Diminishing Returns, Energy Return on Energy Invested, and Collapse

What do diminishing returns, energy return on energy invested (EROI or EROEI), and collapse have to do with each other? Let me start by explaining the connection between Diminishing Returns and Collapse.

Diminishing Returns and Collapse

We know that historically, many economies that have collapsed were ones that have hit “diminishing returns” with respect to human labor–that is, new workers added less production than existing workers were producing (on average). For example, in an agricultural economy, available land might already have as many farmers as the land can optimally use. Adding more farmers might add a little more production–perhaps the new workers would keep weeds down a bit better. But the amount of additional food the new workers would produce would be less than what earlier workers were producing, on average. If new workers were paid on the basis of their additional food production, they would find that their wages dropped relative to those of the original farmers.

Lack of good paying jobs for everyone leads to a need for workarounds of various kinds. For example, swamp land might be drained to add more farmland, or irrigation ditches might be added to increase the amount produced per acre. Or the government might hire a larger army might to conquer more territory. Joseph Tainter (1990) talks about this need for workarounds as a need for greater “complexity.” In many cases, greater complexity translates to a need for more government services to handle the problems at hand.

Turchin and Nefedof (2009) in Secular Cycles took Tainter’s analysis a step further,  analyzing financial data relating to historical collapses of eight agricultural societies in operation between the years 30 B.C. E. and 1922 C. E.. Figure 1 shows my summary of the pattern they describe.

Figure 1. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turkin and Sergey Nefedov.

Figure 1. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turkin and Sergey Nefedov.

Typically, a civilization developed a new resource which increased food availability, such as clearing a large plot of land of trees so that crops could be planted, or irrigating an  existing plot of land. The economy tended to expand for well over 100 years, as the population grew in size to match the potential output of the new resource. Wages were relatively high.

Eventually, the civilization hit a period of stagflation, typically lasting 50 or 60 years, as the population hit the carrying capacity of the land, and as additional workers did not add proportionately more output. When this happened, the wages of common workers tended to stagnate or decrease, resulting in increased wage disparity. The price of food tended to spike. To counter these problems, the amount of government services rose, as did the amount of debt.

Ultimately, what brought the civilizations down was the inability of governments to collect enough taxes for expanded government services from the increasingly impoverished citizens. Other factors played a role as well–more resource wars, leading to more deaths; impoverished common workers not being able to afford an adequate diet, so plagues were more able to spread; overthrown or collapsing governments; and debt defaults. Populations tended to die off.  Such collapses took place over a long period, typically 20 to 50 years.

For those who are familiar with economic theory, the shape of the curve in Figure 1 is very similar to the production function mentioned in Two Views of our Current Economic and Energy Crisis. In fact, the three main phases are the same as well. The issue in both cases is diminishing returns ultimately leading to collapse.

There seems to be a parallel to the current world situation. The energy resource that we learned to develop this time is fossil fuels, starting with coal about 1800. World population was able to expand greatly because of additional food production permitted by fossil fuels and because of improvements in hygiene. A period of stagflation began in the 1970s, when we first encountered problems with US oil production and spiking oil prices.  Now, the question is whether we are approaching the Crisis Stage as described by Turchin and Nefedov.

Why Might an Economy Collapse?

Let’s think about how an economy operates. It is built up from many parts, over time. It includes one or more governments, together with the laws and regulations they pass and together with their financial systems. It includes businesses and consumers. It includes built infrastructure, such as roads and electricity transmission lines. It even includes traditions and customs, such as whether savings are held in gold jewelry or in banks, and whether farms are inherited by the oldest son. As each new business is formed, the owners make decisions based on the business environment at that time, including competing businesses, supporting businesses, and the number of customers available. Customers also make decisions on which product to buy, based on the choices available and the prices of these products.

Over time, the economy gradually changes. Some parts of the economy gradually wither and are replaced by new parts of the system. For example, as the economy moved from using horses to cars for transportation, the number of buggy whip manufacturers decreased, as did the number of businesses raising horses for use as draft animals. Customs and laws gradually changed, to reflect the availability of automobiles rather than horses for transportation. In some cases, governments changed over time, as increased wealth allowed more generous social programs and wider alliances, such as the European Union and the World Trade Organization.

In the academic field of systems science, an economy can be described as a complex adaptive system. Other examples of complex adaptive systems include ecosystems, the biosphere, and all living organisms, including humans. Because of the way the economy is knit together, changes in one part of the system tend to affect other parts of the system. Also, because of the way the system is knit together, the system has certain requirements–requirements which are gradually changing over time–to keep the economy operating. If these requirements are not met, the economy may collapse, just as the eight economies studied by Turchin and Nefedov collapsed. In many ways such a collapse is analogous to an animal dying, or climate changing, when conditions are not right for the complex adaptive systems that they are part of.

Clearly one of the requirements that an economy has, is that it needs to be wealthy enough to afford the government services that it has agreed to. Scaling back those government services is one option, but when these services are really needed because citizens are getting poorer and finding it harder to find a good-paying job, this is hard to do. The other option, unfortunately, seems to be collapse.

The wealth of an economy is very much tied to the availability of cheap energy. A huge uplift is added to an economy when the (value added to society) by an energy resource such as oil greatly exceeds its (cost of production). Over time, the cost of production tends to rise, something measured by declining EROI. The uplift added by the difference between (value added to society) and (cost of production) is gradually lost. Some would hypothesize that the falling gap between (value added to society) and the (cost of production) can be compensated for by technology changes and improvements in energy efficiency, but this has not been proven.

Our Economy is Already in a Precarious Position

As I indicated in my most recent post, if a person computes average wages by dividing total US wages by total US population (not just those employed), the average wage has flattened in recent years as oil prices rose. Median wages (not shown on Figure 2) have actually fallen. This is the same phenomenon observed in the 1970s, when oil prices rose. This is precisely the phenomenon that is expected when there are diminishing returns to human labor, as described above.

Figure 2. Average US wages compared to oil price, both in 2012$. US Wages are from Bureau of Labor Statistics Table 2.1, adjusted to 2012 using CPI-Urban inflation. Oil prices are Brent equivalent in 2012$, from BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 2. Average US wages compared to oil price, both in 2012$. US Wages are from Bureau of Labor Statistics Table 2.1, adjusted to 2012 using CPI-Urban inflation. Oil prices are Brent equivalent in 2012$, from BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

The reason for the flattening wages is too complicated to describe fully in this post, so I will only mention a couple of points. When consumers are forced to spend more for oil for commuting and food, they have less to spend on discretionary spending. The result is layoffs in discretionary sectors, leading to lower wage growth. Also, goods produced with high-priced oil are less competitive in the world market, if sellers try to recoup their higher costs of production. As a result, fewer of the products are sold, leading to layoffs and thus lower average wages for the economy.

In the last section, I mentioned that the economy is a complex adaptive system. Because of this, the economy acts as if there are hidden laws underlying the system, parallel to the laws of thermodynamics underlying physical systems. If oil supplies are excessively high-priced, very few new jobs are formed, and those that are created don’t pay very well. The economy doesn’t grow much, but it does stay in balance with the high-priced oil that is available.

The Government’s Role in Fixing Low Wages and Slow Economic Growth

The government ends up being the part of the economy most affected by slow economic growth and low job formation. This happens because tax revenue is reduced at the same time that government programs to help the poor and unemployed need to grow. The current approach to fixing the economy is (1) deficit spending and (2) interest rates that are kept artificially low, partly through Quantitative Easing.

The problem with Quantitative Easing is that it is a temporary “band-aid.” Once it is stopped, interest rates are likely to rise disproportionately. (See the recent Wall Street Journal editorial,” Janet Yellen’s Greatest Challenge.”) Once this happens, the economy is likely to fall into severe recession. This happens because higher interest rates lead to higher monthly payments for such diverse items as cars, homes, and factories, leading to a cutback in demand. Oil production may fall, because the cost of production will rise (because of higher interest rates), while the amount consumers have to spend on oil will fall–quite possibly reducing oil prices.  If interest rates rise, the amount the government will need to collect in taxes will also rise, because interest on government debt will also rise.

So we are already sitting on the edge, waiting for something to push the economy over. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) may provide a push in that direction. Inability to pass a federal budget could provide a push as well.  So could a European Union collapse. Debt defaults are another potential problem because debt defaults are likely to increase dramatically, as economic growth shrinks, as discussed in the next section.

Debt is Major Part of our Current Precarious Financial Situation

If an economy is growing, it is easy to add debt. People find it easy to find and keep jobs, so they can pay back debt. Businesses and governments find that their operations are growing, so borrowing from the future, even with interest, “makes sense.”

It is as also easy to add debt if the economy is not growing, but there is an ample supply of cheap oil that can be extracted if increasing debt can be used to ramp up demand. For example, after World War II, it was possible to ramp up demand for automobiles and trucks by allowing purchasers to use debt to finance their purchases. When this increased debt led to increased oil consumption, it greatly benefited the economy, because the (value to society) was much greater than the (cost of extraction). Governments were able to tax oil extraction heavily, and were also able to build new roads  and other infrastructure with the cheap oil. The combination of new cars, trucks, and roads helped enable economic growth. With the economic growth that was enabled, paying back debt with interest was relatively easy.

The situation we are facing now is different. High oil prices–even in the $100 barrel range–tend to push the economy toward contraction, making debt hard to pay back. (This happens because we are borrowing from the future, and the amount available to repay debt in the future will be less rather than more.) The problem can be temporarily covered up with deficit spending and Quantitative Easing, but is not a long-term solution. If interest rates rise, there is likely to be a large increase in debt defaults.

The Role of Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI or EROEI)

EROI is the ratio of energy output over energy input, a measure that was developed by Professor Charles Hall. To calculate this ratio, one takes all of the identifiable energy inputs at the well-head (or where the energy product is produced) and converts them to a common basis. EROI is then the ratio of the gross energy output to total energy inputs. Hall and his associates have shown that EROI of oil extraction has decreased in recent years (for example, Murphy 2013), meaning that we are using increasing amounts of energy of various kinds to produce oil.

In previous sections, I have been discussing diminishing returns with respect to human labor. Oil and other energy products are forms of energy that we humans use to leverage our own human energy. So indirectly, diminishing returns with respect to the extraction of oil and other energy products, as measured by declining EROI, will be one portion of the diminishing returns with respect to human labor. In fact, declining EROI may be the single largest contributor to diminishing returns with respect to human labor. This will happen if, in fact, low EROI correlates with high oil price, and high oil prices leads to diminished wages (Figure 2). This may be the case, because David Murphy (2013) indicates that the relationship between EROI and the price of oil is in fact inverse, with oil prices rising rapidly at low EROI levels.

Contributors to Declining Return on Human Labor

Human labor is the most basic form of energy. We humans supplement our own energy with energy from many other sources. It is this combination of energy from many sources that is reflected in the productivity of humans. For example, we take it for granted that we will have tools made using fossil fuels and that we will have electricity to power computers. Before fossil fuels, humans supplemented their energy with energy from animals, burned biomass, wind, and flowing water.

What besides declining EROI of fossil fuels would lead to diminishing returns with respect to human labor? Clearly, the same problems that were problems years ago continue to be problems. For example, growing world population tends to lead to diminishing returns with respect to human labor, because resources such as arable land and fresh water are close to fixed. Greater world population means that on average, each gets person less. Oil production is not rising as rapidly as world population, so the quantity available per person tends to drop as world population rises.

Soil degradation is another issue, according to David Montgomery, in Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (2007). Declining quality of ores for metals is another issue. The ores that are cheapest to extract are extracted first. We later move on to poorer quality ores, and ores in less accessible locations. These require more oil and other fossil fuels for extraction, leaving less for other purposes.

