Mearns. “Peak oil” is based on a 2013 estimate by Energy Watch Group. Collapse is my estimate, associated with Figure 1 of this post. In all of the estimates, there is an implicit assumption that the fuel mix stays relatively constant.

Figure 2 Explanation

The Collapse Scenario in Figure 2 is my estimate of future energy consumption, using amounts similar to Figure 1 of this post. It is based on the assumption that financial limits are what brings down the system. As the system is brought down, our capability to provide many basic services, such as our ability to maintain roads and electric transmission lines, disappears. Thus, we become unable to maintain the complex systems needed to extract oil and gas and coal, and because of this, are unable to maintain current energy supplies. Even renewables will become a problem, because we need fossil fuels to create new renewable energy generation. We also need fossil fuels to maintain the lines used to transmit the electricity, and to provide back-up generation.

If the problem we are facing is financial collapse, biomass can be expected to behave differently than other renewable energy resources. If people are poorer, there will be great demand for wood for heating, and perhaps for creating metals and glass. In fact, there is evidence that Greece is turning to wood burning already. (Greece is an early example of a country approaching the financial problems we expect world wide.) Thus, under the Collapse Scenario, a likely problem is deforestation.

The Peak Oil Scenario shown in Figure 2 is based on a 2013 estimate by the Energy Watch Group. The assumption in estimates using “Peak Oil” ways of evaluating supplies is that geological constraints determine supply. The question of price doesn’t come into the analysis; instead curve fitting techniques are used. If oil supplies decline, the assumption is made that natural gas and coal extraction will to some extent rise to offset the oil decline.

Many who support the peak oil method of calculating expected availability of future fuel supplies are advocates of a ramp-up of wind and solar PV. One reason use of these resources is supported is because fossil fuels are seen to be limited, and renewables might act as “fossil fuel extenders”. I personally am concerned about adding intermittent renewables to the grid in large quantities. Doing so is likely to shorten the lifespan of the grid, if the intermittent renewables introduce greater cost and complexity.

I believe that peak oil estimates are overstated because they do not consider the economics of depleting fossil fuel supplies. Oil consumption by importers starts to decline if price is high–something that happens long before world oil supply actually starts to decline. James Hamilton has shown that 10 out of 11 US recessions since World War II were associated with oil price spikes. (Recession tends to lead to less consumption of many products, including oil.) At the same time, oil exporters need high prices, and have financial problems if price or production declines too much. If exporters do not get enough revenue from oil exports, some of them collapse. See my post How Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse.

The Climate High and Climate Low estimates are based on carbon amounts shown in Figure 1 of this 2008 Oil Drum post by De Sousa and Mearns. In converting these carbon estimates to energy consumption estimates, I implicitly assumed that the carbon intensity of energy use would remain unchanged–that is, improvements resulting from  more use of natural gas and renewables use would be offset by increases in coal consumption. This assumption is probably not what the IPCC would make. Their “Low Estimate” would probably assume greater use of renewables and natural gas than their High Estimate, so that the actual energy available in their Low Estimate would be closer to the energy available in their High Estimate than what my graph would suggest. The  2007 IPCC report does not give much detail, except to generally discuss their reasoning.

The IPCC’s basic assumptions seem to be:

1. Demand is the basic determiner of supply. In the view of the IPCC, there is lots of oil, gas, and coal in the ground (see Figure 4.2 of Working Group III Report). It is assumed that we can get these fuels out, essentially as fast as we want. No consideration is given of diminishing returns, and the resulting likely run-up in both needed investment funds and  price to the user. (See Our Investment Sinkhole Problem.)

2. Because the IPCC report misses the issue of diminishing returns and resulting higher price, it assumes that demand can keep on ramping up pretty much indefinitely. In the real word, demand is what customers can afford to buy. This is already declining for the US, Europe and Japan, with the high oil prices experienced in recent years.

Figure 3. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 3. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

Overview of IPCC 2007 Report

As I see it, there are three important aspects  of the 2007 IPCC analysis:

1. The Climate Model. This is the part of the report that says, if CO2 is such and such, and other forcings are so much, the effect on the climate is this amount. I personally do not have expertise to evaluate this part of the report. I note, however, that at least some climate scientists seem to be back-pedalling on how much impact is expected from a given amount of carbon. A letter published in Nature Geoscience on May 19, 2013, titled Energy Budget Constraints on Climate Response indicates that the climate effects of a given set of forcings seems to be lower than the 2007 IPCC report suggested. This letter, together with explanatory information is available free for download, with registration.

2. The Estimates of Fossil Fuels going into the Model. It is this part of the model that seems to be seriously in error. The carbon added during the 21st century in the Collapse Scenario is only about 25% of what the IPCC estimates use (averaging the high and low) . De Sousa and Mearns calculate that their Peak Oil estimates would keep CO2 emissions below 450 parts per million. My Collapse Scenario estimates are considerably below De Sousa and Mearn’s Peak Oil estimates, so would in theory produce lower yet CO2 impacts.

3. What to Do About the Problem. I think this part of IPCC report has a serious problem as well. The report, as it is published, is not about How to Reduce CO2 Emissions. If this had been the goal, the report would likely have talked about reducing population, eating less meat, making manufactured goods that last longer, and standardizing goods, so that it is not necessary to buy new goods, just replacement parts. Instead, the IPCC 2007 report provides a wish list of ways we might keep Business as Usual (BAU) going, using techniques that might reduce fossil fuel use with little pain to the business community and consumers.

A big part of the problem with the analysis of what to do about the problem is that the researchers putting together the analysis do not understand the way the current system works. According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Unfortunately, there is something very similar when one tries to make energy substitutions. A researcher might assume that substitution of higher-priced renewable energy for lower-priced fossil fuel energy would reduce world carbon emissions, but this is true only if second and third order effects don’t undo the supposed benefit. Higher-priced fuels make a country less competitive in the world marketplace, and give an advantage to countries using coal for their generation. Adding a carbon tax has similar unplanned effects.

Figure 4. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

Figure 4. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

When JG Wentworth took a look at actual CO2 emissions, they find that they have risen remarkably since the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in 1997 (Figure 3, above). (See my posts, Twelve Reasons Why Globalization is a Huge Problem and Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work.)

One of the implicit assumptions in the IPCC report is that continued growth in a finite world makes sense, and can be expected to continue until 2100. In fact, we are reaching limits of many kinds.

Figure 5. Various types of limits we are now reaching

Figure 5. Various types of limits we are now reaching

In fact, modelers should be considering all of the limits simultaneously. Modeling any one limit on Figure 5 by itself will produce results that will suggest that that limit is a huge problem, that perhaps can be fixed. To a significant extent, there are workarounds for many of these problems, including more research on antibiotics, desalination of water, and intermittent renewables to substitute for some fossil fuels. The problem with each of these workarounds is that they all involve higher cost, and thus tend to create financial problems, especially for governments that try to fix the problems. Thus, the real issue is a likely near-term financial problem. This financial problem can be expected to lead to economic shrinkage which will by itself help mitigate several of the problems, including climate change.

Given the multiple limits we are reaching, I think we need to step back. Energy is truly needed to create products and services of all kinds. The IPCC is claiming that with a few tweaks, economic growth of the type we have grown to expect can continue until the year 2100.  This assertion is clearly false, with or without the tweaks they are advocating.

We need to be figuring out how to live with a world that is rapidly changing for the worse, in terms of energy availability. I am not sure climate change should be our Number 1 concern, because the CO2 part of the problem is likely to mostly take care of itself. Instead, we need to be looking at how we can make the best use possible of energy sources we have. We also need to be cutting back on the real source of demand–population growth.

Perhaps we need to be thinking about different options than we have been thinking about to date–for example, making supply chains shorter and bringing production closer to the end-user. We might want to make such a change in an attempt to sustain production for longer, whether or not this has an adverse CO2 effect, viewed from today’s peculiar perspective: Only manufacturing which results in local CO2 production seems to be viewed as “bad;” exporting coal to China, or importing goods manufactured using coal from China/ India is not viewed as a problem.  Having economists with a mindset of BAU forever and helping businesses get ahead, doesn’t necessarily produce the best results from the point of view of taking care of the existing population. Perhaps we should be looking at our current problems from a broader perspective than the IPCC report suggests.

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.
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159 Responses to Oil Limits and Climate Change

  1. Pingback: Assumed growth and apocalyptic thinking | Southern Energy and Resilience

  2. Scott says:

    Sorry for the typo, but meant to say “here” in Oregon.

  3. Bastien says:


    Among the various solutions to lessen the problem, there is one solution I’ve had in mind, and I wonder how people would react to its simple existence : to make suicide legal and provide support in doing so.

    Please don’t yell at once, okay ?

    Technically : stop discouraging people from suiciding without encouraging it either.
    People wishing to part from this world could go to places where they are allowed to end themselves cleanly, without making it a horrible mess and without pain (like a room with gradual carbon monoxyde), after filling in paperwork and having time to say goodbye to society.

