Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict

In my view, oil and gas resource limits are major contributors to the conflict in Syria. This is happening in several ways:

1. Syria is an oil exporter that is in increasingly perilous financial condition because of depleting oil resources.  When oil production is increasing, it can help an oil exporter in two ways:  (a) part of the of the oil supply can be used internally, to grow more food and to support increased industry, and (b) exports of oil can be used to provide revenue for governmental programs such as food subsidies, education, and building highways.  Syria’s population grew from 8.8 million in 1980 to 22.8 million in 2012, at least in part because of the wealth available from oil extraction.

Figure 1. Syria's oil production and consumption, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Figure 1. Syria’s oil production and consumption, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Now Syria’s oil production is dropping. The drop between 1996 and 2010 reflects primarily the effect of depletion. The especially steep drop in the last two years reflects the disruption of civil war and international sanctions, in addition to the effect of depletion.

When oil exports drop, the government finds itself suddenly less able to pay for programs that people have been expecting, such as food subsidies and new irrigation programs to support agriculture. If revenue from oil exports is sufficient, desalination of sea water is even a possibility. In Syria, wheat prices doubled between 2010 and 2011, for a combination of reasons, including drought and a cutback in subsidies. When basic commodities become too high priced, citizens tend to become very unhappy with the status quo. Civil war is not unlikely. Thus, oil depletion is likely a significant contributor to the current unrest.

Egypt has many Similarities to Syria

Egypt is another example of an oil exporter whose oil production has dropped because of geological decline. Its chart of oil production and consumption (Figure 2) looks very much like Syria’s (Figure 1).

Figure 2. Egypt's oil production and consumption, based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 2. Egypt’s oil production and consumption, based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Egypt is actually doing a little better than Syria. One of the things that has helped Egypt is its natural gas production, because it has been another source of export revenue. Unfortunately, Egypt’s natural gas production suddenly flattened starting in 2009, again because of depletion (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Egypt natural gas production and consumption based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 3. Egypt natural gas production and consumption based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

As Egypt started losing oil supplies, it was able to keep its own energy consumption growing (to keep up with growing population) by rapidly cutting back on exported natural gas (even though it had contracts in place to sell some of the this natural gas). Part of  this cutback was to its pipeline customers, namely Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Of course, this left Egypt with less foreign revenue to fund subsidies, education, and many other programs, but Egypt’s own energy consumption (Figure 4) was able to keep growing, helping agriculture and industry to function as normal.

Figure 4. Egypt's energy consumption by source, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 4. Egypt’s energy consumption by source, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Syria, on the other hand, was consuming all of the natural gas it produced. In fact, is was importing a little gas from Egypt, so it had no exports it could cut back on. In fact, Egypt’s cutback worked the wrong way from Syria’s perspective–it lost a small amount of natural gas imports from Egypt.

Figure 5. Syria Natural Gas production and consumption, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Figure 5. Syria Natural Gas production and consumption, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

As a result, Syria found its energy consumption decreasing (Figure 6), even as population continued to rise.

Figure 6. Syria Energy Consumption by Source, based on EIA data.

Figure 6. Syria Energy Consumption by Source, based on EIA data.

At least part of the decline in Syria’s energy consumption occurred because of damage to oil and gas pipelines and to electrical transmission equipment. According to the CIA Fact Book, Syria’s industrial production shrank by 36% in 2012. Thus, geological depletion and the civil war that grew out of inadequate resources both contributed to the drop in energy consumption.

Going forward, this tendency toward civil disorder is likely to get worse, whether or not the US decides to attack. The underlying issue in Figure 1 is depletion. Population remains high. Even if damage to pipelines and transmission lines get fixed, the depletion issue will continue, and the population will need to be fed.

2. Economic sanctions, to the extent they have an affect, can be expected to act similarly to resource depletion and increase the tendency toward civil disorder.

Syria has been operating under economic sanctions from the US since 2004. To the extent that these had an effect, one would expect that they would reduce economic activity, and thus energy consumption. It is hard to see a significant change in energy use patterns in the years immediately after 2004, from the charts provided.

Many other countries have added sanctions since hostilities broke out in 2011. It is difficult to tell how much effect the 2011 sanctions have actually had. It is possible that they contributed to Syria’s drop in energy consumption. It is also possible the civil disorder together with depletion explain the recent drop in oil production and consumption.

Even with sanctions, Syria continues to participate in international trade.  According to the EIA, Syria continues to trade with Russia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, and Venezuela. Other sources mention China (here and here) as a trading partner with Syria. North Korea is also mentioned as being a trading partner, especially in the area of chemical weapons.

3. Oil pipelines from Iraq through Syria would be helpful if Iraq is to greatly ramp up its oil output in the next few years.

The United States has an interest in getting oil production from Iraq ramped up, in the hope that world oil production can continue to rise. World oil production has been increasingly flat, even taking into account liquid substitutes and new sources, such as biofuel and new US tight oil production.

7. Growth in world oil supply, with fitted trend lines, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

7. Growth in world oil supply, with fitted trend lines, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

One of the limits in ramping up Iraqi oil extraction is the limited amount of infrastructure available for exporting oil from Iraq. If pipelines through Syria could be added, this might alleviate part of the problem in getting oil to international markets. According to the EIA,

 One particular project proposes to build two oil pipelines (and one for natural gas) that would send Iraqi crude to the Mediterranean coast in Syria, and from there to international markets. The first of the proposed pipelines would send heavier crudes from northern Iraq and have a capacity of 1.5 million bbl/d. The second pipeline would send lighter grades from southern Iraqi fields, and would follow the same route as the former Haditha-Banias pipeline; the second section is scheduled to have a 1.25 million bbl/d capacity.

4. The possibility of natural gas pipelines through Syria to alleviate potential shortages in Europe and elsewhere is contentious.

Russia currently is a major exporter of natural gas to Europe. It would like to keep natural gas prices as high as possible because of the high cost of its natural gas extraction, and because of the high cost of building new pipelines. Russia does not necessarily welcome new natural gas production from, for example, Qatar or Israel, carried by pipeline through Syria. Such new supply might reduce natural gas prices in Europe, either because of oversupply or because the other natural gas sources have a lower cost of extraction and transport.

If new pipelines are built through Syria, there are several countries that might theoretically ship natural gas through such pipelines, and there is considerable rivalry among these countries. For example, Israel and Iran are rivals as to which country might export natural gas to Europe. Also, as noted above, there is a possibility that natural gas from Iraq could be exported through Syria to the international market, if suitable pipelines were built. There is even theoretically a possibility that natural gas from Turkmenistan could be exported by pipeline through Iran, Iraq and Syria, cutting out Russia (and the profits it receives in buying, transporting and selling this gas).

It should be noted that even though many countries have their sights set on exporting natural gas to Europe and other parts of the world that need natural gas, it is not at all clear that this additional transport of natural gas will work out as planned. We have known for a long time about a large amount of “stranded” natural gas–gas that is theoretically available, but it simply too expensive to extract and ship to locations where it might be purchased. The limits on how much natural gas will be consumed are financial–how much can consumers really afford.

The affordability issue is clear if we think about a family in India, living on $2 a day, deciding whether to burn animal dung or compressed natural gas for cooking. If the price of natural gas is high, the family in India will choose to burn dung. A similar issue arises for a pensioner in the UK, deciding to what temperature to heat his home. It also arises for an electric power plant in Germany, deciding whether to burn natural gas or coal. If the cost of natural gas is too high, demand is likely to shift to cheaper fuels, or to disappear through alternative behavior–for example, wearing long underwear to keep warm in winter, instead of heating homes as warmly as today.

5. Need for America to prove its might, to maintain the US dollar’s reserve currency status.

Without the reserve currency status of the US dollar, America cannot continue to run a big balance of payment deficit importing large quantities of oil. This is important, because the world’s total oil supply is not growing much (Figure 7), regardless of price. If America is forced to consume less, more oil will be available for the rest of the world.


Because of its oil depletion, Syria will remain a problem country, regardless of whether the US decides to intervene militarily. Removing Assad as leader of Syria cannot be expected to solve Syria’s problems. Even if oil deletion were not the major issue, US’s recent experience in Libya suggests that removing a leader does not guarantee future stability. Associated Press reports this week, Libya’s oil exports plunge as problems escalate.

Some may argue that Syria has other gas and oil that it can exploit, and because of this, its depletion problems are only temporary. In particular, the EIA report on Syria notes that there are both shale oil resources in Syria and natural gas resources offshore that Syria might develop. In my view, there are several reasons that this optimism is unwarranted. As a practical matter, even if there were peace and plenty of investment capital, developing these resources would take several years. During this period, other countries would need to donate enough resources to keep the population pacified. Can this really be done, especially if other countries are reaching limits themselves?

Furthermore, it is not at all clear that extraction of oil from shale can really be  developed profitably. No one outside North America has yet figured out how to do so.  The US has laws and pipeline infrastructure that are different from elsewhere that help make shale development possible at reasonable cost. Available credit and low interest rates are also helpful.  The US also has abundant water resources, and population that is not too dense, so that fracking is less of an issue than it would be elsewhere. A recent Wall Street Journal article talks about the difficulty China is having trying to extract hydrocarbons from shale.

There is also the question I mentioned above with respect to the economic feasibility of new natural gas resources. If the cost is too high, the cost may simply be too high for buyers. Furthermore, if buyers find a need to cut back on other expenditures to purchase gas products (or for that matter, high-priced oil products), they are likely to cut back in the purchase of other discretionary items. Layoffs are likely to occur in discretionary sectors, leading to recession and reduced demand through fewer jobs. Thus, one way or another, a reduction in demand is likely to occur.

Egypt and Syria are not the only countries in the area with oil depletion problems. Yemen’s oil chart of oil production and exports (Figure 8) looks very much like that of Syria and Egypt.

Figure 8. Yemen oil production and consumption, based on US Energy Information Administration data.

Figure 8. Yemen oil production and consumption, based on US Energy Information Administration data.

Saudi Arabia may even be reaching limits on its extraction capability. It recently is reporting refocusing on unconventional resources, something it would not do if conventional oil were performing well. Saudi Arabia is also using a greater number of drilling rigs, reported to be necessary because of the increasing difficulty of extracting oil from mature fields.

If oil depletion is becoming an increasing problem, I am afraid we can expect increasing conflict in the Middle East, regardless of whether the US chooses to intervene in Syria because of increased oil depletion.  A shortfall in one country can ripple to the next country, and on to the next country, as exports are reduced, and as civil unrest spreads.

It is easy to blame bad leaders for the problem, or a bad form of government. Much of the problem, however, is simply not having enough oil resources to go around for the size of population the world has today. We can kid ourselves about additional oil and natural gas resources being available, but these very much depend on the ability of buyers to pay higher prices, without excessive recessionary impacts.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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236 Responses to Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict

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  4. ravinathan says:

    Here is an ecologist who sees no limits to the size of human populations! Technology and appropriate societal structures are all that is needed according to him. No mention of oil limits and pollution is only a result of poor societal choices. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/opinion/overpopulation-is-not-the-problem.html

  5. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    Here is an analogy that occurred to me today as I read Albert Bates blog on Post Peak Oil Reflections


    ‘We really should be learning to grow food and do all the things we spoke of in that 2006 book, but we are not being compelled by either the current economy or our mainstream cultural narrative to do that…. We observe the prices paid by courageous self-sacrificers — the pioneers who go off grid and focus on sustainable homesteading — you know, isolation, giving up creature comforts, having to struggle to learn and adapt to the change. Spending more to put up homegrown preserves than to buy cheap canned goods. The transition cost is daunting, and not entirely in economic terms. Pioneers need to give up a lot of comforts before the rest of us have to, and that is a real deterrent for others contemplating taking the leap. Denial and procrastination is so much easier.’

    I think our situation is somewhat like that of the three gold miners in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, John Huston’s film from 1948. The miners find gold, but none of them get back to civilization to enjoy spending it. In fact, nobody gets it…except the desert.

    Most of us are up in the champagne glass part of the distribution with incomes many, many multiples of the sixty percent of humanity down in the stem of the glass. Our problem is to somehow get through what we can perceive is coming, to a safe haven on the other side, so we can enjoy what we think we have (which is mostly promises to pay). We don’t want to just go back to the farm in Ohio (like one of the Sierra Madre characters) and we don’t want to keep wandering around looking for gold and, perhaps, happiness, and we certainly don’t want to live like Mexican peasants. But dangers beset us on all sides: fights among ourselves; struggles with the desert; fights with bandits; and insanity induced by the dread of loss.

    Will any of us make it back to Tampico?

    Don Stewart
    PS I have chosen a ‘sensible middle path’ or ‘a spineless, gutless strategy’ or ‘an exercise in self-deception’ or….(fill in the blank). I don’t homestead, but I do grow quite a bit of food. I haven’t moved out of my unsuitable neighborhood. I haven’t cashed in all my promises-to-pay and invested them in real assets such as solar panels or farmland. I am not off-grid, but I don’t use electric clothes dryers, either. I increasingly use fermentation as a food preservation technique. I get older every day, so I am approaching a certain intersection on the graph which will make my worries disappear.

    • xabier says:


      There are pioneers, and then there is the Forlorn Hope, that brave band of condemned soldiers in the old wars, who went ahead and took the bullets and thrusts for the glory of it ………..
      The middle way looks to be the best option for most of us.

      May I take the liberty of wishing many more healthy years to you yet, Sir!

    • Hello Don and all,

      I’m not a homesteader, more of an urban farmer who lives in the country. My grandparents were “real” farmers and I would not be so arrogant as to use that tittle; as if I even compare. But looking at what I’ve accomplished this summer, I would have to say I’m fairly pleased. The Indiana spring and early summer brought glorious weather, so much nicer than what we’ve had for several years. My garden has been bountiful this summer, even though we have had a mini drought since the end of June. My tomato plants could have produced until the frost in October but I’ve canned all we need so I stopped watering the vines and am letting the rest go to the pigs and chickens.

      My tally for canned goods this summer is:
      52 pints of jam
      20 quarts peach butter
      12 quarts apple/pear butter
      90 quarts tomatoes (plain sauce, whole tomatoes, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, sauce w/ peppers).
      12 quarts of pickles (I still had a lot left from last year).

      I’ve harvested and dried lots of herbs, filled the freezer with duck meat, frozen pesto, sweet peppers, apples, and pears. Soon it is time to plant lettuce and spinach in the greenhouse for the winter. Each month has its own food, its own set of chores. Once the rhythm is established it all seems to just flow.

