Does a fish know that its nose is wet? Probably not. It swims in water, and assumes that is the only way any animal lives.
We live in an economic world. Economic models that were developed years ago were created based on observations of how the economy seemed to work at the time. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that early economists missed important connections. The most important of these is the role of energy and its connection to the economy. It takes energy to make anything, from a piece of steel to a loaf of bread. It takes energy to transport anything. Humans need energy in the form of food to continue to live. Clearly, energy should have a place in economic models.
In this post, I explain some of the basic principles as I see them:
1. Humans have evolved to be dependent on external energy.
2. Humans now supplement their own limited energy supply with external energy of various types. In general, the more external energy used, the more humans are able to control their environment.
3. Over the 1 million+ years during which humans have been able to control fire, humans have generally been in situations with favorable feedback loops, due to increasing efficiency in producing goods and services required to meet basic needs. Such loops allowed continued population growth and economic growth.
4. We are now reaching limits on these feedback loops. The result is feedback loops that are changing from favorable feedbacks to contraction.
5. Part of the change in feedback loops relates to the cost of energy sources, such as oil. A rise in the price of oil tends to reduce salaries of workers (because of layoffs) as well as reduce discretionary income (because of higher price of food and commuting), contributing to the trend toward contraction.
All of this is very concerning, because in the past, adverse feedback loops of this type seem to have led to collapse.
The Many Types of Energy
The most basic type of energy, at least from a human perspective, is human energy. This is the energy we as humans have that allows us to move our own bodies and allows us to think. Each of us is given approximately the same amount of energy, with males having somewhat more energy for lifting and pushing objects, and females having the special ability to give birth to new humans.
In order to use human energy, humans need to eat food of appropriate kinds. Most of this food is from plants and animals that we process in some way for this purpose. (This processing normally requires some type of energy.) The only food that is not from plants and animals is mother’s milk. Women need to increase their own intake of food from plant and animals, in order to produce enough milk for their babies.
Humans are able to leverage their own energy with many types of external energy. One very old source of external energy is burning wood and other plant matter. Such energy is used in keeping warm, cooking food, making sharper tools, and warding off predators. Another very old source of external energy is energy from dogs, trained to help with hunting, and from draft animals, trained to help with plowing and grinding tasks.
Humans have learned to harness various other forms of other energy, such as wind, water, and geothermal energy. In the last 200 years, the use of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) has greatly expanded the amount of external energy available to humans.
Fossil fuels are important, not just because they can be burned directly, but because they enable the use of electricity from a wide range of sources—including hydroelectric, nuclear, and solar photovoltaic. While we think of these latter sources as non-carbon fuel sources, they are today available only within a system powered by fossil fuels. It takes fossil fuels to create metals in the quantity needed for electrical transmission; it takes fossil fuels to make and transport the type of concrete used in hydroelectric dams and wind turbines; it takes fossil fuels to purify silicon and other materials used in making solar PV.
While people talk about a system that does not require fossil fuels, no one has mapped out how the world could in fact transition from a system that uses fossil fuels to capture these types of energy to a system that would work without fossil fuels. The best we can hope for within the next 100 years is to use fossil fuels more sparingly.
One specialized form of energy is embedded energy that has been stored up in goods for the long term. Examples of early embedded energy includes heat-sharpened stone ax blades, used by hunter gatherers, and clothing, whether made by hand or machine. Today, there is much embedded energy in roads, pipelines, and electrical transmission systems. The vast majority of today’s embedded energy is derived from fossil fuels.
External Energy as a Human Need
Most animals seem to get along fine without external energy, other than the sun’s rays. They live in the parts of the world where they are adapted. They more or less live in balance with their predators. The number of a given species may rise for a while, but if the number grows too much, the species will exhaust its food supply, leading to population decline.
Humans have moved to a different model. The change came when humans (or predecessors to humans) first learned to control fire, over 1,000,000 years ago. Being able to control fire gave humans many advantages over other animals. Humans were able to cook part of their food. This had many advantages: It greatly reduced chewing time, allowing time for other activities, such as making tools and clothing. It improved nutrition, by making food more digestible. It allowed the human body to evolve in ways that used more energy for brain development, and less for chewing and digestion. [i]
The way the natural order works is that each species gives birth to far more offspring than is needed to survive to adulthood. “Natural selection” determines which of these offspring will survive. If humans had been like apes, chimpanzees, or gorillas, total population might have reached a plateau of perhaps 3,000,000, (based on historical animal populations). This limit would be reached because of competition with other species, and because climate is less hospitable outside of a narrow range.
With the help of external energy, such as the controlled use of fire and the use of dogs for hunting, humans were able to gain an advantage over other species and spread to all areas of the globe. This is what allowed population to grow, and continues to help it grow.
The natural order assures that far more human offspring are born than are needed to survive to adulthood. If humans are intelligent, they desire to extend their own lives and the lives of their offspring. The result of this dynamic is that there tends to be continual upward pressure on population.
There is a second dynamic as well. Because of humans’ intelligence, humans have the ability to over-consume at least some of the wildlife in the areas. For example, we learned on our recent visit to Iceland that when Vikings first discovered the island, there were both walruses and the flightless bird, the auk, on the island, but both disappeared soon after humans moved to the island.
Because of these dynamics, there has been tendency to need more food, and more energy supplies of other types, over time. To meet the need for greater food supply, humans began using agriculture about 10,000 years ago. With the advent of agriculture, the amount of human food available per acre was greatly increased.
The availability of agriculture added to the two dynamics noted previously for hunter-gatherers. As before, (1) population tended to increase, because the natural order provides for far more births than are needed for replacement, and because humans, with their intelligence, now had a way to provide more food per acre. Also, (2) there was a tendency of the amount of food available from a given acre of land to degrade over time, because the methods used for agriculture were less than perfect. Erosion was a problem, especially when planting was done on slopes. If irrigation was used, salt deposits often became a problem. Rising population combined with degrading resources led to a need recurring need for additional energy, since supplemental energy could indirectly add to food supply. In situations when additional energy was not found, populations had a tendency to collapse after many years of growth.
Besides the two basic dynamics of rising population and degrading resources leading to a need for additional resources, there were other forces that tended to add to the need for increasing amounts of energy:
a. Cheapest resources used first. Soon after agriculture began, humans began to use resources of other types, such as wood from forests and metals such as iron and bronze. With any of these resources, there is a tendency to use the “cheapest” (easiest to extract, closest at hand, highest ore concentration) first. If extraction is to continue, increasing amounts of energy per unit extracted are likely to be required for later extraction.
b. Increased disease transmission when population is packed more closely together. This issue can be overcome with techniques that kill germs and that keep humans separated from waste products of other humans. The need for these techniques adds to the need for external energy.
c. Deforestation. Without fossil fuels, there was a severe tendency to overuse forests. Deforestation occurred as early as 4000 B. C. E., according to Sing Chew. Historian Norman Cantor writes, “By 1500 Europe was on the edge of a fuel and nutritional disaster [from] which it was saved in the sixteenth century only by the burning of soft coal and the cultivation of potatoes and maize.” The use of coal allowed more energy per person, and took pressure off of limited forest resources.
d. Pull of Technology. The availability of fossil fuels, starting around 1800, has allowed much of what we now call “technology.” Without fossil fuels, our ability to make materials such as metals and glass is severely restricted. Without fossil fuels, we are also lacking for the basic building blocks for plastics, synthetic fabrics, and even modern medicines. Technology provided ways to use fossil fuel resources in ways that helped overcome many human limits. The desire to use more technology led to increasing use of fossil fuels in the 19th and 20th centuries.
There were no doubt many different types of economies in the over one million years when humans and pre-humans were hunter-gatherers. One documented approach is the gift-economy. With this approach, those who killed animals shared what they obtained with others in their group. Status was gained based on how much an individual was able to provide to others in the group. Members of the group played different roles—some were involved with caring for children, or too old to work, but what was available was shared with the group as a whole.
In the days of hunter-gatherers, the function of the economy was not too complicated. There was little need to “save for tomorrow,” because it was difficult to carry anything during travels. The amount of food an individual could eat was pretty much limited by appetite, so having “more food” for one individual wasn’t particularly helpful. If one person was the leader, he (or she) might have special adornment.
If population rose too high, relative to resources, this may not have been apparent in “normal” times—when weather was good, and when a particular hunter-gatherer group had an area to itself. But if there was a major weather problem or an encounter with another group needing space as well, population pressure could lead to a crisis. It seems likely that die-offs occurred from time to time, especially during natural “bottle-necks.”
A Simple Agricultural Economy
Thinking about a simple agricultural society gives us some insight as to how early economies must have operated.
Consider a simple economy in which some members produce barley; others produce fish. The fish can be salted and dried, so both the fish and the barley can be stored, if desired. The big issue in such a system is how efficient the barley and fish operation is. If in order to feed the group, half of the group must work full time growing barley, and half of the group must work full time catching, salting, and drying fish, then no matter what kind of economic system is in place, the result will simply be trading fish for barley. Everyone will continue to have to work at either producing fish or barley. The economic system will simply move some of the fish to the barley producers, and some of the barley to the fish producers.
Let’s suppose instead that the barley and fish producers are much more efficient. Suppose that with 10% of the population working at barley production and 10% of the population working at fish production, the population can provide enough food for the full population, leaving 80% of the population (100% – 10% barley producers – 10% fish producers) to pursue other activities. How the remaining 80% of the population will spend its time will depend on resources available and the desires of the citizens. Perhaps 30% of the citizens would make goods of various types (build homes, make clothing, and make furniture) and 20% of the citizens would provide services of various types (education, health, artwork, and hair cutting). This would leave 30% for government and finance. The government portion would include pay for government officials and police and transfer payments to the elderly and disabled.
The total wealth of the community is then the sum of all of the goods and services in this community. The financial system will redistribute the goods and services produced among the members of the community, perhaps allowing some “savings” for future consumption. Those producing goods and services will expect to be included in the redistribution, but so will others, if this has been the tradition in the community.
If the economy operates without fossil fuels, the quantity produced is limited by the speed with which biomass regrows. Thus, unless the community is willing to live with deforestation, it can’t use much wood each year. This puts a severe limit on the amount of goods produced. Printing more money does not change this dynamic.
In the example above, I suggested an efficient economy might need only 20% of its population for food production. In fact, the percentage of the population involved in food production varies greatly across economies. Before fossil fuels use, typically 80% of the population of a country was involved in agriculture. With so many involved in agriculture, the number who were involved in manufacturing and services of all types (including government services) was necessarily very limited, because they needed to be “squeezed into” the remaining 20% of the economy.
If, in our hypothetical community, population rises because more children live to maturity, this adds a new dynamic. There is a need for more food, clothing, and housing for the growing population. Unless land area keeps increasing, there becomes a need to grow more barley per acre. In a world without fossil fuels, increasing grain yields becomes difficult. More farmers can be added to a given plot, but the additional yield for additional manual effort (perhaps picking off insects that might eat the crop) is not very high. This dynamic tends to lead to what we think of as falling wages of the common worker, when population becomes high relative to resources available. As I have mentioned in previous posts, based on the book Secular Cycles by Turchin and Nefedof, collapse often occurs in such situations. Governments have promised significant services, but it becomes difficult to collect enough taxes to pay for these services, with falling wages of the common worker.
The dynamic is similar if energy supplies of types other than food (such as oil and coal) does not rise as fast as population. The amount of goods produced using these energy supplies will tend to fall, unless technology advances are able to offset the decline in energy consumption per capita. Such technology is normally fossil fuel dependent. If goods per capita falls, this will be reflected in what we think of as falling inflation-adjusted wages, since it is not possible for workers to have more than what is produced.
Adding Fossil Fuels
If metal tools can be used—say metal plows—these metal tools can greatly ramp up efficiency of farming, allowing fewer people to work in the agricultural sector. If we think about the result in the last section, this situation allows a greater proportion of the population to be employed in producing discretionary services, and thus more wealth for the community as a whole.
The problem with making metals such as iron using renewable resources is that huge amounts of charcoal are needed to make even small amounts of iron. If one wants reasonable quantities of metal, or modern alloys such as steel used in plows and trucks, a person needs fossil fuels.
If a person wants to add fossil fuels and the things that fossil fuels can make to a community that does not have fossil fuels, the question becomes how to pay for the new goods using fossil fuels. As an extreme example, if farmers have always planted barley with a stick, the amount of barley each farmer produces is tiny, and the population is likely mostly farmers. If a farmer can use a new tractor, with the latest equipment, a single farmer can perhaps feed the whole community. The tractor will provide the improved efficiency needed to free up a whole community of workers for other purposes.
The secret to adding fossil fuels (or any kind of energy source that can improve efficiency, and allow fewer people to produce essential goods and services) is debt. While the farmer cannot pay for the new tractor with his earnings from growing barley using a stick, the farmer can indeed pay for the tractor with all of the goods and services that the whole community can produce, as the result of the tractor handling work that now takes many workers to do. By growing much more grain, and selling that grain to all of the workers who are now freed up to provide discretionary services, the farmer will have enough funds in the future to repay the loan for the equipment which will allow much greater efficiency. (The problem is that the tractor requires a huge amount of embedded energy from fossil fuels. Workers who have been working without fossil fuels will not be able to earn enough to pay for this embedded energy without debt.)
Salaries of Workers
In my imaginary simplified economy, there is only one country. In such a country, the amount of salaries that workers receive then is closely related to the amount of goods and services that the economy produces. There will be part of the production that goes to the owners of factories, farms, and other sources of production, but they cannot eat any more than anyone else, or sleep in more than one place at a time. If they get paid much more than others, some of it must be in the form of “paper income” that they can theoretically use at some time in the future, but does not involve current consumption.
In general, the more goods and services produced relative to the population, the more workers will receive in inflation-adjusted salary. If the economy is so distorted that most of the goods are made with machines, the government must play a much bigger role, providing transfer payments to those who cannot find employment (unless the government is prepared to handle uprisings by citizens). If workers are not receiving adequate wages to pay the taxes, taxes will need to come from some other source–possibly from the owners of the sources of production.
To see how a rise in oil prices will affect the economy, lets consider what can be expected to happen to a manufacturing company. Suppose that for a particular manufacturer, costs are distributed as follows (the actual percentages aren’t important–just the point that wages tend to be a big piece of the total):
- Wages 40%
- Oil products 10%
- Electricity 5%
- Raw Materials other than Oil 20%
- Rent 15%
- Profit 10%
If the cost of oil doubles and the manufacturer is not able to raise prices, the higher cost will wipe out profits. In fact, the cost of other raw materials is likely to rise as well, because oil is used in extracting and transporting raw materials. This will make the impact on profit even worse than the oil-only comparison would suggest.
To “fix” the problem, the manufacturer has to make some sort of adjustment, and the adjustment will almost certainly lead to less dollars being paid for wages. One such approach is to “make a smaller batch,” with the amount produced equal to what can be sold at the higher price. If this is done, the manufacturer will employ fewer workers. It will also cut back on oil consumption, other raw materials, electricity consumption, and rent. The result will look like recession.
Thus, a rise in oil prices, such has happened since the early 2000s, can be expected to affect feedback loops for countries that use very much oil.
The Positive-Feedback Loop
When can an economy grow? If an economy can grow in efficiency—that is, fewer and fewer people employed creating the basic requirements for life, then more of the population can be employed in providing discretionary services. In total, the wealth of the economy will grow. Historically, this has happened as increasing amounts of fossil fuel energy is added to supplement human energy.
If an economy can increase its debt, and that debt can finance equipment or infrastructure that will allow greater efficiency in producing basic services, this will also allow an economy to grow.
In economic analyses, increases in population are counted as part of economic growth. The problem with population growth is that it leads to more population per acre available for cultivation, and more population relative to external energy sources of all types. This sets up a competition: can enough external energy be added to maintain (and even increase) goods and services per capita?
Economies of scale are also important as producing positive feedback loops. Once an energy investment, such as a road, is made, it can be used for an increasingly large population, often without much additional cost. Businesses also find growth beneficial, since they can build a factory, and operate it more hours, with little additional cost.
The combination of all of these favorable feedbacks leads to the pattern of growth that economists seem to think always occurs.
What Can Go Wrong?
The big “oops” that takes place happens when we start hitting natural limits:
1. The cost of oil extraction goes up, because we pulled the easy-to-extract oil out first. This means that workers start having less discretionary income, rather than more, because they now needed to spend more on commuting to work and on food. Wages tend to stagnate or decline, for reasons described above. A larger percentage of the population needs to work in oil extraction, and more fossil fuels of various types must be used in oil extraction, leaving fewer workers and less energy supplies for other purposes.
2. The economies of countries consuming large amounts of oil are disproportionately affected by rising prices, and oil consumption begins to drop in these countries, even though world oil consumption in total is still rising.
3. Debt added to produce oil tends to produce fewer and fewer barrels of oil per dollar invested, as the cost of oil extraction rises. With fewer barrels of oil produced per dollar of investment, less goods are transported per dollar invested. If other energy products also rise in cost of extraction, or if the cost of making metals increases, we reach a situation where increasing debt, in general, starts adding a smaller and smaller quantity of goods per dollar of investment. (Substituting a different high-cost source of energy does not fix the situation.) Eventually, so little benefit is gained from additional debt that huge defaults occur. These huge defaults are likely to lead to higher interest rates and more layoffs.
Of course, during favorable feedback loops, the economic growth that comes with increasing energy consumption plays a major role in permitting debt to be paid back with interest. If energy consumption, in fact, starts contracting, this contraction will contribute to debt defaults.
4. As the economies of individual countries got richer and richer, the natural tendency was to add more government services. Pensions and health care were promised, based on what looked possible when the economy was growing rapidly. Now, the economy is not growing as rapidly, and increasing wage disparity is occurring. There is no way to tax the common people enough to pay for the benefits promised to people. People become very unhappy when told that the government cannot pay promised pension benefits. The tendency is toward increasing unhappiness with government status quo, perhaps even leading to new (cheaper) forms of government.
5. Because of energy limits, we find a need to conserve, but in the process discover that we are inadvertently hitting “diseconomies of lack of scale” instead of “economies of scale”. Instead of continually adding new jobs based on construction of new infrastructure, job opportunities for young people start to disappear. This adds to the dynamic of contraction, even if changes are planned.
6. All the time, natural forces are eroding the huge amount of infrastructure that has been built. Hurricanes and earthquakes cause destruction that must be fixed, if the current system is to be maintained. Lesser forces, such as freezing and thawing and roots of trees growing tend to ruin roads over time, and cause buildings to need repairs. While this has always happened, if the government is poorer, the cost becomes an increasing burden.
As a result of these influences, the natural feedback loop is now changing to contraction, instead of continually adding a positive increment. This is an unknown situation relative to what we are used to. There is no “reverse gear” on the economy.
We know that in the past, economies that have hit these adverse feedback loops have tended to collapse. The situation is indeed worrisome.
[i] Despite evolving in the direction of requiring external energy, there is still a possibility that a few individuals in particularly advantageous parts of the world might be able to “get along” without external energy. These individuals would probably live in areas where raw fish is available for food, and where predators are not particularly a problem. If these individuals are able to use stored energy in the form of modern knives, shoes, and clothing, such stored energy may take the place of other external energy that ancient people normally required.
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For those who are interested, the glossy international design magazine World of Interiors (no less!), September issue, has given eight pages to a chap living in a wood in England,in an essentially wood-powered house he built himself, on what we might call Don Stewart Principles, with a very good interview, too. Nor is he treated as an eccentric odd-ball or curiosity. There isn’t an online version of the article, sadly.
I will try my best to address the ‘irrelevant doomer blog because it can’t save 7 billion’ argument.
First, if we want a program which is going to gain widespread support around the world it has to include:
1. Unlimited personal freedom to do whatever you want to do
2. Unlimited debt
3. Government as an activist creator of economic growth
4. Cheap energy
5. Cheap food that the individuals mostly didn’t have to work to produce
6. Some vague ideas about ‘being green’
And you can probably add to that list. I just don’t think any of us are clever enough to figure out a way to actually deliver such a world.
Second, trying to talk 7 billion people into sacrificing some of the objectives in the first point in order to achieve a ‘fairly good life’ for everyone while avoiding disaster hasn’t worked in the climate negotiations, and I don’t see much hope that it will work in any other sphere.
Third, doing things which will make sense in a world of Collapse may make a lot of sense today. As Exhibit 1, I offer the program at a local institution:
You will note workshops on relieving stress, preserving food with fermentation, nature appreciation, communal gardening and dining, herbal medicine and the like. This place also offers workshops on community solar and natural building. These are all fun things to do today and become ever more relevant as Collapse looms. And, in the back of your mind, you may be thinking about a clan which will have the skills to get through Collapse with you. At any rate, you don’t let the unwillingness of the 7 billion to do any of these things deter you.
Fourth, Gail’s scenario of financial collapse followed by the collapse of supply chains and global capitalism are not limited to her. As Exhibit 2, see:
While there has always been a market for doomerish projections on Wall Street, other people besides Gail, and coming from very different perspectives, also see the financialization of the economy as a great threat. One Wall Streeter said recently that ‘of course its all phony, but you can make a lot of money’.
It’s Gail’s blog and I imagine she will do what she wants to do with it. So far, she has been most gracious in tolerating those with ideas ranging from magical new sources of energy to those like me who think that fermentation is a really important thing to have practiced when C day rolls around.
As for me, I have no illusions that the 7 billion are all going to embrace communal meals from the garden, yoga as a communal undertaking, natural building, or fermentation as an engrossing way to preserve the harvest. I just hope to plant a few seeds. If my wishes were fulfilled, some of the people driving their cars to Pickard’s Mountain today would, after the Collapse, remember how much fun it was and start the same thing in their immediate neighborhood. In the best of all possible worlds, it wouldn’t take a Collapse to start programs like these in every neighborhood right now. Sort of Rob Hopinish ‘just do a lot of stuff’.
Speaking only for myself, Don, that was a masterful summary. The potency of these thoughts that Gail first propagated, and her wisdom to allow them to be gently kneeded by many contributors, especially kind-spirited thinkers like you and Xabier and Scott and Jody along with many others, has generated a recipe that could well prove to be important to our continuing survival.
Thanks Chris for your kind comments towards some of the main writers on the group. I think we feel likewise.
You know looking at the world – as we do – it does look pretty glum or grim as we would say.
Some of you that have followed my comments for awhile and thanks for reading through the typos as sometimes I write late. But anyway, those of you that have read my comments know that I still believe that there may be a solution that is not yet known.
So to Dave and others, if you have read what I have written you will know that I am kind of the “weird one” that saw the spectacular UFO take off at age 16 in the High Sierra Mountains of California. And, I have said that I believe that our government and those in control have hidden some things from our view.
Some of you may have noticed that they (world governments) are not too concerned about running out of fossil fuels as they continue to expand. Well, that makes me suspicious of them that they may be hiding something.
Myself I am retired from a long career in a Court House and in my early 50’s. And I have told many of my friends my UFO Story but until you really see one they are hard to believe. My story was not really that outrageous as some the stories out there about abductions etc.
I want to Thank Gail for putting up with some our different views and for her being so easy access and being tolerant of some of our views. I was also wondering how many folks we are reaching out to on the blog and how many read, but do not post comments, but the messages we putting out are healthy and good.
I think many of us can agree that world governments have become far to secretive especially in the last century.
I think we also agree that we are all seeing things at kind of a “dead end” in the real sense of speaking sort to speak if there is not something better.
Our situation does look very grim if you look at what can be seen. However, On a crystal clear Sierra Night, I did see something very different in 1976, a craft powerful enough to take off from a mountain top across a canyon from us and become a tiny darting star in space just a few seconds. Ever since then I have questioned things that there is something out there that is not yet known to most of us.
Thanks for putting up with me and my views but if anyone has a better idea let us hear it. Just think what if there is something out there that could provide clean power and star travel.
Otherwise, if “this unknown power source” is not out there we are really in for some trouble ahead. It will be interesting to watch the years ahead.
I do believe our governments possess things that are many years advanced that is widely known, mark my words we will see. Until then we will maintain our gardens and do the best we can to cope with the changes we perceive to be underway.
Annie Lennox – A Thin Line Between Love And Hate 1995 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czKgwmp91J8
Is all this talk about collapse really good for us and the country ? Is it part of the problem or part of the cure ? At what point do we make our own reality ?
Gail’s blog presents a bit of a dilemma. OOH, I think we can agree that her analysis of resources regarding “Our Finite World” is very good and useful. OTOH, the prevailing assumption on her part and the majority of the folks making comments, is that some type of collapse is inevitable in the not-too-distant-future. I think it’s OK to argue that prediction – but the problem I see is that there really is no argument here; there is almost no counter position; there are almost no constructive suggestions for how a collapse might be avoided or mitigated. People with truly opposing viewpoints seem to have drifted away. Positive suggestions get pretty short shrift here.
I find the discussion about family/local farming issues to be mostly irrelevant if an actual collapse is inevitable. I don’t see how 7 to 10B people can have their basic needs met in a collapse scenario and I doubt they will just die quietly. It would seem that family farming advice would not be relevant for quite a long time and no one knows how a collapse scenario would really play out. Perhaps some survivalist might actually survive – but for what?
If collapse is inevitable fairly soon and you’re beyond middle age (like many people commenting here) then the most rational strategy might be to just enjoy one last fling of the “good life” – quit your crummy job, cash in your IRA, take a cruise in the Mediterranean or whatever is on your bucket list!
But, if one is thinking about young people (perhaps your children, grandchildren, or the kid next door) and has some sense of responsibility for what our generation as both enjoyed and screwed up, then perhaps it might be useful to at least explore potential ways to deal with our predicament or avoid some of the worse consequences. As this blog becomes more and more pessimistic I suspect it will lose its credibility in the broader world – which will be a shame as Gail does have a very important message.
Hello Dave, I think many of us have realized we can only do little things on our own as we are up against a huge monster of a government and social and global financial powers which are not to be easily overthrown. Are beaten? Maybe in a way that we really lost this war about 40 years ago. Most of us here probably would like to see more wake up and face this reality and let us hope we do, As a group are we destined to accept the evident collapse and are we helpless? Well no, but we are surely in the sites of this bullet. We can only works towards a better way of life and start living different ways if can. I sold my IRA and bought a home on land in Oregon.
Very good points, but I don’t feel the general tone of this site is particularly pessimistic: try the Guy Mc Pherson site to see what that can be like – Suicide Club as one might call it!
I’ve observed that the only ideas that get shot down as you say, and on the whole this is a very broad-minded site, are the technological cornucopians and the rather old-hat Left-wing collectivist agendas. But that’s not prejudice: they are simply too naive in addressing an immensely complex predicament, and are all predicated upon the necessity of saving all 8 billion, which is a delusion and not at all desirable to any sane person. They don’t stand the test.
Collapse, and maybe transition, will, as history shows, take many forms, proceeding unevenly in the various regions of the world, and at different levels of intensity for individuals and families and social groups.
In the advanced world, it will probably manifest itself economically as steadily increasing poverty and lack of adequate nutrition, and ever more people losing good employment permanently: but as Orlov has observed about the former Soviet Union, an awful lot of people can fall ill and die prematurely in quite a short space of time – say a decade or so, without the corpses noticeably piling up in the streets or any major shocks.
This is surely the most likely scenario in the near-term, maybe really becoming observable about 10 years from now. It’s essential outlines are visible NOW (Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal in Europe: Egypt is quite fascinating to observe – maybe horrors to come there in not to long.)
Stress and malnutrition, and inadequate heating in the colder regions of the world, and the loss of heart ensuing from loss of hope and loss of employment, will prepare the ground for the fairly devastating spread of our old, old friends TB and typhus, and so on. And a great many males without careers will simply drink themselves to death, we can be quite sure of that.
But we will never see 8 billion people running around like headless chickens looking for food and water simultaneously in one massive global breakdown. Of course, the wild card in all of this is revolutions and civil war, which can certainly produce very dramatic short-term collapse of all state structures and the economy in afflicted regions, particularly if the whole global system is highly stressed (imagine Western Europe int he 1950’s with no Marshall Plan.) For instance, Egypt is now being propped up by many other countries: if they themselves hit deep problems, it’s clearly the end.
So, in this context, positive planning to feed and protect oneself, taking steps towards resilience, are perfectly sensible, even though carrying no guarantees as to survival and safety.
But what could one do for the mass of people, what could a benign and far-sighted government propose and encourage at little cost and to the benefit of many?
1/ Ensure that all new building projects include sufficient space for the growing of fruit and vegetables to meet at least part of a family’s needs. Ensure communal or individual storage space for crops, and maybe communal areas for canning and preservation. Educate all children in this…and so on.
2/ Complete abolition of zoning restrictions in suburbia with a view to encourage food-resilience: no lawns, all land to be productive. Tax-breaks for those who undertake this, and professional help and advice to establish such plots.
3/ Encourage rain-water collection systems. Plan for the breakdown of modern sewerage and water systems.
4/ Make the construction of thick-walled dwellings, cool in summer, warmer in winter ,mandatory, with durability ( for centuries) of construction a priority. Not the thin-skinned buildings of today with a life of 20 years. But only build them in strategically-chosen regions not flood-plains and so on. Also, strategic abandonment of non-viable regions and road networks, etc.
