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. Jeremy says:

    Michael Ruppert ended his own life. Remembered for his work on this topic and DVD Collapse
    For a detail account visit collapse.net

  2. Don Stewart says:

    To All Concerned about Roads

    The Edo period roads were built without any help from fossil fuels. As you can see, some of them are still in pretty good shape today in terms of foot traffic. It’s worth noting that two-legged creatures are more efficient in terms of fuel used to move a kilometer than any four-legged creature (on land). A human pulling a wheeled vehicle is about as efficient as we might hope to get…leaving out water transport.

    Again, in terms of the decline of fossil fuels, the same issues are present as they always are:
    1. Will a decline in fossil fuel availability inevitably trigger a collapse in the supply of fossil fuels?
    2. Will human societies be able to ration the reduced supplies in any strategically useful way?
    3. How many humans will adapt willingly to the new circumstances, and how many will go down with violence?
    4. How would you go about persuading a society to build Edo type roads rather than spend a trillion dollars trying to make I-95 practical? (Hint, there is a lot more GDP in wasting the trillion)
    5. Edo type roads are most valuable when most of what a person needs is close by…in the village and on their own farm. A long walking trip to Edo is a special occasion. Poets and painters take long walks around Japan.

    It’s not that it can’t be done…it’s that, as a society, we aren’t even likely to try.

    Don Stewart

    • I agree that people have made roads for a long time, without fossil fuels. There are not going to be as many of them, though, and they won’t be designed for today’s kind of traffic. For example, they won’t bring replacement parts to all of our electric power lines and wind turbines.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Regarding roads. Let me give you an example. The town of Chapel Hill is considering a zoning request to put a commercial development across a major highway from an existing commercial development. There was a comment that it might be a good idea to build a pedestrian walkway across the highway to connect the two, but the planners commented ‘very few people will walk that far’…’that far’ being about a half mile. Then they said ‘but if we put a supermarket on the elevated walkway, that would generate a lot of foot traffic’.

        I won’t belabor the absurdities of all this…if you believe that the town of Chapel Hill urgently needs to be getting about the business of living with far less fossil fuels.

        I don’t want to just cast stones at Chapel Hill. They have done some very good design work in a couple of subdivisions, putting schools and grocery stores within walking distance of residences, and laying out foot trails to connect the various destinations. But when it comes to development dollars, fast automobiles on high speed roads still rule. The efforts at mass transit always assume that the future is going to be one with lots of people commuting to high tech jobs. Its very hard for Americans to think about Edo Japan, or even the small town I was born in.

        As I said, human powered haulage is probably in our future. That might include something like vegetable oil to burn in a lamp, but I doubt that electrical transformers or water turbines will be carried. A new crosscut saw (because the old one wore out) to be used to make wooden equipment where it is needed.

        If we are able to arrest the decline with, perhaps, half the energy we have today (in the US), then more opportunities open up. I think concepts like the DC house with solar panels on the roof, along with water catchment, with little to no storage of electricity, and simple machines such as DC rice cookers could give us a ‘campground’ standard of living. But I doubt that industrial scale electricity and huge trucks are in any reasonable future.

        Don Stewart

        • Don Stewart says:

          Another simple example of the actions of a city like Chapel Hill that are quite insane considering our likely future.

          Some unidentified person has been killing squirrels with an air rifle. The Chapel Hill Police have put out an urgent request to the citizens to furnish information..

          What is missing here? The notion that squirrels directly compete with humans for certain types of food, and the observation that the town in overrun with squirrels which have no significant natural enemies.

          What would make sense is a program to plant nut trees all over town, and to encourage people to shoot squirrels with air rifles.

          Instead we have the spectacle of the police hunting down the evildoers who are, perhaps, doing the right thing. Of course, they might also just be high school boys who like to kill things.

          Don Stewart

    • MJ says:

      Don, I enjoyed the article and found this short video clip of 2 minutes about Roman roads from the History channel. The Romans built 56,000 miles of linear roads throughout their Empire. There would be no Empire without them and the narrator claimed there would be no Empire without them. Some are still in use today/

  3. Thans for the reference from François Roddier. Very interesting and important!!!


    Best reagards, Gail,


  4. Stefeun says:

    “Construction21 is a collaborative platform dedicated to all professionals active in the sustainable building sector. It has been launched with the support of European Union (IEE project from May 2011 to May 2013) with two main objectives: faster spread green building good practices and contribute to the economic take off of the sector.”

    A recent article talks about fossil fuels and necessity to insulate old buildings and build new ones that are energetically efficient:
    “Wake up 21st century Europe! – Green Economy or fossil fuel addiction?”

    If such target -better insulation of buildings- is for sure very profitable for the end user -the best energy is the one you don’t consume-, it doesn’t seem to be the same from the government’s point of view, at least in the short term, because it means lower revenues from taxes on consumed energy, and requires a whole set of tax-helps and investments to strengthen and boost the industrial network of this sector.
    It’s a good idea, of course, because it would reduce our ever-increasing unemployment, as well as the ever-increasing energy bills of end users, but the people have less and less money to invest in such expensive works, and our government is so desperately looking for taxes and cost reductions, that it makes the financial wall much too high for a really serious plan.
    Instead of launching something really significant, they’re discussing road maps with unambitious goals and splitted over many years.
    Nothing to catch up the decrease, unfortunately.
    (sorry for long sentences in bad English)

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      It can be done on the cheap for one room. You leave the existing infrastructure and create another super insulated wall inside of it. Bootleg? Nope youd be suprised what they will let you do if you involve them with the process and do it their way. Most local governments are friendly to the idea of saving energy. The only load is of the insulation and the structure to contain it if you skip the floor as you leave the existing load bearing structure, so stud spacing can be minimal. Outlets and light switches become junction boxes and the wires move in. new sills are added for windows and interior doublepaned windows added on the interior of the inside with the air space left between new and old windows also adding insulation. Do it their way with conventional stud fiberglass drywall. Theirs lots of ways to do it bootleg not all of them safe. Ive seen a lot of old houses that used newspaper for insulation DONT repeat DONT do that. Perlite doesnt burn(just a thought never implemented.. When you get it tight- really tight- air quality becomes a issue- so the windows for plants to provide O2 and suck up the CO2 are pretty much a must. If you can eat them its a plus. I dont have numbers but the EROI at least from the $ standpoint is high but assumes most activity is moved to this room in the winter a safe localized heater is used and the central heating turned radically down. Personally I sleep better in a cold room but there are limits.

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        PS Exterior shutters are a must for the summer- or too much heat will be trapped.

        • Stefeun says:

          thanks for your comment and your indications, but I was talking in general, not for my personal case.

          We actually have and are developing in France and EU many different systems to add insulation on existing buildings, wether on inside wall as you describe, or on outside, which is better due to thermal inertia that gives more stable indoor temperature along the day/night cycle.

          Also for quality of the indoors air, tightness of the envelope, etc, etc we have a whole set of quite advanced rules of construction, in France it’s called RT2012 (Règlementation Thermique); it states for example that new buildings should have primary energy consumption not to exceed 50 kWh/m2/year; for renovation it’s more complex.

          So we can consider that the techniques are already existing, validated and experienced, as well as the supply chains, but this market cannot deploy as it should on scale of the country or whole EU, because of this financial wall I described.

          Everybody say we should drastically develop renovation programs, but the reality is that more and more people are suffering from so-called “fuel poverty” (i.e. when more than 10% of the income goes into heating the house); in France it would affect 3.8 million households (ca 9m people in total 60m = 15%), and in UK it’s even worst, with 4.4m households. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_poverty

          • ordinaryjoe says:

            “Also for quality of the indoors air, tightness of the envelope, etc, etc we have a whole set of quite advanced rules of construction, in France it’s called RT2012 (Règlementation Thermique)”
            Whats the France solution to air quality? Im curious because I find plants to be the only solution if you are not using a combustion heater of some sort that brings air supply into the house and pulls its air from the house. Thats actually pretty rare nowadays most combustion furnaces bring the air straight into the combustion chamber regardless of fuel. Convection is the biggest loss whether the room is insulated or not and ending convection losses always seems to work against air quality. What that means to me, is since the government can not mandate plants being grown, is the government solution is going to suck. A good bit of energy is always going to be wasted in the exhaust of combustion heater, although if a blower is used and the heat is not relied upon for exhaust it can be made more efficient. Combustion in the home itself seems to me inharantly inefficient. What Im doing is to get what I can from passive solar dumped into a heat sink and adding electric heat if needed and making sure i have plenty of plants that I am fond of anyway. Specifically what I do since I like wheat grass juice is to let the grass grow out again after harvest. Four or six trays of 12-16″ wheatgrass sucks up a lot of CO2. If I doont have wheat and water or a substitute air quality is going to be the least of my worries. I realize that electric is also coming from fossil fuel combustion- hopefully they have optimized it by sucking every last bit of heat out of the exhaust. Im not a big fan of waiting for the government to find a solution. I wonder if the 10 people that froze to death in Camden NJ last winter were waiting for government solutions? Right now an action everyone can take that is cost effective the very first winter is to pick the best room from a passive solar perspective and develop that whether you insulate more or not. Hell old wool blankets hung over the door and walls with a group of people in it is and passive solar is not bad- if its tight. Its downright pleasant if its insulated compared to the outside round my way. It is not bad preparing food in a cold kitchen with a sweater and a down vest on in fact it can be quite romantic. I dont why anyone who understands our energy situation wouldnt take the time to implement this strategy- look for windows or glass block being recycled, buy blankets used for emergency use if nothing else.Just keeping a eye out for materials yields huge benefits IMHO. Hell $20 dollars worth of plastic sheeting and used bricks for a heatsink for half a the window, plants in the other half. Multiple fire exits MUST always be maintained. freezins better than fryin. Doing it the right way with code and inspections it can be implemented in four or six weekends. Im sure “Règlementation Thermique” is way cool, in the mean time Ill be trying to find a way to stay warm as fossil fuel supply decreases. Heating one room is going to be the trend -peoples ideas about heating the whole house or not. It is IMHO what caused the USA propane price to quadruple this winter- people using propane heaters to heat one room. Isnt proactivly insulating one room and developing passive solar better than running around trying to find propane at $6 a gallon? Myself Id rather have a crocodile in my house than a unvented propane heater but thats a different topic.

  5. Stefeun says:

    Hello Gail and all,
    just a thought about impact of our so-called de-meterialized economy on global energy consumption.
    Maybe this topic was already discussed here (I think I remember a comment about the fact that an average i-phone consumes more than a fridge); however I made an attempt to turn my mind around it, with no gret success, due to that I’m not skilled enough and too lazy to do the maths by myself.

    -the biggest IT companies are communicating on the fact they’re aiming to power 100% of their infrastructure with renewables (wind and PV) –> why??
    – data-centres currently consume 2% of the global electricity, and all-included the total share of digital economy could be up to 10% of the global electricity, today.
    – big improvements seem to be made in efficiency, i.e. reduction of consumption in micro-joules per byte (or Wh per GB, which is still energy amount per unit of data), e.g. by moving the traffic from datacentres to cloud-computing (if I understood it correctly).
    – the total volume of exchanged data is likely to explode witin next years, because of gowing number of users, more powerful devices, and, overall, development of IoT (“Internet of Things”, connected devices).
    – not to mention the other implications of IT: improved productivity, increase of transports, etc…

    As I said I don’t have clear picture of the numbers, but it seems to me as being an illustration of the Jeavon’s paradox, or the advent of a new degree in complexity, which in the end of the day will increase energy consumption, why not even by an order of magnitude?
    Linear increase of efficiency Vs exponential growth of the volume.

    My conclusion would be that digital economy, far from being the new trick that will save us all, is likely to accelerate dramatically our energy consumption and therefore push us even faster against the limits.
    (I said “would be”, maybe I’m totally wrong)

    Best Regards, Stéphane
    PS: if you’re willing to comment this post, please try to avoid considerations about carbon and climate, pleeeease!

    A few links, probably not all of them are relevant:
    – The Surprisingly Large Energy Footprint of the Digital Economy [UPDATE]
    Our computers and smartphones might seem clean, but the digital economy uses a tenth of the world’s electricity — and that share will only increase, with serious consequences for the economy and the environment

    – Cell Networks Are Energy Hogs
    Wireless infrastructure, not data centers, may prove to be the larger energy consumer.

    – some seem to think it’s not a problem:
    Cloud Computing Is Greener Than You Think

    – Apr.2011 Greenpeace report:
    How dirty is your data? A Look at the Energy Choices That Power Cloud Computing

    – Apr.2013 CEET report:
    THE POWER OF WIRELESS CLOUD An analysis of the energy consumption of wireless cloud.

    – Apr.2014 EMC DIGITAL UNIVERSE INFOBRIEF, says the traffic should grow from 4.4 Zettabytes* in 2013 to 44 ZB in 2020:

    – 1 Zettabyte = 1 billion Terabytes

    • It gets to be complicated. I expect that the energy users that are going to wind or solar are really still using the grid for backup, but getting a really good deal for the backup. The energy companies come out behind, because their costs are not properly reimbursed.

      • Stefeun says:

        Thanks Gail for your comment,
        Yes it’s complex and I also got confused myself; it’s probably why my post isn’t clear.

        My purpose was to demonstrate what I put in conclusion:
        Even if we can feel that the digital techniques are energy savers, they open new possibilities which lead to an exponential increase of the data traffic, and therefore (due to that any byte spends some micro-Joules).
        This is likely to add a new layer of complexity, which needs much more energy, not less.
        Communications about solar and wind power supplies, were they on supplier or consumer side, seem to be pure green-washing.

    • It gets to be complicated. I expect that the energy users that are going to wind or solar are really still using the grid for backup, but getting a really good deal for the backup. The energy companies come out behind, because their costs are not properly reimbursed.

  6. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    First, I am reading a fascinating book, Plato at the Googleplex, by the marvellous Rebecca Goldstein. Early in the book, she maneuvers a book-touring Plato into a real conversation in the famous Google cafeteria. Can the agora be recreated in cyberland? Will we ever be able to reason with each other? (I’ll have to let you know how it works out as I continue to read the book.) Along those lines, I have a couple of topics about food and farming and gardening which I think may reward some conversation. I am sorry that this is so lengthy, but I believe the only way to actually come to grips with the problems is to look in some detail at the reality…Don Stewart

    (1) The distinction between gardening and farming. John Michael Greer’s current blog post talks about the urgent need to do more for one’s own consumption and to produce things which can be sold or traded directly to other people. That is a pretty good description of gardening. Like everything else, gardening can be done well or badly. Life will tend to eliminate those who garden badly…get over it.

    (2) Absent a return to the Stone Age, we are likely to need farms. Farms, in their production phase, share quite a few characteristics with gardening. But farms get us heavily into the whole distribution business. Everyone can see that the current massive use of fossil fuels to produce, collect, process, package, distribute, and advertise food is severely threatened by Peak Oil. Many, many people have come together under the banner of ‘local food’ as a possible solution. But if you look carefully, you find that the word ‘local’ doesn’t solve the actual problem (unless by ‘local’ you mean ‘garden’). The classic design by Nature to collect something from a broad field and then move it somewhere else is a Tree Structure. Imagine all those roots and all the microbes who are laboring underground to supply nutrients to the roots and the vascular system which takes those nutrients up into a trunk and then the canopy of leaves which perform the photosynthesis and disperse water to the air. The industrial food system is an attempt to duplicate the work of the microbes with chemicals, to replace the roots with fossil fuels, to use just in time logistics to replace the biological design of the tree, to dump rather than recycle waste, to use a vast network of trucks and ships and airplanes to put the products into grocery stores near consumers who must drive to the grocery in fossil fueled vehicles, and to use the magic of advertising and knowledge about human hormonal response to sell the ‘not food’ that is sold in plastic packages.

    Is it possible to produce real food locally on small farms and distribute that same food within a pretty small radius? Farmers’ markets, customer supported agriculture (CSA), food hubs, marketing through local co-op stores, and various other schemes have been tried. My small farm listserv has recently featured a lively discussion about the subject, with a number of people claiming that the days of the CSA are numbered. Others think that farmers’ markets are also a thing of the past.

    True Believers in a Return to the Stone Age object to the appearance of all fossil fuel powered machinery. Thus, if a farmer drives a biodiesel powered pickup to town to deliver food, they object that none of that stuff will be available in the new stone age. Meanwhile, real farmers perceive the problem not as adjusting to the supposed new stone age, but in dealing with the real world of people who are burning fossil fuels like crazy and thus do not have the inclination to make any special attempt to get food….convenience rules.

    I have selected a few of the posts from the listserv, plus an article about the co-op in Oklahoma. Please take some time to think about all the real issues involved. Is it really necessary to pick up some milk from a farm a hundred miles from Oklahoma City, drive it to the hub in Oklahoma City, then drive it back to the small town near the original farm? These contortions apparently are required to meet what is actually being demanded by the market. Do you think Alex Hitt’s note represent the last, fading impulse from the hippie movement and the google generation could care less? Is the fact that it is very hard to behave rationally when the world is irrational the real reason why societies collapse instead of gracefully power down?

