Jorgen Randers published a book in 2012 called 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years. A note on the front says, “A report to the Club of Rome, Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of The Limits to Growth.”
If we compare the new book to the book from 40 years ago, we see some surprising differences. In 1972, the analysis suggested that serious resource depletion issues would occur about now–the first part of the 21st century. In comparison, current indications look much better. According to Randers’ current analysis, world GDP growth will continue to rise through 2050, and energy consumption will continue to grow until 2040. While a decline in oil supply will take place, it will not occur until 2025. When it does happen, it will occur sufficiently slowly and incrementally that other fuels can replace its loss, apparently without disruption. Renewables will ramp up far more rapidly in the future than to date.
A person reading the front cover of 2052 might think that the model is quite close to the model used in the original The Limits to Growth analysis. My review indicates that the current model is fairly different. The book talks very little about the workings of the model, so doesn’t let us know what changes have been made.
It is possible to do some detective work regarding how the current model is constructed. Dolores “Doly” Garcia, who worked on the model, wrote three posts published on TheOilDrum.com explaining the model. There is also a website (www.2052.info) provided by Randers giving the numerical output of the model in spreadsheet form. Together, these point to a methodology which assumes that if world oil supply declines, the decline will be slow and will be quickly offset by a rise in the use of renewables, coal, and natural gas. Changes in the model, which I will describe further in another section, are the first reason I don’t believe Randers’ Limits to Growth forecast.
A second reason why I don’t believe Randers’ forecast has to do with limitations of the original forecast. These limitations did not make much difference back in 1972, when researchers were trying to estimate approximate impacts 40 or 50 years later, but they do now, when resources are becoming more depleted. One issue omitted from the model is a price mechanism. A related issue is that there is no true calculation of demand, based on what consumers can afford. The model also omits debt, and the role debt plays, both for investment purposes and in order for consumers to afford products made with oil and other energy products. Research regarding past collapses indicates they were financial in nature–the model should not overlook this important issue.
A third reason why I don’t believe the forecast in 2052 is because a model of this nature necessarily cannot model events that are important to ultimate collapse, but which happen on a smaller scale, and trigger cascading failures. An example might be oil depletion in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. All of these countries were at one point oil exporters. They each now have substantial financial problems because of the loss of oil exports. The population of each of these countries has now grown, so there are now many more mouths to feed. Unfortunately, without oil exports, the financial situation is such that it is not possible to provide the level of food subsidies and other benefits that an oil exporter can provide. The result seems to be serious civil disorder that threatens to spread beyond these countries own borders. See my post Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict. The 1972 Limits to Growth book warned readers that the report likely missed issues of this nature. The current book lacks such caveats.
A fourth issue is that the 2052 report is very much the work of a single individual, Jorgen Randers, while the earlier report was a committee report. Randers makes statements in the book that make it sound like he already knows the answer before he does the modeling. On page 61 he says,
I basically believe that we will see the same rate of technological and societal change over the next forty years as we have seen over the last forty years. That is because the drivers will be the same and the organization of global society is unlikely to change discontinuously.
Thus, Randers tells us he believes that he already knows that no swift change will take place. That is fine–unless the belief is based on a misunderstanding of real relationships.
On page 56, in a section called “The Deterministic Backbone,” Randers explains that some variables including population, industrial infrastructure, energy consumption, and GDP growth change very slowly, over periods of decades. With this view, methods are chosen so that none of these can change very quickly.
Oil Drum Posts by Dolores “Doly” Garcia
Dolores “Doly” Garcia published three posts on The Oil Drum related to versions of the model she was working on that ultimately was used in 2052. These posts are
A New World Model Including Energy and Climate Change Data (April 3, 2009)
New World Model – EROEI issues (Aug. 24, 2009)
An alternative version for three of the “key graphs” in IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook (July 7, 2011)
In these posts, especially in New World Model – EROEI issues, Garcia explains why world energy supply now falls much more slowly than in the 1972 Limits to Growth scenarios. In her words, these are the three reasons:
- Renewable energy sources
- The decline of non-renewable energy sources follows a logistic curve. The exact equation is:Increase in production = 0.2*(fraction of fossil fuel remaining-0.5)*current production. . . .
- Switching from some energy sources to others makes for a gentler, staged decline.
EROEI has only an effect on this last point, in that it’s the cause that drives the switching from one energy source to another.
What Doly Garcia is writing about is not exactly the model that is used in 2052–in fact she gives a range of outputs. But looking at the data from the spreadsheet associated with 2052, it is clear that some approach similar to this is being used. Using the revised approach, oil supply now declines relatively slowly, from an assumed peak in 2025 (Figure 1 and 2) and other fuels (coal, natural gas, renewables) rise in consumption relatively more quickly than in reports published by other forecasters (IEA World Energy Outlook, BP Energy Outlook, Exxon Mobil- A view to 2040). As noted in Figure 1 above, renewables ramp up very quickly.
Assuming that oil supply will follow the logistic curve on the down-slope, as well as assuming easy switching among fuels and a rapid ramp-up of renewables is basically assuming a best-possible outcome. It is basically assuming that a shortfall of oil won’t be a problem, because there will be a way around it–substitution and new fuel sources, until investment capital runs short.
I wrote a post recently called Stumbling Blocks to Figuring Out the Real Oil Limits Story, in which I talked about the common (incorrect) belief of many that M. King Hubbert claimed the downslope of world oil supply would follow a slow curve, such as the logistic. As far as I know, he claimed no such thing. When population has risen because of the use of these resources, even a slowdown in supply is a huge problem, as we recently witnessed with the Great Recession that accompanied the 2008 run-up in oil prices.
There are some situations where such a logistic curve might be appropriate, for example, if we can make electric-plug in cars as cheaply as oil powered cars, and we don’t need to change over to plug-in electric cars until the oil-powered cars wear out, so we don’t have extra costs. But in general, there is no reason to expect a logistic curve on the decline. What I said in the post linked above is
If there is not a perfect substitute for oil or fossil fuels, the situation is vastly different from what Hubbert pictured. If oil supply drops (perhaps in response to a drop in oil prices), the world economy must quickly adjust to a lower energy supply, disrupting systems of every type. The drop-off in oil as well as other fossil fuels is likely to be much faster than the symmetric Hubbert curve would suggest.
In the above discussion, Doly Garcia mentions that the distribution of energy is determined based upon Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). These are values calculated by Dr. Charles Hall and various others with respect to the amount of energy needed to create new energy, with the idea that the types of fuels that need relatively less energy for new production will be exploited first.
The danger in using this approach is that a person can push off assumptions into variables in models without any real analysis as to whether such increases make sense in the real world. For example, hydroelectric is mostly built out in the US, and it is our largest source of renewable energy. Unless analysis is done using disaggregated data, with some tests for reasonableness, one can get very much overstated renewable energy estimates.
Financial Issues that the Model Misses
The model, when it was originally constructed in 1972, was mostly a model of amounts of industrial production and amounts of pollution, and numbers of population. It did not include much of an analysis of the economy, other than investment and depreciation, and these may have in fact been in units of production, rather than as monetary amounts. The new model has something called GDP (which Doly Garcia says she added), and something which is called “demand,” based on an estimate of the quantity of energy products which people might use, but which does not correspond to what people can actually pay for (which is likely quite different).
Recent research (Secular Cycles, by Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedof) suggests that when civilizations collapsed in the past, it was generally for financial reasons. A shortage of resources per capita led to increasing wage disparity, with falling wages for the common worker. The government was called upon to provide more and more services (such as bigger armies), leading to a need for higher taxes. The increasingly impoverished workers could not pay these higher taxes, and it was this clash between needed taxes and ability to pay these taxes that brought about the collapse. In such a situation, there was more of a tendency toward resource wars and revolutions, leading to deaths of workers. Workers weakened by poor nutrition because of inability to afford adequate food also had higher death rates from disease.
The fact that we seem to be reaching very similar symptoms gives a hint that resource depletion may, in fact, already be playing a role in the economic problems we are seeing today. Perhaps analyses today should be examining the financial health of countries–the ability of countries to find enough jobs for potential workers, and the ability of these workers to earn adequate wages.
Randers assumes that Labor Productivity will continue to grow in the future, but that it will grow at a slower and slower rate, following a linear pattern. It seems to me that this linear pattern in optimistic, once oil starts reaching limits. Human productivity reflects a combination of (a) human effort, (b) the amount of capital equipment people have to work with, and (c) the amount of energy products at the disposal of humans. If there is a shortfall at all in the energy products, we could see a big cutback in labor productivity. Already, countries with intermittent electricity are finding that their production drops as electricity availability drops.
Liebig’s Law of the Minimum
A strong case can be made that a shortage of one energy product will have cascading effects throughout the economy, which is closer to what the original Limits to Growth model assumed. We often talk about Liebig’s Law of the Minimum being a problem. This law says that if a particular process is missing some essential ingredient, it won’t happen. Thus, if delivery trucks don’t have oil, the effects will cascade throughout the system, causing what will look like a major recession. All types of fuel uses will drop simultaneously.
The effect of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum is difficult to model. The existence of this issue is a major reason why models assuming rapid substitutability are likely optimistic.
When reasonable forecasts don’t look good, it is hard to publish anything. A person doesn’t want to scare everyone to death.
We don’t know exactly what thought process went through Jorgen Randers’ head in putting together this projection. Is this truly Randers’ best estimate, based on an optimistic view of substitutability, rapid ramp up of renewables, and assumption that no unforeseen problems will come along? Or did he not understand how optimistic the forecast was, perhaps because he was unaware that one cannot count on energy declines following a logistic curve? Ugo Bardi instead talks about the Seneca Cliff, a far steeper curve.
Or did Randers pick his estimate from a range of estimates, knowing full well that it is optimistic, but feeling that this is all the American public can be told? Stranger things have happened in the past.
“Now take a modern LED bulb. It has wondrous efficiency! But it essentially requires all of modern civilization behind it in order to exist.”
Very interesting explanation that follows the above comment regarding what it takes to make LED bulbs. I wonder how long we can hold on to this level of complexity to support such an efficient bulb. If a descent from peak civilization results in greater simplicity, so much for LEDS and many of the other sophisticated modern techno devices taken for granted.
If the crash is slow enough, I hold out some hope that halogen lamps can hold on a while.
But with their long lifetime, LEDs biggest challenge may be finding a source of electrons for them!
A Question, Gail.
You often quote “Secular Cycles” by Turchin and how it might explain what currently happens to our society. You also said that the U.S. entered Stagflation Phase in the 1970ies. Is it possible that Crisis Phase has already begun?
Yes, I think that we are already at the beginning of the Crisis Phase. It may be that the Great Recession was the first step in that direction. It is only be looking backward that we can really see what the steps were. Even then, different people will have different interpretations.
It occurs to me that the government shut-down is a golden opportunity to do some measurements. Surely, 800,000 fewer consumers will leave a signal on the economy and biosphere? Can we measure the blip in the steady up-tick of CO2 caused by the shut-down?
One of the first things to go is our ability measure things like unemployment–something that is already fiddled with to make look as good as it can.
But I agree that the government shut-down will have a big effect, especially if it is in place for very long.
You asked about grass under trees. I know you have a copy of Gaia’s Garden. Look on page 187 and you will find a section titled Grass Suppressing Bulbs.
Toby is suggesting how you might design a guild based on an apple tree. Shallow rooted grass would compete with the shallow tree roots, and you will get fewer apples. But if you put a ring of bulbs (such as daffodils) around the apple tree, the bulbs will suppress grass. I’m not an expert, but I hypothesize that the bulbs are also very early spring feeders who soak up the photosynthesis opportunities in early March. They go dormant by the time the apple tree really gets its photosynthetic engines going. So they aren’t taking up much of the root space and they are not competing during the apple trees peak growth period.
A shallow rooted lawn tree will react similarly if grass is growing under it.
In addition, grasses like bacterially dominated soils, while trees prefer fungally dominated soils. Jeff Lowenfels gives some advice to homeowners who are determined to have grass under lawn trees. You can consult Teaming With Microbes for Jeff’s advice.
Please note that Toby has recommendations for plants which DO grow well under apple trees and form a symbiotic community.
We use sunchokes and chickens in our fruit tree guild. The sunchokes are planted in a circle along the “drip line,” or the edge of the leaves of the tree if you look up.
The sunchokes suppress grasses, and the chickens dig up the grasses and eat them. They also eat coddling moth pupae that cause worms in fruit. The tree and the sunchokes make a barrier against chicken-eating hawks.
For what it’s worth, in the Memoirs of Madame de la Tour du Pin, ( a fantastic read available in a good translation) – stuck by her man and left Revolutionary France to farm in America – she mentions the, to her peculiar, habit of American farmers in hoeing the ground for a large circle around apple trees, and manuring it. This was unknown in France at the time (although one might doubt that as she was a very grand aristocrat and may not have been well-informed on such matters, who knows?)
Tulips under the trees sounds very attractive, I’ll try it!
The status of nuclear fusion. So near and yet so far…http://www.kurzweilai.net/why-dont-we-have-fusion-yet?utm_source=KurzweilAI+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=558efd2f7a-UA-946742-1&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6de721fb33-558efd2f7a-281914089
Kurzweil is the poster-boy for cornucopians.
Kurzweil should have stuck to synths. His vision is the vision of “more.” He hasn’t really accepted finite resources — by the time we hit them, we’ll be off to the other planets for resources! He hasn’t even accepted death, with plans to freeze himself post-mortem so he can be unfrozen when his singularity arrives.
If Kurzweil were to freeze himself right now, he’d be unable to put such foolish fantasies into circulation.
Any analysis of energy depletion and growth that omits the question of cost is for the following reason, bound to fail. Money is embodied energy. When we buy manufactured goods or food we pay not for the raw materials, the wind the rain the sun etc, but for the energy that has been expended in their sourcing, assembly, production and transportation to the consumer. So a simple model can be constructed from this obvious fact. Money is energy, energy is money. $100 is a barrel of oil a barrel of oil is $100. By using this model the current global economic situation falls into place.
In the early years of the oil age,free money gushed out of the land in the USA and more recently the Middle East. Oviously we deducted from the value of the money coming out of the ground, the cost of its procurement. In the early days with an EROEI of around 100 the nett money gain was huge. Gradually that has abated, to in some cases 2 or 3.We have less free money. In response to this a number of courses of action can be taken.
1. Making artificial energy by printing money. THis is the course currently being pursued by all the advanced world economies, in particular the EEU, the USA and Japan. In the UK the artificial inflation of house prices is being used as a refinement to the cruder tactics employed in the USA and Japan. Of course energy produced in a few nanoseconds on a computer screen is not the same as the real thing and accordingly despite massive injections of this phoney energy the economies are flatlining.
2. Reducing the value of human energy. Wages for the productive clases, those who actually do things as opposed to those who juggle with phoney energy (bankers, hedge fund managers, financial consultants and their ilk), have fallen and are continually being down. In the EEC the euphamism for this procees is “structural reform”. At the same time the benefits enjoyed by these productive clases are being cut. In this way at least a portion of our nett energy fund can be restored for the benefit of the non-productive clases.
3. Fighting over the remaining sources of cheap energy/money
4. Devaluing the cuurency in which we pay for our money/energy (the petrodollar) It is interesting in this respect to note two things. First that the motive for the invasión of Iraq was at least in part because Saddam Hussein was considering pricing Iraq’s oil in Euros. Second that currently Russia and China are trading energy without recourse to the dollar.
5.Becoming more energy efficient.
In short everything that is of concern that we note today in the world’s geopolitics is related to the fact that the free money/energy flow is drying up. Expensive energy =less energy. Less growth
but I’ve given up trying to point out that money isn’t wealth.
there remains that certainty among those who find themselves in public office, that spending money creates prosperity. Krugman, who got the Nobel prize for economics, is on record as saying just that.
its called ‘kickstarting the economy’
we see those words used time and again, and the vast majority of people believe it to be true…..as I must confess I did, until I peeled away the claptrap and discovered the reality of it
“5.Becoming more energy efficient.”
Be careful about that one. Achieving 100% efficiency could require infinite resources. Most transfer curves have a “sweet spot,” also called “maximum power point,” at which you get the biggest bang for the buck. Beyond that point, you’re embedding more energy than the added efficiency buys you.
Take incandescent bulbs. (Please! Cha-boom! 🙂 They can be made in a small town or large village of mostly local resources. Their efficiency sucks, but their embedded energy is small.
Now take a modern LED bulb. It has wondrous efficiency! But it essentially requires all of modern civilization behind it in order to exist. It requires a billion-dollar semiconductor wafer fabrication plant, rare-earth materials from around the globe, many of which come from unfriendly places, necessitating a global military force. And of course, the global financial system built the plant and keeps it operating. It also needs 400 highly trained employees (and 400 SUVs parked inside of 400 suburban houses, with 400 big-screen TVs and 800 kids driven to soccer practice…)
Don’t get me wrong — I love LED lights — but like the proverbial ice berg, most of their energy cost is hidden, and all we see is the end efficiency. Thank you, future generations, for letting me light so efficiently!
There is a reason why 3.5 billion years of evolution has not come up with more than about 6% efficiency in capturing sunlight. We ignore such examples at our peril.
Good points about the LEDs. Computers are just as bad, and we depend on them for everything.
Thanks! You make a lot of good points.
Dear Gail and Others
There were some questions about life without fossil fuels. The BBC documented a one year reconstruction of life on a 1620 farm in Wales:
The linked video covers the month of September. There are apparently other videos for the remaining months in the year, but I don’t have links to them. I particularly recommend the remark at the 21 minute point where the young man says that he now sees his daily experiences as ‘normal’. Also, near the end of the video, the young man says that the food is really good.
It takes them a while to get skilled at plowing and other tasks, but I think you can see that they would improve with experience.
Hello Don, that was good – Doco: a Farm From 1620… – I watched the first one, looks like much work in the old days for sure. A good portrayal or the past. I will check out the other months, now that I am hooked on the show.
I was discussing Europe and its problems with one of my banker friends. The constraints of the Euro, which has been badly constructed, are a big problem for ordinary people and businesses in Italy and Spain for instance. He agreed, but then said: ‘Nothing will change, because the Euro suits the politicians and, more importantly, it suits the rich very well indeed. ‘
All 12 episodes are available as torrent downloads under the title “tales from the green valley”. Not that I’m suggesting that anyone actually pirate copyrighted video.
I think this video is very interesting. We should be doing more of this.
One of the questions I have is with respect to the amount of metal being used–for the cooking pot, the front end of plows, and a tool the farmer’s wife uses with the pigs. How much wood would have to be burned to make the charcoal to create all of this metal? How much was metal was really used in 1620–was this just something the rich could have? How scalable is this for 7 billion people.
I was also looking at things that are “sort of” peripheral to the tasks. The boots look pretty modern to me. What kinds of boots could really be made back then, with the tools that were available then? I know when I visited a recreation of an early farm in Norway (earlier than 1620) one of the big issues was inadequate footwear for cold weather, according to the historian giving tours there. Boots were very expensive in times past, I understand.
How much land would be required to support the whole system? How many people could this system really feed? There is a need to make a whole lot of things used, but not made here (rope, baskets, metal, feeding the various animals). Also, crops would need to be rotated. Research seems to say population was much lower per acre back then.
The method of plowing and sowing seed is quite erosion prone, so the method shown was not really sustainable back then. How would we go about changing it?
I will have some more to say, but for now I suggest reading:
The current ‘best practice’ is to drill seeds into a cover crop. Thus, the land never needs to be tilled. Carbon sequestration can proceed rapidly with drilling and no till. You can think of the complications, such as metals. The idea is ancient, but it wasn’t used in England in 1620.