      I’ve refilled my shelves with dried beans, peas, lentils, rice, and flour we need for another year. Knowing how to cook with these simple, whole foods is not only healthier and more economical it is enormously satisfying to me. This week I started baking bread again, as I do every year once we get past summer and canning season. My boys came home from school and whooped out loud when the smell hit them. I always enjoy that sound and the look on their faces. My mother was a very good baker and I seem to have inherited her knack. There is nothing so tasty as homemade bread and homemade jam.

      I suppose some people procrastinate in making this transition, believing that they need to but not finding the energy to do it, or knowing where to start. For me the transition has been easy. Chores like hanging clothes out on the line on a sunny day is just a good excuse to be outside and enjoying the pleasant weather. And taking them off the line and folding them allows me to smell the ‘sunshine’. Nothing smells better than line dried clothes! Washing dishes by hand, cooking, just time I enjoy being in the kitchen, when nothing else demands my time, just time to think.

      Maybe somewhere deep in our genetic coding we still feel relief when the harvest is good, when the hard work is over and soon we can rest in winter. We feel secure knowing we have food ‘put up’ for the winter. We don’t have to be a doomer or a preper to enjoy that feeling.

      I suppose when I started doing this more seriously I was motivated by fear of peak oil and economic collapse. But I can honestly say that I enjoy my lifestyle now and wouldn’t change back. I’m so fortunate that I have learned to live this way while we still have a functioning economy, that my husband has a good job, that my business has been successful enough to allow me to stay at home. I can still go to the grocery store if I don’t have enough of something. The roads are still good and we can afford to drive 20 miles to visit friends. But at the end of the day, I’m not doing this because I’m afraid of what might come tomorrow, I’m living exactly as I want to live. I suppose that makes me even more fortunate. Not many people can say they are living just as they want to live. But I suspect that if more people made this transition to simple, slow food, low-stress living they might feel the way I do.

      As I sit out on the deck at night, watching the big orange harvest moon rise, smelling the smoke from the fire, listening to the crackle of logs burning, I think about my ancestors and how they celebrated the harvest at the end of the season. They knew that a bad year could mean starvation and so they were very grateful when they were blessed with good crops. We modern humans have made living so complicated, sometime we forget to be thankful for simply living.

      I appreciate when the heat of July and August finally breaks in September and the evenings get cool. A loud thunderstorm bringing fall rain not a tornado. Sleeping with the windows open and listening to the hoot owl in the woods near our home. Nights getting cold enough that an extra quilt feels good and soon the warmth of that first fire in the wood stove.

      I look forward to the changing of the seasons; the things that define them as they come and go. Life passes yet life remains. Sometimes moments are filled with joy, sometimes sadness. Living full, just accepting what comes and being thankful to wake up to another day. This is what I find gives meaning to my days.

      best regards,

      • Scott says:

        Hello Jody, Well I cannot think of a better way to handle things right now as you are doing. It sounds like you had a productive summer and are looking forward to a quiet winter by the fire.
        What more can one do given our circumstances?

        The winter here gives us time to reflect, read and research and cook if you are lucky enough to be at home retired instead of being out there fighting the elements.

        Here in Oregon we got several cords of wood pulled in and more outside under tarps, getting ready for winter and hoping all will be well for yet another season. We dried some corn and veggies that will boil in the soup pot this winter on the wood stove too. The nights are getting colder and the days are getting shorter and fall is in the air.

        Have a nice fall.


        • Hi Scott,
          We have about 2 cords of wood ready to move onto racks in the garage. Another two cords waiting to be split, next years wood. Yes, I am tired from my summer’s work. It’s funny how energetic we feel in the spring, and how tired we feel in the fall. Maybe we are not that different from plants! Sunshine makes us happy, cloudy days makes us depressed. High energy in the spring, low energy in the fall.
          take care,

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Well Jody, if your bakings and jams are as scrumptuous as your writings, then mankind doesn’t know what it’s missing.
        Cheers, Chris

  6. Chris Johnson says:

    Exxon-Mobil Touting Nuclear Power

    Yep. A senior ‘strategic planning executive’ of that august corporation warned the world that it would need to double nuclear power output by the year 2040.

  7. timl2k11 says:

    Gail, I just had a thought gail while reading through some comments on another blog. If you can afford a solar array, wouldn’t it be wise to install one now to protect yourself from future reliability and price disruptions of the electrical grid in the future? And if you can afford an electric car and enough solar arrays to power it, isn’t that even more protection (in this case from petrol disruptions and price spikes)?

    • I am not very interested in buying electric panels to connect to the grid. Electric companies do not save nearly as much in their costs (maybe 4 cents kWh), as they give you in credit for electricity you produce (often 12 cents kWh or more). So if you put electric panels on the grid, you are weakening the finances of the electric grid, putting it at risk of failing sooner. Thus, if I am choosing my actions to benefit society, and helping the grid last longer, I would not buy electric panels to put on the grid. The one exception might be is if there is a good sized “capacity charge” so that electric companies are not harmed by having them in their grid. There might also be some special situations, as in Hawaii, where the cost of generation is terribly high because it is mostly oil, or where the grid is short of summer daytime capacity (California ?), where there would be greater justification for adding solar panels.

      If I bought a solar panel or two, it would be one or two panels that are not grid tied. Such panels might, for example, be used to pumping water. But since this is not a solution for the long term (at some point the pump will fail, if nothing else), it raises the question of whether I would take the necessary steps soon enough to work around this problem. Having the solar panel might lead to bad long-term decision making. Thus, even when used to power an electric pump, I am not convinced that everyone will necessarily want them.

      • Scott says:

        Hello I agree Gail, A few PV Panels and some a few batteries hooked up in series, you can buy as many as you can afford, but then a power inverter, perhaps strong enough to run a small fridge, but you know this is going to be tough if we have to depend on these camping like units,

        Just a what if Rant about the fridge… We store our food there and they are great. But… in emergency –
        May I instead suggest getting some salt to dry your meat? As this will become the way again just like it was hundreds of years ago. If the power is out, to hell with the Fridge! Dry and smoke your foods again just like the old days.

        I value my fridge as long as it is running and I know how much power they take to keep them going. The Fridge is something we take for granted – which is something our forefathers did not have and we may not soon have if we have power shortages. Your PV power and batteries will be completely taxed to run your fridge if even possible, you may find a better use for your daily battery charge from your PV system like pumping some water.


      • timl2k11 says:

        I didn’t mean you specifically, although you do bring up some interesting points from a personal perspective. I should have phrased it “If one can afford solar arrays”. I was thinking more along the lines of “insurance”. Grid goes down or becomes unreliable, or prices shoot up, you go off-grid and rely on solar. I would probably behoove me to do a little more research on PV and see how much power can be feasibly generated from a practically sized solar array and what things would be feasible to run off of that power.
        Definitely a good point about PV users weakening the position of the electric company and the grid. I don’t know where you get your numbers on what it costs electric companies, but if correct not only are people using arrays being subsidized by the government, but by power companies as well! I find that unconscionable.

        • ravinathan says:

          I am one of the ‘unconscionable’ ones. As an early retiree with a small nest egg, I realized that government has created severe incentives and disincentives for retirees. ‘Safe’ assets such as treasury bonds and insured cd’s are severely dis incentivized while stock speculation is strongly supported by money printing and cheap margin credit. Solar pv on the other hand is eligible for both federal and state credits here in PA. Even after including a battery backup to power the well pump, fridge etc., the IRR is easily in the double digits. So what’s a retiree to do relative to other dis incentivized.safe assets? These are the hard choices that the government provides. An excellent choice if one is against pv’s on principle is the ground source heat pump (geothermal) systems that have an even on better financial return in addition to providing ‘free’ hot water in summer. If you need to replace your current HVAV system in the near future, this is a no brainer.

          • ravinathan,
            We have installed both solar pv and ground source heat pump (geothermal). We love our system. Cooling with GSHP is a dream. Heating is less comfortable, but a wood stove supplements this and gives us the extra warmth that is comfortable. Our utility bills are $10 a month, which we pay to the power company even if we don’t use any electricity. I figure this about covers our share of maintenance on the lines. Low utility bills will make retirement much easier. No worries about the cost of propane in a cold winter. The choice of investing in our home or investing in the stock market was a no-brainer. We’ve continued to put some money in 401K, but I am doubtful it will be there when we need it.

  8. Edwin Pell says:

    It is not that everyone in China and India will buy a car. First they will buy a motor scooter (gas or electric).

    Ed Pell

    • Even that is enough to add a lot to world oil demand.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Right, Gail. Also, China and India account for about 40% of total population. There is another 20-30% of the populations of ’emerging economies’ to add to that. If we then have 85% of humanity on wheels, is there enough oil to supply that demand? I kinda think the only one potential solution is electric vehicles. But as we noted previously, EVs are still in their extended development stage and will not account for 1% of total vehicles sold in a given year for at least another 4 – 5 years. So until then, we gotta drill a bit.

        • Trains, planes, automobiles—they cloud the issue
          what humanity is in fact doing is using fossil fuels to deny that gravity has any relevance to human society

          • Chris Johnson says:

            You would agree, I believe, that mankind has extensive training and practice such self-delusion. As one trained via the taxpayer’s dollar to manipulate heavier than air vehicles through the air, I have a great deal of respect for gravity. The aviator’s penultimate fears occur when he/she runs out of altitude, airspeed and ideas, with the runway behind and nothing good in front. But is humanity even aware? And if aware, willing to do anything but pour another drink?

        • Scott says:

          Hello Chris, here is something I found about poverty in the USA.



          • Chris Johnson says:

            Thank you, Scott. That’s a very informative article and chart. Many questions emerge, including whether or not those stats are trustworthy. Goodness knows the government bureaucrats lie about everything else, from the price of milk to the number of telephone intercepts NSA got last week. And of course among the other aspects of the ‘War on Poverty’ is that anything that USG declares war on (drugs, terrorism, etc.) often ends up winning because government bureaucrats really are not that interested in fixing something well enought that they could be out of a job…
            Again, thanks amigo.

            • Scott says:

              Hello, Yes Chris I a agree the poverty numbers in the US are likely worse than the article portrayed, perhaps they did not count those that have given up looking for work. It is hard to trust any government numbers these days and I am sure that is a challenge for Gail too, that is to know which reports are trustworthy. Interesting topic and pertinent.

              Kind Regards,

  9. Ravinathan says:

    Another nail in industrial civilization’s coffin as described by namesake Gail of the blog Wit’s End who has been documenting and describing the death of trees worldwide from ground level ozone pollution, a phenomenon that hasn’t even been mentioned by permaculturists which only goes to show how out of touch with reality they are. This blogger has a unique and wonderful writing style as she methodically describes yet another limit; the inability of plant life to cope with pollution resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Well worth following.

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  11. timl2k11 says:

    Hank Paulson on Bloomberg today calling the Financial crisis a “100 year storm”. What a joke. Seems like a smart, well intentioned guy somehow completely divorced from reality. He is in his own little “reality bubble”.

  12. Phil says:

    Economic and population growth fuelled by the drawdown of nonrenewable natural resources inevitably leads to crisis.

    Catton had this one nailed back in 1980.

  13. Timothy says:

    I prefer Gail’s ‘No nonsense’ writing approach. While I do also enjoy some of the more antagonistic, mud slinging commentary like Kunstler, et al, it is nice to get an unbiased, logical approach and Gail provides that with flying colors. Thanks Gail.

  14. tmsr says:

    No matter what system, no matter how clever or efficient can support an infinite number of people on earth. So, the population will be limited. It is only a question of how the limit will be imposed. By mother nature the traditional starvation, war, disease, and pollution or by some system imposed by the government. Survival of the rich and starvation of the poor I would place under a system imposed by the government.

    Ed Pell

    • Timothy says:

      I agree, and I also think it should be left up to nature. It is the only ‘fair’ method I can imagine. Up until the large scale exploitation, nature was the limiting factor in population. Infant mortality, resource availability, disease, etc.

    • Actually, if we look at other species, the way nature handles too much population is through natural selection. Part of this is hierarchical behavior–starving out those at the bottom of the hierarchy, while those at the top do well. If all were treated equally, all would starve, leaving no survivors. So as bad as this seems, this is also part of nature’s way. Maybe the rich aren’t the ones who will end up on the top of the hierarchy, but I wouldn’t count on it. I expect the poor will disproportionately be the ones who are so weak as to succumb to diseases, for example.

      • xabier says:

        Hierarchies work out in all sorts of ways: I’ve just been reading the diary of the Irish servant (a gamekeeper) to English aristocrats in the early 19th century. It could be hard: one of them used him as an umbrella when it rained! His masters would provide good food for themselves when out shooting , and forget to feed him. If they offered him a tip or some food, he was almost moved to tears by their ‘ noble generosity’ And they were ‘good’ masters, many were worse. But servants often found ways to cheat their employers. And suppliers like tradesmen. In many ways, not ery much worse than the corporate world as far as I’ve observed it!

        But what struck me most was the high mortality among even the rich: very common to lose children of both sexes in their 20’s to TB or ‘a sudden fever’ and cholera. And of course death during or after childbirth. Now these people were very well housed, clothed and fed, rode for exercise, very rich indeed and took the best for themselves. Their school experience was quite brutal, sent away from home very young.

        So, often a short life for both classes, but quite right to say the lower down you were, the emptier the stomach…….


        • Chris Johnson says:

          Are you implying that the infection or illness rate — until modern health and medicine — was a significant depressant on population growth? I don’t know that I have heard that argument before, but it probably needs exploring by knowledgeable researchers. Surely we’ve cited medical improvement input to 20th Century growth in Africa and Asia; I’m just not sure about Europe.

          • Scott says:

            Hello, Well it is certainly true that we did die earlier in the older days. In the 1800’s most men did not see age 50 or even 45 then and now most of us make it close to 70 or more. I have heard it was partly due to the extreme stress and work in the old days. Country dwellers most likely worked pretty hard then and the wild west men did not live that long, but city dwellers may have been more exposed to diseases so I am not sure if they lived longer back then or not.

            Disease surely played a roll, but I think many of our illnesses today are brought upon us by the food system we have now and the processed foods and foods grown in today’s poor soils with chemicals.


          • timl2k11 says:

            Black death?

        • Thanks! There was a reason people had several children back then–many would not live to maturity.

          Even stories I have heard from 1910s and 1920s in this country indicated a much higher death rate than we have now. Many young women dying in childbirth, and high death rates from influenza.