    Morally, why, you may ask ?
    Because even nowadays, several people feel they don’t have a place anymore, but still live on because that’s what they’ve always done. They don’t provide value added to the society, like – frankly – none of us provides it either. They may be old people, who don’t want to pile additional days of fatigue and decay. They may be pennyless people fed up with struggling for nothing.
    They may be depressed people who can’t stand this idea of a collapsing world and want to stop witnessing it.

    Either way, to be frank, that will slightly reduce the overpopulation issues and lessen the burden on state expenses, while the living will be, in average, more dynamic and apathically despaired.

    What do you think about this idea, I’m curious ? Me, frankly, I’d vouch for it.
    Of course, that wouldn’t work in the democracies of today. But, how long do you think they’ll last ? I think the next 50 years will see other forms of government (possibly fascist-based, like in the 1930+ years in Italy) raise, that would maybe allow this as a crowd management solution.

    • Scott says:

      This is a difficult subject Bastien, In my state Oregon USA there is assisted suicide available to those diagnosed with less than six months to live and I think that is okay for those that are suffering and it a very personal decision, I would prefer to see a natural death though. But the only thing I can really say about it is I learned from having a dog that I loved too long and did not want to put him to sleep at the vet. I ended up doing it but wished I had done it sooner because the dog suffered too long and that bothered my wife and I very much.

      I think I agree with our law here after seeing the prolonged pain of my dog.

      • Bastien says:

        True, this is a difficult subject. The way I view it, this ought to concern, though, adults willing to cut decades from their statistically probable lifespan…
        Do you see what I mean ? I don’t have relieving someone of the inevitable, I see adults deliberately removing themselves from society, this is… how to say… a different focus…

    • Suicide is really a touchy issue.

      But the fact that we keep “rescuing” people from ailments, so that eventually their body is in such poor shape that it can’t support them is a huge problem as well.

      I think at some point, with less resources, one has to at least reach the point where people who are in poor health, and want to leave now, can.

      How widely this should be available is not clear. One soon reaches the closely related question–should parents who give birth to a child will severe medical problems be forced to raise the child? Should parents be able to choose this option for an infant who will likely require lifelong care?

      • Scott says:

        Hello Gail,Yes a very touchy issue, like I said yesterday her in Oregon if you have less than six months to live they give you the option with help if you want. I think personal freedom is needed here and should be valued.

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  5. ralfy says:

    According to the IEA, the problem of global warming will still persist even with peak oil:

  6. Son O. Bush says:

    However, the environment is paying a serious price for our unbridled consumption of fossil fuels and our climate is warming at a rate that may cause irreversible consequences. Oil spills, ecological damage, pollution and human health risks are just some of the negative impacts of oil exploration, development and use.


    • People don’t respond very well to real life messages that are in all-caps, even if they are true. The question becomes, “How does one explain the problem, in a way people can think about the issue?”

  8. Pingback: Als olie en gas opraken, daalt dan onze CO2-uitstoot? | Cassandraclub

  9. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    It was a good morning for me! First, I went to the library to get The Merchant of Prado (thanks to Xabier). Close to it on the shelf was Commercial Agreements and Social Dynamics in Medieval Genoa, by Van Doosselaere. Just flipping the book open, I find on page 86-7 the fact that occupational facts are available in Genoa from 1154 onward–much earlier than elsewhere in Europe. And this…

    ‘just the modern translation of “tanner” regroups six different occupations. However, the variety of occupations and the fine specialization of functions in certain industrial fields hide a fundamental medieval reality: most men, even artisans, would not easily fit into the modern rigid occupational classification because they were all capable of devoting themselves for extended periods to activities as diverse as agriculture, war making, and house building.’

    When we say that collapse will take us ‘back to the medieval’, we tend to use the words perjoratively. If we think of it as the necessity for all of us to gain a much broader palette of skills, then it takes on a different light. It becomes more like Bill McKibben bemoaning ‘The Age of Missing Information’ when describing our supposedly information rich society. It also begins to sound like Charles Hugh Smith’s prescription for how young people should think about their future.

    Second, I sat down with a nice cup of coffee and read a little in Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander. The gist of their argument is that all thinking occurs in analogies. On page 61, we find:

    ‘Our intense human drive to avoid ambiguity, to pinpoint the true and discard the false, to separate the wheat from the chaff, tends to make us seek and believe in very sharp answers to questions that have none.’

    Consider the question is ‘How can we get the debt fueled, fossil fuel powered Economy back on track?’. If you are reading this, you probably think ‘that question has no answer’. And probably many people in the OECD countries recognize, dimly, that it has no answer. And so most people will turn to slogans:
    We must adopt principles of Liberalism
    We must adopt principles of Conservatism
    We must adopt Free Trade
    We must get Local
    Religion will save us
    Religion blinds us to solutions
    And so a loud argument getting us mostly nowhere ensues. ‘If Only’ scenarios abound…with no idea how we are going to cause the ‘If Only’ to happen in the real world.

    I haven’t got to the part where Douglas and Emmanuel reveal the blinding and obvious Truth to all of us. When I get there, I will let you know.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks! I like the line, “Our intense human drive to avoid ambiguity, to pinpoint the true and discard the false, to separate the wheat from the chaff, tends to make us seek and believe in very sharp answers to questions that have none.’

      It is amazing the amount that people in times past needed to know. Even hunter-gatherers had to know a huge amount–where plants and animals of which kind were located, what time of year food items might be available, how to get to the desired location (without maps or roads), which foods were poisonous, which foods need to be cooked.

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  11. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    Here is a quotation from the new Green Party member of the British Columbia parliament. I pass it along with no comment…other than that some microbes are awfully smart, when we actually take the trouble to figure out all the things they do with no brain. Don Stewart

    “Of course we will need something that resembles a steady state economy because it’s a finite world!”
    I asked Dr. Weaver to consider the counter-argument: Gail Tverberg wrote recently that a global human population collapse is inevitable; that many animal populations throughout history have followed a pattern of exponential overpopulation and collapse.
    “I don’t want to end up on that collapse trajectory and I don’t think we have to do that,” he responded.
    Gail notes that human population numbers have correlated closely with energy use — just like economic growth. She argues that we’d have to go back to hunter-gatherer lifestyles to achieve a steady state economy.
    She could be right. But why might she be wrong?
    Dr. Weaver was quick with his response: “because we’re smarter than phytoplankton!” While phytoplankton or bacteria inevitably grow exponentially in a finite system, human beings are different for a very important reason. “We have brains! We can put men on the moon, we built the Internet! I’m sure we can keep from collapsing!”


    • Scott says:

      Last lump of coal: Dr. Weaver is very optimistic, Perhaps we can find enough fuel to burn with all that gas and coal still out there, but what about our environment and acidification of the oceans. Many countries in the world mostly eat fish, and the world is crawling with hungry fish eaters, also more and more are eating beef too – which uses lots or resources.

      We have done a pretty good job learning how to farm fish etc and it is not as good as the wild versions most always, but it will help. They are feeding corn meal and antibiotics to salmon in farms so they can survive in close the quarters of a fish farm.

      If the ocean continues to decline as it has we will not enough fish to eat in the world which in itself could lead to a collapse I believe. It seems food limits due to environmental reasons could be reached before we run out of our last lump of coal.

    • Thanks! It looks like some of the steady state folks found my article.

      We may be smarter than phytoplankton, but we haven’t learned how to control our population any better than theirs. So I am not as optimistic.

      • Scott says:

        Gail, I mentioned 50 Trillion dollars for the US as a max debt, but if you look at the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Social Security and other programs such as Obama Care, etc., I believe we are already in the 30 trillion dollar range or more….

  12. Pingback: OIL AND CLIMATE CHANGE: CORRELATION OR CAUSE? | Ultimate Fulfillment

  13. Don Stewart says:

    Charles Hugh Smith has an interesting chart today contributed by one of his readers. Oil is currently ‘cheap’ when priced in gold. Assume that gold and oil are two assets where hot money goes looking for a return when the Central Banks are depressing interest rates. Now suppose the supposed ‘recovery’ turns out to be mostly smoke and mirrors, and the hot money people begin to sense that to be the case. Then how high can the price of oil go, and what will be the effect on the already shaky economy? It’s a different way of thinking about Economic Collapse, I think….Don Stewart


    • Scott says:

      Hello Don, Here is an interesting article about Japan, it appears the US and Euro Zones are all on this same path to destroy the value of their currency. This is why I believe Gold and Silver will increase in value over time, these huge QE Programs and they are addicted to it now…

      • A person wonders how the debt situation in Japan could have gone on for as long as it has. It seems like something has to give sometime.

        • Scott says:

          Yes Gail, with the debt situation I am always surprised how long they can “Keep Juggling the Balls in the Air”. It will give way at some point. Japan has gone about three times more in debt than the USA and they still have their currency. Maybe we have a bit of time in the US as the reserve currency – can they push the national debt as far as Japan,,,,, say 50 trillion dollars?

