Converging Energy Crises – And How our Current Situation Differs from the Past

At the Age of Limits Conference, I gave a talk called Converging Crises (PDF), talking about the crises facing us as we reach energy limits. In this post, I discuss some highlights from a fairly long talk.

A related topic is how our current situation is different from past collapses. John Michael Greer talked about prior collapses, but because both of our talks were late in the conference and because I was leaving to catch a plane, we never had a chance to discuss how “this time is different.” To fill this gap, I have included some comments on this subject at the end of this post.

The Nature of our Current Crisis

Figure 1

Figure 1

The first three crises are the basic ones: population growth, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. The other crises are not as basic, but still may act to bring the system down.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Humans have found a series of ways to keep deaths down, each adding more control of external energy.

  • Control of fire, starting over 1 million years ago. This allowed humans to cook their food, making it possible for more energy to go to develop the brain, and less to developing teeth and digestive apparatus. Humans could also extend their range into colder areas.
  • Agriculture, starting about 10,000 years ago. We grew desirable plants and animals and excluded other species, thus increasing the amount of food produced.
  • Coal, starting around 1800 C. E. With coal, we could make metals in quantity since we didn’t need to cut down trees for smelting. We could also make concrete and glass in quantity. With these, we could build hydroelectric power plants, and build electric transmission lines.
  • Oil, ramping up after World War II. Oil allowed the use of cars for personal transport, plus trucks to deliver goods precisely where they were needed. It also improved agricultural productivity through irrigation, refrigeration, herbicides, pesticides. The ability to use airplanes enabled globalization.

As humans’ control of energy improved, human population grew and the population of other species fell. According to Niles Eldredge, the Sixth Mass Extinction began 100,000 years ago, when there were fewer than 100,000 people on the planet, back in the days of hunter-gatherers. The extent of die-off of other species has grown as we added agriculture, and later added coal and oil use.

Humans are not doing anything “wrong.” Humans are reacting to the same instinct that all species have, namely to make use of available energy to allow more of the species to live to maturity. Population growth stops when a species reaches a limit of some sort–lack of food because the species eats too much of its would-be food supply; too much pollution; epidemics (related to crowding and poor nutrition); or limits associated with gathering external energy.

Individuals can change their personal actions, but built-in instincts tend to guide the direction of civilizations as a whole. Thus the population of civilizations tend to rise until bottlenecks are reached.

Resource Depletion is Particularly a Problem for Oil

We are seeing depletion in many areas right now, including fresh water aquifers, soil erosion, the number and size of fish in the ocean, the number of pollinators, and deforestation. The mineral concentration of ores we are mining keeps getting lower as well. For the purpose of the talk, I will concentrate on oil, however.

Right now, oil is suffering from depletion but prices don’t seem very high.

Figure 3.

Figure 3

The cost of extracting oil keeps rising, whether or not the prices consumers pay rise, because the cheapest to extract oil was pulled out first. The problem now is that oil prices are too low for producers, at the same time that they are very high for the consumer. The low prices for producers mean that oil companies must take extraordinary measures, such as adding more debt, or selling land they planned to develop, to have enough money to pay dividends. Companies extracting oil from shale formations are in particularly tough shape because they tend to be small and have poor credit ratings.

The low-price oil situation looks likely to reach a crisis stage in the near term. What has been holding the situation together is today’s low interest rates. With these low interest rates, investors who are desperate for higher yields will invest in “iffy” companies, like shale oil companies. In addition, oil producing companies can borrow at low rates, helping to keep costs down.

It is hard to see a fix for the problem oil producing companies are now having. If oil prices rise to help them, consumers will find that the higher oil prices “squeeze” their discretionary income. As a result, we will be pushed back into recession. So no oil price works.

How Decline in Oil Supply Can Be Expected to “Work”

Many people are of the view that if oil production declines, it will decline slowly, more or less over the same time-period it rose, in a symmetric “Hubbert” Curve. My expectation is that the downslope will be much steeper than the upslope. I also expect that all fuels will fall in use, more or less simultaneously. This pattern occurs because of the networked way the world economy is constructed and because of the role of debt, which I will describe later.

The Hubbert Curve was constructed in the special case where another fuel took over before fossil fuels started to decline (Figure 4), a situation which does not exist today.

Figure 4

Figure 4

In my view, a more realistic view of the expected downslope is shown in Figure 5, below.

Figure 5. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

Figure 5. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

It is my expectation that the supply of all fuels will decrease in use, more or less together, because of credit related financial problems that will affect the economy as a whole.

Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedov analyzed how eight agricultural civilizations collapsed  in the book Secular Cycles. First, there is a long period of growth and population expansion, as the group makes increasing use of a new resource available (such as land cleared for agriculture). This is followed by a “stagflation” period of 50 to 60 years after population reaches the carrying capacity of the new resource. Stagflation is followed by a crisis period of 20 to 50 years, when debt defaults became common, governments collapse, and population decreases. I show this pattern in Figure 6, below.

Figure 6

Figure 6

My forecast energy downslope in Figure 5 is  intended to follow roughly the shape of the curve of prior collapses, depicted in Figure 6. The sharpness of the points in Figure 6 occur because I plotted only 5-year points–annual points would have produced a smoother curve.

Environmental Degradation Takes Many Forms

Figure 7

Figure 7

The environmental degradation issue that gets the most “press” is climate change. If any one limit is modeled, whether it is soil problems, or the mass extinction of many species that seems to be currently taking place, or ocean acidification, it is likely to show that that particular problem is likely to take civilization down. To get a balanced view of what is ahead, a person would need to model all limits at once.

Climate change modelers are of course mainly interested in their limit. They have started to incorporate some information of the effect of other limits into the “low end” of their range (that is, the 2.6 degree scenario), but the “high estimate”–which gets much of the press–assumes no limits of any other sort. It includes far more carbon from fossil fuels than seems reasonable, in my view.

The Financial System is Terribly Important, and Debt Problems Can Bring it Down

Today’s economy is a network of interconnected businesses and consumers, regulated by governments. The financial system is extremely important to this network. In a way, the financial system is like the operating system of a computer. It telegraphs what products are needed, where, and what resources are available to meet these needs from one part of the economy to another. It allows businesses to profitably meet these needs.

Debt plays a surprisingly important role in our current economy. Increasing the amount of debt available increases the amount of goods a person can buy. For example, if a consumer has a job paying $40,000 a year, and gets a loan for $20,000 to buy a new car, the effect is similar to having $60,000 in income for that year. Similarly, if a business can borrow money for a new factory, it can add to jobs to the economy.

When the growth in debt turns to contraction (this happens if consumers default in large numbers, or if they buy fewer homes and cars), it has a huge impact on the economy. The shrinking debt tends to push the economy into contraction. Because there is less demand for commodities like oil, coal and natural gas, the prices of these commodities tend to fall. In fact, a credit contraction seems to be precisely what happened in July 2008, when oil prices took a steep drop. Prices of other fuels also dropped at the same time.

Figure 8

Figure 8

In fact, since 2008, the US economy is still struggling with inadequate growth in debt. The underlying reason is that consumers’ wages are lagging, so they cannot afford more debt. The government tries to make up for the lack of growth in consumer debt by borrowing more money itself and by keeping interest rates artificially low, through Quantitative Easing.

A basic underlying issue is the fact that our salaries don’t rise as oil prices rise. Similarly, our salaries don’t rise with rising interest rates. Both oil prices and interest rates very much affect what we need to pay, however. Oil prices affect food and transportation costs, and interest rates affect mortgage and auto loan payments. If interest rates rise again, or if oil prices rise, many consumers will be forced to cut back on discretionary spending. As a result, the economy is likely to shift back into recession. Prices of commodities such as oil, gas, coal, and uranium are likely to fall again.  Ultimately production of these commodities can be expected to fall, because without debt, they become unaffordable for most consumers.

Government Funding Issues

One issue noted by Turchin and Nefedov is that in prior collapses, government funding is generally a problem. This occurs because the government is funded by surpluses of an economy. If an economy is reaching diminishing returns, citizens find it harder and harder to get good-paying jobs at the same time that the government needs more funding to handle the problems it is confronting, such as the need for a larger army. As a result, it becomes very hard to collect enough taxes. If tax rates are raised too high, citizens find themselves unable to afford an adequate diet. With poor nutrition, citizens become more vulnerable to epidemics–one of the major causes of die-offs during collapses.

We are seeing the issue of inadequate government funding now. US publicly held debt has been soaring since mid 2008 (Figure 9).

Figure 9

Figure 9

Inadequate High-Paying Jobs Go with Too Little Energy

Figure 10

Figure 10

An early sign of lack of adequate energy is a lack of good-paying jobs for young people. Also, the jobs that are available tend to be low-paying service jobs that don’t require much energy.

Of course, if we have to go back to growing food without today’s energy inputs, there will be a huge number of manual labor jobs available. But these are not the jobs most people are thinking about.