    (3) Are climate change and Peak Oil two entirely different subjects, one more important than the other, or are they both facets of the same problem? Here, for example, are pictures from two local farms. What you see is a field of white. That white stuff is called Re-May. It is a spun fiber made from fossil fuels. It is cheap for a gardener (30 cents for a piece 8 feet by 10 feet), but gets expensive when applied to a whole field. It’s purpose is to prevent the strawberries in these fields from freezing. It is applied by getting out there and wrestling it into position (likely in a strong wind) and putting something on the edges to keep it from blowing away (as, for example, hauling concrete blocks by hand out to the middle of the field). It is not fun work. The alternative is losing your strawberry crop. I know both of these farmers, and losing their strawberry crop would be a very hard financial blow. Everyone likes strawberries, any fool can taste the difference between a fresh local strawberry and an industrial (meets auto bumper standards) strawberry from far away, and lots of people like to go to Pick Your Own places or farmers markets to buy them. One of my fondest memories is taking a grandchild who was still a toddler to a strawberry patch with a bucket. He picked an awful lot of strawberries, but couldn’t see the point of the bucket when his belly was a perfectly good repository for what he had picked.

    There are a couple of points here. First, losing the strawberries in your garden is disappointing, but not a disaster. When you have strawberry fields this size, and the financial health of your farm is at stake, you need something to deal with the destabilized climate we are currently experiencing. The gigantic farms in Florida and California call in helicopters to fly over their fields (or so I am told) to keep frost from forming. These small guys can’t afford that, so Re-May it is plus lots of hard, physical labor. Can you see how Peak Oil and Climate Change and the questions about efficient distribution are all facets of the same problem?

    Do you think Rebecca Goldstein could get Plato to organize a discussion about the subject in the agora? Do you think humans have the sapience to do anything other than BAU?

    Don Stewart

    Article about the Oklahoma co-op

    Written by Alex Hitt, long time small farmer and a founder of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market
    For some time I have been thinking about writing a piece on why the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is different and unique from all the other markets in the area. With the recent N&O article about how difficult it is for farmers markets to take food stamps, in which they interviewed and mentioned many people and markets from across the state but the only nod to the Carrboro Market was about our novel idea to use the fees from our ATM (first farmers’ market in the state to have one) to support our SNAP program, I said maybe now is a good time.

    I mean we only wrote the book on how farmers’ markets in North Carolina can independently accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) better known as food stamps. Starting almost a decade ago, the market tested out several different systems before going directly to the USDA and working through the bureaucracy so we could run our own more efficient program. This was after meeting with state legislators and others to try and improve the currently available programs, researching the few markets across the country that were taking SNAP and running a multi-year, grant funded, test to determine exactly what the costs of the program to the market would be. Then we did as we always do, we freely shared our knowledge with many other markets across the state and the country.

    A bit of a digression but it is a perfect example of how the Carrboro Market operates and one of the ways that makes it different from all the other area markets. But with so many markets in the Triangle area (at least 25 at last count and too many really) it is hard for people to decide which market they want to support. Now I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t shop at a market that is close to you, especially if it has the selection and quality of products that you are looking for but sometimes you don’t have that option.

    Yes because we are the oldest market in the area (35 years) and have the most vendors (over 80) of any of the non-state run markets, we have had many first chances to do things well. First we are a producer’s only market that is run by the vendors not the town or the chamber of commerce or another outside group. There are now a few other markets with that kind of governance in the state and mostly because we have promoted it to new markets as the best way to go by sharing our rules, by-laws and procedures with them, so that doesn’t make us different.

    We were among the first to do many things now common to markets across the country. Special events of all kinds (Tomato Day, Strawberry Day, Canning classes, etc.), the first with a pre-Thanksgiving market, the first to accept WIC checks, food stamps, etc., the first with an ATM, had the first certified organic farmers in NC, the first to allow farmers to take a year off without losing their space at market, the first to limit the number of crafts and prepared food sellers so that it would remain a farmers market, the list is long. But most markets do all that now, so that doesn’t make us different.

    There are two very important things that set the Carrboro Farmers’ Market apart from all others in the Triangle and I think the state. First because we are a large and successful market, we have a very engaged and active membership which participates in market governance and elects and supports a very active Board of Directors. The market has always pushed the envelope on what a market should be, not only to its customers but to its members as well. It is being able to work on issues like food access to the community as a whole and taking care of our members needs that makes us different but most customers don’t see that side of the market.

    The single thing that makes our market unique, amongst all the markets in the area, is that we require the people selling at market be the owners of the business or their immediate family. No other market has this rule. All the other markets allow any employee to sell at market, you might be helped by someone who has a real stake in the food you are buying but many times not. This is how many farms can sell at 5 and 6 markets a week, sometimes all on the same day! Big families I guess. At Carrboro, the person selling you the food is the one that produced it, the one whose feet are to the fire financially and whose reputation is on the line. It is a farmer who has been recognized, regionally or nationally for their work or the person who developed the recipe and was written up in Food and Wine.

    This makes it difficult for some of our vendors who don’t have employees and want to be able to sell at other markets or to take weeks off during the season but I think that it is what makes our members so active and engaged in running the Carrboro markets. They are actually there representing their businesses and seeing how things are going at market every week so they share their ideas and concerns directly with the manager and Board, serve on committees and help to make the market the best it can be.

    So the next time you are wondering what market to go to think about location and product diversity and maybe your favorite farmer but certainly if you want to actually talk to the people who grew your food, ask them how it was grown, what variety it is, how the season is affecting the crops or where the ingredients in the jam came from then there is only one market in the Triangle where you can be sure that will happen, Carrboro.

    Written by Thomas Kumpf, a local farmer
    Percentages might seem like a good measure, but raw numbers and share sizes are much more meaningful. CSA’s are clearly not for the majority of customers, and even then most need to be cultivated carefully. There are a number of single farm CSA’s in the Northeast (NY,Mass, etc.) that are from 400-1000+ members and still growing, with marked growth in the last 5 years while farms here are not. No CSA in the Raleigh market is growing. Aggregators have taken over the conversation by being much better “word of mouth” marketers and have gained a critical mass. They provide instant reach and market share should one want to pursue it. They are now driving the ship, and if you want market share you have to find a way to compete. Partnering with other farms may be one approach, but only if it gives the diversity customers want and the convenience of delivery. More of the same products from two small farms isn’t good enough. Grow more yourself and find a farm with something you don’t have. Despite how big or comprehensive these aggregators might get, their size can also be their downfall, produce and value added are a tricky, low margin business only made up for by large volume. If the marketplace shifts radically again, who knows what will happen. Smaller producers can pivot more easily if they are prepared to do so. Sadly, no one in the mass media seems interested in the least about writing about farms and CSA’s like they were 5-6 years ago. Awareness usually helps a great deal with marketing.
    The concept of a farmers market is 100 year old technology, this idea we go into town one day a week to buy our supplies. People don’t behave that way anymore, the suburbs is the clear example of that. Exceptions exist but they are not the rule. Families are constantly on the move and will not patronize a business/service that can’t accommodate them. Everywhere you go in Raleigh, its dominated by sprawl, convenience, etc. That said, those customers are there for the picking, the right approach is still yet to be determined. Farmers Markets in Raleigh, despite the best intent of those that run them (producer only ones), will not provide enough business to survive on that alone. The good news is that local is still a tiny fraction of the marketplace. People still don’t eat enough vegetables, let alone local ones. Wake up calls like death, disease, cancer, etc. still serve as a positive reinforcement for people needing it, and local product can fill that need.
    Our CSA has utilized electronic registration/payments/ordering etc. We offer 4 types of share sizes, numerous types of flexibility, and all of that has helped, but its not enough. Volume, efficiency, and quality are still the keys, along with constant marketing. Farming is not a lifestyle, its a brutal business like any other with the supermarket being one of your main competitors. Feelgood stories, quaint this and that, barely scratches the surface of a person’s busy day dominated by all sorts of other more important (and sometimes much less important) things. Farmers are just another cog in the machine of society, whether we like it or not, we are not as important and many like to make us think we are. (we are important, but that’s not evident until people finally realize they don’t know how to feed themselves)

    Judy Lessler, another local small farmer on the same subject
    CSA’s in the triangle area are being hit hard by the first and second level bundlers such as Papa Spuds and Produce Box. These places have:

    home delivery,
    buy from larger areas and mid-sized farms,
    keep variety and quantity up by buying from ECO and other wholesale bundlers, which results in the farmer getting less than 50 percent of the retail price.

    Lots of people think they have joined a CSA when they start buying from these groups. Some bundlers are now doing year round deliveries and buy from out of NC. They have had a rapid growth in the past 5 years, and HCF has had a corresponding rapid decline in members. For example, Produce Box started out as a mom delivering to her neighborhood. and now has 8000 customers and 250 employees. I think they started in 2009.

    We have had collaborative CSAs since 2005 in which 5 to 6 farmers worked together to provide the CSA. You can see them on our web site. We were not a “bundler” in that each farm puts in its own product and some deliver it directly to the customer at the farmers market.

    This has been our experience since 2010 when the bundlers were just getting started:

    2010: 132 members
    2011: 125 members
    2012: 100 members
    2013: 88 members
    2014: 49 members currently–will probably come in at about 55.

    CSAs may be a dying marketing option for small farms like ours (5 acres) because customers like the convenience of the home delivery and the wider selection of items–including some bundlers that provide citrus, apples, and so on–so they are going with the bundler organizations. Many of these bundlers do promote local agriculture in that they by NC products when available; however, most of the farms that participate in them appear to be 30 to 100 acre farms.

    I am glad to hear that some people have good retention and have not had a drop off in members. This may mean that we can find away to increase membership.

    We already do all the things that people have suggested EXCEPT the home delivery. I suppose that will be in our future if we want to do keep doing CSAs.



    • Interguru says:

      Going local is not a magic bullet. (Repeated from a previous post on this blog)

      Buying local and reducing food transport miles is not as simple as it sounds. From a 2006 article from the Economist

      And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are traveled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being traveled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being traveled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles”

        Of course, reductio ad absurdum the difference is that if you have a local food system in place, people can walk, bike, or drive a horse-cart to obtain their daily needs, whereas I don’t expect to see huge mule teams traveling thousands of kilometres, bringing semi-trailers full of grain from the prairies to the populous coasts.

        In a fast-crash scenario, those who have a local food system in place are more resilient, and more likely to survive.

        In a slow-crash scenario, where articles from The Economist have undue influence, the local food system may never be built. I suppose it might spontaneously evolve, even in the face of pressure to “use fuel efficiently” through “economies of scale.”

        I think The Economist assumes that suburbia will continue. It will not, as being proven right now in the Detroit environs.

        I am not a big fan of “efficiency.” An oak tree that creates thousands of acorns so that one or two might take root is not efficient. Photosynthesis is not efficient. Resiliency and redundancy is not efficient.

        “Efficiency” is the cry of the high-energy globalist. The sooner we can replace that holy word with “resilience,” the better we’ll be suited for a low-energy, localized future.

        • Edmund Brown says:

          Spot on Jan.

          Dmitry Orlov calls “efficiency” a liar word because people so rarely define their parameters. Calling something efficient lends it cachet, but only because most people don’t bother to think about the implications of streamlining or reducing inventory. I’m all for maximizing human happiness with minimal resources – but to me that mostly that means using less and doing without, not gooseing production per unit of time with stimulants.

        • xabier says:

          Does anyone take the Economist seriously? The prose is very dull (an outrage to one of the most versatile of languages), and the conclusions always very predictable, and rather shallow. It is propaganda and group-think, nothing more.

          • Paul says:

            The Economist is typical MSM – rubbish.

            I stopped reading after they threw their editorial support behind the Iraq War. That was another layer of the onion being peeled back for me

            Best financial news site: Zero Hedge – it is 1000x better than the Economist

            I note that ZH has broken yet another story — that there were no takers for the Japanese 10yr bond the last day and a half.

            That story is NOWHERE in the MSM — because the MSM does not want anyone to know that because it is CONfidence destroying.

            And we all know we need the CONfidence game to be in high gear because otherwise the SHTF sooner.

            Must let sleeping sheeple lie

        • InAlaska says:

          Yes, I agree, and also the word redundancy comes to mind. Natural systems are often not efficient, but they are redundant. Often more than one organism plays the same role in an ecosystem. This redundancy makes the ecosystem more resilient, but less efficient.

      • xabier says:

        Renoir the painter: ‘People have legs, hands and heads, and just don’t want to use them.’

        Not such a simple painter of pretty things, eh?

        No one is fully human until they have carried a burden on their back,or on their head, not in a car, or cut some cords of wood with an axe. (Me).

    • Maybe for a while, but it is going to be hard to keep the roads in repair and the trucks operating for all of these things. We don’t have horse and buggy, so it will be hard to get food to market.

      • InAlaska says:

        I’m not sure the roads will be that bad. Roads need constant repair because they must support 3,000 pound vehicles and 20,000 pound trucks. The constant heavy pounding takes its toll on asphalt. Once its foot traffic and horses only, those roads will last a lot longer.

        • Stilgar Wilcox says:

          With repeated usage, I would think metal horseshoes under 1500 pound horses would do a lot of damage to asphalt.

          • InAlaska says:

            Yeah, over time, I guess. But if 6.2 billion of us die off, how much repeated usage is that going to add up to. There’s gonna be a lot of empty roads out there.

          • Philip Backus says:

            Where I am from originally(Lancaster Co. Pa) There are many Old Order Amish people who use horse and carriage as a means of transport and the roads aquire a gutter in the center of each lane from the steel shoes wich are tipped with boreum to prevent slippage. The result is that the roads need to be repaved more frequently.

        • Freezing and thawing is important as well. I expect roads in Alaska will not do well.

    • xabier says:

      Mobus seems to have given up on extensive human Sapience, to judge from his most recent posts. I suspect he is right.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Xabier

        As I said, I am reading Rebecca Goldstein’s book Plato at the Googleplex. It is one of the few books with Philosophy as its subject that I regard as a page turner.

        She discusses the case of Socrates. Athens had committed many atrocities against other Greek cities during and after the fight against Persia, then been defeated by Sparta. An oligarchy had been installed by Sparta and the democracy destroyed. The case for Athenian ‘exceptionalism’ was, at this point, very fragile indeed. Socrates stayed in the city, doing what he did: questioning everyone about why they were behaving the way the did or thought the way they did. Once the democracy was restored, charges were promptly brought against Socrates. Essentially, the charges claimed that he didn’t support the notions of Athenian exceptionalism, and was causing people to question the foundations of the Athenian democracy. He was, of course, convicted by vote of the people and forced to commit suicide.

        Rebecca Goldstein’s position is interesting. She says that Athen balanced two conflicting goals: the worship of the exceptional and the restraint for the common good as agreed upon by the citizens. There was no such thing as ‘virtue’ except as part of behavior which benefitted the citizenry. One could not be privately virtuous. Socrates tended to be dismissive of all politics, arguing that a smooth orator could turn the people toward almost any action he wanted to. So Socrates was, in fact, a danger to an Athens that was no longer strong. The strong Athens as well as the militarily mighty Spartans could ignore or be amused by Socrates, but the weak Athens could not tolerate him.

        There is so much here that has parallels in the current United States, that I don’t think I need to belabor it.

        As regards Mobus. Goldstein seems to me to be saying ‘humans need checks and balances…remove them and you get monstrous behavior, such as Athens experienced with ‘Alcibiades, the lawless democrat, and Critias, the lawless oligarch’. It seems to me that we no longer know how to construct the checks and balances. The recent study of US democracy found that the opinion of the citizenry has zero impact on public policies. The entire thrust of politics is now about giving the monied class and the Deep State what they want, while using rhetorical skills to distract the public. The most optimistic scenario I have heard lately is Charles Hugh Smith theorizing that there is about to be a war between Wall Street and the Deep State. In ancient Japan, after a battle, the peasant farmers went over the battlefields killing any wounded fighters and stealing everything worth stealing. Perhaps in our future?

        Don Stewart

        • xabier says:

          I agree Don, the art of politics is the restraint and management of average human natures for the good of the whole community.

          The US is clearly in dire trouble now (as is the EU) having become a slave to corporate interests which are now acting in an entirely unfettered way, contemptuous of law and humble individuals.

          Corporate executives and multi-billionaires are simply not civilized in the way in which the old oligarchies and aristocracies in Europe could be – for instance England pre-industrial revolution. There are no social checks on their actions, no customs to restrain them. They are just as free to cause misery and impose their will as the Party was in the Soviet Union. The American people have been sleeping, and their freedoms have gone. Where is the rule of law now? It is only a mechanism for punishing and controlling the small man. Can they get their Liberties back? The same for Europe to a lesser degree.

