Two Views of our Current Economic and Energy Crisis

As the US heads toward debt default and continues with government shutdown, the underlying reason for the predicament is generally not clear to the American people or the world. The story that the press has generally been feeding us places the problem as basically a temporary one, caused by conflicts between the Democrats and Republicans.

It seems to me that the problem is much deeper. In this post, I summarize the two views, and provide reasons why the Predominant View is very far off the mark. We may be headed for a financial collapse that the Predominant View misses completely.

Predominant View of our Current Economic and Energy Predicament

The world economy under “normal” circumstances grows. Economic growth can sometimes slow a little, and then a little Keynesian stimulus is needed. Such stimulus would typically include deficit spending and low-interest rates. Perhaps it would include “Quantitative Easing” as well, since it tends to stimulate interest in buying assets of all kinds.

With the Predominant View, economic growth can continue indefinitely, without slowing down or stopping. In fact, the pursuit of economic growth becomes almost a national religion, with Ben Bernanke (probably succeeded by Janet Yellen) as its high priest. With unlimited economic growth, it is easy to have our current monetary system, since debt, and the repayment of debt, “works” well indefinitely. In fact, we can have pension plans, Social Security, and the many wonders that our financial system can deliver. We also can have more and better technological innovations, because there is always an abundance or the resources needed to make these innovations.

The late economist John Attarian describes this secular religion under the name “Economism” (Attarian 2005). According to him, under Economism, one’s life purpose is to attain affluence, so as to maximize access to consumer goods. With this belief, affluence is the universal solution to problems and grievances. Give people enough money, jobs, goods and services, and they will be happy and peaceable.

With this view, the big problem in the future is pollution, and in particular climate change caused by carbon dioxide and other gasses affecting the climate. Coal is viewed as particularly bad in this regard, oil is somewhat less bad, and natural gas better yet. Nuclear is a concern for a variety of reasons, including lack of a place for spent fuel.

To prevent/mitigate climate change, the view is that we must take steps to reduce fossil fuel usage over the next forty years. The view is that improved technology is likely to be helpful in this regard, because new technology will allow us to become increasingly efficient in our use of fossil fuels. “Renewables” can perhaps be ramped up greatly.

Birth rates can likely be reduced, through increased education of women. If there is a problem with a declining amount of resources per person, this problem can be mitigated by sharing what we have more equally. Perhaps job sharing can become more common, with each worker having part of a job.

Sustainable solutions are viewed as ones that use less fossil fuels. The “plan” is to have ever-increasing GDP per unit of energy consumption. The economy will become ever more service-oriented. People will learn to be happy with more services and fewer goods. We can move forward to a sustainable future.

With this view of the future, the economy is fundamentally fine. It will return to stronger growth in the near future, perhaps using less energy. The huge amount of stimulus currently being put into the economy through ultra low-interest rates and Quantitative Easing can be dropped back, without adverse results. With the Federal Reserve in charge, and with similar groups in charge in other countries, there is nothing to worry about.

Problems with government debt in the US, many parts of Europe, and Japan will somehow take care of themselves, if the various political parties would learn to get along better, and perhaps wait a bit for economic growth to resume on its own.

An Alternate View of our Economic and Energy Predicament

This story is very different from the Predominant View. Energy is critical to the growth of human civilization, because all types of goods and services require energy for their production. Once built infrastructure has been added, energy needs to be of the specific type used by this infrastructure.

In the world today, oil is the single largest source of energy. It is also the most versatile, and because of this, it is the most highly valued energy source. Extraction of oil has become problematic in the last decade, for two reasons: the quantity is not growing very rapidly, and the cost of extraction keeps rising. This rise in cost occurs because we extracted the easy-to-extract oil first. Now we have to move on to the more difficult (and expensive) to extract oil.

I have referred to the rising cost of oil extraction as an Investment Sinkhole Problem. We invest more and more dollars (and quantities of resources of various types), but the amount extracted barely increases world-wide. Economists would call the problem declining marginal returns on investment. When oil could be extracted cheaply, there was a huge gap between the cost of extraction and the value provided to society by this oil. Now, as the cost of extraction has risen, the difference between these two amounts becomes much smaller. If we were depending on this difference to help fuel economic growth, we are losing this benefit.

Viewed in terms of feedback loops, the huge amount of value added to society by oil over and above its cost of extraction used to lead to a positive feedback loop, favorably affecting economic growth. For example, (a) taxes on oil extraction would provide significant revenue, and (b) with low oil prices, roads could be built very cheaply. Both situations benefitted the economy.

Now at a higher cost of extraction, the value added to economies around the world is lower, leading to lower economic growth. At some point, not far away, the cost of extraction will exceed the value that this oil provides to society. At such a point, it will no longer make economic sense to extract oil. Adding more high-priced oil will lead to economic contraction, and quite likely, ultimately, collapse. Joseph Tainter in the Collapse of Complex Societies (1990) tells of many civilizations that reached declining marginal returns of investment and ultimately collapsed.

Oil and the Production Function

Figure 1. Graph of total, average, and marginal product, based on a quadratic production function, from Wikipedia.

Figure 1. Graph of total, average, and marginal product, based on a quadratic production function, from Wikipedia.

Economists talk about production functions describing how the economy works. In general,  a “production function” for the economy is of the form

Q = f (X1, X2, X3, . . . Xn)

where Q = Quantity of Output

and X1, X2, X3, . . . Xn are quantities of factor inputs, such as labor, capital, and land or raw materials.

Using the production factor approach, oil needs to be one of the Xi variables, because it is critical to the function of the economy. Oil is important for transportation, agriculture, as a lubricant, and as a raw material used in making many products such as medicines, fabrics, and asphalt. Substitutes for oil are very limited–mostly ethanol, which acts as an oil extender.

Figure 1 represents the situation where only one the of the inputs, in this case, oil, is allowed to vary. We are rapidly reaching the point where the cost of extracting oil is so high that in total, society is worse off, in terms of the total amount of goods produced by society. On Figure 1, we are reaching Stage 3.

The fact that we are reaching diminishing returns with oil is a major reason why world economic growth is slowing. It is also a major reason that many of the heavy oil consuming nations have been struggling with recession-like symptoms. These symptoms are mostly being covered up with deficit spending, ultra low-interest rates and Quantitative Easing. If this stimulus ever stops, there are likely to be huge problems.