Electrical Grid Problems

Figure 11

Figure 11

There is a popular myth that electricity will save us. This view is based on the belief that our problem is simply a liquid fuels problem. Our problem is really very much deeper–a systems problem that threatens to take down the financial system and the consumption of all types of fuels simultaneously. Thus, the same problems that bring down oil consumption threaten to bring down electricity consumption.

But even apart from the systems problem, it is clear that oil problems lead to electric grid  problems. The electric grid needs constant repairs. New parts must be transported using oil, and the supply lines of companies manufacturing these parts must continue to operate, again using oil. Trucks or helicopters using oil products are needed to put grid replacement parts in place. Workers need transportation for their work on the grid, as well.

The claim that wind and solar PV will save us is silly, if we have an unsolvable grid problem. The place for solar PV is off-grid. Wind also works off-grid, in uses such as pumping water. Of course, wind turbines used for this purpose are tiny compared to today’s electricity generating turbines.

Geopolitical Problems

Figure 12

Figure 12

As we become more resource constrained, we can expect more fighting among countries. Perhaps new alliances will  be formed, in an attempt to squeeze our current energy hogs–US, Europe, and Japan. It is possible that the US dollar will lose its status as reserve currency, leading to a lower standard of living for US citizens.

Solutions to Converging Crises

Figure 13

Figure 13

You may think I am kidding with respect to the last item, “We need help from a Higher Power,” but I am not. Our universe seems to have been created by a Big Bang. But big bangs don’t just happen. We live in a very orderly universe. According to Newton’s Laws of Motion, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We also know that useful energy is balanced by friction. This, in fact, is a necessary balance, or the system would spin out of control. We also would not be able to drive down the road in a car without friction.

If a big bang happened, it seems likely to me that there was a major force behind the big bang. We can call this force Nature or a Higher Power. I am doubtful that the force behind the big bang would fix the world situation so that humans can continue along their current destructive path on earth. But the force might fix the situation in some other way–perhaps make the transition for humans easier to bear, or produce a new kind of big bang supporting an afterlife for humans as envisioned by various religions.

How This Time is Different

Greer, in his talk, mentioned several points about prior collapses:

  • Typically 95% of the population died off.
  • The time between civilizations tended to be about 500 years.
  • The 5% who survived were able to go about doing things, pretty much as had been done in the past.
  • The downslopes often had jogs and bumps in them, and could be slow.

The question arises as to how helpful this information is with respect to what is ahead. As I see the situation, civilizations that failed in the past were not fossil fuel dependent or electricity dependent. While there was specialization of labor, there was much less specialization than there is today. While there was some trade, the majority of food and clothing was locally produced. The biggest problems were

  • Growing population
  • Arable farmland that did not expand to meet growing population
  • Soil problems (loss of fertility, erosion, salinity)
  • Deforestation
  • Competition from neighboring civilizations
  • Government collapse
  • Debt problems

I view the 500 year gap between civilizations as including what I show as the “inter cycle” period between civilizations in Figure 6, above. This is the gap that took place before new growth could occur.

The big problem in the past with civilizations that collapsed was that humans were using renewable resources faster than they could renew. Population continued to expand as well. The combination of rising population and depleting soil and forest resources led to diminishing returns, lower wages for many workers, and difficulty funding governments. A 500 year gap between civilizations took the population pressure off an area. Forests were able to regrow, and soil was able to renew (at least partly through regeneration of soil by erosion of base rock).

Today, we sill have the problems we had in the past, but we have some new ones as well:

  • We are depleting aquifers much more rapidly than they regenerate. In many cases, the water table is far below what can be reached with simple tools. It will take thousands of years for these aquifers to regenerate.
  • We are depleting minerals of all kinds, so that we now need “high tech” methods to extract the low ore concentrations. These minerals will be out of reach, without the use of electricity and fossil fuels. In fact, the vast majority of fossil fuel energy supplies will also be out of reach, without today’s high tech methods. Eventually this may change, with new fossil fuel formation and with earthquakes, but the timeframe is likely to be millions of years.
  • Most people today do not know how to live without fossil fuels and electricity. If fossil fusel and electricity disappeared, most of us would not know how to produce our own food, water, and other basic necessities.
  • Most of us could not just “pick up and do as we did before,” with respect to our current jobs, if the government and 95% of the population disappeared. Our jobs are often supported by global supply chains that would disappear, as well as direct use of fossil fuels and electricity.
  • The world is sufficiently networked that most of it is likely to be drawn into a world-wide collapse. In the past, areas that did not collapse continued to function. These areas could act as a back-up, if functions were lost.

In the past, the 500 year gap was enough to allow regeneration of forests and soil, once population pressures were reduced. If that were our only problem now, we could expect the same pattern again. Such a regeneration would allow a reasonably large group of people (say 500 million people) to get back to a non-fossil fuel based civilization in 500 years, with new governments, roads and other services.

In such a new civilization, we would likely have difficulty using much metals, because ores are now quite depleted. Even reprocessing of existing metals is likely to require more heat energy than is easily available from renewables sources.

We are now so dependent on fossil fuels and electricity that any collapse that does take place seems likely to be faster than prior collapses. If the electric grid goes down in an area, and cannot be repaired, most business functions will be lost–practically immediately. If oil supply is interrupted, it also will bring a halt to most business in an area, because workers can’t get to work and raw materials cannot be transported.

We are bing told, “Renewables will save us,” but this is basically a lie. Wind and solar PV are just as much a part of our current fossil fuel system as any other source of electricity. They will only last as long as the weakest link–inverters that need replacing, batteries that need replacing, or the electric grid that needs fixing. We are being told that these are our salvation, because politicians need to have something to point to as a solution–not because they really will work.


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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749 Responses to Converging Energy Crises – And How our Current Situation Differs from the Past

  1. David SNELGROVE says:

    Dec 8, 2014 Dear Leslie Anne: This is one blog I tend to read quite thoroughly because, outside of the call to a higher power, this lady makes a lot of sense. You might subscribe to this blog! Dave,the old DVD burner, Snelgrove Date: Thu, 29 May 2014 21:31:19 +0000 To:

  2. Lulu Pequena Ardilla says:

    Low interest rates, cheap stocks, booming economy, cheap oil, our infinite world

  3. Lulu Pequena Ardilla says:

    Many concerns, very frightening. We need more growth, we need more debt. Let us bring the printing presses to the forefront, quantitative easing at the rate of 900 billions a week, all problems solved. Back to growth.

  4. Look at the last 3 headline articles “9th June”

    1. WTI Trades Near 3-Day High on U.S. Economy; Brent Rises
    2. Oil Prices Rise On Macroeconomic Buoyancy
    3. World Needs Record Saudi Oil Supply as OPEC Convenes

    Keep your eye on WTI & Brent I suspect they will start to rise over the coming months in a similar trajectory to 2008.

    It seems our 2015 prediction could come true.

    • kesar says:

      Add Russia’s decision to trade oil and gas in Euro and Rubel in new contracts. They already signed some appendices to several past contracts.

    • MJ says:

      Obviously, the industrial leaders realize we can not dip into another “official” recession and must have a plan “B” to deal with the upcoming situation. If need be, a makeshift deal with Iran may be forthcoming to bring needed supplies onto the marketplace.
      The problem is the world is on the Dollar standard (tied to the oil supply), just as the world was tied to England on the Gold standard back in the 1920’s. Unfortunately, just as then, when England could no longer afford to be the World’s Banker,, the United States finds itself in the same position and can no longer afford to be it today. Read the book “The Lords of Finance” by Linquant Ahamed. The one book Ben Bernanke cited for reference during the financial crisis of 2008!
      Of course, the situation is different today with globalization and increase of population and resource depletion and environmental issues.
      Seems, the “system” is more fragile and prone to derail without major surgery.

    • It is hard to see how WTI and Brent rise. More that they fall. My (about) 2015 projection is a drop in oil consumption. That could come from either high or low price.

  5. Paul says:

    Across America, Police Departments Are Quietly Preparing For War

    That’s Plan B…

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      “That’s plan B.” Yeah Paul, guaranteed; if we’ve been able to read between the lines to figure out what is coming, TPTB certainly know as well. Unrest, mayhem, chaos. I think it’s starting to take shape already with random shootings, like the cops eating pizza or the police killings in Canada by a Rambo type character. Almost every day now there is some kind of a multiple shooting. Since desperate fiscal policies are serving the top 1%, it would seem likely the priority will be to protect them from the 99%. At some point after the next market crash, small random acts will become more widespread. The final acts of desperation in the wake of an energy predicament, MSM not only fails to acknowledge but even rejects with rah-rah-sis-boom-bah cheerleading of supposed US energy independence and oil & NG exportation. We are not only suppose to buy all the phony govt. carefully defined stats on inflation, GDP (that now includes 500 billion in intangibles – illegal street drug sales) and unemployment, but that we are actually in the opposite of an energy predicament in spite of 110 dollar Brent oil. The frustration level is building and will spark at some point, and the only possible way to combat it will be military equipment and trained riot police/soldiers. The 99% will become the enemy of TPTB.