There are other more-modern issues as well. Growing populations in areas where water is scarce lead to the need for desalination plants. These desalination plants use huge amounts of fossil fuel resources (oil in the case of Saudi Arabia) (Lee 2010), leaving less energy resources for other purposes.

Globalization is another issue. As the developing world uses more oil, less oil is available for the part of the world that historically has used more oil per capita. The countries with falling oil consumption tend to be the ones that recently have had the most problems with recession and job loss.

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

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

An indirect part of diminishing returns with respect to human labor has to do with what proportion of the citizens is actually able to find full-time work in the paid labor force, and whether the jobs available are actually using their training and abilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates increases in output per hour of paid labor. I would argue that this is not a broad enough measure. We really need a measure of output per available full-time worker.

Obviously, there are potential offsets. We hear much about technology improvements and increased efficiency offsetting whatever other problems may occur. To me, the real test of whether there is diminishing returns with respect to human labor is how wages are trending, especially median wages. If these are not keeping up with inflation, there is a problem.


We don’t often think about the return on human labor, and how the return on human labor could reach diminishing returns. In fact, human labor is the most basic source of energy we have. Stagnating wages and higher unemployment of the type experienced recently by the United States, much of Europe, and Japan look distressingly like diminishing returns to human labor.

Stagnation of wages is happening despite attempts by governments to prop up the economy using deficit spending, artificially low interest rates, and Quantitative Easing. Without these interventions, the results would likely be even worse. If QE is removed, or if interest rates rise on their own, there seems to be a distinct possibility that these countries will be reaching the “crisis” phase as described by Turchin and Nefedov.

Historical experience suggests that a major danger of diminishing returns to human labor is that governments costs will rise so high, and wages will drop so low, that it will be impossible for the government to collect enough taxes from wage-earners. In fact, there seems to be evidence we are already headed in this direction. Figure 4 (below) shows that  the US ratio of government spending to wages has been rising since 1929. Government receipts have leveled off in recent years.

Figure 4. Based on Table 2.1 and Table 3.1 of Bureau of Economic Analysis data. Government spending includes Federal, State, and Local programs.

Figure 4. Based on Table 2.1 and Table 3.1 of Bureau of Economic Analysis data. Government spending includes Federal, State, and Local programs.

Adding more health care services under the Affordable Care Act will only increase this trend toward growing government expenditures.

One issue is how the financial benefit of human labor (together with the energy sources leveraging this labor) is split among businesses, governments, and humans. Businesses have the most control in this. If an endeavor is not profitable, they can discontinue it. If cheaper labor is available elsewhere, they can cut hold down wages in countries with higher wages. They also have the option of increased mechanization. Humans and governments both tend to get shortchanged. As the overall return of the system reaches limits, wages of humans tend to stagnate. Governments find themselves with greater and greater costs, and more and more difficulty collecting funds from increasingly impoverished citizens.

Most authors of academic articles assume that the challenge we are facing is one that can be solved over the next, say, fifty years. They also seem to believe that the fixes required are simply small adjustments to our current economy. This assumption seems optimistic, if we are really approaching financial collapse.

If we are in fact near the crisis stage described by Turchin and Nefedov, we will need to do something much closer to “start over”. We need to build a new economy that will work, rather than just “tweak” the current one. New (or radically changed) government and financial systems will likely be needed–ones that are much less expensive for taxpayers to fund. We are also likely to need to cut back on basic services, including maintaining paved roads and repairing long-distance electricity transmission lines.

Because of these changes, whole new ways of doing things will be needed. EROI analyses that have been to date represent analyses of how our current system operates. If major changes are needed, their indications may no longer be relevant. We cannot simply go backward, because methods that worked in the past, such as using draft horses and buggy whips, will no longer be available without a long development period. We are truly facing an unprecedented situation–one that is very hard to prepare for.

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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491 Responses to Diminishing Returns, Energy Return on Energy Invested, and Collapse

  1. Peak/easy/cheap oil may well be on the way out, but although your point about where the effects will be felt first seems valid, it is interesting to think about mechanisms for sharing the resource or forcing priorities on its use. The freedom of personal transportation (and long-haul travel) for leisure, and the obsession with shopping, are two indulgences the ‘west’ could well do without with no loss of dignity to the human race. That the rising poor want more of all this is understandable, but that clean water and basic medicine should continue to be denied the poor by market forces acting on diminishing resources is not acceptable, is it?

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  4. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    Some essential reading. Make a cup of tea and allow 15 minutes. Gail is mentioned, along with a lot of the other usual suspects…Don Stewart

    Crash On Demand: Welcome to our Brown Tech Future by David Holmgren

  5. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    Dmitry Orlov gets criticism because ‘collapse hasn’t happened like you said it would’. I’d just like to put a few end-of-year facts on the table for your consideration:

    First, when the rich and powerful are looking for a place to spend their money, where do they go? How about a farmhouse in upstate New York where the chef grows and forages almost all the food himself, cooks it, waits tables, and washes the dishes, and charges around 250 dollars plus wine and tips? But a poor person in Brooklyn who tries this and charges ten dollars to make some money will be jailed for a whole variety of crimes.

    Second, when the rich and powerful are thinking about how to improve the lives of the less fortunate, their solution involves more debt, more dependency on the government, more financialization of everything, more dog-eat-dog global trade agreements, more turning power over to global corporations, etc.

    Third, the results of turning things over to the rich and powerful doesn’t seem to be turning out well at all:

    Fourth, the President of the United States asserts his right to kill anyone, anywhere, if he decides it is a good idea…along with anyone who might be standing close to the targeted person. And the US Congress gleefully buys him drones to accomplish his goals. And the NSA records everything to make sure that all the ‘enemies’ are discovered. I long for the good old days of Nixon’s ‘enemies list’ on a page or two of paper.

    Don Stewart
    PS I think Orlov won.

  6. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    From time to time, the ‘Agrarian Lobby’ has spoken about biological farming and gardening. I would say that the big majority of readers think that only chemical farming is keeping us fed. Here is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reporting on new science:


    I agree that Monsanto and their partners in crime are killing the soil and will eventually kill all the humans. I don’t agree that this is shocking new news…we in the ‘Agrarian Lobby’ have known this all along.

    It is some comfort to see that strictly reductionist science can finally come to the conclusion that our current course is suicidal.

    Don Stewart

    • Stan says:

      Don Stewart wrote: “Dmitry Orlov gets criticism because ‘collapse hasn’t happened like you said it would’.”

      Is the collapse going to happen all over at the same rate? I think not…there may be signs of it already – it’s just not recognized for what it is since in the beginning it will start in small, isolated areas. My guess is it will become noticeable when a country like Japan starts to display signs. I pick Japan because 1) it imports so much which is dependent on oil and 2) much of their food (that isn’t imported) comes from fishing which depends on oil and 3) the amount of their GDPthat comes from exports of finished goods which is dependent on oil and 4) closing nuclear power plants will increase their dependency on fossil fuels.



      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Stan
        Orlov frequently says that the cultural collapse of the US is already well underway. In other words, we can separate various aspects of society and look at collapse in each one, somewhat independently. The US Government is showing a lot of signs of strain…perhaps one can say it is ‘collapsing’…I wouldn’t want to argue too much about words.

        To my way of thinking, a country where the citizens are abjectly dependent on government handouts and where half the citizens could not raise 2000 dollars in 30 days to meet an emergency is well into collapse. One could argue the same point about the increasing wealth inequality. All the factors mentioned in the article I linked to are, to me, signs of collapse.

        If you look at Gail’s graphs of oil consumption in the FSU in her current post, ask yourself whether those countries ever actually ‘recovered’. In Russia, Putin has certainly reconstructed the government, but he hasn’t done very well reconstructing their industrial sector. Is Russia still ‘collapsed’?

        In short, I don’t see ‘collapse’ as a single event, and I don’t see it as occurring all at one time. If we wanted to think, as an example, of a human heart attack. A heart attack goes back to some teenager eating fries, a burger, and a soft drink at a fast food joint. The markers in the arteries will be apparent if the kid dies in a car crash and is autopsied. The marks of the heart attack increase steadily, barring a change in behavior, and finally the middle aged man has mini-strokes and then finally a heart attack which doesn’t kill him and then finally the attack that takes him away. It’s all really one long process…how we use the language of collapse to describe it is pretty much arbitrary.

        Don Stewart

        • Good points! I saw for myself a little of what was happening in Russia when my husband and I visited in 2012. I don’t think we found anywhere that the water was safe to drink. The people who were working in jobs that required quite a lot of education lived very modestly. I visited a couple of homes in St. Petersburg. A home that a professional couple had built for themselves (stick by stick!) in a smaller city near Moscow. The road system is not very well developed. There is a waterway system from Moscow to St. Petersburg, but it has never been expanded to take any quantity of industrial boats. Instead, most of the traffic is tour boats, like the one I was on.

          The country is quite a poor country, apart from its oil and gas. It is not very competitive with Asian countries, just like the US and Europe aren’t.

          I think that there is a possibility that Russia could collapse again, if its oil supply drops. They are again dependent on oil exports for taxes.

      • I am sure each collapse will unfold differently. Dmitry Oriov keeps saying that the Unites States is less prepared for collapse than the Soviet Union was. Gasoline wasn’t available for cars, but public transit kept moving, if I remember correctly. Families also had their little gardens that they could get to on the train.

        I agree that Japan is at risk of collapse. It also has very high governmental debt. We have a lot of governments at risk–the question is which one goes first. It may be that one country starts off a chain reaction, because banks of one country hold debt of other countries.

        My guess is that what pushes governments over the edge will be something financial–higher interest rates, or a default by a major country.

      • I am sure each collapse will unfold differently. Dmitry Oriov keeps saying that the Unites States is less prepared for collapse than the Soviet Union was. Gasoline wasn’t available for cars, but public transit kept moving, if I remember correctly. Families also had their little gardens that they could get to on the train.

        I agree that Japan is at risk of collapse. It also has very high governmental debt. We have a lot of governments at risk–the question is which one goes first. It may be that one country starts off a chain reaction, because banks of one country hold debt of other countries.

        My guess is that what pushes governments over the edge will be something financial–higher interest rates, or a default by a major country.

        • Every nation survives on the energy in produces. If that is built up gradually on purely muscle power, then collapse will be relatively slow, even though it might have violent intervals. The Roman empire didn’t collapse overnight, even though it might appear so through the telescope of history. It was built using muscle power, that power dissipated as the empire became unable to feed itself and its armies and slaves. Essentially the prime occupation of Rome was infinite growth (sounds familiar?), driven by infinite energy sources. When that became unsustainable, the empire collapsed and broke up into European states.
          Fast forward 1500 years. The industrial nations of the west are in exactly the same situation. Our prime occupation is also infinite growth, driven by infinite energy sources. If we cannot continue to expand, then we contract and die.
          Western industrial economies are effectively only 100 years old, and nations are held together by industrial activity. The EU was conceived on the basis of perpetual growth, the states of the USA were gradually amalgamated into a cohesive nation because that brought maximum prosperity to all. The same applies to other nations and nation-groups. Australia is a prime example: Climate change is set to ravage that continent, so the states will break up into isolated coastal communities.
          When the energy sources of these groups fails, then they will break up, just as the Roman empire broke up because there is no means of holding them together. People will go their own way. There will be violent attempts to stop this, but it is certain to happen.

          • Ian Page says:

            I am amused by post apocalypse films showing farming communities with wind turbines solar arrays geothermal glass windows and farmers with iron or steel tools and guns..oh yes and bandits with lashed up cars. After the loss of our current nearly free energy we will not have access to the basic metals or fuel as all the sources accessible to a low energy society will have been used so none of this is possible. Sorry Hollywood! By the way metal recycling is high energy and recycling loses a proportion of material each cycle.

