Oil Limits and Climate Change – How They Fit Together

We hear a lot about climate change, especially now that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently published another report. At the same time, oil is reaching limits, and this has an effect as well. How do the two issues fit together?

In simplest terms, what the situation means to me is that the “low scenario,” which the IPCC calls “RCP2.6,” is closest to what we can expect in terms of man-made carbon emissions. Thus, the most reasonable scenario, based on their modeling, would seem to be the purple bar that continues to rise for the next twenty years or so and then is close to horizontal.

Figure 1. Summary Climate Change Exhibit from new  IPCC Report.

Figure 1. Summary global average surface temperature change exhibit from new IPCC Report.

I come to this conclusion by looking at the tables of anthropogenic carbon emission shown in Annex II of the report. According to IPCC data, the four modeled scenarios have emissions indicated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Total anthropogenic carbon emissions modeled for in the scenarios selected by the IPCC, based on data from Table All 2.a in Annex II.

Figure 2. Total anthropogenic carbon emissions modeled for in the scenarios selected by the IPCC, based on data from Table All 2.a in Annex II.

The Likely Effect of Oil Limits

The likely effect of oil limits–one way or the other–is to bring down the economy, and because of this bring an end to pretty much all carbon emissions (not just oil) very quickly. There are several ways this could happen:

  • High oil prices – we saw what these could do in 2008.  They nearly sank the financial system. If they return, central banks have already done most of what they can to “fix” the situation. They are likely to be short of ammunition the next time around.
  • Low oil prices – this is the current problem. Oil companies are cutting back on new expenditures because they cannot make money on a cash flow basis on shale plays and on other new oil drilling. Oil companies can’t just keep adding debt, so they are doing less investment. I talked about this in Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending. Less oil means either a rebound in prices or not enough oil produced to go around. Either way, we are likely to see massive recession and falling world GDP.
  • Huge credit problems, such as happened in 2008, only worse. Oil drilling would stop within a few years, because oil prices would drop too low, and stay too low, without lots of credit to prop up prices of commodities of all types.
  • Rapidly rising interest rates, as QE reaches its limits. (QE for the United States was put in place at the time of the 2008 crisis, and has been continued since then.) Rising interest rates lead to higher needed tax rates and high monthly payments for homes and cars. The current QE-induced bubble in stock, land, and home prices is also likely to break, sending prices down again.
  • End of globalization, as countries form new alliances, such as Russia-China-Iran. The US is making false claims that we can get along without some parts of the world, because we have so much natural gas and oil. This is nonsense. Once groups of countries start pulling in opposite directions, the countries that have been using a disproportionate share of oil (particularly Europe, the United States, and Japan) will find themselves in deep trouble.
  • Electric grid failures, because subsidies for renewables leave companies that sell fossil-fuel powered electricity with too little profit. The current payment system for renewables needs to be fixed to be fair to companies that generate electricity using fossil fuels. We cannot operate our economy on renewables alone, in part, because the quantity is far too small. Creation of new renewables and maintenance of such renewables is also fossil fuel dependent.

If any of these scenarios takes place and snowballs to a collapse of today’s economy, I expect that a rapid decline in fossil fuel consumption of all kinds will take place. This decline is likely to be more rapid than modeled in the RCP2.6 Scenario. The RCP2.6 Scenario assumes that anthropogenic carbon emissions will still be at 84% of 2010 levels in 2030. In comparison, my expectation (Figure 3, below) is that fossil fuel use (and thus anthropogenic carbon emissions) will be at a little less than 40% of 2010 levels in 2030.

Figure 3. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

Figure 3. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

After 2070, the RCP2.6 Scenario indicates negative carbon emissions, presumably from geo-engineering. In my view of the future, such an approach seems unlikely if oil limits are a major problem, because without fossil fuels, we will not have the ability to use engineering approaches. It is also doubtful that there would be as much need for these engineered carbon-take-downs at the end of the period. Population would likely be much lower by then, so current anthropogenic carbon emissions would be less of a problem.

The Climate Change Scenario Not Modeled

We really don’t know what future climate change will look like because no one has tried to model what a collapse situation would look like. Presumably there will be a lot of tree-cutting and burning of biomass for fuel. This will change land use besides adding emissions from the burned biomass to the atmosphere. At the same time, emissions associated with fossil fuels will likely drop very rapidly.

Clearly the climate has been changing and will continue to change. At least part of our problem is that we have assumed that it is possible to have an unchanging world and have made huge investments assuming that climate would go along with our plans. Unfortunately, the way nature “works” is by repeatedly replacing one system with another system. The new systems that survive tend to be better adapted to recent changes in conditions. If we think of humans, other animals, and plants as “systems,” this is true of them as well. No living being can expect to survive forever.

Unfortunately economies are not permanent either. Just as the Roman Empire failed, our economy cannot last forever. In physics, economies seem to be examples of dissipative structures, just as plants and animals and hurricanes are. Dissipative structures are formed in the presence of flows of energy and matter in open thermodynamic systems–that is, systems that are constantly receiving a new flow of energy, as we on earth do from the sun. Unfortunately, dissipative structures don’t last forever.

Dissipative structures temporarily dissipate energy that is available. At the same time, they affect their surroundings. In the case of an economy, the use of energy permits the extraction of the most accessible, easy-to-extract resources, such as fossil fuels, metals, and fresh water. At the same time, population tends to grow. The combination of growing extraction and rising population leads to economic stresses.

At some point the economy becomes overly stressed because of limits of various types. Some of these limits are pollution-related, such as climate change. Other limits present themselves as higher costs, such as the need for deeper wells or desalination to provide water for a growing population, and the need for greater food productivity per acre because of more mouths to feed. The extraction of oil and other fossil fuels also provides a cost limit, as resource extraction becomes more complex, requiring a larger share of the output of the economy. When limits hit, governments are especially likely to suffer from inadequate funding and excessive debt, because tax revenue suffers if wages and profits drop.

People who haven’t thought much about the situation often believe that we can simply get along without our current economy. If we think about the situation, we would lose a great deal if we lost the connections that our current economy, and the financial system underlying it, offers. We as humans cannot “do it alone”–pull out metals and refine them with our bare hands, dig deeper wells, or keep up fossil fuel extraction. Re-establishing needed connections in a totally new economy would be a massive undertaking. Such connections are normally built up over decades or longer, as new businesses are formed, governments make laws, and consumers adapt to changing situations. Without oil, we cannot easily go back to horse and buggy!

Unfortunately, much of the writing related to dissipative structures and the economy is in French. François Roddier wrote a book called Thermodynamique de l’évolution on topics related to this subject. Matthieu Auzanneau writes about the issue on his blog. Roddier has a presentation available in French. One paper on a related topic in English is Energy Rate Density as a Complexity Metric and Evolutionary Driver by E. Chaisson. Causal Entropic Forces by Wissner-Gross and Freer provides evidence regarding how  societies self-organize in ways that maximize entropy.

The IPCC’s Message Isn’t Really Right 

We are bumping up against limits in many ways not modeled in the IPCC report. The RCP2.6 Scenario comes closest of the scenarios shown in providing an indication of our future situation. Clearly the climate is changing and will continue to change in ways that our planners never considered when they built cities and took out long-term loans. This is a problem not easily solved.

One of the big issues is that energy supplies seem to be leaving us, indirectly through economic changes that we have little control over. The IPCC report is written from the opposite viewpoint:  we humans are in charge and need to decide to leave energy supplies. The view is that the economy, despite our energy problems, will return to robust growth. With this robust growth, our big problem will be climate change because of the huge amount of carbon emissions coming from fossil fuel burning.

Unfortunately, the real situation is that the laws of physics, rather than humans, are in charge. Basically, as economies grow, it takes increasing complexity to fix problems, as Joseph Tainter explained in his book, The Collapse of Complex Societies. Dissipative structures provide this ever-increasing complexity through higher “energy rate density” (explained in the Chaisson article linked above).

Now we are reaching limits in many ways, but we can’t–or dare not–model how all of these limits are hitting. We can, in theory, add more complexity to fix our problems–electric cars, renewable energy, higher city density, better education of women. These things would require more energy rate density. Ultimately, they seem to depend on the availability of more inexpensive energy–something that is increasingly unavailable.

The real issue is the danger that our economy will collapse in the near term. From the earth’s point of view, this is not a problem–it will create new dissipative structures in the future, and the best-adapted of these will survive. Climate will adapt to changing conditions, and different species will be favored as the climate changes. But from the point of view of those of us living on the planet earth, there is a distinct advantage to keeping business as usual going for as long as possible.  A collapsed economy cannot support 7.2 billion people.

We need to understand what are really up against, if we are to think rationally about the future. It would be helpful if more people tried to understand the physics of the situation, even if it is a difficult subject. While we can’t really expect to “fix” the situation, we can perhaps better understand what “solutions” are likely to make the situation worse. Such knowledge will also provide a better context for understanding how climate change fits in with other limits we are reaching. Climate change is certainly not the whole problem, but it may still play a significant role.

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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825 Responses to Oil Limits and Climate Change – How They Fit Together

  1. Interguru says:

    Oil and gas majors now cutting back in U.S. shale gas fields

    posted as a diary on Daily Kos

    In the last 10 days, British Petroleum, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell have all announced they will be spending less on oil and gas exploration in the U.S.

    [ more examples in the Examiner Article ]

    Unfortunately, the results of the shale revolution have been disappointing, leading to significant asset impairment charges and negative cash flows,” [An investment banker] further asks, “Will that capital continue to be available, or will it, too, begin demanding profits rather than reserve additions and production growth?”

    Also at stake are a number of high profile U.S. politicians who have staked, to a large degree, their upcoming reelection by campaigning on the claimed successes of the oil and gas companies operating within their state’s shale formation. One such politician seeking reelection this year is Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Corbett who has been heavily touting what several leading Pennsylvanian labor economists believe are questionable job creation numbers in the state’s Marcellus Shale formation. Corbett has also offered Shell Oil more than $1.6 billion in state tax credits to locate and build an ethane refinery plant outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

    For more than 18 months Shell Oil has been unwilling to date to sign the record breaking state tax incentives agreements with Gov. Corbett and move ahead even as the governor continues to campaign on this issue. With Shell’s new CEO announcing a more than 20% cutback in its U.S. shale gas operations just last week, further doubt is now being cast on this deal.

    We are not at peak oil, we are at peak affordable oil. This can lead to a worldwide financial collapse. For more on this see my comment on Our Finite World. For even more, read the blog, and the (mostly) intelligent discussion.