Debt’s First Tie to Economic Growth

Debt is very much tied in with this story. GDP is a measure of how much is produced, whether or not debt is involved. Thus, if a new house or a new car is built, the value of the car is included in economic growth calculations, whether or not the house or car is bought 100% on credit.  Not only are we reaching limits on oil production (because the cost of extraction is becoming higher), but we are also reaching limits on debt, because economic growth is slowing.

Figure 2. Author's image of an expanding economy.

Figure 2. Author’s image of an expanding economy.

The fact that adding debt is easier in a growing economy than in a shrinking economy is obvious, if a person thinks about it.

If the economy is expanding rapidly, it is easy to add debt, because borrowing from the future always looks like it provides a benefit. In fact, it is possible to pay fairly high interest rates, in a growing economy, without profits being badly depressed. Businesses get the advantage of economies of scale, helping their profits and their ability to pay back debt. Reinhart and Rogoff (2008) unexpectedly stumbled across this phenomenon in examining eight centuries of financial crises. They reported, “It is notable that the non-defaulters, by and large, are all hugely successful growth stories.”

Another situation where debt works well is if the economy is close to flat, but with debt, it is possible to add inexpensive fossil fuel energy. In this case, the value to society in terms of the work performed by the fossil fuels in far in excess of the cost of extracting the fossil fuel energy. This difference can feed back into the system, through cheap infrastructure, rising tax revenue, and even rising wages of workers, helping economic growth along. Thus, even though the economy was not growing at the time of the initial loans (these loans would be to potential consumers, to potential factory owners, and to potential extractors of the energy), the debt did in fact enable growth, by helping the huge difference between the cost of extraction and the value to society of the energy flow through to the economy.

Figure 3. Author's image of declining economy.

Figure 3. Author’s image of declining economy.

A shrinking economy can handle much less debt. Businesses, instead of seeing economies of scale, find that fixed costs are increasingly high compared to sales. Thus, their profits tend to shrink, even before debt service is added. Workers experience layoffs frequently, and often find that their new job pays less than their old job. This problem makes debt repayment difficult. If the economy is in fact reaching Stage 3 in Figure 1, because of diminishing returns with respect to oil, additional debt simply pushes the economy toward collapse more quickly.

Debt’s Further Tie to Economic Growth

There are two reasons why increasing debt is important for economic growth. First, increasing debt gives governments, businesses, and individuals increased spending power. For example, with a new auto loan or new home loan, a person is able to purchase an automobile or a home. This aspect or increasing debt is referred to as “increasing demand”–really the increased ability to afford goods.

If debt is declining, the situation is similar to the situation where few new loans are given–instead the old loans simply need to be paid off. If these are home and car loans, the number of cars and homes sold would likely drop back greatly.

A second aspect is just as important. The increased demand tends to lead to higher prices. For example, suppose mortgages for homes suddenly dried up. The amount a person could get for selling his house would likely drop. The same problem would happen if car loans disappeared–there would be many fewer buyers for cars (even used cars), and the value of cars would tend to drop. The value of commodities in general would likely drop as well, because there would be fewer cars made. The fact that fewer cars are made would feed back and affect steel prices, oil prices, and prices of other components of automobiles.

A related issue is that if the amount of debt starts to drop, the feedback loop is such that it tends to encourage more contraction, lower prices, and more debt default. (Like 2008!) Such debt defaults can cause banks and insurance companies to collapse, unless propped up by the government. Lower commodity prices can lead to a cutback of oil production. The expected feedbacks are especially bad if the economy is already reaching Stage 3, in Figure 1.

At this point, we have a great deal of oil extraction that is financed by debt. As we get to the more expensive oil, there will be more of this that can never be paid back. The tight oil extracted using fracking from shale formations is quite possibly of this type. The president of Shell Oil Company recently explained what a disappointment its investment in shale oil and gas had been (Financial Times).

Brazil is a step further toward bond defaults. It is trying to extract expensive oil from below a salt layer offshore. Brazil’s second largest oil company recently was not able to make its debt payment, and is now being liquidated (Bloomberg). The debt rating of its largest oil company, Petrobas, was recently downgraded (Financial Times).

A person cannot help but be concerned that if we start to see debt defaults, there will be  contagion as prices drop and banks and insurance companies fail. The government is already stimulating the economy using super-low interest rates, deficit spending, and Quantitative Easing. It would seem to be running out of ammunition to fix the situation, if another round of debt defaults start. Former Director of the US Office of Management and the Budget, David Stockman, has recently talked about this issue (King World News).

The Electricity Part of Our Predicament

Electricity can be produced in many different ways, at vastly different costs. When electricity costs are low, low electricity costs also contribute to economic growth, because the cost of generating the electricity is significantly lower than the benefit to the economy from the electricity. In this respect, electricity is very much like oil.

We can think of oil and electricity both as intermediate products, that are not exactly what we as consumers can use. What we want is transportation, or light from a light bulb, or our food cooked. Our salaries only go so far. Once the share of our salaries that must be spent on these intermediate products (electricity or oil) starts increasing, the share of our salaries that can go for the applications we really want must shrink. Similarly, if more of the world’s resources and manpower go to creating wind turbines and solar panels and nuclear plants, less is available to produce other things.

The shift toward renewables has several difficulties:

  1. Renewables  are an order of magnitude less efficient in producing electricity than the fossil fuels they replaced, when the energy cost of mitigating intermittency is included in the calculation  (Weissbach et al. 2013). EROI comparisons are distorted, because they do not reflect this cost.
  2. Renewables tend to use fossil fuels heavily at the beginning of their life cycle, so do not really reduce fossil fuel use unless at some point in the future, we greatly reduce the amount of renewables we produce (and perhaps not even then, if the intermittency cost is as high as indicated in Item 1).
  3. The shift toward renewables in electricity production acts very much like the push toward high-priced oil, in terms of pushing the economy toward Stage 3 of the production function (in Figure 1), only on a different axis than oil.
  4. The view that the economy is hurtling toward climate change is based on the view that the economy will in fact continue to grow and will continue to extract fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. If oil and debt are limits that we are hitting right now, we may very well encounter economic collapse in the near future. Such a collapse will likely cut fossil fuel use of all kinds very quickly, because of low prices and disruption to systems.
  5. If, in fact, we do hit collapse, renewables will not operate the electric grid without fossil fuels, because we need fossil fuels to keep transmission lines repaired, to create and transport replacement parts, and to allow customers to have jobs to pay for the electricity. Thus, without fossil fuels in the future, our investment in renewables is of  no long-term value. (And EROI estimates are vastly overstated.)