    • Thanks! I suppose this is left-over military stuff, but it still is not helpful.

  6. interguru says:

    I just read the introduction to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty First Century” . It is a heavy economics treatise ( 700 pages of fine print, almost 3 lbs ) which for a time was number one on Amazon’s best seller list. [Spoiler Alert] It shows that inequality is intrinsic to capitalism ( that is it is a feature, not a bug ). He has created and tapped into historical economic databases covering up to 300 years in 20 countries. The reduction in inequality from WWII to the 1970’s was an anomaly.

    After only a few pages I discovered a real surprise — the book is written in simple readable English ( ably translated from French ). No jargon and very minimal mathematics. The best summary is by Larry Summers ( You can see links to 10 reviews here ( ).

    I want to discuss one aspect of the book relevant to Our Finite World. Piketty completely ignores the role of energy, or more exactly oil, in the economic history of the last three centuries. The index shows four entries for petroleum and for three for oil, all dealing with inequality. (For example, the uneven distribution of oil resource leads to inequality among nations). This does not invalidate his book because he is looking at capital and wealth.

    I want to add a side comment. Using his model, the recent rise in inequality is not a sign of oncoming economic collapse, but a return to the normal state of capitalism. We had rampant inequality 100 years ago without leading to a civilizational collapse.

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  8. MJ says:

    Gwynne Dyer is always interesting to listen to and this recent interview holds to surprising insights that he reveals.
    Now, he does not hold to the view here, but he does recognize to “limits to growth” and “climate change” and has a different take on the future.

  9. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Here are a few thoughts about important but cloudy subjects.

    First, Herman Daly has written a thoughtful article:

    I particularly call to your attention the three diagrams and the accompanying explanations. Also his discussion of Maximum Entropy Production Principle, which seems to be popular with some on this blog.

    His concluding thoughts are about the Steady State: ‘The remaining strategy is the steady-state subsystem. It does not attempt to eliminate the subsystem boundary, either by expanding it to coincide with the whole system or by reducing it to nothing. Rather, it affirms both the interdependence and the qualitative difference between the human economy and the natural ecosystem.’

    Second, I would like to call your attention to Brian Kaller’s article:

    Look at the picture of people moving, and read the description of the experiment. Note these words:
    ‘Carteret pointed out that this kind of complexity is very difficult to organise in some kind of top-down command structure, but appears organically in complex systems.’

    Third, I would like you to recall the hundreds of descriptions you have read or personally experienced of what one might call resilient living, or permaculture places, or biological gardening places. Do those places fit into any of Daly’s diagrams? I don’t think so. What happens when a farm or a ranch or a garden is converted from industrial to biologically based systems is that the diversity of life explodes. E.O. Wilson will complain that endangered species are not protected, but there is no doubt that biological life multiplies by many times. But is the biological life multiplied in the favored ranch or farm or garden at the expense of biological life somewhere else on the planet? And the answer is “No, the inputs from outside are reduced’.

    I would similarly like you to think about the people spontaneously organizing themselves in Carteret’s description and then do some digging on the soil food web and it’s ability to self-organize…once you stop poisoning it. If you do dig into the facts, you will find that there is mind boggling complexity among billions of soil critters that a mere human could not possibly hope to manage on a top-down basis.

    Are biological systems destined for the dust-bin because of the Iron Law of the Maximum Entropy Production Principle? After all, the biological system is Regenerative, rather than Entropy producing. The answer I think, following Daly, is that we have a choice.

    The third thing I would like to call to your attention is the female romance book for reading on airplanes and at the beach. The heroine is always rich, rebellious, gorgeous, and smart…but she runs into a dangerous male (typically a Scottish Laird or, in past decades, a Pirate). Then starts an intricate dance which inevitably ends up with the female having trained the male sufficiently that a Power Couple is born.

    Now let’s think about a story from the time of my childhood…70 years ago. A plain but honest boy marries a plain but honest girl and they have a farm where they work hard and have three children. But then the husband is killed by the reaper (known as the widow-maker). The girls spends a couple of days grieving, but then must think about the practicalities. A woman on a farm with three young children needs a man around the house. She isn’t gorgeous, rich, particularly smart, and not rebellious. She will never be part of a Washington Power Couple. So she talks to a parson, who puts the word out that Hannah is thinking about remarriage. But a month later, the only suitor who has appeared is an older man who has lost his wife, and has himself 2 older children and would like a female’s help to manage the household. The man is in pretty good shape, still having most all of his teeth. So the two lonely people get together and form a new couple.

    My point in thinking about those two stories is that they are analogous to Daly’s drawing of hard lines between the economy and humanity. In the airplane book it may be necessary kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, but in the end life will be everything you could ever hope it to be. In my story about the new couple forming, there is plenty of room for both rational calculations and also human emotions. There is room for the growth of emotions over time, as the bride learns to love the widower’s children. In short, drawing hard boundaries is probably not a very productive enterprise in the second story, and is delusional in the first story.

    My conclusion is that biological systems are very similar to the people organizing themselves in Carteret’s experiment, or the widow and widower getting together. Yes, some outputs from industrial systems are very useful: solar powered fences, for example, or iron based metal implements built in water powered mills, or a one thousand watt PV system on the roof powering some DC appliances. But such scenarios are not well-described by Daly’s diagrams. Permaculture diagrams come closer, and actual examples are much better instructors.

    Don Stewart

    • I am not a fan of Herman Daly’s, the current piece included. We are dealing with self-organized systems, similar to biological organisms. These are dissipative structures, with temporary lifespans.

  10. Phitio says:

    let’s summarize:
    1)Collapse will be faster, maybe 15 years or less.
    2)human dieoff will be harder , maybe will survive around 1 to 0.1% of current population, that is from 70 to 7 million people. Eventually, these are the global population numbers around 1000 BC.
    3) Environment carrying capacity hugely depleted. This tend to support more 7 million survivers than 70.
    4) Help from Superior Being. Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe a collapse could be some sort of necessary event. Or maybe that a shift in the human behavior could ensue, just on the brink of collapse. See for some hints.

  11. Excellent and very chilling piece Gail. I notice you do not mention growing inequality as one of the crisis. I believe it will be as important as some of the other ones because it has political and economic consequences Speculative bubbles, recessions, revolutions, civil wars, fascism and totalitarianism all can be encouraged by inequality. People can survive economic crisis by pulling together, sharing, retooling, etc. It’s not so easy to survive death camps and ethnic cleansing.

    • InAlaska says:

      I always considered growing inequality a distal symptom rather than a proximal cause of our troubles. Important to those at the bottom and ignored by everyone else.

      • timl2k11 says:

        Correct. The proximal cause being chronic overpopulation. Too many humans. However, even in small populations of various mammals there is some subtle social stratification, a natural result of the interplay of various genetic and environmental factors with various social structures. In human civilization, the magnitude of it seems quite extreme.

        • I think the cause might in part be too little resources/animal, which is what you get from overpopulation. You are right about overpopulation being important.

    • I ran out of space/ time. Growing inequality was part of past collapses. It is part of this one now.In many ways, it is more a symptom than a cause. As there are fewer good paying jobs, young people and handicapped people especially have a hard time finding good-paying jobs.

  12. hebertmw says:

    Simply Simon,

    I have been thinking along the same lines regarding communication between groups.

    Keeping radio going is going to be the key. Even tube radios need repair, maybe crystal sets? Then the issue of broadcasting from a transmitter gets the same drawback, what to do about parts? Can a lab make tube sets by hand? And where to get the raw materials?

    Or telegraph system à la 1860?

    • Simply Simon says:

      Thanks hebertmw
      I was vaguely thinking Marconi morse code type stuff as being very low tech – but I’m pretty ignorant on details.
      Anyone suggest place to get simplest construction details at both ends.
      I would like to start getting people thinking on these networks under way fairly soonish – so that they can be up and running asap.

      • xabier says:

        Simon and Herbert

        This issue has been discussed on the Archdruid’s site.

        • Simply Simon says:

          Thanks Xabier – had a good trawl through the site. Lots of good stuff – though Gail’s clear rationality, and the responses usually engendered by her approach mean this blog remains “home”.