          In parts of the world, babies aren’t officially named until their first birthday–the mortality rate among infants is so high.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail and Especially Scott
            In the olden days children and women in childbirth died disproportionately. I have seen the first mortality tables published from a study in Europe and people who reached middle age had roughly the health span expectancy we have now. Modern medicine and public health measures have greatly reduced the mortality in children and childbirth, but we have fostered an epidemic of chronic disease. For example, most doctors in the 1920s had never seen a patient with heart disease. When Chou-en-Lai was stricken with Cancer in China in the 1960s, most Chinese didn’t know anyone who had cancer. While there are doubtless multiple reasons for the rise of chronic disease, here is one explanation:

            and the closely related

            You will see that glutathione is essential to the completion of the antioxidant process in our body, that two genes are particularly involved, and that many people are lacking one of the genes. Apparently, natural selection has not been strongly motivated to select for the optimum genetic makeup…because the natural environment has few toxins. Nature doesn’t produce pollution. The waste products of one creature are food for another creature. The industrial human’s ability to produce long-lasting pollution is one explanatory thread in the story of the rise of chronic disease, as described in the articles.

            Don Stewart

            • jcl64 says:

              While we certainly live in a more toxic environment, the life expectancy of an average person has also grown a lot these past 200 years, almost doubled. No doubt the fact that you live longer will raise the chances of dying from some new set of ailments that people never died of before (many died of a bad cold before). A major new environmental disease is asthma and allergies which have just shot up immensely in the western world – and must be directly related to industrial civilization. It might be related to something around us every day that we don’t consider a problem. Much like we know that NOX from diesel is really bad for Asthma but in the face of economic growth there is not enough incentive to just ban diesel because is “uncertain” what effect it will have compared to the loss of the main transportation fuel in big business. We trade our health for money. For what we know, even the higher concentration of CO2 might be affecting us in some odd way we dont understand – after all no human being has endured a 100ppm (40% more) rapid shift in concentration in the atmosphere in such a short time (this is just speculation so don’t weigh to much on this theory). This is why we often say allergies is an “environmental” disease – we are basically reacting to how the air and pollution around us is right now – obviously something bad is happening on a microbiological level to our organism. Perhaps its just as simple as a collapse in an important germ that we have lived in symbiosis with for a long time because our food is full of preservatives or whatnot. In the face of profit I doubt we can take the testing of these additives very seriously, as it isn’t about being sure anymore – its about trying to make something that can artificially pump up the profits from a product by making it cheaper to manufacture or store.

              Although there is also an interesting side effect to the medical revolution which you pointed out – natural selection is no longer the driver of evolution. Many people can live a very long life even with a critical disease that would naturally have killed them off perhaps even before they had a chance to have their own children if we rewind the clock 100 years. We are controlling our species in ways which we do not comprehend yet, breeding people with diseases that evolution has been so good at keeping at bay. I know this sounds terrible, and I certainly feel for people with chronic diseases (I have allergies myself and my daughter has asthma) – but the rules of life for this one species has completely changed in 100 years. The same species is also not able to see the effects our “forever young” mentality has to the planet as well.

      • Danny says:

        I am sorry to say you look at this predicament in a very child like manner. There are a lot of guns in this country and a very rebellious spirit. I think it is very naive to think a rich person would be “safe” and the hierarchy would continue as it is…….bloody fighting would in sue in this country and it would touch and every house…The rich may even become targets . Picture a rich plantation owner in say Atlanta before the civil war and then after the civil war. Were they still rich? That is what will happen if the system crashes. When the ship sinks we are all in the same water and your past position may not help you swim! I think if people want to continue this system of inequality into the future it might be at the cost of many lives including their own.

        • You may very well be right. Writing about possible violence isn’t my forte.

          • Danny says:

            I am sorry I did not mean to imply only violence. The point I was trying to make is that when you have a breakdown in structures you don’t know what the outcome will be. I have been hearing a lot of talk “that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. ” But that is only if the “system” holds and that in my opinion is a big if.
            Sometimes people on these sites often seem to lack empathy for others and be gleeful about the collapse about to happen; I don’t think they realize it could just as easily be them or their family that suffers terribly.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        While there is some truth in that view it is not the whole story. Some species evolve to work cooperatively and share thus ensuring more survivals not less survivals. This seems to be a trait of homo sapiens, a communal or social species, and I think we would find it true of other social species which live in colonies.

        However, this very trait is now working against us. Allowing us to increase population well past carrying capacity and to keep alive the very old and the very disabled at the cost of using up limited resources even faster. But yes, at the point of breakdown or collapse, those least fit to survive will die first. Almost no able person would starve themselves to feed a disabled person if things became very desperate. Indeed, it would be absurd and perverse to do so. Viable young might be depending on that able person.

        • I expect dealing with the old and disabled will be a difficult change to make. Years back, and in poorer societies, people would let a disabled child die, rather than raise it to adulthood, to be a lifelong burden to someone. Now, there is an expectation that we will take care of allow every disabled child as long as possible. We provide care for the elderly that goes beyond what is reasonable. (My father-in-law had brain surgery when he was 86 years old–my mother-in-law wanted it.) With current expectations, it is very hard to say, “No,” to medical treatment, even for the very elderly.

        • Humankind lives by the tribe, not the ‘colony’. There is a difference
          We have evolved a system whereby a tribe that gets too big splits off and goes in search of fresh resources. That was the way we walked out of Africa over millennia.
          Over time, those tribes that split began to speak different languages or worship different gods, and eventually fight each other.
          Any survival factor is linked to their own tribe, there is no concern for other tribes
          We are seeing this in the middle east right now, where semitic peoples see themselves as ‘different’, and somehow following the ‘righteousness’ of their form of worship, and despite being genetically identical, there is a ‘certainty’ that other tribes are somehow a lesser people. This concept is promoted to foster superiority and justify atrocity and warfare. In WW2, the term ‘Unter menschen’ was used for that exact purpose and wide effect. In Sudan, war has been ongoing for years between the lighter skinned northern people and the dark skinned southerners. Each thinks the other is somehow inferior.
          The British empire was created on the same theory, as was the American empire of western expansion. As were many others. We are all guilty of it.
          The common purpose of course is fighting over resources, in whatever form that might take.

          • The differentiation of one tribe from another is very closely tied to the territoriality in K-selected species, such as dogs and primates. (Humans are also K-selected species.) A male animal marks off a territory that is larger than he needs to get his food from, for himself and his “tribe”. This is a way of preventing eating too much of the prey in that territory — what researchers now call tragedy of the commons, when many from the same species attempt to get food from the same area and gather too many prey (for fish the stock out of lakes and oceans).

            It seems to me that different religions are really are really an instinctual way of carrying out this necessary function, when population gets too high. We can blame the religions, but the real root cause is too high population relative to the resources. Besides religions uniting tribes, we have other belief systems that help carry out this role, such as capitalism vs communism and other ways of organizing society and extreme political parties.

  15. Edwin Pell says:

    I am reading a SciFi book “The Departure” by Neal Asher. It is about the near future as resources run out and the world government’s reactions. Bleak but seems realistic.

  16. Nadezhda Rojas says:

    Gail, I am interested in knowing the figures for oil (hydrocarbons) production and consumption for Colombia. Months ago I read your post where you compared consumption and production for different countries and their current situation, but I can’t find that info source you mentioned in that post. Could you give me an idea/link where I can obtain tjat info for Colombia?
    Thank you and I find your posts very interesting and useful.

    • Columbia is doing quite well right recently with respect to oil and gas production. Columbia’s production dropped steeply between 1999 and 2005 then began rising in the last few years. According to Wikipedia, oil production was low for a while, because of unfriendly tax policies. I expect low oil prices between 1999 and 2004 were important as well. Now both oil and gas production are up, as are Columbia’s consumption of these hydrocarbons. (Natural gas consumption is up more than oil consumption.) This is a chart of Columbia’s oil production and consumption.

      Columbia's oil production and consumption

      For more images, including natural gas images, look at the Energy Export Data Browser. It is a handy reference.

      • Scott says:

        Hello, To bad more countries are not doing as well as Columbia. Most other countries charts look awful.


      • timl2k11 says:

        I just visited, and judging by the recent visitors map one can assume an awful lot of europeans are concerned about energy. The Eurozone produces no oil whatsoever and must currently import 3 billion barrels a year (plus a lot of gas and coal). I don’t see how this is sustainable. Back of napkin calculation suggests they are importing half a trillion USD in energy a year.

        • No wonder Europe makes all of its pronouncements, supposedly related to Climate Change. A person suspects that a major reason that they want people to drive smaller more fuel efficient cars, and use less fossil fuel in factories, is because they cannot afford the imports. It really has little relationship to the world’s production of carbon dioxide. China and the rest of Asia will still make the products, and it will be the products that are imported, rather than the fuel–at least until the finances for importing the products runs out as well.

          • Ert says:

            Yes, that’s – also in my opinion – the deal behind all this renewable and climate saving CO2 stuff within the EU.

            But no one officially say so. Energy security and availability as a problem is not a topic that is discussed! When you look to the building codes you geht the additional picture: Saving of energy big time is the news.

            Even very old buildings in Germany hat to be renovated to the end of 2011 on the roof / top floor to match the Energy Building Code of 2009 (<0,24 W/m²K) when they where rented. Note: 0,24 W/m²K is approx 16cm (6,5 inches) of high performance insolation at your roof!

            We speak abount the minimum mandatory insulation for every rented building in Germany! Everything that is build from 2009 on has this as minimum for all walls. And the building codes get stricter all the time. From 2018 on all public buildings must be ZERO net heating-energy and from 2021 all new buildings!

            Someone knows whats coming…

  17. policycritic says:

    Deepwater Horizon was drilled to a depth of 35,055 ft, or 6.64 miles, in the Gulf off of Houston. it was not borne of “fossil fuel.” No biologic molecule can exist at a temperature higher that the critical temperature of salt water (somewhere around 384 C). The critical temperature of salt water is reached at a depth of 3 to 5 km [1.86 to 3.12 miles], depending on whether you’re in a continental or marine environment. So the notion that carbon (fossil) material at the depths of the mantle, which is where Deepwater Horizon was drilling, is of biologic origin has absolutely no meaning.

    Oil is not finite.

    Russia made oil **in the lab** with CaCO3 (Calcium Carbonate, a substance in the earth’s mantle) and solid iron oxide, wet with triple-distilled water brought up to the pressure of the earth’s mantle at around 35 kbars. They did the experiment specifically with CaCO3 because isotope tests showed CaCO3 was observed in carbonitite formations in the mantle, and the carbonitite formations are specific to the mantle, and therefore too deep for it to be of biologic origins.

    They used this knowledge to bring in the Dnieper-Donets Basin oil field in the most geologically barren area of Russia/Ukraine. The find was the size of the North slope of Alaska.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Fascinating; I look forward to reading more.
      Cheers, Chris

    • if oil is not finite, then by definition it must be in-finite
      which mean that we can go on using into infinity

      • policycritic says:

        Here are the research and scientific papers referenced by Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment. I realize the titles are in English but I don’t know if they have been translated from Russian to English. There are 4,000 Russian papers about this, 100s of monographs, and of course, their physical proof. Dr. J.F. Kenney is the American geologist who worked with the Russians. Kenney’s work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2003, I think.

        Incidentally, this is why Putin put Khordokovsky in jail in 2003 when he found out that Khordokovsky was going to sell this tech via the sale of Yukos Oil to Exxon after a talk with Cheney…and the west. Russia initially went to the early Clinton Admin after the fall of the USSR with this tech; it needed money. The sole Clinton energy/oil czar laughed at the Russians. Kenney describes this in one of his papers, or interviews.

        • The source of the oil really doesn’t matter. Unless this oil is being put in a location where we can extract it cheaply, it is of no help whatsoever. Under the salt layer isn’t helpful.

    • So you are claiming that some oil is not of biologic origin. I don’t think that makes any difference to my argument, even if what you say should turn out to be true. The number of atoms in the earth is finite, so the amount of abiotic oil is finite as well. It doesn’t matter what particular chemical process the oil comes from.

      The issue with oil extraction has to do with the cost of extraction, not the amount that is theoretically available as resources or reserves. We extract the least expensive to extract oil first. This is why we are now running out of inexpensive to extract oil, and gradually move on to the increasingly expensive oil.

      Resource triangle

      I have illustrated the situation with a triangle. We start at the top of the triangle, and gradually move downward. Resources at the top are cheap to extract–close to the market where they are to be used, easy to get out of the ground, no major political issues, etc. We gradually move down the triangle, and are able to extract relatively more as prices increase.

      At some point, the cost of extraction simply becomes too expensive for the whole process to work. Where this is is not necessarily obvious in advance. The benefit of oil to society is defined by the uses we can put it too. As the cost of extraction goes up, the difference between the cost of extracting the oil and the benefit to society becomes smaller and smaller. At some point, it becomes unaffordable. In order to keep extraction going, there are many parts of the system that need to keep operating, including education, roads, financial system, so the cut-off cost is not obvious. When the cost of oil is high, its high price sends oil importers into recession. If the recession brings price back down below the cost of extraction, that tends to cut off production, but also brings buyers back into the market. The situation can oscillate for a time, producing recessions (including the Great Recession). Eventually we seem likely to reach a financial collapse.

      See my post Oil Prices Lead to Hard Financial Limits.

    • timl2k11 says:

      “Deepwater Horizon was drilled to a depth of 35,055 ft, or 6.64 miles, in the Gulf off of Houston. it was not borne of “fossil fuel.” No biologic molecule can exist at a temperature higher that the critical temperature of salt water (somewhere around 384 C). The critical temperature of salt water is reached at a depth of 3 to 5 km [1.86 to 3.12 miles], depending on whether you’re in a continental or marine environment. So the notion that carbon (fossil) material at the depths of the mantle, which is where Deepwater Horizon was drilling, is of biologic origin has absolutely no meaning.

      Oil is not finite.”

      You only need to do some basic reading about the origins of crude oil to see your statement is contradictory with the facts. Just some very basic understanding of geology, biology, chemistry, and physics is all that is needed to understand the true origins of oil. It is wrongheaded to make such assertions with such limited knowledge from these fields. First oil is not a “biological molecule” it is a organic compound (hydrocarbon) of biological origin. Second the DH is was not drilling into the mantle, it was drilling into the oceanic crust. We do not have the technology to drill into the mantle which is several miles thick under the oceans and tens of miles thick under the continents. It is true you will find no hydrocarbons in the heat of the mantle. The depth of oil formations changes on geological timescales as plates rise and fall.
      There is no abiogenetic oil that is not man made and there is no process that can create hydrocarbons in the earth’s interior. You can get diamonds, but they take billions of years to form and are too scarce to provide much energy.
      The theory of abiogenic petroleum has been thoroughly debunked:


  18. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    Marco Maugeri’s argument today on Ugo Bardi’s site is related to the issues surrounding planning a garden or farm for a post Collapse society.