          Still, Mobus does put his finger on the point that most humans are just terrible at long-term assessments and action, which is what his Sapience boils down to. I fully sympathise with his wish to wash his hands of humans and their follies, it’s all too exasperating!

          However, I do feel that whatever the faults of individuals and however defective their thinking and inclinations, we can hope to design societal systems that are in a sense ‘wise’ despite our best efforts not to be – your example of ancient Japan for instance.

          A system that functions at a far higher level than the humans who constitute its parts.

          The most salient point about the Ancient Greeks is that while they produced some wonderful literature, architecture and art, they were, as a whole, a loquatious, treacherous, ambitious, scheming and murderous bunch – hence easy meat for the Romans once the power balance had shifted in their favour.

          But as someone said, the Romans started by killing one another and then went on to kill and enslave as much of the world as they could manage. Ancient history is not edifying as to human nature: genocide, mass enslavements, constant warfare, torture as entertainment….

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Xabier
            ‘terrible at long term assessments and actions’

            I think it is possible to structure a society such that some of those issues are dealt with better than we are doing today in the OECD countries.

            For example, the famous demonstration that humans have a terrible grasp of the workings of compound interest. A solution to that is to simply stop offering consumer credit and college loans. We didn’t have either of those in my childhood, and things worked OK. Most people today cannot imagine life without them, but, trust me, it’s possible.

            But what about mortgages? Christopher Alexander, the University of California architect, now living in England, I think, argued that people should build their houses by hand. Since building an extra room was real work and you had to buy real materials to build it, you would likely build a house over the years which was just exactly enough, and no more. It would also be more beautiful in your eyes because you had sweat equity in it.

            And what about children? The sad reality is that most societies have used infanticide to control population. In Edo Japan, the situation was very simple. First, you had to pay your rice tax to the government. Then, you could use the rest of the rice you grew to feed however many people you wanted to and could manage. Those rules stopped the growth of population at a sustainable level.

            But what about deforestation? In Edo Japan, the central government appointed foresters whose job was to keep control of the cutting of wood for use on the farms. There were rather severe penalties for ‘stealing’ forest wood. And so home heating and cooking used very frugal methods and the forests flourished.

            A few years ago I read a study which showed that people in the aggregate are better at long term decision making than they are as individuals. Thus, the aggregate can decide that heroin is a really bad thing and we should ban it. But, individually, humans will more likely indulge in heroin. The Opium Wars in China were about the European governments forcing the Chinese government to relax the social control of heroin. One conclusion we might draw from that is that commercial interests will likely be engaged in destroying all the carefully built up social controls which permit a society to rise above the level of the individuals which comprise the society.

            I want to relate an experience I had as a teacher in a corporate setting back in the late 60s. My classes were small, four to eight students, typically. It sometimes happened that all the students were males, sometimes all female, and sometimes mixed. I found that the all male and all female classes behaved badly. The men would show up unshaven and hung over and I had one woman show up in house slippers and robe. Later that evening, I saw the young woman elegantly turned out in the hotel bar. The mixed male and female classes were by far the best behaved. It doesn’t matter what the marital status of the students, the presence of a potential sexual partner exerts a powerful influence on behavior. (I don’t know if my observations from 50 years ago are still true.)

            An example of the power of a potential sexual partner can be seen in the current movie The Lunchbox. A neglected 30ish Indian wife fixes a lunchbox for her husband every day, which is delivered by a lunchbox delivery service. But there is a mix-up and the box goes to an older government bureaucrat whose wife has died and has sunk into a bitter old age. He is contemplating early retirement. The mix-up leads to the daily exchange of notes in the lunch box between the older man and the young woman, who confides that her husband is having an affair and she is trying to figure out what she should do. They agree to meet at a cafe for lunch. The older man sees the much younger woman, well dressed and beautiful, and decides that it would be unfair for a man his age to start something with her. Meanwhile, she hears that Bhutan is the land of ‘gross national happiness’, and decides to sell her jewelry and take her daughter and move to Bhutan. The movie ends with the older man evidently headed back to Mumbai to look for her. Will these two get together, or will she disappear into Bhutan? We don’t find out in the movie.

            But a younger man in the office notes that the older man ‘looks 10 years younger’, and the children in his neighborhood note that he is now friendly and wave at him.

            So…rather than trying to make ‘perfect humans’, perhaps we should pay more attention to the structure we put the humans into.

            Don Stewart

            • Stefeun says:

              100% with you on this comment!
              You say you don’t like philosophy, but you seem ready for Spinoza and the structuralism!
              that’s almost not a joke!
              and not an invitation for deep discussion either…thanks,
              and Regards, Stéphane

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “simply stop offering consumer credit and college loans. We didn’t have either of those in my childhood, and things worked OK… what about mortgages?… people should build their houses by hand. Since building an extra room was real work and you had to buy real materials to build it, you would likely build a house over the years which was just exactly enough, and no more. It would also be more beautiful in your eyes because you had sweat equity in it.”

              Well worth repeating! Debt is a bet on (and a vote for) continuous growth. It should simply be done away with. The holy documents of the three biggest religions are all against it, although even those religions have succumbed to the single biggest religion: The Church Of Growth.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Xabier
        I tried to reply earlier, but I think it is lost in cyberspace. So here are the same thoughts, just expressed differently.

        Mobus thinks we are missing sapience. I ask the question ‘what would we expect sapience to look like in a flawed human?’

        I mentioned that I have been reading Plato at the Googleplex by Rebecca Goldstein. It is the only book about philosophy that I have ever read and considered it a page turner. Rebecca makes the point that the Athenians balanced two competing concepts. On the one hand, they worshipped the solitary achiever: the best athlete, the best runner, the best mathematician, the best orator, the best warrior, etc. But they balanced this worship of the solitary with a dedication to the good of the citizens of Athens. Everything was held up to the critical standard of being good for all the citizens in a political sense. Solitary virtue was not possible. (It was Socrates disdain for the political that finally cost him his life.)

        When the United States was formed, the framers of the Constitution spent a great deal of time devising checks and balances. They seemed to understand that every human has within themselves both positives and negatives, and the trick is to set up a structure that brings out the best while controlling for the worst.

        If you look at the United States today, you see that the checks and balances have fallen apart and we don’t know how to construct new ones. A recent scholarly analysis has concluded that ordinary citizen have no discernable influence on policy. The wealthy and the Deep State totally control the government. Our government is all about greed and power.

        Sapience, I hypothesize, would involve rebuilding, perhaps with new ingredients, the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers built into our politics. I don’t think it is possible to elect ‘wise men’, just ‘men and women who are subject to checks and balances’. As a personal example, I notice that my character drops about two letter grades when my wife goes out of town. One of the checks and balances for a husband is not wishing to appear to be a total moron when his wife is around. When two young people are in love, their behavior is notoriously at a high level that they seldom sustain after marriage.

        So, if George wanted my advice, I would suggest that he do his ‘system dynamics’ thing and look at sapience not as godly wisdom, but as navigating between two sub-optimal choices through the mechanism of restrained behavior.

        Don Stewart

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “I notice that my character drops about two letter grades when my wife goes out of town. One of the checks and balances for a husband is not wishing to appear to be a total moron when his wife is around.”

          You need to add Dave Barry to your reading list. Then you’d learn that men are “total morons” especially when their wife is around; they just think they are not!

        • Landbeyond says:

          “If you look at the United States today, you see that the checks and balances have fallen apart and we don’t know how to construct new ones.”

          The people at the link below understand politics and seem both determined and effective in trying to use the Constitution to restore the checks and balances via a state-level amendment.
          Unfortunately they don’t have a clue about peak oil and only a general grasp of climate change. Still…


  7. jeremy890 says:

    Just wondering, how much carbon is locked up in the trees that will be burned because of the shortage of fossil fuels? Seems climate change will continue regardless. After all, folks will not just sit by and freeze and eat uncooked food (whatever that might be (i.e. former “uncle Fred”).

    • ravinathan says:

      It’s a double whammy Jeremy. Not only do we release carbon emissions when the trees are burned for fuel, we also lose a carbon sink when the tree is cut down. I am not sure Gail fully recognizes this two edged impact.

      • jeremy890 says:

        Exactly, Gail may have made reference to her concern in a comment posted here. I doubt, though, people will all use solar cookers and keeping warm, nothing like a good fire to do that.

      • As I said, we really need the climate modelers to model the real situation. I am not qualified to do that.

  8. Dr.Doom says:

    Ed, let me know when the Moon starts to rotate on its axis, once again. It’s been awhile.

  9. Darel Preble says:

    Japan will be launch the world’s first demonstration Space Solar Power(SSP) satellite in three years. While SSP is poorly supported in the US, it is far better supported in Japan and China.
    A recent magazine article at SatMagazine may be of interest – http://www.satmagazine.com/index.php?number=414881136#

    MANY other SSP technical studies are underway. Our most recent session submission was to the Fall AGU meeting – below:

    Space Solar Power – A Rising Baseload Energy Alternative with Refreshing Environmental Differences
    Renewable Power Standards from California to New York, Japan to Germany have pressured electric utilities to implement renewable energy alternatives. With over $2 trillion invested into renewable energy projects worldwide with “superior” environmental (and economic) attributes, these government favored energy strategies and policies have failed. The world has made almost no progress over the past 20 years in reducing the carbon content of its energy generation.

    Space Solar Power(SSP), a clean new baseload solar energy alternative, offers us a 99.3% capacity factor, near zero fuel cost, CO2 intensity and water use, among other critical advantages, including low cost. Japan and China are working hard on SSP R&D, while US energy policies continue to ignore SSP. No existing US corporation has the charter to initiate an SSP industry, but just as the Comsat Act created our robust commercial satellite communications industry, a Sunsat Act could create a commercial power satellite industry.

    AGU Chairing Committee: Darel Preble (Space Solar Power Institute), Arnold Bloom, (Univ. California Davis), Greg Durgin, (Georgia Tech, Space Solar Power Institute)

    Great Expectations,
    Darel Preble
    Executive Director,
    Space Solar Power Institute
    Space Solar Power Workshop @ Ga Tech
    Space Solar Power Workshop @ Mich Tech

    • Thanks, Darel. If Space Solar would work as cheaply as hoped, it would provide a low price, low carbon source of base load electricity.

    • edpell says:

      Darel, I have been interested in SPS since about 1976. You are the first person to use the phrase cheap. ???

      Do you know Seth Potter retired from Boeing? He and I went to school together.

    • edpell says:

      Darel, it would be nice to reference Peter Glaser who first proposed SPS in 1968. Also the Space Studies Institute Space Manufacturing Conference where SPSs were considered in detail over fourteen conferences.

    • edpell says:

      For those who are interested the NASA cost for one pound to orbit is $50,000. Elon has gotten the cost down to $1000 per pound basically by using non legacy labor and non legacy corporate and executive overhead. Elon’s next step is reuse of the first stage, which should get launch costs down to $100 per pound. We will have to see how that last factor of ten goes. Some think the moon may be the best place to locate space based solar. No need to lift any building materials off the earth. Yes, a need to build six PV stations on the moon to deal with the rotation of the moon.

  10. Leo Smith says:

    The fundamental problems we face are that a highly technological society requires people of high technical knowledge to make correct decisions.

    However when the vast majority do not understand the issues and are incapable of thinking through the science the votes go to whoever can produce the most convincing and appealing narrative , which may or may not bear any relationship to the truth.

    Removing democracy does not help either: Then the decisions are simply made for the benefit of the ‘ruling class’ .

    In short a world comprised of people who have little real conception of science and technology, is going to be at the mercy of someone.

    And as the old joke goes, the people who say they are your friends are not necessarily so…

    • InAlaska says:

      Perhaps one day soon we’ll pray to the high priests of science who will explain to us about how the god Electron once ruled the world.

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      Have you ever known a lawyer who practiced in and out of court? I have. She is a very very good lawyer. She is a multimillonaire but spends little, the money she gets from her practice is only valuable to her as tokens of her skill. She likes the discipline, the order, the questioning, the arguments, the model. She likes the rules of the fight, and is very comfortable fighting but only in this context. In fact she has trained the organic computer of her brain so that she is omost unable to practice this model with everything she encounters. The model is her matrix, her reality to question it is to question the very very strong attachment her ego has with this training/model. She seizes a argument like a pitbull and will not discard it, to try to pry a argument from her is fruitless. Anything that does not fit within the model/discipline including any empathy or emotions is discarded. I find this to be fairly typical of the human condition, myself included.

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  13. Paul says:

    This is an interesting article….


    During World War II, the US Coast Guard decided to install long range aids to navigation in St Matthew Island, a remote rock in the Bering Sea in Alaska, and to stock emergency food source there. In August the same year, they released 29 reindeer (known as caribou in North America) on the island as a backup food source for the 19 men stationed there. As World War II drew to an end, the Coast Guard left the island and, by the same token, the population of reindeer growing unchecked as their only predators, the 19 men on duty there, were sent back home. It followed a dramatic boom & burst of population dynamics (figure 1). From 1944 to 1966 the number of these herbivores, which did not have to worry anymore about any predator and ate all the available lichen, increased from 29 to 6,000. In 1957, their body weight was found to exceed that of reindeer in domestic herds by 24.5 percent among females and 46.6 percent among males. Then, the following winter, as they faced a limited food supply to sustain their number and their massive body weight, they underwent a crash die-off, the population falling from 6,000 to 42 (figure 3).

    Indeed, though we live in the age of the “information technology” it is worthwhile to remember that the information society is an energy ogre (not mentioning the globalisation mantra which gives a central role to the transport industry which consumes two-third of total oil). For example, according to ASU engineer Eric Williams 227 to 270 kilograms (or 500 to 594 pounds) of carbon dioxide are emitted in manufacturing a laptop computer. Mark Mills , the CEO of the Digital Power Group, teaches us that a medium-size refrigerator will use about 322 kW-h a year whereas the average iPhone uses about 361 kW-h a year once the wireless connections, data usage and battery charging are tallied up.

    Indeed, the NASA research suggests that high wealth inequality is sufficient to create a total collapse. Add inequality regarding access to energy, water and food (agriculture is oil-dependent too) on the top of that, and we have a Mad-Max-Moment ahead of us. In this state of urgency, do we attend a rise in global capex in renewable energy that could make us more optimistic? Well, unfortunately not. Global investment in renewable energy fell 11 percent in 2013 to USD 254 billion according to Bloomberg New energy Finance. This is the second decline in renewable investments since 2001.

    More https://www.tradingfloor.com/posts/peak-oil-signals-worlds-least-know-521368144?utm_source=Outbrain&utm_medium=Native%20Advertising&utm_campaign=TF%20Beta%20Launch

    • Jan Steinman says:

      So sad. Although a bit strident, Mike was a hero to me for continually pointing out the emperor had no clothes.

      At one point, Mike had considered joining EcoReality, but our correspondence fell off and he got more and more negative when he moved to Venezuela.

      My biggest criticism is that Mike had the negative aspect so tightly in his sights that he could not work on, nor even imagine, coping strategies. Perhaps that explains the path he ultimately chose. Perhaps that’s why, in this forum and others, I try to bring the positive aspects forward, that the energy decline means the loss of power to the moneyed interests, and a return to local living.

      • Paul says:

        I thought I recognized that name… I have seen video presentations from him — he came across as a very troubled man who was indeed having difficulty coping — understandably so.

        In terms of coping I’ve thought for some time the way to go would be to return to the earth — and I have invested heavily — time, money and callouses — doing exactly that. I had thought it was a long shot but it was something that made sense to do — rather than just throwing up one’s hands in futility (if that were the case I’d choose to sell everything and travel the world until the SHTF – rather than take Ruppert option…)

        I’ve tried to maintain a positive outlook on this situation getting knee deep into permaculture on our 1.5 hectares of land in Bali — I have property in BC but decided to make a stand here in Bali because of the climate but more importantly – because aside from tourism – bali is all about agriculture.

        But I’ve came across some info yesterday afternoon that darkens my perspective on the future – and the viability of attempting to self-sustain.

        The following recounts our day here in Bali — but is very much relevant to anyone attempting to be more self-sufficient.

        We have really been plowing along here these days — the big garden is booming along — ripping up lots of other areas to add more crop varieties — did some seed saving today and will stick a bunch of pumpkin plants into the ground this week

        Was working with our guys earlier + the organic trainer using an A-frame to plant on the slope (same set up the rice farmers use to stay level) — which in itself was a learning experience…

        We were discussing Monstanto and chemical farming — our organic guy says MOST people except in the poor regions are using chemical inputs — the government ENCOURAGES it — IDEP a local organic institute organized a protest against this and the police quickly came in with the heavy hand and stopped the protest (of course this is what Monsanto pays them to do)

        Farmers are already complaining about the costs of the chemical inputs…. But of course it takes a long time to revert to organic so they are stuck — a few are taking pieces of their land and reverting slowly (with help from IDEP)… as they cannot just change immediately because s they will get no crops for a period if they go organic all at once…

        That lead to discussing farming in our village (300 families) — only ONE of our 3 guys farms his land — he does so organically —- the others have land but just put taro down because they don’t have seeds for other crops … in fact, few people in the village are doing much in terms of farming beyond taro — those that do are using chemicals….

