Limits to Growth–At our doorstep, but not recognized

How long can economic growth continue in a finite world? This is the question the 1972 book The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows and others sought to answer. The computer models that the team of researchers produced strongly suggested that the world economy would collapse sometime in the first half of the 21st century.

I have been researching what the real situation is with respect to resource limits since 2005. The conclusion I am reaching is that the team of 1972 researchers were indeed correct. In fact, the promised collapse is practically right around the corner, beginning in the next year or two. In fact, many aspects of the collapse appear already to be taking place, such as the 2008-2009 Great Recession and the collapse of the economies of smaller countries such as Greece and Spain. How could collapse be so close, with virtually no warning to the population?

To explain the situation, I will first explain why we are reaching Limits to Growth in the near term.  I will then provide a list of nine reasons why the near-term crisis has been overlooked.

Why We are Reaching Limits to Growth in the Near Term

In simplest terms, our problem is that we as a people are no longer getting richer. Instead, we are getting poorer, as evidenced by the difficulty young people are now having getting good-paying jobs. As we get poorer, it becomes harder and harder to pay debt back with interest. It is the collision of the lack of economic growth in the real economy with the need for economic growth from the debt system that can be expected to lead to collapse.

The reason we are getting poorer is because hidden parts of our economy are now absorbing more and more resources, leaving fewer resources to produce the goods and services we are used to buying. These hidden parts of our economy are being affected by depletion. For example, it now takes more resources to extract oil. This is why oil prices have more than tripled since 2002. It also takes more resource for many other hidden processes, such as deeper wells or desalination to produce water, and more energy supplies to produce metals from low-grade ores.

The problem as we reach all of these limits is a shortage of physical investment capital, such as oil, copper, and rare earth minerals. While we can extract more of these, some, like oil, are used in many ways, to fix many depletion problems. We end up with too many demands on oil supply–there is not enough oil to both (1) offset the many depletion issues the world economy is hitting, plus (2) add new factories and extraction capability that is needed for the world economy to grow.

With too many demands on oil supply, “economic growth” is what tends to get shorted. Countries that obtain a large percentage of their energy supply from oil tend to be especially affected because high oil prices tend to make the products these countries produce unaffordable. Countries with a long-term decline in oil consumption, such as the US, European Union, and Japan, find themselves in recession or very slow growth.

Figure 1. Oil consumption based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. Oil consumption based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Unfortunately, the problem this appears eventually to lead to, is collapse. The problem is the connection with debt. Debt can be paid back with interest to a much greater extent in a growing economy than a contracting economy because we are effectively borrowing from the future–something that is a lot easier when tomorrow is assumed to be better than today, compared to when tomorrow is worse than today.

We could not operate our current economy without debt. Debt is what has allowed us to “pump up” economic growth. Consumers can buy cars, homes, and college educations that they have not saved up for. Businesses can set up factories and do mineral extraction, without having past profits to finance these operations. We can now operate with long supply chains, including many businesses that are dependent on debt financing. The ability to use debt allows vastly more investment than if potential investors could only the use of after-the-fact profits.

If we give up our debt-based economic system, we lose our ability to extract even the oil and other resources that appear to be easily available. We can have a simple, local economy, perhaps dependent on wood as it primary fuel source, without debt. But it seems unlikely that we can have a world economy that will provide food and shelter for 7.2 billion people.

The reason the situation is concerning is because the financial situation now seems to be near a crisis. Debt, other than government debt, has not been growing very rapidly since  2008. The government has tried to solve this problem by keeping interest rates very low using Quantitative Easing (QE). Now the government is cutting back in the amount of QE.  If interest rates should rise very much, we will likely see recession again and many layoffs. If this should happen, debt defaults are likely to be a problem and credit availability will dry up as it did in late 2008. Without credit, prices of all commodities will drop, as they did in late 2008. Without the temporary magic of QE, new investment, even in oil, will drop way off. Government will need to shrink back in size and may even collapse.

In fact, we are already having a problem with oil prices that are too low to encourage oil production. (See my post, What’s Ahead? Lower Oil Prices, Despite Higher Extraction Costs.) Other commodities are also trading at flat to lower price levels. The concern is that these lower prices will lead to deflation. With deflation, debt is strongly discouraged because it raises the “inflation adjusted” cost of borrowing. If a deflationary debt cycle is started, there could be a huge drop in debt over a few years. This would be a different way to reach collapse.

Why couldn’t others see the problem that is now at our door step?

1. The story is a complicated, interdisciplinary story. Even trying to summarize it in a few paragraphs is not easy. Most people, if they have a background in oil issues, do not also have a background in financial issues, and vice versa.

2. Economists have missed key points. Economists have missed the key role of debt in extracting fossil fuels and in keeping the economy operating in general. They have also missed the fact that in a finite world, this debt cannot keep rising indefinitely, or it will grow to greatly exceed the physical resources that might be used to pay back the debt.

Economists have missed the fact that resource depletion acts in a way that is equivalent to a huge downward drag on productivity. Minerals need to be separated from more and more waste products, and energy sources need to be extracted in ever-more-difficult locations. High energy prices, whether for oil or for electricity, are a sign of economic inefficiency. If energy prices are high, they act as a drag on the economy.

Economists have missed the key role oil plays–a role that is not easily substituted away. Our transportation, farming and construction industries are all heavily dependent on oil. Many products are made with oil, from medicines to fabrics to asphalt.

Economists have assumed that wages can grow without energy inputs, but recent experience shows the economies with shrinking oil use are ones with shrinking job opportunities. Economists have built models claiming that prices will rise to handle shortages, either through substitution or demand destruction, but they have not stopped to consider how destructive this demand destruction can be for an economy that depends on oil use to manufacture and transport goods.

Economists have missed the point that globalization speeds up depletion of resources and increases CO2 emissions, because it adds a huge number of new consumers to the world market.

Economists have also missed the fact that wages are hugely important for keeping economies operating. If wages are cut, either because of competition with low-wage workers in warm countries (who don’t need as high a wages to maintain a standard of living, because they do not need sturdy homes or fuel to heat the homes) or because of automation, economic growth is likely to slow or fall. Corporate profits are not a substitute for wages.

3. Peak Oil advocates have missed key points. Peak oil advocates are a diverse group, so I cannot really claim all of them have the same views.

One common view is that just because oil, or coal, or natural gas seems to be available with current technology, it will in fact be extracted. This is closely related to the view that “Hubbert’s Peak” gives a reasonable model for future oil extraction. In this model, it is assumed that about 50% of extraction occurs after the peak in oil consumption takes place. Even Hubbert did not claim this–his charts always showed another fuel, such as nuclear, rising in great quantity before fossil fuels dropped in supply.

In the absence of a perfect substitute, the drop-off can be expected to be very steep. This happens because population rises as fossil fuel use grows. As fossil fuel use declines, citizens suddenly become much poorer. Government services must be cut way back, and government may even collapse. There is likely to be huge job loss, making it difficult to afford goods. There may be fighting over what limited supplies are available.What Hubbert’s curve shows is something like an upper limit for production, if the economy continues to function as it currently does, despite the disruption that loss of energy supplies would likely bring.

A closely related issue is the belief that high oil prices will allow some oil to be produced indefinitely. Salvation can therefore be guaranteed by using less oil. First of all, the belief that oil prices can rise high enough is being tested right now. The fact that oil prices aren’t high enough is causing oil companies to cut back on new projects, instead returning money to shareholders as dividends. If the economy starts shrinking because of lower oil extraction, a collapse in credit is likely to lead to even lower prices, and a major cutback in production.

4. Excessive faith in substitution. A common theme by everyone from economists to peak oilers to politicians is that substitution will save us.

There are several key points that advocates miss. One is that if a financial crash is immediately ahead, our ability to substitute disappears, practically overnight (or at least, within a few years).

Another key point is that today’s real shortage is of investment capitalin the form of oil and other natural resources needed to manufacture the new natural gas powered cars and the fueling stations they need. A similar shortage of investment capital plagues plans to change to electric cars. Wage-earners of modest means cannot afford high-priced plug in vehicles, especially if the change-over is so fast that the value of their current vehicle drops to $0.

Another key point is that the alternatives we looking at are limited in supply as well. We use far more oil than natural gas; trying to substitute natural gas for oil will lead to a shortfall in natural gas supplies quickly. Ramping up electric cars, solar, and wind will lead to a shortage of the rare earth minerals and other minerals needed in their production. While more of these minerals can be accessed by using lower quality ore, doing so leads to precisely the investment capital shortfall that is our problem to begin with.

Another key point is that electricity does not substitute for oil, because of the huge need for investment capital (which is what is in short supply) to facilitate the change. There is also a timing issue.

Another key point is that intermittent electricity does not substitute for electricity whose supply can be easily regulated. What intermittent electricity substitutes for is the fossil fuel used to make electricity whose supply is more easily regulated. This substitution (in theory) extends the life of our fossil fuel supplies. This theory is only true if we believe that  coal and natural gas extraction is only limited by the amount those materials in the ground, and the level of our technology. (This is the assumption underlying IEA and EIA  estimates of future fossil use.)

If the limit on coal and natural gas extraction is really a limit on investment capital (including oil), and this investment capital limit may manifest itself as a debt limit, then the situation is different. In such a case, high investment in intermittent renewables can expected to drive economies that build them toward collapse more quickly, because of their high front-end investment capital requirements and low short-term returns.

5. Excessive faith in Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROI) or Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) analyses. Low EROI returns and poor LCA returns are part of our problem, but they are not the whole problem.  They do not consider timing–something that is critical, if our problem is with inadequate investment capital availably, and the need for high returns quickly.

EROI analyses also make assumptions about substitutability–something that is generally not possible for oil, for reasons described above. While EROI and LCA studies can provide worthwhile insights, it is easy to assume that they have more predictive value than they really do. They are not designed to tell when Limits to Growth will hit, for example.

6. Governments funding leads to excessive research in the wrong directions and lack of research in the right direction. Governments are in denial that Limits to Growth, or even oil supply, might be a problem. Governments rely on economists who seem to be clueless regarding what is happening.

Researchers base their analyses on what prior researchers have done. They tend to “follow the research grant money,” working on whatever fad is likely to provide funding. None of this leads to research in areas where our real problems lie.

7. Individual citizens are easily misled by news stories claiming an abundance of oil. Citizens don’t realize that the reason oil is abundant is because oil prices are high, debt is widely available, and interest rates are low. Furthermore, part of the reason oil appears abundant is because low-wage citizens still cannot afford products made with oil, even at its current price level. Low employment and wages feed back in the form of  low oil demand, which looks like excessive oil supply. What the economy really needs is low-priced oil, something that is not available.

Citizens also don’t realize that recent push to export crude oil doesn’t mean there is a surplus of crude oil. It means that refinery space for the type of oil in question is more available overseas.

The stories consumers read about growing oil supplies are made even more believable by forecasts showing that oil and other energy supply will rise for many years in the future. These forecasts are made possible by assuming the limit on the amount of oil extracted is the amount of oil in the ground. In fact, the limit is likely to be a financial (debt) limit that comes much sooner. See my post, Why EIA, IEA, and Randers’ 2052 Energy Forecasts are Wrong.

8. Unwillingness to believe the original Limits to Growth models. Recent studies, such as those by Hall and Day and by Turner, indicate that the world economy is, in fact, following a trajectory quite similar to that foretold by the base model of Limits to Growth. In my view, the main deficiencies of the 1972 Limits to Growth models are

(a) The researchers did not include the financial system to any extent. In particular, the models left out the role of debt. This omission tends to move the actual date of collapse later, and make it less severe.

(b) The original model did not look at individual resources, such as oil, separately. Thus, the models gave indications for average or total resource limits, even though oil limits, by themselves, could bring down the economy more quickly.

I have noticed comments in the literature indicating that the Limits to Growth study has been superseded by more recent analyses. For example, the article Entropy and Economics by Avery, when talking about the Limits to Growth study says, ” Today, the more accurate Hubbert Peak model is used instead to predict rate of use of a scarce resource as a function of time.” There is no reason to believe that the Hubbert Peak model is more accurate! The original study used actual resource flows to predict when we might expect a problem with investment capital. Hubbert Peak models overlook financial limits, such as lack of debt availability, so overstate likely future oil flows. Because of this, they are not appropriate for forecasts after the world peak is hit.

Another place I have seen similar wrong thinking is in the current World3 model, which has been used in recent Limits to Growth analyses, including possibly Jorgen Randers’ 2052. This model assumes a Hubbert Peak model for oil, gas, and coal. The World3 model also assumes maximum substitution among fuel types, something that seems impossible if we are facing a debt crisis in the near term.