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  3. Colm Barry says:

    Now, I am not sure if there is CO2 driven global warming in the first place, and given the current hiatus of almost two decades my doubts are growing by the day. However, the above mitigation and slowing-down scenarios argue from an economic standpoint that higher prices lead to less consumption. That is not always true. Take heroin addicts. Higher prices just makes them more aggressively pursuing their goal, but hardly do they reduce consumption. With heroin, getting more heroin does not involve heroin in the procurement process, but money from, as a rule different sources. With oil and gas or coal though, a diminishing return as a rule means ramping the use of that exact fuel source to extract ever more new fuel at ever lower productivity. Let’s say, all nations declare a state of emergency since they are all ADDICTS when it comes to energy, then they might well prolong the extraction of oil even if, theoretically, to get one gallon to the pump requires, say, twenty gallons in extraction cost. Fiat money and war communism certainly make that a possibility for some time. So, while I tend to agree with the above scenarios from a purely theoretical perspective, I would hedge my bets. Having seen solar panels and wind farms and bio fuels already operating at negative (!) yields (and atomic energy never having been demonstrated to produce a net yield also), fossil fuels certainly are the safest bet to produce in such a situation. We’ll see. AND then we might even find out if, given a higher CO2 output, the climate models or their critics were right. All in the name of science, Isee a great experiment unfolding …

    • Colm, your doubts should be decreasing by the day because there is no hiatus, as data over the last nearly 2 decades show. There may have been a slowdown in surface temperature rise only, over the last 16 years or so. I say slowdown because surface temperatures have continued to increase in all data sets. I say “may” because research that tries to take gaps in measurement into account (particularly in the fast warming Arctic) or that takes into account temporary phenonomena (like volcanoes, solar variability, etc) show that there has barely been any slowdown in this one aspect of climate change. But the atmosphere only accounts for a few percent of the extra heat that has been stored. Most (over 90%) goes into the oceans, which are warming faster. So, overall, the heating of the entire planet continues unabated.

    • Interguru says:

      “Take heroin addicts. Higher prices just makes them more aggressively pursuing their goal, but hardly do they reduce consumption.”

      Addicts usually have a short lifespan. They reduce consumption when they die.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        It was oilman GW Bush who said in his second state-of-the-union, “America is addicted to oil.”

        Guess he should have followed the heroin addict to its conclusion if he really wanted to change things.

    • jeremy890 says:

      No hiatus…..Sorry…just poor record keeping:

  4. Paul says:

    No comment required:

    “The results surprised me,” he says. “Using United Nations projections of fertility, and projecting statistically through the lifespan of the mother’s line—some lineages being short-lived, others indefinitely long—an American child born today adds an average 10,407 tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of her mother.

    That’s almost six times more CO2 than the mother’s own lifetime emissions.

    Furthermore, the ecological costs of that child and her children far outweigh even the combined energy-saving choices from all a mother’s other good decisions, like buying a fuel-efficient car, recycling, using energy-saving appliances and lightbulbs. The carbon legacy of one American child and her offspring is 20 times greater than all those other sustainable maternal choices combined.” (See chart [“Little Bundle of Carbon”].)


    • Stefeun says:

      Thanks for your link to this excellent article.
      Sorry I do wish to comment (but not on carbon).

      What I’ll retain is that the most powerful action to regulate birth-rate is simply to provide basic education to the girls (as well as minimum context to control their own lives).

      Another lever to control our global future, maybe the most powerful, which we totally missed (100 years ago), busy as we were in fighting against each other and pillageing our colonies.

      • xabier says:

        One comment on that: Cuban Condom Crisis!

        Birth control is another product of the industrial system -unless we revert to quite severe social controls.

        When the European empires were slogging it out, they often ran quite energetic campaigns to encourage breeding, above all after the slaughter of WW1. Spain in fact still gives some privileges to those with ‘Big Families’.

  5. MJ says:

    Don’t worry about it. We’ll pay it all off with MORE economic growth that make EVERYONE richer!

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  7. Christian says:

    Data show argentinian births reduced 2.5% from 2011 to 2012, reaching less than 2008 levels (past year data still processing). Got peak birth the same year energy balance went negative and economy flatened?

  8. Stilgar Wilcox says:


    Nobel Prize Winner Says Science Ignorance Is ‘Pervasive’ After Poll Reveals Most Americans Doubt Big Bang Theory

    How confident Americans are in things like evolution, the Big Bang, climate change and the age of the Earth depends heavily on religion and political affiliation, the poll reveals.

    Nothing new here, but thought it was courageous of this nobel winner to air his thoughts on the subject.

    • Paul says:

      I think we would have been better off without scientific breakthroughs…. after all those are the things that put this imminent train wreck in motion….

      Beavers (and other animals) don’t have scientific innovations — yet they seem to be quite content.

      So who am I to criticize someone who rejects evolution or any other scientific theory. It is those who pursue ‘advances’ that have destroyed the planet.

      We attempt to defy the laws of nature with our science — nature ultimately reacts with some major blowback — as we are seeing.

      • InAlaska says:

        Paul, I’m not so sure. The human mind, with all its science, is the world’s way of waking up and looking in the mirror at itself. Through science, perhaps even the Universe can know itself. Perhaps the chance for our cosmos to become sentient, for however long, is worth the pain. If you read The Archdruid Report: The Next 10 Billion Years, perhaps you’ll feel as philosophical about our predicament as I’m feeling.

        • Paul says:

          Could be — but if I were 20 years old I might learn some bush survival skills from an aboriginal person — and disappear into the forest and return to living like an animal when the SHTF 🙂

          • InAlaska says:

            I can’t see anything wrong with your reasoning there, either. If you live like an animal, learn to think like an animal, you won’t have the anxiety of worrying about your future.

            • xabier says:

              I’m turning to ‘Dog Philosophy’: a reasonable hedonism, satisfaction with a full food bowl and comfortable bed at night, reasonable precautions for personal safety, and absolutely no preoccupation over the future.

              Worry about the future is a kind of mental weakness that can be overcome or side-stepped in many cases: intense concentration on the present deals with much of it.

              As a small element in a huge, uncontrollable and insane system, it seems the route to a workable daily sanity and a useful life.

              As a human being, I have decided to spend much more time on the appreciation of art and beauty, and the creation of it as far as I am capable, and also on the encouragement of others who are unhappy or stressed. providing myself with entertainment and occupation, and fulfilling my social duty.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “I’m turning to ‘Dog Philosophy’: a reasonable hedonism, satisfaction with a full food bowl and comfortable bed at night, reasonable precautions for personal safety, and absolutely no preoccupation over the future.”

              And a master who selects for loyalty and obedience, and who tells you when you should “go potty” and jerks on your leash if you start sniffing around trees, and who “puts you down” if you get sick and stop chasing rabbits for him?

              I think you figured it out, though. There’s a “dog future” in store for many of us.

            • VPK says:

              Watch Grizzly Man video of Tim Treadwelll….he came closest and would have been OK if it were not for that damn airline agent that pissed him off at the airport, so he returned to his camp in Alaska and got attacked by a rogue old underweight male bear that was mean.
              Might be a good idea to carry a can of peeper spray, just incase.

      • Stefeun says:

        Science is only a tool; the hands and the head are ours.
        One can’t blame the knowledge for what it is; how we’re using it is the rigth question.
        Today’s answer seems to be “make money”; a bit short, or is it me..?

        • xabier says:

          ‘Know Thyself’ (and guide and restrain it) is not found on any school or university syllabus. Science is often just a tool in the hands of an otherwise primitive being dominated by basic urges.

          • Stefeun says:

            Who or what decides as a last resort?
            Reminds me F.Roddier’s last post on his blog (n°59, apr.03, 2014)
            The Great Illusion:

            “(…) All these examples show that the man is not in charge. The evolution obeys laws to which man is subjected. We now know that natural selection acts on genes. It selects those that maximize energy dissipation. It has therefore selected the first genes, which have produced a reptilian brain. To better dissipate the energy, reptilian brains are actually assisted by a limbic or emotional brain. It is then surrounded by a rational brain called the neocortex. Today the neocortex of Man is assisted by an even more powerful exosomatic brain, consisting of computers.

            This will not produce more singularity than when the man began to dissipate energy by exosomatic ways, mostly using machines. As powerful as they are, our computers continue to obey our rational brain. Itself obeys our emotional brain. Seeking to maximize our well-being, it obeys our reptilian brain itself obeys our genes. Finally the latter obey the laws of chemistry that is to say, ultimately, of thermodynamics.

            And Man is not the master of his destiny. It has only the illusion. For the reasons I have outlined, human societies follow the laws of thermodynamics. Our leaders are submitted. Placed at the head of a country with a population whose ideas have become completely unrealistic, they can only lead the society to its collapse.”

            The only thing we could do is maximize the cooperation and slow down.
            Why do I feel like we’ve taken exact opposite direction?

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “We now know that natural selection acts on genes. It selects those that maximize energy dissipation.”

              Can you provide a link? I would like to understand this better. It seems a bit simplistic.

              For example, C4 grasses evolved with the advantage that they were roughly twice as efficient at photosynthesis than C3 plants. This would, at first, seem to fly in the face of “maximizing energy dissipation,” and if carried to its extreme, nature should be evolving and selecting for poor energy conversion efficiency.

              Or am I missing something big here?

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Jan and Others
              I have listened to the ‘dissipative structure’ explanations, but I think they miss some salient points.

              For example, Elaine Ingham, the soil scientist, spoke at the Permaculture Voices conclave in southern California. She says that a field with 10 bacteria and no fungi will grow only weeds, with lots of bare soil. A field with 100 bacteria and 10 fungi can grow better weeds and brassica (kale, collards, etc.). A field with 400 bacteria and 400 fungi can grow most row crops. A field with 600 bacteria and 600 fungi can grow 10X the amount of row crops that a field with 400 can grow. An old growth forest may easily have 700 bacteria and 7000 fungi. The reasons for the big jump in productivity between 400 and 600 is because the microbes are cycling the ‘non plant friendly’ nutrients in the soil into ‘plant friendly’ nutrients. Therefore, you get an explosion of productivity. The old growth forest is the most productive of all because about 75 percent of the weight of a teaspoon of soil is microbes…as against perhaps 5 percent in a sad chemical field.

