Inflation, Deflation, or Discontinuity?

A question that seems to come up quite often is, “Are we going to have inflation or deflation?” People want to figure out how to invest. Because of this, they want to know whether to expect a rise in prices, or a fall in prices, either in general, or in commodities, in the future.

The traditional “peak oil” response to this question has been that oil prices will tend to rise over time. There will not be enough oil available, so demand will outstrip supply. As a result, prices will rise both for oil and for food which depends on oil.

I see things differently. I think the issue ahead is deflation for commodities as well as for other types of assets. At some point, deflation may “morph” into discontinuity. It is the fact that price falls too low that will ultimately cut off oil production, not the lack of oil in the ground.

Even with little oil, there will still be some goods and services produced. These goods and services will not necessarily be available to holders of assets of the kind we have today. Instead, they will tend to go to those who produced them, and to those who win them by fighting over them.

Up and Down Escalator Economies

It seems to me that economies operate on two kinds of escalators–an up escalator, and a down escalator. The up escalator is driven by a favorable feedback cycle; the down escalator is driven by an unfavorable feedback cycle.

For a long time, the US economy has been on an up escalator, fueled by growth in the use of cheap energy. This growth in cheap energy led to rising wages, as humans learned to use external energy to leverage their own meager ability to “perform work”–dig ditches, transport goods, perform computations, and do many other tasks that machines (powered by electricity or oil) could do much better, and more cheaply, than humans.

Debt helped lever this growth up even faster than it would otherwise ramp up. Continued growth in debt made sense, because growth seemed likely for as far in the future as anyone could see. We could borrow from the future, and have more now.

Unfortunately, there is also a down escalator for economies, and we seem to be headed in that direction now. Such down escalators have hit local economies before, but never a networked global economy. From this point of view, we are in uncharted territory.

Many economies have grown for many years, hit a period of stagflation, and ultimately collapsed. According to research of Turchin and Mefedov documented in the book Secular Cycles, such economies have typically gotten their start by learning to exploit a new resource, such as using land cleared for farming, or learning to use irrigation, or in our case more recently, learning to use fossil fuels. These economies typically start out by growing for many years, thanks to the opportunity for more population and more goods and services from the new resource.

After a while, a period of stagflation is reached. Population catches up to the new resource, and job opportunities for young people become less plentiful. Wage disparity grows, with wages of the common worker lagging behind. The cost of government rises. Because of the low wages of workers, it becomes increasingly difficult to collect enough taxes from workers to pay for rising government costs. To work around these problems, use of debt grows. Needless to say, this scenario tends to end very badly.

Our situation today sounds a great deal like the down escalator situation. As I have discussed previously, wages stagnate as oil prices rise. In fact, most increases in wages have taken place when the real price of oil was less than $30 barrel, in today’s dollars.

Figure 1. High oil prices are associated with depressed wages. Oil price through 2011 from BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy, updated to 2012 using EIA data and CPI-Urban from BLS. Average wages calculated by dividing Private Industry wages from US BEA Table 2.1 by US population, and bringing to 2012 cost level using CPI-Urban.

Figure 1. High oil prices are associated with depressed wages. Oil price through 2011 from BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy, updated to 2012 using EIA data and CPI-Urban from BLS. Average wages calculated by dividing Private Industry wages from US BEA Table 2.1 by US population, and bringing to 2012 cost level using CPI-Urban.

As oil prices rise, wage-earners hit a second problem–higher outgo for fuel and food, since fuel is used in growing and transporting food.  Thus, wage-earners are hit on two sides–flat income and higher outgo for necessities, leading to less discretionary income.  Governments find that they need more taxes to pay for increased benefits for the many who no longer have jobs. These higher taxes place another burden on those who are still working. Businesses find their profits pinched by higher oil prices, and respond by outsourcing to a low wage country, or automating processes to cut costs, lowering the amount local citizens earn in wages further. Furthermore, even apart from oil issues, globalization tends to pull US wages down.  All of these issues tend to add to the down-escalator phenomenon for the US economy.

In past years, governments and businesses have made promises of many types, such as bank account balances, pensions, Social Security, Medicare, insurance policies, stock certificates, and bonds. The question becomes: what happens to these promises, as we step off the up escalator, and onto the down escalator? All of these promises could be paid when we were on the up escalator. The amount that gets paid is much less clear, if we are on the down escalator.  In this post, I would like to examine what happens.

The General Price Trend: Downward, with Discontinuities

Each year, an economy produces various kinds of goods and services. It grows crops, and extracts minerals. It uses energy products to process the crops and minerals into finished goods, and to transport them to their final destination. The amount produced depends on the amount of goods and services potential buyers can afford. If wages are stagnant, and the government’s share keeps rising, the amount wage-earners can afford (in inflation adjusted dollars) keeps falling.

Since the early 2000s, the cost of extracting oil products has been rising, because the oil that was cheapest to extract was extracted first, and the “easy oil” is now gone. There tends to be a relatively small amount of a resource available cheaply, and increasing amounts available at higher and higher prices (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. Resource triangle, with dotted line indicating uncertain financial cut-off.

Figure 2. Resource triangle, with dotted line indicating uncertain financial cut-off.

In fact, minerals of all types tend to follow the same pattern as oil for two reasons: (1) Mineral extraction follows the same pattern–cheapest to extract first, moving to the more expensive to extract, and (2) Oil is generally used in extraction. If the cost of oil is rising, its cost tends to get passed on. Of course, in some instances, technological improvements can offset rising prices, but for most of the time since the year 2000, cost of commodity extraction has tended to rise.

There has been a lot of publicity recently about more oil being available, and more natural gas being available. This additional availability is because of high price. It doesn’t bring the cost of extraction down. In fact, if price drops, extraction is likely to drop. This drop will not occur immediately, because much of the cost has already been paid on wells that have already been drilled, so extraction from these wells tends to continue. But future investment is likely to drop off quickly if prices drop, bringing supply down, with a lag.

Because of the downward escalator the economy is on, wage-earners don’t really have enough money to pay the higher prices that are needed for increasingly costly extraction of oil and other minerals. Instead, prices tend to be volatile. The general trend can be expected to be downward, because even if  oil prices rise when the economy is functioning fairly well, at some point, the higher price leads to adverse feedbacks, such as consumers defaulting on debt and cutting back on discretionary purchases. The result can be expected to be recession, and again lower oil prices.

The big danger is that lower oil prices will lead to lower oil production, and this lower oil production will become a problem for business and commerce around the world. The United States is likely to be one of the countries whose oil production will be affected most by lower oil prices, for three reasons:

(1) We tend to have most tight oil production, and tight oil production tends to be high-priced production. It also drops off quite quickly, if drilling stops.

(2) Shale gas drillers tend to use a lot of debt. Shale drillers will especially be hit if interest rates rise because of debt problems.

(3) Taxes and fees related to oil production in the US (unlike many countries) do not vary with the price of oil. The US government will continue to get most of its revenue (estimated to average $33.29 per barrel on a $80 barrel of US tight oil by Barry Rogers, Oil & Gas Journal, May 2013), even as companies find themselves short of funds for new drilling.

If oil production is down, US oil consumption to be lower as well. The reason for low oil price is likely to be recession and greater job loss. With fewer jobs, less oil is needed for making and shipping goods. Furthermore, the many unemployed cannot afford cars. The pattern of  declining demand in the European Union, and Japan is likely to continue, and get worse. (See my post, Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem.)

Figure 3. Oil consumption based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 3. Oil consumption based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

In 2008-2009, the economy was able to somewhat recover, so commodity prices increased again. This recovery was not based on US economy fundamentals–a large part of it seems to be related to artificially low interest rates and deficit spending. As interest rates rise, and as deficit spending is eliminated through higher taxes/lower benefits, the US economy seems likely to head back into recession, with more job loss, probably worse than last time.

Countries with low wages to begin with may be spared of some of the down-escalator economy dynamics for a few years, because their low wage levels will continue to make them competitive in a world economy. These countries will attract a disproportionate share of new jobs, allowing them to continue grow for a time, even as the US, the European Union, and Japan continue to lose jobs.  Thus, world oil prices may be able to bounce back, but probably not to as high a level as in the recent past. Eventually, these countries will tend to follow the rest of the world into stagflation and collapse, because of the interconnectedness of the global economy, and the similar dynamics that all countries are subject to.

Chance of Discontinuity

In order for the models to work in the expected way, business as usual must continue. A few obvious problems come into play:

(1) “Demand,” as defined by economists, is what consumers can afford to pay. Therefore, a jobless individual without any type of government compensation, would have no demand for food, clothing or shelter–at least using the term in the way economists use the word. All of us know that in the real world, lack of a job and lack of government benefits causes problems. At some point, marginalized people will riot and  overthrow governments. Civil war may take place, or war against another country.

