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. Hartley says:

    hello once again Gail
    Can you explain why investors will suddenly start buying up our currency, as stated in the article

    Kind regards H

    • No one will put their funds in a currency where they know they will lose money. At least if they buy US bonds, the rate of return is a small positive percentage.

  2. aguila says:

    Meanwhile in Southern Europe a humanitarian crisis is unfolding:

    “About 42,000 people have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, according to the EU border agency, Frontex. Last year there were 3,362 arrivals by the end of April, said UNHCR.”

    “If strong action isn’t taken, it will be a disaster,” said Enzo Bianco, the centre-left mayor of Catania and former Italian interior minister. “Either there is a strong initiative by the Italian government and by the EU, or we will be facing a real disaster of colossal proportions. If we’re in a crisis with 50,000 arrivals, imagine what will happen if there are 500,000-600,000.”

    • Thanks! Problems in one part of the world tend to spread to others through the large number of resulting refugees.

    • edpell says:

      Is this due to war in Libya?

      • aguila says:

        And Syria.

      • xabier says:

        In Spain they seem to be mostly sub-Saharan Africans, judging from media images. They are treated very cruelly. Still, there’s a company making the most vicious razor-wire fences in Spain which is doing very well on government contracts and making a splendid GDP contribution. ……

  3. bogbeagle says:

    Electricity is not a source of energy. You refer to “electricity and hydrocarbons” as though they were independent energy sources … well, that’s how I read it

    • I am not sure who you are responding to. Liquid fuels and electricity (Not the combination you are asking about) are pretty close to non-overlapping categories. Liquid fuels are from oil and ethanol. Electricity is from a variety of sources, but rarely from oil because oil is so expensive.

  4. Paul says:

    Excellent points.

    When there is no solution — or there is no explanation — the default for most people is ‘god’

    Yes of course it is irrational in that there is no evidence for the existence of ‘god’ — I see it more as a defense mechanism… it allows people to go about their lives without being burdened by the knowledge that when you die that is not the end. If you can convince yourself that this is true — then that takes away the burden

    With respect to the energy issue — this accelerates the death issue for everyone — anyone who recognizes the problem realizes that their death is much more imminent…

    So you have 3 choices:

    – default to the god and heaven story
    – default to the solar panels/thorium/windmills gods
    – accept reality

    A true believer in the renewable energy gods is no different than the believer in a religious god — logic is out the window in favour of psychological self- preservation.

    I must say though, I am quite disappointed to see this blog go in the direction of religion as the ‘solution’

    If some people want to believe that ‘we can accomplish anything with true religion’ good luck with that – but I am not here to read about fairies and angels and sing koombaya… I am here for arguments supported by logic and facts – not beliefs.

    As I have posted beliefs are like posting 1+1= 3 and asking me to believe that.

    Let’s try to stay with the facts – and away from religion?

    • InAlaska says:

      Separation of church and blog?

      • That may be a good idea. Religious discussions on The Oil Drum had serious problems as well. That outcome seems to be a given.

        • InAlaska says:

          Well, it certainly shook up the site and got people thinking about topics not normally considered here.

        • Dave Ranning says:

          No one needs a dime bag of Jesus, just to keep from jonesing.
          Best to stick to observable reality— it makes for a more realistic discussion usually.

    • Calista says:

      You seem to be missing a fourth option. That is “create” a new religion or “re-do” another religion. Religion has been, historically speaking, a very good system for creating community, communal support, co-operation, coping skills, promulgation of norms that help the community (the big one here that most people know of is eating pork), etc. etc. As a social construct it has it’s uses and those uses can be made to be the value that keeps the community together and afloat. I suspect the issue many have is with a religion that has done harm and/or that does not fit our current needs of our current situation. That makes it your responsibility to participate in building something that DOES meet our needs in our current situation.

      Muslim practices of washing of hands and feet is, from an epidemiological standpoint a highly useful practice. Maybe we might want to talk about what “norms” we might want to promulgate to help people cope with what is coming and still retain some feature of human kindness (one thing every religion advocates for – some better than others). Maybe some people need daily prayer of whatever sort to help them through the tough times ahead. I would much rather those people pray in the manner they need so when they show up to the neighborhood planning session they are all mentally there and able to focus on the hard work ahead. I don’t care what type of religion you have if it works for you and it works for me in the sense that you are capable of being a good community member. Muslim, Christian, Jain…….. I don’t care, pick one. It is your path in life to walk and I know that no one else walks my path in life so your religion may have little to offer me, personally, but much to offer me if it makes you a useful and good member of my community.

      And if a member of your community says “I don’t have answers to your questions, I’m down to praying.” That is a valid statement to be respected. Not everyone has every answer to a very difficult and some say intractable situation. So let them stand as a member of your community in the best way they can.

      • Paul says:

        I would suggest that religion has also been a way to control people – with ‘community’ also being a consequence.

        ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses’

        • Rodster says:

          While I agree, I do think there is both a good and bad side to religion. How one chooses to align oneself with either side of the coin is the challenging part.

        • Calista says:

          Indeed Paul you are correct. In the past a number of religions have been used to control the masses. This is true of many hierarchical based systems. They use many different approaches to control the masses. They do not necessarily need to use those systems and not every religion innately does control the masses. We can demand better of our communities, their behavior and the systems we use to create such communities. Now my question is why can and is religion used to control the masses? Why do the masses not see through the hierarchy and see how hurtful it is? How much damage it can do? What is it that is in human nature that allows this to be fairly common? How can we educate ourselves, our neighbors, our children to both see through that and demand better of the systems?

          Just because something has been used in a particular manner in the past does not necessarily mean it has to be used in that manner in the future. We can demand different, better methods. The question I have is why don’t we, why do we assume that just because it was used in a particular manner in the past we should throw it away? What is it about that that is so fearful to you or the next person? I would argue that in the process of throwing away “religion” because it has been used to harm in the past only makes it that much more likely that it will be used to harm in the future. Instead I would urge you to embrace it but work to inoculate the new systems against such use because a wholesale rejection only increases the likelihood of the same abuses happening again.

          • Paul says:

            That’s not why I reject religion.

            I reject it because it makes absolutely zero sense. I see religion as you see the tooth fairy and santa claus – there is not evidence for either of those as well …

            I find it rather amusing that people here are shocked when people fail to see what we see with regards to the collapse that is imminent — in spite of the overwhelming evidence…

            Yet when it comes to a belief in god — they are willing to throw logic out the window and simply line up behind blind faith…

            How is that any different than someone stating ‘I believe solar energy will save us’

        • xabier says:


          Still, ‘control’ has many aspects: if you are teaching someone a craft, you have to control them
          absolutely or they won’t learn in the most efficient way. Students who choose their own curriculum are not students. Similarly in military training.

          Thinking about religious or spiritual practices as a means to reach an end, as a tool or vehicle, and the control element might become intelligible, at a certain stage. The stage at which a religion becomes negative can also be identified more accurately.

          Religions have certainly been used to reinforce particular social orders: sometimes beneficially, sometimes not. So have atheist rationalist doctrines.

          The question is always ‘Control to what end, and by whom?’

          • Paul says:

            Control as in convince people to kill others in the name of religion…

            Control as in if I am a member of the elite I create compliant minions by getting the masses to believe ‘the meek will inherit the earth’ — which allows me to yoke and exploit them…. throw in a little guilt and I’ve got me a following of docile sheep who allow me to live large.

            Thank you very much!~

        • Arthur says:

          yes and there is no scarcity it is only capitalism creating scarcity….you can manipulate anything you want….

    • edpell says:

      Yes! psychological self preservation. All humans use various psychological defenses to deal with the dangers real and perceived dangers of reality.

      When a persons defenses are attacked they react harshly. This seems to be particularly true of those who use hyper rationality as a defense.

      I am sorry so few see the dimension of meaning, ideas, hopes, goals, etc that are part and parcel of any religion and or any set of beliefs including science, technology, permaculture, etc…

  5. Rodster says:

    Gail, I came across a really good article about Peak Oil/Cheap Oil

  6. timl2k11 says:

    I find the desperation of the European Central Bank interesting. They’ve now turned to negative interest rates for deposits on reserve and lowered a host of other rates. All of this proves one of Gail’s larger points in a shrinking economy loans cannot be repaid. I think both individuals and businesses grasp this. Most people will not take out a loan if they don’t believe in their ability to repay it. I suppose we can keep BAU going a little longer by just giving people loans they never have to repay. I suspect that in the “death throes” of modern civilization, some pretty whacky things will be tried out. SpaceX has been talking up landing on Mars today. Yes, lets use up all our energy on that!

    • Paul says:

      Banks are not lending because there are few entities that are solvent and wanting to take on debt — businesses have no desire to borrow and expand because demand is feeble.

      So the ECB will try to force them to make loans to pretty much anyone who wants one — by penalizing the banks for holding cash.

      This of course violates the most fundamental rule of banking – very obviously if the banks do what is expected of them this will result in massive bad loans driving them further into insolvency.

      But of course this does kick the can a bit — as there should be some economic activity as a result of this… that’s why stock indices spiked on the news.

      Kinda like what happened with Abenomics… a sugar rush from more stimulus…

      Central banks are most definitely running low on bullets — I wonder what they do as these programmes begin to fail? What do they have left in the arsenals?

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        “What do they have left in the arsenals?” Paul, I’m sure just the same radical tactics they’ve been employing since 08. I doubt there is another desperate form of fiscal folly to counter high oil price that has not already been tried. I’m convinced the situation now is TPTB to effect fiscal policy, know what strings to pull to tweak the system the best they can, but in so doing they not only prolong contraction but insure when it does take place it most likely takes the form of partial or full collapse – because as the printing and negative interest rates, etc. stretch the viability of the system, something BIG must cause it to snap back (major contraction).

        Right now the masses have been lulled into a sense of having escaped collapse in 08/09, with little if any understanding of the true extent of this dire energy predicament we are in, with the cliff still approaching sometime up ahead. What a rude awakening that will be for them when whatever that something happens to be causes the recoil.

        • InAlaska says:

          TPTB will do anything to stave off deflation. If they understood (and maybe they do) that it hasn’t worked in Japan for 10 years, they wouldn’t try this. Clearly a measure of desperation, and you get the feeling that they are simply constantly choosing the lesser of two evils, over and over again. Collapse in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, is still better in their way of thinking than collapse now, on their watch. Even if that collapse once it comes will be bigger and badder.

          • Rodster says:

            “TPTB will do anything to stave off deflation.”

            Partly because the only growth in Western economies today IS thru inflation. This is what happens when both Central Planners and Banksters embark on the “infinite growth economic paradigm”. Eventually reality in the order of finite resources crashes that reality as Micheal Ruppert eluded too many times.

    • I saw that. Not a big surprise. I don’t have a good “feel” for what its follow-on effects will be. I expect a lot of money will go to other investment possibilities (like US debt) where the interest rates are at least nominally positive.

  7. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail

    I found this post by David Stockman to be interesting from a Peak Oil perspective:

    I found a chart on US crude oil consumption that showed current consumption virtually identical to 1998. So…labor hours and oil consumption have both been stagnant since 2008. And we know that wages for the median worker have been stagnant over that same period. Since a labor hour is generally paid for by a business to turn something into a product which can be sold, and since the ‘turning’ generally involves oil, I think this should not surprise us.

    A check with ShadowStats shows that real GDP is now lower than it was in 1998.

    Stockman focuses in on the hedonic adjustments applied on the money side of the computations as accounting for all of the increase in output. But he also points out that we know that the composition of jobs has deteriorated in terms of the real incomes they provide…which would be consistent with ShadowStats. In other words, the hours worked have not changed, the amount of oil involved has not changed, but the income per hour is actually lower than in 1998 due to job quality deterioration, which results in lower real GDP. But the effects of massive money printing and hedonic adjustments give the impression that output has increased by a large amount.

    There will be a second part to Stockman’s article. But I found this first one to be quite thought provoking, especially when the numbers are put together with oil and the ShadowStats numbers.

    Can we have more hours worked for more pay in the absence of more oil? How much money has the Fed taken from retirees in the form of Social Security inflation adjustments not given, and interest income not received? Can we derive a figure for ‘real GDP per barrel’, and then see how that GDP was divided up between the oil industry, government transfer payments, the financial sector, and businesses and their employees? My guess is that the big winners are transfer payments, the financial sector, and the oil business. Other businesses and their employees have lost ground, making less real income per hour worked.

    (It might be a good idea to lump the 1 percent and the financial industry, at least conceptually. But one can only slice and dice the data in certain ways.)

    Don Stewart

    • Christian says:

      “Can we derive a figure for ‘real GDP per barrel’, and then see how that GDP was divided up between the oil industry, government transfer payments, the financial sector, and businesses and their employees?”

      Good idea Don

    • Don Stewart says:

      Another thought.
      The US has printed bales of money since 1998. Since the dollar is the reserve currency, many countries will take the freshly printed dollars. Therefore, consumption in the US can rise much faster than real production in the US.

      If the One Percent get the newly printed dollars, they can live like kings…which seems to be what is happening. But ordinary working people don’t get any of the newly printed money, and so their standard of living has fallen since 1998.

      Don Stewart

    • edpell says:

      Very good Don

      • Paul says:

        MSM spins that as being evidence of ‘increased efficiencies’ in the economy – of course it’s related to the fact that expensive oil means people use/buy less — of everything.

    • Very interesting. I encourage everyone to read Stockman’s analysis. He concurs with Shadow Stats. Economic growth since 1998 is largely missing. Its lack is being covered up by low balled CPI numbers.

  8. Paul says:

    Peak Oil Revisited…

    n a lecture to the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy in February of 2014 Steven Kopits, who is the Managing Director of the consultancy, Douglas Westwood explains how conventional “legacy” oil production peaked in 2005 and has not increased since. All the increase in oil production since that date has been from unconventional sources like the Alberta Tar sands, from shale oil or natural gas liquids that are a by-product of shale gas production. This is despite a massive increase in investment by the oil industry that has not yielded any increase in ‘conventional oil’ production but has merely served to slow what would otherwise have been a faster decline.

    More specifically the total spend on upstream oil and gas exploration and production from 2005 to 2013 was $4 trillion. Of that $3.5 trillion was spent on the ‘legacy’ oil and gas system. This is a sum of money equal to the GDP of Germany. Despite all that investment in conventional oil production it fell by 1 million barrels a day. By way of comparison investment of $1.5 trillion between 1998 and 2005 yielded an increase in oil production of 8.6 million barrels a day.

    Further to this, unfortunately for the oil industry, it has not been possible for oil prices to rise high enough to cover the increasing capital expenditure and operating costs. This is because high oil prices lead to recessionary conditions and slow or no growth in the economy


  9. MJ says:

    TRILLIONS needed for energy investment, IEA

    Of the $40 trillion that will need to be spent by 2035, less than half will be spent on meeting growth in demand.
    “About 80 percent of all oil investments are made to compensate for the decline in existing fields, so it means that oil investments have little to do with oil demand growth and much more to do with the decline of existing oil fields,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, told reporters.
    Of the total investment in upstream oil and gas spending of more than $850 billion per year by 2035, gas will account for most of the increase. Over $700 billion is expected to be invested in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector alone by 2035.
    The IEA warned that more gas might not lead to much lower prices

    • timl2k11 says:

      I think they are lowballing the figures. They note that “More than $1.6 trillion was invested in 2013 in energy supply, a figure that has more than doubled in real terms since 2000”. A period of 13 years, yet over the next 20 years they expect that only a rise to 2 trillion a year will be sufficient. If we follow basic past trends, the amount of investment needed would more than double to over 3 trillion per annum. If we allow for the increased difficulty in extracting new resources who knows what is needed, 6 trillion? 12 trillion? The entire GDP of the world? At some point the cost of mining fossil fuels, especially crude oil, cannot be justified, a fact the IEA wholly ignores.

      • MJ says:

        Thanks, I like the part where that 80% just goes out the door due to depletion…..

      • Good point about the lowballing. The real cost will be higher, and come directly out of citizens’ ability to buy other goods and services, if prices rise to cover these costs. If they don’t, somehow oil and gas companies and electric utilities will have to decide to spend money they don’t have on investment.

    • The higher energy investment is a “feature” of diminishing returns. It reminds me of my Energy Sinkhole post. We put more and more investment money in, and get very little out. Oil prices are low for producers, and in some parts of the world natural gas prices are not keeping up either. With low profits, they cannot afford all of this new investment. New Basel III rules make it harder for banks to lend to energy companies. Not a good situation!

  10. MJ says:

    This just in from the IEA…this flow rates are a concern…especially later this year!

    The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that the world could face an oil supply crunch later this year unless the OPEC group of countries can significantly step up production in the coming months.

    I’m excited.

    • Paul says:

      So the possibility of billions dying — mass starvation — collapse of civilization ‘excites’ you… why?

      • MJ says:

        Why? you ask:

        • Paul says:

          I suppose if life is so bad that one wished for the collapse of civilization then I’d probably not bother to wait… I’d opt out now.

          • MJ says:

            Oh, typical human, only looking it all from their point of view. Did you ask any other living creature, Paul?
            Actually, YOU were the ONE that interrupted my excitement as such, and I was excited for a different reason. I’m excited because the SMHTF and we have no “lifeboat Fed” to bail us out on this one.
            You know what that means.? Reality HITS. Are you not the same Paul always commenting on the “INSANE” policy of “The Fed”?
            Hence my song, listen to the lyrics at the end!
            and if YOU FEEL THAT why OK do it NOW!
            I was just being a contributor and providing a warning on the timing, if the IEA makes a public announcement, you know something is up.

            • Rodster says:

              I don’t know if it’s the same Paul but there was a comment in another of Gail’s Blog where a Paul commented that all humans need to die off so Mother Earth can heal herself and return itself back to it’s former self which would mean only animals in their habitat.