            Thus there is no hope of a rebuilding a high or even medium energy society post collapse this was our one chance and we blew it.

            We have a short period perhaps a decade if we are lucky during which low energy technologies and built environments could be created that do not depend on metals or energy intensive processes could be developed .however I see only a few isolated relevant technologial and societal developments and no overall focus on such a huge Manhattan 2 project for some sort of limited continuation of a successor civilisation above jungle native level.

            So in the words of Douglas Adams dolphins as they left earth just before it was destroyed to make way for a hyper spatial bypass…”goodbye,and thanks for all the fish!”

          • I see breakup of these groups at hand as well. They need more and more energy to continue. Sorry, this doesn’t fit with some folks view of a possible “steady state” economy.

      • Peak/easy/cheap oil may well be on the way out, but although your point about where the effects will be felt first seems valid, it is interesting to think about mechanisms for sharing the resource or forcing priorities on its use. The freedom of personal transportation (and long-haul travel) for leisure, and the obsession with shopping, are two indulgences the ‘west’ could well do without with no loss of dignity to the human race. That the rising poor want more of all this is understandable, but that clean water and basic medicine should continue to be denied the poor by market forces acting on diminishing resources is not acceptable, is it?

  7. timl2k11 says:

    Lots of comments inspired by this thought provoking article. (Has Gail ever written an article that is not thought provoking?)
    Some things that I have been thinking about is how the cheap energy – and a cultural lack of awareness of it – inspired things like Star Trek and Star Wars. There was a time when we seemed to think that technology and progress would proceed forever, hand in hand. Fossil fuels today, tomorrow nuclear fusion and anti-matter. Moon landings and space travel (Space Shuttle) sparked our collective imagination. But no one seemed to realize why any of this was possible, an (over-) abundance of cheap fossil fuels.
    What will the collective imagine once it realizes that there isn’t anything else coming down the pipeline to propel technological advancement and progress? As has been mentioned before, perhaps that is why so many sci-fi movies nowadays are about some kind of zombie apocalypse.

    • sheilach2 says:

      Zombi apocalypse? How silly!!!
      Why can’t they face the reality of our situation & make some plans on how to deal with it?
      Like it or not, reality will not go away. I also hate the idea of the future not being as nice for most of us as the near past.
      Pity those poor folks who have never known what it’s like to live in a advanced civilization with clean water on tap, sewage treatment, fast, safe & comfortable travel, ELECTRICITY, clean, abundant food, well insulated housing, hot water on tap, modern medicine, refrigeration etc etc, all the things we currently take for granted will be just a brief blip in our history.

      I don’t worry about imaginary “zombies” ruining my days, it’s our collapse I’m worried about & the governments reaction to it.
      THAT”S the stuff of nightmares!!

  8. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    I have previously recommended the books Scarcity and Hardwiring Happiness for shedding light on the mind and brain problems we run into when the world doesn’t give us exactly what we want.

    Here is an interesting article which covers some of the same ground, but from a little different angle:


    Marc Lewis is a researcher, formerly in Toronto, now in the Netherlands. Briefly, research by a broad array of scientists has shown that all addictions are alike: food, illegal drugs, sex, etc. The new perspective that Lewis got from looking at Buddhism is that addictions are ‘normal’, they are the craving that the Buddha warned against 2500 years ago. Note that some of the highest dopamine levels are recorded in successful politicians. In one of his blogs, Lewis discusses the possibility that behavior such as ‘internet addiction’ or ‘TV addiction’ may be medicalized and publicly funded treatment provided…which would surely sink the US government.

    Look at this passage: ‘Whether the goal is success, material comfort, prestige (the more respectable human pursuits)—or whether it’s heroin, cocaine, booze, or porn—hardly seems to matter. Either way, we believe we’ve locked our sights on an antidote to uncertainty, a guarantee of completeness, when in fact we never become complete by chasing after what we don’t have. And, most incredibly, the pursuit itself becomes the condition for more suffering because we inevitably come up empty, disappointed, and betrayed by our own desires.’

    In short, Lewis has come to suspect that basic human biology opens the way for addictive behavior in most every part of life. Problems arise when one human uses the ‘cracks in biology’ to entice another human to behave in ways that are fundamentally destructive. We can think of ‘the oldest profession’, or the marketing of ‘Black Friday’, or the selling of a presidential candidate.

    Debt is one of the major preoccupations on this site. And you can see just how any addict will see more debt as the sine qua non enabler for solving their problem. More debt doesn’t deter opium addicts, and more debt doesn’t deter the Black Friday shopper…until the bank won’t extend any more credit. When incomes for the 90 Percent have stopped increasing, and debt has reached its limits, then we can expect a crisis.

    We can also construct cyclical theories based on the need for more ‘fixes’ and the ultimate exhaustion of the willingness of those who have gotten rich by feeding the addiction to loan any more money. (This dynamic plays out between junkies and their supplier, on an individual level). Since the rich are dependent on the consumption by the 90 Percent, and since the 90 Percent are dependent on the willingness of the 10 Percent to keep loaning them more money, things will tend to explode. (Which explains why elements of Ponzi are so prominent…suppliers need to keep finding new junkies).

    It is easier to think of ways to stay out of these fixes than it is to think of ways to escape them once they baloon. For example, strict limits on debt. But that would shut off the avenue for the 10 Percent to get rich, and would limit the 90 Percent to the perceived drab world of living within their means. And the Politicans need heavy doses of Dopamine, which is delivered by success at the polls and the attendant power and so they have to promise to please somebody.

    The model can also be applied to the physical world. Most people have convinced themselves that more GDP is the solution to their problems. But more GDP demonstrably does not solve most peoples problems in the OECD countries. Theoretically, GDP measures cost…not benefit. GDP is a close analog to to an illegal drug.

    The physical world is no longer delivering steady GDP growth, so our addictive minds and bodies are desperately searching for more GDP. Dysfunctional behavior (e.g., mining the tar sands and killing all of us) can be expected.

    Don Stewart

    • xabier says:


      ‘The oldest profession’? come on, please leave those ladies out of this: I won’t hear them mentioned in the same breath as bankers and politicians!

    • sheilach2 says:

      I hate debt, I hated having to rent & I especially hated using a credit card to maintain a “lifestyle” .

      My motto is if you can’t afford it, don’t use credit to get it because it costs you more. I pay cash for what I want, if I can’t afford it, I don’t get it – period.

      That’s another reason I strongly dislike borrowing & spending instead of taxing & spending, it costs a lot more to borrow to pay for stuff.
      This government has been borrowing & spending like a drunken sailor but not for stuff we need but for things we don’t need like illegal wars.
      With taxpayers in decline, there is more demand for welfare, food support, unemployment & medicaid. Printing more bits of green paper won’t solve the problem & now there is to be a decline in Q.E. early in 2014.
      What is the government doing to help this problem?
      It’s shoving through the Trans Pacific Partnership that will send more of our jobs to 3rd world countries!!! Is that stupid or what?

      I wonder how soon the collapse of this economy will occur ?
      You can’t borrow & spend you way out of a depression or declining resources.

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear All
      In a truly remarkable coincidence, Charles Hugh Smith repeats today some of the things I said a couple of days ago about addiction and debt and the class divide….Don Stewart
      PS Alert. Charles and Gail don’t always see eye to eye.


      ‘In the Neoliberal Colonial Model, the addictive substance is credit and the speculative consumerist fever it fosters.’

      ‘In my analysis, the Status Quo of “private profits, public losses” and the incentivization of gargantuan household debt amounts to a modern financialized version of feudalism, in which the middle class now toils as debt-serfs. Their debt cannot be repudiated (see student loans), their stagnating disposable income is largely devoted to debt service, and their assets have evaporated as the phantom wealth created by serial credit bubbles vanishes as soon as the asset/credit bubble du jour bursts.’

  9. John says:

    Hi Gail,
    I still think your thesis that oil prices will fall in dollar terms is incorrect. You are looking at things from the point of view of the private consumer (who has to earn dollars) as opposed to one of the largest users of oil in the world: the US government . This is an organisation that has a technology called a printing press which can produce dollars at no cost to fund its needs. The printing will be effective and relatively painless right until the moment the dollar hyperinflates or is rejected by the oil producers.

    As oil becomes increasingly scarce, do you honestly think that the USG will stop printing dollars and suddenly learn to live within its means? The choice will be to carry on printing at the risk of destroying the currency eventually, or laying off millions of government employees, shutting down the US military and crashing the economy immediately. What do you think they will decide to do?
    How are they behaving right now?

    What happened to the price of oil during the stagflationary 1970’s? Why is this time different?

    Consumers might not be able to afford higher dollar priced oil, but the US government certainly will.

    Kind regards,

    • if consumers can’t afford oil, then governments certainly can’t, not in the long term.
      governments do not have any long term money, it comes from taxpayers, if taxpayers are broke in an overall sense, then so is the government.
      This is why spending government money on government employees wages, does not grow the economy or produce wealth. It does the exact opposite,
      not that the government will admit this of course, so they will go on printing money, on the promise of ‘future growth’, which cannot happen, because growth depends on virtually unlimited amounts of cheap energy being available to fuel the economy. you cannot grow an economy on expensive, and depleting, energy sources.

  10. edpell says:

    Scale of the economy. We are talking about what scale can still exist. Things like leading edge chip fabs require inputs from a global scale economy and will fail first. Things like subsistence farming which we view as having a scale of one person and a small plot of land. Of course when defense issues are added the scale may be a bit larger.

    I am interested in what level of tech and for how long can exist around various energy sources like the electric generators of Niagara Falls? Or various coal deposits, other hydroelectric sites including the massive Hydro Quebec, river based hydro smaller scale, river based mechanical mills, etc…

    Yes, in the long run it may be too expensive to refine metals but with a massive reduction in numbers and scale I think there will be metal for many hundreds of years for critical uses.

    I can see maintaining local 1840 technology levels for hundreds of years in small well defined areas that have some local energy resource. We will not have plastic for green houses if we use green houses they will need to be glassed in. I do not know much about glass making. Anybody know if 1840 level tech can make large amounts of glass for green houses? How does permaculture deal with colder climates?

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Ed

      One way Permaculture deals with colder climates is by using perennials. If you think about a corn crop, it is barely above ground at the height of photosynthetic potential in the third week of June. But perennials have been leafed out for a while and are ready to harvest the photosynthetic potential. Greenhouses were ostentatious luxury, once upon a time. Think of the orangerie at Versailles. Plastic covered hoophouses are for the masses trying to fit annual plants into a somewhat mismatched photosynthetic potential pattern.

      The second way Permaculture deals with colder climates is by storing the summer’s bounty in animals. Animals were traditionally slaughtered in cold weather, when spoilage was not as big an issue.

      The third way Permaculture deals with colder climates is by preserving the harvest. Many root crops can be efficiently stored in root cellars, which are quite simple to construct. Another way is by fermentation, which doesn’t require heat, per se. Fermentation does require some storage vessel, such as glass or pottery, which do require heat to make. Once made, they become capital assets passed down from parent to child.

      The fourth way Permaculture deals with colder climates is illustrated by the Chinese example of placing rocks on a slope and planting annual crops on the south side. The rocks absord sunlight during the day, and radiate the heat to the plants during the night. This raises the temperature several degrees, extending the growing season and permitting the plant to grow more hours during cool weather.

      There may be other things, but these should give you some ideas.

