Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem

Intermittent renewables–wind and solar photovoltaic panels–have been hailed as an answer to all our energy problems. Certainly, politicians need something to provide hope, especially in countries that are obviously losing their supply of oil, such as the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the more I look into the situation, the less intermittent renewables have to offer. (Please note that I am not talking about solar hot water heaters. I am talking about intermittent renewables added to the electric grid.)

1. It is doubtful that intermittent renewables actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

It is devilishly difficult to figure out whether on not any particular energy source has a favorable impact on carbon dioxide emissions. The obvious first way of looking at emissions is to look at the fuel burned on a day-to-day basis. Intermittent renewables don’t seem to burn fossil fuel on day-to-day basis, while those using fossil fuels do, so wind and solar PV seem to be the winners.

The catch is that there are many direct and indirect ways that fossil fuels come into play in making the devices that create the renewable energy and in their operation on the grid. The researcher must choose “boundaries” for any analysis. In a sense, we need our whole fossil fuel powered system of schools, roads, airports, hospitals, and electricity transmission lines to make any of type of energy product work, whether oil, natural gas, wind, or solar electric–but it is difficult to make boundaries wide enough to cover everything.

The exercise becomes one of trying to guess how much carbon emissions are saved by looking at tops of icebergs, given that the whole rest of the system is needed to support the new additions. The thing that makes the problem more difficult is the fact that intermittent renewables have more energy-related costs that are not easy to measure than fossil fuel powered energy does. For example, there may be land rental costs, salaries of consultants, and (higher) financing costs because of the front-ended nature of the investment. There are also costs for mitigating intermittency and extra long-distance grid connections.

Many intermittent renewables costs seem to be left out of CO2 analyses under the theory that, say, land rental doesn’t really use energy. But the payment for land rental means that the owner can now go and buy more “stuff,” so it acts to raise fossil fuel energy consumption.

Normally the cost of making an energy-related product gives an indication as to how much fossil fuel energy is involved in the process. A high-priced energy product gives an expectation of high fossil fuel use, since true renewable energy use is free. If the true source of renewable energy were only wind or solar, there would be no cost at all! The fact that wind and solar PV tends to be more expensive than other electricity generation gives an initial expectation that the fossil fuel energy requirements for creating this energy source are high, rather than low, if a wide boundary analysis were to be done.

There are some studies based on narrow boundary studies of various types (Energy Return on Energy Invested, Life Cycle Analysis, and Energy Payback Periods) that suggest that there are some savings (from the top of the icebergs) if intermittent renewables are used. But more broadly based studies show that the overall amount of fossil fuel energy used by intermittent renewables is really so high that we don’t come out ahead by its use. One such study is Weissbach et al.’s study in Energy called  Energy intensities, EROIs (energy returned on invested), and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants. Another is an analysis of Spanish installed solar power by Pedro Prieto and Charles Hall called Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Energy Invested.

I tend to use an even wider boundary approach: what happens to world CO2 emissions when we ramp up intermittent renewables? As far as I can tell, it tends to raise CO2 emissions. One way this happens is by ramping up China’s economy, through the additional business it generates in the making of wind turbines, solar panels, and the mining of rare earth minerals used in these devices. The benefit China gets from its renewable sales is leveraged several times, as it allows the country to build new homes, roads, and schools, and businesses to service the new manufacturing. In China, the vast majority of manufacturing is with coal.

Figure 1. Energy consumption by source for China based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. Energy consumption by source for China based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Another way intermittent renewables raise world CO2 emissions indirectly is by making the country using intermittent renewables less competitive in the world market-place, because the higher electricity cost raises the price of manufactured goods. This tends to send manufacturing to countries that use lower-priced energy sources for electricity, such as China.

A third way that intermittent renewables can raise world CO2 emissions relates to affordability. Consumers cannot afford high-priced electricity without their standards of living dropping. Governments may be pressured to change their overall electricity mix to include more very low-cost energy sources, such as lignite (a very low grade of coal), in their electricity mix to keep the  overall price in an affordable range. This seems to be at least part of the problem behind Germany’s difficulties with renewables.

If there is any savings at all in CO2 emissions, it would seem to be from inexpensive intermittent renewables–ones that don’t really need subsidies. If renewables need a subsidy or feed in tariff, a red danger light should be flashing. Somewhere the process is  using a lot of fossil fuels in its production.

2. Wind and Solar PV do not fix our oil problem.

Wind and solar PV both are used to make electricity. Our big problem is with oil. Oil and electricity are used for different things. For example, electricity won’t run today’s cars, and it won’t run tractors, or construction equipment, or aircraft. So even if we have more electricity, it doesn’t fix our oil problem.

Wind and solar PV have been billed as solutions to our CO2 problem. Unfortunately, as we just saw in (1) above, it doesn’t really  do this either. The combination of (1) and (2) leaves wind and solar PV with relatively few purposes.

I should mention that there is one small niche where intermittent renewables can substitute for oil. While oil is not generally burned to produce electricity, it is used for this purpose on some islands because of its convenience. These island communities do little manufacturing because their high cost of electricity makes them not competitive in the world market. On these islands,  intermittent renewables can be used to reduce the amount of oil used for electricity production, without driving up the cost of electricity, since electric costs are already very high.

3. The high cost of wind and solar PV doubles our energy problems, rather than solving them.

The big issue with oil is its high cost of production. We extracted the easy-to-extract oil first, and now we are getting to the more-difficult to extract oil. Adding high priced electricity to our fuel mix means we have price problems with both oil and electricity, instead of only one of the two. Consumers’ wages don’t rise to pay for these high-priced fuels, so disposable income is adversely impacted by both. The two high-priced fuels also combine to make exported goods even less competitive in the world marketplace.

4. Even if wind is “renewable,” it isn’t necessarily long lived.

Manufacturers of wind turbines claim lives of 20 to 25 years. This compares to life spans of 40 years or more for coal, gas, and nuclear. One recent study suggests that because of degraded performance, it may not be economic to operate wind turbines for more than 12 to 15 years.

If we are expecting substantial changes in the years ahead, there are also issues with whether necessary repairs will really be available. Wind turbines are especially repair prone. These repairs can’t be made by just anyone, using local materials. They need the specialized world supply chain that we have today. Offshore wind turbines sometimes need helicopters for repairs. If oil is a problem, such repairs may not be available.

5. Wind and solar PV don’t ramp up quickly.

After many years of trying to ramp up wind and solar PV, in 2012, wind amounted to a bit under 1% of world energy supply. Solar amounted to even less than that–about 0.2% of world energy supply. It would take huge effort to ramp up production to even 5% of the world’s energy supply.

6. Wind and solar PV create serious pollution problems. 

Both wind turbines and solar PV use rare earth minerals, mostly from China, in their manufacture. Mining and processing these rare earths generates a tremendous amount of “hazardous and radioactive byproducts.” In the part of China where rare earth minerals are mined, soil and water are saturated with toxic substances, making farming impossible.

If we were to try to increase wind and solar by a factor of 10 (so that they together amount to 12% of world energy supply, instead of 1.2%) we would need huge amounts of rare earth minerals and other polluting minerals, such as  gallium arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and cadmium-telluride, used in making thin-film photovoltaics. We could not expect China to take on all of this pollution itself. Instead, the rest of the world would need to produce these toxic materials as well. Presumably, many countries would require stringent pollution controls to do this extraction. These pollution controls would likely require greater use of fossil fuel energy. While pollution problems might be kept in check, the greater use of fossil fuels would likely raise both CO2 emissions and the prices of the wind and solar PV.

There are many other pollution issues. China is a major center for renewables production, using coal as it primary fuel. Silicon-based solar cells require heating silica rock to high temperatures in 3000 F ovens, something that which can be done cheaply with coal. Wind is known for its noise pollution issues and for killing birds. Solar panels on the desert floor interfere with the local ecosystem.

A major reason why wind and solar PV are considered clean is because it is hard to measure their true pollution costs, whether CO2 or other types. Electric cars have some of the same issues, because they also use rare earth minerals and have heavy up-front costs.

7. There is a danger that wind and solar PV will make the electric grid less long-lived, rather than more long-lived. This tends to happen because current laws overcompensate owners of intermittent renewables relative to the value they provide to the grid. 

One point of confusion is what wind and solar PV really replace. Do they replace electricity, or do they replace the fuel that makes electricity? There is a huge difference, in terms of when an intermittent renewable achieves “grid-parity” in costs. Fuel costs are typically only a small share of retail electricity costs, so reaching grid parity is extremely difficult if intermittent renewables only replace fuel costs. In the US fuel costs average about 3 cents per kWh. For residential users, the retail price averages about 12 cents per kWh, or four times as much as the fuel cost.

What we are interested in is the value of intermittent electricity to the companies that make and sell electricity–utilities or similar companies. In my view, the typical value of intermittent electricity is the value of the fuel the intermittent electricity replaces–in other words, the cost of coal, natural gas, or uranium replaced. This is the case because using intermittent electricity doesn’t generally reduce any costs for an electric utility, other than its fuel costs. It still needs to provide backup power around the clock to customers with solar panels. Because of the variability in production, it still needs pretty much the same capacity as in the past, and it needs the same staffing for each of the units, even though some of them might be operating for a smaller percentage of time.

The value of the intermittent electricity to the utility may be greater or less than the first estimate of the fuel savings. In some instances, particularly if there is a lot of solar PV in a part of the world where maximum energy use is during the summer, peak capacity needs may be reduced a bit. This would be a savings above fuel costs. Offsetting such savings would be increased costs for new transmission lines to try to even out spikes in electricity production and to bring wind from sources where it is strongest to locations where its energy is truly needed.

The problem that occurs is the fact that most plans reimburse users of wind and solar PV at a far higher rate than the cost of the fuel they replace. Often “net metering’ is used, so the user is in effect given credit for the full retail price of electricity for the electricity generated by solar panels. This higher reimbursements leaves a revenue shortfall for the companies involved in producing electricity for the grid. The danger is that some companies will go bankrupt, or will leave the system, endangering the ability of the electric grid to provide a stable electric supply for consumers. This is a potentially much more dangerous problem than any benefit that intermittent renewables provide.

Also, funding for the additional electric transmission lines is likely to become a problem, because neither the electricity companies nor governments have sufficient revenue to fund them. The reason the electric companies cannot afford them should be clear–they are being asked to subsidize the costs through overly high reimbursement of the value of the intermittent renewables. I discuss the reason for the government lack of funds in (8), below.

8. Adding more wind and solar PV tends to make government finances less sound, rather than more sound.

Around the world, extraction of inexpensive oil and gas has historically strengthened the finances of governments. This happens because governments have been able to tax the oil and gas companies heavily, and use the tax revenue to fund government programs.

Unfortunately, the addition of wind and solar tends to act in precisely the opposite direction. In some cases, the reduction in governments revenue comes directly through subsidies for wind and solar. In other instances, the reduction in government revenue is more indirect. If the high price of intermittent electricity causes a country to become less competitive in the world market, this indirectly reduces government tax revenue because it leads to fewer people having jobs, and thus less taxable income. Even if the issue is “only” a reduction in discretionary income of consumers, this still cuts back on the ability of governments to raise taxes.

9. My analysis indicates that the bottleneck we are reaching is not simply oil. Instead, a major problem is inadequate investment capital and too much debt.  Ramping up wind and solar PV tends to make those problems worse, not better.

As I described in my post Why EIA, IEA, and Randers’ 2052 Energy Forecasts are Wrong, we are reaching an investment capital and debt bottleneck, because of the higher extraction costs of oil. Adding intermittent renewables, in which huge costs are paid out in advance, adds to this problem. Because of this, ramping up intermittent renewables tends to make collapse come sooner, rather than later, to the countries trying to ramp up these energy sources.

10. Wind and Solar PV come nowhere near fulfilling the promises made for them.  

Trying to substitute expensive energy for cheap is like trying to make water run uphill. It is virtually impossible to make such a system work. It makes everyone from governments to businesses to citizens poorer in the process. Promises that are made regarding future payments for electricity often need to be reneged on. 

If there really were benefits from the program–other than making government officials look like they are doing something–it might make sense to expand the programs. As it is, it is hard to see much benefit to expanding intermittent renewables. Even if we wanted to, there would be no way we could expand intermittent renewables to cover our entire electricity program–they are just too expensive, too polluting, and don’t provide the liquid fuels we need.


While many people would like us to believe that wind and solar PV will solve all of our problems, the more a person looks at the question, the clearer it becomes that wind and solar PV added to the electric grid are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If capital is one of the limits we are up against, we need to spend that capital as wisely as possible.  Because solar PV is relatively long-lived, it is possible it may be a tiny part of the path ahead, but not as part of the electric grid. Individual citizens may want to buy a panel or two, as a way of providing some electricity, if we should have problems with electricity at a later date. But there is no reason the government should subsidize these purchases.

We might better off spending our capital in more productive ways–for example, figuring out what path we will follow in the very near future, if we find we are reaching a financial bottle neck brought on the high cost of oil extraction. Do we need to be doing more in the direction of local agriculture, with seeds chosen for each area? Should we even be thinking about buying up farmland and resettling potential workers to different areas? Are there ways we can make soil more productive for the long term?

The primary reason for intermittent renewables was supposedly to reduce CO2 emissions to prevent climate change. If we seem to be reaching Limits to Growth in the near term, the amount of carbon burned will be far lower than the climate models assume–even the “peak oil” model for future CO2. So perhaps from that point of view, our inability to make intermittent renewables work doesn’t really matter. We are already reaching the goal the intermittent renewables were trying to reach, in another, not very fortunate, way.

We are now faced with the task of trying to figure out what we can do, in the world Nature gives us. The previous plan didn’t work. Perhaps we need to find a Plan B that will put us in a better position.

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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657 Responses to Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem

  1. Danny says:

    America has so much fat when it comes to energy consumption…I wonder if all that was cut out what would be the result. Most analysis is done with current consumption in mind. In an emergency situation all of it would be cut.

    • Dave says:

      Danny wrote:

      “America has so much fat when it comes to energy consumption”

      Indeed, in a healthy organism, the fat will always be sacrificed first. In a morbidly obese organism however, the relative mass of fat is proportionately much greater than lean muscle and produces substantial physiologic derangements.

      More & more Americans are getting free Obamaphones, and more & more of the 1% are getting richer. The unemployed, unmarried mother of 6 children from different fathers will not quietly go away. The entire banking industry is now exempt from prosecution due to a lackey Attorney General who pleads “systemic risk”. These derangements are at the expense of the shrinking middle class during their most productive middle years – a therefore doubly embattled group. This small amount of remaining lean muscle is the “low hanging fruit” that will be sacrificed before the Sharpton or Dimon groups are attacked.

      • jeremy890 says:

        Someone said recently, “we are like lab rats that at all the cornflakes in the box and have discovered that we can eat the cardboard box too. Enjoy it while you can!

    • the ‘fat’ might also be described as ‘glue’
      that glue holds the nation together—as is the case with all industrialised nations
      removing it will have the same effect as all ‘glued together’ constructions

  2. jeremy890 says:

    What I am reading here is we need to unplug a lot of unnecessary electric. Examples would be cloths dryers and much air conditioning. PV panels can provide lighting.
    If what is written is on the money, I doubt we will be able to reduce emissions in any significant amount.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “Examples would be cloths dryers and much air conditioning.”

      I lived in Switzerland in the 90s. Air conditioning was nearly unheard of. Office windows — by law — could open to let cool air in. Clothes dryers were unheard of — basements of apartment buildings had “drying rooms” with clothes lines in them for winter drying. Summer drying was via clothes lines on the balcon or on surrounding grounds.

      North America has a long way to go. Perhaps that’s good — countries that have already cut all the fat out of their energy use might have a harder time cutting more.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        Also, the Swiss were not nearly so obsessive about personal cleanliness as North Americans. People showered once or twice a week, not every day. Clothes were hung on the balcon to air out after use, instead of getting thrown into a hamper and then into the wash.

        • jeremy890 says:

          We had to live with my grandfather back in the late 1960’s and I suppose he was born around 1890 in what is now Slovakia. Talk about a frugal mindset! Never mind electric lights, glass and metal bottles and paper. He lived a merger material existence, but ate very well until he died at 91. Still painting his home at that age with a ladder! We do not know what “saving” really is. he worked very hard and never complained. I agree, many will NOT be able to the new low energy/ resource world.

          • Yes, many will have great rouble adapting. We’ve become a tad spoiled.

            Numbers of people I know have bought bikes with the intent of riding them, but have given up due to lack of fitness. Others have forayed into vegetable gardening with quite a lot of infrastructure purchases, only to find that they lack the lifelong experience and know-how and so that also becomes a fleeting experience, or one that produces very little.

            But there are many others who are successfully doing inspirational things. One of our best survival assets is to build our survival skills and fitness and know-how and community linkages whilst we have the window of opportunity to do so. The window may close faster than we predict.

  3. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    Adding to my earlier comment about James Hansen and our budget of burning 500 Gtons of carbon.