Would we be able to utilize drills and no-till into cover crops if we had no fossil fuels and no new metals?
A reminder. Toby Hemenway thinks that practices such as drilling seeds and not tilling and stopping herbicides and pesticides can feed billions of people. When asked about the very long term, he suggests somewhere between 500 million and 2 billion. The 500 million might be a rough guess at a very primitive agriculture while the 2 billion might represent a world where we figure out the drill problem. You will note that the Wikipedia article suggest that China rose to power on, among other things, the efficiency of the seed drill.
PS And I am not trying to put words into Toby’s mouth. They are my own speculations.
I can see the advantage of using a seed drill with a cover crop. It is hard to see that the plant would grow as well, though. For example, a person is told to keep grass away from the trunks of small trees. The same principle would seem to be an issue when the new seed being planted is is for a plant much smaller than a tree.
Or does the cover crop die off on its own?
The best way is with a roller-crimper. You can plant through a cover crop in one pass.
That Tudor farm video is superb. To the question of ‘how small’ is enough to survive, perhaps a partial answer can be sourced in Haiti, where most farms decreased in size to about 1 to 1.5 hectares. They mostly sewed rice (I think mostly dry, as much of the land is hilly) and planted fruit hedges, and could provide enough for their family and for the non-farm population, about half of the 6-7 million souls.
Of course, USAID came along with great advice that they import rice from the US that would be cheaper. The result was 3 million Haitian farmers disenfranchised, now living in urban slums. But some American farmers got moderately rich…
Viva the Washington Consensus!
The size of the acreage depends a lot on the climate. In Haiti, a person can grow two crops a year. Little of the produce needs to be traded for houses or clothes. They can get by with much less than in cold countries.
Regarding the boots worn on the 1620 farm. I can’t find anything specific, but a quick search yields this from Wikipedia:
Early boots consisted of separate leggings, soles, and uppers worn together to provide greater ankle protection than shoes or sandals. Around 1000 B.C. these components were more permanently joined to form a single unit that covered the feet and lower leg, often up to the knee. A type of soft leather ankle boots were worn by nomads in eastern Asia, and carried to China to India and Russia around 1200 to 1500 A.D by Mongol invaders. The Inuit and Aleut natives of Alaska developed traditional winter boots of caribou skin or sealskin featuring decorative touches of seal intestine, dog hair and wolverine fur. 17th century European boots were influenced by military styles, featuring thick soles and turnover tops that were originally designed to protect horse mounted soldiers.
Here is a picture from that article showing some Chinese boots from around 2000 years ago:
There were plenty of animals, and it seems that tanning leather is very ancient:
Ancient civilizations used leather for waterskins, bags, harnesses, boats, armour, quivers, scabbards, boots and sandals. Tanning was being carried out by the South Asian inhabitants of Mehrgarh between 7000–3300 BC
Rawhide, which I think was used by Native Americans, does not involve the tanning process, and is thus simpler. Which I guess accounts for the wearing of moccasins rather than what we think of as boots.
So, where did these guys on the farm get the boots? If you search for 17th century boots, you will find people who will make them for you. Apparently, they are popular at costume parties and, I suppose, period movies. Whether the people in the documentary made everything the traditional way or whether they went to someone who used modern methods to create a reproduction, I have no idea. If you use a power saw to cut a replacement board for Williamsburg, VA, is it still a historical place?
footwear has always been the reaction to the ground you walked on, and how you earned your living
Roman soldiers had metal studs, essential because their marching standard was 30+ miles a day on hard surfaces.
same with all manual workers
hunter gathers moved over soft ground generally, and in any case iron was too scarce a commodity to wear out on foot wear
your social status was always defined by clothing, soft light footwear if you didn’t need to work for a living, or as now, because we use wheels instead of feet
Indoors and in the summer at home I always wear Spanish peasant shoes, entirely woven with ties that go up the calf.
In bad weather, they used to wrap a piece of water-proofed tanned leather around them.
All very simple and easy to repair.
As promised, here are a couple more thoughts.
Do we really need to reconstruct a farm from 1620 to try to get pointers? I don’t think so. Agricultural societies and the industrial societies they support have destroyed their own foundations. Why repeat those mistakes? Toby Hemenway talks about this in:
Start at the 39 minute point. At the 41 minute point he moves into the alternative of a Horticultural society. At 58 minutes he lists a number of horticultural societies which survived for thousands of years.
While the details doubtless varied, we can assume that these horticultural societies had no fossil fuels and little in the way of metals. For example, the Hopewell people did not smelt metals, but did trade for copper nuggets and did harvest iron from space debris and worked the metals into decorative objects. Their cutting tools were hard rock with an edge. They used bone for things such as needles for sewing. The evidence is that their health was good and they didn’t work very hard.
If I were Bill Gates and felt like passing out some money, I would buy some land and offer it to people who were willing to become a self-reliant community while doing without fossil fuels and metals. There would be no taxes levied by external governments, no external money, no external rules and regulations, etc. What would flow across the borders would be information and very raw materials (e.g., salt).
A reasonable prognosis is that the group would either kill each other, or else develop a horticultural society utilizing very gentle ways of steering Nature in a direction favorable to human life. In short, a New Horticulture utilizing the knowledge that we have developed, especially since the rise of science.
I do not think it is possible to perform such an experiment if the founding group has to pay ten thousand dollars an acre for the land, has to pay taxes, has to abide by a bunch of laws and regulations, and can sign away their land in ‘treaties’ with the US Army which promises to feed them in perpetuity on a miserable reservation, or can open a casino to bring in cash.
One of Toby’s concluding remarks is ‘we aren’t going back’ to the horticultural societies that came before us. We will, instead, rediscover the principles and use everything we now know to build a society which fits our needs and is consistent with current environmental reality.
PS For survival over the next hundred years, I think that models provided by Biological Agriculture may well work. Perhaps, if these were adopted, they could migrate to a New Horticulture with no fossil fuels and no metals over the decades and centuries. However, it would be helpful to have the discoveries of the radically New Horticulturist society to show us where we need to get to.
Hello Don, I surely agree we can do better than the 1600’s but sometimes we can glean things from the old days. I like to read lots of books about the old days and sometimes I learn a thing or two. Plowing sure looks tough, seed drilling looks better, but the weeds need to be cleared as part of the plowing process or do they? Perhaps the land could be mowed to clear weeds first then seed drill…
I do not think it is going to return to those simple times exactly since so much has been invented since then and stuff will be hanging around for years even if we stopped making it now, part will be a problem though.
“I do not think it is possible to perform such an experiment if the founding group has to pay ten thousand dollars an acre for the land, has to pay taxes, has to abide by a bunch of laws and regulations, and can sign away their land in ‘treaties’ with the US Army which promises to feed them in perpetuity on a miserable reservation, or can open a casino to bring in cash.”
I guess there are other planets out there, then.
But for now, the things you decry are the way things are.
Sitting back and wishing for Bill Gates to give you some land doesn’t seem like a possibility, either. But it’s probably a bit more likely than paying no taxes or not having to at least work within the spirit of the laws and regulations of The Unreal World.
We’ve been trying to recruit partners/members/funders for nearly eight years now, and have noticed a theme: 1) there are plenty of unskilled people who want you to “give” them a situation like that; 2) there are some skilled people with no money who want to take part; 3) there are virtually no people — skilled or no — with seed capital willing to risk it on such a venture. 4)And those with both skills and resources are astonishingly rare.
I could write a book on what’s behind Door Number One. Unfortunately, no publisher would touch it, because it would not seem “credible.” People With Nothing Who Want Something For Nothing are in vast surplus these days, and they tend to have the most outrageous sense of entitlement from among the three groups.
Behind Door Number Three, People With Something Who Play It Safe are much less common, and they often come with a ton of attitude, as well. We just evicted one such who had two million in gold. He made his fortune selling real-estate, but fancied his 50-year-old memories of a farmhand youth as justification that his “battle with the earth” style of farming was the One True Way. He lived here for five months for nothing, because he was a “potential investor.” His excuse was that gold was down at the moment, and he would invest Any Day Now when the market picked up. He was constantly working hard at counter-purposes, such as when he dug up our bed of sun chokes without asking, raking out all the organic material and leaving “scorched earth” for planting.
He ended up stealing potatoes, beets, and carrots (that he had no hand in growing!) the day he left, furtively sneaking armloads of root crops around like a common theif. He justified it because he had worked so hard (even though it often produced more work for us), and he calculated that at $15/hr, he was owed something more than room and board for his stay. Like farm workers get $15 an hour! (Our average return on labour last year was $3.61 an hour.)
Behind Door Number Two, People With Practical Skills But No Money are the most useful, but they don’t reduce the mortgage nor pay the property tax. But at least they increase cash income in other ways, and are generally a joy to work with. But they are rare. I think most of them are out on their own, renting property that they will get kicked off of sooner or later. And we have limited capacity to take them in.
People With Money And Practical Skills don’t exist, for all I can tell. People With Money are so used to hiring the skills they don’t have that their brains have atrophied for anything that doesn’t involve a keyboard. And the skills they have rarely map into sustainable subsistence agriculture very well. Or their success in The Unreal World has made them cocky and arrogant about succeeding in The Real World To Come. Or they’re off trying to do the same thing — there seems to be a glut of ecovillagy projects out there looking for fiscal partners.
What’s the answer? If I knew, I wouldn’t be whining about it here! Are you behind Door Number Two or Door Number Four, looking for a situation? We could use some help!
Just human nature. Those who want to build something of value, and are prepared to put in as well are very rare birds indeed.
The old Sufi proverb ‘Don’t be the one who wants to put one grain of rice in the pot, but take out a whole bowl’ has applied for how many thousands of years now ?!
Every enterprise attracts free-loaders and spongers, and even worse I think, dreamers without staying power. The promises of the ever-providing welfare state have perhaps made the problem greater, but somehow I doubt it……. to get a great deal of return for little effort has been the spur to much human ingenuity after all.
I put all my savings into learning my craft and ten years to get good at it, and now it supports me at a very modest level – not a rent-seeking attitude.
Thanks for the encouragement, Xabier, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep holding this space. Things are not crashing quickly enough for people to consider alternatives. We’re deep in the “boiling frogs” stage.
I wish you luck. I will not personally become an investor. First, I’m not rich. I do give small amounts to local people and organizations. Since I don’t give much money away, I try to target it to things and people I know about. A friend of mine is attempting to get an intentional community started. While I am always skeptical about them, I will keep an open mind and might put some money into it.
Another issue is the willingness to work. I worked part time at a small farm for a number of years. But now I am approaching 73 and I just don’t do the stoop labor graciously any more. One of my depressing days at the farm was when I was working with a 25 year old named Chris and he was going down a row straddling it with his long legs and harvesting with a big tub and working all his limbs simultaneously and bent over from the waist continuously. He was three times as fast as me. If we were drinking a beer, I would claim ‘better quality’, but the reality of aging dawned on me that day.
So now I focus on my little garden at home, and my community garden plot. My home garden is on the south side of my house, so it gets reflection from the low sun. That is a godsend in March as it warms things up. But when the official air temperature gets to be the 86 that it will be today, the garden close to the house will be over 100. So the plants suffer lots of stress. I am trying to figure out what to do about it. My tentative plan for next year is to plant some moringa trees in a bed to the south. They are a tropical tree which can grow as an annual here. They make lacy shade, extremely nutritious edible leaves, and grow 20 feet tall from seed. So they wouldn’t shade the bed by the house in March, but would partially shade it in August through mid-October. You might say that ‘having failed to save the world, he is trying to stop killing his own plants’.
You don’t have to stoop all day to grow food!
The power of an age-diverse community is that younger others can do the heavy lifting, while the elders do the intellectual and wisdom-based heavy lifting.
Or we can simply all go off and try to do it ourselves. Good luck with that one.
Your stories are part of the reason that I have a hard time thinking Permaculture will save a huge number of people. The hurdles (financial and skills) are awfully high.
“I have a hard time thinking Permaculture will save a huge number of people. The hurdles (financial and skills) are awfully high.”
That leaves me wondering about the viability of other alternatives. If not Permaculture, what? Resignation? Technological hopium? It’s like someone once said of democracy: “It’s the worst possible system, except for all the others out there.”
I don’t think anything is going to “save a huge number of people.” But I feel strongly that whomever controls productive farmland will control the survivors. I guess I’m relatively alone at that, or people would be clamouring for a chance at some control over their future.
We all eat for a living. Henry Kissinger knew this when he said, “If we can control fuel we can control the masses; if we can control food we can control individuals.” Every day, the noose tightens.
Permaculture or horticulture or food forests may still be the best we have. It may still be very difficult to transitions to.
I really don’t know how a transition from current property ownership to something else can/will take place. I imagine it will work differently in different places.
One part of Secular Cycles talks about the good farmland at times being abandoned, in favor of areas that could be easily defended (tops of mountains, for example). One book I have from a writer who lived in Argentina talks about the people in the cities of Argentina being much better off, as the economy fell apart, compared to the people by themselves out on farms. We have a hard time understanding what the real issues will be and how we can solve them.
“One book I have from a writer who lived in Argentina talks about the people in the cities of Argentina being much better off, as the economy fell apart, compared to the people by themselves out on farms.”
And yet, those in cities had to get food from somewhere, no?
I think the key phrase here is “by themselves.” We’ll need collaborative efforts. Witness Greece and Spain, where many young people who are unable to find work in cities are moving back to their traditional family villages — except such villages no longer exists in North America. We’ll have to re-create them.
Thanks! I agree that horticulture has more to recommend it than agriculture. As you say, ” …it would be helpful to have the discoveries of the radically New Horticulturist society to show us where we need to get to.”
We seem to have discovered a number of modern-day hunter-gatherers, but not horticulturalists. I wonder why.
We do discover people and places who are practicing a horticultural lifestyle. Two examples come to mind, both from Geoff Lawton. The first is a 300 year old food forest in Vietnam (about 6 minutes)
The second is also Geoff Lawton, but is in Morocco and is 2000 years old (5 minutes)
Both of these are, of course, embedded in a broader culture which has adopted chemical agriculture and industrial production. They are both in relatively poor countries where the financial pressure to sell the land for development was not as high as in the OECD countries. There are still horticultural communities in Africa, but as we know they are being displaced as the land is sold to multinationals who bring in chemical agriculture.
Putting these examples in the ‘horticultural’ category doesn’t necessarily mean that they are using the best practices. But, having survived for hundreds of years without chemical inputs tells us that the practices aren’t terribly destructive, either.
Thanks! Interesting videos!
This will be an excursion into the soft science of changing perceptions and behavior. To set the stage, let’s agree that no government decree can install a biological farming and gardening and home economy system. It has to come as individuals and families and small groups invent it on their own.
As Exhibit 1, let’s consider David Holmgren’s current essay in praise of his pocket-knife:
Now, all the people who are disconnected from reality, and are puppets on the string of some grand cause such as taking knives away from people, won’t get it at all. They will huff and puff and dismiss David as some relic from the Stone Age. They also can’t do a tenth of the stuff that David can do with his Leatherman. In a tough spot, I’d rather be with David and take the chance that he won’t knife me in my sleep to steal my loaf of bread. I would be pretty sure that the clueless people wouldn’t have any bread, and no idea how to get any.
As Exhibit 2, let’s consider a passage from Rebecca Solnit’s book The Faraway Nearby, page 193:
‘To hear is to let the sound wander all the way through the labyrinth of your ear; to listen is to travel the other way to meet it. It’s not passive, but active, this listening. It’s as though you retell each story, translate it into the language particular to you, fit it into your cosmology so you can understand and respond, and thereby it becomes part of you….You take the information your senses deliver and interpret it, often in terms of your own experience, until it becomes vivid to you.’
The readers of these comments will all have the experience of hearing (unless they skip over comments by the usual suspects), but few will have the experience of listening. Probably fewer will have the experience of actually learning.
The preceding thinking is how I can both claim that there are good ideas and practices in biological farming and gardening, but also that perhaps 99 percent of the people in the US will die. (I find your collapse scenarios to be persuasive.)
Thanks! I can relate more easily to David Holmgren than Rebecca Solnit.
Don and Gail,
I found the video interesting because I enjoy historic reenactments. However, I don’t think it is useful to pick apart the video and try to use it as a blueprint for what to do in the future. We will do whatever we can with whatever we have. It may look a lot like this, or it may look entirely different.
I also don’t believe it is useful to evaluate a system by the criteria “can it save 7 billion people?” Every region will be different. What works will be adopted. What doesn’t will be changed to fit the needs of that region. In the absence of oil, there will be an absence of central planning, so we shouldn’t be overly concerned with what will work for everyone.
Regarding boots and metal tools: we will wear out what we have, then salvage whatever we can find (there will likely be lots of metal laying around rusting), and finally we will have to make do with what we need from whatever natural resources are available. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Regarding seed drills: Farmers will do what works the best with the tools available. Yes, knowledge is vital. And in this regard I think everyone would be wise to collect good books on all these topics so that you can find answers when the internet dies. Look at all the practical information that is currently available on line, through workshops and YouTube videos. Our biggest problem right now is the lack of small farmers that can support themselves marketing their products. I see many small farmers still relying on an outside salary to keep the farm going. Unfortunately, they currently have to compete with industrial agriculture for customers. Some day when they don’t, they will easily be able to sell their products.
Gail, I’m curious what you meant by “we should do more of this?” Were you referring to making or watching videos, or were you referring to farming like this? I think more people should get out and start a garden. That would be a great first step!
I was talking about more investigation of how things worked (or didn’t). That way we can try to avoid pitfalls.
What happens when we get down to every country for themselves? I think in 08 the FED opened up its window for European banks, how can they do that? but also will they do that in the future? I also noticed that after a long investigation into the silver trading they “US.” found no wrong doing. What is to stop governments from manipulating markets and the truth. If it is “for everyone own good” belief even the most rule abiding person might sway. It almost seems like they say well lets make the market go up today…..If world leaders get together and say look you can take your medicine or we can continue to lie to the masses and keep things as they are. I think the leaders would choose the latter.
All of the quantitative easing is an attempt to hold interest rates down and help banks out, and also raise stock prices. So in a sense we are already into planned manipulation of the markets.
Chinese governments seem to provide incorrect information about their economy. For that matter, there are quite a few people who would say that the information we get has also been manipulated to make it look as good as possible.
I think many of the world leaders are already guilty of these practices, so it is hard to get leaders to come to an agreement to do away with them. Politicians will do as much as they can get away with.
In Argentina, anyone who publishes inflation data which differs from that proclaimed by the government (ie the real rate, which is very much higher than the official one) is being prosecuted.
There was a very amusing incident recently when a foreign journalist asked the economics minister what the real rate of inflation was, and he beat about the bush and then ran out of the interview on the excuse of ‘an urgent meeting’. He actually started to sweat when he found he’d been cornered on the issue.
I’ve noted general scepticism about nearly all government announcements in the UK, and of course in Spain it’s take as read that lies predominate: a minister said a few days ago that ‘Spain’s economy is the wonder of the world’!! Not quite all the statistics are falsified yet, but give them time…..
This is the end of effective democracy and has all the characteristics of totalitarianism: we mutter in private about the disparity between the official statistics and the truth, and some journalists will point it out, but the State machine grinds on into fantasy land…….