              Are the microbes ‘dissipating’ the nutrients in the soil? And the answer is, “No, they are just cycling them much faster which makes them available to the crops humans grow’. Are the humans ‘dissipating’ the nutrients. And the answer is ‘Not if they are recycling the nutrients after they harvest the food’. The old growth forest is a recycling machine. Humans can approach the recycling efficiency of an old growth forest, but it gets harder when you are dealing with a large farm which is shipping its nutrients off to distant lands.

              You cannot reasonably have too many microbes in well oxygenated soil…they will never deplete the nutrients. Human can, and have, used poor agricultural practices and have depleted the soil and the nutrients…but that is not a function of the cycling rate. In fact, a poor farm in poor soil subject to erosion…but with slow cycling… will rapidly lose whatever nutrients it has left.

              In short, biological nutrient cycling is not like oil depletion.

              A phosphorus atom is recycled in Nature about 70 times (as I recall) before it is lost to the ocean. Rock weathering supplies about what is lost to the ocean. So, a natural system does not ‘run out’ of phosphorus. If one is using the best gardening practices, then growing crops which need nitrogen is not dissipating anything.

              I recently referred to one of Geoff Lawton’s videos where he is visiting a former student’s property. The student has carefully laid out the water system, with several ponds and swales and keyline design. The rainfall spends almost all its time seeping through the soil, very slowly…as opposed to tumbling down the hill in a brook. At the bottom of the property. there is a pond which is fed by the seepage coming down the hill. The student uses a windmill at the top of the hill to pump water back to the top of the hill, where it begins its journey down the hill again. This is an example of a human copying a design of Nature and doing something Nature cannot do…move water back uphill and move water from valleys to ridges. (We might say that beaver could duplicate the ponds).

              To describe what the student has done as ‘dissipative’ I think misses the point entirely.

              Don Stewart

            • Edmund Brown says:

              I don’t really disagree with anything you wrote since you said the nutrients released by microbes need to be returned to the soil (as opposed to sold out the farm gate). Ingham is often less forthright than this, and has made the demonstrably false claim that all soils everywhere on earth have all the necessary elements to support good crops, and that most soils simply lack the requisite microbes to “release” the elements.

              I believe she’s done good work hammering home how important soil biology is for growing healthy crops, but I think she does a huge dis-service to many people when she tells them all they need is compost and other things to get their soils really charged up with bacteria and fungi. For example, there are a lot of parent materials on the planet that lack necessary elements entirely (selenium for example), or have a poor calcium:magnesium ratio and will never grow plants as conducive to healthy livestock as soils derived from rocks with more favorable C:Mg ratios.

              I realize you may very well be aware of this stuff already and am actually aiming this comment at people who are interested in growing their own food and want to grow nutrient dense produce and healthy livestock. The best original source for info on this topic I”m aware of is William Albrecht’s work from the 1920’s-40’s. For more contemporary derivative work Steve Solomon’s “The Intelligent Gardener” is a good place to start. Solomon also hosts an active Yahoo group called “soilandhealth” and I highly recommend it for anyone who plans to grow a significant amount of their yearly food allotment themselves.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund
              I am aware of the disputes…a lot less clear on the resolution to them. People who know more than I have argued for both sides. There is a renewed interest in soil tests which look for the nutrients which are not in plant usable form…on the theory that if you have enough microbes they will convert the unusable nutrient into plant usable form. Some others have scoffed.

              Albrecht, of course, was dealing with food grown in plowed fields. A plowed field will have a very high bacteria to fungi ratio. I don’t know whether anyone has looked to see if the phenomena he found was due to lack of soil nutrients or to lack of fungi. Since his correlation was to rainfall amounts, one might suspect that lack of nutrients due to leaching was the issue. On the other hand, if Ingham is right about the big ramp up in productivity once a critical threshold is crossed in terms of microbe counts, then it could be that more fungi (due to less plowing) would have liberated more of the missing nutrients and Albrecht would not have found the relationship he did–even though we might not classify the particular nutrients as ‘abundant’..

              If anyone has compelling evidence on this, I haven’t seen it. Meanwhile, some respectable people I know are advising people around here to add phosphate rock to their soils in preparation for the time when we won’t be able to get it. The advice also includes hanging onto the phosphate once you have it…as opposed to letting it just wash into the Gulf.

              Don Stewart

            • Edmund Brown says:

              I realize there is a debate about the validity of her assertions. I happen to find the evidence that she is flat out wrong quite compelling. If she’s not completely wrong then she should be adding an awful lot of qualifying statements to the assertion that anyplace and any soil has sufficient nutrients to grow healthy crops.

              Different areas of the world with essentially the same climate and latitude exhibit different primary productivity. I happen to believe this is because of the nutrients the soils in the various locations provide to the plants growing thereon.

              Total soil tests (acid extractions at low pH and run for a long time), demonstrate significantly different compositions and different breakdown rates. Think of the difference in weatherability between a soft sandstone and a granite. Whether the breakdown is from weather, or from acid exudates from roots and microbes, or from some combination thereof, the rate is going to be dramatically different depending on the stone.

              If memory serves, many of Albrecht’s studies demonstrated difference in the quality of forages grown on different soils, and the quality depending on nutrient balance. Yes, many of those soils were probably plowed at some point, but I think his findings show us a very important piece of the larger puzzle. The part about the importance of getting elements into a roughly the right ratios with one another. Inhagm has a part of the puzzle too – soil biology and the soil foodweb is critically important to growing healthful crops and forages, but neither perspective is complete without the other. And they both are dependent on physical properties of the soil too – aeration, porosity, etc.
              And I haven’t tooled around with paramagnetism yet, but two ag consultants/farmers I know swear by the effectiveness of adding paramagnetic rock dusts to garden beds and farm fields.

              All in all I think it is best to take a holistic approach to growing stuff and combine schools of thought where possible. Some lines of thinking are mutually exclusive – roundup and maximising soil biology for example – but others are largely compatible – base cation soil ratio balancing (Albrecht) and soil biology amendments (Rodale/Ingham).

              From your previous posts I expect you basically agree with my last few paragraphs… just writing it all out for the benefit of the group (if anyone is listening).

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund
              I live in the land of Utisols. The conventional wisdom is that they have to be acidic (all those pine trees and azaleas) and poor in nutrients. Yet, by scavenging organic matter and adding it on top of the soil, I now have neutral PH and my nutrients tests come back looking good (from the state ag service). For what it is worth, this is precisely what Elaine says will happen. Of course, I am working in a suburban lot, not a farm.

              More conventional wisdom here is that cover crops with a lot of above ground biomass should be grown and turned under. That is what Rodale (where Elaine works) recommends. I worked on a farm that did it that way, and I know a local farmer who did it for 30 years. Neither ever achieved an organic matter content greater than one percent. Elaine, who is known for her blunt words, says that doing it that way is just wrong. Instead, we should plant cover crops with massive roots and little above ground and not till anything. When Albert Bates was here a couple of months ago, he also recommended the below ground roots method.

              One can cut off the tops, and let the roots just decay in place, which leaves carbon deep in the soil and opens up passages for air and water. Alternatively, one can plant low growing perennial cover crops, and plug in transplants by scratching a small space, which will leave the microbes and other critters pretty much intact. (What I am describing is gardening. I have seen videos of machine aided planting which is somewhat similar on large farms.)

              I have come to the conclusion that she is correct about the cover crops, also. Her advice is reminiscent of Masonobu Fukuoka’s practices, I think. But the Ag College still tells people they should plant ‘big biomass above ground’ and till it in.

              One of the reasons I am unsure about the minerals is because, when the settlers came from Europe, they found fertile soil. It didn’t take them long to destroy it and move on West, but it was fertile when they got here. Now, instead of topsoil, most people are dealing with red clay. Elaine says that clay and sand can be made to act like loam through the action of microbes and organic matter. My experience gardening tells me that she is correct. So…if we rebuild topsoil, will the original nutrients be released from the red clay?

              Like I said, other people whose judgment I respect recommend adding rock dusts and other additives. I would never tell someone not to add rock dust, I’m just not sure that Elaine is wrong. In any event, I have seen enough to become convinced that more soil life equals more fertility and healthier plants.

              I’m no expert, so don’t take this as argumentative….Don Stewart

            • Edmund Brown says:

              I’m not an expert either, perhaps I’m just knowledgable enough to be really dangerous 😉

              I’m aware of the no-till method of organic growing, but I haven’t tried implementing it in my own garden yet. It strikes me as reasonable that the no-till method you describe would be better for soil tilth than churning it every year.

              Out of curiosity, do you remember what type of test you ran on your soils? Morgan? Melich III? I’m a fan of the Melich III for amending soil minerals because it does a fuller extraction of cations and shows what is in the “pantry” and on the dinner table, not solely on the table… There are some conditions under which it will give poor results, but on an acidic utisol I would expect it to give a good idea of what’s in there. If you’ve spread lime it can read pretty far off base though…

              I agree that adding or growing organic matter in situ can do wonders for the physical characteristics of soils. I still fail to get as much cover grown on my gardens as I ought to. I’m sure I’ve lost some nutrients to deeper levels of my soil’s profile due to leaching. I live in NY and get 40+ inches of rain/year.

              As to the virgin fertility of the soils in the SE US. I wonder. We don’t have great records of just how fertile they actually were compared to a properly mineralized and biologically active soil we humans help get going today. Also, that fertility probably took a LONG time to build up. Plants are good at recycling nutrients once they’ve been liberated from the parent rocks. In the precolonial setting there was little transfer of nutrients by selling crops off the farm, so the natural ecosystem had decades or centuries to build up the fertility. I don’t think that is the time scale Ingham talks about working with to get the biology of the soil really cranking. I think it is entirely possible she’s partly right and we can crank soil biology a bit beyond what it would “naturally” do and thereby liberate some bound minerals from the soil (in many places). If one does this and keeps on selling crops out the farm gate without careful returns of manures both brown and green, the soil will wear out (IMHO). Depending on the exchange capacity of the soil at the start of such a program the evidence of mineral deficiency might take a year or two to manifest, or a decade or more for a heavier soil with more clay in it.

              The only way I can come to grips with Ingham being right in her basic assertion is if this guy is correct – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corentin_Louis_Kervran – about biological transmutation. Everything I’ve read and seen so far in life has not encouraged me to put much stock in his hypothesis.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund

              The ‘no till’ thesis is based on the observation that, if you till, you add a flood of oxygen into the soil which causes an explosion in the population of bacteria which eat all your organic matter very quickly. Consequently, in a warm, wet climate such as the southeastern US, it turns out to be impossible to grow organic matter in the soil by turning under a cover crop. I am not sure about cold places such as Minnesota. I do know that the northern plains states usually show a lot more organic matter than we do. Gabe Brown, a large scale farmer in North Dakota, has done very good work building up his organic matter…he is aiming for 12 percent, I think. Elaine has consulted with him.