      • Christopher Johnson says:

        HI Scott:

        I just saw an appropriate quotation from Voltaire: “Paper currency inevitably achieves its inherent value.”

    • It doesn’t look like there is much stability in the ratio of gold price to oil. I’m quite sure what this means.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Here is the tentative way I look at it.

        In round numbers, the one percent own 99 percent of the assets. What the man in the street thinks about investing is basically irrelevant.

        At the very top of the heap we have some billionaires who are trying to amass more billions than the other billionaires. Mine is bigger than yours. But perhaps they also have some sense that things aren’t right and putting all one’s eggs in financial assets is not a good idea.

        We have corporations whose sole purpose in life is to maximize current income.

        We have countries who are using oil revenues to subsidize the country, and who will act like corporations and maximize current income.

        The Saud family used to try to manage their asset for the long terms, but perhaps they are now desperate to subsidize the country.

        The other class of investor is wealthy by ‘man in the street’ standards, but no billionaire would admit to knowing them. I have met some of these families. I met one a year or so ago who have been happily collecting checks on their oil wells for decades. They aren’t interested in maximizing current income. They want to use the wells as the guarantee of a long term income stream. They are currently taking in about 75,000 dollars per year. With their day jobs, they live well and contentedly.

        Let’s assume more of these ‘wealthy poor’ people become convinced that the financial markets are quite vulnerable. And that oil has an intrinsic value and can produce an income for a long time if it is slowly harvested from a natural reservoir. (Fracking is more like a roll on the roulette wheel.)

        So a ‘wealthy poor’ family can buy some gold, where the only hope is that it will appreciate in value as people turn to it as a store of value. OR, they can buy oil in the ground in a natural reservoir and let it produce income for a long time.

        Now look at the price of gold and look at the price of oil. What seems to make sense to me is more family owned wells and more limited partnerships owning wells. With the price of oil increasing to perhaps 8 dollars a barrel. The oil dependent countries like the US will be in big trouble, but 8 dollar oil isn’t going to be outrageous to people using it efficiently.

        Don Stewart

        • I still wonder about the ability of oil wells to keep operating in a low price situation. All of the parts of the system need to keep operating. For example, refineries and pipelines need to keep operating. If pipelines need to keep operating, we need electricity for them to maintain their flow. It is again a Liebig’s Law of the Minimum issue. Once something critical goes wrong (maybe no one with the knowledge regarding how to fix a problem), the system goes down.

          Another issue is that if oil is really a store of value, a government could appropriate it for its own use, and cut the investor out.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Anyone with an asset of any kind is always going to be exposed to expropriation or just plain theft. The medieval bankers in Europe who loaned money to the kings so the kings could wage war either got rich or got killed to erase the debt. The peasants in Seven Samurai only need to hire the Samurai because they have overheard the bandits plan to come back after the barley harvest and take it from them. Parkinson wrote a funny story about Chinese billionaires…they live in hovels and then one day they move into a compound with armed guards…having hidden their steady accretion of wealth.

            So the government can take your money or they can take your assets such as oil or they can levy a tax on your rice crop (Edo Japan). But still, I think, people who have paper assets today are going to try to retain some assets. I suspect that oil in the ground being produced slowly is about as good as assets get. One could argue for agricultural land. But agricultural land which is being carefully enhanced with ecological farming practices may be losing money when all around people are mining and poisoning their land. Oil in reservoirs can produce cash flow from day one.

            Back in the 1950s, I lived in a town in Oklahoma with a population of 9000 (now 6000). The town had two defunct oil refineries from the 1920s. They weren’t very large and not all that complicated. If we look at the value of refined oil and natural gas as a feedstock for materials such as plastic and for critical fuel such as farm implements, I suspect that society will find a way to do the job even if the massive refineries on the Gulf have rusted away. The oil may be 400 dollars a barrel, but there are plenty of applications where that is far better than any alternative.

            On the other hand, commuting to a low wage job 100 miles each way in a Hummer won’t survive.

            Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Gas Lines: If you remember in 2008 when credit shut down and the price of oil fell too low below the cost to produce it (I think it was briefly close to 30 if I recall). Much production did shut down for a time. If we had a prolonged event like that again, but longer without the Fed pumping money into the system to inflate, we could see shortages very fast. Though the Fed is going to have a harder time next time because the Fed’s balance sheet already holds trillions of paper that could be worthless. I think the same goes for the many countries in the Euro Zone, next time is going to be harder to lift us out if it… A more prolonged event could occur.

              In the 1970’s I worked at a gas station during the Iran embargo and signs everywhere “No Gas” In those days we pumped the gas full service and I served long line of people that odd or even plates depending on what day it was and I was only allowed to give them six gallons each. They were lined up waiting hours for gas and how quickly people got irritated. When things get tough otherwise nice people can get irritated quickly and people were mad at me for giving them like 6 gallons after waiting in line for hours.

              I remember the station owner letting me fill up my gas hog Pontiac FireBird-400 after it got dark and no one would see after we closed the station, he told me to wait until after closing and he let me sometimes sneak in next to the dark pumps with lights powered off and fill my car if we had any gas left that day.

            • Don Stewart says:

              What I think will happen is that people won’t have enough money to buy all the oil and natural gas and products made from them that they would like to have. Today, a plastic container for strawberries costs 14 cents. That container is worth a lot in terms of preserving the micronutrients in the strawberries and preventing bruises. But competition plus abundant supply keeps the price low.

              Fast forward to a world where people are not as rich, there aren’t enough fossil fuels to go around, and a lot of the industrial capacity is sitting idle. I think we will go through a process of triage. Those things which are really important will be continued, somehow. I expect plastics to be one of the things that makes it through the bottleneck. Plastics are tremendously useful and today they are very cheap. If the price triples, they will still largely be worth the higher price.

              But if gasoline triples, then a lot of people will be forced to seriously adjust their lifestyles.

              For example, a few days ago there was an article about teenage girls and bicycling. If it was deemed ‘cool’ in a certain social setting, then most of the girls bicycled. But if it was deemed ‘uncool’, then very few girls bicycled. Now teenagers (boys and girls) have always gone through this stage, but the wealth in the OECD countries since about 1955 has allowed parents to indulge the behavior. If gasoline prices triple or quadruple, then I expect the indulgence of teenage whims to be one of the casualties. ‘If you want to go, walk or ride your bike’.

              In short, I suspect that we will be forced to look seriously as the usefulness of a lot of things, not merely our immature ‘demands’. If the total supply of fossil fuels goes back to where it was in the 1920s, then the sort of infrastructure I described in my small town may be rebuilt, while the gigantic infrastructure turns out to be cost ineffective in the new world.

              The world of gigantism (from Wal-Marts to TBTF banks to Monsanto to Exxon-Mobil) may fail, to be replaced by people like the Marland Oil Company and the Savings and Loan and the Feed and Seed and the home-owned grocery store in my hometown.

              I think the reason I don’t actually fear all those companies failing is because I was around when they didn’t exist…and most things were better then.

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Too Many People with nothing to do: Hi Don, That reminds me of a story about guy I knew that had a modern Almond Orchard, the Chinese business people came and looked at the orchard business at it and saw all the machines the tree shakers and nut gathering machines and when they left they looked at each other and said what are our people going to do?

              A large part of our population has been idled by such devices for so long they are like rusty machines and have long ago lost the skills needed to make our way, have we forgotten? Are the people that live in the welfare such as some island nations as western Samoa where their grandfathers would catch and dry fish and feed their families now they rely on food stamp cards. The same goes for many native nations that whether in USA or in Australia. They have lost their old ways. Many talents have been lost due to the welfare state, Perhaps many can pull themselves up and once again learn to fish or take care of themselves in the forthcoming emergency, but I think we back to that old way of survival of the fittest and the smartest. That is another good reason to read the old books, perhaps we can re-learn some of what we lost.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Scott
              Primitive and traditional skills are very trendy around here right now. The popularity of fermentation is hard to believe. There is a gathering out near Asheville in a few weeks with survival classes on both starting friction fires and starting flint and steel fires. Last Saturday there was a Full Moon Feast with the edibles being gathered in the woods and fields by the guests and then prepared by the host who knows everything there is to know about wild edibles.

              We are fond of saying things like ‘everyone is equal’ and ‘no one should be in distress’, but when the going gets tough, humans almost always engage in triage. I think it will happen politically without anyone ever admitting what is going on.

              My fear is that the political process will, at all costs, save the very perpetrators who have gotten us into such a mess.

              Don Stewart

            • Scott says:

              Good Don, Let us all try to study such things about the old ways and to take care of ourselves according to where we are. Right now I am trying to re learn how to grow food and I enjoy doing work with my hands, that is something good for the soul especially if you look upon a completed project that came out nice built by hand. I like a world built by hand I just fear there are far to many of us to do that but some of us can depending on where you are. I think it will be more like “A World Built Partly By Hand” to give credit to our friend JHK. Meaning there will be things from the past used and scavenged for years it will not exactly be the old frontier but instead a wild and wooly place with men riding fast powered battery operated charge vehicles shooting lasers! But then camping at night and cooking an animal they killed.