Now, is any of this likely? Do we see the shadow of a sign of even one of these simple steps? Not from any current Government, not from any property developer, but the individual, thankfully can still take steps on their own account, to varying degrees – they can act to learn, implement and instruct. With no guarantees, but with some degree of hope.
And to do so will be to act as was usual before the mass consumer system turned so many of us, quite deliberately, into hopeless, clueless, dependants (and I include myself in that!)
One other thing that is amusing in the Kunstler interview with the young woman farmer. He tries to draw her into his diatribe about ‘dixieland’. The way she turns that question around on him should be studied by everyone who is ever going to be interviewed, testify before Congress, etc., etc.
Dear Xabier and Scott and anyone else interested
Electricity has been available on US farms for less than 100 years. So you will still find people practicing old ways. If we think about the issue of preservation beyond the natural season, without using electricity, then there are a variety of solutions.
(1) We can rely on grains and beans which are usually sold dried. These grains and beans can be rehydrated with cooking, or they can be sprouted and eaten raw.
(2) We can dry fresh meat, veggies, and fruits and rehydrate them before eating. My daughter in Portland, OR built a non-electric dryer which is made from junk parts.
(3) We can use canning. However, canning is best done with a modern kitchen with electricity. It CAN be done with plenty of firewood and a good wood stove, but it requires a sealed jar, which is easiest to come by with industrial products.
(4) We can use fermentation. Confucius said in the 6th century BC that ‘I have my salted vegetables, so I can live through the winter’.
If we want to do fermentation, then we need some basic ideas (or, alternatively, robust traditions) to guide us and we really need some way to control temperature. For example, Katz quotes one of my neighbors on the subject of temperature:
‘Lower temperatures–at least under 70F/21C, preferably under 65F/18C, ideally 50 to 60F/10 to 15C’
Like most chemical reactions, heat speeds it up. This isn’t usually what we want, since fermentation is on the road to rotting or turning to vinegar (in the case of wine). So we want to arrest the natural processes with acid and salt so that our sauerkraut lasts through the winter–as recognized by Confucius all those centuries ago.
Katz says that a 55F cellar is ideal for many purposes:
‘Visiting the Flack Family Farm in Vermont, I was treated to delicious still-crunchy three-year-old kimchi from a barrel in the cellar’.
So let’s suppose one is gathering in the surplus veggies all during the summer and fall and putting them in crocks for fermentation and storing the crocks in root cellars. Then the crocks will last until the new crop of vegetables arrives in the spring. The crocks would be unlikely to last that long in a warm kitchen.
But there are times when one might like a faster fermentation. For example, one of the advantages of fermentation is that it converts the sulfur compounds in brassica into the strongly cancer preventive kind. Around here, the brassica survive right through the winter. So one might want to harvest some in February and ferment it quickly and eat it. In that case, keeping it in a warm spot may be perfect.
Carol Deppe’s solution of a shelf in the garage doesn’t have the kind of temperature control that a root cellar has.
If we think about someone living in a city apartment, we can see that a root cellar may be hard to come by. Although it may be possible to rig up something in a basement. So the city dweller needs to be, first, close enough to a farmer or navigable water that transportation is not an overwhelming obstacle, and, second, have something valuable to trade with the farmer.
Hello, It sounds like fermentation is tricky business and probably takes some practice and time to perfect this. We have made Kimchi before. I would like to know how to make my own wine and I have seen some home kits for sale, but after looking over the costs and time involved, Some things are just easier to buy than to make at home. If we had to, I suppose we would learn many of these things and collapse may just speed up that process.
I would like to make sauerkraut sometime, I think I could look that up online, but I am first going to try to make pickles from this years garden harvest.
Aside from some freeze dried foods that are in #10 cans, filled with nitrogen and sealed buckets with oxygen removers dry beans/rice etc. – we do store some seeds. I do keep some seeds in my refrigerator they are sealed in coffee cans and foil wrappers, I wonder how they will keep stored this way? I am guessing five or more years. We did open one of the three year old seed cans this year and planted a bunch of the seeds and they were fine.
This can had even been in the freezer for a time too and when we moved I then stored it in the just in the fresh food section of the fridge because the can had thawed during our move to Oregon from California and I was not sure if I could refreeze the seeds.
I have more seeds than I need, but I want to be able to increase my garden size if needed. Storing seeds is a good way to store a large amount of food, but too bad they do not last forever.
Perhaps freezing the seeds in the freezer is the better way to go, I have heard about the World Seed Vault some where like Antarctica, so maybe they will last for 100’s of years if frozen. Not that we have a 100 years before the collapse….
Shortly after WWII, commercial pickles stopped being fermented. Now they are just sealed in an acidic liquid. So a true ferment is acidic, but it has also undergone the process of fermentation.
Fermenting vegetables is actually very easy. You can get Katz’ book, or go to a local half-day workshop. Nobody has ever been poisoned with ferments that turned out badly. I guess if it smells too bad, people throw it out. Like anything else, it helps to have a little science, and as I noted, a cellar is desirable if you are serious about extending the season without electricity, but not essential if you are just messing around having fun.
Similarly, you can ferment in odd jars or you can buy hundred dollar crocks from Germany with some nice design features. If you have a local potter, they can probably make you several crocks. Fermentation is unlike canning in that botulism and sealed lids are not important considerations. In fact, you need to not tighten a lid on a jar for the first few days because it will be busy giving off CO2 and you don’t want to explode the jar.
You can follow family heirloom recipes or just use what you have and mix and match.
Thanks Don, I will do some internet reading on the subject of fermentation and I think I will try sauerkraut. Yes I guess dill pickles are not fermented. But I am going to make those too because we have lots of cucumbers this year and they should be good eating. Nothing like fresh veggies from the home garden.
On the fermented veggies, I have also been reading about how good they are for your gut health. My wife and I were out shopping today and picked up a jar of Kim-chi they are a spicy Korean fermented veggies, although we have made it before, but it is sometimes cheaper to just pick up a jar and yes when we made it it sat our for a few days with the lids left loose on the jars.
These are good things for people to learn and learning now may help folks later as we do more of our food production. But we are nowhere close to that yet, we still spend about $500 USD per month to feed just my wife and I. The gardens help though, but you know we need to learn better about preserving our harvests. So I have been interested in these subjects lately.
Yes a root cellar would be good, I am still thinking about where to put mine, where to dig, it needs to be a dry place so you cannot really just dig a hole and cover it with a board. Those that have basements are lucky in that regard. I know where I am going to dig one if I need to and it is under my home next to an opening to access the crawl space below my home.
I enjoy your posts, keep ’em coming!
After taking a walk, the obvious occurred to me. Kathy Harrison has probably taught classes on everything there is to know about food preservation. Bingo! If you were in the Berkshires, you could attend all of them…Don Stewart
Thanks Don, I have found that I can find most anything on the internet on how to make things, that would be an interesting class, I would be nice if it was online, as I am a homebody these days and do not like to travel far from home. Last year I dried a bunch of veggies and still have some in jars for my winter soups.
I also found some plans for a solar dryer on line and I bought the piece of glass for it and hopefully eventually I will get around to building one, but for now the electric works good as it a regulated temp., the solar ones could tend to get too hot and then too cool at night, this electric one runs all night and all day, what a great thing to have, electricity!
We will build the solar one if needed pretty quickly, if the collapse arrives, which hope will hold off for many more years, but we are watching rates and if they begin to rise in the US, the debt problem will become and issue very fast.
Dear Xabier and Scott and others
There are several different ways to control temperature in the absence of electricity. If you seriously think that electricity supply will be interrupted, it makes sense to look at your options before the Collapse. Some that occur to me:
1. Deciduous trees or vines shading your dwelling. Cooler in the summer, but allowing warmth in the winter.
2. There are passive cooling building techniques which take advantage of the fact that hot air rises. Sometimes you see these in places like Zion National Park.
3. Build a spring house if you have a spring.
4. Put a glazed pot inside an unglazed pot which is filled with water. The water evaporates out of the unglazed pot and cools the glazed pot.
5. Use passive heat storage, such as large drums of water inside your greenhouse.
6. Use active compost inside your greenhouse. The greenhouses at Clemson University in South Carolina use a row of active compost on the north side of their greenhouses.
7. Use body heat to warm small rooms. In the Twelve by Twelve that I have referred to several times, the only external heat comes from the candles she burns (sparingly) at night and her body heat. That house is located in North Carolina, with outside temperatures down to 0 farenheit. On a very cold night, I think she sleeps with quite a bit of clothing on. The temperature in the house stays above freezing.
7.1 In a large bedroom, you can build a four poster bed and drape insulating fabrics around it and over it. Your body heat will warm the interior quite a lot. The sleeping cabinets of Scotland are another application of this idea.
8. Build a place to sleep in the summer which is exposed to the sky. If you have slept in the desert, you know that your body will radiate to the absolute zero temperatures in outer space. In many tropical places, this sleeping space is on a flat roof.
These are just some of the things which occur to me. I am sure the group can think of others. For some of them, it is definitely wise to get the supplies you would need before the Crash. Many of them make sense just in terms of frugal living.
What puzzles me these days is the degree to which it seems the entire media and political establishment is committed to maintaining a “business as usual” demeanor. Is it just me, or are we living in two separate realities these days — the “reality” the MSM and political machines portray, and the REAL reality that is hurtling toward us like a mile-wide asteroid?
Interesting case in point: In the article linked below, the Saudis are now generating public concern that the oil shale developments in North Dakota are significant enough to put a serious dent in their revenues. “Fear” is what the Saudis are feeling, if this article is to be believed.
Should Saudi Arabia Fear North Dakota? One Man Says Yes
From what I have learned, North Dakota oil reserves is a hyped-up non-starter. There isn’t enough oil there to make any kind of impact on Saudi sales to America — or am I misinformed.
Articles like this make me wonder why the MSM and political players involved are pumping this questionable narrative, and what is the reason behind it. It seems to me that the answers to those questions lead directly to the subject matter that Gail is presenting here. Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that a concentrated effort is being made to keep this limping economy going for just a few more steps?
Any other opinions? Thanks!
Well, there are investments to protect. There is nothing so short-term as the investment mentality, as I hear every time I talk to richer friends who never cease in their search for opportunities, and dismiss all fears out of hand. I love teasing out of them what they are up to and the essentially naive hopes which lie behind their business activities (like a child thinking that if only it can get that toy or bag of candies it will have found ultimate happiness.)
And a false message as to our predicament has to be energetically spread in the MSM, as all developed economies have come to be based on people, above all the mass of people, consuming thoughtlessly without any regard to real circumstances. Reality cannot be allowed to intrude. If it does, and people retrench then all those highly-geared industries will just collapse.
It seems fairly simple to me, no great conspiracy, just many vested interests coalescing into a near-universal blindness.
To Xabier et al,
Your description of ‘rich folk mania’ struck earlier today when an article appeared calling for ‘Insider Trading’ to be legalized.
It took a couple of days, but some of his colleagues told him to retract his statement. Those people live in a different universe, of which each is an individual master.
Well, they seem to love their money as if it actually had personality and is a thing to caress and cherish. And the world being as it has always been, it is true that nearly everything and many people do have their price, so acquisition is a agreeable mode of life and very satisfying – if you don’t know how to make your own fun, as it were.
The price they pay is eternal, often paranoid, vigilance over their ‘little green friends…….’ (One New York financier who was in partnership with a friend of mine used to say ‘Friends? I have loads of ’em: millions of little green ones!’ One can only pity an individual with so reduced a view of life’s possibilities.) He was a disgusting individual who used to take pleasure in building and destroying careers. He was able to exert a curious influence over his more decent colleagues, fascinated by his ruthlessness and amorality: maybe this was Hitler’s secret? Alas, he is now richer than ever…….
Part of the problem is that Saudi Arabia is playing into this ridiculous story as well. Saudi Arabia needs a “cover” for their own problems with maintaining oil production, and the excuse of North Dakota production eliminating the need for it sounds like a good one.
No Lindon you are not misinformed, the well figures for the two oilfields tells the real story.
Saudi needs about 1600 wells to produce its oil (around 10mbd), the USA needs over 500000, to produce a little over half that amount, with that figure climbing year on year proving that the oil industry has to run faster to stand still.
what that means is that world industrial and political stability is dependent on those 1600 wells, and some other similar oilfields, (giving an EROEI of about 20 : 1)
western civilisation would collapse if we could only get oil at the return offered by the bakken or tarsands, maybe 5 or 6 to 1
Right now there is a pretence that oil is oil whatever its source, and it will not affect our way of life. But we can look around and see that our way of life is being affected right now. We have turned oil into food, and we are selling it to those who can afford it.
the 1 billion people in the world who can’t afford it are going without.
To Xabier and His Fellow European Contributors:
Below is a link to an article in the New York Review of Books that focuses on Germany and what is evolving in Germany and Europe. I would be honored to hear your views.
These are a few things I think the article missed:
1. Germany has been helped out by the Euro floating where it does, pulled lower by the problems of the PIIGS. If they leave, or if Germany had to compete on its own, it might well do much worse competitively.
2. The full extent of the problems with the move to renewables and away from nuclear has not yet been revealed. (I understand that Germany would like Sweden to help it out, by burning more of its wood cheaply, and exporting this cheap electricity to Germany. But Sweden is not really interested in this give-away plan to Germany.) The costs of the current plan have not fully been passed on, and the problems with the grid have not fully been felt. Germany will be at a disadvantage when attracting new businesses.
3. I expect Germany will be hit as hard as any country by pension and other promises that cannot really be honored. They are based on the premise of everlasting growth.
germany is like a wonderful toyshop—and they do make lovely toys–I have one myself
Even the best toyshop goes out of business if it has no customers
You’re entirely correct. Also note that among their biggest customers is China, which is even more dependent on foreign customers buying its manufactures. In a pre-collapse scenario such as the global economic outlook currently emerging, Germany’s high end products are likely to succeed well.
Thank you, Gail. Regarding your first point, I recall seeing that argument in the Economist essay on Germany a few months ago. It’s quite true: Germany prospers by its economic proficiency and efficiency. I also appreciate your insights on the fuel / wood / Sweden issue. Re retirement pensions, it’s obvious that if the global economy begins shrinking — destination undefined — those national funds will have to be reduced. But the price of everything will have dropped also, right? Not too sure about that?
The most superior single feature of Germany’s economy is, I think, its labor system that emphasizes good management-labor cooperation (and sharing) and the youth apprentice program. We need such programs in the USA, and I think some of the European states are beginning to get interested.
In an attempt to clarify the issues surrounding ‘feeding 7 billion people’, let me offer the following as a model.
Let’s assume fast collapse. Everything falls apart with great speed driven by a global financial collapse.
My rough guess is that perhaps 1 percent of the people in the US would survive for 3 years. So at C + 3 years, the population of the US would be around 3 million. We can guess about the characteristics of the survivors, but I would put my money on those who are able to provide food and water for themselves. (There will be plenty of abandoned shelter). Drinking water might be an issue in Phoenix, but those of us who live in the East will probably figure out how to gather rainwater pretty quickly. There will be plenty of scrap material to gather the water and lots of 5 gallon plastic buckets to store it in.
As for food production, those who know how to produce food with very simple methods and the tools and seeds or plants and animals they had before the collapse will be the winners. I assume that the 99 percent who don’t survive will go as quietly as the Irish during the famine.
What will happen after C +3? The Natural World will begin to regenerate itself due to the absence of humans. Let’s suppose that life is still hard for the surviving humans, and the population drifts steadily lower. As the Natural World regenerates, and as humans relearn the ways of the Wild, then returning to hunting and gathering may well gain attractiveness. We know that the Plains Indians reverted to hunting and gathering after two events: their numbers were decimated by European diseases and the Spaniards brought them horses. So, speculatively, we might see the population settle at a million or two, with a mixture of hunting and gathering and simple agriculture.
All that is quite speculative, and what things would look like at C + 1000 years is a complete guess. It probably won’t be a re-run of human history as enabled by fossil fuels.
A person or family or commune can have several different approaches to that speculative scenario. First, they can simply say that worrying about the future has never paid much in the way of dividends on the investment and so they won’t worry about it. Second, they can think that, rather than producing food, killing one’s enemies will the the prime necessity and stock up on guns and ammo. Third, they can try to take up hunting and gathering now, looking for some blessed land where that is still possible. Fourth, they can agree that the simple agriculture model offers the best chance of survival, and set about acquiring the skills and knowledge and base of tools, seeds, plants, and animals they will need for survival in the decade after collapse. During the decade after collapse, they will have to figure out what comes next.
Dear Gail and Others
Following up on my thoughts about survival in a global collapse being largely about what you go into the collapse already possessing. Here are a few examples from Sandor Katz’ book on fermentation. Lot’s of fermentation enthusiasts write Sandor with recipes and stories.
Page 111: My parents were born and grew up in Russia. I learned from my dad that after WWII, he (age 8) and his family literally survived on sauerkraut and potatoes for a year. There really was no other food and he is still healthy today at 70 and still loves sauerkraut. (My comment. They probably had a root cellar to store the potatoes and knew how to grow cabbage and make it into sauerkraut and had the necessary tools and clay or glass vessels from before the war years. They also got salt from somewhere.)
Page 111: One of my great-grandmothers was so kraut obsessed that a cabbage cutter was the only thing she brought with her to this country, besides a sack of clothing. (My comment. It is hard to make sauerkraut with a knapped rock. Tools like cabbage cutters will be valuable things to have post-collapse.)
Page 116: Many of the origin myths of Shaoxing’s fermented delicacies tell tales of extreme poverty, and of the accidental discovery of ways of using fermentation to make spoiled, inedible, or overlooked odds and ends of produce taste striking and delicious. (My comment: extending one’s knowledge and skill at using wild foods and being able to ferment temporary surplus to store for periods of shortage and eating just about everything one gathers or grows would be valuable skills post-collapse. We are better off than the ancient peasants of Shaoxing because we can piggyback on what they learned the hard way.)
Page 403: Even now in the 21st century, half the world’s population continues to live in earthen dwellings, which are more thermally comfortable than the cement bunkers or house trailers that often replace them. (My comment. He then goes on the describe a sort of fermentation like process that happens when one builds with clay and straw and water. My advice: go live in a dwelling built out of natural materials, so you get over your prejudices. Then enroll in a natural building class appropriate to where you live.)
Page 409: The idea of capturing methane from anaerobic decomposition processes is not new. Nearly one thousand years ago, Marco Polo observed it in China….by providing primarily rural people with fuel for heating and cooking, biogas also saves trees from being cut. (My comment. Enroll in a class and make a simple biodigester.)
Page 412: Jenifer Wightman is a biologist-artist who created installations of mud and water enclosed in frames, fermenting, called Winogradsky Rothko: Bacterial Ecosystem as Pastoral Landscape…De/Composition represents beginnings, change, contingencies of cause and effect, interconnectedness, possibility…Perhaps decomposition is where my hope for the world lies. (My comment. What can I say?)
I’ve just been leafing through a gardening book published in New York in the 1830’s, by a Mr Wilson: the author recommends burying potatoes and beets in trenches covered in one foot of earth, with another two shovelled on if the winter is very, as an alternative to a root-cellar. Requires more space than a root-cellar I suppose.
The details of what will work best is highly dependent on circumstances. For example, where I live the right thing to do with carrots is leave them in the ground all winter and just harvest what you need, when you need it. Where the ground freezes a foot deep, that plan won’t work. I don’t know what they do in Florida (other than that they don’t produce very good carrots).
Carol Deppe, who gardens in Oregon, has this to say about storage: Winter squash is shorter lived than the grains and beans, but stores indoors at room temperature for months, given appropriate varieties. Natural storage requires no extra work beyond harvesting.
Our secondary storage method is cool, moist storage for potatoes, that is, root-cellar storage. In our case, our ‘root-cellar’ is a wall of shelves in an unheated attached garage….Here in the Northwest with our mild winters, we use winter gardening and in-garden storage and overwintering to supply many winter vegetables rather than a root-cellar. On our wish list, however, is a full orchard, and bushels of apples and pears in cool storage along with (but in a separate room), potatoes. In areas with more severe winters, where winter vegetable growing is impossible, in-garden storage becomes less practical, and root-cellar storage is more practical.
Back to me.
If you have a walk in root cellar, it gives you a lot of climate control. When I was a child, it was where we went to in tornado weather. The walls were lined with shelves and jars of preserved foods. It keeps things cool in the summer, and warmer in the winter. Someone with a basement may find it redundant. I suggest that people just think about their own climate, their own situation, talk to some clever people, and figure out what they want to do–including nothing at all.
My main point is not that everyone should rush out and build a root-cellar, but that now is an excellent time to think about preserving the abundance of harvest for the lean parts of the year–especially if you think that you may not have a reliable freezer due to electrical failures. Trying to adapt to collapse AFTER a fast collapse occurs may be very hard indeed.
Excellent over-view, thank you.
Don, I will second Xabier, thanks for the good write up and advice, gardening and food production is a complex subject. You would make a good next door neighbor to have around!
I suppose that is one possible scenario. I know that Guy McPherson is postulating something similar, and quite a few people stocking up on ammunition have some similar ideas–there simply won’t be anyone around to shoot, so it won’t be much of a problem.
I honestly don’t know. It depends on how fast things fall apart, and how independent different parts of the US and the world are from each other.
Hello Gail and others, I think the collapse will be slower than expected,
Meat prices have doubled this year and things slowly get tougher for all.
Yes, I’d agree – a slow. slow grind for ever greater numbers of people in the developed economies. Maybe rather sudden collapses elsewhere though – ie Egypt, Iraq, Syria.
i think we will all experience sudden collapse. Rather like a piece of elastic you can stretch and stretch (using more and more energy of course), then it snaps and hurts your fingers
I agree with your observation about meat prices; they appear to increase and decrease according to some motivation that is well beyond my ken. Same with milk and eggs. And I’ve watched those ‘Consumer Price Index’ prices over the years and decades. Are they much more now compared to 30 years ago given inflation? I think not much. Ditto for gasoline, by the way, as well as levi’s and a pair of boots. Lots of stuff got cheaper at WalMart, but also lower quality.
I also agree with your observation about the onset of collapse. Are we closer to the edge now than we were 3 years ago? 5? 20? I honestly don’t know. Who does? What are their metrics? We can worry ourselves to a frazzle by allowing news from the Middle East or Venezuela to affect our outlook, but most of us are able to resist such urges. We do, however, bear real burdens of responsibility to repair the systems whose deterioration threatens civilization. In other words, trying to fix Syria and its neighbors is probably a losing proposition, while fixing Southern Europe is essential. So let’s focus properly and do what needs to be done. Then we can start working on the next items on the list, like improving the water situation in most of Africa…
Does it matter whether or not you or I or the next person(s) agree with that a particular item should be on the list, or its conditions, characteristics or importance? Probably. But does that mean we have to all take a vote? Nope. Just don’t do something that might harm others.
Yes Gail, we have to consider how strong the social fabric is — and how that things can hold together longer than we think….
The population of the US was about 314 million at the beginning of 2013. Just to make sure we’re starting from similar data points, you are proposing that within three years the US population would decline to 3 million, or 1% of its present size. Do I have that right?
I think the number might be a little higher, sir, and there’s probably some likelihood that some survivalist communities will possess relatively abundant resources of petroleum products, machinery and even ‘electronic age’ capabilities, and that some forms of government organizations (quasi-military at a minimum) will exist in numerous places. In fact, it would not be surprising at all if some petroleum extraction and coal mining and other such activities continued. Of course, neither you nor I, nor anyone else, can propose that their projections will be accurate, but I would propose a much slower, less steep decline than 3 years and 99% death rate.
I am just combining what Gail and David Korowicz say. If the global supply chain falls apart and if it is so complex that a command and control apparatus can’t put it back together again, then starvation and disease would reduce the population very quickly. To take one example, if electricity fails for 30 days, I think cities would simply grind to a halt. And since they have only a 3 day food supply…you can do the math. If FEMA becomes active, I suspect they will run out of food and water pretty quickly.
I’m not making any predictions myself. I’m just saying that if you take Gail and Korowicz seriously, then most people are going to die pretty quickly. As I think of it, this is one of those Black Swans…not the most likely, perhaps, but having a huge impact if it does occur.
As I have tried to make clear, the strategies for survival are pretty basic. But most people are in denial and won’t do anything at all. I also factored in the death of lots of people who may be doing the right things but just have bad luck…perhaps die in violence.
Where did the 1 percent figure come from? In my metropolitan area, two percent of our food qualifies as ‘local’. With no supply chain, 98 percent of our food goes away. Assume we somehow managed to get the two percent which is local distributed to some people. But that half these people didn’t make it for unfortunate reasons such as violence, disease promoted by poor sanitation, etc. You get one percent survivors.
Thank you, Don. I apologize for my mis-directed questions, and I appreciate your taking time to provide sober responses. I didn’t want to attack anyone, least of all you. The calculations you related make sense, but I still think there will be far greater resiliency than a 1% survival rate. Why? 1) There are just too many people out there in various boondocks. 2) The authorities may not be talking about this but that doesn’t mean their inactive.
Just to elaborate a little.
There are three big assumptions in the one percent survival scenario. The first is that we have a global financial collapse with a simultaneous collapse of global supply chains. That assumption is derived from my interpretation of Gail’s work. The second assumption is that global supply chains have become so complex that command and control can no longer reconstitute them once they collapse. That assumption is derived from Korowicz’ work. The third assumption is that violence will not be common and, just as in the Famine in Ireland, most people will die quietly.
If we think about survival in a densely populated world, we might identify food and sanitation and water as very large considerations. In my metropolitan area, about 2 percent of the food is in a local food chain where the participants know each other. Even if the global food system breaks down, the 2 percent chain might continue to function. But the sanitation and water system would not necessarily work. In addition, there will certainly be some violence. And so I come down to one percent survival rate. I always try to preface my remarks by saying that I am assuming a fast collapse, as Gail expects, and not a long, slow decline as some others expect.
If you consider all the food produced in California as ‘local’, that still doesn’t mean very much because almost all of it is delivered to LA and San Francisco in a complex supply chain. I am looking at the complexity of the supply chain rather than something like ‘food miles’. I think my metropolitan area has more food delivered through a simple supply chain than most any other.
However, if you looked at a country such as Bolivia, it might well be true that a majority of the food is delivered in a simple supply chain. Therefore, a global financial collapse might not mean too much in Bolivia. It would certainly put some people out of work as export markets were lost, but food and water and sanitation might not be affected very much. In short, I am taking Korowicz’ claims about the dangers of complex supply chains very seriously–at least in terms of scenario planning. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that my assumptions will come true.
Don, No boats full of goods will leave without payment or a line of credit, that seems to be the weak link in the chain.
I recently saw a Disaster Plan for the State of Oregon, which gave likely schedules for the restoration of communications, power, etc after a major disaster (flood etc), further broken down according to region – rural or urban.
It was very interesting to see just how long many services would be out for, even with the assumption of business as usual in neighbouring states and – I think perhaps Gail would make this point? – with all financial systems operating normally, spare parts available for purchase and able to be shipped, etc.
But you are quite right, the authorities are certainly not sitting idle. It just seems to me that the financial and supply side of things is just assumed, maybe unwisely, although it is of course the only feasible working assumption when making such plans.
Don, yes if the global supply chain broke down, it could get pretty bad very fast, thinking of being in a large city then is a scary thought to me. Those in and around farming communities should fare the best I would think.
We live near the Willamette Valley of Oregon which is giant farming community with many people much tougher than I that have grown up here, so we have only lived here a few years but already I am pleased we relocated here.
My daughter who is nearly 30 now had the opportunity to relocate here with her company, but she chose to return to San Francisco as the country life seemed to quiet for our “city girl” daughter. It concerns me that she is in the big city which may be ground zero for collapse or even attack. Most young people do not see any problem and never heard of Peak Oil or understand the financial aspects of a government that owes 14 trillion but even double that and more if you count all of the unfunded liabilities.
A trillion one dollar bills laid end to end in a ribbon would reach nearly the moon.
Hello, Well Chris, I do agree there are some pretty tough groups out there, especially in the West US. These groups have been planning for this and there is so much ammo and like you said high tech stuff too and fuel stored. Here in Oregon, most of my neighbors have stores of food and ammo, it sad, but it seems many are expecting trouble here too. let’s hope it holds off, hopefully for us to live out our lives first on this planet. That would be nice wouldn’t it?
I found myself wondeingr what communities in the US will get along fine after “THE FALL”. Co-incidentally, PBS’s American Experience series aired a program about the Amish tonight. My guess is that they will do fine withoit oil, except when they want to light the kerosene lanterns.
I am not as convinced. They depend on our current system for quite a few purchased goods. I am not entirely certain what they are, but I would guess they include cloth, shoes, metal plows for the horses, paved roads, the kerosene lanterns they use, replacement parts for wells and sanitation systems, and trucks to pick up produce they have to sell. I expect their homes are built with nails, which are from our current system. If I looked very closely at what a particular group is doing, I but I could come up with a fairly long list of things from our current system they are using.
Gail, should we not consider that the availability of resources / replacements at the initial onset of Collapse will probably be a lot different as time goes on. The speed with which Collapse gains momentum cannot be accurately predicted, I think. But those who, like the Amish, are less reliant on machinery and electronics, however marginally, would tend to fare better, I would think. Not that I’m right and I surely don’t look forward to checking my arithmetic against reality, but I think they would be in better mode to survive than those living in big cities (whose supermarkets could run out of replacement food very quickly…)
Hi Chris, Yes, I have a great deal of respect for the Amish people, living in our society and the way they operate closer to the land. We can learn from them. They may be a little strict which I would have trouble with and as for most of us, but I see the way they live which is hard to do in today’s world.