      • Christian says:

        Hope there will be smoke signals

    • Jarle B says:

      In Norway there’s been a lot of talk about modernizing the emergency communication networks. It all about super high tech solutions, of course – guaranteed not to be repairable when the economy contracts and the spare parts are no longer available…

  13. Simply Simon says:

    Let’s just take it as read that collapse is imminent.
    What comes next?
    Somewhere I came across the notion that humans can maintain a complete knowledge of all members – including their roles in various relationships within the group – for a group of up to about 200 people. Beyond this, we start to need administration systems in ever-increasing complexity – which is the start of the slippery slope of energy/resource loads just to administer these increasingly complex groups..
    So, how about villages of up to c. 200 people, with some relatively low tech specialisation enabling low key (wooden boats, horse/donkey cart distances) trade between villages for some greater economic/energy efficiencies?
    IF IF IF we can maintain some low tech long range radio links between some of these groups then there will be some hope that humanity doesn’t sink into complete, isolated ignorant peasantry.
    I have lots more thoughts around this basic notion, but interested to hear others’ views on how to build the foundations of what comes next.

    • Interesting idea. I think 150 is usually given as the “Dunbar Number”. In that case, groups might need to be a little smaller than 200. The most efficient course of action is if all members share everything that have with the group–a “gift economy”. The group has to be kept small to keep the system honesty. There need to be negative sanctions if people get windfalls they don’t share, built into the system. Dmtry Orlov has looked into some groups that have worked in the past.

  14. St. Roy says:

    Sorry. These graphs did not display in my previous email

  15. St. Roy says:

    Hi Gail

    Your “Tverberg estimate of future energy production” (Fig. 5) that mirrors the Turchin and Nefedov “Secular Cycles” analysis reminded me of the the WEAP model done by Paul Chefurka in 2007 (“World Energy and Population – Trends to 2100”). Paul has a similar graph (/Users/GHS1/Desktop/image013.png) but goes on to project human population decline due to declining net energy or “toe/capita”. His graphs show a population decline of from a maximum 7.3 or so billion in 2015 to 1.0 billion in 2095 and 6.0 billion in 2035. /Users/GHS1/Desktop/image016.png. That means 1.3 billion fewer people over the next 20 years which will be from a VERY big die-off not a reduction in birth rates. And Paul does not factor in methane release of more Fukushimas due to grid failures. Yes, I would agree we have a real “CRISIS” brewing and that does justify your call for help from a higher power. Unfortunately that is not going to happen. It will be either mass die-off (Greer) or extinction (McPherson). The undertaking business would seem to be a good one to get into!

    • Thanks! I have seen some of Paul Chefurka’s work before. It is usually pretty good. He seems to have more faith in non-hydro renewables than I do (or did back in 2007, when this was written). I don’t think he sees the financial connections either.

      The undertaking business would seem to be a good one, especially if you can get folks to pay for your services. Also, if the cause of death is an epidemic, I am not sure that it would be a very long-term job.

  16. Arthur says:

    ‘”except that one becomes a prisoner of industrial chemicals, and unless collapse also happens to the well-born). If one is the child of poor parents, and doesn’t get lucky, then the”

    Please explain how this happen…is there another planet for the “well-born” …..I think the “well-born” believe this or climate change will never touch them. And that is why we are where we are…the problems have been known for a long time..The well-born graduate from ivy league schools and become president and what not thinking this is a problem for the people of color elsewhere. There is nothing new here other than we are now closer…Should I keep dumping money into my 401k as well? I am over 20 years away from retirement….

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      “I am over 20 years away from retirement….” drink some more Koolaid, come back after a bit 🙂

      • Arthur says:

        “drink some more Koolaid, come back after a bit :)” That was sarcasm….maybe it does not translate well into English?

      • InAlaska says:

        I have sporadically stopped and started my contributions to a 401K depending on my level of “freak-out” about the coming crises. I no longer contribute and no longer plan to add a dime. If I could get it all as cash now, I would, and invest it in solar panels, seeds, gas and gold. At least then you might get your value back.

    • If you can use the money now, I wouldn’t be dumping it into a 401K in your situation.

      But often it is a hard decision to make. How will things turn out? Will investments continue to have some value, even if not very much?

  17. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    Collapse may be fast or it may be slow, but the day to day grind goes on. It would seem that using our energy resources as efficiently as possible is a perfectly sensible project that we should be paying much attention to. Recently, I wrote about Toby Hemenway’s talk to a permaculture gathering where he identified those industrial modes of production which have very high Transformity (after Howard Odum). A high Transformity score means that the mode of production uses a lot of energy, probably in a long chain of production. One of the high Transformity modes of production is industrial education.

    I live in a center of high Transformity industrial education…Chapel Hill North Carolina, home of University of North Carolina and neighbor of Duke and North Carolina Central and North Carolina State University. Chapel Hill imposes a local tax to support the schools, in addition to the state taxes. Pretty regularly, an Asian student at one of the high schools will score a perfect SAT. But when US News and World Report issued its list of top performing high schools, our schools did not make the list because of the gap between white and asian students and black and hispanic students. I’ve lived here almost 20 years, and the gap has been in existence for at least that long, and one of the previous Superintendents vowed to close the gap, and did not.

    It will take you just a few minutes to read the current Superintendent’s plan to deal with the gap:

    Tom Forcella: Owning up to our ‘Best Schools’ omission

    So far we have two dots: industrial education is extraordinarily expensive in terms of energy use, and whatever it is we do in schools isn’t working for a signficant part of the population, and hasn’t worked in a long time.

    Here’s another dot. Deb Tolman is a retired professor from Oregon who moved to a very small town in Texas where she grows vegetables and some livestock. Her claim to fame is a raised keyhole bed for vegetables. Here is a video of her talking about her work:

    Deb also sells a DVD which shows Deb and a homeowner building a keyhole garden. Deb has built around 70 such gardens in her small town. I heard about the DVD a year or so ago, and bought one. Now my granddaughter is entering 9th grade and will be studying biology. As I watched the DVD, it occurred to me that it is filled with biological science. It’s usually not explicit, the way Elaine Ingham’s lectures are explicitly about science, but it bubbles right below the surface. So I annotated the DVD explaining just where I thought science was guiding each step in the construction of the bed, bought another DVD, and sent them to my daughter. Then it occurred to me that Deb might be interested, so I emailed her with my annotation and explained the 9th grade biology connection. Deb got very excited, and said that I was one of the few people who seems to connect the construction process with science.

    I told Deb that I was so confident that her methods could be used to teach biology in a very immediate way, and stimulate intellectual curiosity which could lead to more work in the classroom and laboratory, that I would give her a small amount of money if she could find an opportunity to tie her work into the educational process. Deb thanked me for the offer of money, but said that ‘breaking into the school curricula is very hard’. So we are pursuing other options.

    So a third dot is the notion that education is something that happens when a student is actively involved in making something or doing something and also has access to academic studies and laboratories.

    A fourth dot is Dmitry Orlov’s comment that several educators told him at Four Quarters that ‘education is totally broken’.

    A fifth dot is the fact that many people do not see growing food in one’s backyard as a meaningful undertaking. If one is the child of rich parents, and uses one’s advantages to move ahead in industrial society, then all is well (except that one becomes a prisoner of industrial chemicals, and unless collapse also happens to the well-born). If one is the child of poor parents, and doesn’t get lucky, then the inability to grow food in the back yard consigns one to lifelong dependency. And so we get gardens constructed by well meaning middle class people sitting idle in poor neighborhoods where people live on food stamps.

    You can connect all these dots in various ways. But I don’t see any way that the initial article lays out a reasonable program.

    Don Stewart

    • For what it is worth, I have one brother with school age children, and the family is home schooling their children. The oldest graduated from high school this year. I have one nephew who is married, and he and his wife are homeschooling their children. On my husband’s side, we have a married nephew, and they were talking about home schooling, but decided not to. If things go badly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they switch to home schooling.

      I homeschooled my daughter one year (8th grade) while I was working part time. Things were clearly not working at the school, and she was having a problem with migraine headaches. The year off gave her time to set up her own blog on the Internet, and learn HTML, among other things. Not the usual 8th grade pass times.

      Home schooling is becoming very common, as people get disgusted with the schools. It may increasingly be the way of the future.

      • InAlaska says:

        We homeschooled all 3 boys until middle school, taught them how to read and basic geography and history, and then moved them into a very small, rural public school where we thought we would have more control. Wrong. So we homeschooled the younger two again. Now we’re sending the oldest to a private, jesuit school 5000 miles away so that he can experience a quality education. We will probably go back to homeschooling permanently. The national standards are so dumbed-down now in the US that they can learn twice as much from us, twice as fast.

      • sheilach2 says:

        Hi Gail, you have a very informative blog! I come here each day to learn something new about our situation.
        I also read dissenting views that LTO will provide an abundance’s of oil for a long time & won’t peak until after 2030. The LTO charts for the projected production curve goes straight up.

        The main problem I see with home schooling is that too many parents are shorting their children in science education. I see a lot of christian fundamentalist “teaching” their children about the faith of the parent & too little on subjects children need to know.

        What kind of books & educational material do the home schooling parents use? Is it religious propaganda or do parents try to teach crafts, arts, science, history, math etc ?
        How can a parent take time to home school their children if they both have to work?