            • “If the IEA makes a public announcement, you know something is up.” That is a good point. They even have figured out that oil companies are losing money. The chart they show of future oil supply shows it falling after 2020, even with all of the investment.

        • Dave Ranning says:

          The sooner the better.
          The survivors (if any) will have more resources.
          This slow death scenario we are currently in will deplete everything.

    • Right. The IEA is trying to tell OPEC what to do. They likely are doing pretty much as much as they are able to.

  11. Pete the bee says:

    have you guys checked out the latest natural gas production numbers? march just came in as another record setting month.

    • Paul says:

      Pete – if you stick 1 straw in a milk shake and suck — or you stick 100 straws in — which would empty the glass first?


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

      If you want to break records simply stick in more straws…

      Keep in mind the world runs on OIL…. not gas… so the impact of this is limited and does not change the equation

      If you want to post something that grabs my attention let me know when a new massive field of easily extracted sweet crude oil is discovered — something along the lines of a new Ghawar… or North Sea… or Alaska…

      Because only something like that will have a significant impact on the situation

    • The natural gas market seems to be a whole lot less impressed than you are. The headline at the Wall Street Journal is, Natural Gas at Highest Price in Nearly a Month as Storage Addition Fails to Impress Traders. With Canadian production dropping and a cold winter last year, we need more than we are getting.

  12. justeunperdant says:

    Another indicator of societal collapse could be societal insanity. One commentator on here mentioned that and I thought it makes sense. We are now at peak insanity. Expect to see more and more insane things around you as civilization collapses. In fact things are collapsing around us but few people can see it. Here is a example on societal insanity :.

    SB 967, amended last week by state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), would mandate that college students obtain “an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.”

    Last month, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a list of 55 schools that face federal probes into their handling of sexual assault cases. De Leon said his bill is meant to confront sexual assault problems head-on.

    “Obviously, there is a problem,” he said in the report. “SB 967 will change the equation so the system is not stacked against survivors by establishing an affirmative consent policy to make it clear that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes.'”

    According to the language of the bill, “consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter, and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”

    Despite the bill’s noble intentions, not everyone is sold on the proposed legislation.

    In an article for, attorney Hans Bader argues the language of the proposed law could make ordinary people out to be sexual criminals.

    “Since most people have engaged in sex without verbal consent, supporters of the bill are effectively redefining most people, and most happily-married couples, as rapists,” he said.

    Bader goes even further, saying the law could violate individual privacy rights:

    Requiring people to have verbal discussion before sex violates their privacy rights, under the logic of Supreme Court decisions such as Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down Texas’ sodomy law, and federal appeals court decisions like Wilson v. Taylor (1984), which ruled that dating relationships are protected against unwarranted meddling by the Constitutional freedom of intimate association.

    The proposed law would require all college campuses to adopt a uniform policy “concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.” Schools that fail to adhere to the policy would not be eligible to receive state funds for student financial assistance.

    The bill passed the state Senate on May 29 by a vote of 27-9. It heads to the Assembly next for further consideration.

    • At one point, women lived in “girls’ dorms” and there were housemothers. Things change.

      Earlier, and still in some parts of the world, there were arranged marriages and not much education for girls.

      Now, we have lawyers who make a living suing people. So I suppose this is a work-around for that problem. Maybe someone will offer a related insurance policy.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Gail and All
        I am very sympathetic to anyone who has been raped or threatened. I’m even sympathetic to people who feel they have to marry someone they don’t love just to get financial security.

        But we are approaching the point of maximum silliness in terms of relationships between males and females and the law.

        Full disclosure: 45 years ago my wife liked to run and yell and I had to chase her. One time I didn’t catch her quite quickly enough for her taste, she turned, ran straight at me, jumped, and knocked me on my back. I didn’t walk upright for a week. So I think there are hidden benefits to negotiating contracts to have sex and getting them notarized. But the gains are not without costs.

        There is a current legal case at Duke. A senior from Australia is here on a student visa. Last fall, a freshman girl filed a sexual assault complaint. The police investigated but brought no charges. You may remember the infamous Lacrosse team incident where a relatively poor black stripper claimed that she was raped by the team. It all finally fell apart, after much fireworks in the press centering on ‘spoiled rotten rich white boys’ and ‘poor, downtrodden black women’. In the current case, the issue seems to hinge on whether the girl was ‘conscious’ when the sex act occurred. (I suppose heavy drinking had been involved). There is conflicting testimony. Anyway, Duke used some new procedures to deny the senior the privilege of graduating. His visa will expire shortly, and he can’t stay in the US. The senior had filed a ‘breach of contract’ suit against Duke. A judge has ruled that Duke can’t refuse to give him a degree, but agreed to let the matter go to trial. Both sides claim victory. But Duke can win simply by refusing to go to an expedited trial, which means that the senior will be back in Australia.

        The student has a lucrative job lined up with a financial firm (I think rape and pillage are assets you put on your resume when applying for financial jobs). So what he wants is for Duke to give him his diploma and get out of his life. Duke claims that they are being hassled by the US government, and need to ‘get tough’ on sexual cases…oh, and they are also interested in Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

        What a mess…Don Stewart

        • Calista says:

          Any drugs removes “capacity” to consent in a sexual situation. This is the legal standard. This needs to be drummed into every junior high student. Consent can be given and then withdrawn, this is true and true even in marriage. We do not teach this in our magazines, movies, stories, TV or even in our marriages. My husband says yes and then gets up to close the window because it is raining, trips on something and tweaks his back and his back is now in spasm. I have NO right to sex with him until he says yes, again, and that might be a bit because his back is giving him so much pain. Such is life and respect for another human.

          • ordinaryjoe says:

            Ok the liability is clear how do you CYA? There needs legal consent forms available that express consent of both parties for a appropriate time period. Whether this was an hour or a decade would be up to the signees. Otherwise I want a insurance policy, Im sure the insurance companies would be glad to oblige, no driving uninsured 🙂 How about if your dating someone who is taking anti depressants that make them loopier than the fruit loop parrot, are they unable to give legal consent?

      • xabier says:

        And notorious over-production of lawyers today, they have to be quite creative in finding work for themselves.

    • xabier says:

      Suggested verbal exchange:



      It’s all in the tone. But then I’m not a lawyer.

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        Your honor consent was clearly and uniquivicaly communicated in the expression of rising tone dipthong!

        • Calista says:

          ROFL, it would be hilarious if it didn’t point out a serious problem in our society. Sadly it really only is the good men that respect women that would stop for such a thing. It makes me wish for smaller communities where her dad and brothers would have whooped the young man pretty badly if he’d dared do such a thing. On some level this makes me question why we hand over so much of our personal agency or community agency ie the ability take things into our own hands but instead it is given to the courts, to the legal system, to “them” when “them” aren’t funded nearly as well as we need “them” to be to investigate crimes, to have a police presence in the community, etc. etc. I wonder what people will take agency for first? I wonder if that is maybe the key to much of this is gaining personal agency and personal responsibility. You are responsible for finding, getting and making sure your water is clean and in enough volume to cook with and wash with. You are responsible for keeping your family warm or cool as it may be. The system takes away so much agency these days I think that type of thinking is one of our major problems. If one thinks in terms of one’s own agency then one begins to negotiate relationships within your community directly instead of mediated or through “them” whatever that may be in your area. I wonder if being responsible in a different mindset and way of interacting would help. *tiltin at windmills again, I know*

          • ordinaryjoe says:

            “I wonder if that is maybe the key to much of this is gaining personal agency and personal responsibility. You are responsible for finding, getting and making sure your water is clean and in enough volume to cook with and wash with. You are responsible for keeping your family warm or cool as it may be. The system takes away so much agency these days I think that type of thinking is one of our major problems. If one thinks in terms of one’s own agency then one begins to negotiate relationships within your community directly instead of mediated or through “them” whatever that may be in your area. ”
            These are exceptional thoughts that transcend several layers deep on the subject we are talking about.. Trust and community it cant be legislated it can only be created by the participants.

    • edpell says:

      I feel a Monte Python bit coming on. Two young people passionately kissing, the man stops and asks the women to sign a consent documents and two additional riders for….

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear edpell
        Several years ago there was a very funny scene in a movie with Priscilla Presley and Leslie Nielsen, The Naked Gun. They decide to have sex. An inviting bed is in front of them. But they agree to have ‘safe sex’, so both disappear for a while. They come back into the room through separate doors, dressed like space station guys going for a walk outside in space.

        Sex has always been dangerous, and probably always will be. For one thing, it encourages people to fall in love…which we know leads them to do things that no sensible accountant would do. Besides that it generates jealousy, infatuation, hatred, etc., etc.

        Don Stewart

        • InAlaska says:

          “Sex has always been dangerous, and probably always will be.” Now you’re on to something. College campuses notwithstanding, there is no such thing as safe sex. It can be both sacred and profane, part of marriage or not. Every army that ever walked also raped. Men rape their wives and vice versa. When the act is completed if the two parties involved don’t feel that they’ve engaged the universe at a very fundamental level, then they really weren’t there. Sex is dangerous and always will be and any attempts to institutionalize it, legalize it, or insure it against loss: is futile, silly, peak insanity. I like Calista’s remark about old fashion justice for infractions the best.

    • Christian says:


      Looks like they are investing in more complexity to abate intercourse, is it they subconsciously get the population point? It’s curious, because it looks like a very short very old fashioned marriage, where a signature allows intercourse and is also “mandatory”, in the sense traditionally monotheistic -at least- women should not avoid their husband’s desire. This applies too to the XXI century case? Once you’ve signed you can’t withdraw?

    • dashui says:

      Everybody should do what I do and videotape everything.

  13. VPK says:

    On a more hopeful note;
    Preparing for a uncertain future….Permaculture with Peter Bane, editor of the Permaculture Activist and The Permaculture Handbook

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  15. Siobhan says:

    Scientists vindicate ‘Limits to Growth’ – urge investment in ‘circular economy
    Early warning of civilisational collapse by early to mid 21st century startlingly prescient – but opportunity for transition open

    Part 1
    Exhaustion of cheap mineral resources is terraforming Earth – scientific report
    Soaring costs of resource extraction require transition to post-industrial ‘circular economy’ to avoid collapse

    • Paul says:

      “If we insist in investing most of what remains for fossil fuels; then we are truly doomed. Yet I think that we still have time to manage the transition. To counter depletion, we must invest a substantial amount of the remaining resources in renewable energy and efficient recycling technologies – things which are not subjected to depletion. And we need to do that before is too late, that is before the energy return on investment of fossil fuels has declined so much that we have nothing left to invest.”

      I am not aware of any energy source that is renewable… solar, wind, hydro — they all would not exist without fossil fuels.

    • InAlaska says:

      This is a good survey of the best “optimist” thinking. It actually made me feel hopeful (Heaven forbid!). What doesn’t make me feel hopeful is imagining that our current political system would allow such an energy and economic transition to take place.

    • Thanks! Those are good articles. I know Ugo Bardi from The Oil Drum. Mineral ores are indeed becoming more depleted.

  16. VPK says:

    An old Irish saying is “A Happy Home is where the roof doe not leak and the pantry is full of food.

    Each ton of asphalt shingles contain a barrel of oil and an average roof has 3 tons of shingles.
    Each tire contains about 7 gallons of oil.

    Do the math. It won’t take log t have a lot of unhappy families.

    • Thanks! I hadn’t seen that one. I wonder if the day will come when someone takes up roads, to try to recycle them into oil? (As long as we can afford to keep the roads, it won’t happen though.) There is less asphalt being made now, because more if it is being “cracked” and turned into liquid fuels.

      • VPK says:

        In Medieval times the remaining populations did retrieve building materials from ancient structures, such as, temples and roadways to use as building blocks.
        The typical asphalt roof lasts about 20-30 years here before needing replacement. I do not know how many have experience a real leaky roof, but after a certain period of time of patching and fixing, one just gives up. I can envision all the homes I pass during my drives at a ticking time bomb. I believe roofs will be a major contributing factor in the demise of humans.
        It really doesn’t take long for a “developed” nation to revert to a 3rd world country.

        • kesar says:

          Good point. This is why I design a house with 70-100 years utilisation period (most elements are as low-tech as possible and durable at the same time – almost no maintenance works required). Today’s most common design standards assume 25-30 years before remodelling/refurbishment.

          • Just make sure that the house in a place people will want to live 70 to 100 years from now. If all the jobs are gone, and no food is available, the house still won’t be used.

            • kesar says:

              You know I can’t be sure of anything. I and all my realtives might be dead in 10 years depending on how things will unravel. I just do what I can at the moment. It gives me a lot of fun.
              My project includes self-reliancy in food, hygine, culture and much more. I prepare the same environment as Paul is doing, but in Europe. I know that it might, and probably will, be dangerous place to live at some point in time, but I can’t leave my family and friends. Again, I do what I can expecting many risks and obstacles. On top of this I don’t believe life will be worth living in hardcore scenarios, so there is always the final solution.

            • Calista says:

              I have a theory on this. If we look to historical settlement patterns, 1600s for example we see that people settled on trading routes, locations with good soil and access to water, confluences of rivers, etc. etc. I would look to a home or place that was actually settled in that timeframe. I would adjust for sealevel rises and cross off spots that are already short of water. I’m located right where a great number of native american settlements or gatherings took place on an annual or semi-annual basis. I figure if nothing else this is the location that will have food, energy, transport even if we fall back to extremely basic population levels. It may be a wrong-headed or short sighted theory but I don’t come up with much more than to look where there are still resources that could support a population and move there and attempt to build a community with knowledge of hard work and basic understanding of physics, biology, etc.

        • You are probably are right. In the South, asphalt roofs last a shorter time than elsewhere, making the problem worse.

          In the South, treatments to prevent termite damage are also a necessity, or the wooden buildings will fall away into dust. That makes another problem.

          I understand typhoid was a problem in the South years ago. I expect that problem could come back as well.

        • xabier says:


          I’ve seen a fair number of very old, quite recently abandoned rural houses in Spain: big, solid places, well-built, two or even three levels. They hold up very well until the roof tiles start to go, then it’s all over quite quickly – rotting internal wood, fragmenting walls. Very soon they are totally uninhabitable and very expensive to repair. One village had been inhabited since at least the Romans, but all destroyed in our time…..

          I’ve also been round a failed development in the woods my cousins built some time ago – most properties abandoned but some were lived in by people who can’t do much to maintain them – you are right, it looked pretty ‘3rd World’. But I rather liked the trees pushing up strongly through the asphalt roads and paths, the way I like self-seeded trees here, I just dig out the ones I don’t want.

          I’d certainly go with good heavy tile roofs: the one here is 70 years old and still fine with no repairs (fingers crossed!).

  17. andre h says:

    I think you do great work ; your articles are well researched and thoguhtful.

    I am a ‘peak oiler’ and have been for a while. I have unforunately made my own mistakes in calling the “peak” in oil. I fear you are doing the same with your prediction.

    My rationale is as follows:
    – humankind is deeply addicted to liquid petroleum fuels. The proft from exploitation is immense. So “economic man” is constantly developing ways to innovate and extract for profit. Shale is a perfect example.

    – I agree withy your push-pull thesis on oil pricing (ie we can’t afford to produce and we cant afford to buy). This is really the moment we are in now where oil prices stay stubbornly high but aggregate demand stays modestly low. Oil approach the 2006 (2007?) gogo, pre-crisis years but aggregate demand is not close. But what this indicates about the production forecast is that we are living in a “slow burn” cycle where no precipitous decline is likely; rather its where prices inch higher and demand destruction inevitably occurrs. The only clear picture is economic activity will be subdued by the “oil tax.”

    – where I disagree is that these converging problems will accellerate or contribute to the decline in oil production. I agree in long cycles. I understand the credit crisis etc. But what that means is that aggregate demand will get a shock. People panic. Oil consumption (in the developed world) will fall, temporarily. Production will be suspended, temporarily. Then some government printing press will resume via a stimuls bill and along with easy credit and eventually there will be higer oil prices than today but with lower consumption. (Of course if there is a true emergency panic where dollars are useless, ATMs dont funciton etc than all bets are off – but I dont see that for 2015. Its a possibility (low) but my gut says we are years away decade from that scenario.)

    So If I were to modify your chart I would suggest a long plateau, with a flat to marginally declining production over time. This is still peak oil. This just overlays other economic realities, pricncples and behaviors atop of it.

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  20. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Here is some recommended reading from Dave Pollard. Click on each of the three essays. Will take about 15 minutes total to scan, a lifetime to study.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks!

    • InAlaska says:

      Don, I found this 3 part series to be well-written, but with nothing really new in it. Mostly a review of what others have already postulated, perhaps integrated into one. There was a lot from Chris Martenson, JH Kunstler, Nicole Foss, the Archdruid, etc. One part that I did not agree with was his predictions in part 3, where mass migrations of people northward would encounter various coping strategies. Instead I think there will be a quick and massive die-off from starvation with no government refugee camps handing out rations, nor small resilient communities. Once it starts to collapse, I believe it will be all the way down. The system is too interdependent to allow for spotty, localized, small scale collapses. I did like the part about folks living in boreal or subpolar regions having the best chance for survival. I did enjoy the graphics on how the three End Games are interrelated. That was perhaps the best part of the presentation. Thanks.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear InAlaska
        I recommended mostly as a crisp packaging of lots of the ideas which are discussed here.

        In my ‘less than massive’ research on the communication of predictions about complex systems, I find it relatively rare to get a sense of how the whole complex system works. On this blog, we spend a lot of time when someone suggests a solution to a small part of the problem and thinks that the whole problem is solved. Another example is when people pick apart climate models and think that, having cast doubt on one particular part, they have discredited the whole. Which has led people like James Hansen and, apparently, the South Dakota speaker at Limits to Growth, to use simple historical records as the best way to communicate.