(2) Part of Business as usual is continuing availability of debt. At some point, it will start to become clear that the economy has gotten off the up escalator, and moved to the down escalator. On the down escalator, much less debt makes sense. It probably still makes sense to use debt on a short-term basis to cover goods in transit, and it may make sense to use debt to finance investments with a high expected rate of return. But in general, debt is likely to become much less common, greatly worsening the down escalator problem.

(3) As long as the economy was on an up escalator, increasing economies of scale were part of what caused a positive feedbacks. When the economy is on a down elevator, we have the reverse effect–higher fixed costs relative to production. This is even an issue when reduction in sales are intentional–for example, increased water conservation tends to lead to higher fixed costs, per unit of water sold, and greater use of high-efficiency light bulbs leads to greater electricity fixed costs (such as grid costs) per kWh sold. These higher fixed costs tend to push up prices for services further, increasing the down escalator effect.

(4) Investment in a capitalistic system does not work on a down economic escalator. Who wants to invest, if it is probable that the economy will shrink, leading to increasing diseconomies of scale?

What Happens to Government and Business Promises?

There are many kinds of promises currently outstanding:

1. Government promises

  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Continued maintenance of roads
  • Free education for all through high school
  • Government debt (Federal, state, and local)
  • Financial help after hurricane damage
  • Guarantees of bank accounts and pension plans

2. Insurance and bank promises

  • Life insurance policies
  • Annuities
  • Long term care policies
  • Pension plans
  • Auto and homeowners policies, etc.
  • Bank account balances

3. Promises by companies of all types

  • Stock – implied promise it will be worth more in the future
  • Loans borrowed will be paid back (to banks or on bonds)
  • Pension plans
  • Implied guarantee of future 24/7 electricity availability; grid maintenance

What happens to these promises? Over time, it is clear that pretty much all of them will disappear. They are up-escalator benefits that work when there are plenty of fossil fuels and the economy is expanding. They don’t work for very long on a down escalator.

Promises to Individuals

At the level of the individual, one of the implied promises has been is that an individual who gets a good education will be able to get a good paying job. This is one of the promises that is already disappearing.

There is also a second implied promise–people who actually perform the work, will be compensated for it. This promise is falling by the wayside, as wages fall (partly due to globalization, and partly due to other down escalator effects). At the same time, governments need higher tax rates, to pay for all the promises made to those who are retired, unemployed, or have wages that are too low to support a family.

Goods and Services Produced in a Given Year

In any year, there will be a mixture of people buying goods and services:

  • People who are currently in the work force
  • Retirees
  • People who own assets and want to sell them

One thing that may not be obvious without thinking about it, is that all of the people wanting goods and services have to compete for the same set of goods and services that are available at that time.

For example, we grow a certain amount of corn and rice, and we extract a certain amount of oil and coal and copper, and we make a certain amount of electricity in electric power plants. Because of inventories, there is a little flexibility in these amounts, but basically, the amount that is available is determined by market prices and availability of supply lines. If the amount of goods and services produced is decreasing, because we are on a down escalator economy, this smaller quantity of goods and services needs to be shared by the entire population.

If there is relatively little available in total, and those who produced it don’t want to part with it, a person trying to trade accumulated “assets” for current production will not receive very much scarce production in return for his accumulated wealth, no matter what form it may take. In the case of most assets (stocks, bond, gold, silver, etc,) this means that the value of the asset tends toward $0. If currency is viewed as another asset, its value may go to close to zero as well. In fact, if there has been a government change, its value of the currency may be exactly zero.

How about Quantitative Easing?

Quantitative Easing (QE) represents an attempt to reinflate the economy by making more credit available to the economy, at lower interest rates. It also has the effect of reducing the interest rate the government pays on its own long-term debt, thus holding down that taxes the government needs to collect.

In terms of inflation/deflation effects QE has, its primary effect seems to be to artificially inflate asset prices–stocks, bonds, home prices, and agricultural land prices. The announced goal of the Japanese QE attempt was to try to raise the inflation rate (generally) in Japan to 2%, but it has not had that effect. In fact, the same link shows that in general, QE has not led to inflation.

In my view, the primary effect of QE is to create asset price bubbles. The price of bonds is raised, because of the artificially low interest rates.  The price of stocks is raised, because people switch from bonds to stocks, to try to get yield (or capital gains). To get better yield, businesses find it worthwhile investing in homes, with the idea of renting then out on a long-term basis. Very little of QE actually gets through to wages, which is where the major shortfall is.

QE will at some point stop, and the asset price bubble will deflate. (Crunch Time: Fiscal Crises and the Role of Monetary Policy by David Greenlaw, James Hamilton, Peter Hooper, and Frederic Mishkin points out that QE is not viable as a long-term strategy.) This is likely to add to deflation woes. The higher interest rates and the need for higher taxes to cover the higher interest the government needs to pay will add to the down escalator effects, making the trends noted previously even worse.

348 thoughts on “Inflation, Deflation, or Discontinuity?

  1. Jody

    I think generations of Englishmen and women will agree with you about the beneficial health-effects of gardening and contact with the soil. People here always say what a boon it is in this over-crowded, pressurized – and increasingly uncivilized and tense – island to get out into the garden and work away. I sometimes suspect that many just can’t wait for their families to grow up and leave so that they can get on with it……

    I often reflect, too, that Spaniards might be less inclined to think about doing one another to death and less given to such intense political hatreds if they just got out and did some gardening, but sadly there is no tradition of it. Above all, it teaches humility and perseverance, and the pay-offs are wonderful when they come.

    I do agree about the need to move towards growing food at home, and that cisrcumstancs will force the hands of some, but I just can’t see that our ‘leaders’ will take the initiative in the near-term, and I seem to see an awful lot of simply clueless totally urban people around me who just won’t be able to make the transition, and who will not want to. I suspect our Overlords will mine, dam, drill and poison our world into ruin before they accept reality: consumerism makes too much money for a minority, and rubs the basic pleasure-centres of the majority too well to be abandoned, except through catastrophe. Or maybe I’m just having a pessimistic day……..

    • Dear Xabier and Jody
      Xabier, since you are having a bad day, I am a little reluctant to sound like a total SOB. But, here goes. Take a look at this email on our small farm listserv this morning:

      Subject: Crop Circle July 17th- Beneficial Insects and the Plants They Love
      Is the thought of growing your own food completely alien to you, but you’d like to give it a try? Do you produce tomatoes that are out of this world? Then Crop Circle may be the place for you! Every Wednesday at 6:30pm at Steel String Brewery in Carrboro we will be discussing issues related to local agriculture, sharing experiences and food! Food samples will be provided by Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe. Weekly $5 suggested contribution to cover costs. Any additional proceeds we receive for July will go to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.

      Topics for July

      July 10th: Vegetable diseases, identification and treatment.
      July 17th: Beneficial insects and the plants they love.
      July 24th: Pests and the plants they hate.
      July 31st: The Soul of Soil; book discussion.

      Back to me. So…get together at the pub with like minded people and talk about the real issues of gardening and farming and make some friends and share some tips and stir up some pleasant hormones and get on with it. To hell with the Overlords!

      Don Stewart
      PS It’s a long way from England to Carrboro, so I guess you will just have to start your own group.

      • Don

        Well, let’s put it like this: one of my biggest problem at the moment is that I am dealing with neighbours who object to my modest patch devoted to attracting bees. It’s full of them ( 25 visitors at the last count yesterday) but alas my dear neighbours are deaf to the sweet music of their buzzing,and I am almost a social pariah on account of my garden’s lack of ‘niceness’ which they equate with utterly barren mowed-to-death wastelands of suburban pettiness (even though this is a village in the middle of fields and farms!)

        Nor do they see much attraction in the hedgehogs and frogs who also seem to find my efforts congenial. So let’s just say an attempt to lead by example is not going well…… I am waiting for all hell to break loose when I get hens! And note, there are no zoning rules to restrict me here as I see many people have to contend with in the States. This is just dumb basic stupidity.

        There’s a long way to go before we have jolly chats on the pub. Sometimes I do, in my most cynical and disenchanted moments, delight in the thought of these damned ignorant people starving in the barren plots they have created.

        In all fairness, these neighbours do belong to a much older generation, and are very poorly educated, so one can’t really blame them, and, frankly, they will not be able to interfere for much longer. They certainly will not change and I attempt to move serenely on while ignoring them.

        Here’s an actual quote: ‘Look, he’s put a tree there now! Disgusting! It used to be so nice!’ ‘Nice’ = nothing at all to nurture neither man nor beast.

        It’s like being the man who moved to a village in 1900 and had trouble persuading the villagers to open their windows for some fresh air: it wasn’t right! It was the a way it always had been! His intentions were obviously suspect!

        Once they are dead and gone, I have some hopes for a younger generation who may be at least not actively hostile to my aims.