I did buy some Amish furniture some time back just to support them a little, a bedroom set and it was really nice, they are great wood workers! I like to work with wood myself too, but mostly these days refinishing old pieces I found up here in Oregon.
it’s not whether you are ‘doing fine’ that will be the problem. it’s the people around you who are not ‘doing fine.
‘Gliding like a stone’, exactly describes our situation, how perfect!
Will anyone call the truth of the situation? Of course not: as Kyle Bass remarked not so long ago, ‘the politicians and bankers will tell you everything is just fine until the crash, they’ll lie and lie.’
But thankfully, despite the MSM propaganda machine, we still – as individuals – have access to enough accurate data, if we ferret it out, to assess our prospects objectively and take whatever action we care to, or indeed none at all if we think it all too hopeless.
To that extent, we are a little more fortunate than the citizens of a totalitarian state obliged to applaud the next 5 Year Plan and its promises of abundance and the earthly New Jerusalem.
You flatter me unnecessarily, sir, but I’m glad you got a chuckle. Aviation has some delightful sayings, such as ‘running out of altitude, airspeed and ideas…’
I’m not sure exactly where our general human society is on the ‘C’ timeline that Don has mentioned. Has our situation declined seriously, markedly, over the last 2 years? 10? What bad things are coming next? When? One-time bad ouch or irredeemably bad and nowhere to go but down (like a rock) thereafter? I, for one, have no idea, and I’m skeptical of almost all potential answers. I appreciate your analysis regarding our freedoms and access to information, and of course I agree with you entirely. The first thing I’m going to do when the balloon goes up is kidnap Don Stewart because he’s the best qualified to do the ‘survival farming’ he seems to think might help us live for a few more years. (Just joking, everybody!)
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The two sides to our predicament seem pretty obvious.
OOH, we have science and math detailing the downward trajectory of natural resource supplies. Gail does a good job of distilling much of this stuff down to simple concepts and charts. Although Gail emphasizes the depletion of fossil fuels and sometimes the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb GHG, the depletion issue is much broader. Aquifers and glaciers are shrinking, soil is eroding and losing nutrient value, forests are shrinking and deserts are growing, oceans are acidifying and fisheries depleting, the extinction rate of other species is rising at an alarming rate, mineral deposits are depleting, etc. Although some of the available data is questionable, it is pretty hard to argue that the crust and biosphere of our planet will continue to produce abundant supplies of new resources. Even if the dubious claim for a 100 year supply of NG was true, what happens after that? And even if the even more dubious claim that thorium-based nuclear-power-for-all dream came true, how much would that alleviate all the other resources issues? Probably a little – but do we really want to bet the fate of the planet on this unproven wish? The science and math are clear: the rate of natural resource depletion can’t indefinitely support BAU and no amount of efficiency and technology can change that calculation.
OTOH, we have metrics that detail global per-capita consumption of resources (and all the attendant items mentioned above). These metrics make it clear that the planet simply can’t support 7 to 10 billion humans at current consumption rates for very long. Reducing the number of humans and scaling down their consumption practices has a strong potential for avoiding the serious consequences that seem most popular on this blog. There really is no shortage of ideas for how to accomplish this feat (humanely) over the coming decades. There is an abundance of Plans – both B and C (the books Plan B and Plan C are good reading). And, most of the really useful plans don’t have much to do with individual survival ideas. Home gardens, bicycles, solar heat, etc might be well be part of the overall plan – but pretty useless on an individual basis if we are talking about some semblance of well-being for the bulk of humans and our flora/fauna fellow travelers. Right wing conservative and Libertarian ideas aren’t useful either because, above all, we need a massive level of human cooperation – not rugged individualism. Any effective plan would need broad global understanding and support.
So, assuming people would like to avoid collapse of various sorts and a nasty form of human die-off, what kind of activism is needed? What’s a better approach than buying guns and sacks of rice or joining your local church? I’d suggest understanding meme theory and how people are motivated to make their most important decisions – the ones that affect the fate of the planet. Whether it’s called “conditioning by propaganda”, “cultural meme”, “ideology”, or “human nature” – the end result is the same: most people are motivated by their ingrained political, religious and economic belief systems. These belief systems generally serve the small minority of people who personally benefit from them – people who control police and armies, clergy, and the hierarchy of corporations. Power over mind and body seems to have become very popular since the advent of agriculture allowed for the development of nobility, warrior and shaman classes of people. There is little evidence that hunter-gatherers operated with the kind of class systems we have developed since agriculture came on the scene.
Activism can take many forms. My main hope lies with young people, many of whom seem to understand that the political, religious and economic systems they’ve been born into are failing and need to be replaced – and I’ve met many who actually understand what is happening. I don’t know if there are enough of them. For an old guy like me – I try to support organizations and politicians that are consistent with my thoughts – and I always vote. I support organizations like “Population Connection” and “Americans United for Separation of Church and State”. I vote for trains and against new expressways. I try to be realistic about what I can and can’t do. And, I do take seriously Gail’s advice about enjoying the life we have while, at the same time, not excessively contributing to the problems.
I would like to thank you for introducing two needed organizations. Population is the key to solving the heart of the world problem. You just can’t stop the damage to the earth without eliminating a lot of humans. We are just eaten, blogging, crapping, sex texting, production, earth destruction machines. If we don’t do it willingly, it will be forced on us because of our own actions. Trek 5000
I can only agree with you—but I can never get my head around the ‘willing’ part.
we are the mechanism by which our genes move forward and evolve, that fact forces us to eat and procreate as a first priority.
nature doesn’t care much what we do with our time when we’ve done that. If we die–too bad, if we live, well that improves the gene pool.
People have a suicidal habit of viewing nature from our own perspective, we marvel at its beauty, and so imagine that nature looks on us in the same way. with much the same kind of emotion as a married couple for example.
as far as nature is concerned we are plant food
EndMore, The “willingly” part is the problem. We know how to do it. But, Dave clearly points out the road blocks in the way. The Affordable Care Act is a prefect example. After three years, the self interest are still fighting a watered down version of simple healthcare for all. The pathway is education and again that’s another special interest fight.
Affordable healthcare has nothing to do with it.
Except that we have used improved health to breed more people. We all want to be healthy–but that is the consequence—unpleasant as it may be.
Prof albert Bartlett puts it very well
and sets it out as a matter of simple arithmetic. Healthy mothers have more children, and the mothers of the next 2 billion are alive right now, they are not going to forgo their chance to breed no matter how much contraception is available, neither are the people who are destined to live to be 100 going to roll over and die.
Post 2050/70 may see a natural dieback, but by then we will have traumatised ourselves in the fight over whats left.
Which solves the problem in natures way.
The ACA and your comment are a perfect examples of the headwinds and lack of education needed to solve the problem. Advanced society have lower birth rates. The ten years before the ACA the cost of healthcare had been growing at a 10% rate which is Dr. Bartlett’s Exponential Function. The ACA is designed to limit/lower the growth rate and cost of health care, but the self interest of some have poisoned the well of information of the truth in their political quest for power. One can be part of the problem or part of the solution.
I will stand by my example
Advanced societies use a huge amount more fossil fuel energy than less advanced societies. The use of fossil fuel energy allows a very different distribution of labor. Instead of nearly everyone, children included, needing to work in the fields, some people can specialize as teachers; others can write and print books; and children (freed from farm labor) can go to school. Fossil fuels also allow birth control. Countries using fossil fuels often make promises to their citizens with respect to pensions and health care for the aged. This frees families from needing to have enough children, to make certain that children will be available to support them in their old age. (Of course, these promises really cannot be kept, but people generally don’t realize this.) Fossil fuels also provide lots of distractions, so that sex isn’t the only easy, cheap form of recreation.
Without fossil fuels, we have a very different world than we have today, with much less education, birth control and recreation available, and much fewer promises for retirement income.
I am afraid you are right with respect to, “As far as nature is concerned we are plant food”.
‘All Flesh is Grass’, as the good Book has it.
It’s going to be very hard for people in the advanced economies to grasp that all the ‘social conquests’ (as they call it in Spain) of the 20th century, – ie birth-control, mass education from 5 to 21 and beyond, unemployment and sickness welfare, mass medical care, freedom of women from life-long childcare or domestic labour, taking the whole of August as a holiday, pensions from the age of 55, etc, international holidays, the universal franchise and end of slavery – were just, in many ways, the social by-products of a cheap and abundant fuel source: first people were liberated by coal, then by oil.
The perception gap is so great that, frankly, it’s not even worth raising the issue with most people. Well, events will teach us all, won’t they?
Xabier, We have a rather large back yard which is a garden and a grass area. We had a late bloom of flowers since we had late spring rains, The bees came and I have left it un-mowed so that the bees can have the nector. Hoping to help the Bees a bit by not mowing my flowers.
On the financial side of things Gail and others have foreseen a collapse in the bond markets, and leading sovereign defaults even in the USA eventually. Looks like Spain is already there almost.
It seems like Europe is expecting even more of these things than the US. It is hard to even contemplate the needed changes. Everyone is thinking only about the solar panel they can add, or the new “green” dishwashing liquid. Certainly, their lives will not change.
Thanks! Each of us try to do what we can. I wish the economy had a “reverse” mode, that would allow easy shrinkage. Without one, even if we can succeed in reducing the population and the amount of resources each uses, it will leave us with a need for very different political and financial systems. These would need to be part of any new plan as well.
Dear Gail and Bicycle Dave
Forgive me for piggybacking on this response. But an example of ‘going into reverse’ happened during the Depression of the 30s. The Southern US had a ‘pellagra belt’ which was caused by people eating a diet really high in processed corn which lacks a certain nutrient that humans need. With the collapse of agricultural markets, the farmers stopped growing corn for processing and reverted to growing food for subsistance. At the same time, relatives came back from the cities to work for food.
The pellagra disappeared with the improvement in diet. The needy relatives provided additional, very cheap, labor. The thing that didn’t disappear was the knowledge of how to grow a subsistence diet and how to live very frugally and self-reliantly.
The Depression era farmers simply did not know many of the things we know now. And so we got things like the Dust Bowl and terrible water erosion. Good small farmers now know a great deal. The limits on how much of what they know they can actually put into practice are mostly financial. One has to be competitive in order to survive. A farmer like Alex Hitt has shown he can survive with pretty darn good practices. If fossil fuels largely go away, if electronics disappear, if tens of millions of people die from starvation and disease, if the cost of labor falls precipitously as desperate people look for work, and if rural communities begin to reformulate the economy which was destroyed mostly after WWII, then I think Alex could cope with the changes.
Gail I’m going to disagree again with you here. I wouldn’t throughout the baby with the bathwater here. I think our political and financial systems are the best there has ever been. But in both cases there are some with self interest that have gamed the system. Like an airplane at 35,000 feet, repair is difficult. But crashing is not an alternative.
you have no alternative if the plane runs out of fuel
planes with big engines dont glide
People who spend(t) portions of their lives at the controls of planes, large and small, might dispute your characterization. Such craft do indeed glide, but like a rock.
Notwithstanding, the metaphor is terribly flawed. We are much more like the guests on Noah’s ark, for far too long, and none of us need list all our complaints as we’re quite familiar with them.
Well Chris, maybe it wasn’t the best example. But the goal is to get the aircraft safely to the ground, repair it and fly another day.
Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger, III is a retired airline captain would be my hero.
Yes sir, I agree. The ark metaphor leaves us totally at the whim of the Almighty and that’s probably unacceptable to many readers for all the reasons we don’t need to list.
Sully done good. He kept his head and quickly achieved optimal glide rate, which is at an airspeed defined as “L over D Max” — Lift Over Drag is at its lowest point. It’s the speed an airplane has just as it crosses ‘the fence’ onto the airfield, just before landing. For a 737 just after takeoff and heavy, it’s probably around 220-230 kts.
For the purposes of this analogy, it might be useful to say that it’s not a good speed to try to maintain or to cruise at. It’s kinda slow and uncomfortable, and a bit noisy; all the passengers start shouting “are we there yet?” and they all have to stay strapped in without beverages and you know what crybabies they are. If the engines are powerless (which is not the case) then the best we can do is find a place to touch down and glide in at L/D max.
If we are getting some power from one or more of the engines, even if it’s sporadic and can’t be easily anticipated which of the several might feel virtuous when, then the problem is one of managing the intermittent failures. It’s often a good idea to keep the passengers well-briefed under such conditions, because they’re crybabies (you already know that) and some one or two might have overpowered the air marshall and got his weapon, which means things could get nasty.
But that assumes that all the passengers know we’re sort of in a bit of a mess and that they oughta be praying and stop complaining and shut up. Please. Don’t wanna hafta tell you again.
But what do you do when one of the pilots returns from a stroll down the aisle and informs the other gals and guys up front that there is a very serious problem (take your pick — engine mount breaking, some skin ripping off, a potty vacuum relief tube frozen and ready to explode the rear — use your imagination…) that could precipitously terminate the aerodynamic portion of the flight. But you can’t say a friggin’ word to the crybabies back there enjoying their meals and highballs. Why not? Well, for whatever reason, management wants to keep sales high, costs down, and confidence up. So don’t scare the customers, especially if you’re not 120% certain. Call headquarters (or the White House) for instructions if you run into a real problem and are too dumb to figure out what it means to keep your mouth shut! Just don’t scare the people or give them some reason to vote for somebody else. Shhhh!
We can start writing Act 2 next week.
Our financial system cannot work without economic growth. Economic growth has been slowing greatly, especially in the “developed” countries, because we are no longer competitive with the part of the world that use primarily coal for manufacturing, and where people (in part because of the warmer climate) can live much more simply–without cars, in houses without much heating or insulation, etc. Higher oil prices have accentuated this disparity, and changes toward globalization have made this a reality. See my post, Twelve Reasons Globalization is a Huge Problem.
Energy consumption is required for economic growth, but in recent years, the growth in energy consumption has been shifting away from the developed world, to other parts of the world–the energy exporters, and countries in warm climates with low per capita energy use, that often is coal. As economic growth is moving away from us, all kinds of distortions are needed to hide this fact–artificially low interest rates, very easy access to loans, and continued government borrowing, to pay out benefits it really cannot afford to pay. These distortions cannot continue forever, however. Already interest rates are beginning to rise. And low interest rates are likely to blow bubbles, as investors increasingly invest in projects that cannot pay back. These may include tight oil and shale gas wells, that decline very quickly. Investments also include buying up and fixing up housing that has been foreclosed, without realizing that low income people cannot really afford even to rent these properties.
Eventually, the whole mess must fall apart. THe current rise in interest rates is one issue. The continued government debt problem is another. Problems in Japan and Europe are others.
If we have a new system, it will be with a world which is in collapse, because of declining fossil fuels use, so declining economic growth. Very little debt can be used in such a system. What debt is used will need to be primarily very short-term debt–for example, covering goods in transit, as with old Lloyds of London insurance policies. We will have to recognize the fact the nature does not do accrual accounting. The amount of fossil fuels we can pull out of the ground each year pretty much puts a limit on how much can be produced in a given year. If the amount goes down, we will need to cut back to essentials. This make the developed countries, with their focus on services, the most vulnerable.
it doesn’t matter who’s wall you damage with your head, you will not convince the majority that growth is directly and specifically linked to energy input.
time and again, I have exchanged viewpoints with seemingly intelligent people who insist that spending money is all that is necessary to create prosperity (Krugman being the most well known in that sphere)
With economists like that, who needs a flat earth society?
I disagree on the closeness of our (as yet unknown ) problem
The world / aircraft needs oil to function. We are agreed on that. An aircraft might have a million parts with backups, but…no fuel–and it falls out of the sky.
Right now, the middle east is a powder keg, with country after country slipping towards anarchy, to a great extent because muslims are fed up with keeping us affluent westerners afloat on their oil. their leaders sell their oil cheaply, rather than funding home needs with it first. (that goes back nearly a century with accumulating grievances)
at any moment. we could have another pearl harbour, when an insurrection shuts down the saudi/iraqi oilfields.
that could happen overnight, When it does, it might be because Saudi supplies are getting tighter, and they can no longer buy off all their idle young men with glitzy lifestyles. They might be expected to work! they will not go on supplying the west as their oil drains to nothing
You will see a repeat in Riyadh of whats happening in Cairo and Damascus and elsewhere.
When that happens, our plane falls out of the sky. Strategic oil reserves are for essential government use, not general commerce
Oh and I came up with another option, the 630 weak passengers turn on the 70 strong ones–and throw them out of the plane, insisting the arithmetic is wrong.
They still crash into the ocean.
to take the plane/planet earth analogy a logical step further:
You have a plane with 700 passengers on board (add noughts yourself) flying over the ocean
the pilot discovers a leaky fuel tank, and realises that he can only fly the plane on to its destination by lightening the load . His does some quick calculations, and works out that with 10% of the weight, he can make landfall, any more and he will crash into the sea.
he therefore asks for 630 volunteers among the passengers to jump out, or they are all going to die. (add the necessary noughts again)
The radio is dead, so they cant put out a distress call. (just to complicate matters)
Now , the passengers have a choice…do they draw lots, or do the 70 stronger passengers gang up and throw out the weaker ones?
the third option is to hope the pilot has got his sums wrong, and sit it out.
Please submit all other options for consideration
To End of More:
Sir, I posted my opinions last evening, a few paragraphs above. Keeping with the airliner analogy, we are not, I believe, anywhere near a point where the powers that be would allow open and repeat trumpeting that ‘earth, we got a problem…’ I might well be wrong, but it’s difficult to imagine any political leader repeatedly and willingly shooting his feet and his partners and his constituents.
Another analogy, however imperfect, is of FDR knowing beforehand that the Japanese Fleet was headed for Hawaii, but he couldn’t tell the people until after the attack.
Once again you have presented a clear explanation of how our ecology and economy got the way they are. I have forwarded it to people still hoping that something can be done. One such group I have just found out about calls itself the Citizens’ Fee and Dividend Lobby, supporting James Hansen’s plan called Fee and Dividend, which I believe has some real merit. Its weakness seems to be that he makes some naive assumptions about what citizens receiving the dividend would do with the money (from an equal division to all U.S. adults of a gradually stepped up fee (tax?) on CO2 emission per unit of electricity or fossil fuel at the mine or port of entry) which he said could approximate $3000 per capita.
If you know about the plan, I would be interested in knowing what you think. Why couldn’t recipients decide they could afford a bigger SUV than before? A “cure” might be to issue coupons instead of cash, redeemable at specific types of enterprises that really do help reduce CO2 emissions because they, for instance, are constructing shops in the midst of housing projects in suburbia, or houses in the parking lots of the malls? That could get people using their car less, and job seekers might like the savings prospect even at reduced wages.
Please keep writing and sending us your highly readable big pictures, Mary Lehmann
You sent me an e-mail, and I responded to it earlier. I am afraid the plan worn’t really work.
The major problem I see is that the carbon tax makes US goods less competitive in the world market, because the tax applies to goods made in the US (that are manufactured using imported or US produced fuels). There is no such carbon tax on imported goods, which are often made with coal. Goods from China, India, and other countries using coal as a primary fuel are already cheaper than what we can produce. The carbon tax will thus reduce the amount of goods made in the US, increasing the US unemployment rate. (In my view, the carbon tax has contributed to Europe’s unemployment problems, for this reason.)
To the extent goods are still made in the US, they will become more expensive for the consumer. Foreign goods will not be affected. A rational US consumer will take the dividend and buy more imported goods, because they are increasingly cheaper than US goods. This will help increase the demand for good manufactured outside the US, while pushing the US economy downward. The effect will be to help the economies of countries manufacturing goods using coal, because demand for good produced by them will increase.
I wrote a post about this issue last November. Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work.
Dear Gail and Others
I have, inexpertly, referred to epigenetics and the notion that life generally doesn’t involve stand alone entities. ‘You’ are really a collection of ‘thems’.
Here is a much better explanation courtesy of Albert Bates and Sandor Katz:
This thinking is generally along the lines of the article
Life-as-Meaning: Biopoetics as Paradigm for Living Relationships
that I referred to earlier in this discussion.
Let me add to this that the more we learn, the more we are inclined to see all the ‘great leaps forward’ in terms of irradiated food and skyscraper farms and soilless agriculture and lots of antibiotics as mirages in the desert. Industrial food we are likely to see as poisoned water-holes in the desert. It goes back to my point that food is, firstly, information for our bodies and only secondly plain calories. Calories are relatively easy, excellent information is much harder to come by.
Maybe an irradiated Deathless Apple has the same relation to a real apple as a printed reproduction has to a real painting………..
Yes. Our economy is adapted to what food is cheapest, but that is far different from what food our bodies are really adapted to. We are only now beginning to figure out the relationships.
On the same theme, my relations who work in a hospital in Spain inform me that corpses are so full of preservatives now, ingested from food, that they are taking much longer to rot, like the apple.
And for those of a more macabre turn of mind, medical schools in Spain are inundated with corpses ‘left to Science’, as it significantly cuts funeral costs, (the State pays to bury what’s left after the students have had their fun); so much so that they are now turning them away…… An economic indicator not often taken into account. One of my cousins had signed up with this in mind, I fear he may be disapppointed.
Will the next stage of economic decline be do-it-yourself cremations in the sierras? Will impoverished Spaniards be cremated on the beach like the poet Shelley?
Interesting about corpses taking longer to rot now. Perhaps we are getting the “benefit” of the preservatives in food.
The direction we will need to move in for almost everything is “cheap” (very little energy inputs). I was told in India that each town in India has its own site for outdoor cremations. In fact, I saw such a site in the village I visited.
With outdoor cremations, I would worry about all of the mercury in fillings and perhaps other metals in people’s bodies today ending up in the smoke everyone else gets to breathe.
There is no little irony in a farmer eating ‘perfect’ apples rather than the imperfect natural ones…..! Its really very curious, because the apples from my untreated tree seem fairly regular and attractive. But of course, not all…. Giant agri-business and the supermarket have distorted so many of our perceptions.
De-hydrating the apple slices seems to be the order of the day: maybe I can use them to make apfel strudel like my dear old Viennese honorary ‘mama’? Now that would be a good thing!
Thinking back to distortion: it’s all a bit like what happened in bookbinding (my craft) in the 19th century: everything became too regular, losing the little irregularities which made the charm of older books.
But of course it’s far worse: the ‘perfect’ books didn’t poison one, although they did change the way in which the eye functioned……
Thank you for sharing those passages from The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane. Here is a bit of story telling of my own, passages I wrote almost 30 years ago, when I lived on the edge of Phoenix, AZ. My favorite past time was hiking alone in the desert.
The heat shimmers across the air; flies carry on a monotonous drone.
Some people say the desert is empty, but I call it home;
for it is in the desert that I awaken and open,
and know that I am home.
I walk into the desert in the early morning,
seeing ridges of rocks standing off in the distance.
I look with wonder and anticipation, judging their distance and difficulty to climb.
Moving forward around cacti and thorn bush, ever watchful for signs of life,
I walk into the desert farther and farther;
allowing myself the freedom of letting the moment pick its own goal.
I love the desert, so full of rocks and sand!
When I sit upon a ledge and look across the desert I feel energy
that comes from the rocks, the sunshine, the air, and the plants.
It is an energy that is everywhere at once, moving and pulsing, almost alive.
And when I feel this energy in me, I am glad to be part of it, and able to be here in this moment sitting on a rocky ledge, over-looking the desert.
When I look at life I see a flow that is neither mindful of my existence,
nor separated from it. We exist as a totality, a mass that does not hearken to my cry
but goes on unimpeded, leaving me to walk as if alone.
Silently I have listened to the emptiness that fills the void.
Patiently I have waited until the sunshine lifts me out of another dreary day,
and laughter overflows my soul. And it is enough just to sit on a ledge
and watch as life unfolds.
At night the desert comes alive.
My eyes and ears strain to perceive the eternity that stretches away in all directions.
Perhaps that large a space is why so few people come to the desert alone,
especially at night. It is an overwhelming solitude, an emptiness with which few people can feel comfortable.
Some people listen to the silence and say “Oh, how quiet it is in the desert!”
And then head back for the campfire to fill the quietness with conversation.
Some people listen and say “I don’t hear anything!”
And that is why they never come again, once was enough.
Even within myself, when a pain is too great to bear amidst the hustle of the city,
I come to the desert only to find it is actually too little a pain
to offer up to the solitude of the desert.
And so I head back to the city,
where I can be comfortable with my misery.
Life is strange that way.
What we think we want, we can’t accept when it comes,
Yet we go on asking for it all the same.
And we find ways to overlook the answers just so we can be confused.
Whoever thought that when we came here we would forget how we arrived?
regards to all,
Macfarlane uses the opportunity of a late blizzard to go to the Lake District and go for a night walk on a high ridge. He sleeps for a while in his bivvy sack and sleeping bag, wakes to find the snow has stopped and the moon is out, and goes out walking. His comments about how night is different from day and how we are depriving ourselves by putting electric lights everywhere would resonate with you.
He’s one tough professor. In the morning, he walks down the mountain, finds an iced over pond, breaks the ice, and goes for a swim. Grumbling about how modern conveniences have separated us from Life.
Gail and Others
You might be interested in reading this rather brief article by Paul Chefurka:
The subject is humanities inability to avoid hitting the wall despite all the evidence. He refers to ‘fish in water’, very like this post by Gail. He also alludes to life as being about a phenomenon that Adrian Bejan refers to as the Constructal Law. Bejan is optimistic about the Law, Chefurka quite pessimistic.
I’ll place myself in this discussion also. I tend to agree with Chefurka that humans are facing collapse. I think most people will die. I think that as individuals and small groups we try to figure out how to get through the bottleneck and come out the other side…with a lot fewer humans in the world. I don’t think we can ‘save 7 billion people’. I don’t share Bejan’s optimism that the world is going to get better and better from a technology perspective. I hope that Chefurka is wrong that a bad mistake by most humans will drag down all of us. Best to get prepared as best we can. And have fun and don’t worry too much in the meantime.
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End of More
Being my own serf, I make very careful calculations as to how much wood to chop for the winter, and indeed how much to use on any given day – is it justified, will a woolly jumper do? The relationship between energy, labour and benefit is very clear.
Unfortunately, the 20th century developed push-button delivery of mass heating and light, completely obscuring these fundamental truths which you state from the mass of people, making it almost impossible for them to grasp the issues.
(I read an account of great house life in 1920’s England, and an old lady who’d been a servant said that she saw her employers only once or twice, and certainly never spoke to them. Those houses were incredible well-oiled machines for delivering service with most of the human actors being completely hidden from view.
The European aristocrats were noted for being perhaps a little more human towards their retainers. I suspect it was partly because so many British aristocrats were really only new money from trade and industry and so also needed to define the class barriers more sharply: most European nobles have been such for a thousand years or more and were more comfortable with their status).
not sure about Europeans being nice to their servants.
I seem to recall the guillotine seeing off a lot of them.
Somewhere I read an authentic account of a local lord and his male relatives playing cricket in England with a team recruited from his servants, while the guillotining was in full swing in France. You cant stop a cricket match to have a revolution—just not done.
no doubt things varied a lot between houses
perhaps the best movie made on this subject was The Shooting Party, not sure if its ever shown outside uk, but try to see it. brilliant
you have the energy balance thing right–up to now its been too easy to drag a ton of steel 2 miles to get a newspaper
Xabier, we easily burn 2-3 cords of wood here in Oregon in a given winter. If we had to do this wood task by hand – it would be a huge job (without a chainsaw/power splitter). So even oil is needed to cut wood.
I get sawn logs delivered – half-rounds really, two feet long as that’s cheaper for me than the ready-to-use size – and split them by hand with a sledge-hammer and wedges, and then cut down to stove-size with the axe. Great exercise……when the east wind isn’t blowing But it is truly a lot of work if you do the splitting by hand.
Hello, Xabier, we have about 7-8 cords of wood here now, Five cords is wet from last year but nearly dry now from our hot summer this year. That is kind of my energy reserve, we can cook on it and heat our homes. We can get by here only wood if we had to.
My back yard which is large and full of flowers now due to late spring rains was supposed to be mowed but I am holding off because the Bees are here and they need the nectar.
Three trees and blue berries strangely did not have fruit this year. I think the bees were hurt over the winter as I had read.
I expect if a woman had to cut and split the wood herself, the effort might be too much, especially if it was alongside other needed efforts for taking care of a family.
Not so! Traditionally, cutting down, dividing up and hauling the trees was work for men (and other animals), but splitting logs of the right size for home use with an axe was ‘woman’s work’. As was feeding the fire.
If you are fit and the axe is a good one, it is not particularly hard work if a little is done every day.
Of course, it presupposes quite large households of a family plus servants and workers, with multiple males and females, as a heavily pregnant or nursing woman could not do this and cook, etc, as you say.
If you look at the build of a woman of peasant descent, you will see that she will tend to have strong arms and big hands, and be short and rather stocky like her man.
The mother of a friend of mine is a very tall woman from a Dutch peasant family, but my God you should see her hands!