        • Everyone has their own idea of what is “wrong” with the current system. I imagine people who think the world was created in seven literal days will adjust the science curriculum accordingly. I will have to admit that I have not studied the books available to home schoolers. I know that public school books are increasingly affected by what school boards think is “right,” so they have local biased built into them.

          History is spun in ways that most of us would find offensive, now that we understand the role of fossil fuels.

          My husband tells me that he was taught in school that the civil war was “the war for Southern Independence.” His mother (from New York) set him straight on that.

          • InAlaska says:

            The great thing about home school is the flexibility you have as a parent. Most states and school districts give you a wide variety of approved curriculums to choose from, or you can make up your own. Some are Christian, or religion based, some are strictly secular. We used a mixture because some of the Christian curriculums had individual segments that were really good (we’re not religious), such as geography or history or math. The thing that non-home schoolers don’t usually know, is that even if you’re teaching your kid, they still have to pass national standardized tests in order to graduate, so there is still more or less consistency in what people need to learn.

            • My niece took some courses for combined high school/ college credit from a local college, so she would have some grades from an outside source on her record.

              I expect there is some variability from state to state on what is required to graduate from high school as a home schooler. It seems like a home schooler I ran into working at a local store planned to take the GED, to show that he actually knew what is taught in high school.

            • InAlaska says:

              Interesting. I guess Homeschool is just like anything else. It is what you make of it.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail
            One advantage of home schooling is that knife-edge questions are permitted. For example:
            1. In response to the notion that the Civil War was about ‘Southern Independence’, a knife-edge question is: ‘Were the slaves Southerners, or three-fifths of a Southerner, or not Southerners at all? Did their descendents become Southerners when they started winning football games? Were those slaves who escaped to Canada still Southerners, never were Southerners, or were traitors to the Southern cause?’

            2. Relative to a hydrogen economy and the statement that hydrogen is hopeless. ‘Does photosynthesis use hydrogen from the air to make stored energy? Such as carbohydrates? Do plants use the stored energy when the sun is not shining or is shining weakly, as in the winter? Is that what starch is?’

            3. Relative to statements that ‘we are running out of energy’. ‘How much of the energy used every year is in the form of fossil hydrocarbons, and how much is from the current photosynthesis budget? How sure are you that we are making the best use of solar heating and the sugars created by photosynthesis? Are there characteristics of fossil fuels that plants don’t do very well? Compare the liquid carbon created by plants with jet fuel.’

            Questions like these, I think, get us out of our ruts. But they will not be tolerated in most schools where the curriculum is tightly controlled.

            I do agree that thinking about knife-edge questions puts a heavy burden on the parents. I suspect that home schooling as a small group exercise is best, because small groups can think creatively about what they are reading or doing or hearing about.

            Don Stewart

            • Thanks for your thoughts. My home-schooled nieces have been much more involved in the adult world than most children. I am not sure their parents are quite up to those kinds of questions though.

  18. Christian says:

    There is a lot of “shale boom” starting here (Norway we(l)lfare and 400 years of gas are on the headlines). “Resources” estimates are within a range, while Monterey’s affair possibly sets a wider base in Argentina. On a per capita basis and considering income differences the impact would be greater than in the US.

    On the other hand, fracking is doing 25 Kb today (total domestic: 540 Kb). Gas is still not doing much, and total oil dropped 1,7% and gas 4,4% last year. YPF is still almost the only player and says the activity is overall profitable, while they half financed such operations selling bonds to the state’s retirement fund. Real market investment, while exponentially growing, is still drilling to find the sweet pots.

    Of course the point is not how much oil gets up but rather the financial conditions. EROEI is important here. While it is not easy to estimate for fracking, is it there some not so much unreliable source?

    Some comparison could be attempted through US fracking. Norway: 5 million people, peak 3,5 Mb, average EROEI last 20 years: 37. US LTO EIA’s forecasting peak 5 Mb, average EROEI for the last 10 years, 7? Population…

    Argentina’s population is 9 times Norway’s, and if we take an EREOI of 7 and say the 5 Mb EIA’s peak to contrast with Norway’s 3,5 peak we get each of us 25 lesser rent on oil revenue than Nordics. This, including all high return remaining fields, which could level up EROEI a very few points.

    On the other side, fracking will surely be cheaper than importing LNG and LTO is not yet dead in the US… May be Vaca Muerta could add a couple of weeks for the hamster to see the sun

  19. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Immigration Crisis: 1,000 Migrant Children Headed to Arizona Shelter

    “The current surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border has overwhelmed the Border Patrol and is unable to hold the sheer number of illegal immigrants being caught.

    Just this Friday over 400 children were sent to a holding center in Nagoles, Arizona where they will be checked medically and vaccinated before they are released or deported. An additional 600 children were taken in this Sunday.”

    Hispanic people that base their lives on Familia sending their beloved children unattended across the border? Is this another new layer in the step down of collapse? Does it have anything to do with Cantarell descending from peak?

    • timl2k11 says:

      This article from the LA Times goes into more detail. They are mostly from Central America, fleeing not just extreme poverty, but drug cartel violence.

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        From your more detailed article tim, there’s this: “The young migrants’ ranks have tripled in five years, and could reach a new high of 60,000 this year — and more than double that the following year (120,000). By then, the costs of shelters and resettlement could reach $2.28 billion.”

        I thought the border had been better built up to be better protected. Anyway, it’s just another cog in the ongoing saga of declining net energy.

    • MJ says:

      The CBS nightly news had a story on this very subject tonight with Scott Pelly.
      Seems Hondorus is a very dangerous place and THE WOMAN SAID THERE IS NO WORK, who was interviewed.
      Wonder what will happen when these United States HAS TO stop them crossing the border? By what means?

      • Interguru says:

        After spending billions of dollars to secure our borders, we are being overwhelmed by CHILDREN!!!

    • It is sad. It is hard to see a way to fix the situation, though.

  20. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Toby Hemenway delivered a talk on Energy at the big Permaculture gathering in Southern California this past spring. The talk is now available in video, but it is behind a paywall. So here is a summary. I’ll put the most interesting stuff (at least to me) first, and then briefly mention all the stuff you are probably already familiar with just to let you know what these people heard…permaculture leaders from around the world.

    Jessica Lambert has estimated the EROEI required to keep several operations in business:
    1.2 to 1 Refining crude oil
    3 to 1 Driving a truck
    4 to 1 Industrial food
    8 to 1 Sustain a family
    10 to 1 Industrial education
    12 to 1 Industrial health care
    14 to 1 Culture
    Toby gave these figures for oil: Legacy oil…20 or 30 to 1; Non-conventional oil…10 to 1 down to 0.5 to 1.

    Consequently, we can see that non-conventional oil is not consistent with several of the hallmarks of ‘civilization’, but the best sources are still consistent with family life. The poorest non-conventional sources are not consistent with anything except waste.

    Toby talked about Howard Odum and Transformity. He used the example of a human who lived entirely on trout. The human would need to eat 300 trout, who eat 40,000 frogs, who eat 27 million grasshoppers, who eat 1000 tons of grass. The grass eats 72 trillion joules of sunlight. The human, if put into a calorimeter and burned would yield about 1 million joules of energy. Thus, a human is an extraordinarily inefficient use of sunlight. He gave these numbers for transformity:
    plants 7,000 to 30,000
    wood heat 20,000
    coal heat 40,000
    oil heat 53,000
    electricity from coal 200,000
    cement 20 million
    health care and wall street in the billions

    He gave some numerical calculations on solar PV panels. In Spain, the EROEI is about 2.5 to 1. If we wanted to duplicate the current energy use with PV panels, we would need 24 Earths. If we develop 10X as efficient solar panels, we will still need 2.4 Earths. He said that ‘renewables employ a lot of people, but we don’t get very much energy as a result’.

    Toby thinks that Odum’s concept of Transformity is the best way to think about what is going to go away along with fossil fuels. Industrial health care and wall street for sure, cement most likely, and electricity from coal likely.

    Toby covered the correlations between energy, population, and farming methods. He did not talk about a crash in population, but you can draw your own conclusion. Toby has a talk on his website that he delivered at Duke several years ago: How to Save Humanity, but Not Civilization. So you can see that the Transformity numbers (which I hadn’t heard him use before) are cementing (pardon the use of a really expensive analogy) some ideas he has had for some time. I should also mention that he is a neighbor of Richard Heinberg.

    Toby thinks that Permaculture offers a good method for dealing with the coming changes. He argues for realistic estimates of the resources available. Then we do the best we can with what we have. I should also mention that during the discussion of the Transformity numbers, Toby kept repeating that these are for industrial societies. Traditional societies can deal with things like finance and health care and education with vastly cheaper traditional methods. So one way of thinking is that schools will collapse, but education will not. (Horrors! It might get better when the schools collapse.) Similarly, in Courtney White’s book Grass, Soil, Hope, he and Michael Pollan argue that we can grow more food with far fewer fossil fuel dependent inputs. It isn’t necessary to sustain the insane system we have. I would say that Toby views the collapse of Civilization with an eqanimity that most people can’t muster.