And in the USA the Federal Reserve magically reports exactly 0.2% monthly inflation every single month. Their “preferred gauge” (CPU-I) excludes food and fuel and can be manipulated anyway they please. You buy pollock instead of salmon because the salmon got too expensive? Then that’s not inflation, they call that “substitution”. Did some technological device gain some improvements or features, even though it is essentially the same device? The government writes down the cost of the device because of the extra features. This is called hedonics. Is the price of something rising a bit fast (housing for example, but could be anything)? The government discounts it. This is called geometric weighting. There are many accounting tricks built into USA inflation numbers (officially CPI-U) to placate the masses and to save the government money on any payouts or securities tied to inflation. But that’s not all, the official GDP to is subject to many accounting gimmicks as well, once again to placate the markets and maintain control over whatever perceptions the populace and markets might have as to the true state of things.
But the government can only stave off panic for so long. The clock is ticking…
Hello, Yes, they are pretty tricky with all of those substitutions used to calculate the CPI. On inflation, here is a site I keep an eye on, it really looks like it is closer to ten percent in the USA. Mostly I notice it in food, medical and utilities like cable tv.
As Kyle Bass said: they will lie, and lie, and lie, until the moment it all goes – Bang!
Hello Xabier, Do not get me started on the Fed, a subject that upsets me. Yes the Federal Reserve is not even a government entity, but instead a group of private banksters that are fleecing us. I think you have an equivalent in Europe with the EU Central Bank. They sure have done a good job putting most of the developed world into deep unserviceable debt while they print so much money and keep some for themselves and give it to their 1% Elite Banker or businesses friends.
Inflation is a thief in the night, or some could call it a secret tax. The financial situation we face has been engineered by the central banksters and will likely bring most of us to our knees in the years ahead.
You know JFK had signed an executive order prior to his death to close down the Fed and take away power and return the power of money to the US Treasury. After his death the order was never implemented…
In my opinion the Fed is just a bunch of Crooks and thieves. Modern day white shirt and tie Mobster Thieves that do not belong in power.
These entities represent themselves as helping us and pretend to be trying to fix things, but instead they are a shadow group of thieves. Many of the elites have off shore escape plans already and houses on remote islands and who knows what else.
It kind of started with the old rail road and casino bankers in the 1900’s, these guys ended up forming the Fed in 1913 and ever since it has been downhill for the dollar purchasing power.
I think it is not hard to predict our coming financial collapse given that we know these people are in power. This could go on for a lot longer since there is no one strong enough to shut them down… but I do think we will see inflation in Europe and in the USA in the years ahead.
The Federal Reserve has no exit strategy from its QE and other policies. The world has no exit strategy from its addiction to fossil fuels, the clock is ticking on everything and everyone. It is just a matter of time before it all goes “boom”.
I think that there is also the issue of what people are actually buying, in what proportions. People are buying homes and cars and medical care, but I don’t think the proportions are right. And the CPI looks at some sort of rent equivalent, instead of housing costs.
Governments have a fair amount of flexibility, and use it.
Randers position is stated as; while a decline in oil supply will take place, it will not occur until 2025. When it does happen, it will occur sufficiently slowly and incrementally that other fuels can replace its loss, apparently without disruption.
Replace without disruption? That’s some wishful thinking if I ever heard it. Currently I think we are in a holding pattern while developed economies like the US, EU and Japan borrow and print money to maintain a sliver of growth while the velocity of money continues to descend, all due to higher energy prices. When the fancy fiscal footwork begin to tap out, the stock market corrects and commodities dive, oil price will drop just like it did in 08. However getting the engines of commerce revving again without printing and borrowing to those previous heights will be very difficult with the price of oil leveling out in the 50-70 dollar range, eliminating many sources of marginal oil supply like tar sands and tight oil. OPEC will reduce supply to push the price back up to where it will no longer go only adding to the reduction of supply. That’s when at least all oils will begin descending from a peak, and conventional oil will start to drop but more slowly. I don’t see any peaks in oil supply after this point. When collapse occurs is another question.
Now here’s an odd thought I wanted to splash in here. My wife had this fascinating idea. She wondered if all the movies and TV specials on the theme of zombies is a reflection of people’s collective intuition of how people will be after the collapse. Walking around (sort of) like zombies looking for food in a disheveled, tattered state.
Thanks for your insights. I am not sure that “replace without disruption” went through Randers’ head, but the economy is assumed to never “skip a beat”.
I know that Dmitry Orlov says that men who had jobs previously were particularly affected by the collapse of the Former Soviet Union. Women often still had their usual tasks to tend to, but men felt a loss of their role in society.
Similarly, it was noted that when the German Army collapsed in 1945, the men of the old officer class were hopeless in dealing with the new order, but their wives worked wonders in keeping things going, feeding the family, etc.
Males seem to have a lot of problems with changes in status and occupation, and we can see the same dire effects in the imposition of colonial rule on the peoples of Africa and South America we they were not allowed to continue traditional life.
Like a change of diet: the Ancient Greeks noted that to change one’s diet suddenly was to invite serious illness.
Xabier, I feel for them.
How could a proud man accept subservient status? It might work if only one ‘former officer’ is standing in the ‘to be hired’ line, but not if any of his colleagues or subordinates can see him. Pride is such a terrible and strong motivation. Women, on the other hand, are more resilient and less burdened by such things, I think. They were paid by the occupying forces in packs and cartons of cigarettes, a carton a week for a maid. They’d take that carton down to the local market and turn it into real money. My mother was there with her babies just after the war, as the wife of an American…it was a charity to hire two or three maids.
Of auto’ s and oil.
1) The first thing a newly enriched person will purchase is an automobile, regardless of where in the world.
2) Electric and hybrid-electric vehicles will reach 1% of sales in the US next year, and may reach 5% by the end of this decade. The ‘development-cost’ curve is still dropping; most experts expect EVs and ICEVs to cost about the same, and perform about the same within 10 years.
See The Economist, 20 April 2013: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21576219-carmakers-are-hedging-their-bets-powering-cars-great-powertrain-race.
Good Article Chris, we could surely use a better battery right now to make these work. Sounds like there is a race going on to do that. That one car the Volt only gets 38 miles on a charge, where I live the next town over where we shop is about that far of a round trip, so I would be worried I would not make it home.
A better long range battery would change everything for the electric car industry right now.
I hope they come up with one soon.
I agree entirely that getting EV’s up and running would be great. Some people on this blog are from Missouri and won’t believe anything until it’s been documented by the Smithsonian. That’s okay and I will not ask them to put their necks out. However, they might consider the implications of the effect on oil prices when 5% of new vehicles are EVs, or 10% or a few more. Just relieving the pressure on big oil will help, Of course, then the big oil companies will buy up the electric power companies…
The point is that when there is no crude oil we would have to invent it. The gasoline/diesel fuel are the most effective batteries for cars we have today: the battery is consumed as you drive. And what about heating the electric car in cold enivronments? Now the winter is approaching in the vast areas of the northern hemisphere and the heat produced by the internal combustion engine is very useful…
The solar panels are that kind of high tech that you can buy but you cant produce them at home. They can help you only as long as their operating life lasts or until some major damage to your home system/electricity storage happens. Heating water with solar power is much better solution than producing electricity. And converting the sun power into biomass and the biomass into animals will surely be more useful in the future (as it was before). The simplest solutions based on the local materials at hand will work. Something like recycling debris around you. The life will be much slower (as it was before), so we wont need as much energy as we consume today. I would call it “the shock from slow life”.
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Crude oil is too concentrated a source of energy, and is being used in far too great a volume, for any renewable fuel source to replace it. It is like trying to replace coal with wood. It can’t be done. The same is true for the other fossil fuels, gas and coal. Only some unexpected breakthrough in fusion could provide enough energy to prevent civilization, as we know it today, from collapsing once the supply of fossil fuels begins to actually decline.
We still need liquid fuels. We would need very cheap fusion to do something like turn carbon dioxide and water back to oil.
I think that the discussed forecast to 2052 is a total nonsense regarding the curve of the oil and the renewables. The era of the high priced oil is ahead of us. And it means that the extraction of minerals, production of them and their transport is costly. Furthemore, I do not believe in the renewables, wind, solar etc. to play any important role in the future. (E.g. you need gasoline and diesel fuel to cut the trees and transport them. And already now the forests with worse accessibility become less and less economical.) These ways of energy production are somewhat “too exhausting”, fragile, intermittent, not suitable for all parts of the world, requiring too high price to store the energy etc. The people will drive gasoline driven cars as long as this is economical in comparison to trains and horses, mules, cows and bicycles. The electric car has not become a widespead transportation means in the past and it will not be in the future either. The hydrogen car is a total economical fail. The role of the recycling will be more and more important. No wonders will come, just the way it is, with less and less oil, because every effort to fight against the oil depletion (loans, mortgages, state debt, construcion, renewables subsidies etc.) will be more an more costly. People would have much better lives today, if they stopped to fight the inevitable phenomenom of oil depletion. If they stopped to believe the various “energy fakers” etc. The energy decline is inevitable, why spending the remaining energy on the technologies, that are more and more complicated and thus lacking robustness of non-renewables? The physical forces of the nature will prevail anyway.
“The era of the high priced oil is ahead of us”
“The electric car has not become a widespead transportation means in the past and it will not be in the future either”
You said it yourself, the world is changing. You might want to reword your statement.
We need a whole system to operate to keep electric cars going. I expect we will lose electricity almost as fast as oil. And losing jobs to pay for the cars will be an even bigger issue.
There is not enough fossil energy to continue operating our system, and I don’t see any technology replacing it. What do high prices mean in a future of primary resource depletion and the need to feed 7 billion people? The government or central bank can print all the money they want, but it will only continue to have value because we still believe in our economic system, and money…until we don’t. When people stop believing in their currency (i.e. hyper inflation), when we realize that all the paper or electronic digits can’t feed us, the value of our electronic wealth will disappear. “Money” and the economic system it runs will collapse and some other medium of exchange will take its place…something that holds value and makes it easier to barter over distance. We will once again have to rely on getting something we need from someone who is willing to trade it for something of equal or greater value.
The fundamental truth about resource depletion is that no matter how much money we print, it is worthless if it isn’t tied to natural resources. When it takes more energy to extract a barrel of oil than the energy you recover, we will stop extracting oil, or we will only use it for things we need that can priced accordingly. Driving 10 miles to eat at McDonalds won’t be one of them. The main value of oil has been the transportation of goods around the world. No oil. No cheap transportation.
One of the reasons I am glad we installed solar PV is because we will be able to heat, cool, and power our house from the sun even if the coal fired power plant 75 miles away is operating intermittently or not at all. And we paid for this capability with today’s labor and the dollars we were paid for it, which are becoming worth less and less and may eventually be worthless. While our economic and industrial system is still functioning it seems wise to purchase anything that can help us be less tied to our current economic system. I don’t believe there is any solution that will save our highly financialized global economic system, so why not do what we can while we can? You may wish for something that may soon not even be available.
“One of the reasons I am glad we installed solar PV is because we will be able to heat, cool, and power our house from the sun even if the coal fired power plant 75 miles away is operating intermittently or not at all.”
I have to question this statement. You would need to have a system that is not tied to the grid with a large amount of energy storage or large PV capacity that is a waste when not cooling or heating. This would be very expensive. Also, heating from a photovoltaic system would seem very inefficient compared to other types of panels. Would you care to shed a little color on the subject.
Just more food for thought. (nice close earlier)
This is the thought process we went through in deciding to install solar PV on our home.
We first of all wanted to reduce our homes carbon foot print by not using coal for electricity, which is the main source for electricity in Indiana. Climate change, in my opinion, is much more dangerous for life on earth than peak oil. Peak oil may be bad for humans but climate change threatens all life on earth.
We assumed that there was a very good probability that our economic system might collapse in the near term. We wanted some type of energy to power our home that wasn’t dependent on the grid.
If a collapse didn’t happen and we experience a slow decline with the cost of energy rising, we didn’t want to retire and see our fixed costs skyrocket, our retirement accounts lost, or the government unable to honor social security obligations. So, we wanted to invest in a system now that would provide our home’s utilities for the next 20 to 30 years.
We wanted to spend our savings now on something thing that will benefit us later, since savings are gaining nothing in interest, and I don’t trust the bubble forming in the stock market. Bubbles always burst.
Financing worked out to our advantage. Interest rates were lower than when we bought our house and we had plenty of equity in our house, so we were able to borrow what we needed to pay for the PV and geothermal system and not change the amount of our monthly mortgage payment. And the life of our mortgage only increased by 4 years. In addition, the government’s tax credit for renewable energy saved us on our taxes and reduced the cost of the system by 30%. (Yes, Gail, I know you don’t believe in subsidies! Personally, my husband and I are in the worst tax bracket and I feel we pay more than enough in taxes to support our government.)
Now, with regard to your statement.
“You would need to have a system that is not tied to the grid with a large amount of energy storage or large PV capacity that is a waste when not cooling or heating. This would be very expensive.”
You are correct. We are tied to the grid and use it to bank energy, but we also spent about 25% more to have back up batteries for emergency/collapse scenario. We have net metering, so when the sun is shinning we are putting energy out to the grid. At night we are taking energy off the grid. If we were using only batteries there would be some windows of time when our batteries would be fully charged and the sun still shinning and we would not have a use for the energy. Having our system tied to the grid allows us to put that energy back onto the grid and spin our meter backwards. Most of the year, our batteries would cover night time needs, but in winter they would not.
“Also, heating from a photovoltaic system would seem very inefficient compared to other types of panels. the sizing of the system.”
You are correct. During nine months of the year we are generating excess energy and so our meter cranks back about 2,000 Kwh. From December through February we take that energy back off when solar energy is less and geothermal heating takes more. Geothermal is beautiful for cooling and very efficient! We have a wood stove for supplemental heat so we can control how much we use geothermal for heating.
I monitor our energy use and production daily. I know what we are using and when so if the grid went down we would have to make adjustments accordingly.
I don’t believe that solar PV is going to replace fossil fuel. People are still going to need to live on less energy. I don’t use a clothes dryer or dish washer. Geothermal replaced dehumidifier in the basement. We have switched to LED bulbs. We have motion sensors on entry lights. We replaced appliances that weren’t energy efficient. We have power strips on electronic equipment so we eliminate phantom energy loss. We bought a house that has 8″ concrete masonry walls, and then we installed more insulation, new door and windows so our house is even more tight, it doesn’t lost heat or coolness easily. We also use window fans instead of air conditioning during the much of the year. In other words, we have done everything we could to reduce energy use before we installed the PV system. And we continue to hammer on our kids about saving energy. People come to my house and say “Do you always keep it so dark in here?” Yes, I often rely on ambient light. When I give presentations I intentionally turn off half the lights just to let people know that we don’t need to have our rooms so brightly lite.
I know that our system is only a bridge. I only hope, not expect, it will last us 20 or 30 years. But, it met our needs and we are happy about the security it gives us as we move towards retirement or when we lose our jobs and business.
good question by the way,
in your thinking. If
I am afraid Nature is in charge. Our politicians would like us to think that they are in charge. 2052 supports that view.
The idea that politicians are in charge is still deeply rooted, the whole circus of democratic politics and a universal franchise supports the illusion: that your vote can somehow get you prosperity and security is still a natural assumption. Cynicism towards the political process and the claims of politicians is, however, spreading quite rapidly.
When that illusion has been destroyed, it creates a wide open space for very radical politics and, eventually, some form of Dictatorship, probably of ‘the Left’, maybe even genuinely and freely elected – to begin with……….
If this seems an improbable step, just look at Europe’s history in the 1920’s and 30’s. The Ancient Greeks understood this political cycle very well. There is no reason to believe we will necessarily be exempt from it.
It seems as though in the beginning, religion and politicians went together. Religions legitimized what the local ruler said. Now the world’s collective religion has become technology, growth, and Ben Bernanke can fix everything.
Nature is really in charge. Nature doesn’t hand over power to earthly religions or (especially) politicians.
Week-end Collapse Comedy Spot: Venezuela update.
Those who appreciated the surreal occupation by the Venezuelan Army of the country’s strggling toilet paper factory, sent in by the President who receives spirit messages from deceased Hugo Chavez via a little stuffed bird on his shoulder, may be delighted to know that the President has shown his firm grasp of both economics and demagogics by sending his People’s Militia into the supermarkets, in order to solve severe problems of empty shelves and long queues.
The Militia, dedicated to Chavism, are receiving emergency training in product-handling, pricing and cashier work. They will also ensure that no further sabotage orchestrated by US secret services will take place in the said supermarkets. All the militia can be armed by Maduro at a moment’s notice, so best not to ask for any refunds…….
Could this ever happen at Walmart?
(From an obscure corner of the Spanish press.)
Is this one of the those stories that are true, but so surreal we can’t believe they are true? Amazingly hilarious in any event.
My pleasure. I haven’t embellished the story at all: I couldn’t.
Maduro, I believe a former bus driver, claims he’s in spiritual communion with the deceased Hugo Chavez, who no doubt inspired him to solve the supermarket problem this way……
Seriously, this is what an economic collapse can look like. Pure farce, unless you are trying to feed a family of course.
Venezuela has been spending it oil revenues faster than it gets them. It just recently got a $5 billion loan from China. Oil exporters are supposed to have extra money to save for a rainy day.
I think there’s a lot of rhetoric in public for the people,and quiet desperation behind closed doors in the President’s office in Venezuela right now. The squandering of their oil wealth is tragic.
Gail: A new deal was signed around 18 September. China ponied up USD 14B to develop Junin Oilfield in Venezuela, reportedly total at 300 Billion barrels, at 200,000 per day production. It’s not clear if China will take delivery of the entire output. The $5B deal you mentioned closed a few years ago. The Chinese like this bilateral deals.
Don – Typo On Iceland, I meant goods from afar may be hard to come by with only a local currency after default.
Dear Gail and Others
Here is an experiment which should provoke some thought in all those who think a life with less energy is necessarily a terrible fate. The experiment is described on page 198 of Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD.
‘Some of the most compelling science has been conducted in just the last couple of years. In 2011, Dr. Justin S. Rhodes and his team …made discoveries using four groups of mice in four different living arrangements. One group lived in the lap of luxury in a setting that included lavish, mice-friendly meals (nuts, fruits and cheeses, and flavored waters) and lots of playful toys to explore, such as mirrors, balls, and tunnels. The second group of mice had access to the same treats and toys, but their living quarters including running wheels. A third group’s cages resembled a Motel 6: they contained nothing extraordinary and the mice ate standar kibble. The fourth group of mice similarly lacked access to fancy amenities and food, but their home included running wheels.
….The one variable that clearly stood out above all others was whether or not the mice had a running wheel. It didn’t matter if they had things to play with in their cages. The animals that exercised were the ones that had healthy brains…’
What, in a nutshell, do fossil fuels permit us to do? They permit us to get things we think we want without exercising. In olden times, the fortunate few got what they wanted from slaves…now we have energy slaves.
Do you begin to get some idea that, just perhaps, its all been a big mistake? Perhaps fossil fuels are as deadly as slave-owning?
PS Albert Bates has recently noted in his blog that human brains are shrinking. Exercise increases brain growth.
Much food for though Don, thanks. I often fantasize, perhaps romanticize, about prehistoric life. Sure there could be moments of terror, like when you run into another tribe, or another tribe simply decides to kill everyone and take your territory, among other things, but unless that lead to a life of constant fear, I imagine being in a small tribe of familiar homo sapiens living in the natural world with little need for technology might not have been such a bad deal. You and your tribe would depend on nothing but nature and your own skills for self-sufficiency. You could look up and see the universe (no light pollution) and were free to roam a natural world. Assumedly you shared a common spirituality with the tribe, and a common history. I imagine at some point things got pretty bad for us (look up “population bottleneck”) which may have lead to the simultaneous discovery of agriculture in many areas (although that could also have been the slow march of technology).