        John Michael Greer may be thought of as someone who uses the ‘simple historical record’ which leads him to a long, slow decline. Dave Pollard neatly gives us the bones of a complex system analysis which supports the notion that ‘this time may be different’.

        To think about: Back when Limits to Growth was published, people tended to trust computers. There were TV shows with computers prominently displayed, frequently with a pretty girl retrieving a card from a card sorting machine or some other stunt. Taking nothing away from the quantitative work that the LTG team did, do you find the fact that a computer crunched some numbers to be more convincing than the graphs? Are you more convinced by Pollard’s use of flow charts plus some words? Can anything at all convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced (as Einstein in the face of the quantum physics revolution)?

        It’s an interesting intellectual challenge.

        Thanks for reading…Don Stewart

        • edpell says:

          Don, the original LTG book clearly states the program is just an educational example. They had no expectation they would be accurately predictive. I have played around with the simulation at various times and I find it is very finicky to initial conditions. I am amazed it is so accurate now 40+ years out.

          • InAlaska says:

            Don, edpell,
            Yes, I also find it amazing that the original LTG predictive model has been so accurate. It is perhaps a function of not trying to crowd too many variables into one program. Since they left out financial complexity, that certainly made the model simpler. Somehow, I do trust those computer numbers and the write up afterwords contains no “spin.” I wonder if today’s super computers would do as well.

            • There is an updated model that is in my view not good at all. It tries to take the ultimate recoverable amounts estimated by Jean LaHerrere (for oil, gas, and coal) and spread them out to the future. The financial system is still left out in. Renewables are put in in huge amounts. The amounts in Jorgen Randers’ book 2052 still do not match this output, though–they are higher numbers, that Randers “selected,” as far as I can see.

  21. J.R. says:

    “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.”

    Probably one of the stupidest, ill-conceived “arguments” that I have ever read. First off, you interject conjecture and straw arguments, along with the assumption that a “higher power” even cares about the planetary / humanitarian / ecological / resource “crisis”. All based on what – your conjecture and ill-understanding of physics and how the universe REALLY works?

    Aren’t you smart enough to realize that by dangling such absolute nonsense in front of superstitious ignorant fools that you are only fostering more stupidity?

    Suggest you go obtain an EDUCATION even if it is self-directed (it’s called research the topics you write about) before spewing such crap before the swine herd.

    FOR THE RECORD – all this useless talk about how we’re going to avoid COLLAPSE is a waste of breath, space and time. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Far too late for that and astute observers know this is a certain as the rising sun. Depletion, destruction, pollution, degradation, extinction and overpopulation combined with dependence and increasing complexity ALL being driven by oil energy = COLLAPSE rather soon. The simple facts are we can’t keep doing this – yet that is EXACTLY what we’re “trying” to do, while doing absolutely NOTHING to save ourselves (except cater to stupid comments like the one you wrote above).

    Well, get down on your knees BROTHER and pray to the Almighty! Can I hear an AMEN to THAT??? And while your down there awaiting for ETERNITY for the answers that NEVER come, you might want to do some serious self-reflection and ask this question: WHAT HAVE I DONE?

    Are you prepared for what lies ahead? Is ANYONE? Is it necessary? Is it avoidable? If you’re not sure, then stop writing this blog immediately because you are absolutely CLUELESS about what is unfolding and the IMMUTABLE FACT that it is completely UNAVOIDABLE NOW.

    The only “salvation” as it were, to be found in any of this, will not be in government, or institutions, or the machinations of man and the continued reliance upon technology and infrastructure and all things that go “civilization” (which all lead to collapse, since civilization is virtually incompatible with planetary health). Humanity cannot save itself – or escape, but will have to endure IF AT ALL POSSIBLE (which is actually highly doubtful now). But there will be NO MAGICAL RESCUE from any quarter or invisible Sky God or Universal Deity.

    We’re (the survivors) going back to the Dark Ages, unfortunately, and the crap you just shared will help ensure that happens (religious stupidity and ignorance) – instead of a more enlightened (if less plentiful) time.

    • sheilach2 says:

      I think it was rather cruel & unnecessary to call Gail stupid. All evidence shows that the universe began with a singularity that violently expanded. What existed before the “big bang”? My guess is a super giant black hole that finally had ingested more than it could restrain & imploded creating another universe- ours.

      I am quite certain there is no “higher power”, no “god” no “gods”, no ‘supreme being” as there has never been any evidence to support the existence of such a being & I think those who still believe in such things need to get an education in biology, medicine, geology, paleontology, paleoanthropology & astronomy.
      Anything that is suppose to exist outside our reality can’t exist in our reality or affect our reality.

      Just learning about some of the genetic diseases & defects should be enough to convince anyone that if such a thing as a “god” existed, it’s a cruel monster not worthy of our respect.

      It seems that economists also exist outside of reality as their calculations do not include depletion of resources & infinite substitution & growth. Talk about being out of this world!

      I do think that after the dust settles, the few survivors could have a 18 century lifestyle. The problem is what else might survive our collapse? Chickens, geese, horses, cattle, sheep, goats etc, important domesticated animals will be needed to provide clothing, work, milk, meat, eggs, weed eating, transportation etc.
      How much will be killed by the bush meat hunters? If they have to go on foot, more wildlife could survive.
      When I use Google earth I can see how much land is filled with humans & their works, I can see people living in suburbia & in the cities would have a very VERY long walk to reach anyplace with a farm or wildland. Any wildland near a city would be wiped out, more remote, difficult places could be a refuge.
      A good book to read about how people lived before the industrial revolution is “The forgotten arts & crafts” by John Seymour.

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        “I am quite certain there is no “higher power”, no “god” no “gods”, no ‘supreme being” as there has never been any evidence to support the existence of such a being”

        You can be as certain as you like but that doesn’t make it so. I was an atheist vis a vis my father’s influence until a near death experience. I guess everybody has to form their own opinion but I’m just as certain we each have a consciousness that will continue to exist beyond this life. It is fairly universal that people that have a near death experience come away with a similar viewpoint.

        • That is one of several things that supports the view that there is a God.

          • timl2k11 says:

            Not really. I had an NDE and do not presume that any of the hallucinations I had support the existence of a god. NDEs have been researched pretty extensively, when are brains are deprived of oxygen we hallucinate all sorts of things, there is a certain area of the brain that seems to be responsible for the most common hallucinations. It can be stimulated in healthy people and they have “NDEs”. “Near death” doesn’t even make sense. You are either dead or you aren’t. Just my two cents.

    • Don’t know what side of the bed you got on J.R., but I found “your” reply to Gail to be the most worthless reply on this topic. In fact, it the tone of what you wrote is any indication of your perception of reality, then why did you even bother getting up? I can think of a number of events that might alter our future path for the better…and for many…possible even redirecting from societal collapse to a broadened prosperity.

      Gail does meticulous research and reports what she finds…combined with her own perspective on many of the apparent conclusions (and replies on same)…which as the blogger she has every right to do. Based on your reply, I can’t imagine why you would invest any time whatsoever in reading Gail’s blog, not to mention post such a demeaning and spiteful reply. Everyone draws their own conclusions anyway about the information and views presented…as I’m sure they will, as I just did, about your reply.

    • InAlaska says:

      JR, I think that Gail’s intention with her discussion of a higher power was to use it as a vehicle to describe how absolutely hopeless is our predicament. This blog site is a place for civil discussion not rude insults. In the future, please refrain.

    • kesar says:

      Gail is a host here and we all are guests. Do you behave like this visiting anyone’s house? By throwing insults? Calm down and behave. Aggression is the expression of internal frustration, which in your case must be very deep.

    • xabier says:

      Nothing more ignorant than bad manners and arrogance…..

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      J.R., that is by far the most arrogant post I’ve ever read. Go F yourself!

    • Dave Ranning says:

      Don’t poke the sheeple, they need their story and myth to feel comfortable and safe in a groundless and emergent world.
      When “Higher Powers” are involved, forget critical thinking and reason.
      It is scary and uncertain, and we can’t take than small bit of comfort away, no matter how delusional and dangerous.

      • kesar says:

        I wish you all the best with your comfort. The more people believe in BAU, the longer it will last. And this is quite comforting for me too.

    • Lizzy says:

      Thing is, JR, many very intelligent and educated people believe in God. I used to think that they were “stupid” or uneducated, or both; then I did some more reading and learning. I still don’t agree with them but I realise that they know they’re right, just as much as you know they’re wrong. There’s a good book called “The history of God” by Karen Armstrong that is very enlightening.

      • I don’t cut out commenters completely unless I can see that they will be a continuing problem. I put them on “moderation.” Some authors do this for all commenters. I review their comments for a while, before I let them post without moderation. Otherwise, the site gets over-run with endless arguments. Discussions about god are a way to get endless arguments regardless.

  22. Siobhan says:

    Spend $2 trillion or risk power blackouts
    LONDON (CNNMoney)
    The lights could be going out across Europe unless it finds a way to stimulate massive new investment in energy infrastructure.

    That’s the stark warning contained in a new study by the International Energy Agency, which monitors global supply trends for 29 of the world’s richest nations.

    Europe needs to spend $2 trillion developing its power industry over the next 20 years, and fix its broken energy markets.

    “If this situation persists, the reliability of European electricity supply will be put at risk,” the IEA said in its World Energy Investment Outlook, the first report of its kind in more than a decade.

    Link to download the Executive summary of the report:,86234,en.html

    Link to download the Full report (190 pages) is available here:,86205,en.html

    • xabier says:

      Surely the near future likely holds a massive contraction in power infrastructure. This is one of the great strength’s of Gail’s analysis – the huge costs implicit in keeping the current infrastructure going, let alone making any modifications to deal with ‘renewables’ etc.

      I was watching work being done here on installing new cables: the workers certainly wouldn’t have been able to do a thing without the fossil fuel economy – one big truck had great difficulty reaching the spot, and they also had three Land Rovers.

      I noticed they were packed full of tools and parts – where were they manufactured? Asia no doubt. And the parts to keep the vehicles running? My eyes turned to view the new wind turbines 4 miles away with no little irony: are they really the Future? And the old 16th century windmill (now a house) on the hill I was standing on.

      Turning up in the future with a cart and ladder and getting the local blacksmith and joiner in won’t work very well, but it would have worked with that mill……. Someone like me could have been drafted in to help with moving the wooden parts, not much skill needed for that.

      Europeans could immediately ban the use of air-conditioning, until very recently unknown in Southern Europe but now causing huge surges in power demand in the summer months. But, oh dear, they’ve built so many silly modernist glass and concrete boxes that they’d just fry inside them without it, unlike the old style of architecture.

    • Thanks. This is a link to another article, talking about the same issue.

      I was pleasantly surprised to figure out that the download of the IEA report is free. Their reports are usually expensive.

  23. ordinaryjoe says:

    Im good for about two tons myself. My body would fall apart if I did it every day.

    How many tons did that sixteen tons move?

  24. I especially agree with the “help from a higher power” concept, although it is my opinion that, rather than help us adapt to the transition, the best option might be to give the cosmic Etch-a-Sketch a good shake and start from scratch.

  25. justeunperdant says:

    Another example of natural ressource depletion. How many mineral are in this situation . Propably much more than we think,

    Questa mine permanently closed, 300 laid off

    Chevron Mining has permanently closed its Questa molybdenum mine, citing low market prices and increasing operational costs.

    The closure was announced at an employee meeting Monday morning (June 2). Mine officials say the closure included about 300 layoffs. Employees will be paid and receive benefits for 60 days, as required by federal law.

    “It’s really an economic decision,” said David Partridge, president and CEO of Chevron Mining, in an interview outside the mine’s mill site Monday.

    Partridge said the Questa mine is nearly 100 year old, meaning the highest quality, easy get to ore was extracted long ago. Recently, the only mining happening in Questa was underground, which is expensive — both in terms of getting miners to the ore and getting it out to be processed.

    • hebertmw says:

      On all the sites that I watch that cover gold and silver, there is consistent talk that the mines are being shut down due to low prices and higher mining costs. So you are right, I would say almost all minerals and mining are now lost and very well might never get extracted.

      I am just now reading the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and I can’t find any data on this collapse of mining mentioned by Gibbon. But the index to the editions I am reading are not helpful in this regard. I wonder if this happened in other societies that ended up in collapse?

      • Certainly for a time, mining must have stopped, because of government problems and lack of workers, if nothing else. A new civilization could have started the mining back up again.

      • Christian says:

        Not exactly for mining but for diminishing returns in the whole society you can look at The Collapse of Complex Societies, by Peter Turchin

        • Paul says:

          I understand that in some mining towns the tailings are being given a second going over to extract minerals — because what they used to throw away is cheaper to work with than pulling new rock out of the ground.

        • The Collapse of Complex Societies is by Joseph Tainter. Peter Turcin is the lead author of Secular Cycles, a more recent book.

    • Thanks! The time when mines get closed is when prices are low.

  26. Christian says:

    Gail, or any other, I don’t completely understand US NG market. It looks like the general price is 4, but there are some imports as well, from Canada and LNG. While overseas share is very modic, I assume it is payed 15 or more, but how could it compete with the other? And Canada’s? 4 too?

    I ask this because the system is different here. National state controlls the gas market dictating both prices between: a) producers and distributors, b) distributors and consumers. And after that they “correct” with subsides. Now they are trying to boost fracking paying for it 6-7 USD (against 2,5 for conventional domestic, 11 for conventional gas from Bolivia and ~17 for overseas LNG). Distributors allways pay 2,5 (because national conventional still holds the main share) and where needed the difference comes from the state tresaury. In fact, LNG and Bolivia purchases are directly made by the state and sold at a discount to distributors. (Finally, they give to distributors a fraction of the consumer’s bill -and print a huge legend on it: “National State Subsided”). I mean, how are different origin prices put togheter in the US? Because I suppose these differences exist

    Regarding shale gas development, the central policy is to pay it more than conventional (may be they know your work Gail) under the generical term of “new gas” = new wells = fracking. Thus they got 400 shale wells the first year, although this could speed up somewhat since the recent arrangement reached with Repsol regarding YPF shares nationalized a couple years ago, situation wich distressed foreign investment. In fact, DoE subsecretary visited Vaca Muerta last month.

    • Natural gas prices in the US are set by markets. What little LNG is imported is imported under long-term contracts, with prices set long ago, when people thought the US would badly need imported natural gas.

      The US and Canada are set up as a single pipeline system. As a practical matter, much natural gas in Canada is produced in the West. It is piped southward, into the United States, since that is what works best with the topography. Canadian producers can only get what price is available in the US, because that is where their gas goes by pipeline. (Of course some goes to Canada as well.)

      There are different costs of producing gas. Some gas is close to “free” because it is a byproduct of producing oil. Other is more expensive. Once a well is in place, it generally will continue to produce, regardless of what happens to the price. So quite a bit of NG production will continue regardless of how low the price is.

      The price of natural gas tends to be very sensitive to the balance between supply and demand (not the cost of extracting the gas). This happens because there is very little flexibility in the natural gas system. There is a modest amount of storage space for winter, but it is hard to add more storage space. Gas that is pumped pretty much has to be stored or burned. If gas production is too high, by even a small amount (say 2%), prices will drop way down, to try to get rid of the excess. There is some switching of electricity production between gas and coal, but otherwise, natural gas usage doesn’t change much, regardless of price. (People don’t heat their homes warmer, just because the price is low, for example.) The electricity switching goes back to coal, if natural gas prices are much above $4 or $4.50, so it is hard to do much with the extra natural gas if the prices rise very much.

      Many producers are unhappy with the price they are getting for natural gas. Use of drilling rigs has dropped down. US natural gas production is barely increasing. Canadian natural gas production is dropping, so to some extent, US natural gas production must increase, just to keep up with this decrease. I saw this interesting post on US natural gas today.

    • Thanks! Islands have a particular problem with creating electricity. Traditionally, they have used oil, because it was easy to transport and because it is fairly inexpensive to build oil generation plants. With oil in short supply, it is a problem to know what to do.

  27. Paul says:

    Coasting Towards Zero

    In just about any realm of activity this nation does not know how to act. We don’t know what to do about our mounting crises of economy. We don’t know what to do about our relations with other nations in a strained global economy. We don’t know what to do about our own culture and its traditions, the useful and the outworn. We surely don’t know what to do about relations between men and women. And we’re baffled to the point of paralysis about our relations with the planetary ecosystem.

    To allay these vexations, we just coast along on the momentum generated by the engines in place — the turbo-industrial flow of products to customers without the means to buy things; the gigantic infrastructures of transport subject to remorseless decay; the dishonest operations of central banks undermining all the world’s pricing and cost structures; the political ideologies based on fallacies such as growth without limits; the cultural transgressions of thought-policing and institutional ass-covering.

    This is a society in deep danger that doesn’t want to know it. The nostrum of an expanding GDP is just statistical legerdemain performed to satisfy stupid news editors, gull loose money into reckless positions, and bamboozle the voters. If we knew how to act we would bend every effort to prepare for the end of mass motoring, but instead we indulge in fairy tales about the “shale oil miracle” because it offers the comforting false promise that we can drive to WalMart forever (in self-driving cars!). Has it occurred to anyone that we no longer have the capital to repair the vast network of roads, streets, highways, and bridges that all these cars are supposed to run on? Or that the capital will not be there for the installment loans Americans are accustomed to buy their cars with?

    The global economy is withering quickly because it was just a manifestation of late-stage cheap oil. Now we’re in early-stage of expensive oil and a lot of things that seemed to work wonderfully well before, don’t work so well now. The conveyer belt of cheap manufactured goods from China to the WalMarts and Target stores doesn’t work so well when the American customers lose their incomes, and have to spend their government stipends on gasoline because they were born into a world where driving everywhere for everything is mandatory, and because central bank meddling adds to the horrendous inflation of food prices.