    ‘The (IPCC) report also states that as of 2011, we have emitted roughly 515 PgC since the industrial revolution, meaning we have already burned through about 52 percent of that carbon budget.’ (that budget being geared to 2 degrees C)

    There is a difference between US tons and metric tons and I get a little confused about what a P is. But I think this means that we have already burned the carbon budget that Hansen gives us.

    He gets his conclusions by looking at the carbon in ice cores and making comparisons to climate stability. His conclusion is that we are presently as the point where climate instability begins to be a serious impediment. He also sees evidence in the current weather events around the globe.

    The 2 degree C crowd are the ones who think we have ‘3 decades of fossil fuels left to burn at declining rates’…which is way less than the physical resource. Hansen thinks we need to drop carbon dixoide in the air back to 350 ppm as quickly as we can. Which means we have to go carbon negative. Which leads to Albert Bates articles on ‘carbon negative for several decades’, after which ‘we might be able to put civilization back together again’. Carbon farming is one ingredient of ‘carbon negative’. Global economic collapse would, I suppose, be another…but only David Holmgren is advocating it…at least among those who take showers regularly.

    Don Stewart

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “at least among those who take showers regularly.”

      I grew up with a basin and washcloth. Baths were reserved for special events, perhaps a couple times a month. I didn’t experience a shower until high school gym class.

      It was no great hardship. Profligate use of hot water will end, and nobody will die nor even be terribly inconvenienced for it.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Jan
        Attempts at humor and the internet are, I think, usually incompatible. So I will dig myself in a little further, by switching tactics.

        Do you have one of those ‘backpacker shower bottles’? Sort of like a rubber hot water bottle except that it is colored black so that the contents get hot in the sun. Then you hang it on a limb and unplug the hole and get yourself wet, plug up hole, soap all over, then rinse off. Very economical of water and entirely solar powered.

        I was not, of course, making fun of anybody or anything…I was recommending an entirely virtuous life…unlike those who chopped down trees to heat big tubs of water and doubtless had innocent young girls to scrub their backs.

        Don Stewart

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  5. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    This will be a little bit philosophical, so take a few deep breaths to adjust to a slower pace.

    Over the last billions of years, each time some creature figured out a way to greatly increase the utilization of energy (such as oxygenic photosynthesis), the creature produced pollution which threatened all life on Earth. Fortunately for us, Evolution saved us in every case by producing a creature which used the pollution as a resource…as animals use the oxygen which is a waste product from photosynthesis. Of course, Nature was in no hurry to find the solution, and the crises lasted for millions of years while genetic evolution took its own sweet time.

    Very recently, humans figured out how to use fossil fuels around the clock, 24/7. One of the results more carbon dioxide pollution, about a factor of 10 increase since the year I was born. A second result is Alzheimers…practically unheard of the year I was born, and now seemingly the fate of everyone whose spouse doesn’t shoot them first.

    We moderns have decided that consuming more energy is the key to happiness and success. One of our strategies is to stop sleeping soundly when the sun goes down so we can spend more energy and have more fun and make more GDP. Could it be that our 24/7 strategy is actually counterproductive? Let’s look at some recent science..

    ‘More recently, Dr. Nedergaard had a hunch that the sleep-wake cycle might play a role in regulating the glymphatic system, so she set to work using new imaging technology called two-photon microscopy to examine the brains of live mice. Researchers did a series of experiments looking primarily at the amyloid-beta, a natural byproduct of brain function that, when it builds up, can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. During the experiments, the researchers compared the brains of mice who were awake, mice who were asleep, and mice who were under anesthesia to see if there was any difference in the way the glymphatic system worked to flush out the amyloid-beta protein.

    So what were the results? Well, researchers found that during sleep, the glymphatic system was 10 times more active than it was while the mice were awake. Not to mention, sleep helped rid the brain of more amyloid-beta than other brain toxins. And brain cells actually shrank by 60%, causing more efficient movement of the brain fluid that flushes toxins away. So the brain is performing some important maintenance while we sleep, allowing us to not only feel refreshed, but actually wake up with a clearer head – so to speak.’

    Jan Steinman keeps reminding us that there are probably good reasons why Nature continues to use oxygenic photosynthesis at one or two percent efficiency rather than strive for, say, fifty percent efficiency. Similarly, it seems that humans need to go to bed and sleep soundly…in part to get rid of toxins.

    And yet we convince ourselves that it is absolutely essential that electricity must be available in unlimited amounts when the sun isn’t shining?

    Don Stewart

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “we convince ourselves that it is absolutely essential that electricity must be available in unlimited amounts when the sun isn’t shining?”

      But, but, but, the clock will start flashing “12:00, 12:00, 12:00” if the electricity goes off at night! 🙂

      I think that’s a big part of the drive to install “smart meters,” so the electric utilities can do selective remote load-shedding easily.

    • timl2k11 says:

      I’m afraid I don’t see the connection between a good nights sleep and the use of electricity at night. Electricity demand is also lowest at night. What am I missing?

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear timl2k11
        Merely that some of us tend to make a big deal of the fact that solar panels can’t make electricity after the sun goes down. From the standpoint of a household, things should be winding down at sunset and bedtime should follow shortly thereafter. As the science shows, our detox system for the brain evolved to take advantage of a long night’s sleep. When we interrupt those cycles with artificial light, we pay a price. Part of the price is Alzheimers. Which is one of the reasons why our taxes are so high to pay for eldercare.

        I’m not saying that there is never any reason to turn on a light at night. If I didn’t have grid electricity, I would have a flashlight or a candle or a lantern if possible.

        But I think the Weissbach study which assumes that we must provide enough pumped storage to keep the lights working at night the way we do today, is just wrong. To accept Weissbach’s calculations, which include the pumped storage, as true indicators of the cost of PV is a mistake.

        When fossil fuels are no longer available to make electricity, we may or may not have PV panels. But I don’t think many people will be using to generate much electricity when the sun isn’t shining. And that won’t be an entirely unwelcome development. I have spent time in off grid houses with very limited battery storage, and one quickly gets into the habits of just enjoying the darkness.

        Don Stewart

        • timl2k11 says:

          My understanding is that most overnight electricity is used for heating and cooling. I don’t know why anyone would keep lights on while they sleep (except for those inclined to turn on outdoor lights for “safety” reasons, a practice I don’t think is particularly useful and just creates light pollution). Then there are businesses who insist on lighting up the night sky at all hours (more light pollution) but I also imagine there are quite a few industries that can’t just completely shut off at night. Is Weissbach really suggesting that we all need to keep our lights on at night? Seems like an absurd assumption to me. I’m not familiar with the study.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Weissbach, as I understand him, assumes that we must produce power with the same time of day profile as we do currently. Americans watch 5 or 6 hours of television, for example, much of which must be after sunset. Based on what we know, that is not a healthy habit. There is no public interest reason why that much electricity should be provided if it is going to cost society money or environmental impacts.

            If you go to live in an off-grid house with a modestly sized lead-acid battery, you won’t be able to run a big screen TV for very long.

            Now for the heating and cooling. David Holmgren in Australia is inviting people to tour their house:
            You will see that it is cool in the summer (despite the record heat in Australia, at the moment) and warm in the winter. I doubt that David uses PV to either heat or cool the house. He may have a modest wood stove for the winter. But the house obviously has a lot of thermal mass which insulates it from the extremes of the outdoor climate.

            I know some people around here who are living in tiny houses (with big outdoor living space) which have neither heating nor cooling nor any lights except candles. The house is so small that their body heat keeps it pretty warm in the winter, and they dress in layers. In the summer, they remove doors and open windows and spend a lot of time outside. When it gets dark, they sit and look at the stars and chat and listen to the crickets and then they go to bed.

            The point, to me, is that if one is contemplating ‘life after fossil fuels’, then one has to rethink and perhaps remodel to adapt one’s lifestyle to the new realities. Electricity can be very valuable for certain functions. In the home, most of those functions will be accomplished when the humans are active. And that is mostly likely to be when the sun is shining. The days when people got up in the dark to commute long distances to offices will probably be a thing of the past. Massive storage, if it remains expensive, just won’t be a realistic option.

            In short, to make an educated guess about whether solar PV panels might be useful for off-grid living, one has to get rid of the notion that we have to produce the same (or even more) electricity than we do today, and that the time of day profile has to be like it is today. I think a hour touring Holmgren’s house is going to be a lot more informative than an academic study which talks about building massive pumped storage facilities and uses those costs to ‘prove’ that solar PV is worthless.

            There is also the issue of AC versus DC. For off-grid living, DC appliances make a lot more sense. DC appliances used to be easy to find, but now they are scarce. Perhaps they will come back.

            Don Stewart

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “DC appliances used to be easy to find, but now they are scarce.”

              You can still find them in places that specialize in trailer camping and recreational vehicles… although I feel like an alien when I go in such a place…

              In particular, I’m quite fond of absorption refrigeration. No moving parts, operates with any relatively small heat source — a wick and veggie oil would do.

              But they are very expensive in RV retail outlets. Never fear, I “harvest” dead RVs from other people’s land (with their permission) and collect the 12 VDC appliances and turn the shell into animal shelter. Or strip to the chassis, sell the aluminum for scrap, and build anew on the chassis. Because they are on wheels, they are generally not subject to building codes.

        • erm—–I think we use energy for all kinds of things during the night
          lights are only a tiny fraction.
          If you should find yourself in hospital I don’t think you would enjoy the darkness very much

  6. timl2k11 says:

    I know of an incredible solar powered creation that is entirely sustainable! It processes solar radiation, water, and carbon dioxide and produces pure fuel! You might think, “Yeah right, Tim, that is hocus-pocus!” It’s not! Would anyone like to know about this creation? Oh, I can’t bear to keep a secret. There are these things called “plants” which do this very thing! If only somehow we could make use of this fuel! Perhaps what we could do is wait a really, really long time and wait for this fuel to be fossilized, along with the “animals” that eat these “plants”. Something like a hundred million years. Then we could harvest this energy and support a population of billions! We could do this for nearly 200 years! But then… well, I don’t know, I guess we would be left with the living plants. When we run out of the fossilized fuel… Oh I mustn’t think of it! We’d have to return to our pre-industrialized ways of clear-cutting for agriculture and so forth. But with ten times as many people. That doesn’t sound good! Might we consume every living thing? I hope not! I don’t want to believe it. Yikes, maybe we should have left that energy in the ground after all.

  7. I’m satisfied that solar energy has yet to produce net energy. Simply a matter of realizing that all of the input energy goes in at the front end, and at a growth rate of 20 percent per annum and higher, the output energy stays behind input energy. I can say that whilst still supporting the development of solar panels because some time in the future, when solar production levels off as it must do, the output may eventually pay dividends in a net energy return to society.

    This dilemma came home to me not so long ago when organising a bulk purchase of domestic solar and this resulted in two company executives flying in by jet to oversee the job. My mathematical head tried to reconcile the plane flight energy and how that will never be included in the energy input figures. When doing calculations we tend to just look at the first base.

    But in time, when we learn not to be so profligate with energy, then it would be silly to throw out solar energy with the bath water. We have no choice but to fuse renewable energy development with radical social transformation of society. The toe have to go hand in hand. At present quite a few solar advocates are so blinded by the growth of solar that this second imperative is naively and blithely ignored, as if we can go down the solar pathway and shift millions of people in solar energised cars and factories and everything will sort of go on as ‘normal’.

    That worldview is as dangerous as climate denial, perhaps even more so, even though the advocates have very good intent and are noble in spirit.

    • Christian says:

      You’re right Chris, a radical transformation of society and no electric cars (electric tractors would be more useful but does not seem to be at reach). And don’t worry about those jet flights, they don’t make any difference on total flights and will be reduced anyway.

  8. edpell says:

    We are going back to a time where wealth comes from the land plus human sweat. It is my understanding/belief that for a long time England operated under a system that limited the division of land. Basically, land was owned by the king and administered by a system of middle management the nobles. I expect places that do well, i.e. better than India and Bangladesh, will limit the division of land. Does anybody see places where this is likely? Maybe Japan? Parts of Mexico and South America? Ted Turner’s lands?

  9. Pingback: Another Week in the Ecological Crisis, January 26, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  10. david says:

    Four Ways the Attacks on Wind and Solar Are Wrong (From the Energy Collective)

    The first mistake in Gail Tverberg’s Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem is using the outdated term “intermittent” for renewables.

    “The more accurate term is ‘variable renewables,’” explains energy consultant Nancy LaPlaca. “The word ‘intermittent’ reinforces the impression that wind and solar are unreliable. The word ‘variable’ underscores the fact that, like all energy sources, wind and solar can and must be managed by grid operators.”

    “Wind and solar energy are variable because their output changes gradually over many hours, and those changes can be predicted,” explains American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Senior Electric Industry Analyst Michael Goggin. “Fossil and nuclear power plants are the ones that are intermittent, as their failures occur instantaneously and without warning, which is far more costly for grid operators.”

    Among the ten rambling points in Tverberg’s 3,000-plus word essay are four misinformed accusations:

    -renewables don’t replace oil,

    -don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions,

    -cost too much, and

    -can’t grow fast enough.


    “Wind and solar PV do not fix our oil problem,” she writes. “Our big problem is with oil.”

    That is an irrelevant “straw man” argument, Goggin responds. “Nobody who knows what they’re talking about ever claimed renewables replace oil except in minor applications.”

    To address the oil problem, electric car advocate Paul Scott argues, put plug-in vehicles on the grid and clean up the grid.


    Cleaning up the grid means more wind and solar. Tverberg’s argument that they do not reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is “completely debunked,” Goggin says, by the conclusions of the comprehensive Life Cycle Harmonization Project from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) (summarized in this fact sheet).

    Though Tverberg claims there are only superficial “top of the iceberg” evaluations of various sources’ GHGs, the NREL study incorporates:

    -upstream factors: raw

    materials extraction, construction materials manufacture, and power plant construction

    -fuel cycle factors: resource extraction and production, processing and conversion, and delivery to site

    -operation factors: combustion, maintenance, and operations, and
    -downstream factors: dismantling, decommissioning, disposal and recycling.

    The systematic NREL literature assessment of thousands of peer-reviewed life cycle analyses (LCAs) published over the last 30 years sorted out the data and technical information. “Total life cycle GHG emissions from renewables and nuclear energy are much lower and generally less variable than those from fossil fuels,” the LCA analysis concludes. “From cradle to grave, coal-fired electricity releases about 20 times more GHGs per kilowatt-hour than solar, wind, and nuclear electricity.”

    click to enlarge

    NREL’s work is so thorough its findings and methods were incorporated into the workof the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    Ramping up renewables tends to raise CO2 emissions “by ramping up China’s economy,” Tverberg argues. “The benefit China gets from its renewable sales is leveraged several times, as it allows the country to build new homes, roads, and schools, and businesses to service the new manufacturing. In China, the vast majority of manufacturing is with coal.”

    Tverberg’s idea that renewables cause China’s increased emissions “is absurd,” Goggin says. “The chart in her article clearly shows China has ramped up coal use to meet increased overall energy demand.”

    Hundreds of industries make up China’s $12 trillion-plus manufacturing sector. “It may be correct to say that manufacturing renewables ramps up China’s economy,” explains energy analyst and Global Footprint Network Policy Officer Chris Nelder, “but that’s true for everything that China does. Why single out renewables?”

    click to enlarge

    In solar, the U.S. and Germany do much of the polysilicon refining, the most energy intensive part of module manufacturing. “And over 70 percent of U.S. wind components are made here,” Goggin says.

    “Renewables raise world CO2 emissions indirectly by making the country using them less competitive,” Tverberg argues. The higher electricity cost, she explains, drives manufacturing to countries that use lower-priced fossil energy sources.

    “I am not aware of any evidence that using renewables has made any country less competitive by raising the price of manufactured goods,” Nelder says. “The OECD has been outsourcing manufacturing to China for decades. Separating out the effect of renewables is extremely difficult.”


    The higher cost of renewables-generated electricity also drives governments to balance their energy mixes with cheap fossil sources. “This seems to be at least part of the problem behind Germany’s difficulties with renewables,” Tverberg speculates.

    Her observations about the costs of renewables don’t stand up to scrutiny. A recent Synapse Energy Economics report showed that doubling the use of wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states will save consumers a net $6.9 billion per year, after costs. And, Goggin adds, “U.S. Department of Energy data confirm that consumers in the top wind energy producing states have seen their electric rates increase at around half the rate of consumers in states that produce less wind energy.”

    Recent articles “have misleadingly looked at small snapshots in time that miss the large consumer savings and pollution reductions wind energy is producing in Germany,” Goggin wrote recently.

    “Germany has already seen a 20 percent drop in wholesale electricity prices over the last year, in large part because wind and solar energy displace more expensive sources of energy,” he points out.

    “Renewable energy has reduced wholesale prices by $0.012 cents per kilowatt-hour,” Clean Technica reported last fall from a report by German research firm BrainPool. For Germany’s predicted 2014 consumption of 482 terawatt-hours, “renewable energy will reduce wholesale prices by EUR 5.784 billion.”

    German electricity customers are only beginning to see these savings because of the year or two regulatory lag in updating retail electricity rates,” Goggin wrote. And, because of a variety of other factors, “renewable costs appear larger than they are.”

    click to enlarge

    Tverberg also says – again with inadequate documentation – that renewables are too costly “because current laws overcompensate owners of intermittent renewables relative to the value they provide to the grid.”