Government Tie to Collapse Issues

Governments are perhaps the most vulnerable part of the system, if collapse hits due to continuing high oil prices.

Governments are the ones charged with bailing out banks and providing benefits to unemployed workers, at the same time that their own tax revenue is down due to reduced employment. In fact, many of the governments of big oil consuming nations (US, most of Europe, and Japan) are in very vulnerable positions, because their debt levels are very high, and they keep adding more debt. At the same time, they are pulling out all of the stops to keep their economies from collapsing, including very low-interest rates and Quantitative Easing. Because they are already so stretched, it is doubtful that they could do another round of bailouts.

The US government shutdown and debt cap limit debate is indicative of very serious problems–more than a conflict between two political parties. With slowing economic growth, there is a huge gap between what has been promised and what the government can in fact afford. No government official wants to explain to voters how bad the situation really is. So we end up with gridlock. See my post from November 2012, Understanding Our Oil-Related Fiscal Cliff.


The Predominant View appears to fall very wide of the mark. Limits on oil and on other resources are a signal that Nature is really in charge, not humans. We can’t escape these limits. If we try to mitigate climate change by using more renewables, we hit a different kind of limit–high-priced electricity, and the problems it brings.

Potential collapse seems to be directly in front of us. The Republican solution of more oil drilling will lead us in the direction of collapse, just as will the Democratic solution of increased debt and more emphasis on low-carbon fuels, particularly for electricity. The limits are just on different axes of the production function.

Whether or not we humans would like to be in charge, Nature is, in fact, in charge. Nature determines timeframes. The timeframe could be very close. It is even possible that the current government shutdown/debt ceiling problems will ultimately lead to US collapse, and perhaps even world collapse.

The current Predominant View of our situation is one that puts humans, and in particular current governmental officials, in charge. Historically, governments have had close ties with religion, using religion to further their own purposes. Now, government and religion have almost been fused into one. Perhaps this close tie is the reason why it is so difficult to get a well-reasoned story about our current predicament from those in charge, and why so many people are willing to believe the story we are being told.

One thing that the Predominant View misses is the fact that we live in a finite world. This means that growth must at some point slow, and ultimately be reversed. The world operates in cycles; we can’t really change this. Nothing is permanent. The species that are dominant will change; humans may even lose their dominance. The climate changes, although perhaps not as fast as it is currently.

Another thing that the Predominant View misses is the fact that energy of the right kinds is absolutely essential for the functioning of the economy. The view that there will be a substitute is more “faith-based” than it is based on objective facts. The Predominant View also misses the point that the substitute needs to be cheap; high-priced energy is terribly bad for the economy–it can easily push the economy into Stage 3 of the production function. The fact that high-priced oil is likely to lead to a debt unwind is likely to make the situation worse than it otherwise would be.

A major debt unwind is likely to lead to low prices for oil and commodities of all types and significant job loss. This is analogous to the problem the 1930s Depression. The big difference is that in the 1930s Depression, job loss was associated with the falling price of food, as fossil fuels replaced human labor, bringing food production costs down, and leaving many unemployed. (Stiglitz 2010). In that scenario, there was still plenty more cheap fossil fuels in the ground. Therefore, more debt and stimulus programs could re-inflate the economy, because it could lead to more use of cheap fossil fuels in non-agricultural sectors of the economy.

We are now at the edge of a very different scenario. We are reaching debt default limits because we have extracted the easy to extract oil. Additional extraction can only be more expensive and thus push us further into Stage 3 of the production function, or more toward financial collapse.  As the economy naturally shrinks, there is no longer a way that more debt can re-inflate the system. Instead, the use of debt must reach a new, much lower equilibrium. Because of debt’s tie to banks, pension funds, insurance companies, and the rest of the financial system, this is a huge problem.

We can think that the growth of human systems, including the economy, will go on forever, but we are almost certainly kidding ourselves. At some point, when Nature decides, new species will dominate–perhaps plants that can use more CO2. The transition will be the transition Nature dictates.

We are kidding ourselves if we think that we can decide to slowly reduce oil and fossil fuel usage over the next 40 or more years. If oil prices drop to, say, $30 barrel because of debt defaults, oil production will drop very quickly–not based on some slow decline curve. Natural gas and coal prices will drop dramatically too, essentially putting an end to their production. Jobs will disappear with the lack of fossil fuels. Eighty or ninety percent of us will again need to work in manual food production without fossil fuels. Education, government, and services of all kinds will shrink rapidly.

Nature is deciding for us right now what is ahead. We likely will have little choice in the matter. If we do have a choice at all, it is likely to be in the direction of serious back-pedaling, in terms of population, and in terms of learning to live essentially without fossil fuels. The future is likely to be very different from the past.

About Gail Tverberg

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

  1. xabier says:

    This welfare-based shadow- life contrasts with the life of an English peasant family I’ve been reading: the grandfather lost his farm as a result of globalization in the 1880’s (competition from the Colonies ) and they got back on their feet by 1/ Working hard in waged jobs to save capital, 2/ Put the farm they leased back into basic productivity through hard manual labour (no plough horse at the start).

    Essential pre-conditions of success, apart from good health and knowledge, were: 1/ A good spouse brought up to the farming life, 2/ A pig for meat, and, 3/ Hens for eggs – ‘we wouldn’t starve’. And decent neighbours.

    A stable family unit did not guarantee success, (we forget how common it was for farms to fail) but it was a pre-condition of it.

    The writer left school at 10 years old more or less, and wrote a damn good book – which many of those schooled to 18 today would not be able to accomplish……

    This is not an anti-welfare diatribe, and these people lived in fear of the workhouse – one of the cruellest systems to punish the poor ever devised – but much has gone very wrong.

  2. justnobody says:

    Mousp Utopia Experiment . How population growth affect behavior. Enjoy.

    • Craig Dilworth writes about similar experiments with equally bad results in Too Smart for Our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Mankind.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      The film leaves out a lot of detail. It claims the habitat was designed for 3,000, but the peak population only reached 2,200, and yet it did not go into the reasons for mortality.

      In the human situation, it would seem that we are becoming resource-limited, but the film implies the mice were not.

      • justnobody says:

        This experiment or movie could provide the explanation Why young people in Japan stopped having sex?

        We are starting to see men that look feminine and care a great deal about look and apparence. The young generation could be showing the same characteristics as the beautiful mouse in the video.

        This could indicate that Japan is overpopulated and people are having difficulty to tolerate each other. Overpopulation of the planet could explain why in the western world people dont marry and stop having babbies.

        This could be another sign that the collapse is coming.