    Now there’s great fanfare over a “manufacturing renaissance” in the United States, based on the idea that the work will be done by robots. What kind of foolish Popular Mechanics porn fantasy is this? If human beings have only a minor administrative role in this set-up, what do two hundred million American adults do for a livelihood? And who exactly are the intended customers of these products? You can be sure that the people of China, Brazil, and Korea will have enough factories of their own, making every product imaginable. Are they going to buy our stuff now? Are they going to completely roboticize their own factories and impoverish millions of their own factory workers?

    The lack of thought behind this dynamic is staggering, especially because it doesn’t account for the obvious political consequence — which is to say the potential for uprising, revolution, civic disorder, cruelty, mayhem, and death, along with the kind of experiments in psychopathic governance that the 20th century was a laboratory for. Desperate populations turn to maniacs. You can be sure that scarcity beats a fast path to mass homicide.

    What preoccupies the USA now, in June of 2014? According to the current cover story Time Magazine, the triumph of “transgender.” Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate sexual confusion as the latest and greatest achievement of this culture? No wonder the Russians think we’re out of our minds and want to dissociate from the West. I’ve got news for the editors of Time Magazine: the raptures of sexual confusion are not going to carry American civilization forward into the heart of this new century.

    In fact, just the opposite. We don’t need confusion of any kind. We need clarity and an appreciation of boundaries in every conceivable sphere of action and thought. We don’t need more crybabies, or excuses, or wishful thinking, or the majestic ass-covering that colors the main stream of our national life.

  28. Don Stewart says:

    Here is another example of using some fossil fuels to do some work which produces capital. The capital, in this case, is both carbon sequestration and also increased biological activity in grasslands. The experiment was done in California.

    ‘Silver and Ryals wanted to know: Would greenhouse gas emissions rise in comparison to a companion plot that didn’t receive an application of compost? Would carbon sequestration be stimulated? And would the net effect be one of sequestration or emission?

    …The researchers applied a single layer of compost to test plots (paired with control units) at the two sites and then monitored the results over the next three years. As they expected, the manure boosted plant productivity and raised soil respiration by 20 percent (for CO2 only, however). To their surprise, the sustained increases of plant growth lasted for three years, with no sign of diminishing effects. Even more surprisingly, data showed that the increase in plant production significantly offset elevated soil respiration from microbial actity in five of the six paired plots. In other words, more atmospheric CO2 went into the soil than came back out—a lot more.’

    I imagine that the compost was made by collecting trucks full of waste material and then turning that material with machinery. The finished compost was then trucked to the site and probably applied with machinery.

    ‘There are 60 million acres of rangeland in California, and if 50 percent were available for carbon sequestration, up to 40 metric tons of CO2 per year could be removed from the atmosphere, which is roughly equivalent to the total amount of CO2 produced by the state’s commercial and residential sectors.’ Also, much of the waste would have been diverted from landfills, where it forms methane, a greenhouse gas.

    These sorts of activities make sense so long as we have fossil fuels and the industrial infrastructure to produce the machines. If fossil fuels and industrial infrastructure disappear, then the waste stream will probably also disappear (along with the humans who produce it). In the absence of large populations and waste streams, then the fate of the grasslands is uncertain. Domesticated cattle probably could not survive predation without human protection, so the grasslands might turn into deserts. Alternatively, the cattle might regain their ‘African savannah’ instincts rapidly enough to survive and the grasslands would regrow into a carbon rich soil filled with life. But what makes sense today is to do these kinds of things to avoid desertification and to increase productivity and to sequester carbon.

    Don Stewart

    • sheilach2 says:

      There are breeds of cattle that can take care of themselves without human help. The Highland, long horn, the white park & some others & of course our native “cow”, the Bison & in Europe, the Wisent..
      There will be hordes of wild pigs, dog packs, wild horses, donkeys, camels, sheep & goats surviving. Most domesticated breeds are unfit to survive in the wild & they will become extinct.

      Too much of metal waste is steel, & a low tech society cannot melt steel & even iron will be difficult to forge into steel. Perhaps steel can be cut & bent into plow shares & heated enough to make knives, hoes & horse shoes.

      The future will not be what we envisioned back in the 1900 when everyone was suppose to have a flying car, robots to serve every need & everyone was well put to enjoy a comfortable, high tech life.

      • wadosy says:

        i’d be willing to bet that the wild meat will go extinct before we run out of guns, ammo and humans

        …speaking as and elk and deer hunter in northeast oregon when i was younger… hills infested with city people… but maybe most people wont have gas enough to get to the hunting grounds

        but the market hunters will

  29. Barbara Carter says:

    Great article, Gail.

    Regarding regeneration after collapse, you say metals would be hard to get and most folk are fossil fuel and electricity dependent and aquifers would be low. I don’t quite follow these points. We’re talking about the 5% of people that survive, aren’t we? These are the ones who can do things in old fashioned ways: tribal cultures, people with blacksmithing skills (charcoal heating) who could re-use old car bodies, etc, of which there will be plenty, and who could live near rivers (no need for aquifers).

    • If the population is low enough, the remaining population can indeed move away from the aquifers we currently depending on. (A lot of people would like to think most people can survive–but that is likely not true.) The water in the rivers won’t be very clean though, compared to that from wells. Rainwater can also be gathered.

      If the metals can be bent into new shapes in a person’s hand, or with hammers, that should work for a while. But recycling with heat takes quite a bit of fuel. Even with 5% of the world’s population, we would run into deforestation problems if we tried to use much charcoal for metal processing. And there is loss in metals as they are used and recycled. The method can work for a while, before it stops working. Recycling can’t be used to make high tech equipment (like computers) that requires complex equipment, however. It probably can’t be used even for things needing very sharp edges, like razor blades. It might work for wheelbarrows and simple things.

  30. This comment is very long. My apologies. To comment at all, I find need to lay out ‘an argument’ and don’t have opportunity to share my thinking by continuous on-line presence. I hope there’s something in my ideas of interest to you and readers, perhaps even oddly optimistic.

    It’s morning here, gardening and yard chores call. My approach to these is labor intensive – I’m running something of an experiment to discover how much of a year’s food can be raised in a semi-arid climate, with poor soil, without resorting to purchasing large plastic bags of compost and other soil amendments. I’ve “built rich soil” before, in a slightly better location with a handy abandoned barnyard of available aged manure. The earlier project took 10 years (to achieve truly wonderful deep growing medium). I have no idea how long it will take in my present location, but it’s clear to me that humanity’s food supply is ridiculously precarious.

    I very much appreciate your presentation on how our current situation differs from previous collapses of civilization. I hope later today to review your full article more carefully, and to review comments also. Your article appears to be focused, comprehensive, and uses ‘point form’ format, with visuals, in such a way that it may ‘pierce psychologically constructed walls of resistance’ in minds of otherwise relatively clear thinking adults!

    Allowing ourselves to grasp scope and magnitude of where we find ourselves, to recognize the “never been here before” nature of our dilemma, is truly tough. We have a range of psychological strategies for ‘rejecting horrific realizations’. As a natural capacity, these strategies can actually help us survive. That we are in a ‘never been here before’, global scale, “extinction event” significantly of our own making, is a pretty stunning, (literally, cognitively, stunning), situation to ‘apprehend’. This is not a best time for so many to use psychological strategies to ignore or kick cans down the road!

    I mention psychology for a reason. I ran a word search on this post and comments, and ‘psychology’ isn’t used, not even once. Commenter ‘Quitollis’ raises a key attribute of human consciousness: our interest in understanding, defining, articulating behavioral principles such as justice, sharing, and so on. Human interest and analysis of ourselves this way is unique, (it seems fair to presume). Even before the time of teachings attributed to Jesus, humans were aware of problems of personal and societal ethics and policies. This was our unique (“higher”) cognitive capacity at work.

    But the idea of systematically studying ‘how we develop individual and group world views’, (and how these influence our choices and behaviors), did not appear until early in the 20thC, (via Freud, Adler and Jung especially). It was not until late in the 20thC that our understanding of ‘how we work as psychological/social beings’ matured sufficiently to point the way out of fear-based, ‘power-over’, hierarchical, attitudes and structures that had – until then – dominated absolutely every aspect of how we relate to people and earth around us.

    Wisdom on our relationship to others and to earth has been around for a very long time, (the Golden Rule; “Know thyself”, “to the 7th Generation relationship to earth”.) But from earliest days, especially when we shifted from strict hunting/gathering – we were fully ignorant of our psychology in any way that we could systematically articulate. We allowed our societies and hierarchies to ‘unfold’, to develop ‘organically’, (in our ignorance, we could scarcely have done otherwise!)

    Generally speaking, I believe we are still for the most part ignorant of ‘who we are’. Another of our unique human attributes is language, by which we also are a ‘story telling’ species. Telling stories to ourselves and others is a powerful ‘belief teaching and re-confirming’ mechanism. Once we’re deeply enough ‘imbued’ with a narrative that tells us ‘who we are’ and asserts ‘nothing can change about this’, we don’t like to give up the ‘truth’. We don’t like challenging our deeply held beliefs, out of which all ‘societal structure and policy solutions’ arise.

    We have been asserting (telling ourselves) from the dawn of civilization that hierarchy and power-over are inevitably more significant to our ‘success’ than are empathy and cooperation. We ‘curb’ practice of the Golden Rule, we restrict our practice. We do this because our narrative tells us “nothing about society can work if we don’t accept that some will be powerful and others will be expendable workers”.

    We have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not that assertion is true. In all human history, we didn’t’ come across mature insights that might let us explore a ‘new frontier’ of cooperation and extended empathy until a decade or two ago.

    Several practices arose, or existed but gained some prominence, out of late 20thC insights into our psychology. These practices promoted and made room for extended empathy and mutually supportive cooperation. (By extended empathy I mean “walking another’s mile” in vivid, visceral imagination, such that we care as much about the ‘other’ as we do about close-at-hand relationships, and behave accordingly. This includes our relationship to all life, animals wild and domestic, all landscapes – watersheds, forests, and so on. The practice of ‘extended empathy’ is not always pleasant; it means ‘feeling’ another living creature, human or otherwise, experiencing brutality. It means recognizing implications of ‘nice green lawns and golf courses’ that are achieved by introducing toxins to damage, (i.e. ‘control/manage’) biodiversity. It takes a certain willingness of maturity to practice extended empathy. Although as referenced later, young children can and do practice it.)

    The practices that ‘came to our attention’ late 20thC included three. (1) Transformation to replace retributive justice. Restorative justice is rooted in tribal ‘Circle Justice’ practice. These are geared to ‘healing’ as much harm as possible. Outcomes for a perpetrator can be quite firm, but nevertheless seek to acknowledge the perpetrator’s dignity and capacity to be in community without creating further harm. (2) An assortment of highly organized approaches to inclusive consensus decision making. These are inclusive, participatory, ways of practicing democracy. Consensus decision making includes problem identification and solution finding. The process greatly empowers participants, and promotes wide information sharing). It replaces ‘dumbing down’ educational processes, manipulative ‘democracy’, and generalized hoarding of information and resources to maintain ‘power over’. (3) Systematic processes for conflict resolution. In its least hierarchical form, conflict resolution can be learned and practiced citizen-to-citizen without need of a facilitator. We already do this when we cordially resolve small conflicts, but the formalized processes are structured to ‘dig deeper’ and reveal more about universally shared underlying psychological needs to be valued and to honored. The formalized process ‘teaches us’ by allowing us to learn what circumstances are like when “walking another’s mile”. Until the process of speaking/listening is more widely practiced, most conflict resolution processes need a skilled facilitator. However, this does not necessarily mean someone with a PhD – adolescents can learn to facilitate conflict resolution among themselves and others.

    It’s my belief that a shift from power-over, stratified, societal structures – to practices that promote and nurture extended empathy and cooperation – is essential IF humanity, such as may survive, can hope to justify any claim to our ‘uniqueness’ as a species’.

    I insist that South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation efforts far surpassed getting to the moon as measure of human challenge during the 20thC. That lasting tranquility and ‘Nirvana’ for South Africa was not the result is not the point. The above practices (transformative justice, consensus-decision making, and conflict resolution) are not believed to bring “heaven on earth”. Distress and conflict will never ‘go away’. The belief is that intelligent insight on how our psychology leads us to act more or less cooperatively, we can – with no need to shame or condemn – guide ourselves and one another with greater compassion, (i.e. empathy). The practices allow societies – for the first time in human history – to begin to rebuild themselves with *conscious, articulatable understanding* of “how we work” as psycho-social beings.

    Problems with my thesis are obvious. Perhaps the most unique aspect of my thinking is that I place such emphasis on our need to understand ourselves as psychological beings. I consider our lack a critical ‘illiteracy’, our most serious ignorance in contemporary time. For the most part, I find almost no one with strong credibility espousing the line of thinking. “Psychology” – as a field of study that might be of utmost importance – is considered a curiosity at best. It seems its considered a distraction from ‘truly useful information in these desperate times’. At worst psychology is used to separate and categorize – to identify ‘the other’ as ‘not me, not my group’ – the antithesis of empathy and cooperation. (I do not spin my ‘narrative’ out of thin air. It developed over time, and began to ‘firm up’ during my years teaching young children in a mixed economic but high needs school. I witnessed first hand the ‘yet unsocialized to narrow self/group interest’ urges or these children. By happy circumstances, I witnessed payoffs of promoting and making room for innate impulses to empathy and cooperation. The practices we learned and employed are those listed above.)

    If we practice “looking after those close at hand” (as is usually the only ‘sensible’ approach), we must also practice ‘extended empathy’ and cooperation in our minds. We must be willing to ask: “How does this resource use impact at a distance?” and curb our ‘wants’ accordingly in many moments. We must repeat the thinking/curbing again and again. This is what is meant by the popular meme: “Think globally, act locally.”

    My proposal won’t “save us from disaster”. It would at first bring collapse on more quickly. Over-consumption that drives modern economies would cease; job loss and unpayable debt would increase, the financial sector would have to ‘back off’, allowing people to retain use of homes – which would lead to further collapse. Forgiving debt ‘across the board’ will wreck investment portfolios and pension plans. We will witness accelerating sorrow and anguish. If we’re not mindful, if we do not shift almost instantly to a sharing economy, we risk ourselves ‘collapsing’ into emotionally numb automatons – perhaps predicted in contemporary enthusiasm for zombie narratives.

    Severely reduced consumption would, however, begin to relieve earth’s life-supporting systems of impossible pace/scope of damage. IF, simultaneously, we began to understand how empathic civilization might work, (i.e. Jeremy Rifkin himself would suffer reduced material comforts) – then those who survive might do so with important understandings to guide the slow, multi-generational and beyond, process of re-building. Humanity might ’emerge’ in some distant future with a different, more cooperative, narrative than the one we’ve told and re-told since the dawn of the ‘civilization’ approach which has brought us, and much of earth’s bounty, to eventual ruin.

    It’s worse than a ‘long-shot’. We’re so deeply imbued by thousands of years belief in aggression/self-protection as “the only way in an ultimate crisis”, that the coming collapse will see lots of very angry, fearful, and brutal acting out, both by those marginalized and desperate, and by those not the least desperate who hoard and control. (This is already happening.)

    Buckminster Fuller observed that humanity’s chance of survival was “touch and go”, that ‘getting through’ would need to be on behalf of everyone – or no one would finally survive. He also believed in something akin to a ‘higher power’ – the unyielding and potentially beautiful dynamics of the cosmos. (My words – I don’t want to claim full understanding of Fuller’s meta-understanding.)

    Fuller is only one of many on a long list, from ancient times, of ‘meta-thinkers’ who have suggested to humanity that – to our possible peril – we’re “not paying attention” to the “entangled inter-dependency” of life. Like stereotypical rebellious teens asked to do a chore, we’ve used every argument and strategy at our disposal to “not hear” or drown out voices that would urge us to “get to the next rung of unfolding maturity as a species”. We’ve ignored, mocked and vilified. We’ve co-opted ideas for marketing purposes. We’ve employed narrative and image to persuade populations and ourselves to cast these voices as ‘enemy’. When one of these voices has reached audiences of sufficient size to threaten “power-over” structures, we’ve gone so far as to assassinate the speaker.

    Bleak? It’s all I’ve got these days! From my point-of-view, my ‘take’ on where we are and how we got here is fundamentally optimistic. Not a mystery, and not ‘inevitably brutal’. The late 20thC psychological insights and practices that helped reveal “first time ever clarity” on “how we function and why” also introduced the practices I’ve named above. Along with far too many others, I thought we had ‘ample time’ to reach greater maturity, and that as we learned, we’d shift away from ruinous exploitative practices against earth and one another. I no longer believe we’ve got ample time. My ‘new’ optimistic take is that we just might learn enough about ourselves, about empathy and cooperation, about critical inter-dependency, that those who might survive to rebuild can start with those understandings in place.

    I don’t see much evidence that we’re learning about universal innate needs, motivations, and so on – at least not widely, and at least not as ‘solution insights’ for the mess we’re in. But I’m hanging in with ‘possibility’ rather than ‘probability’ at least for the sake of having reason to carry out my experimental food raising project. My project includes permaculture – that’s for humans or bears or whom/whatever might benefit one distant day!

    • Calista says:

      When you say we and society I think you are speaking of western culture. I would say, not having the historical experience, but I would say that there are other cultures that have a psychological analysis and a different view of the world by far. Just because western culture is late to the game doesn’t mean there aren’t others who have forged such a path in previous times, we’ve just killed them off with epidemics, guns, etc.

      • xabier says:


        Exactly: ‘Man is asleep and needs to awake!’ is an old, old saying, I’m sure the Sufis didn’t invent it.

        As the Spanish poet Machado put it:

        ‘Do you fear the East because it might lull you asleep, or because it might wake you up?’