9. Nearly everyone would like a happy story to tell. Every organization from Association for the Study of Peak Oil groups to sustainability groups to political groups would like to have a solution to go with the problem they are aware of. Business who might possibly have a chance of selling a “green” product would like to say, “Buy our product and your problems will be solved.” News media seem to tell only the stories that their advertisers would like to hear. This combination of folks who are trying to put the best possible “spin” on the story leads to little interest in researching and telling the true story.


Wrong thinking and wishful thinking seems to abound, when it comes to overlooking near term limits to growth. Part of this may be intentional, but part of this lies with the inherent difficulty of understanding such a complex problem.

There is a tendency to believe that newer analyses must be better. That is not necessarily the case. When it comes to determining when Limits to Growth will be reached, analyses need to be focused on the details that seemed to cause collapse in the 1972 study–slow economic growth caused by the many conflicting needs for investment capital. The question is: when do we reach the point that oil supply is growing too slowly to produce the level of economic growth needed to keep our current debt system from crashing?

It seems to me that we are already near such a point of collapse. Most people have not realized how vulnerable our economic system is to crashing in a time of low oil supply growth.

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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598 Responses to Limits to Growth–At our doorstep, but not recognized

  1. Peter S says:

    It’s very interesting to read the responses to the potentially extremely dangerous situation we are facing, in this comments section to this blog and other webpages. I notice general types of comments (in no particular order):

    1) Realism and pragmatism: making plans to live on a farm, live more (trully) sustainably etc.
    2) Depression, shock and in a few cases even feelings of “no reason to live”: difficulty rationalizing such a sudden and surreal crisis, as society keeps going on seemingly oblivious
    3) “I can’t accept that it could be so bad”: sticking to media (even economist, company and political) talking points, or hoping that the problem will be localized and that our capitalist system can basically continue, and we can all drive electric cars, maybe just recycle a little more etc.
    4) “It’s fine, we have x”: championing a new, clean, cheap form of energy always “just around the corner” (and maybe a conspiracy theory explaining why we never see it)
    5) Blaming someone else: oil companies for tricking us, the government for refusing to drill in Alaska etc., maybe a conspiracy theory
    6) Appropriating this crisis into pre-existing political or religious beliefs, and then using it to support those beliefs: whether they be “prepper”, conservative anti-Obama, anti-regulation, anti-socialism (but could include beliefs from anywhere on the political spectrum)
    7) Denial and refusal to admit even the possibility of this crisis, often just out of hand: “Is it absurd? Of course it is.”
    8) Pessamistic, gleeful and with claims of authority, but without real evidence (I’m not remarking on the probability of such a worst-case scenario, just how much some replies really like to talk about the worst-of-the-worst)

    I’m not referring to analysis with links, evidence, numbers etc. (like Gail’s blog posts for example), more the comments and reactions. I suppose a lot of these reactions correspond to the stages of grief. I’m finding the reactions to this crisis almost more interesting than the crisis itself (but perhaps that’s because I’ve been studying social/cultural anthropology). I really respect Gail’s work because she includes numbers, and discusses it in a very dispassionate and rationally argued manner. Not to mention that I can’t fault the arguments, and the fundamental predictions from the “peak oil” movement have happened as stated: that oil production really did peak about 2006, and it has had a huge and complex effect on our economic system – a very bad effect.

  2. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    There has been considerable discussion of the effectiveness of Cuba’s efforts to grow more of its food. I have addressed their results in a couple of posts. For a broader view, it may be worthwhile to look at Switzerland and Sweden during WWII. Both countries were neutral, neither was invaded. Yet both were cut off from global trade and both suffered food shortages.


    ‘Already in April 1939 the Swiss parliament approved a resolution for the increase of agricultural production. Friedrich Traugott Wahlen planned the so-called “cultivation battle” as a chief civil servant in the Swiss Federal Office for War Nourishing. Every green area that seemed to be usable was cultivated according to the ” Wahlen Plan” with bread grain, vegetables or potatoes. The cultivated area almost tripled till the end of war, the self-sufficiency degree rose from 52 % in 1939 to 59 % (compared to pre-war consumption), which meant 80 % considering the scarcer rations during war . Still, 20 % of food had to be imported. Raw materials like metals, rubber, coal and all sorts of fuel etc. had to be imported almost completely because there are no significant deposits in Switzerland.’

    Note that the cultivated area increased much more than the production of food. I have previously noted that flood plains are the most productive places to grow food…expanding up a hillside is not especially productive, particularly in the absence of terraces. The increased prevalence of floods with climate change imperils the prospects for reliably farming in flood plains, and so should be considered as a threat all out of proportion to the raw acreage involved.

    The greatest energy restriction took place in Norway (20%), followed by Finland
    (17%), while Sweden and Denmark had a restriction of 4–7% compared to pre-war levels.
    The most pronounced effect of WWII on height and weight is seen in Norwegian children,
    while some effect is observed for the youngest children in Finland. Little or no effect is seen
    in Sweden and Denmark

    If you search a little bit, you will find explanations for why Germany did not invade Sweden. Sweden traded with Germany during WWII and particularly supplying iron ore, especially up to the German defeat at Stalingrad. Swedes did have to restrict calories during WWII, but there was no significant health effect of the small restriction. Norway, which imported far more of its food during peacetime, suffered the largest health effects.

    What this tells us, I think, is that a sudden collapse of the global movement in food is likely to have repercussions. The world population in 1940 was 2.3 billion. It is now 7.2 billion. Thus, a trade collapse would be likely to cause far more disruption than WWII did for Switzerland and Sweden. In Japan, the scientist Masonobu Fukuoka, later to become famous as an ecological farmer in his book One Straw Revolution, mostly avoided military service by studying how to increase the amount of insects in the Japanese diet to provide adequate protein. Albert Bates, in his Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, includes a recipe for grasshoppers. You might like to check that out in terms of sober reality.

    In short, if a country is anticipating the contraction of global trade in food, then it should be looking very seriously at its options. And, of course, giant cities need to think carefully about supplies from agricultural regions.

    Don Stewart

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Congratulations, Ann. You connected the dots of the most despicable travesty since World War II. Recommend you / anyone interested query YouTube for ‘Bill Clinton — Glass Steagall’; he admits he ‘erred’. Note that the banksters and their toy politicians substituted with Dodd Frank, which is unenforceable, but continue to fight mild attempts to reimpose Glass-Steagall.
      Is our civilization finito? Doomed?

  3. Pingback: gail tverberg sobre los límites del crecimiento y la extralimitación donde nos hallamos | tratar de comprender, tratar de ayudar

  4. Quitollis says:

    Bob and Rasta took down the Marxists in Jamaica in the 1970s. LOL @ the Marxists.

  5. Quitollis says:

    Paul, why don’t you go to Russia and join Putin’s party if you still think that Marxism is so helpful?

  6. Paul says:

    Here’s the headline:

    Nuclear fusion breakthrough raises hopes for ultimate green energy source

    Here’s the story:

    In their experiments, researchers at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California use a bank of 192 powerful lasers to crush a minuscule amount of fuel so hard and fast that it becomes hotter than the sun.

    The process is not straightforward. The lasers are fired into a gold capsule that holds a 2mm-wide spherical pellet. The fuel is coated on the inside of this plastic pellet in a layer as thin as a human hair.

    When the laser light enters the gold capsule, it makes the walls of the gold container emit x-rays, which heat the pellet and make it implode with extraordinary ferocity. The fuel, a mixture of hydrogen isotopes called tritium and deuterium, partially fuses under the intense conditions.

    The scientists have not generated more energy than the experiment uses in total. The lasers unleash nearly two megajoules of energy on their target, the equivalent, roughly, of two standard sticks of dynamite. But only a tiny fraction of this reaches the fuel. Writing in Nature, the scientists say fusion reactions in the fuel released at best 17 kilojoules of energy.

    Though slight, the advance is welcome news for the NIF scientists. In 2012, the project was restructured and given more modest goals after six years of failure to generate more energy than the experiment consumes, known as “ignition”.

    And we wonder why people think the miracle cure is ‘just around the corner’ — the MSM encourages them to believe that — with ridiculous headlines like that.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      The standing joke is that when fusion was first proposed circa 1970, the scientific community said it would take about 20 years to develop and perfect. And every year since then the scientists have said just about the same thing…

      • timl2k11 says:

        I would think that any self-respecting scientist would understand that the only way sustainable (and not runaway like in a hydrogen bomb) fusion can occur is inside a star. Experimenting with fusion is one of the many acts of delusion/desperation I see in our society.

    • Adam says:

      Even if we did find cheaper energy, of whatever sort, it would still not solve our problem of resource depletion – in fact, it would allow us to trash the planet even more comprehensively.

      There is an argument that the big oil companies have quashed research into cheap alternative energy because they would regard this as a threat. It would certainly be a threat to the USA, which derives a lot of its financial power from the fact that most oil is priced in US dollars, therefore creating a huge demand for its currency. Some regard this as a “conspiracy theory”. Well, conspiracies do exist and have existed. Throughout history, organisations have struggled to gain power and maintain that power. If you look up, say, “the Hutchison effect”, you will find that there are still clever people who are pushing the boundaries of science. Progress did not stop with the invention of the atom bomb. Just look at the technologies developed by the military-industrial complex that have been used in Iraq and elsewhere: microwave weapons and directed energy weapons. How much does the average person know about these – and why not? How much do I know? Not as much as I would like. We know that states around the world have indulged in various secret activities that have only become known decades later: experimentation, torture, sterilisation, etc. Personally, I prefer not to be naive.

      However, none of this invalidates Gail’s point that we live in a finite world. That won’t change. But as to whether we will one day acquire appliances that will at least provide us with cheap and non-destructive alternative methods of heating our homes, for instance – on that, I prefer to keep an open mind.

  7. Christian says:

    Some extra tips. First of all, don’t wait politicians do all the job. They don’t know what to do, and if they know they are afraid the public will not like it. You must start. Talk to the military and to the politicians. Some US Senators advisors attended Transatlantic Energy Security conference. Talk to them. Talk to local politicians. Join Graeber, Occupy Wall Street and other movements. Gail is doing a fantastic job, but you can start a new site more centered in possibilities rather than limits. Translate my stuff if you wish. Learn about Cuba, its goods and bads. Learn about the Third World. Learn about Russian stoves and the like. All the countries must do it. We must work together.

  8. Christian says:

    Hi. My provincial representative cancelled our meeting; I suppose he feels he just can’t hold the issue. Nevertheless, he invited me to another meeting attended by the party’s head. It’s a national congressman that reached the second place in the last national run for president (with a modest 14%). I declined because there would be a hundred people and limits to grow were certainly not in the agenda. Still on the run, I was invited to another political meeting march 8, which the top guy and some other congressmen are expected to attend. I am supposed to speak in a round table on “environment and sustainable development”. I told the event organizer the only sustainable thing is to move urbanites into the field, and there was no problem. So, I’m engaged and will start speaking on oil and energy, and on whatever comes. May be I can even bring another guy to speak, a repentant orthodox economist now talking on peak oil and Cuba. Meanwhile, I’ve issued another post updating the problem and outlining the way out. There is a draft for a continental currency too. It’s the last post, now my work must go institutional or finish. I have nothing more to say on an individual basis.
    I’ve seen some visits to it from the US, so I will help you a little more. Somebody talked here about the impossibility of debt jubilee because this means the end of petrodollar. This is right, of course, but will happen anyway as we all know. The point is to suffer it as a crash or to produce it as a political and organized act. Excluding imports and shale, the US is still producing 4.5 Mbd, which is more than enough to its basics needs and federal state can handle this work, closing operations that contradict thermodynamics. US conventional oil production falls smoothly and is able to last some decades. Moreover, you can still buy some oil to other nations, using another currency or barter (remember they need money or some stuff, the green banknote being not eatable). It’s better if you reach an agreement upon this before leaving capitalism. You’re not the kings of the world anymore but that doesn’t mean you’ve become bums. So you may loose just a half or so of total consumption. No planes, less traveling, etc. You can do it. Just have to accept it. Less NG? Use high efficiency wood stoves, close all automakers and other not useful industries (almost all of them). And freeze a little. Use less electricity, bye bye air cond and highway lights. Dismiss bureaucracy, close banks and lawyers, accounting and most engineers buffets and faculty departments; stop wasting energy spying (I made some “anti-American” proposals here and they had gone fine, so spying is not working or not useful). Make Paul happy and close American Idol and some scrap media. A lot of people will be out of work, almost everybody. Given you still have a lot of oil people can easily be feed and put to work in the fields, especially building little new houses and preparing for living in as farmers; teach them. Issue a new currency and let it spread. The State may collect it again by taxing or by selling energy (kwh, cf and gallons) and whatever it produces (clothes, food, etc.). Pay extra wages to people moving to the country, or give them some kind of immediate benefit along with that of having a future. Talk to Mexico and Canada, you’re in the same boat. Restructure democratic system.
    It’s almost the same we have to do. I don’t know if Gail do work in a think tank or if some government or military staff reads this, but this is the path.
    I’ll tell you what happens here next month, bye

  9. Jon Freise says:

    Dennis Meadows did a very interesting talk at the Smithsonian on how it is too late for sustainable development. Collapse is unavoidable.