        Our organic trainer says this is normal practice on most of the island. I had previously understood that this was not the case — I understood wrong it seems.

        Obviously this is very alarming — when the chemicals are no longer available there will be a massive problem in Bali — not much different than anywhere else — these bastards at Monsanto have injected their poison globally …

        Our guys would like to farm their small plots so I am immediately going to give them some seeds — they know how to seed save now so they can be self-sufficient in that respect

        I am also going to invite anyone who is interested in our village to come and see what we are doing — we will train them on how to get started — our guys will be available to advise…. We will also provide them with seeds to get going — and we will make sure they know how to seed save – compost etc….

        This really changes my view on Bali as a safe haven …. Actually it changes my view of anywhere on the planet being a safe haven — except the most remote, poor places that Monsanto has not touched

        The city boy should not be teaching the farmers how to farm. We’ll try our best but this is really a drop in the ocean what we are going to attempt to do in the coming weeks and months.

        Needless to say this is very disheartening because people in this village are no more self-sufficient that someone living in a major city — they will starve when the SHTF — and they will most likely head to wherever they can find something to eat — and take it.

        It’s a good think I am enjoying the permaculture project for its own sake — because I am seriously beginning to question if there is anything that anyone can do to prepare for what is imminent.

        I think globally we are all in the same boat – is it 2% of all ag land is farmed using sustainable methods?

        • InAlaska says:

          I think its a good idea that you give your neighbors seeds and teach them how to permaculture, because when TSHTF they’ll come looking for yours if they don’t have their own. You went tropical, when I chose northern. Mostly to put more of a barrier between me and billions of other people. Food doesn’t grow as well up here, but its a lot less crowded. Both choices have their pitfalls and downsides. The point is that you are doing something rather than just wringing your hands. You taking direct action, which is the best antidote to depression and despair. That is all anyone can do. I always thought Mike Ruppert was a paranoid guy prone to conspiracy theories. I’m sorry that he ended his own life, though.

          • InAlaska says:

            Hey Gail,
            Did i say something wrong? I noticed that my last post says “awaiting moderation.” I hope I have not given offense.

            • It is out of moderation now. I put a hold on comments that use the word “conspiracy”. I have had too many long conspiracy threads develop while I am away from the computer for a while.

            • InAlaska says:

              Thanks. I’ll mind my “p’s and q’s”

        • xabier says:

          Sounds as though Bali has the potential to be like Ireland during the potato blight.

          When reading about Monsanto machinations I am irresistibly reminded of that kids’ film ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, when the evil magician sows seeds in the ground which suddenly spring to life as dozens of skeleton warriors who attack the Hero. I couldn’t get enough of that aged 10, not so keen on it in real life…..

          • Paul says:

            I understand 98% of the world’s ag land is farmed using chemical inputs — which means pretty much the entire world will be like Ireland during the potato famine…

            Actually worse — because land farmed with such inputs is actually dead — it will not produce crops without years of intensive organic inputs.

            I think Bali is probably slightly better than most places because in the more remote poorer places they would not have the cash to be buying chemical inputs. As if that will matter much….

      • xabier says:

        Venezuela is in a very poor state now, and very violent, not a good place to be: maybe that tipped the poor man over the edge?

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        The ancient Sri Lanka fish monger woman- she gets by- her “coping strategy” is her life. She lives outside of the matrix. She accepts what happens and adapts. Behind her eyes there is a quality. Some people size things up very quickly.
        When the matrix collapses it can be traumatic. Sometimes it hits you like a blow in the stomach. Violence can be like that if you havnt had the misfortune of experiencing it.
        Quickly accepting events that are outside of our experience in life is a crucial skill. The sooner acceptance is reached emotionally as well as intellectually the sooner appropriate action can be taken.
        While I recognize this as a important skill Im not real good at it. It takes me a while to get it together. C- at best. The parameter known as time does not usually allow me to act in a centered state when critical events happen. I do my best.
        Then it comes down to making your best plan, and your skills and resources to implement it.
        As Clint said in Unforgiven “We all got it coming” with that in mind I think it is important to express what we value in critical times. I value beauty as expressed in nature, I value compassion, so I hope my actions reflect these qualities in critical times.

        I dont find value in drama. Sometimes I find events sad and it effects me. I feel that and I wouldnt have it any other way. Is that a contradiction?

        I will say that I respect the Old Souls that reside behind the eyes of people who size up things quickly. The majority of those Souls I have encountered have been in the third world. You get by until you dont. If you are blessed with an opportunity to demonstrate your values you do so with your actions. You feel your truth and that includes empathy. You live with joy to the full extent you are able. What more is there?

        • xabier says:

          ‘Old eyes’ is a good idea. There’s a theme in the old romances, legends and folk songs of old Europe where the heroes recognise that this time they are going to die, but choose to do so in accordance with their highest values: to fight to the end, to be loyal.

          This contrasts with the modern idea that the individual is validated only through a cheap idea of success, winning. Usually, walking away with the cash.

          ‘To live with joy’, is actually a maxim of the old chivalry: theoretically the knight was always polite smiling and good company.

          This is after all only one more stage in the long, long history of all our wars and disasters: think of Troy, burned and rebuilt so many times. So we can face things with courage.

  14. edpell says:

    Blair, super post. I agree.

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  16. The gov’t lies and distorts so much that people don’t trust the gov’t or its agencies. I feel the polarization that fuels congressional debates (whether real or percieved) spills over into the general public (then onto message boards such as this).

    It is unfortunate that our governing bodies lie so much; because, when a truly threatening situation requiring action arises the people will refuse to believe it.

    • Paul says:

      It might seem strange – but I prefer them to lie. If they told the truth — seeing as there is nothing we can do to soften the landing — that would simply crash the plane into the rocks now.

      I prefer later — an hour later — a week – a month — how nice would another year or even two be!

      Keep the sheeple mesmorized — because when they ‘get it’ — that will be the beginning of the calamity.

      Please keep running articles on fusion, solar, mining the oceans – I even saw one that said urine could be source of energy!

      I heard there was a guy who invented an engine that ran on water — and that Big Oil shut him down – I bet Big Oil is waiting till the last possible minute to announce that the world can be run on water — oil and gas are things of the past.

  17. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    Earlier I posted a link to a scholarly article on neurobiology and obesity and industrial food. Here is the trailer for a new movie on the subject. 3 or 4 minutes. Note Bill Clinton’s appearance. I wonder why Hillary’s handlers don’t clamp down on him. Is she going to run as some sort of radical? Or, to appeal to the female vote, to simply note that her husband is just as impossible as the husbands of all those other American women? (My wife would probably vote for that!) When Bill notes that the rich have enough money to use all the farmland to grow ethanol to power their vehicles, and simply starve a couple of billion…how is that supposed to fit into a political campaign?…Don Stewart


  18. Dr. Robert Goldschmidt says:

    Gail — I would like to bring your attention to some of the self-bootstrapping technologies that I believe would allow us to become renewable energy self-sufficient. Whether these will be developed in time to avoid collapse is an open question.

    Simbol Materials utilizes the energy from a geothermal well to extract ultra-pure lithium carbonate from the geothermal brine of the Salton Sea. The output from this process could feed the solar-powered Tesla battery gigafactory. The solar cells themselves could be produced in a solar-powered breeder foundry that is grown in size exponentially by producing the cells for its own expansion until sufficient productive capacity is reached.

    Algenol Biofuels is implementing an industrial scale process that produces 8,000 gallons of ethanol per acre from arid seashore land utilizing only the scrubbed exhaust of a power plant, sunlight and seawater. In addition, gasoline, diesel etc. are produced from the algae residue. Production cost is less than $1.30 per gallon.

    I have also determined that we are rapidly approaching a tipping point for electric vehicles. Despite its high cost, the Tesla Model X will rapidly penetrate the taxi and limo market due to fuel cost savings and high inherent reliability. Once consumers see these SUV’s in operation for hundreds of thousands of miles, they will want to switch from ICE vehicles.

    There are other technologies coming along such as self-driving cars which will allow existing roads to handle more than twice as much traffic with fewer accidents and much higher efficiency due to lower air resistance. Also, we are seeing the expansion of virtual goods commerce such as iTunes, software, Netflix, telecommuting where products are created, distributed and utilized with minimal energy requirements.

    Of course there are many pitfalls to overcome if we are to avoid collapse. Just thought that you might find some of these concepts stimulating

  19. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    I have a book to recommend for a certain type of person. If you are intellectually curious, not absolutely positive that you already know everything worth knowing, and are willing to take a very broad view of evolution, then I recommend Design in Nature by Adrian Bejan. One reason I recommend it is because his conclusions are just about the opposite of what Gail or Ugo Bardi is likely to say. His evidence is, more or less, the history of the universe and the laws of physics. If you see the laws of thermodynamics as ‘doom and gloom’, then you must first realize that he has added the Constructal Law, which states that all flow systems evolve toward more efficient and effective flow…from lava flowing from a volcano to high school basketball players flowing through colleges to the NBA to the new human/machine species evolving toward ever greater power use.

    If you think you might be interested, you can search on his name and find quite a bit of free stuff on the internet. You can also search on Sylvie Lorente and find quite a bit of stuff published by his French collaborator.

    Bejan is a Romanian by birth, who received his higher education at MIT, and is now a Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke. He was also a very good athlete in his youth, and you will find research into the physics of athletic success. (For example, why people of West African origin are champion runners while people of northern European origin are champion swimmers.) He is also a pretty good artist, and you will find instructive drawings to help the non-physicist, along with minimal mathematics.

    I will quote from the last few pages of the book. These are the conclusions he draws from the detailed discussions that have preceded these pages. I won’t interject my opinions.

    Don Stewart

    The human-and-machine species we have become is evolving visibly every day.

    Human evolution, yes, but in what direction? In the same direction as the evolution of all other flow configurations: toward designs that flow more easily as a whole. All the mass that moves with us and because of us (people, goods, information) is flowing more easily with progressively greater access all over the map: from human migrations in history to globalization and free trade today, from global electrification in the twentieth century to mass air travel and communication in the twenty-first century, from slaves and serfs tied to the ground to free individuals and individuals on vehicles.

    More mass moved to greater distances for every unit of fuel (food) and effort. This is what the evolution of the human-and-machine design is achieving. It is also what the evolution of animal design and the entire biosphere is achieving.

    It may seem grim and confining to see ourselves as just another flow system in nature destined to find better and better ways to move mass. The silver lining is that evolutionary history has aligned our destiny with our desires, and this is no coincidence. Our impulses, thoughts, and actions are geared toward movement and flow. The basic instincts of humanity–safety, nourishment, health, mating, longevity–are expressions of this constructal urge. So, too, are our greatest creations, including science, technology, government, economics, and the arts. All are flow systems that have emerged and continue to evolve in order to facilitate the movement of mass on Earth.

    Over time, inanimate and animate designs have evolved to use energy more efficiently to move mass on Earth.

    As the constructal law describes the past, it also allows us to preduct the future. What’s ahead? The short answer should be obvious by now: a multitude of flow designs that move mass better–cheaper, farther, faster. On the world stage, you can place solid bets that the entire globe will continue spreading the rule of law, free trade, human rights, globalization, and all the other design features that guarantee more movement for us and our stuff.

    …the wrong side of history and the wrong side of physics….those who demand that the world’s population reduce its use of energy. Power technology will continue to evolve toward greater efficiencies and more power produced and used, not less. The pursuit of higher efficiency will not lead us to less fuel consumption. The evidence for this is massive.

    Thus, the surge of interest in global energy sustainability, green solutions, and wind power is not a new mode of thinking but just the latest manifestation of the tendency that governs flow on Earth: the evolution of better designs to move more, not less, mass on Earth.

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  23. Paul says:

    I’ve noticed a few people believing solar will save the day….

    i beg to differ: http://reneweconomy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/bernstein-energy-supply.jpg

  24. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    Kurt Cobb, on his current blog, has developed some numbers which show that crude oil production (not total liquids) reached 67 million barrels per day in 2005, and is still 67 million barrels per day. In 2002, production was 60 million barrels per day.

    I decided to look at it on a percapita basis. The numbers are fractions of a gallon of crude oil per day per person:
    2002 0.41
    2005 0.43
    Now 0.34

    Leaving aside all the other considerations, is it any surprise that the labor force participation rate in the industrialized countries is back to where it was in the 1990s?

    Data: From Cobb, production at 60, 67, and 67 million barrels per day. Population of 6.2 billion, 6.5 billion, and 7.2 billion. Gallons per barrel is 42.

    Don Stewart

    • Landbeyond says:

      “Other considerations” would include a significantly lower net energy return for an ever-increasing proportion of that 67 million barrels.

    • Thanks! Double check your arithmetic. I get

      2002 0.41
      2005 0.43
      Now 0.39

      The point is still the same, but not so extreme.

  25. In 2005, André Blattmann, Swiss Army Chief Commander, predicted in a terrific paper the destabilization of the Arabic mediterranean world. He was sharply criticized for such assessment. On Sunday, he gave a interview, worrying for supply chain temporary breakdowns and explaining he is storing in his own household 300 liter of bottled water and an additional tank of fresh water.. The most amazing is Dennis Meadows is doing the same! Are they crazy? I have to look for my Swiss Army knife..

    • dashui says:

      Don’t forget to grab your crossbow too, William Tell!

    • I will have to admit water is something I have stored too–not nearly so much, though. Water is a very immediate problem, if you don’t have it. A temporary problem of any kind–supply chain or natural disaster–could cause a problem, even if the longer-term outlook is still OK. If I lived in the Middle East, I would be certain to have water on hand. They seem to go from crisis to crisis.

      • Interguru says:

        A hot water heater holds 200 or 300 liters of water. You can use that too.

        • Paul says:

          We have 2 x 1000 litre plastic containers that can catch roof water… total cost is around $500 each…. money well spent

          • Jan Steinman says:

            We have a 50-million litre reservoir and two streams


            • Paul says:

              I can match that heheh – I think we get almost 1000000 metres of rain per year – and we have two rivers running in the valley – however I am not sure how we can tap them to get water onto the crops!!!

              We do have a large underground reservoir as well that collects roof water.

              One other thing I’ve done is stock up on large tanks of LPG which could power the bore if we were extremely dry…. also planning to buy some fat pipes and funnels to be able to convey water from the fish ponds to the gardens…

              It would be nice to have a spring on the property but we are not so fortunate 🙁

          • edpell says:

            I live on “long Pond Road” I have the water covered. 🙂

        • InAlaska says:

          A hot tub holds about 500 gallons of water and you get to enjoy it that way until the electricity goes off. Then you get to drink it. ;-D

  26. Jason Anthony says:

    Harking back to the first page of comments, I think the chance of a gradual collapse (10-30 years) is kind of remote. There is too much risk of an all out World War with nuclear weapons exchanged should the core of the enmeshed financial and energy exploitation systems suddenly fail, or should the BRIC sphere of influence take decisive steps to dethrone the Petrodollar–and it appears they may be on the brink of attempting exactly that. Either way, rollicking down the slope into Hubbert’s Hell as the overshoot on carrying capacity becomes a dominant theme, or losing 80% of world demand due to war and famine, Gail’s estimates seems more realistic than the worst case IPCC projections for CO2 and modeled warming. If I am right about the war thesis then AGW will be the least of our problems for quite a while.

    • Sometimes, I think all of the focus on climate change takes people’s attention away from the closer-at-hand problem.

      • InAlaska says:

        But how do you de-couple financial collapse from climate collapse? If you hope the financial system collapses in order to save the climate: you get economic catastrophe. If you hope the financial system survives, and we keep on burning carbon, you get ecological catastrophe. Its hard to focus on one without focusing on the other because both lead to a downward spiralling world of misery and decline.

      • Lizzy says:

        I agree with you completely, Gail. InAlaska (below), not all of us are totally convinced that climate change is human made. It’s happened before; it will happen again. Some of my immediate family get furious with me when I say that!I know this is a risky point of view to have.

        • InAlaska says:

          I don’t get furious, just tired. Certainly the vast majority scientific consensus holds that climate change is anthropogenic in origin. I kinda thought most people were past this argument by now. Either way, I don’t disagree with Gail that we have severe, probably unsolvable economic problems that will probably emerge before longer time climate issues do.

          • Lizzy says:

            It doesn’t convince me, I’m afraid. Don’t get tired of us, InAlaska; have some respect for others’ points of view.
            They just might be valid — we simply do not know.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “have some respect for others’ points of view. They just might be valid — we simply do not know.”

              People who rely on belief “do not know.”

              People who rely on science know.