              I was just listening to Geoff Lawton’s talk at the permaculture session in southern California, and he says something like this: it’s very easy to build and inch or even two inches of topsoil in a garden every year. But to do it on a large farm you need to have a really well thought out program. I’m in the gardening business, and so much organic matter gets thrown away by my neighbors that I can just gather it up on garbage day and have plenty of compost/ mulch which I add to the top of the soil. After taking a careful look at the soil tests from some really good organic farms, and listening to some people talk at a cover crop seminar put on by the Extension people last year, and talking to some trusted long time farmers, I came to the conclusion that tilling in a lot of biomass just doesn’t work. One of my farmer friends has perfected a no till rotation on some of his crops. He is still working on the others. Too early to tell how he will do on the next test of soil organic matter.

              As for the southeast. The theory that I hear on our soils is that, first, they were never glaciated and so were never stirred up. Instead, they just sat here for millions of years, leaching away nutrients in the heavy rains. Consequently, the utisols are just poor in nutrients. That runs counter to your theory that having them rest prior to white settlement would let them accumulate nutrients.

              But when the settlers got here and plowed straight up and down the hillsides, all that topsoil washed away in as little as 10 years. At that time, a single healthy young male slave was worth several hundred acres of land…so they just moved West and ruined some more land.

              Clay, as you know, retains nutrients very well. So…if we create topsoil from our clay, will it be nutrient rich? I don’t know.

              Be all that as it may, here is the soil remineralization program that a friend of mine in the mountains stole from a guy who stole it from Geoff Lawton who stole it from another guy…Don Stewart

              Geoff Lawton is where I first heard of this remineralization process, and his supplemental mineral recipe is great. This recipe is enough to feed to 1 dairy cow every day at milking or 10 chickens once a week.

              Start by boiling up a cup or two of clean water.
              Add 1 tsp. of copper sulfate. This worms the animals, but is a toxic compound that can poison them.
              So, to neutralize the dangers of the copper sulfate, but still get the worming effect, add 1 tbsp. of dolomite lime.
              To balance out the pH add 1 tbsp. of flowers of sulfur, an acidifying element to balance the alkaline effect of the lime.
              Next, add 1 tbsp. of 2 types of rock dust minerals. For example, 1 tbsp. of greensand and 1 tbsp. of azomite.
              Add 2 tbsp. of kelp, a dried mineral rich ocean product. This contains all of the minerals of the land (which all erode out into the ocean) in a slightly different form and ratio.
              1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. This adds more nutrition, and helps with the digestion of some of the minerals.
              3 tbsp. molasses. An extra boost of iron, and a nice sweet taste makes this concoction a delicious treat for all livestock.
              This mix is stirred together, added to a bucket of chopped forage, and fed to the animals. Geoff credits the bones of this recipe to Pat Coleby, an Australian author who writes natural animal care books for farmers and pet owners. Pat’s take is that animals do not have health problems or diseases, but rather are suffering from a nutrient deficiency, and that it is up to the farmer or pet owner to supply the correct nutrients and minerals. This treats the cause of the problem as opposed to the symptoms.

              There is probably some wisdom there when it comes to our own health as well. Regardless, the first step is to remineralize the soil, and there isn’t a more efficient way than feeding a mineral supplement through your livestock and having them pre-process it for you into a plant ready state, creating an oasis of fertility and nutrient density in your backyard

            • Edmund Brown says:

              Don wrote – “The theory that I hear on our soils is that, first, they were never glaciated and so were never stirred up. Instead, they just sat here for millions of years, leaching away nutrients in the heavy rains. Consequently, the utisols are just poor in nutrients. That runs counter to your theory that having them rest prior to white settlement would let them accumulate nutrients.”

              I don’t see this as contradictory and was trying to get at it when I questioned, “how fertile the soils were originally”. I’m not convinced most of the soils across the southeast were hugely fertile and productive even in their first few years of farm production. Even with good topsoil management and low/no-till I think they’d have worn out in a decade or two if products were sold off the farm because the mineral reserves are low to begin with.

              No disagreement about poor plowing methods and topsoil management. Allowing erosion on one’s land should be seen as a moral failing since future generations are dependent on there being soil to grow food in. Too bad that’s not the case for most farmers in the US.

              I’ve read a bit of Gabe Brown’s stuff. He has dramatically different soils than the south – I saw him talking on youtube or someplace and an audience member asked about fertilizing with phosphorus. He said he wasn’t worried about it in his lifetime because his soils generally had enormous reserves of it both naturally and from all the triple-super he and his dad (wife’s dad?) had put down over their years as conventional crop farmers. He also only gets 9 to 13 inches of rain per year. And his ground is frozen for roughly 6 months every year. That is obviously a very different situation than a low exchange capacity, high rainfall, never frozen soil in the SE.

              I am not arguing against any of the practices Gabe talks about, but he’s very careful to say explicitly that his situation is not identical to most other situations and application of the principles he talks about is going to require tweaking. If I lived in the SE and planned to build a homestead, one of the steps I’d take is to stockpile some rock dusts for gardening with. I know Albrecht didn’t get to test everything he would have liked, but his findings corrospond well with others who say similar things (Tiejdens, Reams for the most part).

              Gail has been very permissive of widely off-topic posts. I’d encourage you to come join Steve Solomon’s yahoo group, “soilandhealth”. It is a good group of people, mostly homestead types, but a few farmers too. For anyone interested in growing a lot of their own food it is a great resource.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund Brown
              I agree about the export of nutrients out the farm gate. I think we eventually end up with the Oriental solution…recycling humanure.

              Just to convince you that I am one confused gardener, here are a couple of things that I haven’t yet fitted into my way of thinking.

              1. Elaine Ingham says that there are tens of thousands of different kinds of microbes. The bacteria which are active when the soil is 65F are not he same as the bacteria which are active when the soil is 75F. The microbes are attracted to the root zone with exudates, mostly sugars (she calls them cake and cookies). When the microbes are eaten by predators in the root zone, the nutrients in the bodies of the microbes become available to the plant in the correct chemical form.

              Now here is the part that I never heard about before. Elaine says that the plants can make different exudates to attract the microbes that carry the specific nutrients they need. So, I suppose, a banana tree, which puts a lot of potassium in its bananas, will attract microbes with a lot potassium. If this is true, then it raises the complexity level of the plant/ microbe/ nutrient interaction by quite a lot. It also makes the plants more efficient in getting the nutrients they need than we might suppose. It also supports the notion of a polyculture with plants which need different nutrients grouped together. Could this be the reason that polycultures outperform monocrops? Could it be that our conceptions of nutrient scarcity are excessively influenced by monocrops in tilled fields?

              2. Gabe Brown talks about all the super-phosphate which is still in his soil, which will last for a long time with his improved farming practices. (I hear people around here say something similar). Now here is where I get confused. Phosphates are soluble. Therefore, if industrial phosphates are in the soil, won’t they tend to leach out rather rapidly? The microbe system produces phosphate from elemental phosphorus little by little, and right in the root zone. And if the plant waste is recycled as compost, then the elemental phosphorus becomes available again (as I understand it).

              So it seems to me that the notion of stockpiling phosphates in the soil won’t work for very long. Such a practice will work better in North Dakota than in North Carolina, but it doesn’t seem like a long term solution in either place.

              Have I convinced you that I am pretty confused?

              Don stewart

            • Edmund Brown says:

              We’re going to come full circle here 🙂

              I agree that polycultures are generally superior to monocrops, and that our understanding of some nutrients and plant dynamics is shaped by a myopic focus on single species at a time.

              I’m under the impression that phosphates are not very soluable and need a biologically active soil to make them continuously available. This is why chemical farmers have to keep applying MAP, DAP, or triple every year or they lose a lot of yield. They have so little biology going that they need to give the plants soluable forms of P or they end up deficient. I’ve read of corn fields that show 40,000 lbs/acre of Phos on a soil test, but the corn still shows deficiency (for reference my fairly light garden soil shows about 1,000 lb/acre). A lot of the chemical P farmers put onto fields bonds up into phosphate and sits there unavailable in the soil.

              How does a relatively insoluable element like P get into waterways and cause problems of algae overgrowth? Primarily erosion. Particles of dirt with P2O4 along for the ride get washed into creeks. At least that’s my understanding of the situation.

              One guy I corrospond with who’s amended with rock phos applied it on the surface and wanted to let the elements and biology “carry it down to the plants”. After five years it was all still sitting on the surface (according to the tests he took).

              I’m generally a fan of rock dusts as opposed to refined things like urea and DAP. But I have considered spreading some MAP because it is not highly acidifying like DAP is, and it could spread some P throughout the root zone (several inches deep) before it all binds up into less soluable forms.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund
              I am learning more about rock phosphate. Based on the following two articles, it seems to me that these are true statements:
              1. Phosphorus in the soils in the southeast are probably bound tightly to iron and aluminum. The red in the clay indicates abundant iron, I believe.
              2. The CEC of the soil does not help hold solubilized phosphorus. Once solubilized, it will tend to wash away.
              3. The phosphorus can be stabilized by fungal networks. There are known instances where two plants share phosphorus without cycling it through the soil.
              4. Certain types of fungi can liberate phosphorus from the strong bonds which keep it insoluble.
              5. If a field has a large amount of insoluble phosphorus, it is necessary to adopt microbe friendly farming practices to solubilize the phosphorus.
              6. I assume that plants being supplied phosphorus by fungi will only slowly use up the insoluble phosphorus already in the soil.
              7. I don’t know how much natural phosphorus might be available in a field in North Carolina, currently insoluble, which might be solubilized by microbe friendly farming practices. Some of the new soil tests might supply that answer.

              Don Stewart


              Plants absorb most of their phosphorus from the soil solution as orthophosphate (H2PO4-), regardless of the original source of phosphorus. Although orthophosphate’s negative charge prevents it from being attracted by the soil’s cation exchange capacity (CEC), it does react strongly in the soil, primarily with the large amount of iron and aluminum naturally in the soil, to form products that are very insoluble and thus unavailable to plants. A major factor controlling these reactions is the soil pH. At low or high pH, the solubility of phosphorus (and thus its availability) is very low. The maximum availability occurs in the 6.0 to 7.0 pH range.