    She argues that at retail rates renewables are overcompensated. But while there is a large difference between retail and wholesale electricity prices, Goggin acknowledges, she ignores the fact that all utility-scale projects, including wind and solar, are paid at a wholesale rate. And the difference between wholesale and retail rates is almost entirely made up of the cost of distribution lines that deliver electricity from all generation sources to homes and businesses.

    click to enlarge


    It is doubtful renewables production can ramp “to even 5 percent of the world’s energy supply,” Tverberg argues in one paragraph. But when renewables production does ramp up to meet world demand, she says in another paragraph, there will be “polluting minerals” and “toxic materials” to deal with. Besides the obvious contradiction, she is mistaken on the first point and misguided on the second.

    Wind and solar are among the world’s fastest growing energy sources. They were over 5.8 percent of U.S. generating capacity through November 2013 and were about 54 percent of the new capacity installed in 2012. Global solar capacity grew 42 percent and wind capacity grew 19 percent in 2012, according to the most recent IEA numbers. They are projected to be 10 percent of global electricity by 2020.

    “Globally non-hydro renewables now have a compound annual growth rate of 5.9 percent and rising,” Nelder notes. “Of course it takes time. All transitions have. And they all grow very slowly for the first few decades.”

    The pollutants and toxicities associated with renewables pale in comparison to nuclear waste and the poisons that spew from coal plants, LaPlaca points out.

    “Making energy from anything causes pollution,” Nelder adds. The question is how bad is the pollution relative to the alternatives? Tverberg presents no data.”

    Unlike conventional power plant life spans of 40 years, Tverberg claims, referencing a Renewable Energy Foundation analysis, “it may not be economic to operate wind turbines for more than 12 years to 15 years.”

    But Danish Energy Agency data shows no evidence of “an age-related performance drop,”reported Windpower Monthly’s David Milborrow. “Performance generally appears to be maintained at a consistent level, with only a slight decline with age — one in line with other types of power plants.”

    Solar PV modules are similarly showing long term steady performance, according torecent research.

    Conventional power plants require expensive regular maintenance and periodically shut down to replace or refurbish major components. Most wind and solar installations generally require little more than basic maintenance, Goggin notes.


    Much of Tverberg’s analysis is based on an Energy Returned on Energy Invested perspective. But, Nelder says, “EROEI and LCA analyses are deeply problematic when comparing renewables to fossil fuels. Is there an analysis showing that over 20-plus years, a new investment made today in renewables is more expensive than one in fossil fuels? And anyway, what is the alternative? That we stay committed to coal?”

    • Jan Steinman says:

      First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. — Gandhi

      Like David Holmgren did recently, it looks like Gail has crossed some sort of threshold.

    • timl2k11 says:

      Uh oh, looks like you’ve gotten someone’s attention Gail!
      “The previous post brought to you by Big Industry and Big Energy. At Shell and Siemens, we want you to plow resources into uneconomical (and variable not intermittent!) resources. It really helps our profit line, thanks!

    • edpell says:

      David, I predict we will burn every scrap of coal before we get to the promised land, whatever that may be. The coal burn off will start as soon as the frack gas bubble bursts. I bet (slightly educated guess) northern Canada and Russia have lots of coal.

    • Stan says:

      David wrote:
      “(Gail wrote:)“Wind and solar PV do not fix our oil problem,” she writes.
      “Our big problem is with oil.”

      That is an irrelevant “straw man” argument, Goggin responds. “Nobody who
      knows what they’re talking about ever claimed renewables replace oil except
      in minor applications.”

      If you google the words “renewables replace oil ” you find a lot of opinions that promote that exact point (mixed in with many that oppose it). Conclusion: some conventional wisdom exists that renewables can replace oil. (Whether or not they can is not the point – the point is that this belief pesists among many).

      This refutes the claim by Goggin – passed on by David – that Gail used a “straw man” argument,

      David further writes: “Paul Scott argues, put plug-in vehicles on the grid and clean up the grid.”

      OK David, pick a quantity of cars to put on the grid: tenmillion? Have you calculated the oil necessary to make that happen? Do you know how much oil it takes to make an electric car? Sit down and figure it out. The short answer is there won’t be enough oil to gather all of the raw materials and transport them to the factories after the oil crash.


    • I would agree that EROEI and LCA analyses are deeply problematic when comparing renewables to fossil fuels. I use what I have available for studies, though.

      Our shortfall for energy going forward is investment capital. Wind and solar PV make the problem worse, rather than better, partly because their costs are so front-ended, and partly because their costs are so high. We need a system that works. Adding wind and solar PV causes the systems to fail more quickly.

  11. timl2k11 says:

    Something I think might be really interesting and informative is a “series” of posts that analyzes in depth selected countries that seem closer to “collapse” – or some form of discontinuity – than others (I’m thinking Japan, Argentina, Venezuela, the Ukraine). Just in case you don’t have enough on your late already. 😉

    • edpell says:

      I second this. Maybe we can create a collapse index. Some combination of: fraction of energy that is imported, fraction of food that is imported, balance of payments, domestic water per capita less than X, domestic farm land per capita less than Y, salt water sourced food per capita less than Z, cancer death rate greater than A.

    • Thanks.By the time I get done with the series, I expect there would be a lot more countries on the list. (Libya, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, etc.)

      • Daniel Hood says:

        Gail check out the latest in the currency markets, it seems trouble’s building. Turkey went crazy raising rates, the central bank was forced to double the benchmark weekly repo rate from 4.5% to 10% and raise the top rate from 7.75% to 12%! How’s that for a blitz to halt the slide.

        The Fed’s mere mention of tapering has triggered capital flight from emerging markets. It was always obvious QE went to Wall Street and then into emerging markets rather than Main Street. I’m also noticing a rise in banker suicides recently. Within days two US bankers in London decided to quit life (may they rest in peace) They’re not the only ones sadly, banker suicides seem to be increasing in frequency. I’m also hearing from colleagues around the world that stealth capital controls are being tested then later denied. Rumours are flying all over the place and it seems pressure is building.

        Emerging markets are the mercy of EU, US, UK causing rising instabilities.
        Traders speculatively buy and sell “developing economy” treasury bonds using cheap money that is leveraged at 250:1, financed at 0% or less from central bankers, washing QE printed money through the world banking systems.

        What’s your take on it?

        • Daniel Hood says:

          As an addendum, this is the latest:

          “First Chase limited cash withdrawals and money transfers on certain business a/cs, then HSBC told its customers they had to prove why they were withdrawing cash. After that Lloyd’s ATM’s stopped working and China banned cash transfers and foreign currency conversions starting this week.

          We’ve covered the global trend towards capital controls in western nations, and we are unsurprised to announce the trend is only getting worse for savers. As we’ve predicted in the past (and been right), this will only get worse.

          Now the Central Bank of China has ordered its commercial banks to suspend cash transfers for three days and foreign currency conversions for nine days starting January 30. This during the Lunar New Year Holiday, a time usually busy for banks in China.

          The ban affects every commercial bank in China, and will cease domestic renminbi transfers from January 30 to February 2, and conversions of renminbi to foreign currency to February 7.

          Forbes published the following “Important Notice,” sent by Citigroup to its customers in China:

          Important Notice:

          1. Due to the system maintenance of People’s Bank of China, Domestic RMB Fund Transfer through Citibank (China) Online and Citi will be delayed during January 30th 2014, 16:00pm to February 2nd 2014, 18:30pm. As to the fund availability at the receiving bank, it depends on the processing requirements and turnaround time of the receiving bank. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.

          2. During Spring Festival, Foreign Currency Transfer Transaction through Citibank (China) Online and Citi Mobile will be temporally not available from January 30, 2014 18:00pm to February 7, 2014 09:00am. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.

          If you have any enquiries, please reach us via our 24-hour banking hotline at 800-830-1880 or credit card hotline at 400-821-1880. If you are calling from other parts of the world, please reach us at 86-20-38801267 for banking services or 86-21-38969500 for credit card services.

          Be prepared!

          • Paul says:

            This is an excellent summary of the situation http://dollarcollapse.com/the-economy/what-blows-up-first-part-3-subprime-countries/

            The Fed has indicated they will taper an additional 10B — in spite of the fact that the earlier taper is roiling EM.

            So one has to wonder — has the Fed determined that QE is no longer working and that continuing at a trillion a year will have toxic side effects that would be even worse than the blowback we are seeing from the impact of tapering on EM?

            At some point the Central Banks will lose control of the situation — they will not longer be able to paper over the consequences of the high price of oil — and reality is going to strike.

            Hopefully we have not reached the tipping point.

          • Daniel Hood says:

            @ Paul,

            I’m not sure, I think that may very well be the case.

            It could be that the oil majors/EIA have the powers that be convinced the energy issue has been solved with fracking/shale/tar/deep sea/arctic etc. If America thinks that she can obtain energy independence long into the future (which is the complete joke of the century) then the Fed may have been convinced the time for tapering has come. To hell with EMs. EMs are not on the Feds mandate. QE doesn’t necessarily cause inflation at home anyway because the free flow of capital around the world allows Wall Street to blow up bubbles elsewhere exactly as as we’ve witnessed. The world is a large enough place to soak up that tsunami of money, but now those EMs are being shown up for what they are, bubbles propped up by the Fed.


            The Fed could just be testing/triggering likely earthquake zones with “controlled” explosions. Maybe they’re taking down competitive economies in a last man standing currency war. If you know you’re going down and energy costs are rising leading to your collapse you may think what the hell, let’s blow up some of those economies that pose a systemic competitive threat to us.

            One thing about America over other nations is the 20 aircraft carriers prowling the world.

            I can’t help but think currency warfare is about to explode and there are deeper strategic last man standing survival games at play.

            America has to deal with her enemies so maybe time has come to launch and all out financial, political, military, economic, social blitz.

  12. Paul says:

    Start of a Global Currency Crisis?

    This demonstrates how at some point the Fed might lose control of things — they have created a wicked beast with their easy money policies and so far has had the beast on a leash – but at any moment the beast could realize he is far more powerful than those holding the leash and turn and rip them to pieces.

    And there will be not a thing they can do.

    • Thanks for the link. It seems like everyone is desperate, and trying to fix their own problem. Mish is probably right in saying that things could fall apart quite suddenly.

  13. timl2k11 says:

    Have Japanese policy makers gone mad? They shut off all their nuclear and at the same time weaken the yen to absurd levels. How is an island nation like Japan that produced almost no energy of its own supposed to function? First they have to buy enough energy to sustain their population and then on top of that byt even more energy and other resources to produce goods and somehow hope the rest of the world will pay enough for those goods to make up the difference. Yeah right!
    Now Japan is running record trade deficits and paying dearly for energy. This can’t last, but I’m sure with enough hocus pocus it will last longer than it should.
    I must say I find it a bit disturbing how the media talks about economics as if it sustains itself with government and monetary policy, as if energy mattered not at all, or was even a non-existent factor.

    • Paul says:

      The fact that they have done that — accelerating the economic suicide path they were already one – leads me to believe that Fukushima was infinitely more destructive than the worst pessimist could imagine.

      Kuntsler suggests Japan may be the first nation to revert to a post-industrial economy — couple of problems of course — a rather large population and taking care of Fukushima (and their other power plants) before they poison the entire country.

      • Danny says:

        My bet is on China…go read Automatic Earth…..

      • Daniel Hood says:

        I agree completely. I too think that Japan will fall first. I think they’re the proverbial bellwether. The pressure between China & Japan is rising. They both need resources. One is rising, the other declining. I’ve seen recent warnings to suggest they’re in a similar position to Britain & Germany in the build up to WW1. The most probably outcome was war. History is repeating.

        Young Japanese males have already abandoned the system. The older Japanese bulls are still ego driven and they’re getting crazier.

        Japan in the nation to watch.

    • Christian says:

      Your last comment points to the most important issue we face today. Why the media talk about a “financial crisis” instead of a “third oil shock”? This vocabulary would directly lead to peak oil and undress the king. Everybody would see finances have gone increasingly mad since the end of gold standard and realize the economy is a physical phenomenon. The death of capitalism would be evident as well, because it is essentially tied to growth. There is an argentinean economist that highligts the fact that MSM, oil industry and banking are -if not allways owned- essentially controlled by the same few people.

      • timl2k11 says:

        Very well said. Modern economists and the MSM have essentially divorced economics from physics (and physical reality). We are essentially experiencing a prolonged fourth oil shock (the third being in 2007). You never here of the “current oil shock” and its aftermath, current prices are now accepted as the new norm. What was “disastrous” in the early and late 70’s is now considered somehow acceptable.

        I remember as oil prices were rising in the mid 00’s how the media repeated ad nauseam “Gas prices when adjusted for inflation are still less than they were during the 1979 oil shock.”, as if to beat into everybody’s head “things re not really that bad you fools, keep driving!”.

        And alas the media also completely ignores that resources of all kinds are not limitless and indeed we are running out of a lot of them. That would undress all of civilization and bring people to realize 7 billion people is not even close to sustainable, and closer to home, the American way of living is ludicrous given the circumstances, the American dream a total fraud, etc.

        • Daniel Hood says:

          If you think about it most people are in stage 1 denial about the very real terminal future we face. We’ve evolved to ignore risks/threats to us as a species. I’m not sure why. Think of it like this. We know we’re all going to die. There are many however far too frightened to think about it. They devised amazing stories/lies to try to soften the blow. I’d imagine as you age it becomes more of a problem. When a patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness however he/she usually has to transition through 5 stage phases before final acceptance and ultimately death simply because it’s feared so much and the shock is so great. Young people are not supposed to die, old people are.

          Kubler-Ross model:-

          1. Denial (This is not real, it’s not happening, it’s false)
          2. Anger (Who’s to blame, it’s your fault, I’m going to make you pay)
          3. Bargaining (Why is this happening to me? If only I could just buy more time…)
          4. Depression (It’s no use, life isn’t worth living anymore, what’s the point)
          5. Acceptance (I am going to die, this is nature, part of life which I accept, I need to prepare as best I can and go out greatful I experienced life over those that did not)

          Many never leave phase 1, psychological defensive strategy that enables them to function day to day I guess. Stages 2/3/5 are not much fun. I’m not sure how easy it is for most people to move straight to stage 5. When you think of religion and how they deal with death. I think most people transition privately between 1/2/3/4.

          Darwinian theory by natural selection is heavily in play. There are those who will do and say anything to survive over others. This is understandable. No one wishes to die and no one wishes to suffer. If you have a chance of surviving over others then some temptations may be too great. Selfish genes in action rather than altruistic. It could be argued those who are altruistic do so in the hope they will receive back. So altruism could also be deemed as a covert seflish strategy.

          Oil Firms

          These are alpha males in charge of these formidable entities. (They represent the status quo)

    • A person wonders how long this will last. Germany shut off only part of its nuclear, and is trying to add renewables. It seems like someone would have figured out how the costs work out in advance.

  14. Jamesneo says:

    I think that all of you are missing the point. If we assume that we are now already collapsing slowly, then investing in solar and wind makes a lot of sense for some countries. For example, for china it is much more beneficial for the country to invest in more solar and more electrified transports than lose the money when the US bond market or other derivatives like interest rate swaps finally collapse. Overall, if we accept that collapse is already on the cards, people are ‘gambling’ that during any bigger drop during the staircase collapse over the next 10 to 50 years, those countries that can maintain even a rudimentary electricity grid because they have already heavily invested in it by building solar( whose lifetime is 30-50 yrs) even though we knew it is a energy sink can exert significant economic and military power over the rest of the world who had relied on the fossil fuel infrastructure. In plain English, he who bail first win the most.

    • edpell says:

      Jamesneo, I agree banking oil/coal in the PV bank gives you some ability to maneuver that others will not have.

    • It depends on how long the solar and wind actually work. China is already having trouble with the intermittency issue and the long-distance transport to where the solar energy is needed. (I have a hard time believing solar would work in the cities, because of the smog level!) Replacement parts would be a problem in the US. In China, the place where they are made is closer, so it might be better. When you say solar has a lifetime of 30-50 years, you are talking the panels alone. The system is likely to be much shorter–inverters breaking, transmission that can’t be repaired, and lack of back-up power.

  15. Ikonoclast says:

    An interesting point is that many dams for water and hydro power are not really sustainable long term. Eventually they silt up. It might take 100 or 200 years but they will silt up.

    • Christian says:

      You just have to be pacient, Ikonoclast

    • I agree that they silt up. I imagine there might be parts that break as well. Besides parts at the dam, there are also parts of the transmission system.

      • Christian says:

        What a surprise! I always believed theese were not subject to entropy… Gail, do you started the Blog to show how big are our problems or to be a part of any possible solution?

        • timl2k11 says:

          That is a false dichotomy, Christian. For, “showing how big our problems are” is part of the solution, but perhaps I misunderstand you.