        • edpell says:

          I think you have a valid point about the Japanese young. I would disagree about people not having babies in the US. It seems more like people will not reproduce if they can not provide the standard of living for them that they had. So immigrants with low expectations are imported to provide children and future workers.

          • xabier says:

            The young in Japan have seen career paths destroyed: they don’t have enough money to set up a traditional home, but they do have enough to adorn themselves in whatever fashion they choose.

            It’s noticeable in the UK that ‘middle class’ (ie indebted!) couples have maybe one or two children, but those on welfare and in low-skilled jobs often have three or four (children attract welfare payments and are a financial gain).

            Interesting to watch it play out.

            • Tax rates and benefit programs in the US tend to discourage marriage among those who are doing poorly in the job market. “Unmarried head of household” for one partner plus child or children, together with “single” for the other partner has definite financial advantages over “married with children,” when it comes to taxes and benefits such as food stamps and unemployment. Over the long term, this anti-marriage bias tends to make relationships of the less financially well off less stable.

          • edpell says:

            In response to Gail’s post about government favoring unwed. Former New York State Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about this in the 1960s, . At the time it was more concentrated in the black community and that was what he wrote about but now it applied to all.

        • Dennis Brumm says:

          “We are starting to see…”

          Some of what is termed masculine and feminine is culturally defined. Other factors in what you observe may be less about overpopulation than environment:

          “Most Plastic Products Trigger Estrogen Effect”

          Soy’s Negative Effect on Men’s Health:

          • justnobody says:

            I am aware of what you talk about. Am I the only one who think that young man lack testosterone. I find young man really skinny and fragile. I remember my grand father being tall and big.

            If young man lack testosterone, aggressiveness and energy, who will take over older man and initiate societal changes. Not older man, they have too much to lose.

            Again young man seems redraws from the society like the beautiful mouse in the video. This is my feeling but i could be wrong.

  3. Scott says:

    Hello this seems to be a top story in the USA MSM today. The US Dollar and perhaps the Euro will suffer some pain in the years ahead.


    • THere really isn’t any currency in place that could replace the US$ in this role, which is why I lean toward discontinuity–a whole new system–rather than replacement by the Swiss Franc or Chinese Yuan. As a claim on future goods and services, none of them will work very well.

  4. justnobody says:

    II think people are talking too much about economic not enough about all the effect of growth.

    The collapse of the financial system will happen at the same time of the collapse of the natural resource ( fish, wild animal, potable water, fertile land). Add to add a complete lack of social cohesion.

    Some example of lack of social cohesion, no working agreement between man and women:

    The Masculine Mystique

    Here are some example of how the resource base is stretch to its maximum:

    The ocean is broken – ‘We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head.’

    Plummeting morale at Fukushima Daiichi as nuclear cleanup takes its toll – ‘Very little has changed at Fukushima Daiichi in the past six months. You can see that the situation is severe.’

    Eventually people will have to decide where they stand and act on their beliefs.

    If you care about the well being of future generation you might to protest and put your life on the line.

    If you don’t care about the continuation of human race, you just need to go along with capitalism.

    Eventually every one of us will have to make a decision.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “If you care about the well being of future generation you might to protest and put your life on the line. If you don’t care about the continuation of human race, you just need to go along with capitalism.”

      Isn’t a third path possible? Be the change you wish to see in the world!

      Naomi Klein has recently pilloried main-stream enviro-social organizations, saying they were every much part of the beast as what they were protesting.

      It seems that “putting your life on the line” is only going to result in all the good people getting killed early on.

      I also argue that utilizing “the means of production” is not inherently evil. What has given capitalism a bad name is financial capitalism, the notion that little bits of coloured paper get together in bank vaults, fornicate, and reproduce. But if one buys a tool that enables one to produce a product or service with one’s own labour, where’s the evil in that?

      My “third path” is to do good things and keep a low profile, and to live very simply.

      • justeunperdant says:

        I understand what you are saying. Personally I don’t think the human life project is worth pursing. I prefer to see total extinction of the human race. I hate being a servant of my genes and a servant of my biological urge of reproduction. I want to live long enought to see the stupidity of humans. I want to see pandemia, violence, chaos and then I want to go away on my own term and died alone .

        I am happy that there is people that think like you do. We need all kind of people with all kind of attitude. I am too old now and I am fed up with this clown show that is the human race.

        Good luck to you.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “I want to see pandemia, violence, chaos and then I want to go away on my own term and died alone.”

          This is the saddest thing I’ve read in a long time.

          It isn’t necessary to be part of the problem in order to live in joy. I’m not overly religious or spiritual, but I think that’s why we’re here — to live in joy. It is possible in the worst of circumstances!

          I take it as a personal challenge to see if I can live a life with minimal impact, and to help others to have minimal impact. That’s what gives me joy.

          Perhaps we can return to an ethic that “the greatest generation” had — one of thrift and frugality. My parents, who lived through the Great Depression, taught me that.

        • and I thought I had cornered the market in pessimism!!
          I am obviously only an amateur

        • I am sorry you feel this way. In fact, I am tempted to hide your comment, but I expect there are others that tend to feel somewhat the same way.

          The time we have right now can be very good, regardless of our current circumstances. We have the opportunity to help others less fortunate than ourselves and to provide services in whatever way we can. I know my grandfather went around from room to room in the Assisted Living center where he lived, talking with others and cheering them up. I am sure he couldn’t read to them, because his vision was very poor, but he had a clear mind and many years of wisdom.

          We have the wonders of nature to enjoy every day. There are many things we can be thankful for. I am thankful for my many readers and the community they provide.

        • I am not sure how one would phrase your situation- despair I suppose rather than a hatred of humanity, perhaps your dislike is greater. But your blunt statement is not far removed from those who are aware of the issues but do nothing. To do nothing is complicate in the destruction and despair.

          We observe the world’s tragedies, suffering [and joy] through the lens of mass media; it may keep us informed but it keeps a distance- a form of protection I suppose in the same way doctors stay professional [although living with one does reveal moments when their cover gets blown]. People losing their homes and loved ones in Australia through fire, or the US in flood connects more than floods in Pakistan only because of a shared language- but it is not a personal connection. Most of us are protected from that immediacy.

        • edpell says:

          Just, my I suggest you see a hormone replacement doctor. Various out of wack hormones can cause crushing sadness.

          Good luck

    • We seem to be hitting limits in a lot of different ways simultaneously. All of the hype about climate change leads people to think this is the one and only problem, when it is really one of many problems. Its role may be fairly small in the whole scheme of thing–or may not. It is really Liebig’s Law of the Minimum at work.