    Maugeri argues that we get a lot more electricity if we use fossil fuels to make solar PV systems than if we burn the fossil fuels to generate electricity. He doesn’t argue that solar PV has a high enough EROEI to power the world the way we have become accustomed to it. If one takes the position that the remaining fossil fuels are limited (either by climate change or depletion), then getting the most bang for our buck out of what remains is the key metric.

    The same thing holds true in gardening and farming. Take the earth-moving that Permaculturists like to do to manage water. There is no question that a uniformly-hydrated landscape can simply support a lot more biological activity than a landscape with mostly dry spots with wet spots in the lowlands. So pose the question this way:
    1. Option 1: Continue to use fossil fuels to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer and mine phosphate rock and produce pesticides and herbicides.
    2. Option 2: Divert a share of the fossil fuels to forming the earth in such a way that the soil is more uniformly hydrated. This will support the conversion of agriculture to a biological basis and allow the end of dependence on fossil fuels for fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides.

    Just as with solar PV, the second option makes a lot more sense. Notice that I haven’t made any claims about ‘how many people can it feed’…just that in a world of strictly limited fossil fuels, it is the best choice we have. Same as Maugeri’s claim for solar PV.

    The tricky part, of course, is the probable necessity for some sort of policy decision by clueless governments if we wish to move aggressively toward a Permaculture kind of food system. The ‘anarchism’ model doesn’t seem to be moving us fast enough.

    Don Stewart

    • yt75 says:

      Just a small remark, it isn’t Marco Maugeri but Marco Raugei.
      Did you mix him up with Leonardo Maugeri (famous for his shale gas and oil cheerleading) ?

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Gail
      I should probably also remark that hydrating the soil and increasing biological activity also increases carbon in the soil and decreases carbon in the atmosphere, lessening global warming. A complete analysis of the effects is beyond the scope of what I wanted to say here.

      Don Stewart

    • I think it you stopped to figure out the details, Your Option 2 would be quite expensive on a cost per acre basis. First, evaluation would be need to be made of a number of locations, to see which ones might be suitable for this treatment. Then land would need to be purchased, at fairly substantial cost. An expert would need to draw up regrading plans, and the land would need to be regraded. A (different?) expert would need to choose suitable plants, purchase them, and have them shipped to the location where the regrading was done. Since many of the plants would likely be perennials, many of the new plants would not be of fruit/nut bearing size for several years. Thus, there would be several years when the land would not be producing crops sufficient to feed those depending on the area.

      Because of the details involved, Option 2 might work for a few well-off families, but it seems like it would be really difficult to implement on a broad basis. If nothing else, we don’t have enough people with the appropriate expertise to oversee what needs to be done.

      • Don Stewart says:

        It all depends on certain particulars. If fossil fuels are going to crash soon, then industrial agriculture will also crash. Therefore, only those who have chosen biological agriculture (or those who can steal from those who have chosen biological agriculture) will survive. If fossil fuels last another 20 years, then we have, at least theoretically, a transition period open to us. Just as the writer I referenced did not suggest a sudden conversion to solar PV, neither do I hear anyone saying that a sudden conversion to biological agriculture is possible.

        It seems clear to me that IF fossil fuels are going to disappear in the next couple of decades, or maybe next year, then those who have arranged their lives to be dependent on biological farming and gardening stand a better chance than those who haven’t.

        I don’t expect governments to be able to reach any clear decisions. The future is inherently unsure, and change is painful for governments, so nothing much will happen. So what we will have is the continued slow spread of biological methods through anarchic personal decisions.

        If your predictions of imminent collapse come true, I think most people who are currently dependent on industrial agriculture will die. How can they survive when industrial agriculture has been built entirely on fossil fuels?

        If one owns land today, one faces the choice between hanging onto paper assets or spending some of those paper assets to secure the services of earth movers to make one’s land utilize all the water which falls on it or runs onto it. If there is a collapse, the paper assets will presumably become worthless. So it seems that the logical choice is to trade the paper assets for something real. Land which fully utilizes water seems like a very good real asset to have.

        And since relatively few people know or care about the issue, it isn’t extraordinarily expensive today to get the work done or get a competent designer to help. After Collapse, it will likely be too late.

        Investing some money and fossil fuels in solar PV today can produce electricity for another 30 years or so. But investing paper money today in land forming can yield increased biological productivity for hundreds of years. It all depends on how confident one is that the financial system and the fossil fuel industry will collapse and the time frame for the collapse. If one thinks collapse will take perhaps a hundred years or maybe never happen at all, then everything is different. It also depends on whether one wants to leave a legacy.

        Don Stewart

      • xabier says:

        Lack of expertise is an interesting point.

        Right now in Spain,Italy, Greece, (and let’s face it, the whole developed world) young people are graduating with qualifications for jobs that simply do not – and will not in any reasonable forecast – exist. Some for solid subjects that are now dead-ends due to the Great Depression, others in frivolous ones.

        A huge misallocation of resources.

        This suits the corrupted vested interests that dominate the education system: pay and pensions are fine for them (they think, wait until they retire!) and they do not on the whole, if truth be told, give a fig for the post-graduation prospects of their students.

        • In this country, an increasing number of state run colleges and universities have been added over the years. There is a gradual escalation in these schools–the start out as 2- year colleges; then they become 4 year colleges. They progress to “state universities”, and then add graduate programs– first Master’s degrees, then Ph. D. As they move up the levels, faculty are expected to spend an increasing amount of time doing research, and less of their time doing teaching. Whole new layers of administrators are added, for the major purpose of getting grant money to do research. (Thus, they are becoming less and less efficient, if their purpose is teaching.) A large amount of the research is of very little value–especially given the direction we are headed. Even if we were headed in the same direction we have been headed in the past, the research papers tend to be very limited in scope–there seems to be an emphasis on quantity, rather than truly figuring out what is new and unique. No one is figuring out how we can feed 7 billion without fossil fuels.

          • xabier says:


            And we should add that once many get tenure as lecturers, they just go through the motions until they retire….

          • timl2k11 says:

            This is the whole reason I got fed up with my college the University of South Florida. Incoming President Judy Genshaft when I first started working and going to school there took the focus away from teaching and turning USF into a “premier research university”. The old guard (the good teachers) hated her and weren’t afraid to say it. Well USF has gotten it’s research money and I have no doubt the teaching has suffered. “Construction is Progress!” was a sign I saw every day on my way to work. I hated it, I wanted to graffiti it. The idea was so absurd to me (and it was just propaganda). Now what used to be a sprawling open campus barely has an undeveloped acre on it.

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  21. Andrew Conru says:

    I’ve heard the argument often that the US and other major energy importing countries fight hard to gain influence in the middle east for their oil. I’ve read ( http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/world/middleeast/china-reaps-biggest-benefits-of-iraq-oil-boom.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 ) that most of Iraq’s oil is going to China even though the US has applied “influence” there. If there is no advantage to go to war “over oil”, then I would not expect such wars to happen. What am I missing here? Am I naive to believe that the middle eastern countries sell their oil fairly on the open market?

    • yt75 says:

      You forget the aspect that Iraqi oil is still traded in $, and that the overall security is more or less under the US for the region.
      Plus it isn’t so much about who gets the oil (this is still under market rules in many cases, although not all), but more whose coprorations get the contract.
      And for this Exxon is quite present in Iraq (Kurdistan part) especially I think.
      And in fact they did let go some contracts (in the center region), because the deals proposed by Bagdad were considered not good enough (so that now there is a major antagonism Iraqui Kurd Bagdad related to oil contracts).
      By the way, a nice map of Iraq oil and gas fields and infrastructure :
      (too bad it isn’t for the whole region …)

      • I don’t think any of the contracts are paying very well. I am not sure the contracts are a very great deal for Exxon or anyone else.

        • yt75 says:

          Not following that very closely, but understood Bagdhad was very tough on the terms so that IOCs (Exxon, BP, etc) got some direct deals with KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government), which angered Bagdhad even more … So that Exxon for instance sold its share to Petrochina in some fields under Bagdhad authority.
          Apparently changing a bit (but still the Kurdistan/Bagdhad split), for instance :
          or :
          For sure this isn’t the “seven sisters era” anymore …

          • Thanks for the links! I suppose with security getting worse and production already up to near export capacity, Iraq has to sweeten the pot, or companies will think, “This is probably not worth the bother.” It is hard to pump oil, if the infrastructure is not in place to transport the oil to a final destination, or if there are too many security issues for employees.

            • Scott says:

              Hello Gail and all, Yes do not forget how hostile the middle east is especially Iraq, not a place where humans should really live but they have adapted – my son who served over there in the war tells me what a difficult place it is for humans to exist.

              In nearby places like Saudi and Dubai, the modern cities with air conditioned glass towers, these modern cities have built western style homes in the desert and they will become hot houses without electricity, locals may want to seek out the old Desert Adobes but there will not be enough of them.

              There is really not much you can do to get water and escape the heat there, this and also other places like Vegas, Reno and Phoenix seem to be in the same boat. Not hospitable without lots of power. I think in Iraq, the power is out much of the day in Baghdad already.

              Best Regards,

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Concur with your concerns about China exploiting USA investments / sacrifices. Chinese businessmen and diplomats have no motivation except to win. You might be interested in Chinese mineral investments in Afghanistan, which the US Geological Service determined has some of the greatest deposits in lithium and other fairly rare, expensive resources in the world. The Chinese only want to monopolize their hold on Rare Earth Elements (REEs); what could possibly be wrong with that? But just think, they also are trying to corner the apple market (the kind you eat) globally, so they can buy the foreign orchards cheaper. And they’ll never tell you that the Chinese apples you eat were grown in poisoned environments. But does anyone complain?

      • xabier says:


        My apple tree, at least, is off limits, damn them!

        I shall watch out, though, for the Chinese graduate students who seem to be the sole occupants of my University’s graduate accommodation these days: maybe they will creep up via the hedgerows like the invasion of Normandy in 1944……

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Well, for what it’s worth, amigo, the Chinese are starting to run out of ideas and money. It’s not apparent yet, but you might enjoy reading very illuminating articles in The Economist for the last couple of weeks. Also, there’s a great article by Orville Schell, a prominent US China scholar, who asks “Why Is Xi Jinping and China So Nervous?” They’re kind of caught in a becalmed sea and don’t know what to do… So they do what they do best: publish absolutely incredible financial statistics that the analysts all drool over and keep the money flowing. In a few months they’ll publish some more statistics that will totally re-calculate this set, and again the analysts will smile and say thanks.
          But soon the axe may fall.
          Cheers, Chris

    • The part you are missing is the US’s status with having US dollar as the world’s “reserve currency”. Oil is priced in dollars. Almost anyone who wants to buy goods internationally (not just oil) has to use US dollars to facilitate the transaction. For reasons that are hard to explain, having the dollar as the world’s reserve currency allows the US to run up much bigger debts than other countries. (Most countries have to keep imports and exports roughly in balance, but the US can buy more imports than it sells in exports, allowing its citizens to have a higher standard of living than they can really pay for, based on the goods they produce.)

      All of this fighting helps maintain the status quo, with the dollar chosen to be the dominant currency, and the US able to spend beyond its income. (This sounds a little crazy, and it is. Sort of like King of the Mountain in grade school.) Thus, even if Iraq’s oil goes to China, maintaining the US dollar as reserve currency allows the US to run up big debts buying oil (and other goods) from someone, even if not Iraq. If the fighting increases the amount of oil on the world market, the US also benefits, even if it is not Iraqi oil it is buying.

      These are a few articles referring to the US dollar reserve currency status:


      According to the third article listed above,

      The average life-cycle of a strictly fiat currency throughout history is just 30 years, with a ceiling period of around 42 years. As of 2013, the dollar has reached that threshold since it was adopted in its current form in 1971, and in those 42 years of global dominance, destructive monetary polices by the central bank are quickly bringing its worldwide acceptance to an end. And with the Federal Reserve’s ongoing QE programs that promote money printing over resolving the enormous debt issues still hampering the U.S. economy, China appears ready to implement its next move in dethroning king dollar, by calling for a new Bretton Woods conference that would favor their currency to be the next world reserve.

      That would be a big “Oops!” The date of that article is August 5, 2013.

      • policycritic says:

        The writer of the third linked article makes a ridiculous claim, and his knowledge of history is appalling:

        “On Aug. 5, an official from the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), published an article in a leading Chinese market journal suggesting that now would be a good time to convene a new ‘Bretton Woods’ conference with the intention of creating and implementing a new gold backed reserve currency to replace the dying dollar.”

        (1) Yao Yudong of the PBoC’s monetary policy committee did not say what the writer claims.

        (2) China is not stupid and would never create a suicidal “gold backed reserve currency.”

        (3) The United States has had a fiat currency domestically since 1934–79 years–although the US only became monetarily sovereign on August 15, 1971 when it dropped the gold standard for international payments after Nixon discovered President de Gaulle trying to drain Fort Knox. The writer’s assertion that a fiat currency only lasts around 30 years is bogus. Benjamin Franklin introduced it in 1727 and continued it for five decades until the Bank of England imposed gold and silver as payments for taxes leading to the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party story, although a trigger, is a Hollywood invention with more dramatic flair.

        (4) Dying dollar? The Treasury Securities auctions dispute that ignorant assessment with gusto.

        Ms. Tverberg, I would suggest you read Frank N Newman’s “Freedom from the National Debt” published this last April. He was Deputy Secretary of the US Treasury. He describes the logic of our federal monetary system which none of the links you cite have the slightest grasp of. It’s short. 87 pages.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Dear Gail and policycritic:
          Please note carefully the list of characters who are calling for a new Bretton Woods deal:
          China – (PRC) – who never published a financial statistic in the same continent as reality.
          Russia – also known as the USSR in waiting, with a similarly vibrant economy.
          Iran – add your own comments
          Brazil? – Still looking to be the biggest kid on the South American block. But a kid…
          The IMF? – Right, they want IMF drawing rights to be the formal courtesy so their bureaucrats can run the world.
          Who else? The EU? That works…
          A few years ago, say 2010 or 2011, the Chinese just woke up to the fact that they could squeeze more money out of the global system if the the Yuan could become a reserve currency. But then they’d have to make it convertible globally, and they don’t want to do that because they’d lose control of investments in their sacred, poisoned and polluted and financially crumbling country (from which all the billionaires and millionaires are escaping to their islands in the Aegean).
          But the Chinese and the Iranians agreed to trade oil for gold, or some other currency.
          Of course, the Chinese are buying more oil from Iraq than they can get from Iran right now (I think it’s about two to one). And the Chinese are getting oil and gas from Putin.
          In summary, can a new Bretton Woods be held in the world today? I think not.