    However, I don’t think the collapse will be equally distributed. Smmmrm areas will do well. US steel peaked in the 50’s while China iron ore production is still growing. So some areas will have industrial capacity to grow for some time. Those that are past energy peak, as the US will likely be once natural gas peaks, are going to be facing long declines.

    It might be worth looking for example nations that have seen a long decline, and how did their financial system react?

    • the global industrial/commercial economy exists as an interdependent, interacting system….or in plain language, a house of cards.
      take one piece out and the entire edifice collapses.
      whatever peaked/declined in past periods is irrelevant, because the energy system that enabled the function of global business continued unaffected. once the energy system is seen to be failing, the realisation that imminent collapse is on the horizon will cause that collapse to spread like a contagion.
      we are interlocked by financial capital, without the certainty of that, everything will collapse virtually overnight.

    • Danny says:

      A comforting thought…usually by rich people of rich nations…but not true at all….I believe that QE has made a lot of people think that they themselves will be fine no matter what happens…but that is a false assumption.

  10. Paul says:

    Once again, someone from the Cult of Green was moaning on about how if people would just stop buying so much stuff we could save the world.

    What people fail to understand is that the moment we stop or slow our shopping — the economy will collapse. And they will likely perish.

    As much as I despise this system we have, I realize that we must keep the hamster running — we are way too far beyond the limits to turn the clock back — collapse is baked into the cake — and I prefer to take the poison later than sooner.

    In any event, people are already starting to stop shopping because they have less money to spend because energy costs are sapping their ability to patronize the Mall – and we can see the record unemployment rates around the world that are a result of this. Be careful what you wish for……..

    That elicits a blank stare.

  11. Paul says:

    Even Warren Buffett recognizes the problem

    He’s bought a rail company (that hauls a lot of oil) and has also bought into Exxon — I wonder how that will work out that — if oil prices go too high then everything collapses — but I suppose he knows that too but he is dancing while the music plays.

    I note he says his son’s farmland is far more productive than it would have been decades ago – I wonder if he realizes that is only because of the so-called Green Revolution which pours oil and gas derived chemicals on the land to grow food.

    • Don Stewart says:

      The Buffett son is well known in ecological agriculture circles. He can get John Deere to build machines which are helpful in ecological farming on a large scale.

      Don Stewart

  12. Hartley Schultz says:

    Hello once again Gail,
    I have been thinking again on your latest article and how the limits you discussed affect Australia. Is the current housing situation in Australia evidence that we are facing the many limits you talk of all at once? On the surface this doesn’t seem to be the case although the economist Steve Keen thinks we are in a housing bubble. If you look at the growth in these assets there seems to be no shortage of physical investment capital in this part of the world. In truth, I have never seen anything like the amount of multi story residential apartment buildings under construction. It is unprecedented . It all seems rather bizarre to me now that our food processing and automotive industries are in a state of collapse here in Australia.

    If as you discussed, money is what ties everything together will this massive amount of debt/ investment in our residential sector produce problems that show up in the financial system, now that the rest of our economy is contracting? If there is an oversupply of residential housing, do you think that lack of debt availability is just around the corner for us?

    Kind regards H.

  13. Paul says:

    The Sixth Extinction Examines Human Overkillers and the Next Great Die-Off

    Tolerate for a moment a tautology: If an asteroid causes a mass extinction, the extinction was caused by the asteroid. If humans cause a mass extinction, the extinction was caused by … what? Rocks, spears, traps, guns, coal plants, copper mines, DDT, okay, but those are ultimately unsatisfying answers. They may be the means of annihilation, we may be the cause, but what is it that causes us to be so destructive?

    In the penultimate chapter of her book, Kolbert tackles that question by examining one particularly troubling extinction. The Neanderthals were extremely similar to us; less than 0.3 percent of our DNA diverges. But they did not venture into new terrain, they did not significantly alter the terrain they were already in, and they certainly did not make a bonsai project out of the tree of life. They had, in Kolbert’s words, “no more impact on their surroundings than any other large vertebrate.”

    Meanwhile, we Homo sapiens traveled out of Africa en route to everywhere, encountered the Neanderthals in Europe, had sex with them, and, directly or through competition for resources, exterminated them. Some 30,000 years later, we rediscovered them, via their remains, in a cave in limestone cliffs in a valley in Germany. That cave no longer exists. Those cliffs no longer exist. We quarried the limestone, smelted it with coke and iron ore, and converted it to steel.

    What species does this? Only ours. Somewhere along the line, thanks to some twist in that 0.3 percent of uniquely human DNA, we became the sort of creatures who could level cliffs and turn stone to steel; “the sort of creature,” Kolbert writes, “who could wipe out its nearest relative, then dig up its bones and reassemble its genome.”

    • InAlaska says:

      I wonder if it is the “disease of intelligence” that differentiates us. I heard Kathryn Schulz on NPR tonight discussing how our intelligence allows us to evolve socially much faster than other creatures can evolve genetically. The planet has a hard time dealing with a creature that evolves on a much faster timescale. It appears that intelligence is a double edged sword.

      • xabier says:


        This has often occurred to me, too.

        To a certain point it confers immense advantages, and creates civilization which is delightful (I do not believe in those who say they hate civilization) : but then we find we have created an environment and culture which cannot last and which destroys our ecological base.

        As Mobus says on Question Everything blog: Smart, but not Wise…..

        • Let’s look at the definition of smart and wise accroding to the webster web site.


          adjective \
          : very good at learning or thinking about things
          : showing intelligence or good judgment
          : behaving or talking in a rude or impolite way : showing a lack of respect for someone


          : having or showing wisdom or knowledge usually from learning or experiencing many things
          : based on good reasoning or information : showing good sense or judgment
          : saying things that are rude or insulting

          What does the phrase : Smart, but not wise means, if

          wise = showing good sense or judgment
          smart = showing intelligence or good judgment

          Human have never been intelligent and will never be intelligent. Human are pretentious, arrogant and lack humility in front of what we dont understand. We understand nothing and know nothing of this world. We know nothing of the comos around us.

          We deserve what is coming and the pain that is coming with it. Sorry we don’t deserve the pain because we are just stupid animal.

          Talk is indeed very cheap.

          • Paul says:

            Reminds me of Taleb’s Black Swan book — the most arrogant are those in finance who tell us they can predict the future — as Taleb says when thousands are employed in doing so — a few will of course get things right and have a stellar year — of course VERY few are able to do that in multiple years.

            And I suspect those that have are insider trading. See SAC Cohen… he’s made a career out of that – as did Madoff.

            Huge arrogance.

    • Good comment, Paul. When it comes down to it, Homo sapiens is a species and we know how this species behaves. It can’t be any other way, so if anyone is hoping that our species will start acting in a different way, they shouldn’t hold their breath. It won’t happen.

  14. edpell says:

    When FFs are gone and if nuclear is not used then wealth will again come from the land. He who controls the land will have food and wood. The question is will land pass to one heir and be undivided or will it be split again and again until all are starving and poor?

  15. timl2k11 says:

    It is quite surreal, reading the mainstream media and the comments of nearly 100% of the public. They have no idea what is going on nor what is coming. No idea what is happening, nor why. It’s liberals or conservatives and their agendas. It’s politics, Marxism, capitalism, fascism, etc. The delusions of the collective… beyond surreal.

    • edpell says:

      Yes! This happens to me over and over. “Raise the minimum wage” but the resources do not exist. “Raise taxes to balance the budget” but this will just cause people to leave the county even faster. For the MSM the bag of goodies is infinitely big all that is required is to take more. Of course we know the bag is finite.

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      I concur tim. The media feeds people what they want which unfortunately is social media, like Bieber pees on snow, smokes doobie with Dad in jet or Cyrus sticks her tongue out at fans that scream their appreciation. I’m beginning to wonder if the absurdness of the type of behavior people now seem to appreciate is a reflection of their own willingness to be in denial. But that would suppose some intelligence to have read the tea leaves. Instead it may simply be a reflection of how close we are to disaster. Even my own wife with a high IQ watches TV shows where they verbally attack each other and get over emotional about trivial perceptions about each other’s behavior and how they’ve been slighted. “But then you just walked on by and I started to cry”! I can’t wait until those phoney crocodile tears turn to real tears due to a rational concern for survival. Hello, wake up people, time to forget all your imbecilic trivialities, pick up a farm implement and do some actual work! The oil age (free endowment of cheap energy stored over millions of years past) party is over.

      • InAlaska says:

        It is almost eerie how people will stare at you while you explain what we all talk about on this blog and then they go on with the conversation as if you didn’t say anything surprising at all. The level of denial is simply unbelievable. Were the Mayans and the Easter Islanders just as blind before their collapse?

        • Paul says:

          And that is exactly why I come to this blog regularly — an oasis of sanity – in an ocean of denial and ignorance.

      • Paul says:

        Stilgar – I don’t think this is a reaction related to the realization that a crash is coming.

        I think 99.99% of the population – at least in the US — is totally unaware of what is imminent.

        They are incapable of grasping what is coming — their normalcy bias is one where they always get the latest phone — and the grocery stores are full.

        If you suggested to any one that this will be otherwise in the near future they would think you were nuts.

        I think we need to be careful about giving the masses too much credit – they really a pathetic lot.

        • Stilgar Wilcox says:

          “If you suggested to any one that this will be otherwise in the near future they would think you were nuts.”

          Paul, I learned that one a long time ago. I tried to explain the situation to my Father and step-mother with zero response, except a glassy eyed look. I’ve also noticed that most people cannot string together more than a few thoughts. If you talk to them trying to build an understanding they go blank on the 3rd or 4th bit of information. I really use to think people were smart, but actually they are only smart in regards to their little life bubble, like using coupons and what time to meet someone or how much to spend on gifts, or so and so needs a hug. But delve into a topic with some science, or math, a few logical connections or a graph and zip they are on to something really simple to comfort themselves. Should be a hoot watching them in the impending chaos.

          • xabier says:


            There’s a reason, one supposes, for Logic having been taught as something very advanced and sophisticated in Ancient Athens!

            It’s really not at all natural to most people, nor highly valued.

            Applying logic to almost any public statement by a politician leaves them in the state of the Naked Emperor.

            Supposedly serious newpapers are mostly comic books now, even when one filters out propaganda.

            Perhaps a good time to be brain-dead: one would be happier I suspect.

          • timl2k11 says:

            Xabier: One would not be happier, but would, at least, suffer less. My education on the motivation of man came from a wonderful little book The Birth and Death of Meaning by Ernest Becker. If anyone wants to take the red pill, there it is. Logic is the enemy of BAU.

    • xabier says:


      People have been trained to see issues in terms of politics and parties, are tribal, the media perpetuate this charade, and so on it goes……..

      I was amused when my barber, who is astute, quite wealthy and has a partnership in a hairdressing business in very exclusive London street, which now does good business globally with hair products sold on the internet, – in effect a classic capitalist, – said to me that he’d always vote socialist because ‘they look after the working man.’ This was after the phoney-socialist globalist Blair government, which of course got his vote while not giving a damn about ‘the worker.’

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

  17. Dear Gail, your paper is confirmed by 3rd law of thermodynamics:
    a structure is dissipating energy as efficient as possible => the structure is altering its environment => the structure must acquire faster information on its environment => the structure is evoluting and adjusting itself faster => the structure is dissipating energy faster and with more efficiency => the circle goes on… So we are lost if we do not slow down the whole system.

    To dissipate energy, we need to load information in memory.
    Entropy means here keep information in memory. A specie which keeping information in memory is diminishing its entropy.

    the 3rd law of thermodynamic: our rich world civilization is following the same path as other structures of energy dissipation: we will run out of money, energy production upstream will decrease and then we will run out of crops. This will lead to a strong population decrease. The only way is to slow down the economy, globally with a global human agreement.