              If you want to treat anthropogenic climate change as a belief, fine — it seems as plausible as a man in the sky who wants us to do particular things or He will smite us.

              Otherwise, 99% of the world’s atmospheric scientists are good enough for me.

              Yea, there may be variations based on other factors. But if you believe in science, it is incontrovertible that human distribution of gasses that trap solar energy is raising the mean temperature of the planet.

              But maybe if you pray to that Big Guy In The Sky, he will do something about it.

            • We simply don’t know? Actually, we simply do know; global warming is occurring and the cause, this time, is mainly GHGs released by human activity. That is what the science tells us. You might want to ignore the science, that is up to you. But if you choose to ignore the science, you can’t also claim that “we simply do not know/”

            • Jan Steinman says:

              We “simply do not know” that gravity is anything but a theory, too. Yet, for 100 AGW deniers who jump out of a skyscraper, I’m willing to bet that 100 hit the ground.

              Do you feel like jumping out of a skyscraper today? If not, better think about human-caused climate change as a certainty, rather than a “simply do not know.”

            • Jan, I think your reply should have been directed at Lizzy. 🙂 We’re on the same page!

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “Jan, I think your reply should have been directed at Lizzy.”

              Sorry ’bout dat. I just punched the “Reply” button in my email notification of Lizzy’s posting.

              WordPress ain’t Disqus.

          • xabier says:


            Agreed, a financial screw up can quite simply leave us without food and essential goods within a few days.

            That and political volatility in oil and gas supplying regions, are foremost on my radar, too.

            And next to that, a government taxing me out of my property or a bank stealing my cash.

            So I can see myself destitute, homeless and begging long before climate change really hits.

        • Stefeun says:

          There were really good points about that in the Crash-Watcher articles (CW gave the links somewhere in middle of 3rd page of comments here).

        • xabier says:

          Strangely, the emotions evoked by climate change are reminiscent of the arguments people used to have – and kill for – in the Wars of Religion in Europe.

          Why is it so emotive?

          It doesn’t affect me like that at all: but I feel deep depression and anger when I think of ruined soil and the bullying of farmers by Monsanto, or read an IMF press release, or think of 15% at least of people in Europe dying of diesel pollution, etc.

          • Lizzy says:

            Xabier — always a voice of reason. People who were despairing of my ignorance and stupidity re AGW: don’t be. I said I’m not convinced about it, but just in case, I’m behaving as if you’re right. I have a dear cousin who makes his living from all this, and who is very, very intelligent. He knows he’s right. He has total faith, and I, as an agnostic (as it were), leave the door open. Agnostic, not atheist, so the door is ajar, the doubts/possibilities are there. \In any case, we’re all aware of the issues and problems we will face. I am reading a cracking book at the moment — “Life in a Medieval Village”, much of in a previous warm period (10th – 13th Century – they had vineyards in England that the peasants tended to), just before the last major cooling period. The next book on my shelf is “Global Crisis, War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the 17th Century”. The thing is, people adapt. That’s what we all are doing. Preparing at least.
            I fully appreciate our current situation is far, far worse than people of the 17th C. Population size, loss of local skills and production etc etc. Yet at the time it was a total, utter catastrophe. Millions died. Next catastrophe, billions, maybe.
            I believe some people will survive and thrive. How many and how comfortably, je ne sais pas.
            As I said before to much derision — we just don’t know. How can we?
            I’m afraid I don’t have complete faith yet. Some are like the Christian missionaries trying to convert the pagans! They too knew they were righ, they knew itt; the rest, stupid and ignorant and damned.
            Some will say “Read the science! Read what the scientist all agree!” Yep, I’ve done that. I’m a scientist by training, BTW, though now work in a different area. When I was a student, we were told to challenge, question and question, not just accept the “facts”.

            I know this is a risky stance to take, open to vituperative, angry comment, but It’s my opinion. Not fact, opinion.

            • Stefeun says:

              Good points about science.
              Science tells the truth until some one is able to demonstrate the opposite, or place it in another perspective.
              Science -researches, at least- is very much oriented by actual needs of a society.
              Science IMHO tells much more about what we don’t know (yet), as every new finding opens new fields of investigation.
              Science tells where the Limits of our knowledge are, and should therefore be questioned again and again.
              Total opposite of faith.
              That is my opinion, not the truth, just the way I see it.

            • xabier says:


              Thank you, agreeable to have one’s rationality endorsed -if mostly undeserved! I find Montaigne an excellent companion in these troubled times, and incidentally in one of his essays he describes the horrors of the wars of the 16th/17th centuries which you refer to to: how could humans act like this? How indeed! ‘No certainty in anything’ might have been his motto…..

              You might well enjoy ‘Peasants and Parsons’, a first-hand realistic account of English peasant life in the early 20th century, a wonderful book I found by chance the other day, couldn’t put it down. By Ray Barrett. Indomitable people who touched bottom and got right back up again and who went through the immense changes of the 20th century.

        • There can be some human aspects as well. But humans have been taking down forest for a long time (by burning then to get to the wild animals). Also killing off the big predators, changing the balance. So we have been changing climate for a long time.

          • Hah! That’s true enough but what we’re doing now is no comparison, at all. No comparison.

          • Ken Barrows says:

            If nature is mostly responsible, it is outdoing itself. What I mean is that the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing like never before…humankind that is.

  27. Brett says:

    Reblogged this on My Unqualified Opinion and commented:
    Interesting take on drivers I had not considered as being part of the climate change debate but of course this is a truly global problem and the global economy is a massive driver of human behavior, in retrospect it makes a lot of sense. You can’t fight physics… Unless you have unlimited energy and as this article points out, we don’t.

  28. Corinthian says:

    “Explanation for Co2 lagging temperature.”

    Thanks for that link. The explanation of the CO2 lag is interesting, but when I expanded the data (covering the past 400,000 years) to fill my screen, I can’t see much of a lag anyway — when temperature is going up. Perhaps it’s more visible at a higher resolution. (Or maybe my visual cognition is impoverished, as has sometimes seemed to be the case.)

    When temperature is going down the lag is obvious, but that is not too interesting under present circumstances. (Unless one thinks, contra orthodoxy, that reglaciation is possible despite the recent increases in CO2. I wouldn’t rule that out totally, but…)

    To form a strong opinion I’d have to look at more data and more arguments, but it’s a pleasure to have a start on the subject.

    • ravinathan says:

      The oceans’ absorption of heat also introduces delay mechanisms in the relationship between CO2 and atmospheric temperature. The predicted El Niño this year is a mechanism by which some of this heat stored in the pacific is released to the atmosphere. Consequently, we will observe a spike in atmospheric temps without a corresponding spike in CO2.

  29. Quitollis says:

    To the English, out of 100 million German speakers on the web absolutely _no one_ has got anything to say to you. Have you ever wondered why?

  30. CW says:

    Nice update post Gail, thanks.

    I came to much the same conclusion back in 2011 (http://crash-watcher.blogspot.com/2011/08/dissonant-views-of-peak-oil-and-climate.html, and, http://crash-watcher.blogspot.com/2011/08/peak-oil-and-climate-change-time-for.html) and I haven’t seen much to change my viewpoint since then.

    Perhaps the RCP 2.6 scenario is a step in the right direction for the IPCC.


    • Jan Steinman says:

      I still think the Athabasca tar sands are the climate-change wildcard.

      If Gail’s financial collapse happens before the pipelines get built, perhaps the Athabasca carbon will mostly stay in the ground. But should Northern Gateway and/or Keystone XL be built, it’s going to be difficult to keep even 3:1 syncrude from being commodified and exhaled into the atmosphere.

      • jeremy890 says:

        Pretty much it’s all been built. The Democrats are just waiting for the right moment to complete the damn thing. Let’s see, if gasoline breaches the $4.00 mark. That would be a VERY good reason.

      • InAlaska says:

        For all interested in how the tar sands would really be “game over” for the climate, check out Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone entitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” He reviews the math behind our global carbon budget, stating that we can only burn an additional 575 gigatons of carbon before we reach an unsafe level of CO2 that would cause a 2 degree + rise in global average. However, he then reviews the amount of carbon in the provable reserves of all of the oil, gas and coal of all the major energy companies. Proven reserves are the stuff that is ready to pump. That adds up to 2,795 gigatons of carbon: that’s five times the amount of carbon that we can safely burn without climate catastrophe. Canadian tar sands account for about 240 gigatons of our allowable 575. Just burning those tar sands gets us halfway there. So you can see, it is just a numbers game. Its simple math. I am willing to believe that someone convinced President Obama of these numbers and that is why his opposition has been so final. The Administration can do math and they know that it would spell the end for our sweet climate if that stuff gets to market.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “someone convinced President Obama of these numbers”

          Has the Keystone XL decision been made?

          Last I heard, O Bomb ‘Em was still hemming and hawing.

          • Landbeyond says:

            I’d be amazed if he didn’t approve it – at the “right” time politically.

          • MJ says:

            This is the 60 day period of open comments from the public. Bill McKibben and his 350 group are asking folks to phone the his office at the White ouse and urge him to reject the XL Pipeline. A decision will be made soon after, so call now.

            • jeremy890 says:


              More than 5,000 people are expected to join the Cowboy and Indian Alliance for a ceremonial procession around by the Capitol on Saturday, April 26. The CIA will finish the procession by delivering a tipi to the Museum of the American Indian in honor of President Obama as a symbol of their respect, and as a symbol of the tipis and other encampments they will erect along the pipeline route if the Keystone XL is approved.

    • Some very good summaries there, CW. As you say, nothing much has changed… except perhaps greater urgency.

  31. Jesper says:

    I would hesitate to say “climate is going to be fine”. There is enough people now, that we could deforrest the horthern hemisphere in short order. That would matter to CO2 levels – just look at the Keeling curve! And of course the Amazon is being cut down as we speak. And 10 gal of diesel cuts a lot of trees.

    In addition to the crazy “adding a population the size of France” every year, there are now alos over 1B cows in the world. It’s not hard to see more horses in the world as diesel runs short on the farms. So more animals could be coming.

    I think the reason that IPCC doesn’t want to talk about end of growth is the same reason no one talks about end of growth: It’s SCARY. And from that angle IPCC is a political organization. But from the climate science side I don’t think they are making anything up. The math has been clear for over 100 years. Doubling of CO2 -> + 2-3C.

    We’re also not talking about over population for exactly the same reason.

    And I’m a firm believer that when NAT gas stars to decline seriously people will rally behind nuclear power again. I’ve seen it in the past. Sweden firmly against – suddenly no one is talking about “phase out”. Finland building 2 or 3 new plants. They know winter can be rough up there.

    UK – massive buildout coming as the North Sea fields die. Saudis etc.

    The only crazy country in the bunch is Germany. I admit I haven’t read up fully on the issues with nuclears inability to “load follow” but to turn of fully functioning modern nuclear plants is crazy. The only way I see this working is if you also had a load that could follow such as smelters you only ran during high solar influx or fuel generation of some sort.

    NAT gas is also the last viable transportation fuel, and much better than the “wood cookers” they used during the second world war. Gas seems to be peaking after oil according to Colin Campbell, so I would think that it’s better to drive a car or bus using gas than the just burn it to heat water as we do now.

    Then there is the issue of the tarsands alone. Hansen claims that it’s “game over” for the climate if we burn it and it does seem like they can get a lot of that stuff out of the ground.

    The main unknown though must be the central banks. There will always be some reserve currency, even if it’s not the US, and they can then be the buyer of last resort of just about anything. So who is to say when a resource is no longer economical? I think that’s a difficult question. QE3 is working well now propping everything up, and no one can tell how long this can continue. Perhaps long enough to bring up enough carbon to fry us all?

    Of course we’re at the point where the poorer half no longer can really afford fuel, but this is not new! The only new thing about that (fuel) poverty came to the US.

    It’s possible that in 20 years we will see mass migration out of California due to drought. But then maybe it will start to rain again? Who knows?

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “Then there is the issue of the tarsands alone. Hansen claims that it’s “game over” for the climate if we burn it and it does seem like they can get a lot of that stuff out of the ground.”

      To a great extent, the tar sands is a “stranded resource.” The town of Kittimat just voted 58% against being the terminus for a tar sands pipeline, and while that is a “non-binding” vote, the First Nations (them’s like “Native Americans” to those below the 49th) do have veto power. It’s just a matter of how much can they be bought for. O Bomb ‘Em hasn’t made up his mind about Keystone, although there seems to be considerable opposition, so tar sands doesn’t look like it’s going to flow west or south so far.

      If they don’t hurry up and build the pipelines, there may not be enough cheap energy left to build them. That would strand the tar sands to what they can haul out of there via rail or highway truck — neither is good for the bottom line.

      But if the pipelines do get built, I think it’s game over for the climate. They say there’s a Saudi Arabia’s worth of carbon there “recoverable.” (I don’t know how they define “recoverable,” though.)

    • All good stuff Jesper, except the bit about the central banks. Doesn’t matter who tries to make an uneconomical resource viable, at the end of the day the money to do so has to come out of the larger economy and it is this critical negative feedback loop that can’t be circumvented. For a short while maybe yes, but there’s no pool of money big enough.

      • xabier says:

        Money, money money: Merkel in Germany has just cut back or cancelled a scheme to provide grants to desperate young people from the collapsing regions of Europe (60%+ youth unemployment) to learn German and so help plug gaps in the German jobs market.

        When announcing the scheme she said ‘Money is not the problem, there’s plenty of that,() it’s just working out how best to use it’.

        Well, money has become the problem, as they don’t want to spend any more on it!

        • Stefeun says:

          thanks for this staggering news; would you have a link for it?
          I found only this one, in which the unworthy comment avout money isn’t reported:
          Germany wants to reject jobless Europeans
          Thanks in advance,

          • xabier says:


            Sorry, I read very widely and don’t note links. It was in El Pais recently. Some Spaniards have been stranded in Germany without funds. I do not trust that woman. But the whole EU is a miasma of lies today.

            • Stefeun says:

              OK Xabier, no problem,
              I can’t read Spanish anyway.
              Agree with you about EU countries taking all possible wrong directions.

    • I agree, there are a lot of unknowns ahead. But financial problems may eliminate some of them. I doubt QE is any kind of long term solution.

  32. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, April 13, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette

  33. Jan Steinman says:

    “add more complexity to fix our problems–electric cars…”

    These are (in my opinion) near-term viable — at least from an end-product complexity point-of-view.

    Electric vehicles (EVs) need not be as complex as the internal combustion engine (ICE) cars they replace, and they may well have a longer life-time. There are fewer moving parts, and a smaller number of different resources required.

    An electric motor has two moving parts, compared with thousands of parts in an ICE. If you are okay with staying under 80 kph (50 mph), you don’t even need a transmission or clutch. And there’s no radiative cooling system needed. Lead-acid batteries are a fairly simple technology that has changed only incrementally in the past hundred years. We could have rudimentary electric cars with hundred-year-old, simpler technology. Other “older” technologies, such as nickel-iron, out-perform lead-acid without the excessive complexity nor resource limits of lithium technology.

    But will we make those choices? Not the conventional car-buying crowd, who has become used to “convenience” and high-tech gizmos and the long driving range afforded by energy-dense fossil sunlight. Most of today’s EVs are “second vehicles,” used only for a short commute, for example, which means they are actually increasing gross complexity!

    And people are used to buying cars on credit, and manufacturers are used to making them on credit, which may well “go away,” sucked into the fossil-sunlight black hole. So it looks like something like the Nissan Leaf (the only currently viable EV, in my opinion) won’t have the support systems it needs for manufacture and distribution.

    And of course, there’s the problem of fuel supply, even with electricity. Areas with an established hydropower culture may be able to “keep the lights on” longer than those that get electricity from coal or natgas.

    So I view some of the things on Gail’s list (such as EVs) as “fossil sunlight extenders,” that in low-complexity forms, could be viable for longer that today’s high-complexity forms. A simple electric car could be a good stepping stone between todays transport paradigm and the horse cart.

    I’m in the process of converting a 1981 VW Vanagon to electric drive for the purpose of delivering food to a nearby village. I’m guessing that it will be running longer than most of today’s ICE cars, as long as we can maintain the big hydropower dams here. (Next project: a small hydropower dam, that could be maintained with draft animals!)

    • I think you are right about some of the electric vehicle problems being a matter of the kinds of choices we make. When I visited India, I saw cars that would never meet US standards being run. If we would say, “We are getting poorer. We need whatever technology we can adapt, if it can be done cheaply, simply, and fairly sustainably,” we could probably make a lot better decisions. But we have stringent bumper standards and standards for lots of other things.

      Auto rickshaw I saw in India.

    • dashui says:

      In Florida it’s legal to drive golf carts around on the streets.

    • Sylvia says:

      The problem will be the batteries. …

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “The problem will be the batteries.”

        Perhaps… or not.

        We will probably hit “peak lithium” long before other battery technology goes away.

        There’s two ways of tackling this. Use better batteries (nickel-based), or develop a cottage industry for not-so-good batteries (lead-based).