        • I will have to admit I did not look at those articles I linked to closely. I think too, that there are lot of areas where there is room for difference of opinion.

          There has been a long period of whispering about the US possibly losing the reserve currency status, but no any other currency that could really take its place. The EU with all of its problems could not take over as reserve currency, and nothing else is close to big enough. If there were some other currency that could take over, that would seem to be a possibility.

          The situation is certainly unstable. All fiat currencies are buying less and less, because it is taking an increasing number of dollars to extract a barrel of oil. In a sense, a barrel of oil is what is really of value. It is taking an increasing number of dollars (or any currency) to buy a barrel of oil, as it becomes more difficult to extract. Almost every country has issued debt and promised to repay it, but it is not really possible to repay it with the value that was borrowed, because of the inflating cost of a barrel of oil and thus the deflating value of the currencies.

          • ravinathan says:

            There is a global currency waiting in the wings andnthatnisnthe Special Drawing Rights or SDR’S issued by the IMF. The SDR’S are backed by a basket of international currencies and there is no reason why in the event of a crisis it cannot be backed by a basket of commodities with national currencies linked to it.

            • I haven’t looked into this. On the IMF Special Drawing Rights website, it says:

              The SDR is neither a currency, nor a claim on the IMF. Rather, it is a potential claim on the freely usable currencies of IMF members. Holders of SDRs can obtain these currencies in exchange for their SDRs in two ways: first, through the arrangement of voluntary exchanges between members; and second, by the IMF designating members with strong external positions to purchase SDRs from members with weak external positions. In addition to its role as a supplementary reserve asset, the SDR serves as the unit of account of the IMF and some other international organizations.

              The value of the IMF SDR is based on a basket consisting of the euro, Japanese yen, pound sterling, and U.S. dollar.

            • Scott says:

              Gail, They can come up with new currencies and usually it is as a result of a devaluation of the current currency and the net result is a loss to the people that hold the current money.

              I have not yet seen an SDR currency bill yet, but I am sure they could create one pretty fast if they needed to.

              Instead of hoping to trade my dollars or Euros etc for the new SDR Money later — For now, I would rather have a bit of gold and silver coins that will be tradable then and hopefully hold their value a bit better, gold and silver are low now and should be a safe investment in addition to more important things like a bit of food other tradable goods that you use anyway everyday


            • It sounds to me as if the SDR is based on four iffy currencies right now. It would need some fixing.

  22. Danny says:

    Hi Gail nice article! I just read JoulesBurn’s article on the oil drum and he is stating that SA will continue to be a big player for years to come. This almost sounds like BAU for the next 20 years or more?! I have a hard time not seeing huge problems in say 3 years. Am I missing something? As soon as shale production in the US starts to fall then we have a big problem and probably a big war on are hands.

    • Ikonoclast says:

      Yep, I can’t believe a few crises won’t break before 2020. I think Gail is right about MENA. The collapse has already begun there. The West is on a stagnating plateau and going sideways as they say. It might be another 10 or more years before the West’s descent into collapse becomes undeniable to all observers. The notion that China and India can complete their transition to first world status with an automobile for every former peasant (now middle class) is ludicrous beyond belief. There just aint nearly enough resources left for that to happen.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Concur in general, but we need to clarify the scenario. China, and to a lesser extent, India have lifted about half of their populations to ‘middle income status,’ and a smaller percentage to what westerners would recognize as ‘middle class’. But they are still far from either raising their entire populations up or implementing the kinds of social welfare programs that the rich world takes for granted. In fact, growth in the future is likely to be fairly flat for China and India. Several others — Brazil, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Vietnam — may climb the ladder, but unless the Rich world increases imports, the climbers may not get very high.

    • Different people look at things differently, and come to different conclusions. I believe JoulesBurn is looking more at “amount of oil in the ground / annual extraction rate = Number of years available”. This is the mistake a huge number of people make.

      There are a lot of different issues involved:
      (1) Likely financial collapses of big oil importing nations, if interest rates rise, because ultra low interest rates have been hiding a lot of problems–government’s inability to collect enough taxes from workers whose wages are stagnating to pay for the huge benefits planned; government’s continuing need to borrow; government’s inability to pay market interest rates; likely fall in home prices and stock market prices, without artificially low interest rates.
      (2) Continued uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, leading to increasing number of refugees, and crisis exported to other countries.
      (3) Saudi Arabia’s need for increased tax revenue going forward (and decreased tax revenue directly from Saudi Aramco), to pay for all of the new oil and gas investment, and to pay for all of the programs needed for a rising population. This includes desalination plants, to provide water because aquifers are depleting. It also includes imported food and food subsidies.

      It is these financial problems that will bring Saudi’s exports down. But this is not easy to see, just looking at barrels in the ground.

      • policycritic says:

        “Likely financial collapses of big oil importing nations, if interest rates rise, because ultra low interest rates have been hiding a lot of problems–government’s inability to collect enough taxes from workers whose wages are stagnating to pay for the huge benefits planned; government’s continuing need to borrow; government’s inability to pay market interest rates; likely fall in home prices and stock market prices, without artificially low interest rates.”

        Which governments, or nations, are you talking about?

        • I am thinking especially of the United States. But quantitative easing is being used elsewhere as well–Japan, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. So many large oil importers are using it.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          How much oil does China produce? But China is buying more automobiles than the USA. How much oil does India produce? India’s motor vehicle fleet is smaller, but still sizeable. Ditto everywhere there is any economic growth. The first thing newly enriched buy is an automobile.

  23. Ikonoclast says:

    I am not sure how much attention media in the US and Europe pay to Australia. Probably not much. Australia is not important in global terms. However, we have just had a national election which has returned a conservative government. Our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is a climate change sceptic and unlimited growth proponent. This new government is committed to repealing all laws we have which attempt to implement a carbon price. In addition, it is quite clear that our new government believes in endless growth and an infinite earth. Not that our previous government was really any better.

    Thus, at the 11th hour, we have nothing but denialism, especially the denial that the earth has finite resource limits. It almost seems to me that as we get closer to disaster, the more the denial of the dilemma grows. Even if solutions were technically possible or technically semi-possible in at least some areas, these will never be implemented. Denial will continute to the brink of the collapse cliff. Then it will be way too late to retrieve the situation.

    • If the world is headed toward collapse in the near term, I am not sure whatever policy put in place now will make any difference one way or another. Collapse will stop fossil fuel extraction–one doesn’t need government intervention to do it.

      The way carbon caps have been put in place most places basically doesn’t work. The carbon taxes make goods made with fossil fuels more expensive in the country where they are manufactured, encouraging people to buy imported goods (for example, from China) without the carbon tax. The imported goods are very often made with coal. The result is more coal use in developing countries, and fewer jobs locally. See my post Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work.

      Australia is unique with its huge amount of coal exports. I expect it needs these exports to pay for all of Australia’s oil imports. In an ideal world one could stop this trade, perhaps with a carbon tax, but Australia probably doesn’t want to be the first to collapse.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        If Australia was smart we would have stopped coal, uranium and natural gas exports to India, China etc. We could have replaced most oil imports with natural gas use by converting our fleet. We could have cut coal use with solar power and perhaps even nuclear power. Admittedly, setting up all this would have taken foresight and at least 20 years lead time. It’s too late now of course.

        But the point is, we had enough fuel to last 22 million people a relatively long time, possibly a few centuries. Why sell it all too soon? So a few coal barons can get rich I guess. Of course, hoarding it would have encouraged invaders but if we had given the US first and sole option on purchasing all energy sources we didn’t or couldn’t use ourselves, the US would have had a very good incentive to keep other invaders out of Australia.

  24. Leo Smith says:

    Another angle on this here. Gas pipelines.

    judge it on its merits


  25. Pingback: Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict | Our Finite World

  26. Concise, clear and ultimately disturbing. It could be added that as a Yugoslavia of the Middle East the different factions have plenty of reasons to in fight but as Egypt has demonstrated it actually comes down to a battle between the privileged and poor. It just happens that the elites of Syria happen to be cultural/religious minorities.

    As for predictions of the future- I’ll give it a shot – The break up into an Alawites coastal enclave, with Kurds to the North [disturbing for Turkey who don’t want to see a greater Kurdish nation] and what ever is left to the Sunni majority. And lots of refugees: what ever pans out poverty will cause mass migration- it is happening now. When food suppliers either become too expensive or through failed agriculture people are not simply going to curl up and die, they are going to migrate.

    I am at a loss to understand why main news outlets and governments are not addressing the issues [featured here and elsewhere] that if you have a population explosion with a growing youth [as in Egypt] driven by oil and cheap food then when both come to an end there will be problem.

    • jcl64 says:

      I believe a lot of common media houses are deliberately not connecting the dots of economic growth to the energy predicament. Either they are instructed not to or the news that get printed is just edited to be more “edible” by the public. The latter sounds very conspiracy-like so I generally just go with thinking the reporters are just stupid and living in an endless growth is possible as long as you have enough money kind of thinking.

      Here in Norway we just had the elections and a somewhat new-ish environmental party called MDG got their first mandate in government (a small step). They are very forward about telling stuff like, the oil adventure in Norway is soon over, and we need to keep hydrocarbons in the ground if we are to prevent disastrous climate change. They even want to forbid sales of fossil fuel cars to public transit to indicate that this is a very pressing matter. Naturally they didnt win the hearts of most voters with a 2,8% vote percentage, but still it means that a number of people in Norway even worry a bit about the future in both energy and environment. I do believe for every new year we will get more evidence for the changes of climate change and further energy shocks that will push the issue into media to connect the dots.

      • yt75 says:

        Yes, although sometimes you have docuentaries adressing the issue quite directly, and remember seeing one on Al Jazeerah (can’t find the link now), but below a doc on oil in Syria :
        Unrelated note : several Arabic speaking friends have told me that the “editorial line” of Al Jazeerah is now getting quite different between the Arab speaking edition and the English speaking one.(for instance on Egypt, the Arab speaking edition being much more pro Muslim brotherhood)

        • By the way, I fixed the link. It needs to start with www. on what you put in, the way I understand the “help” section. It appears on the screen with http://

      • xabier says:

        Do you feel that Norwegians will find it very hard now to wean themselves off the oil-based lifestyle? Such tough and self-reliant people in the past, has that been eroded by recent comfort and plenty? I suspect that Norwegians understand the link between oil and ease of life/welfare state better than, say, the British, French or Spanish: to them it’s just ‘modernity’.

        Like you, I don’t see so much of a grand conspiracy in the MSM, as lazy thinking and assumptions. Every age has its assumptions. Journalists are just human after all.

        • jcl64 says:

          Well, the Norwegian government has been quite clear in that the welfare of Norwegians cannot rely on oil income as the primary driver for the future as they put forth a future estimate that looked 50 years into the future. But the main focus was very much about pensions – after all the Norwegian oil fund is often called “the oil pension fund” – is basically trying to save up for the huge growth in pensions as the population ages. No doubt the fund wont last for very long as the oil income is dwindling away. Parties like MDG which are very focused on the environmental issues are very clear that even if you disregard the climate problem, there is still the issue of depletion and that Norway is betting too much of its future on one horse. We now have the money and means to change our own industry into something more forward looking – as its been a general problem that the oil business is vacuuming all the bright heads to their well paid jobs. Its also generally creating an inflated economy with house prices soaring like a classic bubble. Its clear that this Disney fairytale cant last for very long and in my eyes only MDG has been honest and clear about this. But the immediate benefit of pumping up oil and selling it now is really blinding the public with all the welfare it brings – hence we now have a new right wing government with Høyre and Frp which wants more privatization, roads, less tax and generally a direction towards USA kind of republican economics. So no, we are not very smart about it, as the elections clearly show – Norway is not ready to “save the world” and the general idea I get from people discussing this is that A) They think that the environmental problems are not serious – B) They think we can engineer ourselves out of trouble if it comes.

      • jcl64 says:

        A typo in the text there – MDG wants to prohibit sales of new fossil fueled cars for personal transport (not public). They generally want people to switch to either public transit or electrical cars, but most importantly they want people to travel less! They also want laws for product guarantees to last longer so that there is less crap being sold and we think more about longevity. They also want more people to consider growing their own food, or have access to land area to grow it. Ofc they want more local food being produced and less globalization in general. Its essentially all the environmental things put into one party – and one that has been steadily growing as I think more and more people are seeing the patterns being drawn with regards to climate change and conflict.

        I do wish that the media is more inquisitive though as they have a tendency to be very neutral about how they report stuff. So they can write about the Syria conflict in lenghts about Russia said that, Obama said that, Assad said that… while they rarely try to give a birds view of the problem and historical information (which is very well discussed in this thread) – including the problems of food and energy supply. The ones that do connect the dots towards energy and the environment – also understand that there is indeed limits to growth and the patterns to look for is really very easy to spot if you start looking. My hope is that the average Norwegian does wake up to this in the coming decade – while we still have resources and stability to prepare for changes.

        • xabier says:


          Thank you, very illuminating: Scandinavia is particularly badly-reported in general, so it’s valuable to have a closer view.

          It’s very unfortunate in modern democracies that one tends to end up with ‘the Environment Party’ and the rest not taking the issue seriously, or even dismissing it as inaccurate.

    • xabier says:


      Well, there’s not much reality in the MSM these days. Also, ‘growth’ is the great idol and not to be questioned. The articles of faith are:

      1. Growth of population = growth of GDP.

      2. Unlimited reproduction rights are not to be questioned, least of all those of people in less developed regions who have been oppressed historically.

      3. Fossil fuel dependancy of food production is the secret that may not be named. And it’s just never going to run out! Or there’s Substitution…………

    • I think that ultimately we will see a lot of nations break up into smaller parts. The migration gets to be a problem, because other areas are almost as bad off–won’t necessarily welcome the newcomers.

  27. Reblogged this on bollocks2012 and commented:
    Syria is, of course a hot topic, I was going to blog after a very interesting article in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines
    There are plenty of opinions concerning the causes of unrest and war in Syria- all with the exception of some Zionist conspiracy have an element of truth. But simply: too many people, diminishing resources, religious diversity/conflict and fear make for a frightening mix.

    • The author of the Guardian article (Nafeez Ahmed) is a reader of Our Finite World, I discovered earlier today. One of the articles I linked to in my post is from him as well.

  28. Brian Davey on FEASTA did an excellent analysis of the situation a few days ago, Syria & the Limits to Growth.



    “Just before the war broke out in Syria food prices doubled, triggering the protests that were put down brutally by Assad’s troops. Syria used to be self sufficient in wheat but over the last few years has had to import grain.