    The 3rd law of thermodynamic is saying that any structure is dissipating energy with efficiency and altering its own environment. By doing this, the structure must acquire faster and faster information about its environment to adjust and adapt.. And so the structure is outsourcing its entropy. As soon as the entropy is increasing, the structure is collapsing. Now because of physics explanation. I am pretty sure our civilization is very close of a financial and energy supply shortage and will collapse. To avoid it, the only would be to slow down growth. But rich world (we are part of it) will do everything to maintain the running economical system to maintain privileges.

    According to Lotka: the natural selection (described by Darwin and Neo Darwinists as Richard Dawkins) is maximizing the energy flow going trough an organic structure.
    So to dissipate energy, we need to memory more information. as much we memorize information, as much we decrease our entropy, as much we alter our environment => this is forcing us to adapt faster and faster => this system is setting in motion and accelerating.

    So as the genes are adapting very slowly, if they cannot adapt anymore, the specie becomes extinct.
    A stable environment is promoting with selection K big species and structures (mammoth, big corporations, Neanderthal, Soviet Union) with big memory capabilities but weaker adaptability capabilities) and an unstable environment is giving favor to smaller and agile species (with higher adaptability capability) with selection r.

    There is similarity between genes and memes (memetic code of language able to transmit cultural information).

    Human is evoluting much faster with cultural information. To understand it, we need to replace the gene by the meme. Therefore the homo sapiens has submerged the homo Neanderthal).

    According to the Ising domains, societies are cooperative or competitive and getting bigger till they fragment themselves.

    Now we are not able to control our environment and the demographic explosion is an avalanche which will stop soon.

    The condensation at critical point suggests the formation of a single global civilization stationary economy capable of controlling the evolution of the biosphere (cf. Gaia Jim Lovelock).

    As an individual is a vehicle built by its genes to ensure their survival (Dawkins), a global society is built to allow its people to survive..

    When collapse occurs, we will be able to rebuild from nearly-scratch a new global society with global values. It will be painful.

  18. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others
    David Holmgren has put together a new summary of reactions and his recent statements in terms of his ‘Crash on Demand’ essay.

    The Pip Magazine video is particularly interesting. It’s what David has been saying for some time, but it’s not how a lot of people think about the issues. It also, in my opinion, slides over some serious issues. It is only recently, for example, that some key states such as California have released their stranglehold on home based food businesses. At least in the US, a vast regulatory apparatus is apparently designed to make sure that poor people are abjectly dependent on the State. We could say the same about health care. Recent studies have demonstrated that high sugar consumers increase their risk of heart attacks by 4X. Yet the government still promotes sugar production and still claims that sugar is GRAS (generally accepted as safe) and Michelle Obama recruits the sugary drink companies to participate in her efforts. While it is true, as David says, that regulating detailed behavior is difficult, I think there is still a role for broader social movements which result in relatively rapid change in what is socially acceptable, if not strictly illegal.

    I think that these essays are related to the Limits To Growth thesis in this way. Permaculture, at its inception at the hands of Mollison and Holmgren, was a response to Limits To Growth. Holmgren admits that he thought the limits would have been reached by now. But the fossil fuel consumption curve is still a straight line up and carbon dioxide is still a straight line up and consumption of things like metals is still pretty much a straight line up. So David is trying to walk this line, I think: Continuing to pursue these straight line (or exponential) growth patterns is destructive, and there is a better, more human friendly way to live. Try a few simple practices and see if you don’t enjoy life more…

    Don Stewart

    Don Stewart

  19. James Arnold says:

    Wonderful article as they all are. And the responce is intense, since we are talking about the end of the world as we know it , and it doesn’t make me feel fine.
    No one seems to have challenged your premise that the collapse will be caused by a lack of capital. We do have alterative energy such as thorium and coal in abundance. But you dismiss those ideas that they will all be washed away by a lack of capital.
    I really question the lack of capital premise, The US has the Federal Reserve bank that can print unlimited amounts of dollars which represent the world’s reserve currency. We are a realitively small portion of the world population with hugh energy reserves. We have the brain power to develope new energy souce technology. Also like most Americans energy is a small percentage of my budget. We can certainly cut back on energy use and eat beans and rice if we are facing a crisis such as oil represents.
    The only thing that is holding us back from the action we could take to save the future is the enviromentalist myths and belief in endless growth that control the minds of our generation that is now in charge. I certainly hope for the sake of my children and grandchildren that we are still a nation of free people that can face the future and change.
    J Arnold

    • Paul says:

      James — this comment in various forms, has come up time and time again on these forums:

      “We have the brain power to develop new energy source technology.”

      I will never completely rule this out however look around you mate — the collapse is happening — NOW. It is months — no more than a year or two away. There is only money printing between all of us — and the abyss

      Where is this miracle cure that can replace oil and gas in pesticides and fertilizers — that can power airplanes and irrigation pumps — cars and trucks — ships — make plastics – toothpaste — grease the gears and wheels of industry — etc etc etc…

      Not only is there nothing on the horizon that can do all these things — there is nothing that has even been put forward in theory that could do so — nobody has even yet had a dream that there is a substance that can replace oil.

      As for the ability of the human mind to solve all — there are plenty of things that we have not solved — cancer — thousands of other incurable diseases — baldness — turning lead into gold — defying gravity (even an airplane eventually falls…) — etc etc etc….

      There are just somethings that cannot be done – period.

    • timl2k11 says:

      You are making a lot of misguided assumptions.

      “The US has the Federal Reserve bank that can print unlimited amounts of dollars which represent the world’s reserve currency.”

      Not without terrible consequences. Printing money doesn’t create capital, it doesn’t create energy, it doesn’t create wealth. Printing excessive money can lead to asset bubbles, excessive inflation, currency debasement and even loss of faith in the currency itself. Our capital is the energy we produce and can produce. Printing money doesn’t make mining shale oil any cheaper. Zero percent interest rates does help some but cannot be maintained forever without serious adverse affects in other areas of the economy.

      “We are a realitively small portion of the world population with hugh energy reserves. We have the brain power to develope new energy souce technology.”

      Energy reserves represent what is in the ground, not what we can necessarily get out. For reasons discussed in the article, most of what is left will likely stay in the ground because it is too expensive to extract.
      Brain power does not create energy. Nor can it “create new energy sources”.

      “The only thing that is holding us back from the action we could take to save the future is the enviromentalist myths and belief in endless growth that control the minds of our generation”

      I’m not sure what you’re saying here. What environmentalist myths specifically? This and previous articles Gail has written show that our society assumes “endless growth” and cannot be sustained without it. If you don’t believe in endless growth, then you know our civilization is not sustainable. If our society didn’t believe in endless growth, why would it want new sources of energy?

      “I certainly hope for the sake of my children and grandchildren that we are still a nation of free people that can face the future and change.”

      Change what? Change how? I’m not sure I understand your point here.

    • The issue is that the economy is knit together in a particular way. For example, we need roads if are to transport goods and services, and we need jobs for all (or nearly all) of adult workers. The lack of capital is physical “stuff,” particularly oil, to make the whole system work. If we use all of the oil needed to maintain the roads and pipelines and electricity transmission equipment, plus the oil needed to extract oil and metals of various kinds, there is not enough oil left to build factories needed to provide jobs for workers. The relatively high price of oil compared to salaries acts as a restriction on what can be done. We do not necessarily notice this effect, except to notice the lack of good paying jobs, especially for young people.

      We need a very complex system to physically extract resources such as oil and coal. It is the problem with maintaining our current system, and in particular keeping the financial system going that makes things fall apart. Our financial system is already in very bad shape.

  20. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Others

    There have been some questions about Cuba. Albert Bates was in Cuba a couple of months ago for a Permaculture gathering. Here is my summary of some of his conclusions (which are not readily available on the internet, to my knowledge).

    1. Driving in a bus, they see large fields of dense, thorny bushes 10 feet high. The bushes are in what used to be sugar cane fields feeding a sugar mill. But when the world price of sugar dropped to a nickel a kilo, the government closed about 50 mills. Some 300,000 people moved to Havana, as the sugar industry which had supported the local economy collapsed. When the price of sugar increased, the government tried to reopen the mills, but could not do so because the human infrastructure which had supported the mills had left for the city. Brazil has been assisting Cuba, and the first modern mills to be built in 50 years are under construction.
    2. The tour guide embodied many of the contradictions of Cuba. Well educated and multilingual, family in the US, used an Ipad to organize the entire tour, scanned passports to speed check-in at hotels, etc.
    3. Education is competitive and not much influenced by wealth. Those who do well are richly rewarded with opportunities, those who do not do well are relegated to menial jobs.
    4. Every Cuban gets 7 pounds of rice, some beans, a chicken, 5 eggs, and few other things every month. So nobody starves. If you can afford more, you buy it.
    5. A good urban gardener makes a thousand dollars a month, on a par with doctors and engineers.
    6. The new Norwegian ambassador to Cuba is gay, and lives with a Cuban man. To those who remember stories about early persecution of gays in Cuba, this is roughly equivalent to the US naming an Arabic-American as ambassador to Israel.
    7. The Cuban sugar workers are in the same position as Kentucky coal miners…on the wrong end of the plantation system. Embedded in a system which is economically and socially destructive, yet few know what to replace it with if it collapses.
    8. Havana is dependent on Venezuelan oil. It chokes the city with pollution, and yet there are frequent blackouts and brownouts.
    9. Cuba imports a lot of food from the U.S., because of the power of the farm lobby. Yet Cuba cannot sell anything to the U.S. because of the embargo. The Cubans explain that they plan to make up the difference with tourism, a new deepwater port, and deepwater oil. The Permaculture people don’t say anything but glance at each other and know it won’t work.

    There follows a list of complaints by those accustomed to plush accommodations. For example: no hot water, no mosquito netting, no blankets or pillows, bunk beds with thin mattresses. So if you are a fan of our Stone Age Future, you might get a chuckle.

    If you have access to a Permaculture Activist magazine, check out the Spring 2014 issue for Albert’s news about the permaculture happenings.

    Don Stewart

  21. rentzhilyer says:

    Brian Czech wrote at length in his book, Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution on why economic growth is no longer a good goal for developed nations in today’s full world. See

  22. rentzhilyer says:

    The 11,000 people who have signed CASSE’s position statement on economic growth did see this coming! Signing CASSE’s position statement is an easy and powerful action people can take to show that they acknowledge that economic growth is having adverse effects in today’s full world. Sign at:

    CASSE’s position statement states that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Increasing population and per capita consumption result in more resource use than the earth can rejuvenate; and more emission of wastes than the earth can absorb. A steady state economy that neither grows nor shrinks within reasonable bounds is the sustainable alternative to economic growth.

    • Paul says:

      Unfortunately we are too late to do anything – the environment, while still a big issue (I spend a lot of time in Hong Kong breathing smog) is well down my concerns list — because I think we will collapse our industrial civilization fairly soon — and that will put an end to many of the polluting activities we engage in.

      However this brings up a whole host of new environmental problems — including the issue of thousands of spend fuel rod pools and nuclear plants (how do we maintain them in a collapse) — also will people try to keep warm by cutting and burning trees — or scraping the dirtiest coal from the ground?

  23. Ok, I had to look. For all the # of times Eclipse Now references James Hansen and boron, you’d think there’d be a link or 2 out there providing some details. The only link that comes up when I search for those words is a link to a site called, a site the very promptly invites me to install what appears to be malware on my system. This looks like a play on scienceforums.NET, a legit site.
    So, what up with that E.N.?

  24. Beechnut says:

    The musings about imminent collapse is nonsense. Indeed the world has finite limits as Gail points. Demand will be destroyed incrementally over time as less and less resources get extracted because of either running out or nearly out or are just too expensive for the masses to afford. Gasoline is still CHEAP! Natural gas is still CHEAP! Electricity is still CHEAP! We are no where near collapse on a massive scale, folks. Life will go on with nasty recessions popping up here and there (as they have done for the past 100 years) and the weak will perish while the fit survive and prosper. As it has always been since the dawn of humankind.

  25. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Here are some provocative thoughts about solar energy havesting, storing the harvested energy, and the implications for centralized vs. distributed generation. The first link will take you to the press release from the University of North Carolina, while the second will take you to an opinion piece in the local newspaper by a former state senator, who lives here in Chapel Hill, NC. My comments are below.

    UNC researchers have taken a cue from plants, finding a way to capture the sun’s energy during the day for use at night. It’s a system that converts the sun’s energy into hydrogen fuel, rather than electricity, so that it can be stored, allowing us to draw power long after the sun sets.

    Ellie Kinnaird: What going solar will take

    Here are my comments. First, it seems to me that what the UNC/NCSU team have done is to mimic nature. This harks back to the comment that Janine Benyus made at the Omega Conference last fall…emulate the way Nature does it. Second, we don’t know from the information presented how efficient the man made system is compared to natural photosynthesis. Third, we don’t know whether the man made system relies on exotic or toxic materials. Fourth, we don’t know how much Net Energy a neighborhood might expect to collect at a reasonable cost.