      Don Stewart

      • Don Stewart says:

        One more thought on seasons. The Aztecs planted in constructed wetlands. A wetland moderates both the daytime temperature and the nighttime temperature. Joel Salatin in Virginia has a pretty large pond. In the pond he constructed a floating garden. To water the pond, he just has to dip some water up onto the garden. The water moderates the day and night temperatures. In short, he is accomplishing what the Aztecs accomplished, just with a little bit different design.

        Don Stewart

        • Don Stewart says:

          Sorry for scattershot reply. Water also reflects sunlight. If you place a shallow pond on the south side of a greenhouse, you reflect sunlight into the greenhouse. So Joel Salatin’s pond surrounding his garden is also reflecting sunlight toward his plants, increasing the photosynthetic potential.

          Don Stewart

          • sheilach2 says:

            There were some indigenous people living by lake Titicaca high in the Andes mountains who long ago planted potatoes in beds surrounded by water filled canals. The water in the canals absorbed the heat of the day, slowly releasing it as a fog during the night staving off the frost.
            Decades later this technology was rediscovered & the canals restored increasing food production in the area.
            The rich black earth of the Amazon area was also found to be human made from biochar, broken pottery, charcoal & plant waste deliberately made to enrich the soil & such enrichment lasted for a very long time. That too has been recently rediscovered & is being used today in permaculture & other sustainable small farming.
            The famous “floating gardens” of Mexico are also human made by digging the muck up from canals & laying it inside cane fences to build it up above the water line. By continuing to clean out the canals & filling the beds, they have enriched the soil there to produce abundant food stuffs.

            The Chinese build their outhouses over a pond & invited passers by to use them. The poop feeds the algae that feeds some small filter feeding fish who in turn feed the larger fish that they eat.
            I suppose parasites would be a problem however since the ponds also have snails & they are a intermediary for those parasites that feed in us.

            There is a lot of “technology” out there that doesn’t require fossil resources to be of value to us in the future, we only have to rediscover it.

      • edpell says:

        All good. Thanks. I particularly like the stone on a slope. Simple and effective.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Ed
          Just a couple more observations.

          First, I forgot the first principle of Permaculture: layers. If you walk in the woods near your house, you will see layers from the moss on the rocks to shrubs and then redbuds then the canopy trees. You will also see vines twining up anything that will support them. Permaculture tries to mimic the layering found in Nature. Its just that the selection of plants tends toward those that favor humans and the other critters which favor humans such as those that we can ‘beneficials’.

          Second, quite a few climates around the world go through a ‘wet’ and then ‘dry’ cycle. Here is an example of a subdivision in Davis, CA, laid out 30 years ago which harvest water off hard surfaces and sinks it into the soil for the dry season. Also note the passive solar heating and cooling.


          You will see the interview with the architect who designed all this. The California architects knew 50 years ago much of what needed to be done. It was getting started, when Ronald Reagan was elected Governor and progress toward sustainability suffered a huge setback. Think of all the government subsidized housing that has been constructed in the last 40 years that could have been done a lot better. I imagine Margaret Thatcher had the same impact in Britain.

          Don Stewart

    • I can tell you exactly how glass for greenhouses was made in 1840s
      You heated a ball of glass, blew it into a large cylindrical shape, (a large bottle) say a foot or so long. Then you cut the ends off, then you let it cool, and cut along its length. You then reheat it until flexible, then roll it flat to give a rectangular pane of glass.
      Best of luck in finding the heat source to do that on any scale

  11. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    If you want to think about something you and a few friends can do to make public life better…as opposed to building a bunker for solitary survival, or persuading every country in the world to sign on to some Manifesto….I suggest that you read Bikeonomics by Elly Blue. Just published by microcosmpublishing.com.

    Blue gives bales of statistics about how additional investment in the automobile and infrastructure has a negative return, while very modest sums spent on bicycles and bicycle infrastructure have quite positive returns. She gives many examples of how adding bicycle infrastructure restores local business districts. But the largest payoff from bicycles is always the improved health of the population. Through both the reduction in pollution and the positive effects of exercise on health.

    Bicyclers spend less on each shopping trip, but spend more money overall because they make a lot more trips. They also have more money to spend as they shed cars. In sum, the losers are the oil companies, the big box stores, and the auto companies. The winners are everything that can be provided in and largely by a neighborhood.

    Another loser is grandiose plans for rail projects…in my opinion. Bicycle infrastructure tends to be cheap, sometimes constructed for single events, while any rail project is decades and billions of dollars.

    Don Stewart

    • edpell says:

      About rail, yes indeed. If we do rail it needs to be slow, local, energy efficient rail. Not bullet trains for the hunger game rich.

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  13. Scott Walker says:

    Hello, That last one led me to this one on the Oil Drum which I am sure many you have seen.
    UK north sea oil is declining as predicted http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9946


    • edpell says:

      In the middle east we have seen Egypt, Yemen, and Syria start on the downward path. Now with UK we will see a first world nation start on the downward path. Seems to be a standard play book developing shortage of:
      1) jobs, particularly for young people entering the work force
      2) housing that people can afford
      3) energy that people can afford
      4) tax revenue, as Gail has been educating us about
      5) food that people can afford, I have not a UK expert I have not seen this yet but maybe someone more local can comment
      6) balance of trade issue from buying so much energy from Russia with no corresponding income from abroad

      On the other hand the UK has moderate winters. If need be people could move to a common house for winter and heat with body heat and a small amount of shared fuel. Yes, this would be a dramatic social change. I think the real issue for the UK will be food. They are at about 50%(?) self sufficient. Maybe it will be like Russia when push comes to shove people will produce half of their own food in small private intensive gardens. How city dwellers will get ownership of land and transportation to their land is no clear to me.

      • Quitollis says:

        British bookies have inflation to rise in 2014 at odds of 4/6, a probable bet.

      • the UK was last self sufficient in food around 1820, we are now about 40% because we can still afford to buy from abroad.
        Today I noticed Egyptian strawberries in the supermarket, crazy use of aircraft and fuel, but it’s called free commerce, but I digress.
        The 1820 date is important, because that was the point at which the industrial revolution was gaining traction, and for the next century the UK dug up and burned the hydrocarbon equivalent of the oil sitting under Saudi Arabia right now. That was where the power of the British empire came from, we had coal and iron which the world wanted.
        We exchanged a lot of it for food, which is exactly what saudi is doing with their oil.
        So our population expanded as our food production dropped. Just like Saudi again. the parallel is exact. We built colossal cities, railways, ships, all on the finance of coal. Saudi builds foolish towers in the desert on the finance of oil. The motives are identical, the delusion that wealth is self perpetuating, that a tower in the desert will deliver endless revenue
        The UK fuel bonanza had just about run its course by the 70s, and we were on our downward spiral when we hit North sea oil. So times were good again. Unfortunately this too is now declining, there is no more energy to be had, so this time it looks like the fuelburning party is over.
        Every oilburning nation thinks it will all go on forever. It won’t

      • xabier says:

        In Britain, it’s the damp that kills even when temperatures are really quite moderate. Thermal underwear is going to be big…….

        The affordability of food and fuel is no a major issue, and is contributing to problems in the service sector and retail – much less discretionary income to spend in consequence. Welfare is now wholly inadequate to cover these costs (unless one has children when larger payments are made).

        I have often wondered what % of the food imports to Britain is really essential to a healthy diet -ie the poor-quality fruit out of season from Spain, Israel, Africa; luxuries; awful cheap meat from Thailand and Eastern Europe, wines and spirits, and so on.

        I suspect there is a lot of slack to be cut, but have never seen a figure setting this out.

  14. Scott Walker says:

    Hello, Here is an interesting article titled..

    Fracking and Tar Sands Will Not Resolve Peak Oil


  15. mg says:

    I have an idea of renaming the money. We should call the money as “the resource use permission”. When we look at the money this way, we can obtain a different view of the world. Based on this, we can see, that the money is loosing its power. You can have the resource use permissions, but when there is no will to accept it, then you get no resources. In this way there is a lot of resource use permissions created as the debt. Thus the debt is no problem. The problem is to get the resources. That is why the bt decan be created without any problem. Untill it hits the wall of those who will not give their resources for no price. As the oil is the basic element for extracting the resources and delivering them, there is no will to stop trading the oil on either side – of the exporters and of the importers, too. Thus the oil is the problem of the whole world. That is why the whole world economy will be seriously affected sooner or later. Including the countries that were not yet seriously affected. The extraction of resources and the production of food will be more and more problematic. The money (as the resource use permission) will loose its power. The barter trade will gain on the importance. Also because of the fact that the people will try to avoid the taxation. Thus the power of the states is diminishing. The states are being hollowed out by their own citizens. The people try to avoid the use of the currencies of the states. That is why Bitcoin etc. is such a success. Thus the private “resource use permissions” are gaining on popularity, which is nothing else than barter trade, preventing the states profiting from trade activities, preventing the state exploiting the intelectual and material assets of the people.

  16. edpell says:

    Immigrant family to be deported from Australia because son has autism and would consume too much community resources. Looks like it is starting already.

  17. Quitollis says:

    Westerwald-marsch is track 14 on the cd that I am listening to. This is a vocal version on youtube:


    I sympathise with Schopenhauer that music somehow expresses in an immediate way the underlying will-to-life that is the primary psychological motive that underlies everything else.

    I do not expect (or want) everyone to relate to music in the same way.

    “Music, keeping the world alive!”

  18. edpell says:

    This notion that there is no future does not appeal to me. Someone is going to be here in 20,000 years. Yes, most people will not have surviving descendants but there will still be a future.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Oh, there will be a future, for certain. It just may not include humans.

      My fondest wish is that any sentient creatures that arise will find our artifacts, and take them as a warning — something we didn’t have. (Except to note that all climax species before humans eventually went extinct.)

      • sheilach2 says:

        I am a pessimist however I am quite certain that humans will still be around thousands of years from now.
        I base this belief on the fact that humans are so widely dispersed from north to south, from coastal towns, tundra reindeer herders, untouched forest dwellers, island fishermen, highland agriculturalists to massive unsustainable cities.
        There are still places where people do not depend upon fossil resources though those places are few. They will not miss our passing & even here, some people will survive.

        Even a worldwide pandemic won’t wipe out all of us thanks to genetic variation, some will always survive.Think of those pests that have evolved resistance to our bug killers, weeds acquiring resistance to round up from GMO round up ready crops, some of us will still be around to pick up the pieces.
        We will never be able to rise to the level we are at currently, we have burned all of our bridges of rich, non renewable resources.
        The survivors may well look at the ruins of our massive cities & wonder how they came to be? Did the “gods” build them & why are they now empty? What ever happened to all of the people that once lived here?

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “I am quite certain that humans will still be around thousands of years from now.”

          Said one dinosaur to the next!

          I don’t know why “human exceptionalism” bugs me so much. I guess it reflects on the general tendency to separate humanity from the rest of nature.

          We’ve done such a poor job of it, as a species. I guess I’d hate to think we’re really the pinnacle.

          It would have been nice to have more warning signs along the way, thus my desire that after we’re extinct, some new sentient species will find our artifacts useful in warning. The second mouse gets the cheese.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          Are We the Last Surviving Generations? Radioactivity and the Gradual Extinction of Life

          I don’t understand how anyone can be “quite certain” of anything these days. We are one coronal mass ejection away from having some 400 nuclear plants “go Fukushima,” and you are “quite certain” we’ll be here for thousands of years?

          The last big CME to hit the Earth was at the dawn of the electrical age, in 1859. According to Wikipedia, “Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks. Telegraph pylons threw sparks. Some telegraph systems continued to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.”

          Now imagine the complex, inter-connected electrical grid’s response to such an event, as well as all the computerized control systems in nuclear plants, and in their backup generators.

          Except for marvelling at the auroras that covered the planet from pole to equator, primitive man went back to his hunting and gathering. But nuclear power man won’t fare so well.