What do I see now? An artificial world. Houses densely packed together, giant heavy cages (cars) hurtling all over the place, the seemingly unthinking masses with no spirituality or common ground, and, dare I say, an over-abundance of “knowledge”. And I am completely dependent on society and civilization, I don’t know one wit about surviving on my own, not that it would matter on a planet with 7 billion people. You can’t “quit” civilization.
The anthropological record shows that prehistoric tribes were very egalitarian (per Ernest Becker, 1972). I see no egalitarianism in the modern world.
“I often fantasize, perhaps romanticize, about prehistoric life.”
I don’t know about you, but at 59 I’m not dreaming about sleeping on the ground with rocks. I was thinking more along the lines of the back seat of a 57 Chevy.
Boy how things have changed.
Maybe with Flintstone wheels. A compromise?
When I visited India, I saw people sleeping on the ground. I heard stories that workers sometimes slept on the floor of their workplaces–They had families in more rural areas, and worked for more money.
As in India, so in medieval Europe, apprentices and workmen would live with the master of the workshop and his family, maybe sleep up in the roof or under the workbenches to provide security from theft. Apprentices might often then end up marrying the master’s daughter – I wonder just why…..?!
I think the longings you expressed in your message are very natural and important. They speak of a need to connect with others in a meaningful way.
“shared a common spirituality with the tribe”
A need to develop our own natural gifts and potential.
“depend on …nature and your own skills… self-sufficiency”
They also point out a natural human desire to understand and feel connected to the world around us beyond our day to day experience.
“look up and see the universe (no light pollution)”, “free to roam a natural world”, “egalitarianism”
“Houses densely packed together, giant heavy cages (cars) hurtling all over the place, the seemingly unthinking masses”
No, “You can’t “quit” civilization” nor should you want to. Civilization is a beautiful and terrible thing. Evolution created humans. We are one among a multitude of species on earth. But we have the ability to communicate with each other and share knowledge over time (written history and science), the ability to make tools and technology, and to use them to create amazing new designs, and out of this developed “civilization”. We may be seemingly ‘unnatural’ but how can nature create un-nature?
Some people are very gifted in their ability to let their mind wander and imagine something different from what they see around them. Imagination allows us to express our deepest longings and perhaps to create a new awareness of how we want to live. As we come to the end of the fossil fuel era, our ability to imagine a different future may well be very important to our survival.
I enjoy good science fiction because some authors are able to see patterns in society and project into the future how those patterns might play out over time. I like to imagine a far off time in our future when some sapient creature, living in a lush tropical paradise, dodging giant reptilian predators, finds some relic of “carbon man” and wonders what this strange creature was. Or perhaps we will survive this “bottleneck” and some form of homo sapiens will study earths past and decipher the role of humanity in the history of the earth. As a student of Geology I am very curious how we fit into the larger span of geologic time.
Perhaps James Lovelock’s Gaia theory has some truth, perhaps the web of life on earth is connected and self regulating. Perhaps “life” on earth “understood” the danger of increasingly frequent ice ages and the relationship between ideal temperature and carbon stored under ground. So evolution produced a species with the intelligence and ability to dig it up, burn it, and make it available again to warm earth’s atmosphere. And then a fever killed off this dangerous and opportunistic pathogen.
Yes, imagination is a wonderful tool!
It is amazing what other species can do also, and how they can communicate with each other. Also how they can quickly transform themselves–bacteria can change their genes very quickly. We are the species that learned to use external energy in many ways–first control of fire over 1 million years ago, later in the form of technology (which mostly would not be possible without fossil fuels). Our bodies have now adapted to the changes–smaller chewing and digestive apparatus, and bigger brains. It is not clear we can go back.
Dear Gail and Jody
I have been working on certain aspects of a ‘farming and climate change’ conference which will be held next February. My focus has been on the potential for sequestering carbon in the soil. We can do calculations which indicate that enormous amounts of carbon have been taken out of the soil and put into the air. It is clear that it is technologically possible to farm in such a way that we put a lot of that carbon back into the soil. The technology that is required is, oversimplified, to substitute biological methods for chemical methods. There are examples of farms which are making money and sequestering carbon. There are also examples of farms which are currently destroying carbon sinks so that they can grow corn ethanol.
A number of innovative thinkers in the farm community believe that using internet technology to directly connect farmers and consumers is the way we ought to be going. It avoids the whole industrial food system and thus avoids spending the energy which that system requires. Distribution is handled by small refrigerated trucks which can go to a variety of local delivery points including individual homes.
Now here is a further consideration that I have been thinking about. There are a significant number of people who will pay more money for nutrient dense food which was produced with ecological best practices. The Federal Government is in the process of destroying the ‘organic’ label for the benefit of giant corporations. So my thought is to develop certain indicators of nutrient density and ecological best practices and let the individual farms use the appropriate labeling for their goods. For example, suppose a CS means that carbon is being sequestered in the soil. The farmer would label (on the internet site) his farm as a CS farm. The potential consumer would be able to go to the farm website and check to see the history of the carbon stored in the soil on that farm. Likewise, a BX symbol might indicate that the farm is producing plants with high Brix scores, and the potential consumer could check the trend in Brix scores on the particular farm. A GF symbol might indicate one hundred percent grass fed beef.
And so forth and so on. If we think about it, biology and information are being substituted for fossil fuel or nuclear energy. It is commonplace for people to say that ‘complexity demands higher external energy’. But in the foregoing example, it is biology and information that are enabling more complexity. I wouldn’t claim that any of this would run entirely without external energy, but it could certainly run with a lot less external energy. GDP would decline, but human welfare would increase.
Before we get too doomerish about things, I think we should look carefully at what biology and information can do.
Yes, information is certainly plentiful today. I love to dive into a subject on Wikipedia and follow links that help me better understand the concepts, or follow threads into dimensions I hadn’t thought of or planned to go. I love using Amazon to search for books. It seems like I can find almost anything I want no matter how long ago it was published. I find it helpful to “look inside” and read a bit to see if I like the book. And I like to read a few of the reviews, both the good and the bad. And when I select a book, they are kind enough to tell me what others who bought the book also liked. Yes, I know it is a smart marketing gambit, but hey, I often find that people who read the same books I do often have good advice on other books!
Our access to information through the internet is certainly a ‘superhighway’. If farmers could connect with customers through the internet they can market their products in meaningful ways. Most of my new customers come to my business through my website or through word of mouth. The internet is a very powerful tool for connecting and educating us.
primitive living might have had some advantages, but we forget that back then there was no awareness of anything different, so they got on with it and accepted life as it was.
problem now is, we know that it is possible to fly, diseases can be cured and it’s possible to move faster than a horse, and we would refuse to accept that the means to do so has gone.
Because knowledge cannot be unlearned, there will be a universal blame culture, and the ongoing certainty that prosperity can be voted for, if only we choose the right politicians.
This notion might last a generation, certainly no more than that, but it will burn the last of our ‘technology/energy, in proving the nonsense of it…that weird, universal way of thinking, that ‘they’ are going to come up with ‘something’, and the even weirder idea that technology can deliver unlimited energy.
Because we know things can be ‘better’ we will react in the only way we know, which is violence. (that is happening right now). That will continue until the means to sustain it has gone, together with about 90% of the population. (the proportion of us already existing because of fossil fuel energy sources in the first place)
If you think of a world with only 1/2 billion people , they tended to be so far apart that conflict in any major sense wasn’t viable in terms of energy outlay
“Because knowledge cannot be unlearned,”
Perhaps not, but it can be forgotten and it only takes a generation for this to occur.
EOM: Is there not one optimistic bone in your body? thought in your head? It’s okay if none exist, but let’s all be honest about such things.
Hello Don, I think we need to make major changes in the way we grow our food and the way we make our power and move things around without carbon, if we are to have a chance to avoid collapse. Right now it almost looks like they are steering us into collapse and it is hitting the far corners of the world first.
Looking at Iceland, they snubbed their noses at the global bankers and defaulted on their debts, perhaps the best thing to do. I have not done that much research on it but I think they had to go back to their own currency, a default like that could bring about a time that goods from a far are easy to come by as the local currency may be shunned by the international community. I am going to look into that a little bit more, but they are doing better now a few years later. I think if a major country were to default it would really hurt this global trade thing they have going on and the “powers that be” (I hate that phase) but they do not want to give up their game and business cash flows that so lucrative so they will take drastic actions to avoid it in the larger countries like in the USA and Europe and they may even put us into hyperinflation eventually doing such a thing to keep servicing and unserviceable debt with printed money!
In the meantime, I get you on the permaculture, there are many young people and older people such as myself that want to see changes in farming, better food and many of us are unhappy with the current system. However such methods may have trouble feeding 8 plus billion people unless we really get the energy systems in place that are non carbon/non fossil fuels for the most part.
Looks like we are way behind on that and is where I see troubled waters ahead.
There was a very funny piece by Kyle Bass about Iceland.
He went to see the Finance Minister about investing in the ‘recovering’ Iceland, who gave him loads of bull in a presentation.
Kyle basically told him he knew it was bull, and the Minister said, in effect, ‘OK, let’s talk about our real situation.’ !
Apparently, life is really not so good in Iceland, above all for ordinary people, but I don’t have that personally, only from searching around on the net. These days, it’s just propaganda from all sides…….
I visited Iceland this summer (I pick problem spots to vacation/investigate), and they were complaining about a lack of jobs and lack of money for building new buildings. Before the collapse, a lot of outside groups seemed to be investing money there. This money dried up.
They weren’t doing terribly, but they weren’t doing nearly as well as they had been before the collapse.
They grow quite a lot of their food in greenhouses, using geothermal energy. Amazing! But it uses a lot of glass and metal besides geothermal heat.
Icelanders have that odd geological anomaly of thermal energy, few other places have that,
The brutal reality is that civilisation in any ongoing balanced form evolved between the tropics, where natural warmth provided food and sustenance with the minimum of effort.
Move outside the tropics, which really means into the great northern wilderness areas, and survival becomes much more difficult, because the energy resources are not there to support them.
Which is why you dont see cities built by eskimos or Patagonians, but you do find ancient cities in a line around the earth, in China, India, the Middle East, Central America.
The big unknown factor now of course is climate change, whether that will make the tropics uninhabitable, if it does, the northern regions are unlikely to adapt to an influx of refugees, such as we are already seeing move out of Africa into southern Europe.
When that becomes an inevitable flood, one can only speculate on the violence of the conflict.
To resort to cliche—you aint seen nothing yet
I have been noticing that same geographical issue. It is hard for northern countries to compete with warm countries on labor costs, so with globalization, we lose out.
I have been following with interest the story of Iceland and its ramifications for the ballooning debt problem in the world. I like reading Joseph Stiglitz’s articles on this subject.
I believe that investors that put money in risky bonds should suffer the consequence of losing it, and anyone investing money for others that lies about the risk or in anyway intentionally profits from their customers loss should go to jail. That is the way the system was supposed to work.
I also wonder about the mental health that comes from making things with our hands. Our greatest tools are supposed to be our large brain and our hands with their opposable thumbs. I think brain development and satisfaction in life are enhanced when we work with our hands and hand tools. Now some people might think that it is backwards or inefficient to do things by hand when machines can do the work so much faster and more accurately. But perhaps the value is not in the efficiency with which something is made, but the learning and the experience that happens when we do it by hand. This is another area in which humans have let fossil fuel driven machines and technology replace skills we need to survive and maybe even to thrive.
Hello, I think that is part of the big problem we face, many cultures have lost their native ways, how to hunt and fish and provide for themselves. That goes for most of us as we all are used to shopping in stores.
For example many Pacific Island countries in the US Territory are now mostly on food stamps and have unable to fish for themselves for many years. Once a generation or two passes the trades are forgotten and we may all have a hard time relearning them.
Last night I watch a show about this guy that went into Canyon Country of the South West and into the north woods of Canada alone with only one match and a few supplies, he did some amazing things to stay alive for ten days. So there are some people out there that are tougher than others for sure. I think though, not the majority.
Over-fishing is a big problem as well.
Hello, One last thought… Since it takes something like 20 days to catch the same amount of fish today from the sea as it did in the early 1900’s. If we did not have the diesel boats we would have to work 20 times harder to bring in the same fish catch by hand. The same goes for us if we had to farm these depleted lands and soils by hand. We could have a tough time ahead there if solutions are not found soon.
I do agree that if more people worked in a hands on way in farming, ranching, food production and fishing like the old days they would be healthier mentally and physically than in the offices of and work places that most of us are in today.
As the craftsman who taught me (and who made books for the English Royal Family) once said – and he was a modest man: ‘Sometimes you finish the day and you say to yourself: ‘That’s a damn fine piece of work done today!’ So, yes, very satisfying, nearly all the time in fact.
The irony of modern times is that the workers who had to endure the boredom and monotony and exploitation of the mechanized factory system long to get it back now the work has gone to Asia……
The author is an MD who specializes in hands.
Dr. Perlmutter addresses the mental health issues in his Brain Drain chapter. You may or may not be convinced by his indictment of gluten, but he certainly has had some clinical successes.
I am impressed by the rise in the use of mental health medications among women just between the years 2001 and 2010…from 21 percent to 26 percent. I can’t help but think that the unstable economy has contributed something to the increase. Mothers worry about their families…that seems to come with the job. That is one reason I emphasize making the family more resilient by resucitating home economics. A family that can provide for itself the necessities of life is bound to feel more secure, I think. Toby Hemenway has recently been emphasizing ‘eliminating the fear’. David Holmgren lists the necessities which a family should be providing largely for itself.
I think a family which has no idea about how to provide for themselves is subject now, and will be increasingly subject in the future, to a lot of mental stress.
I most certainly DO believe the indictment of gluten! But I’m not yet convinced that I can’t tolerate a small amount of wheat as long as I periodically clean my system by not eating gluten for a week to 10 days. Call it denial! Being an avid baker it is too hard to deny myself the fruit of my labor! Perhaps after I read the book “the Grain Brain” I will change my mind about the severity of these consequences. Damn, that would be too bad! 🙂
Unfortunately, the public library hasn’t actually gotten the Grain Brain book yet, it is on order and I am #4 on the waiting list to check it out. I am not able to wait that long so I added it to my Amazon order. Could you slow down a little on the reading recommendations and let me catch up? 🙂
I recall that Sara Gottfried’s book “The Hormone Cure” discussed the increasing use of mental health medications among women and its relationship to hormonal imbalance particularly cortisol, the stress hormone. I have found that St. John’s wort is very beneficial as a natural tranquilizer, but it must not be taken with other types of mental health medications. I also take an herbal sleep formula that contains a number of herbs including camomile and valerian, my two favorite sleep aids. I used to suffer from insomnia or had difficulty sleeping through the entire night. I found that getting enough uninterrupted sleep (for me at least 6 hours) is one of the most important things I can do for my mental health. Blood sugar regulation is the next thing. When I get hungry I can get really irritable! I keep a container of raw almonds with me so that I can munch something every three hours just to keep my energy up.
Another food ingredient that causes serious health issues is High Fructose Corn Syrup. A year or so ago I read the book “Deep Nutrition, why your genes need traditional food” by Catherine Shanahan, MD, and Luke Shanahan. In the book she discusses the link between HFCS and insulin sensitivity, obesity, and diabetes. I went looking for more research and it wasn’t hard to find. From what I read the indictment was very strong and it prompted me to stop buying all products that contain HFCS, which is difficult because some form of it is in most processed foods and soft drinks. Even fruit juices labeled as all natural can be supplemented with HFCS because it is natural.
When our bodies no longer use insulin properly and we store excess blood sugar in our fat cells (in particular abdominal fat). The increased consumption of HFCS and it’s derivatives in processed food may be what is causing this and our epidemic of obesity. Once I started looking it was obvious that many Americans are carrying excess belly fat, even if they are relatively fit otherwise.
Diabetes and obesity run in my family, and I’m already carrying too much weight. The chance of increasing the risk isn’t worth it. But since I cook my own food I can avoid it better than most people can.
Now I am seeing more foods labeled “Contains no high fructose corn syrup” or “Gluten-free”. It seems to me that our medical establishment isn’t all bad, and some doctors are leading the charge on these issues. But like every other issue that affects us, marketing trumps good sense.
have a great weekend!
Completely with you. My mother said the other day that she didn’t know why, but she just felt happy to see a larder full of good food – more secure, less anxious. And she’s a good cook, no processed food gets through the door.
The beautiful English actress Jill Furse, who died tragically young, used to like to live in a cottage with no electricity, she said that there was a feeling of comfort and certainty from knowing that if you had a match you could light the candle, but it was horrible to flick a switch and find the power had failed. Of course, begs a question about matches, but one takes the point!
But none of the vested interests want us to be resilient do they? They want insecure, needy, aquisitive drones to keep the debt scam running nicely.
Your ‘making things with your hands’ rang my chimes. Not being a brain specialist and having forgotten which day it is right now, I can’t remember which side of the brain is the creative and which is the orderly. For this discussion it doesn’t matter, because when you use your hands to make something and concentrate on what you’re doing, you’re using both sides of the brain, in harmony.
Chinese (and Japanese) calligraphy is similar. The practitioner sits straight upright, holds the brush directly vertical and in the exact center of her/his chest, and allows the hand to move as the mind instructs it. Since there is a learned ‘stroke order’ that is critical to the correct composition of each character, both the orderly and the creative (the overall picture of the character) are at play simultaneously and constructively.
To this day many Chinese and Japanese companies and organizations instruct their employees to spend 45-60 minutes per day practicing calligraphy. Most say it’s very refreshing.
So how’s your knitting?
Hello Chris, I have read that creative types are left handed people. I would bet that Jody and many of us on this site are left handed. I for one am left handed.
I am left handed.
Scott and Chris,
I am very right handed, in fact I find it hard to do most things left handed. My husband practices doing things with both hands (like brushing his teeth) because he believes it is better for his brain. When I make bread I stir with both hands because even my right hand gets tired. I have a weird form of dylexia, For some reason right and left crossed over in my brain and I see the world as a mirror image. Right is always left, and left is always right in my mind. When I am giving directions to people I tell them to go where I point not where I say. I have to stop and think every time I want to express right or left…”this is the hand I right with, therefore….” One would think I could retrain my brain but nope….it’s always the same in my head. If only everyone else would just change!
Very interesting information about calligraphy. I also write with my paper turned almost 90 degrees at roughly the center line of my body, which causes me to write from the bottom up across the page. My school teachers kept trying to force me to put my tablet the “right” way but it never took. I rarely knit (but I do know how). Even as a potter my dominant right hand goes on the outside of the spinning clay and the submissive left hand goes on the inside guiding the movement. But my hands have to cooperate. If my strong hand overcompensates the wall pushes in too far. If the submissive hand doesn’t guide the process correctly the pot doesn’t take the right form. Just like our brain!
Calligraphy is a lovely hobby. But I find having an axe in my hand is better for my mental balance, and my psychiatrist agrees…… (only joking, of course).
As you no doubt know, the brains of dogs which are bred just as pets and for show, shrink to be far smaller than those of dogs used for hunting, like mine. They have much less personality, too. Capacity grows with use. Use it or lose it!