        • Xabier,
          I’m sorry to hear about your unfortunate situation with your neighbors. It makes life more pleasant when we like our neighbors.

          Is your bee patch just being allowed to grow wild, or are you planting any kind of plants specifically? As I’ve been planting more and more herbs I’ve noticed that bees love my flowering herb plants. The English herb garden is a beauty to behold. Hard to imagine anyone finding an herb garden objectionable.
          Jody

        • Dear Xabier
          Besides having a few neighbors who need to do their part to reduce overpopulation, I think you are touching on an important issue: the physical layout of a post-fossil fuel village.

          I grew up in a farming community. My father worked in town at the flour mill…so we weren’t farmers. There were farmers in the family, of course. Everyone in town understood the importance of agriculture. The physical layout of our county was governed by the Northwest Territories Ordinance, which provided that the land be laid out in a grid of roads one mile apart. Each ‘section’ of one square mile was divided into 4 homesteads. The farmhouse was almost invariably located in the middle of each homestead but on the county road. So the houses were quite scattered. I remember being in perhaps the sixth grade when the teacher put up an aerial photo of a French-Canadian village. It was completely different. The houses were all on a single road, close together, but with long fields behind each house. It was immediately obvious to us that ‘neighborhood’ meant something completely different in Quebec. We also understood the advantages of maintaining less road per homestead.

          As we lose what David Holmgren calls our ‘fossil fuel subsidy’, it will become ever more important to get the ‘geography of community’ right. We need to find a balance between privacy and community. Ideally, someone would be able to convene a meeting such as the series in Carrboro to talk about farming and building and water supply methods and such topics in the neighborhood pub or church and most people would walk there. Most people will drive to the Carrboro meeting.

          Can we, at this late date, physically build more functional communities? That’s a really hard question to answer. Kunstler thinks suburbia is a terrible mistake that will just be abandoned. Holmgren thinks that we can ‘green the suburbs’ with gardens. Can small farms be lined up along a few well-maintained roads—destroying current property lines?

          So I think you are touching on a very important topic….Don Stewart

          • Don,
            I agree that the lay out of our future towns is an important topic. Based on your description I think I lived in a similar style community to you as a child. My hometown in Minnesota had a population of 1,500 but was surrounded by a large number of family farms including my grandparents farm, where I lived until school age when my parents moved into town. There were about 50 to 60 students in my grade in school, about half coming from farm families. The town had many small business such as a bakery, two grocery stores, a dairy, feed mill, butcher, shoe repair, jewelery store (and clock repair), pharmacy, and various service businesses such as plumbing and electrical, auto service and gas stations. All these businesses depended on agriculture and with the demise of the small family farm it had to change into a recreation spot. Surprisingly, the population has remained fairly stable.

            I tend to agree with Kunstler that suburbia is a mistake but not because they will find themselves isolated when transportation shifts away from autos. The urban sprawl usually provides more land for gardening than in the city. But when I look at all “stick built” homes that have sprung up around our community like mushrooms after the rain, I notice how poor their construction and how difficult they will be to heat, cool, and maintain. I see houses only 10 years old that are already falling apart. I suspect they will rapidly decline into ghettos or will be salvage yards for the materials needed to rebuild elsewhere.
            Jody

        • that attitude is part of human nature.
          sailors used to have to be forced to eat limes or sauerkraut under threat of punishment to prevent scurvy
          vaccination had the same problems, and in many cases still does.
          that attitude has foisted itself onto out own time, with sex education. If teenagers aren’t taught about sex, girls won’t get pregnant.
          all part of the same thought processes really

    • Dear Xabier and Don,
      I don’t think our leaders in government or the corporate world will take the lead, I think it will be a grass roots movement. Leadership comes in many forms. I think Michelle Obama has done a lot to promote gardening and healthy eating. All I can comment on is the trends I’ve seen happening in my own community. Over the last 10 years or so I’ve seen more and more people move into gardening, and over the last five years a definite increase in vegetable gardens.

      Ten to twenty years ago there was an effort to get people to plant trees to combat global warming and save the earth. Children brought home trees from school and harassed their parents until they could plant them (unfortunately mostly white pine). then I started seeing more and more homeowners installing trees and shrubs around their homes and mulch sales increased. Shrubs and flowers make the home more attractive. When your neighbor’s house looks so good, it’s easy to feel inferior. Soon flowers became the norm as the ever present “keeping up with the Jones” drove them to expand. Groups like the Master Gardeners continue to grow. The Slow Food Movement, the Sustainable Living Movement, Healthy Living…all these movements led are moving in the right direction. Our community has seen strong growth in farmer’s markets.

      I like to think that my business has helped in this expansion. I keep prices low so my products are more affordable. I also think that compost-rich soil makes growing things so much easier and people are successful right from the start. People are always telling me how incredible their garden plants grew in my soil. I hardly advertise because word of mouth brings me plenty of new business and customers come back.

      I also spend a lot of time educating people on the phone. I always have time to talk to people that are starting a vegetable garden. I suggest easier techniques for installing gardens and I focus on economical solutions, even if it means suggesting they use their own leaves rather than buying my compost. I’m a lazy and frugal gardener. I don’t want to spend money or do hard physical labor if I don’t have to and I assume my customers are the same! I usually recommend solutions that will save people money and time and I think this has also helped them be successful and continue to garden. I suppose this could be viewed from a selfish business perspective in that my efforts are keeping customers coming back. But really, I just want to encourage people in this direction!

      Elderly people often like to grow flowers but tell me vegetables are too much work. I usually recommend that they try incorporating some herbs and greens in the flower beds; a tomato and cucumber on the patio, potatoes in a tub. It is so easy to grow food!

      So maybe my community is doing better than the average. I don’t have any way of measuring it. But I believe that once people start in this direction, the benefits they experience are very real and are passed on in stories to their friends and neighbors, who pass it on…and the ground swell begins. I think the taste (and price) of fresh food in the stores becomes unbearable once one tastes them from their own garden. We feel better and we get sick less often. I don’t think we have to use fear tactics (grow a garden or you will soon starve to death!), we just need to let nature take its course.

      The more I can encourage people to get off the couch or away from their computers and smart phones, and get into the dirt, the better they will feel. Gardening will reduce the fear and anxiety people are likely to experience as life descends into chaos. And stop listening the the media! If I grow something It always gives me hope for tomorrow, even if it might turn out to be futile. It’s better than dying of fear or boredom!

    • overlords have always done just that Jody, the difference in the past was a limit imposed by energy availability. (you can’t drill oilwells 5 miles deep with human muscle)
      Now the limits have been lifted. Overlords can buy energy to drill mine and dam anything anywhere
      for now

      • End of More,
        Even overlords will be limited in their ability to drill, mine and dam when it takes more than a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil.
        My comment wasn’t about overlords, it was about government not leading people to grow more food. This will happen when people find food difficult to acquire otherwise.
        Jody

  2. Dear Gail and Others

    This is a little exercise in tea-leaf reading. We know from Dan Ariely’s ‘Experimental Economics’ studies that about 2 percent of the population is willing to look at science for some guidance about the future AND actually do something about it in terms of their personal behavior.

    I recently observed all the obstacles that even the 2 percent will encounter. So let’s arbitrarily assume that 1 percent of the population actually ‘get it’ and do what they can to facilitate their own survival and avoid the inevitable bad luck. That would give us, post collapse, 70 million humans on Earth.

    Dave Pollard offers this link for a scientific assessment:
    http://www.democraticunderground.com/112742533

    The scientist’s number is 10 million. Dave Pollard did his own study and concluded that Earth could support about 20 million hunter-gatherers.

    Given the nature of the estimation problem, all these numbers are remarkably similar.

    Of course, IF it is those who are both scientifically inclined and predisposed to taking action that form the bulk of the survivors…we would have to debate whether they would still be humans, wouldn’t we?

    Don Stewart

  3. Dear Don
    Ive linked this to a UK Guardian piece by Stephen Emmott, well worth a read:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/30/population-growth-wipe-out-life-earth
    I’ve clipped the most frightening stats from it here:
    ======
    According to the United Nations, Zambia’s population is projected to increase by 941% by the end of this century. The population of Nigeria is projected to grow by 349% – to 730 million people.
    Afghanistan by 242%.
    Democratic Republic of Congo 213%.
    Gambia by 242%.
    Guatemala by 369%.
    Iraq by 344%.
    Kenya by 284%.
    Liberia by 300%.
    Malawi by 741%.
    Mali by 408%.
    Niger by 766%.
    Somalia by 663%.
    Uganda by 396%.
    Yemen by 299%.
    Even the United States’ population is projected to grow by 54% by 2100, from 315 million in 2012 to 478 million. I do just want to point out that if the current global rate of reproduction continues, by the end of this century there will not be 10 billion of us – there will be 28 billion of us.
    ============
    We all know this isn’t going to happen of course. It’s the method by which it will be stopped is the truly frightening bit

    • Hello, That is truly scary, but I do not think we are going to see 18 billion – as the so called “Long Emergency” will be well underway in 5-10 years and things will start retracting I believe. This will not be easy either.