      No one can really model how all of the limits will come together, except that it is pretty clear that they come together faster than separate limits, such as climate change. Oceans have been known to be a problem for quite a while.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Gail
        Relative to Liebig’s Law. Here is a little history relative to soil, biochar, and Liebig’s Law:

        ‘Kelpie Wilson provided a little-known piece of the history of biochar in the story of Justus von Liebig and the evolution of the theory of humus. Most fascinating was a vignette of the argument between Liebig and Pasteur over whether soil fertility could be attributed to “vitalism” (biology) or the presence of elemental compounds (chemistry). Liebig believed that plant growth could be explained entirely by the availability of soil minerals until Pasteur proved conclusively there was more to it, and that humus is, in fact, teeming with forms of life that make plant growth possible. Liebig was an early pioneer in studying the uses of biochar and when he died, left instructions to be buried in a coffin filled with biochar. ‘

        The incident is relevant to my assertion that Liebig’s Law is usually more relevant to human constructs than to Mother Nature’s designs. It is also evidence that Liebig was flexible enough to recognize the truth when he saw it demonstrated by Pasteur and that the truth changed the way he thought, even to building his coffin.

        Don Stewart

  5. Don Stewart says:

    A few thoughts about Peak Net Energy, Peak Debt, the Seneca Cliff, and the capture of government by The One Percent.

    Automatic Earth has collected the statistics which illustrate how much the real standard of living has fallen in the OECD countries since around 1970 or 1980.

    For example,
    …only 24.6% of all jobs in the United States qualify as “good jobs” at this point…(as compared to 1979)

    Automatic Earth rehearses the same facts that you have laid out in terms of the increase in debt trying, in vain, to keep the illusion of a rising standard of living.

    Meanwhile, we have seen the complete triumph of ‘the best government money can buy’ mentality, leading to the control of government by the top 400:
    …the 400 wealthiest Americans now have more money [over $2 trillion] than the poorest 50% of all Americans combined…

    If we combine the thought that Peak Net Energy and thus economic growth are in the rear view mirror, with the notion that the Federal Reserve will continue to create money and send it to the richest people, that Debt for individuals (and certainly for the bottom half) has reached its peak, that interest rates are likely to reverse and begin to rise (putting more pressure on those in debt), that governments cannot take on more debt in the absence of inflation, that inflation hurts the poorest 50 percent the worst, and that a strong political strain in the US believes that poor people deserve what they are experiencing, it seems inescapable that the bottom 90 percent are now experiencing a Seneca Cliff, and will continue to lose ground rapidly.

    Don Stewart

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “that interest rates are likely to reverse and begin to rise (putting more pressure on those in debt)”

      This seems to be at odds with Ilargi at The Automatic Earth, who is saying we need to prepare for deflation, not inflation.

      Is that your understanding of TAE’s stance?

      Also, rising interest only puts pressure on those with non-fixed-rate loans, no? Those with fixed interest loans (including the Fed, with much of its debt in 30-year T-bills) cheer for inflation!

      I always thought the reason for printing money was for a government to inflate away its debt. But TAE still argues that deflation is the greater peril. I’m confused.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Jan
        I don’t pretend to speak for Automatic Earth, where there may be subtle differences between husband and wife.

        Actually, my speculation on interest rates comes from something that Chris Martenson posted as a result of a conversation at the Casey conference in Arizona. The observation was that interest rates have been rising DESPITE Fed efforts to keep them at zero. IF interest rates rise, then low income people with credit card debt get squeezed even harder. I am not sure about student loans.

        An increase in interest rates would hurt relatively rich people who have money in bonds. My guess is that the extremely rich will find a way to avoid the capital losses which might afflict the ‘weall-to-do widow’ with a bond portfoilio.

        At any rate, it seems like the bottom 50 percent can’t win regardless. I would extend that to the bottom 80 or 90 percent—except those who were clever enough to move to Canada and start farming. They will soon live in the lap of luxury, with former billionaires making their tea for them as they survey their kingdom.

        Don Stewart

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “except those who were clever enough to move to Canada and start farming. They will soon live in the lap of luxury, with former billionaires making their tea for them as they survey their kingdom.”

          Heaven forbid! As soon as I get feeling too comfortable, I find some other trouble to get into.

      • My vote is on the deflation side as well.

        Debt defaults lead to the loss of value, and can be expected to reduce the value of houses and bonds. Stock prices seem likely to fall as well, as less can be made. So in that sense I am in the deflation camp as well. I am also in the discontinuity camp–things change so much that it is hard to make sense of the outcome, in our current way of thinking.

        In some sense, what we are looking at is producing very much less goods and services in the future. The question is, “Who gets these goods and services?”:

        1. Those who make them.
        2. Those who have a large value of investments today.
        3. Those who can successfully fight for them.

        Also, what happens to current debt? What happens to insolvent banks and insurance companies? Can governments continue, if their financial systems fail and they default on their debt?

        I don’t see the people with large investments today as being the winners in the three way battle above.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Gail and Jan
          Let’s suppose that the dollar is destroyed by money printing. Some new currency comes into place. It might be issued by some successor to the current government or fragments of the government of the Chinese with their hoard of gold.

          My guess is that, if you wanted to borrow any of that new money, then the interest rate would be quite high…especially if the lenders understood the difficulty of paying interest in a no-growth economy. If that is true, then anyone who is still supporting their lifestyle by additional borrowing would suffer an immediate shock. Colleges would mostly collapse, because students would not be able to borrow. The Defense and Medical industries would collapse because the governments which finance them would be unable to borrow.

          What about the typical ‘tapped out’ lower-middle class family? They have a mortgage and they have credit card debt, but suppose their debts are wiped out by the currency destruction. They are not currently dependent on ADDING to their debt load. It seems to me that they will suffer with loss of jobs, as industries where they work (think of the swarms of people working in hospitals) collapse. During the Depression of the 1930s, many of the people caught in these situations went to live with relatives on family farms. That is no longer possible for most people in the OECD countries.

          Sounds to me like the perfect prescription for Fascism. And Fascism usually finds a place for the lower middle class as cannon fodder.

          Don Stewart

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “Who gets these goods and services?”

          I’m guessing it’s going to be some combination of the three. I’m obviously banking on the first — those who produce goods and services will have the most access to them.

          You seem to think Door Number Two will be losers — those who have money today will not be able to turn it into goods and services tomorrow.