The women in the valley of Baztan in the Basque Pyrenees, a very in-bred lot, are like mountains themselves. Capable people, and I doubt domestic arguments last for long, if the men are wise…… I’d call that Rural Feminism.
I work at the farm almost entirely with people 50 years younger than me. What I see is quite an equal distribution of work between the girls and the boys. We were building trellis which involves driving T posts into the ground and then attaching wires to them to which the plants can be tied with twine. To drive a T post in the ground, it helps to have one person hold the post while the second lifts a special heavy pipe which is closed on one end up in the air above the post and brings it crashing down on the post with some force. One small young woman was having trouble lifting the heavy pipe up in the air. I told her to hold the post and I would do the pounding. None of the young men present jumped to her rescue. The young people today seem to assume that everyone is ‘equal’. 50 years ago the boys would have been eager to demonstrate their strength to the girls, as a method of accomplishing I forget exactly what.
If you want to read something really funny, go to James Kunstler’s article for Chris Martenson.
In it, Kunstler defends his rather peculiar vision of how the relative roles of men and women will revert back to traditional norms. He refers to an interview with a young woman farmer….who eats his lunch. You can find that interview on his web site. She talks about ‘butch’ women who dominate the current small farm scene in the US. (Being long ‘out of it’, I would never try to use any current language to designate a young woman or a hispanic or a black person…it’s all a mystery to me.) In the article, Kunstler reveals just how confused he is about the whole issue, and then blames it on the feckless young men who have made the young women the way they are.
If you have watched a 110 pound young woman castrate a hog, you probably won’t talk about things the way Kunstler does.
It was still you, a man, who ended up doing the heavy lifting. It is hard to find a woman with the upper body strength of a man. I know I am not very good in this regard, even though I do some weight lifting. Men start out with a biological advantage.
(Slightly tongue in cheek) I have been lectured by females now for over 70 years who have pointed out the many frailties of the male race. It seems that the only time a female will agree that males are good for much of anything is when something heavy needs to be lifted. A joke in our house is how skillfully my wife manipulates men she doesn’t know to get them to do the heavy lifting!
It’s very true that if a person has to do all the basic work around the house (inside and outside) then a person is very careful about creating extra work. Having servants (humans or electric and internal combustion engines) makes a person both lazy and extravagant.
If we can move to lower energy use and more equitable lifestyles (less of the rich and poor divide) then the economy will be more efficient albeit at a much lower level. It’s hard to see a dieoff being avoided though. The population overshoot and resource depletion overshoot is too great.
have to agree about the dieoff
In past times whoever was in charge—Lords, Masters, Emperors–you name it, simply absorbed the spare energy of the lower classes to act in a servant role. Reading up on the hierarchy of the great houses of Europe is both fascinating and hilarious by our standards. But of course that is our big mistake.
The hundreds who had employment running those great houses had a roof and food even if it was very basic. The alternative could be much worse. The lord of the manor was thus a job creator. There are hundreds of examples here in UK of wealthy men building ‘follies’ in the 18th/19thc, the basic purpose of which not vanity but to give employment in times of hardship. (the equivalent of our ‘shovel ready’ jobs). It was not thought prudent to just hand over subsistence money. There are still thousands of ‘almshouses’ here built by socially aware gentry for the elderly 150 years ago. They are now very desirable residences–they don’t fall down!
But of course the other side of the coin was that numbers were balanced out by disease, the inflow of energy in the form of servant muscle was counteracted by early death.
So society was more or less in equilibrium.
We’ve lost that now because we’ve outrun our energy supplies
End of More
A great English house like Knole in Kent housed some 200 or more servants, all fed and housed, as you say, in at least decent conditions – the higher servants lived very well indeed, particularly when they could massage the accounts! Of course, that was the very pinnacle of feudalism, it took many hundreds of years to develop after the fall of Rome.
I’d much rather that, than be someone trying to get by on an inadequate welfare cheque in a time of rapidly rising inflation in some miserable inner-city housing block, menaced by drunks and addicts,without any hope of employment, with only the lies of politicians ringing in my ears, which is sadly what so many face now and will face in ever greater numbers as this progresses.
Not long ago I went around one of the great Spanish monasteries, where an enormous hall was built to house all the estate workers: it was very fine indeed: again, I very much doubt they regretted the style in which they were fed and protected. They were a supremely important asset to the monks.
Then, the nobility, Church, and the great merchants, were judged by how they fulfilled their obligations to house, feed and clothe the poor and reward their dependants. Today, we have ‘jobless recoveries’ and exhortations to ‘lifelong re-skilling.’
yes the idea of ‘noblesse oblige’ was very strong
It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but energy IS our economy, and vice versa.
Our prime function, on which (unless you’re a professional hermit) all our employment depends, is burning fuel at an ever increasing rate.
It must constantly speed up, because therein lies the % growth that politicians are so fond of promising us. Our GDP depends on extracting greater quantities of fuel from the earth.
No matter how many ‘shovel ready’ jobs are created, shovels means earthmovers. Without oil they are just so much scrap iron. Job creation schemes to ‘kickstart’ the economy are effectively taking in each other’s washing. No matter how elevated and seemingly remote from the unwashed herd you think your employment is, it depends on someone, somewhere burning hydrocarbon fuel to support that status.
This has held true throughout the ages. The hypocausts that kept the Romans warm and clean only functioned by slaves throwing wood onto fires.-they didn’t get to use the hot baths.
The medieval lord needed armies of serfs to do much the same thing.
The great mansions of 18th c England were built with ‘invisible’ back stairs in the walls, so that ‘energy sources’ (the servants) need rarely be seen.
For the past 100 years vast numbers of us have been able to live like Roman emperors and medeival lords, but only because energy drove the economy that made it possible, and because we could remain detached from their source. (imagine having to light a fire under your own bathtub)
Economies grow with increased fuel use and retract without it.
End of More,
I understand the logic of your argument but I also disagree with the ultimate direction it takes us. What you are saying, in effect, is that we are nothing more than machines that use energy. We cannot live without energy (in the form of our economy) and our economy cannot live without fossil fuels. Followed to its logical conclusion, therefore, we cannot live as other than slaves. How sad that would be if it were true!
It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but life is not a machine. Life is not reducible to its smallest parts. It cannot be dissembled, examined, and reassembled to function as it was. Life is more than the energy it uses, the things it creates, the form of its habits, what it does to survive. I am more than what I do, what I eat, what I think.
I do agree that human achievements are a marvel to behold. We should all be thankful if we have had the opportunity to live like kings. But what cannot be sustained, will not be sustained.
For those that can’t imagine a meaningful life beyond the fossil-fueled, debt-driven economy…it may seem impossible. But I think many of us that read Gail’s posts, feel that there is a different way. Maybe the answers aren’t obvious yet, but the signs are there. The wisdom of great thinkers, poets, scientists, religious teachers is available to us to as never before. We just need to take time, step back from the stress and worry; time to study and reflect, to let it sink into our conscious mind. We are more than machines!
The answers lay within our ability to see life with our heart as well as our head, for as it has been said, “the essentials are invisible to the eyes”.
we can live other than slaves, but only in an aboriginal context
taken to fundamentals, we embarked on the route that brought us here 10000 years ago.
As soon as we domesticated animals, or grew food deliberately–(same thing), we needed fences. When you have fences you need guards because there will always be those wanting what you have produced. the (stronger) guards must live on the surplus of the (weaker) workers, and guards need a commander—pretty soon the commander takes command of everything and you have a fiefdom. once that is established we begin the process of consuming surplus energy—it is inevitable. They run out of surplus energy, so must appropriate that of their neighbours, if they can. Thus all fiefdoms have run on until their energy supplies have run out, or been overwhelmed by a stronger force (think ww2) thats why I called my book ‘The end of More’, ( http://tinyurl.com/oa854gt ) we’re just running out of everything we need to sustain our civilisation, yet there is a constant denial of that and a demand for more.
the romanticism of ‘another way’ is really a legacy of the life we are about to leave, looked at from that perspective. I also love the arts, but they too are the legacy of a ‘surplus’ society.
from the point of view of someone untouched by civilisation, we were idiots to try to outsmart nature in the first place. One can imagine some untouched tribe in Amazonia saying–‘told you so!’
we are not machines exactly, but we are certainly organisms that consume fuel as vehicles for the genes that drive us to reproduce and diversify. In many ways we have upset the balance of nature by living beyond our reproductive/childrearing cycle.
our consumption of fossil fuels has enabled us to live better than kings used to—better food, health, instant transport and so on. The problem now is that it has become an expectation, To paraphrase the moving words of Dylan Thomas: We will not go gentle into that good night, we will fight fight against the dying of the light. That much is made clear by riots that kick off when living standards fall beyond tolerable levels.
As to Gail’s point about trained animals or slaves, that doesn’t work either because that puts us back on track for an acquisitive society again
it could well be than humankind has been a dead end…who knows?
“the romanticism of ‘another way’ is really a legacy of the life we are about to leave…”
I can’t deny that some of the ways I view the world are romantic. But is this so bad! To have a hope for things unseen. To find joy in life no matter how short it may be.
Our view of life; yours, mine, everyone’s “views” are just stories we have constructed. We gather “facts”, we are “educated” formally and informally, and we construct them into our mental blueprint. This mental map tells us “This is true. That is not. This will help me. That will not. This is important. That is not.”
Humans are story tellers, no matter how we expert or true our facts. No matter if we are scientific or religious, our truth is still our story. We use our stories of what is “true” to inform our decisions, but we have a limited ability to see beyond the constraints of our “stories”, to think outside the box we live in. When our stories are different from reality (such as there is plenty of oil, debt isn’t a problem, resources are infinite) we eventually experience a correction. Life intrudes on our story. Perhaps we die. Perhaps we live and reproduce.
The important thing, I think, is where our stories lead us. Your story, while very logical, leads where?
“it could well be that humankind has been a dead end…who knows?”
I prefer a different story, because my story give me hope. It allows me to believe in things unseen. It allows me to see beauty in the natural order of the world. It allows me to love my children, even if they may not survive to reproduce. It allows me joy in simple things. It allows me to experience my reality today, unworried about a future time when I and all I see may cease to exist.
Me too Jody
The verse of Shakespeare, Housman, Thomas, and many others can reduce me to a wreck, I too see beauty in the natural world. My herb garden is loved by bees, and I take it as a privilege to take time out to watch them, but in a sense that privilege is a product of leisure. My herbs are running wild, but the bees need them more than I do
I think my main point was that humankind has disturbed nature’s flow by outliving our childbearing-rearing span. Hence there are too many of us.
Until we made ourselves healthy, our average age was 48 or so—which is roughly the period necessary to have several kids and hopefully rear them to maturity.
your point about experiencing reality today expresses humanity very neatly. We are by definition consumers of fuel, whether from fuel pumps or the carcasses of dead animals. We have not evolved sufficiently to concern ourselves with ‘a future time’, we consume what we see in front of us.
Considering that our ability to have artifial light has been only a century or two, I would the logic of my story is that we are headed back whence we came. I seem to have exhausted all other possibilities
I want to elaborate on the ‘story telling’ angle.
I am presently reading The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane, who is at Cambridge in the UK. So he is a combination of very learned man, one who finds comfort sleeping outside in the winter, and who is also thoughtful, and a wonderful writer of the English tongue.
One of the places he and a friend visit is The Burren, on the west coast of Ireland. Here is a passage (page 166):
Limestone, I found during my time in the Burren, demands of the walker a new type of movement: the impulse to be diverted, to wander and allow the logic of one’s motion to be determined by happenstance and sudden disclosure. We learned, or were taught by the ground, how to walk without premeditation: turning corners when they came, following bends in valleys, our paths set by the ancient contingencies of geology and the immediate contingencies of footfall, our expectation quickened–ready for surprise when it happened….It happened often…
(page 168): Near the center of the pavement (rocks arranged like pavement by geology), we reached a large gryte running north to south. We lay belly-down on the limestone and peered over the edge. We found ourselves looking into a jungle. Tiny groves of ferns, mosses, and flowers were there in the crevasse–hundreds of plants, just in the few yards we could see, thriving in the shelter of the gryke: cranesbills, plantains, avens, ferns, many more I could not identify, growing opportunistically on wind-blown soil. The plants thronged every available niche, embracing one another into indistinguishability. Even on this winter day, the sense of life was immense.
On page 182 he describes his wading out to a small island in the Atlantic and spending the night: I felt a calm descending into me; there was no way of leaving the island now, and no easy way onto it, and the impossibility of either escape or disturbance had a tranquilizing effect, quite different to the alarm I had felt on the summit of Ben Hope. This was a happy marooning. Find beauty, be still.
I would draw several conclusions from the stories here:
1. When confronting a long term trend pointing to the end of debt as a way of life and ever greater energy availability and careless exploitation of natural resources, we have to think as if we are traversing a limestone formation. Limestone is dissolved by the acids in rainwater, and thus we experience the patterns that Macfarlane describes on page 166. Rather than just calling up Google Maps and having it connect the dots for us, we will have to be exquisitely attuned to the world as it actually is. Pontification doesn’t get you nearly as far as feeling your way. And the whole current obsession with efficient supply lines will be forgotten.
2. Both Thoreau and Macfarlane are repelled by true, geological wildness. Macfarlane spent an unhappy night on Ben Hope in the far north of Scotland, and Thoreau did not enjoy Mount Katahdin in Maine. Thoreau enjoyed the wildness he found in Concord, and Macfarlane enjoys the wildness in a crack in the limestone. I suspect that humans, like crows, are best adapted to a world which we might call ‘partially civilized’. An abundance of wild vegetative growth comforts humans, while the naked geology of recent creation makes us uncomfortable. So…think permaculture.
3. Humans are most content when they don’t have to decide between too many choices. Once we have decided to wade out to the island, and the tide comes in, we don’t have to decide whether to wade back to the mainland and find an inn for the night. Market researchers have determined that too many choices just irritate potential customers. I have always enjoyed canoeing down rivers because the river tells you what to do. I think we will find our choices restricted by the evolution (or collapse) in front of us, but that the unexpected result may be tranquillity;
Finally, if you are really interested in how starving people behave, I suggest reading his account of the Irish famine beginning on page 163.
I too have walked on the Burren.
As for how the starving Irish behaved in the famine years, they were too weak and subjected to British military power to do much about it.
Their diet was the potato, they starved because that failed, Food was being exported from other areas in Ireland.
The same thing happens in African states right now
I see your book is a Kindle book, available on Amazon UK for 1.02 pounds, or $1.50 from US Amazon.
I am afraid you are right. Without energy, the economy disappears. If we don’t have fossil fuel energy, we need slaves or at least trained animals to help us do all of the work.
I think I am going to look for one of those old wood fired bath tubs I can put out back! My neighbor has an old hand pump well that he will share and we may need to haul buckets up the hill if needed. But you know most do not have these back up plans, I was thinking that bath tub would be needed though. Or perhaps a metal animal trough that you can put up on some bricks and build a fire underneath. If I come across one I will buy it and put it in the shed, just in case it is needed someday!
Dear Gail and Others
Regarding my frequent references to hormones. Please read this post today on Resience.org:
The essay is a better scientifically informed essay than anything I have written, although I have touched on many of these topics.
I would add this to the essay. Daniel Kahneman showed in his book Thinking: Fast and Slow that our rational brain is far too slow to be a reliable guide in the real world. Instead, we rely on a variety of mechanisms which operate very rapidly. I argue that hormones are one of those mechanisms. We are designed to do things that make us feel good. But, as the essay points out, the organism can learn new ways of semi-automatically responding, society can imprint new ways of semi-automatically responding, and evolution can find new ways of semi-automatically responding. So there is a reason why Sara Gottfried is carrying a yoga mat in the picture on the dust jacket of her Hormone Cure book.
Most people reading this will agree that the richer parts of the world have run the course on atomization of the individual (richly explored in Dmitry Orlov’s Five Stages of Collapse), the worship of financialization (as measured by GDP), and debt as the doorway to happiness, with fossil fuels as the enabler. Those paths aren’t going to work for us very much longer.
So it is time for the organisms called humans to take a hard look at the science (as laid out in the essay) and figure out what we are going to do next. The new science should be very liberating to your thinking. And remember Tishmack’s First Law.
Very interesting essay! The location you included is only for Chap. 3. If you want to read the entire essay it can be found here. http://www.boell.de/downloads/Enlivenment_Series_Ecology_31.pdf
The essay coincides quite well with another book I am reading
“The Phenomenon of Man” by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1955). What a mind he had; far ahead of his time.
What interests me most about this thinking is that it gives us a new story, a new way of understanding our selves and our relationship with each other and the world we live in. If Carbon Man is going to find reasons to change, we need a new story, one that gives us a reason to create a world without fossil fuel, debt, and overshoot…a world in which we find joy in living, satisfaction in simple work and meaningful relationships. I believe it will be our hope for the future that prevents us from deteriorating into savages.
As an aside, I must say that I am having difficulty reading and digesting all the information and ideas I find on this website. But isn’t this an exhilarating ride…re-imagining a way into a new world!
I can highly recommend Teilhard’s Letters from the First World War ( this is how his thought took shape, witnessing the great battles), his Travel Diary -lots about China in the 1930’s – and there is an excellent short Memoir by an American who knew him well. Unfortunately, all my books are packed up in cases so I can’t be more precise as to titles I’m afraid.
Why am I not surprised that you admire him? Or how could you not? He truly was one of the great men of science and religion of last Century. I heard a story — cannot confirm — that Pope John Paul II was asked whether he believed in Science or the Bible. He responded quickly: “Why both, of course.”
It appears that the RC Church has evolved more than just a little bit. From condemning Tielhard to embracing his interpretations is a big step. Now even open-minded evangelical churches claim that Genesis is not a scientific treatise and there’s no calendar affixed. But I just saw a news article from ‘Catholic Online’, a Los Angeles blog, that brought a smile: the subject was that a Third Van Allen Belt has been found further out and will affect electronics and people, so be careful. But we can expect more such discoveries, since science is always ‘revising upwards’ is understandings. Or, you can say that science is always wrong. Same thing, right?
The positive openings science is revealing also have a dark side. Get into this one only if you have an hour or so.
You can click on the link for a radio interview, which lasts about 50 minutes.
Briefly, if an expectant mother is subjected to bad experiences (stress, obesity, drug use), then the umbilical cord recreates that same experience in the fetus. The fetus carries an exaggerated reaction to the bad experiences through life, which affects everything from socialization to the potential for drug addiction and ability to learn. In the US, the statistics on the fetal environment are pretty scary.
Staci gives the obligatory nod to potential drugs to treat the adult disorders, but then adds right at the close that prevention is always the best. She is a yoga instructor, by the way. She is a strong believer in the Mind-Body system.
So the newly discovered ways that the mind and the body interact can work for good, or can damage a fetus for life.
I understand this on many levels. Things I do that I have seen in my parents but do not seem to be a behavior that can be genetically transmitted. And several incidents I experienced while I was pregnant that I believe led to latter maladaptive behaviors in my own children. It’s a mystery!
I have also read that if a mother eats a varied diet while pregnant her offspring will be more inclined to eat a variety of foods. I attribute my sons willingness to eat almost anything I set in front of them to my own eating habits!
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were an given owner’s manuals with our children, so that we knew just what to do right and what to avoid. Instead, we are left to struggle along doing the best we can. Sigh….
Tielhard de Chardin said somewhere that ‘if we lack hope for the future, it really is time to lie down and die.’
Despite what we face, I can’t see any reason to lose that hope.
Watching the honey bees in my neighbour-displeasing wild flower patch seems to be doing something to please my hormones: I keep going back to watch, and not to the shopping mall in town…… and feel a lot better for it.
Xabier, the bees came late this year, but it appears they were too late to get on my flowers to pollinate my trees. I just have three fruit trees but this year two of them are bare with no fruit. I noticed they showed up late this year, like month late to do the job on the trees. Too late for this year. But they are here now but not in large numbers like before. I have been reading that half of the hives died last winter. We need these guys. I also read an article about anti fungal sprays on trees are also perhaps to blame in addition to pesticides and perhaps even the vibrations from cell phone towers I even read once was being looked at?
A canary for sure.
Plant more herbs. I have noticed an increase of bee population in my garden since I started growing more herbs. Hyssop is a particular favorite.
Sorry to hear your area is having a bad fruit year. Our trees and vines are loaded so heavy some of the branches are laying on the ground. We’ll be harvesting a bumper crop this year!
I seem to recall from somewhere that hyssop is a strong medicinal plant with an effect similar to penicillin…might come in handy!
A Tale of Two Apples
I have an old apple tree which in a good year gives me about 400 apples (it’s looking good this year, so I’ll have to finally get down to finding recipes for preserving those we can’t eat. No chemicals used at all.
A few years ago, I tossed a commercially grown apple into what I used to call my compost heap, but which was just a kind of dump for garden waste (this was before I got serious about such things) together with some apples from the tree.
Turning over the heap I noticed that the organic apples were rotting as one would expect, but the doctored one just kept on bouncing up bright and shiny. This went on for a long time: it seemed to possess the Secret of Eternal Life. Since then, I haven’t been able to touch any fruit not grown by me and Old Mother Nature.
As a foot-note. A customer recently told me that his children wouldn’t touch home-grown apples, because ‘bugs might have landed on them.’ This is the generation which will have to deal with our predicament………..
The apple story is quite worrying – but reflects my experience. You can eat around a worm – or be happy for it’s proteins.
The thing is, that the kids that currently grow up do not have exposure to the natural reality – and role-models are missing. If you grow up an your father and mother eat the apple with a worm – or cut around it and eat the still fresh parts, then this becomes what normal is. But even my father – a farmer – prefers the shiny apple instead of the natural and blemished one.
The last two years of gardening have normalized my attitude very much. Now there is my work connected with what I harvest, store, etc. Throwing away something that is still perfectly eatable is connected with my time, effort and work – so I connect totally different with It as the stuff that I bought and can re-buy.
Tip: You can dehydrate the apple! Cut it in slices are dry the parts… that is what I do with a big part of my apple harvest and apples I can not store.
I’m afraid this isn’t really my subject. I am not sure we know enough about the future to figure out what we do next.
Gail, one can also compare the productivity per agriculture worker as an alternative way of showing your case. In reality workers in some developing countries are competing with their muscle power with fossil fuels, and in that competition oil is certainly still very cheap….You can check a table on: http://gardenearth.blogspot.se/2011/08/agriculture-how-cheap-energy-and.html The basic fact that productivity in agriculture provides the foundation for the rest of civilization is important. One should realise however that there ARE good forms of agriculture that can produce relative great surpluses. There is no need to come down to 1-2 percent of the population engaged in farming to run a civilization. Already 20% is a good step, and I do think it is possible. But as long as fossil fuel is as cheap as they are other solutions will not be tested. Farming and gardening is also a nice a healthy activity that can save a lot of peoples efforts in useless exercise and gym cards….
You linked to an interesting article. It makes the same assumption that 99.9% of sustainability articles make–that somehow, we can simply use less, and get along OK.
The problem is that we have to keep our current system together, in order to have such things as our current government, roads, bridges, electricity, international currency, and many other things we take for granted. It is keeping our current system together that is the problem. There is a myth that if we just use less oil/ energy, everything will be all right. (It sort of goes with the peak oil myth–oil production will rise to a peak, then decline, and price will be higher, so we will need to use less oil, and perhaps more electricity.)
Farming and gardening are nice ideas, but I am not sure that we have the option of simply adopting lower-energy approaches, as this article suggests. Economic systems have two modes–increase and collapse. The idea that somehow one can steer the economy toward a nice middle ground is appealing, but not something that looks to be possible in the real world. How does one deal with all of the debt defaults, for one thing?
If we start with the premise that we cannot keep our current system together, the logical next step is to decide what from the current system we can live without.
We can live without dishwasher and clothes dryer and use a clothes line and drying racks.
We can produce more food at home, eat less meat. We can plant more gardens, add season extension, orchards, and maybe animals (chickens and dairy goats). Or we can shop at farmer’s markets, eat organic foods and thus disconnect from our industrial agricultural system.
We can reduce the amount of energy we use to heat and cool our homes by adding insulation, programmable thermostats, high efficiency windows and doors. We can buy or build smaller homes that use less energy and resources.
We can add renewable energy, solar water heaters, wood stoves, solar PV systems to our homes.
We can eliminate the need for personal automobiles by moving into a small house or apartment in a community and walk or use public transport. We can drive smaller cars that get better gas mileage.
We can share housing with extended family or friends, finding new living arrangements that allow us to reduce the need to pay excessive rent or obtain a mortgage. Eventually children take over the head of household caring for their parents and removing the insecurity of old age or the need for government funds.
We can get out of debt, live more simple, less stressful lives, walk with our dog, talk with our neighbor and feel better and be healthier, thus reducing chronic disease and age related decline. This reduces our dependance on the financial system, the current health care industry and the government medicare system.
We can shop for clothes and household items at garage sales, Good Will, Salvation Army, or trade with family and friends, thus eliminating the need for importing so much new goods. This reduces our need for retail stores and shopping malls, but it establishes thriving new businesses in second hand stuff.
The less we buy, the smaller our needs, the less money we require. Eventually we will not need a high paying job or even a full time job, or two incomes, and we can look for work we find meaningful, a parent can afford to stay home and raise their children, cook their food, clean their home.
Step by step we climb back down the energy ladder, reducing our consumption of energy and goods, and hopefully, slowly dismantling our modern economic system. As we become less dependent on the existing system we become more resilient to shocks and economic decline. As more and more people follow this path to a lower energy lifestyle, our economy will change and shrink. Eventually some parts of it will cease to exist.
Whatever requires large amounts of energy or debt will end unless we as a society choose to support it. Personal automobiles, large numbers of roads and bridges, will probably not be supportable. Industrial agricultural also not supportable. American Health care system also not. Electric grid, trains and rail transportation, the internet, community health care, schools, libraries, museums…these things have value but will probably change shape to reflect our lower ability to pay for them. We will get to know more of the people in our community and support each other in times of need. Churches will become an important part of this networking, community building. I am a member of the Unitarian church because of its inclusiveness of all the worlds religions.
There will certainly be discontinuities; damaging weather patterns, disasters, civil unrest, oil price spikes (and other commodities), painful recession, maybe even depression. But our civilization still has a tremendous amount of embedded energy, there is still much that works, and resources available for us to continue using. But we can’t continue to live the American lifestyle because it is not supportable. The sooner we get on with living a lifestyle that requires more of our own energy to provide what we need, and less from fossil fuels and the global market place the better off we will be.
You missed the only action that might improve the future: have one or fewer children.
On the contrary, having more children who can labour or go out thieving to supply wants, or even be sold, might be a decent survival strategy in a degraded and poorer world.
With respect to number of children, we have a conflict between what it would take to get the world’s population more into balance with resources available and what is best for the individual. With few other sources of entertainment, and little birth control possible, number of births per family may very well rise. The labor from these children can be helpful to the parents, both early on, and in their declining years. The result is the out of balance we have had since the beginning of time.
The plan I listed was only the broad strokes, not all the details. I was mainly thinking of the US, where I live, so I expect other countries and regions will be different. With regard to the number of children we have I’m not sure that this will be as important as it might have been 40 or 50 years ago, but it will certainly vary from country to country.
The world is going to change dramatically over the next 10 to 20 years, the span of one more generation. During this time the natural law of survival of the fittest will begin to work more efficiently, removing large numbers of our population. Warfare and fighting will also work to reduce population. This is why I don’t think over-population will be as important an issue as it once was.
The build up of human population was a result of access to food, better sanitation, immunization, hygiene, nutrition, and medical care making it possible for more people to survive childhood and to live longer. This will no longer be the case. I think that in the US and perhaps other developed countries we have an over-developed desire to save life no matter the cost, and in many cases that has worked against us.
In the world ahead, we will no longer have the luxury or the choice of caring for those that cannot contribute to our survival. With the decline of fossil fuels, the energy slaves we have talked about, the world’s population will come to a lower population level that can be supported by the seasonal input of solar energy to supply life with food and energy.
I agree that reducing population has to be very high on any list of actions–but it is usually forgotten.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice on what parts of the system decide to leave us, and in what time frame. I expect roads will be one of the things that leave fairly quickly, making long distance transport of all kinds of things more difficult, including replacement parts for things we expect to work. International trade will likely go downhill as well, as will political stability. To the extent we can plan to get along completely without the current system, we are protected.
It is a nice idea to use less, but because of diseconomies of lack of scale, doesn’t really help the system as a whole. The extent to which these ideas are really helpful will depend on the extent to which there are major breaks in the system, early on. A small fuel efficient car doesn’t run any better than a large car without needed replacement parts, for example.
This is why it is important to start this process while we still have a functioning economy. This is why my husband and I started this process 10 years ago, and now live just like I described. Every point you make is true only if one waits until the system is collapsing. The longer you wait, the fewer will be your options.
Dear Gail and Jody
Here is an example of what every gardener and small farmer should be doing right now:
Selecting and Managing Cover Crops
to Maximize Benefits to Soil and Cash Crops
The quadruple issues here are nitrogen fixation, prevention of soil erosion, lessened dependence on fossil fuels, and and putting more organic matter into the soil..
In order to really understand what is happening, you need to look at it from an evolutionary standpoint. Alex Hitt, one of the presenters, is one of the most respected elders in the local small farm community. When Alex talks, people listen because he has been successful now for 30 years. So what he is doing works right now with the economy we presently have.