    • Interesting article. What I found the most interesting was reading the authors reaction to the dangers our world faces. Unfortunately, too few scientists “get it”. I know many highly intelligent, educated people who are still living with a worldview that says “technology and science will always make the future better than the past.” When the light bulb finally goes off and their head comes up from the sand, they become energized to point out the “cliff” ahead. It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad how outraged they are that the whole structure of knowledge they have built is not going to save them. I understand why most find it much easier to keep their head down and keep living in the ivy tower.

      Jorgen Randers in his new book “2052” predicts population will peak at 8.1 billion around 2042 and then decline rapidly. (Jorgen Randers was one of the authors of the report “Limits to Growth”). His arguments (and those of others) make sense assuming we don’t hit any discontinuities. It’s the discontinuities that will send us off on paths we can’t predict.

      The main problem I see is that what we don’t know frightens us, and fear does little to help in the way of forming our decisions. But our brains are adapted to trying to make sense of the world, we all build structures and mental constructs that help us move through the world. We’ve been socialized to believe that planning for the future and earning money is important for success. But what if we can’t earn money, or money no longer buys enough food and water, or we can’t plan for the future?

      Our reactions to thoughts of catastrophic collapse are often influenced by fear, denial, anger, and impotence. It doesn’t matter that none of these reactions benefit us. Knowing we don’t know and being comfortable with not knowing, is the only way I see of living sanely in a world that already appears rather insane to me. How can so many people not see the dangers? How can so many people rush like lemmings off the cliff? Hard not to think these thoughts. Even harder to live without fear as we go over the cliff.
      Jody

  4. Science Is Always Wrong.

    If you don’t believe this, then all you have to do is track the scientific progress and reporting of any issue you would like. Science starts off saying one thing, the modifies that conclusion somewhat a few years later, then some more a little after that. The nature of the practice of science is that it is always going to change (modify, update, improve) its particular conclusion about a particular issue. A less reverent way to say is that Science Is Always Wrong.

    If Malthus were to begin writing today, would we have a similar book? If Jasan Randers, a very smart fellow that Jody cited, had been able to write in 1970 what he wrote recently, wouldn’t he have done so.

    Do the United Nations head counters get to change their guesstimates later? Will Africa survive that many people? Probably not, as it would probably entail thorough deforestation. But what the heck, there’s more forest in the United States than in all of Africa…

    BTW, 120 years ago scientists said space was made up of ‘ether.’ None of them could define or explain what ‘ether’ consisted of, and most intelligent people acknowledged that it was a temporary explanation that they’d have to settle for until something better was discovered.

    Then EInstein published his theories (relativity and general relativity), and Nils Bohr and some other fellows added some wonderful ideas. Then all the space scientists began measuring the universe and came to the conclusion that using Einstein’s theories they could account for only 10% of the mass and less than 10% of the energy that the universe should have. So what did they call it? ‘Dark Energy’ and ‘Dark Matter’. Neither defined except in the broadest terms as ‘something that we can’t measure…’ Kinda like the ‘ether’ of 120 years ago. Thank, Science.

    • Science isn’t “always wrong”, but you are correct that our theories and understanding are always changing. Science grew out of philosophy, naturalism, and medicine. Some people like to contemplate life and our place within it, while others want to control life and our place within it. Out of this came modern science and technology, with Descarte’s philosophy of reductionism wining out over other philosophical paths that could have laid the groundwork for a very different approach to “science”.

      For me, being trained as a scientist, I have learned rational ways of thinking and analyzing situations, people, and the world I live within. But I have a nature that looks for and values the “mysteries” of life, the area beyond our knowing. I am a generalist, being trained in several different areas of science (Geology, Soils, Biology, and Chemistry) which gives me a broad view but makes me less successful in finding work as a scientist. I find scientists today often know more and more about less and less! Even their specified language can only be understood by the other specialists in their field. Because of this, their world view is constrained to a very small slice of the puzzle, and I doubt that these specialists can help us find many solutions to our current problems.
      .
      But, intellectual development is a uniquely human achievement, and I think science is one of our crowning achievements. I love learning, discovering new ways of looking at and understanding the world. I have known several self-taught scientists and engineers that had little credentials but were geniuses. As I grow older, I find that what keeps elderly people the happiest is a lifetime of learning. It is so unfortunate that our modern educational system is so bad at teaching young people how to learn, and to appreciate the joy that comes from a lifetime of learning.

    • If Jasan Randers, a very smart fellow that Jody cited, had been able to write in 1970 what he wrote recently, wouldn’t he have done so.

      Indeed, Randers (together with Donella and Dennis Meadows) did write about the same thing — that human population would peak by mid-century and crash thereafter. His recent writing is merely tightening the dates.

      That’s what science does — progressive refinement. Science is not “wrong” so much as it is a moving approximation. What’s wrong with that? Should we instead be debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

      If anything, I think attitudes like “science is always wrong” is one of the big problems of the day.

      • Jan,
        Are you having another bad day?
        One could argue that “debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” would be a perfectly good exercise in thinking. Sort of like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” These old questions were often used by philosophers to teach students about the limits of their thinking.

        How big is the head of a pin? Do angels exist, and if so, are they spirit, and does spirit have mass? If they have no mass then the answer is an infinite number can dance on the head of a pin (that is assuming they dance). On and on the drums reverberate….

        • Don’t know what “having another bad day” has to do with anything. Sometimes people who are having bad days tend to project. 🙂

          The point I apparently failed to make was that “angels dancing on the head of a pin” was the rage at one point, but now looks passé. Thus is science, and saying it is “wrong” today does not mean it is wrong to keep trying.

  5. Dear Gail and Others

    I have been looking at a book by Sara Gottfried, MD written mostly for middle-aged women. Why is an old man looking at a book like that? Well…I am trying to help a middle-aged woman friend with some of her health issues. I selected this excerpt because I think it makes some points, which I will underline below:

    I like to think that my great-grandmother Mud (from the German mutter) would be proud of my goals for you. Mud resides in my heart as my first role model. She showed me a healthy path with dignity even into her nineties. While others were feeling depressed and downtrodden, she was noshing on vegetables and stretching. When they were drinking excessive alcohol, she sipped hot water with lemon. As their bodies got fat and sedentary, she chased younger men. (And noted elsewhere, danced at her great-granddaughter’s wedding after burying four husbands).

    Here are my goals for you:
    1. to find healthcare that is responsive to and respectful of your preferences, needs, and values
    2. to have your symptoms and concerns taken seriously
    3. to find the root cause of your disease instead of just putting Band-Aid on the problem
    4. to know that you can exercise, eat healthful foods, manage your stress, and balance your hormones naturally
    5. to become so dogged, firerce, and clever as Charlie’s Angels, never stopping until the last piece of the puzzle is in place.

    My vision for you is to feel–from the inside out–sparkly, fulfilled, and content. I want you to feel blessed by a hormonally balanced life, full of the spunk, engagement, and buoyancy that are your birthright. Your new life of balance begins with a single mantra: set goals, track progress, get feedback. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    In this book we’ve reviewed reams of science–we’ve discussed randomized double-blind trials, obscure brain parts, serotonin transporters, telomeres, epigenomics, little-know endocrine glands, contemplative practice, and the occasionally embarrasing tidbits of female experience. You’ve read pages of my proven method to correct your hormones, starting with lifestyle tweaks and moving progressively through various supplements, botanicals, and bioidentical hormones….You now know what to do to return to hormonal balance, and in this final chapter, we’ve covered the compliance side of the equation–the science of successful change, and how to improve health by leveraging positive psychology and health habits.

    When I was a thirty-something woman who felt miserable and stressed out, I was astonished that conventional medicine had no answers for me. As I looked around my medical practice, I noticed an epidemic of women who felt similar symptoms, wanted help, but had trouble finding what they most needed….I figured out how to move the needle on stress, and that changed everything. Ultimately, you have tremendous power to change your hormones, reclaim your body and get Charlie’s Angels (cortisol, thyroid, and estrogen) working for you, not against you. You understand the importance of root cause analysis and have a clear sense of your own root cause from the questionnaires. You know the tactics to resist constant temptations to eat poorly and become sedentary. You have the information you need to support your hormonal biochemistry. Follow my great-grandmother’s advice: find the internal solution rather than resorting to external prescriptions. My greatest hope is that the information in this book provides a drugless road map that will lead you systemically to increased health and vitality–and that when you reach that goal, you’ll be able to reach your fullest potential.