          • Christian says:

            Of course you’re right Tim, it’s the very first step. I meant to constantly say this or that will not last forever adds nothing to the discussion, because nothing will do it and even the Sun itself will have an end. It’s just purposeless noise If not issued to fight a specific non entropic point of vue. Industrial civilization can not be saved, but I know very well rich world people are not aware how much we can do recycling and fixing things with already used stuff. They tend to buy a new item when the old get broken, and even if it’s just outdated on a fashion basis. They don’t realize how much they waste.

  16. Daniel Hood says:

    So to conclude on summary: “A population crash is coming” Questions remain, in what form, how far it will go and what will the impacts be, who will be hardest hit.

    I think Gail it’s time for a brutal but honest analysis if people can handle it.

    More focus should be on how, where and why population levels will decline. If you take Japan as an example, circa 50% of young males today have given up on relationships, they’ve even given up on having sex which is an interesting phenomenon because it seems to be one of nature’s more peaceful/humanes methods of dealing with the problem of overpopulation. Naturally this has Japanese politicians in a panic, there’s even talk of a single’s tax. Russia is also experiencing a decline in population. Fertility levels in the West are falling and as the welfare safety net erodes this will accelerate further. We also know nature will deploy more brutal methods including war, disease, famine as a solution to the problem of overpopulation and declining resources.

    I’ve also noticed 2015 as being a key period analysts have locked on to. Since 2008 I’ve seen this date appear time and time again. Whilst it’s foolish to make precise predictions given the complexities of civilization and problems we face even I’m starting to think we’re coming incredibly close to some kind of end game. I think the greatest threat we face is the psychological fall from those around us. Those that have bought into the endless growth meme due to technological superiority. The world and its inhabitants back in the days of abundance were deluded enough. I shudder to think of the heavy emotional impacts on the billions of people as the system collapses.





    • edpell says:

      Emotional impact? I think starving to death will keep their minds off of their emotional problems.

      • Daniel Hood says:

        Absolutely emotional impacts. They will face a series of problems before ultimate starvation. It’s during this ride emotions will have massive impacts. I’d say the threat of starvation will envoke an emotional response to survive any way they can


    • Some things perhaps it is best if we don’t know. Population decline might be one of them.

  17. Christian says:

    Now, we say Nevermore

  18. Christian says:

    They were trained by the Pentagon and the French

  19. Christian says:

    And tortured and incarcerated sistematically some others thousands

  20. Christian says:

    Of course, un coup d’état in Argentina would be of bad taste at this very moment, given actual the core of the government claims having been badly pursued by the last Junta. It is not completely true in their specific case, but the capitalist military killed some thousand of people in the 70s.

  21. Christian says:

    I know some US military personnel reads this blog. I wonder if armed forces heads are fully aware of how the resources and financial situation really looks like and that there is a way out. May be they could put an end to this farce and take the political control. It would be better than being called to shoot their own people later. Americans will be so shocked they will not revolt, and properly taught they will understand. Remember, an acre and two horses for everybody within some years, and you will do have a retirement.

    I have come to know Obama’s administration dismantled United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) in 2011. I don’t remember the exact date, but I think it was in 2010 the Command issued an outlook of the years until 2035, and its oil perceptions were quite interesting. It is interesting, too, to know that politicians erased USFJCOM shortly after, because of “budget” needs.

  22. Christian says:

    Here is a documentary on argentinean soya beam boom (en english), and it seems to have two or three years old. You will likely find it too long, but it is worth to say it showed a flourishing industry that is bursting right now. Deforestation is stoping because going ever far off the coast and the ports is loosing profitability because of ever high diesel costs for the truck part of the way to China. It is to remark that the plant Monsanto wanted to build up (they planned their most huge plant in South America just 20 miles from my house) has been very contested and has made but just little progess. I bet it will never be finished.

  23. Stan says:

    Regarding the permanancy of Wind Power: here is demonstration –


    • timl2k11 says:

      Geez, I hope that was in a tornado!

      • Jan Steinman says:

        When you look at it frame-by-frame, it looks like a blade struck the tower.

        • timl2k11 says:

          Nice catch. That suggests the internal braking mechanism was working (kinda? maybe the right thing to do in high winds is freeze the turbine blades completely) therefore allowing the wind to bend the blades back.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            As an amateur wind turbine designer, the thing to do is furl the blades (make them “flat” if they are variable-pitch) and steer the blades right-angle to the wind.

            The old mechanical “Windchargers” had a nice negative feedback mechanism by which the harder the wind blew, the more the tail steered the blades out of the wind. Perhaps modern computerized, radio-coordinated wind turbines aren’t that smart.

          • timl2k11 says:

            Interesting! Old technology: 1 – New Technology: 0

        • timl2k11 says:

          Indeed, but it also seems the blades were being bent so far back that two of them disintegrated from that stress alone.

  24. Christian says:

    I’ve read the article on some sharp energy crisis threatening Argentina that somebody posted. It is well informed, but wrong on two things. First of all, this kind of crisis may truly hit the majority of the world when Wall Street crash again, which we expect to happen at any moment (isn’t it?). The same way, it holds private sector would be the solution and still talks the capitalistic language we must abandon as soon as possible. Now economics will do better speaking of barrels, tons, feet, units, and other physical magnitudes. Not the money shit talk that is killing us. Per capita should stay. This, unless we can turn upside-down the financial world and start assessing organic land production up than the fossil one.
    The other point, closely related, is that the article doesn’t makes any mention to peak oil, and this pretending to be an energy paper . So, it is just BAU. Forget it.
    Jean Laherrère has plotted Argentina’s oil and gas production in 2010, and has very accurately forecasted extraction evolution until now. Vaca Muerta appeared later, and has not altered de trends. And I rather believe it will never do (another point in which the article is wrong, just BAU).
    Laherrère forecasts actual extraction falling to a third in 2030, and we must advance a fall on the imports as well. Upon this, I tend to believe imports of natural gas from Bolivia will not be severely damaged, and believe imports from Venezuela may somewhat hold as well. Not a clue about the others. This could bring us to a
    fourth of today’s direct consumption, very hard but still able to feed ourselves if we can continue to import or locally manufacture some chemicals. And if organic multiplies. Monsanto doesn’t sell Roundup friendly wheat, our very first meal, and some local scientists have recently brought a new wheat seed seemingly resistant to dry. After this, Laherrère’s fall goes smoother.
    Hydro accounts for a fifth of today’s electricity source and will likely to be the most important by that date. Here, the article misses somewhat the point, because natural gas powers 2/3 of today’s generation, and these stupid diesel engines at which the government is becoming fixed does not appear in the big numbers.
    There are two nuclear power plants running, providing 6-8% of capacity, and at least one of them should be closed by this time. The article talks also about two nuclear plants under construction, and the government says one of them will be on line this year. I find it quite obvious that the other will never be finished.
    I use to blame the government by not installing many more wind turbines in Patagonia, whose powerful and constant onshore wind makes this source very profitable against overseas LNG. Wind turbines installation cost equals four years of this kind of fuel’s, say five including maintenance and transport loss (3 thousand kilometers). It would still be a better destination for our money, but the government is held by oil sellers. Another oil seller, G W Bush, had once made a gift to our president Kirchner. Guess what? Malthus’s book. Do they consider poisoning the whole Buenos Aires?
    It’s interesting Gail has found FSU and satellites started degrowing population after the peak. Argentinean population is almost stabilized, and will likely degrow too. People can understand that if they have more children now they will be in the trouble of choosing which one of them to save later.
    I am not sure about the amount of diesel needed to produce and distribute the food In Argentina, but I believe it is still physically possible to preserve the vast majority of starving.
    GDP will do not, for sure, and it’s a completely worthless data. Remember World Bank GDP charts always shows the legend “not taking account of resources depletion”. Of course, because it could never be assessed.
    Transition strategy must advance to a sort of “steady state” seventeenth century tech economy level, mixing it with what we have now. It would not be expensive in physical terms, except for the new peasant’s houses.

  25. Interguru says:

    Rising Costs Hit Balance Sheets of Major Oil Companies

    The latest news may be indicative of a new phase for major international oil companies. Shell is not alone in investing huge sums to develop complex oil fields in far flung places around the globe. As easy-to-get oil declines, Shell and other oil companies are forced to search for oil in places that present geological and engineering difficulties –and thus present significantly higher costs. According to Reuters, the rising cost of oil projects around the world is a major topic of discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos


    • I know that this is a major problem. The 1972 Limits to Growth analysis indicated that inadequate investment capital would be a major cause of collapse. In the oil industry, that happens when oil prices don’t rise high enough to cover the required cost of new drilling. Companies can go into debt for a bit, but soon it is “game over.” When salaries don’t rise, it is hard for prices to rise.

  26. Pingback: Do you follow Our Finite World? | The Last Tech Age

  27. After peak oil we are looking at production declines ranging from 50 to 70% over the next 10 to 15 years. To my knowledge there are no replacements on the horizon for this substantive loss in energy inputs into the economic system. GDP, food production, stock markets, and many other metrics correlate almost perfectly with the energy consumed and particularly over the past 150 years. I all likelihood this relationship will prevail when the oil production levels fall steeply in the next few years – thus so will the metrics mentioned.

    Therefore if we do not fill the gap in the imminent shortfall in the energy inputs then we will face catastrophic declines in economic outputs (GDP, food etc.) that sets the stage a even greater collapse in civilization’s structures and systems.

    • If the problem is really Limits to Growth rather than Peak Oil, we have at least as big a problem.

      • TAMcNeil says:

        Peak oil is actually not the big concern, rather it the exponential of the decline rate after peak occurs. Right now the remaining 1,400 fields decline rate is thought to be somewhere around 7% – as the US military said recently – we are sleep walking into a global energy crisis. Do the math and divide the rate into 100! The result is deeply perturbing.

        This goes along with the fact that the planet’s resources are finite so the limits to growth are constantly and naturally moving downwards. A process most folks pay little attention to or are just unaware of.

        Moment by moment the growth ceiling shrinks to the floor. This accelerating vice analogy should make it easier to comprehend the imposing constraints and why putting more people in such a room or increasing the consumption speed makes no sense at all.

        Because the consequences go beyond the imagination of any words born on this planet.

        • I think the decline rate may very well be higher than the geological decline rate, because of civil disorder,governments collapsing, and problems paying workers who are expected to oversee ongoing production.

          • Paul says:

            I was thinking that oil production would completely stop when the Fed’s desperate money printing machine implodes.

            The reason being is that nobody will be able to pay for that oil because there will be no jobs – and there will be no industries operating.

            The extraction of oil – and all resources – relies on a very complex system of supply, demand and finance – bust any one of those and the intricate dance required to pull resources out of the ground, refine them and distribute them — stops.

            Strategic reserves will be used for military purposes (control of starving and looting populations) – when that last tank of gas in your big ol 4×4 is gone – you may as well push it off a cliff – because I cannot see how you will get any more petrol.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              I think it’s more complicated and nuanced than that, Paul. Simon Micheaux says that in 2005, we transitioned from “elastic” to “inelastic” supply. That simply means it won’t stretch. It doesn’t mean it will “go away.” What it practically means is that demand will shrink to meet supply, rather than supply increasing to meet demand.

              Black and white thinking is the enemy. It makes people do crazy things.

          • Paul says:

            Jan – I am not certain of that — because currently it is supply and demand that determines if oil gets extracted, refined and used.

            There needs to be a complex economic system in place if we are to continue to engage in the high-tech means of extracting oil and gas — we are no longer in a situation where we can pound a pipe into the ground and oils comes out.

            I do not think we will be able to support the technology to produce oil because the system behind that is very complex — and it will bust.

            The market economy will implode — so there will be no impetus to extract that oil — and the ability to do so will quickly disappear.

            Now perhaps we can do as ancient governments did and command people (through force) to work the remaining oil fields that do not require the technology involved in fracking, deep sea etc….. however I am not confident of that — I assume even the conventional plays require a fair amount of technology.

          • Absolutely, also for instance any geo-political entanglements could see the deliverables to the market drop to possibly 10 or 15 million barrels a day spelling the end of the society we have built over the last, say, last 200 hundred years. Any exact predictions of the consequences cannot be seriously entertained – there are too many unknown unknowns.

      • Paul says:

        The opinions from oil experts are pointing to 2017 or 18 when things get really hairy.

        That’s sounds about right — but I think we are at very high risk of a black swan happening before then — and any significant event could upset the apple cart well before then.

        2014 might be called the new Year of Living Dangerously – so many massive problems in so many locations around the world.

  28. Pingback: Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem | Damn the Matrix

  29. Paul says:

    Agreed – and for those expecting a reset after some difficult years – think again.

    This is NOT a financial crisis – it is a resource crisis – the easy to extract stuff is gone so that is causing resource inflation — while at the same time wages have dropped.

    So when the next iteration of this hits what will happen is jobs will be smashed – the expensive energy extraction methods we are employing now will stop – because nobody will have a job so they will have no money.

    So an already dire resource situation will morph into a nightmare scenario — think the USSR or China under Mao — the shelves will be empty – the industrial age will officially end. If you want it – you will make it yourself going forward – and that includes food.

    That is the harsh reality.

    • Dave says:

      Paul wrote:

      “…That is the harsh reality.”

      Paul, Jan, Leo, Gail, and most of the other contributors to this discussion have all come to this same conclusion, to greater or lesser extent. The only disagreement appears to be in the details of “how” or “when”.

      This then begs the question – “What kind of person intentionally brings children (and by extension, grandchildren & great-grandchildren) into the nightmare world that we all see coming?”

      You don’t have to be an actuary to calculate that two children are likely to produce four grandchildren who are likely to produce 8 great-grandchildren etc.. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, this process could well subject 15 or 20 simultaneously-living descendants to whatever awaits us all 100 years from now.

      I would therefore propose that Paul’s “harsh reality” is NOT that extreme privation can be expected within the next generation or two. Rather, the TRULY “harsh reality” is that intelligent, enlightened, well-informed people continue to reproduce.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “Paul, Jan, Leo, Gail, and most of the other contributors to this discussion have all come to this same conclusion… This then begs the question – “What kind of person intentionally brings children (and by extension, grandchildren & great-grandchildren) into the nightmare world that we all see coming?””

        Hey, don’t point at me! I got childlessly snipped in my 20s.

        I once asked my Mom (who had five of us), “What were you thinking?” (More or less — not quite so pointed!)

        She said that was just what you did then, mid-century, before environmental consciousness really took off in the 70s. Mom said she doesn’t regret having had any of us, but that she would probably do things different these days.

        A nephew whom I don’t hear from except at family gatherings surprised me with a phone call one day. He was getting married, and wanted to know more about my choice, and he has since been snipped without procreating. So sometimes influence goes beyond one’s own lack of progeny.

        And now I’m faced with step kids breeding like bunnies. Ugh. No influence over that situation, I’m afraid.

        All that said, if humans are to have any chance of continuing, someone has to do the evil deed, no? It would be nice to see an ethic of one-child families develop, but if you look at Limits to Growth charts, they show births increasing in the near future, as people return to the age-old practice of breeding a slave labour force and retirement plan, when they discover that fossil sunlight is no longer going to give them those things.

        Yup. We’re on the horns of a crisis, cloaked in a dilemma, couched in a predicament, in the midst of a quandary. We can only choose to make the best of it that we can, always with future generations in mind.

        Too bad birth control can’t be made retroactive. I have some candidates in mind. 🙂

        • Dave says:

          Jan wrote:

          “Hey, don’t point at me! I got childlessly snipped in my 20s.”

          In 1975, at the age of 25, I also got “snipped”. First four Urologists I went to refused to do the procedure. One of the four suggested that I see a psychiatrist. The fifth Urologist, an elderly old-timer approaching retirement, gladly agreed to do the procedure. During the procedure (I was awake – local anesthesia), he made it clear to me and everybody in that Operating Room that he applauded my courage. He even said he personally regretted not having the same procedure himself at my age.

          In my case, I would have had the procedure at an even younger age. However, it was not until age 25 that I had accumulated enough professional “connections” to locate 5 Urologists who might be even remotely sympathetic. It was not until age 25 that I also had accumulated the modest sum to pay for the surgery.

          I agree with your allusion to a vexing paradox – it may well be, that the most enlightened people are voluntarily removing themselves from the gene pool by various means, at the very time in all of human evolution when these characteristics are most needed. If this is indeed the case, we might actually be seeing (believe it or else!) a point in the totality of human existence (for at least centuries to come) which could identified as “Peak Conscience”.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            “It was not until age 25 that I also had accumulated the modest sum to pay for the surgery.”

            Same here. As I recall, my health insurance — which was actually quite good, otherwise — wouldn’t cover it.

            But I didn’t have trouble finding a urologist through a referral from my GP. The urologist did, however, spend quite a bit of time making sure I was sure.

            But it looks like I’m getting three step-grandkids in as many months, starting Any Day Now. I managed to go directly to grandchildren without the in-between step! Got my work cut out for me now…

          • timl2k11 says:

            Actually peak consciousness may have happened long ago, I can’t remember where I read it, but supposedly the size of the human brain had gradually shrunk by something like 15% over the last 30,000 years. However, I don’t know there is anyway to show why this actually happened. Perhaps the brain size we have now is the “optimum” in some evolutionary way.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “supposedly the size of the human brain had gradually shrunk by something like 15% over the last 30,000 years.”