    • I am afraid I don’t hold out a lot of hope for psychology getting us anywhere. Generally, women seem to be more attuned to solutions that involve empathy, while men seem to be more attuned to solutions that involve hierarchical behavior. So if you want more empathy, change societies to be matriarchal in behavior, rather than patriarchal. Of course, as one commenter here noted, co-operation can be used to outsmart other species at least as effectively as other approaches–so it doesn’t necessarily change humans’ role in the world.

      • wadosy says:

        what if an understanding os psychology would lead to an appreciation of how sick our leadership is?

        theoretically, in a democracy, that might eventually lead to sane leadership in the US…

        unlikely, sure but maybe remotely possible

        • sheilach2 says:

          Part of the problem is that we don’t have a “democracy”, that was taking from is with the “election” of the 2nd Bush administration if not earlier.
          The corporations have total control over the “vote”, they control the media, they control the “voting” machines, they control the vote “counting” machines, they pick the “candidates” – THEY CONTROL!
          It no longer matters who you vote for in the upper rungs of this fascist, police state, plutocracy, they will continue to pillage this country until this house of rotten cards collapses.

          What worries me is what this plutocracy will do when the SHTF & millions of people protest against the growing inequality & hardship.

          Now we have a flood of migrants flooding our border & the borders of Spain, Israel, Jordan & Italy. How many migrants/illegal immigrants will they take in? When will it become too many & harsh efforts are made to deport/ stop illegal immigration?

          Drought, food shortages & wars will push even more desperate people into leaving their homes in the hope of finding a better life elsewhere but there is no “elsewhere” for them to go to .

          • wadosy says:

            yeah, “democracy” is a long shot… first you’d have to educate everybody, which implies ttelling them the truth, but the truth is intolerable to the powers-that-be, so we’re stuck

            and besides that, the powers-that-be have lied so much for so long that nobody’d believe them if they started telling the truth

            maybe the internet and blogs like this will give us a chance… there’s been a big shift in opinion in the last few years…

            i spose it’s just a matter of time until they sanitize the internet

          • wadosy says:

            they’ve declared themselves, made their short-term intentions clear, but it’s hard for me to believe they really think it will work… not for long, anyhow

            it seems to be kinda helter skelter –the decision-making process… “do this now, and if it goes to hell on us, we’ll think of something”

            • wadosy says:

              for instance, helter skelter-wise…

              the ukraine ploy to stop russia’s south stream seems to have failed, so now they’re starting in on bulgaria, this time using the EU instead of the US state department…

              google news: EU bulgaria”south stream”
              judging from the EU elections, europeans are fed up with neocon nonsense, but maybe europeans are are ehelpless as americans when it comes to resisting the octopus…

            • wadosy says:

              you got to admit it’s pretty strange… victoria nuland, running the US state ept’s operation in ukraine, says, “f*ck the EU”

              then the ukraine operation fails to stop south stream and the next thing you know, the EU is hassling bulgaria to stop the south stream, most likely at the US’s bidding

              meanwhile, russia continues to go out of its way to ensure gas supplies to europe, giving ukraine extra time to pay its gas bill… and that’s what the south stream is about in the first place –ensuring gas supplies to russia’s european customers

              the failure of the ukraine operation has only drawn attention to europe’s need for south stream, bypassing neocon trouble in ukraine… and the failure of the operation has damaged ukraine’s function as a blockade to russian gas

              the solution to this problem? …hassle bulgaria

            • Paul says:


              Lots of interesting quotes but for me this this is the key one:

              “NATO remains a military alliance, and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our own backyard; in our historic territory. I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round.”

              Imagine if Russia attempted to do what the US is doing in Ukraine — in say Puerto Rico (or Canada or Mexico for that matter) — at the end of the day Ukraine is very much like Puerto Rico — not officially a part of Russia but as close as it gets….

              Of course all hell would break lose if they tried that on with the US Deep State

            • kesar says:

              It already happened once in Cuba. We all know the US reaction.
              These guys are hypocrites to the bone.

            • wadosy says:

              question for gail….

              after watching the empire’s behavior for the last thirteen or fourteen years, whose side do lyou think god is gonna intervene on?

              does your god have any regard at all for justice, human rights or common human decency?

            • I don’t think God is on one side or another. People’s actions often reflect the situations they are in. I am not one to judge. I don’t know that God will judge either.

            • wadosy says:

              maybe gail isnt talking about god when she says “higher power”….

              those peple from Flewhound 12 landed on earth in 2038… they’d been looking for viable planets for yonks, had orbited earth for decades doing environmental impact studies and whatnot…

              they were an aluminum-based life form, so there were problems with the chemistry of earth and it’s atmosphere but after a prolonged and bitter debate, the Flewhound council decided to go ahead with a colony on earth

              the deciding factor was an abundance of empty Olympia beer cans, which suited the Felwhound metabolims perfectly… the Flewhound metabolism being very sensitive, indeed… for instance, empty Bud cans caused violent and often fatal spasms of the of Flewhoundians’ pandanus, and Flewhoundian scientists in orbit were unable to develop and antidote…

              so the Flewhoundian council appropriated trillions of dollars to buy the pabst brewing company in st louis, missouri, USA (which manufactured olympia), expand its production facilities globally, mount a global 24/7 saturation ad campaign, and subsidize US weapons manufacturers, in case there were pockets of resistance that needed to be subdued by force….

              … all aimed at turning earthlings into consumers of olympia, which would, of course, result in thousands of tons of the Flewhoundian staff of life, empty oly cans

              now you know everything i know

          • edpell says:

            In 1896 the populist candidate was going to win so the monied folks thru in lots of money and he lost. It has not been a democracy since 18 yes 1896.

      • xabier says:

        However, when I worked for the Guardian newspaper in Britain the managers were all women, and, believe me, the place was a strict hierarchy and riven with power politics (some irony in such a famously liberal newspaper!)

        I found that women were in general much more understanding of illness and domestic problems, but no less ruthless and money-oriented than men, in some cases even more so.

        Some of them showed a cunning which I have generally found men to be innocent of – we are a bit more obvious on the whole. And the political fights among the women were quite vicious.

        It was in fact all rather like being at some medieval court, so I tend to have a good laugh to myself when I hear about the supposed virtues of a feminist workplace or ’empathetic’ politics: we are all flawed on the whole, male or female…..

        • InAlaska says:

          Perhaps women behave even worse then men when they’ve been forced to adopt the male pattern of hierarchial behavior. If they were allowed to develop their own heirarchy perhaps it would be more productive and empathic. I have often felt that if women were running the world, things would be much better, more cooperative, less warlike.

        • Interesting!

        • kesar says:

          Yep, from my experience women bahave the same as men do, once they climb the societal pyramid structure high enough. We are all animals with basic instincts. There is a popular myth about matriarchy model, which would construct better world. Unfortunately, human world is much more complex – the society is shared by wise and stupid/moral and immoral creatures and the divisions of races/gender/sexual preferences/ethinicity/nationality/etc. are mostly fairy tales.
          There are many wise and good women out there, who probably would have better manage the world/region, but the same applies to men. What we see is just simple pyramid structure mechanics, where you must have some psycho/sociopatic predisposition to climb up the ladder.

    • xabier says:

      Important points.

    • timl2k11 says:

      Nice essay! “Transformation to replace retributive justice. Restorative justice is rooted in tribal ‘Circle Justice’ practice. These are geared to ‘healing’ as much harm as possible. Outcomes for a perpetrator can be quite firm, but nevertheless seek to acknowledge the perpetrator’s dignity and capacity to be in community without creating further harm.”
      Totally agree here. Anyone further interested in this issue can read Theo Dorpat’s “Crimes of Punishment: America’s Culture of Violence”, though dealing with the US exclusively he clearly shows that punishment does not work. It simply causes more psychic harm leading to more mental illness and continues the cycle of violence. If punishment worked we’d have no problem with crime!

  31. CTG says:

    More and more articles like this is popping up. Is the end near??

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      The linked article is a good summarization of the oil predicament. However he concludes by suggesting an energy transition will take place but that’s easier said than done.

      • InAlaska says:

        An attempt at an energy transition will definitely be made, but the question will be whether it will be too little too late. Last ditch efforts will be undertaken, but without much lead time for economies to adjust how will this succeed?

    • Thanks! I hadn’t seen that article. I don’t know the author either.

      • Paul says:

        Excellent article — it amazes me that people will read that and still not comprehend what is happening.

        It’s like they are frogs slowly boiling in the a pot and you scream at them ‘hey – you better get out of the pot — the water is about to start boiling’ — and they respond with ‘nah… it’s just getting cozy’

        Anyway what does it matter — there is no way to get out of the pot.

        • xabier says:


          Even worse, Froggy is wondering what kind of investment opportunity the Boiling Pot might be……

  32. wadosy says:

    what if the higher power has already intervened, but on the “wrong” side?

    maybe it’s decided that humanity is a failed experiment, and has given us the means to destroy ourselves…

    besides that, this “higher power” idea seems to be a copout… “it’s out of our hands, it’s up to ogd, so we might as well relax and keep on keepin’ on”

    or maybe the “higher power” has given us a chance to grow up… maybe it’s thinking, “well, it’s time you guys learned to cooperate, and now you have to cooperate to save yourselves”

    i dont know, but it gets pretty tiresome, thinking bout it…

    • wadosy says:

      then theree’s the people who are using darwin’s “survival of the fittest” to justify their notions of superiority…

      they cite our accomplisments as evidence of our superiority, but it’s our “accomplishments” that got us into this pickle in the first place… we seem to be clever, but not very wise

      our crowning accomplishment is our ability to kill millions of people more-or-less instantly… which is, of course, more evidence of our superiotity

      …racial supremacists sailing under darwin’s flag

      …but there seems to be some mental illness involved, too… at least in some cases

      • cytochromeC says:

        “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

        Jiddu Krishnamurti

        • wadosy says:

          i dont see much point to it… except for one thing…

          maybe there is a point after all,but nobody’s found it yet.. maybe someone somewhere down the line, will figure out what the point is…so we’re kinda obligated to preserve ourselves in hopes somebody finally figures it out

          meanwhile, there was that painting… “they did it once, they can do it agian… the dirt, the sea and the sky”

          that’s what i’d think during reagan

          i got to admit… it’s a pretty bleak brand of optimism

        • timl2k11 says:

          Great quote!

    • Perhaps. But having excess children is the way all species were made to operate–have more offspring than needed to replace ourselves. The things we have done that are in opposition to the natural order are things we consider accomplishments–medicines to let the weak live, sanitation to permit overcrowding, over processing of food confusing our internal ability to figure how much food we need, vehicles that interfere with our ability to get the exercise we need.

      To cooperate, we need to give up our accomplishments.

      • wadosy says:

        humans had a pretty stable sustainable population for a long time before fossil fuel, didnt they?

        must have been some hard choices made, then, by women

      • wadosy says:

        seems likely our “accomplishments” will survive in enclaves here and there… that would be a pwerful incentive to loot… stack up enough loot to establish, feed and defend the enclaves…

      • wadosy says:

        there was that first creation myth in the abrahamic religions –adam and eve

        but there was a second creation myth… noah and the ark

        maybe those enclaves will be arks… nuke-powered, filtered air, hydroponic gardens…

        the enclave people survive by using their “accomplishments”, and once the earth has been cleansed of sinners (oho!) by a deluge of fallout, the enclave people will be free to repopulate the earth

        well, that’s kinda farfetched, isnt it? …but so is PNAC’s “benevolent global hegemony”, “full spectrum dominance” and “nuclear primacy”

      • xabier says:


        Every potentially good thing can turn into its opposite: sanitation permits civilized association in towns, the arts, etc, and this is clearly far preferable to, say, the miserable and hard life of homesteaders that we find in the stories of Edith Wharton or the poetry of Robert Frost – but this then easily turns into the horrors of mass life, the fashion-numbed urban crowd, demagogic politics and the precariousness of extreme over-crowding.

        Like the Heavenly Apple produced for a disciple by a sage, there’s always a worm eating away inside.

        • InAlaska says:

          Yes, in every victory for civilization are sewn the seeds of its own defeat. The Chinese had it right 3000 years ago: yin and yang.

        • You are right. Processing food can make it easier to digest, but can also bring a lot of health woes.

  33. Ann says:

    Oil workers camp in North Dakota:

    “When I first got there some of the things they talked about, in any of these areas, was they told the men ‘Don’t go out and party. Don’t get drunk and pass out. Because you’re going to get raped,” she said without hesitation.

    It’s not exactly something you would expect to hear from a workers’ camp but these places are not exactly your ordinary laborers’ camps. The depth of depravity and dubious behavior are commonplace in these so-called Man Camps. No one will say that all of the inhabitants are criminal but there is definitely an element there that has rocked the local law enforcement officials to the very core of their morals and value systems.

    “Sexual assaults on the male population has increased by 75% in that area,” she continued. That kind of statistic makes maximum security prisons look like the minor league. “One of the things we ran into while working up there was a 15 year old boy had gone missing. He was found in one of the Man Camps with one of the oil workers. They were passing him around from trailer to trailer.”

    He went there looking for a job and was hired by individuals within the Man Camp to do light cleaning in and around their personal areas. The young teenager was forced into sex slavery. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in the ghettos of third world countries; not in the quiet and remote countryside.

    The victims aren’t just males but females too. Everyone has heard by now of the missing school teacher that was kidnapped as she was out jogging, repeatedly sexually assaulted, and murdered near one of these Man Camps. The age of the Man Camp victims varies. The assailants are not necessarily looking for male and female adults. They are also going after little girls.

    Grace Her Many Horse recalls one specific instance where “We found a crying, naked, four year old girl running down one of the roads right outside of the Man Camp. She had been sexually assaulted.”

    • When population balloons, I expect services like police are in seriously short supply, contributing to the possibility of problems you discuss.

      • xabier says:

        Yes, people who curse ‘the State’ should reflect on how bad it can get once all restraint has gone, and even a corrupt state is a restraint on the worst tendencies of common criminal types. One can also cite the terrible abuse of already suffering people by UN ‘peacekeepers’ who enjoy absolute power.

        • InAlaska says:

          Police and security forces get a bad reputation (sometimes deservedly so) but we will definitely notice them when they are gone. Chaos and anarchy will be far crueler and less just than your average police force.

          • Dave Ranning says:

            Chaos possibly, but anarchy is about order.
            The antithesis of chaos.

            • xabier says:

              Anarchism is very appealing, at least it shows a touching faith in human goodness, rather than the contempt shown by fascism or crony capitalism. But let’s not forget the idealistic Anarchists who murdered peasant smallholders to steal their chorizo and hams during the Spanish Civil War. Idealism usually goes terribly wrong somehow……..

          • Lizzy says:

            Let’s just hope religious zealots don’t take over. Think of Iran, Pakistan, Saudi, or medieval christian rule.

            • edpell says:

              You mean medieval christian rule that outlawed usury? Bring it on. Poor bankers? I will laugh all the way to the pub.

  34. Pingback: Converging Energy Crises – And How our Current Situation Differs from the Past | Achaques e Remoques

  35. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    I would also like to add a few observations about the conversation at Four Quarters as reported by Albert Bates.

    Consider this passage from A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros:

    ‘The illusion of speed is the belief that it saves time. It looks simple at first sight: finish something in two hours instead of three, gain an hour. It’s an abstract calculation, though, done as if each hour of the day were like an hour on the clock, absolutely equal.

    But haste and speed accelerate time, which passes more quickly, and two hours of hurry shorten a day. Every minute is torn apart by being segmented, stuffed to bursting….Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer’

    The observations by Gros relate closely to the Dissipative Structure argument and the argument that most humans won’t take the time to think. Gros argument is that if we act as Dissipative Structures, or follow The Constructal Law of Adrian Bejan, more speed is always thought to be good, but, in fact, turns out to be bad. The argument by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow also comes into play…it is painful to actually think.

    Nevertheless, sometimes humans do think. For example, by 1980 the world had accumulated an enormous amount of nuclear weapons. A complete exchange might not have broken Earth into fragments, but humans probably wouldn’t be around today. I suppose a strict interpretation of the Dissipative Structure theory would claim that ‘if we have them, we will use them’. And, of course, there are still people who think that. But for the last 35 years we have not used them. So…perhaps we should not immediately assume the most pessimistic position possible.

    Is it possible that some significant number of humans might adopt Frederic Gros’ philosophy in terms of the pleasures of slow walking and slow food and slow money and slow courtships? Will we learn to prefer to buy food from someone we know?

    Take the question of Super Models. I will agree that certain women are physically configured in such a way that my head would turn if I were to meet them on the street. But a very long time ago I arrived at a conclusion about women and sex….I wanted to have sex with women that I could give pleasure to. Sex is not primarily about me…so super models are mostly just a waste of time. I have no reason to believe that any of them would be sexually responsive if I made love to them. This is like the old Sufi saying: your money will eventually be given away…so give it away while you are still living so that you get the enjoyment of giving.

    Can we turn the world from a focus on speed and supermodels to one of slowness and giving pleasure? There are daunting obstacles, but then there were daunting obstacles to any nuclear agreement when Reagan was elected.

    Don Stewart

  36. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    I want to add a few comments about Oren Whidden’s observation that dirt farming is hard, and his suspicions that Permaculture is not enough.

    Please remember that I am not an expert on these issues, but I do have some first hand experience with both dirt farming and permaculture.

    Most of the animals in the world hunt for their food, as opposed to farm it, and they take very little care of children. The mortality rate among many animal infants is almost astronomical, so few survive. Plants release exudates through root hairs which attract microbes which are eaten which releases the nutrients that plants need. So you might say that plants farm. Plants put a lot of work into seeds, but once the seeds are dispersed the parent plant has no further role.