I think one could also make the case for the decay of the European aristocracy once they ceased to be a warrior caste engaged in almost constant war and hunting – both good forms of healthy exercise! Hunting was so energetic and brutal that there was little difference between it and war. Looking at the decendants of the farm workers of yesterday fatly waddling around my local town, manifestly badly-nourished, with nasty skin, lank hair, and damaged by the car culture, I would agree that fossil fuels have been used to make a poisoned chalice for the masses…….
There was an English Duke who felt trapped by his title, and whose favourite past-time was tree-felling (he died doing it, found face-down on the path home with an axe in his hand!). He couldn’t stand the sheer idleness of being rich and leisured.
I understand human brains were bigger back when we were hunter-gatherers.
It is easy to put off getting enough exercise. Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours is not good for a person.
Here’s a short read on “speculation on the future of our energy production systems” from THE REGISTER: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/27/someone_must_have_a_thorium_reactor/
Hello Stan, If you followed this site for awhile there have been many post on Thorium by by some of us on including me. I think CO2 can be even more deadly to the planet than radiation in someways and I support the idea of non C02 Thorium Power Stations, we need them and we need them now as much as we are not fans of nuclear, there is nothing better that is known of I seems.
We could use the excess electrical power from the Thorium Power Station to create large amounts of Hydrogen, which is difficult to handle but will power power airplanes and farm equipment, big rigs and all the stuff that is too big to run on batteries. Hydrogen can create clean electricity with fuel cells too, if we can make it without carbon then we have a carbon free fuel.
I read Gail’s Old Post today that someone put up on this site from the old site the Oil Drum, and granted Hydrogen is hard to handle, uses more space to store and is volatile, the fact remains it burns clean with no emissions and if we can make it with out burning fossil fuels using Thorium Reactor Stations we really have no better option that I know of right now. These can be made smaller and safer than the traditional nuclear plants and they may solve our C02 Crisis, but surely the amount of carbon already in the air will about change anyway in the years ahead even if we were to stop today, which will not happen.
We need to embrace these things if there is hope.
Hydrogen is difficult to handle. I have a hard time seeing it operating planes; it takes up too much space.
I am not sure how it would be used to fuel farm equipment either. Does one build pipelines everywhere, or does one have the farm equipment come to some central location to refuel? Liquid fuel has the advantage of being portable.
Hello Gail, I agree, Hydrogen and Thorium present many delivery and storage challenges and it would be better if we had a liquid substitute to replace gas. However I do not see anything other than synfuels which will still be carbon based.
Hydrogen will be much like propane, however storage tanks and delivery systems will have to be redesigned. It is kind of dangerous to transport, I can just see these giant Hydrogen Tankers on the freeways which could be scary. However, I was thinking that we make small, medium and large hydrogen generators that will fuel vehicles and farm equipment that plug into electric Thorium Generated Power.
Hello Gail, Well CNG/natural gas cars may be more viable in the short term, here is a good article with a chart. But once again, they cost more than the cars of today but we do have a pretty good infrastructure for it. Gas is piped to most homes and Propane is readily available. A good short term fix while we work on the harder long term fixes like thorium and hydrogen?
Gail, the only way it works is to inexpensively liquify the hydrogen. See the Skylon Air-Space Vehicle which provides single stage to orbit capabilities, or 4 hours to anywhere on the globe. Good thermodynamics pays off. Congratulations to the very smart and persistent British engineers who invented the method to get humans cheaply into space.
We have enough different energy problems that thorium theoretically might help some of them, if it would work. A major need is a cheap liquid fuel, though, and thorium can’t do that.
Rander’s book was a big let down for me. I only read “LTG the 30 years update” before and liked it because it because didn’t show a single prophecy, but a half douzend specific szenarios based on different data. But all of them sooner or later resulted in “overshoot” when dimisshing returns turned into negative.
The New Book just felt too simple and what I didn’t like were all these expert stories, which all ended with Rander’s giving them a “I like”.
Also, Randers did a lot of damage to the book, with his “honarable dictator” talk…
@Meadows: Afaik, he left the Club of Rome years ago, didn’t he?
He never said why, but in some interviews it seemed that he felt that the CoR was only doing “greenwashing” nowadays.
I looked at the membership of the Club of Rome, and didn’t see Dennis Meadows name. I did see Herman Daly on the list, and some people who are listed as being environmentalists. The fact that the Club of Rome published this book would seem to support the view that the Club of Rome is doing greenwashing these days. Otherwise, I suspect they would have thrown it out.
THe fact that Amory Lovins wrote a testimony on the back of 2052 (and not Dennis Meadows) says something to me.
“I looked at the membership of the Club of Rome, and didn’t see Dennis Meadows name.”
Don’t know about “membership,” but Dennis was one of the four authors of Limits To Growth.
I am talking about current membership. The Club of Rome site gives a link to it on its front page. Dennis Meadows was an author of Limits to Growth in 1972, and also of some previous updates.
Dear Ms Tverberg,
You make the very good point about the problems with modelling. To me the only valid modelling seems to be the short-term weather forecasts. All the other models are black boxes that always lead to outcomes that the modellers are comfortable with.
I wonder what your opinion is on the other recent modelling exercise, the IPCC report. It is hard to reconcile with the limits to cheap oil supply in the near future.
The people who put together IPCC reports generally don’t believe in limits to oil and other fossil. So their results tend to be high compared to what the indications would be if they put in more realistic estimates.
I haven’t looked at the new report, but understand it is supposed to have a peak oil version. I would expect that this version still assumes very high natural gas and coal use, so would still be high. I should look at it though and see.
In the past, some people concerned about peak oil have thought that climate change was a way for politicians to talk about reducing fuel usage, without talking about the shortage issue–something too difficult to bring up.
I wrote a post earlier that relates more to the previous IPCC report:Oil limits and climate change
Unfortunately, there are enough recoverable quantities of fossil fuels to wreck our climate if they are burnt. Indeed, we have already burnt enough fossil fuels to lock in 2 degrees C or more of global warming. And every day matters get worse. Warming is now releasing tundra methanes and some methane clathrates from the seabed. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 but it does break down relatively quickly in the atmosphere (into more CO2 and water vapour by reaction with oxygen).
We are still burning fossil fuels at a record rate. Peak oil has been reached but not yet peak gas and peak coal so the CO2 release rate continues to rise. We are approaching the “perfect storm” of resource depletion, species extinctions and climate change.
“Perhaps analyses today should be examining the financial health of countries–the ability of countries to find enough jobs for potential workers, and the ability of these workers to earn adequate wages.”
I’ve reached the conclusion that it won’t be possible to create enough good paying jobs to maintain the middle class lifestyle. Industrial jobs used to allow a man with a high school education to get married, buy a home and raise a family. My father didn’t even complete high school and yet he was able to do this. Today, even college graduates are having a difficult time finding good paying jobs.
How can we create good paying jobs in an era of declining resources? My impression is that more and more families are trying to support themselves working multiple jobs (full and part time because they can’t find full time) but receive low wages and no benefits. This is now becoming the norm, a lifestyle of working poor, and no one in this situation has much satisfaction in life or hope for the future, nor do their children. The percentage of children living in poverty in the U.S. is skyrocketing. I believe it has moved above 50%. This means that 50% of our youth have little expectation of getting an education or finding a good paying job that will lift them out of poverty.
Even in families still within a middle class income, when young adults can’t find the means to establish a life or career, what do they do? How can they grow and learn to take responsibility and leadership in society? The only answer I see is the re-formation of the extended family needing to live and work a farm together in order to support their basic needs.
There is plenty of work to do on a small farm with crops, animals, household chores such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, child rearing. However there is enormous difficulty in making this transition. Finding others with the skills or resources needed to form an “extended family”. Money to buy and operate a farm. And being able to have the money buy necessities you can’t make or need such as health care and energy. Hard to see this happening on today’s middle income. This is definitely a rock and hard place.
I agree with you.
Having less resources means that income is lower. The income of a small farm is not enough to pay for energy and health care (assuming one can find the money in the first place to buy such a farm). There is also the issue of taxes on the farm.
People long ago lived at a much lower standard than we have today. If we can make a transition work (and it is not really a transition–it is must people not succeeding at all, and a small number making it at a much lower level), it will be without things we now consider necessities, like energy, most health care, road maintenance, etc.
The myth of the 20th century was that everyone potentially can, and ought, to live a high resource-consumption life with increasing leisure: it lies behind both State Communism and Consumerist Capitalism – the moulding of a standardized human being and the smoking factory chimney lie behind both systems. Nazism also for a briefer period offered the same dream, but not for everyone: subject peoples would be enslaved and do the labouring. At present, we have largely outsourced the dirty and polluting work to Asia, Africa and Latin America (at huge social cost), and the expansion of this mode of living is faltering and will start to retract.
A lot of what we are taught to regard, not always incorrectly, as permanent material and social gains seem likely to be lost, and perhaps rather rapidly. And what disasters, insurrections, wars, famines, plagues and so on will accompany this contraction we can only surmise. We have come to believe that many things are essential to human life, and we will learn that they are merely ephemeral.
However, without romanticizing the past, we can note that low-consumption societies, in which most people were labourers, produced beautiful art, architecture, gardens, song, music, poetry and costume, and were rich in spiritual achievement. The highest form of human achievement is perhaps not the middle-class American consumer of 1960 retiring on a nice pension, nor the ardent Communist worker of 1930 content to suffer if all are equal. Earlier societies were of course extremely unequal, and this is what terrifies most as they peer forward imagining life stripped of everything they enjoy now, but they were -some of them – not without very great achievements, and I suggest we might take some hope from this. And enjoy fully the fruits of this decaying system while it still offers them to us.
Excellent point! Hope in the face of unknown is of great value. And meaning in life trumps everything else.
the beautiful art of the middle ages was still created on the surplus of those working the land. or looting other lands to provide that excess .
the cathedral we look on now in awe, took a century or more to build, in spurts when times were good, stopping when they were not. It was a form of spiritual acheivement, based on the fostered myth of living in poverty in this life in return for bliss in the next.
A favourite yarn there then.
E of M
Well, we live on the Earth, not in Paradise, (whether Christian, Socialist or Consumerist) so there are flaws in everything.
At least the Middle Ages and pre-fossil fuel civilizations didn’t spew banal ugliness everywhere……. The horror of our civilization was fully realized by John Ruskin in the 1850’s, and every word he wrote resonates now.
Randers perpetuates this myth. I was looking some more at his spreadsheet. It is sort of a little game, where you can fill in your own guesses. The value range he lets you select from never goes negative, when it comes to things that would help growth and efficiency. Somehow, living standards don’t go down, even with less energy.
I read 2052, and just opened it back up and glanced a few pages again…somewhere in his tome Randers states words to the effect that his model, if extended past ~2052 (perhaps as little as ten years past 2052), may show results that would indicate a rather substantial downturn in the human condition..significantly worse than the results at the end of his model’s 40-year run period. I wished he would have extended his model’s time domain to capture these results, but he said he had to drive a stake in the ground somewhere, and noted that the model’s output became less certain the longer it ran. At least he admitted this. Overall, I opine that his model’s outputs are fairly optimistic…but perhaps not out of the realm of possible.
It’s important to note that now in Europe and the UK living standards have fallen very considerably: I saw some articles on the actual purchasing power of the average Spaniard having fallen between 15 and 30% since 2008 (and let’s just not think about the 60% youth unemployment, 25% general unemployment rates).
This decline is common knowledge – if Randers doesn’t acknowledge it, the whole model is a nonsense.
It’s like checking the weather on the national service, and then looking out of the window to see something just the opposite!
I learned some other things after I wrote the post, and included them in the video. One has to do with how Randers came up with at least some of his estimates. He polled a group of about 40 people, and asked them their views. They often thought their own field had problems, but everything else was fine. (Climate change may have been an exception. Randers specializes in climate change, and climate change is probably over-represented in those polled.) When he averaged everything together, hardly anything showed much contraction.
Randers spreadsheet at http://www.2052.info seems to contain more or less the complete model. The model estimates total energy consumption, then splits it using typed in percentages adding to 100% for oil, gas, coal, renewables, and nuclear. These typed in percentages seem to be at least somewhat based on Doly’s work.
What you are describing is ‘frontier’ living
I keep pointing this out to the lunatics who want to return to the ‘no government’ lifestyle of total independence
Hello, Perhaps the USA President Obama has decided we cannot afford a war with Iran. They are backing off from the brink of war with Syria and Iran it seems perhaps due to financial reality or?
I was happy to see this today as there has not been much good news out there lately.
It is hard to see how a country can make war, if it doesn’t have funds for Social Security payments. Maybe the US will forget some of the war business.
All sectors of the human enterprise will be subject to the Limits To Growth. However, some sectors will have a better prospect of maintaining as large a share as possible of a diminishing pie. It seems likely that the pie’s allocation will not be logical, but will be subject to the power of each sector’s beneficiaries, and this power will facilitate the manipulation of the general populace’s inherent fears. Therefore, it seems likely that resources will be allocated in such a manner as to lessen the optimum outcomes for all people in the future…but that will heighten the outcomes for a select group of people.
Hello, Yes, it will likely be an uneven collapse with the remaining oil/gas and power in a fewer and fewer hands as time goes on. I think the third world and perhaps middle east will be hit first once they are no longer to export all of that oil.
I think you are right.
A large number of species exhibit hierarchical behavior, including humans. Research says this hierarchical behavior gets worse in time of energy scarcity (Craig Dilworth–Too Smart for Our Own Good). The people at the top of the hierarchy make certain that they get enough. In the animal kingdom, this pattern is to assure that at least some of the species survive. If goods were shared evenly, the whole group might die of starvation. This does not seem very equitable to us, but if we think about evolutionary long term needs, the outcome makes sense.
E of M
Well, frontier living is an attractive thought. But I agree, not on the menu card for most of us: in all likelihood we’ll be ‘choosing’ Totalitarian Dictatorship Left or Right-wing option, with or without ‘elections’ as our economies crumple, not heading for the hills in a wagon. At the present, I’m trying for Semi-Rural Modern Peasant as a lifestyle until I’m taxed off the land by a desperate State. It’s only a fringe option of course.
The problem with frontier living is frontier disease, privation and the likely unpleasant behaviour of other people on the frontier.
I understand and believe all that you have written. My only fear is that I am part of the choir in the church…I am always watching to the fact that we are too attached to this negative outcome that we can’t see any positive. There is a lot invested in this doomer theory that we can’t be wrong?! or can we….
I am always amazed at how long that thing that look like they can’t continue, in fact do. I think the big issue is timing. There is always the hope that if we can put off the collapse long enough, we will figure out a way around it.
I am always amazed at how long that thing that look like they can’t continue, in fact do. I think the big issue is timing. There is always the hope that if we can put off the collapse long enough, we will figure out a way around it.
On the other hand, we ARE at “the peak” of oil usage, and it has taken us since 1870 to get here. Surely collapse will not come overnight. Gail thinks within 20 years. Hmm – but then she repeatedly mentions Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, and I think she could have a point. If we learn to retrench in good time, and accept what is coming, then we will suffer decline rather than collapse. John Michael Greer’s stepwise view, of periods of decline, interspersed by sudden collapses down to lower levels (such as 2008, after which we had to introduce various cuts to expenditure) also sounds good. Ultimately, though, we can’t predict the future accurately, other than to say that our current economic material growth and excess cannot continue in the medium term,
Everyone commenting in here is interested in the function of world economics and politics.
I strongly recommended downloading this video interview by Olaf Grimmson the president of Iceland, on the way things should be and could be
Excellent video. Now let’s find out about the IMF mission.
wasn’t Grimmson just the nicest guy imaginable?
Very interesting posts on Randers’book. I have the stomach feeling we will experience a situation between abrupt collapse and Randers’slowdown, partly because oil prices will be disconnected temporally from market prices. Chinese are leasing at any prices land worldwide to sustain its population. They ill produce food and extract resources as much as possible, at any price.
If the Chinese take oil for their own use, it will leave less for everyone else. Perhaps the Chinese can keep their economy going, but it doesn’t help the rest of us. No what the market price or other price, large portions of the world won’t get much oil, which is a problem. In a networked system this can cause the whole system to crash.
The Chinese care very little for the rest of the system and would love to crash it. Not all Chinese, of course, but the Chinese 1% that uses government funding to procure resources (mineral, agricultural, industrial) all over the world. China doesn’t play by other people’s rules: their debt (state secret) is estimated at well beyond their published data, but they keep changing the balance sheets. Western financial reporters are coerced to report Beijing’s false data (which is ‘revised’ every month and quarter and year — and by ‘revised’ I mean corporate entities disappear and new ones emerge) lest they be defrocked and lose their access and job. So the Chinese use monopoly money to buy all the resources of Africa and as much oil as they can squeeze from all players in bilateral deals (no market forces) and they are out to gain control of as much as they can. It’s called ‘Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics.’
The real problem is that the USA, the EU and the UN don’t know exactly how to respond. Most people in the world don’t understand or know about or accept as truth the above paragraphs, so they treat China as just another economic player. Open your eyes, people!
all outthrusts of nations beyond their natural borders have been for the extraction of resources from nations perceived as weaker.
In every case, those weaker nations have ”not known how to respond”
Also in every case, the empire builders are convinced that theirs is the one that will last forever.
I don’t pretend to have any answers, just offering observations from history
E of M
Quite true: it’s a natural law. My spaniel bitch’s puppies tried – as soon as they could – to steal the food from their mother’s bowl. And bite her all over. She challenged them and put up a fight for a few days, but then gave up and preferred to run away! She wasn’t a great responder in those terms! The Alpha male triumphed: he was the biggest pup, and is an excellent guard dog now. We can’t buck nature.
Yes, I agree that it is an unusual place. When a country publishes wrong data, it is hard to know what is going on. But this kind of thing seems to be tolerated/encouraged.
Excellent summary of Chinese mental characteristics, at least the leadership!
Thanks, Xabier. What we in the West forget is that they are still driven by Marxist theology. Their objectives are not truth oriented but control and conquest oriented, just like mother Russia. All news is propaganda designed to convince any and all that their rise is inevitable and you’d better like it. ‘United Front’ tactics dominate everything they do. They are fundamentally bullies, which means that the only way to deal with them is via thick stick to side of the head. Because they are bullies they back off quickly. This is why Taiwan is so important: because the people of Taiwan have made a healthy, vibrant society that serves as a beacon to lead the Chinese out of their Marxist hellhole.
I was at an IBM internal meeting 20 years ago that talked about Chinese use of predatory capitalism. Worry not our predators understand their predators.
“The model also omits debt, and the role debt plays,
both for investment purposes and in order for
consumers to afford products made with oil and
other energy products.”
A bit later on:
” …because a model of this nature necessarily cannot
model events that are important to ultimate collapse,
but which happen on a smaller scale…”
I would suggest that these two ideas combined describe a sequence of events which further invalidate models that do not incorporate debt into the equation. My beginning observation is that every time there is a global crisis ,commodities prices (e.g. oil, tantalum, etc) become un-predictable. Then futures traders step in, buy low & sell high. This transfers wealth from the working class to the 1%. The working class has to take on more debt to maintain their standard of living. This debt coupled with “A shortage of resources per capita (leads to) falling wages for the common worker.” (from Secular Cycles, as Gail pointed out) becomes another invalidating factor of Randers’ conclusions.
Simply put, every “hiccup” in the Middle East (among other locales) causes ripples which further de-rails forecasts such as Randers’. Maybe not one big death-invoking slash to his model, but a model can still “die from a thousand cuts”.
Keep chopping Gail!
THanks for your insights on how the situation really works out!