            • You may be right. Some things will have value, as long as we can make them.

          • xabier says:


            Knowledge dying out is a real possibility. You made me think of my cousin, who is the last man in Britain who has practical experience of installing and maintaining a key component of a steel mill. He actually couldn’t retire when he wanted to, because he was needed and could charge a high fee. Things are more delicately balanced than many imagine, youa re completely right.

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  15. Bill says:

    re: “Leo Smith” … Gail, you have arrived, you have automated, context sensitive troll software keeping an eye on your work!

  16. dolph says:

    One of the problems I see is that even though we could conceivably take action that would help to mitigate the decline and at least make things livable for awhile, we refuse to do so.

    Witness how the U.K., a small island nation, goes into fits of apoplexy over the immigration debate. As if they should allow millions of more people to crowd into their cities, and somehow this is a good thing. Forget for a moment how they once ran a global empire with half of their current population.

    Still, at least they are having a debate. In America, it’s “to infinity and beyond” when it comes to population. It’s the official policy of the mandarins running America to allow endless immigration from Latin America and Asia, and to keep growing until we are the most populous country on the planet. Again, this is official policy of both parties, and there is NO DEBATE. It’s also official policy to turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, and, once problems start happening, to legalize them and pat ourselves on the back to prove how progressive and enlightened we are. American policy is a big slap in the face to people born in the country, as well as legal immigrants who play by the rules.

    In contrast, in China, the most populous country, it’s long been their official policy to at least get their population under some control.

    • Immigration:- the human instinct to move and resettle since humans began, is an important but sensitive issue that even the left/liberal need to discuss. It has been the domain of the right and far right, the nationalists and those who think their colour skin is superior, it is also prone to induce exaggeration and alarmism. Millions of Muslims have not entered Europe to degree Sharia law is going to be introduced and neither will any tradition be swamped by alien values. Populations change, new culture emerges and if anything the immigrant is the one who changes most. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad.

      The real debate is about ‘sustainable’ populations- a subject hotly debated here given that oil has driven population growth. The facts are fairly clear, educated populations where women have more control over their lives have lower even sustainable birthrates- ie static. Rich westerners feel entitled to live anywhere in the world and often their money and expertise is welcome and surely that is a freedom of being a citizen of Planet Earth. When it comes to immigrants to the UK my view is we should welcome those who bring their own richness and expertise and that what is important is a common national purpose. Who would not welcome a modern Voltare- and anglophile and philosopher?

      Sustainability is an issue- there would be little purpose in having lowly paid, poorly educated slum dwellers causing problems for society and in a post oil peak world it would be unaffordable. When it comes to the wealth of an immigrant we in the UK have little problem with Russian millionaires coming to the city and I would argue that a Vietnamese small farmer who was good at what they did would be more valuable if they moved onto a little plot of land and provided fresh food and showed us small intensive farming. If they simply came to make money and were exploited by business then this would serve no-one.

      It is a debate worth having, essential even but it needs detoxifying.

  17. Manolo El Lobo says:

    “Sorry, there is no silver lining”. Indeed, it is actually WAY to LATE. The latest (2013) in Paleo – Climatology shows that at 400ppm, the Arctic was at about 8 degree Celsius hotter than today. West Antarctica was gone, and so was most of Greenland’s Ice Sheet. See http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2013/05/when-the-arctic-was-8-c-warmer.html#more
    And Watch this video, from Doc Prof. Brigham-Grette et al., 2013, Science. : Lake El’ gygytgyn Research
    The speed of the rate of change to 400ppm makes the climate system play “catch-up” right now.
    The implications are that all of the CO2 and Methane Hydrates in the Arctic will be released, have no doubt about that. Do your own research under “Arctic Emergency”, it already started.
    The CO2 and Methane concentrations in the atmosphere will grow fast and exponentially. This will seal the faith of life “as we know it” . How long will it take ? Unknown, but growing exponentially, for sure. Can we do anything about it at that stage? Nope, Pure delusion. Way to much energy stored and to be released already. Brace for impact soon.
    This is what makes James Hansen have nightmares.

    • Scott says:

      Yes, all of that methane under the ice that is melting worries me. Too bad we cannot harvest the methane and burn it up to make power but it is going to rise up out of a very vast area as the dark soils are exposed under the melting ice sheets. I am not sure how much this will warm the planet, I am sure there are estimates out there but looks like 5 or 6 degrees is baked in the cake over the next 20 or 30 years or so.

      This much change this fast will not allow Eco systems to adapt in time including us, farmers are changing around things trying to keep up with the change. Food is surely going to be a problem soon with all of the unpredictable weather and after last summer in the US we sure saw that. The next 50 years are going to be wild in the weather dept. Growing crops and live stock could become a real challenge soon as it already is in some places.

      I have been gardening to grow some of my food for five years or more and plan to keep that up and it will be trial and error. The fresh food is good and the work is good for the soul. I hope things do not change to fast where I cannot grow things I am used to growing in my garden and the heat can be a real bummer, scary fires in the forest here too.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Scott
        I suggest you think in terms of annuals and perennials. Annuals have to germinate from seed every year. Conditions have to be just right–not to hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry. Yet the current thinking is that unfavorable patterns are likely to become more common. See Stuart Staniford’s weekend blog:
        Click through on the ‘Jet Stream’ links.

        Perennials have a large root ball with roots several feet into the soil, and are much more resilient to less than ideal weather (I find). This year, I lost quite a few perennials that I transplanted early and have had a lot of annual seed lost to rot in the damp, cold soil. But my perennials are mostly on track or maybe a week late, and are yielding well.

        In my opinion, it is prudent to increase our dependence on perennials and decrease our dependence on annuals.

        Don Stewart
        PS The first link in Stuart’s blog is very long. At least look at the picture from Britain showing the snow drifts in mid-March and read the conclusions. Also note that, on Memorial Day Weekend at Four Quarters in Pennsylvania, it was 34 degrees.

        • Scott says:

          Don, It seems like some plants like perennials are anchored like Oysters and cannot move fast and will die on the vine sort to speak, others are annuals yearly can easily moved and seed can travel in the winds and be planted by farmers. Is this what what you were saying Don?

          The world has never seen this kind of fast change and it will be very hard to keep up with it. This will surely lead to not only food shortages but the end of abundance of choice, we may find ourselves eating 3 or 4 main things soon as other things get more expensive.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Many perennials make plenty of seed. And the seeds are dispersed by a wide variety of mechanisms. For example, the spring ephemerals should theoretically not have had time to make the migration from the Gulf coast to Canada since the last Ice Age–but they have clearly made that journey. The current explanation is white tailed deer carrying the seeds much farther than the plants could have moved by themselves.

            My point is to the ability of perennials to produce good yields in weather which hurts annuals pretty severely.

            Don Stewart

      • Manolo El Lobo says:

        Maybe I should have added this link:
        Video Arctic Emergency

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  19. Gielsj says:

    I disagree because we are already are at 400 ppm and seeing horrible changes already, Arctic/glacier ice melt, ocean acidification, seasonal and specie movement, extreme weather events, and food production limits.
    It we rely on this outlook we are doomed. 350 ppm, as Dr James Hansen advocates, seems to be a more realistic safe limit. If we maintain business as usual, even with the financial collapse will surely pass 450 ppm and reach 500 ppm without a break maybe just a few decades later.
    Sorry, there is no silver lining.

    • Leo Smith says:

      If you examine all of those ‘horrible effects;’ in detail you will find that none of them are actually happening.

      On the other hand there is a horrible effect that is happening;. Energy prices are through the bleedin’ roof and winters are getting colder again.

    • It is possible that we are already past a tipping point. But I don’t see anything more than collapse that we can do. The earth will recover; it is just that there is a possibility that humans may not be a part of the longer-term picture. Of course, that was a possibility before, even without climate change–see What would it take to get to a Steady State economy? I don’t think there is a whole lot more than collapse that can be done to bring CO2 emissions down.

      • Scott says:

        If our influence was gone from the Earth meaning most of us gone then, Yes, the Earth will recover, fish teaming again in the oceans in about ten or twenty or so years I would guess, but I hope a few of us are here to see it. Although this collapse will be hard to live through, but I do believe many will live if on Islands or in the woods. It is a sad and happy story on one side we have all the death and on the other a new Eden born.

        • xabier says:


          I feel fairly detached about climate change: if it’s a serious and rapidly advancing as some models suggest, well, there’s nothing one can do personally to alter it. The prospects of a ruined Earth are upsetting, but it’s beyond one’s control.

          Our governments are clearly set full-steam ahead on their destructive course, so all one can do is try to lead a good and sane life and prepare for any smaller shocks that might come along,and to help one’s family and friends if possible.

          But our seats on the train are booked………

  20. mikestasse says:

    Reblogged this on Damn the Matrix.