    Then the social animals appeared and began to dominate the Earth: ants, termites, and humans are notable examples. Both ants and termites farm. Within the colony, there is practically zero competition between individual ants or termites. Everyone has a strictly defined job and goes about doing it. There is very little competition for mates. The social critters are quite unlike the dog eat dog world of microbes. Now I want you to make a leap of faith: a Wal-Mart (or any other global corporation) resembles the ant colony. The corporation promotes a very high degree of cooperation through the medium of money and recognition. Someone stocking shelves in a Wal-Mart is not free to compete with other stockers, except under very controlled condition. Classic economics assumed lots of firms competing in a market…but the current reality is that most of the competitors have been driven out of business. There is a reason Wal-Mart was known as the Death Star. Competition is very costly, and as the global corporations eliminate competition, their costs decline. So a Wal-Mart is a lot like an ant or termite colony.

    With the ants and termites, there can be fierce battles with neighboring clans. Such battles are enormously costly. Wal-Mart will try to minimize competition by driving other firms out of business. But this is an unstable boundary. Wal-Mart, to an extent, is a competitor of Amazon.

    What about humans? We are designed to live as social animals in small groups. If the population in a terriftory is small, the hunters and gatherers only have to work a few hours each day to find food and shelter and water. They also invent rituals which help defuse the competition in terms of mates. Sharing becomes defined as a virtue, and common meals and sleeping units are pretty prevalent. But humans no longer live the way we evolved to live. A preponderance of our interactions are now mediated by money. And the competition provoked by sexual selection, along with the decline of the ancient rituals, means that a very high percentage of our GDP springs from sexual selection pressures.

    To show how sexual selection pressure operates, let me tell you a little story. Several years ago I heard a professor at UNC talk about the research on students and automobiles. Given that automobiles are expensive and that driving one on the campus is a pain in the neck, why do almost all students think they need one? It turns out that males need them because females won’t have sex with boys who don’t have cars. Females need them to go to dance clubs because they never know if they are coming back home before dawn. I observed at the time that the solution to our peak oil/ climate change problem at the campus level would seem to be to import British pubs with upstairs rooms available and innkeepers with discretion. My solution, of course, was not what any college administrator wanted to hear.

    A human female gatherer cannot harvest enough food to feed both a fetus and a toddler. But if she has a male partner, then the two of them can easily hunt and gather enough food for the family. So we are not at all like birds or mother bears or fish or ants, in terms of the food challenge.

    Is the nuclear family big enough so that a ‘dirt farmer’ homesteader can make a good living. I don’t think so. Today, of course, the cost of the land is exorbitant because the Federal Reserve gives bales of money to rich people who bid up the price. Even when free land for homesteading was available in the West, homesteading would not have been easy. The Little House on the Prairie books may give an insight. But I think that the homesteaders clustered around small towns for very good reasons. Who wants to make their own boots when the town has a cobbler? One of the patterns of behavior that I have seen repeatedly on homesteads is the notion that ‘I can make my shoes cheaper than I can buy them from the cobbler, and so I should’. But what happens is that one spends a lot of time trying to inexpertly make shoes, when one should be doing what one is already skillful at doing and has the right tools to do. I have seen dozens of businesses making kombucha or garlic braids or kim-chee come and go. If one is trying to grow all one’s own food and fiber and also run a small business, then one is likely to work oneself to exhaustion. The Amish have been able to combine farming and small businesses, but it can’t be easy.

    Are Eco-Villages the right solution? Many have been started, and a lot have failed. I guess Albert Bates knows as much about them as anyone. As I see it, the difficulty is that humans are simply not termites or ants. My own observation is that an Eco-Village should have a boss who is a good listener but also not afraid to make decisions. I know a number of co-operative ventures which seem to spend all their time in meetings, arguing about the communities direction. If you don’t like the way the boss is taking the village, you move to a different village.

    I do advocate for gardening, even if you have a desk job. For a couple of reasons. First, a household which is entirely dependent on a corporate paycheck is at the mercy of the corporation. If you are meeting a considerable amount of your basic needs with a garden and roof catchment of drinking water, then your resilience level goes up several notches. Second, I think Biology is the Science for the 21st Century. You can’t be a good gardener without some grasp of Biology. So learning the science and applying it in your yard or community garden is, I think, a very good way to keep yourself grounded and resilient. Just don’t be lured into ‘designer gardening’ where there is some commerical product which solves all problems.

    What about Permaculture? As it is generally understood, Permaculture does not, I think, resolve the basic insecurity of a social animal in a society which is falling apart. Permaculture is associated with a lot of specific practices which pay dividends. But Permaculture is more likely to be used by a Lifeboat strategy than a Save the Planet strategy. I have no idea what Oren’s reservations entail.

    Don Stewart

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      “I observed at the time that the solution to our peak oil/ climate change problem at the campus level would seem to be to import British pubs with upstairs rooms available and innkeepers with discretion. ” Great idea- stocked with condoms. Cut down on DUIs too. Unfortunately a hotel room is has negative moral implications where the dorm room is considered normal. I dont know if that still holds true tho the kids are pretty uninhibited nowadays. I have a friend who shares a fence with a public park. Condoms being thrown over the fence by kids having sex in the park is a problem, the quanity is amazing.

      “Sex is not primarily about me…so super models are mostly just a waste of time.”
      One of the great passages to adulthood/sanity is when you abandon all notions society presents about attraction and pay attention to what is attractive to you.

    • On a couple of topics you mentioned, there is little “glue” holding together current intentional communities. Dmitry Orlov talked about communities that continue for the long term, which he characterized as “unintentional communities.” These communities were united for a purpose, sometimes religious. “Light persecution” was helpful for their continued existence.

      Most permaculture I see in practice relies of fossil fuels (but less–solar panels, plastic tubing, dirt moving equipment, etc.). For that reason, I can understand why a person might be suspicious that it is not enough.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Gail
        I think most thoughtful permaculture people make a distinction between capital and operating expenses. It’s fine to use fossil fuels to make a capital improvement which will last for centuries. It’s acceptable to use fossil fuels to meet current needs (as in using a PV panel to power a computer), and it’s bad to try to replace the current system with equivalent ‘green’ technology.

        Here are two examples of the ‘capital improvement’ model.
        The first is Alan Savory saving some grassland from desertification in Africa. Since this is Africa, there is more hand-work than there would be in the United States. I believe that the kraal to keep out the lions was made by hand. I believe the herding of the cattle is done by herdsboys…but I may be misinformed. In the US, doing things by hand is very expensive, and more fossil fuels are used. The second video shows Owen Hablutzel at work in an arid region of New Mexico which has been the most barren place you can imagine for the last 50 years. Victory, as shown by the second still picture, is when weeds are attracted to the barren field and the salt subsides. Weeds are the beginning of the process of succession, and moving the salt is essential. Owen used a Yeomans plow to break the subsoil in a keyline pattern, which permits the scarce rainfall to soak into the soil rather than run off as sheet erosion. Owen thinks the rainwater takes the salt down deep into the soil (as I understand him). Driving a tractor over the field to make the keylines would have been quite economical in terms of fuel expended.

        Owen gives a long explanation involving system dynamics. I get confused about all the terminology, but as you will see if you endure the talk, the idea is to tip the field over into a new stable pattern. It takes energy to tip a system. It’s like an electron. If you want to move it to a higher orbit, you have to provide a jolt of energy. So what Owen expects to happen is that the grassland which was here originally will re-establish itself. A grassland is, of course, quite a productive place. Therefore, the initial investment of some fossil fuels is well justified.

        If we had no fossil fuels at all, it is doubtful that we would have Yeomans plows and this field would likely remain a desert essentially forever.

        Do we have enough fossil fuels today, in 2014 to save all the grasslands which are becoming deserts? I think the answer to that is ‘Yes’. Will we do it? Probably ‘No’. Would saving all the grasslands, alone, save civilization? ‘No’.

        Don Stewart

        • I am somewhat skeptical about “capital improvements that will last for centuries.” The last for a while–until something changes. The catch is that you need someone (not a government–they can’t afford this kind of investment) to make these investments.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail
            I think you are wrong to equate most capital improvement projects in terms of land management with government expenditures. Frequently, the investments are quite modest and are made by the landowner. Here is a quote from Courtney White:

            ‘However, I’ve learned the hard way that solid numbers are often not enough to change attitudes or behaviors. I’m often reminded of rancher and former Quivira board member Roger Bowe, who changed the management of his family’s ranch when he took over from his dad. Roger grew tons of new grass, brought springs back to life, and increased the ranch’s financial bottom line significantly as a result—and had the numbers to prove it. As a trained economist, he knew precisely what the numbers meant and how to present them to others, especially fellow ranchers. Unfortunately, it didn’t make much of a difference. His neighbors would come over to the ranch, observe the abundant grass, examine his healthy cows, listen to Roger talk about the innovative way he moves cattle across his land, hear the numbers, go home, and change nothing. They liked the old ways–despite the numbers–even if it meant going bankrupt in the end….It’s a story I heard repeatedly across the region, and it never failed to flummox me until I began to realize there was more at work than just numbers. There were beliefs too–often deep beliefs, as Roger discovered.’

            Gail, may I gently suggest that you have a deep belief that nothing can possibly work, and so the numbers from some University of California scientists don’t convince you and Courtney White’s collected evidence won’t convince you.

            Toby Hemenway titled his talk at Duke several years ago ‘How To Save Humanity, But Not Civilization’. Somehow, I think you can’t separate those two issues. Maybe you think they can’t be separated. Maybe you don’t want to contempate a world with humans living without what we call Civilization?

            Don Stewart

            • xabier says:


              In fact, one could say that a search for Civilization today doesn’t come up with much – we merely think it’s what we are enjoying but we are deceived.

              I recall one poster here referred to a pointless long car journey as the ‘fruit of civilization’, but in fact it was no more than the fruit of industrialisation…….

              In my wildest fantasies the thought of a semi-nomadic future for mankind seems quite attractive – it doesn’t exclude beautiful clothes and textiles, poetry and song, personal grace and nobility: in short, a fully human life. Of course, it would also include slavery and raids…….

              I was amused by the comment made by a Sami nomad in Finland regarding the advent of the mobile phone and snow-vehicles: ‘In some ways it’s good, but we now have too many things to worry about which didn’t concern us before when we knew less about the world’. I once worked with a half-Sami girl, and I admired her straightforward and simple character – she had interesting psychic powers too.

            • I can contemplate a hunter-gatherer society, but I don’t see that we will be able to negotiate all the pieces of an agricultural society. Besides improved farmland, an agricultural society needs a lot of other things–roads, some type of vehicles that travel on the roads, a way of pulling those vehicles (horses?), a government that can keep order and provide basic services, trading centers that can function with the types of transportation and vehicles that are available. Also, farming on the improved plot of land is limited by whatever fertilization techniques are available (such as availability of compost and distance to cary it) and by whatever farming techniques are available.

              While we can fix one small piece of the puzzle, I have a hard time seeing that a particular fix is going to make a big enough difference in the overall picture to matter. It might matter a lot in today’s world, but would it in tomorrow’s world?

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail
              Today I will speak only of broad-scale farming…not vegetable gardens. If you read Courtney White’s Grass, Soil, Hope you will see real examples of farmers who are not using fertilizers or pesticides or herbicides and they are not plowing. They do use seed drills and harvesting equipment, which can be pulled by horses if need be. You will see examples of run down farms which have been restored without chemical or mineral inputs. Fertility is provided by the soil food web. Yes, it really helps to have off-grid electric fences to define paddocks. The farms that White is describing are the heart of our calorie production. (Micronutrients are, in my opinion, best provided by kitchen gardens.)

              These farms do need roads which are in decent enough shape to get grains and legumes to market. They also need reasonable contact with the outside world. These were the sorts of issues that occupied people like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Some sort of manufacturing needs to happen to produce the relatively simple equipment…probably located at sites with water power such as Holyoke, MA, or elsewhere along the fall line in the US.

              These farms can, White believes, double soil carbon in 10 years. They probably won’t do so unless they are paid to do it, because of the resistance to change among many farmers.

              Yes…the Big Ag companies would see all this as a death-knell, and will fight it with bales of money in Washington.

              If, for whatever reason, we are unable to restore the industrial system we had in the early 1800s, then I guess it is back to the stone age.

              However, as we discussed in a previous exchange, I think your simple model of oil availability is too naive. You assume that there is a single price at which oil becomes ‘unaffordable’. I assume that oil is like everything else and comes in tranches. There are tranches of oil available at 50 dollars, 100 dollars, 150 dollars, 200 dollars and so forth. Similarly, there are tranches of demand at 200 dollars, at 150 dollars, at 100 dollars, and at 50 dollars. This is the classic supply and demand curve found in economics textbooks. I think you agree with the tranches of supply, but strongly resist the notion that there are tranches of demand. I believe you perceive demand as all or nothing.

              I believe that the reason you believe demand is all or nothing is because you perceive that a malfunctioning financial system is caused when a magic price level for oil is crossed. I agree that there are a lot of financial agreements and promises which will not be kept if oil goes to, say, 200 dollars a barrel.

              If the American people elect politicans who let the country fail physically because Big Ag doesn’t like the remedial actions which are necessary, and Wall Street doesn’t like the repercussions of adjusting the financial agreements and promises down to reality….we have only ourselves to blame. It would be a failure of society…not a failure of the potential agriculture we now understand pretty well.

              Can small groups adopt lifeboat strategies and survive pretty well independently of the insanity in Washington? I hope so, and I am cautiously optimistic. If it turns out to be lifeboats rather than an 1820 industrial system, then everything will be very much more labor intensive, unless the population collapses to hunter-gatherer levels.

              In any event, I see no way to preserve what we presently regard as ‘civilization’…provided your projections on fossil fuels are correct. I do see a way to preserve a new kind of agriculture which does not involve tilling the soil or fertilizing or applying herbicides or pesticides. Such a new agriculture would be very much easier if we had manufacturing plants located where there is water power and some reasonable road, railroad, and canal system. Small amounts of off-grid electricity would be quite valuable. Human labor intensive systems, not relying on manufactured goods, would be more difficult but not impossible if there is a general relocation of the labor force to rural areas, such as existed in 1870. If there are no metals available, then I agree that we are back to the stone age and the population of humans will be small indeed.

              I think we should be realistic about our prospects, but I see no reason to denigrate the good work which is being done around the globe in terms of regenerative agriculture.

              Don Stewart

            • The issue we are dealing with is low prices, not high prices. So the issue is what you and your friends can do, if the market price of oil is $30 barrel because of huge debt defaults, and because of these defaults no one can get a loan for much of anything. You can somehow contact the oil company, and tell the oil company that you would be willing to pay above the market price, say $300 a barrel for oil, for, say, 100 barrels of oil, if they would be willing to provide it to you.

              The problem is that you and your friends cannot get together enough demand for $300 barrel oil, to convince the oil company to drill more wells, hire more workers, operate refineries, and keep pipelines open. There are minimum operating levels for refineries and pipelines. They cannot keep them open because a handful of people would be able to pay a high price for a small amount of oil.

              Debt plays a big role in all of this. It is the lack of debt that is keeping price low now. To ramp up prices, it is necessary to add a whole lot more debt related to things like purchases of cars and new homes. Low salaries are also part of the problem. The willingness of a few to pay more than the market price for a little oil doesn’t really fix the problem. The economy cannot run on a small share of current oil consumption.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail
              I agree that financial seizures demolish real production…unless governments step in to disconnect the real economy from the fictions of finance. King Hubbert and many other people experienced these kinds of things during the Depression. How could the physical economy be ready and willing to produce something like oil, which was clearly valuable, but the price had fallen so low that it wouldn’t even support the marginal cost of production, much less pay the full cost of production. Farmers dumped crops in ditches because they couldn’t get enough to justify hauling their corn and cotton to town. These were financial effects…they had nothing to do with the country’s basic ability to produce oil and corn and cotton. Governments dealt with the disconnect very clumsily, and recovery was slow.

              But in terms of, let’s say, expensive to extract oil and the production of food. I would like to quote from Michael Pollan’s Foreword and Courtney White’s Prologue to Grass, Soil, Hope:

              Pollan: ‘a challenging book in that it asks us to reconsider our pessimism about the human engagement with the rest of nature. The bedrock of that pessimism is our assumption that human transactions with nature are necessarily zero-sum…But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil…Courtney White’s book points to a very different idea of intensification–one that also brings forth more food from the same land but, by making the most of sunlight, grass, and carbon, promises to heal the land at the same time. There just may be a free lunch after all.’

              ‘Carbon is key
              We don’t have to invent anything
              It’s mostly low tech
              You’re on the map too’ (meaning that every consumer is involved)

              Elaborating on the low-tech statement, White says:
              ‘some of it has high tech components–such as solar panels or wind turbines–but most of Carbon Country can be easily navigated by anyone’

              Now, for the moment, assume that Pollan and White know what they are talking about and are telling the truth. If the oil needed to build the solar panels and the windmills costs 400 dollars a barrel, then it will be well worth it. The payoff may well be the survival of the human race.

              You can, of course, claim that Pollan and White don’t, in fact, know what they are talking about, or that they are deliberately trying to deceive. But then you need some evidence, and both these guys understand food and farming much better than you do.

              As to your point that the industry begins to implode at 100 dollars a barrel, and so will never get to 400 dollars. There are places in the world where oil can be produced for 100 dollars at a profit. Maybe the IOCs disappear, and all that is left is the NOCs. Well, the farmers who are providing the food and sequestering the carbon should be very near the top in getting an allocation. Free markets might do it or government rationing might do it. In any event, the demands from the farms are not huge. They are vastly smaller than the current demands of farms for things like pesticides and fertilizers and herbicides and fuel for plowing.

              I think you really have to work at it to be a pessimist on this point. Surely we have enough sense as the Brotherhood of Man to figure out how to get this right? I’ll agree that we might have Depression experiences as Big Ag and Wall Street throw sand in the gears.

              I will also agree that neither White nor Pollan address the truly energy intensive part of food: what happens after the food leaves the farm gate. I think it will take a crash to bring that bloated system down…and there will be suffering. But that’s just the way it will have to be.