    Why did this happen? The answer is a combination of many years of drought caused by climate change, the accompanying water shortages and rocketing fuel prices. Of course, fuel is a major input in agriculture. But why the rocketing fuel prices? Syria is also an oil producer, however it hit the peak of its production in 1996 and is now producing at half of that peak. This has hit exports and state revenues. It means that the price for oil that ordinary people, including farmers, had to pay has shot up.

    The result has been a catastrophe for Syrian agriculture and more generally for the Syrian economy. Many people living in rural areas, who are Sunni Muslims, migrated in desperation to the towns because towns are places where things are traded and food is available. However the towns on the coast are largely controlled by the Alawite minority which is the power base of the Assad regime. Religious and ethnic tensions have thus powerfully magnified by the migration. The map shows features of the agricultural crisis in 2009 (click to enlarge).”

    The war in reality is a Proxy War for control of Pipeline rights for NG through Syria, with the House of Saud on one side and the Ruskies on the other. The economic and climate crisis faced by the Syrians is subsidiary to that, and the Syrians are Expendable. They will be armed by both sides and proceed to kill each other off here, which will decrease demand inside Syria for Food and Fuel, allowing more of what is left to be exported and pipelines for somebody to be built.


    • xabier says:


      Russians and Saudis care as little for Syrians as Germany and Russia cared for the fate of the Spaniards in 1936 to 39. Maybe their aim is to keep it in a constantly destabilized state?

      • The aim is to build NG Pipelines, and the direction they go will either bring the gas to Europe from Russia and Iran or from Saudi Arabia.and the Emirates.

        Neither side cares about the Syrians per se, they care about the Syrian location with deep water ports on the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrian Population is an Obstacle to both sides here, and the fact neither side is capable of governing Syria means the best thing for profiteers is to turn it into a Failed State, then try to move the resources through that territory with infrastructure they control through Military means.

        WWI and WWII were both Oil Resource Wars for the Industrialized nations which basically dissected the old Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of these resource wars. The neighborhood was divied up, and Elites were installed in these countries to run them for the benefit of the industrial nations.

        60 years later here, the Industrial nations of Germany, the FSoA, and Jolly Old England bled these countries dry of Oil, and now they are fighting over the scraps left at the table. The Syrian People are merely Collateral Damage.


        • xabier says:


          Quite agree. To paraphrase Napoleon: ‘Producer states are like lemons: you squeeze them dry and then toss them aside.’ He made the observation about individuals, but it applies nicely to what we are seeing.

        • You may very well be right in your analysis of this. Sort of a sad state of affairs.

        • Scott says:

          Hello, What do you think of this latest move with the Syrians to turn over the so called chemical weapons with the Russian deal? They are looking like they are backing down for the moment and war tensions are easing today. Any thoughts? I still think there is trouble looming in the middle east.


    • BTW Gang, I dropped on Part II of our Podcast with Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh) of The Automatic Earth focusing this time on Energy Issues. Worth a listen IMHO.



    • Thanks for the link. He starts off with some good points. The end of the article I am not as crazy about–a little too “over the top”.

      • Over the Top? I thought he was a little too conservative. You have been writing for rags like Biz Insider and trash Economics and Actuarial academic journals for too long. Your stuff is too “Under the Bottom”. Love your stuff Gail, but sometimes reading it is the informational equivalent of eating dry toast with no butter. LOL.


        • There is a wide variety of readers. Some like “over the top” ways of expressing things. I figure that what I am saying is over the top enough, that I don’t need to be radical in the way I express what I am saying.

          • Different strokes for different folks of course.

            Generally speaking though, I don’t think it is possible to go too far over the top with this material. People are so resistant to the ideas the only way to get it through their skulls is to hit them over the head with a Sledgehammer.

            In the words of Winston Churchill:

            “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.

            Anyhow, I will go Over the Top and you can go Under the Bottom and that should cover everyone in between. 🙂


          • xabier says:

            It would be like the doctor shouting when he says: ‘I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.’

          • Earl Mardle says:

            Its my belief that the style of the delivery will make zero difference to its reception. Those who are still resistant to hearing the information are those with such well developed cloaks of ignorance that nothing will get through. Even as they look out at their rusting cars that have not been drivenm for a decade, they will be cheerfully proclaiming that the solution is just around the corner and darkly asserting that “liberal interests” are withholding the necessary oil to punish good ‘murkins for not signing up to the PO “hoax”.

            THAT is where the danger lies. Those who have been identified with the PO, or climate change or food contamination or whatever symptom of a failing symptom will be vulnerable to attack as scapegoats for that failing system.

            There will be witch-hunts and we will be the targets. And from those dragged finally into accepting the reality of their collapsing situation, there will be angry demands to know why we didn’t try harder to convince them.

            It will NEVER be their fault and they will ALWAYS default to killing the messengers before they give up and finally accept the reality; probably as they drown in their own sewage/poverty/hunger/living rooms.

            Which is why I prefer Gail’s dry, fact-oriented, hard-nosed analysis; we will have plenty of sturm und drang as the inevitable Occam’s razor starts carving into flesh.

        • xabier says:


          Isn’t it Gail’s message that there will be no butter?

          • Gail reminds me of Sgt. Joe Friday. “Just the FACTS m’am.”

            Tons of information in any given Gail Blog, but only a very few people who will read detail and analyze graphs she puts up can really get much out of it. It is Information Dense material without a Narrative Construct, if you will.

            There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the approach, just it only works for communicating to a small subset of the population. My approach is a bit different, and not too sure it gets mainstream audience any more than Gail’s does, but it is definitely a different bunch of readers. Virtually nobody on OFW is a Diner, people who read here do not have the same perspective on communication. Vica versa also true.

            Gail is a good friend of mine in Collapse Blogging. I respect what she does tremendously. I just point out that her methodology is rather dry and lots of folks won;t read it because of that. I am here to Butter it Up. 🙂


            • Scott says:

              Hello, I have enjoyed your comments – Well, I started out by listening and reading James Howard Kunstler and he puts a lot of “butter in it” some of the stories are entrancing and entertaining and scary. Then, as I got more serious about the subject, I searched out sites like the oil drum and now Finite World with Gail.

              I suppose Gail is used to speaking to actuaries and such folks, so her work may not be as entertaining as JHK to the masses, but folks will stumble along and find the site hopefully one they realize what is happening.

              It is a serious subject and people like JHK may reach the so called “average people” with his entertaining and suspenseful stories, but they get more serious about the issue that faces our children and grandchildren and also most of us. Once the scope of the problem is realized by one, then they will become more interested in sites like this that present factual data on this matter of resource scarcity. The graphs she presents have been very helpful to see the big problems we face and how many current producing countries will not be exporters of oil and gas very soon.


        • Roger says:


          “Tons of information in any given Gail Blog, but only a very few people who will read detail and analyze graphs she puts up can really get much out of it. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the approach, just it only works for communicating to a small subset of the population.”

          Same as with anything else – you can’t please all the people all the time. If you blog the facts in the style of a horror movie, some people are liable to think it’s just a fantasy, like the horror movie it imitates – and unless they are *already* persuaded, they are less likely to be persuaded.

          Personally, I like the professional, pristine look of Gail’s blog. I was put off The Doomstead Diner site instantly, by the fact that the background is all in the color of sh1t. Maybe that’s intentional, to show the sh1t we’re heading into. 🙂

          • Actually, the color scheme is more to match the sepia quality of the header graphic Peter chose when setting up the theme. I actually have a few other themes I could drop on, but then I would have to add all the Widgets added since to this theme, which is tedious.

            Anyhow, Gail, Brian Davey, Monsta and myself got together today for a chat on the Syria situation which will be appearing on the Diner in a few days, so you can have the best of both worlds, Joe Friday and Hunter Thompson do Collapse. 🙂


  29. Edwin Pell says:

    Gail, thanks for the great article. Good to have alternative news that is able to remind us that the facts count more than the politicians spin.

  30. Scott says:

    This article made me look up and post this old one from Matt Simmons from the Oil Drum which I am sure Gail remembers. It really looks to me that collapse will begin in the middle east because of their arid climate and need to make water from the sea and the money needed to ship everything in that does not grow in the desert. They are now living on oil money that soon will be gone it seems to me.



  31. Scott says:

    Hello Gail and everyone, Thanks again Gail another good one and Yes – a very timely article on Syria etc and what we see in the charts speaks for itself, country by country – they no longer are being able to export oil and gas or even becoming importers. Exporting nations wanting to become importers, this will present a major problem very soon if not now.

    At the same time, we are witnessing a power grab by world powers for the last remaining vast reserves of oil and gas and pipelines etc.

    What is going to happen when Saudi wants to import oil and gas? Was it the late Matt Simmons that wrote Twilight in the Desert?

    We will have to keep an eye on Iran as that is where the last big pool of oil lies.

    Regards to all,


    • yt75 says:

      Iran appears to be past peak (for oil at least).
      And thanks to gail for another great synthesis.
      Note : about the pipelines, it is also about concurrent projects, see for instance :
      (had a better link but cannot find it back)

    • Iran is at its 2nd and last oil peak

      Bush and Cheney, both oilmen, identified Iraq as the prize because Iraq under-produced for around 2 decades so Iraq still has pre-peak oil.

      Iraq war and its aftermath failed to stop the beginning of peak oil in 2005

      • Thanks for links to your posts!

      • Scott says:

        Hello Matt, interesting on Iraq, there really is so much oil there, So they got Iraq and now it looks like Iran and Syria (but mostly Iran) is the last big prize to seize if they can. That whole struggle in the middle east is something of concern as we do not know what weapons could come out and where the attacks may be, they may even be here in the homeland.

        From what we can see these countries are facing their own troubles let alone if the USA and others attack them as many of them can no longer export oil for cash to fund and feed their people.

        Strange turn of events today perhaps the world is pulling back from war with the Russia deal, I hope so, but wonder what is next. It seems that they are just itching to attack Syria and then go towards moving in on Iran eventually. Sadly, as collapse weakens some countries, they will fall victim to others. That is our uneven collapse.


    • Yes, you are right. It doesn’t work well when oil exporters become importers. Not everyone can be importers.

      I think Iraq is where most people think remaining oil is. Iran has natural gas instead.

      • Scott says:

        Hello Gail and everyone. Very interesting, it looks like Iraq has 10 percent and Iran has 9 percent of remaining oil resources according to this but this may not be correct. I guess Iraq was already the big prize they sought.


        • The “proven reserves” are not to be believed. Everything depends on price and timing, something no one knows. Iraq probably has quite a bit more oil than Iran, if they could stop fighting for a while. Iran has more natural gas than Iraq, however.

  32. Dogtrainer says:

    The US is reaching its military limits (Syria, for example); if you don’t use it (your military) you will lose it. The US dollar is also reaching it peak limit and is in a decline (for various reasons) that will topple it as world’s reserve currency–good bye America, hello Asia

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Which part of Asia, Dogtrainer? You mean China, whose SOES have consumed more than they’ve produced? You mean India, which is imploding? You mean Japan, which has been moribund for over two decades? T’ain’t Asia, amigo. How about Europe? Latin America? Africa? Russia? The last few editions of The Economist magazine would leave no doubt about where China and the rest are headed. And if you don’t believe them, then try Bloomberg, Reuters, WSJ, NYT, et al.

      • xabier says:

        I heard a Chinese citizen say on the radio the other day: ‘China will be rich and powerful and no-one will bully us again!’ Illuminating as a comment by an average person, reflecting no doubt the indoctrination they have absorbed.

        Perhaps so: because China will, artehr than being rich and powerful on the model of the US, have fallen from grace, and the other nations of the world will be bankrupt and in social turmoil, and far from bullying anyone…… Who really buys the BRICS thing anymore or takes Jim O’Neill seriously?

  33. Gregoris Gregoriou says:

    The true reasons of the war in Syria!!!
    Nothing to do with human rights…
    Nothing to do with alliances…
    It’s all about Oil and Gas pipes from Iraq , UAE and Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean!!!
    It’s all about hitting the Russian Gas exports and eliminating the potentials of the Cypriot-Israeli Gas exports to Europe!!!
    No Western country , including the USA , wants a strong Israel or an independent Cyprus!!! Needles to mention a strong Russia…

  34. Chris Johnson says:

    So far I have yet to see any reference to the US policy or legislation that led to US sanctions against Syria. When did it begin, when did it increase, etc. If you don’t include this data in your ‘analyses’, then you are limited to uninformed opinions (ie, GWB did it and he was an idiot). Well, his mental capacity has nothing to do with it, but the policy debate does. For some of us it might be difficult, but acting like a grown up usually helps others respect you more.

    • timl2k11 says:

      The reference is right there under section 2:
      The following sentence is hyperlinked to the reference.

      Syria has been operating under economic sanctions from the US since 2004.
      The link is the first one that comes up if you google “US sanctions against Syria”, i.e. http://damascus.usembassy.gov/sanctions-syr.html

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Thanks, timl2k11,
        However, there’s a lot of history to that policy determination throughout the 80s and 90s, from both Democrat and Republican administrations. Bill Clinton tried to lure Assad into the light but that effort failed, so he slammed on the sanctions in the late 90s. The US pushed harder in UNSC after 9/11 to increase the sanctions against ‘terrorist supporters’, which included Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and a few others.
        The impact of those US, NATO, EU and, eventually, UN sanctions on those states was never even, but usually hurt the general populations at least a little bit more than it hurt the central government or the elite. My point is that if you overlook all those ‘details’ you’re missing the overall picture.
        But it really doesn’t matter that much, in another sense, as the Syrian social discombobulations were mostly caused by drought and general economic collapse.
        Or maybe someone thinks Syria preferred to reduce their oil output and reduce their population for some other reasons.

  35. timl2k11 says:

    Thanks for this timely article on Syria, the conflict there which has been very much on my mind. I couldn’t remember off-hand (although the answer would not be far to reach) what Syria’s Oil predicament was, although it is exactly what I expected. Perhaps I remembered the graph of Syria from a prior post.
    In real-time the collapse is like super-slow motion, you have to speed things up to see it. It is here, it is now, and it only gets worse from here on out.
    Russia threatening to fight a “proxy war”? I think the battle is heating up over resource scarcity and who controls what. The limits have already been breached and the consequences are already upon us.
    In the US we’ve adjusted to a “new normal” with regards to energy prices, unemployment and growth, we will no doubt be adjusting to yet another “new normal” in the very near further. Rinse, repeat.
    I imagine someone living day to day might not notice anything is changing at all, certainly not the mass media with it’s 24 hour memory span.
    Perhaps some patchwork global agreements will be made to calm things in the Middle East, to make sure everyone gets fed as cheap energy continues to diminish, but flare ups are guaranteed to be more frequent and of greater magnitude in the future.