        You can get flooded-cell nickel-cadmium batteries that will go 3,000 cycles, but they cost too much. I got hold of some used ones that I hope will be the last batteries I ever use.

        At the other end, flooded-cell lead-acid battery technology was used in the first “horseless carriages,” long before petroleum engines were used. Lead-acid batteries can be re-manufactured using simple technology (wood-fired heat!) in a large village or small town.

        Of course, there’s going to be a whole lot less driving going on, which will lengthen the life of the batteries.

        I think in most cases, electricity will be Liebig’s Minimum for electric vehicles, not batteries, especially in places that don’t have nearby hydro power.

  34. Janice Collins says:

    Hi Gail,

    I wonder if you might be underestimating the capability of governments to intervene and force fossil fuel extraction when the markets fail. JMG has talked about in his recent blog entries the possibility of currently unthinkable government interventions, characterizing markets as simply one way of allocating resources. Allocating them by fiat, with the barrel of a gun if necessary, also works. Wages can collapse precipitously when prisoners/slaves are used. That could extend production without violating the laws of physics, since those prisoners/slaves won’t be getting much in return for their labor. Perhaps instead of the fast collapse of fossil fuel extraction, what we might see is the end of (most of) our voluntary association with jobs for work, the end of financial markets as the allocator of capital, and the emergence of an extremely repressive set of national governments.

    This is arguably already starting to happen with the large prison population in the United States and the increased use of prison labor by corporations. I tend to agree with the premise that the markets will fail, but the jury is still out IMO on whether or not the extreme government interventions that are likely when that happens will manage to keep industrialization going. That jury will continue to be out until the markets collapse, and we see what the result of the resulting civil unrest and government response is.

    • I think my problem with these issues is the fact that oil extraction is not something slaves can do. Maintaining long supply lines around the world to provide oil is not something that slaves can do. Perhaps slaves can help with allocation of the oil that is available, but that will be a temporary job.

      I see governments as something that will eventually fail. Perhaps there is a time for a while that they can do something in terms of reallocating oil supplies, but it is hard to see prisoners playing a major role. Perhaps they could help for something less technical in nature.

      • xabier says:

        Surely, setting aside financial aspects, the crucial question is: what is the supply chain for the infrastructure of oil and gas exploitation? To what extent can today’s fossil-fuel producers manufacture and maintain this infrastructure themselves now, and how likely that this will be possible in a constrained future?

        • We know that refineries depend on outside electricity. This seems to be a frequent problem, when hurricanes hit, and the outside electricity goes down. Oil pipelines and some natural gas pipelines also depend on external electricity. This has been a problem is several cases already–I know we in Atlanta had a problem with gasoline, when electricity was out on the pipelines that was supposed to bring it to us from the Gulf after Hurricane Katrina.

          There are obviously a huge number of other things that oil and gas companies depend on others for. For example, they depend on local governments to keep up the roads, so that all of the trucks bringing drilling rigs and fracking equipment can make it to their property. They depend on experts from around the world being available and replacement parts for their equipment. Most everything is computer controlled, so the supply lines for making computers need to be kept up.

          A lot of the work is subcontracted out Halliburton and other contractors, small and large. For example, waste water disposal may be handled by a contractor. One of the concerns when I talked to American Petroleum Institute representatives back at the time of the 2008 crisis was that credit availability would disrupt supply chains. Even if the big companies could get the debt they needed to keep the system going, many of the smaller contractors could not. Without the missing contractors, the oil companies did not have the equipment and trained staff to take over the missing functions.

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        As Gail mentioned skilled labor is needed for oil extraction and refining. In the event of a collapse I dont think that labor will be in short supply. Security and food will be traded by the military for oil labor. Oil and security will be traded by the military for food production.. I think it was Stilgar that mentioned the supply chain and parts. Some parts will be able to be fabricated on local milling machines and lathes. All it takes is a generator and a three phase converter to run a mill. Only a small portion of oil extraction/farm/weapon machinery need be kept running as compared to pre collapse so a large amount of the machinery can be cannibalized for parts. They dont need to feed everyone just them and their associates.

        Our military is pretty smart and I think they will be able to patch it together for a spell. 90% of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been logistics so collapse wont be that much different. The remote outposts they have established seem eerily similar to what will be needed post collapse. Anything they need they will take. Its legal under the new laws. There may come a point when their logistic capability is overwhelmed, but what will be the alternatives to not continuing to extract a fossil fuels on a small scale? What will the alternatives be to not being under the militarys umbrella? I see the US military being the predominant power in the (former) USA for at least 50 years maybe centuries. If some other military power needs (former) USA water all bets are off. What I do not see the military being able to do is get all the reactors cool and safeguard the nuclear waste currently stored onsite at every reactor. Perhaps they have planned for that I certainly hope so. I would guess that they intend to keep many reactors operational. I have heard the the ancient GE reactors operating in the USA are very similar to the submarine reactors and there are certainly military that can run reactors. The power supplied by a reactor makes for a pretty nice base and that base can go about the business of oil extraction and food production. BAU Business as Unusual :). If your under the umbrella you and your family get food shelter and security, if not you get a bullet if you get too close. With the politicians serving no purpose, they are history. I dont see the military being openly hostile to the surviving population just indifferent. After a while their wont be many of those anyway.

        • xabier says:

          It’s an interesting question. I have a great respect for professional soldiers, but I’m inclined to see military discipline and organization holding up for a time and then disintegrating rapidly.

          Armies can fall apart very quickly, leaving as their legacy lots of expensive junk and odd clothes with meaningless badges on them – meaningless because the structure that justified them has gone.

          When the German state collapsed in 1945, the professional soldiers of the traditional officer class went to pieces, and only their wives and daughters kept things going and people alive (often having to trade sex for food, etc).

          Moreover, if political structures disappear and soldiers are in sole charge, they will soon start to fight among themselves for power, and generals will become tyrants once they realise there is nothing to restrain their inclinations. We all need restraint by society at large.

          Armies like that of the US contain now many skilled technical professionals, but are still at the apex of the global industrial economy, and dependent on it. In many ways it is just another global industry with huge supply chains.

    • MG says:

      Janice Collins,

      yes, the slavery is already back. But it is not always visible. It is hidden behind the stories about the future benefits like pensions, healthcare, social security, technology miracles that will save us. There are already millions of slaves who keep this system going on. This fossil fuel based system is already falling apart in some parts of the world more rapidly when the supply of oil is diminishing.

      That is the grim side of this process: many people already try hard to preserve the system, not realizing that they are in fact saving something with their own energy instead of the energy that was provided by the cheap and abundant fossil energy. This is the zombification part of the story: energy will leave us completely alone. The illusion of a powerful man will disappear.

      When we look two centuries back, there was serfdom widely present. The serfs were part of the land, like animals living on it. When this system of industrial civilization based on fossil fuels dies, the whole pyramid of the people living on it will tumble down and the people living on its various levels, too. Sooner or later. Only the serfs and their lords will survive.

      When you take away the fossil fuel energy, you have the naked reality. The democracy is made possible by the presence of the excess energy that feeds the institutions of a democratic society.

      The social state that provides various benefits (considered now as a matter of course), is vanishing. The reality of the future, after the population crash, will be a kind of emptiness. You can feel it approaching, when the fossil fuel based structures dissappear and you feel like you can not “grab” or achieve anymore something which was here before…

  35. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Reading the chaotic comments on this site and others, watching the chaotic political response to the global situation, and observing the chaotic social changes around us, has prompted me to reread Adrian Bejan’s book, Design In Nature. Bejan articulates a universal principle he calls the Constructal Law. He gives numerous examples of how animate and inanimate flow systems illustrate the operation of the law.

    On page 134 he discusses how his colleague Silvie Lorent found that resilient designs, such as trees, distribute the stresses evenly. Therefore, every part of a tree down to the smallest roots experiences the wind blowing on the leaves. When there is a strong windstorm, both large branches and small branches are broken…because the stresses are equally distributed by the architecture of the tree. The architecture of the tree insures that:
    1. the component parts of the tree can contribute to accomplishing the purposes of the tree (e.g., lifting water into the air, distributing wind stresses)
    2. the structure is as light as possible, consistent with the purposes
    3. everything is flexible

    If we look at our current society, we find plenty of unevenly distributed stresses. Fewer than 100 people have more wealth than the bottom half of humanity. Our political leaders tend to make sure that the biggest players do not pay for their sins with failure…too big to fail. And as the recent retirement of a Securities and Exchange Commission official in the US demonstrates, the government agencies do not focus on accomplishing their mission. Far from being light, our institutions tend toward bloat.

    If we look at Republicans and Democrats in the US, we might characterize them as follows:
    a. The Republicans want to increase the stresses on the poorest people while insulating the richest
    b. The Democrats want to make the structure as rigid as possible by passing legislation with thousands of pages and agency regulations which prevent anyone from doing anything sensible. If people are hurting, give them charity…rather than work which makes them self-reliant.

    Bejan says that ‘any structure which survives’…and therein I think lies our tale. If we cannot reform the structures, then they will simply go on Nature’s scrap heap. Unfortunately, some of us will end up on the Heap with them.

    Don Stewart

  36. Paul says:

    The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies


    Someone needs to pass Finite World to Chris — he’s got half the story right

  37. Don Stewart says:

    Are Humans Just Dissipative Structures? Are Humans Necessarily a Blight on the Earth?

    First, let’s look at some facts put together by Chaisson.


    See on page 32. Also note on the same page that ‘uncultivated biomass’ is by far the largest photosynthesizer on Earth

    ‘More organized fields of higher order plants, such as herbs and shrubs, and especially cultivated crops, such as rice and wheat, can photosynthesize more than an order of magnitude more efficiently than the global average’

    I will add my note that if one can increase photosynthetic activity by an order of magnitude, all kinds of life can flourish…not just humans.

    Now take a look at this Permaculture Voices podcast:

    Scroll down to the picture of Joel Salatin and click on the play button to get a couple of minutes preview of the address he gave. The full version will be available next week. It will take you just a few minutes to listen.

    Now, can you put together in your mind the facts that Chaisson gives us on the relatively low productivity of unaided Nature, with the demonstrated ability of Humans to increase that productivity (albeit with some pretty destructive practices), and with Joel Salatin’s religion tinged conviction that we can increase the productivity of Nature, while foregoing the raping and pillaging.

    Let’s suppose that you are able to make the intellectual leap from Fossil Fuel Consumer to Gardener Man. If you have any vague recollections of an Abrahamic religion, you remember that God put Adam and Eve in the garden to tend it. Chaisson seems to prove that we have been doing an extremely poor job. Perhaps God is about to fire us for ‘failure to do the work’?

    OK, so you read this on the Road to Damascus, and were struck blind with a new insight. I have bad news. The Devil is always in the details. As distasteful as it may be to contemplate those details rather than fantasies of eternal energy or, alternatively, a swift descent to the Stone Age, I think it may well be worth while to actually study some details to see how a Salatin scenario might work out in practice.

    For that task, I recommend going back to the top of the page and listening to the discussion with Mark Shepard (about 90 minutes). But before you listen, take a look at the photograph. That is Mark Shepard’s farm in Wisconsin, and it is intensively keyline plowed to move water from the valleys to the ridges and keep the land fully hydrated. Nature cannot do this on the scale that Mark has done it. Beavers can do it on a small scale. But it takes human brains and, ideally, some fossil fuel brawn to do the job on a large scale. The rewards are a big boost in photosynthesis. Note that Mark has trouble with governments over this strange concept. Tyler Volk, in Gaia’s Body, estimates that photosynthetic activity is cut in half by shortages of water…and I don’t think his numbers include things such as deserts. Keyline (and other techniques) address the water problems. More photosynthesis above ground sequesters carbon beneath the surface, helping with our Climate problems. During the talk, note the rueful comments by Diago noting that people in California should have done their keylining before the current drought got started.

    I also recommend that you listen carefully to Mark’s explanation of why genetic engineering of plants isn’t the best way to solve climate adaptation issues…it’s just the most profitable for big corporations. I can attest that seed selection and saving can have a tremendous effect on plants. The farmer I used to work for brought some pepper seeds from the St. Lawrence Valley in New York to North Carolina. Each year he selected seeds and saved them. After a decade, the plants were significantly different and more productive.

    Does Shepard have ALL the answers. I sincerely doubt that. And if he did have all the answers for the ‘driftless area’ in Wisconsin, he wouldn’t have them for the place where you live. The Devil will always be in those details.

    The only reasons I see for pessimism are the blinkered perceptions that humans have. There is plenty of interesting and productive work to do.

    Don Stewart

    • Edmund Brown says:

      I loved this comment. Usually my patience is insufficient to write detailed comments like you did.

      I co-own a farm with my brother, and we raise beef. Jim Gerrish has some interesting numbers regarding harvesting grasses with ruminants. The ranch he currently manages of has some center pivots in a cold, high elevation part of Idaho. Before he took over managing the irrigated land the ranch harvested about 3 tons/acre/year with a minimal clockwork-like rotation. The next ranch over gets about 2 tons/acre/year by set stocking the whole irrigated piece they have access to. Gerrish, simply by using good intensive management, gets 6 tons/acre/year off the same land the ranch previously got 3 tons/acre/year. The only difference is his attention and expertise. I’d conservatively say that more than 90% of the pasture land in the US could see similar gains in productivity with more attention from farmers. If one adds a little bit of appropriate fertilizer (depending on what the land needs) to the mix the gains in productivity can be even greater.

      • xabier says:


        Valuable comment: modern society (see Don below about Republican and Democrat prejudices and approaches) undervalues just the elements you identify as important – individual skill and attention, appropriate and well-considered application expertise. Most times, we really do get out of things what we put in. Good farmers and craftsmen and others know that.

        • Christian says:

          As bookbinding people (:-)

          • xabier says:


            Learning that craft really did teach me more than just binding, yes! Perhaps higher values than university did. However, there are crooks, liars and frauds even in that small world…..


    • We can move water around using fossil fuels, to increase our crop yields. We have been doing this in one way or another for a long time. Without fossil fuels, this is going to be much more difficult. While there is work that can be done, it can be done by people who can afford to buy the work done by fossil fuels now.

      Seed saving is no doubt a good idea. In recent years, it seems like we have been going the other direction–toward fewer and fewer types of seeds sold to the general public.

      • Don Stewart says:

        With all due respect, I don’t think you understand the paybacks involved in keylining. We have discussed this before. The investment in diesel is a very small number. The paybacks last centuries.

        As in the discussion in the long video, waiting until you have the drought in California is not the best way to think about and do water management practices. Similarly, waiting until there is no diesel available is not the smartest way to keyline a property so that water is plentiful to aid photosynthesis.

        But managing water on contour (or slightly off contour) was around thousands of years ago. They just didn’t have fossil fuels to help them.

        Looked at differently, it is only fossil fuel rich societies that can afford to ignore contours and water. If you think that we won’t be fossil fuel rich for very much longer, then you need to change your attitude about water management with contour.

        Don Stewart

        • Key lining is described as following in Wikipedia:

          Yeomans described a system of amplified contour ripping to control rainfall run off and enable fast flood irrigation of undulating land without the need for terracing. Keyline Designs include irrigation dams equipped with through-the-wall Lockpipe systems to gravity feed irrigation, stock water and yard water. Graded earth channels may be interlinked to broaden the catchment areas of high dams, conserve the height of water and transfer rainfall run-off into the most efficient high dam sites. Roads follow both ridge lines and water channels to provide easier movement across the land.

          . . .
          In many countries including Australia, it is important to get optimum absorption of rainfall and Keyline cultivation does this as well as delaying the potentially damaging concentration of runoff. The Yeomans technique differs from traditional contour plowing in several important respects. Random contour plowing also becomes off contour but usually with the opposite effect on runoff water causing it to quickly shed off ridge shapes and be concentrated in valleys. The limitations of the traditional system of soil conservation, with its “safe disposal” approach to farm water was an important motivational factor in the development of the Keyline system.

          I don’t know if the Keyline approach is any more sustainable than terracing. It seems to be an alternative to contour plowing. I expect in the US right now we are not doing much of either contour plowing or terraces. My earlier point was just that it is expensive, and someone has to pay for it. We can’t expect governments to pay for it.

          Where I live there seems to be bedrock only a few inches under the soil. People need to blast if they want to change the contour of the land. So it is hard to see that either would be very helpful. Of course, this isn’t great agricultural land either.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            Keyline techniques can be applied at any level. (Well, it won’t work if the land is level!)

            It does not have to be expensive, nor energy-rich. It can be done with shovels and sweat.

            It requires much less earth moving than terracing, and is totally different from contour ploughing. The latter is widespread, and in fact, mandated by county extension agents in many places. In fact, if there’s a slope and a farmer is not contour ploughing, the neighbouring farmers are likely to start gathering feathers and heating up the tar!