              Don Stewart

  37. sheilach2 says:

    What seems so strange in my area is how “normal” things are as long as you ignore all the empty shops, the homeless, rising prices for food & fuel, all those for sale homes that aren’t selling & those developed plots with all utilities in still waiting for prefab homes to move in. If you stick to just watching TV & avoid doing any search for real news & you not one of the millions of unemployed or working part time on several minimum wage jobs, you could convince your self that everything is just fine.
    But looking deeper at our situation, it’s clear that things aren’t fine, we are teetering on the edge of collapse. Russia & China will trade in a currency other than the dollar, will other countries follow suite? I have noticed that even fracking has started to fail to bring up enough fossil fuels in spite of growing investment.
    Oil is the keystone of our civilization, when that fails to meet our needs, as we have been saying, it’s party over.
    I feel like I’m on the Titanic, the burg has opened her flanks, water is pouring in but the band plays on, the party continues, drinks are free, the ship settles gently deeper into the ocean & no one has noticed that there aren’t any lifeboats. But who needs a lifeboat on a unsinkable ship?
    There are noises coming from steerage but who pays attention to the rabble, close the doors, shut the bulkheads & party on.
    Why not party on while we still can? What can we do now to stop the sinking of our “Titanic”?
    Most of the “rabble” are glued to their TV’s, as the water rises, they just put the TV & their chair on top of crates, why worry about the rising water, this ship can’t sink, everything will work out just fine – won’t it?
    In the mean time, I’m working on a raft & putting water into bottles, the map seems out of date & we are so far from any land.
    The water continues to rise, soon they’ll have to put another box under the TV & chair..
    I wonder if those partying upstairs can spare any liquor on us in steerage?

  38. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All
    Albert Bates has joined Dmitry Orlov with a summary of what happened in the Age of Limits conference in Pennsylvania.

    Well down the page, you will find what appears to be a sort of transcript of a discussion between the presenters, including Gail. They discuss several contentious issues.

    After looking at this entry, scroll on down the page to read Albert’s report on biochar made in the open air. Biochar has a lot of potential to boost agricultural productivity and to sequester lots of carbon. Being able to make it inexpensively, as this pit method would seem to do, would be a major advance, I think.

    Don Stewart

    • MJX says:

      Thank you, Don, and for the link and overview. Your reflective comments and insights were, as always, provided fodder for consideration. The great human “experiment” the world is witnessing is being manifested in many ways. My own feeling (hunch) there will be many tremors (which will had) and number of earthquakes (the one in 2008) and dishevel and disorder before an actual full blown collapse.
      Concerning Albert Bates, if we boost “agriculture” that will provide the means to increase population levels, as Gail Tverberg has repeatedly pointed out.
      When fossil fuel output falls, we will see what actually works and what does not work.
      Your essay concerning “Permaculture” has a lot of merit. Permaculture does provide a roadmap for individuals and groups/ communities, but has its limitations.
      I am in my 50’s now and was involved back in the 90’s with “permaculture movement”.
      Actually went to Albert Bates “The Farm” in Summertown, Tennessee to attend an intense Permaculture week long workshop.
      The only drawback, the true test will be the limited use of fossil fuels.
      I think it is enlightening that Peter bates has a slide show that pictures a rural Chinese village layout as an example of a permaculture design! Seems these traditional folks are doing it without knowing it at all.

    • I looked at the transcript of the discussion you referred to. This occurred at a private meeting after dinner the first night, which I would presume Al Bates recorded without mentioning the fact that he was recording it to the rest of us. At least what it says it seems to be fairly accurate–but I would have been nice if he had told us in advance that he was recording it and asked the permission of those quoted to publish it.

      The background behind why we were talking about these subjects is that Dennis Meadows had shown the group of us a 53 minute film about the original Limits to Growth study (not the film shown in Bates’ post). One of the points made in the film was that the authors of the Limits to Growth study were convinced that as soon as people were shown what was likely to happen, they would immediately adopt the recommendations of the scenario in original study which would fix the problem. [Not discussed in the meeting–based on my reading of LTG, the scenario didn’t really “fix” the problem, it simply moved the date past the end of the period modeled, which was 2100. The way this was to be accomplished included a number of different recommendations, including stabilizing world population at the 1975 level by reducing the number of births to match the number of deaths starting in 1975, by reducing resource consumption per unit of industrial output to one-fourth of the 1970 value (by a wholesale change to nuclear???), and by moving the economy more toward services rather than goods.] Meadows said that in retrospect, he could see that his and Donella’s views were naive. I was trying to explain that there was really a “laws of physics” reason behind the difficulty in getting civilization to change its ways so dramatically.

      With respect to the rest of the write-up, what Al Bates’ says is colored with his own enthrallment with climate change. When he quotes me out of context as saying, “It could be caused by solar heating, we don’t know,”The point I was trying to make was that climate change models, if they are to be correct, need to include more variables, including changes in solar activity. I can’t imagine I said “solar heating” when I was trying to talk about sun spot activity, and other such changes. I also talked the problem of deforestation and increased particulate matter from burning all of these trees as being contributors that need to be property modeled. So I suppose that might have been what he picked up on. I talked to the climate scientist Mark Cochrane a fair amount privately, and we didn’t have many big differences, that I could see. I didn’t hear Cochrane’s talk though–it came after I left the conference.

      • edpell says:

        The National Ignition Facility at LLNL has little to do with energy from fusion. It was built in order to produce data to allow computer simulation software for nuclear bomb design to be calibrated. Here we are 70 years after the first bomb work and we are still trying to get the simulation to work correctly. The weather, heat flows, chemical flows, mass flows, solar activities, orbital variations, human induced flows of the whole planet are even more complex and I feel will take even longer to simulate correctly. I feel by 2065 we may have made good progress. Until then computer simulations of global long term temperature are highly speculative.

  39. Gail, you write: “The problem now is that oil prices are too low for producers, at the same time that they are very high for the consumer.” Oil prices are too low for producers because of the dynamics of capitalism. Oil companies still rake in billions of dollars per year in profits, but those profits have declined in recent years. In an economic system that requires constant growth, declining profits (even if large) are unacceptable, thereby accelerating the destruction of the environment, pillage of natural resources and global warming as corporations expand production in an attempt to bolster their bottom lines.

    Certainly, if the world continues on its current path, collapse will come — perhaps more slowly than the dramatic decline you forecast, but the end will come. Any new Dark Age would be worse that previous ones, not only because of the resource depletion but because the collapsing civilization spans the entire globe. The post-Roman Empire Dark Ages only encompassed Europe; East Asia and the Middle East could and did continue to advance. Humanity wasn’t set back, only one part of the world and even that part of the world could eventually recover because natural resources remained.

    Another consequence of the capitalist world economy’s constant need for growth is that the population must also grow to be able to maintain that growth. Japan has undergone two decades of stagnation in part due to its slowly declining population. A steady-state economy designed to meet human needs rather than driven solely by profits and growth is necessary if we are to avoid collapse, but that would require a much different economic system. We can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet.

    • Terry says:

      The “economy must grow” mantra is incoherent madness. The “only” reason today’s economy needs to grow is to cover the increasing debt service. True commerce is the exchange of value between parties who find benefit in the exchange (else there would be no exchange). Money tokens (currency) should only function as portable stores of value to make commerce more convenient and not be constrained in pace. Once currency is severed from the underlying exchange of value, then money becomes a thing unto itself…divorced from true commerce. As a thing unto itself it is then manipulated by those involved in the money system (for their gain, and usually at the rest of society’s expense). A case in point is fractional reserve banking. Sure the “money”…created out of thin air…for a house loan is eliminated from the system when it is paid off. But what about the interest on that loan? This cycle steadily devalues currency. Multiply it by thousands upon thousands of loans every year, and the value of money becomes fallacy.

      “True” commerce has no built-in growth requirement. Where is the law of the universe that says the exchange of value must always increase. Why can’t it have some years of growth, some years of equilibrium, and some years of decline? It’s the financial sector pushing the “economy must grow” mantra…only because they expect the debt owed them to be repaid. Of course, it goes without saying that every dollar introduced into the economy is a debt instrument itself. Printing more debt to satisfy existing debt service is a no escape dilemma.

      • It is indeed not a law of the universe. But it is a requirement for the capitalist system to function. Annual growth of at least two percent is necessary just to maintain employment and much faster growth is necessary to significantly lower it. Competition mandates the costs be cut and new profit centers (either new products or finding new markets) on pain of going out of business if the capitalist fails to do so. Thus the race to the bottom.

        Financialization is a byproduct of these dynamics, not the cause. When there is insufficient profit in expanding production, capitalists then engage in financial speculation, with the results we’ve enjoyed the past few years. And there is no neat divide between industrialists and financiers — they are interdependent and involved in each other’s operations. Financiers can’t exist without industrialists extracting surplus from employees, and financiers apply the whip (via stock and bond markets) to make sure more profits are extracted.

    • hebertmw says:

      Systemic Disorder,

      The same is true for Socialism, it needs a source of income in order to function at all. That is why the Soviet Union collapsed, the price of oil crashed which was and still is the main source of income for Russia.

      • The Soviet Union collapsed for multiple, complicated reasons that can be found in its internal contradictions. The falling price of oil did cause difficulties, true, but is not at all “the main source” for collapse.

        Today’s Russia is far more dependent on oil and other natural-resorces exports than was the Soviet Union because the coming of capitalism de-industrialized the country. Not to mention imposing a 45 percent reduction in Russian GDP by the time Yeltsin’s second crash of 1998 had run its course.

        If we really want to be technical — and I realize this is not the place for such a discussion — the Soviet Union was never a socialist country, it was a country that could be described as post-capitalist but became frozen in an attempt to transition to a socialist economy, a transition it was not close to completing.

        The Soviet bloc was also entangled with the global capitalist economy, so it was subject to the market instabilities of capitalism. But your larger point, that a functioning economy (of whatever kind) has to have sources of income is true as long as that economy uses money as the medium of exchange.

    • Even a steady state economy doesn’t work with anything like our current population. The problem is that even constant use of non-renewables resources is not possible. This means metals, uranium, and fossil fuels don’t work in a steady state economy. You are pretty much stuck with wood and other biomass, wind (with wooden windmills) or cloth sails, and water (with wooden water mills). That doesn’t provide much wood per capita. The standard of living has to be incredibly low.

      • MJ says:

        The mystic and Trappist monk hippie, Thomas Merton, wrote an essay regarding the “steady state” and found the culture of ancient Mexico Oaxaca that came the closest to ecological and social balance. He explained why in the paper (which I copied and have placed somewhere), but I remember the point he made regarding population increase. That was one of the major stresses placed on the people, as well as, outside threats of other “tribes”.encroaching” on their territory. Also, because of agriculture and a surplus of labor, much “make due” work was created that provided the people with something to do.
        At the end of his life he was very much focused on ecological and social justice issue.
        I just found a newly written book on that subject about him:

        “Nature was always vital in Thomas Merton’s life, from the long hours he spent as a child watching his father paint landscapes in the fresh air, to his final years of solitude in the hermitage at Our Lady of Gethsemani, where he contemplated and wrote about the beauty of his surroundings. Throughout his life, Merton’s study of the natural world shaped his spirituality in profound ways, and he was one of the first writers to raise concern about ecological issues that have become critical in recent years.

        In The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, author Monica Weis suggests that Merton’s interest in nature, which developed significantly during his years at the Abbey of Gethsemani, laid the foundation for his growing environmental consciousness. Tracing Merton’s awareness of the natural world from his childhood to the final years of his life, Weis explores his deepening sense of place and desire for solitude, his love and responsibility for all living things, and his evolving ecological awareness.”

        I just bring this up because many posts were centered on “religion”. He is one religious author that I recommend.

      • If you are defining a lower “standard of living” as we in the global North having to make due with a lot less consumables and use much less energy, I am in full agreement.

        The question then becomes how much of a lower standard of living, and that depends on how efficient renewable energy sources will become. I see a great deal of difference in the literature, from a belief that happy solar days are almost here to they never will come close and we’ll all have to become subsistence farmers.

        The truth will likely be not too close to either extreme but I readily admit I am not qualified to make a prediction. And it is true that non-renewables will run out some day no matter how slow we learn to use them. Even if the most grandiose plans of mining the asteroid belt and the Moon come to fruition (which I doubt), we’d only postpone the inevitable.

        Humanity has to learn to live within nature’s limits; I am arguing that it is better to start now than have those limits imposed on us in a harsh fashion later. And that the dynamics of capitalism prevent us from doing what is necessary, thereby bringing on nature’s imposition sooner and harsher.

  40. birder2600 says:

    I was at your Age of Limits talk! I am still unsure whether the similarities or the differences to past declines will be dominant. Greer does do quite a bit of hedging when he talks about regional discontinuities. We will have to see if your energy use predictions pan out, because if they do things will reduce in complexity quite rapidly.

    • There certainly can be regional discontinuities. But in most ways we are so interdependent that the advanced economies look likely to fail fairly closely together.

  41. Theedrich Yeat says:

    The core of The Problem:
    The World Bank director (most recently responsible for the global airline industry) has explained to me, the problem of peak oil is not discussed in his institution, it is simply taboo. Whoever will try to anyway, is fired or transferred.
    — Dennis Meadows
    ( )

    • You won’t hear Obama talk about peak oil either, or any politician. The story, to the extent it is discussed, is about climate change and how wind and solar will save us.

    • MJ says:

      I am employed by a major airline since the mid-1980’s and am amazed on the transformation I have seen in the industry and the plans for expansion in the upcoming years ahead. I wonder where they are expecting all the jet fuel to come from to provide the energy? The top management is mute on the subject of “peak oil” and during the rapid rise in 2007 there was a campaign to contact our elected officials to end “speculation” in the oil markets. We just merged and are now “the largest airline in the world’ and it would not surprise me if we merge again with an International carrier again to garnish the “economies of scale” aspect that is a response of higher costs.
      The drawback, of course, like the large financial institutions, is these are “too big to fail” and if one really does fail, it brings down the whole works (society).
      I think that is where we are headed.
      I am at the end of my career. Believe me, overall I was blessed! Had a great time and am amazed on how lucky I was to travel where I did. I am one of the few folks in history that would have done so….

      • xabier says:


        It beggars all belief doesn’t it? Expansion is undertaken without any real regard for the future or even the merest attempt to envisage it with any accuracy.

        Another real world example is the high-speed train network in Spain. Over the last decade or so this expanded hugely (second only to China!) and at great expense, driven not by economic need but by the egos of local politicians – who also got a rake-off from the contractors we can be sure. Having linked most of the major cities, the plan was to link all the insignificant regional ‘capitals’ (very important in the political structure of Spain if not the economy).

        Even now, with the Spanish economy off the cliff and no sign of it crawling back up again, the little regional bosses are still pushing for high-speed trains, to show their capitals are ‘not 2nd rate’ – which of course they are. The French have sensibly cancelled, I believe, one major line which was meant to link up with northern Spain, and delegations have been sent to beg them to resume…….

        High-speed trains = ‘prosperity’ = votes = ‘commissions’. A kind of cult belief with a sound bed-rock of naked greed.

        Irrational expansion, and how it will all be maintained no-one knows……… Same for the motorways.

      • timl2k11 says:

        The merging of corporations into huge conglomerations seems to be happening across industries. ConAgra foods, for example, claims to be in 99% of American homes. Seems like all institutions are heading towards “Too big to fail”, “too big to regulate”, as well as being to big for our own good. Power is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of a few definitely. The number of corporations that control the food supply is shrinking as they merge into ever larger and more powerful entities.

        • Rodster says:

          “Far too few have too much and far too many have so little”

          – Gerald Celente

        • As air travel becomes more difficult and the financial system heads toward failure, these big corporations will have to head the other direction, I am afraid. It is hard to manage operations in another country if management can never visit the country. Poor relations between governments may add to problems.

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  44. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    There have been some discussion about whether it pays to try to educate family members and friends about the coming collapse. I would like to suggest a middle course.

    First, I do try to keep my children posted on important events. I alerted them when the Post Carbon sponsored study found that the oil actually produced in the Monterey Shale was likely to be very small. Then I alerted them when the EIA cut its estimate by 96 percent. That’s the Joe Friday response: ‘just the facts, mam’.

    Second, and more ambitious, I do try to take advantage of opportunities to make a small effort go a long way. For example, a retired professor named Deb Tolman in Texas has been working on raised keyhole beds which are largely self-watering and self fertilizing. The self-watering and self-fertilizing come from recycling waste organic material. You can see her for free here:

    and you can buy her DVD (around 25 dollars) here:

    Then I connected some dots. My granddaughter is entering 9th grade, where she will be an advanced placement biology student. So I first got her an Ipad and downloaded E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth textbook to it and sent it to her. This may provide some summer entertainment and learning. The Wilson textbook covers enough chemistry and physics to make the biology fit into the larger scientific picture.

    The next dot I connected was Deb Tolman’s DVD. She gives very explicity instructions as they build the raised bed garden, but she doesn’t spend very much time explaining the science. So I ordered the DVD for my granddaughter and also sent her a couple of pages pointing out the places in the DVD where biological science is guiding the construction. That was just days ago, and her 8th grade class is still in session, so it is too early to declare victory. But the early indications are positive.

    Now why am I so interested in biology and gardening? Because, in my post earlier, I identified as a key to survival in the 21st century an increased reliance on biology as the chemistry and physics of burning fossil fuels and making poisons from them fails us. I would like my granddaughter to be as well prepared on that front as possible.

    My overall suggestion is that everyone should have their own list of the important things to do in the 21st century. Then, when they see opportunities to prepare themselves or those close to them, seize the opportunity. I think specific preparation will pay a lot better dividends than preaching.