              A total of 36 fungal species isolated from soil were tested for their ability to solubilize rock phosphate (RP) in agar plates. Most of these fungi were non-rock phosphate solubilizers, but two isolates, Aspergillus niger and Penicillium citrinum, had high activity.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund
              Did you attend the permaculture session in southern California, or have you bought the videos?

              I was just watching the video by the biodynamic guy. I have long observed that the biodynamic guys seem to grow the best produce. I was skeptical about the process, however. The speaker says that the specific ingredients for the inoculants (I guess that’s the right word for them) are designed to encourage specific kinds of microbes in the compost. Like Elaine, he says that the value of the compost is mostly the microbes.

              Then he talks some about phosphate fertilizer. He says that the properly made compost liberates more phosphorus than soil tests indicate is actually there.

              He says that their small market farm loses a lot of fertility out the gate every year…but they don’t buy fertilizer. They do not have a tractor, so any tillage is by hand. He and his wife are the only labor, and they support themselves entirely from the farm, which is in Colorado.

              Conflicting information abounds…Don Stewart

            • Edmund Brown says:

              Hi Don,
              I live in NY, so no, I didn’t attend the aforementioned permaculture workshop. I didn’t watch the videos either. Permaculture has a lot of really great design ideas. Management and understanding of soil fertility is pretty hit or miss amongst the permie crowd in my experience.

              I think there are ready explanations for the examples you gave – P is notoriously prone to locking up into insoluable forms. Depending on the type of test used I would imagine it would be routine for a pre and a post compost test to show differences.

              As to the farmer “who doesn’t buy fertilizer,” what does he bring in? And how long has he been selling stuff out the gate? If he started with a reasonably well balanced soil, had a medium to high exchange capacity, and brings in compost from some other land, I could see him maintaining good yields for quite a while (two decades or more before something gets deficient enough to cause a problem).

              One of the guys I corrospond with on a different yahoo group (highbrixgroup) writes soil amendment prescriptions for a living. He has many small organic farm clients who come to him because their yields and quality are declining despite avid compost applications. Typically he can get them back to bumper crops that taste great in a year or two by testing and amending for what is lacking on Melich III test.

              I’m certainly not knocking compost here. I think it is vitally important for plant health. Have you read Albert Howard’s book on it? Composts range from really poor amendments to the absolute best thing possible to add to a soil. I think I average medium quality compost because I don’t put in the attention required to make really top-shelf stuff.

              Really well made compost can actually fix N from the air and finish the composting process with more N than it began with. In a (soon to arrive) world of constrained natural gas supplies, every farmer should know this simple fact.

              Of course, making compost of this quality is not the easiest thing in the world. Sulfur typically needs to be added to the pile to get the best final product, I think this is because some amino acids have S in them. N and C will simply burn off until the right ratio of S is reached. Adding some S to the pile as it’s built allows for a lot of the original N and C to stay in the compost and humify. Moisture needs to be monitored and added as needed. Experts also recommend adding up to 10% of the pile’s volume as dirt. The dirt acts as a sink for nutrients, and as a heat inhibitor since really hot piles burn off way more C and N than is necessary (much of what we’re after in compost is C and N).

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund
              The guy who spoke has been farming since 2005. I don’t know the history of his land before he bought it. He also makes a lot of compost…I don’t know where he gets the feedstock for the compost.

              As an interested observer, I tend to think that shipping nutrients out the farm gate is bound to catch up with you eventually. As I said before, I think we will end up with something like the old Oriental solution of bringing waste from the city back to the farm.

              As a gardener, I look to Emilia Hazelip, who used permanent raised beds with no tillage and lots of mulch. She got some of her mulch from neighboring farmers who saw it as ‘waste’. She said that she had an ‘almost closed system’. I think that she used compost mostly for starting her seeds. She transplanted into the permanent beds, which remained fluffy. She never used fertilizer, and she didn’t make a tremendous amount of compost. She planted in polycultures.

              Toby Hemenway gave a talk in California and said that John Jeavons is finding that he needs four acres of non-crop land per acre of crop land for his intensive methods. The biodynamic guy is also using very intensive methods. He may, as you say, use up the fertility in another five or ten years. In the meantime, he is so young and energetic that one can’t help but wish him the best.

              Don Stewart

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “I look to Emilia Hazelip, who used permanent raised beds with no tillage and lots of mulch. She got some of her mulch from neighboring farmers who saw it as ‘waste’.”

              There is an equestrian centre near here who will give us as much horse manure as we can take for $20.

              The first time there, he filled up the pickup bed with about 3 front-loader scoops for $20. So I quickly threw together stake-pocket sides for the truck, and subsequent trips have been 7 front-loader scoops for $20. I do make sure I have the tires pumped up to the max and take bumps VERY SLOWLY — a broken axle isn’t worth any amount of manure! I figure I had over two tonnes in my 3/4 ton pickup…

              We hand-fork our beds, and fork in a wheelbarrow load of manure per three square metres. Then we transplant starts into the beds, and then top-dress with another barrow load. We normally irrigate via drip-line beneath the top dressing, but about once a week or so, we spray the top dressing to leach some more nutrients into the bed. The top-dressing also suppresses weeds pretty well.

              So yea, folks — collect as much as you can of your stupid neighbours free exported fertility! Someday soon, it may become a treasured resource.

            • Paul says:

              Great points Jan — we just got a second cow in — but still have loads of space for more composting — since money is set to be worthless not to self ‘buy a shitload of shit asap and get more composting underway’

              Compost — the new gold….

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Edmund
              I also note that Toby Hemenway has a talk coming up with the title ‘The Way Down the Energy Descent Curve’ or something like that. But it is not on the schedule for video release until June 10. I’m curious what he has to say. In the past, he has been one of the pessimists in terms of our ability to feed billions and billions. At Duke five or six years ago, he said ‘somewhere between half a billion and 2 billion’.

              Have you seen his talk on the Plains Indians. I was talking to some Biointensive people and got a laugh when I said Toby’s advice is to give up all that double-digging and just follow the herds.

              Don Stewart

            • Stefeun says:

              sorry for I forgot the link:

              Regarding your specific question, I’m afraid I’m not qualified.
              However, I’d say that better efficiency leads to ability to use more energy (even if you need less for one given operation); things must be considered as a whole.
              If you need half the energy to accomplish a task, then you can make it twice for the same “price”. That’s productivity; see also Jevons paradox.
              In your example, the plant will be bigger, and therefore more able to move more water, carbon, etc.. Photosynthesis is just a part of the system; if more efficient, it allows the whole system to grow faster, hence “burn” more energy.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              That is probably a good take on things. One need only look around to see how grass has taken over. It’s efficiency enables it to fill more niches and to push other, less efficient plants out. So it accomplishes greater dissipation through fecundity instead of directly.

            • Stefeun says:

              About microbes and plants, from energetical point of view.

              The microbes decompose molecules and take (chemical) energy from that operation; same for funghi that can additionally transport the nutrients (if I’m right).
              Then the nutrients are taken by the plant, which can reassemble them into complex molecules, using for that the (electromagnetic) energy from the sun.

              So I still can’t see any contradiction: the nutrients are following cycles, but the energy keeps on flowing into the same direction, from higher grade to lower grade (here: electromagnetic > chemical > thermal).

              The living structures duplicate themselves (or grow) as much as possible, depending on what is available in their environment, in order to achieve maximum “work”.

              I don’t think that such complex processes can be compared with “oil depletion”.
              What we’re doing with oil is just burn (decompose) it to get the energy directly at its lowest grade (heat), and the output components are just blown into the air (H2O & CO2), hence not possibly used directly in local ecosystem (and anyway: such low energy molecules are already available anywhere).

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Stefeun
              As I understand it, virtually all Life depends on ATP, which is chemical energy. No matter how much electromagnetic wave energy the sun bathed us with, we couldn’t exist without ATP.

              I suppose in some sense that chemical energy may be ‘lower grade’ than the original wave energy, but then Life is pretty magnificent and amazing. A biologist might very well think that Life takes worthless electromechanical waves and turns them into something wonderful. I would stick with my statement that statements about biology generally can’t be productively made with theorems about the depletion of oil fields.

              As far as Life being ‘dissipative structures’, that is true. Before Life appeared on Earth, the temperature was 50C. Now it is 15C. The drop in the temperature is mostly due to the effects of Life…not the reduction in geological processes, as some people say. It is also true that the Sun is about 30 percent stronger now than it was back in the 50C days.

              So I see Life being a ‘dissipative structure’ as something to celebrate…not an occasion for weeping and wailing. Otherwise, we would look like Venus or Mars. (Lenton and Watson cover all this ground in considerable detail.) When you are dealing with an enormous energy source such as the Sun, or even the small fraction called photosynthesis, the oil field analogies aren’t helpful, I think.

              Don Stewart

            • Stefeun says:

              I fully agree on Life being wonderful and so diverse.
              This fantastic construction took so much time, and required so special conditions.
              My comment was only about one physical aspect of it; it doesn’t wipe off anything, especially not the beauty or the poetry of Life.

            • Stilgar Wilcox says:

              “The only thing we could do is maximize the cooperation and slow down.
              Why do I feel like we’ve taken exact opposite direction?”

              Good one Stefeun. It’s hard not to notice the frenetic pace of the red queen frack drilling, or the willingness to QE print baby print to keep BAU rolling. As peak oil started to become obvious to anybody willing to look right at it, the urge to keep expanding to greater lofty places of techno-equipment and luxury living took off like we were launching into space. Instead of cooperation what is happening is a greater divide between the have’s and the have not’s, as evidenced by a Google article today on how low priced real estate is not selling so good, but high priced real estate is – oh joy. Just as we need to slow down and cooperate like you mention, we as a global society are trying to blaze a trail to the capitalist promised land. Stoke the flames and get that red queen running faster, seems to have been the collective response.