    Ellie Kinnaird is a pretty well connected woman, and she states that solar is not going to power Industry As We Know It. But she thinks that the new technology will work just fine for a neighborhood with the appropriate surfaces making either hot water or the nature-mimic method just invented. The grid will shrink to just supplying electricity in huge quantities for massive industrial operations (if those are still around). Ellie’s experience in the legislature convinces her that the Utilities won’t go quietly into this dark night. She frankly contemplates buying them with bribery of one kind or another.

    I will add a brief comment about the chemist’s next project, which is taking CO2 out of the air. I am left with the question as to whether humans can create mechanical systems which operate as efficiently and produce as little pollution of plants. Might we be better off just planting trees? I think there will be a need for a lot of careful calculations and systems thinking.

    It is also interesting to think about the social challenges. As Ellie observes, not every house is well situation to produce solar energy on the roof. So Ellie recommends neighborhood generation. When I looked at solar for my house, I found that I had a ‘just off the ideal’ southern exposure. As it works out, about half the houses in my immediate vicinity have good southern exposure. The other houses are considerably less favorably situated. But the N/S axis houses would produce a lot of electricity on hot afternoons. So would a small air conditioning unit still be possible with the peak capabilities if we all cooperated? In short, will the facts favor ‘every man for himself’ or ‘we are all in this together’? And then we have to consider the AC/DC question. Can we get together the capital to convert our appliances to DC? If the electricity generation is communal, then all the appliances would ideally be DC. I suppose that a single house could buy an inverter and change the DC to AC. And so on and so forth.

    Ellie assumes that conversion to solar is something that we simply have to do. The facts that the grid shrinks drastically, that the energy density is less and so we have to consume less, that neighbors will have to learn to work together…these are all challenges but no reason not to go forward.

    I think you will find much to contemplate…Don Stewart

  26. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Here is a video of a 70 year old woman whose family settled in a very remote part of Siberia. She is now 70 years old. She is fundamentally living alone. She has visited the nearest town 4 times in her life, and doesn’t like it. She was discovered by scientists several decades ago, but gets very few visitors, as getting there basically requires a helicopter.

    The makers of the video say that she ‘demonstrates that one can live alone in the wilderness’. But I don’t think that is accurate. Near the end of the video, you will hear her describe how the cooking utensils and axes and saws that the family brought with them were worn out by the time she was discovered. (Many ‘survival’ enthusiasts promote the use of cast iron cooking utensils. I don’t know what they recommend in terms of long-lived saws and axes and files.)

    The crew making the video take her a couple of domesticated animals in the helicopter as a gift. There would be no way for her to get domesticated animals in the wilderness. Her diet, at the time of the visit, consists of potatoes and ground grain (they don’t show us her grinding apparatus). She remarks that she eats whatever she has available. She stores food in a root cellar. She has an antique gun.

    To me, the video reinforces my belief that we can live much simpler lives, but that reverting entirely to stone age tools would be a challenge. The best example I know of in terms of contemplating a stone age existence is the movie Walkabout, made in the Australian outback several decades ago. In the movie, two children from town are left on their own in harsh country, and meet an aboriginal boy who is doing his initiation -into- manhood walkabout where he must show that he can survive strictly on his own. The first thing you may notice in comparison to the Siberian movie is the generally more favorable climate in Australia. You will also note that the boy uses very simple homemade tools, without reliance on metals (at least I can’t recall the use of metals). He uses sharp rocks to slit open and gut animals and then cooks them whole on a fire. He sleeps under the stars.

    Don Stewart

    • So much things comes to my minds when I watch this video. So I will let Arthur Schopenhauer talk instead.

      Suffering by nature or chance never seems so painful as suffering inflicted on us by the arbitrary will of another. – Arthur Schopenhauer

      The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him. – Arthur Schopenhauer

      Every possession and every happiness is but lent by chance for an uncertain time, and
      may therefore be demanded back the next hour. – Arthur Schopenhauer

      A man can be himself only so long as he is alone. – Arthur Schopenhauer

      People lack strength, courage and spirituality to live in such a away. You can only live that kind of life if you have been raised in this kind of
      environment. The only people that will survive the collapse are that ones that are already living like that. All the rest of us will died.

      Notice that you can go a long way with very little food but not without water and heat. I find it funny when I read dommer talking about gold, guns and food but rarely about water, heat, manual and spiritual skills.

      • Quitollis says:

        Yes Schopenhauer is a master of truly existential thought. His “sentences of the master” are inspiring but it is worth reading his books. The Penguin edition of his Essays and Aphorism is an excellent starting point, especially his essays on The Suffering of the World and on The Vanity of Existence. The AS volume in the Past Masters series is a must read.

        The point for Schopenhauer is to escape the daily struggle for survival, which is futile, painful and vain. Salvation for AS lies in detachment from struggle and the enjoyment of music, art and philosophy. Altruistic ethics is another way to escape personal struggle for him. Arguable he has a decadent aristocratic philosophy, the enjoyment of high art without the daily social struggle that makes art possible.

        FN orders it better toward an ascendant aristocracy. High art that makes life worth while and that “redeems life and struggle” is only possible when the masses are ordered to the leisure of the artistic caste. Art is only possible when a vigorous, manly, artistic aristocracy conquers the masses and subjects them to its privilege. Hence the Normans in England who left us the cathedrals after a thousand years. The Germanic tribes took over the Roman Empire as an aristocracy and laid the foundations for the Middle Ages and the modern world. Nothing much ever came from weakness. See FN On The Greek State

        Late night session on OFW

        • Quitollis says:

          Of course we are the post-LSD generation and we find “music, art and philosophy” in the daily struggle for existence, especially out in the snow and amongst Nature. Everyone is about to “drop out” but don’t confuse the masses with us. They have to be human.

          • Quitollis says:

            Human, all too human….

            If you want to understand humans, read AS.

            Nietzsche has a better understanding but he is confessedly no longer human (lol).

            Humans (hmmmm, sad bastards)

          • Quitollis says:

            Little kids with buzzers to make their point. That is all that Liberal society has still got going for it. (hoot, hoot) Time to fall…

          • Quitollis says:

            You will all die and I will be there to see it happen. (lol)

          • Quitollis says:

            That is when you wake up. 😉

        • Quitollis says:

          If you have never done A then you are epistemologically handicapped and existentially naïve. It is not the immediate effects so much as the long-term neurological reconfiguration. My bet is that most posters on this blog have done A at some point. The humans are about to fall.

          Or maybe you are Norman quality but I doubt it.

          • Quitollis says:

            Paul, why don’t you go to Russia and join Putin’s party if you still think that Marxism is so helpful?

    • edpell says:

      As we say in New England “Good fences make good neighbors.”

  27. Hartley Schultz says:

    Hello Gail,

    I read this latest post with great interest. I am attempting to connect your article with events taking place here in Australia at the local level. Do you think that the collapse of the automotive industry in this country which has just been announced is a direct result of the limits to growth? I note too that our last regional airline is in imminent danger of failure If this happens it will leave rural and regional Australia in great difficulties as I am sure you appreciate.

    What do you think, is this an example of Australia reaching hard limits as you discussed? Or is it cyclical? In the words of our prime minister Mr Abbott “The important thing to remember is, while some businesses close, other businesses open, while some jobs end, other jobs start.
    “There will be better days in the future.” I remember our wartime prime minister Mr John Curtin, making similar speeches to good effect when we were under threat of invasion.

    As discussed with you previously, no doubt this will happen when Mr Abbott makes us into the world leader in affordable energy.

    Kind regards H.

    • common mistake here—airlines don’t get government assistance, they get taxpayer assistance.
      so the taxpayer pays full fares plus the amount of subsidy the keep the airlines viable, this makes it clear that sustaining communities where they shouldnt be is itself not viable,
      you cant build cities in deserts

  28. JoePlateau says:

    Dear Gail,
    I have sympathy for tour views, as they are probably more realistic than current opinion among mainstream economists. But, at the end of the day, it is just that: an opinion. The graphs you present show an association between economic growth and oil consumption ( “Countries with a long-term decline in oil consumption, such as the US, European Union, and Japan, find themselves in recession or very slow growth”), but this does not prove a causal relationship. In fact, your first graph shows increased oil consumption in the non-Western economies, which, to me, contradicts your basic thesis.

    In your last two posts you sound increasingly alarmist, claiming that collapse is only a few years away. I would like to ask you again: on what data is that assumption based ? is there something you are not telling us ?

    • Tony says:


      I’m not sure how an increase in oil consumption among “the rest of the world”, in Gail’s first graph, disproves a link between oil consumption and economic growth. It is primarily the continued growth in many emerging economies that has kept global growth on the upward path, but that’s by increasing oil consumption (and other energy consumption). As there is a role for oil is just about all products and services, it seems obvious that there is a causal link, though it would likely not be completely linear and it would be wrong to look at individual countries for evidence of causality or otherwise. We’re in a global economy now.

      My guess on Gail’s increasing alarm level is that pieces of financial, economic, resource and environmental news are all converging and with such denial from official sources along with attempt to manipulate data (like GDP figures, employment figures, income figures, and oil production projections), the day of reckoning must be getting closer.

      • JoePlateau says:

        Thank you Tony, I sympathise with your and Gail’s views, but my point was that this graph shows a divergence in oil consumption and economic growth between Western vs. Developing countries. I do not see how a decline in cheap oil (Gail’ s basic thesis) would give rise to such divergence in economic growth.

        I do think Gail is correct, the only great unknown is timing, and Gail is now arguing for a rather dramatic decline within a few years. I wondered on which data it was based, but I think it might come from this source:

        (Thank you Timl2k11)

        • Maybe it’s because China and India can afford the oil at the currently high price. China and India may be in a better financial position than western countries who have very high debt problems. Also, I believe China and India subsidize fuel, making it more affordable for consumers.

    • all data showing any state of growth (population, industry, cities–you name it and check it out) starts its upward trend sometime after the early 1800s—the modern steam engine was invented in the 1770s, it took a few years for that technology to go mainstream and allow humankind to burn more coal, then gas, then oil. In other words we are forced to consume energy at a faster and faster rate to provide ‘growth’.
      we now base our entire civilised infrastructure on a single factor–that hydrocarbons will be available for our use into infinity.
      and before the bleating starts about renewables and such nonsense, that is a political sop to delay the inevitable panic that will kick in when the majority realise that there is no alternative to oil, and infinite growth is a road to nowhere.

      • xabier says:


        True, but it’s perhaps more likely that the mass of people will not understand the fundamental cause, and therefore not panic when the ‘moment of truth’ comes. The truth will be hidden by propaganda and delusions……

        • true they will not accept or understand the fundamental cause, nevertheless they/we will be faced with unpleasant reality that resource depletion will bring.
          I’m guessing it wont be a moment of truth, rather something diametrically opposite to when fossil fuels kicked off our system, say the period around 1800–1820 ish, that will make it a period of dawning truth and reducing denial, one outweighing the other gradually. Our industrial system winding back down just as it wound up over a similar period
          That seems to be in the period we are in right now.

          • Paul says:

            Many people who work in finance that I speak to believe a collapse is coming but they believe that it is bad policy and corruption that are the causes.

            They refuse to accept that the end of cheap oil is the fundamental issue that is driving the policies and corruption that they are observing.

            They believe the crash will be nasty — but that we will put it behind and get back to BAU in a few years.

            I am sure, when they are eating canned dog food warmed over a fire made of used plastic bags under an overpass they will still be blaming Bernanke for busting the system — when in fact Bernanke has kept us from raiding the pet pantry for 6 years with his desperate policies.

            It’s all moot anyway — the end game is the same regardless of what people think the cause is — and winning the argument would change nothing.

  29. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Here is an article from that is a really good summarization of where oil is right now, comparing peakists vs. cornucopians; determining which ideas from both camps have won out so far via DATA, not opinion or conjecture.

    • Paul says:

      I am not clear why these pundits harp on the issue of whether or not we have peaked — Peak Oil is not the problem — expensive oil is the problem — $147 in 08 – $100 every since — if it drops below $80 say good bye to fracking, deep sea and tar sands (which are the only growing sources of oil)

      Here’s the formula:

      High energy prices = less consumption because everything including the fuel in your tank costs more = layoffs = less tax revenue = government cutbacks, layoffs and debt increases = less consumption = more layoffs = less taxes ===== economic death spiral.

      Compounding the problem is the fact that a weak labour market means real wages drop – as they are across the world right now – that means everything is more expensive and your buying power is dropping at the same time.