    • xabier says:

      I think that is a very good point: no-one notices much day-to-day. As long as the welfare cheque arrives, the supermarket shelves are full, the credit card works, these small but steady and profound increments of change just pass people by – it’s not on the front page, it doesn’t exist. We see in the Mid East that an empty stomach is the only real catalyst for mass- understanding,a nd then it is by definition too late.

      • I know many otherwise intelligent people who make a point of never watching news on TV or reading newspapers.
        So as far as they are concerned, nothing is happening

        • Earl Mardle says:

          On balance, NOT watching TV or reading newspapers is the sensible thing to do, after engaging with the traditional media, there is a case to be made that ones information has been reduced rather than increased and almost certainly you have been mislead.

    • You are right–you did see several of these graphs pretty recently. These graphs actually have one more year of data in them. The earlier post, when I talked about some similar things was in April, How Energy Exporters Reach Financial Collapse. So I already knew that Syria, Egypt, and Yemen had problems, before I considered writing the new post.

  36. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    I don’t think this is a C Word Theory. Instead, it seems to me to explain the behavior of the US and Britain in terms of the Middle East.

    I hypothesize that the leaders of the US and Britain have a view of oil and the future that is not too far off the one you have. I imagine that their view is informed by the information they are getting from their Intelligence services. Using traditional tools, I imagine the Intelligence services have arrived at pretty much the same conclusions you have. And now, thanks to universal surveillance, the leaders know what the oil company executives are saying to each other. And I can’t believe the oil company executives swallow their own PR.

    So we have the seemingly amateurish fumbling about whether Kerry meant what he said about chemical weapons, the lack of any explanation for why the two countries are quite willing to see a hundred thousand dead in Syria, but seize on an ambiguous situation to demand ‘regime change’ which will lead to what they hope is a puppet government. It’s all the more perculiar because the previously installed puppet governments have been such disasters…Libya and Iraq come to mind.

    So I conclude that the chief executives in the US and Britain realize that the remaining oil is in the Middle East, that their own oil companies are largely frozen out of that region, that the national oil companies in those countries are in the drivers seats, that the future for oil production and hence the economies of the Western World look pretty dim, that no amount of money printing can change that, that domestic disturbances in their own countries will follow on the heels of public recognition of the seriousness of the situation.

    I don’t think very many members of Congress or Parliament have the same understanding—they are mostly still under the delusion of boundless energy. So we have the spectacle of Parliament turning down intervention in Syria, and the possibility that the US Congress might do likewise.

    Don Stewart

    • Earl Mardle says:

      Don. Exactly. I’m also guessing that the British had a short call from Putin when the sabre rattling started. I’m guessing he might have asked Cameron how secure he believed are the pipelines bringing Russian gas to Britain. I’m also guessing that was quickly followed by a call from Cameron to Obama, both of whom have then switched to the “democracy will bale out our asses” model; better to be thought an idiot than to pull the trigger and blow your own balls off.

      The worst outcome for Obama is for the Republicans to suddenly get over their “give the dark brown guy NUTHIN” and strategically give him what he asks for. Fortunately that would entail a level of sophistication unavailable to John Boehnehead

    • Skye says:

      Of course, of course. Makes so much sense when it’s put like that. I just couldn’t understand why all the Western leaders were so desperate to invade. Why this time, when so many have been killed already.

    • YOu may very well be right. Our leaders don’t tell us what they really know and think.

  37. Good and timely piece Gail, because Syria is the ‘now’ of all our futures.
    As climate change hits , energy supplies deplete and expanding populations collide, conflict is inevitable as various factions compete for dwindling resources.
    It wont happen as a duplicate of Syria obviously, because every country has different forces within it, but it will deliver similar end results of desperate conflict fuelled by a range of reasons, all seeming logical and legitimate to those involved.

    • A different way limits are hitting is up in Murmansk, Russia –the largest city above the Arctic Circle. Being in a very distant, very cold area isn’t good either.

      Gas shortage ignites protest in Murmansk

      Thousands of households lost their cooking heat and the eternal gas fire in front of the famous Alyesha war memorial silently died out as Murmansk Oblast experienced one of its most serious disruptions of gas supplies ever.

      . . .

      In 2011, Murmanoblgaz leader Aleksandr Chernenko in an open letter to President Dmitri Medvedev underlined that the gas situation in the region is “critical” and that as many as 256,000 people in the region soon could face “an uncontrolled shutdown of gas supplies”.

      “I am forced to address you in the interests of the 256,000 people in the region and the 750 employees of the Murmanoblgaz”, Chernenko wrote in the letter. “At present, there is not sufficient gas in the region and Murmanoblgaz does not have the financial means for its acquisition and there is not a single person in the Murmansk government able to improve the situation”, he added.

      Murmansk Oblast is one of the least gasificated regions in Russia and is dependent of mazut for winter heating. Regional authorities long put their hopes in the development of huge gas resources in the nearby Barents Sea, however perspectives appear bleak after Gazprom in 2012 announced that will not develop the Shtokman project.

  38. Earl Mardle says:

    Thanks again for the great work Gail. I wish, no doubt fruitlessly, that our media and our supposed leadership would be asked to explain graph 7. If you ain’t make arrangements for a VERY different world, you ain’t going to live in it; which means you ain’t going to live, period.

    • Personally I find graph 7 disingenuous and misleading. This was also pointed out by someone else in Gail’s last post in which she used this graph. The 1.6 line could clearly run from USA peak oil in 1970 to the present. Notice how Gail doesn’t account for the down years except in 2008.

      • Earl Mardle says:

        I disagree. Of course she could have run the trend line from 1970 if she wanted to show the effects of the first major PO event compared to a previous generation of growth.

        The point is that we reached what will be seen as PO in 2004 and since then, any claims that “oil production is increasing” have been factually true but disingenuous; what GT is showing is that, regardless of the frackers and deniers, the rate at which increases are occurring is slipping, just as the glorious victories of the third reich came ever closer to home as the system failed.

        The overall rate since 1970 may be 1.6% but it has been interrupted by 2 actual, politically/economically enforced cuts in production, after which it has recovered. The point of the graph is to show the declining rate of “growth” after each hiatus, I have no problem with that.

        BTW Gail, the FB login I use wont let me post. Even though it shows on the page that I am logged in with FB, I get a message that the login has expired. I’ll try to log out and back in, but I’m guessing there is something wrong with the code.

        • Earl, I will not deny oil production is increasing at a slower rate. But 2012 was a record for peak oil production not 2004 and I would be embarrassed producing a graph as misleading as figure #7. You could also run the trend line from 1982 to 2012 @ 1.6 %.

          This is a case of exaggerating the facts to fit the story line. Which leaves the question about graph #7.

          How did the world survive the years 1974 and 1980, but is falling apart from a little bump In 2008 ?

          • Earl Mardle says:

            My understanding of Peak Oil is that it is not a hard number but a process. While absolute numbers for bbl of energy HAVE been rising (thereby setting every year a new record for production – the Peak of PO) the cost of doing so has been rising as well (EROI both energy invested and financial investment).

            The key to PO is the shrinking difference between absolute production and the cost of that production and THAT became clear to me in 2004 when the Saudis, who had always been the swing producers who enabled the relentless rise in consumption of cheap energy, suddenly announced that, despite the fact that oil costs were rising and causing pain in consuming countries, they supported a CUT in quotas among OPEC nations.

            They had a choice, they could concede that they were no longer able to guarantee to fill any gap caused by political actions or they could appear to be hard nosed bastards willing to stiff their long-term allies and customers. They chose the latter because the former would have precipitated another, potentially more dangerous crisis.

            2004 was the moment when all the predictions started to play out. The latest is Gail and Nicole’s point that rising production under a PO model would cross paths with profitability as the cost of production ate away at the financial underpinnings of the producers. Only a few weeks ago pretty much ALL the oil majors reported a slump in profits at a time when they are selling MORE oil at the HIGHEST sustained prices we have ever seen.

            That’s because their margins are being eaten by the shrinking EROEI and they are reaching the point where the banks will no longer fund their increasingly desperate chase for new resources because even at trivial interest rates their debt burden is getting out of control. THAT is Peak Oil and the shrinking rate of increase is just another signal. If we drew the trend all the way back to 1980 it would disguise the subtle shifts that are making such a difference.

            You ask how we survived 74 and 80 but we are falling apart with such a little bump now. The answer is that before 2004 we were not in the PO end game when non-linear effects, black swans, climate instability and other beasties were not loose in the landscape. We are now in a phase where even very small inputs can have very large consequences, that’s why.

          • BC says:

            Chief, adjust global oil production and oil exports for global population and we’re down 10% since Peak Oil in ’05, which is where the US was in the mid- to late 1970s at the onset of deindustrialization, financialization, and feminization of the US economy/society. That is to say, the world is now where the US was in the 1970s, i.e., global growth of fossil fuel-based industrialization is over.

            Morever, this tracks remarkably closely with the Limits to Growth (LTG) projections per capita 40 years ago, as well as the implicit trajectory of Richard Duncan’s “Olduvai Theory” of which you are well aware.

            This is why we are witnessing no growth of real GDP per capita in the US, EU, and Japan since ’08 and why we are seeing a growing number of failed states with contracting economies and disintegrating societies in MENA, Central Asia, and parts of Africa and SE Asia.

            Also, please note that we are into the tipping point of collapse of the log-linear deceleration of net energy per capita of the so-called “Seneca cliff”. During such periods, systems expend some ~30% of available net exergetic resources per capita in an attempt to keep the unsustainable exponential growth of population and resource extraction and consumption per capita going.

            Regrettably, there is a point-specific culmination of cumulative drag effects per capita that coalesce to cause the final tipping point of per-capita exergetic collapse at an accelerating log-linear rate. We are quite literally months to a few years at most from the point-of-no-return tipping-point threshold exergetically, financially, economically, politically, fiscally, and socially.

            The series of crises that mark the onset of the tipping-point phase of global imperial collapse will be largely unrecognized, dismissed, obfuscated, or ignored in favor of more palatable cause-effect narratives based upon the well-conditioned imperial metanarratives by which we have been so well conditioned during our lifetimes, and especially since the 1970s.

            Collectively, western society is wholly unprepared for the “Seneca cliff”, and there is simply no recourse available to the bottom 90%+ of households to prepare for, and survive, the protracted effects of the fall from the “Seneca cliff” and the descent back to Olduvai.

            Now consider that you are in a position of leadership and authority, and you are well informed about net exergetics per capita, the “Seneca cliff”, Peak Oil, the end of global industrialization, and the collapse of states, ecosystems, and developing economies. Would you not seize every opportunity to use military force to the extent possible to secure your interests as soon as possible for fear that someone else will beat you to it and put you at a disadvantage?

            This is where the world is today. Put another way, what we are witnessing is the onset of an end-game scenario consisting of an unprecedented last-man-standing contest for the remaining scarce resources of the finite spherical planet we call Earth.

            As such, as we cross the point-of-no-return threshold in the coming months and years, the prospects for global mass privation, misery, conflict, and horror are unprecedented and unspeakable by any previous experience and defition. A quick and merciful death will likely be a blessing for the vast majority of human apes on Spaceship Earth in the decades hence.

            Apart from the Mongol invasion, Black Death, European encounters with Africans and Mesoamericans, and WW I-II, the human mind has no precedent for experience and adapting to the prospects for mass death on such a large scale as a share of total population. Those who do survive, adapt, and reproduce are likely to be utterly unlike what we perceive ourselves today as rational, empathetic, “civilized” human apes.

            And this is all the more reason why the wealthiest and most clever, informed, and techno-scientifically skilled are likely to insist upon a surviving remnant society that limits population, controls extraction, production, consumption, and waste per capita, and self-selects for personality and behavioral traits via genetic engineering (“eugenics”) that is more inclined to achieve such results.

            • While the folks in charge are probably better informed than they let on, I am not convinced they really are planning for control over a remnant of population–but it is possible you are right.

              I was wondering, do you have any specific references to the following:

              Regrettably, there is a point-specific culmination of cumulative drag effects per capita that coalesce to cause the final tipping point of per-capita exergetic collapse at an accelerating log-linear rate. We are quite literally months to a few years at most from the point-of-no-return tipping-point threshold exergetically, financially, economically, politically, fiscally, and socially.

              Intuitively, this is obvious, but has Ugo Bardi or anyone else written on this issue?

          • BC
            And I thought I had taken pessimism to its limits!
            But a brilliantly observed and researched comment though

          • The world is a very different place than it was back in 1974 and 1980. Back in the early periods, we had shifts we could make in the economy, to reduce oil usage. A major one was greatly reducing oil used for electricity production. We could ramp up coal production and nuclear production, and thus use much less oil for electricity production. There were also changes we could make in autos. Prior to the 1973-1974 spike, nearly all US cars were US-made gas guzzlers. Other countries, particularly Japan, were already making smaller, more fuel efficient cars. There was a shift as we added smaller more fuel efficient cars to the mix. (Admittedly, we can do more of this now, but the change now is from a much higher MPG base. You get much bigger impact going from 10 to 20 MPG than from 20 MPG to 30MPG.)

            Businesses now have been substituting away from oil for a very long time whenever they can, because oil is a lot higher priced than natural gas or coal, on a Btu basis. This leaves a lot less change away from oil that businesses can make.

            The other change that has been made is in terms of who is included in the world market. For a long time, it was basically the US, Europe and Japan. Now, thanks to globalization, there are 3 billion Asians added to the market that weren’t there before. This very much ramps up demand, and pushes US, EU and Japan out. High prices are what rations oil supply. It is the countries that use a high proportion of oil in their energy mix that are being adversely affected, and it is their consumption that is dropping (and these are the countries with recession–see this post). The rest of the world has indeed been speeding along–they could outbid us for oil, because they used only a little oil in their energy mix, while we used a lot.

            What is affected by high oil prices now is (1) Number and kinds of jobs available and (2) Government finances of the countries that use a lot of oil. These are a huge problems now.

            Number and kinds of jobs were also affected back 1974-1980 period, but we started from a different base. We started from a situation where men were working, and got paid well, and most women were not working. The change that time around was to bring many more women into the workforce (at lower wages) as the wages of men stagnated. Families were affected differently then–the wage of the husband stagnated, but with the wife also working, the family did OK. (We didn’t have globalization to contend with then, so total jobs stayed up.). The government did pretty well, because it could tax both the husband and wife, and unemployment wasn’t such a big problem. The shift then was from one person working (and getting good pay) to two people working, with not as good pay.