Second, once the basic learning and skills are absorbed, any farm will be more resilient to future shocks. For example, you see a picture of Alex on his old tractor mowing a certain cover crop. That cover crop is making so much organic matter that mowing it with scythes would be impossible in the current economy and not very much fun at all in an economy with no tractors and no fossil fuels. But there are other cover crops which make less organic matter which CAN be dealt with by hand tools. If you go to this class, you will learn about them.
Another factor is that as collapse happens, a local economy is required for the system to work smoothly. The tractor can be maintained for a long time by a good mechanic. So we need mechanics. The tractor can be operated on diesels made on farms. So it would be advantageous if somebody locally specialized in making diesel. A third factor is the seed. Many cover crops deposit the maximum load of nitrogen before they set seed. You will see that part of the presentation covers the ideal time to kill the cover crop. And so we need a local farm which is growing cover crop seeds. That farm will probably rely heavily on animals because it is harvesting and selling seeds. None of these things are impossible. They happen infrequently right now, because the globalized economy makes it very hard to make a living doing these functions. But they are not rocket science, and, absent the heavy hand of government or bandits or banks and lawyers, these occupations will fourish.
The largest dependency on fossil fuels in the agricultural system is NOT in primary production, but in transportation and packaging and retailing and home refrigeration and cooking. Our local farmers are acutely aware of that fact. They have cooperatively banded together to build more efficient distribution networks. The biggest threat here is Federal Food Safety regulations which are mostly put in place to serve the giant food companies and exclude small farmers and local networks from the marketplace. Nobody is happy to learn that a Tyson executive is in charge of the process.
A huge amount of the fossil fuel dependency is under the control of the consumer. Smart gardening can dramatically cut the dependency on fossil fuels and global supply networks. Smarter food storage and preparation can do the same. Everyone should sign up for a fermentation class this fall.
Do any of these steps insure that the current system will survive? I would turn that around and say ‘the current system won’t survive, so what are you going to do about it?’. Beginning to build local food systems which can evolve to much less dependence on fossil fuels and global supply chains seems to me to be a completely sane thing to do.
It is hard to get the new systems in place, while the current system is operating. And it is hard to see what the real problems will be. For example, if a mechanic has to walk from farm to farm with no equipment to do his repairs, his productivity will be very low, and his charges will necessarily need to be very high. Some equipment can be fixed, but without parts and computer diagnostics, the amount of fixing of modern equipment that can be done will be limited.
I looked up classes on fermentation. These may be available in areas with high interest in sustainability. For the rest of us, I expect the only option is online courses or books. I ran across a couple of such courses. Nourished Kitchen seems to offer a very comprehensive course of 13 workshops for $147 (or perhaps it is $197). Another organization God’s Natural Organic Whole Foods, Grown Locally in Season offers a series of classes for $17 or $37 month, depending on what else is included in the package. The impression I got was that they were hoping you would permanently become a member. There is a discount for annual membership.
With respect to books, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World is highly rated–it is reported to be winner of the 2013 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference and Scholarship, and a New York Times bestseller. It is $28.35 for hardback or $21.97 for Kindle version.
I don’t deny that one can think of scenarios where mechanical equipment of all kinds won’t work. Old tractors are the least subject to the kinds of problems you describe. Small farmers don’t need computerized tractors. But, as I said, it is also quite possible to grow cover crops which put less organic matter into the soil, but which can be killed with a scythe. An alternative, which occurred to me after I wrote on the subject, is the crimper designed by the Rodale Institute. It is a hollow metal drum which has ridges on it which are in a chevron shape. The drum is filled with water to make it heavy, and then it is pulled across the cover crop with a tractor. But, of course, it could also be pulled by oxen. The ridges crimp the cover crop and kill it. One can buy simple manual crimpers for garden sized plots. My point is that the broad statement that ‘our systems can’t operate in reverse’ may be wrong. I agree that it is hard to see how a highly leveraged, computerized, entirely fossil fuel dependent system can go into reverse. But if you look at what Alex Hitt is doing, and what the class can teach any farmer or gardener to do, it is quite possible to visualize them running in reverse. That is, starting out with an old tractor pulling a crimper and progressing toward oxen pulling the crimper.; The crimper should last a hundred years. It is even possible to imagine the skill of cooperage being reborn (as blacksmithing has been reborn) and wooden crimpers being made. The difference now is that we have a lot of scientific knowledge about nitrogen fixation, crop requirements, and the optimum time to kill the cover crop. Unless we hit a truly Dark Age where that knowledge is forgotten, then clever people can figure out how to go in reverse in terms of electronics and fossil fuels. As for the financial aspects, if there is a collapse such that debts disappear…then that probably takes care of the financial problems.
As for the high wages of the mechanic. First, high wages (relative to food) will likely be a thing of the past. In Amish communities it is common to see someone in the community who has a special skill. The Amish don’t uses tractors for farming, but there are other things that they need which are best done by skilled craftspeople. So a person may farm half-time and work his craft half-time. The mechanic might also keep a graveyard of old tractors to supply parts. In short, I wouldn’t just assume that there is simply no reverse gear for a small farmer in 2013.
The issue I see is that the mechanical equipment we have is precisely what has been made, that hasn’t already been recycled. If we want a much larger inventory of, for example, scythes, or of old tractors that are easy to repair, we need to build those now. If we want more plows that are optimized for pulling behind horses or oxen, we also need to build those now. There are many other things that we theoretically could make now, to stockpile, such as replacement parts for electrical transmission systems. There are so many of these, of so many different types, it would be very hard to get enough in the right locations of the country.
Clearly, whatever extra we make now of “retro equipment” has to compete for funding and for resources (steel, oil consumption, factory space) with modern equipment that is being made now. Somehow, factories for this equipment must be made again, warehouses for this equipment must be built, and someone must have the job (and be paid) for overseeing this new extra equipment. This new equipment must be widely distributed, so it is available for use in the parts of the country where it is needed.
In theory, we can make more retro equipment from recycling, but I expect this is much harder to do in practice than it looks. I understand that it is very hard to make a good sharp edge, such as in a knife, from recycled metals–at least one that will hold its edge for very long. I also understand that there was a big improvement in productivity when we could go from iron plows to steel plows, because of improvements that could be made in the plows. It is possible to bang on the hood of a car with a hammer, and reshape it into a different shape but making high-tech goods from it is likely not possible. We have had a lot of experience using charcoal for making metals and glass, but we know that this approach quickly leads to deforestation.
The point about high wages of the mechanic relates to the fact that the mechanic would need to be fed, clothed, and housed on what he earned. If there is much less fossil fuels to run society, farmers would be earning much less, so would be able to support only a small number of non-farmers of various types. I expect that in practice, the only way such a mechanic could make a living is as being a farmer most of the time, and as a part-time mechanic hobbyist the rest of the time. There would need to be a lot of these people, who could help their immediate neighbors in time of need. In fact, most people who have tractors might need to be knowledgable about what is going wrong with them, so that they can inquire of junk yards whether spare parts of the right type might be available (without the extra step and cost of calling a mechanic in).
One of the differences between you and me is that I don’t expect most people to do any of these things. If collapse happens slowly, maybe they will adjust. But if collapse happens rapidly, as you expect, then most of them will meet the fate of the Irish during the Famine. They will lay down beside the road or in their field or in their hut and simply die. I think you are looking for something that will somehow prevent this from happening.
I think the small farmers with old tractors and scythes that they have hanging in the barn and who know something about seed saving will be the survivors. Probably also the good gardeners. Therefore, the population will be very much smaller than it is today. Some of the problems one might anticipate in such an environment will be much lessened. Trees, for example, will grow rapidly with the decline in population and so shortages of timber won’t be a problem for centuries. There was coal mining in this county back in Colonial times. I imagine some enterprising people might begin to dig it again for things like blacksmithing. Scythes and sickles and even sharp kitchen knives will be treasured. (I take very good care of the edge on my main kitchen knife). I think you count the scythes and say ‘there won’t be enough of them to feed 7 billion’, while I would tend to project the number of survivors as a function of available scythes. Those are very different ways of looking at the issues.
I could be wrong.
“‘the current system won’t survive, so what are you going to do about it?”
I was trying to find a way of expressing exactly that thought. Thanks for being so succinct.
Wonderful post by the way.
I think roads may not be the primary things to desintegrate. Roads are still quite simple to construct and in many cases to repair over a time-frame of 10-20 years. A huge problem are big trucks that are very much stress to the road-surface.
What I see will be a problem is the ultra-high complexity of todays products, including vehicles. 20-25 years ago I could understand and fix most of the electrics and electronics used. Circuit boards where often simple, microprocessors sparsely used and in most cases had simple functionality (compared to today). Some basic tools, a soldering iron, an oscilloscope and a multimeter could do wonder.
Today, our system-complexity is greatly enhanced. Voice-Over-IP Telephones, Washingmachines with microprocessor control, touch panel controlled ovens, cars with over 50 embedded control units (each having its own CPU), home- and climate control systems, zero-energy homes which depend on computer controlled air-flow management, ultra-high efficient gas- and oil burners (computer and sensor controlled) to heat the home and so forth.
If one big supplier collapses this has critical ripple effects. You may get no replacement parts anymore, the responsible people laid off – with no chance of recovering that knowledge. I see that as extremely critical in case of a financial down-turn, if ressource-caused or not.
A road can be fixed locally for some time – but the overall infrastructure and big corporations depend all on a global supplier network. That is, for me, also one big reason behind the saving of General Motors. With the collapse of such an entity lots of suppliers would have collapsed – that are in turn suppliers of other global operating companies. The ripple effect would have been not ‘nice’.
In fact, farm equipment now has fancy controls on it as well, making it hard for a someone with a few simple tools to fix. At the same time we become more efficient, our systems become less resilient.
Gail, I agree totally with “There is a myth that if we just use less oil/ energy, everything will be all right.” I have worked for years in the “sustainability industry”, “green economy” sphere. And most proponents try to sell the idea that it is just about some adjustments to green tech that is needed. And I don’t believe in that. But something along the lines of what Jody writes can work.
You write: “The idea that somehow one can steer the economy toward a nice middle ground is appealing, but not something that looks to be possible in the real world. How does one deal with all of the debt defaults, for one thing?”
I say, let them go bankrupt….It is true that this system is stuck, and we can’t unstuck that system I believe, in particularly not the core of the system, the US Empire and the global financial capital. But in the end, it is not that system that generates wealth, it is real things, peoples labour etc. But it is also likely that the longer we/you/they take all kind of measures to avoid the inevitable, the crash will just be harder. Of course, a crash will hit hard and a lot of “innocent” people will be harmed.
But I don’t think the 2 billion dead poor will be hit. on the contrary. As my post was about, they today compete with their muscles power with oil for 100 dollar per barrel, which is just not possible at all.
I think we both agree that it will not be easy.
This is indeed the raisers edge. It would be nice if we all could go the route of Iceland and tell the banks to shove off. I think we should all watch carefully how the financial system and our government proceeds with any bankruptcy, deciding who gets to pick the carcass.
But no matter how hard the financial industry tries to preserve the system there isn’t enough real wealth (not electronic or paper) to pay off the debt bubble that continues to grow. This tertiary wealth is going to evaporate because it is nothing, it produces nothing, it is no different that Monopoly money expect that we all agree to exchange it for our labor.
Most of the financial products we buy now are really just a Ponzi scheme and the last in or those still in will lose their money. Even if you want to remove your money, it is still paper or electronic wealth. What do you do with it? I find it interesting watching how hard the 1% scramble to “invest” all the money they accumulate, trying to make it spin more wealth. But more of nothing is still nothing.
Sadly, people (Americans in particular) need to understand that this is going to affect our savings, insurance funds, social security, pension, retirement, college funds, etc. We’ve been duped into letting the government dismantle the safe guards and now we will all pay the penalty of allowing the fox to guard the hen house. A failure of the “too big to fail” is going to affect us all and very painful. I think Gail, being an actuarial, probably understands the ramifications better than anyone.
Yes, it would appear to be the case that every individual effort towards a saner, less consumption-orientated, way of life is another nail in the coffin of a conventional, highly-geared business, and, consequently, of the tax-gathering and immensely indebted State.
Yes, that is pretty much the issue. And some of those businesses are ones that we have grown to expect and need–electric utilities, and ones that transport goods of all kinds. Manufacturing of basic clothing and many other goods we need on a day to day basis have already moved overseas, where they are vulnerable to international trade problems. But the real problem is the immensely indebted State. Cutting back in its revenue makes its situation worse. The tendency of states with huge problems is to disaggregate into smaller, more local governments, likely with much fewer services, and less in the way of trade agreements. Such governments are a big unknown.
“If the cost of oil doubles and the manufacturer is not able to raise prices, the higher cost will wipe out profits. In fact, the cost of other raw materials is likely to rise as well, because oil is used in extracting and transporting raw materials. This will make the impact on profit even worse than the oil-only comparison would suggest.”
Isn’t it the case that despite increased per barrel oil prices, the United States still spends relatively less on energy than it did several decades ago? The energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) has declined significantly, perhaps 75% since the 1950s in the US, it is declining dramatically in China, and is slowly declining globally (http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/01/energy_use). So increasing energy cost doesn’t automatically spell economic doom. This is a familiar argument made typically by pro-growth economists and I’m surprised that the author doesn’t address it. I don’t subscribe to that rose-tinted view but I do think that a steady increase in the cost of energy is a good thing because it leads to improved energy efficiency while avoiding Jevons’ paradox. It may be the only mechanism that could save us from global warming.
Yes, I think we need more financial engeneering and burger flipping 🙂
The problem is probably the GDP expansion and what parts of the economy that do not physically produce anything do count to the GDP.
To Toni Menninger:
The link between manufacturing and energy use plays largely in those statistics, as I suspect you know. From the 1950s onward the US stopped making steel and more people became accountants or teachers than autoworkers, so energy use declined. Manufacturing an automobile now uses less than 20 hours of labor, and the engineers have also figured out ways to reduce the energy usage, so even as US industries expand output, the economic effect of energy use is lower.
That’s probably not the root of the problem, however, which is portrayed by the global use of petroleum over time, and the correlation between economic development and gasoline usage. Newly enriched citizens of emerging economies all want a car, and we can’t blame them. Demand will continue to grow, just as it has over the last 10, 20, 40 and 60 years. More cars are sold in China than the USA right now; but China has to import almost all its oil. And while China’s GDP has improved, the amounts they are paying to commute to work (“the modern lifestyle”) are sizeable. Kinda like the traffic coming into NYC from Long Island, or into LA from the Valley.
I agree that higher energy prices don’t automatically spell doom, but at the same time, James Hamilton found that 10 out of 11 recessions since World War II were associated with oil price spikes. (Simple article here, original here.) The economy can be arranged in an of a many different ways. A spike in oil prices will tend to have an adverse impact, regardless of how the economy is structured, prior to the change. In the early 1970s, oil was very cheap, and we used it for everything–heating homes, making electricity, and for driving cars. We figured out when oil prices rose that it was necessary to do things differently. We figured out how to use uranium for making electricity, and natural gas for heating homes and making electricity. We sent production of vehicles and much other manufacturing overseas. We learned how to make cars that weren’t so big, and were more fuel efficient. So we figured out a fix for the situation.
This time is different for several reasons:
1. We don’t have more cheap oil supplies coming online. We have more expensive-to-extract oil supplies coming online. This means the problem is more of a permanent one, rather than a temporary one.
2. We have already picked the “low hanging fruit,” in terms of home heating and electricity use, and even some of the efficiency in automobiles. You get more impact in raising MPG from 8 to 16, than from 16 to 24, for example. Higher cost means that businesses have been making their vehicles more fuel efficient for years. There has been switching from oil to electric for years, if this is possible.
3. We now have competition from China, India, and other nations, that use more coal and less oil, and have lower wages levels. If oil prices rise, it tends to make countries that use a high proportion of oil in their energy mix competitive relative to countries that use other cheaper energy sources. This tends to reduce US employment, just as high oil prices reduces employment. This magnifies the impact of high oil prices.
4. Debt plays a big role in our problems. As we add more and more fossil fuel use, we also add more and more debt. In a way, debt is a Ponzi scheme, if we don’t have continual growth. It is harder and harder for developed countries to grow, with high oil prices, and competition from countries that used cheaper energy sources. This means that governments need to keep interest rates artificially low, so things don’t completely fall apart. This in turn puts pressure on pension plans.
5. Governments end up getting squeezed more and more, just as they were in previous collapses. Part of the problem is a drop in the wages of the common worker. Governments find that they have to pay more benefits, but cannot collect enough taxes.
6. It looks at this point as if we are getting caught in a cycle of contraction, instead of expansion. Such contraction cycles have happened before, when wages of the common worker are low relative to the cost of goods. The government has been trying with little success to get us out of this contraction mode. If interest rates go up, it looks like “game over”.
7. If we look at gallons of gasoline per hour of minimum wage, there has been a huge drop since 1998. This is part of what has been keeping the common workers so poor, and what looks like it likely won’t get better.
Thank you, Gail. Excellent explication of what we’re up against.
Gail On Oil, Gas and Coal, I saw those charts a reader posted yesterday on new discoveries vs usage, very bad. We really are not finding any more big fields like we did in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but people drive around in the largest trucks made and are still buying them, few see the problem, which makes the problem we face even more troublesome. Mainstream media and our leaders have not been honest on this issue with us and it is time for us to take this into our own hands and be ready the troubles ahead with oil and gas etc.
On the financial side, the other thing is all the greed and corruption in the system. I used to think this stuff only happened places like the middle east but the USA has its fair share now and so does every country it seems. It is a hidden tax on us.
“We have already picked the “low hanging fruit,” in terms of home heating and electricity use, and even some of the efficiency in automobiles. You get more impact in raising MPG from 8 to 16, than from 16 to 24, for example.”
I don’t agree that “we” have picked the low-hanging fruit, if “we” refers to the United States. The US still has twice the per capita energy use than most European economies. With respect to home heating and transportation efficiency, the US is decades behind. Building insulation is a joke compared to standards in Europe. My family’s car 30 years ago in Germany (the car was Japanese) was significantly more efficient than the average *new* car bought here today.
There is plenty of low-hanging fruit that the US has just not been interested in, one could even say has been too arrogant to pick, precisely because energy prices have been, and I would argue are still, too low to really impact consumer behavior and business decisions. It may be that “10 out of 11 recessions since World War II were associated with oil price spikes”, but notice the emphasis on spikes: it’s the volatility, not the price level, that causes these disproportionate effects. If energy prices were rising slowly and predictably, there would not be the same response. Energy prices in Europe have been much higher than in the US for decades. What happened is that they just used less energy.
Chart #11 was of particular interest to me in that article. It was about new discovery.
We are just not discovering those big fields anymore.
There are a few left in wilderness areas such as the Arctic, I think those of us that are older say in our 40’s or so may make it but we will see shortages in our life time for sure I believe.
What a shocker the world faces when they learn the lie.
Thanks for looking at my slide show. Please also note what I wrote on slide 9:
“Fossil fuels are nonrenewable resources and their continued use is not sustainable.
The Fossil Fuel Paradox: There is too much and not enough of it…
More than enough to destabilize the climate system but not enough to preserve our current oil-dependent lifestyle much longer.”
The big problem with the “end of oil” argument is that there is still a large amount of recoverable fossil fuels in the ground. Yes, extraction becomes more expensive, yes, EROI is declining – but the fear/hope that the fossil fuels system will unravel by itself is so far unsubstantiated. Even plain old-fashioned coal (yes coal isn’t as good as liquid oil but technically its shortcomings can be overcome) will go on to be available until Manhattan is flooded by rising sea levels. It’s not a matter of availability but of the political will to sacrifice the future of humanity for a few more years of fossil-fuel driven development. And boy you better believe that there is plenty of political will to do just that. For perspective:
Great Slide show, many thanks. I wonder if Gail has some updated charts such as the one we just looked at about new discoveries over time vs consumption? I would venture to say that it would be ugly.
I do think we have enough oil for say 25 years, but the question is will the finances be there – or will war or likely financial crisis to block the exportation and development? I do not like the financial outlook right now. Too much debt…
I forgot to mention that just like Gail said we have large lump of coal out there that will likely get burned so we must brace for climate change and we may have to change our growing plans on crops. Wild weather in some places will get bad. Be ready to be nimble.
In my view, it is the financial system that determines how much we will get out, and that is far less than what people expect, based on what is in the ground. We are reaching limits right now.
The problem is not a lack of electricity or nuclear reactors. There’s plenty of electricity and some of it’s even not terribly expensive. But electricity has only so much utility; there’s only so much we can do with it. The biggest shortcoming is electric vehicle use. If half the vehicles in the world were running on electricity right now, and we were producing just as much petroleum, then the price of petroleum products would probably be much cheaper; perhaps in the range of $50/BBL rather than $104/BBL Last year about 50,000 ev’s sold in the US; this year that number may double, and double again for several more years. The problem is they’re very expensive and only sell because of subsidies. They’re gradually improving, and if, if, if.. (there are many interrelated if’s) ev’s can reach sales in the low millions (globally), then pressure on petroleum prices would be reduced.
Gail explains the situation nicely: our economy was designed to work efficiently on $20/BBL oil. At multiples of 3,4 and 5 of that, our economy starts to seize up. But OPEC wants to keep prices in the range of $120 or more, which squeezes the whole world.
Here’s another couple of if’s: if the state of California allows fracking in the lower Monterrey and offshore near Santa Barbara, perhaps lots of oil and gas will flow. New petroleum and gas discoveries are occurring continually. But more and more newly enriched ’emerging economy’ residents want more and more cars. That keeps petroleum prices tight; there’s not enough cash to pay for anything else after buying the fuel… (that’s an over-simplification, of course).
Additionally, political factors affect us all. Wealth and income distribution has gradually drifted toward the already rich; in the USA wealth distribution is about the same as it was in 1929. It’s much less ‘egalitarian’ than 10, 20 or 30 years ago. I can’t address Europe’s situation, but we know some parts are suffering badly.
Bottom line: if we’re going to ‘muddle through’ these difficult times and come out the other side without suffering a collapse, we’ll probably want to install a somewhat modified system that treats people more like people than digits.
If there is not enough to go around, in the world of animals, the result is increased hierarchical behavior. This increased hierarchical behavior is one of nature’s ways of squeezing out those at the bottom, so that the number of animals is not too high for the available resources. See my post, Human Population Overshoot-What Went Wrong?
Humans, with enough energy supplies, have managed to work around this. The “catch” is that more equitable distribution of resources tends to use them up faster, because when the very rich receive a lot of money, they really can’t spend it on anything–just save it for the future. Also, more equitable distribution prevents those at the bottom from being squeezed out.
I agree more equitable distribution is a nice idea. It unfortunately doesn’t work in the direction of solving our problem of not enough resources per capita, and it is contrary to built-in instincts.
I think I agree in general with the thrust and direction your argument regarding distribution of resources. It would be churlish to deny the fundamental basis of economic activity: trading from relative advantage. The hard part is convincing the 1% ‘haves’ that increasing the volume of resources controlled by the ‘have less’s’ or ‘have nots’ actually serves their purposes better than depriving the less fortunate. This is Econ 102,
Lesson 3, but modern society seems to have forgotten.
Our society now posts ‘wealth distribution’ numbers the same as they were in 1929. The wizards of the financial realm now control almost everything, including the productive manufacturing enterprises and the state congresses and governors’ mansions. One tenth of one percent of the population control something like 99 percent of it. It will be interesting to see how long these conditions persist.
I have not seen anyone mention TWR nuclear power (see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveling_wave_reactor). Bill Gates did a Ted Talk on it 3 years ago. Does anyone think this tech would give us breathing room while searching for a “Plan B”?
The Wikipedia article mentiones that: “Kirk Sorensen of Flibe Energy has criticized the TWR as “a particularly difficult implementation” of the fast breeder reactor, which he characterizes as “already hard to build in the first place”, as well as for plans for its eventual nuclear decommissioning.”
Sorenson is a hardcore pro-nuclear guy and in the LFTR camp. I would take his criticism seriously – and liked his presentation of LFTR (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4). I do not like the nuclear route at all, but I think that LFTR will put to trial if the energy situation gets more tight. At any case, LFTR (if it works) is preferable to the current reactor types in operation.
Hello Stan, this group has studied Thorium with concern and also hope, can you explain more on that to us?
Gail those charts are hard to argue with. A divergence of two forces that are in opposite directions. Supply vs Demand, a pretty simple problem that more should be seeing…
Crisis surely lies ahead unless some magical replacement is unveiled.
Thanks for another good educational article.
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Just a thought…
After following peak oil for so many years and realizing where we are heading I feel, in some cynical way, lucky. As I see it, we will be aware of a human paradigm change of understanding reality in a global scale, as it happens, in our lifetime. In some way this is, in my opinion, terribly amazing. Not to mention I won’t have time for this kind of philosophical thinking in few years (months?), I live in Spain, but…. what a moment in human history.
(sorry for my English )
I share your point of view and really hope that many will beat the odds, myself included, to get a proper glimpse of the aftermath with time for reflection (if collapse is unfolding quickly).
If we are very unlucky the situation might just drag on for decades, pushing ever more people into abject poverty while governments further develop their totalitarian tendencies to suppress the populace and likely uprisings.
We will see just how eventful the next decades will be and if mankind will develop healthy adaptive behaviors to prevent these events from reoccurring. Although, the last latter thought is probably just wishful thinking.
Your English is fine.
We have had a chance to live during the most affluent moment of history, and now are getting a chance to see what changes happen–even anticipate some of them. We are truly living in at an amazing point in history.
Like the character in the movie “Armageddon” — we all have a front row seat to the “end of the world”. Hopefully it won’t be quite that, but we are all apparently on the verge of being an audience to the biggest changes to ever impact the human race. Get some popcorn and sit back, enjoy the show, I suppose…
Sometimes people react to our current dilemma by thinking “I want the system to go down the tubes.” They haven’t thought it through. Where will you get your food? How will you pay off your mortgage? How will you heat, cool, and run your home? How will you keep your job? If you have found answers to these questions (i.e.solutions) great! If you don’t….time to figure it out!
I am typing this as I sit outside, drinking a beer, and watching my milk goat much weeds. My solar panels are providing the energy that runs my computer. (Yes,, I know solar power isn’t affordable for everyone, and we used government subsides), My husband has a good job but it depends on pharmaceutical industry. I own a business but it depends on local people’s disposable income. Life is uncertain. Meanwhile, my goat is converting weeds into milk that I can drink. Pretty cool! The embedded energy in my solar PV system is already spent. What will tomorrow bring…who knows? If I wasn’t a vegetarian I could always eat the goat!
There are many possibilities we don’t think of, because we have been conditioned to think life offers only so many possibilities. This is our greatest dilemma.
I agree with you that people are awfully willing to let the current system go down the tubes. I don’t think they have a clue with respect to how much they depend on the current system.
Rather than let the current system decompose down the tubes, are there any reasonably probable alternatives? Such as fixing things? Is change possible? Feasible? I kinda think Karl Marx and some others will be blowing bubbles in their beer when they hear that a new generation of malcontents is emerging.
Of course the ‘do nothing but go with the flow’ option might preclude execution by firing squad, or it might leave the average family prey for newly emergent, and competitive, wannabe ruling groups.
Perhaps the most prominent distinguishing feature will be location: can modern urban and suburban life survive in pre-20th Century conditions? Smaller communities and dispersed farms and residences probably face fewer existential challenges. conquest and enslavement / serfdom being the biggest one.
Our problem is that we have a system that sort of works. Trying to create a new one from scratch, that is different, is very difficult.
We can read what people said about previous collapses. I know that one writer from Argentina said that people were much better off in the city than in the countryside, because in the country you have no one around for protection. If someone has already set up a farm, or has stockpiled a lot of food, they would seem to be at risk for being robbed and possibly killed, so that others who have not made preparations can have them. There is also the risk that friends and relatives will come and move in, making the amount of preparations inadequate for a large group. It is not obvious to me how it works out. Dmitry Orlov considers it important to be able to move about, as conditions change. He and his wife live on a sailboat.
Any situation is as good as its weakest link. If you are trying to farm, and break your leg, you have a big problem. Even poison ivy or bee stings can be a big problem, if you are quite allergic to them.
I really cannot give good advice on what will work for the long run. There are too many unknowns. Diversification has been a traditional response–do a little bit of several things. Learning to use wild food is probably a good investment of time. And make sure that you are getting as much as you can from life now, because you really don’t know about the future.
“And make sure that you are getting as much as you can from life now, because you really don’t know about the future.”
Thats a part of what I try to do. Reducing work hours (and income) – as there is lots to do, learn and experience which does not take that much money.
What worries me is that so few see any problem what so ever Gail.
Gail et al:
A timely article from the International Energy Agency propose savings of $70 Trillion by significantly improving urban transit. We’ve discussed this previously, but I think it’s worth reviewing in this posting that has a strong economic base. The article starts by saying:
“Transport currently accounts for half of global oil consumption and nearly 20% of world energy use, of which approximately 40% is used in urban transport alone. The IEA expects urban transport energy consumption to double by 2050, despite ongoing vehicle technology and fuel-economy improvements. While increased mobility brings many benefits, the staggering rate of this increase creates new challenges.”