    And here is Rob Hopkins summarizing a conference in Paris on the possibilities in a no-growth economy:

    This clearly felt like a timely and remarkable event. I suspect that we (in Britain) are still some way off an event such as this. On the positive side, the speeches by the President of the National Assembly and the Director of IDDRI in the opening session laid down a challenge, created an opening, a space, which the bulk of the presenters then failed to embrace. Apart from those who had clearly been invited in order to bring a more radical post-growth/Steady State perspective (myself, Andrew Simms, Dan O’Neill) and Lena Sommestad, there was little to offer much insight into where we go next.

    Laurence Tubiana of IDDRI had set it up beautifully in her speech when she said “the fact we depend on growth is a problem, because we no longer have any growth”. Yet many of the speakers approached the subject from the angle of “when we choose between growth and no growth, I choose growth”, which rather missed the point. It was especially interesting to see how the Left, in the form of the French socialists, finds itself unable to go there. The academics often approached the issue by breaking it down and focusing on one small part of it.

    For me, most disappointing was Lord Nicholas Stern. By looking at climate change in isolation from issues of energy security and the economy, his vision that we can grow our way out of the climate crisis brought to mind Einstein’s oft-cited quote that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. His argument that we have to talk about growth or else India and China won’t take us seriously is so alarmingly flawed that I will address this in a later post.

    Perhaps the most important thing about this event though is the fact that it took place at all. And also the fact that the Transition movement was invited to be a key part of it. It really felt like significant people in government and positions of power are now starting to realise that economic growth is an outdated model, are waking up to the scale of the multiple challenges we face, and as they cast around for solutions and responses as to what bottom-up responses and the innovations for a post growth economy might look like, are discovering Transition. An experiment that didn’t wait for permission, or funding, or validation from anyone, but just got on with it. As I sat there, beneath the golden ceilings and chandeliers of Paris, I felt something shifting beneath my feet. Barely, almost imperceptably, but definitely shifting.

    Now back to me. Sara’s book is about the bedrock of being human…our hormones. If we feel badly, it’s our hormones at work. If we feel happy, it’s our hormones at work. What a radical notion! It isn’t GDP or ‘growth’ or ‘money in the bank’. And the solutions that Sara lays out are not really closely related to GDP or growth or money in the bank. She teaches yoga when she isn’t doctoring. Yoga instructors consistently draw derision from the people who write for Zero Hedge. Yet, what Sara sees in her practice is that attaining hormonal balance involves either rejection of, or careful adjustment to, many of the things we consider ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’. Her great-grandmother is her model, for goodness sake. And solutions are ‘internal’, not ‘external’. If you want to be happy, then you will have to work on your hormones, not buy a Ferrari.

    Greer today talks about how, once a group commits itself to the notion of being ‘progressive’, it is trapped and cannot perceive when its actions are failures. Sara sees her hormonal model at work, and observes the results, in her patients every day. But Hopkins perception of the French Socialists is that they are deeply committed to the notion of ‘material growth as progress achieved by means of socialism’ and are simply unable to contemplate the thought that it isn’t going to happen.

    Greer also talks about science, and how ‘big ideas’ such as fusion become sinks of money and talent. He recommends a more organic approach, such as a tree deciding which branches to nourish and which to let die. Sara has followed a somewhat treelike strategy. She went to Harvard to become a doctor, then worked in the mill of ‘7 minutes with the patient, one prescription for life of drugs’ for a number of years, had the good sense to realize that it wasn’t working, and got out and established her own practice. She strikes me as being remarkably data driven.

    For example, one doctor acquaintance dislikes her because she prescribes bioidentical thyroid hormones. Sara says that she prescibes ‘the minimum dose for the minimum time’. What does that mean? You have to understand a little about Positive Psychology to grasp what she is doing. First, you have to get the patient to feeling good, and then you can fine tune working on the factors one by one which got her into her predicament. When you have corrected enough of the factors, the need for the medication vanishes in many cases. Most doctors are not capable of thinking that way. And, as we see in the news from China, Big Pharma makes it worthwhile for most doctors NOT to think that way. Big Pharma’s US methods are a little more subtle, but achieve the same ends.

    So here is the United States busily creating a super-high stress environment, and that environment is destroying hormonal balance. Yet the solution seen by the Neo-Liberal economists is to crank up the stress some more with things like global trade and the destruction of trade unions and increasing personal debt and grossly unequal distributions of wealth. All in the name of ‘growth and progress’.

    If you are an even slightly reflective person, all this should set off alarms. Are we creatures of the Economy, or creatures of our Hormones? Our experience thus far is that putting our faith in the Economy is bankrupting us…GDP grows because we spend so much money trying to pick up the broken pieces. Perhaps Zero Hedge should admit their errors and write an appreciative article about Yoga instructors?

    Don Stewart

    • Hello Don,
      I did want to comment on this post of yours. Being a middle-aged woman I found it very interesting. I looked up Sara Gottfried’s book and our local library has a copy so I’ll check it out.

      It is interesting how many ways diet and lifestyle affect our health. The more I study this topic the more confidence I have that Americans will live much better once we throw out our current “healthcare” system and embark on a new paradigm. We will eat better too, once the oil-driven industrial agriculture goes away.

      One of the things I’ve learned about eating the herbs I grow is how much vitality they impart when added to my diet. My favorites are pesto made from basil, mint, olive oil and garlic; salsa with cilantro (or cilantro in anything); tabbouleh made from cracked grains and parsley; arugula is good on anything (sandwiches and salads); “green” smoothies made with fruit or vegetable and almost anything green; seasoning steamed vegetables, sauces, or soups with sage, rosemary, thyme, dill, or oregano; various teas (chamomile, mint, sage, hyssop, rosemary)….the list goes on. And if I add “weeds” to this (dandelion, plantain, nettles, lambs quarter, purslane, etc.) the list becomes so large that I can’t eat or use all that nature provides me.

      Like most gardeners I started with one or two herbs and as I’ve learned to use them I’ve kept adding more. Now my kitchen garden, back yard, and “wild” areas are being taken over by perennial as well as annual herbs that reseed themselves. They are beautiful to look at and also valuable for insects and birds, attracting bees, praying mantis, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

      There is nothing more enjoyable than going for a walk in early morning or evening (when the dew is on the grass and the birds are singing) to gather here, gather there, a basket full of edibles. I let my walk turn into my “shopping” for breakfast, lunch, or dinner ingredients. I suspect this is something woman probably enjoy more easily then men, but I think anyone can enjoy this process and it would reduce stress and improve hormonal balance.

      I think that fresh green plants with all their phytonutrients and anti-oxidants are having a positive affect on my hormone system. Also, I’ve found that avoiding/ reducing gluten (especially refined white flour), sugar, meat, and dairy greatly reduces mucus, inflammation, toxicity, and body aches…and improves or eliminates chronic health issues. So I believe Sara is on the right track. But we don’t have to give up these things entirely. Even a little less will improve our health, or periodically take timeouts (fasting is very beneficial). I’m amazed at how much better I feel, how clearer I think, and how much energy I have when “clean” my physical house now and then.

      I greatly admire Rob Hopkins. His positive attitude the many things he does that help people to make the changes we need. Once we struggle through the other stages of grief and began to reach acceptance, life’s challenges don’t seem as impossible. Whether we succeed or not, it’s how we approach our life that matters most.

      Cheers,
      Jody

      • Jody
        I think you will enjoy Sara’s book.

        One other thing about the rice cooker. Let’s suppose you begin with two Mason jars. Add the mix to each one, a dash of lemon juice, some pure water (I use a Brita filter). Let them sit. That evening, pour the contents of one jar into your rice cooker and wash and refill your jar. But keep the two jars in line and rotate them. The next morning, you eat what’s in the rice cooker, refill the rice cooker with the mix you started the first day. Wash the new jar and fill it up again.

        What you have is a two day fermentation rotation.

        You can vary it if you plan to use the rice cooker to make dinner by adding a third mason jar. Or just use a ‘day and a half rotation’. I don’t think the length of the fermentation is critical. You’ll quickly figure out what you want to do.

        The timer is also very good for things like dinner. If I am going to have, say, rice and red beans for supper, but I am out and about or working in the garden in the PM, I just set the timer for dinner time and add the rice. When I come in to make dinner, I have cooked rice. I stir in some of the red beans, of which I always have a container in the fridge, and let them warm while I get the rest of the dinner together. The rice cooker and timer have taken care of the lengthy process of cooking the rice. They also reduce the load on my age-enfeebled brain. I find that ‘multi-tasking’ is best left to the twenty somethings. I only do one thing at a time.

        Don Stewart

        • Dear Don,
          It sounds like you eat much as my husband and I, fairly simple wholesome food. My teenage boys like more starchy foods than than my husband or I do. When they are finally out of the nest meals will become much smaller and simpler. Two boys that are very tall (6’4″ and 6’5″) and active can eat like the proverbial horse(s).