    I will agree that everyone is going to have different opinions. For example, Dmitry Orlov’s opinion that living on a boat and staying mobile is an excellent strategy was reinforced by the climate change talk at Four Quarters. My advice to my granddaughter about learning to grow plants where you are is clearly not a ‘live on a boat’ strategy. Dmitry could be right….or he could be wrong. There are no guarantees.

    Don Stewart

    • hebertmw says:

      Don & Dmitry,

      Where I grew up there were plenty of boats and the one complaint was that they were costly to repair. So if one did ‘live on a boat’ how would one repair it? Most are now made of fiberglass, not wood. Sea water, the ocean are all hard on hardware, things break and wear out. Who knows how to make canvas for sails? rope? I suspect that all ocean and freshwater sailing craft will break down eventually and the chance of surviving on one isn’t greater than on land. Probably far less than one can imagine.

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        I know a chap that said f** it all. He and his girl bought a boat and went to the bahamas. I ran into him a couple of years later- he was still at it and quite happy but he told me that the sun and the ocean destroyed everything in two years. Everything other than stainless steel had to be replaced every two years.

        • xabier says:

          Building lots of sea-worthy boats = reason for not many forests in much of the region around the Mediterranean. Probably as resource hungry as wind turbines?

        • cytochromeC says:

          My brother is a boat builder in Micronesia..
          It is amazing the amount of materials I have shipped out there.
          Going back to the days of wood and hemp would be challenging, but not impossible.
          There are still good sail makers and builders.

      • I know Dmitry’s boat is fiberglass. He says it is a sturdy boat, built quite a while ago. He has some solar panels on the boat as well, IIRC.

        Sails might be a problem, but sailboats have been around for a long time. Sails would be a lot easier to replace with local materials than parts of a wind turbine.

        In general you are right, though. Because materials degrade, any solution is temporary, unless it can be fixed with local materials.

        • Simply Simon says:

          I have just about finished building a wooden rowing boat (6m – 18ft 6in) with massive help from an “old school” boat building buddy.
          Wooden – so it can be repaired.
          Rowing – because I don’t know how to grow/harvest/process/weave/fabricate sails.
          It is VERY clear to me that boat building – like so many other “simple” things is a lot harder than you would expect.
          I have been collecting woodworking tools, which will last literally centuries if properly looked after. I will be building more of these boats, simply to ensure I have the skills.
          Testing my assumptions has been very revealing – it is NOT going to be easy after collapse.

          • xabier says:

            Any time making things well by hand can only inspire immense respect for the achievements of our forebears. Compared to the use of power tools, one enters almost another dimension in so far as it alters the relationship between effort and product and, most importantly, Time.

    • Paul says:

      Makes sense Don.

      We sponsor two kids who live here with us in Bali (11 and 13) — I do not discuss the big picture with them — what I do do is get them to think about things like finite resources — the more obvious things — then I help them connect that with how industrial farming is not sustainable — how the farmers are already in a dilemma here because the cost of chemical inputs is wiping out the benefits of the extra crop that they get from using chemical fertilizers and pesticides…

      We also discuss the harmful effects of eating foods soaked in chemicals — and how much better it is to farm your own foods because you can control what goes into the food — and how rewarding it is to see a seed grow into food.

      I don’t see any point in going beyond just passing along this skill — even if we were not facing this dire situation I would do that — as it is obviously a fantastic skill to learn.

      I would rather they do not connect the dots on this — what purpose would that serve — it’s not as if we can change the course by having more people know — nor is there much anyone can do in anticipation of what is imminent. And most importantly nobody can time this accurately — yes it seems that we are in the final months or perhaps year or two of BAU — but never underestimate the creativity of the central bankers — maybe we can push the day of reckoning on for a few more years or longer….

      So why have people feel like they have a sword poised above their necks never knowing when it will drop. Most people would not handle that knowledge very well.

  45. MJX says:

    Gwynne Dyer has written another “home run” regarding the stature of “human beings” in the universal scheme and relativity compared to the past:

    The real purpose of declaring the Anthropocene period is to focus human attention on the scale of our impacts on the planetary environment. As biologist E.O. Wilson wrote: “The pattern of human population growth in the twentieth century was more bacterial than primate.”

    He calculated that human biomass is already a hundred times larger than that of any other large animal species present or past except for our own domesticated animals.

    ….The seven billion of us account for about one-third of the total body mass of large animals on the planet, with our domestic animals accounting for most of the rest. (Wild animals only amount to three to five percent.)

    But are we really central to the scheme of things? That is a different question.

    Almost all the scientific discoveries of the past few centuries have moved human beings away from the centre of things towards the periphery

    • That’s a very good article! It makes a person wonder whether the Anthropocene will be over, practically before it starts (at least in geological terms).

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  47. desertrat says:

    Hmmm. I’m not suggesting we’re not going the route of 95+% collapse, and in no time now, but surely some will keep on keeping on, unless the fuel rods finish us off. Seems to me we had a lot of ways of working with electricity without chips, one more place where we’re going to become decentralized by necessity. Solar may be 0.1%, but there’s still one awful lot of panels out there now. And a lot of wire in most houses, least here in plutopia. You put a DC motor on a solar panel, hook the shaft to an AC motor, and you have an ‘inverter’ that runs whenever the sun is shining. It’s a little more complicated that that in practice of course, but someone will figure it out, and it will get copied. Again, you don’t run an ipad on this. But maybe a lot of other things that make the solar energy less diffuse and more useful, like say drills, or maybe fans. Read up on how they used to control the speed of locomotive engines.

    I can stand an awful lot of heat with a ceiling fan around, and my children will doubtless make due with simple shade if they make it. We certainly aren’t going to go extinct without semiconductors; we had spark-gap radio transmitters, and we’re in no danger of losing our proclivities with math or engineering as a species. We are about to get a real reeducation in doing everything the fancy, high-tech way, though, aren’t we? I, for one, btw, am really freaking glad to envision the centralized power structures of our society running out of fuel, but again, then we’ll just have to learn to navigate newly decentralized warlord power structures instead. The warlords seem incapable of making life awful for as many as the current ration of govt’s has, but I digress. What’s really tweaking me is, a whole lot of people on here are getting it already, so can we move to some realistic discussion? Ok, solar not getting to 50% penetration vs. petro, duh. But step back a moment, and consider a 50% penetration vs. waterwheels and windmills (the ones with blades of linen, not carbon fiber, that is). These bloody things lying around already do a serious upconversion on the energy quality. Ain’t no one left after the troubles is gonna use them for shaving or arrowheads for quite a length of time, modern manufacturing is good at some things, and some things last a long time, like copper wire and silicon. A few hundred thousand people might be really greatful for our trash and old toys one day.

    Same situation with electric cars. Lots easier to maintain ebikes and good ol leg powered bikes. Keep the moving parts realatively dry, they will give the next generation some transportation (course my locale averages 20% humidity, so I may be naive). I have a LiFe battery for my e-bike that I calculated I can get 30 years out of taken care of. Same for the one on my big inverter. They may die before me, but they do give me more time to learn to make arrowheads (if no one comandeers them). Refrigeration is awesome! Yeah, I won’t be opening the freezer at night much in the future though. My main point is that all these can’t’s are a matter of energy & econopolitical scale; a lot of these concepts work to the plus instead of the minus at the right scale.

    Gail acknoweldges this with her comment, ‘solar is for offgrid’. Her argument is valid, especially when arguing against a BAU-type secular collapse (ok, now that’s a funny juxtaposition, BAU and collapse), but I think some commenters (not CTG, s/he just had the misfortune of being at the bottom of the list) are running with this solar is crap thing a little hard. The grid is what’s crap, the continuted mfr of panels is also assuredly crap, semiconductor inverters, also crap …. but what’s available now, and how it can be repurposed, and what it’s real shelf-life is, is a real interesting facet of this that people seem to be arguing past. Course it’s not as good as doomer-porn. And I love good doomer-porn as much as the rest of us, lol! But never forget that solar water pumps don’t need to run at night if you have a tank or pond. Solar ovens are pretty handy too, we’re subsdizing them in Africa, no? Whatever factory jobs remain will run whenever there’s sun or water available, and only then (and they will produce useful things that can be purchased without debt of course). It’s farfetched, but imagine a field of peasants paid to hold mirrors pointed at the top of a hill, so that we can cook some limestone for an aqeduct, perhaps because forests are largely gone from when they were stipped for fuelwood (i.e. present-day Greece), or maybe just because those humans who survived the first generation learned unfailingly that you do not pee in your bathwater. Interesting times for the skilled and lucky. Work on your library. Print things out, save the harddrive for movies and things people won’t miss for long when they’re gone. We’ll have traveling bards again instead, but paper technical libraries would be nice to have for the long term. Most of the seminal works in orgainc farming were written in the early 1900’s. We haven’t really added a lot since with soil labs and computers. Same with 90% of engineering. Useful info is out there if we learn and retain it.

    Ok, last rant then I sleep: passive solar. The ugly duckling. You want solar, do it to last, do it cheap: use the light and heat first and foremost. All the handwaving about miniscule solar penetration would do good to take some estimates of the (inestimable) use of well-sited, and well angled architecture and glazing, for instance. Every bloody sucessful farm on the planet is using passive solar concepts, that’s half the equation for siting, then timing of planting, etc. If you include the next level, ‘solar’ is putting a real healthy quantity of juice into our economy already, even with the really poor conversion rate of photosynthesis, and how is that invalid to count? How much solar power is needed to grow a tomato these days, vs. millileters of oil and nat. gas fertilizer? At ~1kW/m2 it’s a healthy amount. So what if it’s 0.1% efficient? A lot of our things (i.e. power grid?) need to be less effient yesterday anyway. Some night when I’m really wired, we can talk about economic efficiency (or was that simply greed?) being the absolute enemy of the resilience we need to build into our every level of existence these days…but I’m already rambling like a madman. So.


    • ordinaryjoe says:

      “You put a DC motor on a solar panel, hook the shaft to an AC motor, and you have an ‘inverter’ that runs whenever the sun is shining. It’s a little more complicated that that in practice of course, but someone will figure it out, and it will get copied.”

      Have you done this? Do you know anyone who has? My experience is that its quite daunting. DC motors are usually low power for variable speed, while AC is used for power. When one goes to find a surplus motor its usually not compatible. The motors that are compatible have been recognized as such and have value far in excesses of their original use. Right now with fiat $ still functioning and the power of purchasing still working not one person I know of has pulled what you describe off. To think that it will occur post collapse is in my opinion fantasy. Even now the smallest part being unavailable renders a entire system useless. I am sympathetic to your ideas and am fond of mad scientists but usually these things get pulled off by truly gifted individuals, a lot of $, and a lot of hard work. Lacking any one of the three usually the idea remains a pile of parts in the shed and thats a lot farther than most get. If you find a shake n bake way to turn solar into usable electrical or mechanical energy I will congratulate you and buy you a cup of tea but i know a bunch of guys that LIVE for shake n bake projects and none of them has pulled it off. I hear “somone will figure it out” omost as much as I hear “big oil is suppressing alternative energy after the oil is gone it will come forth”. Prove me wrong I encourage you, that would make me very happy.

    • InAlaska says:

      Desert, thanks for your thoughts. These are my thoughts as well. This blog site has gotten darker lately, as we all collectively come to the realization that there isn’t much we can do to stave off the coming collapse. But its not going to be about reigniting BAU or keeping the grid up and running. Its not going to be about keeping global trade running and finding spare parts for nuclear power plants. Its about ADAPTATION. This is what all threatened organisms do. There are so many talented, resourceful, determined people out there. I know many of them here in Alaska, already living off the grid or on the margins of it. These are people who can build anything out of anything, think their way out of predicaments using a combination of old and new technology. I brought this up several posts ago and I was accused of being a “troll.” I will say it again: there are many people out there who are not going to just roll-over and take it when it comes. It is very easy to grow up in a city and not know how anything works and then post on blog sites about how hopeless everything is. If you don’t know the kind of people that I know and work with everyday, then it is easy to think that way. Work for awhile on a farm, fly bush planes in Alaska and repair them 100 miles from the nearest road using what you have, work with animals, hunt them for food. Build your own house with sawn logs and the old lumber from out back and nails pulled from a thousand sources. Then cut your own wood and successfully heat that house at 50 below zero. Watch your solar panels crank out power 35 years after their mfr. date. When you see this stuff going on all around you every day, then you will know that there are possibilities for our future out there that are yet undreamed of. I am a realist, too. I love “doomer porn,” as much as the next guy (nice phrase), and I do believe we are in for some seriously hard times, but there will be a bottleneck that some of us will pass through to a different earth out there. Bill McKibben calls it “Eaarth” because it won’t be the same planet that we evolved on, but it will still support life for the strong, the smart, the willing and the determined. ADAPT, MIGRATE, or DIE. This has always the hard law of existence. If there’s nowhere to migrate to and the choice is adapt or die, some of us will do one and some of us will do the other.

      • Solar panels don’t work well in winter months in Alaska. You need awfully good batteries to get around this problem. I would suggest not being too dependent on solar panels for anything that cannot be done in the summer months.

        • InAlaska says:

          Yes, Gail, you are right on. Solar in Alaska is pretty poor in the winter months. There isn’t a battery in the world gonna help me there. I’m not suggesting it as a year round lifestyle, just a way to soften the landing.

      • xabier says:


        Three cheers for that! We can forget the people in the cities who think that all they need to do is vote for someone to fix things. They are already mal-adapted.

    • The real issues are food, water and perhaps sanitation. Unfortunately, solar doesn’t get us very far with respect to those issues (except possibly if solar is used to operate a water pump–a wind powered pump would likely be cheaper though).

      If the owner of the solar panels has to move, because he is missing one of the big three needs, it will be very hard to take the solar PV along.

      • InAlaska says:

        Do you think sanitation will be a big issue once the bulk of the population is gone? Seems like sanitation only became an issue once thousands, or millions, of people began living cheek by jowl with each other. Out in the country, the empty space essentially innoculates you against most of those sanitary requirements. Water, moving from high places to low, are generally clean as long as it doesn’t pass through human encampments or large herds of animals.

        • xabier says:


          Sanitation in the country is no problem with a low population:I was reading a book from 1750 which gave a medical over-view – about the first time that such a thing could be done from statistics. Very interesting because it was pre-industrialisation, but he could also look back to the 1630’s.

          A fascinating chart compared mortality rates in London with, say, a rural town or village in England and a province in Switzerland. London was shocking, the rural town was very healthy, the village more so, and in fact almost as good as the Swiss province, where people were quite long-lived, in fact famous for it.

          The doctor noted that his profession had much to learn if they couldn’t help people to live for very long in London, (or even killed them?) and it was clearly far better to be in a rural area without modern medical treatments and just old herbal remedies or ‘sweating it out’. Kill or cure, and for most people it was cure until they were old and weak, or had nasty infections from cuts and other accidents ( I know from reading old newspapers, that slow deaths from having one’s leg crushed by one’s horse siding into a tree or wall were quite common -‘mortified leg’).

          He noted that sanitation in London had improved over the century, as dysentery had more or less been eliminated as a cause of death compared to the 1630’s, when it was the single greatest cause of early death among Londoners. And infant mortality had declined from 45% (pre-6 yrs) to 36%, which he took to be a fantastic achievement of modern medicine, as it was.

          He also noted that it was very clear that the richer a country became, the more people abused their bodies, over-ate, wore unsuitable clothes (fashionable and not correct for the climate), over-consumed doubtful medicines, and that leisure led nervous disorders and melancholy, and got into debt and killed themselves – what has happened since was all mapped out in his essay!

          • InAlaska says:

            Your book totally jives with my experiences 15 years ago in India. Traveling in the cities and the low country for months, I was sick virtually all the time. Stomach and intestinal maladies, fevers, chills, all sorts of terrible stuff. But as I traveled north into the countryside, I began to get better. As we walked into the mountains of Nepal, all the water was flowing away and down. The villages became smaller and cleaner. By 9000 feet, my illnesses were all gone. I wasn’t sick for the rest of my time in the Himalayas. Rock and gravity working on water works wonders on it.
            Interesting, your point about the wealthy becoming less healthy. I read somewhere that human longevity is tied to the amount of available food. In essence, the less you eat, the longer you live (to a point). Digesting food throughout the course of a lifetime takes a toll on your body, oxidizing it, and the more you stuff yourself the worse it is. The human body was evolved to deal with famine and the colon is not designed to always be full of food. The author of your book figured this out hundreds of years ago.

          • Lizzy says:

            Xabier, you always do such interesting reading. I am jealous!

            • xabier says:


              Combination of getting good things to work on, and having a good second-hand shop in a university town, Cambridge: when the academics die, they get the books very cheap. Why be a bookbinder if you don’t read the books?!

            • Lizzy says:

              Ah, now I really am jealous. If I were you I’d be spending half my day fossicking around the old books and guides. I bet you could do the same in Spain too. Bliss!

            • xabier says:


              Sadly, in Spain – as in England -the small old bookshops are steadily going, and the prices are horrendous – I buy Spanish books far cheaper here and come back from Spain empty-handed. The literary riches of Britain are incomparable, it’s so common for families to have huge quantities of books, that’s just not known in Spain.

        • You are right, reducing population goes a long way toward sanitation. But if you use humanure in farming, you have to be meticulous in cooking your food. (Or make sure that the humanure is well recycled.)

          • InAlaska says:

            Or make sure it is your own humanure. I don’t think you can make yourself sick with your own biota.

  48. Rod Cloutier says:


    I suggest you read Neale Donald Walsh’s book ‘Conversations with God’. He claims it is a direct modern age conversation with God and many of your concerns are covered. The most interesting parts were how our civilization compares and contrasts with other intelligent evolved beings in the universe. Even if read as a work of fiction, (the author claims it is non-fiction), the book is as good as anything ever written by Kurt Vonnegut, and just as interesting.

    Thank you for your insights !

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