          It could be a combination of #2 and #3 — those with money won’t necessarily be able to purchase goods and services, but in a world of unemployment and deprivation, they will certainly be able to purchase labour, which may allow them to seize the goods and services they need.

          This is really happening today. You can steal with a gun or a ball-point pen. Large corporations have been putting small businesses out of business for decades, and it seems to be accelerating.

          To me, this poins to “neo-feudalism” as the next dominant paradigm. We are already seeing this in so-called “failed states,” such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq — even Russia, with its oligarchs.

          I hope that, as with Frank Herbert’s “freemen,” there will be room in the corners for small self-governing groups.

          • Democracy in our modern context has only existed as a direct product of an energy rich society
            In other other words we have enjoyed democracy because we could afford it…much like personalised transport, heated houses, nice clothes for most people, universal education and so on.
            As our fuelburning society crashes, so will democracy, along with everything else I’ve just listed and a lot more besides

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “As our fuelburning society crashes, so will democracy…”

              I think large, centralized governments are the walking dead, no matter what the ideology.

              Surely though, energy is not a necessary component of small-scale democracy. The ancient Greeks had it. (Well, if you exclude slaves and women.) The Iroquois had it.

              The trick will be maintaining it at a local level as the larger government collapses around you.I think it will be easy to slip into neo-feudalism, unless your community already has a strong tradition of consensus-based democracy.

    • I agree that the bottom 90% are doing very poorly. I am not sure what one can really do about the situation.

      We really need a very large tax increase to balance the budget, if current programs are left in place. Assuming that everything continued as today–which it can’t–there would not be enough dollars from the top 10% to completely fix the problems of the bottom 90%, if that is what everyone in political power wanted to do. The situation gets much worse, if things go downhill in the future.

      In animals, hierarchical behavior is a sign of crowding–too many people for the resources. Nature is trying to fix things, by eliminating those at the bottom of the hierarchy. If everything were shared equally, and resources decreased, everyone would starve. So in that sense hierarchical behavior is better. But it is certainly difficult to accept.

  6. Ikonoclast says:

    I would like to point out, in a general way, that is possible to be a critic of some aspects of Gail’s thinking whilst still being in overall agreement with her thesis and conclusions.

    For example, I think Gail is a little too pessimistic about the potential of hi-tech renewable energy. Having said that, it does not mean I think renewable energy will “save the day”. It won’t. The shortfall to be made up, when fossil fuel supply collapses, is too great. Even the most optimistic assumptions for hi-tech renewable energy show that we cannot run a world of 7 billion or more at current living standards on renewable energy. On the other hand, renewable energy shows some promise to partially cushion the collapse in some (not all) regions of the world. This is my view but Gail might yet be proved right and me wrong on this.

    Hi-tech renewable energy (solar panels, nantennas, wind turbines) could supply all the energy we needed if Liebig’s Law did not impact from other quarters. However, it will impact for sure. There will be other limits preventing the creation of vast solar panel and wind turbine arrays. The availability of crucial metals all the way from aluminium and copper to gold and then on to to neodymium and other rare earths for magnets, electrics and electronics will be a limiting issue. Iron would always be available in sufficient quantities but only IF (a big, doubtful “IF”) enough energy was available to process and smelt iron ore.

    Ultimately we will collapse to renewable energy dependence even if that is perforce low-tech renewable energy like non-fossil fuel grown food, muscle power (human and animal), wood burning, water wheels, wooden wind-mills and so on. I don’t expect all regions of the earth to collapse that far but again I may be wrong. Other problems, like the death of the oceans and massive storms from climate change may break us right down to that primitive level again.

    • Scott says:

      Hello, It really seems like carbon (C02) is our problem and we really are stuck on that one trying to get away from it and it can be done but it will be really tough and there is already so much of it out there. I have even read that they are perhaps doing something to add iron and other things to the seas to get rid of it. I do not think it is wise to mess with mother nature this way.

      Let us face it most of our vehicles run on gas or diesel and we really cannot afford to replace most of them. So carbon with our large population will continue to plague the world.


      • Collapse can fix CO2 issues. Even Guy McPherson says that.

        Humans were around long before the current interglacial period. Humans have lived through all kinds of climates. What doesn’t work is our current fixed lifestyle, where we build homes and roads and farms in an area, and expect to use them. As Guy says, Nature Bats Last.

        Also, if most of us are dead, a CO2 problem may not matter too much. New species will emerge with are adapted to the higher CO2 level.

      • Collapse can fix CO2 issues. Even Guy McPherson says that.

        Humans were around long before the current interglacial period. Humans have lived through all kinds of climates. What doesn’t work is our current fixed lifestyle, where we build homes and roads and farms in an area, and expect to use them. As Guy says, Nature Bats Last.

        Also, if most of us are dead, a CO2 problem may not matter too much. New species will emerge with are adapted to the higher CO2 level.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “I think Gail is a little too pessimistic about the potential of hi-tech renewable energy.”

      “Hi-tech” is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

      Technology is a form of complexity, which is a form of embedded energy. There isn’t enough energy readily obtainable to implement all the hi-tech that is needed.

      Ikonoclast, have you read any HT Odum? Or his “manchurian candidate” daughter, Mary Logan? Odum’s writings have really opened my eyes to the false promise of technology.

      Another good eye-opener is David Holmgren and his “Permaculture Principles” book, based on the work of the Odums. “What, y’mean we shouldn’t be spending all our fossil sunlight pursuing efficiency?” I just couldn’t believe that! I had to read Chapter 3 over and over and over before I finally “got it.”

      There exists a “maximum power point” on the effort/efficiency curve. Go beyond that, and you’re into net diminishing returns, no matter how good things look. That Prius that gets 60 MPG? It took way more resources than a first-cut look at materials reveals. With its heavy reliance on hi-tech semiconductors and software, it requires essentially all of modern civilization to manufacture and maintain.

      I think my non-computerized diesels from the ’80s will be running long after the last electronic module for the Prius ceases to be available. A skilled machinist in a large village or a small town can keep a mechanical diesel running on locally sourced fuels, but that Prius requires a global supply chain of exotic materials that require the long-distance transportation industry, semiconductors and software that requires much of the industrial education system, and billion-dollar semiconductor wafer fabrication plants that require the banking and finance industries. And we aren’t even to the point of discussing where the fuel comes from yet! (They are only rated “E85” — 15% ethanol, unlike the diesel that can run on 100% plant oil.)