Maybe one of the changes we need to increase the population density in urban areas; collapsing ‘suburban sprawl’ to a denser urban highrise. Metro works well in New York and other tall cities, but horribly with flat ones.
But how much marketing would this require at the municipal, state and national levels? Can we even think so grandly in this country? China is intent on moving 250 million people from the farm to urban splendor over the next 10-20 years. Some of their showpieces are pretty nice, but probably potemkinish. I’m not sure many other countries have the will, the chutzpah or the financial liberty to try such schemes, at least on the scale China is trying. But it we want to get cars off the road and move people around more efficiently, improved transit has to be a sizeable part of the mix.
People in the cities can only be fed if there is excess food transported from farms. (If population isn’t too dense, and zoning laws permit, city population can grow some of its own food as well.)
Making cities more dense, and using less energy for transporting people is something that leads to more and more vulnerable people in case of collapse. It is in my view, it is an example of efficiency being the straightest road to hell. Using less per capita does very little for us–having fewer people is far more important. But this is something no one wants to talk about.
Good analysis, thanks, Gail. I trust you and fellow commenters may agree it’s important to assess the various ‘good ideas’ that people continuously come up with.
But which came first, do you think, in expediting our journey to hell? Was it ‘good intentions’ or ‘high efficiency’?
From the beginning of time, everyone’s goal has been to make the life of themselves and their families better. The result has been growing world population and increasing depletion of the world’s resources.
High efficiency comes with the desire to keep costs low. So I expect this started pretty early on. Slash and burn agriculture has a high return on investment, as long as there was forest to burn. Wiping out entire populations of “not too bright” animals when a group of hunter-gatherers moved to a new area was a quick and easy way of feeding the hungry population. With spreadsheets, there has been more attention to efficiency, but the interest has been there for a long time.
You are, may I say, the voice of sanity.
As for possibilities, I’ve observed that the more stressed we are, the less we can perceive those possibilities which are not proposed to us by society at large. Stress is a great distorter, and in our societies now the level is pretty damn high.
We need to step back a little to see things.
I rather feel this site provides such an opportunity to take a level-headed look at things: not a ‘doomer’ site, nor a ‘prepper’ one (or even a Druid forum!).
So, thank you, Gail.
Yes Xabier, if only we had several billion “Jody’s” the world- we would have a much better chance, Thanks Jody for your writings. – Scott
Gail and all,
I agree with you Gail, I think all of us are better off if we can keep the current system from falling apart, but I would add to that “too quickly.” I think the system is going to fall apart, but if our system collapses catastrophically we will waste a lot of embedded energy, and we will have less opportunity for creative renewal.
The best writing I have found on this thinking is by Thomas Homer-Dixon “The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization”. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to think about how we go forward from here.
From the book (p. 23):
“…some kinds of complex systems adapt to their changing environment by going through a four-stage cycle of growth, breakdown, reorganization, and renewal (the last three of these stages are what I call catagenesis). There’s an important caveat though…while breakdown is essential to long-run adaptation and renewal, it must not be too severe. In other words, breakdown must be constrained…for catagenesis to happen.”
If breakdown is too severe the system is broken beyond repair and there is no chance for creative renewal. An example would be, say your son and his wife and 4 children have to move back into your home. Your house no longer fits your expanded family and you are very uncomfortable. It might feel like a catastrophe. Creative renewal might take the form of building an addition, or perhaps selling the house and buy a larger one. But If your house burned down (and let’s say you didn’t have enough insurance), you would less opportunity to make adjustments (creative renewal) to your situation.
I’m in favor of using resources we currently have to do everything we can to reduce our dependence on debt, decrease our consumption (learn to live more simply), improve our satisfaction in life (i.e. hormonal status-just for you Don), while trying to live with the consequences of depleting resources, excess population, climate change, etc… I don’t think we will fair well at all if our current economic system collapses over night.
That is good point, about how severe the collapse is. The Soviet Union collapse was in many senses much less severe than what we are approaching, because it was only a temporary downturn, when the world as a whole was doing fine. The current situation is much worse. Most of us have given no thought about how we would get along without essentially all modern conveniences–food from the store, electricity, fire protection, water supply, sewer system, financial system, whatever. The usual thought is doing with less. That would be much easier to get along with than losing many systems at once.
Suppose that almost all industry and all but essential transportation around the world shut down simultaneously. The major (and some minor) governments around the world would still have ready access and availability to oil/gas, which they might use to keep power plants and emergency/law enforcement services operational in the areas that matter most. Internet and television stations/cable stay live, and are used to broadcast government information along with typical entertainment. Communities are taught how to reorganize for local production and local economies, how to grow and store their own food, while being fed by a constant stream of government-run trucks until self-sufficiency is achieved. Just think how much oil/gas would be saved by shutting down all those widget factories and the hundreds of millions of vehicles that are burning millions of barrels of oil daily. Any chance something like this might work?
The Settlers Are Coming! The Settlers Are Coming! And They Don’t Speak Englishs!
Sometimes it’s difficult see things from a different perspective; such as that of a Chinese with savings and nowhere to spend it, and a great desire to move to a less expensive place (urban China is pretty expensive). Now, it turns out, the Chinese are gaga over Detroit, beginning to buy up dilapidated real estate that no civilized citizen could conceivably consider.
In the context of some of the discussions above, the Chinese appear unaffected by the difficult existential questions members of this blog have been addressing. I wonder why. Are Chinese more optimistic? Less uncertain and more ambitious? Is our miasma part of a ‘Decline of The West’ depression? Are we too sensitive or are they too thick-skinned? ‘Is that all there is’? Solomon said, “All is vanity.” Maybe he was right. But it looks like the Chinese want to find some fixeruppers and start enjoying life.
I see some parallels between China and Spain: both came rather late to the globalized party, with corrupt elites buying the masses off with the joys of consumerism, greater liberty, property ownership and foreign travel, and masses of cheap goods. The masses are not inclined to question these gifts. It feels (or felt) very good.
I’m also inclined to remember the old Chinese tale of the Old Man of the Hill, which for those who haven’t heard it is:
One day a herd of fine horses ran onto the Old Man’s land. ‘You’re very rich now’ said his neighbours, ‘congratulations!’
‘You think this is good news? said Old Man.
Then his eldest son and heir broke his legs badly riding a stallion. ‘What a tragedy!’ commiserated his neighbours.
‘You think this is bad news?’ asked Old Man.
Then a great war came, and the Emperor took all the men for the army. Except the crippled son, who could still inherit everything……..
Old man made no comment.
Which is a round about way of saying: China? Who knows?!
And indeed, who can tell how any of this is going to pan out? I’m totally mystified, or perhaps information-overloaded, but know how I wish to live, and will pursue that until ‘the Emperor declares war’………. (ie a decisive event occurs).
You tell good stories, sir. (Just in case you didn’t know or nobody ever told you).
I just read a heartwrenching article in The Atlantic about Spain’s travails, I’m sorry to say.
The Pakistani and Latinos are also finding business opportunities in Detroit. I guess it might have something to do with nature abhorring a vacuum. If you lived in Pakistan, perhaps Detroit seems like a mecca of opportunities.
When I lived in the small, cramped 2 bedroom, University’s married student housing I observed Chinese married students living in 1 bedroom units along with their parents, sometimes both sets. I have close Chinese friends, whose parents live with them.
I have often admired their ability to live more frugally even if they have considerable affluence. Perhaps Americans feel we are entitled to the wealth of space. Who really knows why our cultures are so different, but they really are. I think we can all learn something from the differences.
Jody: You are exactly right. ‘Any person who can’t learn from any other person is a fool.’ Best to keep lips zipped and smiling — and you know all the reasons why.
North America is perhaps at one extreme of the spectrum and China at the other. Europe might be somewhere in the middle: I’m thinking of the small apartments of the cities, and the little boxy houses of the English.
Multigenerational-occupancy has been predicted as a rising trend in Britain due to – it’s no surprise – increasing poverty.
This is now also certainly a clear trend in Spain, as people move back with their parents and grandparents when they can. One of my brothers has just moved back in with his wife, and somehow I doubt the other two siblings will be moving on very quickly, looking at the unemployment rate. I must hurry up, I suppose, and reserve a place, probably in the wood shed – if they’ll let me……
No-one would have thought of this even 5 years ago.
I always advocate taking a look at Argentina to see how these things might possibly pan out in the near-term in advanced economies, both politically and economically.
A wise and considered move to self-sufficiency, led by paternalistic governments, is not very high on the list of possibilities as far as I can tell: BAU until things break up badly is much more likely.
Only individuals canin the meantime break away, to varying degrees (like, for instance Jody, Don and Scott who post here.)
I am doubtful that governments will do very much. Some of them may simply disappear. If programs are set up, they will most likely be very local–at the level of a village or part of a city.
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May I suggest a couple of things which may help formulate thoughts about the future. As Exhibit One, see Chris Martenson’s subscriber letter yesterday on the rise of financial institutions and their current absolute dominance of global economic activity. Of the top 50 companies, 48 are financial institutions. One point he makes is that these financial institutions don’t actually produce anything. Yet these financial institutions have conquered national governments and the imaginations of most people. A financial institution is about as isolated from physical energy as any company I can imagine. ‘They do not toil, neither do they spin’.
As Exhibit Two, see Charles Hugh Smith talking about smart phones. They are no longer worth stealing, unless the phone has a prestige label on it. Smart phones are a good example of the Constructal Law–evolution works to make them cheaper.
As Exhibit Three, go back to the Chris Martenson article and look at the physical inflation since 2008…50 percent in the US. So we have smart phones dropping asymptotically toward zero while the cost of beef is increasing dramatically. We have experienced inflation with falling economic activity.
As Exhibit Four, go to Charles Hugh Smith’s post a couple of days ago about some medical bills they had when their first child was born. Look at the modest bills relative to his income at the time. Compare to the astronomical bills in a hospital now.
As Exhibit Five, observe Chris Martenson’s comment that the Multinationals are actually running the world. Comparing Germany to the US has less and less significance. (I don’t mean this snidely…) Traveling widely in Concord now means seeking out people who are living outside the webs of the Banks and the Multinationals–not visiting people on the other side of the world who are also ensnared by the Banks and the Multinationals.
I draw a number of conclusions from all this:
1. ‘Inflation’ as it is defined by the US government is virtually meaningless. It is a conflation of the cost of physical things such as beef with ‘qualitative’ things such as the sophistication of one’s phone. BUT the US government has lots of reasons to understate inflation. First, it minimizes the cost to the government of indexed benefits such as Social Security, and, second, an understated inflation rate boosts the ‘real’ GDP. Physically based inflation measures such as provided by Shadow Stats show that our economy is shrinking and inflation is rising rapidly (as noted by Chris). But any bureaucrat worth his salt can come up with lots of ‘quality improvements’ to support the claim that ‘inflation is low’.
2. Given the size of debts in the global economy, one focus of attention should be on the ability of borrowers to earn the money to repay the loans. For example, if you study Smith’s description of the smart phone market, you can see that staying ahead of the curve and actually earning any money in that market is very tricky indeed. When you improve the features on your phone, the customers say ‘ho-hum’ and decide that you are now less attractive than some competitor. And, usually, you don’t get a second chance. This has actually been the environment in the computer business since the beginning. Lots of big companies have lost lots of money in computers simply because the technology was moving faster than they could move. So…if we compare the credit worthiness of a small scale beef farmer with the credit worthiness of a new entrant into the smart phone business, what can we say? Probably the best statement is that neither is a particularly good bet…and maybe that is why the banks aren’t loaning out all the money that Bernanke is shoveling at them.
3. But since the assets of financial institutions are basically someone’s debt, what can we say about the stability of the financial institutions? Detroit has a lot of debts, but few people credit it with any real assets. And if the 48 banks in the top 50 companies go down, will they take down the non-financial institutions?
4. Smith shows that medical costs have risen out of reason. Smith labels it a ‘government/industry’ cartel. If we had a truly free market for medical care, the current system would instantly collapse. And the shrinkage would result in defaults on debt (for all those hospitals and equipment), massive unemployment, anguish among the population, loss of contributions to politicians, and so on and so forth. The Constructal Law would quickly demolish the system that has been built brick by brick over the last 50 years. Would this be a good thing? Or a bad thing?
5. Are there innovations (think the Constructal Law) which may actually subvert large sections of the economy, and lead to both lower costs and the realization that debts have gone sour? I’m not sure. Two candidates are internet education and desktop fabrication. Boosters think internet education can subvert the educational system and FabLabs can subvert the global supply chains. Education, especially, is protected by a web of laws…if you home school your child, you must nevertheless pay school taxes. I have previously remarked about the local building codes which prevent people from building affordable housing. Charles Hugh Smith has given this matter more thought than anyone else I know…and he thinks ‘careers’ are just about over, to be replaced by a series of part time jobs and more self-reliance.
6. I have previously written about the important role hormones play in human functioning and human satisfaction with life. Hormones are both easy and hard to control. Manipulating the world with fossil fuels is definitely a hard way to control them. Going into debt to buy your sweetie a big diamond is definitely a hard way to control them. Giving your sweetie an Orgasmic Massage is an easy way to control them and relieves her stress at the end of the work day and sends all kinds of positive messages to her cells and organs and guards against disease.
I will conclude with two questions:
1. Is it necessary for humans to continue to consume fossil fuels at the current rate in order to live hormonally rewarding lives?
2. Are humans likely to continue to struggle for more fossil fuels and go farther into debt trying to manage hormones?
The answer to the first is No. the answer to the second is Yes. Consequently, financial collapse is almost certain, followed by physical collapse.
The ownership of assets by banks and by pension plans and insurance companies takes place because we have a belief that we can save for the future, thanks to the miracles of compound interest. Unfortunately, if the underlying resources aren’t there, the miracle of compound interest doesn’t really take place.
I have a couple of problems with, “1. Is it necessary for humans to continue to consume fossil fuels at the current rate in order to live hormonally rewarding lives?” The issue isn’t hormonally rewarding lives; it is keeping the current system together. If it falls apart, we are in big trouble, because we are likely to be missing some of the basic supports needed for our lives, like fresh water, sewer systems, fire departments, and electricity. Cutting back on energy use leads to diseconomies of lack of scale, and debt defaults. Also, with the “push” coming from population growth, reduced consumption by some individuals is quickly compensated for by more people in total. The issue is as much a population problem as anything.
How do we keep the current system together? I just finished my cursory first reading of Cold, Hungry, and in the Dark by Bill Powers. Powers foresees, very soon, a large increase in the price of natural gas in the US. Powers is an energy investor, primarily. The book is endorsed by the usual suspects: Jim Rogers, Kurt Cobb, James Kunstler, David Hughes, and Chris Nelder.
One of the things which struck me was how the Obama administration has actually encouraged what appears to be the pretense that we have vast amounts of natural gas in the US which can be readily exploited at a profit. Powers describes just how what can only be described as investor fraud received the blessings of the administration.
I can see any politician thinking that ‘somehow we have to hold it all together and hope something miraculous happens’. In the meantime, money is transferred from the pockets of investors to those who have claimed such nonsense as ‘the factory model of shale gas’. And the printing of money by the trillions of dollars has led to the increased concentration of wealth.
Is lying the only way to ‘hold things together’? I agree that if Obama went of TV and offered his resignation because ‘I have been lying about energy’ and ‘the world is going to get a lot harder and many debts and promises to pay will never be fulfilled’, then paper wealth will disappear overnight by the tens of trillions of dollars.
So what do you think should be done?
I am not really convinced much can be done, other than trying to paper over our problems by whatever pretense there is. I wish I had more ideas on this. If we had a Plan B to turn to, things would be much better.
Please forgive; you asked Gail for an opinion, not me, and here I am tellin’ y’all anyways. But I’ve been closely monitoring those tooings and froings of petroleum and gas prices and can report unabashed that they are all crooks looking to justify their current gouge. For example, with China’s economy closing down to 2 to 4 percent, less than a half of earlier hopes, and Europe and the US still sluggish, why is Petroleum at 107 BBL? The excuse is ‘Egypt,’ as if that very small market has some magical impact. It doesn’t, but the traders defy the laws of physics and have kept the price higher than expected for several weeks.
One of the legal goals of the oil and gas folks is to change US law to allow export of oil and gas. Since 1970s exporting has not been allowed. Now with overflowing capacity the gas producers want to sell it everywhere. They were real ticked off that the US couldn’t compete with the big Chinese buy from Russia. (Idiots didn’t know that deal was somewhat diabolic and already done before Xi got to Moscow). US gas and oil guys just want to do what? That’s right: sell their product for the highest price. They have no perception of timing; only want to do it now, now, now.
More thoughtful people realize that we could get much better results by modifying the engines of trucks and all buses to allow use of NatGas and LPG. That would free up lots of petroleum for public use, and perhaps export sale, and would greatly alleviate the ‘tight’ problem.
Some political types want to use US production boosts to beat up OPEC and Russia. The latter is already suffering: GAZPROM is very weak, somebelieve enroute to bankruptcy. Russia and OPEC both want oil at about $120 /BBL so they can be happy.
What should the US Government propose? High price / lower production, or lower price and higher production? The latter, obviously, which hurts OPEC and can help Americans. But lower prices can only help American people if 1) production quantities are higher than they are now, and 2) OPEC members cannot effectively slash production even more to keep prices high.
So those oil executives you mentioned may be pushing one way or the other. Now you know the facts: they’ll tell you what they want you to believe, even if it’s not accurate. And while their income levels are sufficient that they be called gentlemen, they probably aren’t.
PS, Gail. Please feel free to correct anything in this that you think is egregiously misstated. Or not.
The system will only continue as long as we accept money as payment for our services and are willing to pay our taxes. As long we accept money and pay taxes, things will continue in the usual form.
I am not sure about that. There is no way the government can collect enough taxes from people to pay for all of its programs, no matter how willingly people pay their taxes. Something has to “give,” even if everyone pays their taxes.
You’re right Gail. I wasn’t trying to say that taxes will solve our problems. I only meant that as long as people continue to believe that our system is working, they will continue to do the same old thing. When they finally realize what a mess we are in, they will probably refuse to pay taxes or demand some other form of payment for services.
Lindon, it is not about saving food supplies, it is about making connections with people like family, friends, etc. because when things get worse we will survive through these connections. Also, it’s probably a good thing that the vast majority of people are not aware that the system cannot continue with Business As Usual. The system will run itself for a while, as long as people believe in it. Once everyone stops believing – that’s basically the essence of collapse. Before we get to that point we must build networks and share info, and ideas on how to live in a de-industrialized system. A really good book to read by somebody who has actually seen his own society survive a collapse is The Five Stages of Collapse by Dmitry Orlov. What I like about Orlov is his calmness and his sense of humour. The breadth and depth of his knowledge is very impressive. Anyways, calmness and humour are two things we really need right now.
I went through a lot of similar feelings etc. when I started putting the dots together. My wife is not happy with me for stirring up anxiety about the future. My philosophy is “share the anxiety” but also – let’s inform ourselves as much as possible about what’s to come and how we can survive it. Learning more about human nature, human society and economics as well as the natural limits of Earth as Gail is helping us to do just what is needed right now.
What cannot be cured, must be endured.
All anyone can do is take a view on what they themselves, or in collusions with others, can do, that will be effective (and spending your life moaning about things that cant be changed, or engaging in pointless worrying about them, is not effective) .
Which is why I present my premises, my hopefully logical arguments and my conclusions.
Take em or leave em. You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. You can lead a man to slaughter, but you cannot MAKE him think..as a man with a guitar once sang…
Power of course, in human terms, comes from cornering valuable resources, making them scarce (or having them scarce by accident) and extracting a high price for them.
Energy is just one such, these days. To cut it off would benefit no one. To have it expensive benefits those who supply it, mightily.
And the energy market is therefore a vicious dogfight of lies deception spin and out and out pure marketing, designed to eliminate competition and extract the most from the resources that are left, or use the scarcity to promote policies that benefit the protagonists, but do nothing to alleviate the actual problem.
But losing all energy altogether is not in the game plan.
Leo and all,
“Power of course, in human terms, comes from cornering valuable resources, making them scarce (or having them scarce by accident) and extracting a high price for them.”
We see evidence of this daily. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/business/a-shuffle-of-aluminum-but-to-banks-pure-gold.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
It used to bother me, thinking about how hard a few are working to control and profit from scarce resources; how they work to keep the system going because of the disproportionate benefits they accrue. It made me angry to think of the pain and suffering all this greed is causing. It angered me to think how the actions of a few are pushing our world into a hard collapse, as opposed to a slower decline, adjustment, and adaptation.
But then I started thinking about what would happen if our economic system could be changed and the dwindling resources could be shared more equally. I realized that this would allow many more people (particularly Americans) to live in debt-based prosperity, consuming resources ever more efficiently. Why would anyone need to change? Life would be better, the need to change would drift off our radar screen, allowing us to live in denial that much longer.
Without the realization that the earth cannot support our current population at a “Western” lifestyle, I don’t believe we can prepare fast enough for the ending of our global civilization. Maybe it is not even possible to prepare for what is to come, because no matter how often we speculate, most of us are too deeply immersed in this way of life to see what it means when it’s gone. Maybe we can only accept it, little by little coming to terms with it as we try to educate ourselves. I’m not sure whether it has been a blessing or a curse to be able to see that “the emperor is naked”.
Eventually nature will enforce its limits; we will learn our world is indeed finite, that we cannot continue consuming as if there are no limits or consequences for our choices. It will come from a conscious choice or awakening, or because of any other number of reasons; we can’t find a job, a tornado destroyed our community, we are dying from cancer, hunger, civil war, or we are miserably unhappy and unhealthy. When reality intrudes we change and adapt…or die.
The more money that gets concentrated in the hands of the few, the faster the rest of us learn to live on less, and the faster our economic system will collapse. So perhaps the greedy few are really doing the world a favor, bringing on change that much faster. However, I am not ready to thank them yet.
Regarding your comment.. “most of us are too deeply immersed in this way of life to see what it means when it’s gone”. There are quite a few people who have deliberately left “this life” and lived with (and as) the desperately poor. Many of them are returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Almost every ex-PCV will admit that they learned far more from their experience than the people they were trying to help. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in the Peace Corp is that people are basically the same all over the world. When one first goes “in country”, everything is mysterious and exotic, including the people. But after a few months the mystery wears off and one discovers that there are the same number of angels and assholes (and everyone in between) as there are to be found back home in suburbia. One also learns that it is possible to be happy without running water, electricity, toilets, and all the other “comforts” found in the developed world.
Now it is true that when we were PCVs the financially impoverished folks my wife and I had as neighbors were not suffering from famine, civil disorder or poor health. But one can go a very long way down the ladder of affluence and still be happy. This is a lesson that will soon be learned by multitudes when “this way of life” is gone. It is an easy lesson to learn.
A much harder task is learning how to be happy when one’s stomach is growling and there is little to fill it. I’m doing earnest preparation to avoid having to learn that lesson.
You make a good point Joe, we can go a long way down the ladder of affluence and still be happy. i would even argue that many Americans live in relative economic security but are quite unhappy.
Dear Jody and Joe
I know a ‘developmental missionary’ who was sent to the homelands in South Africa 30 years ago to ‘teach them how to develop economically’. He was living with the same amount of money each month as the people he lived among. He and his wife built their own house. One of his conclusions was that he learned a lot more from them than they did from him. His photos are mostly about people just going about life. He remarked that he liked the ‘pagan villages’ better than the ‘christian villages’ because the pagans found more reasons for parties.
The book Twelve by Twelve by William Powers is about a pediatrician who keeps her income low enough that she never pays income tax and who lives in a house that is 12 feet square so that it is classified as an ‘agricultural outhouse’ and doesn’t have to meet the building codes. She has to swear that she doesn’t live in it–and the county looks the other way. The ‘developmental missionary’ built the little house for her. She told me she has ‘never been happier’.
She catches rainwater, uses a composting toilet, gardens, and takes care of babies as her cash crop.
To Joe Clarkson:
Joe, the PCV experience your summarized has been described elsewhere, but I think none of us would earily tire of hearing your stories. One question for you: would you prefer joining PC before college or afterwards? Also, where did you serve? Would you recommend expanding the program or does it require ‘special’ types of people?
This is a reply to Christopher Johnson below since there was no “Reply” link below his post.
My wife and I joined the Peace Corps right after graduating from college in 1970. We served for two years on Ailinglaplap, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands. We were both assigned to be school teachers. We taught grade school age children a variety of subjects, concentrating on English. At the time it was expected that English would be the common language of all of the various language groups in Micronesia, hence our assignment.
In reality, there was not much real benefit to much of what we did. I often thought that what the young really needed was training in traditional skills and crafts so as to enable them to live without needing to participate in a cash economy or go to more urban centers to make a living. My wife did introduce the concept of birth control through oral contraception to the women of the village and I did help jump-start a modest canoe building revival by building several boats during our time there, but mostly we learned far more from them than they did from us. We did have many adventures and have very many fond memories of our experiences there. Probably the most profound result of our experience was that we both realized that we really liked living in a very small, rural community even though we both grew up in urban environments. We have happily lived all of the intervening years since then (except for two years in Beruit) in very rural surroundings.
The Peace Corps has gradually moved away from a more generalist program to one in which people with specific technical skills are sent to countries that request them. That is probably better for the host countries, but I am glad that we got to join at a time when even a Philosophy major (me) and a Psychology major (my wife) could be employed. I can definitely recommend the Peace Corps experience, or indeed any chance to become totally immersed in a significantly different culture. It will change your life.
I have friends who downsized into a 1 bedroom 600 sq.ft home when the husband retired. He built in many shelves, opened up the ceiling and made a loft for their bedroom so they could use the real bedroom as an office. He built the stairs to the loft in the kitchen and made them function as a set of shelves too. The house was so inexpensive that they paid for it within a few years, so no mortgage. Utilities and taxes are very inexpensive. They have also added a greenhouse and raised bed gardens. They live quite happily.
I also know of a woman (who is a professor at the local university) who converted a bus into her home and her friends let her park it on the farm, where she works off her rent by assisting with them with chores.
My grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, maintained a very frugal lifestyle. She always said “Waste not. Want not.” The recycling movement has stressed the “Don’t waste” part but few people think about the “Don’t want” part. It’s the wanting that generally makes us unhappy. The worst part of television (aside from the tendency to lay on the couch too much) was the development of commercials. They are designed to make us want. Without people wanting stuff, buying stuff, wanting more stuff…where would our world be?
A good point, if you live in a small community with people that care about neighbors and can work together, it will surely help during the years ahead. It is too bad that most of our cities are not that way these days. We relocated to a small town in Oregon just for that reason.
I would suggest another “loop”…the abundance of people who want to keep the current system(s) as a means to secure financial gains (especially in face of future shortages)…and the dis-information and crimes committed to further individual goals.
How do we address the mass illusions that enough gold will gaurentee survival of an individual and his progeny when the survival of the human species is ask risk?
To put it another way (& to paraphrase Wall Street), “Is the human race too big to fail?” And if we are beginning to fail, what will the earliest of warning signs look like? My guess the signs will first appear in the area of food and energy.
We currently have a system of finance, food, and energy that has been built up over many years. Our problem is that there is really no “Plan B”. Where people have tried to put in “Plan B’s,” they have tended to assume that far more of our current system will stay in place than is likely to be the case.
Given the lack of a Plan B, it is hard to blame people for trying to stick with our current system. It is all we know, and it is hard to think in any other terms. If gold worked before, perhaps it will work again in times of crisis. About all a person can do is try various things, and hope something will be helpful.
A lot of people think that they have put in a Plan B for themselves. In fact, though, they are still dependent on our current system for police protection, and for ownership of property, and usually for basic services, like water supply, fire protection, sewer system, and (perhaps) electricity. How well the preparations they have put in place will hold together is not at all clear. In Norway, I heard that wooden buildings, when built close together, tended to burn down every 25 to 30 years. In Atlanta, without current termite protection, I would expect we would need to rebuild wooden properties pretty often as well. (There is a saying here, “There are two kinds of properties: those that have termites, and those that will have termites.”) There is of course the problem of the many people who did not make preparations, and what they will do. Even if they just “move in” with others who made preparations, this could lead to not enough for anyone.
The only feasible form of ‘Plan B’ would seem to be those steps which can provide one with a certain survival resilience in the context of short-term problems: bank holidays, restrictions of access to one’s money, reduction in pay and pensions, rising inflation in basics such as food and energy, political troubles and urban riots, etc.
Such a plan would include moving to the non-discretionary side of the economy, getting out of debt, creating one’s own independent source of food, water catchment and storage, etc, all the things which we here all know.
But against any of the really profound changes which may very well occur, in different ways and at varying speeds in the regions of the world, it is impossible to conceive of an effective, bomb-proof, Plan B.
And this kind of planning is itself only possible for a very small number of people who have the economic independence and space to do so: someone living in an urban apartment on basic wages, just making it to the end of each month, really has next to no lee-way in which to create any Plan B for resilience.
Which is why your advocacy of concentrating on enjoying the immediate moment seems very sane and wise.
I think this is an important point:
There are a few of us who can, at least in theory, prepare. We need to think about how many more we would need to support, as well–all of those now in apartments, who would want to move in with us, if we do figure out a better way. Would we be up to pushing the others out–relatives and friends, who didn’t have an opportunity to prepare?