It didn’t take me long to find where this book goes horribly wrong. In the first essay by Carlos Joly it is stated
The source for this statement is the following Scientific American article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-path-to-sustainable-energy-by-2030
In that article is the following preposterous statement
Apparently the authors Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi are not aware of how much cheaper and abundant fossil fuels were back then.
The article is from a Scientific American special edition in November 2009 called “A Plan for a Sustainable Future: How to Get All Energy from Wind, Water, and Solar by 2030”.
If Carlos Joly can’t see the fallacies in the article he cites and Randers can’t spot such fallacious statements I don’t believe this book has any credibility.
I agree with you about ‘retooling’ for the production of wartoys was not the same problem that we have now.
And yet the highest in the land, politicians and economists, spout the same nonsense, convinced that it is the answer to our problems, blind to the fact that all that kit represented the conversion of energy, oil coal and gas, into hardware that was ultimately destroyed. (the same applies to roads–they wear out)
Availability of energy was a secondary consideration, we simply burned it, and in doing so created millions of jobs.
But we can’t do it again.
Windfarms do not create ongoing employment, they only create employment for the period of their erection. Electricity is useless unless it can be used, and to use it, you must convert some other material into an artifact we CAN use. (Which was the essence of war-based production, roads too are a direct conversion of oil into solid surfaces)
But of course we are running out of materials with which to do that, because things we use are made from mineral substances
I will have to admit that there are big pieces of the book I did not read. Carlos Joly’s essay did not look like it had much promise. I was looking for what Randers himself said.
I wrote an article to counter the ridiculousness of the Scientific American article back when I was writing on The Oil Drum. This is a link: Scientific American’s Path to Sustainability: Let’s Think about the Details.
Hi Gail. Another great post. I was wondering the other day what would have happened to civilization if fossil fuels had never been discovered. Do you know anyone who has considered such an “alternative reality”? Namely, without fossil fuels, what limits were we likely reaching and has anyone conjectured on what sort of collapse the world might have experienced if fossil fuels hadn’t come to save the day? It is my understanding that fossil fuels saved us from ecological disaster by shifting where we were extracting energy from the biosphere (if I’m not mistaken whales were on the verge of extinction because we were using them for their oil to burn lamps, and certainly we no longer had to use wood for fuel).
The rise of fossil fuels came at the time Malthus was writing about the likelihood of starvation. In fact, I wrote a post about the issue: Why Malthus Got His Forecast Wrong. The population at that time was about 1 billion.
If fossil fuels had not been ramped up (they had been discovered earlier, but adding debt greatly helped with their ramping up, both from the point of view of giving those doing the extraction money for their businesses, and the people buying goods money to purchase the goods made with fossil fuels), populations would likely have dropped way down at that point. Perhaps it would have collapsed to perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 million, as groups reached the same collapse dynamics as in the past–that is, wages of the common people not keeping up, many unemployed, and the government needing more tax revenue to try to keep the whole system going. There would be more resource wars, and more people dying from disease, because they could not afford proper food, and because population pressure had led to deforestation.
I expect that by now, some of the remnant would have regrouped, although this would not come until many years later. The world population now would be a small increment up from where the population had crashed to–say in the 105 million to 210 million range. Whale populations would again increase, in this regrouping period. So this is where the world might be today. At least 80% of the workers would work in agriculture. Governments would be fairly simple dictators/kings/tribal leaders. Technology would not have taken off.
In 1750 or so, in Sweden, 195 of 200 people worked in agriculture (read from Somero history book, no reference available now… So perhaps 80% is a bit optimistic. May of course depend on where you are…
The CIA Factbook says that today, Burundi has 94% of its population in agriculture. Ethiopia and Angola are both at 85%. Uganda is at 82%. Cold places maybe needed a higher percentage in agriculture, with the short growing season.
In Spain now -until yesterday a country of cnically exploited peasants – it’s 6% in agriculture, and only about 15% under the age of 35. Great change in a couple of generations. A great many of those will be imported semi- slaves from North Africa, too.
“I was wondering the other day what would have happened to civilization if fossil fuels had never been discovered. Do you know anyone who has considered such an “alternative reality”?”
I believe it was Frank Herbert who wrote a sci-fi novel about a planet without any fossil fuels, nor even any metals. I don’t recall much about it, except that humans lived for millions of years barely able to feed themselves, but the answer is that at least one sci-fi writer has considered such a thing.
Come to think of it, I think sci-fi has as much grip on reality as most predictions — including Randers’ — these days. (Nice segue back to the topic, if I do say so myself… 🙂
Jan: It was ‘Dune,’ circa 1968, followed by ‘Dune Messiah’ and several more, He rightly placed water as the most precious commodity; energy was abundant. It’s a good read.
Gail wrote that Jorgen Randers says (on page 61),
“I basically believe that we will see the same
rate of technological and societal change …
…because the drivers will be the same…”
Wow…that guy has one hell of a crystal ball! I feel a need to put a crack in it. For example, in the 60’s we had the cold war as a “driver” which we don’t have now. And that created a “sub-driver” (please don’t be angry with that word invention) of the space-race. And that drove a lot of new tech in directions that would not have happened that quickly without the space-race. I would like for Randers to point to present-day “drivers” that do what the cold war and space-race no longer do.
I would go a step farther. The drivers are vanishing. I think on a subconscious level, society is beginning to realize that exponential growth cannot continue forever nor can exponential technological advancement. The only driver will be survival of business as usual, and that is just not going to happen. The new Limits to Growth is only $10 on Kindle, I’d like to have a look for myself.
We have the war on terrorism, and all of the jobs screening people in airports. Wow! And oversees war of the month, that helps keep both young people and defense contractors employed.
Randers never gives credit to anyone helping him with the book–programmers, etc. He (instead) shows a large photo of himself with his hand on his hip near the back. This struck me as very strange.
Don’t forget to count all the ‘black’ budgets that are nominally used to spy on ‘enemies of the state’. That’s a really big driver that is being shielded from publicity. It’s true that some of the giant motivators from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s have faded, but we are evolving new ones all the time. Since the nation has turned away from hope for the future and fastened on paranoia instead to determine it priorities, that’s where you will now find the focus of the forces that direct our economy. And as America goes, the world follows.
Yes, paranoia seems to be a big industry now. But with the partial government shutdown, it would seem like it would go into lower gear as well. Or is it essential?
Events have taken on a life of their own, and are beyond the ability of any one individual, group, or state to control.
I look at the past 32 odd years and think to myself…we all decided to go out in a blaze of glory, but we had no idea how long the blaze would last. I think it actually lasted a lot longer than many thought it would, so we got used to it. So we keep doubling down, and even the crash of 2008 couldn’t stop it, as credit was reinflated and we discovered we still have more energy left.
It’s like a guy who has a devil may care attitude, and he drinks and smokes and parties all his life, and he gets a heart attack and all sorts of problems when he’s 50, but lo and behold the ambulances and hospitals rush in to save him, and lo and behold the government gives him disability checks and food stamps, so he rightfully thinks, maybe I’ll change a little, but I’m still going to smoke a little and enjoy some beers and cheetos. Life is meant to be lived, right?
As a young adult who is aware of our problems, I’ve decided the single best thing I can do is to “drop out” so to say, to collapse first and avoid the rush. To make an existential commitment to remove myself from failing systems. And yes, I’ve begun to do this. I’ve lost touch with many people, I don’t visit relatives, and I don’t buy anything that I don’t need.
It’s not so much that I’m angry that other people had it well. I would have done similar things. It’s just this: now that the party is ending, you aren’t going to get me to clean up. I won’t be lectured to be responsible by people who have no idea what the meaning of that word is.
In some sense, as we lose “things,” pretty much all we have left is people. So I am not sure that dropping out is necessarily the way to go. We will need our contacts with others. I make a point to keep up contacts with relatives and others.
From a financial point of view, “dropping out” in some cases may be our only option. The problem is that most people need to work to get the means to buy food and other necessities. Without working, we either depend on the government or on friends/relatives. We live in a world where government programs will support us, but this is not likely to be around for long.
Drop out of “the beast,” sure, but drop out of people? That’s just sad.
In the end, people who are close to us may be all we have left.
Alas, ‘Blaze of Banality’ might be more accurate. Glory was the Renaissance, the Enlightenment…… But what have we squandered oil wealth on?!
Well now, this provides a little fodder for discussion, now doesn’t it. 😉
I will plead some ignorance, since I haven’t looked at Jorgen’s model specifically, but I will say that all the models generate out “smooth curves” to one degree or another. Ugo’s Seneca Cliff model shows a faster decline rate, but it is still a smooth curve on the downslope.
This type of mathematical treatment appears to ignore the kinds of discontinuities you mentioned in an earlier article, and which David Korowicz describes in his Tipping Point paper.
Looking forward to chatting with the gang about this at the OK Corral…er..Collapse Cafe. 🙂
For the rest who are reading this, there is a group of us (George Mobus, David Korowicz, Ugo Bardi, and myself) who are planning to make a recording (hopefully video, if all goes well) with the Collapse Cafe folks on the topic of the current Limits to Growth model. It should be interesting.
Hello Gail and others, This story is about debt that we have taken on under our current and recent presidents. Since 2008 is about $43K USD per household. I think most of the money went to the 1 percent though.
This debt is really starting to bite us now from looking at the current spectacle in Washington. I am still amazed we have not had double digit inflation yet, I think that is because the money is being held in banks and blown into bubbles like the stocks and bonds mostly held by the rich.
I also read this too in another story, the former president spent some serious money too – but not as much as we have spent since the 2008 financial crisis.
“Under President Bush in eight years, we added $4.9 trillion to the debt,” Ayotte told the crowd Thursday, August 23, 2012, at Merrimack High School. “Under President Obama, we’ve added $5.3 trillion … in the 3 1/2 years he’s been in office.”
I believe the former president would have likely spent almost as much if he had held office in the years following the 2008 crisis before he left he had already begun to put us into debt.
So I do no really think it would matter who is president as both parties have embraced this “Keynesian” Debt based unlimited expansion economic policies here and also in Europe.
Oil prices were very different when Bush was in office than they are now. That made a big difference in the economy, and in the ability of the economy to operate without debt. Without additional debt recently, the I expect the economy would implode. Of course, we will at some point reach the situation where we are unable to add more debt (perhaps related to the debt ceiling). This could create the same effect.
For those interested in further discussion of the Limits to Growth model, the Panel Discussion with Gail Tverberg, Ugo Bardi, George Mobus and David Korowicz is now UP on the Collapse Cafe at the Doomstead Diner.
Thanks for doing the hard work of trying to even figure out how the model was rigged to come up with business-as-usual results. I thumbed through his book and saw many flaws and missing data, here are just a few:
Energy is the master resource that unlocks all the others. Don’t have fresh water? No problem, with oil you can drill down 1,000 feet and bring it up. Can’t find any fish? No problem, build a mega-factory boat and sail it to the ends of the earth to where the last schools of fish are.
97% of transportation depends on oil. Electricity is irrelevant.
The IEA calculated that from 2003 to 2007 the average decline rate of reservoirs past peak was 9% per year. And the rate of decline is increasing — in 2003 the rate was 8.7%, in 2007 it was 9.7%.(IEA, World Energy Outlook 2008 pp 221-48). Where did Randers get his decline rate info? And why wasn’t Dave Murphy’s “Net Energy Cliff” http://netenergy.theoildrum.com/node/5500 incorporated into the model?
Liebig’s Law: I’m not done yet writing about the role of rare earth metals and platinum group minerals in high-tech, but they are absolutely essential for solar, wind, hybrid vehicle, computers, microchips, batteries, petroleum refining, cell phones, tablets, computer screens, and any other high-tech product. High-Tech can’t last: Rare Earth Minerals http://energyskeptic.com/2013/high-tech-cannot-last-rare-earth-metals/ and High-tech can’t last: Platinum Group Metals
Alternative energy: solar PV will never work no matter how much it’s improved (see
Tilting at Windmills, Spain’s disastrous attempt to replace fossil fuels with Solar Photovoltaics http://energyskeptic.com/2013/tilting-at-windmills-spains-solar-pv/) nor can any other kind of alternative energy replace fossil fuels http://energyskeptic.com/category/energy/alternative-energy-energy/
I think a financial crash may be what collapses the House of Cards, but all of our energy, banking, infrastructure, transportation, and so on systems are so vulnerable to a systemic collapse that any one of them can bring it all down (i.e. “Trade-Off Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse” by David Korowicz and my in-progress “Cascading failure + Liebig’s Law + Supply Chain Breakdown = Collapse of civilization”
THanks for your comments. There are definitely a lot of applications of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. People who are doing modeling block them out of their minds.
One subtle point. Liebig’s Law applies mostly to human designed systems. Biological systems frequently have many different ways to accomplish a given task. For example, a plant’s roots may find the nutrients the plant needs directly, or the plant can release exudates which lure microbes into the root zone and bring the nutrients to the roots, or fungi can bring the nutrients from quite a distance. Permaculture attempts to copy the biological model, rather than Liebig’s. If a chemical farmer has killed most of the life in the soil, then Liebig’s law tends to hold.
That is an interesting point. Man-made systems (things like trucking and factories) don’t have a lot of redundancy built in.
I’m not sure I understand the relevancy of permaculture. I don’t know anybody that owns even a whole acre of land and could support a cow or goat. What am I missing? Very few people have enough land to practice permaculture.
Permaculture isn’t necessarily about farming and it doesn’t necessarily involve owning land. It is a design system. Let’s suppose you live in an urban place. Then Permaculture can be applied to help you design that urban place. (Toby Hemenway has an ‘urban permaculture’ session coming up in Miami, and will soon be publishing a book on the subject.) In terms of growing food, I see Permaculture as a certain type of biological agriculture…as opposed to chemical agriculture. Biological agriculture can be applied to a one square meter plot or a ranch with thousands of acres. Biological agriculture in a pot is a question mark, but containers are used by permaculturists in urban yards, as you will see by a careful examination of the photograph on the cover of Gaia’s Garden of Will Hooker’s garden in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Here is an example of permaculture applied to a small, rather run-down urban location in Australia with a Mediterranean climate and sandy soil. The design incorporates food, water, passive solar heating, using plants for cooling, making a beautiful place to live, good relationships with neighbors, and probably some other things I can’t think of at the moment.
The installation work makes efficient use of the fossil fuel powered tools we have today plus the city water. Once the installation is complete, hand tools would certainly take care of any maintenance of the infrastructure. If the city water fails, then he would probably have to redesign some of his plant selections. It is not possible to store enough water off a roof to get through a long Mediterranean dry season and water European type crops, even with the efficient drip irrigation. Also, drip irrigation systems wear out and if the industrial system has crashed, can’t be replaced. He would need to rely instead on storing water entirely in the soil. This will be difficult since the soil is sandy. Probably the native vegetation in this place was grasses with very deep roots which go dormant in the dry season.
If you watched the videos from North Dakota, you will see many of the same principles at work, but the North Dakota farmers are working with several hundred acres, so they are sowing seeds with machinery–not working in potting sheds.
At the end of the video, he sells the house. Probably the greatest threat to this installation is the lack of knowledge of the buyer. As you can see, everything is very knowledge intensive. A rich person can simply hire someone to do the maintenance. A poor person who falls in love with the place and buys it, but really doesn’t have any knowledge, will probably run it into the ground pretty quickly.
This installation is, I imagine, the sort of thing that Jody Tishmack deals with regularly in her compost business.
Permaculture appeals to well-educated people who have both money to purchase land and time to work the land. This group doesn’t make up a very big portion of the population.
In its current version, permaculture also makes use of things from our fossil fuel society (earth moving equipment, consultants from afar, shovels, devices of all kinds, plants transported from afar, soil amendments, fences, hoses, roads, etc). Besides being limiting from a point of view of not being sustainable in the very long run, these types of things add to the financial costs related to adoption of permaculture.
While there are ways to theoretically work around these issues, I think they are still obstacles to widespread adoption.
Let me take one more crack at examining this issue. It is pointless to attack Permaculture, or any other system, for failing to be a ‘Garden of Eden’ solution. Unless one is independently wealthy, one has to make a living in the world as it is. Therefore, anyone who adopts a permaculture approach is almost certain to use the resources at hand. Martyrs need not apply.
There are, I think, three critical issues. The first is efficiency, the second is resilience, and the third is migration path. If a permaculture house and lot in the suburbs makes more efficient use of scarce resources by better use of Nature’s free gifts, then it is a better choice than a suburban house and lot which is entirely dependent on a financialized industrial system. If a family is able to supply its own drinking water, provide itself with economical, debt-free shelter, and grow a significant amount of its own food, it will be more resilient than a family which is deeply in debt and entirely dependent on income from employment to buy things which are entirely supplied by the industrialized system. If the family has manual tools which can replace any fossil fuel dependent tools if need be, then the family is better off. If the soil has been built to have a vigorous biological life and the consequent ability to store water and mobilize nutrients, then the family will be much better off if transportation collapses.
The family needs to have a lot of knowledge about how things work, but the knowledge is not the kind that is usually taught in colleges. It is true that a person with zero money can’t do much of anything in our society. But building a tiny shelter on a cheap lot and collecting rainwater for drinking isn’t an ‘elitist’ approach to life.
“I don’t know anybody that owns even a whole acre of land and could support a cow or goat.”
Better start working on that! Either directly, or by making different friends.
After the Soviet Union fall, most people knew someone who had some access to land. These “dacha gardens” are now supplying nearly half the food in Russia, by some accounts, with far less energy input (per unit output) than the centrally-planned state farms.
According to Dmitry Orlov, the worst was avoided because the Russian people had human community connections and networks, instead of iPhones and Faceplant.
“Grow food or die” is my story and I’m sticking to it. But none of us has a perfect crystal ball. If growing food doesn’t appeal to you, for heaven’s sake, make some other viable plan and start working on it!
“Liebig’s Law applies mostly to human designed systems.”
This sentence is ambiguous to me…Do you mean to say LLOTM applies to all human designed systems, as well as some, but not most, non-human-designed systems?
At any rate, I offer an alternative statement on the matter:
LLOTM applies 100% to all systems, both human-designed systems and system not designed by humans. Regardless of how clever and redundant and resilient natural (non-human-designed) systems are, this does not change the fact that all elements/minerals/compounds required for life are finite, and further, one of these will be the least plentiful/available of all of these resources, and this resource will be the limiting factor for growth.
The point I think you are trying to make is valid, though…that point being that human-designed systems can only exceed the output of natural systems by exploiting finite stored reserves of energy…such as fossil fuels, and uranium. Therefore, human-designed systems achieve higher output (‘Yield’ in terms of farming) compared to natural systems for a finite time…the time it takes to deplete the stored energy sources which power the importation of resources that are too distant and/or deeply buried in the Earth to be available to natural systems.
Dear Future Shock
Let’s take, for example, carbon and nitrogen, which are frequently seen as limiting factors in agriculture. Carbon is available from the atmosphere, and nitrogen is the most common element in the atmosphere. If a farmer has depleted the ability of the soil biology to deliver carbon and nitrogen to his plants, then he has to buy industrial inputs. And Liebig’s law becomes quite important…because the farmer only wants to buy as much as is required. As a practical matter, the farmer buys way more or the industrial inputs than are required from the equivalent biology as one can see by looking at the dead zones at the mouths of the major rivers. Soil biology delivers just the right amount of nutrients, when it is functioning properly. Liebig’s law isn’t something a biological farmer would think much about. A biological farmer would tend to think in terms of keeping his biology functioning—which isn’t about adding industrial inputs, for the most part.