          We’ve taken some of the most deadly things we could find and wrapped them in brittle systems, congratulating ourselves that we’re backed-up against “credible” events. Like a tsunami, or coronal mass ejection, or a huge meteor strike. Thousands of years? I wouldn’t take that bet.

          • Paul says:

            Sorry missed your comment before I posted – agree completely – nukes could be the one insurmountable problem we encounter.

          • Jan,
            In some ways a catastrophe such as a CME would be something people could understand and work to overcome. It is an “act of God” according to insurance companies. No country going to war, throwing bombs, etc. People tend to pull together after a disaster rather than take sides or point fingers. It might be one of the few things that would enable humanity to work together.

            • sheilach2 says:

              A CME would certainly make things iffy but wiping out all humans on the planet? Seems unlikely.
              Even if they have 3 eyes & 10 toes, there would still be some kind of “human” surviving I would think. We’re like roaches, hard to wipe out.

              I wish more people understood the dangers of nuclear power. We have a number of nuclear power plants right on the west coast, most others are inland & sucking up fresh water to cool their cores. We have huge stockpiles of nuclear waste at each plant, what would happen to that when TSHTF?
              Shut down would happen quickly by inserting the control rods but the core would still be hot & would stay so for a long time. If we can’t get some juice going before the generators & batteries fail, then we get many more Fukushima like melt downs.
              The MSM is keeping quiet about Fukushima & trying to write letters to the editor about the dangers of Fukushima contaminating our sea food is not allowed. They will not print anything about the risks Fukushima could pose to our food supply.

              The only site I’ve found that has continuous updates about Fukushima is http://enenews.com/
              I’ve also sent that link to the editor but I doubt if he has even looked at it.
              Fishing & crabbing are important sources of income in my area & their not about to let anything, not even radiation contamination risk it.
              China is banning all shellfish from our west coast.
              I wonder what the editor thinks about that? I wonder if he even knows or cares. We won’t hear anything about it in the local paper or radio.
              The crab season is about to start, I’ll be checking the crabs for radiation.there is suppose to be a large pool of radioactive water hitting our shore soon, YIKES!

              Chernobyl also had a core melt down & the area was abandoned, only a few old people stayed on. The wildlife has returned & appear to be healthy but some of the plants look rather odd.
              Of course, Fukushima is different, it’s still has 4 reactors undergoing core meltdowns & leaking

              Thousand of gallons of contaminated water flow out weekly & now plutonium, cesium & strontium 90 is also pouring into the ocean, very carcinogenic substances.
              The news about Fukushima just keeps getting worse.

              The depleted uranium we used against the people of Iraq have been suffering a large increase in genetic defects.
              I expect the Japanese near the reactors when they were hit by the tsunami will also show increased genetic defects & thyroid cancers.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “We’re like roaches, hard to wipe out.”

              It’s hardly fair to compare humans to a species that has been around at least 700 times as long!

              Let me know how things are going in another 145 million years, and perhaps you’ll convince me. But so far, humans have been around for less than 0.1% of the time cockroachs have been around, or dinosaurs, for that matter. Over 98% of all documented species are now extict.

              We are in the midst of one of the greatest extinction events in the history of the planet, and it takes a lot of hubris to say we’ll survive it. “Human exceptionalism” will be our undoing.

            • sheilach2 says:

              I used roaches as we consider them to be a pest species but in reality, it’s US that’s the pest or worse to every living thing. Our ancestors in Africa went through a ecological bottleneck when most of us died out due to a long lasting severe drought. Unless we nuke ourselves to extinction, I expect some groups will survive some place.
              I hope we are “sapiens” enough to not start a “limited” nuclear war.

              Dinosaurs were a very successful species having dominated the planet for over 150 million years, how long have we been around? Only about 2 million years for homo.

              We believe we are the masters of the world but we’re not, microbes are.
              Microbes are everywhere and we couldn’t exist without them. Think mitochondria.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “how long have we been around? Only about 2 million years for homo.”

              For the genus, but sapiens have only been around for about 200,000 years.

            • Yes, yes, yes! Jan. Knowledge is quite useful for forming opinions. But people who don’t want to bother with school, and never read things like everyone here still think it’s their right to vote.

          • timl2k11 says:

            I tend to agree with the “humans are like cockroaches” sentiment. There are so many nooks and crannies for us, and there is some indication that we survived an extreme population bottleneck in the past (perhaps less then 1,000 humans in existence during the bottleneck).

        • Paul says:

          I would agree – if it were not for the nuclear plants that we may not be able to manager – or shut down – when the next shoe falls.

          My fear would be that we have multiple meltdowns.

          • sheilach2 says:

            We already have had core meltdowns & not just Chernobyl but Fukushima has 3 melted cores boring down into the earth & much of the water they are pouring into it to keep it from blowing up is flowing into the pacific ocean. More of it is being stored in thousands of hand welded drums that are leaking.
            How do you want your strontium 90, cesium or plutonium in your fish? Raw or cooked?
            Won’t make a difference though, it could still give you cancer.

            A highly radioactive current of that contaminated water should be hitting our shores very soon.
            We can shut them down even if the grid fails but they would still be hot & keeping them cool long enough to be “safe” would take longer than the batteries would last without the electricity being restored or if we fail to refuel the generators in time.

            If we get a large CME, then even the diesel generators would fail. Then we are literally toast!
            There are still foolish governments & people that are pushing for more nuclear power plants to be built. Fools!

            “Japan’s nuclear regime slides towards fascism

            Wasserman, HarveyJapan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’ Eco Watch, 12 Dec 13, Harvey Wasserman Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.
            The site has been infiltrated by organized crime. There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.
            But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.
            civil-liberty-2smTaro Yamamoto, a Japanese legislator, says the law “represents a coup d’etat” leading to “the recreation of a fascist state.” The powerful Asahi Shimbun newspaper compares it to “conspiracy” laws passed by totalitarian Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, and warns it could end independent reporting on Fukushima.
            Wasserman, HarveyJapan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’ Eco Watch, 12 Dec 13, Harvey Wasserman Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.
            The site has been infiltrated by organized crime. There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.
            But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.
            civil-liberty-2smTaro Yamamoto, a Japanese legislator, says the law “represents a coup d’etat” leading to “the recreation of a fascist state.” The powerful Asahi Shimbun newspaper compares it to “conspiracy” laws passed by totalitarian Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, and warns it could end independent reporting on Fukushima.
            Wasserman, HarveyJapan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’ Eco Watch, 12 Dec 13, Harvey Wasserman Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.
            The site has been infiltrated by organized crime. There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.
            But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.
            civil-liberty-2smTaro Yamamoto, a Japanese legislator, says the law “represents a coup d’etat” leading to “the recreation of a fascist state.” The powerful Asahi Shimbun newspaper compares it to “conspiracy” laws passed by totalitarian Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, and warns it could end independent reporting on Fukushima.”

            “Nuclear Hotseat #129, Dec. 10, 2013:
            More USA sailors afflicted by exposure to Fukushima radiation
            thyroid-cancer-papillaryAnother 20 Navy Sailors: USS Ronald Reagan crew with thyroid cancers, leukemia, brain tumors, bleeding, blindness after Fukushima disaster — Young kids developing problems — Gov’t and Tepco involved in major conspiracy (AUDIO) http://enenews.com/another-20-navy-sailors-uss-ronald-reagan-crew-with-thyroid-cancer-leukemia-brain-tumors-bleeding-blindness-children-becoming-sick-after-responding-to-311-crisis-japan-govt-and-tepc

            There is more if you can stomach it.

  19. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    I asked a question earlier in this post. I gave a bad reference, corrected the reference, but never got an answer with the corrected reference. Here is a follow up post by the same suspects:

    What the charts show, in combination, is that the income of the bottom 90 percent in the US has been stagnant since the late 1960s. About 1980, the income of the top 10 percent took off (while the top tenth of one percent got filthy rich). Now, stock prices in the US are much higher than credit market debt. The explantion is probably QE, which funnels money to the richest people. But the richest people tend to have assets, not debts. So the bottom 90 percent might really like to go into more debt, but they can’t afford to. And since the economy has been powered by the increasing debt, then the economy is likely to remain stagnant. And if and when the Fed stops the money printing, then stocks will fall and the 10 percent will experience another 2009 all over again–maybe worse.

    What intrigues me about these charts is that they MIGHT be reflecting the maldistribution of incomes and assets which accompanied the rise to power of the Neo-Conservatives around 1980. Perhaps greed isn’t good and there really is a common interest rather than only private interests. Perhaps, besides the resource depletion story and the aggregate credit limits story, there is also a distribution of income and assets story.

    What do you think?
    Thanks…Don Stewart

    • When there is not enough to go around, hierarchical behavior is one way of redistributing assets, so that some will survive 9n K-Selected species, including probably humans. Those at the bottom of the hierarchy tend to get squeezed out.

      Debt has pretty much the same effect–it transfers interest payments from the poor to the rich. Thus, it has a tendency to reinforce the natural pattern. Debt reflects a lack of resources, so it is tied in with the situation as well. Debt has been used to stimulate the economy for a long time, especially since the 1980s, and this tends to transfer assets to the top.

      The rise of the Neo-Conservatives could be a manifestation of the natural hierarchical instinct when there is not enough to go around. In such a situation, some will try to hoard more for themselves.

      Sorry, I have been busy. We have two birthdays in mid December, besides all of the usual Christmas things. Limits my time for writing and comments.

      • edpell says:

        I just learned that in wolf packs it is only the alpha pair that has surviving cubs. Some none alphas have cubs but they seldom make it to adulthood. I am thinking this is a better model of human society than chimps and bonobos.

          • sheilach2 says:

            Wolves aren’t the only animals that only allow one pair to mate in the group, so do African wild dog & Hyena’s.
            The problem with humans is, how is the “alpha pair” chosen? By their genetic health?, their dominance in the group? their attractiveness?

            My choice would be their genetic health. We would need to know their predecessors health and not let pairs reproduce until we have some idea of their health, like not allowing reproduction until they have at least reached 21. Some of course could be de-selected at birth if they show obvious, disabling defects.
            The males would be the easiest to castrate but how would we sterilized females without antibiotics, anesthetics & sterile equipment?

            Unfortunately humans are not noted for their rationality, the least suited for reproduction seem to have the most children, how would we prevent that without contraceptives?

            China attempted to limit reproduction but failed as those in the rural areas were out of reach of the authorities so growth slowed but it didn’t stop & too many females were aborted or killed at birth. Their orphanages are full of unwanted & neglected female children & defective males. Some females were neglected to death. :^(
            China is not alone in this, some east European countries also neglect the unwanted.

      • edpell says:

        Gail, enjoy the holidays the dismal science will still be here in January.

  20. Paul says:

    I used to think that was the case and I have been trying to prepare as best possible – but I am skeptical.

    What happens when people are cold and have no money for heating fuel? Look at Greece – last winter the people were illegally chopping down forests. Now take that to it’s logical conclusion in a place like the US with 300M – or China with a billion people.

    As has been pointed out on this site there was a deforestation problem before the world turned to coal for heat.

    We had less than a billion people then – we now have 7B+

    I hate to be pessimistic – and I do continue to do my best to prepare – but realistically this a very tough situation is coming our way.

    In many respects I envy the people in New Zealand – no atomic plants that can go wrong and a relatively small population. I reckon they will be in the best position to deal with this

    • you won’t be the only one to have noticed New Zealand’s unique situation, it’s pretty much one big farm/energy resource with no effective means of protecting itself against predators

      • xabier says:


        Oh dear, we are ALL doomed! Even in New Zealand……all hope is gone now.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        Uhm, except 1,000 miles of open ocean?