    Now for a very brief list of some of the topics covered. I won’t describe in any detail:
    Mineral depletion
    Hubbert and bell curves
    Social upheavals when oil upheaves
    Euan Mearns
    Jessica Lambert and EROEI thresholds
    Al Bartlett and exponential growth
    Howard Odum and Transformity
    The illusion of ‘renewables’
    The oil, population, and food braid
    History of agriculture, and especially fertilizers. fields end up salted deserts.
    Three meanings of ‘stability’: persistence, resistance, and resilience. What we want is resilience.

    Don Stewart

    • timl2k11 says:

      Thanks Don, nice overview. This is a very interesting stat:
      “The grass eats 72 trillion joules of sunlight. The human, if put into a calorimeter and burned would yield about 1 million joules of energy.”
      I think this is something most people don’t “get”. When you take a broad enough analysis you find that humans are very energy intensive creatures. Crudely stated, without fossil fuels and other non-renewable external energy inputs, humans are limited to photosynthesis, and the photosynthesis needed per human puts a ceiling on human population that is far below the billions of people that live today.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear timl2k11
        Thanks. I had one irreverent thought.

        What would you estimate the Transformity Cost of Donald Trump’s various wives and mistresses?

        Don Stewart

      • xabier says:


        Too true. I try dropping comments into conversation like ‘Nice for us, bad weather for the crops’, ‘Nasty rain but the crops need it’, etc. Always to be met with blank looks. The same people could talk real estate values for hours no doubt. The disconnect with fundamental physical reality is almost complete in modern societies.

        • ordinaryjoe says:

          What follows is not a judgment on your actions. I no longer try to convince anyone. What is occuring is so obvious that I have lost all need to convince anyone. Time is precious. Anyone I care about is provided with the tools to discover the truth if they choose to do so is their decision. Most just want to argue and fight. Most want to defend their paradigm of consumption. If not a paradigm of consumption ( although tall paradigms are paradigms of consumption on some level) many have spent a lifetime believing in paradigms of ethics that do not take into account a finite planet. To realize that their life has been spent in belief that does not take into account the single most important issue of our time is too painful they cling to the matrix tenaciously. The physician who has spent his life “helping” people. The lawyer who has spent their life pursuing “justice”. The laborer who has spent his life doing “honest” work. I have no qualms with their beliefs other than they prevent the holders of these beliefs from accepting the obvious simple fact of a finite planet. My experience is when a human encounters the idea of a finite planet, finite resources they either accept it quickly or feel threatened by it argue and fight. For me the concept of finite resources provided an explanation for many many things that did not make sense. Individuals either accept it like a duck to water, or a cat to water. I see no indication that the species as a whole is willing accept limits. pick up a shovel, grow food or die nor do I think they have what it takes to do so. I choose not to spend my precious time demanding people accept the idea of a finite planet. I have no hope of a smooth transition. The old generations are unable to accept and adapt. I claim my life, to that extent the future belongs to me but I was born into the matrix . The future if any for humanity lies with those who will be born outside of the matrix without the silver spoon of fossil fuels. No convincing will be needed for them and I pray they come into balance with the planet.

          • sheilach2 says:

            ” The old generations are unable to accept and adapt.”
            I guess at 74 I’m one of the old generation but I learned long long ago that we live on a planet orbiting the sun & later I learned that the other planets in our solar system could not support our kind of life & that space was a hostile vacuum.
            It didn’t take much in “smarts” to realize that there were limits to how many of us could live on this planet & we weren’t going to fly off to another solar system anytime soon.
            I felt way back in the 1960 + that there were too many of us & we were headed for trouble if we didn’t address that problem.

            I remember that the “green revolution” was to buy us time to stop population growth as resources were limited. But all we did was to make birth control difficult if not impossible to get & strain to feed an ever growing population. They are still pushing for more food from less land to feed more humans.

            I am always dismayed to hear people seriously discus terriforming Mars, or sending colonist to other solar systems. Then of course there is “alternative fuels” is just as realistic as “alternative medicine”. But even worse are the people who believe that Jesus will return & set everything right – sure..
            They are certain that our “technology” will find other cheaper energy sources.
            But it’s not even on the “drawing board”, fusion seems forever in the future & we are almost out of time.
            Desperate mobs of migrants are flooding over the borders of many countries looking to escape wars & poverty. What will we do about that if anything?
            How will the civilians of those countries cope with added competition for jobs, housing & heath care?
            How much longer can TPTB keep BAU stumbling along?

            In my area, more jobs were lost as the Shell fuel station is closing & changing to a automated fuel station for commercial rigs – progress!

            Yup, this old douche bag is still learning & preparing.

          • kesar says:

            Good description of our relationship with the rest of the society – I feel the same. I compare this to Kübler-Ross five stages of grief (DABDA). It’s really hard and painful process to replace the vision of humanity flying photon-engines all over Milky Way and beyond with the return to pre-industrial (or even more primitive) civilization with billions of casualitites in the next 50-100 years. It takes a lot of courage to face this image.

            • Calista says:

              I agree kesar, it is a very difficult thing to face. It takes great internal strength to continue to educate others about this. Which is why we owe Gail a fair bit of thank yous! However, keep this in mind. Think about where you would stand today if you had been raised thinking about and being taught that there are limits and that everything is interconnected so that whatever amount you use is not available for the next person or the next generation or the animals and plants to use (in the case of clean soil etc.). What would your outlook on this be like then? Then facing this isn’t really all that difficult, it is sad, no doubt because your extended friends and extended family that were not raised the way you were would struggle. My point here is twofold. First, our children will be ok with what comes if we teach them that this is what is coming, they will have the strength of character to cope and likely lead some of what is decided by future social groups. Teach them kindness and teach them well.

              My second point is this: those who were raised with the knowledge of the limits of our planet have more of a struggle to “pass” in mainstream economics and mainstream life. Something that the system as a whole does not allow many to exit from. It is very difficult to live a hunter-gatherer life in the US, there is a requirement that you participate in the economics of the system as much as you wish to exit it. I would argue that there are a number of young and fairly angry people that attempt to “smash the system” at the point they become old enough to be forced to participate all while understanding the limits of our planet. Some of us learn more peaceful methods and divide our life as so, such as gardening, canning, teaching. Still, it is difficult to watch others refuse to face what is plainly in front of them. So I turn to the children and attempt to teach those willing to learn in hopes that they will have a chance to create a different way.

            • InAlaska says:

              Calista, you’ve got great ideas. Unfortunately, most kids are only as good as the parents who teach them. How many “good” parents are there out there teaching what needs to be learned. I was lucky enough to have those kind of parents, and I’m passing it along to mine, but even with them its a struggle to teach against the mainstream culture.

            • kesar says:

              Calista, good points, but I am not so optimistic anymore. I have even trouble convincing my kids. They are too old to be as easily shaped as few years ago. From the moral duty, I just told them the short version of the story with “carpe diem fast, cause not much time has left” as a conclusion. I don’t even know how seriously they took it. On top of this I’m not convinced that the most aware will have bigger chances in what’s coming, than the primitive and brutal ones. And wasting their few precious years left for existential dilemmas is not so obvious from my perspective.

          • B9K9 says:

            You got it Joe; life is a delusion in and of itself. We only perceive reality due to a chemical wash splashing around billions of nerve cells in our cranium. Any belief system – and its adherents – that stands apart from recognizing that core reality, whether it is religion, government, cultural programming (eg consume), etc is immune from rational analysis.

            So, of course if you attack a core premise, they will defend their beliefs – whether it’s InAlaska who believes the USA are the ‘good guys’, or friends/family who still embrace the “American Dream”. Why waste time discussing anything other than the weather, sports, etc with them?

            Now, some who understand the truth don’t want to waste their energy on even those trivialities, but I think that marks the point where you can possibly endanger yourself. See ‘grey man philosophy’; if people who are intent on surviving are willing to control their diet, exercise, etc, then why not treat associating with others @ a superficial level as a form of preparation?

            Always remember that the reward for knowledge is the booby prize. You can’t un-ring a bell or give the prize back, so you have to suck it up and deal with the cruel truth inside your own head.

            • kesar says:

              Well written.

            • ordinaryjoe says:

              “Why waste time discussing anything other than the weather, sports, etc with them?”

              Well the weather can be a dangerous subject :). Interacting with other humans is one of the great pleasures of life. I actually get along and enjoy my interactions much much better now that I do not engage fully on the subject of finite world resources. Everyone who knows me pretty much knows I value nature. Since I value interaction I search for commonality. The effort to find commonality in a genuine way is omost always recognized and responded to. This is omost always results in decent relationships. If I were to reject all that believe in infinite consumption/resources it would be a very lonely world.