              That was in Discover Magazine a few years ago.

              As complex societies emerged, the brain became smaller because people did not have to be as smart to stay alive.

              Doesn’t bode well for Tainter’s future of civilization done it by its own complexity, does it? Heading for Idiocracy?

            • Hunter gatherers were quite large. In fact, as animals of any kind are tamed, I understand they tend to shrink in size. So it should not be surprising that humans got smaller as we became farmers. I would expect that a big brain would be helpful in remembering all of the plants and animals in the area, what they are good for, and how to gather them or stay away from them.

        • Danny says:

          Life is something that should not have been…..Joseph Campbell

          • timl2k11 says:

            I do wonder what drove mankind towards the invention of agriculture? Was it simply a matter of time and technology, or were other pressures responsible? Perhaps agriculture was seen to man as a way to control his own destiny, to control and master nature, rather than be at its whim. Perhaps after all the big game had gone extinct, agriculture was the inevitable outcome.

            • timl2k11: “I do wonder what drove mankind towards the invention of agriculture? Was it simply a matter of time and technology, or were other pressures responsible?”

              Agriculture developed from the confluence of population pressures and a stable post-ice-age climate. There are a number of locations where agriculture developed independently – China, Tigris-Euphrates, Egypt, Central America, Eastern North America, New Guinea, etc. All of them had relatively dense populations previously, probably due to the rich flora and fauna in those areas. As human populations increased and less food was available from hunting and foraging, domestication and farming developed to fill the gap. Population density was probably a driver of this because of the close proximity of people, edible plants grew as seedlings from waste. As populations increased further, people farmed more intensively, grew more kinds of crops, and enlarged the areas under cultivation. The last ice-age ended about eleven thousand years ago, and domestication followed, although domestication of dogs was probably earlier.

      • Scaring your children works as a strategy, at least somewhat. At this point, I have zero grandchildren.

      • InAlaska says:

        Clearly,you have not reproduced or you wouldn’t have posted that. It is a joy beyond description and worth it, particularly if there is no chance to save the thing. Even a short life is still a life worth living and I’m sure my three young boys think so too.

        • Paul says:

          Ever been into a third world slum?

          I have been to plenty of them across Asia — if there were even a 50-50 chance that my kid was going to live anything near that there is not way I’d have a kid.

          The thing is – a third world slum is going to look like prosperity when the dam breaks — anyone who is aware of that and has a kid now is beyond selfish.

      • Paul says:

        I have been with my wife since 2007 — and married a couple of years now.

        We made a conscious decision NOT to have children for EXACTLY the reasons you mention.

        We have no choice but to deal with what is coming – and we will deal with it as best we can.

        I am not looking to offend but anyone who knows what the likely future holds is extremely selfish if they have kids – it’s one thing for you to go through this but why bring children into a life that is guaranteed to involve massive suffering.

        Of course most people don’t buy into this dystopian view of things – of course we all know there is a population problem but we breed anyways….

        Ironically we are harassed constantly with ‘how can you not have kids???’

        I’d like to tell them the truth but they’d say I was too negative.

        I think I am a realist

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “We made a conscious decision NOT to have children”

          What are your retirement plans, Paul?

          • Paul says:

            Seeing as I think I have perhaps a 5% chance if that of surviving the crash that is coming — I don’t think about retirement.

            But I have no regrets about not having children – nor has my wife.

            We have a couple of kids that we sponsor to go to international school who stay with us – we are quite happy with that arrangement.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “Seeing as I think I have perhaps a 5% chance if that of surviving the crash…”

              No, Paul. Perhaps 5% of the general population will survive. The “general population” includes slum dwellers in Mexico City, refugees on the Syrian border, factory workers in China, welfare moms who can only afford to buy food at Mall*Wart, and all sorts of people everywhere who live paycheque to paycheque, with no resources to survive outside of the present “system.”

              Of course, any of us could meet with mishap at any moment, but I imagine most of those reading this blog have taken actions that give them better-than-average chances of survival.

              From what you’ve written, it seems your greatest risk is getting stuck in the wrong location at the wrong time.

          • Paul says:

            Jan – indeed being the wrong place at the wrong time is a huge issue for me – I can’t just shift to BC full time at the moment (need to get the land improved and a small cabin in place before I could even consider that – I hope to start construction in March – and spend most of May > September there)

            Will there be time when things topple to get on a flight from here to BC? Who knows?

            In the meantime I am hedging my bets in Bali – we started to expand our veg garden significantly – over the weekend we were starting to compost about a half an acre more of land – I intend to expand that even more once we get this section planted.

            We also are planting dozens more fruit trees – particularly fast growers like bananas and papaya.

            I am also making big efforts to support the people from our village who help on the property – we will split all produce from the veg garden – I want to establish the co-op mindset now – and hope that as a foreigner we are not tossed out when the SHTF.

            We have also stockpiled quite a lot of emergency food – canned fish, ham – 100kg of rice etc… planning to go more of that — we will of course have to rely on what we grow – but I think an emergency stockpile is a wise idea — it can act as a bridge while waiting on a crop – and if a crop fails it can prevent starvation.

            We have 4 good sized ponds here so working out how to use those for irrigation in the dry months – we also have a very large underground catchment that is fed from rain water off our roof – how to get that onto the garden when there is no power for the pump…

            But even if one has a comprehensive contingency plan in place – let’s be realistic — 99% of 7.2 billion people have ZERO preparations in place – when faced with starvation — if Black Friday shopping is any indication — all bets are off.

            The zombie hordes will may be swarming our gardens – or bashing down our door to get at our emergency reserves. We are on an island and we are relatively remote so it’s possible we will be left alone…..

            But even if one makes it past the initial shock (and the hordes quickly die off) there are so many other unknowns (e.g. the hundreds of nuclear plants and thousands of spent rod containers) that could disrupt even the best laid plans.

            Impossible to work out the odds – but I don’t think they are dramatically higher than a ‘sheeple’ – even if I have put resources in place to increase our chances of transitioning.

          • Dave says:

            Paul wrote:

            “Impossible to work out the odds – but I don’t think they are dramatically higher than a ‘sheeple’ “..

            Survivors of some kind of initial financial/resource shock will have the same likelihood of a medical shock as the sheeple. Enjoying the luxuries of civilization and a sophisticated health system for 150 years has produced (in the most advanced countries) a dysgenic population who could have NEVER withstood the day-to-day challenges of, for example, the American “Lewis and Clark” expedition. The men on that expedition were on average 5″ 6″ tall, but could at times carry 200 lb loads on their backs up steep vertical inclines for much of a day.

            A single episode of appendicitis, a single abscessed tooth, a single broken bone (probably wrist or ankle), a single incarcerated inguinal hernia (from heavy manual labor) can make life difficult for even the most prepared individual. A protracted labor & delivery (which can be >24 hrs for a primiparous mother) producing a Cerebral Palsy child and permanently-incontinent mother (i.e. perineal tear) can challenge the most-prepared groups.

            We have become genotypically and phenotypically enfeebled to an extent previously unprecedented in the entire existence of man. This is firstly genotypic from accreted “genetic load”. It is secondarily phenotypic from interference with a) maternal transmission of antibodies (New England Journal of Medicine, 2000;345(18): 1331-1335), and b) a limitation upon childhood immunologic conditioning (Velasquez-Manoff, “An Epidemic of Absence”).

            We in the industrialized first world today are as different from our year 1850 ancestors (and current third-world mongrels) as modern domesticated agricultural livestock are from their wild ancestors.

            This will be our undoing.

          • timl2k11 says:

            I am reminded of an additional complexity for me. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Somehow developed it at the age of 7. Without a regular intake of synthetic thyroid my health will deteriorate rapidly (although Wikipedia and other sources tell me I won’t die, maybe they mean with the resources available to me in a modern society?) Perhaps I will learn the art of eating the thyroid glands of carrion?

          • Dave says:

            tml2k11 writes:

            “Wikipedia and other sources tell me I won’t die, maybe they mean with the resources available to me in a modern society?”

            1)Yes, that is probably what Wikipedia means. However, there is a perverse benefit here. Should there ever be a time when you anticipate a period of intolerable hardship (e.g. slow starvation, inescapable imprisonment in FEMA camp, incurable cancer), complete discontinuation of this synthetic thyroid supplementation will result in you slowly becoming sleepier, more sedated, and numb to all around you. You will eat less, eventually get a bad pneumonia from sleeping so much, and your extremely reduced metabolic rate will allow the pneumonia to bring it all to a conclusion early some morning about 4 AM. That is the time when most people are most deeply asleep, and when basal physiologic processes (body temp, heart rate, respiratory rate) are at their most depressed. Whole process should take less than a month. There are few terminal methods more humane than this, if you can avoid the severe constipation which is certain to occur. Severe constipation is one of the more difficult complications of profound hypothyroidism to treat.

            2) Your own autoimmune problem is a particularly good example of what happens when a) “genetic load” intersects with the b) immunologic consequences of civilization in the most advanced societies today:

            a) The geneticists have a formal definition of “genetic load” which refers to the slow accretion of exclusively DNA mutations. People involved in the daily care of real patients see it much differently however. Such people realize that a teenaged boy who has surgery for an inguinal hernia will not die from the ultimate incarceration & strangulation of that hernia. Rather, the surgery will allow the boy to survive, and pass on an equal (or greater) tendency to his own son. This is what happened in the case of my own father, who passed on this “genetic load” to me. I had to have my own inguinal hernia surgery at age 26. Since I survived my surgery, I am now able to burden my descendants (principally males) with this legacy. This is one of the questionable benefits of modern civilization which will produce unanticipated problems for any collapse survivors.

            In similar manner, this inheritance of “genetic load” can be amplified if BOTH parents are either manifesting a category of disease, or are silently “carrying” the genetic predisposition. Again, this is promoted by keeping people alive, who would have previously died (e.g. like in the year 1850). My own mother had “Grave’s Disease” ( a form of autoimmune throiditis), and my father had thyroid cancer. Both required surgery. My wife had a big (benign) thyroid cyst, again which required surgery. Although we decided to NEVER bring any children into this world, there is a VERY high likelihood that the combined “genetic load” between my wife’s genes and my own, will either impose a full-blown thryoid disease upon our offspring, or “merely” add to the accumuated “genetic load” going forward in our family line.

            b) Oftentimes, a disease like your own thyroiditis results from the confluence of “genetic load” (i.e. an inherited predisposition to a specific condition or category of conditions), as well as allergies & other immune dysregulation. It is becoming increasingly clear, that promoting a sterile childhood free of filth & immune “challenges” (i.e. irritants, parasites, viruses, bacteria) of all types, is in point of fact, as “unhealthy” as preventing a small child from exercising their muscles or minds. The consequences of such well-intentioned but misguided “modern” thinking in “advanced” societies, extend well into adulthood, These consequences can be seen as an epidemic of allergies, auto-immune disease, and malignancies not seen in current-day “primitive” cultures. You and I are both examples of this mechanism.

            So when we think about dangers to be avoided following some kind of collapse, we must keep in mind the genetic and immunologic “baggage” each of us is carrying within ourselves, bequeathed by the wonderful civilization so many are enamoured of. No amount of “beans, bullets, and bandaids” will extract us from the holes we (and our parents and all predecessors to the beginning of the Industrial Age) have dug for ourselves.

    • edpell says:

      My grandparents on both sides did a fair amount of farming. Yes, waiting/fighting out the city folk winnowing will be hit and miss but after that things look fine to me.

  30. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    “So expect more stimulus – more QE – that is all the Central Banks have left in the tool kit.”

    I agree, and dare the ‘We’re in a recovery crowd’ to urge Yellin to continue to taper QE to zero. Not going to happen because as you say it’s their last card to play. All they can do now is expand the monetary base to artificially stimulate the economy. Once the Fed stops tapering (due to negative economic feedbacks) we’ll know with crystal clarity their stuck between collapse & hyper inflation. They can taper to zero and watch it all fall down, or they can continue to QE until the currency is valueless. What people have to understand is historically when hyper inflation hits, it ensues quite quickly, in one to two weeks. So things may seem fine for months, even years, but it lacks perpetuity, i.e. it’s an endgame tactic to buy time. When taper stops far short of zero, mark it on your calendar because it will be the exact moment when we know collapse is inevitable and probably not far off.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “when hyper inflation hits, it ensues quite quickly, in one to two weeks.”

      I think a lot of bankers know this.

      The annual renewal of our mortgage has been put off by five months by our lender. (In other words, they’ve offered us a five-month renewal instead of an annual renewal.) We have a perfect record of 60 payments.

      Does our lender know or suspect anything in those five months? They assure me it is simply so they can get our annual financials before renewal, but they have been late renewing every year! So it could be as simple as they can’t get their act together in December, and want to blame us.

      Five months for the other shoe to drop…

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        Jan, that is interesting about the sudden five month renewal – not sure why unless like you say they know something the rest of us don’t. As a side note, regarding mortgages, my wife and I were admittedly having trouble making our mortgage payment post 08 collapse, and eventually got help from HARP II with a lower interest rate, going from 6.5 fixed to 4.25 fixed, which made a difference of 750 bucks a month. The other benefit is it has a much faster amortization. Even though the loan is only a year and half old the principal deduction per month is over 500 dollars. It’s really chewing down the principal fast. If it’s still available and you can take advantage of that program, try it through Quicken which did our refinance in 3 weeks (and we’re self employed!). Just tell them you’re under financial strain paying the mortgage (true or not) need a lower interest rate, and ask if you qualify for Harp II. Forget about trying to change the mortgage amount. That’s a whole can of worms we avoided because it dings your credit rating.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “If it’s still available and you can take advantage of that program”

          I’m fairly certain Canadian property doesn’t qualify. 🙂

          Glad it worked for you. You got “HARP II,” and we’re stuck with Harper. Ugh.

      • Paul says:

        Here’s what I think the bankers at the top levels know (and perhaps many at the mid and lower levels)

        I saw a clip of one of the sycophants ahhh I mean presenters — from CNBs in which the guys says ‘we all know where this ends but in the meantime we want to make as much money as possible’

        Very obviously bankers know full well that when the PBOC loans money to developers to build ghost towns across China that it is unlikely there is going to be a return on that money – so the loan will not get paid back.

        PBOC has loaned over 15 trillion dollars much of which has gone into malinvestment creating massive bad loan books i.e. interest payments are not being made.

        So what does the PBOC do? They can’t let the banks go bust so they shovel even MORE money into their gaping maws – the banks lend that to already insolvent developers who use that money to make the interest payments – incredible no? This defies all logic.

        Without going into detail I could list half a dozen similarly illogical schemes that are taking place in the EU, Japan, the US…..

        Historically if a banker saw this he wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole – it is so obviously going to collapse that you’d hold back and keep your powder dry waiting to pick up the pieces at a penny on the dollar.

        But because they know that the whole thing is going to blow to bits when the next shoe drops nobody wants the shoe to drop — so they play along with the matrix that has been created – they ‘don’t fight the Fed’ because what’s the point of sitting on the sidelines — there will be no pieces to pick up with this explodes.

        And if too much of the big money steps back and says – this makes no sense – then will collapse overnight.

        So you may as well make hay will the sun shines – stuff your face with caviar and champagne — because there is zero upside in being prudent.

        I think that is why this charade has gone on for so long — if everyone plays along then the matrix defies gravity for longer than it should — but of course what cannot go on will not go on forever.

        Even if the bankers continue to throw logic out the window (those are real bonuses they get paid!!!) the average person – even though the MSM is trying to get them to believe too – knows that this is a matrix — they have no jobs and no money — so even though they want to believe in the lie too — the cannot — because the lie does not put food on the table.

        We will get our black swan at some point — and this thing will unravel like a sliced high tension wire — it will be fast and it will be dangerous – the time to get out of the way is now I reckon.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “So you may as well make hay will the sun shines – stuff your face with caviar and champagne — because there is zero upside in being prudent.”

          You forgot to put a little smiley face after that, Paul.

          “Prudent” is defined as “acting with or showing care and thought for the future.” So what you describe of your own life gives me cognitive dissonance when I read stuff like this.

          I can think of a million things I’d rather do then “stuff my face with caviar and champagne,” although I am quite fond of dark chocolate.

          And “make hay while the sun shines” seems out of context with the rest of what you wrote. To me, doing so is “prudent.”

          Or am I missing something?

          I’m just trying to goad you out of negativity and into doing something positive, even in the face of tremendous odds. Is that not the very definition of “courage?”

          • Paul says:

            Jan – this was not an attempt at negativity…. it was an attempt to explain the mindset of the finance community.

            To explain why they have basically discarded very rule of basic economics and are participating in what is very obviously a pell mell race to hell.

            The punchline being – that if logic were to return to the financial community — and even a few of the big players were to say ‘this is madness – I am taking the billions I manage to the sidelines’ then we would collapse in a heap of rubble – overnight.

            And that explains why they ‘dance while the music plays’ – and that is why I am watching – applauding – hoping they keep dancing even faster…. because if they stop – the world stops.

            The con game can only go on as long as the big money participates – or until a black swan blows it up.

            I don’t see that as negative – I see it as reality.