      • I have always visualised that first ‘scientific breakthrough’ as a guy fashioning flints. He suddenly realises that if he cushions the rock on sheepskin or grass, it makes the job much easier. Problem is, the sparks from the flint set fire to the grass or sheepskin.
        even bigger problem, is that he has just changed the course of man’s destiny.
        Now, does he stop right there, or share his new found knowledge?
        Because by saying we’d be better off without scientific breakthroughs, we have to unwind things to the point of firemaking on demand. That’s where we diverged from all other animal species. Fire was the prime mover. We cannot pick and choose what is good and what is bad for humankind. Fire made us top predator, and as such, we proceeded to consume the resources of the entire planet, we will not stop until the lack of material resources forces us to do so

    • Americans are little different to other people, any notion that they can’t have everything forever is rejected as junk science
      It is a common failing everywhere

  9. Quitollis says:

    40 shot and at least nine left dead in Chi-cago shootings over the Easter weekend. They appear to have focused on unprotected children. Welcome to the future in Chi-cago…


    • Quitollis says:

      “It was the second weekend in a row at least 36 people were shot in Chi-cago.”

    • edpell says:

      Is there a correlation between time of month and murder rate. That is when the SNAP cards run low does murder rate increase?

    • edpell says:

      The article says most of the violence is gangs fight for territory and income just like the violence of the U.S. federal government.

      • Quitollis says:

        On Sunday night, five children were injured in a drive-by shooting near Marquette and Michigan on the South Side. An 11-year-old girl was shot in the neck and taken to Stroger Hospital in critical condition, police said. A 15-year-old girl, who had a gunshot wound in her right arm, also was taken to Stroger.

        A 14-year-old girl was shot in the abdomen and taken to Comer Children’s Hospital in serious condition, police said. A 14-yera-old boy, who was wounded in his left leg, also was taken to Comer. A 14-year-old girl later walked into Saint Bernard Hospital and Health Care Center with a graze wound in her buttocks, police said…

        On Saturday morning, two teens who were found dead in an apartment building Saturday morning were killed over a dispute that played out on Facebook, according to the mother of the one of the victims.

        Jordan Means, 16, and Anthony Bankhead, 18, were found dead just after 10:30 a.m. Saturday in an apartment in the 8200 block of South Houston Avenue on the South Side, according to police and the medical examiner’s office. An autopsy revealed they were both shot in the head.


        • edpell says:

          These are all without context. How many were involved in gangs, drugs? How many have parents, siblings involved in free market drugs? Why do the police refuse to provide safe conditions for the operation of the free market? The two that were involved in FB what was the dispute about? The drive by was motivated by? The ones killed by the cop gone mad are you proposing taking guns away from cops? A great idea in my opinion.

          My grandfather used to fix slot machines for the gangs in Chicago before the Valentine’s Day Massacre. He decided to change jobs and leave town after the massacre. What was the kill rate in the 20s and 30s? What is it now? Not absolute rate the population is much higher now the rate per 1000?

        • edpell says:

          The U.S. federal killing for turf and profit usually involve the killing of many children also.

  10. Paul says:

    Hmmm… so what happens when the economy actually does collapse?

    At least nine people were killed and at least 35 others were wounded in shootings across Chicago on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Thursday police announced that a man had been arrested on charges of firing on a number of motorists recently, wounding three of them, on Kansas City-area highways. On April 13 three people, including a child, were murdered at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Overland Park, Kan., leading to the arrest of a white supremacist.

    On April 12, armed militias in Nevada got the federal government to retreat, allowing rancher Cliven Bundy to continue to graze his cattle on public land. All this happened over a span of only nine days in the life of a country where more than 250 people are shot every day. In America, violence and the threat of lethal force are the ways we communicate. Violence—the preferred form of control by the state—is an expression of our hatred, self-loathing and lust for vengeance. And this bloodletting will increasingly mark a nation in terminal decline.

    More http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_rhetoric_of_violence_20140420

  11. Paul says:

    Oh look – driverless cars will save the day!!! Time to shut down your blog Gail.


    Yet people actually believe this stuff — and two idiots actually wasted their time writing a book on the subject

  12. While I think it logical that the gross overpopulation of humans on the planet and their activities impact the climate, I have much less confidence in our ability to accurately and objectively measure those impacts, or project future impacts in meaningful ways and consequently our ability to do much about them. I am especially doubtful of the accuracy of past climatic bench marks on the bases of either historical, geologic or biological proxies which at best represent ranges of data and not precise units. Perhaps a few of you will recognize the term metrology (not the study of weather) – the study of and science of measurement. However, metrology is the greatest weakness of climate change theorists and modelers – whether they are projecting no, little or great climate change.

    We fail to realize just how imprecise our input climate data is, and especially for those proxy bench marks we try use to compare climate changes to. Or, know that in most cases our assessment of change measured – is less than the variability of the instrumentation we are using to record the data – especially in the recent past. Take global warming which is being projected to produce increased temperatures of 1.1 to 2.9C per century – or about 0.01 to 0.03 degrees per year. This assumes or historic data was accurate within these ranges. Yet, most thermometers until very recently were incapable of measuring within +/-2.0 degrees C accurately – and that doesn’t include thermometer brand, type, design, calibration protocols and or reader variably from far ranging and sparse historic meteorological stations around the world. The batch of laboratory grade thermometers I just purchased range +/- 1 C at best. Averaging our instrument, brand, type design and reader variations only produces the average variation, but doesn’t necessarily make our readings anymore accurate. So, no I’m not comfortable in short term measurements of climate changes of a few hundredths of a degree C per year, or 3.3 millimeter change in sea level per year when our most accurate satellite measurements only within 20mm. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea-level_rise#Satellite_sea_level_measurement – you should also note until recently this section with roughly the same verbiage was called Satellite Error – which tells you the sensitivity to possible input data error in some circiles). So, for all those who think science is absolute and pure – think again. That’s the goal, but it is seldom attained and new fields of science like climate science logically have less accuracy.

    Even if current climate change theory and estimates of changes were correct, they also state we can’t avoid them at this point. In fact, as a species we face far more dangerous and eminent threats than climate change. Gail’s topic direction is the correct one – we should worry about the interrelationships between energy and economy and our unsustainable population levels, because all solutions including anthropogenic climate impacts are dependent on resolving them. However, IMHO she fails to completely make the point that the collapse of energy and or economy both equal the same thing – the collapse of the human food production system required to keep 95% of the planets humans alive. Such collapses can mean far more than “financial embarrassment” and may mean the end of current civilization.

    There are clearly some very bright people making valuable contributions here – both appreciated and unappreciated. We all tend to see the future through the lens of personal experience (includes life and educational experiences). Most of us are energy users – car drivers, house heaters, electric lighting users, etc. We have no problem visualizing our immediate personal world limited by a shortage of energy, but mainly in terms of our energy uses of which we are directly familiar. However, there are many critical energy related economic and product relationships that we might never think or even know about. More so, how critical some of those energy products that come strictly from a massive petroleum transportation based economy might be, or that would change when that petroleum energy complex changes in scale – either by replacement or depletion.

    As I said we see the future through the lens of our experience. As a food production scientist, researcher and entrepreneur for the past 40 years I have watched the world continue to transition from manure based agriculture systems to the “green revolution” system using entirely petroleum dependent NPK fertilizers. Few people concerned about the environmental damages of petroleum seem to understand that our current food production system is not only entirely dependent on petroleum, but as well a stable petroleum industry economy of a scale to economically produce those chemicals necessary for food production.

    Only the most uninformed think that we can somehow convert back to manure and organic systems. In truth, our populations exceeded the natural phosphorus soil conversion cycle ability from the beginning of the industrial revolution forward. With current and future population growth there is no non-catastrophic conversion back to the supposed good old days of “natural” production methods. While I may sound pro-petroleum I have no relationship to any petroleum interests, and hate the environmental impacts of big oil as much as anyone else. I do see the innate wisdom in the saying that – “It’s alright to hate boats, but don’t hole the one that floats you.’

    Consequently, when I read Gail’s projections of a rapid collapse of the current petroleum economy – I see the first causality of this collapse as that of our petro-chemical dependent food production system. We really underestimate how dependent this relationship is between our food production and the petroleum industry. Or, how difficult it would be to replace with other energy sources and or how long the conversion process would take – especially in times of high stress and chaotic disruptions. If nothing else our current experimentation and attempts to develop other alternative economically equivalent sources (now going on about 80) years to petroleum energy should give us clear evidence of just how large and expensive (time and money) this task will be – if we ever succeed at it. Of course not succeeding is not a survivable option.

    To me, Gail’s most insightful comment was – “Ultimately, they (solutions) seem to depend on the availability of more inexpensive energy–something that is increasingly unavailable.” This is certainly true of our long term ability to continue to produce adequate NPK fertilizers and the 95% of global people they feed. To continue to produce NPK as its component resources become ever more dilute, scare and expensive to process – we will need new energy sources far less expensive than even current petroleum or current alternatives – including nuclear. Given that many petroleum economic depletion estimates also mirror phosphate economic depletion estimates – both reaching reaching critical points at about the same time in 30 years, its hard to imagine that whether a civilization collapse comes by energy or economic inadequacy, that most of us won’t die from a lack of food. And I suspect climate change will be the last thing on anyone’s mind. One of the few if not Polyannic bright spots in a future without near free energy sources – is that the global obesity epidemic will be cured.

  13. Quitollis says:

    xabier says:

    April 13, 2014 at 3:32 am

    Life as an Art, not an industrial process.

  14. Quitollis says:

    Staying with the Beatles theme.

  15. Quitollis says:

    A decent Cassandra article on Artic News

    Near-Term Human Extinction


    • Landbeyond says:

      Anything on that site needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
      Apart from anything else, who or what is “Sam Carana”? If anyone knows they’re not telling.

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      I don’t think humans will go extinct, but things could certainly get very dicey if methane hydrates in the Arctic ocean release en masse. The one area to look to most is the ESAS, eastern Siberian arctic sea, which is shallow by Arctic ocean standards at 50 meters. That is shallow enough that methane bubbling up will enter the atmosphere as methane, instead of what occurs from deeper locations in which the methane transitions into CO2, absorbed by the water, never releasing into the atmosphere. The ESAS is huge and in recent years is becoming unstable releasing some methane. If the whole thing goes quickly at some point it will be yet another tipping point in climate change and could initiate runaway GW.

  16. Quitollis says:

    You can tell by the title that it is an intelligent article. I really don’t get all the low IQ articles that “side” with Russia. Are they just stupid or what? Kremlin propaganda relies on the low IQ, seriously, which is why the lefty classes are especially vulnerable to it – which the Kremlin has always understood!

    Russian oil motives in Ukraine


    • Paul says:

      From what I am seeing the US is the instigator in the Ukraine and Crimea — which have been part of the Russian sphere for many years — I suspect the showdown here has a bigger picture — one in which Russia and China are challenging the USD as the reserve currency — the US can either do nothing – in which case their empire is over — or they can confront the Russians and try to stop them.