      There may exist a certain “appropriate technology” that can be maintained for some time. I’m not even sure that will work, but it seems a better bet to go with technology that Rudolph Diesel had in 1900 when it was competing with coal and steam, then technology that stands on the shoulders of 100 more years of technological “progress.”

      I can make the same argument about incandescent lamps versus LEDs if you like. 🙂

      • Jan Steinman says:

        (Wish we could edit earlier comments…)

        Here is an excellent discourse on technology and energy from Mary Logan’s blog.

        For example: “Solar energy is very dilute and the inherent energy cost of concentrating solar energy into form for human use has already been maximized by forests and food-producing plants. Without energy subsidy there is no yield from the sun possible beyond the familiar yields from forestry and agriculture…”

        Logan goes on to note, “Green plants are the best solar voltaic cells known, and solar PV can’t replace green plants as the main source for a lower energy world,” and then quotes her father, “Evaluations that claim net yield from solar cells leave out the huge empower required in the human services for manufacture, distribution, support connections, operation, management, and maintenance.”

        The end efficiency of a solar cell or hybrid car or LED light is just the tip of the energy iceberg that is visible. The other 90% is invisible, buried within modern civilization.

      • When people say hi-tech is part of the problem I wonder if they fully grasp what they are saying. Hi- tech in the rear view mirror is acceptable- the steel used in farm tools is an old hi-tech, they are alloys that took centuries of research. Clean drinking water and its distribution is old hi tech. From a complicated, energy intensive perspective the cathedrals and civic buildings of the past were hi-tech, and pretty complex now.

        Carbon nanotubes and Graphene [although commercially in development] are very easy to make. a dirty fire for nanotubes and sticky tape. If high tech is a problem you need to be more specific- and specific in how you stop it being a problem.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          Jules, please check out Mary Logan’s excellent two-part series on embedded energy. I think this is some of the most approachable information on the topic of embedded energy and the consequences of high-tech that is available.

          The first part explores net energy, maximum power, and touches on the problems with chasing efficiency.

          The second part shows the vast, unappreciated value of natural energy collection, and describes the hidden energy cost of hi-tech. Odum calculated that photovoltaic electricity is a net loss, after an honest and thorough analysis of the “energy memory” (Logan’s lovely term) of a solar panel.

          Aren’t you being a bit facetious about nanotubes and dirty fires and sticky tape? Yea, that may be all that is needed to get some, but the devil’s in the details. If it were really that simple, why is it still mostly a research and development technology, which is consuming upwards of $685 million annually without delivering much in the way of product?

          It is certainly true that yesterday’s old-tech was high-tech at the time. But consider that today’s high-tech stands on the shoulders of yesterday’s technology, as Logan describes in “energy pyramids.” A hawk, for example, consumes only ten joules, but it is at the top of a trophic hierarchy that demands upward of 1,000,000 joules of sunlight.

          Likewise, the steel used in a simple horse-drawn plough is also necessary for a Prius, but not really needed for a horse and carriage.

          The further up high-tech you go, the deeper the pyramid — and the farther there is to fall, should parts of that pyramid (like banking, for example) start to crumble.

          • You won’t be surprised to know I have similar disagreements with green friends. Solar is an interesting case: efficiency and cost have been greatly improved because of research and now printed solar offers the potential of low energy input with a high return. It is possible to find reports that claim pv is very poor but likewise there are positive studies as well.

            Currently I [like many] use cost/price as an indicator of energy input [although there are skewed costs involved like housing costs for the workforce- balance of trade etc]. We are building into our new home on the holding solar thermal and pv, as well passivehouse specs. It has a high up front [fossil fuel] cost but in the 25 year + [the local green tech centre is running 40 year old systems] the savings [money=energy input] are considerable.

            Another point is that we have switched from organic to limited use of pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers [from gas]. Organic is a luxury that either requires high labour or high mechanical [fuel] inputs. A pesticide is low energy embedded piece of tech which has high returns. We do of course use it as a last resort and promote wild predators and balanced eco-system.

            some tech is pointless, some is transient such as sewage- it was appropriate to flush it away to avoid disease but now w have the knowledge and tech to build better less wasteful systems. Tech is simply the outcome of human curiosity, adaptability and ability to exploit niches- to see tech [high, low, old, new, appropriate, wasteful etc] as being a problem is like seeing it as the only solution.

      • I agre with you. Technology looks good, until you examine the situation closely.

  7. Ikonoclast says:

    Why do people have so much trouble understanding limits to growth when it really is a very simple concept? If people fail to comprehend a very simple concept then they must be making very simple mistakes. Here are the simple mistakes they make.

    1. They do not understand the difference between very big and infinite. To most people, very big is the same as infinite. The earth is very big (compared to humans) and most people cannot conceptualise that this bigness could ever be filled or its resources exhausted. They get confused by something this big and effectively consider it to be infinite.

    2. They do not understand exponential growth. They do not understand how rapidly exponential growth reaches even very large finite limits.

    3. They are functionally innumerate if you consider numeracy to require more than counting, adding and subtracting. True numeracy includes the ability to understand general quantitative reasoning and therefore requires a basic understanding of formulas and functions. (Especially in this context, exponentional functions.)

    4. They do not understand the concept of unsustainable trends. This follows from their inability to understand large finitudes, exponential growth and basic mathematical functions.

    5. They suffer from egotism and anthropocentrism. Mistakes 1 to 4 above are simple reasoning mistakes usually occurring due to our education system failing to educate people with the necessary conceptual tools in the areas of quantification (mathematics), logic and science. The faults of egotism and anthropocentrism follow from several causes, more complex in origin but still simple in their effects.

    The first cause is a natural tendency to be solipsistic which is inherent in our developmental process. Solipsism is a belief or view that only the self exists or only the self is important. From this we can see that newborn babies are natural and complete solipsists. To a newborn baby, only its self exists. As the baby progresses to toddler we see that it now recognises that at least one other exists (the mother) but a a very young toddler continues to act out the presumption that its own needs are all-important. An important part of our education and socialisation process is the development of an understanding that others exist and have needs which ought to be considered also.

    We can see anthropocentrism as the “last stand” of natural human solipisism. While finally recognising the needs of other humans, the crude anthropocentrist still considers humankind to be all that matters. The needs of other creatures and the general “needs” or requirements of all living nature are not considered. While anthropocentrism can be seen as the last stand of natural solipsism, we can also see that it can be reinforced by ideology and religion. There are a number of ideologies and religions which support and buttress the notion that humankind is the centre of all things and should have dominion over other creatures, living nature and indeed over all natural forces.