      Governments recognize this and are trying to offset with debt, easy lending (they are purposely inflating bubbles), lower interest rates and money printing.

      Of course they will fail – because the disease is expensive oil. And there is no substitute

      The economic death spiral will accelerate when the QE and ZIRP no longer have any effect and the confidence game collapses.

      This moment will be known as the end of the industrial revolution by the few who survive.

      Here’s a little more hard data for those who may not have seen this:

      US Army colonel: world is sleepwalking to a global energy crisis
      Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank’s commodities unit highlighted three problems facing the global energy system: “very high decline rates” in global production; “soaring” investment requirements “to find new oil”; and since 2005, “falling exports of crude oil globally.”

      Lewis told participants that the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) own “comprehensive” analysis in its World Energy Outlook of the 1,600 fields providing 70% of today’s global oil supply, show “an observed decline rate of 6.2%” – double the IEA’s stated estimate of future decline rate out to 2035 of about 3%.

      Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will ‘break economies’

      Robert Ayres, a scientist and professor at the Paris-based INSEAD business school, wrote recently that a “mini-bubble” is being inflated by shale gas enthusiasts. “Drilling for oil in the U.S. in 2012 was at the rate of 25,000 new wells per year, just to keep output at the same level as it was in the year 2000, when only 5,000 wells were drilled.”

      Why America’s Shale Oil Boom Could End Sooner Than You Think

      Scientists Wary of Shale Oil and Gas as U.S. Energy Salvation
      Hughes sums up: “Tight oil is an important contributor to the U.S. energy supply, but its long-term sustainability is questionable. It should be not be viewed as a panacea for business as usual in future U.S. energy security planning.”

      U.S. Shale-Oil Boom May Not Last as Fracking Wells Lack Staying Power
      “I look at shale as more of a retirement party than a revolution,” says Art Berman, a petroleum geologist who spent 20 years with what was then Amoco and now runs his own firm, Labyrinth Consulting Services, in Sugar Land, Tex. “It’s the last gasp.”

    • timl2k11 says:

      Great article! The original article with graphs can be found here:

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        Isn’t it amazing how these articles get linked around? I kept wondering where the graphs were. Anyway, thanks for the original link.

  30. Quitollis says:

    EU news: Switzerland has voted to halt the mass immigration imposed by the EU and German courts have declared ECB bond-buying to be unconstitutional in German law.

    The second kind of Eurosceptic scored a major victory yesterday when Switzerland voted to reimpose quotas on EU immigration. The margin was wafer thin, led by German and Italian speakers, and the quotas unspecified – but the importance of this vote cannot be underestimated. Shockwaves will reverberate for years, and it may even be remembered as the day the whole European project went into reverse.


    This is the second blow to the EU in days. Germany’s constitutional court declared war on the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme last week. The court thinks the ECB’s outright monetary transactions (OMT) programme goes beyond its mandate – as defined by the EU treaties – and that it infringes the powers of member states and violates the prohibition on monetary financing of the budget. The judges demanded safeguards, and referred the matter to the European courts. Under German law, however, its own courts remain supreme so the move should really be seen as a veiled threat to the EU authorities to amend the OMT or else. National sovereignty is back; the impact will be immense.

    • Quitollis says:

      Clarification, the German court did not make a ruling.

      Germany’s Constitutional Court will refer a complaint against the European Central Bank’s flagship bond-buying plan to the European Court of Justice, removing the prospect of it curbing the programme.

      In an apparent attempt to set the terms of the European Court’s deliberations, the German court in Karlsruhe said on Friday there was good reason to think the plan exceeded the ECB’s mandate and violated a ban on it funding governments.


      “Ironically, depending on the exact decision, the court may have made a much more wide-ranging quantitative easing programme at the ECB more likely,” he said.

      The German court said it will rule on the legality of the currency bloc’s permanent bailout scheme, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), on March 18.

  31. Foil says:

    Eclipse, when I do a search on “Hansen boron”, the only thing that has James Hansen in it is a link to, a site that seems very intent on having me install malware on my system. Other than that, I can find no credible reference to James Hansen and Boron.
    Now, there is a credible site called, but there’s no word there about Mr. Hansen and boron, so what you up to?

  32. WorldisMorphing says:

    [“The question is: when do we reach the point that oil supply is growing too slowly to produce the level of economic growth needed to keep our current debt system from crashing?”]

    — Or, in other words; how long can “creative accounting” and its snob, pretentious, aristocratic sibling – “regulatory forbearance”- maintain the lid on the pressure cooker ?

    I suspect China will give us a clue this year…

  33. Gail: good work as usual, though a few observations:

    • “We are getting poorer” really could stand to have a reference attached to it. The past week’s NY Times mid-market retail story (“The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding, Just Ask the Business World”, Nelson D. Schwartz, Feb 2, 2014) is telling. As one commentator noted, businesses at this level aren’t engaged in political posturing, they’re simply trying to stay afloat.

    • “hidden parts of our economy are now absorbing more and more resources” similarly needs referencing.

    • One thing I’ve really appreciated in your writing is your focus on debt. Despite having suffered through “economics brainwashing” as you call it, money and the financial system confuse me. You, Chris Martenson, and others point out that continued borrowing can’t work. But money is ultimately fungible, fabricated, and a derivative, not real wealth itself. So long as the underlying real wealth (capital, natural resources, technology) exist, the financial system _can_ be rebooted to ensure their allocation. Money’s a signaling system, not a transport system — it’s hormones, not the heart and blood that bankers like to talk about.

    Why it is or isn’t possible to do a David Graeber / Steve Keen debt jubilee and reboot is something I think you might be well placed to addressed.

    • The big one: “the promised collapse is practically right around the corner, beginning in the next year or two.” The death of Cassandras is making a definite near-term prediction. If you’re going to do this, for the love off all that’s dark and gloomy, substantiate your statement with something. Yes, I could make a case for things going pear-shaped at pretty much any time, but if I were to spell it out (and this isn’t something I’ve looked at in the detail I’d like), it’s likely a sliding window with increasing probabilities as the horizon extends. Nonlinear fragile responses means that there’s a lot of uncertainty in predicting collapse at any given point in time, and yet, it suggests that those risks accumulate fairly rapidly. You can see this by plotting the function y=(1-p)x where y is survival probability, p is the failure risk per period (0 <= p <= 1), and x is the periods. Say, years.

    Even with a relatively low risk of failure (the top line on that plot shows a 1% annual risk over 100 years), your 50% likelihood of failure turns out to come at 69 years. Make that a 20% risk of failure and you're down to three years for a 50% risk of failure (lowest curve). Modest iterated risks are in fact risky.

    • Timing as an aspect of the EROEI challenge: I'd like to see this expanded, as I don't fully follow you here.

    On the good stuff: you're hitting your stride with the multidisciplinary aspects, the failures of the economic orthodoxy (though Krugman shows occasional clue and there was Robert Gordon's "End of Growth" paper last summer). Peak Oilers not having a full picture. Faith in substitution: I've been viewing Milton Friedman's 1978 energy addresses ( "The Energy Crisis: A Humane Solution"), they're absolute tosh. If you want a passel of peak oil protestration, look up Robert L. Bradley's "Resourceship: An Austrian theory of mineral resources" (Bradley's CEO of the denialist / Koch-associated "Institute for Energy Research". His idol alter includes F.A. Hayek, Erich Zimmermann, Ludwig von Mises, M.A. Adelman, and Julian Simon.

    Misleading stories on the abundance of oil: I think it's key to point out _why_ estimates get overstated. The Carbon Bubble and the (again, financial) challenge of stranded assets in the _trillions_ of dollars should oil and coal prove unrecoverable (for technical, political, or climateological reasons) is a huge part of that story.

    Blindness to Limits, Optimism Bias, and the increasingly curious psychology of denail are other points you get right but might want to explore more.

    • garand555 says:

      “Why it is or isn’t possible to do a David Graeber / Steve Keen debt jubilee and reboot is something I think you might be well placed to addressed.”

      There are several reasons why a reboot would be difficult.

      1) Imported oil. A financial crisis would likely spell the end of the dollar, or at least the end of oil being priced in dollars. Right now, for the most part, if you are a non-US country, you either need to sell us stuff for dollars or purchase dollars from us to purchase oil. This is a tremendous boon to our economy, because we can print dollars and spend them before the new dollars in circulation diminish in value. (It’s called seignoriage income.) Kill the dollar and you kill our ability to import oil. Considering that we import several million barrels per day, and considering that oil is vital in transportation, manufacturing and agriculture, you can start to see where this is a problem. How long do you think it would take to go past the point of no return if *food* stopped getting to the people?

      2) Globalization. With globalization, you have instances where the various parts for various cars get manufactured in various different countries. The raw materials may come from other countries yet. Many “vital” products are going to be this way. If one country gets knocked out beyond any reasonable recovery, and if that country manufactures a key component of a key product, the whole system will freeze up. Beyond materials and parts for energy and food production and shipping, I’ll not speculate on how many “keystone” resources and products there are, but you get the idea. We are now potentially exposed to the catastrophic failure of others.

      3) EROEI may not be everything, but it tells you what the absolute limits of how far we can theoretically take a system, and it also gives you a means of determining just what percentage of a country’s economic input goes towards energy production. EROEI has been dropping, which means that economies require more and more resources to extract and refine the various energy sources. Bring the system to a grinding halt for long enough, and EROEI also likely means that it will take a very large amount of resources to start it back up.

      4) Civil unrest. It’s tough to get things done if the environment is unsafe. A lot of people don’t see it, but it’s not just emerging economies that have to worry about civil unrest. The US is primed for a civil war. The wealth gap is growing, opportunity is not there, we’re being spied on and cops like to beat on people because they can. There is a lot of discontent under the surface here. Throw another financial crisis into the mix with bail-ins, capital controls, price controls, bailouts, money printing, hyperinflation, etc… and you can see where this leads in a country with a lot of privately held firearms. Wars do not create, they destroy.

      5) All of the monetary solutions that will be proposed are just as bad, if not worse, than what we have. SDRs? Even worse than the dollar. You’ll have monetary unity with no political unity. That’s an EU type solution.

      I’m sure there are other reasons that could be brought up too. That’s just what came off the top of my head.

      Of course, this is all assuming a fast collapse, which is what I expect, but I do acknowledge that we could have a slow grinding collapse.

      On the other hand, there will likely be some pockets where industrial civilization is still possible given the resources. My state, for example still has some easy to get to oil and I know right where there is a large quantity of surface coal. I know we have a lot of natural gas, but I don’t know what it takes to extract. We have a low population, but we have some of the necessary resources, especially if we aren’t providing them to the rest of the US. It is possible that, should we and a few others be able to keep our heads above water that there would be a reboot of sorts. However, without drastically reorganizing our economy, the reboot would just lead to a slow grinding collapse and we would never get back to our previous highs. But maybe that would give us enough time to solve some energy problems. Who knows? Predicting the future is kind of tough. All one can really do is try to figure out the possibilities and figure out the probabilities.

      • Paul says:

        Well said. I think the fact that Central Banks are printing literally trillions of dollars (china since 2009 has printed 15 trillion dollars alone!) is an indication that there a) this is the mother of all crises and b) that there are no other options such as a debt jubilee.

        They are throwing everything possible at this because I am sure they know — when the hamster stops running — the wheel stops.

        Gravity will not be denied.

      • edpell says:

        I think at least half a million people starved to death in the U.S. in the 1930s. There was no loss of civil order.

        • garand555 says:

          I’d request that you source your number, then dispute your claim that there was no civil disorder. The Bonus Army should be enough to confirm the lack of the lack of civil disorder.

    • Thanks for your many suggestions. With respect to why a debt jubilee doesn’t work, we basically keep needing added debt going forward. But if the system is shrinking rather than growing, we are attempting to borrow from a smaller and smaller future amount. Even if the future amount is simply level, it is clear that with interest, the amount we will need to pay back leaves us worse off than simply waiting to make our expenditure.

  34. Pingback: Randers révise les projections du Club de Rome | Harvey Mead

  35. timl2k11 says:

    As far as what the future might hold, I think the best thing anyone can do is find a good source of distraction.

  36. St, Roy says:

    Ernst Mayr said it a long time ago. “Higher intelligence is a lethal mutation”

  37. Pingback: Gail Tverberg, que sabe muito do assunto, aposta numa data para o colapso financeiro global: 2015/16 | Achaques e Remoques

  38. Quitollis says:

    Russia is getting right bellicose over the Ukraine. English language pro-Russian news reports in the last few days have threatened nuclear war and even “extinction of the species” over Ukraine.