              I understand that deceit is a valuble survival skill but I am really terrible at it. I have come to enjoy defining the extent that I engage with people on the subject of finite resources. I omost never take bait anymore and if I do its to the degree I choose. A sense of humour works well for me. Thats how I play it, limit the degree and extent I express myself and fall back on humour. For most people I really dont give a shit whether they get it or not. I am honest in my communications but if what is being cultivated is not education but the relationship, skill and moderation is required. The physical laws of the universe will prevail no persuading or cultivating belief on my part is needed.

              My biggest problem is people that I am close to. I want them to understand our species situation Its been about four years since I really started seeing that all we take for granted is not sustainable. The first couple years I wanted to “convert” my closest friends. Some of those people are not my friends anymore. They didnt enjoy my company talking about the topics we discuss on this blog. I guess I was unskillful. My girlfriend at the time cut me loose quite quickly. You dont just blow someones consumption paradigm out of the water and expect them to enjoy your company.

            • InAlaska says:

              OJ, its hard, but I still try and send out little feelers to people like, “nice summer weather, too bad it means we’ve totally destroyed the climate.” This gives people the choice: 1.) laugh it off and go about their business, or 2.) stop and engage in a serious conversation. There is a third response that is the most common: 3.) blank stare.

            • InAlaska says:

              Its very cute how you feel both empowered and compelled to stereotype people (me) using over simplistic ideas. Are you still in high school?

    • Thanks! We eat from high on the food pyramid. Transformities also show that advanced education is a huge resource hog.

  21. B9K9 says:

    Gail, I agree with you completely. My point is simply: the grid will be the **last** to go. If we can gain a consensus that this is indeed the most likely outcome, then we have established an end point.

    Now, all you/we have to do is establish a likely starting point: Was it US peak oil in 1970? The huge expansion in debt during the 80s? The end of the cold war and associated jobs in the 90s?

    Once a general understanding of when it all started to unravel is pinpointed, then an arc/line could be projected to the known end point, the loss of the grid. Over that timeline, conditions, outcomes and indicators could be identified, so that anyone who with an interest in watching the collapse unfold would have a nice script in which to follow.

    My point is that the subject of collapse at the current level of discussion has been exhausted. There are other avenues of analysis and critique open to those willing to begin engaging in how it comes apart, piece by piece, slow or fast.

    • kesar says:

      I somehow agree with you, B9K9. When you analyze crisis situations of western civilizations (wars, revolutions, riots) it didn’t collapsed in weeks. The beaurocracy and administration try to keep the status quo, especially the main infrastructure required for keeping the security and military operations, i.e. grid, trains, food rationing, etc. Every country has its own strategical reserves of energy and food. The governments will use it, mostly for its own operation. Certainly the longer it goes the worst of the situation will prevail, so finally the system will snap, but it will take some time – months, a year or more depending on the international situation, trade and supporting crucial supply chains. Additionally, each country will respond in its own way, so there is no universal scenario for all regions of the planet. Take Russia for example – having all of these resources still being pumped out, they will last longer than for example Japan. There are many additional parameters impacting the outcomes – local resources availability, government emergency procedures, general cultural specificity (level of aggression in society or religious beliefs), quantities of guns in personal use, climate, etc.

      • B9K9 says:

        Exactly. A nice little linear programming matrix encapsulating resource restraints. The best grade I got in this subject was a B in college, so I’m certainly not the person. However, we can be sure the fine folks @ RAND and other think-tanks have produced tons of planning documentation for the MIC, et al to satisfy their continuity-of-government (COG) objectives.

        Our challenge, as outsiders condemned to know the truth, is to articulate the same concepts in an easy to understand fashion. Personally, I’m quite bored by the endless description of what has occurred, or how certain people/countries are evil (hint: Paul, all countries are evil by their very nature – it’s the core mandate of government to seize power through force and/or fraud).

        Rather, as many others have noted, collapse is happening right here, right now. So, what are the markers & milestones along a timeline? What are the next steps? Can we assign probabilities and expected outcomes? Gail … Gail?

  22. dashui says:

    Understand energy and its marginal price of production and its delivery and you have the keys to predicting the world. Sadly Europe and the US is stuck in using Sir David Frost’s definition of diplomacy: “Diplomacy is the art of letting somebody else have your way.”

  23. dashui says:

    Chief economist of a german bank gets it:

    • Mish doesn’t have links to his individual posts, so when I look back now, it is hard to figure out which one. Sorry–I should have checked sooner.

  24. Paul says:

    US shale boom is over, energy revolution needed to avert blackouts

    Global energy watchdog confirms ‘the party’s over’ – lowers US production projections, demands urgent investment

    • Rodster says:

      I like reading Nafeez Amhed’s writings because he approaches his work as both an economist and an environmentalist. So it gives him a sense of credibility.

  25. dolph says:

    Adding to the discussion above, I mean anybody with an objective mind who studies data has to conclude that we have been collapsing for more than 5 years, and arguably much longer.

    Yet look around and the world still works! Yes there’s geopolitical chaos and joblessness, but enough still functions for people to be reasonably sheltered and fed. I think we can safely declare at this point that the collapse is, and shall be, much slower than thought (even if behind the scenes EROEI is falling off a cliff). I think we are about to have another major leg down, but so what.

    Even the events that are on the horizon, declining oil production and a falling population, do not hasten the fall, but are merely another manifestation of it. You might even think of a falling population as a mitigating factor, as there will be less dependents to strain the system.

    Collapse is turning out to be boring. Do not think this is wishful thinking, it’s just reality. The industrial infrastructure is in decay, slower here and faster there. Some places will be abandoned, others will be maintained.

    Even people who have lived through major wars, hyperinflations, revolutions, and things of this nature, will in the end tell you that life just sort of went on.

    • Paul says:

      But how are we keeping the drowning man barely above water? The central banks are engaging in epic stimulus and backstopping of the system — which of course will eventually result in a crisis similar but on a far more massive scale than 2008 – and this time they will be out of ammunition to fight it.

      I would suggest that it may seem like a slow and boring collapse now — but when the financial system snaps – and it WILL snap — things will go to pieces within days — at best weeks.

      All it takes is one key component to break and what seems like a robust system — will crash and burn

      p.56 onwards is worth reading as it shows what collapse looks like

      • Rodster says:

        I read that sometime ago and it paints a very OMINOUS outlook for the current civilization and also shows no one will be spared.

      • Lizzy says:

        Paul, I think you’re right. What might make the financial systems snap might be as mundane as people in London having to cut back on meals out, as housing is so expensive. Then the whole bloody lot could implode. London is wonderful and vibrant — I was there on Saturday night. As we admired our friend’s new house, which cost north of £1.5m, we had to keep pausing because we couldn’t hear each other over the sound of the aircraft landing at Heathrow. This is all just crazy.

  26. Tengen says:

    Sorry I accidentally posted this question on an earlier blog post.

    Gail, could you comment on this article by Andrew McKillop regarding Steven Kopits’ presentation from a few months back:

    The author is an insightful analyst but I think his criticisms of Kopits are not well developed.

  27. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    “Mountains in China are being bulldozed to make way for cities, but environmentalists are warning this could prove to be a disaster. Mountaintops are being flattened, and valleys filled in to prepare areas for building. Over the last decade, dozens of mountains have been destroyed and valleys have been filled in as part of the drive. In Yan’an, in Shaanxi Province, one project alone is aimed at flattening over 30 square miles of land for new construction. That project started in April 2012, and is taking place on loess, wind-blown silt, which sat for a million years. Investigators believe redistributing this material could cause the ground to collapse after a rainstorm. Proponents of wide-scale modification of the region say economic benefits will more than cover damages. However, no construction can take place on such filled in areas for a decade, as the ground needs time to settle.”

    Apparently China needs to make room to build more ghost cities.

    • InAlaska says:

      We have quite a bit of loess up here in Alaska. It is incredibly unstable. No one in their right mind would build on it.

    • xabier says:

      When ‘ancient civilizations’ lose it, they really lose it…… Poor China.

    • Thanks! I hadn’t run into that before. It takes a huge amount of energy for mountain moving–even for clearing way for roads.

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        Yes Gail, just think, as we face diminishing returns the desperation to keep the mantra of growth going now includes using precious energy for flattening the landscape to grow yet more energy demanding structures and infrastructure. Where’s the 3rd base coach when we need him?

        • xabier says:

          Levelling mountains.

          This was the great civilization in which cultivated people, – for many, many centuries- produced exquisite paintings of mountains, streams and woods, and held contemplation parties in which those works of art would be studied, poetry composed and sung. Why do we talk about the ‘rise’ of China? It appears to be the final descent.