          • edpell says:

            Paul, you say if they stop the world stops. I disagree. If they stop their world stops. I and mine will be better off the sooner they stop.

          • Paul says:

            Edspell – while I thinking banking and many bankers are vile — that they pay themselves mega bonuses on the backs of pensioners and taxpayers — I look at the bigger picture.

            And I fall back on that phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’

            Realistically when the next shoe drops that will mark the end of the industrial age — it will introduce the age of the mass die-off — mass suffering — mass starvation.

            The only thing because that and us is the fact that the money men realize this and they play along with Bernanke and his ‘recovery’ meme.

            If even a few of the big funds called bullshit – and stated the obvious – that QE will NEVER result in recovery — and they stepped away from the dance (taking their investors money with them) – the charade is exposed – and we implode – for good.

            And that means it is likely that most of us on this forum will die – or at least be thrown into a world of hurt.

            Do I like that the bankers get to continue to ‘gorge on caviar and champagne’ in the meantime – of course not.

            But they too will be eating dog food soon enough – and lov’in it.

            We can of course blame the bankers — but I do not blame them — they are no different than any single one of us — they are doing their best to fit into a faulty paradigm.

            Nobody is to blame for what is to come — because there is no way anyone could have enacted meaningful change.

            When we discovered fossil fuels there was not stopping the industrial revolution — and the race for eternal growth was on. And we all participated in that race to varying extents.

            Wishing an end to the current paradigm is a death wish — so I am cheering Bernanke — and the Fed — and the Central Banks….

            When I see these crises prop up I hope that they can stick a couple of more fingers in the dyke ensuring that the next one is not the one that takes the whole thing down.

            Because when that happens I know that if I am able to stay alive in the chaos that ensues, my life is without question going to nasty, brutish, and a hell of a lot shorter than it would have been in the old paradigm.

    • When taper stops far short of zero, mark it on your calendar because it will be the exact moment when we know collapse is inevitable and probably not far off.

      I am afraid you are correct.

    • InAlaska says:

      Okay, now you guys are really scaring me. What are a bunch of penny-loafered wall streeters going to do that will keep my from my planting potatoes in the spring, chopping my firewood in the summer, and getting my salmon and moose in the fall? They’ll be the first bunch to jump…..

      • xabier says:

        Good point.

        Except that bankrupt and collapsing states do not leave their citizens alone. Think of Doctor Zhivago, happily snowed up miles from town, with the lovely Lara and sacks of potatoes – then the Red Army (or White?) grab him and make him their troop doctor at the barrel of a gun. Goodbye self-sufficiency and independence….

        Property rights tend to disappear in such circumstances, too.

        Still, if we planned only for worst-case events, we would do nothing for ourselves and might as well be dead.

  31. Paul says:

    Ringy Dingy…… two articles that demonstrate a) wages are lagging behind inflation that is primarily caused by persistent high oil prices and b) oil majors are up running up against huge problems and they reach for the fruit that hangs for the very highest branches:



    Of course if allowed to play out we get a death spiral of layoffs and consumer demand destruction.

    So expect more stimulus – more QE – that is all the Central Banks have left in the tool kit.

    I would note that wages are falling – in inflation adjusted terms – across virtually all developed economies — in spite of trillions of toilet paper having been printed.

    I envision Ben Bernanke in the middle of the ocean paddling furiously trying to stay afloat — praying for a miracle — and with a 10kg weight locked to his ankle.

    Keep up the heroic effort as long as possible Ben.

  32. danny says:

    Whewww!!! I am glad I am one of the 200 million! Sign me up….When do I get my ferrari? No make that a new F-150 SUPER CAB! There just might be a contingent plan to spread a virus to knock down the numbers…12 monkeys anyone? At least this won’t happen in our lifetime.

    • InAlaska says:

      F150? I’m going for 40 acres and a mule! Plus a 500 gallon tank of gas for my chainsaw.

  33. timl2k11 says:

    Imagine, if you can, (I’m not sure if I can) if, in 1900, somehow the entire world had been able to come into agreement that a) the world is overpopulated and that b) fossil fuels are a very precious resource that should be used as little as possible to make it last as long as possible. Perhaps in the intervening century we get the population down to about 200 million. Also, in the intervening century we don’t buildup nearly as much infrastructure so less of a population is needed to maintain it, and a lot more R&D is focused on automation with a focus on mimicking natural processes and sustainable processes.
    200 million is still a lot of people, and I suppose it could be argued that those 200 million people might end up using just as many resources as the 7 billion that exist today, but with less than 1/30th of the population than we have today, I wonder what things would look like? If we were to aggressively and dramatically cut human population down to 200 million today (lets momentarily forget how unethical that would be, although “mother earth” might disagree), would we even have enough people to maintain the infrastructure we have built up?
    It seems that we need to evolve into a much wiser species. This is not genetics, but mimetics (the evolution of memes). We developed memes that are leading us over the edge of a cliff. What if wiser memes had been cultivated over a century ago instead of the “growth, growth, growth!”, consumerist and some of the religious, “God put earths resources here for man” memes we have today?
    It seems by now it is far to late to prevent a catastrophic collapse by becoming a wiser species. Hopefully the human species that is left after the collapse will be much wiser, will have some understanding of what happened and why, although with so much of the earth’s resources depleted I don’t suppose it will matter much what humans become.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “It seems that we need to evolve into a much wiser species… What if wiser memes had been cultivated over a century ago instead of the “growth, growth, growth!”, consumerist…”

      [cynic mode]
      I don’t know. I think we are devolving just fine. Our memes seem to be devolving rapidly. At least, David Attenborough seems to think so.
      [/cynic mode]

      [vimeo 77785214 w=500 h=375]

      (See if I can follow Stan’s instructions…)

    • Paul says:

      Too late to conserve what is left – if we use less energy trying to conserve what is left that means the economy stops growing – and we crash.

      And that means we won’t have the capital or structures in place to be able to extract oil.

      As you are aware – oil extraction – particularly the new methods of fracking, deep sea, tarsands require very sophisticated technology and finance – these will simply not be possible if the economy stops growing and crashes – because we cut back.

      There is no slowing this train – actually the only way to keep it from falling off the track and crashing into the ravine is to actually speed it up (i.e. drive tens of thousands of holes into farmland and suck the dregs out as fast as possible) – the wall is approaching.

      • Danny says:

        My point is that we are not sure of the future it may not be as bad as you think; or it happens latter than you think. You need to appreciate today as well and stop coming to these websites so much. These comments have been getting so apocalyptic go back and read other Gail post and you will see the trend line. I say all this with tongue in cheek because I have been doing the same thing. Danny

        • InAlaska says:

          I’m with you, Danny. I read the posts, watch the trends. The downward spiral pulls us all down into this crazy doomsday group think. There are lots of reasons to believe that some functioning form of civilization can make it through the bottleneck. Resist the urge to view humanity as a monolith, when it comes down to it there will be billions of people each trying to survive as hard as they can. Some will be good, some will be lucky and some won’t be either. I work and live with people everyday who are smart, strong, adaptable, ingenious. Keep installing your panels, Danny. They are going to come in handy soon..

          • It’s worth every person noting to themselves where they sit on the optimistic / pessimistic scale. My rational mind says that society faces a serious collapse. My activist mind tells me to talk up optimism because without Hope society can’t rise to the occasion. But then again, if the whole of society is in a state of delusion then shock value is necessary to bring them to their senses.

            We could surmise that the Atlantis passengers had a wonderful voyage, because thankfully nobody surmised that they may hit an iceberg. They had a wonderful trip, that is, until the ship sank. And maybe it was to their benefit that they partied on because there was probably nothing any passenger could do to alter the course of events.

            Except maybe to stay close to the lifeboats.

          • timl2k11 says:

            I assume you mean the Titanic. It is not a bad analogy. If there is nothing to be done by now, is there any point in pointing out the disturbing facts anymore? One has to be cognizant of whether or not there are any worthwhile steps to be taken, if not, well, might as well enjoy the ride. I think I lean towards the “It’s too late to do anything” side of things, but one should be careful about making absolute statements.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Conservation is clearly not a solution. Innovation might hold better prospects.
        Here is an article from MIT’s Technical Review that could provide some gains.
        Undue pessimism can be as misleading as undue optimism.

        • InAlaska says:

          I completely agree with this post. Undue pessimism is just as unfounded as wild-eyed optimism.

      • I am afraid you are right. I have been saying for a long time that “leaving it in the ground” generally doesn’t save oil for tomorrow. There might be a few exceptions, if it is exceptionally easy to extract, and the facility and refineries are in place to handle it.

    • I don’t think with 200 million people, we would be able to maintain our current infrastructure. Infrastructure (and in fact government in general) have to come from the surpluses we develop. Maybe if we had limited population a long time back, we could have stretched out existence for the limited population longer. Even omitting globalization in the 1997 to 2001 period would have helped a whole lot.

      • Paul says:

        The ‘200M’ remaining people would still have the same problems we have — the low hanging fruit has been used up — they’d have no means to extract it.

        And as 7.2 billion fight over the scraps they’ll lay waste to much of the remaining trees, they’ll kill and eat anything that moves — leaving little for those who survive.

        So 200m is likely too high.

  34. danny says:

    I clearly see the anguish here I see both sides….I am a solar installer so I wish Gail to be wrong but I don’t think she is but on the other hand I see a lot of curling up into a ball screaming “we are all going to die”!!!! mentality that leads to nothing short of a few slaps….I come from the school of git er done…. So while that may be naive that something can be done while we hurtle to destruction…there is a way…out. I fear that sometimes we have told all our friends and family about “collapse” that we are so invested in it that no matter what comes we shoot it down and don’t listen to the argument. The same can be said for the other side. Now,…….I have to go out and get more Zombie ammo!!!

    • Paul says:

      I can see solar making sense for one thing — and that would be powering a small irrigation pump to get water to a crop.

      I have a very reliable spring on my property — otherwise I would look at a solar powered bore pump option.

      I have decided to order a small panel that I will use to power an e-reader. And a friend is giving me 4000 e-books. I already have a decent sized library of physical books but I prefer to have this additional resource as it is obviously more portable.

      • Irrigation is not in general sustainable, by the way, except when it comes from natural overflow of streams. There tends to be a problem with salt build-up in the soil. I know David Montgomery talks about the issue in Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.

        • Paul says:

          I was thinking more along the lines of pumping from a nearby river to irrigate rather than out of a well…. not sure if that would make a difference or not.

          In any event, I’ve got a good spring that is sufficient so moot

    • Sorry I don’t have a cheerier story for a solar installer.

  35. Leo Smith says:

    Just a quick note to clarify a point you made Gail.
    If we view energy in terms of PRIMARY energy production – which is the capturing and use of something that contains enough free energy to be worthwhile (and free energy is never ultimately sustainable by the way: the law of entropy sees to that) and SECONDARY energy, which is the form its actually in at point-if-use, possibly stored or not, then your point about renewables not replacing oil., becomes much easier to understand.

    Electricity is the most convenient form of SECONDARY energy derived from a variety of sources, Oil is a primary source of energy but in refined form as kerosene or gasoline it is also the most useful SECONDARY store of energy representing a compact relatively safe energy STORE that is easily tapped to create power and heat wherever it is needed.

    Without oil we have nothing comparable, except just possibly the lithium air battery, which has similar energy density to kerosene, and can directly store electricity. And turn it into mechanical work or heat with high efficiency.

    Kerosene or gasoline can only be utilised at relatively low efficiency as it is always used in heat engines which have inherent losses that can be reduced but never eliminated.And the same goes for synthetic fuels like hydrogen, and synfuel made from water and CO2 by adding energy.

    These always have negative EROEI, and large negative EROEI…which is acceptable if the means of making them (the primary energy sources) have correspondingly high positive EROEI.

    So synthetic fuel is of course meaningless when you already have a suitable source of real fuel – no point in making fuel using 3 times as much fossil fuel, just to end up with fossil fuel!

    So the issue is whether or not synthetic fuel is viable in the case of renewable or nuclear power.

    In the case of renewables its already a fantastically energy expensive source, and its very doubtful as to whether or not the actual overall EROEI would be positive. IN short you would be looking at the fuel cost of using mobile machinery to install and maintain renewable plant exceeding the amount of liquid fuel they could produce. Total unsustainability.

    In the case of a nuclear primary energy source there certainly would be a positive overall EROEI, but nothing like as good as the current oil EROEI is, even with unconventional extraction.

    Likewise the lithium air battery, which is the ONLY other secondary ‘fuel’ I have identified as being worth even looking at, and believe me I have looked at dozens – is a totally unknown quantity, both in terms of either being able to deliver a reliable product at all, still less one whose own intrinsic manufacturing energy content is low enough to give a decent EROEI in terms of final deployment.

    So there are two possible ways to replace current oil-as-secondary-energy (given adequacy of primary energy) but neither look to make it the cheap easy source of mobile energy that it currently is.

    Ergo the era of cheap mobile transport of the off grid sort will ultimately draw to a close, short of some breakthrough that no one can foresee.

    That necessitates vast changes in society, but not the end of it that loss of PRIMARY energy would imply, which is why the distinction needs to be drawn.

    These transitions will come about as oil prices rise to levels which make alternatives more cost effective. For example., commuting to an office when working at home with audio and video across the internet give nearly the same experience, simply will phase out naturally. It’s not a question as so many here see it of what we SHOULD do, as what we will have to do, faced with rising costs of oil and oil products.,

    And that doesn’t mean the end of petrochemistry either. The amounts of petroleum used in chemical industry are minuscule compared with its use as an energy : perhaps nylon is the best material, but does it matter whether a nylon zipper costs 30c or 130c? Not really. The cost of manufacturing it outweighs the cost of the plastic many times. Expensive oil in short supply would be gobbled up by petrochemical plants first.

    And, in the limit, organic and direct synthesis can make hydrocarbons at a price.

    And that is why for me the whole thing boils down to two issues: what to use for primary energy and what to use as portable secondary energy.

    AS far as primary goes, nuclear is no more expensive than fossil in real terms in an undistorted market. So that’s simply a given.

    But the secondary energy problem is very real and will in the end prove to be the greater one.
    What happens there and the final relative costs of (static) manufacturing and production versus the costs of transport, will dominate the global marketplace in unexpected ways.

    We may see a return to onshoring product, with designs being built under license locally to the markets they serve. Many cheap things will become expensive.

    So, things will change, but they won’t stop. They will adjust. As long as they are allowed to and well meaning government initiatives don’t force nonsensical non-solutions on us.

    • Ikonoclast says:

      How many nuclear power stations would be required to replace ALL oil, coal and gas?

      It’s interesting to note that in 2008 energy in petawatt hours came from;

      Fossil 117.076
      Nuclear 8.283
      Renewables 18.492
      Total 143.851

      Renewable power which critics, especially pro-nukes, want to denigrate actually produced more than double the power than nuclear. That is how weak and un-useful nuclear power is in deployed reality. Nuclear is weak and un-useful ultimately because it is unsafe and too expensive. In any case peak uranium is soon and all other options like thorium are technically unfeasible pie in the sky.

      BTW, I agree with Gail that renewables can’t save the current 7 billion persons plus industrial world. That 120 or so petawatt hours (as it would be now) of fossil fuel power simply cannot be replaced. Renewables are not scalable to that level and neither is nuclear. Also, the EROEI of the better renewables is positive but not positive enough for a full modern industrial society.

      In addition we have done so much damage to the biosphere and we are coming up against so many other limits like fresh water, recoverable minerals and so on, modern industrial society is doomed for certain.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Very interesting numbers, Ikonoclast, but why only for 2008? Are any comparables available for the years preceding and since? It would be useful to know the trends.

      • If you use BP’s numbers, in 2012, nuclear was 560 MTOE in 2012, hydroelectric was 831 MTOE and Other Renewables (including wood, but not including biofuels) was 237 MTOE. You may have a source that puts biofuels with Other Renewables. Biofuels amounted to 60 MTOE.

        Of course, electricity is not the end product we want. If we want to convert it to a liquid fuel, it will take a whole lot more.

      • newyorker says:


      • newyorker says:

        I wonder which of the 7 bill is more likely to die. My guess is us and the rest of the first world. Survivors will be the few presenr day hunter gatherers and those, such as eskimos and austalian aborigines, who still remember how to live off the land. Maybe some of the amish if they aren’t overcome by hordes of famished city folk. Leo, if i were you i would be asking for lessons from a suitable aborigine.

        Ya know, it really is true we’re (whites) too smart for our own good.

        • edpell says:

          I live 100 miles north of NYC. 1/8 of my ancestry has lived here for the last 4000 years. I agree with you newyorker that the hot house flowers of Manhattan will fare badly. Those of us with realistic expectations of life will fare just fine.

        • Paul says:

          The Inuit won’t survive – I visited some settlements in the far north a few years ago and they have lost all their previous skills now relying on government hand outs – it was a sad thing to see with most of the adolescents teeth rotted by drinking Cola

          On the other hand, I was trekking in Papua a couple of years ago and the more remote people have almost no contact with civilization – they will most likely survive this. However it is a very difficult life they live – I suspect most of us would perish (or commit suicide in despair) if we had to live like that

    • Paul says:

      “For example., commuting to an office when working at home with audio and video across the internet”

      Powering the internet requires massive energy inputs — server farms use as much electricity as a small city.