An industrial farm can produce a lot of corn per acre…but it cannot rival a biologically based farm in terms of total biological activity per acre. For example, the peak of photosynthetic potential in Iowa is around June 21st…but the corn is very small at that point and can’t make efficient use of the photosynthetic potential. A native prairie would make far more efficient use of the sunshine. A diversified farm designed with biological principles in mind can come close to mimicking a prairie. But it may not yield as much corn. Again, Liebig’s Law isn’t something to worry very much about. What one worries about is nudging Nature in the direction of yielding more outputs that are particularly beneficial to humans.
“Liebig’s Law applies mostly to human designed systems.”
I would say it more properly applies to closed systems, like flowerpots or planets.
The amount of carbon and nitrogen on and in and above the Earth has not changed appreciably for a few billion years. So Earth is a closed system. Liebig’s law applies. But there certainly are LOCAL shortages of carbon and nitrogen which can afflict productive capacity in a piece of land. My point is that if the land is a pristine forest or an unplowed prairie, Liebig’s Law isn’t something one usually needs to be greatly concerned about. But if one is managing a biologically dead Iowa corn field, then getting the proportions of synthetic fertilizers optimized is important because the synthetic fertilizers cost money. The fertility of the pristine forest and unplowed prairie are free gifts from Nature.
Some would argue that as long as the sun shines on the earth, and as long as water evaporates from the flower pot, they systems are not really closed. But I agree with your point. The more closed the system, the more it is subject to Liebig’s Law of the Minimum.
I do not buy flower pots to put outside, unless I think I will be around to water them. (I suppose I could put in “water crystals” instead.)
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Thanks Gail, Another interesting post. Looks like we are no where close to coming up with the renewable sources that the chart represented. I noticed the chart represented Nuclear Power as flat and an unrealistic expectation of growth in renewable energy.
We are going to come up short if that mix does not change and change fast disaster will be forthcoming. Renewable energy is running way behind and so is nuclear, the others are simply running out.
Enclosure. I see the future mismatch between available resources and population as being dealt with by ownership and exclusion based on money. Land and fishing rights will be owned by people or some corporate entities. Property rights will be enforced by the standard means police and army. Where the people without money to stay end up will be ignored by those with money. How extreme it will get for the zero asset population I do not know. Best case mandatory sterilization but you get food and housing. Worst case, death, in one form or another. Society will adjust. I do not see any need for disruption to services to the ownership class. Needless to say this will not be in the context of one person one vote. More in the original American/English context of the owning class votes, the rest do not. Basically where we are today but with out the pretense.
the above post is from Ed Pell
I agree. It might be best to work hard, live frugally, avoid debt and save a little. Who needs cars that will do 0 to 60 in six seconds.
Apparently you are tsmr on wordpress, and Edwin Pell on facebook.
It seems my first post shows as Edwin Pell and any subsequent shows as tsmr very annoying.
In precontact Hawaii, the reef and open-ocean fish were getting scarce from overfishing, as the population grew. So they developed aquaculture with numerous coastal fish ponds, some still in use today. There was a “kapu” system in effect, so lower class people could farm the fish, but they were reserved to be eaten by the Ali’i or ruling class. The penalties were harsh, with death often being the punishment for anyone bold enough to eat a pond fish, and unlucky enough to get caught.
Same old, same old.
If the situation were confined to a particular area and the elite within that country would manage to stave off infighting, then I think that your thoughts would likely come close to what reality might look like.
We have, however, several powerful nations with each their own set of elites, unwilling to let go of power. We have also considerable amount of strife within the elites of the US, UK, the EU etc. None of these elites are entrenched in such a way that a competitor might not use the masses to fight their wars for them. And both sets of elites might find it more palatable to fight an external enemy, who just so happens to have resources that might get annexed.
There is also the issue that the Jackpot of hydrocarbon riches still resides in countries of the ME, and they are still worth fighting about. That is also why I do not believe that the US will find a peaceful solution with Syria and Iran, despite the diplomatic ouvertures at the moment.
Given that this is a global problem, we will see global “solutions” with some regional quirks. I still believe that,with added pressures on resources and the financial system, we are likely to see an increased amount of regional conflicts between armed forces that have the potential to involve evermore powerful stakeholders.
Therefore, the oppression of the suffering landless human masses will only occur if that nation or territory is powerful enough to defend itself against internal and external enemies. Looking at the ways in which the attack was executed in Nairobi, I have my doubts that this kind of protection exists anywhere in the world. New Zealand and Australia might be notable exceptions.
I expect there will be more local fighting. Local areas that are doing better financially, like Catalonia in Spain, will want to seceded. There will still be international fighting, but financial problems of the US and some other countries may tone down spending on this kind of thing.
Gail, Cataluña is ruined. It has the biggest debt, and an enormous deficit of all the regions in Spain. It totally lacks Oil, Gas, Coal, and Water! The pop density is higher than in Germany and it doesn’t have its own industry. It is easy for me to know, I look at my left wrist and I ask: What is the Catalan Casio? They don’t have anything, all their industry and big companies were making houses in the building boom and are now totally, utterly ruined.
Not long ago Samsung had a plant there (and another one in the UK, similar story) and Samsung left for Slovakia. The Catalan women working at the company making LCD screens fainted when they were told they were fired, and the plant closed for good.
They had bought new houses, new cars they could not pay the mortgages now.
They are at present picking cardboard and metal trash when they can find it.
There are children going hungry, there is no welfare state, not of the kind you are familiar with in the UK, Europe and other countries.
It is an economic disaster.
As to going independent, they have been told by the EU authorities that they won’t be part of the Euro, they can’t join the EU, they can’t even join the UN, their banks and companies won’t have access to credit, the foreign companies there are already leaving.
A Catalan University professor writes today in El País that if it happens it will be a failed state, like Somaliland.
THanks for the information. I suppose the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.
I have visited Catalonia twice, back when conditions were at least somewhat better. It was a beautiful country. No country can get along by itself though. Cheap oil and other energy products would make things a whole lot better from countries point of view.
Agreed. The perception of which regions are ‘rich’ in Spain is somewhat out-of-date: same can be said for the Pais Vasco, a formerly powerful industrial region, but no longer. But most of its companies sell to Spain or maybe France, but not globally. At least they have water…..
My Catalan cousins are certainly struggling since 2008, even the privileged ones.
Nationalists are promising renewed prosperity as an outcome of independence: they are certainly misleading voters there.
“I see the future mismatch between available resources and population as being dealt with by ownership and exclusion based on money.”
But I think what Gail is telling us is that money is falling apart, and may well be the first thing to go!
You may be right if you replace “money” with “control of resources,” but the two are not necessarily the same.
Maybe Rander is just trying to make some money selling a book. A happy book sells better than an unhappy book. We would need to know Rander’s financial condition to gauge how susceptible he is to this type of human self serving action. Likewise, who are his friends and what do they believe?
Oh, come on! This is really nasty and unjustified. I can tell you that Jorgen Randers doesn’t need the money he can make with selling the book, but that’s not the point. Instead, can’t we, for once, stop thinking that anyone who says something we don’t agree with is paid by the PTB?
Actually, the book isn’t all that happy. Perhaps he figures this is as big a piece of the story as people can reasonably digest now. And that may be a good point.
I view most long-range modeling the same way I viewed the model airplanes I built as a kid; fun to do, somewhat instructive, looks cool hanging from the ceiling, but I’m not going to fly one to Vegas for the weekend. I got really good at building models, but they weren’t good for much, later in life. My view of our future is mostly intuitive, but based on simple, overriding facts:
In terms of population, resource consumption, and waste streams, humanity has reached unprecedented levels, is deep into overshoot in relation to the carrying capacity of the biosphere, and there is an immense amount of inertia inherent in all of these processes taking us farther into overshoot.
This condition is now global; nowhere to run this time. Populations can’t simply disperse and be absorbed by other populations with a more favorable resource base. No new frontier.
Reversing course in time to avert the cliff will be catastrophic in its own way, enough so that even discussions of contraction, change, doing an about face, elicit resistance and are rejected by the vast majority. Denial and delusion are at their peak, along with most everything else, excepting complexity perhaps. Some won’t change, many simply can’t. Our reach has exceeded our grasp, as Robert Browning said it should.
Greer’s posited religion of progress is the defacto unifying theology of our time. Humanity, collectively, has never been more deeply invested in any other paradigm, and all of our systems are designed to support and further this idea of growth. The inertia in all of these systems is taking us closer towards the cliff, and turning away, reversing course, will be painful and damaging indeed. Nate Hagens’ “Monkey Trap’ is an apt description. How do we re-invent the lives of 7 billion humans? In a couple of decades? Virtually all of the ‘solutions’ that Randers’ and others cite will require resources that already have claims on them, far into the future, and will require a viable biosphere that we will continue to destroy.
“Progress, man’s distinctive mark alone,
Not God’s, and not the beasts’: God is, they are;
Man partly is, and wholly hopes to be.”
Will hope lead to our demise?
Thanks for your thoughts.
I have done enough modeling to know that modelers generally know exactly which variables are important, and which can be “tweaked” to provide the desired output. I will have to admit me belief in the output of models is generally pretty low. Usually, the model shows what the people putting the model together want it to show. If consultants are putting together a model, it will probably be slanted to show what the clients paying for the report want it to show. Perhaps I am becoming cynical. There are some exceptions–the original Limits to Growth model was groundbreaking, and the authors went to great lengths to not call it a forecast.
I agree that the solutions that Randers and others say that there are will require resources that already have claims on them, out into the future. The only real solution is population reduction, and this is one thing that Randers does not mention.
“The only real solution is population reduction…”
Which will happen.
Unfortunately, people have the arrowhead on the wrong end of the “population and energy” diagram. As one who has formally studied ecology, it seems very clear to me that energy causes population, not the other way around.
So the solution is simple, the same for yeast as it is for humans: consume all available energy and die in your own excrement. Coming soon to a planet near you!
So there, I’m officially branded as a “doomer” and a pessimist. But the behaviour of the whole does not mean individuals cannot make better choices. I’m actually quite optimistic about what small groups can do for themselves. On a global scale, it might not make much difference, but it can make a huge difference in one’s own outlook, if not one’s own ultimate demise.
“Living well is the best revenge” — there are many ways to define “living well!”
You are right–there are many ways to define living well.
We can take each day as it comes – in some ways that is the only solution. We can be happy with whatever we have, for as long as we have it.
When I stand on the footbridge over the motorway here, I often wonder at the cars and lorries tail-gating one another at high speed. We all know the rules about stopping distances, safe spacing, etc. All those drivers have at some point passed tests and have been examined on the subject.
But they don’t practice it. I suspect in many cases, it’s not just carelessness, but they can’t help themselves.
Now, how do we even begin to hope that our global civilization will modify its behaviour to avoid an horrendous crash?
Or we can think of the trench warfare which bled the youth of most of Europe dry in 1914 to 1918: almost no-one wanted to be there, apart from psychopaths, but they were all, millions of them, locked into a destructive system.
As I said to someone else, any government can reduce the speed of its economy if it wants. All it needs to do is raise tax rates, and use the extra money to pay down debt. This should send the economy into recession, which is pretty much the same as “using less”. Somehow, this approach doesn’t sound appealing though. Telling people to spend less than their income is an exercise in futility.
As I said to someone else, any government can reduce the speed of its economy if it wants. All it needs to do is raise tax rates, and use the extra money to pay down debt. This should send the economy into recession, which is pretty much the same as “using less”. Somehow, this approach doesn’t sound appealing though. Telling people to spend less than their income is an exercise in futility.
People used to avoid debt and try to have money in the bank. Today, we accept it as ‘normal’ that people have no money in the bank and are up to their eyeballs in debts.
I think it is an oversimplification to say that the current way of looking at money and debt is ‘normal’ or ‘inevitable’.
‘Debt’ is another word for expectation
we take out debt in ‘expectation’ of future prosperity, which we have had, in general terms, for less than 100 years at most.
So in that context, debt has become our ‘normal’, but only in the sense that most of us got payrises to pay off those debts
but those payrises were based on the ongoing availability of cheap energy, particularly oil, because money is only a tokenisation of energy, though few accept that. There is no more cheap oil left, so there are no more payrises, at least not for the average Joe. What increases there are, are swallowed up by increases in essentials, food, heat etc (energy again), pay hasn’t risen, it has effectively flatlined or gone down, while debt has continued to rise.
One other interesting angle. About 1930 or 1931 there was an upbeat popular song. The words went:
Mr. Herbert Hoover
Says that now’s the time to buy
So let’s have another cup of coffee
And let’s have another piece of pie.
The problem that people perceived was that those with money were hanging onto it. You will see Hollywood movies made during the early days of the depression encouraging people to spend money. Keynes was concerned about the ‘liquidity trap’, where people preferred to hang onto cash rather than spend it.
A profound shock such as a depression with armies of people living in Hoovervilles can rapidly change ‘normal’.
This view is closely aligned to the, “We can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” view. As long as spending more is all that is needed (I will cut your hair if you will give my daughter piano lessons), then this is the way to do things. Perhaps this kind of approach will add a little tweak to the economy, but it doesn’t fix basic underlying issues.
Similarly, to see a sign in the window of a bank reading: ‘LOAN SALE THIS MONTH!’ would have been inconceivably until quite recently. Even obtaining a bank account was impossible for most people.
and of course everybody’s job depends on everybody spending money
Unfortunately this would cause the system to spiral out of control. That is the Red Queen scenario we are in. Raise rates and taxes collapse the economy…then collapse the oil industry because the price of a barrel of oil will fall too low. I keep looking at this like an neurotic chess player- there has just got to be a move that we can make out of here but …..nope…. I don’t know if anyone has commented on this but I noticed on CNBC they have a story going called “how to invest in the end times”…shocking that they are admitting that in 17 years we will be facing massive resource limitations. I guess you got to start sowing the seeds in the psyche of the masses sometime.
Good comment. This is what I would reply to you.
I real start to believe that life itself is flawed. I was thinking about violence and life the other day. I think violence is the mechanism that life uses to transform its environement.
For example, a forest fire is a violent act against trees and animals living in the forest. Once the fire has accomplished its act of destruction, something new can appear.
I don’t think any form of life is designed for living for ever. What we see now is normal and it cannot be otherwise. We are now seeing the begining of the extinction of the human race. We have to die, so something different can emerge from this.
“I think violence is the mechanism that life uses to transform its environment.”
A certain Mr Hitler once had similar thoughts, from a rather different perspective. Fat lot of good it did him.
We know that on a finite world, one species dominates and then another. Species cycle, just a climates do. In the end, it is pretty clear humans will not be around. Whether that will be sooner or later is not as clear (fortunately).
Good morning Don,
Wonderful post! Now I have several books on order from Amazon and on hold at the local library. Very exciting stuff, epigenetics, the affects of grain particularly glutten on our brain, and how mediation and introspection can change our brain and behavior. I look forward to reading the “Grain Brain”. Rick Hanson also wrote some earlier books I thought might be interesting (“Just One thing” and “Buddha’s Brain”).
I’m convinced from personal experience that eating too much grain (in particular gluten-containing grains such as wheat and barley) has a negative affect on my health. When I go gluten-free for a week the reduction in my sinus congestion, stomach upset, water retention, and joint aches diminishes greatly. I see dramatic improvement in my sleep patterns, breathing, sense of smell, and my flexibility. I have not been able to completely give up wheat, however, because I still enjoy baking bread. I am learning gluten-free recipes but it has been a slow process. I look forward to learning more about how grains affect our epigenetics and brain.
In answer to your question “Are homos really sapient?” my answer is “Yes, but…” Yes, homo sapiens are capable of developing sapience, but it is not automatic. It is something we must work at and it requires a certain amount of time spent in introspection, peace and quiet, or practicing meditation.
I have begun to wonder if humanity’s inability to recognize the debilitating effects or our modern diet and lifestyle are directly related to the development of our interconnectedness with the “herd” through telecommunications, television, and the internet. It seems to me that people no longer recognize that they aren’t thinking for themselves. We know that people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items. We look at the potential devastating consequences of climate change and peak oil, and wonder why people can’t seem to change, even if they accept that a cliff is ahead. This seems to be very fatalistic to me. Perhaps the reason that we don’t see much in the way of humanity’s sapience is because humanity has been captured in a “herd” mentality that is now globally reinforced through our economic system, the media, and the internet.
Just more food for thought.
PS. Don (or anyone else interested) could you drop me an email at email@example.com? I would like to follow up with more detailed discussion on the subject of biological farming but I’m not sure all the other readers want to follow this. So I thought a group email could allow us to explore this further. Gail do you have a preference? It seems like we end up dominating the conversations with farming and gardening issues.
If you want to set up an e-mail group, that would be fine with me. I have a hard time keeping up with all of the comments myself.
A good post about the shortcomings of Randers’ model.
A few thoughts about modeling. There have been, I think, three revolutionary developments in human history. The first occurred at least 2500 years ago when some contemplatives in the East discovered the ability humans have to control thoughts and emotions. A current development in that lineage is Rick Hanson’s new book, which promises to:
‘In his new book, Dr. Hanson lays out a simple method that uses the hidden power of everyday experiences to build new brain wiring – for happiness, love, confidence, and peace.
Can I get a shout-out for science? Hardwiring Happiness is the first book to map out a clear system to transform the simple positive experiences of daily life into neural structures that promote lasting contentment, health and effectiveness.’
The second revolution has been our discovery of biological methods of growing food. I have written a lot here about that, so I won’t belabor the point more. Like Hanson’s work, it also arises out of science.
The third revolution is our discovery that health care is really important, but that sick care is a dead end. For example, consider this passage from Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD:
‘Beyond calories, fat, protein, and micronutrients, we now understand that food is a powerful epigenetic modulator–meaning it can change our DNA for better or worse. Indeed…food actually regulates the expression of many of our genes. And we have only just begun to understand the damaging consequences of wheat consumption from this perspective.
Most of us believe that we can live our lives however we choose, and then when medical problems arise, we can turn to our doctors for a quick fix in the form of the latest and greatest pill. This convenient scenario fosters an illness-centered approach on the part of physicians as they play their role as the purveyors of pills. But this approach is tragically flawed….I’m not going to have kind things to say about the pharmaceutical industry. I know far too many stories of people abused by it than helped by it.’
Dr. Perlmutter then proceeds to lay out the science which indicates that deriving most of our calories from grains (which were the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago) was a big mistake. The low fat/ high sugar diet which became the official advice in the 1970s up to the present day has been associated with skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and brain diseases. There are many, many cross-links between biological farming and Perlmutter’s approach to health, and brain health in particular. This is what we might expect when we consider that all living things, including humans, are biological.
I don’t wish to argue the details of what the Buddha, Thoreau, and Drs. Hanson and Perlmutter are saying that science shows. I want to merely point out that producing a prodigious GDP by using prodigious amounts of energy to transform raw materials into finished goods is supposed to somehow make us healthy and happy. But it hasn’t done that and is producing an uninhabitable planet. Plowing the land to produce large crops of grain were supposed to make us well fed…but they haven’t done that and have produced immense damage.
The most fundamental modeling question I can think of is: Are homos really sapient? George Mobus sometimes writes articles giving ‘proof that homo is not sapient’. If the vast majority of people and virtually all of their governments are going to continue to pursue the failed paths, then modeling becomes an exercise in running out trends which are leading to disaster and simply trying to figure out the tipping points and the shape of the disaster (e.g., logistic vs. Seneca decline). Those who believe that science really matters and that a majority of humans can actually turn their lives around will be building models of quite a different type. Those who believe that science really matters, but that a majority of humans will not actually turn their lives around, will be looking for lifeboats. And then, of course, we have the cornucopians…
There seem to be happy people in all kinds of conditions, and I expect that that will continue to be the case. There are also unhappy people, and most of them will continue to be unhappy. Happiness and taking care of our health are two things we have choices about.