            But keyline is neither of these. We have implemented keyline in a one-acre field with a gentle slope. We put in three (well, only two are complete) ditches 80 cm apart in elevation, each connected to a small pond. We use sluice gates and pipe between them. We put garden beds directly below each ditch.

            Before, this field was a muddy mess well into June, but by making alternating wet/dry zones, we can get in a month earlier, and don’t need to irrigate for a month later. And if our timer craps out and we over-irrigate, no harm done as the ditch collects the extra water and slowly perks it back into the bed. Worse case, we skip the next couple waterings.

            Best of all, we can feed this system via gravity from a nearby reservoir, for energy-free irrigation.

            In our case, we bartered hay for time on our neighbour’s mini-excavator. This uses a small diesel engine, but probably only used a few gallons of diesel fuel to dig. This is the sort of use of non-renewable energy that builds toward a renewable future.

    • xabier says:


      I recall a recent article in the British Guardian about a man in India who is attempting to save and distribute the old varieties of rice.

      He emphasised that the farmers themselves had, over centuries, evolved by careful experiment and selection a wide range of types suitable to different growing conditions.

      But now the corporations in alliance with politicians want a ‘scientific’ agriculture and to impose a very limited selection on the farmers, a selection which puts the most money in their pockets of course.

      • Paul says:

        Interesting discussion with our permaculture training manager earlier today — we were working on some seed saving and he mentioned that they organized a protest against Monsanto here in Bali

        That didn’t last long — the government sent in the thugs — I mean police — who quickly busted up the gathering.

        Apparently Monstanto pays off the right people in Indonesia to make sure their devil seed monopolizes the market.

        The people who run this company sicken me. They are far worse than slave traders — far worse than pimps — they are the lowest scum on the face of the earth.

        America-based and a big part of the Deep State that runs this thuggish nation.

        I am no fan of Putin but if he is, as I suspect, attempting to team up with China to put an end to American empire by ending the USD as the reserve currency I fully support him.

        Much of what is wrong with the world — the greed, the consumerism — emanates from America.

        Not that it will matter much when the SHTF – but it would be satisfying to see the monsters who hide behind the curtain and their front men (Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc…) squirm a bit — before they of course die along with most others when collapse hits.

        The wonderful thing is that all their power and money will do them absolutely no good.

        Total economic collapse is ironically, a most democratic phenomenon.

  38. Paul says:

    Nicole Foss – How I Prepared My Home for Peak Oil and Economic Uncertainty

    • jeremy890 says:

      Paul, thank you for this talk and especially enjoyed her reasons for moving from Britain to Canada. Will visit her website. She sounds very sound as Gail Tverberg.

  39. Paul says:

    I was digging around for info on solar energy – specifically wondering if the energy return quoted factored in everything involved in the production and distribution of solar power.

    It would seem that all the numbers we see assume that solar gets plugged into a grid that is manufactured and maintained using fossil fuel inputs.

    That obviously makes the assumption that these are – and will always be free.

    They do not address the problem of what is the return on solar if you had to manufacture and maintain an entire system without fossil fuel inputs.

    Solar energy is basically a non-starter — if it made sense then governments would be pouring trillions into covering the deserts of the world with panels.

    Of course even if that did work how many billions of tonnes of lignite coal would China burn in the production of all these panels? We think the air coming out of China is toxic now — that carbon emissions are a problem now — just imagine what happens if they tried to ramp up solar panel production.

    Solar Power is a Joke. But of course the greenies will believe what they want — regardless of how the facts demonstrate solar will not exist — without fossil fuel subsidies.

    Too Expensive

    It would cost at least $37,500 per home if you consider how much the latest facility cost. Abu Dhabi built a new 100-megawatt concentrated solar power plant for $750 million that can provide electricity to 20,000 homes (NPR). There are 132,419,000 housing units in the United States in 2011 (census.gov). It would cost 5 Trillion dollars to provide electricity to Americans using solar farms, and that doesn’t include the cost of upgrading the electric grid and many other costs.
    Solar One was so expensive that no costs were publicly revealed.

    Solar Two would have cost more than $14,000 per kilowatt if Solar One’s equipment hadn’t been used

    Negative EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested)

    So much energy goes into and mining, materials, fabrication, delivery, maintenance and so on, that the energy returned from the solar plant is less than the energy that went into making it.
    Solar Plants require 1,000 times more material than a gas-fired power plant.

    A 1,000 MW solar plant needs:
    • 35,000 tons of aluminum
    • 2 million tons of concrete
    • 7,500 tons of copper
    • 600,000 tons of steel
    • 75,000 tons of glass
    • 1,500 tons of chromium and titanium
    • And many other materials.

    The energy that goes into the construction of a solar thermal-electric plant is, in fact, so large that it raises serious questions of whether the energy will ever be paid back (Beckmann).
    From Day 1, the metals rust and the plant decays and grows brittle from harsh sunlight.


    • xabier says:

      Nuclear and conventional power plants will be the monuments to folly of industrialism: defunct wind turbines will be the equivalent for the Green lobby. If we are around to contemplate them, which seems rather doubtful.

      I’m going to take an appreciative look at the 16th century windmill up on the hill here: beautiful still in its functionality and not a blot on the landscape, useful (once), and even after it’s day has gone something to live in or recycle. Main working parts of windmills could last 500 years. 500: I’d call that a truly advanced technology and a sound investment, embodying skill, foresight and minimising waste. Short supply chain, too.

    • Solar panels are confusing, because there is a need for a lot of installation work, besides an inverter (which gets replaced frequently), and additional grid balancing. If commercial work is needed, frequently changes like new roads are needed. Graham Palmer, in his book “Energy in Australia” tried to see how much EROEI is affected looking at the situation of a home installation with backup batteries. (I am not sure what happens with the inverter in his analysis–it would need to be replaced at intervals as well.) At any rate, he came up with an indication of an EROI of 1.5 after 30 years. It took about 25 years to replay the initial energy invested. Grid tied solar has quite a few of the same issues because of the need for additional balancing.

      Presentation slide with graph by Graham Palmer on grid tied Solar PV EROEI

    • Perhaps a stupid question: Given the pattern of ice ages and brief warm periods, would’t we normally be heading for another ice age about now? Isn’t there a possibility that the additional CO2 is keeping the world from going back into an ice age sooner. It seems like that was a theory that was being promulgated a while back.

      • jeremy890 says:

        Gail, you are correct:
        Direct quote from the article:
        “the journal Nature Geoscience, they write that the next Ice Age would begin within 1,500 years – but emissions have been so high that it will not.
        At current levels of CO2, even if emissions stopped now we’d probably have a long interglacial duration determined by whatever long-term processes could kick in and bring [atmospheric] CO2 down,” said Luke Skinner from Cambridge University.
        Dr Skinner’s group – which also included scientists from University College London, the University of Florida and Norway’s Bergen University – calculates that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 would have to fall below about 240 parts per million (ppm) before the glaciation could begin.The current level is around 390ppm.
        Other research groups have shown that even if emissions were shut off instantly, concentrations would remain elevated for at least 1,000 years, with enough heat stored in the oceans potentially to cause significant melting of polar ice and sea level rise.

        • I looked back at the article ravinathan quoted https://www.skepticalscience.com/Why-does-CO2-lag-temperature.html and indeed, CO2 levels were far lower than today when we went into ice ages in the past. I am pretty sure that I read some articles a while back suggesting that we might already have gone back into an ice age again, if it weren’t for the temperature-raising effects of CO2. The vast majority of recent world history has been spent in ice ages, based on a chart in that article.

      • John Drake says:

        The current interglacial period is now over 10,000 years which is about the average duration of interglacials during the past 600,000 years or so. In that regard, one should recall that Ice Ages during that period lasted on average about 100,000 years…

        It is possible that the fossil fuel burning of human industrial civilization during the past 200 years or so has somehow delayed the end of the current integlacial (Holocene) and postponed the advent of another Ice Age by boosting the atmospheric content of greenhouse gases.

        However, we are currently almost out of positive EROEI fossil fuel reserves… So the related human civilization greenhouse gas pumping is about to end and should have altogether ended by the end of the 21st Century.

        Meanwhile, we have learned from Antarctic and Greenland ice cores that Ice Ages are brutally triggered. However, we do not know exactly how they are triggered.

        A Gulf Stream shutdown or significant slowdown resulting from a massive freshwater input in the North Atlantic is a potential trigger mechanism for a new Ice Age…

        Needless to say that the unexpected brutal (within a decade or so) advent of a new Ice Age would be devastating for high tech human civilization.

        It would also limit the number and location of potential “islands of survivability” for human high tech civilization.

        • xabier says:

          When I find this all too depressing, I do sometimes find myself day-dreaming of vast ice sheets rolling over all this crap with live with! It’s strangely consoling…….

  40. Last night I went to bed with all of these interesting posts in mind and woke up in the morning (Monday in Australia) to hear the IPCC announcing its latest report: “Climate change can be overcome without affecting economic growth and without affecting our standard of living”, is their very brave pronouncement. I imagine Gail would have a word or two to say about that.

    Having spent a decade or more defending the IPCC I don’t wish to say that this is codswallop, but it is. Then I’m thinking more generously that those IPCC folk have been tearing their hair out for so long because psychological denial prevents global action on climate change and, along with many others, have concluded that bad news brings on a negative reaction.

    So they’ve turned to positive messaging, big time. Climate change is not an economic threat. Solving it will barely costs us one tenth of one percent of GDP. We can do it easily and then life as we know it will go on.

    Do we all agree with that analysis? And if we do, and climate change is easily solvable, how does that place the peaking of cheap oil and other hydrocarbons in the scheme of things?

    Not wishing to be totally cynical I’ve had a major personal dilemma in not wanting to deflate those who excitedly believe that wind and solar will save our civilisation – as per this sort of glowing news report: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/10755598/Global-solar-dominance-in-sight-as-science-trumps-fossil-fuels.html We’ve got the problem licked already, it seems.

    Sometimes I back off from explaining the dire state of the world because I can see that people desperately need optimism, even if it’s based on a delusion, and I’m left with a philosophical conundrum: Is it valid to pragmatically paint false hope as a deliberate strategy for engaging others, for to do that is to live a sort of lie, and that goes against my instinct. But appreciate and understand the pragmatism behind doing that all the same and I’m left swinging between two competing, unresolved thoughts.

    • InAlaska says:

      Haven’t read the IPCC report, but it sounds like they decided that “if you can’t beat ’em, then join ’em.” Optimism will get you a long way…until it won’t.

    • Chris,

      It is no wonder that people are confused. I also wonder, if people don’t need fossil fuels for GDP growth, why the IPCC put so much fossil fuels in their forecasts to begin with. All of this boggles the mind. We don’t get the straight story from anyone. A person always needs to try to figure out how much is true, and how much is false.

      These stories of wind and solar don’t really make sense. They don’t consider all of the costs. (Grid parity is not really grid parity, the way people usually talk about it–it is parity considering only part of the costs for wind and solar.) Getting a payment system that is fair to everyone is difficult–if a country subsidizes wind and/or solar, they find themselves needing to subsidize fossil fuels as well, to keep things in balance. Otherwise they lose fossil fuels and are worse off than they were before.

      It seems like we are banging our heads against a wall trying to explain the situation to people. Perhaps we have to have more examples of countries doing badly financially and with grid stability as they try to hook up more of these. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

      • Paul says:

        I was having a discussion via email about the viability of solar earlier today — no matter what you provide people with in terms of facts — it seems most will continue to believe what they want to believe.

        If this is not the biggest indictment of solar as a potential energy source, then I don’t know what would be — there is NO WAY that solar will exist unless the infrastructure required to support it — is subsidized massively by fossil fuel inputs:


        That said – it is probably better that people stick their heads in the sand — because the minute the masses wake up to the fact that there is no solution — the ball of yarn unravels.

        I would suggest that the reason the MSM publishes articles that say ‘don’t worry be happy’ is because the decision makers are trying to soothe the masses — trying to prevent a panic.

        It is a dangerous thing to mess with this matrix…. probably best to let sleeping dogs lie … there is no upside in waking them up because it’s not like we can change course and do anything about this. It is far too late for that.

        • xabier says:


          I’ve come to feel that while this unfolds, very few will grasp it and all the implications.

          Even bright people are too busy with careers and family life: one damn thing after another and the MSM is next to useless in informing people.

          Violence will occur not when the issue is grasped in an abstract sense – which a significant % of people must be incapable of anyway – but when individuals find themselves in desperate straits, and probably don’t know just why they got there.

          The very poor who are the main victims now are just too busy surviving, where there is no welfare, or comfortably lulled with welfare in richer countries.

          Nudge the sleeping dog now, and it will just go right back to its dreams, or wonder what kind of bone you are offering it this time. The power of inertia and heedlessness is immense.

          What is ‘a hundred years of energy security’, or ‘clean-energy growth’ except ‘Bones Forever!’ or a nice lullaby?

          • edpell says:

            Xabier, you are so correct at least half the population has little ability for abstract reasoning.

            Slave rebellions never work. It is when the retainer class starts to starve that rebellion is possible.

            On the press/media, their purpose is to sell advertising. They get more views with sugar than with vinegar. They do what sells ads and what makes their customers, the buyers of ads, happy. They are a business.

            • xabier says:


              I agree. When I see an ad for ‘Cider vinegar, it’s just great for you!’ I’ll know we have reached a sane stage of civilization…..!

              When the slaves rebel, they just end uptrashing their slave quarters.

            • Leo Smith says:

              A more chilling thought for you.

              With energy, you dont need the slaves at all.

              There is plenty of energy for nuclear power.

              A small nuclear capable economy of bright ruthless people could simply destroy the competition, eliminate the slaves and grab all the resources.

              Let’s put all the eggs in the basket:

              Uber technological.
              Nietschian neo Darwinism (winning makes it right)
              Eugenics (prune dead wood)
              A good world for us not a bad world for everyone.
              Democracy for the technologists, no votes for the servant class.

              Imagine a machine run utopia with a population one tenth of what it is, all in relative luxury, graded by actual ability and with voting power accordingly. Running a strict policy of eugenics to ensure no dead wood.

              That sort of population would be very sustainable for many years.

              That sort of ruthless tribal self loyalty would allow it to dominate the world with no compunction.
              And destroy ‘vermin’ populations with even less.

              The first step along that route is to remove the effective power of the masses, by moving all the capital to the state. And the large corporates. Real democracy consists in low taxes and using YOUR money to support every day such things as you want, not what the state decrees.

              Voting once every few years is not democracy.

              You chequebook is.

              The second stage after you have engendered all the pseudo crises that have justified removing all power from citizens, is to declare a national emergency that removes democracy altogether. Or as in many systems removes its effectiveness altogether. No European citizen has ever voted for the president of Europe.

              The politics is irrelevant now: what matters is who controls the technical infrastructures, and what to do with the people who increasingly are irrelevant to and surplus to its maintenance.

              At this point you must construct a police state whose operatives are above the common law. And ensure that the education of the masses is insufficient to allow them to challenge you. But that’s easy, you already have the media, and the education system under state control.

              Everything is now in place to create a new society but for one thing. You need a credibly deniable way to kill al the plebs, who contribute nothing and are a drain on society.

              – start a war with someone, a non technological war so you dont ‘win’ by massive superior force of arms, but by ruthless bloody killing at street level.
              – allow disease pandemics to flourish by importing people from nations where it exists, and failing to address it with your state controlled healthcare system (AIDS?)
              – declare your resources so limited that they are only to be used to protect your elite and let the rest go to hell.
              – let nature take its course and starvation and famine to the work for you, and only step in to annexe the populations once they are depleted and exhausted enough to be unable to resist.

              The problem with nuclear power is that it might stop all this happening. It might be able to support the plebs. So demonise it.

              Understand the the real enemy of the people is the Left, because a big state doesn’t give power to the people, it takes it away from them, and once they are powerless, its may well dimply let them rot.

              Democratic power depends on you being useful enough and important enough that your opinion has to be taken into account.

              Post modern technological society has de facto already removed that power from most of the populations of the West.

              Greens understand that in a dim visceral way: they yearn for a society in which they are actually relevant.

              So they are subverted into supporting the case of Big State by false promises. And constructed fearful narratives.

              The reality is that the people driving this agenda in reality have only one criterion to apply to anything: Does it further the cause of a new elite that seeks to control the world and ultimately reduce its populations so they can enjoy what’s left? Or not?

              And their one remaining problems is how to eliminate genuine (rather than faux) compassion from society, so that the Great Cull can begin..

              So the process of demonising anything that stands in the way can begin. Climate deniers ought to be hung. Shouldn’t be allowed to breed. Have no place in society, should be sacked.

              There’s a new totalitarianism in play here already…

              Look at the way its been done.
              The science is settled.,
              Climate deniers.
              Anyone who doesn’t accept is…(select suitable emotive term)
              Nuclear power would destroy the planet.

              etc etc.