      Not sure what the nett savings would be if people worked from home and demanded heavy bandwidth for video — but for certain more server farms would be required to handle this

      • Chris Johnson says:

        The implications are very interesting, Paul. Have you read last week’s Economist articles about the coming revolutions in work? It appears that several ‘uncomplimentary’ factors are coming together at about the same time. The political turmoil could be very serious, globally. One wonders if the recent Wall Street selloff is somehow related, as it occurred within a week of that Economist issue. On the other hand, of course, lousy financial / economic data from US, Europe and China, might have had some impact.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Are you aware of developments with lithium-sulfur batteries? The specs look good in terms of energy density and power density, and it appears that they’re improving performance over time and cycles, including less energy leaking. You can google that one as easily as I can, and the news is generally good. One article I read claimed that they are approaching the power density of kerosene and gasoline, which greatly increases their use as a storage medium.
      The other desirable feature is that electricity can be produced much cheaper — on the order of forty US cents per gallon equivalent — or so I’ve read. That’s about an 8 to 1 ratio versus gasoline in the US, and much high ratios in Europe and Asia.
      Can this little bit of pollyanna good news avert a global collapse? Probably not this week, and probably not this year. But the situation may not be so terribly hopeless as some would have us believe.

      • timl2k11 says:

        1 gallon of gasoline provides the equivalent of about 33 kW/h, however gasoline engines are only 20-25% efficient in converting this energy. Remarkably the price of 33 kW/h tends to track very closely the price of a gallon of gasoline (currently $3.30 at 10¢/kWh). So electric vehicles like the leaf tend to be 4-5 times more efficient than their gasoline powered counterparts.
        However when you consider the higher upfront cost of an electric vehicle, electric vehicles are more expensive, which means ultimately they are using more energy when you also include the energy that goes into manufacturing the car. Lithium batteries rely on scarce rare earth minerals. I can’t possibly see how production of them could be massively scaled up cheaply.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          Mind you, I’m not about to jump on the “green tech” bandwagon, but I think there is room for some of these things in moderating our descent.

          Electric vehicles could (my, I hate that word!) be very simple and inexpensive, particularly if consumers are willing to give up driving range. That is a feature, not a bug!

          Life is about to get more local. So why not limit your driving to 60 km or so?

          By insisting on the latest technology in motor and batteries, we are dooming electric vehicles. If we accepted, say, 70s technology, we might be able to use it for a few more decades.

          Simple ceramic magnet motors and lead acid batteries are technologies that could be maintained by a large town or small city with regional resources. Passive control systems using relays don’t need the global semiconductor juggernaut.

          Will it “save” civilization? Hell no! But it could be the difference between an airliner crash and a train wreck — either one is going to be unpleasant, but you don’t need to kill all aboard.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          Thanks timl2k11. Good analysis.
          Other than the lithium, which market China is hoping / trying to corner by playing happy face with the Shah of Afghanistan, wherein the US Geological Service determined a few years ago that there is more lithium than anywhere else on the globe, other REE’s are also needed, as you hinted. Note that the PRC has also been making strong overtures to the government of Greenland to gain access/control of their recently discovered deposits. Meanwhile, material scientists are working with graphene type materials to try to manufacture synthetic REEs. That ought to keep a few scientists well endowed until their kids graduate from college.

    • Thanks for the discussion of primary and secondary energy sources. In some sense, electricity is comparable to gasoline, diesel and kerosine, not to oil.

      The output of wind turbines and solar PV is used to substitute for fuel for the electricity system. In a sense, what wind and solar are producing is third order energy, very inefficiently. In the end, what we have is a very expensive form of electricity that is of high enough quality that it really can be sold.

  36. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    If you want to see an amazingly good system of off-grid technology, see:

    You can watch the whole thing, but if you are pressed for time, I suggest starting at 9:30 and watching to the 13 minute mark at the end. (If you skip the introduction, be aware you are looking at a fish pond with pretty much a full ecology). I am truly impressed by the use of the little solar lights to lure night flying insects to feed the fish in the pond.

    Also, you will see how Geoff uses electronics to reduce the stress on the battery which powers the pump which oxygenates the water.

    Note Geoff’s comment about how much more productive the pond is than land based agriculture.

    Don Stewart

  37. Leo Smith says:

    Staggering. A post purporting to contain a solution to global problems, containing just one number, the number three. 3 miles, and 3 years….and that preceded by the magic phrase ‘I believe’.

    Truly we are doomed.

  38. Ikonoclast says:

    And of course Australia, where I live is heading for big trouble.

    • Leo Smith says:

      ON the contrary: by sacking Julia Headcase, Australia is on the brink of solving nearly all its problems.

      Unless you are a Bondi Hipster..

  39. Ikonoclast says:

    BTW, this guy predicted the current Argentine crisis and its cause, an energy crisis.

    • Paul says:

      Thanks – the intro says it all

      Argentina’s economic crises have historically been caused by financially driven excesses: overborrowing leading to debt defaults; currency overprinting leading to devaluations. The next crisis – and it seems another is on the horizon – will be unique in that it will likely be caused by a shortage: an energy shortage that could have a devastating effect on the economy.

  40. Ikonoclast says:

    The current troubles of Ukraine and Argentina seem to be related to energy shortages. Ukraine needs energy subsidies (free or cheap gas and oil) and investment from Russia to survive. Accepting this largesse from Russia means accepting Russian hegemnony again in the Ukraine. Hence the unrest.

    Argentina faces an energy crisis and this among other failings is wrecking its economy, real and financial.

    I think we are seeing the start of the collapse. MENA states are falling like nine pins. Now, all over the world, states short of their own energy sources are starting to wobble.

    • timl2k11 says:

      I came across a fairly in-depth article about Argentina’s situation on bloomberg.com. It definitely seems like an intractable problem they have there due to a lack of energy. I should like to read up on what is going on in the Ukraine. I guess there is a part of me that finds the collapse that is unfolding fascinating (only insomuch as it is far away from home!). Fascinating because I don’t really know how the collapse is going to play out. I guess it is kind of like seeing the outcome of a massive science experiment, and I am a consummate lay scientist. And, of course, currently I can observe what is unfolding without risk, far remote from the events that are unfolding. I am sure that eventually I will see things unfold in my own backyard and I would doubtfully be so fascinated.

    • Argentina is a former oil exporter. At least part of its collapse issues (now and in the past) have a connection to the loss of this subsidy to the economy.

      Ukraine was part of the Former Soviet Union, and lost out greatly in the 1991 collapse. It still is a very depressed area.

      You are right about MENA as well.

    • Christian says:

      True for Argentina. And our actual government is formed by oil dealers, behaving exactly the opposite way they must to do. While he was a president, another oil dealer, Bush Jr., made a gift to our president Kirchner, guess what? Malthus’s book.

    • xabier says:

      Even where there is no public unrest, energy costs are having a profoundly damaging effect: interesting stats for this on Ugo Bardi’s site for Italy at the moment. The same may be said for Spain, although we have to factor in the Euro effect, too.

      One wonders for how long the universal health care/university education/pensions/all-of- August -for-holidays model Welfare State common to much of Western Europe (with which revolution was averted after 1945) will survive.

      As it is, in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and increasingly France and Britain, the young are being educated for employment that doesn’t exist. Historically, it’s the discontented ‘educated’ who revolt out of disappointment, not the poor workers who are struggling.

      Still, it’s not true that all politicians are impotent and reading Marcus Aurelius (no slur on Clinton’s potenc, Don) : Cameron of Britain has told Davos that the immense quantity of cheap gas released by fracking will bring all the manufacturing back to Britain once more! I did cheer up when I read that… How did I ever dare doubt?

      • Chris Johnson says:

        Delightful, Xabier:

        We know how much Bill Clinton charges for a 30 minute speech. I wonder how much D Cameron intends to reap for his mild exaggerations….

        Cheers, Chris

  41. Christian says:

    Great post and comments.
    The most massive modernity stands on the most massive among the oldest rests of life. But now the global system’s physical trend is a fall in energy and material, and the moment will com when there will be no more fossils in human cultures. If we are headed to Stone Age again, the question is how to push back this fate as far as possible in the future. To place the cushions, as says Janice. But “we” is nobody. Globalization is bursting and trends, problems and solutions will go more and more local.
    Lowering inputs and outputs are expected to happen everywhere, and so we foresee reduction of population, ruralization and primarization of the activity as unavoidable outcomes to all actual societies, with some delay. The strategy could simply go Zen and accompany the movement. Of course, there are almost the opposite trends in politics, economics and MGM. This society’s inertia will be vividly shocked in the next few years.
    May “renewable” high tech aid to these new trends? Not to the first, to the second yes because it works well off grid, and so indirectly to the third. Gail has pointed that, being high tech a new loop in industrialization, it will not survive oil depletion. I will add except for the installed capacity still subject to entropy. Jean Laherrère has projected a year for the end of OPEP exports, a nice word for end of oil exports. 2045. So, expectations of more than one generation from now using PV or complex turbines should take base on a stock of replacement parts. On the other hand it could be good for the tactics: it is intermittent and so worth to transit lowering inputs.
    Subsidies on high tech can have limited use, and apply much better to the rural world, especially given the high initial investment cost. They could be useful if wisely applied to bring on a new farming society and aiding to develop locally crop/wood based industry in some places. Given we advance major financial problems, in many cases rural subsidies must be set to work right now (as for planting trees). If they are a chapter of a more comprehensive approach in a given jurisdiction or if they just fit in the picture, they can even provide full coverage of the installation cost. This applies also to a system of stocking and/or manufacturing replacement parts.
    Low tech renewables will develop in seemingly not global trading areas and as have been said many times here they should play a far more important role than high tech. To develop this kind of technology is completely essential to transition circa 2030, and it is surprisingly not much investigated nor advanced. I like the Russian stove.
    We cannot expect people to stand or to go live in the countryside if it is not in a house and a community, with tools, land, skills. And fossil energy, fresh and embedded. I would certainly not. But given the actual circumstances of my own economy (3 months without earnings) these of my country and the world, I would consider very well such an organized proposition, and I am ready to invest on it. And other investors are on the way. Of course, I would rather start with a mix fossil/organic, and let some time free to post. The kid will grow and help. There are a couple of cities around that have got a hinterland of 3 miles where Roundup and planes are not aloud, by ban or by agreement. I have reasons to believe it is politically feasible to generalize this to the whole country in 3 years.
    High tech usefulness for pumping is limited given it can not feed people in the very long term. But it could be good helping urbanites moving into the field and not feeling too much wild at the beginning (and encouraging peasants to stay there). Solar thermal and some electro for fans, music players and some communication don’t need a battery, just light really does. All this can be subsided, or more accurately, pursued.
    Another point is why to ask just to the State to take care of the transition: half the wealth of the world is in the hands of some dozens of people that will likely go bankrupt pretty soon, and land has owners that will not be able to labor it all by themselves. The new lords? We may do some effort on wind, solar and some other, but it is not the only thing to do.
    Having peak oil so much outpaced indirect bourgeoise democracy, how do politics will look like in 10 years?

  42. Leo Smith says:

    Intermittent renewables are little short of a disaster.

    A disaster which is disguised by announcing what they do produce when they do produce, and ignoring the massive cost (in carbon and cash terms) of covering the deficit when thy do not, and never counting the cost of doing it in the cost of that intermittent renewable energy.

    Germany’s Energiewiende is falling apart: figures earlier last year* showed a massive increase in emissions, more coal – and dirty inefficient polluting lignite at that – used than ever before, and more electricity generated from nuclear power than all the much vaunted renewables put together. Murmurs against the rising cost of electricity and increased grid instability with no perceptible emissions reductions have risen to a strong voice of dissent: Even the EU is talking of moving away from enforced renewable obligations to a more general emissions reduction target, and it seems likely that this will remain a voluntary exercise.

    Renewable energy is not, never has been and never will be a serious solution to worldwide energy needs**: It always was and always will be a cosmetic solution implemented for purely political reasons to placate the ‘green’ votes which is by its very nature technically unsophisticated and inclined to believe whatever fits with its current worldview, which is largely anti-science and anti-technology.

    That renewable energy will cease to be relevant in the near future is not in doubt: the only question of interest is how long populations will tolerate the massive expenditure on essentially useless technology, that could be better spent on other measures.

    There is enough fossil energy left at reasonable EROE to allow time to deploy the alternative – and when the alternatives are examined, there is only one that represents a partial solution – nuclear power, of one sort or another.

    The implications of a real global ‘Energiewiende’ based on sound engineering principles and cost economics rather than wishful thinking*** are reasonably predictable, with one wild card.

    That wild card boils down to ‘off grid mechanical power’ for which the fuel engine is currently the only economic solution. Large installations in ships can of course use direct nuclear power – a well established technology, but smaller installations may not be able to, and that l;eaves really only synthetic fuel – at a very poor EROE – or batteries, as secondary energy stores.

    Only one battery technology is available that can match ‘a tank full of gasoline or kerosene’ and that is lithium air. Needless to say there are extreme issues in deploying this at reasonable cost and at reasonable safety. It is not even at the stage where it has been show to be practical at any cost or safety.

    But it is the sole exception to the general rules that all ‘green’ solutions are always pie in the sky impractical and useless ones.

    This one may fly: Literally. The energy density promised is enough to allow in THEORY – and one should always be wary of theory – full subsonic electric flight of commercial aircraft.

    All other uses of fossil energy and petrochemical feedstock into industry can be covered by either recycling, use of alternatives, or direct hydrocarbon synthesis.

    But the main point to make is that renewable energy, so called, is of too low power density and too intermittent to ever be economic or indeed exist without complementary power being available from stored energy sources, and the final solution with those complementary sources is always and must always be – simply by comparison with the size of installations need to create the energy overall – more expensive and more wasteful of scarce resources than the equivalent conventional generator running of high energy density stored fuel.

    Using nuclear power from an uncontrollable remote reactor 93 million miles away with a finite store of fuel, which is what renewable energy is doing, will never be as efficient as that derived directly from controlled reactors situated locally.

    It is high time that the green movement faced up to the hard work of obtaining sufficient education to understand that.




    • InAlaska says:

      So what’s your alternative? To starve to death in the dark and cold? Would you sleep better at night with a solar array in your yard and a wind turbine topping off your batteries? If the collapse is indeed coming, then what is the additional cost of producing renewable energy systems, as opposed to say, plastic christmas trees and other useless junk. Why not cushion the decline and shorten the dark age?

      • Leo Smith says:

        If you read the links, you will see what the alternatives are.

        Apologies that wordpress doesn’t understand leading asterisks are NOT part of an invalid URL

        Essentially replace all primary energy production with nuclear, and focus on alternative secondary energy storage – synfuel or battery..

        Obviously voluntary population limits have to happen somehow, as then instead of running out of energy we will simply run out of something else instead.

        So he urgent needs are to educate people into what the real alternatives are, into having less children and into being able to construct and maintain a reasonable high technology post industrial society.

        The biggest problem is the knee jerk stupidity of people who prefer to believe than to do the hard work of understanding.

        See post below.

      • There is a lot of “you” and “your” in your post. “Your yard”,”your batteries”,”your alternative” impling ownership of “stuff.” This go-it-alone thinking has to change. Modern society gives persons the illusion they are self sufficient, independent souls that by themselves can become successful or even survive a collapse. I’ll have this “stuff” to save myself and my immediate family everyone else be damned. This will not be true in the future. We will have to work together as a community and share a lot more than we do now if we are to survive. What happens when “your stuff” is stolen from you? What will you do, kill them?

    • Ikonoclast says:

      I know a wonderful nuclear utopia you can emigrate to. It’s called Fukushima.

      • Leo Smith says:

        No problem with Fukushima. Background there is less than 20mSV/yr and that is the level at which many people in the UK live comfortable long happy lives.

        • Paul says:

          Did you get that data from TEPCO’s PR people?

          How many thousand tonnes of radioactive seawater are pouring into the Pacific day after day after day after day after day…………………………..

  43. PaulaCraig says:


    One analysis I’ve seen on exactly this question is from John Michael Greer. His basic point is that solar energy comes in the form of diffuse electromagnetic energy, so it is most easily used directly to produce natural light. Any time solar energy has to be converted in form, much of the energy is lost. After natural light, solar energy is most easily converted to diffuse heat. So we would do best by working to use solar energy directly for lighting and heating. Solar PV involves several conversions, so most of the energy is wasted. So look first at what you are doing with the solar energy. Therefore, good uses for solar energy are: natural light; solar water heating; solar drying such as clotheslines and drying food; and passive solar heating of buildings.

    A similar analysis applies to wind. Converting wind energy to electricity wastes most of the energy. Wind is mechanical energy, so works best with tasks requiring mechanical energy. Examples are pumping water and grinding grain. Using renewables to generate electricity is a waste of time and money.

    • Good points! It is the conversion loss that messes us up. We are doubly messed up, when we need to put it on the grid in AC form, in absolutely even amounts throughout the day. There are much better uses for solar and wind.