  28. GreenHick says:

    As with most of Gail’s presentations, I find her arguments in support of some version of failure or collapse plausible. At the same time her thinking remains persistently undeveloped on questions of how certain paths to collapse or failure might be pursued as less catastrophic than others. To some extent the collapse horse has been beaten to death. Decomplexification, collapse, systems failure, yes. Great fodder for resignation, passivity, retrenchment. But are there less catastrophic forms of decomplexification, descent, decline that we might actively, passionately agitate for, more catastrophic forms of brutalization and bottleneck that we might just as passionately work to forestall?

    • hebertmw says:


      The problem with ‘less catastrophe’ is that it is not ‘baked into the cake’, as is so often the phrase is used here. The ‘System’ we live in is so complex the crash is destined to be faster and harder than say the Roman Empire decline and fall. This has been proven out with actual tests and models (Listen to Ugo Bardi on Doomstead Dinner. As Gail as so often stated, Liebig’s Law of the Minimum applies – take one vital part out of a complex system and the whole system fails to that extent.

      I for one am not into resignation and I will never give up, to what extent and how well will be answered when the collapse comes.

    • Once we lose electricity and once we lose oil, it seems like our descent paths are pretty much chosen for us. Renewables are a bad joke.

      Mitigation revolves around storing up “stuff” we have now, and hoping that it will provide a bridge to the drop off in complexity we are likely to encounter.

      • B9K9 says:

        The very last thing to go will be electricity. It is both the essential life blood of civilization as we know it AND … AND the very means of state surveillance.

        I can imagine a world where no one works, but the water & sewage pumps, lighting, refrigeration (sorry, no AC), internet & TV are still operational. People will have to bike to central food depots to get their allotment of corn, rice, soy & other core nutritional items, but actual petroleum will be reserved for both fertilizing super GMOs and running heavy farm machinery. And, of course, drugs will be freely available to make sure the populations are doped and compliant.

        The world could operate in this fashion for an unknown amount of time. Of course, the central security state would carefully monitor every facet of one’s life, and medical care would probably be cut-off around 45 years or so, but the governments of the world would still be in existence.

        If you understand that COG (continuation of government or BAU as it’s referred to here) is the absolute #1 priority, then it’s fairly trivial to game play logical outcomes.

        • InAlaska says:

          This is a grim dystopian future you have outlined. The only flaw is that you are assigning maximum competence to governments that demonstrate very little of it.

        • hebertmw says:


          How about this for logical outcomes.

          The human body cannot utilize corn and soybeans, they are indigestible to begin with, and the body was not designed to process such.

          Soy has to be fermented (tofu) to be of any benefit nutritionally, and it must be used sparingly as it can harm the digestive system. Corn takes more energy to consume than one gets benefit from eating it, hence it taxes the metabolism. It also causes imbalance of fatty acids which leads to inflammation and oxidation within your body, resulting in an added negative benefit over time. Inflammation is the number one cause of heart disease and strokes and oxidation causes damage that leads to many types of cancer. So the government would end up destroying it’s own citizens. Literally seeds of it’s own destruction.

          I suspect your outcome enumerated above could be forced upon us by the government immediately upon recognition by the public that the game was up, but not for long. Say it was announced on a Sunday night, like the Nixon Shock in 1971, that the above plan was implemented. Here is where we go. I don’t see how a government can continue to collect tax revenues when the economy crashes and no one works and no one gets paid. What self centered government worker would continue BAU when even they are not getting paid? Per Bill Holter’s conversation with a federal employee ( they know what is coming and are prepared for it themselves. How would a government hand out food without hands to do it? With the Army? Using what fuel to propel the transport? It would be every man/woman for him/her self per the referenced link. Systemic unrest would ensue as soon as bellies growl and civilization goes sliding down the shark fin slope of collapse.

          • Calista says:

            Everyone I know nixtalmalizes their corn. You can use wood ash or lye or baking soda. People thousands of years ago were doing this to make their corn more completely nutritionally available. *not rocket science*

            Given, most people in the US do not eat their corn in such a manner. The vast majority of corn is eaten as corn syrup or as a basic additive to food. However, I would be surprised if that were being handed out as a basic foodstuff by the government if we didn’t learn to process our corn mighty darned fast.

          • justeunperdant says:

            This phrase of yours is very interesting: The human body cannot utilize corn and soybeans, they are indigestible to begin with, and the body was not designed to process such.

            Five year ago I decided to move to a diet composed mainly of meat and animal fat. I had too much digestive problem. This has made miracle for me. I digest better, I have less skin irritation, and I seem that I am physically stronger. I do my shopping, when I can, using my bicycle and I never had such strong legs and I am 47 year old. I don’t digest vegetable really well either. I eat a bit of vegetable for the vitamin and mineral that is about it. With a meat and fat diet I am down to one meal a day. I am also less hungry with a meat diet.

            Nice info, my personal experience will agree with this statement.

            • hebertmw says:

              If there is an adverse reaction, then don’t eat the food. I can’t eat pork as I get sore joints and muscles. Celery is another that is too hard to digest without cooking it. My body does not agree with animal fat as well as vegetable fat. I need a good portion of leafy, green vegetables also.

              Note: Calista stated that corn had to be nixtalmalized. Just like soy, it has to be made digestible or the body won’t digest it. I would like to try it and see how my body reacts.

          • B9K9 says:

            Herbert, have you taken a look around lately? Notice anyone really working? We have tens of millions of people living on student loans, unemployment, supplemental disability, etc, who have become conditioned to believe sitting around Starbucks and exchanging tweets is the real world.

            Like all other animals, humans are inherently lazy. It is the only the threat of the whip, and endless mind altering advertising, that gets them on the hamster wheel. Once off, it’s really easy to continue downgrading until one is living a basic, subsistence lifestyle.

            With a bare skeleton organization, it will be easy to maintain some very basic functions like the electrical grid, cell towers and the Net backbone. With those 3 items alone, people will have light, refrigerated food, fresh water, toilets that work, and sweet, dear communications (TV & Net) to assure them big brother cares and is looking out for their best interest.

            As for nutritional values, thank you for the lecture – I personally don’t eat anything that has been developed within the last 10,000 years, which means any cultivated grains, etc. But for the common mensch, they are perfectly happy waddling around with a bag of Doritos in hand. Trying to impose a diet change for them is what WILL lead to revolt. Besides, unhealthy peons don’t pose a threat to the Praetorians who of course will be lavished with the very best foodstuffs.

            A very basic economy could run just fine as long as everyone else is happily stoned and/or drunk all day/night long, can watch TV and tweet, have a warm bed and clean place to *crap*. The alternative is Mad Max as the truth leaks out, so if the PTB come clean and present these two options, which one to you think people will go along with?

            • hebertmw says:


              Now I see your point but we will have to agree to disagree.

              I didn’t mean to lecture, I just mistook your point. You are saying the TPTB will push the mushroom theory; keep ’em in the dark and feed them lots of manure (as is being done right now). Government will try to do all it can to preserve BAU (as is being done right now). Keep them quiet and with basic needs taken care of kind of seems like a Soylent Green alternative to Mad Max, which the TPTB would propose when it comes clean. I get it.

              But I believe we ARE in that basic economy you put forth right now. And the things you are saying about such a thing are being done right now. Like you said, look around. Go to any Walmart and the people look like zombies, hardly any awareness in them at all. I think that this is your basic economy right now. And I have never seen any evidence that this or any other government has had the virtue to tell the truth or come clean, that would be unrealistic. And people are already going along with it. No choice to be had, there never was one to begin with as it was all made for them. And people are happy with it as it is.

              My point is it will never last, too much will happen too fast for even the TPTB to stop, let alone keep to a basic economy. It is a simple fact that the larger and more complex the system is, the faster it fails. A basic economy you propose is already here and is fast failing. I contend there will not be adequate food, electricity or fuel for transportation and no possibility of growth without new, cheap oil being developed. You can’t have TV and Doritos without it.

            • Calista says:

              And once again the movie Idiocracy comes to mind 😉

        • Electricity may be last to go, but it still could come fairly early. Everything I can see says that adding intermittent renewables using feed-in-tarriffs is a way to destabilize the electric grid. We will have to see how Europe does on fixing its problem. Businesses leave if they don’t have stable electricity. This happens even before the electric grid shuts down.

  29. MJ says:

    Natural Gas dose NOT help curb greenhouse emissions in new report:

    An explosive new report from the U.S. Department of Energy makes clear that Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is likely a climate-destroying misallocation of resources.
    That is, if one uses estimates for methane leakage based on actual observations.

    • That is an interesting article about greenhouse emissions from natural gas.

      The article you cite talks about natural gas not curbing greenhouse emissions, but the US Department of Energy report is another distorted DOE report that tries to show that exporting US natural gas as LNG will be favorable from a CO2 emissions point of view. The article you link to cites a Stanford study led that Adam Brandt is the lead author of. I am aware of that study and know Adam Brandt. (I wrote a post about a peer reviewed article he wrote on The Oil Drum, and later met him at energy conference.)

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