              These are not rational statements. They are not evidence based statements. They are the language of political propaganda and demagoguery…

              Do you REALLY think that a world givernment without any opposition and able to command all the resources of the world and suppress any dissent, would really do what YOU want or what’s best for YOU? When you were simply irrelevant to its operation?

              Or that in a collapsed society with no central government at all, relapsing into a mediaeval fiefdom, your lot would be any better?

              I am reminded of Asimocv’s Robots. One would be better off governed by and served by programmed machines, frankly.

              I sometimes think that the real challenges we face is that we have constructed a society so complex that very few people understand it, and the people who are vying for control of it represent two orders of humanity, but that neither of them understand it either.

              I all te people who do, the geeks, and count myself among them

              Perhaps what a geek should do, is keep his head down ad let them destroy each other and then fulfil the biblical prophecy

              “And the geek, shall inherit the Earth”.

              I have mentioned that IO spebt a couoel of ytears on Apartheid S Afrca, where I worked on a daily bais with a Zulu guy, who because of hois origins was farced to live in Soweto, where te Cubans were busty [srteading te cimmunist dissnt and so on, and he would often come back with questins and ask me.

              Why dos te whire man rule, and we have nithog”

              I thought long and hard about that one

              “Do you now how to fire a Kalashnikov”
              “I think I could learn: It looks easy ”
              “Do you know how to MAKE a Kalashnikov”
              “I do. Or I could learn”.

              An here endeth the Geeks lesson.

              How can you tell if climate change is real or not (as defined by the IPCC et all)?
              How can you tell whether nuclear power is dangerous or not?

              IN the end if you are simply relying on believing in one side or the other, because you are too lazy to actually learn the science, and do the hard work of understanding all the issues about it, it becomes just a matter of picking which web site or media source or current ‘expert’ you BELIEVE in.

              And populations that are relying on faith to make their deeply significant choices that actually affect them very directly, are simply there to be used by whichever propaganda machine the new elite can get control of.

              Why, if the science is settled, is there so much scientific debate going on?

              Why, if the facts at the scientific level are so clear cut, is there any need to call someone a ‘denier’ unless you yourself are in denial?

              Why, if the issue is so settled, are such strenuous efforts made to shut down debate?

              Why, if the models are so accurate, have not any one of them from a decade ago managed to predict the actual global temperatures of today? TO within at leat one sigma let alone three?

              Why, if nuclear reactors are so dangerous, is not most of the population of NW Europe the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, not dying of cancer instead of having a war with Russia?
              Where in short did all these dead people GO? the quarter of a million excess deaths from Chernobyl that the models predicted,. Where are they? do you REALLY think you can hide a quarter of a million excess deaths? IN a sample population of only about 100 million? Of whom only a fraction are going to die at any given time, and even less from cancer?

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Not exactly sure what to make of all that, Leo, except that nuclear energy is very “oily.” I don’t see a massive switch to nuclear while oil is $100+ a barrell, because the embedded fossil sunlight needed for building and operating nuclear plants won’t be there.

              Consider: is there a single nuclear-powered uranium ore mining and processing facility in the world? Even a prototype? Please don’t wave your hands and say, “We could build them!” We can’t even build a lightweight electric passenger car for under $50,000! How are we going to build a massive, ten-story electric-drive mining machine? Ore levels these days are quite low. You can’t just go pick yellowcake up out of the desert any more!

              I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist. If what you claim is true, those who are plotting it would have nudged nuclear into a self-sustaining direction decades ago. And yet, we find that today, we must have petroleum in order to have nuclear!

              Also, I’m wondering how you reconcile your theories with those of Joseph Tainter — or do you think Tainter is irrelevant? Nuclear is tremendously complex, and Tainter says complexity eventually kills civilizations.

              Anyway, here’s hoping expensive oil is the nail in nuclear’s coffin.

          • InAlaska says:

            I wonder what bone did the king of Easter Island offer to the lumberman who cut the last tree down on the island?

    • xabier says:

      The philospher Idries Shah used to say that there is no need to have refined moral scruples in such cases, when telling people would make no difference at all to their behaviour. The old proverb ‘A word to the Wise’ etc. Prophets aren’t honoured in their own country after all….

  41. Jogn Drake says:

    We may very well be playing Russian Roulette with respect climate change. For expample, if the Gulf Stream was to stop or significantly slow down as a result of a massive freshwater release in the Northern Atlantic we might trigger nothing less but a new Ice Age.

    However, to be realistic, human civilization has essentially no control on future climate change because it simply cannot voluntarily stop burning fossil fuels without risking outright collapse.

    Fossil fuel combustion will stop when the related average EROEI becomes negative or more likley when human high tech civilization collapses, which is likely to occur when the average
    fossil fuel EROEI reached somewhere close to 10/1.

    Of course a few high tech human civilization “islands” , essentially based on renewable energy or on the last remaining high EROEI fossil fuel reserves, might survive for some time if they are not wiped out by WWIII or by the uncontrolled “shut down” of the existing +400 nuclear fission plants and +1000 cooling ponds for spent nuclear fuel rods.

    All in all, Earth based human civilization is between a rock and a hard place.

    One can only hope that a new Ice Age is not currently imminent.

    As for the global warming menace, it will not last much longer because there is not that much positive EROEI fossil fuels left to burn.

    In any case, the clock is ticking on the capacity of contemporary human civilization to continue supporting a global population of more than 7 billion people.

    And it would be a mistake to think that TPTB do not how what that implies and might not be currently considering a Plan B…

  42. We tend to progress to greater and greater energy consumption, if it is possible. That is related to “He who dies with the most toys wins,” and some of the tendencies you noted.

    • Stefeun says:

      “He who dies with the most toys wins”
      I first smiled (in france we have opposite maxim: “there’s no point in being the richest in the cemetary”), and then I thought that yes, in fact, “he” wins.
      Not himself in person, but his genes, through his children who have better chances to survive and increase further energy consumption.
      Over time, this leads to ever more concentrated wealth.

  43. Landbeyond says:

    It needn’t be a problem. I’m not reading his comments or any replies thereto.
    You know what they say in forums about feeding: stop doing that and the problem will soon remove itself.

    • Paul says:

      I’d suggest simply removing and banning the account of anyone who is not posting constructive comments.

      I come to Finite World to learn from others who’s ideas I respect (even though I don’t always agree)

      If I wanted to be entertained by clowns I would go to the Zero Hedge comments — it seems that many of the buffoons who read these articles on ZH are migrating to this blog — I was browsing some of the comments on ZH in response to this latest article and insulting comments directed at Gail are a reflection of the very low forms of life that often post on that site.

      One has to wonder if such people — because they so resemble cockroaches — will be all that survives when the SHTF.

      • xabier says:

        Kunstler cleaned up his site when it got too bad, (too much politics and personalities) and the level of discussion certainly improved greatly. Greer the Druid keeps his site under firm control, perhaps too much so: it’s irritating that every post is answered by him.

        ‘An answer for a fool is silence’. Any answer to a fool is as good as silence…..!

      • Climate change seems to be a topic that brings out the worst in people–very emotional, what they “believe”. Actually, the general public seems not to be very interested in the topic very much any more.

        Anyhow, I have been sort of lenient, knowing that this is pretty much expected behavior, for the topic. I have hidden a bunch of comments, believe it or not.

  44. dashui says:

    hey GTA!
    U never told us what your children say about all this.
    Do they read your blog?
    Or r u like me and hide your doomster opinions outside of the internet?

    • My children and my husband are not big readers of my blog. I have a sister who reads my blog and my husband’s sister reads my blog. I have a cousin who mentions my blog fairly often in his monthly newsletters to the family. So people know about my blog, and are free to read it if they like. But if they aren’t interested, they don’t need to read it, and I don’t bring it up every other sentence. I also have two cousins on the other side who read my blog–or have in the recent past.

  45. Interguru says:

    Interesting discussion: Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?


    Young people, when choosing a profession, are often told to ‘do what you love.’ That’s why we have experts in such abstruse fields as medieval gymel. But let’s talk hypotheticals: if there’s a worldwide catastrophe in which civilization is interrupted, somebody specializing in gymel wouldn’t provide much use to fellow survivors. In a post-apocalypse world, medical doctors would be useful, as would most scientists and engineers. The bad news for Slashdotters is that decades without computers would render computer science and related professions useless. What do you consider to be the most useful and mostly useless post-apocalypse professions? How long would it take for society to rebuild enough for your profession to be useful?”

    • xabier says:

      There’s a Spanish proverbial expression: ‘Short on words, but large in deeds’, which I think describes the best people. In contrast to our age of perpetual BS and experts.

      Actually, though, someone who could make and play a medieval fiddle would cheer everyone up, wouldn’t they? Well, I’d pay them in goats or something anyhow.

    • InAlaska says:

      With regard to the what profession may be most useful in the coming age: Please bear with me to the end of this: I killed 75 sockeye salmon, a bear, two caribou and a moose this year. They all hang in the meat shed which stays frozen 7 months of the year, along with a big box of antibiotics that I bought online from a veterinary supply store. The solar panels keep the freezers charged for the other 5 months. I chopped 12 cords of firewood from the spruce forest surrounding my house for my woodstove. In the guest house is 1200 pounds of grains and other goodies. There are a million blueberries in the backyard. Water is the frozen snow around the house and the little lake about 500 yards out the front. I have gold, gas and guns stored up. I have been a certified EMT for the last 22 years. The garden and the greenhouse produce some green stuff during the summer (which grows longer and hotter each year). I have tools and skills. The nearest city is a 10 day walk. My neighbors are far away, but close enough. I have 3 boys and a wife that help out…..and even with all of that going in my favor, we/I might make it a few years beyond the end of the oil age. I doubt any longer than that. So, if I probably can’t make it, why even try? My answer is a simple one: What else is there to do? I am not a crazy, bunker-dwelling survivalist, but I refuse to roll over and just submit. Survival is in the genetic code of all of us. Stronger in some, I guess, than others. I guess I just want to live long enough to deliver or grandchild or to see what happens next….!

      • I read that TAPS may close when throughput drops below 350,000 bbl/day. If so, will this lead to severe economic problems in Alaska?

        • InAlaska says:

          Yes, the TAPS through-put is declining steadily each year and were at around 450,000/per day now. After that, too much oil parafin and not enough heat or pressure in the line and the pipe starts to gum up and cavitate. Because of the problems and cost of exploration and development in the arctic, the big majors aren’t putting a lot of new wells on line up in Prudhoe or the North Slope. I think it’ll limp along for a few more years though. There is still alot of untapped potential there, but its so expensive. As oil goes up, the cost goes down so we’ll see a bumpy plateau on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, too.

        • I would bet there would be a big downturn, if TAPS closes. It is possible to heat TAPS, I believe, and keep it running, if the cost-benefit makes sense.

          • InAlaska says:

            Wow, I can’t imagine how we’d heat TAPS (its 800 miles long) and I’ve never heard that discussed before. Regardless, if TAPS closes down, Alaska closes down. 1 in 4 jobs in Alaska are directly related to the oil industry! We’re basically just a colony where all of the resources (oil, gold, timber, fish) are extracted and sent to the mother country to be value- added and exported somewhere else. In fact, our crude oil goes all the way to Louisiana for refinement and then is shipped back up here for us to use as gasoline and heating oil. Everything here in the state government is basically funded from oil revenue. I think TAPS will be around awhile yet. They are talking about running a huge diameter natural gas pipeline down the same corridor to bring liquid nat gas to market. Its our next boom cycle. Assuming no collapse, that is.

      • you make more sense than most Alaska

        • InAlaska says:

          You, too, EOM. Why are so many of the long time people on this blog site getting so into each other’s grills? We need Gail to come back and establish a cease-fire.

      • robindatta says:

        Hope it’s nor a shoulder presentation.

        Sent from my iPhone📞


    • the problem with post-apocalyptic trades is heat. To manufacture anything useful needs a lot of heat
      All practical applications of science need heat input
      Practical applications of medical science need the heat input of a factory system
      All too often we read of ‘applications’ of trades, as if they can be picked up in a post oil world and just carried on.
      They can’t

      • InAlaska says:

        Well, if you know how to make charcoal (its pretty easy), you can build yourself a nice little home forge and a bellows. Then you can melt down the scrap from everyone’s former lives and make all sorts of useful things. WIth medicine, though, I think were screwed. Perhaps some witch doctors and a little prayer, but that’s about what you get post-oil. Of course, there will be a lot less illness like cancer and heart disease without all the currently nasty things we eat and breathe. If you can stop a major bleed, set a bone, starve a fever, deliver a kid, you’ll be doing pretty good.

        • Interguru says:

          At 72 I have a chronic condition, part lifestyle and part genetic in origin, and am alive because of high tech medicine. As much as I hate to hear it, most of our medical advancement is due to low tech stuff.
          The real heroes are not doctors, but those who bring us vaccines, antibiotics, sanitation, clean water , good living conditions and nutrition. MRIs and like gadgetry. are just a small addition to public health. Jordan, Costa Rico and Cuba have better longevity than we do.

          Of course when the STHTF we may lose the low tech stuff too.

          • xabier says:

            For the majority of people, it just boils down to clean water and sufficient nutrition, and maybe something to laugh at and sing along to: ‘Dr Diet, Dr Quiet and Dr Merryman’. They appreciated that point in the 16th century! Sadly, not so good at washing then….

        • The problem with charcoal is trees. i think the formula is 1000 tons of tree=100 tons of charcoal=1 ton of iron.
          I live 5 miles from where Darby first used coal to smelt iron, in 1709, he was driven by the problem that ironfounders were running out of trees.
          In Alaska, surrounded by forest, you won’t have that problem, but on the other hand you seem unlikely to have much post-collapse metal near at hand either, from your description of your location.
          It is an interesting exercise in logistics I think, to decide what distance would be worthwhile travelling –on foot–to get hold of any given weight of existing scrap steel.
          But it has certainly been proven that our pre-farming ancestors were at least 6″ taller on average, so much fitter, though I doubt if an average lifespan would have reached 50.
          Maybe that’s the proof that civilisation really was a dead end after all

          • InAlaska says:

            Yes, and even if it was worth walking a long ways to go get scrap metal, it would weigh so much that it would be impossible to bring it home across long distances. You’d have to open up trade networks and have itinerant peddlers moving stuff like that across regions. It would take a long time to reestablish these things.

            • xabier says:

              Heavy stuff by water, and smaller and more valuable goods going by mule train, as in Spain in the old days. Muleteers there mostly came from one tribe of mysterious origin ad they did it for a thousand years or so. Can’t reinvent that overnight…

      • That is a good point. Heat was at one point made with charcoal from trees, but we will way too quickly run through the use of trees for charcoal. Wind and water have traditionally provided mechanical energy.

        • Leo Smith says:

          Slaves are good. Or donkeys.
          A slave on a treadmill will do a pretty fair 100W all day, and when it dies you can always breed another.

          A horse has become associated with about 750W, although its unlikely that’s what a horse actually develops, and not for long.

          A friend of mine was involved in the restoration of a horse drawn tramcar. It would nwver pass crash test legislation!

          IIRC the replacement of the horse by the motor vehicle slashed road deaths. Horses dont have brakes, and have a mind of their own.

          Its very interesting to look up the operational facts on the wells fargo stage coach and the pony express,…and al;so clipper ships..

          the clipper ship was capable of well over 25mph, but if you look at the average speeds recorded by sailing ships, it was little better than a fast walking pace or a trot. They spnet a lot of time beating against the wind, sailing miles out of their way to find wind, or essentially becalmed.

          Pretty much like wind turbines.

          A tramp steamer with a 7 knot capability could generally beat them and allowed actual passenger timetables to be constriucted. They were reliably able to get there in a given time.

          The economics of passenger aircraft are also intersting. Jets replaced piston engines largely because they would go longer between services. The ugly arrangement of engines in pods under the wings which is aerodynamically awful, exist because it makes for rapid engine services and replacement. High speeds of jets means that you get more air miles per year out of a given capital investment, but supersonic flight is so fuel inefficient that it reduces profit and so on. Jets fly high because thats where they get the best miles per unit fuel, but propeller driven aircraft are used on short haul flights because there transit time is less important than turn round time and they dont have time to get to the altitudes where jets are efficient. And so on.

          Well the point is, economics ends up driving most things,and subtle differences between technologies in terms of cost dictate what gets to be universally adopted in any given application. Given a free market without government interference anyway,.

          One of the positive aspects of partial societal collapse would be the budget reductions enforced on governments: Shorn of government as the primary means to acquire income and capital, people would return again to Stuff That Actually Works as a basic rule.

          And shorn of government as the primary source of academic funding, those with a bent for science would once again either have to be rich, or find a patron who is, in order to pursue their interests. It certainly wouldn’t be a career for third rates minds to churn out endless papers that conformed to the current orthodoxy in order to contrive a living.

    • InAlaska says:

      Just did a quick perusal of Slashdot. It seems like a blog site chock full of really, deeply delusional people.

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