Xabier, I think that an overhead bombing attack is the worst any of us can fear. I think most country folks are prepared for a ground attack and they are loaded up with ammo and canned beans.
However, what about a drone air assault? We do not have anti air craft guns at least here in America for the most part that I know of. Most hunting guns have no affect on attacking aircraft… Let’s hope it does not come to that – but all of these drones make me nervous these days.
Even worse are the plans for drones that carry little micro-drones like insects or robot soldiers to jump off and attack in a swarm. God save us from human ingenuity.
Hello Stan, I think you are right – the problems will first appear in energy and food along with declining fisheries etc. adding to the problem. I noticed most fish these days if farmed. In fact they are already happening now.
But do think that a small bit of gold and silver may help you through the early stages of collapse as it is good to barter with, that is in addition to a deep pantry of food. Financial collapse first will lead the way to this long emergency.
Here I go with my first post on this blog and I can only hope that what I write is as thought provoking and sensible and relevant as the many articles presented by Gail, along with the many posts by Don, Scott, reverseengineer and many others whose opinions and insights and knowledge sharing has definitely enlightened me over these last two weeks.
Although I have long envisioned a time when the “world as we know it” will come to an end, I always believed that “the end” would come at some point rather too distant in the future for me to concern myself with.
But that all changed approximately one month ago. I’m a regular and voracious consumer of news articles and political blogs on the internet. I’m not sure what the trigger was – maybe the Snowden revelations — but about one month ago I suddenly felt the hair on my back raising – so to speak – and I fell into a state of near-constant obsession with my sudden instinctive feeling that hey, this world as we know it is on the brink of collapse.
I began seeking answers. My efforts led me to “The Death of Peak Oil” on the Oil Drum. And it was from that blog that I clicked a link and found my way here. In the last two weeks, I have read nearly all of the articles on this blog and the comments, digesting them as fast as possible.
Everything I read confirms my instinctive feeling that we are very, very close to a dramatic turn of events.
For what it is worth, I would like to present a few of my thoughts. I only hope to contribute in some small way to the wealth of information and insight presented on this blog, and to perhaps cause others to consider ideas that might somehow be of benefit.
The first concept is this: The vast majority of people on this planet are living either in a state of absolute denial about the impending collapse, or in a state of total ignorance, or both. One of my co-workers is an extremely bright guy about 30 years old. I have shared articles and YouTube videos with him that clearly explain the coming crisis – rather, the crisis that is developing even now. His reaction is to smile slightly, turn away and resume his normal routine. He doesn’t “get” it, and in fact I can tell by his reactions that he’s thinking I might be a little loopy on this one topic, despite the fact that he and others in this company depend on me daily to make logical and insightful decisions that determine all of our daily schedules to a certain extent. Even my partner of almost ten years just kind of shakes her head and smiles politely when I try to explain these things to here in any detail. She patiently tolerates my sudden rush to accumulate items that I believe will be necessary for survival in the future – things like grain mills, food storage containers, seed, etc… The point is, unless Obama himself were to stand up in an official capacity and announce dramatically that the world we all know is about to crash down upon us, something like 99 percent of the people on this plant just won’t ever see the light.
Some, including on this blog, assert that the mainstream media is doing a very poor job of alerting the population to the impending upheavals. I’m going to disagree with that point, and here is why. Sure, the MSM is not stating point-blank that the world as we know it is about to end – that, as we know, would result in chaos, total destruction of consumer confidence, riots and mass hysteria that would effectively shut the economy down in a matter of days. Instead, what the MSM does is continually publish articles interspersed with news about the Royal Baby and other “news” which alerts those of us who “get it”, and gives us insight and facts that help us to make our preparations.
I hope we can all agree that there is a “ruling elite” in this world – the “corporatocracy” is a good enough term – which is well aware of the impending upheavals and are making plans to not only survive the collapse, but to remain in power and to remain in control of the bare-bones military and communications structures needed to maintain their supremacy. I don’t blame them for this, and indeed, I suspect that they are motivated in great part by an ideology that is humanistic and realistic at the same time. Our planet is being destroyed by over-population. Do we stretch out whatever remaining resources (oil, coal, gas, rare earth minerals, etc…) to maintain the 7 billion lives for as long as possible until finally there is no more left? Or, knowing that it is impossible to maintain 7 billion lives for any significant length of time without destroying their own ability to wield power and law and order along with everything else, do they determine that at a certain strategic point they will simply “flip the switch” – halt deliveries of oil and gas, bring industry and international trade to a grinding halt – in effect, bring on the collapse in a single day or two and let the chips fall where they may?
I believe that the powers that be in the world are colluding, planning and preparing. I believe that they are consolidating industrial capability, top scientists and engineers, developing plans to carry our scientific capabilities and industrial capabilities into the “new age” – but on a much smaller and more efficient scale. I even believe that they are maintaining plans to further develop our space program with the goals being to protect the world from destruction by asteroids/comets, and to ultimately reach a point where we can send humans to live on another planet. If I were one of the elites, that’s what I would be doing.
But they are going to need a lot of gas and oil to continue that research/development, and to maintain military and law and order. Letting BAU continue until we eventually run out of resources is not an option.
I believe that the elite powers that be will keep the economy propped up and maintain BAU up until the point that they are ready to “flick the switch” – or perhaps more aptly – “pull the plug”. That could be tomorrow, next month or any time. But I suspect that the timing will closely coincide with the return of our troops from Afghanistan.
Pure speculation on my part, of course. But when you know that your government and elites are purposely keeping information from you, speculation is a natural and worthwhile response.
A very interesting first comment, and I appreciated the slightly different take on matters.
I too have the family and friends not ‘getting it’. At first it troubled me, but I just try to maintain my learning about these issues, and at the very least preserve some semblance of psychological resilience. You feel at times that you are living a dual life, but that seems to go with the territory of awareness.
You give an interesting take on the MSM, flipping from the banal, to the informative. I too noticed this with the BBC that has bombarded us with 3 days of almost blank pointless screens waiting for the Royal baby, whilst at the same time they are screening such programmes as Victorian Farm, which is a quite detailed study of what (practical), life was like before electricity, gas, refrigeration etc. An you wonder if this type of programme is being screened for its historical context, or educationally, for lost skills that may yet again become useful?
I fully understand your thinking behind the ‘flick the switch’, reasoning, but I’m not so sure, for two reasons. Firstly, my experience tells me that no matter how smart an individual or group of individuals think they can plan out strategies, the end result is never as they expect, and is usually down to luck rather than judgement and successful planning. (The best laid schemes of mice and men ?) And secondly, at the point of ‘flicking the switch’, with the object of turning 7 billion into 1 billion, you could not guarantee that only ‘useful ?’, individuals would get through the filter. I suspect that post, ‘flicked switch’, the elite would want a high proportion of engineers (mechanical, construction, sanitation), doctors/surgeons, dentists farmers, agricultural specialists etc?. But how could you be sure they didn’t get caught up in the crush for the last loaf of bread at the supermarket, leaving just the elite plus 1 billion ‘diversity outreach workers’ ? You get my drift?
John, thanks for your comments. Really appreciated, and interesting as usual — I have enjoyed reading your comments on other posts quite a lot.
“Flicking the switch” would be an “easy” task, in my opinion. This economy is barely holding together as is. Any “bad news” or “terrorist” events of significance might easily trigger the panic that starts the dominoes falling. They’ve got people in position to make stuff like that happen when they’re ready, is my guess.
Regarding those scientists and others who “they” want to be a part of the new era, I imagine that many of those are already safely situated in or around secured installations, or “in the know” and keeping it secret — they’ll know when to make a move. As for the rest of us, they’ll probably just wait for the dust to settle with the expectation that the fittest will have survived, and that’s good enough.
Just thinking out of the box or trying to — pure speculation once again, because unlike Gail’s very informed and excellent essays, speculation is all I’ve got!
I’m always eager to hear informed and well considered speculation. I find listening to ideas from a different angle very thought provoking. Keep at it.
Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, (if you have not already read it), is a fair example of the elite trying to ‘flick the switch’.
And as an aside, Ayn Rands’ ultra right wing thinking was very influential via Alan Greenspan, on the policy and thinking behind Americas financial structure back in the 70’s?.
Rand certainly understood the importance of energy. She had John Galt invent a new energy source, almost the equal of a perpetual motion machine
To assess the true capacities of modern elites, one simply has to study the history of a major campaign in WW2 – say the Normandy landings and the break-out into Occupied France. Many plans were made, – with the benefit of the experience of 5 years of total war – most were derailed, and innumerable mistakes were perpetrated by the best minds available, both political and military. Blunders, vanity and delusion…….
Or take a look at what is happening in Japan with the nuclear disaster there.
Or we might consider the unholy mess of the Iraq War, which was certainly sold to us bya conspiracy, but went very differently to what was planned (I hesitate to mention Iraq, as it always opens up a huge can of worms.)
So one probably shouldn’t really be worried about a secret elite scheme to pull the plug on the masses and establish a techno-dictatorship over the survivors.
I know, personally, a few very wealthy financiers, and judging by their conversation and – above all – their actions, they are, like everyone else, still more preoccupied with finding good investments than building Doomsday Bunkers (although one did buy a lot of canned baked beans at one stage in 2008! His poor son is now having to finish them up,- waste not want not).
Having said that, the senior military in the USA, and elsewhere, do clearly anticipate very dangerous emerging events and political radicalisation, interruption to resource shipments, wars over natural resources, civil wars, etc, as a consequence of global warming and increasing economic dislocation, and also anticipate having to act with considerable force against their own fellow citizens.
But there is nothing new in making such plans, nor in the reaction of the State to disorder. In many ways, we should be grateful that such plans are being made, because crazed and disordered populations are very dangerous indeed and order has to be restored by force – if necessary – in such times. There is nothing inherently sinister in this (which is not to say that some involved might not have a sinister intent, but that is another matter entirely).
xabier, great response! If I gave the impression that I was “against” or “afraid of” the possible centralization of command/control by “the elites” after the flicking of that switch, please allow me to clarify. I find myself hoping that some group of elites will manage to consolidate the best of human technology and scientific capability into a safe location, and to wield enough (military) power to control the mobs and enforce some sort of order after all the dust settles. But that hope is probably just derived from my overall need for order and discipline — I’m projecting, no doubt… Agree with you totally on all the failed attempts to control events in WWII, Iraq, Japan and elsewhere — BUT a group of elites and their selected minions might just retire to a safe location after having secured vital strategic assets (nuclear facilities, dams, gas/oil production facilities, etc…) and let the whole de-population thing play out on its own without trying to control events (other than to protect selected assets), then reemerge at some point to take control of whatever is left. That, to me, doesn’t seem especially difficult to accomplish.
One time, quite a few years ago, I met with staffers who were at that time working on the Savings and Loan crisis. They were trying to get help from actuaries on the problem of savings and loans being insured in such a way that the riskier the investment the S&L made, the better off it was, because (1) in the case of winnings, the S&L came out ahead, and (2) in the case of loss, the insurance coverage protected the depositor from loss.
The impression I got at that time was that very young people were being given a lot of responsibility. Also, in the case of the S&L problem that we talked to them about, it really never has been fixed. S&Ls are now merged into banks in general, but it is still a situation of “head the banks win, tails the FDIC picks up the tab.”
I am not really convinced that the federal government can really do all that much. Even when they want to, they can’t do that much. I know that various ones have been quoted as talking about “peak oil,” so they no doubt are generally aware of the problem. But even when they are trying to fix problems, they are not very successful.
I would not worry about anyone wanting (or trying) to “pull the plug”. The whole system is too complex for anyone to be able to try to do very much. I can see government officials trying to stay in power, even when things go downhill, but that is about the limit of any planning that I imagine they are up to. I guess I am not a worrier. It seems like we have enough other things to be concerned about. In order to be a problem, they would have to both plan and be successful in their plans, something I don’t see happening.
Yerrs. I am with you there Gail. I too have moved in quite exalted circles, and can assure you that very very few people have an overall competence to understand the nature of the technological world we inhabit, let alone how to control it.
Although that doesn’t stop them thinking that they do, or convincing gullible electorates that they can.
By and large they live in bubbles – areas of thinking which depend on taking many many things for granted. Things that they themselves simply do not understand.
I am both certain that they are making plans, lots of plans, which include their own survival as the top priority. I am equally sure that their plans will, in the end, be ineffective.
Cursory systems analysis on energy flows, such as you have preformed, show that in the end, having money on paper, is only as good as some serfs willingness to take that paper. A bar of gold in a vault in Switzerland is useless if you cant get to Switzerland and get it, or when you do people are more interested in a gallon of gasoline than gold.
What use money in a bank, when there is no electricity to run the ATM, or verify your credit card?
There is a model in which a small cadre of deeply intelligent technocrats could essentially create a society in which the work is all done by machines, and they live in luxury surrounded by a technologically sophisticated military whose job it is to keep the peasants out, or simply kill them off. But there are zero signs that the people capable of building such a society are either interested on doing so, or indeed in control of the existing political and corporate structures.
Far more likley is descent into neo-communism, as a political elite with military backing fumble and destroy rather than create. Or a simple banana republic type dictatorship, where a man with no intelligence beyond the simple crude peasant cunning of a Stalin or Mugabe, browbeats a population into economic destruction, whilst temporarily enjoying the fruits of being top dog.
NO, we muddle along, and the world itself is too complex a beast to control by and large, and has powers and realities far beyond the imaginings of a slightly more sophisticated ape.
Far better to examine the world than what is going on in the minds of men. In the and nature rules, and always has done. And we are of no concern at all. We are simply froth temporarily riding an entropy wave, that will one day peter out, living on a planet composed entirely of nuclear waste, engendered by some long forgotten supernova fusion blast, orbiting a rather ordinary nuclear fusion reactor.
And that is the problem with being a sophisticated technocrat. By the time you understand what it takes to rule the world of men, it all seems rather a stupid and pointless aim to have.
Only stupid petty people want human power, beyond the ability to survive and have a reasonably nice environment. And they don’t really understand the world at all. They are doomed to failure.
Isn’t there an old saying: ‘If a person wants power, then be sure to disqualify them for it.’
I rather agree with you that various African and Latin American dictatorships give us ample models for possible political and social responses to what is unfolding, depending on the level of development of the society. Quite a few pointers in the histories of Germany and Russia, too, needless to say.
So true: people in government are often only pulling on the wrong levers, or on levers that they think are connected but which in fact are not. And even when they are, the effects can be minimal, or quite the opposite of those intended by officials and politicians. Any newspaper gives examples of this.
Gail, desperate attempts by politicians and elites to keep BAU going until the bitter end seems to me to be the worst possible scenario — excessively wasteful, reeking of cowardice and desparation. I prefer to believe otherwise, while acknowledging that I’m probably wrong. Dimitri Orlov, in one of his YouTube presentations, reflects on his belief that the super-wealthy and powerful elites are living in denial, and that they of all people will fall the hardest once reality comes home to roost. He’s probably right, and so are you. The complex machine that is our economy seems to be steamrolling toward a cliff of no return, impossible to control, consuming and excreting with every lurch forward, unstoppable, totally indifferent to life or nature. It is the creation of human greed and lust for power, a terrifying monster of our worst nightmares. The only hope remaining, I suppose, is that good and intelligent people will prepare themselves to weather the storms, and raise their children to be both wiser and more in tune with nature than those who have collectively brought us to this sorry point in history.
I am now going with the working assumption that when someone has that Eureka moment with regard to our energy, resources and overpopulation quandary, that he/she will likely exhibit many symptoms of a clinically depressed person, if not undergoing a full blown one. Otherwise, even the brightest person will not get “it”. Tbh, I got quite depressed when I reached that moment, realizing that there is very little I/we can do to prevent it from happening.
The ability to follow this particular reasoning to its logical endpoint is, perhaps, possible for a lot of people. Accepting its consequences, however, is something else entirely. The combined pressures of hope and cultural beliefs bar many people from accepting that the way they live is not sustainable.
If people are sufficiently healthy and happy, they may grasp the implications for a couple of moments to then retreat in that cloud of blissful denial. Even on this site, despite many of Gail’s posts indicating otherwise, Leo Smith offers the opinion that we still have decades to invest in the building of a sufficient amount of nuclear power plants to save fundamental aspects of our current society. I am not even going to discuss whether a financial system based on interest and compound interest is conducive to anything else other than condemning us to repeat the cycle of boom, bust and collapse until kingdom come.
While I do believe that current western governments are preparing for riots, upheavals and, possibly, hunger, I am not convinced that they are willingly and forcefully pushing us over the edge. First, because there is no need as we are teetering already and second, because they enjoy that lifestyle just as much as we do. What is life worth living if you can’t drive your Ferrari/Range Rover in Monaco, to then have your apres-ski in Gstaad?
Personally, I think that current corporatist elites have just as much a stake in keeping the system going as long as possible to enjoy it as long as they can. This is also due to the fact that all bets are off the further our collapse progresses, whether it is of the slow type (John Michael Greer) or the fast one (Korowicz). There is simply no guarantee that you and your family might not be affected by that very likely epidemic/pandemic due to deteriorating sanitary standards, or that a very desperate country goes “all in” to grab the dwindling resources of their neighbors, and your country is being sucked in. I think that we all have far too much to lose to not let this world fall apart if there is any way to prevent that.
Either way, individual freedoms will get curtailed (PRISM, habeas corpus, etc.) and are going to be curtailed even more in the future. Many state actors will probably try everything they can to increase control, becoming effectively dictatorial or oligarchic in nature. This is what I see for us.
Unless we find a new source of cheap, accessible and abundant energy we can tap into immediately. That would allow us to kick the can down the road for another 50 to 100 years or so.
Apologies for that long post.
“The ability to follow this particular reasoning to its logical endpoint is, perhaps, possible for a lot of people. Accepting its consequences, however, is something else entirely.”
I don’t talk about these issues much, to people around me, unless they bring up a related subject. But I have noticed an interesting reaction in some people. Some will nod gently, as if they perceive they are in the presence of a ‘loon’. But on occasions the response can be way out of proportion to the discussion, and even angry and aggressive. On those occasions, it is best left alone, because you are probably informing someone who ‘knows’, fairly well, what lies ahead, but would rather not know.
THanks for your post. I think you are pretty much right.
All of us are far better off, if we can keep the current system from falling apart, than if we voluntarily let it go to pieces.
“All of us are far better off, if we can keep the current system from falling apart, than if we voluntarily let it go to pieces.”
However, based on the premise that the current system WILL fall apart and that nothing can prevent that: Given the number one priority — survival of the human race — is it better to drag out the inevitable for as long as possible, resulting in further wastage of precious oil/gas and other resources and the mountains of pollution that wastage creates — do we all just hang on to the wild ride for as long as possible, getting our last few whoops and ye-haws in before the whole thing goes down in flames? Or is it better to cut bait, end the wastage, end the pollution, take the hit and hope that a better version of humanity emerges from the ashes? Is it even realistic to “hope” for a better version of humanity.
Voltaire’s Candide got it right, I believe, when he swore off philosophy and just focused on his little plot of land in the end, finding deep satisfaction and contentment in so doing. Eudora Welty’s ‘Death of a Traveling Salesman’ teaches much the same lesson — that true happiness and contentment in life comes not from conquest nor power nor riches, but from the simple life. Jody Tishmack’s point (made below) that maybe the “greedy few” are doing us all a favor by forcing us to return to that simple life is perhaps the ultimate “bottom line” take-away.
It depends on how bad the downslope is. If we are dead quickly, then it is better to keep things going as long as possible. I am not convinced we get much of oil or gas out after the downslope begins, but I could be wrong on this. I am not entirely convinced the simple life is an option. A simple life without water doesn’t work. A simple life in too close proximity to too many other germ carriers doesn’t work. There are all kinds of romantic ideas out there, but I am not entirely convinced. I know our current method works. We don’t have a Plan B to fall back on.
Patrick, when I reached that Eureka moment just a month or so ago, my initial emotion was sadness, quickly followed by fear, then steadily replaced by grim determination and still building on that. I believe you are absolutely correct when you write that it is the “combined pressures of hope and cultural beliefs” a person might be so invested in that recognition of the obvious is not possible. That is human nature, and only unique individuals or individuals in unique circumstances can break that barrier, it seems. I feel compelled to “warn” people of what I view as a rapidly approaching disaster of epic proportions, but realize that I will be viewed as a “sky-is-falling-chicken-little” if I do so. And therefore, I take the approach that I believe the MSM and others are taking — I leave a trail of clues and breadcrumbs across the internet and in my conversations with people which, if followed, will lead to this blog and to other sources of information that are relevant to the issue. It is the best that we can do — “seek and ye shall find” could never be a truer statement in this case.
Lindon and all,
I have sometimes forgotten how that “eureka” moment felt, but your email brought back memories of the same feelings you described in your post. My moment came when I watched the video “Crude Awakening”, very aptly named. Soon after that I read Dimitry Orlov’s book “Reinventing Collapse”. These two sources of information motivated me to grab a notebook and began an honest inventory of my life. What did I need? What were my skills? What did I need to do to become prepared? How much time would I have? I think everyone who reaches this point should start with an assessment of their life.
My husband was a bit slower to accept the ramifications of peak oil, but eventually he did, and together we have forged ahead doing what we can to move towards our vision of sustainable living. Whether our vision is right or not, we won’t know until the future arrives. This is the difficult part….doing something but not knowing what will be needed.
PatrickCN was right about depression, it is a natural consequence of realizing that our civilization (life as we know it) is coming to its ending. The possibility that many will suffer and die. Depression is one of the five stages of grief and if you don’t know about this theory of how people deal with grief you might check it out. It explains so much about how humans deal with the grief of difficult changes in their life.
If you haven’t read Gail’s post “Energy Limits: is there anything we can do? (posted May 30, 2013) you might read that as well. Gail recommends 7 things we can do which I think are excellent advice and I will summarize them here (apologies Gail if I’m being presumptuous):
1. Get out of debt
2. Reduce your expectations
3. Take up a hobby that will provide for food
4. Learn to appreciate nature, family, and simple joys.
5. Build a network of friends.
6. Learn new skills (think about what will be needed in a low energy world).
7. If you want to develop larger-scale plans…keep them cheap and easy to implement.
8. Aim for a flexible approach to problems.
Don, I’m enjoying Sara’s book (The Hormone Cure). Very astute woman! Much of what she talks about I’ve learned from other areas of study on diet, nutrition, and human physiology. Some of her advice seemed to apply to the content of this message so I will include it:
p. xxi “For most of us, change is hard, and the path isn’t always well-defined. We make changes when the pain of staying the same is greater than the perceived pain of change. Why not create lasting change now?”
p. 13 “Conventional medicine tends to focus on what’s not working…if we widen our lens to see what is working, we can understand how to best nurture the good, and thereby amplify the beneficial effect.” She goes on to discuss “Pareto’s Principle (the 80/20 rule) that says 20% of our effort is responsible for 80% of the results.”
It seems to me that if we apply the time we have now, when the world’s economy is still functioning, 20% of effort, if focused on what we can do well, may yield surprising results. Focus on what you can do and don’t worry about what you can’t do. Worrying about what we can’t control is pointless. (Don, maybe that should be the Tishmack Law #2 but I’m not saying anything original!)
Gail, your comment in a post somewhere below: “The issue isn’t hormonally rewarding lives; it is keeping the current system together.” isn’t all together true. I’m beginning to see just how important our hormone status is with respect to feelings of healthy and well being, i.e. our sense of “happiness” in life. And isn’t this what you were trying to get at with recommendations 4 and 5 above?
More and more economists, especially in Europe, are discussing the inadequacy of using GDP as a measure of a populations well-being. There has been an effort to measure something more meaningful, to formulate a “happiness quotient”. There has been plenty of research that shows once we have basic food, water, clothing, and shelter, additional “wealth” doesn’t make us happier.
I think Sara Gottried’s point (one that Don and I both agree with) is that our sense of well being is directly related to our hormones, which are largely affected by our diet and lifestyle (particularly levels of stress), as well as our connections with loved ones, family, and community.
Yes, I know, lack of food and water, or excessive stress due to a collapsing economy, will seem more important than wondering how our hormones are doing. But, if we understand how cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) affects us, and we take steps now to learn to control it, we will be that much healthier and better prepared when things to fall apart. And even in our normal life, our ability to deal with others, with stress on the job, with hunger will be beneficial for us.
Joe Clarkson said “A much harder task is learning how to be happy when one’s stomach is growling and there is little to fill it.” Actually we can prepare for hunger; by practicing regular fasting, which is also very healthful for us now.
If the things we do today benefit us today or tomorrow, than no matter what happens in the future we are taking steps to improve our well being.
regards to all,
My point about keeping the system together, rather than hormonally satisfying lives, had to do with the paradox that saving electricity and other energy goods isn’t really helpful in keeping the system together. Of course, it is still helpful to have hormonally satisfying lives. Turning off the television would seem to be a step in that direction. Getting out of the “more stuff is better” paradigm is important. Maybe we should be doing regular fasting. We also need to understand how we can get drinkable water (or a suitable substitute) if none is available. This is why people all over the world drink hot beverages, or ones with alcohol.
Regarding hormones. Please look at page 242 in Orlov’s Five Stages of Collapse. He describes Wilfred Bion’s explanation of what happens when a dominant culture fails to produce a sense of belonging.
While he doesn’t cast it in terms of hormones, that is really what is happening. Bion identifies three main groups of people:
1. Aggressive young men (think testosterone) experience ‘a heightened sense of insecurity and anxiety, which directly affects the sympathetic nervous system. This may cause an animal to behave more aggressively, or, in the case of the human animal, to gather rocks and to find and sharpen sticks, or, technology and finances allowing, to purchase semiautomatic assault weapons and lots of ammunition….
2. Another subconscious impulse takes over the minds of those who feel themselves to be weak and vulnerable. Here the subconscious urge is an infantile desire to find and cling to a strong, lord-like father figure. In the United States, this impulse finds its expression in widespread adherence to organized religion with its invisible yet omnipotent leader….
3. Lastly, there is a third subconscious impulse that has its roots in primate psychology, one that predominately affects women: the impulse to ingratiate oneself into an imaginary group of superior individuals as a beta-female….It manifests itself in the expectation of the emergence of something wonderful yet unborn, that will be the result of a successful mating between an alpha-male and an alpha-female. It finds its expression in the celebrity cult…
As regards point number 3, consider the number of magazines sold at supermarket checkout stations about the magical baby born to the British aristocracy a week or two ago. Why this would have any interest to Americans who successfully rebelled against that nonsense 250 years ago is utterly inexplicable except in terms of hormones.
In thinking about hormones, I come to the conclusion that human lives turn on the desire to get certain hormones circulating in our blood. We have blunt instruments to do that (warfare to stir up stress hormones, burning fossil fuels to change the world to what we think we want in an attempt to release more feel-good hormones, nuclear weapons and rape to demonstrate our power and release a complex mixture of hormones, fantasies to release feel-good hormones, etc.) and we have very subtle methods which work directly on our physiology and mind (such as meditation) and sometimes Mother Nature takes charge (falling in love).
Looked at from a visiting space ship, it all seems ridiculous. In order to release a teaspoon of some hormone, humans are willing to destroy the world by burning fossil fuels. Furthermore, they think that if the fossil fuels go away, life will not be worth living. Life may not be worth living, but it will be because humans are making the world hell for each other–not because Nature was remiss in failing to make enough fossil fuels.
Not to minimize the problems. We HAVE made a world which will be difficult in and after a collapse. It WILL be hard to relearn skills and habits of thought our ancestors took for granted. And I expect that most people will not make it through the bottleneck. But I think that the only way to keep our bearings is to keep a lookout for the North Star of hormones. What is our felt experience of the world? Can we change that felt experience through the subtle mechanisms of hormonal management invented at least 3000 years ago? Plus deal with all the practicalities such as relearning things like fermentation to preserve foods and how to sleep in the wild without dieing from exposure and how to shed heat on a hot summers night by sleeping under the stars.
There seem to be an awfully lot of people who want to follow the latest fad, like talking about the new baby. I think this is related to wanting to fit in with everyone else–be able to talk about what everyone else is talking about, and wear what others are wearing.
Religions provide a way of belonging–other people in the same demographic who want to do projects of the same type that others do, and friends to talk to each time there are meetings. Whether or not there is a lord-like father figure, and how much importance this is given, varies greatly. I can’t imagine Bion was talking about Buddhists, or for that matter Unitarians or quite a few other religions, for that matter. Religious groups tend to reinforce the more even distribution of goods, rather than hierarchical behavior.
Part of what hormones provide is a need for hierarchical behavior. This tends to push the disadvantaged out, and reduce population when times are bad. Both the behavior of aggressive young men, and of women interested in mating with alpha-males is related to this issue.
I am, of course, not an expert in hunter-gatherer societies. But my understanding is that most of them function with a very weak heirarchy. I saw an Australian movie which starred and was written by a group of Aboriginal men who were concerned that their story be told accurately and not through the lens of what Europeans expect from Aborigines. The men go hunting, a stranger shows up, and they have to decide whether to invite him in or kill him. (A stranger can kill them all in their sleep if they let him live and he turns out to be an enemy). They make a decision and somebody dies and a ritual trial is held. But there is no discernable hierarchy. Respect for skill is in evidence, but nothing we would label a ‘king’.