      Cornering an evil wounded beast (which is what the United States is) can lead to a very dangerous outcome

      • edpell says:

        This is why the Chinese wisely avoid a confrontation and simply allow the beast to bleed to death all on its own.

  17. Stefeun says:

    Elections will take place in Europe by end of May; only the parliament members are elected.
    Is EU a democracy for all that?

    “The Brussels Business: a documentary about the issues of lobbying around european institutions”
    That’s not exactly what we’re told… but you in US already know how it works in Washington DC!

    a 2 min trailer:

    the 1h30 film: (you can also find a 1h00 version on Youtube)

  18. Paul says:

    Here’s a sniff of what the future looks like with 7.2 billion people with nowhere near enough food — little sanitation — and no UN to provide any assistance http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/world/americas/un-struggles-to-stem-haiti-cholera-epidemic.html?_r=0

  19. Paul says:

    I continue to encounter suggestions that solar is the ‘Jesus’ of energy.

    Yet the facts indicate otherwise:

    – solar is a whopping 0.17% of energy supplied globally
    – investment has been dropping like a lead ball in recent years

    And the MSM claims this is ‘because costs have come down’

    So let me get this right — you have this awesome new source of supposedly cheap energy — you have nowhere near a glut (in fact it’s almost non-existent at 0.17% of the market) — yet investors are heading for the exits.

    Surely investment should be pouring in — by the hundreds of trillions of dollars — not out.

  20. Paul says:

    Japan deteriorates dramatically…. a perfect example of the impact of high energy costs on an economy:

    Japan posts largest-ever trade deficit

    Japan’s energy import bill has risen sharply in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. All of the country’s operable atomic reactors are offline pending safely reviews, robbing Japan of a power source that provided 30 per cent of its electricity before the disaster.

    Utilities have been forced to buy more foreign oil and gas to make up the difference, and a weaker yen has made each barrel that much pricier. National fuel imports jumped by 18 per cent by value last year, according to Monday’s trade data.


  21. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    Here are some statistics that are relevant to the topics frequently discussed on this blog.

    Industrial production is surging because we are producing more oil and gas, but everything else is suffering. My ‘elevator explanation’ would be ‘since the increased production is not reducing prices, all the other aspects of the economy continue to get worse’.

    Don Stewart

  22. Quitollis says:


    Efforts to contain Ebola may have failed as a new strain has gone undetected for weeks. Italian officials deny that it has arrived in Europe but a hospital in Pisa is under isolation.



  23. edpell says:

    Bad news for CO2 emissions. Oil sands executives invest in nuclear for steam.

    Molten Salt and Oilsands
    * Using nuclear produced steam for Oil Sands production long studied
    * Vast majority of oil only accessible by In-Situ methods
    * No turbine island needed so 30% to 40% the capital cost saved (instead of steam to turbine for electricity just send it underground to produce oil from oilsands)
    * Oil sands producers expected to pay 200 Billion$ on carbon taxes over the next 35 years, funds mandated to be spent on cleantech initiatives
    * Canada Oil Sands in ground reserves of 2 trillion barrels, current estimate 10% recoverable (likely much higher with cheaper steam)
    * 64 GWth nuclear to add 6.4 million bbls/day (200B$/year revenue)
    * 64 GWth needed as about 200 small 300MWth MSRs
    * Oil Sands a bridge to MSRs then with time, MSRs a bridge to not needing oil


    • edpell says:

      This should be good for Venezuela also with its heavy oil. I wonder what happens if you use steam rather than cold sea water in the KSA fields? This could push peak oil out 50 years!!! While pulling +4C warming in by 40 years.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        Ugh. Let’s hope Gail’s scenario holds, the financial system crashes and there isn’t enough energy to nuke the Athabasca.

        • jeremy890 says:

          Dr. James Hansen is always promoting these energy sources, such as, new breeder reactor generation design. Bet he did not envision this method to be employed here.
          My hunch the ruling body (at least a segment of it) will pursue this path. It will not take much CO2 buildup in concentrations to induce feedback loops that will put us over the edge.
          From the comments here and elsewhere, the ruling body knows the situation and have already laid the means to their survival and response control of the unruly masses. Concentrate in urban/city centers (as author Ed Abby once wrote a long while ago)
          When the Keystone pipeline gets approved in some fashion (it may be done in a way that is not noticeable), the die off is already in their minds. As far as a Financial crisis/collapse, that too is most likely address in their plans. One only needs to listen to public radio (NPR) and hear Economists say one is coming. What do they care? They hold a diverse array of hard assets. They probably rationalize it all by the thought it’s out of their means to stop anyway (population surge, ect)

          • Christian says:

            Like your urban concentration… camp, are you suggesting?

            • jeremy890 says:

              No, the author Edward Abbey explained it all in one of his essays. Anyway, the independent “family farmer” is a thing of the past…and it was an intentional policy in Washington DC to see it done.
              Let’s see, what do we have now. I was told by a friend at work that if public assistance cheques were delayed more than a week in Los Angeles, the city would erupt in riots and be burnt to the ground. Seems that the these folks are not of “independent spirit” and self reliant nature. Won’t be able to feed themselves without that food stamp dole. No, who are they going to listen to get that CHEQUE?!
              Best to deal with the few corporate bosses; noticed EVERTHING is GETTING BIGGER, Banks, Airlines, Agribiz (didn’t Cagill merge?), and Government! George Bush Senior wanted the Soviet Union to stay intact for that reason! Deal with one boss than a multiple of SOB’s. Now we are arguing over the Ukraine! Give me a break, wake up PEOPLE!
              Either you are in or you are OUT.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “the independent “family farmer” is a thing of the past…and it was an intentional policy in Washington DC to see it done.”

              The Agriculture Secretary for Nixon/Ford, Earl Butz, is infamous for saying, “Get big, or get out!”

              This was partially the result of the food price spike of the 70s that nearly sparked insurrection. Guess what, that time roughly corresponded to the last oil price spike, surprise, surprise.

              “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      Ok, sounds interesting, but how much does oil need to sell for to make this economical? If the world economy goes into recession and oil price drops, this desperate attempt at a low EROEI source will certainly get shelved along with many other marginal plays.

      • jeremy890 says:

        That would NOT be their concern. Having access to the resource or to be able to “control” the remaining functional infrastructure and supported by “staff” “paid” in whatever kind to keep them alive. Believe me, there is be “enough” of recoverable fossil fuels to make these happen. We all realize (as Gail pointed out0 at the current time for every calorie we eat 10 calories are “spent” in burning fossil energy. That means a contraction of this resource entails a reduction in human numbers. The ruling body is not stupid. If this is KNOWN here, they have knowledge of it.
        What you are speaking of, is not likely to happen in any way near future ahead of say 30 years (or during our remaining years).

        • Stilgar Wilcox says:

          “What you are speaking of, is not likely to happen in any way near future ahead of say 30 years (or during our remaining years).”

          jeremy890, already the price of oil does not reach the level needed by major oil co’s for exploration, slashing capex for drilling, putting future supply at risk. However the price of oil is at a ceiling, an inflection point in which higher price reduces demand. So we are quickly nearing the point in which the descent from peak oil ensues, and as supply dwindles so will GDP and the funds available to use marginal sources of non-conventional like oil sands. Once the next recession hits and oil price drops, plays like the one you think will last another 30 years, will go offline immediately, shelved until the price rises high enough again to substantiate it’s processing, which may never happen again.

          Things are pinching inwards, a set of reinforcing feedbacks that will in all likelihood cause a shark fin descent from peak.

          • jeremy890 says:

            I think you underestimate the determination of the power structure that will stay intact by any means necessary. As they say, time will tell. I am not saying there will not be dislocations. But you will be surprised on their responses, it will surprise you. To believe they are not making plans for this event is being naïve.

            • Stilgar Wilcox says:

              We will only accept their authority while we can depend on their contingency response, and once that falls away, the core elites will exit stage left on golden parachutes while we, the masses, scramble around in chaos.

            • Paul says:

              Exit to where though? I can’t think of anywhere that would really be safe…

              Jamie Dimon types are not exactly warriors — money will be worthless — as would the best 5th avenue apartment — so how do these elites protect themselves — how do you convince warriors to follow you — to protect you — to feed you — when you have nothing they want?

              If I were one of these warriors I might just conclude that Jamie is a pudgy bit of dead weight who’s eating too much caviar — and toss Jamie and his ilk into amongst the unwashed masses…

              Who, because they don’t read this blog, will be blaming the bankers for what will be a rather compromised state of affairs…. and they may start looking for a very tall tree … if you know what I mean….

              And I am not kidding…. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-04-21/furious-chinese-rioters-beat-corrupt-policemen-death

              People love scapegoats …

  24. Interguru says:

    Richard Heinberg is making the same point as Gail, but does not talk about rapid collapse.

    It’s hard to overstate just how serious a threat our energy crisis is to every aspect of our current way of life. But the problem is hidden from view by oil and natural gas production numbers that look and feel just fine.

  25. Interguru says:

    In talking QE, Ponzi economies, building standards, gardening, we seem to have missed one important aspect — pandemics. History is replete with pandemics wiping out a portion of the population. Now, population growth and crowding, especially in the slums of megacities, have set us up as one huge petri dish. So far quick work on the part of scientists and public health authorities has allowed us to escape from widespread traditional epidemics and new ones ( Sars, Ebola). This dance will not continue after a collapse.

  26. Interguru says:

    There is a discussion of Kunstler’s books on Daily Kos. I commented “Gail Tverberg in her blog Our Finite World gives an updated and more detailed take on this. It is one of the few blogs with comments worth reading. ” I hope it brings attention.

  27. ordinaryjoe says:

    “The real issue is the danger that our economy will collapse in the near term.” Would you consider hyperinflationary deppression to be “collapse”. It seems clear to me that FedRes $ is making its way anywhere it is needed to prevent collapse via proxy. There is no taper- not as far as collapse is concerned. The spice must flow! Because of this I dont see shale oil ponzis going bancrupt- the $ might have to go through two or three proxy banks but the $ will always be there for the shale ponzis or anything else thats vital.. No one is going to run for the exits- everyone knows that running for the exits has consequences, both personal and systematic. The price of the two things that can not be controlled with $ purchased derivitives food and energy are rising. Quite honestly if they have held it together this long with this much unpayable debt and unimaginable unpayable derivitives I cant see why it wont last longer. Things will get wierder and wierder but economic collapse, I wonder. So far the loss of purchasing power displayed by the dollar is miniscule compared to the “aquisitions” of the FedRes. This could accelerate to hyperinflationary depression but so far things just get a little wierder everyday. You have stated many times that you see the end in the lack of investment capital for the oil companies but capital ala $ is infinite. Wont these infinite dollars be applied anyplace, anywhere, anytime if that is what it takes to sustain oil production? If your the CEO of a bank and Yellen calls and says one type of Credit/$/instrument has just been put on your books and you are to make a loan of another type Credit/$/instrument to ponzi drillers incorporated #809 are you going to refuse?