  44. edpell says:

    Interesting article on EROEI for PV


    The Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROI) of Photovoltaics:
    Methodology and Comparisons with Fossil Fuel Life Cycles
    Marco Raugei, Pere Fullana-i-Palmer and Vasilis Fthenakis

    • edpell says:

      “However, even these remarkable results should not allow one to forget that PV, like
      all other renewable technologies, must still be supported by an initial investment of
      primary energy, which is, as of today, of fossil origin. We therefore argue that
      available monetary and energy resources should be funnelled in the right direction
      without delay, lest not enough high-EROI fossil fuels are left to support demand
      during times of gradual shift to renewable resources.”

    • The solar panel with the highest EROI is the Cd-Te one. This is terribly toxic stuff that cannot be disposed of in any reasonable manner, I believe. Burning it will pollute the atmosphere; putting it in landfill may pollute the ground water. I wonder how much was included in the EROI calculation for disposing of the stuff at the end of its life time?

      • Tom Reis says:

        CdTe is toxic and the walten family built a recycling facility. But even if the modules will be exposed to nature it is a kind of microwave or baked on the glass process. So the modules are very stable. By the way we have some cristalline modules in the alpes from the 80’s and still producing more than 90% of the nominal power. Most of the 80’s CdTe and ASi still work and many of us still use the Ti pocket calcs from the 80’s.

        • But if we don’t have fossil fuels to run our recycling facilities in the future, won’t the CdTe ultimately end up back in the soil or water table?

  45. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    I am putting together your numbers on the collapse of all kinds of energy production and consumption in the Former Soviet Union plus some other thoughts about biology. One of the themes of this series of discussions has been the key role of energy. I have come to think that, while energy is part of the truth, it is not the whole truth. Failing to look at the whole truth may cause us to miscalculate and make serious errors. Let me explain.

    ‘Internal nutrient recycling is essential to the productivity of modern terrestrial ecosystems. If we assume that without recycling, the (biologically enhanced) phosphorus supply from rocks would set the ultimate cap on the productivity of the land biosphere, then it would be restricted to about 2 percent of the present value.’ (The term ‘biologically enhanced’ refers to the role of plants in extracting phosphorus from rock.) The ‘Monsanto Dead’ corn fields in Iowa are not recycling much phosphorus, because the recyclers have been decimated. A dead field incapable of liberating or recycling phosphorus is a terrible place to be if one’s society suffers a collapse of the magnitude of the Soviet Untion.

    The sobering quote is from The Revolutions That Made the Earth by Lenton and Watson, page 317.

    Lenton and Watson identify a three legged stool. One leg is energy and the methods that Life has found to generate energy such as various forms of photosynthesis and chemical energy. A second leg is recycling of essential nutrients, particularly carbon and phosphorus. 999 out of every 1000 carbon atoms are recycled in natural systems. A phosphorus atom goes through approximately 45 different creatures as it is cycled around the biosphere. The third leg is information. Such technologies as chemical signalling, genes, chromosomes, cultures, and language all enable information to be transferred. It’s hard to imagine life existing at all independently of information.

    So the current discussion about ‘renewables’ and grid electricity reflects on one of our desperate searches for more energy to keep the industrial model functioning.

    A recent study in Denmark found that the ratio of food calories to input emergy in calories is 0.25. That number represents, I think, getting the food into packages at the grocery store. I do not think that cooking and refrigerating and traveling to the store are counted. You can find the study here:

    click the button to download the free PDF

    As I look at the Danish study, it seems to me that the search for yet more energy is a fool’s mission. What we need is to radically change our relationship to food (and other essential substances). Food needs to be produced with nitrogen fixed by bacteria (synergistically with legumes) and phosphorus needs to be recycled on the farm. Nutrients should not be shipped from Brazil to Denmark in the form of soya oil cakes. We cannot afford all that packaging which chews up energy. The Danes can’t afford to eat all that meat, and they sure can’t afford feedlots. Best to look at reality and get about adapting to it. Best to adapt while you still have some fossil fuels to help you, rather than wait until there aren’t any fossil fuels and your society is in a shambles and you can’t access resources such as phosphorus or soil carbon.

    When we try to reduce the problem to energy alone, we forget the role of biological recycling and the role of information. We tend to think that if we can just find a little more energy, everything will be OK. It won’t be. I think it is time to face up to that. As one example, consider this statement from an upcoming medical conference: ‘We have recognized for many years that food is critical to health, but recent advances in our understanding of the epigenetic effects of lifestyle and environmental influences (e.g., food) have brought this to a new level. ‘ In short, food is information…as well as calories. I’m not criticizing the Danish study, but a lot more is wrong with Danish food that just a bad energy ratio.

    It is very clear to me that biological methods (with some assist from technology and human intelligence) are what created a vibrant planet, and we need to give up our love affair with the unsustainable methods of the industrial economy. If that means that population needs to halve and debts won’t be repaid, so be it. We should expend our energies to bring those things about as humanely as possible.

    Don Stewart

    • InAlaska says:

      You are right. By the way, it is raining here in Alaska on January 24th, something I have never seen in 22 years. Even if we conquer the renewables conundrum, Nature will bat last. Just when we will most need a stable reliable climate in which to grow low energy food, we wont have it. Another part of the equation that often gets overlooked in these discussions.

    • Probably so. But how does one get from where we are now, to a new paradigm? Doesn’t it need to involve massive re-education, among other things?

      • Don Stewart says:

        As I am understanding the story, it involved an awful lot of deaths. It wasn’t that the creature or the combination of creatures that were causing the problem suddenly had an attack of conscience. Nature, with billions of years at her disposal, took her time and solved the problem by rebalancing species and geophysical processes in such a way that a pretty benign environment was finally created…and human civilization more or less flourished. We are now probably at the end of that. I guess even Coca-Cola, the great poisoner, has figured that one out.

        It’s very hard to see what, if anything, can be done as a society. We can stand by and watch it happen, but there are enough nukes to kill all of us. We can adopt David Holmgren’s suggested strategy. Or we can get out our Marcus Aurelius and remind ourselves of all those good Stoic observations…Bill Clinton said that Marcus Aurelius was his second favorite book after the Bible. I find that fact suggestive.

        It’s a little easier to figure out what needs to be done by a small group of people…but there are no guarantees that you won’t get hit as the rubble bounces. A small group would be well served, in my opinion, by studying the history as laid out by Linton and Watson.

        Another worthwhile exercise, I think, is to look at things such as Geoff Lawton’s fish pond. I think the fish pond makes a lot of sense for someone trying to live sanely in January, 2014. But it does REQUIRE some industrial inputs. I emphasize the word ‘require’ because the solar powered pump oxygenates the water. The pond will get very hot in Australia today, and the problem is only going to get worse. Without oxygen, the fish will die. I think that anyone who plans to survive needs to form the habit of looking at life support mechanisms with an eye toward vulnerabilities.

        As for your suggestion of ‘massive education’. I doubt that will work. People learn very quickly when they are motivated. But few today are motivated. For example, as much as I have learned from Lenton and Watson, I am the first person to check that out of the UNC library, and it has been there for 2 years. Education does work when targeted to those who are interested. The boomlet in gardening and small farming education is an example. Discussing the ins and outs of cover crops with an interested group expands the mind…but I wouldn’t relish the notion of trying to teach it in a junior high school.

        Don Stewart

        • We can make things now with fossil fuels that will degrade over time, that somehow add to our capability to grow food. There are a lot of things in this category–shovels, fish ponds, regraded land, wells powered by solar panels, electric fences powered by solar panels, etc. That is fine if people want to do them–we really can’t expect governments to find the money/resources to do them.

          We need to recognize that what we are doing is temporary. Either we or our children (or perhaps our children’s children) will need to figure out what to do without them. Some of them could suddenly disappear due to theft. While they are nice, they are not permanent solutions. It seems to me that we need to live our lives as if they didn’t exist, or could disappear tomorrow, if we truly want to be successful for the long term.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail
            An actual farmer hoping to remain solvent in 2014 cannot just pretend that it is 2025 and fossil fuels have all disappeared, along with all the metals and glass and transportation more complicated than walking. Let me quote from Lenton and Watson, page 405, on the subject of ‘Feeding the World Efficiently’.

            ‘A fundamental challenge then is how to feed the still growing human population without wiping out yet more natural ecosystems. These ecosystems are essential to the healthy functioning of the biosphere, and the maintenance of biodiversity. So if they must be replaced with ‘agro-ecosystems’, the challenge becomes to ensure that key biosphere functions are maintained–in short, to make them Gaia devices.’

            Then they argue that globalization is really the answer: ‘A truly globalized system would use only the most productive land for the most important crops, regardless of where the food was delivered to be consumed….Remarkably, some modelling suggests that in a fully globalized system of food production, 12 billion people (eating a 1995 diet) could be fed on as little as a third of the currently used agricultural land! Even with doubled consumption of animal products, less than half of the land would suffice….But energy is not the problem. Current energy inputs to agriculture are only around 3 percent of total human primary energy consumption…What is a problem are the high inputs of fertilizer nutrients implied and the waste products that would follow.

            To make future agricultural systems into Gaia devices we need to shift from piling on fertilizer that is inefficiently utilized and leads to harmful waste products, toward high recycling and high productivity agricultural ecosystems. The efficiency of nutrient and water use by crop plants needs to be maximized, within carefully designed crop rotation systems. Nutrients removed with the crop need to be returned to the land as animal dung and appropriately treated human sewage. The conversion of farm waste to biochar, which is returned to the soil, can act as a sink for carbon and improve nutrient and water retention, thus reducing required fertilizer loading. Most importantly, for long term sustainability, the phosphorus cycle needs to be much more efficiently closed.’

            Now my editorial. It seems to me that when you look at something like Geoff Lawton’s fish pond, you are looking at a pretty good approximation of a Gaia machine. It’s not the globalized vision that Lenton and Watson have, where the pond would be located in the most advantageous place, but it’s a pretty good solution to Geoff’s desire to produce dietary protein efficiently.

            If one arbitrarily decides that only Stone Age solutions will be entertained, then of course it won’t work at all. I believe that what Lenton and Watson are pointing out is that there is no NECESSITY for limiting ourselves to Stone Age solutions. There are a lot of obstacles such as the massive debt which is the underpinning of the economic system. Lenton and Watson are biologists…not financial wizards. I think they would simply point out that we are captives of the financial system only so long as we permit ourselves to be captives. That will doubtless strike all the Realpolitik people as absurd. It will also strike many as absurd that the crowd at Davos would be at all interested in restricting non-essential uses of fossil fuels just to save the world from catastrophe.

            If we insist on stone age solutions, then we are looking at a die-off of most of the people on the planet. I wouldn’t bet against that outcome. But I continue to think that intelligent local gardening for nutrient dense perishables combined with intelligent farm production of calorie dense non-perishables makes sense. Both to approach the Gaia machine model that Lenton and Watson suggest.

            (I will also point out that there are probably some things that Lenton and Watson haven’t factored in. Their approach of using only the most fertile land excludes most of India, I believe. But there will be a couple of billion people in India in the near future. So they would ship the manure from the two billion Indians around the world to the farmland where their food was optimally produced? I think their rant against localization isn’t exactly right. But many of their points are on target.)

            Don Stewart

        • Pete says:

          Let’s get some big ol solid rocket boosters up there in the big black and lasso us some asteroid to mine. Some mighty big EROI in one of them thar asteroidees. Its a Jetsons future all the way, baby.

      • Answer: It takes energy (a lot of it). What a paradox! We need more energy (to gain access to more energy) at the same time, our net energy is decreasing. My brain hurts thinking about it.

  46. Pingback: De toekomst van het landelijk elektriciteitsnet: steeds meer wind- en zonne-energie? | Cassandraclub

  47. edpell says:

    I see PV as a cushion. It takes oil/coal/nat-gas that can be burned fast and turns it in a panel the trickles energy out over a period of 25 years. With luck half the panels will make it to 50 years. It is also a fossil fuel extender with its EROEI of 8:1, not high enough to run a society but still an extender and cushion.

    • InAlaska says:

      You are exactly right. We need to use the remainder of our fossil fuel endowment to create a diffused renewable energy system, locally based, not to replace fossil fuels, or to keep the current paradigm in place, but rather to cushion the decline of industrial civilization. Perhaps to lessen the length of the coming dark age or make it more comfortable to endure.

      • xabier says:

        To clarify thinking, the definition of a Dark Age is the disappearance of nearly all higher social structures and advanced technologies and, usually, the disappearance of urban life and certainly of large imperial cities.

        If we take the European Dark Ages, say 600 to 1100, we see the near-total disappearance of the structures of Roman bureaucracy, urbanism, and of advanced engineering and architecture. At the same time, Roman urban culture was preserved in the Eastern Empire and Islam (the debt of civilized (not desert) Islam to Roman culture is greatly underestimated).

        Dark Age is an age of the annihilation of sophisticated structures and processes. The few stone structures from that time are very miserable indeed.

        Technologies which survived in an advanced form were smithing for tools, helmets, swords and shield bosses; metal casting and chasing, for jewellery and coins, and book production – the technologies of writing and painting, leatherworking.

        The barbarians of non-Roman Europe seem to have brought advanced woodworking skills (housing and ships) with them and their own traditions of metal working.

        Extended trade routes for raw materials and manufactured goods also by and large disappear completely.

        Dark Age Europeans were able to fall back on the perennial rural economy and local resources, not on the products of extended trade routes and high technology.

        • edpell says:

          Xabier, is this good or bad? I would not feel any loss if New York City went away.

        • Pete says:

          Yes, this is all true, and so your point is….?

          • xabier says:

            Just that we use words like ‘collapse’ and ‘Dark Age’, sometimes more emotionally than rationally, and that often the exact definition does tend to get distorted or forgotten.

            I think the implications for our future of what I wrote are self-evident, and perhaps too painful to underline….

    • Panels last 50 years but do most appliances that you want to run with those panels also last 50 years? Will there be parts? Will people steal your appliances or panels? I know inverters don’t last long at all. So, your off-grid PV would have to use DC based appliances.

      I agree that off-grid PV could be a cushion for someone living in a “vacuum” away from thieves and disorder. But I don’t think for most people that would be the case.

    • Thanks! The point that this paper and nearly all other papers miss is the fact that because of the intermittent nature of wind and solar PV, the output is not equivalent to that of other forms of electricity. Instead, it needs to be compared to the fuel saving that are gained at other types of electricity plants by its substitution. It is an apples to oranges comparison, comparing good quality electricity with intermittent electricity.

      • As Germany (or anyone) adds more intermittent electricity to its grid, at the same time it has to add more conventional power plants to the grid to offset the intermittency. A common rebuttal to this is we don’t have to run our societies 24/7. Well if we move from a 24/7 economy then that will be a collapse in itself (Layoffs, cutbacks, people buy less, financial impacts etc). Therefor, replacing good quality electricity with intermittent electricity is not a solution.

  48. Some more thoughts.
    It is true, that silica based PV units are theoretically very energy intensive …. but:
    1. Silica Production is done where and when electicity is cheap and large spply. Favorite places for production are near large hydroenergy plants (gigantic dams in norway, china, brasil …) that produce immense amounts of electricity that can not all be transported away efficiently.

    2. polysilicium is a waste product of computer industry. Solar cells are basically recyced waste.
    3. The amounts of silicium needed have been reduced drastically in pv-cells. Its actualy only used in microscopic layers today.

    Prices and subsidies:
    I am sorry, but Gail is wrong here.
    Renewables are not overly subsidized in germany.
    Nuclear energy, oil, gas and coal received much higher subsidies in the past.
    Prices have also been dropping constantly.

    Numbers crunching cant account for politics, power struggles, corruption and the like. Maybe Gail sees economic problems when what really happens is the fight between very powerful interest groups.

    If the USA politicians are in the pockets of big oil and finance, in germany the most powerful lobby groups have always been the energy and automotive industry, but today Wind and Solar see eye to eye with them.

    So, please dont be that quick to dismiss renewable energy. Its time will come.

  49. Niels Colding says:

    A typical windmill has an ERoEI of 18:1

    The windmill industry calculates ERoEI in a special manner: They find all the rawmaterials that was used to build the windmill, then they deduct the amount of rawmaterials that can be recycled when the windmill is decommissioned. This difference between new and recycled materials is quite small but it is nevertheless only this small value that the windmills are asked to compensate. And yes, they can do that 18 times maybe even more, but they forget to include all other costs. If all expenses are included a windmill typically has a negative ERoEI.

    • I don’t know whether what you say is true or not. I know that an awfully lot of the EROEI calculations are being done by a very small number of individuals. In Ida Kuubiszewski’s et al’s article Meta analysis of net energy return for wind power systems, the vast majority of the evaluations were by a single person, Manfred Lenzen, if you follow the footnotes through to the end. At one point, it looked to me (based on what was shown on a website ad I found) as though Lenzen was doing these studies for potential purchasers of wind turbines, so that they could justify how worthwhile the purchase was. If I am right, it seems like such an arrangement would bias the results in a favorable direction.

      Do you have a reference for the raw material recycling issue? Is it mentioned in any of Lenzen’s papers?

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