And, as I said in another post, hormones can be trained to react in ways our rational brain thinks is wise.
I agree it is a paradox, the more we try to be self-sufficient and less dependent on the global economy, the faster it may come to an end. On the other hand, current fossil fuel use will cause catastrophic climate change. Until you brought up the idea that owners of solar powered equipment were taking needed profits away from electric companies, I had never looked at it this way. Yet, if we know our system currently consumes too much energy, which isn’t sustainable, aren’t we acting against our self interest to continue being dependent on this system? It’s a rock and a hard place. In retrospect though, I still would still do what we did and invest in solar panels and geothermal.
I think of my family’s influence on the economy as a function of how we spend our money. I want to support those businesses and service providers that make the best quality products (ones that will last the longest and be repairable) made close to home if possible. Sometimes it isn’t possible to buy high quality goods made in the U.S. In that case I try to support Europe, or Japan, and if all else fails, oh well, China. When we replaced flooring with ceramic tile (which will last longer and won’t require electricity to clean) we chose some from Spain.
I think you made the point Gail, that holding onto money wasn’t going to be of much value. I agree, but I also see no reason to waste it. We have spent it on things like hand tools, books, animal housing, and home improvements that make our home more efficient and easier to maintain. I really would love to put metal shutter on the windows, but that might be a little too obvious!
We continue to pay down our mortgage debt and pay credit cards off each month. What money we are saving is in the same credit union that holds our mortgage. If worse comes to worse we can transfer the money to pay off the mortgage, in the mean time, we continue to save if we lost jobs and need liquidity. We have continued saving for college for our sons (15 and 17). I’m not convinced a college education will be worth as much in terms of finding a job, but an education can still be valuable. Our boys want to study mechanical and electrical engineering technology. They like to take apart stuff and make other stuff, a skill I believe will have some value in the future.
I think part of the problem is that no one can operate in discontinuities. We are talking about a discontinuity when the system breaks down.
As long as the system is in place, supporting it is optimal from the point of view of the system. Once the system is gone, being able to get along without it completely is in some sense optimal (although it is hard to see that without the current system, very many of us can get along very well). There may be a downslope period as well, where the system is partly in place. Then keeping the system in place is optimal from the point of view of mankind, but not necessarily from the point of view of an individual, who needs to learn how to get along without it. Perhaps there are few enough who are “opting out” that it really won’t matter.
Yes Gail, too few are prepared for this that is the truth.
I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “no one can operate in discontinuities.” Even if our current system stops operating we will still need to eat, to sleep, to find comfort and shelter.
I assumed that what you meant by “discontinuity” was a time of a sharp transition as the system resets to a different mode. We have no way of knowing when, or how much the change might be. If I think of it at all I tend to think it is beyond my imagining, part of life’s mystery I can’t fathom.
But no matter when or how it happens we will still need to go on. There will still be a need for goods and services even if supplying these are difficult or impossible. Life as we know it will end, but something else will replace it.
I believe we, humans, have the resourcefulness and creativity to live into this next phase of our evolution on earth. I believe that we will find ways to establish networks with others around us, and to relearn how to live on what the earth can support, at a much reduced population no doubt, but not extinct; at least not within several hundred years if ever. Extinction for humans, if it happens, will be because of a climate changed beyond our ability to live within.
Whatever the world looks like after the discontinuity, it will be built on the vast ruins of our civilization. It may look horrific to our eyes now, if we could look through the a lens at the future, but I believe some part of humanity will come through this bottleneck. I believe it will likely be those humans who can tap into their deepest level desire, the will to survive and go on.
regards to all,
Hello Jody, I believe there will be lots of useful things around for those of us that know how to use the left overs that will be around for centuries.
The big question is about the social unrest? and – depending on where you live it could ruin your plans? Kind of like the old Indian days again, survivors fighting over what is left…
Discontinuities are things changing very dramatically in a short time: going from having a job, to not having a job; the Federal Government simply disappearing as with the Former Soviet Union; money in the bank not being available to be withdrawn; electricity service that never comes back on. Theoretically, we should be able to keep on after such discontinuities, but it is very difficult to, especially if we have not had practice in the past. It is not just our own actions that make a difference; it is the action of others. If others are rioting, it makes our adaptation more difficult.
I am sure that in the short term, such as 20 years, some world population of humans will remain. How things will work out in the long term is not obvious to me. If human population did not have a tendency to mushroom out of control, our prospects would be better. Humans lived though climate change in the past, so I do not see that as necessarily being the biggest bottleneck, but it may affect the number of people who can survive.
The point you make about 20% of the effort maybe producing 80% of the effects, the Pareto effect, is well worth bearing in mind: it works for good or ill of course – the immense personal efforts of Hitler, Lenin, etc, being as effective as, say, the heroic few who held together civilization in the monasteries of Europe in the Dark Ages.
It is summed up in Spengler’s well-known comment: ‘It is the mere squad of soldiers who save Civilization.’ Or destroy it.
Really great essay. You’re one of the few – a dozen, maybe – writers in the PO community whose thought is always evolving.
Explaining the diminishing returns on debt was the most important part of this one because it illuminates so much of what we’ve seen in the economy the past 10 years.
In the first point under “What Can Go Wrong”, you make the statement “A larger percentage of the population needs to work in oil extraction”. My first reaction was “Not necessarily unless we’re talking about the indirect increase from additional equipment being manufactured” (rigs, drills, etc.) But then I realized that you’re right! As the number of wells increases – and as their average output and lifetime decreases – more workers are necessary for all the additional drilling and supervision tasks, not to mention increase in infrastructure necessary to transport the petroleum to refineries (or whereever).
There’s nothing wrong with asking readers to fill in the blanks, and those of use who have been reading the literature for a while can easily make the jump required to fill in this one. But realizing that the Age of Limits is accompanied by increasing numbers of smaller and/or more exotic wells may not be so easy for some newer readers.
OTOH, I know one can’t rehash all of the past literature in every essay.
I was having a problem with this essay becoming too long as it was. I left out my familiar resource triangle, and my graph showing how wages drop when oil prices rise.
I thought about leaving out the sentence you quoted, but after thinking it through, decided it basically was true, because of the smaller wells and more rapid depletion we are now experiencing. Part of the reason why costs are going up is because, on average, there is more human labor involved in each barrel of oil extracted. Some of this human labor is indirect–for example, research on figuring a new method of extracting oil from under the salt layer.
Gail, this is the first time I’ve heard anyone — on this site or another — actually propose increasing the cost of energy production! EROIE ++. Gutsy.
Glad you’re back and you sound as if you had a very good trip.
What did I say, that I was proposing increasing the cost of energy production? Perhaps I forgot.
For completeness, I suggest a few more feedback loops.
1. Both natural evolution and human thinking can foster the phenomenon we observe and call The Constructal Law. That Law is described in Adrian Bejan’s book Design In Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization. I’ll just quote two jacket blurbs:
Scott Turner: The most amazing thing about life is that it exists at all. The second most amazing thing about life is that living things eem to be so very good at it. In his bold new book Bejan asks why, and his answer cuts to the very core of what life is–organized flows of heat, electricity, matter, and energy. From this deceptively simply idea, Bejan takes us on an incredible expedition through life’s vast scope, from the tiniest cell to organism to societies to ecosystems to the entire planet. It is a bracing journey.
Steven Vogel: Thought provoking! Thermodynamics may determine where you’re going: here’s a rule that tells how you get there. And so simple–the more efficient the pathway, the more likely is its persistence, whatever the mechanism behind that persistence. This is science at its biggest and boldest.
So the first feedback loop is the continual tinkering by the natural world and also by human intelligence to find a more efficient path. As an example, modern computers would not be possible with 1960s heat dissipation technology. Bejan has been one of the leading innovators designing new ways to disperse the heat from chips.
2. Humans are motivated primarily by hormones (which Bejan ignores). We want to feel good (e.g., flood our bodies with oxytocin). Economies as we understand them today are quite crude machines in terms of producing favorable hormonal outcomes. I recommend the Sara Gottfried, MD book The Hormone Cure: Reclaim Balance, Sleep, Sex Drive & Vitality, Naturally With The Gottfried Protocol.
This can be seen as another example of The Constructal Law, but the implications are so huge I think it deserves its own entry. Why do we need to ‘reclaim’ all those good things that Dr. Sara asserts that we have lost? Well…it’s because we live the way we do. If we are going to reclaim them, then we have to find more efficient ways to manage those hormones. As examples, she urges stress reduction, pesticide free food, a life without endocrine disrupters (e.g., BPA), and more practice of some of the aspects of Positive Psychology.
So one revolutionary possibility is that humans learn that hormonal balance is really what it is all about, that Corporations and the Global Economy give us only the illusion of hormonal balance, and that much simpler living arrangements will give us much more payoff.
3. Finally, and building on Bejan and Gottfried, we may learn to appreciate the world as it is rather than as we initially think we would like for it to be. For example, Thoreau at Walden Pond spent quite a bit of time stretched out on the ice covering the pond and closely observing it. It is hard to imagine a TV show where the host of a party tells the invited guests to ‘dress for some ice examination on the pond’. Yet Thoreau’s 175 year old idea may be quite efficient in terms of generating the sort of positive hormonal feedback loops that we desire.
The Constructal Law is fundamentally destructive of existing structures and methods. So if one starts with the assumption that ‘we have to keep everything just as it is’ (Jody Tishmak’s Law), then we will continue to do everything the hard way. We will continue to tax people to support governments which administer terribly inefficient solutions to give us things we think we want but which are actually quite harmful. We will continue to patronize corporations which peddle faux solutions. We will continue to design our built environment in inefficient ways. And we will continue to destroy the natural world which can provide us with endless entertainment.
My guess is that it takes a collapse to select those few who can combine the practical skills necessary for survival in a much simpler world plus the wisdom to manage their hormones intelligently. I doubt that sermons can do it.
Thanks for your thoughts.
It seems like your thoughts are devoted to the issue of, “What comes next?” It is pretty clear to me that we are going to have a hard time saving the 7 or 8 or 9 billion. But perhaps there is a way forward for some smaller number. I am not sure I am the best one on leading the way in that direction. You seem to have done more research in that area than I have. I will have to admit life as a concept is pretty miraculous, and we as humans have been able to keep going for a very long time, despite rising obstacles.
the concept of “efficiency” does not refer to any objective thing. It is a functional term that is relative to point of view. One should always ask: Efficient for whom? Who benefits from the efficiency? Industrial agriculture is more efficient for corporations but picking an apple off a tree is more efficient for someone standing underneath the tree.
James Howard Kunstler puts it this way: “Efficiency is: the straightest road to Hell.”
I like that quote. Efficiency allows no redundancy, so if anything goes wrong, you are stuck.
There’s efficiency, and there’s also parsimony: the old craftsman who taught me emphasised the latter – ie the minimal use of the resources available to get the job done.
After many years of implementing his policy, I am left with large reserves of materials which I can often use to complete commissions.
This is the old, pre-fossil fuel way of thinking and planning.
I have heard that the only part of the pig that wasn’t used was the squeak. My children always accuse me of being cheap. For example, I drive a car which was inexpensive to begin with, and now is several years old.
If your going to name this law after me, I think it should read “We DON’T have to keep everything just the way it is.” Otherwise it sounds the opposite.
I agree with your reflections and the things you’ve been reading. All the discussion above about our energy future, nuclear or renewable, just reminds me how much people are still clinging to the idea that life must continue on as it is.
It makes sense to continue using roads and cars because our society has invested a lot in its current infrastructure (embedded energy). To throw them away is to waste all that energy. But a future with less or without oil will be local not global, and when our roads can no longer be fixed we will walk rather than drive. Will this make our future worse off? Very doubtful. Walking provides good exercise and time to think and reflect. Something we all could use more of to readjust our hormones. Will I miss the all the things I can’t get locally? I’m sure for a time, but if I don’t cling to the idea that I must have them, life will go on.
I can’t think of exactly the right name for your law. Tishmack’s Mistake? no Tishmack’s Delusion? no. Tishmack’s Principle of the Herd? too abstruse. Tishmack’s Commentary on Newton’s Laws of Motion as Applied to the Delusions of Crowds? too long.
Perhaps reformulate the Law:
Sometimes its just plain stupid to keep doing things the way we have been.
How does that sound?
That one I like! 🙂
“While people talk about a system that does not require fossil fuels, no one has mapped out how the world could in fact transition from a system that uses fossil fuels to capture these types of energy to a system that would work without fossil fuels. The best we can hope for within the next 100 years is to use fossil fuels more sparingly.”
I sent you some scribblings on that very matter Gail. It very much is my extension on your premises. Namely that we wont actually run out of fossil fuel, simply that it will price itself out of the energy market. That leaves plenty for the chemical industry.
Working on my own premise, than renewable energy is overall far far more expensive than nuclear, and cannot actually be constricted operated and maintained without huge use of fossil energy in portable maintenance that it needs. that leads to a gradual and natural translation to more or less all nuclear as the dominant source of primary energy over the next 50 years.
Anything that can be done with electricity will be, and anything that can’t – well in the limit one can synthesise hydrocarbon fuels, albeit at a price that makes them pointless as a source of *primary* energy, but a very useful energy-dense and portable way of *storing* energy for (mainly portable) applications.
That plus the possible development of lithium air batteries, which also are potentially just good enough to be used for transport off grid, looks likely to be the only way we will preserve society at anything like its current levels.
The final conclusion I reached, is that there is really no need to panic. Stripped of government interference and green lunacy, we will continue to burn fossil until it becomes uncompetitive with nuclear, at which point investment in nuclear will happen naturally – as it is doing in some developing and oil rich (but not for long) states.
Japan is a case in point: they simply cannot afford to NOT have a healthy nuclear powered economy. The massive effect on their balance of payments caused by switching off the entire nuclear fleet post Fukushima is worse than the cost of the minor cleaning up left to do.
And the costs will come down as the volume goes up..especially in the matter of waste disposal and fuel reprocessing.
(apologies for the UK centric perspective of the paper. It was conceived with a national audience in mind).
Nuclear cheaper than renewables?
Minor cleanup in Fukushima?
That sounds like very warped and bold statements to me. Nuclear has approx 1-2$ per Kw/h cost. Yes 1-2$! You have to factor the whole chain… from getting the uranium to deconstruct the reactor and find a save storage for 1000 millennia. Nuclear is cheap until the reactors are put out out commission or explode… but deconstruction and storage of currently 500 reactors will bancrupt many companies and states.
Only Finland works on a “final” nuclear storage site – with the option to recover all and put it to another place if something happen through the years. And this still adds big cost and opens the question how to store “money” for the future to pay the watchmen for the next 10.000 to 1.000.000 years.
40% of US Freshwater are used to cool powerplants. In France their have problems in hot summers to cool their nuclear power-plants… nuclear power is not elastic and is only usable as exchange for coal. France basically needs the European power network to cover their peak-loads and needs their street-lighting to get rid of their power by night.
Get real – Fukushima is far from over, TEPCO is bankrupt. Full cleanup is impossible – because their is no place to put the dirt, then to clean something up – you have to make something dirty. But you can make everything dirty – without cleaning up anything.
In Germany, where I live, there we have two “accidential” nuclear waste storage sides. One (Morsleben) is from the old eastern part – where the West under Mrs. Merkel dumped more “West” stuff then the eastern part.. and then sealed it by concrete. The second was a “test” facility (Asse II)… their dumped the stuff basically unrecoverable. Now everything is leaking and the top of the mountain is collapsing. Even the government says that atomic waste will be pressed within the next 100 years to the surface ground water – if the atomic waste is not recovered. But the time is running out… and also Morsleben is not secure.
Nuclear is far to costly and not controllable, especially when controlled by profit oriented companies.
Thanks for the new link to your paper.
I would agree that if a way around our current problem exists, it has to be outside of the standard wind power–solar PV view of the future. Ideas that theoretically might work include nuclear and space solar, if the many issue of building it cheaply could be worked out.
The problem with nuclear is that (rightfully or wrongly) people are afraid of it. An approach using thorium is in the works, but not here yet. Even if it were here, it would not immediately solve our liquid fuel problem. It would be possible to make some sort of liquids using electricity, but this would be time-consuming. If the cost of nuclear did not come down quite a bit, the cost of liquids would be very high.
The other issue is that we seem to be hitting limits right now. The amount we can add in a given year is limited by
1. The amount we can pay for, and
2. The amount of resources that we can pull out of the ground
Normally, we can switch to new energy sources, only very slowly, as old plants wear out, because of the high cost of replacing plants before they exceed their normal lifetime. At this point, we are not even replacing nuclear plants as the wear out. How are we ever going to ramp up the number of new plants, over and above replacement plants?
If governments are poorer, they are not going to be able to pay for all of this “stuff”. This leave electric utilities to buy this new equipment on its own. I know here in Atlanta, we are already playing for the new nuclear plant Vogtle in our electric bills, even though it is not expected to be finished until 2017 or 2018. People are reporting that the cost is high relative to other sources of electricity. This may reflect regulation, and lack of experience building new nuclear plants.
whilst we still have relatively cheap fossil and a massively anti-nuclear regulatory system, we don’t need to/won’t find it economic to build nuclear.
I suspect we have around 30-50years of unconventional gas to run electric generating sets off.And 5 years more of renewables to arrive at the conclusion they are not a viable solution.
Having run the numbers, I think that really we barely need to talk about the issues. Governments can distort markets, but not forever.
In the end there is only one generic replacement for fossil, and that’s nuclear of one sort or another. Nations who fail to rise to the challenge will be economically disadvantaged and ease to be globally significant.
The USA is sitting on vast reserves of coal. It need not worry. Where the USA is however far more vulnerable is its utter dependence on the automobile. Coal to gasoline is not cheap. And the distances involved in the USA make it dependent on cheap long distance transport, and it lacks rail infrastructure of any quality.
A huge social transition away from car use will therefore have to take place, unless cheap safe reliable long lived and high capacity batteries can be developed. I wont be holding my breath though.
But there is no need to panic. I see the transition away from fossil as a gradual thing taking 30-50 years to happen, with many false alleys explored before the inevitable transition to the only real alternative happens.
Panic helps the rent seekers push their snake oil solutions, but that is in the end just commercial froth on the tide that is sweeping us away from where we are to a less known future.
The transition from coal to oil was really a 50 year process in the UK, with the first cars appearing at the turn of the century, the first aircraft a decade later, and then a period of rapid development of a petroleum based economy really achieving maturity in the 1960s when the last steam locomotives were decommissioned and mostly scrapped.
Remember that nuclear power was a by product of military developments of nuclear weapons. To cook up plutonium generated a lot of heat, and using that to generate electricity was an obvious solution. Which is why the communist inspired hard left was always so anti-nuclear of course. That movement morphed into the Green movement, or at least infiltrated it and took it over. Ecology was an ideal way to promote the agenda of the Big State and a centralised command and control approach to economic management.
But in the end, as the collapse of the USSR demonstrated, you can’t run a command and control economy as efficiently as a free market one. There are too many and too diverse a set of variables to cover them all efficiently by a centralised decision making process. Political pragmatism that allow local solutions to local problems are in the end, better.
Europe is slightly ahead of the curve here, with a tremendous experiment in what amounts to a neo communist state being constructed, and huge investment in ‘5 year plans’ of renewable energy., but the writing is already on the wall – huge sums spent, huge profits made, no effective reduction in fossil fuel usage. Whilst the French experience of 80% nuclear and lower electricity prices than most places, stands as te ideal counter example.
Even here, in the bastion of renewable fluff and BS, the EU is being forced to re-think its strategy as too many member countries need or want active nuclear programs.
The UK’s admittedly insane ‘carbon plan’ document calls for no less than more nuclear power than the entire UK grid capacity at the moment, and three times as much renewable capacity as that, by 2050. (This is to reach the almost 100% incompatible targets of a ‘zero carbon’ nation, and ‘30% of that by renewable energy’. The total insanity of spending a fortune on nuclear, which could do the job alone, and then spending the same amount three times over, in order to make it have a ‘renewable’ component, is never addressed ).
I am less interested in arguing with committed ideologues about this or that. These days I write it down, show the premises on which the arguments are based, and the logical extrapolations of those arguments.
When the mist trouble ridden nuclear plant ever, in Finland, is still on target to beat, gigawatt for gigawatt, the latest and most lauded offshore windfarm in the UK, in terms of cost per megawatt *capacity*, and when you then understand that it will last three times longer and produce in its life more than ten times the power without needing backup from fossil plant, its not hard to refute the proposition that nuclear is more expensive than renewable energy.
It’s still twice as expensive as coal, though. And with the climate change agenda in tatters as the climate stubbornly refuses to actually change at anything like an alarming enough rate to justify the enormous sums being spent on not making the slightest difference to emissions, its more than likely that coal will be the US backbone of power generation for the next 50 years.
In Europe we do not have that luxury.
Thanks for your in-depth and thoughtful reply.
Do not understand me wrong – but nuclear, as far the predominant designs are considered (pressure, breeder, etc.) are no option. Those designs are all inherently flawed and produce much to much waste.
You mentioned Thorium. I also see LFTR as only viable technology within the nuclear sector – but I know no one in Germany that discusses those. In every forum I brought LFTR up, I got no reply.
Still – I am also of that opinion, that everything will be tried until nothing goes anymore and everything may be polluted or used up.
In 2008 the world used approx. 144PW/h (Petawatt-hours) of fossil and nuclear. Thats approx 16,5 TW/h of constant production and probably at least 30TW/h to cover elastic demand. If we want to get rid of fossil, that would equate to approx. 30.000 1GW nuclear LFTR Reactors (net production, not thermal!) if we stay at 2008 consumption.
Currently 40% of US Freshwater is used to cool the coal and nuclear power plants – and I don’t know where all the batteries for the cars shall come from. That does not even consider how we want to build thousands of LFTR reactors and cool them.
Solar and wind are nice, but in Germany we run out of places for wind. The solar efficiency in the winter time is disastrous and battery storage worsens the EROEI big time.
That all will be a rough ride – even if LFTR works and a viable battery technology is developed within the next 20 years. But all there infrastructure projects need resources and a big upgrade of the grid… even more challenges…
A person would think that the insanity of the renewable plans would become apparent pretty quickly. I understand from an e-mail from Pedro Prieto that Spain is in the process of dismantling its support of solar PV. This is a recent article I found about the situation in Spain.
Nuclear had indeed worked a whole lot better, but it has a lot of uncertainties attached, especially with respect to the spent fuel. People tend to be more afraid of nuclear radiation, than they are of harm that kills people one at a time. Pollution from coal emissions is clearly harmful (unless very well scrubbed), but people aren’t as worried about these emissions.
Large job-losses in the wind turbine making firms in Spain, too. These were meant to lead job-creation…….
Surprise! If an idea really doesn’t work very well, it can only be covered up so long. If nothing else, Chinese wind turbines are a lot cheaper.
I would like to add a different point of view-
“The Many Types of Energy – The most basic type of energy, at least from a human perspective, is human energy.”
I don’t think you will find a modern day economist in our modern day economy consider humans as energy. I believe you would find humans better described in our economic system as machines who consume energy, produce products and expel waste, or better known to the wealthy as slaves or assets. We or at lease I don’t eat or burn humans for there energy content.
“Each of us is given approximately the same amount of energy, with males having somewhat more energy for lifting and pushing objects”
Again, humans without fuel (food or energy) can not lift anything. Which is going to be a lot like your car when Our Finite World runs out of oil, nothing- no go. Humans process the food (energy) that fuels the muscles to lift an object. Humans are an economic machine. One person may be a 5 ton hydraulic jack and the other a 10 ton jack, but without the input of energy neither is lifting anything.
“The only food that is not from plants and animals is mother’s milk”
Humans from a science point of view are animals. Which would make “mother’s milk” an animal product produce by the human machine. Just like a cow and it’s milk. Not some magical substance which is not plant or animal. I would also like to note that the religious right believes life starts at conception which would make the male just as special as the female because it takes two to start a life together. I would call it routine because it’s been done over 7 billion times in less than 100 years. Now, humans walking on the moon or driving 55mph because it would lengthen the use of resource in Our Finite World is special.
A different point of view
My point is that the “standard” way of looking at things causes a person to miss important relationships.
You and I can make things, without added external energy, but this is a very expensive way of doing things.
Above: Woman making rope in India.
In fact, if we don’t have fossil fuels, this is the way we go back to making things. Economists talk about productivity of labor, but they miss the fact that it is the fossil fuels providing the productivity.
All fossil fuels do is leverage our own limited abilities. Light bulbs allow us to see for more hours of the day. Automobiles allow us to move faster, with more protection from the elements. We could use a bicycle, instead. Here, we are using embedded energy in making the bicycle, but it is our human energy that powers it.
Gail, you are wrong.
“You and I can make things, without added external energy, but this is a very expensive way of doing things.”
You and I can’t produce anything without external energy. We eat external energy (food)daily and store amounts in our bodies. Without this food fuel we will die and not be able to produce anything. This also holds true in your example of riding a bicycle. It’s the fuel from the food we eat that powers the bike. You might want to try a little experiment on yourself. Try not eating(external energy) for a month and than try writing your next blog post. We will see what happens to your productivity. You are a machine in need of external energy.
“Economists talk about productivity of labor, but they miss the fact that it is the fossil fuels providing the productivity.”
Your wrong again, productivity is the ratio of output to inputs in production; it is a measure of the efficiency of production. Fossil fuels are inputs to production providing the energy for productivity. Economist understand the importance of energy and do not “miss the fact’ of it in the production equation. Read attached article:
“You and I can make things, without added external energy, but this is a very “expensive” way of doing things.”
definition of expensive – Requiring a large expenditure; costly. Marked by high prices: expensive stores.
I would say this makes you wrong again. I would say time consuming but not expensive. I really don’t think your rope maker has spent any money which would not make her production expensive.
On the positive side, I do believe your comments justifies my belief that within Our Finite World using fossil fuel for personal transportation is a crime to humanity and should be stop as soon as possible. The first step to this process would be a 55mph speed limit.
That my view and opinion and I’m sticking to it.
“You and I can’t produce anything without external energy. We eat external energy (food)daily and store amounts in our bodies. Without this food fuel we will die and not be able to produce anything.”
“I would say time consuming but not expensive. I really don’t think your rope maker has spent any money which would not make her production expensive.”
But time is money – the more time you spend on doing something, the more external energy you need. How many meals did the rope maker consume during the making of her product? Food may not be expensive to you, but it is to her – expense is relative, you see. And all from your own logic – hoist with your own petard!
As the TV star advertising expensive watches said: “If you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time!”
“the more time you spend on doing something, the more external energy you need.”
This statement is not true more than I think you might believe. Most of time in transportation slowing down a little can be a lot more efficient. Let’s start with that 80,000 pound highway tractor trailer rolling down the interstate at 70mph @ 5.5mpg vs. 55mph and getting 7mpg. The country has excess of labor looking for good paying jobs and a shortage of limited fossil fuel resources to power the highway tractor. But for the transportation company who is trying to maximize their profits 70mph works best at todays fuel and labor rates. But for the citizens of the country 55mph will maximize overall quality of life. Regulations that makes all transportation maximize efficiency and a level playing field for transportation companies is best. BAU is not acceptable.
Failing to plan is a plan to fail
“This statement is not true more than I think you might believe.”
You are right about the case you state, but not about the one I cited, regarding the rope maker. Keeping an open mind, tempered by discernment and a little scepticism, is more important than always being right. 🙂
Yes Adam, I do believe your right about the rope lady until she gets hand cramps at the Adams rope factory for not making her quota. That’s when your workers comp insurance doubles and puts you out of business. Then you can go into the trucking business and really loose some money. That highway tractor trailer would also get better mileage at 15mph than 10 also. A little better ?
This is only a classification problem. I am putting food into a different category than other external energy, since food is something every animal must eat, and we can get that by gathering, if we live like other primates. I am simply making a distinction between what we can do as a primate, and what we can do because of the additional external energy that we have added.
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Welcome Back Gail!
I’d like to let the OFWers know that we recently got up the first 2 of a 3 Part Series with David Korowicz of FEASTA, author of the paper Trade Off: Financial system supply-chain cross contagion – a study in global systemic collapse and more recently Catastrophic Shocks in Complex Socio-Economic Systems—a pandemic perspective on Diner Podcasts.
Many aspects of Systemic Feedback Loops in the Monetary System and Industrial Economy are discussed in these Podcasts. The final part will be released in the next week or two, after we get up a Podcast by John Michael Greer of the Archdruid Report as well as the last installment of the marathon Podcast with George Mobus of Question Everything. Upcoming also is another quite long one recently completed with Ugo Bardi of the Cassandra’s Legacy Blog.
Stop by the Diner OFWers to listen in on the latest in Collapse! 🙂
Sorry about all the Bolding gang, I messed up on my HTML. LOL. Gotta remember to use an editor and not hammer it out manually.
BTW, Gail at 429 Listens is second only to Uber Doomer Guy McPherson at 787 Listens in the Doomer Horserace! Extinction of Homo Sapiens appears to be a popular topic for Doomers! LOL.
Thanks for the update! Glad to be back.
Gail’s Energy and the Economy: Basic Principles and Feedback Loops now UP on the Diner Blog!
Upcoming tomorrow, Part 2 of the David Korowicz Podcast on the Podcast Page of the Diner.