  21. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    Las Canadas is an interesting cooperative farm near Veracruz, Mexico. They have set out to solve all the problems posed to them by Peak Oil and Climate Change. Here is the Google translated statement of what they are about. You can put it back in Spanish if you read that language:


    As they say elsewhere, they made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. Then they met David Holmgren, the Australian Permaculturist, on his tour of Mexico and now they have a very clear vision and work program.

    I find that the mangled translation is quite interesting. I have to fill in the blanks. I almost always know what they are talking about. In many ways, it is better than listening with one ear because I think I know what is coming next. It keeps me alert and attentive.

    So…is Peak Oil or is Climate Change or is Financial Collapse the issue we should be focusing on? It looks like the folks at Las Canadas can survive all of them.

    Don Stewart
    PS If you would like a video tour of Las Canadas with Eric Toensmeier, of Miracle Lot fame, you can buy his DVD called Perennial Vegetable Gardening. You first get a tour of his backyard in Holyoke, MA, then Las Canadas, then the ECHO farm in Ft. Myers, FL.

    • It sounds like they are doing quite well on sustainability.

      They advocate single child families. The article points out that a lot of what is claimed to be “green” doesn’t more far enough in the right direction.

      They plan to use wood for their fuel needs. That probably “works” where they are located, if they don’t decide that they need to create metals using charcoal. It also helps that they are in a warm climate.

    • xabier says:


      A very interesting site, thanks.

  22. Seems science has moved on from shell’s reasonable postulate…400 ppm is already enough to fry us all:
    …’the graph gets the gist of what will happen in the Arctic under a business-as-usual scenario, but the graph’s trend line might have another shape because of the +8 °C happening later than in 2100, and it’s for Lake El’gygytgyn that is away from the Siberian coast. The Arctic could get much warmer still.’

    • *Shell’s ! ;¬)

    • Leo Smith says:

      The Arctic could get much warmer, but all the signs are that it is actually getting colder.

      • La Curée says:

        Your statement id designed to sow doubt & confusion.
        What oil company / branch of the US gov. do you work for or are you a free range nutter?

        • Leo Smith says:

          I am a retired engineer with no former existing or future connection to any industry. That’s merely your bigotry showing.

          Never mind. It doesn’t matter. The temperature gauges will show in due course. Mind you – they might have been MADE by a large company with connections to an energy company. OMFG who can you trust? Not even your tinfoil hat (made my a company that used masses of energy to make the aluminium) can be trusted! It’s all over. The forces of corporate doom are upon you!

  23. xabier says:

    People here might be interested to know (mayb not?!) that in the late 19th c, a very fine English writer called Richard Jefferies wrote a futuristic novel called ‘After London’, in which he foresaw the collapse of modern industrial civilisation into a filthy cess-pit of its own making – London, which was then the ‘world city’, sinking into a poisoned marsh – and the reburgeoning of the natural world. It’s a very rare book, I was lucky enough to find a copy in an out-of-the-way bookshop. He was, to judge from his memoirs, a depressive, but I’ve found that such people often see some things rather more clearly than others. Perhaps it was a vision of the future and we will not wreck everything after all?

    • yt75 says:

      Thanks for the pointer, sounds interesting, and it is available as a free ebook from the Gutenberg project :

    • Scott says:

      Hello Xabier, Too bad more are not reading this blog, because I see stories like thousands of people flocking to buy motor homes. I guess they will make good camping huts, but they are poorly insulated not like the adobes we discussed. My point is most do not see any fuel problem.

      • xabier says:


        No, most can’t see the problems and the wider issues.

        Maybe if they are running short of cash or are unemployed they might get angry and look for a political party to blame, or bankers or immigrants, etc, but if all’s well personally they can’t see the bigger picture and are happy to spend.

        And that’s just what the MSM are encouraging them to do.

        It’s good in a way, as it keeps the wheels of the economy turning for that bit longer.

        Meanwhile, we can dig our gardens……

        • Scott says:

          Hello Xabier, This is an interesting article about Greece, is possession 99 percent of the law?

          Tell us about Spain where you live, are the records more in order? I think they most likely are. If multiple deeds can be recorded, there can be much fraud and multiple loans for one parcel pledged for a loan(s) . Corruption and collapse will ensue. This is flaw in their system that will allow collapse sooner?

          • xabier says:


            (I only live part time in Spain – mostly in England – but 99% of my family are there.) There has been some fraud in Spain relating to land ownership – someone I knew (outsiders) got caught out by that, and you do have to be careful particularly with rural land which might have multiple owners. Greece is another world when it comes to fraud, is my impression….

            But the big problem was local mayors reclassifying land as ‘urban’ and granting building permits when they shouldn’t have done – the process of demolishing these properties has started. Mostly foreigners have been caught out here. That’s your whole investment gone.

            The real nightmare, financially, for Spain is the over-valuing of land and property, and the excess building – about a million empty properties that no-one wants. They are mostly very badly built, so I suppose the problem will solve itself soon enough….! Spain blew a property bubble and over-built, different to Britain which just blew the bubble, but built very little.

            To give you an idea of the extent over-valuing: a city authority bought a plot of land for development for about 30 million euros: it’s just been re-valued at 9 million, and that’s optimistic as no-one wants to do anything with it now. Property still has a long way to go down in Spain, incredible as it may seem, and the property market was central to so much employment – firms supplying doors, bathroom fittings, tiles, etc, as well as the actual builders. Kids used to walk straight out of school to the building sites and factories – no longer. All the eggs were put in one basket, and it was dropped.

            So consider all this, what it means for Spanish and other European banks, the high unemployment levels, and you will see why I take Gail’s emphasis on near-term financial collapse very seriously. Europe does seem to be only at the beginning of its troubles.

    • Scott says:

      Rumor has it that Gail was camped out all night to be the first to buy one of those giant new models of the latest motor giant school bus sized motor homes, just Kidding Gail! But, Americans are doing that again as the news is reporting the recession is over and they are building lots of them again. These huge school bus sized monster camping machines that mostly have to stay on the big highways. They are financing them mostly at about 5 percent I imagine. Some people I know are buying huge new cars, no clue of any energy concerns there. I think they are mistaken.

    • It looks to me as though After London by Richard Jefferies is available online – Free.

      • xabier says:

        I only mentioned him as a kind of footnote to all of this : he seems to be the first imaginative writer ever to consider the idea of the collapse of industrial Britain, the poisoning effects of that collapse and the death of the cities, and the regrowth of nature away from them – plus a reversion to the Middle Ages.

        In his novel, some people lead pretty acceptable lives after collapse, others experience only war and barbarism. Kunstler eat your heart out: Jefferies got there first!

        He also wrote good essays on the sufferings of the rural labourers and their exploitation by land-owners. He’s one of the best nature writers in English, and he understood the farming of the time being a farmer’s son (but too dreamy and mystical to take the farm on.)

        • Lizzy says:

          Salut, tout le monde,
          A book I found wonderful was Margaret Atwood’s “The Year of the Flood”, about people surviving – sort of – in a future after the end of the world as we know it. It’s fiction, but seems so realistic. Xabier, I have ordered the Merchant of Prato from our local bookseller here. (I try to buy locally where I can. I really disapprove of Amazon, to be honest… Sorry if that sounds righteous!) I read a book a few years ago too that was apparently scandalous “The City of Light.” by Jacob D’Ancona. It is the translation of a book/diary written in the 13th century by a Jewish merchant who travelled to China, well before Marco Polo. The ‘scandalous’ part is that some experts, not all, think it is all fake. I really enjoyed it.
          The Chinese in those days had the same complaints and worries as you hear today: youth being disrespectful of their elders, people carrying arms – knives – in the street. It was a great read.

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  26. kiwichick says:

    couple of points

    a ) geothermal and wave are NOT intermittent

    b ) human priorities are food and water first, followed by shelter, clothing and warmth

    c ) as noted goverments will ration and control to provide for above @ the cost of all else : the exception being defence and security

    • Joe Clarkson says:

      Regarding item b) in kiwichick’s post: human priorities are related to how quickly a deprivation is fatal. In order of importance: Breathable air; protection from extreme heat or cold; water; food. If we assume that we will continue to have air and that everyone has enough clothing to keep from freezing to death in winter, then water and food will indeed become top priorities.

      Gail’s contention that financial collapse would cause reduced usage of natural resources, including fossil fuels is supported by recent history. The financial crisis of 2008 caused a recession in almost all OECD countries, which resulted in their reduced consumption of most resources, including oil.

      A true financial collapse, wherein money becomes useless, would severely constrain activity in the “real economy” of resource production and conversion to consumable goods. A non-market based command economy might keep most people alive, but their consumption of resources would drop rapidly as a result of lack of supply. I also can’t see how rationing could be avoided.

      • Scott says:

        Hello Joe, Yes, winter could be very hard for many especially in the city and since many city dwellers are not adapted to living without services and do not have the skills to manage without the modern world. Some people in the cities are used to camping and take big trips and other are not and may not have the skills to survive under these circumstances. Personally, I would take my chances in the woods with small cabin any day taking in a few basic supplies and food into even a cave (I would prefer the cabin though) or adobe. But the truth is I will take my chances living in my small community where people help one another.