        • OK let’s get serious.
          1…The world is running out of energy and raw materials to sustain its civilised infrastructure.
          2…When that happens, those in shortage with the necessary means to do so grab somebody else’s resources, either by purchase or conflict.
          3…Right now, the USA sets itself up as world policeman, particularly in the Asia pacific area, with the idea of being a deterrent to Chinese expansion.
          4…The USA strength is entirely dependent on availability of energy from its home territory, and ability to buy it from elsewhere.
          5….We have collectively agreed that the US economy (so by definition its military) is unsustainable
          6 …The USA will therefore have to withdraw from the world policeman role. (within 20 years? 30 at most)
          7……By that time, expanding Asian nations will need the ultimate energy source (food) but will not have the means to buy it because all viable currency has to be backed by raw energy sources
          8… So food will become the only and ultimate tradeable commodity (we wont have oil to barter with and sustain the world economy)
          9…..Check your atlas. You have the vast Asian nations, likely to have been ravaged by climate change, lunatic politicians and energy shortages by say 2050
          10…With the food growing potential of New Zealand just sitting there, those nations are not going to stay home and starve

          • edpell says:

            Item #10 so New Zealand needs to build a nuclear ICBM force? Or will you be counting on the US to die to save you? Please build your own force.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            Perhaps the Kiwis could produce a lot of food. But last I checked, they do not produce a lot of fungible energy. So why expend all that resource to go after them? Compared to a land invasion of a food-bearing enemy, I think New Zealand will get a pass.

            I think relatively modest energy barriers will protect relatively modest food producers.

            What’s arguably more a danger to NZ are early-collapse refugees with enough money to afford passage.

        • my point was, maybe not very well expressed, that the ultimate energy source is food

    • xabier says:


      It is indeed daunting.

      But I take the view that if one prepares intelligently, then it is possible to face a hard destiny without self-reproach, unnecessary fear, and – if all goes wrong – a kind of smiling contempt for whatever Fate has in store.

      This is the way to – possibly -survive, but, even more importantly, to rise above one’s circumstances.

      • edpell says:

        Well put Xabier.

      • Paul says:

        Definitely – rather than throw one’s arms up in dismay and just give up – best to do what you can and hopefully survive what is imminent. Someone has said it’s difficult to make predictions – particularly about the future 🙂

        Jan has pointed out something further up the last page about a Mad Max scenario – I agree that if one is prepared and somewhat remote it is unlikely the hordes who have were sitting in front of their TVs watching Dancing with Stars and guzzling super sized colas will make it anywhere near to where those with their own food source reside.

        In fact as long as they have a power source they’ll probably be too engrossed in tweeting photos of each other to even realize what has happened – till it is too late (they’ll show up at the Walmart to buy another case of Frito Lays and find the doors shelves empty)

        Those thoughts certainly give one hope! All rather sad but that is reality.

  21. sheilach2 says:

    At least most of us here understand what our future probably holds for us so we can prepare unlike the TV zombiefied sheeple who won’t have a clue to what’s been happening until it’s way too late.

    But we will be preparing, stocking up food, tools & knowledge, saving useful books, saving non GMO seeds, growing some of our own food, getting to know our neighbors.
    Here we can exchange ideas, form new ones, work out what could function & what’s unsustainable.
    We can grieve for what will be lost while working to save what’s important & that put’s us far ahead of the masses of sheeple.
    Take advantage of the webs ability to allow us to communicate with others, grow in knowledge, build for sustainability for the long run.
    There will be a tomorrow for us.

    • edpell says:

      “TV zombiefied sheeple” yes indeed. I am no longer able to watch or read MSM news. The line is austerity by the government is the root cause of the problem and if we just increase the minimum wage to $15 or $20 per hour and increase social security and medical coverage then all will be well. I agree that the priorities are wrong too much military, corporations and Israel and too little we the people. But there just is no real money, real production to hand out even if the wealthy would allow it.

      • Paul says:

        We dumped our TV nearly 5 years ago. We absolutely will never go back. My father used to refer to TV as the idiot box – I see his point many years later.

        The MSM revolts me – as David Stockman – former senior Reagan official who ‘got out of the boat’ and seen the light put it – ‘journalists no longer investigate rather they regurgitate edicts from the various ministries of truth’

        The lies about finance, the Palestinian situation, Syria, Libya, Snowden etc etc etc…. this is all a matrix – a powerful matrix — and even when you realize it is such – it can be difficult to ascertain the truth. But a starting point is to turn on the MSM – listen to their version of an issue – and generally, as a starting point in your quest for truth – rule that version out.

        So yet I suppose the MSM has some utility.

        Unfortunately 99% of the people lap it up like donkeys.

        All hail Edward Bernays – the most influential man that ever lived (and whom few have ever heard of)

      • sheilach2 says:

        To maintain our current living standards we will need to raise the minimum wage however too many of our jobs have been either automated or outsourced to countries with no regulations & poor desperate people working for pennies. We have a government that is controlled by big corporations who’s only interest is in maximizing profits.
        In our current system, people have to work to produce a product or service that other people want to buy & they must earn enough to pay taxes to support those who can’t work & to provide services the private market won’t or can’t provide.
        If there are too many people for the available jobs, then raising the minimum wage may increase consumption but it will also raise prices as extracting more resources has become more difficult & expensive.
        There will still be millions of people left who cannot find work & who will need support from those who still have a job. The rich have too much influence over this government so they will not be paying more taxes to support the unemployed who’s numbers will be growing.

        The government is not doing anything to collect taxes from those very profitable corporations who now don’t pay any taxes or who have their money protected in off shore accounts.

        Rising wealth will put an additional strain on fisheries, mining, oil extraction etc raising their costs & driving valuable species like tuna closer to extinction.
        We are using our unemployed young people as cannon fodder for our illegal imperial wars for resources but wars use huge amounts of oil, rare metals and rare earths destroying them in the process.
        When the survivors return maimed in body & mind, they will also need support but too many of them have been abandoned & are homeless.
        We are engaged in a self destructive process, borrowing & spending like a fools & like a fool, we will collapse when we can no longer borrow or when the essential resources supporting our warmongering empire become too scarce.

        There is no escape from the trap we have made for ourselves when that first coal was mined to replace the fuel from depleted forests, the first oil well dug to feed industry & to grow enough food to feed a growing population.
        We are like yeast in a petri dish.
        Homo sapiens sapiens indeed.

  22. Stan says:

    edpell wrote: “…Those who have children will be represented in the future and those who do not will have no genetic or culture influence on the future.”

    Doesn’t the legacy of Mother Theresa (among countless others) negate the above conjecture?


    • Paul says:

      I am not certain there will be much of a future to influence… (and even if there is, I don’t see my genetic code being part of it as particularly crucial)

    • xabier says:


      Quite right: through civilization and culture – arts and letters, religion, customs, – those who are dead and have no descendants can assist and form the lives of future generations.

      Those cultural descendants are their real children, as it were.

      Whereas biological parents who have nothing to teach or leave to their children, might just as well never have existed.

      I learnt my craft of book binding from an old man who represented a craft tradition unbroken since the Roman Empire and the monasteries – all passed from man to man, no-one learned from books until very recently (in fact, it’s impossible). I know only few of the names of those craftsmen, but I regard myself as their heir. And need to pass it on somehow: that is my duty. That is, if books are of any use in the next phase…

      Old Arab saying: ‘He is dead, but it is as if he were not dead, for we have his words and deeds to teach and guide us.’

      Whereas, I have some of the oldest coats-of-arms in Europe as my ‘family inheritance’, but that is as dead as a dodo and means nothing now, but I know their names over all the centuries. They are dead and what they stood for is dead. Except perhaps the ideal of duty….

      The lessons: living traditions overcome obstacles. And: we are more than our genetic profile.

      I say this not for you, because you an clearly see it, but for those out there who are depressed by all of this and the certainty of their personal extinction, and for those who reduce everything to genetics – how shallow!

      Would the next person who calls human kind nothing but a ‘plague ape’ please go out and shoot themselves, and spare us their depressing and debilitating views.

    • edpell says:

      I have nothing against people who contribute in myriad of ways to the good of society.

      I just make the point the some will see having children as significant and will do so. Those that are so disposed will be genetically and via influence on children through ages 0 to 18 and beyond will have a certain kind of part in the future. Each can decide for themselves what they want.

      But from an algorithmic point of view those who breed will be part of the future in this particular way and those who do not breed will not part of the future in this particular way. As I say I am glad you are not having children as it leaves more for my children. Thank you.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        And the sun will go nova in some five billion or so years.

        Other than being a devoté of Richard Dawkins, what’s your point?

        Personally, I think a good teacher with no biological children can have a greater impact than a child’s own scuzzy biological parents.

        Ideally, all children have non-scuzzy parents. But merely behaving the same as cockroaches do does not make one a “success.”

        I find your last two sentences simple-minded and fairly disgusting. But hey, if you think your inability to resist a common and ordinary biological imperative that arguably makes life worse off for all of us makes you a bigger score for humanity than Jesus Christ, Plato, Julius Ceasar, Socrates, Hannibal, Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Pope, Isaac Newton, Frederick the Great, George Washington, Jane Austen, John Keats, Florence Nightengale, Emily Bronte, George Bernard Shaw, Vincent Van Gogh, Adolph Hitler, Noel Coward, Beethoven, Marilyn Monroe, Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, and most Catholic popes, more power to you!

        (Personally, I’d go for Paul McCartney as having about a million times more influence over more people than Ed “Who?” Pell does. 🙂

        • edpell says:

          You are having strong feeling about this topic. Why? You have done the right thing from your point of view. Why do you need me to agree with you?

          • Jan Steinman says:

            I do not “need” you to agree with me. I just found your tone fairly haughty, deprecating, and self-congratulatory, merely for doing what cockroaches do.

            I wish you and your genes well, Ed. In nature, mere propagation is not highly correlated with survival. An awful lot of genes are about to be “selected out” Real Soon Now. Perhaps your children will be as successful as childless people in making room for the more fit, or in being a source of trophic energy for other creatures! Not that’s something for “selfish gene” types to aspire to!

            (Unfortunately, merely being born into a powerful western nation probably has a lot of survival potential, even for those who would be unfit to fend for themselves without western civilization.)

      • Paul says:

        “As I say I am glad you are not having children as it leaves more for my children.”

        Everyone seems to want ‘more’ – at any cost it would appear.

        I am not clear on this genetic thing of yours – do you believe that you carry a superior genetic code that needs to be perpetuated via your offspring?

        What do you base this on? Are you in finance by any chance?

  23. Scott Walker says:

    Hello Gail and All, I that in the past the Great Plains were covered with Buffalo. but sadly they were harvested for their hides and the meat was behind for the Vultures. I think during the last hundred or so years we have wasted many things in this way and in the future we would wish we had not misused these things. This includes oil that makes many things like plastics etc.

    I finally understood how they buffalo was killed off there were so many of them, but it was for hides not meat, just like the Elephant for Ivory.

    This is a good subject to look at because us Humans have harvested many resources in this hasty way leaving behind the best part to get a small part for a profit, and usually an easy profit as the hides are where easier to haul into town than the heavy meat and they paid more.

    These things made profits for men but caused us declines, in resources, the same could be said for coal, oil and gas and fish. Even fishing causes undue killings of animals that may not be easy to sell and they are discarded. But I guess some of it gets recycled by nature but some goes to waste. Those millions of buffaloes on great plains were mostly harvested for hides not meat.


    • Stan says:

      Scott wrote: “Those millions of buffaloes on great plains were mostly harvested for hides not meat.”