          I think the fermentation rotation sounds very interesting. Fermented grains are very good for us and more digestible. How does the lemon juice affect fermentation? How does the acidity help with fermentation? Isn’t lemon juice anti-microbial, or does it just reduce oxidation? What brand of rice cooker do you prefer?

          I can relate about the multi-tasking. Things on timers are a relief.
          Jody

          • Jody
            Are you familiar with Sandor Katz’ book on fermentation? He says, page 218:
            Soaking Grains
            Grains benefit from soaking whether whole or already milled….Use dechlorinated water…You can soak the grain for just a few hours, if that’s all you have; although pre-digestion will just be getting underway, it’s better than no soaking at all. More pre-digestion will occur faster if you soak grains in warm (body temperature) water and add some active live cultures–such as a little soaking liquid saved from a previous soak, whey, sourdough starter, buttermilk, or sauerkraut juice–or acids such as vinegar or lemon juice.

            I prefer either a flavored vinegar or the lemon juice–since I always have them on hand.

            I have used a Zojirushi for years. I love the porridge cycle.

            Don Stewart

  6. Some of you may enjoy reading this excellent essay by Carolyn Baker that speaks to many of the issues raised here. From my personal experience I can vouch for how difficult it is to step out of Empire even when making radical changes to lifestyle and energy footprint. The beliefs underpinning the current structure are so deeply conditioned in my sense of self that the very foundation of identity is necessarily called into question.
    http://guymcpherson.com/2013/07/can-we-really-walk-away-from-empire/

    • Dear Ravinathan,
      Thank you for this post. I was indeed an excellent essay and following some of her strands lead me to other unexpected places.
      Namaste,
      Jody

    • Dear Chris,
      I wouldn’t be too concerned about the news. With respect to food insecurity, price increases will cause more instability than crop yields. At the bottom of the article you cited there were five recommendations that I will copy below [my comments are in the brackets]:

      1) Stop razing forests and savannahs for farmland — by, for instance, shifting away from crop-based biofuels.
      [US is expected to divert 40% of its corn crop this year to ethanol production. As long as gas prices are high and the government subsidizes ethanol, this will continue. In the long run this will increase the price of meat because corn is the number one ingredient in animal feed.]

      2) Focus on boosting yields where it’s technologically doable, especially in Africa. [Companies such as Monsanto love to see news like this because it scares people into thinking genetically engineered crops are necessary to feed the world’s population. There is research that shows that genetically engineered (GE) crops don’t raise yields any more than good agricultural practices. I think evidence is also accumulating that there are more negative affects to our health than what Monsanto is telling us.
      There is also low correlation between the amount of food we grow and the number of people who don’t have enough to eat. [http://agbioforum.org/v2n34/v2n34a03-altieri.pdf] Food insecurity isn’t just a third world problem. There is a large number of Americans that currently don’t have enough to eat or can’t afford to buy food. Last year 50% of the families sending children to the school my kids attend received vouchers to help them pay for school lunches. This is not a lower-income school district!]

      3) Figure out how to use water and fertilizer more efficiently everywhere.
      [GPS makes this trivial, but requires farmer have the technology.]

      4) Pare back the amount of meat in our diets.
      [ I’ve taken the following excerpt from the book 2052 that I mentioned in an earlier post: “When we shift from red meat to chicken, pork, and grain-fed aquaculture, many more can be fed from the same agricultural base. It takes some 7 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of red meat, while it takes only 2 kg to produce 1 kg of chicken. After such a shift, the same amount of grain can feed 3.5 times as many people. The shift toward lower-quality proteins will also result from the limited supply of high-quality protein.”
      If we all were to replace some (or all) meat with vegetable protein such as the whole grain itself, or legumes (dried beans, peas, and lentils) we could feed 50% more people.]

      5) Cut down on the enormous amount of food waste worldwide.
      [Current estimate is that the world loses about 1/3 of global food production to spoilage and waste. A large part of this is due to the need to transport crops long distances to markets. Eating locally grown food would reduce the waste significantly.]

      In my opinion, the last two suggestions are probably the most efficient solutions (most economical and most effective), yet they stand the lowest chance of being accomplished because they require the average person to make changes in their eating habits, not the big corporate farmers we love to criticize!
      Cheers,
      Jody

      • To Jody Tishmack:

        Thank you, ma’am. You bring a bit of relief. However, when lining up the list of African population increases against food and water requirements, an ethereal Malthus hovers overhead and occasionally morphs into a more threatening figure..
        I am especially concerned about deforestation and desertification, especially in Africa, where the Sahara is expanding to the South by something like 35 miles per year. Much of the loss is due to farming, but a large acreage is lost every week to firewood for the daily meal.
        Cheers, Chris

        • As I recall there was an attempt to provide solar cookers ( to save trees) to Africans back in the late 50’s or early 60’s but it failed as the disruption in daily routine was enough for them to simply not use “free energy”. Makes me wonder how we will ever change our ways.

          • Yes, If I was born a tree, I would not want to be born in Africa. The deserts will surely grow there as they scavenge every last stick of firewood. I know right now they depend more on the sea for food (fish etc) than the land mammal hunting which is also a concern of mine too.

          • To Edward Kerr:

            Please forgive my absence. You are correct about solar cookers for Africa. In fact it’s one of those continuing campaigns. We’ve done lots of those, including some solar powered lanterns that enable teachers to assign homework, etc. And computers. Some smart fellows left some laptops in a place where some youngsters would find them and they did. And although they were illiterate and innumerate, within a few weeks they were reading and writing and doing math and much else. Africa’s improved a lot, but still has a long way to go, and the deforestation and overpopulation problems are immense.

            Cheers, Chris

            • Chris,
              I guess that the point that I was trying to make is that the program failed to be utilized on a wide scale because of the “inconvenience” of having to alter daily cooking routines to use a solar cooker. Compared to the changes in behavior that we will need make to save our buns a solar cooker is minimal. It’s why I get to thinking that we haven’t changed much on that front. Our success looks less likely every day.
              Regards,
              Ed

            • I have a solar cooker. I have thought about using it, but the first issue is finding a good place to put it, in an area with many trees. Likely, it will need to be in my front yard, and will needed to be moved during cooking, if cooking takes very long.

              There is also the issue of what happens when we are going through tough times. Will I need to station someone near the solar cooker, so that the cooker and the food in it will not be stolen? If people don’t take it, how about stray animals banging into it, to investigate the smell?

              I am not convinced it is the most practical of solutions.

        • That’s what happens when culture trumps common sense.
          At the moment a minimum of food can be got to famine areas when they develop, but that food is moved by energy.
          Another critical population factor is that of the USA. Right now the USA can spare food for starving Africans. When the population of the USA heads towards 450 million, there won’t be enough to feed America, let alone anywhere else, neither will there be fuel to move it around. Conflicts in Africa right now are ultimately about control of resources, ultimately food. When (not if) the same problems hit the USA, (and elsewhere) conflict will be even bloodier. We are all of the same stock, with the same drive to survive at any cost.
          We are all expressing concern about this or that, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that people are going to die, in large numbers

          • To all,
            I don’t want to give the impression I don’t think food security isn’t a big issue. I only meant that our agility to grow food isn’t as much the issue as other things, such as who controls a countries land and resources for growing food. As resources become further degraded and depleted we are already seeing a rush to grab land for producing and exporting food to those wealthy enough to pay for it.

            There was a very good article published in the Guardian in 2010 about what was going on in Africa three years ago. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/07/food-water-africa-land-grab. And Jeff Master’s discussed it further in a post on his website July 20, 2011.

            “One third of the population of Africa lives in drought-prone areas (World Water Forum, 2000), and about 25% of the population of Africa currently experiences high water stress. Remarkably, several nations in East Africa have been selling their land to other countries to raise food for export in recent years. These nations include Ethiopia and Sudan, who both receive massive food aid from the U.N. World Food Program. According to the fascinating and sobering book, World on the Edge by Lester Brown, in January 2009, Saudi Arabia celebrated the arrival of the first shipment of rice on land they had acquired in Ethiopia, where the World Food Program was feeding 5 million people at the time.”

            This is how poor countries will be exploited by rich ones. I wonder what will happen in Africa when World Food Programs can’t feed their poor, while the rich make off with all the food they can grow in your back yard?

            But securing food for export isn’t just happening in Africa. It is also happening in the U.S.

            In February 2010 an article in the Guardian described how “China faces struggle to feed population as pollution and urbanization threaten food supply”. China was increasingly concerned about how depleted their soils were becoming and feared for their ability to grow food. August 2012 Reuters reported that China was fretting over looming pork shortages in their country. In May of this year China was attempting to buy controlling interest in Smithfield Farms, the largest pork producer in the U.S. Just today I saw an article in the Salt Lake Tribune that Circle Four Farms, a massive hog operation in Milford,UT is part of a $7.1-billion buyout that would be the largest-ever Chinese takeover of a U.S. firm.