        This indeed could be a big population adjustment if the major cities run out of power and food even for a week. But instead more likely, a slow decline, power brown-outs, food shortages and things slowly getting harder to find seem to be in the future for many areas, I do think some areas will fair better for a time though but in time all will feel the pain of the financial problems along depleted resources, food, water and energy and failed state.

      • xabier says:


        Lots to agree with there!

        Taking a wide perspective on things, we can also see that or the first time in human existence we have, since the creation of huge cities with mass sewerage and power systems, turned our cities into enormous and very complicated machines: once those systems fail we have death-traps, nothing more: cholera, typhoid will claim the inhabitants.

        Previously, cities and towns have been densely populated, but have not functioned in this way from the mechanical point if view. The power has to keep flowing in a fairly regular way and the replacement parts continue to arrive from where ever they are produced or….poof!

        Whereas, living in the country or a low-density suburb with enough land around each house, one has at least the chance of rainwater collection and storage, and safe disposal of human waste – neither using any power at all. Water can also be purified with boiling and one of those top-quality filters. In our great cities, neither is an option for the inhabitants. Nor can one possibly store much food in a ‘studio apartment’ to cope with irregular food supply. As an aside, I would doubt that many people in modern cities have adequate clothing for a no-heating situation.

    • Leo Smith says:

      wave is intermittent, as any surfer will tell you.

      Geothermal unless you are sitting on a magma plume only last about 20 years before you have cooled a whole sphere of crust where you extracted your heat.

      Yet more pie in the sky solutions suitable only for People Who Cant Do Sums Or Research.

    • a. I have never said that geothermal was intermittent. It is a pretty good resource. I don’t think I have talked about wave. Tidal is intermittent.
      b. Humans also need to cook some of their food, or sterilize water, unless they are in a very unusually part of the world.
      c. The problem is collapsing governments. They cannot provide more than they can afford.

  27. Hi Gail, enjoy the party.
    …’the graph gets the gist of what will happen in the Arctic under a business-as-usual scenario, but the graph’s trend line might have another shape because of the +8 °C happening later than in 2100, and it’s for Lake El’gygytgyn that is away from the Siberian coast. The Arctic could get much warmer still.’
    400 ppm is more than enough to fry us according to the latest evidence, playing catchup.

    • I agree that if we really have passed “tipping points,” then it is possible that there is nothing we can do to fix the problem. But sitting and worrying does nothing either.

  28. Billem says:

    Gail is correct – Iconoclast is wrong. Finance succeeds on *prediction* of good and bad. Gail is right that a financial collapse in anticipation of oil collapse may SAVE US !!!

    • Ikonoclast says:

      It’s always easy to say “may”. A fleet of spaceships from a benign alien civilization “may” save us. What is the probability of the “may” event?

      • Scott says:

        Hey that was my story about the aliens rescuing us! Since I saw the UFO in 1976, I am a believer! Such speed and power unlike anything on Earth – there must be some fleet of nice aliens wanting to pick us up. I would like to stay however and have most of the others leave so I could observe the Earth healing from all the damage.

        Seriously, I am open to that and there is much out there written and accounts about how they are already here and know about our problems.

        Maybe the better batteries and the power plants powered by their hyper-drive systems would save us aside from the fleets of alien ships landing and taking us away to that garden planet out there, a nice thought isn’t it?

        This brings me to the point – I think more people believe in what I just said rather than if you told them about peak oil and gas and oil was going to run out. Also it very likely that more people believe in ghosts and spirits than in peak oil or collapse we discuss on this site. I have had great difficulty getting many of my friends to believe in the finite planet theme.

        • xabier says:


          You are very right about that. I’ve given up even mentioning these things in passing to people: one person even asked if I’d joined some kind of cult when I mentioned perhaps storing some food and water for emergencies!

          But tell someone you know of a great investment, or a ghost story, and they might be all ears……….

          ‘None so blind as them that won’t see’ ,as the English proverb goes.

  29. Mel Tisdale says:

    There is one aspect of this post that needs very careful consideration. We as a species are busy, if somewhat belatedly, trying to solve the peak oil problem. One major area of endeavour is energy storage, mainly in the form of improved batteries for vehicles and the like in order to improve transportation and, one suspects, to extend the length of time military drones and remote controlled weapons can operate in theatre.

    If there is a significant breakthrough in this area, there will be a demand for more electricity, which could easily mean an increase in coal burning in order to meet that demand. If that happens, then pop goes the byproduct of solving climate change. Of course, that all depends on the grid being able to carry the increased load, which I doubt can be automatically assumed..

    Climate change is too important an issue to be put at risk from what is ostensibly a good thing, namely the development of improved energy storage. It must be kept on the front burner so that come what may, it is addressed as a problem in its own right, even if the solution piggybacks on the collapse of industrial production for some, if not all of the time.

    Quite frankly, I can see no real alternative to the rapid development of a fleet of new nuclear power plants, preferably using LFTR technology, but I am no expert in the field and so would welcome an informed public debate on the issue. (Preferably without disruption by the Greens wailing “We’re all going to die!”) Our children and grandchildren deserve that much at least. I would rather saddle my family with the problem of what to do with the small amounts of nuclear waste that LFTR produces than saddle them with starvation, which looks to be on the cards as things stand.

    • Scott says:

      Mel, It has been awhile since we heard from you, good post and I have found your comments interesting in the past. It just keeps coming back to the same problem, either more modern nuclear plants or burn up that lump of Coal that Gail spoke about.

      A new battery technology certainly would be helpful right here at this point in time of our dilemma. If we had a better electric storage vessel that would problem solver. Surely the military needs etc that you discussed are at work and there must be the best minds at work on trying to find new battery technologies.

      I wonder what they will be made of though. And, whether we have enough of it.

      Lithium in good supply which is currently used in most batteries, but these new batteries may require some other rare mineral. This other material may be expensive and not sustainable, we will see. If a significantly better battery storage can be developed using plentiful and readily available materials that would be a good thing right now.

      The other storage option that I brought up in other post was converting electricity to Hydrogen which can be stored in tanks, but once again very volatile and has small molecules which need special super tight seals to prevent leaks. It has a smaller molecule than any gas or oil based energy, but it burns perfectly clean. Once again can afford the investment all the tanks etc a whole new structure to power our cars. It could put people to work if we could print enough money or something.

      Also perhaps someday – Thorium will become a safer nuclear option and these little Thorium plants can provide power to all of our “little villages”. Am I dreaming again?, I don’t know

    • Leo Smith says:

      Spot on. Its the only low cost primary energy source left. That doesn’t utterly destroy the environment deploying it.

      I have nearly written a ‘personal paper’ (i.e. not intended for publication in any journal) detailing the key issues to transforming a western society to full nuclear power. The changes are massive, but it is technically end economically feasible, I reckon.

      No other solution is, at current population levels.

    • Batteries also seem to require materials from diverse sources, and lead to materials that ought to be recycled, but often are not. Some materials are toxic.

      One issue my husband and I ran into recently is the proliferation of different kinds of batteries. If the particular kind of battery a person needs is not available, a device is essentially no good.

      I think one of the big issues with energy storage for the grid is cost. Ideally, it should be pretty much cost free. Also, there is usually an energy loss on storage and retrieval. This adds to costs as well. Since peoples salaries don’t go up at the same time, these added costs become very hard to pay for.

      • Leo Smith says:

        At the massive capacities required for even overnight storage of electricity, there simply is no technology available beyond modulating or pumping very large hydro installations.

        It doesn’t take much to calculate how long e.g. Lake Mead and the dam at the end could supply the USA with electricity. Its not very long.

  30. Good evening, extraordinary summary of what is happening. What are we waiting to implement a natality policy limited to one child per family country wide?

    • Leo Smith says:

      We tried, but the court of human rights ruled that it was racist, and it was a traditional right of ethnic minorities to have large families in order to create the sort of overpopulated conditions of extreme poverty low educational standards and illiteracy and reliance on faith based thinking that they emigrated from. 🙂

    • Governments don’t like one-child policies, but they might help our problem.

  31. Reblogged this on evolveSUSTAIN.

  32. Andy says:

    One thing not covered so much in this context is what exactly will happen to the trees? Humans will substitute as much energy as possible, and it is only because of oil and coal that we still have whales and trees. The loss of trees, will directly increase CO2 and reduce sequestration, and also indirectly as all the stored carbon in the forest floors is released, and exposed soil also releases it’s stored carbon.

    This may not cause a huge amount of warming, but in terms of climate change I imagine the climate will be much changed. Happy days.

  33. ed says:

    Gail, thank you for covering this taboo topic. Professor Kjell Aleklett at Uppsala University also makes this point. There is not enough stuff to burn to match the UN model.

    Ed Pell

  34. Pingback: Oil Limits and Climate Change | evolveSUSTAIN

  35. Bill S. says:

    And those clowns in Washington are giving out permits to export LNG, when the liquefaction and transportation processes wastes nearly 25% of the gas before it does any useful work.