      Another point of view says: “Some scholars argue that extermination of the buffalo was an official policy of the US government in order to achieve extermination of the Native Americans, particularly those living in the Western Plains.” There is a discussion at http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/buffalo.htm .


      • Paul says:

        They often hunted buffalo just for the tongue – which was considered a delicacy.

        And we refer to ourselves as the ‘superior species’.

  24. Pingback: Diminishing Returns, Energy Return on Energy Invested, and Collapse | Our Finite World « Olduvaiblog: Musings on the coming collapse

  25. Paul says:

    I have on order End Game http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endgame_%28Derrick_Jensen_books%29 and understand the author has total disdain for the green movement. This is primarily because it seeks to work with the current system – when in fact the current system needs to be opposed and discarded – there is no working within a system that requires infinite growth.

    I believe the author expounds violently attempting to overthrow the system – while I can see his point – taking such action would be suicidal of course. But hey – some people are willing to stand and sacrifice for what they believe in (e.g. Edward Snowden)

    I came across this excellent related article which I’ll share:

    The Last Taboo

    Understood or not, the exponential growth model—also known as the Malthusian growth model—runs in the background, amplifying our childbearing choices. In a new twist on the downstream effects, statistician Paul Murtaugh of Oregon State University decided to investigate the environmental price tag of a baby. “Suddenly we can gauge our carbon emissions from all kinds of lifestyle choices, like cars, appliances, and airplane flights,” he says. “But there’s no calculator computing the carbon emissions of a child—and her children, and her children.” (Murtaugh ran the statistical analysis on mothers, because following lineages of both parents was computationally prohibitive.)

    “The results surprised me,” he says. “Using United Nations projections of fertility, and projecting statistically through the lifespan of the mother’s line—some lineages being short-lived, others indefinitely long—an American child born today adds an average 10,407 tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of her mother. That’s almost six times more CO2 than the mother’s own lifetime emissions. Furthermore, the ecological costs of that child and her children far outweigh even the combined energy-saving choices from all a mother’s other good decisions, like buying a fuel-efficient car, recycling, using energy-saving appliances and lightbulbs. The carbon legacy of one American child and her offspring is 20 times greater than all those other sustainable maternal choices combined.” (See chart [“Little Bundle of Carbon”].)


    • Jan Steinman says:

      It appears to me that the logic is simplistic and flawed in that it assumes the carbon will be available to emit by progeny.

      Not that I would encourage anyone to procreate, but chances are that we will return to high infant mortality as fossil sunlight goes into decline — plus the reduced availability of carbon to release.

      We’ve harvested all the low-hanging fruit. Gone are the days when you could shove a stick in the ground and get oil. Gone are the days where one could dig with a shovel and find rocks that would burn. If technology fails for whatever reason (Gail thinks finance and economy will sink it), the rest of the hydrocarbons will stay in the ground.

      • Paul says:

        I agree – global warming is not really an issue for me – we’ll never get the chance to burn enough carbon to strangle ourselves with that.

      • sheilach2 says:

        How could our so called “leaders” be so stupefyingly stupid as to allow the population soar far above what could be sustainable when that temporary resource becomes scarce? I guess the profits to be made overran everything else.

        It should be clear that “amerikkka” is committing suicide with it’s trade & economic policies.

        How can it expect to function with it’s tax base shrinking while it’s social burdens grow?

        It continues to fight illegal & unjust wars & occupations costing trillions of $$ while at the same time cutting taxes on the wealthiest, allowing huge corporations to pay no tax & allowing mass imports of products & people from foreign countries & to cap it off, allowing those same corporations to ship our jobs overseas while giving them a tax incentive to do so!
        Can you even fathom the depth of the stupidity of all that?
        It’s seems they want this economy to collapse as it surely must & soon.

        My own town continues to die as business after business close their doors forever, but they want to build another sure to fail golf course!

        My towns only grocery store is closing forcing us to drive further to buy food. Empty “new” buildings stand empty for years, the “center” of town is full of empty buildings & residents vote down every property tax increase.

        We have no law enforcement.
        I answer my door while holding a loaded gun at my side, aimed at the ground. I don’t want any accidents. I sleep with another.
        Thefts & burglaries are increasing here & a 1990’s Honda CRX like mine is a favorite of car thieves.
        As real unemployment continues to grow along with increasing poverty, the situation can only get worse. At least here, the police aren’t driving around in armored cars in riot gear & loaded for urban warfare. Anyone who believes the governments unemployment figures has not been paying attention.

    • Those are good points. I am afraid I pretty much agree with Jensen. We can’t fix the current system, no matter what we do.

    • edpell says:

      Evolution in action. Those who have children will be represented in the future and those who do not will have no genetic or culture influence on the future. Many will think themselves out of future existence again evolution in action. Please do not breed more room and opportunity for my children.

      • Paul says:

        Before getting married a few years ago we had this discussion – do we bring kids into a world that is almost certainly going to be dystopian – or not bring them at all.

        We opted for the latter and sponsored two kids instead who live with us and study here.

  26. edpell says:

    Gail, I am interested in the question of how far back we go in technology (being a physics and engineering person). I see no reason we will go back further than 1750. That is there will be blacksmiths and we will have iron metal parts to reinforce our wagons, to make hardware for doors and gates. I think tin/copper/pewter various forms of sheet metal existed in 1750 for things like lamps, pots and pans. Can we make enough to produce a small wind powered electric generator and long lengths of wire so we can have telegraph is less likely. This is all after the population reaches a reasonable level of 70 million. This could take centuries to ratchet down step by step 9 billion to 2 billion to 1 billion to 500 million to 250 million to 125 million to 70 million. Maybe over 600 years.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Ed, do you really think that we can “put the genie back in the bottle” like that? And do you really think it will take over 600 years?

      One reason we might go further than 1750 is that all the easy ores are played out. It may be that we can “mine” landfills for metals, but a lot of our metals are dissipated. Much of the scrap copper is on printed circuit boards, from which it will be difficult to recover.

      • Jan,
        You bring up a very important point. Our future ability to extract minerals from ore bodies will be almost nil. We are currently extracting metals from ore that has very low percentages of the metal of interest. Even surface mines are so deep we could never haul the ore to the ‘surface’ without very large trucks and diesel engines. Engineers are also learning to fashion more things from organic substrates, but I believe this will require machines and high technology.
        In some places we are already mining landfills, although usually it is because the land is more valuable for something else. In the process of mining the landfill they are recycling plastics and extracting valuable metals. Think of all the resources Americans have in our landfills!
        Developed countries will be scavenging metal from our infrastructure for some time to come. We already are doing so in the U.S. Scrap metal is the third largest export product to China. Cities like Detroit with old factories rusting away are being dismantled legally and illegally by people desperate for money. Locally I witnessed an abandoned barn being stripped of sheet metal in the early morning darkness as I walked my dogs. Three guys with a pick up were hauling off a load of sheet metal. They finished stripping the building in a few weeks. The fact that they were working in the dark told me they didn’t have the owners permission. My neighbor is a plumber. He told me they came to finish work on a new house and found all the copper pipes they had installed had been cut out and stolen.

        It seems probable that eventually humanity will refashion a culture that uses natural renewable substances such as stone, leather, clay and wood. Metal objects will be rare and precious. I wonder how long before books are rare and few people are literate?


        • xabier says:


          With 20 to 25% functional illiteracy in Britain today, and books absent from many homes and public libraries turned into entertainment centres (though not so bad as Spain which is on a literacy level with sub-Saharan Africa), I’d say we are already a long way along that path!

          I can see I’m going to have to sponsor a monastic movement to shelter me as a bookbinder in the new Dark Age……

          • Xabier,
            I had no idea it was that bad. I doubt the US is doing much better based on discussions with my kids about school and classmates. But I bet that 75% of those functionally illiterate kids know more about using their computer than I do! I’m not sure how much these skills will serve them in the future.
            Hang in there. We are definitely going to need book binding skills when the electricity becomes hard to come by.

      • Landfill mining is often proposed, but I think the return on any investment in that respect is likely to be very low.
        As most advanced societies (the ones most in need of metals) have been recycling for many years now, metal and plastic isn’t thrown into landfill very much, at least not the masses of stuff that used to be, so any metal that may be in old landfill sites will have rusted away, having been there maybe 10 years, or 20+ years if you think forward to the time when landfill scavenging might be necessary. We think of landfill sites as full of metal objects, but most dumped metal was and is very thin stuff, cans, etc, so cannot survive long in the ground. Heavier stuff, cars and so on, have been crushed and recycled for many years., they are just not in landfill sites in any viable quantity

    • There’s no doubt that we will get ‘there’, ie a pre-1700 population level, because that’s all that planet can support from natural resources.
      The unpleasantness lies in reaching that point.
      Some, (not all) conversations on this subject are naive to say the least.
      While most agree that there will be a decline, the general opinion seems to be that it will happen to somebody else, preferably 000s of miles away, thus we have the ‘step by step’ concept, as if it must come about as a political decision which we all adhere to voluntarily.
      The brutal facts are that we are running out of stuff we need to survive, (not just oil) while at the same time demanding more. USA population is 330m, set to rise to 430m by 2100, so somehow the nation has to ‘lose’ 250m + from todays population, never mind that of 2100. That reverts to the population figure of around 1850.
      The same arithmetic applies everywhere in the world.
      Instead of airily discussing blacksmiths and home made generators, we should perhaps be discussing how 250m, or even 2.5 Bn (extra) people might elect to shuffle off this mortal coil over the next 50 years

      • EOM
        Although I agree that it is important we see and accept the very real possibility of a crash in human population, I don’t see the benefits of discussing this in detail. What is there to discuss? No matter how many different possibilities I can think of people suffering and dying, I can’t know which if any or all will occur, when they will occur, or where. All I can do is deal with living today.

        It may be naive or looking through rose-colored glasses to think that airily discussing blacksmiths or home made generators is more preferable to discussing morbid topics such as how 2.5 billion people may die, but I think it is significantly better for our mental health. If we sit around and obsess about the future, if we give up thinking of something we should try, we will become depressed and stop thinking life is worth living.

        • Point taken
          I was trying to say that there won’t be an ‘easy’ step by step downward trend over the next 500 years

        • xabier says:


          I agree: to sit around discussing all the varies scenarios for the end of one’s own life – as inevitable as it is – is a completely fruitless way to spend one’s time. Still more so the possible early demise of billions of strangers, who most certainly are not thinking about one’s fate themselves!

          ‘Sufficient to the day are the evils thereof…’

      • edpell says:

        I do not think anybody will “elect” to die. I think it will be the standard four horsemen, disease, starvation, war, and pollution (the new pestilence). Mother nature will determine the population level. No human effort is required.

    • We burned down a lot of trees to make the metal we did back in 1750. (Actually, we were using some coal as well then, or we would have exceeded forest limits even back then.) The problem would be making the huge amount of metal required for today’s population, without cutting down all the forests in the world. Also ores are also a whole lot more depleted now, and recycling doesn’t produce very pure metals.

      • I think the ratio is 1000 tons of wood=100 tons of charcoal=1 ton of iron
        You can’t make good iron directly using coal (impurities) you need to turn the coal into coke, that process was perfected in 1709, and led directly to building steam engines, (1776) because charcoal-produced iron couldn’t have been made in sufficient quantity for engine production. Once mass produced steam engines were available, humankind took over the planet.
        Before we had steam engines, man couldn’t move faster than hoof and sail, after the steam engine, our speed became effectively unlimited. Those who govern us refuse to grasp the significance of that, and insist that ‘technology’ will make our future all that we wish it to be..
        But that ‘technology’ has taken us full circle. We stopped burning trees as a prime energy source because we had cheap hydrocarbon fuels. Unfortunately we are turning to trees and other biomass again and feeding wood into our boilers to keep our energy delusion alight.