        • Thanks for your comment.

          I reported your login problem to WordPress.

          I got this response back:

          Facebook commenting is active on all WordPress.com blogs. Make sure your reader is logged in properly and is choosing facebook when they proceed to post a comment as many users are logged into multiple services at a time.

          You can point them to http://en.support.wordpress.com/facebook-and-twitter-comments/ for more information.

          I am not sure how helpful that is.

      • timl2k11 says:

        “The 1.6 line could clearly run from USA peak oil in 1970 to the present”
        What you are proposing is called “cherry picking”. (AGW deniers are very fond of this, but that’s neither here nor there). Gail is pointing out the trends. The down years are outliers and don’t show any trend due to one-off geo-political events.

        • No, what Gail is doing is “cherry picking” not counting the down years in the trend.

          • timl2k11 says:

            You are not reading what I and others have said. The down years are not reflective of the overall trend in our global ability to increase production, due to geo-political events. That is what the graph is, a graph of the rate at which we are able to increase production. You can make trend lines for when production was falling, but you gain no information.

  39. xabier says:

    Great post once more, Gail. The interaction of energy constraints and politics is a vital study.

    I referred on another thread to the British PM’s risible open letter saying that fracking would inaugurate a new era of cheap gas to heat British homes. This was of course part of his very early election campaigning: ‘the man who makes positive things happen’, etc.

    Today, he has actually been publicly contradicted by his Energy Minister, on grounds that you would recognise. Reality may be breaking in!

    People in Britain do not on the whole heat their homes as much as in other countries, but the already very high cost in relation to average wages is a major preoccupation. Many more people will be moving into the thermal underwear camp….. I believe it has been estimated that many thousands of the poor elderly die each year in Britain due to under-heating of their homes.

  40. Gail,

    “2. Economic sanctions, to the extent they have an affect, can be expected to act similarly to resource depletion and increase the tendency toward civil disorder.

    Syria has been operating under economic sanctions from the US since 2004.”

    If I read this correctly, your saying the Bush Administration policies where to move Syria in the direction of civil war that has now caused 100,000 deaths and help destabilize the Middle East all in the name of fighting terrorism. Do you think this is what a self proclaimed christen like George W Bush would intentional do this? Or he just didn’t realize what he was doing ?

    • xabier says:

      Chief Engineer

      ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do’?

      • “Forgive them” Sorry, but I’m not a Christen.

        Not until they admit their mistakes and stop criticizing someone who now has to manage this problem.

        • timl2k11 says:

          You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that statement. What Xabier is implying is the “W” was clueless.

          • I don’t believe “w” was clueless, he knew exactly what he was doing. Advancing American Imperialism.

          • timl2k11 says:

            We are straying a bit off topic, and we’ll have to agree to disagree. I simply don’t think “W” was smart enough to know exactly what he was doing, Dick Cheney and the neo-conservatives around him like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz knew exactly what they were doing and handled W like puppet masters to terrible effect. People generally give the president (liberal or conservative) way to much credit/discredit. It’s a mostly hamstrung position. People are distracted from where the power really lies, in the hands of lobbyists and corporations with deep pockets. Politicians are rarely influenced by voters anymore, they are influenced by wealth. (And as an aside voters rarely have a good handle on what the issues really are, hence advertising is so effective in getting the people who are influenced by wealth, not their constituents, in office.)

            End of rant.

        • xabier says:

          It’s called IRONY.

          • Stilgar Wilcox says:

            timl2kll: “It’s a mostly hamstrung position. People are distracted from where the power really lies, in the hands of lobbyists and corporations with deep pockets. Politicians are rarely influenced by voters anymore, they are influenced by wealth.”

            Exactly right. Corporations wouldn’t pay lobbyists millions if it didn’t have influence in DC. “We the people by the people” and so on I am sure our forefathers (if they could come back) would agree is long gone. Obama claimed he was going to get rid of lobbying, and as a naïve voter I took the bait and voted for him, only to realize later he never mentioned one word about it after getting elected. It’s a system gamed by big money as it means everything in America. It means you can influence votes, get low or no prison sentences via high priced attorneys, the best medical specialists and so on. And pretty soon as we continue down this net energy ladder via EROEI plummeting, it will mean ever worsening food security for the lowest income individuals as the core (wealthy, DC power & MIC) are protected at the expense of the periphery.

    • I basically said later that I didn’t think the US economic sanctions were doing much. If they had been successful, perhaps yes.

    • ChiefEngineer,
      Here is another theory about Syria that relates to the influence of world banks and their control of the World Trade Organization. http://www.maxkeiser.com/2013/09/making-the-world-safe-for-banksters-syria-in-the-cross-hairs/

      It relates to the Bush Administration in the sense that the people discussed in the article; Timothy Geithner, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers were working in the G.W. Bush Administration at the time. Since Obama has continued to utilize their expertise one wonders if both presidents then support this agenda, or if as timl2k11 suggested they are clueless.

      I tend to think that the president of the U.S. doesn’t have as much power or influence as we assume. I think they have to deal with too many issues and problems to be on top of everything, and they rely on their advisers and appointees too much. It may be all to easy for some appointees to push their own agenda, and the agenda of their ‘masters’. And I think this agenda, dismantling the banking regulations so as to allow a small influential group to take control of the worlds financial markets and through them the world’s economy, has been in the making since Reagan was in office.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Jody
        Nicole Foss and her husband have written now for two consecutive weeks about Super-Priority–putting counter-parties in derivative schemes ahead of all other claimholders in a bankruptcy proceeding.

        G.W. Bush squelched the effort to come up with a way for countries to go bankrupt in an orderly proceeding. The US Courts seem to be intent on treating countries in trouble the way college students with student debt they can’t pay are treated. The only country which escapes is the US…because the dollar is the reserve currency and so we can always just print some more. Argentina and Greece and Portugal can’t print more dollars. And, apparently, they will never escape their ‘student loans’ either. I don’t understand Poland…they have confiscated half the private pensions, but want to invade Syria. I understand the Poles hate Russia, but if you are broke, why are you going to war with someone who is no threat to you?

        see also the previous article about Detroit.

        I have been looking at the world as….if money was foolishly lent, then the asset will soon be revealed as worthless and the lender will discover that he is poor. Apparently, it is…money was lent with the condition that the full military force of the US will be brought to bear to force repayment..therefore, it was not lent foolishly and the lender is still rich but the borrower will be ground into abject poverty and then turned into dog food. I can see no difference between G.W. Bush and Obama on this point. A few years ago there was an effort, at least partially successful I think, to restructure loans to African countries where the leaders had squandered the money. Nowadays, with global repayments looking more and more unlikely, I suspect the lending institutions have hardened their stance.

        Don Stewart

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Good question about Poland. One possible answer, based on my previous review of their situation. Note that Poland is the second largest economy in Europe to follow Germany’s lead, and they’re actually doing pretty well. Strategically, however, they’re a big frightened. They know all too well what’s going on in Moscow, and are afraid that the EU and the US may give their concers short shrift. The Poles, for instance, really want the US to install an anti-missile system in Poland. They also want a larger role in NATO, and they are so anti-Soviet (yes, they’ll probably still say that…) that they’ll gladly send troops to oppose anything Moscow wants.
          Cheers, Chris

      • Hello Jody,

        “this agenda, dismantling the banking regulations so as to allow a small influential group to take control of the worlds financial markets and through them the world’s economy, has been in the making since Reagan was in office”

        I believe this fight has been going on for the last 100 years and most likely before the days of the United States. It’s been FDR’s hard fought fight for banking regulations from the Depression that have been under attack ever since. I would put Reagan and FDR as the two most economic influential administrations in the last 100 years. Crediting FDR with the rise of the middle class after WWII and Reagan for the shrinking of the middle class back to a two tier system we see happening today in America. Without regulations the have nots don’t stand a chance against the haves and income disparity will continue to grow. Deregulation has been the Republican mantra for as long as I can remember.

        I’m thinking rookie Obama found himself in a shark tank and had to marry a couple to survive. Lucky Larry Obama-Summers and Timothy Obama-Geithner (“president of the U.S. doesn’t have as much power or influence as we assume”).

        It’s always about oil when it comes to the Middle East. Our banking system is the tool of the elites in this civilized world.

        Thanks for the link

        • Chief Engineer,
          “I would put Reagan and FDR as the two most economic influential administrations in the last 100 years. Crediting FDR with the rise of the middle class after WWII and Reagan for the shrinking of the middle class back to a two tier system we see happening today in America. ”

          Very nicely put.
          When I think about energy and wealth, how fossil fuels have allowed us to control so much more primary resources, I think it interesting how hard some humans then try to control that wealth. Coal ushered in the industrial revolution and by the end of the 19th century we had a few industrialists with too much power causing terrible economic problems. The Great Depression allowed FDR and the Democrats to push through tax changes that leveled the playing field. Time passes. Oil discovery in the 1950’s, end of WWII, Europe in shambles, America booming, we got complacent. Regan era allowed Republicans to start dismantling regulation, which has lead to the economic disparity we see today.

          It seems to me that humans have a character flaw, a terrible susceptibility to the want of more. More power, more money, more fame. There is that old biblical saying about a rich man getting into heaven about as easy as a camel through the eye of a needle. I have always understood this to mean that happiness doesn’t come from having more.

          Something in our human ego wants to believe “I am the best. I am at the top. No one can stop me.” Kind of like what the ‘God’ so many believe in. Never leads to happiness, but sure causes pain and suffering for many. Wouldn’t it be nice if humans had a “stop” button that told us when enough was enough? Do we really need that second billion dollars when we can’t possibly spend the first? How much is really enough? And even if we were all powerful and could tell everyone what to do, would it make us any happier? If everyone worshiped at our feet because we were so famous, would we feel less lonely?

          Just a human character flaw I think. But one that has terrible consequences.


          • Well Jody, you keep writing to me like this I’m going to have to cool myself off with a hose. I agree with your history here.

            I believe a lot of your viewed “human character flaw” comes from our survival instinct for security, safety and mating(self-esteem, my Escalade with 22″ chrome rims is bigger than his). It’s more often about sex when it comes to men than it’s about oil in the Middle East. A more mature human understands there is more to life than just money and more material things. But, once we have enjoyed some wealth, it’s pretty easy to get “complacent” and feel entitled. We all want the good life.

            Stay Strong.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Hi Jody:
        Re that unholy three you mentioned: Geitner, Rubin and Summers, I think it’s significant to note also that they had worked for Clinton in various important positions, and thence in the private sector, Wall Street, Harvard, etc. They can pick up the phone and make something happen.
        Some of the women who have achieved significant status include Sheila Bair, FDIC Chief, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (and there’s one more, but I can’t remember her name) all had strong comments about how those fellows screwed it up badly and repeatedly.
        And of course, then there’s our buddy Greenspan, who most definitely believed the financial markets were run by big boys who were capable of regulating themselves without any government nannies.
        The story of the repeal of Glass-Steagall is also worth reviewing, and the efforts by Senator Sherrod Brown and David Vitter to push a ‘Too Big To Fail’ law and Elizabeth Warren’s efforts to reinstate Glass-Steagall are valiant, but probably doomed. This White House is _____________ (you fill in the blank). We all know GWB was incapable. Leave it. Let’s fix what we can!
        Cheers, Chris

      • Don and Chris,
        I’m on the same page of concerns and thinking. Consumer Reports recently did an article on how financial advisers are not giving clients good advice, what an understatement! . I am beginning to see the value of the 7 year forgiveness of debt. As Chris Martensen discussed so well in his book the Crash Course, any growing by some increment is exponential growth, which if allowed to get too high eventually reaches the “hookey stick” phase of the graph and becomes unsustainable (or in the case of debt, unable to be repaid). Only the ability to file for bankrupt when this happens can allow for starting over.

        I have long been disgusted by the stories of how our biggest banks and investments companies are preying on their customers, reaping huge profits and fees, while driving some into such debt that they can’t recover. Yet these same bankers can depend on help from their friends in a government, and so they are pushing their control of the world’s financial wealth into the stratosphere. Even the Attorney General’s office admits that they are too big to jail.

        The fact that so many stories circulate and yet nothing is done, tells me that we have lost control of our government. Elizabeth Warren is certainly trying, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on any success. Only a massive crash will bring the financial system to its knees, unfortunately along with everyone else. The world is so much more interconnected than is was when we went through the Great Depression. And we have so many more dangerous weapons, so many more people, and so much less resources. This may be another reason why our government doesn’t do anything. No one can figure out what to do that won’t take the whole system down.

        PS. Chris, I’ve sent you two emails but received no response. Your email program may be screening them out.

        • The fight for power and the use of misinformation in the media has divided this United States to an unhealthy position.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Jody, I dont know what to say, except that I didn’t see your message (above) until 5 days after you sent it. Goodness, it’s not supposed to be so difficult. How about facebook? Check that same basic call sign – cwjwashdc. Add a @aol.com or a @gmail.com and your message should get through. Or do you have a ‘throw away’ email that I could contact you on?

          • Chris,
            I used aol.com to see if that works. There are a too many chris johnson’s on facebook. If you check my website you will find an email contact for me.

  41. Jan Steinman says:

    The “climatecrocks.com” article is very interesting. I tried to point them back to here, but it won’t let me post comments for some reason.

  42. Excellent summary Gail. I frequently also mention the energy problem in all of this to people who are to caught up to the idea that its a religious or bad dictator kind of struggle. A big part of the puzzle is also climate change which is quite likely responsible for the droughts Syria has had for many years – practically collapsing a lot of its own food production. And in one move quite recently Assad chose to export a lot of grain – no doubt this made a lot of people angry in the midst of an emerging food crisis. If we look through the picture that media tries to paint and focus on the data around energy and food – I think we can find the answer to a lot of the problems these countries have.

    Peter Sinclair has a good article about this quite recently:

    How Climate Change Primed Syria for War

    • timl2k11 says:

      That link to climatecrocks has an excellent video (as well as an excerpt from) with Dr. Jeff Masters whose blog ( http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/article.html ) I have been a long time follower of. He gets AGW like no other scientist I’m aware of. It’s a great explanation of why AGW may already be affecting our weather. It is the 2nd to last video.

    • Thanks! I think the high population makes things worse, regardless of what is the cause of the low food supply. There will be up and down years, for any economy. Oil had inflated a huge bubble. I suppose on the way down in 2006, when the wheat stores were sold, the financial situation was already pretty bad, and selling off something that “probably” wouldn’t be needed looked like a good idea at the time. Of course, in retrospect, it was a pretty bad idea.

      We have a lot of governments looking for things they can sell off now. I am wondering what things we are going to discover that were really needed have been sold off.

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