  36. John says:

    It’d be nice if we could shorten supply chains, but then we wouldn’t be producing things where they are most efficiently produced. Seems like shortening supply chains would result in increased energy consumed per unit produced, and make things worse?

    Or maybe you’re saying we shorten the supply chain by leaving the production centers in place, and moving the communities to them?

    • Leo Smith says:

      We already have shortened supply chains considerably using Internet based dis-intermediation.

      Well in the UK, anyway.

      • Scott says:

        That is the first good thing we can do is shorten the supply lines and learn to live a little simpler. Some places far away that are used to your money will suffer though at first but they will need to start consuming what ever it is they are making.

    • We are going to have to produce a whole lot less, but what we produce will need to be basics–food, water, and clothing and shoes, particularly. I expect that more human energy will need to be used in making these items, driving up the cost. It is not clear that more of other types of energy need to be used. We used to make clothing without fossil fuels, and can do that again, if we ned to. People can knit sweaters from wool, for example.

      • xabier says:


        Regarding a ‘world made by hand.’ Time-scales would change hugely, but the structures could still be complex.

        I’ve just been reading about an Italian merchant in the 14th century: among other things he dealt in cloth. His life teaches us much. Even then, he was able to buy the wool in one country, ship it overseas to another to be made into cloth, to another to be dyed, and then maybe sent to another to be sold. So in a way, he was ‘globalized.’

        His profits on each transaction were modest, and the whole cycle took several years from the purchase of the wool. But it was a system that worked, come plague, come war: a very impressive achievement, when you consider how long even a letter to an agent would take to arrive at his head office!

        When he had trouble finding servants after the plague, he had them shipped in from Eastern Europe, like most of the rich in Italy (who also bought slaves). So even the labour market,as it were, was international.

        With true hand-production, everything would slow down beyond what most people can imagine today, but the networks could still be far-reaching.

        It’s worth noting that due to the plague and constant little wars, he always kept a year’s supply of dried and preserved food, and wine of course, in his main house. He had gardens out of town to supply his needs, too (his town garden was just for show).

        Supermarkets have made us forget this one essential strategy to go with the knocks that life will certainly deal us. Governments also want us to buy consumer goods and ‘entertainment and leisure’ rather than that we provide for our essential needs before all other things. This man from a ‘primitive’and violent age knew better.

        • Lizzy says:

          Xabier, What’s the name if the book? I love reading books like that. I read a good book The Concert about life in Albania (won the Man Booker International Prize by Ismail Kadare). Just the little snippets about life where things are made to order, not on hand all the timel. I was talking with my mother about how the idea of living and working in a world without all the mod-cons is so scary. Then she remembered that growing up in ’30s NZ was pretty basic. Yes, there was ample food and raw goods, but they washed their clothes by hand. Made their own bread. Wore thick jumpers in winter.

          • xabier says:


            The book about the merchant is ‘The Merchant of Prato’ by Iris Origo.

            He left a full archive of his business and personal letters, and even had his wife taught to read and write, so they give a full picture of the times, his business, his house, his servant problems, what living through the Plague was like, etc.

            It’s an incredible book. I would say the best one on the Middle Ages I have ever read, just because of the detail and the fact that he was a merchant, not a king or knight.

            • Used copies of “The Merchant of Prato” are available on Amazon quite inexpensively.

            • Scott says:

              Thanks, I just ordered a used copy at Amazon “The Merchant of Prato” and we can discuss it after I read it. I like to read these stories of the old days anyway and I am sure it will be good. There are things you can learn from the old stories that may help us in the future.

          • xabier says:


            If you don’t watch TV, there’s plenty of time to do things by hand, as I’ve found out! It’s not as impossible as people now think, although it is harder. That sort of world was only yesterday.

            I work with my hands too, in a luxury craft, and even very skilled work can be done quite quickly, but just not on a huge scale as with industrialism. Perception of time and value change, too.

            And what you make actually LASTS….. in my case, easily for 500 years if cared for.

            I’d rather spend a ‘short’ life making good things, than a long one consuming rubbish made by abused slaves far away from me.

        • Yes, there was long distance exchange of goods by boat a very long time ago–not much shipped over land, though. I expect the wealthier individuals got most of the benefit of long-distance shipments. The Bible is full of examples of long journeys by boat (and even some long journeys by land).

          • xabier says:


            Amazing what could be done using mules for transport, as well as waterways.

            My Spanish ancestors lived in a town which had no water access, and in the Middle Ages it was one of the richest and most beautiful towns in Europe.

            It was also on a pilgrimage route, so business was combined with religion in an interesting way. Many people came on pilgrimage and never went home, so ideas and skills spread that way.

            The town wasn’t suited to industrialization, so now it’s a dead place with lots of people on welfare, and lots of beautiful buildings form 800 years ago: merchants houses and palaces. A typical European story: no industry and not quite right for tourism, and the place dies.

            • I can believe,”A typical European story: no industry and not quite right for tourism, and the place dies.” It happens in the US, too. What happens when tourism dies, and industry becomes much harder to do?

  37. yt75 says:

    And about the IPCC input scenarios, to me the situation can be summarized as follows :
    1) The IPCC is a scientific committee from its beginning
    2) It’s area of expertise is climate science, and especially regarding the consequences of human activity on the climate (CO2 but not only)
    3) however its scientific expertise is not, and was never meant to be, the usable hydrocarbons reserves, and even less the possible associated usable flows (or extraction rate)
    4) so for this it uses more “general tendancies” scenarios, in line with other international agencies forecasts reagrding “economic growth” especially.
    5) if there is an official international agency responsible for the evaluation of reserves and possible flow, that would be the IEA
    6) But the IEA has never been (was never meant to be) a “scientific committee”, it is more the “syndicate” of rich countires(OECD) major importers, and its first mission was in fact to manage strategic stocks after the first oil shock, exactly what is written on the IEA history page :
    7) moreover one can safely say that its publications are (and have been for a long time) under direct political pressure :
    8) So that there is absolutely no “official agency” responsible for “reserves and possible flow” estimation in a “scientific at best” way.
    9) Best source for “scientific at best reserves and flow estimation” clearly are organisations such as the ASPO
    10) But more or less under some kind of “omerta” in official circles….

    • That is a good summary. Of course, if you believe that the world is past climate tipping points, we could have a problem no matter what we do. I’m not sure we know the tipping points well.

  38. yt75 says:

    Thanks for another great overview.

    About the limits regarding oil(regarding the flow of oil, or mb/d), think we can indeed say that we are facing two limits or “walls” in parallel, the one being the “extractible under current technology limit”, and the second one “the price we can afford”.

    Jean Laherrère has a nice way to represent that in his last synthesis in below graph :
    (vertical one is the usual “peak oil” wall, the horizontal one the “what we can afford” wall, or economic wall).
    Complete paper :

    Also to be noted a recent post from Matt mUshalik on the same subject :

  39. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    My suspicion is that if investors begin to take your ideas seriously, then the market value of energy companies will collapse, the companies will collapse, the value of pension fund assets will be severely wounded, and executives will be selling pencils and apples on street corners.

    Don Stewart

    • ReverseDeveloper says:

      We have had some refinery disasters in our region over the last few years. Scuttlebutt from the steamfitters is that the pipes are full of sleeve patches, stopgap repairs, because they are not shutting down for full repairs. They are running at capacity rather than upgrading existing sites or building new plants ( environmental hurdles to build new). The execs already know the game is up. The investors who know all think they will get out in time. The beneficiaries of both camps, and the pols too, are busy buying land in wine country, boring caves into the hills, ostensibly for barrel aging. Not! They are all ready to hunker down. It is plain to see from the tour route.

      The little people, the homeless, the kids who cannot pay their student loans, they all know what is up. Yet our leaders will not speak up because it would be political suicide to do so. The responsible among us in this country are ready to make sacrifices if called upon to do so. The problem is that some feel they have too much to lose. As if they were going to take it with them into their wine cave, and rise like Jesus after industrial society has been crucified to be worshiped for their foresight and vision. We all know it’s just a bid to save their own privilege.

      • xabier says:


        If that’s what’s happening among the vineyards it’s interesting: since the Cold War there seems to have been a fantasy that the elite could sit out a storm in some kind of deep shelter, and then emerge to govern once more (in Britain, the advice to the mass of people was to hide under doors and tables in event of nuclear war!). But what would be there for them to govern?

        Our cities are obviously potential death-traps, so digging out one’s own ‘safe-cave’ instead of a safe-room would be a logical step, next to acquiring an island.

        There is one problem with the very rich: they have an excessive belief in the power of money (of course, experience has taught them that most people can be bought in some way), so they will tend to exploit anything to the limit in a cynical way, believing they can always then move on to the next opportunity. Up until now, new opportunities have always come along. It’s rather like thinking yourself to be immortal.