            If you aren’t concerned, think about this. Most of the pork production in the U.S. is now “vertically integrated”, meaning that a company controls contracts for their entire production chain. They contract with all the producers; farmers to grind the feed, growers that raise the pigs, companies that slaughter, process, and market the products. Because they have so much control they force producers to take rock bottom prices, which they have to do because independent farmers can’t compete. Some slaughterhouses are under contract to butcher for only one company. Haulers can’t haul for anyone else. Kind of like what Walmart does to its suppliers. And although Smithfield Farms claims they bring jobs, most of their operations are heavily automated or what little staffing is needed is done by very low paid employees with no benefits.

            Utah officials are raising objections saying “It’s a huge concern that we have foreign people owning and controlling a significant portion of our food supply,” The Senate is investigating the sale but I doubt they will try to prevent it. The company representative believes that “This is a wonderful opportunity for the U.S. to do what it does best, which is to produce agricultural products and ship those around the world.”

            The question I wonder is what happens when there are shortages of water, land, or food supplies? Who decides where the water resources will be used? Who is responsible for pollution or environmental damage? Whose interests will our government protect? As resources become increasingly constrained I think we need to have a national discussion about who controls our diminishing natural resources and who should benefit from production and export.
            Jody

            • Dear Jody
              David Holmgren notes in a recent interview that the richest 2 billion people in the world have the financial power to divert so much land to growing biofuels to power vehicles that the remaining 5 billion will simply starve. The cases you cited is evidence that something like that may well happen.

              Don Stewart

          • Essentially, stronger powers have always grabbed the resources of weaker powers in the pursuit of increased material and commercial strength.
            In the 18th century, slave traders showed up on the shores of Africa to buy people. The purpose of that, as we all know, was to convert the muscle of slaves, via sugar, cotton and tobacco into cash. That in turn was used to re invest in more production of coal and iron (initially in Europe) to produce more metal goods, particularly guns, to use to bargain with African slave traders–who then used the guns to go and capture yet more slaves (muscle energy).
            My point being, that while Europeans might be vilified as slave traders, it was in fact Africans who caught, traded and sold fellow Africans for profit. Europeans could not penetrate inland, we relied on the callousness of tribal leaders to sell people.
            Now move to the present.
            The same tribal thinking still pervades. Tribal leaders are now in ‘government’ but they still sell their (land) energy sources for profit. They can’t sell people any more, but they don’t need to, they just sell the land they live on to the highest bidder. If the farmers and herders starve–tough–, profits have been made and the cash safely stashed in a swiss bank. This is why I’ve written my book http://tinyurl.com/oa854gt to try to show that the same trading alliances exist, and that we still supply callous regimes with military hardware to enable them to keep populations under control while their energy producing assets (whether food oil or minerals) are stripped out and sold.
            USA food sources will follow the same pattern. Right now it’s a commercial venture because commerce is what we live by, but as food begins to run short, ‘trade’ will still be paramount. Food shipments will have to be ‘protected’ against the predations of the mob. It will be interesting to see how long civil cohesion lasts when food is being shipped abroad for commercial gain while people are starving at home

          • End of More,
            Humans share many characteristics, some we admire and some we deplore. My hope is that humans can hold on to those qualities we admire even if our current civilization is coming to its logical end. Isn’t this after all, what “civilized” means?
            Jody

          • Jody
            While I agree that remaining civilised is a laudable aim, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that civilisation at the best estimate of what that means, isn’t more than 10000 years old, (buildings, domesticated animals, writing etc) while humankind is at least 200000 years old. By that reckoning civilisation is an anomaly.
            If we take another angle on what civilisation is, its ‘window’ reduces drastically. If say, we think it’s ‘uncivilised’ to eat one another, that puts it at 100 years or thereabouts.
            Say it’s uncivilised to mobilise millions of men and march them towards one another–70 years.
            Go a step further and say it’s ‘uncivilised’ to mutilate children in the name of religion or culture, and you have hundreds of millions still living in the stone age right now. Or to hold on to the belief that somehow an unseen deity will deliver us from our inevitable future, puts it at far more people living with the same line of thinking as our distant ‘uncivilised’ ancestors.
            My point being, that faced with survival or the unpleasant alternative, civilised behaviour wont last beyond a foodless week at best

          • End of more,
            I don’t disagree with your logic or your conclusions. You have obviously thought a great deal about this. You are right, food is critical to life’s survival. Starving people are unpredictable But I prefer not to speculate on what painful, horrific events might be in our future. It is pointless to worry about what I cannot control.

            I prefer to work on myself, do what I can; growing more food, learning to be more self sufficient, encouraging others in my community to grow food, and trying to meet conflict with peaceful resolution.

            Most of my life I have tried to improve my understanding, my actions and reactions to the world, my awareness of what is truly important. I believe the highest path humans can seek, is trying to answer to the fundamental questions of life; who am I and am I here? I think life is most fulfilling when I aspire for my highest potential. It takes much hard work and perseverance to overcome fear, greed, anger, or any other response that leads to more pain and suffering.

            Being sensitive to the suffering of others, I know I will suffer the death of many. We are all part of the collective consciousness of humanity. The internet has made our connections even stronger, because now we can see with our conscious mind what would otherwise be kept in the unconscious.

            regards,
            Jody

      • Hello – Yes Jody, I agree, we store some of those items but hoping not to eat them as most of us like fresh stuff better. We should all be ready to have things to make a soup or stew pot from supplies stored, like dried garden veggies and beans and freeze dried meats which are the most pricey. The garden dried veggies you jar yourself may last up to five years if you use oxygen removers in the jars, but the Freeze dried foods in the #10 coffee style cans will last up to 30 years including meat that needs no refrigeration but the cost is the downside they are not that cheap unless you buy a good sale which they have sometimes.

        In the wintertime I like to make a good pot of soup or stew… We may get tired of soup and stew – but we will live and the food will go farther if we ate this way. We keep some supplies on hand just for this if needed and drying some garden veggies.

        Our food really could go farther if we were less choosy for sure.

        • Scott,
          I agree that having a “deep pantry” is something everyone should work on, as room permits.
          But I think one mistake people make is that they don’t learn to eat the food in storage on a regular basis. Our grandparents (and parents) used root cellars and basements to store food they grew or could buy more cheaply when it was in season, and they ate it during the winter. If we are to learn to be more self sufficient I think we need to learn to live this way too.

          I would also like to also make a pitch for adding whole grains and dried legumes to our diets. They are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals; the most economical source of protein you can buy; and they can be used in so many different ways. Just check out the many cookbooks you can find. I didn’t learn this from my mother, she only used a few different types of beans in her cooking, and rice was about the only whole grain she cooked. But I was fortunate to live next to a vegetarian family when I was in college, and I learned how delicious beans and grains can be when combined with a variety of herbs and seasoning.

          Now I regularly use several different types of grains: wheat (several types), rice (several types), barley, quinoa, corn, millet, oats; and beans: kidney, garbanzo, northern, navy, red, black, and pinto beans, green and yellow split peas, green and brown lentils, etc. I usually buy them in the 10 or 25 lb bag, (rolled oats and flour in the 50 lb bag). I pay from $0.50 to $1,25/lb when I buy in bulk. A pound of dried beans will make 2.25 lbs of cooked beans, significantly cheaper than canned beans in the store. Where can you buy protein for $0.50 a pound?

          What are the advantages? Beans and grains can be stored for many years. Beans have almost no bug problems in storage, nor do they go rancid like grains. They are seeds and can be replanted to replenish your stores next year. They are fast and easy to cook once you learn how.

          The best way is to soak dried beans over night (or sprout them) and then use a pressure cooker in the morning. It takes me just a few minutes of time to do this and they are done cooking in less than 30 minutes. Pressure cookers are wonderful because they are so fast and use much less energy for cooking.

          I sometimes cook up beans and put them in the refrigerator, where we use them later. Even my teenagers grab them to throw on some pasta or a salad. My sons love to mash beans, olive oil, and fresh garlic, and spread it on a sandwich or dip corn chips in it. They like to show off their “cooking” skills to their girlfriends. When they were kids I put cooked, salted beans out like a snack and they loved them. This is how we teach kids to eat properly!

          Some people suffer from gas when eating beans (which is made worse if you combine meat with beans). Most people get over gas problems once their gut microbes learn to handle the fiber in the beans. But there are some things you can do to help avoid this problem. When you soak your beans add a tablespoon of baking soda to the water and triple rinse them before you cook them. Also, by cooking them by themselves (and add them to soups later) you can rinse off the cooking water. You will lose some vitamins and minerals but you will have less gas. Some people have less problems if they sprout the beans before cooking them.