    • Christian says:

      I was somewhat thinking on it too. Acording to Kopits, majors are running out of oil,and capex falling would be consequential

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        Yes the actual physical supply of the oil thats real. The cost of the oil in energy thats real. As soon as EROI gets anywhere close to 1 its curtains for that source. Less oil in the future thats indisputable. Gails presentations reveal that economy discovering oil price is tail wagging the dog. Less oil less growth. FedRes makes up the difference of what lack of growth takes from the economy, taking it on its non transparent books. The way I see it and im not near as sophisticated as most here, As long as Saudi accepts $ for oil the dollar is good. If I take dollars I can trade it for oil. Saudi is still taking $ for oil and there can not be $hyperinflation/collapse as long as that happens. Saudis oil EROI will not exceed 1 soon so thats out as a game over. With the threat of hyperinflation negated as long as significant oil from Saudi hits the market priced in dollars there are no constraints on FedRes and $ are used to patch up whatever needs patching from the shrinking economy incomes via SNAP, banks , ponzi drillers whatever. Yup a lot less Saudi oil hitting the market soon but significant for a decade ? Two?
        Now your right the Capex as you mention contradicts my supposition that $ will flow where needed to keep oil flowing as long as EROI doesnt approach one.. The Capex trend reflects that at least with the majors decisions are being made on normal return on investment metrics.
        My supposition and it is only that is as far as economic collapse goes less oil doesnt matter as long as significant oil hits the market priced in $. Yes economy goes negative in real terms ala productivity. Guess what its been negative a long time in those terms. . Fed Res makes up the difference. FedRes has backstopped the economy. Saudi has backstopped the FedRes Yes there will be a lot less of less of everything. Yes the distortions will reverberate through the world. Yes probably social unrest as peoples reality falls apart. Lots of skinny people.
        Credit is supplied in dollars. Dollars are infinite. There will no lack of credit to lock up supply lines ecetera. $ will be applied where needed. Gail is probably about ten times smarter than me so take it with a grain of salt, or a salt shakers full. I just dont see the weak link until we get well down the curve from the peak.

        • Landbeyond says:

          Seems to make sense, though it sounds like a “Red Queen on a tightrope” scenario.
          Be interesting to see what Gail says.

          • Stilgar Wilcox says:

            I like the red queen on a tightrope analogy. When a recession hits and oil price drops significantly, it will be like hitting the rope causing the red queen to stop to gain her balance, but doing so will reduce the frenetic pace of drilling, reducing future supply.

        • Christian says:

          “Red Queen on a tightrope”, this is where we are now. And yeah, the tail is wagging the dog, good one.

          Is it something we are missing here? To begin with, Joe may you are wrong on petrodollar. It is not just KSA, it’s all international trade. Right now, Argentinean government is trying to come back to the USD credit system, and it is obvious that the main spending for it would be in the energy sector. Now, the dollar has already loosed a fraction of its former share, it seems peak petrodollar (as the share of USD in the international trade cake) has already taken place. Don’t have figures, just a conceptual trend based on reported growth in other currencies, notably the yuan. If, say, Bolivia could do fine with some yuans to buy manufactures, we can pay for their gas with the yuans (now USD) coming from soya exports to China. Depetrodollarization in KSA… Lot of fun for Poutin’s successors

          I’m just entitled to make the question, but why is it that “the majors decisions are being made on normal return on investment metrics” while frack people have a QE mentality? The answer seems not to be related to EROI. Is it the former will next year change to Ponzi too?

          Also, according to actual trend I just guess majors bankruptcy may represent a main challenge to USD (and Euro) selling, upon consequences in Wall Street and buddys.

          • Landbeyond says:

            Be interesting to see politicians explaining why fossil fuel subsidies need to be increased, as the US heads for “energy independence”.

            • Stilgar Wilcox says:

              Good one landbeyond. All arrows point to a greater need for subsidies to incentivize new drilling as oil price fails to rise enough to meet those needs. Once they put a bill together for added subsidies, someone’s bound to ask, “But I thought we were becoming energy independent and even floating the idea of exportation to the EU to punish Russia? If we’re so chock full of FF, why are subsidies needed?!”

          • ordinaryjoe says:

            Ultimatly the dollar is kaput. My wonderment is that BAU is proceeding and very little dollar debasement is occuring despite open monetization via bond purchases. Why? The Saudi backstop is all I see. Banctupcy is defined by two things rules and $. $ are infinate. The rules are mallable. We are six years past the start of open monetization. If six years why not twelve? If twelve why not Twenty four?
            “the majors decisions are being made on normal return on investment metrics” while frack people have a QE mentality?”
            The supposition is the shale oil plays are exaggerating the reseserves and fibbing about depletion rates to keep capital flowing. As long as the capital flows everyone gets their salary and bonuses ,the nest in the Caymans gets lined so when depletion rears its head its “who could have known”.
            The majors are reducing cap ex and increasing dividends. If the majors wanted the funny money they would just exagerate reserves and fib about depletion also. It may be the majors more conventional plays are better known so they cant get away with it. It may bet hey are actually trying to make appropriate business decisions.
            “The answer seems not to be related to EROI. Is it the former will next year change to Ponzi too? ”
            If the economy depends that oil products are available and QE capital is made available to further oil production to sustain the economy one would think that EROI would be a hard limit. Why make capital available if the net energy is a loss? If you see the EROI of a particular oil source was approaching one why prop it up? Ethanol production contradicts this but it may be a leftover from non EROI thinking.
            I find is very disorientating to try to wrap my mind around peak oil paradigm and financial paradigm at the same time. Any clarity and insight would be appreciated. Out in the non blogging world all seem to believe the financial crisis is behind us, whether left or right. The idea that their are fundamental structural problems eithor with energy or finances is held only by a small percentage of individuals ( myself included) from what I can see. Expression of basic self evident truths about the structural flaws that would be regarded as old hat boring here are met with raised eyebrows and odd looks in just about any other social setting. Explain the way money is created and people look at you as if you are a nut case such is the emotional constructs people have made about $. People are going about BAU. The belief that i see is predominant is that 2008 was a glitch that is behind us not a tremor just before the big one.. This enables BAU. There has been no collapse. What will change so that collapse will occur? The matrix seems to be getting along down the road with its bad self.

            • Christian says:

              Joe, I talked on EROI to higlight both majors and frackers are reaching 1:1 or so. Despite this similarity, they behave differently in the financial track. As you told, ethanol is also at the party, its subsides now depending on QE financing the State. Majors… must see if they actually can sell their abandonned megaprojects. Possible dividends will be not there next year. EROI indeed is a hard limit, and it is very very close. The Saudi backstop is still working, as you say, and theoretically it may overcome crashing OC, but it is really hard to get how things will go in the real world.

            • ordinaryjoe says:

              “but it is really hard to get how things will go in the real world.”
              Tell me tell me.
              First let me define collapse. Gas can not be purchased. Food can not be purchased. No power in the grid. Law enforcement capability is not maintained.
              I do not see the mechanism for collapse. If you see one please communicate it.
              Liquidity will not be allowed to become a problem. The financial system is no longer subject to the laws of physics.
              This is what I see occuring right now.
              The “real world” is requiring that much less consumption occurs. All sorts of explanations are present none of them the truth- infinite growth, finite resources. Changes in wealth are apparent.
              All that is happening now and there is no collapse.
              I think this will accelerate. Distortions and contradictions will be apparent.
              The masses will not storm the castle with pitchforks.
              There will never be another Lehman event.
              Libya, Saudi, Iran. These field will not approach a EROI of 1 for a bit. And that bit is the time period before collapse IMHO.
              Certainly approaching a EROI of one means collapse. Gail argues that as growth ends collapse will occur, not approaching a EROI of one. As I have mentioned I am sure that she is much more informed and intelligent than me. I still do not see the weak link, im probably dumber than a rock.

            • Paul says:

              “The financial system is no longer subject to the laws of physics.”

              You might want to pick up the book This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6372440-this-time-is-different

              Throughout history there are those who have suggested that ‘this time is different’ i.e. that we have learned how defy the laws of physics — in particular — gravity.

              There is absolutely no way that something that cannot go on forever — will not stop.

              ‘Growth’ induced via money printing and zero interest rates is one of those things.

              Yes of course we have had 6 years of defying gravity — because of the policies of central banks — but at some point the toxic side-effects of these policies will blow the financial system into a million pieces.

              QE and ZIRP are attempting to fuel what is essentially a perpetual economic motion machine — there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine — of course history is littered with fools who believed they had discovered such a machine….

  28. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail

    Here are two things you might like to watch or listen to and ponder.

    The first is a tour of a property of one of Geoff Lawton’s students. The student has begun to shape his property in line with his long term vision. Pay particular attention to Geoff’s discussion of the advantages of a ridge road, and his show and tell on how erosion happens when a road cuts across the landscape. The highway near my house was a ridge road. But it was straightened and widened with the purpose of encouraging real estate development. While Geoff Lawton walking down the curvy ridge road might be good for the soul, modern highway engineers are driven to move the maximum volume of cars at the maximum speed from Point A to Point B. Do you think a ridge road will last longer than a road muscled across the terrain if maintenance becomes a problem?

    The discussion of the ridge road starts at 6:15. Prior to that is a description of how swales sink water into the earth, which water is then pumpted back to the top of the hill with a windmill to provide irrigation during droughts.


    The second suggestion is a podcast with the title: Designing Systems That Will Work Before AND After SHTF – Passive Systems vs. Brittle Complicated Systems.

    I haven’t actually listened to this one yet…I have to amuse my wife for the next couple of days. However, the interview series is very good, and I am confident these guys can give you some good advice. I see that they also address the issue of ‘investing now while you can still get resources’, something I am not sure you grasp. “I use energy while I can as a leverage point, knowing it will produce a lot more energy over time.”


    Don Stewart

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