How difficult it is to get away from fossil fuels even in a country with almost unlimited solar power is demonstrated again in Australia:
Federal Government steps in to speed up coal seam gas drilling in New South Wales
The Federal Government says it is intervening to fast-track coal seam gas (CSG) projects in New South Wales in response to the state’s “gas crisis”.
Speaking at an “energy security summit” of gas industry stakeholders in Sydney today, Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said thousands of jobs could be lost and gas prices could spike in the state if moves were not taken to unlock CSG reserves.
And not even plans to use gas as a transport fuel:
Australia’s natural gas squandered in LNG exports
Perhaps it would be easier to work on encouraging smaller families instead.
I agree fully with you. Australian environement is not sustainable with 30-40 millions people. The continent is already reaching limits, according to Jared Diamond book Collapse…
Smaller families won’t help when the government imports people to keep up the growth rate.
This is an issue. Of course, it becomes more difficult to say “no” when each of us are ourselves descendants of immigrants. And adopting a baby from overseas is (arguably) better than having one yourself.
Our whole system works on having young people to support older people. In fact, having more people helps growth. So governments are anxious to add immigrants (especially educated ones) from abroad. Of course, adding educated immigrants cuts back job opportunities for educated young people who grew up here.
The claim is we (NSW) need the new gas wells or there will be a shortage, the only shortage is because of exports. None of the gas wells are for domestic use, they are planning on exporting the gas at the international market price? So there will still be a shortage.
But in WA/NT gas is currently exported at less than half the cost we are currently paying for it in the east (an international market price?). So it seems we have two world market prices, the east coast price and the north west price.
Australia has an energy shortage because we do not control the energy market in our own country, not because we have a lack of resources.
None of the official discussion relates to the potential damage done when the drilling/fracking occurs, so it is possible we will lose the use of the land for food growing as well.
Hello Gail. Nice article. My comments on Randers’ book are here: http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.it/2013/04/jorgen-randers-what-future-will-be.html
Generally speaking, I think that models are not there to be “believed” or “disbelieved”. Models tell us about options for the future. But the future depends on what we do. In this sense, Randers’ model has a purpose and a logic. Given some assumptions, it is perfectly possible that the decline will be gradual over a long time span. Given others, we have cassandric, “Seneca-like” scenarios.
My personal impression is that the Seneca cliff is a much more likely scenario; also helped by discontinuities in the financial system. But, if we could be just a little more careful….. (but we never are)
I guess I see fewer possibilities that “free will” will reduce consumption than others, so don’t see a point in lecturing on it. As long as people receive a salary, they are going to spend it. If they cut back on spending on one thing, they will spend the salary on whatever else they can. They will eve use borrowed money to spend. If a country wants people to spend less, they need to raise taxes, and then use the tax money to pay down debt. This should produce recession and lower spending of all kinds.
I am also less optimistic that renewables can have a society-wide benefit. They may help a family here and a family there, but they won’t fix the broken system.
Regarding free will and attitude change…
Had a discussion?! with my mother today – she likes to heat her large two-parted 35m² living room instead of dividing it with a curtain and heating only 20m² – because she likes the large “look” of it. Confronted with fracking and the like – as far as she understands it -she does not like or approve it. But she also does not want to compromise the “top 5% of the cream” of her life style – as long as she (or my dad) can pay it.
Its something I see all around me. People complain about fracking, tar-sands, pollution, etc. pp. – but they are not even trying to reduce their own consumption. With reducing I only mean the “5% of the top” – so the 150 horse power car instead of the 200 horse power, heating to 21°C instead of 22°C, etc.
Regarding ” they will spend the salary on whatever else they can” I had another solution for my self: Earn less – have more time to do things oneself. With earning less I do reduce my expenditure and do not feed the system to the max. Even If I would not spend the money I earn – it would be in a bank account or fund that would spend it for me… so it would buy, produce and consume to get some return, interest, etc.
But with those thoughts I’m far outside of the thought lines and understanding of the people that surround me.
Unless a person can provide a fairly simple substitute–compact florescent bulb instead of incandescent, or add a little insulation, it is hard for me to believe that anyone will have much success in getting people to change. Like I said before, lower your salary. Of course, if someone else gets your job, then that person has more money, and the outcome is about the same. This is a game that is really hard to win.
“As long as people receive a salary, they are going to spend it.”
Very well put! The most radical action one can take to support the planet and any possible future civilization is to quit your job!
I’ve been living on under $12,000 a year for sixteen years. Of course, I’ve invested in renewable resources — not solar panels, not wind turbines, not micro-hydro, but land I can feed myself from, land that supplies a sustainable cut of firewood, land that supports a few cash crops to buy the things I can’t grow.
Plus, this is coming to you from an six-year-old computer, which is about twice as old as the average computer retirement age. I have an excellent cell-phone plan that costs me nothing — and won’t give me brain cancer, either. We’re going to start producing our own oilseed for the small amount of diesel fuel we use. And the food is GMO-free, tasty, and much more healthy than that crap that most westerners eat these days.
Not everyone can do this, of course. Maybe only the survivors will. You can find people to help you, and we could use your help, too!
You don’t have to go “cold turkey.” Move into a smaller house, closer to work. Or better yet, work at home! Have income diversity — several part-time jobs or enterprises instead of one paycheque. Then you can easily shed income as you become more self-sufficient. Get rid of most of your crap, and repair stuff instead of replacing it. If you must buy something, buy used (they are often better constructed than new) or buy for maintainability. Grow food! Lots of it! Focus on quality fats and protein. Learn to preserve foods — and I don’t mean tossing them in the freezer. Can and steam-juice for room-temperatune storage. Cut down or eliminate meat-eating. Or at least grow your own meat in a way that is synergistic with other efforts. Even cavies can turn your table scraps into protein — very popular in Latin American apartments.
De-consume! Starve the beast!
Well done to Gail for pointing out that in that pretty little graph ‘oil’ ‘gas’ and ‘renewables’ are all on the same grapht in different colours AS IF THEY WERE ALL EQUIVALENT.
They are not.
Intermittent Renewables do not replace oil coal or gas: they slightly augment them. Without coal oil and gas intermittent renewables are totally useless. They have to be complemented with some form of STORED energy.
Currently and for the foreseeable future that represents either hydroelectric power, which Gail again correctly points out is ‘built out’ -a phrase that I had not heard before, but is unusually for an Americanism, succinct and to the point – or fossil.
Worse, intermittent renewables co-operated with fossil introduce further inefficiencies in the use of that fossil, to the point where there is almost no net gain in terms of fossil fuel reduction, in deploying them at all.
Renewable energy turns out to be a chimera. It is a cosmetic solution only – appearing to be beneficial but merely masking the underlying problem.
Therefore in that pretty little graph renewable energy will not and cannot grow as predicted.
And there is only one technology that (partially) can.
But I wont grind that axe today 🙂
A politician needs to look like he/she is doing something. Renewables fill the bill.
Dmitry Orlov is another one who has highlighted the ‘steepness’ of the decline curve in some of his presentations. I suspect the fact that certain well paid presenters and status-quo researchers’s paychecks rely on them not presenting a very realistic picture of the future course of events. The catabolic nature of collapse is what makes it unpredictable, and likely steep and rather discontiguous. Since reversion to the mean is not a controlled process, it will likely take the shortest route to its destination.
I think that people do not focus on the possibility of major political changes. Yet these can indeed happen quickly. There is no way the US can balance the budget without huge, huge cuts to programs. Things that cannot go on indefinitely, won’t. We just don’t know when or how the discontinuity occurs.
Gail, the major political change that needs to come is to remove (TeaParty) Republicans from office. This we have to make “huge, huge cuts to programs” is the same BS (lies) we dealt with here in California with a Republican Governor and a do nothing blocking Republican legislature in our state. In 2010 a Democrat Governor Jerry Brown and a controlling Democrat legislature was elected into office. Within a year and a half our $20 billion deficit has been turned into a surplus. The California economy is now turning around. In the last 2 1/2 year under our new/old governor, I have not meet anyone who has even noticed any changes in taxes.
In addition, California is a total supporter of the Affordable Care Act. Starting next year everyone will have access to affordable health insurance. This has also been a great stimulus to our economy. The federal government is paying for 100% for those who make less than $16,000 per year in our Medical system and will continue to pay 90% until 2020. But Republican governors in red states have refused to take part because of their short sightedness about having to pay the 10%. Instead they would rather have their citizens go without health coverage.
California is also moving forward with high speed rail. Under the same plan a red governor state Florida has refused to take part in. We have good paying jobs coming from this adventure. In addition in the future one will be able to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a few hours without the use of any oil.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
Politics is not my subject, sorry.
It’s like California is to the United States as Germany is to Europe.
“California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, our minimum wage is almost three dollars higher than the national rate, and in 10 years a third of our electricity will come from renewable energy and 15 percent of our cars will be electric.”
I hadn’t realized that Germany was that liberal, but I suppose it makes sense. Without supporters, the people who put renewables in place would be out of office.
I don’t think there is a huge difference between Democans and Republicrats. They both tout “growth” as the answer. They are both propped up by big business interests.
Indeed, there is much to be said for a Tea Party take over, which would wake up many sleepwalking sheeple.
Democrats believe all Americans should have access to Affordable Health Care even if your poor and Republicans don’t.
Democrats believe government can and should be used to help it’s citizens and Republicans don’t.
With respect to government spending, the issue at hand is that resources per capita are declining. We have been spending as if resources per capita were even higher than they actually are. Government is especially affected. The amount of energy resources ultimately determines how the workforce and thus spending is divided. In pre-fossil fuel days, the split was 80% for agriculture, and 20% for the sum of everything else–government services, healthcare, education, clothing, metals production, home building, transportation, energy production, water extraction and purification. When an economy is not rich, nearly everything needs to go toward food (agriculture) and water. We are trending in that direction.
The government could afford to provide healthcare for all, if the definition of healthcare were cut back greatly. Ultimately, it will probably need to go back to midwives for home deliveries, and not a whole lot more. With our 21st century mindset, we cannot even conceive of the cutbacks that would need to take place in many areas (government, healthcare, education, finance, clothing production, transportation, etc), to put the system back on a path where it can be supported by resources. What happens instead is that citizens blame the politicians when they cannot do the impossible. Either that, or politicians continually produce deficits, until the system implodes.
Perhaps if we adopted a different, much cheaper healthcare system (say, like the Europeans), it could for a while be supported by tax revenue. But even that would be way too much to support for very long. This is simply an illustration of a limit we are up against.
Maybe I should apologize for being “politically incorrect” (paradigm violation — I’ve seen Gail T. lectured here, for even mentioning the subject of religion, as if it could have some value in “love and truth”) — of course, we need to dismiss the work of the psychiatrists Raymond Moody & the late George Ritchie (who wrote the afterword to the 2000 edition of UCC pastor Howard Storm’s book, in which he said he was shown, in 1985, that the US was headed for collapse & civil chaos) — maybe we should also dismiss as junk & bunk, the Vatican’s 2001 endorsement of 3 of the visionaries of Kibeho, Rwanda, who warned of the 1994 genocide there, & said that that was also a warning for the rest of the world?
I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Randers on this topic in Tampere, Finland, recently. I got the distinct impression that he was personally much more pessimistic than the model, which, as such, was already quite shocking for the audience of business leaders. After the presentations, the audience had the task of planning future tasks for sustainable regional development, and as he was closing his presentation, Randers said something to the effect (I don’t remember the exact words) “plan all you want, I don’t expect to see any significant enough change in human behaviour”. This left an impression, as it in a way pulled the rug from the whole exercise. In other asides, as well, he was indicating in no uncertain terms that he expects himself and his generation, in the affluent North, to have a good life, but younger generations are in for a lot of trouble. No change after the Club of Rome report, no change now, or in the future, that was the baseline attitude.
Thanks for those observations. We really don’t know how quickly things will change. In some ways, it seems like the Affluent North might be even more at risk than the South. Europe tends to be densely populated. Areas that don’t need fuel for heating have an advantage–they were the dominant areas before fossil fuels.
From the point of view of those living in a temperate climate like Britain, there is a level of heating and good clothing and shelter below which one cannot fall without , quite simply, dying rather sooner than one might wish!
This basic level is actually quite high, and needs considerably industriousness and resources to support, and constant maintenance and investment.
In Britain, and much of Europe, chilly damp kills, not extreme heat or cold.
The year or two which I spent in penury with very little cash which nearly all had to go on food taught me this lesson! And I am glad to have had it. I was lucky to have very good warm clothing, and dry housing, if freezing – but again, these represented considerable past investment.
Many people today are only adequately clothed today because of dirt cheap Asian goods, and only housed and heated by virtue of government deficit spending.
The fact that we are living outside of the tropics leads to a need for a lot more in the way of housing, heat, and clothing. Early civilizations were mostly in very warm areas. I think that Europe got started on industrialization, because there was such a problem with deforestation, early on. One Britain learned to use coal for heating, it adapted it for other uses as well.
Rocket Mass Stoves are quite efficient in terms of converting wood into heat. They are a recent invention, relying on low tech methods. If you want to know about them, you can search on Paul Wheaton Rocket Mass Stoves and get bales of information. Paul lives in Montana, where I have heard it gets pretty cold (e.g., The Truth About Montana Winters, and other books).
This is a link I ran across on Rocket Mass Stoves.
This is a link I ran across on Rocket Mass Stoves.
Hi Xabier, I was thinking if I had to head my home without gas or electricity, I would basically have to close off more than half my house and move into the one room that has a wood stove and that would be a central place for cooking and living. It is good to have a back up plan to heat your home if you live somewhere cold, it is not that cold in Oregon but it does get very cold and wet and some snow depending on your location. What I have been doing here the last few years is stocking a two year supply of wood. I buy it green and it takes that long to dry anyway, but at least I got some heat and cooking facitities if Gas/Electric is short – or too expensive to run my heaters.
I just depends on where you live and how plentiful wood is, in Oregon not a problem yet.
Not all homes can have a wood stove, but people with fireplaces in their homes can put in a fire place insert that can can also be cooked on and will really put out some heat and they are great back up systems during power outages and storms etc. I do believe we save money buying the wood and using the wood stove when it gets really cold. I have a clean burning wood stove so it is a bit better than the older ones on the pollution.
What else can one do but prepare a bit, we have some food stored, enough for up to a year maybe if we have a garden too and have water source but that requires electricity to run my well pump, I am fortunate my neighbor has a hand well if I really need it then there is a pond here too. But in a situation we will likely be carrying buckes of water uphill which will be hard to grow a big garden. I would like to get a solar system like Jody has someday and I am looking at those, just wish they were cheaper. It would be good to have solar panels, batteries inverter system to run the well pump and a few basic things like lights.
The last few years we have been enjoying cheap natural gas prices, I wonder if that will last, but even at these cheap prices buring the wood stove help our bills stay lower especially if we get the inflation many of us fear.
It just cost money to modernize into a PV system and wood stove which sounds like a wise investment given the bleak financial outlook and views many of us on this site share.
“… close off more than half my house and move into the one room that has a wood stove and that would be a central place for cooking and living.”
That’s how I grew up, and I still have the habit of sleeping in a cold room. (A glass of water on the night stand would have a thin covering of ice in the morning!)
In Switzerland, the bedrooms are above the animal quarters, and the animals heat the bedrooms!
Having heated sleeping quarters is a modern invention, no older than the exploitation of fossil sunlight. A reversion to the mean is inevitable.
Cool Jan, I grew up in the mountains also for most my younger years and I remember when I was a kid many years ago we lived in the mountains and the power went out for ten days and the phone for a month during a wet snow storm that brought down so many trees, we all huddled in one room close to the fire and closed off the rest of the cold house for a time. Good to have a wood stove somewhere in the house if you are able to have one.
My neighbors are Mormons and they use gas heat but they have a wood stove in the shop with all the parts should they need to install it in their small home. It is good to have a Plan B.
Even if the fall-off in total energy available for useful work is gradual we will still have a problem. It goes like this. The gradual fall-off in energy and material resources crosses with world exponential growth going in the other direction. This process will rapidly create an “over-shoot gap”.
Maybe Gail could create a graph of this. The fall-off in resources is likely a bell-curve skewed to the right. (Or is it a logistic? I dont know the right term). And world growth is an exponential going up. When they cross, the exponential rises ever more rapidly (for a while) and the other resource graph declines. The rapidly widening gap between the two is the over-shoot gap. It rapidalt becomes a chasm.
At least part of the problem is that as resources become shorter and shorter, the amount of effort (energy) we need expend on pulling resources out of the ground and refining them rises rapidly, because we took the easiest to extract out first. This happens to metals as well as energy resource. There are also indirect effects, such as desert populations that need to be fed, adding to our costs. And of course, the exponential growth of the population, and the expected rise in standard of living of the population.
So even if oil supply is flat, it very quickly is not enough to stay even. This a major part of the reason the idea of a Steady State Economy is so absurd–unless it is without energy products, altogether.
Not even Denis Meadows believes this……
Thanks for the link. Dennis Meadows and I agree on a lot of things.
Glad I read the comments, because I was going to make the point that 50% of the living authors of Limits To Growth disagree!
(One could argues that, from her writings before her untimely death, Donella Meadows’ thinking was more in line with her brother’s, rather than Randers’, meaning Randers is in a fillabuster-proof minority here.)
I believe that Donella Meadows was Dennis Meadows’ wife.
I understand that Jorgen Randers was a graduate student of Dr. Meadows who did some background work with respect to the Limits to Growth book. I was told that he was not listed as a co-author on the German version of the book–instead German graduate students were listed. I don’t know who William W. Behrens III was–another graduate student?
In the 1972 book, Dr. Dennis Meadows is listed as the head of the MIT Project Team. There are 16 other people listed on the team, including Donella Meadows and Jorgen Randers.
It was Dennis Meadows who received the $500,000 Japan Prize, for work on the subject.
The WTI Crude price actually broke out of the US$22 – 28 /barrel price bracket agreed between OPEC and OECD in December 2003, and never went back down, as it had done previously. In the previous 20 years the trend annual growth in demand had been 1.6% per year, and has since never been matched. So Peak Oil starts to bite economically, not on the post-peak decline, but on the failure to rise sufficiently to maintain growth.
That brake on economic growth bit harder and harder until mid-2008, Friday 11 July to be precise, when WTI Futures reached the high of US$147 /barrel, and FDIC announced the failure of low-doc mortgage lender, IndyMac, and that talks were under way with Fanny and Freddy that led to their “caretakership”.
Within 3 months derivatives were unravelling, Lehmann collapsed, major banks stopped lending to each other, even just for overnight, importers wouldn’t take Letters of Credit as insurance for cargoes in transit, oil tankers were re-routed to new destinations where payments could be guaranteed, and the globalised system was on the brink of outright collapse.
If you had asked 12 months previously if the system could go from boom to collapse in 12 months, they would have said you were mad.
Thanks for those points–I agree. Even now, most people have put the events of 2008 out of their mind, assuming that they were some fluke, perhaps tied to over-agressive lending or poor investment regulation.
I think that one thing that made the price squeeze worse was China’s entry to the World Trade Organization in December 2001. Their growth added to world demand, tending to push price up further.