    Putin wants to reconstruct the Soviet Union or at least — the Russian sphere of influence. Since the Russia-Georgia War of 2008 the West allegedly seeks to limit the expansion of Russian influence. Russia accuses us of stirring up revolutions (ironic) and that we want to construct a first strike capability in Europe that would neutralise any Russian response. (I do not know enough to judge whether that is a technical possibility.)

    Eastern Europe and the Middle East are strategically important to both sides and they are on opposite sides of various confrontations, Syria, Iran, Iraq etc. Russia fears our hindrance of the expansion of Russian influence in Ukraine with its resources and markets. But really, nuclear war, now?

    A 2000 strong, armed pro-government (and likely pro-Russian) para gang threatened the Maiden protestors today. Is Ukraine headed for civil war?

    • Paul says:

      I believe Russia threatened the US with nuclear war over the Syria issue — they drew the line in the sand there — and the US backed down (yet the CIA still funds Al Qaeda Al Nusra religious fanatics who are attacking Assad – and based on the info from MIT and Seymour Hersh – the CIA almost certainly had their flunkies deliver chemical weapons into a civilian target killing women and children – then attempting to blame Assad).

      The stakes are high – anything goes.

    • timl2k11 says:

      Russia and the US seem to be back into the game of fighting “proxy wars”. It does seem like Putin wants to re-assert Russia as a “superpower” of sorts, perhaps not so much to any resurgence of Russia’s economy, but the very apparent weakness if the United States economy. Putin knows he can afford to play games with the US in her current fragile state.

      • Paul says:

        I don’t think Russia is so much trying to assert itself rather it is defending itself against an incredible evil force – the US — which likely gassed women and children in Syria

        US media blacks out Seymour Hersh exposé of Washington’s lies on sarin attack in Syria

        The American media has blacked out an account by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh demonstrating that President Barack Obama and the US government lied when they claimed to have proof that the Syrian government carried out a sarin gas attack last August on areas near Damascus held by US-backed “rebels.”

        Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and other top officials declared categorically that the August 21 attack on Eastern Ghouta, which reportedly killed hundreds of people, had been carried out by the Syrian military. They, along with the leaders of Britain and France, sought to use the gas attack to stampede public opinion behind their plans to attack Syria, cripple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and install a puppet government.

        Seymour Hersh exposes US government lies on Syrian sarin attack

        Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has published an article demonstrating that the US government and President Barack Obama knowingly lied when they claimed that the Syrian government had carried out a sarin gas attack on insurgent-held areas last August.
        Hersh’s detailed account, based on information provided by current and former US intelligence and military officials, was published Sunday in theLondon Review of Books. The article, entitled “Whose sarin?,” exposes as a calculated fraud the propaganda churned out day after day by the administration and uncritically repeated by the media for a period of several weeks to provide a pretext for a military attack on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

  39. tesseract says:

    I stumbled across this site in yet another instance of the unfortunate ritual I go through when I’m feeling particularly down: look around in r/collapse. A place where I asked a question which I now repeat to everyone here:

    How do you people handle this? How do you handle the notion that the world as we know it will end? Why even bother to persist and have a plan rather than just keep a gun or a rope handy to finally end it when the time comes?

    Are you all really that scared of dying that you’re willing to devote 12 hours a day toiling away in brutal farm labor just to survive? Does the platitude of “at least the human race as a whole will survive” comfort you even though all the things that make it great: science, industry, our drive to understand and control the world – will be gone?

    Please be honest: is there something wrong with me? In a way I guess you could call me suicidal: because to me, a life of suffering is a life not worth living. I don’t see myself breaking my back in a farm a good life. I never had many friends and am rather awkward with people so I cannot form the connections necessary to survive a collapse. All those factors make death to me sound logical. And I think it would sound logical to a lot of people. So why don’t more people embrace this option? Is the survival instinct coded into the human brain (that I somehow missed) that strong?

    Or maybe I’m simply too dependent on current society. In that case I ask: why wouldn’t anyone be? Sure things are tough right now but even a man working 12 hours a day in McDonalds would be better off than farming. Sure, it’s boring but at least you’re not making huge physical strain. And all the wonderful infrastructure that exists in our society! We have the Internet, which allows us to access most of all human knowledge from all recorded history! Art and science, two of the things that make us inherently superior to any on sentient species! How can anyone cope with the end of those things? How can anyone accept humanity essentially going back to devoting its time exclusively to survival? That would make us little more than animals! Until other sentient species are found, Humanity is the GOD of this world. And GODS should not debase themselves to go back to suffering under the harsh rule of biology.

    I believe in cornucopianism and technoutopianism because it’s the only thing that keeps my sanity intact. And yet, in days like this, I know it’s not possible. So I ask of you? How do you do it? How do you choose life?

    I just want an answer. Hell, even knowing that there is no answer would be a relief. Please tell me.

    • Paul says:

      Most of my neighbours here in the 3rd world spend long days labouring in the rice fields — almost all of are essentially living at just above subsistence.

      I am not aware of any suicides in our village in the 6 years we have lived here.

      Do people in the worst slums suicide by the millions? Not that I am aware of

      I suppose for some if they can’t spend their days on Facebook and watching American Idol then suicide is a great solution. Or maybe just stock up on Xanax — I hear that helps block out reality very effectively

      Personally — I’ll try the 12 hour days on the farm — because I know that when things get bad I will do as I have always done — fight my way through. If I fail so be it — but it would take a hell of a bad situation for me to resort to a bottle of pills.

      “Humanity is the GOD of this world.” I always thought humans were animals — like frogs, deer, mice….. the only difference is we are the only animal that is capable of destroying the world.

      And as for God — if you believe in that — then surely all you have to do is say a few prayers and all will be good.

      • InAlaska says:

        As a part time farmer, I must say that it can be a lovely, rewarding task. Farmers work with nature at a very basic level. Sure, there are moments of drudgery and hard labor, but there is also moments of joy and enjoyment. Bringing forth green, growing food from the earth is extremely pleasurable. Supporting yourself and knowing where you food comes from is really all to the good. It is certainly no more boring or drudgery filled than, say, spending 8 hours behind a computer screen. I think most people would find, once they harden up, that farming is a better choice than suicide. Best wishes to you.

        • Paul says:

          I am sure even the Facebook addicts will realize that they had wasted a number of the best years of their lives in trivial pursuits – nothing like getting on the land and being rewarded with a crop of food.

          And this will be even more rewarding when the grocery stores are no longer 🙂

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      tesseract, before the industrial revolution 95% worked labor jobs, while 5% had non-labor jobs. Today those percentages are reversed. But more labor doesn’t make a person want to off themselves. However trying to make the transition post collapse will not be easy for a lot of people. But there will be draft horses to pull plow so it won’t be too hard. A good way to get back in farm shape is to start a backyard garden.

    • dolph says:

      The modern world is one giant lie! Why should it bother you that it is headed for the dustheap?

      On the other end of this, nature and humans are going to be in much better shape. It’s just our fate to observe the transition, and thus the anxiety.

      One thing you can do is to think about how interesting it will be to live during the greatest transition in history.

      • tesseract says:

        What makes you say everything will be “in better shape”? Because everyone is going to stick to small communities and sing Kumbaya around the campfire after their 14 hour day is done? Just look at what has happened to small disconnected communities all throughout history. Hell, look what’s happening right now:

        Are you saying that this sort of thing will DECREASE with a communications break down? What if someone is born gay, or the village chief dislikes him? Where will these outcasts go?

        And what about the mentally ill, the physically disabled, the sick? Are we supposed to be GLAD that all of them, which modern society has been able to keep alive will die horribly in the name of “survival of the fittest”? This is what really upsets me about those who glorify a return to the “natural”. The natural is harsh and cruel! Mother Nature is a tyrant that we as a species are morally obligated to overthrow! If there was a way to sacrifice the ENTIRE ecosphere to ensure the eternal prosperity of humanity, then I support it to high heaven.

        I just cannot fathom a perspective like yours. Tell me, how will mankind be better from the ordeal? It will be a step back in every sense, except to make us closer to animals who, unlike some nature fans claim, can and do murder, rape and pillage resources until there’s nothing left.

    • timl2k11 says:

      “I believe in cornucopianism and technoutopianism because it’s the only thing that keeps my sanity intact. ”
      And therein lies the problem. I’m not that different from you actually. But we have been lied to and misled. If cornucopianiam and technoitopianism are the only things keeping our sanity intact, forget collapse, we do have a problem!

    • Tony says:

      Civilisation has always damaged the very environment it needs to thrive, so it’s not great. The appearance of greatness is temporary and has been made possible only by the chance discovery of abundant easy to recover supplies of fossil fuels.

      I don’t know why you think working 12 hours a day, every day, on a farm is the only possible future in a collapse. It’s certainly possible that something like that may be temporarily needed as we modify our food raising techniques after the short experiment with fossil fuels. But there are other, more natural, ways of “farming” that can have yields as great as the artificial methods, and with a lot more benefits besides (like nutritious foods). Some of those ways require very little ongoing effort, after some investment in labour up front.

      Of course, there is no way it will be pretty but the actual course of events is unknown. It may be long and drawn out, or not. It may not affect everyone at the same time, but it will be a difficult transition to negotiate, as people do get caught up in it.

      I think, rationally, it’s impossible to be cornucopian, since we have those annoying realities called the laws of nature. Limits is what Gail writes about often. To me, it’s best to have an awareness of our situation, rather that taking a head in the sand approach. But it affects people in different ways, emotionally. There are other sites that deal a lot with the emotional aspects of the coming collapse (with some of those sites going further and thinking more in terms of extinction, rather than “simply” collapse). You choose your sites and go with that for a while. Your choice will likely change from time to time.

    • SlowRider says:

      I will remember the +40 years that I enjoyed our civilization. And I am living it as consciuosly as possible, while it lasts.
      But I believe living as a farm worker won’t even be the most striking feature of our future. That will be the unpredictable responses of the 90% of people who find themselves completely unprepared for a world of “much less”, physically and mentally. There will be much despair and unnecessary pain.

    • Joe says:


      The answer is to live each day until you can no longer live each day. That’s the way to do it. Even for you, the survival instinct is far stronger than you realise – you have never committed suicide yet, however many times you may (or may not) have contemplated it. Because now is now, and the future is never how you imagine it. The idea of a future suicide may have its present attractions, but when you get there, the future becomes now, and it no longer seems so compelling.

      > I never had many friends and am rather awkward with people so I cannot form the connections necessary to survive a collapse.

      Sounds like me when I was younger, but time balances you out. Remember that you have strong genetic bonds to your family, so be sure to stay around them, They love you more than you know. If you’re not good with people – get a dog, or get to know somebody who has one and offer to take it for walks. Dogs are fascinating creatures and excellent company.

      Remember, we won’t collapse from one day to the next. Read John Michael Greer’s blog (The Archdruid Report) – he speaks of decline rather than collapse. James Lovelock, of Gaia fame, says he had a great time during World War 2, because everybody pulled together. Fair enough, you won’t have a great time if you die, but remember that combatants and civilian casualties are always in the minority.

      From your comments, you sound as if you could be “schizoid”: low serotonin (anhedonia), highly introverted, loving solitude, maybe good with animals; or even a bit Asperger’s, hence your awkwardness with people. But remember, practice makes perfect, especially over the years. And you also have your talents, things you are good at that others aren’t. Has anybody ever told you that you have a different way of looking at things? How many people would call themselves “tesseract”, after all? All sorts of talents, straightforward and otherwise, will be required in the years ahead, yours included. So remember, one day at a time – it’s far from over yet. 🙂

      • tesseract says:

        Unfortunately my family is quite bigoted and borderline abusive. If I ever do something right, I become a perfect little angel but when I struggled with lack of success in college and unemployment, they kept telling me how they lied to their friends about how I was doing and how they were so ashamed of me. Whenever I bring up any serious matters like this, they look at me like a 6 year old who will one day “see the light” instead of a 25 year old adult.

        All my talents are technology based. Who is going to need a computer programmer when we’re all stuck on the farm?

        • garand555 says:

          Just because the world as we know it is going to change drastically does not mean that there will be an end to the need for scientific inquiry. Having technical skills puts you a step ahead on this. We may not be able to build and run experiments on super colliders without a significant source of energy, but there will be other problems that we face that will need data based decisions if we want to have some semblance of sanity and resource security.

    • garand555 says:

      The answer is simple: I want to survive. I enjoy growing things. Toil on a farm is not as bad as you make it out to be, unless you are physically disabled in some way. Furthermore, we have a lot of modern knowledge that can be applied to older farming methods. We also have the Edo period of Japanese history to look to for methods, as they were relatively stable in population and, for a pre-industrial society, they had a decent quality of life from a physical resource standpoint. I do not advocate the strict class system and samurai and whatnot, just that we look at how they managed their physical resources.