    I take issue with this “dominion over nature” view not becuase it is morally wrong (though it might be) but because it is fully demonstrable that it is objectively wrong and that in the long run we harm ourselves by having this objectively wrong belief. Strangely, or perhaps understandably, “primitive” cultures like hunter-gatherers tend to be less anthropocentric than developed agricultural-industrial cultures where most, especially city dwellers, have lost contact with living nature. These “primitive” cultures continue to understand that they are fully dependent on the “earth mother”.

    Our belief that we can dominate nature (inorganic and organic) and stand above it is entirely false. We (our minds and bodies) are complexes of matter and energy fully enmeshed in the material and energetic universe. We are fully “in” nature and fully dependent on it. All the works we do fully depend on nature. The philosopher Francis Bacon put it best.

    “Nature to be commanded must be obeyed.”
    “Towards the effecting of works, all that man can do is to put together or put asunder natural bodies. The rest is done by nature working within.”

    Of course, we do not really “command” nature. We temporarily channel some of its materials and forces into paths conducive to meeting our proximal needs. To achieve even this temporary channelling we must perforce utilise (obey) the forces of nature itself.

    Where we maintain this idea that we can dominate and force nature to our will, all we do is store up the forces of “reaction” against us. These forces of reaction are returns to old equilibriums, collapses of artificial order back into disorder (entropy increases) or shifts to new states (stable or unstable) as exemplified by climate change.

    The hubris (overweening pride) of this age must collapse as the system itself collapses. Let us hope that the next age, as harsh and depopulated as it will be, will see an increase in wisdom whereby humankind relinquishes much of its egotism and anthropocentrism and recognises the need to live within and as a part of nature.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “Why do people have so much trouble understanding limits to growth when it really is a very simple concept?”

      You left off #6 (probably should be #1, if this is by priority): as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

      If people were to face the facts, they’d have to quit their jobs, quit driving their kids to soccer practice in SUVs, and grow their own food.

      This may be close to your #5, but I think “wilful denial” deserves its own bullet point.

    • HI – why don’t people understand the simplicity of it all?

      to add from an obvious personal perceptive-
      1/ conditioning- for the last 300 years growth and the politics of growth is all we have known. This is pretty powerful stuff and is as much a challenge to instigate mass atheism across, say America and the Middle -East. When I was a Green Party activist [25 years ago] I did a radio interview and in the phone in the constant message was – ‘I support green measures but if we do x or y ‘we’ will fall behind [other nations]. I would mention that we could fall behind in premature deaths, or stress or dirty rivers.

      2/ politics of growth- left or right all political parties [including communism] are politics of growth. All popular politics is capitalism- in its worst case it is exploited by a tiny minority, in its best everybody gets a share of the pillage. I use the term pillage because exploitation leads to destruction of the resource – we are not talking about a fruiting tree that delivers the following year. An example is Bluefin Tuna, hunted to extinction and efforts are made to ensure some have a freezer full to profit from later. And what makes it really bad is we- intelligent, informed educated people do nothing: we are complicit.

      3/ rosy thinking- I would accuse myself and many people here of self delusion- driving a Prius, recycling, permaculture, a green life style- won’t save us or the planet. We live in an inter-dependant world, we either co-operate [to make those complex LED lights etc] or face a great deal of uncertainty. There is no black/white, left/right, humans, just the one race, us.

      4/ perpetual- the Egyptians thought it, the Romans did, the followers of Mithra, the inhabitant of a 1000 cities thought it, and the followers of a 1000 long forgotten gods. We can’t imagine a world where our beliefs/country/lifestyle/ cease to exist and some have trouble accepting their role on the world stage might diminish.

      5/ Before being educated by Gail I assumed we were looking at a slow motion collapse either slow climate change or slow decline in oil. It would have allowed different alternative to our lives, economy, [planet]- there would be failures [fascist government, dead end technology, war and famine] but we could switch direction. It would have choice.

      6/ Human ingenuity- as it happens both my partner and myself have rich sisters- smart and aware- but when pressed on the issues the attitude is ‘they will think of something’. We solved peak coal, and population growth in 19th century Britain and the doomsayers were wrong then.

      7/ the future is yet to be written- now is the time for techno-dreams and seeking a better politics. being pessimistic is not the same as being defeatist. I function of these type of informative web sites is not about preparing to endure collapse but to inspire new ways of thinking. [btw- I still don’t know the best action or if hope is worth holding, but the future has not happened just yet]

      best Jules

    • xabier says:


      A fine summary! Completely right about the education system and the complacency of the elites.

      However, ‘hubris’ might be a bit grand a term: when I see my neighbours over the other side of the village green squeeze and slop their over-stuffed, mal-nourished, jelly-wobbling, Chinese clothes-clad bodies through the front door of their house, I don’t see the hubris of Doctor Faust personified, but dumb creatures who don’t know what or where they are, their relation to Nature, or, to be frank anything much at all.

      Frankly, I think my hunting dog is way smarter.

      If wisdom is to break out among mankind, they have to be led to it kicking and screaming, they won’t get there themselves….

      What a mass of bad habits our civilization has become. (And I’d condemn myself in that, too!)

    • Thanks for your summary. You make very good points.

      It seems to me that we collectively have told ourselves a story about our superiority over the rest of nature and how technology will save everything. The idea that this story could be wrong is beyond most people’s comprehension. There are dozens of stories every day, to reinforce this belief.

  8. Scott says:

    Hello, I try to post only the best stuff I come across worth a read. Here are a couple of articles that I looked at today that are pertinent for those interested.
    Oceans future…

    Finance troubles ahead…


    • I know the grocery store I shopped in had a sign up by registers, “Sorry EBT (food stamps) not available today due to computer problems.” Or something like that.

  9. Ikonoclast says:

    I am amazed when I blog the phrases “limits to growth”, “peak oil”, “resource collapse” and so on trying to find new information and data about our dilemma. I generally find very few new sources of data and just keep getting hits on Gail’s blog and a few other standard sites. I suppose search engine characteristics could have something to do with this. But mainly it suggests to me that very few people are actually facing up to these realities and writing about them. So all well as thanks to Gail, thanks for the link to the site Nature Bats Last. That looks likes a good one to visit.

  10. edpell says:

    US debt surges 328 billion dollars in single day. At that rate the debt would double in 50 days. 😉

  11. Gail, I just want to say that I really appriciate you taking the time to give though through replies to almost all comments and questions: It’s not that common among blog writers today.

Comments are closed.