    • Leo Smith says:

      “executives will be selling pencils and apples on street corners.”….Every cloud has a silver lining…

    • It could be that the values collapse. But with Quantitative Easing, anything looks like a better investment than bonds, so prices tend to run up.

  40. Michael Lloyd says:

    There is an argument that it is the cumulative carbon emissions that are the critical factor and not the current rate.

    See http://www.trillionthtonne.org

  41. Ikonoclast says:

    Peak Earl is correct. There is so much global warming built in already that rapidly dropping CO2 emissions right now would not stop the earth’s average temperature rising for hundreds of years yet.

    The only fact that counts in this context is the actual tonnage of CO2 going into the atmosphere each year and this is still going up. Peak Oil just leads to more coal consumption. We can see this too in the figures. Financial constraints do not matter. They are not real. Only real constraints matter.

    Financial collapse is a result not a cause. Gail is getting sidetracked into thinking financial collapse is causational in this matter. It is not. Real resource collapse is causational. Financial collapse follows as an effect. When investments cannot pay off, due to resource constraints, the financial collapse occurs to wipe out money that now has nothing real to buy. That’s a vast simplification of course but in essence that is it.

    There may be a phase where resource collapse and financial collapse reinforce each other. However, if vital national production fails due to financial collapse, the government will step in and mandate certain things happening. It will be like a war economy. The government can and will conscript labour, commandeer resources and nationalise enterprises to keep basic infrastructure and services running. At that point, the constraints will be real (material and energy limits) and not financial.

    Gail seems to think oligarchic financial capitalism is the only way a modern society can be run. Well, it aint so. There are other ways.

    But having said that, the ulitmate destination still looks very grim. We are just arguing what pathway (A or B) that will take us there. It’s academic really.

    • davekimble2 says:

      > rapidly dropping CO2 emissions right now would not stop the earth’s average temperature rising for hundreds of years yet.

      Not so. CO2 in the atmosphere dissolves into seawater at a rate proportional to the difference in the concentrations, and the oceans are nowhere near their CO2 capacity, so they are acting, and will continue to act, as a CO2 sink. If the adding of CO2 to the atmosphere was to be slowed to a rate below the rate at which CO2 currently moves from atmosphere to seawater, atmospheric concentrations will decrease, and the temperature effect will reduce.

      Once dissolved in seawater, the CO2 has two effects. One is acidification, which has bad implications for SOME shell-forming species – these are the ones that don’t have a strong genetic make-up for CO2 stripping, and they could go extinct. But most shell-forming species have been around for a very long time, and have coped with bigger CO2 fluctuations than we are seeing now. The best of those genes will be selected by evolution once more, and they will flourish, exploiting the ecological gap left by their weaker cousins.

      The second effect is the deposition of dead shell-forming species onto the sea floor, where the carbon is sequestered and ultimately becomes limestone. This reduces the concentration of CO2 in the seawater, enabling it to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere.

      As with all modelling, it is only as good as the data input, but it is fairly well understood these days. And the models say the oceans acting as a carbon sink are currently dealing with half of the CO2 humans have generated, and would start to reduce the temperature effect within 25 years. As time passes and the atmospheric and oceanic concentrations become closer, the sink effect will tail off, and will still be measurable in 1,000 years, but the effect will be really slight by then.

      All of that is not to say that we don’t have to worry, because there might be “unknown unknowns” with serious consequences, but it doesn’t make sense to worry too much about the unknown. All will become clear when the revised models of IPCC-AR5 are applied to the RCP 2.6 data set. It probably won’t make the news headlines, because all the other RCPs are MUCH more scary, but they won’t happen because fossil fuels are not infinite.

      • Tony says:

        There is a natural background rate of CO2 release (e.g. from volcanic activity) and the earth more or less reached an equilibrium between CO2 sources and CO2 sinks (with some variability, of course). What humans are putting into the atmosphere (either directly or indirectly through deforestation and other practices) is in addition to this background rate and is what has caused the energy imbalance that is warming the planet. This will continue, even if all emissions ceased today, until there is an energy balance. Without feedbacks, we would then expect temperatures to slowly decline, until CO2 reaches is previous level. However, NOAA and, I think, the UK Met Office have stated that the warming will be locked in for 1000 years, so even if all emissions stopped today, the earth would continue to warm for a while and then stay warmer for hundreds of years. An additional point is that the warming rate would likely increase in the short term as more sunlight got through a declining aerosols level.

        I agree with those who think climate change is the biggest issue, though I would tend to expand that to environmental degradation generally. Indeed, any attempt to try to keep industrial societies going by alternative means (even if that were possible) would just continue the environmental degradation.

        I’m afraid it’s heads we lose and tails we lose. We’re going to have to figure some way to get through the bottleneck because there is no way to avoid it.

        • Leo Smith says:

          Climate change is insignificant and at the moment totally decoupled from CO2. what is really scary is losing energy supplies. Its WAY more serious for human life than the piddling changes in climate we have had, that are increasingly seen as unrelated to CO2.

        • “I’m afraid it’s heads we lose and tails we lose.”

          I think that pretty much sums up our problem.

    • You need to look at what happened in the past. It was financial collapse that brought down societies.

    • sponia says:

      This sounds like it’s really just two different ways of looking at the same thing.
      Somewhere I once read that ‘Oil and Gold can’t move in the same direction’. I update this to: Oil and Dollars can’t move in the same direction. Each one is part of the energy loop to the other. We use Energy to make Goods to sell for Money which we use to buy more Energy…..
      If you break the loop, at any place in the cycle, the flow in the entire circuit shuts off.

  42. Pingback: Klimatförändringarna löser sig av sig självt « ASPO Sverige

  43. Scott says:

    The ocean acidification is really a big deal since so much food will be at risk. Much of the world depends on the oceans, have we really poisoned the Pacific Ocean? Well yes looks like 80 percent of the fish are gone since our grandfathers days, hard to believe and sad.

  44. Scott says:

    Less than half full?
    Thanks Gail, this post hit on everything we have discussed on the other blogs from the Bees to the Oil depletion. It is a slow change headed towards disaster. It would be nice if we could go back to the village lifestyle. but hard to do with 8 billion of us. I have yet to see a chart showing world oil field depletion and I guess such a chart would only be any ones best guess anyway, but if the chart existed I bet the glass would be less than half full.

  45. Perk Earl says:

    People have the idea once CO2 emissions drop our problems with climate change begin to reduce. Unfortunately, there is a 30-40 year lag time from the time of CO2 emissions and their full effect on climate occur, known as thermal inertia. In other words we could halt all emissions tomorrow (even though the economy would collapse), and we would still have to wait 30-40 years to experience the full effect of emissions already spewed into the atmosphere (via ocean warming and its effect on climate). Also, once we stop emitting aerosols (tiny particles that block sunlight from contrails, and burning FF, manuf. soot, etc.), world temperature will rise about 1C, from reduced ‘dimming’, which in turn will have positive feedbacks, increasing methane and CO2 releases from the arctic sea bed and arctic circle soil that was previously tundra).

    Forget about the idea of stopping the climate from continuing to change and shifting to a different, harsher gear, because that’s baked in. We will have to ride that one out and hope we can adapt.

    About all we can do is move towards renewables, but like you wrote above, it’s more expensive at a time OECD govt’s are straining to keep the infrastructure we already have in good repair.

    • Renewables need to have fossil fuels as their base, as well as being more expensive, so I don’t see them doing much.

      I have heard that removal of global dimming is a problem, as well as the lag in the full effect on the economy. But I don’t think we can really do much more (than collapse will do) to fix the situation.

      • Scott says:

        Very True Gail, let us keep that in mind that renewable and solar etc. need fossil fuels as their base. A big part of the problem set. A good reason to preserve what is left so we can build them.

  46. davekimble2 says:

    You will be pleased to hear that the next IPCC report, AR5, due out next year has a completely revised method of inputting the data that the model then uses to forecast future temperatures. These data-sets are to be known as “Representative Concentration Pathways” (RCPs) and are described at http://tntcat.iiasa.ac.at:8787/RcpDb/dsd?Action=htmlpage&page=welcome .

    The aim is to make the creation of data-sets more flexible. The lowest scenario listed at that URL is RCP 2.6, by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, described as being ‘a so-called “peak” scenario’ and seems to correspond quite closely with the EWG-2013 scenario, and “is based on the publication by Van Vuuren et al. (2007).”

    I expect RCP 2.6 will produce a peak temperature of about +1.3°C, peaking well before 2050, and decreasing thereafter as further ocean sinking occurs. Whether the planet can withstand that sort of treatment is still in question.

    I expect before that occurs however, the energy-driven, growth-driven globalised system will have collapsed, rendering even RCP 2.6 redundant.

  47. I will be leaving tomorrow morning for the Age of Limits 2013 conference. Because of this, I will probably will not be able to respond quickly to comments.

    Also, Reverse Engineer asked me to announce that the Doomstead Diner is providing coverage of the conference. The conference actually started tonight, with regular talks starting in the morning. This is the direct link to Age of Limits 2013 on the Doomstead Diner blog.

Comments are closed.