      I, myself, have a very large garden and am currently breeding crops to be genetically diverse and adapted to my soil, my climate and my methods. While one still has to replace what is taken from the soil, this does mean less fertilization, which is less work. While I can hit the water table with a shovel, my area is rainfall challenged, so it behooves me to not water a lot, which means that the less drought adapted plants will not survive to go to seed. I also do not have to worry about amending my to adjust its alkaline PH to something that most books would consider appropriate for most plants. I have some of the knowledge from past scientific research in my head, so I would rather use that than brute physical labor when it is possible to do so. It is simply trying to piggyback off of evolution. I think that it is better to work with nature rather than fighting it.

      I also have several fruit trees and am putting in some blackberry bushes. I’m also contemplating what other perennials I can put in. It is nice to have something that I do not have to worry about planting year after year, but on the other hand, last year, I lost almost all of my fruit to a late frost.

      All in all, the food that I’ve produced myself is of higher quality and better flavor than the industrial farmed stuff that you get. I am a lot less worried about feeding myself and a lot more worried about people who want to feed themselves with my food, but that will likely not be a long lived worry in the event of a rapid collapse. In a long collapse, more people will start looking to do what I am doing to alleviate their food budgets, and more people will have an inkling of what it means to be self sufficient. I am not fully self sufficient, but I am fortunate enough to live where between myself and the neighbors, we do have the knowledge to collectively survive.

      My advice is this: If you live in the city, look up at the stars. See how many you can see. Then go out camping, and repeat. Enjoy the primal pleasure that sitting around a small campfire gives a person. Then put that into context with our modern industrial society. Sometimes being away from the modern hubbub can be peaceful and fulfilling. I have no problem with technology, but I do not believe that it is going to save our current society, which is corrupt and unwilling to change course.

    • edpell says:

      Tesseract, my recommendation is high doses of anti-depressants and move out of family house as soon as possible. You have my best wishes.

      • xabier says:


        Moving out of the family home is possibly the best anti-depressant there is…..

      • tesseract says:

        I already moved out, thank you (which is MUCH better than how the vast majority of people my age in my country are doing). Unfortunately, I moved to a different country where I don’t speak the language, so finding psychiatric help is a no go.

        And I’m usually not depressed. It’s funny, but I think the moments when I am are the ones in which I have the most clarity. When I am not, I still know all these things…but simply don’t care. When I go to places like these, I’m usually in a despairing mood that I have the irrational urge to exacerbate (though I read a study that claimed that depressed people have the tendency to seek out depressing news, so it’s not just me).

    • dredmorbius says:

      If you ran into this post via /r/collapse, that was me posting it.

      As I mentioned in my follow-up comments there, the psychology of collapse is becoming an increasingly fascinating aspect to me, with two primary components: denial among those who refuse to face it, and gloom / depression among those who do.

      Charles Hugh Smith wrote an essay 19 November 2010 titled “The Burden of Knowing”, at (search for it as URLs trigger spam blocking here).

      As to the relative merits of living on a farm or otherwise: I’ve found that at the times of my life when I’ve been most directly engaged in what I’m doing, whether it was direct production work (e.g., creating _material things_ and not just rearranging electron patterns), or engaged in direct survival (backpacking, splitting wood, rowing boats, cycling, whatever), I’ve actually been at my happiest. You’ve got the closest connection to what it is you’re doing. So yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also immensely satisfying. Again, it’s part of human psychology.

      One of the huge challenges of modern life is that it’s so _disconnected_ from end-results. I’ve spent 20+ years working and wondering just what it is I’m really producing, and I know I’m not the only one.

      So, while I do not look forward to the end of modern civilization (it provides a lot of things I like, including the opportunity to peer inside the mind of an awfully sharp woman in Georgia from thousands of miles away, and rearrange electrons on her pages — and more importantly, thought processes in her mind and the minds of her readers), the idea of a more directly connected existence has some appeal.

      Mind: the number of people who can be supported under that realm is likely a small fraction of those alive now. So it’s not going to be a pleasant transition at all.

      • timl2k11 says:

        “One of the huge challenges of modern life is that it’s so _disconnected_ from end-results. I’ve spent 20+ years working and wondering just what it is I’m really producing, and I know I’m not the only one.”
        It works both ways, I’ve long been frustrated being do disconnected from the things I am buying, having no idea where, how, or who/what produced them, and all the processes and impacts of production.

        • dredmorbius says:

          It definitely cuts both ways. I think there are some significant costs of complexity which are seriously underappreciated. Societally, professionally, from an engineering/design aspect, psychologically.

    • Peter S says:

      It seems that the most troubling thing to you is such an abrupt change of lifestyle. But as for your reasons, no they’re not easy, but there is nothing unusual about them.

      And regarding “all the things that make it great: science, industry, our drive to understand and control the world” – I am now completely baffled. Those are the exact things that have gotten the whole planet into this mess! And you’re complaining that they would dissappear?

      • Paul says:

        The descendants of those who survive what is coming (if anyone survives) will likely see the Industrial Revolution as the most destructive event in the history of mankind. No other event – natural or otherwise – will result in anywhere near the death toll (billions) that is imminent as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

  40. edpell says:

    We do not need to solve the problem. It is valuable for us to keep track of the problem and share ideas for individual and local community action. In fact, Nature will solve the problem. All we can do is nudge it a little bit.

  41. SlowRider says:

    Recently, I have studied about fertilizers. It came to me that they are similar to debt in some ways.

    Fertilizer makes plants grow better than they otherwise would, and our whole system of modern agriculture depends completely on this fact. Humanity was happy, because fossil fertilizers seemed to be free and easy. When soils are empty, you just put more fertilizer on them, and that works for a really long time. Of course, fertilizer and soil isn’t really free – it is a loan of a bank called nature. After a certain tipping point, you can’t grow anything on these fields without huge amounts of artificial fertilizer, for many years. No fertilizer, no food.

    Now, debt also helps the economy to grow better than it otherwise would. But unlike fertilizer, it isn’t free at all, it has to be repaid to the banks, with interest. As Gail shows very well, that worked for a while, because everything expanded so much. What we see now in the US, Japan, China, UK and others – they desperately put more government debt “fertilizer” into the economy, and then some. They don’t intend to pay any of these debts back, they worry about the field to be empty next year. Without analyzing it further, looking at it this way, to me it seems very risky and unsustainable.

    • It’s good that you’re starting to think about Food Security.

      We encourage you to read the following book. The author is Julian Cribb

      “The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It”

    • If we continue our current trajectory expect painful food shortages, water scarcity, displaced populations, collapsed stocks of fish leading to massive instability and unilateral failure of mega-cities within next 20 years.

      Initially, there will be regional failures due to increased population, greater demand for costly, harder to extract resources, a dwindling supply of fresh water, land scarcity, over-extraction of minerals, soil erosion, ocean acidity and the further impacts of runaway climate change.

      Nature is preparing to challenge the arrogance of mankind.

  42. jeremy890 says:

    Before things truly fall apart, at least here in the United States, we will see “rationing” and a revaluation of the currency. Folks will be unhappy about it all, but will have no choice but to comply.
    One of the “failed” states North Korea has shown what people will endure to maintain some sense of order. Several years back the government ordered citizens to turn their currency in for “new revalued” funds.

    Needless to say, personal savings were largely wiped out and “chaos ensued”.
    From the article

    I worked like a dog for two months for the winter, but the money became useless paper overnight,” a resident of Sinuiju, a city that borders China, was quoted as saying on the Web site of Good Friends, a South Korea-based aid organization with informants in the North.

    China’s official New China News Agency said in a report from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, that state-run shops were closed Tuesday as sales staff posted new prices on goods.

    The exchange of old currency for new began Monday and will end Sunday, the news agency said, adding that the government did not explain why the revaluation had occurred.

    I think our United States government realizes this needs to happen and are trying to find a way to manage it

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  44. Dear Gail:
    The issues you raise are important, one in particular that I’ll get to in a moment. I suggest you read Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (far more insightful than Jared Diamond). Basically, Tainter argues that the root cause of the collapse of all civilizations that have preceded us is “declining marginal returns on added investments in complexity.” In English: the problem of declining returns that is the root source of the field of economics’ nickname, the “dismal science.” Not only do we face declining marginal returns on new investment in fossil fuels and water, but we will soon be facing similar problems with a whole variety of resources that we currently mine from the Earth’s crust to keep agriculture and industrial gizmos running smoothly: phosphorous, for one, is essential in the production of fertilizer; and as I have written elsewhere, “Based on known terrestrial reserves and growing consumption in developing countries along with excessive exploitation by developed countries, there is speculation that key elements needed for modern industry, including antimony, zinc, tin, silver, lead, indium, gold, and copper, could be exhausted on Earth within 50–60 years” (D. Cohen, “Earth’s natural wealth: an audit”, NewScientist, 23 May 2007). Your point #6 puts the finger on the solution. And I object to excessive Malthusian gloom and doom in these analyses. Thomas Malthus, after all, turned out to be wrong. And the reason he was wrong is that he assumed a steady state for agricultural technology. Innovation changes our location on the “declining marginal returns” curve. It shifts us to the left, which is good. There is another out that seems to come from the realm of science fiction. That is, there is plenty of energy and plenty of antimony, zinc, tin, silver, lead, indium, gold, and copper UP THERE in the asteroids. Look at the Board of Planetary Resources, one of two companies that have formed recently to develop the asteroid mining industry. These are prominent smart people, not pimple faced scifi geeks. And of course there is also the possibility of space-based solar energy. To sum up, your point #6 is the punch line: we’re not investing our research dollars in the right directions. I hope your doom and gloom can help push R&D in the right directions.

    6. Governments funding leads to excessive research in the wrong directions and lack of research in the right direction

  45. timl2k11 says:

    I didn’t catch this until just now, but it looks like the US government has a new tool to deal with the taper, the “MyRA”. It encourages lower and middle class workers to invest in US Treasuries. Quite a bit of spin by Obama on this one. There is a twist however, the maximum investment amount per person for life is $15,000 (!). I’m not sure that could create much demand for US treasuries. But the parameters could always be changed as needed. One thing Japan has going for it that the US does not is that most of its debt is owed to its own citizens. This could be a way to remedy that situation here in the US. Why someone would bother with an investment vehicle that will give them (adjusting for expected inflation) only a few months of savings when they retire is beyond me.
    I think that the realization by the general public that there really is no practical way to save for retirement, that there is no remedy for underfunded pensions and Social Security, these things will be a red flag that something is very, very wrong.

  46. yt75 says:

    Thanks for another great post Gail.
    About substitution, and towards gas in particular, something that seems to be quite often overlooked, is that in pure energy terms, and at least according to Laherrère evaluations, gas will anyway never provide the level of energy provided by oil now, (let alone the current “gas + oil” level), as shown below for instance :

    As to economists, it seems to me that due to the fact that they would like to consider them as “scientists”(at least quite a bit of them, and maybe not the best), they think they can find “intemporal laws” for human society or something (like crisis cycles and such), with these laws completely detached fom the actual physical world and the associated “arrow of time”.
    (physical laws are intemporal, but also have the concept of time directly in them, typically for the second law of thermodynamics for instance).

  47. Tony says:

    Good analysis, Gail, though I’m not sure I recognise the peak oil view that you stated in point 3.
    I noticed a small typo that states the opposite of what you intended:
    “This omission tends to move the actual date of collapse sooner, and make it more severe.”
    The omission of the role of debt, in the Limits to Growth study, actually moves the date of collapse later and makes it less severe, than you are suggesting. It is the “addition” of the role of debt which makes the collapse earlier and more severe.

  48. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    From the Telegraph comes this article about emerging markets headed for deflation with some choice comments about QE:

    ‘SocGen bear growls: deflation shock-wave from Asia to trigger global recession’

    “Albert Edwards from Societe Generale has returned from two weeks holiday in a completely foul mood. “The ongoing emerging market debacle will be less contained than sub-prime ultimately proved to be. The simple fact is that US and global profits growth have reached tipping point and the unfolding EM crisis will push global profits and thereafter the global economy into deep recession.”
    “Even if the Fed resumes massive QE at some point as the world melts down, and markets desperately attempt their return to the dream trance, they will instead find themselves locked into a Freddy Krueger-like nightmare in which phase 3 of this secular bear market takes equity valuations down to levels not seen for a generation.”
    You can conjure all kinds of tricks, and wave all kinds of magic wands. A determined central bank – backed by a credible government and a cohesive society – can achieve miracles. Any deflationary shock can overpowered.”

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