          When we learn to cook with these whole foods we will be healthier and spend less money on food. And we step out of the industrial food chain that is sucking up so much of the world’s resources and making us so unhealthy.

          cheers,
          Jody

          • Dear Jody
            I am a rice cooker fan (so long as the electricity works). I buy French Green Lentils in 25 pound bags and a variety of whole grains (rye berries are my favorites). I prepare a mix in a storage container which will last me 10 days or so. The remainder goes into the freezer. (All that frozen bulk makes the freezer more efficient).

            Before bed, I set the timer on the rice cooker so that the grain/legume mixture will be cooked before I get up. The rice cooker keeps it warm. A good breakfast can be assembled with hundreds of different combinations of ingredients which can usually be eaten raw (such as blackberries or arugula or chunks of citrus and on an on…use what you have). So assembling the breakfast is the work of 15 minutes. The hour required for the cooking was accomplished while I slept.

            The biggest obstacles are psychological. Where is the muffin? But there’s no dairy? Mixing hot and cold ingredients? Once one gets over the way we have been ‘trained’ to look at breakfast, lots of easy possibilities emerge.

            Don Stewart

          • Dear Don,
            I’ve been thinking about getting a rice cooker but hated the idea of another electrical appliance. Your recipe sounds delicious. I regularly cook dried grains for breakfast and I too love rye berries. Most people have no idea how delicious and chewy cooked grains can be. Once I started eating these foods and stopped thinking everything had to have a sauce on it, the flavor and texture came through. And this kind of breakfast sticks with you all morning. It has a very low glycemic index so your blood sugar is more stable. Too many benefits to mention.
            Thanks for the ideas.
            Jody

          • In Scandinavia, beans are not very much used. Today in Iceland, I was surprised to find “bean salad” on a lunch plate of traditional foods. It turned out to be something like canned green peas in heavy cream, with most of the mixture being heavy cream–not what I expected. But given what is grown locally, it might be as close to bean salad as they could easily come up with.

            The amount of soil covering the rocks is pretty small in Iceland, Norway, and Finland–at least the parts I have seen. Maybe Sweden is better. Norway subsidizes its farming heavily, so that some farming continues to be done. But with a very short growing season and terribly expensive transportation (building and maintaining Norway’s roads and barges has to be an incredibly expensive operation), it is hard to make Norwegian crops competitive with those elsewhere. I expect we will continue to see differences in food choices, based on what grows locally.

  7. Dear Gail and Others
    This post relates to the issue of collapse vs. long decline, and the impact of the Seneca Cliff. For some evidence that the Seneca Cliff may be real, see:
    http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-punctuated-collapse-of-roman-empire.html

    On page 8 of his book The Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov gives this explanation for the Seneca effect:
    ‘Bardi started with a very simple model of resource use and depletion with just two variables: resources and capital. Resources are transformed into capital at a rate that is proportional to both the amount of remaining resources and the amount of capital. Also, capital decays over time….the result is a symmetrical bell curve…Bardi then added a third variable to the model, which he labeled ‘pollution’, and which represents the overhead of running an industrial civilization, not just pollution but also its infrastructure, its bureaucracy, and so on. Pollution represents all that has to exist for an industrial economy to function, but does not contribute to its productive capacity.’

    The result is the rapid decline that you see illustrated in the link above.

    Now I want to add another variable to the model: protected waste. Our economy is filled with examples of waste which are protected by cartels or the government. For a good rant about that, see Charles Hugh Smith’s article today (or dozens of other articles by him):
    http://www.oftwominds.com/blogjuly13/social-contract7-13.html

    So the US government is in the process of adopting rules which will require small farmers to observe ‘safety regulations’ which will either increase their costs or else just drive them out of business. These regulations will be enforced by a Tyson Foods executive who is doing his revolving door tour in DC. This is just one example (and a relatively minor one in the big picture). Health Care is dominated by costs which simply could not survive in a truly competitive, free marketplace which was under the stress that Gail is predicting. But will the US Government act quickly to remove the requirements and protections which are written into thousands of pages of law? Unless the Government completely collapses, we have to assume that the insanity will be enforced. After all, it is the protected fiefdoms which control the Government.

    Now, as the real economy moves down the Seneca curve, we have to adjust that curve down and to the left to reflect the legally mandated expenditures which are wasteful and are not producing anything of sufficient value to survive in a free market. Thus, you would get a dotted line under the Seneca curve, where the amount of legally mandated waste would be a straight subtraction from the curve. In short, we may be expending quite a lot of effort producing outputs with no value and neglecting output which would have value.

    My conclusion is that, looked at from the standpoint of valuable production in the economy, the descent will be steeper than the Seneca curve indicates. Or perhaps there is a total collapse and we go from riches to rags almost overnight.

    Don Stewart

    • For a current account of the dead hand of government, see:
      http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-07-19/should-you-be-able-to-buy-food-directly-from-farmers-regulators-don-t-think-so

      So on the one hand we have Gail saying that the industrial food system is going to fail spectacularly and quickly, and on the other hand we have the Government saying ‘we will put anyone in jail who threatens the industrial food system’. Or, alternatively, ‘we will pass regulations written by the industrial food system lobbyists in such a way that ONLY the industrial food system can meet the regulations and all the small fry will be out of business.’

      The only answer, in my opinion, is the collapse of the government. I simply can’t see this tiger ever changing its stripes.

      But if the government doesn’t collapse, any Seneca curve effect will be steeper. For example, if the industrial food system collapses, but the idiots in charge of all this regulation and legal harassment still have a police force to command, there won’t be any food at all.

      Don Stewart

      • Don and all,
        Regulatory officials can be mind-numbingly dense and inflexible. Government regulatory agencies don’t have enough man power or budget to inspect the big corporate farms. Now they want to inspect 1,000,000 or more small farmers across the country! And what is really the magnitude of the risk? If five people get sick because farmer Joe down the road sold them bad milk, I’m sorry for them, and farmer Joe will likely lose his customers, but how is that a problem compared to 1,000,000 tons of contaminated food recalled by some corporation that potentially affects millions of people? The fine they might have to pay for bending safety rules is just another part of doing business.

        I don’t believe the risks warrant the regulations. I grew up drinking raw milk we bought from a farmer near town. Every week we would go to the farm and fill our containers right from the bulk tank. No one in my family ever suffered any ill effects from drinking unpasteurized milk. Indiana is now trying to write rules on this issue.

        Another issue you raised is the revolving door between government regulatory agencies and the corporate industries they regulate. The conflict of interest is so patently obvious it is hard to believe it continues to be allowed. This is the fox writing rules for the hen house! The same is true of former congressional members that become rich lobbyists using their knowledge of our government to benefit corporations, often at the expense of the public they were supposed to have been serving. It just confirms to me how morally corrupt and broken our current government has really become.

        Maybe farmers will have to “give” away their food and ask for a “donation” to support their efforts to be sustainable.
        Jody

  8. Gail and all,
    Did anyone find the news interesting that Detroit is finally filing for bankruptcy?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/19/us/detroit-files-for-bankruptcy.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0

    I’ve been watching this development for several years and comparing it with what is happening to other U.S. cities and counties, as well as other countries such as Greece, Spain, Iceland, and Ireland.

    What I thought was particularly interesting was the decision make to bond holders share the pain equally, if they indeed hold true to this. “The municipal bond market will be paying particular attention to Detroit because of what it may mean for investing in general obligation bonds. In recent weeks, as Detroit officials have proposed paying off small fractions of what the city owes, they have indicated they intend to treat investors holding general obligation bonds as having no higher priority for payment than, for instance, city workers — a notion that conflicts with the conventions of the market, where general obligation bonds have been seen as among the safest investments and all but certain to be paid in full.”

    Iceland forced the banks to take the losses they deserved. They protected their citizens from the kind of crushing austerity and economic ruin that is hitting Greece. More about this issue can be found at http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/08/top-economists-iceland-did-it-right-everyone-else-is-doing-it-wrong.html

    I’m curious what others think about this issue. When it finally becomes painfully clear that a government cannot repay their debt, how do we ensure that the financial industry isn’t allowed to confiscate everything of value and force the population into austerity and economic ruin? I will continue to watch the developments with interest.

    Jody

    • Jody, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think there are some legal protections that may be extended. Of course, the scouts of 1% art collectors have already ID’d the choice pieces, and we certainly can’t expect behavior better than ‘End of More’ might predict, but the residents of Detroit have said that that until they go through the process they can never rebuild. We’re all concerned, or we otta be.

      Cheers, Chris

      • Thanks, it’s always enlightening to watch RT; makes you think a little harder. These are tough issues that may resolve easily, or maybe only with excruciating efforts over years of animosity. Much of US debt is owed by municipalities and states, in addition to the federal.

  9. it has occurred to me that, one day, 25 years from now, if the world really didn’t go to hell in a handcart, all those arguers in here who thought it should have should hold a reunion party

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