  27. Biljim says:

    Just as an aside, here’s a quote from the quite well known English writers John and Sally Seymore in their book Self Sufficiency (pub 1973 – ISBN 0 571 09954 8)
    This is their final statement…
    “It’s all going to collapse. Either the oil will run out, or the grub, or the uranium – 235, or the power of Man to withstand the unutterable boredom of it all, and Mankind will have to find a different way of life. And he will not go back, as so many people think he will. He will go forward to something very much sounder and better than has been before. And it is then that I hope this book will prove useful.”
    Vamos a ver pronto !

  28. Ian Page says:

    Gail, Following up your comments on resources:

    Since resources all depend on energy to extract and refine , and as less advantageous resources are used as the better ones run out they are all moving to post peak production during the next 50 years or so ( some have already passed peak eg mercury and lead- when did the pharmacy last offer to sell you a mercury thermometer surely a cost tolerant use)

    This will inevitably ( ignoring the usual commodity cycles as noise) result in pushing up prices of minerals, with a special point where the increase in price , results in a reduction in demand, which pushes production below the point at which economics of scale are effective. The mineral then becomes no longer a mass commodity but a specialist high cost component.

    The natural response to raised prices is to look for new supply ( post the geophysical peak this pushes prices up for diminished returns). Then to apply R&D to using what you have more efficiently, then to find substitutes either directly or for eventual the service provided.

    Whats often missed is that the substitution stage , tips a whole extra demand on to some other element, and brings forward its peak in turn. This is suggest is going to cause a cascade effect like a snowball rolling down a mountain. Unfortunately nature provides less than 100 elements so this process is going to stop.

    A study of recycling effectiveness reveals that it too has properties rather like mining, and since it is never 100% effective, merely increases the size of peak production, delays the peak by perhaps a decade or so, then increases the slope of the post peak decline.

    The only elements in the periodic table which nature recycles in less than geological time are carbon ( CO2, marsh gas) , hydrogen ( water), oxygen ( air,water ) and nitrogen( air) so the long term ( 50+ year future civilization seems to be based on CHON. The good news is that we have an example of a system depending only on CHON and sunlight- nature. So its both long term stable and uses a low density of energy input. Whether it can support 9 Billion of us, and whether we would regard the per person resource and energy level as capable of supporting any kind of civilization is an exercise for the reader!


    • Your view of the future of resources is what I would call a “peak oil” view. The idea is that oil prices will rise, and that this rise will transfer to higher prices of all metals. It, unfortunately, is not right.

      Oil prices will fail to rise enough, and oil production will drop dramatically. Commodity prices will tend to drop, dropping their production as well. At some point, we encounter rising interest rates, rising defaults, and governments that collapse or are overthrown and replaced with much smaller, cheaper systems.

      Our problem with resources that require oil or electricity for extraction is likely to be that they simply will be unavailable at any price. In fact, the market of things that are available are likely to be only local things that can be recycled, if one can find the resources to the recycling, and isn’t concerned about purity levels. Eventually, recycling will not be available, either.

      • SlowRider says:

        I’m still not convinced that oil production will collapse. A lot depends on your notion that governments won’t last, and that I doubt. Another assumption is that a global price of oil is the only distribution mechanism, and that I doubt, too. If I’m the government of Canada in a deflationary collapse, I will organize all the unemployed engineers and workers to work in the tar sands for very low wages. The oil goes first to the government itself, to the military, police, agriculture/food programs, hospitals, perhaps schools, and of course to the industry that maintains the tar sands infrastructure. No oil price is needed for that, it is central distribution. It is promoted as a national emergency program, and the rest of the population accepts that this is a necessary priority. There is a lot of pain and unrest and maybe starvation. But violence would go rather against the remaining super rich than against the government. All they have to to is to get the right moment to implement this, when the current system stops working, but the infrastructure is still in place. Around this new oil system, a very reduced economy muddles through, perhaps 10% of the cars & trucks are maintained, as well 10% of long distance roads.
        Such a scenario to mee seems as least as likely as a complete collapse and emergence of “local wood and garden economies” which can never work for the millions in the cities anyway.

      • the bottom line to that is that you cannot make anything without the application of heat.
        The more heat you have available, the more complexity you can put into manufacture.
        Thus if you can only hit something with a hammer, you are strictly limited to the output of your own muscles. If you have a foundry and a blast furnace, you can produce far more ‘stuff’. But it’s still only application of heat. If you’re not in a position to buy heat, you can’t make anything at all

        • Heat generally doesn’t come from wind and water sources either, unless you generate an awfully lot of electricity and make heat from it. Wind and water tend to yield mechanical energy, which is not the heat energy we need.

  29. Ian Page says:

    Gail, I’ve followed your posts on the oil drum and now on your blog . Thanks for all the thought you put in to them and the clarity with which you present .

    It may be possible to understand the extent of the the forthcoming fall in GDP/person which you identify in terms of its total impact ,

    GDP increase was long ago modeled using functions of capital and labour . The measured GDP started to diverge from this in the early years of last century and so a fudge factor was introduced , which is now called “knowledge”. This factor is now needed ,as I understand it, to explain most of the increase in GDP. Despite this, an erudite book on the topic was unconvincing as to what “knowledge” actually was.

    To fit with your analysis I suggest that this factor is mainly energy consumption, leading to essentially “virtual labor”-nearly free until energy prices rose recently. If it was possible ( for someone with more statistical nous than myself) to strip this out, one would probably end up with a “corrected GDP ” which fits the traditional ( non knowledge) model. This would be vastly lower than today’s apparent GDP, but also a figure that would make sense during the transition away from fossil energy and provide a better guide for policy making.

    Current attempts to keep GDP up by printing money, creating clever financial instruments etc, were effective for a while during the late 90’s and early 2000’s but since they didnt correspond to anything real must now vanish from GDP, even as you propose GDP/person has to decrease anyway with EROI.

    In my career as a futurist , I’m very interested in trends , but also limits- ie what is the end state of a trend. In the current case what is the residual “knowledge/energy” GDP component when we only have renewables,what kind of civilization if any will that support, and is there a feasible transition path from here to there.


    • Thanks for the idea. I am not sure I am the one to do it either.

      I see the issue as the system falling apart. No matter what the path up, and how distorted it is, the fall won’t leave us at the point where we were before the paths diverged. The prior system won’t be available, so we will need to start over, without the new energy sources.

  30. Stan says:

    Gail wrote: “…citizens are getting poorer and finding it harder to find a good-paying job, this is hard to do.”

    So we see that as oil becomes scarce, other resources that depend on oil also become scarce. For the purposes of economic modeling, perhaps we need to start seeing “consumers-spending-money” as a finite resource. It sounds like a no-brainer, yet every business that needs consumers is hell-bent on growth; growth that implies that the supply of “consumers-spending-money” is infinite. We know this is not true and actually seems to be dwindling. Yet how many business plans take this into account?

    Can we trust any economic model that treats spending consumers as an infinite resource?

    Or maybe the very wealthy will spend all of their money to save the economy!


    • I hadn’t thought of spending consumers as being a limited resource. I am afraid banks will fail early on, putting an end to this model.

      • Stan says:

        In a certain sense, we have already seen what happens when banks run low on “spending-consumers”. In 2006 with the subprime mortgage crisis blew up – banks had found a new class of customer they could lend money to, only because they would re-sell the load as a mortgage-backed-security. They could collect fees upfront and unload the worthless paper on un-suspecting investors.

        If there had been an adequate supply of “spending-consumers” I don’t think this would have happened, at least not on the scale it did. And, of course, a government bail-out… that was certainly a form of QuantE. More proof that Gail is on target.

        Hmmm…what do you all suppose might be the next “rabbit out of the hat” that banks will pull to compensate for a decrease in the “spending-consumers” resource?


    • Stan,
      An excellent point! As the income disparity continues to rise, as companies out source production to countries with the lowest paid workers, as manufacturing becomes more automated with robotics…aren’t we reducing the spending potential of consumers by the lack of their ability to earn money?

      I often think of our economy somewhat as monopoly game. When one person (or one percent of the population) holds all the money the game is over. Jobs that support a middle class life style are disappearing. Governmental redistribution of wealth though taxation and payments across the population would help the game to continue, but Republicans don’t want to increase taxes.

      On the bright side, in a world of finite resources the more money the masses have to spend the more resources they use. So ultimately maybe it is a good thing that the money (which will someday lose it’s value anyway) is concentrated in the hands of a few. It forces the majority to learn to live on less and produce more of what they need themselves.

      This reminds me of the argument that feeding the poor or curing the weak leads to over-population and a degradation of our gene pool. Part of us hates to think that our altruism is a bad thing, or that greed might actually be reducing our consumption and saving the earth!

      • Stan says:

        Jody, you wrote: “This reminds me of the argument that feeding the poor or curing the weak leads to over-population and a degradation of our gene pool. ”

        Yes, a logical argument for an “efficient” society. However, such an argument ignores such history as George Washington Carver, who was a frail and sickly child, dealing often with bouts of whooping cough. Or Teddy Roosevelts’ sickly early years. And Isaac Newton was said to be a sick, premature baby.


        • xabier says:


          Julius Caesar was thin and sickly, Wellington and Churchill did very badly at school and if they
          hadn’t been born privileged would have had a much more lowly place in life, the Prophet Muhammad was chronically sick……etc. Wellington even had no sense of direction and got lost regularly, but was given armies to command! Of course, all of them had other valuable qualities and abilities.

          The gene pool argument is very valid, in so far as allowing heritable conditions to be perpetuated is concerned, but the fact is, as you’ve rightly pointed out, we are all of us ‘defective’ in some way, mentally or physically.

          It’s unflattering for all of us reading this, but we are all, without exception, ‘defectives’ from the eugenicist point of view.

          As someone once observed to me: Hitler would have had Beethoven murdered for incurable deafness…… (as well as his political views).

          A very serious problem in terms of the quality of people making up our societies is that globalized consumerist capitalism attempts to create an urbanized consuming class which cannot fend or think for itself and is devoted to watching trivia and to pointless consumption led by advertising, this has really accelerated post-1945. People bred to be useless and defenceless, like cattle to be milked.

          The prevalence of ‘business-thinking’ also leads – like ‘Party-thinking’ in totalitarian states – to an all pervasive atmosphere of propaganda and lies: as soon as you start to sell things to people, there is the temptation to lie about your product. I feel the everyday moral tone has declined very greatly. Almost every statement by politicians, or whatever party, is a knowing lie, justified as ‘encouraging confidence’ in the consumer – to spend and borrow!

        • Stan,
          You are certainly correct, there have been many ‘weak’ people who nevertheless went on to do great things. Of course this applies to the evils we do as well, the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.
          What I find interesting is the idea that humans are a product of natural evolution and we evolved to figure out how to get around natural evolution….or seemingly anyway!

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “And Isaac Newton was said to be a sick, premature baby.”

          And yet, he managed to invent calculus before widespread use of fossil sunlight!

          I’ll take someone who survives and thrives in spite of hardship over those who are born healthy and wealthy and who just coast through life.

          Molly Ivins once said of George W. Bush, “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” Unfortunately, I think decline will be “spotty,” with increasing numbers of the vast majority suffering, and a few sickly ones getting by on birthright.

  31. Steve Boyles says:

    Strangely as I see the seemingly endless displays of food Thankgiving to New Years Day, I’m thinking about the fragility of this system. The complex corporate agribusiness system which now feeds our world, becomes ever more susceptible to a wide range of systemic failures as the CEOs pursue ever higher profits each succeeding quarter.

    ** In other words, don’t worry too much about putting on a little extra fat over the holidays. We may need it someday ……. soon! **

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